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The Threefold Order of the Body Social - Study Series II

Schmidt Number: S-4213

On-line since: 31st December, 2012


Address given by Dr. Steiner
at a Social Study Evening in Stuttgart
15th September, 1920.

(Influence of the human will upon the course of economic life.
Emancipation of the money-market from the goods-market.
Returns on production or needs of consumption as
economic starting points. Necessary and unnecessary work.
Historic examples.)


L a d i e s   a n d   G e n t l e m e n

If things really went on in political life — or in public life generally — in the way imagined by many people at the present day, one could only give up all hope of any personal action, any direct human intervention, being able to effect anything towards the betterment of social conditions. More particularly, one cannot but remember that there are quite a number of people at the present day, who are under the idea, that the phases of economic life run their course almost like natural phaenomena: that after one set of economic occurrences has played itself out, another set of occurrences will follow, with an inevitability of cause and effect in every way comparable to the inevitability with which a substance, possessing certain properties, will catch fire when brought together in a certain way with another substance. And in the same way many people have the idea in economic life, that when some phase like a ‘favorable business conjuncture’ has been evolved for a while, that then this ‘favorable business conjuncture’ will of itself inevitably evolve a crisis, and that this will then be succeeded for a while by a bad run of business and a declining phase of economic conditions; until again a sort of recovery sets in, and a rise takes place so to speak in economic life.

This way of depicting economic processes was one peculiarly favoured in latter times by the theoreticians of economic thought, by political economists, who would have liked to describe everything as part of a chain of external cause and effect, to the exclusion of all intervention from the human will. It has actually been asserted, for instance, that the important economic crisis, which took place towards 1907 and during that year, was one that was bound to follow of necessity, as a consequence of the boom that preceded it.

It may be thought perhaps, that a study of processes which cover such a wide range of economic life as favourable or unfavorable conjunctures cannot be of so much concern for the private individual; but this is not the case. And in particular any person, who wants himself to embark on any sort of undertaking, must each time pay good heed to the ‘conjunctural aspect’ into which he is launching.

It is of course only too comprehensible, that the whole natural-science way of thinking during the last three to four hundred years should give rise to this belief in an inevitable chain of cause and effect. As you know, it is the Marxian school of social thought more especially, whose devotees indulge in this sort of ideas, and would like to make such ideas too the basis of social action. In the eyes of many persons to-day it seems quite foolish to criticise anything of this kind; for people look upon natural science and its methods of thought as presenting a downright ideal; and they look upon it as a great achievement, that this natural-science method of thought has been extended to the affairs of practical life as well.

Here it is, that spiritual science, which, according to the views represented at all times in this place [The Branch-House, No. 70 Landhausstr., in Stuttgart; the first building specially erected and designed for anthroposophical work; opened by Dr. Steiner in October, 1911.], is the only science from which a sound, social way of thinking can proceed ... here it is that spiritual science must come in and rectify errors; and it is able to rectify them through its whole essence, which has nothing whatever in it of that peculiar abstract, theoretic character assumed by materialist, natural-science thought in modern times, — which, on the contrary, educates in a man something which leads him to look plainly at the actual facts of life, and not to let these facts of life be mystified with a fog of theories. — I have pointed out in my "Roots of the Social Question", that it is just the working classes of the day who are peculiarly prone to bow down to a world-conception which from first to last is purely theoretic. The reason of this is simply, that the working classes of the day, — finding no understanding of what they were in search of, — took over from the middle-classes, — who were developing ever more and more materialistically, — the only world-conception that these middle-classes stood for: that of Materialism. And now they believe in this materialist world-conception as in an infallible gospel, and simply cannot free themselves from it.

Spiritual science allows of no bowing down to theories, and — above all — of no tendency to phantasies of any sort. For, if one has any latent tendency as a spiritual scientist to be at all fantastical, then everything one may see in the spiritual world will become thereby distorted, — caricatured: one will only get into quite a distorted world. The first, necessary foundation for spiritual science is, that it should train its disciples to realities, — in a certain measure indeed, as I might say, to sober commonplace. But, once anyone has trained himself in the spiritual field, firstly to strict, clear logic, and secondly to the careful consideration of actual facts, then he is in a position to carry this training on into practical every-day life as well, and in every way fitted, there too, to let facts tell their own tale and to allow them their due weight.

What do the political economists and theorists do, and the other people who sit at their feet, when they want, for instance, to study something like the economic crisis of 1907? They first begin by studying the economic conditions that went before it, in 1906, and come there to a year of favourable conjuncture. And they then attempt to find in these conditions, that went before, the origin of the economic collapse, that came after. If one follows this procedure, one is apt to confuse one's mind with all sorts of nebulous notions, and becomes in the end altogether incapable of thinking straight in social matters. Whereas, if one has trained oneself in the things such as spiritual science absolutely requires, then one examines the actual economic facts; and then one discovers something of this kind, (we might have chosen any other example), that — as regards the crisis of 1907 — there was a powerful combine of finance-magnates in America, who owned 30 banks and over 30 long lines of rail, besides a number of other things. This powerful combine had, on the quiet, bought up big quantities of stock in certain speculative concerns, which were also being traded with on the European exchanges; so that nearly the whole of this stock was in the hands of this combine of financial magnates. They then, through all sorts of business manipulations, induced a number of European banks, and European undertakings generally, to buy stock of this kind ‘for future delivery,’ and succeeded so well at that time as to get quite a large number of people to buy stock of this kind ‘for future delivery.’ Now let us suppose that a business undertaking concluded a purchase ‘for future delivery’ in stock of this kind, in order to sell it again; and that, at the same time with the European undertakings, these banks in America concluded purchases ‘for future delivery’ in the same stock. Suppose then, a European undertaking had bought these stocks, on the one hand, and, on the other, was pledged to sell them again at a specified term, — but didn't possess them, because they had all been bought up again in advance by the Morgan-Combine; so that they had first to buy them back again from over there. The business undertakings in Europe were to a very wide extent under obligations to deliver stock of this kind; but now, in the meantime, during the period which had elapsed between the speculative purchase and the term of delivery, they had succeeded on the American side in screwing up the value of this stock enormously high; and the consequence was an extraordinary drain upon the European money-market; of which the result was this crisis: The crisis, that is, was created by a purely financial speculation brought about by a small number of definite individuals. — Those, who recall it, will remember that the bank discount at that time rose in England as high as 7 per cent, and in Germany at times as high as 8 per cent; and a rise in the bank discount is always a barometer for crises. — This crisis, therefore, was really brought about by the will of these particular persons; and it is to facts, such as these, one must look, that is, to quite specific, concrete facts of actual life, and not to general theories, if one wants to understand actual life in its social manifestations. It may be all very clever, it may seem uncommonly clever and convincing, when Carl Marx, for instance, takes a particular form of economic life, and proceeds to deduce from this with a kind of logical necessity all that people subsequently think. But at bottom this is all a product merely of ‘the study table;’ and it is a most characteristic symptom, that just this purest sample of a ‘study-table’ product, — Carl Marx's ‘Capital,’ — should have become so popular a book, and indeed a sort of gospel amongst the working classes. If one would learn to know life, however, one must observe life itself. And one will then find, that spiritual science is the very best training for this decidedly somewhat troublesome observation of life. It is on the whole certainly much less trouble to construct abstract theories, than to consent to examine actual life.

And now you will ask: ‘Well, but aren't the things all quite right, which the theorists produce and the agitators carry out amongst the people, and which are so plausible? If one only thinks of the army of figures, of the infallible tables of statistics, with which these things are usually supported! Think of the books we have today, showing the course of social affairs, and especially on the different economic theories, — why, they are simply swarming with data! And what can be more obvious, than that, if a person can support a thing with figures, then his conclusions must be right!’ — There are however other statistics also, which, looked at in one way, really seem intended to represent a certain natural course in human life, — or at least a course definable by natural science. For instance, take the insurance statistics, as forming the basis of that eminently practical branch of life, Insurance. One calculates out, how many out of a number of persons, who are now 20 years old, will be still living in 30 years time, and how many will have died. One only needs to take the number large enough, in order to get very constant figures: Out of so and so many persons of 20 years old, only so and so many will be living in 30 years' time. And from this one can then calculate the amount of insurance, the rate of insurance, which the person in question will have to pay. And one may say, that here undoubtedly statistics afford a result with which one can to a certain extent reckon for the practical purposes of life. — You know, I daresay, that there is also a ‘suicide statistics;’ that one need only take a large enough area and a long enough period of time, and one can tell, that during this number of years so and so many people will commit suicide within this area. But would anybody be right in concluding from the necessity — the apparent necessity — of a definite number of suicides occurring every five years within a particular area, that therefore the people are not free; but that just as a stone falls of necessity to the ground, so these human beings are necessarily forced to kill themselves? Most certainly he would not be right in drawing such a conclusion. The existence of certain laws does not mean that man's free will is excluded. There is no question of itl And even it it should happen, that at 50 years old you came to look round you, and saw, that with this solitary exception all the rest were dead, of those who at 20 years old were calculated to die before 50, yet you certainly will not say: Well, now I must die too! Statistics are meant for something quite different; and not to state anything about Man's free will, — not even suicide statistics! Neither are any economic laws whatever in a position to state anything about the free intervention of human initiative in economic affairs. Though here, certainly, there is something besides, which comes into question: —

Assume a condition of things such as had come about towards the year 1907: there was a favourable business conjuncture, which had lead to certain habits of life amongst a large number of people. One can tell, that when a number of people have been in comfortable circumstances for a few years, they will acquire certain habits of life; and when such habits of life have become established, those people who care to take advantage of the situation, — whose interest it is to take advantage of these habits of life, — can then do the sort of thing which the Morgan-Combine did in 1907. They may say to themselves: ‘Now is the time when people are inclined to do this and that; it is our chance for a speculation’ It is just the same, for example, as when certain influences are at work in a country; and people succumb to these influences, and a certain number commit suicide. And yet, notwithstanding, these people commit suicide of their own free will, — insofar as one can talk of ‘free will’ in ordinary life. (I have discussed the subject fully in my ‘Philosophy of Freedom’).

The real fact of the matter is, then, not that there is a certain constellation in economic life in the first place, and that what happens after, follows as a consequence of this; but what happens, follows solely and simply as a consequence of what people do. And if the people choose to do something which in a way is ‘calculable,’ what does this prove? — Well, here one need only look at a procedure which will be familiar to you all. Suppose, there is the dog ‘Trusty,’ and you hold out a piece of meat to him. You can calculate pretty accurately what he will do: he will snap at it; and the cases will be extremely rare, in which Dog Trusty does not snap at the piece of meat. But when a human being in a given situation does something which is calculable, then it only proves, that the level of the human soul has sunk; and the more one is able to calculate, or determine causally, in social life, the more it indicates that men have sunk towards the level of the animal. And so all these suicide and other statistics, and calculations from favourable or unfavourable business conjunctures, are proofs of nothing except the state of men's souls; — though then, indeed, one must go on to examine the general atmospheric conditions under which certain states of soul are possible; Such a thing as was done by the Morgan Group in 1907, by which any number of human existences in Europe were flung into ruin, — such a thing could only take place in this present age; — such a thing would not have been possible 150 years earlier.

How has it come about, that such a thing is possible? It has come about through the emancipation of the money-market from the goods-market. This emancipation dates from about the years 1810 to 1815. It was at this period first, that the earlier, purely economic conditions controlling public life, gave place to a control of public life by the money-market. It was the time when the bank-system first really became the dominant factor in economic life. And for economic situations to be created by transactions solely in the money-market, on the grand scale that was possible by 1907, was something which only came about through money having become what I might call an ‘actual abstraction,’ that spreads through our whole economic life and to all other life as well.

We go back in thought to the time, when a man was himself involved with the thing he produced. The money, in those days, was practically no more than a sort of equivalent for the specific article produced. People clung to their specific productions; it was in those days by no means a matter of indifference, what one produced; one grew together with one's specific article of output. By to-day it has already become somewhat fabulous, when one meets with an incident like the following, which I tell as an example: It happened that I was staying in Budapest, and wanted to get my hair cut; and there I discovered a hair-dresser, who still cut hair really with enthusiasm, and declared: ‘My aim is not to make money; my aim is a really handsome cut of hair!’ And he said it in such a tone, as really to give one the impression of inward truth and sincerity.

This close association, between the man and the things he puts out, is totally disappearing: all that is aimed at now, is to bring in a sufficient income to satisfy personal needs. And it comes then to be a question of Capital and Wages, and how much these will bring in. Just like abstract principles, which can be extended to cover every sort of thing, so this abstractified money extends over every conceivable thing. It is after all — in the minds of many people to-day — a matter of complete indifference, when the object is to earn a certain number of shillings a day, it is a matter of complete indifference, whether one does so by manufacturing shoes, or by manufacturing text-books. Money is the actual Real Abstraction, just as general principles are abstract; and, like them, it can be applied to every sort of thing. And this abstract money, emancipated from the real reality of life, has made the kind of atmosphere possible, in which transactions can then go on such as went on in 1907; and yet these transactions, nevertheless, proceed absolutely and entirely from the will of human beings.

In saying this, I merely wish to point out, that Spirital Science, from the first, is directed to grasping realities in their true shape. Materialistic science — whether it be natural science, or historical — has become altogether divorced from realities; it has run into theorisations. Spiritual Science is obliged to go into realities; and therefore it does not let itself be mystified by theoretical conceptions. For this very reason, though, it arrives at a real understanding of actual life, and therefore will be the only science which is able to help in any way towards building up a new social edifice in the future. — It has gradually come to be the custom in question of national economy altogether, to take only things like ‘supply and demand’ into account, or questions of that kind: conditions of the market, af trade, of exchanges, and so forth. And what is really meant by it always is something purely abstract, which figures as ‘returns’. And when one comes to examine the way in which people to a very large extent think about economic problems to-day, they really think about these things only so far as to take into account the factors of returns. And in consequence, the whole of economic life is left out of account, which has to do with consumption. Consumption is simply left to proceed, I might say, automatically from whatever one may get as returns from anything. What one looks at, in going into any sort of business, is the amount it brings in, not at the kind of consumption that is connected with the particular business. One doesn't take into account in the least any special qualification in the article, insofar as it is an article of consumption; from the national-economy aspect, one considers it solely on the side of returns, not on the side of consumption. People think, that everything is to be found out by studying the returns side; how conjunctures develope, whether favourable or unfavourable; how upward or downward tendencies develope in economic life, and so on. If one altogether neglects however to give any economic thought to the other, to the consumption side, the result is that consumption gradually becomes anarchic; it runs wild; and one gradually loses all possibility of coping with consumption.

Now Consumption has a peculiar property. It holds a definite relation, a sort of causative relation, toward man's moral nature, towards men's psychic disposition. It holds an opposite relation as regards man's psychic disposition, to what Production does. The moral, the psychic disposition plays a part too in Production; but here the psychic factor is the causative one. If I produce an article by means of which I defraud other people, this proceeds from a moral defect. But the way people live, that is, what possibilities they have of consumption, — whether they consume one article or the other, — all this acts as a cause upon the disposition of their souls, upon their moral nature; and this factor is the one which is left out of account in the whole of modern national economy. For this reason, national economy got completely out of hand. It is simply impossible for any sane thinking to comprehend, from the conditions of Production (although there were some circumstances of Production too as causes), why the number of strikes went up 87 per cent between the years 1907 and 1919; but one gets a picture of the whole matter, directly one looks at the conditions of Consumption.

Now the various things in economic life have all a certain connection with each other; a connection which has of course been considered by the political economists and the business-men; but the real causes have not been studied by these people, because their calculations were directed solely to the paying side. And if one thinks of everything as a natural science, one comes gradually quite away from all economic thinking, — in particular as regards everything that has to do with the consumers. That is why the modern business-man knows so little, and has so very little to say, about the connection between strikes and any particular species of production. He knows — for he is in the habit of thinking of this — what returns one or other species of production will yield. He knows, if he was, for instance, a manufacturer of cri-cris in Paris (to take an extreme case), that this is an article Which is likely to have a very favourable run for a year or two. These cri-cris were quite curious little machines: it was a strip of steel fitted into a little metal case; and if one put it in one's pocket and went into the street, and then pressed on the steel, it made a most excruciating noise, so that the people in the street got horribly cross at the noise. It was last century, somewhere in the 'seventies: the streets were made downright intolerable by these cri-cris. But the ‘returns’ which the inventor of cri-cris got from them were enormous: he became a multi-millionaire. But he didn't in the least take into account the cost on the consumers' side. For of course, as regards human existence, the manufacture of cri-cris might quite well have been dispensed with. And now, just calculate how many people were employed in these cri-cri factories, who all paid their costs of consumption out of these returns. The consumption, that is, of so and so many cri-cri workers, arose out of unnecessary human labour. These things have their effect in social life. Unnecessary human labour has immense significance in social life.

I might take a different example again. Even Lichtenberg in his day once said, that 99 per cent more literary works were turned out in one year than was enough for the happiness of the whole of mankind. And, as regards the present day, one might venture to say indeed, that if 99 per cent fewer books were produced it would probably be very much to the happiness of mankind. Just think of the batches of lyrical poems (always emanating of course from unrecognised geniuses!), that are turned out in editions of 3 to 5 hundred strong, of which not 50 copies at most are disposed of: how much unnecessary work is performed there! This unnecessary work might well be saved; and it would have an uncommonly beneficial effect upon the general conditions of consumption.

This is to say, that when one merely reckons with returns, one can do so without the very least relation to the actual requirements of life: one may leave these quite out of account in all one's schemes for the regulation of life. This is at the back of the great crisis we are going through now; it is at the back of our present down-slide; and it is a thing quite beyond the calculation of the people who reckon in the old economic style, because they make no connection between unnecessary human labour and human suffering. Here is the point where Spiritual Science is able to come in, and to show the great connections; because Spiritual Science never looks to the one side only, but to all sides. I don't mean a kind of spiritual science that soars aloft into abstract, mystical heights, and that sort of thing, but a spiritual science which is bent on giving men an education that will make them of use for practical life. Spiritual Science, rightly applied, is an education for life, for the actual, full-lived up-building of life; and therefore the national economy which it founds will be one that knows the connection between unwillingness to work, unfittedness for work, and the manufacture of particular kinds of products.

Such a way of thinking should lead on in the end to practical undertakings; and this was really the idea which lay at the bottom of an undertaking like the "Kommender Tag". It is obviously not possible to put such an undertaking straight away upon a sound basis in respect to every concrete detail; but nevertheless, where an isolated undertaking of this kind is directed solely by people thoroughly imbued with the kind of education which comes from Spiritual Science, then all the practical measures that are taken will of themselves tend towards people not being burdened with unnecessary work, but only with necessary work; — it will have to consider the consumption side of the general economy; and then the kind of arrangements will naturally grow up, which can lead on in the end to economic recovery. To someone who is merely bent upon getting returns, it is a matter of indifference, what he is producing for and what he is paid for, so long as he gets his money; money is abstract in economic life, and for money he can get everything. But what is needed, is to bring our general economy into a form in which it shall depend in an honest way upon the human will, — not depend on it in a dishonest way. How can it be brought to depend in an honest way upon the human will? By means of the Associations. When you have Associations, then all that takes place in economic life proceeds from the direct will of the people joined together in these Associations; the transactions that take place in economic life will then be transacted between the different Associations; then you will have transactions between live people, and what is produced will be the proceeds of this kind of transaction between live people, one with another, in the Associations. When it is a question of starting a factory, people will not consider it merely from the point of view of how much ‘returns’ it will yield under the existing conjuncture; but they will start from a collective insight into what is needed. It requires no government regulations: that would only tie the whole thing up in red tape — what it requires, is the practical knowledge of the people actually engaged in the various businesses and the various branches of business; and this gives the means of finding out whether a particular business-works is needed. If it is needed, then one may go on to production, and the people can make their earnings by it too. It will be done by way of the Associations; and in this way everything will become eliminated which might acquire an unhealthy influence. For then it will not be possible to trade in financial measures, as was done in the case of the Morgan-Combine; people will then work to meet economic needs. This results of itself, when it is a question of men, and not of money-balances.

It is curious, how hard many people find it in these days to bring themselves to look at the realities of life. To look at realities! That is the most urgent demand of these days! How does it come about — one might ask — that people in the present day have wandered so wide of real life? It comes precisely from the materialism of the day; for the peculiarity of materialism is, that, at the same time, it trains people's minds to abstractness. Spiritual Science has just the opposite peculiarity: it trains people to concreteness, to actual-mindedness, practicality.

That is what I wanted to throw into the discussion to-day. A very great deal, however, will be needed, before habits of thought, habits of feeling, and the actual practices of feeling, will become all that is necessary to enable us fully to overcome the many evils which have thus crept into modern economic life, and into the whole public life of modern times. This matter-of-fact thinking can only come as the result of real penetration into the depths of the spiritual world; and the new rise will come from the depths of the spirit, not from mere continuations, in some form or other, of what people have been used to look upon as ‘the right thing’ for the last tens, one might say indeed, for the last half-hundred of years in the nineteenth century. And anyone in these days, who has not the will to go in quite radically for a move forward in this direction, for a change in old habits of mind, a change of thinking, I could almost say, a change of living, — he will be able to do nothing to help towards a new rise, he will only go on helping to hurry us full steam into the downfall. And then indeed those things will come to pass which people like Oswald Spengler have given us a picture of, in his book ‘The Decline of the West.’ And then, in actual fact, the result will be that Western civilisation will pass over into barbarism. And if one is not willing to have barbarism, then one must actively will the thing that can prevent this barbarism; and the only thing that can prevent it, is a spiritual education of the West; for nothing but a spiritual education can open men's eyes to actual reality. We need this eye-opening; — Let us achieve it, — and then we shall get forwards!

(In the course of the discussion which followed, a speaker said, that the following argument was very commonly used in cases like that of the cri-cri workers: “The cri-cri workers gave rise to unnecessary consumption; but they would have figured as consumers too, even if they had produced something different.” How would Dr. Steiner explain the difference? — Dr. Steiner replied:)

The question is one that may quite well be asked. But in asking it, people have not really quite thought out where the point lies. The point is, not to look at what is taking place at one particular spot in life, but to look at what the results are in the whole context of life. It is quite true that these cri-cri workers would have figured as consumers too, even if they had not made cri-cris, that is to say, if they had not done this unnecessary work. But they would all the same have done something: they would have done necessary work, which is a matter of all essential importance for the general economy; and that is the point. There are a great many people, who esteem themselves very practical; — they read the ‘Roots of the Social Question’ [‘Die Kernpunkte,’ published as The Threefold Commonwealth.], and think it ‘utopian.’ The real fact of the matter is, that these people themselves are the unpractical ones and the ‘Utopians;’ and since these unpractical Utopians are in the main the people who dominate the whole of life — which is just what has brought us to the present state of things! — so it is just these people who have so little perception for what is in the true sense practically conceived; and one is always particularly glad, when the ‘practical men’ interest themselves for what is practical. Only recently, a practical man from the North said to me that the ‘Roots of the Social Question’ [‘Die Kernpunkte,’ published as The Threefold Commonwealth.], takes one to the most important question of all, the question of prices; that people are busying their minds at this moment with every conceivable thing, except the fact, that the price of any commodity is, strictly speaking, something that must not rise above a certain level, and mustn't sink below a certain level. That was a thing which this practical man could see. And directly one sees that the price question is one of such importance, that questions of Capital or Wages really fade into the background, then one has a sound thinking-basis to go upon. No doubt the cri-cri workers would have figured as consumers too; but this is not the connection in which one must consider them; for, what goes to make up the whole life of the general economy, and is ultimately connected with the price of any commodity, is very closely involved with whether necessary work is performed, or unnecessary. Only people do not think out the matter consequently; and this consequential thinking must be carried down into all the details of life.

I had a discussion once with an acquaintance at table, over picture post-cards, somewhere in the year 1902–3. I said, I didn't like writing picture post-cards; in fact I never wrote picture post-cards; for I couldn't help thinking that, for every picture post-card, a postman might perhaps have to run up several flights of stairs — just for the sake of a picture post-card; and I would gladly save him the labour, — seeing that picture postcards don't exactly rank among the necessaries of life. The other man's reply was: “I know that I give people pleasure by sending them picture post-cards, and I write a great many: it contributes to the general pleasure. And if it should happen in some place or other, that a single postman isn't enough for all the post-cards, then they will put on an extra one, and that contributes to the possibilities of livelihood.” But in saying so, he didn't think the matter out further and reflect, that when one appoints an extra postman for picture post-cards, it leads to the production of nothing which is needful for life; but that when the needful requirements of life only are produced, the extent of their production means a certain price. And anyone, then, who performs unnecessary work, will undoubtedly be a consumer too; but if he is not employed in delivering unnecessary picture post-cards, he will no longer be increasing the amount of unnecessary work; and in consequence he will then do real proper work that corresponds to requirements; and this will have a very essential influence upon the whole character of our general public economy.

As regards the things of practical life, there are two important points in question, of which as a rule people only consider the one. The first is, whether a thing is theoretically right; and the second is, whether it is in accordance with the realities. People think it quite sufficient for an idea to be theoretically right; but it requires also to be in accordance with the realities. And until this reality of thinking has gained general ground, we can not possibly find our way out of the perplexities of actual life. If somebody thinks therefore, that the cri-cri workers would figure as consumers in life too, even though they didn't manufacture cri-cris, he doesn't reflect, that the number of people who are consumers would of course not be diminished, but that the character of the general economy would be changed in respect of necessary or unnecessary work. And that is the point. One must learn to look at those points which are necessary and of importance; this is the thing which we have to acquire in social matters. And this is what it is hoped to inaugurate through the book, thenRoots of the Social Question, and the whole movement for the Threefold Social Order.

(A speaker said: There were other forms of production, not merely unnecessary, like cri-cris, but deliberately harmful — like shell-making. Through such work the workers become stupified and blunted. Dr. Steiner laid special stress on the human being for any regeneration of social life. The speaker would ask: “Can one hope to found a new economic system at all with the existing generation?”

Another speaker asked; How the demands of consumption are to be regulated? People's wants are very various. Some want patent-loather boots; others picture post-cards. Should certain wants be prohibited or prevented? or how can they be regulated?

Another speaker said, That amongst the underlying causes of the crisis of 1907 were the monster ‘lock-outs.’ The industrialists had already manufactured so much on stock in advance, that they could not maintain the rate of output. He was convinced that in a few weeks there would be another series of crises and collapses. He wanted to know: what forms these crises would assume?

Another speaker asked: How could the over-production in literature be brought by some sensible method into a normal course, corresponding to real needs?

A written question asked: “What are the spiritual causes underlying the divorce of the Money-market from the Goods-market in 1810-15? How do these same causes act in other fields, outside the economic one?”

In conclusion Dr. Steiner replied:)

In the first place, as to the patent-leather boots, I should like to say, that here too, things have their connections in life; and it would soon be found, if once unnecessary forms of production ceased, that certain wants would disappear too. Of course, when one talks of ‘regulating consumption,’ one is in a way again upon a sort of false track. To try and regulate consumption in any way dictatorially, certainly won't do. But when all the economic arrangements tend towards the gradual disappearance of unnecessary work, this, in the whole context of economic life, will have a certain consequence: the consequence, namely, that a person who wants unnecessarily to have patent-leather boots will not be able to pay for them. And, because one thing is connected with another, it should be obvious that one must not directly attack something which will infallibly disappear with something else. That would make one into a tyrant. The facts of life are such, that if one wants to respect Freedom, one simply can't abolish anything over night; but certain things cease of themselves, through the influence of other determining conditions. When a kind of economic thinking gains ground, under which unnecessary work more or less disappears, then wants of this sort will disappear too: — amongst other things, the money for them will not be forthcoming. One can perceive this, solely through a practical connexion with real life. The conditions of consumption cannot be regulated by any sort of ordinances, but only by a progress, so to speak, in the ways of life.

I might say the same thing too with respect to literature. I can only point out, ... and here of course it is a question merely of social conditions; one can quite well have a feeling for somebody who has lyrical poems he would like to print! ... but I might point to the example of our Anthroposophical Press in Berlin. It has never had books that were not sold. It has not got a great many books, which are in great demand; but it has never had batches of books which are just stacked up and don't get sold. It was always carried on on the basis of what one might call a ‘spiritual want.’ A book was not printed before knowing that a certain number of readers were there. The work began by first making people acquainted with the subject-matter, and so creating the readers; it was not done by any sort of ‘dictatorship.’ From the economic point of view, it must be said, that the Anthroposophical Press at any rate did not lead to the performance of unnecessary work.

It all depends from which point one starts working in economic life. If one sets out from returns on production, this of itself leads on into unnecessary production. If one starts from understanding of requirements, then a kind of production gradually springs up in the rear, which is not continually piling up: the work goes on ahead; and where the work is of a kind to create requirements, these requirements find their satisfaction subsequently in the rear. In talking solely of work for returns, people are harnessing the cart before the horse as it were. It is a case of looking at life clearly, and knowing from which end to begin working. It is not a case of making ‘regulations’ about anything; but simply of laying hold of actual life in such a manner that things can take their proper course.

As regards the present crisis, it is one which is more or less a final consequence. It cannot be examined by quite the same tests as other crises; and yet again it must be examined — not by theories, but by the actual facts. Consider, I beg of you, what has taken place in these last few years; How much has been produced by human labour power since 1914, in order that we might successfully bring it to the point, when from 10 to 12 million men have been shot dead in the course of 5 years, and three times that number disabled for life! How much labour-power has been expended upon this; and labour thereby withdrawn from life, which might have been employed very differently in life's service! I think one may not unjustly take the view, that what was there produced in order that men might be shot dead, was perhaps also unnecessary work, and work that might have been left undone. If one only thinks, what a long time was needed for deliberation, as late as 1912, when a million was required for educational purposes; and how very quickly the money was to hand, when a million was required for turning into powder! And then take what came after. Take this quintessence of abstraction; that money became an abstraction in the course of the 19th century; and now it has reached the perfection of abstraction: Look and see, how many paper-notes the stamp-press turns out every day. One can really only find use for it all, because the usage is artificially provided for! [Spoken during the time of the great inflation in Germany.] And behind it all, is the fact that we are living on the plunder of what is left over from the years 1911–18. That will come to an end at some time: Then the crisis will come! The present crisis has been brought about by men's utter frivolity of mind, in thinking that one could employ people for years in manufacturing unnecessary things, and take them away from doing necessary work.

“Whether one can really succeed in building up anything new with the existing generation?” — I have often recurred to this question in the paper of the Threefold Order, and often pointed out, that it Is a sign of unprofitable thinking to put questions of this kind. What I set value upon in this connection is the human will, — not so much the faculty of perceiving the existing state of things, as of firing the will. And when I hear that “one can do nothing with the existing generation,” I still cannot but assume, that those who pass such a criticism on the existing generation are nevertheless of the opinion, that with themselves at any rate something “can be done.” And since I set more value upon the will than upon the observation, I call upon all these people: “Come then! and together we will see what we can do with you!” There would be quite a large enough number of them already. And so we will call together all these people who “can do nothing with the existing generation,” and we will work together with them.

There is one more, and a very searching question, which has been put: “What are the spiritual causes underlying the divorce of the money-market from the goods-market?” — We can only find the answer to a question like this, if we are clearly aware, that statements such as I made to-day must be taken in their exact sense, and not as being merely historical remarks, which are relatively exact so far. When one says, “through the emancipation of money a certain atmosphere was created,” one must look exactly at what this atmosphere is. In considering this abstractionising of the money-market, — where it is a matter of indifference, what the money stands for, — one must point out further, that this was necessary for the general progress of evolution. I have often pointed in this connection to the strong impulse which exists amongst the civilised peoples since the middle of the fifteenth century, to detach the individual from the group-spirit; how democracy has come more and more to be the general impulse of mankind; how the individual human being is tending more and more to become a factor of importance; and those things too are ever more gaining in importance, which proceed from a man's own soul. For this whole course of human evolution the abstractionising of economic life through money was a necessity; and we only require to recognise, that everything, which comes into being, will need after a certain time to be put straight, — or must be supplemented by something else which will counteract the mischief. For in actual life it is not possible to find anything which is absolutely good: everything in life is relative only. One can't say, if my boots are in holes to-day, that they are unconditionally bad; only, it is the fate of good boots to wear bad in course of time. It is inherent in the best system of economic life, that, when it has fulfilled certain functions, it should show signs of detriment. And so it is with the money-system too: it was not detrimental from the first. If one studies the historical circumstances of the time, in the middle of the 19th century, they very essentially contributed amongst other things to the rise of democratic conceptions. But then came the time, when this kind of abstraction reached its proper limit. I may rightly say ‘abstraction,’ for the function of money may in every way be compared to the soul's inner process in abstracting.

Of this we may see a striking illustration. There exists also a theosophical movement, — with which this anthroposophical movement had a sort of external connection at one time. This theosophical movement is, really, a materialistic one. It talks indeed of the “higher, spiritual” parts of Man; but all it really means in talking of the aether-body for instance, is that it is something thinner and less substantial than the physical body; and so with the astral body, that this is again something still thinner, and so on. That is, they only apply the materialistic notion. And when they wanted for once to be unusually brilliant, they said — these people in the theosophical movement — “Man lives recurrent lives on earth.” But the materialistic notions were terribly fast set in their heads; and so there must now be something, which passed over into the man's next incarnation. These people had been taught by natural science, that Man is made up of atoms. The atoms fall at Man's death into the earth; and now these people had thought out in their own minds a doctrine of the Permanent Atom: this one atom didn't fall into the grave, but passed over beyond death; and round this one permanent atom all the other atoms could then congregate in the next life. — Here, under the semblance of a spiritual movement, we have the crassest materialism. So it is, when one becomes altogether involved in abstractions: — so we have abstractions in the soul's life; and so we have money (when it is an abstract commodity) in economic life. And since what takes place in economic life is only the outer side of the spiritual life, there is a very real connection between the spiritual life and the economic one. For it is quite a mistaken view to think, that down below there are only economic processes going on, and that on the other side there is the spiritual life, which is only ‘ideology.’ The real truth is: that the economic life of a particular time, and the spiritual life of a particular time (the times are not quite identical) hold the same relation as the nut to the nutshell; the economic life is invariably the shell which the spiritual life has thrown out, and which takes its cast from the spiritual life. And therefore, since economic life has become so abstractionised, the spiritual life too can only be abstract. And so we are in an age of abstract thinking, of life-remoteness — unreal conjunctures and such things.

These are connections which should be carefully considered. And when one considers them carefully, one is led to a fruitful conception: to the conception of the threefold order of the body social, and comes to see, how the three systems of the whole living organism work one into the other, and combine together to a unity from the very fact that each is allowed its own independent basis of development, in the same way as in the human organism. In the human organism, we distinguish between: the nerve-and-sense system, the rhythmic system, and the metabolic, or digestory, system; — these, functionally considered, make up the whole human being. The three systems work in co-operation; yet each, for itself, is relatively independent. And they must be independent. No good results can come of mixing everything together. Of an abstract unity, such as the modern state aims at, (such as is aimed at in particular by the socialist state to-day in the East), there can be no question; it is a question simply of learning to know the conditions of life in an individual organism, and of recognising that they find expression in this joint threefold system. Anyone who is willing to examine the matter will see, that the three different systems of life are in the first place independent, each for itself; and, again, that they work in cooperation with one another, and work best in co-operation, when they have first developed independently, each on its own basis. The unity is then an outcome from within, instead of being imported from without. An abstract, lifeless unity bears no fruits, and destroys itself. The unity which grows up as the final form of independent parts, becomes a living, life-bearing unity, something of that kind alone which can really live and grow.

Last Modified: 17-May-2018
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