Fromm Publishes Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In his most popular and internationally acclaimed book, The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm advanced a theory of human nature at odds with society, arguing that the act of loving is possible only with care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge. He believed that “separateness” is the source of most human anxiety.

Summary of Event

Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving first appeared as part of Ruth Nanda Anshen’s Anshen, Ruth Nanda World Perspectives series World Perspectives (book series) , published by Harper & Row Harper & Row[Harper and Row] . The series sought authors who treated their subjects from the viewpoint of the world community and who offered new vistas in human development. The series aimed at encouraging dignity, integrity, and self-realization in every individual. Art of Loving, The (Fromm) [kw]Fromm Publishes The Art of Loving (1956) [kw]Art of Loving, Fromm Publishes The (1956) Art of Loving, The (Fromm) [g]North America;1956: Fromm Publishes The Art of Loving[05050] [g]United States;1956: Fromm Publishes The Art of Loving[05050] [c]Psychology and psychiatry;1956: Fromm Publishes The Art of Loving[05050] [c]Religion, theology, and ethics;1956: Fromm Publishes The Art of Loving[05050] [c]Philosophy;1956: Fromm Publishes The Art of Loving[05050] Fromm, Erich Freud, Sigmund Marx, Karl

From its publication in 1956, The Art of Loving was an immediate best seller, yet because of the title many readers were misled into thinking it was an instruction manual on the techniques of erotic love. Eventually, however, the book was translated into more than twenty languages and sold in the millions all over the globe. A subversive book that warns readers of the increasing pressure to conform to a market-oriented society, Fromm’s text continued to explore and expanded upon subjects already broached in his earlier works, including Escape from Freedom (1941) and The Sane Society (1955).

Fromm grew up in an orthodox Jewish family, the son of the prominent rabbi Seligman Pinchas Fromm and the grandson of two other rabbis. In addition to attending high school, where he was known for his diligence and talent, he began to study the Talmud at age thirteen, both at home and in the synagogue. He pursued Talmudic study until 1926, sometimes under the guidance of the renowned mystic Nehemiah Anton Nobel. After that date, Fromm’s interest in Judaica waned, but the insights he had gained from these youthful studies helped provide the strong moralistic thrust of his mature work.

After two years of studying jurisprudence at the University of Frankfurt, Fromm switched to the University at Heidelberg and studied sociology and national economies. He received his doctorate in sociology from Heidelberg in 1922. In addition to writing articles, reviews, and lectures, Fromm wrote and edited twenty book-length studies over the course of his fifty-year career. Although often a controversial figure, Fromm was one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century.

Fromm considered the problem of separateness to be the source of most human anxiety: separateness from one’s loved ones, separateness from the natural world and helplessness before the forces of nature, and separateness from society. The primary need of human beings, he believed, is to overcome this separateness, to become united with others, and to achieve wholeness. Most people attempt to overcome separateness by conforming to society’s norms and becoming incorporated into the group.

Although it is clear that dictatorial systems use threats and terror to encourage conformity, Fromm pointed out, conformity is a fact of life in democratic societies as well; mass-marketing techniques, for example, lead to conformity. Work itself becomes a pressure to conform, as men and women become cogs in the labor force or the bureaucratic forces of clerks and managers. Individuals play into this pressure with a desire to conform that is even more powerful than the outward forces pressing them to conform. Fromm pointed out, however, that conformity only increases isolation, because authentic unions between people cannot be achieved when those people hide or modify their authentic selves.

The only genuine solution to the separateness or isolation of modern life, in Fromm’s view, is love. Love as defined by Fromm is a form of interpersonal fusion; it is an active giving that can be practiced only in a state of freedom.

Part of the universal need for connection described by Fromm is the desire for union between men and women. However, men and women find psychological wholeness only in the fusion of their own individual masculinity and femininity. Fromm emphasized that the complex human character is polarized, and for individuals to achieve freedom and authentic relationships, they have to recognize and reconcile both halves of their selves.

Fromm criticizes the theories of Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis Psychoanalysis , arguing that Freud did not understand sexuality deeply enough and virtually ignored female sexuality. Freud theorized that boys and girls considered girls to be castrated boys and that girls and women seek ways to compensate for this “lack” (penis envy). This compensation, for both genders, requires the young child to reject the “castrated” mother as a primary source of identification and instead to identify with the all-powerful father. The young girl’s psychological development in Freud’s model is significantly more complex than is the young boy’s, because the girl must also learn to identify with the castrated mother and take the father as an object, making female sexuality more complex and more ambivalent than male sexuality.

Fromm believed the conditional love of the father and the unconditional love of the mother become integrated in the mature person of both genders. In contrast to Freud’s concept of the superego (the law of the father incorporated into the self), Fromm asserted that the mature person incorporates both kinds of love in his or her own personality. Another point on which Fromm differed with Freud is the concept of self-love. While Freud considered self-love a mere self-preservation mechanism (and potentially pathological when it degenerated into narcissism), Fromm believed it to be necessary for the capacity to love others.

The most fundamental kind of love for Fromm is brotherly love, which underlies all other forms of love. Brotherly love recognizes the oneness of all people, and it grows from a recognition of the core of each person. Love of the poor, the helpless, and the stranger are the beginnings of brotherly love; only in loving those who are of no use to us will love begin to unfold.

Fromm also explored the love of God as part of the human need to overcome separateness by union. He found that in the development of the human race, the concept of God grew from idol worship to a matriarchal system to a patriarchal system. In a patriarchal system, God is imagined as a despotic, jealous God who created humankind and controls it. This belief eventually grew into a belief in God as a loving father, who is guided by ideas of justice and mercy and enters into a covenant with humankind. This concept was further refined into the idea that God is not a person, but is instead the ineffable, with no human characteristics that can be named. Fromm, who was an atheist as well as a mystic, quoted from different traditions such as Taoism and Jewish mysticism to support this idea.

The Art of Loving contains a critique of Western culture that examines the social structure of Western civilization. Fromm’s critique questions the extent to which Western society is conducive to the development of love. He concludes that, since the market determines all economic and social relations and turns human energy and skills into marketable commodities, Western society actually inhibits the development of love. Certain aspects of modern capitalism, he says, have a particularly strong and pernicious influence on men’s and women’s characters. There is a growing trend toward centralization and concentration of capital, and capitalism needs people who fit nicely into management niches, who consume endlessly, and whose tastes are standardized and can be manipulated. Even marriage is often presented as a smoothly functioning “team” enterprise. The subject of love seldom arises in the endless articles and discussions on marital happiness.

Fromm found a more humanistic philosophy in the theories of Karl Marx, Marxism a philosophy in direct contrast to Western social arrangements. Marx, like Fromm, developed a system whose purpose in large part was to diagnose the problem of human separateness, which he called “alienation.” Alienation He also asserted that humans are unique in their ability to understand themselves as part of a species and to work for the good of the entire species—a position with strong resemblances to Fromm’s understanding of brotherly love. Marx believed that alienation is caused primarily by the division of capital and labor. The division is duplicated and reproduced by the alienation of assembly-line workers from the commodities they make, the alienation of people from one another, and the alienation of individuals from their own authentic selves.

In Fromm’s interpretation of Marx, a human being is either productive or nonproductive, and only those with a productive existence and a relatedness to the outside world can realize their inner powers. Where capitalism fosters an attachment to material objects, communism releases people from slavish dependence on those objects, according to Fromm, and thus frees them to develop new, spontaneous relationships with one another.


The Art of Loving touched more lives than the writings of any other psychologist or sociologist of its period. When it was published in the years after World War II, an overwhelming conformity was overtaking the West and dissent was considered a crime in much of the East. In addition to bringing the human condition of alienation to the attention of the public, Fromm promoted ideals of individualism and dissent, qualities he found necessary to becoming a mature, loving person.

Mysticism and rationalism also were elements of Fromm’s conception of love. By fusing these two apparent opposites, Fromm brought both the dynamic and the introspective parts of the human personality into play. This analysis of love was the central idea of his book. In stressing the deleterious effects of illusory or commodified love and in formulating the axiom that, rather than love being the result of sexual satisfaction, sexual happiness is the result of a loving relationship, Fromm put forward ideas that remain relevant. Art of Loving, The (Fromm)

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Funk, Rainer. Erich Fromm: The Courage to Be Human. New York: Continuum, 1982. A scholarly and comprehensive work on Fromm’s ideas and dialectic. Particularly strong on sources of his thought and ideas on humanism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Erich Fromm: His Life and Ideas. Translated by Ian Portman and Manuela Kunkel. New York: Continuum, 2000. A lavishly illustrated biography that is beautifully laid out. Close scrutiny of the book provides a sensitive, living portrait.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Knapp, Gerhard P. The Art of Living: Erich Fromm’s Life and Works. New York: Peter Lang, American University Studies, 1989. Explains Fromm’s theories in depth, for general readers as well as specialists.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wilde, Lawrence. Erich Fromm and the Quest for Solidarity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Examines Fromm’s critique of alienation, particularly as it applies to affluent societies and in the context of twenty-first century globalization. Bibliographic references and index.

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Categories: History