Guest Post by MICHAEL SPENCE
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.