FROMM, ERICH (1900—)


The United States in 1933. In his widely read books—Escape from Freedom (1941), Man for Himself (1947), The Sane Society (1955), The Art of Loving (1956)—he has infused the psychoanalytic approach of Freud with the cultural point of view of Horney and Sullivan and the historical materialism of Marx. Yet, though he has drawn liberally from others, he has developed a unique emphasis which has struck a responsive chord among social scientists, religionists, and the general public. His major thesis is that modem life has lost much of its meaning because men have sacrificed themselves to the machine and the superstate— and we must therefore find new ways of establishing more personal and productive relationships with our fellow men. The prime features of Fromm’s approach will be summarized under five headings: character, individuality, marketing orientation, productive orientation, and love.Character. Human nature is built upon two equally basic, inherent needs: the need for self-preservation (hunger,thirst, etc.) and the need to belong and avoid loneliness. The way we attempt to satisfy these needs molds our character and determines our actions. In this process, socioeconomic factors play the most important part. Our relationship to society, however, is a twofold one. Social processes shape our character, and we also shape the social processes, as illustrated in the Protestant ethic which motivated men to crave work, and this in turn furthered the development of capitalism.Fromm views character as a human substitute for instinct, since it is a structure which fosters consistent behavior. It can best be viewed as the way man relates to the world, and has two aspects: an “individual character” which sets us apart from others, and a “social character” which helps direct our energies toward the furtherance of a particular society. The first important agency that affects character formation is the family; somewhat later the school exerts its influence, and still later the mass media. In adult life our character is affected by political, religious, and educational influences, but for Fromm the greatest weight by far is given to economic forces. These forces impinge most directiy on us in the type of job we perform, for this requires us to adapt to social conditions which we can do little to change. Different jobs require different types of personality, and in a sense we grow into a job, and are changed and molded to fit its specific requirements.Individuality. Freedom and individuality have evolved slowly. Early in man’s history he was part of a tribe or clan bound together by blood, and this tie made him more of a group than a person, since he could not make his own decisions and group survival took precedence over his dimly felt individuality. The group orientation, however, had its advantages, since it gave him a place in the sun, assigned him a job to do, and prevented him from being threatened by feelings of loneliness, doubt, and uncertainty. Genuine individuality emerged gradually in society, just as it does in the individual, and modern man is still struggling to achieve independence.The reward of individuality is freedom, but this reward always arouses ambivalent reactions. When he first tries to go it alone and be free, the young child finds himself beset with anxiety, doubt, and feelings of helplessness. He therefore oscillates between the safety and security of his parents’ dictates and his desire to strike out on his own. He wants his freedom but at the same time he is afraid to take it. Similarly, many adults desire freedom but cannot give up the comfort of groups in which their roles are guaranteed by others. They, too, regress and retreat and try to “escape from freedom.” They allow themselves to become enveloped by rigid institutions—educational, political, economic, religious—which tell them what to do and how to think, giving them little opportunity for the development and expression of their own individuality. The most extreme form of this escape from freedom is found in identifying with an all-powerful organization like the Nazi party in which people surrender not only their individuality but their integrity and humanity as well.The Marketing Orientation. The urge to escape from freedom expresses itself in a number of specific orientations to the world. According to Fromm, these orientations take two general forms, the “process of assimilation,” which means the way we relate to things; and the “process of socialization,” the way we relate to ourselves and to others. All our feelings, attitudes, perceptions, and thoughts are rooted in these two types of orientation. Together they determine our character and our acquired reactions, as contrasted with our temperament, which merely consists of our inborn tendency to react quickly or slowly, strongly or weakly.In Fromm’s opinion, there are a number of dominant modes of nonproductive character constellations within each of these two orientations. In assimilation these are: (a) receiving, (b) exploiting, (c) hoarding, (d) marketing. These correspond, respectively, to the four under socialization: (a) masochistic, (b) sadistic, (c) destructive, and (d) indifferent. As Mullahy has pointed out in the Handbook of Clinical Psychology (1965), this division tends to be redundant and misleading. While a person who “receives” may, in a sense, be called “masochistic,” and one who “exploits” is apt to be “sadistic,” the two sets of terms seem to say much the same thing. Moreover, it is hard to see how hoarding is related to destructiveness.At any rate, Fromm placed most of his emphasis on the “marketing-indifferent” form of the nonproductive orientation, since he believed it to be the most characteristic of our present economic and social life. In the modern system where barter is no longer practiced, the market value of goods is determined by impersonal factors rather than face-to-face exchange. This situation applies to work as well as goods, and as a result people now look upon themselves as commodities to be bought and sold. They also attempt to develop the kind of personality pattern that is best fitted for the type of market in which they find themselves. Personal knowledge and ability to communicate ideas become secondary to playing the proper game at the proper time, and salability is developed at the expense of ability to feel, think, will, or imagine. The marketing person judges his own worth and that of others only in terms of sales success, and he lives in constant fear that others will not accept him or recognize his efforts. As a consequence, his relationships with other people are superficial and depersonalized, and he finds himself “alone, afraid to fail, eager to please.”Closely related to the marketing orientation is the view that modem man is an “automaton,” a mere cog in a vast industrial machine. Working on one small portion of a product, he is cut off not only from the ultimate article he is producing, but from his own potentialities as a human being. He accepts the niche in the social structure assigned to him by the powers that be, and conforms as best he can to alleviate the fear that he will not be accepted. Out of this situation arises the “socialization orientation” which is inevitably coupled with the marketing orientation—that is, a feeling of basic indifference to society, and an acceptance of the meaninglessness of life.The productive orientation. This is a key concept in Fromm’s thinking, his alternative to the marketing-indifferent and other nonproductive orientations. In his view, a person is productive when he is realizing the powers which are essential aspects of human nature, and a well-developed science of man would enumerate the nature, type, and number of uniquely human powers. So far we have only gleaned a little knowledge here, since human nature can never be fully realized in any society at any given time. Nevertheless, the outlines of this orientation are fairly clear. In terms of our relation to things (“assimilation”) we need to replace the marketing orientation, as well as hoarding, exploiting, and receiving, with meaningful work that does not reduce the worker to the status of appendage to a machine. There are some promising models for this new orientation in co-operative communities that combine living with working, since they provide opportunities for integrating productivity with social life, educational improvement, and the development of the whole human being.Love. The other aspect of the productive orientation lies in our relationship to people (“socialization”). Here the two major concepts are reasoning—the free use of the mind—and loving. Both of these must be linked with working, in the institutions of the future, if we are ever t develop a “sane society.” For Fromm, love hasa special meaning. It cannot be reduced to sexual expression or feelings of dependency. It is viewed as an activity, a passion that keeps humanity from disintegrating, a way of giving that involves sharing the entire spectrum of life—joy, interests, understanding, sadness, humor. The practice of love is a “unique attempt at interpersonal fusion” through which human beings can deal with their greatest problem and challenge—their separateness. It is not a simple matter, for at its core are respect, care, knowledge, and responsibility, and these require competence in many areas of life. The development of the ability to love is therefore an “art,” and if it is ever fully achieved it is bound to bring the highest expression of individuality and the greatest guarantee of mental health. See HOARDING, LOVE. Fromm received training in psychology, sociology, and psychoanalysis in Germany before coming

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "FROMM, ERICH (1900—)," in, November 28, 2018, (accessed September 30, 2022).


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