August 1, 2005
Anthroposophy and its Defenders - first impressions
Let us begin, as Waage does, with the question of nationalism. To the end of his life, Steiner was forthright in acknowledging his early and enthusiastic participation in pan-German agitation. In the autobiography he published shortly before his death, he had this to say about his years in Vienna before the turn of the century: "At this time I was enthusiastically active in the struggles of the Germans in Austria for their national existence." ("Nun nahm ich damals an den nationalen Kämpfen lebhaften Anteil, welche die Deutschen in Österreich um ihre nationale Existenz führten." Steiner, Mein Lebensgang, original edition Dornach 1925, p. 132; the phrase "lebhaften Anteil" could also be translated as "deeply sympathetic".) Waage says that he was unable to find this passage in the Norwegian translation of Steiner's autobiography.PS2
Already with our first citation we have our first mistranslation. Steiner "took an interest in" the struggles; he did not participate, as has been mistranslated here. A straight dictionary translation of Steiner's words would be:
"At that time I took a lively interest in the battles that the Germans in Austria were fighting concerning their national existence."
The verb in the sentence (führten) refers strictly to the Germans, and Steiner's position was limited to his "lively interest" in the form of a prepositional phrase. An Anteil is "a share of", or figuratively "an interest in," or if sympathy is indicated, "sympathy." However, to argue the translation of lebhaften Anteil is to miss the point. The phrase Anteil... nehmen... an - the phrase used in the sentence - is translated as "take an interest in;" or, if indicating sympathy, "sympathize with" Thus the potentially confusing point for a translator is the difference between the phrases Anteil nehmen an… (to have an interest in) and Anteil nehmen… (to take part in). The single word an makes all the difference.
That not one, but two possible mistranslations are argued, and the proper translation ignored, is disingenuous and a clear mark of an attack piece. It is quite cleverly done, since by giving two possible readings, the authors make it appear that they are reasonable about possible alternatives. However, they offer a false choice since the straight translation, which happens not to support their point, is suppressed.
Paragraph 2 (continued):
But even without this particularly revealing sentence, Steiner's autobiography provides ample testimony to his German nationalist convictions. The paragraph following the one quoted above refers to Steiner's numerous "friends from the national struggle," and two pages prior he discusses the impact of Julius Langbehn's infamous book Rembrandt als Erzieher on his thinking.PS3
Starting off with a blatant mistranslation, it should not surprise us that both the "friends from the national struggle" and the claimed influence of Rembrandt als Erzieher (a book whose title translated is "Rembrandt as Educator") are also deliberately distorted. Steiner had no "friends from the national struggle", and was deeply critical of Rembrandt als Erzieher in the very paragraph cited by Staudenmaier and Zegers.
To understand the "friends from the national struggle" quote, let us look at the whole sentence, both in the original German and in English.
"Es kam zu alledem dazu, daß viele meiner Freunde aus den damaligen nationalen Kämpfen heraus in ihrer Auffassung des Judentumes eine antisemitische Nuance aufgenommen hatten. Die sahen meine Stellung in eine jüdischen Hause nicht mit Sympathie an; und der Herr dieses Hauses fand in meinem freundschaftlichen Umgange mit solchen Persönlichkeiten nur eine Bestätigung der Eindrücke, die er von meinem Aufsatze empfangen hatte."
This is translated:
"To all this was added the fact that many of my friends had taken on from their national struggle a tinge of anti-Semetism in their view of the Judaism. They did not view sympathetically my holding a post in a Jewish family; and the head of this family saw in my friendly mingling with such persons only a confirmation of the impression which he had received from my essay."
Steiner had friends who were involved in the national struggle. They were anti-Semites. This caused problems because Steiner was working in a Jewish household.
There is simply no excuse to ignore the heraus ("from out of") that immediately follows Freunde aus den damaligen nationalen Kämpfen ("friends from the national struggle"). Ignoring the heraus allows Staudenmaier and Zegers to accurately translate six words while ignoring the sentence, all in order to completely falsify Steiner's position while purportedly using his own words. Steiner never said that he had "friends from the national struggle". He said that a few of his friends "had taken from (out of) their national struggle" a tinge of anti-Semitism. Steiner himself was living with a Jewish family at the time.
As to Rembrandt als Erzieher, lest I be accused of selective reading, I will present the whole two paragraphs mentioned:
"It was with sad memories that I made the journey back to Vienna. There fell into my hands just then a book of whose “spiritual richness” men of all sorts were speaking: In conversations about this book, which were then going on wherever one went, one could hear about the coming of an entirely new spirit. I was forced to become aware, by reason of this very phenomenon, of the great loneliness in which I stood with my temper of mind amid the spiritual life of that period.
"In regard to a book which was prized in the highest degree by all the world my own feeling was as if someone had sat for several months at a table in one of the better hotels and listened to what the “outstanding” personalities in the genealogical tables said by way of “brilliant” remarks, and had then written these down in the form of aphorisms. After this continuous “preliminary work” he could have thrown his slips of paper with these remarks into a vessel, shaken them thoroughly together, and then taken them out again After drawing out the slips, he could have made a series of these and so produced a book. Of course, this criticism is exaggerated. But my inner vital mood forced me into such revulsion from that which the “spirit of the times” then praised as a work of the highest merit. I considered Rembrandt als Erzieher a book which dealt wholly with the surface of thoughts that have to do with the realm of the spiritual, and which did not harmonize in a single sentence with the real depths of the human soul. It grieved me to know that my contemporaries considered such a book as coming from a profound personality, whereas I was forced to believe that such dealers in the small change of thought moving in the shallows of the spirit would drive all that is deeply human out of man's soul."
That you can possibly offer these two paragraphs as actual proof that Steiner was a nationalist – ostensibly because he failed to denounce in even greater detail some specific contents of the book – only shows that references by critics to Steiner's own writings are often entirely inaccurate, despite the scholarly veneer. While Staudenmaier and Zegers impute that Rembrandt als Erzieher influenced Steiner towards nationalism, we find him deeply critical of the book, calling it "small change of thought" and describing how it made him feel isolated from the spiritual life of the period, namely the same nationalism that the authors impute he supported. Steiner even went so far as to claim that not a single sentence in the book was true! Indeed, the entire chapter 13 of Steiner's autobiography describes Steiner's disillusionment with the petty nationalistic struggles of the Germans and Magyars, even as he was interested in the ideas that motivated various people.
For an article purporting to tell the truth about Rudolf Steiner, this is a very bad start. So far we have two mistranslations and one blatant misrepresentation in one paragraph. Staudenmaier and Zegers have tried to paint Rudolf Steiner as a raving German nationalist. But this is impossible, so they have been forced to falsify sources. The remainder of the article is hardly better.
PS2 The authorized English translation renders the passage thus: "Now, I took an interested part in the struggle which the Germans in Austria were then carrying on in behalf of their national existence." (Rudolf Steiner, The Course of My Life, New York 1951, 142) Since the article cited the German edition of the book, and since Waage reads German and has access to Steiner's collected works in the original, his insinuation that this quote was concocted strikes us as peculiar, to say the least.
To argue that one (out of five) "authorized" translations also make the same mistake is simply no excuse for serious historians, especially ones with the original German in right front of them and making such a dramatic point about such a short phrase. The simple fact of the matter is that the quote is concocted, the dissembling of Staudenmaier and Zegers notwithstanding.
PS3 Langbehn's book was the bible of the right-wing nationalist völkisch movement, the forerunner to the Nazis, during the period of Steiner's active involvement in pan-German circles. Steiner offers, of all things, a stylistic critique of the book, never once mentioning its aggressive antisemitism or its baleful political and cultural influence within German-speaking Europe. For an overview of Langbehn's impact see Peter Pulzer, The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria, New York 1964, chapter 25.
Staudenmaier and Zegers may be forgiven for exaggerating somewhat the importance of Rembrandt als Erzieher. What cannot be forgiven is so grossly misrepresenting Steiner's position on the book. That you can possibly offer Steiner's two paragraphs of sharp criticism as proof that Steiner was a nationalist – ostensibly because he failed to denounce in even greater detail some specific contents of the book – only shows that references by critics to Steiner's own writings by Staudenmaier and Zegers are often entirely inaccurate, despite the scholarly veneer. While it is claimed that Rembrandt als Erzieher influenced Steiner towards nationalism, we find him deeply critical of the book, calling it "small change of thought" and describing how it made him feel isolated from the spiritual life of the period, namely the same nationalism that the authors impute he supported. Steiner even went so far as to claim that not a single sentence in the book was true! Indeed, the entire chapter 13 of Steiner's autobiography describes Steiner's disillusionment with the petty nationalistic struggles of the Germans and Magyars, even as he was interested in the ideas that motivated various people. Pulzer's excellent description of the influence of the book is simply besides the point; Steiner never praised the book or attributed to it any influence on his thinking.
 Langenscheidts Handwörterbuch Deutsch-Englisch, Berlin 1996, p. 807
 Further, lebhaft as an adjective is translated "lively" when indicating interest or imagination and I should note that by no definition given does it mean "deeply" or "enthusiastically," though both these could conceivably seem reasonable to a translator trying to improve the flow, or emphasize an incorrect interpretation. Both "enthusiastically active in" and "deeply sympathetic" are simply incorrect because the phrases Anteil nehmen an… has been deliberately ignored.
 To argue that one or more "authorized" translations translate it that way (one out of five does mistranslate it as "I took an interested part in..." ) is no excuse for serious historians, especially ones with the original German in right front of them and making such a dramatic point about such a short phrase.
 Rudolf Steiner. Mein Lebensgang. Stuttgart 1948, p. 172.
 Translation by the author.
Posted by Daniel at August 1, 2005 12:54 PM