His great book, which marked his emergence as a major figure in sociology, was the republication in paperback of The Civilizing Process (Über den Prozess der Zivilisation, published in 1939 but virtually ignored, republished in the 1960s when it was also translated into English). The first volume traced the historical developments of the Europeanhabitus, or "second nature," the particular individual psychic structures molded by social attitudes. Elias traced how post-medieval European standards applied to violence, sexual behaviour, bodily functions, table manners and forms of speech were transformed by increasing threshholds of shame and repugnance, working outward from a nucleus in court etiquette. The internalized "self-restraint" imposed by increasingly complex networks of social connections developed the "psychological" self-perceptions that Freud recognized as the "super-ego." The second volume of The Civilizing Process looked into the causes of these processes and found them in the increasingly centralized Early Modern state and the increasingly differentiated and interconnected web of society.
Ironically, Elias' work was published in 1939, the year that the entire structure he described collapsed in a paroxysm of barbarism. When Elias' work found a larger audience in the 1960s, at first his analysis of the process was misunderstood as an extension of discredited "social Darwinism," the idea of upward "progress" and was dismissed by reading it as consecutive history rather than a metaphysic for a social process.