Fromm, Erich

views updated May 23 2018

Fromm, Erich 1900-1980


Born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1900, Erich Fromm was affiliated with the Institute for Social Research, later known as the Frankfurt school, from 1928 to 1938. Trained in psychoanalysis, Fromm combined Freudian psychology with Marxian social theory. In his early essays he indicates the common dialectical and materialist elements in Marx and Freud and applies his Marxian social psychology to interpret such phenomena as religion, the sadomasochistic roots of the authoritarian personality, and the dominant bourgeois character types.

Forced to flee from Nazi Germany in 1933, Fromm settled in the United States and lectured at the New School of Social Research, Columbia University, Yale University, and Bennington College. In the late 1930s Fromm broke with the Institute of Social Research, and with Escape from Freedom (1941) he began publishing a series of books that won him a large audience in the United States and eventually throughout the world.

Escape from Freedom argued that alienation from soil and community in the transition from feudalism to capitalism increased insecurity and fear. Documenting some of the strains and crises of individualism, Fromm attempted to explain how alienated individuals seek gratification and security from social orders such as fascism. Protestantism, with its emphasis on individual salvation and damnation, increased individuals fears and made them susceptible, he argued, to manipulation by social forces. Moreover, capitalism, with its emphasis on individual gain and harsh market competition, which mediated success and failure, also contributed to feelings of insecurity. Migrations from country to towns and factories, central to industrial modernity, created a new urban civilization that increased individuals feelings of rootlessness and alienation.

In the late 1930s Fromm broke with the Frankfurt school, in part over his interpretation of Freud and in part over personality conflicts with key members such as Theodor Adorno (19031969) and Herbert Marcuse (18981979). Henceforth, Fromm went his own way, often appearing as a prophet in the desert of American affluence and consumerism as he attacked the marketing orientation, the bourgeois proclivity to privilege having over being, and indeed the entire American system of institutions and values.

His postWorld War II books, Man for Himself (1947) and The Sane Society (1955), applied Fromms Freudian-Marxian perspectives to sharp critiques of contemporary capitalism. Fromm popularized the neo-Marxian critiques of the media and consumer society, and promoted democratic socialist perspectives during an era when social repression made it difficult and dangerous to advocate radical positions. Although his social critique was similar in many ways to that of his former colleague Marcuse, the two thinkers engaged in sharp polemics from the mid-1950s into the 1970s. Marcuse began the polemic by attacking Fromm as a neo-Freudian revisionist (Marcuse 1955, p. 238), and Fromm retaliated by calling Marcuse a nihilist and utopian (Fromm 1970, p. 62). Marcuse claimed that Fromms emphasis on the productive character simply reproduced the productivism intrinsic to capitalism, and that his celebration of the values of love, in books such as The Art of Loving (1957), and religion simply reproduced dominant idealist ideologies (Marcuse 1955, p. 258).

Fromm was a prolific writer up until his death in 1980, publishing a series of books promoting and developing Marxian and Freudian ideas. He was also politically active, helping to organize the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy in 1957 and engaging in early ban the bomb campaigns, as well as participating in the U.S. antiwar movement of the 1960s. Fromm continued to argue for a humanistic and democratic socialist position, and claimed that such elements were intrinsic in Marxism. His many books and articles had some influence on the New Left and continue to be read and discussed today.



Fromm, Erich. 1941. Escape from Freedom. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Fromm, Erich. 1947. Man for Himself. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Fromm, Erich. 1955. The Sane Society. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Fromm, Erich. 1956. The Art of Loving. New York: Bantam Books.

Fromm, Erich. 1970. The Crisis of Psychoanalysis. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Premier Books.


Burston, Daniel. 1991. The Legacy of Erich Fromm. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Funk, Rainer. 1982. Erich Fromm: The Courage to Be Human. New York: Continuum.

Marcuse, Herbert. 1955. Eros and Civilization. Boston: Beacon Press.

Douglas Kellner

Fromm, Erich (1900-1980)

views updated May 18 2018

FROMM, ERICH (1900-1980)

Erich Fromm, a German psychoanalyst and sociologist, was born on March 23, 1900, in Frankfurt, Germany, and died on March 18, 1980, in Locarno, Switzerland. He grew up in a Jewish family in Germany. From age eighteen to twenty-two he attended the University of Heidelberg, where he studied sociology, receiving his doctorate under the supervision of Alfred Weber. He wrote his thesis on Talmudic law in three separate Jewish communities. In 1924 he met Frieda Reichmann, who became his first analyst and later his wife. At the time she was running a small sanatorium in Frankfurt. Fromm had two other analysts before he moved to Berlin, where in 1927 he was analyzed by the Viennese Hanns Sachs.

From the 1930s, after about ten years of being a traditional Freudian, Fromm began to look critically at the central moral and philosophical bases of Freud's writings. As a Marxist, Fromm was shrewd in spotting the middle-class, liberal assumptions Freud had taken for granted. As a psychologist, Fromm's special theoretical contribution was an understanding of the social forces that stabilize or undermine the political community. In Escape from Freedom (1941), a landmark in modern social science, Fromm enunciated the important concept of "social character" in building theoretical bridges between the study of the individual and the study of society. He was fascinated with the problem of social change and how sociological issues can be understood in the light of depth psychology. He also wanted to examine people in their social milieus. Fromm had his predecessors within psychoanalysis, the most notable perhaps being Wilhelm Reich, who also tried to synthesize Marxist and Freudian principles. Fromm has his detractors: not only strict psychoanalysts but also Marxist hardliners, who have been determined to dismiss Fromm as a so-called social democrat.

After Fromm fled from Nazi Germany in 1933, he moved to the United States, where he was soon in contact with a whole new school of analysts, anthropologists, and sociologists that became known as the neo-Freudian movement. This group included analysts like Harry Stack Sullivan, Karen Horney, Abram Kardiner, and Clara Thompson, as well as academics such as Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and Ralph Linton. Fromm found that he had been quietly dropped as a direct member of the International Psychoanalytical Association. Despite this setback, he was made clinical director of the William Alanson White Institute in New York City, which focuses on training psychoanalysts, and served from 1946 until 1950.

In 1949 Fromm moved for much of the year to Mexico for his second wife's health. There he founded the Mexican Institute of Psychoanalysis, where his ideas are still being taught in a clinical context as of 2005. He also continued to write in his isolated retreat near Mexico City. Especially in Germany, where the International Erich Fromm Society is headquartered, but also in Italy and elsewhere, Fromm's clinical concepts are still being extended.

Millions of people around the world read Fromm's works, but it has usually been his social philosophy that catches the public's attention. Works like The Sane Society (1955) represent a serious indictment of modern capitalist culture. Man for Himself (1947) was an early popular effort to extract a humanitarian core from analytic teachings. The Art of Loving (1956) is perhaps Fromm's best-selling book. The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973) showed the comprehensive nature of Fromm's system of thought. To Have or to Be? (1976) was a widely read restatement of his attempt to connect humanistic Marxism with analysis. More technical works like The Forgotten Language (1951) and Psychoanalysis and Religion (1950) are of direct clinical relevance, even though they are no longer studied at most professional training centers.

Fromm was one of the first and boldest to challenge the ideological underpinnings of Ernest Jones's quasi-official three-volume life of Freud. In Sigmund Freud's Mission (1959) he gave a path-breaking response to the orthodox version of Freud's career and its controversies. For example, he asked some serious questions about Freud's relationship with his mothera subject that has not received adequate attention in the literature. Fromm also discredited Jones's account of the supposed mental deterioration of both Sándor Ferenczi and Otto Rank.

Fromm, one of the most conceptually clear-cut thinkers in the tradition of dissenting analysts, claimed to be truer to the intellectually radical implications of the spirit of Freud's thought than the organized following generally supposed to be Freud's heirs. One cannot correct some central problems where Freud could be mistaken by piously fixing translations or re-editing Freud's writings. By pointing out some of these central problems, Fromm ranks as an important critic of Freud's. Part of Fromm's strength came from a deep identification with Freud as a warrior of the spirit; to be genuinely like Freud meant also to be independent-minded. Fromm proved fearless in expressing his analytic convictions, even though the orthodox-minded to reacted to him by branding him as a dissenting voice.

Paul Roazen

See also: Germany; Horney-Danielson, Karen; International Federation of Psychoanalytic Societies; Marxism and psychoanalysis; Mexico; United States; Politics and psychoanalysis; Sigmund Freud Institut.


Burston, Daniel. (1991). The legacy of Erich Fromm. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Fromm, Erich. (1941). Escape from freedom. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

. (1947). Man for himself. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Premier Books.

. (1950). Psychoanalysis and religion. New Haven: Yale University Press.

. (1951). The forgotten language: An introduction to the understanding of dreams, fairy tales, and myths. New York: Rinehart.

. (1955). The sane society. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Premier Books.

. (1956). The art of loving. New York: Harper.

. (1959). Sigmund Freud's mission: An analysis of his personality and influence. New York: Harper.

. (1973). The anatomy of human destructiveness. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

. (1976). To have or to be? New York: Harper and Row.

Funk, Rainer. (1982). Erich Fromm: The courage to be human (Michael Shaw, Trans.). New York: Continuum.

Erich Fromm

views updated May 18 2018

Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm (1900-1980) achieved international fame for his writings and lectures in the fields of psychoanalysis, psychology, and social philosophy. He wrote extensively on a variety of topics ranging from sociology, anthropology, and ethics to religion, politics, and mythology.

Erich Fromm was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on March 23, 1900, and died in Muralto, Switzerland, on March 18, 1980. He grew up in a devout Jewish family, but abandoned religious orthodoxy early in life when he became convinced that religion was a source of division of the human race. His academic career was impressive. He studied at the Universities of Frankfurt and Munich and received his Ph.D. from the University of Heidelberg. Later, he obtained psychoanalytic training at the prestigious Psychoanalytic Institute of Berlin under the leadership of such prominent Freudian analysts as Hanns Sachs and Theodor Reik. After pursuing a brief career as a psychoanalyst he left Nazi Germany in 1934 and settled permanently in the United States. Fromm taught in various universities such as Bennington College, Columbia, Yale, New School for Social Research, Michigan State, and the Universidad Autónoma de México. In 1962 he became professor of psychiatry at New York University.

Fromm wrote more than 20 books. Some of them became popular bestsellers: Escape from Freedom (1942); Man for Himself (1947); Psychoanalysis and Religion (1950); The Forgotten Language (1951); The Sane Society (1955); The Art of Loving (1956); Marx's Concept of Man (1961); Beyond the Chains of Illusion: My Encounter with Marx and Freud (1962); The Dogma of Christ, and Other Essays on Religion, Psychology and Culture (1963); Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis (1960); The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (1963); The Heart of Man (1964); Social Character in a Mexican Village (1970); The Revolution of Hope (1968); The Crisis of Psychoanalysis (1970); and The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973).

A sincere and profound humanism permeates all of Fromm's writings. He was genuinely concerned with the reality of human existence and the full unfolding of man's potentialities. He searched for the essence of man, the meaning of life, and the nature of individual alienation in the modern technological world. Deeply moved by the destruction and the suffering caused by two world wars, Fromm wrote extensively on the threats of technology and the insanity of the arms race. Faith in the future of man and the unity of humanity was the base of his humanistic vision.

Freud and Marx were the most decisive influences on Fromm's thinking. Originally Freudian in his intellectual orientation and clinical practice, he gradually grew more distant from Freudian therapeutic principles and later became a major critic of Freud. Along with Karen Horney, Harry Sullivan, and Karl Jung, Fromm was considered a Freudian revisionist and the founder of the neo-Freudian school. He rejected Freud's libido theory, the Oedipus complex, and the instincts of life and death as universally constant in the human species. Instead, he insisted on cultural variations and the influence of the larger context of history and social conditions upon the character of the individual. The concept of the unconscious and the dynamic conception of character were considered to be Freud's major achievements. The task of analytical social psychology, Fromm wrote, is that of understanding unconscious human behavior as the effect of the socio-economic structure of society on basic human psychic drives. Likewise, the character of the individual is rooted in the libidinal structure of society, understood as a combination of basic human drives and social forces. In the last analysis, Fromm rejected Freudian theory as authoritarian, repressive, and culturally narrow, enabling the individual to overcome the conflict between society and personal gratification and accept bourgeois norms.

In contrast, Fromm's admiration for Marx was complete. He considered Marx a sincere humanist who sought an end to human alienation and the full development of the individual as the precondition for the full development of society (Marx's Concept of Man). Marx's emphasis on the socio-economic base of society as a major determinant of human behavior was accepted as a given by Fromm. Marxism, though, needed to be completed by a dynamic and critical psychology—that is, a psychology which explained the evolution of psychic forces in terms of an interaction between man's needs and the socio-historical reality in which he lives (The Crisis of Psychoanalysis). Fromm never renounced his project of merging psycho-analysis and Marxism. This was his major work as a member of the Frankfurt School (The Institute for Social Research), a school committed to Critical Theory, a critique of the repressive character of bourgeois society. Psychological theory, he wrote, can demonstrate that the economic base of a society produces the social character, and that the social character produces ideas and ideologies which fit it and are nourished by it. Ideas, once created, also influence the social character and, indirectly, the socio-economic structure of society (Socialist Humanism).

In his popular book Escape from Freedom Fromm analyzed the existential condition of man. The source of man's aggressiveness, the human instinct of destructiveness, neurosis, sadism, and masochism were not viewed as sexually derived behavior, but as attempts to overcome alienation and powerlessness. His notion of freedom, in contrast to Freud and the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School, had a more positive connotation. It was not a matter of attaining "freedom from" the repressive character of the technological society, as Herbert Marcuse, for instance, held, but "freedom to" develop the creative powers of man. In Man for Himself Fromm focussed on the problem of neurosis, characterizing it as the moral problem of a repressive society, as the failure of man to achieve maturity and an integrated personality. Man's capacity for freedom and love, he noted, are dependent upon socio-economic conditions, but are rarely found in societies where the drive of destructiveness prevails.

In the Sane Society he attempted to psychologize society and culture and showed that psychoanalytic principles can be successfully applied to the solution of social and cultural problems. In a society becoming increasingly insane, he wrote, only a concern for ethics can restore sanity. Each person needs to develop high ethical standards in order to rejuvenate society and to arrest the process of robotization of the human being. Technological domination is destructive of human personality. Man's need to destroy, for Fromm, stemmed from an "unlived life," that is, the frustration of the life instinct. Love becomes the only answer to human problems (The Art of Loving). He advocated a "socialist humanism" which in theory and practice is committed to the full development of man within the context of a socio-economic system that, by its rationality and abundance, harmonizes the development of the individual and society (Socialist Humanism).

In contrast to the pessimistic and deterministic conclusions of Freudian theory and the nihilistic implications of Critical Theory, Fromm functioned as a voice of conscience. He maintained that true happiness could be achieved and that a happiness-oriented therapy, through empathy, was the most successful one. He severely criticized established psychoanalysis for contributing to the dehumanization of man (The Crisis of Psychoanalysis). Also, consistent with his philosophy of love and peace, Fromm fought against nuclear weapons and helped organize a "sane society" movement to stop the insanity of the arms race.

His influence on humanistic psychology was enormous. Many later social analysts were inspired by Fromm's writings. An example would be the work of Christopher Lasch on the Culture of Narcissism, which continued in the United States Fromm's effort to psychoanalyze culture and society in a neo-Freudian and Marxist tradition.

Further Reading

Fromm is listed in most social science encyclopedias. For a general summary of his work, a more complete intellectual biography, and a critical assessment of his theories see: Jay Martin, The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School (1973); Don Hausdorff, Erich Fromm (1972); B. Landis and E. Tauber (editors), In the Name of Life: Essays in Honor of Erich Fromm (1979) and "Erich Fromm: Clinician and Social Philosopher," in Contemporary Psychoanalysis (1979); and Richard Evans, Dialogue with Erich Fromm (1966).

Numerous dissertations have been written on Fromm. See J. Zimmerman, "Transcendent Psychology: Eric H. Erikson, Erich Fromm, Karen Horney, A. Maslow and Harry S. Sullivan and the Quest for a Healthy Humanity," Dissertation Abstracts International (1982); S. J. Dembo, "Synthesis of Liberation: Marx-Freud and the New Left, An Examination of the Work of W. Reich, E. Fromm and H. Marcuse," Ph.D. Dissertation, Rutgers University (1975); and C. E. Daly, "The Epistemology and Ethical Theory of Erich Fromm as the Basis for a Theory of Moral Education," Ph.D. Dissertation, New York University (1977).

Additional Sources

Evans, Richard I. (Richard Isadore), Dialogue with Erich Fromm, New York, N.Y.: Praeger, 1981, 1966.

Knapp, Gerhard Peter, The art of living: Erich Fromm's life and works, New York: P. Lang, 1989. □

Fromm, Erich

views updated May 21 2018

Erich Fromm

German-born American psychoanalyst, social philosopher, and scholar whose writings have attracted the interest of a large general audience.

Erich Fromm was born in Frankfurt, Germany, and studied sociology and psychology at the universities of Frankfurt and Heidelberg, where he received his Ph.D. in 1922. Fromm was trained in psychoanalysis at the University of Munich and at the Psychoanalytic Institute of Berlin. In 1925, he began his practice and was associated with the influential Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt. Although Fromm began his professional career as a disciple of Sigmund Freud , he soon began to differ with the Freudian emphasis on unconscious drives and neglect of the effects of social and economic forces on personality . The theories he developed integrate psychology with cultural analysis and Marxist historical materialism. Fromm argued that each socioeconomic class fosters a particular character, governed by ideas that justify and maintain it and that the ultimate purpose of social character is to orient the individual toward those tasks that will assure the perpetuation of the socioeconomic system.

Fromm consistently advocated the primacy of personal relationships and devotion to the common good over subservience to a mechanistic superstate in his work. He believed that humanity had a dual relationship with nature, which they belong to but also transcend. According to Fromm, the unique character of human existence gives rise to five basic needs. First, human beings, having lost their original oneness with nature, need relatedness in order to overcome their essential isolation. They also need to transcend their own nature, as well as the passivity and randomness of existence, which can be accomplished either positivelyby loving and creatingor

negatively, through hatred and destruction. The individual also requires a sense of rootedness, or belonging, in order to gain a feeling of security, and needs a sense of identity as well. The remaining need is for orientation, or a means of facing one's existential situation by finding meaning and value in existence. Orientation can be achieved either through assimilation (relating to things) or socialization (relating to people).

Fromm identified several character orientations found in Western society. The receptive character can only take and not give; the hoarding character, threatened by the outside world, can not share; the exploitative character satisfies desires through force and deviousness; and the marketing character created by the impersonal nature of modern societysees itself as a cog in a machine, or as a commodity to be bought or sold. Contrasting with these negative orientations is the productive character, capable of loving and realizing its full potential, and devoted to the common good of humanity. Fromm later described two additional character types: the necrophilouscharacter, attracted to death, and the biophilous character, drawn to life.

Fromm emigrated to the United States in 1934, following the rise of Nazism in Germany. In America, Fromm became increasingly controversial in orthodox Freudian circles. He served on the faculties of, and lectured at, several universities in the United States, including Columbia University and Yale University, and in Mexico. In 1941, Fromm wrote Escape from Freedom, an analysis of totalitarianism that would become a classic in political philosophy and intellectual history as well as in psychology. According to Fromm, the "escape" from freedom experienced upon reaching adulthood and gaining independence from one's parents leads to a profound sense of loneliness and isolation, which the individual attempts to escape by establishing some type of bond with society. In Fromm's view, totalitarianism offered the individual a refuge from individual isolation through social conformity and submission to authority. Among his other important books in the areas of psychology, ethics , religion, and history are Man for Himself (1947), Psychoanalysis and Religion (1950), The Forgotten Language (1951), The Sane Society (1955), The Art of Loving (1956), Beyond the Chains of Illusion (1962), The Heart of Man (1964), You Shall Be As Gods (1966), The Revolution of Hope (1968), Social Character in a Mexican Village (1970), The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973), and To Have or To Be (1976).

Fromm's work has had a deep and lasting influence on Western thought. One central thesis that appears in much of his writing is that alienation is the most serious and fundamental problem of Western civilization. In his view, Western culture must be transformed through the application of psychoanalytic principles to social issuesinto societies that recognize the primacy of human beings as responsible, sovereign individuals and that are conducive to the attainment of individual freedom, which he sees as the ultimate goal of humanity's existence.

Further Reading

Funk, Rainer. Erich Fromm: The Courage to be Human. New York: Human Sciences Press, 1989.

Fromm, Erich

views updated May 29 2018


FROMM, ERICH (1900–1980), U.S. psychoanalyst, social philosopher, and author. Fromm, who was born in Frankfurt of rabbinic descent, studied at German universities and received his professional training at the Psychoanalytic Institute of Berlin. He worked at the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt from 1929 to 1932, but immigrated to the U.S. when Hitler came to power in Germany. His first appointment in America was at the International Institute for Social Research in New York City (1934–39). He was on the faculty of Bennington College, Vermont, from 1941 to 1950. In 1951 he was appointed professor at the National University of Mexico. He was also professor at Michigan State University (1957–61) and New York University (1962). In 1974 he settled in Switzerland. A theoretician of the neo-Freudian school, he pursued an independent road in the application of psychoanalysis to the problems of culture and society. His psychological studies on the meaning of freedom for modern man have had a wide influence on western thought.

A student of the Bible and the Talmud, "brought up in a religious family where the Old Testament touched me and exhilarated me more than anything else I was exposed to," Fromm was a disciple of Ludwig Krause and Nehemia Nobel, and was greatly influenced by Hermann Cohen. Fromm believed that everyone has a religious need and that religion is "the formalized and elaborate answer to man's existence." He postulated two major kinds of religion: the authoritarian and the humanistic. He rejected the former, for here man is utterly powerless, and adopted the humanistic religion in which man experiences oneness with the All, achieving his greatest strength and self-realization, as in the Jewish prophets, where their doctrines have an underlying humanity and where freedom is the aim of life. He differed from Freud, and considered "the religious cult as vastly superior to neurosis, because man shares his feelings, his oneness, security, and stability with his fellow men, which the neurotic person lacks in his isolation."

Fromm claimed that Judaism is an "untheological religion, where the stress is on the underlying substratum of human experience." Making extensive use of Judaic texts and practices, he demonstrated their contemporary relevance to the human condition, showing, in a nontheological way, how the idea of God is a permanent challenge to all kinds of idolatry. In Fromm's view, alienation, which is identical to idolatry in the Bible, is the sum and substance of human misery in our society. To save Western man from "depersonalization," society must recognize the sovereignty of the individual. In contrast to Freudian orthodoxy, Fromm emphasized the need for a social and cultural orientation in psychoanalysis.

Fromm's belief in the need for a society which recognizes man as a responsible individual is expounded in The Sane Society (1955). This society he regarded as the best antidote to the totalitarianism that he denounces in Escape from Freedom (1941). His other studies deal with the interrelation of psychology and ethics, psychoanalysis and social history, myth and religion, and dream symbolism. These books include: Man for Himself (1947); Psychoanalysis and Religion (1950); The Forgotten Language (1952); The Art of Loving (1956); and You Shall Be as Gods (1967), a psychiatric commentary on the biblical view of God in which he declares that the "Old Testament is a revolutionary book because its theme is the liberation of man."

Fromm's first wife was Frieda *Fromm-Reichman, whom he married in 1926.


J.S. Glen, Erich Fromm: a Protestant Critique (1966); Friedenberg, in: Commentary, 34 (1962), 305–13.

[Menachem M. Brayer]

Fromm, Erich

views updated May 17 2018

Fromm, Erich (1900–80) US psychoanalyst and writer, b. Germany. Fromm applied psychoanalysis to the study of peoples and cultures, stressing the importance of interpersonal relationships in an impersonal, industrialized society. His books include Escape from Freedom (1941) and The Art of Loving (1956).