When denying that Rudolf Steiner was a racist, Anthroposophists often cite Steiner’s lecture “The Universal Human.”
Let’s take a look. (You can find the lecture beginning on p. 69 of Rudolf Steiner, THE UNIVERSAL HUMAN (Anthroposophic Press, 1990.)
Although the book and the lecture have the same title, the book also contains three other lectures.)
[Anthroposophic Press, 1990.
Apologies for the bent cover.
I've read this volume a lot.]
In “The Universal Human", Steiner argues that all humans should be very much alike, based on our evolutionary history.
We have all passed through the phases of Old Saturn, Old Sun, and Old Moon, which shaped us. 
Moreover, the merely physical forces that affect us during our lives on Earth are insufficient to make us different from one another.
“According to spiritual science [i.e., Anthroposophy], if we consider only the forms the physical body can take through the forces of the earth, we find that human beings could not be different but rather would all have to be alike and have the same outer form. Indeed, the forces that exist on earth to give us our physical shape are such that if only these formative forces were to work on us, we would all have the same outer, physical form. This is because the physical human body has undergone a long preparation. We know it was prepared through the epochs of Saturn, Sun, and Moon. It was prepared by forces that worked during these three epochs in such a way that the forces of the earth itself could influence our physical body in no other way than to give it a uniform shape if they had indeed been the only forces at work ... Spiritual science, therefore, must start from the fact that a single and uniform shape is predestined for humanity so far as the terrestrial forces are concerned ... [W]e must now ask why human beings are so different after all.”
The differences that exist between human beings must be traced to cosmic factors, Steiner says.
The influences reaching us from on high cause us to have different etheric bodies. 
“We must therefore distinguish between the uniform earthly forces working all over the earth that would make all human forms the same and the forces working out of the universe on the earth, making each etheric body different. We can see the differences between etheric bodies through spiritual scientific research [i.e., the use of exact clairvoyance]. At the one extreme are those etheric bodies that have strong forces and are tough, retaining their form almost as much as we do our physical form ... There is a second kind that is mobile, like something that is fluttering and always in movement, flowing and moving ... There is another [i.e., third] kind of etheric body that is inwardly tinted, inwardly shimmering, not uniform in color but having various tones and colors. There is a fourth kind of etheric body that has one primary color throughout its whole substance, but this color changes over time though we cannot pinpoint other than purely inward causes for this ... Then there are those etheric bodies that have a strong tendency to light up inwardly, growing at times brighter and brighter. Other etheric bodies have a powerful faculty to reproduce the harmonies of the spheres. Finally, there are those etheric bodies that appear especially in inventive people and persons of genius — etheric bodies that, if I may say so, reveal forces within them that are rare and strange in this earthly world ... There are seven different kinds of human etheric bodies, and in the etheric bodies we have forces that are not earthly, but come in from the cosmos.”
After beginning by saying that all humans should be more or less similar, Steiner has now identified seven major varieties of humans,
possessing seven types of etheric bodies. These “bodies” reflect cosmic forces and can be observed only by people who,
like Steiner himself (according to Steiner) can see what is invisible.
Our etheric bodies and other invisible parts of our nature produce the physical differences between humans.
Karma and reincarnation also come into play.
“Our etheric body forms and molds the physical body. If only earthly forces worked on us, we would all be alike in our physical body. However, the influence of the etheric body makes us different. The astral body brings about further differences, such as those between male and female bodies, through forces it develops between death and a new birth, during the time when we prepare ourselves for the gender that karma requires us to have in the next incarnation.”
Steiner proceeds to open the issue of race.
“For the moment, let us just look at the etheric body ... [B]ecause our etheric bodies differ in their constitution, composition, and structure in the cosmos, there would have to be seven groups of human beings ... [T]his difference is connected with the racial diversities on the earth. Basically, because of this difference in etheric bodies, the several races can always be reduced to the number seven.”
The different races should have appeared on Earth not all at once but consecutively, Steiner says.
“[I]f everything had gone a certain way (we shall see directly in what way), the seven-colored etheric body [i.e., the seven kinds of etheric bodies] would have brought about diversities in our physical form, but successively, one after the other. Thus, the etheric body would have created one form of human being in the fifth period of Atlantis, a second in the sixth period of Atlantis, a third in the seventh, a fourth in the first post-Atlantean period, a fifth in the second post-Atlantean period, a sixth in the third, and a seventh in the fourth post-Atlantean period, that is, in the Greco-Roman time.
"That is what would have happened; various types of human beings would have appeared one after the other ... That was the original conception.”
The “original conception” can be attributed to the good, creative forces in the universe — the good gods.
But there are evil forces at work, and these interfered with the good plan.
“...That was the original conception. However, Lucifer and Ahriman opposed this; they did not want it to happen that way. They fought against this harmonious tendency of development in the evolution of humanity, and they managed to change the whole process so that various developments were shifted and displaced. While there should have been basically only one form of human being in the fifth Atlantean period that was to develop gradually into another type, Lucifer and Ahriman preserved the form of the fifth Atlantean period into the sixth, and again that of the sixth Atlantean period into the seventh, and even into the time after the Atlantean flood.
"Thus, forms that should have disappeared remained. Instead of racial diversities developing consecutively, older racial forms remained unchanged and newer ones began to evolve at the same time. Instead of the intended consecutive development of races, there was a coexistence of races. That is how it came about that physically different races inhabited the earth and are still there in our time although evolution should really have proceeded as I have described it. Even when we consider only what resulted from the development of the etheric body, we see everywhere that Lucifer and Ahriman play their part in the earthly evolution of humanity.”
For the moment, let's say that Lucifer and Ahriman are demons, evil gods.  We will look into their identities further as we proceed.
Lucifer and Ahriman derailed the divine plan for human racial evolution. This had profound consequences.
The highest of our invisible bodies is the “I” — it is our spark of divine selfhood.
The plan was that the “I”s of all humans would proceed together through evolutionary development, becoming more and more perfect.
There then would have been little difference between humans — we would all be members of a single, perfected race.
“[T]he I of human beings, their individualities, would have gone through the various human forms mentioned above in consecutive periods. In the fifth Atlantean period, the I would have had one human form, in the sixth another, in the seventh again another; in the first post-Atlantean epoch it would have had yet another form, and so on. We would all have lived through these types of humanity, one after the other.
“Indeed, it was planned that human beings would thus complete the necessary schooling of human individuality by passing through various etheric formations that had different effects on their physical body. In fact, according to the original plan, there could have been a type of human being on the earth who would have been the result, as it were, of seven successive periods of development, each of which would have contributed to the perfection of that human type. In the fifth post-Atlantean period [the present], then, there would have been one united type of human being spread over the whole face of the earth.”
The beautiful human forms we find in Greek statues give us an idea of the ideal bodies we might have had.
But the Greeks could only dream of this ideal, since Lucifer and Ahriman prevented it from existing as a universal human reality.
Instead of a pure, unified humanity exhibiting the essentially European or Caucasian characteristics of Greek statuary, we now have a multitude of races.
“Lucifer and Ahriman interfered and thwarted the original design. As a result, the ancient Greeks could only dream of an ideal, superhuman type, which they tried to represent in various ways, for example, in the form of Apollo, Zeus, or Athena. They could not fully encompass this type simply because it did not really exist. But if we have a sense for Greek sculpture, we can feel how the ancient Greeks dreamed of a uniform, perfect, beautiful type of human being that should have developed. This development did not occur because Lucifer and Ahriman preserved older racial forms that had developed, so that there was a coexistence of races rather than a succession.”
You may be wondering how this lecture proves that Steiner was not a racist. It is a good question. Bear it in mind as we proceed.
“[I]n the Greco-Roman era, human evolution was faced with the fact that what the gods guiding the evolution of the earth had intended for the outer forms on this earth had not been realized because of the luciferic-ahrimanic influence. The spirits of the hierarchy of form [gods four levels above man] had intended that the harmonious working of the various hierarchies of form [i.e., the workings of these gods] should really lead to a human type with perfect physical development ... [But] Lucifer and Ahriman had disappointed the good divine-spiritual beings ... Lucifer and Ahriman had caused races to live side by side instead of one after the other.”
Steiner’s point is clear; he repeats it several times. The good gods wanted us all to be members of a single unified humanity, evolving upwards together.
But evil spirits interfered, disrupting the divine plan. As a result, humans were divided into different races living on the Earth at the same time.
Fortunately, Steiner says, the good gods were able to keep matters from getting completely out of hand.
“The spirits of form had to decide whether the human race should continue to develop so that human beings would never again be united in earthly evolution. For this indeed is what would have happened. If earthly evolution had continued beyond the fourth, the Greco-Roman period, in the same way it was prior to that, then humanity would have become separated into seven groups due to luciferic and ahrimanic forces. These seven groups would have been as different from each other as the various species of animals ... [P]eople would have had to develop more and more the view that there are seven groups of human beings on earth that see each other as completely different species. This view would still have prevailed in our time ... The term ‘human being’ for all people on earth would have seemed wrong; we would have had seven different terms, one for each of the seven groups.”
The solution was for the Sun God, Christ, to come down to Earth and give us a way to reunite, spiritually if not physically.
We can all become alike again by all choosing to follow Christ, our prototype. 
“The first attempt that had been made with earthly humanity before the luciferic and ahrimanic impulses interfered in evolution was to create unity among human beings everywhere through the forming of the physical body. This attempt by the spirits of form failed because of luciferic-ahrimanic interference. But it could not be allowed to fail altogether; precautions had to be taken to prevent complete failure and to immobilize and offset the work of Lucifer and Ahriman. The physical body could no longer be worked on as was originally intended; therefore, the etheric body had to be worked on. This was done by the divine-spiritual being we have so often spoken of — the Christ Being — taking on human form ... [T]he sun-being, Christ, really entered into the earth sphere and united with the whole etheric body of the earth, as I have often explained. He then entered into the earth aura and now continues to work there. This sun-being must work for us in such a way that we realize more and more that in Christ the divine spirit was sent to us who was to counterbalance and redeem from within the separation and diversification in humanity created by Lucifer and Ahriman's opposition to the original impulses.”
Christ, the redeemer, works to redeem the work of Lucifer and Ahriman — that is, he turns it to good account.
“The real substance of Christianity, which has already been partially revealed through its teachings, will be explored by those who, in regard to Christ, seek in the spiritual world what Christ is continually revealing in accordance with his words: ‘I am with you always, to the close of the age.’ When what can be conveyed to human beings in the name of Christ from within thus gradually becomes known, then, as a result, what Lucifer and Ahriman did in earthly humanity can more and more be made up for and redeemed.”
This leads Steiner to consider a perplexing problem: Why did the good gods allow Lucifer and Ahriman to interfere?
“This is really a childish question, and it is often raised by people who think themselves cleverer than the cosmic wisdom — and indeed there are many who aspire to such superior cleverness. Such people say, ‘If there are mighty divine beings, could they not have eliminated the luciferic-ahrimanic influence at the beginning of earthly evolution in order to protect their work?’ ... [W]hat has developed through the opposition of Lucifer and Ahriman does not seem absolutely evil to us, but only relatively evil.” 
Steiner argues that disrupting the divine cosmic plan turned out to be good because it enabled us to be free.
If we had simply followed the original plan, we would have made no choices of our own.
But because Lucifer and Ahriman intervened, we have gained freedom of choice — we can go with the good or with the evil. 
Also, Steiner says, because we have been divided into dissimilar races,
following the admonition to love thy neighbor is more difficult but therefore more meaningful.
“Let us assume the original, divine cosmic plan for the earth had been fulfilled ... In that case, a human race of Grecian beauty would have spread over the earth, and in our age we would already see humanity approaching more and more this beautiful Grecian type ... However, human beings would have advanced to this common humanity in unfreedom — that is what we must bear in mind. We would have been compelled to see all human beings everywhere as the same beings. It is only because such an identical form did not develop that all the other things could happen that allow us to see others as different, so that each sees the other as unlike himself and does not love his neighbor as himself ... [I]f Lucifer and Ahriman had not interfered, the feeling that one must love one's neighbor as oneself would necessarily have developed. There would not have been any choice ... [W]e would have loved others because they are our own kind, but without knowing the force that urges us to this love. Thus, what would otherwise have come to us in unfreedom was prepared for freedom through Lucifer and Ahriman's opposition.”
This leads to a paradox. The evil actions of Lucifer and Ahriman actually had a good effect.
Did the good goods foresee or even plan this? Was opposition to the plan actually part of the plan? Yes, Steiner answers.
“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.”
There is no paradox, Steiner asserts, because our earthly standards of judgment do not apply in the higher worlds.
Therefore, Steiner does an abrupt U-turn and acquits Lucifer and Ahriman.
“Most people picture Ahriman and Lucifer as evil beings — albeit much more intensely evil than human beings. But this is not true; we must keep in mind that certain earthly feelings we associate with our concepts lose their meaning when we go beyond the earthly realm. Thus we cannot say that there are good gods on the one hand and the evil gods Ahriman and Lucifer on the other.”
This contradicts what Steiner said on other occasions (e.g., “[W]e are watching the battle waged by the good gods against the evil gods....”) 
It even contradicts what Steiner says later in "The Universal Human".
But to understand Steiner’s message on this occasion, let's overlook the contradiction momentarily.
Steiner argues that the violation of the plan was part of the plan, at least in that it lead to a better outcome than the originally planned outcome.
Through Christ, he says, we can overcome the differences between us.
“For freedom to enter in so that human beings did not develop an unfree love through their outer shape or form, the luciferic and ahrimanic elements had to be part of our evolution ... Externally human beings are becoming more and more different. The result will be not sameness but difference over the earth, and human beings must exert all the more force from within to attain unity. There will always be setbacks in this process of achieving unity ... Human beings form different groups, and while they are struggling for unity all over the world in the name of Christ, through the Christ impulse, differences remain as aftereffects and setbacks ... Christ is our savior who keeps humankind from being fragmented into groups.”
As he often did, Steiner says that true understanding of all this — and especially true understanding of Christ —
can come only through Anthroposophy (which effectively means only through him, Steiner.)
“As we have often emphasized, this Christ impulse can only be fully understood through what spiritual science gives us. It is only when a growing number of people can more and more grasp, think, and feel what actually entered our earthly evolution in the fourth post-Atlantean period that understanding for that event [i.e., Christ’s earthly mission] will increase. “
This is perhaps the high-water mark in the lecture "The Universal Human".
By now, Steiner has almost redeemed his racism by advocating the love of neighbors, even when they are different from ourselves.
He has even suggested redemption of Lucifer and Ahriman, painting a picture of a universe that is almost wholly beneficent
— the actions of “evil” beings turn out to be good, in the end.
But Steiner immediately begins reverting to his earlier formulations.
Lucifer and Ahriman are enemies of Christ, and human diversity is a problem.
“One of the chief tasks of the immediate future is to understand that Christ stands between Lucifer and Ahriman and to grasp his significance in relation to them. Therefore, we must always call Lucifer and Ahriman by their true names — we must call a spade a spade, so to speak — and look to the Christ impulse as the one combating them and saving the earth from this one-sided luciferic-ahrimanic impulse. This is what must be presented more and more often.”
So, Christ is “combating” Lucifer and Ahriman. The bad guys are revealed ones again as bad guys.
Steiner draws attention to a sculpture he designed, which stands in a building he designed:
“That is the meaning of this central statue in our building. Looking at this central figure, people will realize that this is indeed what the good gods had intended. The human race was fragmented, Lucifer and Ahriman made their appearance, but the Christ impulse triumphs and recreates from within, from within us, what was originally intended for the outside. In the process, our freedom is created.”
Christ does not stand between Lucifer and Ahriman as their pal: He is “combating” them, and he “triumphs” over them.
Indeed, anyone who sees the statue must recognize that Lucifer and Ahriman are depicted as evil spirits:
Lucifer is shown upside-down, falling out of heaven, while Ahriman is shown crouching in his cave, glaring upward at Christ. 
“Today, I wanted above all to explain that Christ was that spirit from the cosmos who, in the course of earthly evolution, brought spiritually what was originally intended for our outer form but could not develop externally, because we would then have become automatons of love and equality ... The gods could not simply have sent down Christ at the very beginning of earth evolution, as our naive wisdom might suggest they should have done. For then the antithesis of external fragmentation and inner concentration could never have developed. Humanity, however, must live in this antithesis and polarity. We have the right feelings for Christ only when we see in him the savior, rescuing humanity from dispersion and separateness.
“...We will also have to accept that there will still be many setbacks for this spiritual understanding of the Christ impulse ... There will be many and terrible onslaughts, and, for the most part, their purpose will be to continue the luciferic-ahrimanic war against the Christ impulse.”
Lucifer and Ahriman are at war with Christ. Moreover, human diversity is the hallmark of their influence.
The positive elements in Steiner’s vision cloud over again.
According to Steiner, the only hope is to heed Steiner, who has explained the real meaning of Christ
(He came as our evolutionary prototype to redeem human diversity) as well as the good/evil effects of Lucifer and Ahriman.
“We have to be able to face calmly and courageously the increasing diversity in human nature because we know that we can carry a word into all these diversities that is not merely a word of speech but one of power. Though there may be groups that fight against each other and though we may even belong to one of them, we know that we can bring something that will express: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’ into every group ... We may not yet be able to put our spiritual science into simple words in any language — words that would condense it on a quarter of a page — so that all striving people would understand it, as was done for Christianity when it originated two thousand years ago. Yet, we can be sure that those simple words will contain something of what I said today, something that will direct our attention to the Greco-Roman age, especially to the Mystery of Golgotha during that time, as well as to the contrast or polarity between Christ and Lucifer-Ahriman.”
In fumbling over the nature of Lucifer and Ahriman — and especially over the question whether their actions are part of the divine plan — Steiner was dealing with a paradox that has long troubled theologians. In its more conventional form in Western thought, it may be summarized thus: God, being omniscient, knew that Adam and Eve would sin. In this sense, the Fall of Man was part of God’s plan, preordained from the beginning of time. But why would God plan things this way? If God loves us, why did He allow us to be tempted when He knew we would succumb and sin? Why did God punish us for something He foresaw and could have prevented (by barring Satan from Eden)? Did God plan for Satan to act as he did in Eden? Is Satan, in a sense, God's servant?
The classic Christian defense was given its most famous form by John Milton in PARADISE LOST and PARADISE REGAINED: God created us to be happy, but we sinned, as he knew we would. This ultimately worked for the good, since it lead to Christ’s mission on Earth. A terrible thing happened during that mission: Christ was murdered. But this sin, too, worked out for the good ultimately because Christ redeemed our sins so that we can join Him and His Father in Heaven.
One crucial element in all of this is that the sins of Adam, Eve, and others are recognized as being dreadful misdeeds, even though they are ultimately redeemed. Steiner was unclear on this, but the Bible is not. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, their action was a crime for which God punished them severely. And, of course, the Bible is perfectly clear that Satan's actions were evil and that Satan himself is evil.
Steiner's approach is deeply illogical. Part of the divine cosmic plan is to violate the divine cosmic plan. This is logically impossible — just as, in logic, Lucifer and Ahriman cannot be both evil and not evil.
Steiner recognizes the irrationality of his position, and he celebrates it.
“[L]ogic does not apply when we come into a sphere that can no longer be comprehended by physical means. We finally have to realize that our physical logic works neither in the realm of philosophy nor anywhere else where we concern ourselves with other than physical forms of existence. We must not make the mistake of looking at the opposition of Lucifer and Ahriman as we would at the antagonism between a good and an evil person on earth. This kind of mistake occurs when we continue to carry over the earthly into the super-earthly realm.” — "The Universal Human".
There is much in this statement that we could quarrel with. (For instance, is there any such thing as "physical logic?") But arguing would get us nowhere, since Steiner has declared that logic does not apply. So it is probably better simply to point out that Steiner's position spurning logic is similar to the position taken in various religious traditions, such as Zen. In this sense, we see once again that Anthroposophy is certainly not a science (which requires logic) but a religion.
Returning to the beginning: Is "The Universal Human" a lecture that clears Steiner of the sin of racism? According to this lecture, we were divided into races coexisting on the Earth by a pair of beings who certainly seem to be evil — Lucifer and Ahriman are polar opposites of Christ, whom they combat. The existence of multiple races is distressing to Steiner — he says we must have courage to face this reality. We should love one another — and in this Steiner was surely right. But Steiner clearly associates racial diversity with difficulty, ugliness (races diverging from the Greek ideal), and sin (the action of demons). Human equality should be possible here and now if we affirm racial diversity, accepting that all races are equal. But in Steiner's vision, the path to equality requires that races (which he sees as inherently unequal) must cease to exist — we must pass onto a new stage of evolution when racial diversity will be replaced by "universal" humanity. If this lecture represents Steiner's racial teachings at their best, his racial teachings remain indefensible.
— Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings
For more on Lucifer and Ahriman, see
For more about "universal" humanity, see
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
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
 For this history, see, e.g., "Matters of Form".
 For more on etheric bodies and other parts of our constitution, see, e.g., "What We're Made Of".
 See "Prototype".
 Steiner frequently stated that the higher worlds are beyond ordinary comprehension. "The concepts of 'true' and 'false' are dreadfully barren, prosaic, and formal. The moment we rise to the truths of the spiritual world, we can no longer speak of 'true' and 'false'...." — Rudolf Steiner, DEEPER INSIGHTS INTO EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 1983), p. 29. Possibly the spiritual realm is as strange as Steiner claimed. But then again, quite possibly not. It is hard to resist the temptation to think that Steiner was primarily trying to snow his followers and deflect criticism: Whatever his critics might say would be wrong, since they could not comprehend the subtle mysteries accessible to Steiner. He does not seem to have reflected, however, that he undermined his own claims. He presented himself as being able to comprehend and explain spiritual mysteries — this was, after all, his full-time profession. Yet if nothing in the spirit realm is true or false, or good or evil, then nothing he said about such matters could be true or good (or wrong or evil). All of his words, by these standards, must be empty.
 We might ask how much "freedom" we really gain, under this scheme. We may choose the wrong path, but since this leads to damnation or at least evolutionary backwardness, why would we? There is only one good option; we are not free to choose among a range of good options. [See "Freedom". Steiner sometimes said there are three paths upward, but they boil down to a single option: Anthroposophy. See "Rosy Cross".]
 Rudolf Steiner, KARMIC RELATIONSHIPS, Vol. 2 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1956), p. 251.
Steiner often spoke of evil beings in the spirit realm, as well as battles and wars fought between various spiritual powers, the good (such as Michael) against the evil (such as Ahriman).
 For a sketch of the statue, see "Manifestations".
Steiner contradicted himself quite often, and he does so within this lecture. He indicates that Lucifer and Ahriman violated the divine cosmic plan — hardly virtuous; but then he says that Lucifer and Ahriman cannot be considered evil; but then he says that they are opposed to Christ and indeed are engaged in battle with Him. Fighting against the divine, especially fighting against Christ, is the very epitome of evil, surely — unless we agree that "evil" is an empty concept. But Steiner spoke often of evil; he knew it to be a real category; without the concept of evil, there can be no morality. "The evil astral world is the province of Lucifer, the evil Lower Devachan the province of Ahriman, and the evil Higher Devachan the province of the Asuras." — Rudolf Steiner, THE ETHERISATION OF THE BLOOD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1971), GA 130. Steiner's statements about evil, in "The Universal Human", simply don't stand up. For more on this, see, e.g., "Evil Ones" and "Sin".