Monthly Archives: January 2018

Anthroposophy and the Twilight of Culture

A regular correspondent to this blog, Steve Hale from the USA, has forwarded to me an article which appeared in the British communist daily newspaper, the Morning Star, on December 7th 2017. The article, under the byline of one Peter Frost, highlights events at the Rudolf Steiner School, Kings Langley (RSSKL), which has been threatened with de-registration by Ofsted.

Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) is the non-ministerial government department in England which inspects and regulates schools, including independent schools. The de-registration of a school is a serious matter, because it means in effect that it is no longer lawful to run that school. RSSKL is currently appealing against the de-registration verdict of Ofsted, citing the drastic changes it has put in place to deal with the shortcomings identified by the Ofsted inspectors. The final verdict is not yet in but we shall no doubt hear before too long as to whether the school has done enough to cause Ofsted to withdraw its de-registration order.

I worked at RSSKL up until 2014 and know some of the people concerned. I don’t wish to add any comment about that school’s particular difficulties, except that I very much hope they can turn the situation around. They have strong support from their parent and pupil bodies, which should stand them in good stead if the school is able to get past this immediate crisis. But the RSSKL problems, although in an extreme form, are emblematic of the problems that many other anthroposophical institutions are experiencing nowadays. Let us quote Peter Selg here:

“…it is quite obvious that most of the anthroposophic institutions (…) including Waldorf schools and curative education homes, and also individual clinics and one anthroposophic medicine producer, are currently facing existential crises. And these crises are not primarily or exclusively financial in nature, but concern their spiritual substance and inner identity, their spirit and what they see as their task; that is, their unique contribution to our culture. Many anthroposophic institutions have hardly any anthroposophists left working in them any longer, or even people who have a real interest in anthroposophy, or who work on the basis of the anthroposophic understanding of the human being. It cannot be ignored that many places have only retained the name that bears such promise, without being able or wanting to honour the expectations associated with it – a situation that leads to the misrepresentation of facts, and in reality damages the standing of anthroposophy.” 1

To return to the Morning Star article, the author lists not only Waldorf education but all the other topics employed by critics to attack Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy. There is nothing original in what he says but I encourage you to read the article for yourself, so as to get the full flavour.

There are all sorts of comments one could make about this. Frost gets some of the details wrong, and I would bet that he has never actually read any Steiner for himself, relying instead on the extensive online criticism of Steiner and Waldorf for the main thrust of his attack. One might add that communists have never liked Steiner, right from the time when he was lecturing to the workers at the Berlin Workers’ School and refused to amend his lectures to suit the party line. Indeed, Steiner was very scathing about both Lenin and Trotsky, whom he described as “the gravediggers of modern civilisation, of whom it may be said that, if their rule continues too long, even in a few places, it will signify the death of modern civilisation and must of necessity lead to the destruction of all the attainments of modern civilisation.” 2 Steiner was of course equally scathing about the Nazis.

But in a way, all this is beside the point. The critics hurl their accusations and the anthroposophists, on the whole, do nothing about it. Thus the critics make all the running in the online debate, and so it is their views which largely influence public perceptions of Steiner, Waldorf and anthroposophy. The critics just need to say: Steiner was a racist, then add in an apparently outrageous quotation and that’s it; job done. Any anthroposophists who wish to put an alternative perspective then need to write reams of explanation and justification, setting the context and making their involved and detailed case, but they are in fact just wasting their time – the simpler one-line message of the critics is what achieves cut-through with the public, who will never have read any of Steiner before and certainly don’t intend to start reading wordy justifications from anthroposophists now. No, they’ve got the message – Steiner was a racist. If they know nothing else about Steiner, this is what they know.

But of course they actually know nothing about Steiner, or about anthroposophy, or the true nature of what it means to be a human being. Does this matter? Does it matter if the adversarial powers have it all their own way and can convince most people that physical, material existence is the only reality?

I used to think that it mattered. It used to upset me greatly that Steiner is so traduced and willfully misunderstood. It also upsets me that certain schools, through weakness and sheer mismanagement, give the critics such ammunition to attack Steiner and Waldorf. But, sadly, it is futile to look to Dornach or the national anthroposophical societies to respond, or to make any effort whatsoever to defend Steiner. I know – I’ve tried. After meetings with some members of the Vorstand and several European general secretaries, in London, Vienna and Dornach, it’s clear that nothing of substance is going to be done. (I except the British general secretary, Marjatta van Boeschoten, from this criticism, because she and I tried very hard to make the case for Dornach to create a media unit for the purpose, among other things, of presenting an alternative view to that of the critics.)

This experience with Dornach made me remember something that Steiner said, (the source of which, annoyingly, I can’t now find), ie that in his next incarnation he may find himself having to work against the Anthroposophical Society. One recognises the good things that the Society does, but defence of Steiner and anthroposophy should be part of their core purpose, and at present it doesn’t appear to be a priority.

The late Sergei Prokofieff made the point: “When anthroposophists encounter (…) these lies – many of which (…) have become common worldwide – and do not stand up against them with courage and decisiveness, then, whether they wish to or not, these anthroposophists work together with the opponents towards the destruction of anthroposophy. (…) ‘If (…) in response to the opposition nothing is done, then the mission of anthroposophy will fail’, said Rudolf Steiner. And if, especially at the Goetheanum in Dornach, not enough is done in this direction, then the process of annihilation and disintegration will be yet further accelerated.” 3

As I say, I used to think it mattered. Nowadays, I’m not only tired of the laissez-faire attitude of many anthroposophists to the critics but I’m also weary of futile arguments with Steiner’s opponents. But even so, I can’t resist one little sally: in Peter Frost’s article, he accuses Steiner of “weird ideas about almost everything (…) even the lost continent of Atlantis.”

Well, yes, Peter, I’m sure many of Steiner’s ideas do sound weird within the newsroom of the Morning Star, and also within many other contemporary citadels of culture – but that doesn’t mean that he was wrong. Steiner as an initiate and highly developed clairvoyant was able to research these matters and in a lecture given on March 7th 1909 in Munich, he spoke extensively of what he had discovered. You can read the whole lecture for yourself, but what I would like to focus on here is the comparison Steiner draws between the Atlantean catastrophe and our situation today.

When it became clear that the submergence of Atlantis was unavoidable, a person Steiner calls the Initiate of the Sun Oracle sent out a call to gather together a group of Atlanteans who would survive the cataclysm and gradually establish the post-Atlantean cultures, ie the ancient Indian, Persian, Egypto-Babylonian-Hebraic and Graeco-Roman cultures. But Steiner says that the leader assembled the most simple and despised people in Atlantis, because those who were then at the highest level of cultural life were not suitable material to be led through and beyond the great Atlantean catastrophe. And here is what is really interesting and relevant for our present-day situation:

“(…) a similar call is once again going out to humanity. To be sure, this appeal is what is appropriate for today, a time when humanity sees only what is in the physical world. (…) As with Atlantis, a catastrophe will occur, and afterwards a new culture imbued with spiritual capacities will arise, and it will be linked to what we call the idea of the universal brotherhood of humanity.

But today, as in Atlantean times, the call cannot go out to those who stand at the highest levels of cultural life because they will not understand. The Atlantean clairvoyants and magicians, who were in a way destined to die out with their culture, occupied a position similar to that of people in contemporary life who occupy the highest positions in the realms of scholarship and external industrial life – the great inventors and discoverers of our time. No matter how much the present leaders feel there is still to be done, they nevertheless occupy the same position as their Atlantean counterparts. Contemptuously they look down on those who are beginning to feel something of the spiritual life to come. (…) When leading representatives of modern culture look contemptuously down at these small circles, those who are participating diligently in the preparation of future conditions must say to themselves that the intellectual giants of today cannot be counted on to lead the way in this task. It is precisely the people who are held in contempt because they are not considered to have reached the heights of contemporary erudtion who are being assembled today, just as the leader of the Sun Oracle once gathered around him the simple people of Atlantis. These disdained people are being assembled to prepare the dawn of a new culture whereas erudition of the modern form will bring about the twilight of our culture. This is mentioned in passing to fortify those who have to endure and hold their own against the attacks of the people who consider themselves to be on the cutting edge of contemporary culture.”

And actually, I’m not surprised that so many people find all of this outlandish, bizarre and beyond anything they wish to engage with. That’s because they are so caught up in materialism, that it is impossible for them to understand how human beings can and must free themselves in future from this confinement in the corporeal. It’s because they are imprisoned within their sense-bound thinking and cannot conceive of the possibility that within themselves they possess inner organs that will at a future time perceive the psychic and spiritual within nature and within the human being. So – until you are able to wake up – mock on, good people, while unbeknown to you the shoots of the new culture are quietly sprouting all around you.

 

1 From the foreword to “Rudolf Steiner’s Intentions for the Anthroposophical Society” by Peter Selg, published by Steiner Books (2011). ISBN: 978-0-88010-738-9

2 from Lecture 1 of the series “The Social Future”, given in Zurich in October 1919.

 3 from page 102 of “Crisis in the Anthroposophical Society” by Sergei O. Prokofieff and Peter Selg, published by Temple Lodge (2013). ISBN: 978 1 906999 43 8

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