Tag: <span>Sociology</span>

Erich Fromm Rapprochement of Cultures.

Erich Fromm: Meeting the Challenges of the Century.

Featured Image: Erich Fromm. By Müller-May / Rainer Funk / CC BY-SA 3.0 (DE)

By Rene Wadlow.

I believe that the One World which is emerging can come into existence only if a New Man comes into being – a man who has emerged from the archaic ties of blood and soil, and who feels himself to be a citizen of the world whose loyalty is to the human race and to life, rather than to any exclusive part of it, a man who loves his country because he loves mankind, and whose views are not warped by tribal loyalties.
Eric Fromm Beyond the Chains of Illusion.

Eric Fromm (1900-1980), the psychoanalyst was concerned with the relation between personality and society. His life was marked by the socio-political events of the century he faced, especially those of Germany, his birthplace.

Erich Fromm was born into an orthodox Jewish family in Frankfurt am Main.  The families of both his mother and father had rabbis and Talmudic scholars, and so he grew up in a household; where the significance of religious texts was an important part of life. While Fromm later took a great distance from Orthodox Jewish thought; he continued a critical appreciation of Judaism.

He was interested in the prophets of the Old Testament, but especially by the hope of the coming of a Messianic Age – a powerful theme in popular Judaism. The coming of the Messiah would establish a better world; in which there would be higher spiritual standards but also a new organization of society.  The Messianic ideal is one in which the spiritual and the political cannot be separated from one another. (1)

Sociology and Psychology.

He was 14 when the First World War started and 18 when the German State disintegrated – too young to fight but old enough to know what was going on and to be impressed by mass behavior.  Thus; he was concerned from the start of his university studies with the link between sociology and psychology as related ways of understanding how people act in a collective way.

As was true for German university students of his day; he was able to spend a year or a bit more indifferent German universities: in Frankfurt where he studied with the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory; whose members he would see again in New York when they were all in exile, at the University of Munich, at the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute, and at the University of Heidelberg from where he received a doctorate.

Main building of the Ludwig Maximilian University, MunichBavariaGermany. By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx.

He had two intellectual influences in his studies: Sigmund Freud whose approach was the basis of the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute and Karl Marx; a strong influence in the Frankfurt School.  Erich Fromm chose a psychoanalyst path as a profession, learning and, as was required in the Freudian tradition; spending five years in analysis.  Fromm, however; increasingly took his distance from Freudian orthodoxy; believing that society beyond family relations had an impact on the personality.  

However; he also broke one of the fundamental rules of Freudian analysis in not overcoming the transfer of identification with his analyst.  He married the woman who was his analyst.  The marriage broke after four years perhaps proving the validity of Freud’s theories on transfers and counter-transfers.

Colorized painting of Sigmund Freud. By Photocolorization, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Buddha.

Therefore, Erich Fromm’s reputation and his main books rest on his concern with the relation of individual psychology and social forces – the relation between Freud and Marx. However; probably the most fundamental thinker; who structured his approach was the Buddha; whom he discovered around the age of 26. It is not Buddhism as a faith that interested him – Buddhism being the tradition built on some of the insights of the Buddha.  Rather it was the basic quest of the Buddha that interested him: what is suffering?  Can suffering be reduced or overcome?  If so, how?

Erich Fromm saw suffering in the lives of the Germans among whom he worked in the late 1920s; individual suffering as well as socio-economic suffering. For Erich Fromm, there must be a link between the condition of the individual and the social milieu; a link not fully explained by either Freud or Marx.

Multiple rows of golden statues of the Buddha seated, with yellow and red flowers, at Wat Phou Salao (Golden Buddha temple), in PakseLaos. By Basile Morin, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Art of Loving.

Erich Fromm had enough political awareness to leave Germany for the United States just as Hitler was coming to power in 1933. From 1934; he was teaching in leading US universities. In 1949 he took up a post as professor at the National Autonomous University in Mexico but often lectured at US universities as well.

Erich Fromm’s work is largely structured around the theme of suffering and how it can be reduced.  There is individual suffering. It can be reduced by compassion and love. One of his best-known books is The Art of Loving. Love is an art, a “discipline”, and he sets out exercises largely drawn from the Zen tradition to develop compassion toward oneself and all living beings.

Memorial plaque, Erich Fromm, Bayerischer Platz 1, Berlin-SchönebergGermany By OTFW, Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness.

There is also social suffering which can be reduced by placing an emphasis not on greater production and greater consumption but on being more; an idea that he develops in To Have or To Be. Fromm was also aware of social suffering and violence on a large scale and the difficulties of creating a society of compassionate and loving persons.  His late reflections on the difficulties of creating The Sane Society (the title of a mid-1950s book) is The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness.  We still face the same issues of individual and social suffering and the relation between the two.  Erich Fromm’s thinking makes a real contribution as we continue to search.


(1) See his You Shall Be As Gods for a vision of the Jewish scriptures as being a history of liberation.

Rene Wadlow, President,  Association of World Citizens.

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

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Pitirim Sorokin Rapprochement of Cultures.

Pitirim Sorokin: The Renewal of Humanity

Pitirim Sorokin (1889-1968) was concerned; especially in the period after the Second World War; with the relation between the values and attitudes of the individual and their impact on the wider society.  His key study Society; Culture and Personality: Their Structure and Dynamics (1947); traced the relations between the development of the personality, the wider cultural values in which the personality was formed, and the structures of the society.

Reconstruction of Humanity (1948)

The two World Wars convinced him that humanity was in a period of transition; that the guideline of earlier times had broken down; and had not yet been replaced by a new set of values and motivations.  To bring about real renewal; one had to work at the same time on the individual personality; on cultural values as created by art, literature, education, and on the social framework.

One had to work on all three at once; not one after the other as some who hope that inner peace will produce outer peace. In his Reconstruction of Humanity (1948); he stressed the fact that:

if we want to raise the moral standards of large populations, we must change correspondingly the mind and behaviour of the individuals making up these populations, and their social institutions and their cultures.”

The First Department of Sociology.

Pitirim Sorokin was born in a rural area in the north of Russia.  Both his parents died when he was young. He had to work in handicraft trades in order to go to the University of St. Petersburg; where his intelligence was noted, and he received scholarships to carry out his studies in law ; and in the then new academic discipline of sociology.  After obtaining his doctorate; he was asked to create the first Department of Sociology at the University of St. Petersburg.  However; the study of the nature of society was a dangerous undertaking; and he was put in prison three times by the Tsarist regime.

A Long Journey (1963).

He was among the social reformers that led to the first phase of the Russian Revolution in 1917.  He served as private secretary to Alexandre Kerensky; head of the Provisional Government and Sorokin was the editor of the government newspaper. 

When Kerensky was overthrown by Lenin; Sorokin became part of a highly vocal anti-Bolshevik faction; leading to his arrest and condemnation to death in 1923.  At the last moment; after a number of his cell mates had been executed; Lenin modified the penalty to exile, and Sorokin left the USSR, never to return.  His revolutionary activities are well-described in his autobiography A Long Journey (1963).

 Alexander Kerensky. By Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

University of Minnesota and Harvard University.

Pitirim Sorokin went to the United States and taught at the University of Minnesota (1924-1930); where he carried out important empirical studies on social mobility; especially rural to urban migration.  These studies were undertaken at a time when sociology was becoming increasingly recognized as a specific discipline. 

Pitirim Sorokin was invited to teach at Harvard University; where the Department of Social Ethics was transformed into the Department of Sociology with Sorokin as its head.  He continued teaching sociology at Harvard until his retirement in 1955; when the Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism was created; so that he could continue his research and writing.

Pitirim Sorokin By неизв., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Three Pillars That Make up Society.

Of the three pillars that make up society − personality, culture, and social structure − personality may be the easiest to modify.  Therefore; he turned his attention to how a loving or altruistic personality could be developed.  He noted that in slightly different terms: love, compassion, sympathy, mercy, benevolence, reverence, Eros, Agape and mutual aid − all affirm supreme love as the highest moral value; and its imperatives as the universal and perennial moral commandments. 

Pitirim Sorokin stressed the fact that an ego-transcending altruistic transformation; is not possible without a corresponding change in the structure of one’s ego, values and norms of conduct. Such changes have to be brought about by the individual himself; by his own effort, thinking, meditation, volition and self-analysis. He was strongly attracted to yoga; which acted on the body, mind, and spirit.

Societies Change Cultural Orientations.

 Sorokin was especially interested in the processes by which societies change cultural orientations; particularly the violent societies he knew; the USSR and the USA.  As he wrote renewal:

“demands a complete change of contemporary mentality, a fundamental transformation of our system of values and the profoundest modification of our conduct towards other men, cultural values and the world at large.  All this cannot be achieved without the incessant, strenuous active efforts on the part of every individual.”

Love or Compassion must be Universal.

Pitirim Sorokin believed that love or compassion must be universal; if it were to provide a basis for social reconstruction.  Partial love; he said, can be worse than indifference. 

If unselfish love does not extend over the whole of mankind, if it is confined within one group − a given family, tribe, nation, race, religious denomination, political party, trade union, caste, social class or any part of humanity − in such an in-group altruism tends to generate an out-group antagonism.  And the more intense and exclusive the in-group solidarity of its members, the more unavoidable are the clashes between the group and the rest of humanity.”


For a biography see: B.V. Johnston. Pitirim A.
Sorokin: An Intellectual Biography
(University Press of Kansas, 1995)

For an overview of his writings see: Frank Cowell.History,
Civilization and Culture: An Introduction to the Historical and Social
Philosophy of Pitirim A. Sorokin
(Boston: Beacon Press, 1952)

For Sorokin’s late work on the role of altruism see:
P.A. Sorokin. The Ways and Power of Love (Boston, Beacon Press, 1954) A
new reprint is published by Templeton Press, 2002

By Rene Wadlow. President, Association of World Citizens.

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

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