The Threefold Social Order
Preface to the New Edition of 1920
Anyone approaching the social problems confronting us, with Utopian ideas, is by that very fact rendered incapable of understanding these problems. Personal views and feelings as to the value of particular solutions are likely to lead a person astray. This would be true even with a perfect theoretical solution that someone might try to press upon his fellow men. It is simply because public life can no longer be affected in such a way. Men today are so constituted that they could never say, “Here is somebody who understands the social institutions that are needed. We will take his opinion and act on it.”
Ideas about social life cannot be brought home to people in such a fashion. That fact is fully recognized in this book, already known to a fairly large public. Those who have set it down as Utopian have missed its aim and intention altogether. Such judgments have come especially from people who personally cling to a Utopian form of thought. There are many of that sort, particularly in the field of economics, and their prevalence points to an important fact, namely, the remoteness of people's thoughts from real life. This is a grave matter because with such a mode of thought one cannot hope to master the intricacies of the social problem.
Modern man has evolved a spiritual-cultural life that is to a great degree dependent on state institutions and on economic forces. While still a child, the human being is brought under the education of the state. Furthermore, he can be educated only in the way permitted by the industrial and economic conditions of his environment.
One might easily think that this would result in a person's being well qualified for present-day conditions. One could believe that the state can arrange education (the essence of the spiritual-cultural side of public life) in the best interests of the human community. Further, one might suppose that to educate people to fill available jobs in their environment was the best thing that could be done both for them and for society.
It devolves upon this book, an unpopular task, to show that the chaotic condition of our public life comes from the dependence of the spiritual-cultural life on the state and on industrial economy, and further, that the setting free of spiritual life from this dependence is one part of the burning social question.
This involves attacking wide-spread errors. For a long time people have thought of State Education as benefiting human progress, and socialistically-minded people find it hard to conceive of society not educating the individual to its service, according to its own standards. It is hard to recognize that a thing that was all right at an earlier period of history may later become all wrong. After the Middle Ages it had been necessary for the state to take over the control of education from those circles which had had exclusive possession of it. But to continue this arrangement is a grave social mistake.
This is the content of the first part of the book. The spiritual life did mature to freedom within the framework of the state. But it cannot now rightly enjoy and exercise this freedom unless it is granted self-government. It must become a completely independent branch of the body social, with the educational system under the management of those who are actually engaged in the teaching. There should be no interference from the state or industry.
The objection will be raised that even under such a self-governing spiritual life things will not be perfect. But in real life such a thing as perfection is not to be expected. All one can aim for is the best that is possible.
The new abilities that children bring with them will really pass into the life of the community when their care rests entirely with people who can judge and decide educational questions on spiritual-cultural grounds alone. From such a system the state and the economic life can receive the forces they need, forces they cannot receive when they themselves shape spiritual life from their own points of view. Thus the directors of a free spiritual life should also have the responsibility for such things as law schools, trade schools and technical colleges.
The principles expressed in this book are bound to arouse many prejudices. But basically these come from the unconscious conviction that people connected with education must necessarily be impractical and remote from life. People who think in this way do not see that it is just when educators cannot arrange their lines of work themselves that they become impractical. Our anti-social conditions are brought about because people are turned out into social life without having been educated to fed socially. They have been brought up and trained by persons who themselves have been made strangers to real life by having their work laid down from outside.
This book will also rouse all sorts of questions in Utopian minds. Artists and other spiritual workers will anxiously ask whether genius will find itself better off in the free spiritual life than in the one that the state and the economic powers are providing at present. They should remember that this book is not intended to be Utopian; it never lays down a hard-and-fast theory. It never says this or that must be done this way or that. It aims to promote forms of social life that, from their joint working, will lead to desirable conditions. Anyone judging life from experience rather than prejudices based on theory will say, “When there is a free spiritual community that provides its own guidance, anyone who is creating out of his own genius will have a prospect of his work being duly appreciated.”
The “social question” is not something that has just cropped up, nor can it be solved by any handful of people or a parliament — and stay solved. It is a part of our recent civilization and it has come to stay. It will have to be solved over again for each moment of the world's historical evolution. This is because man's life has entered on a phase in which something that starts by being a social institution turns again and again into something anti-social, and has in turn to be reconstructed.
A human or animal body, having been fed and satisfied, passes again into a state of hunger. Likewise does the body social go from a state of order again into disorder. There is no universal remedy for social conditions any more than there is a food that will permanently satisfy the body. But men can enter into forms of social community which, through their joint action will bring man's existence constantly back into the social path. One of these is the self-governing spiritual-cultural branch of the body social.
Everything going on at the present time makes two social needs obvious: free self-administration for the spiritual-cultural life, and for the economic life, associative labor. The modern industrial
economy is made up of the production, circulation and consumption of commodities. These are the processes for satisfying human wants, and in these processes human beings and their activities are involved.
Everyone has a part interest in these processes and must share in them as far as he is able. It is only the individual himself who can know and feel what he actually needs. Depending on his insight into the inter-acting life of the whole, he will judge as to what he himself should accomplish. This was not always so, nor is it so all over the world even today, but it is mainly the case among the civilized portion of mankind.
Economic evolution has kept enlarging its circles. The once self-contained household economy developed into a town economy, and this into a state economy. Today we stand before world economy. While the old does of course linger on, these sequences are essentially true.
It is completely useless to aim at organizing the economic forces into an abstract world community. Private economic organizations have, to a very large extent, become merged in state economic organizations. But the state communities were created by forces other than the purely economic, and the effort to transform the state communities into economic communities is what has brought about the social chaos of these recent times.
Economic life is struggling to take the form its own peculiar forces give it, independent of state institutions and of political lines of thought. The only way this form can be realized is through the growth of Associations that spring up out of purely economic considerations. These will include consumers, traders and producers. Their size and scope will be regulated by the actual conditions of
life. Those too small would show themselves to be too expensive to operate. Those too large would get beyond the economic grasp of management.
Practical needs, as they come up, will show each Association the best way of establishing connections with the others. People having to move from one place to another will not be hampered in any way by Associations of this kind. They will find it quite easy to move from one group to another when their management is economic and not political. Also, one can conceive possible arrangements within such an associative system that would work with the facility of a money-circulation.
Within the individual Associations a general harmony of interests can prevail, provided there is practical sense and technical knowledge. The regulation of the production, circulation and consumption of goods will not be done by laws, but by the persons concerned, out of their own direct insight and interests. The necessary insight will be developed through people's own share in the life of the Associations, and the fact that the various interests are obliged to arrive at a mutual balance by contract, will guarantee that the goods circulate at their proper relative values.
This sort of economic combination by agreement is not the same as that which exists in the modern labor unions. These are active in the economic field, but they are based on political models. They are political bodies where people debate rather than meet to consider the economic aspects of things and agree on the services to be reciprocally rendered.
In these Associations there will not be the “wage earners” sitting, using their power to get the highest possible wages out of the employers. There will be the manual workers, cooperating with the spiritual workers who direct production, and with those interested as consumers. The mutual aim will be a balance between one form of service and another, brought about through an adjustment of prices.
Beware of thinking that this can be done by general debate in parliamentary assemblies. Who would ever be at work if an endless number of people had to spend their time negotiating about the work?
Everything will take place by agreement between people and between Associations, while production continues. The necessary requirement is that the joint agreement be in accordance with the insight of the workers and the interests of the consumers.
Saying this is not describing any Utopia. For there is no particular way laid down in which this or that question must be settled. One is only pointing out how people will settle matters for themselves, once they start working in forms of community that are in accordance with their special insights and interests.
Two things work to bring men together into such communities. One of them is human nature, which gives men their wants and needs. The other is a free spiritual life. This will develop the necessary insight in people. Anyone who thinks realistically will admit that associative communities of this kind can spring up at any time. What hinders this development is the notion of “organizing” industrial and economic life from outside. The kind of economic organization discussed here rests on voluntary, free association, and derives its pattern from the combined common sense of each individual.
If the “haves” and the “have-nots” are together in one organization, it will be found, if no non-economic forces intervene, that the “haves” are obliged to render the “have-nots” service for service.
While in the free spiritual life only those forces inherent in this life itself will be at work, the only values that count in an associative economic life will be the economic ones that grow up under the Associations. The individual's part in economic life will become clear to him from living and working along with his economic associates, and the weight he carries in the economic system will be in exact proportion to the service he renders within it.
How those who are unfitted to render service will find their place in the general economy, is discussed later in this book.
Thus the body social falls into two independent branches, able to afford each other mutual support owing to the fact that each has its own administration and management. Between these two must come a third. This is the true “state” branch of the body social. Here all those things find a place that depend on the combined judgment and feelings of every person of voting age.
In the free spiritual-cultural life, everyone is active in line with his special abilities. In the economic, each person fills the place that falls to him as a result of his connection with the rest of the associative network. In the political state-life of rights, each comes into his own as a human being. He stands on his simple human value. This has nothing to do with his abilities in the free spiritual life and is independent, too, of whatever value the associative economic system may set on the goods he produces.
Hours of labor and working conditions are shown in this book to be matters for the political rights life, for the state. Here everyone meets on an equal footing, because the activities and functions of control are limited to fields in which all men alike are competent to form an opinion. This is the branch of the body social where men's rights and duties are adjusted.
The unity of the body social will come into being out of the separate, free expansion of its three functions. In the course of this book it is shown what form the energies of capital and of the means of production as well as the use of land can take under the joint action of these three functions of the social organism.
The book was first published in April, 1919. Since then I have presented a series of explanatory articles, now in a separate volume. 1In Elaboration of the Threefold Commonwealth.
The ideas in this book have been won from the observation of life. It is out of the observation of actual life that they ask to be understood.