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Basic Issues of the Social Question

Basic Issues: Preliminary Remarks Concerning the Purpose of this Book

On-line since: 13th July, 2002


The contemporary social situation poses grave and comprehensive challenges. The demands which have arisen for new structures indicate that the solutions to these challenges must be sought in ways which have not been previously considered. Conditions being what they are, the time has perhaps come when attention will be paid to one whose experience in life obliges him to contend that thoughtlessness concerning the ways which have become necessary has resulted in social chaos. The arguments presented in this book are based on this opinion. They deal with the prerequisites for transforming the demands of a large part of contemporary humanity into purposeful social will. The formation of this will should not depend on whether the demands please some of us or not. They exist, and must be dealt with as social facts. This should be kept in mind by those whose position in life causes them to find distasteful the author's description of proletarian demands as something which must be reconciled by social will. The author wishes to speak only in accordance with the realities of contemporary life, insofar as his experience enables him to do so. He has seen the inevitable consequences of ignoring the facts which have unfolded in the life of modern man and of being blind to the necessity of a social will to deal with them.

Self-styled experts in practical matters (what have come to be regarded as practical matters under the influence of routine) will, at first, be dissatisfied with the arguments presented in this book. But it is just such persons as these who should undergo a relearning process, for their ‘expertise’ has been proven by recent events to be absolutely erroneous and has led to disastrous consequences. They must learn to recognize many things as practical which have seemed to them to be eccentric idealism. They may be critical of the fact that the early parts of the book deal more with the spiritual life of modern mankind than with economics. The author is obliged however, from his personal knowledge of life, to take the position that the errors of the past will only multiply if the decision is not made to focus attention on modern mankind's spiritual life. Equally dissatisfied with what the author says in this book will be those who are continuously intoning clichés about mankind abandoning purely materialistic interests and turning to ‘the spirit’, to ‘idealism’, for he attaches little importance to the mere reference to ‘the spirit’ and talk about a nebulous spiritual world. He can only recognize a spirituality which constitutes the life substance of humanity. This manifests itself in the mastery of practical aspects as well as in the formulation of a conception of the world and of life which is capable of satisfying the needs of the soul. It is not a matter of knowing — or believing to know — about spirituality, but that it be a spirituality which is also applicable to the practical realities of everyday life, one which accompanies these everyday realities and is not a mere sideline reserved for the inner life of the soul. To the ‘spiritualists’ the arguments presented in this book will be too unspiritual, while to the ‘practical’ ones they will seem unrealistic. The author is of the opinion, however, that he may be useful to contemporary society in his way just because he does not share the impracticality of those persons who consider themselves to be practical, nor can he find any justification for the kind of talk about the ‘spirit’ that results in illusions.

The ‘social question’ is spoken of in this book as an economic, a legal rights and a spiritual question. The author is convinced that the true nature of this question reveals itself in the requirements of the economic, rights and spiritual-cultural areas of society. The impulse for a healthy coordination of these three areas within the social organism can emerge from a recognition of this fact. During previous periods of human evolution social instincts saw to it that the three areas were integrated in society in a way which corresponded to human nature as it was then. At the present however, it is necessary for mankind to structure society by means of purposeful social will. Between those past epochs and the present there is a confusion of old instincts and modern consciousness which is no longer competent to deal with the demands of modern mankind, at least as far as those countries are concerned in which such a will is meaningful. Often the old instincts persist in what passes today for purposeful social thinking. This weakens thinking in relation to the tasks it must face. A more profound effort than has been hitherto supposed must be made by the men and women of the present in order to work their way free of what is no longer viable. How the economic, rights and spiritual areas are to be structured in a way which corresponds to the demands of modern society can, in the author's opinion, only be determined if sufficient good will is developed to recognize this fact. What the author believes is necessary concerning the shape such structures should take is submitted to contemporary judgement by means of this book. The author's wish is to provide a stimulus along a way which leads to social objectives that correspond to contemporary realities and necessities. For he believes that only such efforts can transcend emotionality and utopianism where social will is concerned.

If, in spite of this, some readers find elements of this book utopian, then the author would suggest they consider how often ideas concerning possible social developments are so completely divorced from reality that they degenerate into nonsense. For this reason, one is inclined to find utopias even in arguments which derive from reality and direct experience, as has been attempted in this book. One sees an argument as ‘abstract’ because only the habitual is ‘concrete’, and the concrete is abstract if it does not coincide with the habitual manner of thinking.*

* The author has purposely avoided confining himself to the customary political economic terminology. He knows exactly which are the passages a ‘specialist’ opinion will call amateurish. His form of expression was determined not only by his desire to address himself also to people who are not familiar with political and social scientific literature, but primarily because of his view that a new age will judge most of what is specialized in this literature, including its terminology, to be one-sided and inadequate. The author would remind those who feel that he should have referred to seemingly similar social ideas of others, that the points of departure and the ways described here, for which the author can thank decades of experience, are the essential points towards a practical realization of the given impulses, and not merely this or that type of thinking. Furthermore, as can be gathered from Chapter Four, the author had already committed himself to an attempt at practical realization when seemingly similar ideas in respect to one point or another had not yet been noticed.

The author knows that strict followers of party programs will at first be unhappy with this book. Nevertheless, he is confident that many political party people will soon come to the conclusion that events have already far outstripped party programs and that a determination, independent of such programs, concerning the immediate objectives of social will is, above all, necessary.

April 1919, Rudolf Steiner

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