Sunday, January 15, 2017

Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents - short summary and review

Civilization and Its Discontents (1930) is one of Sigmund Freud's most notable and influential books. The book discusses the fundamental tension between the individual and civilization. The basic split between civilization and the individual results from the individual desire for freedom and satisfaction of instinctual needs which collides with society's need for conformity and obedience, manifested in repression. The tragic paradox of humanity, Freud holds, lies in the fact that many of our most basic needs and wants are harmful to our existence as a group if manifested completely. Man has a need to fulfill his sexual or violent drives (see "Beyond the Pleasure Principle" ) that must be contained of society is to function (we can't have people running around f**king and beating the crap out of everyone they want). That's why every civilization creates laws and regulations preventing murder and rape accompanied by severe punishments in order to deter offenders. That's all fine and nice but it also means that we are always left discontent, unsatisfied and repressed. Feeling frustrated isn't an anomaly, it's human nature in civilization.

Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents picks up from where his The Future of an Illusion  (1927) leaves off in exploring the nature of human religion. Chapter one of the book is devoted to what Freud calls the "Oceanic Feeling" of being boundless, an early pre-self sentiment associated with Religion. Chapter two of Civilization and Its Discontents expands on the religious theme and suggests that the ego is formed as a need to distance one from external reality, making the pleasure principle work in manners more complex. Chapter three discusses the paradox by which civilization which is designed to protect man from unhappiness is the predominant cause of this unhappiness. This tension if for Freud the cause of many neuroses. In chapter 4 Freud ties in his theory from Totem and Taboo which holds that the development of civilization is connected with a collective Oedipal complex resulting from brothers conspiring to kill their father. In chapters 5 and 6 Freud brings in the death drive as something that unlike the Eros or libido which tie people together is something that drives society apart and therefore needs to be repressed. In the seventh chapter of Civilization and Its Discontents Freud discusses the neurosis associated with the clash between death desires and civilization's repression. The internalized social moral demand in the super-ego which subordinates the ego into fending off its id by means of guilt. In other words, guilt in the prerequisite sentiment for belonging to society. 

Other articles and summaries about Freud:

Books of interest: