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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Polarities in the Evolution of Mankind
GA 197

Steiner unfolds here the spiritual background to many social questions around the theme of the polarities of West and East, materialism and mysticism, knowledge and belief.

“Looking at the world today we should really consider the most striking characteristic of social life in the civilized world to be that the smaller communities of past times have given way to quite large human communities. ... The civic communities of towns formed a relative whole.”

He makes visible the forces of decline active in modern civilization and how these forces are trying to wrest human destiny from the active participation of human beings. He presents with profound poignancy how Christ is pouring a new spirit into human evolution.

This is a First Edition, English translation of the eleven lectures given at Stuttgart by Rudolf Steiner in March through November of 1920, and entitled, Polarities in the Evolution of Mankind (also published as, Polarities in Human Evolution). They were published in German as, Gegensaetze in der Menschheitsentwickelung. West und Ost. Materialismus und Mystik. Wissen und Glauben.

Lecture I March 05, 1920
The development of conscious awareness; luciferic and ahrimanic spirits. Early humanity thinking in images and dependent on higher spirits. Gradual separation from those spirits; intellectual thinking developing to train humans in freedom. Ahriman's aims and purposes. Opposition in Norway.
Lecture II March 07, 1920
Different potentials of Asians and Europeans. Need to understand Christ in a new way. Development of the intellect from beginning of postAtlantean period. Intelligence developed in soul and spirit in the Orient and at the physical level in Europe. East accepted Christianity into the soul in a way incomprehensible to modern European scientists. The rational Western mind was bound to the physical body and could not understand the Mystery of Golgotha. Goetheanism. Theosophy of the Theosophical Society as pre-Christian wisdom. Initiation the precondition for social thinking.
Lecture III March 09, 1920
Changing awareness in political life. Empires evolving in three stages on earth. Stage 1: Imperialism of partly prehistoric times; earthly and hierarchic order one. Present-day example — pastoral from a bishop. Stage 2: Ruler by the grace of God. Example: Holy Roman Empire. Stage 3: Substance lost from words and symbols. Phrase and convention instead. Need for new social impulses.
Lecture IV June 13, 1920
Powers of decline in present-day civilization. Secret societies, Jesuitism and Leninism: three initiation
streams in the present day. Religious confessions opposing spiritual science. Their denial of pre-existence and dogma of eternal hell. Professor Traub's smear campaign. Opposition from Roman Catholic Press in Switzerland.
Lecture V June 24, 1920
Decline of human civilization as a consequence of materialism. Material world can only be truly understood in the spirit. Materialistic view of the human heart as a pump. Head as the fruit of previous life on earth. Materialistic view of history. Economic life as head organ of the social organism, the sphere of rights as its rhythmical organ and cultural life as its metabolic organ. Threefold social order, Waldorf School, Kommender Tag. The destructive quality of untruthfulness. Spiritual science and and practical life.
Lecture VI July 25, 1920
Materialism and mysticism. True perceptiveness as a deed of the human soul. Disguised materialism in theosophy and spiritism. Materialism of modern science. Mysticism gives experience of physical matter by revealing material processes within the human organism. Mysticism as a disease. Need for transition from experience in space to one in time. Nature of force of gravity. Inner experience of force of gravity. Ahriman, Lucifer, Christ.
Lecture VII July 30, 1920
Materialism and mysticism on the wrong road. Active perceptiveness in Anthroposophy. Looking for nature of matter in the phenomena of the outside world leads to feeblemindedness; looking for the spirit by practising inner mysticism leads to childishness. Politics an illusion: Conservative element ahrimanic, liberal element luciferic. Fight of Jesuits against Anthroposophy. Rightness of materialism in its own sphere.
Lecture VIII September 21, 1920
Distinction between knowledge and belief. Ancient wisdom had to fade to make freedom possible. As modern science evolved, knowledge reduced to mere belief. Jesuitism. Rome as the source spring of materialism. No longer inner experience connecting with words. Need to speak of human existence before birth. The threefold social order and its opponents.
Lecture IX November 08, 1920
East, Middle and West. The threefold social order. Sleeping and waking. The threefold nature of the human being. In the East, life before birth was experienced in the spirit. This spirit has grown decadent. In the Middle, culture of material world and spirit, eminence given to thinking (Hegel). West: material culture, yet also preparation for future Imaginations; incipient awareness of principles that go beyond death. In the East: instinctive wisdom; in the Middle; dialectics, intellectual life; in the West: materialism, spirit of economics. East: end (example of Tolstoy); West: beginning (example of Keely). Mission of the Middle for the present.
Lecture X November 14, 1920
Transition from luciferic to ahrimanic age and the Christ event to come. Technology; human beings and machines. Ahrimanic demons active in the present, luciferic elemental spirits in the past. Appearance of the etheric Christ in the present time. Ahrimanization of the world. Increasing stress in human souls. Need to prepare for the Christ event.
Lecture XI November 22, 1920
The impersonal attitude of modern science. The Christ spirit which has to enter into science. The threefold social order as 20th century Goetheanism. Spirit-self, life-spirit and spirit-man cannot evolve through forces provided by the earth but only through the Christ. Schiller's letters on aesthetic education and Goethe's Tale. The mystery play The Portal of Initiation as a metamorphosis of the creative potential in Goethe's Tale. Golden, Silver and Brazen Kings representing the three aspects of the social organism.