Wisdom Books: The Sane Society by Erich Fromm

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Following the publication of the seminal Fear of Freedom, Erich Fromm applied his unique vision to a critique of contemporary capitalism in The Sane Society. Where the former dealt with man’s historic inability to come to terms with his sense of isolation, and the dangers to which this can lead, The Sane Society took his theories one step further. In doing so it established Fromm as one of the most controversial political thinkers of his generation. Analysing how individuals conform to contemporary capitalist and patriarchal societies, the book was published to wide acclaim and even wider disapproval. It was a scathing indictment of modern capitalism and as such proved unwelcome to many. Unwelcome because much of what Fromm had to say was true. Today, as we settle into the challenges of the 21st century, Fromm’s writings are just as relevant as when they were first written. Read it and decide for yourself – are you living in a sane society?


The following passages are excerpts from Chapter 3 ‘The Human Situation – The Key to Humanistic Psychoanalysis’:

MAN’S NEEDS—AS THEY STEM FROM THE CONDITIONS OF HIS EXISTENCE

Man’s life is determined by the inescapable alternative between regression and progression, between return to animal existence and arrival at human existence. Any attempt to return is painful, it inevitably leads to suffering and mental sickness, to death either physiologically or mentally insanity). Every step forward is frightening and painful too, until a certain point has been reached where fear and doubt have only minor proportions. Aside from the physiologically nourished cravings (hunger, thirst, sex), all essential human cravings are determined by this polarity. Man has to solve a problem, he can never rest in the given situation of a passive adaptation to nature. Even the most complete satisfaction of all his instinctive needs does not solve his human problem; his most intensive passions and needs are not those rooted in his body, but those rooted in the very peculiarity of his existence.

There lies also the key to humanistic psychoanalysis. Freud, searching for the basic force which motivates human passions and desires believed he had found it in the libido. But powerful as the sexual drive and all its derivations are, they are by no means the most powerful forces within man and their frustration is not the cause of mental disturbance. The most powerful forces motivating man’s behavior stem from the condition of his existence, the “human situation.”

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