Ausgabe 07-08/23

Waldorf education. Yesterday's future – (I): Nietzsche's lion

Walter Riethmüller

Waldorf teachers travel with heavy baggage in the face of dramatic world events, pressure to modernise and accusations against the anthroposophical foundations of Waldorf education. In everyday school life, they are burdened by self-administration and many educational obligations. And yet they have the central task for the future of being an open gateway to the world for pupils in an uncertain present and future. How can they master this task?

The basic foundation for this question is provided by Friedrich Nietzsche's parable of the three metamorphoses, in which Nietzsche defines three stages of human development towards a complete and free individual:

The first stage is that of the camel, which takes on all the burdens of society and is obedient and industrious. The second stage is that of the lion which questions the authority of society and seeks its individual freedom and autonomy. The lion fights against the moral and cultural rules of society. The third stage is that of the child who looks at the world anew and experiences it as a source of joy and beauty. The child accepts the paradoxes of life and lives in the present without letting themselves be burdened by the past or the future.

Nietzsche defines human development here as a process of liberation from the restrictions of society and the discovery of our own freedom and creativity. Only by overcoming cultural and moral norms could human beings live properly and be free.

I would like to interpret Nietzsche's parable as a lesson – about the relationship of Waldorf teachers, who are engaged in the study of anthroposophy and the foundations of Waldorf education, with Steiner's work. And I would like to measure it against the question of whether and how the study of anthroposophy can mobilise forces to make Waldorf education capable of survival – as a serious educational provision for circumstances not yet known.

The present time in Waldorf education seems to be geared towards asserting itself in the confrontation with criticism. This is not a sustainable defence strategy. What Eckart von Hirschhausen recently said applies here: «Defending the status quo is the surest way to lose it.»

The ontological insecurity in all areas of life calls for radically new thinking, but the latter remains in the old pattern in the current debate. But thinking the future in old structures fails to find anything new. In terms of mobility, for example, we only find optimised combustion engines, better engines, electric motors; this is backwards thinking and action. As Henry Ford's bon mot says: «If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said: faster horses.» You have to think and act altogether in a new way.

The social philosopher Harald Welzer describes how the future as imagined in the past appears today: «Anyone who wants to know what the future was that then became our present, must read hobby Das Magazin für Technik (hobby – The Magazine for Technology).» The techno-utopias of the 1960s have now become the effective present: unlimited exploitation of resources and thought patterns oriented towards perpetual growth.

With a view to the past, the task of thinking about the future is therefore to reveal and overcome the mental structures of the thinking belonging to the past. Otherwise, we will edge along old thought patterns perpetuating the past as the future – with principles of intensification, optimisation and aggression.

Sociologist Hartmut Rosa counters the current, crisis-like diffusion with a model of «medio-passive world relationships». He describes how a society without a future is shaped by aggression that is caught in the active-passive binary or perpetrator-victim constellation. Open discourse becomes impossible due to the aggression in interpersonal and state-global relations. Rosa sees the way out in «medio-passivity»: instead of lapsing into action-reaction patterns, we have to let ourselves be touched and engage – as in dancing. Because there «you lead sometimes or you are led, it's a delicate interaction. And the best dance is when you can no longer tell whether you are leading or being led. (...) In jazz groups you have that too, there's always someone different leading.»

The prerequisite for medio-passive world relationships is the ability to engage with the inanimate, ensouled and inspirited world, in the sense of a universal fraternity. In doing so, I take responsibility for unforeseen, previously unanticipated impacts. These affect all who are in corresponding resonance relationships. The idea of domination based on the exploitation of resources for profit becomes obsolete. The idea of an impulse of «the most absolute fraternity», as Rudolf Steiner described it as a vision in 1918, becomes part of the reality of the time.

Politics is not about perpetuating existing structures, but about understanding «the connection between human and other forms of life and their close linkage to earth system processes,» according to historian Dipesh Chakrabarty. Or in the words of the literary scholar Bernhard Malkmus: If we do not manage to «orient our culture towards coexistence with other creatures, it will fail».

Orientation towards the future in the current state requires radical changes and departures in the social and economic spheres towards a fundamentally universal orientation towards life.

Nietzsche, Friedrich (2010): Also sprach Zarathustra. Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen, Stuttgart. Reclam 7111.

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