This completely stunts their growth and freedom. The authoritarian and the automaton psychology are seen in Nazism and democracy. Nazism is both an economic and political problem, which has to be understood on psychological grounds. During the Nazi regime in WWI and then once again in WWII, two groups of people existed: there were those who did not give any resistance, but also without supporting the cause and those who were deeply attracted to the new ideology.
This is what can happen when people try to escape their freedom. History shows with numerous examples, including Hitler in the 1930s and 1940s, and even today others throughout the world, how great the disaster can be when humans give their power to someone else. Someone like Hitler can come to power because people lose the ability to exert their own personal strength and fortitude.
In the situation with Hitler, stresses Fromm, there were two disastrous trends that are fundamental for the power of the authoritarian character: the craving for power over others and the longing for submission to an overwhelmingly strong outside power (236). His ideology resulted from a personality that included feelings of inferiority, hatred against self and life, envy of others who enjoy life and striving for sadomasochism. It was used with people who, due to a similar character structure, felt attracted and excited by his words and teachings and pleased that he was expressing their feelings and words. It was a society of power, where one person rose over another ad infinitum.
Nazism fulfilled the emotional needs of a population. "It seems that nothing is more difficult for the average man to bear than the feeling of not being identified with a larger group. However much a German citizen may be opposed to the principles of Nazism, if he has to choose between being alone and feeling that he belongs to Germany, most persons will choose the latter."
What about democracy? Is democracy threatened by fascism? Has democracy provided humankind with the "true" individualism? The Western society, notes Fromm, fosters a tendency to conform. This suppression of spontaneous feelings starts from a very young age. Although a child naturally has some rebelliousness, from an early age, he is also encouraged to have thoughts and ideas that are not his/her own. His emotions are even dictated -- he is supposed to feel a certain way when at Church or when with his relatives. Or, in the case of gender (still true today as when Fromm wrote his book), there are certain times when feelings are not supposed to be felt. A boy is told he cannot cry. A girl is told not to be too aggressive. After a while, it is easy to know what is the "true" identity, and what is the false one that is put on because of the expectations of others.
Another way of destroying the individuality, even in a democratic society, is the trivialization of world facts -- "the announcement of a bombing of a city and the death of hundreds of people is shamelessly followed or interrupted by an advertisement for soap or wine" (250). People cease to be excited, emotions become hampered and eventually a person's attitude to what is going on the world assumes the quality of flatness and indifference.
In the name of 'freedom,' life loses all structure; it is composed of many little pieces, each separate from the other and lacking any sense as a whole." The person is left with all the pieces of a puzzle without being able to put them together.
It is difficult to think that this paper was written so long ago, when it could have been written today, given this above paragraph. What would Fromm had thought to see reality shows, where it is difficult to know what is real and what is not, what is staged and what is not. How people have become blase to see death, murder, war and destruction on TV and the worst situations are summarized into sound-bites that do not hold any weight or substance. What would he have thought about quick takes on another bombing in Iraq, between the advertisements of two comedy shows?
Fromm then goes on to talk about the act of willing, and, if anything, to have too many wishes, with all the energy being spent on the purpose of getting what is wanted and most people never question this premise. "They do not stop to think whether the aims they are pursuing are something they themselves want" (or are motivated to want by outside expectations or pressures). Fromm clearly describes what today is seen even more so than in his times: conspicuous consumption.
In his book, The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), Veblen discusses the need of the leisure class to spend money in a manner, which "serves the purpose of a favorable invidious comparison with other consumers," or, in other words, to spend money in a way to make other individuals feel poor and valueless. This may mean, today, to build the 6,000 square foot house for a family of three instead of 5,000 square feet like a neighbor. At this holiday season, the commercials are bombarding people with what they need not to keep up with the Jones but to be much better.
The Western world also emphasizes the need for conformity. "The loss of identity makes it even more imperative to conform; it means that one can be sure of oneself only if one lives up to the expectations of others. Go into most middle and high schools and there is no need to ask about conformity or the lack of it. How difficult it is for youth to look or act differently! Look at the commercials that show how people should or should not act. Unfortunately, man is starving to be different, yet this is not possible.
What then, asks Fromm, is the meaning of freedom for modern man? He has broken free of the external bonds that would keep him from doing and thinking as he sees fit. He would be able to act according to his own desire, if he knew what he wanted, thought and felt. "But he does not know" (254). Instead, "he conforms to anonymous authorities and adopts a self which is not his." The more he does this, the less power he feels and the more he has to conform.
Does this mean, asks Fromm, that ere is an endless cycle of freedom into new dependence? Does freedom from all primary ties make the individual so alone and isolated that inevitably he must escape into new bondage? Are independence and freedom the same as isolation and fear? Or, rather, does a state of positive freedom exist where the individual can be an independent self and not be isolated and alone, but united with the world, with other humans and nature?
He believes that there is a positive answer (although he was blamed for being an idealist when this book came out). He also believes that the process of growing freedom does not constitute a terrible circle and that humans can be free, yet not alone, critical, but not filled with doubt, independent, yet an integral part of community. His answer: positive freedom exists in spontaneous activity of total, integrated personality.
Man can become free by being himself. In this context 'freedom' means self-realization....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 potentialities 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."(258).
A person has to have individual initiative, which is only possible on the basis of the rational and concerted effort of a society as a whole, and by an amount of decentralization that can be guaranteed real, co-operation and control by the smallest units of the system.
Only if man masters society and subordinates the economic machine to the purposes of human happiness and only if he actively participates in the social process, can he overcome what now drives him into despair -- his aloneness and his feeling of powerlessness. 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, and automaton, that his life has become empty and lost its meaning (276).
Therefore is it very important that a person is critical and dares to think independently. he/she must fight against powers outside of his/her self and look for the strong powers that are active within and learn to trust his freedom. For in freedom…