Love and Its Disintegration in Contemporary Western Society

This is a very interesting, albeit long, discourse extracted from Erich Fromm’s renowned book The Art of Loving, on the effects of capitalism on Western society and the concept of love. For brevity, I’ll provide a summary of the main points broached by Fromm;

  • Capitalism has created a commodity-mindset where everything is appraised based on exchange value
  • Loss of individuality and human feelings
  • Herd mentality and consumerism
  • Love is approached in a mechanical and formulaic manner, void of real interaction.

 

IF LOVE IS THE CAPACITY of the mature, productive character, it follows that the capacity to love in an individual living in any given culture depends on the influence this culture has on the character of the average person. If we speak about love in contemporary Western culture, we mean to ask whether the social structure of Western civilization and the spirit resulting from it are conducive to the development of love. To raise the question is to answer it in the negative. No objective observer of our Western life can doubt that love -brotherly love, motherly love, and erotic love- is a relatively rare phenomenon, and that its place is taken by a number of forms of pseudo-love which are in reality so many forms of the disintegration of love.

Capitalistic society is based on the principle of political freedom on the one hand, and of the market as the regulator of all economic, hence social relations, on the other. The commodity market determines the conditions under which commodities are exchanged, the labor market regulates the acquisition and the sale of labor. Both useful things and useful human energy and skill are transformed into commodities which are exchanged without the use of force and without fraud under the conditions of the market. Shoes, useful and needed as they may be, have no economic value (exchange value) if there is no demand for them on the market; human energy and skill are without exchange value if there is no demand for them under existing market conditions. The owner of capital can buy labor and command it to work for the profitable investment of his capital. The owner of labor must sell it to capitalists under the existing market conditions, unless he is to starve. This economic structure is reflected in a hierarchy of values. Capital commands labor; amassed things, that which is dead, are of superior value to labor, to human powers, to that which is alive.

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