Freedom of Thought and Societal Forces (CW 333)

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Freedom of Thought and Societal Forces: Implementing the Demands of Modern Society

6 lectures in Ulm, Berlin, and Stuttgart, May 26–December 30, 1919 (CW 333)

Freedom of Thought and Societal Forces offers a broad overview of Steiner’s fresh thinking on what he called the “threefold social order.” He acknowledged that the demand for social change derives above all from the working class, whom industrialization had forced into a kind of indentured life dominated by economics. From Steiner’s perspective, the underlying issue is not just economic, however, but also spiritual or cultural—culture and the cultured classes have become estranged from real life. Society needed a “free” culture that includes all classes. It also needs to shift labor into the legal sphere of rights, the only place where workers can find real freedom in society. Capital, too, needs to be liberated from egotism and allowed, like goods, to circulate freely. Above all, Steiner understood that social realities cannot be separated from the spiritual realities of human existence.

From this perspective, we lack knowledge of ourselves as spiritual beings, and thinking has become abstract. To remedy this, we must first acknowledge it and then develop modesty and humility. Next we must increase our capacity to love one another and the world. Approaching this reality from another side, we see that what ordinary individual thinking afflicts culture in general, which becomes removed from reality. Culture, like thinking, must become alive and universally human. This is impossible, however, unless we develop what Steiner calls “freedom of thought.” Authentic freedom of thought is always ethical and overcomes egotism. Indeed, a more general exercise of freedom in thought, as Steiner conceives it, provides a way through the twin dangers of materialism and abstraction—that is, through ahrimanic and luciferic worldviews—which together threaten society in both the narrow sense through nationalism and globally through geopolitics.


Introduction by Christopher Bamford

  1. The Threefold Aspect of the Societal and Class Question (Ulm, May 26, 1919): Intellectual knowledge as the servant of the state. The call for human rights. Limitation of the economy by natural resources on one side and the sphere of rights on the other. Practical implications of insights into what our society needs. Concluding remarks.
  2. Insight into the Supersensible Human Being and the Task of our Time (Ulm, July 22, 1919): Developing body-free thinking. The mystery of individual human connections. Humanity faces a choice between social chaos and freedom of spirit
  3. Realizing the Ideals of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity through Social Threefolding (Berlin, September 15, 1919): The actual background of socialist theories. Nationalizing the economy fails to solve social problems. Goetheanism as the counter pole to Americanism.
  4. Spiritual Science, Freedom of Thought, and Societal Forces (Stuttgart, December 19, 1919): The Goetheanum as an artistic expression of spiritual-scientific sensibilities. The limitations of natural scientific thinking. The cause of the disconnect between faith and knowledge. The real task of the German people.
  5. The Assets and Liabilities of World Cultures (Stuttgart, December 27, 1919): Nietzsche on the extirpation of the German spirit. David Friedrich Strauss rejects empty religious phrases. The decadent spiritual culture of the East and the mechanistic element in Western civilization. Hamerling’s homunculus as the typical soulless egotist. The new way to the Christ.
  6. Spirit-Cognition as a Basis for Action (Stuttgart, December 30, 1919): The future task of Goethean science and the Goethean worldview. The historical foundations of intellectuality and the lost perception of the essential nature of the human being. Human intentions and actions need an infusion of spirit.

Freedom of Thought and Societal Forces is the first English translation from German of «Gedankenfreiheit und soziale Kräfte» (GA 333).

About the Author

Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925) was born in the small village of Kraljevec, Austro-Hungarian Empire (now in Croatia), where he grew up (see right). As a young man, he lived in Weimar and Berlin, where he became a well-published scientific, literary, and philosophical scholar, known especially for his work with Goethe’s scientific writings. At the beginning of the twentieth century, he began to develop his early philosophical principles into an approach to systematic research into psychological and spiritual phenomena. Formally beginning his spiritual teaching career under the auspices of the Theosophical Society, Steiner came to use the term Anthroposophy (and spiritual science) for his philosophy, spiritual research, and findings. The influence of Steiner’s multifaceted genius has led to innovative and holistic approaches in medicine, various therapies, philosophy, religious renewal, Waldorf education, education for special needs, threefold economics, biodynamic agriculture, Goethean science, architecture, and the arts of drama, speech, and eurythmy. In 1924, Rudolf Steiner founded the General Anthroposophical Society, which today has branches throughout the world. He died in Dornach, Switzerland.

Christopher Bamford is Editor in Chief for SteinerBooks and its imprints. A Fellow of the Lindisfarne Association, he has lectured, taught, and written widely on Western spiritual and esoteric traditions. He is the author of The Voice of the Eagle: The Heart of Celtic Christianity (1990) and An Endless Trace: The Passionate Pursuit of Wisdom in the West (2003). He has also translated and edited numerous books, including Celtic Christianity: Ecology and Holiness (1982); Homage to Pythagoras: Rediscovering Sacred Science; and The Noble Traveller: The Life and Writings of O. V. de L. Milosz (all published by Lindisfarne Books). HarperSanFrancisco included an essay by Mr. Bamford in its anthology Best Spiritual Writing 2000.

Additional information

Weight 17 oz
Dimensions 6 × 0.75 × 9 in


Catherine E. Creeger


Christopher Bamford






November 2008






CW 333


Steiner Books

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