Was Rudolf Steiner a German Nationalist?
ideology based on the premise that
the individual's loyalty and devotion
to the nation-state surpass other
individual or group interests.
Steiner was Austro-Hungarian by birth,
born at the periphery of the empire,
in Kralevic, of present-day Croatia. Thus Steiner was not a German national.
Being Austro-Hungarian does not preclude
Steiner from adopting a German nationalist
stance, however he never did this. Steiner
was ethnically German and spoke German
as his native language. Quite a few
German-speaking Austrians during his
lifetime yearned for a union of Austria with
German to form a greater German empire
comprising all German-speaking peoples.
But Steiner never called for a political
union of Austria and Germany or any sort of German empire, either
explicitly or implicitly. Nor did he
ever so much as intimate that this
might be desirable. On the contrary
he explicitly praised the multi-ethnic
aspect of the Austro-Hungarian State.
lack of a German passport became an
issue during World War One. He spent
much of the later part of the war in
unable to cross into Germany for
fear of arrest for spying. His work
placed him in the center of an international
group of people interested in his spiritual
insights. But precisely these international
connections would have caused the authorities
in Germany to suspect espionage.
Steiner decided not to take the risk,
and was thus unable to travel in German
during the war. Meanwhile
in Dornach, Switzerland, a large international group of volunteers
worked on building a theatre and lecture
hall to support Steiner's anthroposophical
movement. This building was called
of Steiner's contemporaries have commented
on the absence of any national chauvinism
in their perception of Steiner's work,
as well as all of his efforts to overcome
the nationalistic tendencies among
his followers. For example, Andrei
Belyi, a Russian, writing about 1928
or 1929 recalls:
"The first reaction [among Anthroposophists in Dornach]
to the [outbreak of the First World]
war: we must commit ourselves more
emphatically to our common cause; all
of us - Russians, Germans, Austrians,
French, Poles - we are all brothers
in misfortune, we are all victims of
criminal politics; our "politics" was
devotion to the common cause, determination
to continue building. When Strauss,
the Bavarian, was drafted and had to
join the services as a medical aide,
he noted down as many Russian words
as possible so he would be able to
help wounded Russian prisoners." (Belyi, Turgenieff, and Voloschin 53)
"The outbreak of the war brought Steiner new, special
problems; he had to guide the
outbreaks of nationalistic sentiment
directions. Three weeks [after
the outbreak of the First World War]
first momentum of our spontaneous
solidarity was quite evidently broken.
September and through all of
October the storms in the canteen did
the British and the Russians
gathered together in little groups,
insisted very tactlessly that
the war had been instigated by the
attitude of England; the Russians
countered with the statement that a
neutrality amounts to barbarism.
Soon, theoretical debates changed to
incidents and endangered the
whole life of Dornach. Schuré's withdrawal
from the Anthroposophical Society,
the nasty rumors that filtered
out of France via the French part of
the duplicity of some Poles - all
this had very negative effects.
were on the Doctor; one secretly
hoped the he would at least state: "Germany is in the right!" or "Germany is to blame
for all the catastrophes!" However
he did not accuse a single country,
only the mendacity of the press;
and he recommended that one not
the sensational news reports
and instead work undauntedly
on the aspect of true
culture.. Everybody waited tensely
for an unequivocal gesture.
One such gesture lay for me in his
five lectures concerning the essence
of culture which he held in our Schreinerei
in November. They contained living
representations from Italian, French,
English, and German culture Campanella,
the 17th century in France,
the German "Frenchman" in
Steiner's depiction, Leibnitz, Shakespeare, Newton,
Schiller and Goethe. An image of Russia arose - the Russia that
is striving towards the future, the
kingdom of the spirit. Everyone was
enthused - the French, the Austrians,
the Germans and Russians. The Doctor
had succeeded in smoothing the waves
of nationalistic passion by pointing
out the unity that all great culture
has in common. In light of his words
we once again turned to one another;
the oppressive atmosphere was transformed.
Later on other infections appeared,
but the nationalistic fever was once
and for all overcome; from then on,
the members of the various nations
at war with one another lived in peace." (Belyi, Turgenieff, and Voloschin 55-56)
reference to the Schuré incident casts
light on some of the original sources
for claiming Steiner as a German nationalist.
Eduard Schuré was a French writer interested
in spirituality in general and Theosophy
in particular. One of his famous works
was a book called "The Great Initiates".
Schuré met Steiner some time around
1904 and became a fried and admirer.
During the war, however, Schuré, a
Frenchman, became convinced that Steiner's
work was pro-German, and he publicly
repudiated Steiner's work on the grounds
that Steiner was advocating the German
side. They reconciled in 1922 and Schuré apologized.
But the charges, widely repeated during
the war, remain to this day.
the events surrounding the Second World
War exposed the darker side of
the German national character the accusations
are plausible. The simple fact that
Steiner spoke German is frequently a
starting point for claims that he somehow
this darker side, even that he inspired
it. In fact Steiner's anthroposophy is
fundamentally opposed to nationalism.
But that has not stopped anthroposophy's
opponents from claiming that it inspired
or at the very least that sprang with
Nazism from a common source. This point
has been stated very clearly by Peter
Staudenmaier in an article originally
published in Norwegian,
titled the "Anthroposophy
and Ecofascism." While
sounding quite scholarly, it relies almost
entirely on hostile secondary sources,
and makes the cardinal sin of willfully
misrepresenting primary sources. Even
in the context of propaganda this is
Andrei, Aasya Turgenieff, and Margarita
Voloschin. Reminiscences of Rudolf
Steiner. Ghent, NY: Adonis Press, 1987.
Britannica 2002 Deluxe Edition. CD-ROM. New York: Encyclopedia Britannica, 2002.
 Steiner is more vulnerable to the charge of being
a German cultural chauvinist. Particularly
in certain early writings he emphasized
the special nature of the pan-German
cultural movement. He did this, however,
as part of a firmly anti-Nationalist
stance. Opposition to all forms of
nationalism is a consistent and recurring
theme in Steiner's work.
 Steiner's inability to even visit Germany
during part of this
high point of German nationalism belies any claim of partisanship
on his part.
 The original Goetheanum, built of wood, was burned
to the ground by an arsonist in 1923.
The second Goetheanum, made out of
cement, stands in Dornach today.
 See Anthroposophy