Is love an art

Is love an art? We asked Erich Fromm

Lisz brain

“Is love an art? If it is, then whoever wants to master this art is required to know something and to spare no effort. "

Erich Fromm was born in Frankfurt am Main around 1900. From an early age he was interested in psychology and philosophy, especially practical philosophy. In this sense, he takes the path of the Frankfurt School, which is under the patronage of the famous philosophers Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer and deals with the innovation of Marxist thought. It was in this circle that Erich Fromm was probably inspired to develop his socio-philosophical concepts.

"If the spiritual nature - the culture of the inner man - is neglected, then selfishness remains the predominant and dominant force in man, and a system of selfishness - like the capitalist - fits better than a system of charity to such an orientation."

Essential for Erich Fromm is the question of the meaning of life, which is particularly acute for Westerners. Like many other thinkers, he states that religion originally dealt with this question and “solved” it. In the (post-) modern times the (traditional) religion, especially the Christian one, has lost importance. Fromm now wonders what could take the place of religion and whether there is an alternative to traditional religion.

“Man is endowed with reason; it is life that is self-aware. He is aware of himself, of his fellow human beings, of his past and of the possibilities of his future. This awareness of himself as an independent entity, the awareness that he has a short span of life ahead of him, that he was born without his will and will die against his will, that he will die in front of those he loves (or them before him) that he was alone and separated and helplessly exposed to the forces of nature and society - [...]. He would go mad if he could not break free from this prison - if he could not in some way reach out to other people and unite with the world outside of himself. "

To a certain extent the psychoanalytic movement has taken on this problem or taken it over from the priests. The important finding of psychoanalysis was the connection of mental and emotional illnesses with ethical problems. This connection also addresses religion and ecclesiastical institutions. The question now is: are psychoanalysts and priests allies or enemies? Fromm believes that psychoanalysis and religion are neither irreconcilable opposites nor can they show an equality of interests. The really important decision is not whether a person believes in God, but whether a person lives love and thinks the truth. It is important to him that constructive, human potentials are promoted and harmful influences on people can be warded off. Both religion and psychoanalysis have positive as well as negative forms. In his book Psychoanalysis and religion Erich Fromm takes on this topic.

“Today it is not [L. Brain: Gods like] Baal and Astarte, who threaten the most precious spiritual and spiritual goods of human beings; rather, they are endangered by the deification of the state and power in authoritarian countries in our culture through the deification of the machine and success. "

In other words: Fromm is interested in the type of religion chosen, although he uses the term “religion” very broadly. Religion begins with an object of devotion. This object can be human, science, god or money etc. Fromm judges every “religious” form according to its positive influence on the development of man and on the increase of reason and on the reduction of suffering in the world. The thinker points out that man seeks and needs orientation in life, just like an object of devotion and ideals to which he can orient himself.

“When religious teachings contribute to the spiritual growth, strength, freedom and happiness of their believers, we recognize the fruits of love. If they result in the constriction of human possibilities, unhappiness and lack of productivity, they cannot be born of love, no matter what the dogma claims to convey. "

The current orientation focuses on “idols” and “illusions” such as money and unlimited (economic) power, which because of their excessiveness lead to great inhumanity which is (apparently) an extreme problem of our time. Because of this problem, Fromm advocates a “new” humanism and creates the concept of a humanistic religion that focuses on promoting human powers, including human reason, and above all the principle of love, which Fromm feels is grossly neglected. His diagnosis: acute inability to love. His medication: the theses of his book The art of love, This is one of the best-known works by Erich Fromm, in which Fromm investigates the phenomenon of love and its degeneration in the (western) world and tries at the same time as enlightener and teacher.

To love is a difficult endeavor; hardly any is accompanied by so many hopes and failures. Love is an art like life is an art. You can learn this art.

You have to learn to love. It is an active doing, an active exchange of being, not a static structure or even a passive expectation towards another person. Your own ability to love must mature as well as your entire personality, especially since there are different forms of loving - from erotic love to self-love to maternal love and much more.

"If love is an ability of the mature, productive character, it follows that the ability of a person living in a particular culture to love depends on the influence that culture exerts on the character of the average citizen."

This leads us on to Fromm's interest in societal, i.e. social, issues. He deals with these in the work Have or Be. The social philosopher assumes that the individual who necessarily lives in a social structure is interrelated with it. This is not a new thought. Thinkers like Marx, Freud and Nietzsche have pointed out (among others) that the average person is a “herd animal” that is geared towards consumption and whose needs are controlled. Quasi: What we want to do is what we should do. Fromm writes in To have or to be:

"We are what we give ourselves for and what we give ourselves to, that motivates our behavior."

The question now is, what do we give ourselves for? What are our motives? What are our needs? And how much do we think society's needs are our real ones? Do these promote the human potentials of reason, truth and love?

What is striking in our (western) society is the “marketing character” of every individual. The individual presents himself as a commodity on the exchange market. The aim is to function optimally in order to sell well. This optimal functioning is “endangered” or restricted by the natural, emotional structure of the human being. The suppression / denial / repression of emotions in order to be able to “function” more effectively leads to a stunting of the emotional life and thus to a loss of the ability to love.

"To feel love and reverence for life in all its manifestations and to be aware that neither things nor power nor everything dead are sacred, but life and everything that promotes growth." - that means that being is preferable to having.

In order to “live well”, reason and the ability to love are the necessary prerequisites. As described above, it is Fromm's intention to promote this.

"We humans have an innate, deep-rooted desire to be: to express our abilities, to be active, to relate to others, to escape the dungeon of selfishness."

What remains of Erich Fromm's work?

On the one hand, a firm commitment to a new humanism, on the other hand, works like To have or to be, psychoanalysis and religion, the art of loving, the fear of freedom, psychoanalysis and ethics and Modern man and his future,which have lost none of their topicality due to their timeless theme. There is even an Erich Fromm Society in Tübingen, Germany, which carries on Fromm's ideas. Fromm doesn't go out of style because he's against fashion. For him, the focus is on people and their future, which he sees acutely threatened - on the one hand by the social situation that limits the individual and his mental and spiritual abilities, on the other hand by the technological-global situation that endangers the existence of all humanity. In the face of this threat, what could help besides reason and love? Fromm is not an unworldly utopian; he is a practical thinker who wants to change and not just theorize.

Conclusion: Erich Fromm can be seen with a clear conscience as a pioneer of (post-) modern humanism. And this is particularly necessary in our times. The concluding passage is intended to testify to this:

“The love for an idea or for a person is silent, not shrill;
it is calm, deep;
She is born any moment, but is not intoxicated.
She ain't drunk
It does not lead to self-forgetfulness,
but grows out of overcoming the ego. "

This (self-) overcoming remains our lifelong and most challenging task. Through them we find the “good” and above all the “meaningful and valuable” life. Our fellow human beings are not only our opponents, but also our hope for our own development.