National and International Ethics: The Study
What Caused the Wars / May 26, 1976 (Reprinted 2006)
It is necessary to see that while the contempt which is in every one of us may make ordinary life more painful than it should be, this contempt is also the main cause of wars. It was contempt that made for the trenches of France in 1915; it was contempt which made for the labor camps of the Second World War. It was contempt which made for that awful mode of retaliation called Nazism. Contempt has made Christians and Mohammedans fight daily, or want to fight daily, in Lebanon. Contempt causes terror in the Middle East. Contempt makes Bolivia a perilous place in which to live. In the unconscious, dear unknown friends, it is the other person who will have accomplished contempt for you unless you have first contempt for him....more
We are very glad to publish here a short discussion by Eli Siegel on the big subject of lying. It’s part of a lecture he gave in July 1973, and is ever so needed now, at a time when the matter of lying and truth is being talked about and fought about in a way that’s new in our land.
As I comment on the subject, I’m looking at it not in any political way but in terms of ethics, and an intensity about ethics in America. Every day, people of differing political views are accusing others of lying and being accused of lying themselves. One could use all this to feel truth is up for grabs, since anybody can claim to have it and claim an enemy does not. But one would be wrong to use what’s occurring that way....more
This issue includes:
- A commentary by Ellen Reiss in which she writes of why the growing feeling in Americans that truth matters. She writes: "We need to use our anger at lies to love truth more."
- "The Permanent & the Current; or, Synonyms"—by Eli Siegel, from a lecture he gave at the time of the Watergate hearings in 1973, in which he discusses synonyms for lying, including deception, concealment, invention, and others
- Ellen Reiss's writing, in her commentary, on the tremendous stir in America now, about the relation of freedom and accuracy, freedom and justice—a matter that affects everyone as they look at other people
- Mr. Siegel's discussion of passages from Spenser's The Faerie Queene about the fact that people know that they don't know something
- A commentary by Ellen Reiss relating what Eli Siegel says about revolution in the final section of his 1974 lecture about mind to what is happening in America today—including as to the Bernie Sanders campaign
- "History: A Study of Mind"—the conclusion of the lecture being serialized, in which Mr. Siegel uses a then-recent New York Times article about reformers in the House of Representatives to show that revolution was going on
- Ellen Reiss's commentary, with a discussion of the relation of originality and convention, showing how Abraham Lincoln's words in the Second Inaugural Address "are original, because their writer was ardently trying to be in conformity with what is true."
- The next section of the 1963 lecture by Eli Siegel Romanticism and Guilt. In it, he speaks about William Wordsworth, and explains: "The romanticists said,...: Get to the true nature of the world; get to your deepest, truest feeling."
- A commentary in which Ellen Reiss writes about the historic importance of the election of Barack Obama, and what Americans are hoping for from him
- Part of Eli Siegel's lecture Once More, the World, given in 1970. This section has been subtitled "Corruption & the American Earth," and in it is a discussion of corruption during the Administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft
- An article by consultant and actor Bennett Cooperman from an Aesthetic Realism public seminar: "Liking Oneself in a Tough World"
- A commentary by Ellen Reiss abou true and false freedom, and the meaning of the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution
- Part of Eli Siegel's 1970 lecture There Are Two Freedoms. In this section, he discusses a poem from Mother Goose and an anecdote about Samuel Johnson to show aspects of what freedom is.
- Part of a paper by consultant Nancy Huntting, "What Takes Care of Me?," from an Aesthetic Realism public seminar
Here is the final section of the landmark 1973 lecture we have been serializing: The Scientific Method in Feeling, by Eli Siegel. It is about the opposites of knowing and feeling, opposites that have seemed to people to be at war within them. Today, as in other times, men and women have (though they may not articulate it) an abiding sadness, shame, anger because as they’re stirred with emotion they don’t seem to themselves to be logical, to be the same person who reasons. And when they go for careful reason, they feel they must be unstirred, lack warmth.
Aesthetic Realism magnificently—and logically—shows that knowing and feeling are aesthetic opposites: that 1) both are always in us in some way; 2) they can be beautifully, proudly one in us; and 3) it is our deep need to try to have them be....more
This issue includes:
History, the Self, & America Now / Number 1933, August 10, 2016
The great lecture by Eli Siegel that we have been serializing—of November 15, 1974—is about the relation between what goes on in the individual self, the mind of each of us, and large happenings in the world….What Mr. Siegel explains in [the section printed here] is a means of understanding what’s happening in America right now.
Earlier in the talk he commented on passages from a sociology textbook, including a section on revolution. And in this final section he continues speaking about what revolution is. It may not include such dramatic occurrences as the storming of the Bastille or Winter Palace. Revolution, Mr. Siegel explains, has subtlety, nuance; and it can be a process....more
This issue includes:
Originality, Convention, & What's True / Number 1859, October 9, 2013
Part of [the] greatness [of the lecture we're serializing] is Aesthetic Realism’s explanation of guilt. Whether guilt is searing or murky, whether it shows itself as agitation or emptiness or “low self-esteem,” it is the sense that we have been unjust to the world. Guilt does not come from society or religion or our upbringing. It comes from what the human self is. If we are unjust, whether we’re clear about that or not, we have to dislike ourselves—because our purpose from birth is to be ourselves through seeing truly what’s not ourselves. This purpose is in keeping with the aesthetic nature of the human self: each of us is, all the time, a situation of opposites needing to be one, and the chief opposites are self and world. Writes Eli Siegel in two clear, resounding, and beautiful sentences:
The basis of the Aesthetic Realism method is that every human being is a self whose fundamental and constant purpose is to be at one with reality. It is impossible for that self to evade this purpose, although he can curtail it, obscure it, limit it.
That is how “The Guilt Chapter” of his Self and World begins....more
This issue includes:
War versus Respect / Number 1787, January 5, 2011
Here is the conclusion of Contempt & World War I, the lecture Eli Siegel gave on November 28, 1975. He has been using four texts, very different from each other but all concerned with the First World War: Vachel Lindsay's 1914 poem “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight”; Woodrow Wilson's 1917 war address to Congress; Sigmund Freud's 1915 “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death”; and an account by German historian Hermann Pinnow. Through them Mr. Siegel illustrates that which he would state in writing six months later, in issue 165 of this journal:
It is necessary to see that while the contempt which is in every one of us may make ordinary life more painful than it should be, this contempt is also the main cause of wars. It was contempt that made for the trenches of France in 1915....
It is clear that a person who has identified the fundamental cause of war has accomplished something great. Eli Siegel has done this. It is one of the accomplishments of Aesthetic Realism....more
There Are Self, Truth, & War / Number 1786, December 22, 2010
We are serializing the lecture that Eli Siegel gave on November 28, 1975: Contempt & World War I. Definitive and scholarly, it also has informality, a great ease, and humor.
There are many valuable studies of Europe in 1914, detailing the resentments and rivalries among its nations. But it is Eli Siegel who has explained the fundamental reason young men of England and Germany (for instance) were sent to kill each other, and were so often eager to don a uniform and do so.
Aesthetic Realism has identified that in the human self from which all cruelty comes—including the cruelty that is war. This ugly thing is contempt: the feeling we are more through lessening what’s not ourselves. It is very ordinary. It is present in all of us. And the big fight in each of our lives is between our desire for contempt and our deepest desire: to be truly ourselves, expressed and original, through being just to what’s different from us....more
Freud, Debs, & the Cause of War / Number 1785, December 8, 2010
Here is part 3 of Contempt & World War I, a 1975 lecture by Eli Siegel. One of the huge, terrible mysteries these many centuries has been What is the cause of war? Why have people of one nation, or clan, or tribe, felt driven to kill those of another? Why have “nice” young men (and later, women too) been so ready to end the lives of people much like themselves who happen to be of another country; and why have they gotten a satisfaction in humiliating and tormenting that “enemy”?
Eli Siegel is the philosopher and historian who has explained at last the cause of war. It is contempt: the desire—fierce yet also quiet and ever so ordinary—to make oneself more through seeing what’s not oneself as less. Within every person, contempt is fighting with another desire: to care for ourselves, be ourselves, through being just to the world different from ourselves....
We include in this issue two poems by Eli Siegel. In 1925, after winning the Nation poetry prize for his “Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana,” he began to write as a commentator for the Baltimore American. That spring, Baltimore opened a Memorial Hall honoring soldiers who had died in World War I, and the April 5, 1925 issue of the paper contains “War Is Remembered”: four poems by Eli Siegel, each written from the point of view of a different person visiting the hall. We reprint here poems 1 and 4....In the first, a mother speaks; in the fourth, a man who had fought in France and now cannot find work....more
War—What Is the Fundamental Cause? / Number 1784, November 24, 2010
We continue to serialize Contempt & World War I, a lecture Eli Siegel gave in November 1975. It is about the fundamental cause of war. This cause, he explained, is contempt: the feeling, had by everyone, that we are more if we can lessen what’s not ourselves. Mr. Siegel identified contempt, in all its ordinariness, as the hurtful principle in the human self. It is behind all cruelty. And while having contempt can make a person feel temporarily important, even mighty, it is the thing that makes us pervasively ashamed, depressed, agitated, lonely—because it’s against the deepest desire we have: to express ourselves through being beautifully just to the outside world.
There is in this landmark lecture a leisureliness, and also humor, as Mr. Siegel looks at his subject. Meanwhile, something of the utmost magnitude and urgency is being presented. He intermingles various texts, which look at the First World War from different angles. He began with Vachel Lindsay’s poem “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight in Springfield, Illinois,” and his discussion of it is in our last issue, TRO 1783. Next, he speaks about Woodrow Wilson’s 1917 request for a congressional declaration of war, then about a 1915 essay of Freud, then a passage by a German historian, and then he goes back to Wilson and to Freud again. Through that almost symphonic intermingling, we have a sense of the huge, horrified, international puzzlement: how did all this killing across Europe come to be?...more
Contempt, War, & the Self of Everyone / Number 1783, November 10, 2010
We begin to serialize the 1975 lecture Contempt & World War I, by Eli Siegel. He is the philosopher and historian to explain that the principal, underlying cause of war is contempt….Six months after [this] lecture…, Mr. Siegel wrote the historic essay “What Caused the Wars” for issue 165 of this journal. It begins with the following sentences, beautiful in their prose, great in their comprehension:
It is necessary to see that while the contempt which is in every one of us may make ordinary life more painful than it should be, this contempt is also the main cause of wars. It was contempt that made for the trenches of France in 1915; it was contempt which made for the labor camps of the Second World War. It was contempt which made for that awful mode of retaliation called Nazism.
[In the commentary, Ellen Reiss discusses how contempt is present in “the earliest writing about war in the western world: Homer’s Iliad,” and in the Spanish Civil War which “was about how the earth of Spain, the wealth of Spain, should be owned.”]...more
For a President & the People of America / Number 1732, November 26, 2008
At this time, when America has had an election that is historic, we publish the 5th section of the lecture we've been serializing—a lecture that explains the economy of now and what Americans are looking for, as a nation and as individuals....[G]iven at the end of 1970, is one of Mr. Siegel's great Goodbye Profit System lectures. In May of that year, he explained that the world had reached the point at which economics based on a selfish, ugly, unethical way of seeing one's fellow humans no longer worked. While the profit system might drag on for quite a few years, and sometimes be given a flashy façade, it was a mortally ailing thing. Week after week, using documents of the past and present—of economics, history, literature, and human feeling—he explained why we had come to the time when
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....more
This issue includes:
Freedom That Is Justice Too / Number 1679, November 15, 2006
In the lecture we are serializing...Eli Siegel explains something huge, not understood before: he explains what freedom really is. Mme Roland’s words on the matter are famous: “O liberty! what crimes are committed in thy name!” The reason that freedom, or liberty, has been so often a cover for cruelty and for just plain being wrong, this also the lecture explains.
Mr. Siegel is showing that authentic freedom is a oneness of opposites. It is not only expression, doing what one pleases; it is simultaneously accuracy, justice. Unless we feel our being just is the same as our being free, we’ll be ethically sloppy, unkind, even brutal. That is why there is so much unkindness in personal life, and so much cruelty within and among nations....more
This issue includes:
The Self, Shelley, & What People Deserve / Number 1645, July 27, 2005
We are serializing the 1966 lecture Psychiatric Terms and Shelley, Byron, Keats, by Eli Siegel.... Th[is] stanza [from the poem "Song to the Men of England"(1818)] by Shelley is about the biggest social and economic question today. That question is: To whom should the world and its wealth belong? Shelley was passionate on the subject: the earth, he felt, should belong to everyone living on it. The idea that some few people owned the land of England, and that other people who should rightly own it too had to work for those few persons and provide wealth for them, Shelley despised. That idea is, in fact, contempt, and has the disproportion which, in another field, is insanity....more
What Interferes with Justice / Number 1602, December 17, 2003
We are serializing a work of philosophic, historic, and immediate importance: Eli Siegel’s 1968 lecture We Are Unrepresented. Quoting John Stuart Mill, Aristotle, and articles from current newspapers, he describes what that tremendous, needed thing, representation, is.
In the present section, he comments on an instance of horrible misrepresentation in judicial history: the ordeal of Sacco and Vanzetti, from their arrest in 1920 to their execution seven years later. There were protests and appeals for justice by persons of thought throughout the civilized world....more
What Representation Means / Number 1601, December 10, 2003
Here is part four of the historic 1968 lecture We Are Unrepresented, by Eli Siegel. In this section he comments on the "black power" movement which was gaining strength then, and on its importance in showing what representation means.
We also print part of a paper by Steve Weiner from an Aesthetic Realism public seminar of last month. Mr. Weiner is a computer specialist for the New York City Department of Education and a union official; and the title of the seminar was "The Mix-up in Men about Coldness and Warmth."...more
The Need to See Your Real Feeling / Number 1507, February 20, 2002
A recent occurrence, important as history, stands also for a tremendous need in the life of everyone. It is the statement by Israeli soldiers that they will not take part in their army’s activities in Gaza and the West Bank. [Washington Post, January 29, 2002]....more
What Is Loyalty to America? / Number 1502, January 16, 2002
What it means to love America, really to love America, is an urgent matter. I have written on it recently and continue to, because Aesthetic Realism explains that love for country is a matter of ethics and aesthetics — in keeping with this Aesthetic Realism principle: "All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves." The great 1968 lecture we are serializing has that principle at its basis....We need to give to America the justice which both science and art give. And so I am going to comment on a statement which has been felt to stand for American patriotism: the Pledge of Allegiance, recited in the classrooms of the land and at other gatherings of Americans....more
The Urgent Beauty of Our Constitution / Number 1495, November 28, 2001
"At this time of worry in America, it is urgent that we be clear about what America’s government fundamentally is, what makes the structure of that government beautiful and right, respectful of people’s lives — of our lives. There has been, of course, terrific injustice in America; but the governmental structure of this land, outlined in our Constitution and Bill of Rights, is just and has made the countering of injustice possible."...more
The Real American Patriotism / Number 1487, October 3, 2001
"Patriotism is like love, and is a kind of love. Just as we need to see what real love is, we need to see what real patriotism is — and to have it, and not some false thing calling itself patriotism. People have given each other agony because what they went after and called "love" was not that but something really opposed to love."...more
When We Feel Hurt; or, Arabs and Jews / Number 1439, November 1, 2000
There is no bigger emergency in the world now, both internationally and in the private life of everyone, than the matter of: What do we do when we feel we’ve been hurt? Peoples feel hurt by other peoples — Israelis and Palestinians certainly do. But also, individuals feel hurt by persons they know — by a spouse, acquaintance, co-worker. It happens, Aesthetic Realism explains, that we can arrange to see ourselves as hurt.... Meanwhile, when there has been a true hurt to us, what do we do?...more
As we continue to serialize Eli Siegel’s magnificent 1949 lecture Poetry and Words, I want to comment on a matter that has been in the news lately. It is the dispute about the flying of the Confederate flag above the South Carolina statehouse. I will be speaking about it in relation to words, and what Aesthetic Realism considers most important as to words: sincerity, honesty. But I’ll say immediately that I think the presence of that flag on a government building is completely shameful.
Sincerity or honesty with words is the using of words to show what you truly feel, not to hide and pretend; and the using of words to be exact about the world. Falsity with words—twisting and changing facts, using words to construct some picture convenient to one’s ego whether it is true or not—this goes on so much, in politics, the press, social life. People come to expect a certain dishonesty with words, and engage in it. However, they despise themselves for it, and despise others. This fact is beautiful.....more
Art, War, and the Desire to Know / Number 1360, April 28, 1999
"This issue is about art, war, and the desire to know — about the fact that it is urgent for people to want to know."....more