Sunday, August 7, 2016

Threefolding Movement of 1917-1922: Part 1

Engrossed, 2013, courtesy of the artist, Julie Ford Oliver

Dear Readers: Dr. Christoph Strawe has kindly given me permission to post here my translation of his German article on the current meaning of the social reform movement Rudolf Steiner led between 1917-1922. The article will appear here in short parts, I hope daily. Words in brackets [ ] are my insertions. The original German article can be read here. Dr. Strawe manages the Initiative Network Threefolding (Initiative Netzwerk Dreigliederung). The Initiative Network's English-language website is here.  The German-language website is here.  The Initiative Network Threefolding is part of the Institute for Present-Day Social Questions in Stuttgart (Institut für soziale Gegenwartsfragen e.V. Stuttgart). A biographical paragraph (in German) about Dr. Strawe can be found by scrolling down near the end of this webpage.

The Threefolding Movement of 1917-1922 and Its Present Significance1

By Christoph Strawe
(translated by Edward Udell)

Part 1

Rudolf Steiner was occupied with social questions all his life. His work in the social field reached its highpoint in the years 1917-1922, when he sought to intervene on a grand scale in contemporary events. R. Steiner’s move in 1897 to Berlin led him into the capital city’s literary circles on the one hand, and on the other hand brought him, as a teacher at the School for Workers’ Education (1899-1904), into contact with the workers’ movement. The Theosophical Society, of which he became general secretary in 1902, was added as a field of esoteric work.2

“Basic Sociological Law” and “Fundamental Social Law” 

The underlying question that Steiner posed in 1893 in his main philosophical work, The Philosophy of Freedom [also published in English as The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity], a question about the individual situation of the human being, is presented by Steiner in 1898 explicitly as a question also about the structure of society: in two essays in the Magazine for Literature, “Freedom and Society” and “The Social Question,” the emancipation of the individual from the supervision of societies is identified as the inherent tendency of social development and recognized as “basic sociological law.” The logical consequence of that law was the establishment of states for the protection and support of the needs and forces of the individual. In the magazine Lucifer, founded in 1903 (later merged with the magazine Gnosis), Steiner in 1905/06 published three essays under the title “Theosophy and the Social Question,” in which he addressed the overcoming of exploitation, and discussed -- in terms of an altruism that is not merely subjectively moralistic, but works right into the organization of economic institutions (“the Fundamental Social Law”) -- the necessary social organization of the division of labor. The planned series of essays was discontinued on account of the theosophical readership’s insufficient interest in pages on this theme. After that, Steiner’s references to the subject are to be found more as hints, which he probably would have elaborated if audiences at the relevant lectures had followed up with questions. That, however, was evidently not the case.

[Part 2 is here.]

1 This article is based largely on the list of further reading given at the end. It was first published in the newsletter Dreigliederung des sozialen Organism [Threefolding of the Social Organism], Issue 3/1998. For internet publication the author reviewed and slightly edited it.

2 For the life and work of Rudolf Steiner, please refer to the classic work by historian Christoph Lindenberg: Rudolf Steiner – Eine Biografie. 2 Volumes, Stuttgart 1997. [Available in English as Rudolf Steiner: A Biography (Great Barrington, MA: SteinerBooks, 2012).]

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