Customer Reviews: Escape from Freedom
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on September 10, 2001
I believe the essence of "Escape from Freedom" can be found first in the chapter, "Mechanisms of Escape":
"The person who gives up his individual self and becomes an automaton, identical with millions of other automatons around him, need not feel alone and anxious any more. But the price he pays, however, is high; it is the loss of his self."
And second, under the chapter, "Freedom and Democracy":
"This loss of identity then makes it still more imperative to conform, it means that one can be sure of oneself only if one lives up to the expectations of others. If we do not live up to this picture, we not only risk disapproval and increased isolation, but we risk losing the identity of our personality, which means jeopardizing sanity."
"... We must replace manipulation of men by active and intelligent co-operation, and expand the principle of government of the people, by the people, for the people, from the formal political to the economic sphere."
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on August 2, 2002
This book offers insight into many everyday issues: thinking, feeling, wanting, character, individualism, politics, most of all freedom - the list goes on. You will learn what it means to have a false self including: pseudo-thinking, pseudo-feeling, pseudo-willing, etc. For example, when you have a "thought" how do you know it is yours? When you want something, how do you know it is you who "wants" it?
This book also explains the rise of Nazism from a psychological and historical perspective, making it actually seem understandable.
Fromm starts the book by talking about our experience as children from the womb to breaking away and moving into the world. The problem he describes is that people on the whole do not want to be free and want to cling to ideas that make them feel as if they were back in the womb.
This book talks much about socialization and in my opinion parallels "The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge" by Peter L. Berger, Thomas Luckmann, which I believe to be one the best books ever written.
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on October 6, 2003
An amazing book that pieces modern society starting from the medieval to the renaissance and reformation, that is, from a well defined structured and fixed group identity, fixed meaning to life, determined purpose to life and the here after, to that of the existential, capitalistic and monopolist society that has produced radical individualism with the type of freedom producing severe loneliness, separation and the need to alleviate such emptiness, which has been fulfilled by illusionary means.

Fromm relates a major piece of Western civilization's struggle in the ability to see the correlation between the medieval, secure, self-employed society to that of the Renaissance, an elite aristocracy employing the masses as dependent employees, commodities under a new capitalistic society. It was here only the limited rich could prosper in creativity, while the masses existed in a new existential despair. And so Luther, and later Calvin, devised new forms of Christianity, existential types, to aid these new psychological needs of the masses in accepting this change from security to exploitation.

Fromm goes both into the psyche of man, the nature of societal structure, the development of western civilization and need for security and certainty to that of either authoritarian rule, internal conscious rule or the invisible rule of democratic conformity to public opinion, or automation.

Basic Masochistic/Sadistic desires of man from the extreme, to what is considered "normal" has been seen in the forfeit of the individual self into totalitarian control, capitalistic profit and religious and social concepts that attempt to fill the void of separateness without keeping the self.

Fromm ends his book in what the positive traits of what Faust would be: that of spontaneous living, not compulsive living, but in positive affirmation and movement, in the process of life, not the results, the experience of the activity of the present moment. I couldn't agree more.
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on June 9, 2000
Fromm's book gives a great insight into the 'authoritarian personality,' first developed by Fromm's 'Fascist-scale' or as it is better known the 'F-scale.' This scale later became the center piece for Adorno's book 'The Authoritarian Personality'. Fromm's "main thesis concerns the twofold aspect of freedom: on the one hand freedom means the liberation from those 'primary bonds' which tied man to nature or which, in the clan or in the feudal society, tied him to the authorities of society and to his fellow men from whom he is not yet set apart as an 'individual.' Such 'freedom from' is not as yet a positive freedom ('freedom to'). Positive freedom, according to Fromm, 'is identical with the full realization of the individual's potentialities, together with his ability to live actively and spontaneously'" - Ernest G. Schachtel, Studies in Philosophy and Social Science (vol. 9 - 1941). According to Schachtel, Fromm's 'Escape from Freedom' is perhaps the most important contribution to the description and analysis of automaton conformity. It is a well written book, accessible to all.
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on November 15, 2001
Erich Fromm was not the World's Greatest Writer, nor was he the World's Greatest Historian. However, he did manage to write some pretty interesting books, one of which is "Escape from Freedom," perhaps his most famous. The idea behind the work; that man will seek comfort from the burdens from responsibility, even if it takes the form of a dictator, is an extremely intriguing one, and one which becomes ever more appalling with each successive dictator that crops up somewhere in the world. There are some factual mistakes in this book (Fromm tries to attribute the roots of this phenomenon to specific time periods, when such thoughts were present in far earlier literary works), and it can be somewhat repetitive at times. However, "Escape From Freedom" is nontheless an extremely intriguing read that I would recommend to anyone unafraid to consider some pretty frightening ideas.
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on January 19, 2000
This book analyzes the origins of controlling and submissive personalities, in their being by-products of an alienated existence, and meant to overcome the uncertainty and loneliness that results, through the means of symbiosis with another human being. He shows that people are confronted with the contsant no-win situation of choosing between submission and submersion or aloneness and insecurity. Of course, he DOES pose a SOLUTION to this problem, that of a productive, creative, spontaneous, social personality. Needless to say this personality is incompatible with modern day capitalistic society, despite a possible extreme minority. If we want to be free and secure, the only solution is interconnectedness, and to live in a HUMAN society. THIS is what Fromm teaches us.
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on January 21, 1997
There is a lack of freedom in our world, even in the best of democracy.

Unfortunately, the only reason we are not free is because we choose not to be. In fact we are trying very hard to escape from freedom just like the title says and that is a very pessimistic thought. If there was a plot to keep us from reaching our individual freedom like some people think, that would be optimistic - In that case we could have a revolution. But the way things are we need billions of inner revolutions, and that's an implausible scenario.

All essential problems of human situation are thoroughly and clearly described in one place. If you are unhappy with your life, your surroundings, or feel weltschmerz of some kind, you'll find all the answers right here. It is incredible that book which is read so lightly almost like some novel, is so filled with wisdom and deepest understanding of human mind and it's problems.

In my opinion Erich Fromm and his entire opus are by far the most important event in Psychology and Sociology in this century.
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I recently re-read Erich Fromm's other most prominent book, The Art of Loving, but it was the re-read of George Orwell's Burmese Days: A Novel that pushed me to re-visit Fromm's other seminal work. Specifically, Orwell spoke of the "pukka sahib's code," which allowed for great liberties in many (inconsequential to the power structure) areas, but rigidly enforced a particular mind-set that was conducive to that self-same structure maintaining the status quo.

Erich Fromm was a German psychologist, psychiatrist and sociologist who was born in 1900. As a Jew, he prudently decided to flee his homeland in 1933, eventually making his way to New York. Since humans can have an affinity for totalitarian rule, and it had forced him into exile, it should be unsurprising that he devoted considerable thought to why this occurs: why is it so relatively easy to have a particular code that governs an individual's not only life, but his/her thought processes as well? Is it just the luck of the draw, or more relevantly, the luck of the place of one's birth, that one becomes a Nazi, or subscribes to some other ideology which decides to fight them? Or, as Fromm pithily observes: "The successful revolutionary is a statesman; the unsuccessful one a criminal." And wasn't that recently reinforced upon the death of Nelson Mandela, when it was revealed that as late as 2008, he was officially considered a "terrorist" by the United States?

Fromm published this work in 1941, prior to America's entry into the Second World War. In the foreword, he makes it clear that this book will not just address the proclivity for totalitarianism, but also the willingness to seek "salvation" (from freedom) in various organizations, be they corporate, religious or others. As Fromm says: " `Escape from Freedom' attempts to show modern man still is anxious and tempted to surrender his freedom to dictators of all kinds, or to lose it by transforming himself into a small cog in the machine, well fed, and well clothed, yet not a free man but an automaton." In addition, he raises the same issue which was addressed by David Riesman in The Lonely Crowd, Revised edition: A Study of the Changing American Character: "Is submission always to an overt authority, or is there also submission to internalized authorities, such as duty or conscience, to inner compulsions or to anonymous authorities like public opinion?" Or, as Riesman structured it: inner-directed or other-directed?

Well over a third of the book traces the emergence of the individual from the group, coupled with the religious reformation of the Middle Ages, essentially commencing with Luther's break with the Catholic Church. A couple of Fromm's perceptive observations remain exceedingly true today, in our hyper-competitive society: "Solidarity with one's fellow men - or at least with members of one's own class- was replaced by a cynical detached attitude; other individuals were looked upon as `objects' to be used and manipulated, or they were ruthlessly destroyed if it suited one's own end." And in terms of Luther himself: "the compulsive quest for certainty is not the expression of genuine faith but is rooted in the need to conquer the unbearable doubt."

Most of the book does focus on individuals in the current age (at least, what was occurring in the late 1930's). Fromm details the various mechanisms that are used to escape from the unstructured life of "freedom," and posits the reversed interdependence of the drive for life and the drive for destruction: "the more life is realized, the less is the strength of destructiveness." And in terms of prescient, consider Fromm's comment that is applicable for all too much of the media, as well as organizational spokespersons: "With regard to all basic questions of individual and social life, with regard to psychological, economic, political, and more problems, a great sector of our culture has just one function - to befog the issues. One kind of smokes screen is the assertion that the problems are too complicated for the average individual to grasp." And then Fromm provides the "au contraire."

Naturally since they caused him to flee his home, Fromm does devote a chapter to the Nazis... as in, the real ones, and not just our "political opponents." Though the real Nazis no longer exist, save in a few ersatz off-shoots, this book remains as valid as when it was written, or more so, since our propensity to rid ourselves of our freedom by adhering to a particular group ethos is as strong as ever. 5-stars.
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on June 22, 2008
Following in the footsteps of Sigmund Freud, Erich Fromm was trained in psychoanalysis and became a consulting psychologist. Writing this book in 1941, Fromm was intrigued by how dictators like Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin were able to gain the support of their mass populations and, in effect, lure them away from freedom (insofar as they had any to begin with). His study is partly driven by his assetion that this luring force toward fascism widely prevails "in millions of our own people", referring to Americans, and is the reason I read this book.

His thesis then becomes that in a state of freedom (independent, rational, objective), individuals are alone and alienated and have doubt. Man longs for security and a sense to belong.

In support of his thesis, Fromm begins with lessons drawn from the middle ages and the Renaissance, a time when "The masses who did not share the wealth and power of the ruling group had lost the security of their former status and had become a shapeless mass, to be flattered or to be threatened-but always to be manipulated and exploited by those in power. A new despotism arose side by side with the new individualism. Freedom and tyranny, individuality and disorder, were inextricably interwonen".

He, furthermore, uses examples of "masochistic perversion because it proves beyond doubt that suffering can be something sought for".

The book becomes more relevant when Fromm finally gets to 20th century America and writes, "The principal social avenues of escape in our time are the submission to a leader, as has happened in Fascist countries, and the compulsive conforming as is prevalent in our own democracy".

And then Fromm gets to the mechanisms of escape. The one I find particularly intersting is "automaton conformity". In his words, "...the individual ceases to be himself; he adopts entirely the kind of personality offerred to him by cultural patterns; and he therefore becomes exactly as all others are and as they expect him to be. The discrepancy between "I" and the world disappears and with it the conscious fear of aloneness and powerlessness...The person who gives up his individual self and becomes an automaton, identical with millions of other automatons around him, need not feel alone and anxious any more. But the price he pays, however, is high; it is the loss of his self".

And this, patient reader, is the relevance of Erich Fromm's "Escape From Freedom" to the American Republic. If 300 million individuals lose their "self" to their "leader" (because they want to conform) then what we have is a totalitarian dictatorship exactly like Hitler's, Stalin's, and Mussolini's. And, as I went to great detail to show in my review of the book, Propaganda, the invisible government of the USA has been conditioning our minds and snatching our thought without us even being aware of it. This conditioning is, for all intensive purposes, complete. Expect the other shoe to drop within the next twelve months.

Fromm writes, "...if we do not see the unconscious suffering of the average automatized person, then we fail to see the danger that threatens our culture from its human basis; the readiness to accept any ideology and any leader, if only he promises excitement and offers a political structure and symbols which allegedly give meaning and order to an individual's life. The despair of the human automaton is fertile soil for the political purposes of Fascism".
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on February 15, 2006
I started reading Fromm after the terrible election of 2004 for two reasons: 1)I needed a diagnosis of political authoritarianism, particularly its psychological aspects; and 2) I wanted to hear something from someone who still had some hope for humanity and the essential goodness of people, at least in potential. Fromm usually isn't included in the syllabi of trendy crit theory/Frankfurt School grad seminars, and it's a shame. For Fromm, modern society is not individualistic so much as it is individualized--like it or not, the modern individual is stranded alone in the world without the anchors of tradition, security, community, etc. Laissez-faire economics and neo-liberal ideologies celebrate this condition, but the fact is that humans are social beings and this type of "freedom" is just as terrifying as it is liberating. Powerless and alone, the individual too often tries to escape from freedom by masochistically submerging his/her self to some greater authority and/or sadistically taking power over others (which of course is also a form of subservience, because the master needs his slave). If this sounds all too familiar in America in 2006 then pick Escape From Freedom along with Wilhelm Reich's Mass Psychology of Fascism and Theodor Adorno's The Authoritarian Personality. But despite being surrounded by Nazism in Germany and then Cold War conformity in the US, Fromm remained optimistic that individuals could discover true freedom by realizing their interdependence with others and nature in a way that perserved rather than annihilated their personal dignity. He discovered Zen in his later years and attempted to synthesize it with his Freudian-Marxism. If you need a dose of that kind of optimism, see Fromm's books Man For Himself, Marx's Conception of Man, To Have or To Be?, and The Art of Being.
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