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The Renewal of the Social Organism
GA 24

Twenty Articles from the Newspaper The Threefold Social Order

18. Real Enlightenment as the Basis of Social Thought

An ever-increasing number of people are beginning to declare that no way out of the social chaos of our time will be found unless our minds and hearts take a new turn toward the spirit. It is a confession to which many are led by disappointment with the results of a political economy that tried to base its ideas merely on the production and distribution of material wealth.

It is also quite clear how few are the fruits of this profession of the spirit in our times. If expected to produce ideas for political economy, this profession is a failure; more is wanted than mere reference to the spirit. This does no more than give expression to a need; when it comes to the satisfaction of the need, it is helpless. One should recognize in this fact one of the problems of the present day and ask oneself, “How is it that even those who today regard this turning toward the spirit as necessary for social life do not get beyond talking about the necessity of it? Why do they never quite manage actually to suffuse our political-economic thought with spirituality?”

The answer to this question will be found by observing the form the evolution of thought has taken in modern times among the civilized portion of humanity. Those representatives of modern civilization who have found their way to a world-conception, consider it a mark of their superior “cultivation” to speak of “the unknowable” behind all things. It has gradually become a widespread belief that only a very unenlightened person still talks about the inherent “essence of things” or “the invisible causes of the visible.” Now this thinking can be maintained for a time regarding the study of nature. The phenomena of nature lie before our eyes, and even those who will not hear of inquiring into their causes can describe them, and so arrive at a certain substantiality of thought.

In matters of political economy, however, such a mode of thinking is bound to break down. For here the phenomena proceed ultimately from human beings; demands arise from human wants and preferences. Within us there lives as substance that to which people shut their eyes when they accustom themselves to talk about “the unknowable” (as do many disciples of the newer schools of thought). So it has come about that the age just passed has continued to evolve its habits of thought into the present — habits of thought which break down completely in matters of political economy. One can observe the freezing of water or the development of the embryo, and talk in a very “distinguished” manner of “the unknowable” in the world, cautioning one's contemporaries not to be led into fantastic speculations about this unknowable realm. But one cannot master economic matters with a way of thinking based on such a disposition, for economic affairs require that one should enter into the fullness of human life. Here one finds spirit and soul at work, even though they are revealed only in the demand for the satisfaction of material needs.

We shall not develop the science of political economy that modern times require until people cease to be content with merely “referring” to the spirit and the soul, and cease to stigmatize all endeavors to arrive at an actual knowledge of the spirit as “unscientific” and unworthy of any enlightened person. The human soul will remain beyond their understanding until they recognize its connection with what they desire to avoid in their study of nature.

If one speaks today from one's own perception of the supersensible, and argues that the only way to overcome the prevailing materialism is through research into the supersensible, one is met with the reply that materialism has been overcome “scientifically.” There have, it is claimed, been ample discussions on the subject which prove, on “genuinely” scientific grounds, that materialism is insufficient to explain the processes of nature. To this assertion it must be replied that such discussions may be very interesting theoretically, but they cannot overcome materialism. Materialism will be overcome only when it is not merely proven theoretically that there are more facts in the world than are perceived by our senses, but when living spirit inspires our study of the world and its processes. Only this spirit, directing human vision, can survey the many mingling currents at work in the material life of human communities. One can go on forever proving that “life” is not merely a chemical process; materialism will in no way suffer. One will combat materialism effectively only when one has the courage not only to say, “Our views of the world must be suffused with spirit,” but really to make this spirit the focus of their consciousness.

The idea of the threefold social order addresses itself to people who have this courage. Courage of this kind does not stop short at the externalities of life, but seeks to penetrate its inner being. It grasps the necessity of the cultivation of a free, independent spiritual-cultural life because it perceives that a spiritual-cultural life in bondage can, at most, “refer” to the spirit, but it cannot live in the spirit. It also grasps the necessity of a self-subsistent legal life, because it has learned that our sense of right and justice has its roots in regions of the human soul that must remain independent of both the spiritual-cultural and the economic spheres. One perceives this only by recognizing the human soul. World-views inculcated by the theory of the unknowable (this is the line of much modern thought) will always tend to the fallacy that one can devise a social framework determined solely by the material facts of economic life.

This courage will not be daunted by the theory that men are not mature enough for such a radical change of thought and feeling. Their “immaturity” will last only as long as science expounds to them that recognition of the spirit is an unwarranted assumption. Immaturity is not causing the present chaos; the chaos is caused by the belief that recognition of the spirit is a mark of unenlightenment. All attempts at shaping social life that proceed from this spiritless enlightenment are doomed to failure because they exclude the spirit. The moment one banishes the spirit from one's conscious mind, it asserts its claims in the unconscious regions. The spiritual forces can further human aims only when we do not work against the spirit. Only those who take the spirit into their conscious mind work with the spirit. There must he an overcoming of the false enlightenment that has arisen from a mistaken view of nature, and has become a sort of lay-gospel among widespread masses of people. Only then will the ground be prepared for a genuine social science that can have a fruitful influence upon real life.