Sigmund Freud Civilization And Its Discontents Essay Format

Civilization and Its Discontents is a book by Sigmund Freud. It was written in 1929 and first published in German in 1930 as Das Unbehagen in der Kultur ("The Uneasiness in Civilization"). Exploring what Freud sees as the important clash between the desire for individuality and the expectations of society, the book is considered one of Freud's most important and widely read works, and one of the most influential and studied books in the field of modern psychology.[1]


In this book, Sigmund Freud enumerates what he sees as the fundamental tensions between civilization and the individual. The primary friction, he asserts, stems from the individual's quest for instinctive freedom and civilization's contrary demand for conformity and repression of instincts. Freud states that when any situation that is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged, it creates a feeling of mild contentment. Many of humankind's primitive instincts (for example, the desire to kill and the insatiable craving for sexual gratification) are clearly harmful to the well-being of a human community. As a result, civilization creates laws that prohibit killing, rape, and adultery, and it implements severe punishments if these rules are broken. Thus our possibilities for happiness are restricted by the law. This process, argues Freud, is an inherent quality of civilization that gives rise to perpetual feelings of discontent among its citizens.

Freud's theory is based on the notion that humans have certain characteristic instincts that are immutable[citation needed]. These include, most notably, the desires for sex, and the predisposition to violent aggression towards authority figures and sexual competitors, who obstruct the individual's path to gratification.


Freud begins this work by taking up a possible source of religious feeling that his previous book, The Future of an Illusion, overlooked: the "oceanic feeling" of wholeness, limitlessness, and eternity.[2] Freud himself cannot experience this feeling of dissolution, but notes there exist different pathological and healthy states (e.g. love) where the boundary between ego and object is lost, blurred, or distorted. Freud categorizes the oceanic feeling as being a regression into an earlier state of consciousness — before the ego had differentiated itself from the world of objects. The need for this religious feeling, he writes, arises out of "the infant's helplessness and the longing for the father," as there is no greater infantile need than a father's protection.[3] Freud "imagine[s] that the oceanic feeling became connected with religion later on" in cultural practices.

The second chapter delves into how religion is one coping strategy that arises out of a need for the individual to distance himself from all of the suffering in the world. The ego of the child forms over the oceanic feeling when it grasps that there are negative aspects of reality from which it would prefer to distance itself. But at the same time as the ego is hoping to avoid displeasure, it is also building itself so that it may be better able to act towards securing happiness, and these are the twin aims of the pleasure principle when the ego realizes that it must also deal with 'reality'. Freud claims that the 'purpose of life is simply the programme of the pleasure principle'[4] and the rest of the chapter is an exploration of various styles of adaptation that humans use to secure happiness from the world while also trying to limit their exposure to suffering or avoid it altogether. Freud points out three main sources of displeasure that we attempt to master: our own painful and mortal existence, the cruel and destructive aspects of the natural world, and the suffering endemic to the reality that we must live with other human beings in a society. Freud regards this last source of displeasure as "perhaps more painful to us than any other",[5] and the remainder of this book will extrapolate on the conflict between the individual's instinct for seeking gratification and the reality of societal life.

The third chapter of the book addresses a fundamental paradox of civilization: it is a tool we have created to protect ourselves from unhappiness, and yet it is our largest source of unhappiness. People become neurotic because they cannot tolerate the frustration which society imposes in the service of its cultural ideals. Freud points out that advances in science and technology have been, at best, a mixed blessing for human happiness. He asks what society is for if not to satisfy the pleasure principle, but concedes that as well as pursuing happiness, civilization must also compromise happiness in order to fulfill its primary goal of bringing individuals into peaceful relationship with one another, which it does by making them subject to a higher, communal authority. Civilization is built out of wish-fulfillments of the human ideals of control, beauty, hygiene, order, and especially for the exercise of humanity's highest intellectual functions. Freud draws a key analogy between the development of civilization and libidinal development in the individual, which allows Freud to speak of civilization in his own terms: there is anal eroticism that develops into a need for order and cleanliness, a sublimation of instincts into useful actions, alongside a more repressive renunciation of instinct. This final point Freud sees as the most important character of civilization, and if it is not compensated for, then “one can be certain that serious disorders will ensue.".[6] The structure of civilization serves to circumvent the natural processes and feelings of human development and eroticism. It is no wonder then, that this repression could lead to discontent among civilians.

In the fourth chapter, Freud attempts a conjecture on the developmental history of civilization, which he supposes coincided with man learning to stand upright. This stage is followed by Freud's hypothesis from Totem and Taboo that human culture is bound up in an ancient Oedipal drama of brothers banding together to kill their father, and then creating a culture of rules to mediate ambivalent instinctual desires. Gradually, love of a single sexual object becomes diffused and distributed towards all of one's culture and humanity in the form of a diluted 'aim-inhibited affection'. Freud discounts the idea that this passive and non-judgmental affection for all is the pinnacle of human love and purpose. Freud notes that while love is essential for bringing people together in a civilization, at the same time society creates laws, restrictions, and taboos to try to suppress this same instinct, and Freud wonders if there may not be more than sexual desire within the term 'libido'.

"Psycho-analytic work has shown us that it is precisely these frustrations of sexual life which people known as neurotics cannot tolerate".[7] So Freud begins the fifth section of this work, which explores the reasons why love cannot be the answer, and concludes that there exists a genuine and irreducible aggressive drive within all human beings. And while the love instinct (eros) can be commandeered by society to bind its members together, the aggressive instinct runs counter to this tendency and must either be repressed or be directed against a rival culture. Thus, Freud acknowledges there is irrevocable ill-will within the hearts of man, and that civilization primarily exists to curb and restrain these impulses.

In the sixth chapter, Freud reviews the development of his concept of libido to explain why it must now be separated into two distinct instincts: the object-instinct of eros and the ego-instinct of thanatos. This 'new' concept of the death drive actually has a long developmental history in Freud’s writings, including his investigations into narcissism and sadomasochism. Freud admits it may be difficult to accept his view of human nature as being predisposed towards death and destruction, but he reasons that the suppression of this instinct is the true cause behind civilization's need for restrictions. Life and civilization, then, are born and develop out of an eternal struggle between these two interpersonal forces of love and hate.

Freud begins the seventh chapter by clearly explaining how the repression of the death instinct gives rise to neurosis in the individual: the natural aggressiveness of the human child is suppressed by society (and its local representative, the father-figure) and turned inward, introjected, directed back against the ego. These aggressive energies develop into the super-ego as conscience, which punishes the ego both for transgressions committed (remorse) but also for sins it has only fantasized about (guilt). All individuals must submit themselves to forming these feelings of guilt, for their aggressive instincts must be repressed if they hope to share in the love which civilized society has appropriated for its members. Guilt and the neurotic repression of instinct are simply the price we pay in order to live together harmoniously in families and communities.

The guilty conscience is the price paid by the individual to belong to civilized society, but often this guilt is left unconscious and is experienced as anxiety or 'discontent'. Freud also considers that in addition to the individual super-ego, there may exist a 'cultural super-ego' that sets itself up as a conscience for society, and that his recommendation for it is the same as his recommendation for many of his neurotic patients: that it must lower its demands on the frail ego. Freud concludes this book by expanding on his distinction between eros and thanatos: "When an instinctual trend undergoes repression, its libidinal elements are turned into symptoms, and its aggressive components into a sense of guilt",[8] and he ponders on how the eternal battle between these heavenly powers will play out in mankind.

Historical context[edit]

This work should be understood in the context of contemporary events: World War I undoubtedly influenced Freud and his central observation about the tension between the individual and civilization. In a nation still recovering from a particularly brutal war, Freud developed thoughts published two years earlier in The Future of an Illusion (1927), wherein he criticized organized religion as a collective neurosis. Freud, an avowed atheist, argued that religion has tamed asocial instincts and created a sense of community around a shared set of beliefs, thus helping a civilization. Yet at the same time, organized religion exacts an enormous psychological cost on the individual by making him or her perpetually subordinate to the primal father figure embodied by God.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^(Gay 1989, p. 722)
  2. ^The concept of "oceanic feeling" was coined by Romain Rolland in his Correspondence with Freud, based on his studies of Eastern mysticism. In the correspondence, Rolland expressed a wish to hear Freud's analysis of the concept, which he answered in these books. Freud credits the term to an anonymous friend.
  3. ^Strachey 2001, pg. 72
  4. ^Strachey 2001, pg. 76
  5. ^Strachey 2001, pg. 77
  6. ^Strachey 2001, pg. 97
  7. ^Strachey 2001, pg. 108
  8. ^Strachey 2001, pg. 139
  9. ^The Question of God Program Two. Sigmund Freud: Civilization and Its Discontents


  • Freud, Sigmund, "Civilization and Its Discontents", London: Penguin, 2002. ISBN 978-0-14-118236-0
  • Gay, Peter (1989), Peter Gay, ed., The Freud Reader, W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-95806-X 
  • Strachey, J. (2001) The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XXI (1927-1931), London, Vintage. ISBN 978-0-09-942676-9

External links[edit]

IN my Future of an Illusion 5 I was concerned much less with the deepest sources of religious feeling than with what the ordinary man understands by his religion, that system of doctrines and pledges that on the one hand explains the riddle of this world to him with an enviable completeness, and on the other assures him that a solicitous Providence is watching over him and will make up to him in a future existence for any shortcomings in this life. The ordinary man cannot imagine this Providence in any other form hut that of a greatly exalted father, for only such a one could understand the needs of the sons of men, or be softened by their prayers and placated by the signs of their remorse. The whole thing is so patently infantile, so incongruous with reality, that to one whose attitude to humanity is friendly it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life. It is even more humiliating to discover what a large number of those alive today, who must see that this religion is not tenable, yet try to defend it inch by inch, as if with a series of pitiable rearguard actions. One would like to count oneself among the believers, so as to admonish the philosophers who try to preserve the God of religion by substituting for him an impersonal, shadowy, abstract principle, and say, “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain!” Some of the great men of the past did the same, but that is no justification for us; we know why they had to do so.

We will now go back to the ordinary man and his religion—the only religion that ought to bear the name. The well-known words of one of our great and wise poets come to mind in which he expresses his view of the relation of religion to art and science. They run:

                                He who has Science and has Art,
                                        Religion, too, has he;
                                Who has not Science, has not Art,
                                        Let him religious be! 6

On the one hand, these words contrast religion with the two highest achievements of man, and on the other, they declare that in respect of their value in life they can represent or replace each other. If we wish to deprive even the ordinary man, too, of his religion, we shall clearly not have the authority of the poet on our side. We will seek to get in touch with the meaning of his utterance by a special way. Life as we find it is too hard for us; it entails too much pain, too many disappointments, impossible tasks. We cannot do without palliative remedies. We cannot dispense with auxiliary constructions, as Theodor Fontane said. There are perhaps three of these means: powerful diversions of interest, which lead us to care little about our misery; substitutive gratification, which lessen it; and intoxicating substances, which make us insensitive to it. Something of this kind is indispensable. 7 Voltaire is aiming at a diversion of interest when he brings his Candide to a close with the advice that people should cultivate their gardens; scientific work is another deflection of the same kind. The substitute gratifications, such as art offers, are illusions in contrast to reality, but none the less satisfying to the mind on that account, thanks to the place which phantasy has reserved for herself in mental life. The intoxicating substances affect our body, alter its chemical processes. It is not so simple to find the place where religion belongs in this series. We must look further afield.

The question, “What is the purpose of human life?” has been asked times without number; it has never received a satisfactory answer; perhaps it does not admit of such an answer. Many a questioner has added that if it should appear that life has no purpose, then it would lose all value for him. But these threats alter nothing. It looks, on the contrary, as though one had a right to dismiss this question, for it seems to presuppose that belief in the superiority of the human race with which we are already so familiar in its other expressions. Nobody asks what is the purpose of the lives of animals, unless peradventure they are designed to be of service to man. But this, too, will not hold, for with many animals man can do nothing—except describe, classify, and study them; and countless species have declined to be put even to this use, by living and dying and becoming extinct before men had set eyes upon them. So again, only religion is able to answer the question of the purpose of life. One can hardly go wrong in concluding that the idea of a purpose in life stands and falls with the religious system.

We will turn, therefore, to the less ambitious problem: what the behaviour of men themselves reveals as the purpose and object of their lives, what they demand of life and wish to attain in it. The answer to this can hardly be in doubt: they seek happiness, they want to become happy and to remain so. There are two sides to this striving, a positive and a negative; it aims on the one hand at eliminating pain and discomfort, on the other at the experience of intense pleasures. In its narrower sense, the word happiness relates only to the last. Thus human activities branch off in two directions—corresponding to this double goal—according to which of the two they aim at realizing, either predominantly or even exclusively.

As we see, it is simply the pleasure-principle which draws up the programme of life’’s purpose. This principle dominates the operation of the mental apparatus from the very beginning; there can be no doubt about its efficiency, and yet its programme is in conflict with the whole world, with the macrocosm as much as with the microcosm. It simply cannot be put into execution, the whole constitution of things runs counter to it; one might say the intention that man should be happy is not included in the scheme of Creation. What is called happiness in its narrowest sense comes from the satisfaction—most often instantaneous—of pent-up needs which have reached great intensity, and by its very nature can only be a transitory experience. When any condition desired by the pleasure-principle is protracted, it results in a feeling only of mild comfort; we are so constituted that we can only intensely enjoy contrasts, much less intensely states in themselves. 8 Our possibilities of happiness are thus limited from the start by our very constitution. It is much less difficult to be unhappy. Suffering comes from three quarters: from our own body, which is destined to decay and dissolution, and cannot even dispense with anxiety and pain as danger-signals; from the outer world, which can rage against us with the most powerful and pitiless forces of destruction; and finally from our relations with other men. The unhappiness which has this last origin we find perhaps more painful than any other; we tend to regard it more or less as a gratuitous addition, although it cannot be any less an inevitable fate than the suffering that proceeds from other sources.

It is no wonder if, under the pressure of these possibilities of suffering, humanity is won't to reduce its demands for happiness, just as even the pleasure-principle itself changes into the more accommodating reality-principle under the influence of external environment; if a man thinks himself happy if he has merely escaped unhappiness or weathered trouble; if in general the task of avoiding pain forces that of obtaining pleasure into the background. Reflection shows that there are very different ways of attempting to perform this task; and all these ways have been recommended by the various schools of wisdom in the art of life and put into practice by men. Unbridled gratification of all desires forces itself into the foreground as the most alluring guiding principle in life, but it entails preferring enjoyment to caution and penalizes itself after short indulgence. The other methods, in which avoidance of pain is the main motive, are differentiated according to the source of the suffering against which they are mainly directed. Some of these measures are extreme and some moderate, some are one-sided and some deal with several aspects of the matter at once. Voluntary loneliness, isolation from others, is the readiest safeguard against the unhappiness that may arise out of human relations. We know what this means: the happiness found along this path is that of peace. Against the dreaded outer world one can defend oneself only by turning away in some other direction, if the difficulty is to be solved single-handed. There is indeed another and better way: that of combining with the rest of the human community and taking up the attack on nature, thus forcing it to obey human will, under the guidance of science. One is working, then, with all for the good of all. But the most interesting methods for averting pain are those which aim in influencing the organism itself. In the last analysis, all pain is but sensation; it only exists in so far as we feel it, and we feel it only in consequence of certain characteristics of our organism.

The crudest of these methods of influencing the body, but. also the most effective, is the chemical one: that of intoxication. I do not think anyone entirely understands their operation, but it is a fact that there are certain substances foreign to the body which, when present in the blood or tissues, directly cause us pleasurable sensations, but also so change the conditions of our perceptivity that we become insensible of disagreeable sensations. The two effects not only take place simultaneously, they seem to be closely bound up with each other. But there must be substances in the chemical composition of our bodies which can do the same, for we know of at least one morbid state, that of mania, in which a condition similar to this intoxication arises without any drug being absorbed, Besides this, our normal mental life shows variations, according to which pleasure is experienced with more or less ease, and along with this goes a diminished or increased sensitivity to pain. It is greatly to be regretted that this toxic aspect of mental processes has so far eluded scientific research. The services rendered by intoxicating substances in the struggle for happiness and in warding off misery rank so highly as a benefit that both individuals and races have given them an established position within their libido-economy. It is not merely the immediate gain in pleasure which one owes to them, but also a measure of that independence of the outer world which is so sorely craved. Men know that with the help they can get from “drowning their cares” they can at any time slip away from the oppression of reality and find a refuge in a world of their own where painful feelings do not enter. We are aware that it is just this property which constitutes the danger and injuriousness of intoxicating substances. In certain circumstances they are to blame when valuable energies which could have been used to improve the lot of humanity are uselessly wasted.

The complicated structure of our mental apparatus admits, however, of a whole series of other kinds of influence. The gratification of instincts is happiness, but when the outer world lets us starve, refuses us satisfaction of our needs, they become the cause of very great suffering. So the hope is born that by influencing these impulses one may escape some measure of suffering. This type of defence against pain no longer relates to the sensory apparatus; it seeks to control the internal sources of our needs themselves. An extreme form of it consists in annihilation of the instincts, as taught by the wisdom of the East and practised by the Yogi. When it succeeds, it is true, it involves giving up all other activities as well (sacrificing the whole of life), and again, by another path, the only happiness it brings is that of peace. The same way is taken when the aim is less extreme and only control of the instincts is sought. When this is so, the higher mental systems which recognize the reality-principle have the upper hand. The aim of gratification is by no means abandoned in this case; a certain degree of protection against suffering is secured, in that lack of satisfaction causes less pain when the instincts are kept in check than when they are unbridled. On the other hand, this brings with it an undeniable reduction in the degree of enjoyment obtainable. The feeling of happiness produced by indulgence of a wild, untamed craving is incomparably more intense than is the satisfying of a curbed desire. The irresistibility of perverted impulses, perhaps the charm of forbidden things generally, may in this way be explained economically.

Another method of guarding against pain is by using the libido-displacements that our mental equipment allows of, by which it gains so greatly in flexibility. The task is then one of transferring the instinctual aims into such directions that they cannot be frustrated by the outer world. Sublimation of the instincts lends an aid in this. Its success is greatest when a man knows how to heighten sufficiently his capacity for obtaining pleasure from mental and intellectual work. Fate has little power against him then. This kind of satisfaction, such as the artist’’s joy in creation, in embodying his phantasies, or the scientist’’s in solving problems or discovering truth, has a special quality which we shall certainly one day be able to define metapsychologically. Until then we can only say metaphorically it seems to us higher and finer, but, compared with that of gratifying gross primitive instincts, its intensity is tempered and diffused; it does not overwhelm us physically. The weak point of this method, however, is that it is not generally applicable; it is only available to the few.It presupposes special gifts and dispositions which are not very commonly found in a sufficient degree. And even to these few it does not secure complete protection against suffering; it gives no invulnerable armour against the arrows of fate, and it usually fails when a man’’s own body becomes a source of suffering to him. 9

This behaviour reveals clearly enough its aim—that of making oneself independent of the external world, by looking for happiness in the inner things of the mind; in the next method the same features are even more marked. The connection with reality is looser still; satisfaction is obtained through illusions, which are recognized as such, without the discrepancy between them and reality being allowed to interfere with the pleasure they give. These illusions are derived from the life of phantasy which, at the time when the sense of reality developed, was expressly exempted from the demands of the reality-test and set apart for the purpose of fulfilling wishes which would be very hard to realize. At the head of these phantasy- pleasures stands the enjoyment of works of art which through the agency of the artist is opened to those who cannot themselves create. 10 Those who are sensitive to the influence of art do not know how to rate it high enough as a source of happiness and consolation in life. Yet art affects us but as a mild narcotic and can provide no more than a temporary refuge for us from the hardships of life; its influence is not strong enough to make us forget real misery.

Another method operates more energetically and thoroughly; it regards reality as the source of all suffering, as the one and only enemy, with whom life is intolerable and with whom, therefore, all relations must be broken off if one is to be happy in any way at all. The hermit turns his back on this world; he will have nothing to do with it. But one can do more than that; one can try to re-create it. try to build up another instead, from which the most unbearable features are eliminated and replaced by others corresponding to one’’s own wishes. He who in his despair and defiance sets out on this path will not as a rule get very far; reality will be too strong for him. He becomes a madman and usually finds no one to help him in carrying through his delusion. It is said, however, that each one of us behaves in some respect like the paranoiac, substituting a wish-fulfilment for some aspect of the world which is unbearable to him, and carrying this delusion through into reality. When a large number of people make this attempt together and try to obtain assurance of happiness and protection from suffering by a delusional transformation of reality, it acquires special significance. The religions of humanity, too, must be classified as mass-delusions of this kind. Needless to say, no one who shares a delusion recognizes it as such.

I do not suppose that I have enumerated all the methods by which men strive to win happiness and keep suffering at bay, and I know, too, that the material might have been arranged differently. One of these methods I have not yet mentioned at all—not because I had forgotten it, but because it will interest us in another connection. How would it be possible to forget this way of all others of practising the art of life! It is conspicuous for its remarkable capacity to combine characteristic features. Needless to say, it, too, strives to bring about independence of fate— as we may best call it—and with this object it looks for satisfaction within the mind, and uses the capacity for displacing libido which we mentioned before, but it does not turn away from the outer world; on the contrary, it takes a firm hold of its objects and obtains happiness from an emotional relation to them. Nor is it content to strive for avoidance of pain—that goal of weary resignation; rather it passes that by heedlessly and holds fast to the deep-rooted, passionate striving for a positive fulfilment of happiness. Perhaps it really comes nearer to this goal than any other method. I am speaking, of course, of that way of life which makes love the centre of all things and anticipates all happiness from loving and being loved. This attitude is familiar enough to all of us; one of the forms in which love manifests itself, sexual love, gives us our most intense experience of an overwhelming pleasurable sensation and so furnishes a prototype for our strivings after happiness. What is more natural than that we should persist in seeking happiness along the path by which we first encountered it? The weak side of this way of living is clearly evident; and were it not for this, no human being would ever have thought of abandoning this path to happiness in favour of any other. We are never so defenceless against suffering as when we love, never so forlornly unhappy as when we have lost our love-object or its love. But this does not complete the story of that way of life which bases happiness on love; there is much more to be said about it.

We may here go on to consider the interesting case in which happiness in life is sought first and foremost in the enjoyment of beauty, wherever it is to be found by our senses and our judgment, the beauty of human forms and movements, of natural objects, of landscapes, of artistic and even scientific creations. As a goal in life, this aesthetic attitude offers little protection against the menace of suffering, but it is able to compensate for a great deal. The enjoyment of beauty produces a particular, mildly intoxicating kind of sensation. There is no very evident use in beauty; the necessity of it for cultural purposes is not apparent, and yet civilization could not do without it. The science of aesthetics investigates the conditions in which things are regarded as beautiful; it can give no explanation of the nature or origin of beauty: as usual, its lack of results is concealed under a flood of resounding and meaningless words. Unfortunately, psycho-analysis, too, has less to say about beauty than about most things. Its derivation from the realms of sexual sensation is all that seems certain; the love of beauty is a perfect example of a feeling with an inhibited aim. Beauty and attraction are first of all the attributes of a sexual object. It is remarkable that the genitals themselves. the sight of which is always exciting, are hardly ever regarded as beautiful; the quality of beauty seems, on the other hand, to attach to certain secondary sexual characters.

In spite of the incompleteness of these considerations, I will venture on a few remarks in conclusion of this discussion. The goal towards which the pleasure-principle impels us —of becoming happy—is not attainable; yet we may not—nay, cannot—give up the effort to come nearer to realization of it by some means or other. Very different paths may be taken towards it: some pursue the positive aspect of the aim, attainment of pleasure; others the negative, avoidance of pain. By none of these ways can we achieve all that we desire. In that modified sense in which we have seen it to be attainable, happiness is a problem of the economics of the libido in each individual. There is no sovereign recipe in this matter which suits all; each one must find out for himself by which particular means he may achieve felicity. All kinds of different factors will operate to influence his choice. It depends on how much real gratification he is likely to obtain in the external world, and how far he will find it necessary to make himself independent of it; finally, too, on the belief he has in himself of his power to alter it in accordance with his wishes. Even at this stage the mental constitution of the individual will play a decisive part, aside from any external considerations. The man who is predominantly erotic will choose emotional relationships with others before all else; the narcissistic type, who is more self-sufficient, will seek his essential satisfactions in the inner workings of his own soul; the man of action will never abandon the external world in which he can essay his power. The interests of narcissistic types will be determined by their particular gifts and the degree of instinctual sublimation of which they are capable. When any choice is pursued to an extreme, it penalizes itself, in that it exposes the individual to the dangers accompanying any one exclusive life-interest which may always prove inadequate. Just as a cautious businessman avoids investing all his capital in one concern, so wisdom would probably admonish us also not to anticipate all our happiness from one quarter alone. Success is never certain; it depends on the co-operation of many factors, perhaps on none more than the capacity of the mental constitution to adapt itself to the outer world and then utilize this last for obtaining pleasure. Any one who is born with a specially unfavourable instinctual constitution and whose libido-components do not go through the transformation and modification necessary for successful achievement in later life, will find it hard to obtain happiness from his external environment, especially if he is faced with the more difficult tasks. One last possibility of dealing with life remains to such people and it offers them at least substitute-gratifications; it takes the form of the flight into neurotic illness, and they mostly adopt it while they are still young. Those whose efforts to obtain happiness come to nought in later years still find consolation in the pleasure of chronic intoxication, or else they embark upon that despairing attempt at revolt—psychosis.

Religion circumscribes these measures of choice and adaptation by urging upon everyone alike its single way of achieving happiness and guarding against pain. Its method consists in decrying the value of life and promulgating a view of the real world that is distorted like a delusion, and both of these imply a preliminary intimidating influence upon intelligence. At such a cost—by the forcible imposition of mental infantilism and inducing a mass-delusion— religion succeeds in saving many people from individual neuroses. But little more. There are, as we have said, many paths by which the happiness attainable for man can be reached, but none which is certain to take him to it. Nor can religion keep her promises either. When the faithful find themselves reduced in the end to speaking of God’’s inscrutable decree, they thereby avow that all that is left to them in their sufferings is unconditional submission as a last-remaining consolation and source of happiness. And if a man is willing to come to this, he could probably have arrived there by a shorter road.


5 1927 (London: Hogarth Press, 1928).

6 Goethe, Zahmen Xenien IX (Gedichte aus dem Nachlass).

7 Wilhelm Busch, in Die fromme Helene, says the same thing on a lower level: “The man who has cares has brandy too. “

8 Goethe even warns us that “nothing is so hard to bear as a train of happy days. “ This may be an exaggeration all the same.

9 When there is no special disposition in a man imperatively prescribing the direction of his life-interest, the ordinary work all can do for a livelihood can play the part which Voltaire wisely advocated it should do in our lives. It is not possible to discuss the significance of work for the economics of the libido adequately within the limits of a short survey. Laying stress upon importance of work has a greater effect than any other technique of living in the direction of binding the individual more closely to reality; in his work he is at least securely attached to a part of reality, the human community. Work is no less valuable for the opportunity it and the human relations connected with it provide for a very considerable discharge of libidinal component impulses, narcissistic, aggressive, and even erotic, than because it is indispensable for subsistence and justifies existence in a society. The daily work of earning a livelihood affords particular satisfaction when it has been selected by free choice, i.e., when through sublimation it enables use to be made of existing inclinations, of instinctual impulses that have retained their strength or are more intense than usual for constitutional reasons. And yet as a path to happiness work is not valued very highly by men. They do not run after it as they do after other opportunities for gratification. The great majority work only when forced by necessity, and this natural human aversion to work gives rise to the most difficult social problems.

10 Cf. ““Formulations regarding the Two Principles in Mental Functioning”” (1911), Collected Papers, IV; and General
Introduction to Psycho-Analysis (1915-17). Lecture XXIII.

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