Home Societal / Political Freedom The Nature of True Freedom III: Creating A Shared Image of the Future

The Nature of True Freedom III: Creating A Shared Image of the Future

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In creating the conditions for “true freedom,” it is essential that a society not only provide “freedom from” (Fromm’s negative freedom) but also provide “freedom to” (Fromm’s positive freedom). Positive freedom to do something, in turn, is sustained only if a society has defined or is in the process of continually defining and redefining a clear and exhilarating image of its own purpose and, in particular, its own future. According to Fromm (1941, p. 256):

Looked at superficially, people appear to function well enough in economic and social life; yet it would be dangerous to overlook the deep-seated unhappiness behind that comforting veneer. If life loses its meaning because it is not lived, man becomes desperate. People do not die quietly from physical starvation; they do not die quietly from psychic starvation either. If we look only at the economic needs as far as the “normal” person is concerned, if we do not see the unconscious suffering of the average automatized person, then we fail to see the danger that threatens our culture from its human basis: the readiness to accept any ideology and any leader, if only he promises excitement and offers a political structure and symbols which allegedly give meaning and order to an individual’s life. The despair of the human automaton is fertile soil for the political purposes of Fascism.

Arendt’s Vision of the Future

Hannah Arendt ([1948] 1966) comes to a similar conclusion as she describes the conditions leading to the rise of totalitarianism in midcentury Europe. She speaks of the loss of a sense of purpose or defining image of the future during the years immediately following World War I. The world had been changed profoundly by the war, and at least Europeans had lost all sense of bearing and any sense of human values or rights. Displaced people were wandering from country to country with no sense of home or identity. At the same time, there was a desperate effort to reassert a sense of nation and of race.

It was a time, according to Arendt ([1948] 1966, p. 268), when there seemed to be nothing more pervasive than a diffuse sense of hate, the universal substitute for a sense of hope in the future:

Hatred, certainly not lacking in the pre-war world, began to play a central role in public affairs everywhere, so that the political scene in the deceptively quiet years of the twenties assumed the sordid and weird atmosphere of a Strindbergian family quarrel. Nothing perhaps illustrates the general disintegration of political life better than this vague, pervasive hatred of everybody and everything, without a focus for its passionate attention, with nobody to make responsible for the state of affairs—neither the government nor the bourgeoisie nor an outside power. It consequently turned in all directions, haphazardly and unpredictably, incapable of assuming an air of healthy indifference toward any­ thing under the sun.

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