Erich Fromm, fully Erich Seligmann Fromm

Erich
Fromm, fully Erich Seligmann Fromm
1900
1980

German Social Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Humanistic Philosopher, and Democratic Socialist, associated with the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory

Author Quotes

For the first time in history the physical survival of the human race depends on a radical change of the human heart.

Briefly, then, intellectualization, quantification, abstractification, bureaucratization, and reification--the very characteristics of modern industrial society, when applied to people rather than to things, are not the principles of life but those of mechanics. People living in such a system become indifferent to life and even attracted to death.

Valuable or good is all that which contributes to the greater unfolding of man's specific faculties and furthers life. Negative or bad is everything that strangles life and paralyzes man's activeness. All norms of the great humanist religions like Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, or Islam or the great humanist philosophers from the pre-Socratics to contemporary thinkers are the specific elaboration of this general principle of values.

The requirement of maximal efficiency leads as a consequence to the requirement of minimal individuality.

The affirmation of one's own life, happiness, growth, freedom, is rooted in one's capacity to love, i.e., in care, respect, responsibility, and knowledge. If an individual is able to love productively, he loves himself too; if he can love only others, he cannot love at all.

"To be alive" is a dynamic, not a static, concept. Existence and the unfolding of the specific powers of an organism are one and the same. All organisms have an inherent tendency to actualize their specific potentialities. The aim of man's life, therefore, is to be understood as the unfolding of his powers according to the laws of nature.

The individual's greatest strength is based on the maximum of integration of his personality, and that means also on the maximum of transparence to himself. "Know thyself" is one of the fundamental commands that aim at human strength and happiness.

What holds true of thinking and feeling holds also true of willing. Most people are convinced that as long as they are not overtly forced to do something by an outside power, their decisions are theirs, and that if they want something, it is they who want it. But this is one of the great illusions we have about ourselves. A great number of our decisions are not really our own but are suggested to us from the outside; we have succeeded in persuading ourselves that it is we who have made the decision, whereas we have actually conformed with expectations of others, driven by the fear of isolation and by more direct threats to our life, freedom, and comfort.

The decisive point is not what is thought but how it is thought.

Life has an inner dynamism of its own; it tends to grow, to be expressed, to be lived. It seems that if this tendency is thwarted the energy directed toward life undergoes a process of decomposition and changes into energies directed toward destruction.

It would seem that the amount of destructiveness to be found in individuals is proportionate to the amount to which expansiveness of life is curtailed. By this we do not refer to individual frustrations of this or that instinctive desire but to the thwarting of the whole of life, the blockage of spontaneity of the growth and expression of man's sensuous, emotional, and intellectual capacities.

Optimism is an alienated form of faith, pessimism an alienated form of despair. If one truly responds to man and his future, ie, concernedly and "responsibly." one can respond only by faith or by despair. Rational faith as well as rational despair are based on the most thorough, critical knowledge of all the factors that are relevant for the survival of man.

Chronic boredom — compensated or uncompensated — constitutes one of the major psychopathological phenomena in contemporary technotronic society, although it is only recently that it has found some recognition.

Neurosis can be understood best as the battle between tendencies within an individual; deep character analysis leads, if successful, to the progressive solution.

Psychoanalysis is essentially a theory of unconscious strivings, of resistance, of falsification of reality according to one's subjective needs and expectations.

The revolutionary and critical thinker is in a certain way always outside of his society while of course he is at the same time also in it. That he is in it is obvious, but why is he outside it? First, because he is not brainwashed by the ruling ideology, that is to say, he has an extraordinary kind of independence of thought and feeling; hence he can have a greater objectivity than the average person has. There are many emotional factors too. And certainly I do not mean to enter here into the complex problem of the revolutionary thinker. But it seems to me essential that in a certain sense he transcends his society. You may say he transcends it because of the new historical developments and possibilities he is aware of, while the majority still think in traditional terms.

It has never been my position that society only deforms or manifests that which is already there. If we make the distinction between human necessities in general and human desires in particular then indeed, society creates particular desires which, however, follow the general laws of the necessities rooted in human nature.

One social structure will be conducive to cooperation and solidarity another social structure to competition, suspiciousness, avarice; another to child-like receptiveness, another to destructive aggressiveness. All empirical forms or human needs and drives have to be understood as results of the social practice (in the last analysis based on the productive forces, class structure, etc., etc.) but they all have to fulfill the functions which are inherent in man’s nature in general, and that is to permit him to relate himself to others and share a common frame of reference, etc. The existential contradiction within man (to which I would now add also the contradiction between limitations which reality imposes on his life, and the virtually limitless imagination which his brain permits him to follow) is what I believe to be one of the motives of psychological and social dynamics. Man can never stand still. He must find solutions to this contradiction, and ever better solutions to the extent to which reality enables him.
The question then arises whether there is an optimal solution which can be inferred from man’s nature, and which constitutes a potential tendency in man. I believe that such optimal solutions can be inferred from the nature of man, and I have recently found it quite useful to think in terms of what in sociology and economy is now often called »system analysis«. One might start with the idea, in the first place, that human personality — just like society — is a system, that is to say, that each part depends on every other, and no part can be changed unless all or most other parts are also changed. A system is better than chaos. If a society system disintegrates or is destroyed by blows from the outside the society ends in chaos, and a completely new society is built upon its ruins, often using the elements of the destroyed system to build the new. That has happened many times in history. But, what also happens is that the society is not simply destroyed but that the system is changed, and a new system emerges which can be considered to be a transformation of the old one.

The most important misunderstanding seems to me to lie in a confusion between the human necessities which I consider part of human nature, and the human necessities as they appear as drives, needs, passions, etc., in any given historical period. This division is not very different from Marx’s concept of "human nature in general", to be distinguished from "human nature as modified in each historical period". The same distinction exists in Marx when he distinguishes between "constant" or "fixed" drives and "relative" drives. The constant drives "exist under all circumstances and ... can be changed by social conditions only as far as form and direction are concerned". The relative drives "owe their origin only to a certain type of social organization".

I believe in the possible realization of a world in which man can be much, even if he has little; a world in which the dominant motivation of existence is not consumption; a world in which "man" is the end, first and last; a world in which man can find the way of giving a purpose to his life as well as the strength to live free and without illusions.

I believe that one can and must hope for a sane society that furthers man’s capacity to love his fellow men, to work and create, to develop his reason and his objectivity of a sense of himself that is based on the experience of his productive energy. I believe that one can and must hope for the collective regaining of a mental health that is characterized by the capacity to love and to create..

I believe that if an individual is not on the path to transcending his society and seeing in what way it furthers or impedes the development of human potential, he cannot enter into intimate contact with his humanity. If the tabus, restrictions, distorted values appear "natural" to him, this is a clear indication that he cannot have a real knowledge of human nature. I believe that society, while having a function both stimulating and inhibiting at the same time, has always been in conflict with humanity. Only when the purpose of society is identified with that of humanity will society cease to paralyze man and encourage his dominance.

I believe that none can "save" his fellow man by making a choice for him. To help him, he can indicate the possible alternatives, with sincerity and love, without being sentimental and without illusion. The knowledge and awareness of the freeing alternatives can reawaken in an individual all his hidden energies and put him on the path to choosing respect for "life" instead of for "death."

I believe that freedom is not a constant attribute that "we have" or "we don’t have"; perhaps there is only one reality: the act of liberating ourselves in the process of using choices. Every step in life that heightens the maturity of man heightens his ability to choose the freeing alternative. I believe that "freedom of choice" is not always equal for all men at every moment. The man with an exclusively necrophilic orientation; who is narcissistic; or who is symbiotic-incestuous, can only make a regressive choice. The free man, freed from irrational ties, can no longer make a regressive choice.

I believe that the experience of love is the most human and humanizing act that it is given to man to enjoy and that it, like reason, makes no sense if conceived in a partial way.

Author Picture
First Name
Erich
Last Name
Fromm, fully Erich Seligmann Fromm
Birth Date
1900
Death Date
1980
Bio

German Social Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Humanistic Philosopher, and Democratic Socialist, associated with the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory