RUDOLF STEINER AN ACTIVE OPPONENT AGAINST ANTI-SEMITISM

A study shows that Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the founder of anthroposophy, was an active opponent of anti-Semitism (1). The study contradicts allegations, made especially since a broadcast in Germany (Report Mainz) in February (2000), about Waldorf schools and their founder. The allegations about Steiner are based on a lack of overview and an understanding of his views.

Steiner rejected anti-Semitism and racism all through his life

Already in the beginning of the 1880's, Steiner condemned one of the most profiled representatives of anti-Semitism in Germany, the socialist Eugen Dühring. Dühring argued in publications for a violent final solution of the "Jewish question". Steiner described Dühring's anti-Semitism as "barbarian and anti-cultural" and condemned "racial struggle" as "the most repulsive form of party struggle".

In the 1890s' Steiner vehemently argued against the "outrageous excesses of the anti-Semites" and condemned the "anti-Semitic brutes" as enemies of the human rights. As a convinced liberal, whose position coincided with that of liberal Jewry (reform Jewry), he actively supported the integration and full legal and social status of the Jews in Europe. In 1888 he wrote: "The Jews need Europe and Europe needs the Jews" (2). Against the anti-Semitic propaganda of hatred, he set his ideal: "One should only value mutual actions between individuals. It is completely uninteresting if one is a Jew or a German ... That is so simple, that one almost is stupid saying it. How stupid does one then not have to be to say the opposite."
 

Anti-Semitism is the opposite of a sound way of thinking

In 1900 Steiner described anti-Semitism as a "derision of every cultural achievement" of modern time, as "an expression of spiritual inferiority", as a "sign of triteness" and as "the opposite of a sound way of thinking". In a series of articles, that he wrote in 1901 for the Berlin "Association against anti-Semitism", he argued against the "Germanen" myth of the German racists and their "senseless anti-Semitic chatter". He compared the special legislation against the Jews in European countries with "statutes of slavery". Anyone who believes in the ideas of the human rights, must say to himself: "Anti-Semitism is an insult to all beliefs in ideas. Most of all it is an insult against the idea that humanity stands higher than any specific form (tribe, race, people) in which it expresses itself" (3).

Steiner's clear criticism of anti-Semitism and racism runs through his complete life's work. It is based on the philosophical foundation of anthroposophy, the "ethical individualism", that Steiner conceived already in the 1890s'. Its central concept is that of the self determining individual and its emancipation from the thought- and life forms that want to reduce man to an expression of racial and ethnical peculiarities.
 

Anti-Semitism is "a danger for Jews and non Jews"

What he expressed already at the beginning of the 20th century turned out to be prophetic, when he in anti-Semitism saw a symptom of cultural and political degeneration and warned against its dangerousness. Anti-Semitism poisoned not only the political culture and was a danger not only to Jews, but to all people. "Anti-Semitism is not only a danger to Jews, it is also a danger to non Jews" (3) Anti-Semitism (and with it racism) is a symptom of spiritual decay, it is a symptom of a cultural disease. Therefore it is a duty of everyone to "fight against it in all areas as energetically as possible". (3)

Steiner condemned the at the time rampant racial antipathies as an expression of "stale sentiments" and "instincts". They were expressed in voelkisch and racist movements and summarized by national socialism, that early turned against Steiner. The National Socialist struggle against anthroposophy started already in 1921 in the widespread National Socialist newspaper "Völkischer Beobachter". Adolf Hitler in person blew the horn starting the campaign against Steiner, in denouncing anthroposophy as a "Jewish method of destroying the normal state of mind of the peoples". (4)

At this time, Steiner was aquainted with important Jewish personalities. Among others he - in spite of his criticism of Zionism - was a friend of the Zionists Ernst Müller and Hugo Bergman. Bergman was a co-founder of the peace association "Brith Shalom", to which later Gershom Sholem and Martin Buber belonged. As Principal of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Bergman tried to realize Steiner's political ideas in Palestine, as he only found the solution to the "arabic question" to be possible through overcoming the principle of the national state.
 

Zionism is a result of anti-Semitism

Because of his general reservations against the strives of the national states, Steiner also opposed Zionism. (5) He saw in it a result of the increasing anti-Semitism: "Anyone who has an open eye for the present, knows that it is incorrect, when it is asserted that the affinity between Jews is greater than their affinity with the strivings of modern culture. Even if it has looked that way during the last years, it to a high degree has been the result of the anti-Semitism. Anyone who, as I, with shudder has seen what the anti-Semitism has accomplished in the souls of noble Jews, must come to this conviction." (6) Here as also in other places we find an explicit counter proof of what has been ascribed to Steiner as opinion, that the Jews themselves should be guilty of the anti-Semitism and because of their Zionism stand in the way for an understanding of the Jews. For Steiner Zionism is a result of anti-Semitism and not the other way around.
 

Steiner: 
The time of ethics based on moral precepts is past - the future belongs to the ethics of freedom!

In his essay on Hamerling's "Homunkulus" (1888), in which he defends Hamerling against accusations of anti-Semitism, one finds a sentence that needs an explanation. It has from time to time - in spite of the trend of the essay - been quoted as an indication or even proof of Steiner's anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic attitude. The fact, Steiner writes, that Jewry has been preserved within the modern life of the peoples, should be a "mistake of world history". He continues: "We don't mean only the forms of the Jewish religion, we mean most of all the spirit of Jewry, the Jewish way of thinking." (7

In the following text it becomes clear what Steiner sees as the mistake: that Jewry represents "a from the past into the present transplanted and here quite unusable moral ideal". These comments, that are embedded in his unconditional argument for the Jewish existence in Europe ("the Jews need Europe and Europe needs the Jews"), must be read in the perspective of the history of ideas. With the "moral ideal" and the "Jewish way of thinking", Steiner's target is the belief in an abstract monotheism and an ethics of moral precepts and duties, based on revelation.

Out of the same conviction Steiner criticized the contemporary "Christian way of thinking", that wanted to submit the emancipated individual to [external] moral norms. Against this, Steiner held it to be necessary to overcome the constraints of the moral law in favour of individual freedom. Leading representatives of the Jewish Enlightenment (Haskala) expressed themselves much more radically than Steiner. As one extreme representative one can mention Moses Hess. The Mosaic religion is dead, he writes, the by God chosen people must disappear for ever, to make it possible for new precious life to arise. (8) On other occasions Steiner developed comments on other aspects of the Mosaic religion, that stood out as eternal to him.
 

A positive evaluation of Judaism

He emphasized the central importance of Judaism for the development of  the modern epoch of the West. In a public lecture (9) from 1910 he recognized a task of Moses, that has continued to have an impact up to the present and still has not come to an end: "What the later humanity is indebted to Moses for, is the power to develop reason and intellect" and "to think about the world ... out of the full ego consciousness in a state of full wakefulness..." (10) "Moses stands out as the founder of the new, intellectual world view, that in no way has come to an end, and that still remains to teach people to bring practical life in accordance with the natural phenomenon, as Moses did." (11)

Through the development of monotheism and the proclamation of a moral law, Moses had transferred the godly will to the inner life of man. Thereby the foundation for the emancipation of the human ego ("I") from the Law had been laid. In that sense, Steiner considered the progress from the ethics based on precepts to an ethics based on freedom as a consequent development of Judaism. The human being should be its own legislator.

Therefore he brought Jewish (and also Christian) elements into the curriculum with the foundation of the Waldorf school to an extent that has no counterpart among other well known pedagogical movements. The story of Moses and the formation of the historical Israel should not only in thoughts, but also in feelings make it possible to walk through the great narrations of our cultural context.

Also Steiner's discussion of Jewish mysticism in 1902 and 1924 show (12) that he in Judaism, as also with other world religions, differentiated between different levels of the tradition and was capable of forming exceedingly differentiated judgements.
 

In summary

Even if such a "proof" not is necessary, judgements by the National Socialists show how off the point the accusations against Steiner are. In 1935/36 the Nazis in several reports, that among other things led to the prohibition of the Waldorf schools, classified anthroposophy as "extremely hostile to race [racial thinking]" and "as such incompatible with the National Socialist world view"(13).

The extensive evidence in Steiner's work of his active opposition against  anti-Semitism show that all other statements on issues related to Judaism  (especially in lectures), must be read in the context of his opposition against racism and anti-Semitism (14). In view of his expressed, public, permanent and partly polemic dissociations from such ideologies, contrary interpretations are untenable.

The Federation of Free Waldorf Schools, Heidehofstr. 32, D-70184 Stuttgart


Footnotes:

1) Ravagli L: Rudolf Steiner als aktiver Gegner des Antisemitismus. See also the study: "Rassenideale sind der Niedergang der Menschheit" - Anthroposophie und der Antisemitenvorwurf (Racial ideals are the decline of humanity - Anthroposophy and the accusation of anti-Semitism) by Kleist/Ravagli/Bader.

2) GA 32, a.a.O., S. 148.

3) GA 31, S. 412/413

4) Adolf Hitler in: Völkischer Beobachter, 15. März 1921, 35. Jg., Ausgabe 22, S. 1.

5) as also during his time most of the German Jews. Against the background of a temporarily lost importance of anti-Semitism, he even once, at the time of a Zionist congress, classified Zionism as more dangerous as the anti-Semitism, something that clearly was meant as polemic.

6) GA 31, S. 409.

7) GA 32, Dornach 1971, S. 152.

8) Walter Laqueur: Der Weg zum Staat Israel. Geschichte des Zionismus, Wien 1972, S. 65.

9) GA 60, Dornach 1959, Vortrag vom 9. März 1911, S. 410 f.

10) Ebenda, S. 426.

11) Ebenda, S. 434. 1910 Steiner held a series of lectures on the Genesis (GA 122) showing the great value he saw in it.

12) See Rudolf Steiner: Christianity as a mystical fact and the mysteries of the past (full text) (GA, 8, 1902) as also GA 353, 12th lecture.

13) Jakob Wilhelm Hauer to the Security Service RFSS, Oberabschnitt Süd-West, Stuttgart, of 7. Februar 1935. BAD R 4901-3285 as also a report from the Head Office in Berlin of the Secret Service on "Anthroposophie" from May 1936, BAD Z/B I 904.

14) An important contribution to this work has been made by David Schweizer with his essay "The cosmic Christ in Judaism" (Der kosmische Christus im Judentum), Info3, 6/2000, Kontemporär, S. 12 f.

(Original text