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…

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