Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Fundamental Social Law

an excerpt from "Anthroposophy and the Social Question,"
a three-part essay by Rudolf Steiner published in 1905:

There is, then, a fundamental social law which Anthroposophy teaches us and which is as follows:

In a community of human beings working together, the well-being of the community will be the greater, the less the individual claims for himself the proceeds of the work he has himself done; i.e. the more of these proceeds he makes over to his fellow workers, and the more his own requirements are satisfied not out of his own work done, but out of work done by the others.

Every institution in a community of human beings that is contrary to this law will inevitably engender in some part of it, after a while, suffering and want. It is a fundamental law which holds good for all social life with the same absoluteness and necessity as any law of nature within a particular field of natural causation. It must not be supposed, however, that it is sufficient to acknowledge this law as one for general moral conduct, or to try and interpret it into the sentiment that everyone should work for the good of his fellow-men. No — this law only finds its living, fitting expression in actual reality, when a community of human beings succeeds in creating institutions of such a kind that no one can ever claim the results of his own labor for himself, but that they all, to the last fraction, go wholly to the benefit of the community. And he, again, must himself be supported in return by the labors of his fellow-men. The important point is, therefore, that working for one's fellow-men, and the object of obtaining so much income, must be kept apart, as two separate things.
The self-styled “practical people” will, of course — the Anthroposophist is under no illusion about it! — have nothing but a smile for such “outrageous idealism”. And yet this law is more really practical than any that ever was devised or enacted by the practicians. For, as a matter of actual life, that every human community that exists, or ever has existed anywhere, possesses two sorts of institutions, of which the one is in accordance with this law, and the other contrary to it. It is bound to be so everywhere, whether men will, or no. Every community, indeed, would fall to pieces at once, if the work of the individual did not pass over into the whole body. But human egoism again has from of old run counter to this law, and sought to extract as much as possible for the individual out of his own work. And what has come about in this way, as a consequence of egoism, this it is, and nothing else, that from old has brought want and poverty and suffering in its train; which is as good as saying that a part of human institutions will always and inevitably prove to be unpractical which owes its existence to “practicians” who calculated either on the basis of their own egoism, or the egoism of others.
Now obviously with a law of this kind, all is not said and done when one has merely recognized its existence. The real, practical part begins with the question: How is one to translate this law into actual fact? Obviously, what it says amounts to this: Man's welfare is the greater, in proportion as egoism is the less. Which means, that for its practical translation into reality one must have people who can find the way out of their egoism. Practically, however, this is quite impossible, if the individual's share of weal and woe is measured according to his labor. He who labors for himself cannot help but gradually fall a victim to egoism. Only one who labors solely and entirely for the rest can, little by little, grow to be a worker without egoism.
But there is one thing needed to begin with. If any man works for another, he must find in this other man the reason for his work; and if any man works for the community, he must perceive and feel the meaning and value of this community, and what it is as a living, organic whole. He can only do this when the community is something other and quite different from a more or less indefinite totality of individual men. It must be informed by an actual spirit in which each single person has his part. It must be such that each single one says: The communal body is as it should be, and I will that it be thus. The whole communal body must have a spiritual mission, and each individual member of it must have the will to contribute towards the fulfilling of this mission. All the vague progressive ideas, the abstract ideals, of which people talk so much, cannot present such a mission. If there be nothing but these as a guiding principle, then one individual here, or one group there, will be working without any clear comprehension of what use there is in their work, except its being to the advantage of their families, or of those particular interests to which they happen to be attached. In every single member, down to the least, this Spirit of the Community must be alive and active. Wherever, in any age, anything good has thriven, it has only been where in some manner this life of a communal spirit was realized.

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