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Marriott, K. (1978). FROMM, ERICH The anatomy of human destructiveness (1973). Penguin Books 1977. Pp. 660. £1.50. J. Anal. Psychol., 23(3):292-294.

(1978). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 23(3):292-294

FROMM, ERICH The anatomy of human destructiveness (1973). Penguin Books 1977. Pp. 660. £1.50

Review by:
Kay Marriott

Although this book is indeed an erudite and meticulous dissection of destructiveness in human beings, and the constituent parts are exposed and named in the best scientific tradition, it is a passionate book, shot through with the author's own enthusiasms and beliefs. This commitment to values, however, in no way turns the book into a proselytising tract (although just occasionally it comes dangerously near it); it acts more as a lively invitation to the reader to think actively as he goes along. The wealth of material from neurophysiology, psychology, psychoanalysis, ethology, palaeontology, anthropology, biography and sociology, is skilfully woven together to provide a richly varied but coherent mass of evidence for his central thesis. This is that cruelty and destructiveness, unlike biologically adaptive aggression, are not innate, but are products of an inhuman environment.

Fromm carefully distinguishes between ‘benign’ and ‘malignant’ aggression, and asserts that only the former is instinctive. He feels that the popular modern tendency to accept the view of such ethologists as Lorenz that man has an innate drive of destructive aggressiveness, arises either from despair about the seeming impossibility of eradicating war, or the wish to justify man's warlikeness, greed and competitiveness, thereby avoiding the arduous task of critically examining and changing society. Freud's theories have also contributed to this view. But such an attitude, while claiming to be ‘realistic’, actually rests on ignorance or distortion of known facts.

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