Biography of Erich Fromm

Like the views of all personality theorists, Erich Fromm's view of human nature was shaped by childhood experiences. For Fromm, a Jewish family life, the suicide of a young woman, and the extreme nationalism of the German people contributed to his conception of humanity.

Fromm was born on March 23, 1900, hi Frankfurt, Germany, the only child of middle-class Orthodox Jewish parents. His father Naphtali Fromm was the son of a rabbi and the grandson of two rabbis. His mother Rosa Krause Fromm was the niece of Ludwig Krause, a well-known Talmudic scholar. As a boy, Erich studied the Old Testament with several prominent scholars, men who were regarded as "humanists of extraordinary tolerance" (Landis & Tauber, 1971, p. xi). Fromm's humanistic psychology can be traced to the reading of these prophets, "with their vision of universal peace and harmony, and their teachings that there are ethical aspects to history— that nations can do right and wrong, and that history has its moral laws" (p. x).

Fromm's early childhood was less than ideal. He recalled that he had "very neurotic parents" and that he was "probably a rather unbearably neurotic child" (Evans, 1966, p. 56). He saw his father as being moody and his mother as prone to depression. Moreover, he grew up hi two very distinct worlds, one the traditional Orthodox Jewish world the other the modem capitalist world. This split existence created tensions that were nearly unendurable, but it generated in Fromm a lifelong tendency to see events from more than one perspective (Fromm, 1986; Hausdorff, 1972).

The chapter opening vignette chronicled the shocking and puzzling suicide of an attractive artistic young woman who killed herself so she could be buried with her father who had just died. How was it possible that this young woman could prefer death to being "alive to the pleasures of life and painting?" (Fromm, 1962, p. 4). This question haunted Fromm for the next 10 years and eventually led to an interest in Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis. As Fromm read Freud he began to learn about the Oedipus complex and to understand how such an event might be possible. Later, Fromm would interpret the young woman's irrational dependence on her father as a nonproductive symbiotic relationship, but hi those early years he was content with the Freudian explanation.

Fromm was 14 when World War I began, too young to fight but not too young to be impressed by the irrationality of the German nationalism that he had observed

Chapter 7 Fromm: Humanistic Psychoanalysis 187

firsthand. He was sure that the British and French were equally irrational, and once again he was struck by a troubling question. How could normally rational and peaceful people become so driven by national ideologies, so intent on killing, so ready to die? "When the war ended in 1918,1 was a deeply troubled young man who was obsessed by the question of how war was possible, by the wish to understand the irrationality of human mass behavior, by a passionate desire for peace and international understanding" (Fromm, 1962, p. 9).

During adolescence, Fromm was deeply moved by the writings of Freud and Karl Marx, but he was also stimulated by differences between the two. As he studied more, he began to question the validity of both systems. "My mam interest was clearly mapped out. I wanted to understand the laws that govern the life of the individual man, and the laws of society" (Fromm, 1962, p. 9).

After the war, Fromm became a socialist, although at that time, he refused to join the Socialist Party. Instead, he concentrated on his studies in psychology, philosophy, and sociology at the University of Heidelberg, where he received his PhD in sociology at either age 22 or 25. [Fromm was such a private person that his biographers do not agree on many facts of his life (Hornstein, 2000).]

Still not confident that his training could answer such troubling questions as the suicide of the young woman or the insanity of war, Fromm tunied to psychoanalysis, believing that it promised answers to questions of human motivation not offered in other fields. From 1925 until 1930 he studied psychoanalysis, first in Munich, then in Frankfurt, and finally at the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute, where he was analyzed by Hamis Sachs, a student of Freud. Although Fromm never met Freud, most of his teachers during those years were strict adherents of Freudian theory (Knapp, 1989).

In 1926, the same year that he repudiated Orthodox Judaism, Fromm married Frieda Reichmann, his analyst who was more than 10 years his senior. Reichmann would later obtain an international reputation for her work with schizophrenic patients. G. P. Knapp (1989) claimed that Reichmann was clearly a mother figure to Fromm and that she even resembled his mother. Gail Hornstein (2000) added that Fromm seemed to have gone directly from being his mother's darling to relationships with a number of older women who doted on him. hi any event, the marriage of Fromm and Fromm-Reichmann was not a happy one. They separated hi 1930 but were not divorced until much later, after both had emigrated to the United States.

In 1930, Fromm and several others founded the South German Institute for Psychoanalysis hi Frankfurt, but with the Nazi tlneat becoming more intense, he soon moved to Switzerland where he joined the newly founded International Institute of Social Research hi Geneva. In 1933, he accepted an invitation to deliver a series of lectures at the Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute. The following year he emigrated to the United States and opened a private practice in New York City.

In both Chicago and New York, Fromm renewed his acquaintance with Karen Horney, whom he had known casually at the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute. Horney, who was 15 years older than Fromm, eventually became a strong mother figure and mentor to him (Knapp, 1989). Fromm joined Homey's newly formed Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis (AAP) in 1941. Although he and Homey had been lovers, by 1943 dissension within the association had made them rivals. When students requested that Fromm, who did not hold an MD degree, teach a clinical course, the organization split over his qualifications. With Horney siding against

188 Part II Psychodynamic Theories him, Fromm, along with Harry Stack Sullivan, Clara Thompson, and several other members, quit the association and immediately made plans to begin an alternative organization (Quimi, 1987). hi 1946, this group established the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis, and Psychology, with Fromm chairing both the faculty and the training committee.

In 1944, Fromm married Hemiy Gurland a woman two years younger than Fromm and whose interest hi religion and mystical thought furthered Fromm s own inclinations toward Zen Buddhism. In 1951, the couple moved to Mexico for a more favorable climate for Gurland who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. Fromm joined the faculty at the National Autonomous University in Mexico City, where he established a psychoanalytic department at the medical school. After his wife died in 1952, he continued to live in Mexico and commuted between his home in Cuer-navaca and the United States, where he held various academic positions, including professor of psychology at Michigan State University from 1957 to 1961 and adjunct professor at New York University from 1962 to 1970. While hi Mexico, he met Ainiis Freeman, whom he married in 1953. In 1968, Fromm suffered a serious heart attack and was forced to slow down his busy schedule. In 1974 and still ill, he and his wife moved to Muralto, Switzerland where he died March 18, 1980, a few days short of his 80th birthday.

What kind of person was Erich Fromm? Apparently, different people saw him hi quite different ways. Hornstein (2000) listed a number of opposing traits that have been used to describe his personality. According to this account, Fromm was authoritarian, gentle, pretentious, arrogant, pious, autocratic, shy, shicere, phony, and brilliant.

Fromm began his professional career as a psychotherapist ushig orthodox psychoanalytic technique, but after 10 years he became "bored" with the Freudian approach and developed his own more active and confrontational methods (Fromm, 1986, 1992; Sobel, 1980). Over the years, his cultural, social, economic, and psychological ideas have attained a wide audience. Among his best-known books are Escape from Freedom (1941), Man for Himself(1947), Psychoanalysis and Religion (1950), The Sane Society (1955), The Art of Loving (1956), Man's Concept of Man (1961), The Heart of Man (1964), The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973), To Have or Be (1976), and For the Love of Life (1986).

Fromm s theory of personality borrows from myriad sources and is, perhaps, the most broadly based theory hi this book. Landis and Tauber (1971) listed five important influences on Fromm s thinking: (1) the teachings of the humanistic rabbis; (2) the revolutionary spirit of Karl Marx; (3) the equally revolutionary ideas of Sig-mund Freud; (4) the rationality of Zen Buddhism as espoused by D. T. Suzuki; and (5) the writings of Johann Jakob Bachofen (1815-1887) on matriarchal societies.

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