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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

17. The Basis of the Threefold Social Order

The essence of the threefold social order is that it looks at social relations without party or class prejudice and poses the question: what must be done at this juncture of human evolution in order to create viable social forms? Anyone who strives earnestly and honestly to answer this question shall confront one fact he or she cannot possibly disregard: namely, that in modern times the economic and political spheres have come into devastating conflict with one another.

The class strata that are the basis of contemporary social life arose out of economic circumstances. In the course of economic evolution (and as a result of that evolution) one person became a worker and another an industrialist, while a third became engaged in some cultural activity. Socialist thinkers never tire of putting this fact in the forefront of their programs, thinking it will lend them an aura of necessity. However, they do not realize that the important point is to see why economics was able to exert such a tremendous influence upon the stratification of society. They do not see that this stratification came about because the industrial system was not opposed by a political and legal system that could have counteracted its influence. Each person was swept by the forces of the economy to a point where he stood alone. It was possible to live only within the conditions that economic life afforded. One person ceased to understand the other; he could only hope to outvote or overpower him with the help of those who stood upon the same ground. There has yet to arise from the depths of human evolution a political or legal form capable of bringing together the isolated groups of humanity. People did not see that the old currents of politics and law run counter to the new economic forces.

One cannot carry on economic life in the way made necessary by the circumstances of the last two centuries, and at the same time put people into social positions evolved from political theories belonging to bygone times. Nor should one hope that the class structure, which arose apart from any new political aspirations, can represent a point of departure for the reconstruction of the social organism. Obviously, the classes who feel themselves oppressed will not acknowledge the justice of this statement. They say, “We have had new political aspirations for more than half a century.” In my Toward Social Renewal, I demonstrated that this is not the case as a first premise for all further consideration of social renewal. Karl Marx and his adherents have certainly summoned one class to battle; yet they have merely set forth the same thoughts learned from the adherents of those classes they are to oppose. Therefore, even if the battle could bring about what many desire, nothing new would come of it. It would lead to the same old end; there would merely be a different group at the helm.

This realization does not, of course, lead directly to the idea of the threefold order; but it is a necessary step in that direction. Until this realization has dawned upon a sufficiently large number of people, they will go on trying to extract from old ideas of politics and law the impulses that are supposed to be equal to present economic conditions. Until they see this, they will be afraid of a threefold articulation of the social organism because it clashes with their accustomed thinking.

It is understandable that, in times that have brought so many disasters, people should shrink from any call for original thinking — thinking born of the depths of human life. Many feel themselves crushed by the weight of the times, and despair of the power of ideas as creative forces. They are “waiting” until “circumstances” produce a more favorable state of affairs. However, circumstances will never produce anything but what has been implanted in them by human ideas.

“Yet, after all,” many say, “the very best ideas are powerless in actual practice if the circumstances of life reject them!” This is precisely the point of the threefold social order. The threefold idea begins with a recognition that neither praxis without theory nor impractical ideas can ever lead to a viable social organism. Accordingly, it does not promote an old-fashioned program. There are enough of such programs to teach one that they may be very “excellent” or “high-minded” or “inspiring” in the abstract, but that reality rejects them. In the field of economics, the threefold idea works with the natural and social realities of modern life; it works with the sense of right and justice that has evolved over the last few centuries; it works with a cultural life that provides the social organism with men and women who understand its organic laws and promote them to the benefit of society. It believes that, within a threefold order of the social organism, human beings will find it possible to work together in such a way that out of this cooperation, they shall create what cannot be brought about by any programmatic theory.

Anyone who is unwilling to see the distinction in principle between the threefold idea and the usual programs will refuse to be convinced that it could bear fruit. The idea is one attuned to reality; it does not try to tyrannize life with a program, but aims at creating a basis that allows the life from which social impulses spring to develop freely. The questions of the present and the near future are not of the kind that can be solved by the intellect; they must be solved in a life-process, and that life-process must first be created. Modern humanity has only a first inkling of the real nature of the social question. It will assume its real form when the structure of the social organism is such that the three life forces underlying all human existence can rise in their true form from a vague instinct into conscious thought. Much that is said today about the social question, when measured against a real understanding of life, gives the impression of immaturity. It is said that people are too immature to shape their lives by ideas. That is not the case: people will be mature enough for answers as soon as they are presented with questions that are divested of ancient prejudices.

Such is the present situation perceived by one who, out of a living experience of the full reality, has struggled through to the idea of the threefold order. He would like to see this perception translated into action. However, words enough will have been exchanged only when deeds are born of them.