Erich Fromm was a 20th century sociologist, psychoanalyst, and something of a polymath who studied and published work in a diverse array of fields, including psychology, anthropology, religion, ethics, psychoanalysis, sociology, and philosophy. His psychological writings intersperse politics with philosophy, and Fromm is viewed by many as the founder of political psychology.

Professional Life

Erich Fromm was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1900. He studied law at the University of Frankfurt until he changed his field of study to sociology and enrolled in the University of Heidelberg. After he graduated in 1922 with his PhD in sociology, he continued to study psychology and psychiatry at the University of Munich, and he trained at the Psychoanalytic Institute of Berlin. 

Fromm practiced psychoanalysis in Berlin and established the Psychoanalytic Institute of Frankfurt. He also joined the University of Frankfurt’s Institute for Social Research where he was a teacher between 1929 and 1932. The Institute later became known as the Frankfurt School for Critical Theory, and is one of the most widely known centers dedicated to Marxist interdisciplinary social psychology.

Fromm fled from the Nazis in 1933 to the United States, where he worked at Columbia University in New York until 1941. Fromm came into contact with a new school of sociologists and analysts, including Karen Horney, a well-known German psychoanalyst who was famous for questioning and revising several Freudian theories. Fromm ultimately rejected Freudian theory and helped to propel the neo-Freudian movement. Fromm established the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis, and Psychology and lectured at Yale University, the New School for Social Research, and the American Institute for Psychoanalysis. From 1941–1950, Fromm was a faculty member at Bennington College.

Fromm relocated to Mexico City in 1951, where he was a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Frontera. From 1955–1965, Fromm was head of the psychoanalysis department at the university. During this time, he also visited the University of Michigan and New York University as a professor. He later taught at the Mexican Society of Psychoanalysis, before he moved to Switzerland, where he remained until his death in 1980.

Contribution to Psychology

Fromm was a fierce social critic who wrote extensively about political philosophy. He is also known for his criticisms of the work of Sigmund Freud. Fromm noted that some of Freud's early work conflicted with his later work, and he lambasted Freud for his misogyny.

Two of Fromm's most important works, Escape from Freedom and Man for Himself, combine elements of philosophy and psychology, laying the foundation for political psychology. The Art of Loving was his most commercially successful book.

Fromm's Jewish roots are clearly present in each of his books, and he often wrote secular interpretations of scripture. His humanistic philosophy is based primarily upon his understanding of the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. Fromm argued that Adam and Eve had done the right thing by eating the apple of the Tree of Knowledge, emphasizing that moral authority should come from carefully investigated ideals rather than authoritarian mandates from God or other figures.

This anti-authoritarian bent is a significant part of Fromm's philosophy, and many of his writings extolled the virtues of socialist democracy. He believed that embracing freedom is a sign of psychological health and that some psychological problems stem from attempts to escape from freedom and conform to society's demands. He embraced the concept of biophilia, the love of humanity and nature, and argued that biophilia was a sign of good psychological health.

Books by Erich Fromm

  • Escape from Freedom (1941)
  • Man for Himself (1947)
  • The Art of Loving (1956)
  • Sigmund Freud's Mission; an Analysis of his Personality and Influence (1959)
  • Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis (1960)
  • May Man Prevail? An Inquiry into the Facts and Fictions of Foreign Policy (1961)
  • Marx's Concept of Man (1961)
  • Beyond the Chains of Illusion: My Encounter with Marx and Freud (1962)
  • Socialist Humanism (1965)
  • The Nature of Man (1968)
  • The Crisis of Psychoanalysis (1970)
  • The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973)
  • To Have or to Be? (1976)
  • Greatness and Limitation of Freud's Thought (1979)
  • The Art of Being (1993)
  • The Art of Listening (1994)
  • On Being Human (1997)