Each a Particular Person

Each a Particular Person

24 May 2023 Hans-Christian Zehnter 184 views

Wars are related to the fact that we think in terms of nations. A nation-based way of thinking is invested in the negation of the individual and the recruitment of the masses. But what can overcome the ‘folk-spirit age’ today? The spirit of individual selfhood can to lead people to humanity.


The standard of ethics in the 21st century is the individual, the human being – not the crowd. The mass of soldiers, an army, is a mis-measurement and a disregard for the individual. In the First World War, recruitment numbers were driven up. The Entente fielded nearly 42 million soldiers and the Central Powers nearly 24.5 million. At the end of this First World War, there were 17 million dead. At the front, it was the masses that counted. Personalities loved at home died like flies amidst the fate of the anonymous soldier. The place of the individual is the comprehensible social community. In the past this was the family, today perhaps it is still the ‘home’: the living environment in which I try to live out my destiny, with my job, partner, children, hobby, and garden. In this community I become an individual because of the others. Their recognition takes me out of the anonymity of the mass of people. In this community, anonymous soldiers became missing persons.

At the front, they were one of an unimaginable number who had to be replaced as soon as possible by someone who had moved up. In the community at home, they left a gaping hole that could no longer be filled; irreplaceable. This gap must take hold of us through and through as a whole human being, must go to our hearts – only then will we do justice to this individual, irreplaceable gap, and also to an ethics of the individual.

This excerpt comes from an article originally published in the (online exclusive) English Edition of the weekly Newsletter ‹Das Goetheanum›. You can read the full article on the website of ‹Das Goetheanum›.

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Cover photo The white graves of fallen soldiers in World War I (1914-18) at a Belgian military cemetery in West Flanders.
Photo: CC0 Public Domain.