Dean Sayers
Erich Fromm
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Interview with Erich Fromm
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Interviewer: The strict freudianism of his earlier years was tempered by a feeling that there were external, as well as internal currents. In a book called To Have or to Be, published this week, Fromm proposes that there are two styles people use to prove that they are themselves. In terms of what they possess, or to use themselves up in a process of being. Did the first option have disadvantages?

Fromm: Well, I would say at first, what I have I can use. In other words, if my sense of identity is based on what I have, on my possessions, if I can say "I am what I have," then the question arises "what am I if I lose what I have?" Therefore, the sense of identity based on what I have is always threatened. A person is anxiously concerned not to lose what he has because he doesn't lose juse what he has; he loses a sense of self. If I feel I am what I have and I have nothing anymore, then I am not. And that sense of identity which is based on "to be" is entirely different, because that can never be taken away from me except if I'm insane or in some peculiar circumstances. I feel, I see, I love, I am sad. All these human experiences which can be expressed in verbs are human activities which are not dependant, which cannot be lost or destroyed. And therefore the person whose sense of identity is based on what he is, that is to say, on the expression of his inner faculties, potentialities in the world, or in that sense in what he does, but does not in an outward sense, he does not have the anxiety to lose himself because something may be taken away from him. He is really free from that danger.

Interviewer: It's perfectly clear to me that being, as you speak of it, is a process of the quittance of self, and you refer to authorities, one that you most admire is Meister Eckhart. Another I think is Marx, and I'm wondering if the source of your book, your thinking in "To Have or to Be," finds any source in Marx.

Fromm: Well in fact, the whole concept of having and being the way I find it stems from me, from Marx. Perhas I can read just one sentence from Marx. He said, "The less you are, and the less you express your life, the more you have, and the greater is your alienated life. Everything the economist takes from you in the way of life and humanity he restores to you in the form of money and wealth." Now that is the clearest expression of the difference between having and being as two fundamental opposite principles and in fact it also goes through the whole thought of Marx. Marx is concerned with the question of labor and capital. Now, Capital is dead. Its amassed wealth which then can be used for certain purposes. Labor is a life, and the question for Marx is, "what is superior - things or life?" And in his ???? and ??faculties?? I think between the lines perhaps there is a background - there is this question of life or things, and the battle for life.

Interviewer: It just passed through my mind in reading that whether you also, in condensing reality into the ideas you write down on the page you incorporate them into your theories, whether in a way you weren't also trying to have reality?

Fromm: This book I wrote, "To Have or to Be," while I am writing it, I am fully in it. When it is finished, it doesn't exist anymore. I don't read it anymore; I'm occupied with new ideas; it bores me in the last analysis - because it is not, I don't consider it, I don't feel about it. This is my book that I wrote, but so these are ideas which were once wrote down but I'm not really interested anymore. I 'm interested in things I am thinking now and also without really, it making a great difference whether its something to be published or not to be published.

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