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March 20, 2008

Steiner and Treitschke

Last week someone e-mailed me a post that Peter Staudenmaier wrote to the Waldorf Critics list nearly a year ago about a page I put up on this site. It took me a little while to get around to investigating it, but upon careful examination of the claims that Peter Staudenmaier has made, I find it appropriate to write the following response.

I make mistakes. Flipping the “e” and the “i" in Treitschke is the type of typing error I am prone to. I went through the site and found eight instances where I had misspelled Treitschke, writing Trietschke instead. Sloppy? Yes. But this hardly constitutes misspelling the name "in several different ways", precisely the type of exaggeration that Staudenmaier is prone to, and cannot resist, when he gets on his polemical rolls.

Now to the central argument: Can Rudolf Steiner be said to be "an admirer" of Heinrich von Treitschke? Well now, I suppose that really depends on how you define "admirer". For Staudenmaier's purposes, any hint of sympathy to any aspect of Treitschke’s work is sufficient to merit the label, so that this "admiration" can be rapidly and broadly extended to every aspect of Treitschke’s work, and especially the nationalistic portion, whether this is actually merited or not. This continues his "guilt by association" line of argumentation that he has been using against Steiner since he first published "Anthroposophy and Ecofascism".

So I will make a concession. I will confess that it is inaccurate to state without qualification that Steiner was not an admirer of Treitschke. For there were some aspects of Treitschke’s work that Steiner did profess to find useful. On the other hand, it is just as inaccurate to state that Steiner was an admirer of Treitschke, for this too is misleading. It is just as misleading because Treitschke left a large body of work ranging across a number of topics, though German and especially 19th century Prussian history was his specialty. Today he is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, and therefore can be easily defined as a one dimensional character. During his lifetime he was a very famous and highly popular historian and politician.

When I wrote about Steiner's relationship to Treitschke in the article that Staudenmaier attacks, I concluded with the following statement:

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.

As is typical, Peter Staudenmaier did not engage in the subtlety of my argument, but rather made a quick straw man and proceeded to knock that down rather vigorously. Staudenmaier writes that I insist “that Steiner, who met Treitschke personally and referred to him frequently throughout his anthroposophical works, did not admire Treitschke”. You would think from reading this sentence Treitschke was a frequent subject of praise and discussion in Steiner's nearly 6000 lectures. But that is simply not the case. There are under 20 references in these 330 volumes, a statistically highly infrequent occurrence. Staudenmaier has searched through these, and as usual as selectively quoted from a few trying to make the case that Steiner did utter laudatory statements about the person of Treitschke. Why is this important? Again it is to establish the "guilt by association" argument. What Staudenmaier has utterly failed to find, and this is because there are not any, are blanket endorsements of Treitschke nationalism. These simply do not exist, because Steiner was a vigorous and lifelong anti-nationalist. What you do find is what I described in my article over three years ago: narrowly directed praise to certain aspects of Treitschke work.

Still, to make the case against Steiner, Staudenmaier quotes extensively from a lecture Steiner delivered on January 13, 1917, (Zeitgeschichtliche Betrachtungen - Das Karma der Unwahrhaftigkeit - 2. Teil GA 174; Dornach: Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1983) attempting to show Steiner's great praise of the man. But Staudenmaier could not help selectively quoting, for if he actually reproduced or summarized Steiner's entire description, he would undermine his own case. In the lecture where Steiner supposedly praised Treitschke extensively, Steiner's description starts off with an explanation that Treitschke was the subject of a demonic possession (page 109, the page before Staudenmaier begins his quotations). Now you may think what you wish of Steiner's diagnosis of demonic possession, but that is hardly the way someone starts off praising an author whom they admire. It was, Steiner explained "not an evil demon, but nonetheless a demon” (109). Treitschke was driven, Steiner explains, by a demonic force towards a materialistic explanation of history. Anyone familiar with Steiner's praise of the spiritual perspective and frequently expressed concern with materialism would hardly consider this to be praise of Treitschke’s person. But Staudenmaier, our polemical historian, has omitted this entire section as he tries through selective quotation to make a case to the opposite.

It is further interesting to note what of all of Treitschke’s work Steiner singles out for praise. Steiner praises Treitschke’s essay on freedom, and another essay in which Treitschke discusses the necessary limitations on the power of the state over the individual. Hardly the type of work that nationalists focus on. Nationalism, after all, is the philosophy that the nation and the state representing the nation has primacy over the individual.

So while Staudenmaier has clipped his citations such that they might be plausibly read as possibly indicating some form of praise for Treitschke, if you read the portions that he has left out, they are the contextualizing and critical portions. This is a point I have frequently raised in analyzing Staudenmaier's writing: namely that he selectively quotes, which in itself is necessary, but that he does so in such a way that the original passages are distorted, frequently into the opposite of the authors original statements.

So while Steiner delivered a lecture in which he sought to explain Treitschke work and significance both critically and from the occult perspective, describing Treitschke as possessed by a demonic force and also criticizing aspects of Treitschke work, Staudenmaier has selected only the slightly positive sentences, reproducing them as full paragraphs, to make his point. This is nothing less than intellectually dishonest. Steiner did not "specifically and effusively praised Treitschke’s contributions to the German national project”. The closest that he remotely came was to pointing out that a nationalist historian such as Treitschke is understandably appreciated by the Germans in a different way than by non-Germans. Had Staudenmaier left in the full context, it would be clear that Steiner was speaking in an objective way about international criticism of Treitschke and the German reaction to it; he was not taking sides. And Steiner, I must again emphasize, was emphatically not endorsing Treitschke’s nationalism. This is clear if you read the entire lecture, and not the heavily edited version Staudenmaier has offered and interpreted in trying to make his point.

Peter Staudenmaier likes to complain that anthroposophists do not "get" his arguments, and he practically laments the fact that they frequently do not agree with him. But there is a reason for that which goes beyond stubbornness, ignorance, or stupidity. His argumentation is faulty, his research highly selective, and his treatment of sources is repeatedly, deliberately, and blatantly dishonest. The only way that Peter Staudenmaier is able to continue to plausibly argue his tired and mistaken point of view is that almost none of his readers are able to check his citations against the original, and a few that are generally do not want to spend their lives as his research assistant. Were he to attempt such a hatchet job on an intellectual figure who worked primarily in English, he would be laughed off the Internet.

I will stand by my original summary of Steiner's relationship to Treitschke, even as I concede that some of my phrasing can be as misleading as Staudenmaier's.

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.

Posted by Daniel at 9:03 PM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2008

Is Wolfgang Treher a reliable author?

Peter Staudenmaier is certainly the master of spin. Consider a post to the Waldorf Critics list that someone forwarded to me recently. In this post Peter Staudenmaier discusses the obscure 1966 self-published book “Hitler, Steiner, Schreber” by the psychologist Wolfgang Treher. Treher attempted to link Daniel Paul Schreber (d. 1911) with the very notorious Hitler and the obscure Steiner by their supposed symptoms of a common psychological illness.

When Peter Staudenmaier first trotted out Treher’s book in his poorly researched “Anthroposophy and Ecofascism” it was to suggest that Steiner’s ideas about cultural progression were the basis for Hitler’s concentration camps, a perverse insinuation made by Treher in 1966 which any historian ought to be able to find problematic. After all, Steiner was on a right wing hit list in the early 1920s and there was an intense mutual dislike between Steiner in the early fascists. Staudenmaier ignored the remainder of Treher’s book, including its central thesis, that Steiner was schizophrenic. When I first published my criticism of Staudenmaier’s article in 2005, here is what I wrote:

This “important” work [Treher’s book] was considered so scholarly that it was unable to find a publisher, so it was self-published by the author. That Staudenmaier finds it so compelling is an indication of the degree of critical thinking he brings to his investigation. Treher's thesis is that both Steiner and Hitler suffered from schizophrenia; that a mania, a physiological disturbance was at the root of both of their worldviews. Like Staudenmaier, Treher admits he is uninterested in understanding Steiner's views; they are sufficiently odd to him to automatically indicate mental illness. According to Treher, the onset of Steiner's psychosis started already when Steiner wrote his Ph.D. thesis in philosophy. Steiner tackled one of the oldest problems in philosophy: epistemology, or how the thinking mind comes to terms with outer reality. Treher takes this as evidence of schizophrenia – a split in Steiner's mind between reality and delusion. This conclusion, by someone who admittedly never read the work in question, is mind-bogglingly moronic. Perhaps this is the reason why no publisher would touch it. Further "evidence" is demonstrated by a statement by a friend of Steiner's that once Steiner started lecturing on Theosophy, he was "changed" and no longer had time for old friends. This supposedly proves that Steiner was a full-blown schizophrenic the moment he started lecturing on esoteric subjects. If Staudenmaier can find Treher "incisive" this can only be because he is either so predisposed to believing anything negative that he finds about Steiner as to completely overlook Treher's considerable problems, or he knows of this book only by reputation among anti-anthroposophist writers, and has not actually read it himself. I suspect the latter, since none of Treher's points are mentioned in the biographical overview of Steiner offered by Staudenmaier.

Years later Staudenmaier is still trying to defend Treher’s posthumous retroactive psychoanalytic forensics. The main difference is that he appears at this point have actually looked at the book. He does admit that he does not care much for Treher’s central thesis; that is, Steiner does not appear to of been an insane schizophrenic. But that will not stop him from arguing that the book is important, especially for the part where Treher attempts to make links between Steiner’s philosophy and Hitler’s National Socialism.

So how does Staudenmaier spin Treher’s influence? First, he argues for the books broad availability. I had called it obscure and very difficult to find. Staudenmaier counters that “dozens” of libraries carry it. From what I was able to determine, exactly six research university libraries have a copy in Germany. That is, six university libraries that have between 10 and 30 million volumes each have a single copy on the shelf. These libraries are accessible to university students, professors, and visiting scholars such as Peter Staudenmaier. Under certain circumstances, the volume is available through interlibrary loan. In addition, a couple large municipal library systems list a copy as available, including New York, Toronto, Frankfurt and a few others. So I suppose that dozens of libraries have access to it, through an interlibrary loan system. And arguably, that means it is fairly “easy” to get. Unless you are not in Germany or do not have a German student ID, in which case it’s virtually impossible (unless you happen to live in New York City, or Toronto). I asked several people in Germany to find me a copy, and the only person was able to was a friend who is enrolled in the University there. And he was only able to get it because he photocopied the whole thing for me; actually purchasing a copy was not possible (the book is, after all, over 40 years out of print).

Now, why is the book even in university libraries in Germany? Because it is a landmark volume in the history of Rudolf Steiner scholarship? Actually, no. The part of the book that has kept it available is the section on Daniel Paul Schreber. Schreber was a German judge who later in life succumbed to paranoid schizophrenia, was institutionalized and died. Along the way he wrote an autobiography memoir of his descent into madness. But what really kept his name alive in history was the fact that Sigmund Freud used him as a case study. As Freud’s theories aged and started to attract widespread criticism, Schreber became a point of interest because of his connection to Freud. That is, scholars attempting to discredit Freud went back to look at Schreber’s experiences in order to re-examine Freud’s theories. And thus Treher’s book is occasionally useful, and occasionally cited in this context. The fact that it contains Hitler and Steiner is actually incidental. This is demonstrated by all of the citations Staudenmaier he brings up to show the book’s importance. The citations are primarily in articles that reference Freud and Schreber; none of them mention Steiner.

Staudenmaier provides the following list with comments:

Ellen Gibbels, "Hitlers Nervenkrankheit: Eine neurologisch- psychiatrische Studie", Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte vol. 42 no. 2 (1994) pp. 155-220.
Gibbels discusses Treher's book on p. 219, disagreeing with its diagnosis of Hitler as schizophrenic.

Zvi Lothane, In Defense of Schreber (London 1992) discusses Treher's book on p. 373, criticizing its treatment of both Schreber and Hitler. Neither Gibbels nor Lothane dismisses the book; instead they explain why they do not share its conclusions.

Gerhard Grimm, "Führung, Struktur und Aussenpolitik des "Dritten Reiches": Ein Literaturbericht", Politische Studien no. 198, vol. 22 (1971) pp. 423-434. Grimm reviews Treher's book on p. 424, a more thorough discussion than Gibbels or Lothane. Grimm's review is very positive, and briefly mentions the material on Steiner.

Fritz Redlich, Hitler: Diagnosis of a Destructive Prophet (Oxford 1999) cites Treher's book respectfully on p. 333 and disagrees with its diagnosis of schizophrenia.

James Webb, The Occult Establishment (Chicago 1976) discusses Treher's book on p. 493, particularly its "detailed and convincing comparison of the private worlds of Rudolf Steiner and Adolf Hitler." Webb's appraisal of The book is very positive. On p. 515 Webb again mentions Treher's book and especially highlights its treatment of Steiner, remarking aptly: "I would not accept it all, but there is much of great interest in Treher's account."

Six citations in 40 years are supposed to indicate a book is important? And virtually all of these citations disagree with the author and find his conclusions misguided if not silly? This is supposed to establish that we should take the book seriously when it talks about Steiner, even though scholars do not pretend to take it seriously when dealing with the retroactive diagnosis of schizophrenia in the case of Hitler? And Schreber scholars find it misguided in its treatment of Schreber? We are supposed to accept that an author who is wrong on two counts is actually right on the third? Now that is an example of spin.  If the best scholarly endorsement of the Steiner section is that “I would not accept it all, but there is much of great interest in Treher’s account” then this is indeed a profoundly insightful scholarly book.

So is it fair to call Treher’s book obscure and unbalanced? Well, first it is never been translated out of German and to any other language. Second, it was self-published and exists only in a few university libraries and other very large collections. Third, it is fairly easy to access if you are a scholar physically in Germany, but if you are anywhere else except New York or Toronto, good luck. What about the balanced portion? Every single author to cite it disagrees with the least part if not all of the portions they looked at. Most of them skipped the Steiner part. And overall, very few authors cite it (six in 40 years).

 Obscure and unbalanced? Or incisive mainstream scholarship? We report, you decide.

Posted by Daniel at 2:05 PM