by Sebastian Bilbao
I have been drawn to explore Steiner’s Social ideas because of the repeated
missed opportunities that humanity has had to introduce lasting harmonious
change in society. This essay will attempt to present how Steiner’s threefold
social paradigm is timeless and universal and can be applied at any time,
especially at times of chaos.
The Three Spheres
There are many examples of works aiming at comparing structures found in
nature to those forming our society, yet these merely look for patterns that
make their physical manifestations similar. Instead, Steiner proposes that if
each individual learned to be aware of the forces that structure nature and
then used them to transform the world, society would structure itself in a
healthy way just as nature does.
Steiner points out that not a single organ, (entity, force, sphere, etc), in the
human body has complete authority over the rest. Furthermore, harmonious
life unfolds as a perpetual collaboration between these organs, their functions
and processes. For example, the brain might sense the need and decide to
relocate the body for a compelling external reason, yet the brain is not
consciously involved in either adapting the blood circulation or breathing for
the ensuing actions or controlling the motor actions needed to move the body.
This brief action would unfold by a decentralized cooperation between the
pertinent systems, each without interfering with the internal affairs of the
other. If one allowed the brain to control every single motor action to execute
this manoeuvre, one would notice how contrived the process becomes and
might even loose balance and fail to complete the action.
The core of effective threefoldness in healthy living organisms lies in the
absence of a single centralized controlling entity in the whole. From Steiner's
works one could generalize that the free flow of elemental forces through
individuals and their social bodies favours the healthy evolution of conditioned
existence. Attempts to centralize or control these forces result in imbalances,
which could threaten the existence of the living forms channeling these forces.
In his book, Riddles of the Soul, Steiner explains how the three soul forces –
thinking, feeling and willing – relate to the three systems of the human body –
head, rhythmic and metabolic – and in a later book, Towards Social Renewal,
he segues these concepts to also reveal the threefold structure in society. In
the attached schematic and following paragraphs are descriptions of the three
spheres, correlated between the human body and the social body.
1) Nervous & Sensory System relates to the Economic Sphere
This sphere’s emphasis is on perceiving the external. With the nervous
system we sense our body and the offerings of the world and discriminate
how to react to them. Through the economy we perceive our needs and what
is available and determine if they are beneficial and attainable.
2) Rhythmic System relates to the Rights Sphere (Civil & Political Life)
Here the emphasis is on interfacing with the external or other. By breathing
air and circulating blood, the rhythmic system regulates how we integrate
external resources into our bodies. Similarly, the rights body establishes
social patterns for people to integrate each other into a society.
3) Metabolic System relates to the Cultural Sphere (Individual Talents)
Here the emphasis is on transforming the world. The metabolic system alters
the world via bodily processes such as digestion or kinaesthetic actions that
allow for physical participation in the world. Through this sphere individuals
deliver their unique transformative contributions to the social body, evolving
the physical world and human consciousness.
When these three spheres coexist in harmony then society can benefit from
formative life forces and freely develop each sphere and society as a whole to
its full potential.
The Social Body in Historical Context
Although these three spheres are inherent constants in humanity, they have
been active in a subconscious level. Steiner brings them to consciousness at
a time when humanity is gaining the potential to become collectively aware of
this social paradigm and benefit from the free cooperation of these spheres.
Just as in any developing organism, these spheres have gone through
developmental stages where a sphere would become dominant eclipsing the
others. When tracking the threefold paradigm along a Post-Atlantean
Development Chart we can observe how there have been periods where a
sphere has dominated the other two.
From the ancient Indian and Persian periods up to the Egyptian period, the
social body was dominated by the Cultural Sphere, producing societies that
revolved around the Gods, Nature and the sensing of these. The success of
Agriculture gave humanity the will to control nature and the focus on the Gods
began to fade. Hence the Cultural Sphere was freed from theocratic control
allowing new creative life forces to enter, through it, into the social body.
These new forces evolved the collective sentient and intellectual souls,
peaking in the Greco-Roman period where the Gods are made obsolete, and
thinking is advanced, producing: Logic, Algebra, Physics, Drama, Sculpture,
Architecture, etc. Social and individual awareness result, deriving democracy,
citizenship, and complex judicial systems; at this point the Rights Sphere
becomes dominant. The last impulses of these freed-Cultural-Sphere forces
bring us the Renaissance, Enlightenment and the US constitution.
Our modern economy arises during the above mentioned periods where
thinking and sensing develop a symbiotic relationship in which the intellectual
soul becomes devoted to satisfy the sentient soul, drawing the Ego away from
its spiritual connections and focusing its awareness in the physical. This
insatiable relationship escalates to our current paradigm where the Economic
Sphere dominates the whole social body and the Ego is dislocated into a
reactive entity fuelling the economy without much insight, unable to draw from
To this day, scientific thinking is still to be freed from the Economic Sphere to
deliver its spiritual contribution. Quantum physics, describing the physical
world as a probability or even an illusion, gives us a glimpse of what science
could offer when operating out of its own impulses; paradoxically, threatening
the symbiotic relationship between the intellectual and sentient souls which
could bring about the next shift in the social body.
Two important episodes catapult the Economic Sphere to dominate the whole
Social Body. First is the massive influx of Silver from the newly discovered
American continent allowing the European Economy to open vast markets
and evolve into a complex monetary system. Second is the Industrial
Revolution, which is still in an adolescent stage, and has deprived the social
body from developing freely and is poised to transform the world beyond
anything we can imagine today.
Steiner points out that, since the Industrial Revolution is derived from scientific
and materialistic thinking, spiritual forces would be lost with it. Hence the
Social question is born as a quest for the lost spirituality by those who operate
the machines. These workers, who used to have their lives relatively well
represented within all three social spheres, are now cut off from tapping into
forces inherent to the rights and cultural spheres. While all other members of
society retain some contact to the spiritual, the industrial worker is immersed
in an intellectual-machine world, this becoming his/her only reality of the
world. The industrial worker then turns very class conscious and only
responds to material circumstances. Pivotal is the fact that Capitalism
equates the worker as another commodity disregarding the identity of the
worker. So Socialism and Communism are then born as the first movements
purely based on thought aiming to exclusively control the world with the
intellect, and thus unable to perceive the spiritual components in art, religion,
morality, law and most other functions of society.
Another notable social movement is the French Revolution, which with its
paradigm of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity seems to approach the threefold
social order, yet Steiner points out that this movement failed because the
spheres are to remain independent of each other and no sphere should try to
develop aspects that should originate from others. Unfortunately, the French
revolutionaries envisioned the State as the provider of all three spheres.
Possibly only the Iroquois confederation of nations has been the most
successful deployment of the threefold social order. It maintained a
decentralized society where social, economic and warfare and other issues
where dealt by different chiefs administering different spheres of their society.
By the onset of WWI the Capitalist economy becomes global, fuelled by the
insatiable sentient soul and a new ego bearing entity: the corporation; which
in its infant stage, plunders the cultural and right spheres along with any other
worldly resource that could be marketed to humans.
Stagnant forces in the Economic Sphere compounded with the lack of free
participation of the other two spheres remains the main prognosis in our
current paradigm. Capital, representing the vehicle to advance society and
transform the world is kept from flowing properly. Below are some causes for
these blockages, and solutions for treating them to unleash a dynamic
threefold social body.
Issues & Solutions
Abolish nepotism: businesses to be handed down to most qualified
person chosen by the cultural sphere, not hereditary lines. Businesses
belong to the Cultural sphere’s heritage.
Self-aware economy: modern economy is solely concerned with
generating profits via the production of goods, disregarding the whole
social body. It will be required to constantly find the best production
method for the type of consumption, best channels from producers to
consumers and best managers chosen from the Cultural sphere
preventing stagnant economic monopolies.
Wealth should be redistributed into the cultural sphere to
maintain a fluid social body. Hereditary lines should receive
adequate funds stipulated by the Cultural sphere.
Property ownership should not be perpetuated without giving it
a purposeful use. Property needs to be administered to avoid
Evolving Laws: the rights sphere should refrain from both, creating
speculative laws and relying on precedent cases. Each case’s unique
characteristics and context should be studied independently allowing
for a dynamic Rights Sphere.
Capital availability: better access to capital so that uncovered
products and services reach the Social Body where they belong. Fair
access to capital regulated by the Cultural Sphere (community) not the
Currency Issuance: the state should pass the task of currency
issuance to the administrative bodies of the Economic Sphere. The
currency’s value would be pegged to the conceived goods and services
and their inherent value.
The state at the helm of society: currently the state mandates the
exclusion of anything that does not have value to society or the
economy. This mandate will never exert the vitality or free will needed
to advance the social body. State education prepares humans to
become citizens of that moment’s socio economic scenario, when in
fact education should unleash the human potential to advance society
beyond that current scenario.
Electoral System: society has been perceived as a single unit
offering poor electoral resolution. Each sphere needs to have its own
Remove Labour from Economic sphere: labour belongs to the Rights
Sphere and the product to the Economic Sphere. Removing labour from
the realm of economic commodities would restore the identity of the
worker and reconnect the worker with the produced goods or services
as a rightful partner. Wages are transformed into actual participation on
the returns of the worker and manager, taking the entire Social Body
into account in this new agreement.
Administering law: laws are to be created in the Rights sphere but
implemented by the Cultural sphere. Once terms are established
between parties there is no longer need to involve the rights sphere but
by member of the community.
A sensory organ to identify capital stagnation.
World Wide Balance Sheet: it is a single-finite planet; it should
be possible to balance all the accounting books in the planet.
Government Balance Sheets: require states to carry balance
sheets and operate within their budgets; avoid printing
themselves out of debt.
Right price: in which the real value of the company expenditures, raw
materials and livelihood of those involved in the production of goods or
services is accounted for. This is the only process to correct deficits
Spending taxation: prevent off shore tax evasion by collecting taxes
at the geographic location of capital spending.
Consolidate Systems: move towards a Global Central Bank, Global Currency, national rights and cosmopolitan culture in an attempt to
eliminate stagnating redundancies in all three spheres.
The Corporation will be an Ego bearing entity: Our collective
consciousness needs to become global to enable the creation a new
kind of legal persona for these new beings to incarnate an ego
properly. Currently corporations are transitioning through their Astral
developmental stage and soon will incarnate an ego. Corporations can
only operate if they feel globally, act nationally and transform
Media Consciousness: media still to deliver the power to
communicate and deliver individual culture to society. It is currently
unfolding from a passive collective consciousness platform into an
active emitter of forces. Social Transformation is ripe to happen via uncentralized
media as it has been demonstrated by Obama’s election
and regime changes in the Muslim World.
Legal focus on economic: most illegal actions are prosecuted when
economic spheres are threatened. If a vagabond disturbs a retailer, he
is kicked out but if he also steals then he is thrown to jail.
The Year of Social Threefolding; 1919
During the interim months from the end of WWI and the signing of the
Versailles Peace Treaty we find central Europe in limbo and great social
unrest. This situation was a call for social evolution from the dominant
influences of communism and capitalism. And so in the midst this disrepair,
Steiner prolifically revealed a social paradigm with the hopes of influencing
the restructuring of Europe after WWI.
The urgency of those crucial moths prompted one of the most active moments
Anthroposophy has ever seen, with several attempts to implement its principles into society. Expectedly, Steiner introduced Social Threefolding in
a threefold manner by evenly addressing all three spheres of society. The
below time line shows how Steiner surged to deploy change through this
narrow window of opportunity.
1917 Riddles of the Soul, by R. Steiner, where the threefold nature of
the human being is first presented, i.e., thinking = nerve/sense, feeling
= rhythmic and willing =metabolic/limb.
1917 Count Otto Lerchenfeld, Cabinet Minister of the government of
Bavaria asks Steiner for ideas to commence WWI peace negotiations.
1917 Steiner gains a small audience of Austrian and German officials
and talks to Wilsonians about individual self-determinism instead of
Jan & Oct 1918 Prince Max von Baden, last chancellor of Imperial
Germany engages Steiner on Social Three Folding conversations.
11 November 1918 World War I cease-fire. Germany experiences the
proclamation of several Wilsonian and Communist regions and city
states, all abolished by German army.
January 1919 Emil Molt, Roman Boos and Hans Kühn from Stuttgart
approach Steiner to implement Social Threefolding practices to their
industrial holding company.
Feb 2nd, 1919 Year of Social Three Folding is proclaimed and started.
Steiner lectures on the subject based on the threefold nature of the
human being resulting in book The Threefold Commonwealth.
March 1919 Steiner prints and disseminates the appeal To the German
People and the Civilized World, which is then endorsed by leading
personalities from the German cultural world.
April 1919 An association of commercial organizations springs up
attempting to implement the social three folding practices.
23 April 1919 preparations for a school at Emil Molt’s Cigarette
company start; the school opens on September 7th that same year.
Spring 1919 Steiner prepares the Memoirs of General Hemuth von
Moltke, Chief of German General Staff at the outbreak of WWI, to avert
Germany taking solely all the blame for the war as the Versailles Peace
Conference demanded. This was an attempt to avoid Germany from
further disenfranchising and falling into extreme nationalism. The
initiative was blocked by the then current General Staff.
June 28, 1919 Versailles Peace Treaty is signed along Wilsonian
national self-determination terms, effectively fracturing central Europe
into several new states.
Fall 1919 All social initiatives started this year fade; only the Waldorf
School survives to the present day.
Although Steiner developed these concepts with a specific time period in
mind, he intentionally gave little detail on how to implement them so they
could remain timeless and universal. Unfortunately, this deliberate action has
gained threefoldedness a permanent utopian connotation with those who
have not gained a spiritual understanding of the world. Nevertheless as
human consciousness evolves, opportunities continue to arise to deploy a
healthy conscious social organism.
by Sebastian Bilbao
Paul Hodgkins and Wendy Brown
Foundation Studies in Anthroposophy 2010-11
Rudolf Steiner Center Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Rudolf Steiner, Basic Issues of the Social Question (aka: The Threefold Commonwealth, The Threefold Social Order, Towards Social Renewal, 1923).
Riddles of the Soul ,1919.
Christopher Houghton Budd, PhD Banking; BA Economic History
Lectures to the Spanish Anthroposophical Society,
“The Ego and the Economy” Barcelona, 2007 http://www.christopherhoughtonbudd.com