Erich Fromm, Feminism, and the Frankfurt School: Reflections on Patricia Mills' _Woman, Nature, and Psyche_

By Douglas Kellner
Curriculum Vitae:

Patricia Mills' _Woman, Nature, and Psyche_ produces a sharp feminist critique of Hegel, Marx, Freud, and the Critical Theory of the so-called Frankfurt School while carrying out discussions of the ways that Critical Theory does and does not provide adequate perspectives for contemporary feminism.[1] The thrust of Mills' critique is that all of the above named theorists represent and analyze women's situation from a male point-of-view and exclude the specificity of women's experience from their theoretical positions, while privileging male self-development, male relations (to father, mother, siblings, and others), and male experience and subjectivity over women's self-development, relations, experience, and subjectivity. This leads Mills to present (counter)analyses of motherhood, sisterhood, women's self-development and sexuality, and relations to supplement the exclusion of women from male theory.

Yet Mills is not totally unsympathetic to and rejective of the classical male master theorists with whom she dialogues and even identifies herself, to some extent, with Critical Theory, describing "the analyses of Horkheimer, Marcuse, and Adorno" as "the most developed philosophical thought of our times (p. ix). She points to previous appropriations and developments by women thinkers such as Wollstonecraft, Kollontai, and de Beauvoir of the more advanced (male) philosophical currents of their day for analyzing and deepening "our understanding of the domination of woman" and thus for advancing the cause of women's liberation (ibid). Mills writes:

It is important to realize that the domain of philosophy need not be ceded to the male. Philosophy, as a critical project, attempts to understand the universalizing process of civilization. Thus, philosophy is contingently, rather than necessarily, male: it asks universal questions but gives only partial answers, answers rooted in the male experience. On this basis, what is required is not an abandonment of philosophy but an immanent critique of it from the perspective of woman's experience (ibid).
Mills carries out a series of immanent critiques of various critical theorists' own claims for universality, truth, or political progressiveness from the standpoint of their analysis of women in order to elucidate the themes of women's domination and liberation, as well as male philosophy's systematic omissions, exclusions, blindspots, and deficiencies. At the same time, Mills carries out a constructive, as well as deconstructive or critical, project attempting to fill in the gaps, to overcome the limitations, and to correct the blindspots. Drawing on a wide range of contemporary feminist thought and her own original theorizing, Mills produces a much-needed supplement to the grand narratives of domination and liberation in contemporary Western thought and produces the beginnings of what might be seen as a possible synthesis of Critical Theory and feminism.[2]

It is precisely this issue that I shall focus on in my remarks today. Generally, I shall support her call for a synthesis of Critical Theory and feminism and shall cite her arguments and some of my own for why I think that such a synthesis is possible and desirable. In so doing, I shall also present and support her criticisms of the blindspots of male Critical Theorists and her proposals for reconstruction, while offering a couple of the usual critical caveats demanded by the genre of commentary and dialectic which view a critical clash of opposed positions as a possible route to theoretical development and synthesis. I shall also point to those aspects of her critique of Critical Theory that I found most compelling and to one omission in her discussion of a thinker identified with Critical Theory -- Erich Fromm -- whose work is, I think, generally compatible with Mills' project. In this paper, I shall therefore suggest that Fromm's contributions to a possible synthesis of Critical Theory and feminism are more significant than most literature on Critical Theory would indicate, and I shall point to the ways in which he was perhaps the most advanced thinker associated with Critical Theory concerning the issue of women's domination and liberation, though I shall as well indicate the limitations of his project on this topic.

Patriarchal Myths

In _Dialectic of Enlightenment_, Horkheimer and Adorno trace the rise of individual subjectivity from myth and nature while presenting a pre-history of the bourgeois consciousness, discovering many features and principles of later bourgeois thought in Homer's _Odyssey_.[3] The point of their illuminating hermeneutical reading of _The Odyssey_ -- "the basic text of European civilization" (DoE, p. 46) -- is to show the interconnections between myth and enlightenment and to show the emergence of the modern self from the mythic past. Homer's text is read as an allegorical journey in which Odysseus overcomes primitive natural forces (immersion in pleasure, sexuality, animal aggressivity and violence, brutal tribalism, and so on) and asserts his domination over the mythic/natural world. In his use of cunning and deceit, his drive toward self-preservation and refusal to accept mythic fate, his entrepreneurial control over his men, and his patriarchal power over his wife and other women, Odysseus is presented as a prefiguration of bourgeois man who reveals the connections among self-preservation, the domination of nature, and the entanglement of myth and Enlightenment.

_The Odyssey_ can therefore be read as an allegory concerning the nature and social functions of patriarchy. This issue raises the controversial problem of the relationships between Critical Theory and feminism. To some extent, it was their focus on the relations between humans and nature that led Critical Theory into the arena of sexual politics and to reflections on the nature and value of sexuality and desire, the role of repression and renunciation in the formation of personality, the establishment of relations between the sexes, and the nature of authority, the family, and patriarchy -- all themes which had been previously ignored by Marxism. Yet while Critical Theory and contemporary feminism share certain problematics, the relationship between them is quite problematical. On one hand, the Critical Theorists focus on issues central to feminism and frequently use the term "patriarchy" or "patriarchal" to designate modes of thought and behavior bound up with social domination, the domination of men over women and children, which they consistently criticize. On the other hand, as Patricia Mills has argued, they tend to analyze sexuality and gender from a male point of view and reproduce representations of women in their reading of _The Odyssey_ which arguably reproduce sexist stereotypes.

Building on Hegel's analysis of the importance of intersubjectivity and the dialectic of recognition for the development of individual subjectivity, Mills argues that: "The reappropriation of the myth of Odysseus by Horkheimer and Adorno is concerned primarily with male recognition; female desire is discussed only insofar as it is seen as promiscuous heterosexual desire and represents the domination of nature. It distorts an understanding of woman's desire and her role in the process of recognition on this account" (p. 63). In Mills' reading, Odysseus's adventures represent the dialectic of recognition central to male identity in which women function primarily as impediments and threats to male self-preservation and identity, or as handmaidens of male recognition and desire. The Sirens represent, in this scenario, male perceptions of woman as nature and as temptress, as an all-engulfing womb/nature which presents a threat to male identity and power. Circe provides a figure of the pleasures of sexuality, but represents woman's desire as fickle, indiscriminate, and promiscuous: woman as mere immediacy who tempts Odysseus's men into sexual pleasure and turns them into pigs. With an antidote from Hermes, however, (whom Mills reminds us is the god of commerce and the market), Odysseus becomes immune to Circe's powers and escapes degradation, symbolizing the triumph of male spirituality/rationality over female nature.

Mills also points out that in the passage in which Odysseus journeys to hell, the mother figures have become "impotent, blind and dumb" and the matriarchal images have been banished to Hades by "the religion of light." This passage is read by Mills as an allegory of the death of matriarchal power and the hegemony of patriarchy, while Odysseus's home-coming to Ithaca is read as an allegory of patriarchal domination and power, and Penelope is seen as a representation of "woman as alienated nature defined in terms of property and female chastity" (p. 75).

In all cases, Mills argues, it is male identity that is the focus of Horkheimer's and Adorno's reading, and women are represented as threats or handmaidens to male power. No positive image of women as autonomous subjects of desire and identity are projected, and woman is thus erased from the text of patriarchal myth. Yet Mills' reading might be qualified, or refocused, in light of Horkheimer's and Adorno's critique of Odysseus which presents aspects of a critique of the male bourgeois subject and patriarchy. On one hand, Horkheimer and Adorno might respond that they are simply presenting a reading of a myth which itself should be seen as an allegory of how patriarchy is part of the project of the domination of nature. Certainly a feminist reading of the myth could utilize Horkheimer's and Adorno's reading to develop a critique of patriarchy and the development of male subjectivity. This, indeed, is what Mills herself does, in addition to pointing out that _Dialectic of Enlightenment_ at best presents a male-centered critique of patriarchy which focuses on male desire, power, and identity, and that Critical Theory should provide room for discussion of woman's desire, subjectivity, identity, and experience.

Mills' critique here points, in fact, to a one-sidedness that has informed Critical Theory so far in its trajectory -- that is a primary focus on male subjectivity, development, and experience. Yet I believe that Mills' reading also suggests that Critical Theory's project, method, and categories allow, even demand, feminist supplementation. Against the suppression of sexuality and nature in some versions of Marxism and Enlightenment philosophy, Critical Theory has consistently made the dialectics between history and nature, as well as the individual and society, the focus of their theory, and thus provides the conceptual space in which a synthesis of Critical Theory and feminism could be articulated.

In fact, -- and here I am merely supplementing Mills a bit -- many elements of _Dialectic of Enlightenment_ anticipate themes of feminism. In Horkheimer's and Adorno's reading, for instance, Odysseus' story also illustrates the price paid for domination over nature and for the emergence of the sovereignty of the self over the totality of being which is the mark of enlightenment (DoE, p. 3ff., passim). For as Odysseus overcomes all the challenges to his sovereignty and power through mythic, natural, and human forces, he is increasingly separated from nature, other humans, and even the capacity for pleasure and relaxation in his body. Like later bourgeois society and individuals, Odysseus is alienated from nature, his body, and other people as he sets up boundaries between these domains and even establishes a boundary within his own body between reason and passion, mind and body -- a division and opposition that would later be the foundation of classical and modern philosophy.

It is precisely these boundaries that much contemporary feminist thought is concerned to criticize,[4] and it is arguable that Horkheimer and Adorno contribute to this project. Likewise, the study of "Juliette or Enlightenment and Morality" also contain elements of a proto-feminist critique of sexual objectification. Their discussion of the Marquis de Sade focuses on his application of enlightenment principles of instrumentality, calculation, and system to sexual practice, in which the body is organized as an instrument of sexual pleasure so that every orifice, position, and possibility for sexual stimulation is diligently pursued. Horkheimer and Adorno's critique is thus parallel to feminist critiques of sexual objectification and the ways that the body and sexuality are objectified in pornography, advertising, and mass culture.

In any case, both the excurses into Homer's _Odyssey_ and into enlightenment and morality demand multivalent, or multidimensional, readings to flesh out their major themes. As noted, Horkheimer and Adorno's interpretation of _The Odyssey_ can be read as a study of the prehistory of the bourgeois subject, as well as an allegory into the nature of patriarchy that itself is arguably a patriarchal narrative about women and gender. But both the study of The Odyssey and the following "excursus" on "Enlightenment and Morality" also exhibit features of a more strictly psychoanalytic reading of history to show how certain traits and behavior that they deem undesirable find their origins in the childhood of the Western experience.

Consequently, while Horkheimer's and Adorno's philosophy of history can be read as a negative rather than a positive theodicy, their tracing of the phenomenology of spirit can also be read as an attempt at a psychoanalytic therapeutic whereby the psyche can become reintegrated and healed by working through past sufferings. Like Freud and the Hegel of _The Phenomenology of Spirit_, Adorno and Horkheimer show the scars, wounds, and suffering endured in history -- yet their story does not have a happy ending. Unlike Hegel, the defeats and sufferings of spirit are not subsumed in a higher state of absolute knowledge and progress, and though their odyssey might produce emancipatory "enlightenment" for a few individuals, or for themselves, it is not clear what therapeutic effects their philosophy of history will produce.

Marcuse's use of Freud's myth of the primal horde -- which Mills also criticizes --, however, cannot, I believe, be redeemed so easily by a feminist critique or be utilized to help develop a synthesis of Critical Theory and feminism; indeed, Mills' critique of this myth helped me focus on a major limitation of Marcuse's thought -- its excessive Freudianism and naturalism.[5] Although Marcuse utilizes Freud's myth of the primal horde as a symbolic construct to illuminate the history of domination -rather than as an anthropological truth -- his focus, as Mills argues, is solely on male-relations, male-bonding, male-sexuality which excludes entirely women's relations, sexuality, and bonding from consideration of the dialectics of domination and liberation -- which Marcuse is attempting to advance. Part of Marcuse's problem, I believe, is a too uncritical reliance on Freud which is reproduced in his failure to more radically critique the Freudian notions of the Oedipus complex, women's sexuality, and sexuality itself (which is primarily male in Freud's theorizing).

Consequently, as Mills proposes, future syntheses between Critical Theory, feminism, and psychoanalysis should be more critical of certain Freudian notions and incorporate the most feminist critiques of Freud into the theory. In fact, -- although there is not time to run through these critiques here -- I would argue that Marcuse's questionable assumptions concerning the emancipatory potential of nature, sexuality, remembrance, fantasy, art, and the unconscious are grounded in an too uncritical acceptance of Freud's meta-psychology -- or, if one prefers, in his questionable appropriation and development of Freud's theory. For one thing, over-valuation of the emancipatory potential of nature -- or sexuality, or the unconscious -- underestimate its problematical aspects -- its destructive, aggressive, and conflictual aspects.

In addition, I believe that Marcuse's naturalism, his overly one-sided romanticizing of nature, and his notion of reconciliation with nature which, as Mills suggests, entails belief in identity between humans and nature, the possibility of oneness with nature, falls prey both to Adorno's critique of identity-thinking and post-structuralist critiques of naturalism, essentialism, suppression of otherness, and so on. That is, I believe that we need a more complex view of the dialectic of nature, society, and psyche than one finds in Marcuse's theorizing and that Mills emphasis on the problematic nature of relationships between men and women are a proper step in this direction.

There are many other critiques in Mills' text of the blindspots and limitations of Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse and other critical theorists that I am forced to pass over because of time-constraints. I would like, however, to consider the views of another thinker associated with Critical Theory -- Erich Fromm -- to see if he overcomes some of the limitations in the positions of the other members of the first generation of Critical Theory.

Erich Fromm and the Myth of Matriarchy

I am aware that bringing up the question of Fromm and Critical Theory raises a whole array of questions concerning the relation of Fromm to the Institute for Social Research, his break with the Institute, their later polemics, and later discussions of the relations between Fromm and Critical Theory which have been largely critical and dismissive of Fromm.[6] Against this generally dismissive posture, I would argue that a re-evaluation of Fromm is overdue and that, in particular, re-reading of his 1930s essays -- when he was closely involved in Institute project -- could contribute to a possible synthesis of Critical Theory and feminism. More specifically, his essays on matriarchy contain some provocative perspectives on the question of women's liberation that arguably help overcome the more male-oriented perspectives of his colleagues. In making this proposal, I am also aware of the fierce debates within contemporary feminism and anthropology concerning the nature, history, and normative consequences of the theory of matriarchy and would merely propose taking Fromm's analysis as a conceptual myth which illuminates certain aspects of the history of sexuality and which proposes certain normative ideals for the present.

One of the distinctive features of Critical Theory is their synthesis of Marx and Freud aimed at producing a theory of the psychological mediations between psyche and society ignored by traditional Marxism.7 The key theoretical essays outlining the Institute's materialist social psychology were published in the _Zeitschrift fur Sozialforschung_ by Erich Fromm. Fromm was a practicing psychoanalyst who also received a University position as lecturer in the Institute for Psychoanalysis at the University of Frankfurt; he was interested as well in Marxism and sociology, and joined the Institute as their psychology expert in 1929.[8] Fromm was one of the first to attempt to synthesize Marx and Freud to develop a Marxian social psychology, and many of the other members of the Institute were to attempt similar syntheses, though the precise mixture and interpretations of Freud and Marx were often quite different.

Fromm sketches the basic outline of his project in his article "The Method and Function of an Analytic Social Psychology" subtitled "Notes on Psychoanalysis and Historical Materialism."[9] He begins by discussing the basic principles of psychoanalysis, and then indicates why he thinks Freud's theory, properly interpreted and reconstructed, is compatible with historical materialism. For Fromm, psychoanalysis is a materialist psychology which analyzes instinctual drives and needs as the motive forces for human behavior. It carries out an inventory of the basic instincts and dissects the unconscious forces and mechanisms that sometimes control human behavior. Psychoanalysis also analyzes the influence of specific life experiences on the inherited instinctual constitution. Thus, in Fromm's view, Freud's theory is "exquisitely historical: it seeks to understand the drive structure through the understanding of life history" (CoP, p. 139).

The key conception of psychoanalysis for Fromm is the "active and passive adaptation of the biological apparatus, the instincts, to social reality" (CoP, p. 141). Psychoanalysis is especially valuable for social psychology in that it seeks "to discover the hidden sources of the obviously irrational behavior patterns in societal life -- in religion, custom, politics, and education" (CoP, p. 141). Fromm therefore believes that an "analytical social psychology" is thoroughly compatible with historical materialism since both are materialist sciences which "do not start from 'ideas' but from earthly life and needs. They are particularly close in their appraisal of consciousness, which is seen by both as less the driving force behind human behavior than the reflection of other hidden forces" (CoP, p. 142). Although historical materialism tends to assume the primacy of economic forces and interests in individual and social life, while the psychoanalytic focus is on instinctual and psychological forces, Fromm believes that they can be fruitfully synthesized. In particular, he believes that an analytical social psychology can study the ways that socio-economic structure influences and shapes the instinctual apparatus of both individuals and groups.

The psychoanalytic emphasis on the primacy of the family in human development can also be given a historical materialist twist, Fromm believes. Since "the family is the medium through which the society or the social class stamps its specific structure on the child," analysis of the family and socialization processes can indicate how society reproduces its class structure and imposes its ideologies and practices on individuals. Psychoanalytic theories, Fromm suggested, which abstract from study of the ways that a given society socialized its members into accepting and reproducing a specific social structure, tend to take bourgeois society as a norm and to illicitly universalize its findings. Historical materialism provides a corrective to these errors by stressing the intrinsically historical nature of all social formations, institutions, practices, and human life.

Fromm's essay is primarily programmatic and does not specify in great detail how capitalist-bourgeois society reproduces its structures within its members. Rather he is concerned to outline a research program and to argue for the compatibility of psychoanalysis and Marxism proposing that psychoanalysis "can enrich the overall conception of historical materialism on one specific point. It can provide a more comprehensive knowledge of one of the factors that is operative in the social process: the nature of man himself" (CoP, p. 154). For Fromm, natural instincts are part of the base (_Unterbau_) of society, and he believes that our understanding of human behavior and social processes will be enriched by reciprocal knowledge of how society molds and adapts instincts to its structures, and how human beings shape and change their environments to meet their needs. "In certain fundamental respects, the instinctual apparatus itself is a biological given; but it is highly modifiable. The role of primary formative factors goes to the economic conditions. The family is the essential medium through which the economic situation exerts its formative influence on the individual's psyche. The task of social psychology is to explain the shared, socially relevant, psychic attitudes and ideologies -- and their unconscious roots in particular -- in terms of the influence of economic conditions on libido strivings" (CoP, p. 149).

Fromm also suggests that psychoanalysis can help explain how the socio-economic interests and structures are transformed into ideologies, as well as how ideologies shape and influence human thought and behavior. Such a merger of Marx and Freud will immeasurably enrich materialist social theory, in Fromm's view, by providing analysis of the mediations through which psyche and society interact and reciprocally shape each other. Every society, he claims, has its own libidinal structure and its processes whereby authority is reproduced in human thought and behavior. An analytical social psychology must thus be deeply empirical to explain how domination and submission take place in specific societies in order to provide understanding of how social and psychological change is possible.

In an essay from the same period, "Psychoanalytic Characterology and Its Relevance for Social Psychology," Fromm applies his analytic social psychology to an investigation of how bourgeois society forms dominant character types which reproduce social structure and submit to social authority.[10] A theory of social character would be central to Fromm's work, though in this essay he assumes in rather orthodox Freudian fashion that the "general basis of psychoanalytic characterology is to view certain character traits as sublimations or reaction formations of certain instinctual drives that are sexual in nature" (CoP, pp. 164-165). Fromm then discusses Freud's theory of oral, anal, and genital characters, and how specific social structures produce and reward certain types of character traits while eliminating others. In particular, drawing on Werner Sombart's study of the "bourgeois" and on Benjamin Franklin's diaries, Fromm discusses how bourgeois society produced a character structure in which duty, parsimoniousness, discipline, thrift, and so on became dominant traits of the bourgeois character structure while love, sensual pleasure, charity, and kindness were devalued.

Anticipating later Institute studies of the changes within personality in contemporary capitalism, Fromm writes of developments of character structure under monopoly capitalism and suggests: "It is clear that the typical character traits of the bourgeois of the nineteenth century gradually disappeared, as the classic type of the self-made, independent entrepreneur, who is both the owner and the manager of his own business, was disappearing. The character traits of the earlier business man became more of a handicap than a help to the new type of capitalist. A description and analysis of the latter's psyche in present-day capitalism is another task that should be undertaken by psychoanalytic social psychology" (CoP, p. 185).

Fromm would later describe in detail the dominant character types within contemporary capitalist societies.[11] One of the most interesting of his attempts in the early 1930s, however, to develop a materialist social psychology is found in his study of Johann Jacob Bachofen's theory of matriarchy in an article "The Theory of Mother Right and its Relevance for Social Psychology."[12] Fromm indicates how Bachofen's study had been appropriated both by socialist thinkers such as Engels and Bebel as well as by conservative thinkers. After criticizing the conservative version of the theory of matriarchy, Fromm suggests how it can be appropriated by progressive thought. To begin, Bachofen provides insights, Fromm believes, into how woman's nature develops from social practices; specifically, how the activity of mothering produces certain nurturing, maternal character traits associated with women, thus anticipating recent feminist theories of mothering.[13]

Moreover, Fromm suggests that Bachofen's theory of the matriarchal society reveals "a close kinship with the ideals of socialism. For example, concern for man's material welfare and earthly happiness is presented as one of the central ideas of matriarchal society. On other points, too, the reality of matriarchal society as described by Bachofen is closely akin to socialist ideals and goals and directly opposed to romantic and reactionary aims. According to Bachofen, matriarchal society was a primeval democracy where sexuality is free of christian depreciation, where maternal love and compassion are the dominant moral principles, where injury to one's fellowman is the gravest sin, and where private property does not yet exist" (CoP, pp. 118-119). For Fromm, the crucial question concerning the theory of matriarchy is not whether or not a matriarchal society as described by Bachofen actually existed or not. Rather, the theory of matriarchy represents a certain set of institutions, attitudes, and values opposed to capitalist patriarchal society, and for this reason won wide approval "from those socialists who sought, not reform, but a thoroughgoing change of society's social and psychic structure" (CoP, p. 120).

In discussion of the transition from matriarchy to patriarchy, Fromm suggests some of the ways that the patriarchal social structure "is closely bound up with the class character of present-day society.... The patriarchal family is one of the most important loci for producing the psychic attitudes that operate to maintain the stability of class society." (CoP, p. 124). In his view, a "patricentric complex" develops in bourgeois society which includes "affective dependence on fatherly authority, involving a mixture of anxiety, love and hate; identification with paternal authority vis-a-vis weaker ones; a strong and strict superego whose principle is that duty is more important than happiness; guilt feelings, reproduced over and over again by the discrepancy between the demands of the superego and those of reality, whose effect is to keep people docile to authority. It is this psycho-social condition that explains why the family is almost universally regarded as the foundation (or at least one of the important supports) of society" (CoP, p. 124).

In a patricentric society, one's relation to the father is central. Going beyond Freud's theory of the Oedipus complex which also ascribes the father-son relationship primary importance in psychological development, Fromm inventories various ways in which paternal authority is introjected in socialization processes, and the ways that such processes reproduce the values of capitalism and bourgeois society. Fromm then contrasts children's relations with their mother and the matricentric values involved in this relation. While relation to one's father is often conditional on one's behavior, success, and ability to fulfill his expectations, there is at least an unconditional element to mother love and less rigid introjection of values, guilt, and needs to succeed to win love: "Summing up, we can say that the patricentric individual -- and society -- is characterized by a complex of traits in which the following are predominant: a strict superego, guilt feelings, docile love for paternal authority, desire and pleasure at dominating weaker people, acceptance of suffering as a punishment for one's own guilt, and a damaged capacity for happiness. The matricentric complex, by contrast, is characterized by a feeling of optimistic trust in mother's unconditional love, far fewer guilt feelings, a far weaker superego, and a greater capacity for pleasure and happiness. Along with these traits there also develops the ideal of motherly compassion and love for the weak and others in need of help" (CoP, p. 131). After a historical sketch of the association of matricentric culture with the Middle Ages and Catholicism, and patricentric culture with the bourgeoisie, capitalism, and Protestantism, Fromm concludes that: "the real, full-fledged representative of the new matricentric tendencies proved to be the class whose motive for total dedication to work was prompted basically by economic considerations rather than by an internalized compunction: the working class. This same emotional structure provided one of the conditions for the effective influence of Marxist socialism on the working class -- in so far as its influence depended on the specific nature of their drive structure" (CoP, p. 134).

In Fromm's reading, Bachofen points out the relativity of existing societal relationships and institutions such as marriage, monogamy, private property, and other bourgeois social forms. Fromm suggests that such views on the social constructedness of social arrangements should "be welcomed by a theory and political activity that advocated a fundamental change of the existing social structure" (CoP, p. 123). There were other political reasons as well why such a theory could appeal to progressives: "Aside from the fact that the theory of matriarchy underlined the relativity of the bourgeois social structure, its very special content could not but win the sympathy of Marxists. First of all, it had discovered a period when woman had been the authority and focal point of society, rather than the slave of man and an object for barter; this lent important support to the struggle for woman's political and social emancipation. The great battle of the eighteenth century had to be picked up afresh by those who where fighting for a classless society" (CoP, p. 123).

Fromm concludes the study by pointing to compatibilities between the matricentric tendencies and Marxism -- and thus between Marxism and feminism: "The psychic basis of the Marxist social program was predominantly the matricentric complex. Marxism is the idea that if the productive capabilities of the economy were organized rationally, every person would be provided with a sufficient supply of the goods he needed -- no matter what his role in the production process was; furthermore, all this could be done with far less work on the part of each individual than had been necessary up to now, and finally, every human being has an unconditional right to happiness in life, and this happiness basically resides in the 'harmonious unfolding of one's personality' -- all these ideas were the rational, scientific expression of ideas that could only be expressed in fantasy under earlier economic conditions: Mother Earth gives all her children what they need, without regard for their merits" (CoP, p. 134-135).

While one might contest Fromm's equation of matricentric culture with Marxian socialism, it is interesting to note his concern for the emancipation of women and his attacks on patriarchy. One also notes in the article his concern, shared by other key members of the Institute, for sensual gratification and happiness. He believes that Bachofen's emphasis on "material happiness on earth" and "social hedonism" in his theory of matriarchy helps explain its appeal to socialist thinkers (CoP, p. 125), and underlines Fromm's own commitment to material happiness and sensual gratification in a discussion of how sexuality "offers one of the most elementary and powerful opportunities for satisfaction and happiness" (CoP, p. 126).

Critical Theory and Gender

Fromm, however, like the other critical theorists, lacks an adequate theory of gender. His major post-War texts -- _Man For Himself_, _The Art of Loving_, _The Sane Society_, and _The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness_ either lack discussion of gender or reproduce cultural commonplaces on the differences between men and women without any sustained reflection on sexual difference, gender, and relations between men and women.[14]

For instance, in _AL_, Fromm speaks of the need for union between the masculine and feminine poles (pp. 27ff.) and he describes the masculine character "as having the qualities of penetration, guidance, activity, discipline, and adventurousness; the feminine character {is defined} by the qualities of productive receptiveness, protection, realism, endurance, motherliness" (p. 31). Fromm does qualify this by indicating that: "It must always be kept in mind that in each individual both characteristics are blended but with the preponderance of those appertaining to 'his' or 'her' sex" (ibid). Yet there is something of a naturalistic essentialism in his views of men and women, for he indicates that homosexuals can never attain the profound union of masculine and feminine in love because they are bonded to the same sex. Such views indicate that Fromm's perspectives on men and women are deeply shaped by the prejudices of his cultural milieu and that like other critical theorists he tends to take a male point of view in analyzing gender and sexuality.

Fromm does, it is true, criticize Freud's "extreme patriarchalism, which led him to the assumption that sexuality per se is masculine, and thus made him ignore the specific female sexuality" (p. 30). Yet it is not clear that Fromm himself analyzes "the specific female sexuality," though he does carry through analysis of "motherly love"; it might be interesting to speculate why Fromm provided anticipations of the current feminist stress (in some currents) on mothering and yet failed to explore female sexuality or sexual difference.

In _The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness_, Fromm repeats the high evaluation of matriarchy found in the 1930s essays that we examined earlier and utilizes anthropological commonplaces to delineate the differences between men and women. In his discussion of anthropology (especially pp. 155ff.) Fromm examines the "central role of the mother" in Neolithic villages and cites "the older division of labor, where men hunted and women gathered roots and fruits, agriculture was most likely the discovery of women, while animal husbandry was that of men" (p. 155). In a parenthetical aside, he notes: "(Considering the fundamental role of agriculture in the development of civilization, it is perhaps no exaggeration to state that modern civilization was founded by women)" (ibid). Fromm suggests that the earth's and mother's capacity to give birth probably gave women a primary role in Neolithic society and then cites the evidence for "the central role of women" (pp. 155ff.) and Bachofen's theory of matriarchy (pp. 58ff.).

Following Mumford, Childe, and others, Fromm next discusses the "urban revolution" and the transition to male-dominated society, writing: "These social and political changes were accompanied by a profound change in the role of women in society and of the mother figure in religion. No longer was the fertility of the soil the source of all life and creativity, but the intellect which produced new inventions, techniques, abstract thinking, and the state with its laws. No longer the womb, but the mind became the creative power, and with this, not women, but men dominated society" (pp. 163-164). Fromm continues with a critical presentation of patriarchal rule "in which the principle of control is inherent: control of nature, control of slaves, women and children" (p. 164).

But, like other critical theorists, whereas he provides an excellent critique of domination, including patriarchal domination, he reproduces male prejudices when speaking more specifically of women, as when he identifies men with mind and women with the womb in the passage cited above. Amusingly, when describing the powers of the mind, he invests it with male sexual traits as when he writes of "the potency and subtlety of penetrating, theoretical thinking" (p. 159); indeed, "penetration" is one of his favorite terms for intellectual achievement.

It is also not certain that his use of the myth of matriarchy is the best conceptual device to valorize the qualities of women. When I presented Fromm's use of Bachofen's theory of matriarchy uncritically at an earlier conference, a woman from the audience found the notion problematical on the grounds that many women today were trying to escape from their definition as mothers which the matriarchy myth uses to define women's essential functions. Indeed, the status of myth within Critical Theory needs to be examined. I indicated earlier in the paper how Horkheimer and Adorno use the myth of Odysseus to portray the origins of bourgeois subjectivity and patriarchy and how Marcuse uses Freud's myth of the primal horde to illuminate the dialectic of rebellion and domination in history. Patricia Mills utilizes _Medea_ as a countermyth to the Odysseus story which explicates women's experience and a critique of male domination and uses a reading of _Antigone_ as well to provide insights into woman's oppression.

Of all the critical theorists, it was probably Fromm who most extensively utilized myth to explore human experience: several of his books focus on myth interpretation and many utilize readings of myth to illuminate contemporary experience and social reality. While some of these uses of myth are quite interesting and often illuminating, I think that there are some dangers in relying too heavily on myth. While myths provide some valuable material for Critical Theory, they also perpetuate modes of thought that should perhaps be overcome for myths tend to be universalistic, foundationalist, essentialist, and ahistorical. They also sometimes codify cultural experience and prejudices which might promote domination, especially male domination of women as do, arguably, some of Freud's myths, the Odysseus myth which legitimates male domination, and the matriarchy myth which privileges the role of mothering as an essential female trait and function.

Thus, I believe that Critical Theory today needs to be more critical of some of the myths used in the tradition and needs to rethink the use of myth in social theory. This could lead to a salutary demythologizing of the tradition, or the creation of new myths which may or may not turn out to be restrictive and dangerous. Thinking through the issues of gender and the possibility of a synthesis of Critical Theory and feminism might help us think through some of the tasks of Critical Theory today.

A Possible Synthesis?

I conclude with a set of remarks concerning why I think that a synthesis of Critical Theory and feminism is possible and desirable. First, I have already suggested that Critical Theory's dialectic of domination and liberation demands supplementation by feminism and that the conceptual space for such a project is already provided by the (inadequate) analysis of the relation between patriarchy and social domination. Secondly, Critical Theory intersects with a tradition of feminist thought in its critique of the ways that science and technology serve the interests of human domination, and with its positing of alternative values of reconciliation, gratification, and peace.[15] In fact, a major theme of _Dialectic of Enlightenment_ is its radical critique of science, technology, and instrumental rationality that continues to be of value during an epoch when tendencies described by Horkheimer and Adorno are increasing in scope and intensity. This critique was later taken up by Marcuse and Habermas as well and provides an important area of intersection between Critical Theory and feminism.

Thirdly, as I argue in my book on _Critical Theory, Marxism and Modernity_, its emancipatory perspectives offer positions on cultural and sexual politics which are akin to some of the more progressive tendencies in various new social movements -- including feminism -- which also provide correctives to frequent deficiencies in at least some of the new movements. Critical Theory has always been concerned with the aesthetic-erotic dimension of experience, and has defended pleasure, happiness, play, and sensual gratification. Its emphasis on the body and materialist focus on needs and potentialities thus lends itself to dialogue with the sort of sexual politics advanced by progressive feminism. Indeed, Critical Theory has always emphasized the importance of human sexuality for individual life, and has stressed the need for better human relations between and within the sexes. Critical Theorists have also pointed to the importance of the family as an instrument of socialization, and have criticized the ways that the patriarchal family produced authoritarian personalities while oppressing women and children (see Chapters 3 and 4). While some (male) Critical Theorists often projected male attitudes and perceptions in their works, others, like Marcuse, had relatively progressive perspectives on sexual politics, and responded positively to feminism from the time of its first appearance.[16]

In any case, Critical Theory is, as I argued earlier, consistent with development of the sort of critique of patriarchy and demand for women's liberation advanced by feminism. So far, Critical Theory has not productively developed feminist perspectives though recent efforts have been made to link Critical Theory with feminism. Seyla Benhabib, for instance, ends a critique of "the aporias of Critical Theory" with a call to develop an "emancipatory politics in the present that would combine the perspective of radical democratic legitimacy in the organization of institutional life with that of a cultural-moral critique of patriarchy and the industrial exploitation of the nature within and without us."17 And Jessica Benjamin in _The Bonds of Love_ carries out a systematic development of a psychoanalytic feminism with roots in Critical Theory (see note 2).

It is in the context of developing a synthesis between Critical Theory and feminism that I find Patricia Mills book valuable as well. For it both calls attention to the limitations within classical Critical Theory which provide obstacles to providing such a synthesis, as well as to those perspectives which provide more promising possibilities. After the celebration of otherness and fragmentation of radical thought and politics during the 1980s -fragmentation and internecine warring which primarily benefits the intellectual and political establishments -- it may be time for some of us at least to begin overcoming differences, to begin engaging in more productive dialogue, to building new syntheses. Which raises a final question: has otherness been fetishized and can we develop intellectual and political projects which respect and valorize individuality, difference, and otherness which at the same time aim at commonality, solidarity, and community? The future of Critical Theory will depend, I submit, on the answers that we provide to such questions.


1. Patricia Mills, _Women, Nature and Psyche_ (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987); page references included in text. For my interpretation of Critical Theory, see _Critical Theory, Marxism and Modernity_ (Cambridge and Baltimore: Polity Press and Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989).

2. On some connections between Critical Theory and feminism, see Jessica Benjamin, "The End of Internalization: Adorno's Social Psychology," _Telos_ 32 (Summer 1977), pp. 42-64; "Authority and the Family Revisited: Or, a World Without Fathers?," _New German Critique_ 13 (Winter 1978), pp. 35-58; and _The Bonds of Love_ (New York: Pantheon, 1990).

3. Max Horkheimer and T.W. Adorno, _Dialectic of Enlightenment_ (New York: Seabury, 1972; originally published in 1947).

4. On the ways that mind-body and subject-object dichotomies are rooted in the fundamental categories of Western metaphysics, Critical Theory, feminism, and Jacques Derrida are in agreement, though the theme of reconciliation with nature is usually dropped and often opposed by deconstructionists.

5. Mills' polemic is against the discussion of Freud's notion of the primal horde in Herbert Marcuse, _Eros and Civilization_ (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955).

6. The Left's position toward Fromm has been largely polemical. See Marcuse, _Eros_; Russell Jacoby, _Social Amnesia_ (Boston: Beacon Press, 1974). For an alternative view, see John Rickert, "The Fromm-Marcuse Debate Revisited," _Theory and Society_, Vol. XV (1986), pp. 351-400. Rickert attempts to revise prevailing Left dismissals of Fromm as an idealist, revisionist, and worse by valorizing his positive contributions to radical social theory and by defending Fromm against critiques by Marcuse, Adorno, Jacoby, and others. Unfortunately, Rickert's project of revalorizing Fromm was cut short by his untimely death.

7. On the project of developing a synthesis of Marx and Freud, see Jay, _Dialectical Imagination_, ibid, pp. 86ff.; Russell Jacoby, _Social Amnesia_ (Boston: Beacon Press, 197); and, especially, the two-volume anthology _Marxismus, Psychoanalyse_, _Sex-Pol_ (Frankfurt: Fisher, 1970) which highlights the role of Siegfried Bernfeld, Wilhelm Reich, and the Critical Theorists as early adherents of the attempt to develop a Freudo-Marxism -- a project later taken up by French theorists such as Lyotard, Deleuze, Guattari, and the early Baudrillard. On this project, see my _Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond_ (Cambridge and Palo Alto: Polity Press and Stanford University Press) and (with Steven Best) _Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations_ (London and New York: Macmillan Press and Guilford Press, 1991).

8. See the essays by Erich Fromm in _The Crisis of Psychoanalysis_ (hereafter cited in text as CoP) (New York: Fawcett, 1970), pp. 109-188. Fromm's important role within the earlier stages of the development of Critical Theory has generally been underestimated by most interpreters. His contributions deserve to be studied in much more detail than has previously been the case.

9. Erich Fromm, "The Method and Function of an Analytic Social Psychology," in _Crisis_, op. cit., pp. 137-162.

10. Erich Fromm, "Psychoanalytic Characterology and It's Relevance for Social Psychology," _Crisis_, op. cit., pp. 163-188.

11. Erich Fromm, _Man for Himself_ (New York: Holt Rinehart Winston, 1947) and _The Sane Society_ (New York: Holt Rinehart Winston, 1955).

12. Erich Fromm, "The Theory of Mother Right and its Relevance for Social Psychology," _Crisis_, op. cit., pp. 109-136.

13. See Nancy Chodorow, _The Reproduction of Mothering_ (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978).

14. I recently examined Fromm's major books in English for theorization of gender and sexual difference and found his analyses disappointing; I have not yet, however, used the excellent "Gesamtregister" to systematically study all of the references to gender in the ten volume Gesamtausgabe and will report on this finding during the conference.

15. Fromm continued to develop these themes in his later work. See Rainer Funk, _The Courage to Be Human_ (New York: Continuum, 1982).

16. Herbert Marcuse, "Marxism and Feminism" _Women's Studies_, 2, 3 (1974), pp. 279-88).

17. Seyla Benhabib, _Critique, Norm, and Utopia_ (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987).