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Rudolf Steiner and Fredrich Nietzsche

Rudolf Steiner and Friedrich Nietzsche

Probably the best source for understanding Nietzsche's influence on Steiner is Rudolf Steiner's book Friedrich Nietzsche, Ein Kämpfer Gegen Sein Zeit (a title I would translate as: Friedrich Nietzsche: a Fighter Doing Battle against his Times) published 1895. Lest his readers mistake him for a disciple of Nietzsche, Rudolf Steiner says on the very first page:

"In the words in which he expressed his relationship to Schopenhauer, I would like to describe my relationship to Nietzshe: "I belong to those readers of Nietzsche who, after they have read the first page, know with certainty that they will read all pages, and listen to every word he has said. My confidence in him was there immediately... I understood him as if he had written just for me, in order to express all that I would say intelligibly but immediately and foolishly." One can speak thus and yet be far from acknowledging oneself as a "believer" in Nietzsche's world conception. But Nietzsche himself could not have been further from wishing to have such "believers." Did he not put into Zarathustra's mouth these words:

"You say you believe in Zarathustra, but of what account is Zarathustra? You are my believer, but of what account are all believers?

"You have not searched for yourself as yet; there you found me. Thus do all believers, but, for that reason, there is so little in all believing.

"Now I advise you to forsake me, and find yourselves; and only when you have denied me will I return to you.

Nietzsche is no Messianic founder of a religion; therefore he can wish for friends who support his opinion, but he can not wish for confessors to his teaching, who give up their own selves to find his."

Rudolf Steiner, Friedrich Nietzsche: A Fighter for Freedom

This theme Steiner repeated frequently when referring to Nietzsche. In a memorial address given September 13th, 1900, Steiner speaks of himself in the following way:

"It is strange that with the infatuation for Nietzsche in our day, someone must appear whose feelings, no less than many others, are drawn to the particular personality, and yet who, in spite of this, must constantly keep before him the deep contradictions which exist between this type of spirit, and the ideas and feelings of those who represent themselves as adherents of his world conception."

Or in an article in the Wiener Klinischer Rundschau (14th year, No. 30, 1900):

"For Nietzsche does not work upon his contemporaries through the logical power of his arguments. On the contrary, the wide dissemination of his concepts is to be traced to the same reasons which make it possible for zealots and fanatics to play their role in the world at all times."

Hardly the words of a man "under the sway of" Nietzsche. We find Steiner repeatedly distancing himself from the "zealots and fanatics" or even ordinary "adherents" of Nietzsche's world conception.

The book Friedrich Nietzsche, Ein Kämpfer Gegen Sein Zeit is divided into three sections, 1. a critical analysis of Nietzsche's character, 2. an exploration of the idea of the Superman, and 3. an attempt to trace Nietzsche's path of development. Rather than the fawning applause of an acolyte, we find a profound effort to place Nietzsche in the context of various directions in the philosophy of his times, an effort that to this day ranks as one of the more insightful attempted.

In his book, Steiner praised Nietzsche's stance against nationalism:

"The patriotic feelings of his German compatriots are also repugnant to Nietzsche's instincts. He cannot make his feelings and his thinking dependent upon the circles of the people amid whom he was born and reared, nor upon the age in which he lives. "It is so small-townish," he says in his Schopenhauer als Erzieher (Schopenhauer as an Educator) to make oneself duty-bound to opinions which no longer bind one a few hundred miles away. Orient and Occident are strokes of chalk which someone draws before our eyes to make fools of our timidity. I will make the attempt to come to freedom, the young soul says to itself; and then should it be hindered because accidentally two nations hate and fight each other, or because an ocean lies between two parts of the earth, or because there a religion is taught which did not exist a few thousand years previously?" The soul experiences of the Germans during the War of 1870 found so little echo in his soul that "while the thunder of battle passed from Wörth over Europe," he sat in a small corner of the Alps, "brooding and puzzled, consequently most grieved, and at the same time not grieved," and wrote down his thoughts about the Greeks."

So we see Rudolf Steiner as an early scholar of Nietzsche; someone who made great efforts to understand Nietzsche's thought, but at the same time someone who distanced himself from Nietzsche's conclusions, and from the bands of enthusiasts who took up the cause in Nietzsche's name.

Copyright © 2004-2005 Daniel Hindes