What was Erich Fromm's argument about freedom

I haven’t read his books yet, but the synopsis I am getting is this.
There is negative freedom (freedom from negative influences like crime, oppression, lack, etc) and positive freedom (freedom to do positive things like create, enjoy, choose, explore, behave, etc).

Some people fear freedom and descend into conformity, destructiveness and authoritarianism to avoid having to be free by handing control of their identity and decisions to external forces.

I’m confused. It seems there should be a giant middle part in that argument. What motivates the fear of positive freedom? And what are healthy ways to cope with a fear of positive freedom?

Also, the political writer Max Blumenthal has taken Fromm’s work and tried to apply it to some on the right (I’m not trying to make this a political discussion, just making a point), claiming that a culture of personal trauma on the right (drug abuse, child abuse, mental illness, repressed homosexuality, etc) leads people to lean towards authoritarian right wing policies to give them safety.


But how is that escaping freedom? Isn’t that embracing negative freedom (freedom from negative influences) since authoritarianism is usually signaled by things like strong social and military forces designed to keep away threats? Is embracing negative freedom the same thing as rejecting positive freedom?

I’m not trying to turn this issue political, but take this as an example which would probably fit Blumenthal’s interpretation of Fromm’s work.

Michael Savage (right wing radio personality) was verbally and physically abused as a kid and may be secretly gay (he wrote a semi-autobiographical novel years ago talking about the main character working hard to keep his gay urges at bay and was part of the counterculture in SF several decade ago) and now has a massive, irrational hatred of the LGBT community. Think Mr. Garrison in the first few seasons of South Park, except if he had millions of listeners.


So if (heavy on the if) Savage is engaging in authoritarianism out of a ‘fear of freedom’ because he is afraid of his possible gay side, how does that relate to the child abuse? Wouldn’t resorting to authoritarianism to deal with child abuse be an attempt to promote negative freedom (freedom from oppression and unwanted interferences)?

People who fear freedom will lead to destructive urges and destructive behavior may resort to authoritarianism to control themselves and other people to prevent the freedom to fulfill those urges from being allowed. However, how is that the same as authoritarianism as a response to things like being a victim of abuse? Isn’t that supporting negative freedom?
Do people fear the benefits of freedom too (having choices, knowing nothing is sacred or a given) or just the negative side (destructive behaviors, failure)?

If there is a fear of freedom, how does it get dealt with constructively as opposed to destructively if destructive responses are authoritarianism, destruction and conformity?

How is destruction a defense against freedom?

Does Fromm address fears (fears that seem to crop up in people who are political authoritarians) that spontaneous human nature can lead to destructive tendencies? I get the impression he feels freedom (based on spontaneous behavior and honesty with our true feelings and emotions) is going to naturally lead to a functioning society.

IIRC, what Fromm said was, basically, “with freedom comes responsibility.” Some people don’t want that responsibility, so they let someone else take it by following them.

Doesn’t matter whether it’s positive or negative.

The other side of freedom is that a lot of people want freedom … but mostly for themselves.

What they fear is that others will use *their *positive freedom in ways which which appear negative to themselves.

Not trying to mix in any comment about Michael Savage, but consider the number of “conservatives” who claim to believe in freedom, but not the freedom to be gay and married (or at least share employer-provided medical coverage).

Of the number of hard core leftists who say they believe in freedom, but not the freedom to make money by polluting or hunting cute wildlife.

If you truly believe in positive freedom, you must also believe in the right of everybody else to the same freedom. And therefore the right of each of them to choose things you find regrettable and in some cases reprehensible.

So, IMO, in any discussion about freedom, positive or negative, you need to clarify whether the speaker is speaking of freedom for themselves, or freedom for others.

That is a good point. But I think in politics over authoritarianism the division comes down to upholding tradition and protection from threats vs. egalitarianism. Liberals tend to support authoritarian measures to promote egalitarian views whereas conservatives support authoritarian measures to support tradition or to protect against threats.

So some liberals want to use authoritarian measures (calling in the national guard for example) to integrate schools, and some conservatives want to use authoritarian measures (the KKK) to stop integration. Liberals want authoritarianism to protect egalitarian goals (treating animals and nature with respect), conservatives want authoritarianism to protect against threats (using torture on terrorists).

The reality is everyone supports some degree of authoritarianism (except anarchists). Even libertarians support authoritarian structures like police and military. Authoritarianism vs libertarianism is more a continuum than a black/white division.

Either way, I’m still not sure what the big fear of freedom is. I can understand fear of negative effects of too much freedom (too much chaos, too much undesirable behavior, etc). But I get the impression people are also intimidated by too many choices and options too, or knowing they are responsible for their own lives.