Thursday, 20 September 2012

Sigmund Freud - Civilization and Its Discontent

Dear All,

As explained in my previous post, Sigmund Freud lived in a time that was characterized by dramatic change caused by the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath. This change - that led not only to the breakdown of a whole way of life but also to that of a whole value system - is the context that made Freud assume that human nature was inherently violent and aggressive and that the main task of civilization consisted in controlling these aggressive drives. 

Since most 19th and early 20th century European societies were extremely repressive and characterized by fake/double moral standards, his work came as a big shock as well as a revelation to his contemporaries because it held the mirror up to the hidden side of society. However,  Freud's work is also somewhat dated because it does not question the typical western dualistic world view and therefore constructs dichotomies everywhere instead of acknowledging the interconnectedness of everything with everything else.

Because Freud is, in many ways, so much a child of his time, please find out a bit more about the changes that took place in 19th and early 20th century Europe in connection with the Industrial Revolution and the 1st World War before reading Civilization and Its Discontent. This will allow you to  understand both the revolutionary power that Freud's ideas had during his time (and after) as well as the limitations of his basic assumptions. 

Feel free to include your own thoughts, ideas, and criticism  when you post the summary of "your" chapter of Freud's Civilization and Its Discontent as comment to this post! 

Freud's Civilization and Its Discontent can be accessed at:

Thank you,



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  2. I think, Freud looks at the pessimistic view of an individual. The documentary also shows how powerful, when something is done immoral to a man by a man or a group to a group. I believe, we as a human being, exchange happiness either for security or for the need of society. I would also say, the destruction of the civilization drives a man's instinct. There are two things which Freud explained clearly : Ego based instinct(society based), human based instinct( self-based). Man is trying to master the ego for a long long time, unfortunately he couldn't find even a single idea or a way to master it. When Freud said this explicitly, his idea had been rejected by many. But IT IS TRUE.

  3. 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 considered one of Freud's most important and widely read works
    Freud's theory is based on the notion that humans have certain characteristic instincts that are immutable. Most notable are the desires for sex, and the predisposition to violent aggression towards authority figures and towards sexual competitors, which both obstruct the gratification of a person's instincts.

    Freud begins the seventh chapter by clearly explaining how the repression of the death instinct works to instill neurosis in individuals: the natural aggressiveness of the human child is suppressed by society (and its local representative, the father-figure) and turned inward, introjected, directed back against the ego. These aggressive energies develop into the super-ego as conscience, which punishes the ego both for transgressions committed (remorse) but also sins it has only fantasized about (guilt). All individuals must submit themselves to forming these feelings of guilt, for their aggressive instincts must be repressed if they hope to share in the love civilized society has appropriated for its members. Guilt and neurotic repression of instinct are simply the price we pay in order to live together in families and communities.
    The guilty conscience is the price paid by the individual to belong to civilized society, but often this guilt is left unconscious and is experienced as anxiety or ‘discontent’. Freud also considers that in addition to the individual super-ego, that there may also be a ‘cultural super-ego’ in existence that sets itself up as a conscience for society, and that his recommendation for it is the same as his recommendation for many of his neurotic patients: that it must lower its demands on the frail ego. Freud concludes this book by expanding on his distinction between eros and thanatos: “When an instinctual trend undergoes repression, its libidinal elements are turned into symptoms, and its aggressive components into a sense of guilt”, and he ponders on how the eternal battle between these heavenly powers will play out in mankind.

  4. In the Chapter II, Freud presents the question of the purpose of life. He afirm that what decides the purpose of life is simply the programme of the pleasure principle. He analyses the methods and paths which people go through to achieve happiness and more satisfaction.
    According to Freud, unhappiness is easier to experience once we suffer with our body, with the external world, and with our relation to other men. To avoid the unpleasure, Freud gives us examples as some people who start to look for happiness by getting satisfaction on illusions that contrast with their reality and sometimes putting enjoyment before caution; others prefer find their happiness being isolated from other people; intoxication which cause a pleasure sensation and makes us incapable to have unpleasure.
    Freud believes that satisfaction is obtained from illusions and reality is the enemy who brings the source of all suffering. He also cites love as the centre of everything, where you get satisfaction being loved.
    In his conclusion, Freud says that different people chose different paths to find satisfaction and achieve happiness. However, nobody can be completely happy. Some important questions can be considered in our search for happiness as for example how much real satisfaction we can expect to get from the external world. And, to finish the chapter, Freud does a critic about the religion restrictions, which change the picture of the real world and give limited paths to people achieve happiness.

  5. In the text, Freud discusses the fact of due men believe in the Religion or not. For Freud, the Religion is a way of replacing men`s achievement and bringing a “fake” happiness. From him we have much dissatisfaction in our life and powerful deflections. As a result, substitutive satisfactions and intoxicating substances can help us to support this. The religion plays a role in this way and gives the human being the sense of what is the purpose of life. The main purpose, that all men want to achieve, according to Freud is happiness. We are governed by the Pleasure Principle, but in our construction as a person, really deep inside seems hard to find it. Freud also discusses the methods how people fight against unhappiness and there are many different paths to do that, including the intoxication, which has the same effect as the disease called mania.
    According to the author, our search for happiness comes from our Instincts. There is some ways to tame an instinct, for example, to isolate yourself. If the satisfaction of this instinct occurs, it`s much less than the wild untamed by the ego one. Freud also talks about the sublimation method, which consists in transferring the pleasure for other things, such as an artist doing arts. Another procedure is changing the reality to find happiness, so the imagination took place in order of human being satisfied. Also, to not suffer, human transform the reality and become delusional. One example is the schizophrenic one that re-creates the reality because it is too hard from him to face it. So, in his own world he can satisfy his wishes. At least, Freud says that a way to find happiness is through love, the first path in our lives where we discover satisfaction. In the breast feeding act the human being have the first sexual contact and the mom is the first object loved – which provides lots of satisfaction. This is a path where the libido is concentrated in loving and being loved.
    In conclusion, Freud says that we cannot reach the happiness that the Pleasure Principle imposes on us. We can try to find this happiness or avoid the unhappiness. There are three different paths of doing this: a relationship, focusing on the internal world, and trying by the external one. Full happiness won’t be reached because of the economics of the individual’s libido. Religion, in this way, is a path of finding happiness that provides no other choice for the human – only religious path – and provoke an ongoing fake consolation. Also, Freud discusses about work – a way of satisfaction where the human being does something that he is already inclined to and grounds him in the reality.

  6. Chapter1
    Freud was talk about people’s mental life and ego.
    1.We cannot fall out of this world. There is nothing of which we are more certain than the feeling of our self, or our ego.
    2.Even the feeling of our own ego is subject to disturbances and the boundaries of the ego are not constants.
    3. He also gave us an example of the Rome city; trying to explain that only in the mind is such a preservation of all the earlier stages alongside of the final form possible, and that we are not in a position to represent this phenomenon in pictorial terms.
    4.The part which I talked in class was religions. In my opinion the reason why people will believed in religions because the “oceanic feeling” and our ego have to find a controllable way of our life to fight for fate.
    “The derivation of religions needs form the infant’s helplessness and the longing for the aroused by it seems to me incontrovertible, especially since the feelings is not simply prolonged from childhood day, but it is permanently sustained by fear of the superior power of fate.”

  7. In the Freud's book Civilization and its discontents, he quotes Schiller: "Hunger and love are what moves the world."
    Despite the fact that civilization is supposed to bind us together in love, eventually love and civilization come in conflict with each other. Civilization determines and directs the kinds of love that are permissable, in obvious ways (influence over who young people marry) and not so obvious ways (sapping sexual energy by redirecting it into creative endeavours).

    Not only do we have direct control over sexuality in society, we have pre-emptive control. We carefully raise children so as to know the taboos and recognize transgressions from an early age. We channel sexual attraction into the "legitimate" social forms of monogamous marriage.

    Ultimately, love and civilization are in conflict. Civilization wants to control, suppress, and harness love in the interests of collective order. Love wants to resist control in the interests of happiness/pleasure.

    We can take all this a step further. Freud doesn't think that civilization is really based on love at all. It is based on aggression. "Love thy neighbour as thyself" doesn't work for Freud. Civilization does not exist primarily to promote happiness, therefore, but to resist and channel our aggressive impulse. This impulse can't just be wished away (as Freud thinks communism tries to do).

    The result: we've exchanged happiness for security. In fact, we can put this at a higher level - human existence amounts to the struggle between Eros (love: libido is the manifestation of Eros who is in Greek mythology, the Greek god of love) and the death driven by (aggression, Thanatos who was the daemon personification of death).

    This is a very complex chapter to understand and I needed to make a few researches about Greek mythology in order to understand the analogies, but in the end makes perfect sense.

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  9. CHAPTER 5 SUMMERY Freud notes that civilization's antagonism toward sexuality arises from the necessity work of building communal bonds based on friendship. If the activity of the libido were allowed to run rampant, it would likely destroy the monogamous love-relationship of the couple that society has endorsed as the most stable.

    Freud next objects to the commandment "Love thy neighbor" because, contrary to Biblical teaching, he takes a pessimistic view of fellow man, whose primal instinct Freud considers to be aggressive, not loving. The biblical commandment runs counter to the original nature of man, and history is the proof: man has proven time and again that he will exploit, abuse, humiliate, cause pain, torture and kill other men, from the invasion of the Huns to the First World War. Civilization is continually threatened with disintegration because of this inclination to aggression. It invests great energy in restraining these instincts. The law has tried to refine itself to the point of regulating most forms of aggression, but it still fails to prevent it.
    Freud then turns to socialist thought. Communists claim to find the path to deliverance through the abolition of private property, which thereby eliminates an economic system that allows certain individuals to accrue disproportionate wealth and abuse his fellow men. For Freud, communism is based on a faulty assumption, since it in no way alters human nature, only one of the motivations by which it operates (i.e. greed). Aggression predates the ownership of property. It has also served throughout history to bind communities together against those outside them. The Jews in the Middle Ages were, for instance, the victims of intolerance by Christians; and in Russia, vilification of the bourgeois has served as a rallying cry for the communist government.
    Freud concludes that civilized man has exchanged the possibility of happiness for security. But primitive society is not to be envied, since in that context, only the head of the family enjoyed instinctual freedom at the expense of all others. Some of these limitations of modern society are surmountable, while others are intrinsic to civilization. Freud does not specify which limitations on our instinctual freedom fall into which category. The most dangerous society, according to him, is one in which the leader is exalted and individuals do not acquire an adequate sense of identity. Freud points to American society as an example of this danger, but refrains from pursuing his criticism further.

  10. Chapter IV of Freud’s “Civilization and its Discontents” says that the communal life of human beings including two parts: the compulsion to work, and the power of love. Love is one of the fundamental things of civilization, and through love people can find happiness. Love helps people to found their family, which is part of civilization, both in its original form, and its aim to carry on the ancestral line. However, love seems in an opposite position to civilization, and the rules in civilization restrict love. Part of the civilization tends to restrict sexual life more seriously than other issues. Although, the organic periodicity of sexual process is still in use, its effect on actual sexual excitation is not yet been proved. However, this brings us the fact that the most important process in civilization is the man’s erect posture. Although this is only a theoretical expression, we can still see the close relation between a man and an animal on obtaining life.

    I was surprised about Freud’s writing, since at that time love and sex seem are topics that people avoid to talk about. However, Freud puts these in his writing, and even publishes to the public. It is good that he writes about these issues, since no one else is brave enough to talk about these issues, and so people tend to ignore them. Freud through his writing recalls the public’s attention on the love and sexual issues, and these are the issues should not be forgot in a civilized society.

    Susan I Cheong Wu

  11. In the fourth Chapter, The communal life of human beings is created by external necessity and the power of love. Some people make themselves independent of their object's acquiescence by transferring the main value from the fact of being loved to their own act of loving, they protect themselves against loss of it by attaching their love not to individual objects but to all men equally, Freud calls it "love with an inhibited aim."
    He also uses his hypothesis from "Totem and Taboo", which is a book by Freud, that human culture is bound up in an accident Oedipal drama of brothers banding together to kill their father, and then creating a culture of rules to mediate ambivalent instictual desires. Also, Freud mentions "libido". Freud defined "libido" as the instinct energy, the largely unconscious structure of the psyche. Freud pointed out that these libidinal drives can conflict with the conventions of civilized behavior.
    For Freud, Western European civilization represents a high water-mark in the regulation of sexuality.Even heterosexuality, freely practiced and endorsed by society, is forcibly channeled into monogamy and marriage. Even where society fails to regulate and put an end to behavior it deems transgressive, it still has severely impairing effect on the sexual life of men.

  12. As I understand in the chapter 6th Freud has focused on sadistic aspects of the human behavior which are somewhere unavoidable like death instinct. I think he is emphasising on the ego instict which is very common instict. Object instinct is based on love that means to think about other's interests also but the ego instinct is based on selfishness or taking care only of own interests. These instinct usually have a battle in which ego instinct often wins.
    Moreover sexlife highly influences a person's sadistic instinct. These all instinct are further operated by aggression, destruction and even cruelty. I think it all starts with the ego instinct whoever is becoming a hurdle in satisfying the ego instinct he or she have to face aggression, destructive behaviour and cruelty. And on the other hand if someone proves to be helpful in satisfying ego instinct than they will face an object instinct or loving or caring behaviour. That's what I observed in my life experiece and in Freud's chapter six.

  13. In chapter 6, Freud focused on the special, independent aggressive instinct means based on the psychoanalytic theory. He also started his philosophical analysis using a saying of Schiller, “Hunger (ego-instinct) and love (object instinct) are what moves the world”. There is an opposition between ego-instincts and object instincts.

    Freud introduced a new term: Libido. He tried to abandon the antithesis, which related to sadism, a combination of ego and desire for mastery. In Beyond and the pleasure Principle, Freud depicted the concept of the death drive, which is opposite to Eros. Others felt doubtful and dubious about this theory. However, Freud has gradually accepted the existence of the death drive. Moreover, he also pointed out that aggression is "an original, self-subsisting instinctual disposition in man" that "constitutes the greatest impediment to civilization." The purpose of civilization is to bind men libidinal to one another into communities; the death drive complicates this process greatly. For Freud, the entire evolution of civilization can be summed up as a struggle between Eros and the death drive.

    In my mind, I feel a little bit confused about the ideas that he said. I thought hunger and love are totally different things, and I do not get why they move the world. After read Freud’s article, I have more understanding about the quotes.
    Love is the external needs that most people want. On the other hand, hunger is the internal needs for everyone. I think Freud want to see people’s needs that can move the world no matter from inside or outside. Freud analyzed the matter of psychology thoroughly based on his individual perspectives.

  14. Civilization and its Discontents
    Chapter VII Summary

    In this chapter, Freud argues how civilization suppresses our aggressive instincts. Aggression, how can we control it or eliminate it altogether? As we have evolved, we are still unable to pinpoint the best way to tackle this behavior and minimize its existence. Freud believes that aggression comes from within, and that it is directly related to our “egos”. Freud claims that our personality is based on the super-ego, which is composed by the internalized ideas that we acquired from our parents and civilization. The introjections of external authorities are also built by the super-ego.

    Guilt is another internal issue that human beings have to deal with after committing an act that is considered a ‘bad’ one in our societies nowadays. Freud also questions the argument about how doing something bad or just having the intention of doing it both produce the same outcome: guilt. The super-ego regulates our actions by having a conscience, which makes us realize our guilt and need for punishment.

    Doing something bad or evil doesn't necessarily mean that this particular act or intention has a negative impact on the ego, but on the contrary, could be something that we desire, even something that can be pleasurable. There are two main origins of guilt according to Freud. First, is the fear of authority, which makes us repress our actions, and second is the fear of our super-ego, which eventually affects our conscience. When we internalize more aggression, we also increase our super-ego. Since there are people who have greater super-egos because of their moral values, they are the least inclined in aggressive acts. Therefore, they are the ones who feel the necessity of punishing themselves for their guilty conscience.

    Dread of losing love is also a very interesting theory, which suggests that if or when a person loses the love of others which he is dependent on, he will ‘forfeit’ their protection against danger, and runs the risk that this stronger person will show his superiority in the form of punishing him. Summarizing, Freud argues how civilization has become a necessity for our human development, yet we cannot be part of it if we do not intensify our sense of guilt towards all the bad actions or intentions we can have.

  15. Hi All,

    Many really good points. Thanks a lot for sharing!