Thursday, August 30, 2012

First Lecture on December 14, 1974



Ladies and Gentleman, Dear Friends,

The task of this weekend conference will be the study of our theme “the just price.” With that is meant, in all humility, a sort of introduction to the so-called National Economy Course by Rudolf Steiner. I say “so-called” because we are dealing here with lectures that Rudolf Steiner gave in Dornach in July and August of 1922 mainly at the request of students of economics. He himself, however, would hardly have given this title to this course of lectures, even though the words “national or political economy” often appear in it. Doubtless, he used this term only to relate to the outlook, education and situation of the majority of his audience, as he always did. And with this in mind, one can understand this title, which was probably not Rudolf Steiner’s. If we look only at the content, it is quite impossible to speak of this as a “Course on National or Political Economy,” because it is a course on world economy, or even more precisely, on world economy as social organics. Something like that would have to be the title of these lectures, for they show that social and economic life can only develop against the background of the world economy of our time.

Perhaps I have been too bold in choosing this title of the just price, but it arose, if I may be allowed to say something personal, from a wish I have been nurturing for a long time. For a number of years I have wanted to hold a seminar about this theme as an attempt to introduce the concept of social organics. This did not take place, because those who could have assisted made the obvious objection, as is of course always possible, that before one tackles the most difficult problems, one should begin with simple ones.  Now everyone who knows the course will know that the main topic of discussion is the problem of just price. One can understand these problems that are treated within broad contexts only when they are understood as an elucidation of this one main problem. This objection at the time was therefore perhaps not quite justified, but by raising it, one can of course stifle an initiative.

Now, as every sentence shows, directly or indirectly, this course deals with the problem of just price, and during our study over these two days what is meant by this will, I believe, also become clear. I would like, however, to illustrate this with the words of Rudolf Steiner in order to remind you or introduce you to them. You probably all know them, but there is always a reason in our joint effort here to bring these archetypal words to the fore. To begin, please listen how Rudolf Steiner quite unmistakably expresses that in these 14 lectures he speaks and will speak about nothing other than just price.

Right away, you will find in the second lecture - the first lecture is a grand prelude, but the concrete problems are approached only in the second one - at the beginning (p. 24):

"In the last resort all the most important considerations in the national economy really merge in this question of price” – here the term national economy is used, even though the course speaks about the latter having moved into world economy – “for all the impulses and forces that are at work in (national) economies culminate at length in price."

In other words, everything depends on our being able to come to a mental picture of just price as it arises in the economic process. Naturally, nothing more is given at first by such a formula – about the concept of just price actually a whole number of formulas – than an abstraction, and our task in these lectures will be, at least roughly, to work the whole of national economy into this abstraction.

Rudolf Steiner always emphasizes the same thing: to become aware of the processes that lead to price forming. All processes affect price formation, and in social organics it is a question of creating an awareness of all these processes as regards their price forming function. At the beginning of lecture 7, we hear for example the following words (p. 84):

“We have seen now how the whole economy takes its course; we have seen how purchase or sale, loan and gift act as impelling factors, motive factors within this system. We have to realize that there can be no economy without this interplay of loan, gift and purchase…The important thing is to understand what role these three factors play in the forming of price. Only by recognizing this, shall we succeed in any degree in formulating the price problem.”
 
Again and again, Rudolf Steiner attaches great importance to focusing on the central role of the price problem.

Allow me to add a few more short quotations to prove my point.  On page 91 we read:

“Altogether the things that happen in the economy” – allow me to say social organics – “depend far more on the relative rising and falling of prices than on any other circumstance. It is by the relative rise and fall in prices that the difficulties of life itself are introduced into social organics. As to whether the products as a whole rise or fall – if they all rose or fell uniformly, that would basically be of little interest to people. What interests them is that the different products rise or fall to a different extent. This fact is emerging just now in a very tragic way under the present economic conditions” – this was in the year 1922, but he could also say it for 1974; we do not have to reformulate it at all – “because of the rising and falling of the (prices of) products in the most varying ways, what is rising and falling are the money values themselves,” – that we also notice very clearly – “but in these money values is stored up what were previously real values. By this fluctuation an entire mingling and confusion is now being brought about in human society.”

One could also say: a complete rearrangement. This is in an even much greater degree the case today than at that time. We need not change a single word and can only say: What was true then to a certain extent, is true today to the greatest possible extent.

Another quote (p. 96):

“We have perhaps already seen that the most important question in economics is that of price. The point therefore will now be to observe prices in the sense that I have indicated. The rise and fall, or stability of prices – the fact that the prices of certain products are too high or low (for one can have a feeling for such things) – indicates whether or not the economic organism is functioning properly. For that is what must fall to associations” – i.e. unions of people involved in the social organic process – “to discover from reading the barometer of the price indices what needs to be done in the rest of the economic sphere.”

And now the last quotation in this context (p. 184):

“It is the forming of prices that matters, to begin with, and in this respect you do not need to go back to anything vague or indefinite. For you can always follow things back to the fundamental relationship of value which is brought about by the very fact of work upon the land, namely the ratio of the population to the land available for cultivation.” – This is a far-reaching explanation in which actually everything is summarized that is said about the price problem in this course and that we gradually need to become aware of. Rudolf Steiner continues –: “In this ratio you will find that which originally underlies the formation of values. In effect, all the labor that can be done must come from the given population and, on the other hand all that this labor can unite with must come from the given land. For everyone needs what this labor produces, and as far as those who are spared from this labor on account of their spiritual work, the others must perform it for them in addition to their own.”

I will have to come back to this in the course during our joint efforts.
           
Summarizing, Rudolf Steiner therefore says that the main issue of economy, the forming of prices, is actually a matter of focusing on the ratio of arable land area to population. For running the economy, doing business is essentially a matter of bringing products into exchange among people, and this exchange among people expresses itself in price formation. The forming of prices – that must to begin with be the thing that matters. All the efforts devoted to these lectures will be in vain if they do not lead to an understanding of the function of price forming processes.
           
In the time available, it is naturally impossible to treat this problem exhaustively. Yet perhaps it will be possible to show you that this course by Rudolf Steiner on world economy as social organics is in no way only a course for experts, even though it came about at their request, but that it also contains a certain view of totality (holism). Rudolf Steiner always speaks about the same totality of things, but always from new viewpoints. The great thing about this course is that he has developed in it a totality concerning man, world and knowledge from perhaps the most interesting viewpoint that there is. Therefore, I hope that this small impulse we are creating together in this weekend could perhaps lead in the coming years to a whole week in order to go through this course lecture by lecture.[1] Before turning to our actual work, however, I would like first to characterize some aspects of this course pertaining to its original contents and tone.

The course demands, perhaps more than all other courses, but in any case at least as much, a certain way of thinking, and the course itself is meant to be an instrument for the schooling of this mode of thought, namely of mobility in thinking. But at the same time this course points in every sentence, sometimes quite bitterly, to the degree that present-day mankind lacks this mobility in thinking and how little mankind is prepared to take the necessary steps to develop this flexibility. And we want to bring to mind the words of warning by Rudolf Steiner and the really deeply painful tone with which he emphasizes this fact. There we hear for example the following appeal (p.58):

“This is the infinitely sad thing today, that for many centuries mankind has grown accustomed to sharply defined concepts that cannot be applied to living processes. Today we are called upon to bring our concepts into motion in order to penetrate economic processes with conscious understanding. This is what we must attain: mobility in thinking so as to be able to think a process through to its end inwardly.”

Instead of the rigid cause-and-effect relation thinking that looks at the effects from underlying premises, we must attain a process-based thinking that learns to look at the processes of circulation and metamorphosis. Such a thinking recognizes that one and the same thing is simultaneously the same and yet something else. For example, a product is indeed a product everywhere but, depending upon where it turns up within the economic process, it has totally different evaluations, and brings about and demands totally different prices. Naturally, this also depends on its location or on its stage within the process. Thus, the product is at the same time identical with an archetype, appearing in many facets. And so the cause and effect relation is recognized by process-based thinking as just one example of the product’s archetypal content and nature.

Here is another passage in the same tone (p. 107):

“It is actually – I would like to say – extremely tragic that no understanding should be found for something that is after all so simple and so correct. For, the moment that there is real understanding, it can be accomplished not even by the day after tomorrow, but by tomorrow. For it is not a question of radical changes, but of seeking the associative union in each case.”

Rudolf Steiner thought that this detailed solution could in effect be found not today, but already tomorrow as prompted by the concrete cases in question, but whereby, as the whole course makes evident, a series of insights in mobile thinking is necessary:

“You need only to summon the will and direct the intelligence to do it.” – You see, it comes for the most part down to understanding. – “This is the thing that in effect touches one so painfully, for at this point economics does coincide in a certain way with morality and, I would like to say, religion. For it is completely incomprehensible to me, for example, how this view on economics could have remained completely unnoticed by those who – let us say – are officially in charge of responding to the religious needs of the world.” – That the idea of threefolding could have remained unnoticed by economists and businessmen, that is perhaps understandable to some extent, but that it could have remained entirely unnoticed by those who had to take care of the religious needs of mankind; that is completely incomprehensible.– “For there is no doubt about it, during recent times it has clearly emerged that the economic conditions are no longer being mastered, the facts have gone beyond the control of human beings and so today we stand above all for the question: How can this be mastered, how shall we grapple with it? But it must be mastered by human beings and mastered by them in associations.”

As the previous words show, it must be done from a certain religious-moral aspect.

One more quote (p. 185):

“Truth has disappeared from our way of life”  – as is practiced today – “out of words of truth we have slid into empty phrases; out of the sense of what is right and wrong into mere conventions, and out of a practical hold on life into dead routines. And we shall not escape from this threefold untruth of phrase, convention and routine, till we develop the will to dive down into things as they really are and see how they are shaped.”

Part and parcel of coming to this decision, a decision that at the same time harbors cognitive and religious-moral dimensions and therefore strengthens the rights sphere, is consciousness raising. Rudolf Steiner expresses this in a succinct sentence to the effect that everything that takes its course instinctively must be elevated into the clear region of reason. Social organics is a process of developing and raising consciousness.

We want to attempt once more to survey and review the quotations that were just read, because the quotations are chosen with a view to conveying, according to my conviction and feeling, an initial overview of the whole social organic course. I want to proceed from this necessity of developing awareness, since this is connected with living thinking. For we live consciously in our own cognitive behavior and in our life in general and the world that surrounds us, only when we become aware of the great lie that dominates the world today, namely the lie that the origin of everything is death, that death is the father of life. This is a pertinent lie and a obvious impossibility, for each instance of soul observation would show us that there can be nothing in the world, at least nothing in as far as it is present in our consciousness, that would not appear to us as coming from the realm of the living. This is therefore the basic truth that we must become aware of when we want to understand this course; this basic truth is indeed the general foundation of anthroposophy, i.e. that death is not the father of the living, but that the living is something that leaves its traces in the non-living. Anthroposophical life in general and the understanding of this course in particular are based on the constant practice of observing one’s own behavior in cognition and life and thereby coming to realize that incoherent perceptual matter is structured by living, archetypal concepts. The vitality of these concepts permits them to freeze, to crystallize into various perceptual situations, similar to a plant as an archetypal being that only appears in multiple examples of itself in the different metamorphoses and stages of its course of development, while it is the essence of the plant that underlies these various modes of appearance as something that cannot be represented and observed with the ordinary physical senses.

This practice is actually the basic prerequisite for the development of greater awareness, that must be fulfilled everywhere for understanding even the simplest word of Rudolf Steiner, e.g. understanding that what in a certain shape becomes present in our conscious cognition of Being and what can be represented in this particular state is based on mutually forming, living potencies that freeze into these different metamorphoses, leaving them as examples of their true vitality. That is what is meant by living thinking.

That is therefore the basic truth the thinking human being must become aware of, that he must have the courage, but also the power of observation, to protest against the universal lie dominating the world today, that death is the father of life.

Yet, we are not only thinking but also speaking human beings. And everything depends on whether we speak with each other and make ourselves understood. We can only do this if we come together in advisory bodies in which the individual participants or members can put their experiences and abilities at the disposal of the others, from which then an encompassing opinion can be formed. These bodies in which human beings can come together as speakers in the fullest sense of the word are called associations by Rudolf Steiner. And just as the living human being is lifted up into a world of archetypes that weave and shape a spiritual realm of universal being above his limited personality, a world wide web of Being floating above him but near enough to be sensed, so the human beings able to speak with each other experience that they are in a community in which they can speak. They then speak a common language, actually only now discovering this language community, and finding themselves once more lifted up into the spiritual sphere of understanding, in which they are carried still further beyond themselves than in the experience of the archetypal world of the truth.

And once more they are lifted up higher upon becoming aware that they are also acting, walking human beings, striding into social reality. And in this striding together into social reality they are lifted up a third time even higher above themselves. When they stride into social reality motivated by the truth that the origin of life is indeed life and not death, the truth that the avenues of understanding among people can and must constitute the life of rights, when motivated by this twofold raising of consciousness, they then realize not only what hovers above them as the angel of truth in this social reality, and what hovers above them when they speak with each other as the spirit of a language community. They then they come to that religious consciousness which was addressed by Rudolf Steiner with the words that the spirit of the age can and wants to be present in human beings who together take the road to social reality.

We can conjure up the following picture. You have no doubt this fall and winter passed by fields that had been plowed. You may have been deeply moved to see how the earth was heaved up, displaying its brown and black shades of color, surrounded by the green of winter meadows. In your mind you then would have seen the sower going over this field. By saying this, I am really well into using a figure of speech, for sowing is mostly done mechanically these days. Yet in one’s mind’s eye appears the image of a sower, when seeing a plowed and tilled field, a real old-fashioned sower who has gone over the field sowing the seeds. For a sower – and perhaps even today – it is completely impossible to believe in the universal lie that death is the father of life. This sower lives in these archetypal concepts that underlie all reality, he experiences himself in this archetypal vitality of the world as one of its members and from this awareness of the formative spirituality of the real spirit, which is not frozen in chains of effects, he drops the seed onto the plowed field. He is actually the most real representative of living concepts and their truth that I can imagine. For him, it is a directly felt truth in life that human needs and abilities spring from standing in that world of truth that shapes all reality, and that from this world of truth arise the true commodities that satisfy vital human needs.

Here is the living stream in which the commodities are carried as products of nature, in which these wares swim, like the blood corpuscles in the blood stream, and in which they are liberated from their heaviness in accordance with the real spirituality which in this true formative spirit stream gives them the buoyancy, the release in weight from their mere naturalness, whereby they can become objects to satisfy real human needs. In this way the sower, as a representative of the truth, walks over the field, and in so doing he is not only a thinking, but also an acting human being, sowing the seeds as one standing together with others in the practice of human life, who is aware that he acts for the others and that he can do this only because others do things for him. By standing in the real spiritualized processes of nature as a representative of the living truth, he is responsible for the formative forces of the spirit flowing out of the past. But by standing, on the other hand, within the human community for which he is active and which acts for him, so that he can in this sense of mutuality drop his seeds into the furrows, by not only being a thinking man, but also a man of experience, he is a representative of the future. He realizes, on the one hand, the past of the spirit ever anew by knowing that he is part of the real formative process of the living spirit, and by walking over the furrows and dropping the seeds, he draws in the future with every dropping of a seed. And so the past and future flow together in him. And it is this streaming together of past and future, of thinking and walking or doing, that actually gives him the possibility to communicate with others, for this is only possible if one is both a thinker and a doer, if one is aware of the transubstantiating spirit that continues to work from the world of the past into the present of the human being, and if, on the other hand, one is aware of how the spirit of the future wants to incarnate.

Realization from the past and transformation through ‘futurization’, their intersection enables a formation of human rights, which can only constitute itself in human beings who are capable of speaking with each other, of communicating, of conferring together, forming social organic judgments.

Please allow me to continue these introductory reflections a little further. I would like to draw your attention to another point, namely that Rudolf Steiner’s social organic course presents a new conception of the idea of the threefold nature of the social organism, in accordance with the social, cultural and historical situation, which in the year 1922 was already different from the time that the threefold idea was inaugurated [2] and which today is altogether different. Yet the threefold impulse was not given up, but transformed in a way that is also for us today, I believe, of the greatest importance.

We can rely on the words of Rudolf Steiner in order to show how this course presents a metamorphosis of the threefold idea. Already in the first lecture Rudolf Steiner states (p. 16):

“And now the position is such that if we are to speak once more today to people such as you, we can no longer speak in the same terms as we did then;” – when the threefold idea was inaugurated – “today another language is necessary, and that is what I now want to give you in these lectures. I want to show you how today one must think once more about these questions, especially if one is still young and can participate in what has to take shape in the near future.” [3]

That only means: Today one cannot speak anymore about the threefold idea in the way that one did when it was inaugurated. With that the threefold idea is not suspended; on the contrary, it is a matter of becoming aware of the way it can become active among people in a new form and be understood.  The decisive sentence here is the following one (p. 102): “We have found, within the economic process itself, a division that is threefold. Only, it is necessary that we begin to think of this threefold order in the right way.” That is the decisive sentence: The threefold idea was inaugurated in a period of extreme economic, political and cultural turmoil. It was the period of complete collapse after the first World War. That would have been the moment to make the three members of the social organism mutually independent and in their independence bring them into a proper working relationship with each other. That would therefore have been a point in time to find the proper place and function for the economic life etc. within and out of this threefold social organism. Unfortunately this fruitful moment was lost; it was not recognized and seized. Time moved on and Rudolf Steiner says: We cannot speak anymore as we did then, because the economic, political and monetary straitjackets and automatisms have gotten much, much worse; and because the situation is no longer so open as it was then, we cannot make any headway directly in threefolding the social organism. Instead we must see how these three components, i.e. the economic proper, the rights and the spiritual, are latent within the economic life; we must see how actually all economic and social problems arise because these three components do not function together properly. We must develop the threefold idea out of the economic life, so that we recognize: These three components function together within the economic life, but we cannot come to a proper conscious awareness of their significance and function; here lies the cause for all economic and social problems. The transformation of the threefold idea therefore means that the economic life can no longer bring itself to bear as a component within the three independent components of the social organism, but that the threefold idea must be recognized as consisting of the three economic archetypal forces and be taken up within this economic life, if this economic life is to be saved from destruction.
            This is directly and indirectly expressed by Rudolf Steiner in many passages. At one point, he says (p. 134):

“And you can see it also from the other side. I pointed out how in the simple case of exchange, where money becomes more and more important, or indeed where exchange is recognized at all, the economic life enters directly into the sphere of rights.”
 
One person gives and the other one takes in the economic life. By becoming aware of this, we realize that these rights components and this rights sphere cannot be omitted in any way, for in giving and taking it is the just balance that matters. To this can be added the following:

“The moment that reason is to enter the economic life, we must once again let that which prevails in the free spiritual life flow into the economic sphere.”

The organizing in the spiritual life, the justice in giving and taking, and the actual economic activity of enhancing products of nature: in this sense you therefore have in this course a continuation and at the same time a re-inauguration of the threefold idea. To say it once more: The economy is not a component within the threefold social organism, but the threefold organism is a component within the economic life. That is the interesting new situation that is characterized by this course.

Here is another introductory remark. Of equal importance with the problem of the just price there is another theme running through the course that expresses the same thing and that is actually only the other side the coin. This is the fundamental social law of occultism. One side of the coin reads “The Just Price” and the other “The Fundamental Social Law” as the true gold standard of the social organism. This fundamental social law that pertains to a certain type of economic behavior within the social organism, makes no moral demands – this is made perfectly apparent from the way it appears in the course. This law is a social organic observation according to the methods of natural science. Why ‘occultism’ we will consider later. Let us hear how it is formulated here – a great, succinct formulation (p. 43):

“It is not a God, nor a moral law, nor an instinct, but simply the modern division of labor that calls for altruism in modern economic life, in labor and in the production of goods. Thus it is a purely economic category that is demanding that.”

The fundamental social law of mutuality is no moral demand, but a social organic observation according to the natural scientific method. It is also formulated as follows (p. 42):

“The division of labor tends towards a situation where nobody works for himself anymore and that what a person produces must be passed over completely to others.  A person’s needs must on the other hand be met by society.”

And another quote (p. 44):

“Thus one of the first and foremost essential economic questions comes before us: How are we to eliminate this principle of working for a living from the economic process? Those who to this day are still mere wage-earners – earning a living for themselves – how are they to be placed in the whole economic process, no longer as wage-earners but as men who work out of social needs? Must this really be done? Of course it must. For if this is not done we shall never obtain true prices, but always false ones.  We must seek to obtain prices and values that depend not on the human beings but on the economic process itself – prices that arise in the process of fluctuation of values. The cardinal question is the question of price.”

The price problem must be solved by those measures that bring the values to a proper fluctuation and a mutually inherent valuation in the economic process. When this occurs, it is (already) independent from people; in order for it to come to that, a human code of behavior is required, namely that of mutuality, which by virtue of the division of labor is simply a fact in social organics, but which people must become aware of as being a fundamental question of existence. One last quotation about that (p. 133):

”The overview of the economic process will become active; the interest for one’s fellow human being will actually be there in the economic process that is formed. In no other way can a true economic judgment come about and thus we are impelled to rise from the economic processes to the mutuality, the give and take between human beings and furthermore to that which will arise from this, namely the objective community spirit working in the associations. This will be a community spirit proceeding not from any ‘moralic acid’, but from a realization of the necessities inherent in the economic process itself…There is no lack of people nowadays who say: ‘Our economic life will be good – tremendously good – once human beings are good. You people must become good!’ Think of men like Professor Förster [4] and his kind, who go about preaching: ‘If only men and women will become selfless, the economic life will become good.’ But such opinions are really of no more worth than this one: If my mother-in-law had four wheels and a handle in front, she would be a bus!”

A wagon is built in the course on social organics with which one can start to move into the future, maybe not today, nor the day after tomorrow, but perhaps tomorrow.


[1] This unfortunately did not take place, as far as I know, although Herbert Witzenmann gave numerous lectures and wrote many articles on this theme, none of which are available as yet in English.
[2] Rudolf Steiner inaugurated the threefold idea privately in 1917 with his memoranda to the German and Austrian governments, hoping that they would become the Central European basis for ending World War I.  When this attempt failed, he turned to the public in the spring of 1919 with his book Towards Social Renewal which soon saw a second edition and which was translated in many European languages, including English. An American edition also appeared.
[3] The last sentence in this quotation is completely missing from the heavily edited translation of Rudolf Steiner’s World Economy Course by C. Budd, which was published by New Economy Publications in England with the acknowledged help of the management of the Rudolf Steiner Press in 1993 under the title Economics – The World as One Economy. In his editorial introduction the translator justifies this omission by writing: “In some cases I have left out whole sentences, in others I have supplemented them…My purpose has been to make the sense and direction of Steiner’s approach clearer and more understandable than is possible by a literal translation.” If this is really the case with other passages remains to be seen; the omission of the sentence by Rudolf Steiner that a new thinking is called for and that this will be exemplified in this course so as to realize these ideas in the near future etc., is quite incomprehensible to me. 
[4] Förster, Friedrich Wilhelm (1869 – 1966); German pedagogue and pacifist.

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