In practice things are different from what they seem to be in theory – 1 of 4

The science of spirit sharpens our understanding of the demands which social life makes just because it leads the spirit into the luminous heights of the supersensible. However paradoxical this may appear, it is nevertheless true.

An example will show what is meant. An extremely interesting book has recently appeared called As a Worker in America (Berlin, K. Siegismund). The author is a certain government councilor named Kolb who took it upon himself to spend several months as an ordinary worker in America. Through doing this he acquired a judgment about human beings and life which apparently neither the education which led to his councillorship had been able to give him, nor the experiences he had had in his post and in the other positions one occupies before becoming a councilor. Therefore for years he held a relatively responsible position, and it was only after he had left this and lived for a short time in a distant country that he got to know life in such a way that he was able to write the following noteworthy sentence in his book: “How often had I asked with moral indignation when I saw a healthy man begging: Why doesn’t the scoundrel work? Now I knew. Yes, in practice things are different from what they seem to be in theory, and even the most unpleasant aspects of political economy can be managed quite bearably at one’s desk.”

Now there is not slightest intention here of creating a misunderstanding. The fullest possible recognition must be given to a man who persuades himself to leave his comfortable position in life and to undertake hard work in a brewery and a bicycle factory. The high esteem accorded to this deed is strongly emphasized in order to avoid the impression that we are about to indulge in negative criticism of him. — But to everyone who wants to see, it is absolutely clear that all the education and knowledge that he had gained had failed to give him the means of judging life. Let us try to understand what is implied in this admission: We can learn everything that makes us capable of taking a relatively important position, and at the same time we can be quite isolated from the life which we are supposed to influence.

To be continued

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 34 – Reincarnation and ImmortalityThe science of spirit and the social question – 1905

Previously posted on February 5, 2014


To do or not to do (1 of 3)

What I shall now say may sound paradoxical to you, yet it is true. In reality, a man who has no Initiation Science practically always knows, by a kind of inner urge or impulse, what he is to do. Yes, people always know what they must do; they are always feeling impelled to this thing or that. For one who really begins to tread the path of Initiation Science it becomes very different. With regard to the various experiences of life as they confront him, strange questions will arise in him. When he feels impelled to do this or that, immediately again he feels impelled not to do it. There is no more of that dim urge which drives most human beings to this or that line of action. Indeed, at a certain stage of Initiate-insight, if nothing else came instead, a man might easily say to himself: Now that I have reached this insight — being 40 years old, let us say, I had best spend the rest of my life quite indifferently. What do I care? I’ll sit down and do nothing, for I have no definite impulses to do anything particular.

You must not suppose, my dear friends, that Initiation is not a reality. It is remarkable how people sometimes think of these things. Of a roast chicken, every one who eats it, well believes that it is a reality. Of Initiation Science, most people believe that its effects are merely theoretical. No, its effects are realities in life, and among them is the one I have just indicated.

To be continued

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 235 – Karmic Relationships: Esoteric Studies – Volume I: Lecture III – Dornach, 23rd February 1924

Where are the earlier Initiates?

Now I come back to the question: Where are the earlier Initiates? For certainly it will be said that they are not to be found. But, my dear friends — I shall have to say something paradoxical here! — if it were possible for a number of human beings to be born today at the age of seventeen or eighteen, so that when they descended from the spiritual world they would in some way or other find and enter seventeen- or eighteen-year-old bodies, or if at least human beings could in some way be spared from going to school (as schools are constituted today), then you would find that those who were once Initiates would be able to appear in the human being of the present day. But just as little as it is possible, under the conditions obtaining on earth today, for an Initiate, when he needs bread, to nourish himself from a piece of ice, just as little is it possible for the wisdom of an older time to manifest directly, in the form that you would expect, in a body that has received education — in the present-day accepted sense of the word — up to his seventeenth or eighteenth year. Nowhere in the world is this possible; at all events, nowhere in the civilised world. We have here to take account of things that lie altogether beyond the outlook of the educated men of modern times.

When, as is the custom today, a child is obliged as early as the sixth or seventh year to learn to read and write, it is torture for the soul that wants to develop and unfold in accordance with its own nature. I can only repeat what I have already told you in my autobiography, that I owe the removal of many hindrances to the circumstance that when I was twelve years old I was still unable to write properly. For the capacity of being able to write, in the way that is demanded today, kills certain qualities in the human being.

It is necessary to say such a thing, paradoxical though it may sound, for it is the truth. There is no help for it — it is a fact. Hence it is that a highly evolved individual can be recognised in his reincarnation only if one looks at manifestations of human nature which are not directly apparent in a man, if he has gone through a modern education, but reveal themselves, so to speak, behind him. 

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 235 – Karmic Relationships: Esoteric Studies – Volume I – Lecture XII – Dornach, 23rd March 1923


Portrait by D. Huschke, 1906

About arithmetic and moral principles

A child is able to take in the elements of Arithmetic at quite an early age. But in arithmetic we observe how very easily an intellectual element can be given the child too soon. Mathematics as such is alien to no man at any age. It arises in human nature; the operations of mathematics are not foreign to human faculty in the way letters are foreign in a succeeding civilisation. But it is exceedingly important that the child should be introduced to arithmetic and mathematics in the right way. And what this is can really only be decided by one who is enabled to overlook the whole of human life from a certain spiritual standpoint.

There are two things which in logic seem very far removed from one another: arithmetic and moral principles. It is not usual to hitch arithmetic on to moral principles because there seems no obvious logical connection between them. But it is apparent to one who looks at the matter, not logically, but livingly, that the child who has a right introduction to arithmetic will have quite a different feeling of moral responsibility from the child who has not. And — this may seem extremely paradoxical to you, but since I am speaking of realities and not of the illusions current in our age, I will not be afraid of seeming paradoxical, for in this age truth often seems paradoxical. — If, then, men had known how to permeate the soul with mathematics in the right way during these past years we should not now have bolshevism in Eastern Europe. This it is that one perceives: what forces connect the faculty used in arithmetic with the springs of morality in man.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 305 – Spiritual Ground of Education: Lecture V: How Knowledge Can Be Nurture – Oxford, 21st August 1922