Authoritarianism and the Escape from Freedom

Authoritarianism and the Escape from Freedom

The returning prisoner, whose eyes and ears have become acclimated to the light of the sun and sounds of the real world, might be blind and deaf when they re-enters the cave, just as they were when first exposed to the world outside the cave. The cave dwellers, according to Plato, would infer from the returning prisoner’s blindness that the journey out of the cave had harmed the returning prisoner and that they should not undertake a similar journey. Plato concludes that the cave dwellers, if released from their chains, would reach out and kill anyone who attempted to drag them out of the cave. Would the cave dwellers then ask to be once again chained up – or perhaps they would reapply their own chains (establishing a myth of free-will and self-governance). Gross’s friendly fascism would be reestablished. Order would be returned to the cave. The threat of true freedom would be quelled. All would be well in the kingdom and everyone would live happily ever after, starring at images on the wall and hearing echoes emanating from unknown sources.

Personal and societal Caves

There are several different ways in which to view the life of cave dwellers. We can identify the cave as existing inside the occupant’s head and heart. The cave mentality exists when people become trapped or caught in favorite ways of thinking and acting. These heuristics (what behavioral economists analyze) confine individuals within socially constructed worlds and prevent the emergence of other worlds. Preconceived (and often contradictory) ideas become traps for people when they begin to hold onto their preconceived notions and biases that eventually become their reality.

The cave can also be viewed as a collective experience. This is the focus I am taking in this exploration of authoritarianism and freedom. An entire society can be perceived as the cave and its members as those who dwell in the cave. Expanding on Plato’ allegory of the cave, we can assume that people collectively develop unconscious mechanisms and construct realities in order to handle anxiety and desire. Social systems are created and sustained by conscious and unconscious processes. We can become imprisoned or confined by the images, ideas, thoughts, and actions to which these processes give rise. Social systems become stuck in their traditional manner of thinking. There are rigid (though often tacitly held) rules about how things are done. There are Gross’s shared myths. These are collective heuristics –- the most powerful kind. This is what “friendly fascism” is all about.


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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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