Civilization and Its Discontents
Civilization and Its Discontents is a book by Sigmund Freud. Written in 1929, and first published in German in 1930 as Das Unbehagen in der Kultur ("The Uneasiness in Culture"), it is one of Freud's most important and widely read works.
In this book he states his views of human nature and the question of man's place in this world, a place Freud says is on the fulcrum between the individual's quest for freedom and civilization's demand for conformity. As a result, civilization, or its culture, inhibits man's instinctual drives, which can (and perhaps must) result in guilt and nonfulfilment. Freud bases this on the theory of the origins of civilization he first posited in Totem and Taboo and the idea of a death instinct first developed in Beyond the Pleasure Principle.
In this book, Freud maintains that human beings are inherently aggressive and that love for all of humanity is far from an inherent state of the human mind. Instead, this 'universal love' is a diluted and safe form of love that is motivated by our instinctual desire to avoid displeasure. Our aggression is weakened and disarmed by civilization, which then places in us a sense of guilt, the method by which civilization's norms are enforced.
Other important concepts of this book are the human instinct of aggression towards each other, dichotomy of Eros vs. the Death Drive and the super-ego.
This work should be also understood in context of contemporary events: World War I has undoubtedly influenced Freud and impacted his central observation about the tension between the individual and civilization. Under such conditions, Freud develops his thoughts published two years earlier in The Future of an Illusion (1927), in which he criticized organized religion as a collective neurosis. Freud, an avowed atheist, argues that religion has tamed asocial instincts and created a sense of community around a shared set of beliefs, thus helping the civilization, yet at the same time it has also exacted an enormous psychological cost to the individual by making him perpetually subordinate to the primal father figure embodied by God.
"...admittedly an unusual state, but not one that can be stigmatized as pathological .... At the height of being in love the boundary between ego and object threatens to melt away. Against all the evidence of his senses, a man who is in love declares that 'I' and 'you' are one, and is prepared to behave as if it were a fact."
"Civilization, therefore, obtains mastery over the individual's dangerous desire for aggression by weakening and disarming it and by setting up an agency within him to watch over it, like a garrison in a conquered city."
"One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be 'happy' is not included in the plan of 'Creation'."
"Happiness, in the reduced sense in which we recognize it as possible, is a problem of the economics of the individual's libido."
"The question of the purpose of human life has been raised countless times; it has never received a satisfactory answer and perhaps does not admit of one."
"...readiness for a universal love of mankind and the world represents the highest standpoint which man can reach. Even at this early stage of the discussion I should like to bring forward my two main objections to this view. A love that does not discriminate seems to me to forfeit a part of its own value, by doing an injustice to its object; and secondly, not all men are worthy of love."
- Freud, Sigmund; Civilization and Its Discontents W. W. Norton & Company; Reissue edition (July, 1989), ISBN 0-393-30158-3
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