Rudolf Steiner, Racism, Nazis & why Anthroposophy doesn’t grow upAugust 24, 2015
Anthroposophy was developed by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) in the early part of last century. It is best known for Waldorf Schools and Biodynamic farming. I studied it quite deeply for several years in my youth. I read a mountain of books, attended training courses and a national conference, and taught at their schools. (This was in the late 1980s and early 90s.) I seriously considered a career as a teacher in the Waldorf School system, and became a member of the Anthroposophical Society. I even went to their head quarters in Switzerland, a visit I still happily remember.
Several things troubled me however, most especially that some aspects of Anthroposophy appeared surprisingly racist. I put up with it for a while, believing that it only sounded racist because of the culture Steiner came from. My tolerance level was also raised because, as I was frequently told, the Nazis had closed the Waldorf schools. I accepted the implication that Anthroposophy must be the very antithesis of Nazism.
It is indeed true that Waldorf schools in Germany were ordered to close by Heinrich Himmler. But here’s a word of advice to Anthroposophists: if you tell people that your movement was persecuted by the Nazis, you also need to tell the rest of the story. Like the fact that Rudolf Hess supported Anthroposophy and wanted to keep the schools open. Why wasn’t I told that?
And why wasn’t I told that although Himmler didn’t like the schools, he did like Biodynamic agriculture? Even more importantly there was a Biodynamic farm at Dachau concentration camp. Weleda, (the Anthroposophical company well known today for cosmetics), provided doctors at Dachau with chemical supplies for experiments on prisoners. But I never heard anything about that when I was told about the closing of the schools.
When I was studying Anthroposophy, I bought two large books by the prominent Anthroposophist and contemporary of Steiner, Günther Wachsmuth. I referred to them regularly. One was called Reincarnation as a Phenomenon of Metamorphosis. Anything with that many syllables in such a short space, I thought, must be worth reading. Even though this was long ago, imagine how I felt recently when I found out he was a Nazi sympathizer. I am not happy about this.
I don’t think that Rudolf Steiner was especially racist by temperament. The impression I got from his writings was that he was a sincere, intelligent and generally decent fellow — just like most of the Anthroposophists I’ve known. But that is really my point. How did you guys wind up holding views that look distinctly racist? And why conceal your movement’s involvement with the Nazis, while pretending it was singled out for persecution? There would have been time for an extra sentence or two. Believe it or not you guys, people generally find the Nazis quite an interesting topic of conversation. It wasn’t me who cut the conversation short.
Had this been dealt with honestly and transparently by the Anthroposophical movement, they would not look as bad as they do to me now.
Sadly, Anthroposophy is largely based on the idea of a hierarchy of races. This is of course inherently and inevitably racist. It is the kind of ideology that has been utterly smashed to pieces by modern genetics. There may be a biological meaning for the term “race”, but there is no biological basis for constructing any kind of evolutionary racial hierarchy.
Anthroposophy, however, teaches that there is a spiritual basis for such a hierarchy. And guess which race is at the top…. And guess which spiritual movement is at the top of the top! Correct. This is where Anthroposophists get that sense of entitlement and superiority from. As they see it, anyone who finds their ideas racist doesn’t understand Anthroposophy and can safely be looked down their noses upon.
But this snootiness is unmasked as hubris as soon as the rest of the Nazi story comes out. Sure, involvement with the Nazis doesn’t automatically imply complicity, and there is no place here for guilt by mere association. But like it or not, it means that questions must be answered.
Usually their first answer is to snootily say that there are important distinctions between Steiner’s racial concepts and those of the Nazis. This site (in German) uses a typical and archetypically Anthroposophical piece of evasion:
“Steiner’s concept of race arises from a completely different motivation from that of fascism. While the National Socialist concept of race is derived from the materialistic evolutionary theory of Darwin, Steiner does not see “Root Races” as an ethnic category, rather as phases of human development over periods of thousands of years.” (My translation. See footnote *1 for original passage.)
Anthroposophy they say, is derived from spiritual sources and is therefore qualitatively different to Nazism. Instead they blame Nazi ideology on “materialistic science”, and in particular Charles Darwin.
This is a nice deflection, but it’s factually wrong. The idea of a divinely ordained “natural” hierarchy is exactly the kind of thinking that Darwin destroyed. And eugenics is based not on natural selection, but on artificial selection, which farmers have practiced for thousands of years. Furthermore, Darwinian survival of the fittest means survival of the best adapted to a particular habitat — not the “fittest” according to some absolute standard of superiority — as it is in Nazi race theory….
……..And as it is in Anthroposophical race theory.
The critic Peter Staudenmaier points to the problem that the authors of the above quote evade. He notes a book in which “Steiner prints a diagram showing Africa on the bottom, Asia in the middle, and Europe on top… Steiner explains that the “Negro race” is tied to humanity’s childhood, “the yellow and brown races” to adolescence, and Europeans to adulthood and maturity.”
Steiner then insists that this racially stratified hierarchy “is simply a universal law” and indeed a product of inescapable destiny: “The forces which determine man’s racial character follow this cosmic pattern. The American Indians died out, not because of European persecutions, but because they were destined to succumb to those forces which hastened their extinction.”
This is where the trouble really starts for Anthroposophists. We are wading into seriously racist esoteric waters here. And yes, Steiner’s ideas can be distinguished from Nazism, but not in any way that alters their inherently racist character.
The Nazis see the Aryan Race as bring permanently at the top of a racial pyramid. Steiner envisaged more of a rotational system, with certain cultures flourishing in certain epochs, and then subsiding. Currently the Arayan Race is on top, but this will change eventually.
This is indeed a less racist system than that of the Nazis. Congratulations.
Anthroposophists are happy to explain this further: individual souls are not even bound to reincarnate only into one race. Well developed souls can make the jump into an ascending race. While the more backward souls stay where they are……. In the backward races…..
Welcome back to the suspiciously racist-sounding racial hierarchy.
You might now be inclined to say: Is it not an extremely bitter thought that whole peoples remain immature and do not develop their capacities; that only a small group becomes capable of providing the germ for the next civilization? This thought will no longer disquiet you if you distinguish between race development and individual soul-development, for no soul is condemned to remain in one particular race.
The race may fall behind; the community of people may remain backward, but the souls progress beyond the several races…. No soul is bound to a backward body if it does not bind itself to it. (Quoted by Staudenmaier)
Anthroposophists argue that in the current epoch, humanity is developing the soul quality of the “I am”. Or rather, the Aryan Race is developing the “I am”, under the guidance of the Archangel Michael. Individual blacks might possibly have developed their “I am” as much as some whiteys, but the black race as a whole is kind of, well, you know….
….And anyway, it’s simply a fact. It can’t be racist if it’s a fact….
And that is their best shot at a defense — if Steiner’s claims are true, then Anthroposophy is not a racist ideology.
Those people, however, who had developed their [“I am”] too little, and who were too exposed to the influences of the sun, were like plants: they deposited too many carbonic constituents beneath their skin and became black. This is why the Negroes are black. Thus both east of Atlantis in the black population and west of Atlantis in the red population we find survivors of the kind of people who had not developed their ego-feeling in a normal way. The human beings who had developed normally lent themselves best to progress. (Quoted by Staudenmaier)
To put this more clearly: Steiner is saying that black people are not inferior because their skin is black; but rather, that they are black because they are inferior. (Update: If you doubt that people still believe this, just read through the comments section below!)
In the 1990s, those Anthroposophists who were concerned about this apparent racism were sometimes confronted by gloating traditionalists, claiming to have new proof of Steiner’s race theories. The fallen ancient Lemurian Race, known to materialistic scientists as the Australian Aborigines, have indeed become decadent, they claimed, and will soon die out. The Aborigines even say so themselves!
It was all in written in a book by an American woman who said she had been contacted by the surviving members of the last tribe of True Aborigines. They know that their time on earth has passed, and they are pleased that they fulfilled their spiritual role. They have chosen to die out through voluntary celibacy. Soon there will be no True Aborigines left, as the urbanized tribes have become decadent and lost their racial purity.
This book, Marlo Morgan’s Mutant Message Down Under, is still referred to today by many Anthroposophists, especially in Germany. But the only thing the book is good for is detecting closet racists. Its author never met any lost tribe, and was never even in the desert. In fact she was working in a pharmacy in Brisbane at the time her story supposedly took place. The only Aborigines she met were the ones who confronted her after her book was published, demanding she withdraw the book and admit the hoax.
Australian Aborigines have survived more than 200 years of genocide. International support is a vital part of their continued survival, and Marlo Morgan has cashed in on the world wide respect and interest they have earned. But according to Marlo Morgan, they are not true Aborigines. And according to Anthroposophy, their time has passed and their extinction is inevitable.
And according to me, if you still believe any of that, you make me sick.
And you’re fucking wrong.
Ultimately, Anthroposophy hits the same wall that any religious ideology hits. There is no evidence whatsoever for any of its supernatural claims. (And sorry, but studiously interpreting everything according to Anthroposophical concepts doesn’t count as evidence.) The fact that these claims are based on an outdated racist ideology akin to Nazism just makes it hit that wall a bit harder.
There is an interesting exchange of articles between the afore mentioned Peter Staudenmaier and Anthroposophist Peter Waage. (See footnote *2 for links.) Waage confronts some issues that Anthroposophists usually sidestep, and he makes an interesting concession. Referring to a list of Steiner’s most embarrassingly racist statements (like how pregnant women shouldn’t read books by negroes or they’ll have mulatto kids), he admits that Steiner said some things that are so ridiculous that they “smell more like beer joints than spiritual insight.”
This is the kind of admission I would like to see more often from Anthroposophists.
Staudenmaier writes, “Today anthroposophists often try to excuse or explain away such hair-raising statements by claiming that Steiner was only a product of his time.” He [Staudenmaier] 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. [emphasis added]
This is a welcome exception to the rule of snootiness and denial. But it appears near the end of an article that is otherwise typically snooty and denially.
Furthermore, Waage uses this concession to disguise his evasion of a more important point. These weren’t just racist outbursts in a beer hall that got picked up by a stray stenographer. And they don’t merely concern an “infinitesimal portion” of his ideas. They came straight out of the foundational concepts of Anthroposophy. Excising them from the canon is not like removing a wart. It’s more like smashing down one of the central pillars.
Waage does not explore what led Steiner to make such “errors”. Nor does he admit that they follow just as logically from the fundamental concepts of Anthroposophy as anything else he said.
A final ploy is to argue that the movement has done good work against racism. Waldorf Schools in South Africa apparently opposed Apartheid. Waage argues 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.
This is all praiseworthy, but it doesn’t deal with the problem of racist ideology. It just shows that some schools are smart enough to ignore Steiner’s basic teachings
Waage also ignores them, but he goes further. He tips a whole bucket of whitewash on the issue — “anthroposophists who happened to sympathize with Nazism”???? As if it’s the merest coincidence!
To quote Steiner:
If one national civilization spreads more readily, and has greater spiritual fertility than another, then it is quite right that it should spread.
…Again, this by itself is not Nazism, nor anything close to it. But it makes it quite easy to see why a significant number of leading Anthroposophists “happened to sympathize with Nazism.”
I will note another parallel — to Social Darwinism. This is a kind of “survival of the spiritually fittest” through “spiritual selection” where victory demonstrates greater “spiritual fertility” — just as in Social Darwinism only with even less evidence and a bit crazier. The victor’s crimes are excused of course, not as nature’s law but as Spirit’s law: the “backward races” would have died out anyway.
Wanna know what I think?
I think it is indeed possible to be spiritually backward and have an under-developed soul. And just like the racist in the pub, it’s unlikely that those afflicted will realize it.
Posted by Yakaru
*1 original passage:
“Der Rassenbegriff Steiners ist nach Ansicht seiner Vertreter gegenüber dem des faschistischen Rassismus grundlegend anders motiviert. Während der Rassenbegriff des Nationalsozialismus aus der materialistischen Evolutionstheorie Darwins abgeleitet ist, verstehe Steiner die “Wurzelrassen” nicht als ethnische Zuordnung, sondern als in große Zeitepochen von mehreren tausend Jahren einzuordnende menschliche Entwicklungsstadien.”
*2 Exchange of articles:
Anthroposophy and Ecofascism, by Peter Staudenmaier (revised 2008)
Humanism and Polemical Populism, by Peter Norman Waage
Anthroposophy and its Defenders, by Peter Staudenmaier and Peter Zegers
*Regarding genetics and racism, see this negative review of a book proposing a genetic basis for cultural differences (already linked in the text above).
*Update: As mentioned in the comments — another relevant article (includes more quotes from Steiner and various attempts at retractions from schools):
The Myth of the Top of the Tree Evolving Along Hierarchical Races