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Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner (February 27, 1861 - March 30, 1925) was an Austrian philosopher, literary scholar, architect, playwright and educator, who is best known as the founder of Anthroposophy and its practical applications, including Waldorf School, Biodynamic Farming, the Camphill Movement, and the Christian Community. His opponents, on the other hand, have characterized him as a religious leader with strongly sectarian tendencies.

Steiner saw history as essentially shaped by changes formed through a progressive development of human consciousness. The activity of individualised human thinking was seen as a relatively recent advance which led to the dramatic developments of the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. He saw the realm of the spiritual related to the realm of the physical through the activity of human thinking. Steiner characterized his system of Anthroposophy with the following words:

"Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge, to guide the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe... Anthroposophists are those who experience, as an essential need of life, certain questions on the nature of the human being and the universe, just as one experiences hunger and thirst."
-Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts (1904)

Table of contents
1 Goethean Scholar and Philosopher
2 Waldorf Education
3 Architecture, Eurythmy and Free Spiritual Culture
4 Weleda, Biodynamic Farming, Camphill
5 Social Threefolding
6 Steiner Criticism
7 Selected bibliography
8 External links

Goethean Scholar and Philosopher

Steiner's father was a huntsman in the service of Count Hoyos in Geras, and later became a telegraph operator and stationmaster on the Southern Austrian Railway. When Rudolf was born, his father was stationed in Kraljević in the Međimurje region, present-day northernmost Croatia; then part of Austria-Hungary. When he was two years old, the family moved into Burgenland, Austria, in the foothills of the eastern Alps.

Steiner displayed a keen and early interest in mathematics and philosophy. He attended the Technische Hochschule (Technical University) in Vienna, where he concentrated on mathematics, physics, and chemistry. However he did not get a degree there; he changed to the University of Rostock in Germany, switched to literary studies and philosophy, and earned his doctorate there with his dissertation, Truth and Knowledge.

In 1888, Steiner was invited by Grand Duchess Sophie of Saxony to edit the complete edition of Goethe's scientific works in Weimar, where he worked until 1896. During this time he also collaborated in a complete edition of Arthur Schopenhauer's work.

He wrote his seminal philosophical work, Die Philosophie der Freiheit (The Philosophy of Freedom) in 1894. It advocated the posibility that humans can become spiritually free beings only through the conscious activity of thinking. However, the claim he made in this book to have disproved transcendental idealism, the philosophy of Immanuel Kant -- he had read the whole of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason by the age of 14 -- is not accepted in the philosophical community outside Anthroposophy. To other modern philosophers it appears that Steiner completely misunderstood Kant. Also, his view that everything we see and experience is actually true, not just as a true experience, but true of the objective world -- a view that forms the basis of his later claims to "direct scientific observation" of the spiritual realm -- is seen as a step backwards into a solidly pre-Kantian mode of philosophy, namely into naive realism, more akin to the universalist thinkers of the Scholastic period of the High Middle Ages than to modern philosophy. His "scientific observation" has thus gained little approval in the scientific community at large.

It was during this period that his work led Mrs. Forster-Nietzsche to request him to set the Nietzsche archive in Naumburg in order. Upon which he subsequently wrote his book Friedrich Nietzsche, Fighter for Freedom.

In 1897, he moved to Berlin to edit the Magazin für Literatur.

A turning-point came when, in the August 28, 1899 issue of the magazine, he published an article entitled "Goethe's Secret Revelation" on the esoteric nature of Goethe's fairy tale, The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. This article led to an invitation by the Count and Countess Brockdorff to speak to a gathering of Theosophists on the subject of Nietzsche. He continued speaking regularly to the members of the Theosophical Society, eventually becoming the leader of the German branch.

Differences he held from the Theosophists -- primarily that he did not share the view that their much-hailed Jiddu Krishnamurti was the reincarnation of Jesus, and the lack of any cultivation of artistic activity within the society -- led to his founding of the Anthroposophical Society in 1912. Most of the German members of the Theosophical Society left this organization to join the new Anthroposophical Society.

Rudolf Steiner died in 1925 in Dornach, Switzerland.

Waldorf Education

In 1919 Emil Molt, on behalf of workers of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, invited him to lecture on the topic of education. This, and subsequent lectures, formed the basis for the Waldorf School movement - the largest independent schooling system in the world. As of 2001, there are over 600 schools worldwide, with over 150 of them in United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Architecture, Eurythmy and Free Spiritual Culture

Steiner developed an organic style of Architecture for the building of the first Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland in 1913, as a School for Spiritual Science.

It was subsequently burned down by arsonists on New Year's eve 1922. Several surrounding buildings which he designed (the Glasshaus, Haus Duldeck, the Transformerhaus, etc.) survived the blaze.

Construction of a second Goetheanum building began on the same site shortly before he died in 1925. It was concieved as an organic extension and metamorphosis of the first building, inspiring and pre-dating architects such as: Le Corbusier, and Eero Saarinen's Kennedy Airport (1962).

The Goetheanum was seen as a cultural centre which included activities in scientific and mathematical (or as some would rather say, numerological) research, biodynamic farming, medicine, and schools of drama, speech, painting, and sculpture.

It was within the Society that he met his wife Marie von Sivers, with whom he developed a new artform that also has therapeutic uses, known as Eurythmics (German: "Eurythmie") -- sometimes referred to as 'visible speech'. Performances are still held at the Goetheanum in Dornach, and at various theatres throughout the world. There are now a number of Eurythmy schools where a full four-year training is given.

As a sculptor, his primary work was The Representative of Humanity(1922). This enormous work is on display at the Goetheanum in Dornach.

As Playwright, he wrote four 'Mystery Dramas' between the years 1909 - 1913, including ' The Portal of Initiation', and 'The Soul's Awakening'. They are still performed today.

Weleda, Biodynamic Farming, Camphill

A philosophic basis rooted in a practical sensibility yielded continuations to his work. In 1921, pharmacists and physicians gathered under Steiner's guidance to create a pharmaceutical company called Weleda, which now distributes natural medical products worldwide.

In 1924, a lecture to a group of farmers concerned about the destructive trend of 'scientific farming' originated the practice of Biodynamic Agriculture, which is now practiced throughout much of Europe. This is not quite the same as the more general concept of biological Agriculture, since e.g. it also takes the phases of the moon into consideration.

In 1939, Doctor Karl Konig founded the Camphill Movement in Scotland as a place to provide treatment for children with severe learning disabilities. There are currently more than a dozen Camphill Villages and eight Colleges providing a home for more than 1000 residents.

Social Threefolding

Steiner also developed a new system of Economics called Threefold Social-Economics (also often referred to as Social Threefolding). The three independent members of this system are: i) the Economic sphere, ii) the sphere of Civil Rights, and iii) the Cultural sphere. Within this system, the establishement of Associations allows an intelligent and human mediation of supply and demand between consumers and producers.

To this end, the RSF (Rudolf Steiner Foundation) was incorporated in 1984, and provides 'charitable innovative financial services'.

Steiner Criticism

While some of the more practical sides of Steiner's teaching, like his architecture, have been received positively outside Anthroposophy itself, much of his more theoretical work has not. His philosophy has largely been seen by philosophers as already outdated when written, his "spiritual science", having a completely different basis from that of the modern scientific method, has been described as nothing more than vivid imagination being presented as factual truth. For example his idea that the main life process in the human body is the transformation of oxalic acid into formic acid, but "another formic acid than that produced in chemistry, which is dead; a living kind of formic acid", is considered completely untenable in modern biology and chemistry. His views of medicine are also seen as a kind of alchemy bordering on quackery.

The extremely high regard in which Steiner is held within Anthroposophy, which sees his thought as foundational and unsurmountable, to the exclusion of any other thinker, in contrast to the mainstream view of him as a rather minor figure of history, has prompted critics to see Steiner as a founder of a cult-like religion, not as a philosopher in the usual modern sense of the world. The Anthroposophist conviction that the next great civilization will be based on Steiner's thought is another hint towards the religious nature of the movement.

Steiner's views of Christianity, for example his view that Jesus was two children (one descended from Solomon, the other from Nathan) who somehow morphed into one person; that the "Christ Spirit" didn't enter Jesus until his baptism; that it had entered other people before; that Yahveh (Jehovah) dwells in the moon, but Elohim in the Sun; and some others are seen as heretical by pretty much all Christian Churches, except the Christian Community that Steiner himself founded within Anthroposophy.

Steiner's very positive view of many writings in the tradition of western occultism and alchemy, for example those of Hermes Trismegistos, the Kabbalah and Paracelsus, is also often criticised.

Steiner's racist statements, while certainly not the worst of their kind in 1920s Germany by a long road, have also drawn criticism, especially since many Anthroposophists still hold them up as true. His theory of the migration of humanity from Atlantis and of the "root races" with their successively higher evolutionary level in the order of African (which represents "the childhood of humanity"), East Asian (which "will never come up with ideas of their own"), Indian, Middle Eastern, Greco-Roman and Modern European, to be succeeded by a new race of re-incarnated Anthroposophists, and his ideas that "blondness actually confers intelligence", and that mixing of the races destroys the "clairvoyant ability", still forms the basis of history classes in the Waldorf schools to this day, although this is not often made explicit.

Waldorf has also been criticized as rather authoritarian; copying the teacher's writing from the blackboard is the main activity during standard lessons; the artistic development in the lower grades consists mostly of copying the teacher's artwork from the board; only certain colors are allowed for the children, and line drawing is considered unhealthy for children below 14 years of age. Free creative expression and spontaneity is not seen as being helpful for children, and, according to Steiner, is to be shunned in favor of discipline.

Selected bibliography

Amongst two dozen books, and over 6000 published lectures, some of the more significant works include:

External links