* Towards Social Renewal: Rethinking the Basis of Society

Rudolf Steiner, 1919 (GA 23); Trans: M. Barton

Available at Rudolf Steiner Press.

The Threefold Nature of Social Life

For Rudolf Steiner social life has a threefold structure. He was not the first to observe this. In their different ways and according to the times they lived in, so did Plato, Montesquieu and Comte. Not to mention the ancient differentiation between body, soul and spirit. But Steiner was the first to see that the form this threefoldness takes today is of three distinct realms (spiritual life, rights life, and economic life) each characterised by a different principle – liberty equality and fraternity – as anticipated at the time of the French Revolution. Further, the scope of the three realms is different: spiritual life is universal, rights life pertains to a people or a nation, and economic life is global.

Steiner’s conception was that, in order to be true to itself, each realm would need to be autonomous of the other two, but that the diverse logics of their mutual autonomy would lead them to cohere as a new, articulated rather than monolithic, unity.

In the 100 years since he published his book* – in English, variously called The Threefold State, The Threefold Social Order, Towards Social Renewal, but literally The Key Points of the Social Question – Steiner’s analysis has stood the test of time, losing none of its relevance. But the dynamic for change is not the same. Today, the most-needed change has to begin in economic life, and especially in the way we understand and deal with money, which for Rudolf Steiner has always been and can only be a form of bookkeeping.