Like Essay on the History of Civil Society, Civilization and its Discontents seems to be a reflection on the state of modern society and an attempt to understand the progress toward civilized society as parallel to the nature of man. Although both texts reflect the individual as having dual characteristics, both benevolence and aggression, Ferguson tends to focus on the benevolence of man as the stronger of the two and that man’s tendency towards violence also has the potential for positivity, while Freud seems to place equal importance on both and the end result is ultimately negative.
Freud’s view of civilization is in very much individualistic; everything revolves around and is influenced by the individual. Although, he does mention some social influences, they are not significant sources of progress towards civilization but are simply offspring of the civilized state as an attempt towards individual happiness. Freud writes that “necessity alone, the advantages of work in common, will not hold [man] together;”he continues to emphasize man as having the need to be “libidinally bound together,” yet this also seems to be the source of man’s misery. In the end, the individual’s constant struggle between life preservation, love, benevolence and death, aggression, violence is what darkly comprises civilization. Freud writes:
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 and 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. (82)
As we have read, civilization’s key feature is that it is not an end result but an evolution of man, a continual progression. Progression towards what?—Perhaps towards nothing more than the continued.