Merton has analyzed for us with deep insight, what ails man, especially the modern man. He starts from a Christian point of view. Other views are possible too. One such is offered by Erich Fromm in his classic, which bears a rather counter-intuitive title: "The Fear of Freedom" (FOF), first published in 1942. Many of the insights he offered there seem as relevant to today's society as they were more than three score years ago.
Jean Jacques Rosseau, a nervous Swiss, has given us such quotable quotes as "Childhood is the sleep of reason, " "Every man has a right to risk his own life for the preservation of it." , Falsehood has an infinity of combinations, but truth has only one mode of being.", "Force does not constitute right... obedience is due only to legitimate powers.", "Free people, remember this maxim: we may acquire liberty, but it is never recovered if it is once lost.", "It is too difficult to think nobly when one thinks only of earning a living.", "It is unnatural for a majority to rule, for a
majority can seldom be organized and united for specific action, and a
minority can" is considered one of the intellectual precursors of French Revolution. But to him, we owe probably his most famous description of the condition of man, "Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains". Indeed, we are all slaves, in one way or another. Some of the restrictions upon our freedom are imposed upon us externally by Nature, eg. the laws of physics, the climate, natural disasters, our genes, our biology, our physiology etc; some of the restraints upon our liberty are imposed on us by society e.g its customs, mores and values but often, we are our own worst enemy: we imprison ourselves, psychologically.
To Fromm, modern European and American history is focused around the effort to gain freedom from the political, economic and spiritual shackles that have bound men. When fighting for its own liberation from domination, the French bourgeoisie believed itself fighting for human freedom as such and was thus able to appeal to a universal longing for freedom from all the oppressed classes but once they managed to seize power, they sided with the enemies of freedom to defend their own new privilege. This happened not only in in France but also in England, in Germany and in "Communist" Russia where the "socialists" were supposed to be representing the interest of the working class and the landless peasants. In the West, "the principles of economic liberalism, political democracy, religious autonomy and individualism in personal life, gave expression to the longing for freedom...Man had overcome the domination of nature and made himself her master; he had overthrown the domination of the Church and the domination of the absolutist state. The abolition of external domination seemed not only a necessary but a also a sufficient condition to attain the cherished goal: freedom of the individual." (FOF 1-2). But the example of Nazi Germany had shown 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 ways of escaping from it; that other millions were indifferent and did not believe the defence of freedom to be worth fighting and dying for."(FOF 2) To John Dewey, it is the existence of conditions within our own personal attitudes and within our own institutions which have given victory to external authority, discipline, uniformity and dependence upon The Leader in foreign countries. To him, the battlefield is thus also here--"within ourselves and our institutions." Fromm too, asks a series of probing questions : Why is there a longing for submission and a lust for power? Is the desire for freedom inherent in human nature? Is it an identical experience across cultures or does it differ according to the degree of individualism reached in a particular society? Is freedom only the absence of external pressure? Is it also the presence of something else and if so, what? What are the socio-economic factors in society that make for the striving of freedom? Can freedom become a burden too heavy for man to bear but something he tries to escape? If so, why is freedom perceived as a threat? by some and a cherished goal by others? Is there not besides an innate desire for freedom, also an instinctive wish for submission. If sot, how explain submission to political and other types of leaders? Is there not just submission to external authority but also submission to internalized authorities, e.g. duty or conscience, to inner compulsions or to any anonymous authorities like public opinion? Is there a hidden satisfaction in submitting and if so, what is its essence? What creates man's an insatiable lust for power? Is it the strength of their vital energy or is it a fundamental weakness and inability to experience life spontaneously and lovingly? What are the psychological conditions that make for the strength of these strivings? What are the social conditions upon which such psychological conditions in turn are based? What is the attraction of Fascism to certain sectors of society? In his book he tries to analyze the dynamic factors in the character structure of the modern man which made him want to give up freedom in Fascist countries and which also prevail in millions of American.
Prior to the 19th Century, man was though of as primarily a rational animal whose action were determined by self-interest and his ability to act in according with it and Hobbes, who recognizes that there there is in a man a drive for power and an innate capacity for hostility, explains such forces in terms of rational self-interest: everyone wants happiness but there are not enough resources to satisfy everyone to the same extent, they got to fight with each other and they want power only in so far as it may serve to secure the future enjoyment of what they have at present. "The dark and diabolical forces of man's nature were relegated to the Middle Ages and to still earlier periods of history" and were explained by "lack of knowledge" or by "cunning schemes of deceitful kings and priests." and former periods were looked upon as extinct volcanoes which have ceased to pose any serious menace and economic crises were thought of as mere periodic accidents. Only a few people were aware of the rumbling of the volcanoes: Nietzsche, Marx and Freud. And Freud in particular was able to point to, more than most, the existence of irrational but unconscious forces, hitherto ignored or neglected by modern rationalism, which determine human behavior: he taught us the meaning of dreams and certain telling symptoms of subterranean forces of irrationality operating in everyday life and provided us with framework for analyzing a person's character structure and showed us how whole character structures were reactions to certain influences from the outside world in early childhood.
(To be cont'd)