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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1667.—May 31, 2006

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

Economic Good Willó& What Interferes

Dear Unknown Friends:

In this issue we continue our serialization of the 1972 lecture Good Will Is in Poetry, by Eli Siegel. He speaks about the economist Adam Smith and the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and shows, amazingly, that they have something fundamental in common. He says:

The thing that unites the two is what I have to call good will—I'm always sorry to, because it sounds so pleasant and comfy that the subtlety of the term is left out.

Mr. Siegel has defined good will as "the desire to have something else stronger and more beautiful, for this desire makes oneself stronger and more beautiful" (TRO 121).

At the point we have reached, he is discussing Smith's The Wealth of Nations. And he shows that this person, so often presented as the classical theorist for capitalism, is really saying something much larger than, and quite different from, what is put forth by those who picture themselves Smith's ideological heirs. What the lecture makes clear is this: as Smith describes how economics works, he is describing, with vividness and in great prose, an elemental structure of good will.

For example: economics is based on the fact that the needs of one person will be met by another—that someone somewhere is making a garment, or writing a book, or harvesting wheat, which will strengthen someone else; and the someone else is doing work which in turn is needed by and strengthening to another person. Smith, Mr. Siegel shows, makes immediate and tangible this primal mechanism of good will, without which economics itself cannot go on. As he quotes Smith describing other aspects of economics too, from the division of labor to the coming to be of money, we see that they are, in various ways, mechanical good will.

The Meaning of Labor

In the present section, Mr. Siegel points to "the passage that has the most good will." It consists of four paragraphs, early in the book, about labor. And he is the critic to show the real significance of those paragraphs of Smith. Meanwhile, Mr. Siegel himself has spoken and written definitively about labor. For example, in a 1970 lecture he said:

The most important thing in industry is the person who does the industry, which is the worker. That is still true. It never can change. Labor is the only source of wealth. There is no other source, except land, the raw material. The other sources are decorations. I said this ever so many years ago, and it's still true. Every bit of capital that exists was made by labor, just as everything that is consumed is.

We see Adam Smith affirming this statement.

The Interference

What is it that has interfered, brutally and sickeningly, with good will, all through history and now? Why has the good will implicit within the structure of economics not been continued as people deal with each other financially, buy and sell, think of what oneself can get from another's labor? Why have the persons who have done the work, who are "the only source of wealth," been robbed through the centuries; why have they had so little?

Eli Siegel answered these questions, and said what has not been said by any other economist. The answer is in this Aesthetic Realism principle: "The greatest danger or temptation of man is to get a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not himself; which lessening is Contempt."

Contempt is the thing which has made for the injustice, cruelty, coldheartedness in every aspect of human life. Economics arises from people, and what is hurtful in self has made economics hurtful. The unstated but driving feeling, "I'm more if I can lessen you," yesterday impelled a husband and wife to belittle each other sneeringly across a breakfast table so that each felt later, with a kind of aching dullness, "What's happened to us and the love we once had?" Contempt is in a wife's thinking of her husband not as a full person in his own right, not as part of the whole large world, but as someone who exists to make her happy, who is essentially owned by her. And contempt is in a husband's seeing his wife that way.

The same contempt has made economics a field for selfishness and agony. Let us take a poem Mr. Siegel mentions here: Shelley's "Song to the Men of England," of 1819. It begins:

Men of England, wherefore plough

For the lords who lay ye low?

Wherefore weave with toil and care

The rich robes your tyrants wear?

Shelley saw that there was something deeply insane in the economy of England. People were wearing out their lives producing wealth—food, clothing, and other good things—which benefited the "privileged" but not themselves. He asks the people of England, "Have ye leisure, comfort, calm, / Shelter, food...?" The answer was no. And he says the English workers have been monumentally swindled:

The seed ye sow, another reaps:

The wealth ye find, another keeps;

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Shrink to your cellars, holes, and cells;

In halls ye deck, another dwells.

The cause is contempt. In economics as in love, it is contempt that has a person see another not as a full human being with feelings real as one's own, not as somebody to be fair to, but as a creature existing to provide profit for oneself. It is contempt that has had people feel it's tolerable for some persons to be very poor and others very rich, even though there's enough for everybody to live with dignity and ease. It is contempt that has had people think about the world not as something to understand and value, but as consisting of things to grab.

Adam Smith knew a great deal, but he did not know what contempt was and how it worked. Neither, it can be said, did Shelley. In the following great statement from his James and the Children, Eli Siegel describes what has made people cruel to each other; and the cruelty includes that of profit economics for centuries:

As soon as you have contempt, as soon as you don't want to see another person as having the fulness that you have, you can rob that person, hurt that person, kill that person.

The continuous fight within every person is between contempt and good will. That is what people now need to know about, for personal life to fare well and for economics to be sane.

A New Era

In 1970, Eli Siegel began his "Goodbye Profit System" series of lectures. He explained that we are in a new era in economic history: it has become, and will continue to be, increasingly difficult for business owners to reap large profits using other people's labor for the owners' personal advantage. Also increasingly, people resent being seen in terms of money, in terms of how much revenue they can provide for someone else. The difficulty about profits, and the resentment, will not end—in fact, they will intensify—until justice, not profit, impels the economic activities of the world. He wrote:

There will be no economic recovery in the world until economics itself, the making of money, the having of jobs, becomes ethical; is based on good will rather than on the ill will which has been predominant for centuries.

This is our present situation. People have had to be made poorer and poorer in order for that completely unnecessary and immoral thing, economics based on seeing humans in terms of money, just to keep going at all.

An article in the New York Times (May 8) contains some vivid descriptions of the American economy today. It is about how easily people who do not see themselves as poor can suddenly become poor. Here are several sentences:

Tens of millions are living on even shakier ground than before, according to studies of what some scholars call the "near poor."... Indicators—a climbing poverty rate and rising levels of family debt—suggest a deepening insecurity....About 37 million Americans lived below the federal poverty line in 2004.

...Recipients [of charity—donated food] include many families...[with] both parents working minimum—wage jobs.

There is a description of a woman, representative of many, who

lost all her teeth and could not afford to replace them. "Since I didn't have a smile," she recalled, "I couldn't even work at a checkout counter."

That people who work hard should have to go to food pantries and be unable to afford healthcare! An economy having this, while wealth and goods and services abound, will be looked upon in future years as plainly evil and insane. Yet the reason more and more people are in such a situation is: they must be sacrificed if profits are to come to those who didn't do the work. The answer, Mr. Siegel has explained, is not in "the rival system." It is in taking with real seriousness the good will Adam Smith presents as the very foundation of all economics.

In another of his lectures, Mr. Siegel composed a couplet which stands for some of that good will. I think it is beautiful as poetry, with its snap and resonant width, its no—nonsense and its longing:

We do the work, we run the show:

A just God would never say no.

There Is Warmth

In their Economics Explained (1987), Robert Heilbroner and Lester Thurow call The Wealth of Nations "[Smith's] masterpiece, which everyone has heard of and almost no one has read." Eli Siegel makes this masterpiece no longer seem forbidding. He shows not only the grandeur of Smith, but his warmth, liveliness, excitement. It is clear that, with all Mr. Siegel might criticize, he loves the book. And through his lecture the real kindness of Smith comes to light and life at last.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

About Labor & People
By Eli Siegel

We come to the passage, early in The Wealth of Nations, that has perhaps the most good will in it. I hope to read passages from everywhere in the book. But the passage that has the most good will is about labor and people, and is in chapter 5 of Book I. The chapter's title is "Of the Real and Nominal Price of Commodities, or of Their Price in Labour, and Their Price in Money."

We'll see that Shelley, in his prose and also his poetry, has dealt with these matters. This is what Smith says:

Every man is rich or poor according to the degree in which he can afford to enjoy the necessaries, conveniences, and amusements of human life.

We have this stating of three things wanted: "necessaries, conveniences, and amusements." It starts with the utmost in inevitability (necessaries); then what's less so (conveniences); then amusements. It's a little bit like must, might be, could be.

But after the division of labour has once thoroughly taken place, it is but a very small part of these with which a man's own labour can supply him. The far greater part of them he must derive from the labour of other people, and he must be rich or poor according to the quantity of that labour which he can command, or which he can afford to purchase.

One definition of money arises from this: Money is that through which you can get the equivalent of other people's good will shown substantially; that is, by goods or commodities. Want to buy a pair of boots? Through money, you can get the desire of another person to give you a pair of boots. The thing necessary to substantiate the good will and set it in motion is money. So money is that which sets an appearance of good will in motion.

The value of any commodity, therefore, to the person who possesses it, and who means not to use or consume it himself, but to exchange it for other commodities, is equal to the quantity of labour which it enables him to purchase or command.

What Smith says is true: through money you can command or purchase labor. And labor is the compact state of good will.

Labour, therefore, is the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities.

A Banner Headline

That statement, as I have said at other times, makes Adam Smith not for the scoundrels: "Labour, therefore, is the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities." If I had my way, I'd run it across the Wall Street Journal every day, and I'd also have it printed across the Times financial section. I'd also have it run in purple in Business Week. I'd have it run in gold in Forbes. I'd have it run in yellow in The Nation's Business.

The real price of everything, what everything really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it....What is bought with money or with goods is purchased by labour, as much as what we acquire by the toil of our own body. That money or those goods...contain the value of a certain quantity of labour which we exchange for what is supposed at the time to contain the value of an equal quantity.

When people feel, If I work I can't make, directly, what I need, but if somebody else works it can be made—that is inevitable good will. I know how to make shirts, but he knows how to make shoes; therefore I can try to use the shirt I make to get a pair of shoes: that is where mechanism becomes at least the first sketch of good will.

Smith never says in any important way that there's any value in any object whatsoever which deeply does not arise from labor. That idea can be seen in this sentence: "They contain the value of a certain quantity of labour which we exchange for what is supposed at the time to contain the value of an equal quantity."

Shelley's insurrectionary poem "Song to the Men of England" is related to this.

Labour was the first price, the original purchase—money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or by silver, but by labour, that all the wealth of the world was originally purchased—

This is one of the great books of the world, and I'm so glad it sounds a little insurrectionary.

—and its value, to those who possess it, and who want to exchange it for some new productions, is precisely equal to the quantity of labour which it can enable them to purchase or command.

Wealth, as Mr. Hobbes says, is power.

In the 18th century Thomas Hobbes was still called Mr. Hobbes. That's a great privilege of the 18th century. It's hard to call him that now.

But the person who either acquires, or succeeds to a great fortune, does not necessarily acquire or succeed to any political power, either civil or military....The power which that possession immediately and directly conveys to him, is the power of purchasing; a certain command over all the labour, or over all the produce of labour which is then in the market. His fortune is greater or less, precisely in proportion to the extent of this power.

Labor Is Poetic

Then Smith says:

It is often difficult to ascertain the proportion between two different quantities of labour. The time spent in two different sorts of work will not always alone determine this proportion. The different degrees of hardship endured, and of ingenuity exercised, must likewise be taken into account.

That makes labor poetic, because hardship endured, difficulty, and also ingenuity or cleverness are both important things in labor, as they are in poetry.

There may be more labour in an hour's hard work than in two hours' easy business; or in an hour's application to a trade which it cost ten years' labour to learn, than in a month's industry at an ordinary and obvious employment. But it is not easy to find any accurate measure either of hardship or ingenuity.

The history of humanity has been: what is labor worth at any one time or in any one place, and what is the labor that people are seeking?

The passages I have quoted have an aroma of good will. And the chapters on monopoly, the chapters on free trade, the desire for friendliness among nations, the desire for France and England to look upon each other with more commercial benevolence—all that is in the field of good will; and later I'll read more from The Wealth of Nations.   black diamond

Aesthetic Realism is based on these
principles, stated by Eli Siegel:

1. The deepest desire of every person is to like the world on an honest or accurate basis.


2. The greatest danger for a person is to have contempt for the world and what is in it .... Contempt can be defined as the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it.


3. All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.

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First Thursday of each month, 6:30 PM: Seminars with speakers from Aesthetic Realism faculty

Third Saturday of each month, 8 PM: Aesthetic Realism Dramatic Presentations
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The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known (TRO) is a biweekly periodical of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.
Editor: Ellen Reiss
Coordinators: Nancy Huntting, Meryl Simon, Steven Weiner

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TRO: Home |  Current |  Art |  Literature |  Racism |  Education |  Nat'l Ethics |  Love |  Economics |  Memorial |  Site Map
"Is a Person an Aesthetic Situation?" by Eli Siegel: a short explanation of Aesthetic Realism
The Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company in New York City. Authors in the repertory include Ibsen, Sheridan, Shakespeare, O'Neill.
Ellen Reiss, Commentaries in TRO:
The Mideast  |  Poetry of Eli Siegel |  Unions
Lord Byron |  Harry Potter |  Sherlock Holmes
Robert Burns |  The 'criticism' of John Keats
Racism & Its Solution
Aesthetic Realism Resources:
Aesthetic Realism Consultations
Two Biographies of Eli Siegel:
[1] Aesthetic Realism Foundation
[2] Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company Site
Friends of Aesthetic Realism—Countering the Lies
Art and Literature:
The Terrain Gallery / Aesthetic Realism Foundation
The Place of Aesthetic Realism in Culture & Literature

The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method:
Lesson Plans in Diverse Subjects
Teaching Indian Culture in the United States:
The Aesthetic Realism Method
Further Resources:
Essays and News Pieces about Aesthetic Realism
Photographic Education: the Aesthetic Realism Viewpoint
A New Perspective for Anthropology: The Aesthetic Realism Method
Self-Expression and What Interferes: an Aesthetic Realism Discussion
John Singer Sargent's Madame X, an Aesthetic Realism Discussion

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