Freud’s Illusions. A review of The Future of an Illusion, by Sigmund Freud, trans. W. D. Robson-Scott
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[ 551 Freud’s Illusions A review of The Future of an Illusion, by Sigmund Freud, trans. W. D. Robson-Scott International Psycho-analytical Library, No. 15. London: Hogarth Press, 1928. Pp. 98. The Criterion: A Literary Review, 8 (Dec 1928) 350-53 This is undoubtedly one of the most curious and interesting books of the season: Dr. Freud’s brief summary of his views on the future of Religion. We can hardly qualify it by anything but negatives; it has little to do with the past or the present of religion, and nothing, so far as I can see, with its future. It is shrewd and yet stupid; the stupidity appears not so much in historical ignorance or lack of sympathy with the religious attitude, as in verbal vagueness and inability to reason. The book testifies to the fact that the genius of experimental science is not necessarily joined with the genius of logic or the generalizing power.1 What we may call Dr. Freud’s innocence breaks out almost on the first page: Human culture – I mean by that all those respects in which human life has raised itself above animal conditions and in which it differs from the life of the beasts, and I disdain to separate culture and civilization – presents, as is well known, two aspects to the observer. It includes on the one hand all the knowledge and power that men have acquired in order to master the forces of nature and win resources from her for the satisfaction of human needs; and on the other hand it includes all the necessary arrangements whereby men’s relations to each other, and in particular the distribution of the attainable riches, may be regulated. [8-9] This appears to be by way of a definition; at any rate it is as near to a definition of “culture” as we get. It is oddly inadequate and even circular. Human culture is “all those respects” in which human life differs from brute life, we are told; but surely what we must first ask, to define human culture, is in what ways is the human different from the animal. Human culture then “includes” knowledge and power; we are left in doubt as to whether 1928 552 ] “includes” means “equals” or perhaps means “depends upon.” Knowledge and power win resources from nature for the satisfaction of human needs: but what we want to know is precisely what are human needs, before we can know much about culture. Finally, human culture “includes” again what seems to mean political and economic organization. This does not get us very far; and if that is all there is to culture and civilization, culture and civilization do not amount to much. So far as culture means merely social organization, then Dr. Freud’s next remarks, on the necessity of defending culture against the individual, are quite just. But this leads him to the view that culture and civilization are always “imposed” upon the many by the few – which is only intelligible if we continue to restrict culture to the maintenance of law and order, and not altogether true at that. But we are helplessly bewildered on the next page (11) where we read that one thought at first that the essence of culture lay in the conquest of nature for the means of supporting life, and in eliminating the dangers that threaten culture by the suitable distribution of these among mankind . . . If one really thought that the essence of culture lay in eliminating the dangers that threaten culture, then there must be something very wrong with one’s reasoning powers. I can feel only stupefaction on reading such a course of argument. And throughout this first chapter, one has the impression that the truly cultured and civilized man is the highly efficient Policeman. Dr. Freud observes with a sigh that “probably a certain percentage of mankind . . . will always remain asocial” [14]. The word “asocial” has perhaps some deep psychological meaning beyond my comprehension; but it seems to me that some contributions have been made to what I call civilization by men who have been solitaries or rebels. Dr. Freud’s baffling notion of culture keeps turning up. Later we hear that “it is the principal task of culture, its real raison d’être, to defend us against nature”; and again we are not told what is us and what is nature [26]. But “the preservation of mankind against nature” is “the great common task” [27]. Surely Dr...


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