Where Is Erich Fromm?

An edgy essay by Robert Whyte

At this moment of writing, I have absolutely no knowledge of my topic. This will be an adventure for both of us. Me, and my topic. Maybe for you too.

So as not to be accused of know-it-all status except-for-this-one-thing, I am going to add another topic, in fact another person, about whom I also know nothing. That is, Gurdjieff. A three-way adventure! Combined with all the readers who have already left, or will have by the end of this paragraph, possibly an adventure for millions, or at least 12. Surely that moves us from the irrelevant to the “interesting but obscure” category. If not, indeed, from idle inquiry to a clusterfuck of immense proportions and untold damage.

All right then, let’s begin. At least I had the good luck to spell his name right, for his Wikipedia entry sprang from the top of my search results like Usain Bolt springing from the earth into the stratosphere after his 77th match-winning goal for Real Madrid after being dumped by the Central Coast Mariners, losers! But who am I kidding? Google would have corrected my spelling even it had been as outlandish as Erlich Frommblatz. Yep. Not only that, Erlich Frommblatz gives me a guide to restaurants and other places of interest around Erich-Fromm-Platz in Frankfurt am Main (the fifth-largest city of Germany after Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, and Cologne). Erich-Fromm-Platz of course was named in honour of Erich Fromm himself, being his birthplace, in other words where Erich Fromm is from and never mind the silly title. Once a sub-editor, always an eye for the stupid headline.

Frankfurt am Main, or as everyone else knows it, Frankfurt. There’s our answer. Wouldn’t it be a heavenly release if we could just stop there?

Neither fate, nor holiday reading matter, is quite so tender a tyrant as to let you off that easily. We came to Fromm and Fromm we shall know, if it kills every last one of you. We mentioned the damage earlier.

Erich Fromm was born on March 23, 1900, immediately attending the University of Frankfurt wearing a nappy and craving human milk. He sprang from there to the University of Heidelberg and from there, his PhD worn like a geranium in his buttonhole, married his analyst Frieda Reichmann who ran the Heidelberg psychoanalytic sanatorium. The only child of orthodox Jews, he was the Nazi’s public enemy number 5,885,941 and so fled first to Geneva and then to Columbia University in New York where he and Karen Horney sat up chatting until late into the 1930s. After leaving Columbia (the University not the South American nation state) Fromm was a mover and shaker and lad about the nutty end of town, at first in human form, then remotely as an avatar from Mexico City, having a long and splendid career until 1974 when he moved from Mexico City to Muralto, Switzerland, and promptly died at his home six years later, five days before his eightieth birthday.

His first book, Escape from Freedom (1942) was a cracker. Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics (1947) was a sequel to Escape from Freedom, a sort of double bunger, if you will. These two sparkling hits culminated in the best-selling The Art of Loving (1956), a threepenny bunger capable of demolishing a perfectly sound mail box with a single bang!

Rather than being condemned as sinners, Fromm argued that Adam and Eve were to be admired and emulated for taking independent action and using reason to establish moral values rather than adhering to authority, hence his habit of going about nude and eating apples. He did admit Adam and Eve couldn’t help feeling guilty and ashamed for having used their knowledge to invent lawnmowers and nuclear weapons, but said their angst could be throttled back a bit by means of the uniquely human powers of love and reason.

This is where it gets interesting because Fromm considered love to be an interpersonal creative capacity rather than an emotion. He considered the common understandings of “love” were actually various forms of narcissistic neuroses and sado-masochistic tendencies. He believed true love always had the common elements of care, responsibility, respect and knowledge; qualities generally absent from most human relationships to the extent that few people in modern society have respect for the autonomy of other human beings, much less the objective knowledge of what other people truly wanted and needed.

Fromm said the Escape from Freedom was a bad thing and the root of psychological conflicts, usually resulting in losing one’s true self by conforming to society and ceding control of oneself to an “other”. Because living like this is shitful, people ultimately become monsters on a self-righteous social-climbing rampage, eliminating anyone else’s chance at the freedoms they had abandoned. A sort of reverse dog in the manger.

Essentially, he believed love and work could unite a society of free and independent individuals, but if the society was fucked and didn’t allow this cool shit to happen, these individuals suffered from an unbearable burden of doubt, their lives lacking meaning and direction. This wears you down and forces you to adopt the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” strategy resulting in losing one’s true self by conforming to society, ceding control of oneself to an “other” and because living like this is shitful, ultimately becoming a monster to eliminate anyone else’s chance at the freedoms that you have willingly abandoned. Déjà vu!

There you have it. You didn’t hear it from me, but Fromm was also a commie and an atheist. This probably explains the sojourn in Mexico City, to escape the clutches of that total dickhead, Senator Joseph McCarthy, a weasel whose smug-ugly face is enough to make a wombat puke blood. Actually, it was to find a better climate for his second wife’s health. Or so they say.

Being an atheist is only sensible, and if you don’t admire the early works of Karl Marx you’re an idiot, a fool and a humbug. Sorry, but it’s true. Therefore, we can only infer from all of this that Erich Fromm (Frankfurt) was a decent bloke. He was a civil rights activist, led movements against nuclear weapons, participated in anti-Vietnam protests and organized for the protection of the environment. He really did think western capitalism was a crock, and said so in To Have or To Be (1976). He said a society needed a balance between ‘Having’ (founded primarily on violence and gluttony) and ‘Being’, on the other hand, embedded in love, communal harmony and constructive actions. Fair enough, but go easy on the violence and gluttony, people.

Fromm a state of complete ignorance, we have come full circle to a position where Fromm one cannot escape a pretty comprehensive understanding of the bloke and the shit he got up to. While not earth-shattering to the point of making you want to run down the street nude handing out apples, it’s comforting to know that at least in the good old days there were people around who weren’t complete morons. We could move on to Gurdjieff now but I really haven’t got the heart for it and I don’t think you have either, all clusterfucking 12 of you. Besides, I really can’t get past that moustache.

***

AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 233

Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Tuesday 29 January 2019

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Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.

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