Gustave Le Bon
|Gustave Le Bon|
7 May 1841|
|Died||13 December 1931
|Known for||Crowd psychology|
Gustave Le Bon (7 May 1841 – 13 December 1931) was a French social psychologist, sociologist, Anthropologist, inventor, and amateur physicist. He is best known for his 1895 work The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. His writings incorporate theories of national traits, racial superiority, herd behavior and crowd psychology.
Le Bon began his writing career working in the new field of anthropology. In the 1870's he invented a pocket cephalometer, or as he called it, a "Compass of Coordinates". An instrument which allowed one to quickly measure the head's various angles, diameters, and profiles. In effect, the instrument was able to reproduce the measurements of any 3-D solid figure. Because it was small and portable the device was easily incorporated into the research programs of anthropologists. Le Bon himself, in 1881, used the cephalometer to measure the heads of 50 inhabitants of the remote Tatras Mountains region of southern Poland. His paper, "The Pocket Cephalometer, or Compass of Coordinates" is written in the style of a user's manual, and stands as an important historical document that details how 19th Century anthropologists initially practiced their science.
Le Bon's physical theories generated some mild controversy in the physics community. In 1896 he reported observing a new kind of radiation, which he termed "black light" (not the same as what today people call black light, though it was later discovered not to exist.). His theory of the nature of matter and energy was expanded upon in his book The Evolution of Matter. The book was popular in France, going through 12 editions. The major premise of the book is matter is an inherently unstable substance and slowly transforms into luminiferous ether. One major supporter was Henri Poincaré, however by 1900 physicists had rejected his formulation.
Le Bon was born in Nogent-le-Rotrou, France (near Chartres), and died in Marnes-la-Coquette. He studied medicine and toured Europe, Asia, and North Africa during the 1860s to 1880s while writing about archeology and anthropology, making some money from the design of scientific apparatus. His first great success however was the publication of Les Lois psychologiques de l'évolution des peuples (1894; The Psychology of Peoples), the first work in which he used a popularizing style that was to make his reputation secure. His best selling work, La psychologie des foules (1895; English translation The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, 1896), was published soon afterward.
In 1902, he began a series of weekly luncheons (les déjeuners du mercredi) to which prominent people of many professions were invited to discuss topical issues. The strength of Le Bon's personal networks is apparent from the guest list: participants included Henri and Raymond Poincaré (cousins, physicist and President of France respectively), Paul Valéry and Henri Bergson.
Le Bon was one of the first social psychologists to theoretically distinguish between a mob and a crowd. Other contemporary or ‘first generation’ theorists of crowd behavior included: the French sociologist Gabriel Tarde, the Italian lawyer and criminologist Scipio Sighele and the German sociologist Georg Simmel. All three of these writers were familiar with each others works and drew similar conclusions about mass crowds at a critical time during the formation of new theories of social action.
Scipio Sighele’s book, “La Folla Delinquente” was published in Italian in 1891 and in French under the title, “La Foule Criminelle,” the same year. However, the book was not accessible to the German sociologist Georg Simmel until 1897 when the German edition appeared under the title, “Psychologie des Auflaufs und der Massenverbrechen”. The English edition of Sighele's book, “The Criminal Crowd,” was published in 1894.
Just prior to World War I Wilfred Trotter, a surgeon of University College Hospital, London introduced Wilfred Bion, an employee at the same hospital, to Le Bon's writings and Sigmund Freud's work Massenpsychologie und Ich-Analyse (1921; English translation Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, 1922). Trotter's book, Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War forms the basis for the research of both Wilfred Bion and Ernest Jones who established what would be called group psychology. Their association with the Tavistock Institute also places them in the new field of group dynamics. During the first half of the twentieth century Le Bon's writings were used by media researchers such as Hadley Cantril and Herbert Blumer to describe the reactions of subordinate groups to media.
Dr. George Lachmann Mosse, former History professor in University of Wisconsin-Madison has claimed (audio courses) that fascist theories of leadership that emerged during the 1920s owed much to Le Bon's theories of crowd psychology. Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf also drew largely on the propaganda techniques proposed in Le Bon's 1895 book. In addition, Benito Mussolini made a careful study of Le Bon's crowd psychology book, apparently keeping the book by his bedside. Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, was influenced by Le Bon and Trotter. In his famous book Propaganda, he declared that a major feature of democracy was the manipulation of the mass mind by media and advertising. Theodore Roosevelt, as well as many other American progressives in the early 20th century, were also deeply affected by Le Bon's writings.
Selected works 
- Anatomical & Mathematical Researches into the Laws of the Variations of Brain Volume & Their Relation to Intelligence (1879)
- This paper received an award from both the French Academy of Sciences and the Anthropology Society of Paris..
- The Pocket Cephalometer, or Compass of Coordinates
- Experimental Researches on the Variations of the Volume of the Brain and Skull (1878)
- In this 1878 presentation to the Anthropology Society of Paris, Dr. Gustave Le Bon summarizes his extensive research on the volume of the brain and skull. The major findings of his study are: (1) "what constitutes the superiority of one race over another is that the superior race contains many more voluminous skulls than the inferior race;” (2) "comparing the largest skulls belonging to the superior races to the largest skulls of the inferior races, the difference amounts to the enormous number of 400 cubic centimeters;" (3) "the difference existing between the brain weight of a man and woman progressively increases as a people's level of civilization rises." These conclusions were based on patterns contained in the measurements he obtained by grouping data in a statistical progressive series.
- L'homme et les sociétés (1881); Man and Society),
- The Study of Races and Present-day Anthropology (1881)
- In this 1881 treatise Dr. Gustave Le Bon strongly criticizes his fellow anthropologists for merely calculating the averages of the various craniological measurements in their data set. Such "averages are fictitious values that provide a totally false idea of the elements that have served to constitute them," he says. Instead, he urges his fellow scientists to analyze their data by utilizing a series statistical method which will accurately determine the intelligence level of a race. Le Bon concludes the paper with two claims, (1) "skull volume directly corresponds with intelligence," and (2) "the superior race contains a certain number of quite voluminous skulls, whereas the inferior race does not.
- On the Applications of Photography to Anthropology with Respect to the Photographs Taken of the Fuegians Housed at the Jardin d'Acclimatation (1881)
- In this November 17, 1881 presentation to the Anthropology Society of Paris, Dr. Gustave Le Bon describes several photographs that he took of individuals from Tierra del Fuego who were housed at the time at the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris. Employing a new photography method, which involved the use of a dry emulsion of gelatino-silver bromide, Le Bon was "able to operate in an instantaneous manner." He comments that his Fuegian subjects were, "caught in the most diverse, but at the same time the most natural, poses." Gustave Le Bon presented this paper as a helpful introduction to the much longer presentation by Dr. Leonce Manouvrier, who had taken detailed measurements of 50 different body parts (foot length, etc.) on the same Tierra del Fuegian individuals Le Bon had photographed. See, "The Fuegians of the Jardin d'Acclimatation" by Leonce Manouvrier).
- La Civilisation des Arabes (1884); The Civilisation of the Arabs
- Applications of Psychology to the Classification of Races (1886)
- In this 1886 paper Dr. Gustave Le Bon analyzes the various races of India from a psychological point of view. This viewpoint represents a dramatic change in Le Bon’s approach to anthropology. After his departure from anthropology it appears that he took up the idea that a race can be best defined by its psychological qualities, rather than by its physical characteristics. In this study he classifies the peoples of India into three large groups, the largest of which is composed of the Hindus. He has two major conclusions: (1) the psychological qualities of the Hindus are submissiveness, absence of energy, fatalism, and lack of precision in thought; and (2) the mass of the Hindu population is intellectually equal to Europeans. Although he qualifies this finding with the remark that the "former, unlike the latter, does not possess a certain number of superior intellects." The paper is illustrated with reproduced photos to illuminate his findings.
- Les Lois psychologiques de l'évolution des peuples (1894); The Psychology of Peoples)
- La psychologie des foules (1895); English translation The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind 1896)
- Psychologie du socialisme (1896); The Psychology of Socialism)
- Lois psychologiques de l'évolution des peuples (1907)
- Barrows, Susanna, Distorting mirrors – Visions of the crowd in late 19th century France, New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1981.
- Nye, Robert, The origins of crowd psychology – Gustave Le Bon and the crisis of mass democracy in the Third Republic, London: Sage, 1975.
- Jaap van Ginneken, 'The era of the crowd – Le Bon, psychopathology and suggestion'. Ch. 4 in JvG, Crowds, psychology and politics 1871–1899, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
- Jaap van Ginneken, 'The lonely hero in French historiography'. Appendix in JvG, Mass movements, Apeldoorn (Neth.): Spinhuis, 2007.
See also 
- Crowd manipulation
- Crowd psychology
- Wilfred Trotter
- Wilfred Bion
- Sigmund Freud
- Edward Bernays
- Max Nordau
- Helge Kragh, Quantum Generations: A History of Physics in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999): 11–12.
- Brilliant at Breakfast at blogspot.com
- Twelve hours of Anna Freud under a Nazi interrogation lamp at www.thevillager.com
- Wagner & Hitler at solomonsmusic.net
- Men Behind Hitler – The Führer Appears at www.toolan.com
- Alex Steiner, "Marxism Without Its Head or Heart", 2007
- p. 63 ff., Stuart Ewen, PR!: A Social History of Spin, New York: Basic Books, 1996.
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
- Works by Gustave Le Bon at Project Gutenberg
- Gustave Le Bon's works: Page on Gustave Le Bon with his works available in French and in English
- the complete English text to The Crowd (PDF)
- English translation of 'The Psychology of Socialism' (PDF)