A "Society For Ethical Culture" in Germany

Rudolf Steiner, Literary Mercury, XII. Jg., No. 40, October 10, 1892
Google translate: German to English


It does not go on like we did until now. The deep-seated morality must be helped again! This is what a number of well-meaning people thought, and they founded an "Association for Ethical Culture." News from Berlin has just gone through the newspapers that this new institution has come into being for the salvation of humanity and the invitation to join. And among the founders we find some name that belongs to a person whom we revered. The purpose of the association should be to emphasize the general and human in relation to all religious and moral peculiarities of the individual religions and cultures and to make this the bearer of his worldview and way of life. This should be pursued by a literary (existing in lectures, discussions and writers edition) and a practical (charity act and urge on improvement of the situation of the needy population) club activity. In view of the first part of the program, a discussion of this association probably belongs to this section of a literary journal.

The fundamental error underlying this is the belief in a universal human morality. Just as "human in general" is not possible, but only a conceptual fiction, so little can one speak of ethics in general. Every people, every age, and indeed every individual has its own morality. The thinker can then seek out the commonality of all these moral views; he can search for the driving forces which are equally effective in all. But the result obtained by it has only a theoretical value. It is infinitely important to the knowledge of the ethical nature of man, of his moral nature. It can never be made the bearer of life. And there can be nothing more satisfying than that this is not possible. In the place of the individual living out of the national and human natures, of the ages and individuals, there would otherwise be the stereotypical action of moral dolls, which would always be pulled by the threads of the universal human moral doctrine.

Nowhere else than in the moral life can the principle apply: live and let live! The morality of a person or of an age is the unconscious result of his view of life and world. According to a certain way of thinking and feeling, action gains an individual character; and never can be thought of a separate care of the latter. An elite of educated people is working today on reshaping our view of life, both in terms of science and religion and art. Everyone does his share. What comes out of it will become decisive for our actions. The cultivation of knowledge, of truth, of artistic intuitions can be the content of common aspirations. It will then automatically lead to a common ethics in many things. Show everyone what he knows, put on the public map what he has done; in short, he lives out in every direction: then he will be more to the whole than to go before her with the pretense of being able to tell her how to behave. Many of our contemporaries are finally tired of talking about what we should and should not do. They demand insight into the world course. If they have them, then they also know how to behave in the world they know. And those who do not have this insight and yet come to them with their good teachings for our actions, they are regarded as Moralsophist. Our task within humanity results simply from our knowledge of the nature of that part of it to which we belong. For those who recognize the truth of these sentences, aspirations, as they underlie the "Association for Ethical Culture," are considered unfashionable and backward.

We have very different things to do than think about how we should behave. Our whole life is basically in a transitional period because our old views no longer exist for the modern consciousness and because the materialism which the natural sciences want to replace us with is merely an opinion for foolish people. We may soon be at the point where anyone speaks the redemptive word that solves the riddle of the world from which humanity has raised it to the present. We are again suffering from the great questions of knowledge and the highest art problems. The old has become rotten. And when it has been found, the great solution many people will be able to believe for some time, when there will be the new gospel, will be, as always in this case, the new custom as a necessary consequence of itself arise. New worldviews naturally bring forth new moral teachings.

The Messiah of Truth is always the Messiah of Morality. Folk educators, who have much for our heart, but nothing for our head, we can not need. The heart follows the head, if the latter has only one definite direction. If efforts in America, such as the "Society for Ethical Culture," have long been on the order of the day, we Germans have no reason to imitate it. Among the peoples with predominantly practical, material tendencies, a certain slackness with regard to questions of knowledge is torn. The vivacious interest in questions of knowledge and truth, which is still native to us in Germany, does not exist there. It is therefore convenient for them to be comfortable on the couch of a general human moral teaching. What she thinks about that, she does not inhibit the stereotyped morality. They do not know the torment of the thinker, not that of the artist. At least not those who belong to the societies for ethical culture. But who, like the German, has ideal life in his life, who wants to advance in the spiritual, for whom the path must be free and open, not mislaid by moral regulations and measures of popular education. It must, in order to repeat a frequently used word, everyone be able to be blessed in his own way. Therefore, no modern thinker can join the club in question or endorse its tendencies.

I do not doubt that the word "tolerance" that society has inscribed on its banner will exert its talmi-gold effect on broad strata of society. Certainly it will do as much with it as with the no less misused others: liberalism and humanity. Goethe said that he did not want to know about liberal ideas, only sentiments and feelings could be liberal. A liberated liberal, when I once quoted the intuition of the great poet, was soon finished with his verdict: it was just one of the many weaknesses that Goethe had in himself. However, it seems to me to be one of the many views that Goethe shares with all those who are energetically active in the spiritual sphere: the reckless advocacy of what is known and perceived as true, which at the same time combines with the highest respect for the foreign individuality. Only those who are themselves can recognize the other, who also means something. The average person, who wants everything and therefore nothing, demands just as much beside his own. Anyone who lives according to the template also wants to design the others accordingly.

Therefore, all people who have something to say are also interested in the others. But those who have absolutely nothing to say, speak of tolerance and liberalism. But they mean nothing more than that a general home should be created for everything insignificant and flat. They just do not have to reckon on those having responsibilities in the world. For them it is hurtful to expect them to bow under the yoke of any generality; be it that of a general art norm or that of a general morality. They want to be free, to have free movement of their individuality. The rejection of any norm is the very essence of modern consciousness. Kant's principle: Live in such a way that the maxim of your actions can become universal is discarded. In his place must come: Live as best as your inner being; live out completely, completely. Just when every one of the whole gives what no one else but only he can give, then he does the most for them. But Kant's principle demands the performance of what everyone can do evenly. But whoever is a real person does not care. The "Society for Ethical Culture" understands our time badly. That proves their program.