The Anthroposophical Social Impulse

By Michael Schreyer

Part I: The Fundamental Sociological Law

During the earliest stages of civilization humanity strove towards the development of social groupings. The interests of the individual were sacrificed to the interests of the group; subsequent development led to the liberation of the individual from the interests of the groups and to the free unfolding of the needs and forces of the individual.

Rudolf Steiner referred to the Fundamental Sociological Law as a law, meaning that it has the same stringent effect for society as natural laws have for the realm of nature. It is a developmental law which unfolds during the march of time. Development is not linear in history; there are standstills and reversals. The beginning of cultural development lies is the distant past of human society and its end lies in the distant future. All forms of organized human cooperation can be understood as taking place in groupings. Individual development accompanies society's development.

Under groupings is meant all forms of organized human cooperative activity. Individual human development accompanies social development. Dieter Brüll indicates that the sociological law concerns the representation of the individual evolution of consciousness. The question therefore arises: Which forms of society are conducive to the development stages of humanity. Two components should be considered:

Which forms of society arise through the process of individualization?

Can human beings create societies that support individualization according to the demands of the various stages of development?

The forms of the state and society can have two characteristics, according to the understanding of their content:

·        - Domination of the individual

·        - Advancement of the individual – non-domination

The sociological fundamental law is not limited to the state, but includes all associative formations developed with a posture which accords with their time, that is, forms of living together which do not hinder the individual's development, but promote his progress.

With a look at history we shall characterize the place of the individual in society with a few examples:

In theocracies, for example in Egypt, the individual was completely subservient to the interests of the unified spiritual and mundane hierarchies.

In ancient Greece rights and economic life were still cultic affairs. The first rudiments of free spiritual life were in Athens, for which Socrates died. For Plato, in his “The Republic”, spiritual/cultural life was unthinkable without the state's guidance.

In the Roman Empire divine rights became human rights, for example, personal ownership rights. By means of contractual relationships the stage of self responsibility was reached – the acknowledgment of rights and duties.

During the Middle Ages, before the use of Roman law, there was a system of mutual dependence between the feudal lords and the people, which had been drawn from Germanic law. Mutual responsibilities arose: the feudal lords provided protection, for which the people gave their labor. Through the activities of Irish monks in all of Europe the rudiments of free cultural life, born in Greece, was continued. But there were also relapses into archaic-theocratic relations, for example the annihilation of the Cathars and lack of spiritual tolerance.

Up until the French Revolution, spiritual intolerance was continued by “cuis regio eius religio” (the ruler determines the religion in his land). But the emancipation of the individual could not be held back, although economic dependence on the authorities was still alive in the guilds.

The class-state with its three or four classes existed until the French revolution:

Spiritual life consisted of clerics, artists and academics

Rights were determined by the nobility

Economic activity was carried out by the bourgeoisie

Bonded farmers, agricultural workers, servants and proletarians formed a fourth class which, however, did not exist according to the mentality of the time, and were consequently practically without any rights.

The French revolution eliminated the feudal structure and therewith liberated the first three social classes. The fourth remained without rights, but formed the foundation of society at that time and its members were forced to sell their labor. This group of people had no access to the other aspects of society: “they had nothing to lose but their chains.”

With the French revolution, under the influence of free masonry, came the demand for Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Seen today, these ideals are the structural elements of a new social form which, however, never achieved a consistent force and has degenerated into political slogans.

In the ensuing industrialization, the economic, spiritual and rights spheres became dominated by it, a situation which still exists today. In order to limit the influence of economic interests, the political state felt urged to also expand its sphere of influence to all of society’s domains, a development that calls to mind the ancient theocratic social structure. Dieter Brüll expresses it thus: to theology without God came theocracy without God.

The present form of society, driven by neo-capitalism, has achieved, at least formally, the guaranty of equality for citizens before the law, but has created a new inequality in the form of a huge gap between the rich and the poor. The “free economy” has achieved the maximizing of profit with hardly any regard for social needs. The dependent working individuals are almost completely subservient to the interests of capital. Spiritual life, and therewith the individuals who are active in it, have their freedom stolen from two sides: the powerful politicians in the state use it to insure their power (education); economic interests use it to insure profits. We cannot yet speak of liberation of the individual from the various groups. At best we could be at the beginning of the path in this direction.

Until now we have considered one social aspect, that is, the macro-social relationships. In the following description we will consider the institutional aspect, the meso-social one, in order to determine how far the Sociological Fundamental Law has led to fruitful results and insight in this area.

Consideration of the remote historical relations is hardly possible, for the corresponding information from everyday life in the more distant past is slim indeed. Therefore we shall only consider the present institutional situation with regard to the validity of the fundamental sociological law.

We can observe theocratic structures and their corresponding behavior in many places. We recognize pyramidal structures, whether formal or informal, in firms, societies, political parties and non-profit organizations.

In hospitals the “pseudo-gods in white” reign.

In public administration and in ministries the frantic obedience of the employees for fear of reprisals from their superiors reigns.

In small and medium-size companies, the bosses are often unlimited rulers at the top of the organizational pyramid.

In democratically organized parties and societies, alongside the formal hierarchy, an informal hierarchy exists due to the members' attitude. The “strong man” is made into a modern pharaoh by his followers.

The groups' dominance is visible in many places, as the following examples clearly show:

In businesses profit and growth stand as the main concerns of capital. The rights and concerns of the co-workers, despite the rights included in participation laws [1], find no place for the objective resolution of workers' concerns.

Management and unions represent the interests of their groups, which lead to conflicts (strikes), often to the detriment of their customers (for example railroads and airlines).

The administration of European and other organizations is undermined by lobbyists who represent the interests of their clients, as a rule to the detriment of the consumers, the affected individuals (for example, the pharmaceutical lobby influencing law-making.)

Increasingly the assertion of such interests to the detriment of the people in the secretly held negotiations over commercial agreements with the USA and Canada (TTIP) goes so far that the registering of rightful interests of individuals is rejected by the lobby-led bureaucrats. The liberation of individuals from group interests is still at the beginning of a long way and is vehemently impeded by those in power.

There are, however, examples of liberation of individuals from group interests:

– Solidarity associations in the health field are liberating themselves from the interests of health insurance companies, at least to the extent that they are not hindered by lawmakers. They unite freely and through solidarity dispense with their freedom. The sacrificed freedom is love of neighbor, or simply love among men.

– Basis democracy groups protest against too much form, too much organization, which they consider to be instruments of domination.

– Housing associations overcome family bonds and dispense with property rights in order to practice new forms of togetherness.

Liberation from group interests is a prelude on the way to the creation of a planet of living love, given in complete freedom. Behind the Fundamental Sociological Law a future Christianity is concealed. The state's task in the future can only be to make arrangements which guarantee the individual's freedom in order to develop the force of love, which overcomes the present egoism. In the articles (GA 30), which constitute the basis for this essay, Rudolf Steiner refers to “anarchistic idealism” as a social ideal. Thus the question arises: How can an orderly society be possible according to this concept? There are also limits to freedom in a future society, which arise objectively from itself:

Economic activity governs the individual's limits, because it must concentrate on the tasks it has taken on. (The responsible technician cannot also engage in an acting career.)

In the area of rights the development of one person often causes the limitation of the other. (The election of one official means the other loses.)

Only in spiritual life can the development of one without limitations on the other take place, for both can accomplish great achievements and receive the appropriate recognition.

The fundamental sociological law means the gradual release of the human being from the hierarchy. Freedom of thought in spiritual life has been largely achieved, at least in Europe and the west. Whoever is still spiritually oriented today must seek the cause in himself and not in the groups. The Fundamental Sociological Law is the developmental law of spiritual life. It underlies the discretion of the individual to transform freedom of thought into free actions. In his “Philosophy of Freedom” Rudolf Steiner describes the basic expression of the free person as: Live in the love of action and let live with understanding of the other's willing.

[1] Such “participation laws” are unique to Germany and perhaps a few other European countires. (Trans.)

Translated by Frank Thomas Smith

Michael Schreyer, born in Leipzig in 1939, studied business administration at the Goethe University in Frankfurt. He was the manager of a textile firm until 1988, then became a consultant for businesses and non-profit organizations. He also works in individual coaching, seminars and lecturing about the anthroposophical social impulse.