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The Threefold Order of the Body Social - Study Series I

On-line since: 31st May, 2012



to the 2nd German Edition of

“The Threefold Commonwealth”

The practical problems, presented by the social life of our day, cannot fail to be misinterpreted by anyone who approaches them with the idea of any sort of Utopia. One's particular views and sentiments may lead one to believe, that some special form of institution, as planned in one's own brain, is bound to make men happy; this belief may assume the force of overwhelming conviction; one may try to promulgate this belief; — and yet all one says may be completely wide of the mark as regards the social question at the present time, and its real significance.

One may push this assertion even to the following, seemingly absurd extreme, and yet strike the truth to-day. For suppose someone to possess a quite perfect theoretical “solution” of the social question, his ideas might nevertheless be wholly impractical if he thought of tendering this brain-devised scheme as a “solution” to mankind. For we are no longer living in an age when one should think it possible to influence public life to any purpose in this manner. With the present constitution of men's souls, it is not to be expected that they should say in respect to public life: “Here is somebody who understands social institutions and what is necessary; what he thinks to be the right thing, we will do!”

This is not at all the way in which people are willing to welcome any ideas about social life. The following book, — which has already received a fairly wide circulation — reckons with this fact. The intentions with which it was written have been totally misunderstood by those people who attributed to it anything of a Utopian character. The people to do so more especially, were such as themselves persist in thinking in Utopias; what they see in the other person is the characteristic feature of their own habit of mind.

For the practical thinker, it is to-day one of the accepted experiences of public life, that, with any idea of a Utopian kind — be it never so demonstrably convincing — there is absolutely nothing to be done. And yet many people still have a notion, that they are called on to lay some idea of this kind, — in the economic field, for instance, — before their fellow-men. They will have to convince themselves that they are talking in vain; their fellow-men can find no use for their proposals.

This should be taken practically as a piece of experience. For it points to a fact of great importance in modern public life: — the fact namely of the life-remoteness of what is thought, in comparison to the actual demands, for instance, of economic realities. But how can one hope to master the tangle of public life at the present day if one approaches its intricate conditions with a thinking that is life-remote?

Such a question cannot be exactly popular; for it involves the admission that one's way of thought is remote from life. And yet, without this admission there can be no approaching the social question either. For the question is one that affects the whole civilisation of the day, and that must be treated seriously, before it can be possible to arrive at any clear view of what is needed in our social life.

It is the whole form of the spiritual life of our day which is thereby called in question. Mankind in modern times has developed a kind of spiritual life which is dependent to a very large degree upon state institutions and economic forces. The human being, whilst still a child, is brought under the education and teaching of the State. He can be educated only in the way permitted by the economic conditions of the environment out of which he proceeds.

Now it might easily be thought, that in this way a person cannot fail to be well fitted to the conditions of life at the present day, since the State thus has the means of giving such forms to the whole system of education and teaching, (and thereby to the principal part of public spiritual life) as shall prove of best service to the human community. It might easily be thought too, that a person is likely to be the best possible member of the human community, when he Is educated in accordance with the economic possibilities from which he proceeds, and placed by his education at the post to which these economic possibilities appoint him.

This book has to undertake the unpopular task at the present time of showing, that the complications in our public life arise from the dependence of the spiritual life upon the State and upon the economic system; and it has to show, that one part of the very burning social question is the emancipation of the spiritual life from this dependence.

In doing so, the book sets itself in opposition to errors that are widely spread. The taking-over of the educational system by the State has for a long time past been generally regarded as something very good, and favourable to human progress. And persons of a socialist turn of mind can hardly conceive of anything else, than that the Community should educate the individual to its own service after its own standards.

People, in this matter, are very unwilling to come to a recognition which is absolutely necessary to-day: the recognition, namely, that, in the course of history, a thing may come at a later age to be mistaken, which, at an earlier stage of evolution, is right. In order for the new conditions to grow up amongst mankind in modern times, it was necessary that the educational system — and therewith public spiritual life — should be taken away from those in whom it was vested during the Middle Ages, and should be made over to the State. — But to continue to maintain this state of things is a very serious social mistake.

This is what the book has to show in the first part of it. Spiritual life has grown up to freedom within the framework of the State. It cannot flourish in this freedom as it should, unless it be given full self-administration. The whole character which our spiritual life has assumed, requires that it should form a completely self-dependent branch of the body social. The educational and teaching system, — which after all form the ground from which all spiritual life grows, — must be placed under the administration of those who do the educating and teaching. In this administration nothing must interfere, whether by voice or authority, which plays any part in the State or in economic affairs. Every teacher must spend so much time only on the actual teaching, as will allow of his also being an administrator in his own province. This means, that he will carry on the administration in the same way as he carries on his educating and teaching. Nobody will proscribe instructions, who is not himself at the same time livingly engaged in the actual work of educating and teaching. No parliament, and no individual, — who once taught perhaps, himself, but does so no longer, — will have any voice in the matter. What is learnt in the direct experience of teaching, — this will pass over into the work of administration too. And under such an arrangement it will be natural for competence and practical sense to find their fullest possible scope.

It may of course be objected, that even under this self-administration of the spiritual life everything will not be perfect. But perfection is, after all, not to be looked for in real life. All that can be aimed at, is the realisation of the best-that-is-possible. The faculties, ripening in the growing child, will really be passed on into the human community, when the care of developing them is left solely to a person who, judging upon spiritual grounds, can form a competent decision. How far a particular child ought to be brought on in the one or the other direction, — this is a matter only to be judged of in a free spiritual community; and only a community of this kind can determine, what should be done to give such judgment due effect. From a free spiritual community of this kind, both the State-life and the life of Economics will receive those forces which they are not able to give themselves, when they shape the spiritual life from their own aspects.

It lies along the lines sketched out in the book, that, as regards their arrangements and subject-matter, all educational institutes for the service of the State or the Economic System will also be under the charge of the Free Spiritual Life and its administrators. Schools of law, trade-schools, training-institutes for agriculture and industry, will all take the form which the free spiritual life gives to them. The book will inevitably awake the hostility of many prejudices, if these, quite correct, consequences be drawn from what is said there. But what is the source of these prejudices? — The antisocial spirit of them becomes plain enough, directly one perceives that at bottom, unconsciously, they proceed from the conviction that teachers are of course unpractical people, out of touch with life, — people who, if left to themselves, could not possibly be expected to make the sort of institutions that would suitably supply the practical departments of life, — that these institutions must be shaped by those actually engaged in practical affairs, and that the teachers must work along the lines directed for them.

Those who think so, do not see, that teachers who are unable to direct their own lines, from the smallest matter to the highest, are thereby made unpractical and out of touch with life. And then, the principles given them may be laid down by the most practical persons — to all appearance, — and yet the teachers will educate no practicians for actual life.

Our anti-social conditions are brought about by the fact, that people come into social life without a social sense acquired from their education. People with a social sense can only proceed from a form of education that is guided and directed by persons who themselves have a social sense. The social question will never be touched, unless the education question, and the whole question of spiritual life, be treated as one of its essential factors. Anti-social conditions are not created simply by economic institutions, but by the fact, that the human beings in these institutions behave anti-socially. And it is anti-social to have the young taught and educated by people, whom one cuts off from actual life by proscribing to them from outside what they are to do and what lines they are to follow.

The State appoints schools for the study of law, and requires that what is taught in these law-schools should be that code of jurisprudence which the State itself has laid down from its own standpoints, in accordance with its own constitutions and rules. Law-schools, that originate solely in a free spiritual life, will draw their teachings of law and equity from the sources of the spiritual life itself. The State will have to wait for what this free spiritual life shall encharge on it, and will receive new seeds of life from those living ideas which can proceed only from a spiritual life that is free.

But within the spiritual life itself, there will be those people who go out into life from their own points of view, and spread into all the branches of life's practice. Life's actual practice can never be anything that grows out of educational institutions devised by the mere practicians, and where the teaching is done by people estranged from life; it can only grow out of a teaching where the teachers understand life and its practice from their own points of view. — The administration of the spiritual life in detail, and the form it will take, is described, or at least indicated, in the book.

People of a Utopian turn of mind will raise any number of questions in argument. Artists and spiritual workers of all professions will anxiously enquire, whether artistic talent is likely to flourish better under a free spiritual life, than under the one at present provided by the State and the powers of the economic world? — Those who put such questions should reflect, that this book is in no respect designed as a Utopia. Nowhere is there laid down in it any sort of theory: Things should be thus or thus; but practical suggestions are made for human communities, which, living and working together, shall be able to bring about desirable social conditions. Any person who judges life, not according to theoretic preconceptions but actual experience, will say to himself, that every worker, producing freely out of Ms own creative talents, will have a prospect of his work being duly appreciated, when there is a free spiritual community, able to intervene in life's affairs from its own point of view.

The “social question” is not something that has come up in human life in these days, and that can now be solved by a couple of individuals or by parliaments, and will then be solved. The “social question” is bound up with the whole of modern civilised life, and will remain so, once having arisen. At every moment in the evolution of human history it will have to be solved anew. For human life in these latter times has entered upon a phase where all social institutions continually give rise to what is anti-social. And this anti-social element has constantly to be overcome afresh. Just as any living body, after repletion, enters again after awhile upon a phase of hunger, so too the body social, after its organic conditions have once been ordered, comes again into disorder. There is no more a panacea for the ordering of social conditions, than there is a food that stills hunger for all time. Men, however, may enter into such forms of community, that, through their joint living co-operation, external life is constantly redressed and turned into the social direction. And one such community is the self-administering, spiritual branch of the body social.

Just as, for the spiritual life, free self-administration is a social necessity, called for by the practical experiences of the modern age, — so, for the economic life, is associative work. — The economic process, in modern human life, consists in the production of commodities, the circulation of commodities, and the consumption of commodities. By means of this process human needs are satisfied; and in this process are involved the human beings with their activities. Each person has his own part-interests in the process, and each must himself take part in it with the peculiar activity of which he is capable. What each person actually requires, he alone can know and feel; what he ought to perform, he desires to decide from his own insight into the life-conditions of the whole body. This was not so at all times, and is not so to-day over all the earth; it is so in the main, amongst the civilised part of the earth's population at the present day.

The economic life has drawn ever wider circles in the course of mankind's evolution. The self-contained system of household-economy grew into town-economy and this again into state-economy. To-day we are confronted with world-economy. — It is true, that in each new system a considerable part still lives on of the old; and in each old system a good deal of the new was already present in anticipation. But the divers lots and lives of mankind are involved with the fact, that this series of evolutionary phases have exerted in turn a predominant influence in certain relations of life.

It is a senseless idea to want to organise the forces of economic life into an abstract all-world community. The individual economic organisms have to a large extent merged, in the course of evolution, into the economic organisms of the various states. But the state-communities arose out of other forces than purely economic ones; and it was the endeavour to convert these state-communities into economic communities, which has resulted in the social chaos of these latter times. Economic life is struggling to assume shapes given to it by its own proper forces, independent of State-institutions, and independent too of State ways of thinking. It can only do so, when associations come together, composed purely from economic points of view, and drawn conjointly from circles of consumers, traders, and producers. The size of such associations will be regulated of itself by the circumstances of actual life: — over-small associations would prove too costly in the working, over-large ones too complicated, economically, for provision and control. The actual requirements of life will lead the different associations to find the best ways of regulating intercourse one with another. There is no need to fear, if a person's life has to be spent in constant change of place, that he will find himself restricted by associations of this kind. Transition from one to the other will be easy, when the interests of trade and industry effect the transit, and not state-organisations. One can conceive arrangements between such an organic system of associations, which would work with all the ease of a money-currency.

Within any particular association, a very general harmony of interests can be made possible by practical sense and a thorough understanding of the departments of business. Instead of laws regulating the production of the commodities, their circulation and their consumption, the people themselves will regulate them through their own direct insight and immediate interest in the matter. Standing themselves in the midst of this associative life, the people are able to possess the requisite insight; and the fact, that the various interests must find their level by means of contract, will lead the commodities to circulate at proportionate prices. Such joint association according to economic points of view is something quite different from what exists, for instance, in the modern trades' unions. The trades' unions exert their action in economic life; but they do not come together according to economic points of view. They are constructed after the principles which in modern times have grown out of habitual dealing with political, or State, points of view. They are parliaments, in which the people debate; not where they meet to settle together, according to economic points of view, what service one should render the other. In the associations, there will not be sitting ‘wage-labourers’ exerting their power to extract as high a rate of wages as possible from the employer of labour; but the manual workers will be collaborating with the spiritual directors of production and with those whose interests lie in the consumption of what they produce, jointly endeavouring so to adjust prices, that one service may find a suitable reciprocation in the other. This cannot be done by debating in parliamentary assemblies; people will be very chary of such things; for, who would ever be working, if any number of people had to spend their time negotiating about the work! It all goes on in agreements between man and man, between association and association, — along with the work.

What is sketched here, is no plan for a Utopia. It does not say in the least, that anything ought to be arranged in this way or in that. It simply points out how the people themselves will arrange things, when they want to work effectively in communities that accord with their own insight and interests.

That people will actually join together in communities of this kind, is a matter which human nature takes care of on the one hand, — when it is not hindered by state-Interference, — since nature creates the wants. And on the other hand, the free spiritual life will take care of it; for a free spiritual life develops the kinds of insight that are needed for action in the community. Anyone, whose thinking rests on experience, must admit, that associative communities of this kind could be formed at any time, and that there is nothing utopian involved in them. Nothing whatever prevents their existing, except the fact, that the modern man is so bent upon “organising” economic life from outside, that the idea of “organisation” might be said to have become a sort of psychic suggestion with him. In direct contrast to this “organising,” which tries to join men together from outside in the work of production, is this other picture, of the living economic organisation which rests on free associative union. In the course of joint association, one man forms links with the other, and the general system of the whole body grows out of the intelligence of its individual members.

One may say of course, ‘What is the use of the Have-Nots associating together with the Haves!’ One may perhaps think it better that all production and consumption should be regulated “justly” from outside. But this sort of “organising” regulation hampers the free creative energies of the individual, and deprives economic life from receiving what such creative energies alone can produce. Only let the experiment for once be made, in spite of all existing prejudices; let an association be formed even between the Have-Nots of to-day and the Haves; and if no forces intervene save economic ones, he-who-has will of necessity be obliged to balance services with him-who-has-not, reciprocal service for service.

In discussing these things to-day, people talk, not from the life-instincts which arise out of experience, but from those moods of mind which have grown up out of class-interests and interests of all kinds, other than economic, — and which have been able to grow up, for the reason, that in this modern age, when the economic life especially has become ever more and more complicated, people have been unable to keep pace with it with purely economic ideas. What prevented them, has been the unfree spiritual life. The people engaged in economic life are caught up in its routine. The forces in action, that shape the economic processes, are not fully clear to them; they work without any insight into the totality of human life. In the associations, each will learn from the others what it is absolutely necessary that he should know. There will come to be a collective economic experience as to what is possible; because the people, of whom each has insight and experience in his special department, will put their judgments together.

Just as, in the free spiritual life, the only forces at work are those which reside in the spiritual life itself, so too, in the associative system of economy, the only economic values will be those which result from the associations. In the economic life, what any particular person has to do in it, is the outcome of his life in conjunction with those with whom he is economically associated. This means, that he Will have exactly so much influence upon the general economic process as corresponds to the service he renders. — The case of those who are unfit for service, and the place they occupy in the body social, will be found discussed in the book. To shelter the weak from the strong: this can be done by an economic life that is shaped solely by its own, economic forces.

The body social will fall then into two self-dependent parts, which are able mutually to support one another for the very reason, that each has its own peculiar administration, proceeding from its own special forces. But between the two, there must be a third form of life at work. This is the ‘State’ branch, strictly speaking, of the body social. What here finds scope, are all those things which are, and must be, dependent on the judgment and sentiments of every grown-up human being. In the free spiritual life, each person busies himself according to his own special faculties. In the economic life, each person occupies his particular place in the way that results from the associative connection in which he stands. In the political, or State life of Rights, he comes to his account purely as a man, — insofar as this is independent of the faculties he may be able to exert in the free spiritual life, and independent too of whatever value the associative economic life may give to the commodities that he produces,

Labour is shown in this book, as regards hours and manner of work, to be a concern of the political, or State Rights life. In this system of the body social, every man meets his fellow man on equal ground; because, here, the only affairs transacted, or administered, lie in provinces where every man alike is equally competent to judge. Men's rights and men's duties find their regulation here.

The organic unity of the whole body social will grow out of the independent development of these, its three systems. The book will show, what form the action of movable capital, — the means of production, — may assume under the joint working of the three systems, as well as the use of land and soil.

Anybody, who wants to ‘solve’ the social question by means of some economic device hatched out in the brain, will think the book not practical. But if anybody, starting from life's actual experience, wants to promote those forms of association, amongst human beings, in which they may learn to understand and to apply themselves to the social problems — then he may be not quite unwilling to allow the author's attempt towards a genuine practice of life.

The book was first published in 1919. To what was verbally delivered at the time, I added a series of supplementary articles, which appeared in the paper, ‘Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus,’ and have now come out in book-form under the title “In Ausführung der Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus” [obtainable in English through the anthroposophical book-shops under the title, “Studies in the Threefold Commonwealth.”].

It will be found, that in both books there is comparatively little said about the “aims” of the social movement, and much more about the paths that must be trodden in social life. Anyone, who thinks along the lines of practical life, knows, that a particular aim may present itself under a variety of shapes. Only those people who live in abstractions, see everything mapped-out in single contours. Such people often find fault with what is really practicable, as being not ‘clear’ enough, ‘too vague in its outlines.’ Many, who fancy themselves ‘practical people,’ are often just these very abstractionists. They do not reflect, that life may assume all manner of shapes. It is an element of flux; and whoever would go along with it, must adapt himself in his own thoughts and sentiments to this trait of constant fluctuation. Social problems are only to be grasped by this kind of thinking.

The ideas in this book have been wrung from observation of life; it is from the observation of life that they ask to be understood.

Last Modified: 15-Nov-2017
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