Rudolf Steiner Archive 

An Essay By
Rudolf Steiner
GA 34 / Bn 34.1.17 (an exerpt)

--| THE FUNDAMENTAL SOCIAL LAW |--------------------------------------

Briefly as the subject must be dealt with, there will always be some
people whose feeling will lead them to recognize the truth of what it
is impossible to discuss in all its fullness here. There is a
fundamental social law which spiritual science teaches, and which is
as follows:

‘The well-being of a community of people working together will be the
greater, the less the individual claims for himself the proceeds of
his work, i.e. the more of these proceeds he makes over to his
fellow-workers, the more his own needs are satisfied, not out of his
own work but out of the work done by others’.

Every arrangement in a community that is contrary to this law will
inevitably engender somewhere after a while distress and want. It is a
fundamental law, which holds good for all social life with the same
absoluteness and necessity as any law of nature within a particular
field of natural causation. It must not be supposed, however, that it
is sufficient to acknowledge this law as one for general moral
conduct, or to try to interpret it into the sentiment that everyone
should work in the service of his fellow men. No, this law only lives
in reality as it should when a community of people succeeds in
creating arrangements such that no one can ever claim the fruits of
his own labour for himself, but that these go wholely to the benefit
of the community. And he must himself be supported in return by the
labours of his fellow men. The important point is, therefore, that
working for one's fellow men and obtaining so much income must be kept
apart, as two separate things.

Self-styled ‘practical people’ will of course have nothing but a smile
for such ‘outrageous idealism’. And yet this law is more practical
than any that was ever devised or enacted by the ‘practicians’. Anyone
who really examines practical life will find that every community that
exists or has ever existed anywhere has two sorts of arrangements, of
which the one is in accordance with this law and the other contrary to
it. It is bound to be so everywhere, whether men will it or not. Every
community would indeed fall to pieces at once, if the work of the
individual did not pass over into the totality. But human egoism has
from of old run counter to this law, and sought to extract as much as
possible for the individual out of his own work. And what has come
about from of old in this way due to egoism has alone brought want,
poverty and distress in its wake. This simply means that the part of
human arrangements brought about by ‘practicians’ who calculated on
the basis of either their own egotism or that of others must always
prove impractical.

Now naturally it is not simply a matter of recognizing a law of this
kind, but the real practical part begins with the question: How is one
to translate this law into actual fact? Obviously this law says
nothing less than this: man's welfare is the greater, in proportion as
egoism is less. So for its translation into reality one must have
people who can find their way out of egoism. In practice, however,
this is quite impossible if the individual's share of weal and woe is
measured according to his labour. He who labours for himself must
gradually fall a victim to egoism. Only one who labours solely for the
rest can gradually grow to be a worker without egoism.

But there is one thing needed to begin with. If any man works for
another, he must find in this other man the reason for his work; and
if anyone is to work for the community, he must perceive and feel the
value, the nature and importance, of this community. He can only do
this when the community is something quite different from a more or
less indefinite summation of individual men. It must be informed by an
actual spirit, in which each single one has his part. It must be such
that each one says: ‘It is as it should be, and I will that it be
so’. The community must have a spiritual mission, and each individual
must have the will to contribute towards the fulfilling of this
mission. All the vague abstract ideals of which people usually talk
cannot present such a mission. If there be nothing but these, then one
individual here or one group there will be working without any clear
overview of what use there is in their work, except it being to the
advantage of their families, or of those particular interests to which
they happen to be attached. In every single member, down to the most
solitary, this spirit of the community must be alive ...

No one need try to discover a solution of the social question that
shall hold good for all time, but simply to find the right form for
his social thoughts and actions in the light of the immediate need of
the time in which he lives. Indeed there is today no theoretical
scheme which could be devised or carried into effect by any one person
which in itself could solve the social question. For this he would
need to possess the power to force a number of people into the
conditions which he had created. But in the present day any such
compulsion is out of the question. The possibility must be found of
each person doing of his own free will that which he is called upon to
do according to his strength and abilities. For this reason there can
be no possible question of ever trying to work on people
theoretically, by merely indoctrinating them with a view as to how
economic conditions might best be arranged. A bald economic theory
can never act as a force to counteract the powers of egoism. For a
while such an economic theory may sweep the masses along with a kind
of impetus that appears to resemble idealism; but in the long run it
helps nobody. Anyone who implants such a theory into a mass of people
without giving them some real spiritual substance along with it is
sinning against the real meaning of human evolution. The only thing
which can help is a spiritual world-conception which of itself,
through what it has to offer, can live in the thoughts, in the
feelings, in the will — in short, in a man's whole soul ...

The recognition of these principles means, it is true, the loss of
many an illusion for various people whose ambition it is to be popular
benefactors. It makes working for the welfare of society a really
difficult matter — one of which the results, too, may in certain
circumstances comprise only quite tiny part-results. Most of what is
given out today by whole parties as panaceas for social life loses its
value, and is seen to be a mere bubble and hollow phrase, lacking in
due knowledge of human life. No parliament, no democracy, no popular
agitation can have any meaning for a person who looks at all deeper,
if they violate the law stated above; whereas everything of this kind
may work for good if it works on the lines of this law. It is a
mischievous delusion to believe that particular persons sent up to
some parliament as delegates from the people can do anything for the
good of mankind, unless their activity is in conformity with the
fundamental social law.

Wherever this law finds outer expression, wherever anyone is at work
on its lines — so far as is possible in that position in which he is
placed within the community — good results will be attained, though it
be but in the single case and in never so small a measure. And it is
only a number of individual results attained in this way that will
together combine to the healthy collective progress of society.

  The healthy social life is found
  When in the mirror of each human soul
  The whole community is shaped,
  And when in the community
  Lives the strength of each human soul.


Taken from: “Understanding the Human Being”, selected writings
of Rudolf Steiner, Edited by Richard Seddon, Rudolf Steiner Press,
Bristol, 1993, ISBN: 1 85584 005 7.
From: Chapter 7 - Reordering of Society:

Essay Source = Anthroposophy, 1927 Vol. II, No.3, “Anthroposophy
and the Social Question”, 1919, GA 34.

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