Economic life draws us into a particular relation with the world. You will readily understand what this relation is if you compel yourselves to imagine that it were possible for us to be entirely absorbed in economic life. If that could happen, what should we be like? We should be thinking animals, nothing else. We are not thinking animals for the reason that besides economic life we have a life of rights — a political life — and a knowledge of the spirit, an earthly spiritual life. Through economic life we are thus plunged, more or less, into the midst of human relationships. And because of this interests are kindled — precisely in this field of human relations we are able to develop interests which in the true sense of the word are fraternal. In no other realm than that of economic life are fraternal relationships so easily and obviously developed among human beings.
In the spiritual life … what is the ruling impulse in earthly spiritual life? Fundamentally, it is personal interest — an interest arising out of the soul-nature, certainly, but none the less egoistic. Of religion, people demand that it shall make them holy. Of education, that is shall develop their talents. Of any kind of artistic representation, that it shall bring pleasure into their lives, and perhaps also stimulate their inner energies. As a general rule, it is egoism, whether of a grosser or more refined sort, which leads a person — quite understandably — to seek in spiritual life whatever satisfies himself.
In the political life of rights, on the other hand, we have to do with something which makes us all equal before the law. We are concerned with the relation of man to man. We have to ask, what our right should be. No question of rights exists among animals. In this respect, also, we are raised above the animals, even in our earthly affairs. But if we are connected with a religious community, or with a group of teachers, then — just as much as in civic relationships — we come up against personal claims, personal wishes. In the economic sphere, it is through the overcoming of self that something valuable, not derived from personal desires, comes to expression — brotherhood, responsibility for others, a way of living so that the other man gains experience through us.
In the spiritual life we receive according to our desires. In the sphere of rights we make a claim to something we need in order to make sure of a satisfactory human life as an equal among equals. And in the economic sphere is born that which unites men in terms of feeling: that is, brotherhood. The more this brotherhood is cultivated, the more fruitful economic life becomes. And the impulse towards brotherhood arises when we establish a certain connection between our property and another’s, between our need and another’s, between something we have and something another has, and so on.
This fraternity, this brotherly relation between men which must radiate through economic life if health is to prevail there, may be thought of as a kind of emanation rising from the economic sphere — and in such a way that if we absorb it into ourselves we are able to take it with us through the gate of death and carry it into the super-sensible life after death.
On earth, economic life looks like the lowest of the three social spheres, yet precisely from this sphere arises an impulse which works on into super-earthly realms after death. That is how the third member of the social organism presents itself in the light of spiritual science. Its character is such that in a certain sense it drives us into regions below the human level; yet in fact this is a blessing, since from the fraternity of economic life we carry through the gate of death something which remains with us when we enter the super-sensible world. Just as earthly spiritual life points backward, like a mirrored image, to super-sensible spiritual life before birth, so does economic life, with all that arises from its influence on men — social interests, feeling for human fellowship, brotherhood — so does economic life point forward to super-sensible life after death.
Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 193 – Inner Aspect of the Social Question – II – Zurich, 11th February 1919