THE ART OF TURNING WHITE INTO BLACK

by Göran Fant


(From the journal Folkvett (Common sense) 2/2001, organ of the Association Science and Education of the People, somewhat edited)

Folkvett (Common Sense) has given the Anthroposophical Society the opportunity to comment on the article by Staudenmaier. The following thoughts have been formulated by Göran Fant, waldorf teacher, historian of music and literature with a long experience of the anthroposophical movement. 

The anthroposophy that Staudenmaier describes is impossible for me to recognize in the reality that I live in. What I have met in daily contacts as a Waldorf teacher since 40 years is an activity with open-minded, active people who live intensely in the present, attentive to what is happening in the intellectual debate and in art. 

I meet anthroposophically active Jews (surprisingly many, coming to think of it!) Ugandans, Indians, Japaneses, Native Americans. I meet the chairman of the Anthroposophical Society of US, a prominent physics professor, good friend of Saul Bellow (who wrote his with the Nobel Prize awarded book, Humboldt's gift, with anthroposophy as an important theme - viewed from the perspective of an intellectual Jew). At our meetings, physician friends tell about their research results, some published in The Lancet ...

In my Waldorf school I teach children of all colours. We have a lively cooperation with a sister school in Soweto and organize daily works where the pupils collect money to help them. Of course the pupils have much gymnastics and sports (actually more than most of their friends in public schools). Of course they sing and play much modern music, also pop and jazz. The dialogue between teachers and pupils is open and warm.

My fellow teachers and I know that karma doesn't mean any fatalism: it teaches us to take responsibility for the here and now, to take every individual pupil seriously, trying again and again when we meet difficulties.

Nazism? Oh, yes, the anthroposophical environment of Jaerna was founded in the thirties by central Europeans fleeing persecutions, many of them Jews who were warmly welcomed by the Swedish anthroposophists. Hardly any enthusiastic adherents of the nazi barbary. 

Right wing extremists? Yes, that could be the person who after a short time as member informed about his resigning from membership, when he heard about a large anthroposophical project on the religions of the world, where among other Muslims and Syrian immigrants in the nearby town of Södertälje were active participants.
 

BLIND AUTHORITARIAN FAITH?

Bah, the boy doesn't know what he's talking about. Maybe you can find one or another old "the doctor has said" crow (sympathetic, warm people sometimes too); but modern, professionally active anthroposophists think for themselves, deeply respecting and inspired by Steiner, but also of course realizing that the 75-100 year old texts must be translated into our time. And of course there exist passages in Steiner that have lost their actuality, and that even are problematic - without it disturbing the large, inspiring totality.

Racism? The same success there as if he would come into a assembly of modern astrophysicists claiming that they all, without knowing it, were adherents of Ptolemaios' geocentric world view.

Already using elementary argumentation analysis, the reader discovers the journalistic populism in Staudenmaier's style with unfounded insinuations and false deductions to such an extent that his rancours hardly can be taken seriously. 

Confronted with facts, his reasoning falls to pieces: the thesis that behind the decent anthroposophical front there is hidden a rotten basement with boot marches and Sig Heil shouting is untenable.

For a start:

1. Anthroposophy is anti-authoritarian, anti-racist and anti-elitist. Its focal point is the freedom and integrity of the individual and the view that this exists in everybody independently of nation or ethnic origin. Its basis is the view of classical German idealism of a universal brotherhood, which also encompasses for example mentally disturbed - being the reason for the pioneering work of anthroposophy to give them a dignified environment on the grounds that every human destiny must be taken seriously and that those who need help must be met where they stand. This started in a time that totally lacked understanding for these people and where nazism instead "solved" the problem with euthanasia campaigns.

Out of this freedom, all people have access to experiences of the spiritual world. An awareness for artistic qualities and a moral stance in life are more important than intellectual sharpness, but clarity of thought and a rejection of loose thinking and day dreaming are fundamentally necessary, if these experiences are to be made fruitful.

2. Anthroposophy is apolitical. But it appeals to an engagement in contemporary problems to a degree that inspires many members and people interested in anthroposophy to become politically active. In their political activities  they of course represent themselves, not anthroposophy. But if you look at where these people are to be found, you find a variegated pattern. 

Otto Schily that Staudenmaier mentions at present is a Social Democrat, in Sweden there are anthroposophically engaged people in all political parties (except the 'Moderates', formerly the conservatives), in some cases in prominent places. The Director General of the National Integration Office (Center party) has a strong connection with anthroposophy and the Waldorf movement - he hardly has got his position for any right wing engagement. The anthroposophical youth movement has since the sixties worked intensively with social and environmental questions with a left-center disposition. "Right wing conservative consensus"? can possibly be found among some older German anthroposophists, but then that isn't prohibited.

Is this then a cosmetic facade to hide a strong or even dominating right wing reality? Some Germans in the 30s' (on closer examination, most probably were either not nazis or not anthroposophists) and some bizarre ghosts of later times, that the anthroposophical movement radically has distanced itself from, should represent this cellar? The readers of Common Sense may make their own judgement!
 

STAUDENMAIER'S METHOD

Already in the beginning of his article, Staudenmaier reveals himself in his introducing description of Steiner's Mission of Folk Souls, that is said to be related to "the German myths of Himmler and Hitler".

The main thesis of Steiner in reality (see the foreword, many parts of the text and not least the closing words) is to show how what is ethnically founded already now (1910) has started loosing its importance and soon will have lost it completely. People of today to a large extent are and will be independent of their ethnic basis. In the individual freedom of each and every one lies the possibility to an inner development - without any ethnic limitation. What unites is what is important, not what separates.

But in 1910 a nationalism is flowering, that worries Steiner.

His aim therefore also becomes that the observation of the different folk souls shall inspire to self understanding and mutual cooperation between the peoples. His idea can be paraphrased thus: "Through an understanding of the inspiration that comes from my people's soul I can understand both it and those of other people. Through this, I can attain a global consciousness."

It is hardly sensational to say that it not is possible to neutralize the differences between what we now call different ethnic traditions by closing our eyes to them. Difference and equality are not incompatible. We all know that ethnic differences in most modern contexts are completely irrelevant, but also that there are situations where the differences are interesting and other where they create difficult tensions. Steiner wants to describe the spiritual background to these differences, to increase the understanding for the necessity of the different Folk Souls in the international interplay between them.

It is correct that Steiner in the lectures speaks about the group of peoples that, not in the lecture series, but in the theosophical tradition was and is called the Germanic-Nordic subrace (during 1902-12, Steiner was chairman of the German branch of one of the theosophical societies, but already the year before the lecture series, 1909, he expressly distanced himself from the use of the concept of races in describing the essence of human evolution after the glacial ages as invalid, pointing to historical cultural epochs and cultural groups as more adequate concepts Comment by the translator) Also, what Staudenmaier does not mention is that also among other the English, French, North Americans and Dutch (and of course also Scandinavians) were counted as belonging to the group.

But Steiner does not use the term "aryan" in the lecture series more than once and parenthetically. It occurs in earlier lecture cycles, but with another connotation than it later was given by Nazism. With Steiner, it refers to a number of historical cultures - epochs and circles, of which so far five have developed or started to develop: Indian, Iranian-Babylonean, Egyptian, Greek-Roman and Central-West-European (1).

Staudenmaier does not care about the main points where Steiner becomes interesting and definitely rises above his contemporaries. His sneers at anthroposophists who defend Steiner out of the time spirit become somewhat pathetic when one considers the linguistic usage in discussing racial issues far into the 40s' in standard text books used in schools up to university level, lexica (shall we organize a reading evening?), the existence of race biological institutes, also in Sweden. Still into the 60s' and 70s' the ethnocentrism in anthropology was hotly debated, that Steiner in its substance had overcome in his main thesis already in the 10s', without Staudenmaier noticing it.

Staudenmaiers way of twisting things is remarkably unserious.

It becomes clear where the shoe pinches - he simply hasn't read the book! He's bluffing, probably based on some tendentious description he has got from ardent enemies of anthroposophy!

(In another context, Staudenmaier has told that he hadn't read the lecture series when writing about it and that his description of it is based completely on secondary sources. For a comment on this, see here. Translators comment.)

Alternatively he has read the book like college students earlier (not me!) read Henry Miller, straight on to the wet pages. That is, Staudenmaier irritated has turned the pages containing all the complex descriptions of angles, hierarchies, ether bodies, nordic mythology, global brotherhood (rambling, he thinks, and much too long) to get to some wet pages mentioning "race" and "Nordic-Germanic" etc.

A key to understanding Staudenmaier can be found in his not (with few exceptions) quoting Steiner directly, but using other critics of anthroposophy. They (developing out of a campaign started by ELP; European Labour Party) have been hawking some of the Steiner quotes he uses. Their writings have been answered again and again in anthroposophical publications, but as in all smear campaigns the strategy is not to give up, but relentlessly repeat the falsified statements. Something will always catch on. It's the same method that is used by the Holocaust deniers.
 

STEINER'S ANTI-RACISM

The view points by Steiner are not unique for the lecture cycles on Folk Souls. They are stressed already in his first expositions on the subject (2). The anti-racist stance is most consistently formulated in 1917 in The fall of the Spirits of Darkness where the argument is summarized in among other the following: " ...someone who nowadays speaks of the ideal of races and nations and belonging to a tribe, speaks of decaying impulses of humanity. And if he believes that these so-called ideals constitute progressive ideals, when speaking of them, he is saying something that is untrue. Because through nothing will humanity bring itself more into decay, than if the ideals of races, nations and blood were to continue." (26/10 1917).

Like nazism and many other artistical, political and ideological movements, anthroposophy was interested in the different ethnic groups of humanity, for the world as a whole. What Staudenmaier has not discovered, is the small detail that anthroposophy sort of thinks radically opposite of nazism.

Where Hitler wanted world power, war, genocide, scorn, hatred, Steiner sought understanding, co-operation, respect, love.

For Staudenmaier, this difference is too small to even notice.

Steiner in fact is far ahead of his time. He broke not only with the prejudices of the "educated public" on this subject, but also with the occult racist traditions found in the circles of the theosophy with which he was initially connected.

There is no reasonable reading of Steiner that supports any form of racism!
 

A TERMINOLOGICAL DILEMMA AND AN ONTOLOGICAL PROBLEM

I must however admit, that there is a problem with the discourses of Steiner and some of the later anthroposophists. Read superficially, without understanding of the main positions and the linguistic traditions of Steiner´s time, the characterization of different ethnicitiy´s may be understood wrongly and in a pejorative way (3). It is possible (I must confess that I had read very little by for example Karutz) that some later anthroposophists have read Steiner in a similarly strange way as Staudenmaier and his colleagues in the anti-anthroposophic campaign.

The c. 90 000 pages of Steiner's total works (Gesamtausgabe) are completely dominated by lectures, often of a clear ad-hoc nature. It is implicit in the speech situation that specific people were among the listeners and were being apostrophed (without it being clear from the the stenographed and  by Steiner mostly not corrected text). Specific events in the politic or social context of the time were present in the consciousness of Steiner and his public, but are not not in the reader of today. 

When he for example in 1924 criticizes the presence of black people in Europe, this refers to a series of, at that time much discussed, maybe exaggeratedly described, outrages of black soldiers against German women in the Ruhr, stationed there by the French occupation forces. His statement, how distasteful it may be, is of course bound to this situation, and does not give a modern anthroposophist any reason to be sceptical towards black immigrants in Europe today.

The transcripts miss important nuances (ironic accents, humorous intonations etc.). This is especially evident in the lectures for the construction workers at Goetheanum (GA 347-354), where many of the more problematic utterances are found: mostly spontaneous answers to questions made on the spot by the listeners. Here you can find much living and interesting but also bizarre things. To judge anthroposophy from these aberrations is as absurd as the aberrations themselves.
 

NAZISM AND STEINER

Steiner warned already in 1920 about nazism (GA 199 p 161). When Hitler and Ludendorff made their coup in 1923, he predicted the ruin of german culture if "these persons" would gain power. Even though the coup failed, he thought it could succeed later and immediately moved  his property from Berlin to Switzerland.

The antipathy was answered. In 1922, he was attacked by a Nazi group at the end of a public lecture and barely escaped the attack.
 

ANTHROPOSOPHY AND NAZISM

As Uwe Werner shows in his very thorough examination, the absolute majority of anthroposophists radically opposed nazism. Many of them were put in concentration camps and/or were severely persecuted. (4). Someone wanted to make far-reaching compromises to save the waldorf schools, and was ostracized by colleagues after the war. An utterly small number tried naïvely (malgré lui) to make a combination of nazism and anthroposophy. It probably is those that Staudenmaier find to be "revealing". To describe Hess as an a "practising anthroposophist" is grotesque. The sources show univocally  that even if he was positive to biodynamic agriculture, he at the same time rejected its anthroposophical background. Staudenmaier must have read Werner's book in an utterly selective way. (For further comments, see here. Comment by the translator)

The infamous statement by Günther Wachsmuth's in an interview in Denmark in 1933 led to a severe internal crises. The highly respected chairman of the Anthroposophical Society in Denmark resigned in protest and the statement has later been severely criticized. Wachsmuth was a serious person, but it is difficult to view his statement as anything but a product of panic, wishful thinking and an immense political naïveté. 

Hence also the strange letter from the Anthroposophical Society to Hitler attempting to make anthroposophy acceptable for nazism. Its concern was not only to save anthroposophical activities, but also to diminish the risk for a great repression of anthroposophists - in awareness of what happened to other groups as political opponents and Jews. Only a rabid polemic can interpret this as a real expression of sympathy for nazism.

We all know, that at this time, it wasn't only anthroposophists who were led by naïve wishful thinking in judging Hitler. The Munich agreement (three years and many terrible actions later) was by too many saluted as a result of a wise and peace saving diplomacy. We know better, but have we learned the lesson? The unwilling and tardy attitude of Leftists in judging the genocide in Kampuchea and the outrages of the cultural revolution in China doesn't indicate that.

That the anthroposophists documented the "Aryan origin" of Steiner of course stands out as utterly odd. But it was in an difficult defensive situation: Anti-Semites proposed that Steiner´s positive attitude towards Jews was caused by the fact that he himself was one. As a Jewish author all his writings immediately would be forbidden and burnt in Germany. I find it very reasonable that his publishers would try to stop that.

That, on the other hand, some nazi celebrities were interested in bio-dynamic agriculture can not discredit the anthroposophic ideas. Many, but not all, forms of compromises towards the bloody regime, must, it seems to me, be regarded as part of a survival strategy: In retrospect you can, of course, think this and that of it, but it stands out as simplistic to moralize about it from a safe posterior vantage point.

Staudenmaier's article is so full of odd statements and insinuations, that an answer of at least the same length would be necessary to correct everything. "Folkvett" has shown decency in offering this possibility to comment upon it, but of course within a limited space. I must therefore restrict myself to a few remarks, and cannot comment upon Staudenmaier's total misunderstanding of Steiner´s social ideas and the anthroposophic aspects on reincarnation and karma. 

But still some comments seem necessary.
 

WHO IS RAINER SCHNURRE?

The only correct thing about him in Staudenmaier's article is that this man in the beginning of the nineties held a series of seminars where he showed that anthroposophy is incompatible with racism. The first seminar was visited by an unknown lady who left in the midst of the meeting. One year after this, Schnurre to his surprise read some quotations by himself in a book by Jutta Ditfurth where she aggressively attacked anthroposophy. He didn't recognize his own words. But the source was evidently the unknown lady's anonymous, spiteful article in a Berlin local paper review, Weddinger Neueste Zeitung, which he found after for long searching for it.

The utterances attributed to him are quite contradictory to his conception of life.

Politically, he describes himself as anti-totalitarian with socialistic sympathies. He has started an organization "Artists for human Rights", and among other things organized a multicultural festival in Berlin. In his view, right wing extremism and racism are the greatest threats against society.

So the brave Schnurre has got some reputation for things he neither said nor meant: the false quotations come up here and there in attacks on anthroposophy. It may stand out as funny to some, but Schnurre can keep himself from laughing.
 

SS-MAN LIPPERT

Yes, Lippert was really responsible for a bio-dynamic garden in the concentration camp at Dachau. He was also a member of the SS. (What Staudenmaier does not describe, is that he however had left his work at Weleda a year before becoming gardener at Dachau, that the CEO of Weleda deeply rejected and opposed his choice, and that the Weleda company as such had nothing to do with his work at the garden. See here. Comment by the translator) Among the prisoners it was considered attractive to work in the garden. And it was on advice from the prisoners that Lippert accepted to join the SS: otherwise he would have been forced in the armed forces, and Dachau would loose its only humanitarian among the staff. But he got at least permission not to wear the SS-uniform. Schoolmaster Staudenmaier (as also the "thorough researcher" Bierl) condemns him, but not his prisoners (in thankful letters after the war) and not the allied de-nazification commission (5). The readers may choose sides in this controversy.
 

TWO MORE MISSES

The statement that Marie Steiner after the war should have refused to distance herself from nazism is defamatory and lacks documentation. When, in what connection, who has asked her to do it, and why? Staudenmaier must explain what he refers to. I am so far utterly sceptical. 

Günther Wachsmuth made a fool of himself in his interview 1933, nobody denies it. But to characterize his "Werdegang der Menschheit" (The evolution of humanity) as "racist nonsense" is really nonsense; his somewhat circumstantial language may seem arduous and, as anthroposophy as a whole, nebulous from a materialistic point of view: but racistic? You must have a really have broad definition of "racist". To imagine that someone would go out on the streets and slay immigrants or stop his own daughters marriage with some nice Somalian inspired by this well-meaning book is impossible.
 

ANTHROPOSOPHISTS AND THE EXTREME RIGHT

The book by Haverbeck that Staudenmaier mentions; "Rudolf Steiner - Anwalt für Deutschland" ("Rudolf Steiner - advocate of Germany") is really terrible. But it was not published by any anthroposophical publishing company. (Langen Müller is a large, "normal" publishing company) and it was harshly rejected by all the nine anthroposophical reviewers and regarded as a severe attack on anthroposophy (6).

Staudenmaier claims that we not may regard Haverbeck as a marginal anthroposophist, since some of his earlier books have been published by anthroposophical publishers. This again is an example of Staudenmaier's method. He decides what is typical and representative for the anthroposophical movement- the total rejection by the anthroposophical movement itself doesn't mean anything to him.

Haverbeck came to anthroposophy after the war (of course not "converted by Hess"!!!) and became a priest in the anthroposophical Christengemeinschaft (Christian Community). He was excluded after a few years due to his political stupidities, but when he had reached his pension age, he on human grounds was accepted in the pastoral fellowship, but without getting a job. 1989, at the age of 80, he published this book. I agree that it is damaging for anthroposophy that someone so well informed of the thoughts of Steiner wrote such a book, but it is obvious that the content is an absurd distortion of central motives in Steiner and a misuse of his words. In that sense he really is marginal.
 

RACISM IN WALDORF SCHOOLS?

Dutch waldorf schools had ethnology in the seventh and eight grade. This was a Dutch peculiarity, due to the country's colonial history and something the Waldorf schools had in common with also other Dutch schools. In a few of the c. 60 Waldorf schools in the Netherlands, some remarkably statements were made in the teaching of this subject. Well motivated protests against these from parents in the mid 90s' led to a deep re-examination of the subject in the Waldorf schools and a forceful rejection of all racism by the Anthroposophical Society in Netherlands. It also led to bitter reactions from the international Waldorf movement, grateful for the effective and univocal repudiation.

Else, the waldorf schools have been at the head of anti-racism. So for example in South Africa during the Apartheid regime, where black and white pupils could go to the same classes in a waldorf school - against the protests from the government but with the expressed sympathy by Nelson Mandela. In the Waldorf schools in Australia, you find aborigines both among the students and the teachers and with their culture and their myths they have given a considerable contribution to the local formation of the pedagogic there. Many Jews have confirmed that they as children during the Nazi time had a sort of asylum in Waldorf schools, where they found a milieu without the harassements in society outside the schools (7).

When The National Agency for Education some years ago studied some aspects of  Waldorf education, they found that pupils in Waldorf schools had a far more positive attitude towards immigrants than in public schools (8). The list exemplifying this attitude in and by Waldorf schools towards racism could be made very long.
 

IS ANTHROPOSOPHY A CULTURAL DANGER?

With the over interpretative method of Staudenmaier, you in a many faceted movement like the anthroposophical certainly can find many examples of - according to the actual political or cultural trade cycle - politically "incorrect" attitudes: Trotskyism, Titoism, left deviation, right deviation, un-American activity, communism, anarchism, religious fanaticism, atheism, intellectualism, conservatism, cultural radicalism ...

And for all this of course dozens of (short!) quotations from Steiner confirming that this is a trend, deeply rooted in anthroposophical ways of thinking from the very, very beginning.

I find that the fact that anthroposophy has enemies coming from all directions shows that it has an extremely respectable position. Because: which open movement can guard itself from getting one or another more or less odd member? Which philosopher from the pre-Socratics to post-postmodernists can be protected from distortions, misinterpretations or misunderstandings? 

The method of Staudenmaier to focus on peripheral phenomena and generalize them to make them stand out as typical is identical to the method of racism.

Theoretical anthroposophy is a good remedy against petrifaction, stupidity and political extremism, but no automatically 100% effective vaccine. A deeply practised anthroposophy is very near 100% effective.

I ask myself what Staudenmaier really wants with his article. It clearly isn't to fight against racism or right wing extremism. Those are growing, destructive phenomenona in our time. It is necessary to fight them with all means. But you do this struggle a disservice by focusing on a movement like the anthroposophical, which explicitly and everywhere stresses its rejection of these tendencies and instead with power and enthusiasm is active in the opposite direction.

(Translated and edited by Sune Nordwall)

Notes

1. He thereby connects to a less compromised German tradition, See Stefan Arvidsson: Ariska idoler, (Aryan idols) Eslöv 2000.

2. Rudolf Steiner - Theosophie der Rosenkreuzer (Theosophy of the Rosicrucians) GA 99, lecture 5/6 1907.

3. See especially Anthroposophy and the Question of Race, (intermediary report) 1998, German translation the same year.

4. Uwe Wemer: Anthroposophen in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus (Anthroposophists during the time of National socialism) Munich 1999. Staudenmaier writes that it is "partly based on internal anthroposophical archives, not available to other researchers". Werner has nine densely printed pages giving the sources from almost 100 different political and historical archives. Four of the mentioned archives are anthroposophical - of course open to research like other corresponding archives.

5. In letters that former prisoners wrote after the war to and about Lippert you among other things can read: "To us prisoners, when he got to know us better, he openly revealed himself as an opponent of Hitler. That he did not leave his position, that he often damned, probably primarily must be attributed to a wish to prevent a torturer from replacing him. / ... / You, Mr Lippert, were a comforting and helping angel to us all ..." etc. (Werner p. 322 f).

6. Already the head lines of the the reviews say most of it. "A book too much" (Christengemeinschaft, Stuttgart nr 9 1989), "Misuse and distortion - how Haverbeck puts Steiner quotes in the service of his Nazi ideology" (Christoph Lindenberg in Die Drei 89:12), Whose advocate is Haverbeck?" (Sergei Prokofieff in Die Drei, Stuttgart, 89:12).

7. See Erziehungskunst 10 and 12, 2000.

8. The Report on Waldorf Schools by The National Agency for Education, 1995, p. 2.

Updated 30 June 2001