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Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm (March 23, 1900 - March 18, 1980) was an internationally renowned German-American psychologist and humanistic philosopher.



He began his career as an orthodox Freudian clinical psychologist in Berlin, Germany, but he emigrated to the United States on May 25, 1934, arriving in New York on May 31, 1934 and becoming a citizen of the United States on May 25, 1940. Fromm lived and worked in the United States until moving to Cuernavaca, Mexico in 1950 and spending most of the rest of his life working and teaching in Mexico. He moved to Muralto, Switzerland in 1974, and died at his home there five days before his eightieth birthday.

In 1918, Fromm spent two semesters studying jurisprudence at the University of Frankfurt am Main. During the summer semester of 1919, Fromm studied at the University of Heidelberg, where he switched from studying jurisprudence to studying sociology under Alfred Weber (brother of Max Weber), Karl Jaspers, and Heinrich Rickert. Fromm received his Ph.D. in sociology from Heidelberg in 1922, and completed his psychoanalytical 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. 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 .

When Fromm moved to Mexico City in 1950, he became a professor at the National Autonomous University of 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.

Psychological theory

Beginning with his first seminal work, Escape from Freedom (known in Britain as The Fear of Freedom), first published in 1941, Fromm's writings were notable as much for their social and political commentary as for their philosophical and psychological underpinnings. His second seminal work, Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics, first published in 1947, was a continuation of Escape from Freedom. Taken together, these books outlined Fromm's theory of human character, which was a natural outgrowth of Fromm's theory of human nature. Fromm's most popular book was The Art of Loving, an international bestseller first published in 1956, which recapitulated and complemented the theoretical principles of human nature found in Escape from Freedom and Man for Himself, principles which were revisited in many of Fromm's other major works.

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 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 on Foreign Relations.

Major works

  • Escape from Freedom (AKA The Fear of Freedom), 1941
  • Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics, 1947
  • The Sane Society, 1955
  • The Art of Loving, 1956
  • Heart of Man, 1964
  • You Shall Be as Gods, 1966
  • The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, 1973
  • To Have or to Be, 1976

External links

Last updated: 08-23-2005 14:45:51
Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46