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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1678.— November 1, 2006
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

Freedom & Confusion: Historic & Everyday

Dear Unknown Friends: 

ere is part 5 of There Are Two Freedoms, the important and beautiful lecture by Eli Siegel we've been serializing.

     On May 22, 1970, Mr. Siegel began his Goodbye Profit System lectures, of which this, of June 5, is one. There had been a massive drop in the stock market; investors lost huge sums of money, and many people were scared. Mr. Siegel was the historian who explained what was really happening-and what has been happening ever since, regardless of the Dow Jones average. He explained that by the end of the 20th century, economics based on the motive of personal profit was no longer able to thrive. It was becoming harder and harder to reap large profits from the labor of one's fellow humans and from the world's resources, which should be everyone's. While profit economics might creak on for some time, its inefficiency was clearer. And throughout America, people resented being seen as instruments for someone else's financial self-enhancement. The resentment is even greater today.

     In his lectures, using history, culture, immediate events, Mr. Siegel described the various reasons why this economic weakening was occurring now. But, he showed, the underlying reason is: profit economics has been based on contempt. And the only way an economy can now succeed is for it to be based on ethics, which is the same as aesthetics-the oneness of opposites.

     In the present lecture, he speaks about crucial opposites, which he calls the "two freedoms": the freedom to express ourselves, assert ourselves; and the freedom (which hasn't been seen as freedom) to be accurate, just. These freedoms need to be one in economics, and haven't yet been, anywhere. They also need to be one in our personal lives. In the lecture Mr. Siegel describes that requisite oneness of the untrammeled and the exact as he looks at diverse texts, from a poem by Wallace Stevens to a stockbroker's newsletter.

The Two Freedoms & Fascism

am going to comment on something Mr. Siegel speaks of swiftly here. It is something of enormous importance, which has not been understood: the relation of what he calls "the financial structure" of Nazi Germany, to the Nazi brutality; and the relation of both to the most hurtful purpose in every person. All three involve a rift between the two freedoms. That is, all three are contempt, the feeling one expresses oneself, increases oneself, not through justice to other things and persons but through lessening them.

     The Columbia Encyclopedia (2nd ed.) has the following in its entry on fascism:

There can be no doubt that...the capitalist and land-owning classes were protected by the fascist system and favored it.

     The encyclopedia's entry on Hitler points out that he received "the financial support of such great industrialists as Fritz Thyssen and the banking house of Schroeder." Winston Churchill, in The Gathering Storm, affirms that the Nazi Party had "so strong a hold...among industrialists." And the noted journalist and press critic George Seldes, in his 1943 book Facts and Fascism, documents the fact that profit economics is fundamental to fascism. Writing during the war, he makes it clear that fascism has been consistently financed, brought into being and sustained, by persons powerful in business. In his second chapter, "Profits in Fascism: Germany," there are statements such as these:

    Hitler was made the Fuehrer of Germany by the biggest industrialists of his country....

    [A] main objective...[was] to crush the workers and abolish the trade unions....The trade unions have been destroyed....

    [In 1932] Big Business and the Junkers [the large landowners]...,worried by the possibility of a swing to the Left through a coalition of [General] Schleicher and the Trade Unions...,[gave Hitler] his much-needed cash for his Party and his own appointment as Chancellor....

    The big American and other banking houses floated their great loans for Hitler-and other fascist dictators in many lands....

    The decree establishing price ceilings was eliminated so that Big Business under Hitler was able to raise prices on numerous occasions....

    Magnates in the banking, industrial and chemical world had taken hold of the entire economic apparatus...and are making unprecedented profits.

The Reason

he reason so many who saw themselves as benefiting from the profit system backed Hitler, is that fascism is, centrally, the profit system untrammeled by such constraints as workers' rights. It is the government fully supporting corporate profit-making, and smashing anything that interferes. Some of the first persons sent to concentration camps were union activists; they preceded the Jews. "Fascism," Mr. Siegel explained, "is the profit system defending itself without any scruples."

     The seeing of human beings, not as persons to understand and be just to, but as material for your self-aggrandizement, is in the profit motive. And it is contempt. Not being clear about the contempt and therefore not seeing what it could take in, made for something Seldes mentions: in the early days, some Jews also "invested in Hitler." Hitler seemed good for business-better than the alternatives.

     The contempt of seeing people in terms of profit has ever so many non-economic, ordinary forms. Take a person-we'll call her Liz-at a social gathering. She does not see it as a chance to understand people, and know and care more deeply for the world. Instead she sees the people there in terms of how much she can impress them, conquer them, and also outshine them. She has social victories but feels empty and more unsure later. She is like various persons in business who act confident but are deeply unsure, because using one's mind to beat out others day after day is not what the human mind was made for.

     A person like Seldes did not see, as Churchill didn't, what relates the fiscal aspect of Nazism to the Gestapo, "Aryan supremacy," gas chambers. What relates them is contempt, and Eli Siegel is the educator who explained it. He defined contempt as "the addition to self through the lessening of something else," and, in his James and the Children, he described it as "a way that says: 'A person made by God exists for me to have glory.'"

     The lessening of another person to glorify oneself is, as I've been pointing out, in the going after profits. It's also in Liz as she gets a thrill feeling another woman at the party is far inferior to her. And it is in the terrible Nazi seeing of other peoples as inferior-with all that came to take in. The attraction of Hitler won't be understood until the human thirst to have contempt is understood. Mr. Siegel explained in issue 142 of this journal:

There was in 1930 a collective desire, caused by bitterness and the feeling of injustice, in many German persons, to see themselves as "superior." This is contempt taking the world as stage and causing...much death, much suffering.

What Isn't Contempt

o we come to that most needed thing in the world-needed in economics, and for human decency and happiness: what isn't contempt. What isn't contempt is the oneness of the two freedoms: the flourishing of our individuality through the just seeing of the world different from us.

     Mr. Siegel gives many instances of it in this lecture. But for now, since we are looking some at World War II, I'll quote from a poem about freedom written in 1942 in Nazi-occupied France: Paul Eluard's "Liberté." Eluard is speaking to Liberty, and says:

On the notebooks I had as a schoolboy,
On my desk and the trees,
On the sand, on the snow,
I write your name.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
On the foam of the clouds,
On the sweatings of the storm,
On the rain thick and dull,
I write your name
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
On my dog, fierce and tender,
On his trained ears,
On his awkward paw,
I write your name.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
I was born to know you,
To name you:

     The lines of Paul Eluard are reverberating and taut. He says he wants to know liberty-be exact about it. The liberty he fervently honors is the authentic freedom: freedom that is also justice, freedom that is respect.

ELLEN REISS, Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism

Why We Misjudge
By Eli Siegel

n The Treasure Chest: An Anthology of Contemplative Prose, edited by J. Donald Adams, there's another quotation related to the two freedoms. It has to do with the fact that we want to know exactly, and we also want to be unfettered. This is from Henri Frédéric Amiel, the Swiss rather dolorous philosopher, a diarist, and Adams gives it the title "The Fear of Truth":

Man defends himself as much as he can against truth, as a child does against a medicine, as the man of the Platonic cave does against the light.

     We should ask at this time, do executives want to know the whole truth about industry? It's said that the reds don't want to know the whole truth, and that may be. More than one kind of person can be afraid of the whole truth, and truth can be feared for various reasons. However, if one sees the financial section of the Times in the last eighteen months, one can see a kind of reportorial pussyfooting. They leave out the main things having to do with production and the needed price for production-that is, wages.

      "Man defends himself as much as he can against truth, as a child does against a medicine." In Fortune and elsewhere, you can see the executive as a fearful boy. I think that executives with companies listed on the stock exchange can be timorous persons who have an impressiveness. And they can have a most overwhelming and methodical bluster but not believe in themselves. You can be untrue to yourself no matter how much or little money you have. It's not that you're going to be happy if you're not at all encumbered by wealth. That doesn't follow. The proletarian also has complexes enow. It does happen, however, that if you have wealth, you still have your self that you have to like the looks of.

     We can see this in Auchincloss and other novelists of the well-to-do classes-we can find it in Henry James, in Evelyn Waugh. We find it in Arnold Bennett, in his Riceyman Steps and elsewhere, and in the German novel, in Buddenbrooks of Thomas Mann: that no matter what companies you are a power in, you still have a self that looks at you and asks, What do you think of me?

Fooling Oneself

miel says: "The natural liking for the false has several causes." It has now been seen that in the 1920s the German executive, including the Jewish executive, fooled himself about what was going on in Germany. The Jewish executives made mistakes as deep as those made by the others, were as wrong about what was going on, and there was a great deal of sadness. In fact, executives have still not wanted to say they were wrong in appraising the financial structure of Germany in 1932 and earlier.

     There was a financial structure, and it would be well to look at it. It purged free enterprise of a few of its encumbrances and made business close to the government. Junkers, military, business, and government: what a wonderful quartet they were for a while. Then the picture of Hitler tended to mix up all things, but they were still there: the quartet never vanished, of business, military, Junker, and government.

The natural liking for the false has several causes: the inheritance of prejudices...; the predominance of the imagination over the reason, which affects the understanding...

This is going on in nearly every broker's office in the country. They're all dreamers; they have hallucinations with percentage marks.

     And there is what Amiel then calls "the predominance of the will over the intelligence." The brokers naturally want to feel that their business is as good as ever: that their old investors will want to try new stocks and also (as they put it so nicely) change their portfolio to some advantage, and that there will be new investors-that all will go as well as ever, and that the brokers are the needed intermediaries; they are the midwives of making money. But 'tis not so, and there are lots of persons who are angry. You can't lose a lot of money without your emotions showing it a little. What Amiel called "the predominance of the will over the intelligence" can take the form of: I got myself into the brokerage business and so it has to be as good as ever-that's all there is to it!

     What you want stops you from seeing straight. Once you hope for something, it affects what you really see. And the broker is hoping that we're in the midst only of a slight interruption of investment procedure, the procedure of our economy. If that is so, then I have read history wrongly.

     The profit system for the last three thousand years has been questioning itself. It's now hearing its own complaints. You could hear it question itself in other years and centuries, but man has needed it as a way of asserting himself, of being "free," as he puts it (the showing of energy has been associated with freedom). If it has been a true freedom, I'm wrong. The adjective free in free enterprise is one of the lyingest terms ever. It has not been free enterprise, because as soon as one person has more capital than another through birth, it's not free enterprise. The idea, as I once said years ago, of calling a game free that begins with somebody already having nine runs!

     All this has to do with the two freedoms: the desire to show energy, express oneself, and the desire to have that corrective thing which is beauty, ethics, truth.

When Is Liberty Not Really Liberty?

nother passage from this book is by Aldous Huxley. It has to do with sex. But as I've said, the wanting to be a conquistador through money is related to wanting to be a conquistador through sex. Adams gives the selection the title "Light Loves," and it begins with Huxley quoting Burns:

On love regarded as an amusement the last word is surely this of Robert Burns:

I waive the quantum of the sin,
The hazard of concealing;
But oh! it hardens all within
And petrifies the feeling.

That is an important passage of Burns, and means that if you take emotion lightly, take even being pleased lightly, it makes you hard; it petrifies you.

Nothing is more dreadful than a cold, unimpassioned indulgence. And cold and unimpassioned love infallibly becomes when it is too lightly made.

     In the broker's life there is a relation to play-the use of the word game hasn't wholly gone. The way people have been in advertising and industry-there's a false assuming it's a game. They call it a game even while they worry like hell: "You're in the advertising game?" "No, I'm in the shipping game." To make something falsely light is to have heaviness where you don't want it.

It is not good, as Pascal remarked, to have too much liberty.

     This statement about "too much liberty" brings up the question, When is liberty against itself? If a person says, "I want liberty," then runs up Seventh Avenue from 12th Street until he reaches 59th Street and says, "I'm free! I can run this long!" we feel there's something wrong with that.

Love is the product of two opposed forces-of an instinctive impulsion, and a social resistance acting on the individual by means of ethical imperatives justified by philosophic or religious myths.

     This means love is a point and a tremendous inclusiveness: it has the world and one's lips in it.

When...resistance is removed, the impulse wastes itself on emptiness.

The saddest sight in the prizefighting game is to have a fighter so dazed-he's been hit very hard-that though the round is over or the other fighter has gone away, he keeps on moving around, seeming to fight. It's a kind of liberty, but it's a compulsion.   

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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Lord Byron | Harry Potter  |  Sherlock Holmes
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Racism & Its Solution

Aesthetic Realism Resources
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Friends of Aesthetic Realism—Countering the Lies

Art and Literature
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The Place of Aesthetic Realism in Culture & Literature

Two Teachers Speak on a Class Taught by Ellen Reiss
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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