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One of Steiner's early books is THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM, first published in 1894. In most of his teachings, Steiner stresses the value and significance of human freedom, yet the concept sits uneasily in the context of occultism. People are constrained in multiple ways, according to Steiner, not least by the consequences of their own actions, producing karma. If our original actions, establishing our early karma, were free, then the subsequent constraints put on us by karma would have been freely chosen, as it were. But Steiner said that we attained the possibility of freedom not at the beginning of our evolution but rather late, as a result of Lucifer's actions. (49) “Freedom is the result of the Luciferian influence.” — Rudolf Steiner, AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE (Kessinger Publishing, 1998: reproduction of 1922 edition), pp.  229-230.

We became potentially free, Steiner said, because Lucifer worked to lure us from the proper course of our evolution. Thus, Lucifer gave us the option of choosing how to proceed — as we should, or as we shouldn't. That is, we can freely choose to make a grievous error that will possibly ruin us for all eternity, or we can freely decline to make this grievous error. If we decline, then we freely choose to stay on the right path (which we were on, anyway, thanks to the gods' supervision).

Philosophers have long debated the concept of free will. If we are biologically or otherwise determined by forces or conditions in the physical realm, we do not have free will. Likewise, if we live under the control of spiritual beings (such as an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God), we are not free. Yet we prize freedom, and our concept of justice, to give one example, depends on it. We are responsible for our own actions, and thus logically we should be liable to punishment, only if we freely choose to act as we do. If forces beyond or control compel our actions, they and not we are responsible.

So is human freedom possible or not? It's a conundrum. Steiner's doctrines are caught in this difficulty, perhaps no more than many other philosophies, but certainly no less. And his solution is not quite convincing. For instance, he said (50) ”The spirit...must not stand as a slave-driver over the soul, dominating it with laws and commandments; the soul must rather learn to follow these laws and duties out of its own free inclination. The student must not feel duty to be an oppressive power to which he unwillingly submits, but rather something which he performs out of love.” — Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Anthroposophic Press, 1944), p. 96. (By "spirit" he meant the human essence that represents the divine spiritual realm; by "soul" he meant the nonphysical human identity that alters during the process of reincarnation.)

The nub of Steiner's position is that we must learn to willingly, freely accept spiritual laws and commandments. He said that, spiritually, this makes all the difference. Perhaps it does. Yet if we were already on the right path, and if we live in a universe of spiritual laws and commandments, veering from the right path and/or violating spiritual laws and commandments would be, at a minimum, foolish. And, if the laws and commandments are truly what these words indicate — i.e., inescapable cosmic requirements — then we cannot veer unless the laws and commandments somehow provide for this, in which case we remain under the laws and commandments even when we seem to depart from them.

It's a conundrum. In quotation 50, for instance, Steiner does not say that we can escape the laws and commandments, only that we should accept them freely, out of love. Is this just a variation of the old notion that we must learn to love our servitude, perhaps singing in our chains? Steiner doesn't mean it in this way, yet accepting cosmic necessity is the inherent requirement in his occult conception of freedom. (His earlier, more humanistic ideas, in early editions of THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM, are less constricted — but Steiner turned to occultism, and the gods' divine cosmic plan became paramount. Later editions of THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM bend in the direction of such occult concepts.) Steiner's emphasis is on our subjective response to the laws and commandments, not on the laws and commandments themselves. We should follow the gods' plan of our own free will — but we should follow it (and our use of our free will was part of the gods' plan, so in acting "freely" as the gods want, we obey the gods).

Freedom is important in Steiner's doctrines; indeed, it is necessary for our ultimate evolution. he said. But the concept of necessary freedom, or a freely accepted necessity, is self-contradicting. Steiner was not unique in tripping over this difficulty, but he did trip, and as a result his evolutionary scheme is badly weakened. Certainly the concept of free inquiry stands at odds with his indication that (51) "every criticism, every adverse judgment passed, disperses the powers of the soul for the attainment of higher knowledge." — Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Anthroposophic Press, 1944), p. 11. This is a prescription for obedience, not freedom: put aside your critical intelligence; don't think, don't dabble in criticisms and judgments. Venerate — and obey.

In Steiner's occult teachings, we really have only one choice, and it isn't much of a choice: We can walk the white path to divinity or slip down the black path to destruction. Now, let me think. Which path do I prefer? I know! I'll take the black path! And the result? (51a): "The purified world will develop above and beyond thee, and thou shalt be excluded from it. Thus thou wouldst tread the black path, while the others from whom thou didst sever thyself tread the white path." — Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1994), p. 152. Some choice. Freely choose suicide or freely choose life. Now, which path do I prefer?


For more on freedom as conceived by Steiner and pursued in Waldorf schools, see "Freedom".

Use this link to go to "Steiner Static".

To go other pages related to this page,

use the following links:


Charlie Hebdo : necessary impertinence

democracy : Steiner on

freedom : a shoal on which Anthroposophy founders

freedom (static)

threefolding : reforming society

war : this one and that one

Woodrow : WIlson