Erich fromm 1900 1980 Dr. C. George Boeree Biography



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ERICH FROMM

1900 - 1980

Dr. C. George Boeree

Biography

Erich Fromm 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.

In his autobiography, Beyond the Chains of Illusion, Fromm talks about two

events in his early adolescence that started him along his path. The first

involved a friend of the family's:

Maybe she was 25 years of age; she was beautiful, attractive, and in

addition a painter, the first painter I ever knew. I remember having heard

that she had been engaged but after some time had broken the

engagement; I remember that she was almost invariably in the company

of her widowed father. As I remember him, he was an old, uninteresting,

and rather unattractive man, or so I thought (maybe my judgment was

somewhat biased by jealousy). Then one day I heard the shocking news:

her father had died, and immediately afterwards, she had killed herself

and left a will which stipulated that she wanted to be buried with her

father. (p. 4)

As you can imagine, this news hit the 12 year old Erich hard, and he found

himself asking what many of us might ask: why? Later, he began finding some

answers -- partial ones, admittedly -- in Freud.

The second event was even larger: World War I. At the tender age of 14, he saw

the extremes that nationalism could go to. All around him, he heard the


message: We (Germans, or more precisely, Christian

Germans) are great; They (the English and their allies) are

cheap mercenaries. The hatred, the "war hysteria,"

frightened him, as well it should.

So again he wanted to understand something irrational -- the

irrationality of mass behavior -- and he found some answers, this time in the

writings of Karl Marx.

To finish Fromm's story, he received his PhD from Heidelberg in 1922 and

began a career as a psychotherapist. He moved to the U.S. in 1934 -- a popular

time for leaving Germany! -- and settled in New York City, where he met many

of the other great refugee thinkers that gathered there, including Karen

Horney, with whom he had an affair.

Toward the end of his career, he moved to Mexico City to teach. He had done

considerable research into the relationship between economic class and

personality types there. He died in 1980 in Switzerland.

Theory

As his biography suggests, Fromm's theory is a rather unique blend of Freud

and Marx. Freud, of course, emphasized the unconscious, biological drives,

repression, and so on. In other words, Freud postulated that our characters

were determined by biology. Marx, on the other hand, saw people as

determined by their society, and most especially by their economic systems.

He added to this mix of two deterministic systems something quite foreign to

them: The idea of freedom. He allows people to transcend the determinisms

that Freud and Marx attribute to them. In fact, Fromm makes freedom the

central characteristic of human nature!

There are, Fromm points out, examples where determinism alone operates. A

good example of nearly pure biological determinism, ala Freud, is animals (at

least simple ones). Animals don't worry about freedom -- their instincts take

care of everything. Woodchucks, for example, don't need career counseling to

decide what they are going to be when they grow up: They are going to be

woodchucks!



A good example of socioeconomic determinism, ala Marx, is the traditional

society of the Middle Ages. Just like woodchucks, few people in the Middle Ages

needed career counseling: They had fate, the Great Chain of Being, to tell them

what to do. Basically, if your father was a peasant, you'd be a peasant. If your

father was a king, that's what you'd become. And if you were a woman, well,

there was only one role for women.

Today, we might look at life in the Middle Ages, or life as an animal, and cringe.

But the fact is that the lack of freedom represented by biological or social

determinism is easy. Your life has structure, meaning, there are no doubts, no

cause for soul-searching, you fit in and never suffered an identity crisis.

Historically speaking, this simple, if hard, life began to get shaken up with the

Renaissance. In the Renaissance, people started to see humanity as the center

of the universe, instead of God. In other words, we didn't just look to the church

(and other traditional establishments) for the path we were to take. Then came

the Reformation, which introduced the idea of each of us being individually

responsible for our own soul's salvation. And then came democratic

revolutions such as the American and the French revolutions. Now all of a

sudden we were supposed to govern ourselves! And then came the industrial

revolution, and instead of tilling the soil or making things with our hands, we

had to sell our labor in exchange for money. All of a sudden, we became

employees and consumers! Then came socialist revolutions such as the Russian

and the Chinese, which introduced the idea of participatory economics. You

were no longer responsible only for your own well-being, but for fellow

workers as well!

So, over a mere 500 years, the idea of the individual, with individual thoughts,

feelings, moral conscience, freedom, and responsibility, came into being. but

with individuality came isolation, alienation, and bewilderment. Freedom is a

difficult thing to have, and when we can we tend to flee from it.

Fromm describes three ways in which we escape from freedom:

1. Authoritarianism. We seek to avoid freedom by fusing ourselves with

others, by becoming a part of an authoritarian system like the society of the

Middle Ages. There are two ways to approach this. One is to submit to the

power of others, becoming passive and compliant. The other is to become an

authority yourself, a person who applies structure to others. Either way, you

escape your separate identity.


Fromm referred to the extreme version of authoritarianism as masochism and

sadism, and points out that both feel compelled to play their separate roles, so

that even the sadist, with all his apparent power over the masochist, is not free

to choose his actions. But milder versions of authoritarianism are everywhere.

In many classes, for example, there is an implicit contract between students

and professors: Students demand structure, and the professor sticks to his

notes. It seems innocuous and even natural, but this way the students avoid

taking any responsibility for their learning, and the professor can avoid taking

on the real issues of his field.

2. Destructiveness. Authoritarians respond to a painful existence by, in a

sense, eliminating themselves: If there is no me, how can anything hurt me?

But others respond to pain by striking out against the world: If I destroy the

world, how can it hurt me? It is this escape from freedom that accounts for

much of the indiscriminate nastiness of life -- brutality, vandalism, humiliation,

vandalism, crime, terrorism....

Fromm adds that, if a person's desire to destroy is blocked by circumstances, he

or she may redirect it inward. The most obvious kind of self-destructiveness is,

of course, suicide. But we can also include many illnesses, drug addiction,

alcoholism, even the joys of passive entertainment. He turns Freud's death

instinct upside down: Self-destructiveness is frustrated destructiveness, not the

other way around.

3. Automaton conformity. Authoritarians escape by hiding within an

authoritarian hierarchy. But our society emphasizes equality! There is less

hierarchy to hide in (though plenty remains for anyone who wants it, and some

who don't). When we need to hide, we hide in our mass culture instead. When I

get dressed in the morning, there are so many decisions! But I only need to look

at what you are wearing, and my frustrations disappear. Or I can look at the

television, which, like a horoscope, will tell me quickly and effectively what to

do. If I look like, talk like, think like, feel like... everyone else in my society, then

I disappear into the crowd, and I don't need to acknowledge my freedom or

take responsibility. It is the horizontal counterpart to authoritarianism.

The person who uses automaton conformity is like a social chameleon: He

takes on the coloring of his surroundings. Since he looks like a million other

people, he no longer feels alone. He isn't alone, perhaps, but he's not himself

either. The automaton conformist experiences a split between his genuine



feelings and the colors he shows the world, very much along the lines of

Horney's theory.

In fact, since humanity's "true nature" is freedom, any of these escapes from

freedom alienates us from ourselves. Here's what Fromm had to say:

Man is born as a freak of nature, being within nature and yet

transcending it. He has to find principles of action and decision making

which replace the principles of instincts. he has to have a frame of

orientation which permits him to organize a consistent picture of the

world as a condition for consistent actions. He has to fight not only against

the dangers of dying, starving, and being hurt, but also against another

anger which is specifically human: that of becoming insane. In other

words, he has to protect himself not only against the danger of losing his

life but also against the danger of losing his mind. (Fromm, 1968, p. 61)

I should add here that freedom is in fact a complex idea, and that Fromm is

talking about "true" personal freedom, rather than just political freedom (often

called liberty):  Most of us, whether they are free or not, tend to like the idea of

political freedom, because it means that we can do what we want.  A good

example is the sexual sadist (or masochist) who has a psychological problem

that drives his behavior.  He is not free in the personal sense, but he will

welcome the politically free society that says that what consenting adults do

among themselves is not the state's business!  Another example involves most

of us today:  We may well fight for freedom (of the political sort), and yet when

we have it, we tend to be conformist and often rather irresponsible.  We have

the vote, but we fail to use it!  Fromm is very much for political freedom -- but

he is especially eager that we make use of that freedom and take the

responsibility that goes with it.



Families

Which of the escapes from freedom you tend to use has a great deal to do with

what kind of family you grew up in. Fromm outlines two kinds of unproductive

families.

1. Symbiotic families. Symbiosis is the relationship two organisms have who

cannot live without each other. In a symbiotic family, some members of the

family are "swallowed up" by other members, so that they do not fully develop

personalities of their own. The more obvious example is the case where the



parent "swallows" the child, so that the child's personality is merely a reflection

of the parent's wishes. In many traditional societies, this is the case with many

children, especially girls.

The other example is the case where the child "swallows" the parent. In this

case, the child dominates or manipulates the parent, who exists essentially to

serve the child. If this sounds odd, let me assure you it is common, especially in

traditional societies, especially in the relationship between a boy and his

mother. Within the context of the particular culture, it is even necessary: How

else does a boy learn the art of authority he will need to survive as an adult?

In reality, nearly everyone in a traditional society learns both how to dominate

and how to be submissive, since nearly everyone has someone above them and

below them in the social hierarchy. Obviously, the authoritarian escape from

freedom is built-in to such a society. But note that, for all that it may offend our

modern standards of equality, this is the way people lived for thousands of

years. It is a very stable social system, it allows for a great deal of love and

friendship, and billions of people live in it still.

2. Withdrawing families. In fact, the main alternative is most notable for its

cool indifference, if not cold hatefulness. Although withdrawal as a family style

has always been around, it has come to dominate some societies only in the last

few hundred years, that is, since the bourgeoisie -- the merchant class -- arrive

on the scene in force.

The "cold" version is the older of the two, found in northern Europe and parts

of Asia, and wherever merchants are a formidable class. Parents are very

demanding of their children, who are expected to live up to high, well-defined

standards. Punishment is not a matter of a slap upside the head in full anger

and in the middle of dinner; it is instead a formal affair, a full-fledged ritual,

possibly involving cutting switches and meeting in the woodshed. Punishment

is cold-blooded, done "for your own good." Alternatively, a culture may use

guilt and withdrawal of affection as punishment. Either way, children in these

cultures become rather strongly driven to succeed in whatever their culture

defines as success.

This puritanical style of family encourages the destructive escape from

freedom, which is internalized until circumstances (such as war) allow its

release. I might add that this kind of family more immediately encourages

perfectionism -- living by the rules -- which is also a way of avoiding freedom


that Fromm does not discuss. When the rules are more important than people,

destructiveness is inevitable.

The second withdrawing kind of family is the modern family, found in the most

advanced parts of the world, most notably the USA. Changes in attitudes about

child rearing have lead many people to shudder at the use of physical

punishment and guilt in raising children. The newer idea is to raise your

children as your equals. A father should be a boy's best buddy; a mother should

be a daughter's soul mate. But, in the process of controlling their emotions, the

parents become coolly indifferent. They are, in fact, no longer really parents,

just cohabitants with their children. The children, now without any real adult

guidance, turn to their peers and to the media for their values. This is the

modern, shallow, television family!

The escape from freedom is particularly obvious here: It is automaton

conformity. Although this is still very much a minority family in the world

(except, of course, on TV!), this is the one Fromm worries about the most. It

seems to portent the future.

What makes up a good, healthy, productive family? Fromm suggests it is a

family where parents take the responsibility to teach their children reason in

an atmosphere of love. Growing up in this sort of family, children learn to

acknowledge their freedom and to take responsibility for themselves, and

ultimately for society as a whole.

The social unconscious

But our families mostly just reflect our society and culture. Fromm emphasizes

that we soak up our society with our mother's milk. It is so close to us that we

usually forget that our society is just one of an infinite number of ways of

dealing with the issues of life. We often think that our way of doing things is the

only way, the natural way. We have learned so well that it has all become

unconscious -- the social unconscious, to be precise. So, many times we believe

that we are acting according to our own free will, but we are only following

orders we are so used to we no longer notice them.

Fromm believes that our social unconscious is best understood by examining

our economic systems. In fact, he defines, and even names, five personality

types, which he calls orientations, in economic terms!  If you like, you can take



a personality test made up of lists of adjectives Fromm used to describe his

orientations.  

Click here to see it!

1. The receptive orientation. These are people who expect to get what they

need. if they don't get it immediately, they wait for it. They believe that all

goods and satisfactions come from outside themselves. This type is most

common among peasant populations. It is also found in cultures that have

particularly abundant natural resources, so that one need not work hard for

one's sustenance (although nature may also suddenly withdraw its bounty!). it

is also found at the very bottom of any society: Slaves, serfs, welfare families,

migrant workers... all are at the mercy of others.

This orientation is associated with symbiotic families, especially where

children are "swallowed" by parents, and with the masochistic (passive) form

of authoritarianism. It is similar to Freud's oral passive, Adler's leaning-getting,

and Horney's compliant personality. In its extreme form, it can be

characterized by adjectives such as submissive and wishful. In a more

moderate form, adjectives such as accepting and optimistic are more

descriptive.

2. The exploitative orientation. These people expect to have to take what they

need. In fact, things increase in value to the extent that they are taken from

others: Wealth is preferably stolen, ideas plagiarized, love achieved by

coercion. This type is prevalent among history's aristocracies, and in the upper

classes of colonial empires. Think of the English in India for example: Their

position was based entirely on their power to take from the indigenous

population. Among their characteristic qualities is the ability to be comfortable

ordering others around! We can also see it in pastoral barbarians and

populations who rely on raiding (such as the Vikings).

The exploitative orientation is associated with the "swallowing" side of the

symbiotic family, and with the masochistic style of authoritarianism. They are

Freud's oral aggressive, Adler's ruling-dominant, and Horney's aggressive

types. In extremes, they are aggressive, conceited, and seducing. Mixed with

healthier qualities, they are assertive, proud, captivating.

3. The hoarding orientation. hoarding people expect to keep. They see the

world as possessions and potential possessions. Even loved ones are things to

possess, to keep, or to buy. Fromm, drawing on Karl Marx, relates this type to

the bourgeoisie, the merchant middle class, as well as richer peasants and



crafts people. He associates it particularly with the Protestant work ethic and

such groups as our own Puritans.

Hoarding is associated with the cold form of withdrawing family, and with

destructiveness. I might add that there is a clear connection with perfectionism

as well. Freud would call it the anal retentive type, Adler (to some extent) the

avoiding type, and Horney (a little more clearly) the withdrawing type. In its

pure form, it means you are stubborn, stingy, and unimaginative. If you are a

milder version of hoarding, you might be steadfast, economical, and practical.

4. The marketing orientation. The marketing orientation expects to sell.

Success is a matter of how well I can sell myself, package myself, advertise

myself. My family, my schooling, my jobs, my clothes -- all are an

advertisement, and must be "right." Even love is thought of as a transaction.

Only the marketing orientation thinks up the marriage contract, wherein we

agree that I shall provide such and such, and you in return shall provide this

and that. If one of us fails to hold up our end of the arrangement, the marriage

is null and void -- no hard feelings (perhaps we can still be best of friends!)

This, according to Fromm, is the orientation of the modern industrial society.

This is our orientation!

This modern type comes out of the cool withdrawing family, and tend to use

automaton conformity as its escape from freedom. Adler and Horney don't

have an equivalent, but Freud might: This is at least half of the vague phallic

personality, the type that lives life as flirtation. In extreme, the marketing

person is opportunistic, childish, tactless. Less extreme, and he or she is

purposeful, youthful, social. Notice today's values as expressed to us by our

mass media: Fashion, fitness, eternal youth, adventure, daring, novelty,

sexuality... these are the concerns of the "yuppie," and his or her less-wealthy

admirers. The surface is everything! Let's go bungee-jumping!

5. The productive orientation. There is a healthy personality as well, which

Fromm occasionally refers to as the person without a mask. This is the person

who, without disavowing his or her biological and social nature, nevertheless

does not shirk away from freedom and responsibility. This person comes out of

a family that loves without overwhelming the individual, that prefers reason to

rules, and freedom to conformity.

The society that gives rise to the productive type (on more than a chance basis)

doesn't exist yet, according to Fromm. He does, of course, have some ideas


about what it will be like. He calls it humanistic communitarian socialism.

That's quite a mouthful, and made up of words that aren't exactly popular in

the USA, but let me explain: Humanistic means oriented towards human

beings, and not towards some higher entity -- not the all-powerful State nor

someone's conception of God. Communitarian means composed of small

communities (Gemeinschaften, in German), as opposed to big government or

corporations. Socialism means everyone is responsible for the welfare of

everyone else. Thus understood, it's hard to argue with Fromm's idealism!

Fromm says that the first four orientations (which others might call neurotic)

are living in the having mode. They focus on consuming, obtaining,

possessing.... They are defined by what they have. Fromm says that "I have it"

tends to become "it has me," and we become driven by our possessions! The

productive orientation , on the other hand, lives in the being mode. What you

are is defined by your actions in this world. You live without a mask,

experiencing life, relating to people, being yourself.

He says that most people, being so used to the having mode, use the word have

to describe their problems: "Doctor, I have a problem: I have insomnia.

Although I have a beautiful home, wonderful children, and a happy marriage, I

have many worries." He is looking to the therapist to remove the bad things,

and let him keep the good ones, a little like asking a surgeon to take out your

gall bladder. What you should be saying is more like "I am troubled. I am

happily married, yet I cannot sleep...." By saying you have a problem, you are

avoiding facing the fact that you are the problem -- i.e. you avoid, once again,

taking responsibility for your life.



Orientation Society

Family

Escape from Freedom

Receptive

Peasant society

Symbiotic

(passive)

Authoritarian (masochistic)

Exploitative

Aristocratic

society

Symbiotic



(active)

Authoritarian (sadistic)

Hoarding

Bourgeois

society

Withdrawing



(puritanical)

Perfectionist to destructive

Marketing

Modern society

Withdrawing

(infantile)

Automaton conformist

Productive Humanistic

communitarian 

socialism

Loving and

reasoning

Freedom and responsibility

acknowledged and accepted



socialism

Evil

Fromm was always interested in trying to understand the really evil people of

this world -- not just one's who were confused or mislead or stupid or sick, but

the one's who, with full consciousness of the evil of their acts, performed them

anyway: Hitler, Stalin, Charles Manson, Jim Jones, and so on, large and small.

All the orientations we've talked about, productive and non-productive, in the

having mode or the being mode, have one thing in common: They are all

efforts at life. Like Horney, Fromm believed that even the most miserable

neurotic is at the least trying to cope with life. They are, to use his word,

biophilous, life-loving.

But there is another type of person he calls necrophilous -- the lovers of death.

They have the passionate attraction to all that is dead, decayed, putrid, sickly; it

is the passion to transform that which is alive into something unalive; to

destroy for the sake of destruction; the exclusive interest in all that is purely

mechanical. It is the passion "to tear apart living structures."

If you think back to high school, you may remember a few misfits: They were

real horror movie aficionados. They may have made models of torture devices

and guillotines. They loved to play war games. They liked to blow things up

with their chemistry sets. They got a kick out of torturing small animals. They

treasured their guns. They were really into mechanical devices. The more

sophisticated the technology, the happier they were. Beavis and Butthead are

modeled after these kids.

I remember watching an interview on TV once, back during the little war in

Nicaragua. There were plenty of American mercenaries among the Contras,

and one in particular had caught the reporters eye. He was a munitions expert -

- someone who blew up bridges, buildings, and, of course, the occasional

enemy soldier. When asked how he got into this line of work, he smiled and

told the reporter that he might not like the story. You see, when he was a kid, he

liked to put firecrackers up the backside of little birds he had caught, light the

fuses, let them go, and watch them blow up. This man was a necrophiliac.

Fromm makes a few guesses as to how such a person happens. He suggested

that there may be some genetic flaw that prevents them from feeling or

responding to affection. It may also be a matter of a life so full of frustration



that the person spends the rest of their life in a rage. And finally, he suggests

that it may be a matter of growing up with a necrophilous mother, so that the

child has no one to learn love from. It is very possible that some combination of

these factors is at work. And yet there is still the idea that these people know

what they are doing, are conscious of their evil, and choose it. It is a subject

that would bear more study! 

 

Biophilous

Necrophilous

Having

Mode

Receptive 

Exploitative

Hoarding 

Marketing

Being

Mode

Productive



Human Needs

Erich Fromm, like many others, believed that we have needs that go far beyond

the basic, physiological ones that some people, like Freud and many

behaviorists, think explain all of our behavior.  He calls these human needs, in

contrast to the more basic animal needs.  And he suggests that the human

needs can be expressed in one simple statement:  The human being needs to



find an answer to his existence.

Fromm says that helping us to answer this question is perhaps the major

purpose of culture.  In a way, he says, all cultures are like religions, trying to

explain the meaning of life.  Some, of course, do so better than others.

A more negative way of expressing this need is to say that we need to avoid

insanity, and he defines neurosis as an effort to satisfy the need for answers

that doesn't work for us.  He says that every neurosis is a sort of private

religion, one we turn to when our culture no longer satisfies.

He lists five human needs:



1. Relatedness

As human beings, we are aware of our separateness from each other, and seek

to overcome it.  Fromm calls this our need for relatedness, and views it as love

in the broadest sense.  Love, he says, "is union with somebody, or something,

outside oneself, under the condition of retaining the separateness and integrity

of one's own self." (p 37 of The Sane Society).  It allows us to transcend our

separateness without denying us our uniqueness.

The need is so powerful that sometimes we seek it in unhealthy ways.  For

example, some seek to eliminate their isolation by submitting themselves to

another person, to a group, or to their conception of a God.  Others look to

eliminate their isolation by dominating others.  Either way, these are not

satisfying:  Your separateness is not overcome.

Another way some attempt to overcome this need is by denying it.  The

opposite of relatedness is what Fromm calls narcissism.  Narcissism -- the love

of self -- is natural in infants, in that they don't perceive themselves as separate

from the world and others to begin with.  But in adults, it is a source of

pathology.  Like the schizophrenic, the narcissist has only one reality:  the

world of his own thoughts, feelings, and needs.  His world becomes what he

wants it to be, and he loses contact with reality.



2. Creativity

Fromm believes that we all desire to overcome, to transcend, another fact of

our being:  Our sense of being passive creatures.  We want to be creators. 

There are many ways to be creative: We give birth, we plant seeds, we make

pots, we paint pictures, we write books, we love each other.  Creativity is, in

fact, an expression of love

Unfortunately, some don't find an avenue for creativity.  Frustrated, they

attempt to transcend their passivity by becoming destroyers instead. 

Destroying puts me "above" the things -- or people -- I destroy.  It makes me feel

powerful.  We can hate as well as love.  But in the end, it fails to bring us that

sense of transcendence we need.

3. Rootedness

We also need roots.  We need to feel at home in the universe, even though, as



human beings, we are somewhat alienated from the natural world.

The simplest version is to maintain our ties to our mothers.  But to grow up

means we have to leave the warmth of our mothers' love.  To stay would be

what Fromm calls a kind of psychological incest.  In order to manage in the

difficult world of adulthood, we need to find new, boader roots.  We need to

discover our brotherhood (and sisterhood) with humanity.

This, too has its pathological side:  For example, the schhizophrenic tries to

retreat into a womb-like existence, one where, you might say, the umbilical

cord has never been cut.  There is also the neurotic who is afraid to leave his

home, even to get the mail.  And there's the fanatic who sees his tribe, his

country, his church... as the only good one, the only real one.  Everyone else is a

dangerous outsider, to be avoided or even destroyed.



4.  A sense of identity

"Man may be defined as the animal that can say 'I.'" (p 62 of The Sane Society) 

Fromm believes that we need to have a sense of identity, of individuality, in

order to stay sane.

This need is so powerful that we are sometimes driven to find it, for example

by doing anything for signs of status, or by trying desperately to conform.  We

sometimes will even give up our lives in order to remain a part of our group. 

But this is only pretend identity, an identity we take from others, instead of one

we develop ourselves, and it fails to satisfy our need.

5. A frame of orientation

Finally, we need to understand the world and our place in it.  Again, our society

-- and especially the religious aspects of our culture -- often attempts to provide

us with this understanding.  Things like our myths, our philosophies, and our

sciences provide us with structure.

Fromm says this is really two needs:  First, we need a frame of orientation --

almost anything will do.  Even a bad one is better than none!  And so people are

generally quite gullible.  We want to believe, sometimes even desperately.  If we

don't have an explanation handy, we will make one up, via rationalization.


The second aspect is that we want to have a good frame of orientation, one that

is useful, accurate.  This is where reason comes in.  It is nice that our parents

and others provide us with explanations for the world and our lives, but if they

don't hold up, what good are they?  A frame of orientation needs to be rational.

Fromm adds one more thing:  He says we don't just want a cold philosophy or

material science.  We want a frame of orientation that provides us with

meaning.  We want understanding, but we want a warm, human

understanding.



Discussion

Fromm, in some ways, is a transition figure or, if you prefer, a theorist that

brings other theories together. Most significantly for us, he draws together the

Freudian and neo-Freudian theories we have been talking about (especially

Adler's and Horney's) and the humanistic theories we will discuss later.  He is,

in fact, so close to being an existentialist that it almost doesn't matter! I believe

interest in his ideas will rise as the fortune of existential psychology does.

Another aspect of his theory is fairly unique to him: his interest in the

economic and cultural roots of personality. No one before or since has put it so

directly: Your personality is to a considerable extent a reflection of such issues

as social class, minority status, education, vocation, religious and philosophical

background, and so forth. This has been a very under-represented view,

perhaps because of its association with Marxism. But it is, I think, inevitable

that we begin to consider it more and more, especially as a counterbalance to

the increasing influence of biological theories.

References

Fromm is an excellent and exciting writer.  You can find the basics of his theory

in Escape from Freedom (1941) and Man for Himself (1947).  His interesting

treatise on love in the modern world is called The Art of Loving (1956).  My

favorite of his books is The Sane Society (1955), which perhaps should have

been called "the insane society" because most of it is devoted to demonstrating

how crazy our world is right now, and how that leads to our psychological

difficulties.  He has also written "the" book on aggression, The Anatomy of



Human Destructiveness (1973), which includes his ideas on necrophilia. He

has written many other great books, including ones on Christianity, Marxism,



and Zen Buddhism!

Copyright 1997, 2006  C. George Boeree

 

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