The Lives of Erich Fromm

The Lives of Erich Fromm: Love's Prophet

Lawrence J. Friedman
with assistance from Anke M. Schreiber
Copyright Date: 2013
DOI: 10.7312/frie16258
Pages: 456
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/frie16258
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Lives of Erich Fromm
    Book Description:

    Erich Fromm was a political activist, psychologist, psychoanalyst, philosopher, and one of the most important intellectuals of the twentieth century. Known for his theories of personality and political insight, Fromm dissected the sadomasochistic appeal of brutal dictators while also eloquently championing love -- which, he insisted, was nothing if it did not involve joyful contact with others and humanity at large. Admired all over the world, Fromm continues to inspire with his message of universal brotherhood and quest for lasting peace.

    The first systematic study of Fromm's influences and achievements, this biography revisits the thinker's most important works, especially Escape from Freedom and The Art of Loving, which conveyed important and complex ideas to millions of readers. The volume recounts Fromm's political activism as a founder and major funder of Amnesty International, the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, and other peace groups. Consulting rare archival materials across the globe, Lawrence J. Friedman reveals Fromm's support for anti-Stalinist democratic movements in Central and Eastern Europe and his efforts to revitalize American democracy. For the first time, readers learn about Fromm's direct contact with high officials in the American government on matters of war and peace while accessing a deeper understanding of his conceptual differences with Freud, his rapport with Neo-Freudians like Karen Horney and Harry Stack Sullivan, and his association with innovative artists, public intellectuals, and world leaders. Friedman elucidates Fromm's key intellectual contributions, especially his innovative concept of "social character," in which social institutions and practices shape the inner psyche, and he clarifies Fromm's conception of love as an acquired skill. Taking full stock of the thinker's historical and global accomplishments, Friedman portrays a man of immense authenticity and spirituality who made life in the twentieth century more humane than it might have been.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53106-1
    Subjects: Psychology, History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Gerald N. Grob

    As a student at the City College of New York in the late 1940s, I enrolled in an honors program in the social sciences. We were required to read about forty or fifty books that had shaped society since the Greeks. Among these books was Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom. I was so taken with this book that I followed up by reading The Sane Society, and in subsequent decades I remained an avid reader of his writings. What I found especially impressive was Fromm’s ability to write in a way that avoided jargon while presenting important and complex ideas...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Prologue: Writing Lives
    (pp. xix-xxxvi)

    It was late summer of 1958, and I was preparing to leave the Los Angeles home of my parents and grandparents. Within days, I would be a freshman at the new Riverside campus of the University of California. The one television program my Eastern European émigré grandfather and I watched together was The Mike Wallace Show, a forerunner of Sixty Minutes. Wallace conducted an hour-long interview of Erich Fromm, introducing him as a man with essentially two “lives”—the most important psychoanalyst since Freud and a major champion of peaceful coexistence with the Russians. Over the course of the interview,...

  6. PART I Germany
    • 1 The Unsteady Apprentice
      (pp. 3-27)

      Erich Fromm was born in Frankfurt at the start of the twentieth century. At the time, Frankfurt was the financial capital of Germany. Situated on the Main River near its juncture with the Rhine, it was one of Europe’s major transportation and commercial centers and a historical magnet for Jewish business and intellectual ventures. Goethe had been born in Frankfurt, and idealistic liberals had gathered there in 1848 to try to create a democratic and united nation. In brief, major German economic, political, and intellectual changes often registered themselves first in Frankfurt.

      The city resonated deeply with Fromm for much...

    • 2 Frankfurt Scholar
      (pp. 28-62)

      By 1929, Erich Fromm’s experiment with the therapeuticum had ended, his marriage to Frieda was deeply troubled, and his analysis with Hanns Sachs seemed to be going nowhere. Generally dejected, Fromm arrived at the Frankfurt Institute of Social Research, a group of eclectic but skeptical Marxist scholars, many of whom doubled as social critics and tended to be philosophical in their approach. At the Institute, Fromm became reacquainted with Leo Löwenthal, his childhood friend, and he enjoyed working with Max Horkheimer, the central intellectual presence.

      Within a few years, Fromm came to regard his calling not so much as a...

  7. PART II The Americas
    • 3 The Americanization of a European Intellectual
      (pp. 65-96)

      In 1935, Fromm told Max Horkheimer that he wanted to write a book examining the dangers of authoritarianism generally and the Nazi threat in particular. Wilhelm Reich was also attentive to the extreme danger posed by Hitler, and several years earlier, in 1932, Fromm had been in the audience when Reich had presented a paper on the subject to the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute. Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascismwas an elaboration of that presentation and preceded Escape from Freedom by eight years. To some extent, Escape elaborated on the argument of Reich’s book. Reich maintained, as Fromm would later, that...

    • 4 Escape from Freedom
      (pp. 97-118)

      The context for Escape from Freedom was exceedingly personal and complex. Although Fromm’s work at the Frankfurt Institute contributed to his most important ideas, the intellectual stimulation, collegiality, and joy Fromm found with Horney, Sullivan, Thompson, and their colleagues in the Zodiac group and Culture and Personality movement was also significant. The way Katherine Dunham came to embody the richness, creative potential, and happiness inherent in freedom also played an important role in the book’s creation. Fromm’s preoccupation with the rescue of family members and others from a Holocaust in the making as he conceived and completed Escape indicates that...

    • 5 Clinician and Ethicist
      (pp. 119-155)

      Fromm’s upbeat tone at the conclusion of Escape from Freedom signaled a reawakening of the Jewish prophetic tradition that had been central to his early life and persisted through the 1940s. What Fromm called “positive freedom” in Escape—the affirmation of man’s capacity to lead a loving, reflective, productive, and psychologically extravagant, joyous, and creative life—soon came to be supplanted by references to “ethical” or “socialist” humanism. Under the heading of “humanism,” Fromm elaborated a vague philosophy predicated on dialogue, hope, and human relatedness. Fromm considered his next book, Man for Himself: An Inquiry Into the Psychology of Ethics...

    • 6 To Love and to Mentor
      (pp. 156-183)

      American culture in the 1950s was thoroughly captivated by at least three issues: the Cold War, McCarthyism, and the theme of love. Fromm adamantly and publicly opposed both the Cold War and McCarthyism. And as he recovered from the death of his second wife, he found the love of his life. Indeed, it was a string of amorous missives he wrote to the woman who meant the most to Fromm in his last three decades that provided the incentive and momentum to write The Art of Loving (1956).

      This is the book most readers identify with Fromm. It was an...

    • 7 Politics and Prose
      (pp. 184-212)

      The mass-market success of The Art of Loving stimulated sales and royalties for all of Fromm’s writings, particularly in the United States. Combined with mounting lecture honoraria and his usual teaching and clinical revenues, Fromm’s American income jumped from $8,850 in 1953 to $29,874 in 1959 (approximately $215,000 in 2012 dollars). Now in his late fifties, Fromm assumed a new “life,” becoming a major benefactor of progressive American causes and donating to the election campaigns of Adlai Stevenson, J. William Fulbright, Phillip Hart, Eugene McCarthy, and others. Substantial checks were often followed by long personal letters, coupling praise with general...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
  8. PART III Global Citizenship
    • 8 Prophecies for a Troubled World
      (pp. 215-237)

      Erich Fromm’s 1962 volume, Beyond the Chains of Illusion: My Encounter with Marx and Freud, was the closest he came to writing an autobiography. The opening essay addressed aspects of his early life and was an invaluable personal testimony; the final chapter expounded on the three broadly prophetic goals synthesized in his book. Fromm acknowledged a primary debt to Marx more than Freud, although throughout his discussion, Freud’s thinking was more central. The volume sold roughly 1.5 million copies and was translated into eighteen languages.¹

      Fromm’s first goal addressed his belief that society needed to embrace life, love, growth, and...

    • 9 A Third Way
      (pp. 238-252)

      Fromm was deeply committed to a democratic socialist alternative to Western capitalism and what he labeled Soviet “managerialism.” He equated democratic socialism with “humanism”: the freedom of each individual, when sustained by society, to pursue a life of creative labor and happiness. Fromm thought that nonaligned “third force” countries had the greatest potential to travel down this path.

      Fromm was swayed by a plan proposed in 1960 by Karl Polanyi for enlisting the support of a coalition of politically concerned intellectuals who would reinforce one another’s resources and ideas. A maverick Eastern European economic historian, in his 1944 classic, The...

    • 10 “Life Is Extravagance”: Almost
      (pp. 253-267)

      Between June 1961 and August 1962, Soviet-American tensions over Berlin escalated. Germany in general and Berlin in particular were focal points for an intensification of the Cold War. The city had been divided into American, French, British, and Soviet administrative zones, but Khrushchev sought to cut off the Soviet sector from the three Western powers. Confrontations between the Soviets and the Allies followed. The underlying problem for the GDR was that millions of East Germans were defecting to West Germany through Berlin. Khrushchev and Ulbricht of the GDR built the Berlin Wall to cut off the migrations west. It was...

    • 11 Hope and Stasis
      (pp. 268-291)

      A mid a long recuperation period in Locarno after his severe heart attack, Fromm defied his doctors and attended the May 1967Pacem in Terrisconference in Geneva. He talked with some of the other delegates but gave no presentation and did not stay long. He told his friend Michael Maccoby that one could believe all illness was psychosomatic until one reached one’s sixties; then illness seemed to strike with a vengeance. Maccoby discerned that after his brush with death, Fromm “became gentler, more sympathetic. He became more interested in individual spiritual development, more in tune with the Buddhist vision of transcendence,...

    • 12 Love and Death
      (pp. 292-338)

      Even before 1970, whenSocial Character in a Mexican Villagewas published, Mexico was wearing a bit thin on Erich and Annis. He had retired from the National Autonomous University in 1965 and also curtailed his responsibilities in the Mexican Psychoanalytic Institute in order to spend more time with her and on his writing projects. Yet the couple thought increasingly of residing again in the United States. Erich’s cardiologist in New York had cautioned him against the high altitudes of the Mexican capital. Frequent bouts of shortness of breath made the risk apparent. Moreover, his professional obligations had worn him down. Despite...

  9. A Bibliographical Note
    (pp. 339-344)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 345-394)
  11. Index
    (pp. 395-410)