The Marx-Freud synthesis of Erich Fromm : a critical examination and appraisal

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The general aim of this thesis is to provide an exposition and critical analysis of aspects of the political philosophy of Erich Fromm. As such it is a study in systematic political theory. The specific objective of the thesis is an investigation of the way in which Fromm redefines Marx's historical materialism by recourse to Freud's psychological theory in an effort to comprehend the relationship between the economic substructure (base) and the ideological and cultural superstructure more adequately. In so doing, it critically examines the following problematic: In what way did Fromm synthesize Freudian psychological insights with a Marxist sociology, and how were the concepts of both Marx and Freud transformed in the process? In chapter 1 the origins and background to Fromm's synthesis is examined. Chapters 2 and 3 deal with Fromm's concept of social character and the social unconscious as an attempted synthesis of Marx and Freud. Chapter 4 is a close examination of Fromm's concept of human nature. The main focus of the thesis is on Fromm's thought as an unorthodox amalgamation of Marx and Freud. It indicates how Fromm, working from an initial Freudian position reworked and revised Freud so as to better accommodate his psychoanalytical insights within a basically Marxian sociology. With respect to the Marxian component of Fromm's synthesis the thesis contrasts Fromm's use of Marx with that of the then prevailing theories of the Second and Third Internationals. It demonstrates how Fromm's emphasis and use of the Hegelian elements in the works of the younger Marx distinguish him from these theorists and how it was also due to these Hegelian elements that Fromm could make a connection with Freud. The thesis takes the form of a critical exegesis of extracts of Fromm's own work while at the same time distilling elements from the prevailing secondary literature. The thesis in no way attempts to be a thorough intellectual history but rather seeks to be an explication and in-depth analysis of the elements of Fromm's work crucial to his Marx-Freud synthesis.

Bibliography: pages 143-163.