Charges and Denials
Whether there are direct connections between Anthroposophy and Nazism is a subject of heated debate. Certainly there are affinities between the two ideologies in their racial views, their emphasis on the German national "mission," and their belief that some people are subhuman.
Historian Peter Staudenmaier has offered this overview: “Anthroposophy as Steiner taught it focused crucially on ideas like ‘the German spirit’ and ‘the German soul’ and ‘the German essence’ and ‘the German mission’ and so forth. These same concepts were central to several versions of Nazi thought as well. Nazis often found worldviews like Anthroposophy too flighty, too woolly, too religious, not political enough, while Anthroposophists often found Nazism too political, too materialist, not spiritual enough. But some Nazis had notably positive attitudes toward Anthroposophy, and some Anthroposophists enthusiastically greeted the rise of Nazism.” [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/9771 ]
According to Staudenmeir, one faction in the Nazi government supported Anthroposophy; he also asserts that some Anthroposophists engaged in Nazi political activities. A major example of the latter: “Friedrich Benesch (1907-1991) was a leading figure in the Christian Community, the forthrightly religious arm of Anthroposophy ... Benesch is a generally revered figure in Anthroposophical circles ... [A]n article by historian Johan Böhm...reviews Benesch’s early career as a radical Nazi activist ... [F]rom 1934 to 1945 Benesch was a leader in the more extremist wing of the regional Nazi party....” — Peter Staudenmaier, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/messages/1571 . Böhm’s article is “Friedrich Benesch: Naturwissenschaftler, Anthropologe, Theologe und Politiker” Halbjahresschrift für südosteuropäische Geschichte, Literatur und Politik, vol. 16 no. 1 (May 2004).
Arguing that there were no connections between Anthroposophy and Nazism under Hitler, Anthroposophists sometimes claim that the Nazis closed all the Waldorf schools in Germany. Staudenmaier rebuts this, saying “All of the Waldorf schools in Germany were eventually closed during the Nazi era, though most of them were not directly closed by the Nazis ... The only Waldorf schools that were actually closed by the Nazi authorities were the Stuttgart school in 1938 and the Dresden school in 1941.” [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/1569 .] Staudenmaier has also written that the last remaining Waldorf school in Germany did not shut its doors until eight or nine years into the Nazis’ twelve-year reign. Moreover, he has contended, the Nazis permitted Waldorfs to continue operating in the occupied countries throughout the war. [Staudenmeir, “Waldorf in the Nazi Era,” 2004, www.waldorfcritics.org .]
Some sources say that Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy führer, was an Anthroposophist, but this claim is vigorously denied by Steiner’s supporters [www.defendingsteiner.com/pers/Hess.php ] and the evidence does not seem conclusive. Both Hitler and Hess were occultists, although to varying degrees. See Goodrick-Clarke, THE OCCULT ROOTS OF NAZISM: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology (New York University Press, 1992).
The hostility some Nazis displayed toward Anthroposophy may have arisen from the similarities between Nazism and Anthroposophy, not from fundamental differences: Some members of the SD and Gestapo feared that occult movements like Anthroposophy would prove to be potent competitors to Nazi ideology. [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/messages/6061.]
One source says that Hitler enjoyed reading Steiner’s works: “In discussing Hitler’s favorite reading, especially in his youth, mention should be made of what Ernst Pretzsche remembered of Hitler’s browsing (not buying) in his Vienna bookshop. Apart from the usual Nietzsche-Wagner material, he liked Rudolf Steiner and especially the racist diatribes of Georg Lanz von Liebenfels.” [cgi.stanford.edu/group/wais/cgi-bin/index.php?p=3896 ]. Goodrick-Clarke casts doubt on this account, writing that no one named Pretzsche lived in Vienna at that time (ascertaining this would be difficult, but not, perhaps, impossible). [THE OCCULT ROOTS OF NAZISM, p. 223]. Hitler once referred to Steiner disparagingly (see below), disputing some of Steiner’s social/governmental ideas. [ http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/messages/7596 ] Steiner apparently never spoke of Hitler on the record. [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/messages/9786 ]
Steiner’s first headquarters, a wooden structure, was destroyed by fire. Anthroposophists have blamed Nazi arsonists, but the charge is, at best, unproven. [www.forteantimes.com ] Likewise, one of Steiner’s lectures was disrupted by agitators whom Anthroposophists labeled Nazis; but the culprits actually seem to have been members of a different far-right group. [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/messages/9787]
Some Anthroposophists have unquestionably been fascists or fascist sympathizers. One example is the Italian Fascist Ettore Martinoli, who was a founder of the Italian Anthroposophical Society. Martinoli wrote, “Rudolf Steiner was a true ideal precursor of the new Europe of Mussolini and of Hitler. [My aim] has been to reclaim the spirit and character of this great modern German mystic for the movement...introduced into the world by the two parallel revolutions, the Fascist revolution and the National Socialist [i.e., Nazi] revolution, to which Steiner ideally belongs as a true predecessor and spiritual pioneer.” [See Staudenmaier: http://waldorfcritics.org/active/articles/Anthroposophy-and-Fascism-in-Italy.html.] Of course, Anthroposophists today would argue that Martinoli misunderstood or misrepresented Steiner.
Steiner’s statements about Jews and Judaism are inconsistent — he seems to have passed through an anti-Semitic phase, then a mildly philo-Semitic phase, before returning again to anti-Semitism. In general, he taught that Jews performed a valuable service in paving the way for the Messiah, but thereafter history had no further use for either Judaism or the Jewish people. Hitler’s disparagement of Steiner, mentioned earlier, involved the assertion that Steiner was controlled by Jews: “Who is the driving force behind all this devilishness? The Jew! The friend of Doctor Rudolf Steiner....” — Adolf Hitler, “Staatsmänner oder Nationalverbrecher?” (Völkischer Beobachter, Mar. 15, 1921.) This blast tells us little about Hitler’s true opinion of Steiner: In any debate, Hitler was likely to associate the other party with Jews; he was, moreover, capable of turning viciously on his allies, as when he ordered the murder of many supporters on the Night of the Long Knives. Clearly, tying Steiner to “the Jew” was a canard. Steiner was on good terms with some Jews, but he also spread anti-Semitic stereotypes: “The Jews have a great gift for materialism, but little for recognition of the spiritual world.” — Rudolf Steiner, FROM BEETROOT TO BUDDHISM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), p. 59.
As to whether some people are subhuman, the Nazis labeled many peoples as such. On the Anthroposophical side, Steiner said "[C]ases are increasing in which children are born with a human form, but are not really human beings in relation to their highest I [i.e., a human spiritual identity]; instead, they are filled with beings that do not belong to the human class. Quite a number of people have been born since the nineties [the 1890s] without an I, that is, they are not reincarnated, but are human forms filled with a sort of natural demon. There are quite a large number of older people going around who are actually not human beings, but are only natural; they are human beings only in regard to their form ... I do not like to talk about such things since we have often been attacked even without them. Imagine what people would say if they heard that we say there are people who are not human beings. Nevertheless, these are facts. Our culture would not be in such a decline if people felt more strongly that a number of people are going around who, because they are completely ruthless, have become something that is not human, but instead are demons in human form ... Such things are really shocking to people. I caused enough shock when I needed to say that a very famous university professor, after a very short period between death and rebirth, was reincarnated as a black scientist. We do not want to shout such things out into the world.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), pp. 649-650.
For what little my own opinion is worth, I think Steiner was a man of his times, sharing some of the prejudices of his times. His occultism also led him to develop a theory of human evolution that, consistent with views held by many in his day, involved higher and lower human races and even the existence of subhumans. Many of Steiner's statements on these matters are far more shocking to us today than they were at the time he made them. Steiner was not a Nazi, but some of his opinions are repellant to us now.
Anthroposophists would do well to clearly renounce all forms of racism, not only in their own lives but also in Steiner's works. The same goes, of course, for the hideous proposition that some people are not really human beings. The only moral course for Anthroposophists is to assert that, whether or not Steiner was right on other subjects, on these subjects he was wrong and his teachings on these subjects must be repudiated absolutely.
created during a period of mourning.]
Some commentators have linked the rise of Anthroposophy with the rise of other fringe movements in Germany after World War I, when the German people were oppressed by social forces that engendered a kind of national hysteria. “Extraordinary phenomena [related to hysteria]...were numerous during the post-War years — e.g., the curious 'healer' of Hamburg, Häuser, who was followed by immense crowds; the Bibelforscher (Bible Students) who raised tides of adventistic emotion in Silesia and elsewhere; and Rudolph [sic] Steiner, the anthropologist [sic], who built houses resembling trees; etc.” — Adolf Hitler, MEIN KAMPF (Reynal & Hitchcock, 1940 - copyright 1939, Houghton Mifflin, published by arrangement with Houghton Mifflin), footnote on p. 467.]
A recent news commentary draws similar parallels: “The idea of a racial soul, operating at a preconscious ‘blood’ level, will be familiar to students of Germany's Völkisch [nationalist/racist] movement — which provided much of the ideological impetus for national socialism [Nazism]. This was a huge cultural tendency, which also gave rise to such things as Steiner schools and biodynamic farming, and many neo-Völkisch sects survive today across Europe, united in little but their hatred of modernity, immigration and multiculturalism.” — Hari Kunzru, “BNP Puppets Are Not the Real Threat”, THE GUARDIAN, May 30, 2009; http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/may/30/bnp-puppets-recruitment-tools.
The point of these analyses is not that Anthroposophy is literally fascistic, but that it is a form of mania arising from some of the same roots as the Nazi movement and more recent forms of racist delusion.
"[I]n January 1933, another Austrian brought forward his view of reform of the whole person for a whole society, and his vision of cultural renewal. His, too, was a program presented as the answer to the crisis born of World War I. His, too, was the promise of deliverance from Versailles [i.e., the onerous 1919 Treaty of Versailles] and restitution of [Germany's] self-confident strength. Like Steiner, Adolf Hitler's vision was one that claimed to overcome the disintegration of Germany and salvage German culture and civilization. In this important respect, the ideological differences between Hitler and Steiner were by no means obvious. Admittedly, the Nazi ideology was clearly opposite to Waldorf. The Steiner movement placed emphasis on what might be termed its libertarian dimensions: individual growth, self-governance of a body of teachers and independence from the state. Yet, Waldorf and National Socialism were at the same time curiously consonant in other essentials: passion for German culture and regard for the virtues of being responsive to a leader." — Ida Oberman, THE WALDORF MOVEMENT IN EDUCATION FROM EUROPEAN CRADLE TO AMERICAN CRUCIBLE, 1919-2008 (Edwin Mellen Press, 2008), p. 766.
1These place names refer to Waldorf schools in various locations in Germany.
Historian Ida Oberman advocates Waldorf-style education. She is co-founder of a Waldorf-inspired school in New York City. Yet some of her work is deeply distressing to Anthroposophists. She has found that many Anthroposophists attempted to find an accommodation with the Nazis in order to protect Waldorf schools and other Anthroposophical enterprises in Germany.
Some Anthroposophists strongly opposed Nazism, but not all did, by any means. Some, for instance, tried to argue that Steiner’s teachings were generally consistent with Nazi racist doctrines. “Regarding a unit on ‘racial education,’ Steiner had already included instruction on ethnic dispositions and demeanor. Could this pass for racial teaching?” [Oberman, p. 116.]
Waldorf schools generally bowed to the Nazis' anti-Semitism. “Most profoundly intrusive was the mandate to remove all non-Aryan teachers from the faculty ... [T]he Jewish Waldorf teachers, one by one, under silent drums, departed their posts.” [pp. 116-117]
The Waldorf Association, representing all Waldorf schools in Germany, was formed in an effort to comply with Nazi requirements and to establish a vehicle for communicating with Nazi officials. “The Waldorf Association became the viable vessel to navigate Nazi waters. [It aimed, among other things] to display Waldorf’s acceptance of the new Nazi dictates.” [p. 117]
Waldorf representatives sent out feelers, trying to contact and persuade various Nazi officials. Special hope was directed at the Deputy Führer, Rudolf Hess. “Hess was known to be sympathetic to two aspects of the Anthroposophical world: homeopathy and biodynamics ... Hess seemed to many Waldorf’s best Berlin bet.” [p. 122] But little came of these efforts.
A 37-page letter was prepared by Waldorf representatives, arguing that Waldorf education recognized the special nature and mission of the German folk soul, a key Nazi tenet. The letter “contained items intended to demonstrate the ideological integrity and successes of Waldorf, e.g., excerpts from a lecture Steiner had given in 1915 on 'Germanic Soul and Germanic Spirit' ... [Waldorf teacher Ernst] Uehli’s effort to win the National Socialists government’s good will is most apparent in his stress of the ‘German’ character of Waldorf pedagogy. The Waldorf school did concentrate on raising German youth to be spiritually reverential, physically healthy and capable of taking responsibility.” [p. 123] Although these goals were similar to Nazi goals in education and in such organizations as the Hitler Youth, the long letter produced no important result.
Eventually, Waldorf leaders realized that the Nazis insisted on complete submission to all their doctrines, which was difficult if not impossible for many Anthroposophists to accept. The result was the fracturing of Anthroposophical unity. Various Waldorf schools took different tacks.
“[I]t became clear that ‘a Waldorf option’ never truly existed under the Nazis, notwithstanding either the [Waldorf] Association members’ tremendous efforts to create one, or later historians’ strain to construct one. School positions ran the gamut from Berlin and Altona1 (both deciding to close when teachers were required to take the oath of loyalty to Hitler2 in April 1936), via Stuttgart (trying to muddle through, ‘bloodied and bruised,’ with oaths, Hitler greetings3, and the dismissal of non-Aryan teachers, not closing down till forced by government dictate), to Dresden and Hanover (where Elisabeth Klein4 argued that ‘there could not be a single person [among the Nazi leadership] who could not be made interested in...Waldorf education’ and where René Maikowski5 presented Waldorf as Nazism’s potential political secret weapon, ‘of the very essence for the re-building of the new Germany’6) ... Whether a [Waldorf] faculty came down on the side of Waldorf and Nazism being ‘incompatible’ or ‘the perfect partners,’ the [Nazi educational] reform’s essential identity was not called into question.”[pp. 125-126]
2Under the Nazis, soldiers, officials, and others were required to swear personal allegiance to Adolf Hitler.
3The correct form of greeting in the Third Reich was “Heil Hitler!” (“Hail Hitler!”).
4Klein represented the Dresden Waldorf school.
5Maikowski represented the Hanover Waldorf school.
6That is, the new Germany being crafted by the Nazis.
In his PhD dissertation, Peter Staudenmaier explores the ties and also the conflicts between Anthroposophy and Nazism. Both movements were, in general terms, nationalistic, placing enormous importance on the German nation and people. Thus, despite the significant differences between them, "...Steiner's movement could sometimes appear to be cut from the same cloth as the emerging Hitler movement." — Peter Staudenmaier, "Between Occultism and Fascism: Anthroposophy and the Politics of Race and Nation in Germany and Italy, 1900-1945", 2010, p. 153.
When the Nazis took power in 1933, some Anthroposophists were hopeful that their own movement would flourish under the new government, but others were deeply worried. One Anthroposophist wrote "Precisely because Hitler has borrowed some elements from Rudolf Steiner, I see a danger in his [i.e., Hitler's] rise, because true spirituality is missing." — Ibid., p. 184. The "borrowings" from Steiner (which may have been imaginary) presumably had to do with racial and German nationalist doctrines.
The Anthroposophical Society in Germany did flourish for a while under the Nazis — membership grew 25% between the end of 1932 and September 1935. [p. 186.] Some Nazi officials — predominantly Rudolf Hess, the Deputy Führer — looked kindly on Anthroposophy. "After 1933, an array of anthroposophical projects, from Waldorf schools to biodynamic farming to anthroposophical medicine, found crucial backing from high-level Nazi representatives." [p. 186.]
However, another clique in the Nazi government worked to discredit Anthroposophy. Reinhard Heydrich was foremost in these efforts. "Beginning in 1934, Heydrich and other adversaries of anthroposophy developed a concerted campaign to suppress anthroposophical activities and eventually eliminate anthroposophist organizational life from the Third Reich." [p. 187.] This clique would prevail, but it took time.
Knowing they were under attack from some Nazi officials, Anthroposophists attempted to defend themselves and the memory of their leader (Steiner had died in 1925). "[T]he lines between accommodation and collaboration became blurred as anthroposophists attempted to demonstrate their loyalty to Nazi goals." [p. 188.] Because of the mistaken charge, leveled at them again and again, that they were under Jewish control, Anthroposophist leaders tried to clear their following of Jewish members (under the Nazis, someone with only a small amount of 'Jewish blood' was considered a Jew), and they even went to such lengths as to procure a posthumous 'Aryan certificate' for Steiner, declaring what his wife called 'his pure Aryan heritage.'" [p. 191.]
"A May 1934 declaration of Elisabeth Klein, a leader of the Waldorf school federation, claimed that Steiner was the first to combat the 'lie of German war guilt' after World War I, and complained that 'Rudolf Steiner has been slandered by Jewish lies in the press.'" [p. 191.] But despite such efforts by Anthroposophists to defend themselves, the Heydrich faction ultimately prevailed and formal Anthroposophical activities in Germany were largely curtailed. "Over the course of the Nazi period, anthroposophy's enemies gradually gained the upper hand...dismantling anthroposophist organizations in a series of stages between 1935 and 1941." [p. 188.]
But this victory was incomplete, and various elements of Anthroposophy continued to function, to one degree or another. "For much of this time...German anthroposophy...saw remarkable achievements in cooperation with Nazi sponsors." [p. 188.] At one point, Heydrich and his people believed they had lost the contest, but they persevered and reversed their losses. Biodynamic agriculture was especially tenacious — several Nazi leaders, including Hitler, favored natural, organic, and/or vegetarian diets. "Despite ongoing opposition [from some quarters], the biodynamic movement flourished between 1933 and 1941, garnering praise from an extraordinary range of leading Nazis and winning supporters and advocates in several branches of the regime." [pp. 226-227.] There were biodynamic plantations throughout Germany and the occupied countries, including at concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Dachau, and Ravensbrük. [p. 247.] The produce from these plantations went primarily to "loyal" Germans in and around the camps, not to the camp inmates, of course.
Variously supported and attacked by different elements in the Nazi party, Waldorf schools in Germany met varying fates. Some closed fairly soon after the Nazi regime arose, while others held on. The last Waldorf school in Germany closed in 1941, nine years after Hitler became Chancellor and two years after the beginning of World War II. In their efforts to keep their schools open, "Waldorf school leaders underlined their commonalities with Nazi doctrine, condemning 'decrepit liberal individualism' and acclaiming 'authority' as their pedagogical ideal and practice, while noting that the 'covert and overt enemies of the German essence' were anthroposophy's enemies as well, particularly 'Jewish intellectuals' and 'rootless internationalists.'" [p. 276.] Ultimately, however, the Nazis were intolerant of any school or association that did not originate with themselves.
Adolf Hitler posing with children in an Alpine setting.
Note the reference to "der Führer" in the photo caption.
"In 1933 the Reich League for Biodynamic Agriculture was founded under the leadership of anthroposophist Erhard Bartsch ... The biodynamic movement received extensive praise in the Nazi press ... Organic advocates returned the favor in Demeter, the biodynamic journal ... The front cover of the May 1939 issue of Demeter featured a bucolic picture of Adolf Hitler in an alpine landscape, surrounded by children, in honor of the Führer's fiftieth birthday. Demeter also celebrated Germany's military conquests and called for using prisoners of war in environmental projects ... Bartsch boasted with considerable justification that 'the leading men of the Demeter movement have put themselves, their knowledge and experience wholeheartedly at the service of National Socialist Germany.'" — Peter Staudenmaier, in the epilogue to ECOFASCISM REVISITED (New Compass Press, 2011), written by Staudenmaier and Janet Biehl.
From the lead article in the September, 1940, issue of DEMETER: "This must be our goal and our lofty mission, to fight together with our Führer Adolf Hitler for the liberation of our beloved German fatherland!” — Bruno Bauch, “Betriebsbericht aus Sachsen”. [See Peter Staudenmaier, "Organic Farming in Nazi Germany", ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY 18 (2013), pp. 383-411.]
For a look at the form of organic agriculture established
by Rudolf Steiner and practiced by his followers,
For Steiner's views on the "deterioration" of human blood
and the damage caused by race mixing, see "Blood".
For an examination of links and parallels between Nazism
and the overtly religious offshoot of Anthroposophy,
the Christian Community, see "Christian Community".
For Rudolf Steiner's views on Jews and Judaism,
see "RS on Jews."
Rationalism is, generally, the view that reason should govern the human quest for truth. I use the term in this way here at Waldorf Watch, and in this sense I advocate rationalism. The term can also be applied to the philosophical proposition that reason trumps experience, and it can refer to the religious proposition that reason is the ultimate source of religious truth. Although these variants are close to my position, I do not specifically advocate them. I consider experience (in the sense of verifiable factual information) invaluable, and while I would emphasize reason in any discussion of religion, I recognize that much of the religious impulse comes from other centers than the rational brain.
The rejection of rationality is always worrisome, in my opinion. Consider the following statement by a leading Nazi:
"This government, rooted in opposition to rationalism, is well aware of the nameless longing of the Volk [i.e., the nation] it governs, of their dreams that sway between heaven and earth, which can be explained and expressed only by the artist." — Hans Blunck, President of the Reich Chamber of Literature, 1938. [See, e.g., Peter Viereck, METAPOLITICS: FROM WAGNER AND THE GERMAN ROMANTICS TO HITLER (Transaction Publishers, 2003), p. 144.]
Anthroposophy is not a Nazi or fascist movement, but it intersects with fascistic thinking worrisome ways, including in its hostility to rationality.
Steiner affirmed rationalism in the abstract. “[O]ur theory of knowledge transcends both onesided empiricism and onesided rationalism by uniting them at a higher level. In this way, justice is done to both. Empiricism is justified by showing that as far as content is concerned, all knowledge of the given is to be attained only through direct contact with the given. And it will be found that this view also does justice to rationalism in that thinking is declared to be both the necessary and the only mediator of knowledge.” — Rudolf Steiner, TRUTH AND KNOWLEDGE (Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1981), vii, “Epistemological Conclusion”, GA 3.
This was a qualified affirmation, at best. It is similar to Steiner's occasional bows to science, as when he claimed that his own teachings are scientific — Anthroposophy, he said, is spiritual science. But in practice, Steiner rejected most of the findings and even methods of science. In accordance with this stance, he opposed any epistemology (i.e., search for truth) that depends on the brain and its ability to reason.
“[T]he brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60.
For Steiner, true cognition — that is, true knowledge — comes through clairvoyance or what he sometimes called the creative imagination, and he located the capacity for true cognition in discarnate "organs of clairvoyance," not the physical brain. Reasoning, natural science, the brain — these are instruments of materialism, by which Steiner meant spiritual blindness. (But from the perspective of rationalism — i.e., reality — clairvoyance is a delusion, and organs of clairvoyance are fanciful inventions.)
“Rationalism leads to the death of creative Imagination.” — Synopsis of chapter 5 in Rudolf Steiner's BUILDING STONES FOR AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE MYSTERY OF GOLGOTHA (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), GA 175.
“Rationalism leads on the one hand to keen logic, and on the other hand to pure materialism.” — Rudolf Steiner, AN OUTLINE OF ANTHROPOSOPHICAL MEDICAL RESEARCH (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1939), GA 319.
“Only when the instinctive nature which has appeared in the evolution of humanity and which so proudly speaks of thought — only when this instinctive nature becomes instead an active element, when the intellect does not depend merely on the brain but springs from the whole man, when it is separated from rationalism and is lifted to the plane of Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition — only then will that gradually emerge which seeks to emerge in the Fifth Post-Atlantean Period [our present period, dated since the sinking of Atlantis], the period of the Spiritual Soul [the highest form of our soul nature].” — Rudolf Steiner, “Social and Anti-Social Forces in the Human Being” (Mercury Press, 1982), a lecture, GA 186.
“Modern human beings did not have the means in their innermost being to understand Christ [the Sun God] on the basis of what they had been taught at school, for rationalism and intellectualism have robbed them of the spiritual world.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE ANTHROPOSOPHIC MOVEMENT (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993), lecture 4, GA 258.
“[T]he urge towards rationalistic thought and towards a purely intellectual grasp of the earthly world mingled with the element of lust in material existence. In other words, a Luciferic impulse [i.e., the force of Lucifer] gradually insinuated itself ... If the whole reality is revealed to us as we look over towards the East of Europe to-day, we see not human beings alone but an astral [i.e., supernatural] sphere which since the Middle Ages has become the Paradise of beings once known as the Fauns and Satyrs. And if we understand the nature of these beings, we can also follow the processes of metamorphosis through which they have passed since then. These beings move about among men and carry on their activities in the astral world, using on the one hand the Ahrimanic forces [Ahriman is a devil] of decadent, Eastern magic and on the other, the forces emanating from the Luciferic, rationalistic thinking of the West. And human beings on the Earth are influenced and affected by these forces. [paragraph break] In their present state, the goat-form which constitutes the lower part of the bodily structure of these beings has coarsened and become bear-like, but on the other hand their heads are radiant and possessed of a high order of intelligence. They are the mirrored personifications of Luciferic rationalism developed to its highest point of subtlety.” — Rudolf Steiner, “Gnostic Doctrines and Supersensible Influences in Europe” (ANTHROPOSOPHY, A Quarterly Review of Spiritual Science, No. 3, Vol. 6), GA 225.
Anyone who prizes rationality must be appalled by such language (fauns, satyrs, Ahriman, Lucifer, goat-forms, bear-bodies indeed). And the echoes of Nazi discourse are deeply troubling, although Anthroposophy deserves repudiation on its own account, whether or not we find connections between it and Nazism.
The affirmation of irrationality (instinct, clairvoyance, intuition, dreams...) is precisely what leads mankind into the miasma of occultism. This is the wellspring of delusion and blindness. At it worst, it produces such monstrosities as Nazism [see, e.g., Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, THE OCCULT ROOTS OF NAZISM]. At a less horrific but still damaging level, it produces phantasmagorias such as Anthroposophy.
One may choose to be an Anthroposophist; this is an option open to any free human being. One may even choose to be a Nazi. But such choices are retrograde steps — sad, profoundly mistaken steps away from the light, away from truth, and into nightmare.
Any similarities between Anthroposophy and Nazism can best be explained, perhaps, by reference to their origins. Both movements are developments of German romanticism, which was characterized by celebration of Nordic man, embrace of Nordic mythology, affirmation of the German folk soul, transcendentalism, anti-Semitism, anti-rationalism, anti-scientism, and the like. We find such characteristics in many of Steiner's statements.
Here are a few brief examples, centering on revered German romantics: Goethe and Wagner. Steiner admired Goethe to the same degree that he despised "materialists" such as Charles Darwin: "Darwin, a materialistic thinker who was inspired by the British folk soul has conquered Goethe, a man whose perceptions resulted from a most intimate dialogue with the German folk soul." — Rudolf Steiner, "Christ in Relation to Lucifer and Ahriman" (Anthroposophic Press, 1978), a lecture, GA 159. Steiner named the Anthroposophical headquarters in honor of Goethe: It is the Goetheanum.
For Nazis, Richard Wagner occupied a central position of honor. As Hitler famously said, “To understand National Socialism you must first understand Wagner.” [See, e.g., Joachim Köhler, WAGNER'S HITLER (Polity Press, 2000.)] Steiner's view of Wagner can be found in RICHARD WAGNER IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (General Anthroposophic Society, 1937), GA 92:
"We find that initiates lead the course of evolution ... Richard Wagner used [the Lohengrin legend] ... This reveals Richard Wagner's high inner calling ... In Richard Wagner's eyes modern men have become mere day-labourers of civilisation. He sees the great difference between modern human beings and those of the Middle Ages ... Wagner felt this contrast, and what he wished to achieve through his art was to place before man something which would make him appear complete and perfect at least in one sphere. In his Siegfried he wished to portray a perfectly harmonious human being in contrast to the labourers of industry. Our great men have always felt this: Goethe had the same feeling ... [A] second idea rose up before Wagner's soul as he descended into still more profound depths of the soul ... He deeply felt what was connected with the rise of the new root-race ... Wagner's themes were poems originating from ancient myths. In these legends lived something which, filled with force and life, is able to permeate the soul with a spiritual rhythm. What we experience and what we ourselves are, this comes to life and resounds through us in these ancient sagas.” — Rudolf Steiner, ibid.
Anthroposophist Franz E. Winkler has written in defense of Wagner, whose music "can open the gateways of spiritual perception." Winkler's analysis distinctly conforms to Anthroposophical doctrine. See FOR FREEDOM DESTINED: Mysteries of Man's evolution in the Mythology of Wagner's Ring Operas and Parsifal (Waldorf Press, 1974).
The wellspring from which all of this emerges is the vast, turbulent, violent, and glorious mythology of the Northmen — Norse myths, which are emphasized in Waldorf schools, and which express the immemorial yearnings, hopes, and terrors of the Germanic soul. [See "Oh My Word" and "The Gods".]
[F. W. Heine].
The shared roots of fascism and European occultism, including Anthroposophy, are suggested by Umberto Eco’s “Eternal Fascism”
[NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, June 22, 1995, pp. 12-15]. Here are some excerpts. I will append a few notes.
In the Mediterranean basin, people of different religions (most of the faiths indulgently accepted by the Roman pantheon) started dreaming of a revelation received at the dawn of human history. [a] This revelation, according to the traditionalist mystique, had remained for a long time concealed under the veil of forgotten languages — in Egyptian hieroglyphs, in the Celtic runes, in the scrolls of the little-known religions of Asia.
This new culture had to be syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says, "the combination of different forms of belief or practice;" such a combination must tolerate contradictions. [b] Each of the original messages contains a sliver of wisdom, and although they seem to say different or incompatible things, they all are nevertheless alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth ...
Both Fascists and Nazis worshipped technology, while traditionalist thinkers usually reject it as a negation of traditional spiritual values. However, even though Nazism was proud of its industrial achievements, its praise of modernism was only the surface of an ideology based upon blood and earth (Blut und Boden). The rejection of the modern world was disguised as a rebuttal of the capitalistic way of life. The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism [i.e., eternal fascism] can be defined as irrationalism ... [c]
Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Hermann Goering's fondness for a phrase from a Hanns Johst play ("When I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my gun") to the frequent use of such expressions as "degenerate intellectuals," "eggheads," "effete snobs," and "universities are nests of reds." The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values. [d]
[a] Anthroposophy is forward-looking in its anticipation of great human spiritual progress yet to come. But it is also profoundly backward-looking, as in its affirmation of ancient “mystery wisdom.” [See, e.g., the “The Ancients”.]
[b] Anthroposophy, like Theosophy, attempts a syncretistic reconciliation of numerous spiritual, mythic, and religious traditions. When the effort to reconcile opposing doctrines founders, Anthroposophists affirm the value of contradiction, as in the sixth lecture in Steiner's WONDERS OF THE WORLD, sometimes referred to as “Why Contradictions Exist Everywhere and Must Exist” — Rudolf Steiner, WONDERS OF THE WORLD (Kessinger Publishing, 1996), lecture 6, GA 129.
[c] Anthroposophy largely abhors modern technology. More fundamentally, fascism and Anthroposophy both recoil from modernism. [See, e.g., “Steiner’s ‘Science’”.]
[d] Anthroposophy is deeply anti-intellectual. According to Steiner, "The intellect destroys or hinders.” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1 (Anthroposophic Press, 1995, p. 233. [See "Steiner's Specific".]
— Roger Rawlings
Steiner's Anthroposophy is just one of the darkly irrational movements that arose in Germany in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Here is one summary of the cultural milieu that fostered such movements:
“There were anachronistic features in...imperial Germany ... Over this hard-working country...there arched a peculiarly romantic sky whose darkness was populated by mythic figures, antiquated giants, and ancient deities. Germany’s backwardness was chiefly ideological in nature ...[O]pposition [to modern trends] produced defensive gestures against the new, antipoetic reality, gestures springing not from skepticism but from romantic pessimism ... [Rapid industrialization] in Germany, which shot the country [into] modernity, [produced] an especially hysterical high pitch in which anxiety and disgust with modern reality mingled with romantic yearnings for a vanished Arcadia ... Such pangs at the onslaughts of [modern] civilization could be traced back to...Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister ... In Germany the spokesmen for this attitude despised progress and professed themselves, with a good measure of pride, unworldly reactionaries; they preferred to be, in Nietzsche’s phrase, untimely onlookers who...longed for a Germany that had never existed and perhaps never would exist. They treated the facts that were held up to them with haughty contempt and roundly ridiculed ‘one-eyed reason.’ With no regard for logic but with flashes of considerable shrewdness, they opposed the stock exchange and urbanization, compulsory vaccination, the global economy and positivistic science, ‘communistic’ movements and the first attempts at heavier-than-air flight. In brief, they were against the whole concept of modern improvement, and summed up all efforts in that direction as a disastrous ‘decline of the soul.’ As ‘prophets of enraged tradition,’ they invoked the day when the mad whirl would be checked and ‘the old gods would once more rise out of the waves’ ... Finally, the anticivilizational mood of the period struck up an alliance with anti-Semitism. ‘German anti-Semitism is reactionary ... It is a revolt of the petty bourgeois against industrial development’ ... [T]he old hatred of Jews, which had had a religious basis, evolved...into an anti-Semitism built on biological and social prejudices ... [Abetting all this] were the music dramas of Richard Wagner, which restated the problems of the age in mythic terms. The misgivings about the future, the awareness of the dawning age of gold, racial fears, antimaterialistic impulses, horror of an era of plebeian freedom and leveling, and premonitions of impending doom — all this expressed in highly sensuous art spoke to the cultivated middle classes struggling in the toils of their malaise.” — Joachim C. Fest, HITLER (Vintage Books, 1975), pp. 95-98.
Anthroposophy is more upbeat and optimistic than many of the other systems that sprouted in the same time and place.
But the distinction is subtle; the difference is small.
National Socialism itself seemed, at least for a while, to offer Germans a magnificent, anti-modernist future.
The following is a message Peter Staudenmaier posted on August 17, 2009:
Here are a few references from letters sent by anthroposophists to Nazi officials in late 1935 and early 1936 protesting the dissolution of the Anthroposophical Society in Germany:
1. Juergen von Grone (head of the second largest anthroposophist federation in Germany) to Hermann Goering, November 25, 1935, protesting the ban on the Anthroposophical Society; Grone says this move will damage Germany, praises Steiner as great national figure who always fought for Germany, before during and after WW I, portrays anthroposophy as the salvation for Germany, and says Steiner rejected "western democratic constitutional forms" as a "catastrophe for the German people." Grone also says that Steiner battled Bolshevism as fiercely as possible and called for its "elimination through war." Steiner fought freemasonry, Jesuitism, etc. "Rudolf Steiner was not a pacifist, nor was he a protector of the Jewish race." (BA R58/6188/1: 8-10)
2. Juergen von Grone sent the same letter to Rudolf Hess, also November 25, 1935. (BA R58/6195/1: 393)
3. Max Pusch to Wilhelm Frick (Nazi Minister of Interior), February 29, 1936, a nine page typed letter protesting the ban on the Anthroposophical Society and emphasizing the pro-Nazi character of anthroposophy. Pusch is a longtime member of the Anthroposophical Society and an active member of the Hamburg branch (he was in charge of overseeing their books and literature, for example), and he is solidly pro-Nazi. His letter praises various Nazi achievements and effusively praises Hitler ("so ist mein Herz erfuellt von Dankbarkeit und Verehrung für unseren Fuehrer und Reichskanzler, der in so kurzer Zeit so Gewaltiges geleistet hat. Und wenn ich auch noch nicht Mitglied der NSDAP bin, so bin ich doch ihr aufrichtiger Anhaenger" etc). He notes that there were party members in the Anthroposophical Society, in Hamburg as elsewhere, and relays a first-hand anecdote: in 1933 he visited an anthroposophist family who had large picture of Hitler displayed with a quote from Steiner attached, and underneath that it said: "This quote [from Steiner] hangs above the desk of the Fuehrer." (BA R58/6194/1: 270-278)
4. Anthroposophical Society in America to the Foreign Minister of Germany, December 6, 1935, protesting the dissolution of the Anthroposophical Society in Germany: "This Society by its very nature and constitution has absolutely nothing to do with 'Jewry, Masonry and Pacifism,' reported in the press to be the cause of this decree." (BA R58/6189/2: 175)
5. Georg Bauer to Adolf Hitler, November 16, 1935, protesting the dissolution of the Anthroposophical Society; three page handwritten letter beginning "Mein Fuehrer!" Bauer is an anthroposophist from Leipzig. He says that Steiner represented the best of the German spirit, anthroposophy is the salvation of Germany, etc., and then declares that banning the Anthroposophical Society repeats what the Jews did to the Savior when they nailed him to the cross ("Wenn man nun von der Regierung aus die Taetigkeit dieser Anthroposophen verbietet, so tut man nichts anderes als das was die Juden mit dem Heiland taten, indem man ihn abermals ans Kreuz schlaegt. Und dass dies von deutscher Seite aus geschieht, das treibt einem die Schamroete ins Gesicht.") He then writes: "Steiner himself showed that the Jews are a people who are abandoned to decadence of the soul." ("Steiner selbst hat die Juden hingestellt als ein seelisch dem Verfall preisgegebenes Volk.") He insists that anthroposophy does not make common cause with the Jews. (BA R58/6194/1: 186-187)
6. Karl Jordan to the Reichskanzlei, the Reich Chancellery, November 25, 1935, a two page handwritten letter protesting the dissolution of the Anthroposophical Society; Jordan writes that the Bolsheviks view anthroposophy as their greatest enemy, and will thus be delighted to learn that Germany has suppressed this grave danger to Soviet Communism. He says Steiner was one of the greatest Germans and greatest friends of Germany. "Dr. Steiner recognized from his spiritual vision that the Germanic peoples and especially Germany are the hegemonic people in the current epoch, the leading people of the earth." ("Dr. Steiner hat aus seiner Geistesschau erkannt, dass die germanischen Voelker und besonders auch Deutschland in dieser heutigen Zeitepoche das Hegemonievolk, das fuehrende Volk der Erde sind.") He asks that his letter be given to "our Fuehrer" Adolf Hitler. (BA R58/6194/1: 191)
7. Handwritten letter from Albrecht Winter-Guenther, Nuremberg, March 25, 1936, "to the government of the Reich" saying that as a member of the Anthroposophical Society, he cannot vote for Hitler, as he would like to, as long as the Anthroposophical Society is banned. ("Als Mitglied der anthroposophischen Gesellschaft (begruendet durch Rudolf Steiner) waere es mir nicht moeglich, meine Stimme Adolf Hitler zu geben, wie ich es dem besonderen Anlass entsprechend moechte, solange die Gesellschaft verboten ist. Ich ersuche die Reichsregierung um Aufhebung des Verbotes, dessen Begruendung in jedem Punkte unrichtig war. Heil Hitler!") (BA R58/6194/1: 289)
8. Anni Mueller-Link to Rudolf Hess, December 24, 1935, handwritten letter protesting the dissolution of the Anthroposophical Society; Link is a Swiss member of the Nazi party and a member of the Anthroposophical Society since 1920. She sends Hess a copy of Steiner's pamphlet "Die germanische Seele und der deutsche Geist" (the Germanic soul and the German spirit) and asks him to give it to Hitler. She says the ban on the Anthroposophical Society is based on misunderstanding. She praises Hitler and Hess and the Nazi movement and urges that anthroposophy be rehabilitated. (BA R58/6188/1: 136)
9. Richard Duerich, Breslau, to Gestapo headquarters, Berlin, November 28, 1935, protesting the November 18 order forbidding him from further activities with his anthroposophical group, the 'Working Group for German Spiritual Science' ("Arbeitsgemeinschaft fuer deutsche Geisteswissenschaft"), a separate organization from the Anthroposophical Society; six page handwritten letter. Duerich recounts his views on anthroposophy and Nazism at length. He says that in the course of European history, the "Germanic spiritual approach" has been overwhelmed by the "Semitic scientific intellect" and by "Semitic abstractionism" and by "blood mixing" with other peoples and so forth. Germans must replace "abstract, Semitic thinking" with "organic, living thinking." He repeats a number of anthroposophical platitudes and combines them with Nazi slogans, particularly "Blood and Soil." He insists that anthroposophy only wants to serve the fatherland. ("Herz, Hirn und Hand zusammen fuers Vaterland! Dazu will Anthroposophie dienen.") He concludes: "I remain convinced that National Socialism, in order to achieve its legitimate goals from the spiritual side, needs anthroposophy." ("Auch heute noch bin ich ueberzeugt davon, dass berechtigten Ziele des National-Sozialismus zu ihrem Erreichen von der geistigen Seite her dieser Anthroposophie beduerfen.") (BA R58/6193/2: 558-560)
10. The letter from the leadership of the General Anthroposophical Society in Dornach to Adolf Hitler, November 17, 1935, signed by Marie Steiner, Guenther Wachsmuth, and Albert Steffen, protesting the dissolution of the Anthroposophical Society in Germany and especially against the stated reasons for it, insisting that the Anthroposophical Society "has never had any connections or any contacts of any kind with any freemasonic, Jewish, or pacifist circles." They also stress Rudolf Steiner’s "Aryan origins" and even dispute the label of anthroposophy as "international," calling this "completely inaccurate"; they stress anthroposophy’s thoroughly German character. (BA R58/6194/1: 192) A photographic reproduction of the original can be found in Arfst Wagner, ed., Dokumente und Briefe zur Geschichte der anthroposophischen Bewegung und Gesellschaft in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus, vol. I, pp. 42-44.
All systems primarily built upon the teachings of a single "great" individual share certain attributes. True belief — one might call it blind or fanatical belief — in a "great leader" is much the same wherever it occurs. The attitude Nazis took toward Hitler was similar to the attitude many Anthroposophists take toward Steiner. The following passage may discomfit individuals who are well acquainted with Anthroposophy.
Some of the terminology used by Frank is essentially indistinguishable from Anthroposophical language (e.g., "Folk Spirit"), as is the idea that the divine sanction afforded the great leader places his/her followers under a special form of obligation. Anthroposophical publications about Steiner bear such titles as OUR OBLIGATION TO RUDOLF STEINER IN THE SPIRIT OF EASTER (Whittier Books, 1955) and A MAN BEFORE OTHERS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993).
Often, disagreements between Anthroposophists are settled by consulting Steiner texts. "What," Anthroposophists ask themselves, "did Steiner say?" If no conclusive text can be found, then Anthroposophists often look for "indications" given by Steiner. Thus they ask themselves, "What would Steiner say?" — precisely the question Frank said Nazis should ask with regard to Hitler's views.
Both Nazism and Anthroposophy conceive a special, world-leading role for Germany. Hitler taught that the German folk spirit should attain political and military ascendancy — for the good of all the world, of course. Steiner taught that the German folk spirit will attain spiritual ascendancy — for the good of all the world, of course. “Can you envisage the way the German folk spirit is again and again coming down to the German peoples and then going up again into the higher world [i.e., the spirit realm]? Why does it do this with just this one particular people? It is because it is intended to evoke in this particular culture the powers that will lead to spiritual science in the truest sense of the word [i.e., Anthroposophy].” — Rudolf Steiner, THE DESTINIES OF INDIVIDUALS AND NATIONS (SteinerBooks, 1987), p. 179.
None of this means that Anthroposophy is the moral equivalent of Nazism, but the parallels between the systems — and the shared intellectual background from which they both emerged — suggest at a minimum why some individuals found no contradiction in embracing both systems. To probe the Anthroposophical view of their great leader, see "What a Guy" and "Guru".
— Roger Rawlings
From a review of HANS BÜCHENBACHER: ERINNERUNGEN 1933-1949, edited by Ansgar Martins (Info3, 2014):
Following on his 2012 study of Rudolf Steiner’s racial teachings, Ansgar Martins has published another principal piece of research on typically neglected aspects of anthroposophy’s history ... The central occasion for the new volume is the publication of a manuscript that has circulated for some time among Steiner’s followers: a reminiscence of the Nazi period by anthroposophist Hans Büchenbacher ... Büchenbacher’s memoirs present an important and unusual eyewitness narrative of anthroposophist life in Nazi Germany. Hans Büchenbacher (1887-1977), a personal student of Steiner, was a prominent leader in the early anthroposophical movement. He was an organizer for ‘social threefolding’ in the 1920s, later became editor of the official journal Anthroposophie, and from 1931 to 1934 served as chairman of the Anthroposophical Society in Germany....
Though raised Catholic, Büchenbacher was considered “half-Jewish” according to Nazi criteria because of his father’s Jewish ancestry ... [T]he experience of being perceived as Jewish – long before Hitler came to power – left him attentive to antisemitism in its various guises.
Büchenbacher wrote the memoirs in the final years of his life ... [T]he work yields a very revealing record of a turbulent time.
It is not a flattering portrait. According to Büchenbacher, “approximately two thirds of German anthroposophists more or less succumbed to National Socialism.” (p. 40) He reports that a wide range of influential anthroposophists, whom he identifies by name, “staunchly supported Hitler.” Both Guenther Wachsmuth, Secretary of the Swiss-based General Anthroposophical Society, and Marie Steiner, the widow of Rudolf Steiner, are described as “completely pro-Nazi” (p. 24). Büchenbacher concludes with a lament for the far-reaching “Nazi sins” of his Dornach colleagues [i.e., Anthroposophists serving at the Anthroposophical headquarters].
Some of the details are striking. Büchenbacher describes stopping by the editorial office of the journal Anthroposophie in February 1933 and finding “a large portrait of Hitler” decorated in anthroposophical manner with crystals. When Büchenbacher asked the journal’s managing editor, C.S. Picht, about this homage to Hitler in the headquarters of the official publication of the Anthroposophical Society in Germany, he realized that “Picht was deeply infected by Nazi views.” (p. 19) Anthroposophist Erhard Bartsch, leader of the biodynamic movement, told Büchenbacher that “those who have truly Michaelic spirit will side with Adolf Hitler.” (p. 23) According to Büchenbacher, a number of other prominent anthroposophists also supported Nazism, including Alfred Meebold, Friedrich Kempter, Edwin Froböse, and Herbert Hahn, figures who are often celebrated among Steiner’s followers today.
Büchenbacher provides extended descriptions of several central participants in the anthroposophist movement. The memoirs feature a thorough account of anthroposophist physician Hanns Rascher, a fervent backer of Hitler who joined the Nazi party as early as 1931. Rascher was a follower of Steiner from 1908 onward and a major figure in anthroposophical medicine. For the first several years of the Third Reich, he played a key role as liaison between the Anthroposophical Society and the Nazi leadership. Perhaps the most disturbing passages for anthroposophist readers, however, are Büchenbacher’s detailed recounting of his interactions with Marie Steiner and Guenther Wachsmuth: even dedicated life-long anthroposophists like Büchenbacher faced a potent undercurrent of antisemitism from the Dornach leadership.
Under pressure from his gentile colleagues, Büchenbacher resigned as chairman of the Anthroposophical Society in Germany in 1934. He emigrated to Switzerland in 1936. In one of the more telling episodes related here, Büchenbacher recalls a private discussion with Rudolf Steiner in 1920 about antisemitism within anthroposophist ranks. Despite Büchenbacher’s testimony that he had personally experienced antisemitism among Steiner’s followers, Steiner categorically denied that there was any antisemitism in the Anthroposophical Society (p. 53).
...Some of the most valuable material in the book has less to do with Büchenbacher’s acute reflections than with Martins’ insights into the dilemmas of coming to terms with a devastated and devastating past. In several respects, Martins’ research paints an even more dire portrait of anthroposophists in the 1930s eager to align themselves with Nazism’s ‘new order’. The degree of political naïveté and confusion revealed in the sources he has assembled is at times astonishing ... [Martins] gives extended attention to the overlap between the anthroposophist and völkisch milieus and the extravagant racial theories promoted by the first generation of Steiner’s followers.
— Peter Staudenmaier
For more on the intersection between Anthroposophical
and National Socialist racial views, see Peter Staudenmaier's
messages appended to "Races".
A note on context:
Proponents of Waldorf education and Anthroposophy often depict Rudolf Steiner as liberal and enlightened. By today’s standards, this depiction is false. Steiner was a racist and a German nationalist; he was an occultist who recoiled from modernity. Only within the context of his historical period — the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in Austria and Germany — could he be deemed forward-thinking. His racism was milder than that preached by many of his contemporaries. Likewise, his Germanic chauvinism was muted by the standards of his day. Thus, Steiner may be considered relatively liberal within the society in which he lived. Seen from our vantage point today, however, his teachings are recognizably backward and injurious.
We can gain some perspective on Steiner by considering the views of a group of his fellow Ausrian-Germans, put forward during his lifetime. The Ariosophists were rabid racists. They contended that the pure Germanic “Aryan” race was mankind’s only hope. Other races were inherently inferior and, indeed, scarcely human at all. The Ariosophists developed their ideology by drawing — as Steiner did — on Theosophy and other cultural-spiritual movements of their age. Their views were more extreme and intemperate than Steiner’s; their beliefs were more clearly abhorrent. Yet we can see many parallels between Ariosophy and Steiner’s Anthroposophy.
Here are some brief excerpts from a study of occult influences in Germany between 1890 and 1935. This period encloses the years when Steiner joined the Theosophical movement (1902), established Anthroposophy as a separate movement (1913), and founded Waldorf education (1919). The author, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, focuses on the Ariosophists. Numerous themes in Ariosophical teachings can also be found in Anthroposophy, although — to repeat — Steiner developed these themes in less objectionable form.
“The Ariosophists, initially active in Vienna before the First World War, combined German nationalism and racism with occult notions borrowed from the theosophy of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, in order to prophesy and vindicate a coming era of German world rule. Their writings described a prehistoric golden age, when wise gnostic priesthood's had expounded occult-racist doctrines and ruled over a superior and racially pure society. They claimed that an evil conspiracy of anti-German interests (variously identified as the non-Aryan races, the Jews, or even the early Church) had sought to ruin this ideal Germanic world by emancipating the non-German inferiors in the name of a spurious egalitarianism. The resulting racial confusion was said to have heralded the historical world with its wars, economic hardship, political uncertainty and the frustration of German world power. In order to counter this modern world, the Ariosophists founded secret religious orders dedicated to the revival of the lost esoteric knowledge and racial virtue of the ancient Germans, and the corresponding creation of a new pan-German empire.
“...The role and importance of occultism in their doctrines is principally explicable as a sacred form of legitimation for their profound reaction to the present and their extreme political attitudes. The fantasies of the Ariosophists concerned elitism and purity, a sense of mission in the face of conspiracies, and millenarian visions of a felicitous national future.
“...[T]heir occultism was an original contribution. Occultism was invoked to endorse the enduring validity of an obsolescent and precarious social order. The ideas and symbols of ancient theocracies, secret societies, and the mystical gnosis of Rosicrucianism, Cabbalism, and Freemasonry were woven into the völkish ideology, in order to prove that the modern world was based on false and evil principles and to describe the values and institutions of the ideal world. This reliance on semi-religious materials for their legitimation demonstrated the need of the Ariosophists for absolute beliefs about the proper arrangement of human society: it was also an index of their profound disenchantment with the contemporary world.”
— Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, THE OCCULT ROOTS OF NAZISM: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology (New York University Press, 1992), pp. 2-5.
To consider where Steiner stood in comparison to the Ariosophists, you might consult such pages as
— Roger Rawlings
Here is an item from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:
Historian Peter Staudenmaier has posted a chapter from his upcoming book about Anthroposophy and racism
The chapter deals with Waldorf education in Nazi Germany.
It begins thus:
Education for the National Community? Waldorf Schools in the Third Reich
On the 31st of January 1933, the day after Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, a Mrs. Oberstein removed her daughter from the Breslau Waldorf school. Oberstein, a Nazi party member, was upset by the presence of a temporary assistant teacher from a Jewish background, and expressed her strong disagreement with the Waldorf faculty regarding “the race question.” Her daughter’s regular teacher, Heinrich Wollborn, wrote a letter the same day defending his Jewish colleague and explaining the Waldorf attitude toward such matters:
Wollborn’s explanation succinctly captured the differences between the anthroposophical understanding of race and ethnicity and the attitudes represented by the new National Socialist government. For anthroposophists, Jews could overcome their “racial origin” by fully embracing the German national community and its highest spiritual expression, namely anthroposophy itself. This stance flatly contradicted Nazi racial doctrine, and in subsequent months the Breslau Waldorf school faced fierce criticism from zealous opponents in the local Nazi party organization. One anonymous denunciation declared that “Jews are behind this school.”
Beneath the rhetoric lay a remarkably complicated reality. The visiting teacher whose presence had sparked the incident, an anthroposophist named Ernst Lehrs, came from a family whose Jewish roots were notably tenuous. Not only was Lehrs himself fervently committed to Steiner’s esoteric version of Christianity, both his parents and his grandparents belonged to the Protestant church. The family had not been Jewish for generations, except in the ‘racial’ sense, and Lehrs exemplified the anthroposophical ideal of spiritual transformation and transcending one’s racial origins – the abandonment of Jewishness as the sine qua non for individuals from Jewish backgrounds hoping to become full members of the German Volk. In anthroposophist eyes, Lehrs had successfully joined the national community, whereas in Nazi eyes he was ineligible to do so.
This incident from January 1933 did not simply end with contrary positions on the “race question.” Both Wollborn and the administration of the Breslau Waldorf school soon distanced themselves from their initial stance. Writing to local school authorities in October 1933, Wollborn reversed his earlier standpoint, insisting that in his January 31 letter “nothing was further from my mind than taking a principled position on the race question. I therefore greatly regret formulating the letter in such an unclear manner.” Noting that he wrote the earlier letter when the Nazi government was still forming, Wollborn now declared: “I have placed my pedagogical work entirely on the basis of the government, and have fully expressed this by joining the National Socialist Teachers League in June of this year.”
The Breslau Waldorf school, meanwhile, explained that Jews no longer worked there and that Lehrs had been only a temporary employee who left the school before the new laws regarding Jewish employees were promulgated. The school further noted that many Waldorf teachers had joined the Nazi teachers’ association and that all Waldorf schools in Germany had completed the process of Gleichschaltung, the Nazi term for bringing social institutions into line with the regime. A local school inspector assigned to investigate the incident completely absolved both Wollborn and the school. His final report confirmed the Waldorf representatives’ claims and declared that the Breslau Waldorf school was indeed free of “Jewish influence,” observing moreover that a number of its core faculty were Nazi party members.
Staudenmaier's book, referred to on this page as his PhD dissertation
or his "upcoming book" has subsequently been published:
(Brill Academic Publications, 2014.)
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 8. THE WORST SIDE ◊◊◊
One of Steiner's suppressed lectures