Authoritarianism and the Escape from Freedom

Authoritarianism and the Escape from Freedom

We collectively metabolize the stress and fear created by a society in transition (such as found in 1990s Estonia) by offering both an explanation (this is why the transition is occurring) and hope (this is how we will successfully manage the transition). Our leader resides at the center of this metabolism. As I shall note later in this essay, successful metabolism often is beholding to collective myths regarding a social system’s past history, present resources and future outcomes. Leaders are the ultimate guardians and transmitters of these myths. Wisdom, courage and vision reside at the heart of these myths and these myths enable the leader to retain and gain even more power.

It is important to turn to Bion’s even further insights regarding these dynamics of leadership. He suggests that members of a group (or other social system) collude to ensure that only the leader has sufficient wisdom. If the leader ends up not being super-smart or if someone else exhibits superior wisdom, then the system is in crisis. Similarly, if members of the system can’t collectively identify a viable enemy (that is strong and ever-present but not too powerful or overwhelming), then there is less need for the leader’s courage.

Thus, it is important for a social system oriented toward battle and courage to always have a viable enemy. Finally, a social system that is pulled toward the priority of a compelling vision must always collude to be sure that this vision is never actualized. A realized vision is often anti-climatic (and ultimately not an answer to anything) and without a vision of the future, the social system lacks sufficient motivation and in little need of a visionary leader.

In returning to Erich Fromm’s insights, we find that:

. . . the intensity of the relatedness to the magic helper is in reverse proportion to the ability to express spontaneously one’s own intellectual, emotional, and sensuous potentialities. In other words, one hopes to get everything one expects from life, from the magic helper, instead of by one’s own actions. The question is no longer how to live one self, but how to manipulate ‘him’ [the magic helper] in order not to lose him and how to make him do what one wants, even to make him responsible for what one is responsible oneself.” (Fromm, 1941, p. 176).


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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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