Friday 7 February 2020

Right Man or Ordinary Genius? Rudolf Steiner and his fictional autobiography

I have been exploring Rudolf Steiner over the past seven or so years - the amounts to a really large project of reading or listening-to scores of his works; tackling books and essays about his ideas; several biographies and memoirs... and reading online sources and watching videos of all kinds of people talking about Anthroposophy.

I did this initially because of Owen Barfield, who regarded Steiner as a thinker of world historical importance and who was an Anthroposophist from his middle twenties - one of the first in Britain. And then because I agreed with Barfield's estimate - but in an extremely qualified fashion.

I am gradually forming some kind of overview of the problem with Steiner; how it is that he can be so important - a major genius; and at the same time mostly, nearly always, productive of utter nonsense. How he can be so important, yet his legacy is mostly a series of essentially (i.e. in their essence) bogus initiatives in education, farming, politics, and medicine.

His writings on medicine, for example, are so terribly bad that I would not know where to begin in criticising them - they are wrong at almost every level - in their basic approach, their detail, the kind of mind set they encourage... they have nothing to do with medicine as I understand it.

But really this is nothing unusual for geniuses. When it comes to most geniuses, we are quite happy to take what we value and leave the rest behind. We value Isaac Newton for his mathematics and physics, and leave aside his theology and alchemy... and we do not find it hard to acknowledge that Newton was perhaps the greatest scientist ever and also a horrible man.

The deep problem with Steiner is that he insists over and again and with all the force he can muster - that his work is a wholly consistent and coherent whole which should be taken in toto. The Anthroposophical Society (in practice) regards Steiner in exactly this way - he is wholly well-motivated, wholly good, always right.

They really do regard Steiner as being as infallible as any human ever has been - and that is the way that his ourvre has been preserved and is presented to the world. It began during Steiner's life; and it has continued ever since. Any acknowledged faults are so minor and quibbling as merely to stress his overall and essential infallibility (rather like when job applicants admit to such 'faults' as perfectionism and working too hard).

But Steiner had flaws, including serious ones; and probably the worst was his defensive refusal ever to admit that he had changed his mind, said anything wrong or made a mistake. He was what Colin Wilson termed a Right Man - whose self-esteem depends on a brittle self-image that - ultimately, at root - he is always right, all the time, about everything.

If ever a Right Man is confronted with contradiction or incoherence - then he will explain (perhaps patiently, perhaps angrily) at endless length how this is not really contradiction or incoherence - at a deeper or higher level, everything fits together perfectly; and anyone who says otherwise is malign, foolish or incompetent.

The type is surely familiar to most people.

The problem for Steiner's self-image is that - at least at the level of obvious common sense; he changed a great deal, many times, throughout his life. And, being the massively productive genius that he was, the amount of information and assertion he generated was phenomenal - yet somehow all his life, and all his enormous body of work - had to be made into a unity, bound-together in a fully harmonious system...

This led Steiner into all kinds of tortuous assertion, selection, special pleading - and what would certainly be called dishonesty if it wasn't that he seemed to have been able to persuade himself; so I suppose it is a species of delusion.

In the last year of his life, Steiner wrote an autobiography The Story of My Life (published 1928) covering the first 2/3 of his life. It is very interesting, at times profound - I would recommend it. If you don't fancy reading; it is available free of charge and beautifully read by Dale Brunsvold in an audiobook format.

But it is a fiction of Steiner's life, not history. It isn't just that Steiner focuses (quite rightly) on spiritual aspects as contrasted with material one; it is that the picture painted is untrue: it is an old man looking back and making a unity of what was diverse, making coherent what was a sequence of U-turns and reversals. It is projecting the elderly Steiner back onto his childhood, youth and young adulthood.

The autobiography asserts that Steiner was secretly (on the inside) always exactly what he ended being - a magically insightful and charismatic figure of hypnotic presence; the dominant, confident leader of an international movement and but that this was necessarily hidden for various reasons, or people had misunderstood, or enemies had misrepresented, or whatever.

To the eye of common sense; Steiner was a very insecure young man, often lonely, dependent on being looked-after by others (including his first wife - that seems to have been almost the entirety of the relationship); apparently lacking direction and being rather passively led by offers and opportunities from others, rather than by any life strategy.  

Steiner was always extremely intelligent; but his personality underwent not one but many extreme transformations. The younger Steiner showed no signs of spirituality or clairvoyance; and was variously, explicitly, obviously at different times a Roman Catholic, Kantian, atheist, political radical, materialist, nihilist, Nietzchian, anti-Christian and much more.

Somehow this is all brought into a apparent coherence by a brilliant act of synthesis that has convinced Anthroposophists ever since. But the real story is much more interesting and remarkable. It is a story of one of the most extreme personal transformations in history; such that one can hardly recognise the older and younger Steiner as being the same person.

This is important to recognise because Steiner did himself a terrible disservice by his insistence on consistency, coherence, and system; he made it almost impossible for anyone but a disciple prepared to swallow everything uncritically to take him seriously.

By insisting on taking him in an all or nothing fashion, Steiner created a small minority of cult-followers who are intellectually servile and worshipping; and a barrier against the vast majority of people who are interested and impressed only by a small proportion of his output.

The best thing that could happen to Steiner would be if he came to be treated as just an ordinary genius.


Moonsphere said...

Bruce, again and again you return to the subject of Rudolf Steiner! It seems that you love his first work, a handful of his later insights - and rail fiercely against every other thing he ever wrote or said.

This perplexes me. Why not just revere "The Philosophy of Freedom" as the work of genius it is - and forget all the rest? If one is staunchly opposed to all things occult, why follow the works of an occultist?

Personally I have only the highest reverence for Rudolf Steiner. But any serious student of his, after the first decade or so - will become somewhat disillusioned - not necessarily by what he said - but by a feeling for what is missing - on a spiritual level.

As you say, Steiner was a fount of creative genius - the body of work is vast. We are presented with many "facts" to assimilate.

It is at this point that the vast majority of Steiner advocates crystallise their worldview, as the Anthroposophical Society itself has done.

But we need to know what happened after Steiner's death. He spoke of a successor - which the Society rejected. The project failed - it was an incomplete revelation.

Steiner alone - is like the Father - without the Son or the Holy Spirit.

Bruce Charlton said...

@M - The reason I return to the subject is explained every time I return! Steiner has much that is of great value, and a great deal more that is not just wrong, but wrong in a way that is harmful. And the harmful side of Steiner predominates in the mainstream, and apparently dominates nearly-all those who advocate and promote him.

Steiner is quite a different proposition than, say, Owen Barfield or William Arkle - who have vital teachings and also are mostly good, mostly right - unlikely to harm.

In a nutshell - taken at face value Steiner is on the wrong side (whereas Arkle and Barfield are on the right side). So Steiner should be rejected if taken whole. Yet I have found a great deal of value in studying Steiner over the past years, and I probably would not have learned this otherwise.

Also, I think I have some insights that others lack - for example concerning Steiner's character; which is, indeed, a kind of key. Another way of putting it is that Steiner exhibited 'an inferiority complex' such that he felt a need continually to 'prove himself' and was hyper-sensitive to criticism - this is at odds with the prevalent attitude of his being supremely confident, altruistic etc. His over-work and excessive productivity was negatively motivated, overall - due to insecurity rather than an overflow of insights; because there is a vast amount of repetition and 'manufactured' stuff; which he should have been embarrassed to produce and inflict on people.

But he was like one of these Hollywood stars that will not retire so long as anyone gives them a chance to appear before an audience. It wasn't because he was on a higher path, or had essential knowledge to share; it was a negatively-driven compulsion.

It's helpful to know such things - and indeed they are unremarkable in other thinkers. Nobody expects to find the last work/ thoughts of Ralph Waldo Emerson (for example) to be his best and most authoritative - superceding what went before, and setting the agenda for the future... but with Steiner they really do!

As for PoF - it is wonderful, but also clearly wrong- not least because is is a-theistic and anti-Christian and an example of Ahrimanic reductionism...

And mentioning Ahriman - what about Ahriman? - late Steiner, but what an insight, how useful, how (almost) conceptually-essential to understanding our world here and now! Yet, at the same time, how chock-full of errors and arrogance!

(Ahriman a specific person, that Steiner 'knew' in advance would be incarnated/ born in/near the year 2000. What nonsense! That is not the way God runs creation...)

Moonsphere said...

If we put that which you respect about Steiner in one balance scale and that which you oppose in the other - it seems clear that there would be an almighty "thunk" as the second scale hit its buffer with great momentum!

For all the Waldorf Schools and Biodynamic farms in the world - followers of Steiner are miniscule in number. Indeed, many of those teachers are happy to say they think he was a crank and that he merely had some good ideas about pedagogy that they happen to share. Likewise those farmers mostly just "follow the recipes" because they seem to work. Few are serious students of his occult work.

I mention this because you appear to be seeing Steiner as a clear and present danger to spiritual seekers. My own view is that he is danger of totally disappearing over the horizon!

You say that PoF was atheistic, anti-Christian. Equally one could say a textbook about learning a computer language is atheistic and anti-Christian. Perhaps a better view would be that it simply does not address the topic.

Furthermore it is well known that Steiner experienced his "festival of knowledge" where he had a revelation of Christ just before the turn of the century - well after he wrote PoF. That directly lead to the 25 years of public lecturing and writing that continued until his death.

As regards his "inferiority complex" and need for praise - I remember reading an account of the high point of his public career - that is in terms of the numbers of people who attended a lecture. Apparently he gave one of the most abstruse, dry lectures imaginable! Most of those thousands left and never returned.

He never sought fame and fortune in that regard.

Michael D. said...

"Ahriman a specific person, that Steiner 'knew' in advance would be incarnated/ born in/near the year 2000."

Truth be told, after watching TED talks by some of our young Silicon Valley magnates, transhumanist & AI theorists ans such like... that suddenly doesn't sound so crazy.
(I'm only partially joking)

Bruce Charlton said...

@Michael - Well yes, there are dozens, hundreds, thousands of Ahrimans - born over the last fifty years (not restricted to the millenium) but mostly not actual incarnate demons, but servants. But some are likely possessed by demons.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Moon -

Sure. But if ever Steiner's core work is to get out from the situation it is in, there needs to be a major transformation in the way people read him, their expectations and attitudes. Everything up to now needs to be set aside as a huge failure.

Moonsphere said...

Bruce, I do appreciate you writing about Steiner at a time when precious few people seem even to care about his life and works.

This is your blog and any readers comments appear only at your discretion. So I appreciate the generosity of character you display by publishing my counter arguments.

Clearly you do care about Steiner's legacy and so I thank you for your ongoing articles on the subject.

On the subject of Steiner's "passivity" - we must remember that he lived by the occult law that preserves the personal freedom of others. Famously, he required to be asked a question before he allowed himself to enter into a discourse on that subject.

In a world of gurus only too ready to communicate their pearls of wisdom to the world - I always found that to be an admirable quality in Steiner.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Moon - I agree Steiner had *many* admirable qualities. I would not have spent literally hundreds of hours reading etc his work - and about him, unless I thought so.

On the other side, there is something profoundly spiritually-unhealthy about the attitude that his supporters have towards him, during his life and afterwards - and Steiner himself must take significant responsibility for this, since he made the Anthroposophical Society and exerted a powerful influence on all the doings of his followers.

He seems to exert an almost paralysing effect on the creativity of his followers - those who were not so paralysed (such as Valentin Tomberg) ceased to be followers or were forced out. Even a genius such as Barfield found himself unable to state that Steiner was plain-wrong about anything specific or significant.

I can feel it myself as I read; I feel progressively squeezed then crushed by layer after layer of heavy, systematic information - more and more and yet more - never ending!

This is what the would-be reader encounters. We each need a way of taking Steiner seriously, but Not taking him whole (or anything like whole).

Moonsphere said...

Thanks Bruce, yes I agree with much of your criticism of the followers of Steiner.

It should be remembered that Steiner himself only joined his own Society in the latter years of his life. He could see exactly the direction it was going and it was an act of supreme sacrifice that he joined his karma with such a sinking ship.

As you mention, Tomberg - his natural successor was ousted and the whole movement ossified around the memory and collected works of their dead Master. You probably know of Tomberg's magnificent Anthroposophical writings from the early 30's. The sheer calibre of those writings marked him out as a threat to their movement. Here was someone seemingly equal to Steiner and with that his fate was sealed. Perhaps you are aware that many years later a lost lecture by Steiner was discovered, which was proudly read out at the Goetheanum. When it was discovered that in fact - it was a work by Tomberg - it was "memory-holed" and the matter quickly forgotten.

The later conversion to Catholicism left both his supporters and detractors reeling. Only recently have insights into this episode been committed to paper and even knowing the book's title will not help one acquire a copy, even though it is available online.

edwin faust said...

I, too, have undergone several prolonged immersions in Steiner's work and spent countless hours listening to Dale Brunswold's readings. I attended three weekend seminars in succession at one of his farms/schools in New York state and was immensely disappointed. Few there seemed to know much about his work and there was a decided leftist attitude on display among the people I spoke with. As you say, Bruce, the main problem is that you are expected to swallow Steiner whole. As his clairvoyant material cannot be established as true on any other basis than faith in the master, the attitude of his adherents necessarily becomes fideistic and resistant to critical evaluation. And after reading and listening to a mountain of his lectures, one still has no clear idea of what he made of God, or even of Christ, who seems to be some kind of angel with etheric and astral bodies compounded from the discards of Zarathustra, Buddha, etc. And there is then the two Jesuses revelation, with one dying at 12 and parts of him merging with the other. It makes one's head spin and appears to do little in the way of advancing one spiitually. I think your assessment of Steiner a sane corrective for those who torture themselves trying to make sense of the massive volume of stuff that can hold one in thrall for long stretches of time.

Bruce Charlton said...

@edwin. Maybe we are pioneers of a new approach to Steiner! I also find it very strange indeed that Steiner almost never mentioned God, or described the evolution of consciousness in terms of a divine destiny. It would have made things much easier to explain if he had. The elaborate story of the two Jesus children is more understandable in terms of his assumptions about the nature of the Gospels and trying to reconcile Matthew and Luke. But he seems to have ignored the implications of resurrection, and seen Man's destiny as a return to pure spirit. Yet, flashes of inspiration and insight throughout!

Moonsphere said...

I suppose a lot of how we understand Steiner depends on our assumptions about his methods and his motivations.

We can take his teachings about the two Jesus children as an attempt to explain the birth accounts of the Luke and Matthew Gospels. Or we can accept his word that his teachings and the Gospels are simply in accord with one another.

I doubt that any spiritual teaching will be found valid, if we approach it as a policeman or a detective looking for ulterior motives. This is what atheists do - the only difference is that don't have a favoured exception.

We cannot choose our beliefs - that way lies madness. And so we simply believe the highest truth that we are capable of comprehending.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Moons - "our assumptions about his methods and his motivations"

Yes, or I would call it his assumptions. The two Jesus children story is a pretty good example of Steiner's strengths and weakenesses; it draws-in, draws-upon all kinds of perspectives (and assumptions) about how things work, what are the influences on creation, how creation proceeds - for example the way that 'the Christ' is assembled from various souls and incarnations. As usual, he doesn't explicitly mention the Father in all this, his motives, what he was trying to attain; why the father set-up this kind of creation. So many questions are begged!

In all these respects I reach very different conclusions from Steiner, and my starting assumptions for the whole business of explaining Jesus (of what such an explanation might entail) are different. There is no point in an evidential critique of the two-Jesus-children assertion; because it is the ingedients behind the assertion that I regard as wrong.

Where Steiner errs, and I regard this as an error - not a difference in assumptions; is that he regards what are assumptions as the entailed consequence of 'neutral' evidence. So he regards epistemology as the most fundamental type of philosophy, when that is metaphysics - and this undermines Steiner's early philosophy; or rather transforms it from the claimed status of objective evidence, true for all ('science') to a set of assumptions.

He thinks of the PoF argument as a 'proof', whereas it is actually a set of different assumptions concerning the fundamental nature of reality - then a description of these assumptons in the form of a simplified model - tracing through their implications.

He makes some telling negative critiques of mainstream conventional morality, but is utterly vague (inexplicit) about where his own morality comes from, and in deed what morality means when it is individually derived. All the most fundamental assumptions are being left-out - so that PoF strikes the naive reader as shallow, unless they brong to it their own assumptions, and use PoF as a superstructure.

Likewise the idea of spiritual 'science'. Steiner was implicitly claiing that 'science' (the discipline of Wissenschaft) was primary. But it was secondary to the assumptions that justified it.

And Steiner's Spiritual Science 'data' was asserted as if necessarily true, rather than (as with real science) mostly not true, needing selection and development - and ongoing project among honest competent specialists, disciplined by 'real world' applicability. Science is not, nor ever could bem the basis of a 'movement'.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Moons continued - And nowadays science has been (incrementally, but very completely) replaced by bureaucracy; just as Steiner's spiritual science project has been replaced by the bureaucracy of the AS. And spiritual scientific activity (Like Steiner and Tomberg) has been replaced by accumulative and comparative methods of scholarship.

In sum, Steiner was a part of the Ahrimanic (materialistic) trend that he himself identified and named; he created and eneterd a bureaucracy, and that bureaucracy took and adapted his work and spawned further bureaucracies - everything being done by the usual bureaucractic means of committees, voting, policies, hierarchy and specialisation...

Because Steiner made a System, and regarded the System as True and (merely) needing to be implemented - therefore being an Anthroposophist became being an obedient follower of Steiner's System, which was embodied in the Anthroposophical Society. The success or failure of the Steiner project was/ is measured in terms of the spread of the Steiner System - measurable in terms of personnel, systems and numbers of initiates, buildings, land, funding, outputs etc.

(This is a problem with all organisations and institutions, as I often say. Stuff like social threefolding makes absolutely no difference to the fundamental problem - it's just a differently-structured Ahrimanism - and is indeed an atavism, an attempt to return to the 'intellectual soul' cuture phase, with small modfications. Steiner's post-1918 failed political power grab attempt was evidence of how far off-the-rails he had gone by this point. It was a disaster for the AS and Steiner personally - but the lesson was misunderstood, hence not learned.)

But Steiner set up this System and joined it and encouraged. Not like (for instance) St Francis who seems to have opposed and been left-out by the System (of Friars and Friaries) who took over his name and made a System of his ideas so that within decades Fransicans were about as different from ST Francis as could be imagined.

In sum, Steiner fell into the sin of Ahrimanic materialism, in a big way - and blessed the result (including via his widow)! Maybe that was the root of the problem.

Moonsphere said...

Thank you for your reply, Bruce.

From reading your articles and William's also - the critique of Systemisation is often raised.

A couple of comments about this. Putting aside whether one actually believes in anything Steiner said - the systemising should at least make comprehension easier.

All the basics about physical, etheric and astral bodies, etc are not difficult concepts. One does not need 100s of hours - merely reading a few pages of one his books will suffice. Pretty much we are speaking of the mineral, vegetative and animal consciousnesses. Add the ego on top and we have the human consciousness - the primary difference between humans and animals.

Likewise, Steiner's teachings about the Christ are standard Trinitarian Christianity. Nothing added, nothing taken away. For Steiner Christ is the Logos, the 2nd Person of the Godhead, just like any other regular Christian believes. It is on the subject of Jesus that a certain complexity arises. But again, it has a logic behind it which can be comprehended fairly easily. Not, I stress - necessarily believed in - but comprehended.

For myself, what this comes down to is reverence for ones Teacher. I am open to correction here, but I believe that William trusts his Masters firstly because of his reverence for them and secondarily because of what they said. Think of those poor benighted souls, mercifully rare, who actually despise the character of Jesus as presented in the Gospels. Not a matter of disbelief but something far worse. They might say he was a charlatan or a deceiver of some kind. This disbars them from any Christian belief.

So for me reverence precedes belief. Something just occurred to me - millions of Christians, Muslims and those of other denominations - become atheist every year. Quakers especially appear to be turning atheist in droves. I wonder whether a single anthroposophist in recorded history has ever become an atheist? Perhaps, but I have never heard of one.

This is because of love for their Master. Even those such as myself who don't insist on Steiner's infallibility and who have followed the path into areas which other anthroposophists have condemned - still view his life and works as worthy of the highest reverence.

Belief in the complexities of the Jesus that Steiner puts before us is only possible because of two things - its inner logical consistency (system) and ones love for Rudolf Steiner.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Moons - Well, wrt the physical, etheric, astral and ego - I agree it is not difficult; but neither is it true.

By my understanding, it is trying to make a kind of science, with strict categories, from something much more continuous. In particular, there is is truth (ultimately) no sharp distinction between minerals, plants and animals; the one blends into the other and everything is alive and to-some-degree consicious (including minerals) - although there is a qualitative distinction when it comes to humans, in terms of the capacity to become divine.

At a deeper level, this is a categorical, hence static (hence not polar) description of reality; which conflicts with the actuality of creation consisting of Beings in relationships, dynamic, existing through time (which in other places Steiner seems to endorse).

Banging on and on (and on) about the four sheaths - making them the basis of so much else - is a prime example of how the Ahrimanic has taken over, crushed, inverted the deeper teaching.


Anthroposophy and Christianity. You say tha no Anthoposophists are atheists; maybe, but I see that almost no Anthoposophists are Christians. A few are: Terry Boardman, Jeremy Naydler - but almost all Anthroposophists are enbarrassed about Steiner's assertion of the primacy of Christ, and all-but/ actually apologise for it, or qualify it to near non-existence.

I have heard this apology for the primacy of Jesus again and again. Or the assertion that Steiner's Christianity has nothing to do with/ is opposed to 'normal' Christianity.

Anthroposophists are much keener on Buddhists, Hindus and Sufis than on any kind of Christians - and are generally opposed to serious Christian churches (eg traditonialist Catholic or conservative evangelical) than to mainstream/ extreme Left wing politics - which they love or, at least, serve.

Love for Steiner does not, therefore, extend to putting Jesus Christ at the centre of history; nor to opposing mainstream Left wing ethics when the stakes are highest.

In sum, Anthroposophists are not serious about any kind of religion, and it does not observably affect any aspect of their lives - esepcially when it comes to the litmus test cultural issues of the sexual revolution - which is the main socio-ultural thrust of materialist Leftism. Anthroposophists are mad keen on Leftist causes - sexual revolution, climate change, unlimited mass immigration and so forth.

In a nutshell, Anthroposophists are overwhelmingly on the side of evil in the great spiritual war of our time.

This is very obvious, surely!

Moonsphere said...

I actually wish that Terry Boardman would come on here and join me as part of a tag-team!

I won't disagree that anthroposophy has been infiltrated by leftists. They are not real Anthroposophists! The Christian church has likewise been infiltrated. They are not real Christians!

I'm sure we can agree on that.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Moons - If you know of any more individuals, or groups, of Anthroposophists that are Not primarily-Leftists (preferably real names, rather than pseudonyms)- pray do tell! I would enojy interacting with them, as I have enjoyed this interchange. No other Anthroposophist I have ever approached has been able or willing to discuss Steiner in any detail.

Freddy Martini said...

Hey Bruce. I have a similar reaction as you. I got several of his books: “Theosophy,” “How to Know Higher Worlds,” “The Way of Initiation,” and much of his online stuff you linked to over the years. Within each of these, there is a morsel - so small! - of genius you run in to. Then, after this absorption of genius in an instant, you crave more insights, and are disappointed in the remainder of the writings for the dull and boring irrelevant scribbling. Perhaps - as you mentioned - he went back and revised the originals after years, and this perhaps is what we are seeing. And, yes, his insights and prophecy on the Sexual Revolution is his primary insight, and quite shocking once you realize what it really means, and its implications. As far as interpreters, I tend to not be interested in acolytes or followers, by temperament. Many modern spiritual people - at least American influenced - are of the California New Age types we all have a distaste for. These types, specifically, do not recognize the existence of Evil within themselves - another way of putting it in Jungian language is that they do not recognize their Shadow. This gives rise to a happy-clappy “Let’s all get along in Peace!” childish air about them, accompanied by the inevitable Virtue Signaling these types will inevitably do, not recognizing their Shadow in these demonstrations. And, as you have gotten the Revelation, there is always an element of Sexual Perversion involved, that they are barely conscious of!

edwin faust said...

I have read PoF several times. Steiner tends to denigrate moral tradition, on the grounds that it is generally accepted mechanically, without conscious will. One can, he admits, work one's way consciously through such received values and thereby make them truly one's own, but such a process is not incumbent, it seems, and one is free to map one's own moral path. But on what basis? Intuitive thinking? A rather amorphous abstraction that appears to be something like personal revelation. Everyone then becomes his own prophet, receiving the tablets of the law on his private mountaintop. Steiner then asserts that such free souls will appreciate one another and form a kind of fellowship based, not necessarily on shared values, but on mutual respect for method. This all reminds me somewhat of Krishnamurti, who displayed a deep contempt for traditions of all sorts without ever saying where he stood on the large questions. "Figure it out for yourself" was his ultimate message, which left one trying to re-invent the wheel, for to accept anything from anyone else would make you a "second-hand person," as he would say. The root problem with Steiner is that his system, if such can be construed from his 6,000 lectures, rests on his assertion that a spiritual science based on clairvoyance would advance human evolution to ... what exactly? A state of disembodiment in which souls existed in complete empathy with one another? But how many anthroposophists are clairvoyant? And why should clairvoyant knowledge be considered reliable or infallible? The problems are manifold. Steiner is, as Moonsphere says, someone who inspires reverence, and there are those amazing flashes of insight one comes across in studying him. But, in the end, he is too complicated, too confusing, too distracting to be a significant positive influence for those trying to follow Christ's basic commandment: that we love one another as He loves us.

Bruce Charlton said...

@edwin - I agree with Stsiner's main point about where real morality comes-from and how in principle we might know it; but think the problem is that in PoF Steiner does not explain *why* moral intuition should lead to correct behaviour - and does not explain what moral behaviour means, what does it contribute to, how does it harmonise, where is it aiming overall etc?

Perhaps this stems from an excessive focus on freedom, which is a negative attribute - we may be free *from*, but our deepest need is for motivating purpose.

Moonsphere said...

I think that is important to remember that Steiner's life was cut short. Firstly his Goetheanum was deliberately burned down and there is some evidence that he was also poisoned. Doubtless both events arose from the same dark occult source. The general feeling is that he was to have lived until 1933 rather than 1925 thereby attaining the archetypal age of 72 rather than 64. This would have allowed for the hand-over to his successor and also would have coincided with the coming of Christ in the Etheric in that year.

So what did Steiner focus on in that astonishing last year of activity - knowing that his time had been truncated? It was his lectures on Karma and Reincarnation. He gave 80 lectures on the subject in 1924 before retiring to his deathbed. He of course would never directly confirm such a thing but it is universally accepted within the movement that his previous life on Earth was that of Thomas Aquinas. Who knows what humanity would have been gifted had he the full seven years to expound upon those themes?

So few people really know how to sum up Steiner's legacy.

In part he acted somewhat as a John the Baptist figure - heralding not the 1st, but the 2nd Coming - a voice in the wilderness. He gave humanity a warning that we have not heeded about the evils that would confront us in the 21st century. Edwin asks - how many anthroposophists are clairvoyant? Very few is the answer. But over the decades and centuries ahead -that will change. Much of what Steiner taught will find utility - not now - but in that future. In that sense it is an Aquarian philosophy and there is no surprise that both Steiner and Tomberg have their natal Sun precisely at the same sidereal location at the centre of that constellation.

Anthroposophy is often characterised as a relic of the occult movement and the dusty chalkboards of the 1920s. But in truth he was a man ahead of his time as Owen Barfield recognised, whose own destiny allowed him to actually attend a lecture given by Rudolf Steiner and whose long life made him perhaps the last living link with one of those Great Teachers to whom humanity owes so much.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Moons - Well, that begs the question of Steiner; since I would regard almost everything you say in you 06:45 comment as untrue! i.e. merely assertions based upon the universal authority of Steiner himself, which cannot be taken as valid sense these are the matter under discussion.

So I personally don't accept your statments about Steiner - and in some ways I think the opposite is the truth.

Steiner's life was not cut short; he lived considerably longer than average, and had plenty of warning of declining health. And he probably hastened his own death by compulsive overwork and on foolish, and incorrect projects relating to his legacy (rather than to fundamental work) - productivity and interactions at the lowest and wrongest level of his output (I see this as Ahrimanic elaborations of false premises).

By my personal understanding, there is and will be no Second Coming of Jesus - whether in the etheric or otherwise - since Jesus wholly accomplished everything he set out to do. If there was, then 1933 is the strongest evidence against such a second coming - if we are going to use the election of a Nazi government as evidence *confirming* Christ's second coming, then I can't imagine what would count as evidence *against* it!

John the Baptist's primary role was to 'make' the man Jesus fully divine while still mortal; so JOhn is a one off person, not an archetype.

The autobiography is well written and interesting - but, sadly, a vast exercise in self-justification - a rewriting of personal history to present a retrospectively applied unity. It's function was, I sadly suspect, more of an act of self-aggrandisment, a personal hagiography, than is generally recognised - a mostly successful attempt to transform his memory (within the Anthroposophical Society) into that of a perfect, divine founder.

Sorry to be so blunt! but this is exactly the crux of the Steiner question; the division between followers and the rest.

Moonsphere said...

Bruce, it is well known that Steiner had a revulsion towards any references to himself within his teachings. I believe the first time that he was forced to refer to himself was in response to personal slurs put out by leaders of the Theosophical Society during the time which he broke away from them. He was furious to be put in a position where he had to speak about his early life. He apparently referred to himself in the 3rd person throughout that speech. "Rudolf Steiner was born..." "Rudolf Steiner went there..." "Rudolf Steiner did this..."

His autobiography was written for similar reasons - against his will and certainly not for self-aggrandisement.

As for the commencement of Christ's 2nd Coming in 1933 - one would fully expect that to be a time of the greatest evil. The darkest forces would hardly lie idly by at such a time!

But Bruce, you know all this presumably. For you, Steiner is a fatally flawed person and yet one who you recognise offered some things of great value. You have written much that damns the man - no-one will mistake you for a uncritical follower! My recommendation would be to write a piece that focusses purely on the good aspects - for once omitting the myriad harsh criticisms. Perhaps you have done so already. If so - then I'd love to read it!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Moons - You are giving Steiner's account of himself and his motivations - but I regard him as being - like most people! - an unreliable witness of such matters!

I have read or listened to many, many of his lectures where he spends a considerable time at the beginning defending himself from criticism and attacking critics, expalining himself, saying that he has not (contra other people) been inconsistent. This can also be seen in the later prefaces to some books. It is one of his frequent themes, to the point of being tiresome and unworthy.

Why should Steiner be furious about speaking about early life? I think, because it conflicted with his later life; and he did not want to have to try and explain the many inconsistencies. For example - according to the detailed biography by Selg - Steiner falsified his past attitudes to Heckel and Nietzsche; he had been an enthusiastic disciple of both men, but essentially distorted this in the autobiography. He had been deep into radical politics, especially anarchism. He was anti-Christian, and anti-spiritual. Etc.

I simply take this mass of evidence as evidence of how Steiner really was; whereas Steiner would have it that it was all merely a surface appearance masking underlying the deep unity and consistency of his life destiny.

Anyone who speaks of his past self in the third person is likely to be engaged in some kind of manipulative rhetoric! Anyone who writes an autobiography in which he presents himself as always right or - when apparently wrong - that it was not his fault; is someone either lacking in self knowledge - or self-aggrandising. The fact that this applies to most autobiographies is consistent!

I am saying that Steioner is not different from most people in this respect - and the fact should be recognised.

I have written loads about Steiner - if you word search Steiner in the box on the top left of this blog you can find them - but none are designed eeither to attack or to defend him.

My basic stance is that Steiner was a genius but something went Terribly Wrong with Steiner and/or his work; so there is zero point in doing either of the usual things of uncritical advocacy or total rejection.

We must find new ways to read and think about Rudolf Steiner or else he will - deservedly - become either a bad influence or have zero influence.

Moonsphere said...

Anyone who speaks of his past self in the third person is likely to be engaged in some kind of manipulative rhetoric!

In using the 3rd person he was indicating that he was speaking against his will - under protest. I believe that one untruth that was being circulated was that he was a Jesuit and so in order to counter this he was forced to speak about his education, upbringing etc. if you can point to another instance in a lifetime of writing or speaking that he used the 3rd person - then I'll be glad to look into it.

We must find new ways to read and think about Rudolf Steiner or else he will - deservedly - become either a bad influence or have zero influence.

I can only speak about my personal experience. Rudolf Steiner has been a blessing in my life. I am a Christian only because of him. Through him I have found a spiritual path which continues to unfold year upon year.

But yes, I am in the minority it seems! Only Brief Outlines in the other comment thread has taken a neutral appreciative stance.

So thank you Bruce for a spirited exchange! I have enjoyed it also.