Steiner advocated freedom, in a sense, and democracy, in a sense. But the scope of human freedom and democratic action is severely limited, according to Steiner and his followers. We are all bound by karma and, far more important, by the divine cosmic plan of the gods. Our options essentially boil down to freely choosing the Truth (i.e., Anthroposophical doctrine) or freely choosing to commit spiritual suicide by rejecting the Truth (Anthroposophical doctrine). Truth comes not from a vote of the uninitiated, but by the clairvoyant perceptions of the individual initiate. Moreover, democracy must bend to both occult and social imperativesSteiner wanted political leaders — including democratically elected officials — to have extremely limited authority. They should have little or no say in the running of a nation's economy or in the nation's cultural and educational life. Democracy, far from being a panacea, is potentially destructive, opening the door for the powers of darkness. Truth, justice, freedom — these are not products of democratic institutions but the gifts bestowed by the gods as explained by clairvoyant savants — preeminently a certain short, dark-haired, Austrian-German super-initiate.

"To see clearly as a human being today, to be open to the world and to understand the world, it is necessary not to be dazzled by democratic logic — which has a place only in its own sphere — by empty phrases about democratic progress and so on." — Rudolf Steiner, THE KARMA OF UNTRUTHFULNESS, Vol. 2 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1992) lecture 17, GA 174.

"Herewith we have defined the limitations of democracy as clearly as possible. On the basis of democracy only such things can be determined as are capable of determination through the fact that a person has reached the years of discretion. All such things as are related to the development of human capacity in public life are excluded from democratic measures. Everything in the nature of education and instruction, of cultural life in general, requires the devotion of the individual human being — in the next lecture this will be more fully dealt with — it demands, above all things, real individual understanding of the human being, special individual capacities in the teacher, in the educator, which by no means belong to a person merely because he is an adult. We must either not take democracy seriously, in which case we submit to its decisions regarding human capacities, or we do take democracy seriously, and then we must exclude from it the administration of the cultural life and the economic life." — Rudolf Steiner, THE SOCIAL FUTURE (Anthroposophic Press, 1945), lecture 3, GA332a. Use of italics by Steiner.

"There is a fundamental social law which spiritual science teaches, and which is as follows:

"‘The well-being of a community of people working together will be the greater, the less the individual claims for himself the proceeds of his work, i.e. the more of these proceeds he makes over to his fellow-workers, the more his own needs are satisfied, not out of his own work but out of the work done by others’ ... No parliament, no democracy, no popular agitation can have any meaning for a person who looks at all deeper, if they violate the law stated above; whereas everything of this kind may work for good if it works on the lines of this law. It is a mischievous delusion to believe that particular persons sent up to some parliament as delegates from the people can do anything for the good of mankind, unless their activity is in conformity with the fundamental social law." — Rudolf Steiner, UNDERSTANDING THE HUMAN BEING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993), pp. 110-113.

"The astral body of every nation, every race, every epoch, has a definite colour ... You will always find a colour which is fundamental in the astral body of a human being who is [a] member of one of these classifications. This specific colour must be eliminated. Anthroposophical spiritual science works to level out the colours of the astral bodies of its adherents. They must be of like colour — alike, that is to say, in respect of the basic colour. This basic colour gives rise to a certain substance called Kundalini which holds together, within the human being, the forces which lead eventually to the spirit. This leveling-out process will bring war and bloodshed in its train — war in the shape of economic strife among nations, pressure for expansion, suppression in every form, strife in the sphere of investment and profit, industrial undertakings, and so forth. And by adopting certain measures it will increasingly be possible to handle vast masses of people by sheer force; the individual will acquire greater and greater power over certain masses of the people. For the course of evolution is leading, not towards greater democracy, but towards oligarchy of the brutal kind, in that the power of the single individual will immeasurably increase. If morals are not ennobled, this will lead to brutality in every possible form. This state of things will come, just as the great water-catastrophe came to the Atlanteans." — Rudolf Steiner, "The Work of Secret Societies in the World" (transcript, Rudolf Steiner Archive), a lecture, GA 93.

"The administration of the spiritual and cultural life, placed on its own footing, will supply the economic life with the human spiritual impulses that can fructify it ever and again, so long as this administration keeps within its own province and controls only goods and lines of production. The sphere of rights, separated from the cultural and economic systems of the social organism, will govern human relations to the extent that democracy allows one mature human being to govern another, while the power that one man gets over another through force of greater individual abilities or through economic means will have no say whatever in this governance.

"Marx and Engels were right to demand a new economic order — right, but one-sided. They did not perceive that economic life can only become free when a free sphere of rights and free cultivation of the spirit are allowed to arise along-side it. The forms future economic life must assume can be seen only by those who are clear in their minds that the capitalist-economic orientation must give way to a distinctly spiritual one, and that the governance of human relations through economic power gives way to one that is distinctly human." — Rudolf Steiner, THE RENEWAL OF THE SOCIAL ORGANISM (Anthroposophic Press, 1985), part 2, article 3, GA 24.

"Spiritual research reveals that man in general develops in our time, through what nature and society provide, up to the age of 27. Therefore, the typical modern person who keeps aloof from spiritual knowledge will progress in his development up to his 27th year ... Had he reached the age of 27 and found no possibility to do anything significant with his impulses and ideas, then he would have grown older with something dead within him. If then at the age of say 31 he found himself in some public position, he would meanwhile have carried what had become lifeless and dissolute within him into that later age; he would be no true representative of our time. However, it is possible in present-day circumstances to visualize that in a democratic country, under so-called normal conditions, such a person would, at the age of 27 be voted into parliament ... Well, in a democratic country what does one do in such a case? One hauls the person in question into the cabinet and gives him a portfolio he is sure to know nothing about. That was exactly what Campbell-Bannerman did with Lloyd George. He, who never had any opportunity to concern himself with trade, was given the Department of Trade, which he took over in 1905." — Rudolf Steiner, ASPECTS OF HUMAN EVOLUTION (Anthroposophic Press, 1987),  lecture 7, GA 176.

"You will no doubt have heard that certain people are over and over again proclaiming to the world that democracy must spread to the whole civilized world. Salvation lies in making the whole of humanity democratic; everything will have to be smashed to pieces so that democracy may spread in the world. Well, if people go on to accept ideas presented to them as they are, with wholesale acceptance of the term democracy, for instance, their idea of democracy will be like the definition of the human being which I gave you: A human being is a creature with two legs and without feathers: a plucked cockerel. The people who are glorifying democracy today know about as much about it as someone who is shown a plucked cockerel knows about the human being. Concepts are taken for reality, and as a result illusion may take the place of reality where human life is concerned by lulling people to sleep with concepts. They believe the fruits of their endeavours will be that every individual will be able to express their will in the different democratic institutions, and they fail to see that these institutions are such that it is always just a few people who pull the wires, whilst the rest are pulled along. They are persuaded, however, that they are part of democracy and so they do not notice they are being pulled and that some individuals are pulling the strings. Those individuals will find it all the easier to do the pulling if the others all believe they are doing it themselves, instead of being pulled along. It is quite easy to lull people to sleep with abstract concepts and make them believe the opposite of what is really true. This gives the powers of darkness the best opportunity to do what they want. And if anyone should wake up they are simply ignored." — Rudolf Steiner, FALL OF THE SPIRITS OF DARKNESS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993), lecture 14, GA 177.

The Waldorf attitude toward democracy usually becomes clear to parents of Waldorf students only when a conflict arises between parents and teachers. The parents soon learn that a Waldorf faculty generally has little interest in any opinion except their own. There is little or no openness to discussion and compromise, which are the essence of democratic practice. A parent's views are irrelevant; the Truth has been bestowed by Steiner and is possessed by the faculty. No one else — including students' parents — has anything of merit to contribute.

Naturally, schools cannot be run as pure democracies. Someone(s) must be in charge; someone(s) must make important decisions concerning curriculum and other matters. In Waldorf schools, authority is usually, distinctly, vested in the faculty, and especially in an inner faculty group called the college of teachers. Usually, no one outside this inner circle has much say in much of anything. Most parents undoubtedly would want their views to be considered, at least. At Waldorf schools, such consideration is usually very limited or even rejected out of hand.

Anthroposophists have a virtual monopoly on the truth, in Anthroposophists' own view. It is for this reason that the following assertion is made in many Anthroposophical publications:

 “No person is held qualified to form a judgment on the contents of this work, who has not acquired — through the School of Spiritual Science itself or in an equivalent manner recognized by the School of Spiritual Science — the requisite preliminary knowledge. Other opinions will be disregarded....” — Prefatory note, Rudolf Steiner, CHRIST IMPULSE AND DEVELOPMENT OF EGO-CONSCIOUSNESS; Rudolf Steiner, SECRETS OF THE THRESHOLD; Rudolf Steiner, COSMIC AND HUMAN METAMORPHOSES; Rudolf Steiner, WONDERS OF THE WORLD; Rudolf Steiner, THOUGHTS ON EASTER; Rudolf Steiner, INNER NATURE OF MAN AND LIFE BETWEEN DEATH AND REBIRTH; etc. 

That is democracy, in the Waldorf universe — or, more properly, that is the rejection of democracy, in the Waldorf universe. Taking a non-Anthroposophist's opinion into account, or giving a non-Anthroposophist a vote, would be preposterous. Waldorf teachers have the truth and others don't. Period. (I am overstating the case, of course. There is variation among Waldorf schools, with more flexibility found in some than in others. But I am describing the situation that often prevails.)

Here is a fairly typical example of the experience parents undergo when a problem develops at a Waldorf school. In this instance, a young girl was — in the view of her teachers — producing damaging spiritual effects by singing pop songs in school and occasionally wearing sparkling bits of decoration on her clothing:

"[M]y ex and I were called into the school for a serious meeting with our daughter's teacher, head of school, and two other teachers. They proceeded to warn us about our daughter corrupting the other children ... Instead of pop music, we should expose her to world music and live music. No radio. She was still too sparkly. Every once in a while some piece of clothing had a sequin or sparkle on it ... [T]his was a very SERIOUS concern.

"Needless to say, I was confused. How could a school with so much love and happiness be so critical and judgmental? Is this what we signed up for? Was the school going to start infiltrating every aspect of our home life? We already stopped watching TV and listening to the radio in the car [as instructed by the school]. We only packed nutritional, organic lunches in recyclable containers [as instructed by the school]. We purchased the outrageously expensive required basket for our kindergartners' lunch (the handles broke after two months). Both my ex and I were confounded....

"Because Waldorf is a private school, it does not adhere to the laws governing public schools, or any laws as we would soon discover. Parents are ruled by the school. I tried talking to the teacher and different members of the faculty only to be told to do what they ask and our child will benefit greatly. Any resistance on my part would have a negative impact on my daughter's education. So we did everything they asked. Did not question the ridiculous nature of what was asked, but went along with the herd. It was beginning to feel like a cult.

"This was the beginning of the slow and painful end to my love of the Waldorf School. There would be much worse incidents to come and one terrible, traumatic experience that left me and my family traumatized for life. I can no longer stay silent." —

Other voices:

"Democracy, disciplined and enlightened, is the finest thing in the world."

"The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within."

"My notion of democracy is that under it the weakest should have the same opportunity as the strongest." — Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi.

"We are here because of our love for democracy, because of our deep-seated belief that democracy transformed from thin paper to thick action is the greatest form of government on earth." — American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

"No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." — Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who led Great Britain to victory in World War II. Soon thereafter, when the British people turned their attention to the future, he was voted out of office. His response? Churchill, whose power during the war had been extraordinarily broad and deep, accepted the election results and quietly stood aside for his successor.

“Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people.” — Abraham Lincoln who, as 16th President of the United States, issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the indispensable step toward ending the "peculiar institution" in America: slavery. He paid with his life.

"Democracy is not a question of practicality. It is a question of morality." — Willy Brandt, mayor of West Berlin and later Chancellor of West Germany.

“I am an adherent of the ideal of democracy, although I well know the weaknesses of the democratic form of government. Social equality and economic protection of the individual appeared to me always as the important communal aims of the state. Although I am a typical loner in daily life, my consciousness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice has preserved me from feeling isolated.” — Albert Einstein.

For the Anthroposophical take on freedom,
see "Freedom".

For the Anthroposophical view on 
the proper organization of society,

Here is an item from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:

"Our system of public higher education is one of the great achievements of American civilization. In its breadth and excellence, it has no peer. It embodies some of our nation’s highest ideals: democracy, equality, opportunity, self-improvement, useful knowledge and collective public purpose ... Public higher education is a bulwark against hereditary privilege and an engine of social mobility ... Now the system is in danger of falling into ruin. Public higher education was essential to creating the mass middle class of the postwar decades — and with it, a new birth of political empowerment and human flourishing. The defunding of public higher education has [led toward] its slow destruction."

◊◊ • ◊◊

Waldorf Watch Response:

What is true of public higher education is also true of public elementary and secondary education. The great ideal of universal education is essential in democratic societies. Providing sound, affordable education for all creates an educated work force, an informed electorate, and — most important — free individuals who are able to seek their own fulfillment. We weaken our public educational systems at our very great peril.

Of course families should be free to select private schools, including Waldorf schools. Of course such schools should be allowed to exist. But they should stand on their own feet, finding their own funding. Public resources should not be diverted to them at the expense of public schools, nor should they be allowed to insinuate themselves into public education systems.

Waldorf schools represent a particular danger to the flourishing of democratic societies and the empowerment of free individuals. While Waldorf spokesmen often use words like "freedom" and "democracy," the truth is that the Waldorf system is highly authoritarian. In Waldorf belief, the gods have created a plan for the universe, and the Anthroposophists on Waldorf faculties believe that they work in service to this divinely ordained plan.

 “Among the faculty, we must certainly carry within us the knowledge that we are not here for our own sakes, but to carry out the divine cosmic plan. We should always remember that when we do something, we are actually carrying out the intentions of the gods." — Rudolf Steiner. [See "Here's the Answer".]

According to Waldorf belief, there is a single correct course for a soul to follow: It is the "white path." Straying from this path means taking the downward, evil, "black" path. 

"Thus thou wouldst tread the black path, while the others from whom thou didst sever thyself tread the white path.” — Rudolf Steiner. [See "Guardians" and "White-Black".]

Because they embrace Steiner's occult teachings, true-believing Waldorf teachers strive to maneuver children toward the one true form of life, the Anthroposophical form. [See "Spiritual Agenda".]

Anthroposophists believe that the correct path has been pointed out for us by Rudolf Steiner, who was a transcendent master and authority, inferior only to the gods themselves. Waldorf schools often operate in nearly worshipful obedience to Steiner's directives. There is a reason, after all, that Waldorf schools are also called Steiner schools. [For a sampling of the sorts of statements Steiner's followers make about him, see "Guru". To explore Waldorf school operations from the inside, see "Faculty Meetings", "Discussions", "Advice", and the series of "Ex-Teacher" reports.]

When Waldorf schools profess a belief in freedom, they are speaking of an essentially negative, anti-democratic "freedom": freedom from, not freedom for. At the most fundamental level, Waldorf schools seek to "free" students from those impulses, influences, modes of thought, etc., that would take them to the black path. Waldorf schools do not often help students understand that life holds many wonderful options, many desirable alternatives from which one may freely choose. In Waldorf belief, there is really only one good choice, and that is to follow Rudolf Steiner. The schools usually refrain from explicitly propounding Steiner's doctrines in class, and they naturally recognize that students have individual needs and desires, but they nonetheless work to steer students in the one "true" direction. [See "Freedom".]

Likewise, the Waldorf conception of democracy is tightly restrictive. The only sphere in which democracy is legitimate, according to Steiner, is secular government; and the government should not meddle in the more important spheres of life — the spiritual/cultural sphere and the economic sphere. [See "Threefolding".] Certainly, government should not attempt to restrict the spiritual work being done by Waldorf schools. This work is incompatible with democratic decision-making. The gods have made a plan, Steiner has shown us this plan, and now we must implement it or suffer the horrible consequences. This is not a matter that can be put to a vote. Indeed, nothing truly important can be put to a vote. We obey or we suffer the consequences of our disobedience. (In the bizarre logic of Steiner's teachings, we have to "freely" choose to obey — but in practice this simply means that we must fall in line with the great plan.) [See "Hell".]

When democratic societies weaken their public education systems and lend support to strange alternative systems such as the Waldorf system, they do so at their peril.

[R.R., 2014.]

— Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings

To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, 
use the underlined links, below.


Charlie Hebdo : necessary impertinence


freedom : a shoal on which Anthroposophy founders

freedom (static) : same shoal

threefolding : reforming society

war : this one and that one

Woodrow : WIlson

The formatting at Waldorf Watch aims for visual variety, 
seeking to ease the process of reading lengthy texts on a computer screen.