It is time to recognize that party programs, which have been passed down from the remote or more recent past, are inevitably bound to fail when confronted with the events that have arisen from the catastrophe of the Great War. The programs, whose representatives were allowed to share in the ordering of social conditions, should be regarded as sufficiently refuted by the catastrophe itself. Their proponents should recognize that such thoughts were inadequate to master the actual course of events. Events outpaced their thinking, wreaking confusion and havoc. The result of this realization should be a striving to find thoughts more adequate to the actual course of real events.
“Pragmatism” was the name given to what was only narrow-minded routine. The so-called pragmatists had become used to one narrow sphere of life. They mastered the routine of this one sphere, but were neither inclined nor interested to see its connection with wider spheres around it. Within his own narrow sphere, each prided himself on being “practical.” Each did what the practice of his routine demanded, and allowed what he had done to mesh with the overall social mechanism. How it worked there was not a matter of concern. So at last everything became one great tangle; out of this tangled skein of events emerged the world catastrophe. People gave themselves over to routine without developing the thoughts to master it—such was the fate of the ruling circles. Now, faced with confusion, people cannot shake off old habits of thought. It has been their habit to regard one thing or another as “a practical necessity”; they have no eyes left to see that what they held to be a “practical necessity” had a crumbling foundation.
The modern economic system has demonstrated graphically the inability of our thinking to keep pace with events. It was the socialist workers' movement that revealed the crumbling foundation of this edifice. A different kind of party program arose within the workers' movement — programs that sprang from immediate experience of this decay, and either called for a change of course or expected salvation from the “unfolding” of the events that had been unleashed. These programs arose theoretically, out of universal human needs, without dealing practically with the facts. This praxis, which was merely routine and which despised thinking, was opposed by socialist praxis, which is pure theory. And now, when events demand that we engage productive, living thoughts—thoughts that have their roots in the real world — these theoretical “thoughts without praxis” reveal themselves to be insufficient. And this insufficiency will become more and more apparent as we are called upon to untangle the knot of modern social life by engaging our thinking.
Instead of mindless routine and theoretical programs without praxis, good will of a definite sort is necessary for those today who want to think with genuine practicality. The routinized pragmatists, who are actually so very impractical, should try to see that the old way of carrying on business — without plan and without thoughts — will lead not out of the catastrophe, but ever deeper into it. Even now people try to blind themselves to the insight that thoughtlessness, which they mistook for practicality, has led to confusion. They despised those who demanded thoughts as being impractical idealists; now they are unwilling to admit that in so doing they did the most impractical thing of all. Indeed, in so doing they showed themselves to be idealists in the very worst sense of the word.
On the other side, where theoretical “demand-withoutpractice” rules, they struggle to obtain a human existence for the class that feels it has not yet enjoyed one. They do not see that they are struggling to obtain it without real insight into the vital needs of society. They believe that if they can grab the power necessary for their theoretically noble but impractical demands, then they will be able, again as if by a miracle, to bring about the things for which they are striving. And those who mean well for humanity within that class as well, and raise demands out of the desperation of the proletariat, and want to achieve their goal in the above mentioned way, must face the question: What will happen if one side insists on programs that are refuted by the actual course of events, while the other side seeks power to enforce demands while never asking what life itself requires of any possible social order?
One may perhaps have good intentions toward the proletariat today, yet one is not dealing with them objectively and honestly if one does not make it clear to them that the programs to which their faith is pinned are leading them not to the welfare they desire but to the downfall of European civilization, which seals their own downfall. One is honest with the proletariat today only by awakening them to an understanding that what they are unconsciously striving for can never be achieved by the programs they have embraced.
The proletariat labors under a terrible illusion. They saw how gradually over the last few centuries human interests have come to be totally absorbed by economics. They could not fail to observe that the legal institutions of society were determined by the forms assumed by economic power and economic requirements. They could see how the whole life of the spirit, particularly the educational system, had grown out of the conditions prescribed by the underlying economic basis and by a state dependent on industry. Thus a disastrous superstition took root among the proletariat: the superstition that all legal and spiritual life arises with the necessity of natural law from the forms of the economic system. Wide circles today outside the working classes are prey to the same superstitution. A feature characteristic of the last few centuries—the dependence of the spiritual and legal realms upon economic life — has come to be regarded as a law of nature. People fail to see the real truth: it is just this dependence of spiritual and legal life upon economics that drove humanity into the disaster — they yield to the superstition that one needs only a different variety of economic system, one that shall produce a different system of legal and spiritual life. They want simply to change the economic system, instead of recognizing that it is necessary to end the dependence of the spiritual and legal spheres upon economic forms.
At this moment in historical evolution the aim cannot be to establish another way of making the legal and spiritual spheres dependent on the economic. The aim should be to create an economy in which only the production and circulation of commodities are managed, on strictly businesslike lines, and in which a person's position in the economic cycle does not affect his or her rights in relation to others or the possibility of fully developing his or her inborn talents through education.
In the recent past, legal and spiritual culture have been “superstructures” erected upon economics. In the future, they must become independent organs within the social organism that exist apart from the economic cycle. Measures to be adopted within the latter must be the outcome of actual experience of economic life and of people's connection with different branches of industry. Associations must arise within the various professions and trades out of the mutual interests of producers and consumers; each is to be represented within a central economic administration. The same people who participate in this economic system also constitute a legal community that, regarding its administration and representation, works quite independently of the others, and where everything is settled that rightly concerns all those who have reached the age of majority. All those things that make every person the equal of every other will be arranged here, on a democratic basis. For instance, all labor regulations (the manner, amount and length of work) will fall within this community's jurisdiction. In this way such regulations are withdrawn from the economic process. The worker takes his place in economic life as a free contractor in respect to those with whom he has to carry on the common work of production. His economic contribution to some branch of production is a matter to be decided by expert knowledge in that industrial branch; but with regard to everything that affects the exploitation of his labor he, too, can decide as an adult on democratic legal grounds apart from the economic process.
Just as the legal sphere (the administration of the state) is regulated within the autonomous legal system of the social organism independently from the economy, so shall the life of spirit (the educational system) guide itself in perfect freedom within its independent spiritual organ of the social community. For just as a healthy economic life in the social organism cannot be fused with its legal system (where everything must be based upon the decisions of all co-equal adults), it is impossible for the spiritual life to be administered according to laws, regulations and controls that proceed from the opinions of all people who have merely come of age. The spiritual life requires a self-administration guided only by the best educational insights available. Only under such self-administration is it possible for the individual abilities latent in a community of people to be nurtured truly for the benefit of social life.
Anyone who examines impartially the real factors at work in present-day society can only conclude that the health of the organism requires its division into three independent systems: a spiritual, a legal and an economic. The unity of the organism will not thereby be endangered in any way, for this unity is securely grounded in reality by the fact that each human being has interests within all three parts of the system, and that (notwithstanding their mutual independence) the central authorities at the head of each will be able to harmonize their various measures.
That international relations will form no obstacle, even though initially only one state were to organize as a threefold system, will be discussed in the next essay.