Thursday, April 14, 2016

Steiner and Shakespeare on Decentralization

Paul Signac, a cove in Saint Tropez, 1926

RUDOLF Steiner's main book on social reform was published in 1919 in the midst of revolutionary upheavals in Germany following World War I.  The book has been given many titles in English translation:  The Triorganic Social Organism; The Threefold Social Order (an abbreviated version); The Threefold Commonwealth; The Threefold State; and most recently, Toward Social Renewal.  A literal translation of the German title would be something like The Central Points of the Social Question.  

In the book's third chapter, "Capitalism and Social Ideas," Steiner mentions one of the objections that arose to social threefolding: some claimed a decentralized society would not be practical. Steiner replied that the objection

unrealistically supposes that unity can only be achieved in a community by means of directives. Reality, however, demands the opposite. Unity must arise as the result of activities streaming together from various directions.

Steiner's statement reminds of some lines from Act 1, Scene 2, of Shakespeare's Henry V:

That many things, having full reference
To one consent, may work contrariously:
As many arrows loosed several ways,
Come to one mark; as many ways meet in one town;
As many fresh streams meet in one salt sea;
As many lines close in the dial’s center;
So may a thousand actions, once afoot,
End in one purpose, and be all well borne
Without defeat.

Pieter Aertsen, The Egg Dance, 1552

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