Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Anthroposophy, Nazism, and other bad ideas

Last Friday I discussed the revelations about racist ideas and practices at a Te Ra Steiner school on the Kapiti Coast, and also noted the openly racist statements that two Steiner educators, Colin Rawle and Allysen Caris, have made in the New Zealand media. A number of readers have responded to the post by informing me of racist texts produced by other teachers who are members of the Anthropsophical movement that Steiner founded. I'll be posting examples from these texts on the internet, and also passing them on to the parents and teachers who exposed the racism at Te Ra.

I've had a number of more or less amicable discussions on social media with parents and educators alarmed by the crisis in Steiner schools. Here are a couple of excerpts from comments I've made on facebook.

Nazism and Anthroposophy

There are very obvious similarities between the worldviews of Rudolf Steiner and Adolf Hitler. Both Steiner and Hitler insisted that humanity is divided into mutually antagonistic races, and maintained that some races were destined to usurp and exterminate their rivals. Both Steiner and Hitler were grotesquely fascinated by the conquest and near-extermination of indigenous peoples like the American Indians by European imperialist powers, and saw this process not as an evil but as the working out of a natural process.

During the discussions I've had with them on facebook, Steiner's followers have often countered suggestions of a parallel with Hitlerism by claiming that the Nazis persecuted Anthroposophists, and by suggesting that German followers of Steiner came to New Zealand and promoted liberal, anti-racist ideas here after World War Two. But scholarly research shows that this sort of defence doesn't fit with the facts.

Peter Staudenmaier's book Between Occultism and Nazism: Anthroposophy and the Politics of Race in the Fascist Era, which was published last year, examines the relationship between Hitler's regime and the Steiner movement in great detail. Staudenmaier, who is a professor of history at Marquette University in Milwaukee with a PhD from Cornell, reveals that the Nazis encouraged rather than banned Steiner schools, and also supported Steiner's theory of biodynamic farming. Steiner's books were, Staudenmaier says, popular amongst senior Nazis.

Staudenmaier wrote his book after extended doctoral researches in the archives of Europe, and he is able to display many pieces of primary evidence in support of his arguments. He shows off, for example, a friendly letter that the German Anthroposophical Society sent to Hitler in 1934. The letter pointed out the similarities between Steiner's and Hitler's ideas about race, and passed on the Anthroposophical Society's best wishes to the Fuhrer.

Some devotees of Steiner have responded to Between Occultism and Nazism by accusing Staudenmaier of systematically falsifying documents, and of being part of an elaborate conspiracy designed to tarnish Anthroposophy. I think Staudenmaier's supervisors at Cornell University and his publishers at Brill probably have better things to do with their time.

In a Masters thesis that was recently published on the website of Massey University, Garth Turbott documents the early decades of the Anthroposophical movement in New Zealand. Although Turbott writes sympathetically about Steiner and Anthroposophy, his narrative cannot help but show the influence of race-based thinking on some of Steiner's first followers in New Zealand.

Turbott shows that the Anthroposophical Society headquarters in Havelock North sheltered, before and just after World War Two, a disciple of Steiner's named Alfred Meebold, who believed fanatically that the German people were superior to all others, and represented the highest point yet obtained in spiritual evolution. There were uncomfortable similarities between these views and those of the man who tore Europe apart and gassed millions of Jews.

Dismayed by the ideology being propounded in Havelock North, other followers of Steiner founded their own small groups, which put forward much more liberal, cosmopolitan ideas. A group of Steiner admirers in Auckland was led by Ernst Reizenstein, a Jewish escapee from a Nazi concentration camp, who hung out with cultural movers and shakers in Auckland like the writers Frank Sargeson and ARD Fairburn, bought tapa for the walls of his flat, and tried to learn the Maori language. Reizenstein sounds like the complete opposite of Meebold, and it is a delight to read about his escape from Nazism and his culturally adventurous life in Auckland.

Sadly, as Turbott's narrative shows, the Havelock North Teutophiles were endorsed as the official representatives of Steiner's thought in New Zealand.

Who's teaching philosophy at Michael Park School?

A lot of advocates of Steiner schools argue that the era when those schools were tools for promoting a quasi-religious cult of Steiner is over. Auckland's Michael Park Steiner School has issued a statement distancing itself from racist ideas, and has assured parents of its students that its commitment to rationality and secularism.

When I visited Michael Park during its 2012 open day, though, I encountered some evidence of an unhealthy attitude towards Steiner.

In one corner of a room where samples of students' work was laid out, a small number of essays written by students in Michael Park's philosophy class were displayed. All of the essays discussed Rudolf Steiner, and all of them characterised him as one of the great philosophers, if not the great philosopher, of the twentieth century.

Whoever was teaching philosophy at Michael Park in 2012 failed his or her students in at least two ways. In the first place, and most basically, the teacher failed to instruct the students about what philosophy is and isn't. Steiner is not and never will be considered a philosopher, because he doesn't use reason, which is the basic tool of philosophers.
Steiner relied on flights of imagination and alleged visits from supernatural deities for his ideas. This isn't in itself a bad thing - after all, William Blake, one of the greatest poets and artists of all time, also relied for his ideas on angels and dreams. But nobody would call Blake a philosopher, and nobody should teach Steiner in a philosophy course, let alone lead students to believe he was one of the most influential philosophers of his time.

If any of Michael Park's philosophy students continue to pursue the subject at university, then they will search in vain for Steiner's name on their reading lists. The University of Auckland's philosophy department teaches several papers on German-language philosophers, but Steiner's accounts of astral journeys to Mars and to the core of the earth and his conversations with the Archangel Gabriel don't find a place alongside the intricate arguments of Kant and Hegel.

Michael Park's philosophy teacher also failed his or her students by not getting them to, or perhaps not letting them, think critically. There was not one single critical remark about Steiner in any of the essays that the school had displayed. They read like the hagiographies of medieval saints, listing one of Steiner's virtues after another. When I looked through those essays I had the queasy feeling that I was viewing the results of quasi-religious indoctrination. If Michael Park wants to leave the racist religion of Anthroposophy behind, then it may have some work to do.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Anonymous Anonymous said...


1:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

6:34 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I think in a wider sense Steiner could actually be said to be a philosopher: more to the point is that, when I studied philosophy, everything was questioned or challenged (unlike what seems to be the view of Steiner expressed) and I doubt that anyone 'pushed' one philosopher. In practice there is a division as you know between say Heidegger et al and the Logical Positivists etc

Logic and reason are important of course but Blake did use logic and reason.

The trouble with Hitler's and many others of his ilk (and they are still everywhere) is the uncritical thinking: the lack of analytical skepticism. Religion though is connected to philosophy as is sociology. I haven't read anything by Steiner.

The Nazis were philosophers (in fact Goebbels was a trained philosopher and Heidegger who joined the Nazi Party was a very important philosopher who influenced Sartre although probably not A J Ayer much.)

The Nazi philosophy, in various degrees and forms is prevalent throughout the world and racist theories and ways of thinking were common even among more "enlightened" people. There philosophy is a theory a progress, evolution. It starts from that, is based on a kind of logic (the survival of the fittest which is how evolution works).

But they obviously then took giant leaps in the wrong directions.

Various religious people seem to do that - even Richard Dawkins does, he is scientist and a philosopher (even novelists are philosophers and Blake certainly WAS a philosopher, his writings are philosophic as well as mystical etc, when I was at Micheal Park one day (I went a few times) a student asked us about the Zoas and all that stuff in Blake, but I've never read it: and there were good things about that school I think, but I was only there briefly).

Richard Dawkins (who is a great writer and thinker on evolution whose books I like a lot) assumes, wrongly, that a non-proof of God means there is no God. This doesn't work, it is a philosophy, but flawed. Similarly to assume there is a God because of (certain logical arguments, is a failed project): there is no way anyone can have knowledge of such things all they can have is a very strong belief (perhaps through some kind of revelation or insight).

However this position is rarely held by anyone but it is paradoxically (I think) a result of logical (and critical) thinking about what constitutes knowledge!

Just some comments - to say that their methods of study are not critical is more important, to argue into what is philosophy will bring everything to halt as philosophic people and others argue that reason itself, while obviously a big part, is not all. Schopenhauer (as an example) was pretty much out on a kind of limb but Russell takes him seriously in his book about philosophy. Berkley employed great thinking but came up with some strange results that are hard to refute (he was one of the few to make very strong and (near) valid criticisms of Newton's fluxions (calculus) or 'infinitesimals' as he called them, his objections were taken seriously), as did Hulme, hence Kant's struggle to reconcile a priori and a posteriori thinking. (Kant also developed an astronomical theory of the Universe that was valid or consonant with some of the modern theories of cosmology).

But the point re very wary, critical thinking is essential. Nothing and no one is immune from that.

12:34 am  
Blogger BecomingJohn said...

Our world is full of mis-information today. People making passionate statements out of ignorance. Many fear the philosophy of Steiner because he claims we can make a science of the spiritual. But this claim was the norm up to the 15th century when materialism began to separate Art, Science, and Religion. Today a scientist must stick to the lifeless world to obtain tenure. Leave soul to Art and spirit to Religion. Silly and arrogant.
When making sweeping criticism, please cite the passages of Steiner where you claim he has made racist comments. All this has already gone through the wringer in the USA by the Steiner-haters. It was proven in USA courts that not only was Steiner not a racist, he was a visionary for equality - way ahead of his time for gender equality for example. What has confused those who dabbled in Steiner to find something suitable for attacks is the use of the word "race" in the context of evolution. Read Steiner and see for yourself - there is no racism, rather the opposite.

6:29 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Even key advocates of Steiner education have conceded that their hero made racist statements, John.
It's very hard to deny the numerous texts in which Steiner talks about a hierarchy of races, characterised darker skinned races in negative ways, and claims that the extinction of lower races like the American Indians is inevitable.

Here's a quote from Steiner's text 'The Being of Man and His Future Evolution' (pgs 116-117):

Reds and blacks descend from abnormal humans and have not participated in the evolution led by whites:
“[I]t was the normal human beings that were ... the most capable of evolving. [Abnormal] peoples whose ego
impulse was developed too strongly ... became ... the Red Indians of America.[Likewise, the abnormal]
people whose ego-feeling was too little developed ... became the subsequent Negro population of Africa ...
The human beings who had developed normally [i.e., ancestors of whites] lent themselves best to

In her recent letter defending Steiner education in New Zealand, Rosie Simpson, the spokesperson for Steiner teachers here, admitted that some of Steiner's ideas about race have no place in the modern world.

Te Ra Steiner school, which has been the focus of a Ministry of Education investigation, has also acknowledged and distanced itself from Steiner's statements about race:

If you are claiming that there is no trace of racism in Steiner's oeuvre, then, you are staking otu a lonely position.

You seem to believe that scholars who have documented Steiner's racism and the links between his movement and Hitler are 'Steiner haters' who have no evidence for their arguments. Is this really a credible response to Peter Staudenmaier's book, which quotes at length from numerous primary documents, like the correspondence between the Steiner schools movement and the Nazi regime?

Unless you think that Staudenmaier somehow invented these documents and placed them in the archives he visited, then I'm not sure how you can dismiss him. It seems to me that if Staudenmaier's mass of primary documents can't convicne hardcore Anthroposophists of their movement's connections with Nazism, then nothing will.

But of course it's very hard to argue with people who have a religious commitment to their version of history.

9:06 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

I'd be interested, by the way, to read about the purported court case that proved Steiner innocent of racism. I've done a google and I can't find any information about such a case. Until I see some evidence I'll treat your claim with scepticism.

9:10 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

4:52 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

That'a an interesting link anon. Clearly Steiner thinking is linked to the volkish theories - there were many including Heidegger who sound and they still exist who in fact sound like the Greens - the Nazi movement gained alot of its energy from 'ecological' theorising based on dubious science, eugenics, Darwinian theories etc - Rudolf Hess converted on racist German to Anthroposophy.

There are clear links in Steiner's writings which are seen to be clearly racist. Many associated deny the Holocaust and see both wars as a spiritual war against Germany. Many of these Greens are opposed to immigration and want a pure Teutonic race free of miscegenation.

The Nazis were very enthusiastic for the "blood and soil" movement to protect their environment (Hitler loved animals, and was a vegetarian, and this is not accidental: as well as this the Steiner-Nazi-German Nationalist theories were also against abortion or race mixing and believed that the inferior races would die out, to this day they are still anti-immigration: many see no wrong done by the wars and the whole things a continuation of the struggle for the Ayryan master race - despite the fact that there is no such thing as an 'Ayran race') and agreed with Steiner that only they were capable of higher reason etc but didn't (paradoxically) need the "enlightenment" as they could intuit more deeply.

Fascinating what lurks in a lot of these 'green' ideas - organic farming, for example (which by and large is a load of cobblers) was a great enthusiasm for many of the early volikischer enthusiasts...

9:18 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Here is only a part of the stuff by these writers, which is wide ranging:

Anthroposophy and the World League for the Protection of Life

Political parties like these have an assortment of ‘Old’ Right — that is, Nazi — connections upon which they may draw in their search for ‘ecological’ modernization. One such connection is the World League for the Protection of Life (Weltbund Schutz des Lebens, or WSL). This group is not without a certain general appeal in the Federal Republic, since its outlook is based on Anthroposophy, a body of occult ideas formulated earlier in this century by Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925). Steiner, the leading German figure in the nineteenth-century esoteric ‘wisdom’ cult Theosophy, founded the German Theosophical Society; he went on to found his own doctrine, Anthroposophy, and the Anthroposophical Society thereafter. He wrote many books on his occult spiritualistic philosophy.

Anthroposophy holds a particular attraction in the German counterculture today, as it did in the völkisch movement of the 1920s. The Waldorf Schools, for example, were founded on Steiner’s educational principles and are respectable in many German and American countercultural circles. (There are more than sixty in the Federal Republic today.) Founded by Steiner in 1920, they provide children with an alternative, reformed education, one that is free from aggression and from pressures to achieve, one that places emphasis on the musical aspects of life and on feelings over understanding. Steiner is also the founder of biodynamic farming, a form of organic agriculture that does without pesticides and tries to foster a more organic relationship between cultivator and soil. Biodynamic agriculturists today produce a line of organic foods under the brand name Demeter and a line of cosmetics under the name Weleda. Many people have been and continue to be innocently attracted to these efforts and to Anthroposophy without any notion of the less savory aspects of Steiner’s work.

Yet not all of Steiner’s beliefs were benignly ecospiritual. For one thing, Anthroposophy classifies humanity into ‘root races’ in an esoteric evolutionary theory. [92] Building on a similar doctrine in Theosophy, the root-race theory is integral to Anthroposophy’s cosmology. According to this doctrine, a series of root races of human beings evolved sequentially over the millennia, each superior to the ones that preceded it, each with a higher level of development of self-consciousness. The first two root races, the Polar and Hyperborean, were ‘astral-etheric’; they are now extinct — the evolutionary process superseded them. The next people to evolve were a bit higher, but they were still half animal, purely instinctive, lacking the capacity for conceptual thought and memory. The fourth root race finally began to be recognizably human; finally came the Atlantans, to which Europeans belong. The European whites, as the most highly developed so far, are at the summit of the hierarchical scale of humanity; they have brought everything that is good to humanity, since they “are the only ones who have developed humanity within themselves.” [93]

9:28 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

These various races have been mostly killed off in various catastrophes of one kind or another, after which only certain people — presumably the fittest — survived; “in the case of the inferior kinds of human beings,” wrote Steiner, “... the life body was not sufficiently protected to enable it to withstand the Luciferic influence.” [94] There are numerous subdivisions within these basic root races. Blacks, for example, must live in Africa, we learn, a land of much heat and light; blacks soak up this heat and light, and their brains are specially constructed to process it; their supposed highly instinctual nature results from all this processing.

And since the sun, light, and heat are retained in his epidermis, [the black’s] whole metabolism proceeds as if he were being cooked inside himself by the sun. From this results his instinctive life. Within the black, he is continuously being cooked, and what stokes this fire is his posterior brain. [95]

Once blacks emigrate out of Africa, the balance of light and heat is different, and therefore they will die out — “they are in fact a declining race, they will die out of their own nature, since they are receiving too little light and heat.” [96] Such a theory would justify accelerating the extinction of races since they are presumably going to die off anyway. In the future, wrote Steiner in 1909, certain people who have not reached a “high level of development” will incline toward evil: “The laggard souls will have accumulated in their karma so much error, ugliness, and evil that there will form, for the time being, a special union of evil and aberrant human beings who voluntarily oppose the community of good men.” [97]

Perhaps this root-race theory was what appealed to Rudolf Hess about Anthroposophy, for he became an Anthroposophist. As Ditfurth points out, “The root-race ideology of the Theosophists and the Anthroposophists melded seamlessly into the National Socialist idea of the purity of the ‘Aryan race.’” [98] Certainly Steiner’s ideas on biodynamic farming influenced some National Socialists. Anthroposophical ideas are eminently usable by ecofascists today, and there is a strong right wing within the Anthroposophists that is closely connected with the ultra-right. Author Günther Bartsch is an Anthroposophist who is also a National Revolutionary of the Solidarist variety; the author of an adulatory 1989 biography of Otto Strasser, he attempts in his publications to synthesize ecological themes based on Steiner’s ideas with Strasser’s political ideas. [99] It should be noted that Anthroposophy is also well funded by huge multinational corporations like Siemens and Bertelsmann. [100]

Among the ultra-right adherents of Anthroposophy today are officials of the World League for the Protection of Life (WSL), a small but influential and very wealthy environmental organization in the Federal Republic. The garden at its educational center is cultivated according to biodynamic methods, and visitors are served organic refreshments. Yet this organization was founded in 1958 by former members of the National Socialist party, and today it links protection of ‘life’ (that is, ‘right-to-life’) themes and the environment with racism and a revival of völkisch ideology. The ‘life’ it is most interested in protecting is of course German ‘life’; thus the WSL is rabidly anti-abortion, believing that German women should be devoted to giving birth to ‘Aryan’ babies.

9:29 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

The spiritual leader of the WSL and its key figure for most of its history has been Werner Georg Haverbeck. Born in 1909, Haverbeck became an active Nazi at an early age; it should be recalled that Nazism was largely a youth movement, so that members like Haverbeck are still alive. [101] Haverbeck joined the SA in 1928 and from 1929 to 1932 was a member of the Reich Administration for the National Socialist Student League (Reichsleitung der NSDAP-Studentenschaft) and a leader of the Reich Youth Leadership of the Hitler Youth (Reichjugendführung der Hitlerjugend). He served as a leading official of the Strength Through Joy organization, which controlled recreational activities under the Third Reich; in 1933 Rudolf Hess saw to it that Haverbeck’s passport was stamped “This man is not to be arrested.” He survived the Röhm purge to help organize the Nuremberg Party Congress and join Hess’s staff. It was Hess who converted him to Anthroposophy. During the war he conducted radio propaganda in Denmark and worked in South America; by the end of the war he was an officer.

9:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It doesn't make pleasant reading, does it?

8:49 am  
Blogger Richard said...

It is interesting. This is not confined to Nazi Germany. The point is to understand how these things come about: I can see, in fact, what attracted many people to Nazism and in fact Zionism. Many of these things start from, say, nationalism, which up to a point, is very natural and common. Taken to extremes it is a problem.

Zionism arises in part as a reaction to perhaps one thousand years of repression etc and people who feel they are under a threat as people react in ways that unite them. Hence, in a way, Nazism are just (or can be) more extreme forms of say the impulse that drove the US revolution against the British or in fact there are parallels with British colonialism. if you could see a kind of "movie" of all history, the colonization by the Europeans, seen more or less in totum, would look like the Holocaust.

Something like that. It makes me think more about the dangers of fixed thinking.

Racism is widespread in the world and is not confined to these things. I would say that most of the wonderful working class have some kind of racism: it intensifies when workers and small business people compete for work etc

The situation in NZ is not so good, nor is that of Australia, who in fact have a concentration camp similar to Guantanamo. It is so bad that some inmates have written asking for petrol so they can burn themselves to death...

So all is not well in the State of Denmark.

4:54 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some Satanic effects here

5:29 pm  
OpenID blackcrayons said...

Anyone interested in Steiner's writings should check out the Rudolf Steiner Archive online, maintained by the Steiner estate.

I have some Google starter-searches that link to probably a mountain of Steiner writings on Africans, Asians, American Indians, Jews, his occult theories, and much more. But you can use this method to search the archive on any topic.

Start with these:

5:22 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You say that the book mentions a "letter that the German Anthroposophical Society sent to Hitler in 1934"

I'd really like to find a first source for this particular letter. However the best I can find by looking for credible source is that it was a letter from "1934 letter .. [from] .. a party member and parent from the school".

I haven't got the actual book however. Do you have a copy of the book can you verify if the letter in question is from a parent or from the anthroposophy society itself.

The best I could find on the internet was point 2 here:

In a 1934 letter to a Nazi party liaison office concerning the Stuttgart Waldorf school, a party member and parent from the school declared that Waldorf education from the beginning had pursued “exactly what we National Socialists strive for,” and insisted that the Führer himself would surely intercede on behalf of the school if he were made aware of the situation. Invoking the Waldorf schools’ contribution to the “new Germany,” this Waldorf parent, Adolf Karcher, maintained that his views were shared by all of the parents at the Stuttgart Waldorf school. (Adolf Karcher, Stuttgart, to Verbindungsstab der NSDAP, March 16, 1934). Karcher’s son attended the Stuttgart Waldorf school, and had been a pupil there for seven years at this point. His letter combined anthroposophical and Nazi terminology...”

But it is not a first source.

5:04 pm  
Blogger Tom Mellett said...

The reason you are not able to find the letter that the Anthroposophical Society sent to Adolf Hitler in 1934 is because the letter was sent in 1935.

I have made a full English translation of that letter and it appears here on the Waldorf Critics Yahoo group. As well, I appended the original German text.

11:55 am  

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