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The Renewal of the Social Organism
GA 24

Twenty Articles from the Newspaper The Threefold Social Order

15. Fundamental Fallacy in Social Thought

An idea such as the threefold social organism is constantly met with the following objection: “What the social movement is striving for is the elimination of economic inequalities. How will this end be attained through changes in the cultural life and the legal system when these are governed quite independently of the economic process?”

This kind of objection is made by people who can see the existence of the economic inequalities, but do not see that these inequalities are produced by the human beings living together in the social body. They see that society's economic order finds expression in people's life conditions. They aim at making it possible for large numbers of people to enjoy what seems to them to be better life conditions. They believe that when the changes in the social order that they have in mind come about, this possibility will exist.

For anyone who looks more deeply into the state of human affairs, the principal cause of today's social evils is seen in the very fact that such a way of thinking has become the prevalent one. In the eyes of many people, the economic system lies too far removed from any of their concepts of the cultural and the legal spheres for them possibly to perceive how the one can be connected with the others in the whole chain of human existence. People's economic conditions are an outcome of the positions they assume toward each other through their spiritual faculties and through the legal code that prevails among them. Anyone who perceives this will not imagine he could devise any system of economics that could, of itself, place people living under it in life conditions that will seem suitable to them. In any economic system, whether one's own services meet with the reciprocal services needed for a suitable life situation will depend on how the people in this economic system are spiritually attuned in their minds, and on how their sense of right and justice leads them to regulate their mutual affairs.

During the last three or four centuries, the civilized portion of humanity has owed its evolution to impulses that make it exceedingly difficult for them to have any perception of the real relation existing between economics and culture. We have become entwined in a complex network of interrelationships; the achievements of industrial technology have made a mark upon it that no longer corresponds to the cultural and legal concepts we have developed historically. People have become accustomed to viewing the cultural progress of recent years with unalloyed appreciation; but in doing so they overlook one thing: this cultural progress has been achieved mainly in fields directly connected with industry. Science undoubtedly has tremendous achievements to record; but its achievements are greatest where they have been called forth in the economic field by the demands of industrial life.

Under the influence of this particular kind of cultural progress the leading circles have developed a mental habit of basing their opinions in all life's affairs upon economic grounds. In most cases, they are not aware of forming their opinions this way. They employ this mode of judgement unconsciously. They believe that they act out of all sorts of ethical and aesthetic motives; but, unconsciously, they act upon opinions originating within the technical-industrial economy. They think in economic terms, but believe that their principles are ethical, religious, and aesthetic.

This mental habit of the ruling classes has been made into a dogma in recent years by the socialists. They believe that all life is conditioned by economics because those from whom their notions are inherited had acquired, more or less unconsciously, this economic way of thinking. Thus these socialist thinkers want to change the system of economics according to the same viewpoint that led to what they believe so urgently needs changing. They fail to notice that they would call forth even more strongly the very thing they do not want if their actions were guided by ideas that have led to the very thing they wish to change. The reason for this is that men cling much more tenaciously to their ideas and their habits of mind than they do to external institutions.

Today, however, a point has been reached in human evolution when the very character of this evolution demands progress not only in our institutions, but also in our thoughts and habits of mind. This is a demand of human history; and the fate of the social movement depends on whether this demand is heeded. Strange as it still may sound to many people, it is nevertheless true that modern life has assumed a shape which can no longer be mastered by the old kinds of ideas.

Many say, correctly, that the social problem must be approached in a way different from that, for example, of St. Simon or Owen or Fourier; that spiritual impulses like theirs are of no use in effecting a change in economic life. Thus they conclude that spiritual impulses are entirely incapable of exerting a transforming effect on social life. The truth of the matter is that these thinkers drew their mental concepts from a form of spiritual life that, of its very nature, was no longer adequate to the economic life of modern times. Instead of then coming to the sound conclusion, “In that case, what is needed is a new form of spiritual and legal life,” people form the opinion that desired social conditions to rise up of themselves out of the economic sphere. But economic chaos will result unless the further progress of evolution is effected by a step forward in the spiritual-cultural and legal spheres such as the new age demands.

All that must come about in the social sphere now and in the near future, depends on the courage to take this step forward in the cultivation of the spirit and the establishment of law. Whatever does not spring from this courage may be very well meant, but will not lead to a sustainable state of affairs. Therefore the greatest social need is to arouse far and wide a clear perception that the only basis upon which humanity can evolve in a healthy way is the cultivation of a new spiritual life. The fruits of this cultivation will be borne in the structuring of the economy. If economic life tries of itself to evolve a new form, it will only propagate — and intensify— its old evils. As long as economic life is expected to make of us what we may become, new evils will be added to the old. Not until humanity comes to understand that the human being — out of his own spirit — must give to the economic life what it needs, will men be able to pursue as a conscious aim what they are demanding unconsciously.