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Escape from Freedom

from Robert Locke

Erich Fromm’s 1941 book, with this title, came to mind while watching Donald Trump and his followers in the Cleveland arena. In his book

“Fromm distinguishes between ‘freedom from’ (negative freedom) and ‘freedom to’ (positive freedom). The former refers to emancipation from restrictions such as social conventions placed on individuals by other people or institutions. This is the kind of freedom typified by the Existentialism of Sartre, and has often been fought for historically, but according to Fromm, on its own it can be a destructive force…Fromm analyzes the character of Nazi ideology and suggests that the psychological conditions of Germany after the first world war fed into a desire for some form of new order to restore the nation’s pride. This came in the form of National Socialism and Fromm’s interpretation of Mein Kampf suggests that Hitler had an authoritarian personality structure that not only made him want to rule over Germany in the name of a higher authority … but also made him an appealing prospect for an insecure middle class that needed some sense of pride and certainty.” Widepedia.

Only he could save America Trump proclaimed to the cheering Trumpites, sprewing out a hate of Hillary Clinton that resembled the mindless chants of Hitler’s followers against the November criminals who made peace and “betrayed” Germany in 1918. In a Germany beset with massive unemployment and saddled with the war guilt clause by the victorious allies in the Versailles treaty, Hitler fanatics were willing to escape from the freedom of the Weimar Republic into a National Socialists dictatorship. History never repeats itself, but the hatred of Clinton and willingness to submit to Donald Trump I saw in the arena was a frightening reminder of events in the 1930s when Germany went berserk.

  1. jlegge
    July 25, 2016 at 9:31 pm

    In 1928 Hitler and the Nazis got 8% of the vote. Then came the Great Depression and Chancellor Bruening inflicted unremitting austerity causing rapidly rising unemployment and hardship. Hitler promised an end to austerity and won 32% if the vote and power.

    Nostalgia should have been stronger in 1928; so more than a quarter of the German voting public chose Hitler over more austerity. Neoliberalism leads to fascism or worse.

  2. graccibros
    July 25, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    Yes, I agree. America’s “Weimar moment” may well be here. It is hard not to see how the “law and order” at home, with Rudolph Giuliani appointed as A.G. or Head of Homeland Security doesn’t result in some type of extensive “crack-down” aimed at immigrants, Muslims and various “militant” black organizations, and Trump’s “stimulus” will certainly include a heavy dose of prison-military industrial Keynesianism, likely based on further futile interventions into the Middle East.

    Not that environmental dynamics seem to have anything to do with this election, but don’t look, now, Trump virtually announced the abolishment of the regulatory state, EPA at the top of the list and OSHA won’t be far down in demolition orders. NLRB sure to be near the top as well.

  3. July 26, 2016 at 5:01 am

    “The central theme of the work is a relatively new concept – the rise of an ‘anthropological’ species we call the authoritarian type of man. In contrast to the bigot of the older style he seems to combine the ideas and skills which are typical of a highly industrialized society with irrational or anti-rational beliefs.” (Theodor Adorno, The Authoritarian Personality) My point is that like creativity, technology, and science discrimination and authoritarianism have evolved. Adorno wrote these words just after World War II and most of his case studies and examples are based on that struggle and its aftermath. But the evolution of authoritarianism has continued. And one of the results is Donald Trump and his associates. And because they are once again a new anthropological type (beyond Adorno’s) social scientists need to work on figuring out the evolution of the new authoritarian type and its likely impacts on the future of the world. The type described by Adorno nearly destroyed civilization. And mainstream economics is not helping us deal with this threat. Economists are more than an impediment, however. They are aiding and abetting the authoritarians.

    • graccibros
      July 26, 2016 at 2:14 pm

      Why all this worrying? Just learn how to frame, state your values, “Don’t think of an elephant” and, according to cognitive linguist George Lakoff, we will be on equal terms with the Right…(he wrote an article recently about Trump at Huffington post.).

      Sure, and the left was on equal terms with the Right, and its propagandists, in Weimar Germany. Lakoff is ahistorical, and furthermore, seems to have found a way around what many of the left Freudians emphasized: that there is a very dark side to human nature, and, my own take, the Right is much more amoral in reaching into it for their ends, so that they will win a “framing war,” because it becomes a “race to the bottom.” That should be familiar to readers here.

      I hope to write more systematically about this in something like “America’s Weimar Moment.”

      • July 27, 2016 at 4:32 am

        I don’t believe Lakoff is ahistorical. And I don’t think he is denying that there can be a very dark side to human culture and individuals. Human nature is as Latour pointed out one of those things humans in building collective lives (societies some call it) have argued about since humans first began to consider right and wrong, good and bad. Lakoff is certainly reductionist when he reduces the current state of that argument to family values, strict father vs. democratic. At the same time I can testify that growing up in TX I certainly saw both these versions of family life and their consequences. But the arguments about human nature also extend to long-standing racial and ethnic conflicts, economic opportunity and subjugation, punishment, greed for land and wealth, and the hierarchy of values ranging from sex to the human body to disease to the will of God. These arguments will not end. More than once one version of human nature has been enthroned as the only and correct one. Only to be overturned a few years or decades or centuries later. Can Trump enthrone a “radically conservative” human nature? Yes, but for how long and with what consequences? These are the “details” we need to investigate.

  4. Val
    July 26, 2016 at 8:06 am

    Eric Fromm also pointed out that the majority do not want freedom. They prefer to take orders and hope for survival by obeying. Fewer and fewer want to be exposed to the idea of “freedom to”.

    • July 26, 2016 at 7:45 pm

      Within the ongoing life of human communities “freedom to” can take many forms. From let’s destroy our neighbor communities to gain more space and resources, to let’s keep all those dirty immigrants in their places and out of our “free” nation, to we will sacrifice ourselves and our resources to prevent violence and injustice, to I will use my freedom to clean up the world and make it freer. Which ones of these are shaping our world today? Is the mixture the right one? Will human kind survive their choices about “freedom to?” Like all of life, including human communities “freedom to” is complex and its evolution uncertain. And involved in all of this is the basic question — what way of life and world do we want and how to we get there from here? This is a basic moral question and has been since humans first began to consider moral concerns.

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