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Funk, R.

, 1990p
Rainer Funk
Humanism in the Life and Work of Erich Fromm.
A Commemorative Address on the Occasion of his 90th Birthday

This lecture was delivered on 23 March 1990 at the University of Heidelberg, being a
contribution to the annual congress of the International Erich Fromm Society held in
commemoration of Erich Fromms 90th birthday on the topic of Humanism and Society. - For the German original see: R. Funk, Der Humanismus im Leben und Werk
von Erich Fromm. (Funk, R., 1992c)
Copyright 1990 and 2003 by Dr. Rainer Funk, Ursrainer Ring 24, D-72076 Tbingen; e-mail: frommfunk[at-symbol]aol.com - Translation into English by Bruce Allen

1. Introduction
Erich Fromms writings reveal that, from the beginning of the sixties on, two topics increasingly came to jostle for his attention that were to preoccupy him right to
the end of his life. On the one hand, he was keenly aware of the threat posed by
the fact that people in industrial society are increasingly attracted to soulless,
mechanical things that can be done to death, destroyed and consumed - a threat
which is no less omnipresent for all that it is mostly well camouflaged and carefully rationalized away. Fromm was reticent about going public with his discovery
of a necrophilic social character structure, since he sensed the extent of the
menace the existence of such a social character structure in atomic states necessarily poses for the whole of mankind - if ever it were to get the upper hand.
Only after he had got the green light from scientific friends whose advice he
trusted did he go ahead with publication of this discovery in his book The Heart of
Secondly, from the start of the sixties on, one particular conviction became
more and more insistent in Fromms thinking - a conviction whose roots essentially go back to his student days in Heidelberg and which had never left him
really ever since. It was that no less than a renaissance of humanism would be
necessary if the above-mentioned threat to humanity was to be successfully
averted. By the middle of the sixties we see Fromm letting no opportunity escape
him to defend and revive the humanistic perspective. The collection of essays
Humanist Socialism (1965a) was published at this time; in these Fromm forcibly
renewed his engagement for a socialism with a human face or indeed, as he put
it, a humanistic socialism. Ever mindful of his own religious roots, in his book You
Shall Be As Gods he undertook a humanistic interpretation of the Old Testament
and the Jewish tradition that had moulded him. He made a lecture tour of the
United States calling for the renaissance of humanism and emphasizing the importance a revival of the humanistic perspective could have for mastering the
problems of the present age. By publicly supporting and declaring for the Presidential candidacy of Eugene McCarthy, Fromm hoped to publicize the need he
felt for the political destinies of the United States to be guided by a humanistically
minded personality. Around the same time, he spoke out for the humanizing of
technology, doing all he could to propagate The Revolution of Hope, as the collection of his writings on the subject came to be called (1968a, GA IV).
Now, Fromm was well aware that the threat he pointed to was not actually intrinsic to the nature of technology and society as such, but rather emanated both
from the use made of technology and from the character of society, such as this
is manifested in the social character of the individual. Since the threat emanates

from precisely those fervent endeavors that achieved social sanctioning by becoming the dominant social character orientation, any renaissance of humanism
must first aim at altering the social character of the individual. This, however, can
only happen if the economic, political, intellectual and cultural structures moulding
the individual become imbued with an humanistic orientation.
All those who have striven to find a common thread running through Fromms
life and work - to put their finger on the quintessential Fromm, as it were - invariably find themselves coming back time and again to the epithet humanistic.
Fromm speaks of humanistic socialism, of humanistic forms of industrial society,
of humanistic conscience, of humanistic religion, of humanistic management, of a
humanistic weltanschauung, of a humanistic psychoanalysis, of a humanistic
character structure, of humanistic ethics, of humanistic guilt feelings and of a
humanistic utopia - to name just a few of the expressions typically used by
Fromm. Here we find the attribute humanistic always being used as qualification, indicating that any real renaissance of humanism must be serious about
bringing about new humane standards in all walks of life and not merely content
itself with programmatic statements paying lip-service to the past.
I personally believe that Fromm has given us a quite new understanding of
humanism, even though he himself only professes to have picked up where Renaissance and Enlightenment humanism left off. I hope that in the course of this
commemorative address in praise of Erich Fromm I will succeed in bringing out
what is unique about this great thinkers understanding of humanism - all the
more because I am convinced that it, more than any other single notion, holds the
key to his most cherished wish, if you will permit me this slightly antiquated expression. I will attempt to redeem this pledge by first dealing with the two most
important historical influences in the development of Frommian humanism, before
then going on to talk of Frommian humanism in its own right and, finally, of
Fromm the humanist.

2. Sources of Fromms Humanism: Salman Baruch Rabinkov and Freudian

Both of these decisive influences in the development of Frommian humanism are
connected with the town of Heidelberg (which is the reason why the International
Erich Fromm Society decided upon Heidelberg as our venue for this congress in
commemoration of both the 10th anniversary of Fromms death and the 90th of
his birth). Both of these key influences were due to personal contacts: in the one
case, from Salmon Baruch Rabinkov, from whom Fromm imbibed Jewish humanism; in the other case, from Frieda Reichmann, his first wife whom he married in
1926, from whom he learned how psychoanalysis could pave the way to humanism.

a) The Jewish Humanism of Salmon Baruch Rabinkov

Who exactly was Salmon Baruch Rabinkov? Mr. Rabinkov, as he was invariably
referred to by everybody, was a Russian-born Talmudic teacher, an adherent of
Habad Hasidism which stems from Lithuania, who had come to Heidelberg in
1907 at the age of 29 years as the Talmudic teacher of the Russian students,
Isaac and Aaron Steinberg. At first he had lived with the Steinberg brothers; but
from 1909 on - until he moved to Berlin in 1928 - he rented a furnished room from
a Frau Littich at Rahmengasse 34. Rabinkov saw his principal task as being the
study of the Talmud; but, apart from this, he took a considerable interest in legal
and sociological issues. He had close contacts with Alfred Weber, who supervised Fromms doctoral dissertation (completed in 1922). What stood out additionally about Rabinkov was his deep and thoroughgoing knowledge of Jewish

history and Jewish intellectual traditions.

In her memoirs Rose Cohn-Wiener recounts that Fromm first met Rabinkov
in Frankfurt as a twelve-year-old. There Rabinkov had been in the habit of holding evening study sessions at the house of Leo and Benno Kohn. Among the
regular attendants were Ernst Simon, Nahum Glatzer and Erich Fromm (R.
Cohn- Wiener, 1972 p. 125). Note that this was right back in 1912! Later, when
after studying law for two semesters in Frankfurt Fromm switched to Heidelberg
in the summer semester of 1919, he looked up the 37-year-old Rabinkov and
asked him to be his Talmudic teacher. For good six years he saw Rabinkov almost daily. To be sure, he was not the only one to take lessons with the master,
but he clearly had a position all his own, since Rabinkov would get secretary
Erich (loc. cit., p. 122) to write his letters in German for him, dictating them in a
highly personal blend of Yiddish, German and Russian. Other notables who sat at
Rabinkovs feet at one time or another were Nahum Goldmann, Ernst Simon,
Nahum Glatzer, Salomon Salman Rubaschoff (who was later to become president of Israel from 1963 to 1973 under the name Salman Schasar), Oskar
Wolfsberg, Marcus Cohn, Fritz Gumpertz, Hermann Struck, Aaron Barth and
Isaak Unna.
Apart from several of his letters Rabinkov published only a single major work,
which bore the title The Individual and Society in Judaism (S.B. Rabinkov,
1929). In this work Rabinkov presents his humanistic interpretation of Judaism.
However, the masters personality is much more expressive of his basic humanistic orientation than his published work; and since, in any event, I have already
commented on this book elsewhere on a number of occasions (cf. R. Funk, 1978,
pp. 246-60; 1983, pp. 37-45; 1987, pp. 99-106; 1988), I propose here to concentrate more on evoking the personality of Rabinkov as captured in the reminiscences of his students. Taking time out to do this seems more than justified,
given Erich Fromms own testimony in his memoir on Rabinkov written in 1971:
Rabinkov influenced my life perhaps more than any other single person, and his
ideas have remained alive in me, although expressed in different forms and concepts. (E. Fromm, 1987a, p. 103).
All his students agree on the extreme modesty of Rabinkovs lifestyle; his
staple diet seemed to consist entirely of bread, herrings and tea; his fees were
hardly worth mentioning, and he had enormous powers of self-discipline. However, he was certainly no ascetic; he smoked and displayed a virtually boundless
passion for the study of Jewish tradition. When one of his students commented
on his proclivity for locking himself away with his studies rather than occasionally
taking a stroll in nature, he is reported to have answered: Well yes, to be sure,
nature is pretty - but the Torah is prettier! (M. de Hond, 1987, p. 115). One of his
later students in Holland (where Rabinkov fled to hoping to escape from Hitler
and remained until his early death in 1942) summed up this passion in the following words: Rabinkov was married to the Torah, hence for decades would not
think of founding a family of his own. (J.E. Vleeschhouwer, 1987, p. 120).
He was as fastidious about his external appearance and scrupulous in his
personal affairs as he was fastidious in the way he rationed his time. Very friendly
with any person, ever glad to place himself at the disposal of friends or strangers
in need of his advice, he was nonetheless not willing to allow his precious time to
be wasted in empty conversation. (R. Cohn-Wiener 1972, p. 124.) Although Mr.
Rabinkov observed orthodox practice down to the letter, he felt an aversion for
the zealous legalism of the Jewish Neo-Orthodox movement then gathering
strength. When a Neo-Orthodox Jew once asked him how it was he didnt see fit
to wear a beard, he stopped him in his tracks with the following argument: Suppose I live out my life without a beard. When I die and come before Gods throne
in the next and better world, the worst that can happen is that He will say to me,
Jew Rabinkov, where is your beard? To which I will have to reply, Lord, here is
a Jew without a beard. But when you appear before God, Hell ask, Beard, where is your Jew?. (N. Goldmann 1969, S. 106.) Against the legalistic habits of

mind of the neo-Orthodox movement he opposed the free spirit of Habad Hasidism. Anyway, it is worth noting that this animosity on Rabinkovs part towards
Neo-Orthodoxy along with his unbending enthusiasm for Hasidism was soon to
find a clear echo in Fromms doctoral dissertation entitled The Judaic Law
Ernst Simon (1987, S. 119) wrote in his reminiscences of Rabinkov: He
obeyed all Jewish laws but had limited sympathy for German Orthodoxy. He was
a conservative in his way of life and a revolutionary socialist in his work, and he
always remained faithful to his Yiddish roots in order to avoid being assimilated
to German. Rabinkov was always concerned to keep the liberal world of the
German middle classes and the university-educated intelligentia at bay, so as to
preserve his freedom and independence. All his students agree on one thing:
namely that his thirst of freedom was virtually boundless. Absolute freedom and
independence were for him an inviolable inner imperative. (R. Cohn-Wiener,
1972, p. 2, trans. from German original.) Rabinkov operated with a conception of
freedom that was nothing if not radical. Rabinkovs understanding of freedom
was different, more exalted than that of most people. Any relationships, any ties,
any situation that would have prevented him from saying and doing what seemed
to him right and proper, or from living and teaching as he best saw fit, was perceived as a limitation on his freedom and hence on no account to be tolerated.
(F. Michael, 1942, S. 3.)
The aura of inner freedom and independence that Rabinkov radiated found a
counterpart in his humanistic attitude to other people. His all pervasive sense of
freedom ...was the basis for his lack of authoritarianism and his deep respect for
the integrity of other persons. (E. Fromm, 1987a, p. 104.) This respect was the
spontaneous expression of the humanism he lived and breathed. Fritz Gumpert
(1987, p. 112) describes this religiously rooted humanism as follows: It was Mr.
Rabinkovs conviction that the ones religious and ethical duties can only be discharged by drawing on ones own power as an autonomous individual.
Writing in 1971 in his own memoirs, Fromm had this to say of Rabinkovs
deeply humanistic and critically alive personality: Perhaps Rabinkovs attitude to
life could be described as that of radical humanism. It was characteristic of his
teaching approach that he both sought for and found this radical humanistic
stance anchored in the Jewish tradition, whether in the prophets, the Talmud,
Maimonides, or in a Hasidic tale...[He] interpreted Judaism as a system attaching
a high value to equality, justice, and the dignity of the individual. (E. Fromm,
1987a, p. 103.) For Rose Cohn-Wiener (1972, p. 3) the essence of Rabinkovs
humanism was the way he was only interested in the human personality - he
treated everyone the same way, irrespective of their social, intellectual or Jewish
background. He respected the dignity of the individual person. In the light of
such a uncompromisingly lived-out humanism, it does not particularly come as a
surprise to hear that Rabinkov did not take Fromms growing estrangement from
Judaism badly. Fromm himself recalls the episode as follows: Actually he had
every reason to be disappointed that, after all the years I spent with him, I never
went on to become a Talmudic scholar, but I do not remember a single occasion
on which he let me feel any sense of disappointment on his part. (E. Fromm,
1971, p. 102.)
The depth of the impression Rabinkovs humanistic orientation made on
Fromm and the extent to which the latter continued to draw inspiration from, and
live in the spirit of, Rabinkovs humanism right up to the very end of his life is nowhere better illustrated than in a small slip of the pen Fromm freely admits to almost making while he was working on his reminiscences of Rabinkov. He tells us
that, when composing the manuscript in 1971, in one particular passage his first
impulse had been to write Whatever we were studying together..., before he
managed to catch himself in mid-thought and write instead Whatever he
taught..., which was what became the final version. Nothing could show more
graphically how much the difference between master and pupil had melted away!

As the close of my address, I will be coming back once more to Rabinkov

and the way he personally practised his humanism, this time though looking at it
from a rather different angle. There is no doubt whatsoever that the period of his
life Fromm spent with Mr. Rabinkov was a powerful influence in his characterological development and, as a result, provides the key to the unfolding of his
own humanistic thinking and acting.

b) The Humanistic Dimension in Psychoanalysis

The second important source of Fromms humanistic philosophy is to be found in
the humanistic dimensions implicit in psychoanalysis. This no less than the first
source can be traced back to a person he was closely association with. In this
case it was Frieda Reichmann, who Fromm not only gained his first experiences
in psychoanalysis from - on the couch, as it were - but who he was later to collaborate with in opening a joint psychoanalytic practice here in Heidelberg at No.
15 Mnchhofstrasse in 1924. However, it is not my intention here to trace the
significant influence exercized on Fromms humanistic unfolding by adopting an
historical approach to Frieda Reichmanns mediating role. Rather what I propose
to do is to tackle the matter systematically, by taking a look at the statements
Fromm was later to make on this particular aspect of psychoanalysis.
Freud expressed his humanism primarily in his concept of the unconscious.
He assumed that all men share the same unconscious strivings, and hence that
they can understand each other once they dare to delve into the underworld of
the unconscious. (E. Fromm, 1962a, p. 17). Freud also pointed out the way for
psychoanalysis to uncover the workings of the unconscious: It posits that, by
penetrating through the defenses and obstructions erected by conscious thought,
the unconscious reality behind the screen of consciousness can be reached and
laid bare. (E. Fromm, 1963f, p. 75) Indeed, for Fromm, it is precisely the insight
into things we are not normally conscious of that leads to the remarkable discovery that human beings in all societies and in social strata, despite appearing to
differ considerably in what they are consciously aware of (i.e. their conscious intentions, desires, fears, convictions, passions, codes of behavior, etc.) are in reality not so different after all when our understanding of man is widened to include
the unconscious as well.
To put it in Fromms own words: Freud built his system around the assumption of a universal human essence, i.e. for him there was more to human beings
than the way they were manifested in their various cultural settings; rather there
exists an essential human core about which universally valid empirical knowledge
can be attained. (E. Fromm, 1970d, p.30.) Only by incorporating the unconscious into our view of man can human beings be perceived in the round; only
then can the individual human being as a the integral whole he is: a representative of universal man. Thus there is such a thing as a model of human nature
(Fromm borrowed this concept from Spinoza) on the basis of which knowledge of
the basic shared aspects of human nature becomes a possibility. Thus, ever
since its inception, psychoanalysis has adhered to the basic humanistic standpoint that each man represents the whole of humanity; hence, there is nothing
human that can be alien to him (E. Fromm, 1962a, p. 17).
The postulate that the whole person, i.e. man in both his conscious and unconscious aspects, represents the whole of humanity and hence universal mankind, finds its best confirmation in our dreams. When we are asleep and are
therefore released from the expectations and necessities of our day-to-day lives
and the struggle to survive, we find that we revert to a language that all people
can speak equally well: the symbolical language our dreams are coded in.
Dreams are the universal language of mankind, are Fromms own uncompromising words here (Cf. E. Fromm 1972a, GA IX). Moreover, this symbolic language is the sole universal language by means of which we humans can reliably

communicate with each other - to the extent, that is, that we have not forgotten it
for historical reasons. Through our dreams our unconscious is able to speak to
us; this gives us the chance to regain our wholeness, which is a sine qua non if
nothing human is ever to be alien to us.
This aspect of dreams - as a channel for the symbolic language of the unconscious - can, if looked at more closely, acquaint us with the kind of logic that
is characteristic of the unconscious. During our waking lives, we think and act in
the categories of space and time, the reason being that we are engaged in apprehending the external world with our senses; that is, we are compelled to think
within a logical framework of the kind we call Aristotelian, which for present-day
mankind counts as the only logical framework there is. The main premiss of this
Aristotelian logic is that nothing can both be and not be at the same time. Either
something exists or it does not exist. Tertium non datur.
When we dream, we are no longer caught up with the demands the external
world makes on us. There is nothing we have to accomplish, nothing to prevent
us from giving our full and undivided attention to our own selves. When this happens, we experience a reality that behaves according to a different logic. We tune
into experiences that, by all rights, should be impossibilities. For instance, we can
be at once a child and the grown-up person the child has become. We can drink
a cup of coffee with people who are long since dead and gone. We can be driving
along in an auto while still riding a tricycle, though in reality we are lying in bed.
We experience the fear and nervousness of taking a road license test as though
we are in the midst of it, though the reality is that we have been driving an auto
for the last twenty years without the slightest problem. When we are folded in
upon our selves so that our unconscious mind is given a chance to come into
play, we discover we are able to perceive reality in the round, in its integral
wholeness. No longer are we subject to the restrictions of space and time; now
we are freed to experience contradictory and paradoxical realities as coexisting
possibilities playing themselves out inside ourselves. Things that to our waking
selves are mutually exclusive, that perforce dialectically cancel each other out,
that cannot simultaneously abide each other, have not the slightest trouble in coexisting harmoniously during our sleeping lives. On the plane of the unconscious
and its symbolic language - as expressed in dreams, fairy tales, rituals, sagas,
science fiction, myths, and the like - both are able to exist simultaneously.
It was this universal and holistic dimension of the unconscious - Freuds own,
original discovery - that helped Fromm to a new understanding of the role of the
unconscious. The state of sleep, says Fromm in his book The Forgotten Language, written in 1951, has an ambiguous function. In it, the fact that we are cut
loose from our culture allows both our worst and our best sides to come out; thus,
during our dreams we can be less intelligent, less wise and less decent than in
our waking lives; on the other hand, we can also be better and wiser than we are
then. (E. Fromm, 1951a, p.36.) But if this is so, if our unconscious really does
have this dual aspect, then the conclusion follows that the unconscious always
represents the whole man in the whole gamut of his potentialities, both for darkness and for light. (E. Fromm, 1963f., p. 77.) What is contained in the unconscious, then, is not just good or evil, the rational or the irrational; both are contained there; there we find all that is human. The unconscious is the whole man minus that part of man which corresponds to his society. The consciousness
represents social man, i.e. man subject to the accidental limitations imposed by
the historical situation into which an individual is thrown. Unconsciousness represents the universal man, the whole man rooted in the Cosmos. (E.Fromm,
1963f., p. 77.)
The humanistic dimension in psychoanalysis is interpreted by Fromm in a
quite distinctive fashion. As he came to see it, the unconscious represent man in
all his possibilities and potentialities; on the other hand, the conscious mind can
only acquaint us with the partial aspects corresponding to a particular situation in
a particular culture that we happen to be caught up in. In my opinion, this view of

the unconscious offered by Fromm represents a radical new understanding of

humanism - though, to be sure, it has its inspirational antecedents. Nonetheless,
it would be fair to say that it represents a clean break with the humanism of the
ancient world, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. If one is to point to any
sources, they should rather be sought in the mystic currents Fromm had imbibed
above all from his experience of the flesh-and-blood, lived-out Habad Hasidism of
his Talmudic teacher, Rabinkov. In the third part of my address, I would now like
to attempt to bring out the unique features of Fromms understanding of humanism.

3. Erich Fromm Conception of Humanism

Humanism has traditionally been held to cover a whole range of concerns and its
essence has been identified with many different things. It can be understood as a
belief in humanity; here not only the dignity and individuality of man comes in for
stressing, but also the existence of much potential good in man awaiting actualization, as well as the possibility of human beings gradually learning to leap over
their own shadows in order that one day an optimal human condition may be
achieved on this planet. To the extent that humanism historically acquired its significance as a reaction to religions and churches wielding unchecked power, it inevitably took on a role critical of religion while simultaneously underscoring the
responsibility invested in man and the need for him to take charge of his situation.
Whenever humanism takes a stance against irrationality on the part of the state,
the military and, indeed, society as a whole, it comes out on the side of rationality, peace and tolerance. For Fromm two aspects of humanism stand out in particular: the stress on the unity of man based on the common ground we all possess; and the stress on inculcating a humane outlook as a basic stance to life,
this to be done by actualizing the forces of rationality and love that are latent in all
of mankind.
Let us begin with this insistence on the common ground possessed by all
men which for Fromm represents the fundamental premise the idea of a single
humanity and the universal man is based on. The whole concept of humanity
and of humanism is based on the idea of a human nature in which all men share,
says Fromm (1962a, p. 27). Is there such a thing as human nature? What do all
men have in common? In his humanistic credo set out at the end of his book
Beyond the Chains of Illusion (1962a, p. 178) he declares: I believe that every
man represents humanity. We may differ with respect to intelligence, health and
talents. But yet we are all one. We are all saints and sinners, adults and children,
and no one can set himself up as anybodys superior and judge him. This profession of belief means no less than that the human condition (conditio humana)
is one and the same for all men, despite unavoidable differences in intelligence,
talents, height and skin color (E. Fromm, 1964a, p. 93).
With the attainment of this insight that what links human beings together is
the fact of their sharing a single human condition, Fromms argumentation has
reached a key juncture. What ties all men together and therefore constitutes their
very essence is not the fact that they possess certain abilities by virtue of which
they can set themselves off both from each other and from their animal ancestry.
Nor, by the same token, can the essence of man be found in those attributes that
have been traditionally advanced in an effort to define man - i.e. humanism is not
predicated on man being a rational animal, a social animal, homo faber, homo
ludens, or a zoon politikon. Nor is it to be found in the multifarious adaptations
evolved by man in the course of his cultural development as a response to the
problems posed by life. These do not represent the essence of our human nature and therefore cannot be taken as a starting point, or made a precondition,
for attaining the universal man. As Fromm puts it: It is the questions, not the answers, that are the essence of man. (E. Fromm, 1968g, p. 9.)

What are these questions man is faced with? The questions stem from the
human condition as such, which is marked by contradictions or, if you like, dichotomies. Man is part of nature, subject to her physical laws and unable to
change them; for all that, he transcends the rest of nature because of his imaginative faculty, his capacity for self-awareness, and his gift of reason. He is
homeless, yet chained to the home he shares with all creatures...Being aware of
himself, he realizes his powerlessness and the limitations of his existence. He is
able to anticipate his own end: death. (E. Fromm, 1955a, pp. 23-24.) The consciousness of the ineluctability of our own deaths gives rise to a further key question that draws all men more closely together: what meaning does our limited life
on earth have? We are fully alive to the ambivalence of our situation, to the incompatibility, the incommensurablity, between that which we wish to accomplish
in our lives and that which we are in fact able to accomplish. No less troubling is
the gap between our many ties binding us to others, on the one hand, and the
fact that we are essentially alone, on the other. All men find themselves confronted by these contradictions. This is what binds us together.
Fromm went out of his way to name some of these existential contradictions
and attempt to analyze them from the standpoint of their psychological relevance.
He points to a whole series of existential needs - such as the deep psychological
need for a framework of orientation - which are common to all men and which
must be satisfied in one way or another. The fact, though, that the human condition instills such needs in us and that they clamor for satisfaction without there
being any way of sidestepping them, is what binds us together with all other men
and indeed constitutes an essential part of our human nature. It is not how we set
about satisfying these needs (which is determined by the specifics of the historical situation we find ourselves in) that binds us together, but rather the fact that
finitude, aloneness, need, and dependency are the common threads running
through all mens lives. For it is the questions, not the answers, that are the essence of man. (E. Fromm, 1968g, p. 9.)
After Fromm has thus answered this central question of humanism concerning the essential unity of man based on his sharing in a common nature, he then
goes on to link this up with his concept of the unconscious, according to which
the unconscious always represents the whole man in all his many-sided potentiality. Human beings as a species are marked by pressing existential contradictions
and needs that leave them no choice but to attempt an answer to them. This being so, the next step is to recognize that the unconscious contains in itself the
whole spectrum of possible answers, meaning that person has to make a decision as to which of his many possibilities are to be encouraged and which discouraged and suppressed. Nonetheless, it is a fact that man, in any culture, is
faced by a gamut of possibilities: he is the archaic man, the beast of prey, the
cannibal, the idolater; but he is also the being with the capacity for reason, for
love, for justice. (E. Fromm, 1963f, p. 27.)
In his unconscious, therefore, man finds that he has infinite possibilities at his
disposal; and the question is only, which of these are to be followed up and which
passed over? Since man by his very nature is a social being, this means that the
kind of society a person lives in will decide which possibilities are to be furthered.
Every society channels the energies of its members in such a way as to make
them want to do what the society needs them to do anyway. Social necessities
become transformed into personal needs, into the social character. (Loc. cit. pp.
75-76.) A person living in a warlike society is made to want to attack and plunder;
a person living in a modern industrialized society is made to work hard, exercize
discipline, be ambitious and aggressive - he is left with no choice but to want to
spend his money and engage in consumption. Not, to be sure, because it is in
conformity with his nature, but because a specific society needs him to behave in
this way if it is to function.
Every society not only seeks to promote a subset of the possibilities latent in
the human unconscious by bringing these into consciousness and getting the in8

dividual to identify with them, but at the same time it actively suppresses and represses the any remaining possibilities and inclinations that fail to conform with
the socially accepted codes of behavior, i.e. the so- called social character.
(The reason why men are so pliant in this regard, so willing to play along with
what society expects of them, is traced back by Fromm to the deep-seated dread
of ostracization and marginalization, of isolation and loneliness, that haunts all
men. The individual person suppresses whatever experiences and modes of feeling have been declared taboo in his society, because he is afraid that the price of
not playing along with societys expectations will be ending up utterly isolated and complete isolation is tantamount to complete insanity.) Thus it comes about
that our conscious mind represents mainly our own society and culture, while our
unconscious represents the universal man in each of us (E. Fromm, 1964a, p.
It is not what divides men off from each another - not the wide range of historically conditioned answers or socially prescribed behavior patterns - that constitutes the essence of man and has the power to bind all men together. Rather
we discover our true essence partly in the shared questions confronting all men,
i.e. in the existential contradictions and imperatives that are our lot; and also
partly in the fact that the unconscious represents the universal man in his entirety, i.e. man endowed with the full gamut of innate possibilities. Only in his unconscious is man able to experience the whole of humanity; only here can he experience himself as being at once saint and sinner, child and adult, sane and insane, man as he was in the past and man as he will be in the future (E. Fromm,
1964a, p. 93). Since this so, humanism is able to derive its ultimate legitimation
from the humanistic experience itself, i.e. from the experience - productive and
humanizing at the one and the same time - of shedding the light of consciousness on the unconscious. This humanistic experience consists in the feeling that
nothing human is alien to one, that I am you, that one can understand another
human being because both of us share as our common possession the same
elements of human existence...The broadening of self-awareness the humanistic
experience brings about - including as it does the transcending of consciousness
and the revelation of the sphere of the social unconscious - enables man to experience himself in the full dimensions of his shared humanity. (Loc. cit. p.93.)
If it is true that the unconscious represents the universal man as an integral
whole, then it follows that making the unconscious conscious enables what
would otherwise remain as the mere idea of the universalizability of man to be
taken and transformed into a living experience, meaning no less than that the
humanitas is realized on the experiential level...Experiencing my unconscious is
tantamount to experiencing my own humanity; and this is what makes it possible
for me to say to every human being, You and I are one and the same. I can understand you in all your fundamental qualities, in all your good and your bad
points, even when you go off the deep end, precisely because I find that all this is
in me too. (E. Fromm, 1963f, pp. 77-78.)
From this insight that, independently of social consciousness and what
society represses from consciousness, it is actually the unconscious that
represents the whole person in all his potential, Fromm is able to go on and
derive a justification for his basic humanistic conviction of the unity of man that
embraces much more than merely theoretical dimensions. For the moment a
person tunes into his unconscious, the moment he opens himself up to his
unconscious and thus the world of possibilities slumbering within him, he will find
that he starts to unfold and grow. Even more, he will make his own the
paradoxical but personally productive experience (Fromm would insist that this is
the humanistic experience period) that he is now able to relate to the world and
other people in a way which is both loving and rational - for now he finds that
things formerly alien have shed their aura of alienation. Only by opening myself
up to the unconscious (i.e. the integral person in me), only by actualizing my
individuality can I attain to experience of the universal man; for only the fully
developed individual self can abandon the ego (E. Fromm, 1962a, p. 178.)

don the ego (E. Fromm, 1962a, p. 178.)

What Fromm found so particularly compelling about humanism, that induced
him to use the attribute humanistic on so many occasions - indeed made him
press for a renaissance of the humanist credo - is essentially bound up with the
humanistic dimensions implicit in accessing the unconscious to the light of consciousness. For him what is fundamentally at stake is the achieving of a new humanisism, this time conceived of as the unfolding of the loving and rational forces
inherent in each person; it is the achieving of a new humanistic orientation and
perspective along the lines laid down in his analysis of character types under the
notions of psychological productivity and the productive attitude to life. This psychological productivity is manifested whenever a person opens himself up to his
own unconscious forces, so that he comes to experience them as forces uniquely
his own. The more a person succeeds in experiencing himself at once as architect, actor and subject of his own life, i.e. the more he becomes someone who is
able to think, feel and act with the full weight of these inner forces behind him, the
more he will find his loving and thinking forces within him developing in tandem,
so that he will now find that he can give himself to another person or devote himself to worldly affairs without fear of losing himself in the process. Nor does making man aware of himself in his integral wholeness leave the unconscious forces
in man unchanged; rather they now spring directly from mans own humanity.
Only when man develops an authentic self based on his encounter with these
forces within will he find he is now capable of loving others without having to renounce love of self. For now he will find himself again, though this time reflected
in others, and so without doing violence either to his own integrity or to the integrity of others (this is essentially what Fromm means by productive love). As a
result, he will now be able to channel the full force of his subjectivity into the task
of perceiving reality in its full objectivity (this is what Fromm calls productive rationality).
Hence the paramount importance Fromm attaches to elucidating the humanistic experience with the help of such notions as rationality and love, since these
are precisely the inner forces of man that are most clearly directed to promoting
his psychological growth and unfolding; moreover, these inner forces are the
means by which man experiences and strives to achieve his universal humanity.
Rationality and love are the product of the living experience of making the unconscious conscious. Rationality is therefore something different from mere knowhow; but neither is it the judgmental apprehension of reality; rationality has for
Fromm no connection with manipulative intelligence or instrumental rationality.
Rather, what is meant by rationality is the capacity for attaining integrated, integral experience of inner and outer reality. Since rationality has its seat in the
whole person dwelling in the unconscious, it does not behave in line with the
logic of causality - but rather in line with the logic of the paradoxical. By this is
meant the capacity to experience ones unity with the object of contemplation whether it be a rose or a cat - and to do this so completely that this rationally apprehended reality is now stripped of its alien appearance, of its aura of otherness.
Then the rose or the cat become on a deeper level aspects of oneself, not divided off but essentially part of the same single bipolar unity.
That the individual person is capable of rationality of this kind will be manifested, if it is to be manifested at all, in the ability to apprehend reality as an aspect of oneself, i.e. as ones true home, as something deeply familiar and rooted,
as something living and vitalizing, as something one is not divided off from, as
something burningly present and real. The greater ones capacity is for rationality,
the more ones fear of facing up to outer and inner reality will fade away. At the
same time, ones sense of alienation and precariousness will vanish, and the gap
between outer and inner dimensions of reality - the world of objective truth and
subjective feeling - will become redundant.
The same holds true for the humanistic power of love inherent in each individual. This is no less than the capacity to sense that one is in touch with all ones

intellectual, emotional and physical forces and that these form a single unity in
oneself. When such a positive resonance has been built up with ones self - call it
love of self if you like - it will then be possible to sense that one is part of the
same fundamental unity of which other people and nature are other parts - albeit
without renouncing ones self in the process and without forcing other people to
abandon their essential otherness either. Love may be looked at as the capacity
to experience what is alien and other as a part of oneself; at the same time, it is
the capacity to experience what is part of oneself as alien and other; furthermore,
it is also the capacity to feel united with the other by virtue of experiencing the
other as a part of oneself.
But perhaps the difference between productive humanistic experience and
non-productive experience is nowhere more graphically evidenced than in the
conflicting notions of science. From the perspective of a humanistically conceived
science of man, things normally seen as being opposites turn out not to be so at
all. The self and the other, myself and yourself, subject and object, inner and
outer, for example, are now revealed as not truly opposed at all, but rather as
complementarities locked in an essential interdependence - the more I am myself, the more I am you; and the less I am myself, the less I am you. At the same
time, from the standpoint of a humanistically conceived science the opposition
between productive and non-productive comes to be recognized as real and
unbridgeable, i.e. the one does indeed rule out the other. This is not a matter of
more or less but of either/or: either the passions of man are non-productive
(and orientated to Having) or they are productive (and orientated to Being). But,
for a non-humanistically conceived science of man, exactly the opposite applies:
the self and the other, myself and yourself, subject and object, inner and outer,
which initially appear to be real opposites, in fact turn out to be just this. This crucial difference is worth dwelling on. For, from a non- humanistic standpoint, the
business of science is seen as consisting in the endeavor to differentiate endlessly, to specialize, to fragment, to atomize, to demarcate, to bolster up ones
own position, to get ones own way, to prevail at all costs, to make oneself invulnerable against criticism. On the other hand, the productive/non-productive oppositional pair is construed as meaning mutual complementarity and interdependence: the less you give of yourself and the more acquire, the more you are.
What I have just touched on in connection with our scientific understanding
as a whole, can be illustrated equally well in the respective branches of science.
There is a humanistic mode of interacting with reality that is characterized by
productive love and rationality; by the same token, there are also non-productive
ways of interacting with reality. Whenever Fromm intends us to understand the
productive mode of thinking, feeling and acting, he falls back on the attribute
humanistic to refer to a humane way of relating to reality.
The unconscious as the whole person. This, then, is the key insight informing
the Frommian restatement of humanism. This, then, is what his commitment to a
truly productive mode of experience is predicated on - an experience that is to be
as rooted in being as it is on the side of life. But, if this is so, we might well go on
to ask, what kind of person results when one spends decades rendering ones
unconscious accessible to the conscious mind and realizing the universal man in
oneself - not simply as a purely personal affair, but actually as a full-time profession? Will such a persons inner powers of reason and love, fully activated as we
must suppose them to have become, be clearly evidenced in an encounter with
him? Will one be able to sense something different about him? Something that
sets him apart from the many others who can only to draw on such of their powers as conform to the social character prevailing in their culture? This brings me
to my last question: Who was Erich Fromm?


4. The Humanist Erich Fromm

In this closing section, I would like to talk about the humanist Erich Fromm. Nothing would be easier than for me to talk of my own encounter with him. I could discourse at length on the forceful sweep of his rational powers, on the dimensions
of his compassionate insight, drawing together many experiences and observations in the process. However, while I was composing this commemorative address I noticed something rather strange and remarkable. I was reading through
the accounts of Rabinkovs personality written down by various of his students in particular, Fromms own insightful memoir on the subject when I suddenly realized that these were the very words I would choose to characterize Fromms
own productive and humanistic personality with. So I have decided to attempt to
characterize Fromm the humanist using only quotations taken from his other fellow students and his own recollections of their revered master, the humanistically
minded Rabinkov. Now, stripped of their original context of reference, I would like
to them to be understood as referring to Fromm instead.
First of all, some of his fellow students words: His only weakness was an
unlimited urge for independence. (A. Frankel, 1987, p. 99.) He was the most
impressive embodiment of teacher and master I have ever come across. (N.
Goldmann, 1969, p. 107.) ...he was anything but a pessimist or ascetic; he eschewed any form of self-chastisement...He knew more of the secret wellsprings
of joy than did most other people...A flame of fire could always be sensed within
him. (Y. Wolfsberg, 1987, pp. 128f.) Any form of self-praise was anathema to
him, and he would go out of his way to avoid all contact with anyone seeking to
dress him up in what he felt were borrowed robes. He had no time for overbearing authorities, nor was he particularly fond of public officials. (Loc. cit. p. 129.) I
do not exaggerate when I say that he gave freely of his spiritual riches without
any regard to how much time and energy it cost him. He taught whoever came to
him with matchless dedication and enthusiasm. (Loc. cit. p. 139.) Compassion
was the strongest force in Rabinkovs life (Loc. cit. p. 131).
His was not an imitative but a creative and original mind. He did not remain
within the pale of received knowledge but was ever ready to strike out on his
own. From him one could hear perspectives, lines of argument and opinions one
could hear from no one else. (F. Michael, 1942, p. 116.) He had extraordinary
self-discipline...He always...made a cheerful impression and was open for any
human encounter. (R. Cohn-Wiener, 1972, p. 123.) Absolutely typical of him was
his warm concern about the lives of others, his complete openness to whoever
and whatever crossed his path, and his truly social brotherly sympathy (stronger
than all his reserve) for his fellowman...He shaped his disciples minds and hearts
by pouring his very being into the raw material of the human lives sitting opposite
him. (Loc. cit., p. 126.)
Now that we have heard what some of Fromms fellow students of Rabinkov
have had to say, I will close by reading Fromms own remarks on his beloved
master. He was the most extraordinary, most gifted and most interesting person
I have ever met in my life...He was modest to a degree that one finds only in
people whose egos have become vanishingly small. (E. Fromm, 1987a, p. 99.)
...Among the many things I learned from Rabinkov was above all not to admire
people because of their social position. (Loc. Cit., p. 104.) He was not a liberal or
relativist who believed that everything peddled on the free market of ideas must
have value. His tolerance sprang, rather, from his deep-reaching sense of reality. (Loc. cit., p. 100.)
He respected his own freedom as much as anyone elses. He did not want
to be placed in a position where he would ever be forced to compromise in matters of conviction or personal behavior. Looked at in this light, he was, for all his
tolerance, the most uncompromising of men, if by uncompromising we mean refusing to change a view or attitude for the sake of convenience or because personal or official obligations dictate that this would be prudent. (Loc. cit., p. 104.)

His was a humanistic and critical mind. He was open to all the issues of the day
and never reined in his questioning mind because of any fear of straying too far
from his own areas of expertise. (E. Fromm, 1987a, p. 103.)
He was a man one never felt like a stranger with, not even at the first meeting. It was as if one was simply resuming a conversation or a relationship that
had always existed. This resulted in perfectly natural manner from the way he
behaved. There was no attempt made to engage his visitor in polite small talk, no
questionable lavishing of small attentions while discreetly probing and sizing him
up; but instead an immediate openness, concern, readiness to participate...I
never felt the least bit shy in front of him. Nor do I recall a single instance when I
felt afraid of his judgement, or of what he might have to say on this or that, let
alone feel that he might pass judgment on me. He never made the slightest attempt to influence me, to tell me what to do, to admonish me. His whole influence
on me was confined to merely being the person he was; i.e. he influenced me
solely by the force of personal example, although indeed he was the last person
to have ever wanted to set an example. He was entirely himself. (E. Fromm,
1987a, p. 101.)
Cohn-Wiener, R., 1972: Erinnerungen an Herrn Rabinkow, maschinenschriftliches Manuskript von
1972, 10 p. (Erich-Fromm-Archiv); this manuscript was translated into English in: Reminiscenses of Shlomo Barukh Rabinkow, in: L. Jung (Ed.), Sages and Saints, op. cit., P. 121127.
Frankel, A. A., 1987: Reminiscenses of Shlomo Barukh Rabinkow, in: L. Jung (Ed.), Sages and
Saints, op. cit., p. 98f.
Fromm, E.: Gesamtausgabe (GA), edited by Rainer Funk, Stuttgart 1980/81 (Deutsche VerlagsAnstalt); Mnchen 1989 (Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag):
- 1941a: Escape from Freedom, New York (Farrar and Rinehart) 1941.
- 1947a: Man for Himself. An Inquiry into the the Psychology of Ethics, New York (Rinehart and
Co.) 1947.
- 1951a: The Forgotten Language. An Introduction to the Understanding of Dreams, Fairy Tales
and Myths, New York (Rinehart and Co.) 1951.
- 1955a: The Sane Society, New York (Rinehart and Winston) 1955.
- 1962a: Beyond the Chains of Illusion. My Encounter with Marx and Freud, New York (Simon and
Schuster) 1962.
- 1963f: Humanism and Psychoanalysis (Humanismo y Psicoanlisis), in: La Prensa Mdica Mexicana, Vol. 28 (1963), p. 120-126.
- 1964a: The Heart of Man. Its Genius for Good and Evil, New York (Harper and Row) 1964.
- 1965a: Socialist Humanism. An International Symposium, edited by Erich Fromm, New York
(Doubleday) 1965.
- 1966a: You Shall Be as Gods, New York (Holt, Rinehart and Winston) 1966.
- 1968a: The Revolution of Hope. Toward a Humanized Technology, New York (Harper and Row)
- 1968g: Introduction, in: E. Fromm und R. Xirau (Ed.): The Nature of Man. Readings selected,
New York (Macmillan) 1968, p. 3-24.
- 1970d: Freuds Model of Man and Its Social Determinants, in: The Crisis of Psychoanalysis, New
York (Holt, Rinehart and Winston) 1970, p. 42-61.
- 1972a: Der Traum ist die Sprache des universalen Menschen, GA IX, p. 311-315.
- 1987a: Reminiscenses of Shlomo Barukh Rabinkow, in: L. Jung (Ed.), Sages and Saints, op. cit.,
p. 99-105.
- 1989b: Das jdische Gesetz. Zur Soziologie des Diaspora-Judentums. Dissertation von 1922
(Schriften aus dem Nachla, edited by R. Funk, Band 2), Weinheim und Basel (Beltz Verlag)
Funk, R., 1978: Mut zum Menschen. Erich Fromms Denken und Werk, seine humanistische Religion und Ethik. Mit einem Nachwort von Erich Fromm, Stuttgart (Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt)
1978; engl.: Erich Fromm: The Courage to Be Human, New York (Crossroad/Continuum)
Funk, R., 1983: Erich Fromm, Bildmonographie 322, Reinbek (Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag) 1983.
Funk, R., 1987: Von der jdischen zur sozialpsychologischen Seelenlehre. Erich Fromms Weg von
der einen ber die andere Frankfurter Schule, in: R. Sesterhenn (Ed.), Das Freie Jdische
Lehrhaus - eine andere Frankfurter Schule (Schriftenreihe der Kath. Akademie der Erzdizese Freiburg), Mnchen/Zrich (Verlag Schnell & Steiner) 1987, p. 91-108.
Funk, R., 1988: Die jdischen Wurzeln des humanistischen Denkens von Erich Fromm, in: Erich
Fromm. Zu Leben und Werk. Referate des Symposium der Internationalen Erich-Fromm-


Gesellschaft 1988 in Locarno, Tbingen (Manuscript) 1988, 16 p.

Goldmann, N., 1969: Reminiscenses of Shlomo Barukh Rabinkow, in: L. Jung (Ed.), Sages and
Saints, op. cit., p. 105-107.
Gumpertz, F., 1987: Reminiscenses of Shlomo Barukh Rabinkow, in: L. Jung (Ed.), Sages and
Saints, op. cit., p. 108-114.
Hond, M. de, 1987: Reminiscenses of Shlomo Barukh Rabinkow, in: L. Jung (Ed.), Sages and
Saints, op. cit., p. 114f.
Jung, L. (Ed.), 1987: Sages and Saints (The Jewish Library: Vol. X), Hoboken (Ktav Publishing
House, Inc.) 1987. [Most of the quotations from this book have been altered to varying degree in an effort to reproduce the full force of the German originals somewhat better than the
rather quaint published translations do.]
Michael, F., 1942: S.B. Rabinkow, maschinenschriftlicher Nekrolog von 1942, 4 p. (Erich-FrommArchiv); an English translation was published in: Reminiscenses of Shlomo Barukh Rabinkow, in: L. Jung (Ed.), Sages and Saints, op. cit., p. 115-118.
Rabinkow, S. B., 1929: Individuum und Gemeinschaft im Judentum, in: Die Biologie der Person.
Ein Handbuch der allgemeinen und speziellen Konstitutionslehre, edited by Th. Brugsch und
F. H. Lewy, Vol. 4: Soziologie der Person, Berlin und Wien (Urban und Schwarzenberg)
1929, p. 799-824.
Schacter, J. J. (Ed.), 1987: Reminiscenses of Shlomo Barukh Rabinkow, in: L. Jung (Ed.), Sages
and Saints, op. cit., p. 93-132.
Vleeschhouwer, J.E., 1987: Reminiscenses of Shlomo Barukh Rabinkow, in: L. Jung (Ed.), Sages
and Saints, op. cit., p. 120f.
Wolfsberg, Y., 1987: Reminiscenses of Shlomo Barukh Rabinkow, in: L. Jung (Ed.), Sages and
Saints, op. cit., p.127-132.

Copyright 1990 and 2003 by Dr. Rainer Funk

Ursrainer Ring 24, D-72076 Tbingen; e-mail: frommfunk[at-symbol]aol.com
Translation into English by Bruce Allen