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Freud's civilization revisited in the nuclear age

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The purpose of this paper is to re-examine the views of Freud in his Civilization and its Discontents and compare his idea of civilization with that of other scholars in order to determine if we will ever be able to create a society which will endure in these days of nuclear power. The dangers to humanity are great, the solution difficult to see. Freud emphasized self-interest and aggressiveness as the failings in man which would lead to the collapse of civilization, summed up in the Latin tag: homo homine lupus. Freud rejected out of hand religion as a remedy for man's aggressiveness. This view of civilization is compared with that of Albert Schweitzer in his The Philosophy of Civilization. Schweitzer sees the enduring society as one in which man has become ethical and thereby dedicated himself to the good of society and in so doing shows a reverence for life. This study then examines the view of Ortega y Gasset, who finds in The Revolt of the Masses the success of society to lie in the efforts of men of talent, select men who have dedicated themselves to the advancement of society in accordance with the old adage, noblesse oblige. Finally we examine the Civilisation of Kenneth Clark, which is concerned with man's development in the arts as he removes himself farther and farther from the state of the savage. The views of Arnold Toynbee on civilization are examined. Toynbee finds that our civilization, Western Christendom, will play an ever decreasing role in the global society. Toynbee also fears the coming of a nuclear holocaust but is confident there will be survivors. The possibility of a nuclear war attests the aggressiveness of man. Finally, to illustrate the evil effects of nuclear power, a brief glance is taken at the horrors that overtook the citizens of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when they were the targets of the atomic bomb in 1945. The only feasible solution to this grave problem appears to be a nuclear-weapon-free world. Even then the world is not safe from the aggressive nature of some rogue nation which seeks to take advantage of such a situation and dominate the world. This contingency is commonly referred to as the genie is out of the bottle. The number of genies increased when North Korea, India and Pakistan claimed the addition of nuclear weapons to their arsenal. Man has to control his fellow man's urge to advance his self-interest at any cost, if we are to endure. As Freud in his perspicacity put it: homo homine lupus.
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Keywords: Ethics; Nuclear Industry; Psychology; Society

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2001-05-23

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