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73) [Woody and the Demons]
“Woodrow Wilson...describes things magnificently [in his writings], but as though he is possessed by subconscious influences. There is a quality of demonic possession in his writings.” — Rudolf Steiner, HOW DO I FIND THE CHRIST? (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2006), pp. 45-46.
Background: Woodrow Wilson, a scholar and former president of Princeton University, was 28th President of the United States. In 1917, he led the US into World War I, against Germany. He set forth a 14-point plan for peace, was influential at the Versailles peace conference, helped found the League of Nations, and in 1919 won the Noble Peace Prize.
According to Steiner, Wilson was possessed by demons; he could not think; he was a plagiarist; he was a pedant, an idol, a secret king, the reincarnation of a Muslim warlord, a typical Westerner, a spiritual giraffe, and other not-nice stuff.
74) [Woody, Vlad, and Ahriman]
Note: Ahriman is one of the arch-demons in Anthroposophical belief; Ahrimanic forces are Ahriman's foul influences and powers. [See, e.g, Ahriman and Evil Ones.] Here, Steiner explains that Woodrow Wilson and Vladimir Lenin (leader of the Communist revolution in Russia) were conduits for Ahriman to send his dire influences down to Earth.
75) [Woody the Nincompoop]
76) [Woody the Schoolmaster Idol]
77) [Woody the Abstract Thinker]
For Steiner, abstract thinking — intellectual thinking —was the worst. Steiner said that real knowledge comes from clairvoyance, and true thoughts are "living thoughts" — ideas implanted in us in our spiritual lives before birth on Earth. [See "Clairvoyance" and "Thinking".] Woodrow Wilson, Steiner alleged, epitomized all that is wrong with modern thought and life.
78) [The Real Woody]
79) [King Woody the Plagiarist]
80) [Woody's Long Neck]
81) [Empty Woody and Modern Decline]
What in the world did Rudolf Steiner have against poor Woodrow Wilson? And what, if anything, can this tell us about Steiner?
Wilson was, we must acknowledge, easy to dislike. A self-righteous moralist, he presented himself to the world as both a political and a spiritual authority. Steiner probably disliked Wilson from the moment he caught wind of him. But Steiner's aversion to Wilson certainly increased manyfold after the First World War erupted in 1914. From Steiner's perspective, Wilson committed unforgivable sins. Wilson refused to acknowledge the justice of German's war aims; he failed to accept or comprehend the glorious German national mission and spirit. Almost from the moment the war began in Europe, Wilson betrayed an unspoken bias in favor of Great Britain. And, eventually, as US President, Wilson led America into war as an ally of Great Britain — he pitted the material wealth and might of the USA against Steiner’s beloved Germany. Worse yet — far worse — at the end of the war, Wilson presided over the drafting of a peace treaty that severely punished Germany. Steiner could not forgive Wilson's many sins. (Wilson had promulgated high-minded principles for a just peace. He was hailed by multitudes, all around the world, as a prophet of peace and justice. Germany surrendered in the expectation that Wilson's principles — the famous Fourteen Points — would guide the armistice negotiations. They did not.)
Steiner was very much a man of his time and place. An ardent German nationalist, he took his nation's affairs to heart. [See "Steiner and the Warlord".] He was, at least occasionally, chauvinistic, small-minded, and vindictive — like most of us, in our own ways, in our own lands. And that’s the point. Steiner was like everyone else. He was just a joe, a guy, an hombre. He pretended to be far more, and some people believed him. Anthroposophists treated Steiner the way Steiner said foolish masses treated Wilson: as an idol, a hero, a spiritual savant, a savior.
Steiner despised Wilson; he was furious with Wilson; and evidently he was jealous of Wilson. He doubtless saw Wilson as, in sense, a rival. Steiner and Wilson were much alike, in their dissimilar ways. Self-appointed demigods (as it were), paragons in their own eyes, they were actually deeply flawed individuals — well-meaning, perhaps; idealistic, perhaps; but flawed. Wilson was not the great spiritual champion he mistook himself for. And Steiner was not the great spiritual exemplar he pretended to be. Steiner he was just a guy, just one of the self-important lads, one of the era's would-be movers and shakers. He was a fellow who happened to tell a lot of lies and make many, many amazingly loony statements. He was, in other words, something of a fool — like everyone else, more or less, only perhaps a bit more so. (Most guys don't create phony religions, prescribe quack forms of medicine, promulgate loopy agricultural practices, and the like. Steiner did. Even Wilson didn't go that far off the rails. Steiner did.)
This is an important insight we need to bear in mind. Steiner was just like everyone else, despite his claims. He was worse than most folks, in some ways: He was an Elmer Gantry, a Marjoe, a Jim Bakker. A fake. A fraud. A pretender. But, fundamentally, he was just a guy. And he saw Woody as an appalling competitor for the slot of top banana, the glorious would-be savior of modern mankind.
And here’s another important insight we can gain. Begging your indulgence, I will now return to quote #73, above, and spin it out at greater length. I think you’ll find it illuminating. Comparing the work of Herman Grimm, a German, and Woodrow Wilson, the demonic American, Steiner said:
In this odd little passage about an odd little subject — the writing styles of Hermann Grimm and Woodrow Wilson — we find Steiner’s entire epistemological method. And we find its unintentional self-refutation. Steiner did not look at things, he tried to look through them to their spiritual essence. But this amounted to projecting his own preferences, wishes, and biases, and then mistaking those projections for objective reality. Grimm and Wilson used virtually the same words, yet Steiner found the results completely different. Grimm good, Wilson bad.
“When two people say the same thing, they are in fact saying something different.” Actually, no. When two people say the same thing, they say the same thing. I don’t want to be frivolous. Of course, slight differences in wording can make large differences. And context can change our understanding. When two people say almost the same thing, in almost the same words, they may actually be saying quite different things. Thus, I would stipulate that Hitler’s celebrations of the German soul were different from the similar celebrations expressed by Steiner. But such differences do not stem from spiritual “realities” ascertainable only by clairvoyance. They are real, verifiable, rationally comprehensible differences that can be discerned in the statements themselves, especially when these are read in the context of the authors' other statements. So, when two people say things that are similar but not precisely the same, their meanings may be significantly different. But when two people say precisely the same thing in precisely the same words, their meanings are the same — identical statements have identical denotations.
Steiner loved Grimm’s work and he found Wilson’s “alien and distasteful.” Quite clearly, considering the context provided by the other quotations I have given, we can see that Steiner felt a deep-seated hostility toward Wilson, at least in part for geopolitical reasons. This had nothing to do with the quality of Wilson’s “soul” (which Steiner, just a guy like the rest of us, could not directly observe); nor did it have to do with any demons inhabiting Wilson’s soul (beings that Steiner, just a guy like the rest of us, could not directly observe — in part because such beings probably do not exist anywhere, inside or outside anyone’s soul). Rather, it is quite clear that Steiner merely projected his beliefs and biases onto the words of Grimm and Wilson. When Grimm said "X," Steiner liked it and embraced it. When Wilson said precisely the same "X," Steiner felt like barfing.
Try an experiment. This is one of the mental exercises I devised for myself when working to undo the occultist conditioning I’d received in a Waldorf school. Look at a photograph and “feel” the qualities in it. For example, look at a photo of an attractive young woman with long, blonde, wavy hair. Now, tell yourself that the woman is German. You may quickly convince yourself that, indeed, only a German would look just like that — an Aryan sort of look, a set of qualities that are distinctly Germanic. Then, without even taking your eyes from the photo, tell yourself a different story: This woman is American, a "California girl," a surfing beach bunny. Yes, yes. You will quickly see that she is a West Coast dream date, unmistakably American. Next, still keeping your eyes glued to the photo, tell yourself that the woman is Russian, a Slav. Of course, distinctly so! Where else but in Moscow or Leningrad could one meet such an ice princess — those cold eyes, those almost Asiatic lips, that wrinkled wintry hair?
I still do this exercise from time to time, and I still find that I can “feel” the differences, the deep “spiritual” truths, within a photo, and I can change them at will, instantly. This is what we humans do all the time. We imagine, we invent, and we tell ourselves that our imagined inventions are real. This is what Steiner did. And it is what we all have to stop doing if we are ever to be rational, and stop hating each other for no reason, and stop following Elmer Gantrys like Steiner.
By the way: I should clarify that I am no fan of Woodrow Wilson. There are many reasons to criticize Wilson. But they are not the imagined spiritual reasons Steiner gave (Ahriman, demons, reincarnation...), nor can they be found in Steiner’s nationalistic rancor.
And, not so much by the way: Notice how Steiner’s “spiritual insight,” fueled by his nationalism, quickly lapses over into racism and horror: Asians are this, Westerners are that; and therefore, in view of such profound racial differences, we face an imminent "great spiritual battle between East and West.” Look again at quotation #81, please, in which Steiner forecasts a war between East and West. He predicted this war on other occasions, as well, and sometimes he couched the forecast in clearly racial terms.:
No. We must not have any such war. The concept is horrible; it is evil. And to the degree that Steiner preached such bile, his doctrines are evil.
P.S. Back to Herman Grimm and Woodrow Wilson and their identical but completely different words:
84) [Herm & Woody] “I have drawn attention to the same point — how surprising it is to compare the essays on Historic Method by Hermann Grimm, who stood so fully within the German mid-European culture of the nineteenth century, with essays on the same subject by Woodrow Wilson ... [I]t is possible to take over certain sentences from Woodrow Wilson and insert them bodily in Hermann Grimm's essays, for they are almost word-for-word identical with sentences in Hermann Grimm ... The difference is this: in Hermann Grimm, everything — even passages with which one cannot agree — has been struggled for, it has been conquered step by step, sentence by sentence. In Woodrow Wilson, on the other hand, it is as though his own inner demon, by which he is possessed in his subconsciousness, had instilled it all into his consciousness ... In our period of civilisation it is even possible for a Professor [i.e., Wilson], dabbling in politics, to write on an important matter something that agrees word-for-word with that which springs from a knowledge of realities; but the word-for-word agreement is not the point. What matters is the region of the human soul [sic; emphasis by Steiner] from which things spring. We must look through the words of speech to the region whence things derive.” — Rudolf Steiner, “Evil and the Future of Man” (THE GOLDEN BLADE, 1985), GA 185.
Perhaps we should look into one another’s souls. But we cannot. And no amount of pretending will change this. We need to try hard to understand one another, but we must do this rationally, on the basis of knowledge and good will, not occult imaginings.`
president of Princeton University
President of the United States.