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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1811.—December 7, 2011

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

Europe, America, & the Clamor for Good Will!

Dear Unknown Friends:

We continue to serialize It Weakens, the lecture Eli Siegel gave on January 15, 1971. In his Goodbye Profit System talks of the 1970s Mr. Siegel explained that, after many centuries, economics based on the profit motive—on seeing people in terms of how much money can be made from them—had finally failed. The profit way would never work efficiently again, though it might be made to stagger on awhile with increasing pain to humanity. The profit system, he showed, had become an irreparable failure because of the contempt for people on which it is based. I quote again this statement, in which he describes exactly, ringingly, and kindly what is happening today on all the continents:

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.

For Example, Europe

I have commented often on economic matters in America. But let us take the trouble now going on in the European Union. Two photographs in the November 18th New York Times stand for that trouble. One has the caption “Tear gas swirled Thursday around Athens. Tens of thousands of Greeks marched to protest austerity measures.” The other is captioned “Students and union members in Rome protested budget cuts on Thursday. Prime Minister Mario Monti said Italians would face sacrifices in the months ahead.”

These “sacrifices” and “austerity measures” principally involve the cutting of pensions and welfare benefits to millions of people, the lowering of wages—the impoverishing of most of the population. They are presented as the only means to stop the nations concerned from going bankrupt. What they really are is the one means of having the profit system there grind on a bit longer. But for some strange reason, the people of Greece, Italy, Spain, other nations, don’t like being made poor. And they don’t see the cause they’re asked to sacrifice for as beautiful or necessary. So they’re objecting on the streets of Europe. And the swirling tear gas is part of the attempt to kill their objection.

The dire warnings about the need for “sacrifice”—both in Europe and here—are part of an effort to make the profit system seem inevitable: to make it seem that economics based on anything other than using earth and humanity for some individuals’ private aggrandizement is unthinkable. And therefore, senior citizens, robbed of pensions, must go hungry to save the profit system. Children must go without medical care and with insufficient clothing and food to save it. Yet people feel increasingly that another basis for an economy is not unthinkable. And such a basis is not Marxism, etc. The needed basis is ethics.

It happens that even if “austerity measures” are imposed, in most instances the desired profits for private individuals still will not flow in. The reason is: profit economics can now succeed only if there is huge inequality, not only within a nation, but among nations. And today so many nations are able to produce things and rival each other that business persons of the West are no longer able to be the profitable market-lords and tycoons of the universe. As Mr. Siegel explained in 1970: the more competition becomes worldwide, the more people everywhere are able to produce—the less profit is available for various private owners, bosses, stockholders who don’t do the work.

We can see instances of this fact through comparing some things mentioned in It Weakens with the situation today. In the second paragraph of the section printed here, Mr. Siegel names several American cities noted for their manufacturing—yet today there is so little manufacturing in most of them. The industries that once hummed there—and the jobs that were Americans’—are in other countries instead. He speaks too, in 1971, about a controversy involving certain imports: how much should foreign-made shoes, fabrics, clothing be allowed into America? This controversy is long over: now we expect such items not to be made in America; we’re in wonder if we find an instance that is. (And that China should be the big supplier, was unthought-of in 1971.)

The Real American Way

In this section of It Weakens Mr. Siegel discusses passages from a book he used in other lectures: The American Transcendentalists, edited by Perry Miller. What he was illustrating is: contrary to the propaganda that profit economics is fundamental to America, some of the most important, kindest, most patriotic of our writers objected to it from the beginning. These included the New England Transcendentalists: Emerson, Thoreau, Amos Bronson Alcott, Theodore Parker, Margaret Fuller, and more. They said, in various ways, that the basis of human activities should be good will. Mr. Siegel defined good will as “the desire to have something else stronger and more beautiful, for this desire makes oneself stronger and more beautiful.” The good will he spoke about is not at all fuzzy, misty, Christmas-wishy, but the toughest, most practical, most critical motive there is—also the most creative. So to accompany the passages Mr. Siegel discusses here, I’ll quote some sentences by that American classic, Henry David Thoreau.

Throughout his Walden there is the idea, passionately held by Thoreau, that the world, the earth, the land, should be valued for its beauty, should be known and loved, not used for some private aggrandizement. In chapter 9 he comments on the owner of a nearby pond, Flint’s Pond. Thoreau can’t stand the man because, he says, Flint saw this pond in terms of profit:

[He] loved better the reflecting surface of a dollar, or a bright cent...; [he] regarded even the wild ducks which settled in it as trespassers;...[ he] never saw it....[He] thought only of its money value...and would have drained and sold it for the mud at its bottom....I respect not his labors, his farm where every thing has its price; who would carry the landscape, who would carry his God, to market, if he could get any thing for him;...who loves not the beauty of his fruits, whose fruits are not ripe for him till they are turned to dollars.

Also in Walden, Thoreau comments on the profit motive in relation to factories, like the textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. These represent the profit system when it was thriving: an owner paid workers horrible wages that kept them hungry while he made a lot of money from their labor. Thoreau says in chapter 1:

I cannot believe that our factory system is the best mode by which men may get clothing. The condition of the operatives is becoming every day more like that of the English; and it cannot be wondered at, since, as far as I have heard or observed, the principal object is, not that mankind may be well and honestly clad, but, unquestionably, that the corporations may be enriched.

Thoreau’s way of seeing is more American than that of various financial advisors turned to by politicians and press. It is also much more practical. It is a saying that the earth and people should be seen with justice, good will; not with that narrowness, greed, and selfishness institutionalized as profit economics.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

Trade, Antagonism, Kindness
By Eli Siegel

Note. Mr. Siegel has been commenting on passages from O.C. Ault and E.J. Eberling’s Principles and Problems of Economics.

Ault and Eberling are writing about trade. And with foreign trade there can be antagonism. People in different nations want to sell things to, and also get raw material from, the same places. For example, there was some antagonism about Africa in the 1890s and early 1900s. Germany, France, England, and America wanted raw material from Africa, and also wanted to sell some of their manufactured goods to the people in Africa, so there was antagonism. That is supposed to be an important cause of the First World War, and it has to do with imperialism.

There’s antagonism now, because most African countries would like to be manufacturing. The hope of every African country is to have its own industry, to have a Detroit, a Cleveland, a Wilkes-Barre, Youngstown, Columbus. There is what the writers call a “Spirit of Antagonism.” They say: “As a rule, all people are self-seeking.” A big thing about the golden rule is, it’s so often broken. It’s a wonder how a rule so often broken is still thought of so much.

How much more deep-seated and intense is this antagonism as we pass from individuals to groups?...

Legislators...seeking local favors and preferments... effect their ends by resorting to a form of political action known as log-rolling. This warring trait, which expresses itself in the form of economic rivalries, is the raison d’être for the protective tariff.

In other words, a manufacturer in a certain state who’s producing something feels there is too much competition from Europe, so he talks to his congressman about it. His congressman knows another congressman who also knows a manufacturer, so they get their forces together, and try to have a tariff. This is part of American history.

Two Kinds of Tariff

There wasn’t much worry about a tariff in the early days of America. There was more worry about excise, which is a tariff of a domestic kind. But tariff was not a sad subject in Washington’s administration, or Jefferson’s. It came to be one in the latter years of Madison, in 1815-16. There had been such things as duties, but the tariff did not become a controversial subject until its second period. Earlier it was accepted because it seemed part of the relations of countries to each other. The writers say about the first Tariff Act, before controversy was around: “The purpose of the Tariff Act was to raise much needed revenue for the government and not to protect industries.”

There was a feeling that the government needed as much revenue as possible. England was known for putting a tariff on French luxury goods, also liquors, and that’s how smuggling came to be, which is a large thing in the English novel. Such a tariff was expected. But later there came to be a phrase that’s one of the American slogans: “Tariff for revenue only”—meaning that the government could get resources through a tariff, but a tariff should not be for protection. By then there was a feeling that American industries wanted themselves protected, so “Tariff for revenue only” was a slogan.

In 1816 there is an act which shows tariff becoming controversial. The War of 1812 and the Napoleonic Wars had very much to do with keeping products out of various countries. We have this description by Ault and Eberling:

The second period, 1815-1860.—During the Napoleonic wars, American foreign trade was greatly restricted....The American people were thrown on their own resources and began to manufacture for themselves. The War of 1812 increased and intensified this movement. When the war was over and peace was established, imports began to come into the country in ever-increasing quantities. This led to a demand on the part of the American manufacturer for protection from his foreign competitor, which was answered by an act of Congress in 1816. From this time to the present the American people have had a protective tariff.

So while world trade is a pleasant thing, has good will in it, it has also made for controversy that just hasn’t stopped. The situation now has not been settled. How many shoes made in Europe should get into America? Also, how many fabrics? And should Japan and Italy be allowed to send whatever things might be worn here into America without any restricted quantity? Congress will debate that.

Tariff, like banking, is related to profit. It’s not exactly profit, to be sure, but the meaning of profit is always around. It’s around now, because there are various manufacturers who don’t care whether the tastes of Americans in habiliments or garments can be satisfied—they just want to make sure it’s they who make the money.

Is There Good Will?

I go now to the book I began looking at last week: The American Transcendentalists. The editor, Perry Miller, includes an article, not too well written, by Charles Mayo Ellis, “An Essay on Transcendentalism.” There is one thing in it that is important: the asking, Whence does man get that from which he profits? Whence does man get to the profitable? Ellis says:

That belief we term Transcendentalism which maintains that man has ideas, that come not through the five senses, or the powers of reasoning; but are either the result of direct revelation from God, his immediate inspiration, or his immanent presence in the spiritual world.

If man acquired his faculties, his abilities, from reality in its unseeing fashion—as Hardy says, and others, La Mettrie in L’Homme machine (Man a Machine)—then man, as a by-product of the universe, would get more detailed by-products; and would get himself a means of knowing arithmetic and the alphabet, and so on. But Ellis says Transcendentalism is against that view. The Transcendentalists have an idea of God as good will: God, or the beginning of the world, wanted to endow man with the faculty of knowing where he was, with some self-apprehension, or intuition about himself, and even a faculty for pondering on the purpose of the world. Man got this not because God profited, but because God, as he does somewhat in the Old Testament, stood for grace and kindness. He wanted man to know himself, so he created man in his image.

That phrase in the Bible, “God created man in his own image,” is a central matter in Transcendentalism: God created man in his own image because he was kind, had good will. This is in the statement of Mayo Ellis. A problem in religion is: how much does God care for people, and what for? Or as the Deists would say, did he create man and then say, Now man can shift for himself?

What Kind of World?

In another essay, Transcendentalism as good will is somewhat manifested by William Henry Channing. He writes:

Amidst materialists, zealots, and sceptics, the Transcendentalist believed in perpetual inspiration, the miraculous power of will, and a birthright to universal good.

“A birthright to universal good”: it is a large question, What kind of world is a child born into? Is it a world good enough for children yet to be born, let alone for children who have been born? The Transcendentalists would say that the world was good enough.

In some respects the Transcendentalists are like the Existentialists, who have a way of saying that since nature doesn’t care for us at all, let us show our care for ourselves and make selves for ourselves. Channing goes along with Emerson and others in this sentence of his essay:

All that your fellows can claim or need is that you should become, in fact, your highest self; fulfil, then, your ideal.

Here we have good will, because if a person fulfils his ideal, if he comes to be the best he can be, he is of use to his fellows.

What Should Be the Purpose?

Then, there’s the person among the Transcendentalists who wrote most about economics: Orestes Augustus Brownson. He was troubled nearly all his life, and found refuge in the always waiting arms of the Church—the Church of Innocent, Pius, and Leo. In an excerpt from Brownson called “A Dissenting Definition,” we have the following:

When the work to be done is that of construction, of building up, or organizing, of founding something, we must resort to religious ideas and sentiments, for they, having love for their principle, are plastic, organic, constructive, and the only ideas and sentiments that are so.

This, of course, is not in keeping with the profit system. There is an old idea that man should make things and build for the honor of God and with some religious impulsion. That is in certain poems of Longfellow, and in many other places.

“When the work to be done is that of construction... we must resort to religious ideas.” This was seemingly kept to in the profit system when some of the manufacturers, before the children began work at the machines, had them say their prayers. The children had a little while uttering the Lord’s Prayer, and then the machines started whirring.

A notion of making the world more useful, lovelier in its economic diversity, was not a notion for profit in the customary sense. It was to have the whole world look better and have its possibilities evoked. Machinery evokes the possibilities of the world. All work does. And in Transcendentalism there is a great deal concerning the relation of religion and work. 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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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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