Werner Hans Erhard (born John Paul Rosenberg) authored transformational models and applications oriented towards individuals, groups, and organizations.
The general public associates his name primarily with the programs he created:
Erhard's programs were offered to the public through the organizations:
In 1991, about the time of his retirement from WEA, Erhard sold his then-existing intellectual properties to the group that formed Landmark Education. He then left the United States.
Erhard, along with John Denver, Robert W. Fuller, and others, founded The Hunger Project in 1977.
Werner Erhard is considered by many to be a cultural icon of the 1970’s. Millions of people have been influenced by Erhard’s work through direct participation or the cultural change that occurred as a result of people participating in his transformational programs. Erhard’s seminars received much attention both vituperative and unfounded. Thought leaders throughout the world, such as Peter Block, Warren Bennis, and Michael Jensen, as well as celebrities such as John Denver, Raul Julia, and Diana Ross, spoke highly of Erhard. As noted in Sports Illustrated, Tiger Woods' father said "What I learned through est was that by doing more for myself, I could do much more for others. Which is where Tiger comes in. What I learned led me to give so much time to Tiger, and to give him the space to be himself, and not to smother him with dos and don'ts. I took out the authority aspect and turned it into companionship. I made myself vulnerable as a parent. When you have to earn respect from your child, rather than demanding it because it's owed to you as the father, miracles happen. I realized that, through him, the giving could take a quantum leap. What I could do on a limited scale, he could do on a global scale. Over the years, Werner Erhard’s philosophy has been cited in helping to promote a multi-billion-dollar personal growth industry based on Erhard's original concepts.
Early life (1935-1971)
John Paul Rosenberg graduated from Norristown High School, Norristown, Pennsylvania
, in June 1953, along with his future wife Patricia Fry.
Rosenberg married Fry on 26 September 1953
and they had four children together. He left Fry and their children in Philadelphia (1960), traveled west with June Bryde, and changed his name to "Werner Hans Erhard". Rosenberg chose his new name from Esquire
magazine articles he read about then West German
economics minister Ludwig Erhard
and the philosopher and physicist Werner Heisenberg
. June Bryde changed her name to "Ellen Virginia Erhard". The newly-renamed Erhards moved to St. Louis
In (1961), Erhard sold correspondence courses
in the Midwest, then drove to California
to seek a better territory, and eventually moved to Spokane, Washington
. After a few months, he took a job with Encyclopædia Britannica
's "Great Books"
program, and was soon promoted to area training-manager. In January 1962 Erhard switched to the Parent's Magazine Cultural Institute, a child-development materials division of Parents Magazine
. In the late summer of 1962 he won promotion to the position of territorial manager for California, Nevada
, and Arizona
, and moved to San Francisco
; and in the spring of 1963 to Los Angeles.
In January 1964, "Parents" promoted Erhard and transferred him to Arlington, Virginia
as a southeast manager.In August 1964, Erhard resigned his position in Arlington over a dispute with the company president and returned to his previous position in San Francisco.
Erhard and his second wife moved into an apartment in Sausalito
and had a second daughter, Adair, on December 27
, 1964. Erhard began a close friendship with Alan Watts
. In the next few years, Erhard brought on-staff at "Parents" many people who would become important in est
, including Elaine Cronin, Gonneke Spits and Laurel Scheaf. In 1967 Erhard was promoted to vice president.
In California in the 1960s Erhard engaged in a wide variety of spiritual
, New Age
Tipton wrote: 'Erhard calls Zen Buddhism the “essential” one of all the disciplines that he has studied. and 'Various observers of est have traced its ideas to Zen, Vedanta, and Christian Perfectionism; behaviorist determinism, Freud, Maslow, Rogers, and Perls; Korzybski's General Semantics, Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking, Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich, and the self-image psychology of Maxwell Maltz's Psycho-Cybernetics. Its methods have been traced to hypnosis, autosuggestion, revivalism, psychodrama, encounter, Gestalt therapy and behavior modification; Subud and yoga; military, monastic, and penal institutions, sales and business motivation courses.
Bartley noted in his biography of Erhard that in addition to Zen Buddhism, Dale Carnegie courses, Maxwell Maltz's Psycho-Cybernetics, Fritz Perls' Gestalt therapy, Abraham Maslow's transpersonal psychology, Scientology, and Subud, were among other psychological and spiritual influences.
In 1963 Erhard took part in Esalen seminars, becoming involved with encounter groups.
In 1967 he completed a Dale Carnegie course in sales and further courses in Gestalt therapy and in transactional analysis.
In William Bartley's biography, Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man, the Founding of est
(1978), Erhard describes these explorations. Bartley quotes Erhard as acknowledging Zen
as the essential contribution that "created the space for" est Bartley details Erhard's connections with Zen beginning with his extensive studies with Alan Watts
in the mid 1960s Bartley quotes Erhard as acknowledging:
Of all the disciplines that I studied, practiced, learned, Zen was the essential one. It was not so much an influence on me, rather it created space. It allowed those things that were there to be there. It gave some form to my experience. And it built up in me the critical mass from which was kindled the experience that produced est.
William Bartley, in his biography of Werner Erhard, wrote:
“When I asked Werner to sum up the differences between est and Scientology, he reflected for a moment.
'...The essential difference between est and Scientology is two-fold. The first has to do with Scientology’s emphasis on survival and its idea that the purpose of life is survival. Est sees the purpose of life as wholeness or completion – truth – not survival..
The other main difference between est and Scientology lies in the treatment of knowing. Ron Hubbard seems to have no difficulty in codifying the truth and in urging people to believe it. But I suspect all codifications, particularly my own. In presenting my own ideas, I emphasize their epistemological context. I hold them as pointers to the truth, not as the truth itself.
I don’t think anyone ought to believe the ideas that we use in est. The est philosophy is not a belief system and most certainly ought not to be believed. In any case, even the truth, when believed, is a lie. You must experience the truth, not believe it.'
The era of the est training (1971 - 1984)
Erhard reported having experienced a revelation while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge
on U.S. Route 101
in Marin County, California
in 1971. He started to see the world as perfect "the way it is" and reported an insight that his attempts to change or modify either his physical circumstances or his mental outlook had their basis in a conception of the world (that it should differ from "the way it is") that precluded or at least limited one's experiential and creative appreciation of it. Erhard, who had become an instructor of Mind Dynamics
put together an intensive two–weekend course
he called "est
Erhard constructed the est course in such a way as to attempt to bring its students into a conceptual place where they could experience a realization similar to his own "Highway-101 revelation". The lengthy course (consisting sometimes of 18–hour days) became controversial and, to many people who went through the seminar, exciting.
Michael Zimmerman, Philosophy Professor at Tulane University:
He (Erhard) had no particular formal training in anything, but he understood things as well as anyone I’d ever seen. And I’ve been around a lot of smart people in academia. This is an extraordinary intellect I saw at work here, and a difficult personality.
Werner would be the first to admit that he learned a lot from other people. He has debts to other thinkers, to various religious traditions. When I teach my class on Heidegger, for example, I start out with referring to the influences on Heidegger’s thought: Aristotle, Plato, Kant, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard – so many thinkers. So Werner, I think, has to be conceived in that way. He’s a kind of artist, a thinker, an inventor, who has big debts to others, borrowed from others, but then put the whole thing together in a way that no one else had ever done.
Werner Erhard and Associates (1981 - 1991) and "the Forum"
In the 1980s, Erhard worked with Fernando Flores
— philosopher, senator
of Chile and businessman — on aspects of language, setting up sets of practices which make a distinction between, on the one hand "speaking that describes being" with, on the other hand, "speaking that brings forth being". These seminars culminated in Erhard's announcement in 1984 of the retirement of the est-training, after the participation of 750,000 "graduates", and its replacement by a new program called "the Forum", inaugurated in January 1985.
Erhard intended this new "work" to acquire more mainstream respectability and to appeal to business and management markets. What est had called "space" or the "space of being" now became "the domain of possibility" or the "possibility of being for human beings". Where part of est's "Day 4" had included a "three-circle talk" on "being, doing, and having", the Forum now featured three distinctions of the domains of "possibility, presence, and representation
On February 1, 1991, some of the employees of Werner Erhard and Associates purchased the assets of WE&A, licensed the right to use its intellectual property and assumed some of its liabilities, paying $3 million and committing to remitting up to $15 million over the following 18 years in licencing fees.
Shortly afterwards the new owners established Landmark Education.
Presentations that evolved from the "Forum" developed by Werner Erhard and Associates continue to take place today in major cities in the USA and worldwide as the "Landmark Forum" under the auspices of Landmark Education.
1991 - present
Since his retirement in 1991, Erhard has kept a low profile, except for a few public appearances. In recent
years he has worked in the area of peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland
with author Peter Block.
On December 8, 1993, Erhard appeared on Larry King Live in an episode titled "Whatever Happened to Werner Erhard?" via satellite from Moscow in Russia.
Werner Erhard attended an event on May 11, 2004 at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, entitled "From Thought to Action: Growing Leaders in a Changing World". The event took place in honor of a friend, Warren Bennis, who had taken Erhard Seminars Training and then consulted for Werner Erhard and Associates.
As of 2001, Erhard reportedly lived at least part time with Gonneke Spits in Georgetown, Cayman Islands
In 2006, Erhard appeared in the Robyn Symon documentary: Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard.
Awards and acknowledgments
- The Gandhi Humanitarian Award , 1988, Gandhi Memorial International Foundation.
- "Humanitarian Of The Year", 2003, Youth At Risk, Roosevelt Hotel, New York City. Erhard founded the Breakthrough Foundation, which later became Youth At Risk.
- Excellerated Business Schools, which offers "transformational, entrepreneurial education", lists "Werner Erhard" in the category of "Other Teachers, Masters and Mentors" on its "Acknowledgments" page.
- James Sloman acknowledged Werner Erhard as a courageous pioneer in his book, "Handbook for Humans: A Comprehensive Synthesis of Paths to Personal Growth."
Charlotte Faltermayer in “The Best of est?” in Time Magazine
, March 16
, 1998 reported on the inaccurate allegation made in a “60 Minutes” segment on Werner Erhard that "was filled with so many factual discrepancies that the transcript was made unavailable with this disclaimer: 'This segment has been deleted at the request of CBS News for legal or copyright reasons.'"
Celeste Erhard filed an unsuccessful $2 million lawsuit against the paper and the reporter, saying she "was defrauded and her privacy was invaded during interviews.... She stated on the record that the articles and her appearance on CBS television's “60 Minutes” were to get publicity for a book." Charlotte Faltermayer reports that Celeste Erhard's allegations of incest were recanted.
In 1992 a court ruled that "The Forum" had not caused any “mental injuries” to Stephanie Ney; though it entered a default judgement of $380,000 against Werner Erhard — in absentia.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found Erhard did not have grounds for changing a previous tax decision February 8, 1995, in the case "Werner H. Erhard v. Commissioner Internal Revenue Service.
In September 1996, the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) settled for $200,000 in a damage suit Werner Erhard brought against the IRS for false statements IRS spokesmen made to the press about his tax information.
The Hunger Project
Along with John Denver
and Oberlin College President Robert W. Fuller
, Erhard co-founded The Hunger Project
. In 1977 Erhard authored the Hunger Project Source Document, subtitled, “The End of Starvation: Creating an Idea Whose Time Has Come” .
In 1991 the group that would shortly form Landmark Education
purchased the intellectual property
of Werner Erhard. In 1998, Time Magazine
published an article about Landmark Education
and its historical connection to Werner Erhard. The article stated that: "In 1991, before he left the U.S., Erhard sold the 'technology' behind his seminars to his employees, who formed a new company called the Landmark Education Corp., with Erhard's brother Harry Rosenberg at the helm." Landmark Education states that its programs have as their basis ideas originally developed by Erhard, but that Erhard has no financial interest, ownership, or management role in Landmark Education.
In Stephanie Ney v. Landmark Education Corporation (1994),
the courts determined Landmark Education Corporation did not have successor-liability to Werner Erhard & Associates, the corporation whose assets Landmark Education purchased.
According to Pressman in Outrageous Betrayal: Landmark Education further agreed to pay Erhard a long-term licensing fee for the material used in the Forum and other courses. Erhard stood to earn up to $15 million over the next 18 years." However, Arthur Schreiber's declaration of 3 May 2005 states: "Landmark Education has never paid Erhard under the license agreements (he assigned his rights to others)."
In 2001 New York Magazine reported Landmark Education's CEO Harry Rosenberg said that the company had bought outright Erhard's license and his rights to the business in Japan and Mexico. From time to time Erhard consults with Landmark Education.
The Century of the Self
Werner Erhard appeared in the 2002 British documentary by Adam Curtis
, The Century of the Self
, featuring in episode part 3 of 4. This segment of the video discusses the est Training
in great detail, and includes interviews with est-graduates John Denver
, and Jerry Rubin
Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard
In 2006, Erhard appeared alongside Landmark Forum Leader
Laurel Scheaf (pictured
) and Landmark Forum Leader
Randy McNamara (pictured
), in the Robyn Symon documentary: Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard
- Bartley, III, William Warren (1978). Werner Erhard The Transformation of a Man: The Founding of est. NY, NY, USA: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. ISBN 0-517-53502-5.
- Kettle, James: The est Experience. Zebra Books, 1976.
- Marks, Pat R.: est: The Movement and the Man. Playboy Press 1976.
- Pressman, Steven (1993) Outrageous Betrayal: The Dark Journey of Werner Erhard from est to Exile. New York, New York, USA. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-09296-2
- Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets the Story. (Chapter on "Let Them Eat est.") Addison-Wesley, 1983. ISBN 0-201-10858-5
- Rhinehart, Luke: The Book of est. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976.
- Self, Jane (1992) 60 Minutes and the Assassination of Werner Erhard: How America's Top Rated Television Show Was Used in an Attempt to Destroy a Man Who Was Making A Difference. Breakthru Publishing. ISBN 0-942540-23-9
- Fenwick, Sheridan (1976). Getting It: The psychology of est. Philadelphia, PA, USA: J. B. Lippincott Company. ISBN 0-397-01170-9