A Rebuttal to Catherine MacCoun's "Work on What Has Been Spoiled"

I first became aware of Catherine's work on the "Dornach Scandal" of 1915 seven years ago, through discussion about that work on the e-mail forum "Steiner98."  When the complete essay was unexpectedly placed in my hands today by a friend, it was as though that seven years had culminated in an opportunity to respond, not only to the thinking in Catherine's essay, but to a kind of thinking that has so permeated our culture now that any statement that does not flow from it is experienced as off-putting and strange.

Having introduced my response in this way, and in spite of the fact that I have entitled it a "rebuttal", I must first acknowledge the service Catherine has performed in bringing to the matter of the "Dornach Scandal" not only the profound acuity of her thought, but the sensibility for anthroposophy and real knowledge of it as a discipline that is reflected, for example, in the paragraphs describing it as a path.  In statements such as the following, one can also see that her intentions are of the noblest kind:

"The principal characters in this drama have died and, great souls all, have no doubt long since forgiven each other and transcended the emotions and circumstances that motivated them back in 1915.  If we adopt the same detachment from what is transient, the thought they expressed can be seen as a conversation about issues that continue to concern anthroposophy today....The point is not to condemn Steiner, but to restore the credibility of his adversaries so that the value of their contribution can be recognized."

The "restoration" of the "credibility" of Alice Sprengel and Heinrich Goesch, however, does not succeed.  This is not to malign the individualities themselves, who, having long since left the field within which these names have any on-going meaning, have transcended being susceptible to the notion that a criticism of the thinking of an individual is a criticism of their person.  (Whether or not, as Catherine says, they are, with Steiner, "great souls" who have "no doubt long since forgiven each other" I leave to the judgement of any who may be capable of such judgement out of knowledge of higher worlds.)  But, if the credibility of individuals is a function of the truth-value of their statements, and if that truth-value is understood, not as a value connected to their capacity for outer logic, but for the extent of their statements' resonance with occult realities accessible to supersensible perception schooled in the discipline of anthroposophical spiritual science, what follows may serve to shed light of a kind on the real circumstances within which these individualities emerged, in fact, as opponents of anthroposophy.

The idea that anthroposophy as a stream--or better, as a Being--can have "opponents" needs, perhaps, to be defended before going on to a defense of Steiner's way of dealing with such opposition, which defense can only emerge once one has grasped his reasons for dealing with the opposition in the way that he did.  Catherine's attempts to ascribe his behavior to "unredeemed astrality" will also be addressed in the following.

An opponent of Anthroposophy is an individual who does not find it possible to ascend, in a key moment where such a capacity would be essential to protecting Her from harm, to the ability to penetrate the sphere of the "subjective" entirely with the light and warmth of an objectivity flowing from oneness with Christ or His impulse.  If one studies closely every instance of opposition to the mission of spiritual science, one will find this insufficiency to characterize what has made the words and actions in question take on a character that can be referred to as "oppositional."  Human insufficiency, of course, is to be expected; again, it is not this insufficiency alone that can be characterized as "opposition."  Rather, it is the conjunction of such insufficiency with occult realities that make use of the insufficiency to mount an attack upon the quality of communion that is the basis of all authentically Christian community.  This quality of communion, when it is truly anthroposophical, flows from the capacity of certain individuals in the community to cultivate a quality of discourse with one another that, because it participates in the true oneness of humanity possible in thinking, permits access by the highest divine Beings to the life of the community:  Beings who, able to be present through the service of a few, make their presence felt in guidance to everyone.  (That a community within which everyone participates in the "true oneness" referred to above is a noble ideal worthy of the effort of the courageous and spiritually ambitious--an ideal destined, indeed, to be realized in the Sixth Epoch--should not be placed in question by this statement of fact about the nature of community in the age of the development of the consciousness soul.)

We can begin to grasp the reasons for, and thus the true nature of, Steiner's behavior in response to the communications of Alice Sprengel and Heinrich Goesch only if we are prepared to face the error in Catherine's own thinking.  It begins to manifest itself when, at the conclusion of her wonderful presentation of the nature of the ascending and descending movement of the soul in the acquisition and communication of the contents of supersensible cognition, and having correctly characterized the concern for objectivity in a community inspired by a "gnostic" impulse, she says:

"In a community of gnostics, then, perceived credibility is very much connected with perceived objectivity--one's knack for detaching from the subjective and the personal."

The idea that true objectivity is obtained through detachment from the subjective and the personal is the error that, when its repercussions are followed consequently through what follows in her argument, reveal the error in her whole approach to the matter of Steiner's behavior.  She goes on to say:

"It is human nature to attempt to close the gap between ideal and actual attainment with posturing.  To the extent that objectivity is valued and not yet attained, people will tend to simulate objectivity as best they can.  While Steiner's actual attainment was great, he was not above the occasional simulation.  Take for example his assertion that psychoanalysis was a 'smutty theory.'  He said:

    'Those who have gone through a real struggle to understand what psychoanalysis actually is can     freely call it a smutty theory without losing their objectivity.  It is as objective to call     psychoanalysis a smutty theory as it is to say that canvas is white and charcoal is black.  It is     objective terminology derived from true insight into human nature in its totality.'

"'Smutty' is an adjective inspired by sexual shame, the awkwardness of the spirit in being neither wholly attached to nor detached from the physical body.  It is a feeling unique to incarnate human beings, not a product of the sense-free thinking that can properly be called objective."

To describe the dishonesty of posturing that attempts to "close the gap" between ideal and actual attainment as "human nature" is already to make a statement that can subject the individual expressing such a thought to justifiable scrutiny as regards the state of her own progress on the path of knowledge of the human being.  My concern in this rebuttal, however, is only with the error in thinking that leads Catherine to her erroneous conclusions about Rudolf Steiner, including her statement that "shadow" characteristics of Steiner' personality--"his own unredeemed astrality"--played a role in his not behaving the way Catherine would like to have seen him behave.

For Catherine, "smutty" is an adjective "inspired by sexual shame."  That is to say, within Catherine MacCoun exists (at least remnants of) the memory of, or the present existence of, sexual shame, to a degree that leads her not to question her assumption that the use of the word "smutty" can only be inspired by this reality.  To one who experiences this "feeling unique to incarnate human beings" powerfully enough--even if it is only the remnant of the memory of this feeling--the idea that the word "smutty" might be used by someone out of an utterly different inspiration does not occur.  The feeling of sexual shame in question is, exactly, a manifestation of (at least a remnant of) what Anthroposophy means when She speaks of "unredeemed astrality."  And here Catherine's error begins to come into full view:  Since the purification of the astral body is the first step on the path to correct knowledge of higher worlds, it is impossible to come to accurate knowlege of what is living in the soul (let alone moving in the spirit!) of another human being as long as the "lens" for such perception--the astral body--has defects or lacks "cleanliness."  Thus, Christ taught us to remove the plank from our own "eye" before we seek to remove the speck from our brother's.

To gain a correct apprehension of what led the initiate Rudolf Steiner to choose the word "smutty" (or whatever German word is being so translated) in the passage Catherine quotes will demand of the individual attempting to gain such apprehension, first of all, the capacity to grasp the error contained in her statement about objectivity as a "knack for detaching from the subjective and the personal."  One can find a very powerful expression of the impulse that can correct such an error in the "five tenets of enlightenment" of contemporary spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen.  As the fourth of the five "tenets"*, he describes the necessity for the meditant to gain a recognition of the fact that "everything without exception can be experienced impersonally."

The idea that even the most personal, "private", inward thoughts, feelings, and desires can be experienced "impersonally", understood correctly in the context of Andrew's enlightenment teachings, has nothing whatever to do, as he himself has said, with "detachment."  Rather, it has to do with precisely the opposite:  with the individual's courage and capacity to enter into the most deeply personal sphere of inner experience with that quality of fearless willingness to "face everything and avoid nothing" (the third "tenet") that results, not in any kind of distancing or detachment from such personal experience, but in one's utter immersion in it:  a state of immersion from within which, alone, the experience can be penetrated with a quality of consciousness that can see in all that moves within this most deeply personal realm something, indeed, utterly impersonal:  and, for Anthroposophy, that is the work of occult forces whose own thinking, feeling, and willing are the source of "my" inner experience to the exact degree that it is an experience of something other than the ideals of truth, beauty, and goodness that make up the content of my Self as a(n) (developing) "I".

Steiner saw the occult forces at work in the accusations leveled against him by Alice Sprengel and Heinrich Goesch, just as he knew the occult forces at work in the impulse for personalization--for ignorance of the impersonal in man's inner life--that inspired the "smutty" theory of psychoanalysis, and permeates our civilization, now.  It is a smutty theory quite objectively speaking for just the reasons that Catherine MacCoun delineates in her definition of "sexual shame", but fails to see as describing precisely a state of affairs that must be referred to as "smutty", "dirty", "filthy", or with some similar adjective by anyone able to perceive it objectively:  the state of affairs that exists when "the spirit [is] neither wholly attached to nor detached from the physical body."

The spirit detached from the physical body is, speaking objectively from the perspective of occult insight, "clean":  it is free from the "dirt" of the material world.  The word "dirt" objectively characterizes the nature of the physical-material; it is not a value judgement, but a simply and accurately descriptive term.  The spirit "wholly attached" to the physical body--expressed more correctly:  permeating the physical body utterly by the power of its own inner forces--is also "clean", in the same way that warmth can permeate an object without itself taking on any of the material characteristics--any of the "dirt"--of the object.  But the human spirit entangled in materiality in a way that produces "subconscious sexual motives" is, objectively speaking, "dirty", affected by its disordered contact with the material in a way that produces unconsciousness; and a theory that ascribes to human behavior this origin is, quite precisely, objectively, and impersonally, "smutty."

The occult forces at work in Alice Sprengel's reaction to Steiner's divorce were ones that sought to accuse him of being untrue to the Christ impulse for marrying another woman after his divorce from his first wife, Anna Eunike; and Christ's admonitions about divorce (see Mark 10:2-12) deserve careful scrutiny by anyone willing to delve into the reasons for this accusation.  That Sprengel was unaware of what was disturbing her is not surprising; that she ascribed the power of her troubled inward responses to personal matters between her and Steiner, a natural consequence of her ignorance.  But when she entered into the relationship with Heinrich Goesch that led him, then, to write to Steiner in the way that he did, she multiplied to another the forces of opposition to the work of Anthroposophy seeking to unfold through Steiner as Her instrument, and set in motion the opportunity, in the social life of the Society, for these forces to begin to foment the kind of dissatisfaction and discord that precisely and always characterizes the efforts of anti-Christian powers to undermine the peace of Christ "that passeth all understanding" and that seeks access to human community wherever two or more are gathered in the spirit of that impersonal dedication to the Higher that is the basis of all authentically spiritual striving.  Sprengel and Goesch became vehicles of opponents of the anthroposophical impulse, and Steiner dealt with that occult opposition with the means that are always necessary where individuals who have found it impossible, for whatever reason, to maintain faithfulness to what they have experienced turn their attention critically to an innocent man or woman whom they had revered, and thus abandon the attitude of confidence that is the basis of brotherhood in Christ:  Steiner dealt with the opposition harshly but fairly.  The harshness is necessitated by the power of the threat the forces can be experienced objectively as presenting through individuals no longer capable of experiencing innocent gestures such as a handshake as innocent; and his behavior can be experienced, objectively speaking, as utterly fair if one considers the fact that this man of utterly purified astrality was being made the subject of criticisms and complaints from individuals whose own unredeemed astrality was becoming the channel for the work of forces that would destroy everything Anthroposophy was seeking to do for all mankind through Rudolf Steiner.  This "everything" began with the establishment of a Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland as the seat of a movement the spirit of whose community life was to be the spirit of the "oneness of mankind in thinking"; and as long as there are still anthroposophists committed to the establishment of this quality of community out of impulses (still) present at that geographical point, the opposition forces that, again and again, have sought, and found, vehicles to undermine that purpose will not have prevailed.

Note:  It is work on the transformation of his etheric body that had come to be Rudolf Steiner's personal task by the time he began his public activity in the world.  The last remnants of his work on his own astral body he had completed through all that he had been subjected to in the Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche affair in Weimar.

John Stirling Walker


*The "Five Tenets" are:

To attain enlightenment, one must:

1.  Want it more than anything else.
2.  Strive to act in accordance with the Law of Volition, which would have the individual see himself as solely responsible for everything done to him or that he had done to others.
3.  Face everything and avoid nothing.
4.  Come to a knowledge of the fact that everything can be experienced impersonally.
5.  Be prepared to abandon the path at the first sign that one has not entered upon it for the sake of all mankind.