Why is Rudolf Steiner relatively unknown?

Willi Brandt (who won the Nobel Peace Prize, and knew whereof he spoke) credits Rudolf Steiner with having made the greatest contribution to world peace of the twentieth century. The long-time editor of The Nation, Victor Navasky, described him in his memoir of 2005 as “light-years ahead of the curve,” and others such as Joseph Beuys have found in Steiner’s deep insights into human nature the possibility of a thoroughgoing renewal of culture. Owen Barfield argued that Steiner is perhaps the key thinker of modern times, and abandons his usual British reserve to assert: “By comparison, not only with his contemporaries but with the general history of the Western mind, his stature is almost too excessive to be borne.” Those of us fortunate enough to have discovered Rudolf Steiner understand that our seemingly hyperbolic assessments will elicit skepticism. If Rudolf Steiner was really such a towering genius, how can he remain widely unknown nearly a century after his death?

It has happened before. Aristotle was lost to the West for a millennium. The Catholic Church placed Thomas Aquinas on its Index of proscribed writings for half a century after his death. By the early nineteenth century, J. S. Bach’s greatness needed to be rediscovered and reasserted by Mendelssohn. Van Gogh sold one painting during his lifetime. In retrospect, we shake our heads and wonder how such neglect can have happened. Yet it did. And in the same way, future generations will shake their heads and wonder at us.

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