HUMANISM AND POLEMICAL POPULISM
(published in 'Humanist' 3/2000, organ of the Norwegian Human-Ethical Union)
While a right wing populist on the market place can keep pounding his message across that criminality in Norway is caused by immigrants reaping the benefits of special public privileges, the polemical populist Peter Staudenmaier has been given the opportunity, with more than twenty pages in Humanist no. 2/2000 at his disposal, to spell out an equally simple-minded, easily digestible, and false accusation: "Rudolf Steiner was a racist. His anthroposophy is Nazism." Or, in Staudenmaier's words: Anthroposophy is "a blatantly racist doctrine which anticipated important elements of the Nazi worldview by several decades."
In spite of the inherent unreasonableness, a much shorter time is required to hurl out allegations about immigrants being privileged criminals, or about Steiner being a Nazi, than to refute it. Having read the allegations presented by Staudenmaier, who cares to hear that Hitler accused Steiner of "destroying people's normal spiritual condition"1 because he repeatedly called nationalism decadent,2 that Steiner already in 1920 warned against "the plague that goes on in Germany under the swastika banners,"3 or that he had said, after Hitler's and Ludendorff's attempted coup in November 1923, that he could never again set his feet on German soil "if these men get in power."4
Neither is it noticeably impressive to mention that Steiner was in fact subjected to an assassination attempt by the Nazi movement in 1922. The refutations lack the freshness and entertainment value of the accusations. The populists can always count on something lingering like glue. "No smoke without fire," people think and swallow the bait.
In the case of Humanist, the bait is double spiced. Staudenmaier's article is countersigned by the magazine's editor-in-chief, Terje Emberland. A full page introductory picture shows the German Nazi eagle and swastika banner mounted in front of the anthroposophical center "Goetheanum" in Switzerland. "Illustration: Terje Emberland" it reads in the upper right corner.
"Signed articles do not necessarily express the view of the editors or the union," we are told on the editorial page. "Anthroposophy and eco-fascism" is as close as you can get to an editorial article not written by the editors themselves.
"Concentration camps, slave labor and the murder of Jews constitute a praxis whose key is perhaps to be found in the 'theories' of Rudolf Steiner," Staudenmaier quotes from one of his sources in the footnotes. The same message is embedded in the editor's illustration. A later picture brings Nazism to Norway: A photo of the death camp Dachau, where there was allegedly supposed to be a bio-dynamic garden of herbs, is placed vis-á-vis a photo of the Waldorf school at Hovseter in Oslo.
In Dachau they experimented on prisoners - what is happening
in the crypto-nazi institution in Norway? The fact is that several of the
school's pioneer teachers were incarcerated in death camps during the war,
and they weren't Nazis or traitors. The perfidious accusation that this
use of pictures communicates, is directed at teachers of the past as well
as the present - not to mention those among Humanist's readers who
may be connected with the school as teachers, students, or parents.
STEINER - AN AUTHORITY?
I have personally been a student of the school which is photographed, but I am not a member of the Anthroposophical Society or any other world view organization. I do however harbor a great respect for Rudolf Steiner, first of all as a philosopher and social reformer. That is where we find the "anarcho-individualism" that Rudolf Steiner subscribed to in the 1890's.5
A survey of philosophical and socio-political works by Steiner conducted with the same objectivity one would expect with regard to more officially recognized thinkers, shows that the originator of anthroposophy was a humanistic rationalist. However, the rationality ascribed to the human being by Steiner does not stop at the borderline of faith. An essential feature of his philosophy is the argument that each single individual, regardless of race, gender, or social class, possesses an absolute value and ability to relate freely and self-dependently to all demands and authorities of a material and spiritual nature. Staudenmaier presents him as the opposite: a subscriber to collective identities like race, an enemy of humanism and freedom.
According to Staudenmaier's twisted presentation, "Steiner was by his own account 'enthusiastically active' in pan-German nationalist movements in Vienna at the end of the nineteenth century." During and after the first world war, he is supposed to have praised German militarism, and "continued to rail against France, French culture, and the French language in rhetoric which matched that of Mein Kampf." He lectured about "Volkseelen" (folk souls) in Christiania in 1910, (for an English translation of the lecture series, see here) emphasized the "germanic-nordic sub-race" and its mythology as "the world's most spiritually advanced ethnic group"; a few years earlier he even wrote about "root races" and about "Aryans" as the most highly developed humans. Yes, he is even supposed to have claimed that the Aborigines, among others, are a "degenerate" remnant of the third root race and ought to become extinct. He is himself supposed to have observed all of it directly in the spiritual world, while his supporters must be content with believing in his words: "[Steiner] insisted that such 'occult experience,' as he called it, could never be judged or verified by reason, logic, or scientific inquiry," writes Staudenmaier.
"I beg of you, and I begged the same of you in Berlin," says Steiner in his conclusion of the lecture cycle Die Mission einzelner Volkseelen which Staudenmaier is referring to, "not to accept anything I have ever said or will say because you trust me as an authority or only believe me. (.....) I beg of you, do not believe in it blindly, do not accept my words because I am an authority. I beg of you that you stop this cultivation of authority; for us this cultivation of authority will do nothing but harm."6
This is what Staudenmaier calls demanding blind faith in authority.
Not to anyone's surprise, his other allegations are equally irresponsible. Certainly, Steiner writes about "races" - just like almost all his contemporaries. This was several decades before this concept, which was partially used in the sense we use "ethnic" today, became scandalized by the Holocaust. The expressions that admittedly sound rather inflammatory today - like the Theosophical "root race" - Steiner himself regretted having used already in 1909.7 He also stopped using the word "Aryan" ("Aryan root race" Comment S.N.) at that time. It is correct that Steiner spoke about the "Nordic-Germanic mythology" in his Christiania lectures, but the very next year, he used Greek mythology as the foundation of the development of anthroposophical concepts, and in 1912 and '13 he used the Hindu Baghavad Gita and the Finnish Kalevala.8 So one cannot really speak of an emphasis on the germanic-nordic sub-race.
Along with a reference to Steiner's autobiography Mein Lebensgang, Staudenmaier claims that Steiner was by his own account "enthusiastically active" in pan-German nationalist movements in Vienna at the end of the nineteenth century. I have not found anything of the kind, not on the page mentioned, in the rest of the chapter, nor in the book at all. The reader can always check this out, in the 8th chapter of Rudolf Steiner, An Autobiography, which the book is called in English. Then you will discover that Steiner on the contrary describes his interest in the social-democratic movement, and that in a later chapter, he portrays his engagement in the "Union against anti-Semitism" at the end of the century.
He published a book in 1915 with the title Gedanken
während der Zeit des Krieges. Für Deutsche und solche, die nicht
glauben, sie hassen zu müssen. This book emphasizes the cultural
advantages of the Germans, not "German militarism." Steiner yet opposed
- in his own words - "with hands and feet against this little book ever
being published in a new edition."9
The allegation that this book, or his lectures - that are characterized
by a somewhat dry, long-winded style - should be reminiscent of Hitler's
agitatorial fury in Mein Kampf, speaks for itself about Staudenmaier's
failing power of judgement and vulgar polemics.
INDIVIDUAL - NOT RACE
According to Staudenmaier, Steiner and his followers hold the opinion that the Aborigines would best serve humanity by dying out. In the real world of the anthroposophical movement, these people have influenced several Waldorf schools in Australia with their culture and their myths.10 In one such school, the majority of teachers and students are Aborigines.11This is not unique. Contrary to what should be expected from a racist Nazi-ideology, Anthroposophy has had its break-through in schools and other social institutions in most of the world.
There are Waldorf schools in Israel, Egypt, in the second largest Indian reservation in America (the Sioux), in several South American countries (among other things, anthroposophists are making a considerable effort on behalf of street children in Rio de Janeiro), India, Korea, Japan, South Africa and other African countries, Russia, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan - just to mention some of the "exotic" places.12 The curriculum is adapted to local cultural traditions, and at the same time endeavors to make the students suited to live in a modern, globalized world.
During the apartheid regime in South Africa, the Waldorf schools were the only ones where black and white students attended the same classes, and the school for Waldorf teacher training in Cape Town, The Novalis Institute, was praised by UNESCO as an organization of tremendous consequence in the conquest of apartheid.13 The readers of Humanist don't get to know about any of this.
Rudolf Steiner's own fundamental attitude to racism, races, and cultural diversity comes to expression when he repeatedly emphasizes how harmful it is for those who seek "knowledge of higher worlds" to harbor racial prejudices or to judge human beings on the basis of gender, race, etc. The person who should fall for this temptation will never achieve insight.14 Furthermore, he writes that racial differences are in the process of being wiped out; in a not too far distant future they will be completely irrelevant.15 The relationship between the single individual and his or her "race" or culture is, for Steiner, regulated by the laws of reincarnation. The individual is born into different races and cultures.16
We may think it weird or nonsensical to talk about some
kind of "spiritual insight" and "higher worlds"; we may hold the opinion
that race has never had any significance by itself - it has for
the most part gained significance through people's prejudices; and we may
label belief in reincarnation as confused and absurd. But someone who claims
that "spiritual insight" is possible and worthy of pursuit, and that reincarnation
is a part of human existence, cannot be called a racist when he
insists that racism is a hindrance to insight and that race is so secondary
that it is not only disappearing; it is best compared to changing clothes
for the individual. It is not complexion or "blood" that gives value to
the individual for Steiner, but his or her humanity - and this is found
in everyone, regardless of "race." This is a fundamental anti-racist viewpoint
and no "racist philosophy" like what is served to the readers of Humanist.
A SUPPORTER OF CAPITALISM?
Staudenmaier also pays a visit to Steiner's social theory, the "Threefold Social Order." He is not only off the wall here, but off the wrong wall too. Again, Staudenmaier comes across as careless at best, as mendacious at worst. I would burst every format if I were to correct all his single unreasonable allegations. For this reason, I will refer to what I have written about the subject previously.17 But something also has to be said here.
Staudenmaier describes Steiner as "an ardent defender of private profit, the concentration of property and wealth, and the unfettered market." The truth is that he was an opponent of private property rights and the right to inheritance of the means of production. The person who was competent should manage and run corporations and so on, not the person who possessed the money bag or who had taken over the corporation through inheritance. He endeavored to legislate welfare rights, such as the right to education, to pensions, to medical aid and so on; he wanted to introduce a guaranteed minimum wage and regarded capitalism as an anti-social phenomenon: That is where economic life has conquered cultural and judicial life, the two other "branches" of society. In this way, everything - people, thoughts, ideas - is transformed into commodities.
Neither did Steiner lack supporters from the working class, like Staudenmaier insists. The threefolding was a real competitor for the Communist Movement - and the emerging Nazism. Which is why there was an assassination attempt in 1922. Staudenmaier not only suppresses this; he writes the exact opposite. The truth is that the readers of Humanist get better information about Rudolf Steiner's threefolding by reading the interview with the anarchist Murray Bookchin in the same issue. His vision of an ecological society characterized by "reason, liberty, and cooperation," coincides with fundamental thoughts by Steiner - though I don't intend to imply that Bookchin is a "Steinerite."
We should also pay attention to the fact that the threefolding was introduced as an alternative to Woodrow Wilson's 14 points' program for reorganizing Europe after the first world war. Wilson pursued the "self-determination of nations." Steiner argued intensely against the nationalistically, or ethnically, based state, which he thought would bring nothing but disaster. He wanted to preserve the multi-cultural Central Europe by introducing an administrative and practical distinction between state and nation (or culture). Here it is Wilson, not Steiner, who points to Hitler. The historian Eric Hobsbawm describes Hitler as a "consequent Wilsonian nationalist."18
The editors of Humanist probably do not like this,
but the Human-Ethical Union in Norway is in fact establishing a practical
protest against the same blend of state and nation, or culture, that Steiner
warned against. In a uniform national-statish society there wouldn't be
room for anything except the beliefs of the state in schools and other
Rudolf Steiner died in 1925, and among Steiner's posterity supporters, Staudenmaier only mentions those few who have advocated racism and Nazism. They do exist, even though many more stood up against Hitler and Nazism. It is documented that Hess was occupied with bio-dynamic farming, but that is not something Steiner can be blamed for. Neither can Steiner nor the anthroposophical movement be said to be scandalized by the revisionist Haverbeck, even though he was in the leadership for Hitler Jugend and worked as a priest in the Christian Community after the war. ."...several of Haverbeck's books are published by the largest anthroposophist publisher in Germany," writes Staudenmaier.
This is not true about his bridging of Nazism and Anthroposophy: Rudolf Steiner - Anwalt für Deutschland (1989), which was published by Langen-Müller Verlag and rejected by nine crucial anthroposophical magazines. We'll have to search long and far to find a more peripheral and disinforming presentation of anthroposophy. If we pursue Staudenmaier's line of logic, Gro Harlem Brundtland would have to resign as Director-General of the World Health Organization because her political party once upon the time voted in favor of Norwegian sterilization laws.
Still, as Staudenmaier points out, there were a few individuals, also high up in the anthroposophical hierarchy, who sympathized with Nazism in the 1930's. The question that Staudenmaier does not ask, but only answers with an ear-shattering yes, is if the source is also corrupted. Is it possible, in spite of Steiner's fundamental rejection of racism, that there are utterances by him that legitimize a racist interpretation, if not the only interpretation?
In 1997, this question was asked openly in the Netherlands by the anthroposophists themselves, after some ugly incidents in a Waldorf school. This is why the Anthroposophical Society in that country established a committee to go through Steiner's works and to answer the question whether or not there may be a racial doctrine and racism, plus evaluate if any of his utterances may be perceived as discriminatory according to Dutch law. An interim report was published in 1998.19The final report came a year ago. Both conclude that we cannot ascribe any racial doctrine or racism to Steiner. There are however 16 utterances in his works that would have been in violation of current Dutch anti-discriminatory laws, and more than 50 others that can be misunderstood as discriminatory.
The commission's conclusion is apparently weakened by its members being anthroposophists - and may as a consequence be suspected of desiring to compose an apology for Steiner. Even though an independent commission would have been more tenable, it is worth noticing that its chairman, the lawyer Ted van Baarda, is a specialist in anti-discrimination laws and civil rights, and he heads an office for civil rights counselling in the Haag. It is doubtful that he would risk the scandal of being caught redecorating Steiner's facade.
In the anthroposophical magazine Info3, they asked two non-anthroposophists to review the interim report. Both agreed with the commission: Steiner was no racist. "I don't think this conclusion can be disputed seriously. Those who know Steiner's works not only through rumors or through the polemics perpetuated by his notorious opponents, won't be able to expect anything else either," writes religious science professor Wolfgang Ullmann. And history professor Jörn Rüsten adds: "Anthroposophy represents a view of the human being where the ethno-centric frontiers are superseded and humanism is developed as a concept of value." He points out that the report ought to put an end to the endeavors to place anthroposophy in the same basket as anti-modern, reactionary movements.
Rudolf Steiner's works, which are still being published, consist so far of 89.000 printed pages, collected in approximately 340 volumes. Most of it is shorthand reports from lectures that he himself has not seen through. They are nevertheless published in his name and belong to the corpus that makes up the theoretical foundation of anthroposophy. The utterances that the commission denounces comprise an infinitesimal portion, 16 quotes in this ocean of words, but several of them are absurdly grotesque as well as sensational: Negroes have no business being in Europe, pregnant women who read "Negro novels" beget "mulatto babies," the "whites" are most self-dependent and so on.20 In spite of their small number, these smell more like beer joints than spiritual insight.
"Today anthroposophists often try to excuse or explain
away such hair-raising statements by claiming that Steiner was only a product
of his time," writes Staudenmaier. He doesn't find this very convincing,
among other things because Steiner claimed a unique degree of spiritual
clairvoyance. With the substantial reservations I have made plain in this
article, I must say that I am in agreement with Staudenmaier here. Although
it only concerns an infinitesimal portion of his works, and although Steiner
cannot be called a racist, such utterances about people with a different
complexion cannot possibly be synchronized with the intention of possessing
the degree of spirituality and insight that Steiner is doing.
THE NECESSARY HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
Steiner has to a great extent remained a star to his supporters and a black hole to his opponents. Where the one camp worships him, the other camp sees all kinds of dirt stuck to his work. For a long time he yearned to be placed in historical and cultural context. During the last years, however, a considerable body of work has been launched to amend this problem. This has partially been brought about as a result of outside criticism; nevertheless the anthroposophists themselves have conducted the most thorough "exposures."
Already in 1991, the anthroposophical magazine Flensburger Hefte published comprehensive documentation concerning anthroposophists' attitude to the Third Reich. In 1999, Uwe Werner published a larger work on this subject. The Dutch commission is a part of the same picture; this also concerns Info3's thorough treatment of the inflammatory questions. But it is not entirely new that anthroposophists take a close look at themselves: The headmaster for the Waldorf school in Germany who with the government's blessing kept it going until 1941, was himself excluded from all schools by the anthroposophists themselves. And the book that Steiner himself did not want to be published in a new edition, was re-published more than a generation ago - something that also testifies to the willingness to let Steiner be documented in an unbiased manner.
Therefore, it is not true what Staudenmaier writes, that anthroposophists have concealed these aspects of Steiner. The way it looks today, he is facing the prospect of being more thoroughly analyzed and more critically evaluated than anyone he may be compared with. How often, for instance, are Freudians confronted with the fact that Sigmund Freud in 1935, after Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia, sent Il Duce a copy of his book Why War? with the following dedication: "From an old man who in the ruler hails the cultural hero"?21 Or how long didn't it take before the official Norway denounced the sterilization of gypsies, an injustice that enjoyed enthusiastic support of, among others, the politician and "enlightener" Karl Evang? (Translator's note: Norway's public health minister ["surgeon general"] 1938-1972.)
And it wasn't members of the Human-Ethical Union, but
an anthroposophist, namely Leif Wærenskiold, who took the initiative
in March 1957 to change the Norwegian official school textbooks22
where we could read that in Africa, we "meet many barefooted niggers with
shiny top hats, stiff collars, and modern winter coats. They mostly resemble
grotesquely adorned monkeys in a circus." History is not as simple as the
impression given by the polemical populists: When the Norwegian sterilization
law was passed by the Storting in 1935, it was opposed by one voice: The
Society Party. The same party was accused of treason after the war.
THE HUMAN BEING IN THE CENTER
History cannot show one pioneer who is worth digesting with absolutely everything. Isaac Newton won't be remembered for his speculations about the Apocalypse of St. John. Steiner is not interesting because of his faults, but because of his project: To create a bridge between insights that until now have been reserved for religion and faith, and modern, scientific reason. He wanted to rescue the individual and its humanness from drowning in foggy spiritualism as well as in stiffened materialism. From this vantage point, anthroposophy is not so far from the ideal that editor Emberland describes in Humanist's editorial article: "In humanism, the human being stands in the center - and this means unabridged and absolutely: No visions or utopia - regardless of how alluring - and no 'necessary emergencies' - regardless of how imposing - can force us to abandon this ideal."
Where the human being is placed in the center, its potential for development becomes visible. Whether one stands alone or as part of a movement, one's fellow man must be ascribed the ability to learn from life. That is why it is evident that it is the Waldorf schools with blacks and whites in the same classroom during the apartheid years that represent the anthroposophical movement; not the anthroposophists who happened to sympathize with Nazism - nor Nazis with anthroposophical sympathies.
Keeping in mind that the present-day leader of the Human-Ethical Union was arrested at the airport in Beirut in 1977 with explosives in his baggage and terrorist plans in his head, the Norwegian human-ethicists should be especially capable of grasping this point. It is not the past that makes him suited for the position, but his present engagement for and knowledge of human civil rights.
(English translation by Tarjei Straume)NOTES:
1) In Völkisher Beobachter 3.15