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.

51. [Trans. Note: Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827, mathematician and astronomer) was instrumental in developing a mechanical theory of the stability of the solar system. Urbain Le Verrier’s (1811-1877) prediction of the planet Neptune (1846) and its subsequent discovery by observation provided further confirmation of Laplace’s model.]

Gabriel tarde


of celestial mechanics, will one distant day, like the people of a na-

tion, sweep away all barriers and from their very wreckage con-

struct the instrument of a still higher diversity.

Let us insist on this central truth: we may approach it by re-

marking that, in all great regular mechanisms—the social mecha-

nism, the vital mechanism, the stellar mechanism, or the molec-

ular mechanism—all the internal revolts which in the end break

them apart are provoked by a similar condition: their constitutive

elements, the soldiers of these diverse regiments, the temporary

incarnation of their laws, always belong only by one aspect of their

being to the world they constitute, and by other aspects escape

it. This world would not exist without them; without the world,

conversely, the elements would still be something. The attributes

which each element possesses in virtue of its incorporation into its

regiment do not form the whole of its nature; it has other tenden-

cies and other instincts which come to it from its other regimen-

tations; and, moreover (we will shortly see the necessity of this

corollary), still others which come to it from its basic nature, from

itself, from its own fundamental substance which is the basis of

its struggle against the collective power of which it forms a part.

This collective is wider but no less deep than the element, but it is

a merely artificial being, a composite made up of aspects and fa-

çades of other beings.—This hypothesis can easily be verified in

the case of social elements. If they were only social, and in partic-

ular only national, it would follow that societies and nations would

exist without change for all eternity. But, in spite of our great debt

to the social and national environment, it is clear that we do not

owe everything to it. At the same time as being French or English,

we are mammals, and as such there circulate in our blood not only

the germs of social instincts which predispose us to imitate our

peers, to believe what they believe and want what they want, but

also the seeds of non-social instincts, including some which are

anti-social. Surely, if society had made us in our entirety, it would

have made us entirely sociable. It is therefore from the depths of

organic life (and from deeper still, we believe) that there wells up

among our cities this magma of discord, hatred and envy, which

on occasion submerges them. It is hardly possible to enumerate

all the States overthrown by sexual love, all the cults it has under-

mined or denatured, all the languages it has corrupted, and also

all the colonies it has founded, all the religions it has ameliorated

and made gentle, all the barbaric idioms it has civilized, all the


Monadology and Sociology

arts whose life-blood it has been! Rebellion and rejuvenation in-

deed spring from a single source. In truth, all that is truly social is

the imitation of one’s compatriots and ancestors,52 in the broadest sense of the term.

If the elements of societies are vital in nature, the organic ele-

ments of living bodies are chemical. One of the errors of the older

physiology was to think that as soon as they enter into an organ-

ism, chemical substances abdicate all their properties and are pen-

etrated to their innermost heart, to their most secret core, by the

mysterious influence of life. Our contemporary physiologists have

entirely dispelled this error. A molecule which forms part of an or-

ganic body, therefore, belongs at once to two worlds which are for-

eign or hostile to one another. Can it be denied that this indepen-

dence of the chemical nature of corporeal elements with respect

to their organic nature helps to explain the perturbations, the de-

viations and the fortunate recastings of living forms? Indeed, it

seems to me that we must go yet further and recognize that only

this independence can account for the resistance of some parts of

the organs to the acceptance of the inherited living form, and for

the necessity which sometimes obliges life (that is, the collection

of molecules which have remained obedient) to finally come to a

compromise with the rebellious faction of molecules by adopting

a new form. In effect, then, the only truly vital process seems to

be generation (of which nutrition and cellular regeneration are only special cases), in conformity with the hereditary form.

Is this the final word? Perhaps not; the analogy suggests that

chemical and astronomical laws themselves are not supported on

nothingness, but that their domain of application is populated by

tiny beings already endowed with inner characters and innate di-

versities, diversities which are in no way accommodated to the par-

ticularities of the celestial or chemical machinery. It is true that we

cannot perceive in chemical bodies the trace of any accidental ail-

ment or deviation which we could see as parallel to organic disor-

ders or social revolutions. But, since there do currently exist chem-

ical heterogeneities, there doubtless existed, in some far distant

era, chemical formations. Were these formations simultaneous?

Did hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, etc., appear at the same instant in

the heart of a single amorphous substance which was previously

52. In progressive societies, it is increasingly one’s compatriots rather than one’s ancestors who are imitated, and the converse in stationary societies. But to associate always and everywhere means to assimilate, that is, to imitate.

Gabriel tarde


non-chemical? If this is judged improbable, or rather impossible,

we must admit that an originary atomic form transmitted through

vibration, starting from a point—that of hydrogen, for example—

imposed itself throughout the whole or almost the whole of ma-

terial extension, and that, by breaking away in succession from

the primordial hydrogen, at long intervals of time, all the other

so-called simple bodies—whose atomic weights, as we know, are

often exact multiples of that of hydrogen—were formed. But how

can we explain such fission on the hypothesis that the primitive el-

ements are perfectly homogenous and governed by the same law,

which, it seems to me, should rather consolidate by the identity of

their structure the identity and immutability of their nature? Will

it perhaps be argued that the accidents of astronomical evolution

involving the primitive elements could have produced or catalysed

chemical formations? Unfortunately this hypothesis seems to me

to have been very clearly ruled out by the discovery of the spectro-

scope. Since, according to this instrument, all the so-called simple

bodies or many of them enter into the composition of the most dis-

tant planets and stars, which have evolved independently of each

other, common sense tells us that the simple bodies were formed

before the stars, as cloth before clothes. It follows that the piece-

meal dismembering of the primitive substance admits of only one

explanation: namely, that the particles were originally dissimi-

lar, and that their schisms were caused by this essential dissim-

ilarity. There is thus some reason to think that hydrogen, for ex-

ample, as it exists today after so many successive eliminations or

emigrations, is noticeably different from the ur-hydrogen, which

would have been a pell-mell of discordant atoms. The same obser-

vation applies to all the simple bodies which were subsequently

engendered. In being thus exhausted and reduced, each was con-

solidated in its equilibrium, and fortified by its very losses. But, if

so, it is highly improbable, despite the extraordinary stability thus

acquired by the oldest atomic or molecular forms, that complete

similarity obtains among the elements which subsist in each. It

would have sufficed, for the refining of each form to come to an

end, if the internal differences of its elements had diminished to a

point where it was no longer impossible for the elements to coex-

ist. These infinitesimal citizens of mysterious cities are so distant

from us53 that it is no wonder that the noise of their internal dis-

53. I say distant from us, not only by the incommensurable distance between their smallness and our relative immensity, and, conversely, between their relative 50

Monadology and Sociology

cord does not reach us, and their internal differences, if they exist

as I believe, must be of a fineness which cannot be apprehended by

our gross instruments. However, the polymorphism of certain el-

ements is a sufficient indicator that they harbour dissidences, and

we know enough of these to have some suspicion of the troubles

and disparities which afflict the fundamental nature of the princi-

pal substances employed by life, in particular carbon. How can it

be admitted that the atoms of a single substance bond with each

other so as to form what Gerhardt calls hydrogen hydride, chlo-

rine chloride, etc., while persisting in elevating to the status of

dogma the perfect similarity of the multiple atoms of a single sub-

stance? Does not such a union presuppose a difference of at least

an equal magnitude to the sexual difference which allows two in-

dividuals of a single species to unite intimately, and without which

they could only bump together?

If we observe that the element in which these unions of atom

to similar atom have been most clearly demonstrated to be proba-

ble, and indeed almost certain, namely carbon, is also the element

which manifests itself to us in its pure state in the most varied as-

pects, diamond, graphite, coal, etc., the preceding induction will

be confirmed. It is no surprise that the body most fertile in variet-

ies reveals most clearly the vigorous marriages between its constit-

uent atoms … Carbon is the differentiated element par excellence.

Wurtz says: ‘The affinity of carbon for carbon is the cause of

the infinite variety and the immense number of the combinations

of carbon; it is the raison d’être of organic chemistry. No other element possesses to the same degree this master-property of carbon,

this faculty which its atoms have of combining with one another,

of fastening onto one another, of forming this framework, so vari-

able in its form, its dimensions, its solidity, and which serves, as it

were, as the basis of other materials’.54

After carbon, the bodies which have to the greatest degree this

capacity for being partially or entirely saturated by themselves are

oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen; remarkably enough, exactly those

substances utilized by life!

Besides, one significant fact should give us pause for reflec-

tion: life began on this globe at a particular time and in a particular

apparent eternity and our brief duration (a very strange and perhaps imaginary contrast), but also by the profound heterogeneity of their inner nature and ours.

54. [Trans. Note: Adolphe Wurtz (1817-1884), chemist. The citation has not been traced.]

Gabriel tarde


place. Why at this place and not elsewhere, if the same substanc-

es were composed of the same elements? Let us even admit that

life is only a particular, highly complex chemical combination.

Nonetheless, how could it have been born, if not from an element

unlike all the others?


In the two preceding chapters, we have shown that the universal

sociological point of view may be of service to science in two ways,

by liberating it, first, from those hollow entities brought about by

misunderstanding the relation of conditions to result, and then

mistakenly substituted for the real agents; and second, from the

prejudiced belief in the perfect similarity of these elementary

agents. These two advantages are, however, purely negative; I will

now try to show what more positive information we can gain by

the same method regarding the inner nature of the elements. It is

not enough to say that the elements are diverse, we must specify

in what their diversity consists. This will demand several develop-

ments of our theory.

What is society? It could be defined, from our point of view,

as each individual’s reciprocal possession, in many highly varied

forms, of every other. Unilateral possession, such as that in an-

cient law of the slave by the master, of the son by the father, or of

the wife by the husband, is only a first step towards the social link.

Thanks to the development of civilization, the possessed becomes

more and more a possessor, and the possessor a possessed, until,

by equality of right, by popular sovereignty, and by the equitable

exchange of services, ancient slavery, now mutualized and univer-

salized, makes each citizen at once the master and the servant of

every other. At the same time, the ways of possessing one’s fellow

citizens, and of being possessed by them, grow in number every

day. Every new administration or industry which is created sets to

work new administrators or industrialists on behalf of those who

are administered by them or who consume their products, and

who in this sense gain a real right with respect to them, a right

which they did not previously have, while they themselves con-

versely have come, by this new two-sided relation, to belong to these industrialists or administrators. We may say the same of any new

opportunity. When a newly opened railway brings produce from

the sea to a small town far inland for the first time, the domain

of the town’s inhabitants has grown to include the fishermen who


Monadology and Sociology

are now part of it, and the clientele of the fishermen, correspond-

ingly, has grown to include the townspeople. As a subscriber to a

newspaper, I possess my journalists, who possess their subscribers. I possess my government, my religion, my police force, just as

much as my specifically human form, my temperament, and my

health; but I also know that the ministers of my nation, the priests

of my confession or the police officers of my county count me as

one of the flock they guard; and in the same way, the human form,

if it were somehow personified, would see in me only one of its

particular variations.

All philosophy hitherto has been based on the verb Be, the

definition of which was the philosopher’s stone, which all sought

to discover. We may affirm that, if it had been based on the verb

Have, many sterile debates and fruitless intellectual exertions

would have been avoided. From this principle, I am, all the sub-

tlety in the world has not made it possible to deduce any existence

other than my own: hence the negation of external reality. If, how-

ever, the postulate I have is posited as the fundamental fact, both that which has and that which is had are given inseparably at once.

If having seems to indicate being, being surely implies hav-

ing. Being, that hollow abstraction, is never conceived except as

the property of something, of some other being, which is itself

composed of properties, and so on to infinity. At root, the whole content of the concept of being is exhausted by the concept of having. But the converse is not true: being is not the whole content of

the idea of property.

The concrete and substantial concept which one discovers in

oneself is, therefore, that of having. Instead of the famous cogito

ergo sum, I would prefer to say: I desire, I believe, therefore I have.

The verb to be means in some cases to have, and in others to be equal to. ‘My arm is hot’: the heat of my arm is the property of my arm. Here is means has. ‘A Frenchman is a European, a metre is a measure of length’. Here is means is equal to. But this equality itself is only the relation of part to whole, of genus to species or vice versa, that is, a kind of relation of possession. In these two mean-ings, therefore, being is reducible to having.

If one wishes to forcibly draw from the concept of Being im-

plications which are precluded by its essential sterility, one has

to put it in opposition to non-being, and grant to the latter term

(which is nothing but an empty objectification of our faculty of de-

nial, as Being is an objectification of our faculty of affirmation) a

Gabriel tarde


wholly unwarranted importance.—In this respect, the Hegelian

system can be considered the last word in the philosophy of Being.

Embarked on this path, one will have to concoct impenetrable, and

basically contradictory, concepts of becoming and disappearance, the old empty pap of Teutonic ideologues.55 By contrast, nothing

could be clearer than the concepts of gain and loss, of acquisition and divestment, which take this place in the philosophy of Having,

if we may thus name something which does not yet exist. Between

being and non-being there is no middle term, whereas one can

have more or less.

Being and non-being, ego and non-ego: barren oppositions

which obscure the real correlatives. The true opposite of the ego is not the non-ego but the mine; the true opposite of being, that is of having, is not non-being but what is had.

The deep and accelerating divergence between the course of

science strictly speaking and that of philosophy comes from the

fact that the former, happily, has chosen for its guide the verb

Have. For science, everything is explained by properties, not by entities. Science disdains the unsatisfactory relation of substance to

phenomenon, two empty terms which only are only the doubles of

Being; it makes only moderate use of the relation of cause to ef-

fect, in which possession appears in only one of its two forms, and

the less important, namely possession by desire. But science has

made considerable use and, unfortunately, abuse of the relation of

proprietor 56 to property. The abuse has consisted primarily in having misunderstood this relation by failing to see that the real prop-

erty of any proprietor is a set of other proprietors; that each mass,

each molecule of the solar system, for example, has for its physical

and mechanical property not words like extension, mobility and

so on, but all the other masses, all the other molecules; that each

atom of a molecule has for its chemical property, not atomicities or

55. [Trans. Note: In Hegel’s logic, the ‘disappearance’ ( Verschwinden) of being into non-being and vice versa generates ‘becoming’ ( Werden) ( Science of Logic, vol 1, book 1, sec 1, ch 1.C.1, ‘Unity of Being and Nothing’).]

56. [Trans. Note: Tarde’s concept of ‘property’ ( propriété) is deliberately ambig-uous between the sense of ‘goods owned’ and the sense of ‘characteristic’ or ‘quality’. The term ‘proprietor’ ( propriétaire) is standard in both French and English for a person who has a property in the first sense, but not in the second. In English-language analytic philosophy, ‘instance’ is sometimes used to describe an entity which has a property in the second sense (which ‘instantiates’ the property), but this brings with it an implicit ontology of properties which is incompatible with Tarde’s; I have therefore retained the term ‘proprietor’. The theory of properties is discussed further in the Afterword.]


Monadology and Sociology

affinities, but all the other atoms of the same molecule; that each

cell of an organism has for its biological property, not irritability,

contractibility, innervation, and so on, but all the other cells of the

same organism, and in particular, of the same organ. Here pos-

session is reciprocal, as in every intra-social relation; but it can be unilateral, as in the extra-social relation of master to slave, or of the farmer to his cattle. For example, the retina has for its property,

not vision, but the luminously vibrating ethereal atoms, which do

not possess it; and the mind possesses mentally all the objects of

its thought, to which it in no way belongs. Is this to say that the ab-

stract terms, mobility, density, weight, affinity, and so on, express

nothing and correspond to nothing? They mean, I think, that be-

yond the real domain of every element, there is its conditionally

necessary domain, that is certain although unreal, and that the an-

cient distinction between the real and the possible, in a new sense,

is not a chimera.

The elements are, certainly, agents as much as they are pro-

prietors; but they can be proprietors without being agents, and

they cannot be agents without being proprietors. Moreover, their

action can be revealed to us only as a change in the nature of

their possession.

On closer investigation, it will be seen that the sole cause of

the superiority of the scientific point of view over the philosoph-

ical point of view is the fortunate choice of fundamental rela-

tion adopted by scientists, and that all the remaining obscurities

and weaknesses of science spring from the incomplete analysis

of this relation.

For thousands of years, thinkers have catalogued the different

ways of being and the different degrees of being, and have never

thought to classify the different types and degrees of possession.

Possession is, nonetheless, the universal fact, and there is no bet-

ter term than acquisition to express the formation and growth of

any being. The terms correspondence and adaptation,57 brought into fashion by Darwin and Spencer, are more vague and equivocal, and grasp the universal fact only from the outside. Is it true

that the bird’s wing is adapted to air, the fish’s fin to water, the eye

to light? No, no more than the locomotive is adapted to coal, or the

57. [Trans. Note: ‘Adaptation’ refers to Darwin’s concept of the process through which a population becomes better suited to its environment through natural selection. Herbert Spencer developed Darwin’s idea by seeing adaptation as a process of increasing ‘correspondence’ between the organism and its environment.]

Gabriel tarde


sewing machine to the seamstress’ thread. Shall we also say that

the vasomotor nerves, the ingenious mechanism by which the in-

ternal equilibrium of the body’s temperature is maintained de-

spite variations in the external temperature, are adapted to these

variations? Fighting against would be a curious form of adapting to! The locomotive is adapted, if you will, to terrestrial locomotion, and the wing to aerial locomotion, and this comes down to

saying that the wing utilizes the air to move, as the locomotive

uses coal, as the fin uses water. Does this using not mean tak-

ing possession? Every being wants, not to make itself appropriate

for external beings, but to appropriate them for itself. Atomic or molecular bonding58 in the physical world, nutrition in the living

world, perception in the intellectual world, law in the social world,

possession in its innumerable forms never ceases to extend from

a being to other beings, by the interlacing of various and increas-

ingly subtle domains.

It is variable in its infinite degrees as well as in its multiple

forms. Stars, for example, possess each other with an intensity

which grows or shrinks in inverse proportion to the square of their

distance. The vitality of organisms, that is the intimate solidarity

of their parts, rises or falls continuously. From deepest sleep to the

most perfect clarity of mind, thought ranges over a wide gamut

which marks the growth of its special dominion over the world.

When security is re-established in a country which has been sub-

ject to great upheavals, does each citizen not still feel himself to be

master of those of his compatriots from whom he has the right to

expect some service—that is to say, of all his compatriots—and on

whose legitimate help he relies more strongly than before?

Whatever form possession takes, be it physical, chemical,

vital, mental, or social (not to speak of the subdivisions of each

form), we must first distinguish whether it is unilateral or recipro-

cal, and second, whether it is established between an element and

one or more other elements considered individually, or between

an element and an indistinct group of other elements. Let us first

speak briefly of this second distinction. When I enter into verbal

communication with one or several of my fellows, our respective

monads, in my view, reciprocally grasp each other; at least, it is

certain that this relation is the relation of a social element with

other social elements that are taken as distinct. By contrast, when

58. [Trans. Note: Tarde uses the term ‘adhesion’ ( adhérence), but appears to have the more general concept of ‘bonding’ in mind.]


Monadology and Sociology

I look at, listen to, or study nature, rocks, water, or even plants,

each object of my thought is a hermetically closed world of ele-

ments, which all doubtless know each other or grasp each other

intimately, like the members of a social group, but which can be

encompassed by me only as a whole and from the outside. The

chemist can only hypothesize the atom, and is certain of never

being able to act on it individually. Matter, as the chemist under-

stands and uses the concept, is a compact dust of distinct atoms,

whose distinctions are effaced by their enormous number and by

the illusory continuity of their actions. In the living but inanimate,

or apparently inanimate, world, can our monad find some less con-

fused phantom, and grasp it? It seems it can. The element, already,

intuits the element; the girl who tends a flower loves it with a devo-

tion which no diamond could inspire in her.

We must, however, look to the social world to see monads laid

bare, grasping each other in the intimacy of their transitory char-

acters, each fully unfolded before the other, in the other, by the

other. This is the relation par excellence, the paradigm of possession of which all others are only sketches or reflections. By per-

suasion, by love and hate, by personal prestige, by common beliefs

and desires, or by the mutual chain of contract, in a kind of tightly

knit network which extends indefinitely, social elements hold each

other or pull each other in a thousand ways, and from their com-

petition the marvels of civilization are born.

Are not the marvels of organization and life born from a simi-

lar action, from vital element to vital element, and doubtless from

atom to atom? I am inclined to think so, for reasons which it would

take too long to explain here. Must it not be likewise for chemical

creations and for astronomical formations? Newtonian attraction

surely acts from one atom to another, since the most complicated

chemical operations do not alter it at all.

In that case, the possessive action of monad upon monad, of

element upon element, would be the only truly fertile relation.

As for the action of a monad, or at least of an element, on a con-

fused group of indiscriminate monads or elements, or conversely,

it would only be an accidental perturbation of the wonderful works

wrought by the elements’ duel or by their marriage. As much as

the relation of element to element is creative, so the relation of ele-

ment to group is destructive, but both are necessary.

Unilateral possession and reciprocal possession are, likewise,

necessarily united. But the latter is superior to the former. It is

Gabriel tarde


reciprocal possession which explains the formation of those beau-

tiful celestial mechanisms in which, by the power of mutual at-

traction, every point is a centre. Reciprocal possession explains the

creation of these admirable living organisms whose parts are all

united and solidary, and where everything is both an end and a

means at once. By reciprocal possession, finally, in the free cities

of antiquity and in modern states, mutuality of service and equal-

ity of right bring about the prodigious achievements of our scienc-

es, industries, and arts. Let us observe that, if organized beings

resulted from a process of fabrication by a single being, or from

the regular differentiation of a single homogenous substance, it

would be impossible to account for our surprising ability to see

the parts of these beings as made for the whole, or the whole as

made for the parts. Beings, or rather manufactured objects, would

be, with respect to the manufacturer, that which our furniture or

tools are to us: mere means, which no sophistical juggling will

ever disguise as ends with respect to our acts. As for the unique

substance which, some think, creates particular beings by sponta-

neously splitting itself, it is impossible to see why, first, if it carried no goal within itself, it would have emerged from its primitive un-differentiated state; nor, secondly, why, prior to any differentiation,

alone in the world, it took a roundabout way to attain its goal rather

than going straight there, used a means instead of grasping its end

directly, and preferred the tortuous paths of evolution to the short and easy way of immediate actuation. Finally, even leaving aside

these insurmountable difficulties, it is impossible to answer this

question: how, once it decided to evolve, to take this roundabout

way to attain its goal or goals, was this unique substance able to

will one thing for this and another thing for that, that is, to neu-

tralize each act of will by another, which comes down to having no

will at all, and which, to repeat, makes its subsequent differentia-

tion incomprehensible?

By contrast, on the hypothesis of the monads, everything fol-

lows naturally. Each monad draws the world to itself, and thus has

a better grasp of itself. Of course, they are parts of each other, but

they can belong to each other to a greater or lesser extent, and each

aspires to the highest degree of possession; whence their gradu-

al concentration; and besides, they can belong to each other in a

thousand different ways, and each aspires to learn new ways to ap-

propriate its peers. Hence their transformations. They transform

in order to conquer; but, since none will ever submit to another


Monadology and Sociology

except out of self-interest, none can fully accomplish its ambitious

dream, and the sovereign monad is exploited by its vassal monads,

even as it makes use of them.

The bizarre and grimacing character of reality, visibly torn

apart by fratricidal wars, followed by awkward transactions, dem-

onstrates that the world contains multiple agents. Their multiplic-

ity attests to their diversity, and finds its reason only in this diver-

sity. Already born diverse, the agents tend to diversify themselves

even further, as their nature demands; on the other hand, their

diversity depends on their being not unities, but totalities of a spe-

cial form.

It seems to me, moreover, that many perplexing enigmas

could be resolved by imagining that the speciality of each element,

a true universal medium ( milieu), is to be not only a totality, but a certain kind of virtuality, and to incarnate within itself a cosmic idea which is always called, but rarely destined, to realize it-

self effectively. This would be, as it were, to house Plato’s ideas in

Epicurus’ atoms, or rather Empedocles’, since, if Zeller is to be be-

lieved, the latter apparently professed, like Leibniz, the diversity of

elements.59 It is useful, now and again, to be able to take shelter

behind some Greek ancestor.

Two points are evidently lacking in current transformist theo-

ries of evolution. In conflict with the force which tends to conserve

living forms, they imagine a diversifying force, which they then

do not know where to put. In general they disperse it outside the

organism, in accidents of climate, of environment, of nutrition,

or of growth, and refuse to recognize an internal cause of diversi-

ty at the heart of the organism itself. Secondly, whether projected

from inside or stimulated from outside, specific variations, which

are the building blocks of the Darwinian system, are divergenc-

es without an aim, rebellions without a programme, disordered

fantasies. However, do we not see, under an established and con-

sistent government, the essential sterility and mutual neutraliza-

tion of oppositions which are not enflamed by any political ideal

of their own, by any dream of social palingenesis? It is impossible

to conceive that such madness could triumph in a living being,

59. [Trans. Note: Epicurus did hold that atoms were of distinct kinds, but they are not as clearly differentiated as the four elements of Empedocles (earth, air, fire and water). Leibniz held that each monads or element must be qualitatively distinct from every other ( Monadology §§8-9), and saw this as an argument against atomism of the Epicurean type.]

Gabriel tarde


or that it could be of any possible use; and, were this madness to

persist for the maximum astronomically possible duration, this

would not be long enough to make remotely probable the fortu-

itous agreement of these ruptures of equilibrium in a new vital

equilibrium, the construction of a new order from this accumu-

lated disorder. But, on our hypothesis, the force of diversification

of forms, as much as the force of their conservation, has a tangible

support within the organism, and it has a direction. We must see

every spontaneous modification of a living species, even the most

fleeting, as aiming towards another species, which it would attain if exaggerated sufficiently.

Among the variations, let us not confuse those which are pro-

duced accidentally and from outside, by the vagaries of chance,

and those which are due to the long-standing struggle, in the heart

of each organism or of each state, between the triumphant ide-

al that constitutes it, and the constricted and stifled ideals which

chafe beneath its yoke, yearning to emerge and blossom forth. The

former are usually neutralized; in most cases it is only the latter

which come to fruition. All historians, knowingly or not, make

this distinction. Beside the great facts which they relate often, for

the sake of their conscience, they emphasize with special care the

smallest reforms and the most obscure discussions, barely noted

by their contemporaries, which attest to the appearance of new re-

ligious or political ideas. For example, the slow encroachment of

royal power upon the feudal order, the skirmishes between parlia-

ments and kings, between commoners and lords. Such and such

an obscure act of Philip the Fair, which demonstrates a clear ori-

entation towards the still distant administrative centralization of

modern France, is of more value to the historian than the trial of

the Templars.60 However bad a social constitution may be, it will

last until another is conceived. However false the reigning philo-

sophical system, it will persist until the day when a new theory

comes to dethrone it.


Since being is having ( avoir), it follows that everything must

be avid ( avide). Now, if there is anything so obvious as to strike 60. [Trans. Note: The reign of Philip IV the Fair of France (r. 1285-1314) has been seen by historians as marking a transition from a charismatic to a more bu-reaucratic, modern form of monarchical rule. He initiated the suppression of the Knights Templar in 1307 and disbanded the Order in 1312.]


Monadology and Sociology

everyone’s eye, it is surely this avidity, the immense ambition

which from end to end of the world, from the vibrating atom or

the prolific animalcule to the conquering king, fills and moves ev-

ery being. Every possibility tends towards its realization, every re-

ality tends towards its universalization. Every possibility tends to

realize itself, to characterize itself precisely: whence the overflow-

ing of variations above and across the living themes, both physical

and social. Every reality, every characteristic, once formed, tends

to universalize itself. This is the reason why light and heat radiate

and why electricity propagates with such evident rapidity, and the

least atomic vibration aspires by itself to fill the infinite ether, a

goal to which every other vibration lays a competing claim. This is

why every species, every living race be it barely formed, multiply-

ing in a geometric progression, would soon cover the entire globe,

if it did not come up against its equally fertile rivals, and not only

species and races, but all minimally distinct particularities, and

even their ailments, a fact which rules out any teleological expla-

nation of fertility falsely considered as a means to the preservation

of forms. Finally, this is why any social product whatever which

has its own more or less well-defined character, an industrial prod-

uct, a line of verse, a formula, some political idea which appears

one day in a corner of someone’s brain, dreams like Alexander of

the conquest of the world, seeks to project itself in thousands and

millions of copies everywhere men live, and stops in this path only

when blocked by the force of its no less ambitious rival. The three

principal forms of universal repetition, wave-like, generative, imi-

tative, as I have said elsewhere,61 are so many procedures of gov-

ernment and instruments of conquest which give rise to the three

kinds of physical, vital, and social invasion: vibratory radiation,

generative expansion, and the contagion of the example.

The child is born a despot: like an African king, as far as he

is concerned, the other exists only to serve him. Years of punish-

ment and educational constriction are required to cure him of this

error. We may say that all laws and rules, chemical discipline, vi-

tal discipline, or social discipline, are so many additional brakes

intended to restrain this omnivorous appetite of every being. In

general we are rarely conscious of them, we civilized men, sub-

jected to their tyranny from our cradles. Our ambition is aborted,

crushed even in the egg, and yet how deep must it be to break forth

61. [Trans. Note: Tarde develops this tripartite scheme of forms of repetition at length in The Laws of Imitation (Les Lois de l’imitation).]

Gabriel tarde


here and there in history through the least crack in the dykes of

our habit, defying centuries of hereditary constriction, in bursts

such as Caesar or Napoleon I!

To come up against one’s limit, to have one’s impotence con-

firmed: what a terrible shock for every man and, above all, what a

surprise! Surely, in this universal pretention of the infinitely small

to the infinitely great, and in the universal and eternal shock which

results, there is some ground for pessimism. For one unique de-

velopment, so many billions of abortions! Our concept of matter

accurately reflects the essentially frustrating ( contrariant) nature of the world around us. The psychologists are right, more right

than they know: external reality exists for us only by its property

of resisting us, a resistance which is moreover not only haptic, in its solidity, but also visual in its opacity, voluntative in its inobedience

to our wishes, intellectual in its impenetrability to our thought. To

say that matter is solid is to say that it is inobedient: despite all il-

lusions to the contrary, it is a relation between it and us, and not between it and itself, which is described by the former attribute as much as by the latter.

Is there any hope of a remedy for this state of affairs? No, to

judge by the inductions suggested by the example of our societ-

ies: inequality will rather grow more and more between the vic-

tors and the vanquished of the world. The victory of the former

and the defeat of the latter will grow every day more complete.

Indeed, one of the most certain indicators of the progress of a

people’s civilization is that the making of great reputations, great

military or industrial undertakings, great reforms, and radical

reorganizations become possible. In other words, the progress

of civilization, in eliminating dialects and diffusing a single lan-

guage, in effacing differences in customs and establishing a uni-

versal code of law, in nourishing citizens’ minds uniformly by

means of newspapers, which are more in demand than books,

and in a thousand other ways, essentially facilitates the ever

more complete, ever less fragmented realization of a unique indi-

vidual plan by the whole mass of the nation. Hence, thousands of

different plans which might, at a less advanced stage, have made

a step towards fulfilment concurrently with the destined victor,

are doomed to be fatally stifled. John Stuart Mill says very well in

his Principles of Political Economy: ‘In proportion as [human be-

ings] put off the qualities of the savage, they become amenable

to discipline; capable of adhering to plans concerted beforehand,


Monadology and Sociology

and about which they may not have been consulted; of subordi-

nating their individual caprice to a preconceived determination,

and performing severally the parts allotted to them in a com-

bined undertaking’.62

At length, after many centuries, we can see to what point na-

tions should be conducted by such progress: to a degree of icy

splendour and pure regularity which is almost mineral or crystal-

line, and which forms a striking contrast to the bizarre grace and

the deeply alive complexity of their beginnings.

Leaving such speculations aside, and confining ourselves to

positive facts, the formation of each thing by propagation start-

ing from a point is not in doubt, and justifies us in admitting the

existence of leading elements ( éléments-chefs). It will be objected that it is difficult to discover, among the myriad subjects of one of

these stellar or molecular, organic or urban States which I imag-

ine, the true master, the founder, centre and focus of these spheres

and radiations of similar actions, which are repeated and regulat-

ed harmoniously. This is because in reality there exist an infinite

number of centres and foci, from different points of view and to

varying degrees. To consider only the most important of these cen-

tres, there still exists, we maintain, at the heart of the sun, the con-

quering atom which by its individual action extended by degrees

to the whole primordial nebula, disrupted the contented state of

equilibrium which, we are told, the latter enjoyed. Little by little,

its attractive influence created a mass, while around it other at-

oms, its crowned vassals, followed its example in separately gath-

ering together several fragments of its vast empire, and shaped

the planets. And, since this first beginning of time, have these tri-

umphant atoms, imitated by their slaves who exert their own at-

tractive power, ever ceased for an instant their attraction and vi-

bration? In spreading like a contagion through infinite space, has

their condensatory power diminished? No, for its imitators are not

only its rivals, but its collaborators.

Likewise, what prodigious conquerors are the infinitesimal

germs, which succeed in submitting to their dominion a mass

millions of times greater than their minute size! What a treasury

of admirable inventions, of ingenious recipes for the exploitation

and direction of others, emanates from these microscopic cells,

whose genius and whose smallness should equally amaze us!

62. [Trans. Note: J. S. Mill, Principles of Political Economy, IV.1, vol. II, 5th ed., London, Parker, Son & Bourn 1862, p. 261, §2.]

Gabriel tarde


But when I speak of conquest and ambition with respect to

cellular societies, it is rather of propaganda and devotion that I

should speak. This is all metaphorical, of course, but nonetheless

one should choose one’s terminology and points of comparison

wisely; and moreover I would ask the reader not to forget that, if

belief and desire, in the pure and abstract sense in which I under-

stand these two great forces, the only two quantities of the soul,

have the universality which I ascribe to them, it is barely meta-

phorical to use the term idea for the application of belief-force to internal qualitative indicators (which, however, bear no relation to our sensations and images)—the term intention for the application of desire-force to one of these quasi-ideas—the term propagan-da for the communication from element to element, not of course

a verbal communication but of unknown specific character, of the

quasi-intention formed by an originating element,—the term con-

version for the internal transformation of an element into which

there enters, in place of its own quasi-intention, that of another,

and so on. Bearing these remarks in mind, let us proceed.

When an empire wishes to extend its power, it sends, to a sin-

gle point on the globe and not a large number of points at once,

not a single man but an enormous army which, once this point is

conquered, directs elsewhere its force of devastation. By contrast,

when the leader of a religion wishes to disseminate it, he sends out

missionaries as widely as possible, to all points of the compass, to

create a widely dispersed body of isolated men charged with an-

nouncing the good news and winning souls by persuasion. Now,

I submit that, in this respect, the processes by which living things

propagate themselves resemble apostolic propaganda much more

than military annexation. And, if one adds to this point of similar-

ity a hundred more, if one observes that each living species, like a

church or a religious community, is a world closed to rival groups,

and yet hospitable and avid for new recruits,—a world which is

enigmatic and undecipherable from the outside, where mysterious

passwords known only to the faithful are exchanged,—a conserva-

tive world in which all must conform scrupulously and indefinite-

ly, with remarkable selflessness, to the traditional rites,—a world

which is highly hierarchical, yet whose inequalities seem never to

provoke rebellion—a world at once highly active and highly reg-

ulated, highly persistent and highly flexible, capable of adapting

readily to changes of circumstance and yet persevering in its age-

old beliefs; then it will be clear that I am not abusing the freedom


Monadology and Sociology

of analogy by comparing biological phenomena to the religious di-

mensions of our societies rather than to their military, industrial,

scientific or artistic aspects.

In certain respects, an army resembles an organism just as

closely as does a convent. The same discipline, the same rigor-

ous subordination, the same power of group solidarity, pertain in

an organism as in a regiment. The mode of nutrition (that is, re-

cruitment) is also the same, by intussusception, by the periodic incorporation of recruits, filling the structure to a quota which is

never exceeded. However, in other no less important respects, the

difference is striking: regimentation transforms and regenerates

the conscript less than nutritive assimilation does the alimentary

cell, or religious conversion the neophyte. Military education never

penetrates the conscript’s inmost heart. Hence the lesser persis-

tence and shorter duration of military organizations. Even in bar-

barian societies, their transformations are somewhat abrupt and

frequent, unless they are in a wholly undeveloped state, in which

case their incoherence prevents us from comparing them to living

things, even the simplest. Finally, when an army grows, when a

regiment reproduces, this reproduction never takes place, as does

that of living things, by the emission of a unique element around

which foreign elements subsequently gather. A regiment can re-

produce only by scissiparity; a single soldier or officer, asked hypo-

thetically to form a body of troops in a foreign country by his own

efforts, would find himself absolutely unable to form a platoon of

four men with him as corporal.

In virtue of these differential characteristics, life appears to

us as something respectable and sacred, as a great and generous

enterprise of salvation and redemption of the elements which are

chained up in the tight bonds of chemistry; and it is surely to mis-

understand its nature if we consider its evolution, with Darwin, as

a series of military operations where destruction is the companion

and condition of victory. This great and prevalent prejudice seems

to be confirmed by the distressing spectacle of living beings de-

vouring one another; upon seeing a cat’s claw attack a bird’s nest,

the heart is deeply moved and takes to decrying life’s egotism and

cruelty. Life, however, is neither egotistical nor cruel and, before

casting such aspersions on it, we should ask ourselves whether it

is possible to interpret its most repellent actions in a way which

can reconcile this horror with the admiration which we cannot

but feel for the beauty of its works. From the point of view of our

Gabriel tarde


hypothesis, nothing could be easier. When a living thing destroys

another to eat it, the elements of the destroyer intend perhaps to

offer to the elements of the destroyed the same kind of service

which the faithful of a religion think they offer the sectaries of

another cult in breaking their temples, their clerical institutions,

their religious ties, and endeavouring to convert them to the ‘true

faith’. What is thus destroyed is beings’ exterior, the elements en-

dowed with faith and love, but faith and love themselves are not

sacrificed. In general, it must be acknowledged, it is higher forms

of life which absorb and assimilate the lower, just as the greatest

and most developed religions, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, con-

vert the fetishists and not vice versa.

With this concept of life, need I add how one may conceive

consciousness and death? I call consciousness, soul, mind, the

transitory victory of an eternal element, which by some favour-

able chance rises above the obscure realm of the infinitesimal, to

rule a people of brothers who are now become his subjects, sub-

jects them for a little while to his law, handed down by his prede-

cessors and slightly amended by him, or marked by his royal seal;

and I call death the gradual or sudden dethroning, the voluntary

or forced abdication of this spiritual conqueror who, like Darius

after Arbela and Napoleon after Waterloo, Charles V at Yuste and

Diocletian at Salona,63 but even more completely stripped bare

once more, returns to the infinitesimal where it was born and

whence it came, perhaps lamented, certainly not invariable and,

who knows? not unconscious.

Let us not then say the other life or nothingness, let us say non-life, without prejudging the question. Non-life is not necessarily non-being, any more than is non-ego; and the arguments of certain philosophers against the possibility of existence after death

carry no more weight than those of idealist sceptics against the

reality of the external world.—That life is preferable to non-life;

again, nothing is less well established. Perhaps life is nothing

but a time of trials, a drudgery of schoolboy exercises undergone

by the monads who, on graduating from this hard and mystical

school, find themselves purged of their former need for universal

63. [Trans. Note: The final defeats and abdications of great imperial rulers: Darius III of Persia was defeated by Alexander the Great at Arbela (331 BCE) and Napoleon by British and Prussian forces at Waterloo (1815); Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, retired to the monastery of Yuste in Extremadura (1556) after his abdication, and Diocletian, Roman Emperor, to his palace near Salona in Dalmatia (in present-day Split, Croatia; 305 CE.)]


Monadology and Sociology

domination. I am persuaded that few among them, once fallen

from the cerebral throne, have any wish to return. Restored to

their original state, to absolute independence, they give up their

power over the body without suffering and without hoping to re-

turn, and enjoy for all eternity the divine state into which they

were plunged in the last moment of life, exemption from all evils

and all desires, though not from all loves, and the certainty of pos-

sessing a concealed and everlasting good.

Thus death would be explained; thus life would be justified, by

the purgation of desire … But enough hypotheses. Will you, dear

reader, forgive me this attempt at metaphysics?





Monadology and Sociology (hereafter MS) is a remarkable book which has, to date, received relatively little attention, particularly

in the English-speaking world. It has remained somewhat mar-

ginal to, if not entirely absent from, the remarkable resurgence of

interest in Tarde’s work over the last decade or so. I believe that

MS has a substantial and as yet largely unrealized contribution to make to contemporary debates, and hope that this translation may

contribute in some way to the actualization of this possibility.

This afterword, therefore, is not primarily historical. It will

attempt neither to situate MS in Tarde’s oeuvre or in its historical time and place, nor to trace the pathways of his re-emergence

from the shadowy realm of once-lauded thinkers, although much

useful historical work remains to be done along these lines.1 The

uncanny combination of the familiar and the strange which

strikes the contemporary reader of MS will here remain unex-

plained. Rather, the primary goal is to try to establish a niche for

Tarde’s theory in our current philosophical ecology, and briefly to

indicate some potential applications. To this end, however, a cer-

tain degree of exegesis and constructive systematization will be

required, which I hope will not detract too much from the charm

of the text itself.

The perspective taken will be primarily philosophical

rather than sociological, and more particularly metaphysical

1. A (rather jaundiced) history of Tarde’s reception in 20th-century France can be found in L. Mucchielli (2000) ‘Tardomania? Réflexions sur les usages con-temporains de Tarde’, Revue d’Histoire des Sciences Humaines, vol. 3, pp.161-184.



Afterword: Tarde’s Pansocial Ontology

orontological,2 in the sense of seeing MS as offering an en-

compassing theory of the make-up of reality. The immediate

reason for this hermeneutic choice is purely circumstantial,3

namely that the great majority of work on Tarde, especially that

published in English, has been primarily focused on his sig-

nificance for debates within the social sciences;4 his place in

the sociological canon now seems assured, while some work

is still required to establish a place for his thought in a philo-

sophical context.

The possibility of the choice, however, is perhaps reveal-

ing. As I will argue, the fact that MS, ‘the most metaphysical

of the works of the most philosophical of sociologists’,5 can be

read, and offer a wealth of productive insights, from either per-

spective, is deeply rooted in the theory it elaborates. If monadol-

ogy, in Tarde’s hands, is a metaphysics premised on the idea that

the bonds holding reality together are essentially social, then

the sociology he invokes is one which has burst its bounds and

overflowed to the point where its most natural comparators are

metaphysical. My hope, then, is that Tarde’s thought may help

to productively corrupt the illusory purity of the philosophical

standpoint, at the same time as it dismantles the constellations

of sociological good sense.

2. The term ‘ontology’ is not strictly appropriate, since it refers to the study of being (Greek ōn, ontos), while Tarde argues that the principle of reality is not being but having. However, it has the advantage of being broadly familiar in both philosophy and, increasingly, social theory to refer to any theoretical characteriza-tion of the nature of reality. One alternative would be to coin a new term, ‘echon-tology’ (from ekhōn, - ontos, having), but its (entirely fortuitous) resonances with

‘echo’ and ‘ecology’ would be distracting, if in some ways rather appropriate.

3. For a more considered account of the relation between philosophy and sociology, see D. Toews, ‘Tarde and Durkheim and the non-sociological ground of sociology’, in Candea, The Social, cited below.

4. This said, the secondary literature on Tarde even within the social sciences is still not very extensive. Two major collections are available in English: M.

Candea (ed.), The Social after Gabriel Tarde: Debates and Assessments, Abingdon, Routledge, 2010; and the special issue of Economy and Society edited by A. Barry and N. Thrift ( Economy and Society, vol. 36, no. 4, 2007). See also D. Toews, ‘The new Tarde: Sociology after the end of the social’, Theory, Culture and Society, vol.

20, no. 5, 2003, pp. 81-98; D. Toews, ‘The renaissance of philosophie Tardienne’, Pli: The Warwick Journal of Philosophy, no. 8, 1999, pp. 164-173. The single most useful work on MS in English to date is B. Latour, ‘Gabriel Tarde and the end of the social’, in P. Joyce, ed., The Social in Question: New Bearings in History and the Social Sciences, London, Routledge, 2002, pp. 117-132.

5. É. Alliez, ‘Tarde et la problème de la constitution’, in G. Tarde, Monadologie et sociologie, Le Plessis, Institut Synthélabo, 1999, p. 9.

theo Lorenc



The central and most original insight of MS, from which all the

rest of the system flows, is that all of nature, organic and inorgan-

ic, at all scales from atoms to stars and galaxies, consists of societ-

ies. This thesis implies the slightly less original but no less chal-

lenging theory that every entity has some form of mind, self, or

subjectivity (the theory of panpsychism or ‘psychomorphism’).6

Tarde uses the term ‘universal sociology’ to describe this in-

sight; however, it is necessary to distinguish the basic idea that

all things are societies from the theoretical toolbox required to

investigate these non-human societies, which will be furnished

by a generalization of sociological theory in the usual sense, and

more particularly of the theory set out in Tarde’s sociological

works. I will use the term ‘pansocial ontology’7 for the former,

which will be the primary focus here, reserving universal so-

ciology in the narrow sense for the latter. In principle, the two

are independent: one might imagine a whole range of compet-

ing universal sociologies on the basis of the same basic insight,

and indeed, it can be argued that on certain points Tarde’s own

sociological views are in tension with the metaphysical impera-

tives of the system. That said, there is a continuous exchange of

ideas between the two domains, making the distinction to some

extent artificial, but it is of value in isolating the philosophically

most distinctive contributions of Tarde’s thought.

MS puts forward two arguments for pansociality (and panpsy-

chism), one analogical and one conceptual. The argument from

analogy is that reality is structured like a society, and the entities

which make it up behave like living things. As Tarde notes, this

analogy was familiar enough at the time of writing, in the form

of the theory of society as analogous to a living organism, which

was most exhaustively set out in Spencer’s ‘The Social Organism’

but also had a broad appeal for many social theorists, and which

can arguably be traced back to Aristotle’s Politics. However, Tarde 6. Neither MS nor this afterword are terminologically exact on the vocabulary of minds and selves; MS uses ‘mind’, ‘spirit’ and ‘psyche’ and their derivatives more or less interchangeably. However, the decision not to adopt Tarde’s own term ‘psychomorphism’ and its companion ‘sociomorphism’ is deliberate, since their tentativeness is belied by the theory itself.

7. The term ‘pansocial’ is coined (avoiding the misleading connotations of ‘pan-socialist’) on the model of ‘panpsychist’ and ‘pantheist’. Not only the model: as noted, Tarde’s theory is also a panpsychism, and in his own terms a ‘myriatheism’ (p. 25), which might be less elegantly paraphrased as polypantheism.


Afterword: Tarde’s Pansocial Ontology

is not directly concerned to build on such theories.8 Their main

failing is to deploy the analogy in a limited and inverted form rela-

tive to MS: limited, in that the analogy is restricted to living things and not extended to inorganic nature, and inverted, in that it compares society to an organism rather than vice versa, in the service of an organicist theory of society rather than a pansocial theory

of the organism. Thus, while Tarde avails himself of the work of

these theories where they are useful, his own use of the analogy

has a rather different goal. In particular, as I will argue, the point

for Tarde is not to hypostasize the social or exalt its importance

as against that of the individual, but to utilize the relationship be-

tween individual and society as a model for metaphysical theory

more broadly.

The implications of the analogical argument for pansociality

are pursued in detail throughout MS, and need be only briefly re-

hearsed here. Any physical structure perpetuates itself by simi-

lar means to a social order: through educational and institution-

al discipline, the manipulation of incentives, the promulgation

of ideologies and the threat of violence. One might say that for