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Some thoughts on how to define ‘Anthroposophist’

Some thoughts on how to define ‘Anthroposophist’ 

The case of Rudolf Hess raises the question of what constitutes an Anthroposophist. The first point is to consider who is applying the term and what they hope to accomplish with this. In the case of polemical authors attempting to tarnish the Anthroposophical movement as a whole by the actions of a few individuals, an excessively broad definition will serve well. Such a broad definition might define as an Anthroposophist as anyone who finds value in Steiner’s work. This definition is overly broad since it would include many people who might disagree with Steiner in many areas despite finding his work valuable in some contexts. Defining as an Anthroposophist anyone who is a consumer of the practical results of Rudolf Steiner‘s spiritual insights is also overly broad, as it includes anyone who regularly buys Demeter brand produce or Waleda and Dr. Hauschka brand cosmetics, as well as all Waldorf parents and anyone who happens to be treated in an Anthroposophical clinic. Even if their patronage of these practical results borders on fanatical, as in the case of Rudolf Hess, I don’t feel that this is sufficient to consider them an Anthroposophist.

To me an Anthroposophist is, at the very least, someone who studies Steiner’s work actively. But even this is not a final definition, for a number of very hostile critics arguably also fit this criterion. Whether or not a person is an Anthroposophist is as much a question of inner attitude towards Steiner’s work as it is whether or not they actively studiy it. If the reader feels a sort of warm enthusiasm when they read Steiner, then they are part of the way to meeting my definition.

Another way of approaching the question would be to ask, “Who would Anthroposophists recognizes their own?” Those who qualify would be those who in general accept the greater portion of Rudolf Steiner’s teachings, or at least are among those who don’t actively reject significant portions of it. This disqualifies those who pick and choose and make their own philosophy of racial superiority out of bits and pieces of Rudolf Steiner’s work, for in doing this they reject Steiner’s central principles. This also disqualifies those who go through a shorter or longer phase of their life in which they are enthusiastic supporters of Anthroposophy only to reject it later, either from neglect or by actively turning against it. These can be said to have had an anthroposophical phase in their life, but the description ‘Anthroposophist’ cannot be applied to describe their life as a whole. This excludes Max Seiling and Gregor Schwartz-Bostunitsch, among others from the ranks of “Anthroposophists”.
We have a clear and solid definition of an Anthroposophist if we limit ourselves to those students of Steiner who have exhibited an enthusiastic support for the whole (and not just a part of) Anthroposophy and Rudolf Steiner’s teaching from the moment they accept them up to the end of their life.

By this definition the list of historically tainted personalities becomes much shorter. Rudolf Hess is not an Anthroposophist. Ernst Uhli still qualifies, and I have to examine the facts upon which he is supposed to be a racist and Nazi more closely. I should also note that if we focus only on the small circle of personalities who are guilty of the historical sin of supporting aspects of National Socialism during their lifetimes and neglect to look at the anthroposophical movement as a whole during that time period we will build a distorted picture. Looking at just a few examples could misleadingly create the impression that there was widespread and enthusiastic support for Nazism among Anthroposophists. In reality the vast majority of Anthroposophists deplored the developments in Germany under Hitler’s regime. This was the regime, after all, which banned the Anthroposophical movement and seized all its assets in 1935.

Daniel Hindes
March 21st, 2004

Note: I have put an updated version of this essay on the site Defending Steiner, at:

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