Authoritarianism and the Escape from Freedom

Authoritarianism and the Escape from Freedom

Living in the shadow of the numinous and our psychic storm, our behavior is characterized by Fromm as:

. . . the more or less complete surrender of individuality and the integrity of the self. Thus, it is not a solution which leads to happiness and positive freedom; it is, in principle, a solution which is to be found in all neurotic phenomena. It assuages an unbearable anxiety and makes life possible by avoiding panic; yet it does not solve the underlying problem and is paid for by a kind of life that often consists only of automatic or compulsive activities [Fromm, 1941, pp. 140-141].

This analysis offered by Fromm (and augmented by Jung and Otto) leads us to consider one of the traditional avenues of escape and distortion: authoritarianism. This is not the only avenue of escape and distortion. In several subsequent essays, I consider a second avenue, nationalism, as well as two of the more personal modes of escape: ethnocentrism and excessive consumption. Right now, however, I turn to the powerful force of authoritarianism that operated in Estonia after the collapse of the Soviet Union—and that seems to be operating in many Eastern European countries today (long after the collapse of the Soviet Union) and in countries far removed from Eastern Europe.

Escape into Authoritarianism

It is all too easy to frame authoritarianism as a personal trait to be found in individuals, rather than as a societal and cultural dynamic. While the work done by Theodore Adorno and his colleagues (Adorno, et al. 1950) regarding the authoritarian personality is filled with insights regarding the origins of authoritarian perspectives, it is important to recognize that authoritarian dynamics operate at many levels. Recognizing the multi-level nature of authoritarianism, I offer multiple perspectives on this dynamic. I once again turn to Fromm’s analysis as a foundation. At the heart of authoritarianism, according to Fromm, there are four major elements. I offer a few expanded reflections on each of these four elements and suggest how these elements relate to the desire found in each of us to escape freedom when faced with a psychic storm.


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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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