Le Bon Gustave - The Influence of Race in History

Author : Le Bon Gustave
Title : The Influence of Race in History
Year : 1888

Link download : Le_Bon_Gustave_-_The_Influence_of_Race_in_History.zip

Historical studies are undergoing in our day a profound transformation: from being almost exclusively literary but a few years ago, they are tending to become almost exclusively scientific today. From the reading room of the litterateur, they are crossing over into the laboratory of the scientist. It is not only the progress of modern-day archeology that has given new vigor to our learnings and ideas in history. The discoveries realized in the physical and natural sciences have contributed even more; it is thanks to them that the notion of natural causes is becoming imbued more and more in history, and we are getting used to considering historical phenomena as being subject to laws that are just as invariable as the ones that guide the course of the stars or the transformations of the body. The role that all the historians of old has attributed for so long to Providence or to chance is today only attributed to natural laws, as entirely withdrawn from the action of chance as from the will of the gods. Certain of these laws govern chemical combinations and the attraction of matter; likewise, it is other of these laws which govern thoughts, the actions of men, as well as the birth and waning of beliefs and empires. These laws of the mental and moral world, we often disregard them, but we are never able to elude them. “They operate sometimes for us, sometimes against us,” justly noted an eminent historian, “but always the same and without taking heed of us: rather, it is we who need to take heed of them.” Above all, though, it is the progress of the natural sciences that is responsible for the ideas that are beginning to be assimilated more and more in history. They are the ones which, having brought to light the totally preponderant influence of the past on the evolution of living beings, show us that it is the past of societies that one ought to first study in order to understand their present state and ascertain their future. Just as the naturalist today discovers the explanation of living beings in the study of their ancestral forms, likewise the philosopher who desires to understand the origin of our ideas, institutions, and beliefs must first study their earlier forms. Envisaged in this way, history, the interest in which will seem very weak when it restricts itself to the enumeration of dynasties and battles, acquires today an immense interest. Of all the sciences it is bound to be the foremost one, because it is the synthesis of all the others. The sciences that we usually devote ourselves to direct us to figure out and decipher a substance, an animal or a plant. By contrast, history teaches us to decipher humanity and permits us to understand it; indeed, the human spirit cannot propose any higher and more useful pursuit than this. The method that the modern-day scientist applies today to history is identical to the one that the naturalist employs in his laboratory. A society can be considered like an organism that is undergoing development. There is a social embryology just like there is an animal or plant embryology, and the laws of evolution that regulate them are of the same order. Animal embryology, in going back step by step in time in the ladder of existence, proves that our earliest ancestors are most closely related to lower animals than to ourselves, and allows us to see how each of our organs has emerged by slow transformations, chosen by selection and accumulated by heredity, from a much coarser organ. We know how the fin of the amphibian became the membrane that sustained in the air the pterodactyl, then the wing of the bird, next the paw of the mammal, and finally the hand of man. Social embryology, or, to employ a simpler term, the study of civilizations, shows us 1) the series of the progressions in which the marvelous and complicated mechanism of civilized societies makes it way from the savage state where for a long time mankind maintained itself, and 2) how our ideas, sentiments, institutions, and beliefs have their roots in the earliest ages of humanity. Instead of observing how formerly an abyss existed between peoples who ate their aged parents and those who waste their attentions on their old, crying on their tombs, between peoples who regarded women as lower animals belonging to all members of the tribe and those who have enwrapped them in a chivalrous cult, between those who put to death all their deformed children and those who lodge in magnificent asylums the idiots and incurable, I shall focus on the tight bonds which across the ages have united the most different ideas, institutions, and beliefs. We will discover that today’s civilizations have sprung from past civilizations, and contain the germ of all civilizations to come. The evolution of ideas, religion, industry and the arts, in a word, of all the elements which enter into the make-up of a civilization, is just as regular and inevitable as the one comprising the diverse forms of an animal series. ...

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