Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Reordering of Society: The Requirements of Spiritual, Social, and Economic Life

An article by Rudolf Steiner published in 1919:

In the social movement of the present day there is a great deal of
talk about social organization but very little about social and
unsocial human beings. Little regard is paid to that ‘social question’
which arises when one considers that the arrangements of society take
their social or antisocial stamp from the people who work in them.
Socialist thinkers expect to see in the control of the means of
production by the community what will satisfy the needs of the wider
population. They take for granted that under such control the
cooperation between people must take a social form. They have seen
that the industrial system of private capitalism has led to unsocial
conditions. They think that if this industrial system were to
disappear, the antisocial effects must also end.

Undoubtedly along with the modern capitalistic form of economy there
have arisen social ills to the widest extent; but is this any proof
that they are a necessary consequence of this economic system? An
industrial system can of its own nature do nothing but put men into
situations in life that enable them to produce goods for themselves or
for others in a useful or a useless manner. The modern industrial
system has brought the means of production into the power of
individuals or groups of persons. The technical achievements could
best be exploited by a concentration of economic power. So long as
this power is employed only in the production of goods, its social
effect is essentially different from when it trespasses on the fields
of civil rights or spiritual culture. And it is this trespassing which
in the course of the last few centuries has led to those social ills
for whose abolition the modern social movement is pressing. He who is
in possession of the means of production acquires economic domination
over others. This has resulted in his allying himself with the forces
helpful to him in administration and parliaments, through which he was
able to procure positions of social advantage over those who were
economically dependent on him; and which even in a democratic state
bear in practice the character of rights. Similarly this economic
domination has led to a monopolizing of the life of spiritual culture
by those who held economic power.

Now the simplest thing seems to be to get rid of this economic
predominance of individuals, and thereby to do away with their
predominance in rights and spiritual culture as well. One arrives at
this ‘simplicity’ of social conception when one fails to remember
that the combination of technical and economic activity which modern life
demands necessitates allowing the most fruitful expansion possible to
individual initiative and personal worth within the business of
economic life. The form which production must take under modern
conditions makes this a necessity. The individual cannot make his
abilities effective in business if he is tied down in his work and
decisions to the will of the community. However dazzling the thought
of the individual producing not for himself but for society
collectively, yet its justice within certain bounds should not hinder
one from also recognizing the other truth, that society collectively
is incapable of originating economic decisions that permit of being
realized through individuals in the desirable way. Really practical
thought, therefore, will not look to find the cure for social ills in
a reshaping of economic life that would substitute communal for
private management of the means of production. The endeavor should
rather be to forestall the ills that can arise through management by
individual initiative and personal worth, without impairing this
management itself. This is only possible if the relations of civil
rights among those engaged in industry are not influenced by the
interests of economic life, and if that which should be done for
people through the spiritual life is also independent of these

Genuine interests of right can only spring up on a ground where the
life of rights is separately cultivated, and where the only
consideration will be what the rights of a matter are. When people
proceed from such considerations to frame rules of right, the rules
thus made will take effect in economic life. Then it will not be
necessary to place a restriction on the individual acquiring economic
power; for such power will only result in his rendering economic
achievements proportionate to his abilities, but not in using this to
obtain privileged rights ... Only when rights are ordered in a field
where a business consideration cannot in any way come into question,
where business can procure no power over this system of rights, will
the two be able to work together in such a way that men's sense of
right will not be injured, nor economic ability be turned from a
blessing to a curse for the community as a whole.

When those who are economically powerful are in a position to use
their power to wrest privileged rights for themselves, then among the
economically weak there will grow up a corresponding opposition to
these privileges; and this opposition must as soon as it has grown
strong enough lead to revolutionary disturbances. If the existence of
a special province of rights makes it impossible for such privileged
rights to arise, then disturbances of this sort cannot occur. . . One
will never really touch what is working up through the social movement
to the surface of modern life until one brings about social
conditions in which, alongside the claims and interests of the
economic life, those of rights can find realization and satisfaction
on their own independent basis.

In a similar manner must one approach the question of the cultural
life, and its connections with the life of civil rights and of
industrial economy. The course of the last few centuries has been such
that the cultural life itself has been cultivated under conditions
which only allowed of its exercising to a limited extent an
independent influence upon political life — that of civil rights —
or upon economics. One of the most important branches of spiritual
culture, the whole manner of education, was shaped by the interests of
the civil power. The human being was taught and trained according as
state interests required; and state power was reinforced by economic
power. If anyone was to develop his capacities within the existing
provisions for education, he had to do so on the basis of such
finances as his place in life provided. Those spiritual forces that
could find scope within the life of political rights or of industry
accordingly acquired the stamp of the latter. Any free spiritual
life had to forego all idea of carrying its results into the sphere of
the state, and could only do so in the economic sphere in so far as
this remained outside the sphere of activities of the state. In
industry, after all, the necessity is obvious for allowing the
competent person to find scope, since all fruitful activity dies out
if left solely under the control of the incompetent whom circumstances
may have endowed with economic power. If the tendency common among
socialist thinkers were carried out and economic life were
administered after the fashion of the political and legal, then the
culture of the free spiritual life would be forced to withdraw
altogether from the public field.

But a spiritual life that has to develop apart from civil and
industrial realities loses touch with life. It is forced to draw its
content from sources that are not in live connection with these
realities; and in course of time it works this substance up into a
shape which runs on like a sort of animated abstraction alongside the
actual realities, without having any practical effect on them. And so
two different currents arise in spiritual life ... Consider what
conceptions of the mind, what religious ideals, what artistic
interests form the inner life of the shopkeeper, the manufacturer, or
the government official, apart from his daily practical life; and
then consider what ideas are contained in those activities expressed
in his bookkeeping, or for which he is trained by the education and
instruction that prepares him for his profession. A gulf lies between
the two currents of spiritual life. The gulf has grown all the wider
in recent years because the mode of conception which in natural
science is quite justified has become the standard of man's relation
to reality. This mode of conception proceeds from the knowledge of
laws in things and processes lying outside the field of human activity
and influence, so that man is as it were a mere spectator of that
which he grasps in the laws of nature ...

A spiritual conception that penetrates to the being of man finds there
motives for action which ethically are directly good; for the impulse
to evil arises in man only because in his thoughts and sensations he
silences the depths of his own nature. Hence social ideas arrived at
through the spiritual conception here meant must by their very nature
be ethical ideas as well. And not being drawn from thought alone but
experienced in life, they have the strength to lay hold on the will
and live on in action. For true spiritual conception, social thought
and ethical thought flow into one ...

This kind of spirit can, however, thrive only when its growth is
completely independent of all authority except such as is derived
directly from the spiritual life itself. Legal regulations by the civil
state for the nurture of the spirit sap the strength of the forces of
spiritual life, whereas a spiritual life left to its own inherent
interests and impulses will reach out into everything that man
performs in social life ...

If the life of the spirit be a free one, evolved only from impulses
within itself, then civil life will thrive in proportion as people are
educated intelligently from living spiritual experience in the
adjustment of their relationships of rights; and economic life will be
fruitful in the measure in which men's spiritual nature has developed
their capacities for it ...

Because the spirit at work in civil life and the round of industry is
no longer one through which the spiritual life of the individual finds
a channel, he sees himself in a social order which gives him, as
individual, no scope civically nor economically. People who do not see
this clearly will always object to a view of the social organism
divided into three independently functioning systems of the cultural
life, the rights state, and the industrial economy, that such a
differentiation would destroy the necessary unity of communal life.
One must reply to them that this unity is destroying itself, in the
effort to maintain itself intact ... It is just in separation that they
will turn to unity, whereas in an artificial unity they become

Many socialist thinkers will dismiss such an idea with the phrase that
conditions of life worth striving for cannot be brought about by this
organic membering of society, but only through a suitable economic
organization. They overlook the fact that the men at work in their
organization are endowed with wills. If one tells them so they will
smile, for they regard it as self-evident. Yet they envisage a social
structure in which this ‘self-evident’ fact is left out of account.
Their economic organization is to be controlled by a communal will,
which must be the resultant wills of the people in the organization.
These individual wills can never find scope if the communal will is
derived entirely from the idea of economic organization ...

Most people today still lack faith in the possibility of establishing
a socially satisfying order of society based on individual wills,
because such a faith cannot come from a spiritual life dependent on
the life of the state and of the economy. The kind of spirit that
develops not in freedom out of the life of the spirit itself but out
of an external organization simply does not know what the
potentialities of the spirit are. It looks around for something to
direct it, not knowing how the spirit directs itself if only it can
draw its strength from its own resources. For the new shaping of the
social order, goodwill is not the only thing needed. It needs also
that courage which can be a match for the lack of faith in the
spirit's power. A true spiritual conception can inspire this courage;
for it feels able to bring forth ideas that not only serve to give the
soul its inward orientation, but which in their very birth bring with
them seeds of life's practical configuration. The will to go down into
the deep places of the spirit can become a will so strong as to bear a
part in every thing that man performs ...

The experiments now being made to solve the social question afford
such unsatisfactory results because many people have not yet become
able to see what the true gist of the problem is. They see it arise in
economic regions, and look to economic institutions to provide the
answer. They think they will find the solution in economic
transformations. They fail to recognize that these transformations can
only come about through forces released from within human nature
itself in the uprising of a new spiritual life and life of rights in
their own independent realms.


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