An Introduction to Social Three-folding


The Threefold Social Organism: An Introduction

By Stephen E. Usher, Ph.D.

A  good historian could take us back to the early part of the 20th Century  when Rudolf Steiner developed his idea of the Threefold Social  Organism.  By 1917, when the idea was first articulated in his two  Memoranda, the Great War was in its third year, a war like nothing  humanity had ever experienced.  They called it “total war” because it  consumed the entire energy of the populations in the warring nations.   And it consumed more than energy; it consumed lives.  Upwards of 20  million were dead by the armistice on November 11, 1918 and another 20  million were wounded.  It was a time of tremendous questioning and  debate about the right way to organize modern social life.  The western  capitalist model was being challenged by socialist movements and by the  communist revolution in Russia (1917).  Workers chained to the harsh  environment of smoke belching factories were yearning for a better life,  and by the millions they read the writings of Karl Marx.  Rosa  Luxemburg had organized the Spartacus League in Germany and was  agitating for a communist revolution to parallel the disaster enacted by  the Bolsheviks in Russia.  Capitalist businessmen were at their wits’  end trying to understand what would constitute the future structure of  Germany.  Rudolf Steiner introduced his great threefold idea in this  fiery milieu, when many people really wrestled with the riddle of how  best to organize human society.  His efforts left their mark on historic  documents.  For example, Raymond G. Fuller reviewed Steiner’s seminal Towards Social Renewal, in a full-page article in the January 14, 1923 edition of the New York Times Book Review under the title “New Scheme of Social Organization.”

The  intensity of questioning died down during the course of the 20th  Century, but, as we enter the 21 Century, symptoms of social turmoil and  discontent are reaching such a pitch that real striving for better ways  of organizing social life is emerging again.  Perhaps this will lead to  re-examination of Rudolf Steiner’s Threefold Social Organism. 

Three Domains Of Social Activity

Rudolf Steiner developed the idea between 1917 and 1922.  The core concept recognizes three domains of human social activity: economic, legal, and cultural.   Steiner maintained that the health of human society depended on an  adult population that understood the characteristics of each domain and  could thereby organize society so that each domain enjoyed independence  and autonomy.  In an early characterization Steiner said the three  domains should be as independent from one another as national states  interacting by way of treaties.

Economic life concerns  transforming what nature provides in the mineral, plant, and animal  kingdoms into commodities that meet human needs.  From the threefold  perspective, economic activity should be organized and carried out in  the spirit of brotherhood with the objective of meeting the needs of all human beings on the planet.

Rudolf  Steiner maintained that the entire economic life was encompassed by  what he called the “Law of True Price.”  He formulated the law in these  words: “A true price is forthcoming when a man receives, as  counter-value for the product he has made, an amount sufficient to  enable him to satisfy the whole of his needs, including of course the  needs of his dependents, until he will again have completed a like  product.”  

 To  understand the law requires serious study.  In this introduction only a  few pointers can be offered.  First, it is essential to remove an error  in economic thinking -- the concept of “wages.”  Steiner maintained the  idea of wages, i.e. paying people for their labor, is an illusion.  In  reality all real labor produces something of value, and the worker is  paid for this value.  Consequently, to properly perceive the economic  life, it is necessary to picture each wage earner as actually running a  little business that creates value and to interpret the wage as the  price paid for the value.  When wages are included among other prices  then it is possible to apply the Law of True Price.   

A  second pointer is to observe that the formula speaks of the future, and  states that true price allows the participants in the economic life to  meet their needs for the time required to reproduce the value.  It seems  evident that if this is not the case, if people could not meet their  needs for a sufficient time to reproduce the value, then eventually the  economic process would beak down.  

The  formula also includes the challenging term “needs” which leads to the  obvious question of determining them.  It should be noted that the idea  of needs was far more transparent in 1922 when Steiner formulated the  law.  Since then the enormous forces of commercial psychology and  advertising have conspired to manipulate needs and transform them into  desires.  For a good discussion of this very significant and sinister  transformation of civilization see the film Century of the Self by  Adam Curtis which describes, in particular, the work of Freud’s nephew,  Bernays, who was the father of public relations and manipulative  advertising.    The basic point is there are real needs that can be made visible when  the impact of powerful subliminal manipulation is weeded out of the  soul. 

In  Steiner’s picture of the economic domain, associations of the economic  life collect price data and use a combination of market forces and other  policy tools to keep prices true. 

The middle realm of the threefold social organism is the legal domain (also called the political or rights domain).  Its role is to establish laws that govern the behavior of all adults equally.   From the threefold perspective this domain is exclusively about human  rights and, in particular, there is no room here for business entities.   From this it follows that there is no place in the legal domain for  corporations as legal persons.  Regulation of business life is a matter  for associations of the economic life.  Political questions concerning  human rights and obligations are the sole subject matter of the  political\rights domain.  The laws formulated in this domain should be  formulated independent of economic concerns and power.  This means that  economic resources should play no role in deciding the rights, laws and  obligations of human beings.  Once rights and laws have been established  society must have the power to enforce them and, consequently, police  power belongs to the legal domain.  To the extent that it is necessary  to defend the rights from foreign intrusion, military power also belongs  here.  

Culture,  in the widest sense, is about the cultivation and recognition of human  capacities.  Human capacities are the spiritual endowments that rain in  upon the earth with the births of new human beings.  Finding the best  way of unfolding these capacities is the task of the cultural domain.   The key ingredient for this is freedom.   The archetypal picture of this freedom-in-operation is the teacher with  his students.  In unfolding this relationship only the spiritual/mental  faculties, feelings and insights of the teacher and students should  come into play.  Steiner described this freedom in a newspaper article:

                 “[The  cultural life] aims at a form of cooperation among men to be based  entirely on the free intercourse and free association of individuality  with individuality.  Here human individuality will not be forced into an  institutional mold.  How one person assists another, how one helps  another advance will simply arise from what one, through his own  abilities and accomplishments, is able to be for the other.  It is no  great wonder that presently many people are still able to imagine  nothing but a state of anarchy as a result of such a free form of human  relations in the social order’s spiritual-cultural branch.  Those who  think so simply do not know what powers of man’s innermost nature are  hindered from expanding when man is forced to develop in the pattern  into which the state and economic system mold him.  Such powers, deep  within human nature, cannot be developed by institutions, but only  through what one being calls forth in perfect freedom from another  being.”

This  passage makes clear that no laws or regulations should be formulated  about how or what a teacher should teach.  The how and what of teaching  is a purely cultural matter and is the providence of colleges of  teachers interacting on the basis of freedom in the cultural domain.   Similarly, economic power should in no way be allowed to determine how  cultural life is conducted.  

In  addition to education the cultural life encompasses all of science,  art, religion, medicine, and the working of judges.  Each of these areas  is about human capacity.  Artistic endeavor concerns the capacity to  transform nature into sensory experiences that awaken spiritual ideals,  even beauty; religion concerns – among other capacities - the capacity  of reverence; medicine the capacity for recognizing and tending illness;  the work of judges deals with the capacity for weighing truth with  criminality.  Inventing and innovation are actually part of cultural  life too.  The aspect of banking and finance concerned with recognizing  individuals whose developed capacities make them able to manage capital  is likewise part of cultural life.  

All  of these activities require freedom and competition among human beings  of capacity, allowing the most talented to rise to the top.  The notion  that competition belongs in economic life is a confusion that arises  because part of cultural life is mistakenly viewed by our civilization  as economic.  What our civilization views as business competition in  product development and innovation is the same sort of activity that  takes place in a competition for the first chair violin in an  orchestra.  In other words, it is an activity of the free cultural  life.  It is this confusion that has led to the erroneous idea that  economic life is about competition.

 Equally  erroneous is the association of freedom with the economic life.  In  reality a deep and dense network of dependencies characterizes economic  life.  These become particularly visible when disaster strikes.  For  example, the bankruptcy of a large automobile manufacturer spreads a  wave of damage and hurt in ever widening circles.  First to loose their  livelihoods are those who work for the manufacturer.  As the wave  expands the suppliers to the automobile manufacturer and the car  dealerships feel the pain of reduced income or bankruptcy.  The circle  of people who have lost their jobs or who have significantly lower  incomes, of course, spends less as consumers, and this affects all the  people whose activity was supplying these consumer needs, e.g. town  merchants in the affected area, etc.  It was Steiner’s insight that  brotherly cooperation and interdependence was the true quality that  should rule these densely interdependent networks in order that  everyone’s needs might be met.  The notion that people are free agents  in this realm belies the fact that each person is tied by innumerable  threads into a complex network that demands he perform the tasks  required by the needs of others.  Brotherhood is about brotherly  interdependence.  That characterizes economic life.

Incompatible Qualities

The three qualities, freedom, equality, brotherhood were the famous cry of the French Revolution: liberté, egalité, fraternité.   The cry was a symptom of humanity’s unconscious longing for a threefold  social organism.  Threefolding is necessary precisely because these  three ideals are incompatible.  For example, equality in all things  would mean that everybody should have a turn playing a Stradivarius violin in  the first chair of the Boston Philharmonic.  This would obviously lead  to many lousy concerts.  Similarly, freedom in all matters would mean  social sanctioning of theft and breaching of business contracts.   Brotherly interdependency in artistic matters would prevent great  novelists or inventors the liberties they often need to stimulate their  creativity.  The only way to resolve the incompatibility of the three  ideals of freedom, equality, and brotherhood is by threefolding the  social organism, thereby providing a domain where each quality is  exclusively exercised.  

It  was Steiner’s insight that society should be structured so that each of  the three domains had its own organization and autonomy and that the  domains would negotiate among themselves on matters of common concern.   In his original formulation in the “Memoranda of 1917” he pictured these  negotiations taking place in “[a] kind of senate that is elected from  the three corporate bodies, which have the task of ordering the  political-military, the economic, the judicial-pedagogical affairs…” As  an example of  such a negotiation, imagine what would happen if  citizens interacting based on equality in the legal domain enacted a law  that no person should be required to work more than 15 hours per week.   The economic domain would have to accept such a decision as it would a  fact of nature, e.g. the average rainfall in a region and its  implications for agricultural productivity.  But in the senate,  representatives of the economic domain would point out to  representatives of the legal domain that the total economic output would  be considerably smaller than if the rights state set maximum work at 40  hours.  Citizens in the rights domain might then reconsider their  decision, recognizing that everyone would have proportionately less to  consume, or they might decide that they preferred the extra leisure and  would be willing to reduce their needs accordingly.    Whatever was ultimately decided in the rights sphere about the work  week would be accepted by the economic domain as an operating constraint  just as the farmer must accept the rainfall nature provides.  

One-Fold Theocracy to Threefold Organism: The Evolution of Consciousness

This  introduction would be incomplete without a look at the world prior to  the time when threefolding was a hygienic necessary.  Steiner points to  the origins of the legal foundation that is a pre-requisite for a  functioning modern market economy.  When did laws and rights originate?   How did we get to the point where we had a system of property rights  and dispute resolution?  The answer takes us back to ancient Rome.  That  is when human beings first established real laws.  They actually  developed two systems of law: one system for relationships between Roman  citizens and another for relationships between citizens and  non-citizens.  The Romans also introduced the idea of a last will and  testament.  It was an extraordinary innovation that allowed a person to  determine what happened to objects on earth after his death.  Before  Rome, such an idea was unknown.  So it can be stated that the ideas of  law and rights were born in Rome; that is the time and place of the  origin of the middle domain of the threefold organism. 

Before  Rome, civilizations were quite different.  For instance, consider  ancient Egypt.  It was a theocracy, a world where the pharaoh, a  priest-king, ruled over the religious life, the legal life, and the  economic life.  Thus the religious life encompassed the entire society  and was led by the pharaoh who, at least in the Old Kingdom, was  considered a god.  This god held absolute sway over all legal questions  and his judgments were seen as true because they were the judgments of a  god.  He also ruled over economic affairs.
Steiner  held that in very ancient times economic life was organized  instinctively.  He states, “Certain social conditions obtained among men  – caste forming and class forming conditions – and the relations  between man and man which arose out of these conditions had the power to  shape instincts for the way in which the individual must play his  particular part in economic life.  These things were very largely  founded on the impulses of the religious life, which in those ancient  times were still of such a kind as to aim simultaneously at the ordering  of economic affairs. …In those early times, the question of labor, or  of the social circulation of labor values did not arise.  Labor was  performed in a certain sense instinctively.  Whether one man was to do  more or less never became a pressing question, at least not a pressing  public question, in pre-Roman times.”

Roman  civilization witnessed the separation of the once unified theocratic  order into a religious-cultural sphere and a legal one.  The idea of the  citizen with rights was born.  Related to this was the legal status of  the citizen’s labor.  Of course, slaves who had no rights carried much  of the labor in Ancient Rome.  Ideas about labor rights continued to  develop through Roman times and into the Middle Ages and indeed into our  own time.  

As  labor became emancipated a new problem emerged: human egoism.  While  labor was governed by religious organizations that saw to it that human  beings were “fruitfully placed in the social organism” egoism could do  no harm.  But as labor rights became emancipated from the theocratic  order, humanity had to deal with selfishness.  Steiner stated:  “[H]umanity strives … unconsciously to come to grips with Egoism … and  in the last resort, this striving culminates in nothing else than modern  Democracy – the sense for the equality of man- the feeling that each  must have his influence in determining legal rights and in determining  the labor which he contributes.”

Milestones  on the road to democracy include the Magna Carta (1215), the first  elected English Parliament (1265), the British Bill of Rights (1689),  the American Revolution (1775-1781), and the French Revolution  (1789-1799).  While functioning democracies were emerging another major  event occurred: the scientific revolution (16th and 17th Centuries).   According to Steiner, it came about because human beings underwent a  metamorphosis of consciousness, i.e. human consciousness evolved.  The  idea that human consciousness has undergone an evolution during historic  time is part of Steiner’s worldview, which is considered radical by  orthodox science.  Steiner described the shift in consciousness that  first manifested in the leading figures of the scientific revolution: 

 “The  picture of nature is no longer drawn in a manner that allows thought to  be felt in it as a power revealed by nature.  Out of this picture of  nature, every trait that could be felt as only a product of  self-consciousness gradually vanishes.  Thus, the creations of  self-consciousness and the observation of nature are more and more  abruptly contrasted, separated by a gulf.  From Descartes onward a transformation of the soul organizationbecomes  discernible that tends to separate the picture of nature from the  creations of the self-consciousness.  With the sixteenth century a new  tendency in the philosophical life begins to make itself felt.  While in  the preceding centuries thought had played the part of an element,  which, as a product of self-consciousness, demanded its justification  through the world picture, since the sixteenth century it proves to be  clearly and distinctly resting solely on its own ground in the  self-consciousness.  Previously, thought had been felt in such a manner  that the picture of nature could be considered a support for its  justification; now it becomes the task of this element of thought to  uphold the claim of its validity through its own strength.  The  significance of the transformation of the soul life can be realized if  one considers the way in which philosophers of nature, like H. Cardanus  (1501-1576) and Bernardinus Telesius (1508-1588) still spoke of natural  processes.  In them a picture of nature still continued to show its  effect and was to lose its power through the emergence of the mode of  conception of the natural science of Copernicus, Galileo and others.   Something still lives in the mind of Cardanus of the processes of  nature, which he conceives as similar to those of the human soul.  Such  an assertion would also have been possible to Greek thinking.  Galileo  is already compelled to say that what man has as the sensation of warmth  within himself, for instance, exists no more in external nature than  the sensation of tickling that a man feels when the sole of his foot is  touched by a feather.  Telesius still feels justified to say that warmth  and coldness are the driving forces of the world process, and Galileo  must already make the statement that man knows warmth only as an inner  experience.”

Steiner’s  research into the evolution of consciousness reveals that the  above-described metamorphosis of human consciousness began about 1413.   What Steiner is saying is that prior to this change, human consciousness  experienced it’s own thinking as part of nature.  After the change,  consciousness no longer experiences thinking this way.  Rather thinking  is experienced as something private and apart from nature.  Descartes’  famous cogito ergo sum --“I  think therefore I am”-- epitomizes the new condition.  A consequence of  this change in consciousness was man’s new capacity to approach nature  as a detached and disinterested observer.  

The first historic symptom of the change in consciousness was the scientific revolution.   On the basis of newly discovered natural laws numerous  life-transforming inventions flowed into civilization.  The new  technology led to the technological revolution that  induced vast migrations from agrarian life into the cities and  factories.  One consequence: an economic life exhibiting deeper and  wider division of labor than had formerly existed began to take shape. 

This  division of labor had a significant implication: “Whoever works in a  social organism which is based on the division of labor never really  earns his income by himself; he earns it through the work of all the  participants in the social organism.”     This constitutes that interdependence that characterizes modern  economic life, an interdependence that needs to unfold in  brotherliness.  As these impulses of the new scientific consciousness  spread through humanity, an independent economic life, like an amoeba,  detaches itself from the legal and cultural domains.   This occurs as the depth and breath of economic interdependence intensifies. 

This  rapid survey of historic time illustrates that in very ancient times,  civilization was one-fold and dominated by a theocratic order.  When we  reach ancient Rome, the legal system began to manifest a separate  identity and the idea of the citizen with rights emerges.    Much later, during the 17 and 18th, the economic system begins to  exhibit an independent identity.  Steiner observes: “[I]n former epochs –  nay, even as late as the 15th and 16th century – economic questions  such as we have today did not even exist.”  

Lens and Diagnostic Tool

The  emergence of three independent domains of human social activity from an  ancient unified theocracy occurred more or less unconsciously.  In the  early part of the 20th Century Rudolf Steiner tried to call humanity’s  attention to the necessity of making this reality conscious and of  acting accordingly.  The history of his remarkable attempt to  re-structure post World War I Europe on the basis of this idea will be  described in the next section.  As that and subsequent attempts to make  the threefold idea the conscious organizing principal of some land on  the earth have so far failed, the threefold idea has never enjoyed a  laboratory where it could be worked out in practical life.  Nonetheless  the threefold idea can serve both as a lens and a diagnostic tool to view and understand the problems of contemporary civilization.  

 A  simple exercise is to read the news through this lens asking questions  like:  Which domain(s) of society is (are) involved?  Is there an issue  of unlawful interference  in one domain by another?  A common problem is commercial interests  (economic) attempting to influence legislation (rights) with the  intention of creating greater profits.  For example, the decision to go  to war with Iraq can be interpreted in this light, though there were, no  doubt, other factors at work as well.  Recall the preemptive war was  justified with the allegation that Iraq possessed weapons of mass  destruction.  But no WMDs were ever found.  On the other hand, it is now  known that big commercial enterprises made a fortune as war  contractors.  Often contracts were awarded without competitive bidding.   Evidence of significant over billing and substandard deliverables also  exists.  Regarding the big picture of the Iraq war, one senior  administration official is alleged to have stated the war was really  about oil, i.e. not about WMDs. 

As  another example, consider the news stories pointing to the toxicity of  GMO foods and the fact that a vast amount of food in the US contains GMO  substances without labeling.    Focusing the threefold lens on this issue reveals an unlawful  interference of commercial (economic) interests on the rights domain.   The evidence is that the majority of Americans want clear labeling of  GMO foods, but so far this has been prevented.  In Europe, until now,  GMO food must be clearly labeled.  

Another  interesting area to investigate is unlawful commercial interference  with cultural life.  This can occur, for example, when scientists  falsify or hide their findings for commercial gain.  Robert F. Kennedy,  Jr. exposed a startling example of this problem in his article “Deadly  Immunity,” published on in 2005. The findings of the tobacco litigation provide another example.

Focusing  the threefold lens on the 2008-housing crisis can be instructive.  The  kernel of the problem was that mortgage brokers allowed people to  purchase homes they could not afford.  This actually represents failure  of the internal regulation of the economic life itself.  From the  threefold perspective confusion exists because the agencies in our  society charged with regulating lending institutions are viewed as part  of the political sphere, e.g. Comptroller of the Currency, Federal  Reserve Bank, Office of Thrift Supervision, etc.  From a threefold  perspective, most of the functions of these agencies really constitute  aspects of the economic realm.  These agencies failed to perform their  functions, apparently at times under political pressure.    This political pressure represents unlawful interference with the  economic life.  Deeper exploration would probably reveal that economic  interests stood behind the political pressure.  Consequently, the matter  also apparently represents unlawful commercial interference with the  political life.  The consequence is the tremendous economic downturn of  2008-2009 and the enormous suffering that it implies.  

As  a final example, consider Internet regulation.  This includes the idea  of censoring certain content with filters.  What governments have in  mind includes filtering independent news sites.  Evidently, this is an  example of political domain interference with free cultural life. 
Wrestling  regularly with such questions develops the capacity to see what is  happening in society more clearly.  If sufficient numbers of people  would take up this exercise, the foundation would be laid for a true  threefolding in the future. 

Not Rehashing Plato’s Republic

In  addition to exercising a basic understanding of the threefold idea, it  is also necessary to answer some of the criticisms leveled against it.   One criticism is that Steiner’s idea amounts to nothing more than  repackaging the three estates from Plato’s Republic.   The three estates were the Philosophers who ruled, the warriors who  protected, and the artisans who composed the majority of the population  and who provided for the every day necessities.  The response to this  criticism is that other than the fact of three groups, Plato’s idea has  little in common with Steiner’s.  In Plato’s Republic each  person belongs to one group only.  In Steiner’s threefold social  organism each person participates in all three domains.  As consumers  everyone participates in the economic realm and not just by eating.   Adult consumers also participate in economic associations along with  distributors and producers to survey economic conditions and make  adjustments where necessary.  By contrast, the fact that Plato’s  philosophers eat does not make them part of the artisan estate and the  same is true of Plato’s warriors.  Another difference is found in the  way laws are formulated.  All adults participate on the basis of  equality in the domain of politics and rights in formulating laws that  apply equality to all human beings in Steiner’s threefold social  organism.  In contrast, in the Republic the  Philosophers carry this function.  Yet another contrast is this:  The  leading figures of the political life do not have exclusive overarching  responsibility for the guidance of the threefold social organism just  because it is threefold, and consequently its guidance arises from three separate centers each responsible for different functions.  In contrast the philosophers of the Republic are philosopher-kings, that is they are theocratic leaders of a still one-fold society.

Three Separate Centers: Comparison with the Human Organism

To  underscore the idea of three separate centers, Steiner often made use  of a comparison with the human organism.  The human organism can be  viewed as consisting of three distinct functional areas: the nerve and  sense faculties which Steiner also calls the head system; the rhythmic  system consisting of “respiration, blood circulation and everything  which expresses itself in the rhythmic processes of the human organism” ;  and the metabolic system which comprises all the organs and functions  serving metabolism.  He explains that these three systems “maintain the  total processes of the human organism” and “function with a certain  autonomy” with no absolute centralization.  

Not Capitalism, Socialism, or Communism

From  the fact (a) that each adult participates in each of the three domains  and (b) that Steiner’s threefold society has three distinct functional  areas each enjoying autonomy from the other, it should be evident that  Steiner is not rehashing Plato’s ideas.  It also should be made clear  that the threefold idea is different both from capitalism and socialism.   For example, Steiner maintained that the entrepreneur and business  manager uses capital like an extension of his arm.  Consequently, he  must have unhampered control over capital.  In this sense the threefold  idea is capitalist.  Indeed, Steiner considered the idea of state  control of capital – a key tenant of socialism and communism –  disastrous.  But Steiner did not think market mechanisms could  meaningfully allocate capital.  Rather he maintained that bankers and  other figures of the cultural life, who had developed the ability to  recognize which human beings had the capacity to use capital for the  benefit of the community, would place capital at their disposal.   Moreover, when these entrepreneur-managers reached a point in life when  they either no longer wished or were no longer able to manage capital,  it would be transferred to other capable hands. 

Steiner’s  threefold thinking also diverges from capitalism in that he placed  limits on private accumulation of wealth.   People of great capacity  would be entitled to a share of the profits that arose from the  enterprise they directed.  When they retired they would be entitled to  keep their fortune.  However, Steiner maintained that it was not to the  benefit of society that great fortunes pass endlessly from generation to  generation because it could easily come into unproductive hands that  would squander it.  He advised that great fortunes (e.g. over $10  million) should be governed by a kind of copyright law for fortunes.   Consequently, a certain time (e.g. 25 years) after the passing of the  person who accumulated a fortune, that fortune would be returned to the  cultural life as gift or placed in the hands of able business managers  to be re-deployed for the benefit of society.

To  capitalist critics that argue markets are the only efficient way to  allocate capital, it should be observed that markets no longer are the  exclusive means of allocating capital in the US, generally considered  the most capitalistic society.  Rather it is allocated by the seat of  the pants of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve and the Secretary of  the Treasury.  (Witness the trillions dropped from Bernanke’s helicopter  and Paulson’s legislation in 2008.)  Steiner’s idea contemplated a more  rational method of placing capital into the hands of people of capacity  and morality, who would use it for the general good of society. 

In  ending this introduction it should be observed that the Threefold  Social Organism is not a fantasy.  Rather it describes something which  already exists but in a muddled way.  What is really needed is a public  educated to the three domains.  Once consciousness of the three domains  lights up in sufficient numbers of people, a proper threefolding could  be brought about in a perfectly legal fashion.  There is no need to  speak of revolutions except in consciousness.  This would lead to the  three centers functioning according to their inherent qualities. 

No Utopia

It also should be stated that the emergence of a conscious threefolding would not produce a utopia because  problems and tensions constantly arise in social life.  What it would  produce is an organic way of dealing with the difficulties and tensions  before they become explosive.  Otto Lerchenfeld (1868-1938) asked Rudolf  Steiner the question that led to his formulating the Threefold idea.   In his memoir, Lerchenfeld records this thought: “[The Threefold Social  Organism] did not provide what was intended to become a definitive  solution of the social question, and could naturally not do this by  reason of the very nature of a living organism.  Nevertheless, there did  result out of this idea the way, the only straightforward way upon  which the social conditions, the social difficulties with their  eternally varying problems, might be guided again and again towards a  solution appropriate to the period, towards their curing.”


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  3. Rudolf Steiner, Towards Social Renewal, Rudolf Steiner Press, 1977.
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  5. Rudolf Steiner, The Social Future, Anthroposophic Press, 1972.
  6. Rudolf Steiner, The Esoteric Aspect of the Social Question; The Individual and Society, Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001.
  7. Rudolf Steiner, “Anthroposophy and the Social Question”
  8. Stephen Usher, “The Fundamental Social Law”, The Threefold Review, Summer/Fall 1993 (Issue No. 9)