The Myth of the Top of the Tree

Evolving Along Hierarchical Races

Steiner-Waldorf schools have come under a lot of pressure due to their founder’s alleged racial views, so much in fact that Steiner-affiliated organisations have had to publicly distance themselves from some of his writings.

The European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education (ECSWE) stated: “Anthroposophy, upon which Waldorf education is founded, stands firmly against all forms of racism and nationalism. Throughout Steiner’s work there is a consistent anti-racist sentiment and he frequently described racist views as being anachronistic and antithetical to basic human values and dignity. The Waldorf schools are aware, however, that occasional phrases in Rudolf Steiner's complete works are not in concordance with this fundamental direction and have a discriminatory effect.”

The UK's Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship's (SWSF) original statement on racism (now deleted) contained the following: “Even though Steiner’s ideas are based on a profound respect for the equality, individuality and shared humanity of all people, regardless of race or ethnic origin, his works do contain a small number of quotations that are discriminatory. The SWSF rejects these statements and all racism. However, it should be noted that other great thinkers of his time including Darwin, Schweitzer, Gandhi and Carl Jung also spoke of race in a way that offends modern sensibilities. This does not render them or their work ‘racist’.”

In order to manage issues raised at the Te Ra Waldorf School, the Federation of Rudolf Steiner Waldorf Schools in New Zealand (FRSWSNZ) stated that it “acknowledges that a number of statements made by the philosopher Rudolf Steiner during the early part of the 1900s, express ideas about race that are unacceptable. The Federation categorically rejects these ideas and asserts that they have no place in the pedagogy or the underpinning philosophy of NZ member schools which emphasise equality, individuality and the shared humanity of all people regardless of race, gender or ethnic origin.”

The SWSF's response to the 2014 Newsnight exposé of allegations of racism and unchecked bullying in Steiner schools included the following“While the superficial reading of a handful of Steiner’s voluminous, extensive lectures present statements that appear racist in modern terms, none of these occur in his educational writings. Our schools do not tolerate racism. Racist views do not accord with Steiner’s longer term vision of a society in which such distinctions would be entirely irrelevant & modern Steiner Waldorf schools deplore all forms of intolerance, aiming to educate in a spirit of respect & to encourage open-hearted regard for others among the children they educate.”

So it’s categorical: although Rudolf Steiner might have occasionally uttered some statements which could be viewed as racist by our modern sensibilities, his legacy, Anthroposophy, and everything that has derived from it, is as far removed from racism as it can be.

Rudolf Steiner founded the Anthroposophical Society when he officially split from the Theosophical Society in 1912. The seeds for the creation of Steiner-Waldorf schools were planted when he gave a series of lectures at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in 1919, and the factory’s owner asked him to open a school for his workers’ children. He passed away on the 30th of March 1925. He is often quoted as saying “may my soul bloom in love for all existence”, “live through deeds of love and let others live with tolerance for their unique intentions”, and “receive the children in reverence; educate them in love; let them go forth in freedom”. How can such a man have any genuine racist thoughts?

As Ben Arnold, business manager at Elmfield Rudolf Steiner School, Stourbridge said, this notion is daft. Perhaps the best counter-argument is that the only mixed-race school in South Africa during apartheid was a Steiner school.”

Yet there are documents, sections of his books, and lectures, which contradict all of the above. These are not easy to find as many haven’t been officially translated into English, others have been excised from Steiner’s body of work with no hint that they were ever there in the first place, and while others are still accessible, you need to know where to look to find them.

The following quotes are by no means an exhaustive list, but should be enough to illustrate Rudolf Steiner’s mindset. Let's start by exploring how he saw the concept of evolution. In a lecture he gave on the 6th of August 1924, part of a series entitled “The Evolution of the Earth and Man and The Influence of the Stars”, he stated the following:

“We are not justified in thinking that human beings were originally like the savages of today. The savages have developed into what they now are — with their superstitions, their magical practices and their unclean appearance-from states originally more perfect. The only superiority we have over them is that, while starting from the same conditions, we did not degenerate as they did. I might therefore say: The evolution of man has taken two paths. It is not true that the savages of today represent the original condition of mankind. Mankind, though to begin with it looked more animal-like, was highly civilised.

Now perhaps you will ask: But were those original animal-like men the descendants of apes or of other animals? That is a natural question. You look at the apes as they are today and say: We are descended from those apes. Ah! but when human beings had their animal form, there were no such animals as our present apes! Men have not descended, therefore, from the apes. On the contrary! Just as the present savages have fallen from the level of the human beings of primeval times, so the apes are beings who have fallen still lower.”

According to Rudolf Steiner, apes and Indians

are a decadent branch of humanity.

So according to Steiner, evolution goes backwards and apes and “savages” have regressed from the more civilised humans.

Further, he sees genetic heritage as not requiring the passing of genetic material at all; an idea is enough to alter a developing foetus' entire genetic makeup, as he explained graphically on page 189 of “Über Gesundheit und Krankheit” from a lecture given on the 30th of December 1922 (the following section is missing from the official English translation):

“I recently went to a bookstore in Basel, where I found the latest range on offer of what's currently being printed: a negro novel about how negroes are gradually coming into European nations! They are doing their negro dances everywhere, their hopping negro dances. Yet this negro novel is already here. It is boring, terribly boring, but people devour it. Yes, I myself am convinced, if we get a number of such negro novels, and we give them to pregnant women to read, especially during the early stages of pregnancy, when they tend to develop such cravings – if we give these negro novels to pregnant women to read, then we don’t need to be worried about negroes coming to Europe and creating mulattos; Merely through the spiritual effect of reading such negro novels a good number of children in Europe will be all grey, have mulatto hair and will look like mulattos!”

Steiner's view of the races is thrown into sharp focus in a lecture called "Colour and the Human Races", given on the 3rd of March 1923, which should be part of “Vom Leben des Menschen und der Erde - Über days Wesen des Christentums” but isn't available in the official English translation entitled “From Limestone to Lucifer”. Former Steiner pupil and researcher Roger Rawlings unearthed this lecture, and translated it. Its content is most enlightening.

As far as Steiner was concerned, skin colour reveals a lot about a person: “you can understand all things spiritual, in the right sense, only if you look at how man’s spiritual nature is shown through the skin.”

He distinguished between five different races: “We in Europe call ourselves the white race. Now let's go over to Asia. In Asia, we have mainly the yellow race. And if we consider Africa, we have the black race there. These are the primary races.”

Two others, brown and copper-red are a subset of the yellow and black races respectively: “When [the yellow race] migrates to the east, it becomes brown”; “after emigrating, they do not get as much light and heat as they need to be black. Therefore, they become copper, in other words American Indians.” These secondary races are “always dying”, i.e., they aren’t meant to survive or prosper, and are destined for extinction.

Light and heat affect the primary races in different ways: “These black people in Africa have the peculiarity that they absorb all the light and heat that they receive from space. They take in all of that. But the light and heat they receive in space cannot go through the whole body because a human being is a human being after all, even if he is a black man. The light and heat does not go through the whole body, but it adheres to the surface of the skin, and then the skin itself turns black. [….] He processes the light and heat in himself. Something has to be in him that helps him in this process. Well, you see, what helps him in this processing is especially his hindbrain. The Negro, therefore, has a particularly well-developed hindbrain. […]”

“The yellow, of the Mongolian population, returns a bit of light, but he takes in a lot of light. That is his nature. He takes up a lot of light but gives back a lot. […] For him, less light is available to fuel the metabolism. Therefore the metabolism must depend upon its own strength. This works namely in the respiratory system and blood circulation. […]”

“We are in fact connected to the entire universe as a white race, because we throw back all outside light. We throw back all external light and basically all the heat. […] he retains only what he creates internally. Yes, gentlemen, because he is not defined by breathing and blood circulation, not by external heat, white man has to work out through his brain in his head his own light and heat. […] We must give our own blood its coloration. It then passes through us, the whites, and thus we get that European human colour.”

Rudolf Steiner believed different races

use different parts of the brain.

The more a race reflects light, the more spiritually evolved and enlightened it is: “The Negro is more characterised by outward movement that is ruled by the instincts. The Asiatic, the yellow, has a more developed inner dream life, so the entire Asian civilisation is dreamy. […]”

“One race is mainly involved with the hindbrain, which preferably has the instinctual life, the life of instinct. At a higher level, man has the mid-brain, the emotional life that sits in the chest. And we Europeans, we poor Europeans, we have thought that sits in the head.”

And only one race is able to move freely about the planet. Can you guess which one? “On one side you have the black race, which is the most earthly. When it migrates to the west, it dies out. We also have the yellow race, which is midway between earth and the cosmos. When it migrates to the east, it becomes brown, attaches itself too much to the cosmos, and it dies out. The white race is the future, it is the most spirit-building race.”

The Evolution of Mankind, according to Rudolf Steiner.

But seeing races as different, with some superior to others, is only part of the story. Steiner merged evolution and karma to come up with a vision of evolving souls through the races; the better you behave in your life, the higher up the evolutionary racial tree you’ll go. However, if you did despicable deeds in your life, your soul will travel downwards, into one of the lesser evolved races, as stated on page 138 of “Investigations in Occultism” (published in 1920):

“But we must also distinguish between soul-evolution and race-evolution. A soul may be incarnated in a race that is declining; but if that soul does not make itself evil, it will not be reincarnated in a race that is falling back, but in one that is on the up-grade. Enough souls are pouring in from other quarters for incarnation in races that are on the down-grade (i.e. bad souls). But what is within must come out, and man will ascend when his Karma has been worked out.”

Helena Barwick, researching the issue of racism in Steiner schools for the New Zealand Department of Education stated that she had been informed “that as Steiner’s views developed he increasingly distanced himself from theosophical concepts of racial evolution and that racial categories eventually became marginal to Steiner’s cosmology.” The quotes above were made just a handful of years prior to Steiner’s death. It certainly doesn’t sound like he had distanced himself from anything.

These are obviously Steiner’s deep rooted beliefs which are the cornerstone of his view of humanity and, as a consequence, of Anthroposophy - which is what the Steiner-Waldorf schools’ pedagogy rests on, as confirmed above by the ECSWE. These beliefs are not “occasional phrases” as the ECSWE claims, nor are they “a small number of quotations” or the result of “superficial reading”, as the SWSF asserts, but the FRSWSNZ is right: they are “unacceptable”. Of great concern, and contrary to all those organisations' public statements, is the fact that people have experienced these concepts being taught in the Steiner-Waldorf school they or their children attended.

Just like karma-driven unchecked bullying, this is a complaint that keeps coming up, and since the way these organisations try to dismiss allegations of bullying is eerily similar to how they attempt to sweep Steiner's racism under the rug, even going as far as issuing “unofficial restraining orders” or trespass notices on parents who raise concerns, it must make you wonder how those unacceptable beliefs still influence these schools' pedagogy today.

So bearing all of this in mind, were these organisations deceiving the public with their statements? Perhaps it's as former pupil, teacher and Anthroposophist Grégoire Perra explained: “Steiner-Waldorf schools rest on an organised, efficient hoax, established for over 90 years, on a habit of manipulation and misrepresentation which is not only structural, but which also becomes part of the constitution of its people. We lie, we cheat, we steal, and even worse, without seeing the problem with this type of behaviour.”

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