Steiner and Heinrich von Treitschke
Rudolf Steiner did not
admire Treitschke. Far from it, he was quite
critical of him in several places. Steiner
did find one or two ideas that Treitschke
put forth that he liked, but these were
certainly not the controversial ideas of
The primary source for
understanding Rudolf Steiner's thoughts
about Heinrich von Treitschke is Rudolf
Steiner's autobiography - Mein Lebensgang
(The Course of my Life). In this Steiner
describes the circumstances of his one
with von Treitschke. There is no evidence
that they met or otherwise corresponded
on any other occasions.
Among the visitors to Weimar was
Heinrich von Treitschke. I had the
opportunity of meeting him when
Suphan included me among the guests
invited to meet Treitschke at luncheon.
I received a deep impression from
this very comprehensive personality.
Treitschke was quite deaf. Others
conversed with him by writing whatever
they wished to say on a little tablet
which Treitschke would hand them.
The effect of this was that in any
company where he chanced to be his
person became the central point.
When one had written down something,
he then talked about this without
the development of a real conversation.
He was present in a far more intensive
way for the others than were these
for him. This had passed over into
his whole attitude of mind. He spoke
without having to reckon upon objections
such as meet another when imparting
his thoughts in a group of men.
It could clearly be seen how this
fact had fixed its roots in his
self-consciousness. Since he could
not hear any opposition to his thoughts,
he was strongly impressed with the
worth of what he himself thought.
The first question that Treitschke
addressed to me was to ask where
I came from. I replied that I was
an Austrian. Treitschke responded:
“The Austrians are either
entirely good and gifted men, or
else rascals.” He said such
things as this, and one became aware
that the loneliness in which his
mind dwelt because of the deafness
drove him to paradoxes, and found
in these a satisfaction. Luncheon
guests usually remained at Suphan's
the whole afternoon. So it was this
time also when Treitschke was among
them. One could see this personality
unfold itself. The broad-shouldered
man had something in his spiritual
personality also through which he
impressed himself upon a wide circle
of his fellow-men. One could not
say that Treitschke lectured. For
everything he said bore a personal
character. An earnest craving to
express himself was manifest in
every word. How commanding was his
tone even when he was only narrating
something! He wished his words to
lay hold upon the emotions of the
other person also. An unusual fire
which sparkled from his eyes accompanied
his assertions. The conversation
touched upon Moltke's conception
of the world as this had found expression
in his memoirs. Treitschke objected
to the impersonal way – suggestive
of mathematical thinking –
in which Moltke conceived world-phenomena.
He could not judge things otherwise
than with a ground-tone of strongly
personal sympathies and antipathies.
Men like Treitschke, who stick so
fast in their own personalities,
can make an impression on other
men only when the personal element
is at the same time both significant
and also interwoven deeply with
the things they are setting forth.
This was true of Treitschke. When
he spoke of something historical,
he discoursed as if everything were
in the present and he were at hand
with all his pleasure and all his
displeasure. One listened to the
man, one received the impression
of the personal in unmitigated strength;
but one gained no relation to the
content of what he said.
Rudolf Steiner.The Course of
My Life. New York 1951, pages
164-165 (Chapter 15), also online.
Steiner was invited to
a luncheon that someone else had organized,
where he briefly met von Treitshke, then
stayed the afternoon and observed the
It is interesting to compare Steiner's
observations with those of Fredrich Paulsen:
Treitschke carried his hearers
away by the pompous force of his
words. Hearing his monotonous and
hollow voice for the first time,
one could not help wondering why
or how. I heard him lecture... at
Berlin. Unfortunately, he was just
speaking about England, and the
invective he poured out in his blind
hatred of English philosophy and
the whole English mode of thinking
became so intolerable to me that
I walked out of the lecture room.
His ungovernable temperament rendered
him peculiarly insensitive to historical
justice. He knew only two categories:
for against the good cause; and
in order to put down anything that
warred against the latter he regarded
any means as justified - the good
cause being the cause of Prussia.
I wonder how England had really
managed to incur his undying hatred,
a hatred that knew no bounds. I
can still hear his voice in the
professor's room in Berlin, when,
on hearing of the fall of Khartoum
and Gordon's death, he gave vent
to his feelings in loud jubilation.
"Just what ought to have happened!"
he exclaimed. "Every one of
them ought to meet with the same
fate. "His deafness made it
impossible to reply; his own voice
was the only voice he ever heard,
and this increased the intemperance
of his emotions.
Fredrich Paulsen, An Autobiography
New York 1906, cited in Gordon Craig,
Germany 1866-1945, New
York 1978, p. 205
and Steiner have come to the same conclusion,
and neither one could be called admiring.
Steiner, as was characteristic
of him, was sensitive in his description;
it is certainly not an attempt at character
assassination. But it is quite clear that
Steiner felt Treitschke had many faults,
both in interpersonal relationships and
in his manner of thinking.
Steiner mentioned von
Treitschke in his book Riddles of Philosophy.
The context is a discussion of Max Stirner's
book The Only One and His Possession.
There he accuses Treitschke of grossly misunderstanding
There must be much evil depravity
at the bottom of the souls of these
“moral persons,” according
to Stirner, because they are so
insistent in their demands for moral
prescriptions. They must indeed
be lacking love because they want
love to be ordered to them as a
commandment that should really spring
from them as spontaneous impulse.
Only twenty years ago it was possible
that the following criticism could
be made in a serious book:
Max Stirner's book, The Only One
and His Possession, destroyed spirit
and humanity, right and state, truth
and virtue as if they were idols
of the bondage of thought, and confessed
without reluctance, “I place
nothing above myself!” (Heinrich
von Treitschke, Deutsche Geschichte,
Part V, pp. 416; 1927.)
This only proves how easily Stirner
can be misunderstood as a result
of his radical mode of expression
because, to him, the human individual
was considered to be so noble, so
elevated, unique and free that not
even the loftiest thought world
was supposed to reach up to it.
Rudolf Steiner, Riddles of
Philosophy, Chapter Nine, also
Steiner did speak favorably
of certain aspects of Treitschke's works
in a number of places, but his praise was
always narrowly directed. And Steiner was
careful not to praise Treitschke's person,
only aspects of his work. Thus I do not
feel that it is accurate to call Steiner
an admirer of Treitschke.
03/20/2008: I have followed up on this article, responding to some criticisms, in a blog post.