I put together the following series of paragraphs, prose and prose-poetry, a few weeks before my 70th birthday, to express some of my understanding of, and appreciation for, Erich Fromm. I post those paragraphs and poetry below as a response to the views of an old friend, Jack McLean, views expressed in cyberspace. I also want to take this opportunity, as an old friend of Jack's, to wish him well in his personal and professional life. He and I attended Baha'i firesides together in Toronto Ontario back in the early 1960s, before he went to the Sorbonne, and before I went to McMaster, and before life called us, & we called it, along different paths in our spiritual & intellectual lives. -Ron Price, George Town, Tasmania, Australia
Erich Fromm(1900-1980) was a theorist who brought other theories together. He also emphasized how one's personality is embedded in class, status, education, vocation, and religious and philosophical background, among other social determinants. Fromm held the view that humans need to live and feel part of a genuine community for this community functions to change the people in it. In some ways I have often thought that the Baha'i Faith is going to operate inversely, if that is the right word, to Christianity. Christianity tried to change the society, and it did, by changing the individual; whereas the Baha'i Faith, as it progresses into future centuries, will change individuals by changing society. Of course, this dichotomy is not a simple one, but contains within it much nuance and complexity.
Fromm was a medical doctor and practicing psychiatrist; he explained people's drives in terms of their social interaction, their life in community. Mental illness was thus explained in terms of the failure of the individual to relate properly with other individuals. The role of biological and genetic determinants in mental health problems and individual behavior was not part of his focus, although it has become part of mine as I look back over seven decades of living.
Since my autobiography and my personality is embedded to a great extent in the same factors that Fromm describes and, since I have come to the view that this same autobiography and personality is also a result of biological and genetic factors, it is timely to say a few words about Erich Fromm's ideas in this prose-poetic.
Erich Fromm is known not only as an author and significant humanist of the 20th century, but also as a psychoanalyst and social psychologist. Erich Fromm affected the world like almost no other German-born social scientist. His writings and realizations are read and recognized worldwide. The International Erich Fromm Society now works to maintain, to research, to develop further, and to pass on Erich Fromm’s scholarly findings and ideas as the fitting continuation of his international work and in recognition of his worldwide significance. It has been more than 50 years since I first began reading Erich Fromm, and I thank Jack McLean for reminding me of Fromm's 1955 book Sane Society which I also reading in my five tumultuous years of post-secondary education.
The year I began my pioneering experience, 1962 at the age of 18, Erich Fromm, American psychoanalyst and prolific writer in the field of
existential psychology, stated his 'credo' in his book "Beyond the Chains of Illusions." I have written some of his Credo below since it was consistent with my views back in 1962 and it still is. I have commented on some of his Credo expressing views, as that Credo did, that have remained part of my belief system during this lifelong travelling-and-pioneering venture spanning, as it does now, more than fifty years. I read Fromm's books for thirty years, from the 1960s through the 1990s.-Ron Price with thanks to Michael Maccoby, "The Two Voices of Erich Fromm: The Prophetic and the Analytic," Society, July/August 1994.
"The most important factor for the development of the individual is the structure and the values of the society into which he has been born." Given this fact, my role as a Baha'i has been to spend my life trying to build the kind of society fit for human beings to be born into. For, as Fromm says in his Credo, "society has both a furthering and an inhibiting function. Only in cooperation with others, and in the process of work, does man develop his powers, only in the historical process do humans create themselves." Fromm continues:
"Only when society's aim will have become identical with the aims of humanity will society cease to cripple man and to further evil." In attempting to transform society Fromm underestimated, it seems to me, the need for individuals to adapt to their society. For the Baha'i to be an effective teacher, propagator, and disseminater, of the values and beliefs, attitudes and norms, of this micro, this new, society which he or she is associated with, he needs to adapt to the larger, the macro, society in which he has been born and in which he lives his life. Many of the difficulties I had in my decade-long travelling-and-pioneering experience came, it seems to me in retrospect, from what was my slow adaptation to my society. As the decades followed one another though, with great speed it now seems in retrospect, my increasing effectiveness was due significantly to my more efficient adapting to my society.
This adaptive process is slow and arduous work and, for Baha'is, it takes place in the context of action toward goals using a map provided by the Founders of their religion and the legitimate Successors. "I believe that every man represents humanity. We are different as to intelligence, health and talents. Yet we are all one. We are all saints and sinners, adults and children, and no one is anybody's superior or judge. We have all been awakened with the Buddha, we have all been crucified with Christ, and we have all killed
and robbed with Genghis Khan, Stalin, and Hitler. Man's task in life is precisely the paradoxical one of realizing his individuality and at the same time transcending it and arriving at the experience of universality. Only the fully developed individual self can drop the ego." Perhaps this is one way of defining, of interpreting, the nature and experience of 'Abdu'l-Baha and some of the reasons for His effectiveness and efficiency in what were some very difficult communities in which He lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. -Ron Price, Pioneeering Over Four Epochs, 9 October 2002.
There is much truth here, Erich, and
I must thank you for your wonderful
and illuminating books, enriching(1)
as they did my life, & approximating
the jeweled wisdom of this lucid Faith,
a Faith that I set out with in '62 when I
moved to Dundas and began to pray
in those back streets on afternoons in
the small town to which I had moved,
to read from sweet-scented streams,
taste of the fruits of His tree in years
when my father's white hair blew in the
wind for the last time, my mother was
driven to the end of her tether, & that
charisma became institutionalized at
the apex of this wondrous, new Order.
(1) Erich Fromm, Beyond the Chains of Illusions, Simon and Schuster, NY, 1962, pp.174-182, and many other books to his last, published posthumously, in 1994.
9/10/'02 to 31/5/'14.
Freud’s life’s work had been devoted to understanding as fully as possible the world of man’s soul. To Freud psyche and soul were the same, conscious and unconscious mental life, although this subject is complex and highly nuanced. Psychoanalysis is the science of the soul. -Ron Price with thanks to Erich Fromm, The Art of Listening, Constable, London, 1994, p.75.
In the 15 August 2013 issue of The New York Review of Books Alan Ryan, in his article "The Art of Being Erich Fromm", he reviews a new book entitled: The Lives of Erich Fromm: Love’s Prophet by Lawrence J. Friedman(Columbia University Press,410 pages). Friedman begins his review as follows: "Some readers will recall being given a copy of Erich Fromm’s popular The Art of Loving in high school or college, usually remembering it with gratitude, but sometimes with a sense that its reliance on the ideas of Freud and Marx now makes it not only unfashionable, but old-fashioned." I was not given this book, but I read it while at university in the years 1963 to 1967.
"Still others may recall their first reading of Escape from Freedom," continues Friedman, "one of the earlier attempts to explain what became known as the authoritarian personality: it was provoked by astonishment that so many otherwise rational people followed leaders such as Hitler, but it was much more wide-ranging in its exploration of the fear of freedom & the longing to be dependent." I had also read that book in those 4 years at two universities in Ontario.
"Still others may remember Fromm as a political activist, prominent in the antiwar movement from the early 1950s, and visible for the last time on the public stage as an adviser to Eugene McCarthy during his campaign for the Democratic nomination for the presidency in
1967–1968." I was getting ready to teach Inuit kids at the time, and then recovering from teaching them back in those years. Erich Fromm was not on my horizons. But he kept coming back as the 1960s changed sensibly and insensibly into the 1970s, and then the 1980s and 1990s. Fromm will be with me, in one way or another, until I leave this mortal coil.