Malaise in civilization

Malaise in civilization (original title: Das Unbehagen in der Kultur), sometimes translated in a way modeled on German, by Malaise dans la culture, is a book written by Sigmund Freud in the summer of 1929 and published in 1930.

In the aftermath of the First World War, which had led Freud to highlight, in 1920, the death drive in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, he broadened the perspective beyond the unconscious in the strict sense to endeavor to highlight a similar mechanism, at work at the level of culture, understood in the sense of civilization, as everything that governs and nourishes the common life of humanity. It is one of the few works in which Freud uses his metapsychology outside the psychoanalytic field alone, to put it in a social perspective, asking the question of whether civilization is moving towards a progress capable of overcoming destructive drives that drive it. Freud states in particular that:

The oceanic feeling (feeling of “doing one with the world”) is not the source of all religious needs. It is the feelings of infantile helplessness and desire for the father – later replaced by anguish before the power of fate – that are the causes of religious need.

Culture is the “sum total of achievements and devices […] that serve two purposes: the protection of man against nature and the regulation of human relations between them. Culture is not only concerned with utility because beauty is part of the interests of culture. The development of culture entails a restriction of individual freedom: culture is built on instinctual renunciation; hence the hostility of certain individuals to culture.

There are two forms of love: original love, sensual, and love inhibited as to purpose (brother-sister relationship, etc.), which becomes culturally important because it escapes many limitations of genital love. (eg its exclusivity). Love and culture are opposed: on the one hand, love is opposed to the interests of culture, on the other hand culture threatens the love of sensible restrictions.

There is no interest in loving the stranger; to love one’s neighbor as oneself is absurd and impossible. Man is a wolf to man. This inclination to aggression forces culture to the expense that is his. The interest of the working community would not ensure the cohesion of society because drive passions are stronger than rational interests. So men have to love each other, so we have to restrict sex life; hence the recommendation: “love your neighbor as yourself”.

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