Rethinking America

Escape from Freedom, Again

Step by step, Americans give up their daily freedoms until it is inevitable that they will elect dictators.

Credit: Wally Gobetz www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • Periodic swings from democracy to tyranny have happened many times in history. Can America halt it?
  • Private enterprise and capital suppress freedom for many Americans when government does not.
  • Tens of millions of Americans live in authoritarian homeowners associations voluntarily.

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.

— Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

“Escape from Freedom” was first published in 1941 at the height of Nazi power in Europe when the World War II was in full swing. The author analyzed Germany’s submission to Hitler’s tyranny as a collective neurosis.

That explosion of hatred and medieval intolerance was extraordinary, but periodic swings from democracy to tyranny have happened many times in history.

People have fought for freedom, but slipped back to the instincts of the primal herd every time they faced economic or political trouble. Apparently, this is happening now in the United States.

Why do Americans hate their government?

The United States was founded 240 years ago as a democratic movement against the tyranny of the British monarchy, but democracy did not create social equality despite many proclamations to the contrary.

Capitalist competition did not unify American society. Principles of Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood proved to be illusory.

A small financial elite pulled away from the rest of the society and unduly influenced the government for the purpose of personal enrichment.

As the result, most Americans lost the promised civil liberties and became embittered. Still, the vexing question is: why so many of them vote for politicians who were bought by the super-rich? This seems to be an escape from reality as well as an escape from freedom.

Freedom of Speech as an illusion

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibited Congress from making laws that abridge freedom of speech.

Later on the so-called “judicial doctrine” expanded this prohibition to all levels of government, but also excluded slander, incitement to violence, sedition and obscenity from the free speech.

The government cannot stop free speech apart from these significant abridgements, but speech can be curtailed in the private sphere without consequence. And because most Americans belong to private organizations they cannot speak freely.

American media is biased

Most American media is owned by private corporations whose primary goal is to make money, not necessarily to tell the truth. Ideologically it is split between liberals and conservatives but this division is artificial and both sides distort reality.

The supposedly free press is influenced by the big corporations and their governmental stooges. A few publications are independent but they can’t compete with rich corporations and are forced into electronic distribution.

Some Americans rely on foreign publications such as British “The Guardian” or Israeli “Debka File.” Many read “WikiLeaks” which is prosecuted by authorities.

America’s military damages national security

America’s military-industrial complex is dictatorial by definition. This enormous war machine has gradually developed into the greatest governmental employer.

It employs several million people who seek stability, education and prestige.

Many aspiring politicians conspire with the military to advance their careers. But most soldiers come from the poor and low middle class. The unemployed enlist to get employment and free education but lose lives and limbs in foreign wars. 75% of war casualties belong to America’s poor.

Thus, our government must seek international enemies to enrich its corporations and to keep its citizens employed.

However, the more America attacks and meddles in foreign countries, the more those countries retaliate and the US economy suffers.

Bombs and planes don’t create national wealth, to the contrary, they destroy it and increase the staggering national debt.

The only thing that they create is the profit of the military-industrial complex elite who don’t even care if they win wars as long as they get lucrative contracts from the government.

Since World War Two both Democratic and Republican Presidents have prosecuted foreign wars with disastrous consequences.

A new form of dictatorship

A growing number of Americans (so far 23%) live in the collective habitats called Home Owners Associations. All HOAs restrict the America’s constitutional rights including freedom of speech and private property.

This particular escape from freedom is typically justified by the “community conformance” which enforces mediocrity and obedience to authorities.

It’s hard to believe that 80 million Americans voluntarily submit their constitutional rights to a dictatorship.

If these well-educated, intelligent and successful people do that what should be expected from the rest of the country? We wonder why Americans elected a corporate dictator Donald Trump for President?

Considering the virtual dictatorship of the corporate America where people spend most of their adult lives, we should not be surprised.

Is this the land of the free?

Many books have been written about the relativity of freedom. A slave owner is free to enslave conquered people. A master is free to subjugate his subjects.

A military commander is free to send soldiers to die in a battle. A business owner is free to hire and fire anyone he or she wishes.

Capitalism enslaves people with financial inequality. Profitability works for many areas of economy but not for military, health care, education, nuclear energy and media.

Those who make it within the system become the “well-fed and clothed automatons” that Erich Fromm described seventy seven years ago.

Those who did not make it – and there are many – are enslaved by their poverty and lack of political power. It’s time to restructure not only the system but the way Americans think.

Time to fix this democracy

Freedom is not easy, it requires responsibility, perseverance, bravery and knowledge. Unfortunately, most Americans live by the motto “don’t rock the boat” instead of “democracy needs constant vigilance.”

If we continue to escape from freedom the ruling class will eventually destroy the remnants of our freedom.

This country is already split in half ideologically and financially but in perspective this split can create another civil war, revolution or dictatorship. In the United States, the legal enslavement of blacks was ended by the civil war in the 1860s.

It took World War Two and 60 million lives to turn the dictatorial regimes in Germany, Italy and Japan into prosperous democracies.

But if democracy can be perverted peacefully then it can be perfected peacefully. Examples are aplenty. The disastrous crisis of the 1930-s was corrected by the New Deal of President Roosevelt.

In the 60s and 70s President Johnson established Medicare and Civil Rights Act that outlawed racial segregation and President Nixon created Environmental Protection Agency.

The recently elected President can reverse this progress, but his election is a result of a failed democracy. Can America fix it?

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About Anatol Zukerman

Anatol Zukerman is a Russian-born political artist and an architect in the United States.

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