Peter Selg: Letter to the editor of Die Zeit

Peter Selg: Letter to the editor of Die Zeit

10 September 2020 Peter Selg 3927 views

Annika Brockschmidt claims in an article in ‹Die Zeit› (1) that a racist core of thought runs through Rudolf Steiner's anthroposophical work, and states that until the prohibition of the Anthroposophical Society in November 1935, the anthroposophists had been united with the National Socialists in a ‘common cause’ and had rejected the Weimar Republic, democracy, pluralism and parliamentarism. These assertions are unfounded, indeed completely absurd. They reveal a blatant ignorance of anthroposophy and of the historical and scientific literature on these issues.(2)


Annika Brockschmidt assumes that anthroposophists have little willingness to work through these matters, indeed they display a ‘radically ahistorical’ way of thinking – obviously without ever having taken into account the relevant historical studies, which are available in no small number. These studies demonstrate in detail how intensively Steiner spoke out after 1918, over a period of seven years until his death in 1925, in favour of building a free and pluralistic parliamentary democracy and against all nationalist, racist, anti-Semitic and ‘eugenic’ thinking – and how much he was targeted by right-wing forces and groups as a result,(3) (‘That is something terrible, how people today strive to penetrate race and peoples and how they want to bury all cosmopolitanism’, Steiner said in one of his last lectures, on September 18, 1924.(4))

It is true that Rudolf Steiner considered the success of a parliamentary democracy between 1918 and 1925 to be dependent on fundamental social reform, on an disentanglement of the greatest influential factors of politics, economics and spiritual/cultural life, and made conceptual proposals for this (‘the threefold social organism’), which to this day seem innovative and interesting, by no means only to anthroposophists.(5) In this respect, he did not share the parliamentary and legal euphoria of 1919, which believed democratization could be quickly and successfully implemented. Rather, he pleaded for a reappraisal of fundamental social and societal problems. The rapid collapse of the postwar democracies had been built in haste according to Woodrow Wilson’s proposals, described in detail by modern historical research. From today's perspective, the disastrous shift to the right in many states, the return to authoritarian and ultimately totalitarian systems(6), support Steiner's analyses of the problems to be correct. It is grotesque to place him, because of his early, critical and far-sighted assessment, in the right-wing, nationalist and nationalist opponents of the Weimar Republic camp, who demonstrably opposed him.(7)

If one does not fall prey to Brockschmidt's assertions about the lack of willingness to come to terms with history and ‘radical ahistorical thinking’, one realizes that Rudolf Steiner not only had an extremely clear view of the precarious socio-political situation after the First World War, but also developed and launched exemplary models for the future with the Free Waldorf School movement, a spiritual-scientifically enhanced medical approach and an initiative for a threefold social organization of society. Historical analyses and analyses based on history of ideas show in great detail to what extent these civil society models were a real response to the situation of the times and the impending totalitarian dangers. They did not play into their hands at all, as Ms Brockschmidt evokes (‘common cause’), but were elaborated in clear engagement with the concrete dangers in education, medicine and society and were begun with great commitment and courage.(8) ‘Today's policies and political activity treat people like pawns. More than ever before, attempts will be made to use people like cogs in a wheel. People will be handled like puppets on a string, and everyone will think that this represents the greatest progress imaginable’, Steiner said to the teaching staff before the opening of the first Waldorf School.(9) Additionally Herbert Hahn said, ‘This school, as it exists like this, will withstand every tug to the left, but not a decisive jolt to the right.’(10)

In view of the author’s limited knowledge, it does not seem to make much sense discussing further historical aspects in her article. However, it has long been extensively demonstrated in secondary literature that anthroposophical spiritual science is not based on Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, nor on theosophical ‘root race’ teachings, from which Steiner distanced himself with increasing decisiveness. Ms Brockschmidt is obviously also unaware of the results of a Dutch commission of experts under the leadership of human rights expert Ted A. van Baarda, which investigated Steiner’s work at the end of the 1990s and at the end, clearly rejected the accusation of racism against Steiner and anthroposophy.(11) According to the commission’s report there are sixteen passages in Rudolf Steiner’s work, covering 89,000 printed pages, which, in themselves and from today’s perspective, would have to be described as discriminatory.(12) Racism or even a systematic racial doctrine is not to be found in Steiner’s work, according to the commission’s report, which ‘contains neither racial doctrine nor statements made for the purpose of insulting persons or groups of people because of their race, and which could therefore be called racist’. In the summary of the final report it goes on to say: ‘Anthroposophy and Social Darwinism are diametrically opposed. Assumptions that racism is inherent in anthroposophy, or that Steiner was a pioneer of the Holocaust in conceptual terms, have proven to be categorically incorrect. The commission comes to the firm conclusion that in comparison with other pre-war authors and authors of the 19th and 20th centuries (such as Hegel or Albert Schweitzer), Rudolf Steiner has been the victim of ‘selective indignation’.(13)

The author’s claim that the anthroposophists are ‘deeply hostile to science’ and reject any empirical examination of their work results – and this because they followed Steiner’s ‘divine inspiration’ – also misses the mark in reality, to put it mildly and elegantly. Even a superficial look at what has been achieved in this regard in recent years and decades within the university framework by people who attribute an important quality to anthroposophical spiritual science and its methodological approach(14) would have something different and better to teach Ms Brockschmidt. However, her article is based on the accumulation of prejudices and aggressive defamation of anthroposophy by the so-called ‘sceptics’ movement(15), as well as methodologically questionable work by self-proclaimed ‘esoteric sect researchers’ such as Helmut Zander and Peter Staudenmeier.(16) The statements made in the article are not only historically untenable and untruthful, but also slanderous and deliberately discriminatory – also towards all those Ms Brockschmidt, using worn-out clichés, disqualifies as ‘anthroposophical housewives’ with ‘back to nature, fuzzy feelings of well-being’, and in complete political ignorance.

It is difficult to believe that someone who was trying to advocate the overcoming of ‘black/white thinking’ that the article attributes to ‘anthroposophists’ and ‘esoteric hippies’, while practising it themselves in such a glaring way. The article was written by an author who obviously knows neither Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy nor the anthroposophical initiatives that are active worldwide, which – in education and curative education, in medicine and society, in refugee aid relief and trauma therapy – are committed to humanitarian concerns, and defend the ‘I’, the dignity and right to life of every human being against all nationalistic, ethnic, confessional and indeed racial prejudices. The fact that in 1994, UNESCO certified that the Seminar for Waldorf Education in South Africa after the end of the apartheid regime ‘made a significant contribution to healing and rebuilding after the racist legacy’ will be as little known to Ms Brockschmidt as many other things in this field. The UNESCO report stated(17): ‘The apartheid system in South Africa has been most successful in keeping the realities of different communities in the country apart. The Novalis Institute (for Waldorf Education) has been most successful in bringing these realities together and facilitating the development of a new reality and consciousness. […] it has been the most important and valuable outcome that could have possibly been achieved. “It has prepared the way and laid the foundations for a new and integrated [community]”’.

According to Ms Brockschmidt, as coming from Steiner, anthroposophists have no ‘abhorrence of being in contact’ with the ‘radical right’; indeed, they would even be prepared to ‘build bridges’ with them. This monstrous assertion can be justified neither by Steiner’s work and life, which Hitler had already tackled extremely aggressively in March 1921 in the Völkischer Beobachter(18) (Hitler’s article ‘Statesmen or National Criminals?’(19)), nor by the – historically well-documented – behaviour of anthroposophists during the National Socialist era. The anthroposophists were by no means all heroic resistance fighters before and after January 30, 1933, but they were part of an oppositional, banned and harshly oppressed group whose participation in Nazi organizations and institutions was far below the German average in percentage terms. Furthermore, Himmler's Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) 1941 report (‘Anthroposophy and its special-purpose associations’) stated that any connection between anthroposophical lines of thought and the ‘Germanic/ethnic world view’ was completely unfeasible, that anthroposophy ‘ultimately led to the decomposition of the National Socialist world view’, that anthroposophists had ‘quite consciously acquired the appearance of being harmless’ for self-protection and were out of place in the Third Reich: ‘There can be no doubt that the follower of anthroposophy is by definition an opponent of National Socialism, or at the very least, must remain an outsider to National Socialism.’(20) One could say many things here about people who – inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s humanistic image of man and his concept of freedom – were active in this way until 1945, risking their entire existence, beginning with Traute Lafrenz-Page, the last survivor of the core group of the ‘White Rose’, who carried Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom and the attitude of her famous teacher, the anthroposophist Erna Stahl from the Hamburg Lichtwarkschule, Helmut and Loki Schmidt’s school as well.(21) One could also report many a thing about how people with an anthroposophical background and ideals committed themselves to the building of the democratic Federal Republic after 1945 and to a free civil society, from Michael Ende to Otto Schily. Or perhaps about the fact that the Catholic, social critic and Nobel Prize winner Heinrich Böll himself had a high regard for Rudolf Steiner's humanistic, medical, educational and social work.(22) What justifies Ms Brockschmidt’s absurd claim that anthroposophists, as part of the ‘modern esotericist club’, are in toto prepared to ‘build bridges’ with right-wing radicalism? Politically lost souls exist and have existed in all social and ideological groups, including among anthroposophists. However, nothing indicates that people who are engaged in Rudolf Steiner's spiritual science would lean in a particular way towards the right-wing political spectrum. How can someone make such a collective postulation and go on to further developing the fact that right-wing extremist forces attempted to exploit the Berlin mass demonstrations and then in the media, place the blame on the shoulders of ‘esotericists’ and ‘anthroposophists’? The Goetheanum recently published a multi-perspective analysis in German and English on the health, socio-cultural and ecological aspects of the Corona crisis, which testifies to a completely different awareness of the current problem than the author would have us believe.(23) By claiming, in such a whipped up manner, to be able to assess all modern esotericism, anthroposophy as a whole and anthroposophists as a group, putting them in a skewed light and imputing to them a proximity to radical right-wing, racist and anti-Semitic forces(24), Ms Brockschmidt reveals that she herself walks in the field of discrimination and extremism.

Die Zeit newspaper published this article online on September 1, 2020. For what reason, one has to ask, does Die Zeit allow itself to be reduced to such a low level of journalism and publish such a poor and problematic article written by a freelance journalist without even remotely satisfying the journalistic duty of care to thoroughly check the facts expressed in it?


Translated by: Christine Howard

Footnotes:

1. In her article from ZEIT online, September 1, 2020, "Sind das jetzt alles Nazis?" [Are these people now all Nazis?]

2. Cf. among others, Christoph Lindenberg: Rudolf Steiner, a biography. SteinerBooks, Special Edition 2012; Uwe Werner: Anthroposophen in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus (Anthroposophy in the Time of Nazi Germany (1933-1945). München 1999 (English, excerpts from this book: https://www.rsarchive.org/Nazis/index.php); Lorenzo Ravagli: Unter Hammer und Hakenkreuz. Der völkisch-nationalistische Kampf gegen die Anthroposophie.(Under hammer and swastika. The peoples' nationalist struggle against anthroposophy.) Stuttgart 2004 (German only); Peter Selg: Rudolf Steiner. 1861-1925. Rudolf Steiner, Life and Work: Volume 5: 1919-1922, pp. 1-275; Peter Selg: Rudolf Steiner, die Anthroposophie und der Rassismus-Vorwurf. Arlesheim 2020 (German only) (Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy and the Accusation of Racism).

3. Peter Selg: Rudolf Steiner, die Anthroposophie und der Rassismus-Vorwurf. Arlesheim 2020, S. 74ff. (German only)

4. Rudolf Steiner: The Book of Revelation: And the Work of The Priest .GA 346. Sep 18, 1924, Lecture 14. Rudolf Steiner Press (April 1, 1999).

5. Cf. Albert Schmelzer: The Threefolding Movement, 1919: A History: Rudolf Steiner’s Campaign for a Self-governing, Self-managing, Self-educating Society. Rudolf Steiner Press (December 15, 2017) (dissertation Ruhr University Bochum)

6. See Mark Mazower, among others: The Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century. Vintage; 1st Edition (March 14, 2000).

7. Cf. among others, Peter Selg: Rudolf Steiner, die Anthroposophie und der Rassismus-Vorwurf. Arlesheim 2020, S. 74ff. (German only) (Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy and the Accusation of Racism)

8. For the historical context of Waldorf Education, which began in 1919, among others, see Volker Frielingsdorf: Geschichte der Waldorfpädagogik. Von ihrem Ursprung bis zur Gegenwart. Weinheim 2019 (German only) (History of Waldorf Education. From its origin to the present); on the socio-political and scientific context of anthroposophic medicine see Peter Selg: Vorgeschichte, Intention, Verlauf und Folgen. (German only)(History, intention, course and consequences) In: Peter Selg and Peter Barna (Hg.): Vorgeschichte, Intention und Komposition. Materialien zum ersten Ärztekurs Rudolf Steiners 1920. Dornach 2020, S. 303-370. (German only)(History, intention and composition. Materials for Rudolf Steiner's first medical course).

9. Rudolf Steiner: The Foundations of Human Experience. (The Study of Man.), opening lecture in the evening of August 20, 1919. GA 293. SteinerBooks (July 1, 1996), p. 33. Regarding the journey of Waldorf Schools under National Socialism (until their prohibition), see Volker Frielingsdorf: Geschichte der Waldorfpädagogik. Von ihrem Ursprung bis zur Gegenwart. Weinheim 2019, S. 153-202 (History of Waldorf Education. From its origin to the present) (German only); and Peter Selg: Erzwungene Schließung. Arlesheim 2020. (Enforced Closure)(German only).

10. Quoted by Herbert Hahn: Der Weg, der mich führte. Lebenserinnerungen. Stuttgart 1969, S. 665. (The path that led me. Memoirs)(German only).

11. Cf. Ted A. van Baarda (ed.): Anthroposophie und die Rassismus-Vorwürfe. Der Bericht der Niederländischen Untersuchungskommission (Anthroposophy and the accusations of racism, the report of the Dutch investigative commission), Anthroposophie und die Frage der Rassen (Anthroposophy and the question of race). Frankfurt a.M. 5th ed. 2009. (Not found in English)

12. Ibid., p. 347. (German report)

13. Ibid., p. 352. (German report)

14. Cf. among others, the overview by Peter Heusser: Anthroposophy and Science. Peter Lang GmbH, Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften, (June 13, 2016); and Peter Heusser und Johannes Weinzirl (Hg.): Rudolf Steiner. Seine Bedeutung für Wissenschaft und Leben heute. Stuttgart 2014. (Rudolf Steiner. His importance for science and life today)(German only)

15. Cf. the exemplary ‘Skeptics’ brochure by André Sebastiani: Anthroposophie. Eine kurze Kritik. (Anthroposophy. A short critique). Aschaffenburg 2019; on the “sceptics’ movement, its positions and backgrounds, see Georg Soldner: ‘Das Skeptiker-Syndrom’, an Interview with Ronald Richter. In: info3, December 2019 (https://info3-verlag.de/zeitschrift-info3/das-skeptiker-syndrom/) (German only)

16. Cf. for example, Lorenzo Ravagli: Zanders Erzählungen. Eine kritische Analyse des Werkes „Anthroposophie in Deutschland“. Berlin 2007 (Zander’s Tales. A critical analysis of the work ‘Anthroposophy in Germany’) (German only); Rahel Uhlenhoff (Hg.): Anthroposophie in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Berlin 2011. (Rahel Uhlenhoff (eds.): Anthroposophy in history and present.) (German only); for exemplary correction of Staudenmaier's assertions on the alleged collaboration of many anthroposophists with National Socialists and on Staudenmaier's handling of historical sources, see Peter Selg: Rudolf Steiner, die Anthroposophie und der Rassismus-Vorwurf. Arlesheim 2020, p. 157ff. (Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy and the accusation of racism.) (German only)

17. Tolerance: the threshold of peace. A teaching/learning guide for education for peace, human right and democracy. UNESCO 1994, p. 21 https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000098178?locale=en
Full Quote: ‘The Novalis Institute which trains South African teachers in the methods of the Waldorf schools offers this experience of preparing teachers to contribute to the healing and reconstruction of the racist past of their country. Its report states: ‘The apartheid system in South Africa has been most successful in keeping the realities of different communities in the country apart. The Novalis Institute has been most successful in bringing these realities together and facilitating the development of a new reality and consciousness […] The shift in consciousness and perceptions of individuals and groups who were privileged to participate in the process facilitated by the Novalis Institute has in my opinion been the most important and valuable outcome that could possibly have been achieved. 'It has prepared the way and laid the foundations for a new and integrated [community].'

18. Völkischer Beobachter (People’s Observer) was the main Nazi propaganda newspaper.

19. With regard to this article and its context, see Lorenzo Ravagli: Unter Hammer und Hakenkreuz (Under the Hammer and Swastika). Der völkisch-nationalistische Kampf gegen die Anthroposophie. (The peoples’ nationalist struggle against anthroposophy). Stuttgart 2004, S. 122ff. (German only) and Peter Selg: Rudolf Steiner, die Anthroposophie und der Rassismus-Vorwurf. Arlesheim 2020, S. 74ff. (Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy and the accusation of racism) (German only).

20. Die Anthroposophie und ihre Zweckverbände. Bericht unter Verwendung von Ergebnissen der Aktion gegen Geheimlehren und sogenannte Geheimwissenschaften vom 5. Juni 1941 (Anthroposophy and its special-purpose associations. Report using results of the action against secret doctrines and so-called secret sciences, June 5, 1941). Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) Berlin 1941. Facsimile publication in Arfst Wagner (ed.): Dokumente und Briefe zur Geschichte der Anthroposophischen Bewegung und Gesellschaft in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus. 5. Band (Documents and letters on the history of the anthroposophical movement and society during the Nazi era. 5th volume.) Rendsburg 1993, S. 56.

21. Cf. Peter Norman Waage; DiMari Bailey (trans.): Long Live Freedom! Cuidono Press; August 2018

22. Cf. Peter Selg: „Daheim in der Güte“. Erinnerung an Heinrich Böll. Arlesheim 2018. (At home in goodness. In memory of Heinrich Böll) (German only)

23. Edited by Ueli Hurter, Justus Wittich: Perspectives and Initiatives in the Times of Coronavirus, published by Rudolf Steiner Press. https://rudolfsteinerpress.com/viewbook.php?isbn_in=9781855845800

24. Regarding traditional line that Brockschmidt has been following for over three decades - despite well-founded counter-statements - with her allegations in this respect, see among others, Lorenzo Ravagli: Polemischer Diskurs. Die Anthroposophie und ihre Kritiker (Polemical Discourse. Anthroposophy and its critics) (German only). In: Johannes Weinzirl (Hg.): Rudolf Steiner. Seine Bedeutung für Wissenschaft und Leben heute. Stuttgart 2014. S. 332-352, (Rudolf Steiner. His significance for science and life today.) (German only) and Peter Selg: Rudolf Steiner, die Anthroposophie und der Rassismus-Vorwurf (German only)