American Culture

- a first look -

by Joel A. Wendt

In order to come to a deeper understanding of American Culture, it is necessary to take certain preliminary steps.  These are of two related kinds.

The first kind concerns method.  The method behind this essay is phenomenological.   This means that antipathetic or sympathetic reactions are ignored.  Our likes or dislikes of any cultural phenomena are irrelevant, as they represent conditions of our own soul and not characteristics of the phenomena themselves.  In addition, phenomena are to be viewed in their context, both in the moment and over time.  We need to keep the phenomena as part of the whole in which they appear, and as well hold in thought their history - the story of their becoming.  The final, and most crucial, aspect of method is to love the object of our thinking.  If thinking is to find its way to a living connection to the essence of the phenomena (their idea), then love (1) must be the impelling motive behind such thinking.

The second kind of preliminary step involves properly placing American Culture in the whole stream of social and political evolution.  While any single phenomenon of American Culture cannot be isolated from the wider field, it is also essential to place the whole of American Culture (its story) within the story of the world.  That story (the story of the world) can be (and has been) itself thought following the methods outlined above.  The result then is that we create pictures - love engendered characterizing pictures - of the object of our thinking.  As always, there is a necessary warning.  The picture presented here is but a small part of a much greater whole, which is why the sub-title: a first look.

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Picture, if you will, a large transparent sphere, perhaps having as its diameter the height of the room in which this text is being read.  Outside this sphere, at an additional inch, imagine a second sphere.  Two spheres then, one only slightly larger than the first.  In between these two spheres we next are imagining the social-political and earthly existence of humanity.  Everything earthly takes place, in the physical-spiritual sense, in between these two spheres.

There are three borders to this self contained spherical organism of our social existence:  an upper border, the ever thinning airy atmosphere, beyond which we cannot live, and a lower border whose solidity we can barely penetrate.  Properly thought these first two borders can be see as a kind of Speech, the Word come to living equilibrium in physical phenomena, pointing out in this speech both the hidden (unseen) nature of heaven (the airless above), and the hidden (unseen) nature of Hell (the fiery solid below).  In addition to these borders, there is a third - that which we find within our own inwardness - the narrow gate through which we travel should we seek to know, and to reintegrate ourselves with, the Divine Mystery.

This physically spherical existence, with its three borders, has a name: the Seventh Day of Creation (2).  In this the Seventh Day of Creation (the Divine Stage), human beings live out their biographies on which the Play of Life instructs the i-AM that which it needs to learn.   This Seventh Day of Creation is itself living, undergoing whatever long and slow spiraling metamorphosis that is needed to maintain the human biography in that warm embrace humanity once called Divine Providence.  We live in a Being that itself develops and changes, as we ourselves develop and change.

In the present, humanity is estranged from this Being.  Living in our likes and dislikes, we fail to see the extraordinary beauty of the social-political world.  Fear of death, and countless other confusions, cloud the mind from coming to the thinking-perception of our social existence in its true reality.  We revere and stand in awe of Nature, all the while being not yet able to see the Seventh Day of Creation, our shared social-political existence, for the equally miraculous and loved filled womb (and school) in which we (as i-AMs) are being born and nurtured to our ultimate maturity.

A mere expository essay, such as this, cannot communicate the terrible (so excruciatingly real) beauty of life - of the biography.  Only art (culture) can do this, but as we know even art can only imitate life.   What a grace and loved filled gift is life.  Want to get in touch with this for a moment?  Put down this text then, and go outside if you can.  Sit quietly, and think and look.  Let sense reality wash over you, and reflect that all over the world billions upon billions have come to this time to live each  biography with its outer (sense) and inner (thought and felt) realities.  Live into this reflection until you feel staggered by the immensity of love with which we are all enveloped - all so unique, so precious, so fragile, and at the same time so profoundly and paradoxically powerful.

In the context of the present Stage Setting (historical events and crises), the main theme is the emancipation of humanity from its spiritual childhood.  The core of this Divine Art is focused solely on the biography.  The Stage Setting (historical events and crisis) are just that - the background to our individual and personal development and growth.  Our Divine Parents are kicking us out of the nest, and placing all that happens next upon our shoulders as our responsibility.  This is a long term process, which includes all that Rudolf Steiner described as the seven epochs of the Post-Atlantean Age.

From this brief appreciation of the grand themes, let us now narrow our focus.

Western Civilization is dying.  The signs are everywhere, although most of us are in denial.  As part of the process of this dying, a becoming was also engendered in the Being (organism) of the Seventh Day of Creation.  The main cultures of Western Civilization gave birth to the successor culture - America, which is meant to become the People of Peoples (overcome the divisions of humanity into strict and rigid groups based upon language, race, history and culture).  This process, taking place in the whole Sphere of the Seventh Day of Creation, is not confined to the geographical America.  The new Culture will be world-wide in scope, while in the present it must mostly first appear as a local condition in the whole.  One of the instances worth a thousand of this reality, of the world-wide nature of the American Spirit, can be seen in the act of a man standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square in China.

These engendering processes appear through the inwardness of the human being.  Neither the Good Gods or the Evil Ones can work into the social-political world except through the human being, and thus through that inner soul-spirit nexus, which includes not only the i-AM, but the complex of doubles and personal egregores (3) that make up our true soul natures.  We are the narrow gate through which choices enter the world - choices to consent to evil, or choices to seek the Good.  This is what it means to be free, and why Steiner founded his teachings upon the means by which we come to knowledge of these choices - the epistemological works, especially The Philosophy of Freedom.

In the present, new impulses flow outward into the world from the geographically (centric aspect) based American Culture, and from there meet and converse with the peripherally based and finely distributed seed centers of that same Culture.  This process in the organism of the Seventh Day of Creation is young, and we will next take a look at some instances of this conversation, to help the reader's ability to picture this world cultural process.  There are three such conversations I will point to (and which are not all the conversations that could be observed by any means), but which are archetypal, and after their elaboration I will end this essay by placing the Impulse to the New Mysteries (Anthroposophy or Spiritual Science) into relationship with these conversations.

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In the 1950's in America, a young man named Elvis Presley (4), became an instance worth a thousand (a single phenomenon which speaks deeply of much larger fundamental processes) of the start of the musical conversation of the new culture - the culture to succeed Western Civilization.  In his own being, he integrated two streams of popular music  - the love ballads of the white dominant culture in America, and the often erotic and deeply felt music of the black culture, known as rhythm and blues.  Thus was Rock and Roll born.  The world wide destiny of Rock and Roll was to serve as a catabolic process in the world social organism, such that the young were divided from the old, and the tendencies to group soul processes undercut.  Thus, streamed out of the centric aspect of American Culture a music, which both more deeply incarnated the individual i-AM due to its erotic nature, and also carried on its feeling life a new and freer sense of love - a love transcendent of the romantic love of one for one, but rather a love of each for all.  We only need to listen to Presley's In the Ghetto, or John Lennon's Imagine, to appreciate this.

In the beginning, Rock and Roll was merely imitated elsewhere in the world where the peripheral aspects of American Culture were latent.  It wasn't long however, before the world began to speak back, out of its original and own historic cultural wealth.

 An early voice of special importance, was Bob Marley, who took reggae music into the depths of social political criticism, and as well upward into spiritual heights.  Much could be written just about his voice, and as well, for example, the English group, the Moody Blues.  But the world conversation was many, and it wasn't too long before the response from the whole, to the impulses to love and freedom in Rock and Roll, came back as what was called World Beat Music.  This music, like reggae, was largely excluded from the American public, due to the dominance of money influences in commercial radio, but while we here did not get to listen as much as we might have, the world itself was in musical conversation on a very large scale.  Some of us may have heard a little of this conversation in Paul Simon's album Graceland, but in spite of the older traditional cultural influences ignoring it, a world wide musical conversation was born, out of Rock and Roll, and continues to this day.

Rock and Roll was by and large a catabolic (breaking down of social tradition) influence.  It has basically spent itself.  At the same time, the genius of the successor culture being born in both centric and peripheral America is now readying its second phase - another instance worth a thousand now speaks outwardly from the centric aspects of the world impulse to American Culture.  This instance suggests an anabolic or up-building gesture.

Again we have a white personality as the instance worth a thousand - Marshall Mathers, otherwise known as Eminem.  Here again the gesture was to reach into something deep emerging from the roots of black culture, but itself a response to World Beat.  The conversation had returned, and between reggae and World Beat, the form of music we know as rap, and its attendant hip-hop culture is answering back.  First speaks Rock and Roll, then the answer of World Beat, and now hip-hop culture takes the conversation a step further.

A few years ago, my son brought to me a CD he had made of Eminem's works, and said to me: stop what you are doing and really listen to this.   I did, and when I gave the CD back to him I said, this is your generation's Bob Dylan, the angry poet-seer, whose healthy instincts as regards the time and its meanings speaks volumes to those who dare to truly listen.  Then last year, I read that the poet laureate of England was asked if there were any voices out there which he thought special and unique, and he said, yes, Eminem, the new Bob Dylan.

Now those who love high culture may have a curious reaction here, knowing as they do how it is that the Gods seem to speak through certain forms of symphonic music and even opera.  Here we are looking at a different conversation, not one between the gods and humanity, but between the divine aspects of the human beings, with each other.  Further, one of the main reasons Elvis and Eminem are instances worth a thousand, is due precisely to their taking up into themselves - into their souls born in the lower economic spheres of white culture - something out of black culture.  The Michaelic gesture requires this act of integration - the overcoming of separation, and not only that, most of the people (and cultures) in the world are people (and cultures) of color.  So for the next stage of the musical conversation taking place among the ordinary people (mostly poor) of the world (true fifth epoch - mysteries from the bottom up), such as reaches out from the centric aspect of American Culture, it is  hip-hop culture and its raw rhythmic street poetry (rap) that is clearly something worthy of special attention.

An important part of the future is being born in this musical conversation in which the centric and peripheral aspects of the new world wide American Culture are speaking to each other.

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The next conversation I'd like us to look at is one which is ethical or moral in nature.  Again we turn to the time of the 1950's and 1960's.  A certain instinctive waking up is going on.  Rachel Carson's The Silent Spring is written, and environmentalism begins to find its voice (see as well Frank Herbert's novel: Dune and its successors).  Here in the centric aspect of the new American Culture, the place where the Original Peoples celebrate the divine nature of Earth and Sky, environmentalism was first most popularly articulated.  As well, following on the instance worth a thousand of Dr. Martin Luther King, we get the whole beginnings of social activism.

Now this conversation had already been going on for some time, albeit among only a few voices in the beginning.  The Romantics resisted materialism, and as well did the Transcendentalists.  Thoreau gives us civil disobedience, which sings out to Gandhi only then to return with Dr. King.  The ethical conversation of the age of the consciousness soul is slow to start, but with the Vietnam War as a moral dilemma, the conversation bursts into an acute stage in the 1960's.  The poor and disenfranchised of the world start to talk to each other and civil society (a world wide threefolding in response to elite globalization) is born.

A special instance is the Bioneers (5).   Well known among its peers, but little known in anthroposophical circles, Bioneers is on one level just one more association involved in this ethical/moral world conversation regarding environmentalism and social activism.  At the same time, with the same creative genius natural to the centric American Culture, something more has been evoked.

Bioneers now hosts a regular fall meeting, in San Raphael, California (on the Pacific Rim), which for the last three years has been linked by satellite to other more remote geographically American locations (this last year, 15 locations).   Drawn into this center are leaders from all over the world in various kinds of social activism and environmental movements.  It is a gathering of the deepest moral sensibilities of the consciousness soul - a kind of centric and peripheral in-breathing and out-breathing.  Each Fall as many as can come are drawn together, to speak and think, and the best of these voices are being shared via satellite, with an ever widening community.  The moral heart of the world is enabled by this process, which is essentially a semi-conscious Michael Festival.  It is a process transcending our divided world, with its myriad races, histories, languages and cultures, and uniting them as human beings facing a shared moral crisis most of the world yet ignores.  Keep in mind Bioneers is just beginning - there is much more to come.

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Our next conversation concerns the imagination, and in particular that vehicle of the imagination we know as film (and by implication - television).  Certainly both these cultural artifacts are American born in its centric aspect, and then released to the wider world such that film is now a form of conversation.  Only in film for example, can the artist in Turkey bring to me his stories (teachings) concerning life where he lives (6).

Now in anthroposophical dogma (7) we can find indications which suggest we be cautious regarding these arts.  This can lead us to a somewhat irrational disliking of what goes on here.  This disliking is like a shadow in the consciousness, which can keep us from actually perceiving the necessary phenomenon in an objective and free fashion, learning thereby to hear its truth.  With that caution, let us proceed.

Western Civilization contained at its founding a large collection of myths, mostly Greek and Roman, and within which myths was living great wisdom.  With the dying of this civilization, and the becoming of the successor American Culture, where (we might ask) are the myths?

Well, there is a myth, one very appropriate to the consciousness soul age.  It is called the Western, has been most highly articulated in film, and its current leading practitioner in centric America is Clint Eastwood.

The Western basically speaks to the main archetype of the consciousness soul, and while our euro-centric biases might make anthroposophists lean to Goethe's Faust, we need to see Faust as the last speaking of Western Civilization concerning the consciousness soul (thus its highly developed character), while the Western out of America is the first speaking of American Culture concerning the consciousness soul, with all the raw and unformed characteristics such a first, and somewhat immature, speaking will author.  Western Civilization births the consciousness soul, but it is the emerging American Culture that will be the home in which the consciousness soul next comes to live, and in which it finds its maturity.

The archetypes of the Western are fairly simple.  First we have the presence of Evil in the community.  The consequence of this presence is the paralysis of the community through fear - it is unable to act.  Only the flawed hero can act, and this must be done alone.  The moral crisis as regards the presence of evil in the community is individual, and often requires the ultimate sacrifice.   Does this not exactly describe our moral present, with its political and social and environmental dilemmas?  For example, for those who know of it, the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun a couple years ago now, was completely transformed by the suicidal sacrifice of a South Korean farmer, such that the efforts of elite globalization to dominate third world agriculture, were in that moment brought to a complete halt.

I could discuss all manner of films, which follow this thematic structure (not all of which are overtly Westerns), but since we are only seeking to take a very brief look at the phenomena of American Culture, I will limit myself to one film: Pale Rider, simply because it is so obvious (most of Eastwood's work is very subtle - see his parody of painting the town red in the film High Plains Drifter).

The title, Pale Rider, is of course drawn from Revelations 6:8 (8).  The plot is fairly straightforward.  Evil attacks a community living in 19th century gold country in the western USA.  A young girl's dog is killed (along with other violence), and after she goes into the woods to bury it, she prays to God for some kind of deliverence.  As she gazes on her knees in prayer, at the snow covered high mountains, an eagle's cry is heard to echo through them.

Shortly thereafter, a man (Eastwood, who both stars and directs) comes into this community, wearing the clothes of a preacher.  He slowly becomes part of the community, sharing their trials.  During one scene, he is seen naked above his waist by one of the characters, and on his back is a pattern of five or six gunshot wounds.   This is a dead man brought back to life as an answer to the young girl's prayer.

Of course in the usual way, the sent spirit defeats evil, and the good guys win.

The Western has been a staple of film since the beginning, and evolved into a world wide conversation as time went on.  For example, the Japanese director Kurosawa, with his samurai films, borrowed from the Western, made his own statements, which then became themselves imitated and from which much has been borrowed (his Seven Samurai becomes in the US, the Magnificent Seven).  Sergio Leone, an Italian director, made the Western operatic (the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, etc.), and in doing so used Eastwood as the face and character of the flawed hero.

The point is to see that the emerging new culture, with its unique American characteristics, appears everywhere in the world as part of the metamorphosis of civilizations that form the long term structural elements of the Seventh Day of Creation.   True  American Culture is not limited to a geographic space, but is being born in the inventiveness of the age of the consciousness soul, such that artists everywhere move beyond the traditions of the dying civilization, and into new forms of expression, using new kinds of media.

For example, I've said nothing about America's Shakespeare, David E. Kelley, or the spiritual instincts hidden in the Star Trek franchise, both of which are new cultural manifestations using the medium of television.  Yet, television should not be totally ignored, so let us look at Babylon 5, a science fiction drama with a five year story-arc, whose grand considerations of the problem of Good and Evil (the problem of the consciousness soul age) is easily the equal of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

I will just take one theme from this remarkable series (shown on US television from 1994 to 1998).  At the crucial point in what is called the Shadow War, two of the older interstellar races have come into conflict with each other (the Vorlons and the Shadows), such that all the lesser races, including humanity, are greatly suffering as mere collateral damage before the might of the older powers.  The Shadows ask the question: What do you want?  While the Vorlons ask the question: Who are you?  Both presume to be right in telling the lesser races what to do.   To students of the instinctive metaphors of modern artists, it is clear that the Shadows represent the lower demonic hierarchies, while the Vorlons represent the higher angelic hierarchies.

Michael J. Straczynski, the American born creator of the series, resolves the dilemma by the humans leading a third force, demanding that both the Shadows and the Vorlons (both hierarchies) leave us alone to decide our own fates.  We are to be free, in Straczynski's imagination, of either influence.  We should note that this moment occurs at the end of the third year of the five year story-arc.  The fourth year concerns politics, and the domination of the Earth by an oligarchy of wealth that is only put down by sacrifice and revolution, while the fifth year concerns a war among humans themselves - between those with emerging psychic powers (telepaths) and normal humans.  A glimpse of the future?

All I really want to do here is to point in these directions, in the hopes that the reader will begin to perceive and honor what is slowly being born in the just forming new American Culture.

*       *       *

Where does the Anthroposophical Society and Movement fit in all this?

An understandable error in perception arose, during Steiner's life, and certainly following his death, which assumed that Anthroposophy had been able to socially incarnate in Europe, at the very least by the Christmas Conference.  This is not the case, and help in understanding this can be found in Tomberg's remarkable Studies on the Foundation Stone.

In this text it is described how Spiritual Movements enter into earthly existence in a gesture going from sunrise to sunset, following a cosmic stream out of the Spirits of Light leading to the Spirits of Form.  In the East, this gesture is purely spiritual, in the Center an encounter with earthly existence arises, and the Spiritual Movement becomes deeply influenced, especially in the feeling life, from those already incarnate on the Earth.  Only in the West, does the Spiritual Movement finally discover its true earthly form.

We have so far experienced the richness that has arisen in the Anthroposophical Movement because of this interaction with the heights of Western Civilization (in the Center), as these were ready and led by Rudolf Steiner during his lifetime.  But Anthroposophical Spiritual Science does not really just belong to the dying Western Civilization.  It only takes up in those early years, as it proceeds toward earthly form, the best that Western Civilization was able to foster.

Now we come to the next phase - the phase of assuming full incarnation in earthly social form.  This phase needs to take place first in centric America (and through the above archetypal conversations with the peripheral America as well), where the souls are most fully and deeply of the Earth.  All that was spiritual light in the East, and became heart centered spiritual feeling in the Center, now must clothe itself in earthy social form, and thereby join in with the already ongoing world-wide conversation taking place as centric and peripheral American Culture (civil society) reaches for self knowledge.  It is no accident that Ben-Aharon's America's Global Responsibility: individuation, initiation and threefolding looks to America and to civil society.

At the same time, every such transition requires sacrifice.   Unless the full-of-feeling euro-centric aspect of the Anthroposophical Movement and Society lets go, and opens its heart to the voices of the deep Earth emerging first in centric American Culture, the incarnation of the New Mysteries will fail.  It was in line with this that I first participated (it thinks in me) in the writing of: Waking the Sleeping Giant: the Mission of Anthroposophy in America in 1995 (, and just recently: Concerning the Renewal of Anthroposophy: rediscovering the true meaning of the New Mysteries in 2004 (

This then is the task of Spiritual Science as it reaches for true social form on the Earth, in the West - to fully ground the New Mysteries leading ultimately to a fully conscious Michael Festival.  We have much to offer, when and if we properly understand the nature of service, to the three conversations noted above concerning the musical, moral and imaginative impulses involved in creating the next Civilization.

 - written in honor of the annual general meeting of the Anthoposophical Society, in Detroit Michigan, Fall 2004,
 especially in response to the heartfelt question heard in the final plenum,
 that sought so plaintively to learn of America's true spiritual nature - Joel A. Wendt


(1) Some readers may be confused because of the reference to ignoring sympathies and antipathies (likes and dislikes), followed by the need to love the object of our thinking.   Likes and dislikes in the soul are reactive semi-conscious feelings, and need to be differentiated from consciously cultivated feelings, such as moods of reverence and so forth.  Love, as conceived here, is an act of will.  The will or verb nature of the i-AM chooses to love, which is not a mere sympathetic reactive feeling, but an intention in which the self is of ever increasing lesser importance than the other, the Thou.  In Goetheanistic organic qualitative characterizing thinking, the object of the thinking is loved, which act makes possible the meeting of self-essence with thou-essence.  The i-AM forgets itself in an act of listening/perceiving the phenomena.

(2) In Genesis, God has rested from the Creation, at the end of the Sixth Day.  On the Seventh Day, God is resting.  This means that from that moment forward, all that was Created is to unfold its being and nature, out of what has been given to it.  God no longer wills what is to be, but rather the will of others, of which the dominant earthly will is to eventually become human will, is the will the drives the Creation forward, while God rests.  This gives birth to freedom, and it is out of freedom that we give birth to love.  This condition, in which human biographies unfold, which condition itself is a living Being, is the Seventh Day of Creation.

(3) The problem of the Mystery of Evil, both in its macro and micro aspects, is fully elaborated in my book: the Way of the Fool: Christian Enlightenment (initiation) and the Future of Christianity - some thoughts on the nature of human becoming (the evolution of consciousness) and the wise relationship of moral grace, freedom and love. (

(4) Some readers may only know of Presley in his fallen from grace aspect - the overweight drug addict, whose bad habits led to his early death.  His reality is better understood out of his youth, when his native goodness flowered as a natural consequence of his being raised in the American South, where a remnant of chivalry remains in the cultivation of certain social graces, themselves transcendent of class.  The character he plays in his movies is in large part who he really is - a good young man, polite, concerned with others, and naturally moral.  He was no actor, and so they wrote for him movies in which he could just be himself.  Like many others, who were the shooting stars of the Rock and Roll Age (such as Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin), he spent his life forces early in sacrifice to the needs of his Time.


(6) For an elaborate (though non-Goetheanistic) discussion of the current state of film in the world, see the New York Times Sunday Magazine for November 14th, 2004

(7) anthroposophical dogma arises when a statement of Steiner's is drawn from our memory, instead of arriving at the consciousness of the i-AM as an original intuition engendered by the own thinking.

(8) "...and behold, a pale-green horse, and he who was sitting on it - his name is Death, and hell was following him..."

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