Anthroposophist Spiritual Racism: Uehli

by Peter Staudenmaier

Building on Steiner’s work, anthroposophists have made significant contributions to the unfortunate tradition of spiritual racism. One of the most important examples is Ernst Uehli (1875-1959), a Swiss theosophist and anthroposophist and student of Steiner from 1905 onward.

Uehli was one of the foremost figures in the first generation of anthroposophists. He was the founding editor (appointed by Steiner personally) of the anthroposophist periodicals Die Drei and Anthroposophie, the premier German anthroposophical publications of the 1920s and 1930s; he was a prominent leader of the ‘social threefolding’ movement; and he taught at the original Waldorf school from 1924 to 1937. Steiner considered him one of the leading personalities in the entire anthroposophical movement, on the same level as Marie Steiner and Albert Steffen, and he was one of the most prominent anthroposophist authors and public speakers in the final years of Steiner’s life, as well as one of the three members of the Central Council of the German Anthroposophical Society in the 1920s. At the original Waldorf school he taught religion, literature, German, and history, and according to anthroposophist accounts he profoundly shaped the curriculum and pedagogical practice. (Those interested can consult Gisbert Husemann and Johannes Tautz, Der Lehrerkreis um Rudolf Steiner in der ersten Waldorfschule 1919-1925, Stuttgart 1977, 227-240, and Hans Reichert and Jakob Hugentobler, Ernst Uehli: Leben und Gestaltung, Bern 1945, among others.)

Uehli’s work continues to play a role in Waldorf contexts today; a heavily abridged English translation of one of the books discussed below is published and distributed by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America under the tile Norse Mythology and the Modern Human Being. It is one of the recommended “Waldorf curriculum guides” on “history, myth, culture” and was part of the original Waldorf curriculum program as well. The role of Uehli’s works in the officially recommended curriculum for German Waldorf teachers sparked a public scandal twelve years ago, when the German government examined the works’ racist content. The excerpts below will give a sense of the concerns.

Though his main point of reference was Steiner, Uehli’s racial publications were also influenced by the works of Edouard Schure and Annie Besant. His 1921 book on the the mystery of the Holy Grail (Ernst Uehli, Eine neue Gralsuche, Stuttgart: Der Kommende Tag, 1921), written in personal consultation with Steiner, focuses on “Aryan” and “Nordic-Germanic” themes while contrasting Germans and Jews. According to Uehli, the Jews are the only people who refuse the present evolutionary trend and do not strive toward Universal Humanity. (141) This, says Uehli, explains the “rage of the Jews against Christ.” (147)

In 1926 Uehli published a lengthy anthroposophist book on Nordic-Germanic mythology: Ernst Uehli, Nordisch-Germanische Mythologie als Mysteriengeschichte (Basel: Geering, 1926), dedicating the book to Steiner. It was re-published in 1965 and again in 1984 by anthroposophist publishing houses. Amidst long passages about Thule and Atlantis and proclamations about the deep connection between “language and blood,” Uehli’s book underscores the evolutionary differences between “the southern and northern peoples, the Semitic and Aryan peoples.” (139)

Celebrating the special qualities of the northern “Aryan peoples,” Uehli emphasizes “the blood of the Germanic peoples” which rendered them uniquely close to nature. (110) Uehli also claims that the spiritual mission of the Jews was completed two millennia ago. While “the early Germans were a people of nature,” he explains, “the Jews succumbed to Ahriman and could not recognize Christ in the flesh.” (142) Uehli further announces that “certain primitive peoples that are currently dying out” are “the decadent remnants of the Hyperboreans.” (129) In contrast, the “Aryan race” consists of “the most gifted and the most evolutionarily capable people.” (39)

Uehli’s 1936 book on Atlantis, published in Nazi Germany, highlights the spiritual facets of race and the divinely ordained nature of racial evolution: Ernst Uehli, Atlantis und das Rätsel der Eiszeitkunst: Versuch einer Mysteriengeschichte der Urzeit Europas (Stuttgart: Hoffmann, 1936). The book was republished in 1957 and again in 1980. It recounts a racial-spiritual selection process overseen by divine beings, beginning in Atlantis and continuing through subsequent stages of racial evolution, based closely on Steiner’s model. Uehli cites Steiner’s racial works throughout the book.

Offering a cosmic explanation for racial differences, Uehli emphasizes that the origin of race lies in the spiritual realm and is expressed in the physical realm. The leading protagonist in this unfolding racial drama is the “Aryan race,” whose members were carefully selected by their cosmically appointed guide. A sharp contrast between racial groups with exceptional biological and spiritual traits, like the specially advanced Aryans, and the large mass of people who do not share these superior traits, runs throughout the text. This fundamental contrast is coupled with the distinction between racial and ethnic groups that “lead” and those that “follow” and the divergence between “more advanced” groups and those that have failed to evolve. (see e.g. 100-02, 114-16)

Following Steiner’s model, Uehli held that while other races had devolved and were incapable of further progress, the “Aryan race” or the “Caucasian race” continued to evolve higher. The “red race” of the “American Indians” is “incapable of further evolution” and thus “dying out.” The “black race” is “unable to develop further,” hence its physiological and spiritual “symptoms of racial decline.” (66) In contrast, “the Aryan race, and with it the Germanic peoples, were born from spiritual foundations,” the basis of the “mission of the Germanic peoples in the cultural development of Europe.” (77) These racial characteristics are based on “cosmically anchored laws of evolution.” (66)

Uehli’s book received a warm welcome in the anthroposophist press, and his Aryan arguments re-appeared in a number of his other works: cf. Wolfgang Moldenhauer, “Ernst Uehlis Atlantis-Arbeit” Das Goetheanum August 9, 1936, 252-54; Ernst Uehli, Kultur und Kunst Ägyptens: Ein Isisgeheimnis (Dornach: Philosophisch-Anthroposophischer Verlag, 1955); Uehli, “Die heilige Urschrift der Menschheit” Das Goetheanum July 16, 1933, 226-29; Uehli, “Ein Beitrag zu den Mysterien des Zeichens” Das Goetheanum July 23, 1933, 233-35; Uehli, “Eiszeitkunst II” Das Goetheanum, November 12, 1933, 363. Similar claims could be found in anthroposophist journals as late as 1943: see e.g. Ernst Uehli, “Kosmologische Betrachtungen” Das Goetheanum, May 23, 1943, 165.

Uehli was by no means alone in these views. Subsequent posts will provide additional material from a variety of other anthroposophist authors.