Sigmund Freud's 'Why War?' can be viewed as a companion piece to the better-known Civilization and its Discontents (1930). Freud's response to the burning question put to him in a letter from Albert Einstein, and written after the carnage of the First World War, is a more sombre and reflective piece than Thomas Mann's which was written at the height of this civilizational battle (cf. chapter 8 above). In contrast with Mann's culturalist response tying culture to the issue of national identity, Freud's response is motivated by the more abstract and generalizable meta-theoretical claims of his psychoanalytic framework which assumes the permanent condition of human violence. In Freud's view, the human propensity for violence underlies all the social relations established between humans as individuals, in groups, and between individuals and society. All human beings are caught up in civilizational war fought on three fronts: between the three poles of instincts, the ego and the super-ego (society). In other words, war is part of, and fought out in, the human being's internal territory.

From Freud's perspective, the solution to human violence is its civilization. In this context, Freud returns to the Kantian enquiry into the condition of 'perpetual peace'. For Freud, 'perpetual peace' is both supra-individual and supra-national; it requires the civilizational transference of power to large groups and the formation of collective identities.