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.
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: A Study of the Changing American Character (Yale Nota Bene): "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.
By detailing man's progression from a feudal society to our current status of individual freedom (unconnectedness), Fromm illuminates the motivating factors of man's desire to belong. This book exposes many societally accepted maneuvers we use to rejoin ourselves with nature and details painful consequences of our "freedom" and isolation.
The thesis of this highly illuminating book is that in order to escape a sense of anomie and its attendant seeming rootlessness many people resort to things in society that superimpose an identity on them, a kind of drive-up window for a world view if you will. Thus you get things like religious cults and Nazis at the extreme and Republicanism and Liberalism more toward the center. The ultimate message of this book is to think for yourself and try not to give in to the comfort of a group and its inherently limiting regulations.