CHARLES-MARIE GUSTAVE LE BON (/tʃɑːrlz məˈriː ɡʊstɑːv lɛ bən/ ; 7 May 1841 – 13 December 1931) was a French polymath whose areas of interest included anthropology , psychology , sociology , medicine , invention, and physics . He is best known for his 1895 work The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind , which is considered one of the seminal works of crowd psychology .
A native of
Nogent-le-Rotrou , Le Bon qualified as a doctor of
medicine at the
University of Paris
In the 1890s, he turned to psychology and sociology, in which fields
he released his most successful works. Le Bon developed the view that
crowds are not the sum of their individual parts, proposing that
within crowds there forms a new psychological entity, the
characteristics of which are determined by the "racial unconscious "
of the crowd. At the same time he created his psychological and
sociological theories, he performed experiments in physics and
published popular books on the subject, anticipating the mass–energy
equivalence and prophesising the
Ignored or maligned by sections of the French academic and scientific
establishment during his life due to his politically conservative and
reactionary views, Le Bon was critical of democracy and socialism . Le
Bon's works were influential to such disparate figures as Theodore
* 1 Biography
* 1.1 Youth * 1.2 Life in Paris * 1.3 Widespread travels * 1.4 Development of theories * 1.5 Later life and death
* 2 Le Bonian thought
* 2.1 Inspirations * 2.2 Crowds
* 3 Influence * 4 Works * 5 Notes * 6 References * 7 External links
Gustave Le Bon
When Le Bon was eight years old, his father obtained a new post in
French government and the family, including Gustave's younger brother
Nogent-le-Rotrou never to return. Nonetheless, the town
was proud that
Gustave Le Bon
In 1860, he began medicinal studies at the
University of Paris
LIFE IN PARIS
Portrait of Gustave Le Bon, c. 1870
After his graduation, Le Bon remained in Paris, where he taught
himself English and German by reading Shakespeare 's works in each
language. He maintained his passion for writing and authored several
papers on physiological studies, as well as a 1868 textbook about
sexual reproduction , before joining the
Le Bon also witnessed the
From 1871 on, Le Bon was an avowed opponent of socialist pacifists and protectionists , who he believed were halting France's martial development and stifling her industrial growth; stating in 1913: "Only people with lots of cannons have the right to be pacifists." He also warned his countrymen of the deleterious effects of political rivalries in the face of German military might and rapid industrialisation, and therefore was uninvolved in the Dreyfus Affair which dichotomised France.
Le Bon in
Le Bon became interested in the emerging field of anthropology in the
1870s and travelled throughout
In 1884, he was commissioned by the French government to travel
He next published Les Civilisations de l'Inde (1887), in which he applauded Indian architecture, art and religion but argued that Indians were comparatively inferior to Europeans in regard to scientific advancements, and that this had facilitated British domination. In 1889, he released Les Premières Civilisations de l'Orient, giving in it an overview of the Mesopotamian, Indian, Chinese and Egyptian civilisations. The same year, he delivered a speech to the International Colonial Congress criticising colonial policies which included attempts of cultural assimilation , stating: "Leave to the natives their customs, their institutions and their laws." Le Bon released the last book on the topic of his travels, entitled Les monuments de l'Inde, in 1893, again praising the architectural achievements of the Indian people.
DEVELOPMENT OF THEORIES
Gustave Le Bon
On his travels, Le Bon travelled largely on horseback and noticed that techniques used by horse breeders and trainers varied dependent on the region. He returned to Paris and in 1892, while riding a high-spirited horse, he was bucked off and narrowly escaped death. He was unsure as to what caused him to be thrown off the horse, and decided to begin a study of what he had done wrong as a rider. The result of his study was L'Équitation actuelle et ses principes. Recherches expérimentales (1892), which consisted of numerous photographs of horses in action combined with analysis by Le Bon. This work became a respected cavalry manual, and Le Bon extrapolated his studies on the behaviour of horses to develop theories on early childhood education .
Le Bon's behavioural study of horses also sparked a long-standing interest in psychology , and in 1894 he released Lois psychologiques de l'évolution des peuples. This work was dedicated to his friend Charles Richet though it drew much from the theories of Théodule-Armand Ribot , to whom Le Bon dedicated Psychologie des Foules (1895). Psychologie des Foules was in part a summation of Le Bon's 1881 work L'Homme et les sociétés—which Émile Durkheim referenced in his doctoral dissertation De la division du travail social .
Both were best-sellers, with Psychologie des Foules being translated into nineteen languages within one year of its appearance. Le Bon followed these with two more books on psychology, Psychologie du Socialisme and Psychologie de l'Éducation, in 1896 and 1902 respectively. These works rankled the largely socialist academic establishment of France. Gustave Le Bon, c. 1900
Le Bon constructed a home laboratory in the early 1890s, and in 1896
reported observing "black light", a new kind of radiation that he
believed was distinct from, but possibly related to, X-rays and
cathode rays . Not the same type of radiation as what is now known as
black light , its existence was never confirmed and, similar to N rays
, it is now generally understood to be non-existent, but the discovery
claim attracted much attention among French scientists at the time,
many of whom supported it and Le Bon's general ideas on matter and
radiation, and he was even nominated for the Nobel Prize in
In 1902, Le Bon began a series of weekly luncheons to which he
invited prominent intellectuals, nobles and ladies of fashion. The
strength of his personal networks is apparent from the guest list:
participants included cousins Henri and
In L'Évolution de la Matière (1905), Le Bon anticipated the
mass–energy equivalence , and in a 1922 letter to Albert Einstein
complained about his lack of recognition. Einstein responded and
conceded that a mass–energy equivalence had been proposed before
him, but only the theory of relativity had cogently proved it. Gaston
Moch gave Le Bon credit for anticipating Einstein's theory of
relativity. In L'Évolution des Forces (1907), Le Bon prophesised the
Le Bon discontinued his research in physics in 1908, and turned again to psychology. He released La Psychologie politique et la défense sociale, Les Opinions et les croyances, La Révolution Française et la Psychologie des Révolutions, Aphorismes du temps présent, and La Vie des vérités in back-to-back years from 1910 to 1914, expounding in which his views on affective and rational thought, the psychology of race, and the history of civilisation.
LATER LIFE AND DEATH
Le Bon in 1929, aged eighty-eight
Le Bon continued writing throughout
World War I
He then released Psychologie des Temps Nouveaux (1920) before
resigning from his position as Professor of
He released Le Déséquilibre du Monde, Les Incertitudes de l'heure présente and L'évolution actuelle du monde, illusions et réalités in 1923, 1924 and 1927 respectively, giving in them his views of the world during the volatile interwar period .
He became a Grand-Croix of the
Legion of Honour
In putting an end to the long, diverse and fruitful activity of Gustave Le Bon, death deprived our culture of a truly remarkable man. His was a man of most exceptional intelligence; it sprang entirely from within himself; he was his own master, his own initiator.... Science and philosophy have suffered a cruel loss.
LE BONIAN THOUGHT
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Convinced that human actions are guided by eternal laws, Le Bon
attempted to synthesise
According to Steve Reicher , Le Bon was not the first crowd psychologist : "The first debate in crowd psychology was actually between two criminologists , Scipio Sighele and Gabriel Tarde , concerning how to determine and assign criminal responsibility within a crowd and hence who to arrest."
Le Bon theorised that the new entity, the "psychological crowd", which emerges from incorporating the assembled population not only forms a new body but also creates a collective "unconsciousness". As a group of people gather together and coalesces to form a crowd, there is a "magnetic influence given out by the crowd" that transmutes every individual's behaviour until it becomes governed by the "group mind ". This model treats the crowd as a unit in its composition which robs every individual member of their opinions, values and beliefs; as Le Bon states: "An individual in a crowd is a grain of sand amid other grains of sand, which the wind stirs up at will".
Le Bon detailed three key processes that create the psychological crowd: i) Anonymity, ii) Contagion and iii) Suggestibility. Anonymity provides to rational individuals a feeling of invincibility and the loss of personal responsibility. An individual becomes primitive, unreasoning, and emotional. This lack of self-restraint allows individuals to "yield to instincts" and to accept the instinctual drives of their "racial unconscious ". For Le Bon, the crowd inverts Darwin's law of evolution and becomes atavistic , proving Ernst Haeckel 's embryological theory: "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny ". Contagion refers to the spread in the crowd of particular behaviours and individuals sacrifice their personal interest for the collective interest. Suggestibility is the mechanism through which the contagion is achieved; as the crowd coalesces into a singular mind, suggestions made by strong voices in the crowd create a space for the racial unconscious to come to the forefront and guide its behaviour. At this stage, the psychological crowd becomes homogeneous and malleable to suggestions from its strongest members. "The leaders we speak of," says Le Bon, "are usually men of action rather than of words. They are not gifted with keen foresight... They are especially recruited from the ranks of those morbidly nervous excitable half-deranged persons who are bordering on madness."
"The type of hero dear to a crowd will always have the semblance of a Caesar . His insignia attracts them, his authority overawes them, and his sword instills them with fear."
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George Lachmann Mosse claimed that fascist theories of leadership
that emerged during the 1920s owed much to Le Bon's theories of crowd
psychology. There exists no evidence that his works were ever analyzed
by fascist leaders.
Just prior to
World War I
Edward Bernays , a nephew of
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