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Basic Issues of the Social Question

Basic Issues: Appendix

On-line since: 13th July, 2002



The German people believed that its imperial structure, erected half a century ago, would last for an unlimited time. In August 1914, it felt that the imminent catastrophe of war would prove this structure invincible. Today, only its ruins are left. After such an experience retrospection is in order, for this experience has proved the opinions of half a century, especially the dominant thoughts of the war years, to be tragically erroneous. What are the reasons behind this erroneous thinking? This question must induce retrospection in the minds of the German people. Its potentiality for life depends on whether the strength exists for this kind of self-examination. Its future depends on whether it can earnestly ask the following question: how did we fall into error? If the German people asks itself this question today, it will realize that it established an Empire half a century ago, but omitted to assign to this Empire the mission which corresponds to the inner essence of its people.

The Empire was established. At first it was occupied with bringing its inner life into harmony with the requirements of tradition and the new needs which developed from year to year. Later, efforts were directed toward consolidating and enlarging the outward power structure, which was based on material strength. At the same time, means were employed which were directed at the social demands of the day-in some cases appropriate to the needs- but which lacked the larger goal which should have resulted from knowledge of the evolutionary forces to which mankind must direct itself. Therefore, the Empire was placed in the world without a substantial goal to justify its existence. The war-catastrophe revealed this fact in a tragic way. Previous to the war's outbreak, those in the non-German world could see nothing in the conduct of the Empire's affairs which could lead them to think that its authorities were fulfilling a historic mission that should not be swept away. The fact that these authorities did not encounter such a mission necessarily engendered an attitude in the non-German world which was, to one who has a real insight, the more profound reason for the German downfall.

A very great deal depends upon the German people's objective discernment of this fact. The insight which has remained hidden for the past fifty years should emerge during these calamitous times. In place of trivial thinking about immediate requirements, a broader view of life should now appear, which strives with powerful thinking to recognize modern humanity's evolutionary forces, and is courageously dedicated to them. The petty attempts to neutralize all those who pay heed to these evolutionary forces must cease. The arrogance and superciliousness of those who imagine themselves to be practical, but whose practicality is the disguised narrow-mindedness which has in fact induced the calamity, must cease. Attention should be paid to what those who are decried as idealists, but who in reality are the practical ones, have to say about the evolutionary needs of modern times.

‘Practical’ people of every persuasion have seen the advent of new human demands for a long time. But they wanted to deal with these demands within the framework of the old traditional thought-habits and institutions. Modern economic life has produced these demands. To satisfy them by means of private initiative seemed impossible. The transfer of private enterprise to community enterprise in some cases appeared necessary to a certain class of people; and this was carried out where they thought it was useful. Radical transfer of all individual enterprise to community enterprise was the goal of another class which was not interested in retaining the customary private objectives in the new economy.

All the efforts relating to the new requirements which have been made until now have one thing in common. They strive toward the socialization of the private sector and reckon with it being taken over by the communities (state, municipality), which have developed from conditions which have nothing to do with present requirements. Or, they reckon with newer kinds of communities (cooperatives, for example), which are not fully in harmony with these new requirements, having been copied from the old forms using traditional thought-habits.

The truth is that no form of community which corresponds to these old thought-habits can cope with such requirements. The forces of the times are pressing for knowledge of a social structure for mankind which is completely different from what is commonly envisaged. Social communities hitherto have, for the most part, been formed by human instincts. To penetrate their forces with full consciousness is a mission of the times.

The social organism is formed like the natural organism. As the natural organism must provide for thinking by means of the head and not the lungs, the formation of the social organism in systems — none of which can assume the functions of the others, although each must cooperate with the others while always maintaining its autonomy — is necessary.

The economy can prosper only if it develops, as an autonomous member of the social organism, according to its own forces and laws, and if it does not introduce confusion into its structure by letting itself be drained by another member of the social organism — the politically active one. This politically active member must function, fully autonomous, alongside the economy, as the respiratory system functions alongside the head system in the natural organism. Healthy cooperation cannot be attained by means of a single legislative and administrative organ, but by each system having its own mutually cooperating legislature and administration. The political system, by absorbing the economy, inevitably destroys it; and the economic system loses its vital force when it becomes political.

A third member of the social organism, in full autonomy and formed from its own potentialities, must be added to these two: that of spiritual production, to which the spiritual parts of the other two sectors, supplied to them by this third sector, belong. It must have its own legitimate rules and administration and not be administered or influenced by the other two, except in the sense that the members of the natural organism mutually influence each other.

Already today one can scientifically substantiate and develop in detail what has been said here about the social organism's needs. In this presentation only a general indication can be given for all those who wish to pursue them.

The German Empire was founded at a time when these needs were converging on mankind. Its administrators did not understand the need for setting the Empire's mission accordingly. A view to these necessities would not only have given the Empire the correct inner structure; it would also have lent justification to its foreign policy. The German people could have lived together with the non-German peoples through such a policy.

Insight should now mature from the calamity. One should develop a will for the best possible social organism. Not a Germany which no longer exists should face the world, but a spiritual, a political and an economic system should propose to deal as autonomous delegations, through their representatives, with those who crushed that Germany which became an impossible social structure due to the confusion of its three systems.

One can anticipate the experts who object to the complexity of these suggestions and find it uncomfortable even to think about three systems cooperating with each other, because they wish to know nothing of the real requirements of life and would structure everything according to the comfortable requirements of their thinking. This must become clear to them: either people will accommodate their thinking to the requirements of reality, or they will have learned nothing from the calamity and will cause innumerable new ones to occur in the future.

Rudolf Steiner

Last Modified: 15-Nov-2017
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