Civilization – A Definition By Freud

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 21 July 2016

Civilization – A Definition By Freud

What is civilization? (Freud-Style) According to Freud and his interpretation of what “Civilization” is written and documented in the novel, “Civilization and its Discontents,” he states that the word “civilization” describes the whole sum of achievements and regulations that distinguish our lives from those of our animal ancestors. It also serves two purposes – to protect men against nature and to adjust their mutual relationships. For a civilization to survive and prosper it needs laws, customs, justice, evolution, a renunciation of instinct(s), love, the desire to bring people together and the wanting of sexual freedom.

Civilization in essence is a means to regulate and understand such relationships. If such an attempt was not made, the relationship would be subject to the arbitrary will of the individual: that is to say the physically strong man would make decisions based upon his own interests and instinctual impulses. Instead of such barbarous systems for making decisions, a majority will often unite and over take such a monarch. This power in numbers is often labeled as “Brute Force” and occurs when a single leader or dictator is no longer wanted. Development of civilization is simply a peculiar process which man undertakes in which many things strike us as familiar and almost instinctual.

To learn more about civilizations we establish communities and other support services to promote higher learning. Civilization is thus divided into stages, the first of which is men makings the earth useful to them by creating tools, mastering the use of fire and constructing dwellings. When the organization of civilization was first being undertaken, each new innovation opened up a new path for its respective culture. Culture being a word used almost synonymously with the word civilization. With every new tool man created it was solely for the betterment of ones organs both motor and sensory in lieu of removing ones original limits. Such inventions and innovations, as the motor, gave immense force over nature and in essence simply perfected man’s muscles. Other inventions such as glasses, telescopes, microscopes, cameras, telephones, trains, and even one’s memory all had very important purposes to the individual as well as to overall advancement.

To Freud as to the Greeks, the gods were deemed to be cultural ideals. In Freud’s time with the many inventions man had become very close to his cultural ideals and was almost on the Godly level. People became more God-like with the addition of tools and aids to their existence. Such people were referred to as “Prosthetic” Gods because only with their tools or prosthesis were they able to be of God-like nature. Evolution throughout the ages brought about unimaginable advances and increased man’s likeliness to God even further. But still, with all of their innovations and tools, man was still not “content” nor will he ever be.

To achieve high levels of civilization it is mentioned that we must organize protection from everything (nature) so that avoiding of disasters such as flooding, earthquakes, and eruptions are possible. In order to deal with flooding, man invented canals to reroute the flow as well as to make previously inadequate soil into a viable resource. To help their causes man exterminated wild beasts and replaced them with domesticated animals. Along with nature and inclusive as well beauty is another feature highly valued in all civilizations. Man witnesses beauty in nature and then replicates it to the best he is able.

For a civilization to prosper there is a necessity for cleanliness and order, both bodily and in the civilization itself. Just as these things were a necessity, civilization was as well. Men who no longer fathomed working alone created civilization, they saw past their differences and united so that their job would be easier. The goals and necessities of a society determine when and where everything should occur as well as make the use of space and time in the most effective of manners.

Humans exhibit an inborn tendency to be careless and unreliable at their workplace, as well as in need of laborious training so that they might begin to comprehend the occupation or task they are undertaking. Civilization, with esteem and encouragement, provides necessity and reason to promote the need of higher learning. With such intellectual, scientific and artistic expansions mental expansion plays a leading role in human life. The illusion of religion attempts to throw light elsewhere and was established as the first major mental idea. Next, came speculation of philosophy and lastly the manipulation and striving for ones ideals by attempting to perfect oneself, ones community, or even humanity itself. All of this is done by the ideology and basis of the given civilization. All of these factors are so closely interwoven that there is often difficulty in describing and tracing their psychological origins.

A motivating force behind all human activities is striving towards the two confluent needs of utility and a yield of pleasure. We must not allow ourselves to be misled by judgments or religion, philosophic systems or views of the ideal. Though we may not wish to grant them dignity we must ultimately realize that such an ideology is present in civilization regardless. Social relations play part whether in a neighborly relationship, family relationship, or even as a member of a state. In such relations it is often hard to see the ideal demands and see what civilization is really.

With such an ideology we must also realize that the first requisite of civilization is indeed justice, and the assurance that a made law will not be broken. Civilization does not grant liberty to the individual, the development of civilization unfortunately imposes restriction on it, and thereby justice decrees that no one shall escape such restrictions. Desire for freedom is in fact a revolt against existing injustice. People desire freedom; such desires often cause strife in the civilization as a whole. The good part to civilization is that man witnesses and undertakes chances with the group as opposed to on an individual level, thus making coping that much easier. As with anything at many times the individual will have views different than that of the whole such that a problem arises and accommodation is necessary.

As mentioned previously the desire to be civilized is almost in essence an instinct just like the five Freudian stages of development. Civilization to Freud is very similar to the evolution and development of the libidinal process of the individual. Sublimation or instinctual aiming are in fact the things that make it possible for higher psychical activities like scientific research, artistic development, or the origination of ideas. Civilization is thus built on a renunciation of instincts. Such ideologies are thus repressed into the unconscious say Freud, and only come out when the unconscious recognizes they are necessary. This cultural frustration often causes much hostility again which all civilizations have to struggle.

In regards to the development of such civilizations it is like the maturation of an individual. Opposing men found out that working together instead of against each other was a very much time saving process. Primitive ape families were created based upon usefulness and helpfulness. Others think the need for families came about as a byproduct of necessity when the need for genital stimulation arose. In such as situation man would keep his female near him. While the female with her newly born child was in need of protection and thus was willing to stay around. Another basis for the creation of civilization was the lust for love and the compulsion to work. In essence civilization was just one large family.

The first result of such a family was that now many people were able to live interdependently with each other as a large group. Civilization, as deemed by Freud, was also a stepping stone in mans’ goal of necessity for sexual eroticism. Religions also were created as necessity hinted at them, they were used to explain the unexplainable and give the oceanic feeling in some senses. Religions were also manifested as outlets for the people’s frustrations and ambitions.

Once a young man/woman comes of age, it is seemingly required for them to go out into the workplace and being their life in aiding of the community. This very much parallels the necessity for schooling, college and lastly working. At the coming of age it is more or less time for the individual to begin giving back to the community. It is a sad state of affairs indeed but everyone undergoes it and it is unavoidable. Civilization in fact is more or less the obeying of the cultures laws on economic necessity. In a given civilization, sexuality often caused strife, but was necessary for evolution such that nothing could have been done to avoid it. Unfortunately nowadays it seems that being civilized leaves no room for simple natural love between two human beings.

Other forms of suffering come from superior powers of nature, feebleness of ones own body, and the inadequacy of the regulations that adjust the mutual relationships of human beings in the family and in society. Unfortunately no matter how hard we try there is no way we will ever master nature. Our body (part of nature) will always be a limiting factor in our ongoing adaptations and achievements. If we do not completely remove all suffering we can at least remove some, which is a good thing. We do have the ability to manipulate things just not to the fullness of our desires. According to Freud other people are used as a network of aiding and understanding worldly happenings and concerns. Civilization is largely responsible for the misery we indefinitely encounter. Threats of suffering, and all the things we seek to protect ourselves from, are part of civilization.

Certain historic events proved to build up condemnation and dissatisfaction of a civilization; such “Problems with Civilization” were longstanding and deeply rooted. Such as the victory of Christendom over the heathen religions or the voyages and explorations or even the contact we’ve had on such voyages with their respective inhabitants and the misunderstandings we encountered with them. Through things called “neuroses” the modreum of happiness was undermined. People became neurotic because of an inability to tolerate the amount of frustration that society imposed upon them in respect to its cultural ideals. In past years the ongoing attempt to control nature has made many advances both technically and scientifically.

Wanting to triumph over nature has been ongoing for thousands of years and seems to bring happiness when success is reached. Power over nature is simply a precondition of human happiness and thus is not the only goal of the cultural endeavor. Connectiveness with other beings brings about happiness; such things as knowing that your friend is alright after a long trip, or to hear the voice of your child on the other end of the phone all aid in bringing comfort. All of these things give reassurement and satisfaction to man. Humans, being social beings, do not care very much to be separated from their loved ones. To help themselves cope, various forms of transportation and accommodations such as the telephone were created. According to Freud, humans are working against natural selection for the betterment of their existence.

With all of the worldly concerns in mind, it makes people wonder whether a long life barren of joys and full of misery is truly worth it, if only death seems as a savior. People do not feel comfortable in civilizations, this is a proven fact, Freud hypothesizes that early ancestors might have been happier because they lived in a society which was much less organized and demanding. To Freud, happiness was a subjective term. And lastly Freud felt it was impossible for us to be empathic and feel the pain someone felt, be it in war, inquisition, or a vicious bout with famine, there is no way to prevent this. It’s human nature and thus no matter how civilized and proper we become it is unavoidable.


Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its discontents. 1961. W.W. Norton & Company Inc. New York.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 21 July 2016

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