The Tension Between East and West
Part II: Anthroposophy and Sociology
5. From Monolithic to Threefold Unity
11 June 1922, Vienna
When, some three years ago, at the request of a group of friends who were disturbed by the social aftermath of the Great War, I published my book The Threefold Commonwealth, the immediate result, from my point of view, was the profound misunderstanding it met with on every side. This was because it was promptly classed among the writings that have attempted, in a more or less Utopian manner, to advocate institutions which their creators envisaged as a sort of nostrum against the chaotic social conditions thrown up in the course of man's recent development. My book was intended not as a call for reflection about possible institutions, but as a direct appeal to human nature. It could not have been otherwise, given the fundamentals of spiritual science, as will be apparent from the whole tone of my lectures so far.
In many cases, for example, what I included solely to illustrate the central argument was taken to be my main point. In order to demonstrate how mankind could achieve social thinking and feeling and a social will, I gave as an example the way the circulation of capital might be transformed so that it would no longer be felt by many people to be oppressive, as frequently happens at present. I had to say one or two things about the price mechanism, the value of labour, and so on. All this solely by way of illustration. Anyone who seeks to influence human life as a whole must surely hearken to it first, in order to derive from it the human remedies for its aberrations, instead of extolling a few stereotyped formulae and recommending their indiscriminate application.
For anyone who has reacted to the social life of Europe in the last thirty or forty years, not with some preconceived attitude or other but with an open mind, it is clear above all that what is needed in the social sphere today is already prefigured in the unconscious will of mankind in Europe. Everywhere we find these unconscious tendencies. They exist already in men's souls, and all that is needed is to put them into words.
That is what made me give in to my friends and write the book I have mentioned. My purpose was to attempt, out of the sense of reality which — in all modesty we can say this — spiritual science instils in man, to observe what has been going on in Europe in recent years, beneath the surface of events and institutions, among all ranks and classes of society. What I wanted to say was not: I think that this or that is correct, but rather: This or that is secretly desired by the unconscious, and all that is required is for us to become conscious of the direction in which mankind is really trying to go. The reason for many of our social abuses today is precisely that this unconscious movement contradicts in part what mankind has worked out intellectually and embodied in institutions. Our institutions, in fact, run counter to what men today desire in the depths of their hearts.
There is another reason why I do not believe there is any real point today in simply advocating some particular Utopian institution. In the historical development of mankind in the civilized world we have entered a phase where any judgment about relationships among and between men, however shrewd, can be of no significance unless men accept it — unless it is something towards which they are themselves impelled, though for the most part unconsciously.
If we wish to reflect at all upon these things at the present time, therefore, I believe we must reckon with the democratic mood which has emerged in the course of man's history, and which now exists in the depths of men's souls — the democratic feeling that something is really valuable in the social sphere only if it aims, not at saying democratic things, but at enabling men to express their own opinions and put them over. My main concern was thus to answer the question: Under what conditions are men really in a position to give expression to their opinions and their will in social matters?
When we consider the world around us from a social standpoint, we cannot help concluding that, although it would be easy to point to a great deal that should be different, the obstacles to change are legion, so that what we may know perfectly well and be perfectly willing to put into practice, cannot be realized! There are differences of rank and class, and the gulfs between classes. These gulfs cannot be bridged simply by having a theory of how to bridge them; they result from the fact that — as I stressed so much yesterday — the will, which is the true centre of man's nature, is involved in the way we have grown into our rank or class or any other social grouping. And again, if you look for the obstacles which, in recent times, with their complicated economic conditions, have ranged themselves alongside the prejudices, feelings and impulses of class consciousness, you will find them in economic institutions themselves. We are born into particular economic institutions and cannot escape from them. And there also exists, I would say, a third kind of obstacle to true social co-operation among men; for those who might perhaps, as leaders, be in a position to exert that profound influence of which I have been speaking, have other limitations — limitations that derive from certain dogmatic teachings and feelings about life. While many men cannot escape from economic limitations and limitations of class, many others cannot rise above their conceptual and intellectual limitations. All this is already widespread in life and results in a great deal of confusion.
If, however, we now attempt to reach a clear understanding of everything which, through these obstacles and gulfs, has affected the unconscious depths of men's souls in recent decades, we become aware that in fact the essentials of the social problem are not by any means located where they are usually looked for. They reside in the fact that there has arisen in the recent development of civilized man, alongside the technology which is so complicating life, a faith in the supreme power of the monolithic state. This faith became stronger and stronger as the nineteenth century wore on. It became so strong and so fixed that it has never been shaken even in the face of the many shattering verdicts on the organization of society that multitudes of people have reached.
With this dogmatic faith that thus takes hold of men, something else is associated. Through their faith, people seek to cling to the proposition that the object of their faith represents a kind of sovereign remedy, enabling them to decide which is the best political system, and also — I will not say to conjure up paradise, but at least to believe that they are creating the best institutions conceivable.
This attitude, however, leaves out of account something that obtrudes itself particularly on those who observe life realistically, as it has been observed here in the last few days. Anyone who, just because he is compelled to mould his ideas to the spiritual world, acquires a true sense of reality, will discover that the best institutions that can be devised for a particular period never remain valid beyond that period and that what is true of man's natural organism is also true of the social organism.
I am not going to play the boring game of analogies, but by way of illustration I should like to indicate what can be discovered about society from a study of the human organism. We can never say that the human organism — or, for that matter, the animal or plant — will display only an upward development. If organisms are to flourish and to develop their powers from within themselves, they must also be capable of ageing and of dying off. Anyone who studies the human organism in detail finds that this atrophying is going on at every moment. Forces of ascent, growth and maturation are present continuously; but so too are the forces of decomposition. And man owes a great deal to them. To overcome materialism completely, he must direct his attention to just these forces of decomposition in the human organism. He must seek, everywhere in the human organ, ism, the points at which matter is disintegrating as a result of the process of organization. And he will find that the development of man's spiritual life is closely linked to the disintegration of matter. We can only understand the human organism by perceiving, side by side with the forces of ascent, growth and maturation, the continuous process of decay.
I have given this simply by way of illustration, but it really does illustrate what the impartial observer will discover in the social organism too. It is true that the social organism does not die, and to this extent it differs from the human organism; but it changes, and forces of advancement and decline are inherent in it. You can only comprehend the social organism when you know that, even if you put into practice the wisest designs and establish, in a given area of social life, something that has been learnt from conditions as they really are, it will after a time reveal moribund forces, forces of decline, because men with their individual personalities are active in it. What is correct for a given year will have changed so greatly, twenty years later, that it will already contain the seeds of its own decline. This sort of thing, it is true, is often appreciated, in an abstract way. But in this age of intellectualism, people do not go beyond abstractions, however much they may fancy themselves as practical thinkers. People in general, we thus discover, may admit that the social organism contains forces of dissolution and decline, that it must always be in process of transformation, and that forces of decline must always operate alongside the constructive ones. Yet at the point where these people affect the social order through their intentions and volition, they do not recognize in practice what they have admitted in theory.
Thus, in the social order that existed before the Great War, you could see that, whenever capitalism formed part of an upward development, it resulted in a certain satisfaction even for the masses. When in any branch of life capitalism was expanding, wages rose. As the process advanced further and further, therefore, and capitalism was able to operate with increasing freedom, you could see that wages and opportunities for the employment of labour rose steadily. But it was less noticed that this upward movement contained at the same time other social factors, which move in a parallel direction and involve the appearance of forces of decline. Thus with rising wages, for instance, conditions of life would be such that the rising wages themselves would gradually create a situation in which the standard of life was in fact raised relatively little. Such things were, of course, noticed, but not with any lively and practical awareness of the social currents involved.
Hence today, when we stand at a milestone in history, it is the fundamentals, not the surface phenomena of social life that we must consider. And so we are led to the distinct branches that go to make up our social life.
One of these is the spiritual life of mankind. This spiritual life — though we cannot, of course, consider it in isolation from the rest of social life — has its own determinants, which are connected with human personalities. The spiritual life draws its nourishment from the human individuals active in any period, and all the rest of social life depends on this. Consider the changes that have occurred in many social spheres simply because someone or other has made some invention or discovery. But when you ask: How did this invention or discovery come about? then you have to look into the depths of men's souls. You see how they have undergone a certain development and have been led to find, in the stillness of their rooms, so to speak, something that afterwards transformed broad areas of social life. Ask yourselves what is the significance, for social life as a whole, of the fact that the differential and integral calculus was discovered by Leibniz. If from this standpoint you consider realistically the influence of spiritual life on social life, you will come to see that, because spiritual life has its own determinants, it represents a distinctive branch of social life as a whole.
If asked to define its special quality, we would say: Everything that is really to flourish in the spiritual life of mankind must spring from man's innermost productive power. And we inevitably find that the elements that develop freely in the depths of the human soul are what is most favourable for social life as a whole.
We are, however, also affected by another factor, one that has become increasingly apparent in recent decades. It is the impulse — subsequently absorbed into a faith in the omnipotence of political life — for civilized humanity, out of the depths of its being, to become more and more democratic. In other words, aspirations are present in the masses of humanity for every human being to have a voice in determining human institutions. This democratic trend may be sympathetic or unsympathetic to us — that is not a matter of primary importance. What matters is that the trend has shown itself to be a real force in the history of modern man. But in looking at this democratic trend, we are particularly struck, if our thinking is realistic, by the way in which, out of an inner pressure, out of the spiritual life of Middle Europe ideas evolved, in the noblest minds, about the political community of men.
I do not mean to suggest that today we must still attach any special value to the “closed commercial state” put forward by one of the noblest of Germans. We need pay attention less to the content of Fichte's thought than to his noble purpose. I should, however, like to emphasize the emergence in a very popular form, at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century, of what we may call the search for concepts of natural law. At that time, certain eminent and high-minded men devoted themselves to the question: What is the relation of man to man? And what in general is man's innermost essence, socially speaking? They believed that, by a right understanding of man, they would also be able to find what is the law for men. They called this “the law of reason” or “natural law.” They believed that they could work out rationally which are the best legal institutions, the ones under which men can best prosper. You need only look at Rotteck's work to see how the idea of natural law still operated for many writers in the first half of the nineteenth century.
In opposition to this, however, there emerged in the first half of the nineteenth century in Europe the historical school of law. This was inspired by the conviction that you cannot determine the law among men by a process of reason.
Yet this historical school of law failed to notice what it is that really makes any excogitation of a rational law unfruitful; they failed to see that, under the influence of the age of intellectualism, a certain sterility had invaded the spiritual life of mankind. Instead, the opponents of natural law concluded that men are not competent to discover, from within their souls, anything about law, and that therefore law must be studied historically. You must look, they said, at man's historical development, and see how, from customs and instinctive relationships, systems of law have resulted.
The historical study of law? Against such a study Nietzsche's independent spirit rebelled in On the Use and Abuse of History for Life. He believed that, if we are always looking solely at what has exercised mankind historically, we cannot be productive and evolve fruitful ideas for the present; the elemental forces that live in man must revolt against the historical sense, in order that, from these forces, there may develop a constitution of social relationships.
Among leading personalities there developed in the nineteenth century, at the height of intellectualism, a battle over the real foundations of law. And this also involved a battle over the foundations of the state. At least, it was generally assumed so at the time. For the state is, ultimately, no more than the sum total of the individual institutions in which the forces of law reside. The fact that the ability to detect the foundations of law had been lost also meant, therefore, that it was no longer possible to attain clarity about the real nature of the state. That is why we find — not simply in theory, but in real life as well — that, during the nineteenth century, the essence of the state became, for countless people, including the masses, a problem that they had to solve.
Yet this applied more particularly, I would say, to the upper and more conscious reaches of civilized humanity. From underground, the democratic attitude I have described was tunnelling its way towards the surface. Its appearance, if properly understood, leads us to conceive the problem of the nature of law in a way that is much deeper and much closer to reality than is usual today. There are many people today who think it self-evident that, from within the individual, you can somehow arrive at what is actually the law in a given sphere. Modern jurists, it is true, soon lose sight of the ground when they attempt to do so; and what they find, when they philosophize in this way or indeed think they are reflecting in a practical way upon life, is that law loses its content for them and becomes an empty form. And then they say: This empty form must be given a content; the economic element must be decanted into it.
On the one hand, then, there exists a definite sense of man's powerlessness to reach a concept or feeling of law from within himself. On the other hand, we do continually attempt to derive the nature of law from man himself. And yet the democratic attitude jibs at any such attempt. What it says is that there is no such thing as a general abstract determination of law; there is only the possibility that the members of a particular community may reach an understanding and say to one another: “You want this from me, I want that from you,” and that they will then come to some agreement about their resulting relations. Here, law springs exclusively from the reality of what men desire from one another. There cannot therefore be any such thing as a law of reason; and the “historical law” that has come into being can always do so again if only we find the right foundation for it. On this foundation, men can enter into a relationship in which, through mutual understanding, they can evolve a realistic law. “I want to have my say when law is being made” — so speaks the democratic attitude. Anyone, then, who wishes to write theoretically about the nature of law cannot spin it out of himself; he just has to look at the law that appears among men, and record it. In natural science too, our view of the phenomenal world does not allow us to fashion the laws of nature out of our head; we allow things to speak to us and shape natural laws accordingly. We assume that what we try to encompass in the laws of nature is already created, but that what exists in the legal sphere has to be created among men. This is a different stage of life. In this realm, man stands in the position of creator — but as a social being, alongside other men — so that a life may come about that shall infuse the meaning of human evolution into the social order. This is precisely the democratic spirit.
The third thing that presents itself to people today and calls for social reorganization is the complicated economic pattern which has developed in recent times, and which I need not describe, since it has been accurately described by many people. We can only say: This economic pattern certainly results from factors quite different from those controlling the other two fields of the social organism — spiritual life, where all that is fruitful in the social order must spring from the individual human personality (only the creativity of the individual can make the right contribution here to the social order as a whole), and the sphere of law, where law, and with it the body politic, can only derive from an understanding between men. Both factors — the one applicable to spiritual life and the other to political and legal life — are absent from economic life.
In economic life, what may come about cannot be determined by the individual. In the nineteenth century, when intellectualism enjoyed such a vogue among men, we can see how various important people — I do not say this ironically — people in the most varied walks of life, gave their opinion about one thing and another — people who were well placed in economic life, and whose judgment one would have expected to trust. When they came to express an opinion about something outside their own speciality, something that affected legislation, you often found that what they said, about the practical effect of the gold standard for example, was significant and sensible. If you follow what went on in the various economic associations during the period when certain countries were going over to the gold standard, you will be astonished at the amount of common sense that was generated. But when you go further and examine how the things that had been prophesied then developed, you will see, for instance, that some very important person or other considered that, under the influence of the gold standard, customs barriers would disappear! The exact opposite occurred!
The fact is that, in the economic sphere, common sense, which can help one a very great deal in the spiritual sphere, is not always a safe guide. You gradually discover that, as far as economic life is concerned, the individual cannot reach valid judgments at all. Judgments here can only be arrived at collectively, through the co-operation of many people in very different walks of life. It is not just theory, but something that will have to become practical wisdom, that truly valid judgments here can arise only from the consonance of many voices.
The whole of social life thus falls into three distinct fields. In that of spiritual life, it is for the individual to speak. In the democratic sphere of law, it is for all men to speak, since what matters here is the relationship of man to man on a basis of simple humanity — where any human being can express a view. In the sphere of economic life, neither the judgment of the individual, nor that which flows from the un-sifted judgments of all men, is possible. In this sphere, the individual contributes, to the whole, expert knowledge and experience in his own particular field; and then, from associations, a collective judgment can emerge in the proper manner. It can do so only if the legitimate judgments of individuals can rub shoulders with one another. For this, however, the associations must be so constituted as to contain views that can rub shoulders and then produce a collective judgment. — The whole of social life, therefore, falls into these three regions. This is not deduced from some Utopian notion, but from a realistic observation of life.
At the same time, however — and this must be emphasized over and over again — the social organism, whether small or large, contains within itself, together with constructive forces, also the forces of decline. Thus everything that we feed into social life also contains its own destructive forces. A constant curative process is needed in the social organism.
When we look at spiritual life from this standpoint, we can even say, on the lines of the observations put forward here in the last few days: in Oriental society, the life of the spirit was universally predominant. All individual phenomena — even those in political and in economic life — derived from the impulses of spiritual life, in the way I have been describing. If now you consider the functioning of society, you find that for a given period — every period is different — there flow forth from the life of the spirit impulses that inform the social structures; economic associations come into being on the basis of ideas from spiritual life, and the state founds institutions out of spiritual life. But you can also see that spiritual life has a constant tendency to develop forces of decline, or forces from which such forces of decline can arise. If we could see spiritual life in its all-powerful ramifications, we should perceive how it constantly impels men to separate into ranks and classes. And if you study the reasons for the powerful hold of the caste system in the Orient, you will find that it is regarded as a necessary concomitant of the fact that society sprang from spiritual impulses. Thus we see that Plato still stresses how, in the ideal state, humanity must be divided into the producer class, the scholar class and the warrior class — must be divided, that is, into classes. If you analyse the reasons for this, you will find that differences of rank and class follow from the gradation which is implicit in the supreme power of spiritual life. Within the classes, there then appears once more the sense of human personality, which experiences them as prejudicial to the social system. There thus always exist, within spiritual life, opportunities for the appearance of gulfs between classes, ranks, even castes.
We now turn to the field of politics, and it is here especially that we must look for what I have been calling the subjection of labour, in the course of man's development, to the unitary social organism. It is precisely because theocracy, coming from Asia, developed into a political system that is now dominated by concepts of law, that the problem of labour arises. In so far as each individual was to attain his rights, there developed a demand for labour to be properly integrated into society. Yet as law cast off its links with religion and moved further and further towards democracy, there insinuated itself more and more into men's lives a certain formalized element of social thinking.
Law developed in fact from what one individual has to say to another. It cannot be spun out of a man's own reasoning faculty. Yet from the mutual intercourse of men's reasoning faculties — if I may so put it — a true life of law arises. Law is inclined, therefore, towards logic and formalized thought. But humanity, on its way down the ages, goes through phases of one-sided development. It went through the one-sided phase we call theocracy, and similarly, later on, it goes through the one we call the state. When it does so, the logical element of social life is cultivated — the element of excogitation. Just think how much human ratiocination has been expended on law in the course of history!
In consequence of this, however, mankind also proceeds towards the capacity for abstraction. You can sense how human thinking, under the influence of the principle of law, becomes increasingly abstract. What mankind acquires in one sphere, however, is extended at certain periods to the whole of human life. In this way, I would say, even religion was, as I have indicated earlier, absorbed into the juridical current. The God of the Orient, universal legislator and giver of Grace to men, became a God of judgment. Universal law in the cosmos became universal justice. We see this especially in the Middle Ages. As a result, however, there was imported into men's habits of thought and feeling a kind of abstraction. People tried increasingly to run their lives by means of abstractions.
In this way, abstraction came to extend to religion and spiritual life, on the one hand, and economic life, on the other. Men began to trust more and more in the omnipotence of the state, with its abstract administrative and constitutional activity. Increasingly, men regarded it as progressive for spiritual life, in the shape of education, to be absorbed completely into the sphere of the state. Here, however, it could not avoid being caught up in abstract relationships, such as are associated with the law. Economic activity, too, was absorbed into something that was felt to be appropriate when the state is in control. And at the time when the modern concept of the economy was formed, it was the general opinion that the state should be the power above all which determined the proper organization of economic activity. In this way, however, we subject the other branches of life to the rule of abstraction. This statement itself may sound abstract, but in fact it is realistic. Let me demonstrate this with regard to education.
In our age, where common sense is so commonplace, men can come together in a committee, in order to work out the best pedagogic procedures. When they meet together in this way and work out how education should be organized and just what should be covered by this class or the other in the timetable, they will — and I say this without irony — work out first-rate things. I am convinced that, so long as they are fairly sensible — and most people are nowadays — they will draw up ideal programmes. We live — or did live at least, for some attempt is being made to escape — in the age of planning. There is certainly no shortage of programmes, of guiding principles in any given area of life! Society after society is founded and draws up its programme: a thing is to be done in this way or that. I have no objection to these programmes, and indeed I am convinced that no one who criticizes them could draw up better ones. But that is not the point. What we work out, we can impose on reality; only reality will not then be suitable for men to live in. And that is what really matters.
And so we have reached a kind of dead end in the matter of programmes. We have seen recently how, with the best and noblest of intentions for the development of mankind, a man drew up one of these programmes for the entire civilized world, in fourteen admirable points. It was shattered immediately it came into contact with reality. From the fate of Wilson's fourteen abstract points — which were the product of shrewd intellects, but were not in accordance with reality, not quarried from life itself — an enormous amount can be learnt.
In education and teaching, it is not programmes that matter, for they after all are only a product of politics and law. You can, with the best of intentions, issue a directive that this or that must be done; in reality, however, we are dealing with a staff composed of teachers with a particular set of capacities. You have to take these capacities into account in a vital way. You cannot realize a programme. Only what springs from the individual personalities of the teachers can be realized. You must have a feeling for these personalities. You will need to decide afresh, each day, out of the immediate life of the individual, what is to happen. You will not be able to set up a comprehensive programme: this remains an abstraction. Only out of life itself can something be created. Let us imagine an extreme case: In some subject or other, there are available only teachers of mediocre ability. If, at a time when they were free of teaching and had nothing to do but think, these teachers were to work out pedagogic aims and issue regulations, even they would no doubt come up with something extremely sensible. But the actual business of teaching is another thing altogether; all that matters there is their capabilities as whole men. It is one thing to reckon with what derives solely from the intellect, and quite another to reckon with life itself. For the intellect has the property of overreaching; fundamentally, it is always seeking to encompass the boundless nature of the world. In real life, it should remain a tool in a specific concrete activity.
Now if we reflect particularly on the fact that what takes place between human beings, when they confront each other as equals, can turn into law — then we must say: The things humanity develops are all right when they are the outcome of contemporary abstraction; for that is how men do feel. Men establish legal relations with one another, based on certain abstract concepts of man, and they arrive at these legal relations through the circumstance that they stand together on democratic ground. Yet it will never be possible in this way to create for the whole of humanity something that springs directly from the life of the individual; but only what is common to the whole of humanity. In other words: to be quite honest, there cannot well up, from a democratic foundation, what ought to spring from the individuality of man within spiritual life.
We must, of course, realize that a belief in the predominance of law and politics was a historical phenomenon, and that it was historically legitimate for modern states, at the time when they came into being, to take over responsibility for the schools, since they had to take them away from other authorities who were no longer administering them properly. You should not try to correct history retrospectively. Yet we must also perceive clearly that in recent years there has developed a movement to shape the life of the spirit once again as something independent, so that it contains within itself its own social structure and its own administration; and also that what takes place in individual classes can stem from the vital life of the teacher and not from adherence to some regulation or other. Despite the fact that it has been regarded as a step forward to hand over spiritual life, and with it schools, to the state, we must make up our minds to reverse this trend. Only then will it be possible for the free human personality to achieve expression within spiritual life, including the sphere of education. Nor need anyone be afraid that authority would suffer in consequence! Where a productive influence is exercised by the human personality, the individuals concerned yearn for a natural authority. We can see this at work in the Waldorf School. Everyone there is pleased when one person or the other can be his authority, because he needs what the individual talents of that person have to offer.
It then remains possible for politics and law to function on a democratic basis.
Here again, however, the fact is that, simply through its tendency to abstractness, the state contains within itself the germ of what are later to become forces of decline. Anyone who studies how, by virtue of the existence of this tendency, what men do in the political and legal sphere cannot help becoming increasingly cut off from any concrete interest in a particular aspect of life, will also realize that it is precisely political life which provides the basis for the abstractness that has become increasingly apparent in connection with the circulation of capital. The formation of capital nowadays is much criticized by the masses. But the campaign against it, as conducted at present, reveals an ignorance of the true situation. Anyone who wanted to abolish capital or capitalism would have to abolish modern economic and social life as a whole, because this social life cannot survive without the division of labour, and this in turn implies the formation of capital. In recent times, this has been demonstrated particularly by the fact that a large part of capital is represented by the means of production. The essential point, however, is that in the first place capitalism is a necessary feature of modern life, while on the other hand, precisely when it becomes nationalized, it leads to the divorce of money from specific concrete activities. In the nineteenth century, this was carried so far that now what actually circulates in social life is as completely divorced from specific concrete activities, as the bloodless ideas of a thinker who lives only in abstractions are divorced from real life. The economic element that is thus divorced from specific activities is money. When I have a certain sum in my pocket, this sum can represent any given object in the economy or even in spiritual life. This element stands in the same relation to specific concrete activities as a wholly general concept does to specific experiences. That is why crises must inevitably arise within the social order.
These crises have been extensively studied. A theory of crises is prominent in Marxism, for example. The mistake lies in attributing the crises to a single chain of causes, whereas in fact they are due to two underlying trends. There may be too much capital, in which case the excess that is circulating gives rise to crises. It may also happen, however, that too little capital is available, and this also leads to crises. These are two different types of crisis. Such things are not examined objectively, even by political economists today. The fact is that, in the real world, a single phenomenon may have very varied causes.
We can see, therefore, that, just as spiritual life tends to develop forces of decline arising from differences of class, rank and caste, so too the life that is moving towards abstractions — and rightly so — includes a tendency, on the one hand to develop the constructive forces that are part of a legitimate formation of capital, but on the other hand to give rise to crises because capitalism results in abstract economic activity, in which a capital sum can be used indifferently for one purpose or another.
When people realize this, they become social reformers and work out something that is designed to produce a cure. But now you come up against the fact that, although the individual does shape economic life by contributing his experiences through the appropriate associations, he cannot as a single individual determine the shape of economic life. That is why, when we go beyond the political and legal and the spiritual spheres, I have posited the association as a necessity of economic life.
In this connection, I was struck by the fact that, when I was speaking in Germany to a fairly small group of working-men about associations, they said to me: We have heard of very many things, but we don't really know what associations are; we haven't really heard anything about them. An association is not an organization and not a combination. It comes into being through the conflux of the individuals within the economy. The individual does not have to adopt something handed out from a central body, but is able to contribute the knowledge and ability he has in his own field. From a collaboration in which each gives of his best, and where what is done springs from the agreement of many — only from such associations does economic life in general derive.
Associations of this kind will come into being. They are certain to arise, I have no doubt of that. To anyone who tells me this is Utopian, my reply is: I know that these associations spring only from subconscious forces in man. We can, however, foster them by the reason and make them arise more quickly, or we can wait until they arise from necessity. They will link together those engaged in production and commerce, and the consumers. Only production, distribution and consumption will have any part in them. Labour will come more and more under the aegis of law. On the question of labour, men must reach an understanding in a democratic manner. In consequence, labour will be insulated from the only force which can be effective in economic life — that which is the resultant of a collective judgment in associations linking producers and consumers, together with distributors.
In the sphere of economic life, therefore — in the associations — goods alone will have a part to play. This will, in turn, have an important consequence: we shall cease entirely to have any fixed notions of the price and value of an article. Instead, we shall say: the price and value of an article is something that changes with the surrounding circumstances. Price and value will be set by the collective judgment of the associations. I cannot go into this at length here; but you can follow it up in my book The Threefold Commonwealth.
I have been trying to outline how, from our observation, we become aware that social life falls into three regions, shaped by quite distinct and different factors: spiritual life, legal and political life, and economic life. Within the recent development of civilization, these three have been achieving some degree of independence. To understand this independence, and gradually to allocate to each field what belongs to it, so that they may collaborate in an appropriate manner, is the important task today.
Men have reflected in very different ways on this tripartite articulation of the social organism. And, as my Threefold Commonwealth began to attract attention here and there, people pointed out various things in it that were already foreshadowed by earlier writers. Now I do not wish to raise the question of priority at all. What matters is not whether it was a particular individual who discovered something, but how it can become established in life. If a lot of people were to hit on it, one would be only too pleased. One point must be noted, however: when Montesquieu in France outlines a sort of tripartite division of the social organism, it is merely a division. He points out that the three sections have quite different determinants, and that we must therefore keep them separate. This is not the tenor of my book. I do not try to distinguish spiritual life, legal life and economic life, in the way that you would distinguish in man the nervous system, the respiratory system and the metabolic system, if at the same time you wanted to insist that they are three systems, each separate from the other. In itself, such a division leads nowhere; you can advance only by seeing how these three different systems function together, and how they best combine into a single whole by each operating on its own terms. The same is true of the social organism. When we know how to establish spiritual life, political and legal life, and economic life on the terms that are native to each, and how to let them run off their native sources of power, then the unity of the social organism will also follow. And then you will find that certain forces of decline are released within each of these fields, but that they are countered through collaboration with other fields. This suggests, not a tripartite division of the social organism, as in Montesquieu, but a threefold articulation of it, which yet comes together in the unity of the social organism as a whole, by virtue of the fact that, after all, every individual belongs to all three regions. The human personality — and that is what is all-important — inhabits this triform social organism in such a way as to unite the three parts.
Especially in the light of what I have been saying, then, we find that what we must aim at is not a division but an articulation of the social organism, in order that a satisfying unity may be attained. And in a more superficial way, you can also see that, for over a century, mankind in Europe has tended to seek such an articulation. It will come about, even if men do not consciously desire it; unconsciously, they will so conduct themselves, in the economic, spiritual, and political and legal spheres, that it will come about. It is demanded by the actual evolution of humanity.
And we can also point to the fact that the impulses which correspond to these three different aspects of life entered European civilization at a particular moment in the shape of three quintessential ideals, three maxims for social life. At the end of the eighteenth century in Western Europe, a demand spread abroad for liberty, equality and fraternity. Is there anyone who bears with the development that has taken place in modern times, who would deny that these maxims contain three quintessential human ideals? Yet on the other hand it must be admitted that there were many people in the nineteenth century who argued ingeniously against the view that a unified social organism or state can exist if it has to realize these three ideals all together. Several persuasive books were written to demonstrate that liberty, equality and fraternity cannot be completely and simultaneously combined within the state. And one must admit that these ingenious arguments do evoke a certain scepticism. In consequence, people once again found themselves face to face with a contradiction imposed by life itself.
Yet it is not the nature of life to avoid contradictions; life is contradictory at every point. It involves the repeated reconciliation of the contradictions that are thrown up. It is in the propagation and reconciliation of contradictions that life consists. It is, therefore, absolutely right that the three great ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity should have been put forward. Because it was believed in the nineteenth century, however, and right down to our own times, that everything must be centrally organized, people went off the rails. They failed to perceive that it is of no importance to argue about the way in which the means of production be employed, capitalism developed, etc. What matters is to enable men to arrange their social system to accord with the innermost impulses of their being. And in this connection we must say: We need to comprehend, in a vital way, how liberty should function in spiritual life, as the free and productive development of the personality; how equality should function in the political and legal sphere, where all, jointly and in a democratic manner, must evolve what is due to each individual; and how fraternity should function in the associations, as we have called them. Only by viewing life in this way do we see it in its true perspective.
When we do so, however, we perceive that the theoretical belief that it is possible to accommodate all three ideals uniformly in the monolithic state has led to a contradiction within life. The three ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity can be understood in a vital way only when we realize that liberty has to prevail in spiritual life, equality in the political and legal sphere, and fraternity in the economic sphere. And this not in a sentimental manner, but in a way that leads to social systems within which men can experience their human dignity and their human worth. If we understand that the unified organism can come into being only when out of liberty spirit develops in a productive way, when equality functions in the political and legal sphere and fraternity in the economic one, in the associations, then we shall rise above the worst social dilemmas of the present.
For man gains a spiritual life that is rooted in truth only out of what can freely spring from him as an individual; and this truth can only make its appearance if it flows directly from men's hearts. The democratic tendency will not rest easy until it has established equality in the political and legal sphere. This can be achieved by rational processes; if not, we expose ourselves to revolutions. And in the economic field, fraternity must exist in the associations.
When this happens, the law — which is founded on a human relationship in which like meets like — will be a vital law. Any other kind of law turns into convention. True law must spring from the meeting of men, otherwise it becomes convention.
And true fraternity can found a way of life only if this derives from economic conditions themselves, through the medium of the associations; otherwise, the collaboration of men within groups will establish not a way of life, but a routine existence, such as is almost invariably the case at the present time.
Only when we have learnt to perceive the chaotic nature of social conditions that spring from the predominance of catchwords instead of truth in the spiritual sphere, convention instead of law in the political and legal sphere, and routine instead of a way of life in the economic sphere, shall we be seeing the problem clearly. And we shall then be following the only path that affords a correct approach to the social problem.
People will be rather shocked, perhaps, to find that I am not going to approach the social problem in the way many people think it ought to be approached. What I am saying now, however, is based solely on what can be learnt from reality itself with the aid of spiritual science, which is everywhere orientated towards reality. And it turns out that the fundamental questions of social life today are these:
How can we, by a correct articulation of the social organism, move from the all too prevalent catch-word (which is thrown up by the human personality when its creative spirit is subordinated to another) to truth, from convention to law, and from a routine existence to a real way of life?
Only when we realize that a threefold social organism is necessary for the creation of liberty, equality and fraternity, shall we understand the social problem aright. We shall then be able to link up the present time properly with the eighteenth century. And Middle Europe will then be able, out of its spiritual life, to reply, to the Western European demand for liberty, equality, fraternity: Liberty in spiritual life, equality in political and legal life, and fraternity in economic life.
This will mean much for the solution of the social problem, and we shall be able to form some idea of how the three spheres in the social organism can collaborate, through liberty, equality and fraternity, in our recovery from the chaotic situation — spiritual, legal, and economic — which we are in today.