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Education as a Social Problem
GA 296

II. The Social Structure in Ancient Greece and Rome

10 August 1919, Dornach

If we wish to understand the task of the anthroposophical science of the spirit in the present and immediate future we must consider the character of mankind's evolution since the middle of the fifteenth century. Everything that happens now depends on the fact that since that time there lives in mankind the impulse for each single individuality to attain the pinnacle of personality, to become a whole personality. This was not possible, nor was it the task of mankind in earlier epochs of our post-Atlantean evolution. If we want to understand this great change in the middle of which we find ourselves, we must focus our attention still more precisely upon such matters as I characterized yesterday.

I said that in our spiritual life we still have a Greek constitution of soul. The way we form our thoughts, the manner in which we are accustomed to think about the world, is an echo of the Greek soul. And the way we are accustomed to look at civic rights and everything connected with them is an echo of the soul-constitution of the Roman. In the State we still see the structure as it existed in the Roman Empire. Only if people will realize that the impulse of the threefold social order must enter our chaotic present will there be clarity in thinking and willing.

The soul-nature of the Greek was chiefly determined by the fact that in Greece there existed in the highest degree what were the leading characteristics of historical development right up to the middle of the fifteenth century. Across the Greek territory there were spread a subject population and their conquerors. These latter claimed the land for themselves; but also, through their blood inheritance, they determined the spirituality of ancient Greece. We cannot grasp the soul-nature of the ancient Greeks unless we keep in mind that it was considered justified to think about human relationships in the way that resulted from the blood characteristics of the Aryan conqueror population. Naturally, modern man has outgrown what thus lay at the basis of Greek culture. With the Greeks it was self-evident that there were two kinds of people: those who had to worship Mercury, and those who had to worship Zeus. These two classes were strictly separated. But, people thought about the world and the Gods in the way the conqueror population had to think because of its blood characteristics. Everything resulted from the clash of a conquered and conquering people. One who looks more closely into what lives socially among men of our time will recognize that in our feelings and our subconscious soul-life we no longer have this aristocratic attitude in viewing our world. Yet it still lives in our ideas and concepts, especially if we are educated in the schools of higher learning. These schools, especially the classical schools, shape their instruction in a way that represents a renaissance, and echo of Hellenism. And this is even more the case with our universities, with the exception of the technical and agricultural colleges which have sprung from modern life. Even they imitate in their outer form the structure of universities derived from Hellenism. Through the very fact that we have a high esteem for Hellenism in its time, and for its time, we must also be quite clear about the necessity for our age of a renewal of spiritual life. It will become more and more unbearable for humanity to be led by souls who have acquired the form of their concepts in our classical schools. And today, in almost all leading positions, you find people who did receive the forming of their ideas in the classical schools. It has become necessary today to realize that the time of “settling accounts,” not minor but major accounts, is at hand, and that we must think about such matters factually and stop clinging to old habits of thought.

You know that what was formed out of the blood in Hellenism became abstract in Romanism. I have mentioned this here before. The Greek social organism, which cannot be called a State organism, shaped itself out of forces descending through the blood. But this did not pass over to Romanism. What did pass over was the urge to organize as the Greeks had organized, but the cause of this organizing was no longer felt to be in the blood. While it would never have occurred to an ancient Greek to doubt that there are people of a “lower sort,” those in a conquered people, and others being of a “higher sort,” the Aryans, this was not the case with the Romans. Within the Roman Empire there was the strong consciousness that the order of the social organism had been arrived at through power, through might. You need only remind yourselves that the Romans trace their origin to that assembly of robbers in the neighborhood of Rome that had been called together in order, as a robber band, to found Rome; and that the founder of Rome was not suckled with delicate mother's milk but, as you know, was suckled in the forest by an animal, a wolf.

These are the influences that were taken up into the Roman nature and led to the formation of the social order in Rome largely out of abstract concepts. What has remained as our heritage in regard to the concepts of rights and the State has thus come from the Roman constitution of soul.

In this connection I am always reminded of an old friend of mine. I met him when he was already quite advanced in years. In his youth, at the age of eighteen, he had fallen in love with a girl and they had secretly become engaged. But they were too poor to marry, so they waited and remained faithful to each other. When he finally could consider marriage, he was sixty-four years old, for only then had he acquired enough means to risk taking such a step. So, he went to his home town near Salzburg ready to marry his chosen one of so long ago. But alas, the church and the rectory had burned down, and he could not get his baptismal certificate. There was no record of his baptism anywhere, so there was no proof that he had been born. I remember vividly the day his letter arrived. It stated, “Well, I believe it is quite evident that I was born, for after all I exist. But these people do not believe I was born because there is no baptismal certificate to prove it.”

I once had a conversation with a lawyer who said, “In a lawsuit it is not so important whether or not a man is present; all we need is his birth certificate.”

Continually one meets such grotesque incidents. The mood living in them shows that our entire public life has been built to a greater or lesser degree on Romanism. We are citizens of the world not through the fact we have become and exist as human beings but because we are recorded and recognized in a certain office. These things all lead back to Romanism. The descent by blood has passed over into registration.

Today the situation is such that many men no longer consider their value determined by what they are as human beings but by the rank they have reached in the hierarchy of officialdom. One prefers to be something impersonal, out of Roman rights-concepts, rather than a personality. Since the fifteenth century, however, there exists in mankind the subconscious striving to base everything on the pinnacle of personality. This shows us that in regard to spiritual life and the life of rights the times have changed, and we need a renewal of both, a real renewal. This is connected with many deeper impulses of mankind's evolution.

Just consider the fact that since the middle of the fifteenth century the evolution of modern man has been filled with the natural-scientific mode of thought which is based on abstract laws of nature, upon sense perception and the thoughts developed around it. Only what is derived from sense perception is considered valid. Yesterday I drew your attention to the fact that today there are quite a number of people who are convinced, justifiably so, that a view of nature acquired in this way can only lead to a ghost-like image of nature. A picture of the world formed by a student of nature is a specter of the world, not the real world. So, we have to say that humanity finds itself in the position of developing a specter-image of the world in regard to one half of it. For the science of initiation something profound is concealed behind this, and what this is we must now consider.

Sense perception as such cannot be altered; whether we consider it to be maya or something else is of no concern to a deeper world view. A red flower is a red flower whether or not we think it maya or reality. It is what it is. Likewise, all sense perception is what it is. Discussion starts only when we begin to form thoughts about it, when we consider it to be this or that, when we interpret it. Only then the difficulty begins. It begins because the concepts we as men have to form since the fifteenth century are different from those of earlier mankind. No attention is paid to this in modern history, which is a fable convenue, as I have often stated. Whoever is able to understand the concepts of mankind prior to the middle of the fifteenth century knows that they were full of imagery, that they actually were imaginations. The present abstraction of concepts exists only since that time.

Now why has our human nature so developed that we have these abstract concepts we are so proud of today and that we constantly employ? They have the peculiar character that, although we make use of them in the sense world they are not suited to this sense world. They are worthless there. In my book, Riddles of Philosophy, I have expressed this by saying that the way man forms his concepts regarding the external world constitutes a side-stream of his soul development. Think of a seed in the earth; it is destined by nature to become a plant. But we take many seeds and grind them into flour and eat them as bread. This, however, is not what the seed is meant for; it is a lateral development. If we ask, doesn't the seed contain those chemical elements we need for building up our body? we must say that it does not lie in the nature of the grain of wheat or rye to nourish us but to bring forth new grain. Likewise, it does not lie in our nature to grasp the outer world through the concepts we have acquired since the fifteenth century. We shall reap something different from those concepts if we enter into their nature properly. These modern concepts are the shadow images of what we have experienced in the spiritual world before birth—more exactly, before conception. Our concepts, the forces in them, are the echoes of what we have experienced before birth. We misuse our system of concepts in applying it to the outer sense world.

This is the basis of Goethe's concept of nature. He does not want to express the laws of nature by means of concepts; he strives for the primal phenomena. That is to say, he strives for the assembled outer perceptions, because he feels that our conceptual ability cannot be applied to external nature. We have to develop our conceptual ability as pure thinking. If we do so, it points us toward our spiritual existence prior to birth. Our modern thinking has been bestowed upon us so that we may reach with this pure thinking our spiritual nature as it existed before we were clothed with a physical body. If mankind does not comprehend the fact that it possesses thinking in order to apprehend itself as spirit, it does not take hold of the task of the fifth post-Atlantean period. Our natural science was inserted, so to say, into mankind's destiny so that we might remain with pure nature and not speculate about it. We were to employ our concepts to perceive it in the right way, and then develop our concepts in order to behold ourselves as we existed in spirit before we descended into the physical body. Men still believe today that they should only employ their conceptual ability for classifying external sense perceptions, and so on. However, they will only act correctly if they employ the thoughts they have had since the middle of the fifteenth century for perceiving the spiritual world in which they existed before they acquired a physical body.

In this way man of the fifth post-Atlantean era is forced toward the spiritual, toward the existence before birth. And still another factor places him in a peculiar situation which he must develop. Parallel to the specter-concepts of natural science runs industrialism, as I mentioned yesterday. Its chief characteristic is the fact that the machine, the bearer of industrialism, is spiritually transparent. Nothing of it remains incomprehensible. As a consequence, the human will directed toward the machine is, in truth, not directed toward a reality. In terms of comprehensive world-reality the machine is a chimera. Industrialism introduces something into our lives which in a higher sense makes man's will meaningless. There will be a significant impact on social life when modern men become convinced that the machine and everything resulting from it, such as industrialism, makes the human will meaningless. We have already reached the pinnacle of machine activity. Today a quarter of all production on earth is not being produced by human will but by machine power.1By 1969 this amount, of course, has been greatly increased.—Tr. This signifies something extraordinary. Human will is no longer meaningful on earth.

If you read, for instance, the speeches of Rabindranath Tagore, you ought to sense something in them that remains incomprehensible to the European who employs his ordinary intellect. There is a different tone in what an educated Asiatic has to say today, because in him this adaptation of the European spirit to the machine is completely incomprehensible. To the Oriental the activity of working by means of machines, by means of industrialism, has no meaning. The European may believe it or not, but European politics born in the machine age is also just as senseless to the Oriental. In the educated Oriental's statements there is clearly expressed that this one-fourth of human labor in the present age is felt by him as senseless work—this quarter which is not carried out by the educated Orientals but only by Occidentals and their imitators, the Japanese. The Oriental feels so because, as he still possesses much clairvoyant vision, he knows that labor performed by machines has a definite peculiarity. When a man plows his field with his horse—man and beast straining themselves in labor—this work in which natural forces are involved has a meaning beyond the immediate present; it has cosmic meaning. When a man kindles fire by using a flint, making the sparks ignite the tinder, he is connected with nature. When the wasp builds its house this natural activity too has cosmic meaning. Through modern industrialism we have abandoned cosmic value. In our kindling of electric flames there no longer lives any cosmic significance. It has been driven out. A completely mechanized factory is a hole in the cosmos, it has no meaning for cosmic evolution. If you go into the woods and collect firewood this has cosmic meaning beyond earth evolution; but a modern factory and everything it contains has no significance beyond earth development. The human will is inserted in it without its having any cosmic value. Just consider what this means. It means that since the middle of the fifteenth century we have developed a knowledge that is specter-like and does not touch reality. More and more we employ machines and carry out an industrial activity, and the will inserted into this activity is senseless for world evolution.

The great question now confronts us: Is there nevertheless a meaning for mankind's evolution as a whole in the fact that our knowledge is ghost-like, and our will to a great extent senseless? Indeed, there is meaning in it, significant meaning. Mankind thereby is to be urged to penetrate beyond ghost-like thinking to a knowledge of reality that does not stop with the perception of nature but enters into the spiritual behind nature. So long as men received the spirit simultaneously with their concepts they did not need to make efforts to gain the spirit. Since in the modern age men have only retained concepts devoid of spirit, but that also contain the possibility of working one's way up to the spirit as I have stated, there is present in man the impulse to proceed from abstract knowledge and to penetrate into genuine spiritual knowledge. Therefore, since we have industrialism with its senselessness we must seek another meaning for human will. This we can only do if we arouse ourselves to a world view that brings sense into what is senseless—let us call it industrialism—by deriving meaning from the spiritual, saying: We seek tasks that stem from the spirit. Formerly, when willing could derive its impulses from the spirit instinctively, we did not need to arouse ourselves especially in order to will from out the spirit. Today it is necessary that we make a special effort to do this. The senseless industrial willing has to be confronted with a meaningful willing-out-of-the-spirit.

Yesterday I gave you an example of the way we ought to educate. We should recognize that up to the seventh year man is an imitator since he develops chiefly his physical body during this period. Imitation, therefore, ought to become the basis for that period of education. We should know that from the seventh to the fourteenth year we have to develop man by the principle of authority. This spiritual knowledge, which we gain by knowing how the etheric body develops during that time, must be made the impulse of education then. We should know also how the astral body develops from the fourteenth to the twenty-first year, and that this knowledge must lie behind education for that, period. Then, only then, do we will out of the spirit.

Up to the middle of the fifteenth century man willed instinctively out of the spirit. In external life we tend to immerse ourselves in machines, in mechanism; this is so even in politics, which gradually has turned governments into machines. We must strive for a spirit-ensouled willing. To that end we must accept the idea of a science of the spirit. We must, for instance, base education on what we know out of spiritual facts, out of what we learn from anthroposophical spiritual science. Through the stronger, more conscious emphasizing of willing out of the spirit we establish a counter-image to the senseless willing of industrialism.

Thus, industrialism with all its devastation of the human soul, is given us in order that in this devastation we may rouse ourselves to will out of the spirit. Our thinking has to be changed in many ways in our modern age. This requires a careful, intimately developed feeling for truth. We must become conscious that the feeling for truth has to be gradually applied in places where we are not yet accustomed to apply it. I believe many a person will be astonished today if he is told: You are right if you venerate Raphael highly because of his pictures, but if you demand that people paint the way Raphael painted then, you are mistaken. Only he has a right to admire Raphael who knows that whoever paints today the way he painted is a bad painter, because he does not paint as the impulses of our time demand. One does not feel with the times if one does not deeply sense the tasks of a given age. It is necessary that we acquire in our time an intimate feeling for truth in this regard. But here also modern humanity is caught up in what is the very opposite. One gets the impression that the feeling for truth has everywhere sprung a leak and does not function. People are shying away from calling right what is right, and wrong what is wrong; they recoil from designating a lie a lie. We experience today the most abominable things, and people are indifferent to them. The point is that we should have such a feeling for truth that we know, for example, that Raphael's painting no longer fits our present age; that it must be considered as something of the past and admired as such. It is particularly necessary now to pay attention to such things when out of the depths of the soul the impulse for truth comes over us. I am often reminded of a beautiful passage in Herman Grimm's biography of Michelangelo in which he speaks of his Last Judgment. He says that many such Last Judgment pictures were painted at that time and that the people experienced in full reality the truth of what was painted on the walls. They lived in the truth of those pictures. Today we should not look at such a picture as Michelangelo's Last Judgment without being aware that we do not feel as those people did for whom the artist painted it; that we have lost their feeling and at best can say: This is the picture of something we no longer believe in as an immediate reality.

Just consider how differently man confronts such a picture with his modern consciousness. He no longer thinks that angels really descend, or that the devils carry on as they do in Michelangelo's picture. If, however, one is aware that what modern man feels when looking at this picture is something gray and abstract, then one is called upon inwardly to experience the whole living movement in these pictures on the wall of the Sistine Chapel. One is stirred to asking how it was possible for the people of Michelangelo's time (although he painted after the decline of the fourth post-Atlantean period his paintings originated in the spirit of that period since he stood at the boundary of the fourth and fifth periods)—how was it possible for people like him and his contemporaries to experience such tremendous imaginations, such mighty pictures? This question confronts us in all its magnitude if one is conscious of how drab and lifeless is what man feels today in front of such a picture by Michelangelo. We must ask: What caused human souls of that time to conceive of the earth's end in such a way? Whence came the structure of these pictures?

The reason lies in the following: Since the time when the Mystery of Golgotha entered earth evolution and had given it its meaning, certain things that existed in the ancient manner had to recede into the background and were destined to be regained by mankind later on. One of these was the idea of repeated earth lives. The totality of human life takes its course through earth life, then life in the spiritual world, then earth life again, and so on. This course of the total life of man was the content of the atavistic, instinctive world-view in ancient times. Christianity had to arouse in man concepts different from those of ancient wisdom. By what means, above all, has Christianity accomplished this? It directed human consciousness only to a certain point in time, namely, to the beginning of one's life on earth. It did not consider man as an individuality prior to birth or conception but merely as a thought of the Godhead. Before earth-life man proceeds out of the spiritual world as a thought of the Godhead, only at birth did he begin to be a real human being. Then, after his life on earth, the life after death. In the first period of the development of Christianity the experience of repeated earth lives was, so to say, misplaced. Human experience was limited to looking into the origin of man and the life after death. This, however, supplied the equilibrium out of which the pictures of the Last Judgment were created. Through the fact that Christianity first eradicated from human feeling the teaching of pre-existence, the pictures of the Last Judgment could arise. Today there wells up again out of the deep recesses of the human soul the longing for a recognition of repeated earth lives. Therefore, those pictures fade away which only focus their attention upon the one earth life and a vague spiritual world before and after it. Now there exists the most intense longing to enlarge the Christian world-view of the early ages. The Mystery of Golgotha is not merely effective for those who believe only in one earth life, it is also valid for those who know of repeated earth lives. The present age is in need of this enlargement. Therefore, we should see clearly that we live in a period when we must use the ghost-like nature of ordinary conceptual knowledge, and the senselessness of willing released by industrialism, in order to rise to spiritual knowledge and spirit-permeated willing, as I have described it; and also, in order to enlarge religious consciousness so as to include repeated earth lives.

The great and full importance of this enlargement of human consciousness in the present time should be deeply inscribed in the soul of modern men, for upon this depends whether they really understand how to live in the present, and how to prepare the future in the right sense. Everyone, in the situation in which life has placed him, can make use of this enlarged consciousness. Even the external knowledge people gain will cause him to demand something that today plays a large role in the subconscious depths of soul life but that has difficulty in rising and sounding out into full consciousness. Truly, the most striking fact of modern life is that there are so many torn human souls; souls full of problems who do not know what to do with life, who ask again and again, “What precisely is my task? What does life mean to do specifically with me?” They start this or that and yet are never satisfied. The number of these problematic natures increases steadily. What is the reason for it? It comes from a lack in our educational system. Today we educate our children in a way which does not awaken in them the forces that make man strong for life. Man becomes strong through being an imitator up to his seventh year; through following a worthy authority up to the fourteenth year; and through the fact that his capacity for love is developed in the right way up to the twenty-first year. Later on this strength cannot be developed. What a person lacks because the forces were not awakened which should have been awakened in definite periods of his youth—this is what makes him a problem-filled nature. This fact must be made known!

For this reason, I had to say yesterday that if we will to bring about a true form of society in future it must be prepared through people's education. To this end we must not proceed in a small way but on a large scale; for our educational system has gradually taken on a character that leads directly to what I described yesterday as mechanization of the spirit, vegetizing of the soul, and animalization of the body.

We must not follow this direction. We must strongly develop the forces that can be developed in a child's soul, so that later on he can harvest the fruits of his childhood learning. Today he looks back and feels what his childhood was and cannot gather anything from it because nothing was developed there. Our educational principles must be fundamentally changed if we want to do the right thing for children. Above everything we must listen very carefully to much that at present is highly praised and considered especially wholesome.

So, it is necessary that, without undue strain and exertion but through an economy of educational effort, children acquire concentration. This can be achieved, in the way modern man needs it, only by abolishing what is so greatly favored today, namely, the cursed curriculum of the schools; this instrument of murder for the real development of human forces. Just consider what it means: From 7 to 8 A.M. arithmetic, from 8 to 9 grammar, from 9 to 10 geography, from 10 to 11 history. Everything that has moved through the soul from 7 to 8 is extinguished from 8 to 9, and so on. Now here it is necessary to get down to the bottom of things. We must no longer think that subjects exist in order to be taught as subjects. On the contrary, we must have clearly in mind that in children from the seventh to fourteenth year, thinking, feeling, and willing have to be developed in the right way. Geography, arithmetic, everything must be employed so that these faculties can be properly developed.

Much is said in modern pedagogy about the need of developing individualities, of paying attention to a child's nature in order to know which faculties should be developed. This is empty talk. These questions take on meaning only when they are discussed from the point of view of spiritual science, otherwise they are mere phrases. In the future it will be necessary to say that for a certain age group we must impart a certain amount of arithmetic. Two or three months are to be devoted to teaching arithmetic in the forenoon. Not a plan of study that contains everything jumbled up but arithmetic for an extended time, then on to another subject. Arrange things as they are indicated by human nature itself for definite points in time.

You see the tasks that arise for a pedagogy which works toward the future. Here lie the positive problems for those who seriously think about the social future. As yet there is little understanding for these problems. In Stuttgart, connected with our previous activities, a school is to be built up as far as possible within the present school system. Mr. Molt has decided to found such a school for the children of his employees in the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Factory.2In the course of the next ten years this “Waldorf School” became the largest private school in Germany, with a waiting list of applicants from several European countries and the United States. Other children will be able to come, but at first of course only in limited numbers. Naturally, we will have to take into account the educational goals of the State. The children will have to achieve this and that by the end of a year, and we will have to make certain compromises. But we will be able to intermix something with what the State requires, because, according to socialistic ideas, the State is the especially clever idol. So, we shall have to intermix with what it demands that which is required by the real nature of man. This has to be recognized. But who today thinks of the fact that the prevailing plan of study is the murderer of truly human education? There are people whose thoughts in this direction are such that one is inclined to say: The world stands on its head, one has to turn it back on its legs. For many would shorten the lessons and change the subjects every half hour. This today is considered ideal. Just imagine: Religion, arithmetic, geography, drawing, singing, one after the other. In our heads they tumble through each other like the stones of a kaleidoscope. Only the outer world says, “Now that's something like it!”—because there is not the slightest interrelating between these subjects.

Few believe it is necessary now to think on a large scale; not to think petty thoughts but to have great, comprehensive views. We experience again and again that people finally have become accustomed to saying, “Indeed, revolution is necessary!” Even a large part of the bourgeoisie believes today in revolution. I do not know if that is the case here, but there are large areas where a majority of the bourgeoisie believes revolution to be necessary. But if we offer them such things as are stated in my book, The Threefold Social Order, they say: “We do not understand this. It is too complicated.” Lichtenberg once said, “If a head and a book strike together and a hollow sound results it is not necessarily the fault of the book.” But people do not believe this, because—it is not self-knowledge that is chiefly produced in men's souls. One can experience that throughout extensive regions the philistines believe in revolution, yet they say, “O no, we cannot enter into such deep questions, such comprehensive thoughts; you must tell us how shoe production can be socialized, how the pharmacies are to be socialized,” and so on. “You must tell us how, in the revolutionized State, I can sell my spices.”

One gradually discovers then what these people really mean. They mean that they agree there must be a revolution, but everything should remain as it has been, nothing should be changed by it. Many a person asks, how can we make the world over?—but so that nothing is changed! The most remarkable ones in this respect are the so-called intellectuals. With them one can have the most extraordinary experiences. One heard it repeatedly stated, “Very well, three members—autonomous universities, a spiritual life that governs itself—but then, how shall we live? Who will pay our salaries if the State no longer pays us?”

Today we really have to confront these things. It is necessary that we stop turning away from these questions again and again. Precisely in the sphere of the spiritual life a change must be brought about.