There was a discussion on critics on Steiner’s pre-theosophical phase and his theosophical, later anthroposophical, phase. I’m not sure my reply would add anything to the topic as such and, besides, the dicussion has evolved to other things (surreal and Monty Python-esque things), so I’ll post this comment here.
Diana: Steve asked for examples of the discrepancies (betw/ Steiner’s own account of things and the account proferred by historians): the easiest ones that come to mind are 1) his later tagging of PoF as anthroposophy, when it doesn’t contain esoteric content; and 2) his recasting of his atheist period as merely a step on his course of spiritual development.
The latter especially is not at all surprising, nor is it intended to be some damning judgment on Steiner as a person. I would guess most people who begin as atheists and become believers describe their spiritual development this way. It stands to reason. We do not like to see ourselves as contradictory, it is much more pleasing to see the course of one’s development as a coherent narrative, all meant to be, everything developing as it should.
Peter S: Annie Besant, Steiner’s predecessor and rival within the theosophical leadership, followed a similar trajectory from an earlier phase of atheism and spiritual searching to a mature esoteric stance. It isn’t uncommon within the esoteric milieu. As Diana and Alicia and others have pointed out, this is a matter of viewing Steiner as a human being like other human beings. It isn’t a sneaky way of ‘denouncing’ Steiner’s esoteric teachings. If anything, the contrary would be the case: for folks like Diana and Alicia and Dan et al, recognizing that Steiner had an earlier non-esoteric and secular period can yield more familiarity and even a bit of respect. Somehow this point seems lost on anthroposophists.
This is, at least for me, absolutely true. I’m not at all appalled by the fact that Steiner changed. I don’t think this decreases whatever value there is to his teachings, neither the ones before his turn to theosophy or after. All it tells us is that he, like everybody else, changed. This is obviously not a problem — except for the person who sees Steiner as an infallible, clairvoyant guru. For me, it’s more the other way around; I suspect that only a monster, or a robot, would never change. And I’m relieved he’s neither. Because, actually, that’s what he was in my mind: a horror figure. So, I have respect, indeed, for the early Steiner (and, believe it or not, some respect for the older Steiner, too), but I feel relief that he was a human being who changed, who was contradictory, who reinterpreted himself to make his life and his teachings fit a coherent whole, and so forth. Anything else would just be too spooky. However, what does scare me is the perfect Steiner; the Steiner that is a figment of anthroposophical imagination, rather than a real person. The one who knew exactly how everything in the entire universe is or is supposed to be because he had super-powers; yes, precisely that clairvoyant and infallible guru whose life-path and teachings show no inconsistencies. The perfect man whose perfection some anthroposophists want to defend, because, somehow they seem to believe that if he isn’t perfect, then what he said or did was useless (instead of letting it live, or die, on its own merit). That stuff scares me more, because that’s the stuff that breeds dogmatism and fanaticism. It’s because of Steiner’s infallibility that waldorf teachers around the world believe they know exactly how everything is to be, without much non-anthroposophical evidence for it. The insights he gave them were indisputable. I’d much rather know the Steiner who was human, who could be wrong, and who changed his mind. A little bit more realism in this regard, and just a tiny bit of insight into Steiner’s humanness, would — I think — serve to make waldorf education more human and more amenable to necessary change. Clearly, if you think Steiner never changed, that he was completely consistent and coherent, that is his insights and knowledge were of perfect quality from the start and his life a perfect manifestation of them, it follows that questioning his ‘indications’ would be pointless. You don’t even admit that he was capable of questioning them himself.