At the Birth and Death of a Century

This article first appeared in the German magazine “Info3″  April 1996

Plus ça change (plus c’est la même chose) is a French expression which we use in English (the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing). “As above, so below”, say the Hermeticists; this would appear to refer to the spatial structure of the world, but in occultism, it also refers to time – “as before, so later”. We can see from Rudolf Steiner’s descriptions of the sevenfold evolution of the Old Moon epoch (the evolutionary stage of our earth before the present ‘solid mineral’ one), for example , with its “Fall”, its condensation to a crisis point, its “Resurrection”, re-etherealisation and final reunification with the Sun, that there are temporal archetypal patterns that repeat themselves in successive eras in Earth evolution, even though the details may be different. Something similar can be detected on smaller scales, so that we are able to find resonances between the beginnings and ends of centuries, for example, in accordance with what Rudolf Steiner revealed about the operation of the 33 year periodicity : seeds planted in the socio-historic life at the beginning of a century come to fruition at its end (3 x 33 years, or, strictly speaking 3 x 33.33 years).

When we look back to the 1890s, we see in the Western world, a society struggling to come to terms with the full-blown consequences of industrialisation which, by then, had either “arrived”, or were in the process of doing so. The consequent massive social dislocation produced, among other things, a poisonous polarisation of social classes and ethnic groups, a situation which provided the seeds for the Communism and Fascism of the 20th century; there were all-pervading fears and anxieties amongst millions, widespread resentment against the super-rich and seemingly all-powerful new breed of industrial, financial, and media plutocrats. For their part, the oligarchs sought to distract the attention of the masses by the two panaceas of a) futuristic technology, and b) the ‘New World Order’ of European imperialism, which, in the 1890s, was all the rage. In Britain especially, but throughout the western world, “Science, Progress, and Empire!” were the slogans which kept people enthralled and took their minds off the demons seething within the culture’s breast. The Spanish-American War of 1898 marked America’s taking up of ‘The White Man’s Burden’,  and that burden was enthusiastically shouldered by the white imperialist nations as a whole when, in a preview of later United Nations “Peacekeeping” operations, they united to suppress the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900.

American politicians in the 1890s wondered how they could best realise their nation’s God-given Manifest Destiny on the global stage; important members of the Anglo-American elite such as Cecil Rhodes began to speak of an Anglo-American World Partnership or Empire that would dominate the coming century. South Africa drifted towards war as the stubborn Boers (today’s Afrikaners) refused to recognise Cecil Rhodes’ dreams of a British Africa from the Cape to Cairo. In accordance with profound occult aims, elite circles in Britain deviously plotted to readjust the balance of power in Europe between France, Germany and Russia. Closer to home, however, while seeking unsuccessfully to keep down the ever-troublesome Irish, the British elite were deeply troubled by Britain’s failing competitiveness vis-a-vis “our economic rivals”, notably Germany. They were also worried about how to “reinvigorate the race”, meaning their working class cannon fodder, whose physical condition, after a century of capitalist exploitation and appalling living conditions, was most definitely not up to par for a race that pretended to world domination, as the Boer War had recently demonstrated to painful effect. The French were also obsessed with the rising power of Germany and its recent hammer blows to French ‘gloire’ (Franco-Prussian War 1870-71). French diplomats plotted how to redress the balance with Germany by allying with Russia and Britain. Symptoms of bitter social and ethnic divisions in France were the infamous Taxil and Dreyfus affairs of the 1890s which respectively revealed the deep-rooted struggle between the Catholic Church and Freemasonry and the widespread mood of anti-Semitism. Finally, in an atmosphere where Social Darwinist notions of racial superiority were the norm, there was much talk across Europe, not least from the German Kaiser, about the Yellow Peril from East Asia – the threat from Japan and China – while in 1898, H.G. Wells published “War of the Worlds” about a Martian invasion of Earth.

And the parallels with today? After 1989, the Anglo-American elite began to trumpet the New World Order, which is intended to insure the dominance of the English-speaking peoples for at least a third century (1800-2100). British politicians are again planning how to play off European countries against each other to suit Britain’s advantage. The 1896 icons of “Science, Progress, and Empire” shared a common link in the philosophy of Social Darwinism – the application of Darwin’s scientific observations to the society and international relations. This spread from Britain, notably through the ideas of Herbert Spencer, throughout the civilised world. Today, neo-Darwinism and social Darwinism are currently being given a major boost by the media in the English-speaking world. In this climate, “The Economist” of London published an article on the future of the nation state (23.12.1995) which argued that -  the EU experiment notwithstanding -  the nation state was far from finished; it concluded:

    “Like the natural world, the world of geopolitics does not easily change its species. The coming century will still be the home of recognisable beasts: muscular lions and fearful deer, lumbering rhinos and cunning jackals. That may be a pity; but the inhabitants of the jungle have to live with it.”  

This law of the jungle, not fraternity, has been the basis of the western economic model since the 19th century. In many sections of society and the media in the Anglo-American world today, a similar boundless faith in technological solutions as existed a hundred years ago can be seen running in parallel with late 20th century ecological angst and doubts about those same solutions; indeed, today’s techno-faith masks a bitter unwillingness to face reality. Problems of crime? Education? Medicine? Ecology? Just point enough computers, satellites or closed circuit TV cameras at them and, it is believed, somehow that will do the trick.

The Old World Order of the White Man’s Imperialism when Britain was pre-eminent (Pax Britannica), ruling the oceans, has been replaced by the New World Order of the Pax Americana when US spy satellites can track cars driving down a Pyongyang street. Published three years after Japan’s first effort to join the white man’s imperial club in its successful war against China, H.G.Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” tapped a subconscious fear among westerners about the return of the invincible Mongol hordes. Approximately every 700 years there has been a wave of Far Eastern assaults on the West. Now, as in the late 1890s, all eyes are on China, seeking to exploit its markets and wondering how to contain its latent energies and those of Japan. The West’s exploitation of China in the name of free trade, which climaxed with the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, and the relation of that exploitation to the Opium trade, has come back to haunt the West in its contemporary drug crisis and the arguments over legalisation of drugs.

Despite its cataclysmic upheavals, its revolutionary developments in all areas of life, and its unparalleled destructiveness, this awesome century is breathing its last without our having resolved the key challenges it presented to us in the 14 years before the First World War. The agony of Sarajevo has been perhaps the bitterest reminder of this. The problems related to the emergence of the socialist and communist movements may have receded somewhat, but the underlying problem of the nature of the economic system and its healthy integration into the social order remains. Despite deep popular cynicism with the party political process and its yes-men parliamentarians who obey the party line, no serious alternatives to the way we govern ourselves are currently visible. Though our academics and scientists may not be quite the honoured demigods they were in 1900 when Nietzsche died, no other gods or spiritual authorities are recognised today by mainstream society despite the steady growth of alternative religions and faiths.

Anthroposophy’s message of the central event of the century, the reappearance of the Etheric Christ, has hardly penetrated society’s consciousness. Outside the German-speaking world, Anthroposophy itself has hardly penetrated world consciousness, for it was largely blocked by the Thirty Years’ War of the 20th century (1914-45) as well as by the energy-depleting effects of Anthroposophists’ own internal wranglings from the 1930s through to the 1960s. 1894 saw the publication of the book “The Philosophy of Freedom”, the foundation stone of Rudolf Steiner’s work. In 1995, the crisis at the Goetheanum, the headquarters of the global Anthroposophical Society over the editorial board of Das Goetheanum magazine showed that within the social order that had grown out of his work, the Anthroposophical Society, the issue of ‘freedom’ had come full circle. The Anthroposophical Society and movement are  clearly not the force in society that Steiner hoped they would be by the end of the century; they have failed the 20th century and consequently, they are fading. We must accept this failure and, unbowed by it, look to the future. The need now is for the envisioning, enlivening, and embodiment of a real threefolding of society for the 21st century, including of course, for the Anthroposophical movement itself.


 1. Occult Science – An Outline (Die  Geheimwissenschaft im Umriss), chapter 4
 2. lectures of 23/24/26.12.1917
 3. This is only one of a number of “occult principles” that are at work at any one time in history, though, since the Resurrection, it is of the greatest significance.
 4. The English poet Rudyard Kipling finished his famous poem ‘The White Man’s Burden’ on 22.11.1898 and sent it immediately to Theodore Roosevelt, hero of the Spanish-American War and supporter of the imperialist President McKinley. It was first published in the New York “Sun” newspaper on 5.2.1899, the day before the Senate was due to vote on a treaty to establish a US protectorate over the Philippines. The poem’s subtitle was: The United States and the Philippines.
 5. In the 6th of his lectures on the Mission of the Folk Souls given in Oslo, June 1910, Rudolf Steiner spoke of the connection between the Mongoloid people of northern East Asia and the spirits of the Mars sphere, which stemmed from the time of the Mars oracle on Atlantis.

  ©  Terry M. Boardman  1996

 This page was created 9th March 2001  Last Updated 16.7.2012