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Table of Contents
Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 4
Socialism consists of a synthesis of beliefs, aspirations, and ideas of reform which appeals profoundly to the mind. Governments fear it, legislators manipulate it, nations behold in it the dawn of happier destinies.
This book is devoted to the study of Socialism. In it will be found the application of those principles already set forth in my two last works — The Psychology of Peoples and The Psychology of the Crowd. Passing rapidly over the details of the doctrines in question, and retaining their essentials alone, I shall examine the causes which have given birth to Socialism, and those which favour or retard its propagation. I shall show the conflict of those ancient ideas, fixed by heredity, on which societies are still reposed, with the new ideas, born of the new conditions which have been created by the evolution of modern science and industry. Without contesting the lawfulness of the tendencies of the greater number to ameliorate their condition, I shall inquire whether it is possible for institutions to have a real influence in this amelioration, or whether our destinies are not decided by necessities entirely independent of the institutions which our wills may create.
Socialism has not wanted apologists to write its history, economists to discuss its dogmas, and apostles to propagate its faith. Hitherto psychologists have disdained to study it, perceiving in it only one of those elusive and indefinite subjects, like theology and politics, which can lead only to such impassioned and futile discussions as are hateful to the scientific mind. It would seem, however, that nothing but an intent psychology can exhibit the genesis of the new doctrines, or explain the influence exerted by them over the vulgar mind as well as over a certain number of cultivated understandings. We must dive to the deepest roots of the events whose evolution we are considering if we would attain a comprehension of the blossom.
No apostle has ever doubted of the future of his faith, and the Socialists are persuaded of the approaching triumph of theirs. Such a victory implies of necessity the destruction of the present society, and its reconstruction on other bases. To the disciples of the new dogmas nothing appears more simple. It is Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 6
evident that a society may be disorganised by violence, just as a building, laboriously constructed, may be destroyed in an hour by fire. But does our modern knowledge of the evolution of things allow us to admit that man is able to re-fashion, according to his liking, a society that has so been destroyed?
So soon as we penetrate a little into the mechanism of civilisations we quickly discover that a society, with its institutions, its beliefs, and its arts, represents a tissue of ideas, sentiments, customs, and modes of thought determined by heredity, the cohesion of which constitutes its strength. No society is firmly held together unless this moral heritage is solidly established, and established not in codes but in the natures of men; the one declines when the other crumbles, and when this moral heritage is finally disintegrated the society is doomed to disappear.
Such a conception has never influenced the writers and the peoples of the Latin States. Persuaded as they are that the necessities of nature will efface themselves before their ideal of levelment, regularity, and justice, they believe it sufficient to imagine enlightened constitutions, and laws founded on reason, in order to re-fashion the world. They are still possessed by the illusions of the heroic epoch of the Revolution, when philosophers and legislators held it certain that a society was an artificial thing, which benevolent dictators could rebuild in entirety.
Such theories do not appear tenable to-day. We must not, however, disdain them, for they constitute the motives of action of a destructive influence which is greatly to be feared, because very considerable. The power of creation waits upon time and place; it is beyond the immediate reach of our desires; but the destructive faculty is always at hand. The destruction of a society may be very rapid, but its reconstruction is always very slow. Sometimes man requires centuries of effort to rebuild, painfully, that which he destroyed in a day.
If we would comprehend the profound influence of modern Socialism we need only to examine its doctrines. When we come to investigate the causes of its success we find that this success is altogether alien to the theories proposed, and the negations imposed by these doctrines. Like religions (and Socialism is tending more and more to put on the guise of a religion) it propagates itself in any manner rather than by reason. Feeble in the extreme when it attempts to reason, and to support itself by economic arguments, it becomes on the contrary extremely powerful when it remains in the region of dreams, Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 7
affirmations, and chimerical promises, and if it were never to issue thence it would become even more redoubtable.
Thanks to its promises of regeneration, thanks to the hope it flashes before all the disinherited of life, Socialism is becoming a belief of a religious character rather than a doctrine. Now the great power of beliefs, when they tend to assume this religious form, of whose mechanism I have elsewhere treated, lies in the fact that their propagation is independent of the proportion of truth or error that they may contain, for as soon as a belief has gained a lodging in the minds of men its absurdity no longer appears; reason cannot reach it, and only time can impair it. The most profound thinkers of humanity
— Leibnitz, Descartes, Newton — have bowed themselves without a murmur before religious doctrines whose weaknesses reason would quickly have discovered, had they been able to submit them to the ordeal of criticism. What has once entered the region of sentiment can no longer be touched by discussion. Religions, acting as they do only on the sentiments, cannot be destroyed by arguments, and it is for this reason that their power over the mind has always been so absolute.
The present age is one of those periods of transition in which the old beliefs have lost their empire, while those which must replace the old are not yet established. Hitherto man has been unable to live without divinities. They fall often from their throne, but that throne has never remained empty; new phantoms are rising always from the dust of the dead gods.
Science, which has wrestled with the gods, has never been able to dispute their prodigious empire. No civilisation has ever yet succeeded in establishing and extending itself without them. The most flourishing civilisations have always been propped up by religious dogmas which, from the rational point of view, possessed not an atom of logic, not a spice of truth, nor even of simple good sense. Reason and logic have never been the true guides of nations. The irrational has always been one of the most powerful motives of action known to humanity.
It is not by the faint light of reason that the world has been transformed.
While religions, founded on chimeras, have marked their indelible imprint on all the elements of civilisations, and continue to retain the immense majority of men under their laws, the systems of philosophy built on reason have played only an insignificant part in the life of nations, and have had none but an Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 8
ephemeral existence. They indeed offer the crowd nothing but arguments, while the human soul demands nothing but hopes.
These hopes are those that religions have always given, and they have given also an ideal capable of seducing and stirring the mind. It is under their magic wand that the most powerful empires have been created, and the marvels of literature and art, which form the common treasure of civilisation, have risen out of chaos.
Socialism, whose dream is to substitute itself for the ancient faiths, proposes but a very low ideal, and to establish it appeals but to sentiments lower still.
What, in effect, does it promise, more than merely our daily bread, and that at the price of hard labour? With what lever does it seek to raise the soul? With the sentiments of envy and hatred which it creates in the hearts of multitudes?
To the crowd, no longer satisfied with political and civic equality, it proposes equality of condition, without dreaming that social inequalities are born of those natural inequalities that man has always been powerless to change.
It would seem that beliefs founded on so feeble an ideal, on sentiments so little elevated, could have but few chances of propagating themselves.
However, they do propagate themselves, for man possesses the marvellous faculty of transforming things to the liking of his desires, of regarding them only through that magical prism of the thoughts and sentiments which shows us the world as we wish it to be. Each, at the bidding of his dreams, his ambitions, his hopes, perceives in Socialism what the founders of the new faith never dreamed of putting into it. In Socialism the priest perceives the universal extension of charity, and dreams of charity while he forgets the altar. The slave, bowed in his painful labour, catches a confused glimpse of the shining paradise where he, in his turn, will be loaded with good things. The enormous legion of the discontented — and who is not of it to-day? — hopes, through the triumph of Socialism, for the amelioration of its destiny. It is the sum of all these dreams, all these discontents, all these hopes, that endows the new faith with its incontestable power.
In order that the Socialism of the present day might assume so quickly that religious form which constitutes the secret of its power, it was necessary that it should appear at one of those rare moments of history when the old religions lose their might (men being weary of their gods), and exist only on sufferance, while awaiting the new faith that is to succeed them. Socialism, coming as it came, at the precise instant when the power of the old divinities had considerably waned, is naturally tending to possess itself of their place. There is nothing to show that it will not succeed in taking it. There is everything to show that it will not succeed in keeping it long.
Book I: The Socialistic Theories and Their Disciples: Chapter 1: The Various Aspects of Socialism.
1. The Factors of Social Evolution.
Civilisations have always had, as their basis, a certain small number of directing or controlling ideas. When these ideas, after gradually waning, have entirely lost their force, the civilisations which rest on them are doomed to change.
We are to-day in the midst of one of those phases of transition so rare in the history of the world. In the course of the ages it has not been given to many philosophers to live at the precise moment at which a new idea shapes Itself, and to be able to study, as we can study to-day, the successive degrees of its crystallisation.
In the present condition of things the evolution of societies subject to factors of three orders: political, economic, and psychological. These have existed in every period, but the respective importance of each has varied with the age of the nation.
The political factors comprise the laws and institutions. Theorists of every kind, and above all the modern Socialists, generally accord to these a very great importance. They are persuaded that the happiness of a people depends oil its institutions, and that to change these is at the same stroke to change its destinies. Some thinkers hold, on the contrary, that institutions exercise but a very feeble influence; that the destiny of a nation is decreed by its character; that is to say, by the soul of the race. This would explain why peoples possessing similar institutions, and living in identical environments, occupy very different places in the scale of civilisation.
To-day the economic factors have an immense importance. Very feeble at a period when the nations lived in isolation, when the divers industries hardly varied from century to century, these factors have ended by acquiring a pre-eminent influence. Scientific and industrial discoveries have transformed all our conditions of existence. A simple chemical reaction, discovered in a laboratory, ruins one country and enriches another. The culture of a cereal in Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 11
the heart of Asia compels whole provinces of Europe to renounce agriculture.
The developments of machinery revolutionise the life of a large proportion of the civilised nations.
The factors of the psychological order, such as race, beliefs, and opinions, have also a considerable importance. Till quite lately their influence was preponderant, but to-day the economic factors are tending to prevail.
It is especially in these changes of relation between the directing factors to which they are subject that the societies of to-day differ from those of the past.
Dominated of old above all by faiths, they have since become more and more obedient to economic necessities.
The psychological factors are nevertheless far from having lost their influence. The degree in which man escapes the tyranny of economic factors depends on his mental constitution; that is to say, on his race; and this is why we see certain nations subject these economic factors to their needs, while others allow themselves to become more and more enslaved by them, and seek to react on them only by laws of protection, which are incapable of defending them against the formidable necessities which rule them.
Such are the principal motive forces of social evolution. Their action is simultaneous, but often contradictory. To ignore them, or to misconceive them, does not hinder their action. The laws of nature operate with the blind punctuality of clockwork, and he that offends them is broken by their march.
2. The Various Aspects of Socialism.
This brief presentment already allows us to foresee that Socialism offers to the view different facets, which we must examine in succession. We must investigate Socialism as a political conception, as an economic conception, as a philosophic conception, and as a belief. We must also consider the inevitable conflict between these various concepts and the social realities; that is, between the yet abstract idea and the inexorable laws of nature which the cunning of man cannot change.
The economic side of Socialism is that which best lends itself to analysis. We find ourselves in the presence of very clearly defined problem.. How is wealth to be produced and divided? What are the respective of labour, capital, and intelligence? What is the influence of economic facts, and to what extent can Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 12
they be adapted to the requirements of social evolution?
If we consider Socialism as a belief, if we inquire into the moral impression which it produces, the conviction and the devotion which it inspires, the point of view is very different, and the aspect of the problem is entirely changed. We now no longer have to occupy ourselves with the theoretic value of Socialism as a doctrine, nor with the economic impossibilities with which it may clash.
We have only to consider the new faith in its genesis, its moral progress, and its possible psychological consequences. Then only does the fatuity of discussion with its defenders become apparent. If the economists marvel that demonstrations based on impeccable evidence have absolutely no influence over those who hear and understand them, we have only to refer them to the history of all dogmas, and to the study of the psychology of crowds. We have not triumphed over a doctrine when we have shown its chimerical nature. We do not attack dreams with argument; nothing but recurring experience can show that they are dreams.
In order to comprehend the present force of Socialism it must be considered above all as a belief, and we then discover it to be founded on a very secure psychologic basis. It matters very little to its immediate success that it may be contrary to social and economic necessities. The history of all beliefs, and especially of religious beliefs, sufficiently proves that their success has most often been entirely independent of the proportion of truth that they might contain.
Having considered Socialism as a belief we must examine it as a philosophic conception. This new facet is the one its adepts have most neglected, and yet the very one they might the best defend. They consider the realisation of their doctrines as the necessary consequence of economic evolution, whereas it is precisely this evolution that forms the most real obstacle. From the point of view of pure philosophy — that is to say, putting psychologic and economic necessities aside many of their theories are highly defensible.
What in effect is Socialism, speaking philosophically or, at least, what is its best-known form, Collectivism? Simply a reaction of the collective being against the encroachments of the individual being. Now if we put aside the interests of intelligence, and the possibly immense utility of husbanding these interests for the progress of civilisation, it is undeniable that collectivity — if only by that law of the greater number which has become the great credo of Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 13
modern democracies — may be considered as invented to subject to itself the individual sprung from its loins, and who would be nothing without it. For centuries, that is to say during the succession of the ages which have preceded our own, collectivity has always been all-powerful, at least among the Latin peoples. The individual outside it was nothing. Perhaps the French Revolution, the culmination of all the doctrines of the eighteenth-century writers, represents the first serious attempt at reaction of Individualism, but in enfranchising the individual (at least theoretically), it has also isolated him. In isolating him from his caste, from his family, from the social or religious groups of which he was a unit, it has left him delivered over to himself, and has thus transformed society into a mass of individuals, without cohesion and without ties.
Such a work cannot have very lasting results. Only the strong can support isolation, and rely only on themselves; the weak are unable to do so. To isolation, and the absence of support they prefer servitude; even painful servitude. The castes and corporations destroyed by the Revolution formed, of old, the fabric which served to support the individual in life; and it is evident that they corresponded to a psychologic necessity, since they are reviving on every hand under various names to-day, and notably under that of trades-unions. These associations permit the individual to reduce his efforts to a minimum, while Individualism obliges him to increase his efforts to the maximum. Isolated, the proletariat is nothing, and can do nothing; incorporated he becomes a redoubtable force. If incorporation is unable to give him capacity and intelligence it does at least give him strength, and forbids him nothing but a liberty with which he would not know what to do.
From the philosophic point of view, then, Socialism is certainly a reaction of the collectivity against the individual: a return to the past. Individualism and Collectivism are, in their general essentials, two opposing forces, which tend, if not to annihilate, at least to paralyse one another. In this struggle between the generally conflicting interests of the individual and those of the aggregate lies the true philosophic problem of Socialism. The individual who is sufficiently strong to count only on his own intelligence and initiative, and is therefore highly capable of making headway, finds himself face to face with the masses, feeble in initiative and intelligence, but to whom their number gives might, the only upholder of right. The interests of the two opposing Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 14
parties are conflicting. The problem is to discover whether they can maintain without destroying themselves, at the price of reciprocal concessions. Hitherto religion has succeeded in persuading the individual to sacrifice his personal interests to those of his fellows only to replace individual egoism by the collective egoism. But the old religions are in sight of death, and those that must replace them are yet unborn. In investigating the evolution of the social solidarity we have to consider how far conciliation between the two contradictory principles is allowed by economic necessities. As M. Léon Bourgeois justly remarked in one of his speeches: “We can attempt nothing against the laws of nature; that goes without saying; but we must incessantly study them and avail ourselves of them so as to diminish the chances of inequality and injustice between man and man.”
To complete our examination of the various aspects of Socialism we must consider its variations in respect of race. If those principles are true that I have set forth in a previous work on the profound transformations undergone by all the elements of civilisation — institutions, religions, arts, beliefs, etc. — In passing from one people to another, we can already prophesy that, under the often similar words which serve to denote the conceptions formed by the various nations of the proper rôle of the State, we shall find very different realities. We shall see that this is so.
Among vigorous and energetic races which have arrived at the culminating point of their development we observe a considerable extension of what is confided to personal initiative, and a progressive reduction of all that is left to the State to perform; and this is true of republics equally with monarchies. We find a precisely opposite part given to the State by those peoples among whom the individual has arrived at such a degree of mental exhaustion as no longer permits him to rely on his own forces. For such peoples, whatever may be the names of their institutions, the Government is always a power absorbing everything, manufacturing everything, and controlling the least details of the citizen’s life. Socialism is only the extension of this concept. It would be a dictatorship; impersonal, but absolute.
We see now the complexity of the problems we must encounter, but we see also how they resolve themselves into simpler forms when their data are separately investigated.
Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 15
Chapter 2: The Origin of Socialism and the Causes of its Present Development
1. The Antiquity of Socialism.
Socialism has not made its first appearance in the world to-day. To use an expression dear to ancient historians, we may say that its origins are lost in the night of time; for its prime cause is the inequality of conditions, and this inequality was the law of the ancient world, as it is that of the modern. Unless some all-powerful deity takes it upon himself to re-fashion the nature of man, this inequality is undoubtedly destined to subsist until the final sterilisation of our planet. It would seem that the struggle between rich and poor must be eternal.
Without harking back to primitive Communism, a form of inferior development from which all societies have sprung, we may say that antiquity has experimented with all the forms of Socialism that are proposed to us to-day. Greece, notably, put them all into practice, and ended by dying her dangerous experiments. The Collectivist doctrines were exposed long ago in the Republic of Plato. Aristotle contests them, and as M. Guirand remarks, reviewing their writings in his book on Landed Property among the Greeks:
“All the contemporary doctrines are represented here, from Christian Socialism to the most advanced Collectivism.”
These doctrines were many times put into practice. All the political revolutions in Greece were at the same time social revolutions, or revolutions with the object of changing the inequalities of conditions by despoiling the rich and oppressing the aristocracy. They often succeeded, but their triumph was
-always ephemeral. The final result was the Hellenic decadence, and the loss of national independence. The Socialists of those days agreed no better than the Socialists of these, or, at least, agreed only to destroy: until Rome put an end to their perpetual dissensions by reducing Greece to servitude.
The Romans themselves did not escape from the attempts of the Socialists.
They suffered the experimental agrarian Socialism of the Gracchi, which limited the territorial property of each citizen, distributed the surplus among the poor, and obliged the State to nourish necessitous citizens. Thence resulted the struggles which gave rise to Marius, Sylla, the civil wars, and finally to the ruin of the Republic and the domination of the Emperors.
The Jews also were familiar with the demands of the Socialists. The Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 16
imprecations of their prophets, the true anarchists of their times, were above all imprecations against riches. Jesus, the most illustrious of them, asserted the right of the poor before everything. His maledictions and menaces are addressed only to the rich; the Kingdom of God is reserved for the poor alone.
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
During the first two or three centuries of our era the Christian religion was the Socialism of the poor, the disinherited, and the discontented; and, like modern Socialism, it was in perpetual conflict with the established institutions.
Nevertheless, Christian Socialism ended by triumphing; it was the first time that the Socialistic ideas obtained a lasting success.
But although it possessed one immense advantage that of promising happiness only for a future life, and therefore of certainty that it could never see its promises disproved — Christian Socialism could maintain itself only by renouncing its principles after victory. It was obliged to lean on the rich and powerful, and so to become the defender of the fortune and property it had formerly cursed. Like all triumphant revolutionaries, it became conservative in its turn, and the social ideal of Catholic Rome was not very far removed from that of Imperial Rome. Once more had the poor to content themselves with resignation, labour, and obedience; with a prospect of heaven if they were quiet, and a threat of hell and the devil if they harassed their masters. What a marvellous story is this of this two thousand years’ dream! When our descendants, freed from the heritages that oppress our thoughts, are able to consider it from a purely philosophical point of view, they will never tire of admiring the formidable might of this gigantic Minerva by which our civilisations are still propped up. How thin do the most brilliant systems of philosophy show before the genesis and growth of this belief, so puerile from a rational point of view, and yet so powerful! Its enduring empire shows us well to what extent it is the unreal that governs the world, and not the real. The founders of religion have created nothing but hopes; yet they are their works that have lasted the longest. What Socialist outlook can ever equal the paradises of Jesus and Mahomet? How miserable in comparison are the perspectives of earthly happiness that the apostle of Socialism promises us to-day!
They seem very ancient, all these historical events which take us back to the Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 17
Greeks, the Romans, and the Jews; but in reality they are always young, for always they betray the laws of human nature, — that human nature that as yet the course of ages has not changed. Humanity has aged much since then, but she always pursues the same dreams and suffers the same experiences without learning anything from them. Let any one read the declarations, full of hope and enthusiasm, issued by our Socialists of fifty years ago, at the moment of the revolution of 1848, of which they were the most valiant partisans. The new age was born, and, thanks to them, the face of the world was about to be changed. Thanks to them, their country sank into a despotism; and, a few years later, into a formidable war and invasion. Scarcely half a century has passed since this phase of Socialism, and already forgetful of this latest lesson we are preparing ourselves to repeat the same round.
2. The Causes of the Present Development of Socialism.
To-day, then, we are merely repeating once more the plaint that our fathers have uttered so often, and if our cry is louder, it is because the progress of civilisation has rendered our sensibility keener. Our conditions of existence are far better than of old; yet we are less and less satisfied. Despoiled of beliefs, and having no perspective other than that of austere duty and dismal solidarity, disquieted by the upheavals and instability caused by the transformations of industry, seeing all social institutions crumble one by one, seeing family and property menaced with extinction, the modern man attaches himself eagerly to the present, the only reality he can seize. Interested only in himself, he wishes at all costs to rejoice in the present hour, of whose brevity he is so sensible. In default of his lost illusions he must enjoy well-being, and consequently riches.
Wealth is all the more necessary to him in that the progress of industry and the sciences have created a host of luxuries which were formerly unknown, but have to-day become necessaries. The thirst for riches becomes more and more general, while at the same time the number of those amongst whom wealth is to be divided increases.
The needs of the modern man, therefore, have become very great, and have increased far more rapidly than the means of satisfying them. Statisticians prove that comfort and convenience have never been! so highly developed as to-day, but they show also that requirements have never been so imperious.
Now the equality of the two terms in an equation only subsists when these two Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 18
terms progress equally. The ratio of requirements and the means of satisfying them represents the equation of happiness. When these two terms are equal, however small they may be, the man is satisfied. He is also satisfied when, the two terms being unequal by reason of the insufficiency of the means of satisfaction, he is able to re-establish equality by the reduction of his requirements. Such a solution was discovered long ago by the Orientals, and this is why we see them always contented with their lot. In modern Europe, on the other hand, requirements have increased enormously, while the means of satisfying them have not kept up with that increase. In consequence, the two terms of the equation have become very unequal, and the greater number of civilised men to-day are accustomed to curse their lot. From top to bottom the discontent is the same, because from top to bottom the requirements and means of satisfying them are out of proportion. Every one is drawn into the same tumultuous chase after Fortune, and dreams of breaking through all the obstacles that separate him from her. Individual egoism has increased without a check on a basis of pessimistic indifference for all doctrines and general interests. Wealth has become the end that each desires, and this goal has obscured all others.
Such tendencies are certainly not new to history, but it would appear that of old they presented themselves in a less general and less exclusive form. “The men of the eighteenth century,” says Tocqueville, “scarcely knew this passion for well-being, which is, as it were, the mother of servitude. In the higher classes men were concerned far more to embellish their lives than to render them comfortable, to become illustrious rather than wealthy.” This universal pursuit of wealth has had as its inevitable corollary a general lowering of morality, and all the ensuing consequences of this abatement. The most clearly visible result has been an enormous decrease of the prestige enjoyed by the middle classes in the eyes of their social inferiors. Bourgeois society has aged as much in a century as the aristocracy in a thousand years.
It becomes exhausted in less than three generations, and only renews itself by constant recruiting from the classes below it. It may endow its sons with wealth, but how can it endow them with the accidental qualities that only centuries can implant? Great fortunes are substituted for great hereditary qualities, but these great fortunes fall too often into lamentable hands.
Modern youth has shaken off all precedent, all prejudices. To it the ideas of Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 19
duty, patriotism, and honour seem too often ridiculous fetters, mere vain prejudices. Educated exclusively in the cult of success, it exhibits the most furious appetites and covetousness. When speculation, intrigue, rich marriages, or inheritances put fortunes into its hands, it consecrates them only to the most vulgar delights.
The youth of our universities does not present a more consoling spectacle. It is the melancholy product of our classical education. Completely steeped in Latin rationalism, possessed of an education entirely theoretical and bookish, it is incapable of understanding anything of the realities of life, of the necessities which uphold the fabric of society. The idea of the fatherland, without which no nation can exist, seems to it, as an eminent critic, M. Jules Lemaître, wrote but recently, the conception “of imbecile jingoes completely devoid of philosophy.” He continues: —
“What are we to say to them? They are great reasoners, and expert in dialectic. Besides, it is not so imperative to convince them by reasoning as to induce in them a sentiment which they have always ignored.
“Some (I have heard them) declare that it is a matter of indifference to them whether our political capital be at Berlin or Paris, and that they would accept the just administration of a German prefect with perfectly equal minds. And I do not see what I can reply to them, except that our hearts, our brains, are not fashioned alike.
“Others are patriots in a feeble way; they detest war on humanitarian principles, as one used to say fifty years ago, and also because they dream of international Socialism.”1( La France extérieuere, May 1, 1898.) This demoralisation of all the strata of the bourgeoisie, the too often dubious means they employ to obtain wealth, and the scandals they provoke every day, are the factors that have perhaps chiefly contributed to sow hatred in the middle and lower classes of society. This demoralisation has given a serious justification to the diatribes of the modern Socialists against the unequal partition of wealth. It has been only too easy for the latter to show that the great fortunes of the present day are too often based upon a gigantic rapine levied on the modest resources of thousands of unhappy creatures. How else are we to qualify such financial operations as the foreign loans launched by great banking houses perfectly informed of the affairs of the borrowers, perfectly sure that their too confident subscribers will be ruined, but ruining Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 20
them without hesitation in order to touch commissions which sometimes, as in the case of the Honduras loan, amount to more than 50 per cent of the total sum? Is not the poor devil who, goaded by hunger, steals your watch in the corner of the park, infinitely less culpable in reality than these pirates of finance? Again, what are we to say of the “rings” of great capitalists, who band themselves together to buy up all over the world the whole products of some particular branch of commerce — copper, for example, or petroleum — the result of which operation is to double or treble the price of an indispensable article, and to throw thousands of workmen into idleness and misery? What shall we say of speculations like that of the young American millionaire who, at the time of the Spanish-American war, bought at one stroke all the corn obtainable in almost all the markets of the world, to re-sell it only when the commencement of the scarcity he had provoked had greatly increased the price? The affair should have brought him in four million pounds; but it provoked a crisis in Europe, famine and riots in Spain and Italy, and plenty of poor devils died of hunger. Are Socialists really in the wrong when they compare the authors of such speculations to common pirates, and declare that they deserve the hangman’s rope?
The demoralisation of the upper strata of society, the unequal and often very inequitable partition of wealth, the increasing irritation of the masses, requirements always greater than enjoyment, the waning of old hierarchies and old faiths — there are in all these circumstances plenty of reasons for discontent which go to justify the rapid extension of Socialism.
The most distinguished spirits suffer from a malady not less pronounced, although of a different nature. This malady does not always transform them into partisans of the new doctrines, but it prevents them from greatly interesting themselves in the defence of the present social State. The successive disintegration of all religious beliefs, and of the institutions founded upon them; the total failure of science to throw any light on the mysteries which surround us, and which only deepen when we seek to sound them; the only too evident proof that all our systems of philosophy represent merely an empty and useless farrago; the universal triumph of brute force, and the discouragement provoked by that triumph, have ended by throwing even the elect into a gloomy pessimism.
The pessimistic tendencies of modern minds are incontestable; it would be Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 21
easy to compose a volume of the phrases in which our writers express them.
The following extracts will suffice to illustrate this general disorder of the mind: —
“As for the picture of the sufferings of humanity,” says one of our most distinguished con temporary philosophers, M. Renouvier, “without speaking of the ills that appertain to the general laws of the animal kingdom, it is enough to make Schopenhauer pass as mild to-day, rather than excessively gloomy, if we think of the social phenomena which characterise our epoch, the war of nations, the war of classes, the universal extension of militarism, the increase of extreme misery parallel with the development of great wealth and the refinements of the life of pleasure, the forward march of criminality, often hereditary as much as professional, the increase of suicide, the relaxation of family ties and the abandonment of supramundane beliefs which are being gradually replaced by the sterile materialistic cult of the dead. All these signs of a visible retrogression of civilisation towards barbarism, which the contact of Americans and Europeans with the stationary or decadent populations of the old world cannot fail to augment — all these signs had not yet made their appearance at the time when Schopenhauer gave the signal for the return of the mind to pessimistic judgment of the world’s merits.”
“The strongest trample on the rights of the weakest without shame,” writes another philosopher, M. Boilley; “the Americans exterminate the Redskins, the English oppress the Hindoos. Under the pretext of civilisation the European nations are dividing Africa amongst themselves, but in reality are only concerning themselves to open new markets. The jealousy between Power and Power has assumed unheard-of proportions. The Triple Alliance threatens us by fear and by covetousness. Russia comes to us through interest.” The abuse of the right of the strongest is incontestable, as are also the iniquities of society. To these iniquities we must add all the social lies to which we are forced to submit, and which are well reviewed by M. de Vogué in the following lines: —
“Lies of faces, lies of hearts; lies of thoughts, lies of words; lies of false glory, false talent, false money, false names, false opinions, false loves; lies in all things, and even in the best; in art, in thought, in sentiment, in the public welfare, because to-day these things no longer have their end in themselves because they are nothing but the means of obtaining fame and lucre.” Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 22
Without question our civilisations are founded upon lies enough, but if we wish to extirpate these lies we must at the same blow destroy all the elements they support, and notably religion, diplomacy, commerce, and love. What would become of the relations between individuals and between peoples if the lies of faces and did not dissemble the real sentiments of our hearts? He who hates falsehood must live solitary and ignored. As for the young man who wishes to make his way in the world, as we understand the matter to-day, the most important advice one can give him is that he should studiously cultivate the art of lying skilfully.
Hatred and envy in the lower classes, intense egoism and the exclusive cult of wealth in the directing classes, pessimism among thinkers: such are the general modern tendencies. A society must be very solidly established to resist such causes of dissolution. It is doubtful if it can resist them long. Some philosophers console themselves for this state of general discontent by arguing that it constitutes a factor of progress, and that peoples too well satisfied with their lot, such as the Orientals, progress no further.
Easy as it may be to raise up these hopes and demands against the actual state of things, must be conceded that all these social iniquities seem inevitable, since they have always existed. They seem to be the inevitable results of human nature, and no experience gives us leave to think that by changing our institutions and substituting one kind for another, we should be able to abolish, or even lessen, the iniquities of which we complain so greatly. The army of virtuous men has always numbered but few soldiers, and far fewer officers, and we have scarcely discovered the means of augmenting the number. We must therefore rank social iniquities with those natural iniquities, such as age and death, to whose yoke we must submit, and against which all recriminations are vain.
In short, if we resent our misfortunes more keenly than of old, it would nevertheless seem that they have never been lighter. Without going back to the ages when man, taking refuge in the depths of caverns, painfully contested with the beasts for his meagre fare, and often served them as food, let us recall that our fathers knew slavery, invasion, famine, war of all kinds, murderous epidemics, the Inquisition, the Terror, and many another misery still. Do not let us forget that, thanks to the progress of science and industry, to higher rates of wage and increased cheapness of articles of luxury, the most humble Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 23
individual lives to-day with more comfort than a feudal gentleman of old in his manor, always menaced as he was with pillage and destruction by his neighbours. Thanks to steam, electricity, and all the other modern discoveries, the poorest of peasants is possessed of a host of commodities that Louis Quatorze in all his pomp never knew.
3. The Percentage Method in the Appreciation of Social Phenomena.
To form just and equitable judgments on a given social environment we must consider not only those evils which touch ourselves, or those injustices which clash with our own sentiments. Every society contains a certain proportion of good and bad, a certain number of virtuous men and of scoundrels, of men of genius and of mediocre or imbecile men. To compare, across the ages, one society with another, we must not only consider their component elements separately, but also their respective proportions one to another; that is to say, the percentage of these elements. We must put aside the particular cases which strike us and deceive us, and the averages of the statisticians, which deceive us yet more. Social phenomena are determined by percentages, and not by particular cases or by averages.
The greater part of our errors of judgment, and the hasty generalisations resulting therefrom, spring from an insufficient knowledge of the percentage of the elements observed. The habitual tendency, a characteristic one in partially developed minds, is to generalise from particular cases without considering in what proportion they exist. We are like the traveller, who, being attacked by thieves while passing through a forest, affirmed that this forest was habitually infested with brigands, without ever dreaming of inquiring how many other travellers, and in how many years, had previously been attacked.
A strict application of the method of percentages will teach us to avoid these hasty generalisations. The judgments we pronounce upon a people or a society are only of value when they deal with a number of individuals so large as to allow of our knowing in what proportions the qualities or faults in question exist. Only from such data are generalisations possible. For instance, if we state that a certain people is characterised by enterprise and energy, we do not by any means say that there may not be among this people individuals completely destitute of such qualities, but simply that the percentage of individuals so gifted is considerable. If it were possible to substitute figures for Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 24
this clear, yet vague, “considerable,” the value of our judgment would be greatly enhanced; but in evaluations of this kind we must, in default of sufficiently sensible reagents, content ourselves with approximations. Sensible reagents are not altogether wanting, but they require very delicate handling.
This idea of percentages is important. It was after introducing this method into anthropology that I was able to show the profound cerebral differences that separate the various human races — differences which the method of averages could never have established. What until then did we find in comparing the average cranial capacity of the divers races? Differences which were really insignificant, and which tended to make one believe, indeed the majority of anatomists did believe, that the cranial volume of all races was almost identical. By means of certain curves, giving the exact percentage of different capacities, I was able, by taking data from a considerable number of skulls, to demonstrate unquestionably that, on the contrary, cranial capacity varies enormously according to race, and that the fact which clearly distinguishes the superior from the inferior races is that the former possess a certain number of large skulls and the latter do not. By reason of their small number these large skulls do not affect averages. This anatomical demonstration also confirms the psychological notion that the intellectual level of a nation is determined by the greater or less number of the eminent minds it contains.
The methods of investigation employed in the observation of sociological facts are as yet too imperfect to permit the application of such methods of exact evaluation as allow us to translate phenomena into geometric curves.
Unable as we are to see all the aspects of a question, we must none the less bear in mind that these facets are very diverse, and that there are many which we do not suspect or comprehend. But it is often the case that these less visible elements are precisely the more important. In order to form not too erroneous judgments upon complex problems — and all sociological problems are complex — we must revise our judgments unceasingly, by a series of verifications and successive approximations, while endeavouring absolutely to put aside our own interests and preferences. We must consider long before concluding, and more often than not we must confine ourselves to considering.
These are not the principles which have been applied heretofore by writers who have treated of Socialism, and this doubtless is the reason why the Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 25
influence of their work has been equally feeble and ephemeral, Notes.
1. The very long-established antipathy entertained by many of our university professors for the army and the fatherland obtains often from the causes mentioned by M. Lemaître, more often from the incapacity of theorists to understand the necessities of the organisation and defence of societies, and very frequently from causes on which it would be useless to insist here. This hatred of the army is often dissimulated, but it bursts forth sometimes with a violence to which witness is borne by the following lines, which were written by one our best-known university professors, and have recently been quoted by numerous journals:
“When we no longer see thousands of gabies at every military review; when, instead of admiring titles and epaulettes, you have accustomed your child to say to itself: ‘The uniform is a livery, and all liveries are ignominious: that of the priest and that of the soldier, that of the magistrate and that of the lackey;’
then you will have taken a step towards reason.” In an interesting article recently published by the Bibliothèque universelle, M. Abel Veuglaire has very clearly shown how the outburst of passion let loose recently in France by a certain number of University men was due to their hatred of the army. “It is against the officers that the ‘intellectuals’ have risen; it is against them that the movement has been directed.” Let such sentiments propagate themselves a little, and the societies in which they spread will submit without resistance to Socialism, invasion, and slavery. It is the last pillar of society that is being sapped to-day.
Chapter 3: The Theories of Socialism.
1. The Fundamental Principles of the Socialist Theories.
To investigate the political and social concepts of the theorists of Socialism would be a proceeding of very little interest, if by so doing we did not often arrive at those conceptions which are in sympathy with the spirit of a period, and for this reason produce a certain impression on the general mind. If, as I have so often maintained, and as I propose to show once more, the institutions of a people are the consequences of its inherited mental organisation, and not Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 26
the product of the philosophical theories created on every hand, the small importance of Utopias and speculative constitutions can readily be conceived.
But that which the philosophers and orators effect in their imaginings is often nothing other than to invest with a tangible form the unconscious aspirations of their time and race. The few writers who have really influenced the world by their books, such as Adam Smith in England, and Rousseau in France have merely condensed, into clear and intelligible form, the ideas which were already spreading on every hand. They did not create what they expressed.
Only the remoteness of their time can delude us on this point.
If we limit the diverse concepts of the Socialists to the fundamental principles on which they repose the investigation will be very brief.
The modern theories of social organisation, under all their apparent diversity, lead back to two different and opposing fundamental principles —
Individualism and Collectivism. By Individualism man is abandoned to himself; his initiative is carried to a maximum, and that of the State to a minimum. By Collectivism a man’s least actions are directed by the State, that is to say, by the aggregate; the individual possesses no initiative; all the acts of his life are mapped out. The two principles have always been more or less in conflict, and the development of modern civilisation has rendered this conflict more keen than ever. Neither has any intrinsic or absolute value of itself, but each must be judged according to the time, and above all the race, in which it manifests itself; and this we shall see in the course of this book.
All that has gone to make the greatness of Civilisations sciences, arts, philosophies, religions, military power, etc., has been the work of individuals and not of aggregates. It is by favoured individuals, the rare and supreme fruits of a few superior races, that the most important discoveries and advances, by which all humanity profits, have been realised. The peoples among whom Individualism is most highly developed are by this fact alone at the head of civilisation, and to-day dominate the world.
It is only in our days, and above all since the Revolution, that Individualism, at least under certain forms, has at all developed among the Latin races. These peoples are unfortunately but little adapted, by their ancestral qualities, their institutions, and their education, to rely upon themselves or to govern Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 27
themselves. Extremely eager for equality, they have always shown themselves very little anxious for liberty. Liberty is competition and incessant conflict, the mother of all progress, in. which only the most capable can triumph, and the weakest, as in nature, are condemned to annihilation.
The Revolution has been reproached with having developed Individualism of an exaggerated kind; but this reproach does not seem just. It is a far cry from the form of Individualism which the Revolution has made prevalent to the Individualism practised by the Anglo-Saxons, for example, amongst other nations. The revolutionary ideal was to shatter the classes and corporations, to reduce every individual to a common type, and to absorb all these individuals, thus dissociated from their categories, into the guardianship of a strongly centralised State. Nothing could be more strongly opposed to the Anglo-Saxon Individualism, which favours the banding together of individuals, obtains everything by it, and confines the action of the State within narrow limits. The work of the Revolution was far less revolutionary than is generally believed.
By exaggerating the absorption and centralisation of the State it only continued in a Latin tradition deeply rooted through centuries of monarchy, and followed by all governments alike. By dissolving the industrial, political, religious, and other corporations, it has made this absorption and centralisation still more complete, and, moreover, by so doing, has obeyed the inspirations of all the philosophers of the period.
The development of Individualism, as its necessary consequence, leaves the individual isolated amidst the competition of eager appetites. Young and vigorous races, such as the Anglo-Saxon, in which the mental inequalities between individuals are not too great, accommodate themselves very well to such a state of things. The Anglo-Saxon and American workers are perfectly able, by means of trades-unions, to contend with the demands of capitalism, and to escape its tyranny. Every interest has thus been able to establish itself.
But among older races, whose initiative has been exhausted by their systems of education and the march of time, the consequences of individualism have ended by becoming severe in the extreme.
The philosophers of the last century, and the Revolution, in breaking or trying to break up all the religious and social ties which served as a support to man, and which were established on a solid basis, whether that basis were the Church, family, caste, guild, or corporation, certainly thought to effect a Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 28
thoroughly democratic work. What they really favoured, without foreseeing it, was the birth of an aristocracy of financiers of formidable power, reigning over a mob of individuals possessing neither cohesion nor defence. The feudal seigneur did not use his serfs more hardly than the modern industrial seigneur, the king of a workshop, sometimes uses his mercenaries. Theoretically the latter enjoy every liberty; theoretically, again, they are the equals of their master. Practically they feel weighing on them the heavy chains of misery and dependence, in menace if not in fact.
The idea of remedying the unforeseen consequences of the Revolution was bound to germinate, and the adversaries of Individualism have had no lack of sound pretexts for attacking it. It was easy for them to maintain that the social organism was of greater importance than the individual organism, and most often strongly opposed to it, and that the latter must give way before the former; that the weak and incapable have a right to be protected, and that the inequalities created by nature must be corrected by a new partition of wealth made by society itself. Thus was born the Socialism of the present day, the offspring of the ancient Socialism, and which, like the old, wishes to change the division of wealth by depriving the rich for the benefit of the poor.
Theoretically, the means of annihilating social inequalities are very simple.
The State has only to intervene and proceed to the distribution of wealth, and to establish in perpetuity the equilibrium destroyed for the profit of the few.
From this idea, so little novel and yet so seductive, have issued the Socialistic concepts of which we are about to treat.
Modern Socialism presents itself in a number of forms greatly differing in detail. By their general characteristics they rank themselves under the head of Collectivism. All would invariably have recourse to the State to repair the injustice of destiny, and to proceed to the re-distribution of wealth. Their fundamental propositions have at least the merit of extreme simplicity: confiscation by the State of capital, mines, and property, and the administration and re-distribution of the public wealth by an immense army of functionaries.
The State, or the community, if you will — for the Collectivists now no longer use the word State — would manufacture everything, and permit no competition. The least signs of initiative, individual liberty, or competition, Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 29
would be suppressed. The country would be nothing else than an immense monastery subjected to a strict discipline. The inheritance of property being abolished, no accumulation of fortune would be possible.
As for the needs of the individual, Collectivism scarcely regards anything else than his alimentary necessities, and only occupies itself with satisfying them. M. Rouanet, cited by M. Boilley, writes as follows: —
“According to the Marxist explanation the necessities of nutrition are at the summit as well as at the base of human development. Humanity would be at the end, as at the beginning, a stomach. Nothing but an enormous stomach, whose physical necessities would constitute the sole motive of all mental activities. The stomach would be the prime cause and the end of humanity. As a Marxist has maintained, Socialism is in effect nothing but the religion of the stomach.”
It is evident that such a régime implies the absolute dictatorship of the State, or, what comes to exactly the same thing, of the community, with regard to the distribution of wealth, and a no less absolute servitude on the part of the workers. But the latter are not affected by this argument. They are not at all eager for liberty, as is proved by the enthusiasm with which they have acclaimed all the Caesars when a Caesar has arisen; and they care as little for all that goes to make the greatness of a civilisation: for arts, sciences, literature, and so forth, which would disappear at once in such a society; so that the Collectivist doctrine has nothing in it that could seem antipathetic to them.
In exchange for their rations, which the theorists of Socialism promise him,
“the worker would perform his work under the surveillance of State functionaries, like so many convicts under the eye and hand of the warder. All individual motive would be stifled, and each worker would rest, sleep, and eat at the bidding of headmen put in authority over matters of food, work, recreation, and the perfect equality of all.”
All stimulus being destroyed, no one would make an effort to ameliorate or to escape from his position. It would be slavery of the gloomiest kind, without a hope of enfranchisement. Under the domination of the capitalist the worker can at least dream of becoming, and sometimes does become, a capitalist in his turn. What dream could lie indulge in under the anonymous and brutally despotic tyranny of a levelling State which should foresee all his needs and Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 30
direct his will? M. Bourdeau has remarked that the Collectivist organisation would be very like that of the Jesuits of Paraguay. Would it not resemble rather the organisation. of the negroes on the old slave-plantations?
Blinded as they are by their dreams, and convinced though they be of the superiority of institutions over economic laws, the more intelligent of the Socialists have been obliged to understand that the great objections to their system are those terrible natural equalities against which no amount of recrimination has ever been able to prevail. Except there were each generation a systematic massacre of all individuals surpassing by however little the lowest imaginable average, social inequality, the child of mental inequality, would quickly re-establish itself.
The theorists meet this objection by assuring us that, in the new social environment thus artificially created, individual capacity would quickly equalise itself, and that the stimulant of personal interest, which has hitherto been the great motive of human nature and the source of all progress, would become useless, and would be replaced by the sudden formation of altruistic instincts which would lead the individual to devote himself to the Collective interest. It cannot be denied that religions, at least during the short periods of ardent belief ensuing on their birth, have obtained some analogous result; but they had Heaven to offer to their believers, with an eternal life of rewards, while the Socialists propose to their disciples, in exchange for the sacrifice of their liberty, only a hell of servitude and hopeless baseness.
To suppress the effects of natural inequality is theoretically an easy thing, but to suppress these inequalities themselves will always be impossible. They, with death and age, form a part of these eternal fatalities to which a man must submit himself.
But so long as we keep within the frontiers of dreamland it is easy to promise all; easy, like the Prometheus of Æschylus, “to make blind hopes inhabit mortal souls.” So man will change to adapt himself to the new society created by the Socialists. The differences that divide individual from individual will disappear, and we shall have only the average type so well described by the mathematician Bertrand “Without passions or vices, neither mad nor wise, with average ideas, average opinions, he will die at an average age, of an average malady invented by the statisticians.”
The methods of realisation proposed by the various Socialist sects differ in Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 31
form, though all tending to a common end. They aim finally at obtaining an immediate State monopoly of the soil, and of wealth in general, either by simple decree or by enormously increasing the death duties, so as to lead to the suppression of family property in a few generations.
The enumeration of the programmes and theories of these various sects would be without interest, for at present Collectivism prevails over them all, and alone exerts any influence, Most of them have dropped into oblivion; “in this manner Christian Socialism, which was pre-eminent in 1848, now marches in the rear,” as Léon Say justly remarks. As for State Socialism, only its name has changed; it is nothing else than the Collectivism of to-day.
It has with reason been said of Christian Socialism that it meets the modern doctrines at many points. “Like Socialism,” writes M. Bourdeau, “the Church allows no merit to anything that partakes of genius, talent, grace, originality, or personal gift. Individualism, for the Church, is the synonym of egoism; and that which it has always sought to impose on the world is precisely the end of Socialism: fraternity under authority. The same international organisation, the same reprobation of war, the same sentiments as to suffering and social necessities. According to Bebel it is the Pope who, from the heights of the Vatican, sees most clearly the gathering storm which is upheaving itself upon the horizon. The Papacy might even be in danger of becoming a dangerous competitor with revolutionary Socialism if it were resolutely to place itself in the van of the universal democracy.”
To-day the programme of the Christian Socialists differs very little from that of the Collectivists. But the other Socialists repudiate them in their hatred of all religious ideas, and if revolutionary Socialism were to triumph the Christian Socialists would assuredly be its first victims. Assuredly also they would find no one to take pity on their fate.
Among the various sects that are born and die every day Anarchism deserves to be mentioned. Theoretically the Anarchists appear to come under the heading of Individualists, since they desire to allow the individual an unlimited liberty; but in practice we must consider them as merely the Extreme Left of the Socialist party, for they are equally intent oil the destruction of the present social system. Their theories are characterised by that extreme simplicity which is the keynote of all Socialist Utopias: “Society is worthless; let us destroy it by steel and fire!” Thanks to the natural instincts of man they will Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 32
form a new society, of course perfect. By what train of astonishing miracles would the new society differ from those that have preceded it? That is what no Anarchist has ever told us. It is evident, on the contrary, that if the present civilisations were to be completely destroyed, humanity would once again pass through all the forms it has, perforce, successively outgrown: savagery, slavery, barbarism, etc. One does not very well see what the Anarchists would gain by this. Admit the immediate realisation of all their dreams; that is to say, the execution of all the bourgeois en bloc, the reunion of all capital in one immense heap, to which every man can resort as he wills: how will this heap renew itself when it has become exhausted, and all the Anarchists have become momentary capitalists in their turn?
Be it as it may, the Anarchists and the Collectivists are the only sects possessing any influence to-day. The Collectivists imagine their theories were created by the German Karl Marx. As a matter of fact, we find them in detail in the writers of antiquity. Without going back so far, we may remark with Tocqueville, who wrote more than fifty years ago, that all the Socialist theories are exposed at length in the Code de la Nature, published by Morelly in 1755.
“You will there find, together with all the doctrines asserting the omnipotence of the State and its unlimited rights, several of the political theories by which France has been most frightened of late, and whose birth we flatter ourselves to have witnessed: the community of goods, the right to work, absolute equality, uniformity in everything, mechanical regularity in all the movements of the individual, regulated tyranny, and the complete absorption of the personality of the citizen into the body of society:
“‘In this society nothing will belong to ally person as his personal property,’
says Article 1 of the Code. ‘Every citizen will be fed, maintained, and occupied at the expense of the public,’ says Article 2. ‘All products will be amassed in the public magazines, thence to be distributed to all citizens and to supply their vital need. At five years of age every child will be taken from his family and educated in common, at the expense of the State, in a uniform manner,’ etc.”
Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 33
4. The Socialistic Ideas of Nations, like the Various Institutions of Nations, Are the Consequence of Their Race.
The Racial idea, so little understood a few years ago, is becoming more and more widely spread, and is tending to dominate all our historical, political, and social concepts.1
I dedicated my penultimate work2 to showing how the various peoples, mingled and united by the hazard of migration or conquest, came to form the nations known to history, the only ones existing to-day: for pure races, anthropologically speaking, are scarcely to be found except among savages.
This idea being thoroughly established, I indicated the limits of variation of character among these races; that is to say, how variable and mobile characteristics become superimposed upon a fixed substratum. I then demonstrated that all the elements of a civilisation — language, arts, customs, institutions, beliefs — were the consequences of a certain mental constitution, and therefore could not pass from one nation to another without undergoing profound transformations.
It is the same with Socialism; this law of transformation being general, Socialism also must be subject to it. Despite the deceptive labels which in politics, as in religion and morals, often cover very dissimilar things, there are often hidden behind identical words very different social or political concepts, just as the same concept is often sheltered by very different words. Some Latin nations live under monarchies, some under republics, but under these constitutions, so nominally opposed, the political rôle of the State and the individual remains the same, and represents the invariable ideal of the race. Be the nominal government of a Latin people what it may, the action of the State will always be preponderant, and that of the private person very small Among the Anglo-Saxons the same constitution, republic or monarchy, realises absolutely the opposite of the Latin ideal. Instead of being carried to a maximum, the rôle of the State is with them reduced to a minimum, while the political or social part reserved for private initiative reaches, on the contrary, a maximum.
From the preceding facts it results that the nature of institutions plays a very small part in the life of nations. it will probably be several centuries before such a notion can penetrate the popular imagination; but only when it has done so will the futility of constitutions and revolutions clearly appear. Of all the Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 34
errors that history has given birth, the most disastrous, that which has uselessly shed the most blood and heaped up the greatest ruin, is this idea that a people, that any people, can change its institutions as it pleases. All that it can do is to change the names of its institutions, to clothe with new words old conceptions, which represent the natural outcome of a long past.
The foregoing assertions can be justified only by examples, and I have furnished several in my preceding works; but the study of Socialism among the various races, to which part of the ensuing chapters will be dedicated, will present us with many others. I shall show, first of all, by taking a given nation, how the advent of Socialism has been prepared in that nation by the mental constitution and history of its race. We shall then see how it is that Socialistic doctrines have been unable to succeed among oilier people, of different race.
In order to discover to what extent our social conceptions are truly the resultants of race one might even confine oneself to comparing the works of the Socialist writers of various races. The most eminent of English Socialist writers (Herbert Spencer, for example), are partisans of the liberty of the citizen and the limitation of the rôle of the State. The Socialist writers of Latin race profess, on the contrary, a perfect disdain of liberty, and invariably clamour for extended action on the part of the State, and the utmost State regulation. One must run through the works of all the theorists of Latin race
— those of Auguste Comte, for example — in order to see to what extent the disdain of liberty and the desire to be governed may be carried. “The energetic preponderance of a central power” appeared indispensable to the latter. The State must intervene in all questions economic, industrial, and moral. The people have no rights, but only duties. It must be directed by a dictatorial Government composed of scientists, having at their head an absolute Positivist Pope. Stuart Mill said with reason of these conceptions that they formed the most complete system of spiritual and temporal despotism that had ever issued from the brain of man, except perhaps from that of Ignatius Loyola. Of all modern conquests the most precious was liberty. How much longer shall we keep it?
1. The significance of race, which to-day one might have thought to be an axiom of the most elementary kind, is nevertheless still perfectly Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Socialism, 35
incomprehensible to numbers of persons. Thus we find M. Novikoff uphold in a recent work “the small importance of race in human affairs.” He believes the negro can easily become the equal of the white man, &c.
Such assertions only show us how, in the author’s own words, “in the domain of sociology people still content themselves with declamatory phrases instead of making a careful study of facts.” All that M. Novikoff does not understand he qualifies by contradiction, and the authors who do not think with him are classed as pessimists. This kind of psychology is easy, to be sure, but it is equally elementary. To admit “the small importance of race in human affairs” we must absolutely ignore the history of San Domingo, of Hayti, of the twenty-two Spanish-American republics, and of the United States. To misunderstand the part played by race is to condemn oneself forever to misunderstand history.
2. The Psychology of Peoples.
Chapter 4: The Disciples of Socialism and Their Mental State.