Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, one of his last and most influential books, treats human misery in establishing ideas about repression and the place of humans in the world. The book’s leading concepts can be traced back to Freud’s earliest pronouncements on incest in his letters to Wilhelm Fliess from the late 1890’s. A full analysis of the restrictions on the individual from external and internal forces that pave the way to civilization was not possible until Freud’s investigations of ego-psychology had led him to his hypotheses on the superego in Das Ich und das Es, 1923 (The Ego and the Id, 1926). Only by clarifying the nature of the superego and the sense of guilt—which he later declared to be the maker of civilized humanity—could he begin to explore the clash of that sense of guilt with the aggressive instinct derived from the self-destructive death drive that he had first confronted in Jenseits des Lustprinzips, 1920 (Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 1922). Using the concepts of the superego, the sense of guilt, and the aggressive instinct, Freud formulated the main theme of Civilization and Its Discontents: the ineradicable antagonism between the demands of the individual’s instincts and the restrictions of civilization.
The small book is divided into eight short chapters, each packed with complex ideas and analyses. Freud begins with a meditation on belief,...
(The entire section is 1669 words.)
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