Anthroposophy and the social question

The idea of all human development can be expressed in the three questions: Who am I? Where have I come from? Where am I going? The Anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner is set apart from other approaches to the spirit by taking its starting point always from the human being. Whatever subject it considers, Anthroposophy is always at the same time a matter for self—knowledge, and by its very nature it gives assurance that one's flaws and weaknesses will eventually be noticed and put right.

The social question as conceived by Steiner is perhaps the central concern of Anthroposophy: How can people live together so that they can evolve and develop inwardly as well as outwardly? Wherever we 100k at the plight of humanity, now even more so than when Steiner spoke of the social problem after the First World War, the utter failure to find a solution in this sphere is apparent. Steiner linked this to the unfolding of ego—consciousness taking place in our age. Ultimately, it involves not only our own evolution, but the future of the earth itself. Now more than ever before a way forward is urgently needed.

But people can only live together in a more harmonious manner if their possibilities for development are not constrained; if their human capacities are recognized and allowed a measure of fulfillment.

The threefold social idea asserts the separation of the three spheres of society: the cultural spiritual life, which includes science, art, religion and education; the political life of individual rights, which includes the domains of law and equity; and, finally, the economic life which is devoted to our natural needs. Working according to their own distinct principles without interference from the others, they seek to fulfill their own natures and combine with one another through cooperation. Therefore the threefold social order envisioned by Steiner is not a division of the different aspects of society but of an integration of its parts. Each individual is simultaneously a member of all three spheres.

Approaching these three spheres or dimensions of the social order, Steiner states:

The first of the three spheres of the threefold social order aims at a form of cooperation among men to be based entirely on free intercourse and free association between individuals . Here human individuality will not be forced into an institutional mold. How one person assists another, how one helps another advance will simply arise from what one, through his own abilities and accomplishments, is able to be for the other. It is not great wonder that presently many people are still able to imagine nothing but a state of anarchy as a result of such free human relations in the spiritual—cultural branch. Those who think so simply do not know what powers of our inmost nature are stunted when we are forced to develop according to patterns imposed by the state and the -2- economic system [Emphasis added] . Such powers, deep within human nature, cannot be developed by institutions but only through what one being calls forth in perfect freedom from another being. The effect of what arises in this way is not antisocial, but rather deeply social . The socially active inner person is stunted only when instincts originating in the prerogatives of the state or in economic advantage are engrained or handed down.

Through its cultural branch, the threefold social order will uncover perpetual springs of social initiative . These springs will imbue the legal relations that are regulated by the democratic state with a social spirit, and they will spread the same spirit into the conduct of the economic life.

Within the economy, the forms of modern life afford no means of counteracting the antisocial tendency. The whole community is best served when the individual is left unchecked to apply his abilities to the common good. To do this, however, it is necessary that individuals should accumulate capital , and be free to combine with others in utilizing it. The socialists have been deluded in thinking that these masses of ever—accumulating capital could in the end simply be transferred from their private owners to the community, and that thereby a socialist society would necessarily be realized. In reality, the economic productivity of capital would inevitably be lost in such a transference, for this productivity rests upon the private abilities of the individual. One must admit to oneself quite frankly that the economy will have the greatest vitality not when it is deprived of the antisocial element within its own domain, but instead when it is kept supplied from another domain the cultural branch of the social order —— with forces that will constantly correct antisocial tendencies as they arise and convert them back into social ones .

Free spirits acting out of spiritual insight will only be able to take their place in the community insofar as a free spiritual life is able to fertilise the other parts of society.

Steiner recognised that socially responsible motivation could only arise from an independent cultural, political , and economic life. In his essay "Ability to Work, Will to Work, and the Threefold Social Order" he says that only through a living understanding of the real needs of the community and one's place and relationship to it, can a love for work each can offer arise. It is through the free spiritual life that this understanding can develop.

From an independent democratically ordered life of law there would arise the impulses for the will to work for society. According to Steiner:

Real relationships will grow up between people united in a social organism where each adult has a voice in government and is co—equal with every other adult. It is relationships such as these that are able to enkindle the will to work "for the community" . One must reflect that a true communal feeling can grow only from such relationships and that from this feeling, the will to work can grow. For in actual practice the consequence of such a state founded on democratic rights will be that each human being will take his place with vitality and full consciousness in the common field of work. Each will know what he or she is working for; and each will want to work within the working community of which he knows himself a member through his will.

For this to happen rightly, however, a drastic separation of the political from the economic life must take place. Furthermore, the cultural spiritual life must again be independent from these. This idea leads to the conclusion that the national principle or better, the national ideal, belongs essentially to the cultural spiritual life of a people. This national ideal is the expression of a spiritual being of the rank of an archangel, the folk spirit. The true folk spirits seek to work on the principle of inclusion, not exclusion. They would embrace one another as mediators around the universal being of Christ. But this will only happen if enough of their people allow it. The path to the awakening of a universal consciousness is via the landscape of the folk spirits .

Through these few thoughts, a picture is offered of a path for the spiritualisation of our present condition of the consciousness soul. This describes the moment where one can waken from his or her limited and separated individuality to a true communal life in the quickening of the Spirit. Much will depend on whether an all powerful centralising tendency will prevail, or whether a three—fold social consciousness will be able to arise in a sufficient number of human beings to enable this quickening to occur.

By Nelson Willby, February 1994

For more reading on Rudolf Steiner's view of the threefold social order see:

Towards Social Renewal;
The Renewal of the Social Organism; Social Issues, Meditative Thinkinq and the Three—fold Social Order;
The Inner Aspect of the Social Questions;
The Social Future
The Tension between East and West