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4.6 out of 5 stars
The Sane Society (Routledge Classics)
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on 26 March 2013
I originally read this book several years ago after my flatmates rescued a tattered 1970s edition from a wheelie bin in Edinburgh. From the opening paragraphs it gripped me almost like a novel and I am so pleased there is now an edition on Kindle so that I can take it with me everywhere.

The text itself is a classic. In it Fromm explains several ways in which modern, western society operates in a fashion that could be legitimately claimed to be 'insane' (and even, on occasion, 'pathological'). Despite the apparent strength of this claim, this is not, fortunately, another flaming tirade about the corruption and ills of modern society, but rather a careful and considered analysis from a leading psychoanalyst of his day. It is also notable for being one of the rare instances where such a book dares to propose solutions as well as simply identifying problems.

Fromm's style of writing is also praiseworthy. For the general reader this is most definitely an academic book filled with challenging concepts and ideas, but Fromm (most of the time) manages to engage the reader without ever slipping into the light and familiar tone of so many pop-psychology books published today. He treats the reader as neither an expert nor an idiot, but as what his book tells us man should be: a thoughtful and curious creature, engaged with his world and surroundings.
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on 26 March 2017
The writer takes you through the evolution of man and his character. The writer also discusses various political systems and there impact on man and vice versa. I liked most of what i read as it helps to understand the reasons of why man acts the way he does. What is fascinating is that lot of points are relevant even today. The book is a good read for someone interested in learning about the growth of man esp in 19th and 20th century and the society along with him.
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on 11 June 2014
I have been a fan of Erich Fromm almost since I could read. He writes in a clear easy to follow style but leads you to understand complex relationships and social connections and how they impact on individual feelings of self worth.
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on 6 May 2016
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on 1 November 2014
Well I have to agree with Fromm that society is completely bonkers.
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on 15 July 2013
This is a great read and a really thought provoking book. Enjoyed it enormously. Helps us remember that just because things are a certain way, doesnt mean that's the best way.
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on 25 March 2015
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 18 September 2008
Dont know who choose the cover art for this, I think its supposed to be cardboard packing case or box with peeling red tape but its the only bad thing about this book.

OK, the book comes complete with contents and index, the index is great and makes the book very accessible to anyone flicking through it or using it as a reference when studying, the contents are very clearly laid out too. This is characteristic of a lot of Fromm's writing and why he's been popular with the reading public aswell as professionals and academia.

The book begins with a foreword by Fromm and a later foreword in which, interestingly, he counsells against any reader taking too literal or dogmatic a view of the chapters which, broadly speaking, could be considered "prescriptive".

Specifically he addresses how readers have considered his positive appraisal of workers communities in France as the last word in humanising peoples working lives. Would that other authors would seek to incalcate a similar perspective in their readership but then Fromm was always pretty big on personal responsibility and not permitting anyone a back door to escape from it.

This edition has a lengthy introduction by David Ingleby which incorporates a biographical sketch, a synopsis of the argument of the Sane Society, a critical commentary on Fromm's argument, which largely deals with whether or not Fromm is a moralist, modernism and postmodernism (its embarrassing how dated postmodernism appears in the relatively short space of time since it came to prominence) and finally the significance of Fromm's work today.

Ingleby's introduction is broadly sympathetic and the finer points of whether Fromm's argument is objective, dealing with universal truths or a moral perspective from within psychological narrative, I suspect, wont trouble anyone reading the book too much.

Fromm opens the book with a chapter asking the rhetorical question of whether or not "we" are sane, considering how that conclusion is reached traditionally, then goes on to consider, in the second chapter, if an entire society can be sick and what the pathology of normalcy is (this develops themes of social character, a product of culture, social processes and interaction developed in The Fear of Freedom and Man For Himself, which another reviewer has rightly suggested form a trilgoy with this book).

The next chapter focuses upon the Human Situation, as the key to humanistic psychoanalysis and deals expertly with needs as they stem from the conditions of existence. This chapter contains some familiar characterology from Fromm, his alternative and revisionist Freudian perspective is very clear, as is the influence of enlightenment, marxist and other perspectives of "human nature".

The central argument of which is that a fundamental need of humankind is that of relatedness, to the natural world, work and others and that the emancipation of humankind from the chronic shortages and hardships of earlier epoches, ie through developments in means of production and productive practices, have been a kind of false dawn or false awakening. Primary bonds have been desolved without anything really substantive taking their place.

The central nature of relatedness to Fromm's analysis is similar to that of Karen Horney's ideas in her book Our Inner Conflicts and I'd highly recommend that book also to anyone interested in Fromm but Fromm develops this theory further considering not simply the individual's relatedness to others but, importantly, their relatedness to their work, environment, community.

For instance being unrelated to and alienated from their work, Fromm suggests, individuals will, rich or poor, be tempted to achieve a state, which they can never be truly happy with, of "womb like" satisfaction, ie devoid of effort, simply existing.

The next chapters deal with mental health and society and then what Fromm considers the pathology of capitalistic society, there's a balanced consideration of alternative "diagnosis" and then various answers, one of which Fromm describes as "super-capitalism" and which should be familiar to contemporary readers as the sort of market populism of free marketeers revitalised in the eighties.

From description Fromm then moves to prescription in his final chapter Roads to Sanity, this is a very short chapter and as I have already stated Fromm's suggestions are qualified but it has still lead people with a shallow interest or understanding of Fromm to criticise him as a fatally conceited socialist.

Nothing could be further from the truth, I think its fair that you could say that you believe Fromm is correct in description but not prescription if you are opposed to socialism in any shape, however Fromm's perspective on socialism is highly unique and, I would argue, ground breaking even today. Fromm considers socialism as a problem, giving careful consideration to the failings of both totalitarian and parliamentary socialists policies, outlines in principle what he describes as communitarian socialism, gives space to objections, motivation and then practical suggestions.

In the end Fromm's perspective is very radical, he judges capitalism and socialism to be wanting, not because of their success or failure in creating abundance but in their success or failure in overcoming social malaise, angst and alienation.

Fromm considers economic, political and cultural transformation to be necessary to promote mental health (this analysis is reflected in some ways in contemporary social work theory surrounding anti-discriminatory or anti-oppressive practice and the personal, cultural and structural nature of oppression).

This is a very readable book on a pretty comprehensive topic or field of research, Fromm ranges across a number of disciplines politics, psychology, sociology, history, even theology (which lead to his being shunned by them all) but never in a way that's dull or likely to put of the average reader. I recommend it to everyone but especially for anyone who is really interested in developing a kind of "matrix like" insight into individual and social issues.

If you liked this book check out Surplus Powerlessness by Michael Lerner.
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on 25 July 2007
The Sane Society is the ultimate realisation of all the ideas of Eric Fromm. After his brilliant work Fear of Freedom, he takes both his psycholigal insights and his political speculation one step further. What is unique to Fromm is his wide canvas, this sprawling work begins with psychology, then moves to sociology and then ends up with politics. Highlighted throughout like alot of his work is the interlinking of all these areas. Most intellectuals see these various different strands as exclusive whereas Fromm shows how psychology, sociology, politics etc all connect and influence each other.
His politics are interesting as he falls into a small group of thinkers including Bertrand Russell who are liberal socialist, in Fromm's case verging on libertarian socialist. He makes very interesting critiques of both soviet style socialism and capitalism and unlike many people shows that they both fail to fullfill the needs of the individual in society and are equally alienating.
This like the rest of Fromm's work is unique in providing a genre that is rare, social psychology. He neither totally adhered to his mentor Freud nor threw away all his ideas; especially in the opening chapters he utilised the best of Freud's ideas and developed them.
It is better to read his other earlier works first before attempting this as Man For Himself, Fear of Freedom and The Sane Society form a trillogy in my opinion. Each one developes from the last and builds up his ideas. Sain Society is far more complex than his previous works, well in comparison, also its quite chunky so start with something shorter. Anyway enough waffling, go and read some Dr. Fromm!
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on 21 April 2007
I had heard of Erich Fromm for some time but had not read any of his work and then decided I should have a look and see what all the fuss was about. To say the least Fromm does an excellent job of attempting a critique of modern society whether it be western capitalism or eastern communism. He considers the question: is current society sane ? He concludes no and pushes aside the claims of most psychologists that a sane member of society is one who can adjust himself/herself to it. Naturally such a claim means that society itself must be sane. Fromm instead supposes that there are other more objective measures of sanity than the society one is a part of. Such measures were considered by Freud early in the 20th century and led to his idea of the libido which unless satisfied produces insanity and neuroses. Fromm himself studied under Freud in psychoanalysis but came to the conclusion that Freud's ideas, although basically correct in their aims, incorrectly based all of man's behaviour on the libido.

Instead Fromm analyses current society, circa 1950's, on the basis of human nature which arises from the human condition, his whole existence. Fromm finds that man has, over the centuries, removed himself from nature (the metaphor of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden) which formed for him the womb and the spiritual connection needed by him. Instead man developed his own world which was formed through the creation of villages and towns and agriculture and some independence from nature as the provider and sustainer. The eventual extreme aspects of this alienation are found in both communism and capitalism as seen today where the individual no longer feels a relatedness to others in the society, an alienation which itself can lead to insanity. The fact that people are capital and not "people" anymore and that their work becomes capital as well which can be interchanged with other forms of capital which have no human base produces ill health and a mentally ill society. This also applies to communism except with the addition of enforced governmental structures. Fromm notes how sanity can only be achieved through changes in all aspects of the human condition at once rather than piecemeal attempts. That is his economical, political, spiritual and social needs must be satisfied at the same time. He contrasts earlier centuries to the modern one and how a capitalistic view imposes uniformity even under the illusion of individuality.

From attempts some way out of this crisis through what he calls "communitarian socialism" which applies directly and concretely to an individual's present circumstances. Fromm is widely read and never forgets to note the important authors who led the way before him. Similarly he is knowledgable in surveys and studies over the years concerning attempts at an improvement of the human condition applied in industry by others. It is the satisfaction of human needs in the present circumstances which lie on the road to a better society not who controls the means of production.

Unfortunately after a detailed and brilliant analysis of society Fromm does not spend anywhere near the same amount of time in the resolution of its problems. In the second last chapter, about 70 pages of a total of 360, he attempts it. One feels that he never quite finished this chapter and that he had much more to say, or rather there was much he mentioned briefly but did not analyse deeply enough. He did not discuss the problems which could arise in these solutions as they are implemented. This is disappointing.

Nonetheless, simply for a deep and insightful analysis of society and human nature Fromm cannot be faulted. The book is a must read for these reasons alone. It is unfortunate his ideas were never put into practice. Society continues in its march towards insanity as the capitalist ideal is approached and people are more and more dehumanised. No wonder such massive problems exist.
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