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The Renewal of the Social Organism

RSO: Social Future 3: Culture, Law and Economics

Four Articles From
The Newspaper:
The Social Future

 

Culture, Law and Economics

 

In the present social movement there is a great deal of talk about social institutions, but very little talk about social and antisocial human beings. Very little regard is paid to the “social question” that arises when one considers that institutions in a community take their social or antisocial stamp from the people who run them. Socialist thinkers expect to see in the community's control of the means of production something that will satisfy the demands of a wide range of people. They take for granted that, under communal control of the economy, human relations will necessarily assume a social form as well. They have seen that the economic system along the lines of private capitalism has led to antisocial conditions. They believe that when this industrial system has disappeared, the antisocial tendencies at work within it will also necessarily come to an end.

Undoubtedly, along with the modern private capitalist form of industrial economy there have arisen social evils — evils that embrace the widest range of social life; but is this in any way a proof that they are a necessary consequence of this industrial system? An industrial system can, in and of itself, do nothing beyond putting men into life situations that enable them to produce goods for themselves or for others in a more or less efficient manner. The modern industrial system has brought the means of production under the power of individual persons or groups. The achievements of technology were such that the best use could be made of them by a concentration of industrial and economic power. So long as this power is employed in the one field — the production of goods alone — its social effect is essentially different from what it is when this power oversteps its bounds and trespasses into the fields of law or culture. It is this trespassing into the other fields that, in the course of the last few centuries, has led to the social evils that the modern social movement is striving to abolish. He who possesses the means of production acquires economic power over others. This economic power has resulted in the capitalist allying himself with the powers of government, whereby he is able to procure other advantages in society, opposing those who were economically dependent on him — advantages which, even in a democratically constituted state, are in practice of a legal nature. This economic domination has led to a similar monopolization of the cultural life by those who held economic power.

The simplest thing would seem to be to get rid of this economic predominance of individuals, and thereby do away with their dominance in the spheres of rights and spiritual culture as well. One arrives at this “simplicity” of social thought when one fails to remember that the combination of technological and economic activity afforded by modern life necessitates allowing the most fruitful possible development of individual initiative and personal talent within the business community. The form production must take under modern conditions makes this a necessity. The individual cannot bring his abilities to bear in business if in his work and decision-making he is tied down to the will of the community. However dazzling is the thought of the individual producing not for himself but collectively for society, its justice within certain bounds should not hinder one from also recognizing the other truth — collectively, society is incapable of giving birth to economic schemes that can be realized through individuals in the most desirable way. Really practical thought, therefore, will not look to find the cure for social ills in a reshaping of economic life that would substitute communal production for private management of the means of production. Rather, the endeavor should be to forestall evils that may spring up along with management by individual initiative and personal talent, without impairing this management itself. This is possible only if neither the legal relationship among those engaged in industry, nor that which the spiritual-cultural sphere must contribute, are influenced by the interests of industrial and economic life.

It cannot be said that those who manage the business of economic life can, while occupied by economic interests, preserve sound judgment on legal affairs and that, because their experience and work have made them well acquainted with the requirements of economic life, they will therefore be best able to settle legal matters that may arise within the workings of the economy. To hold such an opinion is to overlook the fact that a sphere of life calls forth interests arising only within that sphere. Out of the economic sphere one can develop only economic interests. If one is called out of this sphere to produce legal judgements as well, then these will merely be economic interests in disguise. Genuine political interests can only grow upon the field of political life, where the only consideration will be what are the rights of a matter. And if people proceed from such considerations to frame legal regulations, then the law thus made will have an effect upon economic life. It will then be unnecessary to place restrictions on the individual in respect to acquiring economic power; for such economic power will only result in his rendering economic services proportionate to his abilities — not in his using it to obtain special rights and privileges in social life.

An obvious objection is that political and legal questions do after all arise in people's dealing with one another in business, so it is quite impossible to conceive of them as something distinct from economic life. Theoretically this is right enough, but it does not necessarily follow that in practice economic interests should be paramount in determining these legal relations. The manager who directs a business must necessarily have a legal relationship to manual workers in the same business; but this does not mean that he, as a business manager, is to have a say in determining what that relationship is to be. Yet he will have a say in it, and he will throw his economic predominance into the scales if economic cooperation and legal administration are conjoined. Only when laws are made in a field where business considerations cannot in any way come into question, and where business cannot gain any power over this legal system, will the two be able to work together in such a way that our sense of justice will not be violated, nor business acumen be turned into a curse instead of a blessing for the whole community.

When the economically powerful are in a position to use that power to wrest legal privileges for themselves, among the economically weak will grow a corresponding opposition to these privileges. As soon as it has become strong enough, such opposition will lead to revolutionary disturbances. If the existence of a separate political and legal province makes it impossible for such privileges to arise, then disturbances of this sort cannot occur. What this special legal province does is to give constant orderly scope to those forces which, in its absence, accumulate until at last they vent themselves violently. Whoever wants to avoid revolutions should learn to establish a social order that shall accomplish in the steady flow of time what will otherwise try to realize itself in one historical moment.

It will be said that the immediate concern of the modern social movement is not legal relations, but rather the removal of economic inequalities. One must reply to such an objection that our conscious thoughts are not always the true expression of the real demands stirring within us. Our conscious thoughts are the outcome of immediate experience; but the demands themselves originate in far deeper strata that are not experienced immediately. And if one aims at bringing about conditions that can satisfy these demands, one must attempt to penetrate to these deeper strata. A consideration of the relations that have come about in modern times between industrial economy and law shows that the legal sphere has become dependent upon the economic. If one were to try superficially, by means of a one-sided alteration in the forms of economic life, to abolish those economic inequalities that the law's dependence on the economy has brought about, then in a very short while similar inequalities would inevitably result as long as the new economic order were again allowed to build up the system of rights out of itself. One will never really touch what is working its way up through the social movement to the surface of modern life until one brings about social conditions in which, alongside the claims and interests of the economic life, those of politics and law can be realized and satisfied upon their own independent basis.

It is in a similar manner, again, that one must approach the question of the cultural life and its bearings on that of law and the economy. In the last few centuries the cultural life has been cultivated under conditions that allowed it to exercise only the smallest independent influence upon politics or the economy. One of the most important aspects of culture, education, was shaped by governmental interests. People were trained and taught according to the requirements of the state. And the power of the state was reinforced by economic power. If anyone were to develop his or her human capacities within the existing educational institutions, this depended directly on his or her economic station in life. Accordingly, the spiritual forces that were able to find scope within the political or economic spheres bore the stamp of these economic factors. Free cultural life had to forego any attempt to make itself useful within the political state. And it could influence the economic sphere only to the extent that economics had remained independent of state control. For a vibrant economy demands that competent people be given full scope; economic matters cannot be left to just anyone whom circumstances may have left in control. If, however, the typical socialist program were to be carried out, and economic life were to be administered on the model of politics and the law, the cultivation of the free spiritual life would be forced to withdraw from the public sector altogether. However, a cultural life that has to develop apart from civil and economic realities loses touch with real life. It is forced to draw its substance from sources not vitally linked to those realities. Over the course of time the cultural life makes of this substance a sort of animated abstraction that runs alongside real events without having any concrete effect upon them. In this way, two different currents arise within cultural life. One of them draws its waters from political rights and economics, and is occupied with their daily requirements, trying to devise systems to meet these requirements — without, however, penetrating to the needs of our spiritual nature. All it does is devise external systems and harness men into them, ignoring what their inner nature has to say about it. The other current of cultural life proceeds from the inner striving for knowledge and from ideals of the will. These it shapes to suit our inner nature. However, such knowledge is derived from contemplation: it is not the precipitate of practical experience. These ideals have arisen from concepts of what is true and good and beautiful, but they do not have the strength to shape the conduct of life. Consider what concepts, what religious ideals, what artistic interests, form the inner life of the shopkeeper, the manufacturer, or the government official, outside and apart from his daily practical life; and then consider what ideas are contained in those activities that find expression in his bookkeeping, or for which he is trained by the education that prepared him for his profession. A gulf lies between these two currents of cultural life. The gulf has grown all the wider in recent years because the kind of thinking that is quite justified in natural science has become the measure of our relationship to reality as a whole. This way of thinking seeks to understand the lawfulness of phenomena that lie beyond human activity and human influence, so that the human being is a mere spectator of what he comprehends in a scheme of natural law. And although he sets these laws of nature into motion in technology, he himself does no more than allow the forces that lie outside his own being and nature to be active. The knowledge he employs in this kind of activity has a character that is quite different from his own nature. It reveals to him nothing of what lies in cosmic processes with which human nature is interwoven. For such knowledge as this he needs a world view that unites both the human world and the world outside him.

Anthroposophy strives for such knowledge. While fully recognizing all that scientific thinking means for the progress of modern humanity, anthroposophy sees that the scientific method framed for the study of nature is able to convey only that which comprehends the outer human being. It also recognizes the essential nature of the religious world views, but is aware that in the modern age these concepts of the world have become an internal concern of the soul, and not something applied in any way to the transformation of external life, which runs on separately alongside.

In order to arrive at its insights, spiritual science makes demands to which people are still little inclined, because in the last few centuries they have become used to carrying on their outer and inner lives as two separate and distinct existences. Thus the incredulity that meets every endeavor to bring spiritual insight to bear upon social questions. People remember past attempts that were born of a spirit estranged from life. When there is any talk of such things, they recall St. Simon, Fourier and others. The opinion is justified insofar as such ideas stem not from living experience, but rather from an artificial thought-construct. Thus they conclude that spiritual thinking is generally unable to produce ideas that can be realized in practical life. From this general theory come the various views that in their modern form are all more or less attributable to Marx. Those who hold them have no use for ideas as active agents in bringing about satisfactory social conditions. Rather, they maintain that the evolution of economic realities is tending inevitably toward a goal from which such conditions will result. They are inclined to let practical life more or less take its own course because in actual practice ideas are powerless. They have lost faith in the strength of spiritual life. They do not believe that there can be any kind of spiritual life able to overcome the remoteness and unreality that has characterized it during the last few centuries.

It is a kind of spiritual life such as this, nevertheless, that is the goal of anthroposophy. The sources it would draw from are the sources of reality itself. Those forces that hold sway in our innermost being are the same forces that are at work in external reality. Scientific thinking cannot penetrate down to these forces when it merely elaborates natural law intellectually out of external experience. Yet the world views that are founded on a more religious basis are no longer in touch with these forces either. They accept the traditions that have been handed down without penetrating to their fountainhead in the depths of human nature. The spiritual science of anthroposophy, however, seeks to penetrate to this fountainhead. It develops epistemological methods that lead down into those regions of our inner nature where the processes external to us find their continuation within human nature itself. The insights of spiritual science represent a reality actually experienced within our inmost self. These insights shape themselves into ideas that are not mere mental constructs, but rather something saturated with the forces of reality. Hence such ideas are able to carry within them the force of reality when they offer themselves as guides to social action. One can well understand that, at first, a spiritual science such as this should meet with mistrust. Such mistrust will not last when people come to recognize the essential difference that exists between this spiritual science and modern natural science, which is assumed today to be the only kind of science possible. If one can struggle through to a recognition of the difference, then one will cease to believe that one must avoid social ideas when one is intent upon the practical work of shaping social reality. One will begin to see, instead, that practical social ideas can be had only from a spiritual life that can find its way to the roots of human nature. One will see clearly that in modern times social events have fallen into disorder because people have tried to master them with thoughts from which reality constantly struggled free.

Spiritual insight that penetrates to the essence of human-nature finds there motives for action that are immediately good in the ethical sense as well. The impulse toward evil arises in us only because in our thoughts and feelings we silence the depths of our own nature. Accordingly, social ideas that are arrived at through the sort of spiritual concepts indicated here must, by their very nature, he ethical ideas as well. Since they are drawn not from thought alone, but from life, they possess the strength to take hold of the will and to live on in action. In true spiritual insight, social thought and ethical thought become one. And the life that grows out of such spiritual insight is intimately linked with every form of activity in human life — even in our practical dealings with the most insignificant matters. Thus as a consequence of social awareness, ethical impulse and practical conduct become so closely interwoven that they form a unity.

This kind of spirituality can thrive, however, only when its growth is completely independent of all authority except that derived directly from cultural life itself. Political and legal measures for the nurturance of the spirit sap the strength of cultural life, while a cultural life that is left entirely to its own inherent interests and impulses will strengthen every aspect of social life. It is frequently objected that humanity would need to be completely transformed before one could found social behavior upon ethical impulses. Such an objection does not take into account that human ethical impulses wither away if they are not allowed to arise within a free cultural life, but are instead forced to take the particular turn that the political-legal structure of society finds necessary for carrying on work in the spheres it has previously mapped out. A person brought up and educated within a free cultural life will certainly, through his very initiative, bring along into his calling much of the stamp of his or her own personality. Such a person will not allow himself to be fitted into the social works like a cog into a machine. In the end, however, what he brings into it will not disturb the harmony of the whole, but rather increase it. What goes on in each particular part of the communal life will be the outcome of what lives in the spirits of the people at work there.

People whose souls breathe the atmosphere created by a spirit such as this will vitalize the institutions needed for practical economic purposes in such a way that social needs, too, will be satisfied. Institutions devised to satisfy these social needs will never work so long as people feel their inner nature to be out of harmony with their outward occupation. For institutions of themselves cannot work socially. To work socially requires socially attuned human beings working within an ordered legal system created by a living interest in this legal system, and with an economic life that produces in the most efficient fashion the goods required for actual needs.

If the life of culture is a free one, evolved only from those impulses that reside within itself, then legal institutions will thrive to the degree that people are educated intelligently in the ordering of their legal relations and rights; the basis of this intelligence must be a living experience of the spirit. Then economic life will be fruitful as well to the degree that cultivation of the spirit has developed new capacities within us.

Every institution that has arisen within communal life had its origin in the will that shaped it; the life of the spirit has contributed to its growth. Only when life becomes complicated, as it has under modern technical methods of production, does the will that dwells in thought lose touch with social reality. The latter then pursues its own course mechanically. We withdraw in spirit, and seek in some remote corner the spiritual substance needed to satisfy our souls.

It is this mechanical course of events, over which the individual will had no control, that gave rise to conditions which the modern social movement aims at changing. It is because the spirit that is at work within the legal sphere and the economy is no longer one through which the individual spiritual life can flow, that the individual sees himself in a social order which gives him, as an individual, no legal or economic scope for self-development.

People who do not see through this will always object to viewing the social organism as consisting of three systems, each requiring its own distinct basis — cultural life, political institutions, and the economy. They will protest that such a differentiation will destroy the necessary unity of communal life. To this one must reply that right now this unity is destroying itself in the effort to maintain itself intact. Legal institutions based upon economic power actually work to undermine that economic power, because it is felt by those economically inferior to be a foreign body within the social organism. And when the spirit that reigns within legal and economic life tries to regulate the activity of the organism as a whole, it condemns the living spirit (which works its way up from the depths of each individual soul) to powerlessness in the face of practical life. If, however, the legal system grows up on independent ground out of the consciousness of rights, and if the will of the individual dwelling in the spirit is developed in a free cultural life, then the legal system, strength of spirit and economic activity work together as a unity. They will be able to do so when they can develop, each according to its own proper nature, in distinct fields of life. It is just in separation that they will turn to unity; when an artificial unity is imposed, they become estranged.

Many socialist thinkers will thus dismiss such a view: “It is impossible to bring about satisfactory conditions through this organic formation of society. It can be done only through a suitable economic organization.” They overlook the fact that those who work in their economic organization are endowed with wills. If one tells them this, they will smile, for they regard it as self-evident. Yet their thoughts are busy constructing a social edifice in which this “self-evident fact” is ignored. Their economic organization is to be controlled by a communal will. However, this must after all be the result of the individual wills of the people united in the organization. These individual wills can never take effect if the communal will is derived entirely from the idea of economic organization. Individual wills can expand unfettered if, alongside the economic sphere, there is a legal sphere where the standard is set, not by any economic point of view, but only by the consciousness of rights, and if, alongside both the economic and legal spheres, a free cultural life can find place, following only the impulses of the spirit. Then we shall not have a social order running like clockwork, in which individual wills could never find a lasting place. Then human beings will find it possible to give their wills a social bent and to bring them constantly to bear on the shaping of social circumstances. Under the free cultural life the individual will shall become social. When legal institutions are self-subsisting, these socially attuned individual wills shall yield a communal will that works justly. The individual wills, socially oriented and organized by the independent legal system, will exert themselves within the economic system, producing and distributing goods as social needs demand.

Most people today still lack faith in the possibility of establishing a social order based on individual wills. They have no faith in it because such a faith cannot come from a cultural life that has developed in dependence on the state and the economy. The kind of spirit that does not develop in freedom out of the life of the spirit itself but rather out of an external organization simply does not know what are the spirit's potentials. It looks about for something to guide and manage it, not knowing how the spirit guides and manages itself if it can but draw its strength from its own sources. It would like to have a board of management for the spirit — a branch of the economic and legal organizations — totally disregarding the fact that the economy and the legal system can thrive only when permeated with the spirit that is self-subsistent.

It is not good will that is needed in order to transform the social order; what is needed is a courage to oppose this lack of faith in the spirit's power. A truly spiritual view can inspire this courage, for such a spiritual view feels able to bring forth ideas that serve not only the inner needs of the soul, but also the needs of outer, practical life. The will to enter the depths of the spirit can become a will so strong as to suffuse every deed that one performs.

When one speaks of a spiritual view having its roots in life itself, many people take one to mean the sum total of those instincts that become a refuge when one travels along the familiar paths of life and holds every intervention from, spiritual spheres to be a piece of eccentric idealism. The spiritual view intended here, however, must not be confused with that abstract spirituality incapable of extending its interests to practical life, nor with that spiritual tendency which actually denies the spirit flatly when it considers the guidelines of practical life. Both these views ignore the way in which the spirit rules in the facts of external life, and therefore feel no urgent need to penetrate to its foundations. Yet only such a sense of urgency brings forth that knowledge which sees the “social question” in its true light. The experiments now being made to resolve this issue yield such unsatisfactory results because many people have not yet become able to see the true nature of the question. They see this question arise in economic spheres, and they look to economic institutions to provide the answer. They think they will find the solution in economic transformation. They fail to recognize that these transformations can only come about through forces that are released from within human nature itself in the revival of independent cultural and legal life.




Last Modified: 28-Oct-2018
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