It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement — that they seek power, success and wealth for

themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of

true value in life. And yet, in making any general judgement of this sort, we are

in danger of forgetting how variegated the human world and its mental life are.

There are a few men from whom their contemporaries do not withhold

admiration, although their greatness rests on attributes and achievements which

are completely foreign to the aims and ideals of the multitude. One might easily

be inclined to suppose that it is after all only a minority which appreciates these

great men, while the large majority cares nothing for them. But things are

probably not as simple as that, thanks to the discrepancies between people’s

thoughts and their actions, and to the diversity of their wishful impulses.

One of these exceptional few calls himself my friend in his letters to me. I had

sent him my small book that treats religion as an illusion [The Future of an Illusion

(1927)], and he answered that he entirely agreed with my judgement upon

religion, but that he was sorry I had not properly appreciated the true source of

religious sentiments. This, he says, consists in a peculiar feeling, which he

himself is never without, which he finds confirmed by many others, and which

he may suppose is present in millions of people. It is a feeling which he would

like to call a sensation of ‘eternity’, a feeling as of something limitless,

unbounded — as it were, ‘oceanic’. This feeling, he adds, is a purely subjective

fact, not an article of faith; it brings with it no assurance of personal immortality,

but it is the source of the religious energy which is seized upon by the various

Churches and religious systems, directed by them into particular channels, and

doubtless also exhausted by them. One may, he thinks, rightly call oneself

religious on the ground of this oceanic feeling alone, even if one rejects every

belief and every illusion.

The views expressed by the friend whom I so much honour, and who himself

once praised the magic of illusion in a poem, caused me no small difficulty. I

cannot discover this ‘oceanic’ feeling in myself. It is not easy to deal scientifically

with feelings. One can attempt to describe their physiological signs. Where this is

not possible — and I am afraid that the oceanic feeling too will defy this kind of

characterization — nothing remains but to fall back on the ideational content

which is most readily associated with the feeling. If I have understood my friend

rightly, he means the same thing by it as the consolation offered by an original

and somewhat eccentric dramatist to his hero who is facing a self-inflicted death.

‘We cannot fall out of this world.’ That is to say, it is a feeling of an indissoluble

bond, of being one with the external world as a whole. I may remark that to me

this seems something rather in the nature of an intellectual perception, which is

not, it is true, without an accompanying feeling-tone, but only such as would be

present with any other act of thought of equal range. From my own experience I

could not convince myself of the primary nature of such a feeling. But this gives

me no right to deny that it does in fact occur in other people. The only question is

whether it is being correctly interpreted and whether it ought to be regarded as

the fons et origo of the whole need for religion.

I have nothing to suggest which could have a decisive influence on the solution

of this problem. The idea of men’s receiving an intimation of their connection

with the world around them through an immediate feeling which is from the

outset directed to that purpose sounds so strange and fits in so badly with the

fabric of our psychology that one is justified in attempting to discover a psycho-

analytic — that is, a genetic-explanation of such a feeling. The following line of

thought suggests itself. Normally, there is nothing of which we are more certain

than the feeling of our self, of our own ego. This ego appears to us as something

autonomous and unitary, marked off distinctly from everything else. That such

an appearance is deceptive, and that on the contrary the ego is continued

inwards, without any sharp delimitation, into an unconscious mental entity

which we designate as the id and for which it serves as a kind of facade — this

was a discovery first made by psycho-analytic research, which should still have

much more to tell us about the relation pf the ego to the id. But towards the

outside, at any rate, the ego seems to maintain clear and sharp lines of

demarcation. There is only one state — admittedly an unusual state, but not one

that can be stigmatized as pathological — in which it does not do this. At the

height of being in love the boundary between ego and object threatens to melt

away. Against all the evidence of his senses, a man who is; in love declares that

‘I’ and ‘you’ are one, and is prepared to behave as if it were a fact. What can be

temporarily done away with by a physiological [i.e., normal] function must also,

of course, be liable to be disturbed by pathological processes. Pathology has

made us acquainted with a great number of states in which the boundary lines

between the ego and the external world become uncertain or in which they are

actually drawn incorrectly. There are cases in which parts of a person’s own

body, even portions of his own mental life — his perceptions, thoughts and

feelings — appear alien to him and as not belonging to his ego; there are other

cases in which he ascribes to the external world things that clearly originate in

his own ego and that ought to be acknowledged by it. Thus even the feeling of

our own ego is subject to disturbances and the boundaries of the ego are not


Further reflection tells us that the adult’s ego-feeling cannot have been the same

from the beginning. It must have gone through a process of development, which

cannot, of course, be demonstrated but which admits of being constructed with a

fair degree of probability. An infant at the breast does not as yet distinguish his

ego from the external world as the source of the sensations flowing in upon him.

He gradually learns to do so, in response to various promptings. He must be

very strongly impressed by the fact that some sources of excitation, which he will

later recognize as his own bodily organs, can provide him with sensations at any

moment, whereas other sources evade him from time to time — among them

what he desires most of all, his mother’s breast — and only reappear as a result

of his screaming for help. In this way there is for the first time set over against

the ego an ‘object’, in the form of something which exists ‘outside’ and which is

only forced to appear by a special action.

A further incentive to a disengagement of the ego from the general mass of

sensations — that is, to the recognition of an ‘outside’, an external world — is

provided by the frequent, manifold and unavoidable sensations of pain and

unpleasure the removal and avoidance of which is enjoined by the pleasure

principle, in the exercise of its unrestricted domination. A tendency arises to

separate from the ego everything that can become a source of such unpleasure, to

throw it outside and to create a pure pleasure-ego which is confronted by a

strange and threatening ‘outside’. The boundaries of this primitive pleasure-ego

cannot escape rectification through experience. Some of the things that one is

unwilling to give up, because they give pleasure, are nevertheless not ego but

object; and some sufferings that one seeks to expel turn out to be inseparable

from the ego in virtue of their internal origin. One comes to learn a procedure by

which, through a deliberate direction of one’s sensory activities and through

suitable muscular action, one can differentiate between what is internal — what

belongs to the ego — and what is external — what emanates from the outer

world. In this way one makes the first step towards the introduction of the reality

principle which is to dominate future development.

This differentiation, of course, serves the practical purpose of enabling one to

defend oneself against sensations of unpleasure which one actually feels or with

which one is threatened. In order to fend off certain unpleasurable excitations

arising from within, the ego can use no other methods than those which it uses

against unpleasure coming from without, and this is the starting-point of

important pathological disturbances.

In this way, then, the ego detaches itself from the external world. Or, to put it

more correctly, originally the ego includes everything, later it separates off an

external world from itself. Our present ego-feeling is, therefore, only a shrunken

residue of a much more inclusive — indeed, an all-embracing — feeling which

corresponded to a more intimate bond between the ego and the world about it. If

we may assume that there are many people in whose mental life this primary

ego-feeling has persisted to a greater or less degree, it would exist in them side

by side with the narrower and more sharply demarcated ego-feeling of maturity,

like a kind of counterpart to it. In that case, the ideational contents appropriate to

it would be precisely those of limitlessness and of a bond with the universe —

the same ideas with which my friend elucidated the ‘oceanic’ feeling.

But have we a right to assume the survival of something that was originally

there, alongside of what was later derived from it? Undoubtedly. There is

nothing strange in such a phenomenon, whether in the mental field or elsewhere.

In the animal kingdom we hold to the view that the most highly developed

species have proceeded from the lowest; and yet we find the simple forms still in

existence to-day. The race of the great saurians is extinct and has made way for

the mammals; but a true representative of it, the crocodile, still lives among us.

This analogy may be too remote, and it is also weakened by the circumstance

that the lower species which survive are for the most part not the true ancestors

of the present-day more highly developed species. As a rule the intermediate

links have died out and are known to us only through reconstruction. In the

realm of the mind, on the other hand, what is primitive is so commonly

preserved alongside of the transformed version which has arisen from it that it is

unnecessary to give instances as evidence. When this happens it is usually in

consequence of a divergence in development: one portion (in the quantitative

sense) of an attitude or instinctual impulse has remained unaltered, while

another portion has undergone further development.

This brings us to the more general problem of preservation in the sphere of the

mind. The subject has hardly been studied as yet; but it is so attractive and

important that we may be allowed to turn our attention to it for a little, even

though our excuse is insufficient. Since we overcame the error of supposing that

the forgetting we are familiar with signified a destruction of the memory-trace —

that is, its annihilation — we have been inclined to take the opposite view, that in

mental life nothing which has once been formed can perish — that everything is

somehow preserved and that in suitable circumstances (when, for instance,

regression goes back far enough) it can once more be brought to light. Let us try

to grasp what this assumption involves by taking an analogy from another field.

We will choose as an example the history of the Eternal City.’ Historians tell us

that the oldest Rome was the Roma Quadrata, a fenced settlement on the Palatine.

Then followed the phase of the Septimontium) a federation of the settlements on

the different hills; after that came the city bounded by the Servian wall; and later

still, after all the transformations during the periods of the republic and the early

Caesars, the city which the Emperor Aurelian surrounded with his walls. We will

not follow the changes which the city went through any further, but we will ask

ourselves how much a visitor, whom we will suppose to be equipped with the

most complete historical and topographical knowledge, may still find left of

these early stages in the Rome of to-day. Except for a few gaps, he will see the

wall of Aurelian almost unchanged. In some places he will be able to find

sections of the Servian wall where they have been excavated and brought to

light. If he knows enough — more than present-day archaeology does — he may

perhaps be able to trace out in the plan of the city the whole course of that wall

and the outline of the Roma Quadrata. Of the buildings which once occupied this

ancient area he will find nothing, or only scanty remains, for they exist no longer.

The best information about Rome in the republican era would only enable him at

the most to point out the sites where the temples and public buildings of that

period stood. Their place is now taken by ruins, but not by ruins of themselves

but of later restorations made after fires or destruction. It is hardly necessary to

remark that all these remains of ancient Rome are found dovetailed into the

jumble of a great metropolis which has grown up in the last few centuries since

the Renaissance. There is certainly not a little that is ancient still buried in the soil

of the city or beneath its modern buildings. This is the manner in which the past

is preserved in historical sites like Rome.

Now let us, by a flight of imagination, suppose that Rome is not a human

habitation but a psychical entity with a similarly long and copious past — an

entity, that is to say, in which nothing that has once come into existence will have

passed away and all the earlier phases of development continue to exist

alongside the latest one. This would mean that in Rome the palaces of the

Caesars and the Septizonium of Septimius Severus would still be rising to their

old height on the Palatine and that the castle of S. Angelo would still be carrying

on its battlements the beautiful statues which graced it until the siege by the

Goths, and so on. But more than this. In the place occupied by the Palazzo

Caffarelli would once more stand — without the Palazzo having to be removed

— the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus; and this not only in its latest shape, as the

Romans of the Empire saw it, but also in its earliest one, when it still showed

Etruscan forms and was ornamented with terra-cotta antefixes. Where the

Coliseum now stands we could at the same time admire Nero’s vanished Golden

House. On the Piazza of the Pantheon we should find not only the Pantheon of

to-day, as it was bequeathed to us by Hadrian, but, on the same site, the original

edifice erected by Agrippa; indeed, the same piece of ground would be

supporting the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva and the ancient temple over

which it was built. And the observer would perhaps only have to change the

direction of his glance or his position in order to call up the one view or the


There is clearly no point in spinning our phantasy any further, for it leads to

things that are unimaginable and even absurd. If we want to represent historical

sequence in spatial terms we can only do it by juxtaposition in space: the same

space cannot have two different contents. Our attempt seems to be an idle game.

It has only one justification. It shows us how far we are from mastering the

characteristics of mental life by representing them in pictorial terms.

There is one further objection which, has to be considered. The question may be

raised why we chose precisely the past of a city to compare with the past of the

mind. The assumption that everything past is preserved holds good even in

mental life only on condition that the organ of the mind has remained intact and

that its tissues have not been damaged by trauma or inflammation. But

destructive influences which can be compared to causes of illness like these are

never lacking in the history of a city, even if it has had a less chequered past than

Rome, and even if, like London, it has hardly ever suffered from the visitations of

an enemy. Demolitions and replacement of buildings occur in the course of the

most peaceful development of a city. A city is thus a priori unsuited for a

comparison of this sort with a mental organism.

We bow to this objection; and, abandoning our attempt to draw a striking

contrast, we will turn instead to what is after all a more closely related object of

comparison — the body of an animal or a human being. But here, too, we find

the same tiling. The earlier phases of development are in no sense still preserved;

they have been absorbed into the later phases for which they have supplied the

material. The embryo cannot be discovered in the adult. The thymus gland of

childhood is replaced after puberty by connective tissue, but is no longer present

itself; in the marrow-bones of the grown man I can, it is true, trace the outline of

the child’s bone, but it itself has disappeared, having lengthened and thickened

until it has attained its definitive form. The feet remains that only in the mind is

such a preservation of all the earlier stages alongside of the final form possible;

and that we are not in a position to represent this phenomenon in pictorial terms.

Perhaps we are going too far in this. Perhaps we ought to content ourselves With

asserting that what is past in mental life nap be preserved and is not necessarily

destroyed. It is always possible that even in the mind some of what is old is

effaced or absorbed — whether in the normal course of things or as an exception

— to such an extent that it cannot be restored or revivified by any means; or that

preservation in general is dependent on certain favourable conditions. It is

possible, but we know nothing about it. We can only hold fast to the fact that it is

rather the rule than the exception for the past to be preserved in mental life.

Thus we are perfectly willing to acknowledge that the ‘oceanic’ feeling exists in

many people, and we are inclined to trace it back to an early phase of ego-feeling.

The further question then arises, what claim this feeling has to be regarded as the

source of religious needs.

To me the claim does not seem compelling. After all a feeling can only be a

source of energy if it is itself the expression of a strong need. The derivation of

religious needs from the infant’s helplessness and the longing for the father

aroused by it seems to me incontrovertible, especially since the feeling is not

simply prolonged from childhood days, but is permanently sustained by fear of

the superior power of Fate. I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as

the need for a father’s protection. Thus the part played by the oceanic feeling,

which might seek something like the restoration of limitless narcissism, is ousted

from a place in the foreground The origin of the religious attitude can be traced

back in clear outlines as far as the feeling of infantile helplessness. There may be

something farmer behind that, but for the present it is wrapped in obscurity.

I can imagine that the oceanic feeling became connected: with religion later on.

The ‘oneness with the universe’ which constitutes its ideational content sounds

like a first attempt at a religious consolation, as though it were another way of

disclaiming the danger which the ego recognizes as threatening it from the

external world. Let me admit once more that it is very difficult for me to work

with these almost intangible quantities. Another friend of mine, whose insatiable

craving for knowledge has fed him to make the most unusual experiments and

has ended by giving him encyclopaedic knowledge, has assured me that through

the practices of Yoga, by withdrawing from the world, by fixing the attention on

bodily functions and by peculiar methods of breathing, one can in fact evoke

new sensations and coenaesthesias in oneself, which he regards as regressions to

primordial states of mind which have long ago been overlaid. He sees in them a

physiological basis, as it were, of much of the wisdom of mysticism. It would not

be hard to find connections here with a number of obscure modifications of

mental life, such as trances and ecstasies. But I am moved to exclaim in the

words of Schiller’s diver: —

… Es freue sich,

Wer da atmet im rosigten Licht.

[‘Let him rejoice who breathes up here in the roseate light!’

Schiller, ‘Der Taucher’.]


In my Future of an Illusion [1927] I was concerned much less with the deepest

sources of the religious feeling than with what the common man understands by

his religion — with the system of doctrines and promises which on the one hand

explains to him the riddles of this world with enviable completeness, and, on the

other, assures him that a careful Providence will watch over his life and will

compensate him in a future existence for any frustrations he suffers here. The

common man cannot imagine this Providence otherwise than in the figure of an

enormously exalted father. Only such a being can understand the needs of the

children of men and be softened by their prayers and placated by the signs of

their remorse. The whole thing is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that

to anyone with a friendly attitude to humanity it is painful to think that the great

majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life. It is still

more humiliating to discover how large a number of people living to-day, who

cannot but see that this religion is not tenable, nevertheless try to defend it piece

by piece in a series of pitiful rearguard actions. One would like to mix among the

ranks of the believers in order to meet these philosophers, who think they can

rescue the God of religion by replacing him by an impersonal, shadowy and

abstract principle, and to address them with the warning words: Thou shalt not

take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. And if some of the great men of the

past acted in the same way, no appeal can be made to their example: we know

why they were obliged to.

Let us return to the common man and to his religion — the only religion which

ought to bear that name. The first thing that we think of is the well-known saying

of one of our great poets and thinkers concerning the relation of religion to art

and science:

Wer Wissenschaft und Kunst besitzt, hat auch Religion;

Wer jene beide nicht besitzt, der habe Religion!

[He who possesses science and art also has religion; but he who

possesses neither of those two, let him have religion!

— Goethe, Zahme Xenien IX (Gedichte aus dem Nachlass).]

This saying on the one hand draws an antithesis between religion and the two

highest achievements of man, and on the other, asserts that, as regards their

value in life, those achievements and religion can represent or replace each other.

If we also set out to deprive the common man, [who has neither science nor art]

of his religion, we shall clearly not have the poet’s authority on our side. We will

choose a particular path to bring us nearer an appreciation of his words. Life, as

we find it, is too hard for us; it brings us too many pains, disappointments and

impossible tasks. In order to bear it we cannot dispense with palliative measures.

We cannot do without ‘auxiliary constructions’, as Theodor Fontane tells us.

There are perhaps three such measures: powerful deflections, which cause us to

make light of our misery; substitute satisfactions, which diminish it; and

intoxicating substances , which make us insensitive to it. Something of the kind is

indispensable. Voltaire has deflections in mind when he ends Candide with the

advice to cultivate one’s garden; and scientific activity is a deflection of this kind,


The substitutive satisfactions, as offered by art, are illusions in contrast with

reality, but they are none the less psychically effective, thanks to the role which

phantasy has assumed in mental life. The intoxicating substances influence our

body and alter its chemistry. It is no simple matter to see where religion has its

place in this series. We must look further afield.

The question of the purpose of human life has been raised countless times; it has

never yet received a satisfactory answer and perhaps does not admit of one.

Some of those who have asked it have added that if it should turn out that life

has no purpose, it would lose all value for them. But this threat alters nothing. It

looks, on the contrary, as though one had a right to dismiss the question, for it

seems to derive from the human presumptuousness, many other manifestations

of which are already familiar to us. Nobody talks about the purpose of the life of

animals, unless, perhaps, it may be supposed to lie in being of service to man.

But this view is not tenable either, for there are many animals of which man can

make nothing, except to describe, classify and study them; and innumerable

species of animals have escaped even this use, since they existed and became

extinct before man set eyes on them. Once again, only religion can answer the

question of the purpose of life. One can hardly be wrong in concluding that the

idea of life having a meaning stands and falls with the religious system, will

therefore turn to the less ambitious question of what themselves show by their

behaviour to be the purpose and intention of their lives. What do they demand of

life and wish to achieve in it? The answer to this can hardly be in doubt. They

strive after happiness; they want to become happy and to remain so. This

endeavour has two sides, a positive and a negative aim. It aims, on the one hand,

at an absence of pain and unpleasure, and, on the other, at the experiencing of

strong feelings of pleasure. In its narrower sense the word ‘happiness’ only

relates to the last. In conformity with this dichotomy in his aims, man’s activity

develops in two directions, according as it seeks to realize — in the main, or even

exclusively — the one or the other of these aims.

So we see, what decides the purpose of life is simply the programme of the

pleasure principle. This principle dominates the operation of the mental

apparatus from the start. There can be no doubt about its efficacy, and yet its

programme is at loggerheads with the whole world, with the macrocosm as

much as with the microcosm. There is no possibility at all of its being carried

through; all the regulations of the universe run counter to it. One feels inclined to

say that the intention that man should be ‘happy’ is not included in the plan of

‘Creation’. What we call happiness in the strictest sense comes from the

(preferably sudden) satisfaction of needs which have been dammed up to a high

degree, and it is from its nature only possible as an episodic phenomenon. When

any situation that is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged, it only

produces a feeling of mild contentment. We are so made that we can derive

intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things.

Thus our possibilities of happiness are already restricted by our constitution.

Unhappiness is much less difficult to experience. We are threatened with

suffering from three directions: from our own body; which is doomed to decay

and dissolution and which cannot “even do without pain and anxiety as warning

signals; from the external world, which may rage against us with overwhelming

and merciless forces of destruction; and finally from our relations to other men.

The suffering which comes from this last source is perhaps more painful to us

than any other. We tend to regard it as a kind of gratuitous addition, although it

cannot be any less fatefully inevitable than the suffering which comes from


It is no wonder if, under the pressure of these possibilities of suffering, men are

accustomed to moderate their claims to happiness. Must as the pleasure principle

itself indeed’ under the influence of the external world, changed into the more

modest reality principle — if a man thinks himself happy merely to nave escaped

unhappiness or to have survived his suffering, and if in general the task of

avoiding suffering pushes that of obtaining pleasure into the background.

Reflection shows that the accomplishment of this task can be attempted along

very different paths; and all these paths have been recommended by the various

schools of worldly wisdom and put into practice by men. An unrestricted

satisfaction of every need presents itself as the most enticing method of

conducting one’s life, but it means putting enjoyment before caution, and soon

brings its own punishment. The other methods, in which avoidance of

unpleasure is the main purpose, are differentiated according to the source of

unpleasure to which their attention is chiefly turned. Some of these methods are

extreme and some moderate; some are one-sided and some attack the problem

simultaneously at several points. Against the suffering which may come upon

one from human relationships the readiest safeguard is voluntary isolation,

keeping oneself aloof from other people. The happiness which can be achieved

along this path is, as we see, the happiness of quietness. Against the dreaded

external world one can only defend oneself by some kind of turning away from

it, if one intends to solve the task by oneself. There is, indeed, another and better

path: that of becoming a member of the human community, and, with the help of

a technique guided by science, going over to the attack against nature and

subjecting her to the human will. Then one is working with all for the good of all.

But the most interesting methods of averting suffering are those which seek to

influence our own organism. In the last analysis, all suffering is nothing else than

sensation; it only exists in so far as we feel it, and we only feel it in consequence

of certain ways in which our organism is regulated. The crudest, but also the

most effective among these methods of influence is the chemical one —

intoxication. I do not think that anyone completely understand the mechanism,

but it is a fact that there are foreign substances which, when present in the blood

or tissues, directly cause us pleasurable sensations; and they also so alter the

conditions governing our sensibility that we become incapable of receiving

unpleasurable impulses. The two effects not only occur simultaneously, but seem

to be intimately bound up with each other. But there must be substances in the

chemistry of our own bodies which have similar effects, for we know at least one

pathological state, mania, in which a condition similar to intoxication arises

without the administration of any intoxicating drug. Besides this, our normal

mental life exhibits oscillations between a comparatively easy liberation of

pleasure and a comparatively difficult one, parallel with which there goes a

diminished or an increased receptivity to unpleasure. It is greatly to be regretted

that this toxic side of mental processes has so far escaped scientific examination.

The service rendered by intoxicating media in the struggle for happiness and in

keeping misery at a distance is so highly prized as a benefit that individuals and

peoples alike have given them an established place in the economics of their

libido. We owe to such media not merely the immediate yield of pleasure, but

also a greatly desired degree of independence from the external world. For one

knows that, with the help of this ‘drowner of cares’ one can at any time

withdraw from the pressure of reality and find refuge in a world of one’s own

with better conditions of sensibility. As is well known, it is precisely this

property of intoxicants which also determines their danger and their

injuriousness. They are responsible, in certain circumstances, for the useless

waste of a large quota of energy which might have been employed for the

improvement of the human lot.

The complicated structure of our mental apparatus admits, however, of a whole

number of other influences. Just as a satisfaction of instinct spells happiness for

us, so severe suffering is caused us if the external world lets us starve, if it refuses

to sate our needs. One may therefore hope to be freed from a part of one’s

sufferings by influencing the instinctual impulses. This type of defence against

suffering is no longer brought to bear on the sensory apparatus; it seeks to

master the internal sources of our needs. The extreme form of this is brought

about by killing off the instincts, as is prescribed by the worldly wisdom of the

East and practised by Yoga. If it succeeds, then the subject has, it is true, given up

all other activities as well — he has sacrificed his life; and, by another path, he

has once more only achieved the happiness of quietness. We follow the same

path when our aims, are less extreme and we merely attempt to control our

instinctual life. In that case, the controlling elements are the higher psychical

agencies, which have subjected themselves to the reality principle. Here the aim

of satisfaction is not by any means relinquished; but a certain amount of

protection against suffering is secured, in that non-satisfaction is not so painfully

felt in the case of instincts kept in dependence as in the case of uninhibited ones.

As against this, there is an undeniable diminution in the potentialities of

enjoyment. The feeling of happiness derived from the satisfaction of a wild

instinctual impulse untamed by the ego is incomparably more intense than that

derived from sating an instinct that has been tamed. The irresistibility of perverse

instincts, and perhaps the attraction in general of forbidden things finds an

economic explanation here.

Another technique for fending off suffering is the employment of the

displacements of libido which our mental apparatus permits of and through

which its function gains so much in flexibility. The task here is that of shifting the

instinctual aims in such a way that they cannot come up against frustration from

the external world. In this, sublimation of the instincts lends its assistance. One

gains the most if one can sufficiently heighten the yield of pleasure from the

sources of psychical and intellectual work. When that is so, fate can do little

against one. A satisfaction of this kind, such as an artist’s joy in creating, in

giving his phantasies body, or a scientist’s in solving problems or discovering

truths, has a special quality which we shall certainly one day be able to

characterize in metapsychological terms. At present we can only say figuratively

that such satisfactions seem ‘finer and higher’. But their intensity is mild as

compared with that derived from the sating of crude and primary instinctual

impulses; it does not convulse our physical being. And the weak point of this

method is that it is not applicable generally: it is accessible to only a few people.

It presupposes the possession of special dispositions and gifts winch are far from

being common to any practical degree. And even to the few who do possess

them, this method cannot give complete protection from suffering. It creates no

impenetrable armour against the arrows of fortune, and it habitually fails when

the source of suffering is a person’s own body.*

*[When there is no special disposition in a person which imperatively prescribes what

direction his interests in life shall take, the ordinary professional work that is open to

everyone can play the part assigned to it by Voltaire’s wise advice [above]. It is not

possible, within the limits of a short survey to discuss adequately the significance of work

for the economics of the libido. No other technique for the conduct of life attaches the

individual so firmly to reality as laying emphasis on Work; for his work at least gives him

a secure place in a portion of reality, in the human community. The possibility it offers of

displacing a large amount libidinal components, whether narcissistic, aggressive or even

erotic, on to professional work and on to the human relations connected with it lends it a

value by no means second to what it enjoys as something indispensible to the

preservation and justification of existence in society. Professional activity is a source of

special satisfaction if it is a freely chosen one — if, that is to say, by means of sublimation,

it makes possible the use of existing inclinations, of persisting or constitutionally

reinforced instinctual impulses. And yet, as a path to happiness, work is not highly prized

by men. They do not strive after it as they do after other possibilities of satisfaction. The

great majority of people only work under the stress of necessity, and this natural human

aversion to work raises most difficult social problems.]

While this procedure already clearly shows an intention of making oneself

independent of the external world by seeking sanction in internal, psychical

processes, the next procedure brings out those features yet more strongly. In it,

the connection with reality is still further loosened; satisfaction is obtained from

illusions, which are recognized as such without the discrepancy between them

and reality being allowed to interfere with enjoyment. The region from which

these illusions arise is the life of the imagination; at the time when the

development of the sense of reality took place, this region was expressly

exempted from the demands of reality-testing and was set apart for the purpose

of fulfilling wishes which were difficult to carry out. At the head of these

satisfactions through phantasy stands the enjoyment of works of art — an

enjoyment which, by the agency of the artist, is made accessible even to those

who are not themselves creative. People who are receptive to the influence of art

cannot set too high a value on it as a source of pleasure and consolation in life.

Nevertheless the mild narcosis induced in us by art can do no more than bring

about a transient withdrawal from the pressure of vital needs, and it is not strong

enough to make us forget real misery.

Another procedure operates more energetically and more thoroughly. It regards

reality as the sole enemy and as the source of all suffering, with which it is

impossible to live, so that one must break off all relations with it if one is to be in

any way happy. The hermit turns his back on the world and will have no truck

with it. But one can do more than that; one can try to re-create the world, to build

up in its stead another world in which its most unbearable features are

eliminated and replaced by others that are in conformity with one’s own wishes.

But whoever, in desperate defiance, sets out upon this path to happiness will as a

rule attain nothing. Reality is too strong for him. He becomes a madman, who for

the most part finds no one to help him in carrying through his delusion. It is

asserted, however, that each one of us behaves in some one respect like a

paranoic, corrects some aspect of the world which is unbearable to him by the

construction of a wish and introduces this delusion into reality. A special

importance attaches to the case in which this attempt to procure a certainty of

happiness and a protection against suffering through a delusional remoulding of

reality is made by a considerable number of people in common. The religions of

mankind must be classed among the mass-delusions of this kind. No one,

needless to say, who shares a delusion ever recognizes it as such.

I do not think that I have made a complete enumeration of the methods by which

men strive to gain happiness and keep suffering away and I know, too, that the

material might have been differently arranged. One procedure I have not yet

mentioned — not because I have forgotten it but because it will concern us later

in another connection. And how could one possibly forget, of all others, this

technique in the art of living? It is conspicuous for a most remarkable

combination of characteristic features. It, too, aims of course at making the

subject independent of Fate (as it is best to call it), and to that end it locates

satisfaction in internal mental processes, making use, in so doing, of the

displaceability of the libido of which we have already spoken. But it does not

turn away from the external world; on the contrary, it clings to the objects

belonging to that world and obtains happiness from an emotional relationship to

them. Nor is it content to aim at an avoidance of unpleasure — a goal, as we

might call it, of weary resignation; it passes this by without heed and holds fast

to the original passionate striving for a positive fulfilment of happiness. And

perhaps it does in fact come nearer to this goal than any other method. I am, of

course, speaking of the way of life which makes love the centre of everything,

which looks for all satisfaction in loving and being loved. A psychical attitude of

this sort comes naturally enough to all of us; one of the forms in which love

manifests itself — sexual love — has given us our most intense experience of an

overwhelming sensation of pleasure and has thus furnished us with a pattern for

our search for happiness. What is more natural than that we should persist in

looking for happiness along the path on which we first encountered it? The

weak side of this technique of living is easy to see; otherwise no human being

would have thought of abandoning this path to happiness for any other. It is that

we are never so defenceless against suffering as when we love, never so

helplessly unhappy as when we have lost our loved object or its love. But this

does not dispose of the technique of living based on the value of love as a means

to happiness. There is much more to be said about it. [See below.]

We may go on from here to consider the interesting case in which happiness in,

life is predominantly sought in the enjoyment of beauty, wherever beauty

presents itself to our senses and our judgement — the beauty of human forms

and gestures, of natural objects and landscapes and of artistic and even scientific

creations. This aesthetic attitude to the goal of life offers little protection against

the threat of suffering, but it can compensate tor a great deal. The enjoyment of

beauty has a peculiar, mildly intoxicating quality of feeling. Beauty has no

obvious use; nor is there any clear cultural necessity for it. Yet civilization could

not do without it. The science of aesthetics investigates the conditions under

which things are felt as beautiful, but it has been unable to give any explanation

of the nature and origin of beauty, and, as usually happens, lack of success is

concealed beneath a flood of resounding and empty words. Psycho-analysis,

unfortunately, has scarcely anything to say about beauty either. All that seems

certain is its derivation from the field of sexual feeling. The love of beauty seems

a perfect example of an impulse inhibited in its aim. ‘Beauty’ and ‘attraction’ are

originally attributes of the sexual object. It is worth remarking that the genitals

themselves, the sight of which is always exciting, are nevertheless hardly ever

judged to be beautiful; the quality of beauty seems, instead, to attach to certain

secondary sexual characters.

In spite of the incompleteness, I will venture on a few remarks as a conclusion to

our enquiry. The programme of becoming happy, which the pleasure principle

imposes on us, cannot be fulfilled; yet we must not — indeed, we cannot — give

up our efforts to bring it nearer to fulfilment by some means or other. Very

different paths may be taken in that direction, and we may give priority either to

the positive aspect of the aim, that of gaining pleasure, or to its negative one, that

of avoiding unpleasure. By none of these paths can we attain all that we desire.

Happiness, in the reduced sense in which we recognize it as possible, is a

problem of the economics of the individual’s libido. There is no golden rule

which applies to everyone: every man must find out for himself in what

particular fashion he can be saved. All kinds of different factors will operate to

direct his choice. It is a question of how much real satisfaction he can expect to

get from the external world, how far he is led to make himself independent of it,

and, finally, how much strength he feels he has for altering the world to suit his

wishes. In this, his psychical constitution will play a decisive part, irrespectively

of the external circumstances. The man who is predominantly erotic will give

first preference to his emotional relationships to other people; the narcissistic

man, who inclines to be self-sufficient, will seek his main satisfactions in his

internal mental processes; the man of action will never give up the external

world on which he can try out his strength. As regards the second of these types,

the nature of his talents and the amount of instinctual sublimation open to him

will decide where he shall locate his interests. Any choice that is pushed to an

extreme will be penalized by exposing the individual to the dangers which arise

if a technique of living that has been chosen as an exclusive one should prove

inadequate. Just as a cautious business-man avoids tying up all his capital in one

concern, so, perhaps, worldly wisdom will advise us not to look for the whole of

our satisfaction from a single aspiration. Its success is never certain, for that

depends on the convergence of many factors, perhaps on none more than on the

capacity of the psychical constitution to. adapt its function to the environment

and then to exploit that environment for a yield of pleasure. A person who is

born with a specially unfavourable instinctual constitution, and who has not

properly undergone the transformation and rearrangement of his libidinal

components which is indispensable for later achievements, will find it hard to

obtain happiness from his external situation, especially if he is faced with tasks of

some difficulty. As a last technique of living, which will at least bring him

substitutive satisfactions, he is offered that of a flight into neurotic illness — a

flight which he usually accomplishes when he is still young. The man who sees

his pursuit of happiness come to nothing in later years can still find consolation

in the yield of pleasure of chronic intoxication; or he can embark on the desperate

attempt at rebellion seen in a psychosis.

Religion restricts this play of choice and adaptation, since it imposes equally on

everyone its own path to the acquisition of happiness and protection from

suffering. Its technique consists in depressing the value of life and distorting the

picture of the real world in a delusional manner — which presupposes an

intimidation of the intelligence. At this price, by forcibly fixing them in a state of

psychical infantilism and by drawing them into a mass-delusion, religion

succeeds in sparing many people an individual neurosis. But hardly anything

more. There are, as we have said, many paths which may lead to such happiness

as is attainable by men, but there is none which does so for certain. Even religion

cannot keep its promise. If the believer finally sees himself obliged to speak of

God’s ‘inscrutable decrees’, he is admitting that all that is left to him as a last

possible consolation and source of pleasure in his suffering is an unconditional

submission. And if he is prepared for that, he could probably have spared

himself the detour he has made.


Our enquiry concerning happiness has not so far taught us much that is not

already common knowledge. And even if we proceed from it to the problem of

why it is so hard for men to be happy, there seems no greater prospect of

learning anything new. We have given the answer already by pointing to the

three sources from which our suffering comes: the 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, the state and society. In

regard to the first two sources, our judgement cannot hesitate long. It forces us to

acknowledge those sources of suffering and to submit to the inevitable. We shall

never completely master nature; and our bodily organism, itself a part of that

nature, will always remain a transient structure with a limited capacity for

adaptation and achievement. This recognition does not have a paralysing effect.

On the contrary, it points the direction for our activity. If we cannot remove all

suffering, we can remove some, and we can mitigate some: the experience of

many thousands of yean has convinced us of that. As regards the third source,

the social source of suffering, our attitude is a different one. We do not admit it at

all; we cannot see why the regulations made by ourselves should not, on the

contrary, be a protection and a benefit for every one of us. And yet, when we

consider how unsuccessful we have been in precisely this field of prevention of

suffering, a suspicion dawns on us that here, too, a piece of unconquerable

nature may lie behind — this time a piece of our own psychical constitution.

When we start considering this possibility, we come upon a contention which is

so astonishing that we must dwell upon it. This contention holds that what we

call our civilization is largely responsible for our misery, and that we should be

much happier if we gave it up and returned to primitive conditions. I call this

contention astonishing because, in whatever way we may define the concept of

civilization, it is a certain fact that all the things with which we seek to protect

ourselves against the threats that emanate from the sources of suffering are part

of that very civilization.

How has it happened that so many people have come to take up this strange

altitude of hostility to civilization? I believe that the basis of it was a deep and

long-standing dissatisfaction with the then existing state of civilization and that

on that basis a condemnation of it was built up, occasioned by certain specific

historical events. I think I know what the last and the last but one of those

occasions were. I am not learned enough to trace the chain of them far back

enough in the history of the human species; but a factor of this land hostile to

civilization must already have been at work in the victory of Christendom over

the heathen religions, for it was very closely related to the low estimation put

upon earthly life by the Christian doctrine. The last but one of these occasions

was when the progress of voyages of discovery led to contact with primitive

peoples and races. In consequence of insufficient observation and a mistaken

view of their manners and customs, they appeared to Europeans to be leading a

simple, happy life with few wants, a life such as was unattainable by their

visitors with their superior civilization. Later experience has corrected some of

those judgements. In many cases the observers had wrongly attributed to the

absence of complicated cultural demands what was in fact due to the bounty of

nature and the ease with which the major human needs were satisfied. The last

occasion is especially familiar to us. It arose when people came to know about

the mechanism of the neuroses, which threaten to undermine the modicum of

happiness enjoyed by civilized men. It was discovered that a person becomes

neurotic because he cannot tolerate the amount of frustration which society

imposes on him in the service of its cultural ideals, and it was inferred from this

that the abolition or reduction of those demands would result in a return to

possibilities of happiness.

There is also an added factor of disappointment During the last few generations

mankind has made an extraordinary advance in the natural sciences and in their

technical application and has established his control over nature in a way never

before imagined. The single steps of this advance are common knowledge and it

is unnecessary to enumerate them. Men are proud of those achievements, and

have a right to be. But they seem to have observed that this newly-won power

over space and time, this subjugation of the forces of nature, which is the

fulfilment of a longing that goes back thousands of years, has not increased the

amount of pleasurable satisfaction which they may expect from life and has not

made them feel happier. From the recognition of this fact we ought to be content

to conclude that power over nature is not the only precondition of human

happiness, just as it is not the only goal of cultural endeavour; we ought not to

infer from it that technical progress is without value for the economics of our

happiness. One would like to ask: is there, then, no positive gain in pleasure’ no

unequivocal increase in my feeling of happiness, if I can, as often as I please, hear

the voice of a child of mine who is living hundreds of miles away or if I can learn

in the shortest possible time after a friend has reached his destination that he has

come through the long and difficult voyage unharmed? Does it mean nothing

that medicine has succeeded in enormously reducing infant mortality and the

danger of infection for women in childbirth, and, indeed, in considerably

lengthening the average life of a civilized man? And there is a long list that might

be added to benefits of this kind Which we owe to the much-despised era of

scientific and technical advances. But here the voice of pessimistic criticism

makes itself heard and warns us that most of these satisfactions follow the model

of the ‘cheap enjoyment’ extolled in the anecdote — the enjoyment obtained by

putting a bare leg from under the bedclothes on a cold winter night and drawing

it in again. If there had been no railway to conquer distances, my child would

never have left his native town and I should need no telephone to hear has voice;

if travelling across the ocean by ship had not been introduced, my friend would

not have embarked on his sea-voyage and I should not need a cable to relieve my

anxiety about him. What is the use of reducing infantile mortality when it is

precisely that reduction which imposes the greatest restraint on us in the

begetting of children, so that, taken all round, we nevertheless rear no more

children than in the days before the reign of hygiene, while at the same time we

have created difficult conditions for our sexual life in marriage, and have

probably worked against the beneficial effects of natural selection? And, finally,

what good to us is a long life if it is difficult and barren of joys, and if it is so full

of misery that we can only welcome death as a deliverer?

It seems certain that we do not feel comfortable in our present-day civilization,

but it is very difficult to form an opinion whether and in what degree men of an

earlier age felt happier and what part their cultural conditions played in the

matter. We shall always tend to consider people’s distress objectively — that is,

to place ourselves, with our own wants and sensibilities, in their conditions, and

then to examine what occasions we should find in them for experiencing

happiness or unhappiness. This method of looking at things, which seems

objective because it ignores the variations in subjective sensibility, is, of course,

the most subjective possible, since it puts one’s own mental states in the place of

any others, unknown though they may be. Happiness, however, is something

essentially subjective. No matter how much we may shrink with horror from

certain situations — of a galley-slave in antiquity, of a peasant during the Thirty

Years’ War, of a victim of the Holy Inquisition, of a Jew awaiting a pogrom — it

is nevertheless impossible for us to feel our way into such people — to divine the

changes which original obtuseness of mind, a gradual stupefying process, the

cessation of expectations, and cruder or more refined methods of narcotization

have produced upon their receptivity to sensations of pleasure and unpleasure.

Moreover, in the case of the most extreme possibility of suffering, special mental

protective devices are brought into operation. It seems to me unprofitable to

pursue this aspect of the problem any further.

It is time for us to turn our attention to the nature of this civilization on whose

value as a means to happiness doubts have been thrown. We shall not look for a

formula in which to express that nature in a few words, until we have learned

something by examining it. We shall therefore content ourselves with saying

once more that the word ‘civilization’ describes the whole sum of the

achievements and the regulations which distinguish our lives from those of our

animal ancestors and which serve two purposes — namely to protect men

against nature and to adjust their mutual relations. In order to learn more, we

will bring together the various features of civilization individually, as they are

exhibited in human communities. In doing so, we shall have no hesitation in

letting ourselves be guided by linguistic usage or, as it is also called, linguistic

feeling, in the conviction that we shall thus be doing justice to inner discernments

which still defy expression in abstract terms’

The first stage is easy. We recognize as cultural all activities and resources which

are useful to men for making the earth serviceable to them, for protecting them

against the violence at the forces of nature, and so on. As regards this side of

civilization, there can be scarcely any doubt. If we go back for enough, we find

that the first acts of civilization were the use of tools, the gaining of control over

fire and the construction of dwellings. Among these, the control over fire stands

out as a quite extraordinary and unexampled achievement*, while the others

opened up paths which man has followed ever since, and the stimulus to which

is easily guessed. With every tool man is perfecting his own organs, whether

motor or sensory, or is removing the limits to their functioning. Motor power

places gigantic forces at his disposal, which, like his muscles, he can employ in

any direction; thanks to ships and aircraft neither water nor air can hinder his

movements; by means of spectacles he corrects defects in the lens of his own eye;

by means of the telescope he sees into the far distance; and by means of the

microscope he overcomes the limits of visibility set by the structure of his retina.

In the photographic camera he has created an instrument which retains the

fleeting visual impressions, just as a gramophone disc retains the equally fleeting

auditory ones; both are at bottom materializations of the power he possesses of

recollection, his memory. With the help of the telephone he can hear at distances

which would be respected as unattainable even in a fairy tale. Writing was in its

origin the voice of an absent person; and the dwelling-house was a substitute for

the mother’s womb, the first lodging, for which in all likelihood man still longs,

and in which he was safe and felt at ease.

*[Psycho-analytic material, incomplete as it is and not susceptible to clear interpretation,

nevertheless admits of a conjecture — a fantastic-sounding one — about the origin of this

human feat. It is as though primal man had the habit, when he came in contact with fire,

of satisfying an infantile desire connected with it, by putting it out with a stream of his

urine. The legends that we possess leave no doubt about the originally phallic view taken

of tongues of flame as they shoot, upwards. Putting out fire by micturating — a theme to

which modern giants, Gulliver in Lilliput and Rabelais’ Gargantua, still hark back — was

therefore a kind of sexual act with a male, an enjoyment of sexual potency in a

homosexual competition. The first person to renounce this desire and spare the fire was

able to carry it off with him and subdue it to his own use. By damping down the fire of his

own sexual excitation, he had tamed the natural force of fire. This great cultural conquest

was thus the reward for his renunciation of instinct. Further, it is as though woman had

been appointed guardian of the fire which was held captive on the domestic hearth,

because her anatomy made it impossible for her to yield to the temptation of this desire. It

is remarkable, too, how regularly analytic experience testifies to the connection between

ambition, fire and urethral erotism.]

These things that, by his science and technology, man has brought about on this

earth, on which he first appeared as a feeble animal organism and on which each

individual of his species must once more make its entry (‘Oh inch of nature!’) as

a helpless suckling — these things do not only sound like a fairy tale, they are an

actual fulfilment of every — or of almost every — fairy-tale wish. All these assets

he may lay claim to as his cultural acquisition. Long ago he formed an ideal

conception of omnipotence and omniscience which he embodied in his gods. To

these gods he attributed everything that seemed unattainable to his wishes, or

that was forbidden to him. One may say, therefore, that these gods were cultural

ideals. Today he has come very close to the attainment of this ideal, he has

almost become a god himself. Only, it is true, in the fashion in which ideals are

usually attained according to the general judgement of humanity. Not

completely; in some respects not at all, in others only half way. Man has, as it

were, become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs

he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown on to him and they fall

give him much trouble at times. Nevertheless, he is entitled to console himself

with the thought that this development will not come to an end precisely with

the year 1930 A.D. Future ages will bring with them new and probably

unimaginably great advances in this field of civilization and will increase man’s

likeness to God still more. But in the interests of our investigations, we will not

forget that present-day man does not feel happy in his Godlike character.

We recognize, then, that countries have attained a high level of civilization if we

find that in them everything which can assist in the exploitation of the earth by

man and in his protection against the forces of nature — everything, in short,

which is of use to him — is attended to and effectively carried out in such

countries rivers which threaten to flood the land are regulated in their flow, and

their water is directed through canals to places where there is a shortage of it.

The soil is carefully cultivated and planted with the vegetation which it is suited

to support; and the mineral wealth below ground is assiduously brought to the

surface and fashioned into the required implements and utensils. The means of

communication are ample, rapid and reliable. Wild and dangerous animals have

been exterminated, and the breeding of domesticated animals flourishes. But we

demand other things from civilization besides these, and it is a noticeable fact

that we hope to find them realized in these same countries. As though we were

seeking to repudiate the first demand we made, we welcome it as a sign of

civilization as well if we see people directing their care too to what has no

practical value whatever, to what is useless — if, for instance, the green spaces

necessary in a town as playgrounds and as reservoirs of fresh air are also laid out

with flower-beds, or if the windows of the houses are decorated with pots of

flowers. We soon observe that this useless thing which we expect civilization to

value is beauty. We require civilized man to reverence beauty wherever he sees it

in nature and to create it in the objects of his handiwork so far as he is able. But

this is far from exhausting our demands on civilization. We expect besides to see

the signs of cleanliness and order. We do not think highly of the cultural level of

an English country town in Shakespeare’s time when we read that there was a

big dung-heap in front of his father’s house in Stratford; we are indignant and

call it ‘barbarous’ (which is the opposite of civilized) when we find the paths in

the Wiener Wald littered with paper. Dirtiness of any kind seems to us

incompatible with civilization. We extend our demand for cleanliness to the

human body too. We are astonished to learn of the objectionable smell which

emanated from the Roi Soleil, and we shake our heads on the Isola Bella when

we are shown the tiny wash-basin in which Napoleon made his morning toilet.

Indeed, we are not surprised by the idea of setting up the use of soap as an actual

yardstick of civilization. The same is true of order. It, like cleanliness, applies

solely to the works of man. But whereas cleanliness is not to be expected in

nature, order, on the contrary, has been imitated from her. Man’s observation of

the great astronomical regularities not only furnished him with a model for

introducing order into his life, but gave him the first points of departure for

doing so. Order is a kind of compulsion to repeat which, when a regulation has

been laid down once and for all, decides when, where and how a thing shall be

done, so that in every similar circumstance one is spared hesitation and

indecision. The benefits of order are incontestable. If enables men to use space

and time to the best advantage, while conserving their psychical forces. We

should have a right to expect that order would have taken its place in human

activities from the start and without difficulty; and we may well wonder that this

has not happened — that, on the contrary, human beings exhibit an inborn

tendency to carelessness, irregularity and unreliability in their work, and that a

laborious training is needed before they learn to follow the example of their

celestial models.

Beauty, cleanliness and order obviously occupy a special position among the

requirements of civilization. No one will maintain that they are as important for

life as control over the forces of nature or as some other factors with which we

shall become acquainted. And yet no one would care to put them in the

background as trivialities. That civilization is not exclusively taken up with what

is useful is already shown by the example of beauty, which we decline to omit

from among the interests of civilization. The usefulness of order is quite evident.

With regard to cleanliness, we must bear in mind that it is demanded of us by

hygiene as well, and we may suspect that even before the days of scientific

prophylaxis the connection between the two was not altogether strange to man.

Yet utility does not entirely explain these efforts; something else must be at work


No feature, however, seems better to characterize civilization than its esteem and

encouragement of man’s higher mental activities — his intellectual, scientific and

artistic achievements — and the leading role that it assigns to ideas in human

life. Foremost among those ideas are the religious systems, on whose

complicated structure I have endeavoured to throw light elsewhere. Next come

the speculations of philosophy; and finally what might be called man’s ‘ideals’ —

his ideas of a possible perfection of individuals, or of peoples or of the whole of

humanity, and the demands he sets up on the basis of such ideas. The fact that

these creations of his are not independent of one another, but are on the contrary

closely interwoven, increases the difficulty not only of describing them but of

tracing their psychological derivation. If we assume quite generally that the

motive force of all human activities is a striving towards the two confluent goals

of utility and a yield of pleasure, we must suppose that this is also true of the

manifestations of civilization which we have been discussing here, although this

is easily visible only in scientific and aesthetic activities. But it cannot be doubted

that the other activities, too, correspond to strong needs in men — perhaps to

needs which are only developed in a minority. Nor must we allow ourselves to

be misled by judgements of value concerning any particular religion, or

philosophic system, or ideal. Whether we think to find in them the highest

achievements of the human spirit, or whether we deplore them as aberrations,

we cannot but recognize that where they are present and, in especial, where they

arc dominant, a high level of civilization is implied.

The last, but certainly not the least important, of the characteristic features of

civilization remains to be assessed: the manner in which the relationships of men

to one another, their social relationships, are regulated — relationships which

affect a person as a neighbour, as a source of help, as another person’s sexual

object, as a member of a family and of a State. Here it is especially difficult to

keep clear of particular ideal demands and to see what is civilized in general.

Perhaps we may begin by explaining mat the element of civilization enters on the

scene with the first attempt to regulate these social relationship. If the attempt

were not made, the relationships would be subject to the arbitrary will of the

individual: that is to say, the physically stronger man would decide them in the

sense of his own interests and instinctual impulses. Nothing would be changed

in this if this stronger man should in his turn meet someone even stronger than

he. Human life in common is only made possible when a majority comes

together which is stronger than any separate individual and which remains

united against all separate individuals. The power of this community is then set

up as ‘right’ in opposition to the power of the individual, which is condemned as

‘brute force’. This replacement of the power of the individual by the power of a

community constitutes the decisive step of civilization. The essence of it lies in

the fact that the members of the community restrict themselves in their

possibilities of satisfaction, whereas the individual knew no such restrictions.

The first requisite of civilization, therefore, is that of justice — that is, the

assurance that a law once made will not be broken in favour of an individual.

This implies nothing as to the ethical value of such a law. The further course of

cultural development seems to tend towards making the law no longer an

expression of the will of a small community — a caste or a stratum of the

population or a racial group — which, in its turn, behaves like a violent

individual towards other, and perhaps more numerous, collections of people.

The final outcome should be a rule of law to which all — except those who are

not capable of entering a community — have contributed by a sacrifice of their

instincts, and which leaves no one — again with the same exception — at the

mercy of brute force.

The liberty of the individual is no gift of civilization. It was greatest before there

was any civilization, though then, it is true, it had for the most part no value,

since the individual was scarcely in a position to defend it. The development of

civilization imposes restrictions on it, and justice demands that no one shall

escape those restrictions. What makes itself felt in a human community as a

desire for freedom may be their revolt against some existing injustice, and so

may prove favourable to a further development of civilization; it may remain

compatible with civilization. But it may also spring from the remains of their

original personality, which is still untamed by civilization and may thus become

the basis in them of hostility to civilization. The urge for freedom, therefore, is

directed against particular forms and demands of civilization or against

civilization altogether. It does not seem as though any influence could induce a

man to change his nature into a termite’s . No doubt he will always defend his

claim to individual liberty against the will of the group. A good part of the

struggles of mankind centre round the single task of finding an expedient

accommodation — one, that is, that will bring happiness — between this claim of

the individual and the cultural claims of the group; and one of the problems that

touches the fate of humanity is whether such an accommodation can be reached

by means of some particular form of civilization or whether this conflict is


By allowing common feeling to be our guide in deciding what features of human

life are to be regarded as civilized, we have obtained a clear impression of the

general picture of civilization; but it is true that so far we have discovered

nothing that is not universally known. At the same time we have been careful not

to fall in with the prejudice that civilization is synonymous with perfecting, that

it is the road to perfection pre-ordained for men. But now a point of view

presents itself which may lead in a different direction. 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. A few of these instincts are used up in such a manner that something

appears in their place which, in an individual, we describe as a character-trait.

The most remarkable example of such a process is found in the anal erotism of

young human beings. Their original interest in the excretory function, its organs

and products, is changed in the course of their growth into a group of traits

which are familiar to us as parsimony, a sense of order and cleanliness —

qualities which, though valuable and welcome in themselves, may be intensified

till they become markedly dominant and produce what is called the anal

character. How this happens we do not know, but there is no doubt about the

correctness of the finding. Now we have seen that order and cleanliness are

important requirements of civilization, although their vital necessity is not very

apparent, any more than their suitability as sources of enjoyment. At this point

we cannot fail-to be struck by the similarity between the process of civilization

and the libidinal development of the individual. Other instincts [besides anal

erotism] are induced to displace the conditions for their satisfaction, to lead them

into other paths. In most cases this process coincides with that of the sublimation

(of instinctual aims) with which we are familiar, but in some it can be

differentiated from it. Sublimation of instinct is an especially conspicuous feature

of cultural development; it is what makes it possible for higher psychical

activities, scientific, artistic or ideological, to play such an important part in

civilized life. If one were to yield to a first impression, one would say that

sublimation is a vicissitude which has been forced upon the instincts entirely by

civilization. But it would be wiser to reflect upon this a little longer. In the third

place, finally, and this seems the most important of all, it is impossible to

overlook the extent to which civilization is built up upon a renunciation of

instinct, how much it presupposes precisely the non-satisfaction (by suppression,

repression or some other means?) of powerful instincts. This ‘cultural frustration’

dominates the large field of social relationships between human beings. As we

already know, it is the cause of the hostility against which all civilizations have

to struggle. It will also make severe demands on our scientific work, and we shall

have much to explain here. It is not easy to understand how it can become

possible to deprive an instinct of satisfaction. Nor is doing so without danger. If

the loss is not compensated for economically, one can be certain that serious

disorders will ensue.

But if we want to know what value can be attributed to our view that the

development of civilization is a special process, comparable to the normal

maturation of the individual, we must clearly attack another problem. We must

ask ourselves to what influences the development of civilization owes its origin,

how it arose, and by what its course has been determined.


The task seems an immense one, and it is natural to feel diffidence in the face of

it. But here are such conjectures as I have been able to make.

After primal man had discovered that it lay in his own hands, literally, to

improve his lot on earth by working, it cannot have been a matter of indifference

to him whether another man worked with or against him. The other man

acquired the value for him of a fellow-worker, with whom it was useful to live

together. Even earlier, in his ape-like prehistory, man had adopted the habit of

forming families, and the members of his family were probably his first helpers.

One may suppose that the founding of families was connected with the fact that

a moment came when the need for genital satisfaction no longer made its

appearance like a guest who drops in suddenly, and, after his departure, is heard

of no more for a long time, but instead took up its quarters as a permanent

lodger. When this happened, the male acquired a motive for keeping the female,

or, speaking more generally, his sexual objects, near him; while the female, who

did not want to be separated from her helpless young, was obliged, in their

interests, to remain with the stronger male.* In this primitive family one essential

feature of civilization is still lacking. The arbitrary will of its head, the father, was

unrestricted. In Totem and Taboo [1912-13] I have tried to show how the way led

from this family to the succeeding stage of communal life in the form of bands of

brothers. In overpowering their father, the sons had made the discovery that a

combination can be stronger than a single individual. The totemic culture is

based on the restrictions which the sons had to impose on one another in order to

keep this new state of affairs m being. The taboo-observances were the first

‘right’ or ‘law’. The communal life of human beings had, therefore, a two-fold

foundation: the compulsion to work, which was created by external necessity,

and the power of love, which made the man unwilling to be deprived of his

sexual object — the woman — and made the woman unwilling to be deprived of

the part of herself which had been separated off from her — her child. Eros and

Ananke [Love and Necessity] have become the parents of human civilization too.

The first result of civilization was that even a fairly large number of people were

now able to live together in a community. And since these two great powers

were co-operating in this, one might expect that the further development of

civilization would proceed smoothly towards an even better control over the

external world and towards a further extension of the number of people included

in the community. Nor is it easy to understand how civilization could act upon

its participants otherwise than to make them happy.

*[The organic periodicity of the sexual process has persisted, it fa true, but its effect on

psychical sexual excitation has rather been reversed. This change seems most likely to be

connected with the diminution of the olfactory stimuli by means of which the menstrual

process produced an effect on the male psyche. Their role was taken over by visual

excitations, which, in contrast to the intermittent olfactory stimuli, were able to maintain a

permanent effect. The taboo on menstruation is derived from this ‘organic repression’, as

a defence against a phase of development that has been surmounted. All other motives

are probably of a secondary nature. (Cf. C. D. Daly, 1927.) This process is repeated on

another level when the gods of a superseded period of civilization turn into demons. The

diminution of the olfactory stimuli seems itself to be a consequence of man’s raising

himself from the ground, of his assumption of an upright gait; this made his genitals,

which were previously concealed, visible and in need of protection, and so provoked

feelings of shame in him.

The fateful process of civilization would thus have set in with man’s adoption of an erect

posture. From that point the chain of events would have proceeded through the

devaluation of olfactory stimuli and the isolation of the menstrual period to the time when

visual stimuli were paramount and the genitals became visible, and thence to the

continuity of sexual excitation, the founding of the family and so to the threshold of

human civilization. This is only a theoretical speculation, but it is important enough to

deserve careful checking with reference to the conditions of life which obtain among

animals closely related to man.

A social factor is also unmistakably present in the cultural trend towards cleanliness,

which has received ex post facto justification in hygienic considerations but which

manifested itself before their discovery. The incitement to cleanliness originates in an urge

to get rid of the excreta, which have become disagreeable to the sense perceptions. We

know that in the nursery things are different. The excrete arouse no disgust in children.

They seem valuable to them as being a part of their own body which has come away from

it. Here upbringing insists with special energy on hastening the course of development

which lies ahead, and which should make the excreta worthless, disgusting, abhorrent

and abominable. Such a reversal of values would scarcely be possible if the substances

that are expelled from the body were not doomed by their strong smells to share the fate

which overtook olfactory stimuli after man adopted the erect posture. Anal erotism,

therefore, succumbs in the first instance to the organic repression which paved the way to

civilization. The existence of the social factor which is responsible for the further

transformation of anal erotism is attested by the circumstance that, in spite of all man’s

developmental advances, he scarcely finds the smell of his own excreta repulsive, but only

that of other people’s . Thus a person who is not clean — who does not hide his excreta —

is offending other people; he is showing no consideration for them. And this is confirmed

by our strongest and commonest terms of abuse. It would be incomprehensible, too, that

man should use the name of his most faithful friend in the animal world — the dog — as a

term of abuse if that creature had not incurred his contempt through two characteristics:

that it is an animal whose dominant sense is that of smell and one which has no horror of

excrement, and that it is not ashamed of its sexual functions.]

Before we go on to enquire from what quarter an interference might arise, this

recognition of love as one of the foundations of civilization may serve as an

excuse for a digression which will enable us to fill in a gap which we left in an

earlier discussion. We said there that man’s discovery that sexual (genital) love

afforded him the strongest experiences of satisfaction, and in fact provided him

with the prototype of all happiness, must have suggested to him that he should

continue to seek the satisfaction of happiness in his life along the path of sexual

relations and that he should make genital erotism the central point of his life. We

went on to say that in doing so he made himself dependent in a most dangerous

way on a portion of the external world, namely, his chosen love-object, and

exposed himself to extreme suffering if he should be rejected by that object or

should lose it through unfaithfulness or death. For that reason the wise men of

every age have warned us most emphatically against this way of life; but in spite

of this it has not lost its attraction for a great number of people.

A small minority are enabled by their constitution to find happiness, in spite of

everything, along the path of love. But far-reaching mental changes in the

function of love are necessary before this can happen. These people make

themselves independent of their object’s acquiescence by displacing what they

mainly value from being loved on to loving; they protect themselves against the

loss of the object by directing their love, not to single objects but to all men alike;

and they avoid the uncertainties and disappointments of genital love by turning

away from its sexual aims and transforming the instinct into an impulse with an

inhibited aim. What they bring about in themselves in this way is a state of

evenly suspended, steadfast, affectionate feeling, which has little external

resemblance any more to the stormy agitations of genital love, from which it is

nevertheless derived. Perhaps St. Francis of Assisi went furthest in thus

exploiting love for the benefit of an inner feeling of happiness. Moreover, what

we have recognized as one of the techniques for fulfilling the pleasure principle

has often been brought into connection with religion; this connection may lie in

the remote regions where the distinction between the ego and objects or between

objects themselves is neglected. According to one ethical view, whose deeper

motivation will become clear to us presently, this readiness for a universal love

of mankind and the world represents the highest standpoint which man can

reach. Even at this early stage of the discussion I should like to bring forward my

two main objections to this view. A love that does not discriminate seems to me

to forfeit a part of its own value, by doing an injustice to its object; and secondly,

not all men are worthy of love.

The love which founded the family continues to operate in civilization both in its

original form, in which it does not renounce direct sexual satisfaction, and in its

modified form as aim-inhibited affection. In each, it continues to carry on its

function of binding together considerable numbers of people, and it does so in a

more intensive fashion than can be effected through the interest of work in

common. The careless way in which language uses the word ‘love’ has its genetic

justification. People give the name ‘love’ to the relation between a man and a

woman whose genital needs have led them to found a family; but. they also give

the name ‘love’ to the positive feelings between parents and children, and

between the brothers and sisters of a family, although we are obliged to describe

this as ‘aim-inhibited love’ or ‘affection’. Love with an inhibited aim was in fact

originally fully sensual love, and it is so still in man’s unconscious. Both — fully

sensual love and aim-inhibited love — extend outside the family and create new

bonds with people who before were strangers. Genital love leads to the

formation of new families, and aim-inhibited love to ‘friendships’ which become

valuable from a cultural standpoint because they escape some of the limitations

of genital love, as, for instance, its exclusiveness. But in the course of

development the relation of love to civilization loses its unambiguity. On the one

hand love comes into opposition to the interests of civilization; on the other

civilization threatens love with substantial restrictions.

This rift between them seems unavoidable. The reason for it is not immediately

recognizable. It expresses itself at first as a conflict between the family and the

larger community to which the individual belongs. We have already perceived

that one of the main endeavours of civilization is to bring people together into

large unities. But the family will not give the individual up. The more closely the

members of a family are attached to one another, the more often do they tend to

cut themselves off from others, and the more difficult is it for them to enter into

the wider circle of life. The mode of life in common which is phylogenetically the

older, and which is the only one that exists in childhood, will not let itself be

superseded by the cultural mode of life which has been acquired later. Detaching

himself from his family becomes a task that faces every young person, and

society often helps him in the solution of it by means of puberty and initiation

rites. We get the impression that these are difficulties which are inherent in all

psychical — and, indeed, at bottom, in all organic — development.

Furthermore, women soon come into opposition to civilization and display their

retarding and restraining influence — those very women who, in the beginning,

laid the foundations of civilization by the claims of their love. Women represent

the interests of the family and of sexual life. The work of civilization has become

increasingly the business of men, it confronts them with ever more difficult tasks

and compels them to carry out instinctual sublimations of which women are little

capable. Since a man does not have unlimited quantities of psychical energy at

his disposal, he has to accomplish his tasks by making an expedient distribution

of his libido. What he employs for cultural aims he to a great extent withdraws

from women and sexual life. His constant association with men, and his

dependence on his relations with mem, even estrange him from his duties as a

husband and father. Thus the woman finds herself forced into the background by

the claims of civilization and she adopts a hostile attitude towards it.

The tendency on the part of civilization to restrict sexual life is no less clear than

its other tendency to expand the cultural unit. Its first, totemic, phase already

brings with it the prohibition against an incestuous choice of object, and this is

perhaps the most drastic mutilation which man’s erotic life has in all time

experienced. Taboos, laws and customs impose further restrictions, which affect

both men and women. Not all civilizations go equally far in this; and the

economic structure of the society also influences the amount of sexual freedom

that remains. Here, as we already know, civilization is obeying the laws of

economic necessity, since a large amount of the psychical energy which it uses

for its own purposes has to be withdrawn from sexuality. In this respect

civilization behaves towards sexuality as a people or a stratum of its population

does which has subjected another one to its exploitation. Fear of a revolt by the

suppressed elements drives it to stricter precautionary measures. A high-water

mark in such a development has been reached in our Western European

civilization. A cultural community is perfectly justified, psychologically, in

starting by proscribing manifestations of the sexual life of children, for there

would be no prospect of curbing the sexual lusts of adults if the ground had not

been prepared for it in childhood. But such a community cannot in any way be

justified in going to the length of actually disavowing such easily demonstrable,

and, indeed, striking phenomena. As regards the sexually mature individual, the

choice of an object is restricted to the opposite sex, and most extra-genital

satisfactions are forbidden as perversions. The requirement, demonstrated in

these prohibitions, that there shall be a single kind of sexual life for everyone,

disregards the dissimilarities, whether innate or acquired, in the sexual

constitution of human beings; it cuts off a fair number of them from sexual

enjoyment, and so becomes the source of serious injustice. The result of such

restrictive measures might be that in people who are normal — who are not

prevented by their constitution — the whole of their sexual interests would flow

without loss into the channels that are left open. But hetero-sexual genital love,

which has remained exempt From outlawry, is itself restricted by further

limitations, in the shape of insistence upon legitimacy and monogamy. Present-

day civilization makes it plain that it will only permit sexual relationships on the

basis of a solitary, indissoluble bond between one man and one woman, and that

it does not like sexuality as a source of pleasure in its own right and is only

prepared to tolerate it because there is so far no substitute for it as a means of

propagating the human race.

This, of course, is an extreme picture. Everybody knows that it has proved

impossible to put it into execution, even for quite short periods. Only the

weaklings have submitted to such an extensive encroachment upon their sexual

freedom, and stronger natures have only done so subject to a compensatory

condition, which will be mentioned later. Civilized society has found itself

obliged to pass over in silence many transgressions which, according to its own

rescripts, it ought to have punished. But we must not err on the other side and

assume that, because it does not achieve all its aims, such an attitude on the part

of society is entirely innocuous. The sexual life of civilized man is

notwithstanding severely impaired; it sometimes gives the impression of being

in process of involution as a function, just as our teeth and hair seem to be as

organs. One is probably justified in assuming that its importance as a source of

feelings of happiness, and therefore in the fulfilment of our aim in life, has

sensibly diminished. Sometimes one seems to perceive that it is not only the

pressure of civilization but something in the nature of the function itself which

denies us full satisfaction and urges us along other paths. This may be wrong; it

is hard to decide.*

*[The view expressed above is supported by the following considerations. Man is an

animal organism with (like others) an unmistakably bisexual disposition. The individual

corresponds to a fusion of two symmetrical halves, of which, according to some

investigators, one is purely male and the other female. It is equally possible that each half

was originally hermaphrodite. Sex is a biological fact which, although it is of

extraordinary importance in mental life, is hard to grasp psychologically. We are

accustomed to say that every human being displays both male and female instinctual

impulses, needs and attributes; but though anatomy, it is true, can point out the

characteristic of maleness and femaleness, psychology cannot. For psychology the contrast

between the sexes fades away into one between activity and passivity, in which we far too

readily identify activity with maleness and passivity with femaleness, a view which is by

no means universally confirmed in the animal kingdom. The theory of bisexuality is still

surrounded by many obscurities and we cannot but see it as a serious impediment in

psycho-analysis that it has not yet found any link with the theory of the instincts,

However this may be, if we assume it as a fact that each individual seeks to satisfy both

male and female wishes in his sexual life, we are prepared for the possibility that those

[two sets of] demands are not fulfilled by the same object, and that they interfere with

each other unless they can be kept apart and each impulse guided into a particular

channel that is suited to it. Another difficulty arises from the circumstance that there is so

often associated with the erotic relationship, over and above its own sadistic components,

a quota of plain inclination to aggression. The love-object will not always view these

complications with the degree of understanding and tolerance shown by the peasant

woman who complained that her husband did not love her any more,

since he had not beaten her for a week.

The conjecture which goes deepest, however, is the one which tales its start from what I

have said above in my footnote on p. 46f. It is to the effect that, with the assumption of an

erect posture by man and with the depreciation of his sense of smell, it was not only his

anal erotism which threatened to fall a victim to organic repression, but the whole of his

sexuality; so that since this, the sexual function has been accompanied by a repugnance

which cannot further be accounted for, and which prevents its complete satisfaction and

forces it away from the sexual aim into sublimations and libidinal displacements. I know

that Bleuler (1913) once pointed to the existence of a primary repelling attitude Eke this

towards sexual life. All neurotics, and many others besides, take exception to the fact that

‘inter urinas et faeces nascimur’ [we are born between urine and faeces]’. The genitals, too,

give rise to strong sensations of smell which many people cannot tolerate and which spoil

sexual intercourse for them. Thus we should find that the deepest root of the sexual

repression which advances along with civilization is the organic defence of the new form

of life achieved with man’s erect gait against his earlier animal existence. This result of

scientific research coincides in a remarkable way with commonplace prejudices that have

often made themselves heard. Nevertheless, these things arc at present no more than

unconfirmed possibilities which have not been substantiated by science. Nor should we

forget that, in spite of the undeniable depreciation of olfactory stimuli, there exist even in

Europe peoples among whom the strong genital odours which are so repellent to us are

highly prized as sexual stimulants and who refuse to give them up.]


Psycho-analytic work has shown us that it is precisely these frustrations of sexual

life which people known as neurotics cannot tolerate. The neurotic creates

substitutive satisfactions for himself in his symptoms, and these either cause him

suffering in themselves or become sources of suffering for him by raising

difficulties in his relations with his environment and the society he belongs to.

The latter fact is easy to understand; the former presents us with a new problem.

But civilization demands other sacrifices besides that of sexual satisfaction.

We have treated the difficulty of cultural development as a general difficulty of

development by tracing it to the inertia of the libido, to its disinclination to give

up an old position for a new one. We are saying much the same thing when we

derive the antithesis between civilization and sexuality from the circumstance

that sexual love is a relationship between two individuals in which a third can

only be superfluous or disturbing, whereas civilization depends on relationships

between a considerable number of individuals. When a love-relationship is at its

height there is no room left for any interest in the environment; a pair of lovers

are sufficient to themselves, and do not even need the child they have in

common to make them happy. In no other case does Eros so clearly betray the

core of his being, his purpose of making one out of more than one; but when he

has achieved this in the proverbial way through the love of two human beings,

he refuses to go further.

So far, we can quite well imagine a cultural community consisting of double

individuals like this, who, libidinally satisfied in themselves, are connected with

one another through the bonds of common “work and common interests. If this

were so, civilization would not have to withdraw any energy from sexuality. But

this desirable state of things does not, and never did, exist. Reality shows us that

civilization is not content with the ties we have so far allowed it. It aims at

binding the members of the community together in a libidinal way as well and

employs every means to that end. It favours every path by which strong

identifications can be established between the members of the community, and it

summons up aim-inhibited libido on the largest scale so as to strengthen the

communal bond by relations of friendship. In order for these aims to be fulfilled,

a restriction upon sexual life is unavoidable. But we are unable to understand

what the necessity is which forces civilization along this path and which causes

its antagonism to sexuality. There must be some disturbing factor which we have

not yet discovered.

The clue may be supplied by one of the ideal demands, as we have called them,

of civilized society. It runs: ‘Thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself.’ It is known

throughout the world and is undoubtedly older than Christianity, which puts it

forward as its proudest claim. Yet it is certainly not very old; even in historical

times it was still strange to mankind. Let us adopt a naive attitude towards it, as

though we were hearing it for the first time; we shall be unable then to suppress

a feeling of surprise and bewilderment. Why should we do it? What good will it

do us? But, above all, how shall we achieve it? How can it be possible? My love is

something valuable to me which I ought not to throw away without reflection. It

imposes duties on me for whose fulfilment I must be ready to make sacrifices. If I

love someone, he must deserve it in some way. (I leave out of account the use he

may be to me, and also his possible significance for me as a sexual object, for

neither of these two kinds of relationship comes into question where the precept

to love my neighbour is concerned.) He deserves it if he is so like me in

important ways that I can love myself in him; and he deserves it if he is so much

more perfect than myself that I can love my ideal of my own self in him. Again, I

have to love him if he is my friend’s son, since the pain my friend would feel if

any harm came to him would be my pain too — I should have to share it. But if

he is a stranger to me and if he cannot attract me by any worth of his own or any

significance that he may already have acquired for my emotional life, it will be

hard for me to love him. Indeed, I should be wrong to do so, for my love is

valued by all my own people as a sign of my preferring them, and it is an

injustice to them if I put a stranger on a par with them. But if I am to love him

(with this universal love) merely because he, too, is an inhabitant of this earth,

like an insect, an earth-worm or a grass-snake, then I fear that only a small

modicum of my love will fall to his share — not by any possibility as much as, by

the judgement of my reason, I am entitled to retain for myself. What is the point

of a precept enunciated with so much solemnity if its fulfilment cannot be

recommended as reasonable?

On closer inspection, I find still further difficulties. Not merely is this stranger in

general unworthy of my love; I must honestly confess that he has more claim to

my hostility and even my hatred. He seems not to have the least trace of love for

me and shows me not the slightest consideration. If it will do him any good he

has no hesitation in injuring me, nor does he ask himself whether the amount of

advantage he gains bears any proportion to the extent of the harm he does to me.

Indeed, he need not even obtain an advantage; if he can satisfy any sort of desire

by it, he thinks nothing of jeering at me, insulting me, slandering me and

showing his superior power; and the more secure he feels and the more helpless

I am, the more certainly I can expect him to behave like this to me. If he behaves

differently, if he shows me consideration and forbearance as a stranger, I am

ready to treat him in the same way, in any case and quite apart from any precept.

Indeed, if this grandiose commandment had run ‘Love thy neighbour as thy

neighbour loves thee’, I should not take exception to it. And there is a second

commandment, which seems to me even more incomprehensible and arouses

still stronger opposition in me. It is ‘Love thine enemies’. If I think it over,

however, I see that I am wrong in treating it as a greater imposition. At bottom it

is the same thing.

I think I can now hear a dignified voice admonishing me: ‘It is precisely because

your neighbour is not worthy of love, and is on the contrary your enemy, that

you should love him as yourself.’ I then understand that the case is one like that

of Credo quia absurdum.

Now it is very probable that my neighbour, when he is enjoined to love me as

himself, will answer exactly as I have done and will repel me for the same

reasons. I hope he will not have the same objective grounds for doing so, but he

will have the same idea as I have. Even so, the behaviour of human beings shows

differences, which ethics, disregarding the fact that such differences are

determined, classifies as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. So long as these undeniable differences

have not been removed, obedience to high ethical demands entails damage to the

aims of civilization, for it puts a positive premium on being bad. One is

irresistibly reminded of an incident in the French Chamber when capital

punishment was being debated. A member had been passionately supporting its

abolition and his speech was being received with tumultuous applause, when a

voice from the hall called out: ‘Que messieurs les assassins commencent‘. [‘It’s

the murderers who should make the first move.’]

The element of truth behind all this, which people are so ready to disavow, is

that men are not gentle creatures who want to be loved, and who at the most can

defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures

among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of

aggressiveness. As a result, their neighbour is for them not only a potential

helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their

aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to

use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him,

to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. Homo homini lupus [“Man is a wolf

to man”]. Who, in the face of all his experience of life and of history, will have

the courage to dispute this assertion? As a rule this cruel aggressiveness waits for

some provocation or puts itself at the service of some other purpose, whose goal

might also have been reached by milder measures. In circumstances that are

favourable to it, when the mental counter-forces which ordinarily inhibit it are

out of action, it also manifests itself spontaneously and reveals man as a savage

beast to whom consideration towards his own kind is something alien. Anyone

who calls mind the atrocities committed during the racial migrations the

invasions of the Huns, or by the people known as Mongols under Jenghiz Khan

and Tamerlane, or at the capture of Jerusalem by the pious Crusaders, or even,

indeed, the horrors of the recent World War — anyone who calls these things to

mind will$ have to bow humbly before the truth of this view.

The existence of this inclination to aggression, which we can detects in ourselves

and justly assume to be present in others, is the factor which disturbs our

relations with our neighbour and which forces civilization into such a high

expenditure of energy. In consequence of this primary mutual hostility of

human beings, civilized society is perpetually threatened with disintegration.

The interest of work in common would not hold it together; instinctual passions

are stronger than reasonable interests. Civilization has to use its utmost efforts in

order to set limits to man’s aggressive instincts and to hold the manifestations of

men in check by psychical reaction-formations. Hence, therefore, the use of

methods intended to incite people into identifications and aim-inhibited

relationships of love, hence the restriction upon sexual life, and hence too the

ideal’s commandment to love one’s neighbour as oneself — a commandment

which is really justified by the fact that nothing else runs as strongly counter to

the original nature of man. In spite of every effort, these endeavours of

civilization have not so far achieved very much. It hopes to prevent the crudest

excesses of brutal violence by itself assuming the right to use violence against

criminals, but the law is not able to lay hold of the more cautious and refined

manifestations of human aggressiveness. The time comes when each one of us

has to give up as illusions the expectations which, in his youth, he pinned upon

his fellow-men, and when he may learn how much difficulty and pain has been

added to his life by their ill-will. At the same time, it would be unfair to reproach

civilization with trying to eliminate strife and competition from human activity.

These things are undoubtedly indispensable. But opposition is not necessarily

enmity; it is merely misused and made an occasion for enmity.

The communists believe that they have found the path to deliverance from our

evils. According to them, man is wholly good and is well-disposed to his

neighbour; but the institution of private property has corrupted his nature. The

ownership of private wealth gives the individual power, and with it the

temptation to ill-treat his neighbour; while the man who is excluded from

possession is bound to rebel in hostility against his oppressor. If private property

were abolished, all wealth held in common, and everyone allowed to share in the

enjoyment of it, ill-will and hostility would disappear among men. Since

everyone’s needs would be satisfied, no one would have any reason to regard

another as his enemy; all would willingly undertake the work that was

necessary. I have no concern with any economic criticisms of the communist

system; I cannot enquire into whether the abolition of private property is

expedient or advantageous.* But I am able to recognize that the psychological

premisses on which the system is based are an untenable illusion. In abolishing

private property we deprive the human love of aggression of one of its

instruments, certainly a strong one, though certainly not the strongest; but we

have in no way altered the differences in power and influence which are misused

by aggressiveness, nor have we altered anything in its nature. Aggressiveness

was not created by property. It reigned almost without limit in primitive times,

when property was still very scanty, and it already shows itself in the nursery

almost before property has given up its primal, anal form; it forms the basis of

every relation of affection and love among people (with the single exception,

perhaps, of the mother’s relation to her male child). If we do away with personal

rights over material wealth, there still remains prerogative in the field of sexual

relationships, which is bound to become the source of the strongest dislike and

the most violent hostility among men who in other respects are on an equal

footing. If we were to remove this factor, too, by allowing complete freedom of

sexual life and thus abolishing the family, the germ-cell of civilization, we

cannot, it is true, easily foresee what new paths the development of civilization

could take; but one thing we can expect, and that is that this indestructible

feature of human nature, will follow it there.

*[Anyone who has tasted the miseries of poverty in his own youth and has experienced

the indifference and arrogance of the well-to-do, should be safe from the suspicion of

having no understanding or good will towards endeavours to fight against the inequality

of wealth among men and all that it leads to. To be sure, if an attempt is made to base this

fight upon an abstract demand, in the name of justice, for equality for all men, there is a

very obvious objection to be made — that nature, by endowing individuals with

extremely unequal physical attributes and mental capacities, has introduced injustices

against which there is no remedy.]

It is clearly not easy for men to give up the satisfaction of this inclination to

aggression. They do not feel comfortable without it. The advantage which a

comparatively small cultural group offers of allowing this instinct an outlet in

the form of hostility against intruders is not to be despised. It is always possible

to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are

other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness. I once

discussed the phenomenon that it is precisely communities with adjoining

territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in

constant feuds and in ridiculing each other — like the Spaniards and Portuguese,

for instance, the North Germans and South Germans, the English and Scotch,

and so on. I gave this phenomenon the name of ‘the narcissism of minor

differences’, a name which does not do much to explain it. We can now see that it

is a convenient and relatively harmless satisfaction of the inclination to

aggression, by means of which, cohesion between the members of the

community is made easier; in this respect the Jewish people, scattered

everywhere, have rendered most useful services to the civilizations of the

countries that have been their hosts; but unfortunately all the massacres of the

Jews in the Middle Ages did not suffice to make that period more peaceful and

secure for their Christian fellows. When once the Apostle Paul had posited

universal love between men as the foundation of his Christian community,

extreme intolerance on the part of Christendom towards those who remained

outside it became the inevitable consequence. To the Romans, who had not

founded their communal life as a State upon love, religious intolerance was

something foreign, although with them religion was a concern of the State and

the State was permeated by religion. Neither was it an unaccountable chance that

the dream of a Germanic world-dominion called for anti-semitism as its

complement; and it is intelligible that the attempt to establish a new, communist

civilization in Russia should find its psychological support in the persecution of

the bourgeois. One only wonders, with concern, what the Soviets will do after

they have wiped out their bourgeois.

If civilization imposes such great sacrifices not only on man’s sexuality but on his

aggressivity, we can understand better why it is hard for him to be happy in that

civilization. In fact, primitive man was better off in knowing no restrictions of

instinct. To counterbalance this, his prospects of enjoying this happiness for any

length of time were very slender. Civilized man has exchanged a portion of his

possibilities of happiness for a portion of security. We must not forget, however,

that in the primal family only the head of it enjoyed this instinctual freedom; the

rest lived in slavish suppression. In that primal period of civilization, the contrast

between a minority who enjoyed the advantages of civilization and a majority

who were robbed of those advantages was, therefore, carried to extremes. As

regards the primitive peoples who exist to-day, careful researches have shown

that their instinctual life is by no means to be envied for its freedom. It is subject

to restrictions of a different kind but perhaps of greater severity than those

attaching to modern civilized man.

When we justly find fault with the present state of our civilization for so

inadequately fulfilling our demands for a plan of life that shall make us happy;

and for allowing the existence of so much suffering which could probably be

avoided — when, with unsparing criticism, we try to uncover the roots of its

imperfection, we are undoubtedly exercising a proper right and are not showing

ourselves enemies of civilization. We may expect gradually to carry through such

alterations in our civilization as will better satisfy our needs and will escape our

criticisms. But perhaps we may also familiarize ourselves with the idea that there

are difficulties attaching to the nature of civilization which will not yield to any

attempt at reform. Over and above the tasks of restricting the instincts, which we

are prepared for, there forces itself on our notice the danger of a state of things

which might be termed ‘the psychological poverty of groups’. This danger is

most threatening where the bonds of a society are chiefly constituted by the

identification of its members with one another, while individuals of the leader

type do not acquire the importance that should fall to them in the formation of a

group. The present cultural state of America would give us a good opportunity

for studying the damage to civilization which is thus to be feared. But I shall

avoid the temptation of entering upon a critique of American civilization; I do

not wish to give an impression of wanting myself to employ American methods.


In none of my previous writings have I had so strong a feeling as now that what I

am describing is common knowledge and that I am using up paper and ink and,

in due course, the compositor’s and printer’s work and material in order to

expound things which are, in feet, self-evident. For that reason I should be glad

to seize the point if it were to appear that the recognition of a special,

independent aggressive instinct means an alteration of the psycho-analytic

theory of the instincts.

We shall see, however, that this is not so and that it is merely a matter of

bringing into sharper focus a turn of thought arrived at long ago and of

following out its consequences. Of all the slowly developed parts of analytic

theory, the theory of the instincts is the one that has felt its way the most

painfully forward. And yet that theory was so indispensable to the whole

structure that something had to be put in its place. In what was at first my utter

perplexity, I took as my starting-point a saying of the poet-philosopher, Schiller,

that ‘hunger and love are what moves the world’. Hunger could be taken to

represent the instincts which aim at preserving the individual; while love strives

after objects, and its chief function, favoured in every way by nature, is the

preservation of the species. Thus, to begin with, ego-instincts and object-instincts

confronted each other. It was to denote the energy of the latter and only the latter

instincts that I introduced the term ‘libido’. Thus the antithesis was between the

ego-instincts and the libidinal instincts of love (in its widest sense) which were

directed to an object. One of these object-instincts, the sadistic instinct, stood out

from the rest, it is true, in that its aim was so very far from being loving.

Moreover it was obviously in some respects attached to the ego instincts: it could

not hide its close affinity with instincts of mastery which have no libidinal

purpose. But these discrepancies were got over; after all, sadism was clearly a

part of sexual life, in the activities of which affection could be replaced by

cruelty. Neurosis was regarded as the outcome of a struggle between the interest

of self-preservation and the demands of the libido, a struggle in which the ego

had been victorious but at the price of severe sufferings and renunciations.

Every analyst will admit that even to-day this view has not the sound of a long-

discarded error. Nevertheless, alterations in it became essential, as our enquiries

advanced from the repressed to the repressing forces, from the object-instincts to

the ego. The decisive step forward was the introduction of the concept of

narcissism — that is to say, the discovery that the ego itself is cathected with

libido, that the ego, indeed, is the libido’s original home, and remains to some

extent its headquarters. This narcissistic libido turns towards objects, and thus

becomes object-libido; and it can change back into narcissistic libido once more.

The concept of narcissism made it possible to obtain an analytic understanding of

the traumatic neuroses and of many of the affections bordering on the psychoses,

as well as of the latter themselves. It was not necessary to give up our

interpretation of the transference neuroses as attempts made by the ego to

defend itself against sexuality; but the concept of libido was endangered. Since

the ego-instincts, too, were libidinal, it seemed for a tune inevitable that we

should make libido coincide with instinctual energy in general, as C. G. Jung had

already advocated earlier. Nevertheless, there still remained in me a kind of

conviction, for which I was not as yet able to find reasons, that the instincts could

not all be of the same kind. My next step was taken in Beyond the Pleasure

Principle (1920), when the compulsion to repeat and the conservative character of

instinctual life first attracted my attention. Starting from speculations on the

beginning of life and from biological parallels, I drew the conclusion that, besides

the instinct to preserve living substance and to join it into ever larger units, there

must exist another, contrary instinct seeking to dissolve those units and to bring

them back to their primaeval, inorganic state. That is to say, as well as Eros there

was an instinct of death. The phenomena of life could be explained from the

concurrent or mutually opposing action of these two instincts. It was not easy,

however, to demonstrate the activities of this supposed death instinct. The

manifestations of Eros were conspicuous and noisy enough. It might be assumed

that the death instinct operated silently within the organism towards its

dissolution, but that, of course, was no proof. A more fruitful idea was that a

portion of the instinct is diverted towards the external world and comes to light

as an instinct of aggressiveness and destructiveness. In this way the instinct itself

could be pressed into the service of Eros, in that the organism was destroying

some other thing, whether animate or inanimate, instead of destroying its own

self. Conversely, any restriction of this aggressiveness directed outwards would

be bound to increase the self-destruction, which is in any case proceeding. At the

same time one can suspect from this example that the two kinds of instinct

seldom — perhaps never — appear in isolation from each other, but are alloyed

with each other in varying and very different proportions and so become

unrecognizable to our judgement. In sadism, long since known to us as a

component instinct of sexuality, we should have before us a particularly strong

alloy of this kind between trends of love and the destructive instinct; while its

counterpart, masochism, would be a union between destructiveness directed

inwards and sexuality — a union which makes what is otherwise an

imperceptible trend into a conspicuous and tangible one.

The assumption of the existence of an instinct of death or destruction has met

with resistance even in analytic circles; I am aware that there is a frequent

inclination rather to ascribe whatever is dangerous and hostile in love to an

original bipolarity in its own nature. To begin with it was only tentatively that I

put forward the views I have developed here, but in the course of time they have

gained such a hold upon me that I can no longer think in any other way. To my

mind, they are far more serviceable from a theoretical standpoint than any other

possible ones; they provide that simplification, without either ignoring or doing

violence to the facts, for which we strive in scientific work. I know that in sadism

and masochism we have always seen before us manifestations of the destructive

instinct (directed outwards and inwards), strongly alloyed with erotism; but I

can no longer understand how we can have overlooked the ubiquity of non-

erotic aggressivity and destructiveness and can have failed to give it its due place

in our interpretation of life. (The desire for destruction when it is directed

inwards mostly eludes our perception, of course, unless it is tinged with

erotism.) I remember my own defensive attitude when the idea of an instinct of

destruction first emerged in psycho-analytic literature, and how long it took

before I became receptive to it. That others should have shown, and still show,

the same attitude of rejection surprises me less. For ‘little children do not like it’

when there is talk of the inborn human inclination to ‘badness’, to aggressiveness

and destructiveness, and so to cruelty as well. God has made them in the image

of His own perfection; nobody wants to be reminded how hard it is to reconcile

the undeniable existence of evil — despite the protestations of Christian Science

— with His all-powerfulness or His all-goodness. The Devil would be the best

way out as an excuse for God; in that way he would be playing the same part as

an agent of economic discharge as the Jew does in the world of the Aryan ideal.

But even so, one can hold God responsible for the existence of the Devil just as

well as for the existence of the wickedness which the Devil embodies. In view of

these difficulties, each of us will be well advised, on some suitable occasion, to

make a low bow to the deeply moral nature of mankind; it will help us to be

generally popular and much will be forgiven us for it.*

*[In Goethe’s Mephistopheles we have a quite exceptionally convincing identification of

the principle of evil with the destructive instinct:

Denn alles, was entsteht,

Ist wert, das es zu Grunde geht . . .

So ist dann alles, was Ihr Sünde,

Zerstörung, kurz das Böse nennt,

Mein eigentliches Element.

[For all the things from the Void

Called forth, deserve to be destroyed . . .

Thus, all which you as Sin have rated —

Destruction, — aught with Evil blent, —

That is my proper element.]

The Devil himself names as his adversary, not what is holy and good, but Nature’s power

to create, to multiply life — that is, Eros:

Der Luft, dem Wasser, wie der Erden

Entwinden tausend Keime sich,

Im Trocknen, Feuchten, Warmen, Kalten!

Hätt’ ich mir nicht die Flamme vorbehalten,

Ich hätte nichts Aparts für mich.

[From Water, Earth, and Air unfolding,

A thousand germs break forth and grow,

In dry, and wet, and warm, and chilly:

And had I not the Flame reserved, why, really,

There’s nothing special of my own to show.]

The name ‘libido’ can once more be used to denote the manifestations of the

power of Eros in order to distinguish them from the energy of the death instinct.

It must be confessed that we have much greater difficulty in grasping that

instinct; we can only suspect it, as it were, as something in the background

behind Eros, and it escapes detection unless its presence is betrayed by its being

alloyed with Eros. It is in sadism, where the death instinct twists the erotic aim in

its own sense and yet at the same time fully satisfies the erotic urge, that we

succeed in obtaining the clearest insight into its nature and its relation to Eros.

But even where it emerges without any sexual purpose, in the blindest fury of

destructiveness, we cannot fail to recognize that the satisfaction of the instinct is

accompanied by an extraordinarily high degree of narcissistic enjoyment, owing

to its presenting the ego with a fulfilment of the latter’s old wishes for

omnipotence. The instinct of destruction, moderated and tamed, and, as it were,

inhibited in its aim, must, when it is directed towards objects, provide the ego

with the satisfaction of its vital needs and with control over nature. Since the

assumption of the existence of the instinct is mainly based on theoretical

grounds, we must also admit that it is not entirely proof against theoretical

objections. But this is how things appear to us now, in the present state of our

knowledge; future research and reflection will no doubt bring further light which

will decide the matter.

In all that follows I adopt the standpoint, therefore, that the inclination to

aggression is an original, self-subsisting instinctual disposition in man, and I

return to my view that it constitutes the greatest impediment to civilization. At

one point in the course of this enquiry I was led to the idea that civilization was a

special process which mankind undergoes, and I am still under the influence of

that idea. I may now add that 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. Why

this has to happen, we do not know; the work of Eros is precisely this. These

collections of men are to be libidinally bound to one another. Necessity alone,

advantages of work in common, will not hold them together. But man’s natural

aggressive instinct, the hostility of each against all and of all against each,

opposes this programme of civilization. This aggressive instinct is the derivative

and, the main representative of the death instinct which we have found

alongside of Eros and which shares world-dominion with it. 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 arid 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.* And

it is this battle of the giants that our nurse-maids try to appease with their lullaby

about Heaven.

*[And we may probably add more precisely, a struggle for life in the shape it was bound

to assume after a certain event which still remains to be discovered.]


Why do our relatives, the animals, not exhibit any such cultural struggle? We do

not know. Very probably some of them — the bees, the ants, the termites —

strove for thousands of years before they arrived at the State institutions, the

distribution of functions and the restrictions on the individual, for which we

admire them to-day. It is a mark of our present condition that we know from our

own feelings that we should not think ourselves happy in any of these animal

States or in any of the roles assigned in them to the individual. In the case of

other animal species it may be that a temporary balance has been reached

between the influences of their environment and the mutually contending

instincts within them, and that thus a cessation of development has come about.

It may be that in primitive man a fresh access of libido kindled a renewed burst

of activity on the part of the destructive instinct. There are a great many

questions here to which as yet there is no answer.

Another, question concerns us more nearly. What means does civilization

employ in order to inhibit the aggressiveness which opposes it, to make it

harmless, to get rid of it, perhaps? We have already become acquainted with a

few of these methods, but not yet with the one that appears to be the most

important. This we can study in the history of the development of the individual.

What happens in him to render his desire for aggression innocuous? Something

very remarkable, which we should never have guessed:, and which is

nevertheless quite obvious. His aggressiveness is introjected, internalized; it is, in

point of fact, sent back to where it came from — that is, it is directed towards his

own ego. There it is taken over by a portion of the ego, which sets itself over

against the rest of the ego as super-ego, and which now, in the form of

‘conscience’, is ready to put into action against the ego the same harsh

aggressiveness that the ego would have liked to satisfy upon other, extraneous

individuals. The tension between the harsh super-ego and the ego that is

subjected to it, is called by us the sense of guilt; it expresses itself as a need for

punishment. Civilization, therefore, obtains mastery over the individual’s

dangerous desire for aggression by weakening and disarming it and by setting

up an agency within him to watch over it, like a garrison in a conquered city.

As to the origin of the sense of guilt, the analyst has different views from other

psychologists; but even he does not find it easy to give an account of it. To begin

with, if we ask how a person comes to have a sense of guilt, we arrive at an

answer which cannot be disputed: a person feels guilty (devout people would

say ‘sinful’) when he has done something which he knows to be ‘bad’. But then

we notice how little this answer tells us. Perhaps, after some hesitation, we shall

add that even when a person has not actually done the bad thing but has only

recognized in himself an intention to do it, he may regard himself as guilty; and

the question then arises of why the intention is regarded as equal to the deed.

Both cases, however, presuppose that one had already recognized that what is

bad is reprehensible, is something that must not be carried out. How is this

judgement arrived at? We may reject the existence of an original, as it were

natural, capacity, to distinguish good from bad. What is bad is often not at all

what is injurious or dangerous to the ego; on the contrary, it may be something

which is desirable and enjoyable to the ego. Here, therefore, there is an

extraneous influence at work, and it is this that decides what is to be called good

or bad. Since a person’s own feelings would not have led him along this path, he

must have had a motive for submitting to this extraneous influence. Such a

motive is easily discovered in his helplessness and his dependence on other

people, and it can best be designated as . fear of loss of love. If he loses the love

of another person upon whom he is dependent, he also ceases to be protected

from a variety of dangers. Above all, he is exposed to the danger that this

stronger person will show his superiority in the form of punishment. At the

beginning, therefore, what is bad is whatever causes one to be threatened with

loss of love. For fear of that loss, one must avoid it. This, too, is the reason why it

makes little difference whether one has already done the bad thing or only

intends to do it. In either case the danger only sets in if and when the authority

discovers it, and in either case the authority would behave in the same way.

This state of mind is called a ‘bad conscience’; but actually it does not deserve

this name, for at this stage the sense of guilt is clearly only a fear of loss of love,

‘social’ anxiety. In small children it can never be anything else, but in many

adults, too, it has only changed to the extent that the place of the father or the

two parents is taken by the larger human community. Consequently, such people

habitually allow themselves to do any bad thing which promises them

enjoyment, so long as they are sure that the authority will not know anything

about it or cannot blame them for it; they are afraid only of being found out.

Present-day society has to reckon in general with this state of mind.

A great change takes place only when the authority is internalized through the

establishment of a super-ego. The phenomena of conscience then reach a higher

stage. Actually, it is not until now that we should speak of conscience or a sense

of guilt. At this point, too, the fear of being found out comes to an end; the

distinction, moreover, between doing something bad and wishing to do it

disappears entirely, since nothing can be hidden from the super-ego, not even

thoughts. It is true that the seriousness of the situation from a real point of view

has passed away, for the new authority, the super-ego, has no motive that we

know of for ill-treating the ego, with which it is intimately bound up; but genetic

influence, which leads to the survival of what is past and has been surmounted,

makes itself felt in the fact that fundamentally things remain as they were at the

beginning. The super-ego torments the sinful ego with the same feeling of

anxiety and is on the watch for opportunities of getting it punished by the

external world.

At this second stage of development, the conscience exhibits a peculiarity which

was absent from the first stage and which is no longer easy to account for. For

the more virtuous a man is, the more severe and distrustful is its behaviour, so

that ultimately it is precisely those people who have carried saintliness the

furthest who reproach themselves with the worst sinfulness. This means that

virtue forfeits some part of its promised reward; the docile and continent ego

does not enjoy the trust of its mentor, and strives in vain, it would seem, to

acquire it the objection will at once be made that these difficulties are superficial

ones, and it will be said that a stricter and more vigilant conscience is precisely

the hallmark of a moral man. Moreover, when saints call themselves sinners,

they are not so wrong, considering the temptations to instinctual satisfaction to

which they are exposed in a specially high degree — since, as is well known,

temptations are merely increased by constant frustration, whereas an occasional

satisfaction of them causes them to diminish, at least for the time being. The field

of ethics, which is so full of problems, presents us with another fact: namely that

ill-luck — that is, external frustration — so greatly enhances the power of the

conscience in the super-ego. As long as things go well with a man, his conscience

is lenient and lets the ego do all sorts of things; but when misfortune befalls him,

he searches his soul, acknowledges his sinfulness, heightens the demands of his

conscience, imposes abstinences on himself and. punishes himself with penances.

Whole peoples have behaved in this way, and still do. This, however, is easily

explained by the original infantile stage of conscience, which, as we see, is not

given up after the introjection into the super-ego, but persists alongside of it and

behind it. Fate is regarded as a substitute for the parental agency. If a man is

unfortunate it means that he is no longer loved by this highest power; and,

threatened by such a loss of love, he once more bows to the parental

representative in his super-ego — a representative whom, in his days of good

fortune, he was ready to neglect. This becomes especially clear where Fate is

looked upon in the strictly religious sense of being nothing else than an

expression of the Divine Will. The people of Israel had believed themselves to be

the favourite child of God, and when the great Father caused misfortune after

misfortune to rain down upon this people of his, they were never shaken in their

belief in his relationship to them or questioned his power or righteousness,

Instead, they produced the prophets, who held up their sinfulness before them;

and out of their sense of guilt they created the over-strict commandments of their

priestly religion. It is remarkable how differently a primitive man behaves. If he

has met with a misfortune, he does not throw the blame on himself but on his

fetish, which has obviously not done its duty, and he gives it a thrashing instead

of punishing himself.

Thus we know of two origins of the sense of guilt: one arising from fear of an

authority, and the other, later on, arising from fear of the super-ego. The first

insists upon a renunciation of instinctual satisfactions; the second, as well as

doing this, presses for punishment, since the continuance of the forbidden wishes

cannot be concealed from the super-ego. We have also learned how the severity

of the super-ego — the demands of conscience — is to be understood. It is simply

a continuation of the severity of the external authority, to which it has succeeded

and which it has in part replaced. We now see in what relationship the

renunciation of instinct stands to the sense of guilt. Originally, renunciation of

instinct was the result of fear of an external authority: one renounced one’s

satisfactions in order not to lose its love. If one has carried out this renunciation,

one is, as it were, quits with the authority and no sense of guilt should remain.

But with fear of the super-ego the case is different. Here, instinctual renunciation

is not enough, for the wish persists and cannot be concealed from the super-ego.

Thus, in spite of the renunciation that has been made, a sense of guilt comes

about. This constitutes a great economic disadvantage in the erection of a super-

ego, or, as we may put it, in the formation of a conscience. Instinctual

renunciation now no longer has a completely liberating effect; virtuous

continence is no longer rewarded with the assurance of love. A threatened

external unhappiness — loss of love and punishment on the part of the external

authority — has been exchanged for a permanent internal unhappiness, for the

tension of the sense of guilt.

These interrelations are so complicated and at the same time so important that, at

the risk of repeating myself, I shall approach them from yet another angle. The

chronological sequence, then, would be as follows. First comes renunciation of

instinct owing to fear of aggression by the external authority. (This is, of course,

what fear of the loss of love amounts to, for love is a protection against this

punitive aggression.) After that comes the erection of an internal authority, and

renunciation of instinct owing to fear of it — owing to fear of conscience. In this

second situation bad intentions are equated with bad actions, and hence come a

sense of guilt and a need for punishment. The aggressiveness of conscience keeps

up the aggressiveness of the authority. So far things have no doubt been made

clear; but where does this leave room for the reinforcing influence of misfortune

(of renunciation imposed from without) and for the extraordinary severity of

conscience in the best and most tractable people? We have already explained

both these peculiarities of conscience, but we probably still have an impression

that those explanations do not go to the bottom of the matter, and leave a residue

still unexplained. And here at last an idea comes in which belongs entirely to

psycho-analysis and which is foreign to people’s ordinary way of thinking. This

idea is of a sort which enables us to understand why the subject-matter was

bound to seem so confused and obscure to us. For it tells us that conscience (or

more correctly, the anxiety which later becomes conscience) is indeed the cause

of instinctual renunciation to begin with, but that later the relationship is

reversed. Every renunciation of instinct now becomes a dynamic source of

conscience and every fresh renunciation increases the latter’s severity and

intolerance. If we could only bring it better into harmony with what we already

know about the history of the origin of conscience, we should be tempted to

defend the paradoxical statement that confidence is the result of instinctual

renunciation, or that instinctual renunciation (imposed on us from without)

creates conscience, which then demands further instinctual renunciation.

The contradiction between this statement and what we have previously said

about the genesis of conscience is in point of fact not so very great, and we see a

way of further reducing it. In order to make our exposition easier, let us take as

our example the aggressive instinct, and let us assume that the renunciation in

question is always a renunciation of aggression. (This, of course, is only to be

taken as a temporary assumption.) The effect of instinctual renunciation on the

conscience then is that every piece of aggression whose satisfaction the subject

gives up is taken over by the super-ego and increases the latter’s aggressiveness

(against the ego) . This does not harmonize well with the view that the original

aggressiveness of conscience is a continuance of the severity of the external

authority and therefore has nothing to do with renunciation. But the discrepancy

is removed if we postulate a different derivation for this first instalment of the

super-ego’s aggressivity. A considerable amount of aggressiveness must be

developed in the child against the authority which prevents him from having his

first, but none the less his most important, satisfactions, whatever the kind of

instinctual deprivation that is demanded of him may be; but he is obliged to

renounce the satisfaction of this revengeful aggressiveness. He finds his way out

of this economically difficult situation with the help of familiar mechanisms. By

means of identification he takes the unattackable authority into himself. The

authority now turns into his super-ego and enters into possession of all the

aggressiveness which a child would have liked to exercise against it. The child’s

ego has to content itself with the unhappy role of the authority — the father —

who has been thus degraded. Here, as so often, the [real] situation is reversed: ‘If

I were the father and you were the child, I should treat you badly’. The

relationship between the super-ego and the ego is a return, distorted by a wish,

of the real relationships between the ego, as yet undivided, and an external

object. That is typical, too. But the essential difference is that the original severity

of the super-ego does not — or does not so much — represent the severity which

one has experienced from it [the object], or which one attributes to it; it

represents rather one’s own aggressiveness towards it. If this is correct, we may

assert truly that in the beginning conscience arises through the suppression of an

aggressive impulse, and that it is subsequently reinforced by fresh suppressions

of the same kind.

Which of these two views is correct? The earlier one, which genetically seemed

so unassailable, or the newer one, which rounds off the theory in such a welcome

fashion? Clearly, and by the evidence, too, of direct observations, both are

justified. They do not contradict each other, and they even coincide at one point,

for the child’s revengeful aggressiveness will be in part determined by the

amount of punitive aggression which he expects from his father. Experience

shows, however, that the severity of the super-ego which a child develops in no

way corresponds to the severity of treatment which he has himself met with. The

severity of the former seems to be independent of that of the latter. A child who

has been very leniently brought up can acquire a very strict conscience. But it

would also be wrong to exaggerate this independence; it is not difficult to

convince oneself that severity of upbringing does also exert a strong influence on

the formation of the child’s super-ego. What it amounts to is that in the

formation of the super-ego and the emergence of a conscience innate

constitutional factors and , influences from the real environment act in

combination. This is not at all surprising; on the contrary, it is a universal

aetiological condition for all such processes.

It can also be asserted that when a child reacts to his first great instinctual

frustrations with excessively strong aggressiveness and with a correspondingly

severe super-ego, he is following a phylogenetic model and is going beyond the

response that would be currently justified; for the father of prehistoric times was

undoubtedly terrible, and an extreme amount of aggressiveness may be

attributed to him. Thus, if one shifts over from individual to phylogenetic

development, the differences between the two theories of the genesis of

conscience are still further diminished. On the other hand, a new and important

difference makes its appearance between these two developmental processes. We

cannot get away from the assumption that man’s sense of guilt springs from the

Oedipus complex and was acquired at the killing of the father by the brothers

banded together. On that occasion an act of aggression was not suppressed but

carried out; but it was the same act of aggression whose suppression in the child

is supposed to be the source of his sense of guilt. At this point I should not be

surprised if the reader were to exclaim angrily: ‘so it makes no difference

whether one kills one’s father or not — one gets a feeling of guilt in either case!’

We may take leave to raise a few doubts here. Either it is not true that the sense

of guilt comes from suppressed aggressiveness, or else the whole story of the

killing of the father is a fiction and the children of primaeval man did not kill

their fathers any more often than children do nowadays. Besides, if it is not

fiction but a plausible piece of history, it would be a case of something

happening which everyone expects to happen — namely, of a person feeling

guilty because he really has done something which cannot be justified. And of

this event, which is after all an everyday occurrence, psycho-analysis has not yet

given any explanation.

That is true, and we must make good the omission. Nor is there any great secret

about the matter. When one has a sense of guilt after having committed a

misdeed, and because of it, the feeling should more properly be called remorse. It

relates only to a deed that has been done, and, of course, it presupposes that a

conscience — the readiness to feel guilty — was already in existence before the

deed took place. Remorse of this sort can, therefore, never help us to discover the

origin of conscience and of the sense of guilt in general. What happens in these

everyday cases is usually this: an instinctual need acquires the strength to

achieve satisfaction in spite of the conscience, which is, after all, limited in its

strength; and with the natural weakening of the need owing to its having been

satisfied, the former balance of power is restored. Psycho-analysis is thus

justified in excluding from the present discussion the case of a sense of guilt due

to remorse, however frequently such cases occur and however great their

practical importance.

But if the human sense of guilt goes back to the killing of the primal father, that

was after all a case of ‘remorse’. Are we to assume that [at that time] a conscience

and a sense of guilt were not, as we have presupposed, in existence before the

deed? If not, where, in this case, did the remorse come from? There is no doubt

that this case should explain the secret of the sense of guilt to us and put an end

to our difficulties. And I believe it does. This remorse was the result of the

primordial ambivalence of feeling towards the father. His sons hated him, but

they loved him, too. After their hatred had been satisfied by their act of

aggression, their love came to the fore in their remorse for the deed. It set up the

super-ego by identification with the father; it gave that agency the father’s

power, as though as a punishment for the deed of aggression they had carried

out against him, and it created the restrictions which were intended, to prevent a

repetition of the deed. And since the inclination to aggressiveness against the

father was repeated in the following generations, the sense of guilt, too,

persisted, and it was reinforced once more by every piece of aggressiveness that

was suppressed and carried over to the super-ego. Now, I think, we can at last

grasp two things perfectly clearly: the part played by love in the origin of

conscience and the fatal inevitability of the sense of guilt. Whether one has killed

one’s father or has abstained from doing so is not really the decisive thing. One is

bound to feel guilty in either case, for the sense of guilt is an expression of the

conflict due to ambivalence, of the eternal struggle between Eros and the instinct

of destruction or death. This conflict is set going as soon as men are faced with

the task of living together. So long as the community assumes no other form than

that of the family, the conflict is bound to express itself in the Oedipus complex,

to establish the conscience and to create the first sense of guilt. When an attempt

is made to widen the community, the same conflict is continued in forms which

are dependent on the put; and it if strengthened and results in a further

intensification of the sense of guilt. 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. What began in relation to the father is completed in relation to the group. If

civilization is a necessary course of development from the family to humanity as

a whole, then— as a result of the inborn conflict arising from ambivalence, of the

eternal struggle between the trends of love and death — there is inextricably

bound up with it an increase of the sense of guilt, which will perhaps reach

heights that the individual finds hard to tolerate. One is reminded of the great

poet’s moving arraignment of the ‘Heavenly Powers’: —

Ihr führt in’s Leben uns hinein.

Ihr lasst den Armen schuldig werden,

Dann überlasst Ihr ihn den Pein,

Denn jede Schuld rächt sich auf Erden.

[To the earth, this weary earth, ye bring us

To guilt ye let us heedless go,

Then leave repentance fierce to wring us:

A moment’s guilt, an age of woe!]

And we may well heave a sigh of relief at the thought that it is nevertheless

vouchsafed to a few to salvage without effort from the whirlpool of their own

feelings the deepest truths, towards which the rest of us have to find our way

through tormenting uncertainty and with restless groping.


Having reached the end of his journey, the author must ask his readers’

forgiveness for not having been a more skilful guide and for not having spared

them empty stretches of road and troublesome detours. There is no doubt that it

could have been done better. I will, attempt, late in the day, to make some


In the first place, I suspect that the reader has the impression that our discussions

on the sense of guilt disrupt the framework of this essay: that they take up too

much space, so that the rest of its subject-matter, with which they are not always

closely connected, is pushed to one side. 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.* Anything that still sounds strange

about that statement, which is the final conclusion of our investigation, can

probably be traced to the quite peculiar relationship — as yet completely

unexplained — which the sense of guilt has to our consciousness. ln the common

case of remorse, which we regard as normal, this feeling makes itself clearly

enough perceptible to consciousness. Indeed, we are accustomed to speak of a

‘consciousness of guilt’ instead of

*[‘Thus conscience does make cowards of us all …’

That the education of young people at the present day conceals from them the part which

sexuality will play in their lives is not the only reproach which we are obliged to make

against it. Its other sin is that it does not prepare them for the aggressiveness of which

they are destined to become the objects. In sending the young out into life with such a

false psychological orientation, education is behaving as though one were to equip people

starting on a Polar expedition with summer clothing and maps of the Italian Lakes. In this

it becomes evident that a certain misuse is being made of ethical demands. The strictness

of those demands would not do so much harm if education were to say: ‘This is how men

ought to be, in order to be happy and to make others happy; but you have to reckon on

their not being like that.’ Instead of this the young are made to believe that everyone else

fulfils those ethical demands — that is, that everyone else is virtuous. It is on this that the

demand is based that the young, too, shall become virtuous.]

a ‘sense of guilt’. Our study of the neuroses, to which, after all, we owe the most

valuable pointers to an understanding of normal conditions, brings us up against

some contradictions. In one of those affections, obsessional neurosis, the sense of

guilt makes itself noisily heard in consciousness; it dominates the clinical picture

and the patient’s life as well, and it hardly allows anything else to appear

alongside of it. But in most other cases and forms of neurosis it remains

completely unconscious, without on that account producing any less important

effects. Our patients do not believe us when we attribute an ‘unconscious sense

of guilt’ to them. In order to make ourselves at all intelligible to them, we tell

them of an unconscious need for punishment, in which the sense of guilt finds

expression . But its connection with a particular form of neurosis must not be

over-estimated. Even in obsessional neurosis there are types of patients who are

not aware of their sense of guilt, or who only feel it as a tormenting uneasiness, a

kind of anxiety, if they are prevented from carrying out certain actions. It ought

to be possible eventually to understand these things; but as yet we cannot. Here

perhaps we may be glad to have it pointed out that the sense of guilt is at bottom

nothing else but a topographical variety of anxiety; in its later phases it coincides

completely with fear of the super-ego. And the relations of anxiety to consciousness

exhibit the same extraordinary variations. Anxiety is always present somewhere

or other behind every symptom; but at one time it takes noisy possession of the

whole of consciousness, while at another it conceals itself so completely that we

are obliged to speak of unconscious anxiety or, if we want to have a clearer

psychological conscience, since anxiety is in the first instance simply a feeling, a

of possibilities of anxiety. Consequently it is very conceivable that the sense of

guilt produced by civilization is not perceived as such either and remains to a

large extent unconscious, or appears as a sort of malaise, a dissatisfaction, for

which people seek other motivations. Religions at any rate, have never

overlooked the part played in civilization by a sense of guilt. Furthermore — a

point which I failed to appreciate elsewhere — they claim to redeem mankind

from this sense of guilt, which they call sin. From the manner in which, in

Christianity, this redemption is achieved — by the sacrificial death of a single

person, who in this manner takes upon himself a guilt that is common to

everyone we have been able to infer what the first occasion may have been on

which this primal guilt, which was also the beginning of civilization, was


Though it cannot be of great importance, it may not be superfluous to elucidate

the meaning of a few words such as ‘super-ego’, ‘conscience’, ‘sense of guilt’,

‘need for punishment’ and ‘remorse’, which we have often, perhaps, used too

loosely and interchangeably. They all relate to the same state of affairs, but

denote different aspects of it. The super-ego is an agency which has been inferred

by us, and conscience is a function which we ascribe, among other functions, to

that agency. This function consists in keeping a watch over the actions and

intentions of the ego and judging them, in exercising at censorship. The sense of

guilt, the harshness of the super-ego, is thus the same thing as the severity of the

conscience. It is the perception which the ego has of being watched over in this

way, the assessment of the tension between its own strivings and the demands of

the super-ego. The fear of this critical agency (a fear which is at the bottom of the

whole relationship), the need for punishment, is an instinctual manifestation on

tile part of the ego, which has become masochistic under the influence of a

sadistic super-ego; it is a portion, that is to say, of the instinct towards internal

destruction present in the ego, employed for forming an erotic attachment to the

super-ego. We ought not to speak of a conscience until a super-ego is

demonstrably present. As to a sense of guilt, we must admit that it is in existence

before the super-ego, and therefore before conscience, too. At that time it is the

immediate expression of fear of the external authority, a recognition of the

tension between the ego and that authority. It is the direct derivative of the

conflict between the need for the authority’s love and the urge towards

instinctual satisfaction, whose inhibition produces the inclination to aggression.

The superimposition of these two strata of the sense of guilt — one coming from

fear of the external authority, the other from fear of the internal authority — has

hampered our insight into the position of conscience in a number of ways.

Remorse is a general term for the ego’s reaction in a case of sense of guilt. It

contains, in little altered form, the sensory material of the anxiety which is

operating behind the sense of guilt; it is itself a punishment and can include the

need for punishment. Thus remorse, too, can be older than conscience.

Nor will it do any harm if we once more review the contradictions which have

for a while perplexed us during our enquiry. Thus, at one point the sense of guilt

was the consequence of acts of aggression that had been abstained from; but at

another point — and precisely at its historical beginning, the killing of the father

— it was the consequence of an act of aggression that had been carried out. But a

way out of this difficulty was found. For the institution of the internal authority,

the super-ego, altered the situation radically. Before this, the sense of guilt

coincided with remorse. (We may remark, incidentally, that the term ‘remorse’

should be reserved for the reaction after an act of aggression has actually been

carried out’ ) After this, owing to the omniscience of the super-ego, the difference

between an aggression intended and an aggression carried out lost its force.

Henceforward a sense of guilt could be produced not only by an act of violence

that is actually carried out (as all the world knows), but also by one that is merely

intended (as psycho-analysis has discovered). Irrespectively of this alteration in

the psychological situation, the conflict arising from ambivalence — the conflict

between the two primal instincts — leaves the same result behind. We are

tempted to look here for the solution of the problem of the varying relation in

which the sense of guilt stands to consciousness. It might be thought that a sense

of guilt arising from remorse for an evil deed must always be conscious, whereas

a sense of guilt arising from the perception of an evil impulse may remain

unconscious. But the answer is not so simple as that. Obsessional neurosis speaks

energetically against it.

The second contradiction concerned the aggressive energy with which we

suppose the super-ego to be endowed. According to one view, that energy

merely carries on the punitive energy of the external authority and keeps it alive

in the mind; while, according to another view, it consists, on the contrary, of

one’s own aggressive energy which has not been used and which one now

directs against that inhibiting authority. The first view seemed to fit in better

with the history, and the second with the theory of the sense of guilt. Closer

selection has resolved this apparently irreconcilable contradiction almost too

completely; what remained as the essential and common factor was that in each

case we were dealing with an aggressiveness which had been displaced inwards.

Clinical observation, moreover, allows us in fact to distinguish two sources for

the aggressiveness which we attribute to the super-ego; one or the other of them

exercises the stronger effect in any given case, but as a general rule they operate

in unison.

This is, I think, the place at which to put forward for serious consideration a view

which I have earlier recommended for provisional acceptance. In the most recent

analytic literature a predilection is shown for the idea that any kind of

frustration, any thwarted instinctual satisfaction, results, or may result, in a

heightening of the sense of guilt. A great theoretical simplification will, I think,

be achieved if we regard this as applying only to the aggressive instincts, and

little will be found to contradict this assumption. For how are we to account, on

dynamic and economic grounds, for an increase in the sense of guilt appearing in

place of an unfulfilled erotic demand? This only seems possible in a round-about

way — if we suppose, that is, that the prevention of art 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 super-ego. I am convinced

that many processes will admit of a simpler and clearer exposition if the findings

of psycho-analysis with regard to the derivation of the sense of guilt are

restricted to the aggressive instincts. Examination of the clinical material gives us

no unequivocal answer here, because, as our hypothesis tells us, the two classes

of instinct hardly ever appear in a pure form, isolated from each other; but an

investigation of extreme cases would probably point in the direction I anticipate.

I am tempted to extract a first advantage from this more restricted view of the

case by applying it to the process of repression. As we have learned, neurotic

symptoms are, in their essence, substitutive satisfactions for unfulfilled sexual

wishes. In the course of our analytic work we have discovered to our surprise

that perhaps every neurosis conceals a quota of unconscious sense of guilt, which

in its turn fortifies the symptoms by making use of them as a punishment. It now

seems plausible to formulate the following proposition. When an instinctual

trend undergoes repression, its libidinal elements are turned into symptoms, and

its aggressive components into a sense of guilt. Even if this proposition is only an

average approximation to the truth, it is worthy of our interest.

Some readers of this work may further have an impression that they have heard

the formula of the struggle between Eros and the death instinct too often. It was

alleged to characterize the process of civilization which mankind undergoes but

it was also brought into connection with the development of the individual, and,

in addition, it was said to have revealed the secret of organic life in general. We

cannot, I think, avoid going into the relations of these three processes to one

another. The repetition of the same formula is justified by the consideration that

both the process of human civilization and of the development of the individual

are also vital processes — which is to say that they must share in the most

general characteristic of life. On the other hand, evidence of the presence of this

general characteristic fails, for the very reason of its general nature, to help us to

arrive at any differentiation [between the processes], so long as it is not narrowed

down by special qualifications. We can only be satisfied, therefore, if we assert

that the process of civilization is a modification which the vital process

experiences under the influence of a task that is set it by Eros and instigated by

Ananke — by the exigencies of reality; and that this task is one of uniting

separate individuals into a community bound together by libidinal ties. When,

however, we look at the relation between the process of human civilization and

the developmental or educative process of individual human beings, we shall

conclude without much hesitation that the two are very similar in nature, if not

the very same process applied to different kinds of object. The process of the

civilization of the human species is, of course, an abstraction of a higher order

than is the development of the individual and it is therefore harder to apprehend

in concrete terms, nor should we pursue analogies to an obsessional extreme; but

in view of the similarity between the aims of the two processes — in the one case

the integration of a separate individual into a human group, and in the other case

the creation of a unified group out of many individuals — we cannot be

surprised at the similarity between the means employed and the resultant


In view of its exceptional importance, we must not long postpone the mention of

one feature which distinguishes between the two processes. In the

developmental process of the individual, the programme of the pleasure

principle, which consists in finding the satisfaction of happiness, is retained as

the main aim. Integration in, or adaptation to, a human community appears as a

scarcely avoidable condition which must be fulfilled before this aim of happiness

can be achieved. If it could be done without that condition, it would perhaps be

preferable. To put it in other words, the development of the individual seems to

us to be a product of the interaction between two urges, the urge towards

happiness, which we usually call ‘egoistic’, and the urge towards union with

others in the community, which we call ‘altruistic’. Neither of these descriptions

goes much below the surface. In the process of individual development, as we

have said, the main accent falls mostly on the egoistic urge (or the urge towards

happiness); while the other urge, which may be described as a ‘cultural’ one, is

usually content with the role of imposing restrictions. But in the process of

civilization things are different. Here by far the most important thing is the aim

of creating a unity out of the individual human beings. It is true that the aim of

happiness is still there, but it is pushed into the background. It almost seems as if

the creation of a great human community would be most successful if no

attention had to be paid to the happiness of the individual. The developmental

process of the individual can thus be expected to have special features of its own

which are not reproduced in the process of human civilization. It is only in so far

as the first of these processes has union with the community as its aim that it

need coincide with the second process.

Just as a planet revolves around a central body as well as rotating on its own

axis, so the human individual takes part in the course of development of

mankind at the same time as he pursues his own path in life. But to our dull eyes

the play of forces in the heavens seems fixed in a never-changing order; in the

field of organic life we can still see how the forces contend with one another, and

how the effects of the conflict are continually changing. So, also, the two urges,

the one towards personal happiness and the other towards union with other

human beings must struggle with each other in every individual; and so, also,

the two processes of individual and of cultural development must stand in

hostile opposition to each other and mutually dispute the ground But this

struggle between the individual and society is not a derivative of the

contradiction — probably an irreconcilable one — between the primal instincts of

Eros and death. It is a dispute within the economics of the libido, comparable to

the contest concerning the distribution of libido between ego and objects; and it

does admit of an eventual accommodation in the individual, as, it may be hoped,

it will also do in the future of civilization, however much that civilization may

oppress the life of the individual to-day.

The analogy between the process of civilization and the path of individual

development may be extended in an important respect It can he asserted that the

community, too, evolves a super-ego .under whose influence cultural

development proceeds. It would be a tempting task for anyone who has a

knowledge of human civilizations to follow out this analogy in detail. I will

confine myself to bringing forward a few striking points. The super-ego of an

epoch of civilization has an origin similar to that of an individual. It is based on

the impression left behind by the personalities of great leaders — men of

overwhelming force of mind or men in whom one of the human impulsions has

found its strongest and purest, and therefore often its most one-sided,

expression. In many instances the analogy goes still further, in that during their

lifetime these figures were — often enough, even if not always — mocked and

maltreated by others and even despatched in a cruel fashion. In the same way,

indeed, the primal father did not attain divinity until long after he had met his

death by violence. The most arresting example of this fateful conjunction is to be

seen in the figure of Jesus Christ — if, indeed, that figure is not a part of

mythology, which called it into being from an obscure memory of that primal

event. Another point of agreement between the cultural and the individual

super-ego is that the former, just like the latter, sets up strict ideal demands,

disobedience to which is visited with ‘fear of conscience’. Here, indeed, we come

across the remarkable circumstance that the mental processes concerned are

actually more familiar to us and more accessible to consciousness as they are

seen in the group than they can be in the individual man. In him, when tension

arises, it is only the aggressiveness of the super-ego which, in the form of

reproaches, makes itself noisily heard; its actual demands often remain

unconscious in the background. If we bring them to conscious knowledge, we

find that they coincide with the precepts of the prevailing cultural super-ego. At

this point the two processes, that of the cultural development of the group and

that of the cultural development of the individual, are, as it were, always

interlocked. For that reason some of the manifestations and properties of the

super-ego can be more easily detected in its behaviour in the cultural community

than in the separate individual.

The cultural super-ego has developed its ideals and set up its demands. Among

the latter, those which deal with the relations of human beings to one another are

comprised under the heading of ethics. People have at all times set the greatest

value on ethics, as though they expected that it in particular would produce

especially important results. And it does in fact deal with a subject which can

easily be recognized as the sorest spot in every civilization. Ethics is thus to be

regarded as a therapeutic attempt — as an endeavour to achieve, by means of a

command of the super-ego, something which has so far not been achieved by

means of any other cultural activities. As we already know, the problem before

us is how to get rid of the greatest hindrance to civilization — namely, the

constitutional inclination of human beings to be aggressive towards one another;

and for that very reason we are especially interested in what is probably the most

recent of the cultural commands of the super-ego, the commandment to love

one’s neighbour as oneself. In our research into, and therapy of, a neurosis, we

are led to make two reproaches against the super-ego of the individual. In the

severity of its commands and prohibitions it troubles itself too little about the

happiness of the ego, in that it takes insufficient account of the resistance against

obeying them — of the instinctual strength of the id [in the first place], and of the

difficulties presented by the real external environment [in the second].

Consequently we are very often obliged, for therapeutic purposes, to oppose the

super-ego, and we endeavour to lower its demands. Exactly the same objections

can be made against the ethical demands of the cultural super-ego. It, too, does

not trouble itself enough about the facts of the mental constitution of human

beings. It issues a command and does not ask whether it is possible for people to

obey it. On the contrary, it assumes that a man’s ego is psychologically capable of

anything that is required of it, that his ego has unlimited mastery over his id.

This is a mistake; and even in what are known as normal people the id cannot be

controlled beyond certain limits. If more is demanded of a man, a revolt will be

produced in him or a neurosis, or he will be made unhappy. The commandment,

‘Love thy neighbour as thyself,’ the strongest defence against human

aggressiveness and an excellent example of the unpsychological proceedings of

the cultural super-ego. The commandment is impossible to fulfil; such an

enormous inflation of love can only lower its value, not get rid of the difficulty.

Civilization pays no attention to all this; it merely admonishes us that the harder

it is to obey the precept the more meritorious it is to do so. But anyone who

follows such a precept in present-day civilization only puts himself at a

disadvantage vis-a-vis the person who disregards it. What a potent obstacle to

civilization aggressiveness must be, if the defence against it can cause as much

unhappiness as aggressiveness itself! ‘Natural’ ethics, as it is called, has nothing

to offer here except the narcissistic satisfaction of being able to think oneself

better than others. At this point the ethics based on religion introduces its

promises of a better after-life. But so long as virtue is not rewarded here on earth,

ethics will, I fancy, preach in vain. I too think it quite certain that a real change in

the relations of human beings to possessions would be of more help in this

direction than any ethical commands; but the recognition of this fact among

socialists has been obscured and made useless for practical purposes by a fresh

idealistic misconception of human nature.

I believe the line of thought which seeks to trace in the phenomena of cultural

development the part played by a super-ego promises still further discoveries. I

hasten to come to a close. But there is one question which I can hardly evade. If

the development of civilization has such a far-reaching similarity to the

development of the individual and if it employs the same methods, may we not

be justified in reaching the diagnosis that, under the influence of cultural urges,

some civilizations, or some epochs of civilization — possibly the whole of

mankind — have become ‘neurotic’? An analytic dissection of such neuroses

might lead to therapeutic recommendations which could lay claim to great

practical interest. I would not say that an attempt of this kind to carry psycho-

analysis over to the cultural community was absurd or doomed to be fruitless.

But we should have to be very cautious and not forget that, after all, we are only

dealing with analogies and that it is dangerous, not only with men but also with

concepts, to tear them from the sphere in which they have originated and been

evolved. Moreover, the diagnosis of communal neuroses is faced with a special

difficulty. In an individual neurosis we take as our starting-point the contrast

that distinguishes the patient from his environment, which is assumed to be

‘normal’. For a group all of whose members are affected by one and the same

disorder no such background could exist; it would have to be found elsewhere.

And as regards the therapeutic application of our knowledge, what would be the

use of the most correct analysis of social neuroses, since no one possesses

authority to impose such a therapy upon the group? But in spite of all these

difficulties, we may expect that one day someone will venture to embark upon a

pathology of cultural communities.

For a wide variety of reasons, it is very far from my intention to express an

opinion upon the value of human civilization. I have endeavoured to guard

myself against the enthusiastic prejudice which holds that our civilization is the

most precious tiling that we possess or could acquire and that its path will

necessarily lead to heights of unimagined perfection. I can at least listen without

indignation to the critic who is of the opinion that when one surveys the aims of

cultural endeavour and the means it employs, one is bound to come to the

conclusion that the whole effort is not worth the trouble, and that the outcome of

it can only be a state of affairs which the individual will be unable to tolerate. My

impartiality is made all the easier to me by my knowing very little about all these

things. One thing only do I know for certain and that is that man’s judgements of

value follow directly his wishes for happiness — that, accordingly, they are an

attempt to support his illusions with arguments. I should find it very

understandable if someone were to point out the obligatory nature of the course

of human civilization and were to say, for instance, that the tendencies to a

restriction of sexual life or to the institution of a humanitarian ideal at the

expense of natural selection were developmental trends which cannot be averted

or turned aside and to which it is best for us to yield as though they were

necessities of nature. I know, too, the objection that can be made against this, to

the effect that in the history of mankind, trends such as these, which were

considered unsurmountable, have often been thrown aside and replaced by other

trends. Thus I have not the courage to rise up before my fellow-men as a

prophet, and I bow to their reproach that I can offer them no consolation: for at

bottom that is what they are all demanding — the wildest revolutionaries no less

passionately than the most virtuous believers.

The fateful question for the human species seems to me to be whether and to

what extent their cultural development will succeed in mastering the disturbance

of their communal life by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction.

It may be that in this respect precisely the present time deserves a special

interest. Men have gained control over the forces of nature to such an extent that

with their help they would have no 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. And now it is to be expected that

the other of the two ‘Heavenly Powers’, eternal Eros, will make an effort to assert

himself in the struggle with his equally immortal adversary. But who can foresee

with what success and with what result?*

*[The final sentence was added in 1931 — when the menace of Hitler was already beginning to be


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