I remember one day in a Waldorf school in a big city where I worked as a class teacher, finding my way down long hallways and flights of stairs to a basement room, with a door, that held a couch, a bookshelf, and a small table with coffee supplies.
A colleague was sitting on the couch when I tentatively opened the door.
“Come on in,” she said. “We’re allowed to talk about Steiner in here.”
Through the decades that I worked in Waldorf education I saw many shadows of that reluctance to mention Steiner’s name in public.
Rudolf Steiner died at the age of 65 on March 30, 1925 after a life of rigorous intellectual and spiritual pursuits that laid the foundation for Waldorf education, anthroposophic medicine, deepening modernization in the arts- architecture, painting, music, speech, drama and movement, and enlivening pursuits in agriculture that helped launch, with his Agricultural Course in 1924, the whole of the organic farm movement. Steiner’s agricultural observations continue to inspire and enliven farmers practicing Biodynamics, a stream of organics in the world of sustainable human activity. And it was through farming that I learned of biodynamics and Steiner, and hence Waldorf education, learning that has inspired my life.
These are the results of Steiner’s work on the material plane. For his work in the spiritual world, Steiner is described as a philosopher, social reformer, esotericist, and clairvoyant.
The ideas he left behind, after all these years, continue to inspire practitioners in all those fields.
Through the years, Steiner’s lectures and writing about farming and gardening have sustained my deep commitment to organic and sustainable practices as a dweller on earth, and his observations about the development of the human, body, soul and spirit, fed understanding and strength to me in my work with children in Waldorf schools. I have enjoyed most working in places where conversations abound considering the gifts of this remarkable man.
The trouble we are in today is trouble that Rudolf Steiner warned us about and worked ceaselessly to forestall. So many images in modern life proclaim that truth. Seeing a video of a Missouri farmer pointing to his flooded acres of cracked lifeless clay following a river flooding only made me sure that poor farming practices had destroyed his land long before the flood came. The ravaged land of agribusiness has invited the devastation of water abused and loosed on the warming globe. There was no soil on that Missouri farm to hold water, and indeed, as Mike and I have observed in our North American journeys east to west and back again, there is death everywhere in America in the fields where plants are held erect in mineral substances, without the life forces that are found in soil.
Because the earth is a member of an even greater community that includes the sun, moon and stars, as a gardener I often look to the heavens for inspiration. And I have often turned to fellow students of the stars for suggestions on how to act. Relying on knowledge shared by my parents, my teachers, astrologers, and traditional story tellers from round the world, year after year I put together my garden plan.
How pleased I was, many years ago, to discover the Stella Natura calendar!
Published by Camphill Village Kimberton Hills since 1978, The Stella Natura – Working with Cosmic Rhythms Biodynamic Planting Calendar is indeed what it is named, a calendar with notations on daily movements in the heavens that affect our industry on earth, a planting guide. But it is so much more than that. Editor Sherry Wildfeuer includes expansive explanatory material in the publication, with articles on many related topics by many contributing authors as well as a star chart to help readers read the night sky.
In print since 1978, the calendar is edited by Sherry Wildfeuer and published by Camphill Village Kimberton Hills. For each Stella Natura calendar sold, four dollars directly supports the work of Camphill Village Kimberton Hills, and the calendars are sold at many gardening related outlets. It can be ordered online at www.stellanatura.com or by phone at 610-469-9686.
The Stella Natura calendars don’t leave our house for quite some time after the growing season has passed, because the articles beg for study beyond the garden.
The 2019 calendar, for instance, includes an article titled “Rudolf Steiner’s Social Ideas, or, Are We Ready for Common Sense?”
Rudolf Steiner developed his social ideas in Germany in the early 1900’s hoping to shift the movement of Europe away from a second World War. I have been thinking about common sense a lot these days, watching news reports about a suffering world with powerful people who seem to lack empathy, intelligence, and common sense making decisions about war, famine, and now a viral attack world wide. Did I mention Rudolf Steiner warned us about this?
I recently read Wildefeuer’s article and thought yes!, this is exactly what I want to say. Out loud as loud as I can. Common sense would do us a world of good.
So I contacted the publisher and received permission to republish the article.
Rudolf Steiner’s Social Ideas, or, Are We Ready for Common Sense?
By Sherry Wildfeuer
The purpose of this article is to offer a creative way of approaching our social problems. This is not an abstract program to be implemented, but rather contains seed ideas and principles to contemplate. These ideas were offered by Rudolf Steiner in 1917 when he was asked how society could be rebuilt in Europe so that the horrors of World War I would never be repeated.
Rudolf Steiner’s book, The Threefold Commonwealth, * was translated into English and thoughtfully reviewed by the New York Times on January 14, 1923 as “the most original contribution (to sociological literature) in generations.” What came to be known as the Threefold Social Movement was strong and hopeful for a couple of years.
However, when President Wilson’s Fourteen Points were adopted as the program to reorganize Europe, ethnic and nationalist interests became entrenched and Steiner’s cooperative approach became impossible to implement on a large scale. Not enough people could “think outside the box” to imagine the radical changes that would be necessary – the time was not yet right.
Steiner’s response to the situation was to focus on a new approach to education (now known as Waldorf education) that did not merely aim to fill children with information to perpetuate the status quo, but rather sought to stimulate the children’s capacity for independent thinking and creativity, so that future generations would indeed be able to grasp new ideas and bring about healthy changes in social life.
Although most of us have not had the good fortune to be educated in a Waldorf school, one hundred years after the Threefold Movement was introduced, many of its ideas have found their way into the minds of creative thinkers, and there are numerous enterprises that have successfully put threefold principles into practice. These include the movements for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), Fair Trade, B Corps, and such initiatives as the Camphill communites, Mondragon, and Green Wave, to name but a few. Steiner foresaw that there would be another opening for these ideas to take hold on a larger scale in the twenty-first century. People were not ready for them in his time. Are we ready now? Can we afford not to be?
Three Aspects of Social Life, and the Wisdom and Tragic Misapplication of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity
Just as the human organism consists of the distinct but interacting systems of 1) nerves and senses, 2) breathing and circulation, and 3) metabolism and limbs, the social organism consists of thee distinct, interpenetrating sectors: Culture, the Legal-Political System, and the Economy.
Cultural life includes art, education in the broadest sense, religion, and scientific inquiry.
In its essential nature, political life comprises that aspect of society in which the rights of individuals are established by law and protected.
And through the economic process, the raw materials provided by nature and transformed by human labor and intelligence into needed products and services which are circulated and purchased.
The famous ideals of the French Revolution, liberty, equality and fraternity, ring true, yet countless injustices have been perpetuated under their banners. With penetrating insight, Rudolf Steiner pointed out that the ideals of the French Revolution were indeed appropriate, but each one only within a specific aspect of social life. When they are employed as guidelines in the wrong sphere of life they become harmful.
Thus, liberty, or freedom, is the healthy and correct guiding ideal for the cultural/spiritual life. In this realm, each individual is valued for his or her unique qualities and gifts. Through education, the innate potential of each should be developed. As ethical individuals, each can then contribute to the benefit of society.
In the legal/political realm of rights and justice, the guiding ideal is equality. In this realm each person should be guaranteed equal rights and through the democratic process choose representatives to define and safeguard those rights. Governments should be limited to ensuring that the rights of citizens are upheld, with laws and regulations that apply to all. Since all humans equally need clean air, water and land, the protection of the environment should also fall under the purview of governmental responsibilities. On a smaller scale, this sphere has to do with the many agreements we make with one another as peers.
And collaboration or mutuality (brotherhood) should be the guiding principle for economics. Instead of self-interest, which sets people against one another in competition, associate arrangements among participants in all parts of the economic process can bring greater benefits to all.
Each of these spheres of life will benefit most from its own guiding principle and administrative body, and each sphere must not interfere or encroach upon the others. Society can only thrive when the three spheres are in balance. The health of the whole society is dependent upon the discernment between cultural, political, and economic issues, making use of these three ideals in each realm appropriately. Administrative representatives of these three realms may come together to work out common goals in a manner similar to the diplomacy and collaboration that takes place among heads of state. Thus, each domain would have a sphere of autonomy and influence. A healthy social organism can be pictured as three intersecting circles of equal size.
Currently, economic influences dominate the government and cultural life, destroying balance in our social life.
A few examples of imbalance: Education of children belongs to the cultural sphere. But in America, the government has in recent times increasingly intervened in the actual curriculum and methods of teaching, overriding the freedom of teachers to act out of their own professional insight. Standardized testing does not have to do with better education for children but rather serves the textbook industry, and now technology industry, to be able to program uniformly throughout the country.
The rapid infiltration of technology in schools is driven by the profit motive of the companies that provide the technological devices and services, even as educational research shows the tragic consequences in loss of attention span in children, and less impulse control due to the effects on their brains of continual screen stimulation and virtual instant gratification. Addiction of children to their screens and well documented dangers to physical and psychological health have been down played and ignored in favor of the benefits to those who stand to profit.
Similarly, the sacred relation between the doctor and patient, also belonging to the cultural sphere, has been all but eliminated by the combined profit-driven influences of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. And for-profit hospitals that invest in expensive new equipment and technologies require their doctors to use them to repay their investment!
Short sighted desire for profit in agriculture and the energy industries have polluted water, air and soil to the detriment of human and animal health far into the future. Once again, economic interests have lobbied publicly elected officials rather than submit to law and regulations that would serve the common good.
Social and Anti-social Forces in Economic Life
Students are taught that the primary motive for economic activity is self-interest. When it goes beyond securing a wholesome lifestyle for oneself and one’s dependents, self-interest easily becomes greed. This self-centered motivation is responsible for the vast income gap in our society, degradation of precious natural resources, wars, and excessive accumulation of wealth by a minority of people who exercise untrammeled power: misappropriated ‘freedom’ running rampant in the realm of the economy.
Steiner taught that the anti-social forces necessary for the evolutionary trend from group consciousness (tribe, clan, family class, nationality, etc.) towards individuation would fragment society and isolate individuals unless social forces were consciously introduced as a balance. These social forces would need to be brought into the education of children; adults would need to learn to take greater interest in one another, and society would need to be arranged to counteract the negative impact of the increasing anti-social forces necessary for individuation. He articulated what he called a Fundamental Social Law – as objective an any law of physics:
“In a community of human beings working together, the well-being of the community will be greater the less the individual claims for himself the proceeds from the work he has himself done, i.e., the more of these proceeds he shares with his fellow workers, and the more his own requirements are satisfied not out of his own work done, but out of the work done by others.”**
Any institutional arrangement that strives to manifest this basic social law, going beyond personal sentiment and conduct, will break the patterns of people working solely for their own benefit. It will engender gratitude for the work of others and foster collaboration in the workplace to focus on what was originally and should still be the primary motive for all economic activity, namely, to serve human needs. Fair prices for goods and services must be continually adjusted to enable all the workers in the supply chain to meet their needs so that they can continue to be productive. (This is what Seiner called the “true price.”)
Within the various fields of economic life Steiner recommended that the impersonal, so- called “free market” be replaced by Associations in which producers, distributors and consumers work together to achieve greater efficiency, promote best practices, determine the level of production according to actual need, and establish fair prices. Because we have become far removed from the workers who produce what we purchase, it is necessary to develop imaginative thinking and empathy to picture and care about them, lest we unwittingly cause suffering in favor of bargain prices for ourselves. An economic system based on the collaborative principle has been called “Associative Economics.”
Our global economy has reached a scale in which rejuvenation can no longer be achieved through growth and merging. Now it is creative ideas (which arise from the cultural sphere) and appropriate use of money that will bring the economy forward.
In our current system, capital accumulates as private wealth and investment in land and the means of production (factories, machines, etc.). Steiner recommended that land and the means of production should become community assets. The land trust movement is a good example of the transfer of land out of private ownership so that it can be stewarded by those deemed most capable. This needs to be extended beyond land conservation. A similar model can be used for business enterprises, so when entrepreneurs cease to be active, the responsibility for leadership would go to the most capable people, who might or might not be family members of the previous leader.
Steiner made the radical suggestion to eliminate absentee leadership of economic enterprises through investors whose only interest is to extract personal gain. All surpluses from economic endeavors [i.e. money available after the needs of the workers, including executives, are met according to mutually agreed upon amounts] should be directed towards necessary reinvestment in the endeavor, research and development, re-training of workers, and then to the support of cultural life, education, and healthcare.
Steiner had an unusual approach to providing credit, namely, to offer people with special capacities and creative ideas full scope and access to resources to establish enterprises to produce goods and services that are wanted and needed. The appropriate economic Associations would act as foundations in this regard, while also providing loans.
Money, which replaced barter as a more efficient means of exchange and bookkeeping, is meant to circulate and not stagnate. Seiner suggested that it should undergo a process of aging, death, and rebirth (re-issue) by being dated, so it would gradually lose value if it weren’t used. This idea was actually put into practice in Europe and the United States after the Great Depression to counteract hoarding and stimulate the economy! Since money is mostly electronic now, this approach would be quite feasible to implement. It is important to note that this concept was applied to liquid money(cash), not to loans or investments designed to return capital with interest or to grow in value. Various experiments with this model have demonstrated increased circulation and, in economic terms, velocity, of money.
Another Way of Seeing the Same Picture
While it is certainly possible to consider and work with these social ideals themselves, the spiritual background out of which they arose may give added perspective and strength for the tasks ahead, For this reason they have been included.
At the same time that Rudolf Steiner was suggesting social ideas that had the potential to lead Europe out of chaos and avoid another World War, in Switzerland he was carving a massive 30-foot-tall wooden sculpture with the support of the English sculptress Edith Maryon. His sculpture depicts a central figure of peace, who he called the Representative of Humanity, surrounded by two adversarial powers: Lucifer, and Ahriman (more commonly known as Satan). These two beings express the polar extremes of evil.
Lucifer, with great outspread wings, is the beautiful tempting power that would stir up our desires based on ungrounded wishfulness. This is the being that would lure us into a blissful state of consciousness that is aloof from the needs of the earth, into delusions of grandeur, and even into hot, uncontrolled passion. In contrast, Ahriman is shown as bony and sclerotic, with bat-like wings. He is the clever, calculating being that would deprive us of freedom through what seems to be the necessities of cold, hard facts. He inspires fear, and strives to subjugate humanity to his power. His is the binary intelligence behind digital technology. Steiner told that early in the third millennium Ahriman would incarnate in a human being and that it would be extremely important for people to be awake and recognize who it is. Whether a heartless tyrant or a smooth-talking facilitator bringing perfect materialistic order, his signature will be the hatred of free individuality. Human beings under Ahriman’s influence would be reduced to docile obedience to what pretends to be for the good and safety of all.
The dynamic in the sculpture is not one of pitched battle. Rather, the evil beings are shown two times: once in complete collaboration with one another, and once held apart by the central figure who overcomes them through the power of love. Thus, Lucifer, the light-bearer, is drawn down and redeemed by becoming the inspirer of art and creativity on earth. And Ahriman is held under the foot of the central figure, forced to serve humanity with his gift of clear, objective thinking. The central figure strides forward with a countenance filled with wonder, compassion, and conscience.
Once one grasps the paradigm of good as the balancing force between two polar forces of evil, one can see it everywhere. And one can understand Aristotle’s definition of virtue as the mean between two extremes. When asked, Rudolf Steiner replied, “Yes, that is the Christ.” He saw this being as not the possession of a specific religious group but as active throughout humanity, as a “figure of the future.” He told that in our time Christ has taken responsibility as the Lord of Karma who is active in our relations with one another, so that even as we fulfill our mutual obligations we may bring about the greatest benefit to humanity as a whole. Steiner also taught that what is known as the Second Coming would not occur on the physical plane but in the level of spirit just above our ordinary consciousness. From the Twentieth century onward, more and more people will have the inner experience of meeting a benevolent being of light who is radiant with love.
How is this sculpture related to the social ideas just described? In it are revealed the powerful hidden forces that cause war: instinctive nationalism on the one side and increasingly powerful militarism on the other – between them, a third way of peace.
In Conclusion: Are We Ready for Common Sense?
As economic models, capitalism. communism and socialism all offer promises of prosperity. Communism champions equality in the economic realm but tends to devolve into governmental tyranny, corruption, and inequality when state officials are entrusted with the power to distribute wealth, land, and the means of production. Socialism strives to guarantee that the basic needs of citizens will be met by a benevolent government. However, the systems established in such areas as education and medical care tend to lack the excellence and originality that come from individual inspiration. A one-size-fits-all philosophy can lead to government adopting policies which stifle and even vilify innovative, alternative approaches. We have already discussed the consequences of capitalism based on self-interest.
If we have grasped the wholesomeness of the idea of Associative Economics, will we work toward creating or supporting living models to replace the old economic paradigms? Can we work toward government that limits itself to protection of rights and resists unwarranted economic influences? Can we find ways to free scientific inquiry from funding sources that would prejudice outcomes? Can we find ways for education to be given back to parents and teachers, free from both governmental and economic influences while remaining accessible to all? Can we challenge the use of technology for young children in schools?
These are just a few areas of possible activity. As was said at the outset, Rudolf Steiner did not give a readymade program; rather, he gave indications to be developed in freedom. If this brief and incomplete expression of his social ideas does make sense and inspires you, you will surely find colleagues in transforming that part of the world where destiny has placed you. Each person has decision-making power to collaborate with others, to form communities and organizations with like-minded people. Such communities will make connections with others, and in this way a movement for freedom in cultural life, equality of rights, and associated economics will grow organically into the future.
*Now published under the title Towards Social Renewal
**Steiner, Anthroposophy and the Social Question, 1906
The Stella Natura calendar can be ordered online at www.stellanatura.com
or by phone at 610-469-9686.
Jon McNamara says
Thanks for sharing this Kate – I have forgotten to keep up with Stella.