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Civilization And Its Discontents : Popular Penguins :  Popular Penguins : 1st Edition - Sigmund Freud

Civilization And Its Discontents : Popular Penguins

Popular Penguins : 1st Edition

Paperback Published: 28th June 2010
ISBN: 9780141194981
Number Of Pages: 104

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In his final years, Freud devoted most of his energies to a series of highly ambitious works on the broadest issues of religion and society. Here, he argues that civilized values – and the impossible ideals of Christianity - inevitably distort our natural aggression and impose a terrible burden of guilt.

Author Biography

Sigmund Freud was born in 1856 in Moravia; between the ages of four and eighty-two his home was in Vienna: in 1938 Hitler's invasion of Austria forced him to seek asylum in London, where he died in the following year.

His career began with several years of brilliant work on the anatomy and physiology of the nervous system. He was almost thirty when, after a period of study under Charcot in Paris, his interests first turned to psychology, and another ten years of clinical work in Vienna (at first in collaboration with Breuer, an older colleague) saw the birth of his creation, psychoanalysis. This began simply as a method of treating neurotic patients by investigating their minds, but it quickly grew into an accumulation of knowledge about the workings of the mind in general, whether sick or healthy. Freud was thus able to demonstrate the normal development of the sexual instinct in childhood and, largely on the basis of an examination of dreams, arrived at his fundamental discovery of the unconscious forces that influence our everyday thoughts and actions.

Freud's life was uneventful, but his ideas have shaped not only many specialist disciplines, but the whole intellectual climate of the last half-century.


Interesting read


I prefer Jung. But this book had a different perspective.



Freud's "Civilization and its Discontents" is polarizing


Sigmund Freud spent his lifetime being at the forefront of everything psychological, and it is often difficult to remember just how long ago his lifetime was. "Civilization and its Discontents" is a polarizing piece, in some ways it is reminiscent of a modern manifesto from the 60's or onward with long winded advocating for unhindered sex and lust as a mechanism for human development and happiness; in other ways, it does show the age in which Freud lived, especially noted in his old fashioned and often backwards ideas about the motivations of homosexuality and the role of the mother in sexual development. It's a great read, if only for a deeply interesting insight into the fractured and dark mind of one of the most brilliant and dividing individuals in history.

Melbourne, Victoria


Pseudoscience, yet thought provoking


A great work even artifact by the late Freud.



Civilization And Its Discontents : Popular Penguins

4.3 3


Chapter One

It is impossible to resist the impression that people commonly apply false standards, seeking power, success and wealth for themselves and admiring them in others, while underrating what is truly valuable in life. Yet in passing such a general judgement one is in danger of forgetting the rich variety of the human world and its mental life. There are some individuals who are venerated by their contemporaries, but whose greatness rests on qualities and achievements that are quite foreign to the aims and ideals of the many. One may be inclined to suppose that these great men are appreciated after all only by a minority, while the great majority have no interest in them. However, it is probably not as simple as that, owing to the discrepancies between people's thoughts and actions and the diversity of their desires.

One of these outstanding men corresponds with me and in his letters calls himself my friend. I sent him a little piece of mine that treats religion as an illusion, and in his reply he said that he wholly agreed with my view of religion, but regretted that I had failed to appreciate the real source of religiosity. This was a particular feeling of which he himself was never free, which he had found confirmed by many others and which he assumed was shared by millions, a feeling that he was inclined to call a sense of 'eternity', a feeling of something limitless, unbounded – as it were 'oceanic'. This feeling was a purely subjective fact, not an article of faith; no assurance of personal immortality attached to it, but it was the source of the religious energy that was seized upon by the various churches and religious systems, directed into particular channels and certainly consumed by them. On the basis of this oceanic feeling alone one was entitled to call oneself religious, even if one rejected every belief and every illusion.

This opinion of my esteemed friend, who himself once celebrated the magic of illusion in poetic form, caused me no small difficulty.1 I can discover no trace of this 'oceanic' feeling in myself. It is not easy to treat feelings scientifically. One may try to describe their physiological symptoms. Where this is not feasible – and I fear that the oceanic feeling will not lend itself to such a description – there is nothing left to do but to concentrate on the ideational content most readily associated with the feeling. If I have understood my friend correctly, what he has in mind is the same as the consolation that an original and rather eccentric writer offers his hero before his freely chosen death: 'We cannot fall out of this world.'2 It is a feeling, then, of being indissolubly bound up with and belonging to the whole of the world outside oneself. I would say that for me this is more in the nature of an intellectual insight, not of course without an emotional overtone, though this will be not be wanting in other acts of thought that are similar in scope. Relying on my personal experience, I should not be able to convince myself of the primary nature of such a feeling. But this does not entitle me to dispute its actual occurrence in others. The only question is whether it is correctly interpreted and whether it should be acknowledged as the fons et origo of all religious needs.

I have nothing to suggest that would decisively contribute to the solution of this problem. The idea that a person should be informed of his connection with the world around him through an immediate feeling that is used for this purpose from the beginning sounds so bizarre, and fits so badly into the fabric of our psychology, that we are justified in looking for a psychoanalytic – that is to say a genetic – derivation of such a feeling. The following train of thought then suggests itself. Normally we are sure of nothing so much as a sense of self, of our own ego. This ego appears to us autonomous, uniform and clearly set off against everything else. It was psychoanalytic research that first taught us that this was a delusion, that in fact the ego extends inwards, with no clear boundary, into an unconscious psychical entity that we call the id, and for which it serves, so to speak, as a facade. And psychoanalysis still has much to tell us about the relation of the ego to the id. Yet externally at least the ego seems to be clearly and sharply delineated. There is only one condition – admittedly an unusual one, though it cannot be dismissed as pathological – in which this is no longer so. At the height of erotic passion the borderline between ego and object is in danger of becoming blurred. Against all the evidence of the senses, the person in love asserts that 'I' and 'you' are one and is ready to behave as if this were so. What can be temporarily interrupted by a physiological function must of course be capable of being disturbed by morbid processes also. Pathology acquaints us with a great many conditions in which the boundary between the ego and the external world becomes uncertain or the borderlines are actually wrongly drawn. There are cases in which parts of a person's own body, indeed parts of his mental life – perceptions, thoughts, feelings – seem alien, divorced from the ego, and others in which he attributes to the external world what has clearly arisen in the ego and ought to be recognized by it. Hence, even the sense of self is subject to disturbances, and the limits of the self are not constant.

A further consideration tells us that the adult's sense of self cannot have been the same from the beginning. It must have undergone a process of development, which understandably cannot be demonstrated, though it can be reconstructed with a fair degree of probability.3 The new-born child does not at first separate his ego from an outside world that is the source of the feelings flowing towards him. He gradually learns to do this, prompted by various stimuli. It must make the strongest impression on him that some sources of stimulation, which he will later recognize as his own physical organs, can convey sensations to him at any time, while other things – including what he most craves, his mother's breast – are temporarily removed from him and can be summoned back only by a cry for help. In this way the ego is for the first time confronted with an 'object', something that exists 'out there' and can be forced to manifest itself only through a particular action. A further incentive to detach the ego from the mass of sensations, and so to recognize a 'world outside', is provided by the frequent, multifarious and unavoidable feelings of pain (or absence of pleasure), whose termination and avoidance is required by the absolute pleasure principle. A tendency arises to detach from the ego anything that may give rise to such unpleasurable experience, to expel it and so create an ego that is oriented solely towards pleasure and confronts an alien and menacing world outside. The limits of this primitive pleasure-oriented ego are inevitably corrected by experience. After all, some of the things that give us pleasure and that we are loath to forgo belong not to the ego, but to the object, and some of the torments that we wish to expel prove to be of internal origin and inseparable from the ego. We learn how to distinguish between the internal, which belongs to the ego, and the external, which comes from the world outside, through deliberate control of our sensory activity and appropriate muscular action. This is the first step towards establishing the reality principle, which will govern subsequent developments. The distinction between the internal and the external naturally serves a practical purpose, in that it provides protection against unpleasurable experiences and the threat of them. The fact that the ego employs exactly the same methods to expel certain unpleasurable sensations from within as it does to repel others from without becomes the starting point for significant pathological disorders.

In this way, then, the ego detaches itself from the external world. Or, to put it more correctly, the ego is originally all-inclusive, but later it separates off an external world from itself. Our present sense of self is thus only a shrunken residue of a far more comprehensive, indeed all-embracing feeling, which corresponded to a more intimate bond between the ego and the world around it. If we may assume that this primary sense of self has survived, to a greater or lesser extent, in the mental life of many people, it would coexist, as a kind of counterpart, with the narrower, more sharply defined sense of self belonging to the years of maturity, and the ideational content appropriate to it would be precisely those notions of limitlessness and oneness with the universe – the very notions used by my friend to elucidate the 'oceanic' feeling. But have we any right to assume that what was originally present has survived beside what later evolved from it?

Undoubtedly! There is nothing surprising about such an occurrence, either in the mental sphere or in other spheres. Regarding the animal world, we adhere to the hypothesis that the most highly developed species have evolved from the lowest. Yet we find all the simple forms of life still existing today. The race of the great saurians has become extinct and made way for the mammals, but a genuine representative of this race, the crocodile, is still with us. The analogy may be too remote, and it is weakened by the fact that as a rule the lower species that survive are not the true ancestors of the more highly developed species of today. The intermediate stages have mostly died out and are known to us only through reconstructions. In the realm of the mind, however, the retention of the primitive beside what has evolved from it is so common that there is no need to cite examples to prove it. When this happens it is mostly the result of divergent developments. One portion (in quantitative terms) of an attitude, of an instinctual impulse, has remained unchanged, while another has developed further.

This brings us up against the more general problem of retention in the psychical sphere, which has so far hardly been studied, but is so fascinating and significant that we may perhaps be permitted, though not for any adequate reason, to dwell on it for a while. Having overcome the error of thinking that our frequent forgetfulness amounts to the destruction of the trace left by memory and therefore to an act of annihilation, we now tend towards the opposite presumption – that, in mental life, nothing that has once taken shape can be lost, that everything is somehow preserved and can be retrieved under the right circumstances – for instance, through a sufficiently long regression. Let us try to understand, with the help of an analogy from another field, what this presumption implies. As an example let us take the development of the Eternal City.4 Historians tell us that in the earliest times Rome was Roma quadrata, an enclosed settlement on the Palatine Hill. The next phase was the Septimontium, a union of the settlements on the separate hills. After this it was the city bounded by the Servian Wall, and still later, after all the vicissitudes of the republican and the early imperial age, the city that the emperor Aurelian enclosed within his walls. We will not pursue the further transformations undergone by the city, but we cannot help wondering what traces of these early stages can still be found by a modern visitor to Rome – whom we will credit with the best historical and topographical knowledge. He will see Aurelian's wall virtually unchanged, save for a few gaps. Here and there he will find stretches of the Servian wall that have been revealed by excavations. Because he commands enough knowledge – more than today's archaeologists – to be able to trace the whole course of this wall and enter the outlines of Roma quadrata in a modern city plan. Of the buildings that once occupied this ancient framework he will find nothing, or only scant remains, for they no longer exist. An extensive knowledge of the Roman republic might at most enable him to say where the temples and public buildings of that period once stood. Their sites are now occupied by ruins – not of the original buildings, but of various buildings that replaced them after they burnt down or were destroyed. One need hardly add that all these remnants of ancient Rome appear as scattered fragments in the jumble of the great city that has grown up in recent centuries, since the Renaissance. True, much of the old is still there, but buried under modern buildings. This is how the past survives in historic places like Rome.

Now, let us make the fantastic assumption that Rome is not a place where people live, but a psychical entity with a similarly long, rich past, in which nothing that ever took shape has passed away, and in which all previous phases of development exist beside the most recent. For Rome this would mean that on the Palatine hill the imperial palaces and the Septizonium of Septimius Severus still rose to their original height, that the castle of San Angelo still bore on its battlements the fine statues that adorned it until the Gothic siege. Moreover, the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus would once more stand on the site of the Palazzo Caffarelli, without there being any need to dismantle the latter structure, and indeed the temple would be seen not only in its later form, which it assumed during the imperial age, but also in its earliest, when it still had Etruscan elements and was decorated with terracotta antefixes. And where the Coliseo now stands we could admire the vanished Domus Aurea of Nero; on the Piazza of the Pantheon we should find not only the present Pantheon, bequeathed by Hadrian, but the original structure of M. Agrippa; indeed, occupying the same ground would be the church of Maria sopra Minerva and the ancient temple over which it is built. And the observer would perhaps need only to shift his gaze or his position in order to see the one or the other.

It is clearly pointless to spin out this fantasy any further: the result would be unimaginable, indeed absurd. If we wish to represent a historical sequence in spatial terms, we can do so only by juxtaposition in space, for the same space cannot accommodate two different things. Our attempt to do otherwise seems like an idle game; its sole justification is to show how far we are from being able to illustrate the peculiarities of mental life by visual means.

There is one objection that we must try to answer. Why did we choose to compare the past of a city with the psychical past? Even where the life of the psyche is concerned, the assumption that everything past survives is valid only if the mind has remained intact and its fabric has not suffered from trauma or inflammation. However, destructive factors that might be compared with such causes of disease, are not absent from the history of any city, even if it has had a less turbulent past than Rome or, like London, hardly ever been ravaged by an enemy. Even the most peaceful urban development entails the demolition and replacement of buildings, and so for this reason no city can properly be compared with a psychical organism.

We readily yield to this objection and, forgoing any striking contrast, turn to a more closely related object of comparison, the animal or human body. But here too we find the same phenomena. The earlier phases of development are not preserved at all, having been absorbed into the later ones, for which they supplied the material. The embryo cannot be discovered in the adult; the thymus gland of the child is replaced after puberty by connective tissue, but no longer exists as such; in the adult's marrow-bone I can admittedly trace the outline of the child's bone, but this has disappeared through stretching and thickening before taking on its final form. The fact remains that the retention of all previous stages, together with the final shape, is possible only in the mind, and that we are not in a position to illustrate this phenomenon by means of any parallel.

Perhaps we go too far in making this assumption. Perhaps we should be content to say that the past may be retained in the life of the psyche and need not be destroyed. It may be that even in the psychical sphere some things that are old are so obscured or consumed – in the normal way of things, or in exceptional circumstances – that there is no longer any way of restoring and reviving them, or that their retention is linked to certain favourable conditions. This may be so, but we have no way of knowing. All we can do is hold on to the fact that in mental life the retention of the past is the rule, rather than a surprising exception.

Hence, if we are prepared to acknowledge that an 'oceanic' feeling exists in many human beings and inclined to trace it back to an early phase of the sense of self, a further question arises: what claim has this feeling to be regarded as the source of religious needs?

I do not find such a claim compelling. After all, a feeling can be a source of energy only if it is itself the expression of a strong need. To me the derivation of religious needs from the helplessness of the child and a longing for its father seems irrefutable, especially as this feeling is not only prolonged from the days of childhood, but constantly sustained by a fear of the superior power of fate. I cannot cite any childish need that is as strong as the need for paternal protection. The role of the oceanic feeling, which might seek to restore unlimited narcissism, is thus pushed out of the foreground. The origin of the religious temperament can be traced in clear outline to the child's feeling of helplessness. Something else may be concealed behind it, but for the time being this remains obscure.

I can imagine that the oceanic feeling subsequently became connected with religion. Being at one with the universe, which is the intellectual content associated with this feeling, strikes us as an initial attempt at religious consolation, as another way of denying the danger that the ego perceives as a threat from the outside world. I must confess yet again that I find it very hard to work with these almost intangible concepts. Another of my friends, whose insatiable thirst for knowledge has driven him to conduct the most extraordinary experiments and finally made him virtually omniscient, has assured me that in practising yoga one can actually arouse new sensations and universal feelings in oneself by turning away from the outside world, by fixing one's attention on bodily functions, and by breathing in special ways. Such sensations and feelings he would interpret as regressions to ancient conditions in the life of the psyche that have long been overlaid. He sees in them a physiological justification, so to speak, for much of the wisdom of mysticism. This would suggest connections with many obscure psychical states such as trance and ecstasy. Yet I cannot help exclaiming, with the diver in Schiller's ballad:

Es freue sich, wer da atmet im rosigen Licht.

[Let him rejoice, whoever draws breath in the roseate light!]


1.[Addition 1931:] Liluli, 1923 [1919]. – Since the appearance of La Vie de Ramakrishna [1929] and La Vie de Vivekananda (1930) I need no longer conceal the fact that the friend referred to above is Romain Rolland.

  1. D. Chr. Grabbe, Hannibal: 'Ja, aus der Welt werden wir nicht fallen. Wir sind einmal darin [ Yes, we shall not fall out of the world. We are in it once and for all].'
  2. See the numerous works on the development of the ego and the sense of self, from Ferenczi, Entwicklungsstufen des Wirklichkeitssinns (1913) to the contributions of P. Federn 1926, 1927 and later.
  3. This information is taken from The Cambridge Ancient History, part VII (1928), 'The Founding of Rome', by Hugh Last.

ISBN: 9780141194981
ISBN-10: 0141194987
Series: Popular Penguins
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 104
Published: 28th June 2010
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 17.9 x 11.1  x 1.3
Weight (kg): 0.08
Edition Number: 1