Pathology & Civilisation: Neurosis and Cruelty- Chapter 4

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Chapter 4: The internalization of Civilisation

Submitted: November 10, 2011

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Submitted: November 10, 2011



Chapter 4: The internalization of Civilisation

In the following chapter I will continue to look at Nietzsche’s critique of morality to demonstrate how convention and repression have allowed the spread of neurosis. By looking at examples of narrative and myth used by both Nietzsche and Freud, I will demonstrate the complex relationship between guilt and indebtedness. I will examine how morality has been formed by a ‘bad conscience’, which has led to cruelty being inflicted upon the self. I will analyse religion and sexuality to demonstrate how the internalisation of civilisation produces neurosis and cruelty.

Guilt and Debt

Nietzsche analyses the issues of debt and guilt through his genealogical methodology, by emphasizing the inherent social contracts made between both the individual citizen and other individuals, and with discreet groups within society. By this Nietzsche demonstrates the role of society in facilitating cruelty through two main forms: a social contract that produces indebtedness, and feelings of guilt or ‘bad conscience’. Nietzsche characterizes this social contract as being formed pre-morally in the simple relationship of the debtor and the creditor, which underpins the institutionalism of punishment. To some degree this is an extension of the Hobbesian view of the body politic, in that Nietzsche uses the creditor as the exploiter of the subject’s body in the same manner as the Leviathan. The debtor becomes physically subjugated to the rights of the creditor who has little regard for his free will or right to autonomy.

Often considered a nobleman the so-called moral creditor’s value is a derivative of his status and not by virtue of his actions per se. The creditor may take as he pleases or deprive the physical existence of the debtor in lieu of payment, producing in either party what Nietzsche describes as ‘bad conscience’.

Nietzsche introduces a further psychological layer in the narrative described above. He describes the infliction of cruelty by the nobleman on to the debtor as sufficient compensation for the debt. This can only be understood as a form of pleasure. By presenting this idea Nietzsche reveals that the operations of power in this relationship have inherent acts of cruelty associated with them. To increase the complexity of the relationship a stage further, the creditor may well take pleasure in his acts of sadism, and so this will be reward enough, but he may also at the same time himself feel a sense of guilt. In this sense these operations of power occur in the pre-moral arena as Paul-Laurent Assoun qualifies: “Guilt is thus related to an archaic juridical relation where measure and evaluation reigned. There is no guilt without harm” [1] Here Assoun is revealing the true nature of human suffering, the suffering of the human against human, hidden away from sight. As will be exploited in the following section both Nietzsche and Freud extended their views on the origins of this state of guilt and debt to include the function of internalization.

The version of the development of Modernity that is presented by Nietzsche’s genealogy of guilt and debt, shows how non-physically forms punishment, have replaced the need for the physical. More recently Michel Foucault’s theory of ‘disciplinary punishment’ further conceptualized this idea. [2] Whether compensation of debt is sought through economic penalties or through loss of liberty, the effects can still be psychologically impacting. At the level of the individual this can be described as having the effect of cruelty. This cruelty seems to fit the indicative pathology described by Nietzsche in terms of its propositional logic: society endorses these procedures of punishment from a moral-legal position of power, designed to protect the interests of the institutional value system. These values then become normative as in Foucault’s model of morality and punishment, which remains close to Nietzsche’s genealogical analysis of power.

However, Nietzsche rejected the idea of punishment as the origin of ‘bad conscience’ and offers an alternative proposition. Instead, Nietzsche claims ‘Bad conscience’ is generated by the transition from hunter-gatherer tribes to non-transient communal societies. Animal instincts became unnecessary, and therefore survival became more cerebral. The conscious mind became more imperative in aiding survival rather life pertaining to the uninhibited instincts. Nietzsche’s theory of memory shows how the psyche developed ways of coping with this new psychological dimension to social existence. According to Nietzsche man evolved the ability to forget in order not to become attached to the past. This forgetfulness is for Nietzsche, an active ‘faculty of repression’, and not simply a negligence of memory. Man has to have an active mechanism, which operates in opposition to recalling i.e. he has guilt. This is so that commitments can be made and exercising control over the future then seems possible. Therefore, guilt was a necessity in order for human social stability to take place. As Nietzsche explains this then creates another dimension to human conscience “Thus is recognised the owing of a debt, which accumulates continually by reason of these ancestors never ceasing in their subsequent life as potent spirits to secure by their powers new privileges and advantages to their race” [3]. Here Nietzsche identifies a kind of anthropological debt that accumulates with the expansion of civilisation. However, this debt that should be the driving force of civilisation has been disassociated with its origin. Nietzsche attributes this to the development of the concept of God, which became the new “incubus of debts”.[4]In the Twilight of the Idols (1988) Nietzsche asks: “Is man one of God's blunders or is God one of man's blunders?” If the latter were true, as Nietzsche’s tone suggests, then this supports his claim of a distancing from the importance of the ancestors, from the origins of man. This distancing, which brought about by the creation of God has been detrimental to human health and evolution. The advent of the ‘Christian God’ was: “accompanied by the maximum feeling of guilty indebtedness on earth”[5]. For Nietzsche and Freud this is but one price for having civilisation.

Freud’s later phylogenetic theory of guilt comes close to Nietzsche’s theory of ‘bad conscience’. In Civilization and its Discontents Freud openly employees the term ‘bad conscience’ when describing the initial stage in the development of moral judgement. What constitutes ‘bad’ for Freud is the removal of a libidinal object, such as a parental or sexual object. For Freud ‘bad conscience’ is attributable to the development of the psyche in the later stages of life:

“This state of mind we call a ‘bad conscience’, but it really does not merit the name, for at this stage consciousness of guilt is clearly no more than a fear of loss of love, a ‘social’ anxiety. In a small child it can never be anything else, but for many adults too the only change is that the place once occupied by the father, or by both parents has been taken over by the wider human community” [6]

This form of guilt is then necessitated by the development of the super ego with its psychical extension into the wider community. This promotes the subjects indebtedness to the institution of religious morality.

Nietzsche’s view is that suffering is made contagious by Christianity. His example of the origins of this can be found in the example of slave morality were suffering and martyrdom become basis of the morality of righteousness and virtue. By promising salvation from the cruelty and suffering of life, these moral values then became indoctrinating and socially viral. It is for this reason that Nietzsche describes this event in terms of its contagion, which he considers dangerous as it promotes pity and weakness and represses the ‘will to power’. Nietzsche explains:

“Christianity is called the religion of pity. Pity stands opposed to the tonic emotions which heighten our vitality: it has a depressing effect. We are deprived of strength when we feel pity. That loss of strength which suffering as such inflicts on life is still further increased and multiplied by pity. Pity makes suffering contagious” [7]

Nietzsche is demonstrating what he saw an endemic pity for the weak and suffering in society, personified by Christianity. The infection takes place through the introspection of guilt, which turns guilt to suffering, and thus the strong become weak and spread their suffering to the guilty.

For Freud this contagion is present in many cases during the socialisation process of the individual psyche, as for religion to be effective in its subjugation it requires certain psychological conditions. Initially, the exposure to an institution such as the family, which upholds moral values associated with Christianity. However, for Freud there is a psychological drive for the death of the father, which can produce the need for God. This is not the physical death of the father, but rather a psychological redundancy of a primary libidinal object. This for Freud occurs during the Oedipal stage of psychosexual development when individuals do not overcome the attachment or detachment from a libidinal object. This conflict is produced by guilt and the threat of punishment, for the existence of competing libidinal drives, which are unacceptable to the authority of the parent. For Freud this then leads to a need for a substitute libidinal object in the farther figure of God. Freud explains: “It represents a wonderful relief for the individual psyche when the never entirely surmounted conflicts of childhood arising out of the farther complex are lifted from the shoulders, so to speak, and fed into a solution that is accepted by everyone”. [8] The significance of the reduction of the sexual dominance of the father for the individual was represented earlier in Freud’s study of early civilisation in Totem and Taboo. However in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921) Freud describes the ‘father of the primal horde’ as being free, a liberty that was reduced for the sake of civilisation. This created the psychological space for a new collective morality, and a new way to suppress the instincts of the horde. As Paul-Laurent Assoun sites “There is no doubt that one can see in the Oedipus complex one of the most important sources of the feeling of guilt”. [9] Hence the institution of religion would exploit this Oedipal guilt by offering the absolution of its cruelty.

Assoun makes the observation that: “In effect, the originary father enjoys in the begging the same supreme prerogative of self-sufficiency that Nietzsche accords to the Overman in the future” [10] Freud suggests that Nietzsche’s the Overman or ‘Ubermensch’ resembles the ‘farther of the horde’ by his return to the primal instincts. However, there is no account of a ‘will’ for freedom from the repressive authority of another’s ‘will’, and the attainment of the ‘will for power’ in this comparison. Instead Freud compares the Overman with the narcissistic qualities of the primal father. It can be suggested that the ‘Ubermensch’ would not feel guilt or indebtedness to any other. The ego plays a fundamental role in the onset of narcissism for in Freud’s theory, however for Nietzsche the ego is an illusion. In this sense the ‘Ubermensch’ would be something more that ‘ego’, more than self-love. It is not relevant to dwell on this point any longer except to highlight Freud’s acknowledgement and possible misreading of Nietzsche’s concept of the ‘Ubermensch’.


The famous commandment of “Love thy neighbour” is fiercely rejected by Nietzsche who considers it a poor expression of the true impulse, which is to love ones self. For Nietzsche this idea that human beings should love any object that is contrary to their ‘will to power’ is wholly unacceptable. This delusion breeds weakness in the individual and brings with it the dangerous illusion of altruism, Nietzsche states: “The whole of 'altruism' reveals itself as the prudence of the private man: societies are not 'altruistic' towards one another--The commandment to love one's neighbour has never yet been extended to include one's actual neighbour.” [11] For Freud the Id is the representative of the prime instincts, which are not inclined to altruistic love of one’s neighbour, instead he sees human intention as follows:

“As a result, their neighbour is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. Homo homini lupus [man is wolf to man]” [12]

‘Homo homini lupus’ was first used in Plautus' Asinaria, ‘lupus est homo homini’ is sometimes translated as ‘man is man's wolf’. This can be interpreted to mean that man preys upon man and posses a danger or threat as does the wolf out of some primal need. The phrase is widely referenced when discussing the horrors of which human beings are capable of inflicting upon each other and the destructive and violent capabilities of humanity in the name of civilisation. It is ‘Homo homini Lupus’ that Nietzsche and Freud are struggling with, as did Karl Marx and Thomas Hobbes before them. Marx proposes that society can overcome ‘Homo homni lupus’ by dissolving property rights and destroying the class system. This, Marx claimed would absolve the need for violent competition for property brought about by the Capitalist system. This proposition is discounted by Freud who whilst having a less definitive critical vantage point, presents a far more radical and pessimistic response to the ‘Homo homni lupus’ perspective. He comments critically: “The Communists think they have found the way to redeem mankind from evil” he continues to state that they think “ill will and enmity among human beings will cease” he concludes:

“I am not concerned with the economic criticisms of the communist system; I have no way of knowing whether the abolition of private property is expedient and beneficial. But I can recognise the psychological presumption behind it as a baseless illusion. With the abolition of private property the human love of aggression is robbed of one of its tools, a strong one no doubt, but certainly not its strongest. No change has been made in the disparities of power and influence that aggression exploits in the pursuit of its ends, or in its nature” [13]

Here Freud is asserting his belief that the competition for property is not the fundamental form of aggression; aggression for Freud manifests itself regardless of the competition for property. For Freud this aggression has a primal and psychological home subsisting in all human relationships regardless of their level of equality.

For Nietzsche humanities sickness is its doubtfulness, its unsettled mind and the fact that humans remain undefined compared too other animals that are defined by their true nature. However, human beings have fantasized more, challenged with more vastitude in their battle with other animals for ultimate authority over the earth. He calls the human subject the “great experimenter with himself”, driven to exploration, and struggling to obtain power over the self and over nature. Religion being one of these great experiments is for Nietzsche one of the great abductors of consciousness, reason and will, form its biological earthly origins, its social animal existence. As for Freud, religion for Nietzsche operates on the fear and servitude of man and his mass delusion. Religion is often a substitute for those how do not have art or science to sublimate the destructive impulses and in this sense, it’s the only substitution available. However, with the ‘death of god’ modern contemporary society utilises co modification to for libidinal gratification in the same way that religion has done for centuries. Presumably for Nietzsche in that civilisation has now replaced god with materialism and commodity as a source of morality and a form of redirection of animal drives in the same way that Judaeo-Christian morality codifies guilt.

It is true that for both Nietzsche and Freud religion is a pathological result of civilisation in the form of guilt and indebtedness. However, religion must therefore continually perpetuate itself though this ‘illness’ by exploiting guilt and debt.

For Nietzsche Marx’s abolition of property pays service to the same oppressiveness as religion. Nietzsche identifies Marxism as having the potential of becoming a secular religion, with which to mediocritise human existence. Meaning human existence is left with a heavy guilt for wanting material gain i.e. property. This comes very close to Freud’s criticisms of the abolition of property in Civilization and its Discontents as expressed previously. Moreover, human nature is prohibited by the threat of the higher moral judgment of the collective superego. In both Nietzsche and Freud’s view of the ‘bad conscience’ resulting form guilt and debt, this repressive state is mostly personified by religion. However, Nietzsche’s concern extends to intellectualism that preaches dangerous metaphysics such as in the case of Kant’s the ‘thing in itself’. The above examples are relevant in both cases as the pathology of cruelty has much too do with the mass delusions of religious belief as its does human weakness and vulnerability brought about by the dogmatic institutionalisation processes of human development. It is here that Nietzsche’s concern for humanity runs slightly deeper than Freud’s in that he foresaw the potential for cruelty inflicted by the pursuit of what he considered as dangerous misguided ideas such as communism. For example his more overt critical evaluation of Enlightenment thinking enabled him see more deeply into the fabric of society and therefore connotations of the debt and guilt embodied in the psyche. For Nietzsche science and art do become as passionate a pursuit as religion, but they do not require a life of servitude to a higher being, they belong to the earth.

In Civilization and its Discontents Freud diagnoses that civilisation also suffers from a general discontentment. Freud extended the production of neurosis to prohibitions in the satisfaction of libidinal impulses, Eros and to an extent Thanatos, as most secular societies promote living above death. [14] This further reinforced his earlier statement that "every individual is virtually an enemy of civilization"[15] even though civilisation is meant to be a ‘universal interest’. Civilisation has to shield itself against the individual in order to maintain order and stability, to avoid anarchy and chaos. To achieve this rules, regulations, and forms of pre-scribed disciplinary institutions are constructed.

A price is paid for the protection against the violence of an undisciplined society, individuals must renounce instinctual aims and behaviors. Just as for Nietzsche individuals must sacrifice their instinct for freedom to exist in society, whether as a slave or the once master of slaves weakened by guilt. The following passage explains Freud’s view:

“Man derives the highest pleasure from sexual fulfillment, says Freud, but unconstrained sexuality drains the individual of psychic energy needed for a creative and intellectual life. Hence, it was society, working through the family, the priest, the teacher and the police, who imposes rules and restricts our animal nature which, because it is animal, demands release. Such an existence is painful and so causes anxiety and frustration. But the violation of the rules of civilization also gives us guilt. Either way, we suffer torment and pain. Civilized life simply entails too much pain for people. It seemed, for Freud, that the price we pay for civilization is neuroses.” [16]

As the above passage demonstrates the fulfilment of libidinal drives, which are often aggressive and erogenous is not always possible. In this case they are ether turned against the self, or invested in creating the delusions attributed to neurosis. Ether of these pathologies demonstrates an invisible suffering for the individual. For Nietzsche this is the grave perversion of the ‘will to power’ as in the example of religion, the repression of sexuality may be deemed as a form of cruelty. As Assoun explains below sexuality is an important aspect of Nietzsche’s earlier use of the Dionysian affirmation of life:

“For Nietzsche, sexuality serves to attest to the eminence of Dionysian explosion of instincts. For Freud, it serves to explain phenomena experienced for the most part as conflictual. That is why, by correlation, Eros as the emissary of Dionysus is for Nietzsche a weapon against Christian asceticism” [17]

In this sense Freud’s Eros is the messenger of death and destruction for Nietzsche, with which to counteract the sickness caused by guilt and indebtedness to an illusion. By correlation the repression of the ‘will’, which for Nietzsche must include sexuality, by any authority, must therefore be deemed as cruel. However, as Herbert Marcuse suggests Freud’s centralisation of the sexual drives in his analysis of subject formation may have been intentional. In order to give an “enlargement of the meaning of sexuality itself” [18] Freud did not mark a distinction between Eros and sexuality. For Freud the repression of sexuality by the forces of guilt and servitude resulted in the de-sexualisation of the individual. But as described above a repression of this nature would also encompass the ‘death instinct’ for Nietzsche, as Nietzsche was essentially able to synthesise Eros and Thanatos in to the ‘will to power’ where as Freud seemed to remain dualistic in his view of life and death.


Nietzsche associated the desire for freedom with a primal instinct and so any prohibition of the instinct for freedom is turned back against the self. This instinct for freedom becomes a drive for autonomy, a drive for freedom from dominance of another’s will. This is essentially the ‘will to power’ turned to cruelty through the internalisation of struggle for independence in body and mind. Here it’s possible to see how Freud comes close to Nietzsche in his diagnosis of one of the most significant causes of neurosis in the individual. As Assoun describes it:

“Nietzsche and Freud both arrive, not fortuitously, at asserting the importance of debt (Schuld). However, if this thematic becomes central for one and the other, it is because the critique of morality and the diagnosis of neurosis meet on the way to their encounter with the category of debt”[19]

Here Assoun is demonstrating the linkage between morality and the operations of the psyche concerning debt. This can be extrapolated further in the case of Nietzsche who relies on the connection of both guilt and debt to a critique of morality, and to demonstrate the connection of sickness or neurosis with the category of guilt. As has been demonstrated Freud does consider the constitution of neurosis, within the category of guilt and indebtedness in relation to authority. Freud comments that "Religion is comparable to a childhood neurosis",[20] in that confusion and fear lead to feelings of indebtedness to a libidinal object provide protection and love. This is the illusion generated by religious myth and narrative promising protection from the cruelty of others and of the self.

Nietzsche explains that when primitive humans experienced the conflict between the instincts and the moral values of society: “all those instincts of wild, free man, prowling man became turned back against man himself. Enmity, cruelty, the delight in persecution, in surprise, change, destruction- the turning all these instincts against their own possessors: this is the origin of the “bad conscience.”[21] This process for Nietzsche constitutes a permanent and long-standing aspect of the human psyche synonymous with the development of civilisation. Freud’s concept of the super ego converges with Nietzsche’s use of ‘bad conscience’ in that, the super ego acts as a regulator of behavior, punishing the ego for failing to effectively control the Id, as described earlier. The formation of the super ego is due to the internalisation of parental and ultimately social prohibitions, which include religious moral value. The effect of this relationship being that, the superego brings about the internalisation of the instincts, and becomes the bringer of ‘bad conscience’ i.e. guilt and indebtedness. As Paul-Laurent Assoun comments on Freud’s final essay: “It is no accident if an exceptionally long development is dedicated to guilt in Civilization and its Discontents as ‘a perception, imparted to the Ego, of its surveillance’ by the Superego”[22] in other words by extending the superego to the status of civilisation, the collective monitors and controls the Ego from a the highest level of illusion and deception.

One of the most interesting theoretical discoveries made by both Nietzsche and Freud is that cruelty can be played out against oneself. Nietzsche, through his identification of ‘ill will’, and ‘bad conscience’ comes to this realization via the states of ‘will’ and ‘conscience’ that can later function as the cause of individual suffering. This was expressed earlier in the case of the creditor and the debtor and the repression caused by religion. Both Nietzsche and Freud us the term ‘internalisation’ to describe this process. The “internalization of man” as Nietzsche phrases it marks another area where the direction of both their thinking converges, and further reveals the identification of the psychological mechanism promoting the pathological of civilization. Nietzsche explains that: “All instincts that do not discharge themselves outwardly turn inward—this is what I call the internalization of man: thus it was that man first developed what was later called his “soul.”[23] It is this ‘internalization’ of social value judgment that generates the feeling of guilt in the individual. This animal soul turned against it, is for Nietzsche where existence gains a psychological as well as a social dimension. For Freud this was represented by ‘aim-inhibition’ or the prohibition of the gratification of libidinal drives. This caused the re-direction of aggressive drives turning them inwardly to form guilt and self-persecution.

As has been demonstrated in this chapter cruelty is brought about by the convention and narrative of authority. I have used guilt, debt and altruism to show the repressive function that this authority has on the individual. As I have shown the pressure of the super ego upon the ego demonstrates the production of guilt and indebtedness and the deception of altruism. However for Nietzsche the ‘death of god’ equates to the end of these values but inevitably leads to nihilism, an alternative form of mythology. Freud did not make this observation and his answer to the internalisation of the forces of civilisation is psychoanalysis. Instead of transforming the individual, I argue that Freud’s application of psychoanalysis has the potential to become another convention with which to shape the individual. I will now turn to the role of sublimation, which for Nietzsche provides a solution to the conditions that have been explored in this chapter.

[1] Paul-Laurent Assoun, Freud and Nietzsche, P.144

[2] ‘Disciplinary Punishment’ Foucault describes this as practiced in the modern era. Disciplinary punishment gives professional bodies power over the social subjects. Foucault goes on to argue that Disciplinary punishment or pressure leads to self-policing (the internalisation of this discipline) by individuals and is opposed to brutal displays torture and physical abuse as justified punishment

[3] Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, P.60

[4] Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, P.61

[5] Ibid

[6] Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, P.78

[7] Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Antichrist. Reprinted in The Portable Nietzsche. Penguin. 1954. pp. 572-573.

[8] Freud, The Future of an Illusion, P.37

[9] An Introduction to Psychoanalysis, P.344

[10] Paul- Laurent Assoun, Freud and Nietzsche, P.43

[11] Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. Vintage. New York. 1968. P.550

[12] Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, P.61

[13] Civilization and its Discontents, P.63

[14] Interestingly suicide is strictly forbidden in most religions, which supports both Nietzsche and Feuds view on the repression of instincts, especially the instinct for death. The instinct bring about one’s own death is repressed in the case of religion.

[15] Freud, The Future of an Illusion


[17] Paul-Laurent Assoun, Freud and Nietzsche P.101

[18] Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization, P. 205

[19] Paul-Laurent Assoun, Freud and Nietzsche, P.147

[20] Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, 1927

[21] Nietzsche. The Genealogy of Morals, II section 16

[22] Paul-Laurent Assoun, Freud and Nietzsche, P. 146

[23] Friedrich Nietzsche, Second Essay, Section 16, Genealogy of Morals

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