NEW MYTHS ABOUT RUDOLF STEINER
(published in 'Humanist' 1/2001, organ of the Norwegian Human-Ethical Union)
In Humanist no. 2/00, the editors published the article "Anthroposophy and Eco-Fascism," written by Peter Staudenmaier. I answered it in no. 3/00. In Humanist no. 4/00, Staudenmaier and Peter Zegers respond to my answer, and the editor wants to publish another response by Staudenmaier/Zegers in the next issue.
The editor of Humanist, Terje Emberland, also added a tail to my first answer (3/00). He was sore because I had seen his signed photo paste of the German eagle and the swastika in front of the anthroposophical headquarters in Dornach as an editorial counter-signing of Staudenmaier's article. So it was more of an artist's byline than a signature that the editor had attached to his picture.
Like I wrote in my first answer, a considerably
longer time is required to refute an allegation than to present it; for
this reason I can only approach a few of Staudenmaier's/Zegers' argued
points. Moreover, I expect that Staudenmaier/Zegers will pull out new quotes
from Steiner's approximately 340 volumes and from more or less unreliable
contra-books against Steiner in their final argument. But I am confident
that they will be evaluated by the reader's sound reason.
THE GERMAN NATIONALIST
In his autobiography Mein Lebensgang, Steiner is supposed to acknowledge being "'enthusiastically active' in pan-German nationalist movements." This is supposed to be obvious from a section in chapter 13, which I did not find when I wrote my first answer. Staudenmaier/Zegers claim without further notice that this is because it was left out in the Norwegian translation, and encourage me to read the German edition.
What the two gentlemen don't appear to notice, is that they have referred to the page number in the German pocket edition, not the edition that is standard in Steiner references. The quote is translated correctly in the Norwegian edition - contrary to what is the case in Humanist. "Nun nahm ich damals an den nationalen Kämpfen lebenhaft Anteil," writes Steiner, which means that he took a living interest in the national battles. Staudenmaier writes1 that he was enthusiastically active in, something that would have been true if Steiner had used the verb teilnehmen, which means actual participation.
And in addition to misunderstanding the German text, Staudenmaier/Zegers read Steiner's words in a manner that is reminiscent of extreme malice. How can they otherwise find any reference to "pan-German agitation"? Steiner writes: "This was at a time [about 1888] when I was taking a keen interest in the fight of the Germans for their national existence in Austria, and this interest made me concern myself with the historical and social position of the Jews."2 Well? Can it possibly be a crime to take an interest in the "national existence" of a people - as becomes clear from the later works of Steiner, this is for him dependent upon its ability to express itself culturally. There is no imperialistic thought behind this sentence. Nowhere does Steiner suggest a fusion of all German-speaking peoples into one state, which would have been reasonable to expect if he had been an "enthusiastic pan-Germanist."
"The paragraph following the one quoted above refers to Steiner's numerous "friends from the national struggle," Staudenmaier/Zegers continue. "To all this was added the fact that many of my friends had taken on from their national struggle a tinge of anti-Semitism in their view of the Jews," writes Steiner.3 We will come back to the anti-Semitism; now I want to point out another example of Staudenmaier's/Zegers' twisted reading style. It is not "friends from the national struggle" Steiner is writing about. They are friends who, in connection with the national struggle, had come under the influence of anti-Semitism.
Serious enough, but I am wondering who did not have friends and acquaintances who were nationalists or anti-Semites during the national construction that was going on at that time. If my opponents believe that we should be judged on the basis of our friends, I will warn them against the editor of Humanist. Terje Emberland and I have been friends for more than twenty years, long enough for the crypto-fascist shadow I probably have to cast in my role as Steiner apologist, to have drawn him into his dark power-field.
."...two pages prior [in his autobiography] he discusses the impact of Julius Langbehn's infamous book Rembrandt als Erzieher on his thinking," they write, and claim in a footnote that Steiner offers a stylistic critique of the book. Steiner was neither influenced by the book, nor did he deliver any "stylistic review." He rejects it and writes: "I found Rembrandt als Erzieher utterly superficial and pretentious; no sentence touches upon any true depth of the soul-life. It was painful to me that my contemporaries should accept such a book as a serious work by a high-minded personality; the opinion forced upon me was that such superficial dabbling only serves to drive from man's soul its true humanity." This clear rejection is so much more remarkable because Langbehn's book enjoyed a tremendous success in the German speaking world at that time. In two years it was published in 39 editions, and several leading critics spoke of it in praising words.4
The two gentlemen also point to Steiner's comments on the first world war as arguments for his pan-German nationalism: "The Germans could foresee that this war would one day be fought against them. It was their duty to arm themselves for it," they quote from the book Gedanken während der Zeit des Krieges (1916), a book that I pointed out in my previous article that Steiner rejected.
"In Transvaal and Cape Town, in Central Africa and in the East, on the South Pacific islands and in the distant north-west - everywhere German travelling salesmen are contending with British representatives," says an article in the London-based newspaper Saturday Review September 11, 1897: "However you wish to utilize a mine, build a railroad, or convert a native from eating breadfruits to canned food, from abstinence to liquor, the German and the Englishman compete to be the first. Millions of minor conflicts gather as the most important cause of war the world has ever seen. If Germany were annihilated tomorrow, there isn't one Englishman who would not become richer." Do these words make the newspaper article into pan-German propaganda, or do they indicate - in spite of their irony - that the causes of the first world war are more complicated than what Staudenmaier/Zegers are prepared to admit?
"They recycle the hoary myth of Mitteleuropa familiar
to students of the German far right," they write on, and describe Steiner's
warnings against the treats from "the soulless West" and "the collectivist
East" as "a crucial component of German fascism." Of course they are right
that the fascists used the same words and exploited the same fears. But
does this make Steiner a pan-Germanic nationalist or fascist? Staudenmaier/Zegers
should be old enough to remember the cold war. A lot of people struggled
for "the third way," a Europe independent of the United States and the
Soviet Union. Were they fascists? Do you become a fascist by searching
for an alternative to American commercialism and Russian/Soviet collectivism?
Steiner was an anti-Semite, Staudenmaier/Zegers declare. The fact that he was active in a union against anti-Semitism is rejected by contending that this union opposed anti-Semitism in the wrong way. Its leader, the Jewish poet Ludwig Jacobowski, promoted assimilation of Jews in Germany, which is interpreted by my opponents as though Jacobowski, and along with him the union against anti-Semitism, were some kind of fifth columnists. But which anti-Semitic fifth columinst would write: "In anti-Semitism I have never been able to see anything except a conviction suggesting that its champions are suffering from spiritual inferiority, absence of ethical judgement, and tastelessness."5 "Through anti-Semitism, logic is tumbled from its throne."6 "Anti-Semitism does not only pose a danger to Jews, but also to non-Jews."7 This is only a small bundle of statements made by Steiner in articles he wrote around the turn of the century.
Faithful to their perfidious debating technique, Staudenmaier/Zegers claim that Steiner "more than once expressed the wish that 'Jews would cease to exist as a people'," something giving us associations with Hitler's Endlösung. Steiner never wished that they would cease to exist as a people; he thought that they, like other contemporary ethnic groups, would disappear - in the sense that all "peoples" will become assimilated into one universal human culture. Exactly the opposite of the Nazi association these gentlemen want to conjure up, Steiner writes in 1910: "Moses stands as founder of the new, intellectual understanding of the world, which in no way appears decadent, it will again teach humanity to bring their practical lives into harmony with nature, like Moses did."8
Staudenmaier/Zegers accuse me of possessing "historical naiveté." But they themselves overlook that we are talking about a time long before Holocaust and the misdeeds of the Nazis. A lot of prominent Jews in Germany and elsewhere in Europe were promoting assimilation, a point of view that was liberal at that time. Steiner, and many others with him, viewed it as ill-timed and anachronistic to insist on the connection between religion and state, even if it concerned a Christian or a Jewish religion. "The Jews need Europe, and Europe needs the Jews,"9 he wrote already in 1888. When Theodor Herzl published the major work of Zionism in 1896, Der Judenstaat, it evoked objections from Jewish as well as non-Jewish quarters. The idea that the Jews should withdraw to Palestine testified to isolationism and a desire to separate from mainstream cultural development. Rudolf Steiner belonged to these critics. After the Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, Steiner wrote the article The Jews' Longing for Palestine, where he rejected Zionism, which he considered more dangerous than anti-Semitism. Zionism, on the other hand, he calls "an enemy of Jewry," and he more than indicates that a Jewish state in Palestine will never be established.10
I mention this because this article has been presented by others as "proof" of Steiner's anti-Semitism. If it is "proof" of anything, it would have to be that Steiner could be thoroughly wrong also as fortune teller, and - just like the rest of us - underestimate contemporary powers at work. The article expresses, moreover, a view he held for the rest of his life, and which stands in the sharpest contrast to anti-Semitism as well as to Nazism.
Steiner was intensely opposed to the blend of state and nation. He saw every "ethnically pure" state formation as a danger, also a "Jewish state." Nevertheless, later on he became a good friend of the Zionist Schmuel Hugo Bergman (1883 - 1975). Bergman emigrated to Palestine in 1920 and founded, together with Martin Buber, a movement promoting a dual-national Palestine, where Jews and Arabs could live under equal conditions. He translated several of Steiner's books about threefolding to Hebrew. Bergman became a professor at the University of Jerusalem and later on the dean of the university. He lectured regularly on Rudolf Steiner's works, and although he emphasized that he was not an anthroposophist, he called Steiner "one of the great teachers of humanity." At the centennial of Steiner's birth, in 1961, Bergman arranged a celebration at the university and held a lecture at the Jerusalem Anthroposophical Society: "How Rudolf Steiner saved my life."11
Still, Staudenmaier/Zegers will probably maintain that
Steiner was an anti-Semite. They have, you see, a monopoly on determining
the validity of witness accounts.
In their further "provision of evidence" of Steiner's racism, Staudenmaier/Zegers produce little new compared to Staudenmaier's first article. It is most noteworthy that they decline to comment on the report about Steiner and racism that has been produced, and which concludes that Steiner cannot be called a racist, even though his 360 volumes contain 16 statements that can be interpreted as racist. Among these is the quote pointed out by the two gentlemen, about American Indians being "destined" to die out. If the topic "Steiner and American Indians" is of interest, I can tell you that much later, namely in 1923, he said: "(...) then came the extermination of Indians. But where did the people come from, who have exterminated the Indians? They came from Europe!"12 This statement is probably not too remote from what my opponents could allege.
When you walk into an insane asylum, it is not always
easy to see the difference between patients and doctors. But in the house
of madness demonstrated by racist thinking, Steiner stands on the side
of the individual, not of the race. For him, "race" often means something
close to a cultural epoch limited in its duration. But it is most important
that he, what the "races conditioned by blood" are concerned, not only
claims that they will disappear. He regards as extremely dangerous to take
an ideological or political point of departure from the concept of "races":
"A man who speaks today about a racial, national, or tribal community as
an ideal, is describing impulses leading to humanity's destruction," he
said in a lecture from 26. October 1917. "(...) Not through anything else
do human beings get nearer to the threat of decadence than when the ideals
of race, folk, and blood are spread abroad."13
In this case we have to say that Steiner was luckier with his fortune telling.
THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE GROUP
"The Asian cannot understand concepts like the European has; instead the Asian wants images," Staudenmaier/Zegers quote from Steiner. I have the same difficulties they have with swallowing the application of universal concepts to individuals.14 The validity of universal concepts can only be tested on individuals, for that very reason they will lead to the formation of prejudices. With no desire to defend a statement like the above in any way, I would like to remind my opponents that the mixing together of universal concepts and individuals is widespread far beyond Steiner's works. Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, is the title of an international bestseller from a couple of years ago; with a little more humor the author falls into the same trap Steiner did. But does that make him into a racist or a sex chauvinist?
In my opinion, Arthur Schopenhauer has said the final word about the relationship between individual and universal concept (nationality, ethnic group, "race") - and here it bears no significance what possible anti-Semitic statements Schopenhauer may have uttered. The quote stands on its own: "Moreover, individuality plays a much greater role than nationality, and in a given human being the former deserves a thousand times greater attention than the latter. Because the national character concerns the many, it can never in truth be ascribed anything noteworthy good. It is rather thus, that human limitations, despair, and evil behave in a distinct manner in each country, and this is what they call national character. Every nation speaks disparagingly of other nations - and all of them are right."15
The Steiner I know would undoubtedly endorse this quote.
To a far greater extent than the collection of articles Cosmic Memory,
the philosophical treatise The Philosophy of Freedom (1894) forms
the point of departure for Steiner's works and activities. The book provides
a theoretical basis of cognition for the self-dependence and freedom of
the individual, and it rejects every thought about race, family, gender,
or group standing higher than the singular person. This philosophical position
of Steiner is for me an excellent point of departure for anti-racist engagement.
Staudenmaier/Zegers regret that I claim they put an equation mark between Steiner and Hitler, and between Anthroposophy and Nazism. They only bear a striking resemblance. Anthroposophy is supposed to have emerged as one of many völkisch streams out of which Nazism became the victor. Hitler's antipathy against Steiner is supposed to be the result of some kind of competition: It is about a battle between closely related movements. The two of them are some kind of half brothers. But for Staudenmaiers'/Zeger's Steiner, the parallels between Anthroposophy and Nazism are so close that the anthroposophists who became Nazis are, in the eyes of my opponents, much more typical representatives of Steiner's supporters than the many who struggled against Nazism.16 If I have misunderstood them, they have to accept the responsibility.
As witnesses to the truth concerning the relationship between Steiner and Hitler, they conjure up authors and historians who claim that Anthroposophy emerged out of an occultism where Nazism also has some of its roots. The format here does not permit me to embark upon this comprehensive topic; let me put the argumentation to the test instead. Peter Staudenmaier is active in eco-political work. At the same time, he struggles against what he calls "eco-fascism." But this is also a movement doing eco-political work, using many of the same concepts and the same terminology that Staudenmaier himself is using. In consequence, he has his own "ecological roots" in what he calls "fascism." Or is the matter such that he endeavors with his articles to confront the excrescences of the movement that he himself belongs to? If that is the case, he should also be prepared to admit that others besides himself may be in fundamental disagreement with people who from the vantage point of a superficial observer are occupied with the same things.17
As further evidence of Steiner's close relationship to the völkisch movements, my opponents point out that he lectured in Munich in a hotel that was a gathering point for the ultranationalist far right. Here in the capital of Norway he held several lectures at the Nobel Institute. What conclusions should we draw from that? Perhaps the correct one: An impressario bureau provided locations for the lectures.
The two gentlemen also describe Rudolf Hess as "anthroposophy's chief ally during the Third Reich." But Hess' connection with the anthroposophists hardly went beyond the food. He was interested in bio-dynamic agriculture, and to a certain extent Waldorf education. His wife was asked by letter about her husband's relationship to Anthroposophy, and she replies: "My husband has had no interest in Anthroposophy; I have only been interested in it in connection with bio-dynamic agriculture, because I have been and still am a passionate gardener."18
The rumor about Hess being an "anthroposophist" to a greater or lesser degree can be traced back to one of the bitterest enemies of Anthroposophy, Wilhelm Hauer, who started his crusade already in 1921, and who later became a collaborator in the Nazi secret service. When Rudolf Hess had fled to England in May 1941, Hauer wrote a letter to Heinrich Himmler, where he depicted Hess as a "victim of Anthroposophy": "I dare once more call attention to the fact that I have been warning against Anthroposophy for twenty years. For two decades I have been fighting it. And it is awful that this soul-plague has been able to rage in the German people for so long, all the way up until now when it has shaken the Reich to its foundation."19 Are my opponents latter day victims of Nazi propaganda?
Every study that takes the reality of Steiner's social ideas into account, and does not stop with the propaganda, will show that he stands as far as it is possible to stand from Hitler's Nazism. When the people of Oberschlesien should decide by a referendum in 1921 if they would belong to Poland or to Germany, Steiner authored an appeal encouraging them instead to implement the threefolding-concept of a multinational government administration and a separation of state, commerce, and spiritual or cultural life: "Then the two different cultures, the German and the Polish, will be able to evolve side by side with regard to their life forces, without the one fearing to be raped by the other, and without the police authority of the state taking the one or the other side."20
These words are neither written by a half-brother of Hitler
nor by a pan-German nationalist. Adolf Hitler wanted the one culture to
rape the other - which is also what happened later. He further developed
Woodrow Wilson's thought about one state, one nation in a racist and imperialistic
direction. The whole of Steiner's threefolding is directed against Wilson's
idea, which he found exceedingly dangerous. The historian Eric Hobsbawm
calls Adolf Hitler "a consequent Wilsonian."21
And then his political ideas have extremely little to do with Steiner.
They are in fact the exact opposite.
Staudenmaier/Zegers complain that I devote so much space to conditions that were not approached by Staudenmaier in his first article, such as "the benevolent activities of Waldorf schools in various countries around the globe. (...) It is difficult to see what these matters have to do with the relationship between anthroposophy and ecofascism," they write.
Really? But if Rudolf Steiner was supposed to be so closely related to Nazism and other right wing sewage that it is necessary to weed out "this poisonous legacy," which they also write, we should have expected the poison to be evident also in the fruits of his works. Not by picking out atypical and twisted anthroposophists or violations in some Waldorf schools, but by looking at the tendency in the entire movement, can we get to test the hypothesis of Staudenmaier/Zegers. If my opponents do not do this, I assume that any reflective reader will recognize the significance of the Jewish anthroposophist Karl König founding institutions for the mentally retarded at the same time when Hitler was killing them, and that the Waldorf school in Cape Town was the only place where black and white pupils went together during the apartheid regime.
Staudenmaier/Zegers conclude their article with a hope that anthroposophists will have the courage to "leave anthroposophy behind," confronted with their disclosures. I would encourage them to go ahead with a good example, and to show that they themselves are willing to learn - and courageous enough to recognize that the arguments for Steiner's racism are thinner than air.
Peter Normann Waage
(English translation by Tarjei Straume)
1) The error may also originate with the
translator of Staudenmaier's article. The editors of Humanist have,
you see, found Staudenmaier's attack against Steiner and anthroposophy
so important that they have gone through the trouble of translating it
from English. [Translator's note: The owner of this website
has found Waage's defense of Steiner and anthroposophy against Staudenmaier
so important that he has gone through the trouble of translating it from