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The future of illusion

This psychological fact has a decisive importance for our judgement of human civilization.
Whereas we might at first think that its essence lies in controlling nature for the purpose of
acquiring wealth and that the dangers which threaten it could be eliminated through a suitable
distribution of that wealth among men, it now seems that the emphasis has moved over from the
material to the mental. The decisive question is whether and to what extent it is possible to lessen
the burden of the instinctual sacrifices imposed on men, to reconcile men to those which must
necessarily remain and to provide a compensation for them. It is just as impossible to do without
control of the mass1 by a minority as it is to dispense with coercion in the work of civilization.
For masses are lazy and unintelligent; they have no love for instinctual renunciation, and they are
not to be convinced by argument of its inevitability; and the individuals composing them support
one another in giving free
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1 [‘Masse.’ The German word has a very wide meaning. It is translated ‘group’ for special
reasons in Freud's Group Psychology (1921c). See Standard Ed., 18, 69 n. Here ‘mass’ seems
more appropriate.]
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rein to their indiscipline. It is only through the influence of individuals who can set an example
and whom masses recognize as their leaders that they can be induced to perform the work and
undergo the renunciations on which the existence of civilization depends. All is well if these
leaders are persons who possess superior insight into the necessities of life and who have risen to
the height of mastering their own instinctual wishes. But there is a danger that in order not to
lose their influence they may give way to the mass more than it gives way to them, and it
therefore seems necessary that they shall be independent of the mass by having means to power
at their disposal. To put it briefly, there are two widespread human characteristics which are
responsible for the fact that the regulations of civilization can only be maintained by a certain
degree of coercion— namely, that men are not spontaneously fond of work and that arguments
are of no avail against their passions.
I know the objections which will be raised against these assertions. It will be said that the
characteristic of human masses depicted here, which is supposed to prove that coercion cannot
be dispensed with in the work of civilization, is itself only the result of defects in the cultural
regulations, owing to which men have become embittered, revengeful and inaccessible. New
generations, who have been brought up in kindness and taught to have a high opinion of reason,
and who have experienced the benefits of civilization at an early age, will have a different
attitude to it. They will feel it as a possession of their very own and will be ready for its sake to
make the sacrifices as regards work and instinctual satisfaction that are necessary for its
preservation. They will be able to do without coercion and will differ little from their leaders. If
no culture has so far produced human masses of such a quality, it is because no culture has yet
devised regulations which will influence men in this way, and in particular from childhood
onwards.
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