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The Renewal of the Social Organism
GA 24

15. Fundamental Fallacy in Social Thought

[ 1 ] An idea such as the threefold social organism is constantly met with the following objection: “What the social movement is striving for is the elimination of economic inequalities. How will this end be attained through changes in the cultural life and the legal system when these are governed quite independently of the economic process?”

[ 2 ] This kind of objection is made by people who can see the existence of the economic inequalities, but do not see that these inequalities are produced by the human beings living together in the social body. They see that society's economic order finds expression in people's life conditions. They aim at making it possible for large numbers of people to enjoy what seems to them to be better life conditions. They believe that when the changes in the social order that they have in mind come about, this possibility will exist.

[ 3 ] For anyone who looks more deeply into the state of human affairs, the principal cause of today's social evils is seen in the very fact that such a way of thinking has become the prevalent one. In the eyes of many people, the economic system lies too far removed from any of their concepts of the cultural and the legal spheres for them possibly to perceive how the one can be connected with the others in the whole chain of human existence. People's economic conditions are an outcome of the positions they assume toward each other through their spiritual faculties and through the legal code that prevails among them. Anyone who perceives this will not imagine he could devise any system of economics that could, of itself, place people living under it in life conditions that will seem suitable to them. In any economic system, whether one's own services meet with the reciprocal services needed for a suitable life situation will depend on how the people in this economic system are spiritually attuned in their minds, and on how their sense of right and justice leads them to regulate their mutual affairs.

[ 4 ] During the last three or four centuries, the civilized portion of humanity has owed its evolution to impulses that make it exceedingly difficult for them to have any perception of the real relation existing between economics and culture. We have become entwined in a complex network of interrelationships; the achievements of industrial technology have made a mark upon it that no longer corresponds to the cultural and legal concepts we have developed historically. People have become accustomed to viewing the cultural progress of recent years with unalloyed appreciation; but in doing so they overlook one thing: this cultural progress has been achieved mainly in fields directly connected with industry. Science undoubtedly has tremendous achievements to record; but its achievements are greatest where they have been called forth in the economic field by the demands of industrial life.

[ 5 ] Under the influence of this particular kind of cultural progress the leading circles have developed a mental habit of basing their opinions in all life's affairs upon economic grounds. In most cases, they are not aware of forming their opinions this way. They employ this mode of judgement unconsciously. They believe that they act out of all sorts of ethical and aesthetic motives; but, unconsciously, they act upon opinions originating within the technical-industrial economy. They think in economic terms, but believe that their principles are ethical, religious, and aesthetic.

[ 6 ] This mental habit of the ruling classes has been made into a dogma in recent years by the socialists. They believe that all life is conditioned by economics because those from whom their notions are inherited had acquired, more or less unconsciously, this economic way of thinking. Thus these socialist thinkers want to change the system of economics according to the same viewpoint that led to what they believe so urgently needs changing. They fail to notice that they would call forth even more strongly the very thing they do not want if their actions were guided by ideas that have led to the very thing they wish to change. The reason for this is that men cling much more tenaciously to their ideas and their habits of mind than they do to external institutions.

[ 7 ] Today, however, a point has been reached in human evolution when the very character of this evolution demands progress not only in our institutions, but also in our thoughts and habits of mind. This is a demand of human history; and the fate of the social movement depends on whether this demand is heeded. Strange as it still may sound to many people, it is nevertheless true that modern life has assumed a shape which can no longer be mastered by the old kinds of ideas.

[ 8 ] Many say, correctly, that the social problem must be approached in a way different from that, for example, of St. Simon or Owen or Fourier; that spiritual impulses like theirs are of no use in effecting a change in economic life. Thus they conclude that spiritual impulses are entirely incapable of exerting a transforming effect on social life. The truth of the matter is that these thinkers drew their mental concepts from a form of spiritual life that, of its very nature, was no longer adequate to the economic life of modern times. Instead of then coming to the sound conclusion, “In that case, what is needed is a new form of spiritual and legal life,” people form the opinion that desired social conditions to rise up of themselves out of the economic sphere. But economic chaos will result unless the further progress of evolution is effected by a step forward in the spiritual-cultural and legal spheres such as the new age demands.

[ 9 ] All that must come about in the social sphere now and in the near future, depends on the courage to take this step forward in the cultivation of the spirit and the establishment of law. Whatever does not spring from this courage may be very well meant, but will not lead to a sustainable state of affairs. Therefore the greatest social need is to arouse far and wide a clear perception that the only basis upon which humanity can evolve in a healthy way is the cultivation of a new spiritual life. The fruits of this cultivation will be borne in the structuring of the economy. If economic life tries of itself to evolve a new form, it will only propagate—and intensify—its old evils. As long as economic life is expected to make of us what we may become, new evils will be added to the old. Not until humanity comes to understand that the human being—out of his own spirit—must give to the economic life what it needs, will men be able to pursue as a conscious aim what they are demanding unconsciously.

Der Grundirrtum im sozialen Denken

[ 1 ] Einer Idee wie derjenigen von der Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus werden viele Menschen immer wieder entgegenhalten: die soziale Bewegung strebt doch nach Überwindung der wirtschaftlichen Ungleichheiten der Menschen; wie soll diese erreicht werden durch die Wandlungen, die im Geistesleben und in der Rechtsordnung eintreten, wenn diese gegenüber dem Wirtschaftskreislauf selbständige Verwaltungen haben?

[ 2 ] Dieser Einwurf wird von denjenigen gemacht, die zwar sehen, daß die wirtschaftlichen Ungleichheiten vorhanden sind, nicht aber, wie sie von den Menschen, die im sozialen Organismus zusammenleben, hervorgebracht werden. Man sieht, daß die ökonomische Ordnung der Gesellschaft sich ausdrückt in der Lebenshaltung der Menschen. Man strebt darnach, daß für viele Menschen die Möglichkeit einer ihnen würdiger erscheinenden Lebenshaltung eintrete. Und man glaubt, diese Möglichkeit werde da sein, wenn gewisse Anderungen in der ökonomischen Ordnung, die man in Aussicht nimmt, eingetreten sein werden.

[ 3 ] Der tiefer in die menschlichen Lebensverhältnisse Blickende muß den Hauptgrund der sozialen Mißstände in der Gegenwart darin sehen, daß die eben gekennzeichnete Vorstellungsart die herrschende geworden ist. Es liegt für die Einsicht vieler Menschen die ökonomische Lebensordnung zu weit ab von dem, was sie an Vorstellungen über das Geistes- und Rechtsleben haben, als daß sie durchschauen könnten, wie im Menschenzusammenhange die eine mit den anderen in Beziehung steht. Die ökonomische Lage der Menschen ist ein Ergebnis dessen, wie sie sich durch ihre geistigen Fähigkeiten und durch die unter ihnen bestehende Rechtsregelung zueinander stellen. Wer das durchschaut, der wird nicht glauben, er könne ein Wirtschaftssys finden, das durch sich die in demselben lebenden Menschen in ihnen würdig erscheinende Lebenshaltungen bringen könne. Ob man innerhalb eines Wirtschaftssystems für seine Leistung die zu einer solchen Lebenshaltung notwendige Gegenleistung finde, das hängt davon ab, wie die Menschen in demselben geistig gestimmt sind und wie sie ihre Verhältnisse zueinander aus ihrem Rechtsbewußtsein heraus ordnen.

[ 4 ] In den letzten drei bis vier Jahrhunderten hat sich die zivilisierte Menschheit aus Antrieben heraus entwickelt, welche dieses Durchschauen des wahren Verhältnisses zwischen Wirtschaftsleben und Geistesleben außerordentlich schwierig machen. Der Mensch ist eingesponnen worden in Lebenszusammenhänge, die durch die Errungenschaften der Technik auf wirtschaftlichem Gebiete ein Gepräge angenommen haben, das nicht mehr dem entspricht, was er aus vorangehenden Entwickelungszeiten als Geistespflege und Rechtsvorstellungen herangebildet hat. Man ist gewohnt geworden, die geistigen Fortschritte der neueren Zeit mit ungeteilter Anerkennung anzusehen. Man übersieht dabei aber doch, daß diese geistigen Fortschritte hauptsächlich auf den Gebieten gemacht worden sind, die mit dem technisch-wirtschaftlichen Leben unmittelbar zusammenhängen. Gewiß, die Wissenschaft hat gewaltige Errungenschaften aufzuweisen, aber ihre Errungenschaften sind da am größten, wo sie herausgefordert worden sind durch die Anforderungen des technisch-wirtschaftlichen Lebens.

[ 5 ] Unter dem Einflusse eines solchen geistigen Fortschrittes hat sich in den führenden Kreisen der Menschheit die Denkgewohnheit ausgebildet, alle Lebensverhältnisse aus ökonomischen Unterlagen heraus zu beurteilen. Sie sind sich in den meisten Fällen dieser Beurteilungsart nicht bewußt. Sie üben sie unbewußt aus. Sie glauben aus allerlei ethischen, ästhetischen Antrieben heraus zu leben; aber sie folgen unbewußt ihrem aus der technisch-wirtschaftlichen Lebensökonomie heraus bestimmten Urteile. Sie denken ökonomisch, während sie glauben, ästhetisch, religiös, ethisch zu leben.

[ 6 ] Diese Denkgewohnheit der führenden Klassen ist nun im Laufe der neuesten Zeit bei den sozialistisch Denkenden zum Dogma geworden. Diese meinen alles Leben sei ökonomisch bedingt, weil diejenigen, von denen sie ihre Meinungen geerbt haben, die ökonomische Denkart zu ihrer ihnen größtenteils unbewußten Gewohnheit gemacht haben. Und so wollen diese sozialistisch Denkenden die Wirtschaftsordnung aus einer Anschauung heraus umgestalten, die gerade das herbeigeführt hat, was sie einer Umwandlung für dringend bedürftig halten. Sie bemerken nicht, daß sie, was sie nicht wollen, in einem verschärften Grade herbeiführen würden, wenn sie unter dem Einfluß von Ideen handelten, aus denen das Umzuwandelnde sich ergeben hat. Das rührt davon her, daß die Menschen an ihren Ideen und Denkgewohnheiten viel zäher festhalten wollen, als an den äußeren Einrichtungen.

[ 7 ] Nun aber ist die menschliche Entwickelung an einem Punkte angelangt, in dem diese selbst durch ihre Wesenheit einen Fortschritt nicht nur der Einrichtungen, sondern der Gedanken und Anschauungen fordert. Ob diese Forderung, welche die Menschheitsgeschichte stellt, empfunden wird oder nicht, davon ist das Schicksal der sozialen Bewegung abhängig. So sonderbar es heute auch noch für viele Menschen klingt: es ist doch richtig, das moderne Leben hat eine Gestalt angenommen, die nicht mehr mit den alten Vorstellungsarten zu bemeistern ist.

[ 8 ] Viele sagen mit Recht: Die soziale Frage muß anders angefaßt werden als sie etwa St. Simon, Owen, Fourier angefaßt haben. Mit deren geistigen Antrieben könne man das wirtschaftliche Leben nicht umgestalten. Aber solche ziehen daraus die Folgerung, daß geistige Antriebe überhaupt keinen wandelnden Einfluß auf die sozialen Lebensverhältnisse haben können. In Wahrheit liegt die Sache so, daß die genannten Denker ihre Vorstellungen aus einem Geistesleben heraus gebildet haben, das seiner Natur nach dem modernen Wirtschaftsleben nicht mehr gewachsen . Statt nun zu der gesunden Einsicht sich zu bekennen: Also bedarf es einer Erneuerung des Geisteslebens - und des Rechtslebens -, ist man zu der Meinung gekommen, die ersehnten sozialen Zustände müßten aus dem Wirtschaftsleben heraus von selbst sich ergeben. Aber nicht sie werden sich ergeben, sondern nur wirtschaftliche Wirrnis, wenn nicht die Fortentwickelung aus einem von der neueren Zeit geforderten Fortschritt des Geistes- und Rechtslebens heraus geschehen wird.

[ 9 ] Von dem Mute zu diesem Fortschritt der Geistespflege und Rechtsordnung wird getragen sein müssen, was auf sozialem Gebiete in der Gegenwart und in der nächsten Zukunft geschehen soll. Was nicht aus diesem Mute heraus geschaffen werden wird, das wird gut gemeint sein können, es wird aber nicht zu haltbaren Zuständen führen. Deshalb ist heute auf diesem Gebiete das Wichtigste, in weitesten Kreisen Aufklärung darüber hervorzurufen, daß die neue Geistespflege die Grundlage einer gedeihlichen Weiterentwickelung der zivilisierten Menschheit ist. Die Früchte dieser Geistespflege werden in der Wirtschaftsordnung aufgehen; ein Wirtschaftsleben, das sich aus sich selbst neugestalten will, wird seine alten Schäden nur - in Verschärfung - fortpflanzen. Solange man von dem Wirtschaftsleben verlangen wird, es solle aus den Menschen machen, was in ihnen veranlagt ist, wird man zu den alten Schäden neue hinzufügen; erst, wenn man sich zu der Einsicht durchringen wird, daß der Mensch aus seinem Geiste dem Wirtschaftsleben geben muß, was es braucht, wird man bewußt erstreben können, was man unbewußt fordert.

The fundamental error in social thinking

[ 1 ] Many people will repeatedly object to an idea such as that of the threefold organization of the social organism: the social movement strives to overcome the economic inequalities of people; how is this to be achieved through the changes that occur in spiritual life and in the legal system if these have independent administrations compared to the economic cycle?

[ 2 ] This objection is made by those who see that economic inequalities exist, but not how they are brought about by the people who live together in the social organism. It is seen that the economic order of society is expressed in people's attitude to life. One strives to ensure that for many people the possibility of a way of life that seems more worthy to them arises. And it is believed that this possibility will be there when certain changes in the economic order, which are envisaged, have occurred.

[ 3 ] A person who looks more deeply into human living conditions must see the main reason for the social ills of the present day in the fact that the conception just described has become the prevailing one. For many people, the economic order of life is too far removed from their ideas about the spiritual and legal life to be able to see how the one relates to the other in the human context. The economic situation of men is a result of how they relate to one another through their mental faculties and through the legal system existing among them. Anyone who understands this will not believe that he can find an economic system that can bring the people living in it into attitudes of life that seem worthy to them. Whether one finds within an economic system the consideration necessary for such an attitude to life depends on how the people in it are mentally attuned and how they organize their relations to one another out of their consciousness of right.

[ 4 ] In the last three to four centuries, civilized mankind has developed out of impulses that make it extremely difficult to see through the true relationship between economic life and spiritual life. Man has been woven into contexts of life which, through the achievements of technology in the economic field, have taken on a character that no longer corresponds to what he has formed from previous periods of development as the cultivation of the spirit and ideas of justice. We have become accustomed to look upon the intellectual progress of recent times with undivided appreciation. However, one overlooks the fact that these intellectual advances have mainly been made in areas that are directly related to technical and economic life. Certainly, science has enormous achievements to show, but its achievements are greatest where they have been challenged by the demands of technical-economic life.

[ 5 ] Under the influence of such intellectual progress, a habit of thought has developed in the leading circles of mankind to judge all living conditions on the basis of economic data. In most cases they are not aware of this way of judging. They practise it unconsciously. They believe they are living out of all kinds of ethical, aesthetic drives; but they unconsciously follow their judgment determined by the technical-economic economy of life. They think economically, while they believe they are living aesthetically, religiously, ethically.

[ 6 ] This habit of thought among the leading classes has now become dogma among socialist thinkers in recent times. They think that all life is economically conditioned, because those from whom they have inherited their opinions have made the economic way of thinking their largely unconscious habit. And so these socialist thinkers want to transform the economic order from a point of view that has brought about the very thing they consider to be in urgent need of transformation. They do not realize that they would bring about what they do not want to an aggravated degree if they acted under the influence of ideas from which the thing to be transformed has arisen. This stems from the fact that people want to hold on to their ideas and habits of thought much more tenaciously than to external institutions.

[ 7 ] Now, however, human development has reached a point where its very nature demands progress not only in institutions but also in thoughts and views. Whether this demand, which the history of mankind makes, is felt or not, depends on the fate of the social movement. As strange as it may still sound to many people today, it is true that modern life has taken on a form that can no longer be mastered with the old ways of thinking.

[ 8 ] Many people rightly say: the social question must be approached differently than St. Simon, Owen and Fourier, for example, did. With their intellectual impulses one could not transform economic life. But such people draw the conclusion from this that spiritual impulses can have no changing influence at all on the social conditions of life. The truth of the matter is that the aforementioned thinkers formed their ideas out of a spiritual life which, by its very nature, is no longer suited to modern economic life. Instead of now professing a healthy understanding: Therefore a renewal of spiritual life - and of legal life - is needed, one has come to the opinion that the longed-for social conditions must arise of their own accord from economic life. But they will not arise, but only economic confusion, if the further development does not take place out of the progress of intellectual and legal life demanded by modern times.

[ 9 ] What is to happen in the social sphere in the present and in the near future will have to be borne by the desire for this progress in the cultivation of the spirit and the legal order. What is not created out of this courage may be well-intentioned, but it will not lead to sustainable conditions. Therefore, the most important thing in this field today is to raise awareness in the widest circles that the new cultivation of the spirit is the basis for the prosperous further development of civilized humanity. The fruits of this cultivation of the spirit will be absorbed into the economic order; an economic life that seeks to reshape itself will only perpetuate - in an aggravated form - its old defects. As long as one demands of economic life that it should make of people what is inherent in them, new damages will be added to the old ones; only when one comes to the realization that man must give economic life what it needs from his spirit will one be able to consciously strive for what one unconsciously demands.