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The Collected Works of Rudolf Steiner Series 174b Read Description

The Spiritual Background to the First World War

(CW 174b)

September 2024
More details
  • Publisher
    Rudolf Steiner Press
  • ISBN 9781855846616
  • Language English
  • Pages 412 pp.
  • Size 6" x 9.25"

16 lectures, Stuttgart, Sept. 30, 1914–March 3, 1921 (CW 174b)

With the unprecedented global conflict of World War I as the overarching theme, Rudolf Steiner addresses timeless issues such as the search for harmony among peoples and nations, the development of love as a human capacity, the continuing presence of Christ, and the matters of life after death and reincarnation.

Speaking in Stuttgart during and after the war years, Steiner discusses the perpetual tension between East and West, especially in connection with Europe. The war, he says, arose principally from the Anglo-Saxon peoples’ determination “to exercise world-domination.” Knowing that Slavic culture is destined to be the precursor of the sixth cultural epoch, Western national interests resolved to make Eastern Europe, specifically Russia, “the field for socialist experiments.” Those events were aggravated by the failure of the Central European peoples in their own world-historical task to “rise to a broad sense of vision” as intermediaries between the two groups. Throughout, Steiner refers to the work of individual folk souls, but distinguishes them from the scourge of nationalism, especially when based on blood, while also emphasizing the sovereignty of each human being.

Although more than a century old, the enduring themes of these previously untranslated lectures will resonate with many readers today. Published for the first time in English, the main text is supplemented with an introduction by Simon Blaxland-de Lange, editorial notes, and an index.

This volume is a translation from German of Die geistigen Hintergründe des Ersten Weltkrieges. Kosmische und Menschliche Geschichte Band VII, Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 2nd ed., 1994 (GA 174b).


Introduction by Simon Blaxland-de Lange

Lecture 1. The present as a time of trial. The connection between Germany and Austria and the unnatural connection of France and England with Russia. Understanding the present destiny of peoples through the cycle of folk souls. The struggle of the soul forces in the mystery plays as a picture of the struggle between nations. The meaninglessness of the question of blame for the war. Herman Grimm concerning the Germans. The soul of the murdered archduke. Transformation of the forces of fear into courage and enthusiasm. Help of the fallen for those fighting. Development of the capacity for love through spiritual science. War as a teacher of spirituality. Quotations from a person entering battle. Help through the verse “Spirits Watching over Your Souls.” The Germans’ wish for peace. Jagow’s pronouncement. This war as a conspiracy against German cultural life. The verse “Spirit of My Earthly Habitation” helps us to gain objectivity toward the folk spirit. Hope for the future.

Lecture 2. Truths concerning hostilities between nations are not universally applicable and are not accessible to human reason. The different mission of the European and Asian races and great future struggles between them. The distinctive quality of the Germanic peoples. Baldur and Christ. Slavic culture as the precursor to the sixth cultural epoch. The correspondence between Renan and Strauss. The possibility in Central Europe of transcending nationalism. In addition to its outward cultural life, England has theosophy; in Germany, anthroposophy is connected with the rest of cultural life. Words of 2970 about Russia’s tendency to advance toward the West. Significance of present thoughts and feelings for the future.

Lecture 3. People’s connection with their own folk spirit and with other folk spirits. The occult background to the outbreak of the war. The appearance of Christ in an etheric form. The connection between France and Russia as outward maya. The task of Central Europe. The influence of Christ in unconscious soul forces. Constantine, the Maid of Orleans. The difficulty of self-knowledge. Stomach and head clairvoyance. The soul’s acquisition of consciousness after death. Theo Faiss. Influence of his etheric body in the Goetheanum. The etheric bodies of those fallen in war.

Lecture 4. Significance of the many deaths in the war. Sophie Strinde. Memory pictures of the dead in our astral body and “I” and the lighting of these pictures during sleep. Life in the spiritual world after death. The influence of the hierarchies on the existence of the dead. The significance of our remembrance of the dead for those who have died—comparable to our experience of a great work of art.

Lecture 5. Experiences of the soul after death. The perception of the process of departing from everything earthly. The panorama of life. Survey of the experience of death during the time between death and a new birth. The entry into kamaloka. The experiences of one’s own deeds and their effects on others and the formation of karma. The nature of dream experience. The relationship of our sleep consciousness to life in kamaloka. The influence of the etheric bodies of those who died young.

Lecture 6. An image for the working of cosmic forces in the life of plants. The preservation of the Sun’s powers in seeds during winter. Attaining the right mood for spiritual-scientific research. The riddle of death. The influence of those who died young in the spiritual world compared to the influence of idealists in the physical world. Necessity for humility in the face of the greatness of the riddle of the world. A discovery of Moritz Benedikt on the physiological predisposition for criminality. The possibility of the transformation of such inclinations through spiritual-scientific work. The significance of the possibility for evolution toward Jupiter existence.

Lecture 7. The slandering of anthroposophy by Annie Besant. Characteristics of the Russian people. Using these qualities for purposes of political power. Necessity of the reception of Central European impulses by the Russian people. The contrast between the German and the English nature. The origin of Central European occultism from the spiritual striving of the German national character. The aims of Anglo-Saxon occultists. The secret background of the development of H.P. Blavatsky. Intrigues of French occultism in connection with the outbreak of World War I.

Lecture 8. The connection of the life of thought with the etheric body. Our thoughts as material for the work of beings of the third hierarchy. The transformation of those thoughts in the fabric of the etheric body after death. Inner becomes outer; outer becomes inner. The work of the higher hierarchies in preparing our future incarnations. A picture by Meister Bertram as proof of the spiritual knowledge of earlier times. The harmfulness of unclear pacifist aspirations. The myopia of Kar Christian Planck as a sign of the pernicious ideology of our time. The materialism of Ernst Haeckel and the intellectual worldview of his teacher. Ernst von Baer. Maneuvers of the Masonic orders and Panslavism. The significance of spiritually oriented thoughts for human evolution. A pronouncement of Lamettrie that is characteristic of a materialistic mind.

Lecture 9. Anthroposophy as a need of today’s humanity. Education for independent power of judgment through spiritual science and the misunderstanding of this fact. Thinking that is not in tune with reality as a characteristic of our time. An argument of the mathematician Leo Königsberger as an example. The lack of any real debate with anthroposophy and the transference of that debate to the personal realm. Examples of the endeavor to combat and exploit anthroposophy for personal motives. Erich Bamler, Max Seiling, and Max Heindle.

Lecture 10. Materialism as a necessary phase of human evolution. The difficulty of reaching spiritual knowledge in our time. examples of this in pronouncements of Ernest Renan, Richard Wahle, and Maurice Barrès. The law whereby humanity becomes younger. Human beings today adhere to the perspective of a twenty-seven-year-old. Woodrow Wilson as an example of this. The need to overcome this perspective through spiritual impulses. Affinity with the beings of higher hierarchies as a natural capacity of former epochs. Words of Plato on this. A book by Kjellén as an example of thinking estranged from reality. An anthroposophic impulse for the future; the journal Das Reich by A. von Bernus. The failure of some members to appreciate it. The two measures.

Lecture 11. Numerical correspondences among the rhythms of the macrocosm, human life, and breathing. Perception of the world spirit as a resounding form of light in the Indian cultural epoch as light and darkness in the Persian epoch, and as an inner soul experience in the Egyptian epoch. In the Greek epoch—a sense for the body and soul belonging together. A pronouncement of Aristotle on the life of the soul after death, communicated by Franz Brentano. Forced initiation by the Roman Caesars and the effect of this in history. Caligula, Nero, and Commodus. The tendency in our time toward abstract ideals and the need reach concepts that accord with reality. Example: the ideas of brotherhood, freedom, and equality as abstractions and their transformation into realities through spiritual science. Abolition of spirit by the Council of Constantinople and its effect on modern materialistic science. the enmity of former students against anthroposophy. Annie Besant and Édouard Schuré.

Lecture 12. Mental picturing, feeling, and willing as states of wakefulness, dream consciousness, and sleep. F.T. Vischer’s treatise on “dream fantasy.” The source of our impulses of feeling and will in the realm of the dead. Conditions of engaging with the souls of those who have died. The significance of the moments of going to sleep and waking up for this engagement. Our dreams of those who have died. Involvement of the dead in history. The remoteness from reality of the ordinary approach to studying history. Schiller’s inaugural address as an example. The difference between our relationship to souls of those who died young and to those who died in old age. The necessity for a far-reaching process of rethinking. Gustave Hervé’s rejection of cosmopolitanism as a superficial change of view. The view of those in the East toward Central Europe; of Americans toward the whole of Central European life. Awareness of the task of spiritual science.

Lecture 13. Reference to the social problems of our time in previous lectures. The spirituality of modern natural-scientific concepts and their purely materialistic applications. Fall of ahrimanic spirits in 1879. Preparation for that event since 1841 and its influences until 1917. The need to include influential cosmic forces in the study of nature. Faster evolution of the head and slower evolution of the rest of the organism and its significance for pedagogy. The social-democratic worldview as an expression of purely mechanistic thinking. The natural-scientifically directed psychology of Theodor Ziechen and its consistent application to social life by Lenin and Trotsky. Books on Jesus as a psychopath and Alexander Moszkowski’s book on Socrates as an idiot. Previous allusion to the remoteness from reality of the book learning of Woodrow Wilson. Confirmation of spiritual science through life.

Lecture 14. Significance of semiconscious and unconscious experiences for dreamlife and for life after death. Life in imaginations, inspirations, and intuitions in life before birth. The urge in little children to imitate as an influence of their life before birth. Denial of preexistence by the church and by modern philosophy. Condemnation of Origen. Thoughts on spiritual matters as nourishment of the soul for life after death. Oscar Hertwig’s book on refuting Darwin’s theory of chance. Eduard Hartmann’s spiritual battle against Darwinism. The unsatisfactory nature of Hertwig’s book on social life. Luciferic and ahrimanic impulses in our cultural life—titles and orders and tests. Book review by Fritz Mauthner as an example of the inadequate sense of reality today. Education toward independent judgment through spiritual science.

Lecture 15. Difficulty of understanding visible realities as creations of spirit. Concrete example: accompaniment of bodily development by the soul and spirit into the fifties during the ancient Indian epoch, and the increasingly early cessation of this in later epochs. The present: natural development gives impulses for spiritual life only until the end of the twenties. The need to acquire spiritual knowledge from the declining development of bodily forces through one’s own effort. Education for a “life of expectation.” Failure to cultivate a spiritual life in old age and the atomizing of the spirit that results. Pictorial instruction as a requirement today. Example: the living grasp of the difference between animal and human. Goethe as a guide toward a living perception of nature. Significance of such schooling for the development of souls after death and for the influence of the dead on earthly life. A question of the theologian Loisy about the current world situation.

Lecture 16. Discussion of blame for the war is necessary (opinion of Foreign Minister Simons). The entente considers this question resolved. Observation of this connection by Lloyd George. Two guiding principles of leading figures among Anglo-Saxon politicians: 1) The future must lead to Anglo-Saxon world domination. 2) The impossibility of Marxism must be tried out in Russia. England’s Balkan policy according to these views. The impractical sense of the “practical people.” The impossible political–economic circumstances in Austria before World War I. the unnoticed tendency that the problems of the time can be resolved by the idea of threefolding society. Conditions in Berlin before the World War. The solitary decision of general von Moltke under the pressure of those conditions. Publication of Moltke’s Memoirs planned for 1919 and its prevention by a German general. Attempts to find a way out of catastrophic circumstances through the idea of threefolding and the difficulty of finding any understanding of it.

Rudolf Steiner’s Collected Works
Significant Events in the Life of Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner (b. Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner, 1861–1925) was born in the small village of Kraljevec, Austro-Hungarian Empire (now in Croatia), where he grew up. As a young man, he lived in Weimar and Berlin, where he became a well-published scientific, literary, and philosophical scholar, known especially for his work with Goethe’s scientific writings. At the beginning of the twentieth century, he began to develop his early philosophical principles into an approach to systematic research into psychological and spiritual phenomena. Formally beginning his spiritual teaching career under the auspices of the Theosophical Society, Steiner came to use the term Anthroposophy (and spiritual science) for his philosophy, spiritual research, and findings. The influence of Steiner’s multifaceted genius has led to innovative and holistic approaches in medicine, various therapies, philosophy, religious renewal, Waldorf education, education for special needs, threefold economics, biodynamic agriculture, Goethean science, architecture, and the arts of drama, speech, and eurythmy. In 1924, Rudolf Steiner founded the General Anthroposophical Society, which today has branches throughout the world. He died in Dornach, Switzerland.