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«Resource materials for the workshop: Waldorf Schools and the Threefold Social Organism, Friday January 14th from 7:00 – 9:00PM, and Saturday ...»

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Resource materials for the workshop: Waldorf Schools and the Threefold Social Organism,

Friday January 14th from 7:00 – 9:00PM, and Saturday January 15th from 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM with

Atta Turck. Hosted at the Eugene Waldorf School


I would like this workshop to contribute to an understanding of the situation and the spirit out of which

the Waldorf School movement evolved. Looking at the specific historic situation at the end of World

War One, we will be able to understand how the more fundamental transformation of German society and its organization that Steiner and a substantial progressive movement at the time had hoped for did not occur. The traditional and conservative forces were able to prevail. Economic conditions and structures remained widely untouched, the new German constitution followed older philosophical ideas and practical models from other parts of the world. The Waldorf School was founded anyway. It was meant to begin the long and slow process of consciousness building to prepare future generations to be more ready for fundamental change when opportunities would arise. With its pedagogy rooted in Anthroposophy, the Waldorf School would send young people into the world able to form moral judgment in freedom. They would be ready to think independently and creatively transform their immediate environment, and, when the conditions were right, to transform the world at large. These are the Waldorf Schools that we see today. While the curriculum of today’s Waldorf Schools is largely oriented at the curriculum of the first Waldorf School from ninety years ago, I feel the overbearing and all-pervasive role the economy plays in our societies today, makes it necessary to more strongly emphasize social and economic content in the curriculum throughout the grades. Only in this way can we give our students the necessary social competence to actively shape their own future and with it society.

The Threefold Social Organism in a nutshell by Gary Lamb,

Introduced by Atta Turck:

Every society defines itself in structures that regulate the relationships between its parts and in processes within which all activities over time take place. For every society we can distinguish three realms for which this has to be accomplished: The economic realm, the political/civil/legal realm, and the cultural/spiritual realm. The specific ways in which these three areas have been shaped historically have made societies different from each other. According to the development of consciousness of humanity and its material development over the ages there were different needs and necessities the social organism had to satisfy. Starting in the sixteenth century and growing stronger over time the spiritual and material development of large parts of humanity were asking for new structures and processes of organization.

The age of revolutions At the end of World War One was one of the focal points in time. The misery brought upon Europe as a result of four years of disastrous military operations was largely seen as the responsibility of the ruling classes and the systems that gave them power. The majority of common people in Europe were looking for social forms that would free them from oppression and would empower them in their striving for political equality and social and economic justice.

When called upon for advice by forward looking people in 1917, Rudolf Steiner formulated criteria and principles for a social system that would honor the highest values of the people, address their needs and wishes in daily life, but avoid the contradictions of existing forms of society, past and current. His proposal was laid out over time as the “Threefold Social Organism.” In the following I will quote Gary Lamb from his book: The Social Mission of Waldorf Education,

pages 15 ff. because of his excellent, short, precise, and comprehensive description:

“The proper scope of action for economic life is the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. A healthy economy requires individual initiative, efficiency, and technical expertise. Steiner maintained that economic decisions should no longer be left to unregulated market forces, as in capitalism, nor given over to the state, as in socialism, but should be decided in economic associations that include actual participants from the economy from all three sectors: production, distribution, and consumption. He maintained that we are at the point in human evolution when the economy must be taken consciously in hand by those active in it and who operate out of social needs or concern for others rather than self-interest. This altruistic approach can be called brotherhood or human fellowship, which is based on cooperation and collaboration.

The activity of the political or legal sphere should be limited to recognizing and upholding human rights, including those related to personal safety and security and the protection of the environment.

Here the principle of equality should prevail in the decision-making processes. The scope of action of a political state, based on democracy and majority rule, should be limited to those decisions that every competent adult is capable of understanding and acting upon. This would preclude the political state from making business decisions or decisions that involve personal views, such as religious beliefs, nutritional preferences, and medical and educational choices. In a healthy social life individuals and organizations directing economic and cultural activities would take democratically determined rights as a given.

The spiritual cultural realm includes everything connected with education and human development, including science, art and religion. This realm is intimately related to the unique nature of each individual person and what is commonly called private life. Consequently, the fundamental basis for a spiritual-cultural sphere can only be individual freedom. According to Steiner, an independent cultural life would continually supply the other spheres with creative forces of spiritual renewal, something it cannot do if it is subject to the dictates of business and political interests wanting to perpetuate existing arrangements. The most significant value-forming area of spiritual-cultural life is the entire field of education, which from a threefold perspective should be independent of political and economic influences in the same way, as is commonly acknowledged, that religion should be free from their control.

The basis of each of the three spheres – spiritual-cultural, political, and economic – is revealed by the slogan of the French Revolution: Freedom, Equality, and Brotherhood.

In such a threefold arrangement, the unity of the social organism comes about through each individual, since everyone lives in all three spheres at any given moment. It also can come about by representatives from each of the three spheres meeting to discuss and reach agreements on common concerns, such as education, in a similar manner to the way heads of state meet, make agreements, sign treaties, and so on.”

Are liberalism, democracy, and socialism mutually exclusive?

Rudolf Steiner, in a lecture held in Bern on October 14. 1919, on the background of the history of political ideas, characterizes the difficult decisions to be made by Germans in re-forming their society after the war and the overturning of the monarchy in the following way: (translation A. Turck) “…the task at hand is just that: there are three great ideas that have evolved in the development of humanity. One idea is that of liberalism, the next the one of democracy, the third the one of socialism.

If you treat these ideas with honesty you cannot mix them all up, or eliminate one through the other but you have to tell yourself: From the independent spiritual life something has to radiate …that streams into the whole organism. That is the free human development, that is the liberal element. In the political state, in rights life, something has to live in which all men are equal. And in economic life the element of brotherhood has to reign.” (GA 329, p. 219)

The relationship between the cultural sphere and the political sphere:

„Steiner … declares – although emphasizing its non-violent character – the “anarchistic individualism as the social ideal” (GA 31, S. 257), postulating the subordination of actions of the state under the needs of the individual. By this, one root of Steiner’s concept of the social is sketched out: a radically formulated philosophical liberalism, which emphasizes the unconditional priority of the individual over the collective, and of personal initiative over competence of the state.” (Albert Schmelzer, Die Dreigliederungsbewegung 1919, Stuttgart 1991; p. 54, transl. A. Turck) Egoism versus altruism From: Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus (Stuttgart 1. Jg. 1919/20, translated in: The Renewal of the Social Organism, Hudson, NY 1985, P. 81-83) “The threefold social order recognizes that at the present stage of human evolution, the economic sphere must limit itself exclusively to economic processes. The administration of such an economic order will be able, through its various organs, to determine the extent of consumers’ needs, how the products may be best brought to the consumers, and the extent to which various articles should be produced. However, it will have no way of calling forth the will to produce; neither will it be in a position to cultivate the individual abilities that are the vital source of the economic process. Under the old economic system that still survives, people cultivated these abilities hoping they would bring personal profit. It would be a dire mistake to believe that the mere command of an administrative body overseeing only the economy could arouse the desire to develop men’s individual abilities, or to believe that such command would have power enough to induce them to put their will into their work.

The threefold social order seeks to prevent people from making this mistake. It aims at establishing within the independent, self-sustaining cultural life a realm where one learns to see what each single piece of work means for the combined fabric of the social order, to see it in such a light that one will learn to love it because of its value for the whole. It aims at creating in this free life of the spirit the profounder principles that can replace the motive for personal gain. Only in a free spiritual life can a love for the human social order spring up that is comparable to the love an artist has for the creation of his works. … Anyone who doubts that men and women are capable of being brought to this kind of love is unaware that it is dependence of spiritual and cultural life upon the state and the economy that creates desire for personal profit – this desire for profit is not a fundamental aspect of human nature.

…And just as the free spiritual life will create the impulses for creating individual ability, the democratically ordered life of the legal sphere will provide the impulses for the will to work. Real relationships will grow up between people united in a social organism where each adult has a voice in government and is co-equal with every other adult: it is relationships such as these that are able to enkindle the will to work ‘for the community’. One must reflect that a truly communal feeling can grow only from such relationships, and that from this feeling, the will to work will grow. For in actual practice the consequence of such a state founded on democratic rights will be that each human being will take his place with vitality and full consciousness in the common field of work. Each will know what he or she is working for; and each will want to work within the working community of which he knows himself a member through his will.” Rudolf Steiner’s attempts to make the concept of the Threefold Social Organism fruitful for political change (by Atta Turck) There were two distinct phases: the first phase characterized by many individual attempts of Rudolf Steiner and a few supporters to first gaining the interest of influential personalities in the Threefold ideas, then convincing them of the benefits for the larger developments in Europe and having them use their influence to cause change in the sense of the innovative concepts of the Threefold idea. This phase started in 1917 and lasted through the first wave of public unrest and revolution, until law and order had been reestablished and a peaceful coexistence between local worker and soldier councils and the regular governments had set in (January 1919). During this phase Rudolf Steiner emphasized more the independence and freedom of the cultural sector of society that would allow unrestricted unfolding and development of cultural idiosyncrasies and differences for national, ethnic, or religious minorities, with a state reduced in its function to the guarantee of equal rights and safety. Foreseeing (1917) the breakup of the multi-ethnic Austrian-Hungarian Empire and the reformation of the Balkan states and the Baltic states, Steiner saw his plans able to prevent decades, if not a century of bloodshed.

Toward a mass movement

The second phase, evolving parallel to the second wave of spontaneous public unrest and the movement for a state-wide “council republic” or “soviet republic,” and the factory council movement, (between January and July of 1919) was characterized by many small and large public meetings with speakers of the Threefold movement, meant to encourage a mass movement for the Threefold Social Organism and swaying party members of parties from the center to the left, representing workers, middle class, intellectuals, artists, teachers, and managers and factory owners alike to put their weight behind the new, third alternative, instead of the two old ideologies of conservatism/liberal capitalism and socialism. This phase of the Threefold movement was more focused on the economic part of social life with an associate management of production in view, and common property in the means of production. The formation of cultural councils never really got off the ground, and the ideas about the reformation of the state could not mobilize the people. The idea of an independent educational system, however, found widespread acceptance.

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