The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Renewal of the Social Organism
GA 24

Twenty Articles from the Newspaper The Threefold Social Order

12. Law and Economics

Among the various objections that can be made to the threefold social order is one that can be phrased somewhat as follows: The efforts of political thinkers in recent years have been directed in part towards creating legal provisions appropriate to the existing conditions of economic production. It might be said that the idea of the threefold order totally disregards all the work done in this direction and wants merely to detach the legal sphere from the economic altogether.

Those who raise this objection imagine that thereby they can dismiss the idea of the threefold order as something that throws practical experience to the winds and claims a role in the reconstruction of society without this experience. How-ever, the reverse is true. The opponents of the threefold social order say: “One should reflect on the difficulties that have attended every attempt to arrive at a legal system adapted to modern conditions of production. One should consider the obstacles met by all who have made such at-tempts.” However, the adherents of the threefold order must answer: These very difficulties are proof that people were taking the wrong road. They persisted in trying to contrive a social form in which certain demands of modern times were to be satisfied through a single combined economic and legal sytem. They ought, however, to recognize that economic life, when conducted expediently, promotes conditions that necessarily tend to counter the sense of right and justice, unless this tendency is deliberately counteracted from outside the economy. It is to the advantage of economic life that individuals or groups who have special qualifications for a particular business of production are able to accumulate capital for their business. Presently, the best services can be rendered to the community as a whole only by qualified persons through the control of large sums of capital. However, the nature of economics dictates that such services can only consist of the most efficient production of the goods that the community needs. A certain amount of economic power flows into the hands of the people who pro-duce such goods. It cannot be otherwise, and the threefold social order recognizes this. Accordingly, it aims to bring about a society in which this economic power will still arise, but out of which no social evils can grow. The threefold idea does not propose to hinder the accumulation of large sums of capital in individual hands; it recognizes that to do so would be to lose the possibility of employing socially the abilities of these private individuals in the service of the general public. It proposes, however, that the moment an individual can no longer attend to the management of the means of production within his sphere of power, these means of production should be transferred to another capable person. The latter will not be able to obtain these means of production through any economic power he may possess, but solely because he is the most capable person. In practice, however, this can only be realized when the transfer is directed according to principles that have nothing to do with the means of economic power; such principles become possible only when the people themselves, with their interests, are engaged in spheres of life other than the economic. If men are joined together on a legal foundation which produces interests other than economic ones, these other interests will then be able to assert themselves. If the human being is absorbed by economic interests alone, those other interests never develop. If the person who possesses the means of production is to have any feeling whatever that the best and most efficient person in any economic position is one who obtains it by ability and not by economic power, such a feeling must grow in a sphere established apart from the economic. In and of itself, the economic life can call forth a sense for economic power but not, simultaneously, a sense for social justice. Therefore, all attempts to conjure out of economic thought itself a code of social justice were bound to fail.

Such matters are based upon the actual realities of life; these are the things taken into account by the idea of the threefold social order. It is guided by the practical experiences met by those who attempted to create legal structures for the modern economic forms; but it will not be led by these experiences to add a new attempt that resembles the many that have already failed. Its aim is not to try to produce social laws in a field of life where they cannot grow, but to bring about that life itself from which such laws can grow. In modern times this life has been absorbed into the economy; the first step is to restore its independence. To perceive clearly the idea of the threefold order, one must be willing to understand that the economic life needs to have its own forces continually corrected from outside, if it is not to call forth out of itself obstacles to its own growth. This necessary corrective will be supplied when there is an independent cultural life and corresponding independent legal sphere to make provision for it. The unity of social life is not thereby destroyed; in reality, it arises thereby for the first time in its true sense. This unity cannot be brought about by the ordinances of a central authority; it must be allowed to arise out of the interaction of those forces that each need to exist separately in order to live as a whole. Experiences met with in attempting to create for modern economic life legal relations that are drawn from the economy itself, should not therefore be regarded as arguments against the threefold social order. On the contrary, these experiences should be seen to lead directly to the recognition that the threefold organism is the idea modern life demands.