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Disclaimer: In these lecture notes, posted online for the benefit of my students, I have quoted more than the usually allowable 350-450 words from The Sane Society. If any copyright holder objects, please let me know and I will stop.


OVERVIEW: Erich Fromm was one of the two twentieth-century psychologists, along with the Gestalt psychologist Kurt Lewin, who most explcitly applied their psychological ideas to an analysis of society. Others who did so, but not in such a thoroughgoing manner, included Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Paolo Freire. I think it reasonable to say that in a real sense, all these figures were not only psychologists but also social philosophers. The scope and compass of Fromm's own thinking and investigations is nothing short of astonishing.

"Neo-Freudian." Fromm was given this label along with Alfred Adler, Karen Horney, & Harry Stack Sullivan. All four members of this group were far more concerned with social relationships than the orthodox psychoanaolysts.

A bridge theorist. Like Adler and Horney, Fromm ccan be regarded as a "bridge theorist" between psychoanalysis and humanistic psychology. At the same time, he undertook a far more thorough psychological analysis of society than any humanistic psychologist.,

A basic theme in Fromm's thought: We feel lonely and isolated because we have become separated from nature and from other human beings.


Fromm was born in 1900 in Frankfurt. Doctorate from University of Heidelberg. Psychoanalytic training at Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute. Also studied at the University o. Munich. He held a doctorate in sociology as well as being a trained psychoanalyst.

Came to U.S. in 1933, first at Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute, then moved to New York City. Started a private practice. Began to recognize that what was going on in the culture and the society affects people in dramatic ways.

His first wife was the noted psychoanalyst Frieda Fromm-Reichmann.After her death he married Karen Horney. Both these women were around 15 years older than Fromm and were a real sense mentors. Eventually he and Horney came to a parting of the ways. The two had a strong and noticeable influence on each other. Horney's personality typology can be seen within Fromm's later, more fully developed typology, as can her stress on awareness.

Fromm spent a considerable share of his latter career in Mexico. Profoundly influenced Mexican psychology. When I did a tour of Mexican psychology departments in 1976, there were three principal schools: Psychoanalytic, especially at the Universidad Nacional; behaviorist, especially at the Universidad de Jalapa; and Frommian, especially at the Universidad de Puebla. (There was also a humanistic emphasis, both in the Universidad de Yucatan and the Jesuit Universidad Iberoamericana, which is sort of the Harvard of Mexico.)

Fromm moved to Switzerland in 1976,and died in 1980, 6 days before his 80th birthday. (Karen Horney had died in 1952). For much more information about his life, see the three items at the top of the Erich Fromm Links page.

EARLY INFLUENCES. Early influences on Fromm included Freud's instinct theory. The part of it that most influenced Fromm was the idea that the person was driven from within and without, and Freud's emphasis on aggressive drives. Socialist thought also influenced Fromm. For a time he was a member of the "Frankfurt School" of "Marxist-Freudians," called Critical Theory in Sociology, but eventually lost popularity there because they considered him too humanistic and not sufficiently committed to the idea of economic determinism. He was influenced by Marx's analysis of the kind of capitalism that makes people into objects. Indeed, Fromm held that the full spiritual development of the human being and society were the central items to consider, and that economics should serve that end. He also provides, in The Sane Society, the best mini-history of socialist thought that I have seen, an incisive critique of how its spiritual essence was lost both in Soviet Communism and also in Western European materialistic socialism, and an analysis of how Marx's own writings paved the way for their misinterpretation and misuse by Lenin and Stalin. If you're interested in spending an hour actually finding a little out for yourself about socialist thought, this is a penetrating and fascinating historical analysis.


AN "EXISTENTIAL DICHOTOMY." This is like an existential dilemma with an additional dimension. It refers to a problem that has no solution because none of the alternatives it presents is fully satisfactory. We desire immortanity, but face death. We desire a certain kind of world, but find the world into which we were born unsatisfactory. Existential dichotomies are an inescapable part of life. Gregory Bateson's concept of the "double bind" is very close. The difference is that with the double bind, both options lead to some kind of painful or punishing experience. It is akin to Kurt Lewin's "avoidance-avoidance conflict."


FREEDOM IN MEDIEVAL AND MODERN SOCIETY.(Primary reference: Escape from Freedom.)Freedom was another central interest for Fromm, both from internal drives and also from external compulsions. Fromm did not take freedom lightly

  • "What characterizes medieval its lack of individual freedom. Everyone is chained to his role in the social order. Had to stay where born. Personal, economic, and social life are dominated by rules and obligations. But although the person was not free, neither was he alone and isolated. Was rooted in a socialized whole. Life had a meaning which left no place for doubt. A person was identical with his role.
  • Roles. Today we like to say we're a person first, and the role comes second. In the old day's one's place was given. In medieval times the knight was as locked into a role as the peasant. He was a vassal of the kingdom. He couldn't change his role, make a choice. By contrast, in modern society we're not sure what our role is. In a sense, freedom is scary. We are isolated, alone, and afraid.
  • Capitalism and freedom. Capitalism contributed to the growth of freedom, to a critical, responsible self. It also made people more alone. Put the individual entirely on his own feet. Furthered the process of individualization. The more man gains freedom, the more he becomes an individual.
  • Escape from making choices. Much of Fromm's work had to do with how a person tries to escape from having to choose. We try to get the other person, or the institution, to take action for us. But this alienates us from our own power and responsiveness. (Erik Erikson talks about choice a little differently, linking it to his central interest, identity. One of his stages has to do with purpose. We have to struggle with what our purpose is. What am I going to do with this? What's my purpose?)


  1. Authoritarianism. Submission or domination. In masochistic form, we allow others to dominate us. In sadistic form, we try to dominate and control the behavior of others. A common feature of authoritarianism is the belief that one's life is determined by forces outside oneself, one's interests, or one's wishes, and the only way to be happy is to submit to those forces. The authoritarian submits to those who are higher up and steps on those who are below.
  2. Destructiveness. "The destruction of the world is the last, almost desperate attempts to save myself from being crushed by it." Destructiveness is often rationalized as love, duty, conscience, or patriotism.
  3. Automaton Conformity. . People cease to be themselves and adopt the type of personality proffered by their culture. Fromm notes a similarity between his mechanisms of escape and Horney's neurotic trends, but her emphasis was on anxiety and his was on isolation.

IDOLATRY. In idolatry we bow down and submit to the projection of one partial quality in ourselves. We do not experience ourselves "as the center from whcih living acts of love and reason radiate. We and our neighbors become things. Many contemporary religions have basically regressed into idolatry. "Man projects his power of love and of reason unto God; he does not feel them any more as his own powers, and then he prays to God to give hom back some of what he has projected onto God."

The same phenomenon occurs "in the worshipping submission to a political leader, or to the state.. . . It makes little difference by what names this idol is known: state, class, collective, or what else."


ALIENATION. We can be alienated from society, from each other, or from ourselves. The alienated personality loses much of his or her sense of self, since this sense of self comes from experiencing myself as the subject of my experiences, my thoughts, my emotions, my decisions, and my actions.

We can fully fathom the nature of alienation only by considering the routinization of modern life and our repression of awareness of the basic problems of human existence.

We can fulfill ourself only if we stay in touch with the basic facts of existence, from love and solidarity to our aloneness and the fragmentary character of our lives.


AUTHORITY. Much of the authority in the mid-20th century has changed its character from overt authority to anonymous, invisible, alienated authority. "Who can attack the invisible? Who can rebel against Nobody?"

"Parents do not give commands any more; they suggest that the child 'will want to do this.'"

With overt authority there was conflict. and rebellion against irrational authority. "But if I am not aware of submitting or rebelling, if I am ruled by an anonymous authority, I lose the sense of self, I become a "one," a part of the "It."

Anonymous authority operates through the mechanism of conformity. I must not be different, not "stick out." I must be ready to change when the pattern changes. I don't ask whether I'm right or wrong, but whether I'm "adjusted." "Nobody has power over me, except the herd of which I am a part, yet to which I am subjected."

CHARACTER (In Wilhelm Reich's sense--not in the sense of someone who is honest and trustworthy.)

  1. Difficult to change. Character is not just how we make a decision in the moment about what we do or don't do. It's not will. Something stronger is at work which is much stronger than will or resolve. a. We are creatures of habit. We can put ourselves on autopilot so we self-correct in accord with our accustomed programs.
  2. Character includes what's passed on by previous generations, both through learning and genetics. There is an interplay between the genetic factor and the society in which we find ourselves growing up. Character is the whole of all that. It is something shaped quite early by what takes pplace in a family, community, society, and genetic factors, moved in the direction in which the culture pushes. c. Character takes different turns: PRODUCTIVE ORIENTATIONS and UNPRODUCTIVE ORIENTATIONS. THE PRODUCTIVE CHARACTER -- central for Fromm.
  3. Character is so ingrained that it's very difficult to change, but if we understand what's happening, there is some room for movement. (There is some similarity between Fromm's types and Adler's "style of life." As a person does things, he or she has a certain way of going about it.)
  4. Most of the people with whom we are involved in social relationships don't want us to change, because we're predictable and they know how to relate to us.
  5. The productive orientation is "the active and creative relatedness of man to his fellow man, to himself, and to nature." Love is an aspect of this. This is an obvious historical progression from Alfred Adler's "socially interested person."

THE FOUR NONPRODUCTIVE PERSONALITY ORIENTATIONS.(Primary reference: Man for Himself). All these nonproductive orientations are an escape from freedom --an attempt to avoid taking responsibility for ourselves. Yet we all have some degree of each of these orientations. They can be positive or negative, depending on their nature and extremity.

The receptive orientation. When extreme, the receptive orientation is the victim personified. The done-to who is not a doer. But in a subtle way they may manipulate. [In medieval times, Fromm points out, we wouldn't worry about this, but would just be whatever our social class said we would be.] The hopeful aspect is that all these types can be transformed into something more positive. For example, passivity can become acceptance. An overly submissive person may move into devotion, commitment. This can be different from the submissive quality of just taking in what the authority says without chewing on it. It may become a realistic loyalty. The person with unrealistic perceptions may become more realistic. Can develop ideals that can move them toward action in the world.

The exploitive orientation. Sometimes referred to as narcissistic. Expects to take, to grab, to snatch away from others. I'm gonna go out and get mine despite you. The world is not a safe place, I want to keep from the wolf from the door. This person feels they have to steal what they get. Pretty aggressive. One woman was an incest victim. The mother was cold and frightened. The father turned to his daughter and had an incestuous sexual relationship for about 8 years, until at age 16 she found the strength to say, "No more." This experience had such a destructive effect on her that the only way she could have a relationship with another man was to take him away from another woman. Somehow she took it on that she had taken her father away from her mother. The exploiter does not creat ideas but steals, plagiarizes them. Tends to be aggressive, egocentric, arrogant, seducing, conceited.

The hoarding orientation. Strives to accumulate possessions, power, love, and avoid disposing of any of these. Tight, constipated, squinty. Demands order, neatness. Resembles Freud's anal-retentive character type. Likes to have something, not necessarily use it. Likes to have people in their back pocket, like politicians. Many people who lived through the Great Depression developed this character orientation. Similarly, rats that are severely deprived of food at one point will, later in their lives, engage in hoarding of large amounts of food.

The marketing orientation. The In the 1950s and 1960s Sociologist David Riesman wrote about the "other directed person." This was pretty close to what Fromm meant with the receptive individual. We need receptivity. We need to take in, to be loved, but a person may not know much about how to love. The receptive type feels that his or her central task is to be loved-- "I am the center of the universe."The marketing economy says we have to sell ourselve, make ourselves into an object, commodity.There is an bsession with "packaging," with our facade.The person with the marketing orientation aims to sell himself or herself successfully on the market. This person does not experience hismself or herself as an active agent, and to a great degree is alienated from his or her human powers. The sense of self stems from the socioeconomic role one plays. "Huiman qualities like friendliness, courtesy, kindness are transformed into commodities, into assets of the "personality package" that can bring a higher price on the personality market." A person's sense of his or her own value always depends on extraneous factors, on the fickle judgment of the market about the person's value.

Blends. In real life we always deal with blends, for a person is never exclusively one of the nonproductive orientations or the productive orientation.

From negative to positive. The nonproductive orientations can be considered to be distortions of orientations that are normal and necessary.Where you put the emphasis is important. All the negative tendencies come from an impoverished view of self and world, but a person can move towar expressing them positively. Every person must be able to accept, to take to save, and to exchange. Every person must also be able to follow authority, guide others, and assert himself. Growth is possible from a starting point of any of the orientations. You don't have to become something radically different--you can change within the context of where you begin. So movement from a negative to a positive, productive stance is possible within the context of each orientation.So every "nonproductive orientation" has both a positive and negative aspect, depending on the degree of productiveness in the overall personality.

Receptive Orientation (Accepting)


  1. accepting
  2. responsive
  3. devoted
  4. charming
  5. adaptable
  6. polite
  7. optimistic
  8. trusting



  1. passive
  2. opinionless
  3. submissive
  4. parasitical
  5. unprincipled
  6. spineless
  7. wishful thinking
  8. gullible
Exploitative Orientation (Taking)
  1. active
  2. takes the initiative
  3. makes claims (and heasr those of others)
  4. proud
  5. self-confident
  6. impulsive
  7. captivating


  1. exploitive
  2. aggressive
  3. Egocentric
  4. Conceited
  5. Arrogant
  6. rash
  7. seducing
Hoarding Orientation (Preserving)


  1. practical
  2. economical
  3. careful
  4. reserved
  5. patient
  6. cautious
  7. steadfast, tenacious
  8. methodical
  9. loyal


  1. unimaginative
  2. stingy
  3. suspicious
  4. cold
  5. lethargic
  6. anxious
  7. stubborn
  8. obsessional
  9. possessive
Marketing Orientation (Exchanging)


  1. purposeful
  2. able to change
  3. youthful
  4. openminded
  5. experimenting
  6. efficient
  7. curious
  8. adaptable
  9. tolerant
  10. generous


  1. opportunistic
  2. inconsistent
  3. childish
  4. unprincipled
  5. aimless
  6. overactive
  7. tactless
  8. undiscriminating
  9. indifferent
  10. wasteful

A positive expression of the marketing orientation: Organization Development consultants packaging their transformational work in different language so CEOs won't be turned off. The problem comes when you can't separate out who you are. Willy Loman IN Death of a Salesman--a classical example. Went out each day with a smile and a shoeshine. His world was what the world wanted him to be. He never said, "I have the right to be me." When he was fired, he had no self. He had been totally identified with his role. He committed suicide.

The productive orientation. For Fromm, the highest good was the person's productive contribution to the community.Like Adler's social interest.This orientation involves working, loving, and reasoning from your center, in a way that respects both your needs and those of the other person.

Jung and Fromm: Compare Fromm's approach to personality with Jung's statement that we carry both the feminine and masculine within us, but too often pick someone to act out the other side and suppress it within ourselves. Fromm: in oneself we need to develop both the accepting and the asserting side, which is similar to Jung's ideas about developing both Anima and Animus. Fromm moved toward the humanistic model when he said that we can all move toward being who we truly are and can redefine who we think ourselves to be. We are all susceptible to the marketing ploy. But if we can get in touch with what we stand on, and for, and who we indeed are, then we might be a little less susceptible to the seduction of the marketing economy. FROMM SAID WORK INSIDE. IF YOU WANT SOMETHING, SEE WHAT IT'S A SYMBOL FOR, WHAT THE SYMBOL MEANS. THEN MAYBE YOU DON'T GET A NEW BOAT--YOU CAN WORK ON THE SYMBOL INSTEAD. Moving toward a goal outside also needs to be worked with inside. Otherwise we may end up trading in our partner or apartment for another, but then repeat the same dynmamic with the new one.


DESTRUCTIVENESS (primary ref: The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness)

Fromm identified three types of aggression

  1. Benign Aggression (of a beneficial nature, promoting well-being)
  2. Defensive Aggression Animals--in here-and-now immediate threat. Man can forsee threat and plan for future threats based on past experience. This has both advantages and disadvantages, as in military threat buildup. Man has greater neurological capacity for creating an aggressive impulse.
  3. Malignant Aggression. The thought behind the act is important. An intent to do harm to another. Like benign and malignant cancer, malignant aggression has a tendency to grow and get out of hand.

He also identified 3 kinds of pseudo-aggression

  1. Accidental aggression. One might hurt another without the intention to do this. Controversy around this idea in murder cases. May be unconscious motives. But we cannot necessarily assume this. Accidental aggression may or may not be due to our motives.
  2. Playful aggression. . Aim: to exercise skill. Archery, swordfighting, etc. Aggression may come out in competitiveness.
  3. Self-assertive aggression. Typifies meaning of aggression in moving toward a goal without undue hesitation, doubt, or fear. (Perls, in Gestalt therapy, emphasized this.) Freud apparently believed such aggression to be based in sexual roots. There were studies of animals injected with hormones, etc., but this didn't convince Fromm. He was more interested in society's influence.This type of aggression is necessary for a hunter to obtain prey.A person with an unimpeded sense of self-assertion is capable in avoiding threat and confronting it. A person lacking in this is likely to be shy, etc.

In dealing with a lack of self-assertive aggression, it is necessary to:

  • Help the person become more aware of their impediment
  • Understand how it developed.

Understand what other parts of the person's character impede this energy, try to dissolve them, etc.

AGGRESSION & NARCISSISM: Narcissim involves people's great concern about how they look, etc. Wounding narcissism--a big source of aggression.

LOVE. Key line: " In the experiencee of love lies sanity."

In infancy--primary narcissism. The positive situation of warmth and food, etc.

In adulthood--secondary narcissism. Movie stars and politicians depend on public and the media to give them their sense of power and self-esteem.

  • INFANTILE LOVE: I am loved becaus I am loved.
  • MATURE LOVE: I am loved because I love.
  • IMMATURE LOVE: I love you because I need you.
  • MATURE LOVE: I need you because I love you.
  • FATHERLY LOVE: Conditional. It must be deserved. You must work for it. Fatherly conscience is built on his capacity to reason.
  • MOTHERLY LOVE. Unconditional. Mother conscience is built on her own capacity to love.

Love is union with someone or something while retaining the separateness and integrity of one's own self. It is "an experience of sharing and communion which permits the full unfolding of one's own inner activity. It is the experience of solidarity with our fellow creatures. What matters is the quality of loving, not the object.

The polarity of separateness and union: Out of this polarity, love is born and reborn. In loving I am one with All, and also my uniques, separate, limited self.

If I can love only one person and no one else, if my love for this person alienates and distances me from others, this is not love in its full flowering.

Productive love always includes care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge.

  • Care: I am actively concerned with the other's growth and happiness. I am not a spectator.
  • Responsibility: I respond to the other's needs, both those he can express and those he cannot or does not.
  • Respect: I relate to the other as s/he is, not distorted by my wishes and fears.
  • Knowledge: I know this person. I have penetrated through the surface of his being and related from my center.

For a deeper look at Fromm's ideas on love, click on the following blue link to look at the excerpts from The Art of Loving

CRAFTSMANSHIP. In Medieval and Renaissance times, especially the 13th and 14th centuries, craftsmanship reached one of the peaks in the evolution of creative work. In such craftsmanship the process of creating the product being made is the center of interest. The worker controls his own working action and can use and develop his sills and capacities. "The craftsman's way of livelihood determines and infuses his entire mode of living."

After the industrial revolution began, "work, instead of being an activity satisfying in itself and pleasurable, became a duty and obsession. The more it was possible to gain riches by worka, the more iut became a pure means to the aim of wealth and success." For most ordinary people, work became "nothing but forced labor."

Fromm quotes from Thoreau's Life without Principle (1861). "Let us consider the way in which we spend our lives. This world is a place of business. What an infinite bustle! . . . I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself, than this incessant business.. . . If a man walk in the woods for love of them for half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a sopeculator, shearing off thos3e woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.. . . If the laborer gets more than the wages which his employer pays him, he is cheated. ...The aim of the laborer should be not to get his living...but to perform well a certain work.... Even if we grant that the American has frfeed himself from a political tyrant, he is still the slave of an economical and moral tyrant."

Nineteenth-century critics of society, like Burckhardt, Proudhon, Tolstoy, Baudelaire, Marx and Kropotkin had an essentially religious-humanistic-moral concept of man. "Man is the end, and must never be used as a means; material production is for man, not man for meterial production; the aim of life is the unfolding of man's creative powers; the aim of history is a transformation of society into one governed by justice and truth---these are the principles on which, explicitly and implicitly, all criticism of modern Capitalism was based.

Charles Fourier believes that a healthy society must help us realize our basic passion, brotherly love. He emphasizes the "need for change," which "corresponds to the many and diverse potentialities present in every human being. Work should be a pleasure."


THE BEING MODE AND HAVING MODE. (Largely from Fromm's last book, To Have and To Be, Harper, 1976).

Neurosis and society. Another important idea: Neurotic conflicts arise from needs and desires created by society

We are facing destruction of our world and humanity. For the first time in history, humanity's survival depends on a radical change of th3e human heart. This is possible only insofar as "drastic economic and social changes occur that give the human heart the chance for change and tghe vision to achieve it."Why this passivity?

  • The selfishness our present system generates "makes leaders value personal success more highly than social responsibility." We are no longer shocked when political leaders and business executives make decisions that benefit them "but at the same time are harmful and dangerous to the community. Indeed, if selfishness is one of the pillars of contemporary practical ethics, why should they act otherwise?"
  • "At the same time, the general public is also so selfishly concerned with their private affairs that they pay little attention to all that transcends the personal realm."
  • The changes that will be require for our survival are drastic, and it is uncomfortable to contemplate such a major change.
  • "Little effort has been made to study the feasibility of entirely new social models and experiment with them."

The being and having modes. Two modes are competing for the spirit of humanity. The having mode relies on the possessions that a person has. It is the source of the lust for power and leads to isolation and fear. The being mode, which dpends solely on the fact of existence, is the source of productive love and activity and leads to solidarity and joy. Responding spontaneously and productively and having the courage to let go in order to give birth to new ideas. We are all capable of both these modes, but society determines which will dominate.

  1. Fromm points out that both Jesus and Buddha taught that we should not crave possessions. He quotes Jesus, "For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?" Our real goal should be to be much rather than to have much.
  2. "Anthropological and psychoanalytic data tend to demonstrate that having and being are two fundamental modes of experience, the respective strengths of which determine the differences between the characters and various types of social character."

War, peace, and the having mode. The idea that we can build peace while encouraging the striving for possession and profit is mistaken. Commitment to the having mode inevitably leads to perpetual war. "This is indeed an old alternative," he writes. "The leaders have chosen war and the people followed them."

Class war. "What holds true for international wars is equally true for class war. The war between classes, essentially the exploiting and the exploited, has always existed in societies that were based on the principle of greed."

"Industrial religion." Matriarchal societies are centered on the figure of the loving mother, whose principle is that of unconditional love. Motherly love is mercy and compassion. By contrast, fatherly love (expressed in patriarchal societies) is conditional; it depends on the achievements and good behavior of the child. Father's love can be lost, but regained by repentance and renewed submission. These two sides, the need for mercy and justice, coexist in every person. "The deepest yearning of human beings seeems to be a constellation in which these two poles...are united in a synthesis."

Fromm sees the Roman church as including both these elements--the Virgin and the church as all loving mother, pope and priest as fatherly. element. The relation with nature corresponded to thesee elements: the work of peasant and artisan cooperated with nature, not raping but transforming nature. In the Protestant revolution, Martin Luther established a purely patriarchal form of Christianity, with total submission to patriarchal authority and work as the only way to get love and approval.

"Behind the Christian facade arose a new secret religion, 'industrial religion,' that is rooted in the character structure of modern society but not recognized as religion. I t" is completely incompatible with genuine Christianity. It reduceds people to servants of the economy and of the machinery that their own hands build." Elements of industrial religion:

  • Fear and submission to powerful male authorities
  • A sense of guilt for disobedience
  • Dissolution of bonds of human solidarity
  • Supremacy of self-interest and mutual antagonism
  • "Sacred elements" of industrial religion are work, property, profit and power.
  • Positive elements of it: furrthering individualism and freedom, within limits.

My critique of Fromm's analysis of religion and patriarchy:

By transforming Christianity into a strictly patriarchal religion it was still possible to express the industrial religion in Christian terminology," writes Fromm. I think he was fundamentally correct about the religion-economics connections of the industrial revolution. Protestantism was positive in breaking the Catholic control over almost everything, and allowing people to read the Bible themselves rather than be dependent on priests' interpretations. I think he is far too generous to the medieval and renaissance Catholic church, however, in overlooking one of history's most extreme expressions of patriarchal power as the Church carried out the inquisition and burned half a million women at stake, ALIVE, allegedly for being "witches." A "witch" was actually anyone who challenged the Roman church's power, most specifically women who worshipped the mother-goddess that was the tradition of old Europe. But like Hitler and the Jews, Stalin and anyone who opposed him, and in a milder fashion, the red-baiting in the U.S. during the 1950s, anyone the priests took a dislike to was labeled a "witch." So were many women who were loyal Catholics but whose husbands had died and left them land or other property that the Church coveted. So while Fromm's critique of the Protestant revolution is fundamentally correct, in a very real sense the Catholic Church was just as patriarchal, and carried out a progom of terror and cruelty never approached by the Protestant churches.

Commentary on Albert Schweitzer and his examination of the contemporary decline of freedom of thought. Fromm quotes Albert Schweitzer, the Protestant theologian who was best known for his concept of "reverence for life" as the basis for ethics, on this subject. Schweitzer wrote:

  "We are in a process of cultural self-destruction," Schweitzer writes. "...By a general act of will freedom of thought has been put out of function, because many give up thinking as free individuals, and are guided by the collective to which they belong. ...With the sacrifice of independence of thought we have--and how could it be otherwise--lost faith in truth."
  Schweitzer was a radical critic of industrial society. He debunked its myth of progress and general happiness and noted the degree of misery in which many people live. The only meaningful activity, he maintained, is activity of giving and caring for fellow creatures.
  Schweitzer insists that our task is "not to retire into an atmosphere of spiritual egotism, remote from the affairs of the world, but to lead an active life in which one tries to contribute to the spiritual perfection of society. He concludes that our present cultural and social structure is driving us toward a catastrophe from which only a new Renaissance "much greater than the old one will arise." He emphasizes that we must, each of us, become thinking human beings.

Commentary on E.F. Schumacher. In Small is Beautiful Schumacher shows "that our failures are the result of our successes."

  • Infinite growth does not fit into a finite world.
  • All great spiritual teachers have said that economy should not be the content of life.
  • If a people neglects their inner spirit," then selfishness is the dominating power in man and a system of selfishness, like capitalism, fits this orientation better than a system of live for one's fellow human beings

THE PERSON AND SOCIETY. Fromm is convince of these propositions:

  • Human have an essential, inborn nature.
  • We create society in order to fulfill this essential nature
  • No society yet devised meets the basic needs of human existence. Therefore our lives are usually a compromise between inner needs and outer demands.
  • It is possible to devise such a society.

We can assess an entire society as insane in certain ways. Normative humanism is based on the idea that there are satisfactoryh and unsatisfactoryd solutions to the problem of human existence.

  1. The basic human needs are the needs for:
  2. Relatedness
  3. Transcendence
  4. Rootedness
  5. Identity
  6. A frame of orientation

Fromm does not hesitate to characterize a whole society as sick when it fails to satisfy the basic human needs.

Mental health occurs when people develop into full maturity. Mental illness consists of athe failure of such development. The criterion of mental health is a universeal one, valid for all, of giving a satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.

"Consensual validation" naively assumes that the fact that most people share certain ideas of feelings proves their validity. Not true. Consensual validation has no bearing on mental health. That millions share a vice does not make it a virtue, that they share many errors does not make these trueh, and that they share the same forms of mental pathology does not make them sane.

If freedom and spontaneity are not attained by the majority of people in a given society, we are dealing with a socially patterned defect.

INNER AND OUTER CHANGE IN RELIGION AND ECONOMICS." Christianity has preached spiritual renewal, neglecting the changes in the social order without which spritual renewan must remain ineffective" for most people.

Socialism, especially Marxism, has stressed the need for social and economic change and neglected the inner change in people "without which economic change can never lead to the 'good society.'


A HOPEFUL OUTLOOK--FROMM'S IDEAL: Fromm saw destructive forces, but also offered hope Believed that people could cooperate and work together. Envisioned a society... "in which man relates to man lovingly, in which he is rooted in bonds of brotherliness and solidarity...; a society which gives him the possibility of transcending nature by creating rather than by destroying, in which everyone gains a sense of self by experiencing himself as the subject of his powers rather than by conformity, in which a system of orientation and devotion exists without man's needing to distort reality and to worship idols." There would be no loneliness, no feelings of isolation, no despair. Everyone would have an equal chance to become fully human



Conditions for curing individual pathology are largely these:

  1. There has been a development contrary to psychological health. The fact of suffering which results causes us to with to overcome it, to change in the direction of health.
  2. The first step along the path to health of the psyche is the "awareness of the suffering and of that which is shut out and dissociated from our conscious personality."
  3. Greater self-awareness can have its full potential effect only if we then proceed to change a practice of life which causes us suffering and which constantly re-enacts our neurotic behavior. Fromm offers the example of a person whose neurotic character makes him want to submit to authority. He usually constructs a life in which he chooses dominating or sadistic father images as bosses, teachers, and so on. (Here we hear a close echo of Karen Horney's extension of Wilhelm Reich's "charactor armor" into the realm of social relations and life-patterns.) The person can move toward health only by changing the life-situation so that it no longer calls out the submissive tendencies he wants to leave behind. He may also need to change values, norms, and ideals so that they no longer block his striving toward health and maturity.

These three conditions must also be met to cure social pathology.

The mentally healthy person:

  • Is productive and unalienated
  • Relates to the world lovingly
  • Uses reason to grasp reality objectivity
  • Feels himself or herself to be a unique individual
  • Feels one with his or her fellow human beings
  • Does not respond to irrational authority
  • Willingly accepts the rational authority of conscience and reason
  • Is in the process of being born as long as he or she is alive.

In a sane society,

  • No one is a means to another's ends, but always an end in himself
  • No one uses himself or another for ends that contradict the unfolding of his or her own human powers
  • Acting according to one's conscience is viewed as basic and necessary
  • Opportunism and lack of principles is frowned on rather than rewarded
  • The person's relationships to others in the social sphere are similar in their qualities to relationships in the private sphere.
  • All economic and political activities encourage the growth of the people
  • Each person is an active and responsible participant in the life of society, as well as master of his or her own life
  • People are stimulated to relate to eachother lovingly
  • Everyone's productive activity in his or her work is furthered
  • The unfolding of people's reason is encouraged
  • People have a chance to express their inner needs in collective art and rituals
  • Qualities like greed, exploitiveness, possessiveness, and narcissism cannot easily be used to enhance one's prestige or bring material gaiN.


When Fromm wrote The Sane Society, there were about a hundred Communities of Work in Europe, mostly in France but also in Belgium, Switzerland, and Holland. Some were industrial, some agricultural, but "the basic principles are sufficiently similar so that the description of one gives an adequate picture of the essential features of all."

Boimondau's beginnings. Boimondau was a watch case factory. Marcel Barbu worked hard and saved enough to have a factory, where he introduced a factory council and profit sharing. But this was only a start. He recruited men who had varied trades "and found a barber, a sausagemaker, a waiter--practically anyone except specialized industrial workers all under thirty. He offered to teach them watch case making if they would search with him for a setup in which the 'distinction between employer and employee would be abolished. The point was the search."

A common ethics. They wanted not just a better economic setup but a new way of living together. This was not easy, because their number included Catholics, Protestants, materialists, Humanists, athiests, Communists. They resolved to find a common ethical basis as a point to start from together. They "all examined their own individual ethics...not what they had been taught by rote or what was conventionally accepted, but what they, out of their own experiences and thoughts, found necessary." They found that their individual ethics had points in common. They took those and made them the common minimum on what they agreed unanimously. They declared: "All our moral principles have been tried in real life, everyday life." They pledged to do their best to practice their common ethical minimum. They agreed not to infringe on others; liberties or to laugh or make jokes about anyone's convictions or lack of them.

Education. The group discovered that they wanted to educate themselves. They figured out that they could use time that they saved on production for education. Within three months their productivity grew so much that they saved 9 hours in a 48 hour week. They used these 9 hours for education and were paid as if for ordinary work. They hired teachers of music, French grammar, accounting, engineering, physics, literature, Marxism, Christianity, dancing, singing, and basketball.

The basic idea. They aimed not at acquiring together, but on working together for collective and personalfulfillment. The aim was not increased productivity or higher wages, but a new style of life.

Central principles:

  1. "One has to enjoy the whole fruit of one's labor.
  2. "One has to be able to educate oneself.
  3. "One has to pursue a common endeavor within a professional group"...of reasonable size (100 families max).
  4. "One has to be actively related to the whole world"

Thes principles led to a shift in the center of the problem of living from making and acquiring 'things' to discovering, fostering, and developing human relationships. From a civilization of objects to one of persons.

Farm. Boimondau "acqauired a farm of 235 acres on which everyone, including wives, worked three periods of ten days per year. Since everyone also had a month's vacation, people worked only ten months a year at the factory." They believed that no one should be entirely divorced from the soil.


  The General Assembly, which meets twice a year, has ultimate power. Decisions are by consense. Only unanimous decisions bind the Companions (members). This Assembly elects a Chief of Community by unanimous vote. The Chief is most qualified technically and also one who "is an example, who educates, who loves, who is selfless, who serves." After a three year term the Chief may find himself back at the machine.
  The Chief can veto the General Assembly. If the General Assembly will not yield, there is a vote of confidence. If confidence is not unanimous, the Chief may either accept the General Assembly's opinion or resign. The Assembly also elects a General Council of seven members plus the Heads of Departments for one year terms to advise the Chief of Community. Its decisions must be unanimous.
  Neighbor Groups are five or six families that live fairly close to each other. They get together in the evening after supper at one worker's house under the guidence of a Chief of Neighbor groups. Minutes of their meetings are sent to the Chief of Community. Answers to their questions or suggestions are given by those who are in charge of different departments. In the neighbor groups "people come to know each other best and help each other."
  All responsible positions, including section managers and formen, are chosen through "double trust" appointment. The person is proposed by one level and unanimously accepted by the other. Usually but not always, candidates are proposed by the higher level and accepted or rejected by the lower. Members say this prevents both demagogy and authoritarianism.

Question: Can conditions similar to Boimondau be created for a whole society, so that people's lives have meaning for them, they influence what is being done, and feel united with rather than separated fronm their fellows? This requires methods of blending centralization and decentralization which permit active perticipation and responsibility for everyone, and at the same time a unified leadership exists so far as necessary. How can this be done?

  1. A worker should have a wide knowledge of all the technical problems involved in producing the whole product, not just of his own specific work.
  2. "The worker can be an active, interested, and responsible participant only if he [can influence] decisions which bear upon his individual work situation and the whole enterprise."
  3. Alienation can be overcome "only if he is not employed by capital...but...becomes a respsonsible subject who employs capital." Main point here: not ownership of the means of production, but "participation in managemeent and decision making."
  4. A principle: the primary purpose of any work is to serve people rather than to make a profit.
  5. Owner or owners are entitled to a reasonable return on their capital investment but would have to share their command over those whom their capital can hire with those who work in the enterprise.


"We do not need new ideals or new spiritual goals. The great teachers of the human race have postulated the norms for sane living. . . . The fact that the great religions and ethical systems have so often fought against each other, and emphasized their mutual differences rather than their basic similarities, was due to the influence of those who built churches, hierarchies, political organizaations upon the simple foundations of truth laid down by the men of spirit."

Today "we are in bitter need of taking seriously what we believe, what we preach and teach. The revolution ofour hearts does not require new wisdom--but new seriousness and dedication.



  • Escape from Freedom (1941)
  • Man for Himself (1947)
  • The Forgotten Language (1951)
  • The Sane Society (1955)
  • Man May Prevail (1961)
  • The Art of Loving (1966)
  • The Heart of Man (1964)
  • Revolution of Hope (1968)
  • Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1975)
  • To Have or To Be (1976)