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FW: anthroposophy tomorrow by association

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  • Diana Winters
    Forwarding this here at Peter Staudenmaier s suggestion. ... From: Peter Staudenmaier [mailto:pstaud@hotmail.com] Sent: Saturday, November 04, 2006 8:32 AM To:
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 6, 2006
      Forwarding this here at Peter Staudenmaier's suggestion.

      -----Original Message-----
      From: Peter Staudenmaier [mailto:pstaud@...]
      Sent: Saturday, November 04, 2006 8:32 AM
      To: waldorf-critics@...
      Subject: anthroposophy tomorrow by association

      Walden wrote:

      >A fascinating addition to this discussion can be found here:
      >Too bad the discussion cannot happen at the same place, but the above is
      >worth reading, IMO.

      That was indeed a fascinating post by Tarjei, thanks for pointing it out. I
      think the discussion could happen at the same place, if Tarjei wants to
      re-join this list or would like me to re-join the anthroposophy tomorrow
      list. I don't think the discussion of PoF has much to do with the
      discussions of racism and Nazism (which are themselves importantly
      distinct), but I'm game in any case. Tarjei is quite right that I think
      these sorts of public exchanges are very helpful for honing and sharpening
      arguments, and the more well-wrought each party's arguments are, the more
      fruitful the debate.

      There are several other elements in Tarjei's post about me that I think are
      also basically accurate. He is right that I do not think that Steiner's
      early philosophical works contain "a unique and brilliant epistemology with
      great potential for the future" (I think they contain a mildly interesting
      epistemology that was pretty much run of the mill for its time and place).
      He is also right that I do "profess to understand the PoF", and it didn't
      take "a lifetime of meditative study" to do so; it's just not that
      challenging a text as philosophical works go. Tarjei is also right that in
      my view, "the relationship of anthroposophists to Nazism is comparable to
      the relationship of Catholics to socialism." It's also comparable to the
      relationship between scientologists and Republicans, between Protestants and

      fascism, between Gurdjieffians and Stalinism, and so forth. Last, it is
      basically true that I consider a lot of anthroposophists "goons and goofs"
      who have a remarkably difficult time making sense of their own ideas, not to

      mention other people's ideas.

      Tarjei is also quite right that the younger Steiner held individualist
      anarchist Max Stirner in very high regard, though I think Tarjei gets my own

      position mixed up with his on this point (it isn't entirely clear from his
      post); I loathe Stirner and consider his ongoing influence within the
      anarchist movement deeply troubling, a point I often make in my writings for

      anarchist audiences. One of the better books on this aspect of Stirner's
      thought and its influence on figures like Steiner is Hans Helms, Die
      Ideologie der anonymen Gesellschaft (Cologne 1966); it includes substantial
      material on Rudolf Steiner, e.g. pp. 333-339; I think several aspects of
      Helms' argument are overdrawn, but I recommend the study to Tarjei and
      others interested in this facet of Steiner's early intellectual orientation.

      (By the way, if I'm reading him right, Tarjei apparently thinks that many of

      the rest of you here on the waldorf critics list "belong to the anarchist
      movement", which would be news to me, but if so, welcome! Tarjei also says
      that "there is a distinct atheist bias against everything spiritual" within
      the anarchist movement today; I think this may still be true in Scandinavia,

      but it hasn't been true for much of the North American anarchist movement
      for several decades.)

      I think that a number of Tarjei's other observations in this post are wide
      of the mark. Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding is about my attitude
      toward Steiner's early epistemology. I do not find much particularly
      objectionable about Steiner's early epistemological works, in PoF or
      elsewhere, and I am definitely not trying to ridicule or discredit it. If
      anything, the opposite is the case; I have a much higher estimation of
      Steiner's pre-1900 philosophical writings than I do of his mature
      theosophical and anthroposophical works, and in my view it is
      anthroposophist attempts to conflate those two bodies of work that tend to
      discredit Steiner's early epistemology by mistakenly classifying it as a
      form of veiled occultism.

      A further misunderstanding concerns the sentence "Steiner succumbed to one
      of the basic epistemological errors of modern occultism by failing to
      distinguish between perception and interpretation." Tarjei quotes that
      sentence from my reply to Dan's post about the recent conference on
      anthroposophy at my university here in Berlin; my post is a summary of the
      German text that Dan forwarded, and the sentence is a translation of one of
      the claims made in that text, it was by no means my unique and brilliant
      idea. But as it happens, I think the claim is quite correct, both about
      Steiner's mature works and about the epistemological errors that are so
      common throughout the modern occultist milieu. One of the better studies of
      that topic is Olav Hammer's 2001 book Claiming Knowledge: Strategies of
      Epistemology from Theosophy to the New Age. I also recommend Kocku von
      Stuckrad's 2004 book Was ist Esoterik? Kleine Geschichte des geheimen
      Wissens, as well as Wouter Hanegraaff's 1996 study New Age Religion and
      Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought.

      Tarjei has also partially misunderstood my argument about ethical
      evaluations of racism, fascism, and related phenomena. I do not believe in
      ethical abstention on these questions, in fact I strongly believe in the
      contrary: I think it is very important for responsible people to adopt a
      forthrightly anti-racist and anti-fascist stance when they engage in public
      discussion of such themes. What I have tried to explain to Tarjei before is
      that these sorts of evaluative analyses have to come *after* a prior attempt

      to discern what counts as 'racism' and 'fascism' in the first place. Nobody
      can know whether they are for or against something until they have some
      sense of what that something is. This is especially crucial to controversial

      topics like anthroposophy's less appealing ideological and political
      legacies: whether you like or dislike racism, whether you're in favor of or
      opposed to Nazism, you need to first try to figure out what anthroposophy's
      complicated relationships to those things were, and then you can bring to
      bear your own ethical judgements on the matter. Reversing those steps makes
      it much harder for people with different perspectives to engage with one
      another meaningfully.

      I also think that Tarjei's discussion of historical argument as such is
      importantly mistaken on one point; in respose to my remarks about how to
      make sense of historical actors, he says that "We are all historical
      figures". This misses the crucial distinction between people you are
      actually talking *to* today, and people you are talking *about* who are
      dead. With the former, you can always ask for clarification, elaboration,
      correction, and so on, none of which is possible with people who are dead.
      That is why when we talk about historical figures we're always talking about

      the things they did and wrote and said, not about what went on inside their
      own heads.

      On a related note, I think that the parts of Tarjei's post that deal with my

      work on the history of Nazism are a form of misplaced outrage, an instance
      of transference. As far as I know, he and I do not disagree about "the utter

      horror, obscenity, and evil of the Nazi regime," what we disagree about is
      how to try to account for and make some basic sense out of those horrors,
      obscenities, and evils. I think that the existing methods of historical
      scholarship and political critique are the best things we have to go on for
      tackling this difficult task, whereas Tarjei believes that black magic etc
      was involved and that these events need to be understood through an occult
      perspective. A further disagreement concerns what tone to adopt in public
      discussions of Nazism. I do indeed think that a calm approach that treats
      the topic as a historical phenomenon rather than an occasion for expressing
      disgust and revulsion is usually the best way to come at it, particularly
      when talking with anthroposophists themselves about some of their forebears
      who cooperated with Nazism. I acknowledge that this can be difficult to
      maintain, and I'm not all that good at it myself, but I do think it's worth
      striving toward.

      Finally, Tarjei is mistaken about what it is that I claim about the
      historical entwinement of anthroposophy and Nazism. For example, he says
      that I think Steiner was himself a Nazi, and he writes that according to me
      "the anthroposophical movement has been inundated with Nazis, racists,
      Holocaust-deniers in the past and is still so in the present. So if any of
      us here are not Nazis, Holocaust-deniers or at least racists, we're a puny
      minority what anthroposophists are concerned."

      This reverses the proportions. My argument is that open Nazis and holocaust
      deniers are and always have been a minority within the anthroposophical
      movement (the question of racists is considerably more complex on this
      score). Even in Nazi Germany, most anthroposophists were not Nazis in the
      active sense. Today, as far as can be discerned from external evidence, most

      anthroposophists in North America and Germanophone Europe see themselves as
      more or less on the left. An important element of my argument is that this
      self-perception merits scrutiny in light of the striking history of
      left-right confusion within anthroposophist circles over the past century,
      but I certainly do not hold that most anthroposophists today are Nazis, much

      less that Rudolf Steiner was. I think this is a good example of where a
      calmer approach to the historical phenomenon of Nazism would help raise the
      level of discussion between anthroposophists and non-anthroposophists

      I welcome anybody who is subscribed to both lists to post this to
      anthroposophy tomorrow if they think it appropriate. Greetings to Tarjei and

      everyone else,

      Peter Staudenmaier
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