A Brief Tribute to Erich Fromm

By Dr. Griffith
November 2004

As a youth, I often found pleasure in going to the downtown or school library. As a science major in high school, I was attracted to authors such as the late George Gamow and Issac Asimov and was certainly influenced in my quest for new knowledge, by a friend, who went on to become a well known national scientist.

Curiosity has always been my dominant personality trait. Psychology didn’t make it to my reading list until I was about 16. Vietnam was nearing it’s end and everybody had been exposed to nightly doses of news about war. I am unable to discern whether it was the war news, my curiosity or some other factor that motivated to read Erich Fromm’s, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. This was my first serious reading endeavor in psychology. I found this work quite thorough and enjoyed Dr. Fromm’s ability to explain his ideas with accessible, clear language.

I continued, over the next decade, to read every publication of Dr. Fromm. Now, at 47, I believe I have in my library, everything that book he wrote in English. I wish I had continued my studies of German from high school so I could read in Fromm in his native language (among the many other benefits of proficiency in German!)

Erich Fromm was a psychoanalyst. He was a prolific gifted writer and thinker who could synthesize and explain complex ideas clearly. One of my professors during my undergraduate years at Justin Morrill College at Michigan State University related to me that he used Fromm’s book, Marx’s Concept of Man, to explain the theories of Karl Marx to students enrolled in his course. I was quite impressed that a psychoanalyst could be so influential as to appeal beyond the confines of one discipline (psychology) to another (economics).

Fromm added the economic, sociological, political and spiritual dimensions to the of understanding people that early psychoanalysts had omitted. He wrote about the influence of poverty and wealth, dreams, economic and political theory, psychoanalysis, anthropology, brain science, war and violence. He spoke eloquently about the meaning of freedom in the modern era. He wrote about Zen, Christianity, moral choices and authority and he warned us many decades ago about the price of a society that promotes alienation.

It is my understanding that in his 70s, Dr. Fromm took classes in neurology in order to write the Anatomy of Human Destructiveness.

During my studies at Michigan State, I learned that Dr. Fromm had taught there sometime in the 1950s. I spoke with a professor who had the good fortune to study with him. I remember that I hung on every word as this professor recalled his interactions with Fromm.

One of my favorite quotes from Fromm is as follows:

“What we can observe at the kernel of every neurosis, as well as normal development, is the struggle for freedom and independence. For many normal persons this struggle has ended in a complete giving up of their individual selves, so that they are thus well adapted and considered to be normal. The neurotic person is the one who has not given up fighting against complete submission, but who, at the same time, has remained bound to the figure of the magic helper, whatever form or shape “he” may have assumed. His neurosis is always understood as an attempt and essentially an unsuccessful one, to solve the conflict between that basic dependency and the quest for freedom.” Escape from Freedom 1941, page 201

Fromm was a post-Freudian psychoanalyst. His contributions broadened the scope of psychoanalytic inquiry and his work is as valuable today, as it was at the time he was actively writing.

ArticleAustin Griffith