Erich Fromm and Critical Criminology: Beyond the Punitive Society


[Recipient of the International Erich Fromm Prize, 2000)

Part one is a Fromm biography, while part two includes six essays on Fromm and criminology by contemporary scholars, of which mine is entitled “Erich Fromm and the Frankfurt School Critique of Criminal Justice” (pp. 83-119). Part three contains annotated translations (by Heinz D. Osterle and me) of Fromm’s discussions — during the early years of the Frankfurt School — of the criminal justice system in a class society:  “The State as Educator: On the Psychology of Criminal Justice” (pp. 123-28) and “On the Psychology of the Criminal and the Punitive Society” (pp. 129-56).  These virtually unknown early writings on crime by Fromm were first published in German in psychoanalytic journals.  In these two articles published in 1930 and 1931 in pre-Hitler Germany, Fromm presents the criminal justice system as an important legitimating institution for the overall capitalist social order.

Moreover, he argues that the discourse over crime on the part of the state – and the response this receives among the masses — serves to bind those masses to the state in a manner at variance with their own material interests. The state does so by appealing to sadistic drives among the masses and also by projecting itself as a father figure over those masses, he holds.  In this sense, the discourse over crime and punishment serves a similar function to that of war and militarism.  These articles represent one of the first efforts on the part of Fromm and the Frankfurt School to use a Freudian Marxist approach to analyze political authoritarianism.

Table Of Contents

Part 1. Introduction to Fromm

1. Erich Fromm’s Life and Work / Rainer Funk

Part 2. Fromm and Contemporary Criminology

2. Socialist Humanism and the Problem of Crime: Thinking about Erich Fromm in the Development of Critical/Peacemaking Criminology / Richard Quinney

3. Fromm, Sadomasochism, and Contemporary American Crime / Lynn S. Chancer

4. Alienation and Crime: Lessons from Erich Fromm / John F. Wozniak

5. Gender, Social Character, Cultural Forces, and the Importance of Love: Erich Fromm’s Theories Applied to Patterns of Crime / Polly F. Radosh

6. Erich Fromm and the Frankfurt School Critique of Criminal Justice / Kevin Anderson

Part 3. Two Essays by the Young Fromm on Crime and Criminal Justice

7. The State as Educator: On the Psychology of Criminal Justice (1930) / Erich Fromm

8. On the Psychology of the Criminal and the Punitive Society (1931) / Erich Fromm.


Steve Hall, Capital & Class, 2002.

Neil McLaughlin, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 38 (2), Spring 2002.


“Now more than ever we need voices of humanity and critical reason to address the scandalous injustice of the so called ‘criminal justice’ system in the United States. The name of the eminent psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm, may at first seem a surprising addition to enter these lists, but as this valuable collection of his criminological essays along with contemporary work inspired by him shows, it is a welcome and entirely appropriate one.”

— Joel Kovel, Bard College, author of The Age of Desire: Reflections of a Radical Psychoanalyst

“I consider this volume to be among the most important works of criminological theory to appear in my more than three decades in the field.”

— Hal Pepinsky, Indiana University, author of The Geometry of Violence



Kevin B. Anderson and Richard Quinney, Madison, Wisconsin, July 2008