Erich Fromm, an internationally renowned German psychologist and humanistic philosopher, was born in 1900 in Frankfurt, Germany. His father was a business man and, according to Erich, rather moody. His mother was frequently depressed. In other words, like quite a few of the people we've looked at, his childhood wasn't very happy.
Like Jung, Erich came from a very religious family, in his case orthodox Jews. Fromm himself later became what he called an atheistic mystic.
Fromm received his Ph.D in sociology from Heidelberg in 1922, and completed his psychoanaltyical training in 1930 at the Psychoanalytical Institute in Berlin. In that same year, he began his own clinical practice and joined the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, which moved to Geneva fleeing Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime, then, in 1934, to Columbia University in New York.
Fromm taught at Columbia University as a visiting professor from 1935 to 1939 while continuing his own clinical practice. He became a a citizen of the United States on May 25, 1940. After leaving Columbia, he helped form the New York Branch of the Washington School of Psychiatry in 1943, and in 1945 the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis, and Psychology. He was also a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan from 1945 to 1947, and from 1948 to 1949 a visiting professor at Yale. Meanwhile, he was a member of the faculty at Bennington College, and became an adjunct professor of psychoanalysis at New York University.
Fromm lived and worked in the United States until moving to Cuernevaca, Mexico in 1950 and spending most of the rest of his life working and teaching in Mexico. When Fromm moved to Mexico City in 1950, he became a professor at the National Autonomous University in Mexico and established a psychoanalytic section at the medical school there. He taught at the university until his retirement in 1965. Meanwhile, he taught as a professor of psychology at Michigan State University from 1957 to 1961 and as an adjunct professor of psychology at the graduate division of Arts and Sciences at New York University after 1962. All the while, Fromm maintained his own clinical practice and published a series of books.
He moved to Muralto, Switzerland in 1974, and died at his home there five days before his eightieth birthday.
Central to Fromm's world view was his interpretation of the Talmud, which he began studying as a young man under Rabbi J. Horowitz and later studied under Rabbi Salman Baruch Rabinkow while working towards his doctorate in sociology at the University of Heidelberg and under Nehemia Nobel and Ludwig Krause while studying in Frankfurt. Fromm's grandfather and two great grandfathers on his father's side were rabbis, and a great uncle on his mother's side was a noted Talmudic scholar. However, Fromm turned away from orthodox Judaism in 1926 and turned towards secular interpretations of scriptural ideals.
The cornerstone of Fromm's humanistic philosophy is his interpretation of the biblical story of Adam and Eve's exile from the Garden of Eden. Drawing on his knowledge of the Talmud, Fromm pointed out that being able to distinguish between good and evil is generally considered to be a virtue, and that biblical scholars generally consider Adam and Eve to have sinned by disobeying God and eating from the Tree of Knowledge. However, departing from traditional religious orthodoxy, Fromm extolled the virtues of humans taking independent action and using reason to establish moral values rather than adhering to authoritarian moral values.
Beyond a simple condemnation of authoritarian value systems, Fromm used the story of Adam and Eve as an allegorical explanation for human biological evolution and existential angst, asserting that when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, they became aware of themselves as being separate from nature while still being a part of it. This is why they felt "naked" and "ashamed": They had evolved into human beings, conscious of themselves, their own mortality, and their powerlessness before the forces of nature and society, and no longer united with the universe as they were in their instinctive, pre-human existence as animals. According to Fromm, the awareness of a disunited human existence is the source of all guilt and shame, and the solution to this existential dichotomy is found in the development of one's uniquely human powers of love and reason. However, Fromm so distinguished his concept of love from popular notions of love that his reference to this concept was virtually paradoxical.
Fromm considered love to be an interpersonal creative capacity rather than an emotion, and he distinguished this creative capacity from what he considered to be various forms of narcissistic neuroses and sado-masochistic tendencies that are commonly held out as proof of "true love." Indeed, 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. Drawing from his knowledge of the Talmud, Fromm pointed to the story of Jonah, who did not wish to save the residents of Nineveh from the consequences of their sin, as demonstrative of his belief that the qualities of care and responsibility are generally absent from most human relationships. 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 and needed.
The culmination of Fromm's social and political philosophy was his book The Sane Society, published in 1955, which argued in favor of communitarian socialism. Building primarily upon the works of Karl Marx, Fromm was the first political and social commentator in this school of thought to introduce the ideal of personal freedom, more frequently found in the writings of classic liberals, such as Frederic Bastiat, and objectivists, such as Ayn Rand. Fromm's unique brand of socialism rejected both Western capitalism and Soviet communism, which he saw as dehumanizing and bureaucratic social structures that resulted in a virtually universal modern phenomenon of alienation.
Fromm was very active in American politics. He joined the American Socialist Party in the 1950s, and did his best to help them provide an alternative viewpoint to the prevailing McCarthyism of the time, a viewpoint that was best expressed in his 1961 paper May Man Prevail? An Inquiry into the Facts and Fictions of Foreign Policy. However, as a co-founder of SANE, Fromm's strongest political interest was in the international peace movement, fighting against the nuclear arms race and America's involvement in the Vietnam war. After supporting then Senator Eugene McCarthy's losing bid for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination, Fromm more or less retreated from the American political scene, although he did write a paper in 1974 entitled Remarks on the Policy of Détente for a hearing held by the U.S. Senate Committee for Foreign Relations.
Fromm was married three times. His first wife was Frieda Reichmann, a physician and pscyhoanalyist, best know for her groundbreaking work with schizophrenics. Fromm and Reichmann worked together in a private clinic in Heidelberg.
Major Books of Erich Fromm
- The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, 1973
- The Art of Being, 1993
- The Art of Listening, 1994
- The Art of Loving, 1956
- Beyond the Chains of Illusion: My encounter with Marx and Freud, 1962
- The Crisis of Psychoanalysis, 1970
- Das jüdische Gesetz. Ein Beitrag zur Soziologie des Diaspora-Judentums, 1922
- The Dogma of Christ and Other Essays on Religion, Psychology and Culture, 1963
- Die Furcht vor der Freiheit (The Fear of Freedom, in Europe;Escape from Freedom, in North America), 1941
- The Forgotten Language, 1951
- Greatness and Limitation of Freud's Thought, 1979
- The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good and Evil, 1964
- Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics, 1947
- Marx's Concept of Man, 1961
- May Man Prevail? An inquiry into the facts and fictions of foreign policy, 1961
- The Nature of Man, 1968
- On Being Human, 1997
- Psychoanalyse und Religion (Psychoanalysis and Religion), 1950
- Psychoanalysis and Zen Buddhism, 1960
- The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanized Technology, 1968
- The Sane Society, 1955
- Sigmund Freud's Mission: An Analysis of his Personality and Influence, 1959
- Social Character in a Mexican Village; a Sociopsychoanalytic Study, with Michael Maccoby, 1970
- Socialist Humanism, 1965
- To Have or to Be, 1976
- You Shall Be as Gods: a Radical Interpretation of the Old Testament and Its Tradition, 1966
Major Articles of Erich Fromm
- 1932, Die psychoanalytische Charakterologie und ihre Bedeutung für die Sozialpsychologie, Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung
- 1932, Über Methode und Aufgaben einer analytischen Sozialpsychologie, Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung
Quotes from Erich Fromm
- "All genuine ideals have one thing in common: they express the desire for something which is not yet accomplished but which is desirable for the purposes of the growth and happiness of the individual." (from "Escape from Freedom", 1941)
- "All the different forms of sadism which we can observe go back to one essential impulse; namely, to have complete mastery over another person, to make of him a helpless object of our will, to become the absolute ruler over him, to become his God, to do with him as one pleases. To humiliate him, to enslave him, are means toward this end, and the most radical aim is to make him suffer, since there is no greater power over another person than that of inflicting pain on him, to force him to undergo suffering without his being able to defend himself. The pleasure in the complete domination over another person (or other animate objects) is the very essence of the sadistic drive." (from "Escape from Freedom", 1941)
- "The authoritarian character feels the more aroused the more helpless his object has become." (from "Escape from Freedom", 1941)
- "Exclusive love is a contradiction in itself." (from "Escape from Freedom", 1941)
- "If you do not smile, you are judged lacking in a "pleasing personality"-and you need to have a pleasing personality if you want to sell your services, whether as a waitress, a salesman, or a physician. Only those at the bottom of the social pyramid, who sell nothing but their physical labor, and those at the very top do not need to be particularly "pleasant." Friendliness, cheerfulness, and everything that a smile is supposed to express, become automatic responses which one turns on and off like an electric switch." (from "Escape from Freedom", 1941)
- "In our effort to escape from aloneness and powerlessness, we are ready to get rid of our individual self either by submission to new forms of authority or by a compulsive conforming to accepted patterns." (from "Escape from Freedom", 1941)
- "The inability to act spontaneously, to express what one genuinely feels and thinks, and the resulting necessity to present a pseudo-self to others and oneself, are the root of the feeling of inferiority and weakness." (from "Escape from Freedom", 1941)
- "The lust for power is not rooted in strength but in weakness." (from "Escape from Freedom", 1941)
- "Modern man lives under the illusion that he knows what he wants, while he actually wants what he is supposed to want." (from "Escape from Freedom", 1941)
- "The self is as strong as it is active." (from "Escape from Freedom", 1941)
- "The successful revolutionary is a statesman, the unsuccessful one is a criminal." (from "Escape from Freedom", 1941)
- "There is no greater mistake and no graver danger than not to see that in our own society we are faced with the same phenomenon that is fertile soil for the rise of Fascism anywhere: the insignificance and powerlessness of the individual." (from "Escape from Freedom", 1941)
- "A scientific or a rationally valid statement means that the power of reason is applied to all the available data of observation without any of them being suppressed or falsified for the sake of a desired result." (from "Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics", 1947)
- "Every neurosis is the result of a conflict between man's inherent powers and those forces which block their development." (from "Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics", 1947)
- "The fear of being alone with ourselves is ... a feeling of embarrassment, bordering sometimes on terror at seeing a person at once so well known and so strange; we are afraid and run away. We thus miss the chance of listening to ourselves, and we continue to ignore our conscience." (from "Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics", 1947)
- "Freedom, the ability to preserve one's integrity against power, is the basic condition for morality." (from "Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics", 1947)
- "The history of thought is the history of an ever-increasing approximation to the truth." (from "Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics", 1947)
- "Man's main task is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is. The most important product of his effort is his own personality." (from "Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics", 1947)
- "Power on the one side, fear on the other, are always the buttresses on which irrational authority is built." (from "Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics", 1947)
- "The prime offense in the authoritarian situation is rebellion against the authority's rule. Thus disobedience becomes the "cardinal sin"; obedience, the cardinal virtue. Obedience implies the recognition of the authority's superior power and wisdom; his right to command, to reward, and to punish according to his own fiats. The authority demands submission not only because of the fear of its power but out of the conviction of its moral superiority and right. The respect due the authority carries with it the taboo on questioning it." (from "Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics", 1947)
- "There is no meaning in life except the meaning man gives his life by the unfolding of his powers, by living productively. ... Only constant vigilance, activity, and effort can keep us from failing in the one task that matters-the full development of our powers within the limitations set by the laws of our existence." (from "Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics", 1947)
- "There is perhaps no phenomenon which contains so much destructive feeling as "moral indignation," which permits envy or hate to be acted out under the guise of virtue. The "indignant" person has for once the satisfaction of despising and treating a creature as "inferior," coupled with the feeling of his own superiority and Tightness." (from "Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics", 1947)
- "To die is poignantly bitter, but the idea of having to die without having lived is unbearable." (from "Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics", 1947)
- "The "adjusted" person who does not live by the truth and who does not love is protected only from manifest conflicts. If he is not engrossed in work, he has to use the many avenues of escape which our culture offers in order to be protected from the frightening experience of being alone with himself and looking into the abyss of his own impotence and human impoverishment." (from "Psychoanalysis and Religion", 1950)
- "Neurotic symptoms are not isolated phenomena which can be dealt with independently from moral problems." (from "Psychoanalysis and Religion", 1950)
- "Once a doctrine, however irrational, has gained power in a society, millions of people will believe in it rather than feel ostracized and isolated." (from "Psychoanalysis and Religion", 1950)
- "Religion [is] any system of thought and action shared by a group which gives the individual a frame of orientation and an object of devotion." (from "Psychoanalysis and Religion", 1950)
- "Whatever complaints the neurotic patient may have, whatever symptoms he may present are rooted in his inability to love, if we mean by love a capacity for the experience of concern, responsibility, respect, and understanding of another person and the intense desire for that other person's growth." (from "Psychoanalysis and Religion", 1950)
- "Words can become idols, and machines can become idols; leaders, the state, power, and political groups may also serve. Science and the opinion of one's neighbors can become idols, and God has become an idol for many." (from "Psychoanalysis and Religion", 1950)
- "The paradoxical fact [is] that we are not only less reasonable and less decent in our dreams but that we are also more intelligent, wiser, and capable of better judgment when we are asleep than when we are awake." (from "The Forgotten Language: An Introduction to the Understanding of Dreams, Fairy Tales and Myths", 1951)
- "Rather than be confronted with an overwhelming proof of the limitations of our understanding, we accuse the dreams of not making sense." (from "The Forgotten Language: An Introduction to the Understanding of Dreams, Fairy Tales and Myths", 1951)
- "The danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that men may become robots." (from "The Sane Society", 1955)
- "In the nineteenth century the problem was that God is dead; in the twentieth century the problem is that man is dead." (from "The Sane Society", 1955)
- "Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one's country which is not part of one's love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship." (from "The Sane Society", 1955)
- "Love is union with somebody, or something, outside oneself, under the condition of retaining die separateness and integrity of one's own self. It is an experience of sharing, of communing, which permits the full unfolding of one's own inner activity." (from "The Sane Society", 1955)
- "Man is the only animal that can be bored." (from "The Sane Society", 1955)
- "Discipline should not be practiced like a rule imposed on oneself from the outside, but that it becomes an expression of one's own will; that it is felt as pleasant, and that one slowly accustoms oneself to a kind of behavior which one would eventually miss, if one stopped practicing it." (from "The Art of Loving", 1956)
- "From one day to another, another nation is made out to be utterly depraved and fiendish, while one's own nation stands for everything that is good and noble. Every action of the enemy is judged by one standard-every action of oneself by another. Even good deeds by the enemy are considered a sign of particular devilishness, meant to deceive us and the world, while our bad deeds are necessary and justified by our noble goals which they serve." (from "The Art of Loving", 1956)
- "If it is a virtue to love my neighbor as a human being, it must be a virtue-and not a vice-to love myself, since I am a human being too." (from "The Art of Loving", 1956)
- "In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two." (from "The Art of Loving", 1956)
- "In mysticism, ... the attempt is given up to know God by thought, and it is replaced by the experience of union with God in which there is no more room-and no need-for knowledge about God." (from "The Art of Loving", 1956)
- "Love, the Answer to the Problem of Human Existence." (from "The Art of Loving", 1956)
- "Selfish persons are incapable of loving others, but they are not capable of loving themselves either." (from "The Art of Loving", 1956)
- "The capacity to be puzzled is ... the premise of all creation, be it in art or in science." (from "The Creative Attitude", 1959)
- "Freud's aim was to found a movement for the ethical liberation of man, a new secular and scientific religion for an elite which was to guide mankind." (from "Sigmund Freud's Mission: An Analysis of His Personality and Influence", 1959)
- "The individual in any given society represses the awareness of those feelings and fantasies which are incompatible with the thought patterns of his society. The force affecting this repression is the fear of being isolated and of becoming an outcast through having thoughts and feelings which nobody [will] share." (from "Sigmund Freud's Mission: An Analysis of His Personality and Influence", 1959)
- "Ideologies are administered by bureaucracies that control their meaning. They develop systems, they decide what is right- and what is wrong-thinking, who is faithful and who is a heretic; in short, the manipulation of ideologies becomes one of the most important means for the control of people through the control of their thoughts." (from "May Man Prevail? An Inquiry into the Facts and Fictions of Foreign Policy", 1961)
- "Paranoid, projective and fanatical political thinking are all truly pathological forms of thought processes, different from pathology in the conventional sense only by the fact that political thoughts are shared by a larger group of people and not restricted to ope or two individuals." (from "May Man Prevail? An Inquiry into the Facts and Fictions of Foreign Policy", 1961)
- "Is there really as much difference as we think between the Aztec human sacrifices to their gods and the modern human sacrifices in war to the idols of nationalism and the sovereign state?" (from "You Shall Be as Gods: A Radical Interpretation of the Old Testament and Its Tradition", 1966)
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