I was much influenced by Erich Fromm’s Escape From Freedom (1941). (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escape_from_Freedom. Wiki leaves out Fromm’s theory of working class authoritarianism to account for Nazism and makes him a typical social democrat, critical of experts and advertising whose origin and targets are “the mobocracy.”) This blog is about the nostalgia for monarchism providing definite authority and the novelty of free market economics. It is not about Fromm’s notion of the authoritarian personality, a preoccupation understandable in the face of Nazism and related isms.
Like most of my readers and FB friends, I have been trying to situate myself somewhere in the current political campaign for president. I am particularly interested in the Frank Luntz focus groups, for a variety of ordinary people seem to be seeking a manly, stable “leader,” whatever the flaws or evasions in his social policy views.
This last week, I read Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom (1962), which is a systematic defense of free markets and untrammeled cultural freedom, an outcome that Friedman finds inseparable from capitalism in its most laissez-faire mode. (I agree with most of what he writes, but wonder if “choice” is invariably wise, given the fatal possibilities of succumbing to quacks and other “professional” frauds.)
At the same time, I have been studying very old fights among historians about the major turning points in the history of our sorry species. My most vivid recollection is that of Louis XIV and the prestige of his absolute despotism as the embodiment of the State. It occurred to me that we have, in spite of our Constitution, not progressed very far from Louis’s [vulgarity], using the magnificence of Versailles-like splendor, for instance, to wow the masses and the King’s underlings, rather like the glitterati, “traditional” mansions, and “special effects” in film celebrated especially during the holiday season to induce spending, notwithstanding the solemnity of religious observance.
Back to Luntz’s focus group regarding Trump and his competition (broadcast on Fox 12-18-15, on The Kelly File). Numerous persons in the Luntz focus group referred to “the people” as the preferred source of authority. But through the centuries, “the people” have been acted upon by elites, and the efforts of individuals to assert liberty have been criminalized as demonic and sneaky. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/08/24/the-people-is-an-ass-or-a-herd/.) Moreover, there is no such animal as “the people”: that is a construction by “traditional” organic conservatives seeking a compact mass to dominate. Friedman, like Charles Sumner before him, favored small government, and saw “society” as a collection of individuals.
Is it not the case that we are, more often than not, scared to death of asserting our individual rights, in what Fromm correctly called an escape from freedom?