Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Impulse for Renewal in Culture and Science
GA 81

V. Anthroposophy and Social Science

9 March 1922, Berlin

My dear venerated guests! Besides the introductory words I want to say regarding today's task, I want to limit myself to essential indications in the following lectures to details of the economic life in its relationship to the area coming under discussion.

Social science can't be talked about today from only a theoretical standpoint. Today—I mean at this very present moment—one can only speak about such questions while the dire situation of the economic life existing in the civilised world is in the background. Into this desolate situation was also added something which I set out in my “Key Notes of the Social Question”, after the temporary end of the terrible catastrophe of world war.

At that time, I urged everyone to observe the social economic life in relation to the present time of world development. It is this economic life at present which is intimately intertwined with that which moves in the entire circumference of the social question. Yes, most people at present can hardly sense that the social question can be separated from the economic question. Yet my book “Key Notes of the Social Question” enters into establishing clarity in relation to the area in question here, where it will be pointed out how the economic life within the social organism needs to establish its own independent position, such an independent position within which the same facts and indications acquire their form only according to economic principles, economic opinions and impulses. In this respect my book—I say it here in quite frankly, because that is what matters most—contains an inner contradiction. Only, this book is not to be regarded as a theoretical book on social science. This book wants to give suggestions above all to life practitioners; this book was written out of observations of the European economic life over decades. Because this book strives to be completely realistic, a direct encouragement for practical activities—practical action in the moment—it had to contain a contradiction. This contradiction is namely nothing other than what permeates our entire social life and consists in our social life being in the course of modern time mixed up, chaotic; only viable if it develops its individual branches from out of its own conditions.

I must speak about the threefold divisions of the social organism which leads to the economic life becoming separated in a fully, free way from the organised legal and state life as well as from the spiritual life, so that the economic life becomes, for those who stand within it, formed out of their personal actions and initiatives. However, we presently live at a time in which such a situation doesn't exist, in which the economic life stands within the structure of the general social organism. We live in a time in which contradiction is a reality. As a result, a manuscript, which has aimed at being written out of reality and is being offered with suggestions based on reality, can bring about a contradictory turn; it could only come from the standpoint of bringing the contradiction to clarity, and with this clarity achieve relationships.

I am thus in an unusual position today by giving this introduction because in connection to what is based on anthroposophical grounds, created with anthroposophical methods of thought, founded on decades of realistic observation of European economic relationships—it is in the widest circles where it was first misunderstood in the worst possible way. I can only say I fully understand these misconceptions which have been given to these underlying intentions; these misunderstandings are phenomena of our time. However, I must be on the other side of the standpoint, that in overcoming these misconceptions lies what we first have to strive for sociologically, socially, and to this I would like to say a few words to orientate us.

When my book “Key Notes of the Social Question” was first published, it took place in the middle of the European development which was immediately followed by the terrible war catastrophe. It was during the time preceded by the Versailles treaty, a time in which value relationships in central and eastern European states were essentially different. Not from some cuckoo land cloud impulse was my “Key notes” written down, but thought through from the immediate world situation in such a way that I hoped to believe a large number of people would find it, and on the basis of these suggestions search further, then one could—namely from central Europe—throw an impulse also into the economic development which would lead to a significant, acceptable ascent which from then on and up to today had been a continual waste on the economy and social life in general. At that time you could say to yourself that a person could think out of this complicated world situation: Perhaps no stone will remain standing as he has created into the thought structures of the “Key Notes of the Social Question”—; that these ideas would be made up out of those who were there. Still, it could be grasped and would perhaps have given quite a different result to what could be fixed in a manuscript. It is not important that ideas are presented in a utopian manner, that an image can be presented as a social futuristic organism, but it comes down to people discovering and understanding: real problems exist here, directly in life; we have to deal with these problems out of our expertise and see if we can handle these issues by finding an ever wider understanding for them.

Basically, something quite different has happened. On the one hand theorists have all kinds of discussions regarding the content of my book, discussions to which all manner of demands are linked regarding its contents. Some theoreticians misinterpreted what had been said completely, wanting to turn it in a utopian sense by asking: How will this be, how will that be?—ie: what one could actually expect. It turned out to be a strange fact to me which took me by surprise because precisely those practicing economists who work routinely within the economic life, who know about this or that branch of business and rejected what I had said, spoke about things in their business which wasn't practiced in their business—that these practitioners argue over the key points of the social question and as a result, prove themselves to be abstract theoreticians. This shows that one can have a routine practical involvement in economic life—in the old sense; under the newer relationships it can no longer be—these practitioners were absolutely not in the position to what was being battered here as also being related to problems of the economic life, other than discussion points made in abstract theories; which could raise doubts when you oppose practitioners and get involved in their discussions because nothing concrete is entered into but only completely trivial generalities are repeated about the social question, if you question someone.

The other thing you could come across would be that at first those, who on the whole are quite substantial practitioners, even reject wanting to talk in this way about the possible form which economic problems could take on. Going on from here, some interest could be stimulated for instance in socialistic circles; here the experience could be that what is wished for is the least understood from that side and that everything should be judged according to whether they fit into old party templates or not. And so time passed by from when these suggestions were thought about. The whole terrible Valuta-misery came about which has to be considered in quite a different way to how it is usually judged today.

With the first appearance of my “Call to the German Nation and the Cultural World” and then “Key Notes of the Social Question”, individual personalities immediately appeared who in their way are quite honest about healing central European economic life, and said: ‘Yes, such proposals’—they called them proposals—‘look quite attractive, but it should first be asked how we can enhance the Valuta.’ That was said during a time when the Valuta-misery according to today's relationships, still existed in pure paradise. Now it shows in such demands that tampering with only external symptoms are wanted. It has little understanding that Valuta relations battered on the surface show unhealthy economic relationships, that with such a cure of a symptom the evil is not addressed, and that it requires entering into much, much deeper social economic conditions today if one wishes to in some or other way arrive at speaking about problems realistically, regarding the indications in my “Key Notes of the Social Question.” Now it has come about that what I repeated in conclusion of lectures which I held in the end of the “Key notes” at that time, had the call: people have to wake up before it is too late—that this “too late!” has come to the fore to a large degree today. We are not at all in the position to resonate in the original sense with the “Key notes” to understand them because in the mean time chaos has broken into the economic life where now quite other additions would be necessary and not what was merely mentioned but what had to be spoken about according to my conviction. One can hardly pass by a characteristic common to our age if one wants to discuss the most damaging aspect in today's economic life.

When I picked up the newspaper yesterday, I came across—and it could today be one of the most important symptoms we find everywhere, which our contemporaries express in single sentences—I came across the article “Postponing the resignation of Lloyd George until after the Genoa Conference”. With this once again our daily situation is announced because the characteristic of today is “wait”. “We want to wait”—this has actually become the ruling principle: wait until something happens but you can't tell what it will actually be. This is what is deeply embedded in the human soul today, on all levels.

Now I want to apparently—only apparently—introduce something quite abstract: this is intended in a complete realistic way because it indicates the forces working among us which have in the course of human development gradually enabled us to arrive at such a promising principle as “We want to wait” and apply it to everything.

When we look back at ancient cultural development we find in these old cultures, that factual thinking, in the sense as it appeared in ancient times—you know this from my lectures I held in the Philharmonic—can't be called purely “scientific”. If one considers what stands in the place of today's scientific thinking then you will know that first of all, out of this thinking the economic life could not have directly emerged. The economic life had to more or less first become independent of human thinking, developed instinctively—not meaning automatically—as exchange in humanity. What wanted to be done in the economic life simply developed out of practical life. People acted instinctively; even expanded trade into this or that area but everything happened more or less instinctively. Now, one can from some point of view object according to today's understanding of human freedom, human worth and so on, to the economic conditions of olden times; all this would be good to be seen from the other side, how the extraordinary symptoms of human evolution, which even today can be instructive, for instance appear in the way employees and employers—if you want to apply a modern expression to olden times—lived in relation to one another during ancient Greece, old Egypt and right over to Asia. Today these things are taken in such a way that they elicit the sharpest criticism; but, each such a criticism is not historical and one must say: the conditions in the corresponding epochs resulted from the feelings of humanity at that time. This is what one needs to focus on.

The other one is a fact connected to that shift in humanity's evolution which I've often pointed out, of around the fifteenth century, through which the soul constitution of civilised humanity became something quite different. I've already said outer history hardly points out that the collective soul constitution of humanity has become something different. If we ask ourselves how this human evolution relates to the economic life, then we get the following answer. The time for instinctive leadership as I've characterised, this time reached into the epoch of the shift. With this shift intellectualism arrived into the soul constitution; the drive to understand the world purely through human mental logic. This drive, which simply became a deep need in the human constitution, proved itself so brilliantly in the field of natural science and in that field which developed as a result: the field of technology where in the most extraordinary way it has not celebrated enough triumphs. However, this intellectualism—it was shown in various arguments, which during this course have already been dealt with—has shown itself as completely incapable of understanding the phenomena of human life and human nature as well as social relationships. With this intellectualism, this intellectual orientation, the soul can be brought back in a grandiose way to outer sense perceptible nature and its laws. You can't intertwine the one with the other in this intellectualism and while this intertwining goes on, get organised and while organising yourself also enjoy life and grasp spiritually permeated social relations. I would like to say the following. The network of intellectual ideas is too broad for what lies in social life. To think scientifically—that, humanity learnt from this intellectualism. Everything has been drawn into it, even theology. Intellectualism rules while we observe and experiment with our entire scientific way of thinking, and finally, what we have introduced into it which can't fit between the lines of intellectualism, we see as not scientific.

During this time intellectualism fell into the transition from a purely instinctive economic life to one fuelled with human thoughts. We may say that in the time when people didn't think intellectually about the world, the economic life was directed instinctively. When however, the time came when more and more world economy and world traffic appeared, this tendency required human beings to penetrate world economy and world traffic with their thoughts. These thoughts only came from intellectualism. As a result, everything which came from economic thoughts—in mercantilism, physiocratism, in the national economic ideas of Adam Smith, as in everything which later appeared right up to Karl Marx—on the one side demanded economic life, which was not merely instinctively mismanaged but it was grasped with thoughts, however on the other side, where thoughts could only come from intellectualism, all economic observations would become thoroughly one-sided, so that nothing could result from this economic observation which could be seen as continuing to work in economic practice. On the one hand you have the economic theorists who created axioms from intellectual sentences—like for instance Ricardo, Adam Smith or John Stuart Mill—and who now develop systems on the basis of these principles on which they built a complete self-contained mentality (Geistesart). On the other hand, the economic practice needed and demanded penetration by the spirit, but found no connection to what had continued to work instinctively and as a result it fell into complete chaos.

So these two streams became more and more common in recent times, on the one hand were the economic theorists—without the influence of economic practice; on the other hand the practitioners with their old practices which had become a continued routine and as a result let the economic life of the civilised world fall into chaos. Obviously one must express such things in a somewhat radical manner because then one will really distinguish what works and what can be understood as a problem.

If one now wants to find, I might call it, a connection, a kind of synthesis between economic thinking—which has gradually been eradicated by practice—and this economic practice—then one finds this connection at least in one of them. Recently a kind of economic realism has developed; a kind of economic-scientific realism which says that one can hardly find general laws for economic life if economic facts are not considered and events between single nations or groups are looked at what has happened only in an external way, to find guidelines for economic trade. From this basis has developed the so-called social-political in economic law-making. This means people gradually believed they have discovered through mere observation of factual economic relationships in connection with the permeating social connection that they could find certain guidelines which could be brought to expression in economic law-making; people now had, by taking detours through the State, tried to actualize some of these which had developed out of observation, but as a result it had to be actually admitted that these foregoing observations of real scientific economic laws could not at all emerge. Yes, we are actually still basically in this situation today. Just when one is in the situation of encountering decisive experiences, I could call it social Ur-phenomena being judged in the right way, then one sees the situation one is in.

You all know that Woodrow Wilson's “fourteen points” arrived at the dreadful chaotic point civilised life had entered. What were these fourteen points actually? They were basically nothing other than abstract principles of an unworldly man, a person who knew little about reality, who appeared in Versailles where he could actually have played an important role. This man who was a stranger to reality wanted to show the world how to get organised according to principles founded on intellectualism. One only had to experience with what inspiration civilised mankind hung on to these fourteen points, however with the exclusion of a large part of the central European population, they unfortunately also fell for these fourteen points after a short period of time.

During 1917, by contrast, I tried to show individual central European personalities who were interested but who were not following it, but were either approached or brought to it, how abstract, how unrealistic this was which wanted to be brought into the social form, how so to speak everything which ruled in the poor educational principles in modern civilisation was a concentration of what this school master Woodrow Wilson had introduced, and how the abstract principles—in a bad sense—were received with enthusiasm. At that time, I tried to show that a healing of the relationships could be entered into if you take a stand in opposition to such abstract attitudes, without excluding thoughts but which promotes realistic thoughts in order to develop from a realistic basis. Then it will not be a utopian invention—I would like to say the Woodrow Wilson principles were the most condensed utopian, utopianism already in its third potency, but one must be clear about finding contemporary humanity in its real conditions in order to discover impulses. Therefore, I gave up having to deal with any utopian theory, refrain from even saying how capital, how labour and suchlike must be formed; I gave at most some examples for how one could think about forming the future according to contemporary relationships. That was however only as illustration to what should happen; because just as I have spoken about the transformation of capital forces in my “Key notes”, just so this transformation can be fulfilled in a modified way. It is not important for me to present an image of the future but to say from which foundations, in a real way, one can now—not with theoretically thoughts—come to an actual solution for the so-called social question. It is not important to say that this or that is the solution to the social question. I have already had too many experiences in trying to find such a solution. Already in the 1880's in pleasant Vienna all kinds of clever people gathered nearly every afternoon after two o'clock. In the course of one hour the social question was solved many times! Those who considered the relationships of the present in an unbiased manner, know very well that solutions which often appear in thick books have much less worth than those negotiated in comfortable Vienna with a stroke or two of the pencil and fantastic words across a white tablecloth. That is not the point and it was the worst mistake brought to me that it should be something like that.

What I wanted to point out was the following. The solution of the social problems can only be affected in a real way out of itself; the result can't be solved through discussion but through events and actions. Conditions first need to be established to contain this activity, conditions I try to refer to in my “Key notes” and in other sources. I'm trying to show we need arrangements in our social organism which makes it possible for a spiritual life to develop out of its own conditions in which the spiritual life itself works; that we need a second member, where only legal-state impulses are at work, and besides that a third member, where only those impulses work which come out of production and consumption of goods, and lastly that it develops out of an associative economic system, culminating in healthy pricing. In this way the old class system will not be recalled. It won't be people branching into an educational class, a defence class and a nutritional class, but the modern human being has moved into individuation and will not be divided into some particular state.

What exists externally as an arrangement simply comes from the forces in history's unfolding, which are separate from the conditions out of which they are negotiated, to do something for the spiritual life, the legal or state life and economic life. Only when conditions are created which for instance the economist can do purely out of economic impulses, which would be modified by contemporary market trends, or should modify the capitalistic relationships, only when such possibilities are created among people will they develop something of a real solution—which is in a continuous becoming—of what can be called the social question.

It is not important for me that the social question is solved because I have to agree that the solution can't at any one moment be given as something self-contained, while the social problem from which it has originated is in a constant forward flow. The social organism is something which becomes young, and older, into which new impulses must flow, of which the following can never be said: it has this or that form. If the social organism is not so, that people sit together in one parliament that mixes all interests together, where those interested in economics make decisions about questions of the spiritual life, legal life and economic questions and so on, but when in a healthy social organism each individual sphere is considered out of its own conditions, then the state life can be placed on a realistic democratic foundation; then what is to be said doesn't come from one person in one such a single parliament, but it will emerge from continued ongoing negotiations among individual branches of the social organism.

In this context my book was also a warning to finally stop the fruitless arguments about the social question and to place it on the foundation where the solution to the social questions can be taken up every day. It was a call to the understanding how to take what was abstract in thought and to really translate this into thoughtful action. Added to this for example the associations can serve the economic life. Such associations are different from those which in recent times have been established as socialization, and can be created every day out of economic foundations. They are concerned with those people who handle goods production, in the circulation and consumption of goods—which every person is—to unite in associations through which healthy pricing can develop. It is a long way from knowledge of the subject and specialised knowledge which have to be achieved by people linked to associations, up to what doesn't come from legislation, also not from results of discussions but results from experience, which will give healthy pricing. Above all people have the desire, the broad outline of what they want at the time and which I am trying to present to you to discuss through these introductory words, because the world is so schooled in abstract thinking that one also takes this suggestion only from the point of view of abstract thinking, which I'm only using as an illustration, and discuss it for hours, while it should be about really understanding how each day the members of the social organism can be tackled in the way as indicated in my “Key notes.”

Today it is not of importance to find theoretical solutions to the social question but to search for conditions under which people can live socially. They will live socially when the social organism works according to its three members, just like a natural organism under the influence of its relative threefoldness also work towards unity.

You see, it first has to be explained what is meant by such things. When these things are spoken about, words are still required; yet words need to be taken up according to their intellectualised meaning which we attach to them today. These are translated immediately into intellectual things which are quite clearly not immersed in intellectualism. Therefore, in my book I have spoken in such a way about capital and about the natural foundations of production simply as ideas being thought out. When we want to deal with things abstractly, we can create definitions for a long time, and that has in fact happened. Someone says with equal right: Capital is crystallized labour, work which is stored up—and someone else says with the same right: Capital is saved labour. You can do this with all economic concepts if you remain within intellectualism. But these are not all things which can be dealt with theoretically only; we need to understand them in a lively form. If practitioners do a lot for the benefit of their practice and routine, cultivated out of the abstractions in these things, they can achieve the following, which I want to explain through a comparison.

I look at Ernst Muller. He is small with completely childish features and childish qualities. Twenty years later I look at Ernst Muller and say that this is not Ernst Muller because he is small and has childish qualities and quite a different physiognomy.—Yes, if at that time I had formed a concept of Ernst Muller and now want to attribute him with what at that time I had met as his real being, then I'll be making a terrible mistake. As little as people want to believe this, yet it is the way people are thinking along economic routes. They form thoughts and ideas about capital and labour and so on, and they believe these ideas must always have the same validity. It is not necessary to wait twenty years; you only need to go from one employer to another, from one land to another to discover the concept which you had created in one place is no longer valid in another because a change has been brought about—like in Ernst Muller. People don't recognise what exists when one doesn't have mobile ideas moving within life.

This is what makes it possible that on an anthroposophical foundation today's needs also find their expression in economic institutions because Anthroposophy's nature involves flexible ideas, which can teach you how you can provide your ideas with forces of growth and inner mobility and that with such ideas—as little as today's practitioners want to believe it—they can dive into other kinds of reality, which are revealed in the social life between one person and another, between one nation to another, through to entirely what has become necessary now in the artificially impaired world economy. One can therefore rightly say it is not an external attempt made on Anthroposophical grounds towards social ideas but to arrive at social impulses.

I still remember a time when many discussions took place about these things. I always had to stress: I'm talking about social impulses!—This upset people terribly. Obviously I should have said: social ideas or social thoughts, because the people only had thoughts in their heads about such things. That I spoke about impulses angered them terribly because they hadn't noticed I used “impulses” on this basis of indicating realities and not abstract ideas. Obviously one had to express oneself in abstract ideas.

Today it must again be grasped that a new understanding must be found for what is called the social question. We live in different relationships today than in the year 1919. Time is moving fast, especially in economic areas. It is necessary that even those very ideas which were considered at that time as mobile, continue to be contained in the flow and that one's observations of viewpoints stay within the spiritual present.

Whoever wants to look at the reality of relationships within the economic life knows they have essentially changed since the writing of my “Key notes” and one can no longer just use deductions as before. At least in the “Key notes” one would find an attempt to search for this method of social thinking in a realistic way, perhaps exactly because this attempt has grown from the soil where realities are always looked for, where one doesn't want to fall into fanaticism or false mysticism—because this attempt is grown out of accuracy on the wrestling ground of the anthroposophical world view.