Authoritarianism and the Escape from Freedom
Oshry offers the obvious (but often ignored) observation that both we and the “others” were not born with the rules of our cultures; we first learned these rules from parents and elders, teachers, and peers. Later we learn from our devoted leaders – and increasingly from media:
Over time, we and the “others” learn our rules so well that we no longer experience them as rules. They become the lenses through which we view the world. Except we don’t see our lens and how it shapes what we see. Instead, we believe we see the world as it really is. Neither we nor the “others” experience our culture as an option, as one of many possibilities.
Thus, it is not just our emotional projection of courage, wisdom and vision onto our beloved leader, it is also the uncritical acceptance of specific narratives offered by the leader – narratives that tell us why we are right and the “others” are wrong. Authoritarianism thus controls both the internal life of our emotions and the external life regarding our perceptions of the external world.
The Disguise of Authoritarianism
All of Fromm’s elements have been prevalent and are readily apparent in many societies when and where threat and the swirling of chaos are rampant. I suggest that Fromm’s analysis is applicable to the Estonian society in which I was temporarily working during the early 1990s. Furthermore, I have been making the case in this essay that these four elements are to be found in many 21st Century societies. As already mentioned, I want to go beyond Fromm’s four elements. There is an element that I am calling the disguise of authoritarianism. This element is often less apparent than the other four, though just as powerful and pernicious.
I propose that an authoritarian state of affairs is disguised in what I identified earlier as the control of truth and reality by those in power. In his highly controversial 1980s critique of American society, Bertrand Gross (1980) identified what he calls the threat of friendly fascism. His disturbing analysis rings painfully true when applied to not only contemporary American society, but also societies operation in many other 21st Century countries. At the heart of friendly fascism, according to Gross, is the control of media by large corporate interests. There is no “neutral” press or mode of communication that is owned in any manner by the general public. The truths being conveyed by the media are based on several prevalent myths that are never tested and rarely are aligned with public interest.