‘real wisdom is one’

The future looks grim, as you already know (if you’ve read your Steiner!). ‘Mighty flames of fire destroyed ancient Lemuria, and mighty floods ancient Atlantis. Our civilisation will also perish, through the war of all against all. This is what we must face. Our fifth root-race will perish, because egoism will reach its highest pitch’, Steiner says. He suggests counter-measures, of course: the individual attainment of higher wisdom, that is, spiritual progression. He continues, and this is where it becomes interesting:

Will this counter-act egoism and the threatening disintegration? Yes! For only when we reach the highest wisdom, in which there are no differences, no personal opinion and no personal standpoint, but ONE VIEW only, will men agree. If they were to remain as they are at present, following their different standpoints, they would become more and more disunited. The highest wisdom always produces a unanimous view among all men. Real wisdom is ONE, and it unites men again, whilst leaving them as free as possible, without any coercive authority. Just as the members of the great WHITE Brotherhood are always in harmony with one another and with humanity, so all men will one day be one, through this wisdom. Only this wisdom can establish the true idea of brotherhood. Spiritual science therefore has only one task: to bring this idea to men, by developing now the Spirit-Self and later on the Life-Spirit. The great goal of the spiritual-scientific movement is to make it possible for man to attain freedom and true wisdom; its mission is to let this truth and wisdom flow into men.

There is one truth only. There is no personal opinion. The highest wisdom consists of individual differences having been wiped out. Everybody thinks the same, everybody is the same, wants the same, believes the same. And this, my friends, is freedom. A spiritual aristocracy will lead. The rest of us, who don’t accept the one truth, will perish, eventually. Or perhaps not perish, exactly, but we’re not fit for the sixth root-race, so one wonders what tasks the cosmic recycling system will find for us.

A small part of the fifth root-race will forestall the course of evolution, it will spiritualise Manas and unfold the Spirit-Self. The majority, however, will reach the summit of selfishness. Only this nucleus of humanity, that develops the Spirit-Self, will become the seed of the sixth root-race, and the most advanced of these, the Masters, as we call them, who have grown out of mankind, will then be the leaders of humanity. The movement for spiritual knowledge strives towards this goal. (Source: Steiner, March 7, 1907.)

That movement is theosophy (later anthroposophy). The question I have is this — does it really matter if Steiner meant all this literally or if he was ‘only’ speaking metaphorically? I know the argument is that it can’t all be taken literally, and, well, sometimes not taking it literally is the only way to take it at all. But, in this case, isn’t it equally unpleasant whichever way he meant it? The point, for me, isn’t so much the supposed concrete facts about the future, but his predictions in regard to uniformity of thought and the eradication of individuality — and how he presents this as an ideal and necessary development; not having personal opinions and thoughts is a good thing. I’m saying individuality, because to me any kind of relevant individuality would necessitate independent thought and independent conclusions; while I fear that some anthroposophists would see the concept of individuality as completely compatible with a future when all men agree and have abandoned all personal standpoints, that is, in line with Steiner’s prospect. It doesn’t help, in my opinion, to be told that future men will be ‘free’ anyway because all worthy men would see truth, which is one, and voluntarily adopt the same ideas. Those who don’t abandon their selves, their personalities and their own minds will ‘reach the summit of selfishness’ and are basically unfit; paradoxically, according to this reasoning, it is those who retain their own judgment who are ‘unfree’. Steiner talks about automatons (they’re really bad people), but, in all honesty, are the envisioned ideal men of the future — men who follow a spiritual aristocracy and adhere to a unanimous view (‘wisdom’) — anything but automatons, in the proper sense of the word?

(We discussed freedom in waldorf education in this thread. And I think I was on to something at the end of this comment and in this comment. Others said many interesting things too, I suggest open the thread and search the page for the relevant words!)

19 thoughts on “‘real wisdom is one’

  1. In this context humanism really does become dangerous.

    This is what you call a dystopian fantasy. Without debate, nothing changes. No new discoveries are made by floating about on a cloud.

    Import the comments, Alicia, it’s easier to read them.

  2. I’ll be in my demonic igloo. It’s the same thing, basically, only adapted to local contingencies of life in the north.

    I’ll see what I can do.

  3. ‘ For only when we reach the highest wisdom, in which there are no differences, no personal opinion and no personal standpoint, but ONE VIEW only, will men agree. ‘

    Isn’t it like this already in relation to the truths expressed in mathematics? For example, everybody knows that 2+2 = 4, everyone who has studied geometry is in agreement about the properties of triangles, etc. There is no personal opinion, no personal standpoint. Yet no-one, as far as I know, feels their freedom to be limited in any way by such knowledge that most people agree about. Individuality is not compromised in any way. Hopefully most people will have understood the maths they were taught, would have come to the universally agreed truth through their own efforts, using their own independent thought and judgement. This has always been one of the aims of education.
    Isn’t it also beginning to be true of most scientific knowledge?

    I think Steiner means something like this. Not something anyone is coerced into believing, denying them their own freedom, individuality and judgement, but something all people see to be true in the way they see 2+2 =4 to be true.

    Of course he could be wrong. I think it was Primo Levi who said. ‘There are hundreds of simple solutions to the world’s problems, and all of them are wrong.’

  4. If he was walking* about mathematics or any other purely logical system of thought, well, I’d agree with you. But the truths he’s talking about aren’t really truths of the mathematical kind, are they?

    In the same lecture he talks about the Atlanteans and how they didn’t need the law (they asked the trees and the wind about what was right). What is morally and/or legally right is, of course, a far cry from 2+2=4 and similar mathematical truths. But he mentions the law, and not maths. So why would the uniform wisdom of the future pertain only to maths and logic and (possibly) undisputable scientific facts?

    And he talks about the selfishness of those who don’t progress spiritually to encompass wisdom (the one wisdom). Would there be a point to talking about selfishness in regard to mathematical/logical relationships?

    So

    ‘Isn’t it like this already in relation to the truths expressed in mathematics?’

    … yes. But whether Steiner’s ideas are horrifying or not would then depend on what kinds of truths he’s talking about. Were there ever opinions and viewpoints on stuff like 2+2=4? I mean, this is just an undisputable consequence of the mathematical system and its been inherent to it since it was conceived of. It’s built on logical ‘rules’. Did anybody ever have opinions and viewpoints on it? (The old Atlanteans were too somnambulent to do maths, I’ve heard…)

    *TALKING, of course.

  5. Actually, falk is on the right track here, but that track leads back to Steiner’s magnum opus of his atheist phase, namely The Philosophy of Freedom which was first published in 1893, 7 years before Steiner’s Christian conversion.

    First I want to give a plug to the best website about the PoF book, namely Tom Last’s blog, mainly because Tom rejects everything Steiner claimed after 1900 and focuses exclusively on PoF– as if Steiner had died, say, in 1895 and never brought anthroposophy into existence: http://www.philosophyoffreedom.com/

    Yes, Alicia, Steiner is definitely talking about moral truths here — which in PoF he argues have the exact same absolute certainty and oneness that mathematical truths have.

    Here is the relevant passage from Chapter 9 of PoF called “The Idea of Freedom” where he states that two different individuals working out of the same moral intuitions cannot possibly have a clash or disagreement — just as they could not have a clash over 2+ 2 always being 4.

    http://wn.rsarchive.org/Books/GA004/English/RSP1964/GA004_c09.html

    ==============
    But how is a social life possible for man if each one is only striving to assert his own individuality? This objection is characteristic of a false understanding of moralism. Such a moralist believes that a social community is possible only if all men are united by a communally fixed moral order. What this kind of moralist does not understand is just the unity of the world of ideas.

    He does not see that the world of ideas working in me is no other than the one working in my fellow man. Admittedly, this unity is but an outcome of practical experience. But in fact it cannot be anything else. For if it could be known in any other way than by observation, then in its own sphere universal standards rather than individual experience would be the rule.

    Individuality is possible only if every individual being knows of others through individual observation alone. I differ from my fellow man, not at all because we are living in two entirely different spiritual worlds, but because from the world of ideas common to us both we receive different intuitions. He wants to live out his intuitions, I mine.

    If we both really conceive out of the idea, and do not obey any external impulses (physical or spiritual), then we cannot but meet one another in like striving, in common intent.

    A moral misunderstanding, a clash, is impossible between men who are morally free.

    Only the morally unfree who follow their natural instincts or the accepted commands of duty come into conflict with their neighbours if these do not obey the same instincts and the same commands as themselves.

    To live in love towards our actions, and to let live in the understanding of the other person’s will, is the fundamental maxim of free men. They know no other obligation than what their will puts itself in unison with intuitively; how they will direct their will in a particular case, their faculty for ideas will decide.

    ===========================

    So not only is real wisdom One, but also moral intuitions are One since they both flow from the same “Unity of the world of ideas.” from which absolute mathematical truths also flow.

  6. ‘….a permanent, invigilated, regulated dictatorship, which you are told is for your own good. I can’t think of anything worse.’ A quote from Christopher Hitchens, a fine speaker and writer whom, as you know, is seriously ill.

    If this what the ”Masters’ would be like then I agree with Christopher. But if you read what Steiner says in other places about the Masters, this not what they are like. They are the human beings who are more morally advanced than most of the rest of humanity. The ones who are more capable of compassion, love and self-sacrifice.

    You, yourself might end up as one of them, Alicia. You have a fine moral sense combined with respect for other’s freedom and integrity.

    I always look at Steiner’s prophecies for the future as a kind of mythology. Something to be understood in a poetic way.

  7. I am sure when RS says something like, ‘lead us into the future,’ he doesn’t mean lead like Hitler or Pol Pot, he means something like lead by example, by the life one leads.

  8. it’s something you care about, Falk, you make of it as you will.

    I’m glad you like Hitchens. A great polemicist.

  9. Hitchens is brilliant, his mind sharp as a knife. It’s so sad that he’s ill.

    The problem with Masters is that you have to decide which Masters are worth our attention. Even people who lead by example (rather than as dictators or tyrants) are going to be subject to the sensibility of the masses — those who weren’t worthy of walking in the front line. If the Masters don’t have the support, they won’t lead. And if the masses have all the insights that tell them whose worthy to follow, why would they themselves not aspire to be leaders? And, after all, Hitler had some support too. Lots of people saw him as a good example. So — in the end, humanity will still be the pawn of a majority who may or may not follow the wrong Masters. And even if everybody agrees on what’s right and what’s wrong because ‘wisdom’ is apparent to everyone… I see awful risks. The risk that people, in all their so-called wisdom, agree on the wrong things.

    ‘They are the human beings who are more morally advanced than most of the rest of humanity.’

    I’m not sure such people exist. (Then again, I just — only semi-voluntarily — read the Anthroposophy Tomorrow mailing list, and was plain shocked at the inanity on display, so for the moment being, I’m prepared to consider the possibility of… the less advanced… ehum.)

    All humans are fallible (‘Indeed!’ cries mr Dog), and the more advanced someone is supposed to be, the higher the fall.

    ‘You, yourself might end up as one of them, Alicia. You have a fine moral sense combined with respect for other’s freedom and integrity.’

    Thank you, falk. I ought to reveal, though, that mr Dog’s roaring laughter was heard all over town.

    And in some ways he’s right to laugh. I would be a contender for leading humanity towards disaster (or at least towards a few fist-fights). Not that my moral character is that bad, but my personality suffers from being too impulsive and often too honest. Not even the professed spiritually advanced want honest people to lead. Or even around, at all.

    ‘I always look at Steiner’s prophecies for the future as a kind of mythology. Something to be understood in a poetic way.’

    Yes. And sometimes it works; I’m still not sure about it this time though. The idea of these Masters, even understood poetically, spooks me out. Not so much their ‘wisdom’ (whatever that would consist of) but the phenomenon; that the whole world, uniformly, would hold them, in particular, as Masters. To follow. Even as a poetic idea, I find it suspect.

    (Speaking of Hitler and laughter, I’ve been laughing at this unfortunate house all day:
    http://bit.ly/gOOSco — the house that looks like Hitler.)

  10. Thetis — great Hitchens.

    (Pity about the message in the right lower corner of the frame: ‘JesusSavesAtCityBank’ — que? Money and spirituality go hand in hand I suppose.)

  11. yes, how ironic!

    Sometimes money seems to run shrieking from spirituality though, thus the bankruptcy arrow ➷

  12. @Alicia

    “If he was walking about mathematics or any other purely logical system of thought, well, I’d agree with you. But the truths he’s talking about aren’t really truths of the mathematical kind, are they?”

    @Tom

    “So not only is real wisdom One, but also moral intuitions are One since they both flow from the same “Unity of the world of ideas.” from which absolute mathematical truths also flow.”

    So the “world of ideas” which give man his moral free intuitions, whose are those? Rather use the phrase ‘tangible truth” with maths; “ideas” can’t be ‘absolute”, and there are so many arguments about maths being a philosophical construct and not an absolute. But Steiner liked his absolutes and truths. For someone who called himself a scientist, he started his hypothesis at the wrong end, with his grand assumptions.

    And that Hitch snippet is wonderful; talking of maths and balance, golden ratio etc – I share his love of the Parthenon; and it’s one of the things I totally loathe about Steiner architecture and design, their wonky heavy curves and lack of symmetry, the opposite of something like the beauty of the Parthenon, with its balanced doric columns and tapering subtlety. I find Steiner “art” the least beautiful of all; in fact I wouldn’t even go so far as to call it “art” at all.

  13. Cathy — the more steinerian the steiner art is, the less appealing. Usually. If the person doing the art isn’t really much of an artist to begin with, the anthro angle doesn’t help.

Comments are closed.