Doctor Steiner now embarked upon intensive lecturing activity and traveled widely. The stenographic record of over 6,000 of his lectures, and his thirty or so monographs, bear impressive witness to that work.
In 1913, Steiner parted company with Annie Besant, above all because of their conceptual differences in regard to the esoteric interpretation of the life of Jesus Christ. With the majority of his German followers, he went on to found the Anthroposophical Society. The Goetheanum at Dornach near Basel (Switzerland), the architecture of which was designed by Steiner himself, remains the center of the society today. As the charismatic founder of a philosophical community that was entirely focused on his own personality, Steiner gave countless courses and lectures throughout Europe, setting out his program for spiritual reform of life in the areas of art, education, politics, economics, medicine, agriculture, and the Christian religion.
The revolutionary mood in a defeated Germany in the 1918 and 1919 brought Steiner the opportunity to try out his ideas on education in a new school. On 7 September 1919, he ceremonially opened the first Free Waldorf School as a combined co-educational primary and secondary school for 256 children drawn mainly from the families of workers at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart (Germany). Steiner’s educational reform must be seen against the background of the radical, political utopia of a tripartite structure of the social body proclaimed by him at the time. The spontaneous foundation of new educational establishments (kindergarten schools and colleges), each with its own autonomous constitution, and the co- operative organization of business ventures, was intended to distinguish between appropriate forms of governance in the three areas of the cultural life, economic activity, and political administration.
Steiner’s political program of a free spiritual life and associative economic activity failed. On the other hand, his school became a success. When he died on 30 March 1925 in Dornach, while still working on his autobiography, the first Waldorf pupils were about to take their school-leaving examinations.
The central theme of Steiner’s work is the inner perception of the spiritual world and the spiritualization of every area of human activity. As early as the age of nineteen, Steiner suffered from the demystification of the world brought about by economic progress, technology, natural science and critical philosophy. In the innermost depths of his being, he still perceived the certainty of a spiritual universe that had been current in earlier days. At the outset of his studies, supposedly of natural science, he wrote to a friend:
Last year my endeavor was to find out whether Schelling’s words are true—namely that a marvelous hidden power resides in each one of us enabling us to withdraw from the turmoil of the immediate present into our innermost self and to observe the eternal within us in its immutable manifestation. I believed, and still do believe, that I have certainly discovered that innermost power within myself. Long ago, I had already suspected this to be the case.5
In his pre-theosophical writings, Steiner attempts to justify this mystic solitary experience by the theory of cognition, in deliberate opposition to the critical attitude of Kant that led to the limitation of objective experience. Instead, he starts out from the premise that everything necessary to explain the world is accessible to human thought beyond the boundaries of cognition drawn by Kant. Steiner believes thought manifested in ideas is the essence of the universe. A deliberate effort of cognition results in constant progression closer to the foundation of the world. Spiritual being is an emanation of an organism of the world. Human thought is its highest and most perfect manifestation. Eternal ideas are exteriorized through thought. Through intellectual perception man is able to experience ideas directly and therefore become selflessly reunited with the foundation of the universe. The cognitive theory of the young Steiner is at one and the same time an ontology and a cosmogony—a regression to the pre-modern naive movement of universal realism. Its aim is to show man his task and position in the universe through a process of self-reflection and to ensure that through the thought process [...] man is able to achieve something which he once owed to a belief in revelation, namely the satisfaction of the mind. 6
The reintroduction of an objective and idealistic world-view also explains Steiner’s interest in the natural research conducted by Goethe. In contrast to experimental natural science based on causal analysis,