Ensiform's Reviews > Civilization and Its Discontents

Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud
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Dec 06, 11

bookshelves: non-fiction
Read in January, 1998

The Standard Edition, translated, edited and with a brief intro by James Strachey. It's a densely written and rich essay, made up of philosophical musings, not without a few detours, on the state of unhappiness that civilization brings. It's a brilliant, dark conception. In a Rousseauian anthropological approach mixed with psychoanalysis, Freud argues that man first began to socialize as a means of economizing happiness. However, as a certain point, guilt arose through the killing of the father by a band of brothers (Freud seems to see this as an actual historical event rather than a metaphor). This in turn gave rise to the super-ego, man's conscience, which then made further demands on man's unacceptable primal instincts. Much of this concerns an economy of love: a single, legal sex life is demanded of all, and subjects are expected, unnaturally, to form "aim-inhibited" libidinal relationships (platonic love). Civilization, then, in this view, is at its root the cause of repression of both natural aggression and libido in the individual. The aims of civilization and the individual cannot be reconciled.

Given Freud's life experiences and his times, I can't blame him for his viewpoint, although I don't agree that simply because one takes losses in this economy of happiness, that means the system is a failure; also, some of his arguments are weak, such as his rejection of high ethical precepts as unreasonable. Nevertheless, this essay is food for much thought.
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