What do they mean: the free intellectual life or the fundamental right to freedom of expression?

By Stefan Grosse, August 2022

When Rudolf Steiner introduced the ideas of the threefold social organism into the discussion on a new social order in 1917 – at the same time as the violent implementation of a new order in Russia – he took up the ideals of the French Revolution and specified them by assigning freedom, equality and fraternity to areas in which they each had a focus: liberty to intellectual life, equality to legal life and fraternity to economic life.

It seems questionable to me that the commonly suggested thought, that the Waldorf school is the surviving remnant of the threefolding idea, is accurate. On the contrary, I see the Waldorf school as an educational impulse independent of threefolding. What always surprises me is the idea, expressed in the broader context of such a free intellectual life, that Waldorf schools are part of the latter, and therefore their representatives can do and say whatever they want as far as the organisation of schools is concerned, because after all, it is all part of the intellectual life – and therefore free.

What does free intellectual life mean as a social idea and dimension? It means that the state in terms of what it regulates and the economy in terms of what it proposes should not seek to influence the intellectual and creative processes that take place in such an institution. Something quite different – and unfortunately often confused with what has just been set out – is the right to freedom of expression. The latter does not have to be fought for, it is granted to people living in Germany by the constitution.

It must be remembered that in every community there is a sphere of law per se, simply because people live together. If the principle of a free intellectual life is played out without setting limits, it comes into conflict with the principle of equality in legal life. An important function of legal life is to guarantee the integrity of the person, a protection that must be afforded to all in equal measure.

On 16 May 2022, the general meeting of members of the German Association of Waldorf Schools decided by a large majority that all Waldorf schools should implement a concept to protect against violence at their institutions. At the same time it was decided that a catalogue of sanctions would be applied in case of non-compliance with the deadlines and commitments. In my eyes, both resolutions represent a significant step forward in the development of a Waldorf community life.

In the run-up to the adoption of the resolution, there were also voices against the mandatory introduction of this protective concept, citing freedom in intellectual life! For me, this is a confusion of concepts par excellence, because it is not aspects of the intellectual and creative life that come into play here, but those of legal life, which demands binding force and reliability so that children and young people can develop their personalities without worry and free from harm. Such binding force and reliability are qualities and signatures of a healthy life in the Association. The sponsors and initiators of this impulse are ultimately the schools that agree on and realise these principles.

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