Rudolf Steiner

The Threefold Social Organism




The proposal put forward by the author is very simple andhighly interesting, namely to build a social organism composed by three autonomous spheres: a spiritual-cultural sphere, a legal or rights-sphere, and an economic sphere. Currently the state controls all three spheres in the name of democracy. The result is that the social life is plagued by materialism and cultural uniformity, legal injustices and economic privileges.

Extract from: The Threefold Social Organism, Democracy and Socialism, contained in the book The Renewal of the Social Organism, Rudolf Steiner Press,London, 1985



The unsocial, often even antisocial, feelings of those who claim to be today's socialist thinkers, stem from the cultural life of an earlier era, especially as it is manifested in the educational system. This spiritual-cultural sphere alienated from life itself has called forth a twisted notion of spiritual life. Broad segments of the populace believe that the genuine human impulses reside within economic forms.

According to them, cultural life is nothing but a “superstructure” with its foundations in the economy, an ideology arising from a particular mode of economic activity. This view has been adopted (consciously or unconsciously) by almost the entire working class, the bearers of the social demands of the age. This working class developed during an age in which spiritual culture has foregone the attempt to find a direction and a goal of itself; an age in which the outward social form this spiritual culture has adopted is the result of political and economic life.

Only self-administration can rescue the spiritual-cultural life from its present condition. Yoked firmly to the economy by the capitalistic system and technology, the proletariat now believes that mere organization of economic life will necessarily bring about “by itself” the needed reforms in the legal and cultural domain as well. The working class was obliged to experience how modern cultural life had become a mere adjunct to political and economic life, and so they formed the opinion that all cultural life must be such an appendage.

If, in truth, they could see this dismal concept embodied within a social organism, it would be a bitter disappointment actually to discover that a cultural life arising from a social reform based on economic principles alone would lead to even more dire and pitiful conditions than the present ones. The proletariat will have to struggle through to the insight that the present situation cannot be improved through a mere reorganization of the economy, but only through separation of the cultural and legal spheres from the economic, thus creating a healthy threefold social organism.

The proletarian movement will find the right track only when its members cease to reiterate, “Modern economic life created a cultural and a legal sphere which have an asocial effect; it is time for an economic change which, in turn, will generate from within itself brand new cultural and legal forms.” The proletarian movement will succeed only when its members can say, “Modern culture has led to an economic system that can be transformed only when both the cultural and legal spheres are separated from it and are released to their own administration.” For this modern cultural life has led to a situation in which everything non-economic is dependent on the economy: the healing processes can start only with the elimination of this dependency, and not with an even greater subjection. The fact that today's working class has been harnessed into the economic system has led to the notion that only economic reconstruction can cure the ailment.

The day that sets the working class free from this superstition; the day that allows people to become aware of their own instincts and to recognize that cultural and legal life cannot function as an ideology born from the economic environment; the day the proletariat perceives that the calamity of the modern age lies precisely in the fact that such an ideology has emerged; that will be the day that brings the dawn awaited by many.

An economy in which the state does not participate will be able to proceed from independent economic experience on the one hand and the support of particular individuals and economic groups on the other. Economic experience cannot play itself out in the sphere where the rights due every adult should come to the fore, but rather only in the sphere of the self-governing economic body. Recognition given a person because of work in a special field of the economy cannot be expressed in the structure of the state, where only that which is valid for all persons equally prevails, but rather only in the effect this person exerts upon other branches of the economy. Persons who belong to the same branch of the economy will have to unite with each other; they will have to form associations with those from other economic sectors. Through a lively intercourse between such associations and cooperatives the interests of producers and consumers will be able to organize themselves. In this way, economic impulses alone will be able to work within the economy.

When blue collar and white collar workers meet with each other, they need only consider economic issues because legal matters will be dealt with separately under the state's jurisdiction. The blue collar worker can associate freely with the manager of the business, because only the division, on economic principles, of that which they have earned together will be allowed; there will be no economic compulsion resulting from the greater economic resources of the manager. The associative structuring of the economic body will place the blue collar worker's contractual relationship to the business manager in a totally different light. Up to now, he has been forced to fight against the interests of the business manager, but in his new associative role he will share in the fruits of production. Through the heightened awareness he has gained as a consumer, he will cultivate and profit by — rather than oppose — the same interest in production as the manager. This can never happen in an economy the aim of which is the profitability of capital assets; it can happen only in an economy that regulates the value of products on the basis of self-equilibrating processes of production and consumption within the social structure as a whole. A social partnership such as this is possible only if the interests of special professionals, consumers and producers can find expression in various self-subsisting associations and can come to agreements within the economic body as a whole. The special interests of the individual branches of industry give rise to the individual associations; determinations of economic value will arise out of the coalition of these associations, and in the central administrative body that will emerge from these economic interests.

An individual business cannot be socialized; socialization happens only when the production of economic value that a separate business contributes to the total economic life has no antisocial effect. As a result of such genuine socialization, the capitalist system will lose its harmful tendencies. (In my book, Toward Social Renewal, I have described how capital must function within a healthy threefold organism.) It should be clear by now that one cannot “do away” with capital, since capital is nothing other than the means of production working for the community. It ii not capital itself that is harmful, but rather capital in private hands, especially if this private ownership is able to control the social structure of the economic body.

But if society can be structured in the manner previously described, then capital can no longer have any antisocial influence. The beneficial social structure will always prevent the capital assets from being isolated from the management of the means of production. It will also put a stop to the attempts of those who strive only for capital assets, but shirk participation in the economic process. One could readily object that others who do participate would gain nothing, should the earning of nonparticipants be “divided up.” The objection has some validity, and yet it disguises the truth, for its validity has no significance for the structuring of the social organism. The harmfulness of the nonworking recipient of divi. dends is not that to a small degree they diminish the working man's earnings, but that the sheer possibility of someone being able to have income without working for it lends an antisocial aspect to the whole economic body. The economic body that blocks the possibility to derive income from dividends differs from the one that cannot block it just as human organisms, too, differ — the one is healthy and impervious in all areas to the invasion of a tumor; the other, through the accumulation of unhealthy elements, is beset by a tumorous growth.

A healthy social organism requires, however, that certain measures unacceptable to contemporary economic prejudices growing out of the aforementioned associations be instituted. In a healthy social organism, capital goods and other means of production will have a one-time cost at the time of delivery. The producer will then be able to manage them, but only for as long as he can contribute to production by his management. The business will then have to be transferred to another not by sale nor by inheritance, but rather as a free gift to the one best able to manage it. It will have no sale value, and thus no value in the hands of an heir who does not work. Capital with independent economic power will work in the establishment of the means of production; it will dissolve itself instantly when the creation of the means of production is fmished. Now, however, capital consists mostly of such “already established means of production.”

The socially correct value of a piece of goods can only be determined by comparison with other goods. Its value must equal the value of all other goods needed by the producer to fulfill his own requirements, until the time when he can again produce a similar piece of goods. This he must do while considering all those requirements necessary in the interest of other people. (Herein must be included, for instance, the needs of his children and what he must contribute for the support of persons incapable of working, etc.) The institutions and provisions of a healthy economy must act in an intermediary capacity to guarantee the value of such goods. These institutions can only be created through a network of corporations that regulate production by considering consumption. The justification for these requirements is not the issue. The issue is the mediation between consumption and production based on economic experience and real economic relationships. If felt needs arise that cannot be borne by the economy as a whole, these needs will find no counter or reciprocal value in the goods produced by the person who feels those needs.

An economy can be regulated in this way only when its development is based on mutually supporting measures taken by individual corporations. These measures must stem from expertise and concrete facts. Any incursion of democratic principles would necessarily have a detrimental effect upon the development of expert knowledge. Similarly, economic interests would have a detrimental effect upon everything that should emerge under the influence of democracy.

The health of the social organism depends upon its articulation into three independent spheres: a spiritual-cultural sphere, a legal or rights-sphere, and an economic sphere. Far from dividing people into three social strata, the articulation will allow them to participate in all three spheres according to their interests as whole human beings. The separation will be such that in the cultural or legal spheres, for instance, no decision can be made concerning problems arising within the economy. In the unitary state, where the three systems are intertwined, an economic group will have the power to legalize its interests and declare them public rights. In the threefold organism this can never happen, because economic interests can play themselves out only within the economic cycle, and there will be no possibility of overflow into the legal sphere.

The greatest possible guarantee that one sphere of the threefold organism cannot be violated by another lies in their union, effected by the total corporate body consisting of the delegates of the three central administrations and agencies. For these central administrative committees will have to deal with actual developments within their own spheres. They will not arrive at a situation where, for instance, the rights sphere or the cultural sphere would be impinged upon by the economic, because this would place them in opposition to the developments taking place in their several spheres. Should, however, the influence of one department over another become necessary, the factual basis for such influence can lie only in the sphere of corporate interest and not in the individual group's interest.
No one should cherish the illusion that any social institution could ever create an “ideal situation.” What can be attained, however, is a viable, healthy social organism.

Anything beyond that must be found through something other than social development. It is not the task of this articulation to guarantee “happiness,” but rather to find the living conditions needed by a healthy social organism. Within it, however, men must be able to seek what they need to lead a dignified human existence. Nor does the healthy physical organism create from within itself that culture which the soul alone can unfold from its own depths; but a diseased organism prevents the soul from doing so. Thus a healthy social organism can only provide the prerequisites necessary for all that human beings must nurture and develop through their own capabilities and needs.

Anyone who descries as utopian or as mere ideology what reveals itself to be a guideline for social development, and wants to leave everything to evolution, resembles a person who becomes indisposed because he sits in an unventilated room and refuses to open a window while waiting for the stale air to renew itself.

The merger of cultural life and economics with the state would rob democracy of its real foundations. Anyone desiring genuine democracy will insist on granting the cultural and the economic spheres self-determination.


[Home] [Top]