Authoritarianism and the Escape from Freedom

Authoritarianism and the Escape from Freedom

In his description of the current state of the media, Gross (1980, p. 204) references George Orwell’s description of “doublespeak” in his dystopian novel, 1984. Gross suggests that there is now triplespeak which incorporates jargon (that can’t be understood except by a small cluster of “experts”) and the language of progress and prosperity (bolstering the three shared myths). Furthermore, triplespeak involves the continuing promulgation of untruths (lies) and alternative or optional “realities.” In sum, “the more [that] lies are told, the more important it becomes for the liars to justify themselves by deep moral commitments to high-sounding objectives that mask the pursuit of money and power [the disguise of authoritarianism.]” (Gross, 1980, p. 265)

There is one other important insight offered by Gross (1980, p. 267). He suggests that the second myth is particularly misleading—because the “great leader” doesn’t exist. Rather, the “friendly” leader will primarily be the dispenser of and reinforcer of the myths:

Friendly fascism in the United States [and elsewhere in the world] would not need a charismatic, apparently all-powerful leader such as Mussolini or Hitler. . . The chief executive, rather, becomes the nominal head of a network that not only serves as a linchpin to help hold the Establishment together but also provides it with a sanctimonious aura of legitimacy through the imagery of the presidential person, his family, his associates, and their doings. The chief executive is already a TV performer, and his official residence is indeed “an awesome pulpit” form which he and his entire production staff can wield a potent “magic wand.”

Such is the portrayal of the friend fascist leader.

Escape from the Cave

While Fromm and Gross offered their critiques from the perspective of 20th Century European and American societies, there is a much earlier source: the voice of Socrates as heard through the writing of Plato. Socrates (Plato) offered an allegory of a cave and those who swell in the cave. Let’s briefly visit this cave. It is filled with people who have lived all their lives chained to a wall in the cave. These people watch shadows projected on the wall in front of them. The shadows are being projected on the wall from things passing in front of a fire that remains lit behind them. The cave dwellers believe the shadows are reality.

What about 21st life and “friendly” authoritarian rule? Are we all living in a cave? Do we never gain a clear view of reality, but instead view only the shadows that are projected on the walls of our cave? Do we live with an image of reality (shadows on the wall of the cave) rather than with reality itself? Plato concluded that we have no basis for knowing whether we are seeing the shadow or seeing reality, given that we have always lived in the cave.


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About the Author

William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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