Quotes from Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom

“The more the drive toward life is thwarted, the stronger is the drive toward destruction; the more life is realized, the less is the strength of destructiveness. Destructiveness is the outcome of unlived life.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

“We forget that, although freedom of speech constitutes an important victory in the battle against old restraints, modern man is in a position where much of what “he” thinks and says are the things that everybody else thinks and says; that he has not acquired the ability to think originally – that is, for himself – which alone gives meaning to his claim that nobody can interfere with the expression of his thoughts.”
― Erich Fromm, The Fear of Freedom

“Modern man lives under the illusion that he knows ‘what he wants,’ while he actually wants what he is supposed to want. In order to accept this it is necessary to realize that to know what one really wants is not comparatively easy, as most people think, but one of the most difficult problems any human being has to solve. It is a task we frantically try to avoid by accepting ready-made goals as though they were our own.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

“The frightened individual seeks for somebody or something to tie his self to; he cannot bear to be his own individual self any longer, and he tries frantically to get rid of it and to feel security again by the elimination of this burden: the self.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

“If the meaning of life has become doubtful, if one’s relations to others and to oneself do not offer security, then fame is one means to silence one’s doubts. It has a function to be compared with that of the Egyptian pyramids or the Christian faith in immortality: it elevates one’s individual life from its limitations and instability to the plane of indestructability; if one’s name is known to one’s contemporaries and if one can hope that it will last for centuries, then one’s life has meaning and significance by this very reflection of it in the judgments of others.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

“We forget that, although each of the liberties which have been won must be defended with utmost vigour, the problem of freedom is not only a quantitative one, but a qualitative one; that we not only have to preserve and increase the traditional freedom, but that we have to gain a new kind of freedom, one which enables us to realize our own individual self; to have faith in this self and in life.”
― Erich Fromm, The Fear of Freedom

“Most people are convinced that as long as they are not overtly forced to do something by an outside power, their decisions are theirs, and that if they want something, it is they who want it. But this is one of the great illusions we have about ourselves. A great number of our decisions are not really our own but are suggested to us from the outside; we have succeeded in persuading ourselves that it is we who have made the decision, whereas we have actually conformed with expectations of others, driven by the fear of isolation and by more direct threats to our life, freedom, and comfort.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

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.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

“When Fascism came into power, most people were unprepared, both theoretically and practically. They were unable to believe that man could exhibit such propensities for evil, such lust for power, such disregard for the rights of the weak, or such yearning for submission. Only a few had been aware of the rumbling of the volcano preceding the outbreak.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

“Man represses the irrational passions of destructiveness, hate, envy, revenge; he worships power, money, the sovereign state, the nation; while he pays lip service to the teachings of the great spiritual leaders of the human race, those of Buddha, the prophets, Socrates, Jesus, Mohammed—he has transformed these teachings into a jungle of superstition and idol-worship. How can mankind save itself from destroying itself by this discrepancy between intellectual-technical overmaturity and emotional backwardness?”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

“the lust for power is not rooted in strength but in weakness. It is the expression of the inability of the individual self to stand alone and live. It is the desperate attempt to gain secondary strength where genuine strength is lacking. The word power has a twofold meaning. One is the possession of power over somebody, the ability to dominate him; the other meaning is the possession of power to do something, to be able, to be potent. The latter meaning has nothing to do with domination; it expresses mastery in the sense of ability.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

“The person who is normal in terms of being well adapted is often less healthy than the neurotic person in terms of human values. Often he is well adapted only at the expense of having given up his self in order to become more or less the person he believes he is expected to be.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

“Rationalizing is not a tool for penetration of reality but a post-factum attempt to harmonize one’s own wishes with existing reality.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

“Man does not suffer so much from poverty today as he suffers from the fact that he has become a cog in a large machine, an automaton, that his life has become empty and lost its meaning.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

“The pathetic superstition prevails that by knowing more and more facts one arrives at knowledge of reality. Hundreds of scattered and unrelated facts are dumped into the heads of students; their time and energy are taken up by learning more and more facts so that there is little left for thinking. To be sure, thinking without a knowledge of facts remains empty and fictitious; but “information” alone can be just as much of an obstacle to thinking as the lack of it.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

“Ethical principles stand above the existence of the nation and that by adhering to these principles an individual belongs to the community of all those who share, who have shared, and who will share this belief.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

“Frequently, and not only in the popular usage, sadomasochism is confounded with love. Masochistic phenomena, especially, are looked upon as expressions of love. An attitude of complete self-denial for the sake of another person and the surrender of one’s own rights and claims to another person have been praised as examples of “great love”. It seems that there is no better proof for “love” than sacrifice and the readiness to give oneself up for the sake of the beloved person. Actually, in these cases, “love” is essentially a masochistic yearning and rooted in the symbiotic need of the person involved.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

“Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

“Once the primary bonds which gave security to the individual are severed, once the individual faces the world outside of himself as a completely separate entity, two courses re-open to him since he has to overcome the unbearable state of powerlessness and aloneness. By one course he can progress to “positive freedom”; he can relate himself spontaneously to the world in love and work, in the genuine expression of his emotional, sensuous and intellectual capacities; he can thus become one again with man, nature, and himself, without giving up the independence and integrity of his individual self. The other course open to him is to fall back, to give up his freedom, and to try to overcome his aloneness by eliminating the gap that has arisen between his individual self and the world. This second course never reunites him with the world in the way he was related to it before he merged as an “individual,” for the fact of his separateness cannot be reversed; it is an escape from an unbearable situation which would make life impossible if it were prolonged. This course of escape, therefore, is characterized by its compulsive character, like every escape from threatening panic; it is also characterized by the more or less complete surrender of individuality and the integrity of the self. Thus it is not a solution which leads to happiness and positive freedom; it is, in principle, a solution which is to be found in all neurotic phenomena. It assuages an unbearable anxiety and makes life possible by avoiding panic; yet it does not solve the underlying problem and is paid for by a kind of life that often consists only of automatic or compulsive activities.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

“Whether or not we are aware of it, there is nothing of which we are more ashamed than of not being ourselves, and there is nothing that gives us greater pride and happiness than to think, to feel, and to say what is ours.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

“We have been compelled to recognize that millions in Germany were as eager to surrender their freedom as their fathers were to fight for it; that instead of wanting freedom, they sought for ways of escape from it; that other millions were indifferent and did not believe the defense of freedom to be worth fighting and dying for.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

“It seems that nothing is more difficult for the average man to bear than the feeling of not being identified with a larger group.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

“The right to express our thoughts, however, means something only if we are able to have thoughts of our own; freedom from external authority is a lasting gain only if the inner psychological conditions are such that we are able to establish our own individuality.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

“The development of man’s intellectual capacities has far outstripped the development of his emotions. Man’s brain lives in the twentieth century; the heart of most men lives still in the Stone Age. The majority of men have not yet acquired the maturity to be independent, to be rational, to be objective. They need myths and idols to endure the fact that man is all by himself, that there is no authority which gives meaning to life except man himself.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom


1-Page Summary of Escape From Freedom

Overall Summary

Escape From Freedom Book Summary, by Erich Fromm – Allen Cheng

Escape From Freedom Book Summary, by Erich Fromm – Allen ChengAllen ChengGet the main points of Escape From Freedomin 20 minutes. Read the world’s #1 book summary of Escape From Freedom…

Escape From Freedom is a book about social psychology. It was written by Erich Fromm in 1941, who had fled Nazi Germany and relocated to the United States. In his book, Fromm uses ideas from both psychology and sociology to explain humanity’s ambivalent relationship with freedom. He also pays particular attention to how Nazism took hold of Germany during that time period.

The first two chapters of the book explain some of its main points, such as why people are willing to relinquish their freedom for authoritarian rule. Fromm says that it is because modern society has given them a sense of loneliness and insignificance. He explains this by comparing individuation in human societies with individual development. In both cases, there is a loss of primary ties to parents or society and an increase in self-reliance and confidence. However, this independence can also lead to isolation from others if not accompanied by other opportunities for social interaction.

The individual has been an important concept throughout history. In Chapter 3, Fromm traces the development of the individual in Europe from feudal society to modern capitalism. Feudalism was a strict social order that gave its members security and purpose, while also limiting their freedom. The rise of market capitalism left individuals with more freedoms but plagued by uncertainty and insignificance. Protestant religions like Calvinism and Lutheranism arose to help people deal with those feelings, but they did so by making them feel insignificant as compared to God’s authority (and one another). Capitalism treats people like cogs in a machine, leaving them isolated and insignificant.

Chapter 5 discusses various ways in which people avoid feelings of isolation. One such way is sado-masochism, the desire to fuse oneself with another person’s personality. This can be achieved through submission or domination over a weaker person. Sado-masochism forms the basis for authoritarian personalities, as well as automaton conformity, where one conforms to society’s expectations rather than thinking and acting freely.

The final chapters of Escape from Freedom explore the ways in which people escape from freedom. The author analyzes how these mechanisms manifest themselves in modern democracies, such as Nazi Germany. He argues that Hitler was able to manipulate German citizens because they were especially susceptible to sado-masochistic tendencies and a desire for domination over others.

Chapter 7 focuses on how people in modern democratic societies, such as America, are not free. Instead of thinking for themselves and being true to their authentic selves, they follow society’s rules and try to fit into the mold that is expected of them. They do this instead of following their own dreams or aspirations. In the Appendix, Fromm talks about some theoretical concepts he used throughout Escape from Freedom, like a social character structure.

Chapter 1: “Freedom—A Psychological Problem?”

Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm discusses the core ideas behind his exploration of fascism. He believes that modern history is characterized by collective struggles to gain individual liberties, as kings and churches lose power to democratic institutions which grant individuals freedom. World War I was believed to be the last war, but it wasn’t because people are still struggling for their freedoms.

After World War I, fascist movements arise in Germany and Italy. These movements are supported by the masses who want to give up their freedom for security. Fromm questions whether people’s desire for freedom is natural or if it can be suppressed, as well as how fascism arises from this environment of fear and insecurity.


Summary Notes

It is the thesis of this book that modern man, freed from the bonds of preindividualistic society, which simultaneously gave him security and limited him, has not gained freedom in the positive sense of the realization of his individual self; that is, the expression of his intellectual, emotional and sensuous potentialities. Freedom, though it has brought him independence and rationality, has made him isolated and, thereby, anxious and powerless. (Page 1)

man, the more he gains freedom in the sense of emerging from the original oneness with man and nature and the more he becomes an “individual,” has no choice but to unite himself with the world in the spontaneity of love and productive work or else to seek a kind of security by such ties with the world as destroy his freedom and the integrity of his individual self. (Page 21)

Human existence begins when the lack of fixation of action by instincts exceeds a certain point; when the adaptation to nature loses its coercive character; when the way to act is no is a longer fixed by hereditarily given mechanisms. In other words, human existence and freedom are from the beginning inseparable. (Page 31)

Significant changes in the psychological atmosphere accompanied the economic development of capitalism. A spirit of restlessness began to pervade life toward the end of the Middle Ages. The concept of time in the modern sense began to develop. Minutes became valuable: a symptom of this new sense of time is the fact that in Nürnberg the clocks have been striking the quarter hours since the sixteenth century. Too many holidays began to appear as a misfortune. Time was so valuable that one felt one should never spend it for any purpose which was not useful. (Page 58)

with the beginning of capitalism all classes of society started to move. There ceased to be a fixed place in the economic order which could be considered a natural, an unquestionable one. The individual was left alone; everything depended on his own effort, not on the security of his traditional status. (Page 59)

capitalism freed the individual. It freed man from the regimentation of the corporative system; it allowed him to stand on his own feet and to try his luck. He became the master of his fate, his was the risk, his the gain. (Page 61)

The individual is freed from the bondage of economic and political ties. He also gains in positive freedom by the active and independent role which he has to play in the new system. But simultaneously he is freed from those ties which used to give him security and a feeling of belonging. (Page 62)

The compulsive quest for certainty, as we find with Luther, is not the expression of genuine faith but is rooted in the need to conguer the unhearable doubt.Luther’s solution is one which we find present in many individuals today, who do not think in theological terms: namely to find certainty by elimination of the isolated individual self, by becoming an instrument in the hands of an overwhelmingly strong power outside of the individual. (Page 78)

although freedom of speech constitutes an important victory in the battle against old restraints, modern man is in a position where much of what “he” thinks and says are the things that everybody else thinks and says; that he has not acquired the ability to think originally-that is, for himself which alone gives meaning to his claim that nobody can interfere with the expression of his thoughts. (Page 105)

the methods of political propaganda tend to increase the feeling of insignificance of the individual voter. Repetition of slogans and emphasis on factors which have nothing to do with the issue at stake numb his critical capacities. The clear and rational appeal to his thinking is rather the exception than the rule in political propaganda-even in democratic countries. Confronted with the power and size of the parties as demonstrated in their propaganda, the individual voter cannot help feeling small and of little significance. (Page 129)

The extent to which the average person in America is filled with the same sense of fear and insignificance seems to find a telling expression in the fact of the popularity of the Mickey Mouse pictures. There the one theme-in so many variationsis always this: something little is persecuted and endangered by something overwhelmingly strong, which threatens to kill or swallow the little thing. The little thing runs away and eventually succeeds in escaping or even in harming the enemy. (Page 131)

Once the primary bonds which gave security to the individual are severed, once the individual faces the world outside of himself as a completely separate entity, two courses are open to him since he has to overcome the unbearable state of powerlessness and aloneness. By one course he can progress to “positive freedom”; he can relate himself spontaneously to the world in love and work, in the genuine expression of his emotional, sensuous, and intellectual capacities; he can thus become one again with man, nature, and himself, without giving up independence and integrity of his individual self. The other course open to him is to fall back, to give up his freedom, and to try to overcome his aloneness by eliminating the gap that has the arisen between his individual self and the world. (Page 139)

The first mechanism of escape from freedom I am going to deal with is the tendency to give up the independence of one’s own individual self and to fuse one’s self with somebody or something outside of oneself in order to acquire the strength which the individual self is lacking. (Page 140)

the amount of destructiveness to be found in individuals is proportionate to the amount to which expansiveness of life is curtailed. (Page 181)

The more the drive toward life is thwarted, the stronger is the drive toward destruction; the more life is realized, the less is the strength of destructiveness. Destructiveness is the outcome of unlived life. (Page 182)

Ask an average newspaper reader what he thinks about a certain political question. He will give you as “his” opinion a more or less exact account of what he has read, and yet-and this is the essential point-he believes that what he is saying is the result of his own thinking. (Page 190)

We could go on quoting many more instances in daily life in which people seem to make decisions, seem to want something, but actually follow the internal or external pressure of “having” to want the thing they are going to do. As a matter of fact, in watching the phenomenon of human decisions, one is struck by the extent to which people are mistaken in taking as  “their” decision what in effect is submission to convention, duty, or simple pressure. It almost seems that “original” decision is a comparatively rare phenomenon in a society which supposedly makes individual decision the cornerstone of its existence. (Page 198)

The right to express our thoughts, however, means something only if we are able to have thoughts of our own; freedom from external authority is a lasting gain only if the inner psychological conditions are such that we are able to establish our own individuality. (Page 240)

In our culture, however, education too often results in the elimination of spontaneity and in the substitution of original psychic acts by superimposed feelings, thoughts, and wishes. (Page 241)

From the very start of education original thinking is discouraged and ready-made thoughts are put into people’s heads. How this is done with young children is easy enough to see. They are filled with curiosity about the world, they want to grasp it physically as well as intellectually.They want to know the truth, since that is the safest way to orient themselves in a strange and powerful world. Instead, they are not taken seriously, and it does not matter whether this attitude takes the form of open disrespect or of the subtle condescension which is usual towards all who have no power (such as children, aged or sick people). Although this treatment by itself offers strong discouragement to independent thinking, there is a worse handicap: the insincerity-often unintentional-which is typical of the average adult’s behavior toward a child. (Page 246)

the emphasis on knowledge of facts, or I should rather say on information. The pathetic superstition prevails that by knowing more and more facts one arrives at knowledge of reality. (Page 247)

“If I do get this new job, if I get this better car, if I can take this trip-what then? What is the use of it all? Is it really I who wants all this? Am I not running after some goal which is supposed to make me happy and which eludes me as soon as I have reached it?” These questions, when they arise, are frightening, for they question the very basis on which man’s whole activity is built, (Page 251)

this bespeaks a dim realization of the truth-the truth that modern man lives under the illusion that he knows what he wants, while he actually wants what he is supposed to want. (Page 251)

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. (Page 253)

By conforming with the expectations of others, by not being different, these doubts about one’s own identity are silenced and a certain security is gained. (Page 253)

Modern man is starved for life. But since, being an automaton, he cannot experience life in the sense of spontaneous activity he takes as surrogate any kind of excitement and thrill: the thrill of drinking, of sports, of vicariously living the excitements of fictitious persons on the screen. (Page 254)

We believe that the realization of the self is accomplished not only by an act of thinking but also by the realization of man’s total personality, by the active expression of his emotional and intellectual potentialities. These po-od tentialities are present in everybody; they become real only to the extent to which they are expressed. In other words, positive freedom consists in the spontaneous activity of the total, integrated personality. (Page 257)

man misses the only satisfaction that can give him real happiness-the experience of the activity of the present moment-and chases after a phantom that leaves him disappointed as soon as he believes he has caught it-the illusory happiness called success. (Page 261)

there is only one meaning of life: the act of living itself. (Page 261)


Front PageIdentity and ResistancePolitics

Escape From Freedom – A Book Review

On the psychology of fascism

by Critical Edges


Comments 2Book ReviewedEscape from Freedom. By Erich Fromm. Farrar & Rinehart, United States 1941.

Review by Alexander Husenbeth

Published in 1941, Erich Fromm’s Escape From Freedom sought to answer the burning question: another World War? Why? Haven’t we learned from the previous devastating World War? What is it in modern humans that makes them sacrifice their freedom for mass ideologies, and why do they submit to figures like Hitler, Pétain or Mussolini? Are these movements even primarily ideological, or are there more primal psychological processes at play? The issue of fascism is becoming frighteningly present and pressing once again. To approach it, the idea that history contains more continuity and ambiguity than we allow our common narrations of the past to convey is a useful starting point. This notion goes hand in hand with a psychological perspective, which places at the center of investigation the psyche and its potentialities, common patterns, and collective expressions, many of which repeat and recur over time.

Escape From Freedom is structured by moving from an introduction to a historical part, and only later does Fromm analyse the psychology of fascism. The book explains the rise of destructive authoritarian regimes in Europe by firstly investigating the historical preconditions of the traits he identifies as underlying fascism. Fromm’s argument is based on a two-sided view of freedom, a distinction between negative freedom (freedom from) and positive freedom (freedom of). He argues that increasing negative freedom (e.g. freedom from serfdom, freedom from religious persecution, etc.) comes not only with benefits, but also dangers and responsibilities, because the shackles and restrictions that existed previously also provided, to people in a rigid class system, certainty and a cultural role to identify with. They were also, in themselves, morally ambiguous. Not only did e.g. serfdom or religious totalitarianism bring oppression, exploitation, and paternalisation, but they also provided the individual with a sense of security, purpose, and identity; an unshakeable natural order and a clear sense of one’s place within it. One was suffering in many ways, but there was a clear structure set up to make sense of this suffering, made up of prayer, confession, and rituals that provided psychological relief and orientation. A serf was poor and vulnerable – but s/he knew who and where s/he belonged, what to do, and what his/her role was. This was soon to change.

When the dominant order of Feudalism and the Church were shaken by Renaissance, Reformation, and the onset of Capitalism, it was not an opening of the floodgates which finally released the serfs to freedom and autonomy. As Fromm reminds us, reality was more ambiguous, and the onset of modernity was not cheered on universally, as the modern narration of progress sometimes implies. Readaptation to a new economic order and structural transformation of society does not come without backlash, and not without leaving traces. (For instance, as we will see later, the clear distribution of roles and the simplicity of premade identity structures is mirrored in fascism.) There was a fear of losing one’s place in the “natural” and “eternal” order, a disorientation. For some, e.g. the emerging bourgeoisie, it was an opening of the floodgates, an entire world theirs to discover and exploit, and masses of former serfs or their children to employ as wage labourers. Others lost everything they had, their roles in the medieval class system stripped away from them and rented back to them by a new authority: the employer, the capital owner. The material conditions of the masses did not, for a long time, improve, and a system of oppression was replaced with another, which also presented itself as a natural order, based on notions of individual choice and agency. Their negative freedom had increased, their positive freedom had not. For many, it is still like that today: being able to choose, to some extent, where to find employment, but not whether to be a wage labourer or not.

Two leader figures that Fromm focuses on, Luther and Calvin, emerged in reaction to the beginning of modernity and capitalism. Here, Fromm demonstrates his thesis of the possible dangers of increased negative freedom for previously shackled people: new ordering systems of belief and self-conception were created, this time under the name of Lutheranism and Calvinism(1).

As a reader, I felt greatly enriched by learning about the historical and spiritual roots of capitalism, in which the perception of moral worth of an individual is tied to their economic position. Many contemporary phenomena, such as the shaming of jobless people or the veneration of rich people and celebrities, harken back to such teachings. The interpretation of theology and history put forth by Fromm is critical and detailed, although relying on some simplifications to make the book accessible and compact. However, the author always makes sure to lay out his methodological standpoint and acknowledges the limitations of his interpretation of such far-reaching processes. Because important influences on Escape From Freedom are Marx and Freud, who are so influential that many of the terms they coined found their way into everyday language, Escape From Freedom is easy to understand. Whenever a difficult concept is necessary, the author defines it in clear terms. Fromm explains his theoretical roots, especially Freud’s influence and his divergence from Freud, without overcomplicating it. This makes the book very educational. However, I would not call it ‘academic literature’, because it is written with the expressed intention to reach a wider public. That being said, a basic understanding of critical theory and psychoanalysis certainly helps the reader gain more from this book.Erich Fromm in 1974. Photograph by Müller-May / Rainer Funk / CC BY-SA 3.0 (DE)

Implications For Now

When the question of why fascism happened is brought up today, common explanations and practices tend to do one of the following: a) reduce the mass phenomenon of fascism to the deeds of a few enigmatic figures, thereby obscuring the agency of the complicit and even devoted masses that followed them; b) reduce fascism to Nazi Germany, which goes hand in hand with c): to reduce fascism to its historical circumstance, a horrible, but past phenomenon; and d), in conjunction with the preceding reductionisms, to mistake the aesthetic of fascism for the essence of fascism, its symptoms with the underlying sickness. An example for d) is someone who believes that fascism can only be expressed through swastikas, Nazi language, etc., because it is by definition a past phenomenon associated with a certain set of names, symbols, and methods. In this way, the psychological dynamics underlying fascism can remain unexamined, outside of the conscious self, belonging to a dark Other. A practice that follows d) is e): to view World War II through a primarily militaristic lense and fetishize it as a sort of game, a remote world different from ours that we can understand by enacting scenarios, watching war movies, etc. As we focus our fascinated gaze onto the superficial faces, names, memorials, popular culture products, and events, we fail to see how fascism depends not only on psychological processes that can be observed in other contexts as well, but we also gaze past the understanding that the structural and cultural conditions for the emergence of fascism exist today as well(2). The inflation of figures such as Hitler as being all-powerful, wise leaders is replaced by an inflation of such dictators as the ultimate, but individual incarnations of evil; rather than, indeed, playing a role in a larger social process that could not have had much consequence, were it not for the active contribution and enabling conformity of millions of people. Neither a), b), c), d), nor e) can explain why, after centuries of gaining more and more freedom from the shackles and restrictions of medieval class society, after centuries of modernization and so-called progress, mass acts of barbarism and destruction swept over Europe. 

Thinkers such as Adorno and Fromm had to flee to the US to be able to do their important work of analysing fascism. The extreme intolerance to deal with critical voices is a key feature of fascism: Adorno mentions the “fear of letting the unconscious become conscious” in a 1967 lecture. This explains the act of projection on the part of fascists, who claim loudly that outgroups, such as Jews or communists, are to blame for every ill of society at times of capitalist crisis. Unwilling or unable to view the system they live in, comprised of their own nation and their own role in the social order, as defunct and lacking in deeper meaning or as having contributed to crisis, fascists turn this threat to their own ego into a threat facing the scapegoats that come to mind first. These ‘obvious’ scapegoats either receive this treatment due to there being a long history of blame and hate directed at them (Jews) or due to the fact that they constitute or advocate for a change in the social order (communists, anarchists, sexual minorities etc.). To serve as scapegoats, the outgroups do not have to have anything in common – they can even be opposed to one another. Their only commonality is that they are either incompatible with, outside of, or opposed to the power hierarchy favoured by fascists.(3)

But why do people relinquish power so willingly? Erich Fromm suggests that under certain circumstances(4), human beings can give up their own striving for autonomy, control, purpose, and certainty, as they become too unfulfilling to hold on to. This personal striving can be compensated by a striving for a collective goal, and by exerting power and control over outgroups that are deemed even lower: “I may be a cog in an undemocratic machine, but finally those Frenchies/Jews/etc. know their place!”. As Fromm describes in Escape From Freedom, humans are capable of enjoying power vicariously while being subdued by a powerful authority. This is called masochism; deriving pleasure from performing a subservient role. Apologism for hierarchy at all costs may be a defence against the fear of change, but propping up a leader figure to possess full dictatorial power cannot be reduced to mere reactionary tendencies. The question that I will approach in my next article – albeit through a Jungian lens – is: can fascism be understood as a sudden breaking-out of what has previously been pushed into the unconscious?

Escape From Freedom – A Book Review

Escape From Freedom – A Book ReviewOn the psychology of fascism


Fromm’s Escape From Freedom is a very accessible text that introduced me to an approach of systematic application of ideas from psychoanalysis to historical events and sociocultural phenomena. The way Fromm synthesizes critical theory with psychoanalysis is illuminating, albeit limited. I highly recommend anyone who is interested in the psychology of fascism to read it. However, I believe that a deeper understanding of fascism from a psychological perspective benefits greatly from a Jungian perspective that brings the collective dimensions to light by considering myth and the role of religion. While a thorough look into the modern condition at large would be beyond the scope of Escape From Freedom, I believe that to understand the emergence of fascism, it is not helpful to view myth and religion as mere “backdrops” to the present that Fromm wrote in (which is now the past), rather than urgent concerns in modernity at large. In my next article, I will attempt to view fascism in this context, by approaching it in the form of an essay with a Jungian lens.


1. I will not go into detail on Fromm’s analysis here – for that, I recommend reading Escape From Freedom.
2. Capitalist crisis and new mass communication technologies, to name a few.
3. This is illustrated by the phenomenon that fascists often conflate or confuse the groups they deem evil: capitalists = communists, communists = Jews, Jews = gays, gays = socialists… you name it. These are merely the most common iterations of this key characteristic of fascism, which prove it to be irrational. Nowadays, similar confusions and conflations such as “postmodern Neo-Marxists” perform a similar role of reactionary defence against critique of social hierarchies, in which buzzwords with negative connotations are thrown together to create an appearance of superiority over an external enemy set to destroy the fabric of our society.
4. Such as the defeat in a war in which victory was promised until the very end, as had happened in Germany during WWI; or capitalist crisis following a few years of economic boom.

5. German national identity, for instance, had been far from secure during the 1920s. There was political uncertainty, economic instability, the insecurity from having lost a war that had mass support among the population, and a number of different movements questioning the social order. Some people, raised in an authoritarian way in the empire, ached for a clear set of rules and markers by which to orient and identify themselves and their role in a greater whole.


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