Erich Fromm’s beautiful perspective on love and human nature

Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving/ Arta de a iubi

Published 2006 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (first published 1956), 192p


Erich Fromm was both a philosopher and a psychoanalyst so his approach to love is not by creating an easy manual of how to achieve happiness through love but an analysis of the human being and the capacities people should develop in order to experience profound love.

Erich Fromm photo
Erich Fromm (1900 – 1980)

Without love, humanity could not exist for a day.

Fromm demonstrates that social and economic factors have a significant effect on human behavior and modern society mainly defines itself thorough consumerism and superficiality. Our culture is based on an appetite for buying and the man’s happiness consists more on having than on being. Very often people misinterpret love and think that being attracted to someone they fall in love.

There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love.

The Art of Loving explores motherly love, brotherly love, romantic love, the self-love and the love for God. To be able to love the human being needs to develop certain skills which lead to personal development:

Care, responsibility, respect and knowledge are mutually interdependent. They are a syndrome of attitudes which are to be found in the mature person; this is, in the person who develops his own powers productively, who only wants to have that which he has worked for, who has given up narcissistic dreams of omniscience and omnipotence, who has acquired humility based on the inner strength which only genuine productive activity can give.

The modern man cannot be alone which makes Fromm define love as the desire for union between the masculine and the feminine poles.

Mature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality. Love is an active power in man; a power which breaks through the walls which separate man from his fellow men, which unites him with others; love makes him overcome the sense of isolation and separateness, yet it permits him to be himself, to retain his integrity. In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two.

For profound love man needs to learn to give, to understand that before being loved he needs to develop his capacity to love which means overcoming the fear of being abandoned or disappointed and accepting pain and loss as risks.

The ability of love is an act of giving.

The motherly love is an attitude that should instill in the child the love for life. A mother should love her child without any expectations in the first years and she should understand that her attitude will have the most impact on the child. It is a relation of inequality, where the child needs all the help and the mother gives it.

It is for this altruistic, unselfish character that motherly love has been considered the highest kind of love, and the most sacred of all emotional bonds… In erotic love, two people who were separate become one. In motherly love, two people who were one become separate. The mother must not only tolerate, she must wish and support the child’s separation.

The brotherly love is seen by Fromm as the most fundamental kind of love while the self-love is defined as the care for your own self, the first condition that needs to be fulfilled in order to be able to honestly love another person. People should learn to respect themselves, to accept their strengths and failures before learning to respect the others.

As for the religious form of love, Fromm thinks that this is similar to the other forms of love and it is our need of believing in values and achieving union:

In all theistic religions, whether they are polytheistic or monotheistic, God stand for the highest value, the most desirable good. Hence, the specific meaning of God depends on what is the most desirable good for a person.

No matter what kind of love we refer to, we should understand that this experience is a constant challenge. As the modern society has alienated man and his values and therefore man is hard to be satisfied, we should practice love with discipline, a complex and representative requirement in each art.

An apprentice in carpentry begins by learning how to plane wood; an apprentice in the art of piano playing begins by practicing scales; an apprentice in the Zen art of archery begins by doing breathing exercises. If one wants to become a master in any art, one’s whole life must be devoted to it, or at least related to it.


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