Customer Reviews: Civilization and Its Discontents (Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud)
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on January 5, 2004
Sigmund Freud, whatever the variations in his posthumous reputation, remains the most compelling, daring, and persuasive analyst of the human condition we have. His psychoanalytic theories of sexuality, sublimation, repression, etc., offer original insights that profoundly influenced the course of Western consciousness in the 20th century. In addition to his gifts as a thinker, Freud was a master stylist, a man whose luminous prose and skillful argumentation make reading him a genuine pleasure.
"Civilization and Its Discontents," one of Freud's last works, remains one of his most vital and important. Don't be fooled by its brevity; this is a deeply complex and wide-ranging examination of Western civilization and its tensions. Freud speculates about the origins of our modern societies, the difficulties of assimilating ourselves to them given our own individual psyches, and ends the book with a rather pessimistic look forward. Clearly, Freud felt that civilization's "discontents" were an unresolvable fact of life.
What makes "Civilization and Its Discontents" so fascinating is Freud's application of psychoanalysis to Western society as whole. He examines how the factors at play in our own psyches--family conflicts, sexual desire, guilt, the "death instinct," and the eternal battle between our own self-interest and the interests of the human species at large--cause the problems that human beings encounter on a daily basis. As always with Freud, his ideas are put forward not as a final statement, but as a tentative first step.
This is one of Freud's indispensable texts, and its accessible and absorbing style make it an ideal introduction for those who are seeking to discover this colossal mind for the first time. A must read.
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on January 6, 2010
I read this book at age 18 after getting interested in psychiatry by an author named Karl Menninger. Freud's essay, Civilization and Its Discontents, has had the greatest impact on my life out of any book or experience. Within this short book he had taken my whole view of the world, turned it upside-down, and added an exclamation point. To understand this book doesn't require great intellectual power but rather mental capacity i.e, a capacity to receive a massive dose of pessimism! I would add almost as a warning that Freud's implied philosophy is almost conducive to depression in a maladjusted mind! If you want hope or faith, this is not for you. Regardless, everybody should read this book.
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VINE VOICEon July 11, 2007
`Civilization and its Discontents' is Freud's miniature opus. It is a superficial masterpiece that stretches further than any of his other works; he is reaching for an explanation for human nature in terms of the id-ego-superego structure of the individual as he exists in civilization. For Freud, human beings are characterized by Eros (Sex Drive) and Thanatos (Death Drive), which remain in opposition to one another. This small book is filled with as many interesting ideas as any work of modern philosophy. Freud adopts (perhaps a bit hastily), a Nietzschean position with regard to the role of religion and institutions of social morality which curb and shape primordial human drives. As a result, human beings, and civilizations as a whole remain unsatisfied and suffer from neuroses. He concludes with a discussion of human aggression, which manifests itself in the form of communalized human aggression. He wonders as to whether or not human beings will be able to overcome this drive. It seems to me that this question remains the most important for human beings in the 21st century. Will we be able to overcome our Thanatos and survive the destructive powers that we have created? I suspect that Freud will be better remembered as a thinker and philosopher than as an analyst or doctor precisely because he asks the questions that remain relevant for civilization today, and are likely to remain imperative in the future.
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on April 14, 2003
Many people today believe that Sigmund Freud was obsessed with sex. However, most of these assumptions are based upon what another person said of Freud and almost never upon a careful reading of Freud's work. These people do not see the fact that Freud writes on more than sexuality, he also analyzes and researches the study of mankind. Sigmund Freud attacks the question why we do things the way we do head on and answers to the best of his reason. Therefore, Sigmund Freud was truly a man of his time and his debate on mankind was a very innovative method to answer mankind's most serious issues.
Man is an aggressive being and civilization is the means which humanity withholds its primal urges in check. At least Freud believes so and shows support for this thesis by referring to mankind's constant need to restrain its inherent passions despite all of the controls placed by society. I believe that Freud was definitely on to something with this point. He is right when he states that man is essentially an anti-social, anti-cultural being. One could look down through the pages of history and see war after war, violent act after violent primarily as a result of the inherent greed for power and a passionate thirst for more than one's own. This is one of the many reasons why communism is impossible, man is a selfish being and always desires more than he possesses. He will do what is necessary to increase his holding at the expense of his fellows. I believe that Nietzsche and Freud are in agreement at this point. However, Nietzsche believes that the masses attempt to quell this passion and label that as noble. I believe that Freud does not think it is possible to restrain this aggressiveness and mankind is only able to cover it up in a semblance of control which we label civilization. Though I see merit in both men's argument, my reaction is that there is another solution. I believe in Christian perspective that "by beholding we become changed" and with a personal relationship with Christ one is capable of achieving victory over that aggression. Freud argues that the need for self-preservation is often disrupted by a "social anxiety". This anxiety is a state in which individuals are controlled by the opinions of others towards them. Freud contends that the majority of society is ruled by this anxiety. His solution to this is a "higher stage" attainable by rising above the need to care about how others perceive one's conduct. This implies that behavior controlled by social conventions is more primitive than behavior controlled by the individual. According to Freud, morality is not an issue of socially determined shame, but a matter of internalized primal guilt. This guilt is the basis for beliefs such as an original sin and is the main catalyst in mankind's aggression. I doubt that this is the most flattering perspective to look upon our own nature, but Freud's argument does contain a lot of merit.
We read earlier in Walden that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation" and I believe Freud saw this desperation as a direct result of the affects of social anxiety. We see this today in the pop culture where in order to fit in an individual must conform to the trends in fashion. We see it in the work environment where the worker flatters his boss. We see it in the political world where politicians say and do what is necessary to keep public opinions high. We are so drawn into the belief that the opinions of others matters that we spend the majority of our time and money on things we don't need to impress people we don't care about.
After reading Civilization and Its Discontents I am not under the impression that Freud is correct about everything. However, I am able to respect his writing as an important critical look at society which still has merit even today. Perhaps our world would be a better place if all of its inhabitants stop to think of why they do the things they do and what are the effects of their actions. Perhaps mankind would improve if we learned how to control our inherent aggression and to not worry about other people's opinions. Perhaps this is merely wishful thinking on my part.
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on April 12, 2016
I return to another look into Sigmund Freud's mind. After being away from his inner thought process after 9 years in other words when I was 12 years old and read Interpretation of Dreams.

I must say I loved reading his all over the place thought process in this one. Unlike my previous experience of his work.

Sigmund Freud begins by relating the discontents most people have that actually spring forth out of our search for happiness all superimposed with a vast level of complexity. In this there are several paths open to people and whether they succeed in gaining happiness or a lowering of pain in their life in the end depends on them and their natural constitution.

Next Sigmund Freud goes into great detail on how civilization developed. He makes it aware that to get to where we are there were likely many sacrifices for man and in turn there are still many. Many of these cause mental and emotional disturbances for us and are seemingly stoked thanks in part to too many restrictions by society. One of the main ones that Sigmund Freud brings up is civilized sexual morality. Which in opinion, while it does have some truth I also think this is only but one of several factors in that discussion.

Amongst his heavy use of harsh realistic truths he still invariably comes off as impartial. Something I couldn't help but sense. And I wonder if I was the only one? The thing that worried me was whether this impartiality came from a pure sense of wanting to be like that or if he had perhaps given up on humanity. I seriously hope it was the former rather than the latter.

Even so, I heavily enjoyed further reading from Sigmund Freud. A lot of what he touched upon gives clearer insight into the ways of life for us now and not to mention his predictions are spot-on, but most important of all a lot of it was full of logic.
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on June 13, 2016
I have read this Freud so many times before. In fact, I have all the volumes of his writings, but I couldn't find this one--Civilization--when I was looking for it. I said to myself that I can't live a day without this particular Freudian wisdom, and I ordered it again. Of course, I found the missing volume, and now I have two copies of this magnificent work.
Freud published Civilization in 1930, when the dark clouds of WWII could be seen on the horizon. The main theme of the book is the hostile clash between the restrictions of civilization (i.e., "Thou Shalt not kill") and the demands of the instincts (to kill, to fornicate, to destroy). Civilization offers us protection, beauty, and order, but the aggressive instincts and the pleasure principle demand their own. This idea sheds so much light on the state of the world now, where states fail, ISIS beheads its victims, and millions of immigrants seek shelter from brutality in a Europe which cannot or will not contain them. And all this is happening after the atrocities of Hitler, from whom Freud escaped to London. As we are all shocked and shaken by the violence against the LGBT community in Orlando, Freud's warning words about the fragility and the preciousness of civilization come back to haunt us and remind us of the efforts we must invest in preserving this civilization of ours--so many years in the making--or go to hell.
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on October 3, 2015
I decided to re-read this after reading Adam Phillips' Becoming Freud (a frustrating, but very interesting book/lecture). I wanted to hear Freud's own "voice" on the problems of the individual in society, since earlier I had lectured and written on such matters as a political scientist. This re-reading showed me some of the limitations of reading profound work when you are young; reading this at the age of 83 was fascinating in a way that it could not have been earlier, at least for me. Two matters impressed me in particular. First, the symbiotic relationship between formation of the individual and the social/civilizational setting in which this formation takes place. When younger, I had emphasized the notion that individuality was often achieved in spite of that setting. Second, Freud (writing on the eve of Nazi power) emphasizes the possibility of society having the same struggles that persons have in terms of id, ego, and superego. In short, societies/civilizations can become neurotic and behave in insane ways. The book is thus useful for our own time, which is undergoing the sorts of changes that produce intense societal stress.
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on September 28, 2015
Great book, hilariously tacky edition. When publishing a super-cheap version of a classic, most designer would go with a plain matte cover. But not this designer. No, they went with the full-on leather-with-gold-embossed-text look, as though they could convince all of us that this is a fine, well-bound leather and gold book on our shelves. In reality, the front & back cover basically look like a low-res print-out of a google image of worn leather,. But I somehow love it a lot. Worth it.
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on May 18, 2011
This is arguably Freud's best work, in the sense that it covers issues that are absolutely timeless in the most straightforward manner possible. Not inflected with Freud's theories on trauma, gender, or hysteria, this book is a pure distillation of the un-get-around-able question: How do we balance our our visceral desires with out need to get along? How do the sacrifices we make in order to live in society affect our primal selves? And are they worth it?

Written in the wake of a devastating war, this book contains a streak of intelligent, wary pessimism that's hard to counter.

In the lineage of lasting works that address the question of balancing desires with responsibilities, urges with laws, this book comes after Euripides' "The Bacchae" and Nietzsche's "The Birth of Tragedy" for me. It's a compelling read and re-read.
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on December 20, 2007
Freud continued writing into his old age. The three books* of this period are highly suitable for the general reader, that is, every seeker of knowledge.In 1930 when he was 74, He wrote "Civilization and Its Discontents" which, in its first words, scolds us gently. Our judgments are faulty. We fail to recognize and respect greatness; we allow ourselves to be misled--our oceanic, sensation of eternity to be misdirected. The subject matter in this book touches such diversities as the world's problems, religion, happiness and guilt with the deft hand.
Louis Menand's introduction contains valuable information on Freud's work, and Peter Gay's "Brief Life" tells of the author's origins and life. This book may be called "popular" in the best sense of that word.
*The Future of an Illusion, Civilization and Its Discontents & Thomas Woodrow Wilson a Psychological Study
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