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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 March 20, 2008 9:03 PM

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