The future of illusion HTML version

The Future of an Illusion
Freud, S. (1927). The Future of an Illusion. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of
Sigmund Freud, Volume XXI (1927-1931): The Future of an Illusion, Civilization and its Discontents, and Other
Works, 1-56
When one has lived for quite a long time in a particular civilization1 and has often tried to
discover what its origins were and along what path it has developed, one sometimes also feels
tempted to take a glance in the other direction and to ask what further fate lies before it and what
transformations it is destined to undergo. But one soon finds that the value of such an enquiry is
diminished from the outset by several factors. Above all, because there are only a few people
who can survey human activity in its full compass. Most people have been obliged to restrict
themselves to a single, or a few, fields of it. But the less a man knows about the past and the
present the more insecure must prove to be his judgement of the future. And there is the further
difficulty that precisely in a judgement of this kind the subjective expectations of the individual
play a part which it is difficult to assess; and these turn out to be dependent on purely personal
factors in his own experience, on the greater or lesser optimism of his attitude to life, as it has
been dictated for him by his temperament or by his success or failure. Finally, the curious fact
makes itself felt that in general people experience their present naïvely, as it were, without being
able to form an estimate of its contents; they have first to put themselves at a distance from it—
the present, that is to say, must have become the past—before it can yield points of vantage from
which to judge the future.
Thus anyone who gives way to the temptation to deliver an opinion on the probable future of our
civilization will do well to remind himself of the difficulties I have just pointed out, as well as of
the uncertainty that attaches quite generally to any prophecy. It follows from this, so far as I am
concerned, that I shall make a hasty retreat before a task that is too great, and shall promptly seek
out the small tract of territory which has claimed my attention hitherto, as soon as I have
determined its position in the general scheme of things.
Human civilization, by which I mean all those respects in
1 [See Editor's Note, p. 4.]
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which human life has raised itself above its animal status and differs from the life of beasts—and
I scorn to distinguish between culture and civilization—, presents, as we know, two aspects to
the observer. It includes on the one hand all the knowledge and capacity that men have acquired
in order to control the forces of nature and extract its wealth for the satisfaction of human needs,
and, on the other hand, all the regulations necessary in order to adjust the relations of men to one