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Erich Fromm: Meeting the Challenges of the Century

In Being a World Citizen, Human Development, The Search for Peace on March 25, 2017 at 8:24 AM


By René Wadlow

I believe that the One World which is emerging can come into existence only if a New Man comes into being – a man who has emerged from the archaic ties of blood and soil, and who feels himself to be a citizen of the world whose loyalty is to the human race and to life, rather than to any exclusive part of it, a man who loves his country because he loves mankind, and whose views are not warped by tribal loyalties.

Erich Fromm, Beyond the Chains of Illusion

Erich Fromm (1900-1980), the psychoanalyst concerned with the relation between personality and society, whose birth anniversary we mark on March 23, was born in 1900. Thus, his life was marked by the socio-political events of the century he faced, especially those of Germany, his birth place.


Erich Fromm was born into an orthodox Jewish family in Frankfurt am Main. The families of both his mother and father had rabbis and Talmudic scholars, and so he grew up in a household where the significance of religious texts was an important part of life. While Fromm later took a great distance from Orthodox Jewish thought, he continued a critical appreciation of Judaism.

He was interested in the prophets of the Old Testament but especially by the hope of the coming of a Messianic Age – a powerful theme in popular Judaism. The coming of the Messiah would establish a better world in which there would be higher spiritual standards but also a new organization of society. The Messianic ideal is one in which the spiritual and the political cannot be separated from one another. (1)

He was 14 when the First World War started and 18 when the German State disintegrated – too young to fight but old enough to know what was going on and to be impressed by mass behavior. Thus, he was concerned from the start of his university studies with the link between sociology and psychology as related ways of understanding how people act in a collective way.

As was true for German university students of his day, he was able to spend a year or a bit more in different German universities: in Frankfurt where he studied with the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory whose members he would see again in New York when they were all in exile, at the University of Munich, at the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute, and at the University of Heidelberg from where he received a doctorate.


Sigmund Freud

He had two intellectual influences in his studies: Sigmund Freud whose approach was the basis of the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute and Karl Marx, a strong influence in the Frankfurt School. Fromm chose a psychoanalyst path as a profession, learning and, as was required in the Freudian tradition, spending five years in analysis. Fromm, however, increasingly took his distance from Freudian orthodoxy believing that society beyond family relations had an impact on the personality. He also broke one of the fundamental rules of Freudian analysis in not overcoming the transfer of identification with his analyst. He married the woman who was his analyst. The marriage broke after four years perhaps proving the validity of Freud’s theories on transfers and counter-transfers.


Karl Marx

Erich Fromm’s reputation and his main books rest on his concern with the relation of individual psychology and social forces – the relation between Freud and Marx. However, probably the most fundamental thinker who structured his approach was the Buddha whom he discovered around the age of 26. It is not Buddhism as a faith which interested him – Buddhism being the tradition built on some of the insights of the Buddha. Rather it was the basic quest of the Buddha which interested him: what is suffering? Can suffering be reduced or overcome? If so, how?

Fromm saw suffering in the lives of the Germans among whom he worked in the late 1920s, individual suffering as well as socio-economic suffering. For Fromm there must be a link between the condition of the individual and the social milieu, a link not fully explained by either Freud or Marx.

Fromm had enough political awareness to leave Germany for the United States just as Hitler was coming to power in 1933. From 1934, he was teaching in leading United States (U. S.) universities. In 1949 he took up a post as professor at the National Autonomous University in Mexico, but often lectured at U. S. universities as well.


Fromm’s work is largely structured around the theme of suffering and how it can be reduced. There is individual suffering. It can be reduced by compassion and love. One of his best-known books is The Art of Loving. Love is an art, a “discipline”, and he sets out exercises largely drawn from the Zen tradition to develop compassion toward oneself and all living beings.

There is also social suffering which can be reduced by placing an emphasis not on greater production and greater consumption but on being more, an idea that he develops in To Have or To Be. Fromm was also aware of social suffering and violence on a large scale and the difficulties of creating a society of compassionate and loving persons. His late reflections on the difficulties of creating The Sane Society (the title of a mid-1950s book) is The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. We still face the same issues of individual and social suffering and the relation between the two. Erich Fromm’s thinking makes a real contribution as we continue to search.


(1) See his You Shall Be As Gods for a vision of the Jewish scriptures as being a history of liberation.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

A Time of Renewal: The Day of World Citizens

In Being a World Citizen, Human Development, The Search for Peace, World Law on March 20, 2017 at 8:00 AM

By René Wadlow

A moment to celebrate our sense of being a World Citizen is the midnight passage between March 20, now designated by the United Nations (UN) as the International Day of Happiness, and March 21 which is now a UN holiday marking the start of Nowroz, the New Year in Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia. March 21 is also the start of the New Year for the worldwide faith of the Baha’i.


A Nowroz celebration in Erbil, capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan, in 2012. (C) Mustafa Khayat

As the scholar of religion Mircea Eliade has pointed out, there are moments “out of time” when all is considered possible. The laws of the previous time are suspended and the new time has not yet started. This is a widely-shared belief, even if largely separated from any religious significance, as we see in the moment just before the start of one January when people chant the number of seconds prior to midnight: Ten, nine, eight… Happy New Year!

The midnight passage between March 20 and 21 is linked to the Spring Equinox, a time of equal balance between day and night. However, at midnight it is yet too early to see any signs of dawn. We know only by faith and hope that light will come. In the same way we know that we are at a crucial moment in world history when there is a passage of consciousness focused on the individual State to a consciousness focused on the unity of humanity. Not all persons are moving at the same speed to a universal consciousness. There are those who are still at an “America First” level, but there are an increasing number of people who realize that harmony and balance are the key to our ascent to the next higher level: Harmony between intellect and heart, mind and body, female and male, being and doing. We are moving toward the full development of each person in a cosmopolitan, humanist world society.

Outer Earth Globe Rise Sunrise Sun Space World

Today, after decades of conflict when the emphasis of State leaders, both in policy and practice, was upon competition, conflict and individual enrichment, World Citizens place an emphasis on harmony, cooperation, mutual respect and working for the welfare of the community with a love of Nature of which we are a part.

Earth is our Common Home. Let us protect it together.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Robert Muller (March 11, 1923 – September 20, 2010): Crossing Frontiers for Reconciliation

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Human Development, Human Rights, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on March 11, 2017 at 9:47 AM


By René Wadlow

“The time has come for the implementation of a spiritual vision of the world’s affairs. The entire planet must elevate itself into the spiritual, cosmic throbbing of the universe.”

— Robert Muller


Robert Muller, whose birth anniversary we mark on March 11, was the former Assistant Secretary-General for Economic and Social Service of the United Nations (UN), and, after his retirement, he served as Honorary President of the Association of World Citizens (AWC).

He was brought up in Alsace-Lorraine still marked by the results of the First World War. As a young man, he joined the French Resistance movement during the Second World War when Alsace-Lorraine had been re-annexed by Germany. At the end of the War, he earned a Doctorate in Law and Economics at the University of Strasbourg. Strasbourg was to become the city symbolic of French-German reconciliation and is today home of the European Parliament.

Determined to work for peace having seen the destructive impact of war, he joined the UN Secretariat in 1948 where he worked primarily on economic and social issues. For many years, he was the Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). His work with ECOSOC brought him into close contact with Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) whose work he always encouraged.

In 1970, he joined the cabinet of the then Secretary-General U Thant, who was Secretary-General from 1961 to 1971. U Thant had a deep impact on the thinking of Robert Muller. U Thant’s inner motivations were inspired by a holistic philosophy drawn from his understanding of Buddhism, by an intensive personal discipline and by a sense of compassions for humans. U Thant had been promoted to his UN post by the military leaders of Burma who feared that had he stayed in the country, he would have opposed their repressive measures and economic incompetence. Although U Thant was reserved in expressing his spiritual views in public speeches, he was much more willing to discuss ideas and values with his inner circle of colleagues. U Thant held that “the trouble of our times is that scientific and technological progress has been so rapid that moral and spiritual development has not been able to keep up with it.”


U Thant (left) shaking hands with then U. S. President John F. Kennedy (right).

Muller agreed with U Thant’s analysis. As Muller was a good public speaker, he often expressed these views both in UN meetings and in addresses to NGOs and other public meetings. Muller became increasingly interested in the views of the French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who had lived his last years of his life in New York City. For Teilhard, as he wrote in Phenomenon of Man, “No longer will man be able to see himself unrelated to mankind neither will he be able to see mankind unrelated to life, nor life unrelated to the universe.”

Muller saw the UN as a prime instrument for developing a sense of humanity as all members of one human family and for relating humans to the broader community of life and Nature. As Muller wrote, “We are entering one of the most fascinating and challenging areas of human evolution. In order to win this new battle for civilization, we must be able to rely upon a vastly increased number of people with a world view. We need world managers and servers in many fields.”

I had the pleasure of knowing Robert Muller well as he was often in Geneva for his UN economic and social work and, at that time, had a home in France near Geneva, where he did much of his writing. Muller was also deeply influenced by the thinking of another Alsatian, Albert Schweitzer, who had also spent most of his life outside France.


Albert Schweitzer, the legendary humanitarian who coined the concept of “reverence for life” (Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben).

I had known Albert Schweitzer when I was working for the Ministry of Education of Gabon in the early 1960s. Both Schweitzer and I, influenced by Norman Cousins, had been active against A-Bomb tests in the atmosphere, and so I had been welcomed for discussions at the hospital in Lambaréné. For Muller, Schweitzer with his philosophy of reverence for life and the need for a spiritual – cultural renewal was a fellow world citizen and a model of linking thought and action.

For Muller, the UN was the bridge that helped to cross frontiers and hopefully to develop reconciliation through a common vision of needs and potential for action.


Robert Muller, an example for all of us at the Association of World Citizens.


For two autobiographic books, see Robert Muller. What War Taught Me About Peace (New York: Doubleday) and Robert Muller, Most of All, They Taught Me Happiness (New York: Doubleday, 1978).


Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

March 8: Start of the Russian Revolution

In Being a World Citizen, Social Rights, Solidarity, The former Soviet Union, Women's Rights, World Law on March 8, 2017 at 9:59 AM

By René Wadlow

March 8 – International Women’s Day – was the start of the Russian Revolution that ended the rule of the Tsar. (It was February 23 by the Russian calendar then in use and so is called the “February Revolution”) International Women’s Day had been first proposed by Clara Zetkin (1857-1933) at the Second International Conference of Socialist Women in Copenhagen in 1911, and the idea spread quickly in progressive circles. By 1917, the idea of a day calling for the equality of women within a more just society was well developed among women in Petrograd.


A former postal stamp of East Germany honoring Clara Zetkin. 

Thus, for International Women’s Day in Petrograd (as St. Petersburg had been renamed in 1914) a group of women factory workers and lower class housewives decided to demonstrate near the buildings of the government to protest food shortages and working conditions. When they crossed from the industrial suburb, they found another demonstration of upper class women who were demanding the right to vote. The two demonstrations joined forces and were soon joined by men, making for the largest demonstration in Petrograd since the 1905 uprising.


The Tsar, Nicholas II, who was at the front inspecting his troops, telegraphed demanding the restoration of order. General Khabalov, commander of the Petrograd Military District called out the reserve infantry with tan order to shoot if necessary. As the regular army soldiers and officers were already fighting the Germans at the front, the reserves were made of persons who had returned to civilian life and thus had much in common with the demonstrators.

The crowd of demonstrators continued to grow, being joined by people from the countryside coming into the city. On February 26, some of the soldiers following the orders of their officers did fire, causing hundreds of casualties. The loss of life provoked wide-spread mutinies, in effect ending the regime. The door was open to power for the revolutionaries who called themselves the “Petrograd Soviet of Workers and Soldiers’ Deputies.” By March 15, Nicholas II had abdicated and was placed under house arrest at his palace.


Nicholas II, the deposed Tsar of Russia.

The crucial issue facing the new Provisional Government was the war with Germany and the Central Powers. The Germans had allowed their eastern front to fall dormant waiting for the outcome of the Russian turmoil and the possibility of a negotiated end to Russian participation in the war. The Provisional Government reaffirmed its treaty obligations with the Allies (France and England) and pledged to fight on to victory.

The decision to continue the unpopular war provoked new demonstrations. A crisis in the governing cabinet in July 1917 brought in new cabinet members from the Marxist factions. The lawyer Alexander Kerensky shifted from being the minister of justice to the minister of war as well as President of the Council of Ministers. He became the “strong man” of the revised government, yet he could look for new support neither to his right nor to his left.

The radicalization of the country and the divisions of opinion over the war made the survival of the Provisional Cabinet dubious. The Provisional Government faltered and splintered. Lenin in Zürich and Trotsky in New York realized that February was only the beginning of their revolutionary opportunity, which came in early November (October 24) marking the “October Revolution.”

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Xi Jinping, Citizen of the World, and the Making of a Global Policy

In Anticolonialism, Being a World Citizen, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Environmental protection, Human Development, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, World Law on March 5, 2017 at 12:09 PM


By René Wadlow

A recent issue of Newsweek hailed the President of China, Xi Jinping, as a citizen of the world and highlighted his January 17, 2017 speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland as setting forth a new global policy. At a time when the President of the United States is putting his “America First” policy into practice, and the President of the Russian Federation is striving to make Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church “great again”, it is China that is providing great power leadership toward a cosmopolitan, humanistic, world society.

At Davos, Xi Jinping stressed that globalization had produced “powerful global growth and facilitated movement of goods and capital, advances in science, technology and civilization and interaction among people.” He noted the China-led creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. He ended by saying that “the people of all countries expect nothing less (than to make globalization work) and this is our unshrinkable responsibility as leaders of our times.”


It is true that globalization – the world as an open market – has worked well for China’s export-led economy and for its foreign infrastructure development efforts – the One Belt-One Road project of rail, roads and sea ports. However, Xi Jinping also mentioned civilization and interaction among people as one of the outcomes of globalization, perhaps thinking of the large number of student exchanges and the impact of Chinese culture through the increasing number of Confucius Institutes throughout the world.

Xi Jinping stressed the need for ecologically-sound development and meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Conference – the protection of Nature being high on the list of world citizen priorities.


China retains a preoccupying record of human rights violations, as does its northeastern neighbor Russia. Now that extreme right populism has prevailed at the polls in Britain and the United States, and as France is entering a dangerous electoral period with a genuine extreme right risk too, human rights are set to become an ever greater matter of concern in terms of global leadership, regardless of the proven merits in other fields of any given individual country. President Xi Jinping should implement immediate, significant policy changes and bring his country in line with United Nations standards at last.

It is certain that in addition to setting a broadly positive global policy, there are real internal challenges to meeting the world citizen values of equality and respect for the dignity of each person.

As fellow citizens of the world, we are heartened by the advances of the rule of world law, of equality between women and men, by efforts of solidarity to overcome poverty and hunger. We look to Chinese leadership to strengthen the forces which advance a cosmopolitan, humanist world society based on wholeness, harmony and creativity.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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