The Renewal of the Social Organism
Twenty Articles from the Newspaper The Threefold Social Order
13. Social Spirit and Socialist Superstition
In discussing the causes of the modern social movement, people commonly refer to the fact that neither the owner of the means of production nor the worker is in a position to give the product anything based on a direct personal interest in it. The owner has goods produced because they bring him profits; the worker produces them because he is obliged to earn a living. A personal satisfaction in the finished product itself is felt by neither. In fact, one touches a very essential part of the social question when pointing to the lack of any personal relationship between the producers and the goods produced in the modern industrial system. However, one must also be clear that this lack of a personal relation-ship is a necessary consequence of modern technology and the attendant mechanization of labor. It cannot be removed from the economic life itself. Goods produced by extensive division of labor in large industries cannot possibly be as closely associated with the producer as were the products of the medieval craftsman. One will have to accept the fact that, regarding a large part of human labor, the kind of interest that previously existed is past and gone. However, one should also be clear that without interest, a man cannot work; if life compels him to do so, he feels his whole existence to be dreary and unsatisfying.
Whoever is honestly disposed toward the social movement must think of finding some other interest to replace the one that is gone. He will not be in a position to do so, however, if he insists on making the economic process the single main substance of the social organism, and on making the legal system and the cultural life a sort of appendage of the economy. An enormous economic conglomerate regulated according to the Marxist plan with the political and cultural orders as “ideological superstructure,” would make human life a torment because of the ensuing lack of interest in any sort of work. Those who want to introduce an enormous conglomerate of this kind do not reflect on the fact that, while one can arouse a certain amount of enthusiasm for such an aim through the excitement of the struggle to attain it, the excitement ends as soon as this aim is realized, and people thus fitted into the wheels of an impersonal social machine are inevitably drained of everything resembling a will to live. That such an aim is able to arouse enthusiasm in wide masses of the populace is merely a result of the waning interest in the products of labor that has not been replaced by the growth of any other interest.
To arouse such an interest should be the special business of those who presently, through their inherited share in spiritual culture, remain in a position to think beyond merely economic interests to those things that constitute the social good. These people must teach themselves to see that there are two spheres of interest that must take the place of the old interest in the actual work. In a social order based on division of labor, the work one performs, while affording no satisfaction for its own sake, may nevertheless satisfy through the interest one takes in those for whom one per-forms it. Such an interest must, however, be developed in living community. A legal system in which every individual stands as an equal among equals arouses one's interest in one's fellows. One works in such a system for the others because one gives to this relationship between oneself and others a Iiving foundation. From the economic order one learns only what others demand of one. Within a vital legal and political life, the value one man has for the other springs from the depths of human nature itself, and goes beyond our merely needing each other in order to produce commodities meeting various needs.
This is one sphere of interest that arises from a legal system independent of economic life. To this must be added a second. A human existence that must derive the substance of its cultural life from the economic system will prove unsatisfying when there is insufficient interest in the products of the work — even though people's interest in one another is suitably fostered within the sphere of rights. For in the end it must dawn upon people that they commerce with one another only for the sake of commerce. Commerce acquires a meaning only when it is seen to serve something in human life that extends beyond economics, something quite independent of all commerce. Work that gives no intrinsic satisfaction will acquire worth if performed by one of whom it can be said, when viewed from a higher spiritual standpoint, that he is striving toward ends of which his economic activity is only the means. This view of life from a spiritual stand-point can be acquired only within a self-subsistent spiritual-cultural branch of the social organism. A spiritual-cultural life that is a “superstructure” erected upon the economy, manifests itself merely as a means to economic ends.
The complicated form of modern industry, with its mechanization of human labor, requires a free, self-subsistent spiritual-cultural life as a necessary counterbalance. Earlier epochs in human history could bear the fusion of economic interests and cultural impulses because industry had not yet fallen prey to mechanization. If human nature is not to succumb to this mechanization, whenever human beings stand within the mechanized system of labor, their souls must always be able to rise freely into communion with the higher worlds into which they feel themselves transported by a free spiritual-cultural life.
It would be short-sighted to reply to the proposal of a free spiritual-cultural life and the independent sphere of rights demanded by human equality that neither would over-come economic inequalities, which are the most oppressive of all. For the modern economic system has led to these in-equalities because it has never, as yet, allowed to develop apart from it the legal system and the cultivation of the spirit that it requires. The Marxist mind believes that each form of economic production prepares the way for the next and higher one, and that when this preparatory process is concluded, then through “evolution” the higher form must necessarily replace the lower one. Actually, the modern form of production did not evolve from old economic methods, but rather from the legal forms and the cultural perspectives of an earlier age. However, while giving a new form to economic life, these latter have themselves grown old and need to be rejuvenated. Of all forms of superstition the worst is to declare that rights and culture can be conjured out of the forms of economic production. Such a superstition darkens not only the human mind, but life itself. It diverts our spirit from its own source by offering an illusory source in the nonspiritual. We are all too ready to be deluded by those who tell us that spirit arises of itself out of nonspirit; for we fancy by this delusion to save ourselves the exertions we must acknowledge to be necessary when we perceive that the spirit is only to he won by toil of spirit.