Grégoire Perra is no longer an anthroposophist. He used to be one, however, and spent many years within the anthroposophical movement, first as a Steiner school student from the age of nine and later becoming a committed anthroposophist and a Steiner teacher himself. But he chose to quit, and he wrote an article about his experiences in the world of Steiner education and anthroposophy. In a blog post, he eloquently describes the reasons compelling him to do this. I’m sure I can’t do his case justice in a short blog post, but if I can I want to try to call attention to what is going on.
His writing was not tolerated by people in the anthroposophical movement in France. They could not accept that a person should have the freedom to express himself, to tell others what he thought was true and to recount his experiences in his own words. These words, they thought, defamed the anthroposophical movement. So one anthroposophical organisation — the Federation of Steiner Waldorf Schools in France — decided to take legal action against Grégoire Perra and the organisation (UNADFI) which had published the article.* A letter in which they make the initial threats to take action is available here and Grégoire confirms that he is awaiting trial.
It is still not too late, of course, for the Steiner Federation to back off from what appears to be a rather ill-conceived and counter-productive mission. They have embarked on a journey that is intellectually barren and ethically compromised, and I for one am not at all sure why they would want to go where they seem to be heading. They are not, by any means, a Michael bravely slaying the dragon.
If there’s one phenomenon I’m strongly averse to, it’s when people use the law as though it were a tool for clowns who can’t abide seeing their ways and ideas challenged openly. My intolerance for such shenanigans is the main reason I care about this. I intend to inform myself better of Grégoire Perra’s case, but from what I’ve seen and read so far, it appears to me that the anthroposophical movement in France, and in particular the Steiner Federation, would be well advised to act less foolishly.
What seems to have happened is this: the anthroposophical movement has come up with the idea that in order to protect themselves from the unfortunate reputation of being a cult, they would happily (and in a magnificently paradoxical way) behave as a cult would behave. A cult, which will not tolerate dissent. Cults often don’t. Anthroposophy, unfortunately, sometimes (this is not the first time) seems all too willing to join other cults in this untoward habit. Again, I can’t comprehend why; it is not criticism or dissent — even if it were unfair — that will suffocate anthroposophy, it is lack of breathing space that will. The enemy is within the movement itself. It is its own mentality — or perhaps, to speak Anthroposophese, the aberrations, nay, the pathologies of its group soul.
Naturally, this development ought to concern not only critics of anthroposophy but also — and perhaps even more — other anthroposophists.
I can certainly understand if anthroposophists and adherents of waldorf education don’t feel flattered by Grégoire Perra’s criticism and that they fear that a dissident who thinks what he thinks and writes what he writes poses a serious threat to the movement. It is understandable, even predictable, that people who are still anthroposophists don’t share Grégoire’s perspective. It is not difficult to comprehend that they feel the need to defend themselves, even against arguments which are likely to be more true than they would be able to admit. But will they be able to rescue their reputation in a courtroom? Of course not. They have lost such a battle before they have even begun fighting it.
You see, it doesn’t even matter much if they are right or wrong, they have lost already, because they have, by their very own actions, proven themselves to be a cult worthy of being called a cult. Simply by initiating a procedure of this kind — instead of arguing openly and fairly for their cause — they lose. They lose the moment they attempt to suppress another individual’s right to freely express himself. They lose, because merely by doing this, they show us their real intentions, their true mindset. They display disrespect for other perspectives on and experiences of their movement. They show their disdain for the right and freedom of other people to form their own views, make their own interpretations and to voice them. They prove they can’t tolerate criticism very well or at all. Cults usually can’t.
There is no point insisting anthroposophy is not a cult, if it acts as a cult (even Steiner had a glimpse of an understanding of this basic fact). And the movement has to show it is not a cult out there in the real world, not in a courtroom. It has to do so by anthroposophists meeting dissent with fair arguments and by presenting their side, their views and ideas, not with threats or trivial legal action.
So far everything suggests to me that the Federation of Steiner Schools in France deserves a fair bit of negative attention. Thus, let’s help give the French anthroposophical movement the reputation they vainly — and desperately, perhaps — tried to avoid by taking Grégoire Perra to court: that of a menacing cult. Because the moment they showed they can’t tolerate the existence of dissenting views or criticism, that is exactly what they are.
* UNADFI (Union Nationale des Associations de Défense des Familles et de l’Indivu Victimes de Sectes) is an organisation which ‘gathers and coordinates the Associations de défense des familles et de l’individu (ADFI), whose purpose is to acquire information on the cult phenomenon, with prevention and assistance for its victims’, according to Wikipedia. Read more in French here. You’ll find Grégoire Perra’s blog here, and the website of the French Steiner Federation is here.