Escape From Freedom (Fromm, 1969)

Man’s brain lives in the twentieth century; the heart of
most men lives still in the Stone Age.

The majority of men have not yet acquired the maturity

to be independent,
to be rational,
to be objective.

They need myths and idols to endure the fact that man is
all by himself, that there is no authority which gives
meaning to life except man himself.

Man represses the irrational passions of destructiveness, hate, envy,

he worships power, money, the sovereign state, the nation;

while he pays lip service to the
teachings of the great spiritual leaders of the human
race, those of Buddha, the prophets, Socrates, Jesus, Mohammed

Man has transformed these teachings into a jungle of superstition and idol-worship.

How can mankind save itself from destroying itself by
this discrepancy between intellectual-technical over­
maturity and emotional backwardness? (pp. xiv-xv)


the need to be related to the world outside oneself, the need to avoid aloneness. To feel completely alone and isolated leads to mental disintegration just as physical starvation leads to death. This relatedness to others is not identical with physical contact. An individual may be alone in a physical sense for many years and yet he may be related to ideas, values, or at least social patterns that give him a feeling of communion
and “belonging.” On the other hand, he may live among people and yet be overcome with an utter feeling of isolation, the outcome of which, if it transcends a certain limit, is the state of insanity which schizophrenic disturbances represent. This lack of relatedness to values, symbols, patterns, we may call moral aloneness and state that moral aloneness is as intolerable as the physical aloneness, or rather that physical aloneness becomes unbearable only if it implies also moral aloneness. The spiritual relatedness to the world can assume many forms; the monk in his cell who believes in God and the political prisoner kept in isolation who feels one with his fellow fighters are not alone morally. Neither is the English gentleman who wears his dinner jacket in the most exotic surroundings nor the petty bourgeois who, though being deeply isolated from his fellow men, feels one with his nation or its symbols. The kind of relatedness to the world may be noble or trivial, but even being related to the basest kind of pattern is immensely preferable to
being alone. Religion and nationalism, as well as any custom and any belief however absurd and degrading, if it only connects the individual with others, are refuges from what man most dreads: isolation. (p. 34)


by being aware of himself as distinct fr om nature and other people, by being
aware-even very dimly-of death, sickness, aging,
he necessarily feels his in significance and smallness
in comparison with the universe and all others who
are not “he.”

Unless he belonged somewhere, unless
his life had some meaning and direction, he would
feel like a particle of eust and be overcome by his
individual insignificance.

He would not be able to
relate himself to any system which would give
meaning and direction to his life, he would be
filled with doubt, and this doubt eventually would
paralyze hi s ability to act-that is, to live.(p. 36)


The social history of man started with his emerging from a state of oneness with the natural world to an awareness of himself as an entity separate from surrounding nature and men. Yet this awareness remained very dim over long periods of history.

The individual continued to be closely tied to the natural and social world from which he emerged; while being partly aware of himself as a separate entity, he felt also part of the world around him.

The growing process of the emergence of the individual from his original ties, a process which we may call “individuation,” seems to have reached its peak in modern history in the centuries between the Reformation and the present. (p. 39-40)


The other way, the only one which is productive and does not end in an insoluble conflict, is that of spontaneous relationship to man and nature, a relationship that connects the individual with the world without eliminating his individuality. This kind of relationship—the foremost expressions of which are love and productive work—are rooted in the integration and strength of the total personality and are therefore subject to the very limits that exist for the growth of the self.

The problem of submission and of spontaneous activity as two possible results of growing
individuation will be discussed later on in great detail; here I only wish to point to the general principle, the dialectic process which results from growing individuation and from growing freedom of the individual. The child becomes more free to develop and express its own individual self unhampered by those ties which were limiting it. But the child also becomes more free from a world which gave it security and reassurance. The process of individuation is one of growing strength and integration of its individual personality, but it is at the same time a process in which the original identity with others is lost and in which the child becomes more separate from them. This growing separation may result in an isolation that has the quality of desolation and creates intense anxiety and insecurity; it may result in a new kind of closeness and asolidarity with others if the child has been able to develop the inner strength and productivity which are the premise of this new kind of relatedness to the world.

If every step in the direction of separation and individuation were matched by
corresponding growth of the self, the development of the child would be harmonious. This does not occur, however. While the process of individuation takes place automatically, the growth of the self is hampered for a number of individual and social reasons.

(p. 46-47)


The primary tie s block hi s full human develop­ment; they stand in the way of the development of his reason and his critical capacities; they let
him recognize him self and others only through the
medium of his, or their , participation in a clan, a
social or religious community, and not as human
beings; in other words, they block his development
as a free, self -determining, productive individual
But although this is one aspect, there is another
one. This identity with nature, clan, religion, gives
the individual security. He belongs to, he is rooted
in, a structuralized whole in which he has an un­
questionable place. He may suffer from hunger or
suppression, but he does not suffer from the worst
of all pains-complete aloneness and doubt.(p. 51)


There is only one possible, productive solution for the re­lationship of individualized man with the world: his active solidarity with all men and his spon­taneous activity, love and work, which unite him again with the world, not by primary ties but as a
free and independent individual.

However, if the economic, social and political
conditions on which the whole process of human
individuation depends, do not off er a basis for the
realization of individuality in the sense just men­tioned, while at the same time people have lost those ties which gave them security, this lag makes
freedom an unbearable burden. It then becomes
identical with doubt, with a kind of life which
lacks meaning and direction. Powerful tendencies
arise to escape from.this kind of freedom into sub­
mission or some kind of relationship to man and the
world which promises relief from uncertainty , even
if it deprives the individual of his freedom.

(p. 52)


“They have all commodities under their control and practice without
concealment all the tricks that have been men­tioned; they raise and lower prices as they please and oppress and ruin all the small merchants, as the pike the little fish in the water, just as though they were lords over God’s creatures and free from all the laws of faith and love.”

Luther in his pamphlet “On Trading and Usury,” printed in 1524 .

(pp. 74-75)


Fromm, Erich. 1969. Escape from Freedom. Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

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