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> 1930a

Civilization and its Discontents

Freud, Sigmund 1930a, Civilization and its Discontents, SE 21: 59-145, trs. from Das Unbehagen in der Kultur, GW 14: 421.
See footnote to SE 21: 135 re the title. 'Unbehagen' is rendered 'malaise' there.
Penguin Freud Library volume 12: 243-340. Subtract 187-195.
Text in the standard edition runs 64-145 (82pp.), editor's introduction 59-63; in the Penguin edition text is 251-340 (90pp.)
Pages numbers in these notes give SE before Penguin; if only one: SE, unless 'P' for Penguin is added.

Chapter 1
64-73 [Abstract: man's need for religion arises from feelings of helplessness]

(65n. refers to a line from Hannibal by C D Grabbe. Cf. letter to LAS: Even the assurance most clearly expressed in Grabbe's Hannibal that "we shall not fall out of this world" doesn't seem sufficient substitute for the surrender of the boundaries of the ego, which can be painful enough.)

[For the oceanic feeling which is claimed to be the essence of the experience of religion:] ... one is justified in attempting to discover a psychoanalytic—that is, a genetic explanation of such a feeling. The following line of thought suggests itself. Normally, there is nothing of which we are more certain than the feeling of our self, of our own ego. This ego appears to us as something autonomous and unitary, marked off distinctly from everything else. That such an appearance is deceptive, and that on the contrary the ego is continued inwards, without any sharp delimitation, into an unconscious mental entity which we designate as the id and for which it serves as a kind of façade—this was a discovery first made by psychoanalytic research, which should still have much more to tell us about the relation of the ego to the id. 65, P 253

… we have been inclined to take the opposite view, that in mental life nothing which has once been formed can perish—that everything is somehow preserved and that in suitable circumstances (when, for instance, regression goes back far enough) it can once more be brought to light. Let us try to grasp what this assumption involves by taking an analogy from another field. We will choose as an example the history of the Eternal City. 69

The fact remains 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.
Perhaps we are going too far in this. Perhaps we ought to content ourselves with asserting that what is past in mental life may be preserved and is not necessarily destroyed. It is always possible that even in the mind some of what is old is effaced or absorbed—whether in the normal course of things or as an exception—to such an extent that it cannot be restored or revivified by any means; or that preservation in general is [72] dependent on certain favourable conditions. It is possible, but we know nothing about it. We can only hold fast to the fact that it is rather the rule than the exception for the past to be preserved in mental life. 72

... a feeling can only a source of energy if it is itself the expression of a strong need. The derivation of religious needs from the infant's helplessness and the longing for the father aroused by it seems to me incontrovertible, especially since the feeling is not simply prolonged from childhood days, but is permanently sustained by fear of the superior power of Fate. 72, P 259-260

Chapter 2
74-85 [Abstract: man copes with unhappiness through diversion, substitution and intoxication]
[The chapter is concerned with pleasure and pain, and especially the avoidance of the latter.]
The whole thing [religion] is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that to anyone with a friendly attitude to humanity it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life. 74, P 261
One can hardly be wrong in concluding that the idea of life having a purpose stands and falls with the religious system. 76, P 263

The question of the purpose of human life has been raised countless times; it has never yet received a satisfactory answer and perhaps does not admit of one. … It looks, on the contrary, as though one had a right to dismiss the question, for it seems to derive from the human presumptousness, many other manifestations of which are already familiar to us. 75 … We will therefore turn to the less ambitious question of what men themselves show by their behaviour to be the purpose and intention of their lives. … They strive after happiness; they want to become happy and to remain so. In its narrower sense the word "happiness" only relates to … the experiencing of strong feelings of pleasure. … As we see, what decides the purpose of life is simply the programme of the pleasure principle. 76 What we call happiness in the strictest sense comes from the (preferably sudden) satisfaction of needs which have been dammed up to a high degree, and it is from its nature only possible as an episodic phenomenon. When any situation that is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged it only produces a feeling of mild contentment. We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things. ... [77] Unhappiness is much less difficult to experience. We are threatened with suffering from three directions: from our own body, which is doomed to decay and dissolution and which cannot even do without pain and anxiety as warning signals; from the external world, which may rage against us with overwhelming and merciless forces of destruction; and finally from our relations to other men [sic]. The suffering which comes from this last source is perhaps more painful to us than any other. 76-7, 264

[GMG summary: Man is caught between the demands of the pleasure principle and the reality principle and he may seek to avoid suffering in a number of ways: by intoxication, by control of his drives (as by yogic practices), by sublimation of drives into psychical and intellectual work (especially in the arts and sciences), by the use in imagination (in the appreciation of artworks), by renunciation of reality (especially in psychotic withdrawal), and in being in love. 78-85]

Psychoanalysis, unfortunately, has scarcely anything to say about beauty either. All that seems certain is its derivation from the field of sexual feeling. 83, 271

The programme of becoming happy, which the pleasure principle imposes on us, cannot be fulfilled; yet we must not—indeed, we cannot—give up our efforts to bring it nearer to fulfilment by some means of other. Very different paths may be taken in that direction, and we may give priority either to the positive aspect of the aim, that of gaining pleasure, or to its negative one, that of avoiding unpleasure. By none of these paths can we attain all that we desire. Happiness, in the reduced sense in which we recognize it as possible, is a problem of the economics of the individual's libido. There is no golden rule which applies to everyone: every man must find out for himself in what particular fashion he can be saved. All kinds of factors will operate to direct his choice. It is a question of how much real satisfaction he can expect to get from the external world, how far he is led to make himself independent of it, and, finally, how much strength he feels he has for altering the world to suit his wishes. In this, his psychical constitution will play a decisive part, irrespectively of the external circumstances. The man who is predominantly erotic will give first preference to his emotional relationships to other people; the narcissistic man, who inclines to be self-sufficient, will seek his [84] main satisfactions in his internal mental processes ... 83-4, 272
No discussion of the possibilities of human happiness should omit to take into consideration the relation between narcissism and object libido. We require to know what being essentially self-dependent signifies for the economics of the libido. 84n., 273n.

Chapter 3
86-948 [Abstract: man's conflict with civilization: liberty vs equality]
… inadequacy of the regulations which adjust the mutual relationships of human beings in the family, the state and society. 86
If we cannot remove all suffering, we can remove some, and we can mitigate some: the experience of many thousands of years has convinced us of that. 86

This contention holds that what we call our civilization is largely responsible for our misery, and that we should be much happier if we gave it up and returned to primitive conditions. … it is a certain fact that all the things with which we seek to protect ourselves against the threats that emanate from the sources of suffering are part of that very civilization. 86, 274

… the word "civilization" ["Kultur"] describes the whole sum of the achievements and the regulations which distinguish our lives from those of our animal ancestors and which serve two purposes—namely to protect men against nature and to adjust their mutual relations. 89

GMG: 89-95. Characteristics of culture include technological advances, means of controlling and exploiting nature, a capacity for the appreciation of beauty, cleanliness and order, intellectual, scientific and artistic achievements, laws for the regulation of human relationships.

Writing was in its origin the voice of an absent person… 91
Man has, as it were, become a kind of [92] prosthetic God. 92
We soon observe that this useless thing which we expect civilization to value is beauty. 92
Order is a kind of compulsion to repeat which when a regulation has been laid down once and for all, decides when, where and how a thing shall be done, so that in every similar circumstance one is spared hesitation and indecision. The benefits of order are incontestable. It enables men to use space and time to the best advantage, while conserving their psychical forces. 93
Nor must we allow ourselves to be misled by judgements of value concerning any particular religion, or philosophic system, or idea. Whether we think to find in them the highest achievements of the human spirit, or whether we deplore them as aberrations, we cannot but recognize that where they are present, and, in especial, where they are dominant, a high level of civilization is implied. 94

… the decisive step of civilization. The essence of it lies in the fact that the members of the community restrict themselves in their possibilities of satisfaction, whereas the individual knew no such restrictions. The first requisite of civilization, therefore, is that of justice ... 95
The final outcome should be rule of law to which all—except those who are not capable of entering a community—have contributed by a sacrifice of their instincts, and which leaves no one—again with the same exception—at the mercy of brute force. 95
[liberty vs equality:] It does not seem as though any influence could induce a man to change his nature into a termite's. No doubt he will always defend his claim to individual liberty against the will of the group. 96

The development of civilization appears to us as a peculiar process which mankind undergoes, and in which several things strike us as familiar. We may characterize this process with reference to the changes which it brings about in the familiar instinctual dispositions of human beings, to satisfy which is, after all, the economic task of our lives. A few of these instincts are used up in such a manner that something appears in their place which, in an individual, we describe as a character-trait. 96
The most remarkable example of such a process is found in the anal erotism of young human beings. Their original interest in the excretory function, its organs and products, is changed in the course of their growth into a group of traits which are familiar to us as parsimony, a sense of order and [97] cleanliness—qualities which, though valuable and welcome in themselves, may be intensified till they become markedly dominant and produce which is called the anal character. 97

At this point we cannot fail to be struck by the similarity between the process of civilization and the libidinal development of the individual. Other instincts [beside anal erotism] are induced to displace the conditions for their satisfaction, to lead them into other paths. In most cases this process coincides with that of the sublimation (of instinctual aims) with which we are familiar, but in some it can be differentiated from it. Sublimation of instinct is an especially conspicuous feature of cultural development; it is what makes it possible for higher psychical activities, scientific, artistic or ideological, to play such an important part in civilized life. 97

In the third place, finally, and this seems the most important of all, it is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built up upon a renunciation of instinct, how much it presupposes precisely the non-satisfaction (by suppression, repression or some other means?) of powerful instincts. 97

GMG: Three factors playing a part in the 'process' of civilization: character-formation, sublimation, and the 'renunciation of instinct'. 96-7

[Last sentence of Chapter III, introducing what comes below:]
We must ask ourselves to what influences the development of civilization owes its origin, how it arose, and by what its course has been determined. 98

Chapter 4
99-107 [Abstract: two pillars of civilization: Eros and Ananke (necessity)]
Development of civilization out of libido.

In Totem and Taboo [1912-13] I have tried to show how the way led from this family to the succeeding stage of communal life in the form of bands of brothers. … [101] The taboo-observances were the first 'right' or 'law'.

Eros and Ananke [Love and Necessity] have become the parents of human civilization too. 101

… love… he made himself dependent in a most dangerous way on a portion of the external world, namely, his chosen love-object, and exposed himself to extreme suffering if he should be rejected by that object or should lose it through unfaithfulness or death. For that reason the wise men of every age have warned us most emphatically against this way of life; but in spite of this it has not lost its attraction for a great number of people. 101

… by turning away from its sexual aims and transforming the instinct into an impulse with an inhibited aim. 102

… although we are obliged to describe this as "aim-inhibited love" or "affection". 102

The mode of life in common which is phylogenetically the older, and which is the only one that exists in childhood, will not let itself be superseded by the cultural mode of life which had been acquired later. Detaching himself from his family becomes a task that faces every young person, and society often helps him in the solution of it by means of puberty and initiation rites. We get the impression that these are difficulties which are inherent in all psychical—and, indeed, at bottom, in all organic—development. 103

The work of civilization has become increasingly the business of men, it confronts them with ever more difficult tasks and compels them to carry out instinctual sublimations of which women are little capable. 103

Its first, totemic, phase already brings with it the prohibition against an incestuous choice of object, and this is perhaps the most drastic mutilation which man's erotic life has in all time experienced. 104

Here, as we already know, civilization is obeying the laws of economic necessity, since a large amount of the psychical energy which it uses for its own purposes has to be withdrawn from sexuality. 104 [GMG: economic reductionism]

The sexual life of civilized man is notwithstanding severely impaired; it sometimes gives the impression of being in process of involution as a function, just as our teeth and hair seem to be as organs. 105 [GMG: These two pages 104-5 on sexuality indicate an implied ethical tolerance for alternative to 'heterosexual genital love'.]

Chapter 5
108-116 [Abstract: security at the cost of restricting sexuality and aggression]
[frustrations of sexual life]

We have treated the difficulty of cultural development as a general difficulty of development by tracing it to the inertia of the libido, to its disinclination to give up an old position for a new one. 108

But we are unable to understand what the necessity is which forces civilization along this path and which causes its antagonism to sexuality. There must be some disturbing factor which we have not yet discovered. 109
I think I can now hear a dignified voice admonishing me: "It is precisely because your neighbour is not worthy of love, and is on the contrary your enemy, that you should love him as yourself." I then understand that the case is one like that of Credo quia absurdum. 111
[Men] are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. 111
The existence of this inclination to aggression, which we can detect in ourselves and justly assume to be present in others, is the factor which disturbs our relations with our neighbour and which forces civilization into such a high expenditure [of energy]. 112
Aggressiveness was not created by property. [re Communism] 113

If civilization imposes such great sacrifices not only on man's sexuality but on his aggressivity, we can understand better why it is hard for him to be happy in that civilization. In fact, primitive man was better off in knowing no restrictions of instinct. To counterbalance this, his prospects of enjoying this happiness for any length of time were very slender. Civilized man has exchanged a portion of his possibilities of happiness for a portion of security. 115

Over and above the tasks of restricting the instincts, which we are prepared for, there forces itself on our notice the danger of a state of things which might be termed "the psychological poverty of groups". This danger is most threatening where [116] the bonds of a society are chiefly constituted by the identification of its members with one another, while individuals of the leader type do not acquire the importance that should fall to them in the formation of a group. The present cultural state of America would give us a good opportunity for studying the damage to civilization which is thus to be feared. But I shall avoid the temptation of entering upon a critique of American civilization; I do not wish to give an impression of wanting myself to employ American methods.

Chapter 6
117-122 [Abstract: arguments for an instinct of aggression and destruction]
… theory of the instincts …
Thus, to begin with, ego-instincts and object-instincts confronted each other. 117
libido … sadistic instinct …

Since the ego-instincts, too, were libidinal, it seemed for a time inevitable that we should make libido coincide with instinctual energy in general, as C. G. Jung had already advocated earlier. 118

Starting from speculations on the beginning of life and from biological parallels, I drew the conclusion that, besides the instinct to preserve living substance and to join it into ever larger units, there must exist another, contrary instinct seeking to dissolve those units and to bring them back to their primæval, inorganic [119] state. That is to say, as well as Eros there was an instinct of death. The phenomena of life could be explained from the concurrent or mutually opposing action of these two instincts. 119

[119] … [life and death instincts; sadism and masochism]

I remember my own defensive attitude when the idea of an instinct of destruction first emerged in psycho-analytic literature, and how long it took before I became receptive to it. 120

The name "libido" can once more be used to denote the manifestations of the power of Eros in order to distinguish them from the energy of the death instinct. 121

[GMG:] Civilization incorporates the struggle between 'Eros, whose purpose is to combine ... individuals ... into one great unit, the unity of mankind' (122) and 'the inclination to aggression ... an original, self-subsisting instinctual disposition in man' [sic] (122).

This aggressive instinct is the derivative and the main representative of the death instinct which we have found alongside of Eros and which shares world-dominion with it. And now, I think, the evolution of civilization is no longer obscure to us. It must present the struggle between Eros and Death, between the instinct of life and the instinct of destruction, as it works itself out in the human species. This struggle is what all life essentially consists of, and the evolution of civilization may therefore be simply described as the struggle for life of the human species. And it is this battle of the giants that our nurse-maids try to appease with their lullaby about Heaven. 122

Chapter 7
123-133 [Abstract: development of the superego and its severity]

[The individual's] aggressiveness is ... taken over by a portion of the ego, which sets itself over against the rest of the ego as super-ego, which now, in the form of conscience, is ready to put into action against the ego the same harsh aggressiveness that the ego would have liked to satisfy upon other, extraneous individuals. The tension between the harsh super-ego and the ego that is subjected to it, is called by us the sense of guilt; it expresses itself as a need for punishment. Civilization, therefore, obtains [124] 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. 123-4, P 315-6
feeling of guilt (bad conscience)
Such a motive is easily discovered in his helplessness and dependence on other people, and it can best be designated as fear of loss of love. If he loses the love of another person upon whom he is dependent, he also ceases to be protected from a variety of dangers. Above all, he is exposed to the danger that his stronger person will show his superiority in the form of punishment. 124
A great change takes place only when the authority is internalized through the establishment of a super-ego. The phenomena of conscience then reach a higher stage. Actually, it is not until now that we should speak of conscience or a sense of guilt. At this point, too, the fear of being found out comes to an end; the distinction, moreover, between doing something bad and wishing to do it disappears entirely, since nothing can be hidden from the super-ego, not even thoughts. It is true that the seriousness of the situation from a real point of view has passed away, for the new authority, the super-ego, has no motive that we know of for ill-treating the ego,with which it is intimately bound up; but genetic influence, which leads to the survival of what is past and has been surmounted, makes itself felt in the fact that fundamentally things remain they were at the beginning. The super-ego torments the sinful ego with the same feeling of anxiety and is on the watch for opportunities of getting it punished by the external world. 125, P 318
... introjection into the super-ego... 126, P 319
... he once more bows to the parental [127] representative in his super-ego ... 126-7, P 319
Thus we know of two origins of the sense of guilt: one arising from fear of an authority, and the other, later on, arising from fear of the super-ego. The first insists upon a renunciation of instinctual satisfactions; the second, as well as doing this, presses for punishment, since the continuance of the forbidden wishes cannot be concealed from the super-ego. We have also learned how the severity of the super-ego—the demands of conscience—[P 320] is to be understood. It is simply a continuation of the severity of the external authority, to which it has succeeded and which it has in part replaced. We now see in what relationship the renunciation of instinct stands to the sense of guilt. Originally, renunciation of instinct was the result of fear of an external authority: one renounced one's satisfactions in order not to lose its love. If one has carried out this renunciation, one is, as it were, quits with the authority and no sense of guilt should remain. but with fear of the super-ego the case is different. Here, instinctual renunciation is not enough, for the wish persists and cannot be concealed from the super-ego. Thus, in spite of the renunciation that has been made, a sense of guilt comes about. This constitutes a great economic disadvantage in the erection of a super-ego, or, as we may put it, in the formation of a conscience. Instinctual [128] renunciation now no longer has a completely liberating effect; virtuous continence is no longer rewarded with the assurance of love. A threatened external unhappiness—loss of love and punishment on the part of the external authority—has been exchanged for a permanent internal unhappiness, ... the tension of the sense of guilt. 127-8, P 319-320
The chronological sequence, then, would be as follows. First comes renunciation of instinct owing to fear of aggression by the external authority. … After that comes the erection of an internal authority, and renunciation of instinct owing to fear of it—owing to fear of conscience. …
And here at last an idea comes in which belongs entirely to psychoanalysis and which is foreign to people's ordinary way of thinking. ... it tells us that conscience ... is indeed the cause of instinctual renunciation to begin with, but that later the relationship is reversed. Every renunciation of instinct now becomes a dynamic source of conscience and every fresh renunciation increases the latter's severity and intolerance. [129] conscience is the result of instinctual renunciation, or that instinctual renunciation ... creates conscience, which then demands further instinctual renunciation. 128-9, P 321

[129] ... aggressiveness must be developed in the child against the authority which prevents him from having his first ... satisfactions. ... By means of identification he takes the unattackable authority into himself. The authority now turns into his super-ego and enters into possession of all the aggressiveness which a child would have liked to exercise against it. ... The relationship between the super-ego and the ego is a return, distorted by a wish, of the real relationships between the ego, as yet undivided, and an external object. ... the original severity of the super-ego ... [130] represents ... one's own aggressiveness towards [the external object]. 129-130, P 322
What it amounts to is that in the formation of the super-ego and the emergence of a conscience innate constitutional factors and influences from the real environment act in combination. ... it is a universal aetiological condition for all such processes. 130, P 323
It can also be asserted that when a child reacts to his first great instinctual frustrations with excessively strong aggressiveness and with a correspondingly severe super-ego, he is following a phylogenetic model ... for the father of prehistoric times was undoubtedly terrible, and an extreme amount of aggressiveness may be attributed to him. Thus, if one shifts over from individual to phylogenetic development, the differences between the two theories of the genesis of conscience are still further diminished. … 131, P 323 [Cf. Totem and Taboo, SE 13: 143]

We cannot get away from the assumption that man's sense of guilt springs from the Oedipus complex and was acquired at the killing of the father by the brothers banded together. [Totem and Taboo, SE 13: 143] 131, P 324

At this point I should not be surprised if the reader were to exclaim angrily: "So it makes no difference whether one kills one's father or not—one gets a feeling of guilt in either case!" 131

... primordial ambivalence of feeling towards the father. His sons hated him, but they loved him, too. ... remorse for the deed. It set up the super-ego by identification with the father; it gave that agency the father's power, as though as a punishment for the deed of aggression they had carried out against him, and it created the restrictions which were intended to prevent a repetition of the deed. 132, P 325
... the part played by love in the origin of conscience and the fatal inevitability of the sense of guilt. Whether one has killed one's father or has abstained from doing so is not really the decisive thing. One is bound to feel guilty in either case, for the sense of guilt is an expression of the conflict due to ambivalence, of the eternal struggle between Eros and the instinct of destruction or death. 132 ... If civilization is a necessary course of development from the family to humanity as a whole, then—as a result of the inborn conflict arising from ambivalence, of the eternal struggle between the trends of love and death—there is inextricably bound up with it an increase of the sense of guilt, which will perhaps reach heights that the individual finds hard to tolerate. 133, P 325-6

Chapter 8
134-145 [Abstract: conclusions about effects of civilization upon psyche]
relationship which the sense of guilt has to our consciousness
... my intention to represent the sense of guilt as the most important problem in the development of civilization and to show that the price we pay for our advance in civilization is a loss of happiness through the heightening of the sense of guilt. 134, P 327
Anything that still sounds strange about this statement, which is the final conclusion of our investigation, can probably be traced to the quite peculiar relationship—as yet completely unexplained—which the sense of guilt has to our consciousness. 134, P 327-8
Our study of the neuroses, to which after all, we owe the most valuable pointers to an understanding of normal conditions ... 135, P 328
... the sense of guilt is at bottom nothing else but a topographical variety of anxiety; in its later phases it coincides completely with fear of the super-ego. 135, P 328 (emphasis in original)

Consequently it is very conceivable that the sense of guilt produced by civilization is not perceived as such either, and remains to a large extent unconscious, or appears as a sort of malaise, a [136] dissatisfaction, for which people seek other motivations. 135-6

The super-ego is an agency which has been inferred by us, and conscience is a function which we ascribe, among other functions, to that agency. This function consists in keeping a watch over the actions and intentions of the ego and judging them, in exercising a censorship. The sense of guilt, the harshness of the super-ego is thus the same thing as the severity of the conscience. It is the perception which the ego has of being watched over in this way, the assessment of the tension between its own strivings and the demands of the super-ego. The fear of this critical agency (a fear which is at the bottom of the whole relationship), the need for punishment, is an instinctual manifestation on the part of the ego, which has become masochistic under the influence of a sadistic super-ego; it is a portion, that is to say, of the instinct towards internal destruction present in the ego, employed for forming an erotic attachment to the super-ego. We ought not to speak of a conscience until a super-ego is demonstrably present. As to a sense of guilt, we must admit that it is in existence before the super-ego, and therefore before conscience, too. At that time it is the immediate expression of fear of the external authority, a recognition of the tensions between the ego and that authority. It is the direct derivative of the conflict between the need for the authority's love and the urge towards [137] instinctual satisfaction, whose inhibition produces the inclination to aggression. 136-7, P 330

[Contradiction one: sense of guilt as a consequence of an act of aggression; and from intention of carrying out such.] ... The institution of the internal authority, the super-ego, altered the situation radically ... owing to the omniscience of the super-ego, the difference between an aggression intended and an aggression carried out lost its force. 137, P 330
It might be thought that a sense of guilt arising from remorse for an evil deed must always be conscious, whereas a sense of guilt arising from the perception of an impulse may remain unconscious. But the answer is not so simple as that. 137, P 331

[Contradiction two: energy of super-ego from punitive energy of external authority or from] one's own aggressive energy which has not been used and which one now directs against that inhibiting authority. 138, P 331
... in each case we were dealing with an aggressiveness which had been displaced inwards. Clinical observation, moreover, allows us in fact to distinguish two sources for the aggressiveness which we attribute to the super-ego; one or the other of them exercises the stronger effect in any given case, but as a general rule they operate in unison. 138, P 331
[A hypothesis:] When an instinctual trend undergoes repression, its libidinal elements are turned into symptoms, and its aggressive components into a sense of guilt. 139, P 332

… the struggle between Eros and the death instinct ... was alleged to characterize the process of civilization which mankind undergoes [122] but it was also brought into connection with the development of the individual [119], and, in addition, it was said to have revealed the secret of organic life in general [118]. 139, P 333

When, however, we look at the relation between the process of human civilization and the developmental or educative process of individual human beings, we shall conclude without much [140] hesitation that the two are very similar in nature, if not the very same process applied to different kinds of object. The process of the civilization of the human species is, of course, an abstraction of a higher order than is the development of the individual and it is therefore harder to apprehend in concrete terms, nor should we pursue analogies to an obsessional extreme; but in view of the similarity between the aims of the two processes—in the one case the integration of a separate individual into a human group, and in the other case the creation of a unified group out of many individuals—we cannot be surprised at the similarity between the means employed and the resultant phenomena. 139-40

[one distinguishing feature ... individual's] ... urge towards happiness, which we usually call 'egoistic', and the urge towards union with others in the community, which we call 'altruistic.' [main accent on former] [In civilization] It almost seems as if the creation of a great human community would be most successful if no attention had to be paid to the happiness of the individual. The developmental process of the individual can thus be expected to have special features of its own which are not reproduced in the process of human civilization. 140, P 334 [The point being that the development of the individual is in the interests of the pleasure principle, whereas that of civilization hardly needs individuals or their happiness.]

The two urges, the one towards personal happiness and the other towards union with other human beings must struggle with each other in every individual; and so, also, the two processes of individual and of cultural development must stand in hostile opposition to each other and mutually dispute the ground. But this struggle between the individual and society is not a derivative of the contradiction—probably an irreconcilable one—between the primal instincts of Eros and death. It is a dispute within the economics of the libido, comparable to the contest concerning the distribution of libido between ego and objects; and it does admit of an eventual accommodation in the individual, as, it may be hoped, it will also do in the future of civilization, however much that civilization may oppress the life of the individual today. 141, P 335

The analogy between the process of civilization and the path of individual development may be extended in an important respect. It can be asserted that the community, too, evolves a super-ego under whose influence cultural development proceeds. It would be a tempting task for anyone what has a knowledge of human civilizations to follow out this analogy in detail. I will confine myself to being forward a few striking points. The super-ego of an epoch of civilization has an origin similar to that of an individual. It is based on the impression left behind by great leaders ... primal father ... [142] [example of] … Jesus—if indeed, that figure is not a part of mythology, which called it into being from an obscure memory of that primal event [death by violence—I take this to be suggesting that the Jesus myth is explicable in the terms of Totem and Taboo—GMG]. (141-2, P 335-6) Another point of agreement between the cultural and the individual super-ego is that the former, just like the latter, sets up strict ideal demands, disobedience to which is visited with "fear of conscience" [128]. Here, indeed, we come across the remarkable circumstance that the mental processes concerned are actually more familiar to us and more accessible to consciousness as they are seen in the group than they can be in the individual man. In him, when tension arises, it is only the aggressiveness of the super-ego which, in the form of reproaches, makes itself noisily heard; its actual demands often remain unconscious in the background. If we bring them to conscious knowledge, we find that they coincide with the precepts of the prevailing cultural super-ego. At this point the two processes, that of the cultural development of the group and that of the cultural development of the individual are, as it were, always interlocked. For that reason some of the manifestations and properties of the super-ego can be more easily detected in its behaviour in the cultural community than in the separate individual. (142, P 336)

The cultural super-ego has developed its ideals and set up its demands. ... ethics ... [is] a therapeutic attempt ... an endeavour to achieve, by means of a command of the super-ego, something which has so far not been achieved by means of any other cultural activities. ... aggressive[ness] ... In our research into, and therapy of, a neurosis, we are led to make two reproaches against the [143] super-ego of the individual. In the severity of its commands and prohibitions it troubles itself too little about the happiness of the ego, in that it takes insufficient account of the resistances against obeying them—of the instinctual strength of the id [in the first place], and of the difficulties presented by the real external environment [in the second]. Consequently we are very often obliged, for therapeutic purposes, to oppose the super-ego, and we endeavour to lower its demands. Exactly the same objections can be made against the ethical demands of the cultural super-ego. It, too, does not trouble itself enough about the facts of the mental constitution of human beings. It issues a command and does not ask whether it is possible for people to obey it. In the contrary, it assumes that a man's ego is psychologically capable of anything that is required of it, that his ego has unlimited mastery over his id. This is a mistake; and even in what are known as normal people the id cannot be controlled beyond certain limits. If more is demanded of a man, a revolt will be produced in him or a neurosis, or he will be made unhappy. The commandment, 'Love thy neighbour as thyself' is the strongest defence against human aggressiveness and an excellent example of the unpsychological proceedings of the cultural super-ego. The commandment is impossible to fulfil; such an enormous inflation of love can only lower its value, not get rid of the difficulty. Civilization pays no attention to all this; it merely admonishes us that the harder it is to obey the precept the more meritorious it is to do so. But anyone who follows such a precept in present-day civilization only puts himself at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the person who disregards it. What a potent obstacle to civilization aggressiveness must be, if the defence against it can cause as much unhappiness as aggressiveness itself! "Natural" ethics, as it is called, has nothing to offer here except the narcissistic satisfaction of being able to think oneself better than others. At this point the ethics based on religion introduces its promises of a better after-life. But so long as virtue is not rewarded here on earth, ethics will, I fancy, preach in vain. I too think it quite certain that a real change in the relations of human beings to possessions would be of more help in this direction than any ethical commands; but the recognition of this fact among socialists has been obscured and made useless for practical purposes by a fresh idealistic misconception of human nature. 142-3, P 337

If the development of civilization has such a far-reaching similarity to the development of the individual and if it employs the same methods, may we not be justified in reaching the diagnosis that, under the influence of cultural urges, some civilizations, or some epochs of civilization—possibly the whole of mankind—have become 'neurotic'? But we should have to be very cautious and not forget that, after all, we are only dealing with analogies and that it is dangerous, not only with men but also with concepts, to tear them from the sphere in which they have originated and been evolved. Moreover, the diagnosis of communal neuroses is faced with special difficulty. In an individual neurosis we take as our starting-point the contrast that distinguishes the patient from his environment, which is assumed to be 'normal'. For a group all of whose members are affected by one and the same disorder no such background could exist; it would have to be found elsewhere. And as regards the therapeutic application of our knowledge, what would be the use of the most correct analysis of social neuroses, since no one possesses authority to impose such a therapy upon the group? But in spite of all these difficulties, we may expect that one day someone will venture to embark upon a pathology of cultural communities. 144, P 338-9
[Ends with Eros facing] 'the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction.' 145, P 340.
The fateful question for the human species seems to me to be whether and to what extent their cultural development will succeed in mastering the disturbance of their communal life by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction. It may be that in this respect precisely the present time deserves a special interest. Men have gained control over the forces of nature to such an extent that with their help they would have no difficulty in exterminating one another to the last man. They know this, and hence comes a large part of their current unrest, their unhappiness and their mood of anxiety. [GMG: are any of these words the 'Unbehagen' of the title?] And now it is to be expected that the other of the two "Heavenly Powers" [p. 133], eternal Eros, will make an effort to assert himself in the struggle with his equally immortal adversary. But who can foresee with what success and with what result? [end of book] 145, P 340

James Strachey:
The main theme of the book [is] the irremediable antagonism between the demands of instinct and the restrictions of civilization.

Carl E. Schorske:
Its somber conclusions have, of course, become part of our self-understanding: that the progress of our technical mastery over nature and the perfection of our ethical self-control are achieved at the cost of instinctual repression in the 'civilized' man—a cost so high as not only to make neurotics of individuals, but of whole civilizations. An excess of civilization can produce its own undoing at the hands of instinct avenging itself against the culture that has curbed it too well.

George Steiner: 'Civilization and its Discontents, one of his last works, offers an ironic, desolate diagnosis of the strains, suppressions, distortions, suffered by the psyche in the process of its adjustment to the economies of ordered society. Pondering the seemingly inherent unhappiness of the human species, meshed in a dialectic of biological and social thrusts and constraints, Freud now advances deeper into the mythological.'

Robert A. Paul:
In 1930, Freud still sees culture and society arising out of love and common work, to be sure; but this love is more and more understood as derived from a primary narcissism that regards every other person as a potential enemy, rival, or inhibitor of one's freedom; the aggression aroused in defense of this narcissism is only by reaction-formation turned into the ambivalent love that characterizes society.

John Deigh:
No one, Freud observed [in Civilization and its Discontents], in this age of great technological advances can be confident that the struggle between life-giving and life-destroying forces that shapes civilization will not have a ruinous outcome.

But cf:
But this struggle between the individual and society is not a derivative of the contradiction—probably an irreconcilable one—between the primal instincts of Eros and death. It is a dispute within the economics of the libido, comparable to the contest concerning the distribution of libido between ego and objects; and it does admit of an eventual accommodation in the individual, as, it may be hoped, it will also do in the future of civilization, however much that civilization may oppress the life of the individual today. 141

See also

Wikipedia entry on 'oceanic feeling'


New: 19 May, 2015 | Now: 19 October, 2016 | Garry Gillard