Book Review: Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm is a great thinker and writer. When I read his The Sane Society, my view about human life, the world, and society was transformed. I expected the same from Escape from Freedom, and it didn’t disappoint. How could it? The book has been in print and read over and again since 1941 when it first came out. Escape from Freedom is an amazing book meant to make us think over what we consider as freedom and ask if we are as free as we think? And if we are, then why are we so unhappy with our lives?

This is not a self-help book, but comparative research into history backed up with sociology, social psychology, and psychology. This said, there were places where the argumentation felt iffy and took huge leaps when stating correlations and truths how the world is. But the historical comparison convinced me. It was the core of the book, showing how concepts like individuality, freedom, duty, and self have changed. And while we think peasants under a feudal rule were less free than us, the truth is more surprising. Erich Fromm argues that the change from the feudal society into capitalism (during Renaissance) has alienated men from each other and from their families, making us, yes, more individualistic, but also more alone and responsible of things we cannot control like chance and bad luck. He argues that the freedoms we think we have gained aren’t as free as we like to think. That we are being shaped by commercials, influential people and their opinions, and social pressure (norms). So what we think, what we want, and who we are depend on this faceless others through things like newspapers. He also argues that capitalism has shifted our focus solely on gaining money, making us obsessed, unhappy and alienated.

I could go on and on about the book and argue against it or for it. It is informative, eye-opening, and thought-provoking. The contrast between feudal and modern society makes me think what else I hold true or basic, but haven’t really understood where it comes from, what it means, and that it hasn’t always been so. I recommend this book despite the reasoning leaps I mentioned. The message of this book will make you think. And it made me appreciate more about the study of history. We need to understand where we come from and where our ideas come from to see the whole picture.

“In capitalism economic activity, success, material gains become ends in themselves. It becomes man’s fate to contribute to the growth of the economic system, to amass capital, not for purposes of his own happiness or salvation, but as an end in itself. Man became a cog in the vast economic machine — an important one if he had much capital, and insignificant one if had none—but always a cog to serve a purpose outside of himself.”

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