Sigmund Freud’s “Civilization and It’s Discontents”: Is suffering a derivation of the search for happiness?


1. Sigmund Freud’s “Civilization and Its Discontents” is Freud’s take on the three main causes of human suffering and mankind’s inability to attain happiness: “superior power of nature, the feebleness of our own bodies, and the inadequacy of the regulations which adjust the mutual relationships of human beings in the family, state, and society” (2). Freud discusses how civilization is the root of human suffering, stemming from power and patriarchal control tethered to man’s arrogance. Freud concludes that because of these social constructs and man-made ethical codes of conduct that restrict human ability by depriving humans of aggressiveness and sexuality in order to conform to a hegemonic ideology of civilized beings, suffering will always be an inevitable circumstantial state of being. 

2. Sigmund Freud’s “Civilization and Its Discontents” was published in 1930 in Germany. Historically, many events had taken place and were unravelling amidst the publishing of this text, such as the enactment of  Nuremberg laws, World War 1, and The Great Depression just to name a few. The political, social, and economic unrest within the most alleged civilized societies in the world definitely supported Freud’s major themes discussed within this piece of literature. The fact that the question of human suffering and its causes became a topic worthy of analyzing right before the mass genocide of the Jewish population at the hands of Germany, and many powerful countries, like the United States, is quite ironic to me. The guidelines held by the hegemony’s concept of what meets the criteria of being labeled a civilized society is paradoxical and equivocal in itself alone, so the question of the institution of civilization remains a questionable advancement for mankind. Man’s arrogance, as Freud discusses, has deprived man, a supposedly free agent, of individual liberty. Civilization’s essentializing of the human experience has depleted the subjectiveness in human happiness, thus bringing about human suffering. This has not changed much since the publication of  “Civilization and Its Discontents” because of man’s inability to reach a state of content. Greed has to be the root cause of human suffering, for me. I see this within America’s capitalist society exemplifying the notion of a dog eat dog world. While advances in technology and science have created avenues that have alleviated some human suffering physically, one must question the morals and ethics, or lack thereof, that is the driving force behind advancing at the expense of human liberty and freedom. 

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