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ERICH FROMM


A guide to Erich Fromm
Biography
Personality Orientations
The New, Sane Society
Links
Suggested Reading
Personality Type Tables
Interview

     Erich Fromm was arguably one of the most penetrating psychoanalysts of the 20th century. He contributed a lot to the field, especially in his seminal piece, "Escape from Freedom." In this work he describes how man is confronted with the problem of his own detatchment from nature, leaving him naked and alone. He argues that man, with his superior intelligence recognizes his own existance as well as this split and looks for ways in which he may once again become one with nature and what he is to do with his newfound knowledge of himself.

      Fromm drew upon the works of Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx as primary influences on his social and psychological theories, developing penetrating theories on concepts such as alienation, submissiveness, love and freedom. He used religious texts to explain and relate many of his theories. His Ideas on religion were also heavily influenced by Ludwig Feuerbach, a student of Hegel, and Fromm cites Feuerbach's works often. In his last major works he expanded on theories developed in "Escape from Freedom," describing a death drive and the conflict between having and being.

      His concepts of Marx's theories led him to become a socialist humanist, and he worked with many peace movements such as The Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy (SANE), which he co-founded. Fromm was always concerned with the nuclear arms race and mentioned its' dangers often in his works.

Purpose
      The purpose of this portion of my site will be to create a comphrehensive guide to the ideas and works of Erich Fromm, and to provide links to a wide array of online resources which serve this end. Ideally, I hope that this will serve to disseminate his ideas and provide a greater understanding of his life and ideas. This end is of particular interest to me due to the affect that his works have had on my life since I was 15 and because his penetrating, humanist analysis of the issues he confronted seem to lead to more productive, sane solutions to the problems rather than divisive and destructive answers, like most of our world leaders promote today.

Biography
      Erich Fromm was born in Frankfurt, Germany on March 23, 1900. His family was Orthodox Jewish, which may explain his deep interest in the Talmud. He does not describe his family life as a good one, his mother suffering from depression and his father was cold.

      Perhaps the most compelling event that would lead him to study human nature occurred when he was only 12. At that age, he witnessed a painter he describes in his autobiography as "beautiful, attractive, and in addtion a painter" commit suicide when her own father died. More surprising to Fromm was that she stipulated in her will that she wanted to be buried with her father. Later, he describes, he was frighted by the warmongering in Germany at the start of the first World War.

      Erich Fromm began studying law at the University of Frankfurt am Main in 1918. That Summer he started studying Sociology at the University of Heidelberg under Max Weber's brother, Alfred Weber. He Received his Ph.D. in 1922 and studied Psychoanalysis at the Psychoanalytical Institute in Berlin until 1930. In the meantime, he had officially withdrawn from his Jewish faith in 1926, though the Old Testament and the Talmud would remain central themes in his works and studies. He started his own practice in 1930, but only 4 years later the Nazi threat forced him to flee to New York, where he stayed for 20 years and wrote "Escape from Freedom" and "Man For Himself." In 1950 he moved to Mexico City and became a professor at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico. He established a psychoanalytic section at the university's medical school. He also taught at Michigan State University and New York University until 1965 when he "retired." He moved to Switzerland and continued his medical practice until his death 5 days before his 80th birthday.

Personality Orientations
      Erich Fromm described 6 major personality orientations: receptive, exploitative, hoarding, marketing, productive and necrophilous. The first four are pathological and self-destructive, while the fifth represents a positive and open personality. The last one is the lover of death, which opposes the rest: while all the others are attempts at defining and understanding life, necrophilia attempts to destroy life. These personalities were first discussed in "Man for Himself" and Expanded on in "To Have or to Be?," "The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness" and others. If you'd like, you can take a test to see which one you might fit under (don't take it literally, only a professional analysis can give you an idea of how you think, and most people are a blend of these types anyways!). He also used tables to describe the various orientations, which you can see here.

Receptive orientation: The receptive individual is characterized by a heavy lack of creativity. These people tend to expect things which they desire to come to them and rarely feel confidant in their own abilities. The receptive character is usually very quiet, and finds it hard to make his or her own decisions, relying on the input of others. Often, these people find themselves seeking a parental figure who may take care of them; they tend to be those children that never grew up.
      Families with an overbearing, controlling nature often produce people like this. Often the parents either make no attempt to teach their children how to mature, or the children are simply given everything they request without question. Poor, heavily controlled populations such as in feudal Europe can generate a lot of these people.

Exploitative orientation:The exploitative character manipulates others to get his way. These people love to lead, and sometimes disdain those that they feel are below them. Exploitative people are confident in their image and tend to support authority - as long as it works for them. To these people, taking from others is often more an end than the possession that is gained. Exploitative people have a hopeless alliance with their victims: they are at once enemies and at the same time the exploiter needs them and identifies his own person in relation to how he is able to manipulate the victim. These people hate themselves as much as those that they take advantage of. These people are the ruling class: by either necessity to maintain class or learned motive, they create a fantasy where they are more than one person, losing themselves in the process.

Hoarding orientation: The hoarding character views the world as possessions: people are possessed, ideas are possessed, love is possessed. This kind of person cannot bear losing these "possessions," and relates to them to such a degree that they are their possessions. The hoarder is a conservative: they cannot stand for their environment to be disturbed, and would rather have it be destroyed than become foreign. He cannot stand a lack of order, in the material organization of his life or in his punctuality. This personality finds release from his or her problems by hostility towards the problem or a gradual acceptance and loyalty to the problem. In making the world an object, the creative faulties of the person to relate to the world become irrelevant. In other words, the apparent lifelessness of the hoarder's world creates an atmosphere in which activity is either alienating or possessive and suspicious. "...to them, death and destruction have more reality than life and growth." Fromm describes their orientation as believing that "there is nothing new under the sun."(Man for Himself, Pg. 67)

Marketing orientation: The marketing orientation describes the mindset in which a man perpetally molds himself into society's image in order to fit the expected norms of society. He sees the world as a marketplace, where new symbolizes good and desirous, wheras old becomes ugly and useless to him. Fromm described this mindset as saying, "new is beautiful," as opposed to the historical mindset which has been one of keeping and maintaining possessions for later, commodity - oriented use: "old is beautiful."
      Marketing characters exhibit signs of extreme conformity and solve their problems as if they were simply manifestations of the market. These people look for mates as commodities to be scrutinized for positive traits which may have little to do with love, and create barriers between themselves and others defined by abstractions such as religiosity, monetary value and social status. Families which own or manage businesses or encourage conformity and a scholastic focus on the job market - that is, most families in industirialized nations today - tend to create marketing characters. This personality, Fromm said, only started to emerge with contemporary society and its focus on marketability.

Necrophilous orientation: This kind of person stands alone from the others in that he, instead of attempting to find a solution to life, seeks to destroy it. These people are often fascinated by death, and find war and destruction as not necessary, but desireable. These people have escaped entirely from the problem of man's seperation of nature and his knowledge of hisself. He points to the spanish general Millán Astray's motto, "Viva la Muerte!" and criticism by Miguel de Unamuno, describing the general's words as "a necrophilous and senseless cry." The necrophiliac not only responds to life with destruction, but experiences life itself as death. He sees the world as dead and inanimate, devoid of joyful prospects and fully hopeless. You will find the Necrophiliac speaking heavily in terms of feces, destruction and toilets (Fromm notes that "shit" has become a widespread term, but that it is easy enough to discern those who use in convention as opposed to those who use it due to necrophilic tendancies).(The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, p.368)
      Another characteristic of the necrophiliac character is his mechanistic character. The necrophile finds more joy in mechanical, lifeless activity and entities than in living, dynamic entities. In this way there is much similarity to the Hoarding character; however, the difference remains that he is not simply a conservative, who wants to maintain the current order of his life and defend against the outside, living world, but seeks to destroy those external entities.

Productive orientation: This is, to fromm, the "man without a mask." He has found a legitimate solution to life, and that is to learn to contintually relate and become one with the world and its dilemmas, thus solving the problem of his disassociation from nature and his knowledge of the self. He also draws a relation to his "spontaneous" character which he described in "Escape from Freedom," who is not chained by the artificial and unrealistic compulsions of social domination, but finds himself rationally and personally responding to problems. This character has managed to escape the confines of dogmatic, staic ideology and finds his ideas continually challenged and is not afraid to change them. By becoming one with his ideas, their health becomes more relevant, and he no longer feels as if they are a static possession, but a tool that if seen to be false must be revised. The productive individual has also learned to love truly; while other personalities find awys to escape love and distance themselves, the productive man has no fear of accepting things and peopel for who they are and loving them accordingly. He recognizes that to love one person you must love all, because the essential nature of man is by and large universal; if one loves a person for not being racist and they wake up tomorrow, has that love truly been real?
      The productive man is also the man of the future; in Fromm's eye's he is Marx's new man. Because he can become one with the external world and his fellow man, he finds relating to others and relieving alienation a simple process that simply follows in his nature. By calling him the "man without a mask," Fromm is in fact saying that at heart we are all socialists, or even communists!

The New, Sane Society
     Fromm Also describes 8 essential characteristics of a new society which is largely populated by people with the Productive Orientation.
 -Solutions to problems of economic change that do not lead to centraalization or fascism
 -A combination of planning and decentralization which gives up the "free market myth"
 -Giving up the obsession with unlimited growth in the stead of selective, humanistic growth
 -Work conditions which do not motivate by greed, but by productive, enriching drives such as compassion and need
 -Further scientific progress but prevent it from becoming a threat to the human race (i.e. Nuclear arms)
 -People experience joy and health without the "maximum pleasure drive"
 -Basic security but a lack of dependance on a central bureaucratic system
 -An arise in "individual initiative," much like that of the homesteaders.

"National Council of the Voice of the American Conscience"
      Erich Fromm attempted, with the 1968 printing of "The Revolution of Hope," to organize a movement for a more humanistic society, and described its potential formation. He asked readers to send in suggestions on a form cut out from the last page of the book itself.

External Links:
Wanted: An Erich Fromm Party - an interesting article from The Guardian
Neil McLaughlin: Origin Myths in the Social Sciences: Fromm, the Frankfurt School and the Emergence of Critical Theory - extremely good article on the split between Fromm and the Frankfurt Institute
Hugh Gillilan: "In Appreciation"

Suggested Reading / Bibliography:
"To Have Or To Be?" - This is my favorite; he describes the modes of having as opposed to those of being, and explains how class society has created a mentality of possessiveness and a relationship with oneself as manifested chiefly as a relationship with possessions, and not the self. "Escape from Freedom" - This was the work that made him so well - known. He descibes authoritarian, passive and spontaneous personalities and describes how people subsume their personalities into dehumanizing entities through activities like nationalism and religion. His spontaneous character is what he based his productive character orientation on.
"The Art Of Loving" - This is a quick read which explains Fromm's ideas on love of many things: the world, your spose, your friends, and people in general. This is probably his most popular book.
"Man For Himself" - This is one of his best works, in which he describes how man subsumes his personality into certain modes of having as an escape from responsibility and freedom, and explains that a Man acting in his true interest acts in the interests of all of society.
"The Sane Society" - Fromm describes the general insanity of our current culture and describes an alternative social future.
"Marx's Concept Of Man" - He attempts to descirbes Karl Marx's concepts on man, society, and socialism and includes a plethora of material previously untranslated by Marx and a few others.
"The Anatomy Of Human Destructiveness" - This is practically a tome of ideas; Fromm describes various forms of destructivness as they relate to the arious personality types, introduces the Necrophilous character and does an anaylsis of Hitler, among others, referencing various historical documents and journals.

Ludwig Feuerbach - "The Essence Of Christianity" - Fromm drew a lot of his ideas from Feuerbach and the book is a good read for anybody interested in Fromm, Christianity, or philosophy in general.

All text is copyright ©1999-2007 By Dean Sayers unless otherwise stated. No works may be copied without my prior permission except in cases of fair use.