Freud: A Critical Re-Evaluation of His Theories

By Reuben D. Fine | Go to book overview

Chapter XIII. THE STRUCTURE OF SOCIETY

After World War I Freud returned to some of the philosophical issues that had intrigued him in his youth but that he had been forced to put aside. He now attempted to extend his system to the broader problems of civilization.

Freud's views on culture contain a number of profound insights that are still the subject of much controversy. Unfortunately, the commonly drawn dichotomy between "biological" and the "cultural" positions serves merely to confuse the issues. In order to understand what Freud really had to say it is necessary to follow his development historically. (See above, pp. 82-91.)

It has been argued that Freud generalized too much from the particular type middle-class patients whom he saw, and that sexual repression is confined to the middle classes while sexual release is to be found in the lower classes. Oddly enough, this view was expressed by Freud himself before he became a neurologist. In a letter to his fiancée he says:

The mob give vent to their impulses, and we deprive ourselves...this habit of constant suppression of natural instincts gives us the character of refinement.... There is a psychology of the common man which is somewhat different from ours.156

This early position was maintained by Freud throughout his analytic career. In the paper " 'Civilized' Sexual Morality and Modern Nervousness," 1908, he wrote:

...the injurious influence of civilization reduces itself in the main to the harmful suppression of the sexual life of civilized peoples [or classes] through the "civilized" sexual morality prevalent in them.157

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