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Why is Steiner so hard to read?

To answer this question it is helpful to distinguish between Steiner’s written works and his lectures, and among the lectures between those given to a general audience, and those given to Theosophists. The public lectures are actually the easiest to read. The books are difficult because of the philospical language (think Hegel or Kant, both of whom Steiner read extensively). The Theosophical lectures have their own special problems: Theosophy.

An important aspect to critical examination of Rudolf Steiner’s Theosophical lectures includes the fact that, as Steiner himself noted, most of these were members-only lectures which presuppose an extensive familiarity with Steiner’s vocabulary, conceptual framework, and mode of thought. Initial distribution of the printed copies of Steiner’s private lectures was limited to card-carrying members of the Theosophical (later Anthroposophical) Society. This indicates Steiner was quite aware that a superficial and uninformed reading of these volumes would likely result in confusion and misunderstanding, as well as mischaracterization of their contents. In the early 1920s in the interests of openness, and in response to the fact that the volumes were already circulating widely beyond the membership of the Anthroposophical Society, Steiner proposed dropping the members only restriction, but inserting a disclaimer which reads in part,

“The right to judge [these private lectures] can, of course, be granted only to those who have the prerequisite foundation for such a judgment. And in terms of most of that material, this would mean at least knowing that the human being and the cosmos of it as they have been presented in the light of anthroposophy." (Steiner Autobiography)

This was done, and about 150 different volumes of private lectures have been sold to the public since then. Steiner remains obscure in part because of how impenetrable these volumes are to those not as thoroughly familiar with his basic thought as was the audience at the time they were given, despite their often fascinating titles. The same barrier exists for a thorough and critical academic examination of Steiner’s thought and its development. An examination of random phrases and sentences pulled out of context is insufficient material for understanding his views on complex subjects. A more comprehensive reading as well as a contextual background is necessary before claiming a complete understanding of his position. This is particularly the case in trying to understand the relationship of race and ‘Root Race’ in Steiner’s work.

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