Towards Social Renewal
Over the last couple of days, I’ve been reading Rudolf Steiner’s book Basic Issues of the Social Question. Published in 1919, it was written just after the calamity of the First World War, and that catastrophe weighs heavy upon it. That is the same year in which W.B. Yeats’ penned his ominous poem The Second Coming.
What Steiner has to say about the fundamental problem in society that led to the World War(s) is worth paying some attention to. It is available as a e-Book at the Rudolf Steiner Archive, and you can retrieve it by clicking here.
I have to admit, I find it opaque in parts — which is why I am reading it again. The most important point he makes here about the necessary tripartite restructuration of society is his insistence that the autonomy of the cultural-spiritual sphere of life from both politics and economics (or state and corporation) is absolutely essential for the future survival of society. In that respect, his thinking resembles that of Jean Gebser, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, and perhaps Ivan Illich in Deschooling Society and in the pedagogy of Paulo Friere, as well as the late American educator Neil Postman.
Although Steiner’s book is almost a century old, and its sense of urgency might be somewhat blunted by the fact, its themes are still fresh and relevant for our times. I sense, for example, in the Occupy Movement, or in the present massive student rebellion in Quebec, something of the same demands for the autonomy of the cultural-spiritual life and education from the interference of both politics and economics, state and corporation, that Steiner then considered mandatory for healthy social life. This demand has echoes in Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s insistence on the method of “pure teaching” as an antidote to the anti-social tendencies of an abstract metaphysics and a defective rationality that had now become death-dealing at our “end of history”.
You can read something of Rosenstock-Huessy’s concerns, in this respect (and his justifications for a sociological science realised through “pure teaching”) in the first essay of his book Speech and Reality, which essay is called “In Defence of the Grammatical Method”. Thanks to Google’s teaser “google books” project, the bulk of this important essay is reproduced here. I would recommend reading it in conjunction with another of his most important essays called “Farewell to Descartes“, which I have had occasion to mention many times in The Chrysalis as exemplifying what the cultural historian Jean Gebser referred to as the “deficient rationality” of Late Modern Man (or, what I’ve called “Epimethean Man”).
As you can tell from reading Steiner’s Basic Questions, there are many parallels between this and the thinking of Rosenstock-Huessy and Jean Gebser, both. All three are urgently engaged in what must transpire at this stage in society’s evolutionary history to ensure the founding and survival of a truly human and humane society, which none of them apparently feel is far from guaranteed, the alternative being a descent into the inhuman.
Steiner’s vision of a tripartite reformation of society into three autonomous, but cooperating, spheres is sensible even if the details of how this threefold model of society might be effected and brought about seem unclear. Rosenstock-Huessy has a fourfold model of social order — his “cross of reality” — that is probably more functional but not that much different from Steiner’s except in this respect: Steiner has made the cultural-spiritual one realm of social activity or community. In Rosenstock-Huessy, these are distilled and precipitated out as art and religion separately. Steiner does not treat them separately. Otherwise, their mutual concerns are shared ones.
It is just one more reason to consider lending our support to new movements like Occupy and to participate by suggesting consciousness and direction (or concentration) for its creative and wonderful energies. Such movements may be our last chance to effectuate a new movement toward a truly world-wide human and humane social order fitting for the Planetary Era we are now entering upon…. some of us willingly and gladly; others kicking and screaming.