Erich Fromm

On this date in 1900, psychoanalyst and humanist philosopher Erich Fromm was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Grandfathers on both sides of the family were Orthodox rabbis. He earned his Ph.D. in sociology in 1922 from the University of Heidelberg and trained at the Psychological Institute in Berlin. By 1926 he had rejected Orthodox Judaism. Fromm took the story of Adam and Eve and turned it into an allegory in praise of the quest for knowledge, the questioning of authority and the use of reason.

He moved in 1930 to Geneva to escape Nazism, then emigrated to the U.S. in 1934. Fromm taught at Columbia University and became a citizen in 1940. His pinnacle work, Escape from Freedom, was published in 1941, followed by Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics (1947).

Fromm moved to Mexico in 1950 to become a professor at the National Autonomous University, where he taught until 1965. The Art of Loving (1956) became an international best-seller. That was followed by The Sane Society (1955), You Shall Be as Gods (1966), The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973), and To Have or to Be (1976). He started teaching in the U.S. again in the late 1950s at Michigan State University and later New York University.

He was a co-founder of several institutes, including the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology. As a critic of McCarthyism and the Vietnam War, he helped found the international peace group SANE.

In The Sane Society, Fromm distinguishes “intelligence” (“thought in the service of biological survival”) from “reason,” which “aims at understanding.” “In observing the quality of thinking in alienated man, it is striking to see how his intelligence has developed and how reason has deteriorated.” Fromm called ethics “inseparable from reason.”

Fromm “just didn’t want to participate in any division of the human race, whether religious or political,” wrote Keay Davidson in “Fromm, Erich Pinchas” ( American National Biography Online, Feb. 2000) and was a confirmed atheist. He moved to Switzerland in 1974, where he died just before his 80th birthday in 1980.

Freedom From Religion Foundation