Fromm's further ironies

D. Parker’s recent analysis of Erich Fromm’s socialist/communist “Afterword” to George Orwell’s 1984 was excellent.  I confess that I did not get the irony of the Erich Fromm quote on first reading. Leftists do indeed ascribe any failings of socialism/communism to rightist/reactionary ideas. As Parker states:

For the far left, their collectivist ideologies cannot fail. Meaning that when that inevitably happens, it must be blamed on the pro-freedom right so that their system can rise again and they can parrot the tired old line that socialism has never really been tried before.’

However, some further unpacking of the “Afterword” is warranted and may lead to the reasons for that consistent failure. The following terms are also used loosely in Fromm’s “Afterword” to further the leftist agenda: “a two-thousand-year-old Western tradition of hope,” “moral callousness,” and “moral considerations.”

First, in Fromm’s reductive history, socialism naturally follows the Enlightenment and is based on “a two-thousand-year-old Western tradition of hope.”  That phrase undoubtedly refers to Christianity, which in its earliest form did include the newborn Christians holding all things in common. (Acts 4:32). The early Christians were able to make that work temporarily because their hearts were supernaturally changed by the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). However, sin soon entered the system with Ananias and Sapphira lying about their contributions to the common good (perhaps an early example of virtue signaling) and their swift punishment (Acts 5: 1-11).  Later practice does not reflect the system of communism, but that of hard individual work (2 Thessalonians 3:10) and Christian charity to those in need (1 Corinthians 16:1-3).

I argue that it is simply a lie to situate both Christianity and the Enlightenment as “progression” to socialism/ communism (thus the “progressive” moniker that leftists prefer). Both of those philosophies differ significantly from the Christian teachings that individuals need a radical, supernatural heart transformation (John 3:16; Romans 12:2).

A brief look at these philosophies shows their rejection of Christianity. The Enlightenment heralded the individual as the measure of all things (much like the earlier Greeks). Philosopher Emmanuel Kant’s description shows the elevation of the individual over God: “expressing convictions shared among Enlightenment thinkers of widely divergent doctrines, Kant identifies enlightenment with the process of undertaking to think for oneself, to employ and rely on one’s own intellectual capacities in determining what to believe and how to act.”

While also rejecting God, socialism/communism situates the group and group action at the center of history in the Communist Manifesto and the economic/ governance system as the center of redemption. While criticizing former Utopian movements, the Manifesto advocates the “for a general reconstruction of society” and limits its analysis to systems.

Secondly and closely related, Fromm mentions the word “moral” twice in the short quotation that Parker shares. Fromm’s terms seem contradictory: fighting World War I was falsely framed as moral, but there were still “moral considerations” during that war.  He does not define “moral.”

With Fromm’s reference to “a two-thousand-year-old Western tradition of hope,” the casual reader might be excused in thinking he is referring to Christian principles here. And in fact, Fromm in the opening paragraphs of the “Afterword” refers to the Old Testament, the coming of the Messiah, and the spiritualization of perfect Kingdom.

However, Fromm’s use of the word “moral” may be a preview of the strategy described in detail by Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed: learn the words used by the peasants and then twist those words to support the socialist/communist agenda.

Thus, while twisting terms, socialist/communist philosophies overlook the fact that the natural hearts of people are the same, regardless of the system of governance or economics or whatever combination of the two. There is selfishness and greed at the center of the natural heart, as Christianity teaches (Colossians 3:4-6). Without God, Marxism attributes that greed only to the system of capitalism. While Marx’s writings are rife with references to the capitalist exploiting the laborer, this quote is illustrative: “While the miser is merely a capitalist gone mad, the capitalist is a rational miser. The irony of communist failures is demonstrated when leaders such as Stalin enact policies that lead to mass starvation and then regularly spend three months at a summer Black Sea resort (one of Stalin’s six dachas). In the eyes of socialists/communists like Fromm such greed and lack of compassion must be “reactionary capitalism,” when people may just be acting according to their natural hearts.

A full reading of Fromm’s “Afterword” shows that he does write about human nature and argues that the total social control of individuals, as described in 1984 and other dystopias, makes necessary the total destruction of human nature. By the way, reading the whole “Afterword” makes Parker’s connection to the loss of liberty even clearer.

In summary, Enlightenment philosophy puts “man as the center of all things” and the Marxist ideology centers the system of governance and economics. Any morality based on Christianity is left out of these philosophies. Any system that does not take into account the natural heart will be doomed to failure. Transformation of individual human hearts is needed to transform any system; thus, the two-thousand-year source of Western hope is the only hope, not these later day philosophies.

Image: Müller-May

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