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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Renewal of the Social Organism
GA 24

Twenty Articles from the Newspaper The Threefold Social Order

4. The Threefold Social Order and Educational Freedom

The public nurturance of spiritual and cultural life in education has in recent years become more and more a matter for the state. That the schools are the state's business is presently a notion so deeply rooted in people's minds that anyone who tries to dislodge it is regarded as an unworldly “ideologue.” Yet this is a sphere of life that presents matter for the most serious consideration. People who complain in this way of “unworldliness” have no idea of how far what they uphold is removed from the world. Our school system is marked especially by features that reflect the tendencies toward decline in modern cultural life. The social structures of modern governments have not followed the requirements of actual life. For instance, they have taken on a form that does not satisfy the economic demands of modern humanity. They have also set this same backward stamp upon the school system, which, having liberated it from the religious confessions, they have now brought into complete dependence on themselves. At every level, schools mold human beings into the form the state requires for doing what the state deems necessary. Arrangements in the schools reflect the government's requirements. There is much talk, certainly, of striving to achieve an all-around development of the person, and so on; but the modern person unconsciously feels so completely a part of the whole order of the state that he does not even notice, when talking about the all-around development of the human being, that what is meant is molding the human being into a useful servant of the state.

In this regard, no good may be expected from the way of thinking of those today who hold socialist views. They are bent on transforming the old state into a huge economic organization. State schools are supposed to project themselves on into this economic organization. This would magnify all the faults of present-day schools in the most dubious way imaginable. Up until now, much that originated before the state took control of the educational system still has remained in the schools. One cannot, of course, wish a return to the old form of spirituality that has come down from those earlier times; rather, one should endeavor to bring the new spirit of evolving humanity into the schools. This spirit shall not be in the schools if the state is transformed into an economic organization and the schools are redesigned to turn out people meant to be the most serviceable labor machines for this economic organization. People today talk much about the comprehensive school [“Einheitsschule”]. It is beside the point that this imagined comprehensive school is in theory a very fine thing, for if they make it an organic part of an economic organization it cannot really be such a fine thing.

The real need of the present is that the schools be totally grounded in a free spiritual and cultural life. What should be taught and cultivated in these schools must be drawn solely from a knowledge of the growing human being and of individual capacities. A genuine anthropology must form the basis of education and instruction. The question should not be: What does a human being need to know and be able to do for the social order that now exists?, but rather: What capacities are latent in this human being, and what lies within that can be developed? Then it will be possible to bring ever new forces into the social order from the rising generations. The life of the social order will be what is made of it by a succession of fully developed human beings who take their places in the social order. The rising generation should not be molded into what the existing social order chooses to make of it.

A healthy relation exists between school and society only when society is kept constantly supplied with the new and individual potentials of persons whose educations have allowed them to develop unhampered. This can be realized only if the schools and the whole educational system are placed on a footing of self-administration within the social organism. The government and the economy must receive people educated by the independent spiritual-cultural life; they must not, however, have the power to prescribe according to their own wants how these human beings are to be educated. What a person ought to know and be able to do at any particular stage of life must be decided by human nature itself. Both the state and economic life will have to conform to the demands of human nature. It is neither for the state nor the economic life to say: We need someone of this sort for a particular post; therefore test the people that we need and pay heed above all that they know and can do what we want. Rather, the spiritual-cultural organ of the social organism should, following the dictates of its own independent administration, bring those who are suitably gifted to a certain level of cultivation, and the state and economic life should organize themselves in accordance with the results of work in the spiritual-cultural sphere.

Since political and economic life are not something apart from human nature, but rather the outcome of human nature itself, there need never be any fear that a really free cultural life, placed on its own footing, will produce people who are unworldly. On the contrary, unworldliness results precisely when the existing governmental and economic institutions are allowed to shape educational matters according to their own dictates. For in the state and in economic life attitudes must necessarily be adopted in accordance with the existing order. The development of the growing human being requires entirely different kinds of thought and feeling as its guide. One can only do one's work as an educator when one stands in a free, individual relationship to the pupil one teaches. One must know that, for the guidelines of one's work, one is dependent only on knowledge of human nature, the principles of social life and such things; but not upon regulations or laws prescribed from outside. If one serously desires to transform the present order of society into one in which social attitudes prevail, then one must not be afraid to place the spiritual-cultural life (including the school and educational system) under its own independent control because from such a free, independent system within the social organism men and women will go forth with joy and zeal to take an active part in all its life. After all, only people who lack this joy and zeal can come out of schools ruled by the state and the economic system; these people feel as deadly blight the after-effects of a domination to which they should not have been subjected before they had become fully conscious citizens and co-workers in the state and the economic system. The growing human being should mature with the aid of educators and teachers independent of the state and the economic system, educators who can allow individual faculties to develop freely because their own have been given free rein.

In my book, Toward Social Renewal, I have taken pains to show that the world view adopted by the leaders among party socialists is in all essentials simply a continuance (carried to a certain extreme) of the bourgeois world view of the last three or four centuries. The socialists cherish the illusion that their ideas represent a complete break with this world view. They do not represent a break, but rather only a peculiar coloring of the bourgeois world view with working-class feelings and sentiments. This is shown very markedly by the attitude these socialist leaders adopt toward cultural life and its place in the social organism. Owing to the predominance of economics in bourgeois society during the last few centuries, the spiritual and cultural life has fallen into great dependence on economic life. The consciousness of a self-sustaining spiritual-cultural life, in which the human soul partakes, has been lost. Industrialism and our view of nature have collaborated to bring about this loss. Linked to this loss is the particular way the schools were incorporated into the social organism in recent times. To make the human being serviceable for external life in state and industry—that became the main thing. That man is above all a being with a soul who therefore should be filled with the consciousness of his connection with a spiritual order of things, and that it is through his consciousness that he imparts sense to the state and economic system in which he lives—all this was considered less and less. Minds were directed ever less toward the spiritual order of the world, and ever more toward the conditions of economic production. In the middle class this became a manner of feeling, an instinctive psychological tendency. Working class leaders made it into a philosophy of life—or rather, into a dogma.

This dogma would have disastrous consequences if it were to remain the foundation of the school system into the future. For in reality, since even at its best an economically-determined social organism cannot make suitable provision for any genuine cultural life (and, in particular, not for a productive educational system), this educational system would have to owe its existence first of all to a continuation of the old world of thought. The parties that claim to represent a new order would be obliged to leave the cultural life of the schools in the hands of the representatives of the old world views. However, since under such conditions there could be no question of any internal link between the newly rising generation and the old, artificially prolonged culture, cultural life would necessarily become more and more stagnant. The souls of this generaton would wither away after being sown on the rocky ground of a world view that can give them no inner source of strength. Men would grow up soulless beings within a social order arising out of industrialism.

In order that this may not take place, the movement for the threefold social order strives for the complete disassociation of the educational system from government and industry. The place and function of educators within society should depend solely upon the authority of those engaged in this activity. The administration of the educational institutions, the organization of courses of instruction and their goals should be entirely in the hands of persons who themselves are simultaneously either teaching or otherwise productively engaged in cultural life. In each case, such persons would divide their time between actual teaching (or some other form of cultural productivity) and the administrative control of the educational system. It will be evident to anyone who can bring himself to an unbiased examination of cultural life that the peculiar vitality and energy of soul required for organizing and directing educational institutions will be called forth only in someone actively engaged in teaching or in some sort of cultural creativity.

Today few will concede this fully—only those who are unbiased enough to see that a new source of cultural life must spring forth if our devastated social order is to be renewed. In the essay “Marxism and the Threefold Social Order,” I pointed out both the correctness and also the one-sidedness of Engels' notion: “The management of goods and control of the means of production takes the place of governing of people.” Correct though this is, it is nonetheless equally true that in the old order social life was possible only because along with the economic processes of production, people themselves were guided and governed. If this joint governance of people and economic processes ends, then people must receive their motivating impulses (which hitherto came from those governing them) from a free and independent cultural life.

Moreover, there is something else: The life of the spirit prospers only when able to unfold as a unity. The same exercise of the soul's powers that leads to a humanly satisfying and sustaining world view must also supply the productive power that makes one a good co-worker in economic life. Men and women with a practical sense for outer life will emerge only from an educational system that is able to develop in a healthy way our innate longings for a loftier world view. A social order that only manages goods and controls processes of production must in the end go completely awry if it is not kept supplied with persons whose souls are healthily developed.

If, then, there is to be any renewal of our social life, we must find the strength to introduce an independent, self-sustaining educational system. If men are no longer to “govern” their fellows in the old way, then it must be made possible for the free spirit in every human soul, with all the strength possible for the human individualities of any one age, to make itself the guide of life. This spirit will not allow itself to be suppressed. Institutions that tried to rule educational life from the point of view of the economic system alone would constitute an attempt at suppression. This would lead the free spirit to revolt constantly out of the depths of its own natural foundations. Incessant shocks to the whole social edifice would be the inevitable consequence of any system that tried to organize education in the same way it controlled the processes of production.

For anyone who perceives these things clearly, one of the most urgent demands of the times shall be the founding of a human community that will strive with utmost energy to realize the freedom and self-determination of the educational system. Other necessary demands of the times cannot find satisfaction as long as what is proper for this sphere remains unrecognized. It really requires only an unbiased observation of our spiritual life in its present form—in its distraction and disunity, its lack of strength to sustain the human soul—in order to recognize that just this is proper.