Leaving aside the second short text included in this volume and the introduction and rereading “Civilization and Its Discontents” after more than 20 years, I am more impressed than ever. The details of psychological depth processes are secondary to Freud’s deep understanding of THE fundamental problems of modern civilization -- which are increasingly of fatal potential.
As put by Freud “Much of mankind’s struggle is taken up with the task of finding a suitable, that is to say a happy accommodation, between the claims of the individual and the mass claims of civilization. One of the problems affecting the fate of mankind is whether such an accommodation can be achieved through a particular moulding of civilization or whether the conflict is irreconcilable (p. 42).
Freud continues and states frankly “I can no longer understand how we could have ignored the ubiquity of non-erotic aggression and destruction and failed to accord it its due place in the interpretation of life. (p 72); and “I take the view that the tendency to aggression is an original, autonomous disposition in man, and I return to my earlier contention that it represents the greatest obstacle to civilization…to gather together individuals, then families and finally tribes, peoples and nations in one great unit – humanity… These multitudes of human beings are to be libidinally bound to one another; necessity alone, the advantages of shared work, will not hold them together. However, this programme of civilization is opposed by man’s natural aggressive drive, the hostility of each against all and all against each. This aggressive drive is the descendant and principal representative of the death drive, which we have found beside Eros and which rules the world jointly with him. And now, I think, the meaning of the development of civilization is no longer obscure to us. This development must show us the struggle between Eros and death, between the life drive and the drive for destruction, as it is played out in the human race. This struggle is the essential content of all life; hence, the development of civilization may be described simply as humanity’s struggle for existence (p. 75).
towards the end comes the most crucial insight of all: “Human beings have made such strides in controlling the forces of nature that, with the help of these forces, they will have no difficulty in exterminating one another, down to the last man. They know this, and it is this knowledge that accounts for much of their present disquiet, unhappiness and anxiety” (p. 106).
Given nuclear weapons, climate change, gene editing and emerging nano technologies, Freud’s mind foresaw the fateful choices increasingly faces the human species and the inherent difficulties and perhaps impossibilities to cope with them. This is what makes “Civilization and Discontent” into a crucial text for the 21st century.
Professor Yehezkel Dror
- Mass Market Paperback: 128 pages
- Publisher: Penguin; 1 edition (1 March 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0141018992
- ISBN-13: 978-0141018997
- Product Dimensions: 11.1 x 0.7 x 18 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 181 g
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