Understanding History from the Future – Crisis as Opportunity

Understanding History from the Future – Crisis as Opportunity

24 July 2020 Gerald Häfner 577 views

Crises synchronize and at the same time individualize us. We all follow the same guidelines, we are all in the same boat – and yet we are suddenly monads, strictly separated from each other. There is something that is almost spooky when people stay in their homes day after day, as if controlled by a distant choreography; as public life dies, we no longer approach each other, but rather conscientiously avoid each other, no longer flock together, but instead keep the greatest possible distance from each other. What is being observed on the outside, finds its counterpart on the inside. Because what I do, I do for others – and they do for me. I do it alone, for myself, but it only makes sense if everyone else does the same.

It’s a strange thing about society. There are times when everything seems constant and unchanging, as if cast in concrete. Then there are times when everything changes, suddenly, from one day to the next. Just like that. Something we never imagined possible has happened: schools, kindergartens and theatres – closed, churches, museums, sports facilities, shops, hotels and restaurants, closed; playgrounds and parks, businesses and even borders – closed. People locked up in their apartments – and if they dare go outside, and at most alone or in pairs, then at a great distance and wearing face masks. Not for one day, not for a weekend, but in most cases for months.

Small, medium and large, globally operating companies, even those that are among the most successful, having lost almost all of their value, are on the brink of an abyss, having to file for bankruptcy or are becoming the helpless prey of greedy financial speculators. Aeroplanes remain on the ground, employees stay at home, trips, conferences, cultural and sporting events are all cancelled. Millions of people lose their jobs, many also lose their income, and not just a few also lose courage, their sense of purpose and contact to loved ones. The world has become a different place. And humanity is afraid!

The public is currently dominated by two closely related reflexes: fear and resistance. Governments around the world are targeting the virus as an enemy and are combatting it with war-like operations. In France, the president deliberately speaks of a war against the virus. The President of the USA even presents the whole thing as a foreign invasion, against which powerful America fights with all its might. The United States of America is therefore in battle against the ‘Chinese virus’ – and the government is even asking the United Nations to officially declare this. The patterns of reaction are not the same everywhere, there are nuances that tell a lot about the thinking and the character of certain politicians, about the culture of a country and about the maturity of its society. Nonetheless, aggressive, militant thinking prevails.

It reveals a pattern of thought and reaction that cultivates hostile relationships to the world, a way of behaving that is similar to combat mode – defensive, conquering or ruling behaviour. Anything that cannot be integrated into the framework of a trusted world view is faded out or destroyed. What is happening is the opposite of what could or should be done in a constructive way in dealing with the situation. Isolating people, excluding them from their creative activity, restricting them in their natural urge to move – all this massively weakens the human ability to deal with the possible threat of a virus in a healthy way. The exact opposite would in fact be helpful – social contact, warmth, closeness, social encounter, as well as movement, sun, fresh air, joy and a sense of purpose in life and in activity. In the interim, there has even been public debate about what ultimately has worse consequences – the infection of most people by the virus or the measures implemented to defend against it.

The Pandemic as an Awakening Experience for Humanity?

The view of the social dimensions of events is deliberately not directed here at denouncing or coming to terms with mistakes and omissions, nor is it an analysis of what has happened, but rather it is a cautious and tentative attempt to look from a future perspective for an understanding of what happened during the Corona pandemic.

In social life, having a completely abstract, neutral representation is an illusion. Rather, the way we look at, understand and describe something that is still happening is always simultaneously participation, which is itself having an effect. For the social is formed between people; everyone is involved. We are not neutral spectators but are jointly responsible for what develops from our interactions between each other. This article is written from this perspective – that of full co-responsibility.

Illness always comes at the wrong time. We have more important things to do than being ill. Nevertheless, sometimes there is no other choice. We have to give the illness time and space. Whoever then inwardly listens attentively to themselves will almost always find reasons why they have become ill. Every illness also has a reason – and a specific meaning.

Just as every illness has biographical significance for the individual person, could this not also apply to a pandemic – in this case, however, to the whole of humanity? Just as disease often strikes us individually because we have not mastered something specific in our biography and forces us to deal with it, so too could a pandemic be a kind of trick of nature to confront the whole of humanity with certain questions that have thus far been repressed, urging us to take steps that have not yet been taken. Most of the time, the patient has to understand that his previous way of life was unhealthy, and he has to change his lifestyle if he wants to get well again and live longer.

It is unmistakable that we human beings have been pushed further and further into a mode in which we are destroying the world; we are hostile to it, we try to exploit and dominate it – and a world in which we ourselves, in a nutshell, only know the price of things and know nothing of their value. Through these, we have increasingly lost our connection to our fellow human beings, to ourselves, but even more to nature and to all creatures that populate and enliven this world. Science and technology are materializations of our thinking and our will and both are moving at breakneck speed, holding the world in suspense. What is largely omitted are our relationships or connections to the world – the quality of our heart, our lungs, our centre. This virus has a particular effect on our centre: the human centre which enables our connection to the world, and between thinking and limbs. Right here, in my breath and in my heartbeat, I am with myself and at the same time completely connected to the world. With every breath, I take in the world and when I breathe out again, I pour a part of myself into the world. And it is precisely here that this virus unfolds its pathogenic effect.

Understanding not Backwards, but Forwards

Alone at home, and more and more dependent on the internet, we are increasingly losing our foothold in external reality. We are losing our sense of security and certainty, in our economic and social lives, but also in our spiritual and political ones. We know less and less what is true. There are an infinite number of narratives, stories and assessments of what lies behind it all. Does the virus really come from a species of bat that was traded in a wild animal market in Wuhan? Or was it released – intentionally or accidentally – by the nearby bio-laboratory where research is being conducted with just such viruses? This is not the only subject of a bitter dispute.

What’s more, the controversies are becoming more violent, and the narratives so different that it seems as if their representatives are living in different realities. What is striking here is the vehemence of the judgments. Today, many conversations are quickly over after an initial taste – one person’s world view seems too incompatible with that of the other. Personal conviction on the one hand and the inability to deal with another’s experiences on the other are alienating us from each other. An inner feeling of illusory grandeur towards this event arises, because everyone thinks they can explain it exactly and also solve it. This is almost always associated with thinking in categories of good and evil or black and white, which is no longer at all appropriate in this unfolding historical situation in which we find ourselves.
A ‘Celebration’ of Control and Surveillance

In fact, we are witnessing a marriage of surveillance and control, for example through blanket surveillance of public spaces as in China, or through digital surveillance apps and programmes. In many countries, people are not allowed to leave their homes for weeks or months at a time. In the meantime, there is also discussion about whether the exercise or restriction of civil rights can be made dependent on whether someone has been vaccinated or not. Fear is growing that what seems understandable in an acute emergency situation could become permanent or cause a dam to burst for other reasons as well.

Today, world affairs have multiple layers and are highly complex. However, the ordinary mind searches for the one explanation. There must be one cause, the one reason, from which everything else that follows can be deduced. With this kind of understanding, history’s causes and consequences run linearly from A to B. In reality, however, things are usually much more complex and multi-layered. Seldom is a single explanation sufficient to comprehensively understand and categorize a historical event. Most explanations apply to one layer only, one aspect of the whole. Simple, reductionist narratives, such as the conviction that the whole event was concocted as a plan by a certain person or place and then carried out worldwide, almost always prove false. Anthroposophical historical analysis therefore examines historical facts not only in their causal sequence but leaves them their peculiarities and unavailable partialities. It tries, rather, to understand them as symptoms: like condensations or reasonable expressions of a more comprehensive reality which does not elude understanding but does not fully reveal it either. If anything, it could be read more like a language through which we, depending on our ability and horizon, can still further develop the initially hidden levels of understanding.

For this reason, after the one just mentioned, another, equally true perspective of what is happening should at least be briefly hinted at here: If one could be reasonably confident in what can be followed in terms of political events and statements through the various media and personal contacts with people involved, then the central motive of the measures taken, at least in most countries, was not to implement control, surveillance and vaccination, but rather to protect people and save lives. If this is true, then it is a most remarkable fact that we as a society have now reached a point where we are no longer prepared to sacrifice a large number of human lives, but where a real attempt is being made to fight for every human life. This is a new stage in human development, a new experience. We are living through and practicing solidarity and taking responsibility for one another. Ute Hallaschka calls this: ‘Maintaining physical distance from inner closeness to the other’.1 We are all connected. ‘We are one organism. A body of humankind.’2

In this context, another thing seems to me to be important: Of course, one can investigate all the speculations, indications and evidence in order to identify the culprit(s) of historical events. However, in the end this leads to little or no solution. More often than not, it even works the other way round. If you feel you can point an accusatory finger at someone and say: ‘That’s the one’, you have not yet mastered the problem.

Let me put it this way: We are less and less able to understand the situations in which we live. We can only better grasp the situations in which we live if we look at them from a future perspective.

The riddles that history poses to us therefore cannot be solved by looking backwards, but only by looking forwards. Understanding and solving issues from the future means that the ‘stop the thief!’ mentality is no longer interesting or relevant for the great challenges that humanity is facing. For it does not help us to name the one (or many) culprit(s). It doesn’t help pointing fingers at others while feeling blameless oneself. Three fingers of my hand always point back to me. The question is not only, ‘how can I understand what is happening on as many levels and angles as possible, but also, what can I – what can we – contribute? What can I do differently in the future?

It is true. Crises always serve as an opportunity to push through political goals within the context of the supposed constraints, thereby avoiding fundamental public debate. On the other hand, it is also true that crises always contain the possibility of undoing wrong procedures and decisions, of not continuing them, and of seeking public discussion and support for new and better ways forward.

It is open to both sides. It is simply not predetermined what the outcome will be. What emerges from a crisis is in our hands. The way we understand a crisis and the decisions we make in the face of it are also decisive.

‘Follow the Science’

A striking characteristic of the crisis associated with the global appearance of the novel Coronavirus is that all political measures followed the guidelines of a comparatively limited number of scientists, essentially virologists and epidemiologists, who set the course. Their tools of the trade are models, diagrams, forecasts and probabilities. However, intensive care doctors, lung specialists or holistically oriented physicians often had different opinions. If people from other disciplines and professions, perhaps even a few parents and artists, had been incorporated, differentiated and more balanced results might have been possible. Yet the way it was done, the sometimes smiled upon dictates of the ‘ruling virologist’ led to a very narrow approach in politics. Under the pressure of the crisis, a form of rule imperceptibly emerged, one which has been asked for many times in the past – the rule of scientists, or technocracy. ‘Follow the science’ has become a buzzword of countless climate protection activists. Is it not correct? Is it not right to follow those who really ‘know’?

No! This demand ignores the essence of spiritual life and misjudges (or confuses) spiritual and legal life. The attitude or instruction of spiritual life is never uniform or clear. It does not speak with a single, uniform voice. It has no collective character. And no determining one. Rather, it is a place of permanent struggle – often also of conflict – to arrive at the right, the best possible insight. In every individual, every concept, every thought, every decision, every conscious action becomes cognition, spiritual life becomes present and effective, in and through us – the individual.

Yet when a particular view demands universal validation or even domination over everyone, when it thinks it can dictate what is right for people and what is wrong, what one may believe, think, say or do, it then becomes dangerous – or even evil. What applies to everyone in the form of law and legislation cannot (any longer) be unilaterally decreed today. It must rather be negotiated with one another and decided democratically. Otherwise, the law will be replaced by a dictator, and democracy by dictatorship.

The tendency towards technocracy or expertocracy represents an ever greater danger for democracies. Politics determined by scientific knowledge becomes blind to the very essence of politics, the people. It tends to fade out alternatives and immunizes itself against social contradictions. It suppresses and censors debates; after all, one cannot oppose science. Those who advocate such a policy fail to recognize that science itself is plural – at least, as long as it is science. Where it gives up its plurality, where it excludes new discoveries and other approaches, it has already lost this character and claim to legitimacy. For science is not a fixed content, but an open, plural procedure.

In a democracy, there can never be just one point of view. On the contrary, different views must be weighed against each other. Where this is not, or not sufficiently, the case, people rebel against it. This is understandable and justified. The unwillingness to accommodate other points of view is dangerous. This attitude increases on both sides. It is like a competition of reflecting opposites, both of which are trying to outbid the other through mistrust, because they refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the other view. Those who think in this way, poison and destroy democratic discourse. They are helping to build an undemocratic world built of unilateral world views by presenting distorted images of the ‘enemy’, a practice which more and more is dominating people.

What was initially seen as the ‘right thing to do’ to protect the population through acute and centrally imposed restrictions, in the face of the predicted danger of a dramatic pandemic that would have overstretched health systems, is beginning to be reversed in the minds of an increasing number of people. They complain about repression from above and protest against the restrictions of their freedom and civil rights. The root cause is a dramatic failure of politics – the people affected are not included, not heard, not consulted. They feel that they are not taken seriously. How different would it have been if after a short period of time of the prognoses and model calculations of some virologists (who almost solely determined political action), open dialogue and democratic procedures had been introduced? Round tables of doctors and nurses from different fields and perspectives, for example – or round tables on the subject of ‘children’ with educators, teachers, parents, youth and social services and other independent agencies? If, in the sense of functional structuring and democratic self-administration, more would have been discussed, agreed and decided upon with each other rather than for us?

Time Out – The Crisis as Opportunity

In sport, for example, ‘time out’ is the name given to an interruption in the game in which both teams can gather together, take time and reconsider how they want to play the game going forwards. Corona offers us the opportunity to look at our world and our lives from the interval created by enforced quarantine. We can listen inside ourselves and ask ourselves what really is important to us, how we will work and live in the years to come, where we will set our priorities and what we want to do differently in the future.

Can we, for example, find a different relationship to the earth?
Can we learn to treat animals differently?
Can we do business differently, more holistically, more sustainably and in cooperation rather than out of competition?
Can we shape society differently, more liberally, more democratically and with greater solidarity?
Can we make decisions differently, democratically and with, rather than against each other?

We are just learning that it is possible to think in new ways and do things completely differently than before. In this way, every crisis can become an opportunity for a thorough rethinking of our relationship to the earth, because the current pandemic has proven how capable we are of making major changes when it is deemed necessary. Then we will succeed in the shortest possible time in making changes that for years previously had seemed impossible. This is perhaps the most important experience of the last weeks and months. We should not forget it.
Drowning in a Sea of Debt?

I believe that the time after Corona will be the most political we will ever have experienced. ‘Political’ is what I mean here in the best sense. Because it’s about our polls, about the community. Fundamental decisions will have to be lined up and made. And I hope you will be part of it! Because the time is past when basic decisions for everything can be made behind closed doors by a handful of people. We need a transparent and public debate on all the issues at stake, the weighing up of different routes and, finally, the greatest possible participation of the people in the decisions themselves. This will not come about by itself. Rather, it must be fought for. You are encouraged to prepare yourself for it.

The big and difficult questions that will have to be resolved after the pandemic begin with the problem of debt itself. The consequent costs of the pandemic are becoming more incalculable every day. Just one example: the aid programme for the German economy set up by the German government alone amounts to 1.2 trillion euros (as of mid-May 2020). Added to this are further expenses for European and bilateral aid. It is the largest aid programme in German history. It is tearing deep holes in the already empty coffers. On top of this, tax revenues are expected to fall by a further 100 billion euros in 2020 alone.

Who is supposed to bear these debts? How – and by whom – will they ever be repaid? At the moment we are passing them, unasked for, on to future generations. In doing so, we are placing a heavy burden on their future. Besides which, these are not the only debts. Instead, they only increase the gigantic debt that already exists. Our monetary system today is already determined by permanently unacceptable disparities. The community, the public sector, states, regions and communities are sinking into a sea of debt, while the wealthy are accumulating excessive and senseless wealth. Independently of economic and political failures, which have undoubtedly exacerbated the problem here and there, these symptoms point to very fundamental defects in our monetary system.

The current crisis could be an occasion to raise public awareness of these and to reflect on fundamental monetary reform as the only permanent way to solve the problem. In the Section for Social Sciences and its affiliated working groups and institutions around the world, we have been working on approaches and building blocks for many years. One of the foundations for this is Rudolf Steiner’s World Economy course, in which he was one of the first to recognize and think through this problem and to develop ways to make money healthy.3 In Germany, GLS- Bank, which was inspired by the anthroposophical social impulse when it was founded, organizes an annual ‘Money Summit’ at which experts and interested parties discuss a contemporary concept of money and elements for its implementation.4 At the Goetheanum, the domicile of our School of Spiritual Science, we also devote ourselves to this topic – most recently in November 2019 at the conference ‘The Economy of Brotherhood – Money in the Light of Freedom and Karma’.5 Much work has already been done on this urgent and overdue reform of our monetary system. Not only on the basis of the work of Rudolf Steiner,6 but also by other methods. Yet many of those involved in this work are coming to very similar approaches. It would therefore be desirable that discussions on this matter should finally begin. What if, for example, instead of inviting governments to another ‘car summit’ with the dubious aim of rescuing an industry arrested in the past, they were now to issue a broad invitation to an official ‘money summit’ for the first time – with the aim of comprehensively reforming the monetary system in the sense of more sustainability, appropriateness, solidarity and liberty?

Democracy and Character

Corona has removed a veil, brought to light, concretized, made clear, what and how much has to change on this earth so that we do not stagger from one threatening crisis to the next. This crisis, if looked through a magnifying glass, has cracked wide open numerous spiritual, cultural, economic and political decisions that were made in a careless and unreasonable way over the last decades, with too little awareness of our responsibility for the whole of creation and the earth. Their often fatal consequences are becoming clearer than ever before. With the great Corona interruption of life, we have been granted an unexpected opportunity to reform and rebuild our economic, political and cultural systems. It is by no means clear how it will end – but it is most certainly in our hands.

In terms of democracy and law, the pandemic has transported most countries and societies back into the past as if with a kick in the teeth. From one day to the next, people have found themselves in conditions they thought had long since been overcome. Thoroughly discussed parliamentary decisions and laws were replaced by hastily written regulations. Fundamental rights – from the basic right of the individual to freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of movement, freedom of occupation, guarantee of property rights and freedom of religious practice – were restricted to such an extent that would previously only have been possible in times of war.

The extent, path and form of this differed in the various countries. Thus, dealing with this challenge has also allowed a comparison of cultures and systems. It demonstrates the strengths and weaknesses of those who govern us. For example, a look at New Zealand, Finland, Denmark, Iceland and Germany is interesting and instructive. These countries have thus far come through the pandemic relatively successfully. They have comparatively low infection rates and/or few deaths – and they are all governed by female heads of state! Given that for centuries governance was considered the dominion of men, we can see in this, too, an indication of new qualities that will become indispensable in politics and in the shaping of society in the future.

Conversely, we see with great concern and extreme pain that when a government is run by men who like to present themselves as particularly strong types, as invincible winners, as machos or as populists, there is currently usually not only fierce, often insurmountable confrontation and mutual apportionment of blame, but usually also shocking incompetence. The extent of the danger to citizens depends to a large extent on the system in which they live and the quality of their representatives. Denial, cover-up, self-dramatization, oppression, intimidation, state or police brutality; anti-democratic systems have become even more harsh during the Corona period – polarizing their society and having even worse outcomes. In such an uncertain, unprecedented situation, everything ultimately depends on the question: ‘Is it possible to trust the people who are currently making decisions? To whom are they accountable? What is it that drives them? In whose name and interests are they acting?’ These people are also constantly being debated and judged in Parliament, in public, in direct votes and finally in political elections. The tendency to call for the ‘strong man’ in a crisis or to replace democracy with technocracy is highly dangerous. Democracy is even more important than ever in situations of threat. In addition, the quality of a democracy is also measured by whether its procedures are open and flexible enough to arrive at appropriate and moderate decisions in a democratically legitimate way, even in extreme circumstances.
Turn Politics Upside Down

Even if the situation varies from country to country, it can be said that in the beginning almost everywhere people agreed to act in solidarity for the sake of the most vulnerable, supporting the mandatory measures. Now this is changing. For in the beginning, when the danger seemed immense and there was still little reliable information and experience in dealing with this type of crisis, the state could not have acted other than with massive restrictions and blanket decrees from the highest level. In the meantime, however, things have changed. We now have a better, more differentiated picture and a much more precise knowledge of the situation. Now, a different, far less massive and blanket approach is needed. Those responsible, however, find this difficult. And just as it was a virtue at the beginning to follow the directives precisely in order to avoid endangering others, months later it is downright alarming, even frightening, if a society in ‘a state of emergency’ simply continues to follow the authorities like sheep. Differences of opinion, discussion and, in justified cases, resistance are among the essential conditions and necessities of a democracy. We are not subjects, but free, self-determining individuals.

It is undeniable that certain high-turnover companies and powerful associations have a great influence on politics. If I take Germany as an example, there are the car manufacturers, Lufthansa or the German Football Association. They were listened to very early on and generously supported, or had their restrictions eased. Yet other groups and individuals, who perhaps need the ear and attention of politicians much more urgently, have found it more difficult. For example, current policies completely ignore the realities of life for parents, children, kindergartens and schools. Locking up children – who are at least risk and need most air and light, play, movement and social encounter – in cramped apartments and houses for months on end achieves little and is pedagogically and socially indefensible.

The fact that these restrictions are among the last to be lifted shows how little child-appropriate and child-friendly our societies still are. The scientific body that has been very involved in Germany in addressing this issue, ‘die Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften’ (the National Academy of Sciences), is itself made up of academics, none of whom are under fifty and only two of its twenty-four members are female.

I’m taking this as an example of how our state and community must change. For humanity itself has changed and will continue to change. We are on a path of decisive transition from being led by others to leading ourselves. Rudolf Steiner, in the so-called ‘sociological basic law’, wrote:

At the beginning of cultural life, humanity created social unions; to which the interests of the individual were initially subordinated. Further development leads to the liberation of the individual from these collectives to the free unfolding of the needs and strengths of the individual.7

In the Middle Ages, for example, humanity still experienced law as something that came from outside and above. It was in the hands of a few – kings, sovereigns, princes. Today, people’s consciousness and the individual’s relationship to law has changed. We have become freer and thus more individual. This also implies more responsibility. The ‘sovereign’ is no longer the prince or king, but the community of free and equal citizens. We humans create justice together. That everyone be given the opportunity to participate is a right that could only be conceivable today. The authoritarian state must be replaced by a constitutional democratic state, which is designed by and accountable to all citizens.

Local Government and Citizens’ Councils

This requires new forms of democracy. The more diverse the opinions and perspectives that flow into political decisions, the better the final decisions themselves will be. Especially now, as a consequence of contradictory experiences during the Corona pandemic, it is important to create new forms of participation and decision-making. It must be possible to include all the important voices. Decisions on how to respond to a pandemic are by no means just about medical issues. The involvement of the social sciences, ethics, economics, law and political science, for example, are equally indispensable. They should be adequately represented in the relevant advisory bodies of governments.

Even more important is to involve not only experts, but those affected, i.e. the citizens themselves. One way of doing this would be to establish round tables at various levels, where people representing different frames of reference meet and work out a balanced approach. Another possibility would be to establish representative citizens’ councils. Such participatory committees could be created at all levels, in the district or municipality, at city, county, regional and state level, during such a difficult period. The result would be a policy relevant to citizens. I am sure that as soon as people themselves begin to talk to each other about how they want to organize life with children or care of the elderly, the lonely and the at-risk groups in their neighbourhoods, far more practical and realistic approaches would emerge than if this is done by a remote authority.

This step can be further thought through. For we need a really strong and efficient, self-determined, democratic and supportive community for the great tasks that lie ahead. Currently, one and the same government decides centrally from above on the most diverse issues imaginable – from theatre and school closures or the restriction of church services to purchase premiums for automobile customers or strategic decisions on the future operation of an airline. Wouldn’t this alternative approach also be better, more informed, closer to the people and more democratic? Let us imagine, then, that we do not have a government that makes decisions down to the smallest detail across all areas of society, no matter how diverse they may be, but rather a form of politics in which the tasks are discussed and solved in a self-governing, decentralized manner and closer to the people.
Disempowerment and Structuring of Society

Let’s take another more specific example, the schools. They have recently been closed for months by centralized state injunction, completely and without exception, as have playgrounds and parks, kindergartens and other counselling and care facilities. Parents have subsequently found themselves stuck at home with their children. Children were sometimes left to themselves in dark, cramped rooms for endless periods, or sometimes at the mercy of drunken, desperate and unruly adults. The youth welfare officers, the carers and teachers knew of these cases. They could not, indeed were not, allowed to do anything! Meanwhile, huge school grounds stood gapingly empty. This was a regulation conceived by virologists, not by educators or affected parents. I am sure that if a framework had been made clear and the responsibility handed to the self- government of the people involved in schools and education, rather than to a bureaucracy advised by virologists, much more sensible and better solutions would have been found.

The state need only say: These are the issues you shouldn’t lose sight of – and now see if you can find a way of dealing with your children that does justice to both protection against infection and the children’s need for play and exercise. Then some schools might have remained closed, but other schools might have opened – just differently, in movement, dispersed, outdoors or in forms that no one had thought of before. It is about the power of self-organization, in finding the right way together, taking into account knowledge of the issues, the respective sectors and the actual children.

This could gradually lead to self-government in other areas as well. In addition to the aspect of self-administration itself, it would make sense to divide the different social, functional areas of culture (including education, art, science and religion), the legal-political and the economy into separate categories.

The time in which society is uniformly and centrally ordered and governed, from top to bottom, is over. A new era has dawned. People do not want to be overlooked or bypassed; they want to be asked, heard and involved. They want to experience that their word and voice counts. If governments ignore this call and continue to keep people ignorant, then the indignation and rejection of the existing forms and their protagonists, something already being observed worldwide, will increase even more. This rejection has its origin in the sometimes-unconscious inner desire to be taken seriously as a human being – even if it expresses itself in accusation, rage and indignation.

Where this force does not find meaningful action and appropriate expression, it threatens to become destructive. Rudolf Steiner pointed out that if we do not decide to reorganize society accordingly and build a ‘social order’ on the capacity for self-government by the people, the rising strength of the individuality increasingly leads to egoism, isolation and destruction. Through new forms of functional structuring and self- administration, however, a new ability and vigour will unfold. It develops out of concrete experiences of active participation from two directions at the same time: inwardly as an experience of self-effectiveness and self- determination that strengthens the individual, and outwardly as a growing ability to appreciate and consider others, to understanding and to the inclusion of larger perspectives and contexts, and finally to feeling a sense of responsibility for the whole of society.

From Domination to Relationship

For a long time we have looked at the earth like any other arbitrary object. We have trampled, pillaged, poisoned and destroyed it. We have acted very similarly towards animals. What we still do to these wonderful creatures on a daily basis – for example, in industrial mass animal husbandry or by destroying their habitats and exterminating countless species – is almost unbearable and fills us with guilt and shame. We have also turned human beings into objects and continue to do so. We have exploited them, persecuted them, subjugated them, enslaved them. Now, a dramatic succession of crises is pointing out to us that this is no longer possible. We have to build a different relationship to people: those who lived before us, who live with and around us, and who will live after us – those who are connected to us and are there for us, just as we are there for them. We have to find a different relationship to the plants to which we owe infinitely so much, not least of which is their beauty, our life and our health. We have to find a different relationship to animals, who are our companions and fellow travellers. And we have to find a different relationship to the earth, which supports and endures us – and without which we would not be here!

All these paths are at the same time paths to the spiritual. We transcend the narrow boundaries of our intellectual consciousness towards the spiritual when it comes to a new relationship to the animal world, the plant world or the earth. For this relationship means connection, a bonding to something that I can only experience if I consciously and actively transcend the narrow limits of abstract thinking and body-bound experience. It is exactly the same with the establishment of a new economy, which does not primarily focus on profit, on material, monetary income, but on what we can do for the earth and for other people. And we are also in the spiritual when we no longer think politically in terms of decrees, orders and execution, but when we try together to solve the questions posed to us by our times and destiny through conversation, dialogue and joint decision making. It is always a matter of transcending one’s own limitations and opening up to the other being. This – and no longer power and domination – is the new archetypal gesture for the social.

Gerald Häfner

  1. Ute Hallaschka, ‘Menschheit’, in: Gegenwart – Zeitschrift für Kultur, Politik, Wirtschaft, Nr. 2/2020, 26 (German only. ‘Humanity, in the Present’).
  2. Loc. cit.
  3. Rudolf Steiner, Rethinking Economics: Lectures and Seminars on World Economics, (GA 340) (Rudolf Steiner, Nationalökonomischer Kurs, Aufgaben einer neuen Wirtschaftswissenschaft I, Dornach 2002).
  4. https://www.glsbankstiftung.de/besucherinnen/geldgipfel/geldgipfel-2020/
  5. Tagung zur Ökonomie der Brüderlichkeit (Conference, The Economy of Brotherhood) https://www.confoedera.ch/
  6. Rudolf Steiner, Basic Issues of the Social Question, (Also published as The Threefold Social Order), (GA 23) (Rudolf Steiner, Die Kernpunkte der sozialen Frage in den Lebensnotwendigkeiten der Gegenwart und Zukunft, Dornach 1976)
  7. Rudolf Steiner: Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Kultur- und Zeitgeschichte 1887 – 1901 (GA 31), Dornach 1966, p. 255, first published in: Rudolf Steiner: Freiheit und Gesellschaft, Magazin für Literatur 1898, 67. Jg., Nr. 29 and 30. (Note for English readers: This ‘the sociological basic law’ (GA 31), written in 1898 in the Magazin für Literatur, was an early rendering of what later became known as Rudolf Steiner’s ‘fundamental social law’ in the form we have come to know so well, which was written in an essay known as ‘Reordering of Society. The Fundamental Social Law’, Chapter 7 in Anthroposophy and the Social Question, 1919, (GA 34).)

First published in the book "Perspektiven und Initiativen zur Coronazeit". Published in 2020 by Verlag am Goetheanum. The book can be purchased for CHF 12 / Euro 10.