Monadology and Sociology by Gabriel Tarde - HTML preview

PLEASE NOTE: This is an HTML preview only and some elements such as links or page numbers may be incorrect.
Download the book in PDF, ePub, Kindle for a complete version.

telligence; there is no middle ground. And in truth, scientifically

speaking, it comes down to the same thing. Let us suppose for

a moment that one of our human States, composed not of a few

thousand but of a few quadrillions or quintillions of men, hermetically sealed and inaccessible as individuals (like China, but infi-

nitely more populous still, and more closed) was known to us only

by the data of its statisticians, whose figures, made up of very large

numbers, recurred with extreme regularity. When a political or

social revolution, which would be revealed to us by an abrupt en-

largement or diminution of some of these numbers, took place in

this State, we might well be certain that we would be observing

a fact caused by individual ideas and passions, but we would re-

sist the temptation to become lost in superfluous conjectures on

the nature of these impenetrable causes even though they alone

were the real ones, and the wisest option would appear to us to

explain as best we could the unusual numbers by ingenious com-

parisons with clever manipulations of the normal numbers. We

would thereby arrive at least at clear results and symbolic truths.

Nonetheless, it would be important from time to time to recall the

purely symbolic nature of these truths; and precisely this is the

service which the theory of monads can offer to science.


We have seen that science, having pulverized the universe, neces-

sarily ends up by spiritualizing the dust thus created. However,

we now face an important objection. In any monadological or at-

omistic system, all phenomena are nebulous clouds resolvable

into the actions emanating from a multitude of agents who are

so many invisible and innumerable little gods. This polytheism—

this myriatheism, one might almost say—leaves unexplained the


Monadology and Sociology

universal agreement of phenomena, as imperfect as this may be.

If the elements of the world are born separate, independent and

autonomous, it is impossible to see why a great number of them

and many of the groups formed by them (for example all atoms

of oxygen or hydrogen) resemble each other, if not perfectly, as is

often supposed without sufficient reason, at least within certain

approximately fixed limits; it is impossible to see why many of

them, if not all, appear to be captive and subjugated, and to have

renounced the absolute liberty which their eternity implies; and

finally, it is impossible to see why order and not disorder, and in

first place the primary condition of order, namely increasing con-

centration rather than increasing dispersion, are the result of their

relations. Thus it seems necessary to have recourse to new hy-

potheses. As a complement to the closure of his monads, Leibniz

made each one a camera obscura where the whole universe of oth-

er monads is represented in a reduced form and from a particu-

lar angle; and moreover, he had to posit a pre-established harmo-

ny, in the same way that, as the complement of their wandering

blind atoms, materialists must invoke universal laws or a single

formula embracing all laws, a kind of mystical commandment

which all beings would obey and which was not produced by any

being, a kind of ineffable and unintelligible word which, having

never been pronounced by anyone, nonetheless would be heard

everywhere and forever. Besides, both atomists and monadolo-

gists equally represent their first elements, which they claim are

the sources of all reality, as swimming in the same space and the

same time, which are two realities or pseudo-realities of a singular

kind: deeply penetrating throughout the material realities which

were supposed impenetrable, and yet radically distinct from the

latter, despite the intimacy of this penetration. All these charac-

teristics are so many mysteries, which create a curious embarrass-

ment for the philosopher. Is there any hope of resolving them by

conceiving of open monads which would penetrate each other re-

ciprocally, rather than being mutually external? I believe there is,

and I note that on this point again, the progress of science, indeed

of modern science in general and not only of its most recent devel-

opments, favours the blossoming of a renewed monadology. The

Newtonian discovery of gravitation, of action at a distance (and at

any distance) of material elements on one another, shows how dif-

ficult it will be to make a case for their impenetrability. Each ele-

ment, hitherto conceived as a point, now becomes an indefinitely

Gabriel tarde


enlarged sphere of action (for analogy leads us to believe that grav-

ity, like all other physical forces, is propagated successively);30 and

all these interpenetrating spheres are so many domains proper to

each element, so many distinct though intermixed spaces, per-

haps, which we wrongly take to be a single unique space. The cen-

tre of each sphere is a point, which is uniquely defined by its prop-

erties, but in the end a point like any other; and besides, since

activity is the very essence of the elements, each of them exists

in its entirety in the place where it acts. The atom, in truth, if we

draw the implications of this point of view which is naturally sug-

gested by Newton’s law (which a few thinkers have occasionally

tried, and failed, to explain by the pressure of the ether), ceases to

be an atom; it is a universal medium [ milieu universel] or aspires to become one, a universe in itself, not only, as Leibniz wished to argue, a microcosm, but the entire cosmos vanquished and absorbed

by a single being. If, having thus resolved this rather supernat-

ural conception of space into real particular spaces or domains,

we could in the same way resolve a single Time, that hollow en-

tity, into multiple realities and elementary desires, then the only

remaining simplification would be to explain natural laws, the

similarity and repetition of phenomena and the multiplication of

similar phenomena (physical waves, living cells, social copies) by

the triumph of certain monads who desired these laws, imposed

these forms, subjected to their yoke and levelled with their scythe

a people of monads thus subjugated and made uniform, although

born free and original, all as eager ( avides) as their conquerors to dominate and assimilate the universe.—Just as much as space

and time, natural laws, those equally rootless and fantastical enti-

ties, would thus finally find their proper place and their point of

application among known realities. They would all have begun,

like our civil and political laws, by being the designs and projects

of individuals.—Thus we would in the simplest way possible meet

the fundamental objection made to any atomistic or monadologi-

cal attempt to resolve the continuity of phenomena into an ele-

mentary discontinuity. What do we place within the ultimate discon-

tinuity if not continuity? We place therein, as we will explain again below, the totality of other beings. At the basis of each thing are

all real or possible things.

30. According to Laplace, the gravific fluid, to use his expression, is propagated successively, but with a velocity at least millions of times faster than light. In one place he says 50 million times, in another 100 million.


Monadology and Sociology


But this implies first of all that everything is a society, that every phenomenon is a social fact. Now, it is remarkable that science, following logically from its preceding tendencies, tends strangely to

generalize the concept of society. Science tells us of animal societ-

ies (see Espinas’ excellent book on this subject31), of cellular societ-

ies, and why not of atomic societies? I almost forgot to add societ-

ies of stars, solar and stellar systems. All sciences seem destined

to become branches of sociology. Of course, I am aware that, by a

mistaken apprehension of the direction of this current, some have

been led to the conclusion that societies are organisms; but the

truth is that, since the advent of cellular theory, organisms have on

the contrary become societies of a particular kind, fiercely exclu-

sive cities as imagined by a Lycurgus or a Rousseau, or better still,

religious congregations of a prodigious tenacity which equals the

majestic and invariable strangeness of their rites, an invariability

which nonetheless does not count against their individual mem-

bers’ diversity and force of invention.

That a philosopher such as Spencer should assimilate soci-

eties to organisms32 is not surprising, and fundamentally not

new, except perhaps for the extraordinary expenditure of imagi-

native erudition in the service of this view. But it is truly remark-

able that a highly circumspect natural scientist such as Edmond

Perrier can see in the assimilation of organisms to societies the

key to the mysteries of living things and the ultimate formula of

evolution. Having said that ‘ one may compare an animal or a plant

to a populous town, in which numerous corporations flourish, and

that blood cells are like merchants carrying with them in the liquid

wherein they swim the complex baggage which they trade’, he adds:

‘In the same way that we have employed every comparison fur-

nished by the degrees of consanguinity to express the relations of

animals to each other, before supposing that they were genuinely

related and in effect consanguineous, so the comparisons of or-

ganisms to societies and societies to organisms have recurred

ceaselessly to the present day, without anyone seeing in these

comparisons anything more than forms of expression. We, on

the contrary, have arrived at the conclusion that association played

31. [Trans. Note: See note 27 above.]

32. [Trans. Note: Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), philosopher. See ‘The Social Organism’ (1860), in Essays: Scientific, Political and Speculative, London, Williams and Norgate, 1868, vol. I, pp. 384-428.]

Gabriel tarde


a considerable, if not exclusive role in the gradual development of organisms’, and so on.33

It should however be noted at this point that science also in-

creasingly assimilates organisms to mechanisms, and that it low-

ers the barriers previously erected between the living and the in-

organic worlds. Why then may the molecule, for example, not be

a society just as much as the plant or the animal? The relative

regularity and permanence of the apparent opposition between

phenomena of a molecular order and phenomena of a cellular

or vital order should in no way lead us to reject this conjecture,

if, with Cournot, we consider further that human societies pass,

in the process of becoming civilized, from a barbaric and as it

were organic phase to a physical and mechanical phase. In the first stage, all the general facts of the instinctive development of their

genius, in their poetry, their arts, their languages, their customs

and their laws, curiously recall the characteristics and processes

of life; and thence they pass by degrees to an administrative, in-

dustrial, scientific, reasonable, and in a word mechanical phase,

which by the great numbers which it has at its disposal, arranged

in equal heaps by the statistician, gives rise to the appearance of

economic laws or pseudo-laws, which are so analogous in many

respects to physical laws, and particularly to the laws of statics.

From this similarity, which is supported by a whole mass of facts,

and for which I refer the reader to Cournot’s Treatise on the Order

of the Fundamental Ideas,34 it follows first of all that the chasm between the nature of inorganic beings and the nature of living

things is not unbridgeable (contrary to an error which Cournot

himself makes on this point), since we see the same evolution,

that of our societies, take on alternately the attributes of the latter

and those of the former. It follows secondly that if a living thing

is a society, a fortiori a purely mechanical being must also be one, since the progress of society consists in mechanization. A molecule would then be, compared to an organism or to a State, only

a kind of infinitely more numerous and more advanced nation,

arrived at the stationary period which J. S. Mill calls forth with

all his will.35

33. [Trans. Note: For Perrier, see note 15 above. This citation has not been traced (Tarde may be paraphrasing rather than citing exactly).]

34. [Trans. Note: Cournot, Traité (note 17), section IV.1 (ed. cited pp. 296-311).]

35. [Trans. Note: See J. S. Mill, ‘Of the Stationary State’, Principles of Political Economy, vol. II, book IV, ch. 6, 5th ed., London, Parker, Son & Bourn, 1862, pp.



Monadology and Sociology

Let us move immediately on to the most specious objection yet

made to this assimilation of organisms, and a fortiori of physical things, to societies. The most striking contrast between nations

and living bodies is that living bodies have defined and symmet-

ric contours, while the borders of nations or the walls of cities are

drawn on the earth with a capricious irregularity which clearly

demonstrates the absence of any pre-ordained plan. Spencer and

Espinas have responded in different ways to this difficulty,36 but, I

believe, there is another possible response.

The contrast cannot be denied—it is a very real one—but it

admits of a plausible explanation; here I offer a simplified version

of this explanation for ease of understanding. Leaving to one side

the defined and symmetrical nature of organic forms, let us fo-

cus solely on another characteristic linked to the former, namely

that the length, breadth and height of an organism are never in

extreme disproportion to one another. In snakes and poplar trees,

height or length is noticeably greater than the other dimensions; in

flatfish the thickness is much less; but, in any case, the dispropor-

tion visible in these extreme forms cannot be likened to that con-

sistently displayed by any given social aggregate. Take for example

China, which has a length and breadth of 3000 kilometres, but an

average height of only 1 or 2 metres, since the Chinese are rather

short and their buildings low. Even a mediaeval state consisting

of a single fortified town tightly constrained within its defensive

walls, and whose houses of several floors overhang the streets, still

has a very small thickness compared to its horizontal extension.

But does this latter example not put us on the trail of the desired

solution? It is in order to better resist external attack that a city is

fortified and agglomerated, and that floors mount up; if in mod-

ern capitals, where this huddling-up is not imposed by the insecu-

rity of the times, houses still tend to become ever taller, this is for

a reason which often conflicts with the preceding, namely to sat-

isfy the need felt by an ever-growing number of men to participate

in the social advantages of the greatest possible assembly of people

in the smallest possible space. If this lively instinct of sociability

which makes men want to agglomerate themselves, either to bet-

ter defend themselves or to develop themselves more fully, did not

36. [Trans. Note: Spencer’s and Espinas’ responses are in fact broadly similar, and primarily rest on questioning the presumption that the forms of organisms are necessarily well-defined and symmetrical (see e.g. Spencer, ‘The Social Organism’, edition cited, pp. 393-394; Espinas, Les Sociétés animales, pp. 216-217).]

Gabriel tarde


rapidly encounter an impassable limit, it is likely that we would see

nations composed of clusters of men towering into the air, support-

ed on the earth without spreading over it. But it is hardly necessary

to indicate why this is impossible. A nation which was as high as

it was wide would surpass the breathable zone of the earth’s atmo-

sphere by a considerable distance, and the earth’s crust provides no

material sufficiently solid for the titanic constructions demanded

by such urban development in a vertical direction. Besides, beyond

a height of a few metres, the resulting inconveniences outweigh

the advantages, as a result of man’s physical makeup, in which all

the senses and organs respond exclusively to the demands of hori-

zontal expansion. Man’s nature is to walk rather than climb, to see

forwards and not up or down, and so on. Finally, the enemies he

fears do not fly in the air but wander on the earth. In this light, it

would be of no use to a nation to be very tall. For cellular aggregates such as animals or plants, the situation is otherwise. They are just

as likely to be unexpectedly attacked from above as from the side,

and must therefore be prepared to defend themselves in every di-

rection. Moreover, the constitution of the anatomical elements

which make up living bodies is nowise limited to co-ordination in

the horizontal plane. There is therefore no obstacle to the unlimit-

ed satisfaction of the sociable instincts which we see in them.

This said, do we not see that, the more a social aggregate grows

in height at the expense of its two other dimensions, and in this

respect diminishes the (albeit still considerable) distance which

separates it from organic forms, the more it comes to resemble the

latter also by its regularity and by the increasing symmetry of its

external shape and internal structure? A large public corporation,

a government school, a barracks, or a monastery are all so many

highly centralized and highly disciplined small States, which con-

firm this perspective on the facts. Conversely, when an organized

being such as a lichen on occasion takes the form of a thin layer of

widely spread cells, it will be noted that its contours are ill-defined

and asymmetrical.

We may discover the significance of this symmetry which, as

a rule, is enjoyed by living forms, by another kind of consideration

borrowed once more from our societies. In vain have theorists at-

tempted to explain this symmetry by considerations of functional

utility. We may prove as much as we like, with Spencer, that lo-

comotion demanded that organisms pass from radial symmetry

to bilateral symmetry, which is lesser but more perfect, and that


Monadology and Sociology

where the maintenance of symmetry was incompatible with the

health of the individual or the perpetuation of the species (for ex-

ample in flatfish), the symmetry has been broken, in an exception

to the general rule. But it should not be forgotten that wherever

possible, all that could be retained of the primordial symmetry

whence life originated (probably spherical, that is to say full and

vague), and all that could be derived from the precise and truly

beautiful symmetry at which life arrives in its progress, has been

conserved or realized. Through the whole gamut of plant and ani-

mal life, from diatoms to orchids, from corals to man, the tenden-

cy towards symmetry is evident. Where does this tendency come

from? Observe that, in our social world, everything which results

not from a competition of intermingled plans which clash togeth-

er, but from an individual’s design executed without hindrance,

is symmetrical and regular. Kant’s philosophical monument

where volumes and chapters harmoniously reflect one another;

the administrative, financial and military systems established by

Napoleon I; the cities which the English have built in Guyana,

with their streets drawn by ruler, meeting at right angles, end-

ing in a square surrounded by lowered porticos; our churches,

our railway stations, and so on; everything, to repeat, which ema-

nates from a thought which is free, ambitious and strong, master

of itself and of others, seems to obey some internal necessity in

displaying the luxury of striking regularity and symmetry. Every

despot has a love of symmetry; if a writer, he must have constant

antitheses; if a philosopher, repeated dichotomies and trichoto-

mies; if a king, ceremony, etiquette, and military parades. If so,

and if, as will be shown below, the possibility of individuals’ ex-

ecuting their plans completely and on a large scale is a sign of so-

cial progress, it follows necessarily that the symmetrical and regu-

lar nature of living things attests to the high degree of perfection

achieved by cellular societies, and to the enlightened despotism to

which they are subject. We should not lose sight of the fact that,

since cellular societies are a thousand times older than human

societies, the inferiority of the latter is hardly surprising. Besides,

human societies are limited in their progress by the small num-

ber of men which the planet can support. The greatest empire of

the world, China, has only 300 or 400 million subjects. An organ-

ism which contained only this number of ultimate anatomical ele-

ments would necessarily be placed towards the bottom of the scale

of plant or animal life.

Gabriel tarde


Having thus met the objection which draws on organic form

to argue against the similarity of organisms to social groups, it

behoves us to say a word about another not inconsequential ob-

jection. Some have contrasted the variability of human societies,

even those which are slowest to change, with the relative fixity of

organic species. But if, as can be shown, the almost exclusive cause

of the internal differentiation of a social form should be sought in

the extra-social relations of its members, that is, in their relations,

either with the fauna, the flora, the soil, the atmosphere of their

country, or with the members of foreign societies which are differ-

ently constituted, this difference is not surprising. Due to the very

nature of its arrangement—which is entirely superficial and not vo-luminous, almost without thickness—to the extreme dispersion of

its elements, and to the multiplicity of intellectual and industrial

exchanges between one people and another, the social aggregate of

men includes an unusually low proportion of essentially conserva-

tive intra-social relations between its members, and prevents them

from maintaining among themselves the omnilateral social rela-

tions presupposed by the globular form of a cell or an organism.

In support of the above view, we may remark that external cu-

taneous cells, which have a monopoly on the principal extra-social

relations, are in every case the most easily modifiable. Nothing is

more variable than the skin and its appendages; in plants, the epi-dermis is in different cases glabrous, hairy, spiny, etc. This cannot

be explained solely by the heterogeneity of the external environ-

ment, which is presumed to be greater than that of the internal

environment. This latter point is not at all proven. Besides, and

consequently, it is always the external cells which set in motion

the variations of the rest of the organism. The proof is that the in-

ternal organs of new species, although modified to some extent

relative to the species from which they emerge, always undergo a

lesser modification than do the peripheral organs, and seem to be

laggards on the path of organic progress.37

Is it necessary to point out that, in the same way, most revolu-

tions in a State are due to the internal fermentation produced by

the introduction of new ideas which mobile populations, sailors,

37. To cite only one example, M C Vogt says (in 1879, at a congress of Swiss naturalists, speaking of Archaeopteryx macroura, intermediate between reptiles and birds): ‘I believe I have proved that adaptation to flight [in reptiles in the process of becoming birds] works from the outside to the inside, from the skin to the skeleton, and that the latter can remain perfectly intact … while the skin has already come to develop feathers’.


Monadology and Sociology

soldiers returned from campaigns in distant parts such as the

Crusades, bring back every day from foreign lands? One would

hardly be mistaken in seeing an organism as a jealous and closed

city, just as the ancients dreamed.

I will pass over a number of secondary objections which the

application of the sociological point of view may encounter along

its way. Since, after all, the fundamental nature of things is strictly

inaccessible, and we are obliged to construct hypotheses in order

to penetrate it, let us openly adopt this one and push it to its con-

clusion. Hypotheses fingo, I say naively. What is dangerous in the sciences are not tightly linked conjectures, logically followed to the

ultimate depths or the ultimate precipices, but rather the ghosts of

ideas which float aimlessly in the mind. The universal sociological

point of view seems to me to be one of these spectres which haunt

the brains of our speculative contemporaries. Let us from the start

see where it will lead us. Let us push ideas to their extreme, at the

risk of being taken for extravagant. In this matter in particular,

the fear of ridicule is the most antiphilosophical of sentiments. All

the developments which follow will be aimed at demonstrating the

profound renewal which the sociological interpretation must, or

should, bring about in every domain of knowledge.

As a preamble, let us take an example at random. From our

point of view, what is signified by the great truth that every ac-

tivity of the soul is linked to the functioning of some bodily ap-

paratus? It comes down to the fact that in a society no individual

can act socially, or show himself in any respect, without the col-

laboration of a great number of other individuals, most of them

unknown to him. The obscure labourers who, by the accumula-

tion of tiny facts, prepare the appearance of a great scientific the-

ory formulated by a Newton, a Cuvier, or a Darwin, compose in

some sense the organism of which this genius is the soul; and

their labours are the cerebral vibrations of which this theory is the

consciousness. Consciousness means in some sense the cerebral

glory of the brain’s most influential and powerful element. Thus, left to its own devices, a monad can achieve nothing. This is the

crucial fact, and it immediately explains another, the tendency of

monads to assemble. This tendency expresses, I believe, the need

for a maximum of expended belief. When this maximum is at-

tained at the point of universal cohesion, then desire, now entire-

ly fulfilled, will be annihilated, and time will come to an end. Let

us also observe that the obscure labourers I mentioned above may

Gabriel tarde


sometimes have as much merit, erudition, and force of thought, as

the celebrated beneficiary of their labours, or indeed even more. I

make this remark in passing, to address the prejudice which leads

us to judge all external monads inferior to ourselves. If the ego is

only a director monad among the myriads of commensal monads

in the same skull, why, fundamentally, should we believe the latter

to be inferior? Is a monarch necessarily more intelligent than his

ministers or his subjects?


This may all seem very strange, but, fundamentally, it is much less

strange than the view which hitherto has been commonly accept-

ed among scientists and philosophers, and from which the univer-

sal sociological point of view should logically deliver us. It is truly

surprising to see men of science, so stubborn in repeating at every

turn that nothing is created, admit implicitly as though self-evident that relations between distinct beings can of themselves become new

beings numerically added to the former. Nonetheless, this is admitted, perhaps unsuspectingly, whenever, having set aside the mo-

nadic hypothesis, one tries by means of any other hypothesis, and

in particular by the play of atoms, to account for the advent of two

crucial beings, namely that of a new living individual, and that of

a new ego. Unless we refuse the name of being to these two reali-

ties which are the prototypes of any concept of being, we are forced

to admit that, as soon as a determinate number of mechanical ele-

ments enter into a certain kind of mechanical relation, a new liv-

ing thing which previously did not exist suddenly exists and is

added to their number; more strictly, we should admit that, as

soon as a given number of living elements find themselves drawn

together in the desired fashion within a skull, something as real

as, if not more real than these elements is created in their midst,

simply in virtue of this drawing together, as if a number could be

increased by the disposition and rearrangement of its units. The

ordinary concept of the relation of conditions to outcome, which is

so much abused by the natural and social sciences, conceals this

almost mythological absurdity which I have described, but none-

theless still harbours it at its very root. Once embarked on this

course, there is no reason to stop: every harmonious, profound

and intimate relation between natural elements becomes the cre-ator of a new and superior element, which in turn assists in the

creation of another yet higher element; at every step of the scale of


Monadology and Sociology

phenomenal complexity, from the atom to the ego, via a series of increasingly complex molecules, then the cell or the Haeckelian

plastidule,38 then the organ and finally the organism, there will ap-

pear as many newly created beings as newly apparent unities and,

up to the ego, one will proceed invincibly on the path of this error

and encounter no obstacle, since it is impossible for us to know in-

timately the true nature of the elementary relations which arise in

systems of external elements of which we do not form a part. But a

serious pitfall appears when we arrive at human societies; here we

are at home, we are the true elements of these coherent systems of

persons which we call cities or states, regiments or congregations.

We know everything that goes on in them. Now, however intimate,

profound, and harmonious a given social group may be, we will

never see springing forth ex abrupto from among its members, to

their surprise, a collective ego which is real and not only metaphorical, a marvellous outcome of which these individuals would be the

conditions. Doubtless there is always one member who represents

and personifies the whole group, or else a small number of them

(like the ministers of a State) who, each in a different respect, indi-

vidualize it no less entirely in themselves. But this leader or lead-

ers are always also members of the group, born from their father

and mother and not collectively from their subjects or their sub-

ordinates. Why, then, should the agreement of unconscious brain

cells have the gift of daily awakening from nothingness a con-

sciousness in an embryonic brain, when the agreement of human

consciousnesses could never achieve this in a society?


Thus the extension of this most eminently lucid of points of view,

namely the sociological, to the totality of phenomena is destined

to radically transform the scientific concept of the relation of con-

ditions to result. In still another respect it brings about a profound

change in this relation. The principal objection against the mo-

nadic doctrine, as stated above, is that it introduces, or appears

to introduce, as much complexity at the base of the phenomena

as at their summit. What, we will be asked, explains the spiritu-

al complexity of the agents by which we hope to explain all else? I

have already met this objection by denying the hypothesized com-

plexity, if it is to be supposed that belief and desire are all there is

38. [Trans. Note: The plastidule, in Haeckel’s theory, is the basic molecule of protoplasm from which cellular organisms are built up.]

Gabriel tarde


to the monads. However, it may be posited, in my view correctly,

that their content cannot be reduced to these two quantities alone.

I shall shortly state what more I attribute to them. Returning to

the stated objection, then, I shall attack it at its very source, in the

widespread prejudice according to which the result is always more

complex than its conditions, and the action more differentiated

than its agents, whence it follows that universal evolution is nec-

essarily a movement from the homogenous to the heterogeneous,

in a progressive and constant process of differentiation. Spencer

has the merit, in particular in his chapter on the instability of the

homogenous,39 of having magisterially formulated this belief, and

elevated it to the status of law. The truth is that difference comes

about by differing and that change comes about by changing and,

in thus being given as ends to themselves, change and difference

attest to their necessary and absolute character; but it is not and

cannot be proven that the total amount of difference and change

in the world is either growing or diminishing. If we look at the so-

cial world, the only one known to us from the inside, we see agents, men, much more differentiated and more sharply characterized as

individuals, and richer in continual variations, than are the mech-

anisms of government or the systems of laws or of beliefs, or even

dictionaries or grammars, and this differentiation is maintained

by their competition. A historical fact is simpler and clearer than

the states of mind of any of its actors. Moreover, as the popula-

tion of social groups grows and the brains of their members are

enriched with new ideas and new sentiments, the functioning of

their administrations, their codes of law and conduct, their cate-

chisms, and the very structure of their languages become simpler

and more regular, rather as scientific theories become simpler as

they are filled with more numerous and diverse facts. Our rail-

way stations are constructed to a simpler and more standardized

form than the castles of the Middle Ages, even though the former

draw on a much more diverse range of resources and skills. At the

same time we see that, if the progress of civilization in certain re-

spects diversifies individual human beings, it does so only on con-

dition of levelling them in other respects by the growing unifor-

mity of their laws, their habits, their customs, and their languages.

In general, the similarity of these collective factors encourages the

intellectual and moral dissimilarity of individuals, and extends

39. [Trans. Note: Herbert Spencer, First Principles, 5th ed., London, Williams & Norgate, 1887, ch. 13, pp. 401-430.]


Monadology and Sociology

their sphere of action; and besides, if in the course of the civi-

lizing movement, institutions, customs, clothing, industrial prod-

ucts and so on, differ much less between one point and another in a given territory, they differ much more from one moment to another

in a given span of time.

As for the formula of the instability of the homogenous, it pre-

supposes that the more homogenous something is, the more un-

stable its internal equilibrium, to the extent that if it were absolute-

ly homogenous, it would be unable to subsist from one moment

to the next. However, it is remarkable that space is the only type

of absolute homogeneity known to us, if its reality be admitted, as

Spencer does. How can it be, if this law holds, that this perfectly homogenous system of points and volumes has subsisted unalterably

since the beginning of time? To be sure, this argument no longer

holds if the reality of space be denied, but regardless, this putative

law is contradicted by a thousand examples of relative homogene-

ity arising from heterogeneity, the most striking of which are fur-

nished by the observation of either human or animal societies.

The aggregation of polyps, animals which are often very compli-

cated, forms a colony or polypary, an extremely rudimentary form

of aquatic vegetable. The aggregation of men in tribes or nations

gives birth to a language, an inferior species of plant whose his-

torical vegetation,40 growth and flourishing, to use their own expressions, are studied by philosophers.

This, to repeat, is why the infusion of a sociological spirit into

the sciences would be eminently conducive to curing them of this

prejudice against which I have taken arms. It would then be clear

how we should understand this great and beautiful principle of

differentiation, which Spencer extended so successfully without,

however, being able to reconcile it, as I believe we must, with the

no less certain principle of universal co-ordination. The primor-

dial nebula41 appears to us shrouded in the mists of time, and it

is perhaps due only to this distance that it displays to us the ho-

mogeneity which forms the point of departure for all cosmogonic

theories. Do we have the least knowledge of what antecedent di-

versities were sacrificed by the condensation of the elements into

similar atoms, of the atoms into molecules and celestial spheres,

40. [Trans. Note: The use of the term ‘vegetation’ ( végétation) to mean growth or development in general is less common now than in Tarde’s time in both English and French.]

41. [Trans. Note: The cloud from which the solar system coalesced.]

Gabriel tarde


of molecules into cells and so on, for the benefit of the diversi-

ties which came after them (and which were admittedly greater

than the former, which is not to say that the one grew from the

other)? We know a little better, but still do not fully understand,

what it cost to a people of free and wandering savages to agglomer-

ate themselves into bands, and to bands to settle in cities, circling

about a pivot of fixed institutions. But when, before our eyes, the

provincial diversity of customs, of costumes, of ideas, of accents,

and of physical forms, is being levelled by modernity, by the uni-

ty of weights and measures, of language, of accent, and even of

conversation—a levelling which is the necessary condition for all

these minds to come into contact with one another, that is, to be-

gin to work, and to develop more freely their individual character-

istics—then the tears of poets and of artists attest to the price of

the social picturesqueness which has been sacrificed for the sake

of these advantages. Are the newly created differences more con-

siderable than the old ones, in virtue of being more advantageous

because they respond to a greater number of desires? No. We have

an unfortunate and inexplicable tendency to imagine everything

unknown to us as homogenous. Since the former geological states

of the planet are much less well known to us than its current state,

we think it certain that they were less differentiated, a prejudice

against which Lyell frequently protests.42 Before the telescope

which revealed to us the multiformity of nebulae, of stellar forms,

double and variable stars, was the universal dream not of immu-

table and incorruptible heavens beyond those known to us?43 And

in the realm of the infinitely small, which, much more than the in-

finitely large, has remained inaccessible to our observations, does

one not still dream of the philosopher’s stone in a thousand forms,

the identical atoms of the chemists, or the so-called homogenous

protoplasm of the naturalists? But everywhere where a scientist

digs beneath the indistinction which is apparent to us, he discov-

ers an unexpected treasury of distinctions. It was once thought

that animalcula were homogenous. Ehrenberg44 examined them

42. [Trans. Note: Charles Lyell (1797-1875), geologist. Lyell’s ‘uniformitarian-ism’ emphasized the identity of the basic geological laws and processes from the distant past to the present.]

43. [Trans. Note: Tarde presumably has in mind Aristotelian cosmology, in which the heavens beyond the moon are made of a fifth element (aether), which is not found in the sublunary world, and which unlike the four earthly elements, does not admit of any change other than local motion.]

44. [Trans. Note: Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg (1795-1876), naturalist.]


Monadology and Sociology

through the microscope, and from then on, as Perrier says, ‘the

soul of everything he did was the belief in the equal complexity of

all animals’, from infusoria to man. Since solids and liquids are

more accessible to our senses than are gases, and the latter more

accessible than is ethereal nature, we think that solids or liquids

are more different from each other than are gases, and in physics

we speak of ether and not of ethers (although Laplace uses this plural) as we would speak only of gas and not of gases, if the latter were known to us only by their physical effects—which are remarkably

similar—to the exclusion of their chemical properties. When wa-

ter vapour crystallizes into a thousand different needles or simply

liquefies into flowing water, does this condensation really, as we

are inclined to think, entail an increase in the differences inherent

in the water molecules? No; let us not forget the freedom which

the latter formerly enjoyed in the state of gaseous dispersion, their

movement in every direction, their impacts, and their infinitely

varied distances. Is it then that the differences have decreased?

Again, no: all that has happened is that one kind of difference has

been substituted for another, that is, internal differences for mu-

tually external ones.

To exist is to differ; difference is, in a sense, the truly sub-

stantial side of things; it is at once their ownmost possession and

that which they hold most in common. This must be our starting

point, and we must refrain from further explaining this princi-

ple, since all things come back to it—including identity, which is

more usually, but mistakenly, taken as the point of departure. For

identity is only the minimal degree of difference and hence a kind of difference, and an infinitely rare kind, as rest is only a special

case of movement, and the circle only a particular variety of el-

lipse. To begin from the primordial identity is to posit at the ori-

gin of things a prodigiously improbable singularity, an impossible

coincidence of multiple beings, at once distinct from and similar

to one another; or else the inexplicable mystery of a single simple

being, which would subsequently, for no comprehensible reason,

suffer division. It is to commit a similar error to that of the ancient

astronomers who, in their chimerical explanations of the solar sys-

tem, began with the circle and not with the ellipse, on the basis

that the former is more perfect. Difference is the alpha and omega

of the universe; everything begins with difference, with the ele-

ments whose innate diversity (which various reasons make prob-

able) can in my view be the only justification of their multiplicity;

Gabriel tarde


everything ends with difference, where, in the higher phenomena

of thought and history, it finally breaks free of the narrow circles

in which it had bound itself, namely the atomic vortex and the vital

vortex, and transforming the very obstacle it faced into a fulcrum,

surpasses and transfigures itself. It seems to me that all similari-

ties and all phenomenal repetitions are only intermediaries, which

will inevitably be found to be interposed between some elementa-

ry diversities which are more or less obliterated, and the transcen-

dent diversities produced by their partial immolation.

We might also observe that every sufficiently prolonged pro-

cess of evolution exhibits a succession and interlacing of phenom-

enal layers which are remarkable alternately for the regularity and

the caprice, the permanence and the fugacity, of the relations they

present to us. The example of society is eminently well-suited to

promote an awareness of this central fact, and at the same time to

indicate its true significance, by showing that in this series where

identity and difference, the indistinct and the well-characterized

each reciprocally make use of the other over and over again, the

initial and final term is always difference, the characteristic, the bi-

zarre and inexplicable agitation at the basis of all things, which re-

appears more clearly and sharply after each successive effacement.

The speech of men, each with a different accent, intonation, and

timbre of voice and gesture: this veritable chaos of discordant het-

erogeneities is the social element. But at length, general habits of

language emerge from this confused Babel, and are formulated as

grammatical laws. In their turn the latter serve, by bringing into

relation a greater number of speakers, only to throw into relief the

particular individual turn taken by their ideas: another kind of dis-

cord. And they succeed all the more in the diversification of minds

to the extent that they are themselves more fixed and uniform.

Take poets, for example. When a language is newly born, they take

hold of it and bend it to their disordered fantasy. However, after

a certain period of babbling, rhythms and prosodic laws are for-

mulated and imposed; and this takes place in all poetries, be they

Hindu, Greek or French. Uniformity appears anew. What purpose

does it serve? To better unfold the poets’ imaginative resources

and to add lustre to each one’s individual hue. In proportion to

the growing regularity of the rhythmical beating, as it were, of the

wings of poetry, its flight paradoxically becomes more capricious.

Victor Hugo’s prosody with its subtle rules is at once more com-

plex and more rigorous than Racine’s. We could equally well have


Monadology and Sociology

considered scientists rather than poets, and the observation would

have led to the same results. Each scientist works apart from the

others, although he utilizes their work, thanks to their common

language; he puts his temperament, his soul, into the research he

undertakes; all is defined, all is individual.

If we could gather in a single place all the researchers who are

collectively constructing a science at an early stage of its develop-

ment (organic chemistry, for example, meteorology, or linguistics),

there could be no more bizarre pandemonium than this scientif-

ic furnace. And yet in this furnace an impersonal monument is

forged,45 an edifice in glacial grey, where the least trace of the mul-

ticoloured psychological states which built it seems to have been

absolutely erased. But let us pause for a moment. Science itself is

certainly not the last word in progress. Let us imagine it finished,

complete, and condensed into a definitive catechism which could

easily be installed in a corner of everyone’s memory; in this way

a vastly greater quantity of energy than we can presently imag-

ine would be made available in the human brain for other uses. It

would then become clear that the perfect systematization and uni-

versal propagation of scientific orthodoxy had had for its ultimate

and supreme rationale the extraordinary flourishing of hypothe-

ses, of philosophical heresies, of an endless series of self-invented

systems, and of extraordinary lyrical and dramatic fantasies, in

which, thanks to the impersonality of scientific knowledge, each

mind’s profound need to universalize its particular nuance and

to set its seal upon the world could be fully satisfied. Intelligence

followed to its logical conclusion will in the end be nothing more

than the handmaiden of imagination.

Shall we consider social evolution in its economic, adminis-

trative, or military aspect? We will again observe the same law.

Industry, from a primitive phase where each does whatsoever and

howsoever he likes, evolves rapidly to a second phase where pro-

fessions and corporations are established, with their fixed and tra-

ditional processes of manufacture which seem created to stifle ge-

nius, which would be nothing but a useless encumbrance; but on

the contrary, by this very constraint, the genius of inventions and

of arts is fortified and emerges incomparably more fecund than

before. Commerce, from a primitive phase with no fixed or gener-

al prices, requiring perpetual haggling, and favouring individual

45. [Trans. Note: Reading se forge with the 1893 text; the 1895 text has se forme (takes shape).]

Gabriel tarde


shrewdness and cunning, evolves to produce the uniform and reg-

ulated course of our great modern markets, provided with their

special thermometers known as stock exchanges; and in the end,

far from crushing individual skill beneath the authority of num-

ber, the regularity and almost physical inevitability of the over-

all economic facts support the unbridled impulse to speculation

and the spirit of enterprise which take hold of these facts and play

upon them, and in which the least psychological particularities of

the players break forth lawlessly in sudden triumphs or catastro-

phes. The incoherence and administrative quirks of a nation in its

embryonic state are gradually replaced by unity, stable administra-

tion and centralized power, all to the greater glory of statesmen,

who are the operators of this machine and make use of it to ac-

complish their historic deeds, each one sui generis like its author, a marvellous accident of planetary forces. Finally, the indisciplined

hordes of barbarian societies are superseded by our fine mecha-

nized armies, in which the individual is nothing but a tool in the

hands of a great captain who throws him into some battle dissimi-

lar to every other, with its own name and date, reproducing on the

vastly enlarged scale of the battlefield the particular psychological

state which is his during the action.

It can thus be seen from these examples that, strangely

enough, order and simplicity are manifest in the composite even

though foreign to its elements, and then once more disappear in

the higher composites, and so on up the scale. But in the case

of social evolutions and social aggregations, of which we form a

part and where we have the advantage of being able to grasp at the

same time the two ends of the chain, the lowest and the highest

stones of the edifice, we can clearly see that order and simplicity

are simply mediating terms, alembics in which elementary diver-

sity is potently transfigured and, as it were, sublimated. The poet

and the philosopher essentially, and secondarily the inventor, the

artist, the speculator, the politician, and the tactician: these are

the terminal flowers of any national tree;46 their blossoming de-

pends upon the work of all the aborted germs of innate, extra-

social (or in some cases anti-social) characteristics, which every

46. I do not at all mean to place all of these on the same level. Among other differences, one may harbour hopes or dreams of a life of perfected civilization, when everyone would have his own poetry and his own philosophy, but one cannot imagine a life where everyone had his own great discovery, his own grand prize in the lottery, or his own political or military role.


Monadology and Sociology

private citizen brought with him into the world, and which in most

cases were stifled in the cradle by education, that indispensable

but false leveller.

These innate characteristics, the first term of the social series,

are at the same time the last term of the vital series. In attempting

to reascend the latter in its turn, we would traverse first of all the

specific form, harmoniously constituted and regularly repeated

over centuries, whose variations these characteristics are,—then

the critical period in which this form was shaped by a coincidence

of multiple causes in unexpected juxtapositions,—then the previ-

ous forms whence the specific form derives and their analogous

formations,—then the cell, and finally the formless or protean pro-

toplasm, with its sudden whims which no law may grasp.—Here

again the alpha and the omega is diversity, in all its vividness.

But is the protoplasm, the first term of the vital series, not also

the final term of the chemical series? The latter, if we reascend it

in its turn, displays the less and less complex molecular forms of

organic chemistry, and the similarly less and less complex molec-

ular forms of inorganic chemistry, all regularly constructed and

probably consisting of harmonious cycles of periodic rhythmical

movements, but each separated from the others by tumultuous

and disordered crises of their combinations; and thus we arrive

by conjecture at the simplest atom or atoms, from which all the

others are built. But is this, then, the initial element? No. For the

simplest atom is a material form, a vortex, as we are told, a vibra-

tory rhythm of a certain kind, something by all appearances infi-

nitely complex. This complexity has been confirmed more than

ever by the studies of highly rarefied gases conducted since the in-

vention of the radiometer, in which it seems to be possible to see

the gaseous atom individually. For example, in this ultra-gaseous

world, a ray of light does not always travel in a straight line;47 the

closer we approach to the individual element, the more variable

the observed phenomena. Clerk Maxwell has established that the

molecules in the same gas move with very different speeds, even

47. [Trans. Note: For this finding, see W. Crookes (1879) ‘On the illumination of lines of molecular pressure, and the trajectory of molecules’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, no. 175, pp.135-164. The ‘ultra-gaseous’

or ‘radiant matter’ state refers to matter in an extreme state of rarefaction, where each molecule is ‘allowed to obey its own motions or laws without interference’, and can be seen as an individual rather than part of an ‘aggregate’ (W. Crookes (1880) ‘On a fourth state of matter’, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, no.

30, pp. 469-472. William Crookes (1832-1919), chemist and physicist.]

Gabriel tarde


though their average speed may be identical.48 Spottiswoode, of

the Royal Society of London, says: ‘This is because the simplicity

of nature as we currently understand it is in reality the result of an

infinite complexity, and because, beneath the appearance of unifor-

mity, we find a diversity whose depths and secrets we have not begun

to fathom’.49 Crookes expresses himself similarly with relation to radiant matter: ‘The greatest problems of the future will find their

solution in this unexplored domain [of the infinitely small], where

doubtless the fundamental, subtle, marvellous and profound realities

are to be found’.50 Would he so express himself if he regarded the

ultimate elements, in the vulgar fashion, as identical exemplars of

an unvarying form? Because every chemical substance translates

itself to our eyes by a special vibration imprinted on the ether, one

is led to believe that this faculty of vibrating in a certain way is

identical in every similar atom and that they have no other proper-

ties. It is as if one said of a grove of pines or poplars, heard at a distance and recognized by its particular whisper or murmur, simple

and monotonous, that the leaves of the pine or the poplar consist

of a characteristic and invariable quivering. Thus, as with society,

as with life, chemistry appears to bear witness to the necessity of

universal difference, the principle and end of all hierarchies and

all developments.

Diversity, and not unity, is at the heart of things: this conclu-

sion, in any case, follows for us from a general remark which a

simple glance at the world and at the sciences allows us to make.

Everywhere an exuberant richness of unheard-of variations and

modulations springs forth from these permanent themes which

are called living species and stellar systems, and from equilibria of

all kinds, and in the end destroys and renews them utterly, and yet

in no case do the forces or laws which we are used to calling prin-

ciples have variety as a term or as their goal. Forces, we are told,

exist to serve laws, and all laws apply to phenomena to the extent

that the latter are perfect repetitions and not repetitions with vari-

ations; all laws manifestly tend to ensure the exact reproduction

of the themes and the indefinitely prolonged stability of all kinds

of equilibria, and to prevent their alteration or renewal. The great

crankshaft of our solar system is made in order to turn eternally.

48. [Trans. Note: James Clerk Marxwell (1831-1879), physicist. The reference is to his statistical description of gas kinetics (the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution).]

49. [Trans. Note: The citation has not been traced.]

50. [Trans. Note: W. Crookes, the citation has not been traced.]


Monadology and Sociology

The doubts which might have persisted on this point after Laplace

were dispelled by Le Verrier.51 Every living species wants to perpetuate itself endlessly; something in it struggles to maintain its ex-

istence against everything which endeavours to dissolve it. In this

respect it is like a government, or like the most precarious min-

istry whose essential role is always to proclaim, believe and wish

that it is installed in power for all eternity. There is no long-extinct

plant or animal species, now extant only as a fossil, which did not

once embody a legislative assurance, an apparently well-founded

certainty of living as long as the Earth. All these things which have

passed away were once called to endless life, supported by physi-

cal, chemical, and vital laws, as our despots and our ministers by

their code of laws and by their army. Our solar system too will

doubtless perish, like so many others whose wreckage is visible

in the skies; and indeed, who knows if the molecular forms them-

selves will not disappear, having come into existence in the course

of the ages at the expense of those which preceded them?

But how can all of this have died, or how could it die? How, if

there is in the universe nothing but supposedly immutable and

all-powerful laws aiming at stable equilibria, and a supposedly im-

mutable substance to which these laws apply, how could the action

of these laws on this substance produce this magnificent flourish-

ing of varieties which rejuvenates the universe at every moment,

and this series of unexpected revolutions which transfigure it?

How could the least ornament creep into these austere rhythms

and enliven even a little the eternal psalmody of the world? From

the marriage of the monotonous and the homogenous what could

be born but tedium? If everything comes from identity, aims at

identity and returns to identity, what is the source of this dazzling

torrent of variety? We may be certain that the fundamental nature

of things is not as poor, as drab, or as colourless as has been sup-

posed. Forms are only brakes and laws are only dykes erected in

vain against the overflowing of revolutionary differences and civ-

il dissensions, in which the laws and forms of tomorrow secretly

take shape, and which, in spite of the yokes upon yokes they bear,

in spite of chemical and vital discipline, in spite of reason, in spite