The Poppies of 2014 – Goodbye to All That?

A slightly shorter version of this article first appeared in New View Magazine  #74 Jan – Mar 2015

And so we came to the end of 2014, the centenary  year since the outbreak of the First World War, the catastrophic conflict  which can be said to have opened the actual 20th century, which was a very short century and ended in 1989/90 with the termination of ‘the Soviet experiment’ and the Cold War, and with the reunification of Germany. In the first months of the year, the British Establishment quickly got off the mark and sought to fix a certain view of the war in the public mind, a view no different essentially from that presented by the Establishment to the British public in 1914 and again in 1919 around the time of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. According to this view, presented in early 2014 by politicians such as the Prime Minister David Cameron, Mayor of London Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, the then Education Secretary (since resigned), and ex-politicians and media personalities such as Michael Portillo and such as Jeremy Paxman, as well as by pro-Establishment historians such as Max Hastings, Prof. Huw Strachen, Prof. Annika Mombauer and Dr. Gary Sheffield, Britain was right to fight in 1914 and went to war to defend ‘gallant little Belgium’ from the militaristic, autocratic German bully that was planning the domination of Europe and the downfall of Britain and its Empire. This view was wrong in 1914/1919 and remains wrong today, as every new major work of historical substance bears out. Two such works were published in 2014, in April the enormously comprehensive and thorough Welt im Umbruch by Dr. Markus Osterrieder which looks in depth at the causes of the war, exoteric and esoteric, from the time of Napoleon (translation of the full title: World in Upheaval – The Nationalities Question, World Order Plans and Rudolf Steiner’s Stance in the First World War; an English translation of this book is currently underway) and in June  The Darkest Days: The Truth Behind Britain’s Rush to War, 1914 by Prof. Douglas Newton, the most detailed examination of the motives and actions of the British government in July and early August 1914. These two works alone, in their breadth and detail, thoroughly demolish the arguments about 1914 presented by historians such as Hastings, Strachan and Sheffield. However, neither of these two books will be given much shrift in the mainstream media or in high street bookshops, where since Christmas 2013 Max Hastings’ book Catastrophe – Europe Goes To War 1914, was weighing down the shelves. After the academics’ arguments, which were laid out in the first three months of the year, the Establishment moved to direct its attentions to the public’s emotions. The grossly inaccurate BBC TV drama “37 Days”, broadcast 6-8 March, described in the form of  a drama the process from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie on 28 June 1914 to Britain’s declaration of war against Germany on 4 August and presented on the whole a very positive view of the Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey that is not borne out by the historical facts. And that was it, as far as explanations of the causes of the catastrophe went. (see on this website for a critical analysis of “37 Days”) From the beginning of the year, the government (outlay £50 million) and the BBC (largest single theme project in its history) has been rolling out a vast ongoing programme of events, which will continue until November 1918. Much of this programme is very interesting indeed, looking into many aspects of the war and appearing to leave few stones unturned, although there has been comparatively little about the opponents that Britain fought during the war. The emphasis has been on British pain and suffering and on British victories and achievements, in other words, a nationalist interpretation of events, albeit one that tries not to crow too loudly. In some cases, the commemorations have crossed the line into overt sentimentality, and that became ever clearer as the anniversary of the actual declaration of war came closer. One particular event deserves mention here, as it is of considerable interest as an historical symptom.

Blood-swept Lands and Seas of Red
Blood red poppies, not real but ceramic, a veritable river of them pouring from a bastion window in the Tower of London down into the Tower’s moat and filling it like the sea – this was an installation called Blood-swept Lands and Seas of Red by the British artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. Between 17 July and 11 November this year 888,246 ceramic poppies were ‘planted’ at the Tower by about 17,500 volunteers, one poppy for each member of the British poppies tower of londonEmpire’s armed forces killed during what was already then called “The Great War”. This is a common aspect of public events and entertainment today – sheer quantity in the striving to make an effect on people’s feelings and, at the same time, the nod in the direction of individualism, the idea that each single person is important and deserves to be recognised. The installation was embraced by the Establishment and promoted to the nation as part of the official commemorations of the war. Frequently splashed across newspapers and TV news broadcasts, the sea of red was opened on 5 August, one day after the 100th anniversary of Britain’s declaration of war against Germany, and on that first day the installation was visited by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, the two sons of the late, much lamented Princess Diana whose sad demise had prompted another ocean of flowers, albeit more multi-coloured. It was visited by their grandparents, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, on 16 October.

Paul Cummins apparently paid his own blood price for his art, as in the making of it, he crushed his hand in a roller and lost a finger. Interestingly, Blood-swept Lands and Seas of Red came out of the London Olympics and Paralympics 2012 which Cummins was involved with. Those events too involved huge spectacular displays which played in various ways on the subconscious, especially of young people. One notable aspect of the extravaganzas was the many ways in which internationalist and nationalist elements were intertwined. On the surface there was much appeal to global ethics and international values – ‘freedom’, ‘creativity’, ‘racial harmony’ and the like, but at the same time, meshed into this was a great deal of patriotic and nationalist breast-beating that sought to bang the drum for Britain. The Prime Minister David Cameron made unashamed use of this nationalist element in speeches during and after the event. In the opening ceremony of the London Olympics we were presented with a spectacular and imaginative but a fanciful and historically unsound picture of British history in which a rural idyll was magically transformed into a Blakean nightmare vision of dark Satanic mills which was then affirmed by the actor Kenneth Branagh, in the role of the famous mid-Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, speaking lines about an ‘Isle of Wonders’ from Caliban’s Dream in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. With this we were placed in the period 1840-60, the high point of Britain’s world power and industrial and scientific achievement. It was also the time of the two Opium Wars against China (1839-42, 1858-60) and the Crimean War against Russia (1853-56). 

The 1840s and the War in Heaven

Rudolf Steiner frequently referred to the 1840s as the acme of philosophical materialism. It was the time when in Germany, for example, there was a hard reaction in philosophy against the Hegelian Idealism that had been dominant since the fall of Napoleon. The materialist philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) launched a strident attack on Hegelianism in 1841 and published his critical book The Essence of Christianity; it was celebrated by Friedrich Engels (“it placed materialism on the throne again…the spell was broken….Enthusiasm was general. We all became at once Feuerbachians.”) (1) “December 1841 marks a discontinuity of spectacular sharpness in German philosophy…the rupture of 1841 is manifested in an array of changes, reflecting a common underlying process of transformation, which in turn has its social spectacle in the Revolutions of 1848″.(2) In that year 1848, of course, the Communist Manifesto was written in Brussels and proclaimed to the world. It turned out to be a great mental opiate for millions of people across the world for the next one and half centuries. The decade that thus began with the First Opium War, the product of international capitalist greed, the decade that saw the discovery of Neptune, the development of the chemical industry, the elaboration of electromagnetism, the extension of railway networks across Europe and the victory of the doctrine of Free Trade in England, ended with the failure of liberal bourgeois revolutions across the Continent and the proclamation of Communism as the grand panacea, while from America a very different opiate announced itself in the form of the Spiritualist movement with its table-rapping and communications with the dead. Steiner also spoke of the year 1841 as the beginning of a struggle in the spiritual world that he called ‘the War in Heaven’.  This struggle, he said,  took place in the spiritual sphere of the Moon  – the region between Earth and Moon -  between the Archangel Michael and those beings associated with him and ‘fallen angels’ in the service of the being Ahriman, the inspirer of a one-sided materialism. Michael was preparing for his ‘promotion’ to the next superior rank, that of the Archai (or Spirits of Personality, as Steiner also calls them), the onset of which would come in 1879, a year which would also see the beginning of his ‘regency’  or period as ruling Time Spirit (approx. 350/400 years from 1879) in which his particular impulses of cosmopolitanism and spirituality in thinking would become increasingly prevalent. The result of the victory of the Michaelic forces in this struggle 1841-1879 was that the Ahrimanic angels, or demons, were ‘cast out’ of the Moon sphere down into the spiritual sphere of the Earth, where from the 1880s onwards they poured into the consciousnesses of many human beings and began to inspire them with thoughts which led to a great acceleration in technical developments of all kinds, as well as giving a great intellectual boost to all forms of materialist thinking, including nationalism, even though the Age of Gabriel, in which such thinking would otherwise have been naturally ‘at home’ (as it was from c.1600-1879), had come to an end in 1879 and been superseded by the Age of Michael. The ‘fall of these Spirits of Darkness’ from the 1880s, as Steiner also referred to it, was a major factor contributing to the First World War.

Alongside Communism and proto-fascism, such impulses as nationalism, chauvinism, Social Darwinism, and imperialism grew by leaps and bounds in the period 1880-1914. These various –isms were all ideological offspring of the same matrix: materialism. One of these –isms was ‘collectivism’, as it was sometimes known in the 19th century, and many intellectuals were convinced in the last decades of that century, impressed by the march of Industrial society and by the claims of Social Darwinism that the age of individualism was coming to an end and that collectivism was the future. One of them was a protegé and friend of Lord Alfred Milner, the British sociologist Benjamin Kidd (1858-1916) (picture). Like Milner, Kidd believed in the innate superiority of the English-speaking people, and was a severe critic of Germany. Unlike Milner, however, Kidd felt that the age of males was over and that the future belonged to women, who would become what he called “the psychic centre of power in the social integration” because they were long-termist, caring and nurturing in their attitudes; they cared for the future safety and security of the tribe, the collective, and were prepared to make the necessary sacrifices for that (sacrifice and renunciation Kidd saw as higher moral traits), while males, he felt, were concerned only for their short-term profit in the here and now which they calculated on the basis of their rational thinking so as to defeat other calculating males. Furthermore, males had little emotional intelligence, which Kidd was convinced was the way of the future (“the great secret of the coming age of the world is that civilisation rests not on Reason but on Emotion” – Science of Power p.118). In the collectivist societies of the future that were dominated by the female principle, knowledgeable elites would be able, he believed, to control mass populations though their emotions and call upon the female sense for order and sacrifice – what he called “the Emotion of the Ideal”. Kidd’s key writings, his essay Social Evolution (1894) and his book The Science of Power (1918), were very successful and translated into many languages. (3) Yet this man, who believed so ardently in the female future, also held to the two principles: “Truth is the Science of Power” and “Evolution in all the phenomena of life follows the line of maximum Power” and argued that “The Emotion of the Ideal is the highest form of the sum of the Other-Regarding Emotions….It is the chief human organ of the science of Power….in Woman we have the future centre of Power in civilisation (Science of Power p.195)…she is the creature to whom the Race is more than the individual, the being to whom the Future is greater than the Present” (Science of Power p.211) …the people who first grasp this lesson …will have the world at their feet”. (Science of Power p.254) It could be argued that the elites who rule our society today in 2014 have internalised much of Kidd’s ideas, for reasoned argument has been ousted to a great extent from public life in our democratic societies and replaced by the politics of the phrase, the sound-bite, the image and the spectacle, in all of which emotion is emphasised, while, political correctness is to be maintained at all costs so no-one is to be upset or offended.


Olympics, Opium, Poppies…
Against the background of esoteric history and of the emergence of the emotional spectacle, it is highly noteworthy that in the London Olympics 2012 opening ceremony the historical scene was suddenly shifted from Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the England of the 1840s and 50s to the First World War, symbolised only by red poppies and a few scenes of marching soldiers, no horror, no trenches. The scene was thus abruptly moved from the 1840s to 1914, missing out the high point of Victorian imperial expansion, the grand imperial jubilees and durbars (1887, 1897, 1911) and the background to the First War. We were suddenly transferred from the era of Bengal poppies, opium and philosophical materialism to the era of poppies in Flanders fields and the horrific physical consequences of that philosophical materialism in the slaughterhouse of the Great War. The connection between these two periods, the 1840s and the war years 1914-1919, was a point made repeatedly by Steiner during the war – that the war was largely the result of a deep-rooted materialism in European culture, and the fears, vanities and desires stimulated by that materialism, which had taken off in the natural scientific thinking of the early seventeenth century and had become prevalent throughout culture in the nineteenth century. For this reason, Steiner argued, one could not point the finger of blame for the Great War at any one European culture. Certainly, however, after the Industrial Revolution, Britain had played a signal role in the development of European materialist culture, and its elite arguably had more far-reaching, more globally comprehensive and self-centred national goals than other cultures.(4) Many Germans, for example, from the half-English Kaiser Wilhelm II downwards, were keen to emulate British colonial and imperial practice as well as the habits and customs of the English upper class. After the 1880s, with the fall of the Spirits of Darkness,  materialism in European culture had become a disease that had metastasised, which is why in lectures in the Spring of 1914 Steiner referred to “the social carcinoma” in European civilisation. Europe had proved itself incapable of dealing with its social problems and its class-ridden prejudices. The dramatic changes that were attempting to break through in consciousness in the arts and sciences, in psychology and spiritual science in the two decades before 1914, in everything from atomic physics to psychiatry, from Cubism to Anthroposophy, were simply insufficient to counter the overwhelming weight of personal, social and national fears, loathing, resentment and unspecified anomie that permeated and dominated all western societies. The awful result was millions of dead across “blood swept lands and seas of red” from the mud of Flanders to the frozen plains of Ukraine, the high snowy mountains of northern Italy and Serbia,  the Gallipoli coast, the deserts of Arabia, the jungles of Cameroon and the swamps of East Africa.

Red and White

As they wandered through the red sea around the Tower of London, caught in poignant reflective poses by the Press cameras, the two Princes William and Harry might have recalled their friends in the military who had served in Britain’s more recent wars in the ‘blood swept lands’ of Iraq and Afghanistan and may have wondered if our modern politicians were any more adept than those in 1914. Harry might have been recalling his weeks as a machine gunner and computer-based artillery spotter, two activities during his supposedly secret stint serving with British forces in Afghanistan that the tabloid Press eventually reported on in a state of near-ecstasy over ‘the manly exploits’ of our latter-day ‘Prince Hal’; even in the two world wars no son of the monarch or of the future monarch had actually fired weapons at the enemy. It is perhaps unlikely that the Princes reflected on the fact that the name of the Tower of London has at least since the 13th century been ‘the White Tower’ due to its regular whitewashing, and so this supposed symbol of pathos over the war dead  – the river of poppies at the Tower – actually reflected in its red and white colours the flag of St. George and thus England’s militant traditions since the middle ages. A ‘white’ cube (118′ x 105′) edged by four elongated cuboid towers, the central keep, later known as the White Tower, was the original new royal palace built by the Norman Duke William in 1078 to dominate and “overawe” London (as his biographer William of Poitiers put it) and secure his position as king and conqueror of England after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066 and his subsequent coronation at Christmas that year. As supposed direct descendents (5) of William the Conqueror, Princes William and Harry might have reflected that since the reign of the Conqueror, a vast tide of red blood has indeed flowed for almost a thousand years from that white tower, which was the first, very physical symbol of the Norman conquest and the oppression of England, and that red tide then spread onwards in the Norman conquests of the Celtic periphery of these British Isles, then across to France in the 100 Years’ War and then around the entire globe in the conquests and establishment of the British Empire.

In 2012 Stuart Laycock published a book with the humorous title All The Countries We’ve Ever Invaded  – And the Few We Never Got Round To. It detailed all the countries around the world Britain had ever attacked, occupied, appropriated or invaded; the mere  22 (many of them small or landlocked) which had never witnessed any British aggression were shown on this map (in white); the rest – in pink – the British have attacked in some way. Quite a record! One finds oneself asking: why so much violence from such a small place?


The ‘Great War’ of 1914-1919 itself was fought by the British elite to ensure that their hold on that Empire would not be challenged by either Germany or Russia; it was not a war for ‘democracy’ or for ‘the rights of small nations’; it was a war to keep what the British elite had acquired over nearly nine hundred years. During the four years of commemoration of the Great War, we in Britain surely need to understand this as a people, for in our subordinate relations with the USA, relations the British elite are all too eager to maintain, and our increasingly fraught relations with the rest of Europe, we still show signs of being hooked as a nation to that addiction which is so hard to overcome – the addiction to world power. After 300 years, it is a hard habit to kick. Instead, we seem to prefer to wallow in sentiment and pathos and in emotional spectacles like Blood-swept Lands and Seas of Red, which seem set to go on for the next four years, rather than asking the tough questions from which we can learn: why did it come to this? How was it possible? And because of our addiction to world power and its symbols, we seem content to allow our government to spend £30 billion on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and then another £30 billion on repurchasing an updated Trident missile system from the USA. £60 billion of the British people’s money – what could that have been spent on here at home?

 ’ Tommy’, Flanders & poppies 1917      ‘Jenny’, Afghanistan & poppies 2009

To keep the Germans and Russians apart…

What the British elite feared above all in the years 1900-1914 was what could conceivably take Britain’s imperial acquisitions from them, namely, an accommodation between Germany and Russia. The fear in the Foreign Office, the fear of Sir Edward Grey and his Permanent Under-Secretary Sir Arthur Nicolson, was that if Britain did not do what Russia wanted, then Russia would turn towards Germany, as she seemed almost to do in 1905 when the German Kaiser Wilhelm II nearly succeeded in getting Czar Nicholas II to sign a treaty with Germany. After all, the two countries had been allies from 1879-1890 and had maintained friendly relations before that. The combination of modern German technology and know-how with Russian manpower and natural resources could have led to the building of a globally active mega-fleet and eventually, even to the loss of India, Britain’s ‘jewel in the imperial Crown’ – this was the ultimate nightmare for the British elite. For members of the British elite such as Lords Milner and Esher, and Sir Arthur Balfour (6), it was therefore imperative that Britain should strive a) to keep as close as possible to the USA and even to unite with her in some kind of ‘Anglo-saxon confederation’ and b) to keep Russia and Germany apart and indeed, to keep them involved in mutual tension, strife and eventually, warfare. France’s desire for revanche over Alsace-Lorraine (7) and Russia’s clash of interests with Germany’s ally Austria-Hungary in the Balkans were the two instruments the British used to stir this Russo-German antipathy. The strategy – first conceived by Lord Salisbury in the 1880s (8) and formalised between 1904 and 1919 by the geopolitician Halford J. Mackinder, a protegé of Lord Milner,  worked brilliantly. It remained the keystone of British strategy throughout the 20th century; its second phase resulted in the Russo-German conflict 1941-45, when in effect, the British stood back and waited while the German Nazis and the Russian Communists fought each other (9), and it was passed on to the Americans after the Second World War in the Cold War phase of the strategy, in which Germany was divided between Russia and the English-speaking world (US-UK). We have seen a fourth phase of the strategy emerge this year (2014) in what the western media are already calling “Cold War II” – the isolation, ostracism or ‘excommunication’ of Russia and the attempt to sever its economic links with the West, especially with Germany. Above all, the effort is being made to reduce the West’s need for Russian energy supplies, hence the rapid decline in oil prices, which undermines Russia’s energy-based economy; this has been another feature of the economic scene in 2014.

Russia’s President, the judo exponent Vladimir Putin, rolled with the punches in Ukraine and Volgograd (10), and then responded, first by appropriating Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, thus keeping a potential threat from a Ukraine-in-NATO-and-the-EU away from Russia’s southern flank in the Black Sea region, and then, in May, by finally persuading the Chinese to sign the long-planned,  $400 billion pipeline deal between Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Corporation to supply Russian gas to China. According to this 30 year-long  deal, the pipeline is intended to be complete by 2018 when 38 billion cubic metres of gas p.a. will start flowing south and east from Siberia. This is another reason why, in his epoch-making lecture in 1904, “The Geographical Pivot of History”, delivered before the Royal Geographical Society, British geopolitician Halford Mackinder identified Siberia and Central Asia as “the Pivot Area” (in 1919 he called it “the Heartland”), control of which was vital to ensure world domination; the peoples and vast resources of this region he saw as a critical determinant of any geostrategic policy. It was essential, Mackinder believed, that Britain and America should somehow seize control of this region from whoever dominated it which, then as now, was Russia. Mackinder was just as keen to keep the Russians and Japanese apart as he was to separate the Russians and Germans. Today, his ideas are still heeded by American strategic planners, and he would be looking to separate the Russians and the Chinese; this is surely what the British and American elites will look to do in any way they can over the coming years and decades.

800 Years Ago….

800 years on from the rise of the Mongol Empire, which was ruled from Beijing, a city which the Mongols made the capital of their empire after they conquered much of Eurasia and subjugated Russia,  this mega-energy deal is part of a hugely ambitious Russo-Chinese design to extend an economic and transportation network by rail and road across Eurasia from Shanghai to Hamburg (it has been dubbed, inevitably, “the New Silk Road”). The rail link between Zhengzhou in central China and Hamburg already takes only 18 days, half the time of the sea voyage and saves 80% of the cost compared to air transport (11). It will be a key geostrategic aim of the English-speaking Powers in the coming decade to frustrate this grand design, to block friendly relations between Russia and the EU and ultimately to split up the Russo-Chinese relationship and turn the two countries against each other. Having already encircled Russia and China to a considerable extent with compliant states and military bases in those states, and with its navies constantly patrolling Russian and Chinese waters above and below the surface, and its satellites watching from space, “the West” has many instruments available to it to cause serious trouble for Russia and China. The current economic sanctions against Russia – a modern form of the economic blockades often practised by imperial Britain – and the increasingly recurrent ‘incidents’ in China’s western province of Xinjiang with its restive Muslim majority Uyghur population (12), and in Hong Kong and Taiwan, not to mention repeatedly flaring tensions between China’s neighbours and US allies S.Korea and Japan, are all examples of these ‘instruments’; such means were referred to by Mackinder already in 1904 as a way in which what he called the ‘sea wolves’ (Britain and America) could put pressure on  the otherwise inaccessible ‘land wolves’, such as Russia. Needless to say, there is a terrible possibility that these geostrategic power plays might result, as in 1914, in a major conflagration, which, given the size of the states involved and their nuclear arsenals, is a dreadful prospect.

The Key

The key to averting this very possible catastrophe also happens to be the same key that will avert the prospect of ecological and environmental devastation in this century. It is a fundamental change in our economic system, a system that both the Chinese and the Russians have been busy copying from the West since 1979 and 1991 respectively. Our current system requires economic competition as the basis of both domestic and international trade. Since the days of British economist David Ricardo (1772-1823) it has talked about the “comparative economic advantage of nations”; since the 17th century, first in Holland then in Britain and France, it has operated central banks, usually privately owned, that have had a major determinant influence, sometimes highly negative, on a nation’s economic activity. It is now widely recognised, for example, that the actions of the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England played a major, if not the major role in bringing about the Great Crash of 1929 and the subsequent Depression of the 1930s which preceded the Second World War.(13) The West’s economic system has also been driven since the 1920s by a PR and advertising industry dedicated to getting people, by various devious psychological means,  to buy things and services that they do not actually need and thus to fuelling the excessive  consumption and excess production that is at the root of our environmental problems. This western economic system, driven by unscrupulous financial manoeuvrings and deceptions, hit the buffers in a big way in the Crash of 2007-2008, but since then, there has been no fundamental change. Apart from tinkering with a few banking regulations here and there, it has been a case of tightening the people’s belts through enforced ‘austerity programmes’, but the banks have tended to move back to business as usual; even the much-criticised bankers’ bonuses have failed to disappear. The reason for all this is that the West’s economic system is run according to a basic programme of political economy that was largely consolidated in the late 18th century to suit the circumstances and mentality of that era and it has remained unchanged in its fundamentals. It consisted of shareholder trading, central banking, the notion that labour could be paid for, the private ownership of land, Free Trade, and above all, the enforcement of national or private economic advantage by the State through wars and other military operations. All of this in turn was predicated on the economic liberty of the individual and his self-interest, seen as natural and necessary for the growth of profit and thus of inevitable, incidental benefit to society. The English-speaking world in particular grew extremely rich through the application of these ideas in the 19th century, but it led inexorably to “blood-swept lands and seas of red”, as it was based on self-assertion and personal and national greed. However, since then, there has been little incentive in English-speaking countries to alter it. There has been no understanding, for example, of how the principle of liberty actually relates to equality and fraternity in the life of the individual and society and how in particular, fraternity, or cooperation in the economic use of the natural world is the actual basis for economic life –people in a modern economy need to cooperate in order to produce anything; that basis cannot be individual liberty (seen as ‘absence of external restraint’ in the English-speaking world) which, without a moral or ethical underpinning willing upheld by the individual, leads inevitably to greed, corruption and exploitation both of the natural environment and of human beings.

With the publication of his book Riddles of the Soul during the First World War (1917), Steiner related the three activities of the human inner life – thinking, feeling and willing to the three systems of human physiology (nerve-sense system, the circulatory system of heart and lungs, the metabolic and limb system). Over the next two years, in his work with the movement for a threefold social organism, he extended this correlation to the three spheres of social life, which he described in his book Die Kernpunkte der Sozialen Frage (mostly recently published in English as Towards Social Renewal, 1999). He completed his description of the threefold nature of the human being and of human society by showing how individual liberty properly belongs in the cultural/spiritual sphere of society, equality in the political/legal sphere and fraternity in the economic sphere. And just as our three physiological systems have to be kept separate so as not to disturb each other’s effective activity and yet are interrelated, so it is with society: the cultural, political/legal and economic spheres ought not to be allowed to interfere with each other, though they should yet ‘inform’ and support each other by their activities.(14) This was not an abstract idea that Steiner just dreamed up in his study; he insisted that this threefold separation was something that had been seeking to come about in human social for many centuries, first in the emancipation of the political/legal life from the cultural/spiritual life (this took place in the Greco-Roman period 8th cent. BC to 15th cent. AD) and now (since the 15th cent.) in the emancipation of the economic life from the political/legal life. The State ought not therefore to seek to control the economic life, as it has no competence or experience in that area. But this emancipation of the economic life from political control by the State is by no means complete yet so we still see this principle contravened; we see our politicians pretending to be captains on the bridge of the good ship Economy.  Similarly, businessmen ought not to interfere with affairs of State by lobbying or buying influence in Parliament or seeking to borrow the State’s military arm to advance their interests; lawyers ought not to be private businessmen and instead should make their services equally available to all, irrespective of their clients’ ability to pay – but these principles too are all too frequently contravened, again because too few people have internalised a picture of themselves as threefold beings in spirit, soul and body. Too many lawyers, for example, do not realise that the actual nature of the political and legal organism of society is bound up intrinsically with equality and therefore should have nothing to do with payment by clients. Access to quality legal representation ought to be a legal right. One talks of equal rights but does not practise them in law when only the rich get the best legal representation. The State ought not to interfere with the free cultural life in scientific research, or in the arts, education or religion, but does so all the time. In Britain we even have an Established Church which has its own ‘Pope’ in the Head of State! In a rational economy, unlike our ever-expanding, cancerous present arrangements, consumption would be driven by the actual needs of consumers, scientifically assessed by local, regional, national and international consumers’ groups, and not by a manipulative advertising industry (a debauched form of artistic activity) spending billions on persuading us to buy what we don’t need and billions more on electric light to make its deceptions known at night or even during the day. Our ‘modern’ western societies are in short a confused inheritance from previous centuries, in which the three organisms are continually interfering with each other and preventing healthy functioning. Above all, the State is regarded, even in so-called capitalist democratic societies as the captain on the bridge in all things. This has especially been the case since the First World War when for the first time, western societies experienced a level of centralised organisation in almost all aspects of society – for the sake of the war effort – that they had never before witnessed.

Today, for the Indians and Chinese (the two states account for over 2 billion people!), a modern PR and advertising industry is an indispensable part of a ‘modern’ economy – they have ‘learned’ that from us in the West, and are replicating it, along with the peoples of other developing countries. The cancer will thus spread, over-production will spread, environmental degradation will spread, and the result will eventually be – as it always has been – war, because the basis of this confused global economy is national and personal greed and selfishness, the values of the competing egos of 18th and 19th century nation states, instead of global economic cooperation in the 21st. The problem is not population growth per se; the problem is our form of economic life and specifically the cultural and social ideas and habits that drive it. Some would say the Cold War was the Third World War. If we wish to avoid a Fourth World War, which would be a very ‘hot’ world war, if we wish to see no more, or at least fewer, “blood swept lands and seas of red”, then the West needs to offer to the world ‘a Christmas present’, that is, something that brings light into the current midwinter darkness of our economic practice. That something is a baby idea which is also a very Big Idea in that out of it a great tree can grow. It is in fact the ‘Big Idea’ of the 21st century, based on the threefold understanding of the human being as a being of spirit, soul and body and of society as a threefold social organism. Rudolf Steiner explained this almost 100 years ago, but that does not make it out of date because it has to do with the fundamental nature of the human being and of the need for our social arrangements to be based on that fundamental nature. Steiner’s threefold social initiative could not succeed in 1917-1922; there was too little understanding of it and too much fear and chaos in the confusion of the post-war years. Steiner apparently said then that the time for it would have to wait until the beginning of the coming century (2000)  when “a window in the spiritual world would again open to make it possible”. (15)

In this new century we have now suffered our way as a culture to the present parlous situation in which mainstream society knows from experience that, despite all its technological wonders, it has no new creative macro-social ideas. Post-2008, it has been vainly seeking to do what was done in the 1920s – return to the status quo ante – the conditions before the crisis, while hoping forlornly that technology might somehow save us. A technological panacea was the hope too, at the end of the last century in the late 1990s, when the much-hyped “turbo-capitalism” – an ever-expanding global capitalism driven by the Internet which, it was believed by the pundits, would break the boom-bust cycle – was seen in the English-speaking world as the great solution. Then came two more wars (Afghanistan and Iraq), literally trillions of dollars wasted (16) and trillions more spent in consumption and then -  the Crash of ’08. This will be the future – ever worse wars and economic crashes – until we in the West, who initiated the present cancerous form of social and economic life, grasp the key which is the Threefold Idea of Man and Society, seek to realise it and present it to mankind. The time for us to grasp it will soon be here again.


(1) F. Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy at: works/1886ludwig-feuerbach/ch01.htm#013
(3) The full text of Kidd’s Science of Power can be read here:
(4) See my articles in  New View, 71 April-June 2014, New View 72,  July-September 2014, New View 73, October-December 2014
(5) It was argued  by Dr. Michael K. Jones (Channel 4 TV documentary, 3 Jan. 2004)  that King Edward IV (1461-83) was born illegitimate, and if this were so, it would disqualify all monarchs descended from him from the rightful succession.
 (6) Sir Alfred, Lord Milner  (1854-1925), High Commissioner in South Africa 1897-1901, Minister without Portfolio 1916-1918, Secretary of State for War 1918-1919, Secretary of State for the Colonies 1919-1921; Reginald Brett, Lord Esher (1852-1930), Permanent Secretary to the Office of Works, Deputy Governor and Constable of Windsor Castle, close personal advisor to King Edward VII; Sir Arthur (later Earl) Balfour (1848-1930), Prime MInister 1902-1905, Foreign Secretary 1916-1919.
(7) France lost Alsace and Lorraine to Germany in 1871 following her declaration of war on Prussia which started the Franco-Prussian War 1870-71. The largely German-speaking Alsace had been taken by Louis XIV in 1648 and Strasbourg was seized by Louis in 1681.
(8) See New View 71 and 73, n.3 above.
(9) See Prof. G.G. Preparata, The Incubation of Nazism
and his book Conjuring Hitler – How Britain and America Made the Third Reich (2005)
(10) The illegal coup in Kiev, 23 Feb.2014 which ousted the democratically elected President Yanukovych and the Islamist terrorist attacks on the central railway station in Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad and thus a powerful symbol of the defence of “Mother Russia”) on 29-30 Dec. 2013.
(12) The Chinese authorities have resettled ever more Han Chinese into the region, causing growing resentment among the Muslim Uyghurs; the ethnic balance is now about 40% Han Chinese and 45% Uyghurs.
(13) See Preparata, Conjuring Hitler (2005)
(14) For a more detailed exposition, see Ilya Ehrenburg, The Genesis and Understanding of the Threefold Social Order in New View 73, Oct.-Dec. 2014, and Johannes Rohen, Functional Threefoldness in the Human Organism and Human Society (2011)
(15) Reported by Waldorf teacher Clara Michels in the 1930s, in Heinz Herbert Schöffler, Rudolf Steiner’s Millennium Prophecies, (1999)
(16) On 10 Sept. 2001, Donald Rumsfeld announced that the Pentagon was unable to account for US $2.3 trillion. This news disappeared in the uproar that followed the devastating attacks of the following day. The costs of the Afghan and Iraq wars to the USA alone is estimated at US $4 – 6 trillion: