Ideas with Weight

Character in the dynamic sense of analytical psychology is the specific form in which human energy is shaped by the dynamic adaptation of human needs to the particular mode of existence of a given society.

Character in its turn determines the thinking, feeling, and acting of individuals.

To see this is somewhat difficult with regard to our thoughts, since we all tend to share the conventional belief that thinking is an exclusively intellectual act and independent of the psychological structure of the personality.

This is not so, however, and the less so the more our thoughts deal with ethical, philosophical, political, psychological or social problems rather then with the empirical manipulation of concrete objects.

Such thoughts, aside from the purely logical elements that are involved in the act of thinking, are greatly determined by the personality structure of the person who thinks. This holds true for the whole of a doctrine or of a theoretical system as well as for a single concept, like love, justice, equality, sacrifice. Each such concept and each doctrine has an emotional matrix and this matrix is rooted in the character structure of the individual.

... [An example would be] the emotional roots of early Protestantism.

The fact that ideas have an emotional matrix is of the utmost importance because it is the key to the understanding of the spirit of a culture. Different societies or classes within a society have a specific social character, and on its basis different ideas develop and become powerful.

Thus, for instance, the idea of work and success as the main aims of life were able to become powerful and appealing to modern man on the basis of his aloneness and doubt; but propaganda for the idea of ceaseless effort and striving for success addressed to the Pueblo Indians or to Mexican peasants would fall completely flat. These people with a different kind of character structure would hardly understand what a person setting forth such aims was talking about even if they understood his language.

In the same way, Hitler and that part of the German population which has the same character structure quite sincerely feel that anybody who thinks that wars can be abolished is either a complete fool or a plain liar. On the basis of their social character, to them life without suffering and disaster is as little comprehensible as freedom and equality.

Ideas often are consciously accepted by certain groups, which, on account of the peculiarities of their social character, are not really touched by them; such ideas remain a stock of conscious convictions, but people fail to act according to them in a critical hour.

The vast majority of German workers before Hitler's coming into power voted for Socialist or Communist Parties and believed in the ideas of those parties; that is, the range of these ideas among the working class was extremely wide. The weight of these ideas, however, was in no proportion to their range.

They had deep-seated respect and longing for established authority. The emphasis of socialism on individual independence versus authority, on solidarity versus individualistic seclusion, was not what many of these workers really wanted on the basis of their personality structure.

... [Protestant and Calvinist] ideas were powerful forces within the adherents of the new religion, because they appealed to needs and anxieties that were present in the character structure of the people to whom they were addressed.

In other words, ideas can become powerful forces, but only to the extent to which they are answers to specific human needs prominent in a given social character.

[Erich Fromm]
The Fear of Freedom, p.239-42

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1 comment:

  1. I believe Fromm when he says ideas are powerful, but I don't think it's only to "the extent to which they are answers to specific human needs". I believe that ideas are powerful not only in providing solutions to the human demands but also powerful in destroying a person's morale. We have to be careful with ideas as it is a two-edged sword and can backfire if not handled properly, or if handled by a person with questionable character.