Sigmund Freud, known to college students everywhere for his ability to trace all human activity back to sex, published “Civilization and Die Weltanschauung” in 1918, near the end of World War I. While Freud never explicitly mentioned WWI in the excerpt discussed here, he did state that man’s natural inclination to aggression is one of the greatest impediments to civilization. The struggle between a number of contrasting factors, including the struggle between the instinct for life and the instinct for destruction (aggression) forms the evolution of human civilization, according to Freud.
Considering the time in which Freud wrote, and his references to Marxism, it seems impossible that Freud could have written on the topic of aggression without WWI influencing his thinking and writing to some extent. WWI provided a perfect example of the instinct for aggression (an unnecessary war and unnecessary loss of life) alongside an instinct for life (soldiers fighting to preserve their own lives and those of their countrymen and women). Freud also stated that the superiority of reason and intellect over other cultural forces, especially religion, provided the best hope for the future of civilization. He compared religion to neuroticism of the mind and saw it as an irrational, dangerous force. Whereas religion is divisive, in Freud’s mind, reason is unifying.
The early twentieth century was a time of great change, crisis, and rivalry in Europe. Religion and reason, life and aggression–these dichotomies explained die Weltanschauung of the time for Sigmund Freud.