Freud: civilization and its discontent Essay

Freud: civilization and its discontent

In his book “Civilization and its discontents”, Freud has stated views on human nature. Freud describes man in between two extremes; on one side lay individual quest of freedom, on the other extreme lay society’s demand for conformity. Living amid the civilization, man instinctive drives makes him believe in guilt and sin. In his introductory paragraph Freud makes an attempt to understand the phenomenon of so called “oceanic feelings of boundlessness and oneness felt between the ego and outside world”. He points out that such feelings symbolize the source of religiousness in man’s nature through which church and religion create the belief systems. Freud believes that yearning for these oceanic feelings is basically longing for parental protection of the childhood that continues even in adult life.

He mentions that that the idea of God as a higher being is an absurd idea. The truth is that such idea is no more than an illusion in human life. However the reason for such belief is that man wish to counter pain in the world. In order to counter pain, man needs some mechanism that is provided by the belief on God. Such belief helps man in deflecting pain and substitute satisfaction. As man is born on happiness; his subordination to society and its institutions is also an endeavor of seeking happiness. Man’s belief in religion is also based on this assumption and it is for this reason that masses believe in religion

However, he laments in the next section that the civilization is responsible for man suffering in the world. Freud identifies three key historical events that have produced this sadness in the world. The first one is the arrival of Christianity that is preoccupied with next world and stress humanity to place low value to man’s life in this world. The second is the discovery of primitive tribes who seemed happier than Europeans, and the third is identification of neuroses that has created high expectations from individuals in modern societies. These events have created an antagonism between man’s needs and the social needs putting the modern man in depression and frustration. He concludes that only reducing these demands would lead man to greater happiness.

In chapter III Freud has compared man to “prosthetic God” due to the technological inventions. Freud focuses on the economic disadvantages of state run governments; criticizing the Communist societies that do no believe in the individual property. Such move actually breaks man’s motivation for hardwork and pleasure. Giving away the motivation of individual right to owe property is taking away the pleasure principal away from human society which Freud refers as “economics of libido”.

Freud draws an extended analogy between the individual and evolution development with three parallel stages in both. In individual it’s the character development that among civilization is called distinct identity. The next stage is sublimation of energies, and the last one is the burying aggressive impulses into imposition of law. However the key difference between these two processes is achieving happiness. The individual instinct leads man to happiness that is ignored in the context of civilization for the sake of society.  Based on this assumption Freud main concludes that modern civilization has created discontent among the mankind.


James Starchy, Civilization and its discontents .1961.