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Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud (Author), Christopher Hitchens (Author), James Strachey (Author), Peter Gay (Author)

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Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud (Author), Christopher Hitchens (Author), James Strachey (Author), Peter Gay (Author)
 
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'Civilization and Its Discontents'
By Sigmund Freud (Author), Christopher Hitchens (Author), James Strachey (Author), Peter Gay(Author)

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Written in the decade before Freud s death, Civilization and Its Discontents may be his most famous and most brilliant work. It has been praised, dissected, lambasted, interpreted, and reinterpreted. Originally published in 1930, it seeks to answer several questions fundamental to human society and its organization: What influences led to the creation of civilization? Why and how did it come to be? What determines civilization s trajectory? Freud s theories on the effect of the knowledge of death on human existence and the birth of art are central to his work. Of the various English translations of Freud s major works to appear in his lifetime, only Norton s Standard Edition, under the general editorship of James Strachey, was authorized by Freud himself. This new edition includes both an introduction by the renowned cultural critic and writer Christopher Hitchens as well as Peter Gay s classic biographical note on Freud."

 
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Freud, the Austrian physician and founder of psychoanalysis, is one of the most influential figures of this century in the West. Born into a Jewish family, Freud became attracted to philosophy early in life but decided later in favor of medicine in which he became distinguished in the field of neurology and the study of the nerve cell. Gradually, however, his interests turned to the psychological aspects of neurological studies and in the 1890's he began to develop his psychoanalytical theories, co-authoring Studies in Hysteria in 1895. In 1900 he produced his major psychoanalytical work, The Interpretation of Dreams, in which he pointed out what he considered to be the significance of the unconscious. Freud emphasized his views concerning the importance of repression, disguised wishes and the infantile origin of the contents of the unconscious dominated by sexual drives and hostility toward parents associated with what he defined as the Oedipus complex (that is, sexual desire toward the parent of the opposite sex and jealous hatred of the rival parent).

To propagate his theories Freud founded the Vienna Circle which was joined by such famous figures as Alfred Alder. At first, however, his views were criticized and his book Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality strongly derided. Yet, Freud continued to practice, teach and write about psychoanalysis which he began to apply to other fields. In Totem and Taboo he sought to psychoanalyze the conditions of "primitive man," while in The Future of an Illusion he attacked religion virulently considering fear and hope as the basis of the belief in God and immortality. In Moses and Monotheism he went so far as to deny that Moses was Jewish, claiming that he was an Egyptian who had learned the doctrine of monotheism from Ikhnaton. This work turned believing Jews, many of whom had supported him earlier, against him.

In later life Freud devised a new theory of the mind based on the fundamental categories of life and death instincts and the division of the mind into the id, the ego and the superego. He considered the tension between the ego and the superego to be the origin of our mental activi- ties. Altogether he denied human moral responsibility and emphasized the effect of unconscious forces which determine human actions. He denied the immortality of the soul and reduced the Spirit to the psyche. He in fact originated a view of human nature which is among the most anti-religious known in the modern world and began the practice of psychoanalysis which has come to replace religion in the lives of many people. The psychoanalyst has become, along with the scientist, the new priest of the modern world while religious and spiritual realities have been reduced to psychological phenomena to be dealt with by means of the newly founded techniques of psychoanalysis.

It is true that other psychoanalysts turned away from Freud, the most important being Carl Gustav Jung who was much more interested in religious symbolism and myths than Freud. But Jung also relegated the archetypes to the "collective unconscious" of humanity and refused to distinguish clearly between the Spirit and the psyche. Therefore, he con- tributed further to the process of the psychologization of spiritual reality so characteristic of the modern world. In recent years the influence of Freud has begun to wane and many are now seeking to create a more humane psychology and psychoanalysis, some even turning to Eastern spiritual teachings. But the impact of the methods and ideas first practiced and asserted by Freud in destroying the religious meaning of life, reducing the grandeur of the human soul to unconscious complexes mostly of sexual origin and denying the reality of the Spirit by reducing it to psychic forces, continues to subsist in the modern world. 

(Seyyed Hossein Nasr)
 
  
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