Is Beauty a Political Necessity?
The following discussion between Helga Zepp-LaRouche, founder of the Schiller Institutes, and Megan Beets of LaRouche PAC was recorded Jan. 13 on LaRouche PAC’s New Paradigm for Mankind program. Video of the program.
Beets: We are situated in an extremely ominous global strategic situation. The global financial system has now entered fully the final collapse phase, and without the without the protection of the Franklin Roosevelt Glass-Steagall Act, we’re looking at a complete expropriation of the population’s savings, and rising death rates. We’ve already seen this happen in the case of Greece, and places around the United States. And this is what you and your husband have warned about. Unless we get an entirely new system, the world is looking at a collapse phase into a New Dark Age.
Now this is going hand-in-hand with a real escalation in the war danger, and we’ve seen this in the rising provocations against China, with what happened in the situation around North Korea just this week. And the world situation has really escalated to a point of dramatic decision. We have to decide in the next hours and days, which direction the world wants to go in.
And as you and your husband have both said, there’s no practical way out of this crisis. Mr. LaRouche has said many times that only shutting down the British Empire can save humanity. And you, yourself, have said many times, put it this way, that mankind has to decide to break with the current system, and usher in a complete New Paradigm, based upon completely new principles.
I think that the general population is getting a stronger and stronger sense of this, that mankind cannot continue down the pathway that we’ve been on, up till now, and that something new is needed. However, I think that people often have a very difficult time even beginning to think about what that new system could be, what it could, or should, be like. And that, I think, is really what I would like to discuss with you today. What are the principles that are powerful enough to carry mankind into a beautiful new future?
The Crucial Ideas of Friedrich Schiller
For that, I think the ideas of Friedrich Schiller are crucial, especially for our American audience, to whom he is almost completely unknown. So Schiller is somebody whom you have been intimately familiar with since you were very young, and he’s somebody upon whose ideas you’ve based a lot of your own thinking, and a lot of your very important and successful political work over the past decades. So that’s why I invited you here today, and what I would like to open up a discussion about.
Just to say a few things to situate Schiller for our audience. Friedrich Schiller was born in 1759 in Germany, very close to Stuttgart. He died in 1805 at a young age, in Weimar, Germany. Many people might be familiar with Schiller, if only from his great poem, An Die Freude (The Ode to Joy), which Beethoven famously set in his Ninth Symphony. But Schiller was not just a poet, and I think we’ll get into this. He was also a great dramatist, a great historian, a great philosophical thinker, and a great, as you put it, psychologist.
What I find most striking, throughout all of his works, is Schiller’s complete commitment to the idea that it’s not only possible, but necessary, to create a society which is moral, just, and good, and to move mankind into his adulthood. So, if we think of today’s insane Dark Age vs. Renaissance state of warfare as perhaps the throes of puberty of mankind, it is possible for mankind to put that state behind him and move into his adulthood.
But this idea, I think, for people living, especially in the Trans-Atlantic area, is so far removed from what they see around them, that it’s difficult to grasp that this is even possible.
How Can We Get Out of This Dark Age
Zepp-LaRouche: Well, I think, from my standpoint, the image of man which Friedrich Schiller developed in the most beautiful way—I don’t know any thinker, internationally, in any culture, who has designed a more beautiful image of what man can be. And given the fact that we are living in a Dark Age, as you’ve just correctly mentioned, where barbarism and degeneracy is prevalent, I think he is probably the most immediately needed antidote to that.
Because, when the French Revolution failed in Europe, in the time of Schiller, you had had the American Revolution, and that was what all great republicans were looking towards. They were hoping that they could overturn the oligarchical system in Europe, and replace it with one modeled on the American Revolution.
The beginning of the French Revolution was hopefully going in this direction, but then when the Jacobin terror took over, that hope vanished. And at that point Schiller wrote the Aesthetical Letters, because he said, “How could it be that such a pregnant moment, such a moment full of opportunity, failed?” And he developed the idea of an aesthetical education of man, because he said, “This great moment had found a little people.” The objective condition for political change was there, but the subjective moral condition was lacking, and therefore, he said, “From now on, all improvement in politics must come through the ennoblement of the individual.”
And that is one of my deepest convictions for today: that if you don’t make people better people, then there is no way you can improve the political situation. Because you can have different democratic arrangements, different coalitions, but if the people become worse,—and they’re becoming worse right now,—then the vector of development goes downhill. So Schiller then, in these Aesthetical Letters, said, “But where should the improvement of people come from, when the governments are corrupt?” That’s for sure a condition we have today. He added, “and if the masses are degenerate and depraved”; that’s also a condition we have today.
Classical Art for People To Ennoble Themselves
So he then came to the very surprising answer—for some people surprising,—that the only way you can get better people, to get them to ennoble themselves, is through great Classical Art. And that is exactly the conclusion we have come to: that if you do not appeal to that higher identity in the human mind, which each human being is capable of having, you can’t succeed.
That was another idea of Schiller. He said, “Each person has an ideal person inside him, and it is the great task of his existence, or her existence, to fulfill that great potential, and make that ideal person, which potentially is inside everybody, identical with the real person.”
And I find this also a very beautiful answer to the idea of, Why are we here? Why are we on the planet Earth? What is the purpose of our existence? And to improve ourselves to become as close as possible to that ideal person inside ourselves, and use that then, to improve the progression of mankind, in general, which is one of the other goals Schiller set. For example, in the very beautiful writing about the laws of Solon and Lycurgus, he said that the purpose of mankind is progress, which is very simple, but I think . . .
Beets: But it’s very controversial for today.
Zepp-LaRouche: Oh yes. Yes. So I’m as enthusiastic about Schiller as I was when I was a schoolgirl.
The Inalienable Rights of Man
Beets: In 1984, you founded the Schiller Institute, and one of the founding documents was “The Inalienable Rights of Man,” which was a very slightly altered version of the American Declaration of Independence. Since that time, with the Schiller Institute you’ve led tremendous political and cultural work in countries around the world, not only countries in the so-called Western World. So maybe you could just say something about the importance of having based the Schiller Institute and the political work on Schiller, and what that’s opened up.
Zepp-LaRouche: Well, the Schiller Institute idea was to found an institute to improve foreign relations, relations among states, because I thought that the condition of international relations was terrible. It’s based on subversion, on coups, on interventionism, on all kinds of terrible things. So, I had the idea that the only way you can have a foreign policy which is really adequate to the dignity of man, is to relate to the best tradition of the other country.
In other words, when I’m relating to Americans, I want to relate to Lincoln, or to John Quincy Adams, or some of the great Presidents. When people relate to Germany, I don’t want them to reduce history to twelve years of the bottom, but I want them to think of the high points of Cusanus, of Kepler, Leibniz, Schiller, Beethoven—and with all other countries, as well. When I then thought, who would be the best person to give that idea a name? I found that it was Friedrich Schiller. So I think that the very idea of the aesthetical education of man as the absolutely most important ingredient in world politics today, is as relevant now as it was then.
Beets: Could you say more about what is aesthetical education? What does that mean, and is Schiller the only one who’s spoken about it?
Zepp-LaRouche: That is not quite true. The idea of an aesthetical education developed slowly. It was actually an answer to Aristotle, really, because Aristotle said the actor should get on the stage and act out his feelings. When he plays an angry person, he should be angry. When he plays a sad person, he should be sad. The school of rhetoric developed out of that, and they said it doesn’t have to be true, it just has to be convincing.
If you look at politics today,—I don’t want to name certain Presidential candidates in the United States, but they do this. They activate this big emotional hype—and people fall for it. How do you employ rhetoric to appeal to the senses of the audience? But it doesn’t have to be truthful.
Aesthetical education was really the opposite. It said, you have to develop the inner person, you have to develop the inner-directedness of the freedom of the soul. You have to educate people to become beautiful souls.
When I was a young woman, or girl, in school, I was really mesmerized by this idea of a beautiful soul. Because I looked around and I said, all these girls are concerned about how they look; how much make-up, or not, they should use; or the boys, how big biceps they should have, and what not. But who cares about the beauty of their soul?
Schiller had the idea that you can educate not only your mind, your intellect, but that you can, through beauty, educate your emotions. So eventually, when you reach the goal, or the proximity of a beautiful soul, you can blindly trust your emotions, because they will never tell you anything different than what reason would command. His definition of a beautiful soul was, that it’s a person for whom freedom and necessity, duty and passion, are the same thing. And then later he said, the only person for whom this condition applies is the genius. However, he said everybody can become a genius. That is what beauty really is.
Republican vs. Oligarchical
That came from his very deep anti-oligarchical conviction. To my knowledge, he was probably one of the first people, if not the first person, in general, who differentiated between the oligarchical system, and the republican system.
I have mentioned his writings about Solon and Lycurgus, where he described Solon, the state model based on natural law, on the common interest of man, as the focus of mankind, as compared to Sparta, the oligarchical model, where you have a small elite subjugating the masses. He had this idea that if every human being becomes a beautiful soul, or becomes a genius, then oligarchy will vanish, because then people are self-thinking and inner-directed.
Two Forms of Law
William C. Morey
That, by the way, is what is lacking the most today. People have completely forgotten to be self-governed, self-thinking, the inner freedom is not. . . People complain about all kinds of external tyrannies, and dictatorships, and so forth, but I think the biggest tyranny is the inability to be inner-directed. As I said, I don’t know anybody who is so much concerned with that, the idea of the inner freedom. And he defines beauty as the freedom in appearance, and I think that this is so important for today.
Beets: Can you say more about that, the freedom in appearance?
Zepp-LaRouche: He had an idea of beauty which was very much detached from sensuous experience. He said there must be a condition of beauty which is basically an idea based on reason. And it’s not like what the English Enlightenment would say, that an idea comes from the distillation of sensuous experience. The English Enlightenment, they basically had this idea, man is born as a tabula rasa [blank slate], and then you bang your head against the wall, which is an experience, and then you make an idea out of that, which is sort of ridiculous.
So Schiller said, no, there must be an idea of beauty, so that when you find something beautiful in reality, and it coincides, that is a lucky coincidence, but that does not mean that this idea of beauty comes from the sensuous experience. And that idea of harmonious development, the idea of freedom in the appearance, is exactly what corresponds.
Because you see, Kant was very prevalent in the 1790s, which was when Schiller wrote many of these aesthetical writings. Kant had the idea that you have to have a Law of Morality, the so-called categorical imperative, that you should not do anything you don’t want to be done to you, to yourself, and that you sort of have to have rules, which you obey.
Overcoming the Brutalization of the Population
And Schiller was very upset. He said, we who love freedom so much, don’t even want to look at the procedure by which a person forces himself to be moral,—aghh! I have to be moral. The people go to church, and they say, I have to be moral, and then on Monday, they behave as piggishly as on Saturday.
But he said that basically it is the inner conviction which should guide you. And beauty is both sensuous,—it obviously pleases the senses,—but it is also an emotion born out of reason. So beauty helps you to educate your emotion, and he had the idea that Art which is not beautiful, should not be called Art, because it’s not Art. Only if it’s beautiful, does it elevate people. And I agree with that. That’s also not the popular view today, but I fundamentally agree with it.
Beets: Right. It’s very much against the popular view, but I think it does get to something I was thinking about. What you’re saying, and Schiller is saying, is that everyone in society can aspire to, and achieve, the level of genius, and that within everyone there’s the potential that his impulses would be coherent with the good, and with reason. I think that seems such an impossible idea, when you look around in society today, but I think what you’re bringing up about Art, and culture generally, which is something which is a social thing. . . . It is something which is shared as an identity among an entire culture and an entire people, and gives a sense of the pathway by which you could educate masses of people to that level.
Zepp-LaRouche: I think that great Art is really very, very important, because you have today a culture which is going from ugly to more ugly, and every time you think the bottom has been reached, some perverse satanist comes up with something worse.
I think that that is really deliberate. It’s part of an oligarchical system. You had it in the Roman Empire with the circus and the amphitheater, where the Christians were thrown to the lions, or the gladiators were fighting, and then the audience was asked by the Emperor, should this person live, or die, and the person could make thumbs up or thumbs down, determining if the person would be killed. And they did that deliberately to engage the population in brutalization, because by participating in such a murder, which it de facto was, you would make people worse, and controllable.
On the other side, in great Classical Art,—in music it’s very much obvious, but also in great poetry, in painting, in architecture, in city-building, in practically every art form,—what you do is you appeal to that faculty of the human mind where creativity is located. So that is why great scientists always—I don’t know any exception—were also playing music, listening to music, and it would increase their ability to form hypotheses.
Because creativity is when you have to think about something that did not exist before. So you have to put your mind in that sort of playful condition, where you are willing to think something which does not exist in the existing body of knowledge. If you follow the great compositions in music, or you study great Classical drama, or you look at a poem, Classical poems, not just Dadaism, or some arbitrary phrases,—great Classical poetry is extremely important.
Think about what the difference is between prose and the poem. The meaning of the poem does not lie in the prose, and it forces your mind to form that higher level of idea, which is this intangible, this thing which has no weight, no dimension, but is effective. Ideas are the most effective thing in the universe. And great Art is what makes the mind able to think these beautiful things called ideas.
Beets: I was just reading Humboldt’s account of the development of Schiller’s mind, and he talks about that moment in the poem when you can’t reason the meaning out of the words anymore. The only thing that’s left is for the imagination to make a leap, a powerful leap of hypothesis to exactly this new concept that you’re discussing. Only poetry and art can do such a thing.
Beets: Let me ask you this then, because in the Aesthetical Letters, Schiller has a concept which is not in the English language in the same way, but the German word is Empfindungsvermögen. There are many ways to translate it. One is the capacity for feeling, or the capacity to be moved by emotion, maybe. But he said that that is the thing which is the most lacking in the culture. Truth in the culture is not going to come from any more knowledge or information. It has to be found in the Empfindungsvermögen. So I wonder, if you could enlighten Americans more on this concept.
Zepp-LaRouche: Schiller also said at one other point that most people in the modern times,—that was 200 years ago—are like crippled plants. If you’ve ever tried to garden, you probably know that if you put too much light, then the plants become long and thin. If you put too much fertilizer, they die. If they have too much water, or too little water. . .
So a crippled plant is a person who has developed maybe one aspect of his potential personality, but has no harmonious development. What is lacking, therefore,—people may have skills in an area, they may be good engineers, or they may be good scientists, or maybe good at whatever they are, but they are not capable of absorbing the totality of the world into their own being, let alone the universe.
What Schiller basically said is, it is that quality which—I have struggled to find a good English expression, and the closest I came was many words, not one word. I would call it the totality of the ability of the mind and the soul to absorb the world. And he said that the development of that quality is the most important necessity of his time. And if he were around today, he would say, oh, my God, it’s so much more important today.
And therefore, I think that the idea of developing that quality is really a challenge for us today. In a certain sense this was already expressed by Gotthold Lessing, who was a generation earlier, preparing the German Classical period. In his writings on aesthetical education, he said that the most important quality is compassion, which is sort of going in the same direction. And he said, people should listen and look at great Classical drama, because in the drama, you can train your emotions, because you can feel larger issues than are in your immediate environment.
Schiller wrote a beautiful essay about the theater as a moral institution. He said if a normal person, a baker, or a hair-dresser, goes into a theater, and sees the great fate of mankind on the stage, and if the drama is well written, he or she has to identify with the person on the stage, and that way become bigger than in his or her real life. And that way you can train in a playful way, the kind of emotions you really need in your own life, day to day. I think that that is something we really have to go back to. Because that’s why you have to go to the high points in culture, when you try to get out of the present decay.
That is really why we should concern ourselves with all of these people, Schiller, Lessing, and others. Because the big question is, how do we mobilize in humanity right now that inner force to get us from the abyss,—and we are clearly at the abyss. Now we’re at the verge of nuclear war. We are in the middle of a new financial crash, and people are not prepared.
Everybody a King
And it may look like a deviation, or like a diversion, to then say that we have to look at great Classical Art. We have to read Schiller’s play Wilhelm Tell. Wilhelm Tell is very important, because there is this famous Rütli Oath, which expresses the commitment of the Swiss people, at that time, which is almost identical with the text of the Declaration of Independence; or Don Carlos, where in the famous scene between Philip II and the Marquis of Posa, the Marquis of Posa says to Philip, “be a king of a million kings”; don’t be a king lording over your underlings, but let everybody be a king.
And I find this a beautiful idea. Everybody should be a king. Everybody should be on the highest level of their humanity. You go back to these dramas, and you find there the concepts, which get you out of the present low conception of man.
I think it’s very important that we have a Renaissance movement where people really go back to the highest levels. Because every Renaissance which ever happened in the history of mankind, was possible because people would go to the highest expression of culture of the previous period, and then sort of bathing in that, absorbing it, and then creating something new. That’s what we have to do today.
Beets: That brings me to something I want to ask you to elaborate more, which is on the role of the artist.
I think you’ve touched on it in different ways, but Schiller had a very particular idea of the role and the identity of the artist in society. And you see it echoed in other people. Percy Shelley wrote a very famous essay, called, In Defence of Poetry, where he said that poets uniquely have the capacity to reflect the shadows of the futurity, and bring them into the present, and therefore poets are the true legislators of the world. And I think you also see it later in a different way in Einstein, who said that the imagination is more important than knowledge, because it’s through the imagination that you come to grasp new things that aren’t part of the current world.
I was wonder if you would elaborate more specifically on the role of the artist in this kind of challenge that you’ve put out?
Zepp-LaRouche: Schiller wrote a beautiful poem, which I don’t know if it’s translated, or if it’s well translated. It’s called The Artists, and it is one of the most beautiful celebrations of how science and art inspire each other, and really lead to the combination of the two leading to this harmonious personality.
He also wrote several theoretical writings about this, one of them being the critique of Gottfried Bürger’s poems. Bürger was Schiller’s contemporary, and he would write in an absolutely Aristotelian way,—cry out your pain,—and had an terrible conception of what poetry should be. So Schiller used that occasion to again say what the mindset of the artist must be. For example, a poet must dare to move his audience, because, Schiller says, the artist has a unique ability to move the heart, and reach into the innermost movements of the soul. And because he has that power, he must have the highest standard for himself. Schiller demands that the artist ennoble himself to be an ideal man in the moment he performs his art.
If you think about certain conductors or singers who have really proven they can move people’s hearts, you know that they are, at least in the moment of performance,—they are humanity. They express the idea of mankind. That may not be the case all the time. They may go back and have some. . . I know many people who do excellent music. I have known many of them over the years. And with some, I would hope that they would only do music, because their most beautiful humanity comes out in the moment they do that. And I advised several: Look, why don’t you cut the intervals, where you’re not like that? And obviously it’s a process of perfection.
But I think Schiller demanded that the artist have an absolutely sure knowledge about what his effect, and the effect of his art is on the audience. That has to be a free expression of the audience, but the artist has to be sure about it.
So how do you solve that paradox? He says the selection of what you present must be a universal truth; it cannot be some arbitrary arabesque. This is totally contrary to Kant, who said an arabesque is more beautiful than something where you can see the plan of the Creator. Your creation has to evoke the freedom of the audience. So it has to be universally true, and it has to encourage that inner quality of the audience which makes man truly free.
Schiller was very serious about that. For example, in the preface to his play The Bride of Messina, he said that what Art should do is to set us free, not only for a moment, but really. So he says the person who goes to a concert or to a play, who is touched by the power of this performance—when he goes out, that power remains with him.
And I found that to be very true. Because when you look at something horrible, like so-called Regietheater art,—this modernist interpretation of the great Classical Art—or even a bad play, it does the same thing with you but in the other direction. I have found that even if it is only for clinical purposes, I look at something ugly, it haunts me for days. I have terrible feelings and emotions and images in my mind, and it’s very difficult to get rid of them.
This is why Plato, for example, advised that children should not even look at the plays of the great Greek tragedians, because they would portray murder in the family, revenge, bloody circumstances. And he said that children’s minds should not be impressed with such ugliness. Now if Plato, or Schiller, for that matter, would see our modern entertainment, which is all blood and gore, violence, pornography—but mostly violence—they would say, how can children have a chance to become true human beings, if their minds are already molested at an early age by this horrible entertainment?
So I think that therefore, Art has to be exactly on the level which Schiller requires. And I think that it can be done, because on the other side, I think that Schiller also agreed—I don’t have any evidence that he knew Nicholas of Cusa, but the same spirits reflects itself in all his writings—that once you taste the sweetness of truth, of beauty and truth, that you do not want other sweetnesses any more. So I believe that once people have access to great Classical Art, and they experience the powerful effect it has on them, they become totally impassioned about it.
Beets: You said something about the process of perfection, and I think you were just referring to it from the standpoint of the individual, the individual artist over time. But also, when we were talking the other day, we discussed it from the standpoint of society as a whole: that Schiller asserts the concept of the ideal, but this is not a fixed goal. This is something which society is constantly able to develop toward. So I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit more on that.
Zepp-LaRouche: He says, for example, in the Aesthetical Letters,—I forget, it was, maybe the 11th letter, or so,—that the goal is the direction, and it has been reached, once you move on it, or once you have chosen it, which sounds paradoxical. But it’s true, because Schiller taught many times, in his works, in his poems, in his dramas—they are full of this idea that there is an inner cohesion between the creative human mind, and the lawfulness of the universe.
He even wrote poems about it. For example, he wrote a beautiful poem about Columbus, Columbus crossing the ocean and discovering America. I’m now using my own words, and there is this formulation where he said that what the mind conceptualized, nature had to prove to give. He says it more beautifully than I’m saying it now, but it’s the idea that there is something in the human mind which is absolutely in correspondence with the laws of the universe, mentioned yesterday in the Policy Committee discussion; and it is the human mind which drives that force in the universe, your mind being part of the universe, not some observing or something outside of it.
I think that that is what will move mankind forward forever. Schiller was convinced that there is a limitless perfectibility of mankind, and I think that is absolutely true. If you look at history, we only have maybe five thousand years of history which has been recorded, through writing, or some other form that is intelligible. I mean, that’s just nothing. You said that mankind is a teenager. I think we are in an embryonic condition of mankind in terms of what the potential is for mankind to develop.
What Happened to Schiller in America?
Beets: That’s a beautiful idea. I hope it’s the case.
One final question, at least, for today, or final topic to bring up: Americans today, almost nobody today, knows Schiller, but that wasn’t always the case. If you go back to the Nineteenth Century, Schiller was extremely well known. In a lot of our major cities, you have statues of Schiller in the city center somewhere, or in the parks in the middle of the cities. His plays were performed. So, what happened? Why have Americans lost this great thinker?
Zepp-LaRouche: I think, as you said, when there were the celebrations for his hundredth birthday in 1859, or the hundredth anniversary of his day of death in 1905, there were thousands of people who watched the plays in German, in Chicago, in Philadelphia, in many other places. And people really loved Schiller. He was the most beloved German poet ever. And I think one-third of Americans have, according to a census of 2012, German heritage. That’s not little. One-third is quite some component of the American identity.
Now that unfortunately got completely eliminated through Teddy Roosevelt, because you had the Anglophile tradition in America of basically the agents of the British Empire, who tried to undo the American Revolution. First was the War of 1812. Then actually the Confederacy was allied with the British Empire, and eventually, when Teddy Roosevelt, and later Woodrow Wilson, moved America to join Great Britain in the First World War against Europe, against Germany, then that radically shifted American culture, because in the Nineteenth Century, you had no professor who had not either studied in Germany under the Humboldt system, or who was not a pupil of somebody who had done so.
So the influence of German Classical culture in the Nineteenth Century in America was huge. But then you had this intervention which really shifted the identity of America, through America entering the First World War on the side of the British, those against whom the American Revolution was made. Then the whole idea of being German was made hateful. People changed their names. They had German names, and they would make them sound Russian, or sound Polish; and with that, unfortunately, and then actually the Second World War, the horror of the Nazis, was the next wave of that.
So therefore, America has been cut off from the most beautiful components of its tradition. That is my view, and America will probably not recover if you don’t re-discover that tradition.
Beets: Okay. I think that’s a great place to end. Do you have anything final you want to say to our audience?
Zepp-LaRouche: No, but I would like people to know—you have published four volumes of translations of Schiller, which are excellent translations. We’ve had the need to do our own translations, because many translations—to do a good translation, you have to be a poet in two languages. And that is not so easy, but Will Wertz did an excellent job. We have four volumes, so if people really want to start looking into it, well, just write to us, and get these volumes, and I can promise you, you will not be bored.
Beets: Good. Thank you all for watching. We’ll put links in the video description to where you can find some of the translations which are available on the Schiller Institute website, as well as order the full volumes of the books, and begin your studies. So, thank all of you for watching. Thank you very much, Helga, and we’ll see you soon.