Free at Last: Challenges Facing Those Who Are “Liberated”
We must each ultimately be the measure of our own worth. In returning to our metaphoric Eden, we find that “reason, man’s blessing, is also his curse” (Fromm, 1955, p. 24). Reason differentiates us from all other species, yet also alienates us from the world in which other species seem to live with greater contentment and less intraspecies hostility:
Human existence is different in this respect from that of all other organisms; it is in a state of constant and unavoidable disequilibrium. Man’s life cannot be lived by repeating the pattern of his species; he must live. Man is the only animal that can be bored, that can feel evicted from paradise. Man is the only animal who finds his own existence a problem which he has to solve and from which he cannot escape. He cannot go back to the pre-human state of harmony with nature; he must proceed to develop his reason” (Fromm, 1955, p. 24).
Like his famous intellectual predecessor, Sigmund Freud, Fromm believes that traditional religion offers only the illusion of meaning, and other institutions of economic and political origins are even less well equipped in modern times to provide meaning. When we rely on these institutions and give them our unswerving allegiance, we create conditions for the fascism that Fromm witnessed in 1941 Germany and the alienation that he observed in the American (and Western European) culture of the 1950s.
Freedom in Eastern Europe
As Weiss and I looked specifically to our interviews with men and women of Hungary and Estonia, we wondered about the choices they have made given the rich, and abrupt, opportunities for freedom in their newly liberated countries. To what extent did they tend to escape from freedom? Were their strategies for escape like those found in the United States: friendly fascism, consumption, and/or substance abuse? Had they constructed their own illusion(s) of freedom? If so, what was the nature of their illusion regarding forms of leadership, patterns of consumption, and the management of personal emotions?