Anthroposophy and Ecofascism

In June, 1910, Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy, began a speaking tour of Norway with a lecture to a large and attentive audience in Oslo.  The lecture series was titled “The Mission of National Souls in Relation to Nordic-Germanic Mythology.”  In the Oslo lectures Steiner presented his theory of “folk souls” or “national souls” (Volksseelen in German, Steiner’s native tongue) and paid particular attention to the mysterious wonders of the “Nordic spirit.”  The “national souls” of Northern and Central Europe belonged, Steiner explained, to the “Germanic-Nordic” peoples, the world’s most spiritually advanced ethnic group, which was in turn the vanguard of the highest of five historical “root races.”  This superior fifth root race, Steiner told his Oslo audience, was naturally the “Aryan” race. 1

If this peculiar cosmology sounds eerily similar to the teutonic myths of Himmler and Hitler, the resemblance is no accident.  Anthroposophy and National Socialism both have deep roots in the confluence of nationalism, right-wing populism, proto-environmentalist romanticism and esoteric spiritualism that characterized much of German and Austrian culture at the end of the nineteenth century.  But the connection between Steiner’s racially stratified pseudo-religion and the rise of the Nazis goes beyond mere philosophical parallels.  Anthroposophy had a powerful practical influence on the so-called “green wing” of German fascism.  Moreover, the actual politics of Steiner and his followers have consistently displayed a profoundly reactionary streak. 2

Why does anthroposophy, despite its patently racist elements and its compromised past, continue to enjoy a reputation as progressive, tolerant, enlightened and ecological?  The details of Steiner’s teachings are not well known outside of the anthroposophist movement, and within that movement the lengthy history of ideological implication in fascism is mostly repressed or denied outright.  In addition, many individual anthroposophists have earned respect for their work in alternative education, in organic farming, and within the environmental movement.  Nevertheless, it is an unfortunate fact that the record of anthroposophist collaboration with a specifically “environmentalist” strain of fascism continues into the twenty-first century.

Organized anthroposophist groups are often best known through their far-flung network of public institutions.  The most popular of these is probably the Waldorf school movement, with hundreds of branches worldwide, followed by the biodynamic agriculture movement, which is especially active in Germany and the United States.  Other well-known anthroposophist projects include Weleda cosmetics and pharmaceuticals and the Demeter brand of health food products.  The new age Findhorn community in Scotland also has a strong anthroposophist component.  Anthroposophists played an important role in the formation of the German Greens, and Germany’s former Interior Minister, Otto Schily, one of the most prominent founders of the Greens, is an anthroposophist.

In light of this broad public exposure, it is perhaps surprising that the ideological underpinnings of anthroposophy are not better known. 3 Anthroposophists themselves, however, view their highly esoteric doctrine as an “occult science” suitable to a spiritually enlightened elite.  The very name “anthroposophy” suggests to many outsiders a humanist orientation.  But anthroposophy is in many respects a deeply anti-humanist worldview, and humanists like Theodor Adorno and Ernst Bloch opposed it from the beginning. 4 Its rejection of reason in favor of mystical experience, its subordination of human action to supernatural forces, and its thoroughly hierarchical model of spiritual development all mark anthroposophy as inimical to humanist values.

Who was Rudolf Steiner?

Like many quasi-religious groups, anthroposophists have a reverential attitude toward their founder.  Born in 1861, Steiner grew up in a provincial Austrian town, the son of a mid-level railway official.  His intellectually formative years were spent in Vienna, capital of the aging Habsburg empire, and in Berlin.  By all accounts an intense personality and a prolific writer and lecturer, Steiner dabbled in a number of unusual causes.  Around the turn of the century, he underwent a profound spiritual transformation, after which he claimed to be able to see the spirit world and communicate with celestial beings.  These ostensible supernatural powers are the origin of most anthroposophist beliefs and rituals.  Steiner changed his mind on many topics in the course of his life; his early hostility toward Christianity, for example, later gave way to a neo-christian version of spiritualism codified in anthroposophy; and his viewpoint on theosophy reversed itself several times.  But a preoccupation with mysticism, occult legends and the esoteric marked his mature career from 1900 onward. 5

In 1902 Steiner joined the Theosophical Society and almost immediately became General Secretary of its German section.  Theosophy was a curious amalgam of esoteric precepts drawn from various traditions, above all Hinduism and Buddhism, refracted through a European occult lens. 6 Its originator, Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891), was the inventor of the “root races” idea; she declared the extinction of indigenous peoples by European colonialism to be a matter of “karmic necessity.”  Theosophy is built around the purported teachings of a coterie of “spiritual masters,” otherworldly beings who secretly direct human events.  These teachings were interpreted and presented by Blavatsky and her successor Annie Besant (1847-1933) to their theosophist followers as special wisdom from divine sources, thus establishing the authoritarian pattern that was later carried over to anthroposophy.

Steiner dedicated ten years of his life to the theosophical movement, becoming one of its best-known spokespeople and honing his supernatural skills.  He broke from mainstream theosophy in 1912, taking most of the German-speaking sections with him, when Besant and her colleagues declared the young Krishnamurti, a boy they “discovered” in India, to be the reincarnation of Christ.  Steiner was unwilling to accept a brown-skinned Hindu lad as the next “spiritual master.”  What had separated Steiner all along from Blavatsky, Besant, and the other India-oriented theosophists was his insistence on the superiority of European esoteric traditions.

In the wake of the split, Steiner founded the Anthroposophical Society in Germany.  Shortly before the outbreak of world war one he moved the fledgling organization’s international headquarters to Switzerland.  Under the protection of Swiss neutrality he was able to build up a permanent center in the village of Dornach.  Blending theosophical wisdom with his own “occult research,” Steiner continued to develop the theory and practice of anthroposophy, along with a steadily growing circle of followers, until his death in 1925.

The centerpiece of anthroposophical belief is spiritual advancement through karma and reincarnation, supplemented by the access to esoteric knowledge available to a privileged few.  According to anthroposophy, the spiritual dimension suffuses every aspect of life.  For anthroposophists, illnesses are karmically determined and play a role in the soul’s development.  Natural processes, historical events, and technological mechanisms are all explained through the action of spiritual forces.  Such beliefs continue to mark the curriculum in many Waldorf schools.

Steiner’s doctrine of reincarnation, embraced by latter-day anthroposophists the world over, holds that individuals choose their parents before birth, and indeed that we plan out our lives before beginning them to insure that we receive the necessary spiritual lessons.  If a disembodied soul balks at its own chosen life prospects just before incarnation, it fails to incarnate fully—the source, according to anthroposophists, of prenatal “defects” and congenital disabilities.  In addition, “the various parts of our body will be formed with the aid of certain planetary beings as we pass through particular constellations of the zodiac.” 7

Anthroposophists maintain that Steiner’s familiarity with the “astral plane,” with the workings of various “archangels,” with daily life on the lost continent of Atlantis (all central tenets of anthroposophic belief) came from his special powers of clairvoyance. Steiner claimed to have access to the “Akashic Chronicle,” a supernatural scripture containing knowledge of higher realms of existence as well as of the distant past and future.  Steiner “interpreted” much of this chronicle and shared it with his followers.  He insisted that such “occult experience,” as he called it, was not subject to the usual criteria of reason, logic, or scientific inquiry.  Modern anthroposophy is thus founded on unverifiable belief in Steiner’s teachings.  Those teachings deserve closer examination.

Anthroposophy’s Racialist Ideology

Building on theosophy’s postulate of root races, Steiner and his anthroposophist disciples elaborated a systematic racial classification system for human beings and tied it directly to their paradigm of spiritual advancement.  The particulars of this racial theory are so extraordinary, even bizarre, that it is difficult for non-anthroposophists to take it seriously, but it is important to understand the pernicious and lasting effects the doctrine has had on anthroposophists and those they’ve influenced. 8

Steiner asserted that “root races” follow one another in chronological succession over epochs lasting hundreds of thousands of years, and each root race is further divided into “sub-races” which are also arranged hierarchically.  By chance, as it were, the root race which happened to be paramount at the time Steiner made these momentous discoveries was the Aryan race, a term which anthroposophists use to this day.  All racial categories are arbitrary social constructs, but the notion of an Aryan race is an especially preposterous invention.  A favorite of reactionaries in the early years of the twentieth century, the Aryan concept was based on a conflation of linguistic and biological terminology backed up by spurious “research.”  In other words, it was an amalgamation of errors which served to provide a pseudo-scientific veneer to racist fantasies. 9

Anthroposophy’s promotion of this ridiculous doctrine is disturbing enough.  But it is compounded by Steiner’s further claim that—in yet another remarkable coincidence—the most advanced group within the Aryan root race is currently the nordic-germanic sub-race or people.  Above all, anthroposophy’s conception of spiritual development is inextricable from its evolutionary narrative of racial decline and racial advance: a select few enlightened members evolve into a new “race” while their spiritually inferior neighbors degenerate.  Anthroposophy is thus structured around a hierarchy of biological and psychological as well as “spiritual” capacities and characteristics, all of them correlated to race. The affinities with Nazi discourse are unmistakable. 10

Steiner did not shy away from describing the fate of those left behind by the forward march of racial and spiritual progress.  He taught that these unfortunates would “degenerate” and eventually die out.  Like his teacher Madame Blavatsky, Steiner rejected the notion that Native Americans, for example, were nearly exterminated by the actions of European settlers.  Instead he held that Indians were “dying out of their own nature.” 11 Steiner also taught that “lower races” of humans are closer to animals than to “higher races” of humans.  Aboriginal peoples, according to anthroposophy, are descended from the already “degenerate” remnants of the third root race, the Lemurians, and are devolving into apes.  Steiner referred to them as “stunted men, whose descendants still inhabit certain parts of the earth today as so-called savage tribes.” 12

The fourth root race which emerged between the Lemurians and the Aryans were the inhabitants of the lost continent of Atlantis, the existence of which anthroposophists take as literal fact.  Direct descendants of the Atlanteans include the Japanese, Mongolians, and Eskimos.  Steiner also believed that each people or Volk has its own “etheric aura” which corresponds to its geographic homeland, as well as its own “Volksgeist” or national spirit, an archangel that provides spiritual leadership to its respective people.

Steiner propagated a host of racist myths about “negroes.”  He taught that black people are sensual, instinct-driven, primitive creatures, ruled by their brainstem.  He denounced the immigration of blacks to Europe as “terrible” and “brutal” and decried its effects on “blood and race.”  He warned that white women shouldn’t read “negro novels” during pregnancy, otherwise they’d have “mulatto children.”  In 1922 he declared, “The negro race does not belong in Europe, and the fact that this race is now playing such a large role in Europe is of course nothing but a nuisance.” 13

But the worst insult, from an anthroposophical point of view, is Steiner’s dictum that people of color can’t develop spiritually on their own; they must either be “educated” by whites or reincarnated in white skin.  Europeans, in contrast, are the most highly developed humans.  Indeed “Europe has always been the origin of all human development.”  For Steiner and for anthroposophy, there is no doubt that “whites are the ones who develop humanity in themselves. [ . . . ] The white race is the race of the future, the spiritually creative race.” 14

Anthroposophists today often attempt to excuse or explain away such outrageous utterances by contending that Steiner was merely a product of his times. 15 This apologia is triply unconvincing.  First, Steiner claimed for himself an unprecedented degree of spiritual enlightenment which, by his own account, completely transcended his own time and place; he also claimed, and anthroposophists believe that he had, detailed knowledge of the distant past and future.  Second, this argument ignores the many dedicated members of Steiner’s generation who actively opposed racism and ethnocentrism.  Third, and most telling, anthroposophists continue to recycle Steiner’s racist imaginings to this day.

In 1995 there was a scandal in the Netherlands when it became publicly known that Dutch Waldorf schools were teaching “racial ethnography,” where children learn that the “black race” has thick lips and a sense of rhythm and that the “yellow race” hides its emotions behind a permanent smile.  In 1994 the Steinerite lecturer Rainer Schnurre, at one of his frequent seminars for the anthroposophist adult school in Berlin, gave a talk with the rather baffling title “Overcoming Racism and Nationalism through Rudolf Steiner.” According to a contemporary account, Schnurre emphasized the essential differences between races, noted the “infantile” nature of blacks, and alleged that due to immutable racial disparities “no equal and global system can be created for all people on earth” and that “because of the differences between races, sending aid to the developing world is useless.” 16

Incidents such as these are distressingly common in the world of anthroposophy.  The racial mindset that Steiner bestowed on his faithful followers has yet to be repudiated.  And it may well never be repudiated, since anthroposophy lacks the sort of critical social consciousness that could counteract its flagrantly regressive core beliefs.  Indeed anthroposophy’s political outlook has had a decidedly reactionary cast from the beginning.

The Social Vision of Anthroposophy

Steiner’s political perspective was shaped by a variety of influences.  Foremost among these was Romanticism, a literary and political movement that had a lasting impact on German culture in the nineteenth century.  Like all broad cultural phenomena, Romanticism was politically complex, inspiring both left and right.  But the leading political Romantics were explicit reactionaries and vehement nationalists who excluded Jews, even baptized ones, from their forums; they became bitter opponents of political reform and favored a strictly hierarchical, semi-feudal social order.  The Romantic revulsion for nascent “modernity,” hostility toward rationality and enlightenment, and mystical relation to nature all left their mark on Steiner’s thought.

Early in his career Steiner also fell under the sway of Nietzsche, the outstanding anti-democratic thinker of the era, whose elitism made a powerful impression.  The radical individualism of Max Stirner further contributed to the young Steiner’s political outlook, yielding a potent philosophical melange that was waiting to be catalyzed by some dynamic reactionary force. 17 The latter appeared to Steiner soon enough in the form of Ernst Haeckel and his Social Darwinist creed of Monism. 18 Haeckel (1834-1919) was the founder of modern ecology and the major popularizer of evolutionary theory in Germany.  Steiner became a partisan of Haeckel’s views, and from him anthroposophy inherited its environmentalist predilections, its hierarchical model of human development, and its tendency to interpret social phenomena in biological terms.

Haeckel’s elitist worldview extended beyond the realm of biology.  He was also “a prophet of the national and racial regeneration of Germany” and exponent of an “intensely mystical and romantic nationalism,” as well as “a direct ancestor” of Nazi eugenics. 19 Monism, which Steiner for a time vigorously defended, rejected “Western rationalism, humanism, and cosmopolitanism,” and was “opposed to any fundamental social change.  What was needed for Germany, it argued categorically, was a far-reaching cultural and not a social revolution.” 20 This attitude was to become a hallmark of anthroposophy.

In the heady turn-of-the-century atmosphere, Steiner flirted for a while with left politics, and even shared a podium with revolutionary socialist Rosa Luxemburg at a workers’ meeting in 1902.  But Steiner consistently rejected any materialist or social analysis of capitalist society in favor of “looking into the soul” of fellow humans to divine the roots of the modern malaise.  This facile approach to social reality was to reach fruition in his mature political vision, elaborated during the first world war.  Steiner’s response to the war was determined by the final, decisive component in his intellectual temperament: chauvinist nationalism.

By his own account, Steiner actively took part in Viennese pan-German circles in the late nineteenth century. 21 He saw World War One as part of an international “conspiracy against German spiritual life.” 22 In Steiner’s preferred explanation, it wasn’t imperialist rivalry among colonial powers or national myopia or unbounded militarism or the competition for markets which caused the war, but British freemasons and their striving for world domination.  Steiner was a personal acquaintance of General Helmuth von Moltke, chief of staff of the German high command; after Moltke’s death in 1916 Steiner claimed to be in contact with his spirit and channeled the general’s views on the war from the nether world.  After the war Steiner had high praise for German militarism, and continued to rail against France, French culture, and the French language in rhetoric which matched that of Mein Kampf.  In the 1990’s anthroposophists were still defending Steiner’s jingoist historical denial, insisting that Germany bore no responsibility for World War One and was a victim of the “West.”

In the midst of the war’s senseless savagery, Steiner used his military and industrial connections to try to persuade German and Austrian elites of a new social theory of his, which he hoped to see implemented in conquered territories in Eastern Europe.  Unfortunately for Steiner’s plans, Germany and Austria-Hungary lost the war, and his dream went unrealized.  But the new doctrine he had begun preaching serves to this day as the social vision of anthroposophy. Its economic and political principles represent an unsteady combination of individualist and corporatist elements.  Conceived as an alternative to both Woodrow Wilson’s self-determination program and the bolshevik revolution, Steiner gave this theory the unwieldy name “the tripartite structuring of the social organism” (Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus, often referred to in English-language anthroposophist literature as “social threefolding” or “the threefold commonwealth,” phrases which obscure Steiner’s biologistic view of the social realm as an actual organism). 23 The three branches of this scheme, which resembles both fascist and semi-feudal corporatist models, are the state (political, military, and police functions), the economy, and the cultural sphere. 24 This last sphere encompasses “all judicial, educational, intellectual and spiritual matters,” which are to be administered by “corporations,” with individuals free to choose their school, church, court, etc. 25

Anthroposophists consider this threefold structure to be “naturally ordained.” 26 Its central axiom is that the modern integration of politics, economy and culture into an ostensibly democratic framework must falter because, according to Steiner, neither the economy nor cultural life can or should be structured democratically.  The cultural sphere, which Steiner defined very broadly, is a realm of individual achievement where the most talented and capable should predominate.  And the economy must never be subject to democratic public control because it would then collapse.  Steiner’s economic and political naiveté are encapsulated in his claim that capitalism “will become a legitimate capitalism if it is spiritualized.” 27

In the aftermath of the bloody world war, at the very moment of great upheavals against the violence, misery, and exploitation of capitalism, Steiner emerged as an ardent defender of private profit, the concentration of property and wealth, and the unfettered market.  Arguing vehemently against any effort to replace anti-social institutions with humane ones, Steiner proposed adapting his “threefold commonwealth” to the existing system of class domination.  He could scarcely deny that the coarse economic despotism of his day was enormously damaging to human lives, but insisted that “private capitalism as such is not the cause of the damage”:

“The fact that individual people or groups of people administer huge masses of capital is not what makes life anti-social, but rather the fact that these people or groups exploit the products of their administrative labor in an anti-social manner. [ . . . ]  If management by capable individuals were replaced with management by the whole community, the productivity of management would be undermined.  Free initiative, individual capabilities and willingness to work cannot be fully realized within such a community.  [ . . .]  The attempt to structure economic life in a social manner destroys productivity.” 28

Though Steiner tried to make inroads within working class institutions, his outlook was understandably not very popular among workers.  The revolutionaries of the 1919 Munich council republic derided him as “the soul-doctor of decaying capitalism.” 29 Otto Neurath condemned ‘social threefolding’ as small-scale capitalism. Industrialists, on the other hand, showed a keen interest in Steiner’s notions.  Soon after the revolutionary upsurge of workers across Germany was crushed, Steiner was invited by the director of the Waldorf-Astoria tobacco factory to establish a company school in Stuttgart.  Thus were Waldorf schools born.

Anthroposophy in Practice: Waldorf Schools and Biodynamic Farming

The school in Stuttgart turned out to be the anthroposophists’ biggest success, along with the nearby pharmaceutical factory that they named after the mythical Norse oracle Weleda.  Waldorf schools are now represented in many countries and generally project a solidly progressive image.  There are undoubtedly progressive aspects to Waldorf education, many of them absorbed from the intense ferment of alternative pedagogical theories prevalent in the first decades of the twentieth century.  But there is more to Waldorf schooling than holistic learning, musical expression, and eurythmy.

Classical anthroposophy, with its root races and its national souls, is the “covert curriculum” of Waldorf schools. 30 Anthroposophists themselves avow in internal forums that the idea of karma and reincarnation is the “basis of all true education.” 31 They believe that each class of students chooses one another and their teacher before birth. The task of a Waldorf teacher is to assist each pupil in fully incarnating. Steiner himself demanded that Waldorf schools be staffed by “teachers with a knowledge of man originating in a spiritual world.” 32 Later anthroposophists express the Waldorf vision thus:

“This education is essentially grounded on the recognition of the child as a spiritual being, with a varying number of incarnations behind him, who is returning at birth into the physical world, into a body that will be slowly moulded into a usable instrument by the soul-spiritual forces he brings with him.  He has chosen his parents for himself because of what they can provide for him that he needs in order to fulfill his karma, and, conversely, they too need their relationship with him in order to fulfill their own karma.” 33

The curriculum at Waldorf schools is structured around the stages of spiritual maturation posited by anthroposophy: from one to seven years a child develops her or his physical body, from seven to fourteen years the etheric body, and from fourteen to twenty-one the astral body.  These stages are supposed to be marked by physical changes; thus kindergartners at Waldorf schools can’t enter first grade until they’ve begun to lose their baby teeth. In addition, each pupil is classified according to the medieval theory of humors: a Waldorf child is either melancholic, choleric, sanguine, or phlegmatic – the categorization is in part based on the child’s external physical appearance – and is treated accordingly by the teachers.

Along with privileging ostensibly “spiritual” considerations over cognitive and psycho-social ones, the static uniformity of this scheme is pedagogically suspect.  It also suggests that Waldorf schools’ reputation for fostering a spontaneous, child-centered and individually oriented educational atmosphere is undeserved. 34 In fact Steiner’s model of instruction is downright authoritarian: he emphasized repetition and rote learning, and insisted that the teacher should be the center of the classroom and that students’ role was not to judge or even discuss the teacher’s pronouncements.  In practice many Waldorf schools implement strict discipline, with public punishment for perceived transgressions.

Anthroposophy’s peculiar predilections also shape the Waldorf curriculum. Jazz and popular music are often scorned at European Waldorf schools, and recorded music in general is frowned upon; these phenomena are considered to harbor demonic forces. Instead students read fairy tales, a staple of Waldorf education. Some sports, too, are forbidden, and art instruction often rigidly follows Steiner’s eccentric theories of color and form. Taken together with the pervasive anti-technological and anti-scientific bias, the suspicion toward rational thought, and the occasional outbreaks of racist gibberish, these factors indicate that Waldorf schooling is as questionable as the other aspects of the anthroposophist enterprise.

Next to Waldorf schools, the most widespread and apparently progressive version of applied anthroposophy is biodynamic agriculture.  In Germany and North America, at least, biodynamics is an established part of the alternative agriculture scene.  Many small growers use biodynamic methods on their farms or gardens; there are biodynamic vineyards and the Demeter line of biodynamic food products, as well as a profusion of pamphlets, periodicals and conferences on the theory and practice of biodynamic farming.

Although not a farmer himself, Steiner introduced the fundamental outlines of biodynamics near the end of his life and produced a substantial body of literature on the topic, which anthroposophists and biodynamic growers follow more or less faithfully.  Biodynamics in practice often converges with the broader principles of organic farming.  Its focus on maintaining soil fertility rather than on crop yield, its rejection of artificial chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and its view of the whole farm or plot as an ecosystem all mark the biodynamic approach as an eminently sensible and ecologically sound method of cultivation.  But there is more to the story than that.

Biodynamic farming is based on Steiner’s revelation of invisible cosmic forces and their effects on soil and flora.  Anthroposophy teaches that the earth is an organism that breathes twice a day, that etheric beings act upon the land, and that celestial bodies and their movements directly influence the growth of plants.  Hence biodynamic farmers time their sowing to coincide with the proper planetary constellations, all a part of what they consider “the spiritual natural processes of the earth.” 35  Sometimes this “spiritual” approach takes unusual forms, as in the case of “preparation 500.”

To make preparation 500, an integral component of anthroposophist agriculture, biodynamic farmers pack cow manure into a steer’s horn and bury it in the ground.  After leaving it there for one whole winter, they dig up the horn and mix the manure with water (it must be stirred for a full hour in a specific rhythm) to make a spray which is applied to the topsoil.  All of this serves to channel “radiations which tend to etherealize and astralize” and thus “gather up and attract from the surrounding earth all that is etheric and life-giving.” 36

Non-anthroposophist organic growers are often inclined to dismiss such fanciful aspects of biodynamics as pointless but harmless appurtenances to an otherwise congenial cultivation technique.  While this attitude has some merit, it is not reciprocated by biodynamic adherents, who emphasize that “The ‘organic’ farmer may well farm ‘biologically’ but he does not have the knowledge of how to work with dynamic forces—a knowledge that was given for the first time by Rudolf Steiner.” 37 For better or worse, biodynamic farming is inseparable from its anthroposophic context.

Enthusiasm for biodynamics, however, has historically extended well beyond the boundaries of anthroposophy proper.  For a time it also held a strong appeal for others who shared anthroposophists’ nationalist background and occult interests. Indeed it was through biodynamic farming that anthroposophy most directly influenced the course of German fascism.

Anthroposophy and the “Green Wing” of the Nazi Party

The mix of mysticism, romanticism, and pseudo-environmentalist concerns propagated by Steiner and his cohorts brought anthroposophy into close ideological contact with a grouping that has been described as the green wing of National Socialism. 38 This group, which included several of the Third Reich’s most powerful leaders, were active proponents of biodynamic agriculture and other anthroposophist causes. The history of this relationship has been the subject of some controversy, with anthroposophists typically denying any connection whatsoever to the Nazis. To understand the matter fully, it is perhaps best to set it in the context of anthroposophy’s attitude toward the rise of fascism.

As the extremely thorough research of independent scholar Peter Bierl demonstrates, there was considerable admiration within the ranks of anthroposophists for Mussolini and Italian fascism, the precursor to Hitler’s dictatorship. 39 Moreover, several leading Italian anthroposophists were vocal Fascists and actively involved in promoting Fascist racial policy. 40 But it was the German variety of fascism which most prominently shared anthroposophy’s preoccupation with race. During the 1920’s and 1930’s the leading anthroposophist writer on racial issues was Dr. Richard Karutz, director of the anthropological museum in Lübeck. 41 Karutz wanted to protect anthropology as a discipline from what he termed “the sociological flood of materialist thinking,” favoring instead a “spiritual” ethnology based on anthroposophical race doctrine. 42 Flatly denying the anthropological research of his own time, he insisted on the cultural and spiritual superiority of the “Aryan race.”

Karutz was more openly antisemitic than many of his anthroposophist colleagues. He denounced the “spirit of Jewry,” which he described as “cliquish, petty, narrow-minded, rigidly tied to the past, devoted to dead conceptual knowledge and hungry for world power.” 43 During the last decade of the Weimar republic, Karutz and other anthroposophists had to contend with the growing notoriety of Nazi “racial science.” Karutz criticized the Nazis’ eugenic theories for their biological, as opposed to “spiritual,” emphasis, and for neglecting the role of reincarnation. But he agreed with their proscription against “racial mixing,” especially between whites and non-whites.

In 1931 the foremost anthroposophist journal published a positive review by Karutz of Walther Darré’s book Neuadel aus Blut und Boden (‘A New Nobility out of Blood and Soil’). Darré, a leading “racial theorist” and pre-eminent figure in the Nazis’ green wing, was soon to become Minister of Agriculture under Hitler. 44 This cozy relationship with major Nazi officials paid off for Steiner’s followers once the party took command of Germany. According to numerous anthroposophist accounts of this period, the Nazis hounded the Steinerites from the beginning of the Third Reich. But this self-serving tale is much too simple; the historical record reveals a considerably more complicated reality.

Immediately after the Nazi movement attained state power in early 1933, the leaders of organized anthroposophy took the initiative in extending their support to the new government. In June of that year a Danish newspaper asked Günther Wachsmuth, Secretary of the International Anthroposophic Society in Switzerland, about anthroposophy’s attitude toward the Nazi regime. He replied, “We can’t complain. We’ve been treated with the utmost consideration and have complete freedom to promote our doctrine.” Speaking for anthroposophists generally, Wachsmuth went on to express his “sympathy” and “admiration” for National Socialism. 45

Wachsmuth, one of three top officers at anthroposophy’s world headquarters in Dornach, was hardly alone among Steiner’s followers in his vocal support for the Hitler dictatorship. The homeopathic physician Hanns Rascher, for example, proudly proclaimed himself “just as much an anthroposophist as a National Socialist.” 46 In 1934 the German Anthroposophic Society sent Hitler an official letter pointing out anthroposophy’s compatibility with National Socialist values and emphasizing Steiner’s “Aryan origins” and his pro-German activism. 47

At the time Wachsmuth gave his interview, thousands of socialists, communists, anarchists, union members, and other dissidents had been interned or exiled, the Dachau and Oranienburg concentration camps had been established, and independent political life in Germany had been obliterated. But for years most anthroposophists suffered no official harassment; they were accepted into the compulsory Nazi cultural associations and continued to pursue their activities. The exception, of course, was Jewish members of anthroposophist organizations. They were forced, under pressure from the state, to leave these institutions. There is no record of their gentile anthroposophist comrades protesting this “racial” exclusion, much less putting up any internal resistance to it. In fact some anthroposophists, like the law professor Ernst von Hippel, endorsed the expulsion of Jews from German universities.

Despite this extensive public support by anthroposophists for the nazification of Germany, a power struggle was going on within the byzantine apparatus of the Nazi state over whether to ban anthroposophy or co-opt the movement and its institutions. This struggle was primarily conducted between Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy and a personal sympathizer with anthroposophical practices, and Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS and devotee of the esoteric and occult who viewed anthroposophy as ideological and organizational competition to his own pseudo-religion of Nazi paganism. 48 It was not until November 1935, long after most other independent cultural institutions had been destroyed, that the German Anthroposophic Society was dissolved on Himmler’s orders.

The ban, signed by Himmler’s lieutenant Reinhard Heydrich, cited anthroposophy’s “international orientation” and Waldorf schools’ “individualistic” education. Nazi opponents of the party’s green wing, such as Heydrich, disliked anthroposophy because of its “oriental” origins; there was also a certain populist resentment of anthroposophy’s elitism involved. But even after the ban there was no general persecution of anthroposophists. The anthroposophical doctors’ association received official recognition and support, joining the Nazi organization for ‘natural healing.’ Many anthroposophical publishing activities continued uninterrupted; anthroposophist professors, teachers and civil servants kept their jobs; Waldorf schools and biodynamic farms continued to operate. Most Waldorf schools were eventually shut down in the course of the later 1930’s, despite the pro-anthroposophist intervention of influential Nazis like SS war criminal Otto Ohlendorf. 49 But the final blow didn’t come until 1941 when Hess, anthroposophy’s protector, flew to Britain. After that point the last Waldorf school was closed for good, biodynamic farming lost its official support, and several leading anthroposophists were imprisoned for a time.

The Weleda factories, on the other hand, continued to operate throughout the war and even received state contracts. In fact Weleda supplied naturopathic materials for ‘medical experiments’ (i.e. torture) on prisoners at Dachau. 50 Weleda’s longtime head gardener, Franz Lippert, asked to be transferred to Dachau in 1941 to oversee the biodynamic plantation that Himmler had established at the concentration camp. 51 Lippert became an SS officer, as did his fellow biodynamic leader, anthroposophist Carl Grund. Thus anthroposophist collaboration with the Nazi vision of a new Europe persisted until the bitter end of the Third Reich.

Much of this sordid history is substantiated, albeit with a very different interpretive accent, in the massive 1999 book on anthroposophists and National Socialism by Uwe Werner, chief archivist at anthroposophy’s world headquarters in Switzerland. 52 But even this revealing work presents anthroposophist behavior under the Nazis as merely defensive and thus absolves Steiner’s followers of any measure of responsibility for Nazi Germany’s myriad crimes. Many other postwar attempts by anthroposophists to come to terms with their history of compromise and complicity with the Third Reich are embarrassingly evasive and repeat the underlying racism which united them with the Nazis in the first place. The prevailing explanations are thoroughly esoteric, portraying the Nazis as manipulated by demonic powers or even as a necessary stage in the spiritual development of the Aryan race. 53

The Biodynamic movement and its Nazi admirers

More striking still than such mystifications of Nazism is the refusal within anthroposophic circles to acknowledge their doctrine’s influence on the Nazis’ green wing. The anthroposophist inflection of German ecofascism extended well beyond high-profile figures such as Darré and Hess. 54 Powerful Steinerite Nazi functionaries and supporters of biodynamic agriculture included SS officer and anthroposophist Hans Merkel, a leading figure in the SS Main Office for Race and Settlement; anthroposophist Georg Halbe, an influential official in the Nazi agricultural apparatus; Merkel’s and Halbe’s colleague Wilhelm Rauber; and Nazi party Reichstag member Hermann Schneider. 55 Other regional and local officials of the biodynamic farmers league belonged to the Nazi party, including Carl Grund, Albert Friehe, and Harald Kabisch. 56 A further central member of the green wing with strong ties to anthroposophy was Alwin Seifert, whose official title was Reich Advocate for the Landscape. 57 Leading figures in the biodynamic movement, meanwhile, such as Franz Dreidax and Max Karl Schwarz, worked closely with various Nazi organizations.

What distinguished the motley band of fascist functionaries known collectively as the green wing of the Nazi movement was their allegiance to the anti-humanist “religion of nature” preached by National Socialism. 58 Reviving Haeckel’s blend of Social Darwinism and ecology, they embodied a historically unique and politically disastrous convergence of otherworldly ideology with worldly authority. In the green wing of the Nazi party, nationalism, spiritualism, esoteric racism and eco-mysticism acceded to state power. 59

The green wing’s guiding slogan was ‘Blood and Soil,’ an infamous Nazi phrase which referred to the mystical relationship between the German people and its sacred land. Adherents of Blood and Soil held that environmental purity was inseparable from racial purity. This dual concern made them natural consociates of anthroposophy. The principal intermediary between organized anthroposophy and the Nazi green wing was Erhard Bartsch, the chief anthroposophist official responsible for biodynamic agriculture. Bartsch was on friendly personal terms with Seifert and Hess and played a crucial role in persuading the Nazi leadership of the virtues of biodynamics. He constantly emphasized the philosophical affinities between anthroposophy and National Socialism. Bartsch edited the journal Demeter, official organ of German biodynamic growers, which praised the Nazis and their courageous Führer even after the start of the war. Bartsch also offered his services to the SS in their plan to settle the conquered territories of Eastern Europe with pure Aryan farmers. His early and wholehearted engagement for the Nazi cause is testimony to the political precariousness of the biodynamic model. 60

Many other powerful Nazi authorities supported biodynamic farming. These included, in addition to Ohlendorf, Hess, and Darré, the Nazi Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick, Nazi leader of the German Labor Front Robert Ley, and chief Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg, all of whom were visitors to Bartsch’s biodynamic estate, the headquarters of the biodynamic farmers league, and expressed their encouragement for the undertaking. Two further extremely important figures, especially after 1941, were the high SS commanders Günther Pancke and Oswald Pohl. Pancke was Darré’s successor as head of the SS Race and Settlement Main Office and drew on Bartsch’s assistance in planning a biodynamic component to the Nazi settlement of ethnically cleansed territories in Eastern Europe. Pohl, a friend of Seifert’s, was the administrator of the concentration camp system. He took a special interest in biodynamics and had his own estate farmed biodynamically. He established and maintained the ring of biodynamic farms at concentration camps, which continued to operate until the final defeat of Nazism in 1945.

Alongside these figures stood lesser-known Nazi leaders who actively supported the biodynamic cause, including a variety of other SS officers such as Heinrich Vogel, who coordinated the SS network of biodynamic plantations at concentration camps. Hanns G. Müller, the principal advocate of Lebensreform or ‘lifestyle reform’ views within the Nazi movement, was another longstanding sponsor of biodynamic agriculture. In 1935 the biodynamic farmers league officially joined Müller’s Nazi organization, the “Deutsche Gesellschaft für Lebensreform,” a collection of ‘alternative’ cultural groups dedicated to alternative health, nutrition, farming, and so forth, with an explicitly and fervently Nazi commitment. The organization’s journal Leib und Leben published dozens of articles by biodynamic enthusiasts as late as mid-1943. Müller’s Nazi party colleague Herman Polzer, another leading figure in Nazi Lebensreform circles, was a particularly vocal proponent of biodynamic agriculture. The coterie of “landscape advocates” working under Seifert, a long-time practitioner and advocate of biodynamics, also included a number of active anthroposophists, most prominently Max Karl Schwarz, a major leader in the biodynamic movement. 61

Nazi Minister of Agriculture and “Reich Peasant Leader” Walther Darré was initially skeptical toward biodynamic farming but became an enthusiastic convert in the late 1930’s. 62 He bestowed on Steiner’s version of organic cultivation the official label “farming according to the laws of life,” a term which highlights the natural order ideology common to all forms of reactionary ecology. In mid-1941 Darré was still heavily promoting state support for biodynamics, and his biographer claims that “one third of the top Nazi leadership supported Darré’s campaign” on behalf of biodynamics at a time when all varieties of anthroposophy were officially out of favor. 63 Indeed Nazi government encouragement of biodynamic farming had a long history: “There were two thousand bio-dynamic farmers registered in the Nazi ‘Battle for Production’, probably an understatement of the real figure.” 64

The green wing of the Nazis represents the historical fulfillment of the dreams of reactionary ecology: ecofascism in power. The extensive intertwinement of anthroposophic belief and practice with actually existing ecofascism should not be judged as an instance of guilt by association. Rather it ought to be occasion to reflect on the political susceptibilities of esoteric environmentalism. Even the anthroposophist author Arfst Wagner, who spent years compiling documentation on anthroposophy in the Third Reich, came to the uncomfortable conclusion that “a strong latent tendency toward extreme right-wing politics” is common among anthroposophists both past and present. 65

The Continuing Legacy of Steinerite Reactionary Ecology

The calamitous experience of Nazism failed to exorcise the right-wing spirits that haunt anthroposophy. Steiner’s dictum that social change could only be the result of spiritual transformation on an individual level lead to a marginalization of sober political analysis among his followers. This left anthroposophy wide open to the same regressive forces that had surreptitiously animated it all along.

Of course there were also personal continuities between the Nazi green wing and post-war anthroposophy. While Hess was inaccessible in Spandau prison, Darré’s judges at Nuremberg imposed a relatively short sentence, with the help of Merkel, his anthroposophist attorney. Darré studied Steiner’s writings during his imprisonment, and after his release from prison resumed his friendly contacts with anthroposophists until his death in 1953. Seifert returned to his professorship of landscape architecture in Munich and in 1964 was elected honorary chair of the Bavarian League for Nature Conservation. Darré’s biographer also notes admiringly “the brave handful of top Nazis” who had refused to cooperate with the 1941 purge of anthroposophists and “had their children educated and cared for by Anthroposophists after the Second World War.” 66

The second generation of radical right-wing anthroposophists was represented above all by Werner Georg Haverbeck, a leader of the Nazi youth movement during the Third Reich and an associate of Hess. After the war he became pastor of an anthroposophist congregation and founded the far-right World League for the Protection of Life (WSL in its German acronym). 67 The WSL, which has played an influential role in the German environmental movement, is anti-abortion, anti-immigration, and pro-eugenics. It promotes a “natural order of life” and opposes racial “degeneration.” As aggressive nationalism gained ever more ground in German public discourse through the 1980’s and 1990’s, Haverbeck and the WSL were instrumental in linking it to ecological issues. 68

In 1989 Haverbeck authored a biography of anthroposophy’s founder under the title Rudolf Steiner – Advocate for Germany. 69 The book portrays Steiner, accurately enough, as a staunch nationalist, and even uses Steiner’s work to deny the facts of the holocaust. Haverbeck’s fellow long-time anthroposophist and WSL leader Ernst Otto Cohrs is another active holocaust denier. Cohrs, who made his living in the 1980’s and 1990’s selling biodynamic products, has also published works such as “There Were No Gas Chambers” and “The Auschwitz Myth.” A further prominent Steinerite on Germany’s extreme right is Günther Bartsch, who describes himself as a “national revolutionary.” Along with his neo-Nazi comrade Baldur Springmann, an organic farmer, WSL member, and founder of the Greens, Bartsch developed the doctrine of ‘Ecosophy.’ A mixture of anthroposophy with reactionary ecology and teutonic mysticism, ecosophy is yet another vehicle for promoting far right politics within the esoteric scene.

The persistent connection between Steiner’s worldview and neofascist politics is not restricted to a few fringe figures. Throughout the past two decades, well-known anthroposophists have been a common presence in Germany’s far right press, while anthroposophist publications often enough opens their pages to right-wing extremists. One anti-fascist researcher reports that “leading figures in the extreme right and neofascist camp are ideological proponents of biodynamic agriculture.” 70 Anthroposophists themselves occasionally admit that within their own organizations a “right-wing conservative consensus” remains “absolute.” 71 In Italy, meanwhile, the foremost post-war anthroposophist, Massimo Scaligero, was also a leading figure in neo-fascist circles, as was his pupil and colleague, anthroposophist Enzo Erra. 72 Steiner’s work has numerous far-right Italian fans. 73

Many contemporary anthroposophists nonetheless maintain that figures like Haverbeck are marginal to their movement. This argument overlooks the fact that several of Haverbeck’s books are published by the largest anthroposophist publisher in Germany, and ignores the substantial overlap between Haverbeck’s positions and those of Steiner and classical anthroposophy. More important, mainstream anthroposophists continue to repeat the mistakes of the past, as if Nazi tyranny and genocide had never taken place. Günther Wachsmuth, for example – as mainstream an anthroposophist as one might find – published a purportedly scientific book in the 1950’s called The Development of Humanity which recapitulated the racist nonsense of pre-war anthroposophy. 74 Even more aggressively racist post-war anthroposophical works are not difficult to find. 75 In 1991, in the midst of an intense debate within Germany about restricting immigration laws, an anthroposophist journal ran an article with the title “Deutschendämmerung” (‘Twilight of the Germans’) which offered an ‘ecological’ version of neo-malthusian propaganda and anti-immigrant hysteria.

Mainstream anthroposophy also still has a Jewish problem. Perhaps this is not surprising in a movement whose founder blamed the historical persecution of Jews on their own “inner destiny” and proclaimed that “the Jews have contributed immensely to their own separate status.” 76 In 1992 a Swiss Waldorf teacher published a book claiming there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz; a leading Russian anthroposophist followed suit in 1996 with another book denying the holocaust; in 1995 a prominent anthroposophist periodical carried an article on “Jewish-Christian Hostility” which recycled the old myth of Jews as Christ-killers; in 1998 an anthroposophist from Hamburg wrote to another Steinerite journal claiming that “from 1933 to 1942 any Jew could leave the Nazi dictatorship with all of his property, and even be released from a concentration camp, as long as he went to Palestine.” 77 In 1991 and again in 1997 Swiss and German anthroposophists re-issued the 1931 book Das Rätsel des Judentums (‘The Mystery of Jewry’) by Ludwig Thieben, one of Austria’s leading anthroposophists in Steiner’s day. Jewish organizations and civil rights groups protested this ugly tract, which decries the “far-reaching negative influence of the Jewish essence,” alleges that Jews have “an anti-christian predisposition in their blood,” and holds Jews responsible for the “decline of the West.” 78 The anthroposophist publisher threatened the protesting organizations with a lawsuit.

The repeated occurrence of incidents such as these ought to be of considerable concern to humanists and people who envision a world free of racist ignorance. Even when approached with skepticism, anthroposophy’s consistent pattern of regressive political stances raises troubling questions about participation in anthroposophist projects and collaboration with anthroposophists on social initiatives. Those anthroposophists who are actively involved in contemporary environmental and social change movements frequently personify the most reactionary aspects of those movements: they hold technology, science, the enlightenment and abstract thought responsible for environmental destruction and social dislocation; they rail against finance capital and the loss of traditional values, denounce atheism and secularism, and call for renewed spiritual awareness and personal growth as the solution to ecological catastrophe and capitalist alienation. Conspiracy theory is their coin in trade, esoteric insight their preferred answer, obscurantism their primary function.

With a public face that is seemingly of the left, anthroposophy frequently acts as a magnet for the right. Loyal to an unreconstructed racist and elitist philosophy, built on a foundation of anti-democratic politics and pro-capitalist economics, purveying mystical panaceas rather than social alternatives, Steiner’s ideology offers only disorientation in an already disoriented world. Anthroposophy’s enduring legacy of collusion with ecofascism makes it plainly unacceptable for those working toward a humane and ecological society.


1. See Rudolf Steiner, Die Mission einzelner Volksseelen im Zusammenhang mit der germanisch-nordischen Mythologie, Dornach, Switzerland 1994. These lectures are available in English under the title The Mission of the Individual Folk Souls in Relation to Teutonic Mythology, London 1970, republished 2005. The “Nordic spirit” of Scandinavia continues to fascinate European anthroposophists; see, for example, Hans Mändl, Vom Geist des Nordens, Stuttgart 1966, and Gundula Jäger, Die Bildsprache der Edda: Vergangenheits- und Zukunftsgeheimnisse in der nordisch-germanischen Mythologie (Stuttgart 2004).

2. For more thorough discussion of anthroposophical race doctrines see Sven Ove Hansson, “The Racial Teachings of Rudolf Steiner”: as well as Helmut Zander, “Anthroposophische Rassentheorie: Der Geist auf dem Weg durch die Rassengeschichte” in Stefanie von Schnurbein and Justus Ulbricht, Völkische Religion und Krisen der Moderne, Würzburg 2001, and Peter Staudenmaier, “Race and Redemption: Racial and Ethnic Evolution in Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy” Nova Religio vol. 11 no. 3 (2008), pp. 4-36.

3. One crucial stumbling block for English language readers is the anthroposophical tendency to delete racist and antisemitic passages from translated editions of Steiner’s publications. For examples see and for context see

4. See the incisive passages on Steiner and anthroposophy in Bloch, Heritage of Our Times, Berkeley 1991, as well as Adorno’s “Theses against occultism” in Adorno, Minima Moralia, London 1974.

5. Readers of German can now consult a superb account of Steiner’s intellectual development and a comprehensive history of anthroposophy’s early years: Helmut Zander, Anthroposophie in Deutschland: Theosophische Weltanschauung und gesellschaftliche Praxis 1884–1945, Göttingen 2007.

6. On the connections between theosophy and the Nazis, see George Mosse, “The Occult Origins of National Socialism” in Mosse, The Fascist Revolution: Toward a General Theory of Fascism, New York 1999.

7. Stewart Easton, Man and World in the Light of Anthroposophy, New York 1975, p. 164.

8. Steiner’s racial teachings, a crucial element of the anthroposophic worldview, are spread throughout his work. For a concise overview in English see Janet Biehl’s section on Steiner in Biehl and Staudenmaier, Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience, San Francisco 1995, pp. 42-43 (Norwegian edition: Økofascisme: Lærdom fra Tysklands erfaringer, Porsgrunn 1997). Major statements by Steiner himself include Rudolf Steiner, Cosmic Memory: Prehistory of Earth and Man, New York 1987; Steiner, Universe, Earth and Man, London 1987; Steiner, “The Manifestation of the Ego in the Different Races of Men” in Steiner, The Being of Man and His Future Evolution, London 1981; Steiner, “Die Grundbegriffe der Theosophie. Menschenrassen” (Basic concepts of Theosophy: The races of humankind) in Steiner, Die Welträtsel und die Anthroposophie, Dornach 1985; Steiner, “Farbe und Menschenrassen” (Color and the races of humankind) in Steiner, Vom Leben des Menschen und der Erde, Dornach 1993. Although this latter book, a collection of Steiner’s lectures from 1923, has been published in English, the translation omits the chapter on race.

9. For background on the notion of an “Aryan race” see Leon Poliakov, The Aryan Myth, New York 1974; Stefan Arvidsson, Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science, Chicago 2006; and Colin Kidd, “The Aryan Moment: Racialising Religion in the Nineteenth Century” in Kidd, The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600-2000, Cambridge 2006.

10. Wolfgang Treher makes a compelling case that Steiner’s racial theories, especially the repeated scheme of a small minority evolving further while a large mass declines, bear striking similarities even in detail to Hitler’s own theories.  He concludes: “Concentration camps, slave labor and the murder of Jews constitute a praxis whose key is perhaps to be found in the ‘theories’ of Rudolf Steiner.” Wolfgang Treher, Hitler Steiner Schreber, Emmingden 1966, p. 70.

11. Steiner, Vom Leben des Menschen und der Erde, p. 61. Elsewhere Steiner writes that the decimation of American Indians was due to their “racial character” (The Mission of the Folk Souls p. 76).

12. Rudolf Steiner, Cosmic Memory, New York 1987, p. 45.

13. Rudolf Steiner, Faculty Meetings With Rudolf Steiner pp. 58-59; Vom Leben des Menschen und der Erde p. 53; Gesundheit und Krankheit p. 189. Steiner’s typical remarks on Asian mental passivity, French decadence, and Slavic primitiveness are of similar caliber.

14. Steiner, Vom Leben des Menschen und der Erde 59, 62, 67.

15. Anthroposophical race thinking was hardly a personal idiosyncrasy of Rudolf Steiner. Racist theories abound within twentieth-century anthroposophical literature. Among many other examples see the following: Guenther Wachsmuth, editor, Gäa-Sophia: Jahrbuch der Naturwissenschaftlichen Sektion der Freien Hochschule für Geisteswissenschaft am Goetheanum Dornach, Stuttgart 1929, volume III: Völkerkunde; Wolfgang Moldenhauer, “Der Mensch vor und neben den grossen Kulturen”, Das Goetheanum February 13, 1938; Karl Heise, “Ein paar Worte zum Dunkelhaar und Braunauge der Germanen”, Zentralblatt für Okkultismus July-November 1914; Hans Heinrich Frei, “In Vererbung wiederholte Menschenleibes-Form und in Schicksalsgestaltung wiederholte Geisteswesens-Form”, Anthroposophie August 14 1927; Valentin Tomberg, “Mongolentum in Osteuropa”, Anthroposophie February 22 1931; Harry Köhler, “Menschheits-Entwickelung und Völkerschicksale im Spiegel der Historie”, Das Goetheanum August 21 1932; Wolfgang Moldenhauer, “Die Wanderungs-Atlantier und das Gesetz des Manu”, Das Goetheanum June 26 1938; Elise Wolfram, Die germanischen Heldensagen als Entwicklungsgeschichte der Rasse, Stuttgart 1922; Elisabeth Dank, “Die Neger in den Vereinigten Staaten” Die Christengemeinschaft September 1933; Ernst von Hippel, Afrika als Erlebnis des Menschen, Breslau 1938; as well as the substantial works on racial themes by leading anthroposophists Ernst Uehli and Richard Karutz. Italian anthroposophists also made significant contributions to the canon of racist publications; see e.g. Massimo Scaligero, “Razzismo spirituale e razzismo biologico”, La Vita Italiana July 1941; Scaligero, “Per un razzismo integrale” La Vita Italiana May 1942; Ettore Martinoli, “L’importanza di Trieste per l’ebraismo internazionale”, La Porta Orientale December 1942; Ettore Martinoli, “Gli impulsi storici della nuova Europa e l’azione dell’ebraismo internazionale”, La Vita Italiana April 1943.

16. Schnurre quoted in Oliver Geden, Rechte ökologie, Berlin 1996, p. 144.

17. For a fine critical study of Stirner’s influence on Steiner and others see Hans Helms, Die Ideologie der anonymen Gesellschaft, Cologne 1966.

18. On Steiner’s correspondence with Haeckel and his intense commitment to Monism around the turn of the century, see Anthroposophie vol. 16 no. 2 (January 1934), pp. 137-148.

19. First two quotes from Daniel Gasman, The Scientific Origins of National Socialism: Social Darwinism in Ernst Haeckel and the German Monist League, New York 1971, pp. 16-17; third quote from George Mosse, Toward the Final Solution, Madison 1985, p. 87. Haeckel’s virulent racism is also extensively documented in Richard Lerner, Final Solutions: Biology, Prejudice, and Genocide, Philadelphia 1992; cf. also Jürgen Sandmann, Der Bruch mit der humanitären Tradition: die Biologisierung der Ethik bei Ernst Haeckel und anderen Darwinisten seiner Zeit, Stuttgart 1990.

20. Gasman, p. 31 and 23. See also the classic account from an anthroposophist perspective: Johannes Hemleben, Rudolf Steiner und Ernst Haeckel, Stuttgart 1965. For context see Gasman, Haeckel’s Monism and the Birth of Fascist Ideology, New York 1998, and for critical views on Gasman’s work see Richard Evans, “In Search of German Social Darwinism: The History and Historiography of a Concept” in Manfred Berg and Geoffrey Cocks, Medicine and Modernity: Public Health and Medical Care in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Germany, Cambridge 1997.

21. Rudolf Steiner, The Course of my Life, New York 1951, p. 142.

22. Rudolf Steiner, Die geistigen Hintergründe des Ersten Weltkrieges, Dornach 1974, p. 27. For context see Ulrich Linse, “Universale Bruderschaft oder nationaler Rassenkrieg – die deutschen Theosophen im Ersten Weltkrieg” in Heinz-Gerhard Haupt and Dieter Langewiesche, eds., Nation und Religion in der deutschen Geschichte (Frankfurt 2001); and Herman de Tollenaere, The Politics of Divine Wisdom: Theosophy and Labour, National, and Women’s Movements in Indonesia and South Asia, 1875-1947 (Nijmegen 1996), pp. 156-160.

23. Steiner wrote that “the social organism is structured like the natural organism” in his nationalist pamphlet from 1919, “Aufruf an das deutsche Volk und an die Kulturwelt.” The pamphlet is quoted extensively in Walter Abendroth, Rudolf Steiner und die heutige Welt, Munich 1969, pp.122-123. Consider also this passage: “Every person must find the place where his work may be articulated in the most fruitful way into his people’s organism. It must not be left to chance to determine whether he shall find this place. The state constitution has no other goal than to ensure that everyone shall find his appropriate place. The state is the form in which the organism of a people expresses itself.” Steiner, Goethe the Scientist, New York 1950, 164.

24. For background see Ralph Bowen, German Theories of the Corporative State, New York 1947.

25. Quotes from Steiner as cited in Christoph Lindenberg, Rudolf Steiner, Hamburg 1992, pp. 111-112. For a comprehensive critique of ‘social threefolding’ see Ilas Körner-Wellershaus, Sozialer Heilsweg Anthroposophie: eine Studie zur Geschichte der sozialen Dreigliederung Rudolf Steiners unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der anthroposophischen Geisteswissenschaft (Bonn 1993).

26. Abendroth, Rudolf Steiner und die heutige Welt, p. 120.

27. Steiner quoted in Thomas Divis, “Rudolf Steiner und die Anthroposophie” in ÖkoLinx  #13 (February 1994), p. 27.

28. From a Steiner lecture manuscript reproduced in Walter Kugler, Rudolf Steiner und die Anthroposophie, Cologne 1978, pp. 199-200.

29. Cited in Peter Bierl, Wurzelrassen, Erzengel und Volksgeister: Die Anthroposophie Rudolf Steiners und die Waldorfpädagogik, Hamburg 1999, p. 107. A revised and expanded edition of Bierl’s excellent book was published in 2005.

30. See Charlotte Rudolph, Waldorf-Erziehung: Wege zur Versteinerung, Darmstadt 1987. Cf. Susanne Lippert, Steiner und die Waldorfpädagogik. Mythos und Wirklichkeit, Berlin 2001; Paul-Albert Wagemann und Martina Kayser: Wie frei ist die Waldorfschule? Munich 1996; Peter Bierl, “Der braune Geist der Waldorfpädagogik” in Ganzheitlich und ohne Sorgen in die Republik von Morgen: Dokumentation zum Kongress gegen Irrationalismus, Esoterik und Antisemitismus, Aschaffenburg 2001; Sybille-Christin Jacob and Detlef Drewes, Aus der Waldorf-Schule geplaudert: Warum die Steiner-Pädagogik keine Alternative ist, Aschaffenburg 2001; Juliane Weibring, Die Waldorfschule und ihr religiöser Meister: Waldorfpädagogik aus feministischer und religionskritischer Perspektive, Oberhausen 1998.

31. From an international Waldorf teachers conference in 1996, cited in Bierl, Wurzelrassen, Erzengel und Volksgeister p. 204.

32. Rudolf Steiner, The Spiritual Ground of Education, London 1947, p. 40.

33. Easton, Man and World in the Light of Anthroposophy, p. 388.

34. For thorough critical studies of Waldorf pedagogy see Heiner Ullrich, Waldorfpädagogik und okkulte Weltanschauung, Munich 1991, and Klaus Prange, Erziehung zur Anthroposophie: Darstellung und Kritik der Waldorfpädagogik, Bad Heilbrunn 2000.

35. Lindenberg, Rudolf Steiner, p. 134.

36. Steiner, Lecture Four from the 1924 Course on Agriculture.

37. Easton, Man and World in the Light of Anthroposophy, p. 444.

38. I have borrowed the phrase “green wing of the NSDAP” (the German acronym for the Nazi party) from Jost Hermand; see his Grüne Utopien in Deutschland, Frankfurt 1991, especially pp. 112-118. The term is not meant to suggest an identifiable faction within the party; rather it refers to a tendency or shared ideological and practical orientation, common to many activists and leading figures in the Nazi movement, the main outlines of which are recognizably environmentalist by today’s standards. For a much fuller treatment of this tendency see my “Fascist Ecology: The “Green Wing” of the Nazi Party and Its Historical Antecedents” in Biehl and Staudenmaier, Ecofascism. For critical discussion of the concept see Franz-Josef Brüggemeier, Mark Cioc, and Thomas Zeller, eds., How Green were the Nazis?: Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich, Athens 2005; Frank Uekoetter, The Green and the Brown: A History of Conservation in Nazi Germany, Cambridge 2006; Joachim Radkau and Frank Uekötter, eds., Naturschutz und Nationalsozialismus, Frankfurt 2003; and Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn, “Naturschutz und Nationalsozialismus: Darstellungen im Spannungsfeld von Verdrängung, Verharmlosung und Interpretation” in Gert Gröning and Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn, eds., Naturschutz und Demokratie, Munich 2006, 91-113.

39. See Bierl, Wurzelrassen, Erzengel und Volksgeister pp. 135-138. For a sympathetic overview of the Italian anthroposophical movement in the Fascist era see Michele Beraldo, “Il movimento antroposofico italiano durante il regime fascista” in Dimensioni e problemi della ricerca storica  no. 1, 2002.

40. For extensive examples see and On the collaborationist role of the Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in Italy and fervent Fascist Ettore Martinoli in antisemitic measures see Michael Wedekind, Nationalsozialistische Besatzungs- und Annexionspolitik in Norditalien 1943 bis 1945, Munich 2003, pp. 358-360, 385-386; and Silva Bon, La persecuzione antiebraica a Trieste (1938-1945), Udine 1972.

41. For examples of Karutz’s anthroposophical racial theories, see Richard Karutz, Rassenfragen, Stuttgart 1934; Karutz, “Zur Rassenkunde” Das Goetheanum January 3, 1932: Karutz, Von Goethe zur Völkerkunde der Zukunft, Stuttgart 1929.

42. Karutz quoted in Bierl, Wurzelrassen, Erzengel und Volksgeister p. 129.

43. Karutz, Von Goethe zur Völkerkunde der Zukunft, p. 57. Steiner himself was ambivalent toward Jews. In an 1897 polemic against zionism he compared antisemites – at the time a well-organized, active and very popular presence in Central Europe – to harmless children, and argued that zionists and “the heartless leaders of the Jews who are tired of Europe” were “much worse” than the antisemites (Steiner, Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Kultur- und Zeitgeschichte p. 199). On the other hand he actively supported the right side in the Dreyfus affair, albeit largely out of hostility toward the French republic. Steiner publicly rejected antisemitism, aligning himself instead with what he called the “idealistic German nationalist tendency” which opposed the “materialist” antisemitism of other pan-German agitators. For a detailed analysis see Peter Staudenmaier, “Rudolf Steiner and the Jewish Question,” Leo Baeck Institute Year Book vol. 50 (2005), pp. 127-147.

44. Darré was himself influenced by Steiner’s ideas; see Heinz Haushofer, Ideengeschichte der Agrarwirtschaft und Agrarpolitik im deutschen Sprachgebiet, volume II, Munich 1958, pp. 269-271.

45. The Wachsmuth interview is reprinted in Dokumente und Briefe zur Geschichte der anthroposophischen Bewegung und Gesellschaft in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus, edited by Arfst Wagner, Rendsburg 1993, vol. I pp. 40-41.

46. Rascher quoted in Bierl, Wurzelrassen, Erzengel und Volksgeister p. 140.

47. For a partial list of anthroposophists who were members of the Nazi party, the SS, and the SA, see Peter Staudenmaier, “Anthroposophen und Nationalsozialismus – Neue Erkenntnisse” Info3 July 2007, pp. 42-43. The article is available online at: An English version is available at:

48. In an earlier version of this article I characterized Hess as an anthroposophist, based on the extent to which he structured his personal dietary and health choices around anthroposophical beliefs. I now think that description was mistaken. My current view is that Hess’s occult interests were too nebulous to be specifically identified as anthroposophical, and that he is better seen as a sympathizer of anthroposophy and the major sponsor of anthroposophical activities during the Nazi era, but not as an anthroposophist himself.

49. For a detailed overview of Waldorf schools in Nazi Germany see Achim Leschinsky, “Waldorfschulen im Nationalsozialismus,” Neue Sammlung: Zeitschrift für Erziehung und Gesellschaft 23 (1983). For extensive background in English on the history of the Waldorf movement during the Third Reich, see and

50. See Geden, p. 140. Weleda maintains that their staff was unaware of how its products were used. This response is plausible, but obscures the more significant fact that Weleda had ongoing business relationships with the SS and the Wehrmacht during the war.

51. On the network of SS biodynamic plantations at various concentration camps, see Wolfgang Jacobeit and Christoph Kopke, Die Biologisch-dynamische Wirtschaftsweise im KZ, Berlin 1999.

52. Uwe Werner, Anthroposophen in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus 1933-1945, Munich 1999. The book is based in part on internal anthroposophist records not available to other scholars.

53. See, for example, Jesaiah Ben-Aharon, The Spiritual Event of the Twentieth Century, London 1996.

54. The most extensive study of Darré’s support for biodynamic agriculture is the work of historian Anna Bramwell. See Bramwell, Ecology in the 20th Century, London 1989, chapter ten on the green wing of the Nazis, entitled “The Steiner Connection,” as well as her earlier book Blood and Soil: Walther Darré and Hitler’s ‘Green Party’. Both are important sources of material on the topic. Bramwell’s work, however, is often unreliable and always tendentious and should be consulted with caution.

55. In an earlier version of this article, I named two further Nazi officials as supporters of biodynamics: Antony Ludovici and Ludolf Haase. This claim was based on Anna Bramwell’s statements about both men. In addition to archival sources, Bramwell’s work cites her own interviews with unnamed “Anthroposophist members of Darré’s staff” as a source on “relations between followers of Steiner and the regime” (Bramwell, Ecology in the 20th Century, p. 270), and I adopted her claims about Ludovici and Haase despite my expressed reservations about her work. I now think those claims are mistaken. After an extensive search of both archival documents (including those cited by Bramwell) and contemporary published sources from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, I have been unable to find any corroboration for sympathies toward biodynamic agriculture on the part of either figure. Bramwell furthermore appears to have confused Ludovici with Nazi agricultural specialist J. W. Ludowici.

56. Carl Grund, for example, an anthroposophist since the 1920s, worked as an official of the biodynamic farmers league throughout the 1930s and was one of the foremost spokesmen for biodynamic agriculture in Nazi Germany. Grund joined the Nazi party in May 1933 and joined the SA in November 1933. In 1942 he was made an SS officer, and was promoted to SS-Obersturmführer in 1943. Within the SS he was a specialist for agricultural questions.

57. On Seifert’s relationship to anthroposophy see especially Charlotte Reitsam, Das Konzept der “bodenständigen Gartenkunst” Alwin Seiferts, Frankfurt 2001.

58. See Robert Pois, National Socialism and the Religion of Nature, London 1985.

59. On the continuing reverberations of this political tradition within North American contexts today see Rajani Bhatia, “Green or Brown? White Nativist Environmental Movements” in Abby Ferber, editor, Home-Grown Hate: Gender and Organized Racism, New York 2004.

60. The fact that the biodynamic movement influenced Nazi agricultural policy is hardly news; it has been recognized in mainstream scholarship for some time. For one example see Judith Baumgartner,  Ernährungsreform – Antwort auf Industrialisierung und Ernährungswandel: Ernährungsreform als Teil der Lebensreformbewegung am Beispiel der Siedlung und des Unternehmens Eden seit 1893, Frankfurt 1992, pp. 55-57. Baumgartner’s study is by no means an aggressively critical treatment of the topic; her brief overview of the role of biodynamics in helping to shape the Third Reich’s agricultural policy is measured and matter-of-fact. A much more detailed account can be found in Gunter Vogt’s 2000 study Entstehung und Entwicklung des ökologischen Landbaus im deutschsprachigen Raum. Many anthroposophists are nonetheless taken aback when this history is recounted, an indication of how insulated the latter-day anthroposophical movement often is from its own past.

61. The initiator of the Italian wing of the biodynamic movement, Luigi Chimelli, was an effusive admirer of Mussolini and of Fascism, particularly its environmental and programs. See for example Chimelli’s introduction to his translation of a major work on biodynamic agriculture: Giovanni Schomerus, Il metodo di coltivazione biologico-dinamico, Pergine 1934, particularly pp. xvii-xx.

62. For a perceptive examination of Darré’s evolving relationship to the biodynamic movement, and a compelling counterargument to Bramwell’s work, see Gesine Gerhard, “Richard Walther Darré – Naturschützer oder ‘Rassenzüchter’?” in Radkau and Uekötter, Naturschutz und Nationalsozialismus. Gerhard’s legitimate and welcome critique of Bramwell sometimes leads her to overemphasize Darré’s skepticism toward anthroposophy, and she gives relatively little attention to the extensive support for biodynamics provided by members of Darré’s staff, including not only figures such as Merkel and Halbe but even more powerful Nazi agricultural officials such as Hermann Reischle, Karl August Rust, and Rudi Peuckert.

63. Anna Bramwell, Ecology in the 20th Century, London 1989, p. 204.

64. Ibid., p. 197. The ‘Battle for Production’ was Darré’s state-sponsored program to increase agricultural productivity. Initiated in 1934, its leading principle was “Keep the soil healthy!”

65. Wagner quoted in Bierl, p. 162.

66. Bramwell, Blood and Soil, Bourne End 1985, p. 179.

67. For more extensive discussion of the WSL and ultra-right anthroposophy see Janet Biehl’s “‘Ecology’ and the Modernization of Fascism in the German Ultra-right” in Biehl and Staudenmaier, Ecofascism, pp. 44-48.

68. Further information on Haverbeck and his milieu is available in several fine studies: Jonathan Olsen, Nature and Nationalism: Right-Wing Ecology and the Politics of Identity in Contemporary Germany, New York 1999; Richard Stöss, Vom Nationalismus zum Umweltschutz, Opladen 1980; and Volkmar Wölk, Natur und Mythos: Ökologiekonzeptionen der ‘Neuen’ Rechten im Spannungsfeld zwischen Blut und Boden und New Age, Duisburg 1992.

69. Haverbeck, Rudolf Steiner – Anwalt für Deutschland, Munich 1989.

70. Volkmar Wölk, “Neue Trends im ökofaschistischen Netzwerk” in Raimund Hethey and Peter Kratz, In Bester Gesellschaft, Göttingen 1991, p. 119.

71. Anthroposophist author Henning Köhler quoted in Bierl, p. 9.

72. For Erra’s collected essays on both Steiner and Scaligero see Enzo Erra, Steiner e Scaligero, Rome 2006. On Erra’s role in the post-war neo-fascist movement see Francesco Germinario, Da Salò al governo: Immaginario e cultura politica della destra italiana, Turin 2005, pp. 64, 78, 89-90, 95-96, 99; Daniele Lembo, Fascisti dopo la liberazione: Storia del fascismo e dei fascisti nel dopoguerra in Italia, Pavia 2007, pp. 74, 90-92, 112-16, 125, 129; Giuseppe Parlato, Fascisti senza Mussolini: Le origini del neofascismo in Italia, 1943-1948, Bologna 2006, pp. 177, 238, 298-99, 308; Adalberto Baldoni, La Destra in Italia 1945-1969, Rome 2000, pp. 296-98, 338-44, 361-62, 512-13; Franco Ferraresi, ed., La destra radicale, Milan 1984, 17-19, 27, 43, 194-96; Piero Ignazi, Il polo escluso: Profilo storico del Movimento Sociale Italiano, Bologna 1998, 41-44, 77-78, 116-19; Franco Ferraresi, Threats to Democracy: The Radical Right in Italy after the War, Princeton 1996, pp. 34, 210-13.

73. See e.g. these sympathetic accounts: Arianna Streccioni, A destra della destra, Rome 2000, pp. 63-64, 209; Luciano Lanna and Filippo Rossi, Fascisti immaginari: Tutto quello che c’è da sapere sulla destra, Florence 2003, pp. 20, 153-55; Piero Vassallo, Le culture della destra italiana, Milan 2002, pp. 90-92, 114-15, 128; for further background see Nicola Rao, Neofascisti: La destra italiana da Saloà a Fiuggi nel ricordo dei protagonisti, Rome 1999, pp. 39-43, 50-57, 67-72, 74-75, etc.; Rao, La fiamma e la celtica: Sessant’anni di neofascismo da Salò ai centri sociali di destra, Milan 2006, pp. 49-51, 58-63, 80-87, etc.

74. Wachsmuth, Werdegang der Menschheit, Dornach 1953; Wachsmuth, The Evolution of Mankind, Dornach 1961.

75. See for example Ernst Uehli, Nordisch-Germanische Mythologie als Mysteriengeschichte, Stuttgart 1965; Uehli, Atlantis und das Rätsel der Eiszeitkunst, Stuttgart 1957; Sigismund von Gleich, Der Mensch der Eiszeit und Atlantis, Stuttgart 1990; Gleich, Siebentausend Jahre Urgeschichte der Menschheit, Stuttgart 1987; Fred Poeppig, Das Zeitalter der Atlantis und die Eiszeit, Freiburg 1962.

76. Rudolf Steiner, Die Geschichte der Menschheit und die Weltanschauungen der Kulturvölker, p. 192.

77. Quoted in Bierl, p. 185. Bierl’s chapter on anthroposophist antisemitism includes many more examples of a similar nature.

78. Ludwig Thieben, Das Rätsel des Judentums, Basel 1991, pp. 164 and 174.

81 Replies to “Anthroposophy and Ecofascism”

  1. Hello, Hoping you can help me with your references. I have a copy of the Faculty Meetings (reference #13 – I would think) and can not find the references in the document that are referred to here. Would like to find these references — any help is appreciated!

  2. What a twisted train wreck of an article! I’m stunned. I came to this site thinking that the “Institute for Social Ecology” was some kind of a serious undertaking, and then I see this…! This article is a complete distortion and misrepresentation of actual fact, with a clear aim of discrediting Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy. It’s truly disappointing to see something like this actually published and given a public forum. Either the publisher was asleep at the switch, or just doesn’t have a clue about Steiner and didn’t know better, but it’s very disappointing to see. What really boggles my mind is that an actual human being would take the time to write something like this. How is the world supposed to become a better place when human beings are willing to spend their effort stooping this low?

  3. Phew! Now I feel better. After doing a search on Google, I’m very happy to see that there are others who have seen this crazy article and have even taken the time to refute some of it. See for example:

    Still, I can’t believe this article is even still up…! However, as I’ve now also learned that Peter is part of the “faculty” of the Social Ecology Institute, it’s probably more likely that my own comments will be deleted before the offending article is itself removed.

    All I can say, is I feel sorry for everyone who has been involved with this! What shame.

  4. This article is very biased.
    When you interpretate well the “Threefold social order” ?, or Steiners book: “Towards social renewal”?, you know that Steiner stands for equal rights for all poeple.
    In the definiton of racism by leading scholars, e.g. Albert Memmy, racism should include a mechanism of oppression, giving the “superior race” more privileges than the “inferior race”. You can not find Steiner that legitimates a superior position of one “race” above another, giving the “superior race” more rights.
    Memmis definition: “A generalized and definitive privileging of differences, whether real or imaginary, to the advantage of the accuser, and to the disadvantage of the victim, in order to justify one’s privileges and aggressiveness”

    Steiner does not want to “justify one’s privileges and aggressiveness”. He does neither believe in privileges nor in agressiveness.

  5. A real impressive study. I have been brought up in a Waldorf school, studied in an anthroposofical training course and was a curative educator for sixteen years in an anthroposofical institute for the mentally handicaped. Much that is exposed in this study is absolutely unknown in the lower ranks. There was however allways a strong feeling of the we ‘s and the they’s. There was a hostile outside world but it needs to be said the inside world was very hierarchical and wars were fought just as well. Much of anthroposophy is a remoddeling of Theosophy which already was a clear projection of how people thought in the nineteenth century about superiority of races. Anthroposophy makes use of the innocent and idealistic feelings of young people. It feeds itself on this energy. Everything is karma, and those higher up, know everything better. And although Steiner gave a method to varyfy his claims, by becoming clairvoyant onesself, nobody to my knowledge has reached this stage yet. So all is based on this teachers authority. But when you take your distance from this sectarian movement you can understand that it has had a prominent role to play in making the german mind capable of excepting Nazism. Hitlers preccupation with eastern occult Buddhism, his sending of expeditions to Tibet in the search of the Vril energy that would make the German Aryan race the new Giants that once lived on the island of Thule (Iceland) all rooted in Theosophy and Anthroposophy. Steiner has made the science of the spirit, which he claimes to posses, into a political instrument of devistating magnitude. Many anthroposofists are charming lovely people. They take out the sweets and do not know the deeper layers of the movement. Having gone through the Anthroposophical world to some extend it becomes clear what is meant with the sin against the holy spirit.
    Anthroposophy can not replace the rising insight in the value of each human being that is born out of the hart and that unites the human being regardless its origing or race or state of development. It is important that the hidden side of Anthroposophy comes in the open. In this way it can be cleaned and what is left over may be weight as to its value to all of us, aryans, jews indians, moslims or whatever.

  6. You’ve assigned a motivation without a citation here:

    Steiner was unwilling to accept a brown-skinned Hindu lad as the next “spiritual master.”

    I’m pretty sure that Anthroposophists reject the notion that Christ will return as a person. Rejecting a new ‘spiritual master’ based on racism is quite different from rejecting a claim that Christ has returned in human form–no matter what the color of the person.

    I doubt that Steiner’s credibility would have been elevated had he embraced Krishnamurti as the Christ.

  7. The following assertion is made:

    “What had separated Steiner all along from Blavatsky, Besant, and the other India-oriented theosophists was his insistence on the superiority of European esoteric traditions.”

    Yet correctly identify that:

    “The centerpiece of anthroposophical belief is spiritual advancement through karma and reincarnation”

    Karma and reincarnation are hardly European traditions. What are the European esoteric traditions that Steiner wished to elevate over the India-oriented traditions?

  8. Hello all,

    Thanks to those who took the time to reply to my article on “Anthroposophy and Ecofascism.” I have just been told about your replies today, and I am glad to have the opportunity to respond to the questions raised. The reactions here mirror the standard spectrum of replies from Steiner’s admirers, ranging from indignation and defensiveness to thoughtful queries and criticisms. Since the same sorts of issues arise again and again in such discussions, I have already replied at length to many of the concerns voiced here, and for those interested I recommend looking at my other articles about anthroposophy on this website. Ben, Jan, and Erin (whose comments I found particularly perceptive), and those inclined to their perspectives, may be especially interested in my article “The Art of Avoiding History,” which can be read here:

    I also appreciate Phil’s detailed remarks, based in his extensive experience in the anthroposophical milieu. For better or worse, though, Ben’s reaction is the kind I usually receive from Steiner’s admirers, who are frequently upset by my arguments and consider them to be distortions and misrepresentations of Steiner’s work. In many cases, this is because Steiner fans have inherited a peculiarly distorted view of anthroposophy from their fellow Steiner admirers, and are thus chagrined when historians correct their misconceptions. Many anthroposophists are quite mistaken, to choose just one example, about Steiner’s ‘social threefolding’ model. Those who would like more background on that topic can see here:

    Several of you asked specific questions about various aspects of Steiner’s work. Andrea, for example, says that she could not find the references for the passages I quoted from Steiner’s conferences with the original Waldorf teachers. The passage I cited is from a February 1923 conference and is available in both German and English. In the current English translation it reads as follows:

    “The French are committing the terrible brutality of moving black people to Europe, but it works, in an even worse way, back on France. It has an enormous effect on the blood and the race and contributes considerably toward French decadence. The French as a race are reverting.”

    Rudolf Steiner, Faculty Meetings With Rudolf Steiner (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), 558-59.

    The same passage appears, in slightly different translation, in Rudolf Steiner, Conferences with the Teachers of the Waldorf School in Stuttgart 1922 to 1923, Volume Three (Forest Row, U.K.: Steiner Schools Fellowship Publications, 1988), 87-88.

    Txai asked about responses to the “Defending Steiner” website. I have replied extensively to many of the “Defending Steiner” claims (which are often very inaccurate) in a variety of other forums. For several representative examples, see here:

    Jan and Erin raised several substantive and important questions about Steiner’s racial and ethnic doctrines. Jan says, citing Memmi, that racism must include “a mechanism of oppression” and that since Steiner did not actively oppress people he took to be racially different, his views cannot have been racist. On this view, an active mechanism of oppression is a necessary component of racism. There are a number of scholars who share similar views, but many others do not.

    Part of Jan’s objection seems to be based on a common confusion between racism as a worldview or set of ideas and racism as a practice or institution. Both aspects of racism are important, but my article does not address the latter form of racist activity; my article offers an analysis of racist ideas, not racist actions. My argument is not that Steiner was a racist in the sense of explicitly supporting the active oppression of racial and ethnic groups he considered inferior. My argument is that many of Steiner’s teachings are racist, according to standard historical conceptions of racism. Reader interested in my analysis of Steiner’s racial doctrines can find a much fuller treatment in my article “Race and Redemption: Racial and Ethnic Evolution in Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy” in Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions vol. 11 no. 3 (2008), 4-36. For those who do not have ready access to academic journals, I would be happy to provide a copy of the article.

    (Continued in next post)

  9. (continued from previous post)

    Aside from the particulars of Steiner’s racial teachings, it is important to keep in mind that a number of his followers – including several of those who took his racial doctrines most seriously and developed them further – did indeed support and participate in mechanisms of racial oppression. Examples include anthroposophists Richard Karutz, Massimo Scaligero, and Ettore Martinoli. Further background can be found here:

    I especially recommend the discussion of anthroposophist interpretations of Steiner’s racial and ethnic teachings here:

    Last, there is the crucial question of Steiner’s attitudes toward Eastern and Western spiritual traditions and their purported ties to race. Erin writes:

    “I’m pretty sure that Anthroposophists reject the notion that Christ will return as a person. Rejecting a new ’spiritual master’ based on racism is quite different from rejecting a claim that Christ has returned in human form–no matter what the color of the person.”

    These two viewpoints are indeed different, but for Steiner and many of his followers they converged. I have explained the context for these disputes at length in other forums; for a summary that answers Erin’s questions and more, see here:

    Erin also writes: “Karma and reincarnation are hardly European traditions. What are the European esoteric traditions that Steiner wished to elevate over the India-oriented traditions?”

    Belief in reincarnation is, in fact, a longstanding European tradition (historian of anthroposophy Helmut Zander, as it happens, has written a lengthy history of that very topic), and Steiner’s theosophical-anthroposophical conception of karma was also very much a Western construct. There is a considerable literature on these matters; interested readers might consult the following:

    Wouter Hanegraaff, New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 283-90

    Olav Hammer, Claiming Knowledge: Strategies of Epistemology from Theosophy to the New Age (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 455-94

    Lynn Sharp, “Spiritism, Occultism, Science: Meanings of Reincarnation in the Fin de Siècle,” in Sharp, Secular Spirituality: Reincarnation and Spiritism in Nineteenth-Century France (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2006), 163-200

    Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, ed., Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980)

    Ronald Neufeldt, “Karma and Rebirth in the Theosophical Movement” in Neufeldt, ed., Karma and Rebirth: Post Classical Developments (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986), 233-55

    Joscelyn Godwin, “The Survival of the Personality, according to Modern Esoteric Teachings” in Richard Caron, ed., Ésotérisme, gnoses & imaginaire symbolique: Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre (Leuven: Peeters, 2001), 403-13

    Lieselotte Kurth-Voigt, Continued Existence, Reincarnation, and the Power of Sympathy in Classical Weimar (Rochester: Camden House, 1999)

    Gauri Viswanathan, “The Ordinary Business of Occultism” Critical Inquiry 27 (2000), 1-20

    Nicholas Germana, The Orient of Europe: The Mythical Image of India and Competing Images of German National Identity (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2009)

    Friedrich Huber, “Die Reinkarnationsvorstellungen in den asiatischen Religionen und im Europa des 20. Jahrhunderts” Zeitschrift für Religions- und Geistesgeschichte 44 (1992), 15-32

    Ernst Benz, “Die Reinkarnationslehre in Dichtung und Philosophie der deutschen Klassik und Romantik” Zeitschrift für Religions- und Geistesgeschichte 9 (1957), 150-73

    Jörg Wichmann, “Das theosophische Menschenbild und seine indischen Wurzeln” Zeitschrift für Religions- und Geistesgeschichte 35 (1983), 12-33

    Helmuth von Glasenapp, “Theosophie und Anthroposophie” in Glasenapp, Das Indienbild deutscher Denker (Stuttgart: Koehler, 1960), 186-218

    J.S. Speyer, Die indische Theosophie (Leipzig: Haessel, 1914), 302-27

    Helmut Zander, Geschichte der Seelenwanderung in Europa: alternative religiöse Traditionen von der Antike bis heute (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1999)

    Steiner was quite explicit in insisting on the superiority of Western spiritual traditions over Eastern ones; for many examples, see here:

    As always, I encourage further discussion of any of these themes.

    Peter Staudenmaier

  10. Ben’s response is remarkable: it is articulate and full of distress and yet absolutely free of specific content. It merely expresses vehement disbelief that Staudenmeier could do such an inhuman thing as write this article — to which I would say, “Egad, if you think that this stretches the bounds of the human, you should really get out more.”

    Ben is emphatically shocked that Staudenmeier is allowed to speak publicly at all. In fact, he seems make deeply authoritarian assumptions:

    “Still, I can’t believe this article is even still up…! However, as I’ve now also learned that Peter is part of the “faculty” of the Social Ecology Institute, it’s probably more likely that my own comments will be deleted before the offending article is itself removed.”

    In a world of free speech, Staudenmeier’s article would still, quite properly, be available on the Web even if it was malicious trash, which it manifestly is not (if writers of malicious trash had to footnote this extensively and employ such measured tones, there would be a lot less of it about) — and nobody is going to censor you, either, Ben. Why are the only two alternatives that you can imagine (a) somebody will censor Staudenmeier, (b) Staudenmeier will censor you? How about if nobody censors anybody? As is, in fact, the case here?

    If it helps, anthroposophy isn’t alone. Almost all our institutions and religions (including atheistic humanism) have been implicated to some extent by the sinister cultural currents that Staudenmeier traces so meticulously in anthroposophy. The Methodist Church, for example, recently apologized for its own support of eugenics in the years before WWII ( Many European Catholics admired the early Fascists as an anti-godless-Communist movement. Winston Churchill supported the Fascists in Spain. Race-purity laws and eugenic forced-sterilization laws were passed in dozens of US states before WWII with the support of mainstream churches and were cited by Nazi thinkers as exemplary. Nazism was not a visitor from another planet, something inhuman, something with which our other ideologies had no connection whatever, but was intimately interlocked with and exploitative of what would we now call both “conservative” and “liberal” idealisms. Fascism had history-changing appeal because it spoke to deep desires of many sorts.

    To turn around a favorite saying of Nazi officers in the death camps, we all have “dirt on our walking stick.” Only they meant it to be exculpatory. We should use it confessionally. The Nazis were not, alas, so different from us as our popular iconization of Nazi as Purely Evil, Purely Other would have it.

  11. Dear Peter,

    I am a half Asian and half European anthroposophist. I teach in a Waldorf upper school and having lived in a Camphill community for 12 years I think I qualify for some reflection on your-without a doubt-superbly and convincingly written article. What you have stipulated regarding the racial questions of anthroposophy is no doubt based on some truth as there is no smoke without the fire. However, the shady, dark, occult racist doctrine preparing the soil for the nazis, sectarian indoctrination of young children, totalitarian theory of society and the such are in direct opposite with the actual results of the work inspired by anthroposophy.
    Why would a group of Austrian Jews exiled by the nazis from Austria to the UK, all active and some publishing members of Antroposophical society, some having attended the lectures of Rudolf Steiner, establish and run now for 70 years an organization devoted at looking after the most handicapped people you can imagine on a voluntary basis at great personal sacrifice? Now where is the aryan super-race dogma in this? Were they all ignorant of the racist anti-semitism or were they following a secret plan to exterminate all the less worthy in the UK? In which case they’ve failed spectacularly.
    Is the claim of Waldorf education to encourage free thinking a big hoax?
    We get students from Waldorf primary classes and I can assure you they are as inquisitive, critical, free thinking individuals as they come. We encourage students to think for themselves and do not follow blindly the rants of the academics and politicians. Is that indoctrination? The harmful effects of TV and IT technologies on children are nowadays well documented by independent sources. The limitations of the scientific research, likewise. We tell students about orthodox medicine but we also and with equal respect tell students of the alternatives. Is it indoctrination? If you ask my students whether they feel indoctrinated they will laugh at you. It is their panic stricken parents who, after reading articles such as yours, blow the whistle of sectarian indoctrination and we than have to deal with numerous pointless inspections which find nothing instead of devoting our time to our work.
    Interestingly, in your account of the nazi- anthro links, you have omitted to mention any favourable quotes by R.S. on the subject of the rise of national socialism in Europe or his exulted predictions of the biodynamic Third Reich. May it be that there were not any and that the later developments were the individual self-preserving deviations from the moral, human errors, so often perpetrated in those days? Could anyone stop the nazis to use biodynamics? Can anyone stop the far right to adopt biodynamics? Perhaps, they just like to eat well. Good on the neonazi swine.
    Lastly, it seems to me that the key antroposophical premise of reincarnation and karma is in direct contradiction with its supposed race-ist teachings. Immortal human spirit in this context is surely “above” the race, ethnicum, nationality, religion, isn’t it?
    I think, you have found and masterly collated all the controversial info available on anthroposophy today and the result is truly remarkable and yet, in a hard to define way, you have misinterpreted Steiner’s teachings, shifting the whole shebang sharply into the realms of the sinister. Judging by the fruit of the antroposophical tree, hardly a fair play.

  12. Hi Ant,

    Thanks for your reply to my article. Lots of anthroposophists today believe, like you, that the history my article recounts stands in opposition to “the actual results of the work inspired by anthroposophy.” I think that is due in part to widespread unfamiliarity among many anthroposophists with the history of their movement and worldview. Particularly anthroposophists and Waldorf proponents who appreciate what they see as the progressive and tolerant aspects of the movement today are often taken aback by the historical factors that are the focus of my work. Even people who have been involved in anthroposophical projects for years are frequently unaware of this history, and it is sometimes hard for them to square it with what they find appealing about Steiner’s work. There are a variety of reasons for this general neglect of the less pleasant aspects of anthroposophy’s history; part of it has to do with the fact that Steiner took a dim view of historical scholarship. Whatever the origins of this lack of historical awareness among Steiner’s admirers, it consistently gets in the way of meaningful discussion between enthusiasts of anthroposophy and critics of anthroposophy.

    In part because of this lack of historical awareness, anthroposophists sometimes tend to see the legacy of anthroposophical involvement in Nazism as a “deviation” from the otherwise honorable development of the movement. That avoids the issue. The history of Steiner’s followers between 1933 and 1945 is part of “the work inspired by anthroposophy.” It is not somehow a deviation from that work. Anthroposophist actions during the Third Reich are part of “the fruit of the anthroposophical tree.” Coming to terms with this history means facing the uncomfortable features of the movement that Steiner founded. (On a side note, it’s also a good idea to pay closer attention to the historical details involved; for example, Steiner died in 1925, whereas the Nazis came to power in 1933.) It seems to me that a number of your question stem from this sort of unfamiliarity with the historical context, and I think that may have led you to misunderstand my arguments. For instance, you asked: “Were they all ignorant of the racist anti-semitism or were they following a secret plan to exterminate all the less worthy in the UK?”

    Many of Steiner’s racial teachings were indeed racist, and much of what he said about Jews was indeed antisemitic. But neither his racism nor his antisemitism was exterminationist. Similarly, what you call “the aryan super-race dogma” doesn’t really capture Steiner’s racial doctrines and the role the “Aryan” race plays within those doctrines. You go on to write: “Lastly, it seems to me that the key antroposophical premise of reincarnation and karma is in direct contradiction with its supposed race-ist teachings.” That may well be the case for you and even for me, but it was not the case for Steiner. In his formulation of anthroposophy, the notions of reincarnation and karma were directly and centrally bound up with the theory of racial evolution. You note accurately that the “Immortal human spirit in this context is surely “above” the race, ethnicum, nationality, religion, isn’t it?” The reincarnating spirit is indeed ‘above’ any particular racial and ethnic form; that is rather the point of the whole process of evolution via successive incarnations. For Steiner, different racial and ethnic groups were arranged in a hierarchical scale from ‘lower’ to ‘higher’, and the level of spiritual development determined which race and people an individual spirit would incarnate into. Once most reincarnating spirits had advanced beyond the ‘lower’ racial and ethnic forms, those ostensibly lower races and peoples could disappear, having fulfilled their evolutionary function. These teachings are spelled out dozens of anthroposophical works by Steiner and his followers. It seems to me that anthroposophists who would like to get their movement to move beyond such beliefs at last would do well to acquaint themselves with these works.

    Aside from these basic points about the history of anthroposophy and the actual content of Steiner’s teachings, I also think you have misunderstood my views on Waldorf education. I do not hold that Waldorf schools promote the “sectarian indoctrination of young children.” Indeed my objections to Waldorf pedagogy have relatively little to do with the historical entwinement of anthroposophy and Nazism. Like you, I have a lot of experience teaching children. I am an active supporter of and sometime participant in the alternative education movement. Waldorf pedagogy, as Steiner created it and as the first generation of his followers institutionalized it, is frequently based on premises that are explicitly contrary to those of alternative educational models. I get the sense from your reply that you may have mistaken your own specific school for a representative Waldorf environment; for example, you emphasize an image of the pupils as “inquisitive, critical, free thinking individuals,” something Steiner warned sternly against. Many Waldorf enthusiasts are simply unaware of these aspects of Waldorf education. If you are trying to say that your particular school has decided to jettison the authoritarian features of the Waldorf model, that is fine news, but I’m afraid there are lots of other Waldorf schools out there that decline to distance themselves from Steiner’s framework. In any case, if you’d like to know more about my own views on Waldorf, you can see the postscript on Waldorf education in my article ‘The Art of Avoiding History’ here at this same website:

    I think our very different approaches to these questions are encapsulated in this sentence from your reply: “It is their panic stricken parents who, after reading articles such as yours, blow the whistle of sectarian indoctrination and we than have to deal with numerous pointless inspections which find nothing instead of devoting our time to our work.” It’s hard to see what such “inspections” might turn up; a group of teachers who don’t know a whole lot about the educational model they are supposedly following, and thus are at a loss when parents ask about the less pleasing facets of that model? Devoting time to your work is a fine thing, but you might devote a bit more time to learning about the background of your work, its origins and development, its history and context, its ideological affiliations, and so forth. That would probably prepare you to deal more effectively with irate parents who had to learn about such matters from outside sources rather than being told about them by you and your colleagues in the first place. If you’d like fewer encounters with panic-stricken parents, it could be a good idea to be more forthcoming about Waldorf’s anthroposophical underpinnings, its history, and its distinctive features, rather than leaving this up to the parents to find out for themselves. That, in my view, would be a good start toward coming to terms with the less appealing fruits of the anthroposophical tree. Best,

    Peter Staudenmaier

  13. Dear Peter,

    I have to ask again: Why would a group of Austrian jews, among whom were accomplished scholars of Anthroposophy, most notably Dr. Karl Konig, very close to the original source writings by R. Steiner found a worldwide organization for HANDICAPPED people? Can you stop the nazis and neo nazis to adopt Steiner’s theory of root races and biodynamics? Can you stop Hitler gorging on a biodynamic carrot? Have you given a thought to the remote possibility that R. Steiner having seen the future 5000 years away, did not anticipate, and speak favourably of, the rise of nazism, the very catalyst of his racist teachings? Trevor Ravenscroft in his book “The spear of destiny” claims Steiner narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by the nazis. Now it will get really controversial. Could it be that the reincarnation theory, namely the human soul ascending the ladder of development part, could be held true by anthroposophists without igniting racist sentiment or feelings of superiority in them? Are you able to comprehend such notion? Is it not the core part of anthroposophy to promote, above all, the faculty of love out of Christ impulse for all things? These elements of Steiner’s work are in direct opposite to the sinister “origins” penned down by you. I may be in denial and this could be the last self preserving swan song of an anthroposophist simpleton, whose inner ground gave way from under his very feet, shattered by your eye-opening truths. It could, but then again I look at my students and the work of my fellow academics, the poor naive, ignorant souls unaware of assisting the far right in their nefarious efforts and have to say, without any scientific evidence whatsoever, if this is anthroposophy at work I’m all in and you mate, take a hike.


  14. Hi Anthony,

    thanks for your reply. Steiner did not anticipate the rise of Nazism; he died in 1925. The Nazis did not try to assassinate him. Of course Steiner’s theory of reincarnation can be held true by anthroposophists without igniting racist sentiment. That would not somehow render Steiner’s teachings themselves non-racist, obviously. You are very much mistaken that “These elements of Steiner’s work are in direct opposite to the sinister ‘origins’ penned down by you.” The history of racial thought includes all sorts of examples of thinkers who combined patently racist precepts with preaching love and understanding and compassion and so forth. That’s one reason why it is irresponsible to say simply “if this is anthroposophy at work I’m all in” and neglect to look at all the other forms of anthroposophy at work. Nazi anthroposophists were also engaged in anthroposophy at work. Ignoring that history won’t make it go away. Best,

    Peter Staudenmaier

  15. Thank you for your reply,

    It appears quite obvious, that we will not be able to come into agreement. I can only say this. If you wish to understand the blind, close your eyes for a week. If you wish to understand the handicapped, live with them for a year. If you wish to understand Anthroposophy study it with an open mind while being able, if only for a minute,to let it speak to you. Getting to know the people helps, too. The discussion about the racism in Anthroposophy will, no doubt, continue for a very long time and there will be casualties on both sides. You will attack and Anthroposophy will defend itself, there will be reports and counter reports ad infinitum. In the end the visible, tangible, lasting results of our deeds matter. The virtual hot air is irrelevant.



  16. Hi Anthony,

    Thanks for your response. I don’t see why it would matter if we come to agreement; there is no need for anthroposophists and scholars who study anthroposophy to agree with one another. I think your reliance on personal experience is very much misplaced in this context. If you want to understand Steiner’s racial teachings, you need to read Steiner’s racial teachings. If you want to understand the history of Nazism, you need to inform yourself about the history of Nazism. The legacy of anthroposophical racism and of anthroposophy’s past entanglement with Nazism is part of the visible, tangible, lasting results of anthroposophist deeds. All the nice things that you like about anthroposophy do not somehow make those less pleasant aspects of anthroposophy magically disappear. Best,

    Peter Staudenmaier

  17. Hello Peter,

    In your reaction on my comment you are saying that I discern racism as an ideology and racism in actions.
    “racism as a worldview or set of ideas and racism as a practice or institution. Both aspects of racism are important, but my article does not address the latter form of racist activity; my article offers an analysis of racist ideas, not racist actions”
    But when you read closely Memmi nor I are making this discern. Memmi says that also in the ideology there should be aspects of legimation of superiority and oppression to call an ideology racist.
    I agree with you that we need to look as objectively as possible to the phenomenon anthroposophy. And when you are saying that doing so is difficult for persons within the anthroposophical subculture I think you are right. Because I did not visit a Waldorf School and my parents weren’t anthroposophists and I am not working in an anthroposophical institution I may have some more distance. But I call myself anthroposophist and will stand for it. Because the anthroposophy is of great concern to me I think it is necessary that there should be a renewal within the anthroposophical subculture. We have to see our own faults to develop us. Because of the fact that this work is not done by anthroposophists we need critics like you. This off course does not implicate that I agree with you in all points.

    As I see it – but this is not mainstream anthroposophy- anthroposophy is not an end in itself.
    Anthroposophy is merely a method or a methodology. This is the most important part of anthroposophy. The second part is the knowledge you can gain from this method, call it the body of knowledge of the anthroposophy. This body of knowledge is not a fixed, unchangeable amount of knowledge, but knowledge should be added here (there is a lot of misunderstanding on this point by both anthroposophists and their critics). The third part is what I call the anthroposophical subculture e.g. schools and other institutions, family life etc. I am a critic of anthroposophical subculture myself.

    When you are criticizing the connections between anthroposophists and nazism you are criticizing partly the anthroposophical subculture and partly “the body of knowledge”.
    From the essence of the anthroposophy, the anthroposofical method, we should renew the subculture, and recognize the faults from the past.

    Jan Luiten, Holland

    PS- As a Dutchman: I do not hope your new book is too expensive!!

  18. Hi Jan,

    Thanks for your new comment. I agree with you that for anthroposophists concerned about their movement’s history, recognizing the faults from the past would be a promising way to work toward a renewal of anthroposophy. There are some anthroposophists who are interested in moving in this direction, but so far they are in a minority. Although my research is primarily oriented toward non-anthroposophists, I would be pleased if my work helped spark an internal process of reflection and revision among Steiner’s followers.

    In order for that process to get underway, anthroposophists will need to inform themselves about their own history and about what Steiner actually taught. It seems to me that many anthroposophists still have a long way to go in that regard. For example, you claimed in a comment to another of my articles that “the movement of threefold social order stands for democracy.” This claim is quite mistaken. In reality, as I recounted in detail in the article itself, Steiner explicitly and emphatically rejected democracy for two of his three spheres of society, the economic realm and the cultural-spiritual realm, and even in the political realm he sometimes took a decidedly dim view of democracy. In October 1917, for instance, he ridiculed “democratic institutions” as mere tools of the “powers of darkness” who are always “pulling the strings” from behind the scenes. (Rudolf Steiner, The Fall of the Spirits of Darkness, London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993, p. 223)

    In order to recognize the faults from the past, it is essential to have an accurate understanding of anthroposophy’s doctrines and historical development. Such an understanding is still largely lacking within the anthroposophical movement today.

    I think one of the reasons you found my article biased is that you are relying on a historically inadequate conception of racism, and you thus thought I was treating Steiner unfairly. This is a common reaction among anthroposophists. The notion that racism must include “a mechanism of oppression,” as you put it in your first comment, or that racism must include a legitimation of oppression, as you suggest in your second comment, is of little help in making sense of the history of racist thought. (It’s also important to remember that several of Steiner’s followers, including very prominent anthroposophists, were actively involved in promoting and supervising aggressively racist mechanisms of oppression in Fascist Italy, for example.)

    As I noted above in reply to another anthroposophist, many thinkers have combined patently racist precepts with preaching love and understanding and compassion and so forth. It is not at all uncommon historically to find abolitionists who held deeply racist views, anti-colonial activists who held deeply racist views, and so forth. Robert Knox, for instance, was an active opponent of slavery, the slave trade, and colonial injustices, and he is nonetheless considered, for very solid reasons, the “founder of British racism.” For further illuminating examples see chapter two, on antislavery racism, in George Fredrickson’s book The Arrogance of Race: Historical Perspectives on Slavery, Racism, and Social Inequality (University Press of New England, 1988). Additional historical context is available in the following studies:

    Seymour Drescher, “The Ending of the Slave Trade and the Evolution of European Scientific Racism” Social Science History 19 (1990), 415-50

    Robert Reinders, “Racialism on the Left: E.D. Morel and the ‘Black Horror on the Rhine’” International Review of Social History 13 (1968), 1-28

    George Stocking, Race, Culture, and Evolution: Essays in the History of Anthropology (University of Chicago Press, 1968)

    Michelle Brattain, “Race, Politics and Antiracism: UNESCO and the Politics of Presenting Science to the Postwar Public” American Historical Review 112 (2007), 1386-1413

    This historical tradition offers a revealing vantage point from which to examine the complexities and contradictions in Steiner’s racial views and those of his followers; convinced of their own anti-racist commitment and opposed to oppression and injustice, many anthroposophists find it very difficult to take the actual content of anthroposophical race doctrine seriously. This failure of self-examination, it seems to me, is one of the major stumbling blocks to the anthroposophist movement finally coming to terms with the legacy of Steiner’s racial teachings.

    The point of looking at racism as an ideology is to figure out which ideas are at the core of racist belief, and it is crucial to keep in mind that these ideas can come to practical expression in a very wide variety of ways. If we followed your proposed standard, Jan, it would mean that Kant’s racial views were not racist, for example, and that Hegel’s racial views were not racist, merely because they did not translate these views into active support for oppressive mechanisms. That is a serious historical error. To make the point more bluntly: It would mean that Gobineau’s racial teachings were not racist. Gobineau was one of the most influential racists in the modern era. He is often considered the father of racist ideology. A standard of ‘racism’ that fails to identify Gobineau as a racist needs to be fundamentally revised.

    There is a very substantial body of scholarship examining racism in its various manifestations. Much of this scholarship analyzes racism as a specific set of ideas about race, an ensemble of concretely identifiable beliefs about race and its significance. Some ideas about race are racist, and some are not, and a number of historical figures simultaneously held overtly racist beliefs while rejecting oppressive actions. In the case of Steiner or any other historical figure, the challenge is to figure out which ideas about race count as racist and which do not.

    From the point of view of historians who study the development of ideas about race, to argue that a particular historical figure held racist views is simply an analysis, a conclusion based on evidence, a comparative classification of various statements about race. Recognizing this usage of the term ‘racism’ would be a very helpful step toward a meaningful discussion of Steiner’s racial teachings.

    Consider, for example, Dante Puzzo’s article “Racism and the Western Tradition,” Journal of the History of Ideas 25 (1964), 579-86. Puzzo observes: “Racism rests on two basic assumptions: that a correlation exists between physical characteristics and moral qualities; that mankind is divisible into superior and inferior stocks.” (579) For Steiner, a correlation did indeed exist between physical characteristics and moral qualities, and humankind was indeed divisible into superior and inferior stocks. That is the heart of anthroposophy’s racial theory.

    The conception of racism as a body of ideas about race is common in the historical literature. George Mosse’s history of European racism begins by characterizing racism as an ideology, “a fully blown system of thought” (Mosse, Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism, 1985). Christian Geulen’s recent history of racism describes racism as a “system for understanding the world” (Geulen, Geschichte des Rassismus, 2007). Michael Banton’s entry on
    “Racism” in The Encyclopedia of Race and Ethnic Studies (edited by Ellis Cashmore, Routledge 2003, pp. 349-51) begins by emphasizing racism as a belief system, an ideology. Banton notes: “Up to the late 1960s most dictionaries and textbooks defined it [racism] as a doctrine, dogma, ideology, or set of beliefs.” (349) He goes on to distinguish racism from both “discrimination” and “prejudicial attitudes” while examining how all three are interlinked.

    The entry on “Racist Discourse” by Teun van Dijk in the same Encyclopedia (pp. 351-55) explores this interlinking further. It begins as follows: “Racist discourse is a form of discriminatory social practice that manifests itself in text, talk and communication. Together with other (non-verbal) discriminatory practices, racist discourse contributes to the reproduction of racism as a form of ethnic or “racial” domination. It does so typically by expressing, confirming or legitimating racist opinions, attitudes and ideologies of the dominant ethnic group.” (351)

    George Fredrickson’s essay “The Concept of Racism in Historical Discourse” (which concludes his 2002 book Racism: A Short History) begins by observing that while ‘racism’ today often refers legitimately to a range of institutionalized forms, historically the term was usually considered “primarily a matter of belief or ideology” (151; see also 167). Fredrickson’s earlier essay “Understanding Racism: Reflections of a Comparative Historian” pursues a similar
    argument (the essay can be found in George Fredrickson, The Comparative Imagination: On the History of Racism, Nationalism, and Social Movements, University of California Press 1997, pp. 77-97). The same point arises in many other works as well.

    Ali Rattansi, Racism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2007) emphasizes how ambivalent and contradictory racist statements and racist perspectives often are, and notes repeatedly that it is common for the same individual to hold both racist and non-racist or even anti-racist views, all at the same time. Similar treatments can be found in Robert Miles’ 1989 study Racism; Michel Wieviorka’s chapter “Racism as Ideology” in his 1995 book The Arena of Racism; John Solomos, ed., Theories of Race and Racism (2000); Neil Macmaster, Racism in Europe 1870-2000 (2001); Martin Bulmer, ed., Researching Race and Racism (2004); and Christian Geulen’s 2004 book Wahlverwandte: Rassendiskurs und Nationalismus im späten 19. Jahrhundert.

    If you’d like to look further into the real-world consequences of anthroposophy’s racial ideology in a Dutch context, Jan, I recommend tracking down some of the work of Dutch anthroposophist Max Stibbe (1898-1973). Stibbe became an anthroposophist as a teenager and worked closely with Steiner and the anthroposophical leadership in Dornach in the years before Steiner’s death. He was a founding member of the Dutch Anthroposophical Society in 1923 and a longtime member of its Board of Directors. The first Waldorf schools outside of Germany were founded in the Netherlands, with Stibbe as one the chief initiator and organizers. He was also the editor of the Dutch Waldorf journal Ostara, as well as the founding editor of an even more influential Waldorf journal, Vrije Opvoedkunst, in 1933. Stibbe taught at the Waldorf school in The Hague from its founding in 1923 until he left the Netherlands for Indonesia in 1939; after the war he taught at the Amsterdam Waldorf school and founded another Waldorf school in Haarlem.

    Max Stibbe was a vocal defender of apartheid and spent the last decade of his life in white-ruled South Africa. He founded the Waldorf school in Pretoria, and it is still named after him today. His legacy lived on for decades after his death in 1973, not only in South Africa but in the Netherlands as well. Stibbe was one of the chief figures in making ‘racial studies’ a part of Waldorf pedagogy. The racist articles he published in Vrije Opvoedkunst in the 1960s formed the
    basis for the ‘racial ethnography’ courses in Dutch Waldorf schools well into the 1990s. Five of his books were re-published after his death. The Anthroposophic Press still distributes his work today.

    For a sense of his perspective on race, and its impact on practical anthroposophical activities such as Waldorf education, take a look at Max Stibbe, “Het ontwaken der gekleurde rassen” Vrije Opvoedkunst September 1961, 44-58, for example, or his articles in Vrije Opvoedkunst in June and November 1966. You could also check out his articles in the Swedish anthroposophical journal Antropos in 1964, where Stibbe wrote: “Rudolf Steiner indicates that one can only understand the yellow race if one knows that, when it comes to the spiritual, it is comparable to young, pubescent persons. Moreover, these people are extremely cunning, and this insidiousness is expressed in the half-closed eyes.” (Antropos vol. 10 no. 7, 1964, p. 137) And for a sense of how both Stibbe’s and Steiner’s racial teachings were received by South African anthroposophists during the apartheid era, consider this passage from a 1987 book published by the South African anthroposophist publishing house:

    “In lectures presented by the late Dr. Max Stibbe, who made an extensive study of race relations in South Africa, it was mentioned that the Mercury Mysteries in Atlantis soon degenerated, with the result that the Negro race was deprived of those spiritual impulses that introduced initiatives. Migrating from Atlantis, the blacks entered Africa at the mouth of the Congo river. Some of them went to North-West Africa, the rest journeying to the East and the South. The life forces of the black race are so strong that they absorb all light. The warmth of the cosmos is, so to speak, boiling inside them, hence their particular metabolism, their strong desires, instincts and emotions. Their skin is coarse (large-pored) and their limbs extraordinarily strong, in comparison with which the development of their thinking is much weaker. Their strong life forces see to it that of their soul functions, willing is by far the most strongly developed. Their metabolism is dominated by the liver, hence the frequent liver diseases–and other glandular disturbances–among blacks. They are rigidly imprisoned in the fire of their metabolism and their physical as well as etheric body is hardened.”

    (Hymen Picard, “Some Thoughts on Race Relations” Invisible Africa: A Search for the Grail in Africa (Kenilworth, Republic of South Africa: Novalis Press, 1987), 113-14)

    You might also take a look at similar passages elsewhere in the same book:

    “The Aryan type works through the European race in general although he may incarnate within another race as a sacrificial gesture to assist in the destiny of that race. This can happen to assist the individualizing of personalities in that race so that their unique qualities are freed to contribute towards mankind’s future. The immediate cultural task lies with the Aryan.”

    (Graham Downer, “The South African Paleolithic Age” Invisible Africa, 188)

    This book is used by Waldorf teachers in the US in preparing for units on Africa. Meanwhile, anthroposophists like to claim that their schools in South Africa were bulwarks against apartheid (they claim they were the first to have mixed classes, for example), utterly oblivious to this aspect of their own history. That naivete will continue as long as anthroposophists refuse to face squarely the legacy of Steiner’s racial teachings. I encourage you to take another look at what Steiner and his followers had to say about race. Best,

    Peter Staudenmaier

  19. i have a responce and some feetback for you!

    have you or has either of you ever been or visited a steiner school ?
    and dont you think that just because some teacher in neatherland missused his teachingstatus to twist a concept in order to eventually probably teach rasism based on a 100 year ould philosophie justifies your outlook on all steiner schools ?

    to be honest their are different looking people and nations thats a fact and not necesserely primerely rasist,we are all part of our enviroment and the neandertalers didnt survive did they ?

    also i have been to a steiner school and none of what you state as fact has ever been taught.
    quite the opposite. we have learned about cultures and different religions and all it has done it has made us more aware about other nations and the importance to be liberal and collaborative with each other !

    and just cause one person developes a concept or /and some nazi makes a war out of it does not prove your right!

    sorry to say so ,but i have not enountered anything of the things you write and as i said 100 years is a long time ! and teh teacher who taught in in that light should had been sacked.

    i recomend you visit some steiner schools and ask the children their !

  20. You have no insight into anthroposophy and your thinking is clearly unclear and biased. What you should do is concentrate on doing good positive works for humanity rather than trying to drag down other good works that are trying to further humanity’s progress and evolution. I am very unimpressed with this essay and your typical academic materialistic thinking. Laughable and pathetic attempt at trying to slander one of the few positive movements of the turn of the century.

  21. To suggest that Anthropopsophy has anything to do with German Nazism is absurd for two main reasons:

    1. Steiner spoke against the need for an extended German homeland, one of the Nazis main beliefs. He was against the expansion of Germany, believing that people could be culturally united across geographical boundaries.

    2. The core belief of Anthroposophy is that our outward appearance is irrelevant. Every individual has the same spiritual core (call it higher self or ego if you like) and everyone is equally valuable. This is why Anthroposophy has resulted in work like the Camphill communities.

    I am sure there will be racists or fascists who practice anthroposophy, just as there are racists and fascists in the republican party or catholic church. But to say that that makes those organisations essentially racist or fascistic is very silly indeed.

  22. Thanks to Anna, Jeremy, and Gordon for your comments. It seems to me that all three of you have mistaken common anthroposophist myths for historical reality. Many of the claims you make are unfounded and inaccurate, but quite popular among Steiner’s admirers. This is a significant problem for enthusiasts of anthroposophy, one they have yet to address; you will have a difficult time “doing good positive works for humanity” if you remain unaware of the history of your own preferred beliefs.

    Racists have believed for centuries that they were doing good positive works for humanity. Colonialists have believed for centuries that they were doing good positive works for humanity. All sorts of empires, all sorts of dictatorships, all sorts of authoritarian and paternalist endeavors have been justified by the belief that they were doing good positive works for humanity. Historical naïvete only helps to perpetuate such unfortunate phenomena.

    For many would-be defenders of Steiner and anthroposophy, this historical naïvete has evidently become nearly absolute. Gordon, for instance, dismisses the very notion that anthropopsophy “has anything to do with German Nazism” – anything at all! It is as if anthroposophy magically ceased to exist in Germany during the Third Reich, and then miraculously re-appeared after 1945. The same wishful thinking underlies the reactions of all kinds of apologists for the Nazi era. There is, alas, no shortage of such people, and they are especially well represented among Steiner’s fans.

    This same historical naïvete makes it difficult for many would-be defenders of anthroposophy to understand the arguments in my article. The article is not about “all Steiner schools.” The article does not say that anthroposophist organizations are “essentially racist or fascistic.” It does not slander Steiner or his followers. It examines the actual history of anthroposophy during the Nazi era and the continuing entwinement of anthroposophy and right-wing politics. Ignoring that history and pretending it never happened will not make it go away.

    What is perhaps most noteworthy about your replies is the silence about anthroposophy’s racial doctrines, which many Steiner fans do not find troubling. Steiner taught that an individual’s “outward appearance” is anything but irrelevant; it reflects that individual’s spiritual status. Individuals who are more spiritually advanced incarnate in ‘higher races’ while individuals who are spiritually declining incarnate in ‘lower races’. Steiner thus taught that some races and peoples are on the ‘up-grade’ of evolution while other races and peoples are on the ‘down-grade’ of evolution. These racial teachings have not somehow disappeared from Waldorf schools; Anna’s remarks about ‘Neanderthals’ are a disconcerting reminder of just how relevant these concerns remain today.

    Until anthroposophy’s admirers come to terms with these aspects of their worldview and the history of their movement, they will remain burdened by the legacy my article analyzes, and all their well-meaning intentions about “doing good positive works for humanity” will be for naught. Best,

    Peter Staudenmaier

  23. Fair point Peter, but you could say the same about any organisation that existed in the 30’s and 40’s in Germany, yet nobody is suggesting that their modern counterparts are influenced or follow Nazi ideas.

  24. Hi Gordon,

    You seem to have misunderstood the article. My argument is not that all anthroposophists today are influenced by or follow Nazi ideas. My argument is not that anthroposophist organizations are essentially racist or fascistic. My argument is not that anthroposophy represents some sort of continuation of Nazism. Those are simplistic notions. The historical reality is much more complex.

    Anthroposophy arose before Nazism did. It shared a range of ideological and practical points of convergence with Nazism. Lots of anthroposophists greeted the advent of Nazism with enthusiasm and high expectations. Lots of anthroposophist cooperated extensively with various Nazi agencies. The anthroposophist movement has yet to come to terms with this part of its history.

    It is indeed the case that numerous other groups also became entangled in Nazi projects; anthroposophists are simply one example among many. Historians study all sorts of “organizations that existed in the 30′s and 40′s in Germany,” examining their relationships with the Nazi regime. Anthroposophists were not somehow exempt from this history. Whether their latter-day counterparts are influenced by or follow Nazi ideas is a very different question, however, and there is little sense in confusing the two.

    Scholars examine exactly these sorts of questions all the time. Historians, philosophers, political scientists, sociologists, and lots of others apply the same sort of critical scrutiny to all kinds of movements and all kinds of worldviews. Consider your own examples: there are lots of scholarly analyses of the role of race in the Republican party and in the Catholic church. This is not some sort of exceptional procedure that has been applied only to anthroposophy.

    The article focuses on anthroposophy specifically because of its crucial role within the so-called ‘green wing’ of Nazism. That is why the topic matters, from an ecological perspective. There are many ways in which this history remains relevant in the contemporary world. Among other things, it helps illuminate the role of racist beliefs in alternative spiritual circles today, and the role of right-wing ideas in environmental politics today.

    In that sense, the ongoing involvement of anthroposophists in such movements is, for better or worse, a significant concern. Not because all anthroposophists today are influenced by Nazi ideas (though some of them are), or because all anthroposophists today follow Nazi ideas (though some of them do), but because this unexamined history continues to have an unfortunate impact not just within alternative spiritual circles and in the environmental milieu but in many other contexts as well, including the alternative educational efforts you mention. Until anthroposophists face this part of their own past and present, they will remain unable to get beyond the legacy examined in the article. Complaining that ‘we’re not all Nazis’ is quite beside the point, and does nothing to help anthroposophy move toward a responsible engagement with its deeply problematic political and ideological inheritance. Best,

    Peter Staudenmaier

  25. The main problem with this article is that significant parts of it are untrue or a lie (depending on how aware we believe that Peter Staudenmaier is of the untruths in it). I’ve listed below some of the problematic parts, with my comments in brackets.

    “Why does anthroposophy, despite its patently racist elements and its compromised past, continue to enjoy a reputation as progressive, tolerant, enlightened and ecological?  The details of Steiner’s teachings are not well known outside of the anthroposophist movement, and within that movement the lengthy history of ideological implication in fascism is mostly repressed or denied outright. ” [There’s no link with fascism in English speaking countries; in Germany and Italy it seems different, but still marginal. But anything can be abused: in Italy even the Lord of the Rings has become a handbook for the far right!]

    “Early in his career Steiner also fell under the sway of Nietzsche, the outstanding anti-democratic thinker of the era..” [Steiner says explicitly in his Nietzsche study that he doesn’t follow him.]

    “After the war Steiner had high praise for German militarism…” [No: he criticised the German leadership for its incompetence.]

    “The three branches of this scheme [3-folding], which resembles both fascist and semi-feudal corporatist models…” [No, it doesn’t: it’s individualist not corporatist.]

    “In Steiner’s preferred explanation, it wasn’t imperialist rivalry among colonial powers or national myopia or unbounded militarism or the competition for markets which caused the war…” [No, he he consistently listed nationalism as a cause.]

    “In the aftermath of the bloody world war, at the very moment of great upheavals against the violence, misery, and exploitation of capitalism, Steiner emerged as an ardent defender of private profit, the concentration of property and wealth, and the unfettered market.  Arguing vehemently against any effort to replace anti-social institutions with humane ones, Steiner proposed adapting his “threefold commonwealth” to the existing system of class domination. ” [Steiner fully accepted Marx’s analysis of the cause of capitalist exploitation; he differed in how to overcome it saying, presciently, that the PS endorsed Bolshevik solution would end in death and disaster]

    “Though Steiner tried to make inroads within working class institutions, his outlook was understandably not very popular among workers. The revolutionaries of the 1919 Munich council republic derided him [Steiner] as “the soul-doctor of decaying capitalism.”” [On the contrary, he was very popular amongst the workers but not amongst the PS like Marxist leaders, who fired him for not being sufficiently ideological]

    “In fact Steiner’s model of instruction is downright authoritarian: he emphasized repetition and rote learning, and insisted that the teacher should be the center of the classroom and that students’ role was not to judge or even discuss the teacher’s pronouncements.” [No: the model is emulation until 7; heroism and authority until 14; freedom and critical enquiry from 14]

    “With a public face that is seemingly of the left, anthroposophy frequently acts as a magnet for the right” [Not in English speaking countries and its doubtful that this is more than marginally the case for Italy and Germany]

    “Loyal to an unreconstructed racist and elitist philosophy…” [The philosophy is individualist and as such has no interest in group ideologies such as racism]

    “…built on a foundation of anti-democratic politics…” [ 3-fold politics is based on equality, the cornerstone of democracy]

    “…and pro-capitalist economics…” [Not in the sense you’re implying. The principle in the economic sphere is brotherhood; money is to wear out after 7 years so there’s no chance for people to exploit others through wealth; people’s incomes are not to be related to their work but according to equity; land should not be part of the economic process: so no aristocracy. The fundamental social law says it all: ‘The well-being of a community of people working together will be the greater, the less the individual claims for himself the proceeds of his work, i.e. the more of these proceeds he makes over to his fellow-workers, the more his own needs are satisfied, not out of his own work but out of the work done by others’]

    “Anthroposophy’s enduring legacy of collusion with ecofascism makes it plainly unacceptable for those working toward a humane and ecological society.” [No collusion in the English speaking countries; OTOH, your Marxist fellow travellers have no record of working for a humane future and have instead murdered more millions than the fascists. A plague on both your houses I think is the conclusion.].

    To finish: rather than having a ‘face seemingly of the left’, anthroposophy mostly has followed a leftish political path and the aggrieved tone in your article makes it look rather like you don’t like the competition. A typical example of anthropososphy in the field, that shows it has a “reputation as progressive, tolerant, enlightened and ecological’, is given in the news flash below.

    “BASEL/ILKESTON (NNA) – The CEO of the Swiss-based Weleda group of companies,
    Patrick Sirdey, has been honoured by the French state with the National
    Order of Merit.

    …In previous public and business roles, he was involved in 1986 in setting up
    the Société Financière de la Nef, the first ethical finance institute in

    The National Order of Merit is the second highest order in France. It is
    intended to honour special achievements in public service and in the civil


    Ted Wrinch

  26. Social ecologists reading this exchange can learn a lot about the state of contemporary anthroposophist thinking from the above post. Its author is a British anthroposophist, one of several anthroposophists who have a special obsession with my work, but many of his views are shared by a wide swathe of his fellow anthroposophists. It is not at all uncommon to find Steiner’s followers getting anarchists mixed up with Bolsheviks and social ecologists mixed up with Marxists. Nor is it uncommon for anthroposophists to consider symbols like the National Order of Merit as a sign of progressive politics.

    These are, unfortunately, all too familiar indications of the degree of political confusion that prevails among many of Steiner’s followers. Readers interested in learning more about the beliefs of this particular anthroposophist can read many more of his criticisms of my work, as well as his views on race, Jews, science, atheism, nefarious leftist professors, hedonism, weak character, the elitist nature of academic learning, his anxieties about “critical thinking, science and the modern, spiritless approach to the humanities,” and so forth, by consulting his public statements here:

    Peter Staudenmaier

  27. Your link with Marxism is suggested by your own writing and context. The founder of your organisation has Marxist roots; you endorse Adorno’s notion of humanism in your article and, as readers will know, Adorno was a well known member of the Marxist Frankfurt school; you endorse ‘the materialist …analysis of capitalist society’, which is standard Marxism, as is atheism, the world-view you have professed elsewhere.

    “the beliefs of this particular anthroposophist’ are not what is under discussion here; but your shift into polemics and evasion does suggest that your argument is weak. Your list of adjectives concerning your strange beliefs about me are not relevant to the discussion either but do, again, show your willingness to shift to illicit and fallacious forms of reasoning. Perhaps we can assume you have nothing to say?


    Ted Wrinch

  28. Ted Wrinch wrote:

    > ‘the beliefs of this particular anthroposophist’ are not what is under discussion here

    Mr. Wrinch is mistaken about that. His beliefs regarding Aryans and Jews, for example, are widely shared by other anthroposophists. Those beliefs are exactly what is under discussion here. Lots of anthroposophists hold markedly confused beliefs about race, about fascism, about the left, and about all sorts of other topics. That is what gave rise to the article in the first place.

    Many of the comments posted here by admirers of Steiner indicate that such beliefs are hardly a thing of the past, but continue to play a role within the anthroposophist milieu today. Like Mr. Wrinch, these anthroposophists do not appear to realize that the article is about them. I think they would do well to re-read it.

    Peter Staudenmaier

  29. Good. Mr Staudenmaier’s refusal to address my arguments about his article, and to instead continue with illicit and fallacious forms of reasoning – such as attempting to re-direct the argument to my supposed beliefs and confusion (anyone can see him performing the same tricks on the blogs he’s referenced) – seems to indicate that he has nothing to say and that my argument stands. I’m happy to leave it there.


    Ted Wrinch

  30. My colleagues at the Institute for Social Ecology have asked whether the exchange with Mr Wrinch should continue on the ISE website. Interested readers can find several very lengthy public discussions I have had with him in the past by following the links I provided in my first reply to Mr Wrinch above. I have spent much of the past decade attempting to discuss these issues with anthroposophists, and for better or worse the usual result is what we’ve seen here.

    In general, I think it is a bad idea to engage in extended exchanges with antisemites, holocaust deniers, apologists for fascism, and so forth, because it degrades public discourse. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of antisemites, holocaust deniers, apologists for fascism, and so forth within the ranks of Steiner’s latter-day followers, which can make it difficult to determine the appropriate approach to public discussion with anthroposophists.

    These dynamics are not limited to Steiner’s admirers, however. Lots of people believe Obama is a socialist, for example. Lots of people believe in ‘intelligent design’ and similar myths. Lots of people believe in various and sundry conspiracy theories about Jews and many other Others. While undoubtedly re-assuring, it would be a mistake to think that such views are the preserve of occultists. Nonetheless, the patterns are worth examining. Though Wrinch’s preoccupation with me is notably personalized, his basic claims are common coin in the esoteric milieu. European anthroposophists frequently level the same peculiar charges against my German colleague Helmut Zander, for instance, the foremost historian of anthroposophy. This is a familiar dynamic between esotericists and scholars of esotericism.

    As noted above, many admirers of Steiner share Mr Wrinch’s views, and they often consider critical examination of those views highly offensive. In particular, they find responses from scholars – whether Zander or myself or others who study the occult milieu – condescending and infuriating. This sort of reaction is virtually inevitable in light of the widespread historical ignorance among anthroposophists. It can nevertheless be worthwhile to try to salvage some substantive insights from such exchanges. As always, I encourage replies from anthroposophists interested in critical discussion of their movement. In that spirit, I will close by reproducing here my final response to Mr Wrinch from our most recent public correspondence, shortly before he was ejected from the email list which hosted him:

    I know you think I’m mocking you, Ted. In reality, I am mocking your claims. You believe that you know more about these topics than the others here. I am amused by this belief, which is why you find my replies to you snide and sarcastic and so forth. In your own eyes, you are privy to special knowledge and understanding, a veritable Tony Stark of the anthroposophical world.

    This is extremely common among esotericists. Anthroposophists in particular say the same sort of thing all the time. It’s not simply that you think you know more about history than historians and more about physics than physicists. It’s not simply that you think you know more about texts you’ve never seen in languages you don’t read. It is your personal investment in anthroposophy that gets in the way of discussion. For you, Steiner’s work isn’t an object of study, it’s a source of Timeless Truths, and the notion of viewing Steiner as a historical figure is an insult. That is why critique seems like mockery and slander and lying. Greetings,

    Peter Staudenmaier

  31. Hello Peter,

    You have said that a meaningful discussion of Anthroposophy cannot proceed without addressing things such as its racist content. I was wondering what you had in mind as a meaningful discussion. My view of the discussion so far is mostly of two sides behind brick walls throwing pebbles at each others wall. I would like to try and come behind your wall and see what might happen.

    You quoted Dante Puzzo as saying, “Racism rests on two basic assumptions: that a correlation exists between physical characteristics and moral qualities; that mankind is divisible into superior and inferior stocks.” This is one formulation of what constitutes racism, yet we can see the first assumption applied in things such as Prozac or Ritalin where behavior (or moral qualities) are controlled by the physical means of a pill. These medicines and others are based on the correlation between the physical and the moral. We also see the idea of superiority in how most adults relate to children and try to teach them things or direct their behavior as if they know something the child does not (and we even see it in how a scholar relates to an anthroposophist or an anthroposophist to a scholar). The reason I bring these things up is that they show those two central concepts of racism, correlation of bodily aspects to the moral and perceived superiority, in a different context where they may be more appropriate (though that too could be debated). Which brings me to the question of racism: What makes it inappropriate to introduce these concepts when discussing race? Are they always inappropriate or just sometimes? If it’s all the time then the logical conclusion of excluding these concepts from race is something like Stephen Colbert who can’t tell the race (or gender) of his guests. If it is just sometimes, then where are we to draw the line on when moral characteristics are not tied to physical make up or how to differentiate races.

    What is important, I think, is that we distinguish between making distinctions and judgments. Suppose you look at a squirrel and a beaver and describe endlessly their physical characteristics along with their skills and talents. Not until you say “I like squirrels more than beavers” does any personal judgment come in. You admit that beavers are better swimmers and dam builders, but for some reason you just like squirrels better. But we are humans and can’t quite do this with ourselves, we’re still getting over the time when those outside our tribe would attack us and so mix making distinctions with making judgments about others. I like to think that Steiner was able to make such distinctions without making those judgments. I know you don’t agree with me here, but I would like to know if you think such a thing is possible.

    Another question I would like to ask you, is, as a historian, what do you think the role of history is? You obviously want to draw the attention of anthroposophist to their own history, but what do hope to accomplish by this? Do you hope they will abandon it or try to change it? Or do you want them to admit they are racists or something like that? In short how do you suggest we “help anthroposophy move toward a responsible engagement with its deeply problematic political and ideological inheritance?” I’m a graduate student in the history of science, so my thoughts turn to the racists history connected with Darwinism and Darwin himself. In spite of such a history, non-racists have been able to assimilate Darwin as a respectable historical figure, yet those who are aware of such a history may be less enthusiastic about assimilating him while still managing to not toss him out completely.

    I look forward to your response,

    Andy Hahn

  32. Paul

    As a specialist studying the history of nazism, among other interests, it is logical that what you have found within Rudolf Steiner’s public and private lectures along with published texts, are references which you have interpreted as being sympathetic to anti-Semitic, nationalistic and fascist inclinations. Suppose a historian focusing on trends in peaceful, non-violent, human rights movements were to look through the same lectures and texts, would they find references which could be interpreted in a way to support the notion that anthroposophy is just that? And suppose a historian focusing on education or agriculture, or spiritual thought were to scour over the same text, they would surely find plenty of references to cite in order to support their hypothesis.

    What meaning then lies within the text itself? Can it be so individual? How can people experience the same event or idea and yet understand it so differently? It is too simplistic and narrow to just dismiss any other interpretation as being less valid. Yet that is what has been demonstrated, by both the instigator and ensuing defender (everyone playing each role). However, we must not dismiss the very real reality that we are most easily able to ‘see’ what has been projected from our own consciousness and/or subconscious.

    As mentioned previously, there has arisen two sides to this debate. Each is thoroughly devoted to their divisive hypothesis and heavily rely’s on partial quotes and/or personal sentiment and a subjective disposition to provide their sides support. This is a common approach to an argument- perhaps even illuminating the nature of arguments. Two insular camps who only validate their own experience.

    As a teacher who has graduated from a Waldorf teacher training course, I find your argument (although it is referred to as a historical and contemporary fact) a necessary topic needing thorough discussion and reflection within each and every person who informs their world view from Rudolf Steiner’s work. From my own experience, I have sat beside peers, struggling with the differentiation of racial/ethnic ‘qualities’ which Steiner has most definitely expressed. And so, perhaps it will soothe your mind to know that such honest reflection and questioning does in fact take place.
    There needs to be a welcoming place for skeptical inquiry of idea’s emerging from spiritual science. However there also needs to be recognition of and reconciliation with the practical applications of the very same idea’s.
    While you have emphasized and provided a critical analysis of a particular aspect of anthroposophical thought, you remain in the realm of ideas. The sympathizers have emphasized particular actions, practical applications that they know and feel are contradictory to your thesis.
    This dilemma is at least partly due to the irresponsible attribution of anything which could be considered ‘anthroposophical’ to Rudolf Steiner alone- both by those inside and outside. We have been striking away personal responsibility. Rudolf Steiner was a man who shared his ideas, his realities, because there were people who were interested, who asked this of him! Over 100 years later, we must admit that he is no longer alive. We must admit that succeeding generations are in different circumstances and will meet the text with a different understanding. We must admit that we are left, ideally in freedom, to evolve, change, test and pursue what we, in our good conscience, know and feel is relevant to contemporary needs.

  33. I apologize, I see now that your name is Peter, not Paul.

    Also after re-reading over some of you original article and ensuing posts, I see how your main concern seems to be the acknowledgment of those within anthroposophical circles to admit and or study the entire history of its movement, including the use of various ideas by those in the ‘green wing’ of the nazi movement.

    Your historical account is new to me, interesting and thought provoking, deterministic and accusatory. While I am aware that Steiner has called a nazi or anti-semite by others, I have never seen so much research into this claim.

    I will, of course, partake in my own research as well. What immediately jumps out at me, and is something I alluded to previously, is that people and groups with such divergent actions and socio-political stances can all claim to use the works of Steiner as either inspiration or in ‘direct application.’ Was he only a nazi and so everything else, if authentically arising from his work, would surely support this claim? Was he only a pacifist, and what was re-appropiated by the ‘green wing’ and other individuals a misuse of ideas? Or is there so much ambiguity and misunderstanding that anyone, who has an interest in ‘occult’ ideas can find what they are looking for?

  34. it is very interesting that when presented with a strong argument against your
    own you resort to gossip with your colleagues – if indeed you even did that –
    about shutting down the discussion. It seems that the Institute for Social
    Ecology supports “the spirit of free inquiry” when it suits it.

    Your jibes about “antisemites, holocaust deniers, apologists for fascism” is the
    usual kind of thing that you resort to and that anyone can see you `degrading
    public discourse’ with here, at other various places and particularly on your
    own links.

    No one minds their views being examined and they certainly won’t find the
    process “condescending and infuriating”. However, I think that anyone can see
    from this exchange already that you don’t do that and instead resort to logical
    fallacies and evasions.

    Your extract from your last post just confirms the above observations. But as
    you, again, appear to be unable to respond to the actual argument here – rather
    than some other fantasised argument that you think that your having about
    “antisemites, holocaust deniers, apologists for fascism” – I have to assume,
    again, that that you have nothing to say and that my argument stands. I’m,
    again, happy to leave it there. For any readers that haven’t died of boredom at
    this stage the form of `public discussion’ that you can see taking place here is
    something that Mr Staudenmaier is capable of keeping going for years – he
    apparently doesn’t realise that he’s not actually addressing the argument at

  35. Hi Andy and Stephanie,

    Thanks for your comments. A meaningful discussion, in my view, requires anthroposophists to inform themselves about what Steiner actually taught and what their forebears actually did historically. On the topic of anthroposophical race theory, there is still a very long way to go if we are to move toward a meaningful discussion. Many anthroposophists share Andy’s view that examining the racist aspects of anthroposophy means determining which aspects of anthroposophy are “inappropriate.” That is not my view.

    Among other problems, that approach mixes up normative and descriptive categories and is forthrightly ahistorical. Which sorts of statements about race seem “appropriate” fluctuates significantly over time and across cultural and historical contexts. If we want to figure out which of Steiner’s teachings were racist, we would do well to distinguish that from the question of which teachings we consider appropriate or inappropriate. Many anthroposophists also share the view that racism is a matter of “personal judgments.” That is a similarly ahistorical approach. I have tried many times previously to encourage anthroposophists to address these issues; for a recent summary, see here:

    On Andy’s larger question about general anthroposophist reactions to their movement’s history, the choices are of course up to anthroposophists themselves, not to me. What anthroposophists make of the history I recount is their business. In my view, though, there is no need to toss Steiner out completely. Andy himself provides a useful point of comparison: Evolutionary biologists today who reject the racist facets of Darwin’s work do not thereby repudiate everything Darwin said or did. The same is true for philosophers who reject the racist facets of Kant’s work, for instance. If anthroposophists could bring themselves to view Steiner as a historical figure, they could undertake the same procedure. As you both can see from the ongoing attempts at discussion with anthroposophists, many of them pointedly refuse to do so. That is a considerable obstacle to meaningful discussion.

    Stephanie’s concern, as near as I can make out, has to do with the multiple meanings in any text. This is the sort of thing historians and other scholars deal with all the time. It is not unique to Rudolf Steiner. It is very common for different people to understand the same idea or event differently. This does not, of course, mean that all interpretations are equally valid. If you’d like to ascertain whether “the differentiation of racial/ethnic ‘qualities’ which Steiner has most definitely expressed” includes racist strands, a good approach is to consider what sorts of ideas count as racist, based on the historical development of racist thought, and then see how that standard applies to Steiner’s work. It is a fundamental mistake to conclude that the problems in Steiner’s teachings “remain in the realm of ideas.” It is not merely the ideas that are at stake, but the very concrete and consequential actions taken by anthroposophists over the years, including their participation in fascist politics. As uncomfortable as this topic may be for Steiner’s admirers, it is not somehow going to disappear on its own. It needs to be faced squarely in a historically informed manner if the anthroposophical movement is one day to move beyond this dimension of its past. Best,

    Peter Staudenmaier

  36. Peter,

    The references you have researched along with others I came across through the waldorf critics website regarding many of Steiner’s comments about race were new to me. Through the teacher training I had completed, none were discussed or brought up by our teachers. I think this is a great disservice. After looking into the advent of Eugenics which was becoming popularized around this time in Europe and the US (as I understood), I am wary of my previous opinions. It could be that some of Steiner’s ideas, if interpreted as a necessity, would come to be what Eugenics was (is?).

    Many of critics of waldorf Ed seem to imply that there is nothing good about it or the people who are now involved. I had assumed you held that position.
    There is a continuing stream of validation stemming from ed. psych research, occupational therapy, and insights into the hand/brain connection which all support the effectiveness of many of the ‘methods’ employed within the waldorf curriculum.

    My earlier response was partly a knee-jerk reaction against the seeming rejection of any good from waldorf and also a reaction towards the arrogance which is seemingly intrinsic to academia.

    However, I also interpret my studies of Steiner’s lectures and text to reveal that he did not intend for Anthroposophy to become a systematic doctrine that one needs to ‘learn’ to become a waldorf teacher. It seems to be more about opening up to other ways of knowing- beginning with an objective study of natural phenomena. And most importunely, the individual is free to reject anything he had said. Anthroposophy is not a package deal. But I do agree with you, now, that the history of ‘anthroposophical groups’, along with specific people involved and the historical context is lesser known and perhaps a point of immense sensitivity to some.

  37. Hi Stephanie,

    Thanks for her your comment. I agree that some critics of Waldorf education imply that there is nothing good about it. I do not share that view. You can read more on what I think about Waldorf in the postscript on Waldorf education I wrote for another article on this site:

    Here is what I wrote in the conclusion to that article:

    “To readers who are supporters of Waldorf, or involved in Waldorf projects in some way, it may be important to say, explicitly and concisely, that the history of your movement under the Nazi regime is complicated and ambivalent, and is not in my view something that you or other Waldorf participants need to feel personally ashamed about. It is, however, something that you would do well to educate yourselves and your colleagues about. As matters stand currently, that will mean taking a skeptical view of the usual Waldorf claims about that historical period, and looking to non-Waldorf and non-anthroposophical sources for more thorough accounts of this part of Waldorf’s past.

    I would be pleased if my research provided an opportunity for Waldorf admirers to ponder this contentious history and take its lessons seriously. What is worrisome about the Waldorf movement’s continued failure to address anthroposophy’s racial legacy is not that Waldorf schools in the twenty-first century will start churning out little Hitler youths; what is worrisome is that Waldorf advocates and sympathizers may unknowingly help prepare the ideological groundwork for another unforeseen shift in the broader cultural terrain, in which notions of racial and ethnic superiority and inferiority could once again take on a spiritual significance that lends itself all too easily to practical implementation in a changed social and political context. For this reason among others, I strongly encourage those involved in Waldorf endeavors to take another look at the history of their movement and the doctrines at its core.”

    My position is not that Waldorf or anthroposophy are hopelessly compromised by their past. I know several people who are currently in or were previously in Waldorf teacher training programs, and I know a variety of former Waldorf teachers and pupils, all of them fine people. Unfortunately, I have also had lengthy exchanges with currently active Waldorf teachers in several countries, from the US to Germany and beyond, who quite explicitly and emphatically defend the racist components of Steiner’s teachings.

    So do many other Steiner enthusiasts. As you can see from the exchanges above, not a few of them — particularly the vocally indignant ones — are convinced that they have presented a “strong argument” by recycling the same well-worn myths. They seem baffled by the notion that a series of articles about antisemitism, holocaust denial, and apologies for fascism actually discuss antisemites, holocaust deniers, and apologists for fascism. This sort of incomprehension is, for better or worse, par for the course among a wide range of anthroposophists today.

    My articles examine such views in detail, and that is what has aroused the ire of countless outraged admirers of Steiner. For you and any other readers interested in further exploring anthroposophist viewpoints, I once again recommend consulting the various public forums in which they are on full display:


    Peter Staudenmaier

  38. Many admirers of Steiner believe that anthroposophists were enemies of Hitler. It is a common anthroposophical myth, alongside the various other myths cherished by Steiner’s supporters. These myths are irrational, and they constitute a formidable obstacle to meaningful public discussion of anthroposophist activities in Nazi Germany.

    The historical reality is much more complicated than the myths to which anthroposophists remain so attached. Steiner’s followers would do well to inform themselves about this history. They would find that quite a few anthroposophists were not enemies of Hitler but outspoken friends of Hitler. Six months after Hitler came to power, for example, the Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society publicly announced his sympathy and admiration for the Nazi state. (Guenther Wachsmuth, “Anthroposophists and Nazis Arm in Arm,” June 6, 1933)

    Three years later, a leader of the Anthroposophical Society in Hamburg praised Hitler effusively (“so ist mein Herz erfüllt von Dankbarkeit und Verehrung für unseren Führer und Reichskanzler, der in so kurzer Zeit so Gewaltiges geleistet hat. Und wenn ich auch noch nicht Mitglied der NSDAP bin, so bin ich doch ihr aufrichtiger Anhänger”) and described the intense esteem in which other anthroposophists held Hitler. He recalled a visit to an anthroposophist family who had a large picture of Hitler displayed in their home with a quote from Steiner attached to it, next to a sign reading “This quote hangs above the desk of the Führer.” (Max Pusch to Minister of Interior, February 29, 1936)

    In 1935 an anthroposophist from Leipzig wrote to Hitler himself, extolling anthroposophy as the salvation of Germany and the culmination of the German spirit. He emphasized anthroposophy’s compatibility with Nazism, writing: “Steiner showed that the Jews are a people abandoned to decadence of the soul.” (Georg Bauer to Adolf Hitler, November 16, 1935) Another letter to Hitler from an anthroposophist declared: “Steiner recognized from his spiritual vision that the Teutonic peoples and above all Germany are the hegemonic people in the current epoch, the leading nation of the earth.” (Karl Jordan to Reich Chancellery, November 25, 1935)

    A similar letter from a prominent anthroposophist in Breslau discussed the affinities between anthroposophy and Nazism at length. Quoting various works by Steiner, the letter lamented that in the course of European history the “Germanic spiritual approach” had been overwhelmed by the “Semitic scientific intellect” and by “blood mixing” with non-Germans. The German task is to replace “abstract, Semitic thinking” with “organic, living thinking.” The letter concluded: “National Socialism needs anthroposophy in order to achieve its legitimate spiritual goals.” (Richard Dürich to Gestapa Berlin, November 28, 1935)

    In June 1940, at the height of the Blitzkrieg on the Western front and with the German army advancing on Paris, another prominent anthroposophist praised Hitler’s fulfillment of the German mission. Combining anthroposophist and Nazi terminology, he emphasized that Steiner opposed internationalism, liberalism, pacifism, the League of Nations, Marxism, Jesuitism, and Freemasonry. (Franz Löffler to Kreisleiter Riedel, June 8, 1940) He displayed similar attitudes in private correspondence with other leading anthroposophists, highlighting the importance of protecting the German people from “foreign ethnic infiltration” and “Americanism” and “the dominating Jewish influence.” (Franz Löffler to Erhard Bartsch, January 22, 1941)

    Such beliefs were widespread among anthroposophists in Nazi Germany. There are numerous examples from the Waldorf movement alone. In 1934, for instance, anthroposophist spokesman Richard Karutz glorified the Nazi “national uprising” and explained in detail how Waldorf education offered the best way to fulfill Nazism’s aims. On behalf of the parents at the original Waldorf school, Karutz wrote:

    “Since the national uprising of 1933, the launching of the nation toward the National Socialist unified people’s state, and the most profound transformation of every political and social course of life, the school is committed to participation in the rebuilding of the Reich, along with every other cell of German life and every individual German person. Toward this goal, the school is committed to active collaboration, putting itself at the service of the leaders of the school system of the new Reich and showing them what positive values the school has to offer from its pedagogical experience.”

    Karutz continued:

    “We declare, on the foundation of the new state, that we recognize the Free Waldorf School as an outstanding and reliable institution in accord with the new state. […] For fifteen years Waldorf pedagogy has been pursuing methodological paths and striving toward practical goals that point in the spiritual direction of the National Socialist uprising. Waldorf schooling anticipated demands of the new state and is well positioned to produce students who are thoroughly prepared in body, soul and spirit, who are capable and determined to serve the new state with personal dedication.”

    He went on to emphasize that all of the Waldorf teachers shared the same “national convictions,” a “unified worldview” centered on “the spiritual-cultural mission of the German Volk.” As a result of the “authoritarian” methods of Waldorf pedagogy, he reported, many Waldorf graduates have “enthusiastically joined the National Socialist movement.” Karutz quoted Hitler repeatedly to demonstrate the ideological proximity of anthroposophy and Nazism. (Richard Karutz, “Erklärung aus dem Kreise der Elternschaft der Freien Waldorfschule Stuttgart”; the leadership of the Waldorf school association endorsed the text and distributed it to the association’s membership in March 1934)

    Another 1934 letter from a Waldorf parent and Nazi party member declared that from the very beginning Waldorf education had pursued “exactly what we National Socialists strive for.” (Adolf Karcher to Verbindungsstab der NSDAP, March 16, 1934) Invoking Hitler, he wrote: “Diese Schule, die sich stets in hervorragender Weise für das deutsche Wesen in Anknüpfung an die bedeutendsten deutschen Geistesgrößen eingesetzt hat, wurde von gewissen Kreisen, die früher ihre unrühmliche Rolle gespielt haben, gerade aus diesem Grund arg verleumdet und bekämpft. […] Gerade was wir Nationalsozialisten erstreben, daß die Kinder nicht zu Spießbürgern mit bloßem egoistischen Standesdünkel erzogen werden, sondern zu wirklich praktischen Vollmenschen, hat diese Waldorf-Pädagogik zum obersten Grundsatz von Anfang an
    gehabt. […] Ich könnte noch eine ganze Reihe von sehr wichtigen Dingen anführen, die in dieser Schule in der Richtung liegen, die wir als Nationalsozialisten anstreben.”

    These sentiments were not the preserve of a minority. In 1938, 363 parents from the original Waldorf school wrote a letter proclaiming:

    “The Waldorf school in Stuttgart was founded as a bulwark against the corrosive powers of intellectualism and materialism in 1919, when our Volk was at its lowest point politically and culturally. […] Already at that time, when international tendencies were dominant, and despite facing strong hostility, the school consistently cultivated German spiritual life and built the entire education of the children on this basis. Eighteen years of experience have proven that through the Waldorf school, our children are being brought up to be hardworking, full-fledged members of the national community, healthy in body and soul. We are therefore convinced that the educational work of the Waldorf school can be successfully made fruitful for the cultural rebuilding of our Volk within the framework of the National Socialist state.” (Eingabe der Elternschaft der Stuttgarter Waldorfschule, March 14, 1938; the 363 signatories span the spectrum of anthroposophists and include Eugen and Margarete Link, Emil Kühn, Erich Schwebsch, Hanns Voith, Erich Gabert, Ernst Bindel, Erwin Schühle, Irma Haas-Berkow, Franz Lippert, Carl Stegmann, Margarita Karutz, and Friedrich Kipp.)

    There are hundreds of other examples. If anthroposophists are ever to move beyond the foolish myths that distort their view of the past, they will have to come to terms with these aspects of their own history.

    Peter Staudenmaier

  39. Hey Peter,

    What are your thoughts on the dialectical process of “separating the bad from the good”, re: your assertion that “[BioDyamic agriculture’s] focus on maintaining soil fertility rather than on crop yield, its rejection of artificial chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and its view of the whole farm or plot as an ecosystem all mark the biodynamic approach as an eminently sensible and ecologically sound method of cultivation.” This reads like an (understandably) enthusiastic endorsement of those agricultural practices, separated from the genocidal system of capitalist production.

    On the one hand, I am a historical and dialectical materialist who fully appreciates and is intellectually indebted to your humanist and rationalist critique of right-wing romanticism, green fascism, primitivism, New Age racialism and elitism, animal liberationism, etc.

    On the other hand I have many friends who are left-wing hippies who, in their personal horticultural hobbies, practice the methods of biodynmic agriculture outside of the bourgeois power-structure and fascist ideology of anthroposophy.

    I ask this because the question of agricultural policy is neglected among the contemporary revolutionary left.

  40. Hi NZ, thanks for your comments.

    Biodynamic farming is an anthroposophist version of organic agriculture, just as Waldorf schooling is an anthroposophist version of alternative education. I am a supporter of organic agriculture (and of alternative education), and like other proponents and practitioners of organic agriculture, I am critical of biodynamic approaches for a variety of reasons. I do not share the view that anthroposophy is a “fascist ideology,” however. In my view, it is possible to “practice the methods of biodynamic agriculture” without their anthroposophical trappings, but it is hard to see what would then be “biodynamic” about the procedure. It would simply be a non-anthroposophical and non-esoteric form of organic agriculture.

    Biodynamic farming is not, of course, the only route for right-wing influences within the organic movement. For a range of other examples see any of the following:

    Matthew Reed, Rebels for the Soil: The Rise of the Global Organic Food and Farming Movement (London: Earthscan, 2010), 45-47 and 57-59

    Dan Stone, “The Extremes of Englishness: The ‘Exceptional’ Ideology of Anthony Mario Ludovici” Journal of Political Ideologies 4 (1999), 191-219

    Matthew Jefferies and Mike Tyldesley, eds., Rolf Gardiner: Folk, Nature and Culture in Interwar Britain (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011), particularly Matthew Jefferies, “Rolf Gardiner and German Naturism” and Richard Moore-Colyer, “Rolf Gardiner, Farming and the English Landscape”

    Dan Stone, “The Far Right and the Back-to-the-Land Movement” in Julie Gottlieb and Thomas Linehan, eds., The Culture of Fascism: Visions of the Far Right in Britain (London: Tauris, 2004), 182-98

    Richard Moore-Colyer, “Towards ‘Mother Earth’: Jorian Jenks, Organicism, the Right and the British Union of Fascists” Journal of Contemporary History 39 (2004), 353-71

    Jonathan Olsen, “Region and ‘Rootedness’: Bio-Regionalism and Right-Wing Ecology in Germany” Landscape Journal 19 (2000), 73-83

    Tom Brass, “The Agrarian Myth, the ‘New’ Populism and the ‘New’ Right” Journal of Peasant Studies 24 (1997), 201-45

    There is also a new edition of the Ecofascism book which offers much greater detail on these issues: Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier, Ecofascism Revisited: Lessons from the German Experience (New Compass Press, 2011). Best,

    Peter Staudenmaier

  41. I have come to know many parents who send their children to Steiner schools, and it seems to be widely considered a “Good Thing”. For about a year I have tried intermittently to pin down what exactly it is? Parents tell me it’s creative, and about the child as a whole. Not one single person- and this includes one woman who is embarking on Steiner teacher training- has mentioned Anthroposophy to me. I find this very strange, especially since I am an Anthropologist and the similarity in name might have triggered a (mistaken) connection. Not even people who have been part of the “Steiner community” for over a decade have even mentioned anthroposophy, not once!

    I therefore tend to agree with some of the comments which allude to a hierarchy of knowledge, of insiders/ outsiders and us/ them structure within the movement, but again this is only a glance at what has played out in the comments here combined with the relative ignorance that otherwise intelligent people seem to have about the Steiner world.

    As a general comment to the Anthroposophists which might be reading this, the etymology of your discipline/ belief includes sophism, which is basically polemic. A sophist can convincingly argue a theory which is otherwise unsound. By very definition you acknowledge a “leap of faith” as the bais of your world-view, derived primarily from skilful and compelling articulation.

    My second comment to you anthroposophists, which is bolstered by reading Stephanie’s comments, is about the defensiveness with which your discipline’s history is treated, verging on denial. Anthroplogists have for a very long time recognised and understood the racist origins of their discipline. Seemingly Steiner also equated the social as a type of biological process, the same steps which led from Darwinism and evolution to Social Darwinism, social evolutionism, and then to eugenics. Because Anthropology emerged in a milieu where the established order sought to legitimate their power and authority in any way possible, including recourse to humanist and other sciences, early ethnographies were shaped by and reflected this milieu in a dialectical process. That doesn’t mean that today’s anthropology is a racist discipline (though individual anthropologists cannot be accounted for). However, I firmly believe that the process of accepting and understanding this origin (the postmodern turn) has led to a better discipline. Stephanie’s comments are refreshing and I would hope that anthroposophists and their instiutions will engage with their history for a positive future.

  42. Hi Peter,
    I have only recently began reading Rudolph Steiner lectures, and books and become inspired by what he has to say on a number of different topics, consequently I am seriously thinking about doing three years of Steiner teacher training. I am interested in your article for a number of different reasons. One of my main concerns on becoming involved (and possibly also the desire, in terms of changing attitudes to the wider social movements) is the seemingly sectarian nature of the Anthrosophical movement and possibly less so The Steiner Waldorf education system, I think this is borne out by the reactions and defense of steiner in the replies.
    On a different note, I am from Scotland and as you know the talk of independence looms large in the present with the possibility of a referendum in the near future. I agree with a lot of what the SNP says with regards to Trident, environmental policies, self determination etc. as I’m sure a lot of anthroposophists would, but if the SNP reverts back to the same old nationalistic values and principles if they ever got into power, then I am against it wholeheartedly (maybe I’ve just answered my doubts).
    I have some strong SNP candidates in my constituency who understand the needs and challenges of the social, political,environmental situation and I will probably vote for them in the upcoming local elections.
    My point is if the SNP were ever to engage in the practices of the Nazis, I would be accountable in some way for my support of the party. It would be in a nieve way, but my character and reputation may be called into question in the future regardless of the positive social,educational,moral changes I make for the good of society.
    Are you suggesting that Anthroposophy/Theosophy was a template which nazism followed, to give validity to their cause and that anthroposophists were complicit in steering the outcome towards the genocide which followed? Or were they just unwittingly supporting a regime which they viewed as capturing the essence of their philosophy,but actually misused and twisted the philosophy and turned it into a manifesto of absolute power and control and propoganda?
    If you are suggesting the first theory, then the Anthroposophical society do indeed need to be humble, forgiving and acknowledge their founders and followers mistakes. If the second theory is what you are implying, then that needs to be clarified also, with an open and frank discussion about the refusal of this topic to disappear regardless of how much good has come of the movement.
    I personally think Anthroposophy has much to give, and will keep giving regardless of the critiques, but in order to give even more, it has to start opening the doors to the outside world and be prepared to be ridiculed,slandered and condescended. Rudolph Steiner after all said this epoch would challenge humanity to it’s limit, and to steer that difficult middle path will take a herculean effort. (my words, not steiner’s, in case I get a two page response).

  43. Hi Graham,

    Thanks for your comment. You asked:

    “Are you suggesting that Anthroposophy/Theosophy was a template which nazism followed, to give validity to their cause and that anthroposophists were complicit in steering the outcome towards the genocide which followed? Or were they just unwittingly supporting a regime which they viewed as capturing the essence of their philosophy,but actually misused and twisted the philosophy and turned it into a manifesto of absolute power and control and propoganda?”

    Anthroposophy was not a template which Nazism followed. Nazi ideology drew on many disparate sources, some of which shared common roots with anthroposophy. More important, various anthroposophists and Nazis found a range of ways to cooperate in practice from 1933 onward, and even earlier in some cases. Except in the broadest sense, anthroposophists were not personally complicit in steering the outcome towards genocide, with few exceptions. While figures like Otto Ohlendorf and to a lesser extent Sigmund Rascher were directly involved in the holocaust, I do not consider them anthroposophists, though others do. The other likely candidates would be figures like Benesch or Lippert and Grund and the other biodynamic representatives who collaborated with the SS and worked at concentration camps, but even in those cases the connections to the holocaust are complicated. If you’re looking for prominent anthroposophists who really did play a role in steering the outcome towards genocide, you’ll have more luck looking not at German anthroposophists but at Italian anthroposophists, several of whom were vocal supporters of and participants in the Fascist racial campaign.

    It is certainly possible that some of the anthroposophists who supported the Nazi regime did so unwittingly, but that would hardly reflect well on those anthroposophists. Many anthroposophists found a lot of positive potential in Nazism and greeted some of its aspects enthusiastically, while others accommodated themselves to Nazism in various ways. The same is true for countless other groups in Germany at the time. What is historically interesting about anthroposophy is the spectrum of shared ideas and assumptions, as well as the many instances of practical cooperation and collusion, which served to bring anthroposophists and Nazis together in some instances while dividing them in others. I agree with you that an open and frank discussion of the topic would go a long way toward placing this facet of anthroposophy’s past into historical context. Best,

    Peter Staudenmaier

  44. Peter claims that there was  “extensive public support by anthroposophists for the nazification of Germany” but it is likely that he believes this due to a selective use and mis-reading of the evidence. Most of the debate on this topic has, for understandable reasons, been conducted in German up to now, which has made it rather difficult for anglophone readers to make sense of the issues. A new PhD dissertation by Karen Priestman has been published that may go some way towards helping rectify this situation: ‘Illusion of Coexistence: The Waldorf Schools in the Third Reich, 1933–1941’, . The dissertation draws extensively on primary sources to paint a picture of the relationship of the Waldorf schools to the Nazi state that is very different from that suggested by Peter. Her study shows that, though one may accuse the Waldorfians of naïveté in their belief that they could co-exist within the Nazi state, the Waldorfians were not collaborators, mostly because the pedagogy, provided to the movement by Steiner, was ideologically opposed to Nazism (“Still, circumstantial evidence, as discussed in chapter four, indicates that contrary to claims made by the detractors of the schools, charges of their supposed collaboration with the regime and alleged shared sentiments of racism and antisemitism are insubstantial and generally highly questionable”, p 6). Peter claims that Hess was simply ‘anthroposophy’s protector’ but Hess no more regarded the Waldorf schools as ideologically compatible with Nazism than anyone else:

    “Hess was trying to reconcile the schools’ ideological incompatibility with National Socialism with the value of their educational principles, which Hess could not deny
    Hess’ sentiments were echoed by Thies, ironically in a report which sealed the schools’ fate. While explaining that all applicable authorities agreed that the schools had no place in a National Socialist state, he conceded that there was still some value in their educational principles.”
    p 152-153

    ‘Co-opt[ing] the [anthroposophical] movement and its institutions’ to the Nazi state, that Peter presents as an option, was for similar reasons not on the table . 

    Peter has said elsewhere that he views it as legitimate to see historiography as a blend of polemics and history proper. It maybe for this reason that his article has been famous during the more than a decade of its publication for containing biases similar to that illustrated above. In her study, Ms Priestman further calls doubt on the lack of bias in the work on Anthroposophy of Peter’s favourite academic and colleague Helmut Zander, as well as that of another stalwart reference of his, Peter Biehl. And it maybe these biases that caused Ms Priestman in her dissertation to describe Peter as a ‘staunch anti-Anthroposophist’ and to present a seminar in February this year entitled: “The Waldorf Schools as Modern Havens of Nazism?: The Continuing Debate and the Abuses of History”. Readers wishing to understand more about the complicated issue of the co-existence of institutions ideologically opposed Nazism within the Third Reich could do worse than to consult Ms Priestman’s work.


  45. Ted Wrinch wrote:

    “Readers wishing to understand more about the complicated issue of the co-existence of institutions ideologically opposed Nazism within the Third Reich could do worse than to consult Ms Priestman’s work.”

    I heartily agree. Here is what I wrote about Dr. Priestman’s dissertation last week:

    “There is a recent dissertation on the history of Waldorf schools in Nazi Germany that is well worth reading:

    Karen Priestman, “Illusion of Coexistence: The Waldorf Schools in the Third Reich, 1933–1941” PhD dissertation, Wilfrid Laurier University, 2009

    An abstract and the full text in pdf form can be found here:

    There is much to disagree with in the dissertation (she uses PLANS and my “Anthroposophy and Ecofascism” article as foils for her argument), and a few errors in detail, but it is full of important historical information based largely on the archives of the German Waldorf school federation. Much of her account focuses on Waldorf efforts to accommodate themselves to the new regime and cooperate with Nazi educational officials in order to maintain Steiner’s pedagogical principles within the context of Nazi rule. Priestman writes:

    “This pattern of contradiction and ambiguity on the part of the Nazis and cooperation and naivety on the part of the Waldorf schools, continued throughout their existence in the Third Reich and shaped the strategies the schools adopted while pursuing their illusory attempt at coexistence.” (111)

    She concludes: “Their idealism and their belief that the virtue of Rudolf Steiner’s pedagogy could not be denied indefinitely blinded the schools to the true nature of National Socialism and fostered an illusion of coexistence.” (224)

    Along with Ida Oberman’s 2008 book The Waldorf Movement in Education from European Cradle to American Crucible, this is the best study available in English from a perspective sympathetic to Waldorf. Readers interested in anthroposophy during the Nazi era can learn much from it.”

    Mr. Wrinch is unsurprisingly mistaken about my own work. My conclusions about Waldorf education in Nazi Germany are often quite similar to Dr. Priestman’s. In the chapter on the controversy over Waldorf schools in the Nazi era in my dissertation, I argue that compromise prevailed over collaboration, not the other way around. These sorts of basic misunderstandings, common among anthroposophists, need not deter readers interested in learning more about the history of the Waldorf movement in Nazi Germany. Here is an initial overview based on Waldorf sources:

    Peter Staudenmaier

  46. Hi Peter,

    I would like to start by confirming that Steiner saw race as something which gave an individual particular strengths and challenges. He did the same with sex. He saw these as external to the core of the individual though, as conditions the individual could work with as one might work with being short, or tall…

    I am also sorry to see that you have not given enough time to really understanding the ideas Steiner developed as social three folding. You write-

    “Its central axiom is that the modern integration of politics, economy and culture into an ostensibly democratic framework must falter because, according to Steiner, neither the economy nor cultural life can or should be structured democratically.”

    It is true that Rudolf Steiner regarded democracy as an unfit principle for the economy and culture. At the root of this thought is the wisdom which we recognize in the saying “too many cooks in the kitchen” which we know leads to a bad meal and spoilt moods. He did not mean that the economy should not have to respect laws created by democratic processes, this he firmly believed in and wrote that just as a regional economy had to accustom itself to the natural resources that it had to work given the realities of various bio regions of the world, it also had to accustom itself to the laws that were created through democracy in those regions. You can read this in his lectures on economy as well as in his book Toward Social Renewal.

    On the other hand many Americans believe that culture should not be regulated by democracy, and indeed what Steiner meant by this was all intended in the same spirit which inspired those who founded the USA to make a division between church and state.

    You also wrote-

    “In the aftermath of the bloody world war, at the very moment of great upheavals against the violence, misery, and exploitation of capitalism, Steiner emerged as an ardent defender of private profit, the concentration of property and wealth, and the unfettered market.”

    As I mentioned above, Rudolf Steiner believed the market should be subservient to laws created through democratic processes. He also believed that capital, for the most part, created through industry should be given to charities, schools and other cultural initiatives. He even created an association to work towrd this end called “der Kommende Tag”(The Coming Day). One of Rudolf Steiner’s main concerns was to promote the circulation of wealth for he thought that money which was invested in land, or under the mattress, distorted economic realities. He has some extremely interesting points in this direction. His thoughts inspired one of the most successful local currency projects in the world which is alive and well based on some of his articulations of aging/expiring currency. Here is an article from the guardian about this.

    I will in no way contest that individual anthroposophists have made great moral blunders. I disagree with your argument that the development of national socialism was nascent in anthroposophy by pointing this out. Your image of Steiner, and his intentions and work, as an individual is extremely skewed. Of course this is only my opinion, but one based on 13 years of studying his work.

  47. Hi Nathaniel,

    Thanks for your comment. You evidently misunderstood the article, as many anthroposophists have; my argument is not that “the development of national socialism was nascent in anthroposophy.” In part because of basic misunderstandings like these, many of Steiner’s admirers believe that what historians report about Steiner and his movement is skewed. The reason for this is not mysterious; like you, a lot of anthroposophists are firmly committed to a series of well-worn myths about Steiner, myths which prevent you from viewing Steiner as a historical figure. Part of a historian’s job is to deflate such myths, and that often irritates admirers of Steiner, who think they have been “studying” Steiner for years and years. For better or worse, that is not what “studying” means outside of esoteric circles.
    Regarding Steiner’s teachings about “social threefolding,” I’m not sure what you meant to disagree with, but if you’re interested you can find a much more detailed discussion here:
    Unlike anthroposophists, social ecologists do not regard democracy as “an unfit principle for the economy and culture.” Social ecologists are fundamentally opposed to capitalism and the state and fundamentally in favor of a thoroughly democratic society, economy, and culture.
    Last, on Steiner’s racial teachings, I recommend reading some of the previous comments to this article. Best,

    Peter Staudenmaier

  48. Hi Peter,

    I read your other article. Thank you for recommending it. I believe I understand you are saying you take outer historical events to represent the truth of a persons ideas, not a thorough understanding of the ideas themselves. When I see a political cartoon of a person I can tell it is not the actual appearance of the person. When I read your descriptions of Steiner’s thought I can sense a similar situation. I am not referring to historical events in space and time when I challenge your understanding of his ideas, rather, I am referring to his ideas. In saying this I am not disputing particular historical events you refer to nor the importance of paying attention to them and learning from them, but I am simply indicating they are not the same as a person’s ideas. If one was to equate an understanding of social- three folding with a review of its history it would be a very poor idea for the future indeed! But it has hardly been developed in practice.

    There is nothing “esoteric” about the idea that studying a person’s ideas leads to a knowledge of them. This method for understanding people is not particular to anthroposophists! I find confirmation of my suspicion that you see Steiner in a distorted light in the fact that you do not take time to respond to any of the ideas and examples(including historical and contemporary ones) that I mentioned but rather just accused me of various illusions. Your confidence and accusatory tone surely inspire some to think you have solid ground to stand on I hope you can couple these forces with a deeper respect for the truth in your life. Even if you can use the words that Steiner used this does not mean you have taken the time to understand them and despite the fact that I recognize many of the terms and concepts he used when I read your two essays, you have distorted their character. I leave it to others who read these things to investigate for themselves inaccuracies I found in your work.-

    Steiner did not first experience spiritual reality after the age of 40 as you state(read the third chapter of his autobiography for example). Despite the fact that I can understand how from an outer perspective you could say he totally changed at the age of 40, when you study his life AND ideas/work you see that his essential inspirations developed through out his life(see the earliest articles in Lucifer/Gnosis from the turn of the last century when he writes about Theosophy and German idealism, the reference to his earlier work and their re-publishing until his death…)

    Steiner believed the market and all business leaders should have to follow laws created in democratic processes.(read his book Toward Social Renewal for example and see my previous comment).

    Steiner viewed the individual person as an independent and different entity than their sex, race, climate…( see the 14th chapter of his philosophy of freedom for example)

    I see very clearly that you think anthroposophy is something that might seem to many as progressive but in reality it is still far from the level of progress you and your co-workers are promoting at your institute. May my comments ignite in you the bugging suspicion that maybe you have not exhausted the issue as much as you think you have!

  49. Hi Nathaniel,

    Thanks for your comment. Many anthroposophists are convinced that they understand Steiner’s ideas. This is perhaps the most common anthroposophical myth, particularly among Steiner’s English-speaking admirers. The problem is an obvious one; in your own words, “you have not exhausted the issue as much as you think you have.” What you have read are snippets of Steiner’s later works available in translation. Quite apart from the quality of the translations themselves, the texts you are familiar with have often been bowdlerized and do not include much of the original racist and antisemitic content, for example. Beyond that, the only scholarly biographies of Steiner are in German, and much of Steiner’s work, not to mention the rest of the anthroposophical corpus, has not been translated at all.

    This situation leaves you unfamiliar with a large proportion of Steiner’s ideas. Let’s look at one of your own chosen examples: You believe, as countless anthroposophists do, that Steiner’s “essential inspirations” remained the same before and after 1900 and that he was already an esotericist and “experienced spiritual reality” before 1900. These beliefs are completely mistaken and are based on ignorance of Steiner’s pre-1900 published works. The edition of “Philosophy of Freedom” you cite, for instance, is a translation of the heavily revised 1918 edition, not the original edition from 1893. More to the point, Steiner ruthlessly ridiculed esotericism – and particularly theosophy – during the 1890s. If you want to understand Steiner’s ideas, it will mean paying attention to the ways his ideas changed over time.

    That is what his followers fail to do. Because you do not view Steiner as a historical figure but as a harbinger of timeless truths, you are oblivious to the development of his ideas and the specific contexts within which they emerged. You say that you are “not referring to historical events,” and that is precisely the problem. Ideas are themselves historical phenomena, and you won’t be able to understand them without recognizing that basic factor. This is not some personal shortcoming of yours, by the way. It is the standard perspective among those who believe in Steiner’s worldview.

    As you know, the ISE webmaster has asked that we not overwhelm the ISE site with this discussion, and I think that is a reasonable request. If you would like to continue the discussion, I recommend moving to one of the existing email lists dedicated to anthroposophical topics. One in particular is very willing to host lively and extended exchanges between proponents and critics of Steiner’s ideas; you can find it here:

    Its associated website includes several of my articles as well, and you are more than welcome to offer critical commentary there. Best,

    Peter Staudenmaier

  50. Hi Peter,

    I am fluent in German. The ideas I referred to are in the first edition. It is online in German thanks to google.

  51. Hi Nathaniel,

    Thanks for your comment. It seems to me you are repeating the same beliefs. You claimed in a previous message to me that you are fluent in German, for example. (Nathaniel has sent several additional messages aside from the ones posted here, and has declined to discuss them.) Assuming that is true, I’m not sure what it is you mean to object to when I point out that your claims are naïve and based on ignorance. If you read German, you are ignoring a very large body of readily accessible information about Steiner and anthroposophy, topics in which you profess a great interest. This is not likely to help you understand Steiner’s ideas.

    The original edition of Steiner’s book The Philosophy of Freedom, for instance, presents a significantly different set of ideas from the ones contained in the edition you cited, a revised edition from two and half decades later. (By the way, the text of the original edition is not available on google books; I’m not sure how you managed to convince yourself of that.) The same is true for the other works you cited. If you want to know what Steiner’s ideas were about esotericism in 1897, for example, you need to take a look at what Steiner wrote about esotericism in 1897, not in 1924.

    Taking that approach would be a fine way to gain a better understanding of Steiner’s ideas. As things stand now, many of your stated beliefs about Steiner and his teachings are simply standard anthroposophical myths. Those myths get in the way of understanding Steiner’s ideas. Best,

    Peter Staudenmaier

  52. I am a graduate of a Waldorf High School in the Northeastern United States. In addition, the family of my closest friend (a graduate of the same school) completed the advanced Waldorf Teacher training, and is now a teacher in a Waldorf primary school also located in the Northeastern United States. I’ve had extensive first-hand experience with the Steiner educational model from both sides.

    There were many wonderful aspects of my time in Waldorf education: A connection to nature; a sense of the magical; the support of some loving teachers; the “making” of our own book recapitulating the information learned in an intensive seasonal class; and an introduction to some of the “greats” of literature and philosophy like Goethe, Parsifal, Beowulf, Shakespeare, Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau, Dostoevsky, Siddhartha and others. I don’t think I would have cared about many of these so much, unless the teachers were able to make them come alive in many ways. And some of them did.

    So, I can understand the sense of shock & surprise many of the commenters above feel when confronted with what seems to be a negative and scathing take-down of something that for so many has seemed so wonderful.

    But Mr. Staudenmaier’s critique is well-grounded, and we would do well to listen.

    During the last year or so of Waldorf School, I and a few other “free-thinking” individuals began to question the hidden hand behind our educational model. Anthroposophy was never discussed openly with the students, even though we were beginning to question its influence. We were rebuffed at every turn, with the responses always being some sort of variation on “we haven’t reached the appropriate developmental stage”, or something. In fact, the more individuals challenged the authoritarian nature of the school (come on, we were teenagers!) the more I felt we were almost pathologized. It was creepy, and certainly not Democratic. Some of us were expelled.

    Like I mentioned above, we had some wonderful teachers that were patient and supportive. But there were also faculty that were as controlling and authoritarian as any mainstream school.

    I now see Waldorf schools in a different light: I see the occult spiritualist & pseudoscience aspect as in the same vein as the Mormom creation myths, the Nation of Islam’s Yakub story, or the Bible’s burning wheels in the sky — as basically anti-science, anti-rational thought, and anti-democratic. And the best part? Like any really problematic world view, most of its true believers will rationalize away these questions or criticisms and even build the framework that things like science, rationality, or democratic process is part of the problem.

    Facts? Who needs ’em…I’ve got FAITH!

    By the way, did any one notice any peculiar about the list of the “Greats” mentioned above? Yup, they are all white and all European. There were few people of color or Jews represented in the official curriculum. For some reason, I now see this as more than just an oversight…

  53. To the editor,
    I wanted to learn more about the history of the Waldorf movement and came across Peter Staudenmaier’s article “Anthroposophy and Ecofascism” on the internet. I had some preconceived notions about Waldorf and Anthroposophy and was hoping to get beyond my own mere impressions and some of my prejudices by reading a scholarly article about this subject.
    Although reading the article and the comments in the Q&A section was quite interesting I did not achieve my goal of getting a deeper understanding of the historical background of this movement.
    Instead, I have to question the validity of the author’s findings and conclusions. There are three main reasons for this:
    1) To my knowledge Steiner was a very prolific writer and it would take an immense amount of time to study all of his work in the original German. Similar to Sigmund Freud’s work the German of the Steiner original texts is very complicated and extremely difficult to read. It was mentioned in the Q&A section after the article that the author is fluent in German. I am afraid that mere fluency of German would not be enough. It would require a very sophisticated knowledge of German to be able to understand and interpret all the nuances of this large body of work.
    2) I was bothered by the tone in the article and in the author’s responses in the Q&A section. The impression I usually get from historic scholars is that they attempt to be as unbiased and objective as humanely possible, in service of the subject of their research. I usually encounter a sense of humility, for example historians pointing out the limitations of their work and emphasizing that more research is needed. Unfortunately, and for reasons unclear to me, this academic deference was completely missing in the article.
    3) In addition to the presented “facts” ( that I am questioning for the reasons mentioned above) the article and the author’s responses in the Q&A section were loaded with demeaning remarks and generalizations about a whole group of people (anthroposophists). Why??
    Nevertheless, the article has served a purpose and sparked my interest in learning more about the history of the Waldorf movement, with its positive aspects and shadows alike. Thank you.

  54. Hi Stefanie,

    Thanks for your comment. The article you read is not an academic article. It is a popular article written for a broad readership. I have written several academic articles about Steiner and anthroposophy; you can find a variety of them here:

    If you’re interested in some of my work in German, I recommend Peter Staudenmaier, “Der deutsche Geist am Scheideweg: Anthroposophen in Auseinandersetzung mit völkischer Bewegung und Nationalsozialismus” in Uwe Puschner and Clemens Vollnhals, eds., Die völkisch-religiöse Bewegung im Nationalsozialismus (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012), 473-90. It provides much more historical context. I would be happy to send you a copy if you’d like.

    The notion that historians are always unbiased is mistaken. Historians of Nazism, historians of Stalinism, historians of antisemitism, historians of racism, among others, do not generally follow an unbiased approach. Admirers of Steiner often think that my attitude toward anthroposophy as a whole is much harsher than it actually is. My critical comments are directed toward historically specific aspects of anthroposophy. I am not somehow neutral regarding racism and Nazism, and there is no point pretending otherwise.

    In my view, it is foolish to conclude that reminding anthroposophists of their unacknowledged past is “demeaning.” The history of Steiner’s movement in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy is complex, not simple, and with few exceptions anthroposophists have failed to engage with this history straightforwardly. There is no need to take my word for this; the scholarship on anthroposophy is substantial and growing. Two of the more informative studies are Helmut Zander, Anthroposophie in Deutschland: Theosophische Weltanschauung und gesellschaftliche Praxis 1884–1945 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007) and Heiner Ullrich, Rudolf Steiner: Leben und Lehre (Munich: Beck, 2011). I also recommend Miriam Gebhardt’s biography Rudolf Steiner: Ein moderner Prophet (Munich: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2011). Best,

    Peter Staudenmaier

  55. Steiner was working at the time he worked. If any Nazi Party individuals picked up on any of his gardening practices then so they did. If his schools were practicing in Germany when the Nazi regime came into authority, and some of their aspects were admired, this is no more implicating of them than it is to implicate the cabarets of Paris or the paintings which the Nazis stole from the walls of the galleries. It no more makes Steiner a nazi than does being a Vegetarian make anyone a nazi. Or being a Painter for that matter…
    It is my view that you feel irritated and aggressive towards Steiner and his work, and have not in fact studied, practiced or followed any of his indications or ideas, in any way that would enable you to understand them. Steiner’s work is infact so contrary to Nazi-ism that he would indeed be better understood as someone whom the Nazi’s would have persecuted , had he lived so long. It is not my wish to defend Anthroposophy or say that it is the answer to spiritual , social, political or agricultural problems. The grounds on which you criticize Steiner seem misinformed, naive and essentially personal. It seems you are striving to denounce him, due to his esoteric beliefs or teachings. If this is so, stick to these teachings and use his work as example for what you feel is not right. Do not unfairly link him to a movement he never supported and had no affiliation to, and whose actions would have horrified and saddened him beyond measure. Steiner believed in the dignity and beauty in nature and in the human being, and it seems rude deformation to imply otherwise.

  56. Hi A Regan,

    Thanks for your comment. I very much agree that Steiner was working at the time he worked. That is what historians study. We look at people like Steiner not as a herald of dignity and beauty and so forth, but simply as a historical figure, part of his time and place, who can be understood in the context of his time and place – and not by practicing the ideas he taught or following his indications, as his admirers would prefer.

    Like other historians, I do not argue that this history “makes Steiner a Nazi”; you and other readers sympathetic to Steiner seem to have fundamentally misunderstood the article on that point. The article says nothing about Steiner himself supporting the Nazi regime (he died in 1925). But perhaps the bigger misunderstanding is a naïve view of Nazism. It sounds like you think the Nazis did not believe in things like dignity and beauty and nature and such; this notion is quite mistaken. Figuring out which sorts of ideas and activities were “contrary to Nazism” and which were compatible with Nazism requires a more historically informed understanding of Nazi ideology and Nazi practice.

    Some painters, by the way, did support Nazism. So did some vegetarians. From a historical perspective, the point is not that merely being a vegetarian or a painter or an anthroposophist somehow makes a person a Nazi. The point is that some painters and vegetarians and anthroposophists actively chose to cooperate with Nazism, while others did not. Admirers of Steiner often have remarkable difficulty grasping this basic fact. It makes it harder for them to make sense of historical accounts of the movement Steiner founded – they think historians are trying to “denounce” him and are being “rude” and so on. That is a misguided way to approach history.

    There is a lot of readily available research on this topic. It is not based on irritation or aggression or personal antipathy, but on the historical record. The two case studies you mention, as it happens, are particularly well documented. If you’d like to read about Steiner schools in Nazi Germany, for example, try here:

    If you’d like to learn more about biodynamic agriculture in Nazi Germany, you could take a look at a recent article of mine: Peter Staudenmaier, “Organic Farming in Nazi Germany: The Politics of Biodynamic Agriculture, 1933-1945” Environmental History 18 (2013), 383-411. I would be happy to send you a copy if you would like. Best,

    Peter Staudenmaier

  57. Hi Peter,

    I am a student in the Steiner teacher training. I joined based on the humanistic approach of Steiner education. I really thank you for your thorough research on Steiner work. I do not have much time to do it myself but the fact is that your findings do not surprise me. During our classes on Anthroposophy only once it was mentioned the racists undertones, to which we realized were because of a product of the times. However, nowadays these beliefs are not followed, nevertheless I do not understand why they have not more out-loudly rejected them. There seems to be a vibe of zealotry around some members (not all) that refuse to say that some Steiner ideas are no longer valid or relevant; they take Steiner as infallible.

    Also, in regard to Jean-Marc comments on Steiner schools, many teachers in Steiner schools are trained in Steiner qualified teachers but do not care about the School of Spiritual Science (core philosophy that runs Anthroposophy). They believe in the humanistic principles and their applications. Every school is completely independent and some hold some zealots in their ranks which end up with the type of problems Jean-Marc highlighted.

    Steiner talks about being yourself and develop your own individual critical thinking but it contradicts the actions that Jean-Marc and his friends suffered. There are lots of people within the movement that feel that Anthroposophy is holding to too many 19century views. They believe that Antroposophy today is more than what Steiner created and that Steiner is just a thinker which shows a possible path but not the only one. There is a growing idea that Steiner should not longer be regarded as “The Prophet” but as another thinker; Anthroposophy (as the word itself indicates) should be about “the wisdom of man” and not about “the wisdom of R.Steiner”.

    Thanks for your work.

  58. I read the article and oh dear one response was so patronising, we do not understand. Who does not understand whom? I was born in the Netherlands just after the war and grew up with factual stories of the war, at home, the media and history at school but undoubtedly to the anthroposophist, they must have all been liar, filling my head with nonsense. The people who belong to the anthroposophist sect and a sect it is, if you do no agree look up the definition of sect although the behaviours I have encountered, to me are behaviours idiosyncratic to each and every cult hence in my opinion, the anthroposophist movement is a cult, with people so filled with folie de grandeur that likely they see themselves the Ubermenschen, the Aryans however sadly, morality, integrity, ethics, honesty seem words they are not able to comprehend while in my experience, lies, deception, swindle, corruption comes natural to them. I do not see them as a harmless cult, far from it. In my perception they are quite dangerous because they so look like the people next door and have the gift of the gab, a bit like the 3rd hand car dealer on Rogue Traders. To me they are
    like Bindweed. I look forward to the responses of the A. Sect, to me a Cult :):):)

  59. Two sides. Both has good intentions.

    What Peter Staudenmaier did not realise is that he fights against the wrong side and works on destroying an another good deed.

    You asked someone why is it important to come the two side to a sort an a agreement. Look around and see what damage has been done just because two parties/sides disagree. All our history about sides and opposition and always about destroying the another one, rather understand its existence and implement the good parts. The oppositions need to get closer to each other and not to drift far away from and gain more hate and misunderstanding.

    How about working together side by side and stop causing more damage?

    You read all those books, you write all your studies and articles for what purpose? What is your aim? What results you gain?

    What your organisation represents is good. What Anthroposophy represents is good as well. Both “organisation” is build up from people who have good intentions. And here we are fighting, generalising. misinterpreting.

    It is just sad. There are greater problems we have to face with nowadays and we should unit not divide against those powers, forces rigid theories and principles that hold back the developments, improvements of our societies and destroys our environments.

    I hope to see more collaboration and understanding from both sides and work towards love and not hate, because at the end of the day our goals are more or less the same.

    All the best,

    Mihaly Sipos

  60. Hi Mihaly,

    Thanks for your response. Like many other readers bothered by this article, I think you misunderstood my argument. My aim is not to “damage” anthroposophy but to offer critical perspective on anthroposophy’s history. The notion that critique is somehow a bad thing is extremely naïve. Debate, disagreement, and critical thinking are not at all the same as hatred and destruction. Anthroposophists will have a difficult time making sense of their own history until they recognize those fundamental differences.

    Your categorical claim that “What Anthroposophy represents is good” is much too simplistic. Anthroposophy represents many things. Some of those things are good. Others are not. If you want to promote the good parts of anthroposophy, you’re going to have to come to terms with the parts that aren’t so good. Pretending they don’t exist will not magically make them go away. The good parts of anthroposophy will not be able flourish until Steiner’s followers confront the unfortunate aspects of their legacy: the strands of racism and antisemitism, the ongoing predilection for conspiracy myths, the authoritarian and elitist dynamics, the history of entanglement with the far right. It is well past time for anthroposophist to face these issues squarely. Best,

    Peter Staudenmaier

  61. I like to add something on the subject of Steiner and Racism.
    The fundemental difference between a regular scientific view and that of Steiner, is that Steiner develops ideas from the assumption that there is a difference between the indivdiduality and the racial component of the physical body, which makes him by default not-racist. Racists can float on the scientic view that we, in fact ARE the body. That assumption makes talking about racial components very, very tricky and wrong: judging racial components is judging the individual, right?
    But Steiner considers the body NOT the same as the individual soul…that incarnates in it. Wether you support that thought or not, it makes Steiner not racist. It makes him someone who talks about racial components as being ‘vessels’, ‘tools’, to accompany a certain development. That is fundemental non-racial. He takes the liberty to talk about the racial component much more freely then regular science could do. Wether Steiner was naive to do so could be questioned but it certainly doesnt make him guilty.
    Another thing: Steiner spoke in a pre-holocaust era. He was a man from that generation. This terrible happening, after Steiner passed away, has made the western world very much aware how tricky it can be to talk about racial differences. The word ‘race’ has in fact been poisoned by it and that is,cconsidering the modern era of internationalism, a good thing. Blaming Steiner to be from the pre-holcaust era would be unfair. It mostly declares his – in our modern eyes -too detailed and discriminating discriptions of different ‘races’ (or ‘cultures’ as we would say these days). See the man in the time-frame he lived in.
    Also: Steiners audiences and spiritual seeking people were mostly from a generation who never met other people then caucasians. And i guess, but that is my personal opinion, Steiner considered his audiences still tied up to a conservative and old-fascioned feeling of superiority – call it a collective unconscienceness – or better ‘generation’ that has its roots in the Great Idea of enlightment, were western pride is tide to a feeling that western man is at its peak of liberty and freedom and that such qualities are bound to class and blood. To make such audience sensitive for difficult, esoteric, futuristic and – in fact – uber-globalistic ideas was difficult and needed to be done, with respect for old, racial pre-justice. To do so, he cleared out the races, the ones who live on the planet… In detail. Steiner was thriving towards understanding, instead of seperating people and we should be grateful for his efforts in a time this was not on any countries agenda, not sung in any protest song yet and not common good in the hearts of people.

    And then…. Steiner has always talked about huge, meta-developments of cultures. The blame that he was overly focussed on western culture is in a way not fair, if one would study his lectures on cultures. From there one could see that he puts western culture in a much bigger perspective, where it looses its seeming superiority. Again one could argue wether Steiner was naive in thinking that his words would lead to these dangerous misunderstandings.

    Its very easy -‘a piece of cake’ so to say – to hurt Steiners legacy, if one would intent to. And mabye Steiner is to blame himself for this partly. But again,that doesnt make him racist. It makes him a strange creature, that might have spoken to early, because he knew his idea would never be ‘Truth’ but would spread in the world. No fixed assumptions but seeds to be planted. In the Goetheanum and such Steiner’s words are wrongly transformed into a fixed ‘truth’ but these guys dont have any power anymore. But.. In every public school, nature-caring initiatives, homeopathy., etc… there the seeds are planted. Job done, Rudolf!

  62. Hi Ingmar,

    Thanks for your post. The notion that differentiating between individuality and the racial component of the physical body makes a theory non-racist is quite mistaken. I think you would do well to inform yourself about the history of racial thought.

    There were many challenges to racial ideology in Steiner’s day. The notion of assessing his racial teachings by post-1945 standards is entirely unhistorical and quite foolish. There is an extensive historical literature on these topics, and it seems to me your views on the matter would benefit considerably from reading some of it.

    Last, the notion that historical questions like these have something to do with “blame” is highly naïve. There is no point in blaming figures from the past for holding the views they did. If you want to understand what Steiner taught about race, however, you’ll need to inform yourself about the historical contexts within which he worked.

    If you are interested in more detailed discussion of these matters, I recommend taking part in one of the public forums devoted to the subject. You’d be welcome to participate on the following public discussion list:


    Peter Staudenmaier

  63. Thank you for posting this – really helped me understand the background to anthroposophsy

  64. This article is completely false. It was well known that Steiner’s principal architectural creation the Goetheanum was burned down by the very facists that this author purports he was somehow in cahoots with. Steiner was no racist or facist and this is just a hit piece, on the one hand, against the the very progressive ideology of Anthroposophy, and on the the other hand, against the ecology movement. Indeed the ONLY people who use the term eco-facist are against the environmental movement. This kind of misinformation has been spread before by people apposed to Steiner’s philosophy and this is no different. Steiner is an easy target as he is no longer alive and his philosophy is very esoteric. This is just a way for right wingers to chip away at progressive ideas that have been very successful.

  65. Don’t believe it. This piece is total misinformation. There is NO link between Anthroposophy and facism. Steiner wrote many books. Read at least some his work before making assumptions about the man.

  66. Steiner fans often have a hard time telling left from right, a remarkable kind of political confusion that is, sadly, fairly common among esoteric and occult groups. Chris’s comments are a familiar example of this unfortunate trend. A lot of Steiner fans are also susceptible to conspiracy theories, such as the fanciful notion that the Goetheanum was burned down by “fascists.” In reality, the Goetheanum wasn’t burned down at all, by fascists or by anybody else. The Goetheanum did not burn down because of arson. It burned down because of a series of errors committed by Steiner and his followers when they discovered a small fire in a corner of the building. Those interested in the details can find them here:

    Peter Staudenmaier

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