Rudolf Steiner was an advocate of freedom. One of his early books, written while he was a secular intellectual, is THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM. Later, when he became a mystic, Steiner continued to stress freedom, although his occult teachings tended to drain the concept of its meaning. (He subsequently revised THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM, turning it into a quite different treatise.)
Anthroposophy is sometimes described as a spiritual discipline that leads to spiritual freedom. Waldorf education is likewise often described as emphasizing freedom. Waldorf freedom is not license for young students to do or think what they want; it is a goal for which Waldorf claims to equip students, a goal to be attained when the students reach maturity. In essence, the schools have the same ultimate conception of freedom as does Anthroposophy; the schools aim to enable students, after they mature to adulthood, to achieve the same "freedom" that Anthroposophy offers.
But there is a deep flaw in this paradigm. Anthroposophy actually countermands freedom. In the Anthroposophical view, individuals must choose between Truth and Falsity. Truth is Anthroposophy. Falsity is just about everything else. (I’m oversimplifying, but you get the point.)  One can freely choose to go with the false, but this would foolish, perhaps even suicidal. The gods have created a divine cosmic plan. Humans must live in accordance with this plan if they want to move forward in spiritual evolution (that is, save their souls). The decision to abide by the plan is a “free” choice — yet it is compulsory. Anyone who fails to live properly will suffer, being sent downward to lower evolutionary levels, and perhaps even losing the ability to reincarnate, thus cutting off further evolution. You may choose this option, if you like. But its means, ultimately, losing your soul. Is this freedom? The only “freedom” in Steiner’s occult scheme is the ability to choose between being right and being wrong, being good and being evil — being rewarded or being punished, living or dying. The gods will enforce their plan: You must "choose" to obey them or suffer the consequences.
Steiner tried to build space for freedom into his system by teaching that Lucifer and Ahriman rebelled against the divine cosmic plan. This rebellion redounded to our benefit, creating the possibility of freedom — we can choose among differing paths. However, Steiner also taught that the rebellion was actually part of the plan! Thus, the wiggle room disappears.  For freedom to have value or meaning, we need to be able to choose among multiple good options — probably including options that will be good for some individuals but not for others. Except within very narrow limits, Anthroposophy does not allow such freedom. There is the planned way upward or the downward way to evolutionary backwardness.
In effect, for Anthroposophists, there is Steiner's way or the highway.
[R. R., 2010.]
Here is a collection of quotations that helps put Steinerish “freedom” in context, both for Anthroposophy as a whole and for Waldorf education in particular. Note the distinctions between free action and necessity; note the words “must” and “predetermined” and “destiny” and “karma” and the like. Steiner, of course, claimed to reconcile many irreconcilables in his teachings. But the truth is that opposites are not reconcilable, except as polar extremes — they are opposite. Anthroposophy is not the only system that founders on the contradictions between freedom and necessity — but founder it does. We may create our own karma, for instance — but this does not make us free. The universe ordains the rule of karma, and we are subject to it: Our hands, in this larger sense, are tied. Likewise, Steiner may claim that humans were not free in prior evolutionary stages but we are free now — but these stages have themselves been ordained, they are not a system we have freely chosen. Similarly, Steiner said that we will be far freer in the future, when — transcending karma — we rise to higher and higher levels of spiritual consciousness. Yet those levels are already mapped out; the stages of our future evolution are already ordained; Steiner himself has described them. In sum, the worldview behind Waldorf schools is highly deterministic. There is a divine plan, there is a "white" path leading upward, there is a "black" path leading downward — and that's it. The future is not absolutely written in stone, Steiner said. Things can go wrong, surprises may crop up. But, for the most part, he laid out a highly deterministic schema in which the scope of free choice is extremely limited.
The limitations of this vision shape the lessons and activities conducted in Waldorf schools. Waldorf students are prepared for “freedom” through a long, subtle, covert effort to condition the kids to see the world, and think about the world, as Anthroposophy prescribes. This is not genuine preparation for free choice; it is induction into an occult worldview. The students in the end are meant to “choose” the right path, as laid out by Steiner (as laid down by the gods). The kids are led to this path long before they develop any mature capacity to make profound life choices. Theoretically, when they become adults, Waldorf graduates can freely choose to leave the correct path. But if Waldorf education works as Steiner intended — if the children have been molded and conditioned as the Waldorf curriculum is designed to do — making such a choice will be extremely difficult if not utterly unthinkable. The graduates' path in life will have been chosen for them long ago.
The following quotations include some that lay out the Anthroposophical vision and some that undermine it. All the quotations are from Anthroposophical texts.
“Our freedom will not depend on what is predestined by prior circumstances, but on what our souls have made of themselves.” — Rudolf Steiner, AN OUTLINE OF ESOTERIC SCIENCE (SteinerBooks, 1997), p. 395.
“[M]an's physical body and also his etheric body were already predestined to have an ego working within them when man entered his first earthly incarnation ... Man had to be predestined for such an activity.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE BEING OF MAN AND HIS FUTURE EVOLUTION Rudolf Steiner Press, 1981 p. 104.
“We can only speak of goodness where there is a distinction between the inner and outer world, so that goodness can obey the spiritual world or not ... [T]he moral world-order is just as much predetermined in the spirit as causality is predetermined here on earth. Only the predetermination is spiritual there.” — Rudolf Steiner, COLOUR (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), p. 183.
“[A] greater freedom can be wished for, and only this greater is true freedom. Namely: to decide for oneself the motive (foundation) of one's will.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE PHILOSOPHY OF SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1939), chapter 12, GA 7.
“[O]ur school is fundamentally based on spiritual freedom — by which I do no mean, of course, any phantasmagorical spiritual license on the part of the children.” — Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 64.
“Community that is founded not upon the blood, but upon the spirit, upon community of souls, is what must be striven for along the paths of spiritual science. We must try to create communities in which the factor of blood no longer has a voice. Naturally, the factor of blood will continue, it will live itself out in family relationships, for what must remain will not be eradicated. But something new must arise! What is significant in the child will be retained in the forces of old age, but in his later years the human being must receive new forces.” — Rudolf Steiner, A VISION FOR THE MILLENNIUM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), p. 117.
"Freedom is the result of the Luciferian influence, and fear and similar feelings are only the phenomena attendant on the evolution of human freedom.” — Rudolf Steiner, AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE (Kessinger Publishing, 1998: 1922 edition), pp. 229-230.
“[L]ove is a state of true freedom, in which one does not surrender to inborn instincts, but rather forgets the ordinary self and orients one’s actions and deeds toward outer needs and facts.” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1 (SteinerBooks, 1995), p. 22.
“[T]he students must feel connected to their teachers. If not, something must be done.” — Christopher Bamford, introduction to THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION (SteinerBooks, 2004), a collection of lectures by Rudolf Steiner, p. ix.
“Among the faculty, we must certainly carry within us the knowledge that we are not here for our own sakes, but to carry out the divine cosmic plan. We should always remember that when we do something, we are actually carrying out the intentions of the gods.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 55.
“A being which has once been active is henceforth no longer isolated in the world; it has inserted itself into its deeds. And its future development is connected with what arises from the deeds. This connection of a being with the results of its deeds is the law of karma which rules the whole world. Activity that has become destiny is karma [emphasis by Steiner].” — Rudolf Steiner, REINCARNATION AND KARMA - HOW KARMA WORKS (Anthroposophic Press, 1962), GA 34.
“It is wonderful to look truly into the destiny of a human being, for behind it stands the whole world of the Hierarchies.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FESTIVALS AND THEIR MEANING III, “Ascension and Pentecost” (Anthroposophical Publishing Company, 1958), lecture 6, GA 236.
"Mars, Jupiter and Saturn may also be called the liberating planets; they give man freedom. On the other hand, Venus, Mercury and the Moon may be called the destiny-determining planets.” — Rudolf Steiner, “The Spiritual Individualities of the Planets” (THE GOLDEN BLADE, 1988), GA 228.
"When we grasp the true meaning of human freedom, we can have no wish that a sin should be so forgiven us that we would no longer need to pay it off in our Karma." — Rudolf Steiner, CHRIST AND THE HUMAN SOUL (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), lecture 3, GA 155.
"[H]uman beings are in danger of losing their spirit-soul ... The human being is thus in danger of drifting into the Ahrimanic world , in which case the spirit-soul will evaporate into the cosmos.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 115.
“Such souls lose the possibility of incarnation and find no other opportunity ... [T]here are no more bodies bad enough [to house them] ... Beings that stay behind at such stages appear in a later epoch as subordinate nature spirits.” — Rudolf Steiner, NATURE SPIRITS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), p. 70.
“The evil race, with its savage impulses, will dwell in animal form in the abyss.” — Rudolf Steiner, UNDERSTANDING THE HUMAN BEING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993), p. 103.
Steiner taught that we humans are exceptional beings. Someday, far, far in the future — having spent millennia under the tutelage of the gods — we will become the free product of our own free actions. More than any other beings, we will have autonomy. "[A]the end of his evolution he [man] will bear within him only what he has gained through his own efforts, not what he was given, but what he has created out of nothingness.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE BEING OF MAN AND HIS FUTURE EVOLUTION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1981), lecture 9, GA 107.
This is a high, wonderful promise. Someday, someday...
It's going to take us quite a while to get there, though. And note that the "nothingness" out of which we will create ourselves is actually a tremendously long, carefully orchestrated divine cosmic plan executed by the gods. In other words, we will have been conditioned to be what the gods want us to be — which, paradoxically (or, worse, impossibly) means being free of the gods and their plan. Still, this is what Steiner has promised us, and it helps us comprehend what he meant when he said “[W]e shall have gradually achieved the transformation of our own being into what is called in Christianity ‘the Father.’” — Rudolf Steiner, THE LORD’S PRAYER (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2007), p. 17. We will take charge; we will beget ourselves; we will be the creator(s).
But in the meantime, most of our actions have been directed by hidden beings — they, not we, have pulled the strings. “[B]ehind the whole evolutionary and historical process, through the millennia up to our own times, spiritual Beings, spiritual Individualities, stand as guides and leaders behind all human evolution and human happenings." — Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT HISTORY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1982), p. 12.
Steiner's restrictive concept of freedom is rooted in the overall German concept of freedom.
Here is a little essay on the matter by Peter Staudenmaier:
The German Idea of Freedom
German thinkers extolled their notion of moral freedom as far superior to the French definition of freedom in merely political terms. The German idea of freedom was to be free from the animalistic and materialistic weaknesses of human nature while the French only sought to gain freedom from the oppressive state. To be truly free in the German sense meant to be liberated from the internal bonds that prevented the full development of moral character.
This idealist and apolitical conception of freedom, so characteristic of German thought, was in fact the only kind of freedom compatible with the absolutist and hierarchical systems that prevailed in most German states. A strong state may even be congenial to such a conception of freedom, for authoritarianism imposes the discipline that enables people to gain freedom from materialistic desire and temptation. If freedom to walk on the grass, for example, illustrates the Western conception of freedom from government regulation or control, then not wanting to walk on the grass epitomized the German notion of what it means to be truly free. This notion of freedom owed much to the Lutheran and pietist traditions as expressed in Luther’s famous pronouncement, “Flesh shall have no freedom.” Freedom defined exclusively in terms of spiritual conscience is the kind of freedom that can be enjoyed even, or perhaps especially, behind prison walls. The Lutheran notions of inner freedom and subjection to moral law (or self-induced subjection to external law) perfectly complement the Lutheran requirement of absolute obedience to secular authority. There is an undeniably heroic quality in this conception of freedom as internalization of the law, which helps to explain the great creativity of German culture. The equation of heroic self-discipline with the highest form of freedom provided the ideological medium in which both high culture and militant destructiveness could flourish.
Here is an item from the Waldorf Watch
Daily Quotes page:
“Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able, of themselves, to impart purpose and direction to their lives.” — Marie Steiner in the Foreword to THE NEW ART OF EDUCATION (Philosophical-Anthroposophical Publishing, 1928), p. 27.
Many Waldorf schools have used this quotation on their websites and in promotional publications. But there are a couple of hitches.
If we are free or capable of becoming free, then the future cannot be predicted. All of us, freely exercising our own volition, may at any moment do something wholly unpredictable. We are free! And what is true of each individual holds for the human race as a whole. We are free!
And yet Rudolf Steiner claimed to know the future. Look, for instance, at chapter six of his most important book, OCCULT SCIENCE. The chapter is titled “Present and Future Evolution of the World and Mankind.” Steiner confidently told us about the rest of our evolution on Earth, followed by our Jupiter and Venus lives. Only when he looked as far out as our Vulcan lives (yes, Vulcan) did he clam up. But if we are free(!), Steiner could not have known any part of our future. And bear in mind, he said he was not making predictions — he KNEW whereof he spoke, due to his extraordinary psychic powers. This is both logically and factually impossible. If we are free(!), we are free. Period. And using “clairvoyance” to look into the future doesn’t work because there ain’t no sech thang as clairvoyance.
There is another, smaller hitch. Waldorf schools and Anthroposophists often attribute the quotation, above, to Rudolf Steiner. Undoubtedly Marie Steiner, writing after Rudolf’s death, was expressing her husband’s views as she understood them. But the words are hers, not his. This is just another, small indication of the care you must take when hearing or reading statements made by Anthroposophists. Far too often, in large ways and small, Anthroposophists do not tell the truth.
Here is a passage in which Rudolf Steiner says something quite similar to
the statement we have just considered, the one made by Marie Steiner:
"[O]ur children will become skeptics if we present moral and religious ideals to them dogmatically; such ideals should come to them only through the life of feeling. Then, at the right age, they will awaken their own free religious and moral sense, which becomes part of their very being. They feel that only this can make them fully human. The real aim at Waldorf schools is to raise free human beings who can direct their own lives." — Rudolf Steiner, A MODERN ART OF EDUCATION - Foundations of Waldorf Education XVII (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), p. 191.
So, Marie expressed Rudolf's views pretty accurately. Still, a statement made by Marie should be attributed to Marie, not to Rudolf. Setting that minor matter aside, however, let's redirect our attention to the substance of the claim being made in both statements.
When spokespeople for Waldorf schools say that their schools aim to foster human freedom, they are probably telling the truth as they understand it. What they may not understand is that their own beliefs and practices militate against this aim.
Note that Rudolf Steiner says that children will be harmed if they are not led to "moral and religious ideals" through "the life of feeling." Indeed, as he often said, Waldorf education is fundamentally religious, and it aims to awaken the students' moral and religious sense. [See "Schools as Churches".] Thus, Waldorf education is not spiritually neutral — it tries to steer children in a particular direction, toward religion. For children to become "skeptics" would be a sad, even disastrous fate, according to the Waldorf view. So, far from seeking to give students true freedom — which would include the freedom to become skeptics, or agnostics, or even atheists — Waldorf schools try to steer their students into a religious frame of mind.
Note, too, that Waldorf schools try to direct students toward religious faith by working on their feelings. Ideas and doctrines go largely unspoken, at least until late in the educational process. Instead, an emotional foundation for religious faith is cultivated. This may, indeed be the most effective way to lead children to form a lifelong religious orientation — once the heart is engaged, faith may be permanently fixed within one, at a level deeper than thought, at a level that cannot be reached by reasoning or argumentation. So, Steiner may be describing an effective process — but it is not a process that leads toward true freedom. Indeed, if the Waldorf process works as intended, it nearly precludes freedom; it is what skeptics would call brainwashing, leading to the adoption of attitudes and commitments that become effectively unquestioned and unarguable.
Steiner quite possibly thought he was describing a process leading to freedom, but if so he was quite clearly mistaken. The only latitude he gives "free" humans is the option of deciding precisely which religious denomination or sect to embrace. But even here people who have received the full Waldorf treatment, have had their feelings worked on from earliest childhood all the way to the commencement of adulthood, will in all probability choose (if this word has any meaning in such a context) to remain in the Anthroposophical fold. Any other course would be very nearly unthinkable. The Waldorf way has become "part of their very being."
Here is an item from the Waldorf Watch "news" page.
It crosses again some of the territory we have already covered
and then adds further thoughts.
“Waldorf schools present themselves as aimed at a ‘holistic’, child-centred and age-appropriate education towards freedom. This depiction is misleading, since for anthroposophists, these words have very specific meanings that cannot be easily inferred by an outsider if he has not been initiated into Steiner’s occult teachings. Freedom means freedom for anthroposophy. Child-centred and age-appropriate refer to anthroposophical dogmas on childhood development, depending on mumbo-jumbo conceptions surrounding the number 7.” — Peter Bierl, “A Pedagogy for Aryans” [http://waldorfcritics.org/active/articles/BierlFinal.htm]
People who attended Waldorf schools are sometimes praised for having “interesting minds.” They are “original” thinkers; they think “outside the box.” This sounds fine, and it would seem to support the claim that Waldorf schools prepare students to make original, free choices in their adult lives. But what outsiders see in Waldorf grads is not so much originality as the product of an unconventional form of mental training. Waldorf students are taught to rely on their imaginations and intuitions, to “feel” more than “think.” Ultimately, Waldorf teachers believe in clairvoyance, not rational thought, and the effects of this belief trickle down into the consciousness of Waldorf students. [See “Thinking Cap” and “Steiner’s Specific”.]
What does this mean for freedom? Waldorf teachers want their students to reject normal thinking and normal values. They believe that most of modern culture is wicked, most of modern technology is demonic, and most of modern science is wrong. The “freedom” they advocate is the freedom to reject convention and even rationality. What they want is for people to start choosing the one true path, unconventional though it is: the path of Anthroposophy.
For freedom to be meaningful, we must have a variety of potentially good choices to select from — each person can opt for what s/he wants while others make other choices. But this is not what Waldorf education contemplates (even if some Waldorf teachers think it is). We have only two real choices, according to Anthroposophical teachings, and only one of them is good. We may “freely” choose to follow the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and his adherents, in which case we will evolve to marvelous spiritual heights; or we may “freely” turn our backs on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and his adherents, in which case we will — sooner or later — lose our souls. This paradigm abolishes freedom. We can go one way and live, or go the other way and die. No sane person would take the second option, which means that all sane people are compelled to take the first option.* [See “Freedom” and “Hell”.]
Waldorf faculties attempt to train children in unconventional forms of thought, inculcating unconventional values while directing kids toward unconventional life choices. The freedom Waldorf schools want is the freedom to choose their own odd religion.
(Returning to Bierl’s statement, above: He mentions the Waldorf conception of “holistic” schooling and the strange power of the number 7. You can get a taste of Waldorf’s unconventionality by looking into “Holistic Education”, “Magic Numbers”, and “Most Significant”.)
* Anthroposophical thinking allows a slight bit of wriggle room — very slight. You can elect a form of Anthroposophy that is a bit more Gnostic, or one that is a bit more Rosicrucian, or a bit more Hindu-ish, or a bit more Buddhist-ish — but these are minor shadings. According to Anthroposophical teachings, all “true” forms of spiritual science must, for instance, recognize the central importance of Christ. (So much for overly Hindu-ish or Buddhist-ish approaches.) And Christ must be recognized as the Sun God. (So much for mainstream Christianity. [See “Sun God”.]) Very little variation is permissible. The path suited to modern humans, Steiner said, is the Rosicrucian/Anthroposophical path. Those who take this path are less dependent on a guru than if they were to take other paths, but still the ultimate options available are just two: 1) Anthroposophy, advancement, life or 2) anti-Anthroposophy, doom, death.
Steiner did not hesitate to speak of “the path” — the one and only good choice. “Those who come to me wanting to hear the truths available through esotericism and nevertheless refuse to walk the path are like schoolchildren who want to electrify a glass rod and refuse to rub it. But, without friction, the rod will not be charged with electricity. This is similar to the objection raised against the practice of esotericism.” — Rudolf Steiner, FIRST STEPS IN INNER DEVELOPMENT (Anthroposophic Press, 1999), p. 25. You can’t electrify the glass rod without rubbing it; you can’t hear “the truths” without walking “the path.” Steiner goes on to say “No one tells you to become an esotericist. People come to esotericism of their own volition.” — Ibid. There, volition: freedom! But what happens to those who don’t walk the path? Their doom is terrible. [See “Sphere 8”.] Only those who want to see mankind destroyed refuse to accept Steiner’s one-true-way: “[O]nly those who are willing to see human beings pass into the Eighth Sphere can have any valid objection to this spiritual-scientific Movement.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE OCCULT MOVEMENT IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1973), lecture 5, GA 254.
 Anthroposophy weaves together many strands of religious and occultist tradition. It draws on Christianity, Hinduism, Norse mythology, astrology, alchemy, and many other sources. Steiner found truth in many such sources. However, he then reinterpreted them, forcing them into an arbitrary, superficial, and illusory consistency. Only the end product is truly true, according to Steiner. Anthroposophy is "spiritual science." It is the result of Steiner's "exact clairvoyance." It is True. Nothing else is truly True, not even the sources he drew from — at most, according to Steiner, they contain earlier, incomplete versions of the Truth.
 “This sanction of the opposition is therefore inherent in the original plan of divine wisdom. Indeed, we may say that in still earlier periods of earthly evolution, the opposition against the harmonious progressive divine-spiritual powers was created precisely so that it could later bring about freedom.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE UNIVERSAL HUMAN (Anthroposophic Press, 1990), p. 83. There really is no escaping the divine plan; it is all-encompassing; and hence we are not free. Steiner often did not see or at least acknowledge the contradictions in his teachings. This is one such case. [See, e.g., "Universal".]
For more about freedom, see
The Anthroposophical use of language is frequently slippery. Anthroposophists say that their system is a science, when it isn't. They say that their system is not a religion, when it is. They say their doctrines are not racist, when they are. They say their doctrines promote freedom, when they don't.
The intent, in all these instances, is not necessarily to deceive us (although Steiner may have worked intentionally to deceive). Generally, such misstatements arise from Anthroposophists' misunderstandings of various issues, and their self-deception. Believing themselves to be members of a divine movement, in harmony with the gods and devoted to universal betterment, they wear rose-tinted mental glasses. They see what they want to see, they define things as suits their predispositions, and they tell themselves comforting falsehoods.
They fool themselves. But we need not accept their misstatements or enter into their illusions.
- Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 14. PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER ◊◊◊
If you'd like more information about any of the topics discussed here,
you might begin by consulting the following resources:
THE SEMI-STEINER DICTIONARY
THE BRIEF WALDORF / STEINER ENCYCLOPEDIA
WALDORF WATCH INDEX
WALDORF WATCH TABLE OF CONTENTS