Civilization and Its Discontents


Sigmund Freud

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Themes and Colors
Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious Theme Icon
Individuality vs. Social Bonds Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Happiness Theme Icon
Suffering, Aggression, and Death Theme Icon
Religion, Delusion, and Belief Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Civilization and Its Discontents, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious

Sigmund Freud was a psychologist, therapist, and intellectual concerned with the forces at work in the human mind. His theory of “psychoanalysis,” which he developed over the course of his lifetime, has many aspects—but can be summed up, primarily, as the descriptive study of a system of internal checks and balances that regulate emotion and action.

Freud believed that the mind could be divided into the ego (the “I”), the id (deep, sometimes perverse, desires)…

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Individuality vs. Social Bonds

Civilization’s primary conflict, which Freud outlines in the essay, is that between the will of the individual and the will of the group, the society in which that individual lives and works. Freud notes that all individuals, even those in prehistoric civilizations, exist in societies. Thus their freedoms, or supposed freedoms, must be understood in the context of what a society allows them and requires them to do. Freud argues that, in the past…

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Love, Sex, and Happiness

Freud outlines a complex and interrelated system of love, sex, and happiness, based on a drive he calls Eros. Eros is one of two fundamental drives—the other is Thanatos, or death. Eros is also understood, in psychoanalysis, as a manifestation of the Pleasure Principle—quite simply a desire for self-gratification, for what “feels best.” Eros, however, goes beyond the “minor” definition of the Pleasure Principle (an avoidance of pain), and becomes, instead, more active—the seeking, in…

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Suffering, Aggression, and Death

Freud acknowledges that the death drive is one of the most difficult aspects of psychoanalytic theory to understand. Humans naturally feel that they want to continue to live, and to feel pleasure (Eros). The death drive, then, is an urge in human beings to destroy an object outside the self. The death drive is manifest, therefore, in what might be termed the “love-hate” relationship. Freud claims that these relationships are actually quite common—that humans frequently…

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Religion, Delusion, and Belief

Freud believes that religion, belief, and delusion (or misplaced belief) play an important role in individual and social regulation. In essence, religion helps individuals to feel guilty about certain things, and codifies this guilt in different ways as a means of regulating human actions for the good of larger social groups. The ultimate example of this, as Freud sees it, is the Christian “Golden Rule,” which is found in similar form in many…

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