Friday, 26 May 2017

The cursed conceit of being right and Rudolf Steiner

'I'll hae nae haufway hoose, but aye be whaur
Extremes meet - it's the only way I ken
To dodge the cursed conceit o' bein' richt
That damns the vast majority o' men.'

From 'A drunk man looks at the thistle' by Hugh MacDiarmid

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was prone to the cursed conceit of being right! - he always tried to show that he had been consistent in all his assertions (when looked at deeply), and never - really - changed his mind about anything.

Well, we all have our faults - but this one was very misleading when it comes to describing how it was, by what stages, that Steiner became one of the most insightful and important thinkers of recent centuries.

As a child and young man he was a natural 'clairvoyant' of the usual type seen throughout history - the state that Steiner later called 'atavistic clairvoyance' - a 'throw-back' to Man's original unreflective and unselfconscious state of perceiving spirits and being a part of everything.

That is, Steiner lived spontaneously in a dream-world that was true - yet imprecise. He could perceive the universal spiritual reality, but in a state of altered (and somewhat impaired) consciousness. By his own account; he found it difficult to focus on the material mundane world, he lacked interest-in and awareness-of specific details and was naturally forgetful of facts.

But from his later twenties, Steiner the philosopher created a theoretical world-view in which active, alert, purposive thinking - thinking of the real and universal self - was considered to be reality and truth. Indeed the key to all knowledge - past and present - including knowledge of meaning, purpose and morality.

This is brilliantly argued in his early works, at first only partly consciously but with increasing clarity and explicitness: developing throughout the prefaces to Goethe's scientific work from 1883, the book on Goethe's implicit philosophy (1886), the published PhD thesis of 1892 (Truth and Knowledge) up to The Philosophy of Freedom (published 1894) where it reaches its final and complete statement.

 So - first Steiner was a dreamy-spiritual person; then from his early twenties to his middle thirties he developed a theoretical framework for a new kind of clairvoyant (clear seeing) spirituality based on thinking rather than dreaming.

But only when Steiner was in his mid thirties was he actually able to live this new kind of alert and thinking focused spiritual-seeing - which he later called Spiritual Science.

And that was not the end - because in his middle thirties Steiner was broadly hostile to Christianity. However, over the next seven or so years he used his new ability in spiritual science to explore Christianity; and at the end of this time, around 1900 and aged about 42, Steiner finally arrived at what was to be his resting point of Christianity as the basic metaphysical and theological frame within-which the method/ process of Spiritual Science operated.

Steiner changed - he ended up very different from how he started-out; and the change took many years - about twenty years, in fact, from beginning to end!

Why is this important? Because:

1. It shows that change is possible.

2. But change is slow. If it took Steiner twenty years, it might well take us longer...

3. Theory may be well worth doing, and productive and constructive - it can lead to a change of person.

4. Method (spiritual Science) is not enough: religion is also required.

5. Religion can be a thing of the spirit, primarily.

6. Steiner's personal trajectory was very unusual - in that he went from being naturally an atavistic (dreamy, passive, mediumistic) atavistic clairvoyant - to Spiritual Science; whereas most of those who wish to follow him will be coming-from the opposite direction - from an utterly un-spiritual materialism.

7. For me this explains the proven ineffectiveness of Steiner's spiritual 'exercises' - since they were implicitly designed to increase concentration and precision in people who were naturally dreamy-spiritual; while most of us nowadays are all-but unable to be dreamy spiritual and live in a meaningless, purposeless dead-materialism.

8. In sum - to end up where Rudolf Steiner was aged from 42 onwards; we modern Westerners need first to escape materialism and enhance our spiritual sensitivity - perhaps initially with dreamy-clairvoyance: but with the conscious eventual aim of both spiritual science as process, and Christianity as framework.


ted said...

What's your take on his legacy of the Waldorf schools? I know many parents considering sending their kids to one of them. But the spiritual/political orientation of these parents are New Agey and left. So my sense the schools have lost a lot of orthodoxy, and have been absorbed to the culture at large.

Bruce Charlton said...

They are non-denominational - which nowadays means in practice secular Left; and seem to be (from what I read, I have no direct experience) close to (or actually) 100% Leftist - which nowadays means (in practice) anti-Christian.

Thus from my POV they are basically useless; even if they are a bit better than the average school - which may be the case, or not.

My general view is that Steiner made a major, indeed lethal, error in trying to make Anthroposophy separable from being-a-Christian.