The first of three autumn 2015 ‘Tetley Talks’ on the theme of ‘Civilization and its Discontents’
Sigmund Freud is known as the founder of psychoanalysis. But in the 1920s and 30s he shifted his focus from the individual psyche to society and culture – applying the study of the individual to the development of civilization. Writing in Civilization and its Discontents, amongst the difficulties he saw as “inherent in the nature of civilization”, the “the greatest obstacle” was man’s innate “tendency to aggression”.
For Freud, the very development of civilization was a result of “humanity’s struggle for existence”, not so much over external nature as over its own natural instincts; that is, between aggression – or “the death drive” – and Eros – or “the life drive”. Key to this struggle was his concept of “repression”, in which a cultural superego repressed individual drives through the influence of guilt.
The result of this repression, for Freud, is anxiety and neurosis that are to be brought under control, if at all, only lightly.