The future of illusion HTML version

another and especially the distribution of the available wealth. The two trends of civilization are
not independent of each other: firstly, because the mutual relations of men are profoundly
influenced by the amount of instinctual satisfaction which the existing wealth makes possible;
secondly, because an individual man can himself come to function as wealth in relation to
another one, in so far as the other person makes use of his capacity for work, or chooses him as a
sexual object; and thirdly, moreover, because every individual is virtually an enemy of
civilization, though civilization is supposed to be an object of universal human interest.1 It is
remarkable that, little as men are able to exist in isolation, they should nevertheless feel as a
heavy burden the sacrifices which civilization expects of them in order to make a communal life
possible. Thus civilization has to be defended against the individual, and its regulations,
institutions and commands are directed to that task. They aim not only at effecting a certain
distribution of wealth but at maintaining that distribution; indeed, they have to protect everything
that contributes to the conquest of nature and the production of wealth against men's hostile
impulses. Human creations are easily destroyed, and science and technology, which have built
them up, can also be used for their annihilation.
One thus gets an impression that civilization is something which was imposed on a resisting
majority by a minority which understood how to obtain possession of the means to power and
coercion. It is, of course, natural to assume that these difficulties are not inherent in the nature of
civilization itself but are determined by the imperfections of the cultural forms which have so far
been developed. And in fact it is not difficult to
1 [The hostility of human individuate to civilization plays a large part in the earlier chapters of
this work. Freud returned to the subject and discussed it still more fully two years later in his
Civilization and its Discontents (1930a).]
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indicate those defects. While mankind has made continual advances in its control over nature and
may expect to make still greater ones, it is not possible to establish with certainty that a similar
advance has been made in the management of human affairs; and probably at all periods, just as
now once again, many people have asked themselves whether what little civilization has thus
acquired is indeed worth defending at all. One would think that a re-ordering of human relations
should be possible, which would remove the sources of dissatisfaction with civilization by
renouncing coercion and the suppression of the instincts, so that, undisturbed by internal discord,
men might devote themselves to the acquisition of wealth and its enjoyment. That would be the
golden age, but it is questionable if such a state of affairs can be realized. It seems rather that
every civilization must be built up on coercion and renunciation of instinct; it does not even seem
certain that if coercion were to cease the majority of human beings would be prepared to
undertake to perform the work necessary for acquiring new wealth. One has, I think, to reckon
with the fact that there are present in all men destructive, and therefore anti-social and anti-
cultural, trends and that in a great number of people these are strong enough to determine their
behaviour in human society.