Recently, Erich Fromm’s book Art of loving caught my eye. I took it off the shelf and remembered that I had read it while studying psychology about fifty years ago. At that time Fromm was at the peak of his fame in Yugoslavia, especially with the book Escape from Freedom. We used the above-mentioned book in English classes. I decided to open it again. I wanted to remind myself how Fromm handled that topic. About ten years ago, I studied it intensively from the point of view of evolution, attachment theory, psychopathology, and couples’ therapy.

But before I continue in this direction, I would like us to take a look at the personality and work of Erich Fromm. I first heard of him in relation with the Korčula Summer School and the Praxis magazine, which advocated “socialism with a human face” and the study of Karl Marx’s “early works.” He was one of the first participants in those summer talks in 1963. Meetings of left-wing intellectuals were possible in the relatively tolerant intellectual and political climate of Yugoslavia in the late 1960s. But as it is known, all that openness changed in the first half of the seventies. As a result, the free forum, and the work of the Korčula School, together with the magazine, were abolished in 1974. In the same year, I enrolled at the University of Philosophy in Belgrade. Unfortunately, the following year eight university professors, participants in the above school and the magazine, were removed due to their critical thinking as well as active and direct action in society and social events.

To get back to Fromm. He attracted me as an emissary of the so-called the third force in psychology, humanistic, which emerged in the 1950s as the opposition of the first two (psychoanalysis and behaviorism). Together with other main representatives (Maslow, Rodgers, May), Fromm advocated the importance of the individual, personal freedom, the harmony of the individual and society, the study of human potentials, and the development of love for life. But before he arrived in America, he was born (1900) and lived in Germany. He came from a Jewish family turned to orthodox Judaism.  Fromm studied the Talmud and the Old Testament in preparation to follow the family tradition and become a rabbi. But gradually, while studying in Heidelberg, he was directed toward sociology, philosophy, and psychology. He later began studying psychoanalysis under the influence of Frida Reichmann (who briefly became his wife). Fromm was involved in psychoanalysis for many years, especially in association with “neo-Freudians” and “Marxist” psychoanalysts such as Wilhelm Reich. In the thirties, he belonged to the Frankfurt School (Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse) at the Institute for Social Research with an ambitious program of critical theory of society that coincided with Fromm’s main interest, the relationship between the individual and society. The fruitful collaboration lasted for several years and then Fromm turned to existential and humanistic currents in psychology especially after coming to America.

The opus and breadth of Fromm’s work is evident in many books, lectures, and political engagements. Fromm extensively studied and was influenced by the works of Freud and Marx, respectively. At the same time he reinterpreted their understandings of human nature. His optimistic nature led him to the idea of ​​freedom as the central human characteristic and the potential for overcoming the constraints imposed by biological and social determinism. One of Fromm’s most valuable contributions is the notion of social character. He has successfully integrated an approach to the problem of the relationship between personality and culture from a philosophical, sociological, historical, anthropological, and psychological point of view. Fromm “discovered” five types of social character: receiving, exploiting, hoarding, marketing, and productive. These types represent different ways in which people relate to the world and to each other. The first four orientations (characters) focus on consuming, obtaining, and possessing. They are defined by what they have. The productive character, on the other hand, is oriented towards being rather than having, the person without a mask. The focus of this orientation is on building loving, nurturing and meaningful relationships with other people imbued with responsibility and freedom. According to Fromm, a society that creates a productive character type does not yet exist. He envisions it as a society oriented toward humanitarian ideals, made up of small communities as opposed to big government or corporations in which everyone is responsible for the well-being of everyone else. His humanistic credo is contained in these words: “I believe that a man who chooses progress can find a new unity through the development of all his human strengths: biophilia, love for humanity and nature, and independence and freedom.”

His connection with Yugoslavia began in 1961 when he came to Belgrade and gave a lecture on the “social unconscious” and Marx’s understanding of man, warning of the “falsification” of Marx’s teachings. He advocated humanistic Marxism, which is evident in Marx’s philosophical “early works.” He taught socialist humanism which rejects both Western capitalism and Soviet communist socialism and sympathizes with the interpretation of socialism of the Yugoslav group gathered around Praxis magazine. He was a member of the American Socialist Party and actively participated in the international peace movement, fighting the nuclear arms race and U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Fromm’s popularity in Yugoslavia was great during the 70’s and 80’s which led to the translation of many of his books. The crown was a publication of a selected works in 12 volumes in 1986. I bought this representative collection and read it until my departure from the country in 1988. I left it in the care of my brother. I hope it’s still in his possession.

  I will now return to the book that inspired me for this text, Art of Loving. It was published in 1956 and experienced great popularity around the world, which speaks of the importance of this topic. The title of the book indicates Fromm’s premise about love, which is not related to the emotional state (falling in love) but to the capacity that we nurture in ourselves and express towards others. It is a desire for connectedness in order to overcome existential separation. He says, “Love is the active care for the life and growth of what we love.” He believes that love is “a child of freedom and not dominance”. Care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge are the basic elements of mature love. He connects love with character orientation, an attitude that is not directed towards a certain person, but is manifested towards everyone and everything. It is true that the book identifies five types of love and their specifics – brotherly love, maternal love, erotic love, self-love, and love of God – but he considers the object of love to be secondary to the presence of the capacity for love.

Brotherly love is the basis for all other types of love because it is tied to human solidarity, humanity, and concern for the well-being of all human beings.

Maternal love is an unconditional confirmation of a child’s life and needs. One aspect of that love is the care and responsibility that is absolutely necessary to preserve a child’s life and growth. The second aspect is the attitude that infuses the child with love for life, which gives him the feeling that it is good to be alive and live on this earth.

Brotherly love is love among equals. Maternal love is love for the powerless. Both loves are not exclusive. If I love one brother, I love all brothers. If I love one child, I love all children. Unlike them, erotic love is by its nature exclusive, not universal. It is the pursuit of unity, but not only through sexual act, but through loving, tenderness and experiencing the essence of another person through the essence that springs from the depths of our own being. “Love is a voluntary act, a decision, a promise, not a spontaneous emotional reaction based on a strong feeling.” The paradox of erotic love (which is not easy to understand and experience) is that it contains an element of universality (each of us is a part of One and therefore we are One) and an element of differentiation (each of us is a unique, unrepeatable individual).

Self-love is a consequence of the capacity for love that is directed not towards others but towards oneself with the affirmation of life, joy, growth, and freedom.

The need for love is related to the need to overcome separation through connection. In this sense, religious love for God is no different from other types of love except that God takes on different meanings related to the degrees of evolutionary, historical, social, and personal development. In “mature” religiosity, God becomes a symbol of the highest aspirations related to the principles of justice, truth, and love.

In the next chapter, we find Fromm a critic of a capitalist society in which alienation from oneself, others, and nature is prevalent because of a system in which the market dictates all values ​​and relationships, including love becoming a commodity and where investing in another person is profit-based. Consumerism is the highest principle supported by the system through overt and covert propaganda methods. Love as mutual sexual satisfaction, love as “teamwork” and protection from loneliness, are two “normal” forms of love disintegration in modern Western society, a socially conditioned pathology of love. He cites many specific examples of “pseudo-love” based on treating others as commodities, possessiveness, selfishness, idolatry, and lack of tenderness. He concludes: “Love is possible only if two persons communicate with each other from the center of their existence, hence if each one of them experiences himself from the center of his existence. Only in this “central experience” is human reality, only here is aliveness, only here is the basis for love. Love, experience thus, is a constant challenge. It is not a resting place, but the moving, growing, working together. Even when there is harmony or conflict, joy or sadness, is secondary to the fundamental fact that two people experience themselves from the essence of their existence, that they are one with each other by being one with themselves, rather than by fleeing from themselves. There is only one proof for the presence of love: the depth of the relationship, and the aliveness and strength in each person concerned. This is the fruit by which love is recognized.”

The last chapter is devoted to practice of love. The practice of love requires discipline as an expression of one’s own will. The modern man learns to practice discipline only at work. Outside of work he just wants to relax through infantile self-indulgence. The next requirement is concentration, which is also lacking in modern man evident by his difficulty in being alone with himself. To learn to concentrate is to learn to listen, live in the present, have sensitivity through relaxed alertness of your own inner experiences. Patience is another necessary element in the art of loving. The supreme concern with the mastery of the art means that the art of loving becomes the most important activity. Thinking objectively with reason and humility is the best way to overcome narcissistic orientation. The practice of rational faith is the quality of certainty and firmness in our own convictions, rooted in productive intellectual and emotional activity. Fromm states, “While irrational faith is the acceptance of something as true only because an authority or the majority say so, rational faith is rooted in an independent conviction based upon one’s own productive observing and thinking, in spite of the majority’s opinion. Only the person who has faith in himself is able to be faithful to others. The basis of rational faith is productiveness. The faith requires courage, the ability to take a risk, the readiness even to accept pain and disappointment. To love means to commit oneself without guarantee, to give oneself completely in the hope that our love will produce love in the loved person. Love is the act of faith. The capacity to love demands a state of intensity, awareness and enhanced vitality.”

With this review, I returned to Erich Fromm after thirty years of neglect but not oblivion. A few years ago, I bought illustrated biography written by a great connoisseur of his work, Rainer Funk. I often looked at it and waited for the right moment to open it, which I did on this occasion. I became aware of how much I owed to this engaged intellectual with whom I shared my fascination with Freud and Marx in the youthful zeal in the search for truth and understanding of the society in which I lived. His words still radiate freshness and relevance today, especially warnings of character orientations foreign to our true human nature, activism, and the demonstrated life of purpose. Fromm’s short book on love is a treasury I reopened to drink fresh water when thirst weakened my body and clouded my spirit. I invite you to this source of wisdom where the inexhaustible power of an extraordinary mind awaits you.

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