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Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm
Erich S. Fromm (1900–80)

Erich Seligmann Fromm was a distinguished psychoanalyst, humanistic social philosopher, democratic socialist and a social psychologist. He was born at Frankfurt am Main, of Orthodox Jewish parents, and received his Ph.D. in sociology from Heidelberg in 1922. He was associated with what became known as the Frankfurt School of critical theory.

During the mid 1920s he was trained to become a psychoanalyst, and began his own clinical practice in 1927. In 1930 he completed his psychoanalytical training. Later in the 1930s Fromm moved to Geneva and then to Columbia University in New York.

Fromm moved to Mexico City in 1950 and became a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He taught at other universities too. In 1974 he moved to Switzerland, where he died in his home in 1980.

Interpreting modern conditions

Fromm analysed the modern industrial society with a pioneering attitude. His writings are notable for philosophical and psychological underpinnings. He thought that man is getting increasingly impotent and estranged in a society governed by technical developments. He criticised that production and consumption have become "the meaning of life" of nations where humans have become [half]slaves to technical developments.

He wanted to promote a decentralised "participative democracy", and etched out practical things to do in order to create a more human society, as exemplified in his book The Sane Society. He saw well into modern manís insanities and insanities of the society and became controversial from it too. He was moved to attempts at healing actions by the great wrongs he perceived. And he went for "citizen payment", as the Norwegian liberal party "Venstre" has done later.

Fromm was a deeply religious man all his life. Central to his world view was his interpretation of the five first books of the Bible, the Talmud. Yet he turned away from orthodox Judaism in 1926. Fromm's humanistic philosophy is rooted in an interpretation of the biblical story of Adam and Eve. He extolled the virtues of humans taking independent action and using reason to establish moral values. He became influenced by Zen Buddhism.

He saw estranged automatons against creative, independent individuals and some of their basic needs

Fromm viewed the experience of "falling in love" as evidence of one's failure to understand the true nature of love, which he believed always had the common elements of care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge.

Fromm also asserted that few people in modern society had respect for the autonomy of their fellow human beings, much less the objective knowledge of what other people truly wanted or needed.

Three main escape mechanisms that Fromm outlined are automaton conformity, authoritarianism, and destructiveness.

The word biophilia ("life-liking, life-love", or "holding life dear") was frequently used by Fromm as a description of a productive psychological orientation and "state of being".

Fromm also postulated five basic needs - compare Abraham Maslow's pyramid of needs. [Link A. Link B]:

  1. Relatedness - relationships with others, care, respect, knowledge;
  2. Transcendence - creativity, develop a loving and interesting life;
  3. Rootedness - feeling of belonging;
  4. Sense of identity - see ourselves as a unique person and part of a social group.
  5. A frame of orientation - the need to understand the world and our place in it.

Fromm's penetrating analyses and syntheses of stultifications of humans and societies went together with his deep faith in authentic, self-directing individuals with decent relationships among themselves, individuals able to express their basic identity. He did not think all sorts of conformity are bad. Some can be rather good and helpful, actually.

Fromm saw that when people lost those ties which gave them security, this lag made freedom an unbearable burden that lacked meaning and direction. He learnt to discern between productive, positive characters and such as hoarding, marketing, and exploitative characters - malignant characters by and large.

Fromm criticized Freud's dualistic thinking: Freudian descriptions of human consciousness as struggles between two poles were narrow and limiting.

Marked works and activities

Fromm's most well-known work was Escape from Freedom. His most popular book was The Art of Loving, an international bestseller. And the culmination of Fromm's social and political philosophy was his book The Sane Society, published in 1955, which argued in favour of humanistic and democratic socialism.

Fromm's strongest political activism was in the international peace movement. He was fighting against the nuclear arms race and US involvement in the Vietnam War.

Erich Fromm Quotations and Little Else

To be fully awake is the condition for not being bored, [and] not to be bored or boring is one of the main conditions for loving. [From The Art of Loving]

Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person.

Just as modern mass production requires the standardization of commodities, so the social process requires standardization of man.

There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started out with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet which fails so regularly, as love.

One cannot be deeply responsive to the world without being saddened very often.

Because one does not see that love is an activity, a power of the soul, one believes that all that is necessary to find is the right object - and that everything goes by itself afterward.

Destructiveness is [often an] outcome of unlived lives.

Men are born equal but they are also born different.

Modern capitalism needs men who cooperate smoothly and in large numbers; who want to consume more and more; and whose tastes are standardized and can be easily influenced and anticipated. It needs men . . . willing to . . . do what is expected of them, to fit into the social machine without friction; who can be guided without force. [from The Art of Loving]

Selfish persons are incapable of loving others, but they are not capable of loving themselves either.

Education makes machines which act like men and produces men who act like machines.

In the twentieth century the problem is that man is dead.

To be loved because of one's merit, because one deserves it, always leaves doubt . . . [or] a fear that love could disappear. [From The Art of Loving]

Authority refers to an interpersonal relation in which one person looks upon another as somebody superior to him.

The danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that man may become robots.

The successful revolutionary is a statesman, the unsuccessful one a criminal.

The task we must set for ourselves is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity.


Erich Fromm, Fromm ideas and quotations, Literature  

Burston, Daniel. 1991. The Legacy of Erich Fromm. London: Harvard University Press. ⍽▢⍽ Burston employs a critical, developmental perspective and writes clearly. He discusses Fromm's ambivalent involvement with the Freudian movement,. He also covers relationships between Fromm and other front figures in the psychoanalytic movement.
     Fromm also said something to say about conformity and obedience to irrational authority, social character and the low-grade personality grown in socio-economic structures and dynamics.
     Burston analyses Fromm's many original contributions and relation to psychoanalysis, critical theory, existential and humanistic psychology, and social psychology. Burston guides the reader along potentially confusing, intersecting paths of knowledge in Fromm's work - not only Fromm's strengths but also contradictions and weaknesses.

Fromm, Erich. 1947. Man for Himself: An Inquiry Into the Psychology of Ethics. New York: Rinehart and Co. ⍽▢⍽ Fromm examines the modern women and men and the many moral conflicts that derive from lack of a good and firm moral system. "If man is to have confidence in values, he must know himself and the capacity of his nature for goodness and productiveness."

⸻. 1951. Psychoanalysis and Religion. London: Victor Gollancz. ⍽▢⍽ Erich Fromm asserts that authoritarian religious beliefs control people with security needs, and do not serve individuals by denying their identities. On the other hand, humanistic credos provide for personal validation and growth, he finds. Fromm asks among other things whether psychoanalysis is a threath to religion. That would depend on which religion. Yet in Fromm's answer to his question is an attempt to reconcile what a scientist has faith in, with a religious belief in some . Fromm further thinks that religion could be a positive influence in an individual's life, perhaps facilitating happiness and comfort, but his critique or religion serves mainly to condemn most religious orders practiced in Western culture. Accordingly, Fromm's thesis is rejected by most theologians . . .

⸻. 1986. Psychoanalysis and Zen Buddhism. London: Unwin. ⍽▢⍽ In 1957, Erich Fromm invited Daisetz T. Suzuki to a seminar in Mexico. Their discussion was one of the highlights of Frommís life, and in the book that Fromm made on top of it, he goes into some sides to the philosophy and practice of Zen while asserting how Zen-Buddist tenets fit into the ideas of psychoanalysis.

⸻. 1956. The Art of Loving. New York: Harper and Row. ⍽▢⍽ On how to handle one another with care on subtler levels than the physical. Fromm presents care as a bundle of skills that can be taught and developed, thinking that what is called love involves care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge (p. 24), and that it calls for hard work. The book is not a manual of love-making.

⸻. 2002. The Fear of Freedom. Reprint ed. London: Routledge (1942). (US: Escape from Freedom. New York. Holt, Rinehart and Wilson, 1941.) —— Fromm finds forces that still shape modern society and its many ills, and penetrates into causes of authoritarian systems and the willingness to submit to totalitarian rule, while promoting sane individuality. He asserts, "The person who gives up his individual self and becomes an automaton, identical with millions of other automatons around him, need not feel alone and anxious any more. But the price he pays, however, is high.".

⸻. 1952. The Forgotten Language: An Introduction to the Understanding of Dreams, Fairy Tales and Myths. London: Victor Gollancz. ⍽▢⍽ What some dreams, folktales and myths have in common, are great symbols - some shared with others, and some personal. Dream interpretations contain hints of a fluid, symbolic language. Symbols may be interpreted in many ways, but all the same may help a person who works on his or her dreams to better integrate various mind levels as well as connect with many common human features or experiences. Also, Fromm finds that dream logic differs from conventional daytime logic in that it may be more twisted. - Fro all that, Fromm does not teach the reader how to understand symbolic language, but describes dream work from a position "somewhere between Jung and Freud and modern times". He tells from the history of dream analysis, going back to Greek times and shows how symbolic language "the language of dreams") can be extended to interpret myths and literature. If we bear in mind that different interpreters get different interpretations, it will not surprise us that Fromm gets other ideas from the ancient Greek Oedipus story than his teacher Freud did. There is both a Freudian and a Jungan ways of analysing dreams, tales and myths, and books on each.

⸻. 1965. The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good and Evil. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. ⍽▢⍽ Looks into aggression, malicious forms of destructiveness and decay etc. on the one hand, and the love of life and nature and growth on the other hand. We could take it on us to take steps toward growth or fulfilment.

⸻. 1970. The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanized Technology. New York: Harper Colophon. ⍽▢⍽ This book was born out of the conviction that humanity is at stake, with one road leading to a mechanised and possibly dehumanised society - and another main road toward great humanism in a society that puts techology much better in the service of man's well-being.

⸻. 1991. The Sane Society. 2nd enl. ed. London: Routledge. ⍽▢⍽ Fromm examines man's glide into overconformity and the danger of robotism. Humankind is being alienated by the massive onslaught of technical "things". Fromm talks for "humanistic psychoanalysis" and presents goals for a society allowing for responsible individuals.

⸻. 1981. To Have or to Be? At have eller at være. New York: Bantam Books. ⍽▢⍽ On how modern society has become materialistic and prefers "having" to "being". Fromm suggests what possessions can be transferred to the hereafter.

Funk, Rainer. 2000. Erich Fromm. His Life and Ideas: An Illustrated Biography. London: Continuum. ⍽▢⍽ Fromm is a popular, humanistic writer whose key messages endure. This book contains 250 photographs of this seminal social psychologist, his family, and associates, and information from his Jewish upbringing to the years associated with the Frankfurt School of philosophers, life with Trotsky in Mexico and to his death in 1980.

⸻. 1982. Erich Fromm: The Courage to Be Human. New York: Continuum. ⍽▢⍽ This pictorial biography covers Fromm's life from his traditional Jewish upbringing to his association with the Frankfurt School of social theory and philosophy, critical of both capitalism and Soviet socialism, members sought alternative paths to social development. Fromm's work had taken a decisive turn when he encountered Freudian psychoanalysis - which he critiqued too. He broke with the Frankfurt School and moved to the US, entered a personal and professional relationship with Karen Horney, got associated with The New School in New York City and with the eminent Zen Buddhist Dr. D. T. Suzuk, and started to live in Mexico "part time".

⸻. ed. 1994. The Erich Fromm Reader. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press. ⍽▢⍽ Here is an introduction to a wide range of Fromm's writing. Fromm, who in time became a socialist humanist, wrote extensively on social psychology, social theory, values and caring. Fromm's force is to bring together learning from different fields of knowledge, or traditions, and present connections between some of them. He set forth alternatives to parts of traditional psychoanalytic theory and to alienation. This and other meaningful contributions make Fromm's thought relevant today also.

Hausdorff, Dan. 1972. Erich Fromm. New York: Twayne. ⍽▢⍽ On Fromm's development as a thinker, with some of the main influences he got along the road.

Schaar, John Homer. 1961. Escape from Authority: The Perspectives of Erich Fromm. New York: Basic Books. ⍽▢⍽ Dr Schaar (1928–2011) was a scholar and political theorist, and Professor Emeritus at the University of California.
     Pointers and Schaar quotes:
     Fromm brings together fields of science, ethics and philosophy: "Fromm can take freely from the social and psychological sciences and, at the same time, reject their relativistic orientation. Fromm insists that the sciences of man cannot be divorced from problems of philosophy and ethics." (p. 5)
     A simple-looking surface: "Fromm's pages are filled with ideas which are plausible and deliciously attractive at first glance, but which on closer view often . . . astonishing in their premises and disconcerting in their implications. Fromm has the gift of putting profound ideas simply . . . in polished and striking form. These talents lend his works simplicity, a simplicity which is often deceptive . . . Time and again my argument takes the form of reminding the reader that beneath the clear and placid surface of Fromm's formulations lie restless and murky premises and implications". (p. 6)
     Fromm has a contrastive style: "Reason versus intuition; empiricism versus mysticism; scientific versus philosophic method; detachment versus involvement; man as part of nature versus man as the freak of nature; essential human nature versus social determinism; equality versus liberty; democracy versus aristocracy; communalism versus individualism. Fromm is forever juggling these incompatibles". (p. 6-7)
     Are humans becoming slaves of a machine-tuned society in the end? "Fromm is a social critic; in my judgment, a good one . . . of our cultural and social crisis. . . . [W]hen human nobility is powerfully threatened . . . Fromm reminds us that man may be the slave even while he thinks he is the master . . . Fromm insists that the only good society is the society whose product is good men." (p. 8)
     Fromm asks what is the good life, and by what signs shall we know the good from the bad? (p. 9)
     An essay on Fromm is necessarily an essay in self-clarification. (p. 10)

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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