Fromm was an internationally renowned German-American psychologist
and humanistic philosopher.
Fromm started his studies in 1918 at the University of Frankfurt
am Main with two semesters of jurisprudence. 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.
that same year, he began his own clinical practice and joined
the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research. After the Nazi takeover
of power in Germany, Fromm moved to Geneva, 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.
Fromm moved to Mexico City in 1950, he became a professor at the
UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico) and established
a psychoanalytic section at the medical school there. He taught
at the UNAM 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. In 1974 he moved to Muralto, Switzerland, and died
at his home in 1980, five days before his eightieth birthday.
All the while, Fromm maintained his own clinical practice and
published a series of books.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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 sex and reason. However, Fromm so distinguished his
concept of love from popular notions of love that his reference
to this concept was virtually paradoxical.
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.
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.
ideas and activities
The culmination of Fromm's social and political philosophy was
his book The Sane Society, published in 1955, which argued in
favor of humanist, democratic socialism. Building primarily upon
the early works of Karl Marx, Fromm sought to re-emphasise the
ideal of personal freedom, missing from most Soviet Marxism, and
more frequently found in the writings of libertarian socialists
and liberal theoreticians. Fromm's 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.
became one of the founders of the Socialist Humanism, promoting
the early Marx's writings and his humanist massages to the US
and Western European publics. Thus, in the early 1960s, From has
published two books dealing with the Marx thought (Marx's Concept
of Man and Beyond the Chains of Illusion: my Encounter with Marx
and Freud). Working to stimulate the Western and Eastern cooperation
between Marxist Humanists, in 1965 Fromm has published the collection
of articles entitled Socialist Humanism: An International Symposium.
a period Fromm was also active in US politics. He joined the Socialist
Party of America in the middle 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 US involvement in the Vietnam war.
supporting the 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.