Collected Works

Rethinking Economics: Lectures and Seminars on World Economics (CW 340-341)

Today I intend a kind of introduction. In tomorrow’s lecture, we shall begin to try to give a more or less complete picture of the questions of social and political economy that humanity today must set before itself.

The subject of economics, as we speak of it today, is in reality a very recent creation. It did not arise until the time when the economic life of modern peoples had become extraordinarily complicated in comparison with earlier conditions. As this course is intended primarily for students of political economy,† it is necessary by way of introduction to point out this peculiarity of the economic thinking of today.

After all, we need not go very far back in history to see how much economic life has changed, even during the nineteenth century. We need only consider this one fact: England, for example, already had during the first half of the century what was, practically speaking, the modern form of economic life. There was comparatively little radical change in the economic structure of England in the course of the nineteenth century. The great social questions that arise out of economic questions in modern times were being asked in England as early as the first half of the nineteenth century; and those who wanted to think about social and economic questions in the modern sense could pursue their studies in England at a time when in Germany, for instance, such studies would have remained unfruitful. In England, Lecture 1 From Industrialism to World Economy Dornach, July 24, 1922 2 rethinking economics above all, the conditions of trade and commerce on a large scale had already come into being by the first third of the nineteenth century. Through the great development of trade and commerce in the economic life of England, a foundation was already there in the form of trade capital. In England, there was no need to seek for any other starting point for modern economic life. They simply had to go on with the trade capital resulting from the consolidation of trade and commerce, even as early as the first third of the nineteenth century. Starting from this time, everything took place in England with a certain logical consistency; we must not forget that the whole of this English economic life was possible only on the basis originally given by England’s relation to her colonies, especially to India. The whole of the English economic system is unthinkable without the relationship of England to India. In other words, English economic life, with all its facility for evolving large sums of capital, is founded on the fact that there lies in the background a country that is, as it were, virgin economic soil. We must not overlook this fact, especially when we pass from England to Germany.

If you consider the economic life of Germany, you will see that in the first third of the nineteenth century it still essentially corresponded to economic customs that had arisen out of the Middle Ages. The economic customs and relationships within Germany in the first third of the nineteenth century were absolutely old: consequently the whole pace of economic life was different in Germany from what it was in England during the first third, or even the first half, of the nineteenth century. In England, during the first half of the century, there was already what we may call a reckoning with quickly changing habits of life. The main character of economic life remained essentially the same, but it was already adaptable to quickly changing habits. In Germany, on the other hand, habits of life were still conservative: economic development could afford to advance at a snail’s pace, for it had to adapt itself only to technical conditions that had remained more or less the same over long periods, and to human needs that were not rapidly changing. But in this respect a great transformation took place in the second third of the nineteenth century. Then there rapidly took place an The Transition from Industrialism to World Economy approximation to English conditions: a development of the industrial system. In the first half of the nineteenth century, Germany had been in all essentials an agrarian country—now it was rapidly transformed into an industrial country, far more rapidly than any other region of the earth. But there is an important fact in this connection. We might describe it thus: In England the transition to industrial life took place instinctively; nobody knew exactly how it happened. It came as a natural event. In Germany, it is true, the medieval character still existed in the first third of the nineteenth century. Germany was an agrarian country. But while the outer economic conditions were taking their accustomed course in a way that might almost be called medieval, human thinking was undergoing a fundamental change. It came into the consciousness of human beings that something altogether different must now arise, that the existing conditions were no longer appropriate for the time. Thus the transformation of economic conditions that arose in Germany in the second third of the nineteenth century took place far more consciously than in England. In Germany, people were far more aware of how they entered into modern capitalism; in England, people were not aware of it at all. If you read today all the writings and discussions in Germany during that period concerning the transition to industrialism, you will get a remarkable impression, a strange impression, of how the people in Germany were thinking. They actually looked upon it as a real liberation of humanity; they called it liberalism, democracy. Moreover, they regarded it as the very salvation of humanity to get right out of the old connections, the old binding links, the old kind of corporation, and pass over to the fully free position (for so they called it) of the individual within the economic life. Hence in England you will never meet with a theory of economics such as was developed by the people who received their education in Germany at the height of the period that I have just characterized. Schmoller, Roscher† and others derived their views from the ideal of this “liberalism” in economics. What they built up was altogether in accord with this ideal, and they built it with full consciousness. The English would have thought such theories of economics stale rethinking economics and boring; they would have thought that one should not trouble to think about such things. Look at the radical difference between the way in which people in England talked about these things (to mention even a man like Beaconsfield, who was theoretical enough in all conscience) from the way in which Richter or Lasker or even Brentano† were speaking in Germany. In Germany, therefore, this second period was entered into with full consciousness. Then came the third period, the period essentially of “the state.” It is true that as the last third of the nineteenth century drew near, the German state was consolidated purely by means of external power. What was consolidated was not what the idealists of 1848, or even of the 1830s and on, had desired; no, it was the state that was consolidated, and moreover by sheer force or power. And this state gradually laid claim to the economic life for its own purposes, with full consciousness. Thus, in the last third of the nineteenth century, the structure of the economic life was permeated through and through by the very opposite principle as had been in the previous period. In the second third of the century, economic evolution had been subject to the ideas of liberalism. Now its evolution became altogether subject to the idea of the state. This was what gave the economic life in Germany, as a whole, its stamp. It is true that there were elements of consciousness in the whole process, and yet in another sense the whole thing was quite unconscious.

Spiritual Beings in the Heavenly Bodies and in the Kingdoms of Nature (CW 136)

Rudolf Steiner, Lecture 6 Helsinki, April 8, 1912

In the last lecture we tried to consider how a planetary system depends on the various spiritual beings of the three hierarchies, layered, as it were, one above the other. We gained an idea of all that is involved in a planet, and we saw how a planet receives its enclosed form as a result of the activity of the spirits of form. We also saw that the inner life, the inner mobility of the planet, is the result of the activity of the spirits of motion. What we may call the lowest consciousness of a planet, which can be compared with the consciousness present in the human astral body, we assign to the spirits of wisdom. And the impulse by which a planet changes its place in space we allot to the spirits of will, the thrones. The regulation of the individual movements of a planet—so that instead of taking an isolated course in space, it moves in harmony with the whole system—is an activity of the cherubim. Finally, we ascribed to the seraphim what we may call the inner soul life of a planet, whereby the planet comes into connection with the other heavenly bodies, like a human being enters into relation with other people by means of speech. Thus we must see a sort of coherence in the planet; and in this, what comes from the spirits of form is but a kind of kernel. On the other hand, every planet has something like a spiritual atmosphere—we might even say something like an aura—in which the spirits who belong to both of the higher hierarchies that are above the spirits of form do their work. Now, however, if we want to understand all this rightly, Lecture 6 helsinki, April 8, 1912 66 j spiritual beings in the heavenly bodies we must make ourselves acquainted with yet other ideas than those I have just recapped for you in a couple of sentences. These are ideas that we shall attain most easily if we begin with the beings of the hierarchy that stands, so to speak, nearest to humanity in the spiritual world: namely, the beings of the third hierarchy.

We have said that the characteristic of the beings of the third hierarchy is that what is perception in human beings is manifestation in them; and what is inner life in human beings is being filled with spirit in them. We already find this characteristic in the beings who are immediately above the human being in the cosmic order, in the angels or angeloi: namely, that they actually perceive what they manifest from out of themselves. When they return to their inner being, they have nothing independent, nothing self-enclosed like the inner life of human beings. Rather, they then feel the forces and beings of the higher hierarchies above them shining and springing forth in their inner being. In short, they feel themselves filled and inspired by the spirit, by the beings above them. Thus, what we call our independent inner life really does not exist in them. If they wish to develop their own being and if they wish, so to speak, to feel, think, and will what they are, as a human being does, it is all immediately manifested externally. These beings are not like human beings, who can shut up their thoughts and feelings within themselves and can allow their will impulses to remain unfulfilled. What lives as thought in these beings, insofar as they themselves bring forth these thoughts, is also simultaneously revealed externally. If they do not wish to manifest externally, they have no other means of returning into their inner being than by once again filling themselves with the world above them. Thus, the world above them dwells in the inner life of these beings, and when they live a life of their own, they project themselves externally, objectively.




How Can Today’s Poverty of Soul be Overcome?

8 lectures in Germany and Switzerland, February 16 – December 3, 1916 (CW 168)


The Connection between the Living and the Dead

(CW 168)

“What may be seen in the thoughts and memories left behind in the souls of those who love the dead is certainly added to the world that the dead need directly, but it also elevates, improves the existence of the dead. We could compare this to art in the physical world, but there is no comparison, because it is uplifting for the dead, an improvement, in a sense far superior to the way in which art improves the physical world for us. Thus, it has a deep meaning when we unite our thoughts with those of the dead.” (from the first lecture)


The year is 1916. Europe is entering the third year of the most devastatingly brutal war yet known. The high hopes and idealistic expectations for the newly dawned twentieth century have been very quickly met with the murderous visage of modern warfare. (The death toll would eventually reach 35 million souls.) Such is the context and ever-present background to these presentations, informing both their mood and content. 

Rudolf Steiner gave these eight lectures to the members of the Anthroposophical Society in various European cities throughout 1916, and they are all heartfelt attempts to address—practically—some of the fundamental questions living strongly in his listeners, who must be always be considered, to some degree, as co-creators of the content:



Given the fundamental reality of reincarnation, how do the so-called dead remain connected to us? What meaning do these countless sacrificial deaths have? What are the immediate experiences of those who have died?


These are a few of the burning questions addressed. The answers given are anything but theoretical. But there is something else here, as well. It could be summed up by the title of the lecture given in Zürich on October 10, 1916, that forms the heart of this collection: “How Can Today’s Poverty of Soul be Overcome?” “Today” refers not just that early-twentieth-century today; rather, it means the epoch in which we are now living, and overcoming our “poverty of soul”—and Steiner's wholeheartedly human advice for doing so—becomes increasingly valid and more urgent with each passing moment.

Lecture 4: How Can Today’s Poverty of Soul be Overcome?

Rudolf Steiner, Zürich, October 10, 1916

What we seek as spiritual-scientific truths should not be just a dead knowledge for us, but a living one. It should be knowledge that can really find its way into our life, into all aspects of our life, and at the most important points in our life. Spiritual science today is often taken in quite abstractly. And people—especially those who have little understanding of spiritual science—may even come to a sort of detached knowledge that initially proves to be unfruitful for life, and they then have the following impression: “What does it matter that we know human beings are made of so-and-so many parts or members, and that humanity has evolved through different cultural epochs and will continue to evolve, and so on?” For those who believe, according to today’s demands, that people should be completely present in practical life, spiritual science often seems quite unproductive. And it is often conveyed as being unproductive, even by those who already have some heart and feeling for it.

Nevertheless, spiritual science itself, as it is, is something infinitely full of life; it can come alive even in the most exoteric practices in life; and it also must come alive for the sake of the future. Today I would like to make this clear with a particular example by choosing something from our spiritual science that we all presumably know, that is well known to us, and to show how it will gradually become even more enlivened by our looking at it as being full of life.

Most of you will have heard before that our time was preceded by the so-called fourth post-Atlantean cultural period, in which the Greeks and Romans were the most important peoples. The impulses of this fourth post-Atlantean cultural period influenced the following centuries into the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. We have been Lecture 4 How Can Today’s Poverty of Soul be Overcome? Zürich, October 10, 1916 How Can Today’s Poverty of Soul be Overcome? h 71 in the fifth post-Atlantean cultural period since the fifteenth century. We have been born into this period in our current incarnation, and human beings will live in this fifth cultural period for many centuries to come. We know, furthermore, and have often let it flow through our souls (at least, most of us have) that humanity particularly advanced outer culture and outer work during the fourth post-Atlantean—the Greco-Roman—cultural period, which developed the so-called intellectual- or mind-soul at that time. Our task now is to develop the consciousness soul.