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The Black World Today logo / Article about the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel

     March 15, 2000

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Fascism, Understood At Last! 
By Ruth Oron 

In these first weeks of the new millennium there is one report after another showing how much the past is still with us: how much turmoil there is over the events of the 30's and 40's and the terror that was fascism. 

There has been a great uproar about Joerg Haider's far-right party in Austria--with its xenophobic policies and his spiteful playing down the Nazi crimes--becoming part of that county's ruling coalition. In central Berlin a national monument was dedicated to the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. Yet, marching through the Brandenburg Gate, hundreds of neo-Nazis protested it. And in February, addressing the Israeli Parliament, Germany's President Johannes Rau asked in his native German language for the Jewish people to forgive his people for the Holocaust. It was met with warm applause, however some members left the Knesset Hall in protest. 

What is it people need most to see so that this turmoil comes to a kind and beautiful conclusion? It is what Eli Siegel, the founder of Aesthetic Realism, taught: that contempt is "the greatest danger or temptation of man" and was the cause of the Holocaust. Contempt, he has explained, is the "false importance or glory" a person gets "from the lessening of things not himself." And "Hitler," he wrote, "is perhaps the greatest evoker of human contempt in history." 

I recently interviewed Julie Jensen, an Aesthetic Realism consultant and authority on fascism, about her view of these recent events. She is the author of such important papers as: "The World: to Be Run--or Known?"-- a study of Edda, Hermann Goering's daughter; "Where Does Fascism Begin?"; and "How Should We See People?"--a close look at Magda Goebbels, the wife of Hitler's propaganda minister. Julie Jensen herself was born in Germany in 1939. She told me: "What made for the Holocaust--and what is making now for neo-Nazism in Europe and elsewhere, I have learned from Aesthetic Realism, is the ugly desire in every person to look down on other people and feel we're made of better stuff." 

She continued, "Contempt, I've learned, can be as ordinary as the feeling that we have better taste than our neighbors, or that we don't have to listen to another person because our thoughts are deeper and more important than his. Taken far enough contempt makes for all brutality; and it is this contemptuous way of seeing people," Mrs. Jensen continued, "which made it possible for ordinary Germans, some of the same people who were moved by Beethoven's music, to build concentration camps and murder millions of people. If we don't understand everyday, ordinary contempt and have the courage to see it in ourselves--we'll never understand how it could grow to such large proportions as it did in the Germany of Hitler." 

I asked Mrs. Jensen why today throughout Germany people like herself, who didn't participate in the atrocities, still feel enormous shame? "That's an important question," she said. "I believe every person in my native land, young and old, is looking for the answer. I was only six when the war ended but I had an agonizing sense of guilt all my life, which I couldn't understand. I blamed my parents, who were avid supporters of Hitler, for making me feel guilty." And Mrs. Jensen quoted from a class discussion in which Ellen Reiss, Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, spoke about the guilt young people in Germany feel: 

"If you or something you're associated with were unfair you can't let it go. There is something in the self that says we have to look at this because the deepest desire of a person is to like the world truly." 

And Mrs. Jensen continued, "Before I met Aesthetic Realism I had already read over 60 books on World War II, trying to get to an answer. It was only through the study of contempt that I saw where the thing that was so terribly thorough in the Nazis--the desire literally to annihilate millions of people--was in me, in a quieter form. In my first Aesthetic Realism consultation I was asked: 'Do you think you're fair to people?' I said, 'Oh, no. I mock people in my mind without them even knowing it.' 'Would you like to see people fairly, more accurately?' they asked. I answered, 'Yes.' I think I represent many people in my answers." 

"As I learned about my contempt," she continued, "I felt a weight was lifted off me at last. I began to see that the way I would respect myself is by liking the way I see people, and that wanting to be just makes me more important and glorious than having contempt. And I learned from Aesthetic Realism that my deepest desire--like that of every person--is to like the world and people on an honest basis." With much feeling Mrs. Jensen added, "I regret so much Germany's horrific contempt for the Jewish people. The future of kindness in the world depends on people wanting to be fair to other human beings." And she quoted these great words of Mr. Siegel, "Fascism or Nazism is the geographical or historical form of contempt....The next war has to be against ugliness in self. And the greatest ugliness in self is the seeing of contempt as personal achievement." 

I am proud to agree with Julie Jensen; Aesthetic Realism is the education that can make the world kind. As an Israeli, I am deeply thankful for the liberating knowledge I met which enabled me to be critical of myself and the contemptuous way I saw the Palestinian people. Where once I shamefully saw them as primitive people, enemies to fear, I now feel passionately that justice must come to them. And for lasting peace to come to the Mideast, both Israelis and Arabs need proudly to study the difference between respect and contempt. 

I respect so much Mrs. Jensen's honesty when she said, "Though I was only a child, Nazism appealed to me, especially the idea that being German, I came from a superior race. But," she added, "I saw that the desire to feel superior was also present later as I wanted to run my husband's life, or in the feeling I had as a teenager that men were selfish and cold, and not as sensitive as women are." 

"Eli Siegel," Mrs. Jensen said, "is the most important man of thought to exist. He was completely without prejudice; he wanted to understand me, and he showed me how to see in a way I could be proud of, including the land of my birth. He was the most exacting critic of evil in Germany yet no one honored more her deep and true cultural and artistic heritage." 

The Aesthetic Realism understanding of contempt, including prejudice at its most brutal, is what Julie Jensen has been courageous about. As a representative Jew who lost a large part of my family in the Holocaust, I respect her very much. And I join her in saying it is urgent that Aesthetic Realism, the knowledge which understands and can change contempt, be studied by every person. This is the study the safety of the world depends on. 


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