Summary of Chapter VIII
The sense of guilt is the most important problem of civilization. It is the price we pay for an advanced culture—loss of happiness. In an obsession neurosis, the sense of guilt dominates and there is an unconscious need for punishment. Freud discusses the role of a religion like Christianity where a sacrificial figure (Christ) takes the punishment to relieve the primal sense of guilt. Freud locates guilt as being present even before the formation of the superego or conscience, as a tension between ego and authority. He discusses the question of whether the energy of the superego comes as the punishment of authority simply carried on by the person's own mind, or whether the superego is one's own aggressive energy turned against the source of inhibition. In either case, it is an aggression displaced inwardly.
For the individual, the main drive is the urge to make the ego happy. In civilization, however, the most important goal is to make a unity of many, and so individual happiness is pushed into the background. Everyone has two urges—to satisfy oneself, and to be in union with others. Often these are opposed.
The cultural superego has issued a demand for people to love their neighbors as themselves in order to curb aggression, yet it does not take into account whether people can fulfill this dictate. Freud concludes it is an impossible ideal. The guilt people carry trying to live up to the cultural superego leads to neuroses. Humans now have the possibility to exterminate each other, and civilization is left with the twin menaces of aggression and self-destruction from neurotic guilt.
Commentary on Chapter VIII
This concluding chapter is pessimistic about the chance of the human race to solve the problems of civilization. World War II began within a decade of the publication of Freud’s book, and made it seem Freud's worst fears were realized. Yet he notes that it has happened in history that one trend has been thrown aside for another trend. Many thinkers took up Freud's questions about civilization after the war to determine if there was a way around the obstacles, and this is still being debated.