Review: Free, Equal and Mutual by Martin Large and Steve Briault

This review appeared in The Social Artist Summer 2018, and was reviewed by Dr Frances Hutchinson. Many thanks to her for this thoughtful, considered review.

Free Equal and Mutual

Twenty chapters by thirteen individual authors presenting their views on practical implementation of Rudolf Steiner’s societal vision present the reviewer with a daunting task. The subtitle – “Rebalancing Society for the Common Good” – promises much. A glance at the cover suggests that answers to the FAQs of today are to be found within the text. As is apparent to any student of society today, ordinary men and women “feel precarious and angry, and afraid for their jobs, homes, children, health, wellbeing, identity and lifeways.” The neoliberal consensus has undoubtedly justified “the brutal implementation of market fundamentalism” resulting in massive human insecurity and inequality. Free, Equal and Mutual is worth buying for several key chapters which require to be considered in depth by all who are seriously concerned about the future of humanity on this planet. Each chapter stands alone, each telling a different story from a different perspective.

Gerald Häfner describes the great longing to put the clock back and be ‘great again; a longing which takes the form of “an ever louder derogatory whistling in an increasingly dark forest”. By inventing the money system and the internet, we have created tools with uncontrollable power, so that, like Goethe’s apprentice magician, “our way of thinking about economics, money and also democracy has arrived at a dead end”. Häfner speaks with the authority of years of experience in practical politics. Founder member of the Green Party in Bavaria, he has served as a Member of the German Parliament for ten years, as an MEP (2009-2014) and has set up several foundations for education and training. He calls for all to develop a deeper understanding of the forces underlying economics. Through the money and price system we are all interconnected by a complex network of supply chains. These need to be studied and understood if we are to “build an economic order based on brotherhood” on a world scale. Such a world must be founded upon democratic principles. However, democracy requires an open and public space where people can meet and have exchanges with one another, so that we can learn to appreciate another’s point of view and adjust our views. This space no longer exists, for the Internet has taken its place. As we use the internet, unknown to us, algorithms work in the background, so that what comes to us is aligned with our past searches and preferences. Different world views and life intentions are totally excluded. We don’t notice, or even know of, 99% of what is being said, because it is not highlighted and brought to our attention by the algorithms. Brief ‘teasers’ test out what people want to see. Hence the Internet inculcates shrillness, obscenity, brutality, lasciviousness, arrogance and a lack of tact or respect. For Häfner, the urgent task is for each of us to study our own role in the economic order. Every purchase links us with the lives of individuals across the world, through established supply chains determined by powers currently beyond our comprehension. The task is to examine our assumptions about the legitimacy of the power by which these chains are constructed. Through this process we can cooperate in establishing principles of social threefolding as mapped out by Rudolf Steiner a century ago.

Throughout the history of capitalism farmers have produced food by working with the forces of Nature.  And mothers have devoted their unpaid time and labour to the rearing of every one of us citizens. Without the free gifts of Nature and the freely-given unpaid time of all our mothers, there would be no society, balanced or unbalanced. Thus the “new kind of gift economy”, the development of Community Supported Agriculture as summarised by Robert Karp, paves the way for individuals, in their households and communities, to take the best from the new technologies whilst taking the best also from the wisdom teachings of ancient texts. See e.g. Galatians 5: 16-25. The self-less love o a mother for her infant, and of the farmer for the land, remains eternally central to what it is to be human.

In the chapter entitled “Images of the Human Being and Their Effect on Humanity’s Relationship to Power” Andrew Scott presents individual students and study groups with an essential resource for exploring the hidden assumptions behind public and private policy decisions. Drawing upon a study published by the Center for the Study of Social Policy at Stamford University in 1982, he outlines the five “noisy images of human being”, the firmly held beliefs that lie behind the seemingly intractable problems currently faced by humanity and the Earth.

  1. Humans as Separate from God and Nature.
  2. Humankind over Things.
  3. Economic Man.
  4. Humankind as Beast.
  5. Human as Mechanism.

The purpose of the chapter is, in the words of its author, “to help the reader make the connection between their individual self and social threefolding, with the aim of providing new insights and new drive to make a difference.”

Free, Equal and Mutual requires study time, but that time is well worth spending. An ideal book to order for your local library. And thereby hangs another tale!

Buy the book here…

Read The Social Artist here…

Review: Free, Equal and Mutual by Martin Large and Steve Briault

A constructively critical review from John Green at Morning Star – many thanks to him for his consideration and intellectual analysis. Martin Large and Richard House respond below in a published Morning Star Letter entitled, ‘Vital questions for a post capitalist future.’

Flawed visions of achieving the ‘common good’

STARTING from a premise few would deny — the world is in a state of chaos — this collection of essays, based on the philosophical ideas of Rudolf Steiner, attempts to offer a way forward.

Free Equal and Mutual

The “Threefold Approach” argues that our societies are comprised of three main pillars, the state (in the realm of polity), business (economics) and civic society (culture) and a meaningful and collaborative system involving all of them is the way forward to ensure our survival.

While there is a large dose of rationality in this approach, it tends to overlook the question of how such a collaboration can be achieved. Without political organisations representing large groups of citizens demanding change to push for such a collaboration, it simply will not happen.

The idea of involving “business” is fine if this relates to small businesses, whether producers, shopkeepers or tradespeople, but to believe that it is feasible to win over faceless transnational corporations or monopolies is to live in cloud-cuckoo land.

It is the endemic structure of capitalism, based on the greed and the profit motive, that leads inexorably to monopolies and financial dominance, as Marx pointed out in the last century. Without understanding those underlying mechanisms and their impact, attempting any meaningful societal change is seriously hampered.

Steiner proposed his three-folding ideas in response to a war-torn Germany in the aftermath of the First World War and “as a non-ideological alternative to Bolshevism, state socialism, capitalism, imperialism and nationalism,” writes Nicanor Perlas in his introduction. With the rise in toxic nationalism and far-right populism, as well as environmental breakdown, there is certainly a need for new ideas to help solve our pressing problems.

Contributors explore such ideas and provide practical examples, such as ethical banking, agricultural innovation in the Egyptian desert, as well communal land ownership and usage.
What is difficult to digest, though, is the attempt to incorporate Steiner’s rather fanciful anthroposophical ideas into what is, on the face of it, a rational set of ideas. The editors argue that these are intended to counter the stale duopoly of state versus “free” market. But is that still an ongoing debate?

In recommending the book, Stroud Labour MP David Drew states: “Today’s economies have reached a critical turning point. This attempt at rebalancing society through a co-operative commonwealth economy based on ‘voluntary socialism’ with a rights-based state and a flourishing civil society – all working for the common good” shows a way ahead.

But, interesting as these 17 essays are, I remain to be convinced that Steiner’s ideas are the way forward — though they can provide an important stimulus for policy-makers, environmentalists and socio-cultural activists.

John Green for Morning Star, 24th May 2018

Vital questions for a post-capitalist future

Morning Star, 1 June 2018, p. 14

We’re grateful to John Green for reviewing our new book on Rudolf Steiner’s three-folding prospectus for addressing the capitalist crisis (“Flawed formulas of achieving the ‘common good'”, M Star, May 28 . John’s argument that “without political organisations representing large groups demanding change, change simply won’t happen” is a strong one that we agree with.  Civil society bodies, including political and social movements, are standing up to government and business to rebalance society by pushing back both state and market.

Positive change for the common good can also come from social business and from the statutory sector.  However,  we argue that when the “three ‘legged stool” of  business, state and civil society play to their strengths and work in partnership, then society can flourish. For example co-op community renewable energy flourishes in Denmark, in stark contrast to the state-mandated capitalist energy oligopoly we have in Britain.

In Free, Equal and Mutual, we’re not arguing that Steiner’s insights should replace Marx’s capitalist analysis as a useful starting point.  However, rather than “class struggle” as the engine of social change, Steiner’s theory of change was based on the agency of engaged people working culturally, of citizens active in a human rights-based state and of ethical producers and consumers who are co-creating a social economy.

This theory of change sees people’s agency and initiatives as growing points for an emerging fair and thriving society. This is replacing the barren neoliberal social order, which is like a Tarmac road being broken up by trees growing in the cracks. The guiding values of freedom, mutuality, equality and sustainability animate the process, rather than “profit”.

However, we do understand that for John, change won’t happen without “class struggle”. We ask, “How might this realistically happen?”, and “Has anyone got a viable theory of change to a post-capitalist future?” At least let’s begin a debate about the ideas that John suggests do have some merit.  Heaven knows, we need all the new thinking and working examples that we can find to help address the crisis of late capitalism.

Martin Large and Richard House, contributors to Free, Equal and Mutual: Rebalancing Society for the Common Good

Link to the original review here…

Buy the book here…