Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Social Question as a Problem of Soul Life
GA 190

II. Inner Experience of Language II

29 March 1919, Dornach

If we now speak a great deal about the social problem that is disturbing our times, it is because the essential thing for us—in addition to what is naturally of particular importance to our contemporaries as such in this problem—is that really the ultimate practical solution of this problem is intimately connected with the fundamentals of Spiritual Science, and therefore those interested in Spiritual Science have a special inducement to regard this question from out of a Spiritual Scientific standpoint. For you see it is urgently necessary that understanding should be aroused in the widest circles for what are the impulses behind the social movement. On the other hand, however, these circles are little prepared to look into the matter fundamentally, to concentrate their gaze on the fundamentals. By degrees a certain comprehension must ray out from those interested in Spiritual Science into the sphere of the social movement, and for this it is necessary to make ourselves acquainted with certain fundamental facts without knowledge of which there can be no real grasp of the social problem. There can be no doubt that the unconscious and subconscious play an enormous part in human social life. What is at work in the social life comes ultimately from what people think and feel, and, according to the impulses of their characters, what they will. But in the age of the development of the consciousness soul this becomes increasingly individual. People become more and more different in their thinking, feeling and willing: this is the task of the epoch of the development of the consciousness soul. Therefore much will spring from subconscious sources in human relationships to flow into the social movement which, begun half a century ago, has today reached a culmination and will spread farther and farther afield making enormous demands of the people. What emerges today are primarily chaotic demands. In place of these, clearer and clearer conceptions and better and better will impulses must appear. It was because these clear conceptions and good impulses of will did not exist that mankind fell into the present catastrophe and this catastrophe will become immeasurably greater. For one cannot say that real goodwill exists extensively in regard to this question. What exists is something like a yielding to what seems to be inevitable. One would willingly give them a morsel now and again, for fear that otherwise their mouths might water. But what must appear in a really deep social understanding? That must live in the hearts of men and must become an essential part of our schooling.

Something of this kind can be attained only when at least a certain number of people on earth, really out of knowledge of human nature, out of knowledge of the relation between physical and the superphysical worlds, cultivate a deeper understanding for these problems than most people can develop by reason of our present superficial culture.

Yesterday you saw how matters stand with what plays its part in the whole man's life as language. Now just think what part, on the other hand, language plays in men's international operation throughout the world. Consider how manifold are the varied feelings and will impulses depending upon languages. Consider again how infinitely much that is not clear in such things prevails among men. Today let us spend a little time on speech. As I mentioned yesterday we had three periods of evolution to come in the post-Atlantean period of human evolution. We live in the fifth, the sixth will follow, to be followed in turn by the seventh. As we saw yesterday, on turning our attention to the development of language, till now we, as earthly men, have developed a certain inclination to abstract, unimaginative thinking. What must be evolved before the end of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch is the imaginative conception, Imagination. It is mankind's special task in this fifth post-Atlantean period to develop the gift of Imagination. I beg of you not to confuse what I am discussing here with those matters set out in the book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. In that book it is the individual man who is being considered. It is a matter of the esoteric development of the individual man. What I am now considering is the social life of people. The folk genius cultivates imagination. Each one of us must seek his own Imagination for esoteric development: but the folk genius cultivates the Imagination from which must come the common spiritual culture of the future. An imaginative spiritual culture must be developed in the future. Now we have reached, so to speak, the culminating point of abstract spiritual culture, that spiritual culture which everywhere works towards abstraction; from out of that there must be developed a culture with imaginative conceptions. Our culture must be interpenetrated not with thoughts abstractly expressed but with imagery such as we have for example in our group, the Representative of mankind between the luciferic as the one pole and the ahrimanic as the other. And many people will have to tell themselves, more and more people will have to tell themselves, that what really has to do with spiritual life is not to be expressed in abstract thoughts. One should not always be pondering about abstract thoughts, but it is right and living in the right way in the human heart to express oneself through pictures. The life of Imagination in common is what must come.

In the sixth post-Atlantean period a kind of Inspiration of the folk genius should be especially cultivated, out of which should blossom such ideas of rights as will be felt as a kind of gift for the life on earth. The life to be developed in the rights-state is, as I recently pointed out, such a one as is opposed to all life of the Spirit, indeed it is its opposite. When earthly life takes its source healthily and not unhealthily, the principles of rights gradually accepted as such will be felt as gifts from the spiritual world. They will be felt as gifts that come down to the folk genius through Inspiration to rule earthly life, not in a human arbitrary manner, but in the sense of a great spiritual leadership. One could say that it is just through this Inspiration experienced by the folk genius that Ahriman will been enchained. Otherwise an ahrimanic being would be developed over the whole earth.

The last epoch will have to cultivate Intuition. Only under the influence of this Intuition can the whole economic life be developed which men can see as their ideal economic life. But the curious thing is that from now on one cannot so separate things in the more or less abstract way that I have written them up on the board:

V. Imagination
VI. Inspiration
VII. Intuition

You see one can quite well speak of the early Indian epoch, the early Persian, the Egypto-Chaldean, the Graeco-Latin period, an periods existing as such with need limits, in each of which were developed a very distinctive way of life. In the future that will no longer be possible; than the forces at work in civilization will be mingled. Thus the Intuition which will appear in the seventh epoch is already at work in the fifth, Inspiration is active in the fifth, Imagination is not fully acquired in the fifth but will reach its final stages only in the later periods. All these things happen interconnectedly; they are not so strictly separated. So that it is already necessary for men to work towards what should be achieved in the Imaginative life, and in the life of Inspiration and that of Intuition. But externally man must distinguish between the things that are forced into overlapping in time. The life of spirit which has as its prime task for the future to develop the imagination must be cultivated in the emancipated spiritual organisation. The life of Inspiration which will give the folk genius principally the conceptions of rights must be evolved in the separated state. And the Intuitive life, strange as it may appear, must be evolved in the economic life. These spheres must in their externals be kept separate, as has been shown you from various points of view.

You will see deeper into thee different members if you pay attention to what I have been putting forward in regard to language. You see, language is apparently something homogeneous. You regard language as something homogeneous and men feel it to be so. But it is not so. Language is something quite different with respect to the soul-spiritual life of mankind from what it is in respect to social life in the rights state, and again it different in respect to the economic life.

Let us try to characterize what is very difficult to describe. In regard to language think first of poetry. You have often heard the remark how much the man of every sphere of culture when he is a poet (and who is there who is not something of a poet!) is indebted to language. Language is much more creative than is believed. Language contains great and powerful mysteries; the genius of language is something tremendously creative. That is why within the sphere of language the purely humanly creative so seldom emerges: this is noticed only by those who with deep devotion study the evolution of the peoples. In one incarnation men usually remain bound only to a certain epoch, and so have nothing definite to go upon or passing judgment rightly on what I am now meaning. We Germans, for example, nowadays speak now and then with some modifications of meaning; but in so far as we use the uniform educated, we all speak differently from what was customary in the 18th century. Whoever follows attentively the literature of that century until the last third of the century will soon notice that. For the language we use in common as ordinary educated German speech is a result of Goethean creation and of those who are connected with Goethe's creative work: Lessing, Herder, Wieland, Goethe, and to a certain degree Schiller too. A great part of our verbal education did not exist before the time of these spirits! Take the Adelung dictionary, written comparatively recently, and hunt therein for many things which are now current: you will not find them! To a great extent the period which produced Goetheanism was created in language and we lived in what was formed in this way. There you see the individually creative playing into genius of speech as such. In poets one can even speak at that time of creation of the highest order: what follows as epigone is often drawn from the language itself.

So I have often said that when one sees through these things a facile language often strikes one, a dressed-up poetic performance of no distinction. What originally pulses from one's innermost soul is often much more awkward than what is the result of no great poetic gift, but produced by a certain profession of speech, by beautiful verse and the like. It is the same with the other arts. But one must pay attention to such things if one wants to have a concept of how there is a life in the language itself in which we are involved. In penetrating more deeply into this language the possibility will open out for an imaginative feeling and perception. Nowadays there is very much that fights against this learning of the imaginative from speech, because since languages have recently become international, men have with a certain justification acquired many languages, or at least several, up to a certain point. This acquisition of several languages has not yet driven the deeper aspect of the matter to the surface, but actually only the superficial. What the Imagination then brings about—what has to do with perception—has not yet been brought to the surface. Nowadays he who has acquired several languages becomes a slave to the dictionary for a slave to any other handbook that has to do with the languages in question. And so one has to accustom oneself to the horrid unreality that a word in another language that one finds in a dictionary for, say, a word from one's own language is taken to mean exactly the same. In regard to something I shall speak of next, it does certainly mean the same, but it does not do so where inner experience is concerned.

Take the following, for example: in German we say Kopf, in French tête, in Italian testa, and so forth. What does this show? Recall the human head and the head of an animal Kopf for the same reason that we speak of a cabbage as a Kohlkopf; because of its roundness, it's spherical form. So he who as a German calls the head Kopf is: it's so with regard to its form. Tête and testa signify something which testifies, which gives testimony. Thus there are quite different points of view from which one can indicate a member of the human organism. Fuss (foot) is a German word which is connected with Furt (ford), with the Furche (furrow) we make in walking over the ground; that is the point of view from which we as Germans indicate that part of the human organism; pied is the setting down, the indication of something placing itself on the ground: something quite different! The significance of words proceeds from various points of view. And this impulse to describe the same things from different backgrounds is the impress of a subconscious in the character of peoples that is not generally noticed.

But now consider, you have to do it not just with physical human beings walking about on the physical earth, but with men altogether; you are studying the whole relation to the dead. What is actually characteristic in the matter stands out particularly there. The dead have no sense for this dictionary interpretation of words, but for what is imaginative they have the deepest understanding. But should one form one's thoughts so that one gets the shade of meaning from the spoken sounds, the dead receive at once the imaginative form thus produced. When the German word for the head Kopf is used, the dead have the experience of roundness. When the same word is used in a Latin language he has the experience of what is testified. But this stigmatizing, this mere characterizing, this abstract relating to some single organ or other is not experienced by the dead; what he experiences with the deepest significance passes unnoticed by the man of today with his abstract thoughts. So that in his soul man has a special relation to language. The relation the soul has to whine which is actually far more inward than man's ordinary, everyday relation to language. The soul inwardly feels a difference when one describes a foot by being sent on the ground, or by the fact that a mark, a furrow, is made. The soul feels that; while externally and in the abstract man experiences only the relation of the word to the single organ in question. In its experience of speech the soul is inwardly in much the same condition as when it is disembodied. And what is generally experienced as the only meaning of speech in ordinary life really lies like an outer layer on the surface of speech. A true poet, for example, is just a man who has a fine feeling for the inwardness of language, a finer feeling than others. That man is a real poet who is alive to the imaginative in language, just as an artist is fundamentally not simply one who can paint or sculpt but one who can live in color and form.

These are matters which we must make our own from now on into the future. Without them the further progress of mankind in a favorable way is impossible, for the life of the Spirit would become barren, and mankind would be able to evolve hardly more than an animal existence unless an understanding for such things can be awakened. It is a peculiar fact that when one follows closely how children are born, how they developed in the early years, first babbling, then gradually learned to speak, in the way they learn there mingles into the child's learning to speak a heritage brought down from the experiences that have been going through in the spiritual world before they came down to earth; mingled with it is what the mother, father or nurse contributes to the child's learning to speak. He who can bring a fine observation to bear in this sphere will have surprising experiences from the child who is learning to speak. He will only be able to understand these surprising things when he can make the assumption that a child is actually bringing from the spiritual world some disposition that it mingles with what comes to his speech from outside. In the inward experience of language that human being is living in accordance with what he brings from the spiritual world. But that is the only thing in language that is really spiritual. Actually the one element and language is this inner experience, which we have because we bring with us certain impulses out of the spiritual world.

The other is that language is a mere medium for making oneself understood. Everything that goes on between men as men comes into consideration in it as a means of making themselves understood. We speak with one another so that the one knows what the other wishes to tell him. They are the inwardness of speech is not of account—there a certain convention applies. The point is that we do not think that when someone speaks of a table he means a chair, or when speaking of a chair he means a table. For that men here on the earth merely need a mutual understanding; that deeper, inward feeling for language does not come into it. At the present time this way of understanding language in which language is employed merely as a means of making ourselves mutually understood is actually all that is really experienced. For present day mankind language is not much more than the means by which they understand each other. Today it comes to few to listen to the mysterious inner impulses behind language so as to hear the divine powers as they make themselves known through this very language. There are some personalities today who have noticed that language has an inner life of its own; but among all those who have noticed it this perception arises in a certain whimsical way as, for example, with the poet Hofmannsthal, even the impudent Karl Kraus in Vienna who asserts that it is not feed himself who writes his sentences but that he simply listens to what the language wants to write. He may indeed listen to what the language which is to write, but only as men do who feared what comes from the spiritual world colored by their own emotions, here one-sidedly and falsely—that is shown by his dreadfully impudent writing, as language would never have inspired him. But as we were saying, individuals do already note this communicating by means of speech comes from other worlds and that must be cultivated if one is to find the way to the life of Imagination.

That moment will be of social significance for it is something binding men in a social bond. The common speech, which brings a common imagination, is something that will provide a social deepening. Language as a means of mutual copper hedging could also do that at need—but it is then externalized; as a mere means of communication it depends very much upon convention. Hence the externalizing of the soul's life nowadays, so that language is used really just to gossip with others so that no one knows what the other is thinking. You can indeed say a good deal against this: since so many do not think, some of us know when a statement is made what the other is not thinking! Well now—we understand each other.

Thus in language we have something that particularly points to the life of the Spirit, the life in the spiritual organism: something in language—that is to say, be nearly informative in language which alone comes into consideration today when people take up a dictionary, and because the word means one thing in one language and in another something else, it is simply a question of an external understanding, what lies deeper is not taken into account: whether the one describes something from this impulse, the other from that! There is of course an enormous difference in the soul life, whether by the word Kopf something round, that is the form, is to be understood, as most noun formations in German are plastic imagination, or whether, as in Latin languages, most noun formations originate in the stepping forth of man, how he places himself into the world, not by perception that by placing himself into the world. Great mystery is lie hidden in language.

With regard to the life of economics, we might be deaf and dumb and yet ultimately be able to carry on an economic life. The animals do so. Indeed, in economic life language is so to speak a stranger, a real stranger: we employ speech in the economic life because we happened to be speaking human beings; but we can conduct business in a foreign land, the language of which we do not know, we can buy anything, do everything possible. Men do not need the language at all for the life were language is a complete foreigner. The real inner spiritual element of language is present in the life of the Spirit, the element of language is already externalized in the life of rights—in the economic life everything that language means to man is utterly lost. Yet the economic life, as I have already pointed out, is what, fundamentally, can be the preparation for the life after death. How we conduct ourselves in the economic life, what feelings we unfold in that life, whether we are men who willingly helped another in a brotherly way, or whether we enviously gobble up everything for ourselves, depends upon the fundamental constitution of our soul, is essentially the mute preparation for many impulses which will be developed in the life after death. We bring with us a heritage from the life before birth which, as I described, comes to expression in what a child carried into all that it learns from nurse or mother. We bear with us out of life a mute element which springs up from the brotherliness unfolded in the economic life, and which develops important impulses in the life after death.

It is well that in the economic life language is such a foreign element that even if deaf and dumb we could develop the economic life. For by that means this subconscious soul like is developed that can be carried further when man has gone through the gate of death. Should man gave himself up altogether to what he experiences in his soul, to what can be expressed between man and man, should we, as men, not be able to serve one another without having to speak, we should be able to carry with us little into the world in which we are to live when we have passed through the gate of death.

On the other hand, my dear friends, it is extraordinarily difficult to discuss the pressing demands of the present-day social movement, for these demands are so many economic concerns for mankind. And for language for describing the economic concerns is actually non-existent. Our concepts indeed are not of the least use for discussing the social question. In Europe we should perhaps be able to discuss the social question in quite a different way it in our language we had with the Oriental has in his. There the decadence comes out only in the character of the people; that in their language are spiritual impulses enabling them to show as in gestures what has to be discussed about the social life—whereas we Europeans actually feel that every possible thing should always, as we think, be expressed in plain words. But this is not possible. We have to acquire the feeling that in speaking we are simply producing sound-gestures, hinting at things. Today it is practically only for interjections that man develops a real inwardness in regard to sound-gestures; a little, as I showed yesterday, for verbs; a mere touch of it for adjectives—none for nouns. The latter are completely abstract; and hence are not understood at all by the dead. There are blanks for them when we want to make ourselves understood and express things in language. So it is necessary, in order to make oneself understood by the dead, to transform what one has to say into real gestures, into real pictures, not to try to speak to the dead in words, but always to think better and better in pictures in the way I described yesterday.

Now I must say again and again what an aid to this experiencing in pictures is that part of eurhythmy that we now wish to bring back as visible speech. To perform eurhythmy is to transform what is spoken into the corresponding rhythmical movement, into gesture, and so on. But we must learn to do the opposite as well, to regard as a kind of speech what is set visibly before us. We must learn that what we customarily only looked at as something to say to us: morning says to us something different from what the evening says, and midday speaks differently from the night, and the leaf of a plant glistening with pearly dew says something different from a dry plant leaf. We must again learn the language of all nature. We must learn to penetrate through the abstract perception of nature to a concrete perception of nature. Our Christianity must be widened through a permeation, as I said yesterday, by a healthy paganism. Nature must again become something to us. It is the peculiarity of human evolution in the epoch of the fifth post-Atlantean period up to the present that we have become more and more indifferent towards nature. Certainly men still have a feeling for nature, they like being with nature, they are able to appreciate nature aesthetically, artistically. But they cannot soar to the heights of experiencing the inward life of nature, so that nature speaks to them as one man speaks to another. This is however essential if Intuition is again to play a part in human life. Before the end of the three epochs of which we have been speaking, men must, if they are to evolve healthily, developed a kind of personal relationship to all the details that connect them with nature. Today we can say in the abstract that by eating sugar you strengthen your sense of ego; and by eating less sugar you weaken your sense of ego; that tea dissipates the thoughts, and is the drink of diplomats, the dispenser of superficiality; that coffee is the drink of journalists, setting thoughts logically one after another—which is why journalists haunt coffeehouses, diplomats have tea parties, and so on; all this we can think in the abstract out of the nature of things: but human beings will come to develop in their way a healthy relation to everything that gives them such a relation to the whole of nature as today the animals instinctively possess. The animals know quite well what they eat; originally in their naive condition men also knew it; they have forgotten, unlearned it; and must regain the connection. There are people today—I have often mentioned it—curious people who when at the table have scales of which they weigh out how much meat and so on they should eat, because the dietitians have calculated the amount! In this abstract relations that man develops to the world all sound attitude to the world is lost.we must regain—if you will allow me to put it so—the experiencing of the spirit of sugar, tea, coffee, salt, and all those other things with which we are related through our organism: we must again learn to have these experiences. In this spirit today man experiences in the most abstract way. He feels something when he says “I am a mystic, I am a Theosophist.” What is that? It is a man feeling the divine ego with his own ego, feeling the macrocosm in the microcosm; the divine man within us that can be felt, can be lived . . . and all that that implies. They are of course the greyest, the vaguest, of abstractions. But today it is believed that there is no way out at all from these abstractions. Men nowadays do not look for this concrete experiencing with the whole world. What seems a great thing to men today is the thoughtless chatter of the experience of the God within. They think it very strange when one tells them that they should experience the God in sugar, tea, or coffee, or what not, yet this is really experiencing with the outer world: for the human experience of the external world is gross and materialistic unless something spiritual and the can be foundation of this material existence.

This feeling, for example, that existed in the second post-Atlantean period when everyone in the old Persian civilization felt when he ate anything how much light he took into himself along with it—son was ready to give up its light and in eating food light was also eaten—everyone felt how much light he was taking in: this feeling was an experience in ancient times which must return at a higher stage of consciousness. You see, these ideals naturally appear to be distant; but really they are not so far as people think from what man today holds to be most essential. For on looking into these things one approaches nearer and nearer and more concretely what is common to all mankind. It is just where there is veneration and penetration of nature that there will increasingly arise what sets up even the economic life that seems to us today so material, this dumb economic life, as a member of the divine world order. We shall then realized that the social organism, if it is to be sound must be threefold. It must have the spiritual organization because it is into this, above all, that we carry what we bring with us from the life before birth; it must have the economic organization because in it there must mutely developed what we bear with us through the gate of death, and what will be our impulses after death; and separate from both these, it must have the life of the rights-state because in this sphere above all is imprinted what is valid for this earthly life. Illustrated diagrammatically—here is earthly life, and raying into it, as it were, what we bring with us out of pre-earthly life (yellow arrows); and again we develop in this life what we bear out again (yellow). Here where I have drawn a red line the spiritual is within from the outset, it comes chiefly through language or the like. And here, where I have drawn a blue line, after death the spiritual rays out through the impulses we have absorbed in the economic life (yellow arrows). This in the middle, drawn in brown, is rayed through, as it were, laterally by the spiritual (yellow). The life of rights as such is entirely earthly, but is rayed through laterally. So that Inspiration, which should restrain Ahriman, should be active in the life of rights. We must advance to conceptions of rights, which are really taken from the life of the spirit, and which are really initiation conceptions.

pre-Earthly light raying into Earthly life

But how can the things of which I have spoken today be straightaway made understandable to wider circles of present-day mankind? They cannot. For what the spiritual-scientific element would need to permeate the whole of the education and culture of the times. Otherwise it would not continue into the future. Therefore the healing of our social life is intimately bound up with the extension of a real understanding for spiritual knowledge. Certainly on the one hand there will gradually arise in people who have the goodwill accept social ideas the urge to receive the spiritual as well. For the most part, however, there are those who struggle against it, who preferred to remain fixed in those things of which I had to say yesterday that they were antipathetic to the children who for some years have been coming out of the spiritual world into life on earth. It is indeed pitiful to see how few people are inclined really to learn from the events;; how very much men today continue to exhibit ideas that they formally had before it became evident that the world that lives in the ideas as driven mankind into the frightful catastrophes of the time. At this juncture mankind should acquire a certain feeling of responsibility and an understanding of these things, and actually also see to the utmost extent these needs of the time. Just think—and this must be said of very many—how people today are fixed fast in egoism and how much cause one might have today to disregard one's own person and turned one's gaze to the great question of mankind. They are so overpoweringly great, these questions of the day, that if one is a sensible person one should scarcely have time to attend to the most limited personal destinies if these individual destinies could not be made fruitful for the great questions for time which already live in the womb of the evolutionary epochs of mankind. One could wish that men would take note of the great discrepancy between the futility of personal destiny today, and they reality that comes to light in the overpowering human problems of the day. One cannot understand the spiritual science in its reality, at least have no understanding of it at the present time, if one has no comprehension and accommodating spirit for these great human problems. Much is now only beginning to unfold: but it is precisely those who attach themselves to a movement for spiritual knowledge who should strive for a specially active understanding of what is being enacted to a wide extent in the social movement of the present day, and what, as can again be seen from today's indications, as wider horizons than is generally thought.

Tomorrow the conclusions that can be drawn from what has been set before you yesterday and today.1See: The Social Question (NSL 101)