As I re-read Erich Fromm’s 1941 book, I see quotes that confirm my strong memories from 1965, when I first read it.
When written, it was an analysis of why totalitarianism, primarily in the form of German and Italian fascism, could conceivably be appealing to ordinary people who could have chosen — or did choose, if only temporarily — some form of democracy, i.e., freedom, but then relinquished it for an iron-fisted dictator.
How grim is it in the age of Trump that I just bought a new copy to discover how timeless Fromm is.
Grim. What follows are some quotes from the second forward Fromm wrote for the 1965 edition. Sorry to say you will have no problem recognize aspects of our immediate lives and immediate fears.
After centuries of struggles, man succeeded in building an undreamed-of wealth of material goods; he built democratic societies in parts of the world, and recently was victorious in defending himself against new totalitarian schemes; yet, as the analysis in Escape From Freedom attempts to show, modern man still is anxious and tempted to surrender his freedom to dictators of all kinds, or to lose it by transforming himself into a small cog in the machine, well fed, and well clothed, yet not a free man but an automaton.
It strikes me here to note how the minions of the Koch Brothers and the spider web of PACs and “think tanks” they spun from their false philosophy of “libertarianism” repeatedly use the word “infinitesimal” to describe my and your vote. They are trying to shrink our confidence in our own powers, con us into feeling we are such small cogs in the machine — “well fed and well clothed” by the Koch Bros, presumably — we shouldn’t waste our efforts in voting.
[After World War II] At first many found comfort in the thought that the victory of the authoritarian system was due to the madness of a few individuals and that their madness would lead to their downfall in due time…Another common illusion, perhaps the most dangerous, was that men like Hitler had gained power over the vast apparatus of the state through nothing but cunning and trickery, that they and their satellites ruled merely by sheer force; that the whole population was only the will-less object of betrayal and terror.
In the years that have elapsed since, the fallacy of these arguments has become apparent. We have been compelled to recognize that millions in Germany were as eager to surrender their freedom as their fathers were to fight for it; that instead of wanting freedom, they sought for ways of escape from it; that other millions were indifferent and did not believe the defense of freedom to be worth fighting and dying for. We also recognize that the crisis of democracy is not a peculiarly Italian or German problem, but one confronting every modern state.
Fromm then quotes John Dewey:
“The serious threat to our democracy is not the existence of foreign totalitarian states. It is the existence within our own personal attitudes and within our own institutions of conditions which have given a victory to external authority, discipline, uniformity and dependence upon The Leader in foreign countries. The battlefield is also accordingly here–within ourselves and our institutions.” [My bolding]