Some Characteristics of To-day
Heidenheim, 12th June, 1919
We are living at a time when one can see what anthroposophic Spiritual Science — as it is called — has really been striving after for years. To a certain extent the fiery signs of the times can be regarded as proving the necessity that led to the birth of this movement and has kept it before the world for some years now. And perhaps the best result of our anthroposophic strivings would be a conviction of this necessity in the hearts and souls of those taking part. Though this or that event in the external world may take on a stormy character, though that which is striving to develop from out of the depths of human evolution may have this or that appearance, the essential nature of what is happening to-day can only be grasped if we look at those events which escape the ordinary human powers of perception still usual among us. Such events are only really perceptible when we study the world from a spiritual point of view.
I should like to start by mentioning one such phenomenon which almost escapes notice among the manifold stormy events of to-day. It is regarded as something insignificant and unimportant, but it is an actual fact for one who, from spiritual sources, has acquired the ability to study life as it actually is.
It may sound an extraordinary statement, but it is nevertheless true, that for some seven, eight or ten years now a real student of human life can observe quite a different expression on the faces of new-born babies. Many people, it is true, do not notice this, for the most important things of life pass unheeded to-day. But one who has acquired an eye for such things knows that very many children born during the last seven to ten years wear a melancholy expression. It is as if they ‘held back’ from the world. One might say that even from the first days of life, from the first week onwards, something different can be seen in the physiognomy of these children. And if we investigate this remarkable fact that seems so strange to the man of to-day, we find that the souls entering the world through birth bear within them from before conception and birth that which gives their faces this melancholy expression. Hidden though it often be behind all their smiles, it is nevertheless there in the faces of these children, almost from birth. It was not there formerly. In these souls there lives — though it is quite unconscious, of course — a “reluctance” to enter life. Souls entering through birth to-day feel a kind of hindrance, a difficulty, in entering the physical world.
Now it is a fact that man undergoes an important experience in the spiritual world before entering the physical world through conception and birth, and the effects of this experience are active in his coming life. Here on the earth men die; they pass through the gate of death, laying aside their physical bodies and taking their souls into the spiritual world. These souls still bear within them the effects of all they have experienced in the physical world. After passing through the gates of death human souls appear, on the whole, as the after-effects of what they have immediately experienced in earthly life. Now such souls meet those who are about to descend into a physical body. (This is actually the case. I can only tell you of it, for these things can only be brought from the spiritual world through actual experience of them.) This meeting between those souls who have just passed through the gate of death and those who are just about to enter the physical world through the gate of birth is an important event. Its effect is decisive in many respects. In a certain sense, its function is to give the descending souls some idea of what they will encounter here. It is from this meeting that the “impulse” is derived that stamps the peculiar expression of melancholy on the faces of children entering the world to-day. They do not want to enter the world of which they have learnt through this meeting. For they know how, in a sense, their “spiritual plumage” will be ruffled by what mankind, immersed in materialistic thoughts and feelings, views and deeds, is experiencing on the earth to-day.
This fact (which, naturally, can only be established spiritually) and other things beside throw a strong light on our whole age. The present times can only be understood on such a basis, and we ought to strive for such an understanding.
I have started from something which can, of course, only be apprehended through spiritual perception. But other events of to-day are speaking to us loudly and clearly and can strike everyone who, though without spiritual vision, does not go through life half asleep. We have seen the great catastrophe of the World-War extend over the world during the last four or five years, causing great harm; we can turn our thoughts again and again to the outward and visible causes of this terrible catastrophe (as, I believe, everyone who is not asleep must do); we can study the course of this catastrophe and, finally, the events which have followed from it over large areas of the globe. One thing must be clear to every soul that is really awake. Consider the peculiar fact that this catastrophe of the world-war burst over Central Europe, for example, actually without anyone knowing how it all came about. This was indeed the case. People ask how it arose, pronounce this or that person guilty — and then, when they imagine they have laid the blame at somebody's door, repeat again and again: Yet it cannot be like that; there must have been some other factor at work.
People tell themselves that a great social movement has developed out of the catastrophe of the world war. Whether they belong to a party or not they try to understand what ought to be done in the present social catastrophe. Yet all the thoughts they form about it are only “thought-mummies” in the face of current events — thoughts that are powerless before the storm of events and quite inadequate to their true character. And if we look more closely at all this — especially now when all kinds of memoirs are being published by persons who, apparently, were directly concerned in the outbreak of the world-catastrophe — we have to ask ourselves: Were these people really “within” the events of four or five years ago? Did they really know what they were doing? Had they any conception of the far-reaching consequences of what their intellects had thought out? People ought more and more to admit to themselves to-day what the Russian Minister Suchomlinoff admitted at his trial. Speaking of the three or four hours in which he made his most important decisions, he said: I must have lost my reason then; I must, indeed, have been mad!
Such things are very significant. They point to the wide-spread mental confusion among those concerned. And one who is really in a position to see through the terrible nature of present world-events, discovers what people will come to see more and more, namely: that there was not so very much moral failure, but all the more intellectual blundering through sheer incapacity to grasp world-events.
It is just the same to-day. How helpless, in the main, is the great majority of people in the face of world-events that have come upon them. A most serious question is presented here. What really lies at the base of all this?
At the base of this lies something which is extraordinarily difficult for our materialistically-minded age to grasp, namely: that just since the historical moment in which the wave of materialism rose especially high, the strongest spiritual force that has ever willed to enter human life from the spiritual world is now seeking to enter. It is this that is characteristic of our age. Since the beginning of the last, third of the 19th century the spirit — the spiritual world — is willing to reveal itself to men in all strength; yet men have gradually reached a point in their development when they are only willing to use their physical bodies as instruments for receiving anything at all in the world. Their materialistic outlook has accustomed them to consider — even to maintain on theoretical grounds that the physical body is the instrument of thinking and, indeed, of feeling and willing too. Men have persuaded themselves that the physical body is the instrument of all spiritual life. They have not persuaded themselves of this without grounds; they have good reason for this, namely: That man in the course of his evolution had gradually come to be able to use only the physical body. It had really come about that only the physical body could be used as the instrument of spiritual activity.
So we stand to-day at the infinitely important juncture in human evolution where, on the one hand, the spiritual world is willing to reveal itself with great power, while, on the other, man must find the strength to free himself from his greatest entanglement in what is material and come to a new reception of spiritual revelations.
To-day man is confronted by the greatest trial of his strength — his power to work his way in freedom to the spirit which is approaching him of itself, if he does not shut himself off from it. The time is past when the spiritual could reveal itself to man in all sorts of subconscious and unconscious processes. The time has come when man must receive the light of the spirit through a free, inner deed. All the confusion and want of clarity in which men are living to-day come from the fact that men must receive something that they do not yet want to receive: an entirely new understanding of things.
The old ways of thought, the old ways of regarding world-events, came to full expression in the terrible catastrophe of the world-war. Its infinitely significant warning signs are nothing but a call to re-model our ways of thinking, to try a new way of regarding the world, for the old way can only lead again and again to chaos and confusion. It is time we realised this. It is time we realised that the leading statesmen in 1914 had come to a point at which nothing more could be achieved with the old methods of thought. Because of this they led humanity into misfortune. People must impress this fact strongly upon themselves, or they will not form a strong resolution really to meet the spirit and the life of the spirit in freedom and inwardness of soul.
The lamentable thing about the time in which we are living is that we see things being revealed everywhere which cannot be understood with previous points of view and previous conceptions of life; yet people cling firmly to these old points of view and conceptions of life and simply do not want to come to new modes of conception. The anthroposophic view of the world wanted to prepare mankind for such new modes. Fundamentally, the anthroposophic view of the world had no real opponents except inner comfort and laziness of soul. People cannot rouse themselves to bring the inner forces of their souls to meet the spiritual wave invading our life so powerfully to-day.
I have just said that people are no longer accustomed to use anything but their physical bodies for thinking. It is this that had led to the materialistic view of the world. Now there is one thing that simply must be understood to-day. Nature, as studied by natural science to-day — that science which has achieved so many triumphs — can be understood with the instrument of the physical brain or of the physical body in general. But one cannot understand human life with this instrument of the physical body. We can only understand human life if we can rise to a thinking that is not produced by the physical body alone. It is this thinking that should be cultivated through the anthroposophic view of the world. Of course people say they do not understand the anthroposophic outlook — what is given in our books or presented in lectures. And we can quite believe them. But what does this mean? It only means that they want to se their physical brains for understanding. They do not want to learn another kind of thinking than that which can lazily find support in the physical brain. The anthroposophic view of the world cannot, of course, be understood with such thinking. It is not that one would have to be clairvoyant in order to understand it. But one must train oneself to a thinking that is not bound to the physical brain. What is to be found in anthroposophic literature and can be acquired with the healthy human understanding — for the healthy human understanding is not bound to the brain — gradually develops a thinking, a feeling and a willing that are adequate to the needs of to-day. It is a fact that what the present requires of us cannot be understood by the instrument of the physical body; it must be apprehended, through the instrument of the etheric body, i.e., with the body of formative forces underlying the physical body.
The spiritual world which is striving to reveal itself to men, only finds expression in their deeply unconscious feelings. Men are dominated by an unconquerable fear of the spiritual world. When they say they do not understand spiritual science this is really only an excuse. The truth is, they are afraid of the revelations of the spiritual world. It is only because they will not admit this fear that they say they do not understand spiritual science, or that it is not logical — or they make other excuses. In truth, they are afraid and therefore seek all possible excuses in order to escape from the great problems. How glad people are when they can escape the great tasks and riddles of present day life! When one spoke, maybe from this or that angle, of important problems of our age, people grew uncomfortable. Then perhaps they went to see the plays of Ibsen in which some of the great problems of the age find partial expression. But they did not need to take these seriously; all that is “merely” dramatic art. People grew uncomfortable when one spoke to them directly of the penetration of the physical world by the spiritual. Now Björnson had treated of this in his dramas, but one had no need to believe it; it was “only” art. People felt an unconquerable fear of taking these things seriously.
Again, class differences became greater and greater, the gulf between the governing and proletarian classes became wider and wider. The social question produced riddles; one talked of these but felt uncomfortable about them. Yet people went to the theatre to see Hauptmann's “Weavers,” though they felt no need to take a serious attitude to the problems it presented. One let oneself be stirred a little by the abysmal depths in human life, but there was no need to take it seriously, for it was “just” art. People took refuge in something that they did not need to take seriously. This is a phenomenon that is characteristic of the psychology of the age. What lies behind this?
Behind this lies the fact that men, in accordance with the will on the part of the spiritual world to reveal itself to them, ought to have striven to take seriously certain things which cannot be grasped through the instrumentality of the physical body, but only through “imaginative” forces — just as art itself can only be grasped by “imaginative” forces. Man's physical body is built up like a natural product; it is a work of nature. Man's etheric body is built up like a work of art; it is a real work of plastic art — only, it is in constant motion. And what man receives (for his enjoyment) from understanding a work of art, must be intensified and clarified, must become perception which he takes seriously, i.e., “Imagination,” “Inspiration” and “Intuition.” Man then understands what is willing to reveal itself to him to-day. For behind present events waits concealed what can only be understood spiritually. One should feel deeply that the spiritual revelation trying to enter our present world can only be grasped through spiritual science itself i.e., through that thinking and feeling, through those inner impulses of will which can be trained by spiritual science and belong to the same region of soul as artistic perceptions — though these are not taken seriously and remain mere mirror-images.
At one time I tried to draw attention to something that is urgently needed by the present age. Naturally it was not understood because of the philistine character of our science — that terrible monster of official, academic science. My book “Philosophie der Freiheit,” which appeared in 1892, contains a chapter entitled “Die Moralische Phantasie” (Moral Imagination). In terms of Spiritual Science one could say “imaginative moral impulses.” I wanted to point out that the domain usually reached only in artistic fantasy must now be grasped by mankind in all earnestness, for it represents a stage that man must attain in order to receive the super-sensible which cannot be grasped by the brain.
At the beginning of the nineties I wanted to point out, at least in regard to man's moral perceptions, that the super-sensible must now be grasped in all earnestness. One should realise all this to-day; one should feel that the thoughts, the inner impulses of soul that were carried over into the catastrophe of the world-war and into the present period of social upheaval are no longer of any use. We need new “impulses” (or springs of action). If one comes to-day with a new “impulse,” it is the last thing that people understand. For if one brings a new “impulse,” whose source is entirely within the spiritual world, and presents it as a remedy for the evils of our age, complaints are heard on all sides, from the extreme right to the extreme left, that it is all incomprehensible. Of course one does not understand it if one wants to retain the old forms of thinking. But to-day it is necessary to overcome these old forms, re-modelling one's whole soul inwardly. All external revolutions, no matter how agreeable to this or that party or class, lead into the worst of blind alleys and will bring the greatest misery to mankind if not illuminated by the inner revolution of the soul. This means throwing off one's absorption in the purely materialistic view of the world and preparing actively to receive the spiritual wave that is willing to invade human evolution as a new revelation. The revolution from matter to spirit is the only salutary revolution; all others are only like diseases of childhood — scarlet-fever or measles — afflicting the early stages of what is trying to come to healthy expression in the emergence of the spirit at the present time.
A strong inner resolution is necessary to-day if we are to be equal to the demands made upon us by our present age. Let us consider in all earnestness that it is a spiritual world that is trying to invade our life. Spiritual forces are there and we should make our decisions, our deeds, our whole thinking dependent on them. This is demanded of us to-day! Much is changing in the present time. Let me point to something symptomatic which also sounds strange when spoken of, but appears of the greatest importance when viewed spiritually.
I have just spoken to you of the etheric body as a necessary instrument for a certain spiritual understanding of what in art need only remain a mirror-image. Now we know from Spiritual Science that in addition to the physical body and “etheric body” we possess an “astral body” — or whatever you like to call it. It is the psychic element proper and is essentially more spiritual than the “etheric body.” At the time of his physical development man was naturally more “remote” from this than from his “etheric body.” For the “etheric body,” underlying, as it does, the physical body, has a kind of “form” [Bildgestalt] even though it is a “form” in constant motion. The “astral body,” however, is really formless. When we speak of it, we are speaking of an “image” or “picture” which, we know, is only intended to “represent” the “astral body,” for this is really formless. The “astral body” has been changing during the last three to four centuries and is very different in modern man. The human beings of the past had “astral bodies” that were, comparatively speaking, permeated with all kinds of spiritual forces; the spiritual feelings and impulses at work in their lives were due to this spiritual element in their “astral bodies.” To-day our “astral bodies” have becomeempty. They are remarkably empty, and this is because, at the present time, when the power of the spiritual world is striving to reveal itself from without (to a certain extent), man is to receive this external spiritual world. Hence his “astral body” has gradually become empty. He ought to fill himself again with what is revealing itself from without. This has a quite definite effect on man. And now I am coming to a fact which, as I have already said, sounds so very strange when one speaks of it just as strange as when one speaks of the child's melancholy countenance. Nevertheless it is a fact.
The most important event in the series that led to the outbreak of the catastrophe of the world-war fell — so far as Berlin was concerned — on the 1st [of] August, at some time between a quarter past three in the afternoon and eleven or twelve o'clock at night. Various people were concerned — people belonging, of course, to our materialistic age. Now for the materialistically-minded man of to-day that is the most unfavourable time for making decisions. For we have come to a very, very important point in human evolution. The man of to-day cannot form sensible decisions at all if he does not wake up with them in the morning. This is true, however strange it may sound, and men will recognise it more and more from external acts. It is not necessary that we should be conscious of these decisions; in our sub-consciousness we live through in the night what we can experience on the following day. Man has not yet got so far as to be able to survey it prophetically, but that is not the point. If you harbour a thought at 3:30 or 6 o'clock, it may be a thought that you have already had in the night and now arises in you again. If, however, a thought arises that you have not already formed in the night but which is produced from out of the events of the day, it cannot be a reasonable thought in the case of the man of to-day. The man of to-day has to draw his most important impulses from the spiritual world. These do not come from the physical world at all. To-day we cannot but be “unreasonable” if we do not bring our decisions with us, if we do not appeal to this life in the spiritual world. When our “astral body” is free at night, i.e., outside the physical and “etheric” bodies and together with the spiritual world, that which is most essential takes place; it is prepared for the Reason of the day (and more so than in the case of our ancestors). The moment of waking should be sacred for the modern man. He should feel: I come from the spiritual world and enter the physical; all that is good, all that makes me capable of being a reasonable man, I have experienced between falling asleep and waking up, through intercourse with the spiritual world, through intercourse with the dead I have known in life and who have died before me — in short, through intercourse with those who are no longer in a physical body. I experience it when I am with them in the purely spiritual world. From this experience I ought to draw the fundamental mood of sacred regard for the moment of waking; this fundamental feeling will then make it possible for me throughout the day to say in one case “Here I am helped by a spiritual impulse” and in another case “Here I receive no help; this must not be decided before to-morrow.”
That is a way of conducting one's life spiritually, really reckoning with spiritual factors. Of course, in a materialistic age men do not reckon with spiritual factors for they are always so “clever.” They believe that nothing more than the instrument of the physical body is required in order to be clever. They do not appeal to what can be revealed to them when they are separated from their physical body and are together with the spiritual world in their “astral body.” Nothing but the will to conduct life spiritually, the will to allow spiritual decisions, spiritual impulses, to play a part in what we do in the physical world can make humanity healthy again.
This is what man should really consider thoroughly to-day. The anthroposophic view of the world cannot consist in a number of abstract concepts which we receive, studying them and resting content that we have a different view of the world from that of others. No; our whole thinking and our whole feeling must become different, so that we realise that we must let our life be penetrated by the light of the spirit. Humanity's present misfortunes have come from its refusal to entertain the spiritual — an attitude that has been cultivated to the utmost. The catastrophe of the world-war has, more than any previous event, arisen from external, purely material causes. It has therefore been the most terrible catastrophe of all. Man should learn from it that he was driven into it by his previous thinking, feeling and willing; he will not come out of it — though it will assume other forms — until he boldly determines to undertake the inner transformation of his soul.
The facts which I have put before you are indeed facts: the melancholy expression on the faces of children, the necessity of using our etheric body for gaining an understanding of the world, and the necessity of appealing to the moment of waking, to what remains of the previous sleep and glows on, as it were, in us.. It will be more and more necessary for man's future evolution that he should let the spirit play an active part.
One should understand that the anthroposophic view of the world is not intended as something sensational for “psychic idlers” — and many of our present day mystics are just that. One should see in it not a kind of dessert supplementing life's external, physical enjoyments, but something connected with the deepest impulses of our cultural life. The latter cannot become healthy unless fructified by the anthroposophic view of the world. We should engrave this fact deeply upon our souls when we have learnt to know this anthroposophic view.
With the above words I wanted to describe, from a certain point of view, the present decisive moment in human evolution. Of course it is quite easy, if we judge with the thoughts of the age, to condemn as mere foolishness the important things that are most in need of being said to-day. People believe themselves Christians but have not even understood the saying that what is wisdom with man is often foolishness unto God, and that all foolishness — perhaps folly and madness — before men can yet be wisdom unto God. Indeed, people to-day forget so easily the inner impulses and like to cling to the empty phrase. When one speaks to men to-day and utters the word “Christian” or “Christ” or “Jesus” after every fifth word, one is considered to be speaking in a Christian sense, even if what one is saying may be very unchristian. But if we hold we are making known what the Christ is revealing to our souls to-day, and if in doing so we take account of the commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” — a saying that has been carried over into Christianity — people find it unchristian. They repeat, in parrot fashion, the Ten Commandments, but take the name of their God in vain every moment and believe themselves to be specially Christian in consequence. So, too, one is not regarded as a true German if one has not always the word “German” on one's lips; though to-day the important thing is to see that the deepest forces of the German people have been, as it were, trampled under foot during the last thirty years and must be raised again by a spiritual deepening. We look to the West and find a civilization that strives to become completely materialistic, though it has, at least, a certain inner surety of instinct and on this account cannot completely drown in materialism. We look to the East and find a cultural life that despises the West and us too, for the Eastern culture still clings to an ancient spirituality and is renewing it in a certain way. We stand between these and are called to find the right path between Western materialism, and Eastern spirituality (which is not suitable for us). We in Central Europe should become conscious of our great responsibility and conscious, too, how much our sense of responsibility for this position has been lost in the last decades. What has our spiritual life become? An appendage to the political life and to the economic life. The state as trustee of the spiritual [cultural] life, especially of education, has destroyed the spiritual life. The economic life on which we depend for our daily bread has further destroyed us. We require a free spiritual life, for only into such can we introduce that which the spiritual world would reveal to mankind. This stream of spiritual life must descend! But it will never reveal itself to the servant of the state, the state professor; and it will never reveal itself to one who, in the spiritual life, is the coolie of the economic life. It will only reveal itself to him who has daily to struggle with the spiritual life and stands within the free life of the spirit. Our age requires the life of the spirit to be set free from the shackles of the state and of economics.
These things which are being made known to-day in another form through our “Threefold State” proposals, are the Christianity of to-day; they are, spiritual revelations clothed in external forms. They are what men need; they alone offer men a real basis and a real possibility for learning anew to transform their thinking. It is this that is so necessary for mankind to-day. We have had to wage war with a country that possesses an instinctive political life of great perfection and has long possessed many colonies with which it has industrial ties. We have fought as a country with an industrialism that was only developing and which wanted to possess colonies. For these strivings we required “spirit” [Geist] — and no one had committed the sin against the Spirit more than those who took a leading part in the economic life of Germany during the last three decades. For their programme was: rejection of the spiritual life, surrender to mere chance, blind chance. It is as if the World Spirit had wished to give the German people the greatest lesson by imposing the greatest test. This nation was to be shown the Spirit cannot be ignored. But it appears as if this is being learnt with difficulty, for this nation is still inclined to condemn everything else rather than lack of consciousness of responsibility towards the spirit. The lamentable events occurring in this domain to-day show that men's souls are still asleep. There is a total lack of conscious realisation how ill-fitted for their task are the men who guide the destiny of the German people and have to represent it before the West. There is simply no realisation that the whole delegation, to Versailles is senseless because of the men taking part. The will not to see events as they are is still a witness to the fact that men's souls are asleep; otherwise they would have said long ago: The delegates to Versailles whom we have sent are as unfitted as possible to understand the present moment of world history. One will only judge these things correctly when one becomes conscious of responsibility towards the spirit — when one recognises that we are living in a very important moment of the world's history and that it is our duty to take things very seriously. In certain fields there is much talk about this, that and the other, and it is more comfortable to say: those who hold the responsible positions will manage somehow. But nothing good can come if those who hold responsible positions to-day still harbour the old thoughts. Whether they be old-fashioned aristocrats, or decadent aristocrats, or Marxian Socialists who know nothing about the world but, at most, have absorbed something of Marx' “Kapital” — whoever they be nothing good can come if they do not develop the will to turn their souls from the old to new thoughts. The revolution of the 9th [of] November, 1918, was no revolution, for what has changed is only the external stucco. But what is trying to change can be seen most clearly in those who now wear the outward stucco instead of those who wore it previously. It is necessary to see what lies at the base of all this. But thoughts are necessary, and for these one must have the will; and this will can only come when trained through active intercourse with the spiritual world. On this account active intercourse with the spiritual world is the sole real balsam that humanity needs.
This is what I wanted to put before you in a form in which it must appear to one to-day in face of contemporary events. I wanted, as the opportunity was given us to speak together again, to put this before your souls so that ever more and more and in ever wider and wider circles within our Anthroposophic Movement a striving might arise which can not only give the single individual an inner feeling of comfort but can bear fruits for the cultural life of the whole of humanity.
It is a deep satisfaction to me to see how many more friends of our Anthroposophic Movement are present to-day than a year ago. May the Spirit now quickening the development of the world and of humanity bring it about that in another year there may be as great, or even a much greater, increase in our numbers. For the more human souls there are who become convinced by this Spirit of the need for the new thinking, feeling and willing, and for a new sense of responsibility, the better it will be.