Sample J63 from John H. Schaar, Escape from Authority: The Perspective of Erich Fromm. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1961. Pp. 200-207. A part of the XML version of the Brown Corpus2,029 words 83 (4.1%) quotesJ63

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John H. Schaar, Escape from Authority: The Perspective of Erich Fromm. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1961. Pp. 200-207.

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The Sane Society is an ambitious work . Its scope is as broad as the question : What does it mean to live in modern society ? ? A work so broad , even when it is directed by a leading idea and informed by a moral vision , must necessarily `` fail '' . Even a hasty reader will easily find in it numerous blind spots , errors of fact and argument , important exclusions , areas of ignorance and prejudice , undue emphases on trivia , examples of broad positions supported by flimsy evidence , and the like . Such books are easy prey for critics . Nor need the critic be captious . A careful and orderly man , who values precision and a kind of tough intellectual responsibility , might easily be put off by such a book . It is a simple matter , for one so disposed , to take a work like The Sane Society and shred it into odds and ends . The thing can be made to look like the cluttered attic of a large and vigorous family -- a motley jumble of discarded objects , some outworn and some that were never useful , some once whole and bright but now chipped and tarnished , some odd pieces whose history no one remembers , here and there a gem , everything fascinating because it suggests some part of the human condition -- the whole adding up to nothing more than a glimpse into the disorderly history of the makers and users .

That could be easily done , but there is little reason in it . It would come down to saying that Fromm paints with a broad brush , and that , after all , is not a conclusion one must work toward but an impression he has from the outset . I mention these features of the book because they are inherent in the book's character and therefore must be mentioned . It would be superfluous to build a critique around them . There are more substantial criticisms to be made of Fromm's account of capitalist civilization .

It is worthwhile to recall that Fromm's treatment has both descriptive and normative aspects . Since I have already discussed his moral position , that discussion is incorporated by reference into the following pages , which will focus on the empirical and analytic side of Fromm's treatment . I shall first indicate a couple of weaknesses in Fromm's analysis , then argue that , granted these weaknesses , he still has much left that is valuable , and , finally , raise the general question of a philosophical versus a sociological approach to the question of alienation .

Almost no empirical work has been done on the problem of alienation . Despite its rather long intellectual history , alienation is still a promising hypothesis and not a verified theory . The idea has received much attention in philosophy , in literature , and in a few works of general social criticism , such as The Sane Society . What is missing is work that would answer , presumably by the use of survey methods and Guttman-type attitude scales , such questions as these : What are the components of the feeling-state described as alienation ? ? How widespread is alienation ? ? What is its incidence among the various classes and subgroups of the population ? ? Taking alienation as a dependent variable , with what socio-structural factors is it most highly associated ? ? Considered as an independent variable , how does it affect behavior in various sectors of life ? ? Until such work is done , there must remain the nagging suspicion that alienation may be little more than an expression of the malaise of the intellectual , who , rejected by and in turn rejecting the larger society , projects his own fear and despair onto the broader social screen .

I am not suggesting that Fromm ought to do this kind of work . Nor do I think that alienation is nothing more than a projection of the malaise of the intellectual . I am saying only that until a fuller and different kind of evidence comes in , any discussion of alienation must be understood to have certain important limitations .

Until such evidence appears , we must make do with the evidence we have . Here , perhaps , Fromm is vulnerable , for he does not always use the best and most recent evidence available , and he sometimes selects and interprets the evidence in rather special ways . Three examples follow .

Fromm's analysis of alienation in the sphere of production centers around the concepts of the bureaucratization of the corporation , the separation of ownership from control , and the broad ( and thus from the point of view of corporate control , ineffective ) dispersion of stock ownership . For all these points he relies exclusively on Berle and Means's study of 1932 , The Modern Corporation And Private Property . The broad conclusions of that pioneering work remain undisturbed , but subsequent research has expanded and somewhat altered their empirical support , has suggested important revisions in the general analytic frame of reference , and has sharpened the meaning of particular analytic concepts in this area . Fromm seems unaware of these developments .

Another example is his very infrequent use of the large amount of data from surveys designed to discover what and how people actually do feel and think on a broad range of topics : he cites such survey-type findings just three times . Moreover , the conclusions he draws from the findings are not always the only ones possible . For example , he cites the following data from two studies on job satisfaction : in the first study , 85 per cent of professionals and executives , 64 per cent of white collar people , and 41 per cent of factory workers expressed satisfaction with their jobs ; ; in the second study , the percentages were 86 for professionals , 74 for managerial persons , 42 for commercial employees , 56 for skilled workers , and 48 for semi-skilled workers . He concludes that these data show a `` remarkably high '' percentage of consciously dissatisfied and unhappy persons among factory and clerical workers . Starting from other value premises than Fromm's , some analysts might conclude that the percentages really tell us very little at all , while others might even conclude that the figures are remarkably low . Eric Hoffer , for example , once said that America was a paradise -- the only one in the history of the world -- for workingmen and small children . What matters is that while Fromm's reading of the data is not the only one possible , it is precisely the one we would expect from a writer who earnestly believes that every man can and ought to be happy and satisfied . Fromm also cites a poll on attitudes toward work restriction conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation in 1945 , in which 49 per cent of manual workers said a man ought to turn out as much as he could in a day's work , while 41 per cent said he should not do his best but should turn out only the average amount . Fromm says these data show that job dissatisfaction and resentment are widespread . That is one way to read the findings , but again there are other ways . One might use such findings to indicate the strength of informal primary associations in the factory , an interpretation which would run counter to Fromm's theory of alienation . Or , he might remind Fromm that the 41 per cent figure is really astonishingly low : after all , the medieval guild system was dedicated to the proposition that 100 per cent of the workers ought to turn out only the average amount ; ; and today's trade unions announce pretty much the same view .

In view of these shortcomings in both the amount and the interpretation of survey-type findings on public opinion , and considering the criticisms which can be brought against Fromm's philosophical anthropology , such a passage as the following cannot be taken seriously . `` Are people happy , are they as satisfied , unconsciously , as they believe themselves to be ? ? Considering the nature of man , and the conditions for happiness , this can hardly be so '' .

The ambiguities suggested above stem from a more basic difficulty in Fromm's style of thought . He seems to use the term alienation in two different ways . Sometimes he uses it as a subjective , descriptive term , and sometimes as an objective , diagnostic one . That is , sometimes it is used to describe felt human misery , and other times it is postulated to explain unfelt anxiety and discontent . The failure to keep these two usages distinct presents hazards to the reader . It also permits Fromm to do some dubious things with empirical findings . When alienation is used as an objective and diagnostic category , for example , it becomes clear that Fromm would have to say that awareness of alienation goes far toward conquering it . ( He , in effect , does say this in his discussion of the pseudo-happiness of the automaton conformist . ) Starting from this , and accepting his estimate of the iniquities of modern society , it would follow that the really disturbing evidence of alienation would be that of a work-satisfaction survey which reported widespread , stated worker satisfaction , rather than widespread , stated worker dissatisfaction .

The point is that in a system such as Fromm's which recognizes unconscious motivations , and which rests on certain ethical absolutes , empirical data can be used to support whatever proposition the writer is urging at the moment . Thus , in the example cited above Fromm rests his whole case on the premise that the workers are being deprived unconsciously , unknowingly , of fulfillment , and then supports this with survey data reporting conscious , experienced frustrations . He has his cake and eats it too : if the workers say they are dissatisfied , this shows conscious alienation ; ; if they say they are satisfied , this shows unconscious alienation . This sort of manipulation is especially troublesome in Fromm's work because , although his system is derived largely from certain philosophic convictions , he asserts that it is based on empirical findings drawn both from social science and from his own consulting room . While the `` empirical psychoanalytic '' label which Fromm claims sheds no light on the validity of his underlying philosophy , it does increase the marketability of his product .

The final example of the failure to use available evidence , though evidence of a different kind from that which has so far been considered , comes from Fromm's treatment of some other writers who have dealt with the same themes . In a brief chapter dealing with `` Various Other Diagnoses '' , he quotes isolated passages from some writers whose views seem to corroborate his own , and finds it `` most remarkable that a critical view of twentieth-century society was already held by a number of thinkers living in the nineteenth . '' He finds it equally `` remarkable that their critical diagnosis and prognosis should have so much in common among themselves and with the critics of the twentieth century '' . There is nothing remarkable about this at all . It is largely a matter of finding passages that suit one's purposes . There is a difference between evidence and illustration , and Fromm's citation of the other diagnosticians fits the latter category . Glance at the list : Burckhardt , Tolstoy , Proudhon , Thoreau , London , Marx , Tawney , Mayo , Durkheim , Tannenbaum , Mumford , A. R. Heron , Huxley , Schweitzer , and Einstein . This is a delightfully motley collection . One can make them say the same thing only by not listening to them very carefully and hearing only what one wants to hear . The method of selection Fromm uses achieves exactly that . Furthermore , the list is interesting for its omissions . It omits , for example , practically the whole line of great nineteenth century English social critics , nearly all the great writers whose basic position is religious , and all those who are with more or less accuracy called Existentialists . Of course , the list also excludes all writers who are fairly `` optimistic '' about the modern situation ; ; these , almost by definition , are spokesmen for an alienated ideology . It is not hard to find that concurrence of opinion which Fromm finds so remarkable when you ignore all who hold a different opinion .

Turning from these problems of the use of evidence , one meets another type of difficulty in Fromm's analysis , which is his loose and ambiguous use of certain important terms . One such instance has already been presented : his use of alienation . The only other one I shall mention here is his use of the term capitalism .

For Fromm , capitalism is the enemy , the root of all evil . It is of course useful to have a sovereign cause on one's social criticism , for it makes diagnosis and prescription much easier than they might otherwise be .