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CULTURAL, POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC NAVIGATION: THREEFOLDING

We adhere to the principle of socially engaged spirituality. Our task of inner and societal transformation requires access to the deepest sources of meaning and identity that we can tap so that we can continue to have strength and do not burn out. We will therefore seek and nurture our own paths to a sense of the Divine in all that exists. We advance our spirituality not for ourselves, but ultimately to serve others and to nurture the world. Our search is for a spirituality that will not take us away from this world but will give us the creative power to manifest in world affairs the implicit essence of the evolutionary process of Divine Creation.

Nicanor Perlas, Integral Sustainable Development

INTRODUCTION: LIBERTY, EQUALITY, FRATERNITY

THREEFOLDING

As we saw in Chapter 7, Sri Aurobindo grounded his impending new world order in liberty, equality and fraternity. Hitherto at the time of the French Revolution, for Frances Edmunds (1) the founder of Emerson College in the UK (a higher education institute based on Austrian polymath Rudolf Steiner's work) a call sounded forth, the call of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. Steiner thereafter, during the calamitous years of the First World War, brought forward, as an answer to that call, his ideas on what he termed a Threefold Commonwealth – cultural, political and economic. Steiner in fact saw himself as a "spiritual scientist". As such he developed a unique approach to navigating social renewal (2), thereby renewing culture (liberty) – including art and architecture, health and agriculture, philosophy and education – as well as politics (equality) and economics (fraternity).

In 1917, after 30 years of so-called "spiritual-scientific" research, according to Edmunds, Steiner had come to describe how the body consists of three distinct though related organizations, a nervous-sense system centred in the head, a rhythmic circulatory system centred in the chest and a limbic-metabolic system centred in the abdomen. They represent three different principles: the nerve-system comprising the brain, nerves and senses being related to conscious thought; the rhythmic circulatory system comprising lung, heart and circulation as the centre of the rhythmic functioning of the body to the life of feeling; and the limbic-metabolic system aligned with will.

THE THREEFOLD NATURE OF MAN

In other words the picture of the "threefold commonwealth" (see Figure 9.1 below) can be viewed as directly parallel to that of the threefold nature of man. However, Steiner's ideas on such could not be realized at the time, early in the last century, and are still far from being realized today (Sekem in Egypt, as we shall see in Chapter 22, being one prominent exception). Why then is this? It is, for Steiner, because of the overwhelmingly centralist trend in thought that is ever looking for singular, “head leadership", whether by individual “leaders" or “entrepreneurs", such as America's Bill Gates, or the late Steve Jobs, or Britain's Richard Branson, or indeed by singular ideologies, such as capitalism or communism.

Where then, firstly, do we genuinely find liberty? Certainly not in free markets, nor even in liberal democracy, but essentially, for Steiner, in the sphere of thought. We would expect every individual to be entirely free to think his own thoughts, to worship in his own style, to pursue his own cultural interest, in fact to conduct his own cultural life untroubled and untrammelled by any question of outer control. Where, secondly, shall we seek and expect to find equality? Most surely before the law. Justice belongs equally to all, for Steiner as for Edmunds, before humanity and before God. This is not the same idea as a welfare state administered from above. Rights and justice belong to the sphere of the heart, and the guiding impetus here should spring from the heart in the mutual concern of (wo)men for each other, directly related to political life. What, thirdly then, should be understood by fraternity or brotherhood? Fraternity in effect springs from the gifts we bring to one another in the services we render from one another. This directly engages the question of work and what we mean by economic life. At every point in economic life we touch the sphere of morality and there fraternity arises. Indeed this is a far cry from the way business and economics is conventionally conceived today.

In summing up then, in threefold guise:

• liberty of thought relates to the nerve centre system, and belongs to the cultural sphere;

• equality relates to the heart and the rhythmic system, and belongs to the rights sphere;

• fraternity concerns work, production and consumption, related to human will and the metabolic-limb system, belonging to the economic sphere.

We now turn specifically to the economic and the political, in light of the cultural, from Steiner's navigational perspective, that is in the guise of the social question.

 
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