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Origin Myths in the Social Sciences: Fromm, the Frankfurt School and the
Emergence of Critical Theory0
Neil McLaughlin
Department of Sociology
McMaster University
Canadian Journal of Sociology 24, 1 (1999): 109-39
Abstract: The Frankfurt School provides rich material for the sociology of knowledge since it is an example of
how a once marginal school of thought gained widespread influence and crossed the boundaries between
disciplines, social movements, psychoanalysis, Marxism and national traditions. Originally a Marxist think-tank
funded by the wealthy son of a German millionaire, the Frankfurt School helped create an innovative brand of
philosophically oriented radical social science known as critical theory. Critical theory has had an enormous
influence on post1960s intellectual life, and today is most commonly associated with Theodor Adorno, Max
Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Walter Benjamin and Jrgen Habermas. Erich Fromms central role in the early
development of the Frankfurt School has largely been ignored in the literature.
This article is a sociologically informed history of the Frankfurt School with a focus on the bitter and
contentious break between Erich Fromm and its other members in the late 1930s, particularly Adorno,
Horkheimer and in the 1950s with Marcuse. The break between Fromm and the Frankfurt School is explained
with reference to both ideational (different interpretations of Freudian theory and the nature of left ideology) as
well as institutional factors (competition over resources within the Frankfurt School and the professionalization
of psychoanalysis). Unpacking the history of how Fromm was once seen as a major figure in the Frankfurt
School and then gradually written out of the history of critical theory is a case study in the sociology of
knowledge that looks at how origin myths are constructed within schools of thought and intellectual movements.
Rsum: Lcole de Francfort nous donne un materiel riche dinformation pour la sociologie de la connaissance
puisque cest un exemple dune cole de pense qui est passe de la marinalite a une qui a gagne une
influance rpandus et passe au travers des limites entres les disciplines, mouvements sociaux, psychanalyse,
Marxisme et traditions nationales. Prenant naissance comme une boite a pense et finance par le fils opulent
dun millionaire Allemand, Lcole de Francfort aida a crer une variet innovatrice dune science sociale qui
tait philosophiquement radicale en orientation, connue sous le nom de thorie critique. La thorie critique a eu
une influance norme sur la vie intellectuelle des annes soixantes et de lpoque qui suivit, et aujourdhui est
associe a des noms comme Theodor Adorno, Max Horkeimer, Herbert Marcuse, Walter Benjamen et Jrgen
Habermas. Le role central dEric Fromm dans les premiers developments de lcole de Francfort a t ignor
dans la littrature.
Cet article est une historie, informe par la sociologie, de lcole de Francfort avec un accent sur la rupture
amre et contentieuse entre Eric Fromm et les authre membres vers la fin des annes trentes, et en particulier,
Adorno, Horkheimer, et dans les annes cinquentes, Marcuse. La rupture entre Fromm et lcole de Francfort est
explique en rfrence aux facteurs idealistes (Interpretations differentes de la theorie freudienne et de la nature
de lidologie de la guache) ainsi quaux facteurs institutionels (comptition pour les ressources de lcole et la
professionalisation de la psychanalyse). Le dvoilement de lhistoire de la facon laqeulle Fromm est pass
comme tant perus comme un homme de taille dans lcole de Francfort gradeullement devenir littralement
soustrait de lhistoire de la thorie critique est un cas dtude de la sociologie de la connaissance qui tudie
comment les myths des origines sont construits a lintrieur des ecoles de pensees et des mouvements

Institute For Social Research
Schools of Thought: A Comparative Perspective
Horkheimer Builds a School
Conflict over the Study
Adorno Replaces Fromm
Freud and the Frankfurt School

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Beyond Marxism and Psychoanalysis

From One Orthodoxy to Another
The Economics of Therapy and the Professionalization of Psychoanalysis
Fromm and the Psychoanalytic Establishment
Whither the Frankfurt School?
The Frankfurt School provides rich material for the sociology of knowledge as an example
of how a marginal school of thought gained widespread influence and crossed the
boundaries between disciplines, social movements, psychoanalysis, Marxism and national
traditions. The Frankfurt School is an enormously influential school of thought that helped
bring continental philosophy and German intellectual traditions across the Atlantic to
America.1 Associated with Frankfurt University in the 1920s and early 1930s and again in
the 1950s through the 1960s (with a Nazi era exile in Geneva and at Columbia University
and a post-war stay in California), the Frankfurt School thinkers produced an innovative
blend of radical philosophy and social science. Critical theory helped shape scholarship and
theorizing in contemporary sociology, literary, film, and cultural studies, as well as having a
brief but significant influence on the intellectuals associated with the social movement of
the New Left (Jay, 1973; Bronner, 1994; Wiggershaus, 1994; Kellner, 1989; Calhoun,
1995). Yet the history of the Frankfurt School has largely been written by partisans, and we
have little empirical research on the sociological reception of critical theory.
This article attempts to fill this gap in the literature with a sociologically informed history of
the bitter and contentious break between Erich Fromm and the other members of the school
in the late 1930s. The break between Fromm and the Frankfurt School is explained with
reference to both ideational (different interpretations of Freudian theory and the nature of
left ideology) as well as institutional factors (competition over resources within the
Frankfurt School and the professionalization of psychoanalysis). Unpacking the history of
how Fromm was once seen as a major figure in the Frankfurt School and then gradually
written out of this history is a case study in the sociology of knowledge that looks at how
origin myths are constructed within schools of thought and intellectual movements (Platt,
1996; Platt, 1983; Platt, 1985; Rodden, 1989; Samelson, 1974). For Jennifer Platt, origin
myths in the social sciences are not about accurate historical reconstruction, but are part of
a process whereby contemporary preferences are legitimated by providing them with an
honourable past (Platt, 1996: 267268). We will illustrate and illuminate this larger
theoretical point with the example of Fromm and the Frankfurt School.

Institute For Social Research

The Frankfurt School was a tight network of independent radical philosophers, economists
and sociologists associated with the German Institute for Social Research essentially a
Marxist think tank bankrolled by the radical son of a German millionaire grain merchant
(Wiggershaus, 1994; Jay, 1973). The institute was founded in the early 1920s with the
purpose of promoting the development of radical intellectual ideas not controlled by
traditional Marxist and social democratic parties or academic disciplines (Jay, 1973).
Historical research clearly documents that Fromm was an important and early member of
the Frankfurt School but the origin myth constructed by contemporary partisans of critical
theory has replaced Fromm by Herbert Marcuse and Theodor Adorno and, most incredibly,
Walter Benjamin (Alexander, 1987; Agger, 1992; Alford, 1988; Buck-Morss, 1977;
Therborn, 1970; Whitebook, 1995).2 Both Marcuse and Adorno joined the Frankfurt School
well after Fromm (in Adornos case, nearly a decade after Fromm) and Benjamin never did
formally join as a full-time faculty member and was never part of Horkheimers inner circle,

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but these elementary historical facts are not highlighted in the literature (but see
Wiggershaus, 1994; Bronner, 1994).3 Fromm brought psychoanalysis into the institute,
helping create the distinctive mixture of Marx and Freud that gave Herbert Marcuse and
Frankfurt School notoriety as part of New Left era academic radicalism (Kellner, 1989;
Burston, 1991; Richert, 1986; Bronner, 1994; Wiggershaus, 1994). Even though Fromm had
an enormous influence on the radical and Marxist social science that emerged in the wake
of the social movements of the 1960s, he largely dropped out of the canon of critical
sociology.4 By the 1970s, Fromm was written out of the history of the Frankfurt School just
as it was carving a small place for itself on the margins of the academy (Funk, 1982).5 Most
of the scholarship about the Frankfurt School has, until very recently, underestimated
Fromms importance to the early development of critical theory (but see Bronner, 1994;
Wiggershaus, 1994; Wolin, 1992; Richert, 1986; Kellner, 1989).6 Even Martin Jays
enormously influential and otherwise excellent book The Dialectical Imagination (1973)
repeats some of the origin myths about critical theory promoted by Horkheimer and
Adorno. Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse and Benjamin became the central figures within a
revised history, and Adornos student Jrgen Habermas became the heir to the tradition
(Held, 1980; Jay, 1984; Alford, 1988; Kellner, 1984; Robinson, 1969; Tar, 1985;
Buck-Morss, 1984; van den Berg, 1980). How did this remarkable re-writing of the history
of a school of thought come to pass?

Schools of Thought: A Comparative Perspective

It is useful to think about schools of thought from a comparative perspective. Despite the
disruptions of World War Two and various internal fights, the Frankfurt School retained a
far more cohesive structure than most schools of thought in psychoanalysis or sociology, for
example. This is largely because of the economic and organizational factors that distinguish
the Frankfurt School from professional therapy and academic social science. Freudians
make their living by therapy and fees for analyst training and they established their own
institutes that are often run by charismatic leaders (or even families as in the case of the
Menningers) (Roazen, 1974; Friedman, 1990; Kurzweil 1985). Yet unlike the Frankfurt
School, Freudians institutes have relatively formal structures and are generally not run for
life by one individual.7 And while sociological schools of thought and theoretical traditions
are sometimes organized around particular individuals such as Parsons or Garfinkel
(although sociological schools of thought are rarely named after people as is the case in
psychoanalysis), most prestigious sociologists are employed in departments housed at
decentralized universities or colleges that control their own hiring.
Unlike psychoanalytic institutes and sociology departments, the resources and journal of
critical theory were controlled singlehandedly, after 1930, by Max Horkheimer as he
managed and shaped the Frankfurt School.8 The major figures in the Frankfurt School thus
were far more dependent on the economic resources of one institution than is the case for
psychoanalysts or sociologists. Horkheimer used his control over the Frankfurt School
resources to ensure that he and a limited number of scholars could avoid the pressures of
attaining a mainstream academic job. Horkheimer guarded this money carefully, always
attempting to support a small core of thinkers loyal to him. He used the money as a seed
to try to keep a peripheral group associated with the institute but supported by outside
teaching, foundation grants or government employment. Rolf Wiggershauss important
history of the school, for example, makes it clear that Horkheimer put pressure on Marcuse
(Wiggershaus calls it a strategy of financial starvation, Wiggershaus, 1994:299) to accept
a job with the Bureau of Intelligence of the United States governments Office of War
Information and then later at the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) and State Department,
freeing up funds for the other members of the Institute (Wiggershaus, 1994: 299301).
These economic and organizational realities are central for understanding the history of the
Frankfurt School, even though they are often ignored, an irony, of course, since most critical
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theorists profess loyalty to materialist analysis.

Horkheimer Builds a School

Horkheimer had initially been interested in merging Marxist politics with the psychological
insights of the Freudian tradition. Yet Horkheimers knowledge of psychoanalysis was
minimal he was once analysed briefly in order to help get over an inhibition about
speaking in public without reading a prepared text (Wiggershaus, 1994).9 Fromm, in
contrast, was an expert in psychoanalytic theory and therapy who taught psychoanalysis in
a program associated with the Institute at Frankfurt University that Horkheimer had helped
set up. Fromm was made the tenured director of the Institute for Social Researchs Social
Psychology Section in 1930 (Wiggershaus, 1994: 5758).
Fromms major project with the Institute had began a year earlier with a study on the social
psychology of German workers, a piece of research that played a major role in Fromms
bitter break with his colleagues (Bonss, 1984). In 1929 Fromm began research on German
Workers 1929 A Survey, Its Methods and Results. The theory of the authoritarian
character that Theodor Adorno would make famous with The Authoritarian Personality
(1950) came directly out of this empirical research (Adorno et al, 1950). Fromms
contribution to the genesis of the authoritarian personality research was widely known in
the 1950s and 1960s (Christie and Jahoda, 1954) although Adorno and Horkheimer would
later obfuscate Fromms pivotal role (Funk, 1982; Burston, 1994).
This obfuscation was possible because Fromms work on the authoritarian character was not
published in English in its entirety until four years after Fromms death under the title The
Working Class in Weimar Germany due to the efforts of a German sociologist (Bonss,
1984).10 Fromm in the 1930s, along with the rest of the early Frankfurt School, was
interested in understanding the sources of the mass appeal of the Nazi party as well as why
the German working class did not resist Hitler as Marxist theory predicted. This project
proceeded slowly partly because of the enforced migration of the institute from Germany in
1933. A first report of the study appeared in German in the context of Horkheimers edited
collection Studien ber Autoritt und Familie (1936) where it was suggested that the larger
work would soon be published (Bonss, 1984).

Conflict over the Study

While many of Erich Fromms later works were best-sellers and were greeted with critical
acclaim, he had to fight hostility and indifference to this project from the beginning. Fromm
left the Institute in 1939 and the revised plan for a publication of the Weimar workers
project was dropped. The study disappeared, as Wolfgang Bonss puts it, into Fromms desk
drawer and was later also partly deleted from the annals of the Institute (Bonss, 1984:
There is dispute among scholars as to why this study was so unpopular within the inner
circle of the Frankfurt School. Fromm himself stressed Horkheimers concern that the
studys controversial Marxism would hurt the institute in anti-communist America (Bonss,
1984).11 Martin Jay repeated the institutes official justification that the research design was
flawed and that many questionnaires had been lost (something Fromm denied to the end of
his life) (Jay, 1973).12 Herbert Marcuse was concerned that the study might be used to show
that German workers were really fascists at heart (Jay, 1973; Bonss, 1984).13 While there is
debate among scholars as to whether the Fromm study is primarily of historical importance
or has contemporary theoretical and methodological relevance, there is no doubt that it was
central to the early work of the Frankfurt School.14 Horkheimers refusal to publish the

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Fromm study under the auspices of the Institute was a major factor in the rift between
Fromm and the Frankfurt School.
In addition to these ideological and intellectual conflicts, the strong personal animosities
between Fromm and Theodor Adorno clearly played a major role in the internal conflict
within the Institute. Wiggershaus points out, for example, that Adorno was fond on referring
to Fromm as a professional Jew (Wiggershaus, 1994: 266). Nor was Fromm particularly
enamoured of Adorno. In a letter to the Marxist philosopher Raya Dunayevskaya, Fromm
wrote, as to Adorno, he was, from personal knowledge and from reading some of his
writings, a puffed up phrase-maker with no conviction and nothing to say.15 Martin Jay
stresses cultural style as a key difference between Horkheimer, Adorno and Fromm.16 An
analysis of the social organization of the Institute for Social Research, however, suggests
that the break between Fromm and the Frankfurt School involved more than methods,
political ideology, and personality conflicts.

Adorno Replaces Fromm

The fundamental source of Fromms departure from the Frankfurt School for Social
Research was conflict between Adorno and Fromm over both Freudian theory and
resources. Fromm had entered the tenured core of the Institute in 1930 while Adorno, in
contrast, was not central to the institute until the late 1930s. While in Germany and abroad
in England during the early Nazi rule, Adorno had been supported by his well-off parents.
Horkheimer had initially wanted to tie Adorno to the Institute without committing to him
financially (Wiggershaus, 1994). The Institute had substantial but finite resources and
Horkheimers priority was maintaining his own material security as well as control over the
content of the work produced. Horkheimer saw Fromm as an intellectual equal and
collaborator in the early 1930s and gradually Adorno replaced him as a core member of the
Frankfurt School and Horkheimers trusted ally.17 This competition and struggle played itself
out most dramatically over the use of psychoanalysis within critical theory.

Freud and the Frankfurt School

When Fromm first developed his psychological thought within the Frankfurt School, he
subscribed to an orthodox Freudian libido theory that emphasized the centrality of instincts.
By the middle of the 1930s, however, Fromm had broken from orthodoxy to stress the
importance of culture and interpersonal relations (Burston, 1991) and an existential analysis
of human psychic isolation that gave rise to what he would later call a fear of freedom
(McLaughlin, 1996b).
Adorno argued that Fromms emerging break with Freud was a serious threat to the political
and intellectual line of the Frankfurt School. Adorno had been suspicious of the
collaboration between Horkheimer and Fromm while the Institute was based in Frankfurt.
The beginning of open conflict, however, can be dated to Fromms essay The Social
Determinate of Psychoanalytic Therapy, an early version of his later criticisms of orthodox
Freudian theory and therapy published in the critical theorys journal in 1935 (Wiggershaus,
1994).18 In March 1936 Adorno wrote to Horkheimer defending Freud against Fromms
revisionism. For Adorno, Fromms article:
is sentimental and wrong to begin with, being a mixture of social democracy and anarchism, and
above all shows a severe lack of the concept of dialectics. He takes the easy way out with the
concept of authority, without which, after all, neither Lenins avant-garde nor dictatorship can be
conceived of. I would strongly advise him to read Lenin. And what do the anti-popes opposed to
Freud say? No, precisely when Freud is criticized from the left, as he is by us, things like the
silly argument about a lack of kindness cannot be permitted. This is exactly the trick used by

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bourgeois individualists against Marx. I must tell you that I see a real threat in this article to the
line which the journal takes...(cited in Wiggershaus, 1994: 266).19

For Adorno, Fromms revision of Freudian theory inevitably lead away from a truly radical
critique of modern society substituting soft-hearted therapy for rigorous analysis. By the
late 1930s Horkheimer had accepted Adornos critique of Fromms psychoanalytic theory.20
Both Adorno and Horkheimer insisted that biological materialism was the theoretical
core of psychoanalysis which was to be maintained against the revisionists (Wiggershaus,
1994: 271). This issue had little to do with therapy since no one in the Frankfurt School
other than Fromm was an expert in the clinical and empirical basis of Freudian theory.21
This intellectual conflict happened at the same time as a major conflict over resources,
something almost uniformly ignored in the secondary literature.22 In the spring of 1939
Fromm was essentially dismissed from his tenured position at the Institute by Friedrich
Pollack because of financial reasons. Fromm was asked to go without his salary since he
had an income from therapy, an arrangement he declined (Jay, 1973; Bonss, 1984).
Horkheimer and Fromm engaged in discussions at the end of 1939, but as Wiggershaus puts
it the breach had already taken place, and only the arrangements for the separation
remained to be dealt with (Wiggershaus, 1994: 271).23 Fromm received $20,000 for giving
up his tenure (a lot of money at the time in depression era America) and he turned his
energies to therapy and writing what would become Escape from Freedom (1941).
Adorno entered the core of the Institute in the late 1930s, and Horkheimer and especially
Adorno became bitter enemies of Fromm and attempted to exclude him as best they could
from the history of the Institute. Fromms fame as the author of Escape from Freedom
made the split permanent and even more bitter (McLaughlin, 1996b).24 Horkheimer and
Adorno became the public face of the Institute for Social Research in America. Both
Horkheimer and Adorno now had an interest in downplaying Fromms role in the early
authoritarian personality research. Horkheimer and Adornos neglect in fully crediting
Fromm for his part in developing the F-scale could be seen somewhat generously as what
the literary critic Harold Bloom once call the anxiety of influence.
Adorno continued to be harshly critical of Fromms revision of Freud, and he gave a paper
entitled Social Science and Sociological Tendencies in Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles in
April of 1946 (Jay, 1973). In addition to the early critique of Fromms dissent from libido
theory, Adorno later argued that the neo-Freudian (without mentioning Fromms name now,
except with reference to his early orthodox writings) attempt to combine psychological and
sociological levels of analysis was misguided (Adorno, 1967; Adorno, 1968). For Adorno,
the revisionists give an oversimplified account of the interaction of the mutually alienated
institutions id and ego, posit a direct connection between the institutional sphere and
social experience and are guilty of superficial historicism (Adorno, 1968: 79; 89).
Adornos critique of Fromm eventually became the conventional wisdom among the small
number of followers of the Frankfurt School perspective. When the social protest
movements of the 1960s created a large market for critical theory among radical students
and intellectuals, this critique of Fromm was popularized by Herbert Marcuse and then
accepted by a generation of New Left scholars (Marcuse, 1955b; Marcuse, 1956; Jacoby,
1975; Jacoby, 1983; Kellner, 1984; Robinson, 1969; Lasch, 1977; Lasch 1979). Central to
this story was an influential Fromm/Marcuse debate published in three issues of Dissent
magazine from fall 1955 to spring 1956 (Marcuses contribution was reprinted as an
epilogue to the 1956 book Eros and Civilization). Marcuse largely created todays view of
Fromm as a naive utopian preacher, essentially the Norman Vincent Peale of the left
(Richert, 1986). Marcuses initial attack on Fromm was the major theme of a larger essay on
neo-Freudian critiques of orthodox Freudian theory (Marcuse, 1955b). Marcuse, drawing
implicitly on Adornos critique, argued that Fromm and other revisionists had transformed

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powerful and radical Freudian ideas into conformist banalities. Marcuse argued that even
though Freud and most psychoanalysts were committed to bourgeois society,
psychoanalysis was a radically critical theory (Marcuse, 1955b: 221). Marcuse likes his
Freud straight and defends such speculative and metaphysical ideas as the death instinct
and the hypothesis of the primal horde. The purging of Freuds metapsychology from
psychoanalysis has meant that the explosive connotations of Freud theory of the
unconscious and sexuality were all but eliminated (Marcuse, 1955b: 226).
The central theme of the revisionists, according to Marcuse, is that the present environment
causes more conflicts than allowed for in the orthodox Freudian biological model focused
on sexual instincts and the first five or six years of life. As Marcuse puts it, revisionists,
move from past to present, from biology to culture and from constitution to environment,
discarding libido theory and substituting relatedness (Marcuse, 1955b: 226).25 The result
is an eclectic and banal theory and the laboring of the obvious, of routine wisdom
(Marcuse, 1955b: 227).
While Marcuses essay is framed explicitly around the issue of Freudian theory, there was,
as with Adornos earlier critique, a Marxist subtext to the polemic. Ever since Marxs
attacks on the utopian socialists, Marxists have looked poorly on moral discourse (Aronson,
1995). Marcuse is rooted in this tradition when he claims that Fromm revives idealist ethics
by suggesting that it is possible to write of personality, care, responsibility, respect, of
productive love and happiness in the context of a totally alienated market society. Thus
Fromm, for Marcuse, is neither a real Freudian nor a genuine Marxist.
For Marcuse, the style alone betrays the attitude (Marcuse, 1955b: 232) the
revisionists are moralistic not political, conformist not critical. Marcuse claims that Freuds
writings are full of irony, insight and a willingness to squarely face the inevitable conflict
between instinctual necessity and society. In contrast, the neo-Freudian mutilation of the
instinct theory simply accentuates the positive, preaches about inner strength and integrity
(Marcuse, 1955b: 233), turns social issues into spiritual concerns and defines neurosis as a
moral problem. The writing style of the neo-Freudians, according to Marcuse, comes
frequently close to that of the sermon, or of the social worker, (Marcuse, 1955b: 232)
suggesting the Power of Positive Thinking (Marcuse, 1955b: 233). Marcuse rejects both
therapy and traditional radical politics as solutions to the modern dilemma, instead arguing
for a fundamental change in the instinctual as well as cultural structure (Marcuse, 1955b:
238). The first step towards this radical project must be an internal battle within the left, a
defence of orthodox Freudian ideas against revision.
Fromms rebuttal appeared in the next two issues of Dissent (Fromm, 1955a; Fromm,
1956b). Fromm takes Marcuse to task for indiscriminately lumping Horney, Sullivan and
Fromm together as well as making elementary misreadings of both Sullivan and Freud.26
Fromm dismisses Marcuses assertion that the rejection of drive theory leads to naive
pre-Freudian social theory and conservative conformist politics. And Fromm argues that
Marcuses politics are deeply flawed by his unwillingness to outline a program that links his
critique to practical movements to move beyond the present. Fromm agreed with much of
Marcuses analysis of capitalism but dissented from his almost total rejection of modern
market society. Marcuses perspective was a politics of nihilism since it left people only with
the options of being a martyr or going insane.
Marcuse attempted a response to Fromms discussion of Freud, a difficult task since
Marcuse was primarily a left Hegelian philosopher not a psychoanalytic theorist (Marcuse,
1956b). Today one can find few serious defenders of the death instinct, the primal horde or
orthodox libido theory. Most of the interesting work in psychoanalysis rejects instinct theory
and deals with, as Fromm suggested it must, relatedness and identity (Greenberg and
Mitchell, 1983; Benjamin, 1988). Fromms neo-Freudian former collaborator Karen Horney

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is now being rediscovered as an early proponent of feminist object relations (Chodorow,

1989; Westkott, 1986; Sayers, 1991). Sullivans work has given rise to the emergence of
interpersonal psychoanalysis, an important school of thought within contemporary Freudian
theory (Greenberg and Mitchell, 1983). In addition, Fromms position on Freudian theory
has gained new influence in recent years (Burston, 1991; Cortina and Maccoby, 1996;
Greenberg and Mitchell, 1983).
Marcuses attack on neo-Freudianism found an audience among the left at the time,
however, by the clever way in which he shifted the terms of the debate away from Freudian
theory to the issue of Fromms political program.27 Marcuse quotes from Fromms newly
published The Sane Society (1955) in an attempt to illustrate that Fromms work is indeed
conformist and partakes of alienation (Marcuse, 1956:80). Focusing on Fromms practical
suggestions for change, Marcuse falsely accuses Fromm of being a promoter of industrial
psychology and scientific management (Marcuse, 1956: 80). Marcuse concludes with a dry
run for what would later become a famous polemic in One Dimensional Man (1964) for
what he calls the Great Refusal. Nihilism, Marcuse argues, as the indictment of
inhuman conditions, may be a truly humanist attitude part of the Great Refusal to play
the game, to compromise with the bad positive (Marcuse, 1956: 81).
Marcuse had not even attempted to document his assertion that Fromms political errors
were rooted somehow in his Freudian revisionism. While Fromm drew freely from the
Marxist tradition, he was as much of an unorthodox socialist as he was a renegade Freudian.
Numerous young radicals would read Fromms The Sane Society and its influence was
widespread among the younger generation of the late 1950s and early 1960s (Jamison and
Eyerman, 1994). Looking back at The Sane Society today, it is hard to avoid the conclusion
that it is, if anything, overly harsh about the realities of modern society not excessively
conformist. Marcuse was right that Fromms practical suggestions for social change were
not well worked out, but Fromms critique of modern capitalist society was perceptive and
powerful even if his strength was not as a political strategist or organizer.
The polemics of Adorno and Marcuse isolated Fromm not only from the Frankfurt School,
but also within Marxism, radical sociology and the general left intellectual culture that he
had such an influence on in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s.28 The Frankfurt School soon
gave rise to a growing body of scholarship under the trademark of critical theory throughout
the 1970s and 1980s (for a discussion of theoretical trademarks see Lamont, 1987). By the
1990s, critical theory has expanded in meaning from the original Frankfurt School work to
represent a broader body of scholarship in post-modern, post-colonial and cultural studies
(Calhoun, 1995). Since Fromm had been excluded from the original Frankfurt School canon,
his work was also generally ignored in the broader critical theory scholarship. The Frankfurt
School had been transformed from a relatively obscure network of scholars to become an
influential school of thought on the margins of the academy. Fromm had become a forgotten
intellectual whose books continued to sell but who was no longer taken seriously as an
intellectual, radical or social scientist (McLaughlin, forthcoming).

Beyond Marxism and Psychoanalysis

Fromms exclusion from the Frankfurt School canon was intimately tied up with conflicts
within both psychoanalysis and Marxism over orthodoxies and revisionisms. Adornos
critique of Fromm consisted of a curious mixture of Leninist and Freudian orthodoxy, two
perspectives that hardly seem compatible. Adornos marshalling of Lenins prestige within
Marxism against Fromm was largely a matter of style over substance, however, for
Horkheimer and the major members of the Frankfurt School inner circle were hardly
Bolshevists or even revolutionaries. It is an irony that although Adorno was attacking
Fromm from the left in the 1930s, after the war both Horkheimer and Adorno would leave
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the Marxist and radical traditions while Fromm was an activist throughout the 1950s and
1960s and maintained socialist commitments until the end of his life in 1980 (Bronner,
1994). Yet the New Left scholars who developed the Frankfurt School tradition in America
throughout the 1970s ignored this reality, rejecting Fromm as a conformist liberal while
canonizing Horkheimer and Adorno as critical theorists (Agger, 1992; Alford, 1988;
Benjamin, 1977; Jacoby, 1975; Jacoby, 1983; Kellner, 1984; Whitebook, 1994; Robinson,
1969; Tar, 1985; Buck-Morss, 1977). Even the critics from both the left and the right of the
Frankfurt School tended to ignore Fromm (Therborn, 1970; van den Berg, 1980).29
The origin myths that legitimize schools of thought, intellectual traditions or movements are
seldom without contradictions and elements of hero worship. In a certain sense, Adornos
radical stance was attractive to many New Left scholars who felt the need for a Great
Refusal and admired Mao, without being revolutionaries themselves. How can one explain
the fact the Breines late 1960s collection on the work of Herbert Marcuse was dedicated to
Ho Chi Minh and Theodor Adorno? (Breines, 1970). For intellectuals who came of political
age during what Todd Gitlin called the days of rage of the late 1960s, and then developed
their academic careers in the 1970s, Adornos style suggested a hard headed radicalism as
well as a cultural elitism that was an important part of the attraction of critical theory
(Jay, 1984). That critical theory had very little in common with either Lenin or Vietnamese
communism was beside the point. Even though Horkheimer, Adorno and then Marcuse had
modified and departed from Marxist ideas in important ways, they seemed connected to the
spirit of Marx, Engels and Lenin in ways that Fromm did not.30
Adornos injunction that Fromm must read Lenin was largely a rhetorical move to eliminate
Fromm from the legitimate boundaries of debate within Marxism. In Adornos 1936 letter to
Horkheimer, Fromm was presented as sentimental, a social democrat, an anarchist and as
someone using the same tricks as bourgeois individualists who attempt to dismiss Marxist
insights. Adornos later writings on Fromm developed other themes, arguing that
neo-Freudianism had moved outside the legitimate boundaries of psychoanalysis for being
excessively sociological and his sociology was too individualistic (Adorno, 1967; Adorno,
1968), an argument that both psychoanalysts and sociologists have long been sympathetic to
(Menninger, 1941; Green, 1946). Marcuses critique was simply another version of this
boundary work since for Marcuse, Fromm was not a Marxist because he was for scientific
management and conformist industrial sociology, moralism, and did not challenge the
capitalist ownership of the means of production.

From One Orthodoxy to Another

Adorno and Marcuses adherence to Freudian orthodoxy also played a central role in the
exclusion of Fromm from the Frankfurt School tradition. One can only speculate why Freud
became such an important intellectual influence and icon for the Frankfurt School.31
Whatever the reasons, adherence to Freudian orthodoxy provided important internal as well
as external legitimation functions for the Frankfurt School. There was a serious problem
emerging within the Frankfurt School, for while they started as a network of left
intellectuals, Horkheimer and Adorno were rapidly moving away from radicalism (Bronner,
1994). The largest base of support would eventually be among the New Left generation that
would find Marcuses work so appealing, yet most historians and scholars of the Frankfurt
School ignore Horkheimer and Adornos relative conservativism (but see Bronner, 1994).
Orthodox Freudian theory provided a glue that united Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse
against Fromm, while helping downplay the internal political differences within the school.
Orthodox psychoanalysis provided a convenient symbolic foil for the Frankfurt School since
Horkheimer and Adorno could identify with Freuds cultural pessimism while Marcuse
could creatively re-interpret libido theory in the course of his argument for a cultural and
sexual radicalism. It was the function of the origin myths within the Frankfurt School to
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obscure these various contradictions.

The irony, of course, is that psychoanalysts largely ignored Adorno and Marcuse, and few
contemporary Freudians would defend the orthodox instinct theory that Adorno and
Marcuse were so insistent on preserving. Orthodox Freudians in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s
appreciated Marcuses critique of Fromm since it reinforced their argument that
neo-Freudianism was not real psychoanalysis. Yet Fromms position won out in the long run
even while he himself is largely ignored within Freudian training institutes. Psychoanalysts
were not ready for Fromm in the 1930s and 1940s, but contemporary Freudian theory is
dominated by object relations, interpersonal and self psychology and a focus on meanings
not drives, just as Fromm argued it must be decades earlier (Greenberg and Mitchell, 1983;
Burston, 1991; Cortina and Maccoby, 1996; Benjamin, 1988; Chodorow, 1989). Fromms
work is important for critical theory precisely because his effort to combine radical
sociology with depth psychology was based on a firm understanding of psychoanalytic
theory while Adorno and Marcuse were dabbling with the Freudian tradition in a highly
abstract and speculative matter.

The Economics of Therapy and the Professionalization of Psychoanalysis

Recent scholarship on the Frankfurt School has been re-writing this history but these new
origins myths that are re-inserting Fromm into critical theory remain insufficiently
sociological (Richert, 1986; Burston, 1991; Kellner, 1989; Bronner, 1994; Anderson,
forthcoming; Wiggershaus, 1994). Critical theorists writing about their own history tend to
treat the conflict between Fromm, Adorno and Marcuse as being rooted in different
interpretations of Freudian theory, personality conflicts or different writing or cultural styles
(Jay, 1973). Fromms exclusion from the Frankfurt School can only be understood if the
conflicts over ideas are placed in the context of a sociologically informed account of the
economics of therapy and the professionalization of psychoanalysis.
The major sociological difference between Fromm and the other members of the Frankfurt
School was that Fromm was a practising analyst while the others had little interest in
therapy. This had profound consequences for the development of critical theory. The
contemporary fame of Adorno and Marcuse can obscure the fact that they were relatively
marginal German intellectuals stranded in America in the 1930s and 1940s, dependent on
Horkheimers resources and sponsorship. Neither Adorno or Marcuse could get a permanent
academic job in America in the 1930s and 1940s, and they needed support and sponsorship
from the Frankfurt School. In contrast, Fromm made a very good living as a therapist.
The resources and connections Fromm gained from association with Horkheimer were a
bonus not a necessity. This is one reason, of course, why Horkheimer treated Fromm as an
equal but also helps explain why he would break with Fromm in favour of Adorno and
Marcuse. It is clear that from Horkheimers perspective, Adorno and Marcuse would be far
more loyal proponents of the critical theory that Horkheimer insisted on controlling. Unlike
Adorno and Marcuse, Fromm was in a position to stand-up to Horkheimer, guaranteeing an
eventual break. When Fromm became famous with the best-selling Escape from Freedom
(1941), this only solidified an independence that already existed because of the economics
of psychoanalytic therapy in the 1930s and 1940s (McLaughlin, 1996a).32 These financial
realities played an important part in the polemics within the Frankfurt School.33
The anger with which the Frankfurt School scholars attacked Fromm for his Freudian
revisionism was rooted in more than a conflict over ideas. The fight about psychoanalysis
within the Frankfurt School was intimately tied up with Horkheimers efforts to legitimize
critical theory. Horkheimer had helped psychoanalysts establish an institute associated with
the Institute for Social Research at Frankfurt University, and had even received two letters
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from Freud thanking him for his efforts (Jay, 1973: 88). While in America, Horkheimer kept
up a correspondence with various prominent psychoanalysts.34 Horkheimer was a highly
political animal, adept at networking. He could not but notice that Freudians were growing
in influence in America and were also a European import looking for legitimation and allies.
Horkheimer and orthodox Freudians had forged an informal alliance. There is no reason to
doubt the fact that Horkheimer and especially Adorno had real and sincere intellectual
reasons for disagreeing with Fromms revision of Freud. Nonetheless, from what we know
about both Horkheimer and Adornos concern with institution and reputation building,35 it
seems implausible that the internal politics of the psychoanalytic establishment were not an
important part of their calculations as they positioned themselves against Fromm.

Fromm and the Psychoanalytic Establishment

This account of an alliance between critical theorists and orthodox psychoanalysts risks
suggesting an implausible conspiracy theory. Yet psychoanalytic institutes in mid-century
America were conspiratorial, resembling a paranoid sect as much as a school of thought or
profession (Hale, 1995; Roazen, 1994; Burston, 1991). Furthermore, for close to fifty years
now Fromm has been one of the most hated Freudian revisionists (Rogow, 1970). Orthodox
Freudians were highly motivated enemies of Fromm and it was not possible for Horkheimer
to work with psychoanalysts in the 1940s and 1950s if critical theory was associated with
neo-Freudian psychoanalysis (McLaughlin, 1998). The relationship between the Frankfurt
School and orthodox Freudians regarding psychoanalytic revisionism could best be
described as informal collusion rather than as a conscious strategy to discredit Fromm.
Orthodox Freudian attacks on Fromm and against neo-Freudianism had increased as Horney
and Fromm broke with Freud and became famous intellectuals and continued for decades
(McLaughlin, 1988).36 Especially after the publication of Escape from Freedom (1941),
orthodox psychoanalysts became increasing concerned with what they saw as the distortion
and dilution of true Freudian insights (McLaughlin, 1996b; McLaughlin, 1998; Herberg,
1957; Burston, 1991). Psychiatrist Karl Menninger was among the first representatives of
the psychoanalytic establishment to attack Fromm for his break with Freudian orthodoxy
when he reviewed Escape From Freedom in The Nation (Menninger, 1942). Menninger
argued that although Fromm writes as if he considered himself a psychoanalyst, his lack
of medical and psychoanalytic credentials disqualified him from serious consideration.
Fromm is a distinguished sociologist who, Menninger concedes, is wholly within his
rights in applying psychoanalytic theory to sociological problems. Yet as Menninger puts it,
The isolation of the author himself is ... indicated by his singular selection of authorities.
Although the book purports to be psychoanalytic in character, almost no psychoanalysts are
quoted or cited. The name of Freud, to be sure, is invoked a dozen times or more, but each time
with some patronizing remark to the effect that while Freud had some good ideas along this or
that line, his great error, which Fromm corrects, is so and so. This curious presumptuousness on
the part of a relatively unknown author writing in a field with which he is not specifically
identified, makes for strange overtones which blur the clarity and force of the book. No
intelligent person believes that Freud said the last word, but in the field of thought which Fromm
invokes for the elaboration of his theory Freud did say the first word, and any attempt to revise it
should be undertaken with a full sense of the magnitude and seriousness of the task and upon
empirical and experimental grounds (Menninger, 1942:317).

Escape from Freedom is a subjective book, written in a heavy, tedious style that
contains many flatly incorrect statements, especially of Freudian theories. The doctrinaire
Freudian and political radical Otto Fenichel also attacked Escape From Freedom, accusing
Fromm of abandoning psychoanalysis and the idea of the unconscious (Fenichel, 1944).
Horkheimer and critical theorys relationship to Fromm was intimately tied up with these

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larger intellectual currents. Martin Jays The Dialectical Imagination tells the story of how
the important psychoanalyst Ernest Kris wrote Lowenthal a letter a year after the
publication of Escape from Freedom asking them to clarify the Institutes attitude regarding
Freud (Jay, 1973: 102). Horkheimers advice to Lowenthal regarding a proper response is,
as Jay puts it, extremely illuminating (Jay, 1973: 102). For Horkheimer, psychology
without libido is in a way no psychology and we have to refer orthodoxically to Freuds
earlier writings while Fromm and Horney get back to commonsense psychology (Jay,
1973: 102). Horkheimer was clearly concerned about presenting a certain image and a
common Institute front in relation to orthodox Freudians who were alarmed at the criticisms
of classical psychoanalytic theory presented in Fromms work.37
The intensity of Fromms conflicts with the Freudian establishment in America can be
illuminated partly by a sociological understanding of the professions. Orthodox Freudians
disliked Fromms criticisms of classical Freudian theory for theoretical reasons, but
throughout the 1930s and 1940s Fromm was attacked by orthodox psychoanalysts also
because he was not a medical doctor. Fromm and other lay analysts threatened the
professionalizing strategy of Freudians who were attempting to carve out a position for
psychoanalysis as an elite specialization within medical psychiatry (Roazen, 1974; Hale,
1995; McLaughlin, 1998). The fact that Fromm was a famous political radical further
threatened the reputation of psychoanalysis since they did not want to be associated with
the sexual and literary radical Freudianism that had been so influential among American
intellectuals in the 1920s and early 1930s (Hale, 1995; McLaughlin, 1998).
Fromms reputation among orthodox Freudians declined even more dramatically in the
1950s when he published numerous popular articles and best-selling books attacking central
elements of orthodox Freudian theory (Fromm, 1950; Fromm, 1951; Fromm, 1959;
McLaughlin, 1998). Fromm criticized the patriarchal bias of Freuds view of gender,
questioned the universality of the Oedipal complex and argued that psychoanalysis must
engage historical sociology and cultural anthropology in order to transcend biological
determinism. In addition, Fromm was one of few psychoanalysts willing to challenge Ernest
Jones hagiographic three volume The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud published between
1953 and 1957 (McLaughlin, 1996a; Roazen, 1996). Worst of all, from the perspective of
the psychoanalytic establishment, Fromm made these criticisms of Freudian orthodoxy in
mass market books and in a Saturday Review article and not obscure clinical journals
(Fromm, 1958; Fromm, 1959) and was a harsh critic of the organizational structure and
dogmatism of Freuds movement. He was thus a threat to the client base as well as the
ideology of Freudians (McLaughlin, 1998).

Whither the Frankfurt School?

Contemporary social scientists can usefully draw upon the Frankfurt School for insights but
we must remember that the tradition has been selectively constructed over the last 50 years
or so. Fromm did not fit into the history that Horkheimer and Adorno needed to accomplish
their goals. The Frankfurt School needed a radical image without getting too involved in
practical politics, especially in America where they were vulnerable as Jewish Marxists.
Horkheimer would later become suspicious of Habermas precisely because he, like Fromm,
was getting involved in the movements of the 1960s, jeopardizing critical theorys mandarin
stature (Wiggershaus, 1994). The Frankfurt School also needed a complex and obscure
language and an elite cultural sensibility; Fromms popularizing style tended to undercut the
cultural boundaries essential for the Frankfurt Schools success (McLaughlin, 1996a).
Fromms books were clearly written and extremely successful on the marketplace for ideas,
exposing generations of Americans to German thought, Marx, Freud, Weber and the
existentialist tradition. For Horkheimer and Adorno, this was a dilution of critical insights
and Fromms success was practically proof of the shallowness of his ideas.
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Depth psychology and the ideas of Freud are isolated today in the social sciences, even
while psychoanalytic critical theory has found strong defenders in English departments and
cultural studies programs, particularly through the influence of Lacan and various
post-modernist theorists (Turkle, 1992). Fromms exclusion from the history of the
Frankfurt School closed him off from the recent interest in bringing psychology back into
cultural and sociological theory, since many scholars who came to intellectual maturity
during the 1960s and 1970s were influenced by the one side-sided criticisms made of
Fromm by Frankfurt School thinkers and the younger scholars and historians who accepted
the origin myths developed by the original critical theorists (Robinson, 1969; Benjamin,
1988; Agger, 1992; Alford, 1988; Jacoby, 1975; Jacoby, 1983). This is a shame, however,
since the strength of Fromms approach to psychoanalysis was that he viewed the tradition
as an empirically based social theory, an important counterweight to a sometimes
excessively abstract and speculative Freud preferred by post-modern theorists in the
humanities. Psychoanalysis can contribute to social science only if the insights of the
tradition are articulated clearly and concisely in ways that engage debates outside Freudian
institutes and conferences of psychoanalytic influenced academics. Fromms work, more so
than either Adorno or Lacan, can help in encouraging a dialogue between psychoanalytic
perspectives and mainstream social scientists unwilling to enter the hermetically sealed
world of critical theory. In addition, Fromms focus on emotions and the irrational can
provide a useful corrective to what some argue is the overly rationalist version of critical
theory developed and promoted by Habermas.
It is not surprising that Fromms work was written out of the history of critical theory.
Fromms synthetic approach, fame and independence and insistence on breaking from all
orthodoxies, made it difficult for Horkheimer to carve out and maintain a distinctive
Frankfurt School approach, allied with but not identical to psychoanalysis, Marxism and
Hegelian philosophy (McLaughlin, 1996a). Fromm shared much with his former Frankfurt
School collaborators,38 but the distinguishing feature of his thought was a refusal to be tied
to one school of thought or tradition, be it neo-Freudianism, Marxism, psychoanalysis,
sociology or critical theory. Fromms clear and concise writing was fundamentally at odds
with the style of Horkheimer and Adornos vision of critical theory.
Horkheimer got the Frankfurt School history he needed, at least until recently. But it is not a
history that is particularly useful for those of us interested in using the insights of critical
theory to theorize about and empirically study social reality (Fromm and Maccoby, [1970]
1996).39 Further and extensive primary source research should be done on the history of
Fromms relationship with the Frankfurt School, providing us with details and a nuanced
understanding of how both intellectual and resource conflicts shaped the early development
of critical theory.40 In addition, it is time for a serious reevaluation of the theoretical status
of psychoanalysis within critical theory, an issue that must be addressed on intellectual
grounds albeit with attention to the sociological dynamics emphasized here.41 This important
empirical and theoretical work will not be produced, however, without first challenging the
origin myth that has shaped our understanding of the history of the Frankfurt School and
distorted the further development of critical theory.

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Thanks to Robert Alford, Scott Davies, Stephen Steinberg, John Rodden, Alan Wolfe, Catherine Silver,
Jennifer Platt, Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, Rolf Meyersohn, Sonia Gojman Millan, Salvador Millan, Deborah Cook,
Petra Rethmann, Carrie Ashton, Anita Hanbali, and Mauricio Cortina for feedback on earlier drafts of this
paper. A version was presented at a sociology of knowledge session the annual meetings of the American
Sociological Association in Toronto, August 1997 organized by Alan Wolfe where Jeff Weintraub and Mark
Shields served as insightful discussants. An Arts Research Board grant from McMaster University made
possible a research trip to Germany that allowed me to respond to the useful review and editorial comments
from The Canadian Journal of Sociology. Rainer Funks hospitality at the Erich Fromm Archives in Tbingen
Germany was an enormous help in helping me reconstruct the early history of critical theory. back to text

Critical theory has become a generic term that applies to a wide range of influential scholarly work in both the
humanities and the social sciences but that was not always the case. The term, of course, was originally coined
to describe the tradition represented by the German Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, what we now know
as the Frankfurt School (Jay, 1973). back to text

Careful scholars such as Buck-Morss do not deny that Benjamin was relatively marginal to the Institute, but
instead are engaged in a project of re-discovering Benjamin and inserting him into the critical theory tradition.
Yet Buck-Morss does ignore Fromms role in the Institute and her work has contributed to a situation where
younger scholars without Buck-Morsss historical perspective tend to see Benjamin as more central to the early
Frankfurt School than he was and Fromm as more marginal than was the case. back to text

Other core members of the early Frankfurt School were Carl Grnberg (who Horkheimer replaced as director
in 1930), Leo Lwenthal, Friedrich Pollack, Otto Kirchheimer, Franz Neumann, Theodor Adorno, Herbert
Marcuse, Karl Wittfogel and Henryk Grossman. back to text

For example Paul Connertons 1972 edited collection Critical Sociology is built around selections of readings
from the Frankfurt School tradition yet has only one single mention of Fromm. On the cover the names of
Adorno, Habermas, Benjamin, Horkheimer, Marcuse and Neumann are written in large blue letters and not a
single work by Fromm is listed in a rather extensive bibliography (Connerton, 1972). back to text

As Rainer Funk puts it, The important role Fromm played as a member of the Frankfurt Institute for Social
Research seems to have been deliberately ignored after he left it toward the end of the thirties, especially by
Max Horkheimer (Funk, 1982: 296 footnote). Funk continues, Horkheimer was so reluctant to acknowledge
Fromms membership that when Oskar Hersche asked him in 1969 who the members of the institute had been
around 1930 (M. Horkheimer, Verwaltete Welt: 11), he could answer: There were a number of people. I should
begin by mentioning Friedrich Pollock, Franz Borkenau, Henryk Grossman, Karl August Wittfogel, Leo
Lowenthal, Karl Korsch, Gerhard Meyer, Kurt Mandelbaum, all of whom except Lowenthal had been hired by
Grnberg. All of them published books in the Institute series. There were also some psychoanalysts who
belonged to the Institute for we realized that sociology and psychoanalysis would have to work together. But
their association was not as close. Karl Landauer, Heinrich Meng and Erich Fromm and some others were
members of this group. They held seminars on psychoanalysis, though not at the University but at the Institute.
Funk points out that It was not true that Fromms association was less close, nor was he just one among a
number of others. In 1930, Horkheimer had invited him, as an expert in psychoanalysis, to become an associate
for life (Funk, 1982: 297, footnote). back to text

Trent Schroyers The Critique of Domination: The Origins and Development of Critical Theory (1973) has
only one short mention of Fromm, as part of a list of critical theorists who have documented reification,
including Horkheimer, Benjamin, Adorno and Neumann (Schroyer, 1973: 203). Zoltan Tars The Frankfurt
School: The Critical Theories of Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno (1985) mentions Fromm four times,
but seriously downplays Fromms centrality to early critical theory (Tar, 1985: 17, 103, 112, 127). This is just
two examples of a widespread tendency in the literature. back to text

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Psychoanalytic institutes are, of course, relatively cohesive compared to sociology departments. While the
history of psychoanalysis has been distorted by the sect-like behavior of Freudian partisans, the influence that
psychoanalysis has had within psychiatry departments, academic psychology and the broader intellectual culture
has helped create more diversity in Freudian historiography than is the case within critical theory. The major
historians of the Frankfurt School have tended to be directly connected to critical theorists or scholars who
knew them personally. There is no revisionist historian of the Frankfurt School with the stature and academic
credentials of Paul Roazen, for example, a political scientist who has played an important role in up-holding
scholarly standards in the writing of the history of psychoanalysis from outside the camp of Freudian orthodoxy.
back to text

As Martin Jay points out, when the institute was founded in 1923 it was to have a single director with
dictatorial control (Jay, 1973: 11). Max Horkheimer took over the directorship from Carl Grnberg in 1930.
As Jay points out, in subsequent years the dominance of Max Horkheimer in the affairs of the Institute was
unquestioned. Although in large measure attributable to the force of his personality and the range of his intellect,
his power was also rooted in the structure of the Institute as it was originally conceived (Jay, 1973: 11). back
to text

Although Gerhard Knapp suggests that Horkheimer came up with the problem of reading his speeches simply
to be able to provide some rationale for briefly entering psychoanalysis in order to better understand it (Knapp,
1989). back to text


Another factor is that Fromm decided to reformulate his draft manuscript tentatively titled The Authoritarian
Character or The Psychology of Fascism in a way that de-emphasized the issue of the authoritarian character
and played up the problem of freedom and anxiety or the fear of freedom or the escape from freedom (Fromm
had hit on this new theme in the course of a letter to Columbia sociologist Robert Lynd dated March 1, 1939,
available in the Erich Fromm Archives, Tbingen, Germany). Fromm thought that the issue of freedom might be
more marketable and was closer to his heart. His decision to frame his book around the issue of an escape from
freedom ironically helped make his reputation as a major social critic but also left Adorno an opening to lay
claim to the intellectual trademark of the authoritarian personality. In addition, Fromm felt that Adorno and his
collaborators did not fully understand psychoanalytic theory and the psychology of authoritarianism, so Fromm
was ambivalent about being associated with the Berkeley study. back to text

In a letter to Tom Bottomore dated March 26th, 1974 (Erich Fromm Archives, Tbingen, Germany), Fromm
writes, Horkheimer, partly motivated by an excessive jealously towards anyone who was productive and partly
by an even more excessive fear of suffering from the stigma of being a Leftist, in fact in the American period
encouraged work was (sic) was conventional and would destroy any suspicion of radicalism. An example, for
instance, is that a very interesting study on the authoritarian character of German workers and employees, based
on a little less than 600 questionnaires, made in Germany before Hitler, the analysis of which was finished in
America in 1935, was not permitted to be published, by Horkheimer, because it was considered to be too
dangerous. back to text

Fromm had an extensive correspondence with Martin Jay before the publication of The Dialectical
Imagination and in fact read the manuscript in draft form and sent Jay a lengthy letter disagreeing with various
factual and interpretive aspects of the book. Fromm wrote, As to the publication of the study, I want to say that
my departure from the Institute was not a major reason for its non-publication. On the contrary, the unwillingness
of Horkheimer to publish it was one of the many conflicts which led to my departure. Pollacks suggestion that it
was not published because too many of the questionnaires where (sic) lost in the flight from Germany must be
due to a fault in his memory. To the best of my knowledge no questionnaires were ever lost.... Fromm felt that
they received a reasonable amount of questionnaires back given the circumstances in Germany at the time
(Fromm to Jay, dated May 14, 1971, in (Kessler and Funk, 1991: 249256). back to text

A key element of Fromms argument was that some workers who voted for left parties had authoritarian
characters, a position that Edward Shils would later articulate (without reference to Fromm) as a conservative
critique of left-wing authoritarianism (Shils, 1954). Fromm, in contrast, was motivated by a left-wing concern
with understanding the factors that might attract workers to fascism. Yet for those who argued that there were no
enemies on the left, the lower middle and elites were the source of authoritarianism not workers and left parties
Fromm had challenged an important part of left-wing ideology. back to text

Richard Hamilton, for example, argues that the Fromm study is marred throughout by Fromms persistent
reading of his interpretation into his results, is flagrantly ahistorical and flawed by unrepresentative
sampling procedures (Hamilton, 1986:8283). Hamilton understands that the Weimar study is an important part
of the history of both social science and the Frankfurt School, but essentially views the research results and
methods as worse than useless. Jos Brunner, on the other hand, argues that the Fromm study is of historical
importance and contemporary relevance to social science. According to Brunner, the Weimar study is the first

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opinion survey which applied modern psychological methods to the investigation of electoral and political
behaviour (Brunner, 1994: 631). Brunner further argues that despite questions of authorship, purpose,
ideological biases, and technical problems, it warrants attention not only as a historical document; it also
constitutes a provocative example of empirical research which can still provide food for thought for todays
students of political psychology (Brunner, 1994: 631). For an attempt to build on Fromms earlier research using
modern sociological methods, see (Smith, 1997). back to text

Dated October 2nd, 1976 (Erich Fromm Archives, Tbingen, Germany). back to text

16 Jay suggests that Fromms sensibility was less ironic than that of the other members of the inner circle, his
approach to life less colored by the aesthetic nuances shared by both Horkheimer and Adorno. Adornos full
entry into Institut affairs at about the same time Fromm was leaving signified a crucial shift in the tone of the
Frankfurt Schools work (Jay, 1973:101). Jay does not highlight the resource connection between Adornos
entry and Fromms departure back to text.

Although Fromm was tenured and deeply involved in the early work of the Frankfurt School, he did not spend
that much time around the Institute (partly because of illness but also because of the time constraints of his
psychoanalytic work). And Fromm was not a member of Horkheimers personal inner circle. In only that narrow
sense is the conventional wisdom correct about the core of the early Frankfurt School. back to text

This was published as Die sozialpsychologische Bedeutung der psychoanalytischen Therapie. Zeitschrift
fr Sozialforschung, 4:3 (1935): 36597. back to text

The original letter from Adorno in London to Horkheimer in New York can be found in German in
(Horkheimer, 1995a: 496501). back to text
20 This is how Fromm frames the issue in his letter to Martin Jay written in 1971, In the first years of the
Institute, while it was in Frankfurt and Geneva, Horkheimer has no objection to my critique of Freud, which
began very slowly before I left the Institute. It was only in the years after the Institute had been for some time in
New York, and maybe since I began to write Escape from Freedom, that Horkheimer changed his opinion,
became a defender of orthodox Freudianism, and considered Freuds attitude as a true revolutionary because of
his materialistic attitude towards sex. A strange thing for Horkheimer to do incidentally, because it is pretty
obvious that Freuds attitude toward sex corresponded to the bourgeois materialism of the 19th century which
was so sharply criticized by Marx. I remember that Horkheimer was also on very friendly terms with Horney in
the first years of his stay in New York, and did not then defend orthodox Freudianism. It was only later that he
made this change and it is too personal a problem to speculate why he did so. I assume partly this had to do with
the influence of Adorno, whom from the very beginning of his appearance in New York I criticized very sharply.
Considering the whole situation of the Institute it is not surprising that when Horkheimer made this change,
Lwenthal and Pollack did the same. Adorno was in this respect probably not influenced by Horkheimer, but
rather the other way around (Fromm to Jay, Kessler and Funk, 1991: 254). back to text back to text

One need not be in therapy to engage in debates about psychoanalytic theory, of course, but it is interesting
that Adorno, Marcuse and Pollock had not been in any kind of psychoanalysis nor did they have formal training
while Lowenthal, as well as Fromm and Horkheimer had been analysed. back to text

Jay and especially Wiggershaus provide us with the basic information to understand the resource aspect of
this conflict, but Jay does not systematically connect the differences over ideas to struggles over money and
Wiggershaus describes but does not theorize resource issues. The issue of tenure and money in the history of the
Frankfurt School almost totally disappears from accounts written by contemporary scholars who use critical
theory. back to text

For correspondence between Fromm and Horkheimer as the rift was happening, see (Horkheimer, 1995a:
399400) and (Horkheimer, 1995b: 400401; 401404; 408410; 689; 690). back to text

Fromm made only one citation to Horkheimer in Escape from Freedom, and did not mention Adorno or
Fromms relationship to the Institute although he did cite his own essay in the Horkheimer collection on
authority and the family. Adorno resented this although Horkheimer was more philosophical about it. In a letter
to Leo Lwenthal dated October 31, 1942 (Horkheimer 1995c:365377) Horkheimer writes, Fromm and
Horney get back to a commonsense psychology, and even psychologize culture and society. (If you speak of that
please dont let yourself be drawn into any vituperations against our friend. They will be reported to him and I
have no intention to reactivate the war at this moment. He should have the impression that we are at least as
loyal as he is. Up to now he does not seem to have violated our silent agreement, on the contrary, I know that he
mentioned our names and writings in public at least with due respect) (Horkheimer 1995c:367). back to

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The phrase from past to the present, comes from Clara Thompson, who Marcuse cites (Marcuse, 1955:
226) and calls a representative historian of the revisionists (Marcuse, 1955: 226). back to text

For example, while Marcuse claims that neo-Freudians ignore the early years of life, even a quick reading of
Sullivans work makes it clear that he was centrally concerned with the early childhood roots of schizophrenia,
for example. It was obvious that Marcuse knew little about Sullivans work, and did not respond seriously to
Fromms point. The issue of Marcuses reading of Freud is more complex, but most competent experts on Freud
would agree that Marcuses account of Freud is, to be generous, creative. Fromm outlines a series of
misreadings Marcuse was guilty of in his Dissent essay, in his later books The Heart of Man (1964), The Crisis
of Psychoanalysis (1970) and in his posthumously published book The Revision of Psychoanalysis (1992). The
most simple and amusing error is that Marcuse reproduces a chart in Eros and Civilization that refers to
regression compulsion. The proper Freudian term, of course, is repetition compulsion, something Fromm writes
in the margins of his personal copy of Marcuses book (Erich Fromm Archives, Tbingen). Fromm felt that
Marcuse had regression on the mind, blurring an accurate reading of Freuds thought. back to text

It is also clear that Fromm did not fully understand at the time how harmful this polemic would be to the
reception of his work in America. There is no question that the fact that Fromms The Art of Loving (1956) was
published the next year reinforced, however unfairly, Marcuses argument that Fromm was not a radical. In
addition, Fromm hesitated to respond to Marcuse too strongly, since he worried about reinforcing the
conservative attacks on Marcuse that had emerged during the 1960s. Over the years Fromm would return to
clarify his disagreements with Marcuse (Fromm, 1964; Fromm, 1970). Fromms essay The Alleged Radicalism
of Herbert Marcuse, published in English 12 years after his death provides the fullest development of his
critique of Marcuses understanding of Freud and his politics( Fromm, 1992). back to text
Despite the fact (or perhaps because of the fact) that Adorno and Marcuse articulated a similar critique of
Fromm, there was no love lost between Adorno and Marcuse on this issue. Marcuse had tried to enlist
Horkheimers help in getting what would later become Eros and Civilization published in Germany but when
Adorno read Marcuses Dissent essay he wrote Horkheimer: In Dissent there is a long article by Herbert
against the psychoanalytic revisionists, which basically contains the ideas we hold on the matter, although we
are not mentioned in so much as a single word, which I find very strange (cited in Wiggershaus, 1994:497).
Adorno advised against helping Marcuse publish his work in Germany (Wiggershaus, 1994). back to text

Neither the Althusserian Marxist critic of the Frankfurt School Therborn, or critical theorys mainstream
sociological opponent Axel van den Berg discuss Fromm in their articles on critical theory (Therborn, 1970;
van den Berg, 1980). Therborn knew that Fromm was closely associated with the early Institute (Therborn,
1970: 66) but only discusses who he sees as the core members: Marcuse, Adorno and Horkheimer. Van den
Berg refers to the original members of the Frankfurt School (particularly Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse
(van den Berg, 1980: 449) and devotes the bulk of his discussion to Habermas without a single mention of
Fromm. back to text
30 This is in fact why Lukcs was so important a figure to scholars interested in constructing a useable history of
critical theory (Jay, 1984). Lukcs relationship to the Frankfurt scholars and the critical theory tradition has
been exaggerated, partly because he had the revolutionary credentials that legitimated critical theorys place in
Marxism while also providing a philosophical foundation for the cultural criticism and analysis that was the
central focus of Frankfurt School scholars in the academy. My point here is not that Lukcs philosophical and
literary work is without value, but only that the legitimation needs and political concerns that scholars brought to
reading his work profoundly influenced his reception. back to text

Freud was a thinker who had comparable stature to Marx and this provided important cultural capital for
critical theory. In addition, orthodox psychoanalysts were increasingly gaining influence among the intellectual
elite in America from the 1930s through to the early 1960s (Hale, 1995). Adorno and Marcuses defence of
orthodox psychoanalytic theory assured them of allies among the literary and cultural elite (Wiggershaus, 1994).
All this was politically convenient for the Frankfurt School scholars who made a point of emphasizing their
adherence to a conservative Freud, as they were trying to survive as radical Jewish emigres in Cold War
America (Coser, 1984). back to text
32 Wiggershaus argues that Horkheimers probable goal was to keep Fromm associated with critical theory in a
more informal way while not using resources on him. In my view, the conflict between Fromm and Adorno, the
politics of psychoanalysis, Fromms new found fame and insistence on breaking from all orthodoxies made this
strategy impossible. back to text
33 The vehement tone of Marcuses denouement of Fromm, for example, was perhaps related to the fact that
Marcuse himself worked for the United States government throughout the post-war period until the Korean war
while during this period Fromm had been the independent radical that Marcuse aspired to be. One need not be

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an orthodox Freudian to suggest that Marcuse was protesting too much when he claimed that Fromm was a
political sell-out. Fromm himself was perplexed as to Marcuses employment choices. In a letter to Raya
Dunayevskaya, Fromm writes that I never understood why Marcuse stayed at the State Department for several
years after the war. For a man with his theoretical ambitions and capacities this seems a strange way to spend
time. Not that I have ever taken seriously what some of his enemies said, that he was really something like
spying on the radical movement, but still it puzzles me why he did that at all (Letter from Fromm to
Dunayevskaya, dated November 25, 1976, Erich Fromm Archives, Tbingen). back to text

For example, see the letters between Horkheimer and Karl Landauer (Horkheimer 1995b:140143), Karl
Menninger (Horkheimer 1995d: 140142), Erik Erikson (Horkheimer 1995c: 762765), and Heinz Hartmann
(Horkheimer 1995d:330332). In Horkheimers letter to Menninger written from Frankfurt June 20, 1950, he
was very direct in pointing out how critical theory could help the Freudian cause. He wrote: Unfortunately,
apart from our little group, nobody seems to realize the tremendous contribution psychoanalysis could make here
in education of future teachers, politicians, writers, moulders of opinion and therefore in the fostering of peace.
Shortly before the outbreak of National Socialism, I was instrumental in bringing the first Psychoanalytic
Institute to a German university. It was much too late as to do some good. Today I would like to help making
psychoanalysis part of the German academic education before it is again too late (Horkheimer 1995d:140142).
back to text

Wiggershaus refers to the fact that Adorno fought over the book attributions in The Authoritarian Personality,
particularly over the credit for the F-scale chapter, even though (Nevitt) Sanford had written it (Wiggershaus,
1994: 410411). back to text

A typical example is C.G. Schoefelds Erich Fromms attack upon the Oedipus Complex: A brief critique,
in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, (Schoefeld, 1965). Schoelfeld suggests that Fromms
criticisms of one of the cornerstones of Freudian theory the Oedipus Complex are seriously questionable
... and ought to be examined, especially since Fromms view (sic) are influential and his books reach what
appears to be an ever-increasing audience (Schoefeld, 1965: 580). There are numerous other examples
(Burston, 1991). back to text

In response to reading a draft of The Dialectical Imagination, Fromm made a point that was ignored in Jays
book. Fromm wrote, I just wanted to say that I was interested to read about Lowenthals letter to Horkheimer
and the statement that under no condition would he like to reveal our basic theory about the role of
psychology. This sentence gives a real clue to the spirit in which the Institute has developed more and more: Its
secretiveness and lack of frankness. I think aside from an institute under a dictatorship, one would rarely find
such a statement, and in addition the need for Lowenthal to get Horkheimers approval, or in fact, direction, for
whatever he would have to say to Dr. Kris (Fromm to Jay, in Kessler and Funk, 1991: 234) back to text.

It is interesting that Marcuse tried to get Fromm to review One Dimensional Man (1964) for The New York
Times Book Review, feeling that Fromm would understand the work in ways that few others would. Marcuse
obviously also was thinking of the market value of a review by as famous an intellectual as Fromm. Marcuse did
not realize how negatively Fromm would have reviewed the work if he had agreed to do so. Nonetheless,
Fromm and Marcuse shared similar intellectual training and world views and the intensity of their disagreement
was related to how much they had in common. back to text

Fromm and Maccobys recently republished Social Character in a Mexican Village is an important example
of how Fromm was committed to empirically testing critical theory, in engagement with social science literature
and methods. See Michael Maccobys Introduction to the Transaction Press version of Social Character for
information about how this book is essentially a revised and more developed version of the Weimar workers
study (Fromm and Maccoby, [1970] 1996). back to text

Clearly my account here is overly polemical, but I am raising an issue that has been largely ignored by a
generation of scholars otherwise quite interested in the power/knowledge connection. A sharp framing of the
issue will stimulate further research and debate. If it is the case that only the exaggerations are true in
psychoanalysis, then perhaps the same is true of the sociology of knowledge. While the literature we have now
is dominated by Frankfurt School loyalists and hostile detractors of critical theory as well as partisans of
Fromm, intellectual historians could provide us a useful service by writing the history of the Frankfurt School
again in a balanced manner. back to text

A fuller discussion of the intellectual differences between Fromm and the Frankfurt School over the issue of
Freud would be difficult because only Fromm wrote extensively about psychoanalytic theory, and Marcuse and
especially Adorno seldom systematically addressed these concerns after their polemical attacks on
neo-Freudianism. Even as ardent a defender of Adornos social psychology as Deborah Cook concedes that he
made no systematic attempt to reconcile psychoanalysis and Marxism (Cook, 1996: 191). back to text
My argument that Adorno and Marcuse were motivated by a concern with excluding from the history of the

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Frankfurt School is, in my view, reinforced by the fact that they generally avoided mentioning Fromm in print in
later years. Moreover, despite the fact that Habermas understood Fromms important role in the Institute and to
his credit stayed above that fray, his discussion of Freud largely ignores clinical data and the all important issue
of emotions. At a later date, I intend to publish a fuller engagement with the theoretical issues raised by the use
of psychoanalysis within critical theory. back to text

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