The Spiritual Background of the Social Question
12 April 1919, Dornach
Let us once more briefly set before our eyes what we tried to make clear to ourselves yesterday. We said present-day mankind, insofar as it comes into consideration as modern mankind, is passing as a whole body through something which is similar to what, in the development of individual men, can be designated as the crossing of the Threshold to the supersensible world. If, now, one discusses the development of individual men as I have done in the book How Does One Attain to Knowledge of Higher Worlds? and the booklet The Threshold of the Spiritual World, one is normally referring to the conscious ascent into supersensible life. When one speaks of the crossing of the Threshold, one also implies a quite conscious event, as we have often described it. I have already made you aware of this yesterday, that one should not strain the concepts if one is compelled to carry them over from one sphere into the other. Therefore I can only say to you mankind as a whole is now passing through something similar to a crossing of the Threshold. For I already intimated that it could come to pass, it would be altogether possible for mankind to refuse Spiritual Science. Then they would have no means of knowing anything about the fact that a process is being undergone by the whole of mankind of such a kind as is the crossing of the Threshold. After all, events take place in what has to assert itself as the crossing of the Threshold by the whole of mankind quite other than those which take place in the individual man when he enters in a conscious way on the path into the supersensible world. And I have already indicated yesterday that the essential thing for the whole of mankind in the crossing of the Threshold as it must come about in the course of the 5th post-Atlantean epoch, the time of the development of the consciousness-soul, consists in the separation of the three soul-capacities so that they attain a kind of independence, as has been known to you in essence for a long time. For the whole of mankind, thinking, feeling and willing are not remaining as they now are, chaotically mixed together — as I said, I am speaking of mankind in its entirety. The life of the soul is membering itself in such a way that the whole of mankind are experiencing their thinking, their feeling and their willing more independently than hitherto. In the future, therefore, it needs the membering of the Social Organism into three spheres, which it did not hitherto require in the same way. If, then, one speaks about this threefolding of the Social Organism today, one does so from the consciousness of a necessity which is taking place in the whole of mankind according to the spiritual laws of the universe.
Now the mistake ought not to be made to wish at once to find the all-embracing, the great process in single events which are occurring here or there. Since the middle of the 15th century we have only lived through a small part of the epoch of the development of the consciousness-soul. Such an epoch extends over 2,000 years. This epoch of the development of the consciousness-soul will thus still last for a long time, and the event which one must, nevertheless, already comprehend as this passing over the Threshold of the supersensible will bring itself to being in various stages by means of various events. But I ask you not to make the mistake of, perhaps, immediately identifying only the world-catastrophe of the present-day with the "all-embracing event" of which I spoke yesterday. It would be a mistake if you were to do this. But it is no mistake if one seeks, out of great processes which embrace long periods of time, to understand the events in which one is living. For only when one understands them in this way does one find one's way in relation to single events. Therefore let us speak of something today which in a certain way belongs to the symptomatology of this development of the 5th post-Atlantean epoch after the crossing of the Threshold. The rise of the development of the consciousness soul is, you see, to be read with quite special clearness just from the culture of Middle-Europe. It has already been clearly preparing itself here since the 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries, and then led to certain events which we shall presently discuss, and certainly formed itself in Middle-Europe in such a way that it has quite particularly led, from then on, to the middle-European catastrophe in the present moment of human development, and must lead further into this catastrophe.
It is certainly the case that this Middle-Europe is really condemned to experience certain things, in the first place more quickly and in the second more violently, more characteristically than is the rest of Europe. One can clearly see how, since the beginning of the 15th century, something arises in Middle-Europe which introduces the period of the development of the consciousness-soul. And now one can further see, from the catastrophic events of Middle-Europe in particular, how difficult a path mankind has to pass over just in this period of the development of the consciousness-soul, what difficult struggles, what terrific blows are being endured, so that the period of the consciousness-soul can push impulses which lie in it to the surface of human development.
In this matter it can be of special importance to fix one's attention on the meaning for Middle-Europe of the point of time about the year 1200. It is assumed that about the year 1200 — of course, only approximately — the Nibelung-epic was brought to completion, i.e., that poem which, in relation to the population of Middle-Europe, is very frequently compared with what the Homeric poems were for the Greek world. The Nibelung-epic manifestly important folk-destinies of a period which proceeds by a long time the age in which the poem was brought to completion, came to expression in pictorial, imaginative form. And anyone who looks into the Nibelung-epic today with an honest inner disposition, and even into what Jordan, Wagner, and others have made out of it much later, must say to himself: the sort of humanity, the being of Man which shines out of the Nibelung-epic is, basically, only barely understandable for the men of today. The Nibelung-epic points back to a time in which things were, quite clearly, altogether different in Middle-Europe, even as regards the landscape, and in which human characteristics have developed, out of the nature of the landscape, quite different from those which developed later.
If one has a clear power of perception, one cannot but get the feeling from the Nibelung-epic how the human beings spoken of in it have lived in barren regions which were covered by thick forests over wide areas. What may be called a forest-character is expressing itself in the Nibelung-epic, all that impresses itself on people who are accustomed to live in forest-covered lands. We cannot imagine that the Nibelung-epic had the same outlook as had, for example, the men of the later Germany after the year 1200, although the actual forms in the Nibelungenlied are already very much "humanized". We must imagine that these men were inwardly endowed with a soul-life quite different from that of later men. We must imagine that they had a much more instinctive, more elementary kind of feeling than had the men of later times. The light of Christianity, you see, had not yet really penetrated into the Nibelung-men. But we wish to look less at the content of this soul-life than into the formation, the fashioning of the soul-life of these men. It is clearly something more instinctive (if one does not misunderstand this word), something fiercer, more elementary, which issues from the human soul with a more primal force than happened later.
Nearly at the end of the period into which the Nibelung-epic still points, the period begins which one can call the middle-European civic period, the period of middle-European civic life. How did this develop? It came about in such a way that gradually the forests were rooted up in wide areas, that over wide districts of Middle-Europe meadows and cornfields made their appearance in places which were formerly covered by almost impenetrable forests. This brought into being middle-European city-life, in the first period of the development of the consciousness-soul. And the qualities of this European city-life certainly appeared nowhere in so characteristic a way as in this Middle-Europe, because the destinies of this city-life have already rounded themselves out in a tragic way in Middle-Europe, because in our days they are already bringing themselves to a certain conclusion, because this city-life in Middle-Europe is fundamentally at the end of its development today. It has gone through the world-catastrophe in accordance with its own characteristic disposition, and will go on in accordance with its disposition through this into the world-catastrophe to follow, and will have to undergo experiences different from those of the rest of the European bourgeoisie. The rest of the European bourgeoisie will at a later date experience certain phases of development which, in the case of the middle-European bourgeoisie, are already clearly pointing today to the final catastrophe. Thus, in the middle-European bourgeoisie, we already have a sort of destiny rounded-out in itself — the ascent in the period when wide regions which later became Germany were being transformed from forests into meadows and fields, the development from the 13th to the 20th century, and the terrible, tragic precipice in the 20th century.
This phenomenon, which has a kind of compactness here in Middle-Europe, can nowhere be studied according to its symptomatology in the same way as in this Middle-Europe. And he who wishes really to fix his attention, quite seriously, on the great impulses of human development should not be too cowardly to keep in view the characteristic, important symptoms which are expressing themselves in this. For everything else in Europe is only to be understood if one just fixes one's attention, in an unprejudiced way from the higher point of view of Spiritual Science, on this destiny which is rounded-out in itself.
But it is one-sided to speak of one culture-stream and to say: with the 13th century the later middle-European bourgeoisie arises from the Nibelung-men and becomes the bearer of this middle-European culture. It is of course true and, within these limits, right, but it is one-sided because it is only right within these limits; it is true that that disposition of soul which is here referred to as that of the middle-European bourgeoisie spread itself particularly over the middle-European states, and that middle-European civilization developed out of this bourgeoisie. This is completely true on the one side. But it is not the whole truth; it is only part of it, a part of the phenomena which have developed in that Middle-Europe which is in its death-throes today, together with many other things which have developed at the same time. The other part is that something has remained from the old forest—and Nibelung-men, that something has remained over of characteristics which have continued to live in their souls beyond the old epoch of which the Nibelung-epic tells us. The men who, if I may say so, have developed into the middle-European bourgeoisie under the sunshine of the cornfields and meadows were not the only ones who lived in Middle-Europe after the year 1200 and then on into the 20th century, but there were also other men who had retained something of the old inner wildness and primitive soul-nature of the Nibelung-men.
But if one fixes one's attention on a phenomenon like this, one should not forget that the passing of time is not without significance in the development of mankind, that the passing of time represents a reality. If anyone retains something which really belongs to an earlier age of soul-culture, he does not remain in the same disposition and corresponds to this old soul-culture, but he comes into decadence, into a decline, and loses touch with the demands of the age. He develops into a later age qualities which should have been developed as it would have come to pass in an earlier age, but in a morbid way, with the characteristic marks of decay and decadence.
As a result we saw, in the one line of development, the middle-European bourgeoisie of the new age develop itself, which I should like to call the highest of the cornfields and meadows into which the forests had been transformed: on the other line we see among this bourgeoisie in Middle-Europe men who have retained the old soul-life of the Nibelung-time, who have only adopted the new age and Christianity in an external way, and who therefore display this old Nibelung-soul-character in a decaying form. The men who now displayed this old Nibelung-character in a decaying form are the middle-European territorial princes and their dependents, the territorial princes who have now been cast from their thrones by the dozen. To this middle-European Nibelung-aftergrowth belongs the first place all that formed the human content of the House of Habsburg, but the rest of the territorial princes of Middle-Europe as well. No one understands what is now being tragically consummated who does not also know how to fix his attention on this sub-stratum below the events, on the fact that the more progressive part of the population of Middle-Europe has been ruled and administered through the centuries by that part which has retained the soul-character of the old Nibelung-men in a decadent form.
There was actually a huge contrast between the whole inner soul-structure of those whom one could call the followers of the middle-European bourgeois-system and those who sat on the kingly or princely thrones and their dependents. The soul of some King of Bavaria or Duke of Brunswick and that of a middle-German man who has received an average education are two spiritual powers altogether different from each other. These lived side by side in past centuries like two alien races, perhaps with even stronger points of difference than between two alien races.
One must have the courage to take a good look at an underlying historical fact like this. For it is just in catastrophic times that events in human development do not depend on the external events which conventional history records. What for the most part touches on human destiny and human development depends on underlying facts such as this. Only reflect that the rest of the European bourgeoisie was not concerned with this destiny, to stand in this kind of way in relation to a number of men who had retained an earlier age in their soul-life, but that this was the case only with the middle-European bourgeoisie. Take, for example, but only to make it clearer, the man who, streaming from this Middle-Europe but migrating from it, later turned into the English-speaking peoples. These had not—if I may say so—entered into the development which has been gone through in Middle-Europe. They have taken with them what was present in old times within the European, middle-European bourgeoisie, have carried it elsewhere, and have not had to fret it away in the struggle with backward Nibelung-men.
It thus comes about — I have said this to you on another occasion — that there are, in the English-speaking peoples for example, certain instincts for the development of the consciousness-soul which are completely lacking in Middle-Europe, certain instincts for political life in particular, while the mankind of Middle-Europe had to remain non-political, without politics, had no disposition at all to take part in any way in political life for they were ruled, you see, by men who had retained an earlier age.
Yet how strikingly clear does it appear to one who turns his glance to the second half of the 18th century. We there look on the spiritual blossoms of the middle-European bourgeoisie; we need only name Klopstock, Lessing, Herder, Schiller, Goethe, and many another to indicate the blossoms of what had been germinally developing upwards since the time of the Nibelungen. And, in the same age as the men who represent these blossoms, with their culmination in Goethe and Goetheanism, there stands, by contrast, in Frederick the Great, the most complete retention of the Nibelung-wildness in its fullest decay! Seek for a human contrast where you will, there is no other which works so tragically, when considered i n perspective, as Goethe by the side of Frederick the Great.
As for the development which followed, it remains, indeed, only to be said that the utmost absence-of-thought, the most dreadful indifference to spiritual interests, arose in the 19th century and had to continue in the 20th until Goetheanism, the greatest spiritual impulse which struck into mankind during its century, has come to be hardly noticed at all. For Goetheanism is hardly regarded at all by civilization in general. In this is expressing itself that complete absence-of-thought, that complete lack of interest and lack of attention towards human development which began in the 19th century and continued in the 20th. And the whole of the inner untruthfulness of this culture of the 19th and of beginning of the 20th century is required in order to represent the period of Frederick the Great and its impulses as characteristic of modern times. Once could really say nothing more inappropriate about Frederick the Great than what has been said about him in current historical representations.
One must also see more recent events on this substratum, not merely events of a local nature but also those which encroach deeply into international life, certainly events which, until today, have been entirely missed by mankind, who slept through them. For can there be anything more tragi-comic than when men, who are separated by cosmic distances from all that has developed in Weimar, now come together in Weimar in the farce of the present-day National Assembly? Anything more nonsensical than the gathering of this present-day assembly in Weimar is impossible to devise.
I had this in mind when I spoke a short time ago of a more rapid and also more vigorous development. today I must often think about various conversations which I had in the eighties of the last century with people who were enthusiastic for what is German, among them, for example, the man who later wrote the History of Modern Austria — Heinrich Friedjung (1854-1920), whom I recently mentioned in another connection in the lecture in the "Bernoulli" and whose strange action you find mentioned, as you may remember, in one of my printed lectures. (R.S. The Christmas Mood, Novalis as proclaimer of a Christianity to be understood spiritually).
At that time it was said that Middle-Europe in the age of Lessing, Herder, Goethe, Schiller and the others who were of like mind with them had reached a high-point of the spiritual development of mankind. Friedjung and some who were in my company at that time spoke somewhat like this now it must really go on, it must ascend further. I remember very well how I said: no, that was the high-point; from then on it descends again. With our present-day age the middle-European world has brought to the surface just what it had in it in the way of subjectivity.This, then, was the characteristic appearance of Middle-Europe; after that, it went downwards, not upwards any more.
Naturally, this was at that time taken very amiss of me; it was perhaps even considered to be nonsense. I can understand quite well that much of what I had to say in my, and of what I have to say, is regarded by my contemporaries as nonsense. But this, nevertheless, is a quite characteristic phenomenon. What began about the year 1200 and had its mighty culmination in Lessing, Herder, Goethe and Schiller, is certainly present, but it cannot be understood in the framework of the national middle-European life. But the specifically middle-European culture wills no longer to be national but to be above nationality, international, an outlook which has also got to be honestly cultivated in our Spiritual Science, in contrast with all the national chauvinism of the present-day. This is going to be the characteristic phenomenon, that the true substance of what came to light about the turn of the 18th-19th centuries can be perceived and lived only by this spiritual-scientific cultural life.
Let us look back a little, and fix our attention on a certain nuance of this middle-European cultural life. For one who knows how to take history symptomatologically it still remains a very remarkable fact, pointing deeply into historical mysteries, that in 1077 — thus comparatively speaking, a long time before the now Age of Consciousness — a representative of the old wildness of the Nibelung-souls (as the Salic and also the Saxon Emperors also were, Henry IV, had to do his terrible penance at Canossa before the monk of Cluny (or at least the follower of the monastic system pf Cluny), who had become a great Pope. For the great Pope Gregory, who had put Henry IV under the ban of the Church and forced him to come to Canossa, stood entirely under the influence of the Cluniac stream, that ecclesiastical current which aimed to raise up the Church to be the preponderant power in Europe. And the whole of the wildness of the old Nibelung-character expressed itself in this Henry IV, the Salic, in his relations with Pope Gregory.
And still another thing which has found its continuation in later times was already expressing itself at that time, the fact that Middle-Europe could simply do nothing except come into conflict with what had, in a round-about way, become pseudo-Christianity through Romanism, what had developed from the original Christian impulse into a Christian empire. The old Nibelung-wildness was in a certain way made subject to the Roman Empire. It was then replaced by that stream which rose over the forests of Middle-Europe which had been turned into cornfields and meadows. Basically speaking, this transformed stream which replaced the old Nibelung-outlook was in no way fitted to take in the impulses of the Roman Empire. It was really continually struggling against the type of Christianity which had become political. And while, on the one side, it brought its own nature to extension and unfolded what was in its own being, it saw itself on the other side humbled, ruled and administered by those who had retained the old Nibelung-wildness in the manner already described.
I repeat that in order to understand things like this one must be clear with oneself in a spiritual-scientific way that if something which was great in an earlier time is retained in a later time it becomes unhealthy in the later time and falls into decay. This is the characteristic thing about the contrast which exists in Middle-Europe. There is all that arose with the beginning of the 13th century after the uprooting of the old forests, all that began to sound from earth to heaven with the songs of Walther von der Vogelweide and what has run into Goetheanism. This is the one, unpolitical side, which is undergoing a completion in itself of the circle of its development but which always has beside it, without realizing the whole consequences of this fact, the old Nibelung-character on the thrones with the princely diadems — but in a state of decadence.
Middle-Europe came into the second half of the 19th century under this kind of circumstances and conditions, and went on into the 20th century, and thus entered into the phase which must now be so frequently described as characteristic of present-day Europe, as distinct from Russia. One must speak, just in these connections, about modern industrial development, of the machine-age, the rise of capitalism. These are international phenomena. If one speaks of the rise of the age of technical development, of the industrial age, of the capitalist age, one is speaking of international impulse. But these international impulses acted in a different way in every place. I should so much like to see a really unprejudiced description of what has developed in Middle-Europe from the time when Walther von der Vogelweide sang until the day when Goethe spoke the loftiest words about humanity — a humanity which no longer understands Goethe's words at all, without the dreadful scholastic judgments which have been mixed into conventional history in all spheres. I should like to see what lies in these years of development described in an unprejudiced way, to see it described quite in accordance with reality. Then it would really be possible for the untruthfulness to be removed, where it has penetrated into the hearts and souls of men in so tremendously elementary a way that even the most truthful man has to become untruthful. Then the untruthfulness will be removed, to which even a man like Goethe was impelled when he spoke about Frederick the Great, simply because the power of what held sway as a universal opinion was so strong that the most truthful man could do nothing except say the same as the others did.
Truthfulness demands something else, quite different from any blind acceptance-of-authority or the like. Therefore truthfulness is an individuality, a being which is so avoided in human development. Therefore untruthfulness calls forth as much that is tragic in human development. One would have to speak of a quite special revelation of the new age if one wished to describe, faithfully to reality and in an unprejudiced way, what lies in the development from the time in which Walther von der Vogelweide sang his songs to the time in which Goethe gave a hitherto unrevealed treasure of spiritual life to his contemporaries and to a posterity which did not understand him. But one would be impelled to call attention to the fact that something was, as it were, secretly developing for the whole of mankind on earth and that what was not secret, what one observes as world-history, was the Luciferic shaping of the old Nibelung-wildness.
Thus, from the year 1200 until the 20th century, the natural development of the Middle-Europe stood facing something Luciferic which the retained Nibelung-wildness was unfolding as soul-life in an age which had meanwhile become different. Let us consider these two streams. Let us consider the stream of which we may look for the starting-point about the year 1200, and let us set opposite to it the Luciferic element of the territorial princes. Then we shall understand the terrible Luciferic-Ahrimanic combination which was brought about, in the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th, in the last phase of a Middle-Europe which is moving towards its end. I mean the combination between the Ahrimanic element of modern industrialism, with its technical development and capitalism, and that of the old territorial princely system, Junkerdom, the dependents of the old Nibelung-wildness which had fallen into decay.
It is this which has brought Middle-Europe to its ruin. This Ahrimanic-Luciferic marriage between rising industrialism (other regions of the world were gripped by this in a way different from what happened in Middle-Europe, where the old Nibelung-wildness held sway in the territorial princely system) and the political administrators of Middle-Europe, the territorial princely system, was what would not permit the unfolding of a really middle-European or German mission to come about, as was called for in my Manifesto (Manifesto to the German people and to the civilized world: Vol. 1, lecture 1). And if one is quite frankly and freely to describe what terrible symptoms of a world-historically tragic decline were present from 1914 to 1919 and will, as a result, continue to be present just in Middle-Europe, one will have to describe the co-operation — cruelly terrible for this region of Middle-Europe — of the old, decadent, Nibelung-nobility with the newly-arisen industrialists of Middle-Europe, who justified their world-historical position by no inner pretensions of the soul.
The types which have appeared in Middle-Europe in these years out of these two different circles have become the most terrible destroyers of Middle-Europe. These were the men who, in boundless haughtiness and out of what they imagined to be a practical outlook, have for years been trampling down everything which was trying in any way to foster the further consideration of what began to sing with Walther von der Vogelweide and found its finality with Goetheanism. It is no longer to be wondered at that the external world has coined the term "militarism" in order to indicate these much deeper phenomena in an inappropriately-appropriate, appropriately-inappropriate way, for the world outside Middle-Europe is not even very much more thoughtful than is the middle-European world. Understanding for the middle-European nature has nowhere been found, but it must also be said that what has developed into Goetheanism in this Middle-Europe has gone backward with giant strides since the age of Goethe.
If one speaks of the crossing of the Threshold into the supersensible world, one must always call to mind something which was always said in the old days, when men knew much from atavistic clairvoyance, about the experiences of the human soul which crosses this Threshold to the supersensible, namely "passage through the gate of death". Many a thing is going on in the whole of humanity which is announcing itself in a soul-spiritual way as a passing through the gate of soul-spiritual death. And, as I wish to say once again, all sorts of things ought to be considered not in such a way that one just immediately identifies single phenomena with the great, revolutionary impulses of world-historical development. But one must be able to drag what happens in individual instances into the light of what can come to us, spiritual-scientifically, as illumination of the great, incisive impulses of our time.
It is, to be sure, just now that something remarkable has happened just in Middle-Europe. Characteristic phenomena can be perceived. What I have often described to you as expressing the reality of the soul-life through speech is letting itself continue in this middle-European spiritual life just about the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The industrial-technical-capitalist coloring which the fashionable culture of Middle-Europe has gradually taken on is bringing it about that people are quite forgetting the earlier age up to the 12th century. Really, the Germans of the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th do not know how they are Germans, or as the result of what. The events of the early age were received in a real sleep of the soul, for this had not penetrated into the consciousness of the so-called educated classes, who gradually broke with what had found its finality in Goetheanism. Nothing of the true spiritual substance which was coming up had penetrated into the consciousness of the so-called educated classes. And thus it could come about — and many similar examples could be brought forward — that serious people were inclined to take as serious drama or serious poetry the glorification of the German heroic past by a brawling fellow such as Ernst von Wildenbruch.
Ernst von Wildenbruch has dramatized much about certain emperors, kings and princes of the early days, but he has always represented only the least important family events of all, and never world-historical impulses. One therefore has the feeling in his dramas: words are sounding here like a tinny noise, nothing but beaten tins! But we have already come so far in the age of industrialism, which must work destructively just on peoples, such as the German people, with an innate talent for spirituality, that people feel the tintinnabulations of Ernst von Wildenbruch to be real poetry. Yes, we have come so far that men like Herman Grimm, who have attained to a really fine comprehension of the recent development of Art, who have brought to it a fine spiritual comprehension of a phase of human development, are filled with deep admiration as they stand before the soulless bawling of Ernst von Wildenbruch and liken this to the songs of the great poets of world-history. So far has modern mankind departed from what is an inner comprehension of true reality! And yet you know what Herman Grimm is one of the personages of the new age whom I honor most.
This, my dear friends, must be recorded if one is to describe in what an age we live. This must be stressed and described in order to understand what it is to mean that our time is, in a certain way, passing through a spiritual death in order to come to a higher stage in the development of mankind.