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The Spiritual Background of the Social Question
GA 190

Lecture I

5 April 1919, Dornach

Translator Unknown

Today I shall have to start in a very pedantic way, because I shall have to throw light on our age, illustrating a general characteristic by means of an example. I should like to describe to you a characteristic of our age, consideration of which is extraordinarily important for anyone who is going to study this age in a spiritual-scientific sense, i.e. with the eyes of the soul open. And so I should like to make a start from a single example, as it were empirically. This could appear to be pedantic. But this example is a symptom of a quite, quite universal quality of our present epoch. I am speaking of a certain confusion of the soul, which arises from a superficiality which is very significantly active in our age. Thus I should like to make a start from a quite concrete example of this.

Perhaps at least some of you will recall that an English telegram plays a great part in the uncountably many discussions about the events which led up to this war-catastrophe, and that this telegram has been construed—after the event—in a quite definite way. Today I shall not be going into the causes of the war: today I am only talking about this formal quality of our age—superficiality. This has nothing directly to do with all that we have said about the events of the year 1914.

There has been much talk of a telegram which was composed in London, sent to St. Petersburg, and played a remarkable role there. In spite of the belief that this telegram had its origin in an agreement between the English Foreign Secretary, Grey and the German Ambassador, Lichnowski, it has been held to be the cause of the Russian mobilisation which immediately followed. And it was often looked on as a riddle how in the world it was possible that a telegram, which was sent to St. Petersburg and was the immediate cause of mobilisation there, could have been produced in agreement between the German Ambassador in London and Sir Edward Grey.

People saw a proof of the existence of this telegram (which has been much talked-of but which, nevertheless, is not found in the English “blue book”) in the formulation of the proposal which Sasonov is supposed to have made immediately on receipt of this telegram—though he really acted without regard for a proposal which did originate in England and in the form of which the German Ambassador really had taken part. Mobilisation was at once put in hand in Russia without any regard at all for this proposal.

As I said, I am not speaking of the causes of the war, but in the first place I am merely emphasising that it was a great riddle how it could happen that, on receipt of just this telegram, Sasonov formulated his proposal regarding Austria and Serbia, how he could have agreed to mobilisation, and so forth. The then Reichstag-deputy (and now Socialist minister) David is included among the people who have talked a lot about this telegram. Not only has he delivered a speech in the Reichstag and thus spoken before a great number of men who obviously should have been informed of the facts of such a matter at so serious a time: he has also written a very sensational article about this telegram in the Frankfurter Zeitung. Thus it was a mysterious affair. Now I shall write on the blackboard for you—you see I a proceeding in a very pedantic way today—the form which the proposal of the Russian Foreign Minister Sasonov took on when this telegram was received. (Appendix I.)

As has been said, the present German Minister David also refers to this formula drawn up by Sasonov, and in his article in the Frankfurter Zeitung he makes a special point of underlining the words “I replied that I accept the English proposal”.

This sentence is supposed to be taken as evidence that the English proposal, which had been formulated between Lichnowski and Grey in that telegram and about which there had been so much talk, is accepted. In the widely-read article in the Frankfurter Zeitung the greatest importance is placed on the statement that Sasanov replied, in a strange way: “I replied that I accept the English proposal”.

But now mobilisation followed on this. From this it was to be concluded that the telegram contained an English proposal for mobilisation.

I remark: this underlining is not found in the original formula, but this underling is extraordinarily significant of what I call the confusion of our time. If people underline something today, they obviously want to draw attention to it and to see in what has thus been underlined the principle substance of the matter. But, as I have said, it is simply not underlined at all in the original formula. One has only to read the formula correctly. Accordingly to the treatment of the matter in detailed articles, what is in question is a formula in which reference is made to a proposal which is said to be contained in a telegram. Now let us look at this formula in a precise way. “Commissioned by his government, the English Ambassador transmitted to me the wish of the London Cabinet that some changes be made in the formula which I yesterday proposed to the German Ambassador”. The formula of which Sasonov is speaking here is the one which Sasanov himself has composed on the preceding day. Grey desired an alteration in this formula. (See Appendix 2). Sasanov makes this and says “I replied that I accept the English proposal”—i.e. that he has today agreed to alter the formula which he had composed yesterday (Appendix 3). Thus the sentence refers to the fact that he is changing into this shape the formula which he composed yesterday, the formula which—as that of the preceding day—formed the basis of this same one, and this sentence refers to the alteration. The proposal refers to the fact that he was to alter his formula.

That is to say: that telegram (which, moreover, is not contained in the English “blue-book” does not exist at all. The telegram is a phantom, and the supposition that it exists arises from the fact that the Sasanov formula has been falsely read, because the superficiality of the present time has not taken the trouble to follow up in an orderly way what there is in the sentences. Think: in the most serious way affairs of the present time it is possible for people to talk about something which does not exist at all because, in their superficiality, they no longer understand what they read! This is only a concrete example of what is happening on innumerable occasions today, that men, who have their words written and printed, cannot read, that the readers, thousands and thousands of readers, do not at all perceive how those who have their words written and printed cannot read and how they talk about things which are not there!

The punishment for failure to acknowledge a spiritual world, for the failure to acknowledge what people call “ghosts”, is simply that they themselves, in their superficiality, create phantoms. Anyone who looks into the world with sound perception today finds wherever he goes, the most desolating consequences of this terrible superficiality, which takes the form of a real confusion of people's thoughts. And the saddest thing is that if one emphasizes and discusses these matters they make no special impression at all on the men of the present-day, because superficiality and absence of thought have sad to say, already become a universal quality of mankind. The consequences of the superficiality in the whole life of our present age are terrible. We must look in this way at the soul-life of our time. We cannot take phenomena of this particular kind seriously enough, significantly enough. In our time, everyone who is trying to instruct himself by the available means should be continually saying to himself: you must try, with inner, critical sense, to examine the things which are whirling around in the world and which confuse life enormously and muddle it up because they come into the human soul through every possible channel and work there as impulse.

I have proceeded from a concrete example in order to show you how leading personages are brought by their superficiality to a point where they not only talk about something which does not exist at all but even write page-long explanations about it, and how personages who are called on to make a speech on world-affairs can utter such stuff before gatherings (and similar stuff is being uttered in this way in equally illustrious gatherings throughout the world) without the hundred of deputies, who are there to represent their people, noticing nothing about it.

These things must certainly be taken very seriously. And it is one of the bitterest aspects of the present age that it is just in the last four and a half years that men have disaccustomed themselves, even more than was the case before, from looking precisely and exactly at what in reality is. Positivism does not consist in having an uncritical mind. Positivism consists in seeing things as they are, and not living according to fantastic ways of thinking which create pure phantoms instead of reality. This is really urgent just now, and concerns every single human being in every single position in life. And something of the kind can happen in every moment to every single human being in every single position in life.

Now I could reproduce not merely hundreds but thousands of such examples, and this thousand fold repetition would simply be evidence of the fact that it is a universal quality of mankind today to bring itself into confusion as a result of superficiality, because there exists a certain antipathy against entering into reality. The causes of this are to be sought in the depths of our human development. Do not take my words as though I wished merely to criticise the present age in commonplace fashion the important thing is that this wave of confusion has been let loose over mankind as a result of impulses from outside the earth, as a result of impulses from the spiritual, from the Ahrimanic side. This is important in connection with the grotesque example of confusion which I have just described.

On the other side, there are plenty of men who take account of this confusion today in the most comprehensive way. There are very many people who know how they have to deal with present-day human beings in order to be able to take advantage of their confusion. Men who are evil-natured but who are setting out to make use of spiritual forces are bringing into the world just what takes account of this confusion, this unwillingness to enter into facts.

What do we not see happening today! If only one reckons just a little with the element of confusion, it is easy to impose anything at all on human beings today. Here is an example. Some time ago there appeared a Russian book which contained in the first part (I am not speaking now about the rest of the contents of the book) some pretended minutes of the sessions of some sort of Mystery Society, the leaders of which gave lectures about the most incredible things. This Mystery Society is—one could say—just like a sort of devil in the midst of mankind. Almost the opposite of all that is good and wholesome for men could gave proceeded from this Mystery Society. And these minutes were supposed to be proof that such a society does exist. These minutes were even supposed to have been found in extraordinary proximity to where we are, and they are included in a book, but one which is written from the Russian point of view. As I have said, I do not wish to speak about the remaining contents of the book, but one need only read very little of these minutes, and to have some knowledge of the world, in order to know that one is dealing with one of the most clumsy, falsely-presented swindles. The are simply invented minutes, i.e. something which has been falsified, which has been written down in order to establish the existence of such a society. These things are simply make up in order to work on the confusion of human beings. The confusion of human beings is enormously dangerous in our time because, as I have already said, it does not merely depend on what can be found as impulses within physical-earth life but because spiritual forces of an Ahrimanic nature are present and playing into it. We must make ourselves thoroughly conversant with these matters. What is really in question is not the carrying on of anthroposophical Spiritual Science in the sense that one knows all the subjects which form the content of Spiritual Science. The essential thing is much more that one should become on better terms with reality, fuller of insight, more capable of judgment regarding life and the world as a result of having received anthroposophical Spiritual Science, because this makes necessary a kind of judgment which is simply not applicable to the ordinary physical world.

Now I have said that a wave of confusion is passing over the world. Why is this so? Recollect that our present-day 5th post-Atlantean epoch, the age of the consciousness-soul, began in 1413. Since that time mankind is before all else striving to develop the consciousness-soul. If one speaks in this way about this epoch of ours, one is speaking as a man who stands within the development of the earth. For something is manifesting itself in the physical development of the earth which, expressed in words, runs just like this: since the middle of the 15th century mankind has been in the age of the development of the consciousness-soul.

But now we could put the question from another point of view as well, one which we must again and again adopt when dealing with Spiritual Science. We could also put it from the point of view of the discarnate souls who are living between death and a new birth. It is of great importance for many things which must be spoken of by anthroposophical Spiritual Science always to consider, in addition to our own point of view, that the discarnate souls of men and even that of the other spirits of the various spiritual Hierarchies. It is only by this means that we can rightly check whether we are bringing to expression the judgments which we make as earthy men—which must, of course, always be one-sided—in the right spiritual-scientific way. Anyone who now surveys this period of the 5th post-Atlantean epoch by means of spiritual-scientific investigation finds that, from a quite definite point of time, the life of the living, who are taking their stand to an ever greater extent on the basis of consciousness, the summit of the personality.

At first we can only consider in how far this life of the dead changes in intercourse with human beings living on the earth. With regard to the relationship of the living towards the dead it is, to be sure, so extraordinarily difficult to bring anything into human consciousness because what we experience there is certainly remarkably different from what can be experienced here within the physical circumference of the earth. Human beings are accustomed to form their ideas within the physical circumference of the earth must be corrected in the light of our experience with discarnate souls. In these, we experience in an extraordinarily living way the relationship of the dead to human speech.

At first, however, it is difficult to understand how the fact works which I have indicated here in those recent lectures in which I said to you that nouns are hardly understood by the dead. (The Social Question as a Question of Soul: The Inner Experience of Speech. 28-30 Mar. 1919. Dornach.) I have described to you how the other parts of speech are understood by the dead, but there are also, nevertheless, distinctions within these. It is clearly perceptible that human speech, as it is spoken here on the earth, is becoming less and less intelligible to the dead. Certainly the dead understand verbs: they also understand prepositions. They understand everything in which we are compelled to develop pictorial representations. But, generally, the ability to comprehend what can be grasped in speech, the understanding of it, is becoming ever more lost to them.

Before all else, something stands out with quite special clearness—of course, only for certain men: that, the dead understand nothing at all of what we call “Natural Science”, what is carried on as Natural Science here on earth. If we talk to the dead about all other imaginable things, we find understanding. But if we dress up what is supposed to be suitable for the dead in a natural-scientific form of presentation, the dead person merely experiences it as pain. This is of extraordinary significance and confirms what can be learned from other spiritual sources, that everything which is done here with regard to knowledge of nature is really only produced by means of the physical human organism. And as soon as a human being leaves this physical organism after death, everything which he had developed in the physical organism about nature as Natural Science is no longer of any value to him. It has no importance for him. He no longer accounts it: it no longer exists.

One can acquire very clear ideas about these things. Take a purely natural-scientifically written book by a real natural-scientist, let us say about botany. Read a chapter, and try to impart to the dead what is written purely in the sense of the Natural Science of today: it gives him a pain. He does not know at all whence this pain comes. He has absolutely nothing in common with it: he cannot receive it. But in the moment when you recall to yourself how you once saw a dandelion—of which, perhaps, the investigator of nature is speaking—and you set the yellow colour of the dandelion before you in a living way, and its peculiar, indented leaves, in the moment when you really inwardly feel what your eye sees, then the dead begins to understand it. But you must, of course, feel it, for the visual image does not exist for the dead.

This is very remarkable. The dead person can share with earthly human beings their pleasure about a green meadow. He cannot share the ideas of Natural Science about a green meadow. It is true that the natural-scientists of the present-day say that they can form no idea at all about what is living. But then, at some time in the future, some especially perfect Natural Science must find out, from all possible combinations of atoms, how living matter is put together. But if you grasp ideas about what is living, for example Goethe does in his Theory of Metamorphosis, and make this kind of idea living in yourself, then, once again, the dead person understands it. These, again, are ideas which the dead understand.

For a quite definite, spiritual historical fact lies at the basis of all that I am explaining to you here. The development which I have just characterised really only began to appear about the year 1721. If you go back to the time before 1720 and immerse yourself in the writings about nature which were produced then—most people do not notice such things, but it is, nevertheless, the case—you will see that people then speak in a much more living way about nature. The way in which in one speaks about nature today—I may now say, unintelligibly to the dead—really only began in the early part of the 16th century. Only then did this wave break in on mankind. Previously, men found themselves under the necessity of writing about nature in a much more living way, so that the dead with the living took place. Only since then have scientific ideas been such that they are ideas for earthly men alone and only for so long as these are in the physical body, no longer forming any bond upward into the spiritual world.

This is an extraordinarily significant fact in the history of spiritual development. For now, certainly, you can easily imagine how we are entering on a process in which the discarnate will be out adrift from the earth as a result of the Science which is the one and only thing which men are prepared to accept as valid, as a result of what appears to them as the most valuable thing of all. Just imagine this with great vividness! For it is of no avail to shut one's eyes—I mean one's spiritual eyes—to such things. Imagine that, at universities over the whole earth, everything is being gradually effaced which is not admitted by so-called exact Natural Science. The universities are thus islands on the earth where everything which is not exact Science is being effaced in the completest possible way. But as a result these universities become places from which the Spirit—that is to say, everything essential which exists in the Spiritual—flees. They are islands in the culture of mankind where unspirituality, the unspirtual life, is to the greatest extent taking its origin. Looked at from another point of view, surely, the universities are simply our spiritual centres. But think how we earth-men really talk. Since the 18th century we designate as our spiritual centres the very places where the Spirit receives its dismissal, where the Spirit is least of all to be found! Today is no longer the time to close our eyes to these things; we must contemplate them much more—I should like say—coldly, in conformity with true reality. If we look away from things like this, we are shutting our eyes to what must be understood if we are to look into the heart of the true reality of the time.

This development which began in the 18th century has reached its culmination in our time. Now it is necessary to return to the other spiritual wave, as a result of which a real spiritual life can develop in mankind.

There is only one type of spirit which has a special inclination, as it were, to saturate themselves in what is thus unspiritual on our earth. These are the Ahrimanic spirits. The ordinary, discarnate souls of men in the life between death and a new birth feel this nature-knowledge—I should like to say—negatively, so that they feel it as a pain: they thus have a sort of negative experience. The Luciferic spirits have a terrible fury at it; they just hate it. Only the Ahrimanic spirits have an inclination for it and seek to reach their aim just through nature-knowledge, so that this forms a bond of attraction for the Ahrimanic spirits.

Now Ahriman is just the Spirit of Illusion, of Deceit. And I pointed out to you at the time when I explained this that since the beginning of the 18th century the Ahrimanic influences have become ever greater and greater. But as a result this wave of confusion has come upon humanity, which has seized on human beings like a whirlpool and which displays itself in the colossal superficiality of which I gave you an example at the opening of today's lecture.

We must know this kind of thing because it is just anthroposophically-oriented Spiritual Science which puts us into the position to protect ourselves against this confusion. One way to take care of ourselves against it is to be critical, attentive towards what can approach us from every direction in order to throw us into confusion, as happened in the case which I quoted, without being noticed by the greater number of people.

Yet another thing must be observed: we cannot, so to say, get away from a universal world-phenomenon which is with us as things now stand. This wave of chaos is quite clearly with us today. It is of no help whatever to shut our souls' eyes against it. Only one thing is of assistance—to draw our attention to it! And we become attentive if we first of all always say to ourselves regarding what refers to the spiritual worlds the chaos is there, it will keep us from the right knowledge of the Spiritual World! If we always have a sort of suspicion, when people speak to us about the Spiritual World, that what they say might be erroneous, if we accustom ourselves to observe the utmost caution, we shall certainly by no means fall into the wave of chaos which holds sway at the present time. We must find courage to pass through this chaos and to raise ourselves above it, while we partake very, very much in real, sound common-sense. This sound common-sense will only be ours if we are primarily on our guard against a mistake which is so common in the present time: at the present time, when men have attained a certain age, they really wish only to admit the validity of what is already familiar to them.

It is a very nearly universal phenomenon that men who have attained a certain age can hardly be convinced of anything new. If they meet with an opinion, they only ask themselves whether they have already thought of it and if this is the case they are in agreement with it, but if they have not yet thought of it then it is false or abstract to them. In short, this is then a reason why they have nothing to do with the matter. But, in contrast to this, present-day men have the serious task—I will not say always to let themselves be convinced of new things, but at least to let themselves come in contact with new things without presupposition or prejudice, to participate in the new things which are entering the world.

It could appear as though this were a trivial remark. It is not so, because what I have described is sinned against to such an extraordinary extent at the present time. Much would improve if more power of conviction could develop in the intercourse of human beings with one another, if human beings were not so antipathetic towards one another, not so pigheadedly fixed in their own opinions which they received during a certain period of their lives What is the reason for this? At the same point of time when natural-scientifically oriented ideas made their appearances, a quite definite process begins in the development of mankind, which is based on the following.

As you know, man has a physical body, which is embedded in an etheric body; we need not consider the rest today. The intimacy of the connection between these—I am not now referring to the fact that they occupy the same space but to what is dynamic in the connection—changes in the course of earth-evolution. The intimate relationship between the etheric head and the human physical head which, for example, existed in the centuries of Greek culture no longer have existed since the 3rd century B.C. Since this time, the old, intimate relationship between man's etheric head and his physical head has been lost. On the other hand, a really intimate relationship has until now remained in being between the human physical heart and the etheric heart. Since the year 1721, this relationship has been loosening to an ever-increasing degree.

If the physical heart is here (see diagram) and the etheric here, then in earlier times the etheric heart and the physical heart were more a single entity. Now the etheric heart can be excited to activity in an etheric way: the two are no longer so inwardly, dynamically bound together as they were before.

Later, still other human organs will loosen themselves from the etheric. But, with regard to human development as well, something very important results from the fact that the heart is gradually separating itself from its etheric part, and will have completely separated itself in the third millenium, about the year 2100. We can describe the characteristics of this by saying since the recent past, humanity must seek in the path of spiritual life something which in former times came about of its own accord as a result of the natural relationship between the physical heart and the etheric heart. This etheric heart, separated from the physical heart, will only gain its correct relationship to the Spiritual World if man seeks spiritual knowledge, if man seeks anthroposophically-oriented spiritual thoughts. These must be sought to an ever greater extent.

Now something most remarkable is present in our time. How often is it said when reference is made to anthroposophical Spiritual Science: yes, but this has a systematic interconnection, this is complicated, one must do a lot of thinking about it! Christianity, they say, makes all this much simpler: it has Faith! But this faith, which does not want to soar up to real thoughts about the Spiritual World, is extraordinarily dangerous just since the time of the separation of the etheric heart from the physical heart. For this faith, which does not want to gain a real understanding of the Spiritual World, which really only wants to develop a simple relationship-in-feeling towards the Spiritual World, is materializing the heart of mankind, is a means by which culture is being led into materialism in a sphere where one would not think that this would occur. It is just the religious people who are so dreadfully materialistic in our time, because the lean on mere faith. Faith must be soaked through and spiritually permeated by real ideas about the Spiritual World, and it is an Ahrimanic trick to impress this on people in the age of confusion—that they are not by any means to come to a real vision of the Spiritual World, but are to remain stationary in mere faith.

Something also indicated by this, which is of untold importance in our time. What I have said today at the beginning and what I am now saying at the end of today's explanation are interlocked. Only look in an unprejudiced way at the dreadful absence of thinking, at the boundless superficiality out of which our sad circumstances have developed: look deeply into what can be stated spiritual-scientifically—the separation of the etheric heart from the physical heart, and from these explanations derive impulses towards that seriousness which, in our time, in so necessary for further development. The men are becoming ever more and more numerous who, as a result of superficial confusion, really no longer know what they are talking about. In the case of a man like David it is quite clear he does not know what he is talking about, for he is talking about something which does not exist at all, and that because he no longer knows how to read. And on the other side the men are becoming ever more numerous who want to fish in troubled waters, who are exploiting the confusion in men's hearts and minds in order to drop into these all sorts of things which further their aims—for one can implant all sorts of impulses into confused spirits. Among the spirits which still have a relationship with the confusion on earth are the spirits of deceit, the Ahrimanic spirits. And one can implant into human beings the opposite of what is reasonable and healthy if one takes account of the confusion existing in them.