Authoritarianism and the Escape from Freedom

Authoritarianism and the Escape from Freedom

I suggest that true freedom evokes a psychic storm. It is a numinous experience. When we first encounter freedom it is both enthralling and frightening. We are drawn to freedom and simultaneously seek to escape it. I found that this ambivalence exists in abundance when interviewing the citizens of Estonia. There was the all-inspiring songfest when Estonians began to sing their national songs despite Soviet bans on this music. I suspect that these songs were just as much a numinous experience for those in attendance at the songfest as the performance of an oratorial by Bach, sung by a massive choral group and orchestra – in fact the Estonian singing was probable even more numinous – for it was saturated with not only the joy of once again singing (and listening to) an Estonian anthem, but also the fear, anger and pride associated with violating the Soviet regulations.

As I noted in a previous essay, it might be the case that music can serve as the bridge between hope and despair. Songs can bypass skepticism and polarization when proclaiming in words and music the no-longer suppressed aspirations of a people (such as the Estonians). This might be an ultimate experience of the numinous—and might yield a powerful catalytic integration of national aspirations and spiritual awakening.

Escape and Neurosis

We face the exhaustion and deep fear associated with new-found freedom. We want to run away and hide from the psychic storm. Erich Fromm speaks to this yearning for escape, as do Jung and Otto. We escape from freedom or we create or accept an illusion of freedom. According to Fromm (1941), there is another course open to each of us. We can simply give up our freedom and then try to overcome the aloneness associated with personal constraint (lack of freedom) by eliminating the gap that has arisen between our individual self and the world. We submerge our own identify and even the identity of the collective. This alternative, neurotic course of escape, according to Fromm, is characterized by its compulsive character. This neurotic pathway resembles that taken when we are threatened and in a state of panic: we look around us for help and are willing to sacrifice our own individual integrity to become safe (or at least feel safe).


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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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