translation of NNA article about GA 173
- Original German here:
Tue, June 15, 2010
The First World War: an Interpretation that "Bucks the Trend."
Steiner-Verlag publishes an explosive new edition of "Considerations of Contemporary History" from 1916-1917 for the first time, a scholarly edition.
By NNA correspondent Wolfgang G. Vögele
Translated by Tom Mellett
BASEL (NNA). Steiner experts regard it as "highly charged" --- this lecture series from 1916-17 called "Considerations of Contemporary History," where Rudolf Steiner spoke in real time about the events of World War I. For years it was out of print ---something which increased the speculation surrounding the actual meaning of these lectures. Now in a completely revised edition, they are accessible again and in line with standards of modern scholarship. (GA 173a, 173b, 173c)
The Steiner publishing house in Dornach chose a most unusual way of presenting these GA volumes: the new edition is being introduced in a variety of public outlets. The tour began in Basel. The renowned bookstore Bider & Tanner was crammed full of visitors who followed the exciting presentations of the editor, Alexander Lüscher, and publishing director, Jonathan Stauffer, and then had further intensive discussions over drinks and snacks. What is the rationale?
Steiner is repeatedly accused by his critics of advocating obscure conspiracy theories in lecturing about the events of the world war and in addressing the question of whether or not Germany was solely to blame for the war's outbreak in 1914. So this new scholarly edition can be interpreted as the Steiner-Publishing House and Steiner Archive "taking the bull by the horns," as it were, by showing an eagerness to confront these allegations in public. And what makes this issue even more relevant today is the fact that the GA 173 volume has been turned into a "cult book" by denizens of the right-wing esoteric scene --- owing to the theories advocated in it by Steiner.
The publisher Stauffer compared the new edition --- 1,800 pages long --- to a protracted and difficult birth. He shed light on aspects of the new opus in terms of its content and editorial procedures, elucidating the historical circumstances in which Steiner held these lectures. It would be somewhat comparable to that of a speaker today making a comment to an international audience about the recent aid transports to the Gaza Strip. This speaker would then be confronted with a flood of totally antagonistic, often fanatically expressed opinions.
At that time, Steiner was speaking on neutral ground to his followers in various nations at war with each other. He had to be alert and confident to "roll with the punches," in order to survive in such an explosive atmosphere. Furthermore, even in neutral Switzerland, the opinion of the population was deeply divided when it came to the sympathies of the warring parties (the Central Powers vs. the Entente Powers).
Steiner's efforts to provide an objective analysis of history, that would not only be explicitly clear in every lecture, but also steer his audience clear of the ubiquitous prevailing emotions on the subject, is in itself a prodigious achievement. Also worth admiring was his unusually wide-ranging database of information --- "an absolutely modern approach," said Stauffer. Ultimately, the due diligence of the publisher traces back to Steiner's own diligence in compiling all his information.
Alexander Lüscher, Associate Editor of the Steiner GA for the last 14 years, was savvy enough with his editorial experience to convey the dry historical material in an exciting way. Without the cooperation of a well-established team, including shorthand experts, researchers, proof-readers, layout artists and designers, the new edition would never have seen the light of day. Other contributors were the historian, Markus Osterrieder, and the linguist, Hans-Diedrich Fuhlendorf.
The 24 lectures of Steiner are now arranged in three volumes, each one containing its own introduction. The editorial history is documented in great detail. Each volume contains a comprehensive section of reference notes in the appendix. Lüscher justified this very detailed appendix with several arguments: a modern reader will hardly be familiar with the names and events mentioned by Steiner. His often obscure and remote sources are not even readily accessible to historians, let alone to anyone using an Internet search engine. Therefore, a competent knowledge of [Steiner's] contemporary literature and his own library is absolutely essential. The sources from which Steiner has drawn are printed in their original text. In addition, scribbled notes and pages from notebooks were reproduced in facsimile and, by including them, many traditionally garbled passages could be reconstructed.
Lüscher described to the audience the pertinent global political situation and the dramatic turn of the year 1916 into 1917, when Steiner gave these lectures. The Entente nations had rejected the Germany's peace proposal. According to eyewitness accounts, Steiner reacted with despair to this development, as well as to the attitudes of leading German statesmen.
On January 14, 1917, Steiner inserted a lecture on subconscious illnesses because he was convinced that the outbreak of the World War and its subsequent course was in essence caused by exceptional circumstances of subconscious forces collectively afflicting the respective decision makers.
[NOTE: Lecture title: "Subconscious Impulses in the Human Soul," GA 174]
Steiner had forbidden his listeners to take notes because foreign anthroposophists sometimes had their transcripts sent to their native countries where they were intercepted by the censors. Steiner, like many foreigners in Switzerland during the war years, came under police surveillance and he wanted to avoid any unnecessary suspicion. Otherwise the Entente Powers could easily have had him deported from Switzerland.
The first edition, published under Marie Steiner's direction in 1949, appeared in two private printings of 100 copies as study material, but it relied on a defective transcript. Because the existing shorthand notes were packed away and thus not available at that time, errors and inconsistencies crept in. The reprints of the GA series 173 and 174 essentially dated back to the original deficient version and they had been out of print for many years.
Since the available shorthand transcripts have now been fully translated, then the entire lecture text could finally be corrected. By citing various text examples, Lüscher demonstrated the differences between the old and new versions, and accounted for the critical discrepancies. Also, Steiner's handwritten slips of paper and notebook entries could be used for the first time. While deciphering some hard to understand abbreviations, for example, sometimes intuition was called upon or else sheer luck contributed to the correct solution.
Steiner had sometimes been wrong about specific facts and had made erroneous biographical statements, but they have now been corrected. All corrections are presented for the reader scrutiny. The sheer quantity of references proves that Steiner did not "make stuff up out of the blue," but actually relied on a multitude of sources.
Lüscher felt that his corrections are legitimate because Marie Steiner, the heiress of Steiner's literary estate, did not consider her own edition as the ultimate one, but hoped to have professional editing done at a later date. In this context, Lüscher announced new editing guidelines for the estate management [Nachlassverwaltung] which are now in the final stages of preparation.
In summarizing, the editor stated that [Steiner's] contemporary historical considerations also contained an exposé of the "deeper currents" of history. In the sense of his "historical symptomatology," it was crucial for Steiner to indicate that all historical and political events play out against spiritual backgrounds. He wanted to motivate his audience to achieve objective historical knowledge.
Many critics classify Steiner as a conspiracy theorist because he spoke of a planned encirclement of Germany by the Entente Powers. Let there be conspiracy believers and conspiracy deniers! A modern interpreter of Steiner's lectures should not be guided by such extreme positions. Steiner had merely pointed out the long-term political power strategies of the Western powers, which in the 20th Century have been put into practice on a large scale. Such long-term goals, however, are not demonstrable with the Central Powers. Steiner's interpretations concur to a high degree with modern historical knowledge. Lüscher referred to a book soon to be released by Markus Osterrieder, that deals with the theme: Rudolf Steiner and the First World War, and summarizes the most up to date scholarship.
In the question/answer session that followed, the publisher admitted that, despite all his efforts, it is still difficult to get reviews in non-anthroposophical media. Lüscher said this is correlated with the fact that mainstream historical scholarship still starts from the premise that Germany is solely to blame for the First World War. Sure, there are historians who question this theory, but they are quite in the minority. Steiner did not share this mainstream view. It should not be overlooked that the Swiss press, even during the World War, had assessed the allegedly exclusive war guilt of the Central Powers in a much more sophisticated way than later historians did.
Lüscher dispelled fears that GA 173 --- despite the scholarly level of the new edition --- could backfire on the anthroposophical movement since the critical public is really not sophisticated enough to judge the work and would therefore dump it into the "revisionist bin." He was well aware of this problem. It is always difficult to publish a work that swims against the mainstream in its substance and in so many points. But on the whole, he was full of confidence because the allegations of being unscientific and "mystery-mongering" [obsessed with secrecy] could no longer be lodged against the new edition.
END / nna / vog
Rudolf Steiner: "Considerations of Contemporary History" (GA 173a, 173b, 173c) Three volumes in linen slipcase. Edited by Alexander Lüscher in collaboration with Hans-Diedrich Fuhlendorf and Markus Osterrieder. Dornach: Rudolf Steiner Verlag 2010th CHF 190 - / 130 -, ISBN 978-3-7274-1731-3.
More public events announcing the new edition are happening this June in Bern, Hamburg and Cologne.
Report no.: 100 615-01EN Date: 15 June 2010
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