The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm Read Online (FREE)
The reasons for this fact lie in the very nature of capitalist society. In pre-capitalist societies, the exchange of goods was determined either by direct force, by tradition, or by personal bonds of love or friendship. In capitalism, the all-determining factor is the exchange on the market. Whether we deal with the commodity market, the labor market, or the market of services, each person exchanges whatever he has to sell for that which he wants to acquire under the conditions of the market, without the use of force or fraud.
Fairness ethics lend themselves to confusion with the ethics of the Golden Rule. The maxim “to do unto others as you would like them to do unto you” can be interpreted as meaning “be fair in your exchange with others.” But actually, it was formulated originally as a more popular version of the Biblical “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Indeed, the Jewish-Christian norm of brotherly love is entirely different from fairness ethics. It means to love your neighbor, that is, to feel responsible for and one with him, while fairness ethics means not to feel responsible, and one, but distant and separate; it means to respect the rights of your neighbor, but not to love him. It is no accident that the Golden Rule has become the most popular religious maxim today; because it can be interpreted in terms of fairness ethics it is the one religious maxim which everybody understands and is willing to practice. But the practice of love must begin with recognizing the difference between fairness and love.
Here, however, an important question arises. If our whole social and economic organization is based on each one seeking his own advantage, if it is governed by the principle of egotism tempered only by the ethical principle of fairness, how can one do business, how can one act within the framework of existing society and at the same time practice love? Does the latter not imply giving up all one’s secular concerns and sharing the life of the poorest? This question has been raised and answered in a radical way by the Christian monks, and by persons like Tolstoi, Albert Schweitzer, and Simone Weil. There are others who share the opinion of the basic incompatibility between love and normal secular life within our society. They arrive at the result that to speak of love today means only to participate in the general fraud; they claim that only a martyr or a mad person can love in the world of today, hence that all discussion of love is nothing but preaching. This very respectable viewpoint lends itself readily to a rationalization of cynicism. Actually it is shared implicitly by the average person who feels “I would like to be a good Christian—but I would have to starve if I meant it seriously.” This “radicalism” results in moral nihilism. Both the “radical thinkers” and the average person are unloving automatons and the only difference between them is that the latter is not aware of it, while the former knows it and recognizes the “historical necessity” of this fact.