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100 of 104 people found the following review helpful
on October 9, 1999
I have never found any author who has a firmer grasp on the human condition than Erich Fromm. Chapter 3 of The Sane Society is a masterpiece in describing what it means to be human and why we are foolish to expect never to be anxious and always to be happy and smiling. This book is an excellent analysis of the situation of modern man and frightening in that the characteristics Fromm cites have become even more ingrained in us. His thesis is that we are inherently anxious due to our consciousness. Unlike animals who have instincts to script their lives from start to finish, we are free to determine ourselves and this freedom without anyone/anything to tell us what choice to make is frightening. We are capable of joy and our culture is capable of being called a good one to the extent that our lives are a reflection of our individual abilities being given expression in our work, our play, our social life and our government. We are happy to the extent that we realize ourselves, or as Fromm puts it, that we give birth to ourselves over our lifetimes. In order for this to occur our society must value the human over the inanimate (property) and that is the downfall of Capitalism. We are in service to the system of production and have become alientated from ourselves and others. We fashion ourselves to be appealing products on the personality market, becoming no more than objects for sale to others. "I am as you want me to be" is our personal creed and our work, our social life, our family life all are disconnected and increasingly unrelated to us in other than materialistic ways. Fromm's prescription is "communitarian socialism" which is a society in which all aspects of life are interelated and dedicated to the advancement of human life rather than material production. He sees the problem and a solution but since this book was written (1955) we have accelerated in the direction he feared. If you doubt that what he says is true, try being out of a job and looking for work. You will find how little what you are is valued and how much the art of selling (no matter what is being sold) or narrow technical knowledge is valued. Things are more securely in the saddle than ever before and we are slaves to a system which promotes more of every"thing" and little of what is human. One example from real life of what Fromm is saying in his book... there was a manager where I once worked whom we called "roboman" because he had no ability to relate to people but was obsessed with work, always busy on 5 projects at once and very competent technically in everything he did, though universally reviled for his disregard of people. He got promoted and now heads the company office in another city. God help his employees. People who manipulate things advance and are highly rewarded as Bill Gates can tell you. People who care for people are passed over. Efficiency is King and humanity has been left in the dust. Remember the ancient Greeks saying that the purpose of society is to further the happiness of it's members? The purpose of our society is to make more things. You and I are out there at the stores frantically buying and that assures that this will continue. Fromm makes the excellent point that those who are successful in society are considered sane, no matter how pathological they might be when viewed from the perspective of what it means to be an integrated, productive human being. As we ever more frantically race to make life ever more frantic, we are forgetting what sanity is in our materialistic frenzy. You can drive from coast to coast across this country of 300 million people and not have contact with another human being except when they pass you a burger at the drive-through. Very efficient but is this isolation that technology promotes good for people? We could all do with a careful reading of Fromm's book.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2003
I had heard of Erich Fromm for some time but had not read any of his work and then decided I should have a look and see what all the fuss was about. To say the least Fromm does an excellent job of attempting a critique of modern society whether it be western capitalism or eastern communism. He considers the question: is current society sane ? He concludes no and pushes aside the claims of most psychologists that a sane member of society is one who can adjust himself/herself to it. Naturally such a claim means that society itself must be sane. Fromm instead supposes that there are other more objective measures of sanity than the society one is a part of. Such measures were considered by Freud early in the 20th century and led to his idea of the libido which unless satisfied produces insanity and neuroses. Fromm himself studied under Freud in psychoanalysis but came to the conclusion that Freud's ideas, although basically correct in their aims, incorrectly based all of man's behaviour on the libido.
Instead Fromm analyses current society, circa 1950's, on the basis of human nature which arises from the human condition, his whole existence. Fromm finds that man has, over the centuries, removed himself from nature (the metaphor of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden) which formed for him the womb and the spiritual connection needed by him. Instead man developed his own world which was formed through the creation of villages and towns and agriculture and some independence from nature as the provider and sustainer. The eventual extreme aspects of this alienation are found in both communism and capitalism as seen today where the individual no longer feels a relatedness to others in the society, an alienation which itself can lead to insanity. The fact that people are capital and not "people" anymore and that their work becomes capital as well which can be interchanged with other forms of capital which have no human base produces ill health and a mentally ill society. This also applies to communism except with the addition of enforced governmental structures. Fromm notes how sanity can only be achieved through changes in all aspects of the human condition at once rather than piecemeal attempts. That is his economical, political, spiritual and social needs must be satisfied at the same time. He contrasts earlier centuries to the modern one and how a capitalistic view imposes uniformity even under the illusion of individuality.
From attempts some way out of this crisis through what he calls "communitarian socialism" which applies directly and concretely to an individual's present circumstances. Fromm is widely read and never forgets to note the important authors who led the way before him. Similarly he is knowledgable in surveys and studies over the years concerning attempts at an improvement of the human condition applied in industry by others. It is the satisfaction of human needs in the present circumstances which lie on the road to a better society not who controls the means of production.
Unfortunately after a detailed and brilliant analysis of society Fromm does not spend anywhere near the same amount of time in the resolution of its problems. In the second last chapter, about 70 pages of a total of 360, he attempts it. One feels that he never quite finished this chapter and that he had much more to say, or rather there was much he mentioned briefly but did not analyse deeply enough. He did not discuss the problems which could arise in these solutions as they are implemented. This is disappointing.
Nonetheless, simply for a deep and insightful analysis of society and human nature Fromm cannot be faulted. The book is a must read for these reasons alone. It is unfortunate his ideas were never put into practice. Society continues in its march towards insanity as the capitalist ideal is approached and people are more and more dehumanised. No wonder such massive problems exist.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2009
The kernel of Dr. Fromm's analysis and the starting point for his further discussions is the definition of "human nature" - from the psychological standpoint. For him the human's psyche is not a computer (to use contemporary metaphor) on which society can install any programs of behavior it requires. If the social programs - norms of conduct and value judgments, i.e. what is good and bad, what one shall strive for etc. - do not match the natural, evolutionary pre-defined needs of the human being, psychological defects and neurosis shall occur. The mentally healthy, i.e. sane person is thus the one who does not have defects and does not experience neurosis, who lives in a society that through economic, political and social channels promotes and furthers his harmony with requirements of his, human nature.

For many of us it may be very surprising and even suspicious that somebody can question the sanity of western society and thus sanity of the majority of its individual members. How, after all, can people who have achieved such dramatic heights in the scientific thought, who have so rapidly progressed in mutual creation of such elaborated technologies, and who then make them work with an even-increasing efficiency, be not sane?

The answer lies in the definition and the meaning of "sanity". For Fromm the term "in-sane" does not equal "idiot". An in-sane person is not necessarily the one who has abnormally low IQ (intelligence level), but the one who is not truly aware of himself and of his nature, whose reason (i.e. the ability to "grasp the world by thought", to penetrate beneath the surface of things and ideas as opposed to mere ability to manipulate given objects and facts) ceased to develop properly or deteriorated; an in-sane person fails to see the difference between the means for his life - money and material possessions as most straightforward examples - and the aims of life. The one who lives for something that he consciously or unconsciously puts higher than him - be it material things or other persons whom he worships.

The aim of productive, that is truly human, life for Dr. Fromm is threefold: 1) the realization of man's productive powers, 2) development of his reason, and 3) experience of true love - not only of erotic love, but the true love for ones neighbor that so many religions had manifested. His diagnosis is that our average contemporary fails miserably in all three spheres. Again we may at first rebel at such humiliating statement but only until we go along with the author through all the arguments he successively presents in the book.

For the remote future generations our time may appear to be a very interesting theoretical case. The direct authority that suppressed human beings from time immemorial has been largely gone. No more serf owners, no more cruel industrialists who could exploit workers in the absence of protective legislation. The family authority also diminished and Church as organization as well as an institution does not tower above individual any more. The individual has finally gained (or received) his freedom!... But is he really free? That is a cornerstone question for Fromm's analysis.

The author meticulously studies the peculiar aspects of our modern life, from what the rise of methods of mass production started to require from human beings in the 19th century, to how these requirements had, along with technology, developed in the 20th century. He especially focuses on how requirements of the modern economic machine progressively formed into moral standards for our society and how they forced out the need (and largely the possibility) for direct, overt authority; how these economic requirements now perpetuate and reinforce themselves through political and social institutions in such a way that from the first years of our lives we want to do precisely what the economic machine, and not the human nature, wants us to do: to indulge in obsessive work for most of our life's hours, with only two purposes: 1) to increase the abstract capital, material possessions and to secure the growth of the machine itself, and 2) to be able to spend the results of our work - money - and the small bits of the remaining time on the goods and entertainments produced by this machine.

How could it be so? And is it so? When we look at our lives we may at first fail to find any proof of evidence for it. After all we do what we want to do, we decide what our profession should be, what company we shall work for; nobody tells us what model of the car to buy, or which girl to marry... Nobody forces us to anything! And that is very accurate. Nobody. But it does not mean there is not something that persistently suggests, urges us to do what it wants us to do. The special term was later coined for this something - economists now call it informal "institutions". And the set of institutions currently accepted by most members of society form an overwhelming force called the "public opinion". In contrast to the overt authority, which usually tend to demand very precise things from its subordinates, public opinion leaves us enough room for some unimportant choices, which give us the illusion that the choices are truly ours. In reality though most of our really important choices are pre-determined by the way the mass production machine works and what type of servants it needs for its successful operation. The modern technology needs very intelligent man to operate it. It cannot use brutal force any longer since that would hinder man's intelligence, which it now needs so much. It cannot let most humans to develop their power of reasoning - since they would then rebel against the dictatorship of economic forces. Thus the contemporary economic machine needs man who becomes more and more intelligent ("smart") but never truly develops his reason, who wants to have all the goods this economic machine can produce in order to provide for its continuous growth - and the machine skillfully helps him to want an ever-increasing number of new and different goods and experiences it can produce. It propagates itself and stimulates consumption through techniques of advertisements, propaganda and "success stories". What it does not reveal to us is that most of these stories are successes of the machine, not of human beings in the humanistic sense of achievement.

This book largely repeats what Erich Fromm had already said in his earlier works ("Escape from Freedom" and especially "Man for himself") in the analysis of the human nature, current human situation and problems that occur at their junction. Twenty years after the first publication of "The Sane Society", in his final book "To have or to be?" Dr. Fromm sums up these concepts more succinctly (on some 150 pages), though never loosing important aspects of his previous works. So for anyone who's mostly interested with a psychological and not sociological aspects of this book I would rather recommend to read "To have or to be?" and then "Man for himself".

One aspect of "The Sane Society" that is more elaborated in this book than in his other works is the "Road to Sanity": changes that are necessary in social, political and economic spheres to let the human beings become masters, not slaves, of the technology and capital they created; what changes are required to let each individual realize his creative and loving potential and to stop being converted into programmed robots which follow the dictatorship of the soulless capital, despite having deep inside the ever-present anxiety and neuroses that now so frequently occur.

Fromm seeks solution that would help not only the upper and middle classes, but the working class too, every human being. He briefs the reader on the ideas offered by the most and also lesser renowned socialists, quoting them extensively, and suggests that the "Road to sanity" for us should be that what he calls "Democratic Socialism". Unlike many socialists who placed most emphasis in the spheres of political (revolution, the rule of the working class) and economic (nationalization of the means of production and less drastic distribution of income) changes, Fromm explains that unless significant changes also happen in the social sphere (changes in values and increase of faith in abilities and reason of all human beings) any attempts limited to economic and/or political spheres will inevitably fail. He also shows that while economic goal of socialists of the 19th century - to provide better means for living for the working class - has already been accomplished better that many could dream of, the social situation of that class and it's genuine self esteem had not largely changed. The only difference is that brutal oppression of the 19th century was substituted with programming the blue and white collar workers with "the law of the free market" mentality which can be summed up in the following: "If you do not work you will starve, and we offer you choices of work and monetary reward on which you and your family can exist. If you do not like the work we offer for your knowledge and skill level and you do not have enough money and brains to prepare yourself for what you would like to do, or you want to do what we as a society do not value in materialistic sense (teachers, nurses etc) - well that's just too bad for you. But we, the society, have nothing to do with that. This is you who are a failure. Realize it and stick to your destiny and work that you can do. After all somebody have to do the dirty jobs in the factories and on the streets, so why not you?" Although for some this may sound like a normal, fair way of treating individuals, it certainly does not sound so for Dr. Fromm and for many other humanists he quotes.

Erich Fromm was far from being naïve and overoptimistic. He accepts that among current economic, political and social institutions the current way of mass production (around which our whole economy is organized), which requires huge organizations and a great deal of specialization of labor, can be changed least. He offers some very practical (and mostly realistic) political, social and also minor economic changes that should help workers as well as managers to become more reasonable and also become less alienated from their work and their whole life. But after reading his truly brilliant analysis of the human nature and current human situation and the way it developed to what it is, his last, relatively short chapter on the "Roads to Sanity", leaves an impression that he himself was aware that what he proposed was not enough, and what would be enough could not be realistically achieved. Dr. Fromm is an analyst par excellence, but he does not have the vigor and ego of Karl Marx to force his ideas and ideals with the revolutionary strength upon "the ones who must be saved". Thus he does not dwell into many details on how the new, sane society shall function, limiting his suggestions only to indicating "possible ways" and some seemingly discrete changes. And that may be a sign that he himself did not believe that something can be fundamentally changed on the gross level. But even if that is true, even if economic machine and profit obsession cannot be restrained in the foreseeable future, this book is still very important as it can at least help some individuals to unveil their reason and thus to [partially] escape the general madness created by the current capitalistic soulless machine. And the larger the number of such individuals is, the more are the chances that society as a whole will gradually adopt a healthier approach to life.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2000
Erich Frommfs gThe Sane Societyh is one the most illuminating and insightful books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. In gThe Sane Societyh Fromm questions the sanity of a society which covets property over humanity and adheres to idolatrous theologies of submission and domination rather than self-actualization. Fromm provides readers with a scathing indictment of modern capitalism which, Fromm states, is the main source of the isolation and alienation prevalent in todayfs society. Fromm advocates communitarian socialism, which, he explains, expounds the humanitarian ideals and spiritual self-actualization needed to cure society of its religious and capitalistic ills.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2007
This book was written about 50 years ago and still up-to date, I just copied this small paragraph that give an idea about the core of Fromm message:" The western world have created a great material wealth more than any other society in the history of the human race. Yet we have managed to kill of millions of our population in an arrangement, which we call war. During these wars, every participant firmly believes that he was fighting in his self-defense, for his honor, or that he was backed up by God. The groups with whom one is at war are, often from one day to the next, looked upon as cruel irrational fiends whom one must defeat to save the world from evil. But a few years after the mutual slaughter is over the enemies of yesterday are our friends, the friend s of yesterday our enemies, and again in full seriousness we begin to paint them with appropriate colors of black and white. "
Fromm message is a one that should be heard by all human beings: love between neighbors , love in societies , countries and nations, is the only solution.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2011
In The Sane Society Erich Fromm discusses the problems hindering the well-being of Mankind and while he wrote about the early to mid-twentieth century, it's ideas are pertinent now. We need a meaningful life wherein work is not merely a means of making money but a valued part of social life, where we experience love as a unifying factor recognizing our fragile natures and the needs we share, where we can experience our creative and productive powers without the threat of anxiety and fear to impede the progress of psychological, intellectual, or spiritual well-being.

Some concern has been raised by other readers here and on other websites about the lack of scientific study to prove Fromm's theories about Human psychology. Fromm does, however, include discussion on a few scientific experiments (the more prominent being one on the psychology of workers discussed in one of the last chapters) and surveys of people and their feelings towards work and work policies.

While other readers have approached this book as a work of pure psychology I approached as one about ideas. Fromm was a psychoanalyst but also a philosopher and this must be taken into account when reading this and some of his other later works. An intelligent reader should consider these ideas, applying them to him- or herself and to the world, and look for the proof individually instead of hoping that the author will provide a fully convincing argument. I tend to agree with Fromm on what he thought were the necessities for mental well-being and found his arguments quite good (although I cannot say I consider all to be sufficient).
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 2001
Although this book has been written almost 50 years ago it still provides basic insight into our behavior in the modern world. 'Money, prestige and power are the main incentives today for the largest section of our population - that which is employed'. This probably holds still today whereas some of the major concerns of the fifties are not concerning people any more. A book to read and think about!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2007
A few chapters in, I was concerned the book was too "dated". Fromm does talk a lot about individualism as a fundamental human characteristic, and this can come off as ethnocentric at times (individualism is a Western value, not shared by all cultures to the extent we value it). He also criticizes cultural relativism, seeing it as one of the reasons Western humanity is "insane". Having been an anthropology major in college, this was hard to swallow, but I kept reading. And I was surprised. I found a remarkable similarity in Fromm's book to the some of the tenets of Ecological Economics, or EcolEcon (see Daly & Farley, "Ecological Economics"). For example, Fromm says in the last chapter, "economy must become the servant for the development of man" (p. 314, 4th Fawcett Premier Printing, January 1967); compare this to the EcolEcon tenet that the economy is a subset of the ecosystem and, as such, expansion of the economy should be limited, environmental impacts curbed, so that it does not detract from our quality of life (which depends, ultimately, on a healthy ecosystem).

Towards the end of the book, I was feeling pretty optimistic: about society, the "Western World", and even about some personal decisions I was facing in my life at that time. Even if it is not very good sociology (as some other reviewers contend), The Sane Society is a good book and I recommend it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 31, 2011
Unfortunately most people don't want to read superior books like this one.So be it.May everyone read what they like,and I'll read Eric Fromm's books.Thank you Dr.Fromm.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2014
I think everyone should read Erich Fromm. Over 50 years ago he was laying out what we were to become if we didn't make some changes in our society. We didn't and we are apathetic robots, lied to by our elected officials who care only about money and power and not about the country we live in. We have little pride in our jobs, and as unions weaken, the wages of the workers go down and the wealthy grow rich and powerful. They have bought the people we vote in office, and we sit around and watch sports and do nothing. We have lost our democracy and are now an oligarchy and if we keep on in this direction, we will become a third world country. I'm too old to see it all happen, but I have lived during the times when we were a great country, united and strong and respected around the world. No longer. Too sad. Read the Sane Society, Man For Himself and Escape from Freedom.
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