My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Art of Loving (1956) by Erich Fromm is as applicable today as it was when it was first published some sixty years ago.
Subtitled “The world-famous psychoanalyst’s daring prescription for love,” the purpose of the book and its conjoining series is to “re-examine the contradictory meanings and applications which are given today to such terms as democracy, freedom, justice, love, peace, brotherhood and God” and to establish a “means of liberating mankind from the destructive power of fear, pointing the way toward the goal of rehabilitation of the human person” while one of its main purposes is to “offer new vistas in terms of world and human development while refusing to betray the intimate correlation between universality and individuality, dynamics and form, freedom and destiny” (p 113-114).
Fromm’s primary concern, however, is to focus on the subject of love, whether it is directed toward our neighbor, self, life partner, children, mother, father, or God. As for the following, what most intrigued me of Fromm’s insights into the “art of loving,” is how one might better realize the relationship a person has to understanding the “love dynamics” one has for God and the differences between irrational and rational faith which further strengthens Fromm’s argument of how a rational faith is a foundation for loving well.
Fromm even writes as if he were alive today, watching the protests and the riots and the repercussions of the elites who control governments and squash the individual with very little concern of the overall impact on society.
“Our society is run by a managerial bureaucracy, by professional politicians,” writes Fromm, “people are motivated by mass suggestion, their aim is producing more and consuming more, as purposes in themselves. All activities are subordinated to economic goals, means have become ends; man is an automaton—well fed, well clad, but without any ultimate concern for that which is his peculiarly human quality and function. If man is to be able to love, he must be put in his supreme place. The economic machine must serve him, rather than he serve it…
“Both the ‘radical thinkers’ and the average person are unloving automatons and the only difference between them is that the latter is not aware of it, while the former knows it and recognizes the ‘historical necessity’ of this fact” (p 110-111).
Most readers would agree with Fromm that even though he published these words nearly sixty years ago they are just as true today as they were then. Most people have become automatons, slave to the economic machine and a managerial bureaucracy who cares very little for the destiny of the individual. And even Fromm concludes that one of the reasons why man has little love for his fellow man is because there has become a simultaneous decrease in the love for God.
But before we get into the disintegration of the love of man and God, I digress…
Firstly, if I am motivated within to love by a fatherly-love and motherly-love, being either conditional or unconditional respectively, then how can I, or anyone for that matter, rectify these two loving polarities that (both) detract and attract based on the foundation of one who likewise says at the same time: “I cannot love you no matter what,” and “I love you no matter”?
Erich Fromm suggests these masculine and feminine polarities are necessary and healthy functions of a mature individual, representing the “pole of human existence” (p 35) as masculine and the feminine poles belonging to a natural world which “cannot be acquired, produced, controlled” (p 33).
Fromm further identifies mature love as being true to these two following principles:
(1) I am loved because I love;
(2) I need you because I love you (p 34).
But what if one were to surmise an alternative, either more god-like or divine-like, principle for love—as in these two following principles:
(1) I love because I am neither loved nor unloved;
(2) I love you because I neither need you nor do not need you.
Which is the more unconditional of these two sets of principles: the former or the latter?
If one set is greater at being unconditional then this god-like stance on love would inherently state, as Fromm so concluded, a more motherly-love, a god being a feminine essence in the Universe producing love for her creations, her children.
In contrast, the more conditional of these two sets of principles would express the views of a more masculine existence, a masculine god expressing his fatherly-love as a conditional pretense upon his creations, his children.
How then is one to rectify this disparity of love?
Is love, then, supposed to be unconditional? Conditional? Both? Simultaneously?
What are the consequences of each if indeed each are in fact, quite possibly and reasonably—as Fromm would have readers believe—sustainable reasons, motivations and healthy expressions of love?
As Fromm continues to explain how love is an activity devoid of a simple object being the sole reason to love, would not this following statement account for a more unconditional state of love:
“Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person,” Fromm argues, “it is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not toward one ‘object’ of love…
“Yet, most people believe that love is constituted by the object; not by the faculty…
“Because one does not see that love is an activity, a power of the soul, one believes that all that is necessary to find is the right object—and that everything goes by itself afterward…
“If I truly love one person,” writes Fromm, “I love all persons, I love the world, I love life” (p 38-39).
And I would further conclude that if God is Love then Love is Life.
And if this then is true, what can Fromm tells us between the variations of faith, either being irrational or rational and how does this relate to love?
“By irrational faith,” Fromm explains, “I understand the belief (in a person or an idea) which is based on one’s submission to irrational authority. In contrast, rational faith is a conviction which is rooted in one’s own experience of thought or feeling. Rational faith is not primarily belief in something, but the quality of certainty and firmness which our convictions have. Faith is a character trait pervading the whole personality, rather than a specific belief” (p 102).
And how does this relate to love, you might ask?
“‘Having faith’ in another person,” writes Fromm, “means to be certain of the reliability and unchanged-ability of his fundamental attitudes, of the core of his personality, of his love. By this I do not mean that a person may not change his opinions, but that his basic motivations remain the same; that, for instance, his respect for life and human dignity is part of himself, not subject to change” (p 103).
But what is love exactly? Can we even define love? Fromm certainly tries when he writes:
“Love is possible only if two persons communicate with each other from the center of their existence, hence if each one of them experiences himself from the center of his existence. Only in this ‘central experience’ is human reality, only here is aliveness, only here is the basis for love. Love, experienced thus, is a constant challenge; it is not a resting place, but a moving, growing, working together; even whether there is harmony or conflict, joy or sadness, is secondary to the fundamental fact that two people experience themselves from the essence of their existence, that they are one with each other by being one with themselves, rather than by fleeing from themselves. There is only one proof for the presence of love: the depth of the relationship, and the aliveness and strength in each person concerned; this is the fruit by which love is recognized.
“Just as automatons cannot love each other they cannot love God. The disintegration of the love of God has reached the same proportion as the disintegration of the love of man…
“The practice of the art of loving requires the practice of faith” (p 86-87, p 102).
And Fromm takes it a step further to conclude:
“To love means to commit oneself without guarantee, to give oneself completely in the hope that our love will produce love in the loved person. Love is an act of faith, and whoever is of little faith is also of little love” (p 107).
So as a new day dawns, much like a new year, I pray and secretly wish each one of us is filled with such faith it is the size of several galaxies so that we might also have as much love within our hearts and for each other.
And for this reason, and many many more, I find that The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm is a very strong recommend.
Keep reading and smiling…
CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, and a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy). He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979 and now lives in Hong Kong.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father‘s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; Little Hometown, America: A Look Back; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
You can read more about the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 320,000+ followers