Civilization and Its Discontents

Civilization and Its Discontents is one of Freud's most philosophical works that details the antagonism between a human's needs and cultural restrictions on them.
Civilization and Its Discontents

Last update: 20 July, 2021

Freud was a fan of Nietzsche. He stated that a man’s strongest drives are their sexual and death drive. Freud used Nietzsche’s definition of the Dionysian man to create Civilization and Its Discontents (1930). This work was published during difficult times. Three years later, the Weimar Republic ended and Hitler came to power.

A mother and her child.

Civilization and Its Discontents

The main subject in Civilization and Its Discontents is the antagonism between a human’s natural drives and cultural restrictions on them.

The contradiction between civilizations and drives lies in the restriction of aggressive and sexual drives to try to create peaceful communities.

“…the sense of guilt as the most important problem in the development of civilization.”

Civilization and Its Discontents, Chapter VIII, P. 130-

Man maimed by civilization

To Freud, civilization can only be true when man’s primal instincts suffocate. Civilization can live in perpetual discontent because the only way that it can exist is by repressing man. To maim that animal aspect of them, that free and feared beast that Nietzsche loved.

Nietzschean Dionysism is bound by a civilization’s rules. Supposedly, these rules allow and help us to live in “harmony”.

People at a party.

The cultural human being is neurotic

These repression have bad consequences. They make humans become neurotic and tired of the repression.

The sense of guilt suppresses their instincts and punishes them from within. It turns the man into a malleable and pusillanimous animal.

The drive against the Cartesian cogito

For Freud, the Cartesian cogito creates a bourgeoise society and represses human drives and instincts, making them sick. Man can’t develop nor feel complete, free, and alive.
The civilization’s gray life, a routine marked by work without drive, will make our lives gray. If free men kill each other, it’s logical for civilization to impose itself to make them live in harmony. That’s how civilization creates sick human beings.
Sigmund Freud wrote Civilization and Its Discontents.

Love and hate in Civilization and Its Discontents

Freud admits that it’s difficult to accept that man has this instinct to live and a drive for death and destruction. Suppressing these instincts would be the real cause for restrictions in civilization. Life and civilizations are born and developed from the clash between love and hate.
Humans need civilizations and to suppress their instincts for safety, according to Hobbes.
In Civilization and Its Discontents and Moses and Monotheism, Freud explains the natural tendency for evil and cruelty. It’s primal hate and comes with disastrous consequences. Man satisfies their aspirations by ignoring laws and human rights. They humiliate, torment, kill, and steal. However, since they have to give up these acts to belong to a society, humans get a sense of controlling tribal or national conflicts.

“Beauty has no obvious use; nor is there any clear cultural necessity for it. Yet civilization couldn’t do without it.”

-Sigmund Freud in Civilization and Its Discontents

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.