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Responding to the WC III

Another poster that has been looking at my writing is someone who signs their work "Barnaby". Before I get into the detailed points that Barnaby makes, I would like to comment on the character of his post. Barnaby takes a mildly derisive stance in his comments, weaving just a few facts into a ringing indictment of my logic. This is classic polemic, delivered WC style. And as usual, it is based on a few illogical assumptions and an incomplete understanding of the basic facts.

Barnaby writes:

"I’d like to ask about völkisch conceptions of race and culture. Daniel Hindes, shining paladin of anthroposophy, writes on his website:

Steiner considered the term "Sub-Race" to be misleading since it implied a racial character to cultural development, so he renamed the time periods "Cultural Epochs".

Note the unnecessary "shining paladin of anthroposophy". Barnaby shows just how inbred the "Waldorf Critics" are; identifying someone as an anthroposophist – especially with a verbal flourish – is the first step to dismissing their entire argument.

I think he might be projecting his modern understanding of ‘race’ and ‘culture’ onto Steiner.

So this is the actual thesis, and a point that can be discussed. What is the meaning of ‘race’ and ‘culture’, today and in the past? Have they changed? How did Steiner understand the terms? Are we today misunderstanding Steiner when we bring modern assumptions of the possible meanings of these words to Steiner’s century-old texts?

In actual fact, the thesis (that Hindes is mistaken in claiming Steiner saw a difference between cultural development and racial evolution) has not yet been developed by Barnaby at all; at the end of his post he asks for help proving it. Typical of so-calledWaldorf Critics, Barnaby has his conclusion finished before he has even started his research!

Hindes, who ‘… has been systematically studying the works of Rudolf Steiner for over a decade’ also bizarrely claims that he never took a German nationalist stance:

The problematic noun-pronoun agreement notwithstanding (I assume Barnaby is not implying that Hindes takes a German nationalist stance) Barnaby is setting up his polemical argument. Hindes, who ought to know better if he has really studied Steiner for over a decade, seems to have missed something important. Here comes the fact that is to show Hindes’ ignorance, a fact so basic that any so-called scholar of Steiner ought to immediately know it:

How Steiner managed to write for and edit pan-Germanist journals without being a German nationalist is beyond me.

So here is the actual fact in question: what to make of Steiner’s editing of journals that, before Steiner’s involvement, was known to be pan-Germanist. Does this automatically mean that Steiner must have been a German nationalist, as Barnaby considers proven by the mere fact that Steiner was published in a specific forum?

Evidently Hindes’ systematic study hasn’t reached GA 31 and 32 yet, which contains Steiner’s writings from the Deutche Wochenschrift, a journal devoted to the ‘the pan-German cause in Austria’. See Staudenmaier and Zegers’ ‘Anthroposophy and its Defenders’:

With a polemical flourish, Hindes is dismissed for both failing to get to GA31 and GA32, and for failing to note that this was pointed out in an article called "Anthroposophy and its Defenders" by no less than Peter Staudenmaier and Peter Zegers. How Hindes could write a 60-page rebuttal to one Staudenmaier article and not be aware of Staudenmaier’s follow-up is not discussed. Further, since Barnaby admits he can’t read German, and GA’s 31 and 32 have never been published in English, Barnaby can’t possibly have investigated for himself what is actually written there, but this won’t stop him from snidely dismissing those who have.

First, Staudenmaier’s track record for accuracy in the one article that I did thoroughly review is absolutely abysmal. So relying uncritically on anything Staudenmaier writes about Steiner would be a mistake. If we look at Staudenmaier’s claims, it is indeed yet another litany of malfeasance of which Steiner is accused. And like the first article, Anthroposophy and Ecofascism, if the claims were established, it would leave Steiner a greatly diminished figure indeed. However, it is mostly fiction, spun heavily.

A few basic facts. Steiner edited and wrote for a journal known for its pan-German slant. When Steiner took over informally as editor (the point at which he started writing) he essentially co-opted it for his own purposes. In fact, the new direction was so unsuccessful that the journal folded in six months, and Steiner was involved in a lawsuit over its demise. Basically, Steiner was not writing pan-German nationalist articles, and this alienated the readership. The articles themselves are reprinted in GA31 and GA32, but Staudenmaier does his usual hatchet job misrepresenting their contents. If I ever have time I will translate them. However, the are decidedly not the pan-Germanist propaganda that Staudenmaier, using only the titles as evidence, makes them out to be. Those in doubt are encouraged to read the actual articles in question and decide for themselves.

Steiner’s concept of race owes a great debt to völkisch pan-Germanists.

This claim of Barnaby’s, I should point out, is not backed by anything. It is simply an assumption. I would consider the Waldorf Critics to be making useful contributions to Steiner scholarship and criticism if they were to write articles attempting to establish such points rather than simply take them as assumptions. Steiner’s concept of race and its historical context would indeed be an interesting topic to explore. I would suggest starting with Steiner’s writings on the subject. Then check the pan-Germanists, and compare. Perhaps the thesis will stand, as Barnaby so blithely assumes. Perhaps it will fall. But work through the source material before making up your mind!

I’d like to know what *they* meant by ‘race’ and ‘culture’, and what they thought was the relationship between the two. I suspect they, and consequently Steiner, believed that culture was determined by race. If that’s true then Hindes’ argument, and the related argument that Waldorf students learn about different cultures rather than racial-spiritual evolution in their lessons on Egyptians, Hebrews and so on, is nonsense.

Note the error of logic; once it is assumed that Steiner’s concept of race is the same as the pan-Germanists, then whatever can be attributed to the pan-Germanists automatically transfers to Steiner. That the two may actually have different views on race is overlooked. It is this type of sideways attack that Waldorf Critics are forced to rely on, since there is no real direct approach.

Here is the tie-in to Waldorf education. Should it be demonstrated that Steiner adopted a völkish pan-Germanist understanding of joint racial-cultural evolution, then it could conceivably be established that Waldorf schools are teaching racism instead of cultural history. However, even this does not necessarily follow logically; hypothetically, were Steiner to be proven a völkisch pan-Germanists in racial assumptions (whatever exactly is meant by these terms) it does not necessarily follow that thousands of classroom teachers today are imparting völkisch pan-Germanists in racial assumptions when the individually prepare and then present their blocks on, say, the Hebrews. Further, it does not follow logically that, in learning about different cultures in various classes, students are being indoctrinated in racial-spiritual evolution. Sometimes learning about a culture is simply learning about a culture. Only on the WC is it a sinister plot to impart century-old racist assumptions.

In actual fact, the material showing that Steiner did not believe that culture was determined by race has been posted online by several people. Consult:

And also my footnotes on my Root Races page:

“When people speak of races today they do so in a way that is no longer quite correct; in theosophical literature, too, great mistakes are made on this subject … Even in regard to present humanity, for example, it no longer makes sense to speak simply of the development of races. In the true sense of the word this development of the races applies only to the Atlantean epoch … thus everything that exists today in connection with the [different] races are relics of the differentiation that took place in Atlantean times. We can still speak of races, but only in the sense that the real concept of race is losing its validity."

Steiner, Rudolf. Universe, Earth and Man (GA 105), London 1987, lecture of 16 August 1908.

“For this reason we speak of ages of culture in contra-distinction to races. All that is connected with the idea of race is still a relic of the epoch preceding our own, namely the Atlantean. We are now living in the period of cultural ages … Today the idea of culture has superseded the idea of race. Hence we speak of the ancient Indian culture, of which the culture announced to us in the Vedas is only an echo. The ancient and sacred Indian culture was the first dawn of post-Atlantean civilization; it followed immediately upon the Atlantean epoch.”

Steiner, Rudolf. The Apocalypse of St John (GA 104), London 1977, lecture of 20 June 1908.

Explaining the issue at length in 1909, when he was still the General Secretary of the German section of the Theosophical Society in Germany, Steiner said:

”If we go back beyond the Atlantean catastrophe, we see how human races were prepared. In the ancient Atlantean age, human beings were grouped according to external bodily characteristics even more so than in our time. The races we distinguish today are merely vestiges of these significant differences between human beings in ancient Atlantis. The concept of races I only fully applicable to Atlantis. Because we are dealing with the real evolution of humanity, we [theosophists] have therefore never used this concept of race in its original meaning. Thus, we do not speak of an Indian race, a Persian race, and so on, because it is no longer true or proper to do so. Instead, we speak of an Indian, a Persian, and other periods of civilization. And it would make no sense at all to say that in our time a sixth "race" is being prepared. Though remnants of ancient Atlantean differences, of ancient Atlantean group-soulness, still exist and the division into races is still in effect, what is being prepared for the sixth epoch is precisely the stripping away of race. That is essentially what is happening.

"Therefore, in its fundamental nature, the anthroposophical movement, which is to prepare the sixth period, must cast aside the division into races. It must seek to unite people of all races and nations, and to bridge the divisions and differences between various groups of people. The old point of view of race has physical character, but what will prevail in the future will have a more spiritual character.

"That is why it is absolutely essential to understand that our anthroposophical movement is a spiritual one. It looks to the spirit and overcomes the effects of physical differences through the force of being a spiritual movement. Of course, any movement has its childhood illnesses, so to speak. Consequently, in the beginning of the theosophical movement the earth was divided into seven periods of time, one for each of the seven root races, and each of these root races was divided into seven sub-races. These seven periods were said to repeat in a cycle so that one could always speak of seven races and seven sub-races. However, we must get beyond the illness of childhood and clearly understand that the concept of race has ceased to have any meaning in our time."

Rudolf Steiner. The Universal Human: The Evolution of Individuality. New York: Anthroposophic Press, 1990. Pages 12-13. Lecture of December 4th, 1909.

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