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)

August 1, 2005

Anthroposophy and its Defenders - first impressions

Looking at Staudenmaier & Zegers' Anthroposophy and its Defenders we find the same problems that are present in Peter Staudenmaier's Anthroposophy and Ecofascism.

 

Staudenmaier and Zegers write in Paragraph 2 of Anthroposophy and its Defenders:

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"[2] 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.[3]

 

That not one, but two possible mistranslations are argued, and the proper translation ignored, is disingenuous and a clear mark of an attack piece.[4] 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."[5]

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."[6]

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.

 



 

[2] Langenscheidts Handwörterbuch Deutsch-Englisch, Berlin 1996, p. 807

 

[3] 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.

 

[4]  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.

 

[5] Rudolf Steiner. Mein Lebensgang. Stuttgart 1948, p. 172.

 

[6] Translation by the author.

Posted by Daniel at 12:54 PM