The Challenge of Rudolf Steiner

The veteran documentary filmmaker, Jonathan Stedall, made this documentary to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Steiner's birth; and, it is an accomplished introduction to the life, work and, most importantly, the influence of this undoubtedly remarkable man.

Wisely perhaps Jonathan begins with Steiner's influence on the practical - on bio-dynamic agriculture; communities for the learning disabled and education - rather than the philosophical and esoteric indeed the completely esoteric  - the evolution and destruction of civilizations read from the Akashic record, for example, are not mentioned at all - except possibly very allusively. This is probably wise because in spite of the happy support of respectable talking head academics, this aspect of Steiner's oeuvre is hard to swallow - even when you are not schooled in the harder lines of contemporary materialism!

We visit many examples of Steiner inspired community efforts to create a better, more lively, healthier world in India as well as Europe and the United States; much of which is quietly impressive.  Testifying to the benefits of a wholistic, slower, more listening approach to the complexities of the world and the human person. Personally I can only testify that the people that I have met that have passed through a Waldorf Education have universally struck me as balanced, emotionally mature and creative adults - and everyone encountered in the communities here, on the film, convey a welcoming impression of thoughtfulness, care and engagement, as spiritually inspired, wanting to fashion a better, more sustainable world.

What would make it better, I think, is a harder look at 'results'; however, shy we might be about reducing the world to the quantitative, quantity does matter. For example, if you are farming, as well as the care for both animal and plant incorporated in bio-dynamic farming and sustainability, you cannot help being interested in yields. After all, the world needs to be fed. And even if one is talking of qualitative outcome, what 'success' looks like could have been better delineated or shown. And, many of Steiner's insights, do stand up to mainstream perspectives - the importance of play in early childhood and starting on literary/numeracy 'late' (at 7), for example, or the real benefits to farm and countryside of richly mixed agriculture.

So too, perhaps, a more open grappling with some of the more persistent criticisms of Steiner - evidence of health outcomes for example, or some of the ways in which Steiner's notion of karma has been used in relation to the disabled; and too, Steiner's too easy ability to talk in racial stereotype. All, I think, may be addressable, credibly, if not for every body, but occasionally the film strikes you as a little too polite, too un-searching.

Nevertheless, and on balance, if one of the criteria's of a 'mystic' (whose personal life certainly appears to be borderline saintly) is you shall know them by their fruits, many of Steiner's are (quite literally in the case of the high praise reaped by bio-dynamic wine) deeply fine (though I am yet to be persuaded of the pervasive use of ethereal pastel shades in every form of decoration)! And, this film is a fine testimony to his on-going relevance; and, indeed, challenge.


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