basement/english/April 2000

Report

Rudolf Steiner recognized as opponent of anti-Semitism and nationalism

Von Gerard Kerkvliet

Zeist/Driebergen, Netherlands, April 1, 2000: On Saturday, April 1, 2000, the Commission on »Anthroposophy and the Question of Race« made its final report to the Council of the Anthroposophical Society in The Netherlands. In this final report the Commission reiterates its prior conclusion of the interim report of February, 1998, namely, that the work of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) 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 opinion of the Commission, the collected works of Rudolf Steiner do contain a number of statements that, by today’s standards, are of a discriminatory nature or could be experienced as discriminatory.

In total the Commission examined and evaluated 245 quotations from the 89,000 page collected works of Rudolf Steiner, 145 of which were reported in the interim report. This is more than twenty times as many as the approximately one dozen statements that had been quoted in this discussion in the media about Anthroposophy. The great difference in the number of quotations is, by itself already, evidence of the fact that the debate about the question whether Anthroposophy embodies racism and racial discrimination has been conducted on the basis of grossly incomplete information. This incompleteness has led to a distorted picture - in the negative sense - of both Steiner’s ideas and the reputation of the anthroposophical movement in Holland today.

The conclusion of the Commission is that sixteen statements, if they were in public by a person on his or her own authority, could be a violation of the prohibition of racial discrimination under the Criminal Code of the Netherlands. The relevant article in the Criminal Code closely resembles article 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. These sixteen statements are four more than the twelve that had been identified as discriminatory in the interim report. As is described in Steiner’s autobiography, one of these had been experienced as offensive by a Jewish connection of Steiner even in his own time.

The Commission finds again that any suggestion that racism is an inherent part of Anthroposophy, or that conceptually Steiner helped prepare the way for the holocaust, has proven to be categorically wrong. As a matter of fact, the investigation of the Commission shows that, beginning in the year 1900, he clearly spoke and wrote against the dangers of anti-Semitism, including in the periodical of a then existing German association against anti-Semitism existing at that time.

Equality

The Commission emphasizes that Rudolf Steiner’s concept of man is based on the equality of all individuals, and not on some supposed superiority of one race over another. Anthroposophy is diametrically opposed to social Darwinism in which the idea of survival of the fittest leads to the domination of the strongest race. In Steiner’s view of society the central idea is a cosmopolitan striving for one humanity without distinctions as to races and peoples. In the final report this is elaborated in a new chapter about Steiner’s views on international law and the self-determination of peoples.

This study was done under a mandate of the Anthroposophical Society in The Netherlands by a commission chaired by lawyer Dr. Th. A. van Baarda. The reason for the study was the appearance of publications in the media about a supposed racial doctrine of Rudolf Steiner and the fear that this doctrine might have an effect on the teaching in Waldorf schools. The key question was whether Rudolf Steiner taught a racial doctrine, in the terms of the Commission: »a seemingly scientific theory on the basis of which the superiority of one race is supposed to be legitimized at the expense of another." In addition, the report discusses whether his work contains statements that show racial discrimination, and the way the theme of races and peoples has been handled through the years in Waldorf education. The final report, which comprises 720 pages and is the result of nearly four years of work, also pays attention to the question whether the work of Dutch followers of Rudolf Steiner contains elements of racial discrimination.

After the first phase of its study, the Commission was already able to come to a conclusion as to the most important questions. In a widely-published event, the Commission announced on February 4, 1998, that there was no ground for accusations that the work of Rudolf Steiner contains a racial doctrine or any statements made with the purpose of insulting persons or groups of people on the basis of their race.

As to Waldorf education, the Commission concluded, in agreement with the prior judgment of Dutch Government Education Inspectors (Onderwijsinspectie), that racism does not exist there. The Commission did, however, acknowledge the existence until quite recently of a custom of stereotyping in the subject of ethnology, which could lead to discrimination and which must be prevented. As has been previously reported, the Waldorf schools took measures against this in 1995 and supplemented these in 1998 with their own anti-discrimination code and an independent commission that monitors compliance.

Sixteen quotations

Given the passage of seventy to one hundred years, the Commission was unable to test the contents of Steiner’s work against modern Dutch anti-discrimination legislation in a direct manner. Therefore, it posed the question as to what the results of such a test would be if someone made the statements in question publicly today. After all, Steiner’s collected works continue to provide many people with a source of study and inspiration. For this reason it was of interest to the Commission to examine all passages about the subject of race in Rudolf Steiner’s collected works in their context. The principal objective of this process was to arrive at a clear answer to the question as to whether there are any statements there which, if someone adopted them as his or her own standpoint by teaching or otherwise communicating them to others, would violate the prohibition of discrimination.

For its interim report, the Commission selected 145 quotations from Rudolf Steiner’s collected works about the concept of race and, more particularly, blacks and American Indians. For the final report another 100 quotations were added about whites, Jews and Asians, making for a total of 245 quotations. The new quotations are subdivided into three categories in the same way as in the interim report. Group 1 contains those quotations which, in the opinion of the Commission, are of a discriminatory nature according to current Dutch law,. The content or formulation used is such that it would show serious discrimination if a present-day author were to publish this as his own opinion. In doing so, he would probably commit an illegal act under the Criminal Code of the Netherlands. There are sixteen quotations of this nature.

The Commission considered these quotations to be either careless, problematic or seriously discriminatory. The last of these three qualifications was applied to the statement that by reading a novel about blacks, pregnant white women would bear a mulatto child. Of the four newly added quotations one relates to blacks, one to Asians and two to Jews.

The Commission recommends providing these passages, as well as those of Group 2, with annotations in Rudolf Steiner’s collected works. This second group consists of sayings which in the year 2000 are not necessarily discriminatory, but without proper interpretation could easily cause misunderstandings. They might also be experienced as mildly discriminatory, for instance, because of a choice of words that was customary at that time or by the use of anthroposophical terminology. In the interim report there were 50 statements that were classified in this way; the final report has 67. Group 3 comprises a total of 162 quotations that do not show any discriminatory nature and do not need interpretation.

Changes in meaning

Present-day authors and speakers who base their own standpoint on Steiner’s ideas, usually anthroposophists, undertake a definite responsibility. They must be conscious of the fact that certain words or phrases, even if Steiner used them in a descriptive way, are emotionally charged today, and may be experienced as discriminatory. This is a responsibility toward present-day readers and listeners, including members of ethnic minorities.

Because in the evolution of language many words have developed a different meaning in the course of time, the content of a statement made by Steiner may change if it is repeated verbatim. If a dated choice of words is simply repeated, the result may be to put Steiner in an unfavorable light. For instance, the passage where Steiner said that Negroes are human beings also, if said by someone today, would be a seriously discriminatory statement. However, in Europe, at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, it was not at all self-evident that non-European peoples and races were considered to be part of the same humanity as Europeans. Seen in the light of its own time, such a passage was probably evidence of an attitude of emancipation rather than discrimination.

Jews and Zionism

One of the categories of Steiner’s ideas and statements studied by the Commission is that containing sayings about Jews and Zionism. This part of the study shows Steiner as an opponent of joining the concepts of »race« and »people« into that of »nation.« That is why he opposed the foundation of ethnically homogeneous states and turned, for reasons of principle, against nationalistic Zionism. Rather, he emphatically supported the assimilation of the Jews into one, be it differentiated, European culture. »Being Jewish« was for him a matter of religion belonging to individual and cultural freedom, but not the basis for a nation-state.

On the other hand, the study provides insight into the way in which statements by Steiner about Jews and Zionism have contributed to misunderstandings and criticism. In 1897, Steiner wrote a personal and sharp polemic against Zionism and its founders, Herzl and Nordau in the »Magazin für Literatur.« He accused them of exaggerating the rising anti-Semitism of that time and of using it for their own political ambitions, while in the same period pogroms in Russia had already unleashed a flood of refugees into Germany and Austria. Since, in effect, he used this essay to proclaim his view of assimilation, which also speaks from some of his other works, it is the Commission’s opinion that the essay cannot possibly be used to accuse Steiner of anti-Semitism, even if at that time he still underestimated the danger of this phenomenon. Nevertheless, the Commission concludes that now, after the trauma of the holocaust, his failure to recognize the strength of anti-Semitism in his time and the way he formulated his views can be experienced as highly discriminatory. Hence the placing of this passage in group 1.

This is also true for a passage in an article from Steiner’s younger years (he was 27) about the place of the Jews in world history. In a book review in 1888 Steiner discussed the principle of segregation and the Jews as a separate and closed society within Europe, as part of a broader argument in which he also pointed to the favorable influence of Judaism on European culture. The sentence in which he spoke about Judaism having »outlived itself« is as follows: »Judaism as such has long outlived itself and no longer has a legitimate place in the modern life of peoples; the fact that it has nevertheless succeeded in maintaining itself is an aberration in world history the consequences of which had to follow.«

To Steiner’s consternation, his own employer - the man whose children he was tutoring at the time - experienced this article as offensive to Jews. For this reason the Commission considers it correct that Steiner’s biographer, Christoph Lindenberg, called this event a »jumping off the track« (Entgleisung). The Commission itself concludes that the phrase in question is in effect an »overly sharp« formulation of what is really a standpoint of assimilation. The Commission wrote: »These days, in the post-holocaust era, this formulation can obviously no longer be justifiably used. The Commission considers this wording, if used today, as highly discriminatory against Jews.«

Initial underestimation of anti-Semitism

At the end of the nineteenth century, Rudolf Steiner was an keen opponent of the plans of Theodor Herzl to give a political conceptual framework to Zionism, which he had formulated. Later, he developed this into a consistent criticism of the foundation of ethnically homogeneous states on the basis of the right to self-determination of peoples. In other ways, the Commission points out, Steiner and his contemporary Herzl, both young intellectuals, had virtually identical views in many respects. Both supported the emancipation of the Jews, both failed to consider the anti-Semitism of the end of the nineteenth century as dangerous, and both were shocked by the Dreyfus affair and convinced of his innocence (correctly so as was proven later).

The new material in the final report shows that, although Rudolf Steiner initially seriously underestimated the strength of anti-Semitism, he revised his opinion around the year 1900. Starting in 1901, he unequivocally opposed it in the same way in which he uttered strong warnings against the rise of nationalism throughout the rest of his life. In the years after 1900, when Steiner formed part of a circle of artists and intellectuals around the then just deceased Jewish author Jacobowski, he did recognize the danger of anti-Semitism.

In a publication of this period he wrote not to have expected the persistency of anti-Semitic feelings among students and bourgeoisie. He thought that such feelings were more and more being considered unjustified and had been overcome. However, under the influence of the radical politician, Georg von Schönerer, they proved to be anything but remnants from a far-distant past. Repeatedly and unequivocally Steiner took a stand against anti-Semitism, such as in a series of articles entitled »Shameful anti-Semitism« in the newsletter of the Verein zur Abwehr des Antisemitismus (Association against anti-Semitism).

In the meantime he had come to regard anti-Semitism as »a danger for both Jews and non-Jews;« it was a »cultural illness« coming from an attitude which could not be opposed strongly enough. It is indicative of Steiner’s consistent rejection of anti-Semitism that in 1919 he already identified the notorious »Protocols of the Elders of Zion« as a falsification with anti-Semitic intentions. That was two years before the British newspaper The Times produced irrefutable proof of this. Yet he equally consistently maintained his opinion that the time of the Jewish diaspora was over and that the Jewish people, just like every other people, had to be amalgamated into a new culture in which racial hatred has no place.

Racial equality

The Commission regrets that in the debate about racism Rudolf Steiner’s view of society is always left out. According to Steiner, the end of the nineteenth century marked the beginning of a new era. One of the most important characteristics of this new era is a cosmopolitan element, the effort to overcome nationalistic tendencies and racial discrimination. In part for these reasons, and also in reaction to World War I, Steiner devoted himself actively to the development of a new view of society he called the »threefold social order.« A key point in this view of society is the emphasis Steiner placed on the freedom of each individual, who continually must throw off old forms of group connections.

Steiner wanted to examine the differences between races and, especially, peoples for the purpose of promoting greater mutual understanding. In regard to races he was of the opinion that racial differences are no longer of our time. In his participation in the debates after World War I about the structure of society, Steiner argued not only for cultural diversity but also for the equality of all peoples and races as a universal principle. He did this at a time when equality before the law was not at all self-evident, not even among white people. As a matter of fact, the peace conference of Versailles after World War I rejected a proposal to include the principle of equality of races in the Covenant of the League of Nations.

Steiner emphatically opposed every effort to join the concepts of »race« and »people« with the concept of »nation.« In his criticisms of the American President Woodrow Wilson, and of the concept of self-determination of peoples, Steiner issued strong warnings against the rise of nationalism. It is remarkable, the Commission says, that Steiner’s opposition to the merger of the concepts of race and nation was never brought into public debate.

Steiner repeatedly argued against Wilson that such self-determination rights would lead to xenophobia and the rise of ethnically homogeneous nations. In addition, said Steiner, Wilson overlooked the fact that the question of what constitutes a »people« would inevitably end up in the political sphere. That means that the question as to who belongs to a certain people can become subjected to the whims of nationalistically oriented politicians, with potentially dire consequences. Whenever someone tries to answer the question as to who belongs to a particular people - and especially who does not - there lurks the danger of the aspiration after »purity of blood.« In his criticism of Wilson, Steiner used the ethnic conflicts in the then newly formed Yugoslavia as an example.

The Commission also says that in the recent debates about racism in Anthroposophy another factor has been overlooked. This is that by its very nature Anthroposophy cannot possibly be racist. It simply does not encompass any theory of mutation and selection with regard to human races. The question of which race is »stronger« or »superior« is therefore irrelevant. On the other hand, Anthroposophy encompasses an idea of reincarnation that considers the possibility that the spiritual-moral core of the human being, in the course of centuries, reincarnates in different bodies (woman/man, white/black, etc.). There is, therefore, no objection against mixing of races, and cultural exchanges among different peoples are encouraged.

Criticism examined

Besides dealing extensively with the concept of race in the work of Rudolf Steiner, the Commission also pays ample attention to the question of how this concept has been treated in the debates between anthroposophists and non-anthroposophists in recent years. In this connection a number of critical publications on the subject were examined as well as any remarks members of the Council of the Anthroposophical Society in the Netherlands may have made that could have reflected incorrect insights or seemed to have done so. One of the media products examined was the installment called »Racism with Charisma« (1996) of the radio program »The Benefit of the Doubt« broadcast by the Humanistische Omroep Stichting (Humanistic Broadcasting Foundation). Fragments of an interview of the then Vice-Chairman of the Dutch Anthroposophical Society, C. Wiechert, broadcast in this program, were the original motive for the current study.

In its examination of two critical publications the Commission counters allegations to the extent they refer to racial doctrine, racism, and to Anthroposophy as an ideology related to national socialism. Such allegations, says the Commission, are consistently based on an incomplete and incorrect representation of Rudolf Steiner’s ideas. It is characteristic that the concept of race appears in at least 245 places in Steiner’s collected works, whereas these publications used no more than a dozen - often out of context - to substantiate their judgments that Anthroposophy is supposed to be racist. And it is completely incorrect to say that Steiner was a supporter of the kind of social Darwinism mentioned earlier.

In this part the Commission deals with the criticism in which Anthroposophy is accused of being related to the ideology of National Socialism, as well as of its lack of taking a position against the Nazis in the nineteen thirties. Regarding the former, the Commission writes that there is no inherent relationship between Anthroposophy and any ideologies based on racism, fascism or anti-Semitism. Rudolf Steiner’s ideas that racial characteristics have no significance for the future, and that racial prejudice, just as nationalism, must be overcome, are diametrically opposed to the »blood and soil« type of thinking of the Nazis. These differences are clearly shown in the fact that in 1935 the Anthroposophical Society in Germany was banned.

Besides this fundamental point, however, the Commission recognizes the possibility of justified criticism as to certain historical relationships between some anthroposophists and the Nazis. As is apparent from a recent study by the historian Uwe Werner (»Anthroposophists in the Time of National Socialism,« 1999), such relationships did exist. According to the Commission, history shows that membership of the Anthroposophical Society is no guarantee that someone will always be an active opponent of racist or fascist ideas. On the other hand, anthroposophists have also participated in the resistance, something the Commission emphasizes merely as a fact, not an excuse.

In this connection, the Commission reminds its readers of the fact that, when the Anthroposophical Society was threatened with closure in 1935, there were anthroposophists among those who made compromises, such as the official confirmation by the Council of the General Anthroposophical Society of Rudolf Steiner’s »Aryan« descent. The Commission acknowledges the criticism that Anthroposophy did not actively resist the Nazis. The Council of the General Anthroposophical Society indeed did not mount any resistance against that regime, a fact which »naturally is most regrettable.« More research is called for in this matter, says the Commission, and all of this should be a stimulus to be vigilant against all forms of racist and fascist ideas, also in our time.

No real defense

The Commission cites as a clear example of the incomplete representation of Rudolf Steiner’s ideas the way quotations were used in the radio program mentioned above. By a mixture of incomplete, badly interpreted and even non-existing quotations, the suggestion was made that Steiner had justified the annihilation of the American Indians on the basis of a presumed »cosmic necessity.« The fact that these words and ideas were wrongly attributed to him is proven by a number of statements in which Steiner emphatically condemned the annihilation of the Indians by the white man. These latter statements were not mentioned in the radio program.

In connection with this radio program, it is the opinion of the Commission that the Vice-Chairman at that time missed an important opportunity, in his defense of Steiner against allegations of racism, to withdraw or balance a reference he had made to the vitality of black soccer players. The Commission calls this reference »notably unwise.« The conclusion was that he had wished to say something positive and, even if the words he used did not indicate discrimination in the sense of the law, he made »an unhappy choice of words.«

The Commission also criticizes the creator of the program »Racism with Charisma.« In its opinion, the critical contributions in the broadcast were based on the preconceived notion that Steiner’s statements were objectionable; that the respect of anthroposophists for Steiner was sectarian; and that the anthroposophical movement and the Waldorf schools should disavow the statements in question. Because of the unwarranted use of the term racism and the placing of the interview in the context of sectarianism and in the light of a justification of genocide (of the Indians), the Commission has the impression that the then Vice-Chairman was »incorrectly« treated.

In a more general sense, the Commission criticizes the way the anthroposophical movement has dealt with the allegations of racism. The fact is noted that approximately in the years 1986 to 1996, besides the former Vice-Chairman, there have been three other anthroposophists who have been accused of serious facts, and none of these has mounted a real defense. Because of this, says the Commission, the public debate has exposed only one side of the story: the accusation. It also noted that even the Council of the Anthroposophical Society in the Netherlands had no coordinated strategy to defend itself against the allegations made. In consequence, the Commission feels, these allegations have probably had a »greater harmful effect« than would have been the case had there been an energetic defense against them.

»Selective indignation«

In conclusion, the Commission reiterates that it hardly ever happens in Holland that older publications such as those of Rudolf Steiner are tested as strictly as occurred at this time. »The number of pages with statements that can be experienced as discriminatory today is less than .05< of the 89,000 pages of Rudolf Steiner’s collected works. Anthroposophy and social Darwinism are diametrically opposed to each other. Suggestions that racism is inherent in Anthroposophy, or that conceptually Steiner helped prepare the way for the holocaust, have been proven categorically incorrect. The Commission has the distinct impression that, compared with other nineteenth and pre-World War II twentieth-century authors, such as Hegel or Albert Schweitzer, Rudolf Steiner has become the victim of »selective indignation.« Press Summary Commission on »Anthroposophy and the Question of Race« >fn/fn%secretariaat@antrop-ver.nl.