Understanding Fromm's Mechanisms of Escape

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  • Topic: Authoritarianism, Authoritarian personality, Erich Fromm
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  • Published : July 4, 2008
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To understand Fromm’s mechanisms of escape—authoritarianism, destructiveness, and automaton conformity—one must obtain an understanding of Fromm basic premise for humanity and society which is overall positive. Reviewing the mechanisms of escape can assist one in understanding how an individual can be ruled by another, take one’s own life, or become lost in society. Fromm’s book, Escape from Freedom, can be used to teach individuals and society, as a whole, how to better understand one another and evolve towards a society which exists in harmony.

Understanding Fromm’s Mechanisms of Escape
As Explained in Escape from Freedom and Related Journals and Articles
For one to begin understanding Fromm’s mechanisms of escape as explained in his book, Escape from Freedom, one must first understand Fromm’s outlook on society and the human race as a whole and how he defined his mechanisms of escape in that context. Next, one must understand how Fromm viewed socio-psychological individual behavior. And, finally, how his theory relates to today’s modern society.

According to Maccoby (1982), Fromm’s contribution has been to deepen our understanding of the relationship between society and human motivation, passions, and ideals. Fromm basically expressed a positive outlook for humanity. However, he was concerned by societal influences on individuals and “obsessed by the question of how war was possible, by the wish to understand the irrationality of human mass behavior, by a passionate desire for peace and international understanding. More, I had become deeply suspicious of all official ideologies and declarations, and filled with the conviction ‘of all one must doubt” (Smith, 2002).

Fromm’s mechanisms of escape are based on the basic anxiety level one experiences from realizing one is all alone in the world (Feist, 1996, p. 194) and now must make his own way. Fromm “outlined three major escape mechanisms that people might use to alleviate themselves the burden of freedom and choice: authoritarianism, destructiveness, and automaton conformity (Ullman-Margalit, 2007, p. 69). To better understand the mechanisms of escape, one must breakdown each mechanism and relate it to societal norms and relationships.

The first mechanism is Authoritarianism which is described as a “tendency to give up the independence of one’s own individual self and to fuse one’s self with somebody or something outside of oneself in order to acquire the strength which the individual is lacking” (Fromm, 1994, p. 140). Fromm (1994) viewed submission and domination as the two conditions required for authoritarian regimes to exist. History is filled with authoritarian regimes, monarchical, dictatorial, and democratic in nature, that played havoc on both society humanity either within its stated borders, its region, or the world over. One prime example of an authoritarian regime is the falsehood of the National Socialists Working Party under Adolph Hitler. His influence on society and its opportunities for atrocity was so far reaching that Time Magazine named Hitler one of the most influential persons of the 20th century.

After World War I, the German people were morally and financially bankrupted and, worse yet, their way of life under the feudal system was gone. “The modern world had created both new freedoms and increased anxieties, and the stage had been set for Nazism by both the breakdown of the security provided by feudalism and the political crisis of the 1930s” (McLaughlin, 1996, p. 242).

The previous defeat and the ravages of war set the stage for “Hitler’s ‘evangelism of self-annihilation’ had shown millions of Germans the way out of cultural and economic collapse. The Nazi party’s racism, nationalism, militarism, and ‘spirit of blind obedience to a leader’ were an ‘escape from freedom” (242). The German people were in desperate need of a savior. They thought the Nazi party and Hitler, in particular, with his ability to rally and fervor...
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