Guest Post by MICHAEL SPENCE
Part 3 of 3
The Importance of the Threefold Social Order
Rudolf Steiner points to the necessity in our age of separating what is at present unified within the State. The pyramidical form of the present State is something derived from the old theocratic social structure that was right for the earlier state of human consciousness. That was correct for the time when humanity was guided by the spiritual world working from above through inspired teachers and leaders. But now the spiritual world holds back and human beings must themselves find their way back to the spiritual world. A quite different social structure must now come into being for the awakening ego of the consciousness soul. What is still looked upon as one must now become three distinct and separate sectors of human society, that is, the economic sector, the rights sector and the cultural life must each become independent and free. The State as we know it must disappear, it is a dead relic from the past.
Even people who have been thinking through what Steiner said of the threefold social order for many years have great difficulty grasping what this would actually mean in practical effect. Most people think of it as something like our present elected government with three distinct departments, or three separate democratically elected administrations. But clearly Steiner did not mean this, nor does it make sense. It is only when one has come to a reasonably clear idea of each sector, of the nature of the very different forms of leadership and the areas of activity and responsibility of each, that it begins to become clear how only as three separate and independent sectors does the three become one. Just as the human body is formed of a threefold system of the head and nervous system, the rhythmic system of heart and lungs and the metabolic and limb system, so is the “body of earthly humanity” made up of a threefold system.
Humanity is evolving. In all ancient times the threefold form of the social order, and the place within it into which each person was born and belonged, was given by the spiritual world. The guidance of mankind was brought down through the mystery teachings. But now responsibility is passed to humanity itself. We ourselves have to bring order and form into our social life. Just as all creation has a threefold form so human social life itself must be transformed from the unitary into a threefold structure, a trinity. The individual human being is now born free, that is, he is not born into a place within the social order, into a particular sector, but must himself create a relationship to each, according to his karma and earthly needs.
The Search for the New Isis, Divine Sophia[i] – Lecture 3 – 25/12/1920 – end of lecture
It is so indeed, my dear friends; modern humanity is passing over a threshold at which stands a Guardian, a Guardian full of meaning, and grave. And this grave Guardian speaks: “Cling not to what has come as a transplant from olden times; look into your hearts, into your souls, that you may be capable of creating new forms. You can only create these new forms when you have faith that the powers of knowledge and of will for this spiritual creation can come out of the spiritual world.” What is an event of great intensity for the individual who enters the worlds of higher knowledge, proceeds unconsciously in present-day mankind as a whole. And those who have linked themselves together as the anthroposophical community must realise that it is one of the most needed of all things in our days to bring men to understand this passing through the region which is a threshold.
Just as man, the knower, must realise that his thinking, feeling and willing separate in a certain sense and must be held together in a higher way, so it must be made intelligible to modern humanity that the spiritual life, the life of rights, and the economic life must separate from one another and a higher form of union created than the State as it has been up to now. No programmes, ideas, ideologies can bring individuals to recognise the necessity of this threefoldness of the social organism. It is only profound knowledge of the onward development of mankind that reveals this development to have reached a threshold where a grave Guardian stands. This Guardian demands of an individual who is advancing to higher knowledge: Submit to the separation in thinking, feeling and willing. He demands of humanity as a whole: Separate what has up to now been interwoven in a chaotic unity in the State idol; separate this into a Spiritual Life, an Equity State, and an Economic State … otherwise there is no progress possible for humanity, and the old chaos will burst asunder. If this happens it will not take the form that is necessary to humanity but an ahrimanic or luciferic form. It is only through spiritual-scientific knowledge of the passing of the threshold in our present day that can give the Christ-form to this chaos.
This, my dear friends, is something that we must say to ourselves at the time of Christmas too, if we rightly understand Anthroposophy. The little child in the crib must be the child representing the spiritual development towards man’s future. Just as the shepherds in the field and the Magi from the East went after the proclamation to see how that which was to bring humanity forward appeared as a little child, so must modern man make his way to Initiation Science in order to perceive, in the form of a little child, what must be done for the future by the Threefold Social Organism based on Spiritual Science. If the old form of the State is not made threefold it will have to burst — and burst in such a way that it would develop on the one side a wholly chaotic spiritual life, completely ahrimanic and luciferic in character, and on the other side an economic life again luciferic-ahrimanic in character. And both the one and the other would drag the State in rags after them. In the Orient there will take place the development more of ahrimanic-luciferic spiritual states; in the West there will be the development more of ahrimanic-luciferic economic life — if man does not realise through the permeation of his being by Christ how he can avoid this, how out of his knowledge and out of his will he can proceed to bring about the ‘threefolding’ of what is striving to separate.
This will be human knowledge permeated by Christ; it will be human willing permeated by Christ. And it will express itself in no other way than that the idol of the unitary State will become threefold. And those who stand properly in the spiritual life will recognise, as did the shepherds in the field, what it is that the earth experiences through the Christ. And those who stand rightly within the economic life, within the economic associations will unfold, in the true sense, a will that brings a Christ-filled social order.
Do we not already see signs of the unitary state beginning to burst asunder? The great leaders of even a short time ago, people with vision and qualities of leadership who could be looked up to and trusted – are there no such people now? It seems that, if there are such people, they do not choose, or are not enabled to get involved with the increasingly corrupted party-political establishments of our time. The old form where the great majority of the electorates, with a certain confidence and trust left over from earlier states of group soul consciousness, still looked up to and respected their elected leaders. But now that is rapidly falling away. People want something different, they want some say in the ordering of social life. We are seeing, or have seen, particularly in USA and Great Britain, electorates who do not follow their leaders, but choose others of very different and unexpected qualities, or even lack of qualities. They have lost confidence and only know they want something that is more connected to their own interests. And egoism, greed and corruption take over.
Much has changed since Steiner spoke of the threefold social order. While what he gave as the basic inherent threefold structure is just as true today as when he spoke, much in society itself, particularly in the economic and financial realm and also in the awakening consciousness soul of the human being, has changed. I have no doubt that he would speak very differently of many aspects today. It is not enough merely to study what he said over ninety years ago, though that is still essential. In studying what Steiner said about the threefold social order we have also to look out into the world and to see the changes, see and understand the human being and the social conditions as they are today and try to understand what he would say now.
It will never be possible to effectively take the threefold social order out to the wider public until it is, at least to some extent, actively striven for in our own community and institutions. How can we talk to people of the importance and necessity of transforming human society and its social institutions from the present unitary and pyramidical structures to a threefold one, if we ourselves cannot speak out of actual experience and be able to demonstrate what we have achieved and the actual resulting benefits? Where have we actually put into practice what we would be telling others about?
If we can only tell them what we have understood from reading and studying Rudolf Steiner, or what we have come to out of thinking and discussion rather than through our own active experience and observation, the people we need to talk to will soon see this and will simply continue, in this field, to not take us seriously, as has been happening for too long now.
I come back to my earlier question “to whom or to where can those people go to find what they need whose karma or destiny has given them the impulse to work towards bringing a healing to the social life of humanity?” Such people will hardly be looking towards the Anthroposophical movement at present.
Surely this is not a question just for the social section, or for those interested or keen to study it. Is it not a question for anyone concerned with anthroposophy itself?
As I said earlier, when Francis Edmunds founded Emerson College he did this on the basis of his deep understanding, out of anthroposophy, of the needs of young people of our time, the time of the awakening consciousness soul. This understanding also led him to the necessary form for the administrative structure. In doing this he could not help arriving at a form that bore within it much of the inherent threefold nature of human social life.
I understand that Steiner said something to the effect that in a Waldorf school teachers should carry responsibility for the administration. I do not think that he meant they should do all the actual administrative work, but that they should be sufficiently involved to ensure that the administrative decisions and arrangements conformed to, and arose out of, the spiritual anthroposophical foundation of the school.
Then it might be possible for more Steiner schools to begin to form their organisational structure on a true anthroposophical basis, that is, on the threefold nature of human social life. Then it might also be possible for this to be introduced into the curriculum for the older children of the upper school, as I understand Steiner also wanted. It seems to me that that would be the right age for them to begin to understand and connect with the deeper nature of the society they were about to enter, particularly of the true nature of economics and its underlying basis of mutuality that could provide for all humanity, rather than as at present on egoism. This would not only help them to connect in a healthy way to the world into which they were entering, but for those intending to work into the social life of humanity it would give them a sure foundation on which to start. Without such people it is hard to see how any progress can be made.
A person does not have to understand and recognise the reality of destiny and karma to find the experience of working in an organisation where karma is taken as the basis for their employment and the setting of their salary, an enormously freeing and soul satisfying experience. I come back to the question pointed to earlier. How is it possible that committed and serious anthroposophists doing important work in Waldorf schools and other such anthroposophical institutions, while committed to taking anthroposophy seriously in their work, seem to take for granted that the legal, financial and administrative arrangements and the social structure of their employment should be based on a conventional understanding of life quite alien to the spiritual foundation of the work they do?
I was employed at Emerson College for 27 years until I retired, though I continued to be involved after retiring. There was no relationship between the work people did and the money they received as salary. Salaries were based purely on individual needs, that is, on karmic needs, but the proportion of “needs” covered had to relate in some way to what our students could afford to pay. This applied equally to all full-time staff, whether teaching, or in the office, maintenance or kitchen.
It was understood that it was karma that brought people to the college, whether as students, teachers or other staff, and there was remarkable freedom given to all of us to do the work we had come to do. (I have gone into all of this in more detail in my book, mentioned earlier, The Story of Emerson College).
It is always good to give attention to the artistic outer appearance of an institution in order to express something of the nature of the activities of the institution. But my experience is that something of the nature of the work, of its spiritual substance and truth, is also visible in the spiritual environment of the place and is, even if unconsciously, perceptible to more people than we may realise. I was constantly amazed by the questions I was asked by many people visiting the college, often even on their first visit. Not only anthroposophical or other such visitors, but more so from people who came on professional business such as inspectors, consultants, service engineers, police, plumbers and bricklayers. Many, if not most, sooner or later, would ask something like “what is this place, it is different?” Many remarked that there was something special about it. The observations were always positive. And nearly always former students from that time that I have since met have spoken of how special a place it was, or of how it had been the most important year, or years, of their lives.
The questions have always lived with me: “What did they actually see?” and “What was it that made it such a special place?” I always came back to the thought that it was the truth that was there, the truth in that the college tried always, so far as it was possible at the time, to form every aspect of its organisational form and structure on the same spiritual realities as that which the students were taught in the classroom and that they met in the Festivals.
Then it was always possible to say something of the threefold nature of human social life, and to be listened to with interest, because such an explanation was true to what they had actually experienced.
[i] The Search for the New Isis, Divine Sophia, GA202 – Lecture 3: The Magi and the Shepherds – 25/12/1920 – end of lecture.