Der Doktor Hat (Nicht?) Gesagt

Posted December 10, 2012

One of statements most often attributed to Rudolf Steiner turns out to have a surprising origin and history. The investigative sleuth for Center & Periphery reports his findings.

Marie Steiner von Sivers (1867 - 1948)

How often one finds in a Waldorf school brochure or flyer this celebrated sentence:

“Our highest endeavour must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives.”

In response to a recent question, we took on the task of tracking down the original German formulation of this statement. An Internet search established that this quote comes from A Modern Art of Education, the title given to a translated cycle of lectures that Rudolf Steiner gave between the 5th and 17th of August, 1923 in the small Yorkshire town of Ilkley in the far northeast of England.

In the course of his life, Steiner made ten visits to England, and although he understood (and could even speak) English, he opted to deliver these lectures at Ilkley––as he did on other occasions––in his native Austrian, with George Adams then freely rendering them into English. Under the terms agreed by these two men, Steiner would speak for 40 minutes to an hour and Adams would then summarize Steiner’s remarks in roughly half that time.

The first published edition of these lectures in English appeared five years later and was subsequently twice revised and expanded. In German the lectures were published as No. 307 in Steiner’s complete edition under the title Gegenwaertiges Geistesleben und Erziehung (“The Spiritual Life of the Present and Education”).

The famous quote in question appears on the final page of what turns out to be a foreword to the English edition. At the bottom of the page the author of this foreword is identified as “Marie Steiner”. Based on this evidence, it would appear that the quote attributed to Rudolf Steiner actually comes from the pen of his wife. 

The story is further complicated by the fact that the collection of these lectures in their original German contains no foreword at all, leaving open the question whether Marie Steiner wrote this foreword exclusively for the English edition, and if so, in which language she drafted it.

Whatever the original language of this passage, the upshot of this research is that Marie Steiner (who, as it happens, was in attendance at her husband’s lectures in Ilkley) is the author of one of the most popular formulations of the mission of Waldorf education: “Our highest endeavour must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives.”

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