Commentary Magazine


Frued & Fromm, & Judaism

To the Editor:

Will Herberg has written an interesting article on “Freud, Religion, and Social Reality” (March), but I wonder to what extent Mr. Herberg’s comments have been conditioned by his own essentially conservative and pessimistic political and religious views. It would seem that Mr. Herberg has taken only certain aspects of both Fromm and Freud and used them as straw men in argument against social change and in support of his personal interpretation of Judaism.

Taking only the social side of Fromm’s theories, the side that Mr. Herberg has emphasized, one could point to the similarities between Fromm’s socialist communitarian society and that of Martin Buber, whom Mr. Herberg would seem to admire. It is true that Fromm’s Utopia is secular and Buber’s is religious, but the relation is striking—and altogether understandable considering that Fromm studied the Bible and Judaism under Buber during his youth in Frankfort. If, in this secular age, Mr. Herberg speaks of the “naivety” of Fromm’s “panacea,” then surely he must consider Buber even more naive. Rather, I think that Mr. Herberg is doing an injustice to both of them.

Mr. Herberg credits Freud with a secular doctrine of original sin and a profound pessimism to go with that doctrine. Yet Freud offered more than a pessimistic secular theology, and Mr. Herberg has failed to take note of Freud the optimist. It was Freud who also said, “The voice of the intellect is a soft one, but it does not rest until it has gained a hearing. Ultimately, after endlessly repeated rebuffs, it succeeds.” And it was also Freud who said, “Men are not only worse, but also better, than they think they are.”

Mr. Herberg seems to feel that history is unredeemable through human effort and thus attempts to focus on goals outside of history. To do this, he uses Freud and Judaism, but I would venture to say that transcendent goals are alien certainly to Freud and very likely to much of Judaism. If Freud was pessimistic about tomorrow, he was optimistic about the day-after-tomorrow. Isn’t this the spirit of Judaism?

Eugene Mornell
Los Angeles, California

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