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Werner Erhard

"At all times and under all circumstances,
we have the power to transform the quality of our lives."
— Werner Erhard

Werner Erhard is one of the most important
philosophical thinkers of the XXth Century.

Yes, Werner is 'controversial'. But his creation of a new paradigm
of Possibility for Mankind will outlive the reactionary resistance of his detractors.

      John Paul Rosenberg was born in Pennsylvania on 5 September 1935, and called Jack. He was raised in a family of Jewish heritage on his father's side, and the Episcopalian faith on his mother's. His early years were unremarkable.
      In May 1960, he was married with four children and was working as a car salesman and quite unhappy. He broke with that identity and headed West with June Bryde, who he had been seeing secretly. The story goes that he and June noticed the headlines in a news magazine on the airplane and chose the most-opposite new name they could think of: 'Werner' from physicist Werner Heisenberg, 'Hans' from Bishop Hans Lilje, and 'Erhard' from then-economics minister of West Germany, Ludwig Erhard. June took the name Ellen, and they got married. They went first to St. Louis, Missouri, to Spokane, Washington, and then to San Francisco, California.

      In California, Werner began studies of all kinds of metaphysical and religious disciplines – even taking a trip to India – while being very successful selling educational materials of various sorts. While working in Beverly Hills, California in October 1963, a 'peak experience' occurred, which he characterizes as 'the experienced context of Self', which was followed by a complete reorganization of his value system.
      He continued to study metaphysics and to apply what he learned to his career managing sales of books for Encyclopedia Britannica and for Parents Magazine and for Grolier.

      He experienced the epiphany that is central to his subsequent work in March 1971, while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, when he realized that, contrary to all that he had been taught, the central truth of human existence is 'This Is It': the life that an individual leads is the only life that they will have, and that the individual is responsible for the content and decisions that make up that life.

      Other concepts followed from that epiphany:
              •  Everything is a conversation. Conversations are malleable, therefore change can
                  be realized by alteration of the conversation.
              •  The individual can have anything that he/she can enroll another into having gotten.
              •  Truth, believed, is a lie.
              •  The purpose of life is not survival, but to be complete.
              •  The most powerful access to the present is akin to Zen, the existential mode of
                  full consciousness, which he termed 'Being With'.
              •  The distinction 'What's So' leaves one in the eternal question 'So What?', which in
                  turn requires moment-by-moment inquiry into the ethical value of one's actions.
              •  Any problem can be resolved thru communication.

      He defined three tasks that he must fulfill:
         1) to share his transformation;
         2) to be responsible and 'at cause' in all matters; and
         3) to confront and acknowledge the past and the present, so as to have choice.

      The immediate alteration in Werner's manner and actions was so dramatic that others remarked upon it and wanted to know more. Thus was born the seminars, at first taking place in Werner's living room. Dramatic results in seminar participants' lives led to expansion, and he and his existing staff developed the est Training, delivering the first course to about 250 participants in October 1971.
      [ The word 'est' is Latin for 'it is'. When Werner filed for incorporation, the state bureaucrats refused on the basis of an obscure rule that did not permit corporate names to be in a foreign language. Werner's on-the-spot solution was to state that 'est' stood for 'Erhard Seminars Training'; the bureaucrats were satisfied, and that expansion of the company's name was seldom used officially. ]

      Werner's next project was to reconcile with his family back in Pennsylvania. Subsequent business success led to artificial controversy. Scientology swore a vendetta, which is active to this day. The abreactions of a few psychologically-weak course participants was cited as proof of the 'dangers' inherent in est's programs. But the benefits of the programs in the lives of thousands of other participants overcame the negative reports.
      In the late 70s, Werner expanded and refined the programs, and even travelled with inventor-thinker R. Buckminster Fuller [1898-1983] in a lecture tour across America.
      In Summer of 1984, Werner announced the retirement of the est Training and his own planned departure. The courses were then produced by a corporate entity called Werner Erhard & Associates. The primary course was redesigned and retitled the Forum in 1985.
      In January 1991, the company was reorganized as Transnational Education Corp., forming itself under ownership of the employees – and without Werner – basically buying all intellectual property rights from the prior corporate entities. Around the same time, Werner left the United States, partly because of threats on his life and partly because his direct participation with the company was no longer necessary. (The personal attack aired on "60 Minutes" March 3, 1991, was coincidental and not the cause of his departure; see the book below.) The company was renamed Landmark Education Corp. the following year.
      The new organization has been very successful, under the leadership of Werner's brother and sister and others, expanding operations to 32 cities in the U.S. and 23 cities around the world, most recently opening in Italy, Jamaica & the Philippines. The primary course, the Forum, was again redesigned in mid-2000, now structured on the 'design principles' of Transformation, Possibility and Enrollment. A redesigned L.E.C. website was also rolled out in 2000.

      The 'Work of Transformation' continues while Werner has moved on to other concerns. He is neither in hiding – from the law or from assassins – nor is he living in obscurity in some remote hamlet. I am not privy to any details, but am certain in my bones that Werner Erhard is generating Possibility and other transformational distinctions in each and every situation where he is present. I imagine him in one-on-one meetings with powerful individuals and also leading seminars from Asia to Moscow to the European Union and beyond, where, as always, the results are intangible and unexplainable in the short term but obvious in subsequent concrete action in the world.
      And I sometimes wonder if Werner's favorite poet is still E.E. Cummings.

      I owe my life to the gametes of my parents but I owe the transformed quality of my life to the ideals of the U.S. Constitution, to Ayn Rand, to Werner Erhard, and to my own developing inner Self.
      The contents of this philosophy website are the result of the freedom & expansion of Who I Am that has come about from my committed engagement with the tools provided by est and Landmark Education.

      ADDED 2013: Werner is getting active in the world again, teaching courses at Harvard University and in India and elsewhere; books & links are added below.


Copyright 2000 & 2013 by Gary Edward Nordell, all rights reserved.



Movies & Videos
A new website was created in 2012 that offers free online clips & videos, some up to two hours in length, of Werner Erhard speaking on-camera
and interviewing others and on panels; these videos range from the distant past (Werner's hair is black) to more recent work (hair is now gray).
Werner Erhard: Ideas In Conversation

Werner Erhard Channel [est. 6/2008] on YouTube


Werner Erhard Interviews Economist Robert Reich [circa 1985]
excerpt [14:43] on YouTube
full program [1:03:33] at Werner Erhard Video website
Robert B. Reich Page at Maison d'Être Philosophy Bookstore


In the George Clooney cover story in Time Magazine in February 2008,
mention is made that Clooney is "working on a movie about the founder of est";
apparently, there is no such project in the works then or since.


"Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard"
[Screen Media Ventures / festival circuit 2006 / theatrical 2008]
Transformation, Life & Legacy of Werner Erhard documentary  "Get the real story behind the est Training with never-before-seen footage
of actual est seminars and uncut interviews with Werner Erhard talking
about his ideas"
featuring Werner Erhard & family, R. Buckminster Fuller,
Randy McNamara, Art Schreiber & Laurel Scheaf

Co-produced, written, directed & edited by Robyn Symon
Screen Media widescreen color DVD [5/2008] for $8.99
full credits from IMDbofficial movie siteproducer's official website

the trailer for the film on YouTube {1 minute 52 seconds}


YouTube videos

"Werner Erhard speaking on est" {1 minute 5 seconds}

"Werner Erhard speaking on Making A Difference" {34 seconds}

"actor Raul Julia speaking on Landmark Education courses - Part 1" {2 minutes 9 seconds}
"actor Raul Julia speaking on Landmark Education courses - Part 2" {1 minute 16 seconds}

"John Denver speaking on est" {46 seconds}

Steven Hawking, Leonard Susskind physics meetings with Werner Erhard
in San Francisco (from Discovery Channel) {8 minutes 22 seconds}


There was a feature documentary about Werner's Breakthrough Racing experiment,
about which I have as yet been unable to find even a trace.
(Nor does Landmark Education have information, since it was produced & filmed by non-graduates.)

article in July 1979 issue of People Magazine

Director Dan Weisburd also produced a TV movie on the same subject.
"Today Is For The Championship" TV [1980]
Produced & directed by Weisburd; featuring Werner Erhard; shown at Chicago Intl. F/F
in October 1980 • bare credits at IMDb

Dan Weisburd's LinkedIn page states that he is a 'retired' filmmaker (2012)


BBC Four docu  
"The Century of The Self" [aired on BBC April-May 2002]
Episode 3 includes an interview with Werner Erhard
NOTE: the edited content misinterprets Werner's work (then or since)
Success Unlimited color DVD [8/2007] 2 disks for $49.99
credits at IMDb


Books About Werner & est

est 60 Hours That Transform Your Life book by Adelaide Bry  "est*: 60 Hours That Transform Your Life" [1976]
{* erhard seminars training) by Adelaide Bry

HarperCollins 8x5¼ hardcover [3/76] out of print/used
est Making Life Work book by Robert Hargrove  "est: Making Life Work" [1976] by Robert A. Hargrove
"The REST of your life can be the BEST of your life. Take charge
of it – this powerful new way!"
Dell mass pb [6/76] out of print/used
Dell mass pb [6/76] out of print/used
Delacorte Press 8¾x5¾ hardcover [6/76] out of print/used
Book of est by Luke Rhinehart  "The Book of est" [1976] by Luke Rhinehart,
Foreword by Werner Erhard, Introduction by Joe Vitale

Author Rhinehart replicated his experience of the est Training;
copies were scarce for a long time, back in print via Lulu in 2010

Kindle Edition from Lulu.com [2010 edition] for $9.99
Lulu.com 9x6 pb [5/2010] for $24.96
Henry Holt & Co. 8¼x5 pb [10/76] out of print/used
Holt, Rinehart & Winston 7¼x5¾ hardcover [10/76] out of print/used
Werner Erhard / Transformation of A Man  
"Werner Erhard: The Transformation of A Man,
The Founding of est" [1978 biography] by W.W. Bartley III

Clarkson N. Potter/Crown 9x6¼ hardcover [12/88] out of print/many used
WE 60 Minutes   "60 Minutes and The Assassination of Werner Erhard" [1992]
by Dr. Jane Self, PhD

The book was for a time recommended on the L.E.C. website;
it may be available directly from the publisher by calling 1-800-227-1152
Breakthru Publng pb [1992] out of print/scarce via Amazon
Breakthru Publng hardcover [8/92] out of print/many used via Amazon
 book by Steven Pressman  "Outrageous Betrayal: The Real Story of Werner Erhard From
est To Exile" [St. Martins Press 1993] by Steven Pressman

Intentional hatchet job by 'journalist' Pressman; his tale was wrong then
and he has not retracted his errors



Other Works, Other Media

Michael Jensen’s and Werner Erhard’s Talk on Integrity
delivered at Harvard University on 29 Oct 2007
blog post by Robert Jackson of Harvard Law School
.PDF file of slides used in that talk
the .PDF file shows 'copyright 2007 by Werner Erhard, Michael C. Jensen, and Steve Zaffron - all rights reserved'

Handbook For Teaching Leadership, Knowing, Doing & Being book edited by Snook, Nohria & Khurana  "The Handbook For Teaching Leadership: Knowing, Doing, and Being" [2011]
Edited by Scott A. Snook, Nitin N. Nohria & Rakesh Khurana

Chapter 16 in Section II is "Creating Leaders: An Ontological/Phenomonological Model"
by Werner Erhard, Michael C. Jensen & Kari L. Granger
Kindle Edition from SAGE Publns [9/2011] for $102.90 {sic}
SAGE Publns 10¾x7¼ hardcover [9/2011] for $108.32 {sic}



Related Links
Friends of Werner Erhard website
Essays By Laurence Platt Inspired By The Ideas of Werner Erhard
audio file of Barbara Walters interview of Werner Erhard on the The Today Show in 1976
Facebook page "Werner Erhard's Ideas and Applications"


est {Erhard Seminars Training} history website - archives, photos, video, and vivid shares about Werner Erhard's est training, the essence of that experience, and the impact that est has made on society


Are You Ready To Be Transformed?

"You can have any breakthrough result
from Landmark Education courses
that you can invent as a possibility and enroll others
in your having gotten from participation in the course."

to the Landmark Education Corp. website

or visit G.E. Nordell's Landmark Education Links Page first


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