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Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm amazes me. I strongly recommend reading his writing. He was born in 1900 and is now dead, but his ideas ring true, perhaps even more than when he wrote in the 50's and 60's. Below are some resources, online articles etc. -- S. Hein

Some Quotes by Fromm

Books by Erich Fromm : The art of loving, To have or to be, The sane society, Escape from freedom

Note on "Emotional maturity" from The Sane Society and a comparison to the Goleman corporate definition of emotional intelligence

Essay on Disobedience

Micheal Maccoby's Article About Fromm

On Dianetics - Book which served as foundation of L. Ron Hubbards creation, the so-called Church of Scientology

Copy of a presentation given on Fromm's work and life


Other EQI Topics

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Free EQ for Everybody Book


Quotes by Fromm

Below are some quotes by Erich Fromm which I got from Google's cache of the Internet. The specific references were not provided and the site (tothineownself) is evidently no longer active. Steve - Dec 2001

In The Words Of Erich Fromm

Born in 1900, Erich Fromm trained extensively in European psychoanalysis before coming to the United States. Considered a thinker of the neoanalytic tradition that included Harry Stack Sullivan, Karen Horney, and Clara Thompson, he brought cultural and historical factors within the purview of psychology and pointed out that much of what seemed instinctual human equipment is actually learned in a particular time and place. He also examined social issues like economic inequality, freedom, totalitarianism, the nuclear threat, and mass mechanization's impact on personality. Influences in his thought include Hasidism, Zen Buddhism, Freud, Marx, Spinoza, Eckhart, Maimonides, Russell, existentialism, humanism, and feminism.

All suggestions in favor of "team" enthusiasm ignore the fact that there is only one truly social orientation, namely the one of solidarity with mankind. Social cohesion within the group, combined with antagonism to the outsider, is not social feeling but extended egotism.

It would seem that the amount of destructiveness to be found in individuals is proportionate to the amount to which expansiveness of life is curtailed. By this we do not refer to individual frustrations of this or that instinctive desire but to the thwarting of the whole of life, the blockage of spontaneity of the growth and expression of man's sensuous, emotional, and intellectual capacities.

Life has an inner dynamism of its own; it tends to grow, to be expressed, to be lived. It seems that if this tendency is thwarted the energy directed toward life undergoes a process of decomposition and changes into energies directed toward destruction.

Destructiveness is the outcome of unlived life.

Yet, although there are true individuals among us, this belief is an illusion in most cases and a dangerous one for that matter, as it blocks the removal of those conditions that are responsible for this state of affairs.

Ask an average newspaper reader what he thinks about a certain political question. He will give you as "his" opinion a more or less exact account of what he has read, and yet--and this is the essential point--he believes that what he is saying is the result of his own thinking.

The decisive point is not what is thought but how it is thought.

What holds true of thinking and feeling holds also true of willing. Most people are convinced that as long as they are not overtly forced to do something by an outside power, their decisions are theirs, and that if they want something, it is they who want it. But this is one of the great illusions we have about ourselves. A great number of our decisions are not really our own but are suggested to us from the outside; we have succeeded in persuading ourselves that it is we who have made the decision, whereas we have actually conformed with expectations of others, driven by the fear of isolation and by more direct threats to our life, freedom, and comfort.

It seems that nothing is more difficult for the average man to bear than the feeling of not being identified with a larger group.

The fear of isolation and the relative weakness of moral principles help any party to win the loyalty of a large sector of the population once that party has captured the power of the state.

The individual's greatest strength is based on the maximum of integration of his personality, and that means also on the maximum of transparence to himself. "Know thyself" is one of the fundamental commands that aim at human strength and happiness.

Indeed, there is less reason to be puzzled by the fact that there are so many neurotic people than by the phenomenon that most people are relatively healthy in spite of the many adverse influences they are exposed to.

"To be alive" is a dynamic, not a static, concept. Existence and the unfolding of the specific powers of an organism are one and the same. All organisms have an inherent tendency to actualize their specific potentialities. The aim of man's life, therefore, is to be understood as the unfolding of his powers according to the laws of nature.

Like the handbag, one has to be in fashion on the personality market, and in order to be in fashion one has to know what kind of personality is most in demand.

The idea that all men are created equal implied that all men have the same fundamental right to be considered as ends in themselves and not as means. Today, equality has become equivalent to interchangeability, and is the very negation of individuality....When the individual self is neglected, the relationships between people must of necessity become superficial, because not they themselves but interchangeable commodities are related.

The affirmation of one's own life, happiness, growth, freedom, is rooted in one's capacity to love, i.e., in care, respect, responsibility, and knowledge. If an individual is able to love productively, he loves himself too; if he can love only others, he cannot love at all.

We have become enmeshed in a net of means and have lost sight of ends. We have radios which can bring to everybody the best in music and literature. What we hear instead is, to a large extent, trash at the pulp magazine level or advertising which is an insult to intelligence and taste. We have the most wonderful instruments and means man has ever had, but we do not stop and ask what they are for.

Because of the fact that faith and power are mutually exclusive, all religions and political systems which originally are built on rational faith become corrupt and eventually lose what strength they have if they rely on power or even ally themselves with it.

As a matter of fact, these methods of dulling the capacity for critical thinking are more dangerous to our democracy than many of the open attacks against it, and more immortal--in terms of human integrity--than the indecent literature, publication of which we punish.

All this does not mean that advertising and political propaganda overtly stress the individual's insignificance. Quite the contrary; they flatter the individual by making him appear important, and by pretending that they appeal to his critical judgment, to his sense of discrimination. But these pretenses are essentially a method to dull the individual's suspicions and to help him fool himself as to the individual character of his decision.

There is perhaps no phenomenon which contains so much destructive feeling as "moral indignation," which permits envy or hate to be acted out under the guise of virtue.

Fortitude is the capacity to say "no" when the world wants to hear "yes."

Nations and social classes live through hope, faith, and fortitude, and if they lose this potential they disappear--either by their lack of vitality or by the irrational destructiveness which they develop.

The requirement of maximal efficiency leads as a consequence to the requirement of minimal individuality.

The truth is that inasmuch as a person is not entirely dead--in a psychological sense--he feels guilty for living without integrity.

Valuable or good is all that which contributes to the greater unfolding of man's specific faculties and furthers life. Negative or bad is everything that strangles life and paralyzes man's activeness. All norms of the great humanist religions like Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, or Islam or the great humanist philosophers from the pre-Socratics to contemporary thinkers are the specific elaboration of this general principle of values.

It should be added that it is an open question whether there is a real need to keep as much information secret as the political and military bureaucracies want us to believe. First of all, the need for secrecy corresponds to the wishes of the bureaucracy. It helps support a hierarchy of various levels, characterized by their access to various kinds of security classification. It also enhances their power, for in every group, from primitive tribes to a complex bureaucracy, the possession of secrets makes the owners of the secrets appear to be endowed with a special magic, and hence superior to the average man...It may turn out that the military and diplomatic advantages gained by secrecy are smaller than the losses to our democratic system.

The participant face-to-face group should become part of all enterprises, whether in business, or education or health.

Indeed, out of the very polarity between separateness and union, love is born and reborn.

Living is a process of continuous birth. The tragedy in the life of most of us is that we die before we are fully born.

Well-being I would describe as the ability to be creative, to be aware, and to respond; to be independent and fully active, and by this very fact to be one with the world. To be concerned with being, not with having; to experience joy in the very act of living--and to consider living creatively as the only meaning of life. Well-being is not an assumption in the mind of a person. It is expressed in his whole body, in the way he walks, talks, in the tonus of his muscles.

We produce things that act like men and men that act like things.

The ordinary man with extraordinary power is the chief danger for mankind--not the fiend or the sadist.

Briefly, then, intellectualization, quantification, abstractification, bureaucratization, and reification--the very characteristics of modern industrial society, when applied to people rather than to things, are not the principles of life but those of mechanics. People living in such a system become indifferent to life and even attracted to death.

All the idols of the various religions represent so many partial aspects of man.

In a culture in which the marketing orientation prevails, and in which material success is the outstanding value, there is little reason to be surprised that human love relations follow the same pattern of exchange which governs the commodity and the labor market.

Paradoxically, the ability to be alone is the condition for the ability to love.

While we teach knowledge, we are losing that teaching which is the most important one for human development: the teaching which can only be given by the simple presence of a mature, loving person.

If it is true, as I have tried to show, that love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence, then any society which excludes, relatively, the development of love, must in the long run perish of its own contradiction with the basic necessities of human nature.

As long as everybody wants to have more, there must be formations of classes, there must be class war, and in global terms, there must be international war. Greed and peace preclude each other.

For the first time in history the physical survival of the human race depends on a radical change of the human heart.

The attitude inherent in consumerism is that of swallowing the whole world...Modern consumers may identify themselves by the formula: I am = what I have and what I consume.

Being-authority is grounded not only in the individual's competence to fulfill certain social functions, but equally so in the very essence of a personality that has achieved a high degree of growth and integration. Such persons radiate authority and do not have to give orders, threaten, bribe. They are highly developed individuals who demonstrate by what they are--and not mainly by what they do or say--what human beings can be. The great Masters of Living were such authorities, and to a lesser degree of perfection, such individuals may be found on all educational levels and in the most diverse cultures.

One must consider that it is much easier for the members of a small tribe to judge the behavior of an authority than it is for the millions of people in our system, who know their candidate only by the artificial image created by public relations specialists.

It would be better to say that one is in faith than that one has faith.

The God of the Old Testament is, first of all, a negation of idols, of gods whom one can have.

There is only one way--taught by the Buddha, by Jesus, by the Stoics, by Master Eckhart--to truly overcome the fear of dying, and that way is by not hanging onto life, not experiencing life as a possession.

If the economic and political spheres of society are to be subordinated to human development, the model of the new society must be determined by the requirements of the unalienated, being-oriented individual.

If human beings are ever to become free and to cease feeding industry by pathological consumption, a radical change in the economic system is necessary: we must put an end to the present situation where a healthy economy is possible only at the price of unhealthy human beings.

At least two requirements are involved in the formation of a genuine conviction: adequate information and the knowledge that one's decision has an effect. Opinions formed by the powerless onlooker do not express his or her conviction, but are a game, analogous to expressing a preference for one brand of cigarette over another. For these reasons the opinions expressed in polls and in elections constitute the worst, rather than the best, level of human judgment...Without information, deliberation, and the power to make one's decision effective, democratically expressed opinion is hardly more than the applause at a sports event.

The bureaucratic method can be defined as one that (a) administers human beings as if they were things and (b) administers things in quantitative rather than qualitative terms, in order to make quantification and control easier and cheaper. The bureaucratic method is controlled by statistical data: the bureaucrats base their decisions on fixed rules arrived at from statistical data, rather than on response to the living beings who stand before them; they decide issues according to what is statistically most likely to be the case, at the risk of hurting the 5 or 10 percent of those who do not fit into that pattern. Bureaucrats fear personal responsibility and seek refuge behind their rules; their security and pride lie in their loyalty to rules, not in their loyalty to the laws of the human heart.

Once the living human being is reduced to a number, the true bureaucrats can commit acts of utter cruelty, not because they are driven by cruelty of a magnitude commensurate to their deeds, but because they feel no human bond to their subjects. While less vile than pure sadists, the bureaucrats are more dangerous, because in them there is not even a conflict between conscience and duty; their conscience is doing their duty; human beings as objects of empathy and compassion do not exist for them.

The idol is the alienated form of man's experience of himself. In worshipping the idol, man worships himself. But this self is a partial, limited aspect of man: his intelligence, his physical strength, power, fame, and so on. By identifying himself with a partial aspect of himself, man limits himself to this aspect; he loses his totality as a human being and ceases to grow. He is dependent on the idol, since only in submission to the idol does he find the shadow, although not the substance, of himself.

Once idols were animals, trees, stars, figures of men and women. They were called Baal or Astarte and known by thousands of other names. Today they are called honor, flag, state, mother, family, fame, production, consumption, and many other names.

In the process of history man gives birth to himself.

The prophetic concept of peace transcends the realm of human relations; the new harmony is also one between man and nature. Peace between man and nature is harmony between man and nature. Man is not threatened by nature and stops striving to dominate it; he becomes natural, and nature becomes human. He and nature cease to be opponents and become one. Man is at home in the natural world, and nature becomes a part of the human world; this is peace in the prophetic sense. (The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, which could best be translated as "completeness," points in the same direction.)

Once I have discovered the stranger within myself I cannot hate the stranger outside of myself, because he has ceased to be a stranger to me.

It is a peculiar frailty of human reactions that many are prone to believe that a cynical, "tough" perspective is more likely to be "realistic" than a more objective, complex, and constructive one.

People go to churches and listen to sermons in which the principles of love and charity are preached, and the very same people would consider themselves fools or worse if they hesitated to sell a commodity they knew the customer could not afford.

Do we have totemism in our culture? We have a great deal--although the people suffering from it usually do not consider themselves in need of psychiatric help. A person whose exclusive devotion is to the state or his political party, whose only criterion of value and truth is the interest of state or party, for whom the flag as a symbol of his group is a holy object, has a religion of clan and totem worship, even though in his eyes it is a perfectly rational system (which, of course, all devotees to any kind of primitive religion believe).

There is nothing inhuman, evil, or irrational which does not give some comfort provided it is shared by a group.

Is the alienated person with little love and little sense of identity not better adapted to the technological society of today than a sensitive, deeply feeling person?

Even if we disagree on the possibility of constructing objectively valid values on the basis of the knowledge of man, it still remains a fact that we simply do not know what we are doing in our planning unless we understand the system "man" and integrate it into the social and organizational system. Otherwise, we are dealing with the analysis of a social system without taking into consideration one of its most important subsystems.

Any idea is strong only if it is grounded in a person's character structure. No idea is more potent than its emotional matrix.

Modern society, with its almost limitless readiness for destruction of human lives for political and economic ends, can best defend itself against the elementary human question of its right to so by the assumption that destructiveness and cruelty are not engendered by our social system, but are innate qualities in man.

In the bureaucratic system every person controls the one below him and is controlled by the one above. Both sadistic and masochistic impulses can be fulfilled in such a system.

The monocerebral man is so much part of the machinery that he has built, that his machines are just as much the object of his narcissism as he is himself; in fact, between the two exists a kind of symbiotic relationship...

With his discovery of the discrepancy between thinking and being, Freud not only undermined the Western tradition of idealism in its philosophical and popular forms, he also made a far-reaching discovery in the field of ethics. Until Freud, sincerity could be defined as saying what one believed. Since Freud this is no longer a sufficient definition. The difference between what I say and what I believe assumes a new dimension, namely that of my unconscious belief or my unconscious striving...Since Freud, the sentence I meant well has lost its function as an excuse.

The most abominable of all human impulses, the need to use another person for one's own ends by virtue of one's power over that person, is little more than a refined form of cannibalism.

We have a literacy rate above 90 percent of the population. We have radio, television, movies, a newspaper a day for everybody. But instead of giving us the best of past and present literature and music, these media of communication, supplemented by advertising, fill the minds of men with the cheapest trash, lacking in any sense of reality, with sadistic phantasies which a halfway cultured person would be embarrassed to entertain even once in a while. But while the mind of everybody, young and old, is thus poisoned, we go on blissfully to see to it that no "immorality" occurs on the screen.

To speak of a "sane society" implies a premise different from sociological relativism. It makes sense only if we assume that there can be a society which is not sane, and this assumption, in turn, implies that there are universal criteria for mental health which are valid for the human race as such, and according to which the state of health of each society can be judged.

The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane.

Indeed, the tremendous energy in the forces producing mental illness, as well as those behind art and religion, could never be understood as an outcome of frustrated or sublimated physiological needs; they are attempts to solve the problem of being born human.

It follows...that mental health cannot be defined in terms of the "adjustment" of the individual to his society, but, on the contrary, that it must be defined in terms of the adjustment of society to the needs of man, of its role in furthering or hindering the development of mental health.

Undoubtedly without quantification and abstractification modern mass production would be unthinkable. But in a society in which economic activities have become the main preoccupation of man, this process of quantification and abstractification has transcended the realm of economic production, and spread to the attitude of man to things, to people, and to himself.

But the abstractifying and quantifying attitude goes far beyond the realm of things. People are also experienced as the embodiment of a quantitative exchange value. To speak of a man as being "worth one million dollars" is to speak of him not any more as a concrete human person, but as an abstraction, whose essence can be expressed in a figure. It is an expression of the same attitude when a newspaper headlines an obituary with the words "Shoe Manufacturer Dies." Actually a man has died, a man with certain human qualities, with hopes and frustrations, with a wife and children.

Modern man, if he dared to be articulate about his concept of heaven, would describe a vision which would look like the biggest department store in the world, showing new things and gadgets, and himself having plenty of money with which to buy them. He would wander around open-mouthed in this heaven of gadgets and commodities, provided only that there were ever more and newer things to buy, and perhaps that his neighbors were just a little less privileged than he.

If a man work without genuine relatedness to what he is doing, if he buys and consumes commodities in an abstractified and alienated way, how can he make use of his leisure time in an active and meaningful way? He always remains the passive and alienated consumer. He "consumes" ball games, moving pictures, newspapers and magazines, books, lectures, natural scenery, social gatherings, in the same alienated and abstractified way in which he consumes the commodities he has bought....He is not free to enjoy "his" leisure; his leisure-time consumption is determined by industry, as are the commodities he buys; his taste is manipulated, he wants to see and to hear what he is conditioned to want to see and to hear; entertainment is an industry like any other, the customer is made to buy fun as he is made to buy dresses and shoes. The value of the fun is determined by its success on the market, not by anything which could be measured in human terms.

Human qualities like friendliness, courtesy, kindness, are transformed into commodities, into assets of the "personality package," conducive to a higher price on the personality market. If the individual fails in a profitable investment of himself, he feels that he is a failure; if he succeeds, he is a success. Clearly, his sense of his own value on factors extraneous to himself, on the fickle judgment of the market, which decides about his value as it decides about the value of commodities.

One buys a car, or a house, intending to sell it at the first opportunity. But more important is the fact that the drive for exchange operates in the realm of interpersonal relations. Love is often nothing but a favorable exchange between two people who get the most of what they can expect, considering their value on the personality market. Each person is a "package" in which several aspects of his exchange value are blended into one: his "personality," by which is meant those qualities which make him a good salesman of himself; his looks, education, income, and chance for success--each person strives to exchange this package for the best value obtainable. Even the function of going to a party, and of social intercourse in general, is to a large extent that of exchange. One is eager to meet the slightly higher-priced packages, in order to make contact and possibly a profitable exchange.

Authority in the middle of the twentieth century has changed its character; it is not overt authority, but anonymous, invisible, alienated authority. Nobody makes a demand, neither a person, nor an idea, nor a moral law. Yet we all conform as much or more than people in an intensely authoritarian society would. Indeed, nobody is an authority except "It." What is It? Profit, economic necessities, the market, common sense, public opinion, what "one" does, thinks, feels.

Having fun consists mainly in the satisfaction of consuming and "taking in"; commodities, sights, food, drinks, cigarettes, people, lectures, books, movies--all are consumed, swallowed. The world is one great object for our appetite, a big apple, a big bottle, a big breast; we are the sucklers, the eternally expectant ones, the hopeful ones--and the eternally disappointed ones. How can we help being disappointed if our birth stops at the breast of the mother, if we are never weaned, if we remain overgrown babes, if we never go beyond the receptive orientation?

Constant repetition by newspaper, radio, television, does most of the conditioning. But the crowning achievement of manipulation is modern psychology. What Taylor did for industrial work, the psychologists do for the whole personality--all in the name of understanding and freedom. There are many exceptions to this among psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychoanalysts, but it becomes increasingly clear that these professions are in the process of becoming a serious danger to the development of man, that their practitioners are evolving into the priests of the new religion of fun, consumption and selflessness, into the specialists of manipulation, into the spokesmen for the alienated personality.

The religious "renaissance" which we witness in these days is perhaps the worst blow monotheism has yet received. Is there any greater sacrilege than to speak of "the Man upstairs," to teach to pray in order to make God your partner in business, to "sell" religion with the methods and appeals used to sell soap?

The fact is that while the individual citizen believes that he directs the decisions of his country, he does it only a little more than the average stockholder participates in the controlling of "his" company. Between the act of voting and the most momentous high-level political decisions is a connection which is mysterious.

If the modern age has been rightly called the age of anxiety, it is primarily because of this anxiety engendered by the lack of self.

The aim of history is the full birth of man, his full humanization.

Indeed, we have the know-how, but we do not have the know-why, nor the know-what-for.

It takes powerful constellations and circumstances to pervert and stifle this innate striving for sanity; and indeed, throughout the greater part of known history, the use of man by man has produced such perversion. To believe that this perversion is inherent in man is like throwing seeds in the soil of the desert and claiming they were not meant to grow.

Just to become acquainted with other ideas is not enough, even though these ideas in themselves are right and potent. But ideas do have an effect on man if the idea is lived by the one who teaches it; if it is personified by the teacher, if the idea appears in the flesh. If a man expresses the idea of humility and is humble, then those who listen to him will understand what humility is.

Disobedience, then, in the sense in which we use it here, is an act of the affirmation of reason and will. It is not primarily an attitude directed against something, but for something: for man's capacity to see, to say what he sees, and to refuse to say what he does not see. To do so he does not need to be aggressive or rebellious; he needs to have his eyes open, to be fully awake, and willing to take the responsibility to open the eyes of those who are in danger of perishing because they are half asleep.

The giant corporations which control the economic, and to a large degree the political, destiny of the country constitute the very opposite of the democratic process; they represent power without control by those submitted to it.

More than ever in history the consolidation of our own product to an objective force above us, outgrowing our control, defeating our expectations, annihilating our calculations, is one of the main factors determining our development. His products, his machines, and the State have become the idols of modern man, and these idols represent his own life forces in alienated form.

To be radical is to go to the roots; and the root is Man.

For the greedy person there is always scarcity, since he never has enough, regardless of how much he has.

Birth is not one act; it is a process.

I have said that man is asked a question by the very fact of his existence, and that this is a question raised by the contradiction within himself--that of being in nature and at the same time of transcending nature by the fact that he is life aware of itself. Any man who listens to this question posed to him, and who makes it a matter of "ultimate concern" to answer this question, and to answer it as a whole man and not only by thoughts, is a "religious" man; and all systems that try to give, teach, and transmit such answers are "religions."

Consciousness represents social man, the accidental limitations set by the historical situation into which an individual is thrown. Unconsciousness represents universal man, the whole man, rooted in the Cosmos; it represents the plant in him, the animal in him, the spirit in him; it represents his past down to the dawn of human existence, and it represents his future to the day when man will have become fully human, and when nature will be humanized as man will be "naturalized."

Making the unconscious conscious transforms the mere idea of the universality of man into the living experience of this universality; it is the experiential realization of humanism.

We claim that we pursue the aims of the Judaeo-Christian tradition: the love of God and of our neighbor. We're even told that we are going through a period of a promising religious renaissance. Nothing could be further from the truth. We use symbols belonging to a genuinely religious tradition and transform them into formulas serving the purpose of alienated man. Religion has become an empty shell; it has been transformed into a self-help device for increasing one's own powers for success. God becomes a partner in business. The Power of Positive Thinking is the successor of How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Love of man is a rare phenomenon too. automatons do not love; alienated men do not care. What is praised by love experts and marriage counselors is a team relationship between two people who manipulate each other with the right techniques and whose love is essentially an egotism à deux--a haven from an otherwise unbearable aloneness.

In the nineteenth century the problem was that God is dead; in the twentieth century the problem is that man is dead. In the nineteenth century inhumanity meant cruelty; in the twentieth century it means schizoid self-alienation.

Each man is a universe for himself, and is only his own purpose. His goal is the realization of his being, including those very peculiarities which are characteristic of him and make him different from others. Thus, equality is the basis for the full development of differences, and it results in the development of individuality.

You might say that twentieth-century political life is a cemetery containing the moral graves of people who started out as alleged revolutionaries and who turned out to be nothing but opportunistic rebels.

This is perhaps one of the most, if not the most, important problems of today: namely, the relationship of persons to power. It is not a question of knowing what power is. Nor is the problem the lack of realism--of underestimating the role and functions of power. It is a question of whether power is sanctified or not, and of whether a person is morally impressed by power. He who is morally impressed by power is never in a critical mood, and he is never a revolutionary character.

Human history began with an act of disobedience and might end with an act of obedience.

Every act of disobedience, unless it is empty rebelliousness, is obedience to another principle...The question is not really one of disobedience or obedience, but one of disobedience or obedience to what and to whom.

My assertion is that the sane person in an insane world, the fully developed human being in a crippled world, the fully awake person in a half-asleep world--is precisely the revolutionary character. Once all are awake, there need no longer be any prophets or revolutionary characters--there will be only fully developed human beings.

Speaking in the name of man, of peace, or of God--these words remain ambiguous unless they are accompanied by a word with which to begin and to end: "In the name of Life!"


Fromm, Erich:

    The Art of Loving
    You Shall Be As Gods
    Escape From Freedom
    The Sane Society
    The Forgotten Language

On Disobedience - Erich Fromm

All martyrs of religious faiths, of freedom and of science have had to disobey those who wanted to muzzle them in order to obey their own consciences, the laws of humanity and of reason. If a man can only obey and not disobey, he is a slave; if he can only disobey and not obey, he is a rebel (not a revolutionary); he acts out of anger,disappointment, resentment, yet not in the name of a conviction or a principle. -- E.Fromm

For centuries kings, priests, feudal lords, industrial bosses and parents have insisted that obedience is a virtue and that disobedience is a vice. In order to introduce another point of view, let us set against this position the following statement: human history began with an act of disobedience, and it is not unlikely that it will be, terminated by an act of obedience.

Human history was ushered in by an act of disobedience according to the Hebrew and Greek myths. Adam and Eve, living in the Garden of Eden, were part of nature; they were in harmony with it, yet did not transcend it. They were in nature as the fetus is in the womb of the mother. They were human, and at the same time not yet human. All this changed when they disobeyed an order. By breaking the ties with earth and mother, by cutting the umbilical cord, man emerged from a pre-human harmony and was able to take the first step into independence and freedom. The act of disobedience set Adam and Eve free and opened their eyes. They recognized each other as strangers and the world outside them as strange and even hostile. Their act of disobedience broke the primary bond with nature and made them individuals. "Original sin," far from corrupting man, set him free; it was the beginning of history. Man had to leave the Garden of Eden in order to learn to rely on his own powers and to be come fully human.

The prophets, in their messianic concept, confirmed the idea that man had been right in disobeying; that he had not been corrupted by his "sin," but freed from the fetters of pre-human harmony. For the prophets, history is the place where man becomes human; during its unfolding he develops his powers of reason and of love until he creates a new harmony between himself, his fellow man and nature. This new harmony is described as "the end of days," that period of history in which there is peace between man and man, and between man and nature. It is a "new" paradise created by man himself, and one which he alone could create because he was forced to leave the "old" paradise as a result of his disobedience.

Just as the Hebrew myth of Adam and Eve, so the Greek myth of Prometheus sees all of human civilization based on an act of disobedience. Prometheus, in stealing the fire from the gods, lays the foundation for the evolution of man. There would be no human history were it not for Prometheus' "crime." He, like Adam and Eve, is punished for his disobedience. But he does not repent and ask for forgiveness. On the contrary, he proudly says: "I would rather be chained to this rock than be the obedient servant of the gods. "

Man has continued to evolve by acts of disobedience. Not only was his spiritual development possible only because there were men who dared to say no to the powers that be in the name of their conscience or their faith, but also his intellectual development was dependent on the capacity for being disobedient--disobedient to authorities who tried to muzzle new thoughts and to the authority of long-established opinions which declared a change to be nonsense.

If the capacity for disobedience constituted the beginning of human history, obedience might very well, as I have said, cause the end of human history. I am not speaking symbolically or poetically. There is the possibility, or even the probability, that the human race will destroy civilization and even all life upon earth within the next five to ten years. There is no rationality or sense in it. But the fact is that, while we are living technically in the Atomic Age, the majority of men--including most of those who are in power--still live emotionally in the Stone Age; that while our mathematics, astronomy,and the natural sciences are of the twentieth century, most of our ideas about politics,the state, and society lag far behind the age of science. If mankind commits suicide it will be because people will obey those who command them to push the deadly buttons; because they will obey the archaic passions of fear, hate, and greed; because they will obey obsolete clichés of State sovereignty and national honor. The Soviet leaders talk much about revolutions, and we in the "free world" talk much about freedom. Yet they and we discourage disobedience--in the Soviet Union explicitly and by force, in the free world implicitly and by the more subtle methods of persuasion.

But I do not mean to say that all disobedience is a virtue and all obedience a vice. Such a view would ignore the dialectical relationship between obedience and disobedience. Whenever the principles which are obeyed and those which are disobeyed are irreconcilable, an act of obedience to one principle is necessarily an act of disobedience to its counterpart, and vice versa. Antigone is the classic example oft his dichotomy. By obeying the inhuman laws of the State, Antigone necessarily would disobey the laws of humanity. By obeying the latter, she must disobey the former. All martyrs of religious faiths, of freedom and of science have had to disobey those who wanted to muzzle them in order to obey their own consciences, the laws of humanity and of reason. If a man can only obey and not disobey, he is a slave; if he can only disobey and not obey, he is a rebel (not a revolutionary); he acts out of anger,disappointment, resentment, yet not in the name of a conviction or a principle.

However, in order to prevent a confusion of terms an important qualification must be made. Obedience to a person, institution or power (heteronomous obedience) is submission; it implies the abdication of my autonomy and the acceptance of a foreign will or judgment in place of my own. Obedience to my own reason or conviction (autonomous obedience) is not an act of submission but one of affirmation. My conviction and my judgment, if authentically mine, are part of me. If I follow them rather than the judgment of others, I am being myself; hence the word obey can be applied only in a metaphorical sense and with a meaning which is fundamentally different from the one in the case of "heteronomous obedience."

But this distinction still needs two further qualifications, one with regard to the concept of conscience and the other with regard to the concept of authority. The word conscience is used to express two phenomena which are quite distinct from each other. One is the "authoritarian conscience" which is the internalized voice of an authority whom we are eager to please and afraid of displeasing.This authoritarian conscience is what most people experience when they obey their conscience. It is alsothe conscience which Freud speaks of, and which he called "Super-Ego." This Super-Ego represents the internalized commands and prohibitions of father, accepted by the son out of fear. Different from the authoritarian conscience is the"humanistic conscience"; this is the voice present in every human being and independent from external sanctions and rewards. Humanistic conscience is based on the fact that as human beings we have an intuitive knowledge of what is human and inhuman, what is conducive of life and what is destructive of life. This conscience serves our functioning as human beings. It is the voice which calls us back to ourselves, to our humanity.

Authoritarian conscience (Super-Ego) is still obedience to a power outside of myself, even though this power has been internalized. Consciously I believe that I am following my conscience; in effect, however, I have swallowed the principles of power; just because of the illusion that humanistic conscience and Super-Ego are identical, internalized authority is so much more effective than the authority which is clearly experienced as not being part of me. Obedience to the "authoritarian conscience," like all obedience to outside thoughts and power, tends to debilitate"humanistic conscience," the ability to be and to judge oneself. The statement, on the other hand, that obedience to another person is ipso facto submission needs also to be qualified by distinguishing "irrational" from "rational" authority. An example of rational authority is to be found in the relationship between student and teacher; one of irrational authority in the relationship between slave and master. Both relationships are based on the fact that the authority of the person in command is accepted. Dynamically, however, they are of a different nature. The interests of the teacher and the student, in the ideal case, lie in the same direction. The teacher is satisfied if he succeeds in furthering the student; if he has failed to do so, the failure is his and the student's. The slave owner, on the other hand, wants to exploit the slave as much as possible. The more he gets out of him the more satisfied he is. At the same time, the slave tries to defend as best he can his claims for a minimum of happiness. The interests of slave and master are antagonistic, because what is advantageous to the one is detrimental to the other. The superiority of the one over the other has a different function in each case; in the first it is the condition for the furtherance of the person subjected to the authority, and in the second it is the condition for his exploitation. Another distinction runs parallel to this: rational authority is rational because the authority, whether it is held by a teacher or a captain of a ship giving orders in an emergency, acts in the name of reason which, being universal, I can accept without submitting. Irrational authority has to use force or suggestion, because no one would let himself be exploited if he were free to prevent it.

Why is man so prone to obey and why is it so difficult for him to disobey? As long as I am obedient to the power of the State, the Church, or public opinion, I feel safe and protected. In fact it makes little difference what power it is that I am obedient to. It is always an institution, or men, who use force in one form or another and who fraudulently claim omniscience and omnipotence. My obedience makes me part of the power I worship, and hence I feel strong. I can make no error, since it decides for me; I cannot be alone, because it watches over me; I cannot commit a sin, because it does not let me do so, and even if I do sin, the punishment is only the way of returning to the almighty power. In order to disobey, one must have the courage to be alone, to err and to sin. But courage is not enough. The capacity for courage depends on a person's state of development. Only if a person has emerged from mother's lap and father's commands, only if he has emerged as a fully developed individual and thus has acquired the capacity to think and feel for himself, only then can he have the courage to say "no" to power, to disobey. A person can become free through acts of disobedience by learning to say no to power. But not only is the capacity for disobedience the condition for freedom; freedom is also the condition for disobedience. If I am afraid of freedom, I cannot dare to say "no," I cannot have the courage to be disobedient. Indeed, freedom and the capacity for disobedience are inseparable; hence any social, political, and religious system which proclaims freedom, yet stamps out disobedience, cannot speak the truth.

There is another reason why it is so difficult to dare to disobey, to say "no" to power. During most of human history obedience has been identified with virtue and disobedience with sin. The reason is simple: thus far throughout most of history a minority has ruled over the majority. This rule was made necessary by the fact that there was only enough of the good things of life for the few, and only the crumbs remained for the many. If the few wanted to enjoy the good things and, beyond that, to have the many serve them and work for them, one condition was necessary: the many had to learn obedience. To be sure, obedience can be established by sheer force. But this method has many disadvantages. It constitutes a constant threat that one day the many might have the means to overthrow the few by force; further more there are many kinds of work which cannot be done properly if nothing but fear is behind the obedience. Hence the obedience which is only rooted in the fear of force must be transformed into one rooted in man's heart. Man must want and even need to obey, instead of only fearing to disobey. If this is to be achieved, power must assume the qualities of the All Good, of the All Wise; it must become All Knowing. If this happens, power can proclaim that disobedience is sin and obedience virtue; and once this has been proclaimed, the many can accept obedience because it is good and detest disobedience because it is bad, rather than to detest themselves for being cowards. From Luther to the nineteenth century one was concerned with overt and explicit authorities. Luther, the pope, the princes, wanted to uphold it; the middle class, the workers, the philosophers, tried to uproot it. The fight against authority in the State as well as in the family was often the very basis for the development of an independent and daring person. The fight against authority was inseparable from the intellectual mood which characterized the philosophers of the enlightenment and the scientists. This "critical mood" was one of faith in reason, and at the same time of doubt in everything which is said or thought, inasmuch as it is based on tradition, superstition, custom, power. The principles sapere aude and de omnibus est dubitandum--" dare to be wise" and "of all one must doubt"--were characteristic of the attitude which permitted and furthered the capacity to say "no."

The case of Adolf Eichmann is symbolic of our situation and has a significance far beyond the one which his accusers in the courtroom in Jerusalem were concerned with. Eichmann is a symbol of the organization man, of the alienated bureaucrat for whom men, women and children have become numbers. He is a symbol of all of us. We can see ourselves in Eichmann. But the most frightening thing about him is that after the entire story was told in terms of his own admissions, he was able in perfect good faith to plead his innocence. It is clear that if he were once more in the same situation he would do it again. And so would we-and so do we. The organization man has lost the capacity to disobey, he is not even aware of the fact that he obeys. At this point in history the capacity to doubt, to criticize and to disobey may be all that stands between a future for mankind and the end of civilization.


In one version of the story, Prometheus steals fire from the Gods and is punished by being chained to a rock and having his liver eaten out every day by an eagle.

On Dianetics - Book which served as foundation of L. Ron Hubbards creation, the so called Church of Scientology

"Dianetics" - For Seekers of Prefabricated Happiness

by Erich Fromm (1950b)

Never have people been more interested in psychology and the art of living than today. The appeal which books dealing with these subjects have is a symptom of a serious concern with the human rather than with the material aspects of living. But among these books are some which satisfy the need for rational guidance and others appealing to readers who look for prefabricated happiness and miracle cures. Dianetics1 is the latest in this series of books and the author uses all ingredients of the success formula with a remarkable lack of embarrassment. "The creation of Dianetics is a milestone for Man comparable to his discovery of fire and superior to his inventions of the wheel and the arch." The author claims to have discovered not only the "single source for every kind of neurosis, psychosis, criminality and psychosomatic illness" but also a therapy which cures all these ills. "Dianetics cures and cures without failure."

The author presents first a general theory of the structure of the mind, then builds upon these premises a theory of mental disturbances and a technique for their cure. "Man is motivated only by survival." He is surviving for self, sex, group and mankind and each of these "purpose divisions of the entire dynamic principle" is called a "dynamic." He distinguishes between the "analytical mind," "which perceives and retains experience data to compose and revolve problems and direct the organism along the four dynamics," and the "reactive mind," "which files and retains physical pain and painful emotion and seeks to direct the organism solely on a stimulus response basis." While the analytical mind which is compared to an exceptionally magnificent calculating machine thinks in differences and similarities, the reactive mind thinks only in identities.

The concept of the reactive mind is the basis of the author's theory of mental illness and its cure. During moments of intense physical or emotional pain the analytical mind is suspended and the words spoken in the presence of the "unconscious" person are stored as "engrams." These engrams are not accessible to the normal process of recall. Without being aware of it the person is determined by the contents of these engrams similar to a person whose behavior, posthypnotically is motivated by suggestions given during the hypnosis. "If there ever was a devil, he designed the reactive mind. ... It does anything and everything that can be found in any list of mental ills: psychoses, neuroses, compulsions, repressions. ... It can give a man arthritis, bursitis, asthma ... and so on down the whole catalogue of psychosomatic ills. ... The engram is the single and sole source of aberration and psychosomatic illness."

Dianetic therapy follows from these premises. The patient ("preclear") is ill because the engrams make him so. When all important engrams, particularly those of the prenatal period are recalled ("returned"), the patient is free forever ("cleared") from all "aberrations" and superior in intelligence to the average person. The therapist ("auditor") brings about this "return" of the engram by putting the patient in a state of "reverie." "When I count from one to seven your eyes will close. You will remain aware of everything that goes on." Then the auditor counts "slowly, soothingly" until the patient closes his eyes. During the following period of reverie the patient is told to "return" to earlier periods of his life as far back as conception and at the end of the session he is brought back to the present. The engram must be recounted many times until they are completely "erased."

In spite of the authors fantastic claims there is hardly anything original in his theories except new words for a mixture of misunderstood and undigested Freudianism and hypnotic age regression experiments. Some notions which are truly "original" are startling indeed. Thus we hear the patient report the words spoken by the doctor to his pregnant mother, or by the father to his wife shortly after conception. This reviewer when reading these case histories was tempted to wonder whether the author had intended to write a witty parody on certain psychiatric theories and the credulity of the public.

Hubbard's book can hardly be taken seriously as a scientific contribution to the science of Man but it must be taken seriously as a symptom of a dangerous trend. Were it only an oversimplified popularization of early Freudian theories it would be harmless. But Dianetics1 is expressive of a spirit which is exactly the opposite of Freud's teachings. Freud's aim was to help the patient to understand the complexity of his mind, and his therapy was based on the concept that by understanding one's self one can free one's self from the bondage to irrational forces which cause unhappiness and mental illness. This notion is part of the great Eastern and Western tradition from Buddha and Socrates to Spinoza and Freud. Dianetics1 has no respect for and no understanding of the complexities of personality. Man is a machine and rationality, value judgements, mental health, happiness are achieved by an engineering job. "In an engineering science like Dianetics we can work on a push-button basis." There is nothing man has to know or to understand except to apply Hubbard's engram theory. If he does not accept this theory he must have ulterior motives or be possessed by a "denyer" which is "any engram command which makes the patient believe that the engram does not exist." Everything is exceedingly simple. If you have read Hubbard's book you know all there is to know about man and society because you know which buttons to push.

Problems of values and conscience do not exist. If the engrams are erased you have no conflicts. All great philosophical and religious teachers wasted their efforts. There is no problem which does not result from engram command and there is no point to their thinking since they did not know Hubbard's discovery. Although the author says that "the ancient Hindu" writings, the work of the "early Greeks and Romans" including Lucretius, the labors of Francis Bacon, the researches of Darwin and some of the thoughts of Herbert Spencer compose the bulk of "the philosophical background" of his work it is hard to believe: certainly Dianetics1 does not show the fruits of such concern. The discovery "that survival is the single and sole purpose of life" is certainly not the expression of the spirit of the "ancient Hindus" or the "early Greeks" but that of a crude biologism for which ethical values are subordinated to the urge for survival - if there is any place for them at all.

But perhaps the most unfortunate element in Dianetics1 is the way it is written. The mixture of some oversimplified truths, half truths and plain absurdities, the propagandistic technique of impressing the reader with the greatness, infallibility and newness of the author's system, the promise of unheard of results attained by the simple means of following Dianetics1 is a technique which has had most unfortunate results in the fields of patent medicines and politics; applied to psychology and psychiatry it will not be less harmfull.

This negative view on Dianetics1 does not result from this reviewer's belief that present-day methods of psychiatry are satisfactory; they are in need of new ideas and experiments indeed. Fortunately, many psychiatrists and psychologists are aware of this need and in search for more effective methods of approaching the unconscious level (like, for instance, the Slesinger "Looking-in" test). But the premise must be the strengthening of the patient's responsibility, critical ability and insight.



1) This is a review of L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics with which Hubbard founded his Scientology-Church. The review originally was published in The New York Herald Tribune Book Review of September 3, 1950, p. 7.

This is copied from erichfromm.de/lib_1/1950b.html

Copy of a presentation on Erich Fromm's work and life

Below is a revision of Chapter Vice President Hugh Gillilan's presentation at the April general meeting of Humanists of Utah.

Source: http://www.humanistsofutah.org/2000/genmay00.html

In Appreciation: Erich Fromm

When I made a commitment to give this presentation some months ago I had no idea how timely it would be given the current activities of Fromm devotees around the world. March 23, 2000, marked the centenary of Erich Fromm's birth, March 23, 1900. As it turns out the centenary is being observed by the publication of numerous books and articles in Fromm's honor, and various lectures and conferences are being held as well.

In an audience such as this one I would expect that there would be a number of humanistically oriented authors that are favorites such as Isaac Asimov, E.O. Wilson, Robert Ingersoll, Corliss Lamont, Paul Kurtz, Bertrand Russell, Carl Sagan, and , I would hope, Erich Fromm. I certainly enjoy all of these authors but Fromm holds a special place in my life for he, more than the others, was very much a mentor for me as I was making my philosophical transition from traditional Christianity to humanism, and my career evolution from minister to psychologist. I never conversed with Fromm in person although I did have the pleasure of hearing him speak once at the University of Utah years ago. What I did have the opportunity to do was to avidly read his books once I discovered them, especially from the late 1950s to the time of his death in 1980.

My assumption is that Fromm may be fading into obscurity, particularly in this country and with younger persons because the American attention span is so short. I think that's unfortunate given his status in the evolution of humanism over the last 60 years. Gerhard Knapp, for instance, has described Fromm as "one of the most influential humanists of this century." But I express my appreciation for Fromm tonight not just for his personal contribution to me or for his historical contribution but also because I heartily believe his writings are still very relevant as we move into the challenges of the 21st century.

Before dipping into just a few of his books let me quickly sketch in a bit of the Fromm biography. He was born, as indicated earlier, March 23, 1900, in Frankfurt Germany, the only child of Orthodox Jewish parents. Fromm later described his mother as overprotective, his father distant and himself as an "unbearable, neurotic child." And further, "being the only child of two overly anxious parents did not, of course, have an altogether positive effect on my development, but over the years I've done what I could to repair that damage." (It has been said that those of us in the mental health profession often choose that line of work to cure our parents-or ourselves!)

The Fromm family was steeped in Jewish tradition and the young Fromm was an avid scholar of the Talmud and the old Testament, particularly the prophets Isaiah, Amos, and Hosea with their emphasis on justice, righteousness, and universal peace, motifs which would echo through all of Fromm's later writings. In 1926, however, at the age of 26 he officially abandoned his Jewish faith. I was interested to note that was about the same age I officially abandoned my Methodist affiliations.

Fromm's formal education focused on psychology, philosophy, sociology, and later, psychoanalysis. The major intellectual influences for him were Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx although Fromm was eventually to be a revisionist of both of these men.

In 1926 Fromm married a woman ten years his senior who had been his psychoanalyst, Frieda Reichman, but the marriage lasted only four years. (There are many good reasons not to marry your therapist!) Nonetheless, Fromm and Freida Fromm Reichman continued to be friends and professional collaborators and she had her own distinguished career as an author and psychotherapist.

In 1933 Fromm left Germany because of the rising tide of Nazism, just one of millions who fled from or perished at the hands of Hitler's legions. In addition to the horrific and incomprehensible genocide of those days, how can one really imagine the incalculable loss to Germany and the occupied countries of the intellectuals, professionals, artisans, and myriad other talented persons who either died or fled to other countries-much to the enrichment of their adopted countries.

Here in America Fromm became one of the founders of the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology. At different times he taught at Yale, Columbia, Bennington College, New York University, the University of Michigan and Michigan State as well as the National Autonomous University in Mexico City. He also maintained a psychoanalytic practice for more than forty five years.

Fromm married his second wife in 1944 and moved to Mexico City seeking a more favorable climate for her health. Unfortunately, she died an untimely death in 1952. Fromm was later to marry for a third time, obviously a firm believer in the institution.

In the middle fifties Fromm joined the American Socialist Party and tried to formulate a progressive program for that party-without a great deal of success. However, he continued to be a firm believer in democratic socialism as the most humane and humanistic of political systems. Another prime political interest was the international peace movement and he was a co-founder of SANE, an organization opposing both the atomic arms race and the war in Vietnam. He also was a vigorous supporter of Senator Eugene McCarthy during the 1968 presidential campaign. After Nixon's election, however, Fromm withdrew from political activism. Nixon was surely the cause of many folks questioning their hope for mankind!

During his lifetime Fromm suffered two major bouts of tuberculosis and three heart attacks before finally succumbing to a fourth attack on March 18, 1980, in the Swiss village of Muralto, just five days shy of his 80th birthday.

Gerhard Knapp has said of Fromm that he "Consistently devoted himself and work to one single goal: the propagation of a great visionary hope for a better and more dignified life for all of humanity. [He] clung tenaciously to his unflagging faith in humanity's potential for self-regeneration. This unbroken hope is the spiritual center of his life and his works." Daniel Burston, author of The Legacy of Erich Fromm, has written: [Fromm] was a man who cherished an abiding love for the values of humanistic religion and the Jewish tradition in which he was raised. [He] was nonetheless a committed atheist who regarded belief in a personal creator God as an historical anachronism." Fromm described himself as "an atheistic mystic, a Socialist who is in opposition to most Socialist and Communist parties, a psychoanalyst who is a very unorthodox Freudian."Fromm was a very prolific writer with hundreds of articles and almost two dozen books in English to his credit. The range of his subject matter was broad including psychology and psychoanalysis, sociology, humanism, religion, ethics, Buddhism, Marxism, socialism and foreign policy. The International Erich Fromm Society is currently completing the publication of all of his collected works in twelve volumes and 6,000 pages in length! How then to deal adequately tonight with that mass of material in our time remaining? Obviously we can't, but let me just dip lightly into a few of his works to illustrate some of his concerns which I think still have decided relevance for the present.

Fromm's first book in English was Escape From Freedom published in 1941, almost 60 years ago in the midst of World War II. The book opens with three provocative questions from the Talmud that I have found useful with numerous clients and classes:

  • If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
  • If I am for myself only, what am I?
  • If not now, when?

The first question, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?" must surely be answered, "no one." The second question, "If I am for myself only, what am I?" provides the balance between self interest and concern for others and suggests to me the answer, "lonely", for persons completely self-preoccupied are not very enjoyable folks to be around. The third question provides the kicker, "If not now, when?" If we are not fully living now when do we plan to get around to it? Perhaps never!

In Escape From Freedom Fromm describes the growth of human freedom and self-awareness from the Middle Ages to modern times but with a problematic result. Modern man, freed from pre-individualistic bonds of servitude and old securities of stifling and outworn cosmologies can find himself isolated, anxious, and alone. To escape that unpleasant condition one can easily enter into new dependencies and turn to authoritarian states and institutions for meaning and identity. In 1941 Fromm clearly put Nazism in that role-with hideous results in World War II and its aftermath. How distressing it is today to see a resurgence of Nazi motifs whether in Europe or in Northern Idaho or elsewhere! The alternative to abject dependency and compliance to authority, Fromm wrote, was to advance toward a positive freedom based upon the uniqueness and individuality of persons working in concert for the greater good of humankind. The challenge of enjoying and capitalizing upon diversity among persons and life styles is an ever present challenge. (We can cite the current diversity deficit at the University of Utah as a prime example.)

Fromm's second book, Man For Himself, published in 1947, is my personal favorite. My copy is dog-eared, heavily underlined throughout, and the source of many useful quotations. For instance, in discussing the existential realities of human existence, Fromm wrote what I deem to be a classic statement of the humanist stance:

There is only one solution to [the human condition]: for one to face the truth, to acknowledge his fundamental aloneness and solitude in a universe indifferent to his fate, to recognize that there is no power transcending him which can solve his problem for him. Man must accept the responsibility for himself and the fact that only by using his powers can he give meaning to his life. If he faces the truth without panic he will recognize that: there is no meaning to life except the meaning man gives his life by the unfolding of his powers, by living productively; and that only constant vigilance, activity, and effort can keep us from failing in the one task that matters-the full development of our powers within the limitations set by the laws of our existence. Only if he recognizes the human situation, the dichotomies inherent in his existence and his capacity to unfold his powers, will he be able to succeed in his task: to be himself and for himself and to achieve happiness by the full realization of those faculties which are peculiarly his-of reason, love, and productive work.

The key words here are "reason," "love," and "productive work" that Fromm elaborates upon throughout much of his writings; "reason," "love", and "productive work" as the basic ingredients for a fulfilling human life.

In describing humanistic ethics, Fromm wrote (and I've collected several quotations here):

Humanistic ethics is based on the principle that only man himself can determine the criterion for virtue and sin, and not an authority transcending him: "good" is what is good for man and "evil" what is detrimental to man; the sole criterion of ethical value being man's welfare. Man indeed is the "measure of all things." The humanistic position is that there is nothing higher and nothing more dignified than human existence.

...it is one of the characteristics of human nature that man finds his fulfillment and happiness only in relatedness to and solidarity with his fellow men.

Love is not a higher power which descends upon man nor a duty which is imposed upon him; it is his own power by which he relates himself to the world and makes it truly his.

Undoubtedly Fromm's most popular book was a little volume entitled The Art of Loving. It was translated into 28 languages and had sold more than one and a half million copies in English alone by 1970. Reportedly upon publication some librarians and book sellers thought they would have to keep the book behind the counter-a clear indication they hadn't read the book. The Art of Loving is a far cry from Alex Comfort's The Joy of Sex for instance, or many a tome currently available in libraries and book stores. The Art of Loving quickly makes the point that loving is a very demanding human activity. The very first two sentences in Chapter I read: "Is love an art? Then it requires knowledge and effort," Further, the mastery of an art requires that it be a matter of ultimate concern; "there must be nothing else in the world more important than the art." What proportion of humankind do you imagine has loving as it's ultimate concern? "In spite of the deep-seated craving for love, almost everything else is considered to be more important than love: success, prestige, money, power-almost all our energy is used for the learning of how to achieve these aims, and almost none to the art of loving." A substantive love, Fromm wrote, is not just a strong feeling, "It is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision"

In an age of throw-away relationships with passing fancies those words sound rather quaint, don't they? Somewhere in the back of my head I hear the lament of a popular song, "doesn't anyone stay together anymore?" But not just judgment and decision are called for. Fromm cites other basic elements common to all forms of love: care, responsibility, respect and knowledge. These quotes:

  • Love is the active concern for the life and growth of that which we love. Where this active concern is lacking, there is no I owe.
  • Respect means the concern that the other person should grow and unfold as he is. Respect, thus, implies the absence of exploitation. I want the loved person to grow and unfold for his own sake, and in his own ways, and not for the purpose of serving me.
  • To respect a person is not possible without knowing him; care and responsibility would be blind if they were not guided by knowledge.

In a contrary mode, how often do we hear about couples who have a frenzied courtship and marry after only a few days or weeks? Or how often do we read about persons who kill the person they supposedly love but feel alienated from and are quoted as saying, "If I can't have her, no one will!" Love, Fromm said, requires care, responsibility, respect and knowledge.

In a little volume entitled Psychoanalysis and Religion, Fromm spells out the differences between authoritarian and humanistic religion:

The essential element in authoritarian religion and in the authoritarian religious experience is the surrender to a power transcending man. The main virtue of this type of religion is obedience, its cardinal sin is disobedience. Just as the deity is conceived as omnipotent or omniscient, man is conceived as being powerless and insignificant. Only as he can gain grace or help from the deity can he feel strength.

Humanistic religion, on the other hand,

"is centered around man and his strength. Man must develop his power of reason in order to understand himself, his relationship to his fellow men and his position in the universe. He must recognize the truth, both with regard to his limitations and potentialities. He must develop his powers of love for others as well as for himself and experience the solidarity of all living beings. Man's aim in humanistic religion is to achieve the greatest strength, not the greatest powerlessness; virtue is self-realization, not obedience. Faith is certainty of conviction based on one's own experience of thought and feeling, not assent to propositions on credit of the proposer. The prevailing mood is that of joy, while the prevailing mood in authoritarian religion is that of sorrow and guilt.

The last book that I want to mention and one of the last that Fromm wrote was To Have or to Be published in 1976. It's is an admirable book to read for anyone currently interested in simplicity movements and de-escalating frantic life styles and the perpetual accumulation of material possessions. (However, looking around the benches of this valley it doesn't look like many folks in our part of the world are much into simplicity!) It is interesting to note that To Have or to Be has consistently been more popular in Europe than here in the U.S.

Fromm was severely critical of the consumerism that drives our economy, depleting natural resources, increasing the gap between the rich and the poor, exploiting the resources and people of developing countries, and promoting a radical hedonism that breeds indifference to pervasive social needs. To quote Fromm: "The selfishness the system generates makes leaders value personal success more highly than social responsibility. At the same time, the general public is also so selfishly concerned with their private affairs that they pay little attention to all that transcends the personal realm." (We can think of the abysmally low voter turnout for elections in this country as just one of many examples.) The nagging question for us still today is, are we really happy for all of our expansive homes, accumulating toys and endless consumption? Have things really changed much from Fromm's description of life twenty five years ago? The observable data show most clearly that our kind of "pursuit of happiness" does not produce well-being. We are a society of notoriously unhappy people; lonely, anxious, depressed, destructive, dependent-people who are glad when we have killed the time we were trying so hard to save." And further, "The need for speed and newness, which can only be satisfied by consumerism reflects restlessness, the inner flight from oneself. Looking for the next thing to do or the newest gadget to use is only a means for protecting oneself from being close to oneself or another person." (Psychologists and psychiatrists are always messing with our heads!)

"Being," in Fromm's terms, is living simply with modest wants, with depth and vitality, deeply involved with caring communities, sensitive to the natural world around us, and mindful of the rightful place of all of earth's people. The "having mode" in contemporary life might well be typified by a Wall Street Journal cartoon I saw recently which pictured a man walking determinedly down the street, briefcase in hand, with a long stick arching from his back forward over his head and dangling a dollar bill in front of him. (The Wall Street Journal is an interesting place for such a cartoon!)

Well, there is no way I can do justice to the depth of Fromm's writings in this piecemeal fashion, and there is so much more of his work that I would enjoy discussing but time is limited. I would invite you to consider his writings either again or perhaps for the first time. There are significant books that I have not even mentioned and topics that I imagine you would find both provocative and enlightening. Fortunately, virtually all of Fromm's books are still in print, and I have a sheet available listing all of his published works in English. I commend them to you for a consciousness raising experience. The sheet also cites the web address of the International Erich Fromm Society for those of you into cyber exploration.

Let me add this one postscript (and speaking of consciousness raising). Fromm wrote in an era when it was the norm to use the generic term, "man" to refer to all humans and "he" as the accompanying personal pronoun. You heard that usage in the quotations and you may well have winced a bit when you heard them, especially if you are a woman. Time has moved on since Fromm last wrote and feminists have appropriately helped us to be more sensitive in our language usage. Our language is still cumbersome on the point but gender equity demands that we speak and write without disenfranchising either gender. On the other hand, perhaps fair play would now suggest we typically use "woman" in a generic sense-and, of course, that includes "man"!

Note on "Emotional maturity" from The Sane Society

In The Sane Society, written in 1955, Fromm argues that Western world, and in particular the USA, has reached a point where the society itself is mentally unhealthy. He says that people have sought identity with their countries, their religions, their races, their religions and their careers instead of developing their individuality. He says that in such societies the emotionally healthy or emotionally mature person is said to be the one who conforms to the unhealthy standards, lifestyle and values. He offers evidence of this in this quote from Dr. E. A. Strecker's 1951 book, Their Mother's Sons. Strecker gives us this definition of "emotionally maturity." I note it because it is so similar to Goleman's definition of emotional intelligence, especially his corporate version of the definition.

I define maturity as the ability to stick to a job, the capacity to give out more on any job than is asked for, reliability, persistence to carry out a plan regardless of the difficulties, the ability to work with other people under organization and authority, the ability to make decisions, a will to life, flexibility, independence and tolerance.

Fromm has this to say about Strecker's definition: "It is quite clear that what Strecker here describes as maturity are the virtues of a good worker, employee or soldier in the big social organizations of our time; they are the qualities which are usually mentioned in advertisements for a junior executive."

This definition of "emotional maturity" which Fromm criticizes is similar to Golemans corporate definition of EI. For example, when Fromm said Strecker's definition sounded like an advertisement for a junior executive, I am reminded that Goleman used job descriptions as the basis for his claim that EI was twice as important as IQ and technical knowledge combined.

Also, like Goleman's corporate definition of EI, Strecker lists a lot of traits which are desirable for "junior executives", or even a senior manager who carries out the will of the Board of Directors and the stockholders, who let us not forget, have invested in the company not out of a deep desire to help mankind, but out of a simple desire to make money. And notice that Strecker does not mention intelligence anywhere in the list. In a similar way Goleman's list of "emotional competencies" seems to also be lacking an emphasis on intelligence, something which the original creators of the concept had built in as an essential component of it. Without the "intelligence" part, it is simply no longer "emotional intelligence" that one is talking about.

Full Text of Maccoby Article

From maccoby.com/Articles/TwoVoices.shtml

The Two Voices of Erich Fromm: The Prophetic and the Analytic
by Michael Maccoby
Published in: Society, July/August. This article is adapted from a lecture given at the Erich Fromm International Symposium, Washington, DC, May 6 1994.
Erich Fromm's contribution to our knowledge of individual and social behavior has neither been fully appreciated nor developed. Fromm's most popular books which expand our understanding of both love and destructiveness have, to a large extent, been assimilated into that body of knowledge which forms the foundation of intellectual thinking in Europe and the United States. Although he introduced many American intellectuals of the 40s and 50s to the relevance of psychoanalysis to understanding 20th century social pathology, typical intellectuals of today think of Fromm, if at all, as a critic of the mass consumer society. A smaller number recognize the contribution he made in Escape from Freedom to understanding the psychic appeal of fascism, an understanding relevant to current events in Russia and the Balkans. But relatively few appreciate his most valuable and original legacy: understanding human character in relation to society.
Why has Fromm's work been so neglected? To start with, his ability to write directly to a large general audience as in The Art of Loving , which was a best seller in the late 50s, made him suspect to the academic Mandarins whose criteria for profundity includes incomprehensibility to the uninitiated. In fact, Fromm provoked defensiveness and even a kind of antipathy from academics he termed alienated and psychoanalysts he criticized as bureaucratic in their technique and poorly educated in the humanities and social sciences. Furthermore, Fromm would not fit himself into a neat intellectual category. Although he fully acknowledged his debt to Freud, he relentlessly criticized the limitations and contradictions in Freud's theories. Although he explored the influence of culture on character development, he strongly differentiated himself from "culturalists" such as Sullivan, Horney and Margaret Mead who described culture in terms of behavior patterns and did not analyze socio-economic factors. Although Fromm agreed with Marx's analysis of social change and shared his messianic view of history, he was also a deeply religious non-theist who drew his concept of human development from the Jewish bible, Zen Buddhism, and Christian mysticism. Although he shared, to a large extent, their critique of capitalism, Fromm was rejected by the psychoanalytic left. His former colleagues at the Frankfort School, particularly Herbert Marcuse, dismissed him as a conformist unwilling to support the radical action necessary to change society.

Inevitably, experts in one or another social science or version of psychotherapy were put off by Fromm's unlikely mix of Freud, Marx and religious mysticism. For example, although Erik Erikson told me he had learned a great deal reading Escape from Freedom, he was not prepared to accede to the demand of The Sane Society to accept communitarian socialism as the prescription for social well being and healthy character development.

My purpose is not to defend Fromm from his critics. Like any major thinker, Fromm's views changed over time and there are, as I shall describe, contradictions in his views and limitations in his approach, especially his psychoanalytic technique. Rather, I shall try to describe and clarify what I hear as the two dominant voices in Fromm's work, the analytic and the prophetic. William James wrote that theory, like music, expresses the composer's personality, and both of these voices came from deep inside of Fromm. I believe that by scoring them separately so to speak, they can be better understood and most important, usefully developed. When Fromm is most convincing, the two voices harmonize. When he is least convincing, the prophetic drowns out the analytic.

My analysis of these two voices is based not only on my reading of Fromm, but also hearing them directly when I worked with him in the 60s.

My Experience with Fromm
In the summer of 1960, when I drove from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Cuernavaca, Mexico with my wife, Sandylee, it was to enter into an eight year apprenticeship to Fromm. That June, I had received a doctorate from Harvard in Social Relations, combining clinical and cognitive psychology with sociology and anthropology. I had decided that my next step should be psychoanalytic training, since psychoanalytic investigation seemed the best way to further my understanding of human motivation. In seeking psychoanalytic education, I considered the Boston Institute where I had helped Ives Hendrick with his research, and I talked with Erik Erikson about working with him at Austen Riggs. Both were encouraging. However, David Riesman, who had been analyzed by Fromm and who I had worked with as a teaching assistant, reported that Fromm was looking for a research assistant in Mexico and suggested that we meet. The reason I decided to study with Fromm was the appeal of both voices, the analytic and the prophetic. Fromm defined the meaning of human development in a way that appealed to me emotionally as well as intellectually. It seemed to me that Fromm's call to create a sane society was urgently required by a world teetering on the edge of nuclear war. World War II and the holocaust was a recent and searing memory. Fromm's analysis of human destructiveness provided some understanding of behavior that seemed incomprehensible and inhuman. I hoped that through my personal psychoanalysis, Fromm would help me to develop not only my capability as a researcher, but also my capacity for love and reason.
I should note here that when I told Grete Bibring of the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute that I was considering training with Fromm, she said "you will probably get along very well together, but he will never analyze the transference." To a large extent, she was correct, for reasons I shall describe.

Before leaving for Mexico, I joined Fromm, David Riesman and others in founding The Committee of Correspondence and writing for its newsletter arguing for arms control and improved relations with the Soviet Union.

Fromm accepted me as an apprentice. He needed someone with training in research design, statistics, and projective testing to work with him on the sociopsychoanalytic study of a Mexican village, and in return for my assistance, he agreed to admit me to the Mexican Psychoanalytic Institute and to be my training analyst. He also made it clear that my personal goals for analysis and my political engagement were important in his decision to work with me. During the next eight years, I was Fromm's research assistant, analysand, supervisee, and collaborator, culminating in 1970 with the publication of our book, Social Character in a Mexican Village.

I agreed to Fromm's condition of apprenticeship, that I first learn his theory and work with it, before criticizing it, as he expected I would someday do. He said that he hoped I would be able to express this theory in my own words and expand it, and this has been my goal.

The Two Voices
During the time I was in analysis with him, Fromm's technique changed from one that was extremely influenced by his then recent exploration into Zen Buddhism with D. T. Suzuki to one which emphasized a more systematic investigation into the patient's character and psyche. At times, he experimented with technique using the active methods pioneered by Sandor Ferenczi, including relaxation exercises and suggestion about associating to a theme. He also tried techniques used by Wilhelm Reich to attack character armor. While his shifting of analytic approach complicated his attempts to describe his practice, this does not fully explain his dissatisfaction with the drafts he wrote on technique. I believe that what blocked his writing on technique and also limited his effectiveness as an analyst was the inability to always harmonize the analytic and prophetic voices. This disharmony resulted in a confusion concerning the goals and methods of psychoanalysis.
At its purist, Fromm's analytic voice was exploratory, experimental, and skeptical. It asked for evidence and questioned conclusions drawn too quickly. His prophetic voice was urgent, impatient, and judgmental. It contrasted reality with a demanding ideal of spiritual development. It condemned rather than analyzed evil. At times, Fromm the analyst was transformed into Fromm the rabbi or Zen master who responded to the student's inauthentic behavior not by analysis, but with disgust or the verbal equivalent of cracking him over the head with a stick.

At his most analytic, Fromm conceived of psychoanalysis as a method to help suffering people to liberate themselves from crippling fear and to realize more of their creative potential. In this mode, he emphasized the importance of psychoanalytic diagnosis at the start of treatment, and he was realistic about the patient's prognosis and limitations.

At his most prophetic, Erich Fromm's mission was to bring about a messianic age of peace and human solidarity, and he used psychoanalysis as a spiritual discipline for himself and his disciples. He viewed neurotic symptoms as a partial rejection of oppressive or alienating authority. The psychoanalyst's role was to help give birth to the revolutionary within the neurotic.

Fromm's inconsistent approach to therapy expressed the contradiction between his theory of social character and his ideal of the productive character which became increasingly mystical. I shall return to this point that the disciplines of therapeutic psychoanalysis and spiritual development, while they share elements in common, are essentially different, and that Fromm sometimes confused the two.

Fromm believed that his most original ideas were the theory of social character, the interpretive questionnaire as a method of studying character, and the theory of destructiveness. He described each of these in his analytic voice. In two major studies, one of German workers and employees in 1930 and the other of Mexican villagers in the 1960s, Fromm tested and developed the theory and methods of social character research.

He continually elaborated his theory of destructiveness. The sociopsychoanalytic analysis of sadomasochism and malignant destructiveness was well-tested both clinically and in the social character research. The more controversial and less well studied theory of necrophilia, defined as the love of death, decay and rigid order which he first described in his 1964 book The Heart of Man, expressed the prophetic view of evil and was contrasted to his concept of biophilia, love of life, which at the extreme, expressed being vs. having and the driving force of mystical development.

The Two Voices in Fromm's Approach to Character and Society
To appreciate Fromm's approach to clinical diagnosis, his theory of character must first be understood. While Freud's libido theory with its analogy of forces and cathexes corresponds to a late 19th century view of physics, Fromm's theory of character development is fully consistent with modern evolutionary biology. Humans are distinguished from other animals by a larger neocortex with fewer instincts. Character is the relatively permanent way in which human drives for survival and self-expression are structured in the socialization process. Thus character substitutes for or shapes human instinct. But human survival is not merely a matter of physical survival. Man does not live by bread alone. We are social animals who must relate to others, and we are spiritual animals who must infuse our lives with meaning in order to function. Our brains need to operate in the past, present, and future simultaneously. Without a sense of hope, they turn off. To survive in the early years, we require caring adults. To learn to master the environment, control our fears and passions and live in harmony with others, we need teachers. To give meaning to our lives, we must acquire a sense of identity and rootedness. Religions both sacred and secular (including tribalism and nationalism), with objects of devotion, guiding myths and rituals, serve this function.
We not only must live our lives, but also solve the contradictions stemming from our existence, the animal and human needs, physical survival and emotional sanity. Fromm said that given our contradictory tendencies and awareness of our mortality, the question of why people remain sane is perhaps more difficult to answer than the question of why they become insane.

Character is a solution to those contradictions. It is like a complex computer program that takes the place of what is to a greater extent hard-wired in other animals. Biological research indicates we are closer to other animals than we like to believe, and this, perhaps, is what keeps many of us sane. We imitate and identify with those most like ourselves. We can use the culture, or more precisely the social character as an off-the-shelf solution to the problems of existence. Although other animals also develop cultures to transmit patterns of behavior between the generations, human culture is more complex and varied. With our large neocortex, we are able to learn and change. Although we share almost 99 percent of our genetic material with chimpanzees, the other one percent allows us to choose between either becoming more uniquely and fully human or regressing to tribalism and/or psychopathology. Fromm termed the striving to become more fully human as "progressive," and he believed the great monotheistic humanistic religions and Buddhism, which is non-theist, shared the goal of directing people to a solution of achieving unity with nature through individuation, love of the stranger, and reverence for life. This solution increases our consciousness and strengthens community, while the regressive solutions result in either individual psychopathology (symbiosis, narcissism and destructiveness) or group narcissism and hostility to people outside the tribe.

Speaking in his analytic voice, Fromm describes the social character as the cement that holds society together. It is what adapts humans to their environment in such a way that they want to do what they need to do to keep a particular society functioning. In this sense, some emotionally disturbed persons have failed to develop the social character; their emotions do not support adaptive behavior. Or the social character of some disturbed people might clash with the environment, because it is adapted to a disappearing world. In this situation, the social character is transformed from social cement to social dynamite. Thus, in Escape from Freedom, Fromm describes how the lower-middle class German suffered a sense of powerlessness and meaningless in the 1920's. Hoarding, dutiful, conservative, and hardworking emotional attitudes no longer guaranteed prosperity. The harsh conditions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles after World War I caused runaway inflation that destroyed savings,while money was being made by wild speculation. The humiliation of the Kaiser by the allies was felt as a personal indignity and loss of meaning. The flaunting of a sexual freedom and burlesque of authority in the Wiemar republic aroused indignation and anger which Hitler was able to manipulate in forging an ideology, a new religion, which blended the desire for revenge, the focussing of hatred on the Jews as scapegoats, with inspiring hopes to create a great new civilization.

Analytically speaking, normality and mental health require that the child develop a social character in order to gain the competencies required for survival in a society. This is consistent with C.G. Jung's view was that only through adaptation to a culture could a person begin to achieve individuation.

However, speaking in the prophetic voice, Fromm questioned whether adaptation produced healthy people.

If the society is itself not healthy, then to be normal is to acquire a "culturally patterned defect," in effect to be sick. The neurotic who will not adapt may be healthier than one who is adapted. What does healthy mean for Fromm?

In The Sane Society, he writes that "Mental health, in the humanistic sense, is characterized by the ability to love and to create, by the emergence from the incestuous ties to family and nature, by a sense of identity based on one's experience of self as the subject and agent of one's powers, by the grasp of reality inside and outside of ourselves‹that is, by the development of objectivity and reason. The aim of life is to live it intensely, to be fully born, to be fully awake. To emerge from the ideas of infantile grandiosity into the conviction of one's real though limited strength: to be able to accept the paradox that everyone of us is the most important thing there is in the universe‹and at the same time no more important than a fly or a blade of grass."

With this definition, has any society ever produced many healthy people? Can any society, other than the messianic vision of the prophet Isaiah, achieve sanity?

The model of a sane society Fromm proposes is communitarian socialism. He quotes a description of Boimondeau, a cooperative watch factory in France as an ideal. According to this account, workers balanced work and education, collective and individual development. But when I tried to find out what happened to Boimondeau, I learned that the factory did not survive in the competitive marketplace. Like many other promising and shortlived cooperative enterprises, Boimondeau depended on an exceptional leader who left. This communitarian ideal remains theoretical. It is not a convincing solution.

Marketing Man
Is Fromm correct that modern industrial society forms an alienated social character? Is the prototypic modern individual a person who adapts to the market economy by making him/herself into a saleable commodity, thus becoming detached from authentic emotions and convictions? Is the modern person's goal nothing more elevated than success in the career market and the pleasure of continual consumption: having vs being? Does health require us to transform society and transcend the social character?
I have used Fromm's method of social character investigation, the interpretive questionnaire, in rural and urban Mexico, the U.S., U.K, and Sweden. In all of these societies, there are significant variations in social character. Overall, the more that people leave village life and adapt to industrial society, the more abstract their language becomes, the more detached they are from direct emotion, and authentic relationships, and to some degree, dreams and the inner life. I say "to some degree", because villagers are extremely conformist and fear even perceiving anything that is new and different. Just as the urban individual steeped in book learning loses the peasant's reliance on keen observation, so the industrial person's detachment and abstract thinking also allows greater flexibility, willingness to adapt to the new. Furthermore, rural people are more likely to fear the stranger and distrust those who do not share blood ties.

Within industrial society, the factory and construction workers and engineers I have interviewed market their skills, not their pleasing personalities. Recently, advances in production technology require both increased technical skill and greater cooperation with others at work, but the latter is a matter of listening to others and solving problems together, not selling oneself. Bureaucratic middle managers and professionals are the ones most forced to market themselves, and their overadaptation can cause symptoms of depression and self-disgust. These are also the people who are most likely to be victims of corporate "downsizing" due to the drive for continual innovation and productivity caused by frantic global competition. While the most educated and technically competent are swept up in this vortex, people in rural villages and ghettoes of prosperous cities struggle on the margins of the economy, within a hopeless culture of escapism and violence

The description by Fromm and other intellectuals of the 50s (e.g. C. Wright Mills & William H. Whyte) of a complacent, conformist marketing society seems benign in the light of the last 30 years. They were writing during a brief historical period when U.S. industry controlled international markets and companies could afford to be stable bureaucracies, stocked with middle managers.

Fromm uses the marketing character as a basis for his prophetic denunciation of modern society, but the question remains of how healthy any society can be and which societies allow the greatest opportunity for healthy development. Children have no alternative but to adapt to the family which is the major carrier of social character. Those with healthier families or exceptional genes may adapt with greater resiliency and independence as compared to those with less healthy families. What would it mean to transcend the social character?

The Productive Ideal
Fromm's model of the healthy individual who transcends and transforms society is the "productive character," the individuated person who loves and creates. Unlike his other character types - receptive, hoarding, exploitative and marketing - the productive character lacks clinical or historical grounding. It is a questionable ideal.
In our study of Mexican villagers, Fromm and I searched for the productive character, but did not find one. The closest we came were independent farmers who were more productive and loving than the average. In my studies of workers, engineers and managers. I have also found people who are more active and creative than the average, but they do not fit Fromm's description of the productive character. Furthermore, most of the more productive professionals are not loving. (Einstein is an example of an extremely productive thinker who was not loving.) Productiveness in work does not necessarily imply productiveness in caring about other people.

In Social Character in a Mexican Village, Fromm and I ended up contrasting productive and unproductive aspects of the social character. The productive peasant shares many of the adaptive independent, hoarding, family-oriented traits of the dominant social character, but is more individuated, more innovative and hard working while less suspicious and fatalistic. The productive peasant is more likely to relate to children in terms of furthering their development rather than, as is the more common pattern, demanding strict obedience. However, this is far from Fromm's ideal of the productive person whose aim is to live life intensely, "to be fully born, to be fully awake." The more productive peasant must still adapt to a mode of work that requires hoarding traits common to peasants throughout the world.

In his earlier writing, inasmuch as Fromm describes a real life productive character, it is an unnamed creative artist. In later works, examples of productiveness are Zen masters and Master Eckhart, a medieval Christian mystic.

In his search for the productive ideal, Fromm's prophetic voice suppresses his analysis of social character. The artist has been a romantic model for bourgeois society: the individual who resists pressures to conform and succeeds in setting his or her own terms of self expression which are ultimately accepted and appreciated by society. The artist shows qualities of craftsmanship, creativity, independence, and determination. However, many productive artists are not loving people (e.g. Monet, Picasso), and Fromm does not describe a single creative artist who fits his ideal. Furthermore, the very few artists who make a living from their work today are caught up in a marketing web of art dealers, changing fashion and intellectualized hype.

In terms of social character, the religious masters cited by Fromm should be viewed within the context of feudal society. Zen masters are unchallenged authorities who rule monasteries and dominate the emotional life of their disciples. Eckhart was head of German Dominicans, and his vow of celibacy freed him from the demands of family. Fromm himself was attracted to a semi feudal role as head of the Mexican Institute of Psychoanalysis during the 50s and 60s. There he personally analyzed the first generation of analysts, and was the unchallenged arbiter of disagreements among members of the society.

These feudal models will not inspire the children of the information age. To develop the modern social character in a productive direction, it is first essential to understand its positive potential.

The Two Voices in Fromm's Approach to Clinical Work
In his analytic voice, Fromm criticized Freud's patriarchal attitude as limiting the development of psychoanalysis as a science. He criticized Freud's use of the couch and the routine of analysis as bureaucratizing psychoanalysis. In contrast, Fromm attempted to create what he called a more "humanistic" face-to-face encounter. Here the analytic and prophetic voices sometimes harmonized and sometimes were discordant.
Fromm's psychoanalytic technique was essentially different from Freud's psychic archeology. Like Ferenczi, Fromm emphasized the importance of experience rather than interpretation, and he believed the analyst must understand the patient by empathy as well as intellect, with the heart as well as the head. But unlike Ferenczi, he was not searching for childhood traumas, but rather present-day passions. Memory might serve to illuminate a pattern of behavior from childhood such as betrayal of one's ideals to gain approval from authorities. Fromm believed that what blocked development was not our memories but our choices, our irrational attempts to solve the human condition through such mechanisms as sadism, regression to the womb, or narcissistic invulnerability. His goal was not to heal a psychic wound, but to liberate, so that the patient could become free to make better choices.

Fromm believed that the psychoanalyst should be active and penetrating, bringing the session to life by demonstrating his own urgency to understand and grasp life fully. Here the prophetic voice sometimes over-whelmed analysis. Fromm became like a religious master who unmasks illusion and thus expands the limits of the social filter, dissolving resistances. By experiencing and confessing to one's unconscious impulses, the patient would gain the energy and strength to change his or her life, and to develop human capabilities for love and reason to the fullest. This is an unproven theory, and in practice, Fromm's technique sometimes resulted in a very different outcome.

Although Fromm's thesis shares Freud's conviction that the truth will set man free, it moves in a different direction from Freud's emphasis on psychoanalysis as a process that patiently uncovers and interprets resistance in order to regain lost memories. Both Freud and Fromm define psychoanalysis as the art of making the unconscious conscious; both recognize that we resist knowing the truth and that resistances must be overcome. But their views of resistance are somewhat different. For Fromm, repression is a constantly recurring process. One resists perceiving and knowing out of fear of seeing more than society allows or because the truth would force one to experience one's irrationality or powerlessness. The pattern of repression set in childhood is like the refusal to see that the emperor has no clothes. The analyst is the fearless master who has gone further and deeper beyond convention and into his own irrationality. His attitude models productiveness and mature spontaneity, free of illusion. In contrast, Freud defines resistance more narrowly. Repressed, unconscious wishes to maintain infantile sexual fantasies, and the childhood fear of being punished (castration) because of one's libidinal impulses, act as resistances to memory. These repressions bind energy into neurotic patterns.

For Freud, the key to analyzing and overcoming resistance is transference. The patient directs or transfers desire and fear onto the analyst who becomes a substitute for figures of the past. Resistance will be overcome only if the "acting out" within analysis is interpreted and transformed into emotionally charged memory which can be "worked through" and reintegrated into a more mature psyche. The working through frees the blocked energy of repressed wishes and defenses. It allows the patient to give up infantile objects and desires and discover better ways to satisfy needs. In this framework, if the analyst dramatically unmasks truth, this may strengthen the transferential resistance, either because the patient denies unbearable feelings or adopts another defense, such as passive acceptance. Overcoming this resistance requires patiently analyzing the various forms it takes.

Fromm proposes a broader concept of transference. The analyst represents infantile authority: the mother who solves all of life's problems or the father who is never satisfied with his son's achievement. Instead of facing reality independently, the patient continues to transfer interpersonal struggles and wishes. While this aspect of transference is not contradictory to Freud's views (in The Future Of An Illusion, he describes religion in these terms), Fromm's approach in fact tended to strengthen this type of transference and with it the patient's resistance to remembering. He would focus on feelings about the analyst in the here and now and the function they served. His urgency of getting to the truth short circuited the process of working through the transferential feelings and their origins.

Although Fromm criticized Freud as too much the bourgeois patriarch and showed how this limited his insights, Freud's approach to technique can be more democratic than Fromm's, especially if the Freudian analyst does not force fit the patient into a formula. To be sure, Freud advocated rules in the doctor-patient relationship, in part to protect himself. These are followed bureaucratically by many analysts. An example is that the patient lies on a couch and cannot see the analyst. Freud did not like to be stared at all day. However, Fromm's piercing blue eyes could and sometimes did freeze the patient, and his intensity which could make one feel more alive could also provoke defensive reactions. Freud did not describe the analyst as guru or model, and his own self-analysis showed him as all too human. He saw the analyst as a professional with technical training who, in addition, should have a radical love of truth, a broad education in the arts and sciences, and knowledge of his own unconscious. The goal for analysis was not to become a productive person, but to be liberated from crippling neurosis.

Freud cautioned against expecting too much from a neurotic who has been cured. In his prophetic voice, Fromm suggested that neurotics are humanly healthier than those with the dominant social character or socially patterned defect who have adapted to a sick society and are alienated from themselves. The Frommian neurosis as described in The Sane Society, results from incomplete rebellion against constricting authority and lack of confidence or courage to follow one's insights, to take one's dreams seriously.

A number of narcissistic patients with grandiose ideals for themselves and society were attracted to Fromm's therapy.But the Frommian approach both increased transference resistances and the patient's sense of guilt about unworthiness, unproductiveness, and dependency. Patients compared themselves to the "productive" analyst, and instead of remembering and experiencing childlike drives, humiliations, rages, and fears as a means to mastering them and losing the need for narcissistic solutions, they attempted to resolve conflicts by becoming ideal persons, like the master. In so doing, patients fearing disapproval by the master, again submitted to authority and repressed sexual or angry impulses directed against the parent. Frommian disciples identified with the master and self-righteously directed anger and contempt at others who were not good Frommians. This became a pattern among Fromm's disciples at the Mexican Institute.

Thus, Fromm's humanistic voice which sought to correct the more impersonal, obsessional and dogmatic approach of the early Freudians was never fully heard. The analyst-religious master's prescription for productive development blocked patients from discovering their own avenues for development.

The Productive Ideal and Religious Conversion
In his later works, the models of productiveness became more and more religious, closer to Zen enlightenment or the ideal of non-deistic cosmic unity than to the psychoanalytic aim of lifting infantile repressions and expanding the realm of ego in place of id. William James' observations, in The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), can help us to view Fromm from the perspective of religious thinking. James writes that both Buddhism and Christianity are religions of deliverance which preach that "man must die to an unreal life before he can be born into the real life." He also proposes that the full significance of these religions appeals to a particular type of person who may develop an approach to life similar to Fromm's productive ideal.
James described and contrasted three personality types. The "healthy minded" are those with a "harmonious" personality. They tend to be upbeat and adapted to society. James used the term "healthy" in a rather ironic way. The healthy minded avoid or repress unpleasant perceptions. They have little tolerance for the second type, the "morbid minded" who always see the downside of life. Acutely sensitive to painful realities, the morbid minded must struggle with depression and despair. A third type, which is closer to the morbid-minded, suffer from a "discordant" personality. They struggle with two selves, ideal and actual. Like Saint Augustine and other religious figures, they search restlessly for "the truth" until through self-analysis and religious discipline, they are reborn with "a new zest which adds itself like a gift to life, and takes the form either of lyrical enchantment or of appeal to earnestness and heroism." The result of being reborn is similar to Fromm's ideal.

Fromm had this type of discordant personality; he told me that he continually struggled with irrational impulses. Like Augustine's wrestling with his sins and temptations, Fromm used analysis of both himself and his disciples to increase awareness of the split between ideal and actual selves, to experience regressive drives and to frustrate rather than repress them, while at the same time strengthening productive needs.

Like Saint Augustine, Fromm came to believe that health as defined by the productive character is not gained merely by insight or even experiencing what has been repressed. This definition of health requires spiritual development achieved through a courageous practice of life that frustrates greed and overcomes egoism through meditation and service.

Fromm was deeply religious but did not believe in God. Yet, one can argue that his concept of the cosmos, like that of Spinoza, is a non-anthropomorphic view of God, consistent with Jewish tradition. (When I said this to him, he did not object but said that the only absolutely essential commandment for a Jew was that which forbids all idolatry.) In You Shall Be As Gods, he describes the Bible as evolving the concept of God from a tribal deity to the unknowable God of Moses and the prophets. This God who cannot be made into an idol of any kind first establishes the law and then demands that the people transform themselves according to a messianic vision of harmony and justice. Fromm was attracted to Buddhism, because it did not require belief in God but was based on a rational analysis of overcoming pain and suffering by living a good life. Yet, the appeal of the Jewish tradition, especially chasidism with its animation and joyful music continually called him back. (He often hummed chasidic music, interspersed with Beethoven and other German classics.)

Perhaps, the most important aspect of religion for Fromm personally was the hope it offered. He was not a Christian, because he did not find hope in a life to come. Hope was to be found in two ways. One was the coming of the messianic age, which according to Jewish tradition could happen anytime the world was ready. The other source of hope was a mystical unity with the cosmos, a transcendence of life that would overcome the fear of death.

If one does not believe in an afterlife or reincarnation, there are two main ways to grapple with the fear of death. One is regression to the "oceanic feeling" of infantile pre-conscious unity with the mother. This is the appeal of alcohol and drugs. The other is to overcome one's egoism and experience the mystical sense of fully awakened, life loving unity with nature. In this regard, Fromm practiced Zen meditation, and, in his 70s, he showed me how he also "practiced" dying, by lying on the floor and pretending to give up the ghost while feeling this oneness.

The source of Fromm's prophetic voice was his search for hope, not only for himself but for humanity. In his 50s, when he wrote The Sane Society, hope sprang mainly from his messianic drive to save the world, and this was also the reason why he so admired Karl Marx. In this context, the productive orientation is that of the messianic revolutionary.

In his late years, although Fromm did not lose his messianic hope, he became increasingly disappointed with the revolutionaries of the 60s, the failure of Eugene McCarthy to lead a movement with him in the U.S. and the decline of Marxist humanism in Eastern Europe. In his final work, To Have Or to Be?, his hope shifted, and the model of the productive person became less the messianic revolutionary and more the biophilic mystic.

The Analytic Voice
For Fromm to write a book on technique that truly harmonized the two voices, he would have had to describe a systematic approach to understanding a patient. He would have had to critique Freud's papers on technique in the careful way he analyzed Freud's theory of aggression in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. If he had attempted this, he might have recognized what was valuable in Freud's strategy, and he might have developed a more differentiated approach to therapy and analysis. Even then, I believe he would still have had difficulty in resolving the contradiction between his discussion of analysis as a more democratic, humanistic encounter and his attitude of the omniscient master. In my experience, Fromm was penetrating and compassionate but not particularly empathic. Indeed, while his writings on humanistic analysis leave the impression that a loving, productive analyst will be able to know patients from the inside by empathizing or listening to them in a way a Zen master listens to all of nature, his practice was to use the interview and sometimes projective tests as x-rays of the psyche.
When Fromm focussed on concrete cases as a teacher, he was closer to Freud, minus libido theory, than to either Ferenczi or Zen Buddhism. He was at his most analytic when he interpreted social character from an interview or questionnaire and when he described psychoanalytic diagnosis. I refer to notes from a seminar on diagnosis he gave in 1963 to our class at the Mexican Institute.

The analyst should determine first, the symptoms, goals and pathology of the patient. What is the type and the degree of pathology, e.g. regressive symbiosis, narcissism, and/or destructiveness? Fromm advised that most conflicts presented by the patient are screens. The analyst cannot help the patient decide whether or not to get divorced or leave a job. These hide the deeper conflicts, which Fromm sometimes called the secret plot. An example is Ibsen's Peer Gynt: the modern alienated man who claims he wants to be free and express himself but really wants to satisfy all his greedy impulses and then complains that he has no self, that he is nothing and nobody.

The prognosis is better if the patient's goal is to achieve health in terms of increased capability for freedom and loving relationships, rather than getting help to solve a specific problem which may be merely a symptom of the failure to maintain the cover story.

Second, the analyst should determine the strength of the resistance. He suggested a test of telling the patient something which appears repressed, indicated by a slip of the tongue, a contradiction, or a dream. If there is a positive reaction, the prognosis is better. If there is anger or the patient doesn't hear, the prognosis is very bad. Fromm considered a sense of humor the best indication of a positive prognosis. Lack of it was an indication of "grave narcissism". Humor is the emotional side of reason, the emotional sense of reality. Fromm himself had a keen sense of humor with a taste for the sardonic. He loved good jokes.

Third, the capacity for insight is another indication of good or bad prognosis. The analyst should make small tests, such as "You complain about your wife. Perhaps you are afraid of her." It is a bad sign if the patient either denies an interpretation too quickly or submissively agrees to everything the analyst suggests.

Fourth, what is the degree of vital energy? Is the patient capable of waking up? A person can be quite crazy, yet have the vitality essential for transformation.

At this time, Fromm was no longer claiming that neurotics were healthier than normal people. However, he did maintain that some patients with a severe psychopathology had a better prognosis than those with milder pathology. The key diagnostic factor was the patient's creative potential or ability to struggle against the pathology.

Fifth, has the patient shown responsibility and activity during his or her life? Fromm contrasted obsessive responsibility with the ability to respond to challenges. If the patient always escapes with a magical, irresponsible flight, analysis is not impossible, but extremely difficult.

Sixth, is there a sense of integrity? This refers to the difference between a neurotic and psychopathic personality. Does the patient accept a truth once experienced? Or is there a quality of bad faith, wiggling away from inconvenient truths, a bad sign for prognosis.

Fromm advised using the first hour to ask why the patient had come and to ask for a history, noting what was said, what was left out, and the feelings associated with events. He suggested asking for two or three dreams, especially dreams that are repeated and three memories of infancy (a technique first suggested by A. Adler). In the second hour, he advised testing resistance and insight, then writing out a summary of the diagnosis and a prediction of how long treatment should take.< P> In the middle 60s, Fromm began to send me his own patients for Rorschach tests which he believed helped significantly in providing a better diagnosis, including both psychopathology and the strength of biophilic tendencies. In the later 60s, Fromm emphasized the need for the analyst to understand patients within their particular cultural context. Our intensive study of Mexican social character revealed the importance of culture, class, and mode of production on the formation of emotional attitudes. (e.g. the role of the mother in Mexican culture). Fromm came to believe that 50 percent of an individual's behavior resulted from social character, 25 percent from constitutional or genetic factors and only 25 percent from early experiences. This implied different expectations and approaches with different social character types. For example, middle class Mexican patients tended to be in awe of authority and needed encouragement to express critical views, while patients from the same class in the U.S. are skeptical about authority in general. In Mexico, the analyst needs first to overcome the fear of authority, while in the U.S., it may be necessary to demonstrate that rational authority can exist.

Fromm was impressed by the evidence of psychological well being from the orphanage, "Our Little Brothers and Sisters" (Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos), founded by Father William Wasson in 1955 in Cuernavaca. In a study I directed with a group of Mexican analysts, we found that orphans who had suffered extreme psychic trauma became productive, remarkably happy children after an average of two years in an environment which balanced security, taking responsibility, sharing, and educational opportunity. Father Wasson guaranteed that the children would never have to leave their new family. (Incidentally, he made a rule that he would take all siblings from a family, but would not accept a child if the mother was living, since in that case, the Mexican child would never fully join the new family. This was not the case for the father.) He preached that dwelling on one's misfortunes made one forever a self-pitying victim. Children were encouraged to take advantage of their opportunities for learning and to help each other. Everyone shared in the work, including farming. For Fromm, the positive results achieved at the orphanage reinforced his view that a good community can transform emotionally damaged people. He contrasted the orphanage to psychotherapies which by focussing on childhood hurts and traumas, strengthened narcissistic self preoccupation and resulted in a chronic feeling of resentment and entitlement.

In our discussions together during the late 60s as we wrote Social Character in a Mexican Village, we agreed that severe emotional disorders were not cured solely by analysis. This is especially true if the patient comes from a culture of poverty and hopelessness. Without a sense of possibility, the patient lacks the self confidence and hope to face crippling feelings and impulses. Even for some patients from more advantaged backgrounds, a strategy of psychoanalysis should focus on understanding and encouraging the patient to strengthen creative potentials before probing for pathology.

Fromm's Contribution
Fromm's contribution to psychoanalysis and social science remains to be developed further. He provides us with theory and methods to understand health and illness as concepts that do not refer to the individual alone, but also to the relationships of the individual to others and to social institutions. "I am myself and my circumstances," Fromm would quote Ortega y Gasset. "And if I do not save my circumstances, I cannot save myself."
To take Fromm seriously, to enter into a dialogue with him is to accept the challenge of taking responsibility of who I want to be as opposed to what I want to have. But it also means examining his assumptions about human nature, what it is possible for people to achieve, and what are the best ways to achieve our goals.

Both Fromm's sane society and psychoanalytic technique are founded on questionable assumptions about human nature. Isaiah Berlin in The Crooked Timber of Humanity has criticized utopian philosophers from Plato to Marx for believing that 'virtue is knowledge', that to know what is truly good for oneself and others is enough to cause rational behavior. Berlin points out that good values such as equality and freedom, or Christian love and republican vigilance against oppression, may be incompatible. Furthermore, different groups have different ways of structuring human needs. He writes "Perhaps, the best that one can do is to try to promote some kind of equilibrium, necessarily unstable, between the different aspirations of differing groups of human beings - at the very least to prevent them from attempting to exterminate each other, and, so far as possible, to prevent them from hurting each other - and to promote the maximum practical degree of sympathy and understanding, never likely to be complete, between them." Berlin goes on to say that "Immanuel Kant, a man very remote from irrationalism, once observed that 'Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.' And for that reason no perfect solution is, not merely in practice, but in principle, possible in human affairs, and any determined effort to produce it is likely to lead to suffering, disillusionment and failure."

Speaking in his prophetic voice, Fromm underestimated the need for individuals to adapt to a society before attempting to transform it. The work of Jean Piaget describes the stages of moral development and the social interaction essential to achieve them. It is through institutions such as family and schools, and organizations (political, legal and economic) that we create health, wealth, and good relationships. In an increasingly complex, technology based society, improving these institutions and organizations requires expert knowledge combined with pragmatic idealism and supportive colleagues. It can be slow and arduous work. There will always be conflicts of different interests that must be negotiated. There is no dramatic cultural transformation that will dissolve psychopathology, create harmony, and make a society sane.

This is not a program to inspire the young who carry banners in parades. Nor will it sell many books. I was once interviewed by a French journalist who said, "Dr Maccoby, If I understand you correctly, you are saying that with great dedication and courage, one can succeed in taking small steps to improve the world. That view will appeal to no one, neither those on the left or the right." Yet, in practice, productive hope is generated when people work together to protect civilization and to push forward the envelope of their culture, even a little bit. They are the responsible parents, dedicated teachers, community volunteers, union organizers, idealistic researchers and environmental activists. Perhaps there are no sane societies, but there are saner societies or sane enough societies that allow individuals to join together to develop themselves and their culture.

To conclude these observations on Fromm's two voices, there are perhaps relatively few discordant personalities, in James' sense, who like Fromm are drawn to religious conversion and mystical unity. But there are many of the would-be healthy minded who feel confused about life, who are not sick but who seek happiness in the wrong places and yearn for deeper understanding of themselves. The liberation of women, economic and emotional, from male domination makes it essential that people learn to love, otherwise the family is likely to disintegrate. For the children of the post modern world, especially those who have already achieved the material goals of the 18th century Enlightenment, Fromm can be a guide who integrates the humanistic lessons of religion, literature, and philosophy with the discoveries of psychoanalysis. Even when he speaks in his analytic voice, the prophetic demands are not silent. He directs us to learn the language of the unconscious and at the same time evaluate our actions and institutions in terms of whether or not they stimulate us to wake up and act according to reason, whether or not they move us and our culture toward community rather than tribalism. Even if one does not believe it is possible to create utopia, it is possible for many of us to develop our productive capabilities of love and reason. By engaging in a serious dialogue with Erich Fromm, we expand our awareness of the choices, sharpen our concepts and deepen our sense of meaning.

As a student of Fromm, I believe the task remains of integrating the analytic and the prophetic voices, the understanding of what is and what can be with a compelling vision of what ought to be in order to create a better life and a more humane world.


Fromm, Erich, Escape from Freedom. New York: Rinehart: 1941. Buy it Now

The Sane Society. New York: Rinehart, 1955.
Buy it Now

You Shall Be As Gods. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966.
Buy it Now

The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. Buy it Now New York: Harper and Row, 1970.

To Have Or To Be? New York: Harper and Row, 1976. Buy it Now

Fromm, Erich, and Michael Maccoby, Social Character in a Mexican Village. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: 1970.
Maccoby, Michael, The Gamesman. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976.