- Gustave Le Bon
name = Gustave Le Bon
caption = Gustave Le Bon
May 7, 1841
December 13, 1931
nationality = French
Gustave Le Bon (
May 7, 1841– December 13, 1931) was a French social psychologist, sociologist, and amateur physicist. He was the author of several works in which he expounded theories of national traits, racial superiority, herd behaviourand crowd psychology.
His work on crowd psychology became important in the first half of the twentieth century when it was used by media researchers such as
Hadley Cantriland Herbert Blumerto describe the reactions of subordinate groups to media.
He also contributed to on-going debates in physics about the nature of matter and energy. His book "The Evolution of Matter" was very popular in France (going through twelve editions), and though some of its ideas — notably that all matter was inherently unstable and was constantly and slowly transforming into
luminiferous ether— were taken up favorably by physicists of the day (including Henri Poincaré), his specific formulations were not given much consideration. In 1896 he reported observing a new kind of radiation, which he termed "black light" (not the same thing as what modern people call black lighttoday), though it was later discovered not to exist. [Helge Kragh, "Quantum Generations: A History of Physics in the Twentieth Century" (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999): 11-12.]
Le Bon was born in
Nogent-le-Rotrou, France, and died in Marnes-la-Coquette. He studied medicineand toured Europe, Asia, and North Africain the 1860s to 1880s while writing on archeologyand anthropology, making some moneyfrom 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 hit upon 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), followed soon after.
Le Bon enjoyed considerable security at the center of French
intellectuallife thereafter. In 1902, he launched a series of weekly luncheons (les déjeuners du mercredi) to which prominent figures from all the 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 Valéryand Henri Bergson.
The ideas put forward in "La psychologie des foules" played an important role in the early years of
group psychology: Sigmund Freud's "Massenpsychologie und Ich-Analyse" (1921; English translation "Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego", 1922) was explicitly based on a critique of Le Bon's work.
Le Bon was one of the great popularizers of theories of the unconscious at a critical moment in the formation of new theories of
social action. Wilfred Trotter, a famous surgeonat University College Hospital, London, wrote along similar lines in his famous book "Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War", just before the outbreak of World War II; he has been referred to as 'Le Bon's popularizer in English.' Trotter also read Freud, and it was he who introduced Wilfred Bion, who worked for him at the hospital, to Freud's writings, and ultimately both he and Ernest Jonesascribed to the field of what would later be called group psychology. Both of these men became closely associated with Freud when he fled Austria shortly after the Anschluss. Both men were closely linked to the Tavistock Instituteas key figures in the field of group dynamics.
It is arguable that the fascist theories of
leadershipthat emerged in the 1920s owed much to Le Bon's theories of crowd psychology. Indeed, Hitler's " Mein Kampf" drew largely on the propagandatechniques proposed in Le Bon's 1895 book [ [http://brilliantatbreakfast.blogspot.com/2005/08/gustav-lebon-hitler-and-bush.html Brilliant at Breakfast ] at blogspot.com] [ [http://www.thevillager.com/villager_24/twelvehoursofanna.html Twelve hours of Anna Freud under a Nazi interrogation lamp ] at www.thevillager.com] [ [http://solomonsmusic.net/WagHit.htm Wagner & Hitler ] at solomonsmusic.net] [ [http://www.toolan.com/hitler/fuhrer.html Men Behind Hitler - The Führer Appears ] at www.toolan.com] . 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 democracywas the manipulation of the mass mindby media and advertising.
* "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),
* "L'homme et les sociétés" (1881; Man and Society),
* "Psychologie du socialisme" (1896; Psychology of Socialism)
* [http://dly.free.fr/site/article.php3?id_article=45 Gustave Le Bon's works:] Page on Gustave Le Bon with his works available in French and in English
* [http://socserv.socsci.mcmaster.ca/~econ/ugcm/3ll3/lebon/Crowds.pdf the complete English text to "The Crowd" (PDF)]
* [http://socserv.mcmaster.ca/econ/ugcm/3ll3/lebon/socialism.pdf English translation of 'The Psychology of Socialism' (PDF)]
* [http://nsl-archiv.com/Buecher/suche.php?text=gustave+le+bon&submit=+Suche+ PDF-books from Gustave Le Bon, several titles and languages]
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