Social threefolding

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The threefolding of the social organism - or the social threefolding - is a requirement for the concrete transformation of the current unified social form, which is attributed to Rudolf Steiner .


The social threefolding describes the structure of a society in which the coordination of the overall social processes is not carried out centrally by a single state or a single leadership elite, but in which there are three fundamentally different areas:

The three areas of society are:

  • The intellectual life , which includes education, science, religion and culture, as well as the cooperation of people (understood as a creativity factor , e.g. concerning the culture of the decision-making processes or the working atmosphere). As a production factor, work should be assigned to economic life.
  • the law of life , the laws, rules and agreements of the Company includes.
  • the economy , which includes the production, trade and consumption of goods and services.

They are described as autonomous and equal, but different in nature.

Each main area is assigned an ideal of the French Revolution as a guiding principle:

the freedom of the intellectual life,
the equality of the law of life,
the brotherhood of the economic life.

Each of these three social members should be “... centralized in itself; and only through their lively coexistence and cooperation can the unity of the entire social organism arise. "

This does not mean imposing an imagined utopia on reality, but means knowledge of the essence of already existing modes of action according to the law of polarity and intensification, which Goethe recognized as decisive for morphology: "... we are doing ... a higher maxim of the organism attentive, which we pronounce as follows. Every living being is not an individual, but a majority .... The more imperfect the creature is, the more these parts are equal or similar to one another and the more they resemble the whole. The more perfect the creature becomes, the more dissimilar the parts become .... The subordination of the parts indicates a perfect creature. ” Steiner relates this idea directly to the social organism by saying: “ The split is actually always there; it is only a matter of finding how the three limbs can be brought together so that they actually work in the social organism with such an inner reason as, say, the nerve-sensory system, the heart-lung system The system and the metabolic system work in the human organism "

The desired functional structure of society should expressly not be understood as utopia, but is based on an empirical knowledge of the necessary living conditions in these three social areas. In the unified national state, these three systems are intertwined in a mutually hindering manner. Only in their radical functional separation, without one area interfering with the other in an unjustified manner and thereby leading to social complications, can they develop their own strength to the full. The nation-state, which is derived from a people's context in a way that is no longer up-to-date, is thus overcome. A legal community will take its place.

With this regulatory concept, Steiner outlined a social order, of which he assumed "that freedom and solidarity can be realized in equal measure and that the process of progressive emancipation is not only not hindered, but even supported positively." Steiner does not want the concept of the social organism to be understood as an analogy to natural organisms. He used this term, which was not uncommon in the social sciences of his time, because it seemed to him most suitable to do justice to the processes of the social sphere, which were in constant dynamic change. In order to realistically grasp these complex processes, Steiner believes that a transition from a static-abstract to a living-moving one, that is to say, an 'organic' approach is required.

Mental life

Freedom in intellectual life should enable people to train and exercise their individual abilities and enable cultural diversity and further development. This freedom can only develop in a structure of autonomy in which intellectual and cultural life remains independent of both the interests of the state and those of the economy. Steiner derives the low impact of the intellectual and artistic field on social development from this dependency: “One has to look at what intellectual life has become in the dependence on state authority and the capitalist violence associated with it.” You can do culture and science Only develop potential and give the necessary innovative impulses if their driving forces are not fed by the exploitation interests of the economy or the changing power interests of politics. The guidelines and goals for upbringing and education can only be obtained from the knowledge of their own area for the greatest possible development of individual skills. This autonomy should not only affect the teachers, educators and cultural workers in their specific activities, but also include the administration of this area, which is thus carried out by the people who work here themselves. “Spiritual life can only gain its strength when it is detached from state life, when it is completely on its own. What lives in the spiritual life, especially the school system, must be handed over to its self-administration, from the top management of the spiritual life to the teacher of the lowest school level. "

Legal life

Equality in legal life should secure the rights and opportunities of every individual.

For Steiner, democracy turned out to be one of the most fundamental and undeniable demands of the present: "The democratic principle has emerged from the depths of human nature and has become the signature of human striving in social relationships in modern times. It is an elementary demand of modern times Humanity, this democratic principle. "

In this democratic legal system, according to this view, what should be decided about which everyone is capable of judging simply by the fact that he is a responsible person.

According to the ideas of social threefolding, the state should resign as the central power instance and hand over some of its tasks to society. However, this does not mean that these autonomous areas of responsibility can take place in a legally free area. They are based on the rule of law. The legal system that has arisen democratically penetrates all areas of economic and intellectual life and gives the people who work in it security from arbitrariness and abuse of power.

The legal organization, which would take the place of the current state, would initially have the task of transforming the current relationships of violence, property and property into relationships that are based on the law in which all people are equal.

Another essential task would be the comprehensive regulation of labor law. According to Steiner's ideas, working hours, amount and type of work are not to be regulated within the economic organism. The democratic legal organization regulates these things independently of the demands of the economy. In order to be an equal partner in the contractual income-sharing relationship between the work manager and the employer, which replaces the previous sham relationship of the wage contract, the individual must already have the full employment law behind him, otherwise he will not get his rights. The aim is to remove the dependence of labor law on the economy, pricing, etc. The economic consequences such as pricing should not be the cause, but rather the effects of what is agreed in labor law. People should not be forced to adapt their rights to the needs of the economy, but labor law will be something for the economy like the natural foundations themselves. Only through this independent legal education can people be protected from being used in the economic process just as rigorously and with optimal efficiency as the raw materials and the means of production.

Economic life

Fraternity in economic life is supposed to enable fair prices and a fair distribution of goods in a free market through associations of consumers, traders and producers. It would be the task of legal life to create the necessary legal framework, which does not expropriate or nationalize private ownership of the means of production and capital, but transforms it into trust property. Capital neutralized in this way can neither be sold nor inherited, but only transferred to new owners in a kind of gift. “Property ceases to be what it has been until now. And it is not returned to a form that has been overcome, as common property would represent, but rather it is carried forward to something completely new. ” This would avoid capitalist abuse through profit-maximizing resale or stock market speculation. On the other hand, the freedom of entrepreneurs oriented towards the common good and the social ties of property would be secured.

In addition to the transformation of the old concept of property with regard to the means of production, there is the basic conviction that work is not affordable and therefore cannot be bought. In Steiner's view, the commodity character of human labor is a remnant form of slavery, which can only be completely overcome with the abolition of the wage principle. Instead of wages, there is a contractually agreed share of the profit. The neutralization of capital eliminates the classic roles of employer and employee within a company. Steiner proposed the terms worker and work manager as a new way of naming. These are in a contractual relationship: "And this relationship will not refer to an exchange of goods (or money) for labor, but to the determination of the share that each of the two people has who bring the goods together."

The task of converting private ownership of the means of production into common ownership should be carried out by works councils formed out of the factories , which join forces with all others in the country to form "works councils".

The descriptions and delimitations of the three social subsystems vary in different interpretations and further developments of the social threefolding, as do specific proposals for the implementation and organization of self-administration in these three areas. What is central, however, is the assignment of the three ideals of freedom, equality and fraternity to the three spheres of society, intellectual life, legal life and economic life.


Rudolf Steiner developed the first basic ideas on the social question at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1898 - in response to a work by the philosopher Ludwig Stein - he formulated his “basic sociological law” in two essays: “In the beginning of the cultural states, humanity strives for the emergence of social associations; The interests of the individual are first sacrificed to the interests of these associations; the further development leads to the liberation of the individual from the interests of associations and to the free development of the needs and powers of the individual. "In 1905 he published his" main social law " in the theosophical journal Lucifer-Gnosis : " The salvation of a community of people working together is the greater, the less the individual claims the income from his services for himself, that is, the more of these income he gives to his employees, and the more his own needs are satisfied not from his achievements, but from the achievements of others. "

In 1917, through mediation and in cooperation with Ludwig Polzer-Hoditz and Otto Graf von Lerchenfeld, he sent memoranda to the Austrian and German governments on an offer of peace by the Central Powers , which in the spirit of social threefolding is an effective alternative to the (in his opinion) fateful 14- American President Woodrow Wilson's point program for the self-determination of nations could have formed. The former head of cabinet of the Austrian Emperor Karl, Arthur Polzer-Hoditz introduced him to the idea of ​​threefolding in November 1917. He was asked to put the whole system of threefolding into a memorandum. In February 1918 he handed it over to the Kaiser and on the same day informed the then Prime Minister Seidel comprehensively about the content of the draft. However, there was no reaction.

The main reason for the negative evaluation of Wilson's theses is the peoples' right to self-determination postulated there . In this Steiner saw an illusionary idea that, contrary to its ostensible plausibility, would usher in an era of nationalism and racism. He opposed this destructive idea in a social reality that is increasingly characterized by diverse cultural and ethnic affiliations with the “right of the individual to self-determination”.

After the First World War, he and the entrepreneur Emil Molt tried for a few years within the framework of the Federation for Threefolding to find supporters in order to realize this idea in Germany, specifically in 1919 in Württemberg . In April of that year, the “Bund für Dreigliederung des Sozialorganism” was launched in Stuttgart, whose executive committee included Emil Molt, Max Benzinger and Emil Leinhas .

Call for a people's assembly with a lecture by Rudolf Steiner from 1919

In the course of these efforts, the first Waldorf school was founded . In the insecurity after the First World War, threefolding should counteract the currents of nationalism and communism and abolish capitalism .

In 1921 there was a further attempt in Upper Silesia to work publicly for the conception of social threefolding in order to overcome national contradictions by establishing a free intellectual life and to prevent the country from breaking up (Upper Silesian Federal Action for Threefolding). This action was also unsuccessful, but it should be thanks to her that the country did not sink into civil war.

When Steiner saw that he could not implement social threefolding in the post-war situation in Central Europe at that time, he stopped his activities in this regard and limited himself to developing the ideas of threefolding in lectures and seminars. He insisted that the future would bring a tripartite development of the social organism in freedom, equality and fraternity in any case, either through the insight of future generations or forced through unimaginable catastrophes.

The memory of this model remained largely alive only in anthroposophical circles and there, too, after Rudolf Steiner's death until the 1970s, it led a rather marginal existence.

As early as 1957, the seminar for liberal order was founded from a group of personalities who were interested in the maintenance and further development of our liberal social order, including the brothers Dieter Vogel, Heinz Hartmut Vogel and Lothar Vogel. as well as other founders recognized that in the course of the developing economic miracle, Ludwig Erhard could no longer politically enforce the approaches of the action group for social market economy , whereupon the movement constituted itself as an association to further cultivate this approach. The tripartite options of the regulatory policy and the interdependence of the order developed by Walter Eucken and his Freiburg School are of particular importance for the sponsors of the seminar. In further consistent pursuit of these approaches as well as the economic development in monetary policy, monetary theory and land law, the seminar developed a completely independent path which has also been documented and laid down in its journal "Issues of Freedom" since 1957. Basic essays deal with the monetary order, the land order and the topic of land and resource rents, education policy, agricultural subsidies, ecology, the basics of patent law and many more. The seminar works on a non-partisan and non-denominational level as an independent, free research and educational institution. The seminar strictly rejects a one-sided, dogmatizing interpretation of Rudolf Steiner's suggestions and statements and calls for his considerations to be constantly re-examined in the current context, including current economics.

In the course of the 1968 movement, there was a significant renaissance of the threefolding movement, carried by a small minority of those who were “moved” at the time, which, however, despite the greatest publicity efforts, was hardly heard or spoken out in the ruling media public.

In various extra-parliamentary discussion groups, groups and institutions in West Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, thinkers such as the young Marx , Voltaire and Rosa Luxemburg appreciated, discussed and emphasized the ideal correspondence between social and emancipatory ideas and the ideals of social threefolding . Enthusiasm for the Prague Spring, for the demand formulated by Eugen Löbl , "to combine socialism with the great program of freedom" , gave these groups an enormous boost. Rudi Dutschke knew about these connections. Unfortunately, due to the attack and his later untimely death, his willingness to work together could not be realized.

In 1969, Wilfried Heidt from the Republican Club Lörrach and Peter Schilinski from the Republican Club Sylt took the initiative with their employees to establish an international cultural center as a meeting place for all people who were interested in the goal of a "third path" between western capitalism and eastern state socialism (and that included also the "threefolders") are interested. When this meeting place was able to start work in the spirit of “active tolerance” as the international cultural center Achberg at the beginning of the 1970s, the “threefolders” also met there - among many other significant encounters, for example with emigrants from the Prague Spring or the Russian opposition important and inspiring bridge between the generations. Contemporary witnesses who were still alive and fellow campaigners in the first threefolding movement after the First World War joined forces with young people who wanted to continue these ideals. In the context of corresponding workshops at the Achberg International Cultural Center , the objectives of a free intellectual life and equality in legal life were given concrete form in the demand for secure, free and equal access to opinion-forming initiatives to the mass media, as a prerequisite for the introduction of elements of direct democracy with popular initiatives and referendums to complement parliamentary democracy. Furthermore, in the face of an uncontrolled international capital power, the question of a reorganized, independent, but democratically legitimized and public interest-oriented monetary system played a growing role.

The starting point for this was above all the ideas of Wilhelm Schmundt (1898–1992). Wilfried Heidt, at that time head of the Achberg Institute for Social Research, promoted and moderated the intellectual collaboration of a core group of people with Wilhelm Schmundt, the artist Joseph Beuys and many employees and guests of the International Cultural Center during the 1970s . The archetypes of a contemporary concept of money worked out in depth at the time formed the detailed intellectual foundation of that later concise short formula: Art = Creativity = Capital , with which Joseph Beuys, who called Wilhelm Schmundt his "great teacher", wanted to draw attention to the key points of an alternative monetary system.

Since then, Joseph Beuys had made a significant contribution to the fact that positions of social threefolding were repeatedly brought into the public eye. He had integrated the basic idea of ​​threefolding as part of his “ expanded concept of art ” into his idea of social sculpture . According to Beuys, "all human questions (...) can only be questions of design" . This new concept of art refers to “everything creating in the world. And not only on artistic design, but also on social design, [...] or other design issues and educational issues ” .

In 1986 Otto Schily , at that time still with the Greens in the Bundestag , presented the threefold idea in a passionate speech.

In April 1989, Rolf Henrich published his book The Guardian State - On the Failure of Really Existing Socialism, written in the GDR . It became one of the important texts of the citizens' movement. In it he analyzed the reality of the social situation and noted the "cultural decline of socialist society" . Henrich presented the threefolding and his vision of a newly designed non-aligned, anational Central Europe:

“However, as far as internal relations are concerned, the threefold structure of the social organism and the self-administration of its members would probably offer the best opportunities to finally shed the 'hardened skin' so that the state in Central and Eastern Europe could move it inwards could bring thrown back forces into a free human exchange. "

Nowadays there are a number of small and large initiatives that propagate the ideas of social threefolding and, in some cases, try to implement them. In 2003, Nicanor Perlas , representative of Filipino civil society, and Ibrahim Abouleish , founder of the Sekem farm in Egypt, received the Alternative Nobel Prize , two people and organizations who share and propagate the model of social threefolding. In Germany, for example, the GLS Bank Bochum works on the basis of social threefolding.

Works by Rudolf Steiner


  • The key points of the social question in the vital necessities of the present and future . Stuttgart 1919; Complete edition No. 23, Dornach 1961, ISBN 3-7274-0230-X .
  • Essays on the threefold structure of the social organism and the time between 1915–1921 . Complete edition No. 24, Dornach 1961, ISBN 3-7274-0240-7 .
    • Partial edition as a paperback under the title: State Policy and Human Policy . Dornach 1988, ISBN 3-7274-6670-7 .


  • The basic social demand of our time in a different time frame: Twelve lectures, held in Dornach and Bern from November 29 to December 21, 1918 , complete edition No. 186, 2nd edition, Dornach (Switzerland) 1979, ISBN 3-7274-1860-5 .
  • The social question as a question of consciousness: eight lectures, given in Dornach between February 15 and March 16, 1919 , complete edition No. 189, 3rd edition, Dornach (Switzerland) 1980, ISBN 3-7274-1890-7 .
  • Past and future impulses in social events: Twelve lectures, held in Dornach from March 21 to April 14, 1919 , complete edition No. 190, 3rd edition, Dornach (Switzerland) 1980, ISBN 3-7274-1900-8 .
  • Social understanding based on knowledge of the humanities: Fifteen lectures, given in Dornach between October 3 and November 15, 1919 , complete edition No. 191, 2nd edition, Dornach (Switzerland) 1972, ISBN 3-7274-1910-5 .
  • Treatment of social and educational issues in the humanities: Seventeen lectures, given in Stuttgart between April 21 and September 28, including 'three lectures on popular education' , complete edition No. 192, 2nd edition, Dornach (Switzerland) 1991
  • Redesign of the social organism: fourteen public lectures, given in Stuttgart between April 22 and July 30, 1919 , complete edition No. 330/331, Dornach (Switzerland) 1963
  • Social Future: Six Lectures with Answering Questions, Zurich October 24-30, 1919 , Complete Edition No. 332a, Dornach (Switzerland)
  • Freedom of thought and social forces. The social demands of the present and their practical realization: Six lectures with a closing word held between May 26th and December 30th, 1919 in Ulm, Berlin and Stuttgart , Complete Edition No. 333, Dornach (Switzerland) 1971
  • Anthroposophy, Social Threefolding, and Oratory. Orientation course for public effectiveness with a special focus on Switzerland: Six lectures, given in Dornach from October 11 to 16, 1921 , complete edition No. 339, 3rd edition, Dornach (Switzerland) 1984, ISBN 3-7274-3390-6 .
  • Economics course. Fourteen lectures, given in Dornach from July 24th to August 6th, 1922 for students of political economy , complete edition No. 340, 5th edition, Dornach (Switzerland) 1979, ISBN 3-7274-3400-7 .
  • Economics seminar. Six discussions with the participants in the economic course in Dornach from July 31 to August 5, 1922 , complete edition No. 342, 2nd edition, Dornach (Switzerland) 1973, ISBN 3-7274-3410-4 .


  • Dieter Brüll : The anthroposophical social impulse . Novalis, Schaffhausen 1984, ISBN 3-7214-0521-8 .
  • Hans Kühn: Threefolding time. Rudolf Steiner's fight for a future social order . Verlag am Goetheanum, Dornach 1978, ISBN 3-7235-0201-6 .
  • Stefan Leber: Self-realization - maturity - sociality. An introduction to the idea of ​​threefolding the social organism . Free Spiritual Life, Stuttgart 1978; Revised edition: Fischer Taschenbuch, Frankfurt am Main 1982, ISBN 3-596-25519-8 .
  • Joachim Luttermann: The threefold structure of the social organism. Basic lines of the legal and social teaching of Rudolf Steiner . Lang, Bern 1990, ISBN 3-631-43045-0 (= Diss. Göttingen 1990)
  • Albert Schmelzer: The threefolding movement 1919. Rudolf Steiner's commitment to self-administration . Free Spiritual Life, Stuttgart 1991, ISBN 3-7725-1080-9 (= Diss. Bochum)

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Steiner: The key points of the social question. Dornach 1961, p. 71.
  2. ^ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Writings on natural science. Stuttgart 1977, p. 48 f.
  3. Steiner: Economic course. GA 340, Dornach b. Basel 1979, p. 154.
  4. Steiner: Social Future. Dornach 1981, p. 151 ff.
  5. ^ J. Luttermann: Threefolding of the social organism: Basic lines of the legal and social doctrine of Rudolf Steiner. (= European university publications: series 31, political science. Volume 162). Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1990, Foreword I. (Zugl. Univ., Diss., Göttingen 1989)
  6. ^ J. Luttermann: Threefolding of the social organism: Basic lines of the legal and social doctrine of Rudolf Steiner. (= European university publications: series 31, political science. Volume 162). Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1990, p. 7 u. 155. (Zugl. Univ., Diss., Göttingen 1989)
  7. a b Steiner: Freedom of thought and social forces. Dornach 1986, p. 14 f.
  8. Steiner: Social Future. Dornach 1981, pp. 85ff.
  9. ^ According to Behrens: The human being - builder of the social organism. Hamburg 1958, p. 85 ff.
  10. Steiner: The key points of the social question. Dornach 1961, p. 100.
  11. Steiner: The key points of the social question. Dornach 1961, p. 79.
  12. [1]
  13. Online source with the two articles
  14. Source with numerous additional texts
  15. See: Renate Riemeck : Central Europe. Balance of a century. Fischer Taschenbuch, Frankfurt am Main 1983, p. 145.
  16. See: Jens Heisterkamp (Hrsg.): Die Jahrhundertillusion. Wilson's right of peoples to self-determination, Steiner's criticism and the question of national minorities today. Frankfurt am Main 2002.
  17. ^ Albert Schmelzer: "Max Benzinger" - biography of the research center for culture impulses
  18. ^ Conversation between J. Beuys, B. Blume and HG Prager on November 15, 1975, published in the Rheinische Bienenzeitung, issue 12/1975.
  20. ^ Henrich: The guardian state. Reinbek 1989, p. 316.
  21. ^ Henrich: The guardian state. Reinbek 1989, p. 303.
  22. 100 years of threefolding, magazine Info3, May 2017 edition, accessed on August 25, 2020.
  23. Albert Schmelzer: Not capitalism and not socialism. Rudolf Steiner as a society reformer educational art. Waldorf Education Today, February 2011, accessed on August 25, 2020.