Understanding Society

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15 lectures, Dornach, Oct.–Nov. 1919 (CW 191)

In the uncertainty following World War I, Rudolf Steiner perceived a unique opportunity to establish a healthy social and political constitution. He began lecturing throughout post-war Germany, often to large audiences, about his social ideas. Here, speaking to a more intimate grouping at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland, Steiner seeks to deepen the themes of social threefolding, showing specifically how new social thinking is integral to anthroposophy.

Steiner speaks of the superficiality of the materialistic view of history, originating with the economic shift amongst the population at the time of the Reformation. Back during the Egyptian–Chaldean era, initiates ruled out of spiritual impulses. Later, in the Greco-Roman period, priests had power over their congregations. Today, homo economicus (the economic human) has become the dominant idea, while capitalists and bankers take control. But the healing of social relationships can come about only through a different mode of thought; the life of spirit must be separated not only from politics but also from economics. True social understanding allows for comprehension of karma—the appreciation of each person’s individual destiny. In parallel, says Steiner, we should work toward global consciousness, as true social ideas are founded on people feeling themselves to be citizens of the world.

In an important corollary, Steiner studies the incarnations of three significant spiritual beings in human evolution: Lucifer, Christ, and Ahriman. Lucifer incarnated in the third pre-Christian millennium, Christ incarnated at the dawn of a new age, whilst an incarnation of Ahriman in the West is immanent. Ahriman is preparing this incarnation by insidiously promoting various ideas, for example that economic security is sufficient for healthy public life. New wisdom must be achieved out of free human will, says Steiner, or else we will succumb to Ahriman.

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