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6.3: Brief Biography of Erich Fromm

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    12211
  • Erich Fromm was a colleague and long-time friend of Horney. He became interested in psychoanalysis at the beginning of World War I, when he was amazed at how readily so many people seemed eager for war. Unlike most other psychoanalysts, however, he earned a Ph.D., not an M.D. This eventually proved to be a source of conflict between Fromm and Horney, as she believed that lay-analysts should not be allowed to conduct therapy. Still, Fromm acknowledged Horney as influencing his career and sharing his own interests in culture and particularly in society itself (Evans, 1981a). Fromm also considered himself as remaining especially true to the theories of Sigmund Freud, though some authors consider him to be more of a philosopher than a psychologist (Evans, 1981a; Lundin, 1979; see also Funk, 1982, 2000).

    Fromm was born on March 23, 1900, the only son of Orthodox Jewish parents, in Frankfurt, Germany. He studied the Talmud and law, but eventually switched from the University of Frankfurt to the University of Heidelberg and changed his major to sociology and economics. In 1922 he received his doctorate, and in 1924 he was psychoanalyzed by Frieda Reichmann. He turned away from Orthodox Judaism, married Frieda Reichmann (whom he later divorced), and became active in the Berlin psychoanalytic community (where he completed his psychoanalytic training). In 1933, Horney invited Fromm to guest lecture in Chicago. A year later, he moved to New York. There he collaborated with Horney, Harry Stack Sullivan (whom he also acknowledged as a significance influence on his thinking; see, e.g., Evans, 1981a and Fromm, 1941, 1955a), and Clara Thompson. In 1940 he became a United States citizen, then in 1941 he published Escape from Freedom (Fromm, 1941) and began teaching at the New School (Funk, 1982, 2000).

    After his break with Horney (both personally and professionally), Fromm married his second wife and spent some time teaching at Yale University. A few years later his wife died, Fromm soon married for the third time, and that marriage lasted until his death. Shortly after his third marriage, Fromm moved to Mexico City, Mexico, where he lived for the next 24 years. He joined the medical faculty at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and co-founded a Mexican psychoanalytic society. In 1956, he published his acclaimed book The Art of Loving (Fromm, 1956). He taught a seminar with D. T. Suzuki, and their friendship led to the publication of Zen Buddhism & Psychoanalysis (Suzuki, Fromm, and De Martino, 1960). He also conducted important cross-cultural studies in a Mexican peasant village, resulting in the publication of Social Character in a Mexican Village (Fromm & Maccoby, 1970),

    In 1966, Fromm suffered a heart attack and began spending more time back in Europe. In 1974, he sold his home in Mexico and settled permanently in Switzerland (where he had been spending his summers). After a series of three more heart attacks, Fromm died in 1980 (Funk, 1982, 2000).

    Placing Fromm in Context: Individuality in Relation to Society

    Erich Fromm was a colleague and close personal friend of Karen Horney for many years. He shared her interest in the role of culture in personality, and was even more interested in the interactions between the individual and society as a whole. Fromm viewed societies as forces that lead to alienation from a more natural, primitive way of life. As a result, freedom and individuality actually create psychological problems, as we become disconnected from our immediate social groups (such as the family or local community). This often leads to unfortunate consequences, such as seeking fellowship within a society at the expense of one’s regard for self and others, providing a framework within which dictatorships can develop (as individuals completely surrender their freedom).

    Fromm examined and combined many different interests in his career, including philosophy, economics, and psychology, and he felt that such a combination of interests was essential for the study of psychology to have real meaning. In one of the longest projects of his life, he and a number of colleagues applied a unique form of “psychoanalysis” to an entire village in rural Mexico. He then described how an understanding of social character can lead to an understanding of individual character, providing guidance for future considerations on planning social development during times of dramatic socioeconomic change.