Le Bon Gustave – The Psychology of Peoples – BOOK summary

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The civilisation of a people is based on a small number of fundamental ideas, which determine its institutions, its literature and its arts. These ideas come very slowly into being, and they are also very slow to disappear. Long after their erroneous nature has become clear to cultivated minds, they remain indisputable truths for the masses, and continue to exert their influence on the rank and file of a nation. It is difficult to obtain recognition for a new idea, but it is no less difficult to discredit an idea that has long been generally accepted. Humanity has always been exceedingly loth to abandon its decayed ideas and its moribund gods. It is barely a century and a half ago that certain philosophers, who, it should be remarked^ were very ignorant of the primitive history of man, of the variations of his mental constitution and of the laws of heredity, propounded the idea of the equality of individuals and races. This idea, which would naturally be most attractive to the masses, ended by firmly implanting itself in their mind, and speedily bore fruit. It has shaken the foundation of the old societies, given birth to the most formidable of revolutions, and thrown the Western world into a series of convulsions, the end of which it is impossible to foresee. Doubtless certain of the inequalities among individuals and races were too apparent to be seriously disputed ; but people found it easy to persuade themselves that these inequalities were merely the outcome of differences of education, that all men are bom equally intelligent and good, and that the sole respon-r sibility for their perversion lies with the institutions they live under. This being the case the remedy was simple in the extreme : all that had to be done was to reform the institutions and to give every man an identical education. It is in this way that institutions and education have ended by becoming the great panaceas of modern democrats, the means of remedying inequalities which clash with the immortal principles that are the only divinities that survive to-day. And yet science, as it has progressed, has proved the vanity of the theories of equality and shown that the mental gulf created by the past between individuals and races can only be filled up by the slowly accumulating action of heredity. Modern psychology, together with the stern lessons of experience, has demonstrated that the institutions and the education which suit some individuals and some races are most harmful to others. But when ideas are once in circulation it is not in the power of philosophers to destroy them when they arrive at the conviction that they are erroneous. Like a swollen stream that has overflown its banks, the idea continues its destructive progress with which nothing can interfere. 

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