2017.01.16

An attitude favouring secrecy can mean two things (as far as I can tell): either a person wants to be in the position to decide what knowledge others are allowed to seek or he desires that someone else decides in his place what he is allowed to know. I find it hard to believe that an individual who appreciates independence and self-determination would find this system appealing, regardless of where on the hierarchy of decisions he finds himself. But that’s perhaps just me.

Jeremy Smith argues that Frank Thomas Smith made a mistake when he translated and publicized online the formerly secret lessons of the so-called First Class, the instruction Steiner gave to a select group of spiritual students..

There are religious cults and sects that desperately keep their most important or advanced teachings secret from newcomers. For various reasons like manipulation, deception, preservation of hierarchies, et cetera, in other words, reasons that are usually unappetizing. They operate that way knowing that people have to invest in the cult, to become thoroughly committed to it, before being shown what its crasser or more bizarre reality or what is required of them in terms of sacrifice or submission or whatever else they would likely have balked at if presented with it earlier on. There’s another thing I find hard to believe: that anthroposophy would gain from finding itself in the company of these cults.

However, with Steiner’s formerly secret lectures one might argue that there isn’t anything “extra” in them that would repel a beginner or anything that would be particularly shocking — a fact which makes secrecy even more nonsensical. This is because they don’t contain anything more controversial or weird or off-putting than what you find in droves in the rest of his vast work. Yet, for reasons that I find inexplicable, some anthroposophists appear to think they do, for example Jeremy, who writes that the lessons may be “off-putting” to a reader who has not gone through the right preparation. That would be reason to withdraw all of Steiner’s work; fortunately, it’s a little late for that, unless we invent a time-machine.

Surely, there may be some off-putting things, but in my eyes, there’s a hint of manipulation in this idea that the texts should therefore be secret, and also a rather significant potential for abuse of power. When someone is “prepared” for certain knowledge in a group or community context and is then vetted and approved by higher-ups before gaining access to it, he’s not in the same position as a person who at any time can decide to examine the texts independently and in exactly the manner he wishes. The former is at the hands of others, who may or may not be fair (and don’t say that anthroposophists in power of admitting or rejecting people from class lessons are always fair — of course they aren’t), who may or may not subject him to undue pressure or manipulation, and so on. And, needless to say, it’s possible to be serious “student” of anthroposophy (not a mocker or critic or whatever label I’m wearing), without even wanting to be affiliated with the Anthroposophical Society or the local branch of it.

Jeremy also argues that by making the texts public, they become available to people with an intent to scoff at Steiner’s words and ideas. To prove this unfortunate but apparently rather rare event, he has found a very old blog post of mine. Naturally, Frank’s translations have nothing to do with my ability to mock; I’m in the fortunate position of being able to mock texts written in German. I had read the lessons before Frank’s English translation, as they have been available online in German for quite some time now. I think I read them sometime in 2009 or 2010.  At this lucky moment in time, I own the nice — but enormous (designed not to be suitable for reading on the bus!)  — original edition from 1992, all four volumes; in addition I’ve read the Swedish translations too, which I got from a library. Now, there’s something to mock — or, first, to understand, perhaps (why would someone like me go through all that trouble?). Well, there may be other scoffers out there beside me, but I would be surprised if Jeremy can find much scoffing, in English or in German, of the First Class texts out there.

It may surprise or dismay some anthroposophists, but these texts don’t really contain any additional stuff spectacular enough to delight scoffers and opponents; in fact, they are wholly redundant in that regard, disappointingly so, one might add, if one takes the perspective of a scoffer and opponent. In fact, I think scoffers and opponents would have had more to win from the now utterly hypothetical situation of the texts remaining secret, because an intact culture of secrecy would have its own dire consequences. Not only could one invent malevolent gossip about an unknown content, but the fact of secrecy itself would help prove that anthroposophy is a secretive cult, which may not be the best idea, if your schools and other activities target the general public. (Unfortunately, regardless of these texts, there’s still too much secrecy and too little reason to have confidence in waldorf schools — but that’s another matter.)

And, besides, is it right to deprive English non-class members of the texts because there may be a tiny number of people who don’t read German and who will, at some point in the future, find things to scoff at? That’s quite a significant price to pay, it seems to me. There can’t be many potential scoffers, though I guess that may seem provocative to some anthroposophists. After all, anthroposophy treats enemies as an existential necessity; I’m sure if they couldn’t find any, they would have to invent some. And, essentially, that’s what they do when they designate people like me as enemies, and they do that happily. Even people who are more positively inclined towards anthroposophy, nay, anthroposophists even, are assigned the role of enemies. Add such tendencies to a desire for secrecy, and a pattern starts to emerge. The bottom line, though, is why English-speaking anthroposophists (or people interested in anthroposophy for one reason or other) should be deemed less capable of deciding for themselves what to read than their German counterparts.

Forgetting for a moment that scoffers can learn German, and so gain access to the texts in the original, is there much to scoff at? Not really. There’s no shortage of things to scoff at in Steiner’s work. In fact, if scoffing were ever my main motive, I’d leave the class lessons alone and head for Steiner’s public lectures and books, where exotic and seemingly crazy (or “fantastic and absurd” as Jeremy puts it) utterances abound. My hypothesis is that even a very lazy scoffer would find plenty of opportunity for mockery without much effort at all, and without ever opening the class lessons that would, in fact, only prove to be a waste of time. I suspect that for a committed scoffer, these texts are simply tedious and unnecessary.

It’s different for someone who wants to find out what Steiner actually thought and said in all contexts, for all kinds of audiences. Then you have to get through the more obscure texts, including the class texts. One might even say they don’t need to protected by secrecy, and that their obscurity is protection enough; one might also argue that their “inner” meaning really isn’t reflected by words on paper anyway, and as I’ve said, the content can for the most part be found elsewhere in Steiner’s work or at least derived from it. I don’t think the publication contributes to them being “read or talked about like stories from a newspaper”, to quote Jeremy, or if it does, the culprits will likely be anthroposophists themselves, who (it seems) are no strangers to tabloid type sentiments, sensationalism, gossip or vanity…

That said, I sense many anthroposophists they feel the strongest about the mantra verses (rather than the other content), which are thought to be spiritually potent (in lack of a better way to describe it). But the mantras have been available for even longer, and were available in English long before Frank’s new translations. And, despite the vivid language and the monsters (certainly not exclusive to the class lessons…), there isn’t much to mock; in other words, it wouldn’t be easy to make mockery of them, much less to make mockery that would be comprehensible. Successful mockery depends on an audience, after all, doesn’t it? It is, I emphasize, much easier to mock what Steiner said about pregnant women reading Negro novels than to make anything of his esoteric mantras. As for whatever occult potency they may hold (or not), I would suggest this lies in their use, not in the publication of the words.

To save themselves from being scoffed at there are things present day anthroposophists could do rather than trying to hide Steiner; he’s rarely, if ever, the problem, or the biggest asset for a scoffer, far from it. Anyone who is in doubt, is hereby advised to enjoy, for example, some of the comments under Jeremy’s blog posts. There’s enough there to satiate a whole army of anthroposophy scoffers.

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