The Art of Loving is a 1956 book by psychologist and social philosopher Erich Fromm, which was published as part of the “World Perspectives Series” edited by Ruth Nanda Anshen. In this work, Fromm recapitulated and complemented the theoretical principles of human nature found in Fromm’s Escape from Freedom and Man for Himself – principles which were revisited in many of his other major works.
Fromm presents love as a skill that can be taught and developed. He rejects the idea of loving as something magical and mysterious that cannot be analyzed and explained, and is therefore skeptical about popular ideas such as “falling in love” or being helpless in the face of love. Because modern humans are alienated from each other and from nature, we seek refuge from our aloneness in romantic love and marriage (pp. 79–81). However, Fromm observes that real love “is not a sentiment which can be easily indulged in by anyone.” It is only through developing one’s total personality to the capacity of loving one’s neighbor with “true humility, courage, faith and discipline” that one attains the capacity to experience real love. This should be considered a rare achievement (p. vii). Fromm defended these opinions also in interview with Mike Wallace when he states: “love today is a relatively rare phenomenon, that we have a great deal of sentimentality; we have a great deal of illusion about love, namely as a…as something one falls in. But the question is that one cannot fall in love, really; one has to be in love. And that means that loving becomes, and the ability to love, becomes one of the most important things in life.”
The Art of Loving argues that the active character of true love involves four basic elements: care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge (p. 24). Each of these is difficult to define and can differ markedly depending on the people involved and their circumstances. Seen in these terms, love is hard work, but it is also the most rewarding kind of work.
One of the book’s concepts is self-love. According to Fromm, loving oneself is quite different from arrogance, conceit or egocentrism. Loving oneself means caring about oneself, taking responsibility for oneself, respecting oneself, and knowing oneself (e.g. being realistic and honest about one’s strengths and weaknesses). In order to be able to truly love another person, one needs first to love oneself in this way.
Fromm calls the general idea of love in contemporary Western society égoïsme à deux – a relationship in which each person is entirely focused on the other, to the detriment of other people around them. The current belief is that a couple should be a well-assorted team, sexually and functionally, working towards a common aim. This is in contrast with Fromm’s description of true love and intimacy, which involves willful commitment directed toward a single unique individual. One cannot truly love another person if one does not love all of mankind including oneself.
The book includes explorations of the theories of brotherly love, motherly and fatherly love, erotic love, self-love, and the love of God (pp. 7–76), and an examination into love’s disintegration in contemporary Western culture (pp. 77–98).
To be able to fully comprehend the ideas illustrated in Fromm’s book, one must understand the concept of paradoxical thought, or the ability to concile opposing principles in one same instance. Fromm himself explains paradoxical thought in the chapters dedicated to the love of God and erotic love.
Fromm begins the last chapter “The Practice of Love” saying: “[…] many readers of this book, expect to be given prescriptions of ‘how to do it to yourself’ […]. I am afraid that anyone who approaches this last chapter in this spirit will be gravely disappointed”.