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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

9. What the "New Spirit" Demands

Judging from the fruitless discussions now going on in many circles over the Works Councils [Betriebsräte], it is plain to see how very little understanding there is of the demands that the historical evolution of humanity has created for the present age and the near future. That democracy and a social form of life represent two impulses struggling to realize themselves within present-day human nature is an insight that has escaped entirely the vast majority of participants in such discussions. Both impulses will continue to cause unrest and destruction in public life until institutions are provided within which they can unfold themselves; but the social impulse that must live in the economic process cannot, because of its essential nature, manifest itself democratically. The aim of this social impulse is that people engaged in economic production should pay attention to the legitimate needs of their fellows. The kind of management that this impulse demands is one that regulates the economic process on the basis of what individuals engaged in it actually do for one another. What they do, however, must be based upon contractual agreements that arise from the economic positions of the individuals concerned. If these contractual agreements are to have a social effect, two things are necessary. First, these agreements must originate as a free initiative of those concerned — an initiative that is based on insight. Second, these individuals must live in an economic body that enables one through such agreements to convey in the best possible way the services of each to the community. The first demand can be fulfilled only when there is no sort of political influence intervening between those working within the economy and their personal relationship to the sources and interests of economic life itself. The second demand will be satisfied when agreements are made not according to the demands of an unregulated market, but rather according to the conditions that result when branches of industry associate with each other and with associations of consumers as dictated by real needs, so that the circulation of goods is managed as these associations see fit. Such associations represent a model for determining how, in each particular case, economic activity should be governed contractually.

There can be no politicking when the economy is run in this way. There is only the competence and skill of each person in some special branch of industry, and the structuring of these to the best possible social advantage. What is done in an economic body of this kind is decided not by counting votes, but by the voice of real needs: it will necessarily concern itself with finding those most competent to perform certain tasks, and then conveying products to the consumers deemed appropriate by the cooperating associations.

However, just as in a natural organism one single organic system would destroy itself through its specific activity if there were no other systems to keep it in balance, so does one function of the social organism need to be kept in balance by another. Work within the economic sphere would, over time, inevitably lead to comparable damage, unless it were counteracted by the political system of laws — that must rest on a democratic basis, just as the economic life cannot. In the sphere of democratic law-making, politicking is appropriate. What is done there works within economic activity to counteract its innate tendency to cause damage. If one were to harness economic life to the administration of the state, one would deprive it of its efficiency and freedom of movement. Those engaged in economic work must receive the law from somewhere outside of economic life, and only apply it in the economic life itself.

It is matters such as this that should be taken up by those who are busy planning Works Councils. Instead, there is a great deal of oration on viewpoints consistent with the old principle of shaping political legislation according to economic interests. That presently there happen to be different groups pursuing this same principle does not change the fact that a new spirit is still lacking today in places where it is already so urgently needed.

Today's circumstances are such that there can be no return to health in public life until a sufficiently large number of people recognize the real social, political and spiritual demands of the times, and have the good will and energy to pass on this vital understanding to others. To the extent that this understanding is spread, the remaining obstacles to social health would disappear. For it is merely a political superstition that these obstacles have any objective existence beyond the reach of human insight; it is an assertion made only by people who can never understand the actual relationship between theory and praxis. They are the people who say, “These idealists have quite excellent, well-meant ideas. However, as matters now stand, these ideas cannot be put in practice.” This is not at all the case; the only obstacle to the practical realization of certain ideas at present are those who hold this belief and have the power to use it as an obstacle. And such power is possessed also by those who have gathered around them the masses of the people from former party groups; the masses obediently follow them, their “leaders.” Therefore, one of the fundamental conditions for a return to social health is the disbanding of these old party groupings, and a heightened understanding for the kinds of ideas that grow out of real practical insight in-dependent of any connection with old parties and groups. An immediate and burning question is how to find ways and means to replace the old party creeds with this independent judgement so that they can become a nucleus around which people of all party affiliations can gather — people who are able to see that the existing parties have had their day and that the present social conditions are sufficient proof that their day is over.

It is understandable that those who need to recognize this do not find it easy. The rank and file do not find it easy because they do not have the time or the leisure (and very often not the training) this recognition requires. It is not easy for the leaders because both their prejudices and their power are bound up with all they have stood for until now. This situation obliges us all the more urgently to look beyond the party traditions of the day and seek the real progress of humanity outside, not within them. Today it is not enough merely to know what should take the place of existing institutions. What is necessary is to elaborate this new way of thinking in a way that will lead as quickly as possible to the disbanding of the old party system and will guide people's efforts toward new goals. Whoever lacks the courage to do this can contribute nothing toward a new and healthy social order. Whoever is deluded by the belief that such efforts are utopian, builds on sinking ground.