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Erich Fromm

FROMM, ERICH (1900–1980), U.S. psychoanalyst, social philosopher, and author. Fromm, who was born in Frankfurt of rabbinic descent, studied at German universities and received his professional training at the Psychoanalytic Institute of Berlin. He worked at the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt from 1929 to 1932, but immigrated to the U.S. when Hitler came to power in Germany. His first appointment in America was at the International Institute for Social Research in New York City (1934–39). He was on the faculty of Bennington College, Vermont, from 1941 to 1950. In 1951 he was appointed professor at the National University of Mexico. He was also professor at Michigan State University (1957–61) and New York University (1962). In 1974 he settled in Switzerland. A theoretician of the neo-Freudian school, he pursued an independent road in the application of psychoanalysis to the problems of culture and society. His psychological studies on the meaning of freedom for modern man have had a wide influence on western thought.

A student of the Bible and the Talmud, "brought up in a religious family where the Old Testament touched me and exhilarated me more than anything else I was exposed to," Fromm was a disciple of Ludwig Krause and Nehemia Nobel, and was greatly influenced by Hermann Cohen. Fromm believed that everyone has a religious need and that religion is "the formalized and elaborate answer to man's existence." He postulated two major kinds of religion: the authoritarian and the humanistic. He rejected the former, for here man is utterly powerless, and adopted the humanistic religion in which man experiences oneness with the All, achieving his greatest strength and self-realization, as in the Jewish prophets, where their doctrines have an underlying humanity and where freedom is the aim of life. He differed from Freud, and considered "the religious cult as vastly superior to neurosis, because man shares his feelings, his oneness, security, and stability with his fellow men, which the neurotic person lacks in his isolation."

Fromm claimed that Judaism is an "untheological religion, where the stress is on the underlying substratum of human experience." Making extensive use of Judaic texts and practices, he demonstrated their contemporary relevance to the human condition, showing, in a nontheological way, how the idea of God is a permanent challenge to all kinds of idolatry. In Fromm's view, alienation, which is identical to idolatry in the Bible, is the sum and substance of human misery in our society. To save Western man from "depersonalization," society must recognize the sovereignty of the individual. In contrast to Freudian orthodoxy, Fromm emphasized the need for a social and cultural orientation in psychoanalysis.

Fromm's belief in the need for a society which recognizes man as a responsible individual is expounded in The Sane Society (1955). This society he regarded as the best antidote to the totalitarianism that he denounces in Escape from Freedom (1941). His other studies deal with the interrelation of psychology and ethics, psychoanalysis and social history, myth and religion, and dream symbolism. These books include: Man for Himself (1947); Psychoanalysis and Religion (1950); The Forgotten Language (1952); The Art of Loving (1956); and You Shall Be as Gods (1967), a psychiatric commentary on the biblical view of God in which he declares that the "Old Testament is a revolutionary book because its theme is the liberation of man."

Fromm's first wife was Frieda *Fromm-Reichman, whom he married in 1926.


J.S. Glen, Erich Fromm: a Protestant Critique (1966); Friedenberg, in: Commentary, 34 (1962), 305–13.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.