Rudolf Steiner’s threefold commonwealth and alternative economic thought

The economic and political doctrines of German occultist Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the founder of Anthroposophy, are often referred to as ‘social threefolding’ or ‘the threefold commonwealth’. Many of Steiner’s admirers view his social teachings as a promising part of an alternative economic vision, one that can lead us away from both the ravages of untrammeled capitalism and the travesty of state-commanded Stalinist economies such as the former Soviet Union. What enthusiasts of social threefolding often do not realize is that Steiner’s economic and political doctrines developed in a specific historical context and carried a very different social significance in their time, one which in many ways aligned anthroposophical thinking with several varieties of right-wing thought that were current in early twentieth-century German culture. The following analysis will examine some of these lesser known affiliations, in order to contribute toward a more historically informed assessment of Steiner’s model of the threefold commonwealth.

The origins of ‘social threefolding’ lie in Steiner’s response to the First World War. Particularly during the early years of the conflict, Steiner was a fervent supporter of the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary), blaming the war on the English, French, and Russians and insisting that Germany and Austria were merely defending themselves against the evil machinations of their enemies. Steiner simultaneously offered a spiritual and supernatural interpretation of the war’s causes.1 Anthroposophists believed that the war would bring Germany the stature it deserved: world predominance in spiritual culture. 2 But the First World War did not conclude with the German victory its advocates expected, and the far-reaching social changes that swept Germany and Austria in the wake of the lost war spurred a re-assessment of anthroposophist priorities. This led to the emergence of Waldorf schools, biodynamic agriculture, and the distinctive anthroposophical approach to economics and politics that Steiner called ‘social threefolding’. Anthroposophist disillusionment at the outcome of the war centered on the notion that the unblemished German spirit had been failed by an inadequate array of societal institutions which needed to be revitalized through spiritual and national regeneration. 3

After the German defeat in November 1918, Steiner and his followers insisted that Germany was not responsible for the war. This claim became a central component of anthroposophy’s public profile during the Weimar era. 4 In some versions, the anthroposophist emphasis on German innocence was coupled with conspiracy theories about longstanding Western plans to destroy and dismantle the German and Austrian empires. Steiner himself declared already in 1914 that “this war is a conspiracy against German spiritual life.” 5 Some anthroposophists, with Steiner’s active support, included Freemasons and Jews within this ostensible anti-German conspiracy. 6 The principal anthroposophist argument was that the German people and the German spirit bore no responsibility for the war. 7 While the claim that Germany bore no war guilt has been decisively controverted by subsequent historiography on World War One, it was common enough in Germany at the time, not least as a reaction against the Versailles treaty. 8 Steiner’s invective against the treaty, as well as his polemics against Woodrow Wilson, the League of Nations, the English, French, Russians, and Americans, represent an esoteric version of resentments that were widespread among nationalist oriented circles in Germany and Austria in the interwar period. 9

Steiner’s stance toward the war and its aftermath was based in large measure on his vision of Mitteleuropa or central Europe, a term which in anthroposophist usage generally referred to those lands in which German cultural and spiritual life was seen as rightfully predominant, with the German-speaking territories of Austria, Switzerland and Germany at their core. 10 From this perspective, the post-war interference of the Western powers in what should have been Germany’s proper sphere of influence appeared as an affront to the spiritual mission of Mitteleuropa as a whole. Wilson’s doctrine of national self-determination, according to the anthroposophist viewpoint, was “opposed to the divinely ordered course of evolution.” 11 Steiner’s teachings were part of a broader German discourse of Mitteleuropa built around the assumption or aim of German hegemony on much of the continent, whether cast in political, economic, or cultural terms. 12 This concept, in Steiner’s worldview, was in turn closely related to the anthroposophical notion of Volksseelen or “national souls,” often referred to as “folk souls” in English-language anthroposophist publications. Steiner taught that each Volk or people has its own collective soul and guiding spirit to oversee the process of racial and ethnic evolution. The task of the national soul is to help steer each people toward its true spiritual mission. 13 The mission of the German people, in Steiner’s eyes, had been wrongly thwarted by the outcome of the war and the post-war order imposed by the victorious Western powers.

Steiner’s movement thus shared several of the chief preoccupations of the nationalist right in post-World War One Germany: war guilt, Germany’s honor, the fate of the eastern territories, the Allied occupation in the west, the status of the German people within Europe and its mission in the world. In some cases, anthroposophist views on these topics were expressed in racial or ethnic terms. 14 This thematic overlap between anthroposophy and right-wing and nationalist themes was an important factor in the anthroposophist movement’s complex relationship to the multifaceted cultural and political stream known as the völkisch milieu. 15 This contentious relationship provided the intellectual context for the emergence and unfolding of the theory of ‘social threefolding’ that Steiner began developing in 1917.

Steiner’s own term for this theory was “Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus,” the threefold structuring of the social organism, a formulation that highlights the organicist conception of society underlying the doctrine. 16 The theory of ‘social threefolding’ holds that society consists of three autonomous branches, the economic sphere, the political sphere, and the spiritual or cultural sphere. According to Steiner, the three realms are to be kept separate from one another, and each is subject to a different overarching principle: equality in the political realm, fraternity in the economic realm, and liberty in the cultural realm. Of these three, the cultural or spiritual sphere is paramount, and encompasses many of the activities and functions more commonly associated with the political sphere. 17 One crucial aspect of the ‘threefold social order’ is that neither the economic realm nor the cultural realm is to be organized democratically; democratic forms and procedures are permissible only in the somewhat attenuated political realm. Even within the political sphere, Steiner’s attitude toward democracy was often firmly negative; 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. 18

The doctrines of ‘social threefolding’ inspired a short-lived anthroposophist social movement between 1919 and 1922. 19 But the path from theory to practice took several noteworthy turns. The rise and fall of the threefolding movement reveals significant features of the social beliefs, hopes, and anxieties underlying Steiner’s spiritual teachings. The earliest efforts to propagate a threefolding program came from mid-1917 to mid-1918, when German and Austrian forces controlled large swathes of territory in Eastern Europe. During this period of German hegemony on the Eastern front, Steiner addressed his initial threefolding proposals to a range of German and Austrian aristocrats and political and military leaders. His July 1917 memoranda to the Austrian emperor, the first formulation of Steiner’s threefolding theory, explicitly assume maintaining and even augmenting these territorial gains. 20 Anthroposophist efforts to persuade the Austrian Kaiser failed, and in January 1918 Steiner turned his hopes toward Prince Maximilian of Baden, who nine months later became the last Chancellor of Imperial Germany. 21 In a personal meeting with Prince Max, Steiner outlined his ‘threefolding’ ideas and presented them as anchored in his teachings on ‘national souls’; Steiner additionally sent the Prince a copy of his book on ‘national souls’. 22 These efforts to convince German leaders of the wisdom of social threefolding also failed.

When the unforeseen outcome of the war dashed anthroposophist hopes for realizing the threefold model, and widespread social and economic unrest thoroughly unsettled Germany and Austria, Steiner’s attention shifted to portraying social threefolding as an alternative to the various proposals for collectivization and socialization that abounded in the early stages of the fledgling Weimar democracy. Positioning his own proposals as a ‘third way’ between capitalism and Communism, Steiner devoted much of 1919 to promoting social threefolding to industrialists and business leaders as well as to proletarian audiences in the newly formed workers councils. 23 Even while courting mass support from workers, Steiner rejected democratization of the factories, and maintained that the economy was not to be run by the “hand-workers,” but rather by “the spiritual workers, who direct production.” 24 At the same time, the social threefolding movement claimed to represent the harmonization of workers’ interests and owners’ interests. 25 This approach yielded a contradictory catalogue of measures under the threefolding banner, with denunciations of “Anglo-American capital” vying for attention alongside condemnations of “socialist illusions,” while Steiner’s ideas were presented as “the path to the salvation of the German people.” 26 The resulting mélange of proposals resembled in some respects the variety of organicist and corporatist economic and political models current at the time. 27 What anthroposophists envisioned under the rubric of social threefolding ranged from vague utopias of an organic national community to straightforward calls for a völkisch state as a bulwark against the Western imposition of democracy. 28

The social threefolding movement reached perhaps its highest degree of public notoriety in the course of the acrimonious controversy over Upper Silesia in 1921. As part of the post-war settlement ordained by the Versailles treaty, the Allies organized a plebiscite in the ethnically mixed province to determine whether it should belong to Germany or Poland. 29 Steiner rejected this procedure as an illegitimate interference of foreign powers in the affairs of Mitteleuropa. Instead of a plebiscite, Steiner and his followers proposed applying the principles of threefolding, with their separation of economic from cultural and political functions, to Upper Silesia. This seemingly quixotic notion was one of many proposals floated in advance of the plebiscite, competing with separatist efforts, claims for provincial autonomy, and intensive nationalist propaganda on both German and Polish sides. 30 In January 1921 Steiner wrote a “Call to save Upper Silesia” on behalf of the League for Social Threefolding. 31 The text declared that the province should provisionally remain unaffiliated with either Germany or Poland, in the interest of “true German convictions,” until more auspicious conditions obtained. As Steiner later explained, the aim was “to establish Upper Silesia as an integral territory that is inwardly united with the German spiritual essence.” 32

This proposal initially received a somewhat sympathetic hearing among German communities in Silesia, while reactions from Polish Silesians were generally hostile. 33 In private sessions with threefolding activists in January 1921, Steiner emphasized that the very idea of a Polish state was “impossible” and “an illusion.” 34 Anthroposophist Karl Heyer argued that “the threefold solution to the Upper Silesian problem is better suited than any other to protecting Germany’s true interests in economic terms as well as in national terms and in state-political terms.” 35 In the weeks before the plebiscite, the League for Social Threefolding declared that social threefolding was the only way “for Germany to escape from being strangled by the West, and to regain Germany’s historical prestige.” 36 Anthroposophist viewpoints on Upper Silesia replicated longstanding German assumptions about cultural superiority and national identity.

The threefolding campaign in Upper Silesia nonetheless sparked bitter criticism from other Germans. Two weeks before the plebiscite, a harsh denunciation of the threefolding effort appeared in the Frankfurter Zeitung, accusing anthroposophists of betraying Germany and spreading “Polish propaganda,” charges which were subsequently aired in other parts of the press. 37 This response may have been due in part to a misunderstanding (critics of threefolding seem to have assumed, erroneously, that anthroposophists were urging abstention from the plebiscite), as well as to the fact that any proposals that smacked of autonomy were viewed by many Germans as treason. 38 Steiner’s caustic comments about the political condition of Prussia may also have played a role. The result was that anthroposophists were branded as insufficiently committed to German national integrity. 39

Such perceptions of the anthroposophist stance in the Upper Silesian conflict were wide of the mark. While protesting vociferously against the plebiscite as such, Steiner and his followers argued in favor of voting for Germany if the plebiscite occurred. 40 After the press attacks appeared, the League for Social Threefolding published an announcement in the Frankfurter Zeitung stating explicitly that their position was to vote for Germany in the upcoming plebiscite. In the days surrounding the plebiscite itself, the editors of the threefolding newspaper declared: “Now that the vote is taking place, the League for Social Threefolding needless to say takes the view that for every German there can be no other position than to vote for Germany.” 41 Two weeks later, the paper’s editors explained that their stance all along had been to vote for Germany: “In light of the fact of the plebiscite, the League for Social Threefolding firmly adopted the position of voting for Germany when possible, and the leadership of the League answered categorically every time it was asked that every person eligible to vote in the plebiscite was of course duty-bound to vote, and had to vote for Germany.” 42 Steiner himself endorsed this stance and continued to maintain it after the plebiscite was completed. 43

When the accusation of betraying Germany first surfaced in 1921, leading anthroposophists retorted that critics of threefolding efforts in Upper Silesia were simply tools of the West promoting the anti-German spirit of the Versailles treaty. 44 After the League of Nations partitioned the province in the wake of the plebiscite, the threefolding movement fiercely attacked the partition agreement and lamented the loss of German territory to the Poles. 45 In the words of Ernst Uehli: “Instead of threefolding, which would have meant saving Upper Silesia for Germany, the opposite is now taking place.” 46 Several figures who went on to become prominent anthroposophists fought in German paramilitary units in the Upper Silesian conflict as well. 47 From Steiner’s perspective, the unfortunate outcome of the Upper Silesian campaign meant that the German mission had once again been obstructed. The Upper Silesia episode confirmed Steiner’s disdain for the League of Nations, which he had opposed from the beginning, and strengthened his sense that Germany was trapped between the soulless West and the collectivist East. 48

If this is what social threefolding looked like in practice, what of the theory itself? Many of those interested in Steiner’s economic and political teachings find various elements of the theory inspirational, disregarding the historical form they actually took in Steiner’s day. 49 In this respect, admirers of anthroposophical economic thought may be comparable to latter-day fans of other would-be economic reformers such as Henry George in the United States, C.H. Douglas in Britain, or Silvio Gesell in Germany. Anthroposophists themselves have pointed out the affinities between Steiner’s work and the ‘social credit’ movement initiated by Douglas. 50 What they neglect to mention is that Douglas based his economic theories on the antisemitic forgery ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’. 51 In addition to such unpleasant company, social threefolding also displays significant parallels with the phenomenon of “producerism” that is perceptively analyzed in the excellent study by Chip Berlet and Matthew Lyons, Right-Wing Populism in America (New York: Guilford, 2000).

While easily finding affinities with conspiracist, antisemitic, and right-wing worldviews, Steiner’s threefold commonwealth model frequently denounced grass-roots alternative economic approaches, whether in the form of economic democracy, non-statist socialism, councilist tendencies, worker self-management, or other radical efforts to counter capitalism. Many early anthroposophists viewed such efforts as dangerous versions of ‘materialism’ that threatened the spiritual emphasis of social threefolding. 52 Steiner’s own stance was often ambivalent and at times simply contradictory; many of his voluminous writings on economic subjects are vague, disjointed and occasionally opaque. His positions also shifted multiple times, and in some instances he told proletarian audiences one thing while telling owners and managers the opposite. Despite this built-in incoherence, it is possible to discern a more or less consistent standpoint in Steiner’s economic vision. In many ways, that vision represents a spiritual defense of capitalism, private property, market mechanisms, and elite control of production.

Steiner insisted that overcoming capitalism was simply impossible and would mean abolishing social life as such; for him, “capitalism is a necessary component of modern life.” 53 Rather than replacing capitalist institutions with more humane ones, Steiner favored a combination of private ownership and social conscience, in which individual capitalists and small groups of especially “talented” executives would manage private capital as a trust for the ostensible good of the whole community. These precepts bear comparison with several of the nebulous economic doctrines of classical fascism and its ideology of the Volksgemeinschaft or people’s community. As mentioned earlier, a central tenet of social threefolding is that the economic sphere must never be organized or managed democratically. In Steiner’s words: “For god’s sake, no democracy in the economic realm!” 54 Steiner thus railed against socialism (not just its Marxist variants) and rejected the socialization of property (not just nationalization). Within a full-fledged threefold commonwealth, Steiner foresaw a spiritual meritocracy in which the “most capable” would be given control over economic resources, and he vehemently rejected the notion of tempering this arrangement through community oversight.

Anthroposophist Walter Kugler describes Steiner’s position thus: “Each entrepreneur, that is each individual who wants to make use of his talents to satisfy the needs of others, will obtain capital for as long as he is able to make productive use of his talents.” (Kugler, Rudolf Steiner und die Anthroposophie, Cologne 1978, 165) Steiner himself wrote: “The entire ownership of capital must be arranged so that the especially talented individual or the especially talented group of individuals comes to possess capital in a way which arises solely from their own personal initiative.” (ibid.) Steiner derided the idea of “transferring the means of production from private ownership into communal property,” as well as of socializing “the management of concentrated masses of capital,” and insisted that “the management of the means of production must be left in the hands of the individual.” (Steiner in ibid. 199-200) Steiner was insistent on this point: “No-one can be allowed to return to economic forms in which the individual is tied to or limited by the community. We must strive instead for the very opposite.” (ibid. 201) In his fundamental work The Threefold Commonwealth from 1919, he forcefully dismissed “communal property” and “common ownership” several times over.

Steiner repeatedly rejected the notion that the exploitation of labor arises “from the economic order of capitalism”; for him the problem “lies not in capitalism, but in the misuse of spiritual talents.” 55 In Steiner’s view, “Individuals should gain advantage for themselves in the totally free struggle of competition.” 56 “Private property,” for Steiner, “is an outcome of the social creativeness which is associated with individual human ability.” 57 Shared ownership, in contrast, is an obstruction to this all-important creative unfolding of individual talent: “The individual cannot make his abilities effective in business, if he is tied down in his work and decisions to the will of the community.” 58 In Steiner’s utopia, “The spiritual organization will rest on a healthy basis of individual initiative, exercised in free competition amongst the private individuals suited to spiritual work.” 59 Within this framework, “the spiritual life should be set free, and given control of the employment of capital,” indeed an “absolutely free use of capital.” 60

When Steiner’s economic ideas were put into practice in 1919 and 1920 by the Threefold Commonwealth League in southwestern Germany, he made it very clear that he opposed democratic organization of the workplace. Anthroposophist Hans Kühn writes: “Democratization of the factories was something he [Steiner] opposed on principle. The manager had to be able to make his own arrangements without interference.” 61 In these respects, Steiner’s model amounts to an ‘enlightened’ variety of private property and hierarchical management under the benevolent control of a spiritual aristocracy. These teachings are perhaps best understood not as an alternative to established economic systems, but as a kinder, gentler version of current institutions, a form of capitalism with a human face. In combination with anthroposophical theories about race and ethnicity, and the complex historical relationship between anthroposophy and the politics of the far right, Steiner’s vision of a threefold commonwealth merits increased critical scrutiny from those seeking genuine transformation of the existing social, political, and economic order.


1. See among others Rudolf Steiner, Die geistigen Hintergründe des Ersten Weltkrieges (Dornach: Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1974), a collection of his wartime lectures in Germany, and Roman Boos, ed., Rudolf Steiner während des Weltkrieges (Dornach: Philosophisch-Anthroposophischer Verlag, 1933). Important context is available in 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), 602-45, 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), 156-60.

2. See the declaration of “Absichten und Ziele” on the first page of the premier issue of the anthroposophist journal Das Reich, April 1916; cf. Friedrich Lienhard, Deutschlands europäische Sendung (Stuttgart: Greiner & Pfeiffer, 1915); Karl Heise, “Der Krieg und seine Folgen” Zentralblatt für Okkultismus, November 1914, 213-16; Heise, “Kriegs-Visionen” Zentralblatt für Okkultismus, August 1917, 72-76.

3. For a detailed analysis see Helmut Zander, Anthroposophie in Deutschland: Theosophische Weltanschauung und gesellschaftliche Praxis 1884–1945 (Göttingen 2007), 1250-86.

4. See e.g. Steiner, Gedanken während der Zeit des Krieges (Berlin: Philosophisch-Anthroposopher Verlag, 1915); Steiner, Zeitgeschichtliche Betrachtungen (Dornach: Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1978); Steiner, Aus schicksaltragender Zeit (Dornach: Rudolf Steiner Nachlaßverwaltung, 1959).

5. Steiner, Die geistigen Hintergründe des Ersten Weltkrieges, 27. For further instances of Steiner’s conspiracist interpretation of the war see Rudolf Steiner, Secret Brotherhoods and the Mystery of the Human Double (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004). According to Steiner, occultist secret societies in the Entente countries had planned the war decades ahead of time; see Steiner, Zeitgeschichtliche Betrachtungen, 22, and cf.  Rudolf Steiner, Aufsätze über die Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus und zur Zeitlage (Dornach 1961), 321. For context see Matthew Stibbe, German Anglophobia and the Great War, 1914-1918 (Cambridge University Press, 2001).

6. Examples include Karl Heise, Ludwig Polzer-Hoditz, and Wilhelm von Heydebrand.

7. Anthroposophists continue to insist that Germany bore no responsibility for the First World War; see e.g. Jürgen von Grone, “Rudolf Steiners Handeln im Dienste Mitteleuropas” Die Drei April 1969, 80-90; Thomas Meyer, “Moltke, Steiner – und welche deutsche ‘Schuld’?” Der Europäer, May 2001, 9-10.

8. See Ulrich Heinemann, Die verdrängte Niederlage: Politische Öffentlichkeit und Kriegsschuldfrage in der Weimarer Republik (Göttingen 1983). For overviews of current scholarship on the origins of the war see Annika Mombauer, The Origins of the First World War: Controversies and Consensus (New York 2002); Mark Hewitson, Germany and the Causes of the First World War (Oxford 2004); Roger Chickering, Imperial Germany and the Great War, 1914-1918 (Cambridge University Press, 2004); Annika Mombauer, “The First World War: Inevitable, Avoidable, Improbable or Desirable? Recent Interpretations on War Guilt and the War’s Origins” German History 25 (2007), 78-95.

9. On the responses of German intellectuals to the war see Wolfgang Mommsen, ed., Kultur und Krieg: Die Rolle der Intellektuellen, Künstler und Schriftsteller im Ersten Weltkrieg (Munich 1996); Suzanne Marchand, “Kultur and the World War” in Marchand, Down from Olympus: Archaeology and Philhellenism in Germany, 1750-1970 (Princeton University Press, 1996), 228-62; Helmut Fries, Die grosse Katharsis: Der Erste Weltkrieg in der Sicht deutscher Dichter und Gelehrter (Konstanz 1995); Kurt Flasch, Die geistige Mobilmachung: Die deutschen Intellektuellen und der Erste Weltkrieg (Berlin 2000). On German tendencies to view the war in spiritual and cultural terms see Modris Eksteins, Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (Boston 1989), 90-94.

10. See e.g. Steiner, Aus dem mitteleuropäischen Geistesleben (Dornach 1962); Steiner, Mitteleuropa zwischen Ost und West (Dornach 1982); Steiner, Nordische und mitteleuropäische Geistimpulse (Dornach 1982); Steiner, Die Forderungen der Gegenwart an Mitteleuropa (Dornach 1951); Steiner, Wesen und Bedeutung Mitteleuropas und die europäischen Volksgeister (Dornach 1980); Friedrich Rittelmeyer, “Deutschlands Erneuerung” Christentum und Gegenwart January 1920, 15-16; Wilhelm von Heydebrand, “Osten, Westen, und die Dreigliederung” Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus no. 34 (1920); Hans Helling, “Soll Deutschland sich amerikanisieren lassen?” Der Pfad September 1927; Hermann Heisler, Krieg oder Frieden (Stuttgart 1929); Klaus Petersen, Rudolf Steiner und der mitteleuropäische Kulturauftrag (Berlin 1961); Renate Riemeck, Mitteleuropa: Bilanz eines Jahrhunderts (Freiburg: Verlag Die Kommenden, 1965).

11. Rudolf Steiner, From Symptom to Reality in Modern History (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1976), 12.

12. For background see Henry Meyer, Mitteleuropa in German thought and action 1815-1945 (The Hague 1955); Jörg Brechtefeld, Mitteleuropa and German Politics: 1848 to the Present (New York 1996); Lonnie Johnson, Central Europe (Oxford University Press, 2002), 165-70; Jürgen Elvert, Mitteleuropa! Deutsche Pläne zur europäischen Neuordnung (1918 – 1945) (Stuttgart 1999); Richard Plaschka, ed., Mitteleuropa-Konzeptionen in der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts (Vienna 1995); Peter Theiner: “‘Mitteleuropa’-Pläne im Wilhelminischen Deutschland” in Helmut Berding, ed., Wirtschaftliche und politische Integration in Europa im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (Göttingen 1984), 128-48; Wolfgang Mommsen, “Die Mitteleuropaidee und die Mitteleuropapläne im Deutschen Reich” in Mommsen, Der Erste Weltkrieg. Anfang vom Ende des bürgerlichen Zeitalters (Frankfurt 2004), 94-117. On the connotations of the Mitteleuropa idea in the context of World War One, see Chickering, Imperial Germany and the Great War, 86-87; Fritz Fischer, Weltmacht oder Niedergang: Deutschland im ersten Weltkrieg (Frankfurt 1965), 14-19, 45-49, 70-73; and David Blackbourn, The Long Nineteenth Century: A History of Germany, 1780-1918 (Oxford 1998), 362-63.

13. See Rudolf Steiner, The Mission of the Individual Folk Souls in Relation to Teutonic Mythology (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005); Steiner, The Destinies of Individuals and of Nations (London 1986); Steiner, Die Seelen der Völker geisteswissenschaftlich betrachtet (Dornach 1929); Karl Heyer, “Vom Wesen der Völker und ihren Kulturmissionen: Der deutsche Geist” in Heyer, Menschheitsfragen der Gegenwart im Lichte anthroposophischer Welterkenntnis (Basel 1927), 71-95; Hans Erhard Lauer, Die Volksseelen Europas: Grundzüge einer Völkerpsychologie auf geisteswissenschaftlischer Basis (Vienna 1937); Karl Heyer, Wer ist der deutsche Volksgeist? und andere Beiträge zur Geschichte (Basel 1990); Herbert Hahn, Vom Genius Europas: Skizze einer anthroposophischen Völkerpsychologie (Stuttgart 1964); Gerard Klockenbring, Auf der Suche nach dem deutschen Volksgeist (Stuttgart 1989).

14. For overviews of Steiner’s racial and ethnic doctrines see Helmut Zander, “Anthroposophische Rassentheorie: Der Geist auf dem Weg durch die Rassengeschichte” in Stefanie von Schnurbein and Justus Ulbricht, eds., Völkische Religion und Krisen der Moderne (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2001), 292-341, and Peter Staudenmaier, “Race and Redemption: Racial and Ethnic Evolution in Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 11 (2008), 4-36.

15. For background on the völkisch movement see George Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich (New York 1964); Roderick Stackelberg, Idealism Debased: From völkisch Ideology to National Socialism (Kent State University Press, 1981); Uwe Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung im wilhelminischen Kaiserreich: Sprache, Rasse, Religion (Darmstadt 2001); and Uwe Puschner, Walter Schmitz, and Justus Ulbricht, eds., Handbuch zur ‘Völkischen Bewegung’ 1871-1918 (Munich 1996). For an anthroposophist perspective see Lorenzo Ravagli, Unter Hammer und Hakenkreuz: Der völkisch-nationalsozialistische Kampf gegen die Anthroposophie (Stuttgart 2004).

16. His primary text on the subject is Rudolf Steiner, Die Kernpunkte der sozialen Frage in den Lebensnotwendigkeiten der Gegenwart und Zukunft (Stuttgart 1919); original authorized English translation: Rudolf Steiner, The Three-fold Commonwealth (London 1922). See also Rudolf Steiner, In Ausführung der Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus (Stuttgart: Der Kommende Tag Verlag, 1920), and Steiner, Aufsätze über die Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus, available in abridged translation as Rudolf Steiner, The Renewal of the Social Organism (Spring Valley: Anthroposophic Press, 1985).

17. A detailed examination and critique of ‘social threefolding’ is available in Ilas Körner-Wellershaus, Sozialer Heilsweg Anthroposophie: Eine Studie zur Geschichte der sozialen Dreigliederung Rudolf Steiners unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der anthroposophischen Geisteswissenschaft (Alfter 1993); see also Helmut Zander’s thorough analysis in Zander, Anthroposophie in Deutschland, 1286-1356.

18. Rudolf Steiner, The Fall of the Spirits of Darkness (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993), 223; see also Steiner, Vom Einheitsstaat zum dreigliedrigen sozialen Organismus (Dornach 1983), and Steiner, Heilfaktoren für den sozialen Organismus (Dornach 1969). On the anti-democratic aspects of Steiner’s conception of politics see Zander, Anthroposophie in Deutschland, 1314-21 and 1695-96.

19. For anthroposophist accounts see Albert Schmelzer, Die Dreigliederungsbewegung 1919 (Stuttgart 1991); Hans Kühn, Dreigliederungs-Zeit: Rudolf Steiners Kampf für die Gesellschaftsordnung der Zukunft (Dornach 1978); Joachim Luttermann, Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus: Grundlinien der Rechts- und Soziallehre Rudolf Steiners ( 1990). An English-language introduction from a contemporary of Steiner can be found in the book by anthroposophist Ernst Boldt, From Luther to Steiner (London 1923).

20. Steiner’s memoranda were circulated among senior officials in the Austrian government through an influential adviser to Kaiser Karl of Austria; the adviser’s brother was a leading anthroposophist. The 1917 memoranda are reprinted in Steiner, Aufsätze über die Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus, 329-75, and Boos, ed., Rudolf Steiner während des Weltkrieges, 60-90; they denounce “Western” ideals of self-determination and democracy as the hegemony of the “Anglo-American race.” For a perceptive analysis see Zander, Anthroposophie in Deutschland, 1275-84. By early 1918, Steiner cast ‘social threefolding’ as the path to salvation from both “Anglo-Americanism” and Bolshevism. His overall stance remained consistent: “If one national civilization spreads more readily, and has greater spiritual fertility than another, then it is quite right that it should spread.” (Steiner, The Threefold Commonwealth, 183) In light of Steiner’s attacks on “Wilsonism,” it is important to recall that the original version of ‘social threefolding’ developed out of this particular historical situation, in which Germany and their Austrian allies had not only conquered vast portions of the East, but also seemed poised to win the war overall; American troops had yet to arrive on the continent, and Entente forces had suffered a series of significant defeats. The eastern territories were the primary bone of contention between advocates of Wilsonian self-determination and Steiner’s threefolding alternative. Shattered anthroposophist hopes of a new European order under German auspices go a long way toward accounting for the bitter tone of Steiner’s remarks regarding Wilson, and ‘Western’ democracy in general, once Germany had lost the war.

21. Max von Baden was a leading proponent of German “ethical imperialism” as a counter to Western democracy; see “Der ethische Imperialismus” in Prinz Max von Baden, Erinnerungen und Dokumente (Stuttgart 1928), 249-59.

22. Steiner, The Mission of the Individual Folk Souls in Relation to Teutonic Mythology. Steiner himself thus emphasized that his threefolding ideas depended on the ethnic-racial scheme propounded in this book.

23. See e.g. Steiner, Die soziale Grundforderung unserer Zeit (Dornach 1990); Steiner, Neugestaltung des sozialen Organismus (Dornach 1963); Steiner, Betriebsräte und Sozialisierung (Dornach 1989). In December 1918, anthroposophist Roman Boos declared that threefolding would save Germany from its two gravest threats: “from without, the armies of the Allies, and from within, the workers in revolt”: Nachrichten der Rudolf Steiner Nachlaßverwaltung 22 (1968), 17.

24. Steiner, Threefold Commonwealth, xxxii; cf. Hans Erhard Lauer, Ein Leben im Frühlicht des Geistes: Erinnerungen und Gedanken eines Schülers Rudolf Steiners (Freiburg 1977), 35.

25. See e.g. Steiner, Soziale Zukunft (Dornach 1977); Steiner, Der innere Aspekt des sozialen Rätsels (Dornach 1972); Ludwig Polzer-Hoditz, Politische Betrachtungen auf Grundlage der Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus (Stuttgart 1920); Ernst Uehli, Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus (Stuttgart 1920); Moritz Bartsch, Der dreigliedrige soziale Organismus: Eine Einführung (Breslau 1921); Roman Boos, Die Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus und der Staat (Stuttgart 1921).

26. See Steiner’s December 1919 essay “Der Weg zur Rettung des deutschen Volkes” in Steiner, Aufsätze über die Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus, 113-16; in English as “The Way to Save the German Nation” in Steiner, The Renewal of the Social Organism, 149-51. On occasion Steiner portrayed capital itself – as distinct from domination by foreign capital – as “the spiritual element within economic life.” Rudolf Steiner, Wie wirkt man für den Impuls der Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus? (Dornach 1986), 66.

27. For an anthroposophical perspective see Folkert Wilken, Grundwahrheiten einer organischen Wirtschaft (Zurich 1934). For background see Ralph Bowen, German Theories of the Corporative State (New York 1947), particularly 13-19 in on the notion of society as an organism; cf. Kurt Sontheimer, Antidemokratisches Denken in der Weimarer Republik (Munich 1978), 199-201.

28. See e.g. Wilhelm Blume, “Vom organischen Aufbau der Volksgemeinschaft,” and Siegfried Dorfner, “Deutschlands Wiederaufrichtung,” in Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus no. 46 (1920). In a pamphlet published in December 1918, at the downfall of the Wilhelmine empire and the birth of the Weimar republic, anthroposophist E. A. Karl Stockmeyer called for erecting a “völkischen Staat,” an ethno-nationalist state, in Germany rather than submitting to “the democracy imposed on us by the West.” (Stockmeyer, Vom deutschen Volksstaat und von der deutschen Erziehung, Mannheim 1918, 14) In his July 1917 memoranda, Steiner characterized Western forms of democracy as “Anglo-American domination” over Mitteleuropa; see Steiner, Aufsätze über die Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus, 358. See also Roman Boos, “Deutchlands Platz an der Sonne” Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus, no. 4 (1919), which calls on German industrialists and workers to form a united front against “American capital”; Ernst Uehli, “Die deutsche Weltmission” Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus, no. 15 (1919); Uehli, “Zur Mobilisierung des deutschen Geistes” Das Reich April 1919, 7-10; Richard Seebohm, “Dreigliederung des sozialen Lebens” Die Tat February 1921, 832-39.

29. For context see F. Gregory Campbell, “The Struggle for Upper Silesia, 1919-1922” Journal of Modern History 42 (1970), 361-85; T. Hunt Tooley, National Identity and Weimar Germany: Upper Silesia and the Eastern Border, 1918 – 1922 (University of Nebraska Press, 1997); Ralph Schattkowsky, Deutschland und Polen von 1918/19 bis 1925: Deutsch-polnische Beziehungen zwischen Versailles und Locarno (Frankfurt 1994), 48-94; Kai Struve, ed., Oberschlesien nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg: Studien zum nationalen Konflikt und seiner Erinnerung (Marburg 2003).

30. Cf. Waldemar Grosch, Deutsche und polnische Propaganda während der Volksabstimmung in Oberschlesien 1919 – 1921 (Dortmund 2002); Günther Doose, Die separatistische Bewegung in Oberschlesien nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg (Wiesbaden 1987); T. Hunt Tooley, “German Political Violence and the Border Plebiscite in Upper Silesia, 1919-1921” Central European History 21 (1988), 56-98; Tooley, “The Polish-German Ethnic Dispute and the 1921 Upper Silesian Plebiscite” Canadian Review of Studies in Nationalism 24 (1997), 13-20.

31. Steiner, “Aufruf zur Rettung Oberschlesiens” in Steiner, Aufsätze über die Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus, 461-66.

32. Rudolf Steiner, Die Anthroposophie und ihre Gegner (Dornach 2003), 328. For an anthroposophist account see Walter Kugler, “Polnisch oder Deutsch? Oberschlesien, ein Schulbeispiel für die Notwendigkeit der Dreigliederung” Beiträge zur Rudolf Steiner Gesamtausgabe 93 (1986), 1-13.

33. See the press reports reproduced in Beiträge zur Rudolf Steiner Gesamtausgabe 93 (1986), 20-32. There was evidently little anthroposophist presence in Upper Silesia itself; the threefolding campaign was largely waged from Breslau, in Lower Silesia. In addition, virtually none of the Silesian anthroposophists or threefolding advocates appears to have known Polish; according to anthroposophist Moritz Bartsch, one of the primary figures in the anthroposophist campaign in Upper Silesia, threefolding proponents had neither printed materials in Polish nor Polish speakers (ibid. 18). They perceived opposition primarily from Polish residents of the province, not from German residents; see the testimony from Bartsch, Hans Kühn and others in ibid., 14-17. Anthroposophist statements on Upper Silesia were consistently condescending toward the Polish population, as well as toward Polish political aspirations, even before the threefolding campaign got underway; see e.g. Ernst Umlauff, “Oberschlesien” Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus vol. 2 no. 10 (September 1920), 2-3, and Rudolf von Koschützki, “Zur oberschlesischen Frage” Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus vol. 2 no. 11 (September 1920), 3-4.

34. Steiner, Wie wirkt man für den Impuls der Dreigliederung, 213. According to Steiner, Poland ought to remain divided as it had been for the previous several centuries; he considered the Polish people, except where it was Germanized, to consist of a feudal aristocracy and an uncivilized peasantry. In his view: “It is not possible to reconstruct any kind of Poland, to create a Polish state. […] You can build it up, but it will always collapse again. In reality there will never be a Poland for any longer period of time, because it cannot exist, because at the decisive moment Poland must be divided, so that the Poles can develop their talents. Hence this Poland will never exist, and to speak of Poland today is an illusion.” (212-13; cf. 245). “You see, precisely by studying the Polish essence, one can very accurately observe just how impossible it would be for a territory in such an exposed location [i.e. Upper Silesia] to vote in favor of simply entering the Polish element.” (202)

35. Karl Heyer, “Der Weg zur Lösung der oberschlesischen Frage” Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus vol. 2 no. 31 (January 1921), 3-4. Ernst Uehli, “Ereignisse der Woche,” ibid., 2, declares that it is simply “obvious” that Germany must retain Upper Silesia’s economic resources: “in order to survive economically, Germany needs Upper Silesian coal”; Uehli further insists that “this demand cannot be achieved through plebiscite” but only through social threefolding. Upper Silesia represented a crucially important industrial area and was part of Prussia before the plebiscite.

36. Bund für Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus, “Die Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus und die oberschlesische Frage” Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus vol. 2 no. 36 (March 8, 1921), 4. The statement goes on to explain: “In the current situation, the Upper Silesian economy with its raw materials that are essential to the German economy can only be saved for German economic life if they are separated from political factors and made autonomous.”

37. See Beiträge zur Rudolf Steiner Gesamtausgabe 93 (1986), 38-39.

38. See Waldemar Grosch, “Deutsche und polnische Propaganda in der Zeit der Aufstände und des Plebiszits” in Struve, ed., Oberschlesien nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg, 63-95; Schattkowsky, Deutschland und Polen, 66-69 and 85-94; Tooley, National Identity and Weimar Germany, 57-62.

39. In an odd reversal, latter-day anthroposophists often make similar claims about the anthroposophist stance in the Upper Silesia struggle as those advanced by nationalist critics of anthroposophy at the time, insisting that Steiner’s posture was neutral, anti-nationalist, and a principled repudiation of ethnic politics; indeed his rejection of Wilsonian self-determination is frequently adduced as evidence of such a position. See e.g. Jens Heisterkamp, ed., Die Jahrhundertillusion: Wilsons Selbstbestimmungsrecht der Völker, Steiners Kritik und die Frage der nationalen Minderheiten heute (Frankfurt: Info3, 2002).

40. Steiner first raised this possibility as a sort of compromise at the beginning of January 1921 in his discussions with Silesian threefolding activists; some elements within the threefolding movement evidently reasoned that a victory for Germany in the plebiscite would allow anthroposophist efforts in the province to continue, while a victory for Poland would spell the end of such endeavors. Cf. Steiner, Wie wirkt man für den Impuls der Dreigliederung, 231-32; Kugler, “Polnisch oder Deutsch?”, 12-13. The editors of Steiner’s complete works observe: “Silesian friends of Rudolf Steiner’s threefolding idea had tried to advocate social threefolding to a broad audience as a solution to the problem, in order to save Upper Silesia from the disastrous consequences of the plebiscite they had been forced into in 1921, but with the additional recommendation that in case the plebiscite occurred, the only possible vote was a vote for Germany.” Steiner, Die Verantwortung des Menschen für die Weltentwickelung (Dornach 1989), 337.

41. “Zusatz der Schriftleitung” Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus vol. 2 no. 38 (dated March 22, 1921), 3; the plebiscite actually took place on March 20, 1921.

42. “Dreigliederung und Oberschlesien” Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus vol. 2 no. 40 (April 5, 1921), 3. Looking back on the Upper Silesia campaign a decade later, Karl Heyer wrote categorically that in the 1921 plebiscite “for the German there could be no other position than to vote in favor of Germany” (Heyer, Wie man gegen Rudolf Steiner kämpft, Stuttgart 1932, 84). In January 1921, some anthroposophists viewed German nationalist groups in Upper Silesia, particularly the Verband heimattreuer Oberschlesier, as potential sympathizers of threefolding; see Steiner, Wie wirkt man für den Impuls der Dreigliederung, 251. Tooley, National Identity and Weimar Germany, describes the Verband heimattreuer Oberschlesier as “the organization most closely related in the public mind with the German cause” (157) and says they “specialized in atrocity propaganda” against the Poles (158) and formed “the first paramilitary groups” (185). Tooley reports that mainstream pro-German organizations in Upper Silesia “often clashed with the nationalist VHO, which tended to emphasize rather than smooth over the ethnic conflict.” (160) According to Tooley, the VHO was “the most visible and most blatantly anti-Polish plebiscite group” (189).

43. In May 1921, for example, Steiner angrily denied “that anthroposophy had shown its un-German and un-national aspect in its stance on the Upper Silesian question. Everybody who asked us for advice in that situation was told that whoever stands in our ranks should vote for Germany if the plebiscite comes. We never said anything different.” (Steiner, Die Anthroposophie und ihre Gegner, 328; cf. 555-56) In February 1923 anthroposophist Hans Büchenbacher reported: “During the struggles around the plebiscite in Upper Silesia, many anthroposophist public speakers in Germany presented threefolding as the peaceful solution and the only healthy solution to the problem, whereupon accusations of treason appeared in the press. Our speakers were able to rebuff these accusations. After all, they could simply point to the fact that if it came to a plebiscite, the threefolding advocates would of course vote for Germany, and that Dr. Steiner himself said this clearly.” Rudolf Steiner, Das Schicksalsjahr 1923 in der Geschichte der Anthroposophischen Gesellschaft (Dornach 1991), 389.

44. Roman Boos, “Wer verrät das Deutschtum?” Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus vol. 2 no. 38 (March 22, 1921), 2-3. See also Friedrich Engelmann, Ist die Dreigliederung undeutsch? (Stuttgart 1921). Engelmann declares that social threefolding comes directly from “the German national soul” and that “only Germany” can bring social threefolding to fruition, “for the salvation of the whole world” (11).

45. In addition to emphasizing the spiritual differences between Slavs and Germans and propounding the German mission of bringing true enlightenment to Eastern Europe, the 1921 reporting on Upper Silesia in anthroposophist publications constantly ridiculed Polish claims in the territory and condemned German politicians for failing to take a hard line in the negotiations over the province. Examples include Ernst Boldt, Rudolf Steiner: Ein Kämpfer gegen seine Zeit (Munich 1921), 187-88, and Jürgen von Grone, “Mitteleuropäische Realpolitik” Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus, August 13, 1921, 2-3. Anthroposophists also railed against “Polish terror” in Upper Silesia; see e.g. Ernst Uehli, “Ereignisse der Woche” Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus April 5, 1921, 1.

46. Ernst Uehli, “Ereignisse der Woche” Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus June 7, 1921, 2. In Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus November 3, 1921, Uehli complains: “A crucially significant part of German industry and raw materials is being given politically to bankrupt Poland.” He claims that the “Western powers” imposed partition merely to create for themselves a “mighty economic position” in Poland. Such grievances are incompatible with historical research on the subject. Campbell, for example, writes that the provisions of the League of Nations partition plan “would allow the area to survive at least temporarily as an economic unit. Economic matters and minority disputes were to be handled by an ‘Upper Silesian Mixed Commission,’ to be composed equally of Germans and Poles as well as a neutral member. On the basis of population and territory, the boundary that was suggested by the League was as fair as any that had yet been proposed.” (Campbell, “The Struggle for Upper Silesia,” 384) Anthroposophists involved in the Upper Silesian campaign, however, assumed a natural German right to the province, and even long after partition were still bemoaning the absorption of part of the territory by Poland; see e.g., Kühn, Dreigliederungs-Zeit, 125-27, and Ernst von Hippel, Oberschlesien (Königsberg 1931); von Hippel characterizes Poland as “an Asiatic despotism,” denounces the French, English, Versailles, Wilson, and the League of Nations, and deplores the fact that German populations are now forced to live under Polish rule.

47. One prominent example is Max Karl Schwarz, who became one of the most active figures in the German biodynamic movement, particularly during the Nazi era; he was a commander of one of the German paramilitary Freikorps outfits that played a violent role in Upper Silesia.

48. For Steiner’s rejection of the League of Nations see e.g. Rudolf Steiner, “Der Weg in den Wirren der Gegenwart” Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus vol. 2 no. 20 (October 1920). On Mitteleuropa caught between East and West see e.g. Steiner, Bewußtseins-Notwendigkeiten für Gegenwart und Zukunft (Dornach 1967), which warns that the “German essence” is being “alienated” by “Americanism” on the one side and “Russiandom” on the other (408); according to Steiner, “fear of the spiritual is the characteristic element of Americanism” (405), while the threat from “the East” is “socialism” (407). See also Steiner, Die geistigen Hintergründe des Ersten Weltkrieges, 42-44; Steiner, Die Tempellegende und die Goldene Legende, 255-56; Steiner, Gegensätze in der Menschheitsentwickelung, 147-66.

49. For a recent example see Guido Giacomo Preparata, “Perishable Money in a Threefold Commonwealth: Rudolf Steiner and the Social Economics of an Anarchist Utopia” Review of Radical Political Economics 38 (2006), 619-48; Preparata is a fan of Silvio Gesell and C. H. Douglas as well.

50. For an early instance of anthroposophist enthusiasm for Douglas see Owen Barfield, “The Relation between the Economics of C.H. Douglas and those of Rudolf Steiner” Anthroposophy: A Quarterly Review of Spiritual Science, vol. 8 no. 3 (1933), 272-85. Barfield describes Douglas as “one of the few English writers who have quoted from The Threefold Commonwealth in their works. He has addressed a Group of the [Anthroposophical] Society at the London Headquarters. Moreover, several members of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain have been personally interested in Social Credit for many years.” (272) Barfield continues: “What is capital? For answer one cannot do better than turn to the work of Major Douglas.” (275) Barfield depicts Douglas’s Social Credit scheme as the prime expression of Steiner’s general views on threefolding. The extensive overlap between anthroposophy and Social Credit is confirmed by the literature on Douglas’s movement; see e.g. John Finlay, Social Credit: The English Origins (McGill-Queens University Press 1972), 185, 232, 244. For Douglas’s approving view of Steiner’s threefolding principles see e.g. “The Control of Policy in Industry: Notes of a Lecture by Major C. H.
Douglas” The New Age vol. XXVII no. 6 (June 10, 1920), 85.

51. This is readily discernible from Douglas’s work itself. Part II of Douglas’s book Social Credit identifies the Protocols as a foundation stone of his argument, and that text was far from the bluntest statement of his position; interested readers would do well to peruse the endless stream of antisemitic invective that Douglas wrote for internal consumption within the Social Credit movement. There is an extensive literature on the Social Credit movement. C.B. Macpherson’s classic study Democracy in Alberta: Social Credit and the Party System (University of Toronto Press 1962) discusses Douglas’s antisemitism and his reliance on the Protocols at length (182-86), and makes very clear that Douglas’s antisemitic conspiracy theories were the basis of the entire Social Credit edifice; in Douglas’s mind, “the plot was a relentless Judaic conspiracy against Christian civilization” (183), and Douglas insisted “that the whole social credit movement be committed to the exposure of the plotters” (185). Macpherson observes: “There was some unwillingness within the movement to accept the theory of the Jewish world plot, but Douglas insisted that it was an integral part of social creditism.” (184) Another study points out: “Douglas social credit combined a conspiracy-based understanding of history with anti-Semitism [. . .] He believed a Jewish financial conspiracy was orchestrating world events ranging from the First World War to the Great Depression. The primary source of his ideas was The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” (Bob Hesketh, Major Douglas and Alberta Social Credit, University of Toronto Press 1997, 5) As Hesketh notes, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion were “the single most important influence” on Douglas’s Social Credit theories (17). Another study reports: “Douglas’s economic and political doctrines were wholly dependent on an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.” (Janine Stingel, Social Discredit, McGill-Queen’s University Press 2000, 13) For a recent critical analysis of Douglas’s ideas see Derek Wall, “Social Credit: The Ecosocialism of Fools” Capitalism Nature Socialism 14 (2003). On the German context see Matthew Lange, Antisemitic Elements in the Critique of Capitalism in German Culture, 1850-1933 (Oxford: Lang, 2007).

52. Examples include the July 1919 special issue of Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus, addressed to the workers’ councils, which condemns socialist tendencies; Oskar Hermann, “Wirtschaftsdemokratie: Ein Zerrbild der Dreigliederung” Anthroposophie March 30, 1930, 98-100; and the two-page supplement to issue no. 10 of Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus, dated September 5, 1919, which is devoted to distinguishing social threefolding from councilist tendencies; it declares threefolding to be “the mission of the German people.”

53. Steiner, Westliche und östliche Weltgegensätzlichkeiten (Dornach 1981), 302. Steiner’s followers have sometimes extended this analysis into a veritable celebration of capitalism under threefolding auspices; see e.g. Folkert Wilken, Das Kapital (1976), and Wilken, The Liberation of Capital (1982). Equally telling examples can be found in Roman Boos’ musings on social threefolding as “cooperative capitalism” and on “capital as an instrument of freedom” in the Swiss anthroposophist journal Gegenwart, March 1942.

54. Steiner, Vom Einheitsstaat zum dreigliedrigen sozialen Organismus, 165.

55. Steiner, Der innere Aspekt des sozialen Rätsels (Dornach 1972), 82. Cf. “Der Ausverkauf Deutschlands” Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus no. 28 (January 1920).

56. Steiner, Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Kultur- und Zeitgeschichte (Dornach 1966), 285.

57. Steiner, The Threefold Commonwealth, 126.

58. Steiner, Rudolf Steiner: Essential Readings, ed. Richard Seddon (Wellingborough 1988), 106. Steiner continues: “Really practical thought, therefore, will not look to find the cure for social ills in a reshaping of economic life that would substitute communal for private management of the means of production. The endeavor should rather be to forestall the ills that can arise through management by individual initiative and personal worth, without impairing this management itself.” (ibid.)

59. Steiner, The Threefold Commonwealth, 158.

60. Ibid., 117 and 126. Similar pronouncements can be found in many other publications by Steiner; see e.g. Steiner, Soziale Zukunft (Dornach 1977), 165-66. These ideas are repeated throughout the threefolding literature; see among numerous other examples Emil Leinhas, “Kapitalverwaltung im dreigliedrigen sozialen Organismus” Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus February 1920.

61. Kühn, Dreigliederungszeit, 52.

32 Replies to “Rudolf Steiner’s threefold commonwealth and alternative economic thought”

  1. Dear Peter,
    I have been studying Steiner’s work for about 25 years, and I still sometimes find it obscure or difficult, so in this regard you have my sympathy. I do find somewhat Utopian the idea that the threefold social organization could be established in the foreseeable future.
    However, if you want to understand Steiner’s attitude towards WW I, it is essential to read “The Karma of Untruthfulness” (25 lectures given between 4 Dec 1916 and 30 Jan 1917). In those lectures Steiner is concerned to counter the propaganda of the Entente, and he provides numerous concrete examples of differences between the arguments of the Entente and documented historical fact. He nowhere attempts to exonerate Germany. Here is a crucial passage from Lecture 14: “The karma that is being fulfilled at the moment . . . is not the karma of a single nation; it is the karma of the whole of European and American humanity in the nineteenth century; it is the karma of untruthfulness, the insidious poison of untruthfulness.” Sadly, the misrepresentations and manipulations by political leaders and elements of the media which Steiner complained about seem still to be with us.
    I do wonder whether you have been careless in your research into Steiner and Anthroposophy, or whether you have a strong underlying disagreement which prevents your seeing where Steiner is actually coming from.

  2. Look at the movement of threefold social order in a different way:
    When this movement had succeeded in the years, 1919-1922 it would have been impossible for the NAZI’s to arise. We would not have had WW ll, and the lives of millions of Jews were saved.
    The movement of threefold social order stands for democracy. Many anthroposophists are advocating a further development of democracy by forms of d i r e c t democracy.
    There should not be such a phenomenon as a ruling spiritual elite.
    Threefolding is a democratic method to strive to a rightious society where all women and men have equal rights.
    I do not know why Peter Staudenmaier wants to put Steiner, anthroposophy and the movement of threefold social order in a bad light.

  3. Hello John and Jan,

    Thanks for your replies, I’ve just been notified of them today. Several of your claims are mistaken. For example, Jan says that Steiner’s social threefolding “stands for democracy.” In reality, Steiner rejected democracy, quite explicitly and emphatically, for two of his three spheres of society, the economic realm and the cultural-spiritual realm. Even in the political realm he sometimes took a decidedly dim view of democracy. Similarly, John claims that Steiner “nowhere attempts to exonerate Germany.” This is quite inaccurate. From 1918 onward, Steiner insisted over and over again that Germany bore no war guilt. (He was especially keen to defend Moltke; according to Steiner and many other anthroposophists, Moltke was reluctantly pulled into a war he didn’t want.) The same arguments can be found in his 1917 memoranda, as well as in his articles and lectures after the war, and are repeated in dozens of anthroposophist publications. Many of those, unsurprisingly, have not been translated, but a sense of the general anthroposophist viewpoint can be gained from Thomas Meyer, ed., Light for the New Millennium: Rudolf Steiner’s Association with Helmuth and Eliza von Moltke; Letters, Documents and After-Death Communications (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1997).

    Peter Staudenmaier

  4. Thanks Peter for this interesting article about threefolding. I can’t really understand in what sense you think Steiner does not support democracy. Isn’t democracy, as we usually understand it, confined to the sphere of politics/rights? Would you not call what you live in a democracy (if you get to elect politicians, or participate in referendums on issues of law etc)even if you have no say in how your boss runs his company (economic sphere) and don’t get to vote on who should be vicar of your local church (spiritual sphere)

  5. Hi Ian,

    Thanks for your comment. Steiner divided society into three spheres, and explicitly rejected democracy in two of those three spheres. Whatever we make of his tripartite division of society, his theory is on his own account predominantly anti-democratic. In addition, Steiner sometimes took a decidedly dim view of democracy even in the political sphere, as I discuss in the article.

    You point out, accurately, that democracy is often understood as restricted to the political realm. That is particularly true in many mainstream Western contexts today. It was not true when Steiner proposed his theory, however. In that historical context, many different social forces and many different thinkers were exploring and implementing much broader forms of democracy, very much including the economic realm and the cultural realm. Steiner’s approach was, among other things, a repudiation of such efforts.

    Social ecologists do not share this narrow conception of democracy. In our view, merely electing politicians or partaking in referenda does not make a social order democratic. There are a variety of texts here at this site that examine these questions in detail and explain alternative forms of democracy. But there are many other sources available for pursuing the question. Even in the Western tradition alone, direct democracy and participatory democracy have a very lengthy history and have taken a wide array of concrete forms.

    There are many ways to learn about these varieties of democratic practice, apart from the materials and perspectives represented here at the Institute for Social Ecology site. Many activists groups rely on such alternative democratic frameworks, and there is an extensive literature body of research and theory on them as well. Any of the following works would be good places to start in inquiring further:

    Carol Pateman, Participation and Democratic Theory (Cambridge University Press, 1970)

    Daniel Kramer, Participatory Democracy: Developing Ideals of the Political Left (General Learning Press, 1972)

    Jane Mansbridge, Beyond Adversary Democracy (University of Chicago Press, 1980)

    Carol Gould, Rethinking Democracy: Freedom and Social Cooperation in Politics, Economy, and Society (Cambridge University Press, 1988)

    Anne Phillips, Engendering Democracy (Polity Press, 1991)

    John Gastil, Democracy in Small Groups: Participation, Decision Making, and Communication (New Society Publishers, 1993)

    Susan Bickford, The Dissonance of Democracy: Listening, Conflict, and Citizenship (Cornell University Press, 1996)

    C. Douglas Lummis, Radical Democracy (Cornell University Press, 1996)

    Iris Marion Young, Inclusion and Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2000)

    Francesca Polletta, Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements (University of Chicago Press, 2002)

    Gianpaolo Baiocchi, Militants and Citizens: The Politics of Participatory Democracy in Porto Alegre (Stanford University Press, 2005)

    John Gastil, Political Communication and Deliberation (Sage, 2008)


    Peter Staudenmaier

  6. Just posted this small analysis of Communalism, its problems and a Steiner solution to WC. Thought you lot might be interested.

    Dennis asked a couple of good questions on 3-folding and I’m hoping to put together some kind of answer for him from ‘Steiner said’ indications (I don’t have them all at the moment as I haven’t been adding those sorts of quotes to my quote library!). In the meantime, this is perhaps a contribution to a discussion on 3-folding.

    I don’t know if anyone has looked at Der Staudi’s favoured solution to the world’s problems but I’ve been taking a brief look. I find that I can agree with much of their moral ethos, and municipalism, as a way of transcending the nation-state, may have quite a lot going for it and could perhaps be perceived as being a little like Steiner’s ‘associationism’ (to coin a phrase) of the 3-fold movement . But I think their analysis is wrong and therefore so are some of their solutions.


    1) Their analysis is that ecological destruction is caused by social relations of domination and hierarchy. This so obviously not true historically that I can’t quite believe that Murray Bookchin has said it and I am inclined to try and take a look at what he’s actually said. Anyway, we can see an easy counter-example – one of many that easily comes to mind – in the social arrangement of the Middle Ages. This was a society that was arranged in a complete hierarchy from God, through the King, and then on downward to the landless serf. But the land was farmed harmoniously, without ecological despoliation. It’s quite obvious, with only a little thought, that it’s the post- Renaissance rise of modern society, with its concomitants of science and industrialisation (the latter almost being a function of the former), that has created the potential for man to lay to waste to nature. We can go further and analyse the cause of this new scientific endeavour in an objectifying, scientific consciousness that began at this time and split man’s mind away from its former organic relationship with nature, which was still known as the Goddess Natura right on into the late Middle Ages. But why does Bookchin not know any of this and instead apparently make this elementary kind of mistake? Because he doesn’t take the spiritual in history seriously, in the same way his current student Der Staudi still doesn’t.

    2) Their social dominance theory leads them to indict capitalism as a co-creator of ecological damage (the concentration of capital leads to a concentration of power and a relation of dominance over those without capital). I think this analysis is much more credible but I don’t see that they have more than a part of the understanding of it. Capitalism is part of that rise of the modern scientific conscious I’ve described in my previous paragraph, whereby nature has become simply an object. The Marxist inspired analysts such as Bookchin see this capitalism as something arbitrary and look to replace the social damage it can create by arbitrarily replacing it. But why would this necessarily work? Marxists have been trying this, and re-inventing their theory each time it fails, for over 150 years. What they don’t consider is that, like science, capitalism is a something completely new and like science again, it is very good at what it does – the efficient creation of goods and services. Social Ecology proposes replacing capitalism with a ‘communalism’, where money and markets are abolished and land and enterprises are held jointly by local communities. Wiki says further: “How work should be planned, what technologies should be used, how goods should be distributed are seen as questions that can only be resolved in practice.”. Which simply says they don’t know and sounds like soviet style central planning again, but on a local scale. There is no evidence that this would work but some 250 years of evidence that capitalism does work.

    What’s needed, it seems to me, is to keep the economic efficiency of capitalism but humanise it. Or as Steiner says:

    “The salient point of the social question — the perpetual irritant, the thing that continually incites — is the fact that human labor-power can be paid for. This too creates at the very foundations of all our social order the character of Egoism. For egoism cannot but prevail in the social (I say once more, in the social order — please understand me aright) if to obtain what he requires for his own needs a man must get his labor paid for. He is obliged to earn for himself.

    This is the next and necessary stage — after the overcoming of slavery — it must be made impossible for any man’s labor to be a commodity. This is the true salient point of the social question, and it is this which the new Christianity will solve. ”

    Fundamental Social Demand of Our Times, 1918

    The removal of *egotism* from the capitalist economic system would remove the desire to exploit, both one’s fellow man and nature. Have I missed something or is it not really this simple?


    Ted Wrinch

  7. There’s quite a lot more in this line of thinking, of the idea that the overcoming of egotism in the economy will lead to social healing, in Steiner’s 1905 essay, ‘Spiritual Science and the Social Question”, In this, he described Robert Owen’s famous New Lanark community, calling him ‘a genius’ and saying he had ‘far-ranging eye for measures that would serve social life, and a noble love for human beings’. But, as is well known, the transfer of Owen’s community model to America failed. Steiner says it was because of mans’ egotism and that this is why the fundamental social law is a requirement. This law I quoted in a comment on your eco-fascism article but, for the record, here it is again:

    “The well-being of a total community of human beings working together becomes greater the less the individual demands the products of his achievements for himself, that is, the more of these products he passes on to his fellow workers and the more his own needs are not satisfied out of his own achievements, but out of the achievements of others.”

    To carry it out, Steiner says, requires that income be not treated as a commodity and that man therefore not be treated as a wage slave (in this he followed Marx’s analysis, but not his prescription for a solution to the problem, which observation I also made in that posting):

    “…in actual fact the law will be able to exist as it should only if a total community of people succeeds in creating conditions where no one ever can claim the fruits of his own work for himself, but where, if at all possible, these go entirely to the benefit of the community. And he in turn must be maintained by means of the work of his fellow human beings. The important thing is to see that working for one’s fellow human beings and aiming at a particular income are two quite separate things.

    Whoever works for himself is bound gradually to succumb to egotism. Only someone who works for others can gradually become an unegotistical worker.”

    His description of the change this law could have on society, if implemented, rather reminds me the difference your Bookchin outlines between instrumental and dialectical reasoning. To the instrumentalist the dialectic looks absurd. Equally for the social law relative to our current dog-eat-dog economy:

    “All our interests, and therefore all our social conditions, change when in acquiring something we no longer have ourselves in mind, but others. What does a person have to look to who only looks after his own well-being? To seeing that he earns as much as possible. How others have to work in order to satisfy his needs cannot be his concern. He therefore has to develop his powers in the struggle for existence. If I establish an undertaking which is to bring in as much as possible to myself, I do not ask how labor that works for me is mobilized. If I do not consider myself but hold the point of view: How does my work serve others? Everything changes. Nothing then forces me to undertake anything prejudicial to someone else. I then place my powers not at my own disposal, but at someone else’s. The consequence of this is a quite different unfolding of the powers and capacities of the human being.”

    He continues with a call for a concrete community spirit, something I guess won’t be appreciated here:

    “For this, one prerequisite is necessary. If a person works for another he must find in this other person the reason for his work; and if someone is supposed to work for the community he must be able to feel the value, the being and the significance of this community. He can do this only if the community is something quite different from a more or less undefined collection of individuals. It has to be permeated by a real spirit in which each person can partake. It has to be such that everyone says: It is right, and I want it to be like that. The total community must have a spiritual mission; and each individual must wish to contribute to the fulfillment of this mission. None of the indefinite and abstract ideas of progress which we normally read about are able to provide the formulation of such a measure. If only these ideas prevail, an individual will work here or a group there without seeing that their work is of any use beyond satisfying their own needs or perhaps the interests they happen to have. This spirit of the total community must be alive right down into each individual.”

    And finishes with something that has a kind of parallel with municipalism:

    “He [the individual] will come to feel that he is fulfilling a higher purpose when he works in accordance with his place in the world, and in accordance with his abilities. The result of realizing this will not be a kind of shadowy idealism but a tremendous impulse of all his powers, and in this respect he will regard his action just as much a matter of course as in other respects he regards eating and drinking. And furthermore, he will realize the particular significance of the human community to which he belongs. He will come to understand the relationships which his human community has to other communities, and so the individual personalities of these communities will draw together through a unified picture of spiritual aims, a picture of the common mission of the whole human race.”


    Ted Wrinch

  8. “To carry it out, Steiner says, requires that income be not treated as a commodity…”

    Should read:

    “To carry it out, Steiner says, requires that labour be not treated as a commodity…”

    Sorry for any confusion.


    Ted Wrinch

  9. The idea of the plebiscite for Upper Silesia was that people had to choose whether they were to belong to Poland or Germany, with the border being adjusted accordingly. This was a disaster and inflamed nationalist sentiments on both sides, with Polish nationalist armed uprisings followed by German paramilitary Freikorps retaliation and violence of their own. A new study, that I reference below, shows that the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual Upper Silesians did not want a plebiscite, that forced them to choose an ethnicity, and instead wanted to remain an ethnically mixed region. Steiner wanted this too and for the region to remain autonomous within a 3-folding scheme:

    “The situation in Upper Silesia particularly calls out for such a threefold system. Here two cultures, two cultural individualities – which are intermingled with each other – are fighting for the chance to live in their own way. The most important causes of friction are education and judicial practices. Only by liberating the spiritual/cultural life can these burning questions be resolved, especially in Upper Silesia. Then both cultures, side by side, the German and the Polish, will be able to develop in accord with their inherent forces, without fearing that they will be violated by the other and without a political State taking one or the other side. Each nationality will set up not only its own educational institutions but also its own administrative bodies for cultural matters, so that conflict is ruled out.”

    Call to save Upper Silesia, Steiner, 1922

    From the evidence of a new Harvard PhD thesis, the population of Upper Silesia wanted no plebiscite and were mostly in favour of living together as a multi-cultural, non-nationalist semi independent region. Many residents were already bi-lingual; Polish parents would often send their children to German speaking schools in the interests of regional unity. Interestingly, after nearly 60 years of post-war Polish governorship, the people of the former region of Upper Silesia when asked which ethnicity they identified with in 2002 said Upper Silesia! However, they were not against socio-economic integration within the greater German region, as long as they were not required to declare national loyalty. Brendan Koch has it as:

    “After the partition of Upper Silesia, a widening gap developed between interwar activists in German Upper Silesia and locals seeking socio-economic integration while avoiding national declarations.” (page 4).

    This seems to agree rather well with Steiner’s notion of ‘establish[ing] Upper Silesia as an integral territory that is inwardly united with the German spiritual essence.’, that you quote.

    Nationalism on the Margins, Brendan Jeffrey Karch, 2010


    Ted Wrinch

  10. Sheesh:

    ‘Brendan Koch has it as:’

    should of course be

    ‘Brendan Karch has it as:’

    unusual name from a British perspective!


    Ted Wrinch

  11. Ted Wrinch wrote:

    > This seems to agree rather well with Steiner’s notion

    These are common anthroposophist myths. Many anthroposophists today believe that the social threefolding movement was itself somehow multi-ethnic and striving for an anti-national resolution of the Upper Silesia conflict. Interestingly, these are the same claims put forward at the time by harsh critics of threefolding. They are part of a series of myths that Steiner’s latter-day followers have fallen for; many anthroposophists believe that Steiner opposed WWI, for example, while some of them think that Breslau (Wroclaw) was in Upper Silesia, and so forth.

    In reality, the social threefolding movement saw its proposed resolution for the Upper Silesia conflict as a way to protect German interests in the region and save the province as a whole for Germany. That is what my article explains in some detail. Due in part to unfamiliarity with the historical context, anthroposophists today often misunderstand this. Brendan Karch’s excellent 2010 dissertation would be a fine place for anthroposophists to start in acquainting themselves with the history of the conflict. For instance, Karch’s discussion of movements for autonomy and for separatism (a crucial distinction), on pp. 172-81 of his dissertation, provides a thorough basis for anthroposophists looking for a better grasp of the historical background, as does Karch’s subsequent examination of the 1921 plebiscite. Those interested can find Karch’s dissertation here:

    Another good way for admirers of Steiner to gain a better understanding of ‘social threefolding’ efforts in Upper Silesia would be to read some of the materials produced by the threefolding movement at the time, though most of these materials remain untranslated. What is perhaps most important, however, is keeping in mind that Steiner and his first generation of followers lived in a different time and place, and that what seemed sensible to them in their own situation will not always align with what Steiner’s admirers consider sensible today.

    Peter Staudenmaier

  12. BK shows that the separatist movement differed in Upper Silesia only in degree from that for autonomy; the separatists were interested at most in a temporary separation to gain their goals: they were not interested in nation building. The distinction does not affect the overall thesis that Upper Silesian’s were indifferent to nationalism and that 3-folding would have aligned with this. His account of the plebiscite, as I’ve summarised already, shows that it was a disaster that resulted in nationalist violence. 3-folding would have prevented this.

    Steiner did consistently oppose WW1; there are many dozens of instances in his writings were he says this, calling it a tragedy and talking of the sadness of the blood-soaked battlefields. A quote expressing his typical view is given below:

    “The quest for knowledge is intimately bound up with the most inward aspect of the human being, and every now and then we must therefore enquire into the essential nature of our will and intent. In the light of the present situation, woeful as it is, it seems the answer to this question must be a negative one. For more than three years we have seen something spread across the world that I need not discuss in detail, at least to begin with, for we are all aware of it and feel it deeply. The events now taking place are the opposite of our own intentions, which have come to expression in this very building. [ Note 1 ]

    Again and again we must try to see clearly which stream of spiritual development we wish to see taken up by humanity, and today we have to say it is the opposite of the stream which has led to the terrible tragedy of these last years. This is something we may call to mind again and again when we give deep and full consideration to the events now raging all over the world. We may say to ourselves that it appears as if time were drawn out and had become elastic, as if the things we remember from before this madness took hold of the world happened not just years but centuries

    There will, of course, be many today ó as there always have been ó who may be said to sleep through the events of the day, people who are not fully awake to what is going on today. But when those who are awake look back on what went through their minds four or five years ago and left an impression, they will feel more or the less the way one does when one lets the mind dwell on an old book or a work of art that was created hundreds of years ago. Events which meant something to us before this madness came on the world now seem to have happened an infinitely long time ago.”
    “Failure to see the spiritual reality and take account of the element of the spirit is ultimately the cause of this terrible world war. Nor can it be said that through these years ó years which have turned into centuries for anyone who is awake in them, as I have said ó humanity has learned an adequate lesson from the terrible events around us. Sadly, it has to be said that the opposite is the case.

    What is the characteristic element to be found day by day, hour by hour, when we take note of what people think, or rather pretend to think and pretend to want? It is that, fundamentally speaking, no one in the world knows what they want, and no one realizes that people’s perfectly justifiable aims, whichever form they may take in the minds of individual nations, would be achieved so much better if they did away with these terrible wars in which so much blood is shed. People do not realize that these terrible events with their bloodshed are really not necessary as a means of helping them to achieve their aims.”

    “Imagine a band of children smashing up all the pots and plates, glasses and everything in the house. The adults who see this happening are considering how to stop it, for the children keep running to the larder and all over the house to find more things to smash. Finally the adults have an idea as to how they can stop it. A number of people who are watching, people who actually consider themselves to be the teachers of these children, find a solution: They take care that everything breakable is collected and smashed to pieces ó and that, they think, should put an end to it all! I do not know how many people would not consider those teachers to be fools. This is the kind of situation where people would see the truth. Yet there are people who consider themselves to be wise and who say to the whole world: Carnage must continue until peace comes; everything has to be broken, so there will be nothing left to smash in the world. This is considered wisdom. Go on murdering people for as long as you can and you will stop the murder. This is wisdom!

    For anyone who has even a spark of logic it is no longer wisdom when the teacher says to a band of children: To make sure nothing else gets smashed up, I will quickly get people to collect all other breakable objects and smash them; I reckon nothing else will get smashed after that. Why do people call this foolishness and the other thing political foresight? Because people’s thinking stops at the very point where it should be most intense, which is where their thoughts relate to great questions of destiny.”

    “We are now living in an age when one year of war is equal to more than ten years of war in the seventeenth century, because war has become so much more destructive. By the standards of those times we have more than a Thirty Years War behind us already.”

    Fall of the Spirits of Darkness, 1916


    Ted Wrinch

  13. These are good examples of widespread anthroposophist myths. Many anthroposophists today fervently believe that ‘social threefolding’ is “indifferent to nationalism,” just as opponents of threefolding believed several generations ago. Anthroposophists thus find themselves in peculiar agreement with their foes. Both are mistaken. These beliefs, popular as they may be among Steiner’s admirers and detractors, are belied by the historical record.

    A similar example of erroneous beliefs shared by anthroposophists and their enemies is the notion that Steiner opposed World War I. This notion is virtually an article of faith among anthroposophists today, and was popular among anthroposophy’s adversaries in the aftermath of the war itself. To some extent the durability of this myth may have to do with anthroposophical inattentiveness to their own sources; the passages quoted above, for instance, are not from 1916 but from September 29, 1917, less than a year before the collapse of the German war effort.

    In reality, Steiner was a fervent supporter of the Central Powers, Germany and Austria, particularly during the early years of the conflict. He blamed the war on the English, French, and Russians, and insisted that Germany and Austria were merely defending themselves against the evil machinations of their enemies. At the same time, Steiner offered a spiritual and supernatural interpretation of the war’s causes.

    In a lecture to German anthroposophists on September 30, 1914, Steiner described the war as a spiritual mentor, a “teacher” and “master” that has taught people to fight egoism and materialism and has engendered “love for humanity.” He declared that the war was cosmically necessary, that it is “founded in the karma of the nations” and “must happen for the salvation of humankind.” (Steiner, Die geistigen Hintergründe des Ersten Weltkrieges, 24-25) In a February 1915 lecture, Steiner acknowledged that the war had caused “enormous rivers of blood to flow,” but explained that these rivers of blood “must flow today because of the eternal necessities of earthly evolution.” He depicted the war as the earthly manifestation of necessary processes playing out in “the concrete spiritual world,” among “the beings of the spirit worlds”; it is “a world of demons and spirits which works through humankind when nations battle one another.” By understanding the war’s spiritual dimension, the conflict appeared as preparation for “the future evolution of humanity.” (ibid., 32-33) For Steiner, the war was not just a military conflict but a battle of national spirits, a cosmic confrontation between “Germandom” and the spiritually immature East as well as the spiritually obsolete West; it would be an evolutionary tragedy if the German element were to be defeated by the Romanic element or the Slavic element. “We know as anthroposophists: Europe’s I resides in the German spirit. That is an objective occult fact.” (ibid., 19)

    Anthroposophists believed that the World War would bring Germany the stature it deserved, world spiritual predominance. They described the war as a “turning point in history which will give Germany and the German people leadership in the entire realm of human spiritual culture.” (The opening sentence of the premier issue of the anthroposophist journal Das Reich, April 1916). In 1916 Steiner sought to establish a press office in Switzerland to promote the German and Austrian cause, but was turned down by the German high command. (Steiner, Wie wirkt man für den Impuls der Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus, 232-33) But the war did not conclude with the German victory Steiner and his followers expected. Their subsequent disillusionment centered on the notion that the unblemished German spirit had been failed by an inadequate leadership and that Germany needed to be revitalized through spiritual and national regeneration.

    After the German defeat in 1918, Steiner and his followers insisted that Germany was not responsible for the war. This claim became a central component of anthroposophy’s public profile during the Weimar republic. The anthroposophist emphasis on German innocence was coupled with conspiracy theories about longstanding Western plans to destroy and dismantle the German and Austrian empires. Steiner himself had declared already in 1914 that “this war is a conspiracy against German spiritual life.” (Steiner, Die geistigen Hintergründe des Ersten Weltkrieges, 27)

    According to Steiner, occultist secret societies in the Entente countries had planned the war decades ahead of time: “I have drawn your attention to the demonstrable fact that in the 1890’s certain occult brotherhoods in the West discussed the current world war, and that moreover the disciples of these occult brotherhoods were instructed with maps which showed how Europe was to be changed by this war. English occult brotherhoods in particular pointed to a war that had to come, that they positively steered toward, that they set the stage for.” (Steiner, Zeitgeschichtliche Betrachtungen, 22) Germany was thus forced to defend itself: “The Germans could foresee that this war would one day be fought against them. It was their duty to arm themselves for it.” (Steiner, Aufsätze über die Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus, 321) Anthroposophists such as Karl Heise, Ludwig Polzer-Hoditz, and Wilhelm von Heydebrand, with Steiner’s active support, included Freemasons and Jews within this ostensible anti-German conspiracy, publishing a range of antisemitic conspiracy theories about the lost war from 1918 onward.

    Anthroposophists today have yet to come to terms with this aspect of their historical legacy.

    Peter Staudenmaier

  14. Nevertheless, he says:

    “The events now taking place are the opposite of our own intentions, which have come to expression in this very building. [ the Goetheanum ]

    Again and again we must try to see clearly which stream of spiritual development we wish to see taken up by humanity, and today we have to say it is the opposite of the stream which has led to the terrible tragedy of these last years. ”

    Which is the opposite of supporting the war. And he says the same in many other places. He put the cause of the war down to materialism, that he thought had become the common debilitating world-view of Europe, and nationalism. The machinations of Western occult societies were subsidiary. On geopolitics, he believed that attributing blame was of no use, including blame to the Germans:

    “From what is now happening, a few souls must come to a realization that we cannot go
    on like this; human evolution must take up the spiritual! Materialism is confronting its
    karma in this, the most terrible of all wars. In a certain sense, this war is the karma of
    materialism. The more this fact is realized by human beings, the more they will abandon
    their arguments about who is to blame for the war…”

    Christ in Relation to Lucifer and Ahriman, 1918

    Your expressions ‘fervent supporter’ and ‘evil machinations’, are the kinds of things he opposed, as would credible historians today.

    As you’ll know, Steiner didn’t simply consider the Russians ‘immature’ but he considered them the future, when they would become the people of brotherhood and spirituality (rather like many think today). As you’ll also know, rather than considering the West ‘obsolete’, he considered it to be the culture of the present, that we would all be living through and learning from for the next 1700 years.

    The press office he was trying to establish appears to be to promote 3-folding, a solution to the bloodshed and violence, not a promotion of it.

    In some lectures Steiner has said that the German empire was a mistake and in others that the Germans were not natural politicians. He had a more nuanced view of ‘Germandom’ than you express:

    “The life of Central Europe, with all that it was, lies in the dust. What lived in Central Europe is, to a great extent, sunk in a fearful sleep. At the present moment, the Germans are, one might say, forced to think of freedom, not as they talked of it in all manner of fine phrases at the time when they were groaning under the yoke of Ludendorff — when constraint of itself engendered an understanding of the idea of freedom. Now they think of it with crippled powers of soul and body, in total inability to summon up the energy for real intense thought. We have in Germany all sorts of attempts at democratic forms — but no democracy. We have a republic — but no republicans! And this is in every way a symptom that has especially manifested itself in Central Europe, but is characteristic of the European world in general.”

    Cosmogony, Freedom, Altruism, 1919

    You say that Steiner believed that defeat by the ‘slavic element’ would be ‘an evolutionary tragedy’, which is not right. His understanding of the ‘slavic element’ was a little more nuanced than that and he believed that the ‘Western slavs’ belonged to Central Europe:

    “The thinking which is concerned with the good of mankind as a whole could never include the territory of Poland in the Russian Empire. For in a remarkable way it is precisely the western Slavs with their profoundest characteristics who belong to Central Europe. I cannot speak today about the checkered destiny of the Polish people. But I just want to say that the spiritual culture of the Polish people found one of its culminations in the Polish messianic movement ó let everybody think what they like about this reality ó which, out of the substance of the Polish people contains spiritual feelings and spiritual ideas belonging to mankind as a whole. We are speaking here, in a way, about that Gnostic element which corresponds to one of the three soul components which are to flow from the western Slavs to Central Europe.

    The second element lies in the Czech people to whom ó not for nothing ó John Huss belongs. Here is the second soul component inserted into Central Europe out of the Slav element. And the third component is from the southern Slavs. These three soul components push westwards like three cultural peninsulas and most certainly do not belong to the eastern European Slav element. Externally, on the physical plane, by means of political marriages, but inwardly by means of what I have just been explaining, this Austria has come about whose purpose it is to amalgamate German and western Slav peoples precisely so that the western Slavs can unfold in accordance with their own impulses.”

    Karma of untruthfulness, 1916

    The above characterisation of ‘Western slavs’, as ‘belong[ing] to Central Europe’ dovetails with Steiner’s description in the later ‘Call to Save Upper Silesia’, that I have already quoted from, where he says, again:

    “Then both cultures, side by side, the German and the Polish, will be able to develop in accord with their inherent forces, without fearing that they will be violated by the other and without a political State taking one or the other side.”

    And his characterisation of them as having qualities ‘belonging to mankind as a whole’ refutes any charge of nationalism.

    The rest of your quotes are almost entirely from the infamous ‘Die geistigen Hintergründe des Ersten Weltkrieges’, which has not been translated into English but has been one of your favourite quote sources for years. It’s unlikely that the quotes have the meanings that you attribute to them.

    Perhaps the ‘myths’, ‘erroneous belief’s and ‘mistakes’ that you talk about are more on your own side? And perhaps you have yet to come to terms with what Steiner actually said, rather that what it suits you to say for the polemical support of your own world-view?


    Ted Wrinch

  15. Ted Wrinch wrote:

    > Which is the opposite of supporting the war.

    That is a very revealing statement. In the eyes of Steiner’s admirers, if he said the war has developed in the opposite way he hoped for and has led to a terrible tragedy, this must mean that he opposed the war! Imagine applying the same notion to supporters of the Viet Nam war or the Iraq war.

    This is an illustrative instance of the differences between anthroposophical thinking and historical thinking. Consider a figure like Robert McNamara, for example, one of the most prominent proponents of the US cause in the Viet Nam war. By anthroposophist logic, Robert McNamara actually opposed the Viet Nam war. After all, the outcome of that war was ‘the opposite of his own intentions,’ and McNamara did come to see the war as a ‘terrible tragedy’ and so forth.

    Alas, this does not mean that he opposed the war.

    Steiner’s support of the Central Powers is hardly a sign of some sort of special malevolence on his part, any more than his stance on Upper Silesia. Such positions were common among German intellectuals at the time, across the political spectrum. What makes Steiner interesting in this regard is the tenacity with which his latter-day followers cling to historically groundless myths about him and his time. This makes it very difficult for them to make sense of either Steiner or his historical context.

    > The press office he was trying to establish appears to be to promote 3-folding

    The press office was quite explicitly to promote the German and Austrian cause in the war. It did have a connection with ‘threefolding’ as well, which in Steiner’s eyes was an expression of the German and Austrian cause; Steiner said that threefolding was “in the background” of his negotiations over establishing the press office in June 1916, though his threefolding principles as such weren’t articulated until 1917. The 1916 events are discussed both by Steiner’s anthroposophist biographers and his non-anthroposophist biographers; according to anthroposophist Christoph Lindenberg, for example, Steiner himself took the initiative on this project, while according to Helmut Zander it was Moltke’s adjutant who initially contacted Steiner. Both Lindenberg and Zander say very clearly that the purpose of the press office was to promote the cause of the Central Powers. See Christoph Lindenberg, Rudolf Steiner: Eine Biographie (Stuttgart: Freies Geistesleben, 1997), 574-75, and Helmut Zander, Rudolf Steiner: Die Biografie (Munich: Piper, 2011), 345-46. A particularly thorough account can be found in Helmut Zander, Anthroposophie in Deutschland: Theosophische Weltanschauung und gesellschaftliche Praxis 1884–1945 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007), 1273-75.

    > You say that Steiner believed that defeat by the ‘slavic element’ would be ‘an evolutionary tragedy’, which is not right.

    Regardless of whether we think it is right, it is, alas, what Steiner said. There is no need to depend on my translation; here is Steiner in his own words:

    “Was wird man unter der sechsten Kulturepoche zu verstehen haben? Man wird darunter eine Kulturepoche zu verstehen haben, innerhalb welcher ein großer Teil der östlichen Menschen ihr Menschentum demjenigen zum Opfer gebracht haben wird, was in der Volkskultur errungen worden ist, indem gleichsam wie ein Weibliches das östliche sich wird haben befruchten lassen von dem männlichen Westlichen. Dasjenige, was leben wird in den Seelen der sechsten Kulturepoche, wird dasselbe sein, was von den Seelen der fünften Kulturepoche errungen worden ist. Das bedingt, daß von Osten her das Unreife und noch nicht Gereifte sich walzt, sich wehrt gegen dasjenige, was ja doch ge schehen muß. Genau ebenso, wie das Griechisch-Römische sich einmal zu wehren hatte gegen das Germanische, so muß sich das Slawische gegen das Germanische wehren; aber genau ebenso wie beim Übergang vom Griechisch-Römischen zum Germanischen in der aufsteigenden Entwickelung, so bei dem Übergang vom Germanischen ins Slawische in der absteigenden. Indem die eigentliche Mission der fünften Kulturepoche von dem germanischen Element übernommen worden ist, war dieses germanische Element dasjenige, welches für diese fünfte Kulturepoche das eigentliche Verständnis des Christentums im inneren Erringen in die Erdenevolution einzufügen hatte und noch haben wird. Und es wäre das größte Unglück geschehen, wenn auf die Dauer das germanische Element besiegt worden wäre von dem römischen, denn dann hätte nicht geschehen können, was durch die fünfte Kulturepoche geschehen ist: Dieses germanische Element hatte eben das persönliche Erringen darzuleben. Und es wäre das größte Unglück, wenn jemals das slawische Element das germanische besiegen würde. Merken Sie den Unterschied. Der trostloseste abstrakteste Schematismus wäre es, wenn man das als ein Unglück bezeichnen würde beim Übergang von der fünften zur sechsten Kulturepoche, was man als ein Unglück bezeichnen müßte beim Übergang von der vierten zur fünften Kulturepoche. Der Sieg der Römer würde bedeutet haben: das Unmöglichmachen der Mission der fünften Kulturepoche; der Sieg des slawischen Elementes würde ebenso diese Unmöglichkeit bedeuten für die sechste Kulturepoche. Denn nur im passiven Annehmen desjenigen, was die fünfte Kulturepoche hervorbringt, kann der Sinn der sechsten bestehen.”

    Steiner, Die geistigen Hintergründe des Ersten Weltkrieges, 42-43

    As it happens, this lecture exists in English translation, in typescript form, marked “for members of the Anthroposophical Society,” and circulates among anthroposophists (it is available from the Rudolf Steiner Library in New York, for example) as Rudolf Steiner, “The Christ-Impulse as Bearer of the Union of the Spiritual and the Bodily,” translated by Mabel Cotterell. I recommend that interested readers who don’t know German consult this anthroposophist translation and see for themselves.

    > And his characterisation of them as having qualities ‘belonging to mankind as a whole’ refutes any charge of nationalism.

    That is a delightfully ahistorical conception of nationalism. I recommend a look at any of the following:

    Robert Kann, The Multinational Empire: Nationalism and National Reform in the Habsburg Monarchy 1848-1918 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1964)

    Aira Kemilhäinen, Nationalism: Problems concerning the word, the concept and classification (Jyväskylä: Jyväskylän kasvatusopillinen korkeakoulou, 1964)

    George Mosse, The Nationalization of the Masses (New York: Howard Fertig, 1975)

    Louis Snyder, Roots of German Nationalism: The Sources of Political and Cultural Identity 1815-1976 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978)

    Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983)

    Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1983)

    Michael Hughes, Nationalism and Society: Germany 1800-1945 (London: Edward Arnold, 1988)

    Jost Hermand and James Steakley, eds., Heimat, Nation, Fatherland: The German Sense of Belonging (New York: Lang, 1996)

    Krista O’Donnell, Renate Bridenthal, Nancy Reagin, eds., The Heimat Abroad: The Boundaries of Germanness (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005)

    Eric Kurlander, The Price of Exclusion: Race, Nationalism and the Decline of German Liberalism 1898-1933 (New York: Berghahn, 2006)

    Sinisa Malesevic, Identity as Ideology: Understanding Ethnicity and Nationalism (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006)

    Helmut Walser Smith, The Continuities of German History: Nation, Religion, and Race Across the Long Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2008)

    Michael Steinberg, “Nationalist Cosmopolitanism” in Steinberg, Austria as Theater and Ideology: The Meaning of the Salzburg Festival, 1890-1938 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 84-115

    Thomas Hylland Eriksen, “Formal and informal nationalism” Ethnic and Racial Studies 16 (1993), 1-25

    Pieter Judson, “From Liberalism to Nationalism: Inventing a German Community, 1880-85” in Judson, Exclusive Revolutionaries: Liberal Politics, Social Experience, and National Identity in the Austrian Empire 1848-1914 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996), 193-222

    Brian Vick, “The Origins of the German Volk: Cultural Purity and National Identity in Nineteenth-Century Germany” German Studies Review 26 (2003), 241-56

    Dominic Boyer, “The Bildungsbürgertum and the Dialectics of Germanness in the Long Nineteenth Century” in Boyer, Spirit and System: Media, Intellectuals, and the Dialectic in Modern German Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 46-98

    Eric Kurlander, “Völkisch-Nationalism and Universalism on the Margins of the Reich: A Comparison of Majority and Minority Liberalism in Germany, 1898-1933” in Neil Gregor, Nils Roemer, and Mark Roseman, eds., German History from the Margins (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), 84-103

    Exchanges like this are an illuminating example of the difficulties that routinely arise in discussion between esotericists and scholars of esotericism. Beholden as they are to well-worn anthroposophist myths, Steiner enthusiasts are often completely unaware of basic biographical facts about him. When historians point out some of these basic facts, anthroposophists think their founder is being demeaned and disgraced and misrepresented and abused. This makes anthroposophists cling ever more tightly to their cherished myths. The dynamic is unlikely to change until anthroposophists begin to see Steiner as a historical figure.

    Peter Staudenmaier

  16. Hi Travis,

    Thanks for your comment. The text you linked to rehearses the usual threefolding-will-save-the-world line. But it does acknowledge that Steiner’s ideas about threefolding were based on a Habsburg framework and were meant to maintain that framework. This is exactly what critics of threefolding have pointed out for many years. Social threefolding simply takes Steiner’s cultural nationalist assumptions for granted and aims to apply them across the board, oblivious to their historical resonance. Steiner’s beliefs about the “German mission” were shaped by his involvement in the German nationalist movement in Habsburg Austria in the 1880s. Fans of threefolding often seem unaware of why that historical context matters. For a more detailed look at the subject, see here:


    Peter Staudenmaier

  17. Peter, I’m glad to meet another person who is as dedicated as I am to transforming the American framework and ending that framework. I’m confident that I’m not going too far to trust that you understand that, in historical context, the harmfulness of the American Empire is starting to approach that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I look forward to our further collaboration in permanently laying to rest America’s economic nationalist assumptions. I look forward to your concrete vision of how to transcend the fusion of the economic, political, and educational sectors in America. If you have anything to contribute to the coming Threefold America, please do not hesitate to contact me:

  18. Hi Travis,

    Thanks for your comment. In my view, the harmfulness of US imperial actions is much worse than that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. For better or worse, though, Rudolf Steiner did not live in the US.

    Enthusiasts of Steiner’s ‘social threefolding’ who want to understand what threefolding has actually looked like historically will need to become familiar with the historical context out of which threefolding emerged. The problem, of course, is that this sort of historical understanding makes naïve and uncritical celebrations of threefolding impossible. That is why lots of threefolding advocates avoid it.

    Apart from historical naivete, there are a number of fundamental political disagreements involved as well. It can be hard to make this clear to threefolding fans, but from the point of view of many social ecologists and all sorts of other radicals, threefolding proposals are at best a notably timid variety of reformism. Instead of challenging capitalism and challenging the state, threefolders want “to transcend the fusion of the economic, political, and educational sectors” in the hope that this will magically make unjust social structures better. Moreover, threefolding ideas about the role of democratic procedures are directly contrary to many forms of participatory democracy, not to mention egalitarian and participatory economic and educational institutions.

    One of the central arguments in my article is that ‘social threefolding’ belongs to a lengthy tradition of alternative political and economic proposals that do not offer genuine alternatives to existing structures. Like followers of Henry George, followers of Silvio Gesell, followers of C.H. Douglas, and lots of other would-be world saviors, followers of Steiner often focus so tightly on their own vision of salvation and renewal that they have a hard time discerning the points of convergence and the points of divergence with other forms of discontent with the status quo. If we want to build a future that genuinely transcends the current structures of society, we will need to take a much more critical look at such proposals. Best,

    Peter Staudenmaier

  19. [this was first posted before Christmas and appears to have got lost; this is a re-posting]

    This is perhaps good polemic, but not much else. The context of the quote makes it clear that Steiner opposed the war itself. In your parallel, McNamara opposes losing.

    He’s talking of the Russians and the 6th epoch in that quote. His conception was that Central Europe – including the ‘Western slavs’ – was a mediator between Western and Eastern culture. In his view, if central culture was to disappear then the Eastern culture of the 6th epoch (that is to follow our own Anglo- Germanic’ one) – the epoch of brotherhood and spirituality – would be damaged. The quote from ‘Call to Save Upper Silesia’ stands:

    “Then both cultures, side by side, the German and the Polish, will be able to develop in accord with their inherent forces, without fearing that they will be violated by the other and without a political State taking one or the other side.”

    As we’ve established, not least from the quote above, Steiner was opposing nationalism with 3-folding. If 3-folding was ‘in the background’ of his negotiations that would suggest that he was still working out details when he set up the press office. ‘promot[ing] the cause of the Central Powers’ seems to suggest promoting 3-folding, which could have led to an early peace.

    I would suggest that you are trying to make rather too much of your assumed superiority as a scholar relative to my status as a member of the public. In fact, I think I’ve done rather well as you haven’t showed Steiner supported the war, or that he was a nationalist, or that he thought attributing blame in the war was a good idea, etc Where you’ve picked me up on details it’s either been trivial (the date of one of the lectures) or wrong (your claim that the the distinction between separatism and autonomy was ‘crucial’ in the Upper Silesia conflict). It seems to me that your inability to get simple matters of interpretation like this correct points to a degree of polemical overshoot on your part, that is perhaps blocking your ability to function as a proper scholar.


    A modern 3-folding example

    As a historian one would expect that you might be interested in understanding the history of a phenomena. But in this article you appear to have chosen an agenda beforehand to portray Steiner’s 3-folding ideas as a variety of right-wing thought, allied with nationalism and authoritarianism. But I think that I have provided sufficient quotes from Steiner to show that the reality is otherwise.

    The reality of 3-folding’s implementation is also different from the account that you have provided. It is unfortunate that 3-folding did not make much headway against the forces of reaction in Europe around WW1 and had to be abandoned in Steiner’s lifetime – had it not been it is possible that Nazism might have been averted. But it is still a vital world impulse and has been used in the Philippines in the mid 90s to create an agenda for social change that attempts to foster balanced economic growth, social cohesiveness and justice, a democratic polity and to maintain a harmonious ecology. The policy objectives of this program were set out in a document known as Philippine Agenda 21. This document was piloted into existence, against much business and government resistance, by the anthroposophist Nicanor Perlas with the support of Philippine NGOs, who expressed a ‘vital and popular civil society’. The document has been approved by presidential decree and the president, Fidel V Ramos, had this to say about the program in his September 26, 1996 speech:

    “In my State of the Nation address last 22nd of July 1996, I mentioned that we do not intend to ‘Grow now and clean up later’. But do not misunderstand me. Given the many demands of development, this ‘cleaning up later’ not only refers to the economy and the environment. It also means that we will clear up all other facets of Philippine life, including our policies and our culture.

    When I say, we clean up in terms of our culture, we intend, for example, to grow and develop with our spirituality and sterling Filipinos values Intact. I do not want Filipinos to succumb to a materialistic consumerist lifestyle. I do not wish to see our world-renowned Filipino spirituality and social sensitivity to be sacrificed at the altar of the economic advancement.

    Cleaning up as we grow in the realm of culture to me means to harness Filipino creativity, values, talents and skills to create a new model of development, one that is not only democratic, environmentally friendly and cost-effective, but also celebrates the vibrancy of our diverse cultures as well as respects and develops the tremendous potential that resides in every one of us. This, after all, is what being maka-Diyos, maka-tao, maka-kalikasan, and maka-bayan means in real terms.


    Economic growth, unleashed by capitalism, has also been accompanied by other forms, less desirable forms, of growth. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) reminds us that, if we are not careful, economic growth can lead to jobless, ruthless, voiceless, rootless, and futureless growth…

    The growing awareness that economic growth is a means, not an end in itself, has influenced most of the countries of the world today to pine for ‘another development’, one that retains the useful features of capitalism without falling prey to its excesses.
    Philippine Agenda 21 envisions a better quality of life for all through the development of a just, moral, creative, diverse yet cohesive society characterized by appropriate productivity, participatory and democratic processes, and living in harmony within the limits of the carrying capacity of nature and the integrity of creation.”

    Jesaiah Ben-Aharon comments as follows:

    “But this highest policy document of the Philippine Government, signed and approved by Presidential decree, is not only about a threefold-social- order concept, but have arisen though an intense threefold social process, in which, for the first time in human history, representative of the “third sector”, civil society, achieved an equal social standing, siting at the table of negotiation with the Government (Polity) and business (the economic sector), and bringing about a threefold reality already in the negotiation process.”


    Ted Wrinch

  20. Though Peter has suggested taking this discussion to another forum in his comments elsewhere on this site, the one he recommends – Waldorf Critics – is unfortunately known to be hostile to people that find anything of merit in Steiner’s thought (for one thing, it consists almost entirely of secular humanists, ‘dogmatic skeptics’ and others that dislike spirituality) and consequently it evicted me some years ago (it certainly did not ‘host me’, as Peter has said, rather it tolerated me for a while).

    In his ‘Anthroposophy and Ecofascism’ article, Peter says: “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”.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly in the light of professor Priestman’s characterisation of Peter as a ‘staunch anti-anthroposophist’, this represents the very opposite of Steiner’s three-folding idea and intention. Many quotes from Steiner’s writings of the era can be found to substantiate this, beyond the well known general tenor, ethos and substance of Steiner’s world-view itself, but this one, from a recent new publication on the e-lib, caught my eye:

    “Three separate things have been flung into the market by the middle-class order of society: Capital, Wages, and Services [Leistung: i.e. that which is performed by labour, whether the manufacture of an article, a personal service rendered, or a literary or artistic production.]; and under this middle-class order of society Capital has been made the substitute for something that in earlier days, under the old aristocratic world-order, wore a very different aspect. Under the old aristocratic world-order, based upon conquest of the soil, everything in the nature of services exchanged between men was relegated to the sphere of Rights. Part of all that was produced must be paid as dues to the landlord; and so-and-so-much one might keep back as labourer. All this was relegated to the sphere of Rights. One had a right to consume so and so much oneself; and one had a duty, because the other man had a right to consume so and so much of what one produced in his service. Rights were the rule under the old aristocratic order; that is to say, rights of privilege, class-rights, ruled everything to do with human requirements. Much of all this echoes on into our own times, — vibrates on even into the penny I take out of my purse to buy something. And through this under-note comes the sound of the other thing: of what has taken the place of this old Order of Rights; the sound of all which has turned capital, human-labour and human services intocommodities, ruled by Supply and Demand, regulating themselves, that is, according to profit, according to the most sordid competition, the blindest human egoism, which leads every man to try and earn as much as ever he can squeeze out of the social system. And so, in the place of the old Rights, there came something that was a play of forces between economic power andeconomic coercion. In place of the privileged with preferential rights, and the others with deferential rights, under the old patriarchal relations of master and servant, there came the economic relations of the middle-class regime, based upon the war of competition, upon profit, upon economic coercion in the tug of war between capital and wages. And into this again is coerced the exchange of commodities, is coerced the adjustment of prices, which is dependent on the egoist war between capital and wages. — And to-day, … to-day what is trying to grow up … for this is the really practical thing, to see what is growing up, and how, more or less unconsciously — though consciously too in many quarters to-day! — a new order of society is trying to take shape; one that shall no longer be based upon relations of coercion, of economic coercion, but based upon reciprocal services, justly exchanged; — based, that is, in this respect upon a really unegoistic and social way of thinking amongst the human community. And the only practical person to-day, the only person, who is not working in opposition to what nevertheless must come, is one who hears the cry that goes up from the whole depths of the human soul: ‘The old privileged rights, the old system of capital and wages, must give place to the system of mutual services!’ How many people are there to-day, do you think, who understand it as yet in all its consequences, this great, new, up-welling life-impulse, springing from human evolution itself, — not conjured up by the arbitrary wishes of individuals, — this life-impulse, which has had such a bloody prelude in the terrible World-War? One may still hear people, even those who think socialistically, who with every fibre of their will are bent on combating capitalism, — one may still hear them talk — and it’s a plain symptom of the times! — of the worker receiving the just wages of his labour, and that this is the way to combat capitalism!

    Anyone who looks deeper into the conditions, knows,-that Capital will exist, so long as Wages exist. For, as you know, in the real world we always find two opposites going together: a north pole, and a south pole; north-pole magnetism, and south-pole magnetism: each positive has its negative; Capital brings Wages in its train; and one only needs to look into the whole business of national economy at the present day, to know the answer to the question: What are wages paid out of? — Wages are paid out of Capital! And there will inevitably be Capital, so long as Wages have to be paid out of Capital. Anti-capitalism has no sense, unless at the same time one is clear, that along with capital the wage-system itself must go; and that there must come a free communal association of the manual worker and the spiritual worker in the non-capitalist order of economy. A free communal association, which makes the manual worker the free partner of the spiritual worker, who is no longer a capitalist, will do away with the wage-principle, with the wage-relation; and, with the wage relation, will do away with the capital-relation. And therefore the only possible way to talk of capitalism, is to talk of it from the standpoint of the social requirements of the day, — as you find them discussed in my book The Threefold Commonwealth or The Life-needs of To-day and To-morrow. We must start from this important truth: that we are situated in the midst of this struggle between the two opposing sets of Rights: the Rights arising from the soil, and the Rights arising from the means of production; and we must show, that the soil, in our future economic order, will be a means of production, and nothing more; and that a means of production can only accumulate labour-value until it is ready-finished; that, from that moment on, it is nobody’s property; that, from that moment on, nobody has strictly speaking any rights of heritage over it; that, from that moment on, it goes back into circulation in the community, as I have described in my book* And then, then we come also and very straight to the discovery, that this was the position held by the soil from the very first; that all mortgaging of the soil is a thing against nature; that land and ready-finished means of production are in no way commodities, but must pass from man to man by some other means than by exchanging them for commodities. This is something one may learn at the present day from the actual practice of life.

    That this is something which may be learnt from the actual practice of life to-day, will be plain from the following considerations. Nobody can look into life with a practical eye to-day, who approaches this life with a mind hill of stereotyped theories, party definitions or merely abstract ideas. We have moved on today into an age, when man has awoken to the consciousness of himself, in quite a different way from ever before. Only their disinclination to the objective study of souls can make men today blind to the fact, that since the middle of the fifteenth century we have entered upon a totally new epoch as regards the evolution of the human soul, — an epoch, in which the soul of man is becoming ever more and more conscient. And there is one class of mankind from whose unexhausted brains the cry goes forth: ‘Let me come to myself as a human soul, in full consciousness of my manhood!’ — That, ladies and gentlemen, however unpleasing the symptoms which may often accompany it, — that is the soul of the Working-Classes! And the first words in this appeal for a self-conscient life under human conditions are as follows: ‘No longer shall Capital coerce me by unjust economic power through the means of Wages!’ Wages, for the modern working man, represent what he has to fight against, if he would rise to that full human consciousness which is absolutely demanded by the age upon which we are now entering. And it is the task of this age, upon which we are entering, to give Services their right place as such in the economic process.

    Services can only find their right place In the economic process, when every measure has been taken on the other hand to separate out from this process again all that has become involved with it through the old aristocratic and the old middle-class regimes; — when we have separated out from the economic circuit the system of state-rights: the political relations; — when we have separated out the spiritual life (which truly has been long enough in bondage!), and released it from the state on the one side, and from the economic process on the other. And therefore every endeavour after a social order in which services shall ensure just reciprocal services, in which men shall work for men, not merely every man for himself, is inseparably involved with the division of the body social into those three organic systems, which have been fused together and confounded by what had quite other interests than interests of common humanity, — by what had, and could have, only interests of caste, interests of class.”

    “The Impulse towards the Threefold Order: No Utopia, but the practical demand of the hour”, 1919,

    As a well known detractor of anthroposophy, such evidence isn’t to be expected as being capable of changing Peter’s mind on anything but it could be helpful for those readers wishing to come to their own ideas on the subject.


    Ted Wrinch

  21. Many anthroposophists believe they have understood “Steiner’s three-folding idea and intention.” They haven’t. Unfamiliar with Steiner’s texts and unaware of the historical contexts in which Steiner taught, they latch onto fragments of his work which they find appealing and inspiring. Unsurprisingly, they end up falling for the usual anthroposophist myths, insisting that Steiner opposed World War One and so forth. Not a few of them also believe that secular humanists “dislike spirituality,” another common myth among esotericists.

    When historians point out that these beliefs are mistaken, Steiner’s followers often react indignantly. Anthroposophists routinely claim that scholars who examine their movement are enemies of spirituality who have distorted Steiner’s ideas and misrepresented his teachings and falsified his true message. This is a standard response from esoteric groups, who often believe they have special access to higher forms of knowledge and react strongly against scholarly standards of critical inquiry.

    There isn’t anything wrong with anthroposophists praising the world-saving virtues of ‘social threefolding.’ It is simply an ahistorical approach to the topic, the usual evangelism of the True Believer. Leninists think that Leninism will save the world, Nazis think that Nazism will save the world, Scientologists think that Scientology will save the world. This sort of faith in the efficacy of one’s own preferred worldview is of little help in understanding its actual historical development.

    For readers interested in learning about anthroposophy, rather than confirming their previous beliefs about anthroposophy, there are many sources available. The same is true for those interested in learning about the historical background of the topics Steiner addressed. To choose one example that is evidently important to a number of anthroposophists, it is not difficult to find out what German ‘peace proposals’ meant in December 1916. Here are a range of useful sources that can help dispel a variety of widespread anthroposophical myths:

    Esther Caukin Brunauer, “The Peace Proposals of December, 1916 —January, 1917” Journal of Modern History 4 (1932), 544-71

    Konrad Jarausch, The Enigmatic Chancellor: Bethmann Hollweg and the Hubris of Imperial Germany (Yale University Press, 1973)

    Gerhard Ritter, The Sword and the Scepter: The Problem of Militarism in Germany (University of Miami Press, 1969)

    Gerald Feldman, German Imperialism, 1914-1918: The Development of a Historical Debate (New York: Wiley, 1972)

    L. L. Farrar, Divide and Conquer: German Efforts to Conclude a Separate Peace, 1914-1918 (Boulder: East European Monographs, 1978)

    Holger Herwig, The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary, 1914-1918 (London: Arnold, 1997)

    H.E. Goemans, War and Punishment: The Causes of War Termination and the First World War (Princeton University Press, 2000)

    Annika Mombauer, Helmuth von Moltke and the Origins of the First World War (Cambridge University Press, 2001)

    Mark Hewitson, Germany and the Causes of the First World War (Oxford: Berg, 2004)

    Roger Chickering, Imperial Germany and the Great War, 1914-1918 (Cambridge University Press, 2004)

    Isabel Hull, “Waging War, 1914-1916: Risk, Extremes, and Limits” in Hull, Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany (Cornell University Press, 2005), 199-225

    Jeffrey Smith, “The First World War and the Public Sphere in Germany” in Douglas Mackaman and Michael Mays, eds., World War I and the Cultures of Modernity (University Press of Mississippi, 2007), 68-80

    Wolfgang Steglich, Bündnissicherung oder Verständigungsfrieden. Untersuchungen zum Friedensangebot der Mittelmächte vom 12. Dezember 1916 (Göttingen: Musterschmidt, 1958)

    Karl-Heinz Janssen, Der Kanzler und der General: Die Führungskrise um Bethmann Hollweg und Falkenhayn (1914-1916) (Göttingen: Musterschmidt, 1967)

    Wolfgang Mommsen, “Die Regierung Bethmann Hollweg und die öffentliche Meinung 1914-1917” Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 17 (1969), 117-59

    Egmont Zechlin, “Probleme des Kriegskalküls und der Kriegsbeendigung im Ersten Weltkrieg” in Zechlin, Krieg und Kriegsrisiko: Zur deutschen Politik im Ersten Weltkrieg (Düsseldorf: Droste, 1979), 32-50

    Ernst-Albert Seils, Weltmachtstreben und Kampf für den Frieden: Der deutsche Reichstag im Ersten Weltkrieg (Frankfurt: Lang, 2011)

    Peter Staudenmaier

  22. Hello Peter,

    Trying again, writing as a skeptical critic of radical attempts to transform the existing social order.

    From my own researches, I have found no reference in Rudolf Steiner’s work to suggest that the Second German Empire was innocent in relation to starting the First World War.

    While your review article aligns anthroposophical endeavour with evolving politics and political thought in Germany, it makes only passing reference to the actual changes and conditions that were being experienced by the country’s population at that time. I suggest that this is the real alignment.

    I presume that you will be aware of published sources on these matters.

    David Clark

  23. Hi David,

    thanks for your comment. Steiner’s claim was not merely that the German Empire was innocent in relation to starting the First World War. He insisted that the German people as such was innocent in relation to starting the First World War, indeed that what he called the “German spirit” was innocent in relation to starting the First World War. He held that even Moltke, Chief of the German General Staff, was innocent in relation to starting the First World War. (Steiner was a sort of spiritual mentor to Moltke, and Moltke’s wife was one of Steiner’s followers.) According to Steiner and many other anthroposophists, Moltke was reluctantly pulled into a war he didn’t want. For Steiner, “Germany” and “das Deutschtum” itself bore no responsibility for the war. Steiner believed that the war was a conspiracy against Germany, planned decades ahead of time by occultist secret societies in England, France, and Russia, and that Germany was a victim of these machinations. He explains his perspective at length in his war-time lectures — many of which are still not available in published form — as well as in his post-war works. Some of the key texts are:

    Rudolf Steiner, Gedanken während der Zeit des Krieges (Berlin: Philosophisch-Anthroposophischer Verlag, 1915); Steiner, Die geistigen Hintergründe des Ersten Weltkrieges (Dornach 1974); Steiner, Aus schicksaltragender Zeit (Dornach 1959); Steiner, Zeitgeschichtliche Betrachtungen (Dornach 1978; revised edition 2011); and Steiner’s May 1919 essay “Die ‘Schuld’ am Kriege” in Rudolf Steiner, Aufsätze über die Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus und zur Zeitlage (Dornach 1961), 376-87. Other relevant texts endorsed and promoted by Steiner include Eliza von Moltke, Generaloberst Helmuth von Moltke – Erinnerungen, Briefe, Dokumente 1877–1916 (Stuttgart: Der Kommende Tag, 1922), and Karl Heise, Entente-Freimaurerei und Weltkrieg (Basel: Finckh, 1919).

    In addition to unfamiliarity with sources like these, many of Steiner’s admirers fundamentally misunderstand “the actual changes and conditions that were being experienced by the country’s population at that time.” Some of them believe, for example, that the various forms of council democracy proposed in Germany in the wake of the disastrous war were actually forms of Bolshevism and totalitarianism and akin to the Leninist model embodied by the Soviet Union. Not a few of them continue to believe that Germany was an innocent victim in World War I. These are exceedingly naive claims. The lack of any historical context and of even basic information about the topic means that many Steiner enthusiasts fail to comprehend his own statements. They thus thoroughly misunderstand what historians have to say on the matter.

    There are lots and lots of published sources that will help correct these misunderstandings. Here are some good places to start:

    Richard Bessel, Germany after the First World War (Oxford University Press, 1993)

    Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Culture of Defeat: On National Trauma, Mourning, and Recovery (Macmillan, 2004)

    Charles Maier, “The Vulnerabilities of Interwar Germany” Journal of Modern History 56 (1984), 89-99

    Detlev Peukert, The Weimar Republic: Crisis Of Classical Modernity (New York, 1993)

    Eric Weitz, Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy (Princeton University Press, 2009)

    F. L. Carsten, Revolution in Central Europe, 1918-1919 (University California Press, 1972)

    Annemarie Sammartino, The Impossible Border: Germany and the East 1914–1922 (Cornell University Press, 2010)

    Jeffrey Verhey, The Spirit of 1914: Militarism, Myth, and Mobilization in Germany (Cambridge University Press, 2006)

    Matthew Stibbe, Germany, 1914-1933: Politics, Society and Culture (Longman, 2010)

    Gerald Feldman, The Great Disorder: Politics, Economics, and Society in the German Inflation, 1914-1924 (Oxford University Press, 1997)

    Hans Mommsen, The Rise and Fall of Weimar Democracy (University of North Carolina Press, 1998)

    Eberhard Kolb, The Weimar Republic (Routledge, 2004)

    Dirk Schumann, Political Violence in the Weimar Republic, 1918-1933 (Berghahn, 2009)

    Jared Poley, Decolonization in Germany: Weimar Narratives of Colonial Loss and Foreign Occupation (Lang, 2007)

    Charles Maier, Recasting Bourgeois Europe: Stabilization in France, Germany and Italy in the Decade after World War I (Princeton University Press, 1975)

    Zara Steiner, The Triumph of the Dark: European International History 1933-1939 (Oxford University Press, 2011)

    Some sense of this historical context is crucial to understanding Steiner’s resentments about the war, the Versailles treaty, ‘Wilsonism,’ the League of Nations, democracy, the English, French, Russians, Americans, and so forth. Best,

    Peter Staudenmaier

  24. Hello Peter,

    Many thanks for taking the time to respond. Some thoughts. From my own reading, I am aware of threads that you mention. In some ways, I had understood Rudolf Steiner’s concerns with German culture (e.g. Goethe/Schiller) as an attempt to balance the “drift” (my word) in the Second Empire and Weimar. This could lead our exchange away from the theme, however.

    In deciding to make my initial comment, I was reflecting upon Rudolf Steiner’s published view about the Second Empire in “The Threefold Social Order”. There, he criticises public life in the Empire as a factor leading to the War. My reading of Rudolf Steiner and the recent work of historians suggests a degree of agreement on what I may call here a kind of “causal dynamic” (definitely my words).

    Rudolf Steiner’s concern about the climate of thought in the Second Empire favouring commercial expansion and economic development may perhaps be taken as a link with wider scholarship. In 1919, Steiner noted these ambitions as a contributing factor to the outbreak of War. More recently, this theme has been developed.

    For example recent work has explainined how the Second Empire’s growing imperial/naval ambitions were viewed by thew British Government as threatening its common sea frontier with Germany. Matters of geography, control of the North Sea and maritime communication lanes have been mentioned as influential.

    For me, this type of connection is personally challenging in many ways. Development of this picture requires a view of military/naval history, as well as a perspective upon economic and political circumstances in both the United Kingdom and Second Empire. Some of these intriguing maritime connections are outlined by Robert K. Massie in his reviews entitled “Dreadnought” and “Castles of Steel”, for example.

    Thank you for the references in Modern German History. They look very interesting. Clearly, my understanding of Rudolf Steiner’s position may differ somewhat from your own reading of circumstances at that time. From my reading, there was a great deal of propaganda about the inter-war revolutionary conditions in Germany. Like you, I am aware of the variegated possibilities that could not be realised.

    While I am wary of trespassing on the boundary of this exchange, I am reminded of the more recent background to German reunification. A big subject 🙂

    From my reading, I am aware of some background about Steiner’s comments concerning hidden intentions in the background of foreign policy. With a secular education, I am prompted to recall recent media controversies about “cover-ups”,”opportunism” and “spin” for example. Using my (“feverish”?) imagination, I wonder whether these themes are only a recent phenomenon of public life. Realistically, I would say “But where’s the evidence?”. Of course, there is actually a great deal but controversy and lack of trust still continues.

    In quite practical terms, I’m slightly wary about the weight given to references in the lectures. Taken as a historical record there may be a problem. Effectively we are eavesdroppers. In a sense we are behind the curtain (as was the stenographer for example), and do not know the context or who was there.

    Thank you once again for responding.

    David Clark

  25. Hi David,

    Thanks for your comment. As you know, the ISE website moderator has asked that this discussion not bog down the rest of the site, a request I find reasonable, and I would like to invite you once again to continue the exchange elsewhere. For now, here is a brief reply:

    Steiner’s claims about the war were not merely a matter of “hidden intentions” and such. He held that Germany was the victim of an occult conspiracy and that the war was foisted upon Germany by its enemies. Quite a few anthroposophists continue to believe this today. These beliefs are historically preposterous. They prevent Steiner’s admirers from making basic sense of the war and its aftermath.

    You refer to Steiner’s 1919 book as “The Threefold Social Order,” which is the title of a heavily abridged English version of the text. You can find a (much longer) full translation of the relevant chapter here:

    Among other things, it features Steiner insisting yet again that the German military leadership in 1914 simply had no choice and *had* to act as it did. This, he claims, is why the war was a “catastrophe” – Germany was not only forced into the conflict, it lost its rightful place in the world order. Hence his indignation at the Entente and the League of Nations and the Versailles Treaty and Wilson and so forth.

    Last, your reference to Steiner’s lectures as potentially unreliable makes little sense in this context; Steiner was more than happy to spell out his views very clearly in *texts*, not merely in lectures. His 1917 memoranda for the German and Austrian leadership, for example, are not only a major source for his teachings on ‘social threefolding’ but for his views on the war and on the proper contours of Europe. His post-war publications on Moltke are equally unambiguous. Even recently published texts reveal crucial facets of his outlook at the time; for example, in a previously unavailable text from 1917 published just last year, Steiner denounced “Western ‘democracy’” as “a syndicate for the suppression of true freedom”: see Rudolf Steiner, Zeitgeschichtliche Betrachtungen (Dornach, 2011) vol. III, 267.

    It should not be particularly difficult to find basic historical information on the war and its contexts. Here are some good places to start:

    Hans Gatzke, Germany’s Drive to the West: A study of Germany’s western war aims during the First World War (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1950)

    Joachim Remak, The Origins of World War I, 1871-1914 (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967)

    H. W. Koch, ed., The Origins of the First World War: Great Power Rivalry and German War Aims (London: Macmillan, 1972)

    Roland Stromberg, Redemption by War: The Intellectuals and 1914 (Regents Press of Kansas, 1982)

    Isabel Hull, The entourage of Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1888-1918 (Cambridge University Press, 1982)

    Dominic Lieven, Russia and the Origins of the First World War (Harvard University Press, 1983)

    Erich Hahn, “The German Foreign Ministry and the Question of War Guilt in 1918 – 1919” in Carole Fink, Isabel Hull, and MacGregor Knox, eds., German Nationalism and the European Response, 1890-1945 (University of Oklahoma Press, 1985), 43-70

    Samuel Williamson, Austria-Hungary and the Origins of the First World War (Bedford / St Martins, 1991)

    Arden Bucholz, Moltke, Schlieffen, and Prussian War Planning (Oxford: Berg, 1991)

    Volker Berghahn, Germany and the Approach of War in 1914 (St. Martins, 1993)

    Annika Mombauer, The Origins of the First World War: Controversies and consensus (Longman, 2002)

    Richard Hamilton and Holger Herwig, eds., The Origins of World War I (Cambridge University Press, 2003)

    Richard Hamilton and Holger Herwig, Decisions for War, 1914-1917 (Cambridge University Press, 2004)

    Jay Winter and Antoine Prost, The Great War in History: Debates and Controversies, 1914 to the Present (Cambridge University Press, 2005)

    Michael Nolan, The Inverted Mirror: Mythologizing the Enemy in France and Germany 1898-1914 (Berghahn, 2006)

    James Joll and Gordon Martel, The Origins of the First World War (Pearson Longman, 2007)

    William Mulligan, The Origins of the First World War (Cambridge University Press, 2010)

    Gerd Krumeich, “The War Imagined: 1890-1914” in John Horne, ed., A Companion to World War I (Blackwell, 2010), 4-18

    Michael Neiberg, Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I (Harvard University Press 2011)

    What make these issues of interest for social ecologists are not the inner workings of Steiner’s mind or the preferences of his followers or “media controversies” and so on. They are relevant because matters like the roots of global wars and the roots of social discontent and the potentials of revolution and democracy and freedom are central to understanding not just the last hundred years of history but the world around us today. Social ecologists are committed to changing that world, not to upholding an idealized image of the past. Best,

    Peter Staudenmaier

  26. Thank you for this article. I am a student of both anthroposophy and theosophy as well as having commitments to human rights, social and environmental justice. Initially I found the concept of social threefolding to be liberating, especiallyas a defense against the privatization of public space happening so quickly in the U.S. This article makes it clear that I have more research to do.

    In my exploration of anthroposophical literature I find few critical perspectives on Steiner’s work because it seems that many of his followers simply sing his praises rather than take up his ideas and see what can be carried forward and what needs to be cat off reshaped and transformed to fit our evolving experience of living. I find the author’s caution about the elitism of social threefolding and anthroposophy in general and (as a person of African descent) especially the mystical racism of the movment and theosophy as needed and important voices, in anthroposophical discourse and communities envisioning enlightened human social and economic forms.


  27. wow. i’ve never seen a better misrepresentation of social threefolding! “no democracy”? by the man who stressed the democratic impulses in human consciousness. no government supervison of economy? when steiner clearly writes that it s the state which must remove control of the means of manufacturing whenever they are controlled by incompetent or harmful persons or groups, and transfer it to the cultural sphere which will find new talented enterpreneurs, and that this should be practiced by the state in the public interest. “no democracy in economy” when the fundemental organizing body of the economy, i.e. ecomomic associations, is formed in local communities where producers and consumers meet and discuss together the best way to fulfill the need for goods in the market. and lastly, the claim that threefolding was opposed to worlers councils is in direct contradiction with steiners’s active support of the free independent developement of such councils in the revolutionary period at the end of the war in germany.

    poor rudolph, the nazis said he was a jewish thinker, self styled “liberals” draw him as a racist nationalist, here in israel the ultra-relifious claim antropsiphy is a christian cult but in germany he was opposed by the church… i’d say he was simply one of the most misunderstood persons in history (next to christ i would say) and that goes to show something about those doing the misunderstanding

  28. Thanks to Ramon and Ishai for their comments. Ramon’s thoughtful remarks show that it is possible to take a sympathetic approach to Steiner’s ideas without abandoning critical reflection. Ishai’s comment is more representative of the familiar mindset among Steiner’s followers.

    Uncritical admirers of Steiner routinely complain that he has been misrepresented. Oblivious to the origins of their movement, they project their own hopes and wishes onto the protean figure of Rudolf Steiner and are taken aback when others point out that this is a mistake. Steiner’s attitude toward democracy is a typical example. He was entirely explicit and quite emphatic in rejecting democracy in the economic sphere, yet many of his followers are completely unaware of this aspect of his work.

    Unfamiliarity with Steiner’s actual teachings often goes hand in hand with an inflated sense of his historical significance – “one of the most misunderstood persons in history” is a common refrain in anthroposophist and ‘threefolding’ circles. The same is true, unfortunately, for his racial and ethnic doctrines. The racist and antisemitic strands in anthroposophy will not disappear simply because Steiner enthusiasts like some of his ideas about economics. If his admirers want to take a responsible approach to Steiner, it will mean coming to terms with the less appealing facets of his thought.

    Ishai’s comment nonetheless raises a noteworthy issue for those interested in alternative economic models. Outside of the circle of Steiner’s followers, there are any number of other people who believe that “control of the means of manufacturing” belongs in the hands of “new talented entrepreneurs” and that this “should be practiced by the state in the public interest.” Many of them believe that “the fundamental organizing body of the economy” ought to be “economic associations” formed in “local communities where producers and consumers meet and discuss together the best way to fulfill the need for goods in the market.”

    These beliefs sound like they offer an alternative to capitalism and state socialism, and there is no shortage of people who find such beliefs alluring. From a social ecologist perspective, however, these notions merely recycle failed myths of local autarky and a benign market and a benevolent state acting in the public interest. Such myths provide no alternative to the basic structures of capitalism or state socialism, instead dressing up these structures in more agreeable trappings without changing their underlying form. That is why Steiner’s teachings are historically congruent with the similarly feckless proposals of Henry George, C.H. Douglas, and Silvio Gesell, and why these ideas offer no real alternative for those committed to fundamental economic transformation as part of a directly democratic society.

    Peter Staudenmaier

  29. I would agree with others who have said Staudenmaier provides perhaps the best misrepresentation (i.e., the worst representation) of Steiner’s social ideas available.

    Staudenmaier gives the false impression that Steiner was not a strong supporter of democracy. He does this in a few ways:

    1. Staudenmaier does not to mention Steiner’s quite clear and unequivocal statement, in his primary work on social life, that the proper structure for government today is democracy. Instead, Staudenmaier misleads readers into the notion that Steiner had a very ambivalent relation to democracy. Staudenmaier does this by quoting Steiner out-of-context, when he is speaking not about the general rule, but only about particular situations.

    2. Staudenmaier tells us that Steiner does not support democracy in the cultural realm of religion, media, art, and science. But does anyone in his right mind think we should VOTE on what newspapers, religions, music, art, scientific theories, shall be legal? Perhaps Staudenmaier does, to judge by the way he writes above, as if Steiner’s position were something to be worried about. I personally find it very reassuring that Steiner supports individual freedom, not majority control (democracy), in religion, media, science, art. Staudenmaier however, rather than making this clear, merely says that Steiner is against democracy in culture, so that some readers will get the impression that Steiner — being “against democracy” — is some kind of would-be dictator. The reader is supposed to start smelling something bad around Steiner, apparently.

    3. Staudenmaier tells us that Steiner was against democracy in economic life, and basically just a supporter of some more or less unrecontructed right-wing capitalism with a human face. This, again, is misleading. The more balanced assessment will note that those on the left and right make opposite accusations against Steiner’s economics. The Left says it’s really just right wing capitalism with a human face put on it. Meanwhile, those on the Right claim Steiner’s a communist. For those who wish to approach Steiner on his own terms, and without pre-existing left or right biases, Steiner’s economics can be summed up most simply as “uncoerced, non-statist, freely-contractual cooperation (rather than conventional competitive capitalism).” The rest for Steiner was flexible detail, to be adapted to specific circumstances, and to evolve and change with the changing needs of history.

    As there are 350 volumes of Steiner’s work — an accurate assessment must go to the spirit and intent, the main thrusts or trends in the material, rather than seeking to support one’s own biases by quoting one or another side statement Steiner made in some specialized, casual, or loose context.

    4. Staudenmaier tries to create the impression that Steiner flirted with fascism and anti-Semitism, and that he was a nationalist hyper-German. This again is false. Steiner was very clearly anti-fascist. Hitler spoke hatefully of Steiner in a proto-Nazi newspaper, referring to Steiner or his works as Jewish. The New York Times published an article reporting on how proto-Nazis rushed a stage where Steiner was speaking. I’ve read more than a hundred volumes of Steiner’s work, my family is half Jewish, and none of the 100 plus volumes I’ve read of Steiner gives any indication that Steiner was an anti-Semite. Neither do the dozen or so introductory volumes I’ve read about anthroposophy have any hint of anti-Semitism. In this regard, and also with regard to nationalism, which Staudenmaier misleadingly over-emphasizes in Steiner, Steiner once made a statement whose fundamental meaning — if one thoroughly considers the context — was against nationalism (Steiner considered nationalism pre-Christian and anti-Christian, and in Steiner’s view, Christ was the pivot and meaning of earthly and cosmic evolution). In the statement I refer to, Steiner said the Jews should not create a state for themselves (Israel, of course, did not yet exist). Steiner meant that they — like other nationalisms — should not form states, and should gradually disappear as nationalities. This disappearance should happen by a mingling of peoples. This statement was made before the Holocaust, and Steiner would never have used the same words after the Holocaust, since obviously such words about a “disappearance” of a nationality could be quoted out of context by liars who wish to make people think that Steiner believed in Nazism or barbarisms like the “Final Solution.”

    Steiner considered the Nazis barbarians. He believed the Leninists, if allowed to go on ruling any part of the earth, would be the gravediggers of civilization. In his most formal statement about social order, Steiner clearly and unequivocally supported political democracy and freedom of speech, religion, press, and culture. He rejected both right and left varieties of totalitarianism. In creating a different impression, I think Staudenmaier does a grave injustice to Steiner. Staudenmaier’s use of copious footnotes shows one cannot always count on such trappings, since a pile of footnotes, no matter how large, cannot make a wrong perspective correct. Neither can random quotes taken out of the whole context of Steiner’s work. Steiner’s work should indeed be critically evaluated, but only on the basis of awareness with what Steiner clearly meant and its spirit and intent, not on the basis of a presentation skewed to support a false impression.

  30. Hi Edward,

    Thanks for your comment. You wrote:

    “none of the 100 plus volumes I’ve read of Steiner gives any indication that Steiner was an anti-Semite.”

    That isn’t surprising. Many anthroposophists are completely unaware of this facet of Steiner’s teachings. If you’d like to learn more, here are some places to start:

    The same is true for Steiner’s racial teachings in general; like you, many anthroposophists are unfamiliar with them. That makes it hard to comprehend his work.

    I’m not sure what to make of your complaints about the ‘social threefolding’ article; as far as I can tell, you seem to have misunderstood it. The article points out that Steiner rejected democracy in the cultural and economic spheres. You do not contest this claim; you confirm it. Like Steiner, you find something disconcerting about extending democratic principles to the cultural and economic spheres. Social ecologists do not share this view, to put it gently.

    Aside from that, the notion that anthroposophists somehow have special access to Steiner’s “spirit and intent” is quite foolish. Until you examine that peculiar belief, it will be difficult for you and your fellow anthroposophists to make even minimal sense of what Steiner actually taught.

    If you’d like to discuss his teachings further, this isn’t the best forum, but there are other options available. In light of your Waldorf background, one of the more appropriate choices can be found here:

    I encourage you to join the conversation there. Best,

    Peter Staudenmaier

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