Rieff ends the chapter “The Impoverishment of Western Culture” with a movement from the individual aspects to the way which these individual attitudes playout across a culture:
“Every culture is an institutionalized system of moral demands, elaborating the conduct of personal relations, a cosset of compelling symbols.” ( 52)
The system which surrounds the individual consists of a cultural wide system of both (1) moral demands, which is expressed by means of “compelling symbols.” Freud provided a mechanism to understand and resist those symbols.
Moreover, Freud’s system made it impossible for anyone to again try and resurrect and impose the fading moral order:
No moral demand system could ever again compel at least the educated classes to that inner obedience which bound men to rules they themselves could not change except at the expense of spirit, far beyond the usefulness of such rules to the continuance of cultural achievement.
Freud believed he had put human beings – at least educated human beings – beyond the power of some system to impose upon human beings moral demands which they did not personally find necessary.
Rieff saw material comforts “rising expectations” as sufficient to stave off the ascetic strain of morality. We can simply use “analysis and art” as a substitute for religion.
We were now in a place where only a “yielding demand system” could possibly hold sway (53).
We keep seeing ourselves at the end of history, where this will just be the conclusion.
Rieff’s conclusion that Freud had created a stable place of yielding seems to fail with a vengeance. The moral demands may have changed (one must believe that biological sex is a social construct, and so on) from prior morality. That may make it appear to be “liberating”. But we are seeing moral demands as strict as anything which has been witnessed in any religion. People are keeping lists. Public displays of piety are mandatory.
It seems that Freud may have provided a tool to go after a morality of one sort of sexual limitation, but he did not free humanity from any sort of exclusively personal moral freedom.