Erich Fromm and the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory

Erich Fromm Image: Wikimedia User Arturo Espinosa

Erich Fromm
Image: Wikimedia User Arturo Espinosa

On March 23, 1900, German-American psychologist Erich Seligmann Fromm was born. He was associated with what became known as the Frankfurt School of critical theory. Fromm’s writings were notable as much for their social and political commentary as for their philosophical and psychological underpinnings. Although influenced by Sigmund Freud’s theories [4,5,6], Fromm diverged in thinking that beyond the unconscious alone, conditions of the society and economy affect human behaviour.

Erich Fromm was born in 1900 and received a rather traditional education. He started out with sociology, but later developed his true passion in psychology. In 1918, he enrolled at the University of Frankfurt am Main and switched to Heidelberg in 1919. In the field of sociology, Fromm studied under Alfred Weber, Karl Jaspers, and Heinrich Rickert. He received his PhD in sociology in 1922 and trained to become a psychoanalyst though Frieda Reichmann‘s psychoanalytic sanatorium in Heidelberg. Fromm started his clinical practice in 1927 and joined the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research three years later. As soon as the Nazi-Party took over Germany, Fromm left and moved forst to Geneva, but began working at Columbia University in New York in 1934. He belonged to the Neo-Freudian school of psychoanalytical thought along with Karen Horney [8] and Harry Stack Sullivan. After leaving Columbia, Fromm helped form the New York branch of the Washington School of Psychiatry in 1943, and in 1946 co-founded the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis, and Psychology. Erich Fromm was appointed professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1949, where he established a psychoanalytic section at the medical school. He also taught as a professor of psychology at Michigan State University from 1957 to 1961 and as an adjunct professor of psychology at the graduate division of Arts and Sciences at New York University after 1962.

The famous term ‘Frankfurt School‘ stood for the thinkers who were affiliated with the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research. The Frankfurt School can be traced back to Felix Weil, who wrote about the problems of implementing socialism. A discussion group evolved surrounding Weil and together, they established the institute. In 1930, Max Horkheimer became the institute’s director and recruited Theodor W. Adorno, Erich Fromm, and Herbert Marcuse.

Max Horkheimer outlined the objectives of critical theory in the 1930s with the goal to analyze the true significance of “the ruling understandings generated in bourgeois society, in order to show how they misrepresented actual human interaction in the real world, and in so doing functioned to justify or legitimize the domination of people by capitalism“.

From 1957 Fromm participated in the American peace movement. The FBI kept a 600-plus-page file on him. Fromm retired in 1965; in 1974 he moved to Muralto, Canton Ticino, Switzerland. Fromm suffered heart attacks in 1966, 1977 and 1978. As a result of another heart attack, he died in 1980, a few days before his 80th birthday and before the publication of the ten-volume complete edition of his works.

At yovisto academic video search you may learn more about the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory in a lecture by Paul Fry.

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