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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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 May 2012
Only 83 pages for £1.76, but you will not find a more satisfying read in such a small space.

Religion is 'so patently infantile.' Voluntary loneliness: 'the happiness found along this path is that of peace.' I have never put so many Bookmarks or Underlined so much as I have in Sigmund Freud's 'Civilization and Its Discontents.'

I had started on my exploration of 'civilisation' in Henri Charriere's Papillon  when the word was so clearly dirty and untrustworthy when compared to the purity involved in 'crime' and the 'underworld.' From there I enjoyed A Brief Guide to Classical Civilization with its analysis of Greek and Roman literature as illuminating as its insights into architecture and politics.

So I could not resist a television documentary made in the 1960s called Civilisation : Complete BBC Series (4 Disc Box Set)Lord Clark won me over with his report of capitalism's 'monstrous proportions.' I want to watch this documentary right through a couple of times before I consider reviewing it.

With Freud civilisation and culture are overlaid. It is a straight fight between the individual and civilisation. The sexual urge and the community. 'Civilised man has exchanged some part of his chances for happiness for a measure of security,' very sad. He analyses the quest for something we call happiness. When he relates happiness to the 'enjoyment of beauty' I was reminded of the fact that I had read Freud a very long time ago.

There are many paths to Sigmund Freud whether they are from lying down with a psychiatrist or, like me, you like to walk just for the view; I highly recommend 'Civilisation and Its Discontents' on the train or in the bedroom.
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on 20 September 2014
This is certainly a very interesting read which gives a deep insight into Freud's fascinating and alternative, if somewhat warped, perspective on the different dimensions of society. You don't necessarily have to be interested in Psychological theory to find this book rewarding although it has the potential to be a little tedious at times for those not used to immersing themselves in Freudian ideology. It's worth a read just to look at the world through a different perspective and you don't necessarily have to be on Freud's wavelength to get something out of this book
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 3 April 2015
These Penguin pocketbook hardbacks are fantastic for anyone who likes to have a hardback read which will fit in a larger coat pocket or cargo pants side pocket, a bookmark is also attached to the spine, a tassel/ribbon type. The binding is good and the edition I have has no problems with pages coming loose or the book proving to stiff to open full wide. The typeset is no smaller than the average paperback book. I really like the series and have a number of the other editions available in the series and would hope that Penguin releases more of them.

This edition has an introduction by Leo Bersani and is translated by David McLintock, the intro is good but perhaps it would be worth reading the book and then reading the introduction, or at least possessing some familiarity with Freud/Freudian thinking/theory before reading it. There is also a translators note which is worth reading and does mention Freudian terminology in translation, the whole "me", "big me/over me" and "it" which is translated as "ego", "super ego" and "Id" thing which Bruno Bettleheim expands upon in Freud and Man's Soul and is worth a mention to anyone completely new to Freud's writing. While Freud did develop a unique Freudian language Bettleheim has made a good case that something is lost in translation, the, to German ears, more simple sounding or understandable conceptualisation of the human mind/pysche as divided into three, competiting or conflicting parts, becoming pseudo-scientific professional jargon. Bettleheim's points are well made, I think and the reputation for pseudo-scientific jargon or a difficult read put too many people off reading Freud. Obviously the translator's note is much shorter than Bettleheim's book but similar gorund is covered and I found the content about the choice of title for the book most interesting in the translators note, alternative titles being unhappiness in civilization, displeasure in civilization or unease/malaise in civilization.

The book has a contents, is comprised to two parts, Civilisation and Its Discontents and "Civilised Sexual Morality and Modern Nervous Illness", chapters are subdivided with endnotes following each section which expand upon a point or provide references to primary sources.

I have always considered Freud to be quite readable and more accessible to a general reader than some of his contemporaries, such as Jung for instance, and this book is no exception in that respect. Beginning with a consideration of responses to his other work, The Future of an Illusion, in which Freud treated religion to an thoroughly atheistic criticism as a construction of the mind, Freud discusses an artist friend's suggestion of an "oceanic feeling", which he states he has no personal experience of whilst not denying it could be the experience of others, and religion as compensatory palliative.

The book then expands upon topics of happiness, unhappiness and civilisation, Freud performs a good job of definition throughout, for instance, considering if civilisation is development, (marvelling at what to a contemporary reader would appear pretty modest developmental hallmarks such as telephone or telegraph communication but at once recognising that these marvels are remedying maladies created by development in the first place) and at what point it is reached. As indicated in the introduction this is not perhaps uniquely Freudian in its content or insight, however, Freud does go on to more characteristically Freudian discussion, expanding into ideas such as sublimination, eros, id, superego and the experience of neurotics.

The book is Freud's application of his theories to social and cultural topics and would have value to anyone considering the demands that civilisation places upon individuals to conform to conventional norms and mores of behaviour, anyone with an interest in Freud's writing or a general reader interested in the primary sources of some major philosophy or social theory.
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on 1 August 2014
This book is Freud's Leviathan in which he sets out to illuminate the relationship between the individual and the state. Like Hobbes, and for that matter Plato, Freud, as one would expect, seeks to ground his social speculations in his account of human nature. Unlike Hobbes or Plato, Freud's account of human nature is developmental, dynamic and based on thousands of hours of interaction, observation and analyses of people. Unlike Plato or Hobbes, Freud has no desire to impose something draconian on his fellow human beings - on the contrary he has nothing but sympathy for the difficult predicament in which we find ourselves.

According to Freud our happiness is in constant jeopardy from our bodies (inevitable decline, pain, anxiety), the external world (overwhelming, implacable destructive forces) and our relations to others (the unpredictability and capriciousness of others being perhaps the cause of the most pain). In response to such exigencies we need palliative measures - distractions, substitutions, intoxicants. Moreover we are constitutionally incapable of maintaining states of permanent happiness as happiness is largely the satisfaction of pent up frustrations and needs. To make matters worse many of our strategies for avoiding suffering are double edged swords that can create greater long-term suffering - as Jung wisely said elsewhere 'the cause of neuroses is the avoidance of legitimate suffering ' - and this is particularly evident in 'the archaeology of the mind' in which our early stages of our developmental psychology uneasily coexist with our more adult states often causing us to behave in less than rational, subtle and difficult to understand ways. At the root of all this is also a tendency towards aggressiveness. Civilisation then is a likewise double edged sword in each we trade in the pursuit of immediate individual satisfactions for greater security against threats of suffering coming from our bodies, externalities and others - all very Hobbesian if not quite so paranoiac or so repressive as Hobbes in his view of enforcement of society's dictates.

Incidental to all this, but also central given the pervasiveness as a social force, is a forceful critique of religion as both rooted in infantile feelings and as unrealistically repressive. Religion is rooted in a regressive desire to return to the security of the oceanic feelings of an undifferentiated ego and is expressed in a rigid desire to force others into an unrealistic uniformity in which it is assumed that the super-ego can effectively repress the id and ego when in fact it can't thus producing rebellion, neurosis and unhappiness (it must also be noted that Freud observes that the same can be said about totalitarian atheistic regimes such as communism). Freud, as such, appeals for greater realism, empathy and understanding.

This is a wonderful book, full of penetrating insights, evocatively expressed (for example describing the individual conscience in the state as a "garrison town in occupied territory" or the tendency of people to create in/out groups as "the narcissism of small differences") and deeply liberal and humane.

Freud is a great philosopher of the psyche and its social relations.
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on 26 March 2016
A discursive book in which S. Freud does tackle the issue of mysticism in a very pragmatic and methodical way, dissecting some of the elements that made Jung famous. A very interesting but not particularly easy read.
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on 10 March 2003
This book features two papers written in different times. The first one is from the 1930’s, and is a very mature analysis of the ways civilisations and individuals go in order to achieve happiness as it is. The second one, written in the 1900’s, is about ‘civilised’ sexuality and mental illnesses, and allows us to see how a whole new science emerged.
I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in psychiatry and psychoanalysis, and especially in Freud. I read other works by this author, and I think this one keeps up with the overall quality of the others.
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on 7 November 2014
To me, the majority of this book is dated. Even so, it was an interesting because it gave a window into the culture at the time, the state of psychology and the author's mind.

The greatest value, in my view, is in the first half of the book where the author talks about the 3 main sources of unhappiness, that are still relevant today.
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on 13 July 2014
Sigmund's books are always incredibly insightful and relevant even to this very day, however DO NOT pay for any of his work.

It is all out there, intentionally free for you to read.
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on 8 September 2011
This is a marvellous essay as people have commented elsewhere. This Kindle version appears to be complete apart from bibliographic material and I'm enjoying it a lot.
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