Hegel, John Dewey, Wagner, and Steiner

Posted May 1, 2011
Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle operas show the struggle for freedom and higher consciousness which humanity has had to endure throughout history. The operas were created at a time when the philosopher Hegel’s belief that humanity was meant to be subservient to the state dominated German culture. Freedom, according to Hegel, could only be achieved by serving the state.

It may seem trivial for people living in the United States today to question Hegelian philosophy and whether we are here to serve the government or the government here to serve us; however, Hegelian philosophy is alive and well in the United States and issues that effect us all in our daily lives are at stake. Should the educational system be directed at developing a child’s talents or should it be primarily concerned with fitting the child into a predetermined role? Should corporations have equal or superior rights to those of individuals? To what extent should the United States’ Patriot Act be allowed to restrict individual freedom. The list goes on.

Wagner’s opera Twilight of the Gods addresses the issue of a government under the influence of Hegelian leadership. It does so in a mythological setting through the use of allegory.

Siegfried, the protagonist, is manipulated into enthusiastically serving the state, Hegelian style. Unbeknownst to him, the state is under the control of sinister forces. There is a conspiracy to embezzle Siegfried’s power. This conspiracy is led by Alberich, who reigns in the lower spiritual world, and includes Hagen, Alberich’s son and agent on the physical plane; King Gunther; and the King’s sister, Gutrune, as coconspirators. The king and his sister realize something is wrong but their selfish motives take precedence and they go along with Alberich’s scheme.

Lacking in self confidence, Gunther and Gutrune look to Hagen for guidance. Hagen, convinces Gutrune to give Siegfried a magic potion which will make Siegfried forget his relationship with Brunnhilde, his higher, spiritual self. Under the spell of the magic potion Siegfried forcibly kidnaps Brunnhilde and gives her to Gunther so that they can be married. The plan then calls for Gutrune to marry Siegfried. The goal of this Hegelian conspiracy is for Alberich to acquire Siegfried’s ring, so as to give him rulership over the entire world and with all people his slaves.

Hegel realized thinking was a higher form of consciousness than feeling. Feelings were individual, thoughts were universal, although thoughts differ in the degree of their perfection. Hegel asked the question, what is the highest level which we can raise thinking up to? His answer was the state since it was the ultimate meeting of the thoughts of individuals. It was through this, the highest form of thinking (the national or state government) that God expresses Himself on earth.

In the Hegelian system the individualized person is only a member of the state. Therefore, it is the duty of each person to obediently subordinate him or herself to the state. Hegel believed servitude to the state was the only way a person could find freedom because it was the only way a person could express his or her essential nature.(1)

Wagner had a much loftier view of human dignity and did not buy into this belief of Hegel’s. Wagner set out to make a somewhat sublime but, nevertheless, powerful allegory to expose the motives and dangers of governmental leaders who took advantage of this Hegelian philosophy to manipulate the masses. Wagner even named the antagonist in Twilight of the Gods Hagen – almost certainly a play on words to connect Hegel and Hagen.

Hegelian Philosophy through the Present
Hegelian philosophy gave many people a purposes in life which had been missing. For some it gave the opportunity to be an elitist who had not only the right, but the duty to impose their will on less enlightened individuals. At a time when Abraham Lincoln was talking about a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, much of Europe was caught up in Hegelian philosophy.

In spite of Lincoln‘s ideals, there was a very successful clandestine movement to incorporate Hegel’s ideas into the government and culture of the United States. This was done primarily through a secret organization called the Order of Skull and Bones which is believed to have been a chapter of a German secret society. Fifteen seniors were selected each year at Yale University to be groomed for post-graduate activities in society. Their numbers may have been small but their impact was immense. To begin with, one of the cofounders of the Order was Alphonso Taft. He would go on to become the Secretary of War as well as the father of William Howard Taft, who would become both the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and President of the United States.(2) To list all the rest who became significant members of government and other cultural institutions is beyond the scope of this article but it overwhelmingly defies the law of averages.

The field of education can be used as one example of how the Order infiltrates culture. In the 1850s when Wagner was working on The Ring three members of Skull and Bones went to Germany to study Hegelian philosophy at the University of Berlin. One of these was Daniel Coit Gilman who would later become the first president of the Carnegie Institution, first president at the University of California, and first president at Johns Hopkins University. As president of Johns Hopkins University Gilman was instrumental in hiring George Sylvester Morris. Morris was not a member of Skull and Bones but had studied at the University of Berlin under the same Hegelian teachers as Gilman.

Gilman also hired G. Stanley Hall as head professor of psychology and pedagogy at Johns Hopkins. Hall was surprised at his new appointment and could only attribute it to his Hegelian ideals. He was not a member of Skull and Bones but he did receive money for his University of Berlin education from a member of the Sage family, which had close ties to Skull and Bones. During his six years in Germany he was in close contact with the leading Hegelians of his time including Eduard Von Hartmann (whose reasoning Steiner refutes in his book Philosophy of Freedom) and Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt, professor of philosophy at the University of Leipzig, who had a tremendous influence on the American educational and psychological movements.

Wundt believed consciousness was limited to a person’s experiences in life and that free will did not exist. People were similar to animals and since they need guidance, they could and should be programmed as animals to fit into Hegelian ideas of what society should be. Wundt took Hegelian philosophy to new lows. The facts that Gilman, Morris, and Hall, were trained abroad by the same teachers and then became staff members at Johns Hopkins, at the time a small university which was subsidized with money from Skull and Bones sources, leaves little doubt of the impact Hegelian/Wundt philosophy had to have there.

John Dewey
John Dewey (1859-1952) is credited with being “the arch creator of modern educational theory” in the United States.(3) Dewey was not a member of the Skull and Bones but he clearly was one of their cronies. He was one of the first recipients of a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. Dewey studied there under the Hegelian George Sylvester Morris who was mentioned above. Dewey went on to implement Wundt’s and Hall’s experimental psychology to his own ideas of education to mold the child for social change.

The above information is based mainly on Antony Sutton’s book America’s Secret Establishment but when I started to use other sources to investigate John Dewey I got some surprises. Dewey is revered today by many who are familiar with him. He led the movement to treat each child as an individual, based on his or her genetics and past experiences. This was in response to the existing pedagogy of the time of drilling information into the minds of the students.

Under Dewey’s system the student would be taught how to use his or her knowledge for daily living. I had been of the impression that Dewey had been trying to take away the individuality of each student, Hegelian style, so as to make him or her easier to control. But Dewey clearly advocated bringing out their individuality. I wish I had some of this when I went to school in the mid twentieth century. And applying lessons to daily life – what a great idea! What, I asked myself, was Sutton making all the fuss about? However, Dewey had such a strong connection to Hegelian/Wundt ideology that I had to give this more serious thought.

What I came up with was Dewey did not appear to be an evil monster. Movies on You-tube show him interacting with children. He seemed to sincerely like them and they him. This is a big part of the problem. Dewey believed very strongly that he was right – he was on a crusade. But along with Hegel and Wundt and their followers, he assumed people were not free; their thoughts and actions were solely determined by their past experiences. They were automatons conditioned only by these experiences and their genetics. They needed intense guidance to serve god, i.e. the state. In other words they should be trained or coerced, into serving a higher power in a manner determined by Hegelian/Wundt elitists.

Being a product of only past experiences and genetics preempted freewill. Wundt’s experimental psychology convinced the Hegelian elitists of that. They do not consider the child to be unique with special potentialities to be developed. People, in this case children, do not have the will power to override the conditioning they received through past experiences. Wundt’s techniques, however, could be used to keep them in line.

Applying lessons to the art of living sounds great. After all, we do have to live in society. But aren’t children supposed to be prepared for the future by helping them bring out their unique talents and interests? Developing a child’s individuality is not only a fine ideal, it is really common sense. And yes, the process should take into account past experiences and genetics. However, to assume a child’s soul is limited to past experiences and genetics is to deny that the child is special.

Dewey did instill into American education the Hegelian/Wundt ideals and system. His position was quite clear. He said “education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.”(4) To a follower of Hegel and Wundt a process of living means being fitting into their version of what society should be, at the present time, without making waves. According to them the purpose of education is not to prepare students for the future, it is to put them into a mold at the present time. Dewey’s influence is powerful today, in many ways stronger than it was during his lifetime.

Dewey’s influence continues to reign in the United States school system. But he was not the only proponent of Hegelian/Wundt ideas. It was previously mentioned that G. Stanley Hall was one of seven Americans who studied under Wundt and that only one of them was critical of Wundt. By 1948 the other six, including Hall, went on to grant 1219 doctorates in educational psychology and experimental psychology in the United States and they went in to further shape the educational ideals of this country teachers and psychologists.

Every so often a follower of the Hegelian/Wundt philosophy, like Dewey, comes up with new methods of teaching reading. The new reading systems seldom work, but they keep on trying. Conspiracy theorists call this the dumbing down of America. The goal, according to these theorists, is to make people fit into one mold which makes them easy to control.

Other Skull and Bones members have played key roles in nearly all other branches of culture in the United States from economics to medicine to religion to law to history to communication, etc. Sometimes they have just managed to have their members placed in influential positions within professional organizations; at other times they have run them from the start, i.e., Cornell University, John Hopkins University, The University of California, The Carnegie Institution, while at other times they actually founded these organizations, i.e. The American Historical Association, the American Economic Association, the American Chemical Association, the American Psychological Association, Time-Life magazine, National Review, and the list goes on. Antony Sutton gives plenty of names and other details which believers and skeptics alike can investigate in his book America’s Secret Establishment. The bottom line is that the Skull and Bones people have spread their value system throughout our culture. Maybe we should pay a lot of attention to Wagner’s message in Twilight of the Gods.

Rudolf Steiner
Why did Rudolf Steiner hold G.W.F. Hegel in such high esteem? Their values regarding the significance and purpose of human life on earth were completely opposite.

The evolution of consciousness moves ahead one step at a time. Hegel took philosophy in general and thinking in particular to new heights, but he could only take it so far before he hit a wall. That wall was the boundary between the physical world and the spiritual world. He could not bridge it. The best he could do was to bring god down into the realm of the state.

Just as in Wagner’s operas Siegfried does not deserve to be blamed because he reached a plateau he could not surmount, Hegel doesn’t deserve to be blamed either. To condemn Hegel for shortsightedness would be akin to blaming Henry Ford because his first Model T would not be able to win the Indianapolis 500. The evolution of consciousness takes time and no single individual can take it from start to finish. Not until the end of the eighteenth century would Hegel’s accomplishments regarding thinking be improved upon. Steiner was the one who finally surmounted the bridge between worlds using strictly logic, nothing occult or esoteric. His findings can be found in his book The Philosophy of Freedom, sometimes referred to as The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity.

Hegel had definite ideas about life and thinking. But as was previously discussed, his followers, particularly Wundt, took his ideas to extremes. Now let’s look at Steiner’s ideas. Steiner held the view that people are not created birth. Birth is when people enter the physical world. But those who believe in reincarnation believe people go through many incarnations and excarnations on earth. Reincarnation was the accepted belief until the Catholic Church made it anathema to believe the human being consisted of body, soul, and spirit. The eighth Ecumenical Council in 879 CE, by one vote, decreed the human being consisted only of body and soul. This meant people did not have a divine or spiritual aspect; conception and birth were physical events that marked the beginning of a human life.

With what the Bible calls the ‘fall’ we gradually ‘fell’ from the oneness of the spiritual world into the materialistic world of bits and pieces. The fact of the matter is that we could not keep up with the higher spirits and would have been destroyed in the heat of their world if we had not fallen. However, by experiencing the material or physical world we accomplished things that could not be done in the higher spiritual world. In the physical realm we see sharp boundaries between objects which is difficult at best in the spiritual world because sharp boundaries do not exist there as they do on earth. As a result on earth we can develop our individual egos and uniqueness as well as the ability to reason. The object is to raise ourselves up over a long period of time to become spirits of freedom and love, neither of which previously existed in the spiritual world. The higher spirits help us by impelling us forward, they cannot compel us. Once we start to develop a free will we have to do the work.

This brings us to the essence of the problem. Many of the cultural leaders of Wagner’s time agreed with Hegel’s beliefs. From the perspective of evolution this was somewhat inevitable. Steiner taught that Michael, formerly known as Michael the Archangel, now an archai, one angelic level higher than archangel, is one of seven time spirits which take turns of approximately 350 years guiding humanity. Each one has a special agenda. Michael’s task is to help us to develop cosmic consciousness. His previous term was at the time of the Greek philosophers, when people first developed intellectual, analytical consciousness. Before this the highest form of consciousness was feelings. The Greek philosophers used thinking exclusively to understand the spiritual world. A review of their works will substantiate this. Not until Aristotle was thinking used to understand the physical world. Michaels turn ended at the time of Aristotle.

After Aristotle, until Michael’s next turn, consciousness would be limited to the physical world. There would be few exceptions to this such as the thirteenth century scholastics Alburtus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas whose work was limited by the Inquisition, later materialized by Arab translators, and ignored by Europeans who were gearing up for the materialism of the Renaissance. Humanity had a hard time disassociating from the spiritual world but it was imperative that they do so in order to develop individual egos. Using thinking to understand the physical world only enabled this this to occur. Once individuality was established the next step would be to unite the bits and pieces of the physical world, which is really a return to the oneness of the spiritual world.

Michael returned as ruling Time Spirit in 1879 according to Steiner. Without his help humanity was too firmly entrenched in materialism to raise thinking up to the level of the spiritual world. Before this time neither the philosophers or others could understand the spiritual world. They could believe it existed, they could feel its presence, they could have mystical experiences which would be remembered as dreams are – but understand it, no!

Two decades after Michael’s present reign began Rudolf Steiner published his book Philosophy of Freedom. The bridge into the spiritual world had been crossed in full consciousness. Steiner recognized Hegel as a vital participant in the struggle to raise thinking up to the spiritual level. He did not have Michael’s help, at least not to the extent it would be available after 1879, so he was unable to take the concept of higher thought any higher than that of the government.

Hegel’s Followers
What Hegel and his followers did is typical of those who cannot rise up to spiritual levels. They take principles which are valid for the higher worlds and apply them exclusively to the physical world. These principles applied only to the physical realm work against the proper evolution of consciousness. They become regressive and work against freedom. Hegel acted in good faith. Dewey acted in good faith. But there is a saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Then there are those who act out of a lust for power, control of others, and a method of satisfying other lower passions. I am not going to judge Wundt’s motives, but his work degraded the dignity of the human spirit.

In hindsight, Wundt was partially right. A person whose consciousness is dominated by feelings can be manipulated. Just make the pain greater than the rewards and that person will go for the easy way out. The intellect can override this, with help form the will. Wundt, and his followers assumed humanity could not rise above the level of feelings which resulted from input of the physical senses. It should now be clear that this is not the case, Humanity is not locked into a static state of lower consciousness. It is evolving to higher levels of consciousness where true freedom can be found. Wagner knew that. Followers of Hegel and Wundt strive to put or keep the masses in lower states of consciousness. Let’s recognize this for what it is.

This article may be reproduced in full or in part, as long as credit is given to the author as follows:
George Hastings is the author of Richard Wagner, Rudolf Steiner, and Allegories of the Ring: From the Mundane to the Esoteric. Bennett & Hastings Publishing, Seattle, 2011, http://www.AllegoriesoftheRing.com.

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