Ideas of Freedom – Britain and Japan

 a lecture given at the Asia-Pacific Conference of the Anthroposophical Society,
Fujisanroku Yamanomura Conference Centre, Mt Fuji, Japan, November 2000

                                                           by Terry Boardman

Freedom and the English-speaking Individual:
1. The concept of freedom or liberty in the English-speaking world
2. Appropriate and inappropriate concepts for the  21st century

Freedom and Folk Spirits -  Britain & Japan:
3.  3 Temptations & Right Choices
4.  3 Gifts

5.  What can we do to resist the 3 temptations and transform the 3 gifts?

I’d like to speak about two different things – the concept of individual freedom in the English-speaking world and its international consequences; secondly, the idea of “national freedom” in Britain and Japan.

The main point of the 1st part of this lecture is that the concept of individual freedom that has arisen in the British Isles bears a particular relation both to Time (namely, it arose in the 5th Post-Atlantean epoch 1413-3573, specifically between the 14th and 19th centuries, known in Christian esotericism as the Age of Gabriel) and to Space (in its reflection of the British island mentality) The idea of freedom that has emerged in the English-speaking world, especially in the USA, (which though obviously a more cosmopolitan country than Britain,  has English as its language and most of its historical roots in Britain) is now spreading all over the world – many in the English-speaking world like to call it ‘liberty’ -  but this particular form or conception of freedom is  the egocentric freedom of the teenager, as can be seen, for example, in the  US cult of youth in media. This kind of freedom needs to be progressed beyond in order that individuals can pass from egocentric isolation to a new  conscience-based community. This does not require the annihilation of the individual or of individualism as many claim who have been influenced by Eastern philosophies or western totalitarian thinking of a communist or fascist nature. The new community will be one of freely associating individualities, not ciphers or egoless zombies. The antidote to the obsession with the egocentric freedom or ‘liberty’ of English-speaking culture lies in English-speaking culture itself.

The main point of the 2nd part of the lecture has to do, not with the freedom of the individual, but with the ‘freedom’ of folk spirits (beings of archangelic rank) to serve Christ – a freedom they can gain only if enough human beings in the communities guided by the folk spirits realise freedom within their own souls.  The people of Japan need to find their  own way to do this, free of all outer and inner compulsions – from China, America, or from xenophobic compulsions arising from fear, insecurity, or pride within the ideas of conservative and racist-minded members of the Japanese people.

The concept of freedom or liberty in the English-speaking world
There is, according to the anthroposopher and pupil of Rudolf Steiner, Walter Johannes Stein, a special destiny between Britain and India (1). Stein drew attention to 2 aspects of Consciousness Soul – that aspect of it which is inclined to the  spiritual and that which tends towards interest in the material plane.  India was the land in which flowered the 1st Post-Atlantean culture (the Age of Cancer, the Crab) that followed the end of Atlantis and the Great Flood. As such, it planted the first seeds of inclination towards developing an earthly material life, whilst at the same time being unable to overcome a wistful nostalgia for the spiritual life of the Atlantean age. This is connected with the fact that the Zodiac sign of Cancer is known in esotericism as the sign of the philosophical mood of materialism(2). India’s destiny has always been deeply bound up with the human response to materialism. India lies between Europe and East Asia and  European  languages are Indo-European in origin and have Sanskrit roots.

The English word “free-dom” comes from  freo (Anglo-Saxon) and ultimately,  from priya (Sanskrit) meaning ‘beloved’, and -dom  (in Anglo-Saxon dom means  judgment, power, jurisdiction, office, condition). It is related to the modern German suffix -tum and to the word ‘doom’, which means fate, destiny, judgment.  Freedom thus means ‘the power of (what is) beloved’, ‘the condition of love’ bestowed by the judgment or destiny-forming power (doom) of the spiritual world. Doom is like the word ghost (cf Geist in German – spirit) in English in that it has become ‘dark’, but was not originally so. These words have ‘fallen’ in modern English – so has the word freedom, which today tends to mean merely ‘absence of restraint’ -  freedom from restraint.

This freedom from restraint was the creed of the hippy generation of the 1960s who were reacting to the stifling  restrictions on personal freedom that were still hanging around, wraithlike, from bygone ages.  However, there is another side to this : freedom from what restraints? The restraints of dead husk-like belief and authority structures (e.g. the mediaeval habits of  Oxford and Cambridge universities, of the Church of England, of elite private  schools, of ‘the Establishment’ in general. All this represents  old Asian and Egyptian knowledge, hierarchical forms and customs preserved by the Roman Empire and the Papacy, carried over into medieval Europe and adopted by the bourgeois merchant and professional classes in the Victorian values of the 19th century. Against all this the 60s generation  reacted strongly with their calls for ‘freedom’; it was at first, especially in the early 1960s, a  reactive urge to ‘freedom’ – a reaction against something.

Then from about 1966 onwards, came an active  search for freedom, typified, for example, by the title of one of the songs of  the British rock supergroup Blind Faith in 1969 -  “Do what you like”.  This seems at first glance similar to the idea of acting out of  love for one’s own actions (as urged by Rudolf Steiner in his seminal philosophical work “The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity” 1894). However, it can also mean ‘do what you fancy’, do whatever occurs to you without reflecting on it, as in the Nike company slogan “Just Do It” or in  Luke Rhineheart’s hippy novel “The Diceman”, which was based on the Chinese divinatory philosophy of the  I Ching (ancient  Asian knowledge again, but this time from further East). Whenever he was faced with a choice, Rhineheart’s protagonist cast the dice. The choice was between two  ideas that occurred to him at that time. Where did they come from? he did not ask. His concern was not: where do these ideas come from, or which do I love, but rather, which of them shall I do ? He abstained from deciding himself, and abstained from loving. Rather, he followed what he thought was the will of ‘God’ (i.e. the dice) or Chance.

In this way, the search for freedom in the West  comes full circle – there is an abdication of responsibility, either in the direction of ancient Asian spirituality or of a western techno-future in which, for example, the British government spends tens of millions on CCTV spy cameras in towns and villages up and down the country in a vain attempt to control street crime (there are more CCTV spy cameras in Britain than in any other country in the world) or when social scientists and sociobiologists in the West (especially the English-speaking West) overemphasise the role of genetics in accounting for human behaviour – the scope for the exercise of individual ‘free’ choice is further and further diminished. Totalitarianism too was  a western invention, a failed response to the challenge of individual freedom. When it came to talk of rights and responsibilities, the  hippies stressed the former. The West, and especially the English-speaking western countries have become a social laboratory in freedom and licence. Today, a sense of social responsibilities is finally emerging – to love what one has freely taken on, in for example, the  Green movement, the debt-forgiveness movement, and the counselling movement. However, political totalitarianism  has not only developed in the English-speaking world. What then is peculiar to the English-speaking world’s concept of freedom?

In the 17th-18th centuries (the Age ascribed in Christian esotericism to the Time Spirit Archangel Gabriel 1525-1879) , when England rose to world dominance, what was the predominant philosophy in the English-speaking world? It was so-called ‘rational empiricism’, the essentially secular and doubt-laden sceptical and cynical philosophies of Hobbes, Locke, and Hume. Even the more optimistic ideas of JS Mill in the 19th century were built on this philosophical infrastructure. The language of this very conference here at Mt Fuji is English  because of what happened in that era, notably the creation of the British Empire (and of the United States, which emerged from the Empire) and the revolutions in thought (scientific, commercial, industrial, and financial) that issued from Britain and were overwhelmingly directed at penetrating the material, not the spiritual world. This is not a value judgment; it is simply a fact. British culture in the 16th-19th centuries put most of its energies into understanding and exploiting the material world.  This is the gesture of the teenage years 16-19 in the life of the individual human being.

Why is this form of freedom inappropriate in the 21st century ?
To answer this question, it is necessary to keep in mind the new historical rhythm that entered human development with the birth of Jesus and the thirty-three and a third year life of Jesus Christ. One of Rudolf Steiner’s  contributions to the understanding of history was his observation  that after 33 years, all  historical events, good or bad, of a non-personal nature are ‘resurrected’; one sees the consequences of what occurred 33 years before. 3 times  thirty-three and a third is one century(3). I do not have time now to elaborate this in detail, but if one considers a century in the life of ‘christened’ humanity (i.e. humanity in the christian era) to be equivalent to a year in the life of a human being, and that there are close parallels in the developmental stages undergone by humanity and the individual being, then one can think that the 16th to the 19th centuries correspond to the ages 16-19 in the life of a human being. It was in this ‘teenage’ period of human history that the egocentric concept of freedom developed in the West and especially in the English-speaking world.

What then would be a modern form of freedom for the 21st century? It would be one based on   love, conscience, and interest in others to replace both the ancient concept of duty (as in the notion of serving the British Empire and the elite private school ethos of the 19th century) as well as the more recent concept of egocentric liberty. What is the nature of thinking of someone in their 21st year and how does it differ from that of someone in their 17th,  18th or even 19th years? This, I believe,  is a key question for the future of our understanding of the developing nature of freedom and of humanity. When  I was a boy I felt History was the greatest subject because it is the study of Time – the house in which all  events take place. Thus I have come to feel all human thoughts must be seen  against the background of their historical context – including those which appear to be ‘out of context’, such as, for example those of a Leonardo da Vinci. The historical context is one of development. To discuss, for example, the question of freedom and determinism in the abstract, apart from this context, as many philosophers do, ranging from the ancient Greeks to modern times, is vain. Rudolf Steiner’s  “Philosophy of Spiritual Activity” is not a discussion of this type but one which confronts  the existential crisis of late C19th materialism and regards freedom within that context(4). This does not mean that Steiner’s observations on the nature of modern freedom are only relevant to the 1890s and no longer relevant in the age of the Internet. Steiner lived as the 21st century was approaching. He looked ahead and pointed to the new age of Man that would come with mankind’s 21st birthday, Man’s coming of age at 21. The following decade of mankind’s 20s (the 21st to the 28th centuries) would be conditioned by the arrival or non-arrival – birth or abortion – of Man’s Ego at 21. The freedom Steiner was writing about in that book in 1894, although a refutation of western materialist thinking since Kant, was at the same time a description of the new idea of the freedom that would be appropriate to the decades of Mankind’s 20s, at least until the age of 28 (the 28th century).

“And the Truth shall set you free” ( John 8:32)  In this chapter of the New Testament, Christ deals with the woman taken in adultery – the key is inner conscience.  This is where true freedom lies – within: what each person chooses to think. Later, Christ relates freedom to truth. What we see in post-Resurrection humanity is the spiritual growth of humanity into conscience, the feeling for the individual’s inner experience of truth – the inner experience of what is right.

Freedom and Folk Spirits: Britain and Japan
But in this cosmopolitan Age of Michael (1879-2233) we must not ignore the archangelic Folk Spirits and the human communities of Folk Souls. We as individuals are spirits who have chosen to incarnate into a certain culture in order to learn something for our personal development, which that culture – which means that Folk Spirit (guiding archangel) -  can teach us. The Folk Spirits have helped us in our individual development; they have played their part in educating us. We can help them to develop also. Since 1900, the spiritual concept of the individuality of nations and ethnic groups has been under increasing threat from two directions: from an older nationalistic reaction to globalisation, a reaction that may be either totalitarian, as in Nazism and Fascism, or else one of a more conservative and traditional nature (cf the Chinese writer Lin Yu Tang’s view of nationality in the 1930s(5)); what these reactions have in common is that they are essentially materialistic, even if they claim to be ‘spiritual’, a word the Nazis and Fascists often used about their movements. They are materialistic because they reject the unity of the spiritual world and of the brotherhood of Man; instead they focus on material factors such as ‘race’, ‘skin colour’, ‘blood and soil’. The second main threat to folk cultures and to the the spiritual concept of the individuality of nations and ethnic groups is represented by modern capitalist globalisation with its ethos of secular, atheistic and materialistic Me-First hedonism. Many liberal and progressive-minded people, obsessed with what they feel to be the brotherhood of Man, urgently seek to sweep away the nation state and all feelings and manifestations of ethnic community in the name of individual freedom and global harmony, gathered under the banner of the United Nations. Ignorant of the western elitist agenda behind the founding and management of the United Nations, and believing themselves to be planetary citizens, they condemn as obscurantists all those who would preserve traditional cultures. Yet esoteric knowledge teaches that as human beings in this world, we live together with three ranks of spiritual beings: as individuals we have our own guardian spirits – the Angels. As members of communities we live within the auras of archangelic beings, guiding and guardian spirits of those communities. Finally, as contemporaries within a certain historical era, we live within the activity of the Archai beings, the Time Spirits. In the modern world, we relate increasingly to the individual impulses of the Angels and of the globe-spanning Time Spirits, but we ignore the Archangels at our peril. To do so would mean loss of ethnic self-knowledge and of communal history itself. Ignorant of its own memory, destiny and character, a community can make terrible historical errors of judgment that can have severely damaging repercussions for the individuals that compose it.

Britain & Japan: 3 Temptations & Right Choices
Britain and Japan are the  twin Eurasian islands, the twin pillars of the vast Eurasian continent – opposite poles (as is revealed also in the gestures, respectively contractive and expansive, of their  national flags, the Rising Sun disc of Japan and the Cross of St George). Both represent insularity and independence in their respective geographical areas: England resisted domination by continental Eueopan powers; Japan resisted domination by China, the traditional superpower of East Asia.

Both Britain and Japan can be said to face  3 temptations. The first temptation is  to think (luciferically) that they are “better” than the Continent.  Britain has a   tendency to look down on Europe as ‘backward’. The early 17th century poet John Donne gave the English an  antidote to this; he wrote: “No man is an island”, and  Shakespeare’s Prospero returns to the mainland, at the end of “The Tempest”, from his island, to which he had been exiled. England fought its 100 years’ (1337-c1450) war against its regional rival France; Japan fought a 50 year war against what it perceived to be its regional rivals China and the USA (1894-1945). Japan represents the principle of egocentric “freedom” and independence in Asia. In the 9th century the Emperor of China haughtily demanded submission from the  Japanese Emperor and received the bold reply : “From the Lord of the Rising Sun to the Lord of the Setting Sun, greetings.” How Japanese are regarded in Asia has certain similarities to how English are regarded in Europe – as very polite but cold fish, a race apart, with a hard streak. It is surely not an accident that Japan’s destiny has led it to Anglo-America. Will Adams of England was, in 1600, the first English-speaker to establish himself in Japan. The English, unable to do suitable profitable business in Japan, left in 1623. They then founded a new nation in North America which became the United States. 230 years after the English left Japan, unable to make a profit, their progeny, the United States, forced Japan to open its doors to the West in 1853 -  in order to make a much bigger profit.

The second temptation is to  become willing US vassals and vessels. Both  Britain and Japan have a strong relationship to America: Britain as ‘the parent’ of America, now as colony, key political and economic ally, in future possibly as part of America (if the British opt to join  first NAFTA and then a Free Trade Area of the Americas -  FTAA). Britain, with its history of 2000 years, may be taken over by a historical stripling of 200 years – its own offspring and former colony. (this can be called a “vertical” relationship; the one nation gives birth to another)

The third temptation is to become vassals of the Continent. Britain is currently faced with the choice between on the one hand, America (a choice which for Britain would represent a false, ahrimanic future, a materialistic cleaving to an illusory ‘kith and kin’), and on the other,  a centralised European superstate (the drive to which has been guided by elites dreaming luciferically of a revival of European greatness on the world stage). The right choice for Britain is between  these two – to be part of a European confederation or association of states, mediating the US to Europe and vice versa. Although a member of  the more individualistic western part of Europe, Britain very much shares in a common European heritage which is not only individualistic (western) but also has strong collective (eastern) traditions too which go back to the mediaeval guilds, and radical church traditions, not to mention the more dubious collectivities of the class system itself. By respecting both these traditions, Britain can remain free and true to itself. This is the ethnic, communal, national self-knowledge of memory and destiny – the communion with the ongoing Folk Spirit that I referred to earlier, and also here lies the possibility of a fateful wrong choice if that self-knowledge is bypassed. To avoid making that mistake  would mean looking at the whole 2000 year span of British history and not just the last 500 years since Henry VIII or Elizabeth I.

Japan was opened, “initiated” into modern world by USA; it was the first East Asian country to be so, yet at the same time, it was  the East Asian country that defended its independence the most militantly. It was “tutored” by Britain till 1921, notably in the Anglo-Japanese Alliance 1902-21, abandoned at the Washington Conference where the Anglo-Japanese alliance was tamely given up under US pressure, and then pummelled by the USA in 1941-45. The Pacific War and the A-bombs of 1945 signify  phenomena of such deep karmic profundity for Japan (in terms of what transpired between the USA and Japan) we have  hardly begun to fathom them. Since 1945, Japan too has been a colony, a key political and economic ally of the USA. Japan too faces choice in the 21st century: to join with East Asia (i.e. a dominant China; a move back to the continental “roots”, another version of the kith and kin argument) or to cleave to the USA as a colony and ever more controlled puppet (this choice is reflected in the ASEAN vs APEC debate). The US-Japan relationship is a “horizontal” relationship – the two “allies” are polar opposites: Japanese “purity”, or relative cultural homogeneity  vs the messy pluralism of the USA  – the most ancient kind of community vs the most recent kind. As in the case of Britain, the right choice for Japan is between the two – part of a loose East Asian confederation (a mainly economic grouping) mediating the US to East Asia and vice versa.

In these two ways  – through national self-knowledge – Britain and Japan in the 21st century could find their true roles – not submitting to the temptations to retreat into a proud and huffy island fortress mentality, and not allowing themselves to be subsumed either by a continental superstate or by the USA. Both “returning” in a sense to their continental roots from which they’ve drawn so much, and cooperating with the continent in free association – after all, Britain and Japan do belong to Europe and East Asia -  and remaining open to the world beyond the ocean.

Three Gifts
Since the late C16th the small island of Britain has expanded itself out into the world. From its “teenage”  experience in the 17th-19th centuries, Britain has given out to the world 3 “gifts” which now – at the age of  21 -  need to be jettisoned. In each one of these gifts, freedom – in the sense of the freedom of the spirit to think for itself -  has been warped and distorted: the free market, in which economics is wrongly guided by the principle of individual liberty, and workers become mere disposable wage slaves; party politics, a crass form of political tribalism, in which the individual is expected to submit to the will of the party leaders;  neo-Darwinism, in which the individual spirit is passed over in favour of animalistic explanations of behaviour based on ‘natural necessity’, and evolution – explanations which have produced  the sterile and dualistic nature-nurture debate: the idea that I am either only the product of my parents or my environment, or else only the product of these two and nothing else.

Since the late 16th century and especially since the Black Ships of Commodore Perry arrived in Japan in 1853, the small island archipelago of Japan has taken the world into itself. Japan has also taken in these three British gifts and has blended them with aspects of her own traditional culture in  such a way that they have become particularly pernicious, both for herself and for the world community. The Japanese have married their martial mediaeval culture of viciously competing fiefdoms and samurai familes with the British concept of ‘the free market’ to produce the giant egotisms of Japanese corporations and Transnational corporations. The battles waged by these corporations, their voracious wasting of natural resources and damage to other countries in Asia and elsewhere are bolstered by the philosophical orthodoxy of Darwinism and its later offspring: Social Darwinism, evolutionary biology, sociobiology. Rudfolf Steiner spoke about this marrying of the British and the Japanese elements in a lecture of 15th Jan 1917. After speaking how the British had ushered in the age of the industrial commerical impulse and of the dangers of materialism, he warned:

“it is necessary that a number of people muster the strength to oppose the surging waves of materialism with their deepest personal  being. For something else is going to unite with the materialism that works in the industrial commerical impulse; something coming from other, retarded impulses from the Chinese and Japanese element, particularly the Japanese element, will become increasingly caught up in materialism. Yesterday somebody asked whether the societies working from the West for a particular group did not take into account that the Japanese might follow suit from the East. Indeed, the people who belong to these societies do not regard this as something terrible, for they see it as a support for materialism…what follows suit from Asia will simply be a particular form of materialism. What we must be clear about, at all costs, is that we have to oppose the waves of materialism with all our strength. Every human being is capable of doing this. And the fruits of such efforts will be sure to follow.  (Karma of Untruthfulness  Vol.2 – Rudolf Steiner Press, London 1992, lec 20)

The party political absurdity in Britain has become factional absurdity in Japanese politics, again married with traditional Japanese habits of loyalty and adhesion to a family or institutional group leader. This lack of equality of rights within the party in both countries vis-a-vis the party leadership is matched by a lack of equality of communal rights in the way both countries have treated other communities: little or no ethnic equality in the British Empire or the Japanese wartime  Greater EastAsia Co-Prosperity Sphere (Gandhi protesting racial inequality in British S.Africa; Koreans under Japanese colonial dominion forced to adopt Japanese names).

Within both countries there are stubborn traditional forces militating against equal rights – Parliamentary whips (the elite private  school ethos) in Britain and the rigid family model-based Japanese oyabun-kobun  system of age-ranked seniors and juniors, group leaders and followers; the British class system and the Japanese keigo-kensongo system of  linguistic hierarchy and deference; the genetically-based inequality of the Monarchy in both countries.

Britons are still formally “subjects” (though their passports may say “Citizen”). The kanji characters  for Nipponkoku on the Japanese passport means ‘kingdom’. The British and Japanese monarchies support each other; these two island countries with 2000 years of history are renowned for their adhesion to Monarchy – the enshrinement and legitimation of biological and material inequality. In the British case, this is a reflection of a teenage mentality, not full emancipation from the group. The British failed in the 17th century to emancipate themselves from the shackles of a defunct monarchical and aristocratic polity.

Conclusion: How can the three 3 temptations be resisted and the three gifts transformed?

How can we, as anthroposophers and individuals, help our two countries to resist the three  temptations and transform the 3 gifts?  Darwinism will be transformed only by the spread of understanding of the nature of human thinking and of the human being, the understanding that Darwinism is not some kind of monolithic supra-historical absolute, but a multifarious and very transient stage in human intellectual development, which  needs to be complemented by an understanding of spiritual evolution (Know the Truth and it shall set you free). The guiding economic principle in so-called “Anglo-saxon” business life is that economic agents, and indeed human beings in general, are motivated primarily by self-interest (‘teenage thinking’ again) – Richard Dawkins’ “Selfish Gene” is but another reflection of this atomism. As the  poet Alexander Pope put it in the 18th century:

“Thus God and Nature link’d the gen’ral frame,
And bade Self-love and Social be the same.”

This kind of thinking leads on logically, not only  to the neoliberal Reagan-Thatcher ‘trickle down’ theory of economics of the 1980s, but also to the sacrifice of the interests of workers and consumers in favour of the interests of shareholders, many of whom who tend see the company as a milk cow for their own profits rather than as a way in which they can benefit society as a whole.

Party political inequality and lack of freedom will be transformed by recognition of the equal right of political actors to act out of their free consciences. “No!” must be said to party Yes-men! A new politics must be based on freely associating individual representatives that come together over specific issues, constantly forming and dissolving in accordance with the needs of their electors and the dictates of their own consciences. The dualistic tweedledum versus tweedledee game   that passes for politics in the English-speaking world which likes to boast it has found the best, the most modern model of democracy, should be done away with.

The free market will be transformed by the recognition that fraternity and cooperation, not liberty and competition, (community service  not self-interest) should be the guiding  principle in the economic process. As Rudolf Steiner urged, wage slavery must be eradicated by making wage payment a matter of right not reward. Labour needs to be taken out of the economic process and put in its proper place, which is the sphere of rights.

To justify all this, a new understanding of history and evolution is vital.


1. Walter Johannes Stein, The British – Their Psychology and Destiny
2. Rudolf Steiner, Human Thought and Cosmic Thought, (1914)
3. Rudolf Steiner, Et Incarnatus Est, lecture of 17.12.1917
4. Rudolf Steiner, The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity (1894)
5. See for example, Lin Yu Tang, My Country and My People, and The Importance of Living (London: Heinemann, 1938)

                                                  ©  Terry Boardman  2002

This page was first uploaded 24th March 2002.  Last updated 1.7.2012