Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 240
Publication Date: This translation by Bernard Miall, 1913
Chapters include: Scientific And Political Revolutions; Religious Revolutions; The Action Of Governments In Revolutions; The Part Played By The People In Revolutions; Individual Variations Of Character In Time Of Revolution; The Mystic Mentality And The Jacobin Mentality; The Revolutionary And Criminal Mentalities; The Psychology OF Revolutionary Crowds; The Psychology Of The Revolutionary Assemblies; The Opinions Of Historians Concerning The French Revolution; The Psychological Foundations Of The Ancien Regime; Mental Anarchy At The Time Of The Revolution And The Influence Attributed To The Philosophers, and more.
The present age is not merely an epoch of discovery; it is also a period of revision of the various elements of knowledge. Having recognised that there are no phenomena of which the first cause is still accessible, science has resumed the examination of her ancient certitudes, and has proved their fragility. To-day she sees her ancient principles vanishing one by one. Mechanics is losing its axioms, and matter, formerly the eternal substratum of the worlds, becomes a simple aggregate of ephemeral forces in transitory condensation.
Despite its conjectural side, by virtue of which it to some extent escapes the severest form of criticism, history has not been free from this universal revision. There is no longer a single one of its phases of which we can say that it is certainly known. What appeared to be definitely acquired is now once more put in question.
Among the events whose study seemed completed was the French Revolution. Analysed by several generations of writers, one might suppose it to be perfectly elucidated. What new thing can be said of it, except in modification of some of its details?
And yet its most positive defenders are beginning to hesitate in their judgments. Ancient evidence proves to be far from impeccable. The faith in dogmas once held sacred is shaken. The latest literature of the Revolution betrays these uncertainties. Having related, men are more and more chary of drawing conclusions.
Not only are the heroes of this great drama discussed without indulgence, but thinkers are asking whether the new dispensation which followed the ancien regime would not have established itself naturally, without violence, in the course of progressive civilisation. The results obtained no longer seem in correspondence either with their immediate cost or with the remoter consequences which the Revolution evoked from the possibilities of history. Several causes have led to the revision of this tragic period. Time has calmed passions, numerous documents have gradually emerged from the archives, and the historian is learning to interpret them independently.
But it is perhaps modern psychology that has most effectually influenced our ideas, by enabling us more surely to read men and the motives of their conduct. Among those of its discoveries which are henceforth applicable to history we must mention, above all, a more profound understanding of ancestral influences, the laws which rule the actions of the crowd, data relating to the disaggregation of personality, mental contagion, the unconscious formation of beliefs, and the distinction between the various forms of logic. To tell the truth, these applications of science, which are utilised in this book, have not been so utilised hitherto. Historians have generally stopped short at the study of documents, and even that study is sufficient to excite the doubts of which I have spoken.
The great events which shape the destinies of peoples — revolutions, for example, and the outbreak of religious beliefs — are sometimes so difficult to explain that one must limit oneself to a mere statement.
From the time of my first historical researches I have been struck by the impenetrable aspect of certain essential phenomena, those relating to the genesis of beliefs especially; I felt convinced that something fundamental was lacking that was essential to their interpretation. Reason having said all it could say, nothing more could be expected of it, and other means must be sought of comprehending what had not been elucidated.
For a long time these important questions remained obscure to me. Extended travel, devoted to the study of the remnants of vanished civilisations, had not done much to throw light upon them.
Reflecting upon it continually, I was forced to recognise that the problem was composed of a series of other problems, which I should have to study separately. This I did for a period of twenty years, presenting the results of my researches in a succession of volumes.
One of the first was devoted to the study of the psychological laws of the evolution of peoples. Having shown that the historic races — that is, the races formed by the hazards of history—finally acquired psychological characteristics as stable as their anatomical characteristics, I attempted to explain how a people transforms its institutions, its languages, and its arts. I explained in the same work why it was that individual personalities, under the influence of sudden variations of environment, might be entirely disaggregated.
But besides the fixed collectivities formed by the peoples, there are mobile and transitory collectivities known as crowds. Now these crowds or mobs, by the aid of which the great movements of history are accomplished, have characteristics absolutely different from those of the individuals who compose them.
What are these characteristics, and how are they evolved? This new problem was examined in The Psychology of the Crowd.
Only after these studies did I begin to perceive certain influences which had escaped me.
But this was not all. Among the most important factors of history one was preponderant — the factor of beliefs. How are these beliefs born, and are they really rational and voluntary, as was long taught? Are they not rather unconscious and independent of all reason? A difficult question, which I dealt with in my last book, Opinions and Beliefs. So long as psychology regards beliefs as voluntary and rational they will remain inexplicable. Having proved that they are usually irrational and always involuntary, I was able to propound the solution of this important problem; how it was that beliefs which no reason could justify were admitted with out difficulty by the most enlightened spirits of all ages. The solution of the historical difficulties which had so long been sought was thenceforth obvious. I arrived at the conclusion that beside the rational logic which conditions thought, and was formerly regarded as our sole guide, there exist very different forms of logic: affective logic, collective logic, and mystic logic, which usually overrule the reason and engender the generative impulses of our conduct.