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A Russian Conundrum From 1915

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008


When we read this excerpt from Rudolph Steiner ’s “Destinies of Individuals and Nations” January 17, 1915 lecture in The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture predicting Russia’s future spiritual role in world development, we knew the Cold War with the Soviet Union was not what it appeared to be. We’ve included these pages for you to ponder.

“When Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925) reflected on the history of civilization, he envisioned a special role for Russia, because he considered Russia the country that could best embody the spirit of a new cultural epoch. In Russia, Anthroposophy developed beyond the mere study of an esoteric doctrine and its theory of knowledge. Anthroposophy sought to evaluate Russian and Soviet reality concretely, to interpret Russia’s historical development in the context of world history, and to become the basis of action for Russian cultural activities. Russian Anthroposophy is more than a variant of the Anthroposophical movement. Russia occupies a prominent place in the Anthroposophical conception of culture.

Steiner structured the history of civilzation in seven (post –Atlantean) periods: Indian, ancient Persia, Egyptian-Chaldean, Greek-Roman, Central European, Slavic, and American. According to his scheme, humanity at the end of the fifth ,the central European period-that is, at the threshold of the end of the fifth, the Central European period-that is, at the threshold of the sixth period, the Slavic period. The fifth post-Atlantean epoch began in the first half of the fifteenth century among the Germanic peoples. It manifested itself through an increase in individualism and through a growing interest in the sciences and technology. Around the year 3500, this era of perception was to be succeeded by the sixth epoch, the epic of the “Spirit Self” the characteristics of the Slavic people were to prevail: a sense of community, selflessness, patience, and the ability to accept a higher truth. These qualities constitute the basis for the ’seed’ of the world spirit incarnation in the Russian people, according to Steiner, the broad Russian masses already carried in them the seed of the coming civilization. Steiner used the image of ’seed’ repeatedly to describe the state of Russia’s development, the embryonic, nuclear state of the East as opposed to the ‘hypertrophy’ of the West. The spirit of the Russian people was ‘young and fresh in it’s hopes’ and ‘yet to confront it’s task.’ This task, to suffuse all aspects of life with new meaning, would be realized only in the course of history. Steiner called the Russian a child, in whose very soul one could find the questions that must be answered if humanity was to master the future. From the Russian character traits Steiner derived the capability of holistic thinking. In the Russian way of thinking, as he saw it, two opposing concepts can hold sway simultaneously so that rationality was mysticism and mysticism is rationality. ‘The Russian does not have the slightest understanding of what Westerners call ‘reasonableness.’ He is accessible to what we term ‘revelation. Basically, he will accept and integrate into the content of his soul anything he owns to a kind of revelation.”

In Soloviev’s ideas Steiner saw the seed of the philosophy of the ‘Spirit Self’ of the sixth epoch, for here the religious and philosophical worldviews merged. Soloviev’s philosophy spoke the language of religion, while his religion strove a philosophical worldview.” According to Steiner, this was where the superiority of the Russian philosophy over the aging Western philosophy lay: it transcended the limits of reason and it built a basis for a new holistic understanding. In order to develop the capacities and to fulfill its mission, Steiner said, the Russian people needed contact with the West; the ‘female East’ should be impregnated by the ‘male West.’ Intellectuality and technology, the achievement and problem of the fifth epoch of civilization, had led the life force to stagnate in Europe. Meanwhile this life force was at work in Russia, but was so lacking in form that it could fall into chaos. That was why Steiner felt that Russia depended on a Western awareness of form and consciousness. ‘To imagine that the East, at its present state, would develop on its own would be comparable to the foolish hope of a woman who wanted to have a child without a man. In the past, Eastern Europe had proved its receptiveness to the West. Steiner pointed to the reception of the Byzantine religion in Russia. Thus the Slavic peoples showed that they were also capable of absorbing higher truths- that is, the spirit of the sixth epoch.


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