The Threefold Social Order

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With the end of the First World War in 1918 Rudolf Steiner finally began to speak openly to try to transform the revelation of man’s deep being, as a basis for threefolding the social organism. From our perspective, Rudolf Steiner made a Herculean effort to launch a major social movement. He wrote, he spoke, he lectured, he gave training courses, he gave general and specific advice and founded socially active institutions. This was all done to launch a movement for social renewal. This movement for the renewal of the social organism failed to all outer observations even if it was deemed a necessary effort by Rudolf Steiner. This failure led to Rudolf Steiner’s willingness to help unfold the Waldorf Educational Movement. The hope was that the educational movement could remedy the failure of the renewal of the social organism. It appears that not so many of the educators in the Waldorf School Movement are aware of this goal of Rudolf Steiner’s. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, in his lectures, speaks directly to the lack of understanding for Rudolf Steiner’s goal and the lack of able souls to take up the task.

The failure of the Threefold Movement suggests that there were not those around Rudolf Steiner who could translate his presentation of ideas into social deeds. If we look at the history of the anthroposophical activities in this century, it is possible to think that this jewel, the ordering of the social process, awaits its real appreciation and splendid revelation. This is said not so much as a critical statement but as a comment on a factual reality. One of the reasons for this effort at writing is to help bring some consciousness to bear on this subject.

What we can see is that the threefolding of the human organism is a Goethean scientific work that was undertaken by Rudolf Steiner. There have been a good number who have worked at the same effort to threefold the human organism, starting with the physical body. Success can not be claimed, but an ongoing effort on the part of students of anthro- posophy can be sited. One of the great difficulties is the materialistic thrust of our day where the body is seen as the only reality of human existence. The mind or soul is relegated to the functioning of the neural system. For most of the anatomists and physiologists of our day, the human soul functions are epiphenomena of the physiological functions of the brain and the nerves. To speak of a soul as an independent entity in the existences of this world is an insult to science. The mind-body movement in our scientific world is divided among those who are monists, that is neural-functionalists, and dualists. The latter like to speak of consciousness and speak of consciousness as a deeper strata of the mind. It is the eastern influence which seeks this latter approach. Some in the modern mind-body movement look to intelligence, cosmic intelligence, as a soul like function that belongs to the larger, universal existence around us. The monistic and dualistic thinking of our day can also be found among the students of anthroposophy, as anthroposophists do not live in isolation. Rudolf Steiner’s indication to look for a threefolding of man, to comprehend body, soul and spirit, is no easy indication, and the science to pursue another approach to man is still in its early phases. How far anthroposophists have gotten in a Goetheanistic approach to man’s organism might be judged from the simple fact that our work with Goetheanistic science, as Rudolf Steiner has evolved it from the time of Goethe, is still at its beginning.

When it comes to carrying over the knowledge of threefold man to the practical application in social life, we are at an even earlier phase of anthroposophical activity. We are hardly at a beginning. Much will have to be done to try to awaken the capacity to translate our knowledge of man’s threefold organization into a workable approach to the social life of mankind. It does appear, however, that there is a very small growing consciousness for this important activity within those active in the anthroposophical movement. In order to try to contribute to this beginning effort, I thought I might try to share some of my thoughts that have come as a result of many years of effort in this direction. The effort will be to share some life observations in relation to the human being, and not take up the extremely difficult task of coming to the threeness of the human organism.

Let me first, however, comment on the threefolding of the human organism as this has been a many year task as well. My work with the human organism became a serious concern immediately after a conversation with Ehrenfried Pfeiffer in the early fifties. He shared his conversations with Rudolf Steiner to the effect that what he, Rudolf Steiner, found lacking among anthroposophists was knowledge of anatomy and physiology. He stated that he could not give a deeper anthroposophy because of this. This awoke my interest in the subject, aside from the fact that as a physician a knowledge of both anatomy and physiology are of considerable importance. Rudolf Steiner’s indication for such a study was that anthroposophists should be able to keep a double entry system. One side of the ledger should contain the indications about anatomy and physiology taken from science. The other side of the ledger should contain indications that he, Rudolf Steiner, has given forth from his spiritual scientific researches. If this double ledger task is undertaken, then each anthroposophist as researcher can come to his or her own synthesis.

Having done this type of double entry for the last forty years, I can say that the human organism can appear in a totally different light than is usual. However, there is great resistance to such knowledges among those who are knowledgeable in the sphere of the human organism, and those who are not. Anyone who takes up the Lectures to the Workmen by Rudolf Steiner will be able to see for himself how much more open Rudolf Steiner was with the workman who did not have the biases of modern day education. There Rudolf Steiner is often quite imaginative and fantasy sharing. With the workmen he could share about matters pertaining to the human organism that he could not do with more educated or more intellectually trained individuals. In our day, the knowledge concerning the make up of man, as a physical functional, emotional being, has become far more common and far more materialistic. In Rudolf Steiner’s time, the effort that was made was to present the make up of man for the more trained individual in a more conventional and abstract fashion. For the intellectual, he carved his organics in far more abstract idea form. The keeping of a double ledger for learning permits a mingling of the abstract of our scientific knowledges with a more imaginative spiritual scientific content given out of a spiritual science. This can live in the soul as a very stimulating and challenging exercise to find the links that can live, while paying due respect to the science of our time.