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
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
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
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.