Freud’s Weltanschauung

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.

Heads Would Roll, But That Wasn’t Enough

Just as Louis XIV  created symbols of his power as the absolute ruler of France, such as the palace of Versailles and even himself (he was the “Sun King” and claimed that he was the state/the state was him), so did the leaders of the French Revolution create their own symbols and culture in order to aid their overthrow of the monarchy and subsequent attempts to create a whole  new society.

In a pamphlet entitled What is the Third Estate?, Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès wrote that the Third Estate was “everything.” He argued that because the Third Estate made up the vast majority of France’s people (about 96%), and because it was the only segment of the Estates-General that contributed to the maintenance and betterment of the state, that it therefore was the state. Here, Sieyès made the opposite claim as Louis XIV, but he makes his claim for the same reason: to show where the power of France should lay. Instead of making the king the symbol of France, Sieyès made the common people the symbol of the nation. This trend continued in some of the artwork of the revolutionary period, as common people were shown dressed in fine clothing and in improved health but also performing tasks that would be useful to both themselves and the greater good of the state.

When Maximilien Robespierre wrote about the Supreme Being, he did so not out of religious fervor (although that could have played a role) but because the revolutionaries needed another way to unite the diverse peoples of France. Robespierre asserted that the French Revolution would be supported by the Supreme Being, as He created man to seek liberty and punish tyrants. Robespierre cleverly wrote about the Supreme Being in a Deist manner that would allow both Catholics and people of a more agnostic/atheist persuasion to relate to Robespierre’s argument, and his version of the Supreme Being also enabled him to maintain the Enlightenment ideal of Reason without completely trampling religion into the dirt.

Fashion during the revolutionary period also took on an Enlightenment spin, as dressing in clothes inspired by ancient Greece became a trend. The French thought of the people of ancient Greece as great thinkers and writers, so they sought to emulate this society that placed a value on reason that they saw as being like France’s. Additionally, the first known democracy occurred in ancient Greece, and while France by no means became the paragon of democracy at that point, people of a revolutionary mindset wanted to invoke the Greeks as an example of a nation that placed a high value on liberty, equality, and fraternity.

Chopping off some elaborately coiffed heads could not transform France alone; alongside the political actions and ramifications of the revolution, revolutionary leaders changed the symbols and culture of France in order to unite the Third Estate in rejection of the old order.

Questions for your consideration:

How does Robespierre’s treatment of religion compare to or differ from that of other revolutionary leaders (such as those in the American Revolution or the Communist revolution in Russia)?

In what other ways did the revolutionaries of France use symbols to their advantage? What kinds of symbols do we and/or our leaders use in the U.S. today?

Do you agree that the political revolution in France would not have been possible had it not been accompanied by a cultural one as well?




Black & Grey

The Slavophiles and Westernizers were both “reformist” intellectuals who, on different ideological avenues, envisioned changes for the future of Russia that would progress the state to new plateaus. The Slavophiles were upperclassmen who expressed a fundamental vision of integration, peace, and harmony among men (Riasanovsky 362). They were strict followers of the Russian Orthodox Church and believed it was their mission to help the church reclaim power it had lost. A notable Slav – Constantine Aksakov – described the Slavophiles as a “moral choir” (363). The Slavs were Russian romantics who attempted to tie in their romantic ideals with reason. Slavophiles could be considered peacekeeping anarchists because they stressed free will and free thought, and although they didn’t like the presence of the government they recognized the importance of having a governmental institution in place to keep the peace.

The Westernizers, although also reformists in nature were antithetical to the Slavs in many other aspects. While the Slavophiles were fairly organized and concentrated in their mission of peace and harmony throughout Russian society the Westernizers had diverse and often unclear goals for their reformations. Unlike the Slavophiles, the Westernizers didn’t lean on religion and quite frankly didn’t support religious ideologies to nearly the same degree as the Slavs. It is important to note that the roots of the Westernizers’ differing views probably comes from the fact that the Westernizers came from a variety of different social classes, while the Slavophiles were basically all upper-class citizens. The Westernizers also seemingly had varying degrees of their beliefs in comparison to the Slavophiles, what I mean by this is, some Westernizers simply wanted to promote their ideas of free-will and anti religion while extremist Westernizers wanted to do away with the church and government entirely, a complete redo of the system. Westernizers’ views and goals also changed because they spanned a great period of time in Russian history. For example, Alexander Herzen and Michael Bakunin, two Westernizer authors lived past the reign of Nicholas I (Riasanovsky 365). In other words, these two authors lived through a shifting dynamic of Russian politics, so their goals (in their writing) had to have changed over this time period. Ironically, both of these writers apparently left Russia during their later years, leaving their final marks on Russian society.