The Fundamental Social Demands of Our Times

Karl Marx

Marxism, Socialism, Capitalism

by Rudolf Steiner

Lecture 1 – GA 186

Dornach, December 13, 1918

Translator unknown – revised here by FTS

My dear friends,

We have been studying from many points of view the social impulses of the present and of the future. You will have seen, among the many and varied phenomena which these impulses bring forth, that there is one apparently fundamental tendency. Social and antisocial world-conceptions make their appearance. This or that action is taken, inspired by these social or antisocial worldviews. But if from the vantage-point now gained we put the question: “What is it that really underlies these things? What is it that is trying to work its way out to the surface in human destinies and human evolution?” We may characterize it as follows: Man wants to have a social order, he wants to give the life of humanity in society a social structure within which, in harmony with the age of the conscious soul, he may become conscious of what he is and knows himself to be as human in his human dignity,- in his significance and force as a human being. Within the social order, he wants to find himself as human.

Formerly, impulses that were instinctive guided people to act, to think, to feel about one thing or another. In the present age — the age of the conscious soul, which began in the fifteenth century and will last into the third millennium C.E — these instinctive impulses are seeking to be transformed into conscious ones. And man will only be able to introduce these conscious impulses into his life if in the course of this age he becomes more and more conscious of what he as man is and can be within the social structure — the structure of Society or of the State or whatever it may be — in which he lives.

Spiritual Science is alone able to penetrate these things clearly in the true direction of the age of the Conscious Soul. They make their appearance here and there in a more or less tumultuous form, not only in the thoughts and opinions but in the events in which the people of the present day are living. It is characteristic, for example, to see what comes to expression in a recent speech by Trotsky. If you consider what I have just said about the desire to place people in the very center of our worldview, such words as Trotsky uses here will make an overwhelming, shattering impression upon you. He says: “The communist or socialist doctrine has set itself, as one of its most important tasks, to attain at length on our old sinful Earth a state of affairs when men will cease to shoot at one another. Thus it is one of the tasks of Socialism or Communism to create a social order where for the first time man will be worthy of the name. We are wont to say with Gorki that the word human strikes a proud and lofty note, yet in reality, looking over these three and three-quarter years of bloody murder, we would fain cry out: The sound of the word ‘human’ is shameful and contemptible.”

Here we see the question: How can one become conscious of his human being, his human worth and human strength placed in a tumultuous way in the very center of attention at the beginning of a political speech? And, if you observe more closely, you will meet the same phenomenon in many people. What Spiritual Science realizes in a clearer way has a shadowy existence in many human minds. Now this is a phenomenon which we shall only understand if we consider many things in the social thinking of the 5th Post-Atlantean Age which we have not studied closely enough as yet.

Truly, infinitely much has become different since the 15th century when the fifth Post-Atlantean Age began, following as it did upon the fourth Post-Atlantean age, which then came to an end. (The Fourth, as you know, had begun in the 8th century B.C.) We fail to notice how radically the constitution of soul in civilized humanity had changed in the transition, for example from the 13th or 14th to the 15th or 16th century. I have told you of many phenomena in the realm of art, in the realm of thinking and in other aspects of life in which you can recognize the change. Today we will consider another aspect, an aspect which is of particular importance for the forces which are working themselves out in the present and in the immediate future. We may truly say: It is only since the beginning of the 5th Post-Atlantean Age that men have consciously observed economic and industrial life in respect to how it affects the social structure. Previously these things came forth more or less instinctively. It is only towards the 16th century that people began consciously to ask the question: What is the nature of economy? What is the best kind of economic order? What are the laws that underlie it? It is from considerations of this kind that the impulses of the socialistic worldview have evolved. Formerly these things had been ordered more or less instinctively, from person to person, from guild to guild, corporation to corporation, and even from realm to realm. Only since the rise of the modern political state which dates back, approximately, to the 16th century, do we see this conscious thinking about economic questions.

Now when you turn your attention to such a phenomenon as this, you must remember the following important fact: So long as a thing works instinctively, it works with a certain sureness. Call it what you will, the divine order or the order of nature, instinct is a force that works through all the evolution of humanity with a certain sureness, unshaken by thought. Uncertainty only begins from the moment when the things of life, where the certainty of instincts was working hitherto, begin to be penetrated by human thinking, the human intellect. And only gradually, having gone through many and varied errors, does man regain in a conscious way that sureness and inner certainty which, under different conditions, he had in former times by instinct.

Of course we must not make the mistake of saying: let us then rather go back to instinct! The conditions have changed and under the altered conditions instinct would no longer be the right way. Humanity is in the course of evolution, and evolution consists in passing from instinct to conscious life with respect to all these things. The demand that we should return to the old instinct would be no wiser than if someone who had reached the age of fifty suddenly resolved to return to the age of twenty.

Thus we see the beginning of conscious thinking on questions of Political Economy during the 16th century. People directed their conscious attention to things that were previously experienced and carried out instinctively.

It is interesting to consider some of the thoughts and ideas which people had about the social order. Thus, to begin with, the Mercantilists as they are called, appeared on the scene with certain ideas about the economic life of society. On closer examination, their conceptions appear entirely dependent on the legal and juridical ideas which had already arisen in public life. Armed with these ideas they tried to understand the course and evolution of trade and of modern industry in its first beginnings. The ideas of Mercantilism are dependent above all on the study of trade. But they are also influenced by other things, influenced by the fact that the modern, more absolutist form of monarchy, with all its bureaucratic officialdom, assumed its configuration in their time. Again, their conceptions are conditioned by the fact that large quantities of precious metals were imported into Europe through the discovery of America; and that the old form of economy was replaced by that which deals in money. Such influences as these determined the ideas of the earliest political economists : the Mercantilists. It is evident from the ideas they expressed that their effort was to base economics and social life on the model of the old forms of private economic activity. And as you know, for the old private economic intercourse there were the Roman juridical ideas of legal rights. Within the framework of these legal conceptions they simply tried to extend the laws of private economic life into the sphere of public life.

Such ideas gave rise to a peculiar result, and, as I said just now, it is interesting to trace the several points to which people directed their thoughts as time went on. As a result of their ideas the Mercantilists concluded: The essential thing in the economic life of any nation is to possess as large an equivalent as possible for the commodities circulating in trade, and produced by industry, within the given territory. In other words, their desire was to think out a social structure whereby as much money as possible should find its way into the country for which they were concerned. They saw the prosperity of the country in the amount of money it contained. “How then can we enhance the prosperity of the country?” For they thought that the prosperity of the individual would also be enhanced as much as possible. By bringing about as far as possible an economic structure whereby a large amount of money would circulate within the country and very little would flow from it to other countries. As much money as possible was to be concentrated in the given country.

Against this idea there then arose another, that of the Physiocrats: Economic prosperity does not in reality depend on the amount of money that is kept within the country; it depends on the amount that is produced out of the land by human labor — on the quantity of goods produced by exploiting the resources of Nature. In effect, it is only an apparent prosperity that is achieved by the circulation of goods in trade and by the accumulation of money, which does not increase real prosperity. Here you see arising, in two successive theories of economics, two altogether different points of view. And this is what I would beg you to observe. For one might well believe that once one had studied these things, it should be quite easy to say what it is that conditions prosperity, and what is the best form of economic life. But when you see that the people who think about these things, who even make it their profession to do so, arrive in time at very opposite conclusions, you will no longer say that it is quite so easy.

The Physiocrats, laying their main stress on the production of goods by the tillage of the soil and the exploitation of Nature generally, came to the conclusion that one ought to leave people to themselves, for they would then be impelled by free competition to produce as much as possible out of the agricultural basis of existence. While the Mercantilists were more concerned in erecting customs barriers and closing the country, so as to limit the outward flow of money and increase national prosperity by keeping the money in the country, the Physiocrats came to the opposite conclusion. According to them, free trade from one country to another was the very thing to enhance the exploitation of the soil over the whole Earth, and accordingly, the prosperity of every country.

Thus at the very dawn of conscious thinking on economic matters you see these opposite and conflicting thoughts arise in manifold directions. We may now go on and observe the entry of a most influential theory of political economy, one that had an extraordinarily powerful influence on legislation, and also a powerful influence on the thoughts of economists themselves. I mean the theory of Adam Smith , who asked himself this question above all: “How should we bring about a social structure such as to develop, in the best possible way, the welfare of the individual and at the same time the welfare of the community?” I will here emphasize one characteristic point. Adam Smith arrived at the conclusion that an entirely individualistic development of economic life is the best thing possible. He took his start from the idea that goods, the commodities we buy and sell — constituting after all the very substance of the national economy — are in effect the result of human labor. We may put it this way. Whenever we buy a thing, the thing we buy has come into existence through the performance of human labor. The piece of goods, the commodity is, as it were, crystallized human labor. And Adam Smith thought: Just because this was the foundation of economic life, prosperity will best be brought about if we do not hinder people through any kind of legislation from producing freely. The individual will do the best for the community if he does the best for himself. Roughly speaking, this is Adam Smith's idea: We shall do the very best for all humanity if we do the very best for ourselves, for then we shall best be able to produce the goods. It will be best both for the individual and for humanity as a whole to arrange the economic in an individualistic way and not to erect hindrances by legislation or the like.

Such, my dear friends, is the whole direction of thought in all these theories of political economy. “What is the best way of arranging the social structure?” In this connection one idea may possibly occur to you and if so it may well seem to you the most important of all. It is a question which was not really clearly seen even by the Physiocrats. In all the systems of political economy of which I have spoken, they considered what is the best way of arranging and producing the economic structure of society. But as we follow the thoughts that emerge we are reminded again and again that there is also another question, namely this: What is the essential purpose of this economic life? Its object cannot merely be to distribute whatever is available. Surely it must also see to it that something shall be available; that the necessary material goods shall really be produced. The point is, after all, to produce the necessary goods from the earth. What then is the relation of man to the goods that are to be derived from the earth? It was Malthus who first put forward conscious thoughts upon this question, and it must be said that his thought took a line which may well cause humanity considerable misgiving. The cardinal question which Malthus brought to light, and the view which he put forward in answer to it, are by no means quite unfounded. He says: Let us consider the increase in the human population of the Earth. He believed, as many modern people do, that the population of the Earth is always increasing. Then let us consider the increase in the food that is produced. We shall obtain a certain ratio. Malthus expresses it somewhat mathematically. He says: The increase in food-stuffs will take place in arithmetical, and the increase in population in geometrical, progression. I may make it clear by a few numbers. Let us assume that the increase in the food-stuffs produced is in the ratio 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Then we shall have the corresponding geometrical ratio, 1, 4, 9, 16, 25. In other words, his idea was that the population will increase much faster than the available food supply. Humanity in its evolution cannot escape the danger that a struggle for existence will arise, for in the last resort there will be far too many people in relation to the increase in the available food. Thus he conceives the economic evolution of humanity from quite a different point of view, namely from the aspect of the connection of man with the conditions of the Earth. He comes to the conclusion, or at least his followers come to the conclusion, that it is against the real line of evolution to practice much charity and welfare work for the poor. For by so doing we only encourage over-population, and this is harmful to the evolution of humanity. He even comes to the point of saying: Whosoever is weak in life, let us leave him unsupplied, unsupported, for it is necessary that the unfit should be weeded out. And he conceives other methods of which I will not speak at this point. I will but indicate their nature. He recommends especially the two-children system in order to counteract the natural tendency to over-population. Wars he regards as something that must necessarily arise in human evolution, because it is a tendency of nature for the population to increase far more rapidly than the necessary means to support it.

You see, it is a very pessimistic conception of the economic evolution of humanity which here appears upon the scene of history, nor can we say that much attention has been devoted in more recent times to this question: How is man connected with the nature-basis of his economic life? In more recent times there is not even a clear consciousness that one do research in this direction. For in the subsequent period attention was directed again and again to the social structure itself; to the way in which people should distribute what is available in order to attain the greatest possible prosperity. The question was not “How shall we derive as much as possible from the earth?” It was more a question of distribution.

Along these lines of thought many different theories emerged which are important to observe, since they prepared the way for the socialistic thinking of the present day, which has already led humanity to a large extent into a kind of social chaos and will do so still more in the future, and from which it is essential to seek the right path of escape. One of these things I have just indicated, when I mentioned how distinctly there emerged, in Adam Smith for example, the idea that the commodity, the piece of goods that we buy, represents stored-up labor. Increasingly, as though by an inevitable process, there arose the thought: That which appears as a commodity can be regarded in no other way than as stored-up labor. This idea has dominated man to such an extent that it is one of the main motive forces in the proletarian thinking at the present time. For on the economic premises which I have characterized, there has entered the minds of the modern proletariat a keen vision of the fact that in the economic order, the social structure of today, the labor-power of the worker who has no property, who can only bring the labor of his hands to the market, is a commodity. Just as we buy many other things, so do we buy his labor-power from the proletarian worker.

In respect to the question: What am I in reality as a human being? — the modern proletarian feels this as the thing that most oppresses him, and from this his social demands instinctively proceed. He does not want any part of him to be bought and sold, as though he could sell his own hands and arms. This seems to him intolerable. No matter in what form the feeling finds expression, in Marxist or in some revolutionary thought, or however we may call it, the underlying feeling is, “Other people buy and sell commodities, but I am obliged to sell my labor power.”

My dear friends, it would be a simple error to object that other people too sell their labor. That is not true. In the social structures of the present day, it is really only the proletarian worker who sells his labor. For if one is connected in any way at all with property, one ceases to sell one's labor power. Thus the bourgeois does not sell his labor, he buys and sells commodities. He may sell the products of his labor, but that is a different thing from selling one's labor. The modern proletarian has very keen and sharp ideas on these things, and if you know the thinking of the modern proletarian you will know that the significance of this concept the “proletarian worker” is that he is one who sells his labor power. And you will know, moreover, how strongly this idea works as the real driving force in the proletarian thinking of today, from its most moderate to its most radical forms. Anyone who is unable to read this out of the phenomena themselves, simply fails to understand this present time. And it is a sad thing how many people fail to understand it. It is through this that we go more and more deeply into confusion: people do not really try to understand their own times.

That is one thing. The other thing is this: However modified by later, albeit somewhat instinctive points of view, a certain kind of thinking has arisen in connection with what I have now characterized. We find this thought expressed in the idea of the Law of Wages. It is true that in the modern proletarian thinking this idea no longer exists in the same radical form. Nevertheless we must know the form in which it was held, for instance, by Lasalle. For only then shall we perceive what exists in the present-day proletarian as a kind of residue of this idea. The so-called iron Law of Wages was clearly formulated by the economist Ricardo, and in the middle of the last century Lasalle stood up for it with all his energy. It is somewhat as follows. Under the social structure of today, with the form that Capital assumes in this social structure, he who is obliged to work as a proletarian can never receive beyond a certain maximum of wages for his labor. His wages will always fluctuate about a certain level. They cannot rise beyond it, nor can they descend beneath it. The objective facts make it necessary for a certain level of wages to be paid in the long run. The level of the worker's wages cannot rise beyond or descend below the maximum, or, if you will, the minimum. They cannot depart from it to any considerable extent for the following reasons: so thought Ricardo. He says: let us assume that through some circumstance — a favorable period in trade or the like — there would arise at any time an unusual increase in wages. What then would happen? The workers would suddenly receive higher wages. Their standard of life would be improved, they would attain a certain prosperity. Consequently it would be more attractive to seek for labor as a proletarian than under the preceding level of wages.

There will therefore be a larger supply of proletarian labor. Moreover, owing to their increased prosperity, the workers will multiply more quickly — and so on. In short, the supply will be increased. As a result, the laborer will be easier to obtain; and we shall therefore begin once more to underpay him. The wages will therefore fall back to their former level. Through the very rise in wages, phenomena are induced which causes them to fall again. Or let us assume that wages fall through any circumstance. Poverty and wretchedness will be the result and the supply of labor will be reduced. Workers will die more quickly, or they will get diseases. They will have fewer children. So the supply of labor power will be reduced, and this in turn will bring about an increase in wages. But the increase cannot go on essentially beyond the level of the iron law.

Of course, my dear friends, Ricardo, and Lasalle too, in propounding this iron Law of Wages, were thinking of the determination of wages in the purely economic process. Today, nay even twenty or thirty years ago, even proletarians, when one cited the iron Law of Wages in the history of economic science would reply: That is incorrect, there Ricardo and Lasalle were wrong. But this objection is really incorrect. For Ricardo and Lasalle could only have meant that if the social structure is left to itself this iron Law of Wages will begin to work. It was just in order that it should not work, that Workers' Associations were founded and that the help and influence of the State was called into play. As a consequence the level of the Law of Wages was artificially raised. Thus whatever goes beyond the iron level is brought about by legislation or by unions or the like. The objection is therefore not really valid. You see, it all depends on the way in which we turn the thought.

Well, these things might of course be multiplied without limit. I only wanted to place them before you in order to show how the conscious thoughts of men about economic questions have gradually evolved during the age of the Consciousness Soul. People's opinions were always dominant in one direction or another. Some held the opinion that national prosperity would be greatest if economic life were arranged on an individualistic basis, leaving the individual as free as possible. Others thought that this would put the weaker at a disadvantage; the weaker brethren must be supported by the assistance of the state or unions.

I should have to go on for a long time if I were to describe all the ideas that emerged as time went on. In many different regions of the civilized world ideas about political economy arose. Fundamentally speaking, it was the aim of all of them — those that I have characterized and many others — not only to study the nature of the social structure that had evolved until then, but also to consider what is the best thing to do in order that people do not have to live in poverty; in order that they may have prosperity, and so forth. Economic science, did after all set out with the strong desire to better the economic life of the people. Utopian characters and such characters as the French Socialists, Saint Simon for instance, Auguste Comte, Louis Blanc and others had this in view. Their thought was somewhat as follows: Until now society being left more or less to itself has evolved in such a way as to produce great differences between the poor and the rich, the well-to-do and the miserable This state of affairs must now be changed. To this end they studied the laws of economics and propounded many varied ideas with a view to bringing about some kind of improvement. Naturally in doing so many of them had the opinion that it should be possible to establish some kind of Paradise on Earth.

In the modern proletariat, however, the conscious thinking about the social structure assumes a special form. We have already spoken of the reason why the proletariat above all was predestined to develop these ideas. But there is one special aspect on which I now want to dwell a little further. It is true that what Karl Marx brought to expression in his book “Das Kapital” (and those which he wrote in collaboration with Engels) has been considerably modified since then. Yet the changes are small compared to the basic impulses which these thoughts contain. And though the statement only holds true in a modified form, nevertheless in general we can say: Throughout the countries of the civilized world, from the far West to Russia, the proletariat are dominated by the Marxist impulses, albeit no longer explicitly by the precise outlines of the Marxist thoughts. And the conscious thinking about the social structure appears in a quite particular form in this modern Marxist proletarian thinking.

The thoughts that we have today unfolded — those therefore which appear already in the bourgeois political economy since the beginning of the age of the Consciousness soul — are taken up into socialist thinking, which, however, modifies and recasts them in the direction in which the worker from the proletarian class must necessarily think them. And this is the particular thing: the thought — “Within the modern capitalistic social structure, man as a proletarian is obliged to sell his labor-power” — this thought however theoretically elaborated, becomes the driving force of proletarian thinking. And now the thought emerges: “How is it to be avoided; how is it to be made absolutely impossible for labor-power to be brought on to the market and sold like a commodity?” Needless to say this impulse is strongly influenced by the idea which is clearly formulated already by Adam Smith and others — the idea that in the commodity we have to do with so much stored-up labor-power. It is an immensely plausible idea, and one that leads on to the logical conclusion: “If this is so, what then can we do? If I buy a coat, the work that was done by the tailor, or whoever else took part in bringing the coat into existence, is there in the coat; it is stored-up labor.” Thus they never put the question in this way at all: “Can we separate the labor from the commodity?” But they take it as axiomatic, as an absolute matter of course, that the labor is inseparably bound up with the commodity. Hence they look for a social structure which shall make this inevitable economic fact, that the labor remains bound up with the product of the labor, as harmless as possible for the worker.

Under the influence of such ideas the belief arose that a just remuneration for labor can only be brought about in a certain sense, by making the means of production public property, that is, by making the community itself in some way the owner of the means of production — of the machinery, the land and the means of transport and distribution. The question simply did not arise: “Can we make the commodity independent of the remuneration for labor?” but they put the question thus: “How can we bring about a just form of remuneration, assuming as an obvious axiom that the labor flows into the commodity?” That is how they put the question, and on this everything else depends. Indeed even the materialistic conception of economic science, the extreme “Materialist Conception of History” depends on this way of putting the question. I have already explained to you the materialistic conception of history, where the modern proletarian thinks: Everything that works within the civilization of humanity, all spiritual creation, all thought, all politics, in a word everything other than the economic processes themselves — is a mere super-structure, an ideology erected on the foundation of what is worked-out economically. Economic life is the real thing. The way the human being is placed within the economic structure — this is the real thing in human life. The thoughts he has result from his connections with economic life. Thoroughly rigorous Marxists, like Franz Mehring for example, wrote in this fashion even about Lessing. (I only give this one example.) They ask: “What was the nature of economic life in the second half of the 18th century? What were the methods of manufacture? What were the methods of purchase? What was the relation of industrial life to the remainder of humanity? And as a consequence, what was the origin of humanity's thoughts? How did such a phenomenon as Lessing arise?” This individual personality, Lessing, with all the works that he produced, is explained by the economic life of the second half of the 18th century! Kautsky and others like him even try to explain the appearance of Christianity from this point of view. They investigate the economic conditions at the commencement of our era. Certain conditions of production were holding sway. As a consequence, men began to unfold what these writers describe as a kind of communistic thinking, which was then christened by the name of Jesus Christ. The true, the real thing, was the economic order at the beginning of our era. Christianity is an ideology, a super-structure, a reflection as it were, of the economic order. There is nothing else than the economic order. All other things hover above it like a Fata Morgana, a mirror-image, an unreality, or at most as something that reacts in respect to other events.

And now, the two things which I have described work together. First there is indignation at the fact that man must submit to a part of himself, namely his labor-power, being treated as a commodity; and this works in conjunction with the Materialistic Conception, driving to its uttermost extreme, that the Economy is the only real thing in life.

Of course, people of today, though not all, have given themselves up to this idea. But among the proletariat millions and millions are more or less dominated by it. As to the rest, the non-proletarians, other customs have become fashionable among them in relation to these things. The things that are done in the proletariat class are of course simply “not done” in the other classes. When proletarian workers have worked their eight or ten or sometimes even more than ten hours a day, they come together in the evening and discuss these questions, or they get lecturers and teachers to explain them. There are women's meetings too. Every one of them is seriously concerned as to the nature of the social structure, and in their way they think about it seriously. They see to it that those who have thought about these things shall tell them their results. And so forth. In a word, they are well-informed, albeit in their own way. In the next higher level of Society, which we call the bourgeoisie, you must admit this is not the case. When “the day's work is done” — let us put this phrase in quotation marks — they concern themselves with quite other things. They will concern themselves with the working classes at most (and if they do this much, they make a great fuss about it) by letting it be played out before them on the stage — dished up by some bourgeois pedant as dramatist or poet. But as to thinking any thoughts about the economic order of society, they leave this to the university professors, that is their job, they will see to that all right! Needless to say, the people of this age are not believers in authority. Still, they swear by what the university professors say about these questions. What they say must of course be correct, for they are the experts, they are paid to do so by the proper authorities, they are the people appointed for that purpose.

Speaking of these professors, it is a curious school of economics that has lately evolved. Nowadays when they write their books, they call it the “Historical School of Economics.” They deal with the Mercantilists, the Physiocrats, Adam Smith, Socialism, Anarchism, and so on. And when they come to their own idea — well, that is the “Historical School.” They are more or less of this opinion: “However shall we arrive at any real thoughts as to how things should be done?” Truth to tell, they are helpless when they come to this. They cannot rouse in themselves a sufficient activity of thinking: they cannot rise to ideas as to how we should set about it, to bring about a [decent]structure of society. To a comfortable bourgeois pedant like Lujo Brentano, or Schmeller, or Roscher, it simply does not occur to bring thinking into such activity. Their idea is: We must observe the phenomena just as the natural scientist does. Such a person then lets the phenomena take their course and studies them. He simply studies the historic evolution of humanity, or at most, the historic evolution of the ideas of men about economic life. He describes what exists. The most he will do is, like Lujo Brentano — if he does not find it convenient to observe these things in his home country — travel to a representative country of the economic life, to England, and make his investigations there. He will then describe what is the relationship of employer and employed in that country, and so forth. If there are rich people there he learns to know how they acquire credit, how Capital works. If there is poverty there, if there are those devoid of property, some of whom have more or less or nothing to eat, he will describe it as the result of this or that circumstance. And at last such a person will say: After all, it is not the task of science to show how things ought to evolve, but only to point out how they in fact do evolve.

Yet after all, what will become of a science which deals with the things of practical life in this way, merely watching and observing how these things evolve? Truly it is as though I were about to train an artist and I said to him: You must go to as many artists as possible and observe — “This one paints well,” “that one paints badly,” and so on — but above all things, you yourself must do nothing at all! In such a sphere the thing becomes absurd at once. And yet, my dear friends, it is a true comparison. It is indeed enough to drive one out of one's mind — forgive the expression — when one studies such things: I cannot say what is done, but what is wasted and fooled away nowadays where they claim to apply “the scientific method” to economics and such things of life. For the result is absolutely nil, since if we go to the root of the matter, the very premises from which they start are abstract and unreal. At most there will arise from among their ranks the so-called “professional socialists” whose observation of existing things leads them to the conclusion: “Something must be done” and they then make laws pretending to investigate or remove this or that distress.

This very helplessness has done much to bring about the present situation; and today it would be cowardice if we failed to point out the facts. Needless to say the public of today worships no authority at all. But the pretentious nonsense they accept in this domain of life (and declare themselves satisfied!) is very largely to blame for the chaos that has come upon us. These are serious matters, and we must grasp them in their true shape and form. For then, my dear friends, the question will emerge: What is it that is working still more deeply in all these things? Why has it all come about in this way? Why are such changing and wavering ideas at work in a realm of life that is of such cardinal importance to humanity?

Let us consider such an idea, illusory as it is but extraordinarily effective; let us consider the Marxist idea, however modified — it does not matter. It is in all essentials the idea of the professional minds of our time. Consider this idea: Only the economic life, only the economic structure is the real thing; everything else is ideology, super-structure, Fata Morgana. Truly, it is an extraordinary thing — this absolute unbelief in all that man can produce by way of spiritual things, evolving out of the thoughts that have arisen since the dawn of the age of the Consciousness Soul. People are being diverted more and more to the things that are outwardly known, outwardly and tangibly present to their senses. All other things they flee from and avoid. The fact is that not only the social thoughts but the social feelings and in the last resort the social events of our time have evolved under the influence of this flight from the spirit, this avoidance of spiritual things. And they will continue to evolve under this influence, if the call for a true spiritual-scientific penetration of the facts is neglected.

What is the deeper underlying truth? It is this, my dear friends. We have entered on the age of the Consciousness Soul; we are in it since the 15th century. Through the very development of this age of the Consciousness Soul, through the awakening of the Consciousness Soul, man is unavoidably approaching ever nearer and nearer to a point in his evolution where, through counter-instincts in his nature, he would prefer to take flight. It will be one of the most essential things for modern man to overcome this instinct of flight. At all costs he wants to flee from what he must nevertheless carry out.

The other day, the last time I spoke to you here, I said: Over the various national regions, the West, the Middle Countries, and the East, the way man approached the Guardian of the Threshold when he enters into the spiritual world, is differentiated. Now people are moving towards the conscious experience of such things, so that these experiences can be undergone consciously when they meet the Guardian of the Threshold; and more or less instinctively they must be undergone by human beings in the course of time, during the age of the Consciousness Soul. People are being driven to this experience when they face the Guardian of the Threshold. It is this which works in a special, albeit external form, like an impulse, like an instinctive urge, in people of modern times. And it is this from which they flee. They are afraid to go where they really ought to go.

This is a law in the modern evolution of humanity. Take what I said before as an external characterization of modern striving. Man strives to know what he is as a human being, what he is worth as a human being, what is his strength and potentiality as a human being. Man strives to see himself as Man, to arrive at a picture of his own Being. But we cannot arrive at a picture of Man if we are determined to remain within the world of the senses, for he is no mere physical being. In times of instinctive evolution, when one does not ask for a picture of humanity, when one does not ask what is the dignity and strength of humanity, one may overlook this fact — that to know Man one must transcend the world of the senses and gaze into the spiritual world. But in our age of consciousness, we must make acquaintance, at any rate in one form or another, be it only intellectually, with the super-sensible world. The same thing that the Initiate has to overcome consciously is working in our age unconsciously. Unconsciously as yet, there lives in our contemporaries, and in the people whose social thoughts I have described today, this fear of the unknown — the unknown which they are nonetheless being driven to observe. Fear, cowardice, lack of courage dominates the humanity of today. And if it is declared: “Economic life is the tangible thing which determines all other things,” this view itself has arisen simply through the fear of the invisible and the intangible. This they will not approach, they will avoid it at all costs, and so they transform it into an ideology, a Fata Morgana. The modern worldview, my dear friends, is born of fear and terror in relation to those points which I have characterized. However outwardly courageous some of those within the stream of the modern social worldview may show themselves to be, they are afraid of the Spiritual, which must meet them in one form or another, and in whose domain, after all, they long to know the human being. But they are afraid of it; like cowards, they recoil from it.

Modern man must learn to know three things. In the first place he must achieve a clear feeling, or at least a clear intellectual conception of those forces of the universe which are the forces of decline and destruction. The forces to which we are fond of turning our attention (and for the very fondness, we delude ourselves about them) are of course the upbuilding forces above all others. We always want to build and build. But in the world there is not only evolution or upbuilding, there is also devolution, demolition. We ourselves bear the process of demolition within us; our evolved nervous system, our brain system, is perpetually engaged in demolition or destruction. With these forces of destruction man must make himself acquainted. With unprejudiced and open mind he must say to himself: Along the very path that unfolds in the age when the Consciousnss Soul shall awaken fully, the forces of destruction are most active. When suddenly they concentrate or consolidate; then such a thing arises as in the last four and a half years. Then there appears to humanity in a concentrated form what in any case is always there. But this must not remain unconscious and instinctive: it must become a fully conscious thing, above all in the present age. The destructive forces, the forces of death, the paralyzing forces — how gladly would man turn his face away from them! But in so doing he only blinds himself. In fleeing from the destructive forces he learns not to cooperate in real evolution.

The second thing with which man must make himself acquainted and from which again he flees is this, my dear friends: In the present age of intellectual evolution — that is to say, in the evolution of the age of the Consciousness Soul, it is absolutely necessary for man to seek within himself a new center of gravity of his own being. Instinctive evolution gave him even in his thinking a center of gravity. He imagined that he stood fast on the views, the opinions, the ideas that came to him through inheritance or in some other way. Henceforth man can do this no longer. He must free himself from these things on which he formerly stood so fast and firm, which arose in him instinctively. He must take his stand, as it were, at the edge of the abyss. He must feel beneath him the void of the abyss. He must find within himself the central point of his being. Man is afraid to do this, he recoils from the task.

And the third thing, my dear friends, is this: Man must learn to recognize the full power of the impulse of self-seeking, the impulse of egotism. Our age is destined to make it fully clear to man to what an extent, if he lets himself go, he is a selfish being. To overcome egoitsm, we must first have probed and realized all the sources of egotism that are in human nature. Love only arises as the counterpart to self-love. We must cross the abyss of selfishness if we would learn to know that social warmth which has to penetrate the social structure of the present and the future; if we would learn to know it, above all, not only in theory but in practice. And to approach this feeling — which the Initiate sees with fully conscious clarity, when face-to-face with the Guardian of the Threshold as he enters into the sense-world — this again fills man with fear. But there is no other way of entering into the age which must necessarily bring forth a social structure, than by a Love which is not self-love, which is a true Love for other people and interest in other people. Men feel this as a burning fire, as something that would consume them and take their own being from them, inasmuch as it deprives them of self-love, or the right to self-love. Even as they flee the super-sensible, of which they are afraid because it is to them an unknown region, so do they flee from Love, because it is to them a burning fire. And even as they bind their eyes and shut their ears to the truth of the super-sensible, when in Marxism and in the misguided proletarian thinking of today they keep repeating that all things must be based on the tangible and the material — even as in this domain they go after the very opposite of that which lies in the real tendency of human evolution — so do they also in the realm of Love. Even in the catch-words and slogans this finds expression. They set up idealism, the very opposite of what really lies in the evolution of humanity and must be striven after.

Already in 1848, when Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto — the first and most significant declaration of the modern proletarian conception of life — was published, we find in it the words which are now printed as a motto on almost every socialistic book or pamphlet: “Workers of the world, unite!” If we have but a little sense for realities, we are bound to pronounce a precise if strange and paradoxical judgment upon these words. What does it mean to say “Workers of the world, unite!” It means, work together, work with one another, be brothers, be comrades one to another! That is nothing else than Love. Let Love sway among you. Tumultuously the tendency arises — yet how does it arise? — Proletarians, you must be conscious that you are a class apart from the rest of humanity! Proletarians, hate the others who are not proletarians! Let hate be the impulse of your union. In a strange way, wedded together, we here have Love and Hate — a striving for union out of the impulse of hatred, the very opposite of union. The people of today only fail to notice such a thing as this, because they are so far from connecting their thinking with reality. Yet in truth this thought represents the very fear of Love, which Love, though it is striven for, is at the same time avoided, because they are afraid and recoil from it as from a consuming fire.

Only through Spiritual Science can we come to know the realities. Only through Spiritual Science can we perceive what is really working in the present time; what we must indeed perceive and recognize if we would take our place with real consciousness in this our time. It is by no means a simple matter to perceive all that is throbbing in the humanity of today. To do so, Spiritual Science is necessary. This should never be forgotten. And he or she stands rightly within our spiritual movement who knows how to take these things sufficiently in earnest.

Thanks to the Rudolf Steiner Archive