Listening to the World Song
A brief Application of the Principles
of Goetheanistic Thinking
to the Problems of Human Social and
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
* * *
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
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
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
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:
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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.