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Social Order

Nigel Hoffmann (AU)

Steiner, and others in his time, spoke of the social organism. If society is alive, then it can only be properly understood through a living, imaginative form of thinking. Steiner advises that a goetheanistic contemplation of nature – of plant and animal form and of human physiology – trains of kind of thinking which “. . . makes it possible to comprehend the social organism”.[1]

What sort of living being is human society? We can perceive it from two directions: we can say that "the individuals are its reality" (Max Stirner)[2]. Or we can say that “the true is the whole” (Hegel)[3]. A picture arises of society as a polarised organisation; one pole can be called “individuality”, the other “collectivity”.

Polarities are generative; as Goethe observed, the intensified poles “will produce a third thing, something new, higher, unexpected.”[4] Between the poles of light and darkness arises the realm of colour. The in-between, mediating element Kant and Schelling called the copula (Latin: “that which binds”).[5] Between the social poles of individuality and collectivity arises a mediating sphere which both distinguishes and unites the poles. This tripartite formation is the social archetype.

Thus we perceive the threefold nature of society, realised to a greater or lesser degree in past and present civilisation, to be consciously shaped into the future. The individuality pole achieves greatest expression in the spiritual-cultural life – for example, in the arts and in education. The collectivity pole is most realised in the economic life, where cooperative and solidarity are paramount in the production of goods and provision of services. Binding these two great social spheres is the life of rights, the legal-political realm. A right is mediatory; it is individual (individuality pole) but it equally applies to everyone (collectivity pole).

Each and every social phenomenon – each economic, legal and cultural form and process, down to the most micro – can be viewed and understood in terms of the archetypal social threefold. Steiner called social threefolding a “new goetheanism”.[6] He also referred to it as “a goetheanism for the twentieth century” to which we could add – and beyond.[7]


N. Hoffmann, Realising Society's Threefold Wholeness: A New Goetheanism, Clairview Books, West Hoathly, 2024 (forthcoming).

[1] R. Steiner, The Renewal of the Social Organism, Anthroposophic Press, Spring Valley, 1985, p. 126.

[2] M. Stirner, The Ego and Its Own, Cambridge University Press, 1995, p. 329.

[3] The phrase “the true is the whole” is from the preface to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.

[4] J. W. von Goethe, Scientific Studies, (trans. D. Miller), Suhrkamp Publishers, NY, 1988, p.156.

[5] See for example M. Thomas, “The Mediation of the Copula as a Fundamental Structure in Schelling’s Philosophy,” Schelling-Studien, 2 (2014), pp. 20-39.

[6] R. Steiner, Freedom of Thought and Societal Forces, Steiner-Books, Great Barrington, 2008, pp. 98-105.

[7] R. Steiner, Lecture November 22nd, 1920.

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