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Societal "Bad Faith" As A Route To Freedom?
If humanity cannot live with the dangers and responsibilities inherent in freedom, it will probably turn to authoritarianism. This is the central idea of Escape from Freedom, a landmark work by one of the most distinguished thinkers of our time, and a book that is as timely now as when first published in 1941. Few books have thrown such light upon the forces that shape modern society or penetrated so deeply into the causes of authoritarian systems. If the rise of democracy set some people free, at the same time it gave birth to a society in which the individual feels alienated and dehumanized. Using the insights of psychoanalysis as probing agents, Fromm’s work analyzes the illness of contemporary civilization as witnessed by its willingness to submit to totalitarian rule.
Personal Review: Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm
Writing this book in 1941, Fromm, already by then, had become an extraordinary post-Freudian, post-Modern Existentialist Psychologist. Even then he saw farther, wider and more deeply than most of his contemporaries into the soul of the emerging post-modern man: He saw that post-modern man was headed over a self-inflicted psychological cliff, one with which seventy years later, we have now become face-to-face with and all too familiar. Speaking primarily about society in the United States, Fromm identifies a signature problem that we have seen across history, at least since the Renaissance, recurring as a motif at the subtext of modern man's existence: using meaningless activity and contradictory rhetoric to cover up his deeper fears. In this case, the fear is of the very thing he claims to hold dearest and of highest value, his individual freedom. However, at the level of his soul, it is precisely this, the fear of his freedom (like the companion fear of death) that drives him into a meaningless, alienated, mindless neurotic frenzy. In the U.S. and most of the Western world, that frenzy is called modern conformist capitalist society. In the East, and many other parts of the world, it is called totalitarian society. Since before the Renaissance, with the lost of the security of its medieval arrangements, it has been this mindlessness and meaningless activity that has served as a frame for the "normal life" of modern man; and it has been
While on the surface the rationale looks different. We have. the most natural development is through an evolution of authoritarian schemes. and how instead he has taught himself to find comfort and safety in using his own "bad faith" (in the Sartrean sense) to construct the very opposite of positive freedom. in direct defiance of his mentor Freud. Their kind of "negative freedom from" is in fact just another Trojan Horse to cover their thinly veiled desires to maintain the status quo." Here. (not of intuited drives and mechanisms)." and Stalin under the banner of a "Proletarian Revolution. Fromm demonstrates how the individual character is formed by. as he goes about devising ever more clever totalitarian and authoritarian schemes to deflect his deeper fears about being alone in the world. This. Fromm's perspective is a sweeping one: connecting the human personality to society via culture. The crowning achievement of the book in my view is in the appendix entitled "Character and the Social Process. the fear that he indeed may be alone in this world. This then is one of the earliest and most serious critiques of post-modern society's drift into totalitarianism. But the "so-called" normal life of modern man is little more than cheap cover for his deeper fears. and showing how." Now. preached and harped about by ideologues and "chest-beating" radical conservative individualists." a reactionary "pretend freedom" that is incessantly appealed to. as is the case in the West.this activity that has driven him to seek comfort in ever more clever authoritarian schemes. due to the weakness of both. for instance already seen how Hitler came to power under the banner of anti-Semitic "National Democratic Socialism. I highly recommend that the reader not avoid reading this appendix. and is a child of society. is slowly traveling now the same totalitarian path in the name and under the guise of racist capitalist democratic freedom. This "freedom from" is not the kind that lies at the base of man's relationship with himself and with the world he has to negotiate in order to ensure the continued survival of the species. As always.S. . the U. and may have nothing to rely on but his own "freedom to be" as a vehicle to fashion a life out of the utter terror of discovering that he is alone in this world. it too is animated by the same underlying fears and by the same basic lack of awareness of the human condition. 100 stars. of course is a more positive "freedom to be" as opposed to the more negative "freedom from. or more sophisticated (but no less brutal) capitalistic forms of exploitation. and ever more desirable arrangements within the existing social order to continue their entitlements and to otherwise make the world safer for continuation of their own brand of exploitation -whether it be direct and brutal totalitarian schemes. This book is a tour de force. as is the case in the East. The book thus is about how modern man has learned to shrink from this larger less selfish responsibility of engaging in a kind of creative and positive freedom as a way of underwriting his survival.
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