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Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund…
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Civilization and Its Discontents (1930)

by Sigmund Freud

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Published on the eve of the Fascist tidal wave that submerged the European psyche and soul, the book is a rational endorsement of society as mankind's best means of defense in a world that was about to use society as a weapon of wanton destruction. The primary problem was that humanity’s technological achievements had far surpassed their capacity for moral humanism- Hitler’s extremely primitive, id-fueled worldview was enforced by an astonishing array of fearsome weaponry and bureaucratic and organizational sophistication that all constituted triumphs of technology.

“Humanity has achieved brilliance without conscience,” said American Army General Omar Bradley after World War II. “Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.” ( )
2 vote markwinston | Mar 24, 2013 |
Even though not every theory of Freud can be easily understood or even accepted, he has a lot to say about civilization. What I found quite striking was his detailed analysis of freedom, and the tradeoffs we make of it in order to be part of our chosen society. I for one feel there is much to learn here, and recommend this book to all those who wish to pursue the question of who we are, and what we can become as a species. ( )
  sgarnell | Jul 10, 2012 |
I’m not an expert in psychology or a believer in many of Freud’s theories, but I found “Civilization and its Discontents” to be an interesting read for its ideas on history and culture.

At the outset of the book, Freud states that religion is infantile, that there is no inherent meaning to life, and that what drives us is the fulfillment of the pleasure principle. Pretty strong stuff for 1930. Our pleasure is threatened by our own mortality and the breakdown of our body as we age, but more importantly it is threatened by civilization, which naturally must erect laws to prevent individuals from wreaking havoc by following their baser instincts of pleasure, e.g. violence and sex. This societal force also applies to man’s more noble instinct to love, which it restricts by creating various laws and taboos.

This rub between the individual and society is the basis for the book; Freud essentially says that the civilization we built to protect us and to preserve our happiness from what would otherwise be a wilderness turns out to be the prime source of our misery.

I don’t believe all of what follows, e.g. the ego-instinct of thatanos and that type of thing, but found a good portion of it to be thought provoking. It also brought a smile to read his descriptions of the ways in which unhappiness can be avoided in chapter two. I would briefly summarize these as isolation from people, intoxication, mastering or controlling one’s instincts, seeking pleasure internally, utilizing imagination, looking for all one’s satisfaction in love, and looking for happiness in the enjoyment of beauty.

As an aside, where does translator James Strachey get off being listed as the author of this book? This is like seeing “War and Peace” listed as written by Constance Garnett because she wrote the introduction and translated it. Sheesh. I manually changed it to Freud.

Quotes:
On God:
“…by his science and technology, man has brought about on this earth, on which he first appeared as a feeble animal organism and on which each individual of his species must once more make its entry (‘oh inch of nature!) as a helpless suckling – these things do not only sound like a fairy tale, they are an actual fulfillment of every – or of almost every – fairy-tale wish. … Long ago he formed an ideal conception of omnipotence and omniscience which he embodies in his gods. To these gods he attributed everything that seemed unattainable to his wishes, or that was forbidden to him. One may say, therefore, that these gods were cultural ideals. To-day he has come very close to the attainment of this ideal, he has almost become a god himself.”

On meaninglessness:
“The question of the purpose of human life has been raised countless times; it has never yet received a satisfactory answer and perhaps does not admit of one. Some of those who have asked it have added that if it should turn out that life has no purpose, it would lose all value for them. But this threat alters nothing. … Nobody talks about the purpose of the life of animals, unless, perhaps, it may be supposed to lie in being of service to man.”

On religion:
“The common man cannot imagine this Providence otherwise than in the figure of an enormously exalted father. Only such a being can understand the needs of the children of men and be softened by their prayers and placated by the signs of their remorse. The whole thing is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that to anyone with a friendly attitude to humanity it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life.” ( )
2 vote gbill | Jan 21, 2012 |
I find it hard to rate and review this book because I have very little knowledge of psychology, let alone Freudian psychoanalysis. That being said, besides some concepts that Freud assumes the reader is familiar with (such as his id/ego/superego division of the mind), the book is easy to understand even for a layman like me. My main critique is that Freud seems to postulate some ideas and not care to provide evidence for them; this is particularly troubling with stranger concepts such as his claim that a child defines himself as separate from the world when he's denied something. Other than that, his theories about the formation and workings of civilization are interesting and provide some good food for thought. ( )
1 vote clpm | Aug 3, 2011 |
Freud is much better when he's not talking about what he's commonly associated with. Which is kind of sad I guess. ( )
2 vote bluedream | Apr 12, 2010 |
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This, written in 1930, on the eve of destruction as it were, is a summary of Freud's beliefs, the potted essence of his system as applied to the broad picture. Those who decry the Freudian technique as far as our interior mental landscapes go would do well to remember that, whatever his flaws as a scientist, he was a first-rate essayist.
 

» Add other authors (36 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sigmund Freudprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
McLintock, DavidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Riviere, JoanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Strachey, JamesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Civilization, therefore, obtains mastery over the individual's dangerous desire for aggression by weakening and disarming it and by setting up an agency within him to watch over it, like a garrison in a conquered city.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393301583, Paperback)

During the summer of 1929, Freud worked on what became this seminal volume of twentieth-century thought.

It stands as a brilliant summary of the views on culture from a psychoanalytic perspective that he had been developing since the turn of the century. It is both witness and tribute to the late theory of mind—the so-called structural theory, with its stress on aggression, indeed the death drive, as the pitiless adversary of eros.

Civilization and Its Discontents is one of the last of Freud's books, written in the decade before his death and first published in German in 1929. In it he states his views on the broad question of man's place in the world, a place Freud defines in terms of ceaseless conflict between the individual's quest for freedom and society's demand for conformity.

Freud's theme is that what works for civilization doesn't necessarily work for man. Man, by nature aggressive and egotistical, seeks self-satisfaction. But culture inhibits his instinctual drives. The result is a pervasive and familiar guilt.

Of the various English translations of Freud's major works to appear in his lifetime, only one was authorized by Freud himself: The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud under the general editorship of James Strachey.

Freud approved the overall editorial plan, specific renderings of key words and phrases, and the addition of valuable notes, from bibliographical and explanatory. Many of the translations were done by Strachey himself; the rest were prepared under his supervision. The result was to place the Standard Edition in a position of unquestioned supremacy over all other existing versions.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:45:03 -0400)

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A translation of a 1929 text in which Freud summarized his views on culture from a psychoanalytic perspective.

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Three editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393301583, 0393059952, 0393304515

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