Like Essay on the History of Civil Society, Civilization and its Discontents seems to be a reflection on the state of modern society and an attempt to understand the progress toward civilized society as parallel to the nature of man. Although both texts reflect the individual as having dual characteristics, both benevolence and aggression, Ferguson tends to focus on the benevolence of man as the stronger of the two and that man’s tendency towards violence also has the potential for positivity, while Freud seems to place equal importance on both and the end result is ultimately negative.
Freud’s view of civilization is in very much individualistic; everything revolves around and is influenced by the individual. Although, he does mention some social influences, they are not significant sources of progress towards civilization but are simply offspring of the civilized state as an attempt towards individual happiness. Freud writes that “necessity alone, the advantages of work in common, will not hold [man] together;”he continues to emphasize man as having the need to be “libidinally bound together,” yet this also seems to be the source of man’s misery. In the end, the individual’s constant struggle between life preservation, love, benevolence and death, aggression, violence is what darkly comprises civilization. Freud writes:
And now, I think, the meaning of the evolution of civilization is no longer obscure to us. It must present the struggle between Eros and Death, between the instinct of life and the instinct of destruction, as it works itself out in the human species. This struggle is what all life essentially consists of, and the evolution of civilization may therefore be simply described as the struggle for life of the human species. (82)
... to end life while on top of a wave. Civilization was thought to be responsible for mans inability to be happy, but Freud argued ... if we are not always experiencing pleasure, but for some individuals, sterility is devastating, and for others, the loss of love ... totally free and blissful. However, hours later I have to struggle through an English paper, and I am totally miserable. I ...
As we have read, civilization’s key feature is that it is not an end result but an evolution of man, a continual progression. Progression towards what?—Perhaps towards nothing more than the continued existence of mankind in a state, according to Freud, of guilt and ever stunted attempts towards happiness. This evolution of man is seen in Freud’s psychology of man, Id-Ego-Superego, and the fluxes that are inherent to this psychology which are also important to the state of man.
In the end, however, Freud has more to say about the evolution of civilization. He leaves us with his doubt that the evolution of mankind will even continue because the struggle between Eros and Death has become imbalanced where Death exerts its dominance.
Men have gained control over the forces of nature to such an extent that with their help they would have not difficulty in exterminating one another to the last man. They know this, and hence comes a large part of their current unrest, their unhappiness and their mood of anxiety. (112)
However, Eros will “make an effort to assert himself in the struggle with his equally immortal adversary” (112) in order to bring balance again. What is intriguing is Freud’s later addition (in 1931).
In the looming darkness of Hitler’s reign Freud added the closing statement, “ But who can foresee with what success and with what result?” (112)
In a final note I would like to mention that there are many comparisons and contrasts we can make between Ferguson and Freud but one of the distinguishing features of Freud’s civilization is in its sense of evolution which seems to be a psychological spin on Darwin’s works. Therefore is a perspective that would not have been possible for Ferguson seeing that the theory of evolution was not popularized until the 19th century.