Although not always a symbol in itself, in general usage, the Golden Rule is, for Freud, an indication of the errors of the Christian value system, and of Western morality in general. The Golden Rule, as Jesus formulates it in the Gospels, says that one ought to “do unto others what one would want others to do unto oneself.” This forms the basis of a communal and selfless moral and social system, at least in its ideal religious conception. But Freud, throughout Civilization and Its Discontents, believes that societies are not founded on this kind of generosity alone. Instead, all “civilized” groups of men and women are bonded by the competing impulses of the individual (the selfish) and the social (the selfless). In addition, societies must wrestle with the competing human desires of love (eros) and death (thanatos) – the first of which causes people to join in sexual and romantic relationships, and the second which spurs people to destroy those relationships, and the social structures surrounding them. This theory of drives, which underlies Freud’s system of psychoanalytic social psychology, is, according to Freud, a more accurate representation of human behavior than the demanding and ultimately impractical Golden Rule.
Civilization and Its Discontents
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The timeline below shows where the symbol The Golden Rule appears in Civilization and Its Discontents. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.