Category Archives: Staudenmaier

The surpassing strangeness of Rudolf Steiner

What a hornets’ nest one brings about one’s ears when trying to write honestly and rationally about Rudolf Steiner and some of the more difficult issues of interpretation concerning his speeches and writings.

When in my last posting on this blog I suggested that Steiner was not seen at his best in the comments he made on French language and culture during his meetings with the teachers at the first Waldorf school, this provoked reactions all round among both pro- and anti-Steiner factions. Some of the pro-Steiner people adopted a tone of regret that I had been so naïve as to go into such troubled territory. One commenter said: “He (Steiner) gives his usual thorough attention to the concern of switching from French to Russian.  The remark in question, concerning the transplanting of the black race into Europe, is being misunderstood.  Unfortunately, it is Jeremy that is instigating it as an indication of Steiner’s racial prejudice”.

Of the anti-Steiner people, Tom Mellett was gleeful to see that there were one or two anthroposophists who were prepared to acknowledge that Rudolf Steiner was a fallible human being as well as a high initiate, while struggling to conceal his relish that there was dissension in the Steiner camp. The real attitude of the antis, however, was displayed by their intellectual guru, Peter Staudenmaier, who commented: “When the denizens of the more clueless corners of the English-speaking anthroposophical world profess themselves shocked, shocked! at discovering some rebarbative passage by Steiner, they have no idea how much else they are missing. Until they learn more about what their founder actually taught, it will be hard for them to make basic sense of their own ideological inheritance”.

Well, mote and beam, Staudi, mote and beam. Though I have in the past expressed gratitude to him for his genuinely useful work in bringing little-known (to me, at least) information about the history of anthroposophy and anthroposophists, Staudi’s weakness is that he does not seem able to move beyond his antipathy towards Steiner so as to see the man as a rounded whole, in his greatness, his strangeness and his humanness.

Add to this Staudi’s unfortunate habit of treating anthroposophists with contempt and scorn when they do not know or agree with everything he knows or thinks he knows, and we end up with very little chance of a reasonable dialogue – which is quite a missed opportunity.

I wonder why it is so difficult for people to take on board the fact that Steiner was not only a remarkable phenomenon, a truly great man with a huge range of achievements but also a human being, which by definition implies fallibility? Human beings are dualities, as Steiner himself taught; that is to say, each one of us has a light side and a dark side. Why is there such a need, among both pro- and anti-factions, for Steiner to have been a perfect human being, incapable of error? Is it an impossible paradox that someone, whose formative years were in the latter part of the 19th century in Central Europe and whose main work was in the early years of the 20th century, should be at one and the same time not only a high initiate with access to extraordinary knowledge and wisdom but also a man of his time, with some of the attitudes of his age and nation?


Marie and Rudolf Steiner

I don’t agree with those anthroposophists who engage in all sorts of casuistry to demonstrate that Steiner didn’t have any racism in his outlook. I do agree with Dr Adrian Anderson, who in his paper Opponents and Critics: Criticism of Steiner and Anthroposophy, says the following:

“… Anyone who can discern the spiritual integrity of Steiner, as evidenced in his teachings on ethics and spirituality, is aware that he was certainly not a person who harbours dislike, and encourages hostility of, people based on their racial characteristics. Those who study Steiner carefully, encounter ideas which have a profoundly spiritual nature. But this argument is of little weight with those who cannot, or do not want to, see the integrity of Steiner.

For example Steiner mentioned, in what amounts to a direct and total breach of modern anti-racism criteria, that the colour of the skin itself is an expression of various etheric and astral energies, and that these give a specific tone to the way the human mind manifests. It is true that when he was talking about this, he emphasised that the worthiness of the human being itself, of any racial origin, is not the theme, and is not being assessed in his lecture. But despite these words, any person today in assessing Steiner’s works against the modern definition of racism, has no option other than to conclude that they are to be defined today as racist; for logically viewed, this is simply the fact of the matter. And students of Steiner need to note this fact well”.

As I said in the previous posting, readers today need to come to their own conclusions about which Steiner they are meeting when they read any of the forty volumes of his writings or the thousands of lecture transcripts. Are they reading Steiner the initiate, or Steiner the man of his time, or Steiner the fallible human being? For myself, there are many times when I feel exalted, inspired and humbled by what Steiner has written or spoken and those passages are the ones that I take to have come from Steiner the high initiate. There are other times, but only a few, when I find passages by Steiner to be simply bizarre, plain wrong or even offensive. On occasion, when one looks more deeply into the matter, it’s possible to see that Steiner is unfolding some really interesting and difficult ideas that challenge our present-day attitudes and opinions; and sometimes one thinks he is just way off-beam and the sheer strangeness of his thought seems very remote from our life and times. But my overriding impression is of Steiner’s great love for all humanity, his vision of our future, his genius and his wisdom.

There are some people, of course, who for whatever reason, can never begin to approach the surpassing strangeness and visionary genius of Rudolf Steiner with anything other than antipathy or hatred. Marie Steiner wrote about this after his death:

“… On 30th March, 1925 Rudolf Steiner passed away.

His life, consecrated wholly to the sacrificial service of humanity, was requited with unspeakable hostility; his way of knowledge was transformed into a path of thorns. But he walked the whole way, and mastered it for all humanity. He broke through the limits of knowledge; they are no longer there. Before us lies this road of knowledge in the crystal clarity of thoughts …. He raised human understanding up to the spirit; permeated this understanding and united it with the spiritual being of the cosmos. In this he achieved the greatest human deed. The greatest deed of the Gods he taught us to understand; the greatest human deed he achieved. How could he escape being hated with all the demonic power of which Hell is capable?

But he repaid with love the misunderstanding brought against him”.


Filed under Anthroposophy, Marie Steiner, Rudolf Steiner, Staudenmaier

Staudi: or The Curate’s Egg

The anthropopper notes with interest that in his recent posts on this blog, he seems to have inadvertently adopted a Threefold Posting Order. The first three posts were on the topic of Angels and then the next two were about Demons. Well, here is one last post about Peter Staudenmaier to complete the threefolding aspect; after which I hope to be able to concentrate on more wholesome topics.


Bishop: “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr Jones”; The curate replies, desperate not to offend his eminent host and ultimate employer: “Oh no, my Lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellent!”

Gerald du Maurier’s celebrated cartoon, which appeared in Punch in November 1895, gave rise to the phrase ‘a curate’s egg’, meaning something that is mostly or partly bad, but partly good. A modern-day version of this cartoon might have the caption:

Staudenmaier: “I’m afraid I’m a bad egg, Mr Mellett.” Mellett wipes a brown substance off his nose and replies, desperate not to offend his lord and master: “Oh no, my Lord, I assure you! Parts of you are excellent!”

According to Wikipedia, “in its original context, the term ‘a curate’s egg’refers to something that is obviously and essentially bad, but is euphemistically described as nonetheless having good features credited with undue redeeming power. Its modern usage varies. Some authorities define it as something that is an indeterminate mix of good and bad and others say it implies a preponderance of bad qualities.”

Isn’t that last sentence a perfect description of Peter Staudenmaier, self-appointed scourge of Steiner and anthroposophy and intellectual guru to the Waldorf Critics’ Yahoo group?

Staudenmaier, for those who have not yet made his online acquaintance, is the professor of modern German history at Marquette University in Milwaukee. His research explores the work of Rudolf Steiner; his dissertation was “Between Occultism and Fascism: Anthroposophy and the Politics of Race and Nation in Germany and Italy, 1900-1945.”

Like a polecat, which despite its stink and habit of biting all and sundry indiscriminately, can nevertheless occasionally be useful for chasing rabbits out of their burrows, the egregious Staudi sometimes has a use; and even the anthropopper has expressed gratitude to him for revealing a slice of history about which the Society has, rather disgracefully in my view, kept quiet. Here, for example, is a link to a review by Staudi of a book by Ansgar Martins. This shadow side of anthroposophy really should be known by all anthroposophists. As “Wooffles” commented on my last but one post, “In the last decade or so, anthroposophists, or at least some anthroposophists, have gotten much better at engaging with historical context, and it is doubtful that this would have taken place without the persistence of not-particularly-sympathetic scholars like Staudenmaier and Zander.”  That’s quite a fair point, although the phrase “not particularly sympathetic scholar” when applied to Staudi’s attitude to Steiner must qualify as understatement of the year.

But, to return to my original metaphor, a bad egg is hard to like and Staudi’s overweening arrogance and contempt for others does nothing to endear him to any readers other than the fawning sycophants and melletts on the WC Yahoo list. It’s an interesting question why, unlike say with Martins or Zander, Staudi arouses such animosity in so many people. Is it for the reason Staudi himself gives?

“Any outside scholar who studies anthroposophy encounters strong opposition from parts of the anthroposophist movement. A large part of the reason why I continued researching anthroposophy’s history had to do with this sort of opposition; I initially thought the article I was asked to write back in 1999 would be a one-time piece, and then I’d return to other topics. But the article provoked such an indignant response among anthroposophists that I went back to the sources to see if I had missed something, and the further I dug into this history the more I found. Anthroposophists routinely claim that scholars who examine their movement have distorted Steiner’s ideas and misrepresented his teachings and falsified his true message and so forth; this is a common reaction among esoteric groups, who often believe they have special access to higher forms of knowledge and react strongly against scholarly standards of critical inquiry. The same sort of opposition I face is even more intense in the case of my German colleague Helmut Zander, the foremost historian of anthroposophy. Many of Steiner’s followers simply don’t like seeing their movement and worldview subjected to external scrutiny.”

Well, that sounds reasonable enough, doesn’t it? The picture he conjures up is not implausible: anthroposophists, who may be well-meaning but unaware of some significant episodes in the history of their movement,  react angrily to information which doesn’t correspond to how they feel about anthroposophy.

But unfortunately for the good professor’s chances of constructive dialogue with such anthroposophists, he doesn’t leave matters there and cannot resist being condescending, dismissive and supercilious with anyone who questions him.

Staudi was brought irresistibly to mind when I read the following passage in John Stewart Collis’ wonderful account of farming life during the 1940s, The Worm Forgives the Plough:

“There is an interesting remark which I have often heard here and elsewhere, not uncommon anywhere when some boss or foreman is mentioned. ‘The trouble is,’ they say, ‘ ‘e’s so ignorant.’ By this they do not mean that he lacks knowledge. They mean that he lacks manners. It is a significant remark. For what is manners? Manners is psychology. It is the understanding of the simple psychological needs of other people. It is homage to the strikingly simple fact that people like you to address them amiably; to show appreciation, and to say thank you at intervals. If a man does not know this and act upon it he is called ignorant by labourers under him. That is their philosophy of education.”

By this definition, Staudi is remarkably ignorant. One wouldn’t really have expected this in someone who has been an active participant in the anarchist, green and cooperative movements in the United States and Germany for many years. One would have thought that a person of those sympathies might have acquired some emotional intelligence during that time. Not so, it seems.

But Staudi is not only ignorant in the sense of being unable to resist insulting and abusing people who in other circumstances would be perfectly willing to have a civilised exchange of views with him; he is actually ignorant in an even more fundamental sense, and this is in his complete lack of understanding of Rudolf Steiner. To understand Rudolf Steiner it is not enough to have a good brain; you need to have a good heart, too, and to be able to apply the intelligence of the heart to initiatic language that is often difficult to comprehend with our everyday understanding. Where Steiner is concerned, poor Staudi has a tin ear; he is to the elucidation of Rudolf Steiner what Florence Foster Jenkins was to operatic recitals.

Someone whose scholarly work in the same subject area demonstrates understanding on every page (in shining contrast to Staudi’s effusions) is Dr Adrian Anderson of Melbourne, Australia. I thoroughly recommend Anderson’s e-booklet, Opponents and Critics: Criticisms of Steiner and anthroposophy, to anthroposophists and critics alike. It will take you about half an hour to read but it is well worth the time and effort. Dr Anderson addresses Staudi’s criticisms of Steiner and does not shrink away from the darker episodes of anthroposophical history. Some of what he writes will no doubt be difficult reading for anthroposophists, as well as for members of the Christian Community; but unlike Staudi’s tone-deaf tin ear, Dr Anderson has perfect pitch when evaluating Steiner’s use of language, and the problems that Steiner’s language can pose for anthroposophy and modern readers today.

Staudi is having none of this, of course, and gets his rebuttal in first, alerted by one of his toadies on the WC Yahoo group:

“Thanks to Eric for pointing this out… The new booklet is a standard anthroposophist apologia for Steiner’s racial teachings. It features the usual elements, including some entertaining misunderstandings of Steiner’s texts. One of the more striking examples is the booklet’s defense of Steiner’s 1923 complaint against the presence of black people in Europe, in particular his denunciation of the stationing of French colonial troops on German soil in the aftermath of World War One. Anderson thinks Steiner was actually referring to the African slave trade! It is hard to imagine a more thoroughgoing incomprehension of the passage in question.

The sections on Nazism are a good deal worse. Anderson believes that historians have recently “discovered” that “some German anthroposophists from the early 20th century were involved in Nazism” (golly, imagine that). The notion that this is some sort of discovery — or even especially remarkable — speaks volumes about the level of naivete and historical ignorance among all too many anthroposophists today.”

This is such an inadequate, not to say shameless, response to what is a substantial and considered piece of work that it almost beggars belief that Staudi can write in such misleading terms. Here we have all the standard Staudi tactics of scattering mud and abuse, misrepresentation of arguments, condescension and contemptful dismissal, which he employs to avoid engaging with the actual substance of the text written by Dr Anderson. Anderson demonstrates real understanding and insight in his essay and yet Staudi can’t bring himself to address any of it.

Why is this? Why is it that Staudi is so full of unremitting malevolence towards Steiner? And here I’ve recently come across an intriguing possibility: could it be that Staudi has never forgiven Steiner for criticising another Staudenmaier?

On 22nd September 1923, Steiner gave a lecture in Dornach on “The Logic and Illogic of Dreams” (GA225) and in it he referred at some length to a book called Magic as an Experimental Science by one Ludwig Staudenmaier, in which the author recounts his experiences of mediumship through channeled writing, his denial of the spirit as the source of his writing and his belief that the unconscious was responsible for it but was always lying to him. Steiner is quite amusing about what he considers to be the errors in Staudenmaier’s understanding of his experiences and the cumulative effect of these comments must have been somewhat devastating for Ludwig.

Can this have affected our present day Staudi’s attitude to Steiner? Was Ludwig related to Peter? Perhaps Turncoat Tom Mellett, Staudi’s devoted gofer, could ask on our behalf when he’s next kneeling before the Apprentice Demon.


Filed under Anthroposophy, Staudenmaier, Waldorf critics