Free at Last: Challenges Facing Those Who Are “Liberated”
Going It Alone
Clearly, Fromm is defining the arena in which humanity seeks the meaning of life. This arena is not the regional, national, or world stage of politics and economics, as was the case for many of Fromm’s Marxist colleagues. Rather, it is the very personal and intimate stage where we each confront doubt and faith.
Living under the basic human conditions of helplessness and doubt, humanity prior to the twentieth century turned to a personalized God and gratefully submitted to this God’s authority. “Luther’s ‘faith,'” according to Fromm (1941, p. 81), “was the conviction of being loved upon the condition of surrender, a solution which has much in common with the principle of complete submission of the individual to the state and the ‘leader.'” For Luther, relationships between members of society and their leaders were always ambivalent. Luther defied the authority of the church, yet discouraged the peasants’ revolt against their secular leaders. He fought against the authority of the (Catholic) church, yet created a theology that led to people’s sense of isolation from other people and themselves and in turn to their unquestioning submission to the internally originating authority of God.
In shifting attention from religion to the political sphere, Fromm (1941, p. 5) quotes a pragmatic American philosopher, John Dewey (1939): “The serious threat to our democracy is not the existence of foreign totalitarian states. It is the existence within our own personal attitudes and within our own institutions of conditions which have given a victory to external authority, discipline, uniformity, and dependence upon The Leader in foreign countries. The battlefield is also accordingly here within ourselves and our institutions.”
While Fromm tended to regard the importance of individuation in humanity’s search for political and economic freedom, he suggested that this is neither a metaphysical quest nor a biological given. Rather, it is a hard-won battle that people must fight on their own humanistic terms, without benefit of either divine guidance or biological inevitability. According to Fromm (1941, pp. 238-239): “The history of mankind is the history of growing individuation, but it is also the history of growing freedom. The quest for freedom is not a metaphysical force and cannot be explained by natural law; it is the necessary result of the process of individuation and of the growth of culture. The authoritarian systems cannot do away with the basic conditions that make for the quest for freedom; neither can they exterminate the quest for freedom that springs from these conditions.”