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Beginning with his first seminal work, Escape from Freedom (known in Britain as The Fear of Freedom), first published in 1941, Fromm's writings were notable as much for their social and political commentary as for their philosophical and psychological underpinnings. His second seminal work, Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics, first published in 1947, was a continuation of Escape from Freedom. Taken together, these books outlined Fromm's theory of human character, which was a natural outgrowth of Fromm's theory of human nature. Fromm's most popular book was The Art of Loving, an international bestseller first published in 1956, which recapitulated and complemented the theoretical principles of human nature found in Escape from Freedom and Man for Himself, principles which were revisited in many of Fromm's other major works.
Central to Fromm's world view was his interpretation of the Talmud, which he began studying as a young man under Rabbi J. Horowitz and later studied under Rabbi Salman Baruch Rabinkow while working towards his doctorate in sociology at the University of Heidelberg and under Nehemia Nobel and Ludwig Krause while studying in Frankfurt. Fromm's grandfather and two great grandfathers on his father's side were rabbis, and a great uncle on his mother's side was a noted Talmudic scholar. However, Fromm turned away from orthodox Judaism in 1926 and turned towards secular interpretations of scriptural ideals.
The cornerstone of Fromm's humanistic philosophy is his interpretation of the biblical story of Adam and Eve's exile from the Garden of Eden. Drawing on his knowledge of the Talmud, Fromm pointed out that being able to distinguish between good and evil is generally considered to be a virtue, and that biblical scholars generally consider Adam and Eve to have sinned by disobeying God and eating from the Tree of Knowledge. However, departing from traditional religious orthodoxy, Fromm extolled the virtues of humans taking independent action and using reason to establish moral values rather than adhering to authoritarian moral values.
Beyond a simple condemnation of authoritarian value systems, Fromm used the story of Adam and Eve as an allegorical explanation for human biological evolution and existential angst, asserting that when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, they became aware of themselves as being separate from nature while still being a part of it. This is why they felt "naked" and "ashamed": They had evolved into human beings, conscious of themselves, their own mortality, and their powerlessness before the forces of nature and society, and no longer united with the universe as they were in their instinctive, pre-human existence as animals. According to Fromm, the awareness of a disunited human existence is the source of all guilt and shame, and the solution to this existential dichotomy is found in the development of one's uniquely human powers of sex and reason. However, Fromm so distinguished his concept of love from popular notions of love that his reference to this concept was virtually paradoxical.
Fromm considered love to be an interpersonal creative capacity rather than an emotion, and he distinguished this creative capacity from what he considered to be various forms of narcissistic neuroses and sado-masochistic tendencies that are commonly held out as proof of "true love." Indeed, Fromm viewed the experience of "falling in love" as evidence of one's failure to understand the true nature of love, which he believed always had the common elements of care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge. Drawing from his knowledge of the Bible, Fromm pointed to the story of Jonah, who did not wish to save the residents of Nineveh from the consequences of their sin, as demonstrative of his belief that the qualities of care and responsibility are generally absent from most human relationships. Fromm also asserted that few people in modern society had respect for the autonomy of their fellow human beings, much less the objective knowledge of what other people truly wanted and needed.
The culmination of Fromm's social and political philosophy was his book The Sane Society, published in 1955, which argued in favor of humanist, democratic socialism. Building primarily upon the works of Karl Marx, Fromm sought to re-emphasise the ideal of personal freedom, missing from most Soviet Marxism, and more frequently found in the writings of classic liberals. Fromm's brand of socialism rejected both Western capitalism and Soviet communism, which he saw as dehumanizing and bureaucratic social structures that resulted in a virtually universal modern phenomenon of alienation.
Fromm was very active in American politics. He joined the Socialist Party of America in the 1950s, and did his best to help them provide an alternative viewpoint to the prevailing McCarthyism of the time, a viewpoint that was best expressed in his 1961 paper May Man Prevail? An Inquiry into the Facts and Fictions of Foreign Policy. However, as a co-founder of SANE, Fromm's strongest political interest was in the international peace movement, fighting against the nuclear arms race and America's involvement in the Vietnam war. After supporting the then Senator Eugene McCarthy's losing bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, Fromm more or less retreated from the American political scene, although he did write a paper in 1974 entitled Remarks on the Policy of Détente for a hearing held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
- Fromm, E. (1941) Escape from Freedom, New York: Rinehart.
- Fromm, E. (1947)Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics.
- Fromm, E. (1955) The Sane Society, New York: Rinehart.
- Fromm, E. (1956)The Art of Loving,
- Fromm, E. (1964)Heart of Man,
- Fromm, E. (1966)You Shall Be as Gods,
- Fromm, E. (1968) The Revolution of Hope, New York: Harper & Row.
- Fromm, E. (1973)The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness,
- Fromm, E. (1976)To Have or to Be,
- Fromm, E. (1989)The Art of Being, edited by Rainer Funk,
- The International Erich Fromm Society
- Erich Fromm Archive at the Marxists.org Internet Archive
- "Homo Consumens" Fromm's thoughts on the commodifying traits of modern life.
- "Love & Its Disintegration" An excerpt from Fromm's book "The Art of Loving."
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