Myth: "Anthroposophy and Rudolf Steiner are racist"
"In regard to present humanity ... it no longer makes sense to speak simply of the development of the races. In the true sense of the word this development of the races applies only to the Atlantean epoch [Tertiary and Quaternary time in Steiner's view. Ed. comment.]... External physiognomies then differed so greatly that one could actually speak of different forms ... In our own epoch the concept of race will gradually disappear along with all the differences that are relics of earlier times. Thus everything that exists today in connection with the [different] races are relics of the differentiation that took place in Atlantean [Tertiary and Quaternary] times. We can still speak of races but only in the sense that the real concept of races is losing its validity."

Rudolf Steiner: Welt, Erde und Mensch (The World, the Earth, and Man), (GA 105) lecture of 16 August 1908.


The focus of anthroposophy is the human being, in both the general, universal and the individual sense, and our origin and development as human beings, independent of our ethnic origin, gender, nationality, race, creed, or other more temporary, external characteristics.

During the time of Hitler in Germany, 1933-45, this basic stance of anthroposophy made the Nazi authorities, after thorough investigation of anthroposophy, persecute anthroposophists, the anthroposophical movement and the Waldorf movement, prohibit and dissolve the Anthroposophical Society in 1935 and prohibit the Waldorf schools from taking on any more pupils than they already had.

The Nazis charged them with being individualistic, internationally oriented, pacifistic, and maintaining close ties to Jews. Anthroposophy was held to be contradictory to the ideas of race and "Volk" upheld by the Nazis, and to be directly opposed to and a threat to National Socialism.

In recent years, more than 60 years after Nazi accusations against and persecutions of anthroposophy and anthroposophists for being anti-racist, anti-Nazi and pro-Jewish, the opposite allegations, that anthroposophy is "racist", "proto-Nazi" and "anti-Semitic", are at times cultivated, nourished and propagated.

This is done by a few individuals and small groups of people mainly for demagogical purposes, mostly as part of missionary secular humanist and dogmatic left wing campaigns against anything which takes the soul and spirit of the human being seriously. These individuals have also recently begun to use advertising on the internet to spread the allegations and myths in question.

These false allegations are used as rhetorical tools to bait especially people of color and of Jewish origin or creed -- indeed anyone of good intentions -- into supporting the anti-Waldorf campaigns against anthroposophy and the Waldorf movement.

What is the basic view of Steiner and anthroposophy on the relation between what is individual in the human being, and our ethnic origin, gender, nationality, race, creed, and other more temporary, external characteristics?

The basic essence probably is most concisely and clearly expressed in Steiner's discussion of the issue in 1894, in his Philosophy of Freedom. Although at that time, Steiner pointed especially to gender to exemplify how individuality and individual freedom were undervalued for women (1), he also applied the same argument against using generic aspects to judge someone based on race.

This discussion can be found in the context of an effort to develop an understanding of the essence of humanity, that comes to expression as the element of potential freedom and the striving for self-determination, which exists at the core of every human being, independent of race, gender or other external characteristics:

"Anyone who judges people according to generic characters gets only as far as the frontier where people begin to be beings whose activity is based on free self-determination."

"The genus explains why something in the individual appears in the form we observe. Man, however, makes himself free from what is generic. ... What is generic in him serves only as a medium in which to express his own individual being. He uses as a foundation the characteristics that nature has given him, and to these he gives a form appropriate to his own being."

"It is impossible to understand a human being completely if one takes the concept of genus [like gender or race, Ed. comment] as the basis of one's judgment. The tendency to judge according to the genus is at its most stubborn where we are concerned with differences of sex. Almost invariably man sees in woman, and woman in man, too much of the general character of the other sex and too little of what is individual.

"In practical life this does less harm to men than to women. The social position of women is for the most part such an unworthy one because in so many respects it is determined not as it should be by the particular characteristics of the individual woman, but by the general picture one has of woman's natural tasks and needs."

(Individuality and Genus in The Philosophy of Freedom, 1894)

The individuality that lives more or less visibly in all of us as humans is the central focus in anthroposophy and Waldorf education, independent of the gender, race, nationality, or ethnic group we happen to belong to, or the religion we profess to.

What then is it that makes a few individuals and small groups of people at times accuse Steiner and anthroposophy of being racist or anti-Semitic, 70 years after the opposite accusations were made by the Nazis in the 1930's in Germany?

As far as anthroposophy is concerned, the arguments and allegations as such focus on three concepts, that appear at times, mainly in the early works of Steiner.

For some comments on them, see here.

Steiner developed his main work during the beginning of a period, from the end of the 19th century up to 1924 in a culture permeated with discussions of "race" and "races" in nature and in human contexts, as part of the developing understanding of evolution.

In spite of this dominance of thinking in terms of "race" at the time, only five of the approximately 4,000 published lectures he held during the period, on almost every imaginable issue, have the issue of what at the time was understood to be "the human races" as their main theme.

Following allegations of racism by a teacher at one Waldorf school in Holland some 10 years ago, a Dutch commission was initiated by the Anthroposophical Society in the Netherlands to investigate fully this issue. The commission reviewed in detail the 89,000 pages comprising Steiner's published works, mostly transcripts of lectures, and found in total 245 comments on the issue. The comments in question constitute on the order of 0.2% of his collected works.

The central focus of the commission was whether the publication of anything in the printed works by Steiner was in violation of present-day, sensitive Dutch legislation on discrimination.

While the commission came to the conclusion that that probably was not the case, it also concluded that 16 of the 245 comments by Steiner, if made today by someone in Holland as isolated statements in public, some 80-100 years after they actually were made and outside their original cultural and social context, would probably be deemed discriminatory according to present-day Dutch legislation. (Five of these 16 comments were made in 1923 during one ad hoc morning lecture to construction workers in answer to a question by one of the workers).

The commission also concluded that anthroposophy contains no racial doctrine in the sense of a seemingly scientific theory whereby the superiority of one race is supposed to be legitimized at the expense of another.

For a description of the background of the work of the Dutch Commission and its results, see here.

For more, see Rudolf Steiner on

(Footnote: 1894 was the year of the foundation of a federation of women's associations in Germany as part of the developing women's liberation movement. Back to text.)

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Copyright 2004: Robert Mays and Sune Nordwall