Books Life Reviews

Book Review: Freedom to Live

Freedom to Live: The Robert Hartman Story is an autobiography which was originally written for a series of seminars given by Robert Hartman to top executives who wanted to develop more sensitivity to human values. Hartman’s writing and life experiences are very interesting and engaging. He was born in Germany in 1910. Seeing the Nazis “organize evil” (p. 29), he fled Nazi Germany for his opposition to Hitler. Hartman devoted the rest of his life to “organize good” (p. 22). This led him to a life-long quest to define “what is good?” (p. 22) and how to apply goodness both in our individual lives and on a broader scale.

Robert Hartman developed a value theory where value is measured “systemically, extrinsically, and intrinsically” (p. 57), and where “meaning” is the “measure of value” (p. 60). The value theory is “strictly logical”, the measure of value is “objective”, but the application is “subjective” (p. 60). The value is calculated by combining “the three value dimensions – systemic, extrinsic, intrinsic – and their respective value measurements” (p. 64). For example, systemically “a worker is a production unit”, extrinsically “one of several workers”, and intrinsically “a human being” (p. 67). Hartman’s value theory makes intrinsic values explicit in relation to extrinsic and systemic goods. He thinks that we need to “learn how to apply the yardstick of intrinsic value to life around us and within us” (p. 69). This can be done “without calculus, and … complicated formulae” (p. 69).

So, we have now found that we can know and measure value in systemic, extrinsic, and intrinsic dimensions. How do we organize goodness? Robert Hartman’s answer is that “this is everyone’s problem” (p. 76). He challenges the reader with four questions for reflection on the meaning of one’s life and work: “1. What am I here for in the world? 2. Why do I work for this organization? 3. What can this organization do to help me fulfill my meaning in the world? 4. How can I help this organization help me fulfill my meaning in the world?” (pp. 85—88). It’s up to us to come up with our own answers, and act.

Here’s the rub, according to Robert Hartman. “The paradox of human existence and the sickness which we have suffered throughout history can be clearly attributed to our callousness to the intrinsic value of life coupled with our sensitivity to the systemic value of thought” (p. 114). It’s a trilogy of tragedies: “The first was the Tragedy of Rome – military despotism; the second, the Tragedy of Feudalism – military absolutism; the third, the Tragedy of Democracy – military giantism” (p. 115). The “danger that threatens life” is the “tremendous gap between those who think in terms of human values and those who think in the collective terms of non-human systems” (p. 124). Hartman ends the book with the wish that “this beautiful world must go on” (p. 128). It’s possible if we see life’s intrinsic value, and act accordingly.

Related book review:
The Structure of Value

By Jan Höglund

I share my reading, book reviews, and learning in my blog.

3 replies on “Book Review: Freedom to Live”


thank you so much for pointing to Robert S. Hartman. I read the book and enjoyed it a lot.
I’m really looking forward to see how the Hartman profile (or the further development of it?) works in practice. I saw you wrote something about how it helped make things more clear for you. Would you be willing to share that?

I think you might also enjoy “This is Lean” by Niklas Modig, in case you haven’t read it yet. He explains lean in a framework of values – principles – methods – tools and activities. Not seen any better and simpler explanation yet. Something which would also be interesting to do for dynamic governance for example, and it might help map a lot of the things you write about(?) (as you were quoting the open space man about everything being an app to self organisation).

Two others: book on Albert Hirschmann “Worldly philosopher” and one about Anatole Rapoport (who had another approach to game theory than von Neumann and became very active in the peace movement – can’t find my copy).

Yes, Skye Hirst introduced me to the Hartman Value Profile (HVP) in February 2017. She writes about the HVP here. I’ve added the books you mention to my reading list. Thanks!

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