According to Fromm, we are afraid to assume freedom and we delegate it to others. In the same way, we think that love is a matter of chance, when one loves with reason.
In the Fromm’s living room, only the ticking of the wall clock is heard. The mother is going through one of her usual bouts of depression. For the father, it is not something circumstantial; his character is always taciturn and anguished.
Twelve-year-old Erich is impatient for the time to visit: a young painter of about 25 years, beautiful, magnetic, always accompanies her widowed father; they come every week. But the visit does not appear, and someone sends them a message: the old man has passed away, and the young painter has taken her own life and left a note expressing her wish to be buried with him.
LOOKING FOR ANSWERS IN PSYCHOANALYSIS
Five decades later, in his book The Chains of Illusion (1962), the already renowned psychoanalyst Erich Fromm would record that this event had deeply moved him, to the point of unleashing his interest in psychoanalysis and the fruitful career that he would undertake. after:
In 1920, at the age of twenty, he began a career in Sociology at the University of Heidelberg. A psychoanalytic institute had been founded in the same city, and Fromm came to receive training as a psychoanalyst.
THE IMPACT OF THE WAR
If the Oedipus complex was behind the event that dictated his interest in the theories of Sigmund Freud, other events pushed him towards two other great influences in his life: pacifism and the theories of Karl Marx.
Also in the Old Testament , to which he was led from an early age due to his family background, of Orthodox Jews, it offered him inspiration; “The vision of universal peace and harmony among all nations deeply moved me,” Fromm wrote.
But surely none of all this would have crystallized in a work like his if the First World War had not broken out: “When the war ended in 1918, I was a deeply worried young man, obsessed by the question of how war was possible, by the desire to understand the irrationality of the behavior of the human masses, out of a passionate desire for peace and international understanding. In addition, I had become deeply distrustful of all official ideologies and statements, and was imbued with the conviction that everything must be doubted ”.
At the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research theories, they were forged on the role of the individual in capitalist society. With the rise of Nazism in Germany, everything precipitated: Fromm emigrated first to Switzerland and then to the United States.
HOW DID FROMM SEE FREEDOM?
Combining sociological and psychoanalytic observations, he concluded that human beings often feel a deep fear of assuming freedom and give up our rights over it.
To develop his theory, he started from the biblical image of the expulsion from paradise: “The act of disobedience, as an act of freedom, is the beginning of reason. The myth refers to other consequences of the first act of freedom. The harmony between man and nature is broken. God proclaims war between man and woman, between nature and man. (…) The newly won freedom appears as a curse ; he has freed himself from the sweet ties of Paradise, but he is not free to govern himself.
Faced with this original fear of freedom, the human being usually gives up his responsibility through three mechanisms.
- Automatic conformity: conforming one’s personality to what society prefers and expects of it, sacrificing the true self.
- Authoritarianism: giving control of oneself to another person (sadomasochistic attitude).
- Destructivity: destroying others and ultimately the world so that others do not overwhelm you.
In other words, fertile ground for totalitarianism, on the one hand, and escapist consumerism, on the other.
The feelings of guilt and shame, which are at the origin of the fear of freedom, can only be transcended by developing the best of oneself, which makes us unique, all our human potential: the capacity for reasoning, production and love.
But can these potentialities be fully developed in the capitalist world?
The social context was always important to Fromm and, in fact, was the point of dissension with Freudian theory. If for Freud individual discomfort came from the repression of the individual’s sexual impulses, essential for being able to coexist in society, for Fromm it was the fact that society did not offer individuals all the means to develop their potential for work and love. that caused frustration and discomfort.
The modern individual, unlike the feudal, knows that he is the owner of his freedom, and yet he cannot exercise it due to a context that turns his work, his energy and his love, and therefore himself, into merchandise. He who does not enter the chain remains on the sidelines.
Consequently, according to Fromm, the price of individual freedom in a capitalist context is feeling alone, isolated, powerless and anguished, deprived of those ties that gave them security. This transforms freedom into an unbearable burden that identifies with a type of life that lacks meaning and direction.
LOVE AS ART
After three marriages, it was time to reflect on one of the central themes in his life: love. The Art of Loving (1956) quickly became a world bestseller.
For Fromm, like freedom, love is an act of the will: the decision to love (care, take responsibility, respect and know) a person. It is inseparable from its idea of freedom, which implies being able to obey reason and knowledge, and not irrational passions.
Love is the key to open the doors to the “growth” of man. It allows to establish a relationship with others, to feel one with others, without reducing the sense of integrity and independence.
For this to be so, love requires that care, responsibility, respect and knowledge of the object of union be present at the same time. When this is fulfilled, for Fromm “the experience of love is the most human and humanizing act “.