"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, August 26, 2016

Erich Fromm on Love and Freedom

The would-be psychoanalyst in me is always curious as to whether there are any patterns or discernible reasons for why the mind circles back at unexpected moments to books one read decades ago and had by now all but forgotten. In my case, I have been giving a great deal of thought to Erich Fromm's Escape from Freedom, first published in 1941. Some twenty or more years ago now, I found an original copy in a wonderfully quiet and out-of-the way used bookstore in Ottawa that has, alas, long since closed.

This book of Fromm's seems perhaps freshly suited to understanding much of what is going on in our time, including in presidential politics here in Her Britannic Majesty's erstwhile American colonies.

As I have been thinking on that book again, and wondering about reading more of Fromm's life, I see, perusing the back-lists of Columbia University Press, that just such an intellectual biography was recently published: The Lives of Erich Fromm: Love's Prophet (CUP, 2014), 410pp.

About this book, which I'm looking forward to reading, the publisher tells us:
Erich Fromm was a political activist, psychologist, psychoanalyst, philosopher, and one of the most important intellectuals of the twentieth century. Known for his theories of personality and political insight, Fromm dissected the sadomasochistic appeal of brutal dictators while also eloquently championing love—which, he insisted, was nothing if it did not involve joyful contact with others and humanity at large. Admired all over the world, Fromm continues to inspire with his message of universal brotherhood and quest for lasting peace.
The first systematic study of Fromm's influences and achievements, this biography revisits the thinker's most important works, especially Escape from Freedom and The Art of Loving, which conveyed important and complex ideas to millions of readers. The volume recounts Fromm's political activism as a founder and major funder of Amnesty International, the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, and other peace groups. Consulting rare archival materials across the globe, Lawrence J. Friedman reveals Fromm's support for anti-Stalinist democratic movements in Central and Eastern Europe and his efforts to revitalize American democracy. For the first time, readers learn about Fromm's direct contact with high officials in the American government on matters of war and peace while accessing a deeper understanding of his conceptual differences with Freud, his rapport with Neo-Freudians like Karen Horney and Harry Stack Sullivan, and his association with innovative artists, public intellectuals, and world leaders. Friedman elucidates Fromm's key intellectual contributions, especially his innovative concept of "social character," in which social institutions and practices shape the inner psyche, and he clarifies Fromm's conception of love as an acquired skill. Taking full stock of the thinker's historical and global accomplishments, Friedman portrays a man of immense authenticity and spirituality who made life in the twentieth century more humane than it might have been.

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