The Social State and the Three-Fold Parliament

From Karl Polanyi
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Rudolf Steiner's idea of the Threefold State is the first conception of a functional society to be introduced on the Continent, as Guild Socialism was the first conception of a functional society to be introduced into English thought.

Society should not be regarded as a rigid unity held together by the State. Human beings are both producers and consumers - the same human beings. Those who administer laws also keep them. And each of these human beings has a cultural life of his own. Society is kept together by this fact that the same human beings are engaged in many different pursuits. There are cleavages in society of two sorts - those between social functions and those within a single function. An example of the latter is the clash in economic life today between owners and employees, which is quite insoluble on the basis of private ownership in industry.

But the crucial issue of today is the conflict between economics and politics. The economic and the political systems of modern society today are mutually incompatible. Political institutions interfere with economic life, and economic life is working against the authority of institutions. Industrialisation has reached a stage when workers by mere numbers come to have more and more influence in the political machine. Democracy has become an instrument of the producing classes. Economic life is still run on the principle of authority and politics on the principle of democracy.

But it is the same people who work in the factory as are represented in Parliament. Capitalism is doomed, not only because it is unjust, but because the economic institutions of the older are no longer workable. The gold standard, free trade, etc., have gone. A new era of economic development is now here. The new development will show itself in a new relationship between economics and politics. Any attempt, such as Fascism, to discard the political system and conduct the State by economic authoritarianism is doomed to fail because it discards the fact of human consciousness and will. It is the cultural values, the central values upon which religion is based - the values of human consciousness and will - that constantly challenge existing political and economic values, make the discrepancies between civic relationships and vocational relationships felt, and drive man on continually to change his social order as he himself develops.

Text Informations

Original Publication: “The Social State and the Three-Fold Parliament”, The Eleventh Hour, vol. I, April 17, ’’1935, n°22, p. 403