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Neumann, H. (1973). Eros and the Maternal Instinct: The Discontents of Civilization. Psychoanal. Rev., 60(3):443-453.

(1973). Psychoanalytic Review, 60(3):443-453

Eros and the Maternal Instinct: The Discontents of Civilization

Harry Neumann, Ph.D.

A devil, a born devil, on whose nature

Nurture can never stick, on whom my pains,

Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost.

Shakespeare, The Tempest

Today one often hears that erotic desire is or should become ever more liberated. Formerly repressed by the inhibitions of puritanical societies, Eros, we are told, will become sovereign in the incipient “greening” of America during the Age of Aquarius. I suggest that Utopian expectations of this sort arise from an inability to discriminate between the erotic and unerotic in one's own soul. In any case, the thesis of the present paper is closer to De Rougemont's Love in the Western World, which interprets Eros as a love of death, than to Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle, which opposes it to the death instinct. Although Freud perceived erotic discontents in civilization, he did not discern the inevitability of Eros' frustration everywhere and always by social compulsion of one kind or another. De Rougemont rightly insists that only the superhuman efforts of divine omnipotence could rescue Eros from its perpetual refusal or inability to be domesticated by mankind's various moralities.

Whether it includes two or two billion people, every community is held together because its members hold common convictions about right and wrong behavior. Even a Robinson Crusoe on his island is not man in a state of nature unencumbered by civilized prejudices.

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