About Rudolf Steiner
Beginning at the end of the 19th century, a relatively unknown Austrian philosopher and teacher began to sow the seeds of what he hoped would blossom into a new culture. The seeds were his ideas, which he sowed through extensive writings, lectures and countless private consultations. The seeds germinated and took root in the hearts and minds of his students, among whom were individuals who would later become some of the best known and most influential figures of the 20th century. Since the teacher’s death in 1925, a quiet but steadily growing movement, unknown and unseen by most people, has been spreading over the world, bringing practical solutions to the problems of our global, technological civilization. The seeds are now coming to flower in the form of thousands of projects infused with human values. The teacher, called by some “the best kept secret of the 20th century,” was Rudolf Steiner.
Steiner, a truly “Renaissance man,” developed a way of thinking that he applied to different aspects of what it means to be human. Over a period of 40 years, he formulated and taught a path of inner development or spiritual research he called, “anthroposophy.” From what he learned, he gave practical indications for nearly every field of human endeavor. Art, architecture, drama, science, education, agriculture, medicine, economics, religion, care of the dying, social organization-there is almost no field he did not touch.
Today, wherever there is a human need you’ll find groups of people working out of Steiner’s ideas. There are an estimated ten thousand initiatives worldwide-the movement is a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity, social and political activism, artistic expression, scientific research, and community building. Contemporary manifestations of Steiner’s influence include Waldorf Education, Biodynamic farming and gardening, and the Camphill Movement for the support of people with disabilities.
Many thanks to the authors of the above article, Christopher Bamford and Eric Utne.
Willi Brandt (who won the Nobel Peace Prize, and knew whereof he spoke) credits Rudolf Steiner with having made the greatest contribution to world peace of the twentieth century. The long-time editor of The Nation, Victor Navasky, described him in his memoir of 2005 as “light-years ahead of the curve,” and others such as Joseph Beuys have found in Steiner’s deep insights into human nature the possibility of a thoroughgoing renewal of culture. Owen Barfield argued that Steiner is perhaps the key thinker of modern times, and abandons his usual British reserve to assert: “By comparison, not only with his contemporaries but with the general history of the Western mind, his stature is almost too excessive to be borne.” Those of us fortunate enough to have discovered Rudolf Steiner understand that our seemingly hyperbolic assessments will elicit skepticism. If Rudolf Steiner was really such a towering genius, how can he remain widely unknown nearly a century after his death?
It has happened before. Aristotle was lost to the West for a millennium. The Catholic Church placed Thomas Aquinas on its Index of proscribed writings for half a century after his death. By the early nineteenth century, J. S. Bach’s greatness needed to be rediscovered and reasserted by Mendelssohn. Van Gogh sold one painting during his lifetime. In retrospect, we shake our heads and wonder how such neglect can have happened. Yet it did. And in the same way, future generations will shake their heads and wonder at us.
Frederick Amrine has been a student of anthroposophy his entire adult life. He teaches literature, philosophy, and intellectual history at the University of Michigan, where he has been appointed Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in German Studies. His research has been devoted primarily to Goethe, German Idealism, and Romanticism. He is also a faculty member at the Waldorf Institute of Southeastern Michigan.
Read Frederick Amrine’s entire article, Discovering a Genius: Rudolf Steiner at 150
What could be more hopeful than the opening sentence of Steiner’s first ‘basic book’?: “Within every human being there slumbers a capacity to attain knowledge of the higher worlds.” Skepticism and materialism were the necessary means to a modernity that must ultimately transcend them.
Anthroposophy is compatible with many different religious traditions, but it is neither founded upon, nor reducible to, any combination of them. For Goethe and Steiner both, the most precise scientific instrument is – the human being who has cultivated his or her faculties.
As Steiner’s contemporary, the poet and esotericist William Butler Yeats put it so very well,“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Waldorf education imposes many demands on class teachers, who must become ‘Renaissance men and women,’ mastering new material each year, and growing together with their class.
Our gratitude to Frederick Amrine and the Anthroposophical Society in America. This article was published in being human, the first 2011 edition.