Escape from Freedom

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Are we pursuing freedom or escaping from it?

Hi, welcome to Bookey. Today we will unlock the book Escape from Freedom.

There are many poems about freedom. You may have heard of Freedom and Love by the Hungarian poet Sándor Pet?fi: “Life is dear. Love is dearer. But I can give up both for freedom.” Or the one by Romain Rolland: “Freedom is always the greatest asset of all kinds.”

In modern society, everyone is eager to attain freedom and self-fulfillment. People claim to be willing to give up anything for freedom, but the book Escape from Freedom presents a different picture. In reality, lots of people, even the majority who seem to pursue and praise freedom, are unknowingly trying to escape from it. Their actions actually run counter to what they claim. Why is this? In order to answer that question, we need to understand the background of when the book was written.

The author, Erich Fromm, was a German-American born into a Jewish family. He was a significant member of the Frankfurt School and a successor of Marxist philosophy. He merged Freudian psychoanalysis and humanism and drew on diverse and crucial thoughts to form his own style. Widely known as one of the founders of psychoanalytic sociology, he was good at using psychological approaches to analyze social behaviors.

In 1933, Adolf Hitler came into power and became the German Chancellor. Fromm was aware of the evil nature of Nazism and moved to the United States the next year to continue his psychoanalytic research at Columbia University. Escape from Freedom was his first monograph during his time at Columbia. The book was published in 1941, during the third year of the Second World War. The cruelty of war, the retrogression of civilization, and the depravity of humanity drove Fromm to consider the following questions: In the treacherous journey to freedom, people have gone through all kinds of hardship during the Renaissance, the the Reformation, and the Industrial Revolution. What ultimately made hard-earned democracy fall back into the abyss of totalitarianism and dictatorship overnight? What made a nation that once fostered Kant and Beethoven rush to sacrifice freedom and become fanatic supporters of Hitler?

Fromm tried to approach these questions from a psychological perspective, and his conclusions are published in Escape from Freedom. It’s commendable that he didn’t make a grand narrative, but instead focused on the process of individuation to analyze the psychological mechanisms closely linked with people’s mentality. Therefore, the book transcends a historical analysis and remains a classic after more than seventy years.

This Bookey will illustrate why people pursue freedom while simultaneously escaping from it from the following three aspects: the reasons to escape, the three mechanisms of escaping, and how to attain real freedom. Let’s get started and go through them one by one.

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