During the 1930s, 70 years
ago, representatives of Nazi Germany leveled strong, well researched accusations
against anthroposophy and the Waldorf movement as being anti-racist,
anti-Nazi and pro-Jewish.
In ironic contrast to this,
the opposite accusations and allegations, namely of anti-Semitism
and racism, have been leveled in recent years against Rudolf Steiner and
anthroposophy, especially by members of small missionary secular humanist
This criticism to a large
extent is connected with the theosophical terms "root race" and "sub races
of root races", still used in the theosophical tradition, which Rudolf
Steiner also used for a time when he was General
Secretary of the German branch of the Theosophical Society between 1902
and 1912, as they were traditional terms of the theosophical tradition.
Today, the theosophical terms
that refer to stages in the evolution of humanity frequently are misunderstood
as to their actual meaning.
The theosophical -- not anthroposophical
-- term "root race", especially in the form
"Aryan root race", that in theosophy refers to the
development of humanity through a number of phases during post-glacial
times, is the first of three misunderstood terms and concepts incorrectly
referrred to in allegations of racism in anthroposophy.
The second misunderstood
concept is one that is properly related only to the distant past. It is
the theosophical concept of the "sub races
And the third misunderstood
concept is the concept of "five main races
of humanity" as Steiner viewed it.
For more on the two latter
concepts, see here.
In general the term "root
race" seems automatically to imply a racist view of the one using it,
and the term "Aryan root race" even more strongly hints at and implies
an anti-Semitic stance of the one using it.
Neither is the case
with Rudolf Steiner. Early on Steiner
the use of the concepts of "root races" and "sub races of root races"
in the theosophical tradition, and
he did not use them as he increasingly
developed anthroposophy separate from theosophy.
How do theosophy, and anthroposophy
as developed separate from theosophy, differ in relation to the understanding
and use of the general term "race", and the understanding of the theosophical
terms "root race" and "Aryan root race"?
EPOCHS" - NOT "ROOT RACES"
At the beginning of his time
as General Secretary of the Theosophical Society in Germany from 1902,
Steiner used the traditional theosophical terms, colored by the pervasive
discussions of "races" at the time, when he spoke to theosophical audiences.
From about 1906 on, he stopped using the theosophical terminology of "root
race", with its racist tinge, in describing the evolution of humanity.
One reason he gave for this
was that the term "root race" was an undeveloped, misleading and inaccurate
concept compared to the concept of "race" in its general biological sense.
Another reason was that the
way the term "root race" was understood in the theosophical tradition seems
to imply that human evolution consists in the repeated schematic formation
of ever new "races". That is not the view Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy
held, as developed separately from the theosophical tradition.
From an anthroposophical
perspective, the theosophical concept "root race" is not a biological concept
but rather refers to humanity during the successive stages in the common
evolution of our solar system and of humanity. For these epochs, Steiner
and anthroposophy use the geocentrically oriented term "Earth epochs".
Even "Earth epochs" may be misunderstood by those unfamiliar with anthroposophy.
The picture anthroposophy
gives of the evolution of our present solar system corresponds to the currently
accepted idea of planetary development from a contracting cosmic "gas cloud".
The theosophical tradition
refers to the first stage of our present solar system as "the Polarian
root race". This period refers to humanity during the stage when our present
solar system was still only in the first stages of its formation, contracting
out of a cosmic "gas cloud", up to the forming, or budding off of the present
planet Saturn in its first form at the periphery of the further contracting
In anthroposophy, as developed
separately from theosophy, this stage is not referred to in the "racial"
terms of the early 20th century and of the theosophical tradition, but
as the "Polarian" epoch or the first "Earth epoch". During
this stage, the human being according to anthroposophy lived as a soul-spiritual
being in the womb of higher spiritual beings, partaking in the development
of the contracting cosmic gas cloud, developing as our present solar system.
In the theosophical tradition,
the second stage in the evolution of our present solar system is referred
to as "the Hyperborean root race". In anthroposophy it is simply called
the "Hyperborean" epoch (connecting to one level of what later in mythology
was called "Hyperborea") or the second "Earth epoch".
It refers to the stage in
the development of our solar system and humanity that took place from the
end of the first formation or budding off of Saturn up to the separation
of Earth from the further contracting and developing Sun, together with
what according to Steiner later was formed as the present Moon, separate
from our present Earth.
Only with the formation of
the Earth in its first form, separate from the Sun, did life on the Earth
start to develop into its present form. This was the third stage.
In the theosophical tradition,
this third stage, during which humanity had not yet fully taken physical
form, is called "the Lemurian root race". In anthroposophy, this first
stage in the development of the Earth as separate from the present physical
Sun is referred to as the Lemurian epoch or the third "Earth
The name "Lemuria" comes
from the name of the mythical continent "Lemuria", which at the end of
the 19th century was assumed to have existed as a land mass connected with
the continents around the Indian Ocean.
From an anthroposophical
perspective, 100 years later now, it would probably be more proper to call
this third "Earth epoch", using the terminology of current geological research,
"Pangean" stage of the Earth (including part of the time of the split
up Gondwanaland / Laurasia), ending with the extinction of the dinosaurs.
At one point during this
period, from the time of the initial formation of the Earth separate from
the contracting Sun, up to the end of the Cretaceous period, the Moon,
according to anthroposophy, was formed as a separate planetary body from
From a systematic anthroposophical
perspective, the fourth basic epoch in the common evolution of the Earth
the fourth "Earth epoch", is the time that is called,
in the esoteric tradition, "Atlantis" or the "Atlantean epoch".
From a present perspective,
what is referred to, in the esoteric tradition and mythology, as "Atlantis"
can be understood to refer to all of the development of humanity as physical
beings, parts of which are reflected in the fossil record from the Cenozoic
period, that is, the Tertiary and Quaternary up to the end of the Pleistocene, ending some 8,000 years B.C.
This picture of the development
of the earth was also indicated by Steiner during conferences with teachers
at the first Waldorf school, founded in 1919. He suggested that the new
and revolutionary theory of Alfred
Wegener from 1912, suggesting that all continents at one time had constituted
one large continent, which then had broken into parts which had moved to
their present locations, be included in the Waldorf curriculum. Only slowly
was Wegener's theory accepted in the scientific community and made the
basis of the currently accepted theory of plate tectonics.
radiometric dating indicates that the Tertiary and Quaternary periods
up to the end of the Pleistocene, which in Rudolf Steiner's view correspond
to the development of the mythological Atlantis, started some 65 million
years ago and ended some 10,000 years ago.
theosophical tradition, the fifth stage in the evolution of the Earth and
humanity in connection with our present solar system is referred to as
the "Aryan root race". This period refers to all development of humanity
that has taken place since the last glacial age, and which will continue
far into the future. The theosophical tradition also describes both the
development during the time of "Atlantis" as well as the phases of the
development of humanity since the last ice age in terms of "sub races".
This terminology is not used
in anthroposophy, as developed by Steiner, who liberated anthroposophy
from the theosophical obsession with the concept of "race" and "races".
In anthroposophy, the basic fifth stage in the development of our present
solar system is called the fifth "Earth epoch", the "post-Atlantean
epoch" or the "post-Atlantean cultural epochs".
In contrast to what may generally
be thought today, the term "Aryan" or "Aryan root race" in theosophical
terminology does not refer to what later was promoted by people
in "White Supremacist" and Nazi or neo-Nazi groups as a perverted understanding of history and humanity, namely that
"Aryans" as white people of European origin constitute the origin and essence
Instead, the term "Aryan"
originally had no connotation of superiority, but rather is a descriptive
term referring not to white Europeans, but to the original mythical
Asian culture which historical research identifies as the origin of the
"Indo-European" cultures. The Indo-Euopean cultures are a group of cultures characterized by speaking a language belonging to the Indo-European language family.
One of those who make this
clear is Hannah Arendt. In her work The
Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt describes the origin and meaning
of the concept "Aryan", given as name to the mythical culture in question
by the orientalist Friedrich von Schlegel in 1808 (in "On the language
and wisdom of the Indians") as cultural-linguistic, rather than
racial, pointing out:
"... one cannot
deduce ... that it constitutes the origin of a racial concept only because
racial ideology later was particularly fond of this idea. The actual intentions
of the linguists are not only - like the early anthropologists - neutral
in this respect, but completely opposite those of racial ideologists in
their basic intentions. It was not about separating the nations from each
other through an assumption of independent racial origin, but on the contrary
of uniting as many as possible with regard to a common origin."
GLACIAL "CULTURAL EPOCHS" - NOT "SUB RACES"
Rudolf Steiner described
a group of "original Semites" of "Atlantis" as the origin of
the main post-glacial cultures in the development of humanity. According
to him, the "original Semites" were the most advanced Atlantean group in
that they had lost the instinctive pictorial clairvoyance of other groups
of people at the time and had started to develop the faculty of thought
in a way not found among the other groups of "Atlantean" (Cenozoic) times.
For more on this, see here.
Of the post-glacial cultures,
the cultures most well known are those described by classical history as
the culture of Ancient India
and of Ancient Persia,
the cultures of Mesopotamia,
Caldea, Babylon and Egypt
in the fertile crescent including the Hebrew culture, and the cultures
of classical Greece
Anthroposophy also points
to an original Indian culture, and an original Persian culture, developing
as more mythical high cultures from c. 7,000 up to c. 3,000 B.C., before
the development of the later more well researched historical cultures of
Ancient India and Ancient Persia.
During and after the Middle
Ages, the cultural development of humanity has taken on an ever more global
character, much influenced both for good and ill through imperial impulses
developing out of the cultures of Western Europe: Spain, Portugal, France,
Great Britain and the Netherlands.
Far into the future, this
cultural development - in the view of Steiner - will be followed by times,
when impulses that today are connected with the Western and Eastern Slavic
peoples and cultures, and later the American cultures, will be more dominant
in human culture in general.
It was to this meaning of
the term "Aryan" - being a pattern of a number of sequential cultures,
starting with a culture inspired by Noah/Manu, and then developing as ever
more global cultures out of a number of nodal areas - that Steiner pointed,
even when he still employed the theosophical terminology of "Aryan root race", while
he served as General Secretary of the Theosophical Society in Germany.
In the process of developing
anthroposophy separate from theosophy, Steiner criticized the extensive
and improper use of the concept of "race" in the theosophical tradition, describing it as a childhood illness of theosophy.
He argued that the concept
of race in the biological sense started to lose its relevance and meaning
with the end of the last glacial age, even though it continues to live
on as a fading reality. Steiner stressed that the development of humanity
after the last glacial age is instead, in its essence, cultural
Nowhere in the extensive
works of Rudolf Steiner is there a racial doctrine asserting the superiority
of one "race" at the expense of another. Quite to the contrary, Rudolf
Steiner always promoted the value
of human beings
per se, without regard to their race or any other
For more, see
2004: Robert Mays and Sune Nordwall