INSPIRATIONS: ERICH FROMM (1900-1980)
I first encountered the work of Eric Fromm as a graduate student in the 1960’s through his influential and best selling work, Escape from Freedom/ Fear of Freedom (1941). As he summarisese the book:
“There is only one possible, productive solution for the relationship of individualized man with the world: his active solidarity with all men and his spontaneous activity, love and work, which unite him again with the world, not by primary ties but as a free and independent individual…. However, if the economic, social and political conditions… do not offer a basis for the realization of individuality in the sense just mentioned, while at the same time people have lost those ties which gave them security, this lag makes freedom an unbearable burden. It then becomes identical with doubt, with a kind of life which lacks meaning and direction. Powerful tendencies arise to escape from this kind of freedom into submission or some kind of relationship to man and the world which promises relief from uncertainty, even if it deprives the individual of his freedom.” (Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom [N.Y.: Rinehart, 1941], pp. 36–7
As I recently have been reading a magnificent biography on his life by Lawrence J. Friedman, I increasingly realise how he has been a persistent, quiet influence. Of course he fell out of favour with many ‘hip’ theorists because he is an outspoken humanist; but his work does seem to have had a world wide impact- even now. He introduced me to the important idea of bridging Freud with Marx. An early Freudian (and a life -long clinician) , Freud soon disowned Fromm’s humanism ( Fromm turned to a theory of ‘characterology’- about how people’s personalities are shaped by their society). He was also an early Marxist ( and life-long socialists activist), and a member of the Frankfurt School – a key figure in assisting their move New York under the Nazi threat; but here again his humanism put him in disfavour too ( Marcuse wrote a scathing influential attack on him and his work). Some of his later work is seen as a little superficial – The Art of Love is perhaps his best seller. For me though he sets an agenda for a humanist psychology making a bond between the human being and society’s regulation – the damage that is usually done here and especially so under capitalism. Love is the answer.
Lawrence Friedman’s new book on Fromm – THE LIVES OF ERICH FROMM: LOVE”S PROPHET (2013) is a marvellous intellectual biography and well worth reading.