The Swedish anthroposophists and the ‘Negro problem’
by Sven Ove Hansson -- Originally published in Folkvett no.1/1992
‘In our time, the existence of races has become increasingly problematic.’ Thus began an article in the periodical of the Swedish anthroposophists, Antropos, in 1995. It was authored by the magazine’s longtime editor, Hans Mändl (1898-1972). Mändl—who had arrived in Sweden in 1938, having been rescued from the Nazi persecution of the Jewish people—held a leading position within Swedish anthroposophy.
The article aimed to illustrate how ‘significant current phenomena, such as this, can be illuminated with the help of spiritual science, that is, by the results of Rudolf Steiner’s research.’ This marked the beginning of a series of articles about the ‘question of race’ in Antropos during the 1960’s. Emphasis was on the ‘black race’ and its relationship to the ‘white race’. This special focus did not originate in Steiner’s work, because he did not pay more interest to the black ‘race’ than to other ‘races’. Instead, as Mändl himself indicated, the reason for this focus seems to have been the current social problems in Africa and the United States.
‘Races’ and human ages
The 1959 article was entitled ‘On races in light of anthroposophy’. It consisted mainly of a presentation of Steiner’s ideas about the different ‘human races’ representing different time periods in the life of the human being: ‘the African Negro race’ representing the early childhood years, ‘the brown race of the Malayans’ the ages 7 to 14, ‘the yellow race’ the ages 14 to 21, ‘the white race’ the ‘middle of the third part of human life’ and ‘the red race of America’ representing old age. The description of the character of blacks read in its entirety:
‘The secretive forces of the depths of the earth interfere with, shape and imprint on the people in Africa in one developmental stage, on the people of America in another etc. These foundational characterizations are reinforced and inherited, and thus develop into racial characteristics. For example, the Negro race of Africa is in this manner shaped by the deep forces that influence the human body in early childhood, until the age of 7, to the effect that the Negro will keep his childish character all through his lifetime. The thick lips, the round head, the curly hair, the grammar of his language (verbs usually in their infinitive forms) are all the characteristics of a child. And how do we not enjoy to depict Negro children, make Negro dolls, sing their songs (“Ten little nigger boys”...!), and so forth. Black people are childishly happy, unpretentious, trusting in authority, always in motion, uncomplicated, impulsive and without inhibitions — just like small children.’
The description of white people read in its entirety:
‘The middle third of the human lifetime gives its character to the white race. Mature masculinity has led to the creation of mighty products of civilization, the inner freedom has led the way to co-existance and autonomy, and during multiple epochs, human dignity and human nobility were implemented by this race. The white man’s guiding star has been the awareness of his own worth; knowledge about the world and the creation of the world through his own power.’
In America, according to Mändl, the black population had had an influence upon the character of the whites:
‘Because indeed: Negroes have made the Americans childish. How many complaints are there not, for example, in American magazines, about infantilism, about the immaturity of emotional life, about the all too large tendency towards adaptability in the average American man, about the frivolous light-heartedness, about the childish optimism and the suggestibility of the population. And how many million whites are there not, who every evening spend hours moving to African rythms in accord with African music! In this manner, the Negro character is infused in the hidden depths of one’s own spirit and makes deeper impressions than do teachings or technique.’
Why are the Negroes black?
In the article ‘Africa and the Negroes’ (1960), Mändl developed an occult theory on how Africans came to have darker skin colour than, for instance, Europeans. This, too, was connected to the childish character that Steiner had ascribed to humans of African origin.
‘In children, the Ego and the consciousness are still weakly developed, thus exists in them the desire for imitation and thus do they give in to their emotions. In the Negroes, the resistance to impulses—be their origins inner or outer—is in itself weak. A tree, for example, absorbs extraordinary amounts of light and warmth, and reflects only little. The Negro also absorbs light and warmth. Why? Because the childhood forces do, in some respects, dominate him, the ego, the “inner light” and the inner flame are relatively undeveloped. The Negro is reduced to the outer light and the outer warmth that he sucks into himself from cosmos and works upon, but since light and warmth cannot pass through him, their greatest effect is on the skin. This light-absorbing process of the skin brings forth the black colour.’
In the same article, Mändl also presented a theory on the language of the Pygmies, a theory that might possibly be his own, but is closely connected to Steiner’s foundational tenets:
‘Their language is characterized by numerous smacking sounds produced by inhaling. This way of producing words by sucking at inhalation, is a peculiarity that also characterizes the early childhood.’ However, Mändl assessed more favourably the rock paintings of the Pygmies. They ‘are testimonies of high artistic talent and of religious conceptions’.
‘Races’ and planets
As we know, Steiner proposed a long series of so-called cosmic connections. Among other things, he connected the various ‘human races’ to different planets. In an unsigned piece in Antropos in 1962 (probably authored by Mändl), this aspect of Steiner’s racial teachings was presented as well. Blacks are said to be connected to Mercury, and whites to Jupiter. The description of a black human’s characteristics resembled the one in the article from 1959, and was in its entirety worded:
‘Even his outer characteristics resemble to a degree the typical build of a child’s body. Isn’t the Negro child particularly enchanting? You even sing little songs about it and play with little Negro dolls. The Negro, with his curly hair, his thick lips, his small and fairly irregular nose, his slender and agile body, bears all the basic characteristics of a child through and through. And likewise childish is his mind—his language with the sole use of infinitives, his subservience as a servant, his naïve happiness, and his impressionability. The Negro is also without a beard, such as is a child, and the woman’s hair is short.’
The description of white humans reads in full:
‘The white race has the character of Jupiter, which is a token of the mature life period, when rich experience has endowed inner strength and harmony. The main characteristic of Jupiter, prudence, is expressed in the self-confidence and in the power that true wisdom of life will endow.’
In defence of Apartheid
In 1967, Antropos published a long article in two parts by L.F.C. Mees, who had spent two months in South Africa. He concurred fully with Steiner’s description of the character of black people.
‘To characterize the Negroes, one can note that, for the most part, Negroes really do stop developing at the age of 12, but to this there are of course exceptions. This is why education on higher levels is so hard for most Africans. One could say that Africans do not progress beyond their childhood, but one must not forget that they have not lost their childhood either.’
In summary, he meant that ‘the Negroes’ attitude, contentedness and devotion are characteristics that in all aspects are connected with the kind of warmth of the soul that a child also posesses.’ He did not credit the Africans with any capacity for higher forms of cultural expression:
‘Is it in this manner possible to speak of an African Negro culture, which has developed over the ages? Sure, there have been findings of remnants of old cultural centres, but it has most often been proved that the origins of these lie with immigrating peoples. But one can say that the life of African Negroes, with the primitiveness it retains to this day, has not produced such a culture.’
Mees announced in the same article—cautiously but yet clearly—his support for the Apartheid system:
‘Only a few words will be said about the well-known concept of “Apartheid”, since, naturally, it will not be possible for me to treat it exhaustively. That lies on another level. But I would like to remark that many of those, who demand equality between Negroes and whites at any cost, start out from an assumption that Negroes ought to receive intensive contact with our present culture as soon as possible. This may perhaps lead one to think too highly of the many blessings, as it is popularly said, of our culture. But the enormous chaos, which prevails in the social, economical and political areas of life, seems to me a less attractive asset. If the American Negroes want to retreat from their contacts with western culture and withdraw to their own spheres, they are referred to Negro areas and Negro communities. These exist in many places in America, and, without being tendentious, one has to describe them as “slum” areas. If, however, the Negroes of Africa want to retreat to their own community, after having worked for a couple of years in a town or in a mine, they will there find a piece of nature with which they have shared a connection for thousands of years.’
The wording ‘a piece of nature with which they have shared a connection for thousands of years’ supposedly refers to the so called home countries. (As is known, these consist of only a minor part of the southern African lands which have been inhabited by black peoples for millennia.) Moreover:
‘What do those who fight against Apartheid really want to offer the Negroes? The answer is: our present culture. Previous experiences in this regard speak for themselves. Maybe we ought to begin with this question: Why has the Negro race kept its childishness and vitality for such a long time without perishing, despite the fact that in this context the Negro’s life does take this tragic turn at the age of puberty? Is it perhaps a blessing for all humanity that this race survives, after all? Must we not, we who imagine that we have so much to offer, once ask the question: What have we got to learn from the Negroes?’
These cautious but unequivocal statements in favour of Apartheid were left unchallenged in Antropos.
The Aryan ‘elite’
Although the main concern was the character of the ‘black race’, during the 1960’s, Antropos sometimes adressed questions about other ‘races’. The ‘white race’, and in particular its Nordic variation, was at times dealt with even when the purpose was not comparison with the ‘black race’.
An unsigned article (most likely by Mändl) from 1968, for instance, mentioned ‘the great Manu’, who commanded a kind of migration, and who ‘everywhere along the path left behind him the less usful parts of the peoples, so that in the end he could shape the origin of Aryan humanity from the remaining élite’. Earlier, in another unsigned article (also likely by Mändl) in 1966, the Nordic nations were described.
‘One finds that the Nordic peoples already
possess an altogether particular body constitution. In ancient times they
maintained, for thousands of years, a kind of “immaculate conception” (the act of procreation took place
during a state of sleep and dream), their blood has remained relatively pure,
and, due to the Nordic location, their higher spiritual bodies are not so
intensely united with their physical bodies as is the case with peoples of the
south. Thus the great artistic talents, thus, too, the important athletic
Some comments on Asian peoples also appeared. In 1962, one of Steiner’s texts was reprinted in Antropos, a text in which he spoke of the differences between ‘the Indian people, which is, within limits, apt for development, and the Chinese people, which is shut off and stunted in growth’. Two years later Max Stibbe wrote in Antropos:
‘Rudolf Steiner indicates that one can only understand the yellow race if one knows that, when it comes to the spiritual, it is comparable to young, pubescent persons. Moreover, these people are extremely cunning, and this insidiousness is expressed in the half-closed eyes.’
No traces of antisemitism can be noted in Antropos. On the contrary, an article in 1967 contained a strong deprecation of antisemitism. It is easy to credit the lack of antisemitism to Mändl, but to all appearances, no special caution was required of him. No antisemitism, or any diminishing statements about Jews, can be found in Steiner, as far as is known. Antisemitism is not a part of the anthroposophical tradition.
‘Love the child in the black man’
Frequently the Antropos articles pointed out that, although black people were childish, for that reason they were not less worthy. Hans Mändl wrote in 1960:
‘We have always regarded the Negroes as “under-developed”. But is it our opinion that childhood is a state of “under-development” in other cases? Does it not have a value in itself? Would not a family or a society without children wither spiritually? Is it possible the Negroes have something to offer our sterile civilization—something more than rhythms enticing the instincts?’
In 1967 he wrote:
‘Naturally, there is no reason to view the coloured races with arrogance. You do not hold the elderly or children in contempt because they do not stand at the present highpoint of the evolution of humanity. Children and the elderly are indispensable for society, they bring to society something specific. Children, for instance, cause an inner moral tension in adults, you are forced to—though, in general, entirely unconsciously—display yourself as a role model to them. You have a considerably larger responsibility toward those who still grow, than toward adult humans. Moreover, humanity is at present beginning to acknowledge a much greater responsibility toward the coloured races, compared to what it did in the past. The different earlier developmental stages of humanity are represented by the couloured races that are preserving them [the stages] for the future, when they—albeit in a transformed shape—will regain interest.’
Attention was often called to a process that would later on lead to the equalization of the ‘races’, a conception which was supported by Steiner. This topic can be found as early as in Mändl's first article from 1959:
‘On both sides, strong “I” forces have to develop, in order that one, on the one hand, will be worthy of this new state of liberty, and on the other hand, learn to acknowledge and respect the awakening “I” in the childish, black human brother too. One would wish for it to be a lesson learned without the master's harsh chastisement. If one learns to understand the black man’s childish character, one will no longer talk reproachfully about him or hold him in contempt. Is childhood less valuable than adulthood? Is it possible to become a man, without having been a child? It will likely be a long time yet, before the racial characteristics are wiped out by the growth of the “I”, and until then one ought to protect and love the child in man—in the black man.’
In the above mentioned article from 1962, about the human races and the stars, it is said:
‘From our time onwards, racial differences will gradually begin to disappear and we can already trace such a process in at least one area of development: the coloured races are now capable of the same culture and consciousness as the white race.’
A battle between blacks and whites
The Antropos articles on ‘races’ were mainly a phenomenon of the 1960’s. Since then, this topic has received little attention in the periodical, though there have been some notable exceptions.
One of those is a Steiner text, a lecture from 1915 in which he spoke about the clashes between white and coloured peoples. The passage about blacks and whites was published in Antropos in 1967. The entire lecture was published in Antropos in 1978.
This text is relatively difficult to read for those who are not familiar with reading Steiner. The message is, however, so remarkable that I want to reproduce the central passages in their entirety, and I urge the reader to take the time to form his or her own opinion of the text. (The [Swedish] translation is the one used in Antropos in 1978).
‘But it was for the sake of bringing down the spiritual impulse that Christ became flesh in a human body. And the characteristic of the mission of white humanity in general is to carry down the spirit, to impregnate the flesh with the spirit. Man has his white skin that the spirit may work in the skin when it descends to the physical plane. The task of our fifth culture-epoch, prepared through the preceding four epochs, is to make the outer physical body a shrine for the spirit. We must acquaint ourselves with those cultural impulses which show the tendency to bring the spirit into the flesh, into everyday matters. When we quite recognise this, then we shall also be clear that where the spirit has still to work as spirit, where in a certain way it has to stay behind in its development—because in our time it should descend into the flesh—where it stays behind, takes a demonic character and does not completely permeate the flesh, there the white skin does not appear. Atavistic forces are present which do not let the spirit come into complete harmony with the flesh.
‘But these things do not enter the world without the most violent struggles. White humanity is still on the way to take the spirit more and more deeply into its own being. Yellow humanity is on the way to conserve that age in which the spirit is held away from the body, is sought purely outside the human physical organisation. This makes it inevitable that the transition from the fifth culture epoch to the sixth will bring about a violent struggle of the white and yellow races in the most varied domains. What precedes these struggles will occupy world-history up to the decisive events of the great contests between the white world and the coloured world. Future events are reflected in manifold ways in the events that precede. We are standing in fact, viewed in the light of spiritual science, before something colossal that must necessarily come about in the future.
‘On the one hand we have a part of mankind with the mission to bring the spirit into physical life, to let the spirit permeate each single thing in physical life. On the other hand we have a part of mankind who are now destined to take over a descending evolution.’
Here it becomes unequivocally evident that Steiner prophesied large and decisive battles between the white and coloured ‘races’. Those battles were not something that could, or should, be avoided, but are predetermined by karmic connections (laws of destiny). In this context the white race had the grandiose mission to carry the spiritual impulse, to make the spiritual penetrate into the material—a crucial task in our epoch, according to anthroposophy. The coloured races had the task of ‘[taking] over a descending evolution.’
Why was this particular message of Steiner’s brought forward 14 years ago within the realms of Swedish anthroposophy? Many occurrences within anthroposophy are unavailable to outsiders; thus I, unfortunately, have no answer to that question.
‘The Negro problem’
The second exception to the recent years’ silence on the ‘racial’ issues is a passage, written in 1983 by Hans Möller, on the subject of history. Möller, who belongs to influential circles within Swedish anthroposophy, is recognized by the readers of Folkvett due to his several communications to us, in which he has defended anthroposophy and its racial teachings. Nine years ago, he wrote this in Antropos:
‘Spritual beings are also subject to the karmic laws and this is why you are able to discern karma in the fate of peoples as well. Is it not harrowing to observe how American men once, out of ruthless covetousness, put Negroes in chains—human beings who were on the developmental level of children—and dragged them out from the natural and free life of the wilderness and brought them to their country to enslave and cruelly exploit them—and now to witness how a people’s karma works: while making large sacrifices and going against its own will, as it were, the American people is now forced to do everything to raise the cultural standard of the enslaved Negroes so that it matches its own level—the only solution to the presently raging Negro problem.’
His sympathy with the enslaved is unmistakable; Steiner’s notion that blacks stood on the developmental level of a child is ‘sympathic’ in the same way.
Steiner’s racial teachings must be understood in the context of the general attitude on ‘race’ issues in the 1920’s. In those days, the perception that different peoples hold different psychological traits, was generally espoused. The assertions in Antropos during the 1960’s have to be assessed in light of the general conception of racial questions, which was by then entirely different. For a long time it had been universally known, and often emphasized in public discussions, that the concept of ‘race’ is grossly misleading. It was also well known that there are no reasons to believe that different peoples or ‘races’ have different psychological characeristics.
In 1950 UNESCO published the influential Statement on Race, wherein the concept of race was rejected as unscientific—for very good reasons. During the second half of the 1950’s, Swedish mass media had reported on the civil rights movement in the United States. In 1960, Per Wästberg’s two books on racial repression in Southern Africa, Förbjudet område [Forbidden territory] and På svarta listan [On the black list], were published. In brief—the prejudicial statements on black people in Antropos in the 1960’s cannot be excused by ‘the spirit of the time’ or by the lack of access to information. To an even lesser extent can anthroposophists be excused for still adhering to the racial tenets of Steiner (though it might be that they are less eager to present them to outsiders these days).
Sven Ove Hansson
 Antropos 6(6):166, 1959.
 See the obituary in Antropos 18(8):205-207, 1972.
 Antropos 6(6):166, 1959.
 Antropos 6(6):166-167, 1959.
 Antropos 6(6):166-167, 1959.
 Antropos 6(6):167, 1959.
 Antropos 6(6):168, 1959.
 Antropos 7(1):5-6, 1960.
 Antropos 7(1):4, 1960.
 Antropos 7(1):4, 1960.
 Antropos 9(6):129, 1962.
 Antropos 9(6):129, 1962.
 Antropos 14(9):246, 1967.
 Antropos 14(9):248, 1967.
 Antropos 14(9):247, 1967.
 Antropos 14(9):243-244, 1967.
 Antropos 14(10):276, 1967.
 Antropos 15(8):199, 1968.
 Antropos 13(1):7, 1966.
 Antropos 9(4):73, 1962.
 Antropos 10(7):137, 1964.
 Antropos 14(1):7-8, 1967.
 Translator’s note: Antisemitism can indeed be found in Steiner’s works. For further references, see, e.g., Peter Staudenmaier’s post on ‘Jewish Waldorf teachers in 1933’ (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/3182), which contain several illustrative quotes from Steiner, or the post on ‘Nationalism and antisemitism’ (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/2828) where he sums up Steiner’s antisemitism: ‘Probably the foremost component in Steiner's antisemitic outlook was the notion that Jewishness is obsolete, an anachronism, a phenomenon that has outlived its time and needs to disappear.’
 Antropos 7(1):7, 1960.
 Antropos 14(9): 235, 1967.
 Antropos 6(6): 169, 1959.
 Antropos 9(6): 130, 1962.
 Antropos 14(9): 233-234, 1967.
 Antropos 24(1): 3ff, 1978.
 Translator’s note: The Steiner passage was quoted in a Swedish translation in Antropos (Antropos 24(1): 10-11, 1978). There is not, as far as I know, any previously published English translation of it. The lecture was given by Rudolf Steiner in Stuttgart on Feb. 13, 1915. It has been published in German in Rudolf Steiner, Der Christus-Impulse als Träger der Vereinigung des Geistigen und Leiblichen, Dornach 1944, and in Rudolf Steiner, Der geistigen Hintergründe des Ersten Weltkrieges, Dornach 1974 (GA 174b). The English translation (entitled ‘The Christ-Impulse as Bearer of the Union of the Spiritual and the Bodily’) that has been used here, has been in circulation among anthroposophists, and was explicitly designated for the members of the Anthroposophical Society. Although it is not dated, it likely predates the 1974 German edition of the text. The translator is named as M. Cotterell. Information, and a fuller quote, can be found here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/3350, where Peter Staudenmaier, who was helpful in retrieving the entire passage for me, explains the background of it.
 See note 30.
 Antropos February 1983, p. 25.