Anthroposophs have long rejected the accusations of racist origins in Anthroposophy – there simply are no racist skeletons in the closet. 1 , 2 This article will investigate just what the inventor of Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner 3 actually said about human races.
If you are a serious student of Steiner’s writings, it quickly becomes obvious that the question of human races was not immaterial. Steiner returned again and again, and often quite detailed, to the origins and characteristics of human races. This is an important part of his writings on the progress and development of humanity. How do you get a black skin color?
The physiological characteristics which traditionally (but quite in conflict with modern biology) is called a human race are achieved through heritance. Steiner, who did not believe in biological Evolution, thought that it was only recent that the racial characteristics became hereditary. His spiritual science showed that “historically, the racial characteristics came from where people were born”. 4 He also wrote in detail on how these racial characteristics had come about. In the case of the “negroes”, they came from forces emanating from “a point in the heart of Africa. Just about all of the forces that specifically influences the human during her early childhood come from here.” 5 This point works through “those people who throughout their lives are completely dependent on these powers, so that this point permanently infuses them with the first childhood characteristics. This is approximately a description of all the people – regarding their racial characteristics – that, so to speak, sets free the decisive forces from this point. What we call the black race is essentially conditioned by these characteristics.” 6 According to Steiner, black people were, in effect, childish.
In a different context, he described the blacks as “the last remnants of the group of humans by which the intestines are hardened”, 7 and wrote further:
“But the people that didn’t develop their id, that was too exposed to the influence of the sun, they were like plants: They produced far too much carbon under their skin – and became black. That is why the negroes are black.” 8
The Asian Peoples
The Asian peoples are, according to Steiner, conditioned by a point on the surface on the Earth that endows them with “the later characteristics of youth.” 9 These peoples are, he thought, far too introvert:
“Look at these colours, from the Negro to the Yellow population found in Asia. From those you have bodies which are once again containers of the most different souls, starting with the totally passive negro-soul, completely devoted to the surroundings, the outer physis, to the passive soul’s second level in the different parts of Asia.” 10
Steiner didn’t hesitate when it comes to judging separate Asian peoples. The huns were described as “the last remnants of old Atlantic peoples. They are deeply decadent, which shows in their decaying astral- and ether-bodies.” 11
Furthermore, there were “such people, that are degenerated because the nervous system hardened at a much too early stage and didn’t stay soft long enough – the last remnants of those are the Malayan race.” 12
Another type of hardening relegated the Mongols to a “lower class of people”. 13
The dying-out Indians
The group of people that Steiner found least appealing was the native American Indians. Even though these had a certain age in human life, Steiner considered their case to be connected with “the forces that have a lot to do with human extinction.” 14 He described the Indians as “a degenerated human race”, 15 which was the reason why they had succumbed to such a degree.
“It isn’t because of the whims of the Europeans that the Indian population has died out, but because of the Indian population had to acquire those forces that led it to die out.” 16
While he ascribed an abnormously weak Ego to the Africans, the Indians had the opposite problem. This was also the cause of their skin color (or rather the skin color Steiner thought they had):
“And they developed this Ego so strongly that it has gone into their skin color: They became copper-red. They have developed into decadence.” 17
The white “race”
The “race” which Steiner described in positive terms was – not surprisingly – the white one. When listing the different “races”, he described how they were inflicted by “hardening” of different organs. The list ended with those people who “did not become hardened at all”. They were found in “those areas that comprise of today’s Europe and Asia.” 18
Elsewhere, he stated that “the most mature characteristica are found in the European area. It is simply (a natural) law.” 19
When non-European peoples proved to be successful, Steiner explained this by claiming that they had learned from Europeans:
“It is often claimed that the Japanese are going through an important development based on their character – this is an illusion. There is no development made from their own abilities. The reason they were victorious in the latest war was that they used warships and cannons invented by the European peoples, thereby using a foreign culture. It is no development if a people has taken what another people’s characteristics has produced – it has to develop based on its own nature. That is what counts!” 20
According to Steiner’s teachings on soul travel, the same soul could assume different “races” in different lives. What race it would be depended on how you behaved in the previous life.
“A soul can be incarnated in any race, but if this soul doesn’t become evil, it doesn’t need to be reincarnated in a descending race, it will reincarnate later in a ascending race.” 21
In other words, it is important to be a good person, so you won’t be black, Japanese or even American Indian in your next life.
The Anthroposophical Defense
The Anthroposophs have mainly used three lines of defense, when Steiner’s racism has been brought up. The first line of defense is to describe the quotes as “taken out of context”.
This is a very weak defense. In a trivial way, all quotes are of course taken out of context, but it doesn’t follow that they are misleading. To defend Steiner, it isn’t enough to call quotes like the ones above “taken out of context
” without also showing that there is an explanation in the text that shows that Steiner does not speak in a racist context.
No such explanation exists. That is why those Anthroposophs who use this argument are satisfied with the general accusation of out-of-context, and make no attempt of showing how those quotes aren’t representative for the texts they are taken from.
One might wonder how the non-racist text would look like, where the author expresses his views with phrases like “the totally passive negro-soul” or “a degenerated human race”.
The second line of defense is that Steiner’s statements are said to be the norm for their time, and cannot be regarded as particularly noticable or perhaps even controversial. This claim can only convince those who are not familiar with the historical background. Steiner’s quotes were made during the first decade of the 1900’s, before the Nazi era. His wordings on non-European peoples were for their time unusually degrading and offensive, even within the German language area. Steiner belonged to those many who paved the way for Nazism through expressing the idea about the superiority of the “white” race.
The latest argument
Lately, some Anthroposophs have started using a third line of defense. Now, they claim that the texts from these and other quotes come from are not from the “official” Steiner. The majority of the quotes are not from this books, but from his lectures, that is, recordings of his lectures made by his staff.
This argument is very odd for those who know Anthroposophy and its history. Steiner’s lectures have always been central within Anthroposophy. They make up the primary source to the so-called esoteric Anthroposophy, which cannot actively be presented to people outside the movement. The common wisdom among Anthroposophs is that unprepared people cannot understand these texts correctly. Earlier, many of these texts were kept strictly a secret. Nowadays, they are part of Steiner’s printed collected works, published by a company which cooperates with the highest international leadership of Anthroposophy. The defense that the lectures cannot be used as sources have, to my knowledge, not earlier been put forth, when non-Anthroposophs criticize them in public. The lectures are still used internally in the Anthroposophic world.
In Steiner’s printed books the statements about the human races are more subdued than in the lectures. This is part of a pattern: The books were meant to be read by non-Anthroposophs. Therefore, they are usually, regardless of subject, more general and careful in their expressions than the lectures.
A tough problem for Anthroposophy
Of course, it isn’t just Anthroposophs who have skeletons in the closet. There are many other examples, e.g. the founder of modern mathematical logic and analytic philosophy, Gottlob Frege, who had racist views. This is not a problem for either, since they are separated from his racism. First and foremost, there are no analytic philosophers who use Frege’s writings as a source for knowledge of life’s various areas.
It is quite different in Anthroposophy. Steiner’s comprehensive explanations of “human races” and their actions take up a large part of his writings on history, where concepts as root races and peoples souls are central. To remove the racial teaching from Anthroposophy is no easy task. It is not like removing an isolated tumor but like removing a tumor with many metastases. That is why this is so difficult for the Anthroposophs. What is at stake is the very foundation of the movement, namely the belief in Rudolf Steiner’s spirit visions as a source of knowledge.
Translated by Claus Larsen
Translated by Claus Larsen