Aesthetic Realism is a cult
Who they are, how they operate • Written by former members

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A former member describes the mind-control aspects of Aesthetic Realism

written by a former AR student, Dec. 16, 2000
originally published on Steve Hassan's "Freedom of Mind"
reprinted here with permission of the author

“It is not so much the philosophy itself that I find fault with; rather, it is the fact that they are a mind-control cult.”

I am writing to share my views on the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel. It is not so much the philosophy itself that I find fault with; rather, it is the fact that they are a mind-control cult. I "studied" with these people for several years, and while I learned much that was useful, I was always wary of their worship and adoration of Eli Siegel (which Siegel himself demanded while he was alive). Siegel and his followers claim that Aesthetic Realism is so "beautiful" that one should "respect and be grateful to Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism without limit". This is a dangerous concept, for it can mean anything they want it to, and can be used to justify anything in the name of "justice to Eli Siegel". The main purpose of this phrase is to get people to give up their individuality and devote themselves exclusively to the worship of Siegel. The members and "students" are all encouraged to speak and write in exactly the same way. If you read the various articles and testimonials on their website or in their publication ("TRO"), you will quickly see what I mean. They all sound as if they had been written by the same person. They all include statements of "profound respect", "deepest gratitude", etc. In effect, they are all testaments to the "greatness" of Siegel, and the relative insignificance of the author.

“Upon first learning about Aesthetic Realism, a person is supposed to instantly know that it is 'true', 'more beautiful than anything in the world', and be instantly 'grateful without limit'.”

In addition, they try to instill a sense of "deep regret" (read: "guilt trip") in everyone because of the way they "met Aesthetic Realism". In other words, upon first learning about Aesthetic Realism, a person is supposed to instantly know that it is "true", "more beautiful than anything in the world", and be instantly "grateful without limit"; if one has any doubts, or simply doesn't understand something, then one is having "unjust contempt", and one must regret this for the rest of one's life in order to "be completely fair to Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism". Of course, this is just another mind-control technique. I'm glad to say that I never bought into this, and refused to express feelings I did not have.

“[They] never admitted they had been wrong. Then again, they never admit to being wrong about anything.”

They claim to be about ethics and not politics, but in fact they are rabid left-wing extremists, completely blinded to the injustices and human rights violations of communist (or other anti-American) dictatorships, but always eager to rail against the actions of our government. They are highly critical of the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the West's intervention in Kosovo, but have never once criticized the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Tienanmen Square Massacre, or the murderous ethnic cleansing of Milosevic. They claim that Hussein's invasion of Kuwait was justified, because the world's resources should belong to all the people (I guess Saddam was going to share all the Kuwaiti oil with all of us, out of the goodness of his heart). I was "studying" with them when communism collapsed in Europe; just a few months before that happened, they were writing in TRO about how happy the people of Eastern Europe were with their economic system. After these happy people overthrew their wonderful system, Aesthetic Realism never admitted they had been wrong. Then again, they never admit to being wrong about anything.

I could write much more, but I think I've gotten my main points across. In conclusion, I would like to say that I think Siegel saw some things about human psychology that would be valuable additions to that field; however, by demanding to be worshipped and robbing people of their individuality, he only managed to render himself, and therefore his knowledge, highly suspect and ultimately useless. He may well have started out with good intentions, but ended up just another egomaniac. We should welcome all contributions to the knowledge of mankind, but if we should worship anything, it is the Source of that knowledge, and not the people who are able to perceive certain bits of it. Siegel himself said that all men are equal; too bad he felt this didn't apply to him.

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Aesthetic Realism at a Glance


The Aesthetic Realism Foundation




Eli Siegel, poet & art/literary critic.
Committed suicide in 1978.


To get the world to realize that Eli Siegel was the greatest person who ever lived, and that Aesthetic Realism is the most important knowledge, ever.


We have a tendency to look down on others to make ourselves seem superior by comparison (contempt).  Every single problem in the world (including homosexuality) is the result of contempt.  By studying AR, we can learn to purge our contempt so the world will be perfect.  Also, beauty comes from the contrast of opposites.


New York City (SoHo)


About 66, as of 4/22, as ~23 teachers + ~43 teachers-in-training.  (In 2009 it was ~77 (33+44), and ~29 regular students.  You could consider them members, but I'm not including them in the total.)  Anyway, with only ~66 committed members, much for world domination.

All members call themselves "students", even the leaders/teachers.  Advanced members who teach others are called "consultants".
StatusIn serious decline.
They might have ten years left.

Method of study

Public seminars/lectures at their headquarters (in lower Manhattan), group classes, and individual consultations (three consultants vs. one student) (usually in-person, but also remote).

Cult aspects

  • Fanatical devotion to their leader/founder
  • Belief that they have the one true answer to universal happiness
  • Ultimate purpose is to recruit new members
  • Feeling that they are being persecuted
  • Wild, paranoid reactions to criticism
  • Non-communication (or at least very limited communication) with those who have left the group, and family members who refuse to join
  • Odd, specialized language.

  • More about cult aspects...
The best bits:  Cult aspects of ARDream to NightmareA journalist infiltratesAll the articles

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