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An interesting field of study, which was studied in depth by Fromm (Frankfurt, Germany, 1900 – Locarno, Switzerland, 1980) and by Max Horkheimer (Stuttgart, 14 February 1895 – Nuremberg, 1973), was that of mutual influence between authoritarian state structures and authoritarian family structures. The authoritarian structures of the family take the function of making the child internalize a certain perception of who has unquestionable authority, at a time of his age in which he is not able to react, because he does not yet possess the mental instruments of criticism that for this purpose would be needed. As a consequence, the child who became a man will unconsciously find, in the authoritarian social context embodied by the State, a set of structures that he has now internalized and which is therefore prepared to accept uncritically. In this context it is possible to observe how the authoritarian social structures of all kinds (dictatorships, systems of political power, of religious or moral power), aware of this function of family as a fundamental place capable of inculcating submission to authority, have always sought to strengthen it as a conservative institution, defending the most suitable characteristics for this purpose: prohibition of extra-marital relationships, propaganda for procreation, education of children in an authoritarian manner and relegation of women to the domestic hearth. Consequently, as Horkheimer pointed out, a real change in the authoritarian structures of politics will not be possible without a parallel work of change in the life of family, which would otherwise only continue to continually recreate the mentality of submission and authority that we would try to correct on a political-social level.
On the positive side, Fromm has developed the concepts of existence to be understood as being, as opposed to having, and as loving, to be understood as art. Existence, understood as being, aims to make people become aware that an authentic way of living must become aware of the importance of the subject and its positive abilities, while instead the world that surrounds it leads it, erroneously, to identify its being with his having. In other words, Fromm tells the man: become aware that you are and must be what you are and not what you have. On this line Fromm specifies his concept of love: it is to be understood as the development of the subject’s best abilities, which are acquired as one acquires an art, that is, with a long and patient work of self-formation. The sick society, as it tends to convince that man is what he has, also tends to convince him that love means possession and sexual enjoyment; according to Fromm, this is precisely the reason why in today’s society it is so difficult to meet truly mature people in their capacity to be and to love. The fact that it is art also means that, similar to what happens to arts, it is not possible to obtain these qualities through synthetic definitions, but only with a long work of training. As models of this existence Fromm quotes Buddha, Jesus and master Eckhart, the latter a German theologian, philosopher and mystic, who lived between 1260 and 1328 A. D.