Category Archives: Emerson College UK

What next after capitalism?

After the results of the UK election, held on 8th June, one thing became very clear: young people have started to lose faith in the way our present society runs, particularly in our current model of capitalism. The situation is even more stark in the USA; Naomi Klein has analysed it brilliantly here.

It is not hard to understand some of the economic pressures which have led young people to conclude that capitalism is not working for them. A study by the Resolution Foundation last year found that people born between 1981 and 1985 are earning £40 a week less in today’s terms than were, at the same age, people born a decade earlier – making the current under-35s the first generation since the industrial revolution to suffer such a reversal. Meanwhile, the cost of housing has gone beyond their reach. Over the past five years, according to the Nationwide Building Society, the rate of home-ownership among 30-34 year olds has plunged from 49.3 per cent to 43.1 per cent – while older people have enjoyed higher rates of home-ownership.

Moreover, high rents have prevented many young people from putting aside any kind of savings. If they cannot win a stake in the capitalist system, in spite of working hard, why should they support it?  Add to that some of the many other issues that Theresa May’s government is either supporting or which are resulting from its policies, eg fracking, foodbanks, stealth privatisation of the NHS and other public services, student tuition fees, constant austerity for ordinary people but not the rich, etc., and it is no wonder that so many young people voted in such numbers for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

For many older people, capitalism was associated with freedom. But there is little reason today for young people to feel the same way, when they are confronted on a daily basis by large, tax-dodging corporations and bankers who wrecked the economy, who escaped without punishment and yet who carried on skimming off vast bonuses. What they see instead are the failures of Conservative industrial policy, such as over-priced trains run by private companies, which have ruthlessly exploited the private monopolies granted to them, in what was surely the most flawed of all the privatisations.

It will not be possible for the Conservatives to continue to preach the benefits of the free market if it is patently not working in favour of an entire generation. By the next election the current generation of under-35s will comprise nearly half the population. If they have a sense that the economic system is rigged against them, they will revolt against it – and so they should.

But it’s even worse than just a system rigged against the young; those of you who are regular readers of this blog may be aware that from time-to-time, I’ve expressed grave doubts as to whether this planet and all the species living on it will be able to survive the consequences of our present system of economics.

Our current model of capitalism, with its emphasis on constant growth and its elevation of money to something which trumps every other argument, is leading us inevitably towards what has been called the Sixth Great Extinction in the history of our planet. The Holocene epoch, the past 12,000 years of stable climate in which agriculture, settled communities, and great civilisations first appeared, has come to an end, and a new epoch has begun. The term “Anthropocene” was coined in the 1970s to describe this new epoch, in which we are seeing significant human impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems.

Another and in some ways better term for the present epoch has been coined even more recently by those who want to focus attention on the role of capitalism in bringing us to this crisis in Earth’s existence, and this is the “Capitalocene”.  We are living in a new and dangerous epoch in Earth history, as identified in overwhelming detail by scientists. It is characterised by the violation of critical planetary boundaries, the unprecedented disruption of our planet’s life-support systems with potentially catastrophic results, including climate chaos, mass extinctions, acidified oceans, poisoned rivers, rising sea levels, over-population and more.

Whatever one calls this new era, it’s clear that most people (with the possible exception of Donald Trump and those who share his attitudes) are prepared to accept that the Earth System as a whole is experiencing unprecedented negative changes caused by recent human action (from the time of the Industrial Revolution onwards). The concept that perpetual, constant, infinite growth without limits is leading us directly to disaster is one that is probably accepted by most sane people these days. The question is: what can be done about it? Who is going to tell voters in a democracy that there are limits to growth? Who will tell a Premier League footballer or a rock star that there should be a limit to the number of Ferraris they own? More to the point, is there any politician with the courage to say to people like me that two cars per family is quite enough?

No doubt most people can see the connection between unlimited numbers of consumer goods and ecological destruction – but which of us is prepared to accept that the limits to growth have to start with you and me?

Rudolf Steiner identified the economic, social and cultural aspects of the problem a century ago and put forward Threefolding as an alternative to our headlong pursuit of disaster. These ideas still need to be brought to the world’s attention but my assumption is that there will not be any cut-through to political and public notice by anthroposophical concepts alone, unless they are also accompanied by additional ideas and solutions propounded by other people of goodwill. Sadly, anthroposophy is too strange a word, its ideas are too remote from common attitudes today, and its historical baggage is too cumbersome to enable it to make the necessary difference on its own.

That is why I am proposing, along with a few colleagues, to organise a conference at Emerson College in 2019 to look for a new story, a new narrative about what has to pass away, and what has to come into being, if we are to survive as a species on our beautiful blue planet – and I invite you to help “crowdthink” this conference into a form that will enable it to be most useful. Here are a few ideas to get us started, and I would be most grateful for your own input, such as suggestions for speakers, themes, alternative ways forward and who should be invited to attend and participate. Please send in your thoughts and ideas via the Comment button below.

Conference working title: What next after capitalism?

Conference venue: Emerson College, Forest Row, East Sussex, UK

Proposed date: Around Easter 2019

Basic premise: The world is hurtling towards disaster because of the way we treat the planet and people and this is a direct result of our current economic systems. We are not living with love for one another and the world. Does the conference accept/agree with this? Does the conference accept/agree the concept that the problem is our present model of capitalism?

Duration: 3 days

Day 1: THEME – What’s broken?

Establishing what’s not working and why, using examples from around the world. 20-minute “Ted type” talks on identifying what is broken.

Day 2: THEME – Alternatives

Looking at alternatives from around the world – examples of success and failures

Day 3: THEME – Call to Action

Leaving with determination, purpose and a clear set of realistic actions for each of the 3 themes.

Underlying structure: 3-fold. Cross-cutting themes throughout conference, including Economic, Cultural and Rights spheres, and taking in topics such as the impact of our present model of capitalism on the environment, global economy, banking, agriculture, medicine, company structures, shareholder system, developing countries and relations between people, etc

Our ideal will be to find a backer who will fully fund the conference so that attendance can be by invitation only. Our aim will be to put together a stellar group of keynote speakers and leading thinkers, and to invite top civil servants, social entrepreneurs, pioneers who are already doing the alternatives, academics, influencers and opinion-formers to attend.

I would be very grateful to receive via the Comments below your own thoughts, ideas and suggestions to develop this proposal – please suggest speakers, topics and a structure for each day of the conference. It would be a magnificent achievement if this conference could be a result of “crowdthinking” in action!



Filed under Anthroposophy, Capitalism, Emerson College UK

The Threefold Social Order – has it been forgotten? (Part 3)


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.


Filed under Anthroposophy, Emerson College UK, Rudolf Steiner, Threefolding

The Threefold Social Order – has it been forgotten? (Part 2)


Part 2 of 3

2 Hindrances and Obstacles

In my observation there are several factors or obstacles that presently make it very difficult for people, or even prevents them, coming to a clear perception of the threefold social order. I give below what I think are four of the major factors why so little progress has been made over the years. If progress is to be made, these need to be understood and worked around.

1) People often attempt to arrive at an understanding of economic activity along the path necessary in other fields of anthroposophical study, that is, along the inner path of thinking and meditation. The path to all forms of higher knowledge is one that an individual has to go alone – “in the loneliness of his study”. That is right for those active in the cultural sphere of society. But a truly social form of economic activity cannot be sought along that lonely path. That can only be achieved in any particular place or time by, and in conjunction with, those actually active in that community.

What products of economic activity people need, the values they place on any particular product and the prices they are willing or able to pay vary from place to place, from time to time, and from one people to another. There is no universal reality in economic life. What people want, and what they can or are willing to pay will constantly vary according to many factors such as climate, fashion, religion, people’s ages and educational attainments. In markets, whether of products, commodities or financial, whether small and local, large or global, prices will always fluctuate. Immense work and study goes into predicting future prices, but they can never be actually known. This is why markets, particularly financial markets, take on the characteristics of gambling casinos.

New inventions are being created, new products thought up and produced. For most there is no possible certain knowledge as to whether they will be wanted and so will sell at a particular price until they are actually put on the market. We do not see the many that are put on the market but fail. Watch the television programme “Dragon’s Den” and one soon sees the uncertainty in it all.

The economy is a creation of human beings, not of the spiritual world, and in our time an understanding of it can only be reached by human beings active in it and working together in community. There is no other way.

Rudolf Steiner points to this particularly in the final lecture of

The Esoteric Aspect of the Social Question[i].

Human beings of course must not only seek the path to the supersensible world and to nature, but out of their own thoughts they must seek the path leading to social life. However, as social life cannot be developed alone but only through really experiencing other people, the lonely people of our modern age are not exactly best suited to develop social thinking. Just when they came to the point of wanting to attain something worthwhile by means of their inner forces, the results of their efforts turned out to be anti-social, not social thinking at all! People’s present-day inclinations and longings are the outcome of spiritual forces arrived at in loneliness and are given a false direction by the overwhelming influence of ahrimanic materialism.

. . . .

If you look into Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s “Geschlossener Handelsstaat” you will see that it is the social ideal of a person who really and truly was endeavouring his utmost to tread the highest paths of knowledge, and who developed the kind of thinking that constantly tended towards the supersensible world. However, when he tried to work out for himself a social ideal, even though it came entirely from his heart, we see that the very thing that suits us when we pursue for ourselves the highest ideals of knowledge is a handicap when applied to the kind of thinking necessary for working in social life. The kind of spiritual work Fichte did requires to be done alone, whereas social thinking has to be worked out in a community of other human beings, where the chief task of the thinker is to consider how the social organism might be laid out so that people may work together in the right way to found a social existence within the social realm itself. . . .

And another extract from:

The Social Question[ii],

Above all we must learn really to think as modern people, so as to come to a formation of a social judgement in the modern sense – but let us not take that superficially, Ladies and Gentlemen. We can only do this if we see into the depths beneath the surface of social phenomena. There it is revealed that however clever and however intelligent and even idealistic and practical a person may be – I should like to underline the word practical three times – the individual as such cannot attain to a social judgement. It is a social mystery, Ladies and Gentlemen, that every individual judgement on a social question is a false one.

Study what clever judgements were passed when the gold standard was introduced into Europe. Whoever steeps himself in what was said at that time in trade associations, in Parliament – I am not saying this ironically, but with full conviction – there you have an excellent example of human cleverness. It was very impressive to hear all these extremely clever people talk, or at any rate to absorb what was said from the middle of the nineteenth century about the influence of the gold standard upon the social ordering of the world. And it was above all emphasized, so logically and so practically as to be very impressive, that if we had the gold standard free trade would flourish. The very opposite has happened. We have been obliged to see the customs barriers erected again as the direct consequence of the gold standard, which means that exceedingly clever people looking into the future have talked nonsense.

This is not a complaint. It has happened because the cleverest people, however many of them there are, talk utter nonsense as regards their social judgements if they speak as individuals, if they judge only with what comes out of the single individuality.

Hence today it is not at all a question of allowing ourselves to be moved by all the wide spread misery in the world. The individual can form no judgement as to cause and effect. We have to go deeper. We have to look to the organisation of humanity. We have to ask ourselves how a real judgement can come about.

It is probably true to say that a very large number of articles published on the threefold social order have been written by people involved in work in the cultural sphere, that is, in spiritual work that requires one to work “in the loneliness of one’s study” – the way least suited to understanding the social problem. That, of course, is where most anthroposophists work, or where their anthroposophical interests lie. Many of these articles have been carefully thought through and are often interesting to read, but too often do not lead into the actual practice of life, into how practically to work into social life. Others seem to remain in the realm of academia, they give the impression that the writer has not experienced the practical side of life, the actual activity of production and distribution, nor of the dehumanising effects of much of economic life and so have not properly understood what it was Steiner was actually saying.

All true cultural activity of necessity starts from a form of egoism. Division-of-labour, the basis of all economic production, increases in productivity the more people work together in mutual cooperation in order to produce not what they themselves need, but what is needed by others. Egoism works in the opposite direct to division-of-labour and nullifies its benefits to the community. Steiner goes into this in an interesting and informative way in lecture three of World Economy.

I was happy to see Steiner’s very important lectures on economics back in print. But it provides interesting examples of what I have just been indicating. Firstly, it is unfortunate that the title has been changed from “World Economy” to “Rethinking Economics”. Much in those lectures points to the fact that the actual economy at the time the lectures were given was beginning to evolve from the stage of many self-contained national economies trading with each other to the stage of a one-world economy that has to be complete in itself. But economic thinking of the time had itself remained at the stage of national economies. Now, in our time, the fact that we are in a partial world economy is widely accepted and economic thinking is already concerned with the problems of world economy. It seems to me extraordinarily unfortunate that just as the world economy he pointed to, and that these lectures were a sort of preparation for, actually becomes reality the words “World Economy” should be dropped from the title and the name “Rethinking Economics” given them instead.

If we look at this new title, what is actually meant by the word “rethinking”? What is being “rethought”? It is clear from the lectures that Steiner did not start with thinking, he started with observation. As I have shown above, he pointed to the fact that one could not come to an understanding of economics by thinking alone. In these particular lectures, he says:

World Economy[iii] lecture 10

This is the great difficulty which besets the formation of economic ideas. You cannot form them in any other way than by conceiving things pictorially. No abstract concept can enable you to grasp the economic process; you must grasp it in pictures. Whereas it is just this which makes the learned world so uneasy today – this demand, no matter in what sphere of thought, that we should pass from the mere abstract concepts to ideation of an imaginative kind. Yet we can never found a real science of Economics without developing pictorial ideas; we must be able to conceive all details of our Economic Science in imaginative pictures. And these pictures must contain a dynamic quality; we must become aware how such a process works under each new form that it assumes.[iv]

This also applies to the working of “economic-associations”, the essential future organising and leadership organs of the economic sphere. The imaginative pictures Steiner speaks of above can only be arrived at by people actually involved in the economic process, and then each can only come to them as he sees them from his particular activity. To put it simply, we can say that the producer will see the economic process he is involved in from the point of view from where he stands in it, similarly the distributer and consumer will come to different pictures from where they stand. Only when the three come together, in the right sense of community, the sense for the economic process as a whole, will the group be able to come to a correct picture of the whole. The individual, out of himself, cannot do this.

I would like to give another example, also from Rethinking Economics, of the present widespread approach to an understanding of economics and threefold social order that may seem trivial but which I believe is, again, too symptomatic not to be taken seriously. In the penultimate paragraph of the last lecture of the original translation of World Economy[v] Steiner is translated as saying: For this very reason, ladies and gentlemen, it gave me deep satisfaction to see you here, prepared to work with me during these two weeks, thinking through the realm of economic science. I thank you sincerely. I may express this thanks, for I believe I see how significant it is – how very much those whose position in life today is that of students of economics can contribute to the healing of our civilisation and to the reconstruction of our human life.

In Rethinking Economics the words I have underlined have been changed to: that those who stand in life today as academics

The notice on the title page gives the translators as A.O. Barfield and T. Gordon-Jones, that is, the original translation was used in the new publication. But it is clear that the translation has, in places, been edited. I have no problem about that, provided the editing is an improvement or correction. But why, in this case was “students of economics” changed to “academics”? It makes no sense to think that Steiner would say to students of economics who have just been working with him through fourteen lectures and workshops that “academics”, or “students in general”, can contribute to the healing of our civilisation and to the reconstruction of our human life. Clearly he was referring to the people he had been working intensely with – students of economics – because this particular subject was important and had to be approached and understood with different faculties than other “academic” subjects. But in this edited translation an important point that Steiner had made a particular point of saying has been lost. There is much about this particular publication of Steiner’s lectures that seem to want to take them into the cultural/academic world. But as I have tried to point out, Steiner himself suggests that there, in what is right for cultural/spiritual studies, they cannot be understood correctly. The cultural and economic spheres of social life have to be seen as very different, in fact as, in every way, opposites. What is true and right for one is almost always untrue and harmful for the other.

2) To understand a second major factor that has caused, and continues to cause, considerable confusion in attempts to understand and work with the threefold social order, it is necessary to differentiate between two usages of the word “social”. (What I say here relates to the English word, but I believe it is also true when applied to the original German). One usage refers to human society as a whole and how it is organised. When Steiner spoke of the threefold “social” order, or of the “social question” he clearly referred to human society as a whole, its inherent threefold nature, and of how it needed to be organised or structured. Any smaller grouping or organisation cannot exist in isolation, only as part of the whole. In such smaller grouping the three sectors will, of course, be present and need to be taken into account according to their own natures, but they do not exist on their own.

The second usage of “social” is quite different in that it relates to the way in which people, singly or in groups behave and interact. It is in this sense that it is most widely used in anthroposophical circles. How people relate to and interact with each other in any social group, whether in a common study, a cultural activity or in a business or other economic organisation arises out of their individual lives of soul, and their karma. This is a question for each individual, not for humanity as a whole. Working with this can only be a matter for the cultural realm of human society.

The work of the NPI (Netherlands Pedagogical Institute) founded by Bernard Lievegoed, was an activity clearly within the second usage of this word. In its early years, and as it has developed since, it has been involved in working with and advising individuals, groups and organisations on social, development and management problems. It has done important work in enabling people to work together in, for example, overcoming personal antipathies and coming to difficult decisions. The threefold social order and the restructuring of human society as a whole according to its three quite different sectors has never been part of its primary impulse. But not all the people who became involved in the work of the NPI were able to make the distinction and considerable confusion arose, particularly, in my experience, in the 70s and 80s of the last century, and, in some people’s minds, has continued ever since.

Through the Social Development Centre at Emerson College I got to know a number of people from the NPI who came onto the staff there. I myself was then fairly new to anthroposophy and to the ideas of the threefold social order. In many discussions with them, some of whom became friends and for whose work I felt great respect, it became clear that they did not differentiate between these two usages of the word “social”. I did not understand this then but from what I knew of the threefold social order, I knew something was wrong – what they were teaching was something quite different. For example, they spoke of the “spiritual”, “social” and “economic” spheres. In the cultural/spiritual sphere they placed man’s relationship to the world of the higher hierarchies, in the social sphere the world of human beings and their relationship to each other, and in the economic sphere man’s relationship to the lower kingdoms – the animal, plant and mineral kingdoms. In their particular work and teaching this was quite correct, but it was quite different from everything Steiner said of the threefold social order. Clearly the rights sphere of the threefold social order – the sphere of the State, of law and order, of that which relates solely to life between birth and death – cannot also be the social sphere which includes karmic relationships. This and other such discrepancies have led to considerable confusion. Later, Ernst Amons, who had at one time worked very closely with Lievegoed particularly in the founding of the Vrije Hogeschool, told me that Lievegoed himself had told him that he had never worked closely with Steiner’s threefold social order. His work arose from his medical training. Much then became clear to me.

The work of the NPI fulfilled an important need, both in anthroposophical organisations and in the world at large, but this confusion, has contributed to the fact that work with what Steiner had brought of the threefold social order has slowly been pushed to the background and has now almost been lost sight of. Until this unfortunate but understandable confusion is recognised and worked with I do believe there will be little understanding of what Steiner gave us as the threefold social order.

Another result of this, when looking at organisations active within the economic sector, the focus of people’s consciousness has tended to be focused on the single organisations, seeing each as separate from others and complete in itself, rather than on the process of production of which the single organisation plays only a part and could not exist except as a part of the whole. So the focus of our consciousness has not reached to world economy, and will not do so until we first come to see the single economic organisation as fulfilling one or more functions within a world economic processes. Only then will we come to a perception of the one world economy.

Another factor arising from this is that, so long as we see only the individual organisations, and do not see the economic process that includes the many productive organisations, each also working on and playing their part in the production and distribution of each completed product, what Steiner pointed to as Economic Associations will not be fully understood.

The economic problem is not a question of individuals learning to bring morality into their work, but of people learning to work fruitfully for all humanity according to the inherent moral nature of the economic process of production and distribution based on division-of-labour.

3) A third problem is this: If we look at the whole range of activities founded on the work of Rudolf Steiner: education, agriculture, arts and crafts in all their forms, medicine and therapy, science, Christian Community, banking, consultancy and others, these are all activities or occupations in their own right in all of which there are people actually involved in and carrying the work professionally. But the threefold social order is something quite different. It is not an activity, occupation or profession in its own right. Like anthroposophy itself, it touches and therefore concerns every human being. It is anthroposophy, or spiritual science, itself giving form and structure to the practical side of social life. Only when this is enabled to come about will the individual feel that the practical arrangements of the organisation or community in which he works is true to his own threefold nature, and so feel at home and able to make a full commitment to the whole. At the beginning of the lecture “The Mysteries of Light, of Space and of the Earth”[vi] Steiner refers to the threefold social order as the practical side of spiritual science: “When in the present time the practical side of our spiritual scientific effort, the Threefold Social Order, is placed before the world as the other side has been . . . .”

But this can only be achieved if some understanding of the threefold social order, and the will to bring it into the organisation, lives within those active in the organisation, particularly those in positions of leadership and management. It is not enough for just one or two people to have the impulse and understanding to achieve what is needed. In my view, the will to structure the organisation on the basis of its threefold nature and of understanding something of what this means must live in more than just a small minority of those carrying the work of the organisation.

There are, however, difficulties to be overcome before anything like this can be achieved. The great majority of people carrying important work in anthroposophical organisations already work long hours and put all their energy into that work and into studying what they need in order to strengthen and deepen that work. They are, understandably, reluctant to give time to studying something that they do not recognise as directly contributing to their particular work. So the threefold social order has too often come to be treated as something extra and beyond what a person needs for his work, a special interest or even something like a hobby. It is not given the serious study and support that it needs if it is ever to enter into the life of humanity and to bring the healing forces and the reconstruction of social life so desperately needed.

4) There is a widespread tendency, particularly in the world at large but also in anthroposophical circles, to act and think as though money has a reality in itself. We assume we have something because we bought it, because we paid money for it. Our consciousness stops there. Because, in the complexity of today’s world economic productive process, we cannot know all that had to happen in order that what we want could be there in the shop for us to buy, it does not mean that we should act as though it comes into being in the shop and we have it because we pay money for it. That becomes a denial of the reality and nature of the actual world economic process and, more seriously, of the existence of all the people who labour in it, a large part of the world population.

In not seeing the actual productive process we come to see the money as that which enables us to have what we buy, and in the money we sense mysteries that are not actually there.

When we do look at the productive process the focus of attention too often stops short at management and business, and we have come to see “business” as the actual economic sector of social life. The productive process and the people who labour “on the factory floor”, those who are the real economic workers, are too often not seen.

We live on what is actually produced by human activity, not on the money which stands for, or represents, its economic value.

When we see money as having value in itself we fail to see and distinguish between money that stands for something real, a product of people’s work – real money – and money that comes into being when what are matters properly belonging to the sphere of human rights, such as land or shares in a business, are treated as economic products, which they are not, and are bought and sold on the market. This money does not represent anything real – it is a false or counterfeit money in that it purports to stand for an economic value that it does not.

Before we can come to any clear idea of the true nature and form of the three different sectors of social life we must first come to see beyond the money. Only then will we come to clarity as to what is an economic product, what is a human right and what is the proper sphere of the free cultural/spiritual life. Until we come to clarity in this we will never come to the threefold social order. Money itself has taken on the qualities of a veil or fog through which it is hard to see what actually is real. There is an enormous amount of research, discussion and written works given to understanding money and of how to heal the economy through controlling the money, but comparatively little attention to the actual social economic process itself. Until the focus of our attention comes back to the economic process and away from looking into the assumed mysteries of money, we will not come to an understanding of the social question.

Rudolf Steiner says of money in World Economy[vii]

In the circulation of money we have, in effect, the world’s bookkeeping. This is, as everyone can really see for themselves, what should be aimed at. In this way we give back to money the only quality that it can properly have – that of being the external medium of exchange. Look into the depths of economic life, and you will see that money can be nothing else than this. It is the medium of exchange of services or things done. For in reality human beings live by the things actually done, not by the tokens thereof.


(Part 3 follows)

[i] The Esoteric Aspect of the Social Question – GA328 – lecture 4, Rudolf Steiner Press – 9/3/1919, Zurich

[ii] The Social Question, GA305 – lecture 2, 28/8/1922, Oxford

[iii] World Economy lecture 10, page 129, Rethinking Economics page 124

[iv] The Esoteric Aspect of the Social Question – GA328 – lecture 4, Rudolf Steiner Press – 9/3/1919, Zurich

[v] World Economy – lecture 14 penultimate paragraph

[vi] The Mysteries of Light, of Space and of the Earth –GA194 lecture given in Dornach on 15th December 1919

[vii] World Economy, lecture 14, page 176, Rethinking Economics page 172


Filed under Anthroposophy, Emerson College UK, Rudolf Steiner, Threefolding

The Threefold Social Order – has it been forgotten? (Part 1)


Part 1 of 3

On a recent Saturday, the anthropopper made his way to Rudolf Steiner House in London, where he and other members had been invited to meet the Vorstand from Dornach (the Executive Council of the Goetheanum) as well as many of the general secretaries from the European national societies and the Council of the ASinGB. The meeting was a rare opportunity for conversation on topical and important issues concerning anthroposophy and the future direction of the world Society. We had been asked to send in questions in advance on topics that we wished to discuss. Bearing in mind that Rudolf Steiner had said that, following the failure of his threefolding initiative at the end of the First World War, another opportunity to gain a hearing would not arise until one hundred years had passed, it seemed to me and several others that this is exactly the time when the Society should be seeking a wider audience for these ideas.

So it was serendipitous that on returning from what, from my perspective, was a disappointing meeting, I had an email from Michael Spence with the following essay attached. Michael is a former bursar of Emerson College, who was closely involved with Francis Edmunds in developing the college, where he carried responsibilities for finances, administration and the campus. He also ran study groups and lectured on the threefold nature of social life. He has written an excellent history of the college (The Story of Emerson College) as well as a truly inspiring book (After Capitalism) calling for a fresh look to solutions to our present social, environmental and economic crises. He has kindly given me permission to publish his essay here as a guest post in 3 parts. Parts 2 and 3 will follow in due course.

Part 1 – The Question

When one looks at all that has been achieved and that is still being developed within the fields of work initiated by Rudolf Steiner one can indeed be truly impressed. In education, agriculture, the many forms of art, medicine, therapy, Christian Community and others there are people deeply committed to the work and to taking further what Rudolf Steiner gave. But next to all this there seems to be one glaring exception – the Threefold Social Order. In this there has been minimal, if any, achievement. In fact it seems to have been largely forgotten or ignored.

In 1917, towards the end of the First World War when Europe was in chaos, and for the next four years Rudolf Steiner dedicated an enormous amount of time and energy to promoting the ideas of the threefold social order. He gave very many lectures to members and to the public, he wrote articles and a book and also touched on the subject when lecturing on other subjects. He met and discussed these ideas with leading people in government and business. He saw it as important, and not just because there was an opening at that time for new ideas. Humanity had reached a point in its evolution of the consciousness soul when the form of its earthly social structure had to be given a form more appropriate to its needs. As the newly emerged butterfly requires a different environment in which to unfold its wings than the caterpillar from which it emerged needed, so the individualised free human spirit seeks an environment different from that required by the group soul from which it has emerged. That environment is the threefold social order. Without this and held back in old forms of social structures originating in the theocratic group soul societies, the emerging individualised consciousness soul feels cramped, unfree and unable to fulfil itself.

Since Steiner gave us the threefold social order, money and the financial system have grown even further beyond the reach of human intelligence and control. This is made clearly visible in, for example, the inability of any government or independent organisations to come to any practical idea of how to halt the continuing widening gap between the rich and the poor, between those who have immense wealth and those who cannot provide for themselves even the basic necessities for a life worthy of a human being.

One of the main causes of the increasing wealth of the few, and of the power of money itself, is the fact that today our present legal system makes it possible for certain matters, properly belonging to the sphere of rights such as land, labour and shares in a business, to be owned and treated as economic products, which they are not, and sold on the market at ever increasing profit for the holder without any actual reciprocal economic value being created. Anyone who observes life as it is today, and understands something of what Steiner pointed to as the threefold nature of society will see other such distortions creating similar social aberrations.

But, despite all the huge commitment of time and work Steiner gave to it and the importance he placed on it, what has been achieved in this field? Is there anywhere where something of what he gave has been brought to practical expression? It seems that now, despite the very great and urgent need for it, we have nothing to show or give the wider world.

I was privileged to work with Francis Edmunds at Emerson College where I met and began working with these ideas in 1967. When he founded the College, he did not consciously set it up on the basis of the threefold social order. In later discussions with him I came to recognise that in all his wisdom he did not have much more than a fairly rudimentary knowledge of it, but he did recognise its importance. He had been one of the leading teachers at Michael Hall School in England. He set the college up intuitively on the foundation of his deep understanding, out of anthroposophy and his experience of young people, of the needs of the human being as a threefold being living at this particular time in human evolution – the time of the awakening of the consciousness soul. In doing this he, and those who worked closely with him, could not help arriving at a form for the social structure and the practical administrative side of the college that was, at the same time, true to the inherent threefold nature of human society. (I go into this in more detail in my book The Story of Emerson College[i])

In later years, as I worked more deeply into the threefold social order, I came to recognise the inner necessity that in striving to place anthroposophy as the foundation of every aspect of an organisation or community of work, particularly into its social structure and its practical affairs, then, so long as one is able, with a certain amount of courage, consciously to step aside from the conventional and generally accepted way of doing things, one must arrive at a form of threefold social order.

From my observations I am convinced that there are in the world at large many people destined for, or already in, positions of leadership and influence in, for example, business, politics and government, trade unions and law, who are seriously looking for new ways to order human affairs. Many of these will have brought with them through birth a strong impulse to bring healing to the social life of humanity. Some will already carry within them, just below waking consciousness, a picture of what is trying to come into being within the being of earthly humanity. I met mature young people at Emerson who instantly recognised the reality of what Steiner gave as the threefold nature of human social life. Why do these people not find the anthroposophical movement? Where in the anthroposophical world does a wider imaginative picture of the threefold nature of human society and of what it is striving to become, live? Where has this been a dynamic in the forming of, and can be experienced in, an anthroposophical organisation and institution? To where or to whom can people seeking the true form of human social life, that which actually wills to come about, turn?

Clearly the present world social order cannot continue indefinitely. A social order that is a true expression of the threefold human being of today and of the future must come about and is the only one that can enable humanity to overcome much of the present social chaos and suffering. That is why, after I retired from Emerson College I wrote and called my book “After Capitalism[ii]. This was written as my attempt to contribute something of the threefold social order and of economics and money which Rudolf Steiner had given us – so far as I then understood them – in a form acceptable and capable of being understood by the wider public, particularly of the Anglo-Saxon world of the 21st century. It was written mainly for the wider public, particularly for those in business, government and social affairs. So it does not include the more esoteric aspects of the threefold social order. I sensed that amongst such people, rather than amongst anthroposophists, there would be many who, out of the experience of their practical work, would recognise the sense of much of it. The question for me was how to reach them.

This book was based on some 25 years of study and on striving to understand what became for me, as bursar of Emerson College, the practical foundation of my work. In carrying responsibility for the financial, legal and economic matters in a form true to the cultural purpose of the college I had to strive to make sure that decisions on these matters were based on the same spiritual truths as was that which was taught in the classrooms and experienced in the Christian Festivals and in the social life of the college.

I came to realise that in the wider anthroposophical community interest in the threefold social order was declining. Too many of those former students with whom I worked in study groups when they got into their work of teaching, farming or other such important work, though still interested, gave all their energy to doing their best in the profession they had taken up. When I first tried to find a publisher for After Capitalism no anthroposophical publisher to whom I sent it was interested. Sevak Gulbekian of Rudolf Steiner Press said to me “You run a bookshop; who will buy this book?” (At that time, after retiring, I ran the Emerson College Bookshop) When I thought about it I had to recognise that he was right, hardly any anthroposophists would buy it. A leading non-anthroposophical publisher commented that while they found the ideas expressed in the book interesting, booksellers were reluctant to stock books that covered such a wide variety of subjects in the one book. Eventually, in 2014 Adonis Press in the USA published it. From this and other observations I came to the question: why is there so little interest in the threefold social order? In all other areas of the work inspired by Rudolf Steiner remarkable progress has been made in deepening and spreading what he gave. In almost all areas the anthroposophical work, time and again, leads the way in the world rather than just touching the edges, or following behind what others in the wider world are doing.

As a first step towards finding an answer to my question I decided to look more closely at the website of the Social Science Section of the School of Spiritual Science and particularly at the monthly newsletters. I looked to see what there was in these letters that, on the basis of the threefold social order, could help people to a perception of what actually underlay the financial crisis. And, further, was there anything there that pointed a way to healing the discords and deep social injustices, poverty and suffering arising from the chaotic state of human social life?

I do not speak German but looking through about ten of the recent English translations of the newsletters I found virtually nothing. It was predominantly reports and articles by people or organisations, most probably sympathetic to, but with little or no connection to anthroposophical spiritual science. Reading many of them I found myself questioning their relevance or connection to what I imagined the work of the social section could be. The threefold social order was almost never even referred to in any form. It was almost as though Steiner had never written the books and articles nor given the many lectures that he did give – or that what he gave then is of little importance in our time, as though it was only relevant for that particular time.

Yet it is only on the foundation of what Rudolf Steiner put so much of his time and effort into that any sense can be made of the deepening human social chaos of today. The basic nature of the threefold social order he pointed to is just as real and relevant today as is what he gave of the threefold nature of the human being. Only on the foundation of this is it possible to come to a real and penetrating perception of what underlies the social disorder and conflicts of today and to find a way to a more equal, just and truly human world social order that can and will include all humanity.

I am not trying to point to any failing of the newsletter itself nor of the people who obviously put so much work into it, but to what one can see there as being an indication of a sort of gap, an emptiness, in the work and consciousness of the wider anthroposophical movement. The newsletter seems to me to be a fairly true reflection of the state of anthroposophical understanding of the threefold nature of human society today.

From my experience it seems that in most anthroposophical institutions there are serious splits between what, in schools for example, we can refer to collectively as the office and the classroom. In the work in the classroom there is, certainly in the great majority of Waldorf Schools a serious commitment to founding the work on anthroposophical spiritual science. But there is seldom any such serious anthroposophical basis to the work in the office. Whereas it is often merely difficult to get sufficient teachers for the work of the classroom, it is almost impossible to find people with a similar level of understanding of the threefold social order so as to bring anthroposophy also into the practical organisation of the school. Even if such a person is found there is too often a lack of support, if not actual resistance from the teachers, for the changes in the organisation and procedures that will probably be needed in the school organisation. Conventional procedures are often thought of as more “professional”. If such a person is found he or she will often find that the teachers look down on his or her work as unspiritual.

We understand the meeting of the child with the teacher as having its roots in earlier lives, as a working of karma. The teachers understand this and take it deeply into their teaching. But in the office too often there is little or no consciousness of the working of karma, that on a deeper level the teacher is doing what he does out of karmic necessity, not in order to earn money. What he is paid enables him to live, it frees him to fulfil his life’s work. In the office conventional established procedures tend to be followed and the teachers treated as being employed to do certain work as laid down by the employer and described in job descriptions. According to the contract they work for a salary consistent to the work they do and their particular experiences and qualifications. The salary is payment for the work, it is a purchase. In such an arrangement there is no recognition that karma lies behind their coming to this particular work – work they actually do because only in the doing of it will they find inner fulfilment to their lives. So there is a lie, an untruth, within the being of the school, and this has its effect. The discord that then exists in the environment of the school is felt or sensed, even if unconsciously, by more people than is generally recognised.

There is, of course, still good work being done. There are many different aspects of the threefold social order that have been and are taken up and worked with. But people appear to concentrate on particular questions that relate to their work or that especially interest them. Discussion groups often take certain questions or problems and try to understand them in the light of particular current situations. But where has all this study and discussion manifested in practical expression?

Rudolf Steiner referred to the economic sphere of activity as the “social sphere” or as the underlying area of the “social problem”. Anyone who can put aside the usual perceptions and judgements of economic life commonly held today by virtually all of us, and look quite objectively at the realm of economic activity as described by Steiner in his lectures World Economy[iii], will recognise that the economic activity of production and distribution is, in its essential nature, a social and moral activity. Neither the rights nor the cultural sectors can properly be called social in the same way.

(Parts 2 and 3 to follow)

[i] The Story of Emerson College – published by Temple Lodge, UK in 2013 – ISBN 978 1 906999 44 5

[ii] After Capitalism – published by Adonis Press in USA in 2014 – ISBN 978-0-932776-45-7. Earlier version translated and published by Remedium Kft in 2012. Now also published in French by aethera pour Triades in 2016

[iii] World Economy, GA340 14 lectures given in Dornach 24/7 to 5/8/1922 – published in 2013 by SteinerBooks in USA as Rethinking Economics.


Filed under Emerson College UK, Rudolf Steiner, Threefolding

The School of Unselfishness

I’ve just been reading one of Rudolf Steiner’s more esoteric lectures, The Four Sacrifices of Christ, which he gave in Basle, Switzerland, on 1st June 1914. It’s a remarkable lecture, in which Steiner says that in earlier ages the Christ intervened three times in human affairs before he was incarnated in the human body of Jesus of Nazareth and underwent the crucifixion. Steiner has some mind-stretching things to say about unselfishness, extending the concept to our eyes, the natural world, our vital organs, and our thinking, feeling and willing. For reasons of concision, I don’t want to say anything more here but would recommend that you read the lecture for yourself.

What I do want to focus on in this post, however, is the importance of Steiner’s overall message from the lecture, which is how very much the quality of unselfishness is needed today:

“It must come to be realised that a school of unselfishness is needed in our present culture. A renewing of responsibility, a deepening of man’s moral life, can only come through a training in unselfishness, and under the conditions of the present age only those can go through this school who have won for themselves an understanding of real, all-pervading selflessness.”

Well, our present age certainly provides us with a schooling in the consequences of selfishness, which we see every day in its personal, national and international manifestations. Our current paradigm, which stems from the model of Anglo-American capitalism, was started in Britain on the basis of self-interest, greed, fear, exploitation of natural resources and dominion over others and has now become our most successful export. It’s sad to see that this has been taken up with enthusiasm in countries such as India and China. It is this model that has brought us to our present pass in which, if everyone on the planet consumed as much as the average US citizen, four Earths would be needed to sustain us. It is this fundamental selfishness which has led us to the crazy position that now threatens the entire planet.

So we need to pay urgent attention to Steiner’s message that “under the influence of materialism the natural unselfishness of mankind was lost to an extent that will be fully realised only in the distant future. But by contemplating the Mystery of Golgotha, by permeating our knowledge of it with all our feeling, we may acquire again, with our whole soul-being, an education in selflessness. We may say that what Christ did for earthly evolution was included in the fundamental impulse of selflessness, and what He may become for the conscious development of the human soul is the school of unselfishness.”

But unselfishness is so rare these days, such an unexpected phenomenon in human culture, that I had to rack my brain to find some current examples that might inspire us. Thinking about it for a while, I came across some instances close to home – literally so in my first example.

About a year ago we moved to a new house and just lately I’ve been enjoying myself by planning a small orchard in our garden. While considering which varieties of apple, pear, plum, etc to grow, I’ve had to think about rootstocks. Many fruit trees do not grow on their own roots but instead skilled nurserymen and women graft scions of desirable varieties onto special rootstocks. These rootstocks control factors such as rate of growth, size of tree and the age at which trees come into bearing. Many of these rootstocks were developed at the East Malling Research Station in Kent during the early decades of the 20th century. The breakthroughs made there were so successful that today 80% of the world’s apple orchards grow on rootstocks pioneered in East Malling. Very many home gardeners (soon to include me) have also benefited from these discoveries. The point about this is that these rootstocks were never patented but simply released into the world as a self-evident good that should not be exploited for profit. As such, they spread rapidly around the globe and are now to be found in many countries.

Evelyn Dunbar A 1944 Pastoral: Land Girls Pruning at East Malling 1944 (3′ x 4′: 91 x 121cm) Manchester City Art Gallery

My second example of unselfishness is also close to home, or rather, to work. I have a part-time job at Tablehurst Community Farm in Forest Row, East Sussex. Both Tablehurst and its sister farm, Plaw Hatch, farm on land which is owned by St Anthony’s Trust, a local charity whose charitable objectives include the training of biodynamic farmers and growers. The Tablehurst land was given – yes, given – to the Trust in a magnificent altruistic gesture by Emerson College in 2004. St Anthony’s Trust, in turn, has carried out a truly revolutionary act when seen against today’s society norms. It has refused to use the land as an asset to be borrowed against or mortgaged. Instead, it says to the farms: you can farm this land and use the buildings on the land, as long as you undertake to farm biodynamically. The farms pay very reasonable rents to the Trust, which in turn invests in the training of tomorrow’s farmers and growers. These acts of unselfishness have enabled two flourishing community farm enterprises to grow and develop and to employ between them nearly sixty people who produce superb food for their local communities, while looking after the land, the plants and the animals to the highest standards of husbandry. Capital to support new farm infrastructure and machinery is raised through the financial support of the community rather than through taking out loans.


Future farmers leading the cows to a new field at Tablehurst Community Farm

This could never have happened in that situation which is so common today, where land is treated as a fast-appreciating capital asset either to be sold to enrich the owner or to be used as security against loans, and which then saddles the farmer with huge debts to be serviced, which is rather like having a noose around your neck. Imagine what could be the effect on agriculture if a similar model were to be taken up by communities around the world and if we were to say to farmers: “Farms today need the active support of their neighbouring communities. We believe that local farms supplying local customers is the best way of ensuring food security, wholesome food for us and our families, and kindness toward land and animals; and therefore as a community we are going to provide you with land so that you can farm on our behalf and with our support, without the need to get into debt.” Such collective acts of unselfishness would transform our world – the Monsanto model of farming would wither as if under a drenching of glyphosate.

The third example of unselfishness will be known to most of us; the pharmacist Sir Alexander Fleming is revered not just because of his discovery of penicillin – the antibiotic that has saved millions of lives – but also due to his efforts to ensure that it was freely available to as much of the world’s population as possible. Fleming could have become a hugely wealthy man if he had decided to control and license the substance, but he understood that penicillin’s potential to overcome diseases such as syphilis, gangrene and tuberculosis meant it had to be released into the world to serve the greater good. Fleming chose not to patent his discovery of penicillin, stating, “I did not invent penicillin. Nature did that. I only discovered it by accident.” Fleming’s goal was to develop a cheap and effective drug that would be available to all the world. It has saved millions of lives since.

Alexander Fleming

Sir Alexander Fleming – photo via

This story doesn’t end quite so happily, however, since selfishness and greed crept back in. In 1939, Dr. Howard Florey, a future Nobel Laureate, and three colleagues at Oxford University began intensive research and were able to demonstrate penicillin’s ability to kill infectious bacteria. As the war with Germany continued to drain industrial and government resources, the British scientists could not produce the quantities of penicillin needed for clinical trials on humans and turned to the United States for help. They were quickly referred to a laboratory in Peoria, Illinois, where scientists were already working on fermentation methods to increase the growth rate of fungal cultures. On July 9, 1941, Howard Florey and other scientists from Oxford University came to the US with a valuable package containing a small amount of penicillin and began work at Peoria.

By November 26, 1941, Dr Andrew J. Moyer, the lab’s expert on the nutrition of moulds, had succeeded, with the assistance of one of the Oxford scientists, in increasing the yields of penicillin 10 times. In 1943, the required clinical trials were performed and penicillin was shown to be the most effective antibacterial agent to date. Penicillin production was quickly scaled up and became available in quantity to treat Allied soldiers wounded on D-Day.

As a result of their work, Fleming and two members of the British group were awarded the Nobel Prize. Dr. Moyer from the Peoria laboratory was inducted into the Inventors’ Hall of Fame and both the British and Peoria laboratories were designated as International Historic Chemical Landmarks. However, on May 25, 1948, Dr Moyer was granted a patent for a method of the mass production of penicillin and thus became a very rich man.

Until this day the British regret that, for ethical reasons, they had asked Florey not to file for a patent on penicillin. The University of Oxford never got its share from the fabulous profits made from penicillin in the US and, to add insult to injury, the UK had to pay licensing fees to US companies.

We could say that Big Pharma has carried on in exactly the same way ever since; and today, despite the mounting evidence of increasing germ resistance to existing antibiotics, the giant pharmaceutical corporations are not researching new antibiotics because they don’t think there will be enough money in it for them. “Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill,” warned Dr Keiji Fukuda, who is the World Health Organisation’s assistant director general for health security.

Antibiotics are usually only prescribed for a week or so, meaning that they are less lucrative than treatments for conditions – like high cholesterol – which have to be taken daily over a long period. So we can see that the selfishness of these big corporations is likely to lead directly to the post-antibiotic era and the return of deaths caused by common infections and minor injuries warned of by the WHO. It seems relevant to quote again from Steiner’s lecture:

 “…In relation to our moral life, our understanding of the world, and in relation to all the activities of our consciousness soul, we must first become selfless. This is a duty of our present culture to the future. Mankind must become more and more selfless; therein lies the future of right living, and of all the deeds of love possible to earthly humanity. Our conscious life is and must be on its way to unselfishness. In a certain connection, essential unselfishness already exists in us, and it would be the greatest misfortune for earthly man if certain sections of his being were as self-seeking as he still is in his moral, intellectual and emotional life”

One final example of unselfishness and what it can mean for the world, so as to end on a more cheerful note. Beyond the fact that you are using it to read these words, the Web has undeniably had a major impact on a large part of the world’s population. It’s certainly one of the most significant inventions of recent times, and one of the reasons it has taken off in such a spectacular way, and led to so many further innovations, was because Sir Tim Berners-Lee decided not to patent it. No patent, so no royalty cheques for Sir Tim; but this farsighted act of unselfishness allowed the Web to spread around the world.




Filed under Biodynamic farming, Emerson College UK, Rudolf Steiner

But will you wake, for pity’s sake?

At a time of life when most people might expect to have retired and be putting their feet up, the anthropopper (who doesn’t think that retirement is good for people), counts himself fortunate to have not one, but two part-time jobs. Despite a colleague’s cynical observation that there is no such thing as a part-time job, only part-time wages, I love both these jobs and after a long and sometimes frustrating working life, I’m delighted to have work where I feel I’m making a worthwhile contribution, in organisations that are offering hope and practical solutions for some of the world’s problems.

The first of these jobs is at Tablehurst Community Farm in Forest Row, East Sussex. While I was there the other day, I found myself having a sudden flashback to an emotion I recognised – it was how I had sometimes felt when I was a small boy at primary school in the 1950s. It came and went in seconds but I was intrigued as to why I had had this sudden recall of something from my early schooldays, now well over half a century ago. What had made me remember this feeling from so long ago, seemingly out of the blue? Trying to analyse my state of mind at that moment, I realised that I had a feeling of wellbeing, knowing I was in the right place for me and glad to be working on a community-owned farm in which the land, plants and animals are cared-for and where the people are friendly, supportive and look out for one another. I was, in fact, in a situation that I suspect is hardly ever experienced in most workplaces these days. This then led me to the further realisation that, if how I was feeling that day was reminiscent of how I had felt during my early schooldays, then there must have been something warm and secure and nurturing about my primary school and the way in which the teachers and pupils treated one another back then. This was not a Steiner school, it was an ordinary state primary school in the 1950s, long before the days of Ofsted, SATS, league tables etc. Somehow I grew up with the notion that the world was on the whole a safe and welcoming place, that adults and policemen were mainly benign, there was joy and beauty in nature – and I also had a sense of how to behave and how not to behave. This gave me something to rebel against when I was a teenager in the 60s. My generation was lucky to have had these positive experiences, as recent alarming reports indicate that many schoolchildren today have quite a different experience of school.

An international study by the Children’s Society in 2015 found that English children are among the unhappiest in the world. Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society, said: “It is deeply worrying that children in this country are so unhappy at school compared to other countries, and it is truly shocking that thousands of children are being physically and emotionally bullied, damaging their happiness. School should be a safe haven, not a battleground.”

And now in a report dated 9th March 2016, the online Spectator magazine’s Health section has said that: “There has been a large increase in the number of British children prescribed anti-depressants, according to research published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology. The research, led by Dr Christian Bachmann of Berlin’s Charité University Hospital, found that prescription rates increased by 54 per cent between 2005 and 2012. In Denmark the figure is higher still, at 60 per cent.”

What on earth is going on? Clearly, something very disturbing is happening with our young people. Rudolf Steiner, in a lecture given in Berlin in 1919, said:

“What the individual human being experiences consciously when he (sic) strives to attain clairvoyance in the spiritual world, namely, the crossing of the threshold, must be experienced unconsciously by the whole of mankind, during our fifth post-Atlantean epoch. Humanity has no choice in regard to this; it must experience this unconsciously — not the individual human being, but HUMANITY, and the individual human being together with humanity.”

So are our young people starting to experience this crossing of the threshold between the physical and spiritual worlds, but unconsciously, without preparation? And if so, what part of the spiritual world are they accessing?

My second part-time job is with Emerson College in Forest Row, East Sussex, where I organise a programme of public talks and workshops by leading thinkers. On 9th March 2016, we were privileged to hear a talk by Lisa Romero, an adult educator, complementary health practitioner and teacher of meditation from Australia.

Lisa’s theme was: Developing the Self – Meditations and Exercise for our Inner Growth. During the course of her talk, she had some interesting things to say about the difficulties and challenges that teenagers are experiencing today. She suggested that teenagers are crossing the threshold into the elemental part of the spiritual world. Lisa enlarged on this in her book, The Inner Work Path:

“Humanity has begun to break through this threshold, the boundary between the physical and elemental world. If those who cross over are unprepared, we will see more mental disorders in our community. As fascination with the occult, psychic powers, and the supernatural continue to grow, all sorts of false paths of ‘inner development’ will become more and more popular. Consciousness-altering substances that exploit a form of gate-crashing to enter the other dimensions will increase. Using these substances to enter different states of consciousness will be seen as an acceptable and inevitable path for our young people.”

Some schools are now teaching their pupils meditation and calling it “mindfulness” so as to avoid any association with the spiritual; but Lisa thinks that this “will lead ultimately to a weakened relationship to the spiritual world, and thereby leave them open to all sorts of potentially harmful influences by stepping backward, not forward, in their incarnating process. All those who truly know the path of inner development know that a healthy relationship to the spiritual world is acquired by completing all the necessary developmental stages of childhood first. These various occurrences that we already see are signs that humanity is crossing the threshold unprepared. Rudolf Steiner describes this unprepared entry into the elemental world, likening it to putting your head into an ant’s nest.”

Where is anthroposophy, and where are anthroposophists, in all of this? One of the things which teenagers need to know at this time is that not all spiritual beings are divine beings. Some of these beings are working to divert humanity from the path of evolution, by encouraging us in our materialism, reinforcing our egotism and selfishness, magnifying our false self and deepening our lower ego – while at the same time supporting our premature access into the spiritual world. Anthroposophists ought to be helping young people to understand that the right path for humanity and each one of us is to align freely with the beings of progression, the beings of the divine spiritual world – but for that to be possible, we must find the progressive being, the divine being within ourselves. Are we, should we be, finding ways of telling that to young people? Are we making sufficient efforts to communicate with teenagers in ways that they can access? I don’t think so. In the meantime, anthroposophy as we have known it is dying. Lisa told me that there are now only 130 society members in the whole of New York City.

The situation appears to be no better in the UK. As Marjatta van Boeschoten, general secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, says in the Spring 2016 Newsletter of the society: “This question (of how anthroposophy can best fulfil its given task) occupied me greatly during the Holy Nights, especially when a range of initiatives in the ‘daughter’ movements in Great Britain are either closing, struggling, in conflict or in financial crisis.” To add to Marjatta’s worries, the ASinGB has revealed that 55% of members pay nothing at all towards their annual membership. What is the future of the society if more than half of its members, out of their own free choice, are making no financial contribution whatsoever?

Surely these symptoms are telling us that the present form of anthroposophy is in serious decline. What are anthroposophists doing about this crisis? My own sense is that another form of anthroposophy is seeking to be born, but it is having an extended labour and a difficult birth. It won’t come from trying to persuade people to read difficult lectures or books, it won’t come from attending the same old meetings with a rapidly diminishing number of elderly anthroposophists (not that I have anything against elderly anthroposophists – far from it – I hope to be one myself before too long) and it certainly won’t come from spending too much time online arguing with the critics.

On the other hand, it may emerge from people who become inspired by one or more of the practical applications of anthroposophy, such as biodynamics or education. I’m struck, for example, by the number of young people who are coming to work at Tablehurst Farm, which now employs nearly 30 people, some of whom are starting families there – this in marked contrast to what is happening on conventional farms, where the average age of a British farmworker is 59 years and where a farm of 300 hectares will be run by one or two men with machines and lots of chemicals. It may emerge if we can find practical, clear and sensible ways of speaking about the spiritual realities behind what is happening in the world, as Lisa Romero is doing. Lisa is part of the Goetheanum Meditation Initiative, which is involving young people from many countries. (Incidentally, Lisa Romero will be returning to Emerson in June for a talk and weekend workshop.)

The times are serious and demand people and organisations of initiative. Places like Tablehurst Farm and Emerson College are seeking to play their parts.  Finding ways in which to meet the very real human needs of today’s young people can offer hope and practical solutions not only to them but to anthroposophy as well. Christopher Fry expressed our opportunity in his play, A Sleep of Prisoners:

Thank God our time is now when wrong

Comes up to meet us everywhere,

Never to leave us till we take

The longest stride man ever took.

Affairs are now soul size.

The enterprise

Is Exploration into God.

Where are you making for? It takes

So many thousand years to wake

But will you wake, for pity’s sake?


Filed under Anthroposophy, Biodynamic farming, Biodynamics, Emerson College UK, Rudolf Steiner, Steiner Waldorf schools, Waldorf critics

The tables turned

Like many of us, I spend far too much time in front of a computer screen. I’m feeling the symptoms now – my eyes are strained, there’s a faint headache starting and my wrist tells me it’s time to swap hands or stop using the mouse.

At such moments, I try to take the advice in Wordsworth’s poem, “The Tables Turned”. In his day, of course, it was books rather than screens that caused eyestrain but the remedy is the same – get out into Nature and focus your eyes on blue skies and green trees.

William Wordsworth by Benjamin Robert Haydon © National Portrait Gallery, London

William Wordsworth by Benjamin Robert Haydon © National Portrait Gallery, London

UP! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun, above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless–
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:–
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

William Wordsworth,Lyrical Ballads,1798.

It seems likely that Wordsworth shared with his near-contemporary in Germany, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, an instinct for experiencing through observation the mysterious reality behind nature – a kind of simultaneous integration of spirit and matter.

Goethe had discovered not only through his own insights but also by way of the ideas of the 17th century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, that there was a deeper dimension in plant life, the realm of the “supersensuous plant archetype” lying beyond the empirically visible, touchable, smellable, classifiable plant.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

To quote from Gordon L Miller’s introduction to his edition of Goethe’s The Metamorphosis of Plants:

 Goethe echoed Spinoza’s holistic vision of reality in his conviction that “spirit and matter, soul and body, thought and extension…are the necessary twin ingredients of the universe, and will forever be.” And in order for us to comprehend not only the outer material aspect but also the inner, ideal, or archetypal aspect of natural things, Goethe discovered that we correspondingly must employ both the eyes of the body and the “eyes of the mind,” both sensory and intuitive perception, “in constant and spirited harmony.” Goethe was especially struck by Spinoza’s proposition that “the more we understand particular things, the more we understand God,” and he coupled rigorous empiricism with precise imagination to see particular natural phenomena as concrete symbols of the universal principles, organizing ideas or inner laws of nature. Starting from sense perception of the outer particulars, Goethe’s scientific approach seeks the higher goal of an illuminating knowledge from within. This way of knowing – from the inside – is rooted ultimately in a harmony or identity between the human spirit and the informing spirit of nature, wherein “speaks one spirit to the other”  (Faust, line 425).

It’s particularly exciting in our present times to see the techniques of Goethean observation being extended into the social realm, thus providing new ways of working effectively with processes of social change. This development has been led by Allan Kaplan and Sue Davidoff of the South Africa-based Proteus Initiative – so it’s great news that they will be bringing a series of workshops to Emerson College (Sussex UK) in February and March 2015 (declaration of interest – I’m now working for Emerson College). The workshops are for all those whose work engages in the realm of human relationships and social change. Please email if you would like to receive further details.

But my eyes are still straining and my wrist is aching – time to leave the computer for a while and see what one can discover through some Goethean or Wordsworthian observation. It’s time for a walk in Nature!


Filed under Emerson College UK, Goethe, Goetheanism