How the Goetheanum is showing flag
This interview first was published in the Info3 November 2021 edition
A rough wind has been blowing towards Anthroposophy in the media for months. With Gerald Häfner, member of the leadership of the Goetheanum in Dornach/Switzerland, we took a look at the position of anthroposophy in the public eye. How can one react to attacks without losing sight of the essentials?
Interview: Anna-Katharina Dehmelt und Jens Heisterkamp
Since Rudolf Steiner’s 150th birthday in 2011, which was strongly perceived by the public, one could have the impression that anthroposophy and its fields of practice have arrived in society and found a predominantly positive resonance. Now in the Corona period, however, accusations of racism against anthroposophy, have again come quite strongly to the surface. Of course, one has to speak critically about passages in Steiner’s work where people with certain skin colors are devalued, but in the meantime even as an anthroposophist one is marginalized and made contemptible. Are we actually dealing with a form of discrimination?
The subject has many layers and these layers require a very different view. So there is a great danger of seeing only one side or the other. One aspect of the matter is the following: To a certain extent, the increase in public attacks and public stigmatization actually has to do with the fact that the relevance of anthroposophy and anthroposophical practice has increased. If you have a movement that seems to be suspect in your point of view, then the first strategy is always: ignore it, don’t make an issue out of it, and wait for it to somehow fizzle out or remain in a marginal area. But if it grows, then you have to do something, and then, of course, all implements are unpacked. In Germany, the most effective and worst instrument that can be used for stigmatisation is the accusation of racism or anti-Semitism. And at this point I would like to say with great determination and emphasis: Rudolf Steiner was neither a racist, nor an anti-Semite. He was actually the opposite of both. There are few people in his time who were so radically committed to the freedom and dignity of every individual and against any group judgment, against any form of nationalism or racism. The basic intention of Rudolf Steiner and the basic intention of anthroposophy is the freedom of the individual, the development of individuality, and at the same time, to think of society as a worldwide one, ecology as a worldwide one and our worldwide responsibility for it. That’s why one see anthroposophists again and again in civil society and other initiatives, which stand up for peace, for human rights, for solidarity trade, for a better treatment of disabled or marginalised people and so on. So I consider this blanket accusation of racism to be slander and even an attempt of group-based discrimination, which is not justified. It is interesting: With the gesture of anti-discrimination, racism is foisted on anthroposophy – and thus blithely discriminated against.
In the spring of 2021, there was an article in “Die Zeit” in which a conceptual chain was cloncluded from alleged hostility to science to anti-intellectualism and to anti-Semitism. They are against chemistry in the fields, so they are anti-Semites, because that has been the case before. That’s slander. How can one defend oneself against something like that?
The first thing to realise is that one can not not communicate. Not saying anything to such accusations, to remain silent, to turn away, is also a form of communication. So that means: We have to communicate. But how can we communicate? Unlike perhaps the Catholic Church or some other organizations, the Anthroposophical Society cannot take or proclaim certain ex cathedra positions on contemporary issues. Only individuals can ever have positions. But where it is a matter of necessary rectification, we also raise our voice, as recently with regard to the accusation of racism. At this point I have to say: Unfortunately, there are also positions, statements and behaviours on the part of anthroposophy that fuel the attacks, for example, when complex debates are conducted merely with reference to two quotes from Rudolf Steiner, without being able to argue comprehensibly themselves. This discredits anthroposophy to a considerable degree. Because anthroposophy is something where I set out on a path of cognition; and what I cannot recognise, I do not know (yet). One must be able to distinguish between that.
There is also a broader context. Since the 2000s, people who are interested in spirituality have also articulated themselves more and more clearly in public. There is a no longer quite small population group for whom this is an issue and who are looking for alternatives to the materialistic mainstream. What is happening now, I experience as a great counterattack against this awakening. In view of the sharpness of these attacks, one can become frightened, up to the concern that we could run towards a time where anthroposophy has to be cultivated again in back rooms like in the GDR.
In fact, we as a whole mankind are standing at crossroads, at a threshold crossing. Unconsciously, people have long been aware that a purely reductionist view of the world, which focuses only on the dead, the countable and the measurable, cannot fully grasp reality. I see the crises of recent years – social inequality, financial crisis, ecological crisis, climate crisis, Corona crisis – as an expression of this fact, or formulated positively: As a request to us humans, whether we can finally free ourselves from the prison of purely dead, reductionist consciousness. We have lost the connection, to ourselves, to each other and to nature – society is disintegrating more and more. How do we become able to reconnect with the world? It is really a question of whether we can supplement, transform, expand the materialistic, reductionist worldview to include a spiritualised one, an understanding of the living. That would mean that I experience the essence in everything, in the plant, in the animal, in the earth, in the other human being. And that I become capable of encountering, that I do not only see you as an object of my interests, but that I experience and understand you in your own personality – and that just as much with regard to nature. In former times this was still the case, people lived in this all-unity, all-connectedness, back then the tree was a personality, a being. To us it has become only wood, and the water only H2O. But we realise that we destroy the earth with this abstract consciousness. Can we develop another consciousness? Here anthroposophy can show the way. At present, a conflict is raging between those who want to prepare the new and those who want to hold on to the old at all costs. Corona is one example.
But the overcoming of this scientific world view must go forward and not backward, that means, the clarity of cognition and understanding must be taken along and expanded instead of leading into an unscientific murmuration. Because such a murmuration meets the widespread and justified fear of irrationality. At this point anthroposophy has a task: to take itself seriously as a rational way of expanding scientific knowledge: soul-spiritual knowledge according to scientific method. And not as a falling back behind this method.
And this fight is getting sharper and sharper, that’s very clear. But most of the public is not a party to this struggle, most people are trying to orient themselves somehow between the poles. The
article in “Die Zeit” that I mentioned is read by maybe 300,000 people. They’re reading these claims now. This is also connected with a request to us as anthroposophists. Many would now like to know how it really is: How do you stand on the question of scientificity, on the question of racism, where do you stand, dear anthroposophists? That’s where we have to communicate. So when I answer, I’m really not answering for the author, but for the readers. Otherwise I fall into the trap. I must not get caught in defensive battles at all, but I must actually speak offensively out of this newness. People must learn to experience how anthroposophical thinking, speaking and acting is done. That is actually the important thing. We have currently tried to do this, for example, with the Goetheanum TV project, where we put videos online with conversations about current questions. Can I understand illness differently? Can I understand the economy differently, understand money differently, understand democracy differently? Can I understand people and nature differently – and act on that?
Gerald Häfner, born in 1956, studied German philology, social sciences, philosophy and Waldorf-education in Munich, Bochum and Witten. He was co-founder of the Green Party, for many years spokesman of the board of “Mehr Demokratie”, and a member of the German Bundestag and the European Parliament. Since 2015 he has been a member of the management of the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland. He is responsible for its public relations and heads the Social Science Section.