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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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A Talk to Young People
GA 217a

20 July 1924, Arnheim

Translated by Ruth Pusch

You have come to this Youth Conference with all the questions and problems in your hearts that assail young people today everywhere in the world—some more, some less—ever since the turn of the century, the time which those who can see deeply into human evolution call the end of Kali Yuga and the beginning of an epoch of light.

We don't see much light yet. You can even say that events in these last two decades have become even darker and more chaotic than before. But just as in ordinary natural phenomena there is resistance in an object to changing either its motion or its lack of motion, inertia is also a property of human beings. We can observe this in the many people who don't seem to belong at all to the 20th century; sometimes we feel we must have seen them a hundred years ago or even earlier. Not only have they remained at a certain age but they are still (however ridiculous this sounds) at the same standpoint where they were before they were born.

Nevertheless we should look at the divine forces concerned with the destiny of the earth. Then we will discover that we have emerged from an epoch in time when we were unconsciously guided by creative spiritual forces that led our souls with supernatural strength. Now we have matured into a new era; certain spiritual beings have withdrawn, while others, whose central impulse is the growing freedom to be allotted to human beings, have begun to influence our development. Young people born since the turn of the century feel this in their unconscious, feel it inwardly, like an earthquake shaking human evolution. But people merely say, “It's the same as always. Youth continually rampages against everything their elders or traditions have brought about.” The clever ones put it like this: “The emperor's enemy is the crown prince.” Certainly in every epoch the young have rebelled against the old.

However, what is living and working today in young people, more or less unconsciously, has never before been experienced. And one must say, there has never been such a discrepancy, such a total contradiction, between what comes to the surface in response to this inner experience they are having and the actual inner experience itself. We have already seen the various groups and the movements young people are taking up—Wandervögel1we call them hippies today. Tr. and other youth groups—we've seen them all; they were attempts to escape from what older people call civilization, a flight to the powers which cannot yet be identified.

You see, it's been clear to me from the very beginning that in the deep subconscious of most of today's young people there is the peculiarly solid realization: that an earth-shaking change must take place in human evolution. Sometimes you can observe this quite intensely, as happened to me in Norway. A very young high school lad wanted to see me but was being discouraged away; people in the house thought such a young fellow would only bother me. (In these matters it's usually just the opposite.)

However, fate decreed that I should step out of my door just at that moment, and I realized that even though he was so young, in ninth or tenth grade, I should listen to him. “All of us High School students want to begin something our High School doesn't have, a publication for young people, doing everything ourselves. Couldn't you help us?” “I will help in every way possible,” I told him, “if you can get things started.” We talked together and what he said showed clearly that subconsciously in him was what older people call “the adolescent crisis” they can hardly understand.

I have asked many of these older people what they think about adolescence; their answer was usually, “Young people have always been rebels.” I have also asked many young people about the “adolescent crises” some of them claim to be taking part in—but they, too, haven't had much of an answer for me. Yet I know that many of them know very well this youth experience in their subconsciousness but are not able to describe it. Even though young people can say very little about it, it is clearly present within them. What they feel clearly and very strongly emerges, for one thing, on looking at a beautiful landscape. People in the past have always admired “scenery,” but not in the same way as the younger generation does today. Perhaps they go at it less perfectly but as they look out at nature, their distinct feeling is, “We are helpless. Even to come to a primitive kind of appreciation for nature, we should develop the most elementary forces within us!”

You see, when you are aware of such an attitude, you will feel deeply, very deeply indeed, the inner meaning of these youth movements. We all remember the powerful claims for nature and the natural order, for instance, by Rousseau and his disciples. That was also a youth movement, one that burst out like an explosion, much more alarming than any in our own time. What was the result of that early 19th century rebellion? Imagine! It was followed by the greatest amount of narrow-mindedness and pedantry than at any time in the last century. Its result was the loneliness that young people feel today within modern civilization. They feel that the world has grown old. The young feel this strongly. They feel even much more. (However, in this regard I put greater value on the mind than on feelings).

Today there is a lot of revolution and too much horrible willingness thereby to commit suicide. Young people born around the turn of the century find this sort of thing, if they are honest with themselves, not altogether what they are looking for. They feel that they did not grow up, even as children, alongside older people who could have helped them develop a really joyful enthusiasm for nature. Actually, we have had to see souls maturing alone into something quite wild. Therefore their urge: Away! Get away—anywhere! Leave behind everything the centuries have piled up on us!

Indeed, you notice that I'm speaking about these matters rather indecisively. Sometimes this is necessary in life—but at the same time one must be warmly concerned, even though indecisive. It's better not to falsify the issue by spelling it out with ordinary narrow-minded logic.

I saw this “youth crisis” in its very dawning; now it is already noonday. I observed it in its first misty light, when the youth of the 1870s were also full of enthusiasm and later kept their enthusiasm into what they regarded as grey middle age, still acting like the young people they had been. Such a young person—to put it concretely—I met in the 1880s, giving vent to his enthusiasm in an oration on the death of a workman killed in the 1848 revolution. As I listened to the oration, I thought to myself, “There is a conservative attorney general stuck inside that young man,” and this he really did become some years later. On the other hand, I knew several in that period who were not able to grow into the traditional professions awaiting them. I saw young people in those years die early when it seemed impossible to them to step into the human conditions of the time. There seemed to be an unconscious youth movement that I'd like to describe—please don't misunderstand the phrase—as filled with shame. Young people were not able to reveal what they felt. What was underneath did not rise to the surface. Rather than appear in daylight it turned sick inside. Above all, it could not be brought into the stream of ordinary life.

Years went by, decades even, and one could say the vessel was full and spilling over. The feeling of shame could no longer continue. Young people had to ask themselves the reason for their suffering and what they were actually longing for. This has been moving them into the various youth groups of our time.

Not so long ago a number of these young people came also into the anthroposophical movement. A singular understanding came about between the anthroposophical movement and what was living in their hearts. Today, although it's been only a short time, many of them have grown into the various activities of the movement. However, what we need from young persons is first and foremost the will to try to understand other people in the most human way. Otherwise we won't get beyond the endless unproductive discussions. The will to understand human beings humanly! All the subjects of the discussions we have with each other are downright unimportant; the essential thing is that our hearts recognize what the others are feeling. In this way we can find some agreement, can always discover how much we really agree. What is so necessary is that we fully and heartily understand others; it is also necessary that the individual leaders within the youth movements acquire more confidence in the integrity of the anthroposophical movement and its principles. Otherwise we will not be able to accomplish very much with our Youth Section.

This Section, I originally believed, I had to found for all those who clearly and honestly perceived in themselves “hunger for a truly modern life style.” If they can actually find their way to the anthroposophical movement, we will be able to achieve everything I wrote about in the Mitteilungen [Anthroposophical Newssheet] concerning youthful sagacity, something that should not be at all pedantic but rather distinguish itself through heartfelt action and heartfelt efforts at human understanding. You see, it was an attempt to search out and explore warmly what is alive in the young today. We tried first of all sending around a questionnaire to find out what young people imagined a Youth Section should be; we hoped to hear what thoughts were emerging or if not thoughts, even better, what strong, “balled-fist” feelings, what spade-thrusts of will. We were ready to accept anything like this—but there was no response. Now I have gone at it more rigorously and have sent out the following question to young people, which you yourselves may have read by now: “How do you imagine the world and humanity should be by 1935, if what you are now hoping for shall have a rightful place in it?” If someone could take this question seriously it would require plenty of good solid thought and sensitivity. How we are to proceed depends actually on our honest efforts, without a lot of blather.

What is this old world steering towards? If we're comfortable in it, we're not living in the three dimensions revealed by the threefold nature of the world order. Instead, we're living in clichés, in convention, in routine, and habit. Cliché, convention, routine—we find them everywhere in every sphere of life. We hear from childhood on how we are to relate to other people—just so or so, one particular way or another. But a young person can't agree to that, for since the turn of the century there has been a completely new impulse entering our souls.

Routine is what can be learned very quickly, for it remains just on the surface of things. Leave everything else for later on, people say. What, however, is very much needed in the world, is something that I could feel emerging many years before the end of Kali Yuga [The “dark ages” up to 1879, when the regency of the Archangel Michael began.]: one cannot be pressed into a profession or work in the old, traditional way. I took this very seriously. I myself never entered any specific profession. Had I done so, there would be no anthroposophical movement today, for this had to be created entirely free from tradition. Even the smallest link to something from the past would have made it impossible. Anyone who cannot understand this is an enemy of what we have tried to do from the very beginning.

The anthroposophical movement is therefore one of pure youthfulness. Shouldn't youth find its way to youth? If this anthroposophical movement is sincere and if young people find it necessary to be honest, what is needed above all?—Courage! Something one learns very fast or not at all. Real courage! The courage to say: the world as it is today must get a new foundation underneath it. This is clearly inscribed in the subconsciousness of the young; I have never seen anything different but what is written there: the world must be changed to its very foundation.

But you can cover up this inscription with negation, argumentative remarks and lots of discussion; you can cover it up and pervert what lies there in the subconscious that wants to be completely honest and courageous. The anthroposophical movement can well be the school par excellence to develop courage, since for many people today anthroposophy is not given first place but is rather something incidental. You can observe this at our lecture series and other events. It seems to be becoming more and more fashionable (and one has to get used to it somehow) to be invited to take part in workshops and seminars held in the country, as though on a holiday trip. And why shouldn't one have a bit of anthroposophy while there instead of band concerts?

But it is a symbol—not bad in itself but nevertheless a symbol—of the lack of thoroughgoing courage in grasping the living substance of anthroposophy, the spiritual essence of anthroposophy in its full reality, not just the shadow of anthroposophy. It is really a matter of our feeling life. I am not criticizing but rather pointing out symptoms.

The youth movement must be able to find its way to unite with what I have described as the great task of the century, the spur to action of the Archangel Michael. To do this, however, young people should learn to descend more deeply into themselves, while giving up all their abstract kind of dreaminess. Then the big problems will turn up. No narrow-minded man on the street will understand what you mean when you say: Michael has lost the cosmic intelligence; he himself has remained in the cosmos; now human beings must rise up and win back with Michael what he once had under his dominion. Young people will begin to understand this when they begin to understand themselves. To others, today, it will sound like abstractions dressed up in a poetic costume. But this it certainly is not. We must realize that the spirit is alive and real; we must learn how to deal with it. We have also to begin to feel how everything spiritual is different in our time than it was in any earlier time.

A century ago the morning sunrise, shining mistily, was an image of the spiritual world. Behind the glimmering image like a curtain one saw the spirit, alive and luminous. But during the 19th century up into our time this was changing. The sunrise has become flaming red. Out of the shining sun, flames break forth. If we describe for modern times the kind of sunrise Herder or Goethe wrote about we would be guilty of untruthfulness—for it has become altogether different. In Herder and Goethe's time it was a shining glimmer; today it is fiery. Out of the flames comes a summons to active, fervent spirituality. The spiritual world has taken on a new gesture towards our physical world.

If we can begin to understand these gestures of the spiritual world we can perhaps prevent the youth movement of the 20th century from becoming the sort of middle-class narrow-mindedness and pedantry that came after Rousseau. If today's youth can become enthusiastic about what is truly young, if today's youth, with understanding, can lay hold of the real spiritual world that is here, then Michael's time will come. If today's youth cannot do this, the middle-class narrow-mindedness and pedantry will be infinitely greater in our century than that which followed Rousseau. In all the many centuries before, there were never better or more proper citizens than in the 19th century; people in the earlier times never knew Rousseau or his ideas.

We have been talking a good deal here in Arnhem about the new education and the principles of Waldorf education.2In these July days of 1924, Dr. Steiner was giving the course published in English as Human Values in Education, Rudolf Steiner Press, London 1971 The most important principle is to continue growing. Every day there's danger that things will get sour. We have to make sure that when we have to plan something new or get something done, we don't fall asleep sticking to our old habits. Let us try to divide our sleeping and waking, to keep a clear gulf between them. We must be able to sleep in the right way but also to be awake in the right way. Unfortunately we're continually sleeping when we should be awake. It is just not in our nature to tell ourselves over and over to wake up, otherwise all the reform movements and revolutions will be useless; it is almost always the best endeavors that suffer the most when they are taken over by narrow-mindedness and pedantry: a strong light produces a strong shadow. What should we do?—not think out something to be done one way or another, but rather to feel how different the sunrise is now in our time and how nature with its flaming color speaks to us of the spirituality that surrounds us.

Our hearts, too, have changed. We have a different kind of heart in our body. Our physical heart has become hard, but our etheric heart is more flexible. We must find the way to make use of this supersensible heart of ours. It then will help us to understand spiritual science. To put it plainly, just about everybody and his uncle are talking about spiritual science but only because most science can be taken in lazily. We have to be quite clear about it: spiritual science must come alive in our hearts. And the hearts of young people are perfectly formed to feel what is true in this sphere—if there's enough courage for such thoughts.

Friedrich Schiller3Poet and dramatist 1759-1805. See also Rudolf Steiner, The Karma of Human Vocation, Lecture 2, Anthroposophic Press 1944. with his warm enthusiasm had much to give the world. He died in very peculiar circumstances. There was an autopsy. His heart was examined; it was found to have become an empty pouch, completely dried up, burned out.

All our hearts will burn out like this if we can lay hold of them and make them new. And if we are to be serious about spirituality we will have to tell ourselves with a certain amount of courage: “Whenever we seem not to be able to live with the rest of the world, it is because we need to have a new kind of heart!”

However, this should not be just a phrase. Let us be awake to the fact that our new hearts should be aware of the world in quite a different way from the old hearts. If wetake this very seriously the youth movement will become something like a flame blazing towards the flames of the sunrise. This will not result from discussions about being young or from talk about inner feelings; in this regard peculiar things can happen. In Breslau the elderly members in their welcome called me “Papa”; in the youth group there they said I was the youngest of all, though I was three times older than most of them.

Indeed it is important to be able to admit this about oneself. The flames from within, the flames from outside, the two flames must strike against each other. It is not at all important to decide or define anything. It is important that we bring about a new kind of enthusiasm. It comes down to this: we should not only learn to sit down but we should learn to stand up. Nietzsche had an apt phrase for Carlyle, who impresses many people with his talent for enthusiasm. “Carlyle's enthusiasm,” said Nietzsche, “is the kind that takes off its coat.” In other words, Carlyle always had time to take off his coat whenever he was seized by enthusiasm. Carlyle always had time as he got warmly enthusiastic, without hesitation, to take off his coat. One can imagine how this fellow would pull on a silk vest after he has had time to get fully into his enthusiasm and slowly to take off his coat.

But the right enthusiasm is the kind that doesn't give you time to take off your coat; it makes you sweat, wearing your coat, and you don't even notice how you're perspiring! This is the right enthusiasm, my dear friends! It should overpower us so completely that we keep our coats on.

That enthusiasm we should feel compelled to bring into being out of the fullness and immediacy of life itself. We need today to overcome our heavy, sticky tiredness. It is actually lazy to insist on “being clear.” There may well be no time to become clear in the old sense of the word. But there is the real necessity to become enthusiastic—for enthusiasm will be able to accomplish everything. The word itself will then reach its true meaning. The German word Begeisterung carries Geist, spirit, in itself. That is self-evident: we need spirit. The English-Greek word enthusiasm has the divine within it (Gr. Theos). A god is in the word.

Grow inwardly with the flame that is kindled in you today, for then the Michael impulse will be achieved! Without fire, it cannot be achieved. But if you are to live and work, glowing through and through, you yourself will have to become a flame. The only thing not burned up by flames is a flame; when we can begin to feel we are becoming one, and cannot be burned up by other flames, we can safely let our physical heart remain behind as an empty pouch, for we have an etheric heart. It is our etheric heart that will understand that humanity is moving into a new epoch, into a life in the spirit. Our growing into this life in the spirit will form the youth movement, the youth experience, in all its strength.