Is the Solution of Politics, Aesthetics?
By Eli Siegel
There are clearer signs in recent years of what has been true all along: that the solution of politics is aesthetics.
The purpose of politics is to have the individual see himself as at one with the state. If the state cows the individual, is remote from him, does not consider him, then the situation is not good—and—this is the point—it is not aesthetic.
There are two ways of saying, I am the State. One is the way ascribed to Louis XIV in an ebullience of monarchic candor: L'état, c'est moi: The state it is me, myself. The other could have been used by a soldier of Louis XIV fighting in Bavaria: I am the state, for here I am in garments provided by the state, marching and fighting for it.
In both instances, the instance of Louis XIV and the instance of le pauvre Guillaume, poor William, there is identification of one person with the state: which can be described as the method, men and laws, of controlling a specific territory.
In aesthetics, there is an identification of self with the object being looked at by self. But it is an identification which is neither that of Louis XIV nor of his foot-soldier. In aesthetic identification there is that sameness and difference of human consciousness with an object, which is man's deepest purpose: it is also the objective or purpose of politics or government: the last is a structural or static way of describing politics.
In what way could an American in 1790 say he was the American government? The way he could say it is a sign of how well the American government was doing three years after the Constitution.
If Americans this year could say, I am the government, with neither the toppling greed of a Bourbon at his most assured nor the mechanical humility of a peasant given a musket, that American would be in the field of aesthetics.
The purpose of aesthetics is to have a person identify himself with the world other than himself in a manner which is tingling and profoundly and comprehensively accurate for both himself and what is different from himself. It can be said that the unconscious motto of everyone is: No alienation without representation. When a mayor says, Your city, he is going for that identification. When an executive federally empowered says, Your government, he may in a creepy and unfelt manner be going for the identification, the aesthetic identification, too, of government and self. Anarchism is a short way, an accelerated way, of having a person identify himself with government.
In politics, laws and other men are supposed to stand for one man or one woman or one child. When laws and other men stand for one individual, there is aesthetics.
In politics, there is much "standing for." What is standing for? If a person were running for office, and got it, and he really stood for his constituents, he would according to Aesthetic Realism, be in an aesthetic relation to those constituents; also to the territory those constituents are of. We hardly have this. Yet, we can ask, what if someone fully, truly represented a number of persons and their territory? At this time, there would be political adequacy, ethical adequacy, aesthetic adequacy. There would, as consequence, also be logical and imaginative adequacy.
L'état, c'est moi, then, seen from an angle Louis XIV was not likely fond of, is the objective of democratic politics. If now some person truly poor in Pittsburgh felt that the state was respecting him more through how it assisted him, he would feel he was the state in a manner commented on by that of Louis XIV but different. It would approach aesthetics.
If we like a law, we are that much the law. If we like an official, we are that much the official. This is possible. Aesthetics goes for a tremendous and exquisite state of an individual being able to say, I am that much this, too.
The motto of the United States, E Pluribus Unum, is aesthetic, related to the aesthetics of what has been said. Oneness from manyness is the main problem of all aesthetic composition. If something which is one is got from manyness in a territory—a territory is political possibility—then aesthetics takes place.
These are problems in politics, all of which have an aesthetic relation: How can men chosen by other men represent themselves and also those who chose them? How can a minority seemingly against a proposal be honored even when that proposal is adopted? How can small units like street, district, precinct, village, township, county, factory be honored in political activity even as a large territory containing them is served? How can a vote represent a person externally and internally? There are other questions. They may seem strange. Yet it is what John Stuart Mill was after when he wrote his Representative Government.
The purpose of politics is to choose laws and men which would truly represent an individual. And suppose a law or a person did represent an individual fully? The person represented would not be the law or person representing, but he would be, too—as people say in Twelfth Night.
We want people to represent us in politics—and in love and economics too. When people represent us fully, they are ourselves and are not ourselves. When an object is simultaneously the same as and different from the person concerned with it—or considering it—aesthetics is there.
Yes, we want to say, I am the State. However, it is in a way neither monopolistic—the Hapsburgs at their least interfered with—nor that of a recipient of patronizing national assistance. The way that is related to these, but is neither, is the aesthetic way.
Since the purpose of politics is, after all, for an individual to feel—and be right—that he is governed rightly, the solution of politics is aesthetics.
Aesthetics is the oneness of humility and self-respect. Art has helped this along. Politics wants to.
© 1971 by Definition Press, © 2012 - 2014 by the Aesthetic Realism Foundation
"Is the Solution of Politics, Aesthetics?" was published in The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, number 542, August 24, 1983.