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Erich Fromm's Birthday, 1900

On This Day in Jewish History: March 23, 1948

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On this day, 1900, Erich Fromm was born in Frankfurt, Germany. He would become one of the major thinkers of the 20th Century whose work combined psychoanalysis and Marxist sociology. He also maintained throughout his life a clinical psychology practice. Although a self-declared secularist, Fromm’s early philosophy was influenced by his interpretation of the Talmud and his studies with Chassidic rabbis. His paternal great-grandfathers and grandfather were rabbis as was a great uncle on his maternal side. But, ultimately, Fromm’s world view was shaped by Sigmund Freud, Karl Jaspers and Karl Marx. He earned his doctorate in sociology in 1922 and in 1930 joined the distinguished Institute for Social Research (the Frankfurt School) in 1930. When the Nazi’s took power in Germany, he moved to Switzerland and, in 1934, moved to New York City to work at Columbia University. Fromm’s teaching career would take him across the United States where he held positions at Bennington College, The New School, Michigan State and NYU. He would also spend a considerable part of his career teaching in Mexico. At all these institutions, he developed his ideas on psychology, politics and human freedom. This latter idea dominated his thinking as he tried to understand the role of freedom in human nature and how the individual sought to either embrace or escape its implications. It was in the modes of escape that Fromm recognized several dangerous tendencies, that is, impulses to conform to social ideals, be seduced by authoritarianism, or submit to destructiveness, all in an effort to avoid the more courageous and yet often frightening embrace of freedom. Fromm’s approach to psychology was inseparable from politics and their intersection is explored in his best-known works Escape from Freedom, Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics and The Art of Loving, the last a bestseller. In 1946, he co-founded the William Alanson White Institute in New York devoted to training psychoanalysts. In 1974, Fromm returned to Europe to live again in Switzerland. He died there just short of his 80th birthday in 1980.

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