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Bacciagaluppi, M. (2015). The Radical Humanism of Erich Fromm, by Kieran Durkin, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2014, 250pp.. Am. J. Psychoanal., 75(3):341-343.

(2015). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 75(3):341-343

The Radical Humanism of Erich Fromm, by Kieran Durkin, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2014, 250pp.

Review by:
Marco Bacciagaluppi, M.D.

As a great admirer of Erich Fromm, I am gratified to see that, after many years of neglect in the English-speaking world, there is a renewed interest in this author, as testified by the appearance of several books on him. I recently (Bacciagaluppi, 2013) reviewed a book by Friedman, whose main emphasis was biographical. This new book by Kieran Durkin describes Fromm's outlook as “radical humanism.” This book is most timely in calling attention to this facet of Fromm's work, because, as the author states in the Introduction, the present intellectual climate is chiefly opposed to the essentialist notion of a nature of man and of its unfolding in the course of history. The book is also very scholarly. In addition to examining Fromm's published works, it also makes use of unpublished material, such as correspondence and recordings, contained in the Fromm Archives in Tübingen, and placed at the author's disposal by Rainer Funk, Fromm's literary executor.

Fromm's views are presented in six chapters. At the outset there is a very useful overview of Fromm's life and writings, from his orthodox Jewish beginnings in Frankfurt to his turn to sociology and psychoanalysis, then his move to the United States in 1934, to Mexico in 1950, and his final return to Europe, in Locarno, Switzerland, in 1974.

The roots of Fromm's radical humanism are then examined. The author lists three: Judaism, the early Marx, and Freud's psychoanalysis. In Judaism Fromm was influenced by the prophetic tradition and the messianic idea of the unfolding of human potentialities in the course of history. Fromm finally arrived at a negation of theology and at a nontheistic humanism. The basic notion that Fromm got from Marx is that human nature is historically modified by economic and social circumstances. In his relationship to Freud, Fromm moved from an initial acceptance of Freud's drive model to a challenge of it, while retaining the importance of unconscious mental processes. This challenge led to a rift with the Frankfurt Institute of Sociology, the members of which still agreed with Freud's drive model. According to Fromm, Freud's main failures were an insufficient account of relatedness, and his later notion of a death instinct.

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