The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

The Appropriation of Theosophical/Anthroposophical Concepts by Ernst Bloch and Leo Löwenthal

The lecture is dedicated to jewish answers to the occultist doctrine of Rudolf Steiner: "Anthroposophy". The fact that Siegfried Kracauer gave a lecture on Anthroposophy at Franz Rosenzweig’s Free House of Jewish Study in Frankfurt in 1921 gives an indication of the Jewish interest in the topic. Kracauer offered a polemical dissection of Steiner’s ideas, characterizing him (citing Goethe) as a demonic will-o’-the-wisp. By contrast, Kracauer’s friend Leo Löwenthal was drawn in precisely by what Kracauer decried as demonic. In his first published text, Löwenthal presented a seven-step path of initiation that would facilitate the purification of the demonic, ultimately rendering knowledge of the “Messianic light”. While dismissing theosophy proper, Löwenthal’s text displayed a clear affinity, both in form and content, to Steiner’s scheme. Ernst Bloch (whom Löwenthal cited in his text) went even further. In the first edition of Spirit of Utopia (1918), he developed a unique Marxist variant of Steiner’s scheme of cultural revolution and reincarnation, appropriating Steiner’s septidimensional anthropology and translating it into a taxonomy of Messianic anticipation. Bloch also drew attention to the parallels between phenomenology and Steiner’s epistemology that have provided the point of departure for a range of anthroposophical philosophers since. The “purified esoteric doctrine” Bloch envisaged was predicated on the recovery of individual theosophical-Anthroposophical tenets as supposedly integral to a kind of philosophia perennis, yet he concurrently mocked Steiner for some of his other doctrines (such as the “root races”). The more profound his dependence on its substance, the more forcefully he dismissed it at a superficial level. Löwenthal’s and Bloch’s implicit reception of Anthroposophy gives an indication of the extent to which, even in his lifetime, Steiner’s reach extended well beyond the Anthroposophical Society and its immediate supporters.