Steiner taught that humans were meant to evolve from lower racial form to higher and higher forms. Races were meant to be stages of our evolution. He identified five major racial groupings, and he attributed racial differences to cosmic forces that are centered in various locations on the Earth. Better souls have tended to congregate in the northern regions, while inferior souls have tended to be located in southern regions.
Steiner laid out some of his racial teachings in the lecture “The Manifestation of the Ego in the Different Races of Men”, which appears in the book THE BEING OF MAN AND HIS FUTURE EVOLUTION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1981). Here are some excerpts.
“[M]an takes on a different form in different regions of the earth. External bodily characteristics vary according to the different zones of the earth. You will remember that there are ‘races’, the black, red, yellow and white race, and that these races were originally connected with certain regions of the earth.” — p. 110.
“In ancient Lemurian times it was just at the North Pole that those beings congregated who, if I may express it this way, laid no claim as yet to coming right down on to the earth, but who preferred to remain above in the regions where the air was still interlaced with vapour. Thus there was at the North Pole in Lemurian times a kind of spiritual species that did not concern itself very much with the physical bodies that swarmed about on the earth below. From a spiritual point of view, seen by a present-day eye, this species consisted of transparent forms that were therefore not actually visible, and as such they were highly developed, but regarding their physical form they showed a lower form of humanity. They lived in an etheric body and were beings of a more ethereal nature, having only a loose connection with the primitive bodies developing on the earth below that still had no density to speak of. These bodies were too dependent on the earth, and these spiritually more advanced beings only used them as sheaths to the very smallest extent.” — p. 113.
Note that the Northern humans (or proto-humans) were inferior in physical embodiment ("regarding their physical form they showed a lower form of humanity"), but they were superior in the more important ways ("they were highly developed;" specifically, they were "spiritually more advanced beings" who had little connection with "the primitive bodies developing on the earth below"). Like other humans, the northerners were characterized by a shared group soul. Also, because they had not descended all the way to Earthly incarnation, they lived in a sort of paradise, floating in the air. And because of their spiritual superiority, they gave mankind its great leaders.
“[T]he North Pole [and the region around it] was populated by people that actually lived in the realms of air in a kind of paradise, and who had not yet descended as far as the earth. What we thus understand to be a necessary consequence of the foregoing you can now compare with what you encounter here and there in anthroposophical literature, namely that those higher beings who were once the teachers of mankind descended from the cold North! We have actually found them, the group souls around the North Pole. If they wanted to become teachers of those people who were inferior souls and who entered more into physical bodies, then they had to descend further, too, and oppose the capacity of the clairvoyance of Lemurian times in their etheric body, or they had to sacrifice themselves and take on the physical human form of the Lemurian people.” — p. 115.
The people near the equator had, as we have just seen, "inferior souls." They were deeply involved in the "primitive bodies" that the good northerners spurned (unless, self-sacrificingly, the northerners traveled south to become teachers for the primitive southerners). So, there were differing human populations, and the better part of humanity could be found in the North. The southerners, indeed, were not merely inferior in spirituality, they were downright sinful. There was, however, also a third group: the ones in the temperate zone. These were better adapted to the Earth than the northerners, yet they were spiritually superior to the southerners.
"If we had taken a journey in Lemurian times from the Equator to the North Pole, we should have found a spiritualising of the earth population. In those times we can distinguish as it were a twofold population: one kind that had still remained spiritual, and whose earthly bodies appeared really to be only an addition to their spiritual being, and another kind that had already descended into matter, into the physical. What would have happened if no change had occurred with earth evolution? The best souls of the polar regions would not have been able to descend at all into physical bodies. And on the other hand the equatorial population would have more or less died out. Having descended too soon into a physical body, they fell into those wicked and immoral practices that led to the downfall of Lemuria. And this resulted in the best section of the population migrating to those regions lying between the Equator and the northern lands. For in Lemurian times we find the members of mankind with the greatest chance of survival living in the countries between the Equator and the North Pole. The human bodies that could become bearers of the most advanced human souls developed best in those regions of ancient Atlantis known today as the temperate zones." — pp. 115-116.
You can see where this is going. There are "advanced human souls" and inferior human souls. The latter are connected with southern regions (think of Africa) and "primitive bodies.".
The essential nonphysical bodies of the higher souls left no fossil or other record, so we cannot confirm their existence in ordinary ways. (Surprise, surprise.) But humans moved from Lemuria to Atlantis, and there they proceeded to develop their sense of individual selfhood, the "ego" or "I".
“If mankind had not to a large extent migrated to Atlantis, the active development of the ego would not have come about. For the Lemurian population would have gradually died out, having to succumb to passions, and the best souls of the North would not have descended to earth at all, for they would not have been able to find suitable bodies ... In Atlantean times the human body was not yet confined to rigid forms, and the highly developed human beings, those of great spiritual significance, were physically small in those days, whereas a person who was not very significant spiritually had in Atlantean times a gigantically developed physical body. And if you had met such a giant in those days, you could have concluded: He is not on a very high level spiritually, for he has rushed into his body with his whole being! Everything that refers to ‘giants’ in legends is absolutely based on a knowledge of the truth. If, therefore, a real memory of these times is preserved in the Germanic myths, we feel it to be absolutely correct, from the spiritual scientific point of view, that the giants are stupid and the dwarfs very clever. This is entirely based on what could be said of the Atlantean population: Where the people are small we find great intelligence, and a race of large men are all stupid! ... [A]t the time when Atlantis began to sink there was a great contrast between men who were good as to their qualities of soul, and were a race of little men, and the giant forms who were wicked and in whom everything had turned to flesh. You might even find echoes of these facts in the Bible, if you cared to look for them.” — pp. 116-117.
Different peoples had different capacities for developing the "I." The normal people did fine; but the abnormal ...
“There were people whose inner nature was correctly balanced and who were normal, for they had not developed egoism to too great an extent, nor had they developed their ego-feeling solely on a lower level ... On the other hand there were other men who had developed a tremendously strong ego-feeling ... This made the body hardened in egoism as it were, and it became impossible for it to develop beyond a certain point. There were other people again who had not reached anything like a normal ego-feeling ... Thus it was the normal human beings that were the best material for the initiates to use for the evolution of the future, and they were also the ones that the great sun initiate, Manu [Noah: a high initiate in Atlantis], gathered around him as being most capable of evolving. Those peoples whose ego impulse was developed too strongly, so that it permeated their whole being and made it a manifestation of egohood, these people gradually wandered to the West and became the nation the last survivors of which appeared as the Red Indians of America. Those people whose ego-feeling was too little developed migrated to the East, and the survivors of these people became the subsequent Negro population of Africa.” — pp. 117-118.
The external characteristics of a person tell us a great deal about his/her soul, Steiner said. Skin color is especially revealing:
"If you look at those things in a really spiritual scientific way you will see evidence of them right into the physical characteristics. If a man brings his whole inner being to expression in his physiognomy and on the surface of his body, then it permeates his external being with the colour of his inner nature as it were. Now the colour of egohood is red or copper or a yellowish brown. And an overpowering feeling of ego arising from offended self-respect can even nowadays turn a man as it were yellow with rage. They are absolutely connected, these two phenomena: the red colour of those peoples that migrated to the West and the yellow colour of the man whose ‘blood boils’ as we say, and whose inner nature is showing itself right into his skin. Those people, however, who had developed their ego being 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." — pp. 118-119.
“Now between the little group of people Manu gathered round him and the extreme cases there were obviously innumerable intermediary stages of development ... Thus for example, in the migration from West to East a people remained behind in parts of Europe who had developed their ego-feeling to a marked degree, but who were at the same time not very open to influences from the environment ... Those people who migrated to the East and became the black race were very susceptible to external influences, especially that of the sun, just because they had so little ego-feeling. But other peoples migrated into these parts, or at least in this direction, who had a strong ego-feeling ... [T]hey are a milder red than they would have been had they gone West.” — p. 119.
“[Y]ou will see how much becomes comprehensible through the fact that all these possible shades of colouring arose. Thus for example there was that particular part of the population that stayed in Europe...but those that migrated into the regions already colonised by peoples with various shades of dark skin, and mixed with them, acquired every possible shade of skin colour. Look at the colours to be found in Asia, from the Negroes to the yellow races. Hence you have bodies that are sheaths for every possible level of soul, from the completely passive Negro soul entirely given up to the outer world of physical existence, to the other levels of passive souls in every possible part of Asia.
“...So fundamentally we have two groups of people representing combinations: those on European soil, forming the root stock of the white population, who had predominantly developed the feeling of personality, but who did not migrate to where the feeling of personality permeated the whole body ... On the other hand there are those peoples in Asia with passive, self-effacing natures in whom just this passivity expresses itself in the highest degree. This makes the people dreamy, and the etheric body penetrates very deeply into the physical body. That is the fundamental difference between the European and the Asiatic peoples.
“The Afro-Asiatic peoples do not emphasise the ego. The Negro would to some extent not lay stress on the ego at all.” — pp. 120-121.
Steiner explained that the different races were open to different comprehensions of the divine. In the East, where individual personality was minimal, the religious impulse was to merge oneself into an all-embracing divinity. In the West, however, the higher sense of personal identity laid the groundwork for Christianity and the idea of a personal God.
“[T]hey best understood a God who had the greatest wealth of inner nature permeating his outer nature, namely the Christ. In Europe everything was prepared for the Christ. And because these were regions in which in earlier times men had not descended entirely on to the earthly scene, and therefore some kind of last remnants of spiritual perception existed, there was still something remaining of the vision of spiritual beings, of the old European clairvoyance.
"This old European clairvoyance had also led to there being an ancient image of God throughout Europe and also as far as Asia, which present-day scholars, perhaps, will only get to know of if they discover it in the myths of certain isolated districts of Siberia ... Ongod is a name that is still echoed as it were in the idea of the ‘One God’. The Ongod would be something like the divine we perceive in all spiritual beings. So according to this way of thinking the idea of a personal God was something that was absolutely familiar to the people that lived in this particular belt of the earth. Therefore we can understand that it was just here that this particular outlook bore its chief fruit. For this belt of the earth and its inhabitants had so to speak solved the mystery of the ego. Strictly speaking all evolution since Atlantean times consists either of peoples who maintained the ego-feeling in just the right proportion, or of peoples who developed the ego too much or too little." — pp. 122-123.
Steiner explained that only white people (the people with properly balanced egos) have had the ability to evolve properly.
“The ego had to reach a certain point of development, as it were, but not overdo it in either direction. And it is our task today to understand this in the right way. For all spiritual science [i.e., Anthroposophy] has in a certain respect to appeal to what we call the development of a higher ego from out of the lower. When we look back over the ages we can learn from the fact that certain sections of the earth's inhabitant's did not find it possible to keep pace with earth evolution in the development of their ego, how many mistakes can be made in regard to the development of the higher ego out of the lower. In ancient Atlantis, for instance, there were peoples who dropped out of the earth population so to speak, and they became Red Indians ... At the other extreme were those people who said: Oh, the ego is of no significance. The ego must lose itself entirely, it must dissolve altogether, and only listen to what the outside world says! They did not really say this, because they did not reflect in this manner. But those are the peoples who denied their ego to such an extent that they went black, because the external forces coming from the sun to the earth made them so. Only those peoples that were capable of holding the balance with regard to their ego could develop into the future.” — pp. 123-124.
“Now let us look at our present earth population ... Nowadays you no longer go black if you rely merely on traditions ... Nowadays this no longer makes you black ... That then is the one type [people who rely have insufficently developed egos]. The others are those who, without taking the trouble to go into all the details of spiritual science...are so easy-going that they say: What do I want all that for? I look within myself, that is my higher ego, the divine man within me is there! Such a way of thinking often arises, even in theosophical circles. These people do not want to learn anything ... Today, when everything is more spiritual, this no longer makes people red. But they succumb to the same fate as did the peoples that were always boasting of their ego.
"... What we need is an ego that keeps itself mobile, neither losing itself in external physical observation or in external physical experience, nor remaining stationary at one point, but really advancing in spiritual development ... We attain our higher ego by evolving upwards from stage to stage. Our ego is there outside, manifest in the wonders of the world. For we are born out of the world and want to live our way back into it.
“Thus we see that conditions which a man can fall into today are only so to speak modern, more spiritual versions of what we met with in Atlantean times. Even then men came under these three categories: There were those who really wanted to develop their egos, and who were always taking in new things, and by so doing they really became the bearers of post-Atlantean civilisation. Then there were those who only wanted to let the divine speak in them, and their egos made them red. And the third group turned their minds exclusively outwards, and these people became black.” — pp. 124-126.
To consider some of the implications of Steiner's thinking
about different human populations, see "Decay".
Perhaps in response to the criticism Steiner's racism has aroused, Anthroposophists today often produce paintings and photographs affirmatively depicting blacks and members other non-white races. This is all to the good, and indeed today many — or even most — Anthroposophists may harbor little or no antipathy toward "minority" races (which are, in fact, the vast majority of mankind). But racism is not coterminous with racial hatred. Racism is seeing people largely in terms of their race, whether to denounce or affirm. The attitude prescribed by Steiner is loving condescension, assisting the members of "inferior" races to improve themselves so that in future lives they may return to Earth as members of higher (whiter) races.
Here is an item from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:
* Another problem with Steiner's teachings is that they are often based on fallacies of logic or fact, or both. The population of China today is larger than it was in ancient times, and indeed the population of the Earth is far greater than in ancient times. But Steiner did not recognize these facts. “[T]he idea that the population of the earth increases is just superstition on the part of modern science, which always makes its calculations from data to suit itself. The truth is that even in the most ancient times there was a vast population in China, also in South America and North America. There too in those ancient times the land reached out to the Pacific Ocean. If that is taken into account the population of the earth cannot be said to have grown." — THE EVOLUTION OF THE EARTH AND MAN AND THE INFLUENCE OF THE STARS, p. 68. According to Steiner's "logic," the strenuous efforts made by the Chinese government to limit population growth have been pointless.
"Chengdu Waldorf Grade School Receives License in China
"A milestone was reached for worldwide Waldorf education on 10 January 2012 when the Chengdu Waldorf school received a full license as a grade school (as well as kindergarten) from the education authorities in Chengdu, Sichuan province. This was the result of a 'Long March' and some tireless work over seven years by the whole faculty, especially the three founding teachers Li Zhang, Harry Huang, and Zewu Li (father of Mai in the SFWHS tenth grade). Zewu will be visiting the San Francisco Waldorf School with ten eighth grade students the week of February 6, 2012." [1-21-2012 http://www.sfwaldorf.org/node/687]
The Chinese government might want to reconsider. They may not have been informed about the racist Anthroposophical view of Asians and, specifically, the Chinese. For example, the following statements made by Rudolf Steiner can be found in the book THE EVOLUTION OF THE EARTH AND MAN AND THE INFLUENCE OF THE STARS (Anthroposophic Press, 1987):
"[T]he Chinese were unable to think out any legal system." — p. 70.
"[T]he European sort of invention is impossible for either the Chinese or the Japanese ... [T]he Indians in those very ancient times...had tremendous powers of imagination. The Chinese had none at all ... The Chinese lack imagination whereas the Indians have been full of it from the beginning." — pp. 77-79.
"[T]he Chinese were a prosaic people interested in the outer world, a people who did not live from within. The Indians were a people who looked entirely inward." — p. 82.
In the Waldorf belief system, the Chinese reached their evolutionary peak soon after leaving Atlantis (yes, Atlantis): “The old Chinese possess a wonderful Atlantean heritage, but they could not progress beyond this zenith.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE APOCALYPSE OF ST. JOHN (Anthroposophic Press, 1993), p. 40.
Rudolf Steiner taught that humans reincarnate in various racial forms. In general, lowly or “substandard” souls incarnate in nonwhite bodies whereas highly evolved souls incarnate in white bodies. Steiner deplored the mixing of the races, and he worried about the “Chinesification” of Europe (the appearance in Europe of lowly souls that should have incarnated in China). He said that in particular souls that have been damaged by opium should be incarnating in China, not in Europe: “[A] kind of ‘Chineseness’ is beginning to manifest in Europe, as though Europe were becoming ‘chinesified’ ... Consider the following: Souls exist who, as a result of their former lives, are inclined to incarnate in Chinese bodies ... Now since the Chinese population is nowhere near as great as it was in former times,* it is, in any case, not possible for all these Chinese souls to incarnate there. In Europe, on the other hand, the physical population has increased considerably in recent times, and so many souls can be accommodated here who were really destined for incarnation in Chinese bodies. This is one reason why keen observers are beginning to notice that Europe is becoming ‘chinesified’ ... By bringing about the ‘opiumising’ of Chinese bodies and causing generations to come into being under the influence of opium's forces, it was possible to condemn the Chinese to take in, to a certain extent, some very immature, sub-standard souls ... But those souls who had themselves decided to incarnate in Chinese bodies were thereby prevented from approaching these ‘opiumised’ bodies. They were diverted to Europe where they brought about among the European population those traits which have, meanwhile, been noted.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE KARMA OF UNTRUTHFULNESS, Vol. 1 (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1988), lecture 13, GA 173.
The Chinese government might want to reconsider the approval of Waldorf education in China. Probably few Anthroposophists today fully share Steiner's racial views, but very few have explicitly or fully repudiated Steiner's racial views. Doing so would be difficult for them, because the idea that humans evolve upward through racial forms is woven into the very fabric of their belief system, Anthroposophy. When Waldorf schools open in nonwhite countries, at least some of the teachers are likely to believe that they are serving dear, unfortunate children who are less highly evolved than white people, and thus one of their goals will be to try to help the children improve spiritually so that they can incarnate in white bodies in their future lives. These teachers are, of course, unlikely to openly state this goal. In today's world, expressing the belief that some races are higher than others is generally unacceptable, and almost everyone knows this — even people who, in private, agree with Steiner about the capacities and characteristics of the various human races.** [For more on Steiner's racial doctrines, see, e.g., "Steiner's Racism", "Races", "Differences", "Steiner's Bile", and "Forbidden".]
** Here is how Steiner states his central racial doctrine in one of his most important books, a book that almost all Waldorf teachers study: “A race or nation stands so much the higher, the more perfectly its members express the pure, ideal human type ... The evolution of man through the incarnations in ever higher national and racial forms is thus a process of liberation [leading to] an ideal future.” — Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Anthroposophic Press, 1944), p. 149.
— Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings