Who Was Rudolf Steiner?


According to Rudolf Steiner himself his life was divided into two periods. The first period as a respected scholar, the second period as a mad occultist.

F. Rittlemeyer asked Rudolf Steiner why he never touched upon occult topics before his fortieth year? Steiner replied,

"I first had to attain a certain position in the world. People could say of my present occult writings that they are 'mad'. Then, however, there are my earlier works which cannot be ignored."
Rudolf Steiner, Life and Work Vol. 2 by Pete Selg

Steiner hoped his earlier reputation as a respected scholar would assure people his later caught work was not the wild speculations of a madman. In the first period of his life, up to 1900, Dr. Steiner built a reputation that reached beyond Germany as a respected scholar of science and philosophy, and as a cultural personality who wrote articles expressing his social and political views. In the second period of Steiner's life, after 1900, his works are based on knowledge gained from special clairvoyant faculties. His occult research forms the basis of today's anthroposophy. This is when he began lecturing on occult topics such as Eastern spiritualism, occult mysteries, esoteric training, spiritual beings, Christology, lost Atlantis, reincarnation, karma and astrology. It is not a surprise that Steiner's clairvoyant form of research led skeptics from the science community to label anthroposophy a pseudoscience.

"Anthroposophy is a philosophy which holds that the spirit world can be scientifically investigated."
Committee for Skeptical Inquiry

You don't find the skeptics criticizing Rudolf Steiner's work in a scholar period. This is why it is so important for people to learn about the first period of his life. The brilliance of his scientific research into human nature should first be recognized and appreciated for its significant contribution to the science of human freedom. During his scholar period Steiner was trained in science and became respected as a well-published scientific, literary, and philosophical scholar.

1879-1883 Vienna Institute of Technology
1882-1897 Editor of the scientific works of Goethe
1886 Worked on the complete edition of Goethe's writings
1888 Editor of the "Weekly German Magazine"
1890-1897 Worked in the Schiller-Goethe archives
1891 Doctorate in Philosophy
1894 Meet and correspondence with Haeckel
1897-1900 Editor and owner "Magazine For Literature"
1899-1904 Instructor at the Berlin "Workers School"

The basic books of the scholar period were:

1883 Goethean Science
1886 Science of Knowing
1892 Truth and Science
1894 The Philosophy Of Freedom
1897-1900 Essays in his "Magazine For Literature"

He also published many science, social, and political articles which he said were "imbued with the spirit of the Philosophy Of Freedom" in his literature magazine from 1897 to 1900. During his scholar period Rudolf Steiner's work was based on his observation of human nature, especially the processes of cognition. What he discovered was the "free spirit". He called it the purest expression of human nature.

It was in this period that Rudolf Steiner struggled to reach the mountain peak and become a free individuality. He described his successful journey to free thinking and free action in The Philosophy Of Freedom. Steiner's greatest accomplishment and most important work --his magnum opus, was The Philosophy Of Freedom. When asked which of his books he would most want rescued if some catastrophe should strike Steiner always unhesitantly named The Philosophy Of Freedom.

What some considered it be Steiner's "mad" period begins in 1900 when he disappointed his friends by joining with the theosophists and began to speak of his clairvoyant perceptions of the spiritual world. His friends were confused for Steiner had shown no respect for spiritualists and theosophists in his literary magazine. In an article he wrote for his magazine Steiner said the spiritualists and theosophists "waged war" on science.

"The Theosophists and the Spiritualists form an alliance to help them wage war on the straightforward science of the modern era, which is solely supported by reason and observation."
1897 Rudolf Steiner magazine article "Theosophists"

He described the theosophists as esoteric gossips who preferred vague spiritualism over conceptual clarity.

"The Theosophist would rather indulge in esoteric gossip about their experience of the "divine within' than to acknowledge the clear, transparent conceptual knowledge of the West."
1897 Rudolf Steiner magazine article "Theosophists"

Steiner mocked their claims of experiencing the "divinity within".

"The Theosophist says: "intellectuals circle around the thing, merely inspecting its surface, we, however, live inside the object --- yes, we experience the divinity within us!" You will hardly ever escaped from them branding you a "narrow-minded intellectual".
1897 Rudolf Steiner magazine article "Theosophists"

Steiner attributed the rapid growth of the Theosophical Society at the time to be the result of spiritual seduction. Membership in the society peaked in 1927 and has declined ever since.

"The way they speak of the highest knowledge --- which they do not possess --- and the mystical way they assert incomprehensible wisdom seduces many. Consider how the Theosophical Society has spread all over Europe."

Steiner's change in direction occurred when the theosophist invited him to give a series of esoteric lectures. They were eager to hear of his clairvoyant perceptions of the spiritual world. Steiner was having clairvoyant experiences since the age of eight and now was willing to talk about it. This was an opportunity for Steiner to try and bring science to the occult. In 1902 he accepted a position to head a newly formed German section of the Theosophical Society. After some disagreements in 1913, Steiner and a group of theosophists splintered off and founded the Anthroposophical Society.

25 years later after its original publication, Steiner revised and then republished The Philosophy Of Freedom in 1918. The basic books of the occult period were:

1902 Christianity As Mystical Fact
1904 Theosophy
1904 How To Know Higher Worlds
1910 Occult Science

In the occult period of Steiners life he renewed past historical paths that led to knowledge and freedom for those less interested in science. In The Philosophy Of Freedom it says:

"The oriental sage requires his disciples to live a life of resignation and asceticism for years before he shares with them his knowledge. The West no longer demands pious exercises and ascetic practices to attain knowledge."
TPOF chapter 0.7

The following passage comes from a short obituary by Karl Köller:
In the first decade of our century, (August) Ewerbeck got word that there were intimate circles in which Rudolf Steiner gave special esoteric training to those admitted to them. So he asked his teacher whether he too might be allowed to attend, and received the astonishing reply:
"You don't need to! You have understood my Philosophy Of Freedom!"
             source:Enlivening the Chakra of the Heart: The Fundamental Spiritual Exercises of Rudolf Steiner by Florin Lowndes Link

What we find is that The Philosophy Of Freedom stands on its own completely independent of anthroposophy and his later clairvoyant research into the spiritual realm.

"this book occupies a position completely independent of my writings on actual spiritual scientific matters... what I have said in The Philosophy Of Freedom may be acceptable even to some who, for reasons of their own, refuse to have anything to do with the results of my research into the spiritual realm."
Rudolf Steiner, The Philosophy Of Freedom, 1918 preface to the revised edition

Peter Normann Waage puts it this way:

"History cannot show one pioneer who is worth the digesting of absolutely everything. Isaac Newton won't be remembered for his speculations about the Apocalypse of Saint John. Steiner is interesting because of his project: to rescue the individual and its humanness from drowning in foggy spiritualism as well as in stiffened materialism."

For those who are interested in anthroposophy it is his respected scholar period that establishes Rudolf Steiner's reputation. By first gaining a respect for Steiner a person will become more open-minded toward his later work. And for those who are not at all interested in anthropology that's fine! The Philosophy Of Freedom stands on its own completely independent of anthroposophy.