Listening to the World Song
part one

A brief Application of the Principles of Goetheanistic Thinking
to the Problems of Human Social and Political Existence.

by Joel A. Wendt

The modern historical world, with its wars, politics, deprivations, and other egregious human misbehaviors, presents to our heart felt thinking many a great riddle.  In Spiritual Scientific discourse, where the teachings of Rudolf Steiner are kept at close hand, we are often directed, in considering these riddles, toward  the machinations of the so-called opposing spiritual powers, and the occult brotherhoods.  We often look for blame - our natural empathic pain requires we seek to name those responsible.

Is there, however, additional ways from which to view these riddles?  What might come to us if we stepped back from the pain, back from the sense of egregious human actions, and sought to look at modern human existence as a teaching - as if the Divine World Intelligence might speak to us via modern social processes, in the same way Goethe learned to listen to that same World Intelligence speaking out of Nature?

What is offered below is not meant to be contrary to those views which notice the actions of the occult brotherhoods and the opposing spiritual powers, but rather to add an additional dimension to our understanding.  Nor is it meant to be definitive or complete, for it is the work, not of a scholar or an academic, but of someone who spent most of his adult life raising five children and as a member of the working poor.

[A brief comment on method: In a Goetheanistic approach to Nature, we have before us sense phenomena, which Steiner describes in A Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception, as part of the necessary given.  In the case of social phenomena, which are not visible to the physical eye, thinking itself must provide the analogous necessary given.]

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What do we see, when we picture the social-political world as a whole?  Imagine ourselves out in space, looking down at this world of people and events, and what is the most common basic social element?  Is it not the individual human being?

Everywhere individual human beings are living out their biographies.  In fact, if we keep in mind not just the outer form and order, but the inner element as well, then everywhere in the world are individual human beings having the experiences of their biographies.

This is a fact that is obvious to us in our own immediate lives.  We see the world from our inside, and look upon the world's outsides.  Yet, this is true also for everyone else.  When we walk the streets of our cities, we are a consciousness having experiences - as is everyone else.  We also make choices and participate, which adds another dimension altogether.

Here then is the fundamental "instance worth a thousand" for a Goetheanistic social observer - myself as an I consciousness that experiences and participates.


Next in order of observations then, proceeding from appreciating ourselves as a fundamental example, we come to relationships.  In our biographies we are embedded in relationships with other experiencing and participating I consciousnesses, of which the primary one is what we call: family.

I recognize that this all may seem simplistic, but we are here trying only to live into the phenomena, without adding any theoretical or explanatory thoughts.  Only the phenomena is to speak.  So we have then the individual I consciousness having participatory experiences, in which the fundamental context (relationships) begins with family.  The biography of the I consciousness takes its most basic steps in family, although as we all recognize, family can be quite varied from one biography to the next.

Now in a Goetheanistic approach to Nature, we often seek to recreate in our imagination, the gesture of the life of the organism over time.  We already do this naturally, when we do any kind of daily or life review.  We picture our I consciousness and its experiences over time.  Yet, just as our individual I consciousness has its biography, so does our family have a biography - that is it is something that is changing shape and form over time.

We have memory, and so does our family.  The family memory is also then part of the experience of the I consciousness, and this is something that can, as we lift our thinking to ever higher levels of abstraction, begin to include the influence of religion, economic social standing, education, up to and including the language into which we are born as well as the culture, the Nation and the People.

We are all individually experiencing and participating I consciousnesses, who yet find ourselves in an enormous variety of contexts, when we add all the layers of influence to which we are open. Not one of our biographies is the same, although we share many similar kinds of experience.

We should also keep in mind that not only do we have an outer biography of sense experiences, we also have an inner biography of thoughts, feelings and impulses of the will.


It is also possible to add an additional way of thinking about these most basic social phenomena.

We have in social existence what might be called: social form.  A family is the basic social form, whether it is a single parent and child, or a married couple with no children, or two people living together for whatever personal reason they find valid.  If we take a relationship of two I consciousnesses and hold them together for a time, we have a social form.

We can also observe, with our thinking, changes in such common social forms over time.  Many of the typical form-structures themselves have a biography.  Of these, one of most important, as another instance worth a thousand, is the biography of the social form-structure, the family, over the time of recent history.  This varies somewhat over the world, with those changes already having occurred in Western Civilization leading the way, while the rest of the world is pulled along behind, in a social time-process somewhat analogous to how a vortex takes shape in space.

At that period of time, which in Europe is noted as the beginning of the Consciousness Soul age (14th-15th Century), we can inwardly recreate the picture of the typical family form-structure.  Usually it is found in a village, itself a larger form-structure.  Families at this time were often quite large, and a single village was often dominated by several of these large family organisms.  Such family organisms were also inter-connected, not only by blood, but the families themselves, living in the same village, were joined by a shared language, religion and culture.

Now skip forward in time, to near the end of the 19th Century, and again picture with the imagination the urban ethnic neighborhood of a large metropolitan city.  Here again is the form-structure of the family, this time perhaps diminished a little bit, no so many members as some of the blood relatives will have remained in the village.  The whole village did not move to cities or emigrate to other lands - only a part.  In addition, the cohesion of language, religion and culture is beginning to dissolve due to the nearness of those other ways of living and being to which individual I consciousnesses are now interacting.

One more step in time now, forward to the modern dark and depressed urban vista, where single parent families, and drug addicted individuals, many often homeless, are the norm.

If we lovingly think the gesture of this change over time of the form-structure of the family, from village, to urban neighborhood to suburban and urban nuclear and even single individual existences, we can see the basic social form (the family) with it natural blood ties, dissolving and dissolved.

The primary organism of social form, the family, has, over the last few hundred years of Western Civilization, fallen apart.  Community structures themselves (villages and neighborhoods), must have the family as their basic sub-units, and if the family fails, then there cannot even be any cohesive wider form - no real inner cohesion to communities, for the vital nature of the intermediary one has disappeared.


However, in building this imaginative picture, we have left aside for the moment consciousness itself - the experiencing and participating I.  During this period of slow dissolution of the basic form-structure - the family, what has been going on within - in the inwardness of the I consciousness?

If we go back to the village, we can note all manner of phenomena.  First is the name of the individuals: John's son, Smith, Teilard de Chardin.  Names were not of individuals, but of relationships to place, to skills or to location.  In addition, it would never have occurred to a young person living in an Old World village not to follow in the father's or mother's footsteps.

This too has changed, and the individual I consciousness now rejects the social pressure of the form-structure, such that this pressure would determine choices in the biography.  We determine our life's path.  It is not any more determined by tradition (again keep in mind that Western cultures lead the way here, and many other parts of the world spiral along behind).

Even more crucial is the nature of moral action.  In the village, moral action was set by outside standards.   Not to say everyone conformed, but all the same for most of the I consciousnesses of the village, it would never occur to them to violate the religious and culturally based rules of morality (social behavior).

This too has changed, such that in modern times the I consciousness more and more insists on free moral autonomy.


If we combine these imaginative pictures, one of the outer social form structure and the other of the emerging changes in the I consciousness itself, as they change over time in near harmonious cooperation, a most wonderful experience can be had.  The two are mutually and reciprocally supportive, and during the time the family is weakened from without, by the social historical changes of the industrial revolution (which drives people into urban areas), and during the time the sense of the moral authority in the community is attacked by the appearance of natural science (which undermines the power of the Church to provide outside moral order) - both of these working on the social form structure of the family from the outside - this all leads to the necessary pre-conditions for the full birth of individuality and moral freedom.

The falling apart of the once cohesive social and community elements of Western Civilization is necessary for true individualism and the embryonic free moral autonomy to arise.

In this way, via our Goetheanistic observations of social existence, we not only come to Rudolf Steiner's many comments about the dissolving of the blood tie, and the arrival of the Consciousness Soul, but even deeper still to the inner meaning of Christ's words in Matthew 10: 34-40:

"Don't think I came to cause peace across the land.  I didn't come to cause peace, I came to wield a sword, because I came to divide a man against his father and a daughter against her mother and a bride against her mother-in-law, and to make a man's servants his enemies.  Whoever prefers father or mother over me is not worthy of me; and whoever prefers son or daughter over me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.  Whoever found his life will lose it, and the one who lost his life because of me will find it.  Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me, receives my Sender."


Once we are able to live into, with our thinking, these living form-changing aspects of the social organism, we begin to find a way to a Goetheanistic basis for the threefold social organism, for it too appears in the changing and evolving form-structures of our share social and political existence.

To give a brief overview...narrow in scope, but focusing on just one example of how Steiner's threefold social organism is not only an Idea, which is more accurately perceived as a social phenomena - we have then the emergence of social threefolding as an appearance in the world becoming:

At the beginning of Western Civilization, the social order divided itself according to two strongly held ideas of the Greek and Roman peoples (there were differences of emphasis, but here we are being very brief) - the idea of the State and the idea of the Citizen.  This was itself due to a fundamental polarity in the living facts of social arrangements (the phenomena), for clearly there was an organized State structure, and its individual members, the citizenry.  This had emerged out of the previous cultures of Egypt, Babylonia and so forth, - that is Spiritual Cultures which were primarily theocracies in a hierarchical social form, lead to something new - an initially immature  Life of Rights.

From a social order based entirely upon the Mysteries, and hierarchically imposed on the many, that is from a purely Spiritually ordered Cultural Life, there is then given birth a second aspect - the Life of Rights, so that at the beginning of Western Civilization, both a Cultural Sphere and a Rights Sphere have appeared (albeit very young).

This early condition in the newly born Life of Rights did not remain static as Western Civilization evolved, and one of the final changes introduced into this polaric dynamic came about because of the individual's moving out of the traditions of culture, such that what had at one time been a kind of division on the level of education, between the elite citizens and the serf and peasant masses, began to change with the arrival of the printing press.  Those who could read multiplied, as did what was available to be read as well.  Oral culture changed into literate culture, and as societies became more and more complex, there arose in between the State and the Individual Citizen, a mediating function in what we today call Media.

This again can be a suitable focus for the imaginative power - to think with the historic gesture of this transformation, while at the same time not adding anything to it.  To borrow from modern language, Media becomes a kind of interface in between the forces of the State, what is basically the upper (or thinking) pole of Steiner's middle Sphere - the political-legal life, and the People, who are themselves the lower or will pole of that same Sphere.

Again it is a wonderful inner experience to be present at the birth of the middle element (Media) of the middle Sphere of the threefold social organism.  This most strongly occurred in America, for example (details vary according to place and other conditions), during the pre-Constitutional phase of the creation of American Republic, when the Media (in the form of many dozens of local newspapers) becomes the vehicle for the dialogs known historically as the Federalist and Anti-federalist Papers.  Granted only an educated elite still for the most part participated, but that gesture itself was in movement (transformations of the level of citizen participation via Media are not static), and the imaginative faculty can think with these as well.

Today, with the internet, Media emerges most powerfully as the heart of the heart of the social organism - a knowledge commons (to borrow from Ivan Illich), wherein each individual I consciousness can experience and participate, as the dynamic dialogs concerning the role of the State and the nature of each individual citizen's liberty are discussed, evolved, moderated and balanced.

There is more that could be said, but as I am only introducing this way of thinking, I remain constrained by limits of time and space.  Obviously, however, the Economic Sphere has appeared as well, and the consequences of its birth in the creation of trading empires and the industrial revolution and other modern social phenomena cannot be ignored.  We can say this about the present: the clash between financial powers and individual citizens over the rules in the Life of Rights, is an effort by instinctive Cultural Sphere (moral) forces, via the mediating middle realm (the Rights Sphere), to master the troubling will-limb element, just as a child struggles to stand up and walk consciously erect.  All of humanity is participating in the seeking to have our Social Organism become a suitable body for the community of I consciousnesses.


One further matter needs to come before our imaginative picturing faculty.

With the dissolving of the form-structure of the family, and the emergence of the individual moral insight of the experiencing and participating I consciousness, the basic elements of Western Civilization themselves have collapsed.  What the religious fundamentalist in America has called: the family values crisis, and the cultural wars, is just an antipathetically driven conceptualization of fundamental changes in human civilization at a macro level.  One anthroposophical writer (Sevak Bulbekian) even wrote a book suggesting this theme (actually a collection of essays): At the Grave of Civilization.

What happens within the Imagination, when these various themes are brought together, and thought in movement?

One is left with only one word to describe the inner experience: Metamorphosis.  What might be called the End of Western Civilization, can really only be thought imaginatively in terms of a great metamorphosis, wherein  those social forms having their basis in one kind of more limited I consciousness (more dominated from top down social hierarchies), are now being transformed from within outward, by the full moral impact of the emerging Consciousness Soul, from the social bottom up.  Thus: Civil Society, or what Ben-Aharon describes in his: America's Global Responsibility: individuation, initiation and threefolding.

Once we understand this process of metamorphosis, and its living social nature, then all manner of contemporary historical phenomena light up from within.  Everywhere we look we see the up
building and dissolving forces at work, even within the Anthroposophical Society.

Metamorphosis is, after all, a process by which that which is dying first succumbs to a condition of chaos, which condition is necessary before it can receive new form as an aspect of its becoming.  Dying and becoming is the basic gesture of metamorphosis.

We live today in the condition of social chaos, where dying and becoming are both active principles.  What is dying is the old (third cultural epoch) hierarchical social form, and it is the rigidity of this ossified social form that we see in the Corporation and in may legal systems.  The active social forces, arising from the collision of differing wills and intentions, wear away at the ossified forms, collapsing them.  Even the old ideals of Western Civilization are ossified, and unable to comport with reality.  The individualized experiencing and participating I consciousness has not been wisely included in our traditional social ways, and must therefore begin to first dissolve and then create anew its own social form-structures.

At the same time as the rigid and ossified social forms and ideas are breaking down into social chaos, the new, living and creative social ideas and forms are emerging, from the social bottom upward into the light.  The Third Cultural Epoch is inverting into the Fifth, just as Steiner pointed out.

When we learn to think the macro developments of history, living within the social and political phenomena themselves, these transformations become visible.  The World Social Organism Itself speaks: I give birth to the experiencing and participating I consciousness, via the individual biography.  All the rest, all the troubles, are mere context, for that which becomes aspects of the I, as an element of its Eternal Consciousness Soul nature, is all that matters.

Or, as Doris Haddock (Granny D.) has been fond of saying (93 years old, and just ran for the U.S. Senate in New Hampshire): I am very grateful for George W. Bush, for helping me wake up and care about what is going on.

Even the opposing spiritual powers, and the brotherhoods, are limited and  bound into the weaving of the social tapestry out of the World I.  But to fully understand how this is done, would involve a discussion of the Macro and micro Mysteries of Evil, and that story we will come to next.

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