What is the Threefold Social Order or Threefold Commonwealth?

The First World War came about because certain sectors of society had the power and the ignorance to believe that they could ‘bottle’ the ‘humanity’ of the working class in Greater Europe and simply put them to work in the factories as though they were machines, much like prepaid meters.  The working class felt a deep antipathy to this, possibly not being quite conscious of what caused the real feelings that they felt.  They rallied against their circumstances and this led to the assassination in Sarajevo and the War.

Just like individuals are forced to reflect at times on personal tragedy, and often make life changing decisions as a consequence, Europe as a whole was reflecting on the tragedy and cost of the War to their well-being and future.  What had they done wrong and what needed to change were the questions being asked by some.  Some were suggesting that more discipline and more controls were all that was required.  Rudolf Steiner did his best to present and explain the principles of a possible solution immediately after the War.  He put forward the Threefold Social Order.

The principle put forward by Dr Steiner for an ideal society was presented in the image of Man.  Supporting our ability to be a human being, we have three intertwined and yet independent systems within our physical nature.  These are our cardiovascular system, our nervous system, and our digestive system. While one cannot be or do the work of another, they are totally interdependent and need each other for us to exist at all.

Upon studying the Threefold Social Order concept in Dr Steiner’s book Towards Social Renewal, and his lecture cycle on Economics called World Economy, one of the members of this study group, Sean Mc Donough, suggested that the concept seemed to him to look like an electric motor that turned well or badly. I felt sympathy with this insight and spent several years developing a DC motor with three magnets. 

Each magnet represented one of the three bodily systems in man.  Each magnet has a magnetic field that interacts with the magnetic field around the coil of the armature to make the motor turn.  The motor is built in such a way that the armature gets power every second 6th of the 360 degree circle that it makes.  Every second 6th there is no power, then power again and then no power and so on.  For three sectors of the full turn there is therefore power and for three sectors there is no power. 

When power is supplied to the armature every second 6th, the magnetic field comes on and interacts with the magnetic field of the magnet placed correctly for this purpose.  The fields’ relationship is what pushes the armature around and one sees the motor turning well.  When the magnets are moved out of synchronisation, the magnetic fields of the magnets are not optimally aligned with the field in the armature, or even end up opposing each other, and the motor slows or even stops. 

We made a video of the motor which can be viewed here.

Instead of calling the magnets by the names of cardiovascular, nervous or digestive system, we called them Liberty, Fraternity and Equality as these were also referred to by Dr Steiner and relate to the structure of society rather than the human body.  It is

the ideal structure of society that we are in search of and so these are the more relevant terms.  What follows is an explanation of each of these, Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality.






Human Freedom. The realm where as human beings we are free to choose how we develop our humanity. Humanity from this sphere feeds the other two magnets, constructively or destructively.


Fraternity represents the Economic Sphere or Brotherhood. Our diverse needs and talents in life all weave together to provide for the whole.



Government and Judicial system. The realm that represents Equality, our chance to participate in all aspects of being a human being equally and without prejudice based on race, class or religion.


Linking Spheres

How do they connect? Where don’t they connect?

LIBERTY – Human Freedom

The liberty magnet is the realm where as human beings we are free to choose how we develop our humanity.  Here we are free to choose which type of education we choose for our children, which religion we affiliate ourselves with, which social-cultural groups we wish to be a part of. 

There is no judgement of another as long as each choice does not impinge on another’s. Humanity from this sphere feeds the other two magnets, constructively or destructively.

FRATERNITY – Economic Sphere

This magnet represents the economic sphere or Brotherhood. Our diverse needs and talents in life all weave together to provide for the whole.  We all need the clever guy and the janitor, the dentist and his assistant.  This is where the brotherhood comes into play. The differentiation of skills and talents create the value in what is supplied by the economic sphere. 

The economic sphere needs good skills of all kinds to enable it to ‘add value’ to the goods or services.  A tree is not worth much commercially until it is made into firewood or poles.  The economic sphere must focus on having the right lumberjack, axe and market requirements as it goes about chopping down the tree. 

This way the maximum value will be added to the tree. Interference by family or State in this process will reduce the value created.

EQUALITY – Government & Judicial system

This magnet represents Equality, our chance to participate in all aspects of being a human being equally and without prejudice based on race, class or religion. Laws should be driven by this criteria only, not by a desire to disempower any class, race or religion, but rather to give all an equal opportunity. 

Laws need to protect this principle vigorously.  Where this is the case, people feel empowered to participate, develop hope and courage,  develop desire to take accountability for themselves and so on.  Ultimately it facilitates the in-streaming of this higher humanity into mankind.

 The role of NGO’s or Associations

We must remind ourselves of the need for an image that we can hold inwardly if we wish to achieve things in life.  Golfers picture their swing and the intended flight of the ball when addressing the ball before the actual shot.  They know that to get the intended flight, the strike needs to be of a certain kind.  They need to get their bodies to direct the club in a certain way to achieve the intended strike of the ball and resulting flight. 

They practice repeatedly to teach their bodies to be able to do this on demand.  It is the link between the inner picture held in the soul of the golfer, the body, the club and the ball that need to be linked in order that the visualisation and the reality are the same.  If we want an ideal society, we must have a visualisation of what it could be and then we need to find ways to get it to become into being via the co-operation and collaboration of all human beings; at least as many as possible in order to start making a difference.

My picture of the Threefold Commonwealth is that of the DC motor with the three magnets, equally strong, equally spaced, equi-distant from each other.  The magnetic fields of these magnets then interact with the magnetic field of the motor (armature) at the right time in the turning of the armature and push the armature around to keep it turning.  The armature represents society.  Society is what we find ourselves in when we are born.  It is full of energy and impulses.  We cannot change this reality.  What we can do is give it impetus at the right time in the right way.  When it rotates well, it represents society functioning well, and vice versa.  To achieve this, we need to have the magnets as described above.  It is the task of Associations to bring these magnets into position relative to society, in the right place and to develop them equally and contemporaneously.

These Associations are active already in society in many respects.  They just need orientation to their true objective.  Let’s however look at the Associations in principle.  There need to be three sets, one between Liberty and Fraternity, one between Liberty and Equality, and one between Equality and Fraternity.  This is what they could look like in principle:

Associations between Liberty and Fraternity, Lib-Frat Associations (LFAs):

will be made up of people that want these two entities to be separate but acknowledging the importance of each other. 

They will want people, humanity, to have the right social, cultural and spiritual freedom while on the other hand, they will want business to be engaged solely for providing what society needs effectively and morally.

Associations between Liberty and Equality, Lib-Eq Associations (LEAs):

will want to make sure that all people are equal before the law and that the law does not dictate their right to free social, cultural and spiritual association. 

They will want to check that spiritual leaders do not demand laws that are more equal for their people than others.  They will also want to make sure that laws made do not restrict their right to free spiritual association.


Associations between Equality and Fraternity, Eq-Frat Associations (EFAs):

will want to ensure that commercial interests do not make laws that favour commerce or certain groupings or cultural, spiritual parts of society while harming others in this process.  They will want to make sure that rights to State assets are not given to businesses that abuse them through ineffective use of them or to businesses with questionable ethical histories. 

They will want to give the rights to State assets to the very best value-adders that there are by a way of tendering and verification that exposes this reality objectively.

LFAs – will do things like:

  • Support all Human development;
  • Defend people from abuse by business;
  • Encourage business to support the Arts, Culture, rounded and balanced Education aimed at human development, religious endeavours;
  • Learn to identify people suitable to fill positions in business were the pioneers are wanting to retire;
  • Encourage business to invest in their human capital also both internally and via support for NGOs active in this area;
  • Make sure that they themselves are not trying to become wealthy by abusing their role in mediating between the development of humanity in all the people while keeping an eye on business. Their activities should purely cover costs;
  • Raise issues where they see good in business and bad;

Examples of existing NGO’s in each category are:

LEAs – will do things like:

  • Support all Human development;
  • Make sure that all laws promulgated do not infringe on human liberty or favour any race, class or sect;
  • Make sure that all laws are applied equally;
  • Raise alarm bells when Governments want to set restrictions or criteria in educational institutions;
  • Make sure that education and religious institutions don’t have regulations that block anyone from participating or favour particular groups;
  • Monitor wasteful use of taxes;
  • Provide an environment where taxes collected are spent effectively and support the Arts, Culture, Education, Basic Healthcare, Pensions, Unemployment benefits, Religious institutions, infrastructure, basic services and so on. The objective here is to do this in an objective way that is fair for all citizens and benefits only those incapable of looking after themselves;
  • Praise the good and warn of the bad;

Examples of existing NGO’s in each category are:

EFAs – will do things like:

  • Make sure that Government stays out of business and only provides the legal framework in which business operates. This legal framework must aim to provide an equal opportunity environment;
  • Make sure that there are laws that prevent collusion between business and business, and business and Government;
  • Try to establish fair taxes on businesses that have the effect of enabling Government to operate but also business;
  • Encourage value add in business as the principle;
  • Protecting the environment and resources for all;
  • No selling out to foreign interests on the premise that it is for the good but in fact it only benefits a few Government or Business people.

Examples of existing NGO’s in each category are: