“To Whom Should America Belong?”
Number 2054. March 31, 2021
Dear Unknown Friends:
In What Was Going On, the important 1975 lecture we are serializing, Eli Siegel discusses an article in the bicentennial issue of Fortune magazine. The article’s author is describing what he considers the atmosphere, the changed ways of seeing, and the future of the America of then. Though Mr. Siegel values the article, he disagrees with it centrally, fundamentally. And discussing it, he is explaining so much that we, of today, need to know.
As I have described: five years earlier Mr. Siegel began to show, in his Goodbye Profit System lectures, that a way of economics based on contempt no longer worked, and never would again. For thousands of years, economics had been impelled by the profit motive, by the seeing and using of people not with the purpose of being just to them, but with the purpose of financially aggrandizing oneself through their labor and needs. He showed that now, while persons with power might force profit-motivated economics to limp along for some additional decades, its condition was terminal. Ethics, he showed, is a force working through history, and we’ve reached the point at which the only way economics can succeed is by having a basis that is justice to every man, woman, and child.
So in 1975 Mr. Siegel is looking at an article in as big a proponent of the profit system as any: Fortune magazine. He is commenting in a leisurely, immediate, humorous way, with that beautiful oneness of scholarship and kindness that was always his. Throughout the lecture he comments on a matter mentioned often in the article: institutions. Mr. Siegel explains what an institution is: “something present in a country or in the world in a recurrent way.” And he mentions many, including one I’ll speak about here: he says, in 1975, “The elective system, or elections, is seen as an institution. And that is in question now.”
The Individual & the General
This principle of Aesthetic Realism is true of any time, place, person, subject: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.” Opposites you’ll see Mr. Siegel speaking about in the part of his lecture published here are the individual and the general, each person and all people, oneself and the whole nation. These opposites have to do with every aspect of America, including elections. . . . Read more
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