Top critical review
5 people found this helpful
Neo Marxist Insanity
on 10 December 2009
Like many neo-Marxists Eric Fromm was a victim of intellectual schizophrenia, basing his social analysis on Marxist theory while denying the correlation between the theory of freedom he discerned from Marx's early writings and the totalitarian practice of Soviet Communism. This is particularly clear in The Sane Society in which Fromm claims to provide an psychological analysis while actually writing a manifesto for the socialist humanism in which he mistakenly believed. In essence, Fromm was the continental version of Evan Durbin's Democratic Socialism with each author characterised by the same cultural differences which separates continental and British philosophy.
Fromm's earlier thesis, The Fear of Freedom, postulated that "totalitarian movements appealed to a deep-seated craving to escape from the freedom man had achieved in the modern world; that modern man, free from medieval ties, was not free to build a meaningful life based on reason and love, hence sought new security in submission to a leader, race or state." In The Sane Society Fromm used Marx's theory of alienation to suggest society was prevented from fulfilling its destiny by the false consciousness that passed for the social values of the ruling elite. The populace as a whole had not grasped the revolutionary opportunities open to them, thwarting the all singing, all dancing socialist utopia Fromm envisaged, and must therefore be insane by virtue of "mental health" deficiency.
This "mental health" problem was measured by examining suicides rates, destructive acts (homicide and suicide) and alcoholism statistics in which Denmark, Switzerland, Finland and the United States were prominent. Even allowing for the limited availability of statistics those which Fromm produced were hopelessly inaccurate while contemporary suicide statistics show that eight of the top ten countries were part of the old Soviet Union. By contrast seven of the top ten places for homicides are now occupied by countries in central America.
Although Fromm and Freud used similar objective measurements Fromm disagreed with the sexual imperative explicit in Freud and sought refuge in proclaiming the evils of "robotism." However, man's alienation from himself, which Fromm traced to monotheistic religion, was little more than a restatement of Ludwig Feuerbach's critique of Christianity, in which mankind was portrayed as deprived of his essential humanity by the pursuit of psychological fulfilment in the external loving of gods and other humans. As an explanation of reality Fromm's analysis was unrealistic.
Fromm sought to refashion Marxism in the form of a critique of the two superpowers for whom the balance of power was determined by the threat of nuclear war. Like the rest of the intellectual Left in Europe and the United States during the Cold War he was politically naïve and unable to comprehend how the world would develop in the nuclear age. Regrettably the influence of Fromm and others of the Frankfurt School led many students in the 'sixties into the mistaken belief that socialist revolution was both possible and desirable. Soviet tanks put an end to the idea of socialism with a human face in Czechoslovakia in 1968 to reinforce the lessons not learned from the crushing of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. Power was not explained by theories of alienation but by the effectiveness of firepower.
Fromm's economic ideas included worker participation which British left wing thinkers had abandoned forty years earlier. His notion of reducing voting units to residential groups made it as far as an episode of Yes Prime Minister while his thoughts on cultural change were as woolly as anything which second rate sociology departments of the new universities could churn out.
Fromm was a product of his time and his work serves as a typical example of the erroneous thinking of the postwar Left. Neo-Marxism was as useless as analysis of contemporary society as Marxism was of historical development. Both were fatally flawed and it was Fromm's lack of objectivity which prevented him from recognising that society was sane whereas he dwelt in an unreal world which sought to deny the realities of power politics. The Cold War was not the nuclear madness the Left suggested but a bulwark against the imposition of "socialist" freedom on free societies. Ultimately it was neo-Marxist mythology which collapsed along with the oppressive Communist regimes of Eastern Europe.
Fromm never confronted the ultimate question as to why those who considered society to be insane should be trusted to have the sanity to make such a judgement. While a prophet may be without honour in his own country Fromm was honoured in many countries. Maybe they were all insane. Three stars for historical curiosity.