Toward Social Renewal: Basic Issues of the Social Question. Chapter 4 of 4
Rudolf Steiner, 1919
The internal formation of the healthy social organism results in international relations also being triformed. Each of the three sectors will have an independent relation to the corresponding sector of another social organism. Economic relations between countries will exist without being directly influenced by the relations between their respective rights-states.* Conversely, the relations between rights-states will develop, within certain limits, completely independent of economic relations. Through this independence of development, the relations will act upon each other in a conciliatory way in cases of conflict. The resulting complex of mutual interests among the individual social organisms will make national frontiers seem inconsequential for human coexistence.
*To object that rights and economic relations really constitute a whole and cannot be separated is to misunderstand what is meant here concerning social formation. In the overall commercial process both kinds of relation of course act as a whole. There is, however, a difference if rights are established according to economic requirements, or if they are established according to the elementary sense of human rights and then are applied to economic affairs.
The spiritual/cultural organizations of the various countries will be able to enter into mutual relations which derive exclusively from the common spiritual life of mankind. The self-sustaining spiritual sector, independent of the state, will develop conditions which are impossible to attain when recognition of spiritual activities is dependent on the rights-state instead of the spiritual organism's administration. In this respect there is no difference between scientific activities, which are obviously international, and other spiritual activities. A people's own language and everything related to it also constitute a spiritual area. National awareness itself belongs to this area. The people of one language region do not come into unnatural conflict with the people of another if political organizations and economic power are not used to assert their cultures. Should one people's culture have a greater capability for expansion and spiritual productivity than another, then its expansion will be justified and will come about peacefully if its only means of doing so are the institutions which depend on the spiritual organism.
At the present time, the strongest opposition to a threefold social organism will come from the communities which have developed from common language and culture. This opposition must give way before the goal which the times have set and of which mankind as a whole must become increasingly aware. Mankind will perceive that each of its parts can achieve a dignified existence only if all the parts are vigorously allied among themselves. Ethnic affinities, together with other natural impulses, are the historic cause of the formation of political and economic communities.
However, the forces by means of which the various peoples grow must develop with a reciprocity which is not hampered by relations between political states and economic cooperatives. This will be achieved when the ethnic communities have implemented their social triformation to the extent that each of the sectors can cultivate independent relations with other social organisms.
Diversified relations are therewith established between peoples, states, and economic bodies which ally all the parts of mankind so that each, in its own interest, is sensitive to the life of the others. A league of nations arises from impulses corresponding to reality. [Note 7] It will not need to be ‘installed’ because of one-sided political considerations.*
*To see ‘utopias’ in these ideas is to ignore the fact that the realities of life are striving toward just such arrangements, and that harm results because such arrangements are lacking.
Of special significance is the fact that the social goals described here, although valid for humanity in general, can be realized by each individual social organism regardless of other countries' initial attitudes. Should a social organism form itself according to the three natural sectors, the representatives of each sector could enter into international relations with others, even if these others have not yet adopted the same forms. Those who lead the way to these forms are working for a common goal of humanity. What must be accomplished is far more likely to come about on the strength of human impulses which have their roots in life than through decisions and agreements made at congresses and the like. The thoughts which underlie these goals are based on reality; they are to be pursued in all human communities.
Whoever has followed the political events of the last decades from the point of view represented here will have perceived how the various states, with their merged spiritual, rights, and economic sectors, were approaching catastrophe in international relations. At the same time, however, he could also see that forces of a contrary nature were arising as unconscious human impulses and pointing the way toward the triformation. This will be the remedy for the shock caused by fanaticism for uniform statism. But the ‘competent leaders of humanity’ were not able to see what had long since been in preparation. In the spring and early summer of 1914 one could still hear ‘statesmen’ saying that peace in Europe, as far as could be humanly foreseen, was secure thanks to the efforts of governments. These ‘statesmen’ had no idea that their words and deeds no longer had any relation whatsoever to the real course of events. But they were the ‘experts’. Those who had been developing contrary views during the last decades, such as those expressed by the author months before the outbreak of war and, finally, to a small audience in Vienna (a larger audience would only have been derisive), were considered to be ‘eccentric’.
Words to the following effect concerning the immediate dangers were spoken: ‘Today's prevalent tendencies will continue to gather momentum until they finally destroy themselves. Whoever observes society with spiritual insight sees a terrible disposition to social cancerous growths everywhere. This is cause for great concern. It is so terrible and distressing that even if a person could otherwise suppress all enthusiasm for the knowledge of life's events obtainable through a science which recognizes the spirit, he would still feel obliged to speak, to cry out to the world about the remedy. If the social organism continues to develop as it has until now, injuries to culture will occur which are to this organism what cancer is to the human physical organism.’ But the views of the ruling circles, based on just such undercurrents which they refused to recognize, led them to take measures better left undone and to take none which could have instilled mutual trust among the members of the various human communities.
Whoever believes that social exigencies played no direct role as a cause of the present world catastrophe should consider what would have become of the political impulses of those states heading for war had their ‘statesmen’ taken these exigencies seriously and acted upon them. They would then not have created the inflammable conditions which eventually led to an explosion. If, during the past decades, one had observed the cancer which has grown into the relations between states as the result of the ruling circles' social conduct, one could understand how, as early as 1888, a personage of general human spiritual interests was obliged to state the following in view of how social will was being expressed in these ruling circles: ‘The goal is to turn the whole of humanity into an empire of brothers who, following only the noblest of motives, stride forward in unison. Whoever follows history on the map of Europe, however, can easily believe that what the immediate future holds in store is a general mass slaughter’; and only the thought that a ‘way to the true goodness of human life’ must be found can maintain a sense of human dignity. This thought is one ‘which does not seem to coincide with our and our neighbors' enormous war-like preparations; it is one in which I, nevertheless, believe, and which must enlighten us, unless we prefer to simply do away with human life by common consent and designate an official suicide day.’ (Herman Grimm, 1888, on page 46 of his book Fifteen Essays — The Last Five Years). What were these ‘war-like preparations’ but measures enacted by people who wanted to maintain the uniform state structure in spite of the fact that this form has become contradictory to the fundamentals of healthy cooperation between peoples? Such healthy cooperation could, however, be accomplished by that social organism which is based on the necessities of the times.
The Austro-Hungarian state structure had been in need of a reorganization for more than half a century. [Note 8] Its spiritual life, with roots in a multiplicity of ethnic communities, required the development of a form for which the obsolete uniform state was a hindrance. The Serbo-Austrian conflict, which was the starting-point of the world-war catastrophe, is the most valid proof that, as of a certain time, the political borders of this uniform state should not have constituted the borders for its ethnic life as well. [Note 9] Had the possibility existed for a self-sustaining spiritual life, independent of the political state and its borders, to develop beyond these borders in harmony with the goals of the ethnic groups, then the conflict, which had its roots in the spiritual sector, would not have exploded in a political catastrophe. Development in this direction seemed completely impossible, if not outright nonsensical, to those in Austro-Hungary who imagined that their thinking was ‘statesman-like’. Their thought-habits could not conceive of any other possibility but that the state borders must coincide with national communities. An understanding of the fact that spiritual organizations, including schools and other branches of spiritual life, could be established without regard to state borders was contrary to their thought-habits. Nevertheless, this ‘unthinkable’ arrangement constitutes the requirement of modern times for international relations. The practical thinker should not let himself be restrained by the seemingly impossible, and believe that arrangements which satisfy this requirement would meet with insurmountable difficulties; he should rather direct his efforts toward overcoming these difficulties. Instead of bringing the ‘statesmanlike’ thinking into agreement with the requirements of the times, efforts were made to sustain the uniform state in opposition to these requirements. This state therefore took on an increasingly impossible structure. By the second decade of the twentieth century it was unable to preserve itself in the old form and had the choice of awaiting dissolution or outwardly maintaining the inwardly impossible by means of the force which manifested itself in the war. The Austro-Hungarian ‘statesmen’ had only two choices in 1914: either they had to direct their efforts toward achieving the conditions necessary for a healthy social organism, and inform the world of their purpose, thereby awakening new confidence, or they had to unleash a war in order to maintain the old structure. Only by considering the events of 1914 with this background in mind can one judge the question of guilt fairly. Through the participation of many ethnic groups in its state structure, Austro-Hungary's historical mission may well have been above all to develop a healthy social organism. This mission was not recognized. It was this sin against the spirit of historical evolution that drove Austro-Hungary to war.
And the German Empire? [Note 10] It was founded at a time when the modern requirements for a healthy social organism were striving for recognition. This recognition could have given the Empire's existence its historical justification. Social impulses were concentrated in this central European Empire as though historically predestined to live themselves out within its borders. Social thinking arose in many places, but in the German Empire it took a special form which indicated where it was heading. This should have supplied the Empire with a purpose. This should have shown its administrators where its mission lay. The justification for this Empire could have been contained in a modern compatibility of nations, had the newly created Empire been given a purpose which coincided with the forces of history. Instead of rising to the greatness of this mission, those responsible remained at the level of ‘social reforms’ corresponding to the needs of the moment, and were happy when these reforms were admired abroad. [Note 11] At the same time they were moving toward an external power structure based on forms deriving from the most antiquated concepts about the power and splendor of states. An empire was built which, like the Austro-Hungarian state structure, contradicted the forces present in the various ethnic communities at that historic moment. The administrators of this empire saw nothing of these forces. The state structure which they had in mind could only be based on military power. The requirements of modern history would have been satisfied by the implementation of the impulse for a healthy social organism. If this had been done, relations between nations would have been different in 1914. Because of their lack of understanding of modern requirements in ethnic relations, German policy had reached the zero-point in 1914 as far as possibilities for further action were concerned. During the preceding decades they had understood nothing of what should have been done, and German policy had been occupied with every possibility that had no relation to modern evolutionary forces, and therefore had to collapse like a house of cards due to its lack of content.
A true picture of the historic events surrounding the German Empire's tragic destiny would emerge if an examination were made of the decisive events in Berlin at the end of July and August 1, 1914, and the facts presented truthfully to the world. [Note 12] Little is known of these events, either in Germany or abroad. Whoever is familiar with them knows that German policy at that time was comparable to a house of cards, and because of its arrival at a zero-point of activity, the decision as to whether and how the war was to begin had to be left to the military. The responsible military authorities at that time could not, from the military viewpoint, have acted in any other way than they did, because from this viewpoint the situation could only be seen as they saw it — for outside the military sector things had come to the point where action was no longer possible. All this would emerge as historical fact if someone were to occupy himself with bringing to light the events which took place in Berlin at the end of July and the beginning of August, namely, everything which occurred on August 1 and July 31. The illusion persists that an insight into these events would not be particularly enlightening if one is familiar with the events which led up to this time. It is not possible, however, to discuss the ‘guilt question’ without this insight. Certainly one may have knowledge through other means of the causes which were long present; but the insight shows how these causes acted on events.
The concepts which at that time drove Germany's leaders to war continued their ruinous work. They became the national sentiment. They prevented those in power from developing the necessary insight through the bitter experience of these last terrible years. The author, wishing to take advantage of the receptivity which might have resulted from this experience, attempted to make known during the war — which he considered to be the most suitable time — the concepts of the healthy social organism and its consequences for German policy to personages in Germany and Austria whose influence could still have been brought to bear in furthering these impulses. [Note 13] Those persons who honestly had the German people's destiny at heart participated in the attempt to gain a hearing for these ideas. But the attempt was futile. The thought-habits resisted such impulses which, to the military mentality, appeared unworkable. ‘Separation of church and school’: yes, that would be something; but they got no further. The thoughts of the ‘statesman-like’ thinkers had long been running along the same track, and more drastic measures were beyond them. Well-meaning people suggested that I make these ideas public. This was most unsuitable advice at the time. What good could it have done to have these ideas, among so many others, and coming from a private individual, disseminated in the field of ‘literature’? It is in the nature of these impulses that they could only have been influential, at that time, if they had come from the appropriate places. Had the sense of these impulses been favorably proclaimed from the right quarters, the peoples of central Europe would have realized that here is something which coincides with their more or less conscious desires. And the Russian peoples in the East would surely have been sympathetic to these impulses as an alternative to czarism. This can only be denied by someone who has no feeling for the receptivity of the East-European intellect — fresh as it still was — for healthy social ideas. Instead of a pronouncement of such ideas, however, came Brest-Litovsk. [Note 14]
That military thinking could not avert the catastrophe in central and eastern Europe was apparent to all but the military minds. The cause of the German people's misfortune was unwillingness to see that the catastrophe was unavoidable. Nobody wanted to believe that there was no sense of historic necessity in the places where decisions were being made. Whoever knew something of these necessities also realized that there were personages among the English-speaking peoples who understood the forces at work in the peoples of central and eastern Europe. They were convinced that a situation was brewing which must result in mighty social upheavals — but only in central and eastern Europe, for it was felt that there was not yet either a historical necessity or a possibility for such upheavals in the English-speaking world. Policy was formulated accordingly. This was not understood in central and eastern Europe, and policy was formulated in such a way that it had to ‘collapse like a house of cards’. The only effective policy would have been one based on an insight into the English-speaking world's liberal recognition of historical necessities — from an English point of view, of course. But the ‘diplomats’ would have found a suggestion for such a policy highly superfluous.
Instead of such a policy, which could have been very advantageous for central and eastern Europe before the catastrophe of war overtook it, they continued in the same old diplomatic rut in spite of the liberal orientation of English policy. Furthermore, during the horrors of war they did not learn from bitter experience that the mission presented to the world in political declarations from America should be countered by one born of the vital forces of Europe. An understanding could have been reached between the mission presented by Woodrow Wilson from the American point of view and one heard over the thunder of cannons as a European spiritual impulse. Any other talk of an understanding rang hollow in view of the historical necessities.
But a sense of mission based on modern humanity's true needs was lacking in those responsible for the German empire's administration. Therefore, what the autumn of 1918 brought was inevitable. The collapse of military power was accompanied by a spiritual capitulation. Instead of exerting European will at that time in an attempt to assert the German people's spiritual impulses, came the simple submission to Wilson's fourteen points. [Note 15] Wilson was confronted with a Germany which had nothing to say for itself. Whatever Wilson may think about his own fourteen points, he can only help Germany to fulfil what the country itself wills. Surely he must have expected a demonstration of this desire. But to the nullity of German policy at the beginning of the war was added the nullity of 1918; the terrible spiritual capitulation came, brought on by a man in whom many in the German lands had placed something like a last hope.
Lack of faith in insights derived from historically active forces; unwillingness to recognize knowledge derived from spiritually related impulses: this was what produced central Europe's situation. Now a new situation has been created by the catastrophe of war. It can be characterized by the idea of humanity's social impulses as it has been interpreted in this book. These social impulses speak a language which confronts the whole civilized world with a mission. Shall thinking about what must now come about in respect of the social question reach the same zero-point as did central European policy in respect of its mission in 1914? Countries which were able to remain aloof from the events of that time may not do so as far as the social movement is concerned. In this question there should be no political opponents and no neutrals; there should only be one mankind, working together, which is able to read the signs of the times and act in accordance with them.
The intentions described in this book make it possible to understand why the appeal ‘To the German People and the Civilized World’, which is reproduced in the following chapter, was formulated by the author some time ago and communicated to the world — especially to the peoples of central Europe — by a committee which sympathized with its aims. The present situation is different from the one prevalent at the time in which it was communicated to relatively few. Ata that time a wider propagation would have been considered ‘literature’. Today the public must bring to it what it could not have brought a short time ago: understanding men and women who want to work for what it advocates — if it is worth being understood and being put into practice. What should come about now is only possible through the activity of such people.