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Erich Fromm and Global Public Sociology

McMaster Sociology Professor, Neil McLaughlin, publishes Erich Fromm and Global Public Sociology

Erich Fromm, one of the most popular sociologists of the 20th century, is making a comeback.

Nov 10, 2021


Erich Fromm rose to prominence in the middle of the 20th century for his theories on the relationship between psychology and society, becoming one of the first sociologists to achieve near-celebrity fame for his publications. His books sold millions of copies globally, making him one of the first public sociologists.

A friend introduced Neil McLaughlin, professor of sociology at McMaster University, to Erich Fromm as a university student. Then, McLaughlin was a budding soccer star, who hadn’t thought about pursuing a career in academia. Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom was a social psychological analysis and explanation of the rise of the Nazis in Germany. It changed his life.

“Fromm was famous for being a democratic socialist, and Escape from Freedom was a warning that the forces behind Nazism could happen here, so we shouldn’t get complacent,” said McLaughlin. “That book made me interested in politics. I didn’t make it in pro-soccer, but I read more of Fromm’s works and did a decade of political work.”

Despite Fromm’s popularity in the 1940s and 1950s, by the 1970s, his popularity had waned. McLaughlin started writing about Fromm and why one of the most famous sociologists had been largely forgotten. Over the last decade, as talk of nationalism and psychology became more prominent in mainstream politics, Fromm experienced a resurgence in popularity. McLaughlin published Erich Fromm and Global Public Sociology, which tells the story of the rise, fall and contemporary revival of Fromm’s theories.

“There are flaws in his work and that is part of the reason he went out of favour in the first place,” explained McLaughlin. “Also, in the past, many sociologists would be skeptical of using solely psychology to explain political events but in the era of Donald Trump, it's become clear that we have to understand the role of emotions in politics, and he pioneered the study of the role of emotions in politics.” 

McLaughlin hopes his book will promote a deeper respect and understanding of Fromm and his groundbreaking work. “So many theories that we discuss today such as the role of personality and emotion in politics and the anxiety that consumer-based and modern societies produce…Fromm was one of the first to talk about that, all those decades ago.”