The Lives of Erich Fromm: Love’s Prophet

Lawrence J Friedman, Author
Lawrence J. Friedman. Columbia Univ., $29.95 (464p) ISBN 978-0-231-16258-6
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Friedman, a professor at Harvard University’s “Mind/Brain/Behavior Initiative,” summarizes Erich Fromm’s notion of “the primary task for the modern self” thusly: “to use one’s freedom spontaneously, energetically, and uniquely... [to] enhance his joy, his sense of viable selfhood, and his capacity to share with others.” Interestingly, this humanistic doctrine arose from a rather unhappy childhood—to escape a tense home environment, Fromm (1900–1980) dedicated himself to Talmudic study and a life of “ethics, scholarship, and a commitment to the community.” Reading Marx and Freud, he became an influential scholar of psychology, well-known for his “social character” theory and emphasis on the role of environment in shaping the individual. Friedman (Identity’s Architect) also demonstrates how Fromm’s philosophy arose from a personal social fabric: experiences in his childhood and with lovers and colleagues were frequently woven into his prodigious writings. The author occasionally derails the narrative in order to illuminate pivotal peripheral figures in Fromm’s life, and he duly describes his subject’s flaws, lapses in scholarly precision, and the contradictions between his public persona and private practices, but always in the spirit of honest understanding—an approach favored by Fromm. Through this thorough portrait, “Love’s Prophet” emerges as an exemplar of enjoying an examined life to its fullest potential. 16 photos. (Feb.)
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