Anthroposophy and Ecofascism
In June, 1910, Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy, began a speaking tour of Norway with a lecture to a large and attentive audience in Oslo. The lecture series was titled “The Mission of National Souls in Relation to Nordic-Germanic Mythology.” In the Oslo lectures Steiner presented his theory of “folk souls” or “national souls” (Volksseelen in German, Steiner’s native tongue) and paid particular attention to the mysterious wonders of the “Nordic spirit.” The “national souls” of Northern and Central Europe belonged, Steiner explained, to the “Germanic-Nordic” peoples, the world’s most spiritually advanced ethnic group, which was in turn the vanguard of the highest of five historical “root races.” This superior fifth root race, Steiner told his Oslo audience, was naturally the “Aryan” race. 1
If this peculiar cosmology sounds eerily similar to the teutonic myths of Himmler and Hitler, the resemblance is no accident. Anthroposophy and National Socialism both have deep roots in the confluence of nationalism, right-wing populism, proto-environmentalist romanticism and esoteric spiritualism that characterized much of German and Austrian culture at the end of the nineteenth century. But the connection between Steiner’s racially stratified pseudo-religion and the rise of the Nazis goes beyond mere philosophical parallels. Anthroposophy had a powerful practical influence on the so-called “green wing” of German fascism. Moreover, the actual politics of Steiner and his followers have consistently displayed a profoundly reactionary streak. 2
Why does anthroposophy, despite its patently racist elements and its compromised past, continue to enjoy a reputation as progressive, tolerant, enlightened and ecological? The details of Steiner’s teachings are not well known outside of the anthroposophist movement, and within that movement the lengthy history of ideological implication in fascism is mostly repressed or denied outright. In addition, many individual anthroposophists have earned respect for their work in alternative education, in organic farming, and within the environmental movement. Nevertheless, it is an unfortunate fact that the record of anthroposophist collaboration with a specifically “environmentalist” strain of fascism continues into the twenty-first century.
Organized anthroposophist groups are often best known through their far-flung network of public institutions. The most popular of these is probably the Waldorf school movement, with hundreds of branches worldwide, followed by the biodynamic agriculture movement, which is especially active in Germany and the United States. Other well-known anthroposophist projects include Weleda cosmetics and pharmaceuticals and the Demeter brand of health food products. The new age Findhorn community in Scotland also has a strong anthroposophist component. Anthroposophists played an important role in the formation of the German Greens, and Germany’s former Interior Minister, Otto Schily, one of the most prominent founders of the Greens, is an anthroposophist.
In light of this broad public exposure, it is perhaps surprising that the ideological underpinnings of anthroposophy are not better known. 3 Anthroposophists themselves, however, view their highly esoteric doctrine as an “occult science” suitable to a spiritually enlightened elite. The very name “anthroposophy” suggests to many outsiders a humanist orientation. But anthroposophy is in many respects a deeply anti-humanist worldview, and humanists like Theodor Adorno and Ernst Bloch opposed it from the beginning. 4 Its rejection of reason in favor of mystical experience, its subordination of human action to supernatural forces, and its thoroughly hierarchical model of spiritual development all mark anthroposophy as inimical to humanist values.
Who was Rudolf Steiner?
Like many quasi-religious groups, anthroposophists have a reverential attitude toward their founder. Born in 1861, Steiner grew up in a provincial Austrian town, the son of a mid-level railway official. His intellectually formative years were spent in Vienna, capital of the aging Habsburg empire, and in Berlin. By all accounts an intense personality and a prolific writer and lecturer, Steiner dabbled in a number of unusual causes. Around the turn of the century, he underwent a profound spiritual transformation, after which he claimed to be able to see the spirit world and communicate with celestial beings. These ostensible supernatural powers are the origin of most anthroposophist beliefs and rituals. Steiner changed his mind on many topics in the course of his life; his early hostility toward Christianity, for example, later gave way to a neo-christian version of spiritualism codified in anthroposophy; and his viewpoint on theosophy reversed itself several times. But a preoccupation with mysticism, occult legends and the esoteric marked his mature career from 1900 onward. 5
In 1902 Steiner joined the Theosophical Society and almost immediately became General Secretary of its German section. Theosophy was a curious amalgam of esoteric precepts drawn from various traditions, above all Hinduism and Buddhism, refracted through a European occult lens. 6 Its originator, Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891), was the inventor of the “root races” idea; she declared the extinction of indigenous peoples by European colonialism to be a matter of “karmic necessity.” Theosophy is built around the purported teachings of a coterie of “spiritual masters,” otherworldly beings who secretly direct human events. These teachings were interpreted and presented by Blavatsky and her successor Annie Besant (1847-1933) to their theosophist followers as special wisdom from divine sources, thus establishing the authoritarian pattern that was later carried over to anthroposophy.
Steiner dedicated ten years of his life to the theosophical movement, becoming one of its best-known spokespeople and honing his supernatural skills. He broke from mainstream theosophy in 1912, taking most of the German-speaking sections with him, when Besant and her colleagues declared the young Krishnamurti, a boy they “discovered” in India, to be the reincarnation of Christ. Steiner was unwilling to accept a brown-skinned Hindu lad as the next “spiritual master.” What had separated Steiner all along from Blavatsky, Besant, and the other India-oriented theosophists was his insistence on the superiority of European esoteric traditions.
In the wake of the split, Steiner founded the Anthroposophical Society in Germany. Shortly before the outbreak of world war one he moved the fledgling organization’s international headquarters to Switzerland. Under the protection of Swiss neutrality he was able to build up a permanent center in the village of Dornach. Blending theosophical wisdom with his own “occult research,” Steiner continued to develop the theory and practice of anthroposophy, along with a steadily growing circle of followers, until his death in 1925.
The centerpiece of anthroposophical belief is spiritual advancement through karma and reincarnation, supplemented by the access to esoteric knowledge available to a privileged few. According to anthroposophy, the spiritual dimension suffuses every aspect of life. For anthroposophists, illnesses are karmically determined and play a role in the soul’s development. Natural processes, historical events, and technological mechanisms are all explained through the action of spiritual forces. Such beliefs continue to mark the curriculum in many Waldorf schools.
Steiner’s doctrine of reincarnation, embraced by latter-day anthroposophists the world over, holds that individuals choose their parents before birth, and indeed that we plan out our lives before beginning them to insure that we receive the necessary spiritual lessons. If a disembodied soul balks at its own chosen life prospects just before incarnation, it fails to incarnate fully—the source, according to anthroposophists, of prenatal “defects” and congenital disabilities. In addition, “the various parts of our body will be formed with the aid of certain planetary beings as we pass through particular constellations of the zodiac.” 7
Anthroposophists maintain that Steiner’s familiarity with the “astral plane,” with the workings of various “archangels,” with daily life on the lost continent of Atlantis (all central tenets of anthroposophic belief) came from his special powers of clairvoyance. Steiner claimed to have access to the “Akashic Chronicle,” a supernatural scripture containing knowledge of higher realms of existence as well as of the distant past and future. Steiner “interpreted” much of this chronicle and shared it with his followers. He insisted that such “occult experience,” as he called it, was not subject to the usual criteria of reason, logic, or scientific inquiry. Modern anthroposophy is thus founded on unverifiable belief in Steiner’s teachings. Those teachings deserve closer examination.
Anthroposophy’s Racialist Ideology
Building on theosophy’s postulate of root races, Steiner and his anthroposophist disciples elaborated a systematic racial classification system for human beings and tied it directly to their paradigm of spiritual advancement. The particulars of this racial theory are so extraordinary, even bizarre, that it is difficult for non-anthroposophists to take it seriously, but it is important to understand the pernicious and lasting effects the doctrine has had on anthroposophists and those they’ve influenced. 8
Steiner asserted that “root races” follow one another in chronological succession over epochs lasting hundreds of thousands of years, and each root race is further divided into “sub-races” which are also arranged hierarchically. By chance, as it were, the root race which happened to be paramount at the time Steiner made these momentous discoveries was the Aryan race, a term which anthroposophists use to this day. All racial categories are arbitrary social constructs, but the notion of an Aryan race is an especially preposterous invention. A favorite of reactionaries in the early years of the twentieth century, the Aryan concept was based on a conflation of linguistic and biological terminology backed up by spurious “research.” In other words, it was an amalgamation of errors which served to provide a pseudo-scientific veneer to racist fantasies. 9
Anthroposophy’s promotion of this ridiculous doctrine is disturbing enough. But it is compounded by Steiner’s further claim that—in yet another remarkable coincidence—the most advanced group within the Aryan root race is currently the nordic-germanic sub-race or people. Above all, anthroposophy’s conception of spiritual development is inextricable from its evolutionary narrative of racial decline and racial advance: a select few enlightened members evolve into a new “race” while their spiritually inferior neighbors degenerate. Anthroposophy is thus structured around a hierarchy of biological and psychological as well as “spiritual” capacities and characteristics, all of them correlated to race. The affinities with Nazi discourse are unmistakable. 10
Steiner did not shy away from describing the fate of those left behind by the forward march of racial and spiritual progress. He taught that these unfortunates would “degenerate” and eventually die out. Like his teacher Madame Blavatsky, Steiner rejected the notion that Native Americans, for example, were nearly exterminated by the actions of European settlers. Instead he held that Indians were “dying out of their own nature.” 11 Steiner also taught that “lower races” of humans are closer to animals than to “higher races” of humans. Aboriginal peoples, according to anthroposophy, are descended from the already “degenerate” remnants of the third root race, the Lemurians, and are devolving into apes. Steiner referred to them as “stunted men, whose descendants still inhabit certain parts of the earth today as so-called savage tribes.” 12
The fourth root race which emerged between the Lemurians and the Aryans were the inhabitants of the lost continent of Atlantis, the existence of which anthroposophists take as literal fact. Direct descendants of the Atlanteans include the Japanese, Mongolians, and Eskimos. Steiner also believed that each people or Volk has its own “etheric aura” which corresponds to its geographic homeland, as well as its own “Volksgeist” or national spirit, an archangel that provides spiritual leadership to its respective people.
Steiner propagated a host of racist myths about “negroes.” He taught that black people are sensual, instinct-driven, primitive creatures, ruled by their brainstem. He denounced the immigration of blacks to Europe as “terrible” and “brutal” and decried its effects on “blood and race.” He warned that white women shouldn’t read “negro novels” during pregnancy, otherwise they’d have “mulatto children.” In 1922 he declared, “The negro race does not belong in Europe, and the fact that this race is now playing such a large role in Europe is of course nothing but a nuisance.” 13
But the worst insult, from an anthroposophical point of view, is Steiner’s dictum that people of color can’t develop spiritually on their own; they must either be “educated” by whites or reincarnated in white skin. Europeans, in contrast, are the most highly developed humans. Indeed “Europe has always been the origin of all human development.” For Steiner and for anthroposophy, there is no doubt that “whites are the ones who develop humanity in themselves. [ . . . ] The white race is the race of the future, the spiritually creative race.” 14
Anthroposophists today often attempt to excuse or explain away such outrageous utterances by contending that Steiner was merely a product of his times. 15 This apologia is triply unconvincing. First, Steiner claimed for himself an unprecedented degree of spiritual enlightenment which, by his own account, completely transcended his own time and place; he also claimed, and anthroposophists believe that he had, detailed knowledge of the distant past and future. Second, this argument ignores the many dedicated members of Steiner’s generation who actively opposed racism and ethnocentrism. Third, and most telling, anthroposophists continue to recycle Steiner’s racist imaginings to this day.
In 1995 there was a scandal in the Netherlands when it became publicly known that Dutch Waldorf schools were teaching “racial ethnography,” where children learn that the “black race” has thick lips and a sense of rhythm and that the “yellow race” hides its emotions behind a permanent smile. In 1994 the Steinerite lecturer Rainer Schnurre, at one of his frequent seminars for the anthroposophist adult school in Berlin, gave a talk with the rather baffling title “Overcoming Racism and Nationalism through Rudolf Steiner.” According to a contemporary account, Schnurre emphasized the essential differences between races, noted the “infantile” nature of blacks, and alleged that due to immutable racial disparities “no equal and global system can be created for all people on earth” and that “because of the differences between races, sending aid to the developing world is useless.” 16
Incidents such as these are distressingly common in the world of anthroposophy. The racial mindset that Steiner bestowed on his faithful followers has yet to be repudiated. And it may well never be repudiated, since anthroposophy lacks the sort of critical social consciousness that could counteract its flagrantly regressive core beliefs. Indeed anthroposophy’s political outlook has had a decidedly reactionary cast from the beginning.
The Social Vision of Anthroposophy
Steiner’s political perspective was shaped by a variety of influences. Foremost among these was Romanticism, a literary and political movement that had a lasting impact on German culture in the nineteenth century. Like all broad cultural phenomena, Romanticism was politically complex, inspiring both left and right. But the leading political Romantics were explicit reactionaries and vehement nationalists who excluded Jews, even baptized ones, from their forums; they became bitter opponents of political reform and favored a strictly hierarchical, semi-feudal social order. The Romantic revulsion for nascent “modernity,” hostility toward rationality and enlightenment, and mystical relation to nature all left their mark on Steiner’s thought.
Early in his career Steiner also fell under the sway of Nietzsche, the outstanding anti-democratic thinker of the era, whose elitism made a powerful impression. The radical individualism of Max Stirner further contributed to the young Steiner’s political outlook, yielding a potent philosophical melange that was waiting to be catalyzed by some dynamic reactionary force. 17 The latter appeared to Steiner soon enough in the form of Ernst Haeckel and his Social Darwinist creed of Monism. 18 Haeckel (1834-1919) was the founder of modern ecology and the major popularizer of evolutionary theory in Germany. Steiner became a partisan of Haeckel’s views, and from him anthroposophy inherited its environmentalist predilections, its hierarchical model of human development, and its tendency to interpret social phenomena in biological terms.
Haeckel’s elitist worldview extended beyond the realm of biology. He was also “a prophet of the national and racial regeneration of Germany” and exponent of an “intensely mystical and romantic nationalism,” as well as “a direct ancestor” of Nazi eugenics. 19 Monism, which Steiner for a time vigorously defended, rejected “Western rationalism, humanism, and cosmopolitanism,” and was “opposed to any fundamental social change. What was needed for Germany, it argued categorically, was a far-reaching cultural and not a social revolution.” 20 This attitude was to become a hallmark of anthroposophy.
In the heady turn-of-the-century atmosphere, Steiner flirted for a while with left politics, and even shared a podium with revolutionary socialist Rosa Luxemburg at a workers’ meeting in 1902. But Steiner consistently rejected any materialist or social analysis of capitalist society in favor of “looking into the soul” of fellow humans to divine the roots of the modern malaise. This facile approach to social reality was to reach fruition in his mature political vision, elaborated during the first world war. Steiner’s response to the war was determined by the final, decisive component in his intellectual temperament: chauvinist nationalism.
By his own account, Steiner actively took part in Viennese pan-German circles in the late nineteenth century. 21 He saw World War One as part of an international “conspiracy against German spiritual life.” 22 In Steiner’s preferred explanation, it wasn’t imperialist rivalry among colonial powers or national myopia or unbounded militarism or the competition for markets which caused the war, but British freemasons and their striving for world domination. Steiner was a personal acquaintance of General Helmuth von Moltke, chief of staff of the German high command; after Moltke’s death in 1916 Steiner claimed to be in contact with his spirit and channeled the general’s views on the war from the nether world. After the war Steiner had high praise for German militarism, and continued to rail against France, French culture, and the French language in rhetoric which matched that of Mein Kampf. In the 1990’s anthroposophists were still defending Steiner’s jingoist historical denial, insisting that Germany bore no responsibility for World War One and was a victim of the “West.”
In the midst of the war’s senseless savagery, Steiner used his military and industrial connections to try to persuade German and Austrian elites of a new social theory of his, which he hoped to see implemented in conquered territories in Eastern Europe. Unfortunately for Steiner’s plans, Germany and Austria-Hungary lost the war, and his dream went unrealized. But the new doctrine he had begun preaching serves to this day as the social vision of anthroposophy. Its economic and political principles represent an unsteady combination of individualist and corporatist elements. Conceived as an alternative to both Woodrow Wilson’s self-determination program and the bolshevik revolution, Steiner gave this theory the unwieldy name “the tripartite structuring of the social organism” (Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus, often referred to in English-language anthroposophist literature as “social threefolding” or “the threefold commonwealth,” phrases which obscure Steiner’s biologistic view of the social realm as an actual organism). 23 The three branches of this scheme, which resembles both fascist and semi-feudal corporatist models, are the state (political, military, and police functions), the economy, and the cultural sphere. 24 This last sphere encompasses “all judicial, educational, intellectual and spiritual matters,” which are to be administered by “corporations,” with individuals free to choose their school, church, court, etc. 25
Anthroposophists consider this threefold structure to be “naturally ordained.” 26 Its central axiom is that the modern integration of politics, economy and culture into an ostensibly democratic framework must falter because, according to Steiner, neither the economy nor cultural life can or should be structured democratically. The cultural sphere, which Steiner defined very broadly, is a realm of individual achievement where the most talented and capable should predominate. And the economy must never be subject to democratic public control because it would then collapse. Steiner’s economic and political naiveté are encapsulated in his claim that capitalism “will become a legitimate capitalism if it is spiritualized.” 27
In the aftermath of the bloody world war, at the very moment of great upheavals against the violence, misery, and exploitation of capitalism, Steiner emerged as an ardent defender of private profit, the concentration of property and wealth, and the unfettered market. Arguing vehemently against any effort to replace anti-social institutions with humane ones, Steiner proposed adapting his “threefold commonwealth” to the existing system of class domination. He could scarcely deny that the coarse economic despotism of his day was enormously damaging to human lives, but insisted that “private capitalism as such is not the cause of the damage”:
“The fact that individual people or groups of people administer huge masses of capital is not what makes life anti-social, but rather the fact that these people or groups exploit the products of their administrative labor in an anti-social manner. [ . . . ] If management by capable individuals were replaced with management by the whole community, the productivity of management would be undermined. Free initiative, individual capabilities and willingness to work cannot be fully realized within such a community. [ . . .] The attempt to structure economic life in a social manner destroys productivity.” 28
Though Steiner tried to make inroads within working class institutions, his outlook was understandably not very popular among workers. The revolutionaries of the 1919 Munich council republic derided him as “the soul-doctor of decaying capitalism.” 29 Otto Neurath condemned ‘social threefolding’ as small-scale capitalism. Industrialists, on the other hand, showed a keen interest in Steiner’s notions. Soon after the revolutionary upsurge of workers across Germany was crushed, Steiner was invited by the director of the Waldorf-Astoria tobacco factory to establish a company school in Stuttgart. Thus were Waldorf schools born.
Anthroposophy in Practice: Waldorf Schools and Biodynamic Farming
The school in Stuttgart turned out to be the anthroposophists’ biggest success, along with the nearby pharmaceutical factory that they named after the mythical Norse oracle Weleda. Waldorf schools are now represented in many countries and generally project a solidly progressive image. There are undoubtedly progressive aspects to Waldorf education, many of them absorbed from the intense ferment of alternative pedagogical theories prevalent in the first decades of the twentieth century. But there is more to Waldorf schooling than holistic learning, musical expression, and eurythmy.
Classical anthroposophy, with its root races and its national souls, is the “covert curriculum” of Waldorf schools. 30 Anthroposophists themselves avow in internal forums that the idea of karma and reincarnation is the “basis of all true education.” 31 They believe that each class of students chooses one another and their teacher before birth. The task of a Waldorf teacher is to assist each pupil in fully incarnating. Steiner himself demanded that Waldorf schools be staffed by “teachers with a knowledge of man originating in a spiritual world.” 32 Later anthroposophists express the Waldorf vision thus:
“This education is essentially grounded on the recognition of the child as a spiritual being, with a varying number of incarnations behind him, who is returning at birth into the physical world, into a body that will be slowly moulded into a usable instrument by the soul-spiritual forces he brings with him. He has chosen his parents for himself because of what they can provide for him that he needs in order to fulfill his karma, and, conversely, they too need their relationship with him in order to fulfill their own karma.” 33
The curriculum at Waldorf schools is structured around the stages of spiritual maturation posited by anthroposophy: from one to seven years a child develops her or his physical body, from seven to fourteen years the etheric body, and from fourteen to twenty-one the astral body. These stages are supposed to be marked by physical changes; thus kindergartners at Waldorf schools can’t enter first grade until they’ve begun to lose their baby teeth. In addition, each pupil is classified according to the medieval theory of humors: a Waldorf child is either melancholic, choleric, sanguine, or phlegmatic – the categorization is in part based on the child’s external physical appearance – and is treated accordingly by the teachers.
Along with privileging ostensibly “spiritual” considerations over cognitive and psycho-social ones, the static uniformity of this scheme is pedagogically suspect. It also suggests that Waldorf schools’ reputation for fostering a spontaneous, child-centered and individually oriented educational atmosphere is undeserved. 34 In fact Steiner’s model of instruction is downright authoritarian: he emphasized repetition and rote learning, and insisted that the teacher should be the center of the classroom and that students’ role was not to judge or even discuss the teacher’s pronouncements. In practice many Waldorf schools implement strict discipline, with public punishment for perceived transgressions.
Anthroposophy’s peculiar predilections also shape the Waldorf curriculum. Jazz and popular music are often scorned at European Waldorf schools, and recorded music in general is frowned upon; these phenomena are considered to harbor demonic forces. Instead students read fairy tales, a staple of Waldorf education. Some sports, too, are forbidden, and art instruction often rigidly follows Steiner’s eccentric theories of color and form. Taken together with the pervasive anti-technological and anti-scientific bias, the suspicion toward rational thought, and the occasional outbreaks of racist gibberish, these factors indicate that Waldorf schooling is as questionable as the other aspects of the anthroposophist enterprise.
Next to Waldorf schools, the most widespread and apparently progressive version of applied anthroposophy is biodynamic agriculture. In Germany and North America, at least, biodynamics is an established part of the alternative agriculture scene. Many small growers use biodynamic methods on their farms or gardens; there are biodynamic vineyards and the Demeter line of biodynamic food products, as well as a profusion of pamphlets, periodicals and conferences on the theory and practice of biodynamic farming.
Although not a farmer himself, Steiner introduced the fundamental outlines of biodynamics near the end of his life and produced a substantial body of literature on the topic, which anthroposophists and biodynamic growers follow more or less faithfully. Biodynamics in practice often converges with the broader principles of organic farming. Its focus on maintaining soil fertility rather than on crop yield, its rejection of artificial chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and its view of the whole farm or plot as an ecosystem all mark the biodynamic approach as an eminently sensible and ecologically sound method of cultivation. But there is more to the story than that.
Biodynamic farming is based on Steiner’s revelation of invisible cosmic forces and their effects on soil and flora. Anthroposophy teaches that the earth is an organism that breathes twice a day, that etheric beings act upon the land, and that celestial bodies and their movements directly influence the growth of plants. Hence biodynamic farmers time their sowing to coincide with the proper planetary constellations, all a part of what they consider “the spiritual natural processes of the earth.” 35 Sometimes this “spiritual” approach takes unusual forms, as in the case of “preparation 500.”
To make preparation 500, an integral component of anthroposophist agriculture, biodynamic farmers pack cow manure into a steer’s horn and bury it in the ground. After leaving it there for one whole winter, they dig up the horn and mix the manure with water (it must be stirred for a full hour in a specific rhythm) to make a spray which is applied to the topsoil. All of this serves to channel “radiations which tend to etherealize and astralize” and thus “gather up and attract from the surrounding earth all that is etheric and life-giving.” 36
Non-anthroposophist organic growers are often inclined to dismiss such fanciful aspects of biodynamics as pointless but harmless appurtenances to an otherwise congenial cultivation technique. While this attitude has some merit, it is not reciprocated by biodynamic adherents, who emphasize that “The ‘organic’ farmer may well farm ‘biologically’ but he does not have the knowledge of how to work with dynamic forces—a knowledge that was given for the first time by Rudolf Steiner.” 37 For better or worse, biodynamic farming is inseparable from its anthroposophic context.
Enthusiasm for biodynamics, however, has historically extended well beyond the boundaries of anthroposophy proper. For a time it also held a strong appeal for others who shared anthroposophists’ nationalist background and occult interests. Indeed it was through biodynamic farming that anthroposophy most directly influenced the course of German fascism.
Anthroposophy and the “Green Wing” of the Nazi Party
The mix of mysticism, romanticism, and pseudo-environmentalist concerns propagated by Steiner and his cohorts brought anthroposophy into close ideological contact with a grouping that has been described as the green wing of National Socialism. 38 This group, which included several of the Third Reich’s most powerful leaders, were active proponents of biodynamic agriculture and other anthroposophist causes. The history of this relationship has been the subject of some controversy, with anthroposophists typically denying any connection whatsoever to the Nazis. To understand the matter fully, it is perhaps best to set it in the context of anthroposophy’s attitude toward the rise of fascism.
As the extremely thorough research of independent scholar Peter Bierl demonstrates, there was considerable admiration within the ranks of anthroposophists for Mussolini and Italian fascism, the precursor to Hitler’s dictatorship. 39 Moreover, several leading Italian anthroposophists were vocal Fascists and actively involved in promoting Fascist racial policy. 40 But it was the German variety of fascism which most prominently shared anthroposophy’s preoccupation with race. During the 1920’s and 1930’s the leading anthroposophist writer on racial issues was Dr. Richard Karutz, director of the anthropological museum in Lübeck. 41 Karutz wanted to protect anthropology as a discipline from what he termed “the sociological flood of materialist thinking,” favoring instead a “spiritual” ethnology based on anthroposophical race doctrine. 42 Flatly denying the anthropological research of his own time, he insisted on the cultural and spiritual superiority of the “Aryan race.”
Karutz was more openly antisemitic than many of his anthroposophist colleagues. He denounced the “spirit of Jewry,” which he described as “cliquish, petty, narrow-minded, rigidly tied to the past, devoted to dead conceptual knowledge and hungry for world power.” 43 During the last decade of the Weimar republic, Karutz and other anthroposophists had to contend with the growing notoriety of Nazi “racial science.” Karutz criticized the Nazis’ eugenic theories for their biological, as opposed to “spiritual,” emphasis, and for neglecting the role of reincarnation. But he agreed with their proscription against “racial mixing,” especially between whites and non-whites.
In 1931 the foremost anthroposophist journal published a positive review by Karutz of Walther Darré’s book Neuadel aus Blut und Boden (‘A New Nobility out of Blood and Soil’). Darré, a leading “racial theorist” and pre-eminent figure in the Nazis’ green wing, was soon to become Minister of Agriculture under Hitler. 44 This cozy relationship with major Nazi officials paid off for Steiner’s followers once the party took command of Germany. According to numerous anthroposophist accounts of this period, the Nazis hounded the Steinerites from the beginning of the Third Reich. But this self-serving tale is much too simple; the historical record reveals a considerably more complicated reality.
Immediately after the Nazi movement attained state power in early 1933, the leaders of organized anthroposophy took the initiative in extending their support to the new government. In June of that year a Danish newspaper asked Günther Wachsmuth, Secretary of the International Anthroposophic Society in Switzerland, about anthroposophy’s attitude toward the Nazi regime. He replied, “We can’t complain. We’ve been treated with the utmost consideration and have complete freedom to promote our doctrine.” Speaking for anthroposophists generally, Wachsmuth went on to express his “sympathy” and “admiration” for National Socialism. 45
Wachsmuth, one of three top officers at anthroposophy’s world headquarters in Dornach, was hardly alone among Steiner’s followers in his vocal support for the Hitler dictatorship. The homeopathic physician Hanns Rascher, for example, proudly proclaimed himself “just as much an anthroposophist as a National Socialist.” 46 In 1934 the German Anthroposophic Society sent Hitler an official letter pointing out anthroposophy’s compatibility with National Socialist values and emphasizing Steiner’s “Aryan origins” and his pro-German activism. 47
At the time Wachsmuth gave his interview, thousands of socialists, communists, anarchists, union members, and other dissidents had been interned or exiled, the Dachau and Oranienburg concentration camps had been established, and independent political life in Germany had been obliterated. But for years most anthroposophists suffered no official harassment; they were accepted into the compulsory Nazi cultural associations and continued to pursue their activities. The exception, of course, was Jewish members of anthroposophist organizations. They were forced, under pressure from the state, to leave these institutions. There is no record of their gentile anthroposophist comrades protesting this “racial” exclusion, much less putting up any internal resistance to it. In fact some anthroposophists, like the law professor Ernst von Hippel, endorsed the expulsion of Jews from German universities.
Despite this extensive public support by anthroposophists for the nazification of Germany, a power struggle was going on within the byzantine apparatus of the Nazi state over whether to ban anthroposophy or co-opt the movement and its institutions. This struggle was primarily conducted between Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy and a personal sympathizer with anthroposophical practices, and Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS and devotee of the esoteric and occult who viewed anthroposophy as ideological and organizational competition to his own pseudo-religion of Nazi paganism. 48 It was not until November 1935, long after most other independent cultural institutions had been destroyed, that the German Anthroposophic Society was dissolved on Himmler’s orders.
The ban, signed by Himmler’s lieutenant Reinhard Heydrich, cited anthroposophy’s “international orientation” and Waldorf schools’ “individualistic” education. Nazi opponents of the party’s green wing, such as Heydrich, disliked anthroposophy because of its “oriental” origins; there was also a certain populist resentment of anthroposophy’s elitism involved. But even after the ban there was no general persecution of anthroposophists. The anthroposophical doctors’ association received official recognition and support, joining the Nazi organization for ‘natural healing.’ Many anthroposophical publishing activities continued uninterrupted; anthroposophist professors, teachers and civil servants kept their jobs; Waldorf schools and biodynamic farms continued to operate. Most Waldorf schools were eventually shut down in the course of the later 1930’s, despite the pro-anthroposophist intervention of influential Nazis like SS war criminal Otto Ohlendorf. 49 But the final blow didn’t come until 1941 when Hess, anthroposophy’s protector, flew to Britain. After that point the last Waldorf school was closed for good, biodynamic farming lost its official support, and several leading anthroposophists were imprisoned for a time.
The Weleda factories, on the other hand, continued to operate throughout the war and even received state contracts. In fact Weleda supplied naturopathic materials for ‘medical experiments’ (i.e. torture) on prisoners at Dachau. 50 Weleda’s longtime head gardener, Franz Lippert, asked to be transferred to Dachau in 1941 to oversee the biodynamic plantation that Himmler had established at the concentration camp. 51 Lippert became an SS officer, as did his fellow biodynamic leader, anthroposophist Carl Grund. Thus anthroposophist collaboration with the Nazi vision of a new Europe persisted until the bitter end of the Third Reich.
Much of this sordid history is substantiated, albeit with a very different interpretive accent, in the massive 1999 book on anthroposophists and National Socialism by Uwe Werner, chief archivist at anthroposophy’s world headquarters in Switzerland. 52 But even this revealing work presents anthroposophist behavior under the Nazis as merely defensive and thus absolves Steiner’s followers of any measure of responsibility for Nazi Germany’s myriad crimes. Many other postwar attempts by anthroposophists to come to terms with their history of compromise and complicity with the Third Reich are embarrassingly evasive and repeat the underlying racism which united them with the Nazis in the first place. The prevailing explanations are thoroughly esoteric, portraying the Nazis as manipulated by demonic powers or even as a necessary stage in the spiritual development of the Aryan race. 53
The Biodynamic movement and its Nazi admirers
More striking still than such mystifications of Nazism is the refusal within anthroposophic circles to acknowledge their doctrine’s influence on the Nazis’ green wing. The anthroposophist inflection of German ecofascism extended well beyond high-profile figures such as Darré and Hess. 54 Powerful Steinerite Nazi functionaries and supporters of biodynamic agriculture included SS officer and anthroposophist Hans Merkel, a leading figure in the SS Main Office for Race and Settlement; anthroposophist Georg Halbe, an influential official in the Nazi agricultural apparatus; Merkel’s and Halbe’s colleague Wilhelm Rauber; and Nazi party Reichstag member Hermann Schneider. 55 Other regional and local officials of the biodynamic farmers league belonged to the Nazi party, including Carl Grund, Albert Friehe, and Harald Kabisch. 56 A further central member of the green wing with strong ties to anthroposophy was Alwin Seifert, whose official title was Reich Advocate for the Landscape. 57 Leading figures in the biodynamic movement, meanwhile, such as Franz Dreidax and Max Karl Schwarz, worked closely with various Nazi organizations.
What distinguished the motley band of fascist functionaries known collectively as the green wing of the Nazi movement was their allegiance to the anti-humanist “religion of nature” preached by National Socialism. 58 Reviving Haeckel’s blend of Social Darwinism and ecology, they embodied a historically unique and politically disastrous convergence of otherworldly ideology with worldly authority. In the green wing of the Nazi party, nationalism, spiritualism, esoteric racism and eco-mysticism acceded to state power. 59
The green wing’s guiding slogan was ‘Blood and Soil,’ an infamous Nazi phrase which referred to the mystical relationship between the German people and its sacred land. Adherents of Blood and Soil held that environmental purity was inseparable from racial purity. This dual concern made them natural consociates of anthroposophy. The principal intermediary between organized anthroposophy and the Nazi green wing was Erhard Bartsch, the chief anthroposophist official responsible for biodynamic agriculture. Bartsch was on friendly personal terms with Seifert and Hess and played a crucial role in persuading the Nazi leadership of the virtues of biodynamics. He constantly emphasized the philosophical affinities between anthroposophy and National Socialism. Bartsch edited the journal Demeter, official organ of German biodynamic growers, which praised the Nazis and their courageous Führer even after the start of the war. Bartsch also offered his services to the SS in their plan to settle the conquered territories of Eastern Europe with pure Aryan farmers. His early and wholehearted engagement for the Nazi cause is testimony to the political precariousness of the biodynamic model. 60
Many other powerful Nazi authorities supported biodynamic farming. These included, in addition to Ohlendorf, Hess, and Darré, the Nazi Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick, Nazi leader of the German Labor Front Robert Ley, and chief Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg, all of whom were visitors to Bartsch’s biodynamic estate, the headquarters of the biodynamic farmers league, and expressed their encouragement for the undertaking. Two further extremely important figures, especially after 1941, were the high SS commanders Günther Pancke and Oswald Pohl. Pancke was Darré’s successor as head of the SS Race and Settlement Main Office and drew on Bartsch’s assistance in planning a biodynamic component to the Nazi settlement of ethnically cleansed territories in Eastern Europe. Pohl, a friend of Seifert’s, was the administrator of the concentration camp system. He took a special interest in biodynamics and had his own estate farmed biodynamically. He established and maintained the ring of biodynamic farms at concentration camps, which continued to operate until the final defeat of Nazism in 1945.
Alongside these figures stood lesser-known Nazi leaders who actively supported the biodynamic cause, including a variety of other SS officers such as Heinrich Vogel, who coordinated the SS network of biodynamic plantations at concentration camps. Hanns G. Müller, the principal advocate of Lebensreform or ‘lifestyle reform’ views within the Nazi movement, was another longstanding sponsor of biodynamic agriculture. In 1935 the biodynamic farmers league officially joined Müller’s Nazi organization, the “Deutsche Gesellschaft für Lebensreform,” a collection of ‘alternative’ cultural groups dedicated to alternative health, nutrition, farming, and so forth, with an explicitly and fervently Nazi commitment. The organization’s journal Leib und Leben published dozens of articles by biodynamic enthusiasts as late as mid-1943. Müller’s Nazi party colleague Herman Polzer, another leading figure in Nazi Lebensreform circles, was a particularly vocal proponent of biodynamic agriculture. The coterie of “landscape advocates” working under Seifert, a long-time practitioner and advocate of biodynamics, also included a number of active anthroposophists, most prominently Max Karl Schwarz, a major leader in the biodynamic movement. 61
Nazi Minister of Agriculture and “Reich Peasant Leader” Walther Darré was initially skeptical toward biodynamic farming but became an enthusiastic convert in the late 1930’s. 62 He bestowed on Steiner’s version of organic cultivation the official label “farming according to the laws of life,” a term which highlights the natural order ideology common to all forms of reactionary ecology. In mid-1941 Darré was still heavily promoting state support for biodynamics, and his biographer claims that “one third of the top Nazi leadership supported Darré’s campaign” on behalf of biodynamics at a time when all varieties of anthroposophy were officially out of favor. 63 Indeed Nazi government encouragement of biodynamic farming had a long history: “There were two thousand bio-dynamic farmers registered in the Nazi ‘Battle for Production’, probably an understatement of the real figure.” 64
The green wing of the Nazis represents the historical fulfillment of the dreams of reactionary ecology: ecofascism in power. The extensive intertwinement of anthroposophic belief and practice with actually existing ecofascism should not be judged as an instance of guilt by association. Rather it ought to be occasion to reflect on the political susceptibilities of esoteric environmentalism. Even the anthroposophist author Arfst Wagner, who spent years compiling documentation on anthroposophy in the Third Reich, came to the uncomfortable conclusion that “a strong latent tendency toward extreme right-wing politics” is common among anthroposophists both past and present. 65
The Continuing Legacy of Steinerite Reactionary Ecology
The calamitous experience of Nazism failed to exorcise the right-wing spirits that haunt anthroposophy. Steiner’s dictum that social change could only be the result of spiritual transformation on an individual level lead to a marginalization of sober political analysis among his followers. This left anthroposophy wide open to the same regressive forces that had surreptitiously animated it all along.
Of course there were also personal continuities between the Nazi green wing and post-war anthroposophy. While Hess was inaccessible in Spandau prison, Darré’s judges at Nuremberg imposed a relatively short sentence, with the help of Merkel, his anthroposophist attorney. Darré studied Steiner’s writings during his imprisonment, and after his release from prison resumed his friendly contacts with anthroposophists until his death in 1953. Seifert returned to his professorship of landscape architecture in Munich and in 1964 was elected honorary chair of the Bavarian League for Nature Conservation. Darré’s biographer also notes admiringly “the brave handful of top Nazis” who had refused to cooperate with the 1941 purge of anthroposophists and “had their children educated and cared for by Anthroposophists after the Second World War.” 66
The second generation of radical right-wing anthroposophists was represented above all by Werner Georg Haverbeck, a leader of the Nazi youth movement during the Third Reich and an associate of Hess. After the war he became pastor of an anthroposophist congregation and founded the far-right World League for the Protection of Life (WSL in its German acronym). 67 The WSL, which has played an influential role in the German environmental movement, is anti-abortion, anti-immigration, and pro-eugenics. It promotes a “natural order of life” and opposes racial “degeneration.” As aggressive nationalism gained ever more ground in German public discourse through the 1980’s and 1990’s, Haverbeck and the WSL were instrumental in linking it to ecological issues. 68
In 1989 Haverbeck authored a biography of anthroposophy’s founder under the title Rudolf Steiner – Advocate for Germany. 69 The book portrays Steiner, accurately enough, as a staunch nationalist, and even uses Steiner’s work to deny the facts of the holocaust. Haverbeck’s fellow long-time anthroposophist and WSL leader Ernst Otto Cohrs is another active holocaust denier. Cohrs, who made his living in the 1980’s and 1990’s selling biodynamic products, has also published works such as “There Were No Gas Chambers” and “The Auschwitz Myth.” A further prominent Steinerite on Germany’s extreme right is Günther Bartsch, who describes himself as a “national revolutionary.” Along with his neo-Nazi comrade Baldur Springmann, an organic farmer, WSL member, and founder of the Greens, Bartsch developed the doctrine of ‘Ecosophy.’ A mixture of anthroposophy with reactionary ecology and teutonic mysticism, ecosophy is yet another vehicle for promoting far right politics within the esoteric scene.
The persistent connection between Steiner’s worldview and neofascist politics is not restricted to a few fringe figures. Throughout the past two decades, well-known anthroposophists have been a common presence in Germany’s far right press, while anthroposophist publications often enough opens their pages to right-wing extremists. One anti-fascist researcher reports that “leading figures in the extreme right and neofascist camp are ideological proponents of biodynamic agriculture.” 70 Anthroposophists themselves occasionally admit that within their own organizations a “right-wing conservative consensus” remains “absolute.” 71 In Italy, meanwhile, the foremost post-war anthroposophist, Massimo Scaligero, was also a leading figure in neo-fascist circles, as was his pupil and colleague, anthroposophist Enzo Erra. 72 Steiner’s work has numerous far-right Italian fans. 73
Many contemporary anthroposophists nonetheless maintain that figures like Haverbeck are marginal to their movement. This argument overlooks the fact that several of Haverbeck’s books are published by the largest anthroposophist publisher in Germany, and ignores the substantial overlap between Haverbeck’s positions and those of Steiner and classical anthroposophy. More important, mainstream anthroposophists continue to repeat the mistakes of the past, as if Nazi tyranny and genocide had never taken place. Günther Wachsmuth, for example – as mainstream an anthroposophist as one might find – published a purportedly scientific book in the 1950’s called The Development of Humanity which recapitulated the racist nonsense of pre-war anthroposophy. 74 Even more aggressively racist post-war anthroposophical works are not difficult to find. 75 In 1991, in the midst of an intense debate within Germany about restricting immigration laws, an anthroposophist journal ran an article with the title “Deutschendämmerung” (‘Twilight of the Germans’) which offered an ‘ecological’ version of neo-malthusian propaganda and anti-immigrant hysteria.
Mainstream anthroposophy also still has a Jewish problem. Perhaps this is not surprising in a movement whose founder blamed the historical persecution of Jews on their own “inner destiny” and proclaimed that “the Jews have contributed immensely to their own separate status.” 76 In 1992 a Swiss Waldorf teacher published a book claiming there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz; a leading Russian anthroposophist followed suit in 1996 with another book denying the holocaust; in 1995 a prominent anthroposophist periodical carried an article on “Jewish-Christian Hostility” which recycled the old myth of Jews as Christ-killers; in 1998 an anthroposophist from Hamburg wrote to another Steinerite journal claiming that “from 1933 to 1942 any Jew could leave the Nazi dictatorship with all of his property, and even be released from a concentration camp, as long as he went to Palestine.” 77 In 1991 and again in 1997 Swiss and German anthroposophists re-issued the 1931 book Das Rätsel des Judentums (‘The Mystery of Jewry’) by Ludwig Thieben, one of Austria’s leading anthroposophists in Steiner’s day. Jewish organizations and civil rights groups protested this ugly tract, which decries the “far-reaching negative influence of the Jewish essence,” alleges that Jews have “an anti-christian predisposition in their blood,” and holds Jews responsible for the “decline of the West.” 78 The anthroposophist publisher threatened the protesting organizations with a lawsuit.
The repeated occurrence of incidents such as these ought to be of considerable concern to humanists and people who envision a world free of racist ignorance. Even when approached with skepticism, anthroposophy’s consistent pattern of regressive political stances raises troubling questions about participation in anthroposophist projects and collaboration with anthroposophists on social initiatives. Those anthroposophists who are actively involved in contemporary environmental and social change movements frequently personify the most reactionary aspects of those movements: they hold technology, science, the enlightenment and abstract thought responsible for environmental destruction and social dislocation; they rail against finance capital and the loss of traditional values, denounce atheism and secularism, and call for renewed spiritual awareness and personal growth as the solution to ecological catastrophe and capitalist alienation. Conspiracy theory is their coin in trade, esoteric insight their preferred answer, obscurantism their primary function.
With a public face that is seemingly of the left, anthroposophy frequently acts as a magnet for the right. Loyal to an unreconstructed racist and elitist philosophy, built on a foundation of anti-democratic politics and pro-capitalist economics, purveying mystical panaceas rather than social alternatives, Steiner’s ideology offers only disorientation in an already disoriented world. Anthroposophy’s enduring legacy of collusion with ecofascism makes it plainly unacceptable for those working toward a humane and ecological society.
1. See Rudolf Steiner, Die Mission einzelner Volksseelen im Zusammenhang mit der germanisch-nordischen Mythologie, Dornach, Switzerland 1994. These lectures are available in English under the title The Mission of the Individual Folk Souls in Relation to Teutonic Mythology, London 1970, republished 2005. The “Nordic spirit” of Scandinavia continues to fascinate European anthroposophists; see, for example, Hans Mändl, Vom Geist des Nordens, Stuttgart 1966, and Gundula Jäger, Die Bildsprache der Edda: Vergangenheits- und Zukunftsgeheimnisse in der nordisch-germanischen Mythologie (Stuttgart 2004).
2. For more thorough discussion of anthroposophical race doctrines see Sven Ove Hansson, “The Racial Teachings of Rudolf Steiner”: http://www.skepticreport.com/newage/steiner.htm as well as Helmut Zander, “Anthroposophische Rassentheorie: Der Geist auf dem Weg durch die Rassengeschichte” in Stefanie von Schnurbein and Justus Ulbricht, Völkische Religion und Krisen der Moderne, Würzburg 2001, and Peter Staudenmaier, “Race and Redemption: Racial and Ethnic Evolution in Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy” Nova Religio vol. 11 no. 3 (2008), pp. 4-36.
3. One crucial stumbling block for English language readers is the anthroposophical tendency to delete racist and antisemitic passages from translated editions of Steiner’s publications. For examples see www.chaseuk.info and for context see www.easeonline.org
4. See the incisive passages on Steiner and anthroposophy in Bloch, Heritage of Our Times, Berkeley 1991, as well as Adorno’s “Theses against occultism” in Adorno, Minima Moralia, London 1974.
5. Readers of German can now consult a superb account of Steiner’s intellectual development and a comprehensive history of anthroposophy’s early years: Helmut Zander, Anthroposophie in Deutschland: Theosophische Weltanschauung und gesellschaftliche Praxis 1884–1945, Göttingen 2007.
6. On the connections between theosophy and the Nazis, see George Mosse, “The Occult Origins of National Socialism” in Mosse, The Fascist Revolution: Toward a General Theory of Fascism, New York 1999.
7. Stewart Easton, Man and World in the Light of Anthroposophy, New York 1975, p. 164.
8. Steiner’s racial teachings, a crucial element of the anthroposophic worldview, are spread throughout his work. For a concise overview in English see Janet Biehl’s section on Steiner in Biehl and Staudenmaier, Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience, San Francisco 1995, pp. 42-43 (Norwegian edition: Økofascisme: Lærdom fra Tysklands erfaringer, Porsgrunn 1997). Major statements by Steiner himself include Rudolf Steiner, Cosmic Memory: Prehistory of Earth and Man, New York 1987; Steiner, Universe, Earth and Man, London 1987; Steiner, “The Manifestation of the Ego in the Different Races of Men” in Steiner, The Being of Man and His Future Evolution, London 1981; Steiner, “Die Grundbegriffe der Theosophie. Menschenrassen” (Basic concepts of Theosophy: The races of humankind) in Steiner, Die Welträtsel und die Anthroposophie, Dornach 1985; Steiner, “Farbe und Menschenrassen” (Color and the races of humankind) in Steiner, Vom Leben des Menschen und der Erde, Dornach 1993. Although this latter book, a collection of Steiner’s lectures from 1923, has been published in English, the translation omits the chapter on race.
9. For background on the notion of an “Aryan race” see Leon Poliakov, The Aryan Myth, New York 1974; Stefan Arvidsson, Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science, Chicago 2006; and Colin Kidd, “The Aryan Moment: Racialising Religion in the Nineteenth Century” in Kidd, The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600-2000, Cambridge 2006.
10. Wolfgang Treher makes a compelling case that Steiner’s racial theories, especially the repeated scheme of a small minority evolving further while a large mass declines, bear striking similarities even in detail to Hitler’s own theories. He concludes: “Concentration camps, slave labor and the murder of Jews constitute a praxis whose key is perhaps to be found in the ‘theories’ of Rudolf Steiner.” Wolfgang Treher, Hitler Steiner Schreber, Emmingden 1966, p. 70.
11. Steiner, Vom Leben des Menschen und der Erde, p. 61. Elsewhere Steiner writes that the decimation of American Indians was due to their “racial character” (The Mission of the Folk Souls p. 76).
12. Rudolf Steiner, Cosmic Memory, New York 1987, p. 45.
13. Rudolf Steiner, Faculty Meetings With Rudolf Steiner pp. 58-59; Vom Leben des Menschen und der Erde p. 53; Gesundheit und Krankheit p. 189. Steiner’s typical remarks on Asian mental passivity, French decadence, and Slavic primitiveness are of similar caliber.
14. Steiner, Vom Leben des Menschen und der Erde 59, 62, 67.
15. Anthroposophical race thinking was hardly a personal idiosyncrasy of Rudolf Steiner. Racist theories abound within twentieth-century anthroposophical literature. Among many other examples see the following: Guenther Wachsmuth, editor, Gäa-Sophia: Jahrbuch der Naturwissenschaftlichen Sektion der Freien Hochschule für Geisteswissenschaft am Goetheanum Dornach, Stuttgart 1929, volume III: Völkerkunde; Wolfgang Moldenhauer, “Der Mensch vor und neben den grossen Kulturen”, Das Goetheanum February 13, 1938; Karl Heise, “Ein paar Worte zum Dunkelhaar und Braunauge der Germanen”, Zentralblatt für Okkultismus July-November 1914; Hans Heinrich Frei, “In Vererbung wiederholte Menschenleibes-Form und in Schicksalsgestaltung wiederholte Geisteswesens-Form”, Anthroposophie August 14 1927; Valentin Tomberg, “Mongolentum in Osteuropa”, Anthroposophie February 22 1931; Harry Köhler, “Menschheits-Entwickelung und Völkerschicksale im Spiegel der Historie”, Das Goetheanum August 21 1932; Wolfgang Moldenhauer, “Die Wanderungs-Atlantier und das Gesetz des Manu”, Das Goetheanum June 26 1938; Elise Wolfram, Die germanischen Heldensagen als Entwicklungsgeschichte der Rasse, Stuttgart 1922; Elisabeth Dank, “Die Neger in den Vereinigten Staaten” Die Christengemeinschaft September 1933; Ernst von Hippel, Afrika als Erlebnis des Menschen, Breslau 1938; as well as the substantial works on racial themes by leading anthroposophists Ernst Uehli and Richard Karutz. Italian anthroposophists also made significant contributions to the canon of racist publications; see e.g. Massimo Scaligero, “Razzismo spirituale e razzismo biologico”, La Vita Italiana July 1941; Scaligero, “Per un razzismo integrale” La Vita Italiana May 1942; Ettore Martinoli, “L’importanza di Trieste per l’ebraismo internazionale”, La Porta Orientale December 1942; Ettore Martinoli, “Gli impulsi storici della nuova Europa e l’azione dell’ebraismo internazionale”, La Vita Italiana April 1943.
16. Schnurre quoted in Oliver Geden, Rechte ökologie, Berlin 1996, p. 144.
17. For a fine critical study of Stirner’s influence on Steiner and others see Hans Helms, Die Ideologie der anonymen Gesellschaft, Cologne 1966.
18. On Steiner’s correspondence with Haeckel and his intense commitment to Monism around the turn of the century, see Anthroposophie vol. 16 no. 2 (January 1934), pp. 137-148.
19. First two quotes from Daniel Gasman, The Scientific Origins of National Socialism: Social Darwinism in Ernst Haeckel and the German Monist League, New York 1971, pp. 16-17; third quote from George Mosse, Toward the Final Solution, Madison 1985, p. 87. Haeckel’s virulent racism is also extensively documented in Richard Lerner, Final Solutions: Biology, Prejudice, and Genocide, Philadelphia 1992; cf. also Jürgen Sandmann, Der Bruch mit der humanitären Tradition: die Biologisierung der Ethik bei Ernst Haeckel und anderen Darwinisten seiner Zeit, Stuttgart 1990.
20. Gasman, p. 31 and 23. See also the classic account from an anthroposophist perspective: Johannes Hemleben, Rudolf Steiner und Ernst Haeckel, Stuttgart 1965. For context see Gasman, Haeckel’s Monism and the Birth of Fascist Ideology, New York 1998, and for critical views on Gasman’s work see Richard Evans, “In Search of German Social Darwinism: The History and Historiography of a Concept” in Manfred Berg and Geoffrey Cocks, Medicine and Modernity: Public Health and Medical Care in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Germany, Cambridge 1997.
21. Rudolf Steiner, The Course of my Life, New York 1951, p. 142.
22. Rudolf Steiner, Die geistigen Hintergründe des Ersten Weltkrieges, Dornach 1974, p. 27. For context see Ulrich Linse, “Universale Bruderschaft oder nationaler Rassenkrieg – die deutschen Theosophen im Ersten Weltkrieg” in Heinz-Gerhard Haupt and Dieter Langewiesche, eds., Nation und Religion in der deutschen Geschichte (Frankfurt 2001); and Herman de Tollenaere, The Politics of Divine Wisdom: Theosophy and Labour, National, and Women’s Movements in Indonesia and South Asia, 1875-1947 (Nijmegen 1996), pp. 156-160.
23. Steiner wrote that “the social organism is structured like the natural organism” in his nationalist pamphlet from 1919, “Aufruf an das deutsche Volk und an die Kulturwelt.” The pamphlet is quoted extensively in Walter Abendroth, Rudolf Steiner und die heutige Welt, Munich 1969, pp.122-123. Consider also this passage: “Every person must find the place where his work may be articulated in the most fruitful way into his people’s organism. It must not be left to chance to determine whether he shall find this place. The state constitution has no other goal than to ensure that everyone shall find his appropriate place. The state is the form in which the organism of a people expresses itself.” Steiner, Goethe the Scientist, New York 1950, 164.
24. For background see Ralph Bowen, German Theories of the Corporative State, New York 1947.
25. Quotes from Steiner as cited in Christoph Lindenberg, Rudolf Steiner, Hamburg 1992, pp. 111-112. For a comprehensive critique of ‘social threefolding’ see Ilas Körner-Wellershaus, Sozialer Heilsweg Anthroposophie: eine Studie zur Geschichte der sozialen Dreigliederung Rudolf Steiners unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der anthroposophischen Geisteswissenschaft (Bonn 1993).
26. Abendroth, Rudolf Steiner und die heutige Welt, p. 120.
27. Steiner quoted in Thomas Divis, “Rudolf Steiner und die Anthroposophie” in ÖkoLinx #13 (February 1994), p. 27.
28. From a Steiner lecture manuscript reproduced in Walter Kugler, Rudolf Steiner und die Anthroposophie, Cologne 1978, pp. 199-200.
29. Cited in Peter Bierl, Wurzelrassen, Erzengel und Volksgeister: Die Anthroposophie Rudolf Steiners und die Waldorfpädagogik, Hamburg 1999, p. 107. A revised and expanded edition of Bierl’s excellent book was published in 2005.
30. See Charlotte Rudolph, Waldorf-Erziehung: Wege zur Versteinerung, Darmstadt 1987. Cf. Susanne Lippert, Steiner und die Waldorfpädagogik. Mythos und Wirklichkeit, Berlin 2001; Paul-Albert Wagemann und Martina Kayser: Wie frei ist die Waldorfschule? Munich 1996; Peter Bierl, “Der braune Geist der Waldorfpädagogik” in Ganzheitlich und ohne Sorgen in die Republik von Morgen: Dokumentation zum Kongress gegen Irrationalismus, Esoterik und Antisemitismus, Aschaffenburg 2001; Sybille-Christin Jacob and Detlef Drewes, Aus der Waldorf-Schule geplaudert: Warum die Steiner-Pädagogik keine Alternative ist, Aschaffenburg 2001; Juliane Weibring, Die Waldorfschule und ihr religiöser Meister: Waldorfpädagogik aus feministischer und religionskritischer Perspektive, Oberhausen 1998.
31. From an international Waldorf teachers conference in 1996, cited in Bierl, Wurzelrassen, Erzengel und Volksgeister p. 204.
32. Rudolf Steiner, The Spiritual Ground of Education, London 1947, p. 40.
33. Easton, Man and World in the Light of Anthroposophy, p. 388.
34. For thorough critical studies of Waldorf pedagogy see Heiner Ullrich, Waldorfpädagogik und okkulte Weltanschauung, Munich 1991, and Klaus Prange, Erziehung zur Anthroposophie: Darstellung und Kritik der Waldorfpädagogik, Bad Heilbrunn 2000.
35. Lindenberg, Rudolf Steiner, p. 134.
36. Steiner, Lecture Four from the 1924 Course on Agriculture.
37. Easton, Man and World in the Light of Anthroposophy, p. 444.
38. I have borrowed the phrase “green wing of the NSDAP” (the German acronym for the Nazi party) from Jost Hermand; see his Grüne Utopien in Deutschland, Frankfurt 1991, especially pp. 112-118. The term is not meant to suggest an identifiable faction within the party; rather it refers to a tendency or shared ideological and practical orientation, common to many activists and leading figures in the Nazi movement, the main outlines of which are recognizably environmentalist by today’s standards. For a much fuller treatment of this tendency see my “Fascist Ecology: The “Green Wing” of the Nazi Party and Its Historical Antecedents” in Biehl and Staudenmaier, Ecofascism. For critical discussion of the concept see Franz-Josef Brüggemeier, Mark Cioc, and Thomas Zeller, eds., How Green were the Nazis?: Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich, Athens 2005; Frank Uekoetter, The Green and the Brown: A History of Conservation in Nazi Germany, Cambridge 2006; Joachim Radkau and Frank Uekötter, eds., Naturschutz und Nationalsozialismus, Frankfurt 2003; and Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn, “Naturschutz und Nationalsozialismus: Darstellungen im Spannungsfeld von Verdrängung, Verharmlosung und Interpretation” in Gert Gröning and Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn, eds., Naturschutz und Demokratie, Munich 2006, 91-113.
39. See Bierl, Wurzelrassen, Erzengel und Volksgeister pp. 135-138. For a sympathetic overview of the Italian anthroposophical movement in the Fascist era see Michele Beraldo, “Il movimento antroposofico italiano durante il regime fascista” in Dimensioni e problemi della ricerca storica no. 1, 2002.
40. For extensive examples see http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/579 and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/43 On the collaborationist role of the Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in Italy and fervent Fascist Ettore Martinoli in antisemitic measures see Michael Wedekind, Nationalsozialistische Besatzungs- und Annexionspolitik in Norditalien 1943 bis 1945, Munich 2003, pp. 358-360, 385-386; and Silva Bon, La persecuzione antiebraica a Trieste (1938-1945), Udine 1972.
41. For examples of Karutz’s anthroposophical racial theories, see Richard Karutz, Rassenfragen, Stuttgart 1934; Karutz, “Zur Rassenkunde” Das Goetheanum January 3, 1932: Karutz, Von Goethe zur Völkerkunde der Zukunft, Stuttgart 1929.
42. Karutz quoted in Bierl, Wurzelrassen, Erzengel und Volksgeister p. 129.
43. Karutz, Von Goethe zur Völkerkunde der Zukunft, p. 57. Steiner himself was ambivalent toward Jews. In an 1897 polemic against zionism he compared antisemites – at the time a well-organized, active and very popular presence in Central Europe – to harmless children, and argued that zionists and “the heartless leaders of the Jews who are tired of Europe” were “much worse” than the antisemites (Steiner, Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Kultur- und Zeitgeschichte p. 199). On the other hand he actively supported the right side in the Dreyfus affair, albeit largely out of hostility toward the French republic. Steiner publicly rejected antisemitism, aligning himself instead with what he called the “idealistic German nationalist tendency” which opposed the “materialist” antisemitism of other pan-German agitators. For a detailed analysis see Peter Staudenmaier, “Rudolf Steiner and the Jewish Question,” Leo Baeck Institute Year Book vol. 50 (2005), pp. 127-147.
44. Darré was himself influenced by Steiner’s ideas; see Heinz Haushofer, Ideengeschichte der Agrarwirtschaft und Agrarpolitik im deutschen Sprachgebiet, volume II, Munich 1958, pp. 269-271.
45. The Wachsmuth interview is reprinted in Dokumente und Briefe zur Geschichte der anthroposophischen Bewegung und Gesellschaft in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus, edited by Arfst Wagner, Rendsburg 1993, vol. I pp. 40-41.
46. Rascher quoted in Bierl, Wurzelrassen, Erzengel und Volksgeister p. 140.
47. For a partial list of anthroposophists who were members of the Nazi party, the SS, and the SA, see Peter Staudenmaier, “Anthroposophen und Nationalsozialismus – Neue Erkenntnisse” Info3 July 2007, pp. 42-43. The article is available online at: http://www.anthro-net.de/ycms/artikel_1775.shtml An English version is available at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/531
48. In an earlier version of this article I characterized Hess as an anthroposophist, based on the extent to which he structured his personal dietary and health choices around anthroposophical beliefs. I now think that description was mistaken. My current view is that Hess’s occult interests were too nebulous to be specifically identified as anthroposophical, and that he is better seen as a sympathizer of anthroposophy and the major sponsor of anthroposophical activities during the Nazi era, but not as an anthroposophist himself.
49. For a detailed overview of Waldorf schools in Nazi Germany see Achim Leschinsky, “Waldorfschulen im Nationalsozialismus,” Neue Sammlung: Zeitschrift für Erziehung und Gesellschaft 23 (1983). For extensive background in English on the history of the Waldorf movement during the Third Reich, see http://www.egoisten.de/files/tag-staudenmaier.html and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/3188
50. See Geden, p. 140. Weleda maintains that their staff was unaware of how its products were used. This response is plausible, but obscures the more significant fact that Weleda had ongoing business relationships with the SS and the Wehrmacht during the war.
51. On the network of SS biodynamic plantations at various concentration camps, see Wolfgang Jacobeit and Christoph Kopke, Die Biologisch-dynamische Wirtschaftsweise im KZ, Berlin 1999.
52. Uwe Werner, Anthroposophen in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus 1933-1945, Munich 1999. The book is based in part on internal anthroposophist records not available to other scholars.
53. See, for example, Jesaiah Ben-Aharon, The Spiritual Event of the Twentieth Century, London 1996.
54. The most extensive study of Darré’s support for biodynamic agriculture is the work of historian Anna Bramwell. See Bramwell, Ecology in the 20th Century, London 1989, chapter ten on the green wing of the Nazis, entitled “The Steiner Connection,” as well as her earlier book Blood and Soil: Walther Darré and Hitler’s ‘Green Party’. Both are important sources of material on the topic. Bramwell’s work, however, is often unreliable and always tendentious and should be consulted with caution.
55. In an earlier version of this article, I named two further Nazi officials as supporters of biodynamics: Antony Ludovici and Ludolf Haase. This claim was based on Anna Bramwell’s statements about both men. In addition to archival sources, Bramwell’s work cites her own interviews with unnamed “Anthroposophist members of Darré’s staff” as a source on “relations between followers of Steiner and the regime” (Bramwell, Ecology in the 20th Century, p. 270), and I adopted her claims about Ludovici and Haase despite my expressed reservations about her work. I now think those claims are mistaken. After an extensive search of both archival documents (including those cited by Bramwell) and contemporary published sources from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, I have been unable to find any corroboration for sympathies toward biodynamic agriculture on the part of either figure. Bramwell furthermore appears to have confused Ludovici with Nazi agricultural specialist J. W. Ludowici.
56. Carl Grund, for example, an anthroposophist since the 1920s, worked as an official of the biodynamic farmers league throughout the 1930s and was one of the foremost spokesmen for biodynamic agriculture in Nazi Germany. Grund joined the Nazi party in May 1933 and joined the SA in November 1933. In 1942 he was made an SS officer, and was promoted to SS-Obersturmführer in 1943. Within the SS he was a specialist for agricultural questions.
57. On Seifert’s relationship to anthroposophy see especially Charlotte Reitsam, Das Konzept der “bodenständigen Gartenkunst” Alwin Seiferts, Frankfurt 2001.
58. See Robert Pois, National Socialism and the Religion of Nature, London 1985.
59. On the continuing reverberations of this political tradition within North American contexts today see Rajani Bhatia, “Green or Brown? White Nativist Environmental Movements” in Abby Ferber, editor, Home-Grown Hate: Gender and Organized Racism, New York 2004.
60. The fact that the biodynamic movement influenced Nazi agricultural policy is hardly news; it has been recognized in mainstream scholarship for some time. For one example see Judith Baumgartner, Ernährungsreform – Antwort auf Industrialisierung und Ernährungswandel: Ernährungsreform als Teil der Lebensreformbewegung am Beispiel der Siedlung und des Unternehmens Eden seit 1893, Frankfurt 1992, pp. 55-57. Baumgartner’s study is by no means an aggressively critical treatment of the topic; her brief overview of the role of biodynamics in helping to shape the Third Reich’s agricultural policy is measured and matter-of-fact. A much more detailed account can be found in Gunter Vogt’s 2000 study Entstehung und Entwicklung des ökologischen Landbaus im deutschsprachigen Raum. Many anthroposophists are nonetheless taken aback when this history is recounted, an indication of how insulated the latter-day anthroposophical movement often is from its own past.
61. The initiator of the Italian wing of the biodynamic movement, Luigi Chimelli, was an effusive admirer of Mussolini and of Fascism, particularly its environmental and programs. See for example Chimelli’s introduction to his translation of a major work on biodynamic agriculture: Giovanni Schomerus, Il metodo di coltivazione biologico-dinamico, Pergine 1934, particularly pp. xvii-xx.
62. For a perceptive examination of Darré’s evolving relationship to the biodynamic movement, and a compelling counterargument to Bramwell’s work, see Gesine Gerhard, “Richard Walther Darré – Naturschützer oder ‘Rassenzüchter’?” in Radkau and Uekötter, Naturschutz und Nationalsozialismus. Gerhard’s legitimate and welcome critique of Bramwell sometimes leads her to overemphasize Darré’s skepticism toward anthroposophy, and she gives relatively little attention to the extensive support for biodynamics provided by members of Darré’s staff, including not only figures such as Merkel and Halbe but even more powerful Nazi agricultural officials such as Hermann Reischle, Karl August Rust, and Rudi Peuckert.
63. Anna Bramwell, Ecology in the 20th Century, London 1989, p. 204.
64. Ibid., p. 197. The ‘Battle for Production’ was Darré’s state-sponsored program to increase agricultural productivity. Initiated in 1934, its leading principle was “Keep the soil healthy!”
65. Wagner quoted in Bierl, p. 162.
66. Bramwell, Blood and Soil, Bourne End 1985, p. 179.
67. For more extensive discussion of the WSL and ultra-right anthroposophy see Janet Biehl’s “‘Ecology’ and the Modernization of Fascism in the German Ultra-right” in Biehl and Staudenmaier, Ecofascism, pp. 44-48.
68. Further information on Haverbeck and his milieu is available in several fine studies: Jonathan Olsen, Nature and Nationalism: Right-Wing Ecology and the Politics of Identity in Contemporary Germany, New York 1999; Richard Stöss, Vom Nationalismus zum Umweltschutz, Opladen 1980; and Volkmar Wölk, Natur und Mythos: Ökologiekonzeptionen der ‘Neuen’ Rechten im Spannungsfeld zwischen Blut und Boden und New Age, Duisburg 1992.
69. Haverbeck, Rudolf Steiner – Anwalt für Deutschland, Munich 1989.
70. Volkmar Wölk, “Neue Trends im ökofaschistischen Netzwerk” in Raimund Hethey and Peter Kratz, In Bester Gesellschaft, Göttingen 1991, p. 119.
71. Anthroposophist author Henning Köhler quoted in Bierl, p. 9.
72. For Erra’s collected essays on both Steiner and Scaligero see Enzo Erra, Steiner e Scaligero, Rome 2006. On Erra’s role in the post-war neo-fascist movement see Francesco Germinario, Da Salò al governo: Immaginario e cultura politica della destra italiana, Turin 2005, pp. 64, 78, 89-90, 95-96, 99; Daniele Lembo, Fascisti dopo la liberazione: Storia del fascismo e dei fascisti nel dopoguerra in Italia, Pavia 2007, pp. 74, 90-92, 112-16, 125, 129; Giuseppe Parlato, Fascisti senza Mussolini: Le origini del neofascismo in Italia, 1943-1948, Bologna 2006, pp. 177, 238, 298-99, 308; Adalberto Baldoni, La Destra in Italia 1945-1969, Rome 2000, pp. 296-98, 338-44, 361-62, 512-13; Franco Ferraresi, ed., La destra radicale, Milan 1984, 17-19, 27, 43, 194-96; Piero Ignazi, Il polo escluso: Profilo storico del Movimento Sociale Italiano, Bologna 1998, 41-44, 77-78, 116-19; Franco Ferraresi, Threats to Democracy: The Radical Right in Italy after the War, Princeton 1996, pp. 34, 210-13.
73. See e.g. these sympathetic accounts: Arianna Streccioni, A destra della destra, Rome 2000, pp. 63-64, 209; Luciano Lanna and Filippo Rossi, Fascisti immaginari: Tutto quello che c’è da sapere sulla destra, Florence 2003, pp. 20, 153-55; Piero Vassallo, Le culture della destra italiana, Milan 2002, pp. 90-92, 114-15, 128; for further background see Nicola Rao, Neofascisti: La destra italiana da SaloÃ a Fiuggi nel ricordo dei protagonisti, Rome 1999, pp. 39-43, 50-57, 67-72, 74-75, etc.; Rao, La fiamma e la celtica: Sessant’anni di neofascismo da Salò ai centri sociali di destra, Milan 2006, pp. 49-51, 58-63, 80-87, etc.
74. Wachsmuth, Werdegang der Menschheit, Dornach 1953; Wachsmuth, The Evolution of Mankind, Dornach 1961.
75. See for example Ernst Uehli, Nordisch-Germanische Mythologie als Mysteriengeschichte, Stuttgart 1965; Uehli, Atlantis und das Rätsel der Eiszeitkunst, Stuttgart 1957; Sigismund von Gleich, Der Mensch der Eiszeit und Atlantis, Stuttgart 1990; Gleich, Siebentausend Jahre Urgeschichte der Menschheit, Stuttgart 1987; Fred Poeppig, Das Zeitalter der Atlantis und die Eiszeit, Freiburg 1962.
76. Rudolf Steiner, Die Geschichte der Menschheit und die Weltanschauungen der Kulturvölker, p. 192.
77. Quoted in Bierl, p. 185. Bierl’s chapter on anthroposophist antisemitism includes many more examples of a similar nature.
78. Ludwig Thieben, Das Rätsel des Judentums, Basel 1991, pp. 164 and 174.
This article was originally published in the Norwegian journal Humanist and in the Communalism webjournal (the predecessor of New Compass). It has spurred significant debates which you can read in the comment thread on the article at the pages of Institute for Social Ecology. You may also find several lengthy replies by Peter Staudenmaier to critics at the author's page at the Institute for Social Ecology.