Erich Fromm Biography

(German Social Psychologist and Psychoanalyst & One of the Founders of The 'William Alanson White Institute')

Birthday: March 23, 1900 (Aries)

Born In: Frankfurt, Germany

Erich Fromm was a German Jewish psychoanalyst, psychologist, humanistic philosopher, and sociologist. He is best remembered as one of the founders of the famous William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Psychoanalysis in US. He was born in Frankfurt as a single child of a wine merchant. His father’s temperamental nature and mother’s depression made his childhood a difficult one. As a result, Fromm turned rebellious and also renounced his religion to become an atheist. The devastating World War I changed his views of the world completely. Following his graduation from the University of Frankfurt am Main, Fromm joined the Heidelberg University in 1919. There, he studied under eminent sociologist Alfred Webber who helped him earn his PhD in sociology in 1922. During the mid-1920s, while studying psychoanalysis, he came in contact with Frieda Reichmann who later became his wife. However, their marriage wasn’t a happy one. Fromm implemented social theories that earned him recognition at the Frankfurt School. He was eventually forced to flee his nation and subsequently settled in USA. In March 1980, the legendary psychoanalyst died in Switzerland, at the age of 79.

Quick Facts

German Celebrities Born In March

Also Known As: Erich Seligmann Fromm

Died At Age: 79


Spouse/Ex-: Frieda Fromm-Reichmann

father: Naphtali Fromm

mother: Rosa Krause Fromm

Born Country: Germany

Philosophers Sociologists

Died on: March 18, 1980

place of death: Muralto, Switzerland

City: Frankfurt, Germany

Founder/Co-Founder: William Alanson White Institute

More Facts

education: New York University, Heidelberg University

awards: Humanist of the Year
Nelly Sachs Prize
Goethe Plaque of the City of Frankfurt

Childhood & Early Life
Erich Fromm was born on 23 March 1900, at Frankfurt am Main, German Empire, to Rosa and Naphtali Fromm. His parents were Orthodox Jews.
In 1918, he started studying at the University of Frankfurt am Main. A year later, he studied sociology under Alfred Weber and Karl Jaspers at the University of Heidelberg.
After earning his PhD in sociology in 1922, Fromm started his training as a psychoanalyst through his future wife Frieda Reichmann's psychoanalytic sanatorium.
In 1930, he enrolled at the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research from where he finished his psychoanalytical training.
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Works & Psychological Theories
In 1941, Fromm published his seminal work ‘Escape from Freedom’ which became one of the foundations of political psychology. He next came up with ‘Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics’ that was published in 1947. Both these books outlined his theories related to human character.
His most popular book was titled ‘The Art of Loving’. First published in 1956, this international bestseller complemented the theories of human nature found in his first two books.
Fromm used Adam and Eve’s story to explain the human biological evolution. He asserted that Adam and Eve realized that they were separate from nature after they ate from the Tree of Knowledge.
He further stated that after they evolved into human beings, they remained no longer integrated with the universe as they used to be in their pre-human existence as animals.
His theory on love was quite unique. Fromm considered love not as an emotion but as an interpersonal creative capacity. According to him, one falls in love because of their inability to recognize the true nature of love.
Further, he cited freedom as a characteristic of human nature that one either escapes or embraces. The psychoanalyst observed that escaping freedom via escape mechanisms led to psychological conflicts, whereas embracing freedom was healthy.
He outlined three common escape mechanisms: authoritarianism – giving one’s freedom to someone else, automaton conformity – changing self to abide by societal beliefs, and destructiveness – anything that is meant to eliminate others to escape freedom.
Erich Fromm also hypothesized eight basic needs, including transcendence, rootedness, sense of identity, frame of orientation, excitation and stimulation, unity, and effectiveness.
He stated that an individual relates to the world by two ways, assimilation and socialization. Moreover, he asserted that these ways entirely depend on one’s circumstances. He believed that these ways of relating to life's circumstances result in basic character orientations.
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Fromm described four types of nonproductive character orientations, namely marketing, hoarding, exploitative, and receptive along with one positive character orientation, productive.
Political Ideas & Actions
Fromm's ‘Escape from Freedom’ focused on the human urge to strive for a source of authority upon reaching a state of freedom.
He found value in the absence of individual freedom and responsibilities of the medieval society. In 1955, the psychoanalyst published ‘The Sane Society’ in which he argued in favor of democratic socialism.
Inspired by Karl Marx, he promoted his writings in US and Western Europe.
Fromm rejected both Soviet communism and western capitalism as he believed them to be dehumanizing. Eventually, he became one of the initiators of socialist humanism.
In the early 1960s, he published two books titled ‘Beyond the Chains of Illusion’ and ‘Marx's Concept of Man’. While working to promote cooperation between the eastern and western factions of Marxist humanists, he published ‘Socialist Humanism: An International Symposium.’
For a time being, Fromm was actively involved in US politics. He worked in the Socialist Party of America during the mid-1950s and gave them an alternative viewpoint to McCarthyist trends. This viewpoint was later expressed in a 1961 paper titled ‘May Man Prevail? An Inquiry into the Facts and Fictions of Foreign Policy.’
Fromm & Freud
Fromm examined the works of Sigmund Freud at length. The principles of the two parties greatly clashed with each other.
Freud’s dual theories on human drives that he implanted before and after World War I were criticized by Fromm for not acknowledging the ambiguities in these theories.
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He also condemned Freud's dualistic thinking and called it narrow and limiting. According to him, Freud was a misogynist who couldn’t think beyond the 20th century Vienna’s patriarchal milieu.
Although Fromm raised several criticisms against Freud, he also held great respect for his accomplishments.
Herbert Marcuse, an American-German philosopher, criticized Fromm and stated that Fromm was no longer a radical theorist in his later years as he used to be in the beginning.
According to Marcuse, Fromm and his colleagues removed Freud's radical theories, thus reducing psychoanalysis to a set that only embraced the status quo.
Fromm responded by saying that Marcuse accepted these theories as dogma while social psychology involves a more empirical and theoretical approach.
Later Years
After the Nazis conquered Germany, Erich Fromm moved to Geneva. In 1934, he moved to Columbia University in New York. During this time, he was greatly influenced by Karen Horney.
After leaving Columbia, he co-founded the William Alanson White Institute in 1946. From 1941 to 1949, he worked in Bennington College.
In 1949, he relocated to Mexico City where he joined the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He worked there until his retirement in 1965.
Also from 1941 to 1959, Fromm taught at New York’s New School for Social Research. He became a professor of psychology at the Michigan State University where he taught from 1957 to 1961.
Later on, he joined the New York University and also the Mexican Society of Psychoanalysis. In 1974 the psychologist moved to Muralto, Switzerland.
Family & Personal Life
Erich Fromm married Frieda Reichmann in 1926. The couple divorced in 1942.
He died on March 18, 1980, in Muralto, Ticino, Switzerland, at the age of 79.
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