Sigmund Freud

Civilization and Discontents is considered one of Freud’s most important and widely read works (Gay, 1989). While it can be seen as political philosophy or anthropology, it is also a psychoanalytic explanation of religion. The main theme of the work is “the irremediable antagonism between the demands of instinct and the restrictions of civilization” (Strachey, 1963). Freud enumerates what he sees as the fundamental tensions between civilization and the individual. The tension, he argues, stems from the individual’s need for instinctual freedom, such as unbridled sexual gratification, and civilization’s contrary demand for conformity using laws and punishments. This inherent process of civilization instills perpetual feelings of discontent in its citizens. Civilization and Discontent should be understood in context of its contemporary events. World War I influenced Freud and had an impact on his central observation about the tension between the individual and civilization.
Freud’s magnum opus also incorporates his previous work. For example, Freud explains a possible source of religious feeling that his previous publication, The Future of an Illusion, overlooked: the oceanic feeling of wholeness, limitlessness, and eternity. Here Freud quotes his friend French dramatist Romain Rolland who described religion as an “oceanic sensation,” but says he never experienced this feeling (Rubin, 2003). Ultimately, Freud sees religion and belief in God as an unreconciled instinct, such as that result from society’s tensions. It is an emotional need for a powerful, supernatural pater familias (Armstrong, 1993). Civilization and Discontent can be seen therefore as a culmination of previous thought, but it’s also a novel perspective assumed in his subsequent publications that expand his pessimism about the future of civilization.

Civilization and Its Discontents

Civilization and Its Discontents Inscribed by Sigmund Freud