Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

The Aptitude Complex

The Heart of Man attempts to further develop an idea, especially from the school of Neo-Freudianism, presented in Erich Fromm’s previous books. In Escape from Freedom, he explores sadism, corruption, and masochism, which leads to a deeper understanding of freedom. He distinguishes various kinds of violence in the service of life, with corruption representing evil and the opposite being true love for life, known as biophilia, as opposed to necrophilia, which is the love of death.

In Man for Himself, Fromm delves into ethical issues based on people’s understanding of human nature. The book goes beyond mere inspiration or artificial laws and delves into the origins of evil and the choices between good and evil. It represents the ability to both destroy and repair our instincts.

The Wolf and the Sheep

In the first chapter of The Heart of Man, Fromm describes how humans can be both sheep and wolves in the school of Neo-Freudianism. He argues that some people behave like sheep, easily influenced and willing to follow others, even if it is dangerous. Dictators exploit these tendencies, believing that humans are sheep who need leaders to make decisions for them.

However, if most humans are sheep, then why is human life so different from the life of sheep? Fromm points out that throughout history, there have been individuals like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin who have committed heinous acts, accompanied by many others willing to follow and kill for their sake. This leads to the conclusion that humans can also be like wolves to each other, capable of violence and destruction.

These facts have led some to believe that humans have a nature that tends to destroy, that we have a killer instinct that can only be restrained by the fear of a more sadistic killer. It raises complex questions about human nature and the potential for both good and evil within us.

The Cruelty of Sheep and the Tenderness of Wolf

The arguments on both sides have confused the public. People do indeed recognize Stalin and Hitler as sadistic and ruthless killers, but they are the exception rather than the rule. The average human is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Although it’s hard to deny that wolves have the instinct to kill, it’s not accurate to simply categorize all humans as wolves.

In reality, some individuals act like wolves and lead others to commit violent acts. They may order others to kill, slaughter, and torture, while the followers submit not because they enjoy such actions, but because they feel compelled to follow the leader. The presumption that all humans are either wolves or sheep is untenable. In truth, humans can exhibit both wolf-like and sheep-like qualities, and it’s not accurate to label all humans as solely one or the other.

Ultimately, the distinction between wolves and sheep represents different aspects of human nature. While some people may display more overt aggressive tendencies like wolves, most individuals do not fit neatly into either category. It is wrong to believe that humans are solely imbued with destructive tendencies and that their resistance to brutality will inevitably weaken. The complexities of human nature make it essential to recognize that people are not simply defined as either wolves or sheep.

The Disobedience of Adam and Eve

A simple example of how humans become sheep and wolves is seen in the story of Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God. In The Heart of Man and the school of Neo-Freudianism, Adam and Eve’s disobedience is not considered a sin, and there is no indication that disobedience has corrupted humanity. On the contrary, disobedience represents the self-conscious state of man, showcasing his capacity to make choices. Thus, their first act of disobedience marks mankind’s initial step towards freedom.

Adam and Eve’s disobedience was part of God’s plan. Prophetic thought suggests that it was necessary for God to expel man from heaven to allow for human growth, the development of human strength, and the establishment of a relationship between man and nature. Instead of the previous harmonious state, this new realm allows for individual expression and full development.

While the prophetic messianic concept implies that humans are not fundamentally corrupt, it does not guarantee that the potential for good will always prevail. If humans commit evil acts, they may become even more evil. Pharaoh’s heart became hard because he persisted in doing evil to the point where repentance was no longer possible.

God does not interfere in people’s choices directly. Instead, He sends messengers to teach them norms that lead to awareness of good and recognition of evil. These messengers serve as guides, issuing warnings and protests. God leaves mankind alone to choose between doing good or evil.

The Basis of Evil

According to Fromm, an ordinary person with extraordinary strength can be a dangerous leader for humankind. This is because such a leader needs to evoke passions like fear, destruction, desire, anger, and hatred to mobilize millions of people and turn them into murderers. These intense passions are necessary conditions for war to occur, although they are not the root causes; just like guns and bombs are not the cause of war but the means through which it is waged. From nuclear war to traditional warfare, the destructive consequences are not much different.

Fromm identifies three phenomena that underlie man’s evil and vicious orientation: the love of death, violent narcissism, and symbiotic incest fixation. These three elements contribute to a syndrome of decay that drives individuals to destroy for the sake of destruction itself and to hate for the sake of hatred itself.

On the other hand, Fromm also describes a growth syndrome, which consists of a love of life instead of a love of death, a love of humanity instead of narcissism, and independence instead of a symbiotic instinctive fixation. Whether a person embraces one or more of these syndromes will determine their direction, either towards life or death.

The Manifestation of Cruelty

In the second chapter of The Heart of Man, Fromm discusses the various schools of Neo-Freudianism because they help understand the forms of violent destructiveness and severe pathology. The first form is violent play, which is practiced to show off skill and not for destruction. Although encouraged, it is not intended for causing harm or death. Even if an opponent ends up dying, it is seen as the result of the opponent’s fault for standing in the wrong place. When talking about the lack of will to destroy in violent play, it simply refers to the ideal nature of the game. The main goal of violent play is to show off skill and not to inflict harm.

The far greater practical significance of violent games is reactive violence, which is violence committed in defense of property rights, dignity, freedom, and life. It serves life and not death, aiming for preservation and not destruction. However, most people who firmly hold this belief also admit that violence for the sake of survival comes from a different nature than the violence that aims to destroy for its own sake.

The Agressive Retaliation

In The Heart of Man, Fromm explains two things about the tendency to pretend to defend oneself in the school of Neo-Freudianism. First, immigrants or leaders cannot persuade most people in the most civilized nations to kill and die unless they are first convinced that they are doing so in self-defense and for freedom. Second, it shows that it is not difficult to convince millions of people that they are in danger, and therefore, they feel compelled to defend themselves. This persuasion relies primarily on a lack of freedom in thinking and feeling, as well as the emotional dependence of the majority of people on their political leaders. As long as there is dependence, people will accept anything by force and persuasion as authentic.

Another type of violence associated with reactive violence is retaliatory violence. The motive for retaliation is a proportional return to the strength and productivity of an individual. If humans are injured, the process of productive life makes a person forget the wounds that occurred in the past. The aggressive behavior evokes efforts to achieve what they want by using violence. They are violent for the service of life and not for destruction.


The final violence that Fromm describes is basic bloodlust, the brutality of a man covering up his attachment to nature. It is a man’s passion for killing and his aim to go beyond life, as he is afraid to progress and become fully human. In one who seeks answers to life by retreating to a pre-individual state of existence, blood becomes the essence of life, making him resemble an animal. One has to shed blood to feel alive, to be strong, to be unique, and to be above all else. Killing becomes a great obsession.

On the other hand, killing is the only logical alternative for someone consumed by bloodlust. People could observe the nature of bloodlust in individuals, sometimes in fantasies or dreams and severe mental illness. It can also be observed in a minority group during times of war, whether it is international war or civil war. When usual social barriers have been removed, one can observe it in ancient societies, where killing or being killed was the polarizing rule of life.

The Love of Death and Life

In the third chapter of The Heart of Man, Fromm confronts the tendencies directed against life, which form the core of severe mental illness and the essence of true evil in the school of Neo-Freudianism. He discusses three orientations: necrophilia, narcissism, and symbiotic fixation of the mother.

The first orientation is necrophilia, which means love of death, in contrast to biophilia, which means love of life. Sexual perversion often uses these terms, referring to the desire to engage in sexual intercourse with a corpse. While necrophilia is a general orientation, it has not been extensively described in psychoanalytic literature compared to other concepts like Freud’s anal-sadistic disposition and death instinct. Fromm explains that necrophiles are individuals who like to talk about illness, funerals, and death. They find their aliveness in the past and rarely feel alive in the future. Their emotions are sentimental, clinging to memories of past feelings. They tend to be cold, distant, and obsessed with maintaining law and order. Death is what pleases and satisfies them.


Necrophilia is a phenomenon where some individuals fall in love with killers. In some cases, this love can be taken literally, as these killers become objects of their sexual attraction and fantasies. However, it is not as extreme as aberrant necrophagia, a desire that occurs in the dreams of necrophilic individuals.

The appeal of figures like Hitler or Stalin lies in their boundless capacity and willingness to kill, making them objects of affection for necrophiles. Many people, instead of being afraid, prefer to admire such leaders. In fact, many are unaware of the necrophilic nature of these leaders, as they often pretend to be protectors and builders. Without this facade, the number of people attracted to them would be significantly lower, and they would struggle to seize power.

Essentially, necrophilia is oriented towards the past. Life is uncertain, unpredictable, and beyond control. To gain a sense of control over life, necrophiles transform it into death, the only certainty they can hold onto.

The Social Narcissism

In The Heart of Man, Freud’s concern initially revolves around understanding schizophrenia in terms of libido theory and the school of Neo-Freudianism. He posits that libido is initially stored in the ego, akin to something in a large reservoir, extending into objects but quickly withdrawing back into the ego. Throughout his work, Freud remains consistent in his belief that the original state of humans, during early childhood, is one of narcissism, devoid of connection to the outside world. In the case of normal development, individuals retain a certain degree of narcissism.

One of the most basic examples of narcissism is the way most people relate to their own bodies. They tend to appreciate their own body, face, and figure, and when asked if they would switch bodies with someone more attractive, they would likely decline. Moreover, most individuals have no issue with observing or handling their stool, as aesthetics or other judgments are not involved in this process.

In a less severe form, a narcissistic orientation can be observed in everyday life. Narcissistic individuals are self-absorbed and often pay little attention to others except as mirrors reflecting their own image. Even when they appear kind and helpful, it is often because they want to see themselves in such a role. Consequently, they expend more energy admiring themselves than understanding the perspective of the person they are aiding.


The difficulty in finding a satisfactory definition of the nature of human origin lies in the following dilemma: if one assumes a particular substance that constitutes the essence of man, one is forced into a non-evolutionary and ahistorical position, suggesting that there has been no fundamental change in man since the first time it appeared. On the other hand, if one accepts evolutionary concepts and believes that humans are constantly changing, what remains of the content of man’s “essence” or “original nature”?

Fromm believed that the dilemma could be solved by defining human essence not as a given quality or substance, but as a contradiction inherent in human existence. This contradiction is found in two sets of facts. First, humans are animals. Second, humans have the intelligence to use thought processes to achieve practical goals. Man transcends all other forms of life because man lives self-consciously for the first time. However, humans also transcend nature, facing a terrible conflict: being a prisoner of nature while simultaneously being free in their minds.

The Will Power

If the essence of man is neither good nor evil, neither love nor hate, but a contradiction that demands the search for new solutions, which, in turn, creates several new contradictions, then surely a man can address his dilemma in either a regressive or progressive way. History has provided humanity with many examples, such as the German people, especially the lower middle class, who, having lost social status and money, found recovery under Hitler’s leadership. The possibility of regressive and progressive forms of experience always exists, but it is necessary to distinguish between the two forms that arise.

The first form is when the underlying drives remain strong but are suppressed due to conflicting with the cultural patterns of civilization. The second form is when the progressive stage has hardened and been reached in the development of a person or a group member. Similarly, some people have destroyed all possibilities for developing a progressive orientation until they, too, have lost the freedom to make choices about progress. Fromm could have concluded that humans are neither inherently good nor evil, and if one believed in human goodness as only potential, they would be forced to confront the falsification of facts or end up in bitter disappointment.

The Relief

Most people who end up being bad or hard-hearted, even officials like Hitler or Stalin, started their lives with great opportunities to be good people. Was Hitler’s victory necessary? At any point, did the Germans have the freedom to overthrow him? The position of determinism claims that there is only one real possibility in every situation. According to Hegel, the free person acts with the consciousness of one possibility, namely certainty. On the other hand, a person who is not free is blind to such a possibility and is therefore forced to act in a certain way without knowing that he is the agent of certainty, namely reason.

From an indeterminist point of view, there are many possibilities, and humans are free to choose among those possibilities. However, often there is not just one simple real possibility, but two or even more. The real possibility is the one that can materialize by considering the whole structure of interacting forces within the individual or society. Simply put, humans are a constellation of forces that are structured in a specific and predictable way. In Hitler’s case, he had a real possibility of winning the battle or, at least, not losing by enduring disaster. However, there are no real possibilities beyond these alternatives. Perhaps, freedom lies in recognizing the real possibilities between what a person can choose and the unreal possibilities. The unreal possibilities are the imaginary thoughts that a person tries to set aside to avoid an unpleasant task. If such domination were to happen to the entire human race, human life could be annihilated when they vowed great domination.


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