Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Soul Economy
Body, Soul and Spirit in Waldorf Education
GA 302

I. The Three Phases of the Anthroposophic Movement

23 December 1921, Stuttgart

Before the conference began, Rudolf Steiner addressed the participants gathered in the White Hall of the Goetheanum:

Ladies and Gentlemen, before beginning this lecture course, allow me to bring up an administrative matter. Originally, this course was meant for a smaller group, but it has drawn such a response that it has become clear that we cannot gather in this tightly-packed hall. It would be impossible, and you would soon realize this if you were to attend both the lectures and the translations. Consequently, I have decided to present the lectures twice—the first each day at ten A.M. and again at eleven, for those who wish to hear it translated into English. For technical reasons this is the only way to proceed. Therefore, I will begin the earlier lectures exactly at ten and second at eleven o’clock. I will ask those who came from England, Holland, and Scandinavia to attend the later lectures and everyone else to attend the first.

First of all I would like to express my great joy at meeting so many of you here in this hall. Anyone whose life is filled with enthusiasm for the movement centered here at the Goetheanum is bound to experience happiness and a deep inner satisfaction at witnessing the intense interest for our theme, which your visit has shown. I would therefore like to begin this introductory lecture by welcoming you all most warmly. And I wish to extend a special welcome to Mrs. Mackenzie, whose initiative and efforts have brought about this course. On behalf of the anthroposophic movement, I owe her a particular debt of gratitude.

I would like to add that it is not just a single person who is greeting you here, but that, above all, it is this building, the Goetheanum itself, that receives you. I can fully understand if some of you feel critical of certain features of this building as a work of art. Any undertaking that appears in the world in this way must be open to judgment, and any criticism made in good faith is appreciated—certainly by me. But, whatever your reactions may be to this building, it is the Goetheanum itself that welcomes you. Through just its forms and artistic composition, you can see that the aim here was not to erect a building for specific purposes, such as education, for example. The underlying spirit and style of this building shows that it was conceived and erected from the spirit of our time, to serve a movement and destined to play its part in our present civilization. And because education represents an integral part of human civilization, it is proper for it to be nurtured here at this center.

The close relationship between anthroposophic activities and problems of education will occupy us in greater detail within the next few days. Today, however, as part of these introductory remarks, I would like to talk about something that really is a part of any established movement. In a sense, you have come here to familiarize yourselves with the various activities centered here at the Goetheanum, and in greeting you most warmly as guests, I feel it right to begin by introducing you to our movement.

The aims of this anthroposophic movement, which has been in existence now for some twenty years, are only gradually beginning to manifest. It is only lately that this movement has been viewed by the world at large in ways that are consistent with its original aims. Nevertheless, this movement has gone through various phases, and a description of these may provide the most proper introduction.

Initially, the small circle of its adherents saw anthroposophy as a movement representing a very narrow religious perspective. This movement tended to attract people who were not especially interested in its scientific background and were not inclined to explore its artistic possibilities. Nor were they aware of how its practical activities might affect society as a whole. The first members were mainly those dissatisfied with traditional religious practice. They were the sort of people whose deepest human longings prompted them to search for answers to the problems inherent in the human soul and spirit—problems that could not be answered for them by existing religious movements.

For me it often was quite astonishing to see that what I had to say about the fundamentals of anthroposophy was not at all understood by members who, nevertheless, supported the movement with deep sympathy and great devotion. When matters of a more scientific nature was discussed, these initial members extracted what spoke to their hearts and appealed to their immediate feelings and sentiments. And I can truly say that it was the most peaceful time within the anthroposophic movement, though this was certainly not what I was looking for. Because of this situation, during its first phase the anthroposophic movement was able to join another movement (though only outwardly and mainly from an administrative perspective), which you might know as the Theosophical Society.

Unless they can discern the vital and fundamental differences, those who search with a simple heart for knowledge of the eternal in human nature will find either movement equally satisfactory. The Theosophical Society is concerned primarily with a theoretical knowledge that embraces cosmology, philosophy, and religion and uses the spoken and printed word as its means of communication. Those who are satisfied with their lives in general, but wish to explore the spirit beyond what traditional doctrines offer, might find either movement equally satisfying. But (and only a few members noticed this) once it became obvious that, in terms of cosmology, philosophy, and religion, anthroposophic goals were never intended to be merely theoretical but to enter social life in a direct and practical way according to the demands of the spirit of our times—only then did it gradually become obvious that our movement could no longer work within the Theosophical Society. For in our time (and this will become clear in the following lectures), any movement that limits itself to theories of cosmology, philosophy, and religion is bound to degenerate into intolerable dogmatism. It was the futility of dogmatic arguments that finally caused the separation of the two movements.

It is obvious that no one who is sensible and understands western culture could seriously consider what became the crux of these dogmatic quarrels that led to this split. These quarrels were sparked by claims that an Indian boy was the reincarnation of Christ. Since such a claim was completely baseless, it was unacceptable.

To waste energy and strength on theoretical arguments is not the way of anthroposophy, which aims to enter life directly. When it became necessary to work in the artistic, social, scientific, and—above all—in the educational realm, the true aims of anthroposophy made it necessary to separate from the Theosophical Society. Of course, this did not happen all at once; essentially, all that happened in the anthroposophic movement after 1912 demonstrated that this movement had to fight for its independence in the world, if it was going to penetrate ordinary life.

In 1907, during a Theosophical Society congress in Munich, I realized for the first time that it would be impossible for me to work with this movement. Along with my friends from the German section of the Theosophical Society, I had been given the task of arranging the program for this congress. Apart from the usual items, we included a performance of a mystery play by Edouard Schuré (1841–1929), The Sacred Drama of Eleusis. We decided to create a transition from the movement’s religious theories to a broader view that would encourage artistic activity. From our anthroposophic perspective, we viewed the performance as an artistic endeavor. But there were people in the movement who tried to satisfy their sometimes egotistical religious feelings by merely looking for a theoretical interpretation. They would ask, What is the meaning of this individual in the drama? What does that person mean? Such people would not be happy unless they could reduce the play to theoretical terms.

Any movement that cannot embrace life fully because of a lopsided attitude will certainly become sectarian. Spiritual science, on the other hand, is not the least inclined toward sectarianism, because it naturally tends to bring ideals down to earth and enter life in practical ways.

These attempts to free the anthroposophic movement from sectarianism by entering the artistic sphere represent the second phase of its history. Gradually, as membership increased, a need arose for the thought of philosophy, cosmology, and religion to be expressed artistically, and this in turn prompted me to write my mystery plays. And these must not be interpreted theoretically or abstractly, because they are intended to be experienced directly on the stage. To bring this about, my plays were performed in ordinary, rented theaters in Munich, from 1910 to 1913. And this led to an impulse to build a center for the anthroposophic movement. The changing situation made it clear that Munich was inappropriate for such a building, and so we were led to Dornach hill, where the Goetheanum was built as the right and proper place for the anthroposophic movement.

These new activities showed that, in keeping with its true spirit, the anthroposophic movement is always prepared to enter every branch of human life. Imagine that a different movement of a more theoretical religious character had decided to build a center; what would have happened? First, its members would collect money from sympathizers (a necessary step, unfortunately). Then they would choose an architect to design the building, perhaps in an antique or renaissance style or in a gothic or baroque or some other traditional style.

However, when the anthroposophic movement was in the happy position of being able to build its own home, such a procedure would have been totally unacceptable to me. Anything that forms an organic living whole cannot be assembled from heterogeneous parts. What relationship could any words, spoken in the spirit of anthroposophy, have had with the forms around a listener in a baroque, antique, or renaissance building? A movement that expresses only theories can present only abstractions. A living movement, on the other hand, must work into every area of life through its own characteristic impulses. Therefore, the urge to express life, soul, and spirit in practical activity (which is characteristic of anthroposophy) demanded that the surrounding architecture—the glowing colors of the wall paintings and the pillars we see—should speak the same language that is spoken theoretically in ideas and abstract thoughts. All of the movements that existed in the world previously were equally comprehensive; ancient architecture was certainly not isolated from its culture, but grew from the theoretical and practical activities of the time. The same can be said of the renaissance—certainly of the gothic, but also of the baroque.

To avoid a sectarian or theoretical ideology, anthroposophy had to find its own architectural and artistic styles. As mentioned before, one may find this style unsatisfactory or even paradoxical, but the fact is, according to its real nature, anthroposophy simply had to create its own physical enclosure. Let me make a comparison that may appear trivial but may, nevertheless, clarify these thoughts. Think of a walnut and its kernel. It is obvious that both nut and shell were created by the same forces, since together they make a whole. If anthroposophy had been housed in an incongruous building, it would be as if a walnut kernel had been found in the shell of a different plant. Nature produces nut and shell, and they both speak the same language. Similarly, neither symbolism nor allegory was needed here; rather, it was necessary that anthroposophic impulses flow directly into artistic creativity. If thoughts are to be expressed in this building, they must have a suitable shell, from artistic and architectural points of view. This was not easy to do, however, because the sectarian tendency is strong today, even among those looking for a broadening of religious ideals. But anthroposophy must not be influenced by people’s sympathies or antipathies. It must remain true to its own principles, which are closely linked to the needs and yearnings of our times, as will be shown in the next few days.

And so anthroposophy entered the practical domain—as far as this was possible in those days. At the time, I surprised some members by saying, “Anthroposophy wants to enter all walks of life. Although conditions do not allow this today, I would love to open banks that operate according to anthroposophic principles.” This may sound strange, but it was meant to show that anthroposophy is in its right element only when it can fertilize every aspect of life. It must never be seen merely as a philosophical and religious movement.

We now come to the catastrophic and chaotic time of the World War, which produced its own particular needs. In September 1913, we laid the foundation stone of this building. In 1914, when war broke out, we were building the foundation of the Goetheanum. Here I want to say only that, at a time when Europe was torn asunder by opposing nationalistic aspirations, here in Dornach we successfully maintained a place where people from all nations could meet and work together in peace, united by a common spirit. This was a source of deep inner satisfaction. Those war years could be considered as the second phase in the development of our movement.

Despite efforts to continue anthroposophic work during the war, the outer activities of the anthroposophic movement were mostly paralyzed. But one could experience how peoples everywhere gradually came to feel an inner need for spiritual sustenance, which, in my opinion, anthroposophy was able to offer. After 1918, when the war had ended, at least outwardly, there was an enormous, growing interest in spiritual renewal, such as anthroposophy wished to provide. Between autumn 1918 and spring 1919, numerous friends—many from Stuttgart—came to see me in Dornach. They were deeply concerned about the social conditions of the time, and they wanted the anthroposophic movement to take an active role in trying to come to terms with the social and economic upheavals. This led to the third phase of our movement.

It happened that Southern Germany—Württemberg in particular—was open to such anthroposophic activities, and one had to work wherever this was possible. These activities, however, were colored a little by the problems of that particular region, problems caused by the prevailing social chaos. An indescribable misery had spread over the whole of Central Europe at the time. Yet, seen in a broader context, the suffering caused by material needs was small compared to what was happening in the soul realm of the population. One could feel that humanity had to face the most fundamental questions of human existence. Questions once raised by Rousseau, which led to visible consequences in the French Revolution, did not touch the most basic human yearnings and needs as did the questions presented in 1919, within the very realms where we wished to work.

In this context, awareness of a specific social need began to grow in the hearts of my friends. They realized that perhaps the only way to work effectively toward a better future would be to direct our efforts toward the youth and their education. Our friend Emil Molt (who at the time was running the Waldorf- Astoria Cigarette Factory in Stuttgart) offered his services for such an effort by establishing the Waldorf school for his workers’ children, and I was asked to help direct the school. People were questioning everything related to the organization of society as it had developed over the past centuries from its tribal and ethnic elements. This prompted me to present a short proclamation concerning the threefold social order to the German people and to the civilized world in general, and also to publish my book Towards Social Renewal.

Many other activities connected with the social question also occurred, at first in South Germany, which resulted from this general situation and prevailing mood. It was essential then, though immensely difficult, to touch the most fundamental aspirations of the human soul. Despite their physical and mental agony, people were called upon to search, quite abstractly, for great and sublime truths; but because of the general upheaval they were unable to do so. Many who heard my addresses said to me later, “All this may be correct and even beautiful, but it concerns the future of humanity. We have faced death often during the last years and are no longer concerned about the future; we must live from day to day. Why should we be more interested in the future now than when we had to face the guns every day?” Such comments characterize the prevaling apathy of that time toward the most important and fundamental questions of human development.

Before the war, one could observe all sorts of educational experiments in various special schools. It was out of the question, however, that we would establish yet another country boarding school or implement a certain brand of educational principles. We simply wished to heal social ills and serve the needs of humankind in general. You will learn more about the fundamentals of Waldorf education during the coming lectures. For now, I merely wish to point out that, as in every field, anthroposophy sees its task as becoming involved in the realities of a situation as it is given. It was not for us to open a boarding school somewhere in a beautiful stretch of open countryside, where we would be free to do as we pleased. We had to fit into specific, given conditions. We were asked to teach the children of a small town—that is, we had to open a school in a small town where even our highest aspirations had to be built entirely upon pragmatic and sound educational principles. We were not free to choose a particular locality nor select students according to ability or class; we accepted given conditions with the goal of basing our work on spiritual knowledge. In this way, as a natural consequence of anthroposophic striving, Waldorf education came into existence.

The Waldorf school in Stuttgart soon ceased to be what it was in the beginning—a school for the children of workers at the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Factory. It quickly attracted students from various social backgrounds, and today parents everywhere want to send their children. From the initial enrollment of 140 children, it has grown to more than 600, and more applications are coming in all the time. A few days ago, we laid the foundation stone for a very necessary extension to our school, and we hope that, despite all the difficulties one must face in this kind of work, we will soon be able to expand our school further.

I wish to emphasize, however, that the characteristic feature of this school is its educational principles, based on knowledge of the human being and its ability to adapt those principles to external, given realities. If one can choose students according to ability or social standing, or if one can choose a locality, it is relatively easy to accomplish imaginary, even real, educational reforms. But it is no easy task to establish and develop a school on educational principles closely connected with the most fundamental human impulses, while also being in touch with the practical demands of life.

Thus, during its third phase, our anthroposophic movement has spread into the social sphere, and this aspect will naturally occupy us in greater depth during the coming days. But you must realize that what has been happening in the Waldorf school until now represents only a beginning of endeavors to bring our fundamental goals right down into life’s practicalities.

Concerning other anthroposophic activities that developed later on, I would like to say that quite a number of scientifically trained people came together in their hope and belief that the anthroposophic movement could also fertilize the scientific branches of life. Medical doctors met here, because they were dissatisfied with the ways of natural science, which accept only external observation and experimentation. They were convinced that such a limited attitude could never lead to a full understanding of the human organism, whether in health or illness. Doctors came who were deeply concerned about the unnecessary limitations established by modern medical science, such as the deep chasm dividing medical practice into pathology and therapy.

These branches coexist today almost as separate sciences. In its search for knowledge, anthroposophy uses not just methods of outer experimentation—observation of external phenomena synthesized by the intellect—but, by viewing the human being as body, soul, and spirit, it also utilizes other means, which I will describe in coming days. Instead of dealing with abstract thoughts, spiritual science is in touch with the living spirit. And because of this, it was able to meet the aspirations of those urgently seeking to bring new life into medicine. As a result, I was asked to give two courses here in Dornach to university-trained medical specialists and practicing doctors, in order to outline the contribution spiritual science could make in the field of pathology and therapy. Both here in Dornach and in nearby Arlesheim, as well as in Stuttgart, institutes for medical therapy have sprung up, working with their own medicines and trying to utilize what spiritual science can offer to healing, in dealing with sickness and health. Specialists in other sciences have also come to look for new impulses arising from spiritual science; thus, courses were given in physics and astronomy. In this way, anthroposophic spirit knowledge was called upon to bring practical help to the various branches of science.

Characteristic of this third phase of the anthroposophic movement is the fact that gradually—despite a certain amount of remaining opposition—people have come to see that spiritual science, as practiced here, can meet every demand for an exact scientific basis of working and that, as represented here, it can work with equal discipline and in harmony with any other scientific enterprise. In time, people will appreciate more and more the potential that has been present during these past twenty years in the anthroposophic movement.

Yet another example shows how the most varied fields of human endeavor can be fructified through spiritual science, through the creation of a new art of movement we call eurythmy. It uses the human being as an instrument of expression, and it aims toward specific results. So we try to let anthroposophic life—not anthroposophic theories—flow into all sorts of activities—for example, the art of recitation and speech, about which you will hear more in the next few days.

This last phase with its educational, medical, and artistic impulses is the most characteristic one of the anthroposophic movement. Spiritual science has many supporters as well as many enemies—even bitter enemies. But now it has entered the very stage of activities for which it has been waiting. And so it was a satisfying experience during my stay in Kristiania [Oslo], from November twenty-third to December fourth this year to speak of anthroposophic life to educators and to government economists, as well as to Norwegian students and various other groups. All of these people were willing to accept not theories or religious sectarian ideas, but what waits to reveal itself directly from the spirit of our time in answer to the great needs of humanity.

So much for the three phases of the anthroposophic movement. As an introduction to our course I merely wanted to acquaint you with this movement and to mention its name to you, so to speak. Tomorrow, we will begin our actual theme. Nevertheless, I want you to know that it is the anthroposophic movement, with its deep educational interests, that gladly welcomes you all here to the Goetheanum.