Sane Society, The
by Erich Fromm
Not my favorite of Fromm’s — That honor is still reserved for the three-way tie of Escape from Freedom, The Art of Loving and Marx’s Concept of Man — but he still impresses with his daunting intellect and analytic capacity.
The book begins well and quickly draws you in, as Fromm reviews his argument against Western society and the way that it alienates man from himself, inadvertently creating a modern “robotism.” This line of thought is taken from his previous books (including the ones listed above) and further developed in an engaging way.
The last two chapters, however, where he turns to solutions for transforming our society into a humanistic communitarian socialist democracy, fall flat. This is perhaps chiefly due to the material being dated, most obvious when he actually proposes to dismantle the film industry due to its pernicious effect on our psyches. This is something which might have been half-conceivable in the 50s, though it still strikes one as more than a little bizarre.
Then he proposes a hypothetical town-hall bottom-up government in which the politicians refer all of their legislation to 500-person “face-to-face” groups where they can discuss and decide on policy at the grass-roots level. This, although it recalls some of Hannah Arend’ts political philosophy (particularly On Revolution), just struck me as quaint, and would be utterly impossible in today’s hyper-mobile age.
Ultimately, Fromm leans heavily on the Communitarian Socialist model proposed by Owen in England, and later popularized to some degree in France. He spends a large portion of Ch. 8 describing one such watch-making community where the workers are the owners and participate equally in all the decision-making. There they earn in accordance with how much they contribute to the community, whether it be through watches or extracurriculars such as music, teaching, gardening, or what-have-you.
It is a nice picture that he paints, but when describing the political decision-making process, I couldn’t help but feel like there was simply way too much bureacracy involved. Really? I have to go to a weekly, monthly, and bi-annual meeting just to make sure this stuff all runs effectively? What if my idea of fulfilling my human potential is not worrying about all of this organizational BS? What if I require solitude in order to realize my potential?
I have no doubt that certain driven people could make this work, and probably quite enjoy it. But to propose it as a solution for all of humanity seems naive, or maybe just asking a lot of them for the time being. I can’t help but wonder what Fromm would have thought if he had lived to see where we’re at now. He probably would have been depressed.