Saturday, October 01, 2005

Man for Himself: Part 1

As I may have mentioned, Jessica from Cellar Door and myself are working on a separate site where we will create a book list and post reviews of the books we are reading through. I started my first book for this list last night – Man for Himself, by Erich Fromm. Since we’re still working on the site, I thought I’d share some of my developing thoughts on the book here before I lose them. This is a very dense book with a lot of very important ideas, and I don’t want to lose sight of them as other ideas rush at me. This, along with my full review of the book, will go up on the new site as soon as it’s ready.

First, a summary (which I do not completely agree with) of the book, from eNotAlone:

In Man for Himself, Erich Fromm examines the confusion of modern women and men who, because they lack faith in any principle by which life ought to be guided, become the helpless prey forces both within and without. From the broad, interdisciplinary perspective that marks Fromm’s distinguished oeuvre, he shows that psychology cannot divorce itself from the problems of philosophy and ethics, and that human nature cannot be understood without understanding the values and moral conflicts that confront us all. He shows that an ethical system can be based on human nature rather than on revelations or traditions. As Fromm asserts, “If man is to have confidence in values, he must know himself and the capacity of his nature for goodness and productiveness.”

I don’t agree with the summary because Fromm is not saying that lack of faith is the problem; he’s saying that lack of reason is the problem, and that, because people cannot construct a framework of ethics based on reason, they instead fill the void with systems and/or people who would take advantage of that need, using irrational systems that fill them full of hate and misery. The following paragraph makes this clear:

“The ideas of the Enlightenment taught man that he could trust his own reason as a guide to establishing valid ethical norms and that he could rely on himself, needing neither revelation nor the authority of the church in order to know good and evil. The motto of the Enlightenment "dare to know," implying "trust your knowledge,” became the incentive for the efforts and achievements of modern man. The growing doubt of human autonomy and reason has created a state of moral confusion where man is left without the guidance of either revelation or reason. The result is the acceptance of a relativistic position which proposes that value judgments and ethical norms are exclusively matters of taste or arbitrary preference and that no objectively valid statement can be made in this realm. But since man can not live without values and norms, this relativism makes him an easy prey for irrational value systems? He reverts to a position which the Greek Enlightenment, Christianity, the Renaissance, and the eighteenth-century Enlightenment had already overcome. The demands of the State, the enthusiasm for magic qualities of powerful leaders, powerful machines, and material success become the sources for his norms and value judgments.”

I think this is relevant to what’s going on in America today. I’ll post more on this as I read through the book.

Posted by crimnos @ 10:56 AM