Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Threefold Social Order

The Threefold Social Order is a holistic, human orientated, view of society developed by Rudolf Steiner developed during the difficult financial period following the first world war.

In Steiner's view society is divided into three areas of activity:

Some people have skills and some people have a need for those skills. The role of economics is to match these up with each other for the betterment of human beings.
The principal value in the economic sphere is: brotherhood and cooperation

This is activity which works with the spiritual development of individuals including spirituality but also wider cultural activity like art, music and other areas of creativity.
In order to develop, each individual must be free to think for themselves. Steiner covered this in his major philosophical work “The Philosophy of Freedom” which proposes the concept of the ethical individualist.
The principal value in the cultural and spiritual sphere is: freedom

This is the work of the state and the law, which is required to hold society together. However, the state must act in a just way.
The principal value in the political sphere is: equality

These three principal values mirror the motto of France which originated during the French revolution: Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

For society to function healthily the three areas of activity (economics, culture and politics)  need to be held in balance.If one dominates then society will not function properly.

For example:

Under a communist or fascist system where the state is dominant there is no freedom and the economic system can not match needs with skills. This incorrect balance can stop society from functioning properly.

Under a capitalist system which puts heavy emphasis on economics and profit culture and spirituality will be squeezed out and equality will be threatened as the ability to access certain things is governed by how much money someone has.

In an anarchistic or libertarian system where there is freedom to do as the individual pleases, without any ethical consideration then equality and cooperation will be reduced and society will not function well enough to produce the food and other resources needed for survival.

The threefold social order seeks to hold the three spheres of activity in balance so that no one of them dominates and each can support the other. At the heart of this is the ethical individualist taking responsibility for his own actions in those spheres through the correct use of money, ensuring his own spiritual and cultural development and upholding equality. These values can be seen in the various anthroposophical initiatives in education, social care and banking.

The challenge of social threefolding is that it puts the emphasis for the welfare of society back on the individuals within it. It does not seek answers from government, but from each member of society. For that reason it is impossible to fit the concept within existing political structures. It is neither socialist or capitalist, neither left or right wing, neither liberal or conservative. It is, however, a concept which matches modern society’s move towards individuals rather than communities. The threefold social order may provide a framework within which individuals can act to improve the way that society works without formal political structures and without the vagueness of the recent "occupy movement".