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Rudolf Steiner's Reflections on the Publication of the New Edition of 'The Philosophy of Freedom

Dornach 1918

1918-10-27 pm

Symptom 2 Reality: Lecture VI: Brief Reflections on the Publication of the New Edition of 'The Philosophy of Freedom'
From: From Symptom to Reality in Modern History

http://www.rsarchive.org/Lectures/GA/GA0185/19181027p01.html

Lecture VI

I have spoken to you from various points of view of the impulses at work in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. You suspect — for I could only draw your attention to a few of these impulses — that there are many others which one can attempt to lay hold of in order to comprehend the course of evolution in our epoch. In my next lectures I propose to speak of the impulses which have been active in the civilized world since the fifteenth century, especially the religious impulses. I will attempt therefore in the three following lectures to give you a kind of history of religions.

Today I should like to discuss briefly something which some of you perhaps might find superfluous, but which I am anxious to discuss because it could also be important in one way or another for those who are personally involved in the impulses of the present epoch. I should like to take as my starting point the fact that at a certain moment, I felt that it was necessary to lay hold of the impulses of the present time in the ideal which I put forward in my book The Philosophy of Freedom.

The book appeared, as you know, a quarter of a century ago and has just been reprinted. I wrote The Philosophy of Freedom — fully conscious of the exigencies of the time — in the early nineties of the last century. Those who have read the preface which I wrote in 1894 will feel that I was animated by the desire to reflect the needs of the time. In the revised edition of 1918 I placed the original preface of 1894 at the end of the book as a second appendix. Inevitably when a book is re-edited after a quarter of a century circumstances have changed; but for certain reasons I did not wish to suppress anything that could be found in the first edition.

As a kind of motto to The Philosophy of Freedom I wrote in the original preface: ‘Truth alone can give us assurance in developing our individual powers. Whoever is tormented by doubts finds his powers emasculated. In a world that is an enigma to him he can find no goal for his creative energies.’ ‘This book does not claim to point the only possible way to truth, it seeks to describe the path taken by one who sets store upon the truth.’

I had been only a short time in Weimar when I began to write The Philosophy of Freedom. For some years I had carried the main outlines in my head. In all I spent seven years in Weimar. The complete plan of my book can be found in the last chapter of my doctoral dissertation, Truth and Science. But in the text which I presented for my doctorate I omitted of course this last chapter.

The fundamental idea of The Philosophy of Freedom had taken shape when I was studying Goethe's Weltanschauung which had occupied my attention for many years. As a result of my Goethe studies and my publications on the subject of Goethe's Weltanschauung I was invited to come to Weimar and collaborate in editing the Weimar edition of Goethe's works, the Grand Duchess Sophie edition as it was called. The Goethe archives founded by the Grand Duchess began publication at the end of the eighties.

You will forgive me if I mention a few personal details, for, as I have said, I should like to describe my personal involvement in the impulses of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. In the nineties of the last century in Weimar one could observe the interweaving of two streams — the healthy traditions of a mature, impressive and rich culture associated with what I should like to call Goetheanism, and the traditional Goetheanism in Weimar which at that time was coloured by the heritage of Liszt. And also making its influence felt — since Weimar through its academy of art has always been an art centre — was what might well have provided important impulses of a far-reaching nature if it had not been submerged by something else. For the old, what belongs to the past, can only continue to develop fruitfully if it is permeated and fertilized by the new. Alongside the Goetheanism — which survived in a somewhat petrified form in the Goethe archives, (but that was of no consequence, it could be rejuvenated, and personally I always saw it as a living force) — a modern spirit invaded the sphere of art. The painters living in Weimar were all influenced by modern trends. In those with whom I was closely associated one could observe the profound influence of the new artistic impulse represented by Count Leopold von Kalkreuth [ Note 1 ], who at that time, for all too brief a period, had been a powerful seminal force in the artistic life of Weimar. In the Weimar theatre also a sound and excellent tradition still survived, though marred occasionally by philistinism. Weimer was a centre, a focal point where many and various cultural streams could meet.

In addition, there was the activity of the Goethe archives which were later enlarged and became the Goethe-Schiller archives. In spite of the dry philological approach which lies at the root of the work of archives, and reflects the spirit of the time and especially of the outlook of Scherer, [ Note 2 ] an active interest on the more positive impulses of the modern epoch was apparent, because the Goethe archives became the magnet for international scholars of repute. They came from Russia, Norway, Holland, Italy, England, France and America and though many did not escape the philistinism of the age it was possible nonetheless to detect amongst this gathering of international scholars in Weimar, especially in the nineties, signs of more positive forces. I still vividly recall the eccentric behaviour of an American professor [ Note A ] who was engaged on a detailed study of Faust. I still see him sitting crosslegged on the floor because he found it convenient to sit next to the bookshelf where he could immediately put his hand on the reference books he needed without having to return continually to his chair. I remember also the gruff Treitschke [ Note 3 ] whom I once met at lunch and who wanted to know where I came from. (Since he was deaf one had to write everything down on slips of paper.) When I replied that I came from Austria he promptly retorted, characterizing the Austrians in his inimitable fashion: well, the Austrians are either extremely clever people or scoundrels! And so one could take one's choice; one could opt for the one or the other. I could quote you countless examples of the influence of the international element upon the activities in Weimar.

One also learned much from the fact that people also came to Weimar in order to see what had survived of the Goethe era. Other visitors came to Weimar who excited a lively interest for the way in which they approached Goetheanism, etcetera. I need only mention Richard Strauss [ Note 4 ] who first made his name in Weimar and whose compositions deteriorated rather than improved with time. But at that time he belonged to those elements who provided a delightful introduction to the modern trends in music. In his youth Richard Strauss was a man of many interests and I still recall with affection his frequent visits to the archives and the occasion when he unearthed one of the striking aphorisms to be found in Goethe's conversations with his contemporaries. The conversations have been edited by Waldemar Freiherr von Biedermann [ Note 5 ] and contain veritable pearls of wisdom. I mention these details in order to depict the milieu of Weimar at that time in so far as I was associated with it.

A distinguished figure, a living embodiment of the best traditions of the classical age of Weimar, quite apart from his princely origin, was a frequent visitor to the archives. It was the Grand Duke Karl Alexander whose essentially human qualities inspired affection and respect. He was the survivor of a living tradition for he was born in 1818 and had therefore spent the fourteen years of his childhood and youth in Weimar as a contemporary of Goethe. He was a personality of extraordinary charm. And in addition to the Duke one had also the greatest admiration for the Grand Duchess Sophie of the house of Orange who made herself responsible for the posthumous works of Goethe and attended to all the details necessary for their preservation. That in later years a former finance minister was appointed head of the Goethe Society certainly did not meet with approval in Weimar. And I believe that a considerable number of those who were by no means philistine and who were associated in the days of Karl Alexander with what is called Goetheanism would have been delighted to learn, in jest of course, that perhaps after all there was something symptomatic in the Christian name of the former finance minister who became president of the Goethe Society. He rejoiced in the Christian name of Kreuzwendedich [ Note 6 ].

I wrote The Philosophy of Freedom when I was deeply involved in this milieu and I feel certain that it expressed a necessary impulse of our time. I say this, not out of presumption, but in order to characterize what I wanted to achieve and still wish to achieve with the publication of this book. I wrote The Philosophy of Freedom in order to give mankind a clear picture of the idea of freedom, of the impulse of freedom which must be the fundamental impulse of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch (and which must be developed out of the other fragmentary impulses of various kinds.) To this end it was necessary first of all to establish the impulse of freedom on a firm scientific basis. Therefore the first section of the book was entitled ‘Knowledge of Freedom.’ Many, of course, have found this section somewhat repugnant and unpalatable, for they had to accept the idea that the impulse of freedom was firmly rooted in strictly scientific considerations based upon freedom of thought, and not in the tendency to scientific monism which is prevalent today. This section, ‘Knowledge of Freedom,’ has perhaps a polemical character which is explained by the intellectual climate at that time. I had to deal with the philosophy of the nineteenth century and its Weltanschauung. I wanted to demonstrate that the concept of freedom is a universal concept, that only he can understand and truly feel what freedom is who perceives that the human soul is the scene not only of terrestrial forces, but that the whole cosmic process streams through the soul of man and can be apprehended in the soul of man. Only when man opens himself to this cosmic process, when he consciously experiences it in his inner life, when he recognizes that his inner life is of a cosmic nature will it be possible to arrive at a philosophy of freedom. He who follows the trend of modern scientific teaching and allows his thinking to be determined solely by sense perception cannot arrive at a philosophy of freedom. The tragedy of our time is that students in our universities are taught to harness their thinking only to the sensible world. In consequence we are involuntarily caught up in an age that is more or less helpless in face of ethical, social and political questions. For a thinking that is tied to the apron strings of sense perception alone will never be able to achieve inner freedom so that it can rise to the level of intuitions, to which it must rise if it is to play an active part in human affairs. The impulse of freedom has therefore been positively stifled by a thinking that is conditioned in this way.

The first thing that my contemporaries found unpalatable in my book The Philosophy of Freedom was this: they would have to be prepared first of all to fight their way through to a knowledge of freedom by self-disciplined thinking.

The second, longer section of the book deals with the reality of freedom. I was concerned to show how freedom must find expression in external life, how it can become a real driving force of human action and social life. I wanted to show how man can arrive at the stage where he feels that he really acts as a free being. And it seems to me that what I wrote twenty years ago could well be understood by mankind today in view of present circumstances.

What I had advocated first of all was an ethical individualism. I had to show that man can never become a free being unless his actions have their source in those ideas which are rooted in the intuitions of the single individual. This ethical individualism only recognized as the final goal of man's moral development what is called the free spirit which struggles free of the constraint of natural laws and the constraint of all conventional moral norms, which is confident that in an age when evil tendencies are increasing, man can, if he rises to intuitions, transmute these evil tendencies into that which, for the Consciousness Soul, is destined to become the principle of the good, that which is befitting the dignity of man. I wrote therefore at that time:

Only the laws obtained in this way are related to human action as the laws of nature are related to a particular phenomenon. These laws however are in no way identical with the impulses which govern our actions. If we wish to understand how a man's action arises from his moral will, we must first study the relation of this will to the action.

I envisaged the idea of a free community life such as I described to you recently from a different angle — a free community life in which not only the individual claims freedom for himself, but in which, through the reciprocal relationship of men in their social life, freedom as impulse of this life can be realized. And so I unhesitatingly wrote at that time:

To live in love of our action and to let live in the full understanding of the other's will is the fundamental maxim of free men. They know no other obligation than that with which their will intuitively puts itself in harmony; how they will direct their will in a particular case will be determined by their capacity for ideas.

With this ethical individualism the whole Kantian school, of course, was ranged against me, for the preface to my essay Truth and Science opens with the words: ‘We must go beyond Kant.’ I wanted at that time to draw the attention of my contemporaries to Goetheanism — the Goetheanism of the late nineteenth century however — through the medium of the so-called intellectuals, those who regarded themselves as the intellectual elite. I met with little success. And this is shown by the article [ Note B ] which I recently wrote in the Reich and especially by my relations to Eduard von Hartmann [ Note 7 ]. You can imagine the alarm of contemporaries who were gravitating towards total philistinism, when they read this sentence [ Note C ]: When Kant apostrophizes duty:

‘Duty! thou sublime and mighty name, thou that dost embrace within thyself nothing pleasing, nothing ingratiating, but dost demand submission, thou that dost establish a law ... before which all inclinations are silent even though they secretly work against it,’ then, out of the consciousness of the free spirit, man replies: ‘Freedom! thou kindly and humane name, thou that dost embrace all that is morally pleasing, all that my human dignity most cherishes and that makest me the servant of nobody, that settest up no new law, but dost await what my moral love itself will recognize as law, because, in face of every law imposed upon it, it feels itself unfree ...’

Thus the underlying purpose of The Philosophy of Freedom was to seek freedom in the empirical, in lived experience, a freedom which at the same time should be established on a firm scientific foundation. Freedom is the only word which has a ring of immediate truth today. If freedom were understood in the sense I implied at that time, then everything that is said today about the world order would strike a totally different note. We speak today of all sorts of things — of peace founded on justice, of peace imposed by force and so on. But these are simply slogans because neither justice nor force bear any relationship to their original meaning. Today our idea of justice is completely confused. Freedom alone, if our contemporaries had accepted it, could have awakened in them fundamental impulses and brought them to an understanding of reality. If, instead of such slogans as peace founded on justice, or peace imposed by force, people would only speak of peace based on freedom, then this word would echo round the world and in this epoch of the Consciousness Soul might kindle in the hearts of men a sense of security. Of course in a certain sense this second, longer section had a polemical intention, for it was necessary to parry (in advance) the attacks which in the name of philistinism, cheap slogans and blind submission to authority could be launched against this conception of the free spirit.

Now although there were isolated individuals who sensed which way the wind was blowing in The Philosophy of Freedom, it was extremely difficult — in fact it was impossible — to find my contemporaries in any way receptive to its message. It is true — amongst isolated voices — that a critic of the time wrote in the Frankfurter Zeitung: ‘clear and true, that is the motto that could be written on the first page of this book,’ but my contemporaries had little understanding of this clarity and truth.

Now this book appeared at a time when the Nietzsche wave was sweeping over the civilized world — and though this had no influence on the contents, it was certainly not without effect upon the hope I cherished that the book might nonetheless be understood by a few contemporaries. I am referring to the first Nietzsche wave when people realized that Nietzsche's often unbalanced mind was the vehicle of mighty and important impulses of the age. And before Nietzsche's image had been distorted by people such as Count Kessler [ Note 8 ] and Nietzsche's sister, in conjunction with such men as the Berliner, Karl Breysig [ Note 8 ] and the garrulous Horneffer, there was every hope that, after the ground had been prepared by Nietzsche, these ideas of freedom might find a certain public. This hope was dashed when, through the people mentioned above, Nietzsche became the victim of modern decadence, of literary pretentiousness and snobism — (I do not know what term to choose in order to make myself understood).

After having written The Philosophy of Freedom I had first of all to observe how things developed — I am not referring to the ideas contained in the book (for I knew that at first few copies had been sold), but to the impulses which had been the source of the ideas in The Philosophy of Freedom. I had the opportunity of studying this for a number of years from the vantage point of Weimar.

However, shortly after its publication, The Philosophy of Freedom found an audience, an audience whom many would now regard as lukewarm. It found limited support in the circles associated with the names of the American, Benjamin Tucker, [ Note 9 ] and the Scottish-German or German-Scott, John Henry Mackay. [ Note 9 ] In a world of increasing philistinism this was hardly a recommendation because these people were among the most radical champions of a social order based on freedom of the Spirit and also because when patronized to some extent by these people, as happened for a time in the case of The Philosophy of Freedom, one at least earned the right to have not only The Philosophy of Freedom, but also some of my later publications banned by the Russian censor! The Magazin für Literatur which I edited in later years found its way into Russia, but, for this reason, most of its columns were blacked out. But the movement with which the Magazin was concerned and which was associated with the names of Benjamin Tucker and J. H. Mackay failed to make any impression amid the increasing philistinism of the age. In reality that period was not particularly propitious for an understanding of The Philosophy of Freedom, and for the time being I could safely let the matter drop. It seems to me that the time has now come when The Philosophy of Freedom must be republished, when, from widely different quarters voices will be heard which raise questions along the lines of The Philosophy of Freedom.

You may say, of course, that it would have been possible nonetheless to republish The Philosophy of Freedom during the intervening years. No doubt many impressions could have been sold over the years. But what really matters is not that my most important books should sell in large numbers, but that they are understood, and that the spiritual impulse underlying them finds an echo in men's hearts.

In 1897 I left the Weimar milieu where I had been to some extent a spectator of the evolution of the time and moved to Berlin. After Neumann-Hofer had disposed of the Magazin I acquired it in order to have a platform for ideas which I considered to be timely, in the true sense of the word, ideas which I could advocate publicly. Shortly alter taking over the Magazin, however, my correspondence with J. H. Mackay was published and the professoriate who were the chief subscribers to the Magazin were far from pleased. I was criticized on all sides. ‘What on earth is Steiner doing with our periodical,’ they said, ‘what is he up to?’ The whole professoriate of Berlin University who had subscribed to the Magazin at that time, in so far as they were interested in philology or literature — the Magazin had been founded in 1832, the year of Goethe's death and amongst other things this was one of the reasons why the University professors had subscribed to the review — this professoriate gradually cancelled their subscriptions. I must admit that with the publication of the Magazin I had the happy knack of offending the readers — the readers and not theZeitgeist.

In this context I should like to recall a small incident. Amongst the representatives of contemporary intellectual life who actively supported my work on behalf of Goetheanism was a university professor. I will mention only one fact ... those who know me will not accuse me of boasting when I say that this professor once said to me in the Russischer Hof in Weimar: ‘Alas, in comparison with what you have written on Goethe, all our trivial comments on Goethe pale into insignificance.’ I am relating a fact, and I do not see why under present circumstances these things should be passed over in silence. For after all the second half of the Goethean maxim remains true (the first half is not Goethean): vain self praise stinks, but people rarely take the trouble to find out how unjust criticism on the part of others smells. [ Note 10 ]

Now this professor was also a subscriber to the Magazin. You will remember the international storm raised by the Dreyfus affair at that time. Not only had I published in the Magazin [ Note D] information on the Dreyfus [ Note 11 ] case that I alone was in a position to give, but I had vigorously defendedt the famous article, J'accuse, which Zola had written in defence of Dreyfus. Thereupon I received from the professor who had sung my praises in divers letters (and even had these effusions printed) a postcard saying: ‘I hereby cancel my subscription to the Magazin once and for all since I cannot tolerate in my library a periodical that defends Emile Zola, a traitor to his country in Jewish pay.’ That is only one little incident: I could mention hundreds of a similar kind. As editor of the Magazin für Literatur I was brought in contact with the dark corridors of the time and also with the modern trends in art and literature. [ Note E ] Were I to speak of this you would have a picture of many characteristic features of the time.

Somewhat naively perhaps I had come to Berlin in order to observe how ideas for the future might be received by a limited few thanks to the platform provided by the Magazin—at least as long as the material resources available to the periodical sufficed, and as long as the reputation which it formerly enjoyed persisted, a reputation which, I must confess, I undermined completely. But I was able in all innocence to observe how these ideas spread amongst that section of the population which based its Weltanschauung upon the writings of that pot-house philistine Wilhelm Bölsche [ Note 12 ] and similar popular idols. And I was able to make extremely interesting studier which, from many and various points of view, threw light upon what is, and what is not, the true task of our epoch.

Through my friendship with Otto Erich Hartleben [ Note 13 ] I met at that time many of the rising generation of young writers who are now for the most part outmoded. Whether or not I fitted into this literary group is not for me to decide. One of the members of this group had recently written an article in the Vossische Zeitung which he tried to show in his pedantic way that I did not fit into this community and he looked upon me as an unpaid peripatetic theologian amongst a group of people who were anything but unpaid peripatetic theologians, but who were at least youthful idealists.

Perhaps the following episode will also interest you because it shows how I became for a time a devoted friend of Otto Erich Hartleben. It was during the time when I was still in Weimar. He always visited Weimar to attend the meetings of the Goethe Society; but he regularly missed them because it was his normal habit to get up at 2 in the afternoon and the meetings began at 10 a.m. When the meetings were over I used to call on him and usually found him in bed. Occasionally we would while away an evening together. His peculiar devotion to me lasted until the sensational Nietzsche affair in which I was involved severed our friendship. We were sitting together one evening and I recall how he warmed to me when, in the middle of the conversation, I made the epigrammatic remark: ‘Schopenhauer is simply a narrow-minded genius.’ Hartleben was delighted; and he was delighted with many other things I said the same evening so that Max Martersteig (who became famous in later years) jumped up at my remarks and said: ‘Don't provoke me, don't provoke me.’

It was on one of the evenings which I spent in those days in the company of the promising Otto Erich Hartleben and the promising Max Martersteig and others that the first Serenissimus anecdote was born. It became the source of all later Serenissimus anecdotes. I should not like to leave this unmentioned; it certainly belongs to the milieu of The Philosophy of Freedom, for the spirit of The Philosophy of Freedom pervaded the circle I frequented and I still recall today the stimulus which Max Halbe [ Note 14 ] received from it (at least that is what he claimed). All these people had already read the book and many of the ideas of The Philosophy of Freedom have nonetheless found their way into the world of literature. The original Serenissimus anecdote from which all other Serenissimus anecdotes are derived did not by any means spring from a desire to ridicule a particular personality, but from that frame of mind that must also be associated with the impulse of The Philosophy of Freedom, namely, a certain humouristic attitude to life or — as I often say — an unsentimental view of life which is especially necessary when one looks at life from a deeply spiritual standpoint. This original anecdote is as follows:

His Serene Highness is visiting the state penitentiary and asks for a prisoner to be brought before him. The prisoner is brought in. His Highness then asks him a series of questions: ‘How long have you been detained here?’ ‘Twenty years’ — ‘Twenty years! That's a good stretch. Tell me, my good fellow, what possessed you to take up your residence here?’ ‘I murdered my mother.’ ‘I see, you murdered your mother; strange, very strange! Now teil me, my good fellow, how long do you propose to stay here?’ ‘As long as I live; I have been given a life sentence.’ ‘Strange! That's a good stretch. Well, I won't take up your valuable time with further questions.’ He turns to the prison Governor — ‘See that the last ten years of the prisoner's life sentence are remitted.’

That was the original anecdote. It did not spring from any malicious intention, but from a humorous acceptance of that which, if necessary, also has its ethical value. I am convinced that if the personality at whom this anecdote—perhaps mistakenly — was often directed had himself read this anecdote he would have laughed heartily.

I was able therefore to observe how in the Berlin circle I have mentioned attempts were made to introduce something of the new outlook. But ultimately a touch of the Bölsche crept into everything. I am referring of course not only to the fat Bölsche domiciled in Friedrichshagen, but to the whole Bölsche outlook which plays a major part in the philistinism of our time. Indeed the vulgarity of Bölsche's descriptions is eminently suited to the outlook of our time. When one reads Bölsche's articles one is compelled to handle ordure or the like. And the same applies to his style. One need only pick up this or that article and we are invited to interest ourselves not only in the sexual life of the jelly fish, but in much else besides. This ‘Bölsche-ism’ has become a real tit-bit for the rising philistines in our midst today.

What I wrote one day in the Magazin was hardly the right way to launch it. Max Halbe's [ Note 14 ] drama, Der Eroberer, had just been performed. It certainly is a play with the best of intentions, but for that reason fell flat in Berlin. I wrote a criticism which reduced Halbe to sheer despair, for I took all the Berlin newspapers to task and told the Berlin critics one and all what I thought of them. That was hardly the way to launch the Magazin. But this was a valuable experience for me. Compared with the Weimer days one learned to look at many things from a different angle. But at the back of my mind there always lurked this question: how could the epoch be persuaded to accept the ideas of The Philosophy of Freedom? If you are prepared to take the trouble, you will find that everything I wrote for the Magazin is imbued with the spirit of The Philosophy of Freedom. However, the Magazin was not written for modern bourgeois philistines. But, of course, through these different influences I was gradually forced out.

At that very moment the opportunity of another platform presented itself — that of the socialist working dass. In view of the momentous questions which were stirring the consciousness of the world at the turn of the century, questions with which I was closely associated through J. H. Mackay and Tucker who had come to Berlin from America and with whom I spent many an interesting evening, I was glad of this opportunity of another platform. For many years I was responsible for the curriculum in various fields at the Berlin school for workers' education. In addition I gave lectures in all kinds of associations of the socialist workers. I had been invited not only to give these lectures, but also to conduct a course on how to debate. Not only were they interested in understanding clearly what I have discussed with you here in these lectures, but they were anxious to be able to speak in public as well, to be able to advocate what they deemed to be right and just. Exhaustive discussions were held on all sorts of topics and in widely different groups. And this again gave me an insight into the evolution of modern times from a different point of view. Now it is interesting to note that in these socialist circles one thing that is of capital importance for our epoch and for the understanding of this epoch was tabu. I could speak on any subject — for when one speaks factually one can speak today (leaving aside the proletarian prejudices) on any and every subject — save that of freedom. To speak of freedom seemed extremely dangerous. I had only a single follower who always supported me whenever I delivered my libertarian tirades, as the others were pleased to call them. It was the Pole, Siegfried Nacht. I do not know what has become of him — he always supported me in my defence of freedom against the totalitarian programme of socialism.

When we look at the present epoch and the new trends, we perceive that what is lacking is precisely what The Philosophy of Freedom seeks to achieve. On a basis of freedom of thought The Philosophy of Freedom establishes a science of freedom which is fully in accord with natural science, yet reaches beyond it. This section of the book makes it possible for really independent thinkers to be able to develop within the present social order. For if freedom without the solid foundation of a science of freedom were regarded as real freedom, then, in an age when evil is gaining ground (as I indicated yesterday), freedom would of necessity lead not to liberty, but to licence. What is necessary for the present epoch when freedom must become a reality can only be found in the firm inner discipline of a thinking freed from the tyranny of the senses, in genuine scientific thinking.

But socialism, the rising party of radicalism, which will assert itself even against the nationalists of all shades who are totally devoid of any understanding of their epoch, lacks any possibility of arriving at a science of freedom. For if there is one truth which is important for our epoch, it is this: socialism has freed itself from the prejudices of the old nobility, the old bourgeoisie and the old military caste. On the other hand it has succumbed all the more to a blind faith in the infallibility of scientific materialism, in positivism as it is taught today. This positivism (as I could show) is simply the continuation of the decree of the eighth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 869. Like an infallible and invisible pope this positivism holds in its iron grip the parties of the extreme left, including Bolshevism, and prevents them from attaining to freedom.

And that is the reason why, however much it seeks to assert itself, this socialism which is not rooted in the evolution of mankind, cannot do other than convulse the world for a long time, but can never conquer it. That is why it is not responsible for errors it has already committed and why others must bear the responsibility — those who have allowed it, or wished to allow it, to become not a problem of pressure, as I have shown, [ Note G ] but a problem of suction.

It is this inability to escape from the tentacles of positivism, of scientific materialism, which is the characteristic feature of the modern labour movement from the standpoint of those whose criterion is the evolution of mankind and not either the antiquated ideas of the bourgeoisie or what are often called new social ideas of Wilsonism, etcetera.

Now I have often mentioned that there would be no difficulty in introducing spiritual ideas to the working class. But the leaders of the working class movement refuse to consider anything that is not rooted in Marxism. And so I was gradually pushed aside. I had attempted to introduce spiritual ideas and was to a certain extent successful, but I was gradually driven out. [ Note H ] One day I was defending spiritual values in a meeting attended by hundreds of my students and only four members who had been sent by the party executive to oppose me were present; nonetheless they made it impossible for me to continue. I still vividly recall my words: ‘If people wish socialism to play a part in future evolution, then liberty of teaching and liberty of thought must be permitted.’ Thereupon one of the stooges sent by the party leadership declared: ‘In our party and its schools there can be no question of freedom, but only of reasonable constraint.’ These things I may add are profoundly symptomatic of the forces at work today.

One must judge the epoch by its most significant symptoms. One must not imagine that the modern proletariat is not thirsting for spiritual nourishment! It has an insatiable craving for it. But the nourishment which it is offered is, in part, that in which it firmly believes, namely positivism, scientific materialism, or in part an indigestible pabulum that offers stones instead of bread.

The Philosophy of Freedom was bound to meet with opposition here, too, because its fundamental impulse, the impulse of freedom has no place in this most modern movement, (i.e. socialism).

Before this period had come to an end I was invited to give a lecture before the Berlin Theosophical Society. A series of lectures followed during the winter and this led to my association with the Theosophical movement. I have spoken of this in the preface to my book, Die Mystik im Aufgange des neuzeitlichen Geisteslebens und ihr Verhältnis zur modernen Weltanschauung. [Note I ] I must emphasize once again for this relationship with Theosophy has often been misunderstood — that at no time did I seek contact with the Theosophical Society; presumptuous as it may seem, it was the Theosophical Society which sought to make contact with me. When my book Mysticism and Modern Thought appeared not only were many chapters translated for the Theosophical Society, but Bertram Keightley and George Mead, who occupied prominent positions in the Society at the time, said to me: ‘This book contains, correctly formulated, everything we have to elaborate.’ At that time I had not read any of the publications of the Theosophical Society. I then read them, more or less as an ‘official’ only, although the prospect filled me with dismay.

But it was important to grasp the tendency of evolution, the impulse weaving and working in the life of the time. I had been invited to join the society; I could therefore join with good reason in accordance with my karma because I could perhaps find in the Theosophical Society a platform for what I had to say. I had of course to suffer much harassment. I should like to give an example which is symptomatic. One day when I attended a congress of the Theosophical Society for the first time I tried to put forward in a brief speech a certain point of view. It was at the time when the ‘entente cordiale’ had just been concluded and when everyone was deeply impressed by this event. I tried to show that in the movement which the Theosophical Society represents it is not a question of diffusing theosophical teachings from any random centre, but that the latest trends, the world over, should have a common meeting place, a kind of focal point. And I ended with these words: If we build upon the spirit, if we are really aiming to create a spiritual community in a concrete and positive fashion, so that the spirit which is manifested here and there is drawn towards a common centre, towards the Theosophical Society, then we shall build a different ‘entente cordiale.’

It was my first speech before the Theosophical Society of London and I spoke intentionally of this entente cordiale. Mrs. Besant declared — it was her custom to add a few pompous remarks to everything that was said — that the ‘German speaker’ had spoken very beautifully. But I did not have the meeting on my side; and my words were drowned in the flood of verbiage that followed — whereas the sympathies of the audience and what they wanted was more on the side of the Buddhist dandy, Jinaradjadasa. At the time this too seemed to me symptomatic. After I had spoken of something of historical significance, of the other entente cordiale, I sat down and the Buddhist pandit, Jinaradjadasa, came tripping down from his seat higher up in the auditorium — and I say tripping advisedly in order to describe his movements accurately — tapping with his walking stick on the floor. His speech met with the approval of the audience, but at the time all that I remembered was a torrent of words.

I have emphasized from the very beginning — you need only read the preface to my book Theosophy — that the future development of theosophy will follow the lines of thought already initiated by The Philosophy of Freedom. Perhaps I have made it difficult for many of you to find an unbroken line of continuity between the impulses behind The Philosophy of Freedom and what I wrote in later years. People found the greatest difficulty in accepting as true and reliable what I attempted to say and what I attempted to have published. I had to suffer considerable provocation. In this society which I had not sought to join, but which had invited me to become a member, I was not judged by what I had to offer, but by slogans and cliches. And this went on for some time until, at least amongst a small circle, I was no longer judged by slogans alone. Fundamentally, what I said or had published was relatively unimportant. It is true that people read it, but to read something does not mean that one has assimilated it. My books went through several editions, were reprinted again and again. But people judged them not by what I said or what they contained, but in terms of what they themselves understood, in the one case the mystical element, in another case the theosophical element, in a third case this, in a fourth case that, and out of this weiter of conflicting opinions emerged what passed for criticism. Under the circumstances it was neither an ideal, nor an encouraging moment to have The Philosophy of Freedom reprinted. Although this book presents, of course in an incomplete, imperfect and infelicitous fashion, a small contribution to the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, nonetheless it seeks to express the fundamental, significant and really powerful impulses of this epoch.

Now that The Philosophy of Freedom has been republished alter a quarter of a century I should like to emphasize that it is the fruit of a close and active participation in the life of the time, of an insight into our epoch, of the endeavour to detect, to apprehend what impulses are essential for our epoch. And now twenty-five years later, when the present catastrophe has overwhelmed mankind, I realize — you may perhaps attribute it to naivety — that this book is in the true sense of the word, timely; timely in the unexpected sense, that the contemporary world rejects the book in toto and often wants to know nothing of its contents.

If there had been any understanding of the purpose of this book — to lay the foundations of ethical individualism and of a social and political life — if people had really understood its purpose, then they would know that there exist today ways and means of directing human evolution into fertile channels — different from other paths — whilst the worst possible path that one could follow would be to inveigh against the revolutionary parties, to grumble perpetually and retail anecdotes about Bolshevism! It would be tragic if the bourgeoisie could not overcome their immediate concern for what the Bolsheviks have done here and there, for the way in which they behave towards certain people; for, in reality, that is beside the point. The real issue is to ascertain whether the demands formulated by the Bolsheviks are in any way justified. And if one can find a conception of the world and of life that dares to say that, if you follow the path indicated here, you will attain what you seek to achieve by your imperfect means, and much else besides(and I am convinced that, if one is imbued with The Philosophy of Freedom, one dares to say that) — then light would dawn. And to this end the experience of a Weltanschauung founded on freedom is imperative. It is necessary to be able to grasp the fundamental idea of ethical individualism, to know that it is founded on the realization that man today is confronted with spiritual intuitions of cosmic events, that when he makes his own not the abstract ideas of Hegel, but the freedom of thought which I tried to express in popular form in my book The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception, he is actually in touch with cosmic impulses pulsating through the inner being of man.

Only through spiritual experiences is it possible to grasp the idea of freedom and to begin to regenerate those impulses which at the present time end in every case in a blind alley. The day when we realize that it is a waste of words to discuss such empty concepts as law, violence, etcetera, that the idea of freedom can only lead to reality when apprehended through spiritual experiences, that day will herald a new dawn for mankind. To this end people must overcome their deep-seated apathy; they must abandon the practice, common amongst scientists today, of descanting on all kinds of social questions, on the various quack remedies for social and political amelioration. What they seek to achieve in this domain they raust learn to establish on a firm, solid foundation of spiritual science. The idea of freedom must be anchored in a science of freedom.

It was evident to me that the proletariat is more receptive to a spiritual outlook than the bourgeoisie which is steeped in Bölsche-ism. One day for example aller Rosa Luxemburg [ Note 15 ] had spoken in Spandau on ‘science and the workers’ before an audience of workers accompanied by their wives and children — the hall was full of screaming children, babes in arms and even dogs — I addressed the meeting. At first I intended to say only a few words, but finally my speech lasted one and a quarter hours. Taking up the thread of her theme I pointed out that a real basis already existed, namely, to apprehend science spiritually, i.e. to seek for new forms of life from out of the spirit. When I touched upon such questions I always found a measure of support. But hitherto everything has failed owing to the indolence of the learned professions, the scientists, doctors, lawyers, philosophers, teachers, etcetera on whom the workers ultimately depend for their knowledge. We met with all sorts of people Hertzka [ Note 16 ] and his Treiland, Michael Flürscheim and many others who cherished ambitious social ideals. They all failed, as they were bound to fail, because their ideas lacked a spiritual basis, a basis of free, independent scientific thinking. Their ideas were the product of a thinking corrupted by its attachment to the sensible world such as one finds in modern positivism. The day that sees an end to the denial of the spirit, a denial that is characteristic of modern positivism, the day when we recognize that we must build upon a thinking freed from the tyranny of the senses, upon spiritual investigation, including all that is called science in the ethical, social and political domain, that day will mark the dawn of a new humanity. The day that no longer regards the ideas I have attempted to express here today, albeit so imperfectly, as the voice of one crying in the wilderness, but as ideas that will find their way to the hearts and souls of mankind today, that day will herald a new dawn! People listen to all sorts of things, even to Woodrow Wilson; they do more than listen to him. But that which is born of the spirit of human evolution finds little response in the hearts and souls of men. But a way must be found to evoke this response. Mankind must realize how the world would be transformed if the meaning of freedom were understood, freedom not in the sense of licence, but freedom born of a free spirit and a firmly disciplined mind. If people understood what freedom and its establishment would signify for the world, then the light which many seek today would lighten the prevailing darkness of our time.

This is what I wanted to say to you with reference to historical ideas. My time is up; there are many other things I wished to say, but they can wait for another occasion. I ask your indulgence for having included in my lecture many personal experiences of a symptomatic nature that I have undergone in my present incarnation. I wanted to show you that I have always endeavoured to treat objectively the things which concern me personally, to consider them as symptoms which reveal what the age and the spirit of the age demand of us.

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© Tom Last 2017