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Dialogue of Cultures
by Marianna Wertz:
The year 1789, in which Schiller wrote "The Artists," he also wrote his inaugural lecture as Professor of History at the University of Jena, "What Is World History and to What End Should It Be Studied?" This was a momentous year and a momentous era in human history:
1789 the successful American Revolution (1775-83) and George Washington's inauguration filled the minds and hearts of republican humanists with joy.
1789 was also the beginning of the French Revolution, which threatened to lead to something similar in Germany, to establish a humanist republic there. For Schiller and his circle, the Age of Reason seemed close at hand. "The Century of Man" seemed about to commence.
What happened instead was that the French Revolution turned into a bloody Jacobin nightmare. George III, who reigned as King of England from 1760 to 1820, and the other oligarchs re-took Europe with the 1815 Treaty of Vienna and re-established the rule of the oligarchy, smashing the hopes created by the American Revolution.
Philosophically, Schiller was confronted with the Enlightenment and British empiricism, which was flooding the continent with the works of Locke, Hobbes and Hume. Schiller was himself subjected to these writers almost exclusively by Prince Karl-Eugen, the Black Guelph ruler of Schleswig-Holstein and the rigid military academy, the Karlsschule, which Schiller was forced to attend. Indeed, it was to counter this influence, and its Kantian counterpart in German literature, that Schiller devoted his life and works.
In "The Artists" and elsewhere, Schiller solved the fundamental antinomy which Kant could not solve, and which the British philosophers "solved" only by denying the existence of a higher truth altogether: namely, the apparent contradiction between emotion and reason, freedom and necessity. At the level of reason, Schiller wrote, we can trust our emotions because duty has become our nature and our will determines necessity. The person who has attained this state of moral beauty possesses what Schiller, in "The Artists," calls the "schöne Seele," the beautiful soul. Plato calls it the Golden Soul. Nicolaus of Cusa calls it becoming a second God. This is the state wherein one has "taken God into his will," Schiller writes.
"The Artists" and his lecture on World History have the same subject: To demonstrate that the human mind is the microcosm wherein all the laws of the universe's macrocosm are reflected homologously. The study of world history, Schiller says in his inaugural lecture, "blurs the boundaries between birth and death, which so oppressively confine men's lives; in a sort of optical illusion, it broadens their brief existence into an infinite expanse and imperceptibly brings the individual into the species." The study of world history, as Schiller taught it, makes the individual "species-conscious" and conscious of his species as in the divine likeness of God, the Creator, alone among all species in this respect. This is the subject of "The Artists," which is, in essence, the history of creativity.
"The Artists," says Helga Zepp-LaRouche, "is one of the most magnificent examples of a species of poetry in which Schiller establishes a standard previously unattained. His thought-poetry [Gedanke Gedichte] demonstrates not only the identity of the origin of poetry, rather it expresses the most profound philosophical ideas with such poetic beauty that they are much more gripping than the most beautiful philosophical treatise could ever be. Here he treats poetically the same fundamental idea of the role of beauty in the development of the individual human being, which he later discusses in the Aesthetical Letters (1793) philosophically."
In a recent Fidelio piece, she writes that the poet, in "The Artists," leads the reader by means of Platonic dialogue, through various stages of his own development: bronze, silver, golden [schöne] soul. Through this dialogue, in which the voices change almost imperceptibly, the reader is forced to identify with both the Artist, the poet, and Beauty itself, to produce in his own mind the upward process of development embedded in the course of the poem.
Schiller wrote about the form of "The Artists" to his friend Körner on March 9, 1789: "It is a poem, and not philosophy in verse; and for that it is not a worse poem on account of that which makes it more than a poem." Later in the same letter, Schiller states that the leading idea of "The Artists" is, "cloaking truth and morality in beauty." He calls it an "allegory," which takes this leading idea throughout the poem, with only a changed view, "with which I let the reader play from all sides."
This concept of "play" is key in Schiller, and is fully developed in his Aesthetical Letters. The play-drive is the power which realizes all of the potentials of a person. It is the source of creativity. Schiller speaks of the play-drive as "freedom in general" which suspends the "compulsion of perception" as well as the "compulsion of reason."
I would just like to say a word about the translation project before commencing with an analysis of the poem. Many people have denied that it were possible to adequately convey great poetry from one language into another, even by the greatest poets, because of the intrinsic metric qualities of each language. For instance, translating from Italian to English is extremely difficult because of the abundance of feminine endings in Italian and relative lack thereof in English. Translating from German to English offers a similar problem to the translator who wants to preserve the original meter: Virtually every German verb ends with the feminine -en, making rhyming relatively easy in German. The temptation for the English translator is to use the gerund ending (-ing), but not only is it not accurate to translate an infinitive as a gerund, it becomes exceedingly boring to read.
I decided long ago that it was unfair to Schiller to do as, for instance, Edward Bulwer-Lytton did, and simply write my own poem on Schiller's themes, and call it a translation. Indeed, Bulwer Lytton's translations are intended to emasculate Schiller, to remove his republican content, rendering him a Romantic. Perhaps reading a Bulwer-Lytton translation is easier on the English ear, than a more German-sounding meter, but it isn't Schiller.
Let me read two excerpts for you from "The Artists" as translated by Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton of Knebworth (1803-73), who translated the complete poetical works of Schiller for the greater glory of England.
In the first line, he introduces "peaceful" which does not exist in the German. What does the palm branch signify? Does it not have the connotation of Christ's entry into Jerusalem, where palm branches lead his way to Crucifixion? It certainly does for every Christian. Bulwer-Lytton has eliminated the poet's intentional, unspoken mental image, but giving the Palmenzweige an adjective. For the British oligarchy, palm fronds evoke the image of black servants peacefully fanning the Viceroy in India.
In the second line, he introduces the word calm, which does not exist in the German. This reinforces the initial line's wrong image of "peaceful," emasculating the poem from the very beginning. What Schiller says about manhood is in the third line: it is noble and proudtwo words that never appear in Bulwer-Lytton!
He continues in his graveyard quietude in the fourth and fifth lines: Where Schiller writes "with open mind, with spirits high," Bulwer-Lytton renders it "each sense unfolded, all the soul mature." In the fifth line, Schiller writes, in dense German, full earnest mild, in action-wealthy stillness. What does Bulwer-Lytton do? "Grand in the rest which glorious deeds secure." All for the love of the glorious Empire!
It gets worse. Let me skip to the second strophe for an example of how bad it gets.
Where Schiller writes, in a direct plea to the mankind he urges,
All of a sudden, Schiller's quintessential republican poem is turned into an oligarchical tract! Art becomes a Queen!
Enough. Now I think you have an idea why I decided to lend my hand to the effort to render "The Artists" into an English that, while it is certainly not perfect, attempts to replicate Schiller's meaning as well as rhythm and rhyme scheme, to give the English speaker a sense of how "The Artists" sounds to a German speaker. Indeed, the most enthusiastic reviews I've received are from German speakers.
Let's turn now to the poem for a partial analysis, which will hopefully help you to work through it on your own. The Introduction: Schiller said, in his Feb. 9, 1789 letter to Körner on "The Artists," that he had completely changed the beginning, and has the chief idea of the wholethe cloaking of Truth and Morality in Beautyin the first 12 stanzas, which he calls an introduction of mankind in his present completeness. He continues, "This gave me occasion for describing this century from its better sides. From there I make the passage to Art, which was its cradle and the chief conception of the poem is fleetingly anticipated and thrown in.
Helga Zepp-LaRouche wrote, in her essay on Schiller in the June 1980 Campaigner, that the first stanza, "is the universal expression of the poet's world outlook. ... Schiller's universe is anything but static: both nature and the human species participate in a never-ending process of perfection. This process is not linear but self-ordering, self-developing from a state of relative chaos to a state of organic self-determination and harmony" (as opposed to Bulwer-Lytton's state of peace and calm).
This first stanza, she says, is the musical theme, in the sense that the entire composition is embedded within it. It contains all the elements to be developed later on. The human being is conceived as mediating the infinite continuum of the past-present and future. The present is man standing on the century's slopethe direction of the future. His past is the wild, in nature, which has trained his powers and the battles he had to go through to enter his position today, in Schiller's time, of Manhood's prime. Schiller thought of himself as the man who stood on the century's slope, the ripest son of time. In this sense, "The Artists" is ultimately autobiographical.
The second stanza begins with that wordoperose. Everyone tells me it's not in their dictionary, and some have even said it shouldn't be used because nobody knows what it means. My reply is, try reading Shakespeare and keep a list of the words whose meaning you don't know. As my step-father used to say, "if you took Latin, you'd know that." So I took Latin, just so he couldn't say it anymore! Operose means industrious, done with or involving much labor, from the Latin word opus, meaning work. The German word is errungnen, the past participle of erringen, which means to win, to gain, to obtain with difficulty, i.e. hard-won and it modifies Sieg, or victory. So, not only is operose appropriate, it gives three perfect end-rhymes, the third one beginning the second stanza and tying it to the last line of the first stanza, just as the German does. I can tell you for sure that Bulwer-Lytton didn't do that in his translation!
In this stanza, Helga continues, is contained the demand that the process which led to the present heights become the object of self-reflexive thought. The experience of beauty at an early age instills lasting values which are later grasped consciously with the aid of reason. This, she says, is the first of three times in the poem when the poet directly addresses the Artist to admonish him to maintain the highest conception of art. The second time is in stanza 18, which begins, If, on the paths of thought ... . Here the poet tells the Artist to forgive mere understanding's false appreciation of Art. The third direct address is in the famous stanza two from the end, which begins "The dignity of man into your hands is given," i.e. to the Artists. Keep and preserve it, Schiller says. With you it sinks, with you it will arise.
The fourth stanza is one part of the translation with which I was not entirely satisfied, as the German is the imperative formverlerne nichtDo not unlearnwhich I've translated in the passive formbe not forgotten, and thus lost in part the voice with which Schiller is speaking with here.
The third stanza establishes what Fidelio] has on its mastheadonly through Beauty's morning-gate does one gain the land of knowledge. Or, as he said more profoundly later on in the Aesthetical Letters, "it is through Beauty that one proceeds to Freedom." Truth and reason are so powerful that the undeveloped mind cannot yet endure them. It must first practice on what Schiller calls allurements, der Reiz, a very interesting word that can mean charm, attraction, fascination, allurement, enticement, even irritation. Essentially, the attraction of sense objects. He makes clear what he means at the end of the verse. The Muses' music has nourished the strength within Man's breast which will later be elevated to carry him to the world-soul.
In the fourth stanza, Schiller introduces what becomes a common theme throughout the poem, the Greek renaissance. In many places, Schiller writes that the Greeks were the closest to Nature in their art, the most child-like in the sense that children are innocent of guile. Or one might think of what Christ said when he told his disciples to bring the little children to him, that they should become like the children if they want to enter Heaven. The fourth stanza basically says that man in his infancy, because he is made in the image of the Creator, already understood what Greek science only discovered many thousand years later and called "eternal space."
Schiller develops the idea throughout "The Artists" that scientific culture is in service to Art, and can exalt itself over art only insofar as it becomes a work of art. Stanza four is its first appearance.
He traces this idea throughout the poem. Art, he says, has prepared the scientific and moral culture, but these are not the goal itself, but rather only a second stage toward the goal. As he says later in the poem, the investigator and thinker hurry already to be in possession of the crown and to designate the place under them to the Artist. But the perfection of mankind is achieved only when scientific and moral culture resolve once again in beauty.
In the fifth strophe, we have the Greek goddess of truth and of divine and noble love, Urania, whose other names are Aphrodite (Greek), Venus (Roman) and Cytherea (because of her birth in the sea named Cythera). Schiller uses the name Cytherea at the end of the poem, when Urania takes off her veil and appears as the Goddess of Light. She is the daughter of Uranus, ruler of the universe. Urania is also the name for the Muse of Astronomy. Here, she takes off her fiery crown (a metaphor for Truth) and stands before us as Beauty, so that mere mortal man can appreciate her. Here again, Schiller says that children understand truth as beauty.
The sixth stanza is a beautiful rendition of the Genesis story, transformed by the addition of Beautythe essence of humanitycoming to join man in his prison and, as a loving Artist, painting his prison walls with images of Elysium. There is no more beautiful artistic rendition of the role of Beauty in man's life.
In the seventh stanza he continues the picture of early man, who disdains Duty, choosing instead Beauty's path of light, which abides in the solar orbit of morality. This is the solution to Kant's fundamental antinomy. Guided by Beauty, man rejects a servile sense of Duty for a morality which is sunlit and beautiful, given by "the holy power" at the beginning of Creation in the "pure life of the spiritwhich is freedom's sweetest right."
In the eighth stanza we see that only those who serve Beautyas opposed to Dutysee Beauty revealed without her veilas Truth.
In the ninth stanza, we are given an image of Creation in the eye of the savage, who is defined as Man before proportion has been brought into the world. That proportionless Creation is "a myriad of warring forms." Man is controlled by the fetters of appetite (fetters appears again here, as in the first stanza), and the beautiful soul (first appearance here) of Nature is never enjoyed by the savage.
The tenth stanza introduces the beginning of Art, the imitation of nature, which Nature herself aids man in doing. She "entices her robber"the Artistto catch her image in the water, throwing herself into the silver stream. Now man's first creation breaks from his breast.
This process grows in the 11th stanza. He learns nature's laws, and begins to create, combining the laws of nature with charm to fashion the obelisk, the pyramidreferences to early Egyptian art.
Thus, in the 12th stanza, which Schiller calls the end of the introduction, the "first Art" has treaded out of nature. Now a second, higher Art begins, from the creations formed not by Nature, but by Man, by combining Nature's creations into a new creation. This stanza has a very difficult phrase, which Schiller explained in his letters to Körner, because many people asked its meaning: "Das Kind der Schönheit sich allein genug, Vollendet schon aus eurer Hand gegangen, Verliert die Krone, die es trug, Sobald es Wirklichkeit empfangen."
"What I mean is this: Every work of Art, of Beauty, forms a complete whole; and so long as it occupies the Artist, it is the sole engrossing object of his thoughts. Thus, for example, a single statue, a single column, a poetical descriptioneach is self-sufficing. But then, as Art advances, this perfect whole is split into parts of a new and greater oneits final destination is then no longer in itself, but it has an ulterior object, and thence I say it has lost its crown. The statue which before reigned supreme cedes that distinction to the temple which it adornsthe character of Hector is in itself perfect, but is only a subordinate member of the Iliad."
"Every sensual desire has its origin in a certain impulse to incorporate itself with the object of that desire, to draw it forcibly to itself. Several desires destroy their object by incorporating it with themselves."
In stanza 13, we begin the main body of the poem, The spirit, moved by man's creative ability, for the first time partakes of peaceful joys, whose allurement is not sensuous but spiritual and don't awake the passions, and don't fade upon enjoyment.
The beautiful soul has wrestled from its mental sleep and in stanza 14, the slave of care, Kant's sad subject, springs into the lap of joy. Bestiality's close limits lift and humanity springs out on his brow and the exalted foreigner, thought, springs from his astonished brain (an allusion to Pallas Athena/Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and the arts, emerging fully armed from the head of Zeus/Jove. In stanza 30 Schiller again refers obliquely to Pallas Athena).
Helga writes of this stanza: The "thought, that foreign stranger elevated" is a beautiful image for what is new, the spirituality of human beings, which has become possible through art. It is this capacity for reason which lets him stand; thus, it is that which distinguishes him from that which is limited, the stifling limits of animality. The idea "And jest, with kindness in graceful federation," is a genuinely Schillerian notion, for, on the one hand, the jest is itself an expression of freedom, and on the other hand, it must be with kindness, which means that it can not be injurious; and, if the jest and kindness are to be bound together by grace, then Schiller here provides one of many possibilities of the aesthetic condition."
In stanza 15, Schiller changes voices. "You" is no longer man, but Beauty or Art (it's not entirely clear), and man has become the third person who is acted upon. Man is now being transformed to a higher stage by the action of Beauty/Art, who recognized the noble seed of spiritual love in his breast.
In stanza 16, Schiller re-introduces the idea of combining what nature has created (as in Stanza 12), only this time it is the highest of nature's creationsthe wisest of the wise, the mild one's mildness, etc.and now Art/Beauty combines these and places them in a halo in a single likenesswhich idea we'll see again at the end of the poem. Man now burns to be like the Creator, as he witnesses the reflection of the Unknown. "You" again becomes the Artist, who makes the first tone from beauty's archetype resound in nature.
Stanza 17 introduces the further development of the Artist, who turns the wildness of fortune and nature into an ordered, lightly linking chain in song and drama. He refers to the Ibykus principle here (The murder draws, though ne'er detected, the lot of death from the Furies' refrain).
Then we have a shift once again in stanza 18. Man applies the laws of symmetry too soon to life, so life flies to the abyss and Art/Beauty draws its arc still further into the future to re-emerge with that life which had fled beyond the grave.
Schiller elucidated the meaning of this passage in a letter to Körner:
"Man applies this law of symmetry too soon to real life, as many parts of the great edifice are still concealed from his sight. To satisfy this feeling for symmetry, he is compelled to have recourse to art. ... This gave rise to the poetry of an immortality, which is the offspring of a feeling for symmetry, according to which man endeavored to judge the moral world before he had a perfect knowledge of it."
On the allusion to Castor and Pollux, he writes,
"The comparison has a high value, in my opinion. I compare the life of man, in the preceding verses, to an archthat is to say, to an imperfect portion of a circlewhich is continued through the night of the tomb to complete the circle (to be governed by a feeling for the Beautiful or the Arts is nothing more nor less than a striving toward Perfection). Now the young moon is such an arch, and the remainder of the circle is not visible. I therefore place two youths (Castor and Pollux) side by side, the one with a lighted torch, the other with his torch extinguished. I compare the former to that portion of the moon which is light, and the latter to that part which is in darkness."
Castor and Pollux (Polydeuces in Greek) are the twin sons of Leda and the brothers of Helen (or Leda and Zeus, depending on the story), who are famous for their fraternal affection and regarded as the protectors of persons at sea.
Pollus is also the name of a first-magnitude star, and Castor of a second-magnitude star, in the constellation Gemini (the twins), for whom the constellation is named.
Stanza 19 pushes the Artist's development further, in a compelling motion. The first line has the word high three times, followed by creations twice in the third line, and harmony twice in the fourth line. The reference to the figure of Jove is to a specific statue, which Schiller had in mind. He explains, in a letter to Körner:
"When I say that the Zeus of Phidias bends in the temple of Olympia, I say nothing more than this:but the peculiar beauty of this passage consists in the allusion to the bending position of the Olympian Jupiter, which was in a sitting posture in this temple, and placed in such a position that it would have borne away the roof of the temple if it had stood upright. This bent posture always greatly pleased me, as it says as much as that the Divine Majesty had condescended to confine itself to the circumscribed condition of man; for if it had stood uprightthat is to say, appeared as Godinevitable destruction would have followed.
The comparison to Christ coming down to earth to become man in order that man might become like God is unmistakeable.
In stanza 20, an image from the first stanza reappears: the training of man in battles to expand the scope of his creations. Schiller uses the same wordsüben and kämpfen. But now man has transformed the world, has risen to higher heights than in the beginning. He's rising to new worlds of beauty and bringing Art with him, as well as enriching Natureman has become The Creator. He weighs nature with weights of his creation and measures her with measures she has lent him. He's now better versed in Beauty's obligations and passes judgment on nature, lending his harmony to the spheres.
Urania now reappears, in stanza 21, as Cytherea, and becomes the object of his thought, as his spirit melts in the sea of harmony. Fate is no longer his foe, but he is in unity with it, calmly leaning on the muses and graces. Now Necessity's bow is soft and he obligingly receives its arrow in his exposed breast. Freedom and Necessity have been raised to the level of beauty and merged as one in Harmony.
In stanza 22, he elaborates on this idea. The unshackled man now thinks about his dutyhe's not shackled by it. He loves his fetters (that word again, from the first and ninth stanzas) and is no longer prey to the iron scepter of contingency. For this, he thanks "your eternity"the Artists, and Schiller tells the Artists to be full lovingly embraced for this gift.
Stanza 23 introduces God as the Artist whom the Artists must emulate. He continues his paeon to Artists in this stanza, including the exquisite final quatrain: Jahrtausende hab ich durcheilet,
In stanzas 24 and 25, Schiller introduces an actual historic framework into the poem here for the first time, something for which he was excoriated. "Twice did the epoch gain its youth anew." Greece's richest fruits, the achievements of Ionian urban culture are saved by the Islamic renaissance, and following their destruction there, they are reborn with youthful vigor in the West.
Helga writes of this: Almost every one of Schiller's critics since Christoph Martin Wieland (1733-1813) has reproached him for his intermingling of philosophical concepts with concrete historical events. What ignorance! The poet is free to choose any predicates he requires; his aim here is to convey the continuity of reason's creations, and his reference to the Ionian tradition is but one means of lawfully guiding the reader's associations.
Stanza 26 is explicated by Helga in the following way: "The thousandfold fertilities of artart in the sense of beauty-reasonhave opened up infinite expanses for scientific investigation, but the investigator has still not grasped the crown. If at the outset the poet warned against any mistaken understanding of art, so this time it is a mistaken understanding of science which he wants to correct. By no means has science at a certain point in time somehow replaced art. Schiller is here arguing against the notion, already gaining currency in his day, of a separation between art and science, Geisteswissenschaft and Naturwissenschaft. Rather, works of art remain the most supreme achievement."
Stanza 27 continues this polemic. What discoverers find in the land of knowledge they conquer only for the Artist. The thinker's treasures only give joy when they are ennobled into a work of art. This stanza is the subject one of Schiller's letter to Körner, in which he credits Wieland's criticism for helping bring out the idea:
"This is followed by an entirely new link, which arose from a conversation I had with Wieland. He places all scientific culture far below art. When a scientific production rises above a production of art, he maintains it is only because it is a work of art itself. This idea lay concealed in the poem, and only wanted development. This it has now received."
In stanza 28, as Helga writes, "an idea from Schiller's Theosophie surfaces: The closer man approaches to consciousness of his own species-being, becoming more the universal being who takes all humanity inside himself, the more universally significant will his personal life become, the greater will be his love, and the richer will the world become to him. Fate's blind power will dwindle to insignificance when measured against his victory over egoistic impulses. The dramatic heightening of tension effected by the verbal repetitions leads the reader to realize the tremendous intensity required to grasp the truth: love, beauty, freedom and reason are one and the same.
In Stanza 29 the poet tells Beauty to lead the Artist up poetry's floral ladder to the arms of Truth. Schiller writes of this stanza:
"This perfect state of Man is only then to be found when moral and scientific culture are blended into beauty. I make this applicable to my allegory, and let Art reappear to Man in a revealed form."
Cypria reappears in stanza 30, putting her fiery crown back on (remember she removed it in the fifth stanza) and stands before her fully matured son as Urania. Schiller makes the comparison to Ulysses's (latin Odysseus) son by Penelope, named Telemachus, whose childhood friend was a disguised Pallas Athena, Jove's daughter. The story is from the beginning of The Odyssey.
Stanza 31 is the third time the poet appeals directly to the Artists: Protect the dignity of Man, he says. The task of art is now clear: to improve and ennoble the human soul.
Stanza 32 now turns the veiling of Beauty as Truth into a weapon for Truth, which is "more frightful" in its "charming cover," to avenge itself, in song, on its pursuer's coward's ear.
The final stanza, you will note, is the 33rd. Dante Alighieri would not have found that to be a coincidence. Schiller was a thorough-going Christian, who chose to write 33 stanzas because of their trinitarian significance, and as a direct reference to Dante's Commedia, which is comprised of three poems each of 33 stanzas. This 33rd stanza of Schiller's is Dante-esque in the extreme. Let me close by reading from the 33rd canto of Dante's Paradiso, just to make unmistakeably clear that this is what Schiller had in mind in writing this stanza. The translation is by Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds:
Dante concludes the Commedia by comparing his striving to see God to the geometer's striving to square the circlesomething which only the Creator can do. As the geometer his mind applies
Dante and Schiller were brothers in a battle for the supremacy of love, truth, beauty, and reason against the Aristotelian, anti-Christian anti-scientific Enlightenment and Empiricism. "The Artists" is Schiller'sand Dante'ssupreme triumph in that war.
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