A Turning-Point in Modern History
Published in The Golden Blade, 1977. It is the seventh of twelve lectures in the volume Goetheanism as an Impulse for Transformation ... Human Science and Social Science.
24 January 1919, Dornach
It seems that it would be useful to consider matters concerned with the social life of the present in the light of our recent studies of Goethe. The nineteenth century represents a very significant turning-point in the history of mankind, particularly in relation to the social life of our own time. The middle of the century brought a much greater change in ways of thinking than is generally appreciated. When considering this change one could certainly start from personalities who were not German, for example Shaftesbury and Hemsterhuis. But these examples from England or Holland would not lead us so deeply into our theme as the study of Goethe can do. At the present time, when so much — far more than people realise — is tending towards the destruction of all that springs from middle Europe, it may be of use to link up with these things, which should live on in humanity in a way quite different from the way imagined by most Germans today.
If one looks at the present situation honestly and without prejudice, one cannot help feeling oppressed if one remembers a saying by Herman Grimm — the saying of an outstanding man who lived not very long ago. For this one need not be a German, but one needs to have some feeling for the culture of middle Europe. Herman Grimm once said that there are four personalities to whom a German can look if he wishes to find, in a certain sense, the direction for his life. These four are Luther, Frederick the Great, Goethe and Bismarck. Grimm says that if a German cannot look in the direction given by these four personalities, he feels unsupported and alone among the nations of the world.
In the nineties many people had no doubt at all that this remark was correct (though I was not one of them), but today it can give us a feeling of oppression. For one must admit: Luther does not live on effectively in the German tradition; Goethe has never been a living influence, as we have often had to emphasise, and Frederick the Great and Bismarck belong to conditions which no longer exist. Thus — according to Herman Grimm's remark — the time would have come already in which a German would have to feel unsupported and alone among the nations of the world. People do not feel deeply enough to realise fully in their soul what this signifies: less than three decades ago something could be taken as a matter of course by an enlightened spirit — and today it is quite impossible. If present-day men were not so superficial, many things would be felt much more deeply. It can sometimes be heartbreaking how little the events of the world are felt.
Looking back before the nineteenth century to the end of the eighteenth century, we can observe a significant impulse. It was the impulse working in Schiller when he wrote his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man; this was the time, too, when Goethe was stirred by his dealings with Schiller. They led Goethe to express the impulse which lay behind Schiller's “Aesthetic Letters” in his own tale, The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily.” You can read about the connection between Schiller's “Aesthetic Letters” and Goethe's fairy-tale in my recent small book on Goethe.
When Schiller wrote these “Letters”, his intention was not merely to write a literary essay, but to perform a political deed. At the beginning of the “Letters” he refers to the French Revolution and tries in his own way to say what may be thought about the will behind it, and behind the whole revolution at the end of the eighteenth century. He had no particular expectation as to what would be achieved through a great political change, of which the French revolutionaries hoped so much. He hoped much more for a thorough self-education of man, which he regarded as a necessity of his time.
Let us consider once more the basic conception of these “Letters.” Schiller seeks to answer, in his own way, the question: how does man achieve real freedom in his social life? Schiller would never have expected that men would be led to freedom simply by giving the right form to the social institutions in which they lived. He asks rather that by work upon himself, by self-education, man should reach this condition of freedom within the social order. Schiller believed that man has first to become inwardly free before he can achieve freedom in the external world. And he says: Man has his existence between two powerful influences. On one side he faces the influence coming from physical nature; this Schiller calls the influence of natural necessity. It includes everything produced by the sense-nature of man in the way he desires and so on. And he says: If a man obeys this influence, he cannot be free.
Opposed to the influence of the senses there is another — the influence of rational necessity. Man can commit himself to follow rational necessity, as the other pole of his existence. But then he cannot be a truly free man, either. If he follows in a logical way this rational necessity, it is still something that compels him. And if this rational necessity is consolidated into the laws of an external State, or something of that kind, in obeying such laws he is still compelled. So man is placed between reason and sensuality. His sensuality is a necessity for him, not a freedom. His reason is also a necessity, though a spiritual one; under it, he is not free.
For Schiller, man can be free only if he does not follow in a one-sided way either the influence of the senses or that of reason, but succeeds in bringing the influence of reason into closer accord with his humanity; when, that is, he does not simply submit like a slave to logical or legal necessity, but makes the content of the law, the content of rational necessity, truly his own.
Here Schiller, in comparison with Kant, whom unfortunately he otherwise followed in many ways, is a much freer spirit. For Kant regarded absolute obedience to what he calls duty — that is, rational necessity — as the highest human virtue. “Duty, thou great and sublime name ”, Kant says, on the only occasion when he becomes poetical, “having nothing that flatters or attracts us...” Schiller says: “I serve my friends willingly, and unfortunately I like to do it. And so it often worries me to find that I am not virtuous.” That is his satirical comment on Kant, who would regard serving one's friends as a duty. Schiller means that while an unfree man may serve his friends as a duty, in obedience to the “categorical imperative,” a free man carries his humanity so far that he does it because he likes to do it, out of love, as an inner matter of course.
Thus Schiller seeks to draw down rational necessity into his human realm, so that a man does not have to submit to it, but is able to practise it as a law of his own nature. The necessity of the senses he seeks to raise up and spiritualise, so that the human being is not simply driven by his sensuality, but can ennoble it, so that he may give it expression, having raised it to its highest level. Schiller believes that when sensuality and reason meet at the centre of his being, man becomes free.
It seems as if present-day man is not properly able to share what Schiller felt when he described this middle condition as the real ideal for human beings. If a mutual permeation of rational necessity and the necessity of the senses were constantly achieved, Schiller held, this ideal condition would be expressed in the creation and appreciation of art.
It is very characteristic of the time of Schiller and Goethe to seek in art a guide for the rest of human activity. The spirit of Goethe rejects everything Philistine and seeks for an ideal condition which is to be achieved in the likeness of genuine art. For the artist creates in a visible medium. Even if he creates in words, he is working in a sense-perceptible medium. And he would produce something terribly abstract if he gave himself up to rational necessity. He must learn what he is to create from the material itself, and from the activity of shaping it. He must spiritualise the sense-perceptible by giving matter form. Through the formal pattern (Gestalt) that he gives it, matter is enabled to have an effect, not just as matter, hut in the same way that the spiritual has an effect. Thus the artist fuses spiritual and perceptible into one creation. When all that men do in the external world becomes such that obedience to duty and to the law comes about through an inclination akin to that of the artist, and when all that comes from the senses is permeated by spirit, then for individual human beings, and also for the State and the social structure, freedom is achieved, as Schiller understands it.
So Schiller asks: how must the various powers of the soul — rationality, sensuality, aesthetic activity — work together in man, if he is to stand as a free being in the social structure? A particular way for the forces of the soul to work together is what Schiller thought should be aimed at. And he believed that when human beings in whom rational necessity permeates sensual necessity, and sensual necessity is spiritualised by rational necessity — when these human beings form a social order, it will turn out to be a good one, by necessity.
Goethe often talked with Schiller, and corresponded with him, while Schiller was writing his “Aesthetic Letters.” Goethe was a quite different man from Schiller. Schiller had tremendous inner passion as a poet, but he was also a keen thinker. Goethe was not in the same way a keen abstract thinker and he had less poetic passion, but he was equipped with something that Schiller lacked: with fully human, harmonious instincts. Schiller was a man of reflection and reason; Goethe was a man of instinct, but spiritualised instinct. The difference between them became a problem for Schiller. If you read his beautiful essay on “Naive and Sentimental Poetry,” you will always feel that Schiller might just as well have written, if he had wanted to become more personal: On Goethe and Myself. For Goethe is the naive poet, Schiller the sentimental poet. He is simply describing Goethe and himself.
For Goethe, the man of instinct, all this was not so simple. Any kind of abstract philosophical talk, including talk about rational necessity, sensual necessity and the aesthetic approach — for these are abstractions if one contrasts them with one another — was repugnant to Goethe in his innermost being. He was willing to engage in it, because he was open to everything human and because he said to himself: A lot of people go in for philosophising, and that is something one must accept. He never rejected anything entirely. This is most evident when he has to talk about Kant. Here he found himself in a peculiar position. Kant was regarded by Schiller and many others as the greatest man of his century. Goethe could not understand this. But he was not intolerant, or wrapped up in his own opinion. Goethe said to himself: If so many people find so much in Kant, one must let them; indeed, one must make an effort to examine something which to oneself seems not very significant — and perhaps one will find a hidden significance in it after all. I have had in my hands Goethe's copy of Kant's Critique of Judgement; he underlined important passages. But the underlinings became fewer well before the middle, and later disappear altogether. You can see that he never reached the end.
In conversation about Kant, Goethe would not let himself become really involved in the subject. He found it disagreeable to talk about the world and its mysteries in terms of philosophical abstractions. And it was clear to him that to understand the human being in his development from necessity to freedom was not as simple as Schiller had believed. There is something very great in these “Aesthetic Letters,” and Goethe recognised that. But it seemed to him too simple to ascribe all the complications of the soul of man to these three categories: rational necessity, aesthetic impulse, sensual necessity. For him there was so much more in the human soul. And things could not simply be placed side by side in this way.
Hence Goethe was stirred to write his Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily, in which not only three but about twenty powers of the soul are described, not in concepts, but in pictorial forms, open to various interpretations. They are headed by the Golden King, who represents (not symbolises) wisdom, the Silver King who represents beautiful appearance, the Bronze King, who represents power, and Love who crowns them all. Everything else, too, indicates soul-forces; you can read this in my article.
Thus Goethe was impelled to conceive this path for the human being from necessity to freedom in his own way. He was the spiritualised man of instinct. Schiller was the man of understanding, but not in quite the usual sense: in him understanding was led over into perception.
Now if we consider honestly the course of history, we can say: this way of looking at things, developed by Schiller in an abstract philosophical way, by Goethe in an imaginative and artistic way, is not only in its form, but also in its content, very remote from present-day men. An intimate older friend of mine, Karl Julius Schröer, who was once responsible for examining candidate teachers for technical schools, wanted to examine these people on Schiller's “Aesthetic Letters:” they were going to have to teach children between the ages of ten and eighteen. They staged a regular agitation! They would have found it quite natural to be questioned about Plato and to have to interpret Platonic Dialogues. But they had no inclination to know anything about Schiller's “Letters on Aesthetic Education,” which represent a certain culmination of modern spiritual life.
The middle of the nineteenth century was a much more incisive point in man's spiritual history than people can realise today. The period before it is represented in Schiller and Goethe; it is followed by something quite different, which can understand the preceding period very little. What we now call the social question, in the widest sense — a sense that humanity has not yet grasped, but should grasp and must grasp later on — was born only in the second half of the nineteenth century. And we can understand this fact only if we ask: why, in such significant and representative considerations as those attempted by Schiller in his “Aesthetic Letters” and represented pictorially by Goethe in his Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily, do we find no trace of the peculiar way of thinking we are impelled to develop today about the structure of society — although Goethe in his “Tale” is evidently hinting at political forms?
If we approach the “Aesthetic Letters” and the “Tale” with inner understanding, we can feel the presence in them of a powerful spirituality which humanity has since lost. Anyone reading the “Aesthetic Letters” should feel: in the very way of writing an element of soul and spirit is at work which is not present in even the most outstanding figures today; and it would be stupid to think that anyone could now write something like Goethe's fairy tale. Since the middle of the nineteenth century this spirituality has not been here. It does not speak directly to present-day men and can really speak only through the medium of Spiritual Science, which extends our range of vision and can also enter into earlier conditions in man's history. It would really be best if people would acknowledge that without spiritual knowledge they cannot understand Schiller and Goethe. Every scene in “Faust” can prove this to you.
If we try to discover what main influence was then at work, we find that in those days the very last remnant, the last echo of the old spirituality, was present in men, before it finally faded away in the middle of the nineteenth century and humanity was thrown back on its own resources. It lived on in such a way that a man like Schiller, who thought in abstractions, possessed spirituality in his abstract thinking, and a man who had spiritualised instincts, such as Goethe had, had it living in these instincts. In some way it still lived. Now it has to be found on the paths of spiritual knowledge; now man has to find his way through to spirituality in freedom. That is the essential thing. And without an understanding of this turning-point in the middle of the nineteenth century, one cannot really grasp what is so important today. Take, for example, Schiller's way of approaching the structure of society. Looking at the French Revolution, he writes his “Aesthetic Letters,” but when he asks, “How should the social order develop?”, he looks at man himself. He is not dealing with the social question in a present-day sense.
Today, when the social question is under review, it is usual to leave out the individual human being, with his inner conflicts, his endeavours to achieve self-education. Only the social structure in general is considered. What Schiller expected to come about through self-education is expected to come through alterations in outer conditions. Schiller says: If men become what they can become at the midpoint of their being, they will create a right social structure as a matter of course. Today it is said: If we bring about a right social structure, human beings will develop as they should.
In a short time the whole way of feeling about this has turned round. Schiller or Goethe could not have believed that through self-education men could bring about a right social structure if they had not been able to feel in man himself the universally human qualities that social life requires. In every human being they saw an image of human society. But this was no longer effective. In those days beautiful, spiritual descriptions of the best self-education could be written — it was all an echo or in a sense a picture of the old atavistic life, but the power to achieve real results was not in it. And today's way of thinking about the best social conditions is equally powerless. It places man in an invented, thought-out social structure, but he is not effectively present there. We must look at human society in general, we must look out at the world and find ourselves there, find the human being.
This is something that only real Spiritual Science can do, in the most far-reaching sense. Take what is objected to most of all in my Occult Science: the course of evolution through Saturn, Sun, Moon, and Earth; everywhere man is there. Nowhere do you have the mere abstract universe; everywhere man is in some way included; he is not separated from the universe. This is the beginning of what our time instinctively intends, out of impulses that remain quite dark. The time before the middle of the nineteenth century looked at man, and believed it could find the world in man. The time after the middle of the nineteenth century looks only at the world. But that is sterile; it leads to theories which are entirely empty of man. And so Spiritual Science is really serving those dark but justified instincts. What men wish for, without knowing what they want, is fulfilled through Spiritual Science: to look at the external world and to find there the human being. This is still rejected, even regarded with horror; but it will have to be cultivated, if any real recovery in this connection is to come about in the future.
At the same time there must be a development also in the study of man. A real understanding of the social organism will be achieved only when one can see man within it. Man is a threefold being. In every age — except for our own — he has been active in a threefold way. Today he concentrates everything upon a single power in himself, because he has to stand entirely on the single point of his own self in this age of consciousness, and people feel that everything proceeds from this single point. Each man thinks to himself: If I am asked a question, or if life puts a task before me, I myself form a judgment, out of myself. But it is not the entire human being who judges in this way. The human organism has a “man in the middle,” with something above it and something below it; and it is the “man in the middle” who has the capacity to form a judgment and to act on it at any moment. Above is Revelation: what is received through religion or some other form of spiritual revelation and viewed as something higher, something super-sensible. Below, underneath the faculty of judgment, is Experience, the totality of what one has passed through.
Present-day man takes little account of either pole. Revelation — an old superstition that must be overcome! To experience, also, he pays little attention, or he would be more aware of the difference between youthful not-knowing and the knowing that comes through experience. He often gathers little from experience because he does not believe in it. Most people today, when they have grey hair and wrinkles, are not much wiser than they were at twenty. In life a man may get cleverer and cleverer, and yet be just as stupid as before. But experience does accumulate and it is the other pole from revelation. In between stands immediate judgment.
Today, as I have often said, one reads critical judgments written by very young people who have not yet looked round in the world. Old people may write lengthy books and the youngest journalists may review them. That is no way of making progress. Progress can be made when what is achieved in later life is taken as a guide, when age is held to be more capable of judgment through the experience that has been acquired.
Thus man is a threefold being in practical life. If you read my book, Riddles of the Soul, you will find that revelation corresponds to the head of man, the man of nerves and senses; immediate judgment corresponds to the breast man; experience corresponds to the man of the extremities. I could also say: the man of the life of nerves and senses, the man of the rhythmical life, and the man of metabolism. No consideration is given today to this threefold nature of man, and so there is no recognition of what corresponds to it in cosmic terms. This cannot be discerned because of the general unwillingness to rise from the sense-perceptible to the super-sensible.
Today, when a man eats — that is, unites external nourishment with his organism — he thinks: There inside is the organism, which cooks the stuff and takes from it what it needs, and lets the rest pass away unused, and so it goes on. On the other hand, I look out into the world through my senses. I take up the perceptible and transform it by my understanding; I take it into my soul, as I take nourishment into my body, What is out there, what eyes see and ears hear, I then carry within me as a mental picture; what is out there as wheat, fish, meat or whatever, I carry inside me, after having digested it.
Yes, but this leaves out the fact that the substances used in nourishment have their inner aspect. The experience of food through our external senses is not related to our deeper being. With what your tongue tastes and your stomach digests, in the way that can be confirmed by ordinary scientific research, you can maintain your daily metabolism; but you cannot take care of the other metabolism, which leads for example to the change of teeth about the age of seven.
The essential thing in this other metabolism lies in the deeper forces at work in it, which are not observed today by any chemical study. What we take as food has a deep spiritual aspect, and this is very active in man, but only while he sleeps. In your foods live the spirits of the highest Hierarchies, the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones. Hence in your food you have something cosmically formative, and therein lie the forces which provide imperceptibly for the change of teeth, for adolescence, and for the later transformations of the human being. Only the daily metabolism is brought about by the things known to external science. The metabolism which goes through life as a whole is cared for by the highest Hierarchies. And behind the sense-perceptible world are the beings of the Third Hierarchy: Angels, Archangels, and Archai. Hence we can say: sense-perception, Third Hierarchy: foodstuffs, First Hierarchy: and in between is the Second Hierarchy, which lives in the breathing, in all the rhythmic activities of the human organism.
The Bible describes this quite truly. The spirits called the Elohim, together with Jahve, are led into men through the breath. The ancient wisdom was quite correctly aware of these things, in an atavistic way. Thus you are led through a real study of man into a true cosmology.
Spiritual Science re-inaugurates this way of looking at things. It looks for man again in the external world, and brings the entire universe into man. This can be done only if one knows that man is really a trinity, a threefold being. Today both revelation and experience are suppressed; man does not do them justice. He does not do justice to his sense-perceptions, or to the foods he eats, for he regards them merely as material objects. But that is an Ahrimanic distortion, which ignores the deeper life that underlies all created things, of which foodstuffs are an example.
Spiritual Science does not lead to a contempt for matter, but to a spiritualisation of it. If anyone were to look at food with contempt, he would have to learn that Spiritual Science says, in a way that would seem grotesque to him: the highest Hierarchies, Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones, they are alive in nutriments.
In our time threefold man is put together in an unclear, chaotic way, and made into a single entity. In social terms, a precisely corresponding picture arises when everything is brought under the single entity of State legalism. In fact, society should be seen as a trinity, composed of three members. First, economic activity, the natural foundation of life. Second, legal regulation, which corresponds to the middle element in man, his rhythmic nature. Third, spiritual life. Now we can see a trend towards making these three realms into one. Economic life, it is said, must be brought gradually under the control of the State. The State should become the only capitalist. Spiritual life came long ago under the dominion of the State. On the one hand we have man, who does not understand himself, and on the other the State, which is not understood, because man no longer finds himself within the social structure.
These three elements — economic life, legal regulation, spiritual life — are as radically different as head, breast and limbs. To burden the State with economic life is as if you wanted to eat with your lungs and heart, instead of with the stomach. Man is healthy only through the separation and co-operation of his three systems. The social organism, too, can be healthy only when the three elements work independently side by side, and are not thrown together in a single entity.
All legal regulation, which corresponds to the breathing, rhythmic system in man, represents a quite impersonal element, expressed in the saying: All men are equal before the law. Nothing personal comes into this; hence it is necessary that all human beings should be concerned with this middle realm and that everyone should be represented there. People are inclined to stop at this point, leaving a certain sterility on either side. We have to breathe; but we are not human beings unless nourishment is added to the breathing process from one side and sense impressions from the other. We must have a State, which rules through law, impersonal law. But economic life, which is half-personal, wherever men participate in it, and spiritual life, which is entirely personal, must work into the State from either side, or the social organism will be just as impossible as if man wanted to consist only of breathing.
This must become a new, fundamental doctrine: that the social structure has three members. You cannot live as human beings without eating; you have to receive your food from outside. You cannot maintain the State without bringing it the necessary nourishment from what human beings produce spiritually. This spiritual productivity is for the State what physical food is for individual men. Nor can you have a State unless you give it a certain natural basis on the other side in economic life. Economic life is for the State exactly like the element brought to the breathing process in human beings through sense-perceptions.
You can see that real knowledge of man and real knowledge of the social structure depend upon one another; you cannot reach one without the other. This must become the elementary basis for social insight in the future. The sin committed in relation to man by leaving out Revelation and Experience is committed by Socialist thinkers today when they leave out of account the half-personal element in which fraternity must rule and on the other side ignore spiritual life, where freedom must rule; while the impersonal element of the law must be ruled by equality.
The great mistake of current Socialism is its belief that a healthy social structure can be brought about by State regulation, and particularly by socialising the means of production. We must appeal to all the powers of the social organism if we are to create a healthy social structure. Side by side with Equality, which is the one aim today, and is absolutely right for everything which has the character of law, Fraternity and Freedom must be able to work. But they cannot work without a threefold social order. It would be just as senseless to ask the heart and lungs to think and eat, as it is to ask an omnipotent State to direct economic life and to maintain spiritual life. The spiritual life must be independent, and co-operate only in the same way as the stomach co-operates with the head and with the heart. Things in life do work together, but they work together in the right way only if they can develop individually, not when they are thrown together abstractly.
The facts of the present time really prove that this insight must be achieved. It is very much worth observing how people at the present time do not see the connection between materialism on the one hand and abstract thinking on the other, particularly in relation to the social question. One great reason for the rise of materialism is that the State has gradually taken possession of all the academic institutions which were originally free corporations. If you go back to the times when such things were founded, from an atavistic feeling originating in clairvoyance, you will see how the necessity of co-operation between these three elements was still felt. Only since the sixteenth century has everything flowed into one, with the rise of materialism.
In earlier times, if a man wanted to be an outstanding jurist, he went to a university distinguished for the law, perhaps to Padua; if he wanted to be an outstanding physician, he went to Montpellier or to Naples; if he wanted to be an outstanding theologian, he went to Paris. These institutions did not belong to a particular State, but to humanity, and represented an independent member of the social organism.
Again, every school that is immediately under the power of the State is an impossible institution, and in the end unhealthy. Every undertaking concerned with production is unhealthy when managed by the State. You cannot pour anything into the lungs, not even water when you are thirsty. If this happens, you see how unhealthy it is.
Today people pour all kinds of economic and even spiritual undertakings into the realm which should be responsible only for the legal regulation of existing affairs. The radical parties go as far as wishing to separate the Church from the State, because they hope that people will be really interested only in what the State does. Then, in this clever, roundabout way, the Church could be expected to fade away entirely. But if you suggest to these people that schools need to be independent in order to restore productivity to spiritual life, they will contradict this very vehemently.
Every arrangement which makes for an intervention from the legal side into the spiritual life must lead to sterility. And in the same way it is false if the legal organisation intervenes in the initiatives necessary for economic life. The police, security, everything which belongs to social rights — not private rights and not penal law, which belong to the spiritual life — all these belong to the system of legal regulations. Everything economic forms an independent system and must be organised cooperatively, in a way that is half-personal. All spiritual life must be a matter for human individuality; in no other way can it flourish.
Schiller describes the middle condition that lies for man between the demands of rational necessity and the demands of this sense-life, and he relates this ideal to the creation and appreciation of art. In his “Aesthetic Letters” he says boldly that man is fully man only when he is playing, and he plays only when he is man in the fullest sense of the word. Schiller regards playing as the ideal condition, but of course you have to think of playing as Schiller does: that the necessity of reason is transformed into inclination, and inclination is raised to a spiritual level like that of reason. He calls the earnestness of life a game, in his sense of the word, for then one acts like a child who is playing, not obeying any duty but following one's impulses, and yet following them freely, because the necessities of life do not yet intervene in childhood.
A summit of human achievement is indicated in Schiller's “Aesthetic Letters”: man is fully man only when he is playing, and he plays only when he is man in the fullest sense of the word. On the other hand, when we have to begin with the concrete reality of the entire cosmos in order to find man in it, it is necessary that we should say to ourselves: man will achieve real progress for humanity only when he can take the smallest things in everyday life, even the most everyday game, and understands how to raise them into the great seriousness of cosmic existence. Therefore it has to be said: a turning-point in the history of mankind has come in this present time, where earnestness is knocking most solemnly at our doors.