Murphy\’s Bye-Laws

Law #4: Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it. –H.D. Thoreau

Freophobia (Fear of Freedom)

Posted by PintofStout on April 5, 2006

On Wolfesblog last week, Claire Wolfe pointed out a post from another blog about the fear of freedom. The original post links to older articles; all of which are interesting. The main point of the discussion is that usually those in the freedom movement assume everyone wants freedom but has to fight the powerful State to achieve it and how this might not be the case. It can be said that many seek the security of domination and parentalism in a government. When I read this I wondered if the authors had read Escape From Freedom by Erich Fromm. I decided this little ditty by respectable writers could serve as an intro (and a good excuse) for a review of said book by a hack writer, who just finished the book. So, here I go.

Escape From Freedom was written by Erich Fromm in 1941 as a response, as were so many books, to the questions of how such a regime as the Nazis could have gained popular control of a civilized country. He explores, through psychoanalysis, what the possible motivations could be for a very large group of people to submit to such authoritarianism so easily. In a more general sense, he parses the authoritarian character structure and a few examples of it: sado-masochism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Nazism (so all the kinky stuff we heard about Hitler is linked and logical, eh?).

I’m not well-versed in psychology. I’ve only had the freshman psychology in college that I took my junior year of high school, and in which I drew epic adventures of stick figures all over my syllabus in lieu of taking notes. Still, the writing was easy to understand and only had a few dry spots that I had to labor through. Mostly, I found myself nodding my head and saying, “Oh, I see that. It makes all kinds of sense.”

The book starts off by examining the social structure of the middle ages just before the reformation. It is postulated that the individual person wasn’t viewed so much as an individual, but part of a craft guild or simply by his predestined job of blacksmith or tailor or whatever his father had been; the individual had no identity beyond this. Economic conditions helped to change this and essentially freed the artisan from those secure bonds and made him an insecure individual. The whole idea of freedom from these bonds and barriers made individuals insecure and alone, where before their fate was tied to a large, comfortable group. To find security again, Fromm writes, people “escaped” into authoritarian relationships where there was the illusion of a more powerful master looking over them or just the security of being in a larger group and therefore not alone and vulnerable. The early chapters of the book highlight these origins of authoritarianism and the dawning of individuality, while further in, he examines other forms this phenomenon has taken.

The discussion of individuality was my favorite part, and was still surprisingly relevant 50+ years later. Fromm really laid out a pretty good definition of what it means to be an autonomous individual. I tried illustrating some of these points through blog entries , but it didn’t turn out too coherent (I still mean to rewrite that.) Finding security in your individuality is essential to your freedom, and that should be best insight to be gained from this book. Security can be a result of understanding your strengths, weaknesses, and drives giving a clearer picture of your identity and reducing the need to be defined by others and retreating to the false security of a master. Propaganda came into play when the subject of original thoughts and actions – spontaneous rather than planted by someone else – came about. It felt, at this part, as if he was discussing commercials and modern TV in addition to rhetoric. I found myself checking the copyright several times to make sure it was from the era I thought it was.

All in all, I enjoyed it thoroughly – until I read the last two pages. Since he concluded that much of the insecurity people experience comes from economic sources, he felt that a large centrally planned economy would best facilitate our individual freedom by taking away the uncertainty. I tried not to let the end get me down, and it took a few hours of disappointment to overcome it. The book and, more importantly, the concepts inside of it should be absorbed and processed in order to understand the drives and obstacles to our freedom, both in others who mean to rule and, more importantly, in the tendencies inside ourselves that may prevent us from being a truly free, autonomous individual.

P.S. Erich Fromm has other books that elaborate on the concepts outlined in this book, which I intend to start reading also, including: Man For Himself and The Sane Society.

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