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Schouborg, Gary (1969). "Review: The Revolution of Hope

Toward a Humanized Technology, by Erich Fromm".

The Catholic World, 209, 82-83.

 

Erich Fromm. The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanized Technology. New York: Harper & Row, 1968, xviii+162 pp.

 

"This book is written as a response to America's situation in the year 1968. It is born out of the conviction that we are at the crossroads: one road leads to a completely mechanized society with man as a helpless cog in the machine — if not to destruction by thermonuclear war; the other to a renaissance of humanism and hope — to a society that puts technique in the service of man's well-being" (p. xvii). The question is one of priorities. Does man come before the organization, or "must individuals be passive and dependent in order to have strong and well-functioning organizations" (p. 2)? Man is not infinitely malleable. He can adjust only so much to organizational structures before they begin to dehumanize him.

 

The key notion of hope both helps set the problem and begins to provide the solution. Fromm differentiates the true from the illusory forms of hope, faith, and fortitude with the clarity and wisdom that characterize his writing and that have made his Art of Loving one of the widest read books on college campuses today. "To hope means to be ready at every moment for that which is not yet born, and yet not become desperate if there is no birth in our lifetime. There is no sense in hoping for that which already exists or for that which cannot be. Those whose hope is weak settle down for comfort or for violence; those whose hope is strong see and cherish all signs of new life and are ready every moment to help the birth of that which is ready to be born" (p. 9). "Faith, like hope, is not prediction of the future, it is the vision of the present in a state of pregnancy" (p. 13).

 

Once man determines what are the objective human values, he must build them into technological institutions. Large-scale organizations cannot be abandoned. Nor need they be. They are not dehumanizing in themselves. They can facilitate human life, though as they presently exist they must change radically in order to do so. Fromm proposes four steps toward effecting this change: "(1) Planning which includes the system man and which is based on norms which follow from the examination of the optimal functioning of the human being. (2) Activation of the individual by methods of grass-roots activity and responsibility, by changing the present methods of alienated bureaucracy into one of humanistic management. (3) Changing of the consumption pattern in the direction of a consumption that contributes to activation and discourages 'passivation.' (4) The emergence of new forms of psychospiritual orientation and devotion, which are equivalents of the religious systems of the past" (pp. 94-95).

 

Can we do it? Hope is based on "real possibility," which is neither merely abstract possibility nor statistical likelihood. Fromm builds his hope on the possibility of empirically determining what are true human values, on the new longings of many people for a new way of life, and on the fact that the democratic system still functions.

 

Fromm intends this book to be not only a discussion of what needs to be done but also the means of getting people together for further discussion and practical activity. To this end he proposes a non-bureaucratic organization that would focus thinking, planning, and activity directed toward humanization of technology. Each copy of the book includes a card that the reader can fill out and mail to Fromm if he is interested in participating in this grass-roots movement.

 

The movement which the reader is invited to join is a secular and religious one. As such it raises fundamental questions about human motivation and destiny. Fromm observes approvingly that within the last decade believers and nonbelievers have become increasingly convinced that their doctrinal differences are secondary to the common bond of human concern that has grown up among them. This development causes Fromm to raise the question, "Can a new religion be founded which has no premises such as those in Revelation, or any kind of mythology" (p. 137)? Fromm thinks it can to the degree that men increasingly attain a minimum of psychological maturity. The task of the Christian theologian in the face of Fromm's proposals is not to argue that there is little hope of a sufficient number of men attaining such maturity. It is rather to show in what way the Good News of Jesus Christ increases that hope and in what way human development furthers one's participation in the kingdom rather than outgrows it.