Sitzbook Review: “The Art of Loving” by Erich Fromm


One of the best non-fiction books I read last year was The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. It’s sort of a philosophy book, which I’m normally not terribly interested in, but it was still enjoyable, especially because it was free.

I had come across a few partial quotes from the book before, so I had a feeling that it would be interesting. Here is one that I had used in classes before for occasions like Valentine’s Day:

“Infantile love follows the principle: ‘I love because I am loved.’ Mature love follows the principle: ‘I am loved because I love.’ Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says: ‘I need you because I love you.’

And here’s one that I just liked:

“Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love. Where this active concern is lacking, there is no love.”

Obviously, the book goes much deeper into these ideas and many others, but one section that I particularly liked was about the connection between respect, independence, and love:

“I want the loved person to grow and unfold for his own sake, and in his own ways, and not for the purpose of serving me. If I love the other person, I feel one with him or her, but with him as he is, not as I need him to be as an object for my use. It is clear that respect is possible only if I have achieved independence; if I can stand and walk without needing crutches, without having to dominate and exploit anyone else. Respect exists only on the basis of freedom […] love is the child of freedom, never that of domination.”

Here’s a good one about brotherly love, and why we should try to love people we don’t know, even though it might seem difficult or even counter-intuitive:

“Yes, love of the helpless one; love of the poor and the stranger, are the beginning of brotherly love. To love one’s flesh and blood is no achievement. The animal loves its young and cares for them. The helpless one loves his master, since his life depends on him; the child loves his parents, since he needs them. Only in the love of those who do not serve a purpose, love begins to unfold.”

The book also gets into religion and secularism, which I didn’t really see coming. In fact, even though the book is ostensibly about love, it’s really about Fromm’s holistic approach to life. I’m not sure I fully agree with this quote about religion and needs, but it did give me something to think about:

“Today […] daily life is strictly separated from any religious values. It is devoted to the striving for material comforts, and for success on the personality market. The principles on which our secular efforts are built are those of indifference and egotism (the latter often labeled as ‘individualism’ or ‘individual initiative’). Man of truly religious cultures may be compared with children at the age of eight, who need father as a helper, but who begin to adopt his teachings and principles in their lives. Contemporary man is rather like a child of three, who cries for father when he needs him, and otherwise is quite self-sufficient when he can play.
In this respect, in the infantile dependence on an anthropomorphic picture of God without the transformation of life according to the principles of God, we are closer to a primitive idolatric tribe than to the religious culture of the Middle Ages.”

However, there are times that he does get a bit too long-winded. I’m assuming that that may have something to do with German writing style being translated, but it may just be a staple of philosophy books. I’m all for semi-colons and em-dashes, but even though it’s pretty insightful, you have to admit that this is kind of a ridiculous sentence:

“What is essential in the existence of man is the fact that he has emerged from the animal kingdom, from instinctive adaptation, that he has transcended nature–although he never leaves it; he is a part of it–and yet once torn away from nature, he cannot return to it; once thrown out of paradise–a state of original oneness with nature–cherubim with flaming swords block his way, if he should try to return.”

Finally, here’s one last quote I liked:

“Then one will also recognize that while one is consciously afraid of not being loved, the real, though usually unconscious fear is that of loving. 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.”

Has anyone else read this book? I’m pretty sure it may still be free on Amazon or other sources, since I think it’s in the public domain (or maybe I just got the digital copy during a Black Friday special a few years ago and had forgotten about it till now).

Anyhow, thanks for reading, and have a great new week!

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