views updated May 14 2018



A Latinate word civilization ranks among the master concepts in the history of modernity. As such, it bears enormous semantic and historical density and has important relations with other master concepts of the modern, such as history (in the modern sense of a collective singular totality), progress, development, culture (in both the high and low senses), and modernity itself. The earliest recorded use of the term civilization in English dates from the first decade of the eighteenth century, though it appeared in a strictly legal context, referring to the conversion of a criminal matter to a civil one; this meaning is now obsolete (even as a juridical dimension extends into present usage). In its relevant modern sense, civilization was established in the second half of the eighteenth centuryespecially in the wake of the French Revolution (17891799)and was further consolidated through the nineteenth century as a comparative and hierarchizing metahistorical, meta-anthropological concept. The term has since experienced a complex trajectory, shot through with ethico-political moment, always with the Euro-American world (especially the habits and ideologies of its elite classes) as the critical reference point.

The noun civilization built on the seventeenth-century verb civilize to indicate both the process of uplifting to a higher state of humanity and of subjection to law, as well as the denouement of such development. Civilization was thus understood to be simultaneously the process and the end state of progress. This process was further understood to be stadial, progressing from savagery through barbarism to civilization, a schema that was variously rearticulated and nuanced over the course of the nineteenth century. Though other civilizations were recognized (e.g., ancient Egypt)typically state-based and stratified societies of imperial reach, with major cities, monumental architectural features, and significant written literaturesthese were found to be lacking in some aspect of leading contemporary Western societies and were considered to that extent barbaric.

The semantic elements of civilization correspond closely with features of the European historical horizon in which the term emerged and matured. This horizon, extending from circa 1500 onward, includes: colonialism (co-emergent with the Renaissance, but accelerating from the second half of the eighteenth century through the nineteenth); the intensification of urbanization and the eventual emergence of major European capitals; the interrelated processes of the marginalization of the Catholic church in the European state system, the emergence of Protestant sects, and the spiritualization of strands of Christian theology; the monopolization of violence by the absolutist state, and the related development of courtly manners; the achievement of a law-governed European inter-state system (first through the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, and then the 1815 Congress of Vienna); the spread of disciplinary institutions and technologies of the self; the global rise of European capital, and the correlative emergence and consolidation of European bourgeois classes and consumerism; the development of private property from the late seventeenth century and accelerating from the second half of the century (e.g., in England with the enclosures movement); the interrelated development of parliaments, national polities/states, and electoral democracy (beginning in the seventeenth century in England for the propertied classes and extending both horizontally and vertically throughout the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries to universal adult franchise, excluding the non-European colonies); and of course the development of the arts, sciences, and technology, especially at an accelerated pace since the Enlightenment (i.e., roughly the eighteenth century).

Thus, the significations accruing to civilization have been the following: European/Western; urban and urbane; secular and spiritual; law-abiding and nonviolent (i.e., limited to legalized violence, both within and between states); polished, courteous, and polite; disciplined, orderly, and productive; laissez faire, bourgeois, and comfortable; respectful of private property; fraternal and free; cultured, knowledgeable, and the master of nature. The uncivilized conversely are: non-Western; rural, or worse, savage; idolatrous, fanatical, literalist, and theocratic; unlawful and violent (i.e., given to violence outside juridical procedure); crude or rude; lazy, anarchic, and unproductive; communistic, poor, and inconvenienced or beleaguered; piratical and thievish; fratricidal (or, indeed, cannibalistic) and unfree; uncultured, ignorant, illiterate, superstitious, and at natures mercy. Given this stark set of binaries, it is not surprising that the civilizing mission (a related concept that emerged in the nineteenth century) has often been the ideological counterpart of projects of colonial domination and genocide, especially in the non-Western world, but also in the European hinterland and vis-à-vis European minorities and subaltern classes.

Marginal to the main thrust of the concepts history, critiques of civilization have accompanied it throughout, from Jean-Jacques Rousseau (17121778) in the mid-eighteenth century through Romanticism to anarchoprimitivist strands in the contemporary antiglobalization movement (Zerzan 2005). These critiques, especially in German lands in the nineteenth century (Elias 2000), have often relied on the concept of culture as a more local, authentic, egalitarian, and communitarian alternative, though just as often culture has been co-opted by nationalist projects. There is ultimately much slippage between culture and civilization. This slippage is evidenced in Samuel Huntingtons much discussed book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996), where the concept of civilization appears to be just culture on a grand scalewhich is moreover decoupled from the now largely archaic concept of civility: Would it be possible to imagine a clash of civilities?

The first recorded use of the word civilization in its relevant, modern, as opposed to the archaic juridical sense, points toward another semantic element that has received remarkably little attention given its extraordinary significance. It is now accepted that the term was first used in 1756 in Lami des hommes (The Friend of Man) by Victor de Riqueti (17151789), the marquis de Mirabeau, an important physiocrat. In this work, Mirabeau asserts: Religion is without doubt humanitys first and most useful constraint; it is the mainspring of civilization (cited in Mazlish 2004, p. 5). The close association in Mirabeau between religion and civilization (at a time when the term religion was all but synonymous with Christianity, non-Christian peoples being found to be either lacking religion, or possessing more or less pale approximations or deviations of Christianity) surprises only because of the inherited dogma that the civilizational process coincides with the vanishing of religion (in which direction the first step is the avowed rationalization of religion, that is, the emergence of the Protestant sect). In fact, civilization has been coupled with Christianity and (Western) Christendom throughout its career (Perkins 2004), and missionaries have been key and continuing agents of the civilizing mission. Even today, a measure of merely the icebergs tip in this regard is the character of debates on the accession of Turkey to the European Union, as well as the statements of prominent Western opinion makers and leaders in the wake of the events of September 11, 2001 (most explicitly U.S. president George W. Bush and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi). Even in high scholarship, an important sociologist of religion, Rodney Stark, published a book in 2005 under the title The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success.

Given the historicist character of civilization, this coupling is inevitable: If civilization arose, or developed its standard form, in Christendom, how can the latter not continue to be credited and effectively associated with its achievement? Relatedly, if secularism (an important constituent of civilization) emerged out of the Protestant Reformationas is frequently avowed, especially in the United Stateshow can the latter not be so accredited and effectively linked? The same can be said for the origi-nary relationship between capitalism and civilization, a view registered in the cold war perception of the Soviet Union as an example of barbarism and Asiatic despotism. This view is no doubt also indebted to the shifting cartography of the uncivilized Orient, which has often extended into eastern Europe (or even central Europe, as during the Third Reich), not to mention the enduring if older legacy of the secession of the Eastern Church from Rome.

In charting the trajectory of civilization, contemporary scholars often index and discuss attitudes of superiority in premodern and non-Western contexts (e.g., the old Chinese binary of kaihua/wenming versus fan, which roughly corresponds to civilized versus barbarian). But it is important to keep the following in mind: It is no doubt the case that all human collectivities have ways of distinguishing themselves from others, and this process takes on an increasingly hierarchical accent in large stratified collectivities. With stratification, moreover, come concepts that discriminate between members of various levels and groups within. However, both the flexibility and form of the inside-outside distinction, as well as the forms of internal hierarchy, vary widely, and are in each case specific, even if dynamic. For the exercise to have any meaning, therefore, it is critical that analysis stays with this specificity. The surest guide in this regard is the material language of the concept in its discursive trajectory, that is, the Latinity of civilization. Furthermore, the non-Latinate analogs that have emerged since the mid-1800s (e.g., the Japanese bunmeikaika, coined circa 1880) are translations carried out in a highly asymmetrical historical context dominated by the Latinate, and are thus both defensive and derivative. Indeed, the force of Eurocentric civilizational discourse has been such that anticolonial ideologies have attempted to claim the origins of civilization for themselves, as in the Afrocentric scholarship of Cheikh Anta Diop. However, if other conceptions of civilization did hold out some hope in the first half of the twentieth century, as anticolonial movements highlighted the inconsistencies between the theory and practice of European civilization, and attempted to imagine alternativesexemplified by Mohandas Gandhis (18691948) famous quip about Western civilization that it would be a good ideaat the beginning of the twenty-first century, civilization appears to function as the master concept for the legitimation of elites everywhere.

SEE ALSO Culture; Diop, Cheikh Anta


Diamond, Stanley. 1974. In Search of the Primitive: A Critique of Civilization. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

Diop, Cheikh Anta. 1991. Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology. Trans. Yaa-Lengi Meema Ngemi. Eds. Harold J. Salemson and Marjolijn de Jager. New York: Lawrence Hill.

Elias, Norbert. [1939] 2000. The Civilizing Process: Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations. Rev. ed. Trans. Edmund Jephcott. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell.

Febvre, Lucien. [1930] 1973. Civilisation: Evolution of a Word and a Group of Ideas. In A New Kind of History: From the Writings of Febvre, ed. Peter Burke, trans. K. Folca, 289296. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Huntington, Samuel. 1996. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Mazlish, Bruce. 2004. Civilization and Its Contents. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Perkins, Mary Anne. 2004. Christendom and European Identity: The Legacy of a Grand Narrative Since 1789. New York: de Gruyter.

Starobinski, Jean. 1993. The Word Civilization. In Blessings in Disguise, or, The Morality of Evil, 135. Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity.

Williams, Raymond. 1983. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Rev. ed. London: Fontana.

Zerzan, John, ed. 2005. Against Civilization: Readings and Reflections. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: Feral House.

Nauman Naqvi

Civilization and Food

views updated May 23 2018


CIVILIZATION AND FOOD. If by "civilization" we mean the culture of cities, assumed to have emerged with the Bronze Age, in about 3000 b.c.e., then food was the decisive factor in terms of both production and consumption. Before this time, in the farming revolution of the New Stone (Neolithic) Age, crops and animals that have continued until today to provide much of human food had been domesticated. This represented a shift from hunting and gathering, from the collection of wild plants and animals, to food raised under the control of humans, leading to a great increase in the population. The bulk of cultivated foods (cereals) came from the domestication of local grasses, hitherto gathered in their wild state; root crops and vegetables proved more of a problem to grow, and fruit cultivation appeared only later on.

The Bronze Age saw another formidable move forward. The strength of animals was harnessed to wheeled transport and to the plow. Complex irrigation systems were developed. A further great increase in food production thus became possible. The animal-drawn plow enabled an individual to cultivate considerably larger areas of land; wheeled transport meant that the surplus could be shifted more easily; and irrigation in the sundrenched lands of the Near East, India, and China again brought about increased yields, especially of rice but also of the other main Neolithic cultigens, wheat and barley. A parallel change took place in Mexico, centering on maize (corn).

These various changes led to increased production and therefore to population expansion, but they also led to socioeconomic differentiation. With hoe (manual) agriculture and a plentiful supply of land, it had hardly been profitable or indeed possible to employ others to work, except under conditions of slavery.

Landholding before the Bronze Age had been relatively egalitarian, as had food production. Most households had a roughly similar supply of food, as indeed had been the case with earlier hunter-gatherer regimes, in which the sharing of food was institutionalized to a high degree. With the plow, that equality disappeared rapidly. One man could cultivate a much larger area than another; the acquisition of additional land became a way of maintaining a higher standard of living, not only paying agriculturalists to perform work but also using the surplus to exchange with local specialists, or to obtain luxury goods from traders. Those luxuries included culinary delicacies imported from elsewhere, particularly those that could withstand travel, such as cheese from the Massif Central of France brought to Rome, or sugared foods carried from India to China, or wine and olive oil shipped throughout the Mediterranean.

What has been called the urban revolution of the Bronze Age, giving rise to civilization in the form of cities, enabled societies to use their food surpluses to support full-time specialists; this meant the development of activities that included trading, metalworking, and writing. Trade and transport opened up distant and different food supplies and resources; metalworking and the use of ovens made possible new modes of food preparation, such as the baking of bread; and writing led to the elaboration and transmission of more complex recipes, and eventually to the emergence of a differentiatedeven a highcuisine, the latter occurring in China, in India, in the Arab and Muslim world, and later, with the Renaissance, in Italy and France. But hierarchical differences in diet aside, greater agricultural productivity meant that a society could supply a larger number of people, a proportion of whom could be engaged in activities not connected with the production of essential foodstuffs. Among other things, town dwellers required the large-scale transport of food, to markets as well as restaurants and other eating places outside the house. It was China with its vast cities that first experienced the rise of a restaurant culture, as well as the emergence of prepared foods, such as tofu (bean curd), sold in the marketplace.

Food and Class

Initially such developments affected only the rich and high-status groups. For this change in food production meant an increase not only in population but also in differentiation between owners of large estates, peasants cultivating their own fields, and the newly emergent stratum of landless laborers. A similar degree of socioeconomic stratification emerged in urban areas. These "classes" were now marked not only by differences in amounts consumed, as had long existed in the under hoe cultures, but also by qualitative differences in styles of life, with largely in-marrying subcultures, conserving their particular practices. The rich had access to dishes and drinks unavailable to the poor, either because of their lack of economic power or because of sumptuary legislation (or indeed of internalized preference or "taste"). Such differences were elaborated on and conserved in cookbooks originally compiled for the households of nobles and rich merchants and taken up more widely only with the coming of the printing press and the flowering of the urban middle classes in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

This process of democratization was the result of the industrialization of prepared foods that could be said to have effectively begun with the invention of bottling by Nicolas Appert in France (1806) and its subsequent expansion into canning, especially in America during and after the Civil War, which altered the whole economy of food, interposing the grocer and later the supermarket between the producer and the consumer. Not only the industrialization of food preparation was involved but advances in food production itself, with changes in farm practice. For example, the rotation of crops and the use of manure had been adopted early on in the medieval period. The nineteenth century saw not only mechanization but also the coming of artificial fertilizers and chemical sprays and the more rapid transformation of crops by seed selection and finally by manipulation of the genes of crops, and above all the shift from the use of animal energy (which began with the plow) to that derived from mineral (fossil fuel) sources. Water of course had long been significant for food production, especially in arid regions. Its early control gave rise to extensive irrigation schemes with their heightened productivity (and problems of distribution, dangers of salinization and soil exhaustion), and later on it could be harnessed to provide the power for mills to grind grain and, much more recently, for other manufacturing processes, including the generation of electricity as a new source of power. But the basic activities of cultivation, such as plowing, were not affected by the use of waterpower nor yet by that of coal, which transformed other forms of production, leading up to the First Industrial Revolution. Farming was radically changed only with the advent of the use of gasoline in the combustion engine, during the Second Industrial Revolution, and the introduction of tractors and then of combine harvesters, inventions that affected the whole use of manpower on the land, freeing labor (and sometimes creating unemployment) as well as transforming villages from productive communities to ones dominated numerically by commuters, pensioners, and holiday makers. If by "democratization" we refer not only to political arrangements but also to the diffusion of products to the mass of the people, the transformation of small luxury into larger consumer cultures, then these changes in the production of food were as important as the changes in manufacturing and employment with which they were associated.

The Modern World

Despite enormous recent increases in world population, levels of food consumption per capita have risen rather than fallen in most regions. Owing to the Green Revolution and the adoption of "improved" plant varieties, with improved water control and fertilizing, famine has become less frequent in India and China. That is not true, however, of Africa, where total food production has decreased in relation to population growth and to consumption, mainly because the production of food is still based on the hoe; the plow (together with animal traction and elaborate water control) crossed the Sahara only recently, and its use remains scattered. Regional food deficits are largely made up through trade and aid, allowing imports of food from the surpluses of the more productive regions of the world (especially North America). The overall increase in well-being has been substantial, at all levels of society, with better health for most inhabitantsalbeit with obesity and other food-related ills for some. Such productivity increases have always depended on the deliberate modification of crops, but recently the capacity to increase production by chemical means (such as adding hormones to beef), and to manipulate genes directly, has given rise to fears about the effects on human health and on our relationship to the natural world. People have always been concerned about their intake of food, fearing poison, sorcery, adulteration, and other modes of interference that might compromise their physical or mental health. That is nothing new, but these fears have grown with our capacity to intervenethat is, with the growth of civilization.

See also Agriculture, Origins of ; Agriculture since the Industrial Revolution ; American Indians ; Anthropology and Food ; Australian Aborigines ; Horticulture ; Hunting and Gathering ; Inuit ; Maize ; Packaging and Canning ; Paleonutrition, Methods of ; Prehistoric Societies .


Chang, K. C., ed. Food in Chinese Culture: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1977.

Cohen, Mark Nathan. The Food Crisis in Prehistory: Overpopulation and the Origins of Agriculture. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1977.

Flandrin, Jean-Louis, and Massimo Montanari, eds. Histoire de l'alimentation. Paris, 1996. In English as Food: A Culinary History from Antiquity to the Present, edited by Albert Sonnenfeld, translated by Clarissa Botsford. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

Goody, Jack. Cooking, Cuisine, and Class: A Study in Comparative Sociology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985.

Prakash, Om. Food and Drinks in Ancient India. Delhi: Munshi Ram Manohar Lal, 1961.

Renfrew, Jane M. Paleoethnobotany: The Prehistoric Food Plants of the Near East and Europe. New York: Columbia University Press, 1973.

Tannahill, Reay. Food in History. London: Eyre Methuen, 1973.

Jack Goody

Civilization (Kultur)

views updated May 17 2018


In Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud defines civilization as follows: "The word 'civilization' [Kultur ] describes the whole sum of the achievements and regulations which distinguish our lives from those of our animal ancestors and which serve two purposesnamely to protect men against nature and to adjust their mutual relations" (1930a, p. 89). In The Future of an Illusion Freud provided a more extended definition of civilization: "Human civilization, by which I mean all those respects in which human life has raised itself above its animal status and differs from the life of the beastsand I scorn to distinguish between culture and civilizationpresents, as we know, two aspects to the observer. It includes, on the one hand, all the knowledge and capacity that men have acquired in order to control the forces of nature and extract its wealth for the satisfaction of human needs and, on the other hand, all the regulations necessary in order to adjust the relations of men to one another and especially the distribution of the available wealth" (1927c, p. 5-6).

These definitions, however, leave out many aspects of the concept of civilization that Freud had mentioned in other works, including "Civilized Sexual Morality and Modern Nervous Illness" (1908d). These themes include the relationship of civilization to the superego and to sublimation, its consequences for neurosis, the origin of civilization, and the different attitudes of individuals toward civilization, especially as a function of their sex.

Freud's conflation of civilization and culture here is surprising, especially when we consider that the distinction is clearly present when he discusses the force deployed by civilization (Kultur ), on the one hand, and the "spiritual heritage of culture" used to "reconcile mankind" with that civilization, on the other, namely, the "spiritual heritage of culture" (1927c). Le Rider (1993) has pointed out that this opposition between culture and civilization had behind it a philosophical tradition of which Freud was a part. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) saw civilization as a ceremonial aspect of culture, and saw culture as achieved by means of a sustained effort (Bildung ) and as culminating in the great achievements of art and thought. In a more radical perspective, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) saw civilization as subjugation and saw culture, in contrast, as the artistic and intellectual flowering of intact natures. The period between 1920 and 1939 saw the rise and spread of the idea of popular culture and the notion that culture is a means of fulfilling human life (Le Rider, 1993).

It is also arguable that Freud rejected this tradition and deliberately ignored the distinction between culture and civilization because of his theory of the birth of civilization and its link with sexuality. His theory might be considered an example of the cunning of civilization, in the dialectical sense in which G. W. F. Hegel (1770-1831) speaks of the "cunning of Reason" (Mijolla-Mellor, 1992). The cunning lies in the fact that humanity creates civilization by transforming and sublimating individuals' instinctual aims and objects and sublimation simultaneously enables individuals to realize those aims and attain those objects in another form. Yet in doing this, humanity consolidates a cultural edifice that weighs upon individuals and imposes restrictions on them by dint of suppression. "There will be brought home to you with irresistible forces the many developments, repressions, sublimations, and reaction-formations by means of which a child with a quite other innate endowment grows into what we call a normal man, the bearer, and in part the victim, of the civilization that has been so painfully acquired" (Freud, 1910a, p. 36). Freud thus found himself once more in thrall to his concept of sublimation, whose shortcomings led him to confuse the coercion of institutionalized education with the process of individual learning (Bildung ), a creative force and source of pleasure (intellectual pleasure) for the subject. The dialectic in which the sublimation of one group can become the source of suppression for another group that does not participate in the process of self-education without doubt constitutes a cunning of civilization, whereby a devitalized culture dons the mantle of civilizing norms.

Civilization appears as an entity in and of itself, a given for the subject on whom it is imposed: "The development of civilization appears to us as a peculiar process which mankind undergoes, and in which several things strike us as familiar. We may characterize this process with reference to the changes which it brings about in the familiar instinctual dispositions of human beings, to satisfy which is, after all, the economic task of our lives" (Freud, 1930a, p. 96).

As Freud pointed out in "Civilized Sexual Morality and Modern Nervous Illness" (1908d), civilization, by imposing sexual frustration, has a direct effect on the genesis of neuroses. Freud repeatedly claimed that sublimation should not be a norm, since it is possible only for some people: "Mastering it by sublimation, by deflecting the sexual instinctual forces away from their sexual aim to higher cultural aims, can be achieved by a minority and then only intermittently, and least easily during the period of ardent and vigorous youth" (1908d, p. 192). For the others, submission, especially to sexual morality, has negative consequences ranging from neurosis to a degradation of sexual objects (1908d). Of those who sublimate, some are heroes, like Prometheus, whom Freud analyzes in "The Acquisition and Control of Fire" (1932a), or Hercules, about whom he writes, "The prevention of erotic satisfaction calls up a piece of aggressiveness against the person who has interfered with the satisfaction, and that this aggressiveness has itself to be suppressed in turn. But if this is so, it is after all only the aggressiveness which is transformed into a sense of guilt, by being suppressed and made over to the superego" (1930a, p. 138).

The process of civilizing is divided among ideals: coercion from the superego, cultural creation, and the resulting admiration from the ego ideal. "The satisfaction which the ideal offers to the participants in the culture is thus of a narcissistic nature; it rests on their pride in what has already been successfully achieved" (Freud, 1927c, p. 13). Here too the civilizing process reveals its unstable nature, for by reinforcing nationalism, the "narcissism of minor differences," and the cultural ideals of a people, it can become a pretext for a return to the most savage form of struggle: war.

Civilization appears as a separate entity, albeit one produced by humankind. It is necessary, though it is always excessive in its demands and premature in its anticipation: "It is an ineradicable and innate defect of our and every other civilization, that it imposes on children, who are driven by instinct and weak in intellect, decisions which only the mature intelligence of adults can vindicate" (Freud, 1927c, p. 51-52).

Alongside the writings in which Freud directly addresses the question of civilization, there are a number of anthropological texts in which, starting from the primitive horde and the murder of the father, he retraces the genesis of the matriarchy, the band of brothers, and the return to patriarchy. Yet these two perspectives are relatively dissociated in Freud's work to the extent that his ideas on civilization, with a few digressions to discuss ancient Rome or Louis XIV, the Sun King, in France, are for the most part related to the twentieth century. Abram Kardiner (1977) and Ruth Benedict (1935), writers on culture and psychoanalysis, would later make use of Freud's interest in anthropology.

Freud's views on the genesis of matriarchy, however, are totally dissociated from his writings about women. Women, Freud wrote, "come into opposition to civilization and display their retarding and restraining influence" (1930a, p. 103). Here too the cunning of civilization is on display: Women form the basis of civilization, "represent[ing] the interests of the family and sexual life." They are betrayed, however, by the fact that men sublimate to their detriment. "The woman," Freud concludes, "finds herself forced into the background by the claims of civilization, and she adopts a hostile attitude toward it" (1930a, p. 104).

Sophie de Mijolla-Mellor

See also: Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia ; Applied psychoanalysis and the interactions of psychoanalysis; Civilization and its Discontents ; "Claims of Psychoanalysis to Scientific Interest"; Cultural transmission; Darwin, Darwinism, and psychoanalysis; Future of an Illusion, The ; Incest; Law and psychoanalysis; Marxism and psychoanalysis; Moses and Monotheism ; Organic repression; Phylogenetic Fantasy, A: Overview of the Transference Neuroses ; Politics and psychoanalysis; Primitive horde; Religion and psychoanalysis; Rolland, Romain Edme Paul-Emile; Smell, sense of; Sociology and psychoanalysis, sociopsychoanalysis; Sublimation; Superego; Transgression; "Thoughts for the Times on War and Death."


Benedict, Ruth. (1935). Patterns of culture. London: Routledge.

Freud, Sigmund. (1908d). Civilized sexual morality and modern nervous illness. SE, 9: 181-204.

. (1910a). Five lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 11: 7-55.

. (1927c). The future of an illusion. SE, 21: 5-56.

. (1930a). Civilization and its discontents. SE, 21: 64-145.

. (1932a). The acquisition and control of fire. SE, 22: 183-193.

Kardiner, Abram. (1977). My analysis with Freud. Reminiscences. New York: W. W. Norton.

Le Rider, Jacques. (1993). Kultur contre civilisation. Topique, 52, 273-287.

Mijolla-Mellor, Sophie de. (1992). Le plaisir de pensée. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Civilization and its Discontents

views updated May 29 2018


Between 1928 and 1930, Freud devoted himself exclusively to Civilization and its Discontents apart from a handful of prefaces and his acceptance speech for the Goethe prize. Dated 1930, the book appeared in December 1929. It was an immediate success, selling twelve thousand copies the first year, with the first German reprint in 1931. The book has remained successful over the years, generating a vast amount of commentary. There were translations into English (1930), Spanish (1936), French (1943), Italian (1971), and Portuguese (1974). Freud himself was less expansive about it: during the composition of the text, Freud's cancer was painful and required care, and Max Schur became his personal physician in the spring of 1929. The first version of Civilization and its Discontents was written quickly, in July 1929. Freud wrote to Lou Andreas-Salomé on July 28, 1929 : "Today I wrote the final sentence, the one that concludes the book. ...It's about culture, feelings of guilt, happiness and other elevated subjects and, it rightly seems to me, quite superfluous, unlike the earlier work, behind which there was always some internal drive. But what is there to do? One can't smoke and play cards all day long. . . . During the writing, I rediscovered the most banal truths" (1966a [1912-1936]).

Freud began with Romain Rolland's criticisms of The Future of an Illusion (1927c) concerning the "religious sensation" and the "simple and direct fact of the 'eternal' sensation (which may indeed not be eternal, but simply without any perceptible limits, and oceanic)" (letter to Freud, December 27, 1927). He replied to Rolland on July 14, 1929, indicating that his remarks left him little rest.

Chapter one opens with a mention of the great man (Rolland) and explains the "oceanic" feeling through the concept of narcissism. Freud then develops the extensive metaphor comparing the unconscious to the archaeologist's Rome, which, like the initial ego, supposedly contains everything. It makes evident the preservation of memory traces, as if the various stages of the city since its foundation could exist simultaneously (as in the stratified spaces and multidimensional time of mathematics). Freud concluded that the oceanic feeling may exist as a memory trace, but stated that he would not pursue the investigation of the Mothers, which he mentions without elaborating. Instead, he maintains the supremacy of the religion of the Father. Like Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921c), Civilization and its Discontents begins by circling around psychical questions, and claiming that culture is born from the religion of the Father, characteristic of European monotheistic religions.

For several chapters Freud provides a fairly commonplace description of our relation to culture. Citing a number of European writers, Freud describes the impossibility of achieving happiness, the "essence of culture," the ambivalent relationships we entertain with it, and the opposition between culture and sexuality. For someone familiar with Freud's work, there is little to learn. But, using a frequent tactic, he outlines a broader scope of understanding before advancing his more incisive hypotheses, which are sketched in terms of the economic, dynamic, and topographical points of view.

It is as if Freud were asking why the forms and dynamics of groups that he constructed in Group Psychology were necessary, considering the inhibitions of sexual drives, the alienation that accompanies identification with large groups and the submission it entails. The response was economic: mankind's aggressive drives endanger culture. Freud then inserts the economic hypothesis into mental dynamics. Recalling the theory of drives, he suggests that the development of culture illustrates the struggle between Eros and death, the life instinct against the destructive instinct, as it unfolds within the human species. Once the dynamic relation has been established, there remains the problem of identifying mental formations, the correlative topography. The end of the book is devoted to a subtle study of the superego, the moral conscience, remorse, guilt, and the need for punishment. "I suspect that the reader has the impression that our discussions on the sense of guilt disrupt the framework of this essay . . . This may have spoilt the structure of my paper; but it corresponds faithfully to my intention to represent the sense of guilt as the most important problem in the development of civilization and to show that the price we pay for our advance in civilization is a loss of happiness through the heightening of the sense of guilt" (p. 134).

Freud's principal thesis is that the culture of patriarchal religion creates a particular way of working for the superego, which turns its aggression against the ego and expresses itself in the feeling of guilt. This process is unregulated. Once it is triggered, it worsens and becomes aggravated, exhausting not only the aggressive drives but the sexual drives as well. Moreover, "since civilization obeys an internal erotic impulsion which causes human beings to unite in a closely-knit group, it can only achieve this aim through an ever-increasing reinforcement of the sense of guilt" (p. 133). Eros itself serves the death drives or aggressive instincts, which culture serves as well. This results in the death-driven and unregulated dynamic of the cultural process.

Freud details the ontogenesis of the moral conscience and superego from the primitive social anxiety of the childloss of the parents' loveto the erection of an internal authority, which does not distinguish between acts and intentions and whose power is reinforced with every rejection of a drive and every real misfortune. He then claims that the origin of the feeling of guilt is the murder of the primal father, who alone is capable of provoking the conflict of ambivalence and generating the superego.

In the last chapter Freud returns to the relations between the various terms discussed, while expanding the analogy between the origin of culture and individual development. He returns to the notion of the great man, who is likely to contribute to the development of the superego in a given cultural moment. Noting that psychic processes are sometimes more accessible in the group than the individual, Freud introduces the idea of analyzing the pathology in specific of cultural communities.

Just as Group Psychology analyzed the ego, Civilization and its Discontents examines the superego, as distinct from the ego ideal. In both texts, aggression and reality are integrated in a dynamic which links individual and collective psychology. To do this Freud simplified, identifying the death drive with the urge to destruction, and culture with Eros ("civilization is a process in the service of Eros, whose purpose is to combine single human individuals, and after that families, then races, peoples and nations, into one great unity, the unity of mankind" (p. 122). This is the text in which Freud best defends and illustrates the analogy, even the identity, between individual and cultural developmentthe family always serving as the medium of change.

MichÈle Porte

Source Citation

Freud, Sigmund. (1930a [1929]). Das Unbehagen in der Kultur. Leipzig-Vienna-Zurich, Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag; GW, XIV, p. 419-506; Civilization and its discontents. SE, 21: 57-145.


(1998). Autour du "Malaise dans la culture" de Freud. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Enriquez, Eugéne. (1983). De la horde à l 'etat. Paris: Gallimard.

Freud, Sigmund, and Andreas-Salomé, Lou. (1966a [1912-1936]). Sigmund Freud and Lou Andreas-Salomé: Letters. (William and Elaine Robson-Scott, Trans.). London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis.

Marcuse, Herbert. (1955). Eros and civilization. Boston: Beacon Press.

Vermorel, Henri, and Vermorel, Madeleine. (1993). Sigmund Freud et Romain Rolland : correspondance 1923-1936. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.


views updated Jun 11 2018

civ·i·li·za·tion / ˌsivələˈzāshən/ • n. the stage of human social development and organization that is considered most advanced. ∎  the process by which a society or place reaches this stage. ∎  the society, culture, and way of life of a particular area: the great books of Western civilization. ∎  the comfort and convenience of modern life, regarded as available only in towns and cities.


views updated May 29 2018

Civilization ★★★ 1916

A silent epic about the horrors and immorality of war as envisioned by the groundbreaking film pioneer Ince, who was later murdered. Famous scene involves Christ walking through bodyridden battlefields. 80m/B VHS . Howard Hickman, Enid Markey, Lola May; D: Thomas Ince, Reginald Barker, Raymond B. West. Natl. Film Reg. '99.


views updated May 18 2018