Erich Fromm quotes

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Erich Fromm

Birthdate: 23. March 1900
Date of death: 18. March 1980

Erich Seligmann Fromm was a German Jew who fled the Nazi regime and settled in the US. He was a social psychologist, psychoanalyst, sociologist, humanistic philosopher, and democratic socialist. He was one of the Founders of The William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology in New York City and was associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory. Wikipedia

Works

„They are historical, but the product of rational imagination, rooted in an experience of what man is capable of and in a clear insight into the transitory character of previous and existing society.“

—  Erich Fromm

Human Nature and Social Theory (1969)
Context: What about the utopian thinkers of all ages, from the Prophets who had a vision of eternal peace, on through the Utopians of the Renaissance, etc.? Were they just dreamers? Or were they so deeply aware of new possibilities, of the changeability of social conditions, that they could visualize an entirely new form of social existence even though these new forms, as such, were not even potentially given in their own society? It is true that Marx wrote a great deal against utopian socialism, and so the term has a bad odor for many Marxists. But he is polemical against certain socialist schools which were, indeed, inferior to his system because of their lack of realism. In fact, I would say the less realistic basis for a vision of the uncrippled man and of a free society there is, the more is Utopia the only legitimate form of expressing hope. But they are not trans-historical as, for instance, is the Christian idea of the Last Judgment, etc. They are historical, but the product of rational imagination, rooted in an experience of what man is capable of and in a clear insight into the transitory character of previous and existing society.

„Our society is run by a managerial bureaucracy, by professional politicians; people are motivated by mass suggestion, their aim is producing more and consuming more, as purposes in themselves.“

—  Erich Fromm, book The Art of Loving

The portion of this statement, "Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence" has been widely quoted alone, resulting in a less reserved expression, and sometimes the portion following it has been as well: "Any society which excludes, relatively, the development of love, must in the long run perish of its own contradiction with the basic necessities of human nature."
The Art of Loving (1956)
Context: Our society is run by a managerial bureaucracy, by professional politicians; people are motivated by mass suggestion, their aim is producing more and consuming more, as purposes in themselves. All activities are subordinated to economic goals, means have become ends; man is an automaton — well fed, well clad, but without any ultimate concern for that which is his peculiarly human quality and function. If man is to be able to love, he must be put in his supreme place. The economic machine must serve him, rather than he serve it. He must be enabled to share experience, to share work, rather than, at best, share in profits. Society must be organized in such a way that man's social, loving nature is not separated from his social existence, but becomes one with it. If it is true, as I have tried to show, that love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence, then any society which excludes, relatively, the development of love, must in the long run perish of its own contradiction with the basic necessities of human nature. <!-- p. 111 - 112

„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.“

—  Erich Fromm

Human Nature and Social Theory (1969)
Context: 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.

„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.“

—  Erich Fromm

Human Nature and Social Theory (1969)
Context: One 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.

„What about the utopian thinkers of all ages, from the Prophets who had a vision of eternal peace, on through the Utopians of the Renaissance, etc.? Were they just dreamers? Or were they so deeply aware of new possibilities, of the changeability of social conditions, that they could visualize an entirely new form of social existence even though these new forms, as such, were not even potentially given in their own society?“

—  Erich Fromm

Human Nature and Social Theory (1969)
Context: What about the utopian thinkers of all ages, from the Prophets who had a vision of eternal peace, on through the Utopians of the Renaissance, etc.? Were they just dreamers? Or were they so deeply aware of new possibilities, of the changeability of social conditions, that they could visualize an entirely new form of social existence even though these new forms, as such, were not even potentially given in their own society? It is true that Marx wrote a great deal against utopian socialism, and so the term has a bad odor for many Marxists. But he is polemical against certain socialist schools which were, indeed, inferior to his system because of their lack of realism. In fact, I would say the less realistic basis for a vision of the uncrippled man and of a free society there is, the more is Utopia the only legitimate form of expressing hope. But they are not trans-historical as, for instance, is the Christian idea of the Last Judgment, etc. They are historical, but the product of rational imagination, rooted in an experience of what man is capable of and in a clear insight into the transitory character of previous and existing society.

„I would say the less realistic basis for a vision of the uncrippled man and of a free society there is, the more is Utopia the only legitimate form of expressing hope.“

—  Erich Fromm

Human Nature and Social Theory (1969)
Context: What about the utopian thinkers of all ages, from the Prophets who had a vision of eternal peace, on through the Utopians of the Renaissance, etc.? Were they just dreamers? Or were they so deeply aware of new possibilities, of the changeability of social conditions, that they could visualize an entirely new form of social existence even though these new forms, as such, were not even potentially given in their own society? It is true that Marx wrote a great deal against utopian socialism, and so the term has a bad odor for many Marxists. But he is polemical against certain socialist schools which were, indeed, inferior to his system because of their lack of realism. In fact, I would say the less realistic basis for a vision of the uncrippled man and of a free society there is, the more is Utopia the only legitimate form of expressing hope. But they are not trans-historical as, for instance, is the Christian idea of the Last Judgment, etc. They are historical, but the product of rational imagination, rooted in an experience of what man is capable of and in a clear insight into the transitory character of previous and existing society.

„Society must be organized in such a way that man's social, loving nature is not separated from his social existence, but becomes one with it. If it is true, as I have tried to show, that love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence, then any society which excludes, relatively, the development of love, must in the long run perish of its own contradiction with the basic necessities of human nature.“

—  Erich Fromm, book The Art of Loving

The portion of this statement, "Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence" has been widely quoted alone, resulting in a less reserved expression, and sometimes the portion following it has been as well: "Any society which excludes, relatively, the development of love, must in the long run perish of its own contradiction with the basic necessities of human nature."
The Art of Loving (1956)
Context: Our society is run by a managerial bureaucracy, by professional politicians; people are motivated by mass suggestion, their aim is producing more and consuming more, as purposes in themselves. All activities are subordinated to economic goals, means have become ends; man is an automaton — well fed, well clad, but without any ultimate concern for that which is his peculiarly human quality and function. If man is to be able to love, he must be put in his supreme place. The economic machine must serve him, rather than he serve it. He must be enabled to share experience, to share work, rather than, at best, share in profits. Society must be organized in such a way that man's social, loving nature is not separated from his social existence, but becomes one with it. If it is true, as I have tried to show, that love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence, then any society which excludes, relatively, the development of love, must in the long run perish of its own contradiction with the basic necessities of human nature. <!-- p. 111 - 112

„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.“

—  Erich Fromm

Credo (1965)
Context: 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.

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