The Fear of Freedom: Erich Fromm

The Fear of Freedom- Escape from Freedom

by Erich Fromm p95-6

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, an insignificant one if he had none–but always a cog to serve a purpose outside himself.

The subordination of the individual as a means to economic ends is based on the peculiarities of the capitalistic mode of production, which makes the accumulation of capital the purpose and aim of economic activity. One works for profit’s sake, but the profit one makes is not made to be spent but to be invested as new capital; this increased capital brings new profits, which again are invested, and so on in a circle.

There were of course always capitalists who spent money for luxuries or as “conspicuous waste”; but the classic representatives of capitalism enjoyed working- not spending. This principle of accumulating capital instead of using it for consumption is the premise of the grandiose achievements of our modern industrial system.

If man had not had the ascetic attitude to work and the desire to invest the fruits of his work for the purpose of developing the productive capacities of the economic system, our progress in mastering nature never could have been made; it is this growth of the productive forces of society which for the first time in history permits us to visualize a future in which the continual struggle for the satisfaction of material needs will cease.

Yet, while the principle of work for the sake of the accumulation of capital objectively is of enormous value for the progress of mankind, subjectively it has made man work for extrapersonal ends, made him a servant to the very machine he built, and thereby has given him a feeling of personal insignificance and powerlessness.

The means have become ends. We produce in order to produce; we consume, in order to consume. We talk a lot about freedom, ideals, God—yet the fact is that our main interests are purely material and selfish, that we are in the process of becoming little automatons, each one a little cog in the vast organization machine of production and consumption. Our main interest is to produce things and to consume things—and in the process we ourselves become transformed into things. We make machines which act like men—and we become men who act like machines.

Only if man masters society and subordinates the economic machine to the purposes of human happiness, and only if he actively participates in the social process, can he overcome what now drives him into despair–his aloneness and his feeling of powerlessness.

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