Anthroposopy and Anarchy


Partial repost from


What is anarcho-anthroposophy or anthroposophical anarchism? There is a lot of disagreement going around about who have the right to call themselves anarchists and who don’t. In such discussions the claim has occasionally been made that dialectical materialism is the only acceptable belief for anarchists.

This excludes every religious coloring, including Tao anarchism,1 the philosophy of Gandhi,2 and Christos Anarchos.3 Although all anarchists reject the Communist dictatorship of the proletariat, there are a few who cling to an almost mandatory atheism. There is little room for spiritual freedom in their utopia. This is an important point of departure when we are going to approach Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy as a branch of anarchist philosophy.

Even though Steiner was a declared enemy of economic liberalism, he appears to be a libertarian individualist with special sympathies for rabid egoists like Max Stirner and Benjamin Tucker. Because of his spiritually oriented world view, he displayed a certain distaste for Marxism. This was in spite of, or perhaps precisely because, Steiner himself had his roots in the proletariat, and never became a wealthy man. It was his conviction that what he had to offer the working class was a liberation of each individual through self-consciousness, while the socialists lulled the workers to sleep with their materialistic propaganda and their dictatorial party platforms.

“Rudolf Steiner was a child of poor people,” writes Christoph Lindenberg. “He never made big deal out of his parents’ poverty; he usually only mentions in passing the humble conditions he gew up in. But one time, during a discussion in 1919, when a person who knew poverty only through what he had heard, began to lecture about how low-paid postal employees lived, Steiner burst out: ‘I have learned to understand the proletarians by living with them myself, by having grown out of the proletariat, by having learned to starve with proletarians.'”4

Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner was born on February 27 1861 in Kraljevec, a small bordertown on the island Murr in Hungary (later Yugoslavia, then Croatia), and grew up in Austria. After the breakup from the Theosophical Society, he founded the Anthroposophical Society in 1913 in Dornach, Switzerland, where he died in his study on March 30 1925.

“Anthroposophically oriented spiritual science” is very comprehensive and constitutes the background for Waldorf schools, the theory about the Threefold Social Order, biodynamic farming, alternative medicine, and an obscure New Age religiosity that has influenced a number of poets and authors. Many anarchists find such a supersensible conception of reality difficult to digest, especially because Anthroposophy is the most misunderstood of all “New Age” varieties.

The core of anthroposophical philosophy is thoroughly anarchistic. This is not so easy to discern, because Rudolf Steiner’s basic view can be very challenging to get to the bottom of. Most anthroposophists choose what appeals to them and suppress the rest. Most overlooked of all is the anarchism. This is why we have seen so many authority-loving and power-hungry bourgeois anthroposophists who have not discovered that they are sitting on a revolutionary megabomb.

Rudolf Steiner’s works comprise over 340 volumes in the German original. Most of these consist of short hand transcripts from his approximately 6000 lectures. This work can mainly be divided into two groups: First his written philosophical works from the 1880’s and the 1890’s, among these his pioneering “The Philosophy of Freedom” (1894), which he claimed 30 years later would survive all his other works, and which lays the foundation for esoteric (spiritual-philosophical) anarchism.

The second group of his works consists of everything he communicated after the turn of the century, i.e. from 1900 until 1925, and which makes up over 90 per cent of anthroposophical literature.

Steiner’s critique of Marx and Engels and their dialectical materialism has a central place in anarchist anthroposophy. This dialectical materialism did not only exert its influence on Communism, but in a camouflaged manner also on latter-day capitalism (because of its relationship to social Darwinism). In addition, it has been a strong factor in socialist-anarchist thinking and is therefore the main reason for the tension between atheist-collectivist anarchist thinking on the one hand and freedom-individualistic anarchism on the other.

When evaluating Steiner in the light of the history of anarchism, it is necessary to put special weight upon his major philosophical work The Philosophy of Freedom. It is only the second group of Steiner’s communications, i.e. his books and lectures after the turn of the century, that are often ridiculed or are experienced as offensive because of their controversial character. This was when he had decided to speak up openly about the supersensory knowledge he had acquired as a result of his inborn highly unusual states of consciousness.

Anthroposophical literature originating from the period 1900-1925 requires a spiritual orientation, or cast of mind, where every concept of faith in the traditional sense is sacrificed in favor of results yielded by scientific research, while at the same time powers of cognition with religious characteristics beyond the intellect are applied. It is very difficult for someone who does not possess this cast of mind to accept Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophically oriented spiritual science. Steiner encourages trust in terms of an open and at the same time critical mind, but he cautions very strongly against regarding his person as an authority or his communications as authoritative. The cultivation of Rudolf Steiner as an authority among super-bourgeois and subservient anthroposophists is, ipso facto, in violation of the principles of freedom inherent in Anthroposophy.

Collision with Marx

Rudolf Steiner could never accept Marxism, which spread like fire in a haystack at the turn of the century. Jens Bjørneboe did call himself an anarchist, Marxist, and anthroposophist and is supposed to have claimed that no contradiction existed between Steiner and Marx, but in that case, he was thoroughly mistaken. Steiner criticized Karl Marx on many points on different occasions, especially with regard to his dialectical-materialistic interpretation of history.

When Steiner was working primarily with the idealism of freedom and anarchism together with Tucker and Mackay, he wrote an article where he critically confronted the problem of power: “Of all forms of power, what is being striven for by social democracy, is the worst.”13 By “social democracy” was meant the Communist ideology at that time.

Six months later, Steiner received a request from the administration of Arbeiterbildungsschule in Berlin (founded by the Marxist Wilhelm Liebknecht) to take over the history classes. He threw himself into the task with great enthusiasm, in spite of the fact that the school could only afford to pay him a fee that was so extremely modest that they doubted he could accept the request.

In his autobiography, Steiner tells as follows: “I made it clear to the directors that if I accepted the task I would present history according to my own views of mankind’s evolution and not according to the Marxist interpretation as was now customary in Socialist circles. They still wished me to give the courses.”

“These people knew physical work and the results it produces. But they had no idea of the spiritual powers that guide mankind forward through history. That was why they so readily accepted Marxism and its ‘materialistic interpretation of history.’ Marxism maintains that the only forces at work in history are material and economic, that is, forces produced through physical work. Any ‘spiritual, cultural factors’ are considered to be a byproduct arising out of the material-economic sphere, a mere ideology.

“Added to this was the fact that for a long time the workers had felt a growing eagerness for education. But the only means available for satisfying this need was the popular materialistic literature on science. It was the only literature slanted to the workers’ outlook and reasoning. Anything else was written in a style the workers could not possibly understand. Thus the unspeakably tragic situation arose that while the growing proletariat had an intense craving for knowledge, this could be satisfied only through the grossest form of materialism.”14

History was a “special child of sorrow” to Arbeiterbildungsschule. The students became rapidly bored with the way the subject was taught, and most of them ceased to attend – whereupon the lecturers usually gave up. Steiner, however, made success with the students. Later on he went on to lecture on German literature, on Indian, Persian and Arabic culture, on the history of philosophy, chemistry, and the history of industrialism. He also offered instruction in public speaking, and corrected all papers submitted to him with such care that many of the students really accomplished things which previously could never have been expected of them.15

In his autobiography, Steiner explains the phenomenon in this way:

“It must be remembered that there are partial truths in the materialistic ideas on economy which are absorbed by the workers through Marxism as ‘material history.’ And these partial truths are just waht can easily be understood by the workers. Had I simply ignored them and taught history from an idealistic point of view, the workers would have sensed that what I said was not in agreement with the partial truths they knew.

“So I started from a fact that was understandable to my listeners. I explained why it is nonsense to speak of economic forces dominating history prior to the sixteenth century, as Karl Marx does. I also showed that economic life did not take on a form that can be understood in a Marxistic sense until the sixteenth century, and that this process reached its climax in the nineteenth century.

“This made it possible for me to speak quite factually about the spiritual ideals at work in the preceding epochs of history, and I could show that in more recent times these impulses have weakened, in contrast to the material-economic ones.

“Thus the workers gradually arrived at concrete ideas about the spiritual impulses in history, religion, art and morality, and ceased to regard them as mere ideology. It would have been useless to enter into a controversy about materialism; I had to let idealism arise out of materialism.”16

After five years, the whole thing came to a close when the Party leadership put an end to Steiner’s tuition. He encountered strongest opposition each time he spoke about freedom. “To speak of freedom seemed extremely dangerous,” he said thirteen years later. The socialist leaders planted four of their members in a meeting with hundreds of students where Steiner defended spiritual values, and these made sure that he was driven out by making it impossible for him to continue. When Steiner said, “If people wish socialism to play a part in future evolution, then liberty of teaching and liberty of thought must be permitted,” one of the stooges sent by the party leadership declared: “In our party and its schools there can be no question of freedom, but only of reasonable constraint.”

To this remark, Steiner added the following comment: “One must not imagine that the modern proletariat is not thirsting for spiritual nourishment! It has an insatiable craving for it. But the nourishment which it is offered is, in part, that in which it firmly believes, namely positivism, scientific materialism, or in part an indigestible pabulum that offers stones instead of bread!”17

One of these students, Emil Unger-Winkelried, remembered Steiner as teacher 30 years later: “For us students, especially us working class students, he was an sacrifice-willing friend who taught at the workers’ school two evenings a week through approximately five years. A so many-faceted gifted man like Steiner most certainly did not stay with this tiresome teaching because of the lousy fee, but because it gave him joy, and the students adored him.

Serious opposition against Rudolf Steiner and his work occurred early, but the antagonism increased considerably after the first world war, when Steiner spoke about social Threefolding. The strongest and best organized opposition came from nationalist quarters, especially in England and Germany.

Rudolf Steiner made himself guilty of a kind of cultural heresy that has never been forgiven him, neither by his own time nor by posterity. Principally speaking, this heresy is no different from e.g. Galileo Galilei’s efforts to demonstrate his vision of the planetary orbits around the sun. Steiner wished that spiritual science, or Anthroposophy, should achieve the status of an acknowledged science on par with chemistry, botany, geology, etc. In his own time, he was met with direct attacks, while posterity has stonewalled him with silence. He is not only conspicuous by his absence in most philosophical, scientific, and religious reference works, but also in most New Age bibliographies.

There is only one aspect of Steiner that has proven to be unassailable, and that is his personal character. The collection of letters and other documentation convey a portrait of an imensely good and warm human being who in an unselfish manner made limitless demands upon himself. It probably appears incomprehensible for many people that a man who argued that a free spirit had to liberate itself even from the tyranny of conscience could be a thoroughly good and selfless person. A major argument against anarchism is that it will entail unencumbered evil and egoism. Throughout his years, Steiner placed a lot of emphasis on laying the foundation for the development of “moral impulses” and “moral imagination.” By this he meant that the really free spirit would gain increasingly greater inner freedom by using the imagination for loving and self-sacrificing actions. He believed in the best in humanity because he had discovered this within himself.

This is where we find anarchism in its highest form


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