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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Renewal of the Social Organism
GA 24

Twenty Articles from the Newspaper The Threefold Social Order

3. Marxism and the Threefold Social Order

It will be impossible to free ourselves from the snares of social confusion in which Europe is caught if particular social demands continue to be advocated with the lack of clarity that currently distorts them. Such a demand, one that exists in wide circles, is expressed by Friedrich Engels in his book The Evolution of Socialism from Utopia to Science: “The management of goods and control of the means of production takes the place of the governing of persons.” The view in which this sentence originates forms the creed of many leaders of the proletariat and the mass of the working classes themselves. From a certain perspective, this is correct. The human relationships that gave rise to the modern national state have formed administrative bodies that regulated not only things and modes of production, but also the human beings engaged in them. The management of things and modes of production constitutes economics. In modern times, the economic life has assumed forms such that it has become imperative that its administration no longer govern persons. Marx and Engels perceived this. They directed their attention to the way in which capital and labor power work within the economic cycle. They felt that modern humanity was striving to outgrow the form these workings had assumed, for it is a form in which capital has become a means of exerting power over human labor. Capital not only serves as a means for the management of things and the control of production; it lays down the guidelines for the governing of human beings. Thus Marx and Engels concluded that this governance of persons must be removed from the cycle of economic processes. They were right: modern life does not permit people to be regarded merely as appendages of things and processes of production, or to be managed as part of their management.

However, Marx and Engels believed that the matter could be settled simply by eliminating governance of persons from the economic process and allowing the new, purified economic management, having disentangled itself from the state, to carry on. They did not see that in the old governing there resided something that regulated human relations — relations that cannot remain unregulated and that also do not regulate themselves when they no longer are regulated by the demands of economic life in the old fashion. Neither did they see that within capital was the source of the forces that managed goods and controlled branches of production. It is by way of capital that the human spirit directs economic life. Yet in managing goods and controlling branches of production one still does nothing to nurture the human spirit, which is created ever anew, and must continually bring new impulses to the economy if economic life is not to dry up and degenerate completely.

What Marx and Engels saw was right — the control of the economy must contain nothing that implies rule over persons themselves, and that the capital that serves the economy must never rule the human spirit directing its course. However, the fatal flaw was that Marx and Engels believed both the human relations previously governed and the direction of the economy by the human spirit would still be able to go on of themselves when they no longer proceeded from the administration of the economy.

The purification of economic life — its restriction to the management of goods and control of the processes of production — is possible only if there exists besides this economic life something that replaces the previous form of administratration and something else again that makes the human spirit the actual controller of the economy. This demand is met by the idea of the threefold social order. The administration of the spiritual and cultural life, placed on its own footing, will supply the economic life with the human spiritual impulses that can fructify it ever and again, so long as this administration keeps within its own province and controls only goods and lines of production. The sphere of rights, separated from the cultural and economic systems of the social organism, will govern human relations to the extent that democracy allows one mature human being to govern another, while the power that one man gets over another through force of greater individual abilities or through economic means will have no say whatever in this governance.

Marx and Engels were right to demand a new economic order — right, but one-sided. They did not perceive that economic life can only become free when a free sphere of rights and free cultivation of the spirit are allowed to arise along-side it. The forms future economic life must assume can be seen only by those who are clear in their minds that the capitalist-economic orientation must give way to a distinctly spiritual one, and that the governance of human relations through economic power gives way to one that is distinctly human. The demand for an economic life that controls only goods and production can never be fulfilled if advocated only by itself. Anyone who persists in such advocacy is claiming to be able to create an economic life that has cast off what was until now a necessity of its existence, yet is nevertheless supposed to continue to exist.

Living in quite different circumstances (but out of a profound experience of life) Goethe wrote two thoughts that are fully applicable to many modern social demands. The first is: “An inadequate truth works for some time; then, instead of complete enlightenment, suddenly a dazzling falsity steps in. The world is satisfied and centuries are duped.” The second is: “Generalizations and enormous arrogance are ever paving the way to horrible disasters.” Indeed, Marxism untutored by recent events is an “inadequate truth” that nevertheless works on in the proletarian world view. Since the catastrophe of the Great War, in the face of the true demands of the times, it has become a “dazzling falsity” that must be prevented from “duping centuries.” The attempt to prevent it will find favor with anyone who perceives what disaster the proletarian classes are rushing into with their “inadequate truth.” This “inadequate truth” has indeed yielded “generalizations” whose supporters show no small amount of arrogance in rejecting as utopian everything that attempts to replace their utopian generalizations with realities of life.