A while ago I mentioned a book I’d read about in another book (ah, the great chain of reading) by Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom. Yesterday I remembered I had it (ha ha) and began reading. It’s captivating. His perspective is that of a psychologist. While I’ve benefited from other’s study of psychology, I have never studied it beyond what I had to in college. The book begins (and I’m in the beginning) with a discussion of psychological explanations for human behavior and the role of the individual in society as defined by different psychological systems. From this discussion, I’ve learned that Fromm has great respect — love? — for the individual and regards individuals as dynamic forces in human culture and history.
There’s so much here. It’s truly the richest writing I’ve read in a long, long time. It was originally published in 1941 and Fromm sets freedom against Fascism which he defines as the systems that had gained ascendancy in Germany and Italy. He writes that when he wants to discuss events in Germany only, he’ll call it Nazism.
For Fromm, freedom is the property of individuals; freedom is individual, and the threat to freedom is that people don’t want it. It seems — so far — that the tension is between individual freedom and an equal desire on the part of many for submission. That’s so whack. He writes, “Can freedom become a burden, too heavy for man to bear, something he tries to escape from? Why then is it that freedom is for many a cherished goal and for others a threat?” As I read, I thought about the Supremes overturning Roe v. Wade, eliminating an important individual freedom from the law of the land. How do I feel about abortion? Nobody likes it. I don’t like it. I’m sorry for any woman who finds herself contemplating it. Should women have dominion over their individual bodies? Yes. Can I live with that? Yes. Apparently others can’t.
Fromm quotes John Dewey (go west young man) “The serious threat to our democracy is not the existence of foreign totalitarian states. It is the existence within our own personal attitudes and within our own institutions of conditions which have given a victory to external authority, discipline, uniformity and dependence upon The Leader in foreign countries. The battlefield is also accordingly here — within ourselves our institutions.”
In 1997 I attended an Alice Cooper concert in Zürich. It was held in the Tonhalle. Earlier that day I’d seen photos of the very auditorium taken during the Nazi era. One of the photos was a meeting of sympathetic Swiss in the Tonhalle. I don’t know how to describe my feelings that night, with that photo still living in my mind. When Alice started singing “School’s Out,” most of the audience stood, raised their fists in the air, and sang along. I remember asking myself, “Who are we?” Same hall. The same image as in the photo. Same people a generation or two later. Same idea of uniting with others of like mind or music taste, anyway. “What makes us do this?” I saw the whole thing — Nazi rally, Alice Cooper concert — as bonding rites.
Fromm writes about this, too, about the different kinds of isolation. I think that’s a subject for a whole ‘nother blog post, but the bottom line is that people cannot live without others. Fromm explains all the kinds of possible connections and as I read, I thought of this blog. Some time back, I happened to look at my stats and saw that 2020 had the most connections. I understood that; in our enforced isolation our WordPress “neighborhood” became more important, maybe necessary.
I am not sure where Fromm is going next, but it seems at this point it might be the eternal tension between self and belonging. Not sure… I could be putting the cart before the horse. Anyway, so far I like this very much. I like his attitude toward Freud (You gave us a lot, but, dude, your ideas are flawed), I like his focus on the individual. We’ll see what happens as I continue reading — one thing for sure, this is vastly different from the contest books I read every winter.
OH, in my continued pursuit to figure out WHAT is attractive to anyone about TFG I learned yesterday about a book that’s passed out at his rallies. President Donald J. Trump, The Son of Man – The Christ. It’s very scary to me that there are people who actually believe this. From the opening:
I had long appreciated that his followers constitute a cult, but I had no idea…