What about contemporary Estonian life? I suggest that this soft authoritarianism still exists –and might have grown even stronger. I arrive at this conclusion not by observing actual consumer behavior in Estonia, but by noting that this form of authoritarianism seems to be prevalent throughout Europe, North America, and Asia. It is even prevalent big time in China (Ma, 2019). Obviously, I might be wrong specifically about Estonia; however, I wish to justify my conclusion by turning once again to the analysis of social systems offered by Erich Fromm. As early as 1960, Fromm noted this pull toward the valuing of goods and services as a mode of subtle authoritarianism. Specifically, he was focusing on this marketing orientation in The Sane Society (Fromm, 1960).
Fromm turns to the theme of alienation when describing the impact of a marketing orientation on the human psyche—as he had done before in describing the alienation associated with Nazi rule in Germany (Fromm, 1941). His focus, however, is now on the United States rather than Germany. He portrays a self-alienation of modern American man that results from “man’s physical energy . . . becoming a commodity, hence man has become a thing.” (Fromm, 1960, p. 255). Fromm is referring to the primary interest of workers in earning wages so that they can purchase goods and services.
The product of their work is no longer primary—rather consumption is primary, and workers are nothing more than intermediaries (“things”) between the workplace (production of goods) and marketplace (consumption of goods). In this orientation toward consumption, contemporary members of a society can escape from freedom. They are told how to be successful workers and what to purchase (via marketing). Difficult choices no longer are required. The agony of freedom is exchanged for a much more “blissful” life that is devoid of major challenges or any purpose other than consumption.
We are promised a life filled with tangible benefits rather than realized dreams. We are successfully convinced that meaning is to be found in the tangible consumption of goods and services. At the very least, we are told (via massive marketing campaigns) that success in life (or at least happiness is achieved) when we are in possession of the best that money can buy.
Perhaps this is one of the collective myths that we should add to Gross’ (1980) list of collective myths—a list that I identified in a previous essay on freedom. We are told not only that there is an open market for the exchange of ideas in our society, that great leaders will look after our collective interests, and that the “little people” will ultimately rise up if there is injustice—we are also told (and are convinced) that there is no reason to rise up, for the great leader is ensuring that there is a free market for the exchange of goods and services.