Comes of Age*
- the transcendentalist impulse, heretical
Christianity and American Anthroposophy -
*this title follows the trail
blazed by Owen Barfield's book of essays called: Romanticism
Age, which sought to show how the
romantics were a preview in time of the impulses connected to European Anthroposophy. Here we do the same thing, only this time seeking to
show the same essential connection between the transcendentalists and American Anthroposophy
Some readers of this will have no idea
what “Anthroposophy” is.
Rudolf Steiner, its scientific discoverer,
defined it as follows: “Anthroposophy
of cognition from the spirit in man to the Spirit in the
will help to appreciate what I mean by “scientific discoverer”.
Anthroposophy is a name given by Steiner
to a universal human capacity. This potential is developed naturally in some cases, and only by hard work in
some individuals there is a mixture of both.
Details can be found in my book American
This development involves the awakening
of the will in human thinking (cognition), such
is able to bring about the metamorphosis of human
thinking from its present state to the new (previously potential) state.
Thinking then becomes able, following this
to the Spirit, or
Universal Consciousness (Emerson's Over-Soul). Emerson developed this capacity more self -consciously (through hard work and instinct) and Thoreau was was able to
do it more naturally (instinctively). We know, for example, the degree to which Thoreau was able to be awake within the true thoughts
of the natural world.
Emerson described this condition (from one point of view) in this way, in his essay Nature, written
age 33 in 1836: Nature is a thought incarnate and turns to thought once
again as ice becomes water and then gas. The World is mind
precipitated, and the volatile essence is
forever escaping into the state of free thought. Rudolf Steiner, at age 25, 50 years later in 1886, wrote this in his book A Theory
of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception: Thought is the last of a
series of processes by which Nature is formed.
For our modern conscious, we might describe the
situation this way: The assumption of natural science is that thought is disconnected from
the world (a kind
of naive dualism). Further, under the remnants of the
once popular doctrine of logical positivism, such as analytic philosophy and various philosophies of
believed to really only be available to be observed and analyzed when
it enters language in sentences (this is justified by our naive experience of thinking in
its discursive form, as if we were inwardly speaking to ourselves).
For both Emerson and Steiner, thought
appreciated best right where it appeared before us in our own
think about this, but rather did it. That is, he thought, and wrote down, or spoke, what he thought.
Steiner, in particular, described his book The
Philosophy of Spiritual Activity as: some results of introspection following the methods of
One was to think about thinking - to cogitate about cogitation, using as much as possible the methods of natural science: objective observation and
experimentation. We are to seek an empirical knowledge of thought and
thinking, as appears directly
within our own consciousness. Why?
Because in that most intimate sphere of
our experience all the secrets of thought and the world as a co-joined
unity (not a
dualism, but a
monism) can be
The 19th Century was the full flowering of natural science. Parallel to that
Transcendentalists offered an alternative to the
materialism (all is
is no spirit) then coming to dominate the
thinking of the educated Western world. In America, the transcendentalists appeared at the beginning of the 19th
Century most strongly in Concord, but by the end (the 1880's) the power of that impulse
wained, and by 1890 the Concord School of
Philosophy had closed.
Research by Steve Burman, presented recently at the
Concord Convocation (directed
Stuart Weeks), showed
though the Concord School ended, it ended with the knowledge that something was about to
be born in Central Europe out of German Idealism (Hegel, Schilling, Goethe etc.) This assessment was
simultaneously to this waining (for a time) of the Concord School in America, in Europe Rudolf Steiner (as a young man) was bringing in the culmination of the work of German
Idealism and marrying it to the scientific impulse (to the practical application of this work
he later gave the name Anthroposophy).
In the early 20th Century the idea (but not its practical
European Anthroposophy became known in America.
Unfortunately, this took the course of too much study of things Steiner
wrote and said, and
of inward disciplines.
This confusion of practice and study is
where the transcendentalist impulse becomes related to heretical
Traditional Christianity has become
dominated by systems of belief (rooted in an excess of biblical study), and few people actually bother to suffer the trials of
practicing fully what is taught in the Gospels.
Heretical Christianity has always
emphasized practice over dogma, which is why the Roman Church so often declared these
folks heretics and tortured them and then killed them.
The Gospels themselves always hinted at
the fundamental problem, by identifying two groups at the Birth: the shepherds and the
kings were related to the old pagan mysteries, which sacrificed their prior eminence (symbolized by the gifts of
gold etc.), so that the Way of the
Shepherds could begin to live into the world.
This new Way of Faith was rooted in the
social form of Pastor and Flock. The stream of kings' wisdom (the more ancient Way of Gnosis)
did not leave completely, but remained active
wherever some kind of direct experience of the Divine Mystery was cultivated
and taught. The
the individual human being did not need a pastor, and that all individuals
were able themselves to be priests.
This stream of kings' wisdom, such as the Essenses, Gnostics, Manicheans, Pagans, Alchemists, Rosicrucians, some early natural
etc., was more
interested in the truth than in an official
institutional point of view. By the time
transcendentalism appeared in Concord, for example, the power of traditional Christianity to severely punish
heretical thinking had been lost, although the capacity of traditional Christian
authorities to studiously ignore contrary ideas remained.
Such was the fate of European
Anthroposophy as it slowly emerged in 20th Century Central Europe - the traditional Churches ignored it. Most lovers of the work
of the transcendentalists here in Concord look to the past - to Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, and so forth, and not to the present, or the future. Even the Concord
didn't quite know what to do with itself, for like most of the Anthroposophical Movement worldwide, the Convocation was
unable to maintain the scientific discipline which Steiner modeled and
Enter American Anthroposophy, or Transcendentalism
Comes of Age. What
This could be answered in several
different ways. I write that last sentence (thought) so one doesn't assume that the next sentences are to tell
Here is one way we could look at this
question: We all know that time is rushing by at an
almost breakneck speed. Change forces us toward ends we hardly seem ready to see, much less master. Both Anthroposophy and
Transcendentalism need to be American - that is practical and pragmatic.
We are far past a time when mere good
thoughts and idealism are to be of much use.
Americans are doers of deeds. We create and invent and accomplish.
American Anthroposophy, if it actually is
Age, must be useful to our present social crisis. What then is American* Anthroposophy as a practice, rather than a dogma or a
one do with it?
[Steiner recognized there would come to
be an American Anthroposophy, see my book for details.]
Interesting enough, Steiner described Americans as natural
anthroposophists, and being English speakers, they were also instinctively in what he called the
Consciousness Soul in their life of rights (their public life of law and politics).
This last means that we Americans, in spite of our human flaws, are also at the leading
edge of social transformation. We insist, for example, that politics be moral. We get confused (obviously) by what that means in practice, but we need our public life to be more than just a vanity
of the power hungry - the sharks, wolves and pirates. The Republic was founded on such a need and view, and if American
Anthroposophy can't help with that, then sorry, but come back later when we have the time to be “philosophical” (in the sense of
contemplating our collective navels).
If what was hinted at above about the
difference between the naive dualism of natural science (thought is disconnect from the
world), and if Emerson and
Steiner's appreciation of the fact that thought and world are a unity (a monism) were better known, we could then begin to
see something practical. The instinctive wisdom of think globally, act locally can become a science.
Our personal thoughts are not
disconnected from life, but rather represent a perception of the living inside of
fact, we often
are conflicted because so much of modern life suggests we can't
personally know, but have to rely on experts and scientists. Everywhere this is
rebelled against, in small ways and large. As the world continues its movement toward increasing
social chaos (an intermediate stage of an
ongoing metamorphosis toward a new civilization
- that is, Western Civilization is in the process of dying into a
new becoming), we are more and more
being thrust on our own powers of observation, judgment and thought.
We live the immediacy of our
some academic in an Ivory Tower. We have to deal with the
effects of each other's increasing stress driven craziness, and it will be our own
thinking and judgment that pulls us through.
Emerson could not have put it more
succinctly: In self trust all virtues are
Yet, we are wise to be cautious.
We know we often make mistakes, and that frequently our
thoughts turn out to not be true. Science wants to tell us that we are just material brains, whose impulses were
mapped out millions of years ago by a blind chance evolution. That's a reasonable (but false) idea, with the
existential problem coming when we face what to do when there is no
food and water in our house, while our neighbor appears to have plenty. Survivalist and militia
groups are getting ready to treat this as if we still lived in caves. What was once called
Social Darwinism is not pretty in practice, and many of us expect more of ourselves. The age of paternalism (dominion over) is giving way to a
rebirth of maternalism (communion with). A dark future
beckons - will it actually materialize?
As this time of less and less material
wealth descends upon Americans (joining us to social conditions already common among the
majority of the rest of the world), we
Emerson's seeming idealism of self trust and self
reliance a fiction?
American Anthroposophy is about how to think. Not what, but how. It is practice not
theory. It is
a science of thinking that gains for the individual all the confidence
they need in their own capacity for sound judgment in a time of seeming
social madness. The lessons of Katrina are to be multiplied. We can't expect the
government to save us, but must learn to rely on ourselves and each other. As a consequence this new how
of thinking has both an
individual and a community component (when necessary, such as when faced with a personal moral choice, we do it ourselves - we can also do also this
of thinking together, through conversation, when it concerns shared needs and
While many will want a kind of simple
Mac-version of this new how of
thinking (transcendentalism comes of age), its deeper reality is not to be gained like service in a
fast food place. All the same a brief sketch of this new thinking can be
Properly called: Living Thinking (In The Acts of the Apostles this is called the experience
of holy breath), this transcendental
activity involves four
stages of development. These may be identified as thinking about, thinking with, thinking within and thinking as. Each stage morphs out of the prior condition through an
inwardly willed sacrifice (renunciation), coupled
to love more and more selflessly the object of
To continue briefly: Ordinary consciousness is
basically thinking about. We generally think about other people, for example. When we try to see the
world from their point of view, we are moving from thinking about to thinking with. This act, however, requires the conscious or
instinctive renunciation of our natural inclination to re-actively like
or dislike another person. If we like them too much (an excess of sympathy), we
them truly (a
kind of love that is blind). If we dislike them too much (an excess of antipathy) we also will not see them truly
- which lesson is described in the Gospels
in the Sermon on the Mount as the problem of the mote and the beam. To think truly with another, we have to renounce these
reactive feelings, and consciously (willfully) make new (redeemed) mental pictures that seek to know them from their point
of view - to think with them.
The transition from thinking with to thinking within is more difficult. The mind must learn to
empty itself entirely of its given thought content as regards the
object of thinking. In the Sermon on the Mount this is expressed in the
Beatitude: blessed are the poor in
spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of
heaven. To be poor in spirit means to not have a thought content
to which we are attached. We have surrendered our
personal and individual point of
view - renounced
consciousness is empty of its old coagulated thought, the duality discussed
above is overcome, and the first stages of a true new and living monism
is no longer separate from the inside of sense experience, but within the inside of sense
an inside of which we are deeply self aware, so does everyone else, including Nature. Remember: “Nature
After learning to let “it
me”, which is the way Steiner
puts it, or by
learning to “think on our knees”, which is the way the author of Meditations
Tarot: a journey
into Christian Hermeticism puts it - by stepping so strongly
away from our own point of view, we are now on the threshold of learning to think as, not just within.
This final struggle involves renouncing
the centrality of our own self. We think fully of
the other, as if the self didn't exist.
Now this process, of learning to think about, then with, then within and finally as, is circle and spiral-like
disappear, but the will in thinking is strengthened. Moreover, something already possessed by
ordinary consciousness becomes raised out of
instinct and into full self-consciousness.
When, for example, a mother selflessly thinks for and about the needs of her
instinctively can intuit what she needs to do that is the good, or that moral action
called for by the circumstances she faces.
When our consciousness is focused on other-need, to the exclusion of what is for our own benefit, we become knowing doers (Steiner's phrasing). We find, by this selflessness, those thoughts which the situation calls forth. We know the inside of the circumstances of
Natural science, for example, stops at thinking about
scientist keeps his own consciousness and nature apart (having assumed already a
disconnect). He doesn't even conceive
that Nature could have consciousness. Not looking for it, he cannot find it. Were he decide to look for it, the door to the inside of Nature is through his own
don't approach any kind of real intimate relationship with another
human being by focusing solely on their surfaces - what we see through our
know them, we
have to learn of their inside, which we call: getting to know each other. The same process is required with regard to Nature.
We know today the moral emptiness of
thinking of another human being as a thing -
as an object without an inwardness or its own meaning. We have mostly overcome
making slaves of other human beings. We have not yet overcome making a slave of Nature. We are working Nature to
because we are interdependent with Nature, we are in effect murdering ourselves and our posterity. As Einstein pointed out: "We can't solve problems by
using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
This then is Living Thinking (holy breath), which
is needed to deal with the crises of our time.
We have to learn to not
just think about
the elements of existence (the living people, the living social processes), but with, within and as these elements. Existence has an inside, just
human being we meet. That inside can be known.
With the above thoughts we can now
appreciate more deeply something hidden in the instinctive wisdom: think globally, act locally. To think globally means not just to think and try to
understand the whole world, but to think holistically - to
the whole situation, including its inside. To think globally means to go beyond the stark tendency
of natural science to concentrate solely on analysis, but instead to
consciously practice synthesis.
In fact, science doesn't know at all what to do with the social
crisis of the world, for it has never asked the relevant questions. Religions doesn't do all
that well in this realm either, tending to believe they have a monopoly on spiritual
their tradition of social good works and service accomplishes much) .
Government, as Katrina taught us, is also mostly useless. We are on our own. What will we choose to do?
In point of fact, the movement from a dead and dying paternalism (dominion over) toward a new and living
social maternalism (communion
with) includes a
movement away from I toward Thou. What I can or cannot do alone is far outweighed by what
we can do together.
Thinking, which frequently has to be individual (in order to be truly moral), when it is applied to the needs of several has to acquire
another quality. We have to think-together, to take council together. I-thinking acquires morality through selflessness, but at the same time we-thinking requires not just
weave the thoughts of many into a whole.
In our we-thinking conversations we
have to unite the separate thoughts into a unity. An individual trying to
dominate the conversation does not serve the whole, but only himself as an
raises his thought above the potential of the unity of all present thoughts.
We know too that this isn't easy. There are whole
disciplines connected to how to achieve what some call consensus. First Nations
communities would often discuss for days at a time serious issues which
were to affect the whole. No individual was expected to sacrifice their individual
judgment and freedom to the whole - everyone was still free to go their own way. But whatever community
there was, that
some level of shared agreement through social processes of
A lot of common-place sayings are
relevant here. The whole is greater than the
sum of its parts, for example. Many hands make light work is another. The 12 Steps of AA are fully rooted in community practices. So is the social process
the social commons (the
social below, which
is more and more separate from the influence of the
dying hierarchical organizations), group
coming to the fore precisely because they are more
The core of this working is conversation. True conversation at
this level is a skill, perhaps even an art (some call it the Royal Art). This was the heart of the transcendentalist impulse - the circle of friends. Community (shared) problems need to be solved
by that particular community itself, through the conversation of social equals. What is being suggested
here is that in this practice of the Royal Art of Conversation, we together find the true
inside (thoughts) of the social immediacy we
only its truth, but
truth which is co-creative. We (together) participate in this socially
creative art, by
many crises of the coming times are solved in ways never
before thinkable, because we didn't yet need to think them. Another common place
saying comes to mind: necessity is the mother of
This then is Transcendentalism Comes of Age: Finding the needed true thoughts through those conversations as are made necessary by our shared trials of life, in each circle of friends of which we are a member.