Peter Staudenmaier on Robert Rose’s ‘Transforming Criticisms of Anthroposophy and Waldorf Education — Evolution, Race, and the Quest for Global Ethics’

Robert Rose, who was responsible for the philosophy and anthroposophy module (anthroposophy, yes, you heard right) at the University of Plymouth for 20 years (it has now been cancelled), has written a small book which attempts to discuss or to counter the criticisms having to do with racism in anthroposophy. His booklet, entitled Transforming Criticisms of Anthroposophy and Waldorf Education — Evolution, Race, and the Quest for Global Ethics, can be read online here. Peter Staudenmaier wrote a comment on Rose’s text which was posted on the Waldorf Critics e-mail list and which I reproduce, with permission, below. Comments are open on this post, but I of course urge you to join the list and comment over there.

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I am sorry to say the booklet is extraordinarily confused, and as uncomprehending as other anthroposophical musings on race. For a sense of the intellectual level of the discussion, here is how Rose formulates one of his basic principles:

“Can a statement be classified as racist if the ‘race’ referred to no longer exists and that it anyway does not meet any classification of any race of the current age?” (11)

By this logic, if I say “the Aryan race is vastly superior to all other races,” I have not made a racist statement, since the Aryan race does not exist. So much for anthroposophist analyses of racism.

This sort of simple-mindedness is strewn throughout Rose’s text (unsurprisingly, he has completely misunderstood my work, but that is par for the course in anthroposophical circles). He offers breathtakingly naive claims: “a theory that is open to being falsified cannot be racist.” (95) Indeed he holds, believe it or not, that theories as such cannot possibly be racist (23). Rose even believes that racism “can accept no theory of soul distinct from and conditioning the body”! (97) In the fantasy land of anthroposophy, there simply is no such thing as spiritual racism.

Rose provides this shocking revelation about Steiner’s use of the word ‘race’ (17): “Steiner did not use the word in the same sense as contemporary academia.” Gosh, you don’t say. He has evidently convinced himself that critics of anthroposophy, not to mention historians of anthroposophy, believe otherwise. He thinks we argue that Steiner’s racial teachings are “essentially identical to the context of Steiner’s day.” (17)

I’m afraid this is nonsense. Steiner’s claims about race diverged considerably from the context of his day; he was an occultist, not some sort of mainstream author. His racial teachings were historically distinctive. That is what makes them worth studying.

Throughout the text Rose defends Steiner’s claims about “Negroes” and “Aryans” and the “war of all against all” and the terrible spiritual consequences of black people in Europe and “the white race is the race of the future” and so forth. He also defends Steiner’s claims about evil “financiers” who “manipulate” the populace (oddly, he misses several chances to endorse Steiner’s views on Jews). Rose also believes that “each race” has “a naturally given set of characteristics” which differentiate it spiritually from the others (179). The text is an extended rehearsal of the core themes of anthroposophical racism.

There are not a few passages that are hard not to laugh at. Historians love sentences like this, for example: “We may never know if what Steiner claimed about the natural attributes of the races was true in his day.” (180)

Imagine Rose making the same inane claim about any other historical figure: “We may never know if what Hitler claimed about the natural attributes of the Jews was true in his day.” Heck, it was all so darned long ago!

Rose also believes that fascists did not invoke ideals of freedom, equality, brotherhood, and love (20). He is wholly unfamiliar with the history of the Aryan myth (see e.g. 86). This is an astonishing degree of historical naivete. But the most striking errors have less to do with misunderstanding Steiner or misunderstanding history; Rose has fundamentally misunderstood what racism is and how it functions.

He claims, amazingly, that historically the term “racism” has only negative connotations (31). This is quite preposterous. Before 1945, racists routinely used the term to refer to themselves and their own ideas. Rose appears to be entirely unfamiliar with the history of paternalist racism (see 32-33 in particular), and he seems to believe that “Christian missionaries who genuinely wished to help other races” could not possibly have held racist views! (36)

Above all, Rose thinks that racism is a matter of “biological reductionism” (62). Thus he manages to conclude that defining race “in terms of mental capacities” is not racist (68). This would mean, among other things, that Gobineau and Chamberlain — to choose two of the more obvious examples — were not racist thinkers. And then there’s this chestnut:

“If a theory claimed that a particular ‘race’ would be succeeded by another race this evidences a non-racist, non supremacist, theory.” (82)

The nicest thing one might say about this claim is that it is quaintly ridiculous. It indicates thoroughgoing ignorance of the history of racial thought. The text is full of this sort of thing.

This is how racial myths work. Because anthroposophists remain beholden to Steiner’s racial myths, they cannot figure why those myths are racist, and do not realize that they are promoting well-worn forms of spiritual racism.

Looking forward to the day that starts to change,

Peter S.

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