Erich Fromm (1900-1980) was a German-born American psychologist and social thinker who is often linked to the Frankfurt school of critical theory.
Like Carl Jung, he was acutely aware of the danger of bureaucracies controlled by the wrong people. He leveled a critique against the so-called mass man who, like a robot, compliantly follows orders to maintain financial security at the expense of human decency.
For Fromm, individuals “escape from freedom” through at least three often related routes:
- Authoritarianism – losing the self by over-identifying with a powerful leader
- Automaton Conformity – blindly following the will of a powerful leader
- Destructiveness – hurting self or others in an attempt to blot out a painful reality
In “The Sane Society” (1955), Fromm says modern individuals are alienated from their authentic self by seeking ephemeral thrills through mass culture and consumerism. According to Fromm, what makes us truly human is our ability to love. If we sacrifice this to the gods of commerce or political ambition, we’ve sacrificed our greatest gift of all.
Fromm’s works include The Fear of Freedom (1941), The Art of Loving (1956) and The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973).