One of the most important piece of writing ever created by a human being and, in equal proportion, suppressed.

In discussing the two aspects of freedom for modern man, we have pointed

out the economic conditions that make for increasing isolation and powerlessness

of the individual in our era; in discussing the psychological results we have

shown that this powerlessness leads either to the kind of escape that we find in

the authoritarian character, or else to a compulsive conforming in the process of

which the isolated individual becomes an automaton, loses his self, and yet at the

same time consciously conceives of himself as free and subject only to himself.

It is important to consider how our culture fosters this tendency to conform, even

though there is space for only a few outstanding examples. The suppression of

spontaneous feelings, and thereby of the development of genuine individuality,

starts very early, as a matter of fact with the earliest training of a child (From a book on case

studies of Sarah Lawrence Nursery School children, jointly by M. Gay, A. Hartoch,

and L. B. Murphy. Rorschach tests of three- to five-year-old children have shown that

the attempt to preserve their spontaneity gives rise to the chief conflict between

the children and the authoritative adults. According to Anna Hartoch.).

This is not to say that training must inevitably lead to suppression of spontaneity if

the real aim of education is to further the inner independence and individuality of the

child, its growth and integrity. The restrictions which such a kind of education may have

to impose upon the growing child are only transitory measures that really support the process of

growth and expansion. In our culture, however, education too often results in the elimination

of spontaneity and in the substitution of original psychic acts by superimposed

feelings, thoughts, and wishes. (By original I do not mean, let me repeat, that an

idea has not been thought before by someone else, but that it originates in the

individual, that it is the result of his own activity and in this sense is his

thought.) To choose one illustration somewhat arbitrarily, one of the earliest

suppressions of feelings concerns hostility and dislike. To start with, most

children have a certain measure of hostility and rebelliousness as a result of

their conflicts with a surrounding world that tends to block their expansiveness

and to which, as the weaker opponent, they usually have to yield. It is one of the

essential aims of the educational process to eliminate this antagonistic reaction.

The methods are different; they vary from threats and punishments, which frighten

the child, to the subtler methods of bribery or “explanations”, which confuse the

child and make him give up his hostility. The child starts with giving up the

expression of his feeling and eventually gives up the very feeling itself.

Together with that, he is taught to suppress the awareness of hostility and

insincerity in others; sometimes this is not entirely easy, since children have a

capacity for noticing such negative qualities in others without being so easily

deceived by words as adults usually are. They still dislike somebody “for no good

reason”–except the very good one that they feel the hostility, or insincerity,

radiating from that person. This reaction is soon discouraged; it does not take

long for the child to reach the “maturity” of the average adult and to lose the

sense of discrimination between a decent person and a scoundrel, as long as the

latter has not committed some flagrant act. On the other hand, early in his education,

the child is taught to have feelings that are not at all “his”; particularly is he taught to like people,

to be uncritically friendly to them, and to smile. What education may not have

accomplished is usually done by social pressure in later life. If you do not smile

you are judged lacking in a “pleasing personality”–and you need to have a

pleasing personality if you want to sell your services, whether as a waitress, a

salesman, or a physician. Only those at the bottom of the social pyramid, who sell

nothing but their physical labour, and those at the very top do not need to be

particularly “pleasant”. Friendliness, cheerfulness, and everything that a smile

is supposed to express, become automatic responses which one turns on and off like

an electric switch.

To be sure, in many instances the person is aware of merely making a gesture; in

most cases, however, he loses that awareness and thereby the ability to

discriminate between the pseudo feeling (see definitions od pseudo feelings and pseudo ideologies)

and spontaneous friendliness. It is not only hostility that is directly suppressed and friendliness that is

killed by superimposing its counterfeit. A wide range of spontaneous emotions are

suppressed and replaced by pseudo feelings.

Freud has taken one such suppression and put it in the centre of his whole system, namely the suppression of sex.

Although I believe that the discouragement of sexual joy is not the only important suppression of

spontaneous reactions but one of many, certainly its importance is not to be underrated.

Its results are obvious in cases of sexual inhibitions and also in those where sex assumes a compulsive quality and is

consumed like liquor or a drug, which has no particular taste but makes you forget

yourself. Regardless of the one or the other effect, their suppression, because of

the intensity of sexual desires, not only affects the sexual sphere but also

weakens the person’s courage for spontaneous expression in all other spheres.

In our society emotions in general are discouraged. While there can be no doubt

that any creative thinking–as well as any other creative activity–is inseparably

linked with emotion, it has become an ideal to think and to live without emotions.

To be “emotional” has become synonymous with being unsound or unbalanced. By the

acceptance of this standard the individual has become greatly weakened; his

thinking is impoverished and flattened. On the other hand, since emotions cannot

be completely killed, they must have their existence totally apart from the

intellectual side of the personality; the result is the cheap and insincere

sentimentality with which movies and popular songs feed millions of emotion starved customers.

There is one tabooed emotion that I want to mention in particular, because its

suppression touches deeply on the roots of personality: the sense of tragedy. As

we saw in an earlier chapter, the awareness of death and of the tragic aspect of

life, whether dim or clear, is one of the basic characteristics of man. Each

culture has its own way of coping with the problem of death. For those societies

in which the process of individuation has progressed but little, the end of

individual existence is less of a problem since the experience of individual

existence itself is less developed. Death is not yet conceived as being basically

different from life. Cultures in which we find a higher development of

individuation have treated death according to their social and psychological

structure. The Greeks put all emphasis on life and pictured death as nothing but a

shadowy and dreary continuation of life. The Egyptians based their hopes on a belief in

the indestructibility of the human body, at least of those whose power during life was indestructible.

The Jews admitted the fact of death realistically and were able to reconcile themselves

with the idea of the destruction of individual life by the vision of a state of

happiness and justice ultimately to be reached by mankind in this world.

Christianity has made death unreal and tried to comfort the unhappy individual by

promises of a life after death. Our own era simply denies death and with it one

fundamental aspect of life. Instead of allowing the awareness of death and

suffering to become one of the strongest incentives for life, the basis for human

solidarity, and an experience without which joy and enthusiasm lack intensity and

depth, the individual is forced to repress it. But, as is always the case with

repression, by being removed from sight the repressed elements do not cease to

exist. Thus the fear of death lives an illegitimate existence among us. It remains

alive in spite of the attempt to deny it, but being repressed it remains sterile.

It is one source of the flatness of other experiences, of the restlessness

pervading life, and it explains, I would venture to say, the exorbitant amount of

money this nation pays for its funerals.

In the process of tabooing emotions modern psychiatry plays an ambiguous role.

On the one hand its greatest representative, Freud, has broken through the fiction of

the rational, purposeful character of the human mind and opened a path which

allows a view into the abyss of human passions. On the other hand psychiatry,

enriched by these very achievements of Freud, has made itself an instrument of the

general trends in the manipulation of personality. Many psychiatrists, including

psychoanalysts, have painted the picture of a “normal” personality which is never

too sad, too angry, or too excited. They use words like “infantile” or “neurotic”

to denounce traits or types of personalities that do not conform with the

conventional pattern of a “normal” individual. This kind of influence is in a way more dangerous than the

older and franker forms of name calling. Then the individual knew at least that

there was some person or some doctrine which criticized him and he could fight

back. But who can fight back at “science”?

The same distortion happens to original thinking as happens to feelings and

emotions. From the very start of education original thinking is discouraged and

ready-made thoughts are put into people’s heads. How this is done with young

children is easy enough to see. They are filled with curiosity about the world,

they want to grasp it physically as well as intellectually. They want to know the

truth, since that is the safest way to orient themselves in a strange and powerful

world. Instead, they are not taken seriously, and it does not matter whether this

attitude takes the form of open disrespect or of the subtle condescension which is

usual towards all who have no power (such as children, aged or sick people).

Although this treatment by itself offers strong discouragement to independent

thinking, there is a worse handicap: the insincerity–often unintentional–which

is typical of the average adult’s behaviour towards a child. This insincerity

consists partly in the fictitious picture of the world which the child is given.

It is about as useful as instructions concerning life in the Arctic would be to

someone who has asked how to prepare for an expedition to the Sahara Desert.

Besides this general misrepresentation of the world there are the many specific

lies that tend to conceal facts which, for various personal reasons, adults do not

want children to know. From a bad temper, which is rationalized as justified

dissatisfaction with the child’s behaviour, to concealment of the parents’ sexual

activities and their quarrels, the child is “not supposed to know” and his

inquiries meet with hostile or polite discouragement. The child thus prepared enters

school and perhaps college.

I want to mention briefly some of the educational methods used today which in effect further

discourage original thinking. One is the emphasis on knowledge of facts, or I should rather say on information. The

pathetic superstition prevails that by knowing more and more facts one arrives at

knowledge of reality. Hundreds of scattered and unrelated facts are dumped into

the heads of students; their time and energy are taken up by learning more and

more facts so that there is little left for thinking. To be sure, thinking without

a knowledge of facts remains empty and fictitious; but “information” alone can be

just as much of an obstacle to thinking as the lack of it.

Another closely related way of discouraging original thinking is to regard all

truth as relative (Cf to this whole problem Robert S. Lynd’s Knowledge for What? Oxford University

Press. London, 1939. For its philosophical aspects cf. M. Horkheimer’s Zum

Rationalismusstreit in der Gegenwartigen Philosophie, Zeitschrift fur Sozialforschung. Vol. 3. 1934, Alcan, Paris.).

Truth is made out to be a metaphysical concept, and if anyone speaks about wanting to discover the truth he is thought

backward by the “progressive” thinkers of our age. Truth is declared to be an entirely subjective

matter, almost a matter of taste. Scientific endeavour must be detached from

subjective factors, and its aim is to look at the world without passion and

interest. The scientist has to approach facts with sterilized hands as a surgeon

approaches his patient. The result of this relativism, which often presents itself

by the name of empiricism or positivism or which recommends itself by its concern

for the correct usage of words, is that thinking loses its essential stimulus–the

wishes and interests of the person who thinks; instead it becomes a machine to

register “facts”.

Actually, just as thinking in general has developed out of the

need for mastery of material life, so the quest for truth is rooted in the

interests and needs of individuals and social groups. Without such interest the

stimulus for seeking the truth would be lacking. There are always groups whose

interest is furthered by truth, and their representatives have been the pioneers

of human thought; there are other groups whose interests are furthered by concealing


Only in the latter case does interest prove harmful to the cause of truth.

The problem, therefore, is not that there is an interest at stake, but which kind

of interest is at stake. I might say that inasmuch as there is some longing for

the truth in every human being, it is because every human being has some need for


This holds true in the first place with regard to a person’s orientation in the

outer world, and it holds especially true for the child. As a child, every human

being passes through a state of powerlessness, and truth is one of the strongest

weapons of those who have no power. But the truth is in the individual’s interest

not only with regard to his orientation in the outer world; his own strength

depends to a great extent on his knowing the truth about himself.

Illusions about oneself can become crutches useful to those who are not able to walk alone; but

they increase a person’s weakness. The individual’s greatest strength is based on

the maximum of integration of his personality, and that means also on the maximum

of transparence to himself “Know thyself” is one of the fundamental commands that

aim at human strength and happiness.

In addition to the factors just mentioned there are others which actively tend to

confuse whatever is left of the capacity for original thinking in the average

adult. With regard to all basic questions of individual and social life, with

regard to psychological, economic, political, and moral problems, a great sector

of our culture has just one function–to befog the issues. One kind of smokescreen

is the assertion that the problems are too complicated for the average individual

to grasp. On the contrary it would seem that many of the basic issues of

individual and social life are very simple, so simple, in fact, that everyone

should be expected to understand them. To let them appear to be so enormously

complicated that only a “specialist” can understand them, and he only in his own

limited field, actually–and often intentionally–tends to discourage people from trusting their own capacity

to think about those problems that really matter.

The individual feels helplessly caught in a chaotic mass of data and with pathetic patience waits until the

specialists have found out what to do and where to go.

The result of this kind of influence is twofold: one is a scepticism and cynicism

towards everything which is said or printed, while the other is a childish belief

in anything that a person is told with authority.

This combination of cynicism and naivete is very typical of the modern individual.

Its essential result is to discourage him from doing his own thinking and deciding.

Another way of paralysing the ability to think critically is the destruction of

any kind of structuralized picture of the world. Facts lose the specific quality

which they can have only as parts of a structuralized whole and retain merely an

abstract, quantitative meaning; each fact is just another fact and all that

matters is whether we know more or less.

Radio, moving pictures, and newspapers have a devastating effect on this score.

The announcement of the bombing of a city and the death of hundreds of people

is shamelessly followed or interrupted by an advertisement for soap or wine.

The same speaker with the same suggestive, ingratiating, and authoritative voice,

which he has just used to impress you with the seriousness of the political situation,

impresses now upon his audience the merit of the particular brand of soap which pays for the news broadcast.

Newsreels let pictures of torpedoed ships be followed by those of a fashion show. Newspapers

tell us the trite thoughts or breakfast habits of a debutante with the same space

and seriousness they use for reporting events of scientific or artistic

importance. Because of all this we cease to be genuinely related to what we hear.

We cease to be excited, our emotions and our critical judgment become hampered,

and eventually our attitude to what is going on in the world assumes a quality of

flatness and indifference.

In the name of “freedom” life loses all structure; it is composed of many little pieces, each separate from the other and lacking any

sense as a whole. The individual is left alone with these pieces like a child with

a puzzle; the difference, however, is that the child knows what a house is and

therefore can recognize the parts of the house in the little pieces he is playing

with, whereas the adult does not see the meaning of the “whole”, the pieces of

which come into his hands. He is bewildered and afraid and just goes on gazing at

his little meaningless pieces.

What has been said about the lack of “originality” in feeling and thinking holds

true also of the act of willing. To recognize this is particularly difficult;

modern man seems, if anything, to have too many wishes and his only problem seems

to be that, although he knows what he wants, he cannot have it. All our energy is

spent for the purpose of getting what we want, and most people never question the

premise of this activity: that they know their true wants. They do not stop to

think whether the aims they are pursuing are something they themselves want.

In school they want to have good marks, as adults they want to be more and more

successful, to make more money, to have more prestige, to buy a better car, to go

places, and so on. Yet when they do stop to think in the midst of all this frantic

activity, this question may come to their minds: “If I do get this new job, if I

get this better car, if I can take this trip–what then? What is the use of it

all? Is it really I who wants all this? Am I not running after some goal which is

supposed to make me happy and which eludes me as soon as I have reached it?” These

questions, when they arise, are frightening, for they question the very basis on

which man’s whole activity is built, his knowledge of what he wants. People tend,

therefore, to get rid as soon as possible of these disturbing thoughts. They feel

that they have been bothered by these questions because they were tired or

depressed–and they go on in the pursuit of the aims which they believe are their


Yet all this bespeaks a dim realization of the truth–the truth that modern man

lives under the illusion that he knows ‘what he wants, while he actually wants

what he is supposed to want. In order to accept this it is necessary to realize

that to know what one really wants is not comparatively easy, as most people

think, but one of the most difficult problems any human being has to solve.

It is a task we frantically try to avoid by accepting ready-made goals as though they

were our own. Modern man is ready to take great risks when he tries to achieve the

aims which are supposed to be “his” but he is deeply afraid of taking the risk and

the responsibility of giving himself his own aims. Intense activity is often

mistaken for evidence of self-determined action, although we know that it may well

be no more spontaneous than the behaviour of an actor or a person hypnotized. When

the general plot of the play is handed out, each actor can act vigorously the role

he is assigned and even make up his lines and certain details of the action by

himself. Yet he is only playing a role that has been handed over to him.

The particular difficulty in recognizing to what extent our wishes–and our

thoughts and feelings as well–are not really our own but put into us from the

outside, is closely linked up with the problem of authority and freedom.

In the course of modern history the authority of the Church has been replaced by that of

the State, that of the State by that of conscience, and in our era, the latter has

been replaced by the anonymous authority of common sense and public opinion as

instruments of conformity. Because we have freed ourselves of the older overt

forms of authority, we do not see that we have become the prey of a new kind of

authority. We have become automatons who live under the illusion of being

self willing individuals. This illusion helps the individual to remain unaware of his

insecurity, but this is all the help such an illusion can give. Basically the self

of the individual is weakened, so that he feels powerless and extremely insecure.

He lives in a world to which he has lost genuine relatedness and in which everybody and everything has become

instrumentalized, where he has become a part of the machine that his hands have

built. He thinks, feels, and wills what he believes he is supposed to think, feel,

and will; in this very process he loses his self upon which all genuine security

of a free individual must be built.

The loss of the self has increased the necessity to conform, for it results in a

profound doubt of one’s own identity. If I am nothing but what I believe I am

supposed to be–who am ? We have seen how the doubt about one’s own self

started with the breakdown of the medieval order in which the individual had had

an unquestionable place in a fixed order. The identity of the individual has been a

major problem of modern philosophy since Descartes. Today we take for granted

that we are we. Yet the doubt about ourselves still exists, or has even grown. In

his plays Pirandello has given expression to this feeling of modern man. He starts

with the question: Who am I? What proof have I for my own identity other than the

continuation of my physical self? His answer is not like Descartes’–the

affirmation of the individual self–but its denial: I have no identity, there is

no self excepting the one which is the reflex of what others expect me to be: I am

“as you desire me”.

This loss of identity then makes it still more imperative to conform; it means

that one can be sure of oneself only if one lives up to the expectations of

others. If we do not live up to this picture we not only risk disapproval and

increased isolation, but we risk losing the identity of our personahty, which

means jeopardizing sanity.

By conforming with the expectations of others, by not being different, these

doubts about one’s own identity are silenced and a certain security is gained.

However, the price paid is high. Giving up spontaneity and individuality results

in a thwarting of life. Psychologically the automaton, while being alive

biologically, is dead emotionally and mentally. While he goes through

the motions of living, his life runs through his hands like sand. Behind a front

of satisfaction and optimism modern man is deeply unhappy; as a matter of fact, he

is on the verge of desperation.

He desperately clings to the notion of individuality; he wants to be “different”, and he has no greater recommendation of

anything than that “it is different”. We are informed of the individual name of

the railroad clerk we buy our tickets from; handbags, playing cards, and portable

radios are “personalized”, by having the initials of the owner put on them. All

this indicates the hunger for “difference” and yet these are almost the last

vestiges of individuality that are left.

Modern man is starved for life. But since, being an automaton, he cannot experience life in the sense of spontaneous

activity he takes as surrogate any kind of excitement and thrill: the thrill of

drinking, of sports, of vicariously living the excitements of fictitious persons

on the screen.

What then is the meaning of freedom for modern man?

He has become free from the external bonds that would prevent him from doing and

thinking as he sees fit. He would be free to act according to his own will, if he

knew what he wanted, thought, and felt. But he does not know. He conforms to

anonymous authorities and adopts a self which is not his. The more he does this,

the more powerless he feels, the more is he forced to conform. In spite of a

veneer of optimism and initiative, modern man is overcome by a profound feeling of

powerlessness which makes him gaze towards approaching catastrophes as though he

were paralysed.

Looked at superficially, people appear to function well enough in economic and

social life; yet it would be dangerous to overlook the deep-seated unhappiness

behind that comforting veneer. If life loses its meaning because it is not lived,

man becomes desperate. People do not die quietly from physical starvation; they do

not die quietly from psychic starvation either. If we look only at the economic

needs as far as the “normal” person is concerned, if we do not see the unconscious suffering of the average

automatized person, then we fail to see the danger that threatens our culture from

its human basis: the readiness to accept any ideology and any leader, if only he

promises excitement and offers a political structure and symbols which allegedly

give meaning and order to an individual’s life. The despair of the human automaton

is fertile soil for the political purposes of Fascism.

So far this book has dealt with one aspect of freedom: the powerlessness and

insecurity of the isolated individual in modern society who has become free from

all bonds that once gave meaning and security to life. We have seen that the

individual cannot bear this isolation; as an isolated being he is utterly helpless

in comparison with the world outside and therefore deeply afraid of it; and

because of his isolation, the unity of the world has broken down for him and he

has lost any point of orientation.

He is therefore overcome by doubts concerning himself, the meaning of life, and eventually any principle according to which he

can direct his actions. Both helplessness and doubt paralyse life, and in order to

live, man tries to escape from freedom, negative freedom. He is driven into new

bondage. This bondage is different from the primary bonds, from which, though

dominated by authorities or the social group, he was not entirely separated. The

escape does not restore his lost security, but only helps him to forget his self

as a separate entity. He finds new and fragile security at the expense of

sacrificing the integrity of his individual self. He chooses to lose his self since

he cannot bear to be alone. Thus freedom–as freedom from—leads into new


Does our analysis lend itself to the conclusion that there is an inevitable circle

that leads from freedom into new dependence? Does freedom from all primary ties make the individual so alone and isolated that

inevitably he must escape into new bondage? Are independence and freedom identical

with isolation and fear? Or is there a state of positive freedom in which the

individual exists as an independent self and yet is not isolated but united with

the world, with other men, and nature?

We believe that there is a positive answer, that the process of growing freedom

does not constitute a vicious circle, and that man can be free and yet not alone,

critical and yet not filled with doubts, independent and yet an integral part of

mankind. This freedom man can attain by the realization of his self, by being


What is realization of the self? Idealistic philosophers have believed

that selfrealization can be achieved by intellectual insight alone. They have

insisted upon splitting human personality, so that man’s nature may be suppressed

and guarded by his reason. The result of this split, however, has been that not

only the emotional life of man but also his intellectual faculties have been

crippled. Reason, by becoming a guard set to watch its prisoner, nature, has

become a prisoner itself; and thus both sides of human personality, reason and

emotion, were crippled. We believe that the realization of the self is

accomplished not only by an act of thinking but also by the realization of man’s

total personality, by the active expression of his emotional and intellectual

potentialities. These potentialities are present in everybody; they become real

only to the extent to which they are expressed. In other words, positive freedom

consists in the spontaneous activity of the total, integrated personality.

We approach here one of the most difficult problems of psychology: the problem of

spontaneity. An attempt to discuss this problem adequately would require another

volume. However, on the basis of what we have said so far, it is possible to

arrive at an understanding of the essential quality of spontaneous activity by

means of contrast.

Spontaneous activity is not compulsive activity, to which the

individual is driven by his isolation and powerlessness; it is not the activity of the automaton, which is the

uncritical adoption of patterns suggested from the outside. Spontaneous activity

is free activity of the self and implies, psychologically, what the Latin root of

the word, sponte, means literally: of one’s free will. By activity we do not mean

“doing something”, but the quality of creative activity that can operate in one’s

emotional, intellectual, and sensuous experiences and in one’s will as well. One

premise for this spontaneity is the acceptance of the total personality and the

elimination of the split between “reason” and “nature”; for only if man does not

repress essential parts of his self, only if he has become transparent to himself,

and only if the different spheres of life have reached a fundamental integration,

is spontaneous activity possible.

While spontaneity is a relatively rare phenomenon in our culture, we are not

entirely devoid of it. In order to help in the understanding of this point, I

should like to remind the reader of some instances where we all catch a glimpse of


In the first place, we know of individuals who are–or have been–spontaneous,

whose thinking, feeling, and acting were the expression of their selves and not of

an automaton. These individuals are mostly known to us as artists. As a matter of

fact, the artist can be defined as an individual who can express himself

spontaneously. If this were the definition of an artist–Balzac defined him just

in that way–then certain philosophers and scientists have to be called artists

too, while others are as different from them as an old-fashioned photographer from

a creative painter.

There are other individuals who, though lacking the ability– or perhaps merely the training–for expressing themselves in an objective medium

as the artist does, possess the same spontaneity. The position of the artist is

vulnerable, though, for it is really only the successful artist whose

individuality or spontaneity is respected; if he does not succeed in selling his

art, he remains to his contemporaries a crank, a “neurotic”. The artist in

this matter is in a similar position to that of the revolutionary throughout

history. The successful revolutionary is a statesman, the unsuccessful one a


Children offer another instance of spontaneity. They have an ability to feel

and think that which is really theirs; this spontaneity shows in what they say and

think, in the feelings that are expressed in their faces. If one asks what makes

for the attraction small children have for most people I believe that, apart from

sentimental and conventional reasons, the answer must be that it is this very

quality of spontaneity. It appeals profoundly to everyone who is not so dead

himself that he has lost the ability to perceive it.

Most of us can observe at least moments of our own spontaneity which are at the

same time moments of genuine happiness. Whether it be the fresh and spontaneous

perception of a landscape, or the dawning of some truth as the result of our

thinking, or a sensuous pleasure that is not stereotyped, or the welling up of

love for another person–in these moments we all know what a spontaneous act is

and may have some vision of what human life could be if these experiences were not

such rare and uncultivated occurrences.

Why is spontaneous activity the answer to the problem of freedom? We have said

that negative freedom by itself makes the individual an isolated being, whose

relationship to the world is distant and distrustful and whose self is weak and

constantly threatened. Spontaneous activity is the one way in which man can

overcome the terror of aloneness without sacrificing the integrity of his self;

for in the spontaneous realization of the self man unites himself anew with the

world–with man, nature, and himself. Love is the foremost component of such

spontaneity; not love as the dissolution of the self in another person (masochism),

not love as the possession of another person (sadism), but love as spontaneous affirmation

of others, as the union of the individual with others on the basis of the

preservation of the individual self.

The dynamic quality of love lies in this very polarity: that it springs from the need of overcoming separateness, that it leads

to oneness–and yet that individuality is not eliminated.

Work is the other component; not work as a compulsive activity in order to escape aloneness, not

work as a relationship to nature which is partly one of dominating her, partly one

of worship of and enslavement by the very products of man’s hands, but work as

creation in which man becomes one with nature in the act of creation.

What holds true of love and work holds true of all spontaneous action, whether it be the

realization of sensuous pleasure or participation in the political life of the

community. It affirms the individuality of the self and at the same time it unites

the self with man and nature. The basic dichotomy that is inherent in freedom–the

birth of individuality and the pain of aloneness–is dissolved on a higher plane

by man’s spontaneous action.

In all spontaneous activity the individual embraces the world. Not only does his

individual self remain intact; it becomes stronger and more solidified. For the

self is as strong as it is active.

There is no genuine strength in possession as such, neither of material property nor of mental qualities like emotions or

thoughts. There is also no strength in use and manipulation of objects; what we

use is not ours simply because we use it. Ours is only that to which we are

genuinely related by our creative activity, be it a person or an inanimate object.

Only those qualities that result from our spontaneous activity give strength to

the self and thereby form the basis of its integrity.

The inability to act spontaneously, to express what one genuinely feels and thinks, and the resulting

necessity to present a pseudo self to others and oneself, are the root of the

feeling of inferiority and weakness. Whether or not we are aware of it, there is

nothing of which we are more ashamed than of not being ourselves, and there is nothing that

gives us greater pride and happiness than to think, to feel, and to say what is


This implies that what matters is the activity as such, the process and not the

result. In our culture the emphasis is just the reverse.

We produce not for a concrete satisfaction but for the abstract purpose of selling our commodity; we

feel that we can acquire everything material or immaterial by buying it, and thus

things become ours independently of any creative effort of our own in relation to

them. In the same way we regard our personal qualities and the result of our

efforts as commodities that can be sold for money, prestige, and power. The

emphasis thus shifts from the present satisfaction of creative activity to the

value of the finished product.

Thereby man misses the only satisfaction that can give him real happiness–the experience of the activity of the present moment–and

chases after a phantom that leaves him disappointed as soon as he believes he has

caught it–the illusory happiness called success.

If the individual realizes his self by spontaneous activity and thus relates

himself to the world, he ceases to be an isolated atom; he and the world become

part of one structuralized whole; he has his rightful place, and thereby his doubt

concerning himself and the meaning of life disappears. This doubt sprang from his

separateness and from the thwarting of life; when he can live, neither

compulsively nor automatically but spontaneously, the doubt disappears.

If the individual overcomes the basic doubt concerning himself and his place in

life, if he is related to the world by embracing it in the act of spontaneous

living, he gains strength as an individual and he gains security. This security,

however, differs from the security that characterizes the pre-individualist state

in the same way in which the new relatedness to the world

differs from that of the primary ties. The new security is not rooted in the

protection which the individual has from a higher power outside himself; neither

is it a security in which the tragic quality of life is eliminated.


The new security is dynamic; it is not based on protection, but on man’s spontaneous

activity. It is the security acquired each moment by man’s spontaneous activity.

It is the security that only freedom can give, that needs no illusions because it

has eliminated those conditions that necessitate illusions.

Positive freedom as the realization of the self implies the full affirmation of

the uniqueness of the individual. Men are born equal but they are also born

different. The basis of this difference is the inherited equipment, physiological

and mental, with which they start life, to which is added the particular

constellation of circumstances and experiences that they meet with. This

individual basis of the personality is as little identical with any other as two

organisms are ever identical physically. The genuine growth of the self is always

a growth on this particular basis; it is an organic growth, the unfolding of a

nucleus that is peculiar for this one person and only for him. The development of

the automaton, in contrast, is not an organic growth. The growth of the basis of

the self is blocked and a pseudo self is superimposed upon this self which is–as

we have seen–essentially the incorporation of extraneous patterns of thinking and

feeling. Organic growth is possible only under the condition of supreme respect

for the peculiarity of the self of other persons as well as of our own self. This

respect for and cultivation of the uniqueness of the self is the most valuable

achievement of human culture and it is this very achievement that is in danger


The uniqueness of the self in no way contradicts the principle of equality. The

thesis that men are born equal implies that they all share the same fundamental

human qualities, that they share the basic fate of human beings, that they all

have the same inalienable claim on freedom and happiness. It furthermore

means that their relationship is one of solidarity, not one of

domination submission.

What the concept of equality does not mean is that all men are alike.

Such a concept of equality is derived from the role that the individual plays in

his economic activities today. In the relation between the man who buys and the

one who sells, the concrete differences of personality are eliminated. In this

situation only one thing matters, that the one has something to sell and the other

has money to buy it. In economic life one man is not different from another; as

real persons they are, and the cultivation of their uniqueness is the essence of


Positive freedom also implies the principle that there is no higher power than

this unique individual self, that man is the centre and purpose of his life; that

the growth and realization of man’s individuality is an end that can never be

subordinated to purposes which are supposed to have greater dignity. This

interpretation may arouse serious objections. Does it not postulate unbridled

egotism? Is it not the negation of the idea of sacrifice for an ideal? Would its

acceptance not lead to anarchy? These questions have actually already been

answered, partly explicitly, partly implicitly, during our previous discussion.

However, they are too important for us not to make another attempt to clarify the

answers and to avoid misunderstanding.

To say that man should not be subject to anything higher than himself does not

deny the dignity of ideals. On the contrary, it is the strongest affirmation of

ideals. It forces us, however, to a critical analysis of what an ideal is. One is

generally apt today to assume that an ideal is any aim whose achievement does not

imply material gain, anything for which a person is ready to sacrifice egotistical

ends. This is a purely psychological–and for that matter relativistic–concept of

an ideal. From this subjectivist viewpoint a Fascist, who is driven by the desire

to subordinate himself to a higher power and at the same time to overpower other

people, has an ideal just as much as the man who fights for human equality and freedom.

On this basis the problem of ideals can never be solved.

We must recognize the difference between genuine and fictitious ideals, which is

just as fundamental a difference as that between truth and falsehood. All genuine

ideals have one thing in common: they express the desire for something which is

not yet accomplished but which is desirable for the purposes of the growth and

happiness of the individual (

 We may not always know what serves this end, we may disagree about the function of this or that ideal

in terms of human development, but this is no reason for a relativism which says that we cannot know what

furthers life or what blocks it. We are not always sure which food is healthy and

which is not, yet we do not conclude that we have no way whatsoever of recognizing

poison. In the same way we can know, if we want to, what is poisonous for mental

life. We know that poverty, intimidation, isolation, are directed against life;

that everything that serves freedom and furthers the courage and strength to be

oneself is for life. What is good or bad for man is not a metaphysical question,

but an empirical one that can be answered on the basis of an analysis of man’s

nature and the effect which certain conditions have on him.

But what about “ideals” like those of the Fascists which are definitely directed

against life? How can we understand the fact that men are following these false

ideals as fervently as others are following true ideals? The answer to this

question is provided by certain psychological considerations. The phenomenon of

masochism shows us that men can be drawn to the experiencing of suffering or

submission. There is no doubt that suffering, submission, or suicide is the

antithesis of positive aims of living. Yet these aims can be subjectively

experienced as gratifying and attractive. This attraction to what is harmful in

life is the phenomenon which more than any other deserves the name of a

pathological perversion. Many psychologists have assumed that the experience of

pleasure and the avoidance of pain is the only legitimate principle guiding human

action; but dynamic psychology can show that the subjective experience of pleasure

is not a sufficient criterion for the value of certain behaviour in terms of human

happiness. The analysis of masochistic phenomena is a case in point. Such analysis

shows that the sensation of pleasure can be the result of a pathological

perversion and proves as little about the objective meaning of the experience as

the sweet taste of a poison would prove about its function for the organism. We

thus come to define a genuine ideal as any aim which furthers the growth, freedom,

and happiness of the self, and to define as fictitious ideals those compulsive and

irrational aims which subjectively are attractive experiences (like the drive for

submission), but which actually are harmful to life. Once we accept this

definition, it follows that a genuine ideal is not some veiled force superior to

the individual, but that it is the articulate expression of utmost affirmation of

the self. Any ideal which is in contrast to such affirmation proves by this very

fact that it is not an ideal but a pathological aim.

(1 Cf. Max Otto, The Human Enterprise, T. S. Croft, New York, 1940, Chaps. IV and

V. The question discussed here leads to a point of great significance which I want

at least to mention: that problems of ethics can be clarified by dynamic

psychology. Psychologists will only be helpful in this direction when they can see

the relevance of moral problems for the understanding of personality. Any

psychology, including Freud’s, which treats such problems in terms of the pleasure

principle, fails to understand one important sector of personality and leaves the

field to dogmatic and unempirical doctrines of morality. The analysis of selflove,

masochistic sacrifice, and ideals as offered in the book provides

illustrations for this field of psychology and ethics that warrant further


One last objection is to be met: If individuals are allowed to act freely in the

sense of spontaneity, if they acknowledge no higher authority than themselves,

will anarchy be the inevitable result? In so far as the word anarchy stands for

heedless egotism and destructiveness, the determining factor depends upon one’s

understanding of human nature, I can only refer to what has been pointed out in

the chapter dealing with mechanisms of escape: that man is neither good nor bad;

that life has an inherent tendency to grow, to expand, to express potentialities;

that if life is thwarted, if the individual is isolated and overcome by doubt or a

feeling of aloneness and powerlessness, then he is driven to destructiveness and

craving for power or submission. If human freedom is established as freedom to, if man can realize his self fully and

uncompromisingly, the fundamental cause for his social drives will have

disappeared and only a sick and abnormal individual will be dangerous. This

freedom has never been realized in the history of mankind, yet it has been an

ideal to which mankind has stuck even if it was often expressed in abstruse and

irrational forms. There is no reason to wonder why the record of history shows so

much cruelty and destruttiveness. If there is anything to be surprised at–and

encouraged by–I believe it is the fact that the human race, in spite of all that

has happened to men, has retained–and actually developed–such qualities of

dignity, courage, decency, and kindness as we find them throughout history and in

countless individuals today.

If by anarchy one means that the individual does not acknowledge any kind of

authority, the answer is to be found in what has been said about the difference

between rational and irrational authority.

like a genuine ideal– represents the aims of growth and expansion of the individual.

It is, therefore, in principle never in conflict with the individual and his real, and

not his pathological, aims.

It has been the thesis of this book that freedom has a twofold meaning for modern

man: that he has been freed from traditional authorities and has become an

“individual”, but that at the same time he has become isolated, powerless, and an

instrument of purposes outside himself, alienated from himself and others;

furthermore, that this state undermines his self, weakens and frightens him, and

makes him ready for submission to new kinds of bondage.

Positive freedom on the other hand is identical with the full realization of the individual’s

potentialities, together with his ability to live actively and spontaneously.

Freedom has reached a critical point where, driven by the logic of its own

dynamism, it threatens to change into its opposite. The future of democracy

depends on the realization of the individualism that has been the ideological aim of modern thought since the


The cultural and political crisis of our day is not due to the fact

that there is too much individualism but that what we believe to be individualism

has become an empty shell. The victory of freedom is possible only if democracy

develops into a society in which the individual, his growth and happiness, is the

aim and purpose of culture, in which life does not need any justification in

success or anything else, and in which the individual is not subordinated to or

manipulated by any power outside himself, be it the State or the economic machine;

finally, a society in which his conscience and ideals are not the internalization

of external demands, but are really his and express the aims that result from the

peculiarity of his self.

These aims could not be fully realized in any previous period of modern history;

they had to remain largely ideological aims, because the material basis for the development of genuine

individualism was lacking. Capitalism has created this premise. The problem of production is solved–in

principle at least–and we can visualize a future of abundance, in which the fight

for economic privileges is no longer necessitated by economic scarcity.

The problem we are confronted with today is that of the organization of social and

economic forces, so that man–as a member of organized society–may become the

master of these forces and cease to be their slave.

I have stressed the psychological side of freedom, but I have also tried to show

that the psychological problem cannot be separated from the material basis of

human existence, from the economic, social, and political structure of society. It

follows from this premise that the realization of positive freedom and

individualism is also bound up with economic and social changes that will permit

the individual to become free in terms of the realization of his self.





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