Gustave Le Bon on the Professoriate

le bon, gustave

Gustave Le Bon (1841 – 1931)

In the following extract from his Psychology of Socialism (1899), Gustav Le Bon discusses the appeal of socialism for the intelligentsia; the discussion includes Le Bon’s amusingly unsparing characterization of the professoriate — a class of people comprised, in his coinages, by demi-savants and doctrinaires, which he rightly despises.  Here, then, from Chapter IV, “The Disciples of Socialism and Their Mental State” –

It is because the half-science of the demi-savant obscures the instinctive intuitions, that its intervention in social affairs is so often harmful.
Social failures, misunderstood geniuses, lawyers without clients, writers without readers, doctors without patients, professors ill-paid, graduates without employment, clerks whose employers disdain them for their insufficiency, puffed-up university instructors — these are the natural adepts of Socialism. In reality they care very little for doctrines. Their dream is to create by violent means a society in which they will be the masters. Their cry of equality does not prevent them from having an intense scorn of the rabble who have not, as they have, learned out of books. They believe themselves greatly the superiors of the working man, and are really greatly his inferiors in their lack of practical sense and their exaggerated egotism. If they became masters their despotism would be no less than that of Marat, Saint-Just, or Robespierre, those excellent types of the unappreciated demi-savant. The hope of tyrannising in one’s turn, when one has always been ignored, humiliated, thrust into the shade, must have created many disciples of Socialism…

To this category of demi-savants belong most often the doctrinaires who formulate, in poisonous publications, the theories their ingenuous disciples at once begin to propagate. These are the generals who appear to direct the soldiers, but who really confine themselves to following them. They form a small majority whose influence is far more apparent than real. In reality they do little else than transform aspirations which they have not created into noisy invective, and give them that dogmatic form which permits the leaders to appear in print. Their books are often a sort of evangels, which no one ever reads, but from which one may cite in argument the title, or a few fragmentary phrases reproduced by special papers. There is not a Socialist who does not constantly invoke the work of Karl Marx on Capital, but I very much doubt if one in ten thousand has even turned over the leaves of this indigestible volume. The obscurity of such works is, however, a fundamental condition of their success. Like the Bible for the Protestant clergy, they constitute a sort of prophetic conjuring book, which one has only to open at random to find — provided that one possesses faith — the solution of any question in the world.
The doctrinaire, then, may be highly educated; that in no way saves him from being always obtuse and ingenuous, and most often an envious malcontent as well. Struck only by one side of a question, he remains in ignorance of the march of events and their recurrence. He is incapable of understanding anything of the complexity of social phenomena, of economic necessities, of atavistic influences, of the passions which really rule men. Having no guide but a bookish and rudimentary logic he readily believes that his ideas are about to transform the evolution of humanity and overcome destiny. The lucubrations of all these noisy doctrinaires are sufficiently vague, and their ideal of the future society sufficiently chimerical; but one thing is not at all chimerical, and that is their furious hatred of the actual state of society, and their burning desire to destroy it.

4 thoughts on “Gustave Le Bon on the Professoriate

    • Le Bon is one of those forgotten great writer-observers. By virtue of his Crowd, of course, he made himself a worthy precursor of Girard’s mimetology. There must be a reference somewhere in Girard’s oeuvre to Le Bon. I imagine that Girard would have categorized Le Bon positively as a strong religious thinker.

  1. Pingback: Gustav Le Bon on the Professoriate | Reaction Times

  2. Pingback: The Demi-Savants – Motus Mentis


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.