Top positive review
19 people found this helpful
Still Relevant Today
on 6 March 2010
Civilization and its Discontent was first published in 1930 and despite all the criticism of Freud over a long period of time the essay contains profound truths and is still relevant today. The essay's range is broad as it goes beyond Freud's psychoanalytic theory and delves into the process of socialization, culture, and the struggle between natural human instincts and the mechanisms in society, such as religion, work and the arts, to keep them at bay.
The main concern of Freud is how people find and maintain happiness. Freud thinks that life is so hard to bear that human beings need a palliative. Palliatives could take the form of religion, the arts or work. In order to sustain his argument about the reasons that keep us happy, Freud uses a wide array of concepts. Many of these concepts such as the Id, the Ego, the Superego, the Libido, the Pleasure Principle, and the Reality Principle are to be found elsewhere in Freud's great oeuvre but ironically it is these very concepts that make for a difficult read, in some passages, of this great little book.
Many of Freud's views has long been criticised as lacking empirical evidence, as being sexist and/or Eurocentric. Some of that criticism stands. However, on the other hand, I think some of that criticism has been over stated. For example, take the issue of Eurocentricism, what Freud stated all those years ago I now see many non European people striving to achieve in the search for happiness - for example, the palliative of materialism.
I began by stating that the book is still relevant today so let me conclude by giving two examples as to why it is relevant. Some 80 years on from publication human beings are still faced with a lot of aggression and wars. Freud stated that: "The reality behind all this, which many would deny, is that human beings are not gentle creatures in need of love, at most able to defend themselves if attacked; on the contrary, they can count a powerful share of aggression among their instinctual endowments." The second example, this time to do with sexuality, is one in which as a society, almost universally, we are still uptight about sex so Freud's statement that: "Present-day civilization makes it clear that it will permit sexual relations only on the basis of a unique and indissoluble bond between a man and a woman, that it disapproves of sexuality as a source of pleasure in its own right and will tolerate it only as the device - for which a substitute has still to be found - for the increase of mankind" has a ring of truth about it today.
Civilization and its Discontents is still a great read with some relevant and profound truths.