Skip to main content

Full text of "The laws of imitation"

See other formats


Return this book on or before the 
Latest Date stamped below. 

University of Illinois Library 

Oft -r 




OEC311 ( I7? 

JAM! 5 4 MAY 07 2001 

AY J k 1980 



L161 H41 




Professor in the College de France, Member of the Institute 



Lecturer on Sociology in Barnard College 


Professor of Sociology in Columbia University 





Published September, 1903 




GABRIEL TARDE, whose most interesting and important 
book is here given to American readers, is Professor of 
Modern Philosophy in the College de France, and a member 
of the Lnstitut. A true philosopher, but also a man of af- 
fairs, with wide intellectual sympathies, M. Tarde is a writer 
of great charm, and his influence among his own countrymen 
and abroad has steadily increased since he began, in 1880, 
to contribute to the Revue philosophique. American 
scholars, long familiar with M. Tarde's suggestive works, 
have felt that his thought should be made more accessible 
to English-speaking readers. Hitherto only a little book, 
Les Lois sociales, presenting a mere outline of his philos- 
ophy, has been translated. 

4 M. Tarde was born in 1843, at Sarlat, Dordogne. After 

2 school days were over, instead of entering upon university 

1 life at Bordeaux, or Montpellier, or Paris, he took up legal 

^ studies, and presently became juge d 'instruction in his 

native town. This office he held for nearly eighteen years, 

years of keen observation, but also of much solitude, of 

patient reflection, of the gradual unfolding of original ideas 

O of man, of society, and of the world, which were presently 

^ to combine in a complete philosophical scheme. 

A born student of human nature, M. Tarde was from the 

first interested in that oldest of philosophical problems, the 

explanation of motive. He early perceived not only that 

motive may be resolved into terms of belief and desire, but 

v? also that it may be measured. This discovery had, of 

course, been made before by Bentham, Cournot, Menger, 

Walras, and Jevons, but Tarde's presentation of the sub- 

fO ject in his first contribution to the Revue philosophique, on 

La Croyance et le desir, possibility de leur mesure, was 

independent and original. 



iv Introduction 

But motives, and those impersonal forces that are not 
motives, work out results in an orderly fashion, by definite 
modes, which are the chief subject-matter of scientific study, 
and to the explanation of modes of activity M. Tarde was 
to make noteworthy contributions. Among the phenomena 
that early arrested his attention was imitation. From his 
office of magistrate he observed the large part that imitation 
plays in criminal conduct. Does it play a smaller part in 
normal conduct? Very rapidly M. Tarde's ardent mind 
ranged over the field of history, followed the spread of 
Western civilisation, and reviewed the development of lan- 
guage, the evolution of art, of law, and of institutions. The 
evidence was overwhelming that in all the affairs of men, 
whether of good or of evil report, imitation is an ever-pres- 
ent factor; and to a philosophical mind the implication 
was obvious, that there must be psychological or sociolog- 
ical laws of imitation, worthy of most thorough study. 

At this time sociology was represented in France by dis- 
ciples of Comte and by a few interested readers of Herbert 
Spencer. The thoughts of the Comtists did not range far 
beyond the " hierarchy of the sciences," and the " three 
stages " of history. To demonstrate the place of sociology 
in the " hierarchy," or to show that a social fact belonged 
to one or another " stage," was very nearly the limit of 
Comtist sociological ambition. The Spencerians, on the 
other hand, seizing upon Spencer's proposition that society 
is an organism, but neglecting most of the psychological 
and historical elements of his system, were busy elaborat- 
ing biological analogies. 

With such notions M. Tarde had, and could have, no 
sympathy. He felt that if the study of society was to be 
erected into a science, a beginning must be made, not by 
demonstrating the logical and rightful place of sociology 
in the sisterhood of sciences, and not by exploiting the anal- 
ogy of institutions to organic life, but rather by thoroughly 
examining the nature and combinations of some distinc- 
tively social phenomenon. The fact the relationship or 
activity if such there be, in virtue of which society is 

Introduction v 

itself, a differentiated thing, and not merely a part of some- 
thing else, that fact the sociologist should understand 
through and through, and in all its bearings, and should 
make it the corner-stone of his system. That elemental 
social fact M. Tarde believed he had discovered in the 
phenomenon of imitation. 

Too profoundly philosophical, however, to view any fact 
in even partial isolation, M. Tarde perceived that imitation, 
as a social form, is only one mode of a universal activity, 
of that endless repetition, throughout nature, which in the 
physical realm we know as the undulations of ether, the 
vibrations of material bodies, the swing of the planets in 
their orbits, the alternations of light and darkness, and of 
seasons, the succession of life and death. Here, then, was 
not only a fundamental truth of social science, but also a 
first principle of cosmic philosophy. 

His first tentative studies of the laws of universal repeti- 
tion in physical nature and in history, and of imitation as 
the distinctive social fact, M. Tarde published between 1882 
and 1884 in the Revue philosophique. Among articles 
which, in substance, afterwards reappeared as chapters of 
Les Lois de V imitation, were those entitled Les Traits 
communs de la nature et de I'histoire, L'Archeologie et 
la statistique, and Qu'est-ce qu'une societe? Other 
articles, setting forth the same underlying principles, but 
having a more practical aim, and presenting views born of 
the author's professional experience as a magistrate, were 
afterwards incorporated in the volumes, La Criminalite 
comparee and La Philosophic penale (1891). Of these 
and other writings by our author on criminology, Havelock 
Ellis says : " He touches on all the various problems of crime 
with ever-ready intelligence and acuteness, and a rare charm 
of literary style, illuminating with suggestive criticism 
everything that he touches." 1 

The first edition of Les Lois de limitation appeared 
in 1890; a second in 1895. M. Tarde had now conceived 
a complete philosophy of phenomenal existence, and he 
1 The Criminal, p. 42. 

vi Introduction 

rapidly converted it into literary embodiment. Unlike 
philosophers in general, M. Tarde is compact and brief in 
his systematic work; discursive in his varied writings illus- 
trative of principles or practical by application. His whole 
philosophical system is set forth in three volumes of mod- 
erate dimensions. Les Lois de I 3 imitation is an exposition 
of the facts and laws of universal repetition. In La 
Logique sociale, which appeared in 1895, we have our 
author's explanation of the way in which elemental phe- 
nomena, undergoing endless repetition, are combined in con- 
crete groups, bodies, systems, especially mental and social 
systems. This process is a logic, a synthesis, of repetitions. 
It includes adaptation, invention, and organisation. The 
chapters on the laws of invention are brilliant examples of 
M. Tarde's originality and many-sided knowledge. The 
third volume of the system, L'Opposition universelle, was 
published in 1897. Here was developed the theory of a 
third universal form and aspect of natural phenomena 
namely, conflict. 

The chronological: order of these publications did not 
correspond exactly to their logical order, as parts of a sys- 
tem. The latter was presented in a series of lectures in 
1897 at tn e College Libre des Sciences Sociales. The order 
there given was " The Repetition of Phenomena," " The 
Opposition of Phenomena," " The Adaptation of Phenom- 
ena." These lectures were published in 1898, under the 
title already mentioned, Les Lois sociales. 

M. Tarde's abilities, and in particular his knowledge of 
criminal statistics and penology, had ere this drawn atten- 
tion to him as a man whom the state could not overlook, 
and in 1894 he was called to Paris to assume charge of the 
Bureau of Statistics of the Ministry of Justice. This posi- 
tion he held until his election as Professor of Modern Philos- 
ophy in the College de France in 1900. In this latter year 
he was elected also a member of the Institute of France. 

M. Tarde's later writings present his philosophical and 
sociological views under many aspects. They include: 
Les Transformations du droit, Les Transformations du 

Introduction vii 

pouvoir, L* Opinion et la joule, Etudes penales et sociales, 
Essais et Melanges sociologiques, Etudes de psychologic 
penale, and Psychologic economique. 

It is not the purpose of these brief lines of introduction 
to attempt any estimate of M. Tarde's place in philosophy, 
or to offer any criticism of his sociological views. The 
object is rather to indicate the place which " The Laws of 
Imitation" holds among the many writings of a gifted and 
widely influential author, in the belief that those who read 
this volume will wish to look into at least some of the 

Of the quality of Mrs. Parsons' translation the reader 
himself will judge. It is enough here to say that Mrs. 
Parsons has sought with painstaking fidelity to convey to 
English readers the exact meaning of the original text. 


Columbia University 


IN this work I have endeavoured to point out as clearly as 
possible the purely social side of human phenomena, as dis- 
tinct from their vital and physical characteristics. It just 
happens, however, that the point of view which is helpful 
in noting this distinction is the very one which presents the 
greatest number of the closest and most natural analogies 
between the facts of society and the facts of nature. Many 
years ago I formulated and partly developed in the Revue 
philosophique my fundamental thought, " the key to 
almost every lock," as one of our greatest philosophers of 
history graciously wrote to me; and as the plan of the 
present work was already in my mind at that time, many of 
those articles have been readily incorporated as chapters of 
this book. 1 I am but setting them in the place for which 
they were originally intended. Sociologists who have 
already honoured these fragmentary expositions with their 
notice, now have the opportunity, if they desire it, to criti- 
cise my point of view in its entirety. Any harsh treatment 
of myself I will forgive, providing my thought be received 
with leniency. This is not at all impossible. In fact, my 
conception might have a grievance against me just as seed 
might complain of its soil. But then I hope that through 
this publication it will reach someone better fitted to 
develop it than I am. 

I have tried, then, to outline a pure sociology. This is 

1 They have been modified, or amplified, as Chapters I, III, IV, V. 
Chapter I was published in September, 1882; Chapter III, in 1884; 
Chapter IV, in October and November, 1883; Chapter V, in 1888. 
Several other sociological articles were published in the same collection 
and were also intended for future revision, but it has seemed unneces- 
sary to embody them in this volume. 

In another work, La Philosophie penale, I have developed the applica- 
tion of my point of view to social crime and punishment. My Crimi- 
nalite comparee is an earlier attempt in the same direction. 

x Preface to the First Edition 

tantamount to saying a general sociology. The laws of 
such a science, as I understand it, apply to every society, 
past, present, or future, just as the laws of general physi- 
ology apply to every species, living, extinct, or conceivable. 
The simplicity of such principles equals their generality, 
and I grant that it is much easier to lay them down and even 
to prove them, than to follow them through the labyrinth 
of their particular applications. Their formulation is 
nevertheless necessary. 

Formerly, a philosophy of history or nature meant a nar- 
row system of historical or scientific interpretation. It 
sought to explain the whole group or series of historic facts 
or natural phenomena, as presented in some inevitable order 
or sequence. Such attempts were bound to fail. The 
actual can be explained only as a part of the vast contingent, 
that is, of that which, given certain conditions, is necessary. 
In this it swims, like a star in infinite space. The very 
idea of law rests upon the conception of such a firmament 
of facts. 

Given certain unknown primordial conditions, existence 
was, of course, bound to be as it is. But why were these 
conditions given and no others? There is something irra- 
tional here at the bottom of the inevitable. Moreover, in 
the worlds of life and matter, as well as in that of society, 
the actual seems to be a mere fragment of the potential. 
Witness the character of the heavens, dotted arbitrarily 
with suns and nebulae. Witness the strange nature of cer- 
tain faunas and floras. Witness the distorted and disjointed 
aspects of those societies that lie heaped up side by side 
under social ruins and abortions. In this respect, as in many 
others which I shall indicate in passing, the three great divi- 
sions of existence are very much alike. 

Chapter V, on the Logical Laws of Imitation, is merely 
the toothing-stone of a future work which is intended to 
complete this one. A proper development of the subject 
would have led me beyond the limits of this volume. 

The ideas which I have presented may supply new solu- 
tions for the political or other questions upon which we now 1 

Preface to the First Edition xi 

stand divided. But it seemed to me that it was unnecessary 
to undertake to deduce them. It would, moreover, have 
taken me away from my immediate subject. Nor will the 
class of readers for whom I am writing reproach me for 
resisting the charm of such concrete subjects. Besides, I 
could not have succumbed to it without going beyond the 
limits of this work. 

One word more in justification of my dedication. I am 
not the pupil, or even the disciple, of Cournot. I have never 
met him. But I take it as one of the happy chances of my 
life that I read a great deal of this writer after I left college. 
I have often thought that he needed only to have been born 
in England or Germany and to have had his work trans- 
lated into a French teeming with solecisms to be famous 
among us all. Above all, I shall never forget that at a dreary 
period of my youth, when I was suffering from my eyes, 
and limited of necessity to one book, it was Cournot who 
saved me from mental starvation. But I shall certainly 
be ridiculed unless I add another much less disinterested 
sentiment to this old-fashioned one of intellectual gratitude. 
If my book fail of a welcome, a contingency for which a 
philosopher must always be prepared in France, even if he 
have hitherto had but to congratulate himself upon the good 
will of the public, this dedication will prove a consolation 
to me. Cournot was the Sainte-Beuve of philosophic crit- 
icism; possessed of originality and discrimination, he was a 
thinker of universal erudition as well as insight; he was a 
profound geometrician, an unparalleled logician, and as an 
economist he was the unrecognised precursor of modern 
economists; to sum it all up, Cournot was an Auguste 
Comte, purified, condensed, and refined. In realising, then, 
that such a man continued to be obscure during his lifetime, 
and that even since his death he has not been very well 
known, in realising this how could I ever dare to complain 
of not having had greater success? 


SINCE the first edition of this book I have published its 
sequel and complement under the title of La Logique sociale. 

In saying this I think that I have implicitly answered 
certain objections which the reader of The Laws of Imita- 
tion might have raised. However, it will not be useless 
to give a few brief points of explanation on this subject. 

I have been criticised here and there " for having often 
called by the name of imitation certain facts which this name 
did not at all fit." This criticism, coming from a philo- 
sophic pen, astonishes me. In fact, when a philosopher 
needs a word to express a new generalisation, he must 
choose between two things; he must choose a neologism, if 
he is put to it, or he must decide, and this is unquestionably 
better, to stretch the meaning of some old term. The whole 
question is one of finding out whether I have overstretched 
I do not say from the point of view of the dictionary def- 
inition, but from that of a deeper conception of things the 
meaning of the word imitation. 

Now I am well aware that I am not conforming to ordi- 
nary usage when I say that when a man unconsciously and 
involuntarily reflects the opinion of others, or allows an 
action of others to be suggested to him, he imitates this idea 
or act. And yet, if he knowingly and deliberately borrows 
some trick of thought or action from his neighbour, people 
agree that in this case the use of the word in question is 
legitimate. Nothing, however, is less scientific that the 
establishment of this absolute separation, of this abrupt 
break, between the voluntary and the involuntary, between 
the conscious and the unconscious. Do we not pass by 
insensible degrees from deliberate volition to almost me- 
chanical habit? And does the same act absolutely change 
its nature during this transition? I do not mean to say 

xiv Preface to the Second Edition 

that I deny the importance of the psychological change that 
is produced in this way. But on its social side the phe- 
nomenon has remained the same. No one has a right to 
criticise the extension of the meaning of the word in 
question as unjustifiable unless in extending it I have de- 
formed or obscured its sense. But I have always given it 
a very precise and characteristic meaning, that of the action 
at a distance of one mind upon another, and of action which 
consists of a quasi-photographic reproduction of a cerebral 
image upon the sensitive plate of another brain. 1 If the 
photographic plate became conscious at a given mo- 
ment of what was happening to it, would the nature of 
the phenomenon be essentially changed? By imitation I 
mean every impression of an inter-psychical photography, 
so to speak, willed or not willed, passive or active. If we 
observe that wherever there is a social relation between two 
living beings, there we have imitation in this sense of the 
word (either of one by the other or of others by both, when, 
for example, a man converses with another in a common 
language, making new verbal proofs from very old nega- 
tives), we shall have to admit that a sociologist was justified 
in taking this notion as a look-out post. 

I might have been much more justly criticised for having 
overstretched the meaning of the word invention. I have 
certainly applied this name to all individual initiatives, not 
only without considering the extent in which they are self- 
conscious for the individual often innovates unconsciously, 
and, as a matter of fact, the most imitative man is an inno- 
vator on some side or other but without paying the slight- 
est attention in the world to the degree of difficulty or merit 
of the innovation in question. This is not because I have 
failed to recognise the importance of this last consideration. 
Some inventions are so easy to conceive of that we may 
admit the fact that they have arisen of themselves, without 

1 Or of the same brain, if it is a question of imitation of self ; for 
memory or habit, its two branches, must be connected, in order to be 
well understood, with imitation of others', the only kind of imitation 
which we are concerned with here. The psychological is explained by 
the social just because the social sprang from the psychological. 

Preface to the Second Edition xv 

borrowing, in almost all primitive societies, and that their 
first accidental appearance here or there has little signifi- 
cance. Other discoveries, on the contrary, are so difficult 
that the happy advent of the genius who made them 
may be considered a pre-eminently singular and important 
chance of fortune. Well, in spite of all this, I think 
that even here I have been justified in doing some slight 
violence to common speech in characterising as inventions 
or discoveries the most simple innovations, all the more 
so because the easiest are not always the least fruitful nor 
the most difficult the least useless. What is really unjusti- 
fiable, on the other hand, is the elastic meaning that is given 
by many naturalistic sociologists to the word heredity. 
They use this word indifferently to express the transmission 
of vital characteristics through reproduction and the trans- 
mission of ideas and customs, of social things, by ancestral 
tradition, by domestic education, and by custom-imitation. 

Let me add that a neologism from the Greek would have 
been the easiest thing in the world to conceive of. Instead 
of saying invention or imitation I might have readily forged 
two new words. Now let me dismiss this petty and unin- 
teresting quibble. I have been sometimes charged with 
exaggeration, and this is a more serious thing, in the use of 
the two notions in question. It is rather a commonplace 
criticism, to be sure, and one which every innovator must 
expect even when he has erred on the side of too much re- 
serve in the expression of his thoughts. We may be sure 
that if a Greek philosopher had undertaken to say that the 
sun might possibly be as big as the Peloponnesus, his best 
friends would have been unanimous in recognising the fact 
that there was something true at the bottom of his ingenious 
paradox, but that he was evidently exaggerating. In gen- 
eral, my critics did not consider the end which I had in 
view. I desired to unfold the purely sociological side of 
human facts, intentionally ignoring their biological side, 
although I am well aware that the latter is inseparable from 
the former. My plan allowed me to indicate, without devel- 
oping to any extent, the relations of the three principal 

xvi Preface to the Second Edition 

forms of universal repetition, especially the relation of 
heredity to imitation. But I have said enough, I think, to 
leave no doubt as to my views on the importance of race and 
physical environment. 

Besides, if I say that the distinctive character of every 
social relation, of every social fact, is to be imitated, is 
this saying, as certain superficial readers have seemed to 
believe, that in my eyes there is no social relation, no 
social fact, no social cause, but imitation? One might 
as well say that every function of life could be reduced to 
reproduction and every vital phenomenon to heredity be- 
cause in every living being everything is a matter of genera- 
tion and inheritance. Social relations are as manifold, as 
numerous, and as diverse, as the objects of the desires and 
ideas of man, and as the helps or hindrances that each of 
these desires and ideas lends or presents to the similar or 
dissimilar tendencies and opinions of others. In the midst 
of this infinite complexity we may note that these varied 
social relations (talking and listening, beseeching and being 
beseeched, commanding and obeying, producing and con- 
suming, etc.) belong to two groups; the one tends to 
transmit from one man to another, persuasively or authori- 
tatively, willingly or unwillingly, a belief; the other, a desire. 
In other words, the first group consists of various kinds or 
degrees of instruction; the second, of various kinds or de- 
grees of command. And it is precisely because the 
human acts which are imitated have this dogmatic or com- 
manding character that imitation is a social tie, for it is 
either dogma 1 or power which binds men together. (Peo- 
ple have seen only the half of this truth, and seen that badly, 
when they have said that social facts were distinguished 
by their constrained and coercive character. In saying 
this, they have failed to recognise the spontaneity of the 
greater part of popular credulity and docility.) 

Therefore I think that I have not erred through exag- 

1 Dogma, that is to say, any idea, religious or otherwise, political, fot 
example, which takes root in the mind of any social unit through the 
pressure of his environment. 

Preface to the Second Edition xvii 

geration in this book; and so I have reprinted it without 
eliminating anything. I have sinned rather through omis- 
sion. I have said nothing at all about a form of imitation 
which plays a big role in societies, particularly in contempo- 
rary societies, and I shall make haste here to make good this 
omission. There are two ways of imitating, as a matter 
of fact, namely, to act exactly like one's model, or to do 
exactly the contrary. Hence the necessity of those diver- 
gences which Spencer points out, without explaining, in his 
law of progressive differentiation. Nothing can be affirmed 
without suggesting, no matter how simple the social en- 
vironment, not only the idea that is affirmed, but the nega- 
tion of this idea as well. This is the reason why the 
supernatural, in asserting itself through theologies, suggests 
naturalism, its negation. (See Espinas on this subject.) 
This is the reason why the affirmation of idealism gives 
birth to the idea of materialism; why the establishment of 
monarchy engenders the idea of republicanism, etc. 

Let us say, then, from this wider point of view, that a 
society is a group of people who display many resemblances 
produced either by imitation or by counter-imitation. For 
men often counter-imitate one another, particularly when 
they have neither the modesty to imitate directly nor the 
power to invent. In counter-imitating one another, that is 
to say, in doing or saying the exact opposite of what they 
observe being done or said, they are becoming more and 
more assimilated, just as much assimilated as if they did or 
said precisely what was being done or said around them. 
Next to conforming to custom in the matter of funerals, 
marriages, visits, and manners, there is nothing more imita- 
tive than fighting against one's natural inclination to follow 
the current of these things, or than pretending to go against 
it. In the Middle Ages the black mass arose from a counter- 
imitation of the Catholic mass. In his book on the expres- 
sion of the emotions, Darwin very properly gives a large 
place to the need of counter-expression. 

When a dogma is proclaimed, when a political pro- 
gramme is announced, men fall into two unequal classes ; 

xviii Preface to the Second Edition 

there are those who are enthusiastic about it and those who 
are not enthusiastic. There is no manifestation which does 
not recruit supporters and which does not provoke the for- 
mation of a group of non-supporters. Every positive affir- 
mation, at the same time that it attracts to itself mediocre 
and sheep-like minds, arouses somewhere or other in a brain 
that is naturally rebellious, this does not mean naturally 
inventive, a negation that is diametrically opposite and of 
about equal strength. This reminds one of inductive 
currents in physics. But both kinds of brains have the same 
content of ideas and purposes. They are associated, although 
they are adversaries, or, rather, because they are adver- 
saries. Let us clearly distinguish between the imitative 
propagation of questions and that of solutions. Because 
a certain solution spreads in one place and another else- 
where, this does not prevent the problem from having 
spread in both places. Is it not evident that in every period, 
among people in constant communication, particularly in 
our own day because international relations have never be- 
fore been so manifold, is it not evident that the calendar 
of social and political debates is always the same? And 
is not this resemblance due to a current of imitation 
that may itself be explained by a diffusion of wants and 
ideas through prior contagions of imitation? Is not this 
the reason why labour questions are being agitated at the 
present moment throughout Europe? No opinion is dis- 
cussed by the press, about which, I repeat, the public is not 
daily divided into two camps, those who agree with the 
opinion and those who disagree. But the latter as well as 
the former admit that it is impossible to be concerned for 
the time being with anything other than the question which 
is thus forced upon them. Only some wild and undisciplined 
spirit will ruminate, now and then, in the whirl of the social 
sea in which he is plunged, over strange and absolutely 
hypothetical problems. Such men are the inventors of the 

We must be very careful not to confuse counter-imitation 
with invention, its dangerous counterfeit. I do not mean 

Preface to the Second Edition xix 

that the former is worthless. Although it fosters the spirit 
of partisanship, the spirit of either peaceful or warlike divi- 
sion between men, it introduces them to the wholly social 
pleasure of discussion. It is a witness to the sympathetic 
origin of contradiction itself; the back currents themselves 
are caused by the current. Nor must we confuse counter- 
imitation with systematic non-imitation, a subject about 
which I should also have spoken in this book. Non-imi- 
tation is not always a simple negative fact. The fact of not 
imitating when there is no contact no social contact 
through the practical impossibility of communication is 
merely a non-social relation, but the fact of not imitating 
the neighbour who is in touch with us, puts us upon a foot- 
ing of really anti-social relations with him. The refusal of 
a people, a class, a town or a village, of a savage tribe iso- 
lated on a civilised continent, to copy the dress, customs, 
language, industry, and arts which make up the civilisation 
of their neighbourhood is a continual declaration of antip- 
athy to the form of society in question. It is thereby de- 
clared absolutely and forever alien. Similarly, when a peo- 
ple deliberately undertakes not to reproduce the examples of 
its forefathers in the matter of rights, usages, and ideas, we 
have a veritable disassociation of fathers and sons, a rupture 
of the umbilical cord between the old and the new society. 
Voluntary and persistent non-imitation in this sense has a 
purgative role which is quite analagous to that rilled by what 
I have called the logical duel. Just as the latter tends to 
purge the social mass of mixed ideas and volitions, to elimi- 
nate inequalities and discords, and to facilitate in this way 
the synthetic action of the logical union; so non-imitation 
of extraneous and heterogeneous models makes it possible 
for the harmonious group of home models to extend and 
prolong themselves, to entrench themselves in the custom- 
imitation of which they are the object; and for the same 
reason non-imitation of anterior models, when the moment 
has come for civilising revolution, cuts a path for fashion- 
imitation. It no longer finds any hindrance in the way of 
its conquering activity. 

xx Preface to the Second Edition 

Is the unique or principal cause of this invincible obsti- 
nacy momentarily invincible of non-imitation, as the 
naturalistic school was led to think some years ago, racial 
difference? Not the least in the world. In the first place, 
in the case of non-imitation of ancestral examples, in revolu- 
tionary periods, it is clear that this cause could not be 
brought forward, since the new generation belongs to the 
same race as the prior generations whose traditions it casts 
aside. Then, in the case of non-imitation of the foreigner, 
historical observation shows that resistance to outside in- 
fluences is very far from being in proportion to the dis- 
similarities of the physical traits which differentiate popula- 
tions. Of all the nations conquered by Rome none was 
more allied to her through blood than the populations of 
Greek origin; and yet these were precisely the communities 
where her language failed to spread and where her culture 
and genius failed to be assimilated. Why was this? Because 
they alone, in spite of their defeat, were able to retain their 
fierce pride, their indelible feeling of superiority. On the 
side of the idea that it is impossible for separate races to 
borrow from one another one of the strongest arguments 
that could have been cited thirty years ago was the hermet- 
ical shutting out by the peoples of the Far East, Japan and 
China, of all European culture. But from the still recent 
day when the Japanese, foreign as they were to us in colour, 
lineaments, and physical constitution, felt for the first time 
that we were their superiors, they left off trying to shut out 
the imitative radiation of our civilisation by the opaque 
screen they had used before. They gave it, on the contrary, 
the warmest of welcomes. The same thing will happen to 
China if she ever makes up her mind to recognise that in 
certain respects not in all, I hope, for her sake we have 
the better of her. It is idle to argue that the transforma- 
tion of Japan in the direction of Europe is more apparent 
than real, more superficial than deep, that it is due to the 
initiative of certain intelligent men who are followed by a 
part of the upper classes, but that the great mass of the 
nation remains hostile to this foreign inundation. To 

Preface to the Second Edition xxi 

argue after this fashion is to ignore the fact that every intel- 
lectual and moral revolution that is destined to utterly recast 
a people always begins in this way. A chosen few have 
always imported the foreign examples that come little by 
little to spread by fashion, to be consolidated into custom, 
and to be developed and systematised by social logic. When 
Christianity first reached the Germans, the Slavs, the Finns, 
it started in the same way. Nothing is more consistent with 
the " laws of imitation." 

Does this mean that the action of race upon the course 
of civilisation is overlooked from my point of view ? Not at 
all. I have said that in passing from one ethnical environ- 
ment to another the radiation of imitation is refracted; and 
I add that this refraction may be enormous without its lead- 
ing to any consequence that is in the least contradictory to 
the ideas developed in this book. Only race as I see it is a 
national product where, in the crucible of a special civilisa- 
tion, different prehistoric races have been melted together, 
intermingled, and assimilated. For every given civilisation 
that is formed of ideas of genius, hailing a little from every- 
where and brought into logical agreement somewhere or 
other, creates in the long run the race, or races, in which 
it is for a time embodied; and the inverse of this is not true, 
namely, that every race makes its own civilisation. This 
means, at bottom, that different human races, which are 
quite different in this respect from different living species, 
are collaborators as well as competitors ; that they are called 
upon not only to fight and destroy each other for the good 
of a small number of survivors, but to aid each other in the 
age-long achievement of a common social work, of a great 
final society whose unity will be the fruit of their very diver- 

The laws of heredity that have been so well studied by 
naturalists do not contradict in any respect the " laws of 
imitation." On the other hand, they complete them, and 
there is no concrete sociology that could separate these two 
orders of consideration. If I separate them here, it is, I re- 
peat, because the proper subject of this work is sociology 

xxii Preface to the Second Edition 

pure and abstract. Besides, I do not fail to point out what 
their place is in the biological considerations which I am pur- 
posely ignoring because I am leaving them to more compe- 
tent hands. And this place is three-fold. To begin with, in 
expressly developing the nation from the family for the 
primitive horde is made up of emigrants or exiles from the 
family I have clearly affirmed that if the social fact is a re- 
lation of imitation, the social tie, the social group, is both imi- 
tative and hereditary, in the second place, invention, from 
which I derive everything thac is social, is not, in my 
opinion, a purely social fact in its origin. It arises from the 
intersection of an individual genius, an intermittent and 
characteristic racial product, the ripe fruit of a series of 
happy marriages, with the currents and radiations of imi- 
tation which one day happened to cross each other in a more 
or less exceptional brain. You may agree, if you wish, 
with M. de Gobineau, that only the white races are invent- 
ive, or with a contemporary anthropologist, that this privi- 
lege belongs exclusively to the dolichocephalic races all 
this matters little from my point of view. And I might even 
pretend that the radical and vital separation that is thus 
established between the inventiveness of certain privileged 
races and the imitativeness of all races is fitted to empha- 
sise, a little unjustifiably, as a matter of fact, the truth of 
my point of view. Finally, I have not only recognised the 
influence of the vital environment upon imitation, an envi- 
ronment in which it spreads while it is refracted, as I said 
above, but in stating the law of the normal return of fashion 
to custom, the rooting of innovations in customs and tradi- 
tions, have I not again made heredity the necessary prop 
of imitation? But we may accord to the biological side 
of social facts the highest importance without going as far 
as to maintain that there is a water-tight bulkhead between 
different races, presumably primitive and presocial, which 
makes any endosmosis or exosmosis of imitation impossible. 
And this is the only thing which I deny. Taken in this 
false and unjustifiable sense, the idea of race leads the soci- 
ologist who has taken it for a guide to conceive of the end 

Preface to the Second Edition xxiii 

of social progress as a disintegration of peoples who are 
walled about and shut off from one another and everlast- 
ingly at war with one another. This kind of naturalism 
is generally associated with a defence of militarism. On 
the other hand, if we take the ideas of invention, imitation, 
and social logic as a guiding thread, we are led to the more 
reassuring perspective of a great future confluence alas, 
that it is not immediate of multiple divisions of mankind 
into a single peaceful human family. The idea of indefinite 
progress, which is such a vague and obstinate idea, has nei- 
ther a clear nor precise meaning except from this point of 
view. The necessity of a progressive march towards a great 
but distant goal is an outcome of the laws of imitation. This 
goal, which becomes more and more accessible in spite of 
apparent, although only transitory, set-backs, is the birth, 
the development, and the universal spread, whether under 
an imperial or federated form is insignificant, of a unique 
society. And, as a matter of fact, among all the predic- 
tions of Condorcet relating to social progress, the only ones 
that have been realised that, for example, relating to the 
extension and gradual levelling down of European civilisa- 
tion are consequences of the laws in question. But if he 
had considered these laws he would have expressed his 
thought more exactly and precisely. When he predicts 
that the inequality of different nations will continue to 
diminish, he should have said social dissimilarity, and not; 
inequality. For between the smallest and largest states the 
disproportion of power, of territory, and even of wealth, 
goes on increasing, and yet this condition does not stand 
in the way of a constant progress of international assimi- 
lation. And is it certain that inequality between individ- 
uals must continually diminish in all respects as our illus- 
trious philosopher also predicted? Inequality of genius or 
talent? Not at all. Of comfort and wealth? I doubt it. 
It is true that their inequality before the law has disappeared 
or will before long disappear altogether. But why is this 
so? Because the growing resemblance of individuals be- 
tween whom all the customary barriers of reciprocal imita- 

xxiv Preface to the Second Edition 

tion have been broken down, and who imitate one another 
more and more freely, to be sure, and yet more and more 
necessarily, makes them feel with a growing and, eventually, 
irresistible power the injustice of privilege. 

Let us be sure, however, that we understand one another 
about this progressive resemblance of individuals. Far 
from smothering their true originality, it fosters and favours 
it. What is contrary to personal pre-eminence is the imita- 
tion of a single man whom people copy in everything. But 
when, instead of patterning one's self after one person or 
after a few, we borrow from a hundred, a thousand, or ten 
thousand persons, each of whom is considered under a par- 
ticular aspect, the elements of thought or action which we 
subsequently combine, the very nature and choice of these 
elementary copies, as well as their combination, expresses 
and accentuates our original personality. And this is, per- 
haps, the chief benefit that results from the prolonged 
action of imitation. We might demand to what extent this 
collective dream, this collective nightmare of society, was 
worth its cost in blood and tears, if this grievous discipline, 
this deceptive and despotic prestige, did not serve to free 
the individual in calling forth, little by little, from the 
depths of his heart, his freest impulses, his boldest introspec- 
tion, his keenest insight into nature, and in developing 
everywhere, not the savage individualities, not the clashing 
and brutal soul-stuffs of bygone days, but those deep and 
harmonious traits of the soul that are characteristic of per- 
sonality as well as of civilisation, the harvest of both the 
purest and most potent individualism and of consummate 

G. T. 

May, 1895 






I. The overlooked regularity from a certain point of view of 
social facts. Their analogies with natural facts. The three forms 
of Universal Repetition : undulation, generation, imitation. Social 
science and social philosophy. Animal societies, I 

II. Three analogous laws in physics, in biology, in sociology. 
WJiy everything is number and measure, . . " . . 14 

III. and IV. Analogies between tne three forms of Repetition. 
They imply a cqmmon tendency towards a geometrical progression. 
Linguistic, mythological, etc., refractions. Happy or unhappy in- 
terferences of imitation. Conflict-interferences and combination- 
interferences (inventions). Outline of social logic, 16 

V. ^Differences between the three forms ^f Rc-nejilir " Genera- 
tion is unconditioned undulation, fu.iiai/ou to generation at a 
distance. The abbreviation of embryonic phases, . . . -33 


I. Social resmblances which are not caused by imitation and 
vital resemblances which are not caused by generation. A distinc- 
tion between analogies and homologies in comparative sociology 
like that in comparative anatomy. A genealogical tree of inventions 
derived from master-inventions. The slow and inevitable propaga- 
tion of examples even among sedentary and shut-in populations, 37 

II. Is there a law of civilisations which imposes upon them a 
common direction or, at least, a common goal, and, consequently, 
a law of increasing resemblances, even without imitation? Proofs 
of the contrary, 51 


I. Inadequacy of the economic or even of the juristic concep- 
tion : Animal societies. Nation and society not to be confused. 

Definition. , 59 


xxvi Contents 

II.-, Definition of the social type, 68 

III. Perfect fnrialitv. Biological analogies. The hidden and 
perhaps original agents of universal repetition, .... 69 

IV. An idea of Taine's. The contagion of ex?mnle and sug- 
gestion. Analogies between the social and the hypnotic state. 
Great men. Intimidation is a nasrent social state, ... 74 


I. and II. Distinction between the anthropologists and the 
archaeologists. The archaeologist unconsciously holds my point 
of view. Barrenness of invention characteristic of primitive times. 
Imitation has been objective and widespread from the most remote 
periods. What archaeology teaches us, 89 

III. The statistician sees things, at bottom, like the archaeolo- 
gist. He pays exclusive attention to imitative editions of every 
ancient and modern invention. Analogies and differences, . . 102 

IV. and V. What Statistics ought to be; its desiderata. The 
interpretation of its curves, namely its rises, horizontals, and falls, 
is given by my point of view. The tendency of all ideas and wants 
to spread in a geometrical progression. The encounter, coales- 
cence, and rivalry of these tendencies. Examples. The desire for 
paternity and its variations. The desire for liberty and other 
desires'. A general empirical law ; three phases ; importance of the 
second, 109 

VI. and VII. The curves of Statistics and the flight of a bird. 
The eye and ear considered as numerical registers of ethereal and 
sonorous vibrations', representative statistics of the universe. The 
probable future role of Statistics. Definition of History, . . 132 


The reason why, given a number of inventions, some are imi- 
tated and some are not. Reasons of a natural order and of a social 
order, and, among the latter, logical reasbns and ex^ra-logical 
influences. A linguistic example, . .... . . . 140 

. I. That which is imitated is belief or desire, a fundamental 
antithesis. The Sper<-pn?n formula. Social progress and indi- 
vidual thought. The need of invention and the -need of criticism 
have the same source. Progress through the substitution and 
progress through the accumulation of inventions, . . - . . 144 

II. The logical duel. Everything in history is a duel or a 
union of inventions. The one always says yes and the other, no. 
Linguistic, legislative, judicial, political, industrial, artistic duels. 

Contents xxvii 

Developments. Every duel is twofold, every adversary affirming 
his own thesis at the same time that he denies that of his opponent. 
The moment when the roles are reversed. The individual duel and 
the social duel. The denouement: Three possible outcomes, . . 154 

III. The logical union. The period of accumulation which pre- 
cedes the period of substitution must not be confused with that 
which follows it. Distinction between the linguistic, religious, 
political, etc., grammar and dictionary. The dictionary enlarges 
more readily than the grammar improves, 173 

Other considerations, 184 


Different characteristics of imitation: I. Its increasing precision 
and exactness; ceremonial and procedure. 2. Its conscious or un- 
conscious character. The advance of imitation : 

I. From the inner to the outer man. Different physiological 
functions compared from the^point of view of their transmissibility 
by example. Primitive obedience and credulity. Dogmas are 
transmitted before rites. Admiration precedes envy. Ideas are 
communicated before expressions ; ends, before means. The ex- 
planation of survivals by this law. Its universality. Its application 
even to feminine imitation, . . . .... . . 194 

II. From the superior to the inferior. Exceptions to this law; 
its truth comparable with that which governs the radiation of 
heat i. Examples. The martinella and carroccio. The Phoeni- 
cians and the Venetians. The utility of aristocracies. 2. Eccle- 
siastical hierarchy and its effects. 3. The most superior, among 
vhe least distant, is the one imitated. Distance in the social sense. 
4. In democratic periods nobilities are replaced by great cities 
which resemble them for good and evil. 5. In what social super- 
iority consists; in subjective or objective characteristics which 
favor the exploitation of inventions at a given time. 6. Applica- 
tion to the problem of the origins of the feudal system, ., f ,' 213 


Ages of custom when the ancient model, paternal or patriotic, is 
supreme ; ages of fashion when the advantage is often with the new, 
?xotic model. Through fashion, imitation is set free from genera- 
tion. The relations of imitation and generation are like those of 
generation and undulation. Transition from custom to fashion 
followed by a return to a broader custom. The application of this 
law : 

I. To languages. The rhythm of the diffusion of idioms. The 

xxviii Contents 

formation of the Romance languages. Characteristics and results 

of the aforesaid transformations, 255 

II. To religions. All religions proceed from exclusivism to 
proselytism ; they then withdraw into themselves. Reproduction of 
these three phases from the most remote periods. Cult of the for- 
eigner, not alone of the ancestor, from this time on. Worship of 
the foreign beast. Why very ancient gods are soomorphic. Di- 
vine fauna. Worship is a kind of superior domestication. Spirit- 
ualisation of religions which spread through fashion. Moral 
effects. The social importance of religions, 265 

III. To governments. The twofold origin of states, the family 
and the horde. In every state, from remote antiquity, there have 
been two parties, the party pf custom and the party of fashion. 
Frequency of the phenomenon of royal families of foreign blood. 
The fief an invention propagated by fascination; the same true of 
the feudal monarchy; and of the modern monarchy. Liberalism 
and cosmopolitanism. The final nationalisation of foreign impor- 
tations. The way in which the United States were formed. 
Augustus, Louis XIV., Pericles. Criticism of Spencer's antith- 
esis between militarism and industrialism compared with that 
of Tocqueville's between aristocracy and democracy, . . . 287 

IV. To legislations. Juridical evolution. Custom-law and 
statute-law. Law is very multiform and very stable in times of 
custom, very uniform and very changeable in times of fashion. 
The spread of charters from town to town. Sumner Maine's 
Ancient Law. The rhythm of the three phases applied to criminal 
procedure. Successive characteristics of legislation. Classifica- 
tion, 310 

V. To usages and wants (political economy). Multiformity 
and stability of usages. Subsequent uniformity and rapid change. 
Production and consumption, a distinction universally applicable. 
The transmissibility of wants of consumption is always more rapid 
than that of the wants of production. Consequences of this un- 
equal rate. The ulterior outlet in times of custom, the exterior 
outlet in times of fashion. Industry in the Middle Ages. Order 
of the successive forms of extensive industry. The price of 
fashion and the price of custom. Successive characteristics bor- 
rowed from the economic world and from social aspects com- 
pared, in changes of imitation. The reason of these changes, . 322 

VI. To morals and arts. Duties are in the beginning original 
inventions. Gradual enlargement of the moral public and of the 
art public. The art of custom is born from handicraft; it is 
professional and national. The art of fashion is non-utilitarian 
and exotic. Fashion-morality and custom-morality. Future prob- 
abilities. The historic phenonemon of renascences, both moral 
and aesthetic, .... 344 

Contents xxix 


Summing up and conclusion. All the laws of imitation viewed 
from the same standpoint. Corollaries, 366 

I. The transition from the unilateral to the reciprocal. Ex- 
amples: from decree to contract; from dogma to free-thought; 
from man-hunting to war; from court manners to urbanity. The 
necessity of these transformations, 371 

II. Distinction between the reversible and the irreversible in 
history. The irreversible in consequence of the laws of imitation, 
and the irreversible in consequence of the laws of invention. A 
word in regard to the latter subject. Changes of custom are in a 
certain measure irreversible as well. Great empires of the future. 
Final individualism, 379 



CAN we have a science or only a history, or, at most, a 
philosophy of social phenomena? This question is always 
open. And yet, if social facts are closely observed from a 
certain point of view, they can be reduced, like other facts, 
to series of minute and homogeneous phenomena and to 
the formulas, or laws, which sum up these series. Why, 
then, is the science of society still unborn, or born but re- 
cently, among all its adult and vigorous sister sciences? 
The chief reason is, I think, that we have thrown away the 
substance for its shadow and substituted words for things. 
We have thought it impossible to give a scientific look 
to sociology except by giving it a biological or, better 
still, a mechanical air. This is an attempt to light up the 
known by the unknown. It is transforming a solar system 
into a non-resolvable nebula in order to understand it better. 
In social subjects we are exceptionally privileged in having 
veritable causes, positive and specific acts, at first hand; this 
condition is wholly lacking in every other subject of in- 
vestigation. It is unnecessary, therefore, to rely for an 
explanation of social facts upon those so-called general 
causes which physicists and naturalists are obliged to 
create under the name of force, energy, conditions of ex- 
istence, and other verbal palliatives of their ignorance of the 
real groundwork of things. 

But are we to consider that human acts are the sole fac- 
tors of history? Surely this is too simple ! And so we bind 
ourselves to Contrive other causes on the type of those use- 
ful fictions which are elsewhere imposed upon us, and we 

2 Laws of Imitation 

congratulate ourselves upon being able at times to give an 
entirely impersonal colour to human phenomena by reason 
of our lofty, but, truly speaking, obscure, point of view. Let 
us ward off this vague idealism. Let us likewise ward off 
the vapid individualism which consists in explaining social 
changes as the caprices of certain great men. On the other 
hand, let us explain these changes through the more or less 
fortuitous appearance, as to time and place, of certain 
great ideas, or rather, of a considerable number of both 
major and minor ideas, of ideas which are generally anony- 
mous and usually of obscure birth; which are simple or 
abstruse; which are seldom illustrious, but which are always 
novel. Because of this latter attribute, I shall take the 
liberty of baptising them collectively inventions or discover- 
ies. By these two terms I mean any kind of an innovation 
or improvement, however slight, which is made in any pre- 
vious innovation throughout the range of social phenomena 
language, religion, politics, law, industry, or art. At the 
moment when this novel thing, big or little as it may be, is 
conceived of, or determined by, an individual, nothing ap- 
pears to change in the social body, just as nothing changes 
in the physical appearance of an organism which a harmful 
or beneficent microbe has just invaded, and the gradual 
changes caused by the introduction of the new element seem 
to follow, without visible break, upon the anterior social 
changes into whose current they have glided. Hence arises 
the illusion which leads philosophers of history into affirming 
that there is a real and fundamental continuity in historic 
metamorphoses. The true causes can be reduced to a chain of 
ideas which are, to be sure, very numerous, but which are 
in themselves distinct and discontinuous, although they are 
connected by the much more numerous acts of imitation 
which are modelled upon them. 

Our starting-point lies here in the re-inspiring initiatives 
which bring new wants, together with new satisfactions, 
into the world, and which then, through spontaneous and 
unconscious or artificial and deliberate imitation, propagate 
or tend to propagate, themselves, at a more or less rapid, 

Universal Repetition 3 

but regular, rate, like a wave of light, or like a family of 
termites. The regularity to which I refer is not in the 
least apparent in social things until they are resolved into 
their several elements, when it is found to lie in the simplest 
of them, in combinations of distinct inventions, in flashes of 
genius which have been accumulated and changed into 
commonplace lights. I confess that this is an extremely 
difficult analysis. Socially, everything is either invention 
or imitation. And invention bears the same relation to 
imitatio^n as a mountain to a river. There is certainly noth- 
ing less subtle than this point of view; but in holding to it 
boldly and unreservedly, in exploiting it from the most 
trivial detail to the most complete synthesis of facts, we may, 
perhaps, notice how well fitted it is to bring into relief all 
the picturesqueness and, at the same time, all the simplicity 
of history, and to reveal historic perspectives which may be 
characterised by the freakishness of a rock-bound landscape, 
or by the conventionality of a park walk. This is idealism 
also, if you choose to call it so; but it is the idealism which 
consists in explaining history through the ideas of its 
actors, not through those of the historian. 

If we consider the science of society from this point of 
view, we shall at once see that human sociology is related to 
animal sociologies, as a species to its genus, so to speak. 
That it is an extraordinary and infinitely superior species, I 
admit, but it is allied to the others, nevertheless. M. Espinas 
expressly states in his admirable work on Societes ani- 
males, a work which was written long before the first edi- 
tion of this book, that the labours of ants may be very well 
explained on the principle " of individual initiative followed 
by imitation" This initiative is always an innovation or 
invention that is equal to one of our own in boldness of 
spirit. To conceive the idea of constructing an arch, or a 
tunnel, at an appropriate point, an ant must be endowed 
with an innovating instinct equal to, or surpassing, that of 
our canal-digging or mountain-tunnelling engineers. Par- 
enthetically it follows that imitation by masses of ants 
of such novel initiatives strikingly belies the spirit of mutual 

4 Laws of Imitation 

hatred which is alleged to exist among animals. 1 M. 
Espinas is very frequently impressed in his observation of 
the societies of our lower brethren by the important role 
which is played in them by individual initiatives. Every 
herd of wild cattle has its leaders, its influential heads. De- 
velopments in the instincts of birds are explained by the 
same author as " individual inventions which are afterwards 
transmitted from generation to generation through direct 
instruction." 2 In view of the fact that modification of in- 
stinct is probably related to the same principle as the 
genesis and modification of species, we may be tempted 
to enquire whether the principle of the imitation of inven- 
tion, or of something physiologically analogous, would not 
be the clearest possible explanation of the ever-open problem 
of the origin of species. But let us leave this question and 
confine ourselves to the statement that both animal and 
human societies may be explained from this point of view. 

In the second place, and this is the special thesis of this 
chapter, the subject of social science is seen, from this 
standpoint, to present a remarkable analogy to the other 
domains of general science, and, in this way, to become 
re-embodied, so to speak, in the rest of the universe, where 
it had before this the air of an outsider. 

In every field of study, affirmations pure and simple enor- 
mously outnumber explanations. And, in all cases, the 
first data are simply affirmed; they are the extraordinary 
and accidental facts, the premises and sources from which 
proceeds all that which is subsequently explained. The 
astronomer states that certain nebulae, certain celestial 

1 Among the higher species of ants, according to M. Espinas, " the 
individual develops an astonishing initiative " [Des Societes animates, 
p. 223; Alfred Espinas, Paris, 1877. The italics are M. Tarde's. Tr.]. 
How do the labours and migrations of ant-swarms begin? Is it 
through a common, instinctive, and spontaneous impulse which starts 
from all the associates at the same time and under the pressure of 
out'ward circumstances which are experienced simultaneously by all ? 
On the contrary, a single ant begins by leaving the others and under- 
taking the work; then it strikes its neighbours with its antennae to 
summon their aid. and the contagion of imitation does the rest. 

2 [Ibid., p. 272. Tr.] 

Universal Repetition 5 

bodies of a given mass and volume and at a given distance, 
exist, or have existed. The chemist makes the same state- 
ment about certain chemical substances, the physicist, about 
certain kinds of ethereal vibrations, which he calls light, 
electricity, and magnetism; the naturalist states that there 
are certain principal organic types, to begin with, plants 
and animals ; the physiographer states that there are certain 
mountain chains, which he calls the Alps, the Andes, et 
cetera. In teaching us about these capital facts from which 
the rest are deduced, are these investigators doing the work, 
strictly speaking, of scientists? They are not; they are 
merely affirming certain facts, and they in no way differ 
from the historian who chronicles the expedition of Alex- 
ander or the discovery of printing. If there be any dif- 
ference, it is, as we shall see, wholly to the advantage of 
the historian. What, then, do we know in the scientific 
sense of the word? Of course, we answer that we know 
causes and effects. And when we have learned that, in the 
case of two different events, the one is the outcome of the 
other, or that both collaborate towards the same end, we 
say that they have been explained. But let us imagine a 
world where there is neither resemblance nor repetition, a 
strange, but, if need be, an intelligible hypothesis; a world 
where everything is novel and unforeseen, where the crea- 
tive imagination, unchecked by memory, has full play, where 
the motions of the stars are sporadic, where the agitations of 
the ether are unrhythmical, and wheresuccessivegenerations 
are without the common traits of an hereditary type. And 
yet every apparition in such a phantasmagoria might be 
produced and determined by another, and might even, in 
its turn, become the cause of others. In such a world 
causes and effects might still exist; but would any kind of 
a science be possible? It would not be, because, to reiterate, 
neither resemblances nor repetitions would be found there. 
This is the essential point. Knowledge of causes is some- 
times sufficient for foresight; but knowledge of resem- 
blances always allows of enumeration and measurement, and 
science depends primarily upon number and measure. 

6 Laws of Imitation 

More than this is, of course, necessary. As soon as a new 
science has staked out its field of characteristic resem- 
blances and repetitions, it must compare them and note the 
bond of solidarity which unites their concomitant varia- 
tions. But, as a matter of fact, the mind does not fully 
understand nor clearly recognise the relation of cause and 
effect, except in as much as the effect resembles or repeats 
the cause, as, for example, when a sound wave produces an- 
other sound wave, or a cell, another cell. There is noth- 
ing more mysterious, one may say, than such reproductions. 
I admit this; but when we have once accepted this mystery, 
there is nothing clearer than the resulting series. Whereas, 
every time that production does not mean reproduction of 
self, we are entirely in the dark. 1 

When like things form parts of the same or of sup- 
posedly the same whole, like the molecules of a volume of 
hydrogen, or the woody cells of a tree, or the soldiers of a 
regiment, the resemblance is referred to as a quantity in- 
stead of a group. In other words, when the things which 
repeat themselves remain united as they increase, like vibra- 
tions of heat or electricity, accumulating within some heated 
or electrified object, or like cells multiplying in the body 
of a growing child, or like proselytes to a common religion, 
in such cases the repetition is called a growth instead of a 
series. In all of this I fail to see anything which would 
differentiate the subject of social science. 

Besides, whether resemblances and repetitions are in- 
trinsic or extrinsic, quantities or groups, growths or series, 
they are the necessary themes of the differences and varia- 
tions which exist in all phenomena. They are the canvas of 
their embroidery, the measure of their music. The wonder 
world which I was picturing would be, at bottom, the least 

1 " Scientific knowledge need not necessarily take its starting-point 
from the most minute hypothetical and unknown things. It begins 
wherever matter forms units of a like order which can be compared 
with and measured by one another, and wherever such units combine 
as units of a higher order and thus serve in themselves as a standard 
of comparison for the latter" (Von Naegeli. Address at the congress 
of German naturalists in 1877). 

Universal Repetition 7 

richly differentiated of all possible worlds. How much 
greater a renovator than revolution is our modern industrial 
system, accumulation as it is of mutually imitative actions ! 
What is more monotonous than the free life of the savage in 
comparison with the hemmed-in life of civilised man ? Would 
any organic progress be possible without heredity ? Would 
the exuberant variety of geological ages and of living 
nature have sprung into existence independently of the 
periodicity of the heavenly motions or of the wave-like 
rhythm of the earth's forces? 

Repetition exists, then, for the sake of variation. Other- 
wise, the necessity of death (a problem which M. Delbceuf 
considers in his book upon animate and inanimate matter, 
almost impossible of solution), would be incomprehensible; 
for why should not the top of life spin on, after it was 
wound up, forever? But under the hypothesis that repeti- 
tions exist only to embody all the phases of a certain unique 
originality which seeks expression, death must inevitably 
supervene after all these variations have been fully ef- 
fected. I may note in this connection, in passing, that the 
relation of universal to particular, a relation which fed the 
entire philosophic controversy of the Middle Ages upon 
nominalism and realism, is precisely that of repetition to 
variation. Nominalism is the doctrine in accordance with 
which individual characteristics or idiosyncracies are the 
only significant realities. Realism, on the other hand, con- 
siders only those traits worthy of attention and of the name 
of reality through which a given individual resembles other 
individuals and tends to reproduce himself in them. The 
interest of this kind of speculation is apparent when we con- 
sider that in politics individualism is a special kind of 
nominalism, and socialism, a special kind of realism. 

All repetition, social, vital, or physical, i. e., imitative, 
hereditary, or vibratory repetition (to consider only the 
most salient and typical forms of universal repetition), 
springs from some innovation, just as every light radiates 
from some central point, and thus throughout science the 
normal appears to originate from the accidental. For the 

8 Laws of Imitation 

propagation of an attractive force or luminous vibration 
from a heavenly body, or of a race of animals from an ances- 
tral pair, or of a national idea or desire or religious rite 
from a scholar or inventor or missionary, seem to us like 
natural and regular phenomena; whereas we are constantly 
surprised by the strange and partly non-formulable se- 
quence or juxtaposition of their respective centres, i. e., 
the different crafts, religions, and social institutions, the 
different organic types, the different chemical substances or 
celestial masses from which all these radiations have issued. 
All these admirable uniformities or series, hydrogen, whose 
multitudinous, star-scattered atoms are universally homo- 
geneous, protoplasm, identical from one end to the other of 
the scale of life, the roots of the Indo-European languages, 
identical almost throughout civilisation, the expansion of 
the light of a star in the immensity of space, the unbroken 
sequence from geological times of incalculable generations 
of marine species, the wonderfully faithful transmission of 
words from the Coptic of the ancient Egyptians to us mod- 
erns, etc., all these innumerable masses of things of like 
nature and of like affiliations, whose harmonious co-ex- 
istence or equally harmonious succession we admire, are 
related to physical, biological, and social accidents by a tie 
which baffles us. 

Here, also, the analogy between social and natural phe- 
nomena is carried out. But we should not be surprised if 
the former seem chaotic when we view them through the 
medium of the historian, or even through that of the soci- 
ologist, whereas the latter impress us, as they are presented 
by physicist, chemist, or physiologist, as very well ordered 
worlds. These latter scientists show us the subject 
of their science only on the side of its characteristic re- 
semblances and repetitions; they prudently conceal its cor- 
responding heterogeneities and transformations (or trans- 
substantiations). The historian and sociologist, on the 
contrary, veil the regular and monotonous face of social 
facts, that part in which they are alike and repeat them- 
selves, and show us only their accidental and interesting, 

Universal Repetition 9 

their infinitely novel and diversified, aspect. If our subject 
were, for example, the Gallo-Romans, the historian, even 
the philosophic historian, would not think of leading us 
step by step through conquered Gaul in order to show us 
how every word, rite, edict, profession, custom, craft, law, or 
military manoeuvre, how, in short, every special idea or need 
which had been introduced from Rome had begun to spread 
from the Pyrenees to the Rhine, and to win its way, after 
more or less vigorous fighting against old Celtic customs 
and ideas, to the mouths and arms and hearts and minds of 
all the enthusiastic Gallic imitators of Rome and Caesar. At 
any rate, if our historian had once led us upon this long 
journey, he would not make us repeat it for every Latin 
word or grammatical form, for every ritualistic form in 
the Roman religion, for every military manoeuvre that was 
taught to the legionaries by their officer-instructors, for 
every variety of Roman architecture, for temple, basilica, 
theatre, hippodrome, aqueduct, and atriumed villa, for every 
school-taught verse of Virgil or Horace, for every Roman 
law, or for every artistic or industrial process in Roman 
civilisation that had been faithfully and continuously trans- 
mitted from pedagogues and craftsmen to pupils and ap- 
prentices. And yet it is only at this price that we can get 
at an exact estimate of the great amount of regularity which 
obtains in even the most fluctuating societies. 

Then, after the introduction of Christianity, our historian 
would certainly refrain from making us renew this tedious 
peregrination in connection with every Christian rite which 
propagated itself, in spite of resistance, through heathen 
Gaul, like a wave of sound through air that is already 
in vibration. Instead of this, he would inform us at what 
date Julius Caesar conquered Gaul, or, again, at what date 
certain saints came to that country to preach Christianity. 
He might also enumerate the diverse elements out of which 
the Roman civilisation and the Christian faith and morality 
that were introduced into the Gallic world, were composed, 
In this case, his problem is to understand and rationally, log- 
ically, and scientifically, describe the extraordinary super- 

io Laws of Imitation 

position of Christianity upon Romanism, or rather, the 
gradual process of Christian upon the gradual process 
of Roman assimilation. In the separate treatment of 
both Romanism and Christianity, he will meet with an 
equally difficult problem in giving a rational explanation of 
the strange juxtaposition of the very heterogeneous Etrus- 
can, Greek, Oriental, and other fragments which constituted 
the former, and of the incoherent Jewish, Egyptian, and 
Byzantine ideas, ideas which were incoherent even in each 
distinct group, which constituted the latter. This, how- 
ever, is the arduous task which the philosopher of history 
sets before himself and which he thinks that he cannot slur 
over if he is to do the work of a scholar. He will, therefore, 
wear himself out in trying to bring order out of disorder by 
discovering some law or reason for these historic chances 
and coincidences. He would do better to investigate how 
and why harmonies sometimes proceed from these coinci- 
dences and in what these harmonies consist. I will under- 
take to do this further on. 

In short, a historian of this kind is like the botanist who 
would feel bound to ignore everything about the generation 
of plants of the same species or variety, as well as every- 
thing about their growth or nutrition, a kind of cellular 
generation or regeneration of tissues; or like the physi- 
cist who disdained to study the propagation of light or 
heat or sound waves as they passed through different 
mediums which were themselves in vibration. Can we 
conceive of the former believing that the proper and 
exclusive object of his science was an interlinking of unlike 
species, beginning with the first alga and ending with the 
last orchid, plus a profound justification of such a con- 
catenation? Can we conceive of the latter convinced that 
the sole end of his studies was investigation into the reason 
why there were precisely seven known kinds of luminous 
undulation, and why, including electricity and magnetism, 
there were no other kinds of ethereal vibration? These are 
certainly interesting questions, but although they are open 
to philosophic, they are not open to scientific, discussion, 

Universal Repetition 1 1 

since their solution does not seem capable of admitting of 
that high kind of probability which science exacts. It is 
clear that the first condition of becoming an anatomist or 
physiologist is the study of tissues, the aggregates of homo- 
geneous cells and fibres and blood vessels, or the study of 
functions, the accumulations of minute homogeneous con- 
tractions, innervations, oxidations, or deoxidations, and 
then, and above all, belief in the great architect of life, 
in heredity. It is equally clear that it is of primary im- 
portance to the chemist and physicist to examine many kinds 
of gaseous, liquid, and solid masses, masses composed of 
corpuscles which are absolutely alike, or of so-called physical 
forces which are prodigious accumulations of minute, homo- 
geneous vibrations. In fact, in the physical world, every- 
thing refers, or is in course of being referred, to vibration. 
Here everything is taking on more and more an essentially 
vibratory character, just as in the animate world the re- 
productive faculty, or the property of transmitting the 
smallest peculiarities (which are usually of unknown ori- 
gin) through inheritance, is coming more and more to be 
thought inherent in the smallest cell. 

And now my readers will realise, perhaps, that the social 
being 1 , in the degree that he is social, is essentially imitative, 
and that imitation plays a role in societies analogous to that 
of heredity in organic life or to that of vibration among in- 
organic bodies. If this is so, it ought to be admitted, in con- 
sequence, that a human invention, by which a new kind of 
imitation is started or a new series opened, the invention 
of gunpowder, for example, 1 or windmills, or the Morse 
telegraph, stands in the same relation to social science as 
the birth of a new vegetal or mineral species (or, on the 
hypothesis of a gradual evolution, of each of the slow modi- 
fications to which the new species is due), to biology, or as 
the appearance of a new mode of motion comparable with 

1 When I speak of the invention of gunpowder, of the telegraph, of 
railroads, etc., I mean, of course, the group of accumulated and yet dis- 
tinguishable and numerable inventions which have been necessary for 
the production of gunpowder, or telegraphy, or railroads. 

12 Laws of Imitation 

light or electricity, or the formation of a new substance, to 
physics or chemistry. Therefore, if we are to make a just 
comparison, we must not compare the philosophic historian 
who strives to discover a law for the odd groups and se- 
quences of scientific, industrial, sesthetic, and political in- 
ventions, to the physiologist or physicist, as we know him, 
to Tyndall or Claude Bernard, but to a philosopher of nature 
like Schelling or like Haeckel in his hours of riotous im- 

We should then perceive that the crude incoherence of 
historic facts, all of which facts are traceable to the dif- 
ferent currents of imitation of which they are the point of 
intersection, a point which is itself destined to be more or 
less exactly copied, is no proof at all against the funda- 
mental regularity of social life or the possibility of a social 
science. Indeed, parts of this science exist in the petty 
experience of each of us, and we have only to piece the frag- 
ments together. Besides, a group of historic events would 
certainly be far from appearing more incoherent than a 
collection of living types or chemical substances. Why 
then should we exact from the philosopher of history the 
fine symmetrical and rational order that we do not dream of 
demanding from the philosopher of science ? And yet there 
is a distinction here which is entirely to the credit of the 
historian. It is but recently that the naturalist has had any 
glimpses that were at all clear of biological evolution, where- 
as the historian was long ago aware of the continuity 
of history. As for chemists and physicists, we may pass 
them by. They dare not even yet forecast the time when 
they will be able to trace out, in their turn, the genealogy of 
simple substances, or when a work on the origin of atoms, 
as successful as Darwin's Origin of Species, will be pub- 
lished. It is true that M. Lecoq de Boisbaudran and M. 
Mendelejeff thought that they had distinguished a natural 
series of simple substances, and it is true that Boisbaudran's 
discovery of gallium was made in connection with his 
eminently philosophic speculations along this line. But 
Ipon close consideration, perhaps neither the remarkable 

Universal Repetition 13 

attempts of these scientists nor the various systems of our 
evolutionists on the genealogical ramification of living 
types present any greater degree of precision or certainty 
than sparkles in the ideas of Herbert Spencer, or even in 
those of Vico, upon the so-called periodic and predestined 
evolutions of society. The origin of atoms is much more 
mysterious than the origin of species, and the origin of 
species is, in turn, more mysterious than the origin of civili- 
sations. We can compare extant living species with those 
which have preceded them, the remains of which we find in 
the earth's strata; but we have not the slightest trace of the 
chemical substances which must have preceded in prehis- 
toric astronomy, so to speak, in the unfathomable and un- 
imaginable depths of the past, the actual chemical sub- 
stances of the earth and stars. Consequently, chemistry, 
which cannot even propound a problem of origins, is less 
advanced, in this essential particular, than biology ; and, for 
like reason, biology is, in reality, less advanced than soci- 

From the foregoing, it is evident that social science and 
social philosophy are distinct; that social science must deal 
exclusively, like every other science, with a multitude of 
homogeneous facts, with those facts which are carefully 
concealed by the historians; that new and heterogeneous 
facts, or historical facts, strictly speaking, are the special 
domain of social philosophy; that from this point of view 
social science might be as advanced as the other sciences, 
and that social philosophy is actually much more so than 
any other philosophy. 

In the present volume, we are concerned only with the 
science of society; moreover, we shall confine our discus- 
sion to imitation and its laws. Later on, we shall have to 
study the laws, or pseudo-laws, of invention. 1 The two 
questions are quite different, although they cannot be 
wholly separated. 

1 Since this was written I have outlined a theory of invention in my 
Logique sociale (F. Alcan, 1895). 

14 Laws of Imitation 


After these long preliminaries, I must develop an im- 
portant thesis which has so far been obscure and involved. 
Science, as I have said, deals only with quantities and 
growths, or, in more general terms, with the resemblances 
and repetitions of phenomena. 

This distinction, however, is realty superfluous and super- 
ficial. Every advance in knowledge tends to strengthen 
the conviction that all resemblance is due to repetition. 
I think that this may be brought out in the three follow- 
ing propositions : 

1. All resemblances which are to be observed in the 
chemical, or physical, or astronomical worlds (the atoms of 
a single body, the waves of a single ray of light, the concen- 
tric strata of attraction of which every heavenly body is 
a centre), can be caused and explained solely by periodic, 
and, for the most part, vibratory motions. 

2. All resemblances of vital origin in the world of life 
result from hereditary transmission, from either intra- or 
extra-organic reproduction. It is through the relationship 
between cells and the relationship between species that all 
the different kinds of analogies and homologies which com- 
parative anatomy points out between species, and histology, 
between corporeal elements, are at present explained. 

3. All resemblances of social origin in society are the 
direct or indirect fruit of the various forms of imitation, 
custom-imitation or fashion-imitation, sympathy-imita- 
tion or obedience-imitation, precept-imitation or education- 
imitation; na'ive imitation, deliberate imitation, etc. In 
this lies the excellence of the contemporaneous method 
of explaining doctrines and institutions through their his- 
tory. It is a method that is certain to come into more gen- 
eral use. It is said that great geniuses, great inventors, 
are apt to cross each other's paths. But, in the first 
place, such coincidences are very rare, and when 
they do occur, they are always due to the fact that 

Universal Repetition 15 

both authors of the same invention have drawn inde- 
pendently from some common fund of instruction. This 
fund consists of a mass of ancient traditions and of experi- 
ences that are unorganised or that have been more or less 
organised and imitatively transmitted through language, 
the great vehicle of all imitations. 

In this connection we may observe that modern philolo- 
gists have relied so implicitly upon the foregoing proposi- 
tion, that they have concluded, through analogy, that San- 
skrit, Latin, Greek, German, Russian, and other kindred 
tongues, belong in reality to one family, and that it had a 
common progenitor in a language which was transmitted, 
with the exception of certain modifications, through tradi- 
tion. Each modification was, in truth, an anonymous lin- 
guistic invention which was, in turn, perpetuated by imita- 
tion. In the next chapter I will return to the development 
and re-statement of our third proposition. 

There is only one great class of universal resemblances 
which seem at first as if they could not have been produced 
by any form of repetition. This is the resemblance of the 
parts of infinite space whose juxtaposition and immobility 
are the very conditions of all motion whatsoever, whether 
vibratory, or reproductive, or propagative and subduing. 
But we must not pause over this apparent exception. It is 
enough to have mentioned it. Its discussion would lead us 
too far afield. 

Turning aside from this anomaly, which may be illusory, 
let us maintain the truth of our general proposition, and note 
one of its direct consequences. If quantity signifies resem- 
blance, if every resemblance proceeds from repetition, and if 
every repetition is a vibration (or any other periodic move- 
ment), a phenomenon of reproduction or an act of imitation, 
it follows that, on the hypothesis that no motion is, or ever 
has been, vibratory, no function hereditary, no act or idea 
learned and copied, there would be no such thing as quantity 
in the universe, and the science of mathematics would be 
without any possible use or conceivable application. It also 
follows upon the inverse hypothesis, that if our physical, 

1 6 Laws of Imitation 

vital, and social spheres were to enlarge the range of their 
vibratory, reproductive, and propagative activities, our field 
of calculation would be even more extensive and profound. 
This fact is apparent in our European societies where the 
extraordinary progress of fashion in all its forms, in dress, 
food and housing, in wants and ideas, in institutions and 
arts, is making a single type of European based upon several 
hundreds of millions of examples. Is it not evident that it 
is this prodigious levelling which has from its very begin- 
ning made possible the birth and growth of statistical 
science and of what has been so well called social physics, 
political economy? Without fashion and custom, social 
quantities would not exist, there would be no values, no 
money, and, consequently, no science of wealth or finance. 
(How was it possible, then, for economists to dream of for- 
mulating theories of value in which the idea of imitation 
had no part?) But the application of number and measure 
to societies, which people are trying to make nowadays, 
cannot help being partial and tentative. In this matter the 
future has many surprises in store for us ! 


At this point we might develop the striking analogies, 
the equally instructive differences, and the mutual relations 
of the three main forms of universal repetition. We might 
also seek for the explanation of their majestically inter- 
woven rhythms and symmetries; we might question whether 
the content of these forms resembled them or not, whether 
the active and underlying substance of these well-ordered 
phenomena shared in their sage uniformity, or whether it 
did not perhaps contrast with them in being essentially 
heterogeneous, like a people which gave no evidence in its 
military or administrative exterior of the tumultuous idio- 
syncracies which constituted it and which set its machinery 
in motion. 

This twofold subject would be too vast. In the first 
part of it, however, there are certain obvious analogies 

Universal Repetition 17 

which we should note. In the first place, repetitions are 
also multiplications or self-spreading contagions. If a stone 
falls into the water, the first wave which it produces will 
repeat itself in circling out to the confines of its basin. If 
I light a match, the first undulation which I start in the 
ether will instantly spread throughout a vast space. If one 
couple of termites or of phylloxeras are transported to a 
continent, they will ravish it within a few years. The per- 
nicious erigeron of Canada, which has but quite recently 
been imported from Europe, flourishes already in every un- 
cultivated field. The well-known laws of Malthus and 
Darwin on the tendency of the individuals of a species to 
increase in geometrical progression, are true laws of human 
radiation through reproduction. In the same way, a local 
dialect that is spoken only by certain families, gradually be- 
comes, through imitation, a national idiom. In the begin- 
ning of societies, the art of chipping flint, of domesticating 
dogs, of making bows, and, later, of leavening bread, of 
working bronze, of extracting iron, etc., must have spread 
like a contagion; since every arrow, every flake, every 
morsel of bread, every thread of bronze, served both as 
model and copy. Nowadays the diffusion of all kinds of 
useful processes is brought about in the same way, except 
that our increasing density of population and our advance 
in civilisation prodigiously accelerate their diffusion, just 
as velocity of sound is proportionate to density of me- 
dium. Every social thing, that is to say, every invention 
or discovery, tends to expands in its social environment, an 
environment which itself, I might add, tends to self-expan- 
sion, since it is essentially composed of like things, all of 
which have infinite ambitions. 

This tendency, however, here as in external nature, often 
proves abortive through the competition of rival tendencies. 
But this fact is of little importance to theory; besides, it 
is metaphorical. Desire can no more be attributed to ideas 
than to vibrations or species, and the fact in question must 
be understood to mean that the scattered individual forces 
which are inherent in the innumerable beings composing 

1 8 Laws of Imitation 

the environment where these forms propagate themselves, 
have taken a common direction. In this sense, this tend- 
ency towards expansion presupposes that the environment 
in question is homogeneous, a condition which seems to be 
well fulfilled by the ethereal or aerial medium of vibrations, 
much less so by the geographical and chemical medium of 
species, and infinitely less so by the social medium of ideas. 
But it is a mistake, I think, to express this difference by 
saying that the social medium is more complex than the 
others. On the contrary, it is perhaps because it is numer- 
ically much more simple, that it is farther from presenting 
the required homogeneity; since a homogeneity that is real 
on the surface merely, suffices. Besides, as the agglomera- 
tions of human beings increase, the spread of ideas in a 
regular geometrical progression is more marked. Let us 
exaggerate this numerical increase to an extreme degree, 
let us suppose that the social sphere in which an idea can 
expand be composed not only of a group sufficiently nu- 
merous to give birth to the principal moral varieties of the 
human species, but also of thousands of uniform repeti- 
tions of these groups, so that the uniformity of these repeti- 
tions makes an apparent homogeneity, in spite of the in- 
ternal complexity of each group. Have we not some reason 
for thinking that this is the kind of homogeneity which 
characterises all the simple and apparently uniform reali- 
ties which external nature presents to us ? On this hypoth- 
esis, it is evident that the success of an idea, the more or 
less rapid rate at which it circulated on the day of its ap- 
pearance, would supply the mathematical reason, in a way, 
of its further progression. Given this condition, producers 
of articles which satisfied prime needs and which were 
therefore destined for universal consumption, would be able 
to foretell from the demand in a given year, at a certain 
price, what would be the demand in the following year, at 
the same price, providing no check, prohibitive or otherwise, 
intervened, or no superior article of the same class were dis- 

It has been said that the faculty of foresight is the criter- 

Universal Repetition 19 

ion of science. Let us amend this to read, the faculty of 
conditional foresight. The botanist, for example, can fore- 
tell the form and colour of the fruit which a flower will pro- 
duce, provided it be not killed by drought, or provided a 
new and unexpected individual variety (a kind of secondary 
biological invention) do not develop. The physicist can 
state, at the moment a rifle-shot is discharged, that it will be 
heard in a given number of seconds, at a given distance, 
provided nothing intercept the sound in its passage, or 
provided a louder sound, a discharge of cannon, for ex- 
ample, be not heard during the given period. Now it is 
precisely on the same ground that the sociologist is, strictly 
speaking, a scientist. Given the centres, the approximate 
velocities, and the tendency to separate or concurrent motion 
of existing imitations, the sociologist is in a position to fore- 
tell the social conditions of ten or twenty years hence, pro- 
vided no reform or political revolution occur to hinder 
this expansion and provided no rival centres arise mean- 

In this case, to be sure, the conditioning of events is 
highly probable, more probable, perhaps, than in the others. 
But it is only a difference of degree. Besides, let us observe 
(as a matter that belongs to the philosophy and not to the 
science of history), that the successful discoveries and in- 
itiatives of the present vaguely determine the direction of 
those of the future. Moreover, the social forces of any 
real importance at any period are not composed of the nec- 
essarily feeble imitations that have radiated from recent 
inventions, but of the imitations of ancient inventions, rad- 
iations which are alike more intense and more widespread 
because they have had the necessary time in which to spread 
out and become established as habits, customs, or so- 
called physiological " race instincts." 1 Our ignorance, there- 
fore, of the unforeseen discoveries which will be made ten, 

1 1 must not be accused of the absurd idea of denying in all of this 
the influence of race upon social facts. But I think that on account 
of the number of its acquired characteristics, race is the outcome, and 
not the source, of these facts, and only in this hitherto ignored sense does 
it appear to me to come within the special province of the sociologist. 

2O Laws of Imitation 

twenty, or fifty years hence, of the art-inspiring master- 
pieces which are to appear, of the battles and revolutions 
and deeds of violence which will be noised abroad, does not 
hinder us from almost accurately predicting, on the fore- 
going hypothesis, the depth and direction of the current of 
ideas and aspirations which our statesmen and our great 
generals, poets, and musicians will have to follow and ren- 
der navigable, or stem and combat. 

As examples in support of the geometrical progress of 
imitations, I might cite statistics of locomotive construc- 
tion, or of the consumption of coffee, tobacco, etc., 
from the time they were first imported, to the time they 
began to overstock the market. 1 I will mention a dis- 
covery which appears to be less favourable to my argument, 
the discovery of America. This discovery was imitated 
in the sense that the first voyage from Europe to America, 
which was conceived of and executed by Columbus, came 
to be repeated more and more frequently by subsequent 
navigators. Every variation in these after-voyages con- 
stituted a little discovery, which was grafted upon that of 
the great Genoese, and which, in turn, found imitators. 

I will take advantage of this example to open a paren- 
thesis. America might have been discovered two centur- 
ies earlier, or two centuries later, by an imaginative navi- 
gator. If two centuries earlier, if in 1292, the opening 
out of a new world had been offered to Philip the Fair, 
during his bouts with Rome and his bold attempt at seculari- 
sation and administrative centralisation, his ambition would 

1 The objection may be raised that increasing or diminishing series 
as shown in the continuous statistics of a given number of years, are 
never regular, and are often upset by checks and reactions. Without 
dwelling upon this point, I may say that, in my opinion, these checks 
and reactions are always indicative of the interference of some new 
invention, which, in its turn, is spread abroad. I explain diminishing 
series in the same way, and in considering them we must be careful 
not to infer that at the end of a certain time, after it has been imitated 
more and more, a social thing tends to become disimitated. On the 
contrary, its tendency to invade the world continues unchanged, and 
if there be, not any disimitation, but any continuous falling off of imita- 
tion, its rivals are alone to blame. 

Universal Repetition 21 

have surely been excited, and the arrival of the Modern 
Age precipitated. Two centuries later, in 1692, America 
would unquestionably have been of greater value to the 
France of Henry IV. than to Spain, and the latter country, 
not having had this rich prey to batten upon for two hundred 
years, would have been, at that time, less rich and prosper- 
ous. Who knows whether, under the first hypothesis, the 
Hundred Years' War might not have been precluded and, 
under the second, the empire of Charles V. ? At any rate, 
the need of having colonies, a need which was both created 
and satisfied by the discovery of Christopher Columbus 
and one which has played such a leading role in the political 
life of Europe since the fifteenth century, would not have 
arisen until the seventeenth century, and, at the pres- 
ent time, South America would belong to France, and 
North America would not as yet amount to anything politi- 
cally. What a difference to us ! And to think that Chris- 
topher Columbus succeeded by a mere hair's breadth in his 
enterprise! But a truce to these speculations upon the 
contingencies of the past, although, in my opinion, they are 
as well-founded and as significant as those of the future. 

Here is another example, the most striking of all. The 
Roman Empire has perished; but, as has been well said, 
the conquest of Rome lives on forever. Through Chris- 
tianity, Charlemagne extended it to the Germans; William 
the Conqueror extended it to the Anglo-Saxons; and Co- 
lumbus, to America. The Russians and the English are 
extending it to Asia and to Australia, and, prospectively, to 
the whole of Oceanica. Already Japan wishes for her turn to 
be invaded; it seems as if China alone would offer any 
serious resistance. But if we assume that China also 
will become assimilated, we can say that Athens and Rome, 
including Jerusalem, that is to say, the type of civilisation 
formed by the group of their combined and co-ordinated 
initiatives and master-thoughts, have conquered the en- 
tire world. All races and nationalities will have con- 
tributed to this unbounded contagious imitation of Greco- 
Roman civilisation. The outcome would certainly have 

22 Laws of Imitation 

been different if Darius or Xerxes had conquered Greece and 
reduced it to a Persian province; or if Islam had triumphed 
over Charles Martel and invaded Europe; or if peaceful 
and industrious China had been belligerent during the past 
three thousand years, and had turned its spirit of invention 
towards the art of war as well as towards the arts of 
peace; or if, when America was discovered, gunpowder 
and printing had not yet been invented and Europeans had 
proved to be poorer fighters than the Aztecs or Incas. But 
chance determined that the type to which we belong should 
prevail over all other types of civilisation, over all the 
clusters of radiant inventions which have flashed out spon- 
taneously in different parts of the globe. Even if our 
own type had not prevailed, another type would certainly 
have triumphed in the long run, for one type was bound 
to become universal, since all laid claim to universality, 
that is to say, since all tended to propagate themselves 
through imitation in a geometrical progression, like waves 
of light or sound, or like animal or vegetal species. 


Let me point out a new order of analogies. Imitations 
are modified in passing from one race or nation to another, 
like vibrations or living types in passing from one environ- 
ment to another. We see this, for example, in the transi- 
tion of certain words, or religious myths, or military secrets, 
or literary forms, from the Hindoos to the Germans, or 
from the Latins to the Gauls. In certain cases, the record 
of these modifications has been sufficiently full to suggest 
what their general and uniform trend has been. This is 
especially true of language; Grimm's, or, better still, Ray- 
nouard's, laws might well be called the laws of linguistic 

According to Raynouard, when Latin words come under 
Spanish or Gallic influences, they are consistently and char- 
acteristically transformed. According to Grimm's laws, 
a given consonant in German or English is equivalent to 

Universal Repetition 23 

another given consonant in Sanskrit or Greek. This fact 
means, at bottom, that in passing from the primitive Aryan 
to the Teutonic or Hellenic or Hindoo environments, the 
parent-language has changed its consonants in a given 
order, substituting, in one case, an aspirate for a hard check, 
in another a hard check for an aspirate, etc. 

If there were as many religions as there are languages 
(and there are hardly enough of these to give an adequate 
basis of comparison to certain general observations that 
might be formulated into linguistic laws), and, above all, 
if religious ideas were as numerous in every religion as 
words in a language, we might have laws of mythological 
refraction analagous to those of language. As it is, we 
can only follow a given myth like that of Ceres or Apollo, 
for example, through the modifications which have been 
stamped upon it by the genius of the different peoples who 
have adopted it. But there are so few myths to compare 
in this way, that it is difficult to see any appreciable common 
traits in the turns which they have been given by the same 
people at different times, or anything more than a general 
family resemblance. And yet have we not much to observe 
in a study of the forms which the same religious ideas have 
taken on as they passed from the Vedas to the doc- 
trines of Brahma or Zoroaster, from Moses to Christ or 
Mahomet, or as they circulated through the dissentient 
Christian sects of the Greek, Roman, Anglican, and Gallic 
churches? Perhaps I should say that all that could be has 
already been observed along this line and that we have only 
to draw upon this material. 

Art critics have likewise had a confused premonition of 
the laws of artistic refraction, so to speak. These laws are 
peculiar to every people, in all epochs, and belong to every 
definite centre of painting, music, architecture, a'nd poetry, 
to Holland, Italy, France, etc. I will not press my point. 
But is it purely metaphorical and puerile to say that Theoc- 
ritus is refracted in Virgil; Menander, in Terence; Plato, 
in Cicero; Euripides, in Racine? 

Another analogy. Interferences occur between imita- 

24 Laws of Imitation 

tions, between social things, as well as between vibrations 
and between living types. When two waves, two physical 
things which are pretty much alike, and which have spread 
separately from two distinct centres, meet together in the 
same physical being, in the same particle of matter, the 
impetus of each is increased or neutralised, as its direction 
coincides with, or is diametrically opposed to, the direction 
of the other. In the first case, a new and complex wave 
sets in which is stronger than the others and which tends to 
propagate itself in turn; in the second, struggle and 
partial destruction follow, until one of the two rivals has 
the better of the other. In the same way we know what 
happens when two specific and sufficiently near types, two 
vital things, which have been reproduced independently of 
each other, generation after generation, come into mutual 
contact, not merely in one place (as in the case of animals 
which fight or devour one another, which would be a strictly 
physical encounter), but, more than that, in the same 
living being, in a germ cell fertilised by hybrid copulation, 
the only kind of encounter and interference which is really 
vital. In this case, either the offspring has greater vitality 
than its parents and, being at the same time more fruitful 
and prolific, transmits its distinctive characteristics to a 
more numerous progeny, a veritable discovery of life, or 
it is more puny, and gives birth to a few stunted descend- 
ants, in whom the divorce of the incompatible characters of 
their unnaturally united progenitors is hastened by the 
distinct triumph of one in expelling the other. In the 
same way, when two beliefs or two desires, or a belief 
and a desire, in short, when two social things (in the 
last analysis all social facts are beliefs or desires under the 
different names of dogmas, sentiment, laws, wants, customs, 
morals, etc:), have for a certain time travelled their separate 
roads in the world by means of education or example, 
i. e., of imitation, they often end by coming into mutual 
contact. In order that their encounter and interference 
may be really psychological and social, co-existence in 
the same brain and participation in the same state of 

Universal Repetition 25 

mind and heart is not only necessary, but, in addition, 
one must present itself either in support of, or in opposition 
to the other, either as a principle, of which the other is a 
corollary, or as an affirmative, of which the other is the nega- 
tive. As for the beliefs and desires which seem neither to 
aid nor injure, neither to confirm nor contradict, each other, 
they cannot interfere with each other any more than two 
heterogeneous waves or two livingtypes which are too distant 
from each other to unite. If they do appear to help or con- 
firm each other, they combine by the very fact of this ap- 
pearance or perception into a new practical or theoretic dis- 
covery, which is, in turn, bound to spread abroad, like its 
components, in contagious imitation. In this case, there has 
been a gain in the force of desire or belief, as in the corre- 
sponding cases of propitious physical or biological interfer- 
ence there was a gain in motor power or vitality. If, on the 
other hand, the interfering social things, theses or aims, dog- 
mas or interests, convictions or passions, are mutually hurt- 
ful and antagonistic in the soul of an individual, or in that of 
a whole people, both the individual and the community will 
morally stagnate in doubt and indecision, until their soul is 
rent in two by some sudden or prolonged effort, and the 
less cherished belief or passion is sacrificed. Thus life 
chooses between two miscoupled types. A particularly im- 
portant case and one which differs slightly from the preced- 
ing is that in which the two beliefs or desires, as well as the 
belief and the desire, which interfere happily or unhappily 
in the mind of an individual, are not experienced exclu- 
sively by him, but in part by him, and in part by one of his 
fellows. Here the interference consists in the fact that the 
individual is aware of the confirmation or disproof of his 
own idea by the idea of others, and of the advantage or 
injury accruing to his own will from the will of others. 
From this, sympathy and agreement, or antipathy and 
war, result. 1 

1 The likeness which I have pointed out between heredity and imita- 
tion is verified even in the relation of each of these two forms of uni- 
versal Repetition to its special form of Creation or Invention. As long 
as a society is young, vigorous, and progressive, inventions, new proj- 

26 Laws of Imitation 

But all of this, I feel, needs to be elucidated. Let us 
distinguish between three hypotheses: the propitious inter- 
ference of two beliefs, of two desires, and of a belief and a 
desire; and let us subdivide each one of these divisions as 
the subjects of interference are, or are not, found in the 
same individual. Later on, I shall have a word to say 
about unpropitious interferences. 

i. If a conjecture which I have considered fairly prob- 
able comes into my mind while I am reading or remem- 
bering a fact which I think is almost certain, and if I sud- 
denly perceive that the fact confirms the conjecture of 
which it is a consequence (t. e., the particular proposition 
which expresses the fact is included in the general proposi- 
tion which expresses the conjecture), the conjecture im- 
mediately becomes much more probable in my eyes, and, at 
the same time, the fact appears to me to be an absolute 
certainty. So that there is a gain in belief all along the 
line. And the perception of this logical inclusion is a discov- 
ery. Newton discovered nothing more than this when, hav- 
ing brought his conjectured law of gravitation face to face 
with the calculation of the distance from the moon to the 

ects, and successful initiatives follow one another in rapid succession, 
and hasten social changes ; then, when the inventive sap is exhausted, 
imitation still continues upon its course. India, China, and the late 
Roman Empire are examples in point. Now this is also true of the 
world of life. For example, M. Gaudry says in referring to the 
crinoidea (echinoderms) [Enchainment du monde animal (secondary 
period)]: "They have lost that marvellous diversity of form which 
was one of the luxuries of the primary period ; no longer having the 
power of much self-mutation, they still retain that of producing indi- 
viduals like themselves." But this is not always so. In the geologi- 
cal epochs, certain families or types of animals disappeared after their 
most brilliant period. This was the case with the ammonite, that 
wonderful fossil which flourished in such exuberant variety, during 
the secondary period, and which was, subsequently, annihilated forever. 
This was also the case with those brief and brilliant civilisations which, 
like ephemeral stars, glittered for a day in the sky of history, and 
were then suddenly extinguished. I refer to the Persia of Cyrus, to 
some of the Greek republics, to the south of France at the time of the 
war of the Albigenses, to the Italian republics, etc. When the crea- 
tive power of these civilisations was worn out, not even the power 
to reproduce themselves remained. In fact, in most cases, they would 
have been precluded from doing so by their own violent destruction. 

Universal Repetition 27 

earth, he perceived that this fact confirmed his hypothesis. 
Let us suppose that, for a century long, an entire people 
is led by one of its teachers, by St. Thomas Aquinas, for 
example, or by Arnaud or Bossuet, to prove, or to think 
that it is proving, that a like agreement exists between its re- 
ligious dogmas and the contemporaneous state of its sciences. 
Then we shall see such an overflowing river of faith as 
that which fructified the logical and inventive and warlike 
thirteenth and the Janseist and Gallican seventeenth centu- 
ries. A harmony like this is nothing less than a discovery. 
The Summa, the catechism of Port-Royal and the French 
clergy, and all the philosophic systems of the period, 
from Descartes himself to Leibnitz, are, in different 
degrees, its various expressions. Now let us somewhat 
modify our general proposition. Let us suppose that I am 
inclined to endorse a principle which the friend with whom 
I am talking absolutely refuses to accept. On the other hand, 
he tells me certain facts which he thinks are true, but which 
I take to be unverified. Subsequently, it seems to me, or 
rather, if flashes upon me, that if these facts were proved, 
they would fully confirm my principle. From now on, I, 
also, am inclined to credit them; but the only gain in belief 
has been one in regard to them, not in regard to my prin- 
ciple. Besides, this kind of discovery is incomplete; it will 
have no social effect until my friend either succeeds in im- 
parting to me, through proofs, his belief, which is greater 
than mine, in the reality of the facts, or I myself can prove 
to him the truth of my principle. Here is precisely the ad- 
vantage of a wide and free intellectual commerce. 

2. The first mediaeval merchant who was both vain and 
avaricious and who, in his unwillingness to forego either 
commercial wealth or social position, came to perceive the 
possibility of making avarice serve the ends of vanity, 
through the purchase of a title of nobility for himself and 
his family, thought he had made a fine discovery. And, as 
a matter of fact, he had numerous imitators. Is it not true 
that after this unhoped-for prospect, both his passions re- 
doubled in strength? Did not his avarice increase because 

28 Laws of Imitation 

gold had gained a new value in his eyes, and his vanity, 
because the object of his ambitious and hitherto-despaired- 
of dream had come within reach ? To give, perhaps, a more 
modern illustration, the first lawyer who reversed the usual 
order of things by going into politics in order to make his 
fortune, introduced neither a bad idea nor an ineffective 
initiative. Let us take other instances. Suppose that I 
am in love and that I also have a passion for rhyming. I 
turn my love to inspiring my metromania. My love quick- 
ens and my rhyming mania is intensified. How many 
poetical works have originated in this kind of an inter- 
ference! Suppose, again, that I am a philanthropist and 
that I like notoriety. In this case, I will strive to distin- 
guish myself in order to do more good to my fellows, and 
I will strive to be useful to them, in order to make a name 
for myself, etc., etc. In history the same phenomenon 
occurs. After a long period of mutual opposition, Chris- 
tian zeal combined with the contemporary passion for war- 
like expeditions and produced the outbreak of the Crusades. 
The invasion of Islam, the Jacqueries of '89 and of the years 
following, and all revolutions in which so many base pas- 
sions are yoked to noble ones, are notable examples. But, 
happily, a still more contagious example was set in the be- 
ginnings of social life by the first man who said : " I am 
hungry and my neighbour is cold ; I will offer him this gar- 
ment, which is useless to me, in exchange for some of the 
food which he has in excess, and so my need of food will help 
satisfy his need of clothing, and vice versa. In this ex- 
cellent and very simple, but, for that time, highly original, 
idea, industry, commerce, money, law, and all the arts origi- 
nated. (I do not date the birth of society from this idea, 
for society undoubtedly existed before exchange. It began 
on the day when one man first copied another). 

Let us note that all new forms of professional work, that 
all new crafts, have arisen from analogous discoveries. 
These discoveries have generally been anonymous, but 
they are none the less positive and significant. 

3. In historical importance, however, no mental inter- 

Universal Repetition 29 

ference equals that of a desire and a belief. But the numer- 
ous cases in which a conviction or opinion fastens itself 
upon an inclination, and effects it merely through inspiring 
another desire, must not be included in this category. After 
these cases have been eliminated, there still remains a con- 
siderable number in which the supervening idea acts directly 
upon the desire it has fallen in with and stimulated. Sup- 
pose, for example, that I would like to be an orator in the 
Chamber of Deputies, and I am straightway persuaded by 
the compliment of a friend that I have recently displayed 
true oratorical talent. This conviction enhances my am- 
bition, and my ambition itself contributed to my conviction. 
For the same reason, there is no historical error, no atrocious 
or extravagant calumny or madness, which is not readily 
entertained by the very political passion which it helps to 
inflame. A belief will also stimulate a desire, now by 
making its object seem mere attainable, now by stamping 
it with its approval. It also happens, to complete our an- 
alysis, that a man may realise that his own scheme will be 
helped by the belief of others, although he may have no 
share in their belief, nor they in his scheme. Such a reali- 
sation is a -find that many an impostor has exploited and 
still exploits. 

This special kind of interferences and the important un- 
named discoveries which result from them, are to be counted 
among the chief forces which rule the world. What was the 
patriotism of Greek or Roman but a passion nourished by an 
illusion and vice versa; what was it but ambition, avarice, and 
love of fame nourished by an exaggerated belief in their own 
superiority, by the anthropocentric prejudice, the mistake 
of imagining that this little point in space, the earth, was 
the universe, and that on this little point Rome or Athens 
was alone worthy of the gods' consideration? What are, in 
large part, the fanaticism of the Arab, the proselytism of 
the Christian, and the propagandism of Jacobin and revo- 
lutionary doctrines but prodigious outgrowths of illusion- 
fed passions and passion-fed illusions? And these forces 
always arise from one person, from a single centre, long 

30 Laws of Imitation 

in advance, to be sure, of the moment when they break forth 
and take on historical importance. An enthusiast, eaten up 
with an impotent desire for conquest, or immortality, 
or human regeneration, chances upon some idea which 
opens an unhoped-for door to his aspirations. The idea 
may be that of the Resurrection or the Millennium, 
the dogma of popular sovereignty or some other formula 
of the Social Contract. He embraces the idea, it exalts 
him, and behold, a new apostle! In this way a political 
or religious contagion is spread abroad. In this way a 
whole people may be converted to Christianity, to Islam, 
and, to-morrow, perhaps, to socialism. 

In the preceding paragraphs we have discussed only 
interference-combinations, interferences which result in 
discovery and gain and add to the two psychological quan- 
tities of desire and belief. But that long sequence of opera- 
tions in moral arithmetic, which we call history, ushers in 
at least as many interference-conflicts. When these sub- 
jective antagonisms arise between the desires and beliefs of 
a single individual, and only in this case, there is an absolute 
diminution in the sum of those quantities. When they oc- 
cur obscurely, here and there, in isolated individuals, they 
pass by unnoticed except by psychologists. Then we have 
(i) on the one side, the deceptions and gradual doubts of 
bold theorists and political prophets as they come to see facts 
giving the lie to their speculations and ridiculing their pre- 
dictions, and the intellectual weakening of sincere and well- 
informed believers who perceive the contradiction between 
their science and their religion or philosophic systems; and, 
on the other side, the private and juristic and parliamen- 
tary discussions in which belief is rekindled instead of 
smothered. Again, we have (2) on the one side, the en- 
forced and bitter inaction, the slow suicide of a man strug- 
gling between two incompatible aptitudes or inclinations, 
between scientific ardour and literary aspirations, between 
love and ambition, between pride and indolence, and, on the 
other side, those various rivalries and competitions which 
put every spring into action what we call in these days 

Universal Repetition 31 

the struggle for existence. Finally, we have (3) on the one 
side, the malady of despair, a state of intense longing and 
intense self-doubt, the abyss of lovers and of those weary 
with waiting, or the anguish of scruple and remorse, the 
feeling of a soul which thinks ill of the object of its desire, 
or well of the object of its aversion; and, on the other 
side, the irritating resistance which is made to the under- 
takings and eager passions of children and innovators by 
parents who are convinced of their danger and impracti- 
cability and by people of prudence and experience. 

When these same phenomena (at bottom they are always 
the same) are enacted upon a large scale and multiplied by 
a large and powerful social current of imitation, they attain 
historical importance. Under other names, they become, 
( i ) on the one hand, the enervating scepticism of a people 
caught between two hostile churches or religions or be- 
tween the contradictions of its priests and its scientists; on 
the other, the religious wars which are waged by one 
people against another merely because of differences in re- 
ligious belief; (2) on the one hand, the failure and inertia 
of a people or class which has created for itself artificial 
passions contrary to its natural instincts (i. e., at bottom, to 
passions which also began by being artificial, by being 
adopted from foreign sources, but which are much older than 
the former passions), or desires inconsistent with its per- 
manent interests, the desire for peace and comfort, for exam- 
ple, when a redoubling of military spirit was indispensable; 
on the other hand, the majority of external political wars; 
(3) on the one hand, civil warfare and oppositions strictly 
speaking, struggles between conservatives and revolution- 
ists; on the other, the despair of a people or class which 
is gradually sinking back into the historical oblivion whence 
it had been drawn by some outburst of faith and enthusiasm, 
or the irritation and oppression of a society distressed by a 
conflict between its ancient maxims and traditions and its 
new aspirations, between Christianity and chivalry, for ex- 
ample, and industrialism and utilitarianism. 

Now in the case of both individuals and societies, the 

32 Laws of Imitation 

doleful states of scepticism, inertia, and despair, and, still 
more, the violent and more painful states of dispute, com- 
bat, and opposition are quick to push man on to their own 
undoing. Nevertheless, although man often succeeds in de- 
livering himself for long periods from the former, which 
imply the immediate weakening of his two master forces, 
he never overcomes the latter, or if he does free himself 
from them it is merely to fall into them again, since, up to 
a certain point, they bring with them momentary gams of 
belief and desire. Whence the interminable dissensions, 
rivalries, and contradictions which befall mankind and which 
each one can settle for himself only by adopting some 
logical system of thought and conduct. Whence the im- 
possibility, or the seeming impossibility, of extirpating the 
wars and litigations from which everybody suffers, al- 
though the subjective strife of desires and opinions which 
afflicts some people generally ends for them in definite treat- 
ies of peace. Whence the endless rebirth of the eternal 
hydra-headed social question, a question which is not pecul- 
iar to our own time, but which belongs to all time, for it 
does not investigate into the outcome of the debilitating, 
but into that of the violent, states of desire and belief. In 
other words, it does not ask whether science or religion 
will, or should, ultimately prevail in the great majority of 
minds; whether desire for social order or rebellious out- 
bursts of social envy, pride, and hatred will, or should, ulti- 
mately prove the stronger in human hearts; whether a 
positive and courageous resignation of old pretensions or, 
on the contrary, a new outburst of hope and self-confidence 
will help our sometime ruling classes to rid themselves 
to their honour of their present torpor; whether the old mo- 
rality will have the right and the power to influence society 
again, or whether the society of the future will legitimately 
establish a code of honour and morality in its own likeness. 
The solution of these problems will not be long delayed, and 
it is not difficult, even at present, to foresee its nature. 
Whereas the problems which really constitute the social 
question are arduous and difficult. The problems are these : 

Universal Repetition 33 

Is it a good or a bad thing for a complete intellectual 
unanimity to be established through the expulsion or the 
more or less tyrannical conversion of a dissenting minority, 
and will this ever come about ? Is it a good or a bad thing 
for commercial or professional or personal competition be- 
tween individuals, as well as political and military com- 
petition between societies, to come to be suppressed, the one 
through the much-dreamed-of organisation of labour, or, at 
least, through state socialism, and the other through a vast, 
universal confederation, or, at least, through a new Euro- 
pean equilibrium, the first step towards the United States 
of Europe? Does the future hold this in store for us? 
Is it a good or a bad thing for a strong and free social au- 
thority, an absolutely sovereign authority, capable of gran- 
diose things, as philanthropic and intelligent as possible, 
to arise, untrammelled by outside control or resistance, 
as a supreme imperial or constitutional power in the hands 
of a single party or a single people? Have we any such 
prospect in view? 

This is the question, and stated thus it is a truly redoubt- 
able one. Mankind, as well as the individual man, always 
moves in the direction of the greatest truth and power, of 
the greatest sum of conviction and confidence, in a word, of 
the greatest attainable belief; and we may question whether 
this maximum can be reached though the development of 
discussion, competition, and criticism, or, inversely, through 
their suppression and through the boundless opening out 
through imitation of a single expanding and at che same 
time compact thought or volition. 

But the preceding digression has made us anticipate 
questions which can be discussed more advantageously else- 
where. Let us return to the subject of this chapter, and, 
after reviewing the principal analogies between the three 
forms of Repetition, let us note for a moment their equally 
instructive points of difference. In the first place, the soli- 

34 Laws of Imitation 

darity of these forms is not reciprocal, it is one-sided. 
Generation depends upon undulation, but undulation does 
not depend upon generation. Imitation depends upon them 
both; but they do not depend upon imitation. After two 
thousand years, the manuscript of Cicero's Republic was 
recovered and published. It became a source of inspira- 
tion. This posthumous imitation would not have occurred 
if the molecules of the parchment had not surely continued 
to vibrate (if only from the effect of the surrounding tem- 
perature) ; and if, in addition, human reproduction had 
not gone on from Cicero to us without interrup- 
tion. It is remarkable that here, as elsewhere, the most 
complex and unconditioned term is always supported by 
those which are least so. The inequality of the three 
terms in this respect is, indeed, obvious. Vibrations are 
linked together, being both isochronous and contiguous, 
whereas living things are detached and separate from 
each other, and their duration varies considerably. More- 
over, the higher up in the scale they are, the more indepen- 
dent they become. Generation is a free kind of undulation, 
whose waves are worlds in themselves. Imitation does 
still better; its influence is exerted not only over a great 
distance, but over great intervals of time. It establishes 
a pregnant relation between the inventor and his copier, 
separated as they may be by thousands of years, between 
Lycurgus and a member of the French Convention, between 
the Roman painter of a Pompeiian fresco and the modern 
decorator whom it has inspired. Imitation is generation 
at a distance. 1 It seems as if these three forms of repeti- 
tion were three undertakings of its single endeavour to ex- 
tend the field of its activity, to successfully cut off every 

1 If, as Ribot thinks, memory is only the cerebral form of nutrition, 
if, on the other hand, nutrition is only an internal generation, finally, 
if Imitation is nothing but social memory (see my Logique sociale on 
this subject), it follows that there is not only an analogy, as I have 
shown, between Generation and Imitation, but a fundamental identity. 
Imitation, the elementary and persistent social phenomenon, would be 
the social sequel and equivalent of Generation taken in its most compre- 
hensive sense to include Nutrition. 

Universal Repetition 35 

chance of revolt in elements which are always quick to over- 
throw the yoke of law, and by more and more ingenious and 
potent methods to constrain their tumultuous crowd to pro- 
ceed in orderly masses of constantly increasing strength and 
organisation. This advance may be illustrated by compar- 
ing it to that of a cyclone or epidemic or insurrection. A 
cyclone whirls from neighbourhood to neighbourhood ; none 
of its blast ever tears from it to leap over intervening space 
and carry its virus to a distance. An epidemic, on the other 
hand, rages in a zig-zag line; it may spare one house or vil-i 
lage among many, and it strikes down almost simultane- 
ously those which are far apart. An insurrection will 
spread still more freely from workshop to workshop, or 
from capital to capital. It may start from a telegraphic an- 
nouncement, or, at times, the contagion may even come 
from the past, out of a dead and buried epoch. 

There is still another important difference. In imita- 
tion, the product is generally in a state of complete de- 
velopment; it is spared the fumblings of the first workman. 
This artistic kind of process is consequently much more 
rapid than the vital process; embryonic phases and phases 
of infancy and adolescence are suppressed. And yet life it- 
self does not ignore the art of abbreviation. For if, as is 
thought, embryonic phases repeat (with certain restric- 
tions) the zoological and paleontological series of preced- 
ing and allied species, it is clear that this individual re- 
capitulation of a prolonged race elaboration must have be- 
come marvellously succinct at last. But during the course 
of the generations which pass under our own observation, 
periods of gestation and growth are not noticeably cur- 
tailed. The only fact that can be determined in this direc- 
tion is the reproduction of hereditary traits or diseases at an 
earlier age in the offspring than in the parent. Let us com- 
pare this slight advance with the progress of our manufac- 
tures. Our watches, pins, textiles, all our goods, are manu- 
factured in one-tenth or one-hundredth part of the time 
which they originally required. As for vibration, in what 
an infinitesimal degree it shares in this faculty of accelera- 

36 Laws of Imitation 

tion ! Successive waves would be strictly isochronous, that 
is, would take the same amount of time to be born, mature, 
and die in, if their temperature remained constant. But 
their oscillation necessarily results in the heating of their 
medium (this fact is known, at least, in the case of sound 
waves, according to the correction made in Newton's for- 
mula by La Place), and in the consequent acceleration of 
their rate. This brings with it but little saving of time, 
however. There is infinitely more time gained from the 
mechanisms for repetition which characterise life and, 
especially, society; for the products of imitation, as I have 
said before, are entirely free from the obligation to traverse, 
even in abridgment, the steps of prior advances. Changes 
in the world of life are also much less rapid than those in 
society. The most earnest upholder of the doctrine of 
rapid evolution will readily admit that the wing of the bird 
did not replace the limb of the reptile as rapidly as our 
modern locomotives were substituted for stage-coaches. 
One of the consequences of this observation is to relegate 
historic naturalism to its true place. According to this 
view, social institutions, laws, ideas, literature, and arts must 
always, of necessity, spring from the very bottom of a peo- 
ple to slowly germinate and blossom forth like bulbs. 
Nothing can ever be created, complete in all its parts, in a 
nation's soil. This proposition holds true as long as a com- 
munity has not passed beyond the natural phase of its ex- 
istence, that in which, under the dominating rule of custom- 
imitation, to which I will refer later on, its changes are as 
much conditioned by heredity as by imitation pure and 
simple. But as soon as imitation becomes freer, as soon as 
a spirit of radicalism arises which threatens to carry out its 
revolutionary programme overnight, we must beware of 
any undue reassurance, against the possibility of such a 
danger, that we might base upon the alleged laws of his- 
toric growth. It is a mistake in politics not to believe in 
the improbable and never to foresee what has not already 
been seen. 



IN the preceding chapter I merely stated, without de- 
veloping, the thesis that imitation is the cause of all social 
likeness. But this formula must not be lightly accepted; 
to grasp its truth and that of the two analogous formulas 
relating to biological and physical resemblances, it must 
be thoroughly understood: Upon our first glance at so- 
cieties, exceptions and objections seem to abound. 

i. In the first place, many points of anatomical or phy- 
siological likeness between two living species belonging 
to different types cannot be explained, apparently, by hered- 
itary repetition, because in many cases the common pro- 
genitor to whom they may both be traced, is, or theoretically 
should be, without the characteristics in question. The 
whale, for example, assuredly does not inherit its fishlike 
shape from the common hypothetical forefather from 
which both fish and mammals must have developed. If 
a bee reminds us in its flight of a bird, we have still 
less reason for thinking that bird and bee have inherited 
their wings and elytra from their very remote ancestor, 
who was probably a creeping and non-flying creature. The 
same observation may be made about the similar instincts 
that are displayed, according to Darwin and Romanes, by 
many animals of very distant species. Take, for example, 
the instinct to sham death as a means of escape from danger. 
This instinct is common to the fox, to certain insects, spi- 
ders, serpents, and birds. In this case, similarity of in- 
stinct can be accounted for only through homogeneity of 
physical environment. All these heterogeneous creatures 
have depended upon the same environment for the satisfac- 
tion of those fundamental wants which are essential to all 
life and which are identical in each one of them. Now, 


38 Laws of Imitation 

homogeneity of physical environment is nothing else but 
the uniform propagation of homogeneous waves of light or 
heat 'or sound through air or water that is itself composed 
of atoms in constant and uniform vibration. As for the 
homogeneity of the fundamental functions and properties 
of every cell, of all protoplasm (of nutrition, for example, 
or of irritability), must it not be explained through the 
molecular constitution of the ever homogeneous chemical 
elements of life, that is, according to hypothesis, through 
the inner rhythms of their indefinitely repeated movements, 
rather than through the transmission of characteristics, by 
fission or some other kind of reproduction, from the first 
protoplasmic germ, admitting that in the beginning only a 
single germ was spontaneously formed? Therefore, al- 
though the above class of analogies is not due to the vital 
or hereditary form of repetition, it has originated in its 
physical or vibratory form. 

In like manner there are always between two separate 
peoples who have reached an original civilisation by inde- 
pendent routes, certain general resemblances in language, 
mythology, politics, industry, art, and literature, where 
mutual imitation plays no part. Quatrefages relates that 
" when Cook visited the New Zealanders, they were strange- 
ly like the Highlanders of Rob Roy and Maclvoy " (Espece 
humaine, p. 336). Now, resemblance between the social 
organisation of the Maoris and the ancient Scotch clans 
is certainly not due to any common ground of traditions, and 
no philologist would amuse himself by deriving their respec- 
tive tongues from a common parent language. When Cortez 
reached Mexico, he found that the Aztecs, like many Old- 
World nations, were possessed of a king and orders of nobil- 
ity and of agricultural and industrial classes. Their agricul- 
ture, with its floating islands and perfected system of irri- 
gation, was suggestive of China; their architecture, their 
painting, and their hieroglyphic writing, of Eygpt. Their 
calendar testified, in spite of its peculiar character, to astro- 
nomical knowledge which corresponded to that of contempo- 
rary Europeans. Although their religion was sanguinary, it 

Social Resemblances and Imitation 39 

resembled Christianity in some of its rites, particularly in 
those of baptism and confession. In certain instances the 
coincidences of detail are so astonishing that they have led 
some people to believe that Old- World arts and institutions 
were brought over directly by shipwrecked Europeans. 1 
But in these comparisons and in an infinite number of 
others of the same kind, is it not nearer the truth to recog- 
nise the fundamental unity of human nature on the one 
hand and the uniformity of external nature on the other? 
In human nature, those organic wants whose satisfaction is 
the end of all social evolution are everywhere the same; all 
human beings have the same senses and the same brain struc- 
ture. In external nature, about the same resources are offered 
for the satisfaction of about the same wants, and approxi- 
mately the same spectacles to approximately the same eyes, 
consequently the world's industries, arts, perceptions, myths, 
and theories must be all pretty much alike. These resem- 
blances, like those referred to above, would be instances of 
the general principle that all likeness is born of repetition. 
But, although they are themselves social, they are caused by 
repetitions of a biological or physical order, by the hereditary 
transmission of the human functions and organs which con- 
stitute the human races, and by the vibratory transmission 
of the temperatures, colours, sounds, electrical currents, and 
chemical affinities which constitute the climes and soils in- 
habited and cultivated by man. 

Here we have the objection or the exception in its full 

1 In fact, there are many striking points of comparison. Civilisation 
in America, as in Europe, has passed successively " from the age of 
stone to the age of bronze by the same methods and under the same 
forms. The teocalli of Mexico correspond to the pyramids of Egypt; 
the mounds of North America may be compared to the tumuli of 
Brittany and Scythia; the pylones of Peru reproduce those of Etruria 
and Egypt" (Clemence Royer, Revue scientifique, July 31, 1886). It is 
a still more surprising fact that the only affinities of the Basque 
tongue seem to be with certain of the American languages. The bearing 
of these resemblances is weakened by the fact that the points of com- 
parison are not drawn from two given civilisations, but, more artificially, 
from a large number of different civilisations in both the Old World and 
the New. 

40 Laws of Imitation 

force. In spite of its apparent gravity, it. merely offers an op- 
portunity of copying in sociology a distinction that is usual 
in comparative anatomy between analogies and homologies. 
Now, resemblances such as that between the insect's elytra 
and the bird's wings seem superficial and meaningless to 
the naturalist. They may be very striking, but he pays no 
attention to them. 1 He almost denies their existence. 
Whereas he attaches the highest value to resemblances 
between the wing of the bird, the limb of the reptile, and 
the fin of the fish. From his point of view these are close 
and deep-seated resemblances, quite different from the 
former kind. If this form of discrimination is legitimate 
for the naturalist, I do not see why the sociologist should 
be refused the right of treating the functional analogies of 
different languages, religions, governments, and civilisa- 
tions with equal contempt, and their anatomical homologies 
with equal respect. Philologists and mythologists are al- 
ready filled with this spirit. To the philologist there is no 
significance in the fact that the word for deity in Aztec is 
teotl, and in Greek, theos. In this he sees nothing but a 
coincidence; consequently he does not assert that teotl and 
theos are the same word. On the other hand, he does un- 
dertake to prove that bischop is the same word as episco- 
pus. z The reason of this is that no linguistic element 
should ever be detached at any instant in its evolution from 
all its anterior transformations nor considered apart from 
the other elements which it reflects and which reflect it. 
Accordingly, any likeness that may be proved to exist be- 
tween the isolated phases of two vocables which have been 
taken from their own language families and so separated 

1 The phenomenon of mimicry receives more attention. Hitherto this 
enigma has been undecipherable ; but if the key to it were really given 
by natural selection, it might be explained by the ordinary laws of 
heredity, by the hereditary fixation and accumulation of the individual 
variations most favourable to the welfare of the species which, in this 
way, comes to take on the lineaments of another as a disguise. 

2 The coincidence is the more singular, too, because the tl in teotl 
may be ignored, since this combination of consonants is the regular 
termination of Mexican words. Teo and theo (in the dative) have ab- 
solutely the same sense and the same sound. 

Social Resemblances and Imitation 41 

from all that which goes to make up their real life is only 
a factitious connection between two abstractions and not a 
true link between two real things. This consideration may 
be generalised. 1 

But this answer, which is nothing more than the denial 
of troublesome resemblances, is inadequate. On the con- 
trary, I hold that there certainly are many real and impor- 
tant resemblances which have been spontaneously produced 
between civilisations without any known or probable means 
of intercommunication. Moreover, I admit that, in gene- 
ral, when the current of human genius has once set towards 
inventions and discoveries, it finds itself confined by a sum 
of subjective and objective conditions, like a river by its 
banks, between narrow limits of development. Accord- 

1 Although customs of mutilation, circumcision, for example, tattoo- 
ing, or cutting the hair, in sign of religious or political subordination, 
are found in the most distant parts of the globe, in America and in 
Polynesia, as well as in the Old World ; although the totems of the 
South American savages remind us, if only a little, of the coats of arms 
of our mediaeval knights, etc. ; these coincidences and resemblances 
merely prove that actions are governed by beliefs, and that beliefs are 
largely suggested to man through the phenomena of external nature 
and through the innate tendencies of his own nature. The depths of 
human nature are the same everywhere, and in the phenomena of 
external nature there is, in spite of climatic variation, more similarity 
than dissimilarity. I admit that such analogies may not be caused 
by imitation. But they are at any rate only gross and indefinite. 
They are without sociological significance, just as the fact that insects 
are possessed of limbs, like vertebrates, and of eyes and wings, like 
birds, is insignificant from a biological point of view. On the other 
hand, although the bird's wing looks very different from the wing of 
the bat, they are really part of the same evolution and are possessed 
of the same past and of the possibility of experiencing the same future. 
In their successive transformations, these organs correspond in an 
endless number of particulars. They are homologous. Whereas, the 
bird's wing never has anything in common with the wing of the insect, 
except during one phase of their very unlike developments. 

Did the same ceremonies and the same religious meaning attach to 
circumcision among the Aztecs as among the Hebrews? On the con- 
trary, there was as much difference between them as between the 
Aztec rite of confession and ours. And yet this matter of ceremonies 
is the important thing from the social point of view; for it is the 
special part of the social environment which is directed by individual 
activity. Besides, this part is constantly on the increase. 

42 Laws of Imitation 

ingly, even in distant regions there may be a certain approx- 
imate similarity between its channels. It may even chance 
to show, less often, however, than we might suppose, a par- 
allelism of certain pregnant ideas, 1 of ideas which may be 
yery simple or, at times, quite complicated, which have ap- 
peared independently and which are equivalent to, if not 
identical with, one another. 2 But, in the first place, in as 
much as men have been forced by the uniformity of their 
organic wants to follow the same trend of ideas, we have a 
fact that belongs to the biological, and not to the social, 
order of resemblances. Consequently the biological and 
not the social principle of repetition is applicable. Paral- 
lelly when conditions of light and sound, identical to all 
intents and purposes, force animals belonging to different 
families to develop organs of sight and hearing which are 
not without some points of resemblance, the likeness, in this 
respect, is physical, not biological; it depends upon vibration, 
and therefore comes under the principle of physical repeti- 

Finally, how and why did human genius come to run 
its course at all, unless by virtue of certain initial 
causes which, in arousing it from its original torpor, also 
stirred up, one by one, the deep potential wants of the 
human soul ? And were not these causes certain primordial 
and capital inventions and discoveries which began to 
spread through imitation and which inspired their imitators 
with a taste for invention and discovery? The first crude 
conceptions of the rudiments of language and religion on 

1 They are all the more apt to be simple ideas, ideas exacting, but a 
slight effort of the imagination. This is true of some of the strangest 
freaks of custom. For example, in reading the work of M. Jametel upon 
China, I was surprised to see an account of the custom of eructation 
practised as an act of courtesy at the close of a meal. Now, according 
to M. Gamier and M. Hugonnet (La Grece nouvelle, 1889), the same 
ceremony is observed by modern Greeks. In both countries, evidently, 
the desire to give ample proof of repletion had suggested this ridiculous, 
although natural, custom. 

2 The same needs, for example, both in the Old World and in the 
New, prompted the ideas of domesticating the ox and taming the 
chamois in the former, and in the latter, of taming the bison, the buffalo, 
and the llama. (See Bourdeau, Conquete du monde animal, p. 212.) 

Social Resemblances and Imitation 43 

the part of some ape-man (I will speculate later on upon 
how this was done) carried man over the threshold from 
the animal to the social world. This difficult step must 
have been an unique event ; without it, our richly developed 
world would have been chained to the limbo of unrealised 
possibilities. Without this spark, the flame of progress 
would never have been kindled in the primaeval forests of 
savagery. This original act of imagination and its spread 
through imitation was the true cause, the sine qua 
non of progress. The immediate acts of imitation which it 
prompted were not its sole results. It suggested other acts 
of imagination which in turn suggested new acts and so 
on without end. 

Thus everything is related to it. Every social resem- 
blance precedes from that initial act of imitation of which it 
was the subject. I think I may compare it to that no less 
extraordinary event which occurred on the globe, many 
thousands of centuries in advance, when, for the first time, 
a tiny mass of protoplasm originated in some unknown way 
and began to multiply by fission. Every resemblance be- 
tween existing forms of life is the outcome of this first 
repetition in heredity. For it would be futile to conjecture, 
purely gratuitously, that protoplasm, or language, or myth- 
ology originated at more than one centre of creation. As 
a matter of fact, granted the hypothesis of polygenism, we 
could not deny that, after a more or less prolonged struggle 
and competition, the best and most prolific of the different 
spontaneous specimens must have triumphed alone in the 
extermination or assimilation of its rivals. 

There are two facts which we should not overlook : first, 
that the desire to invent and discover grows, like any other 
desire, with its satisfaction; second, that every invention 
resolves itself into the timely intersection in one mind of 
a current of imitation with another current which re- 
enforces it, or with an intense perception of some objective 
fact which throws new light on some old idea, or with the 
lively experience of a need that finds unhoped-for resources 
in some familiar practice. But if we analyse the feelings. 

44 Laws of Imitation 

and perceptions in question, we shall find that they them- 
selves may be resolved almost entirely, and more and more 
completely as civilisation advances, into psychological ele- 
ments formed under the influence of example. Every 
natural phenomenon is seen through the prisms and coloured 
glasses of a mother tongue, or national religion, or ruling 
prejudice, or scientific theory, from which the most unbiassed 
and unimpassioned observation cannot emancipate itself 
without self-destruction. Moreover, every organic want is 
experienced in the characteristic form which has been sanc- 
tioned by surrounding example. The social environment, 
in defining and actualising this form, has, in truth, appro- 
priated it. Even desires for nutrition and reproduction 
have been transformed, so to speak, into national products. 
Sexual desire is changed into a desire to be married accord- 
ing to the different religious rites of different localities. 
Desire for food is expressed in one place as a desire for a 
certain kind of bread or meat, in another, for a certain kind 
of grain or vegetable. This is all the more true of the nat- 
ural desire for amusement. It expresses itself as desire for 
circus sports, for bull-fights, for classical tragedies, for nat- 
uralistic novels, for chess, for piquet, for whist. From this 
point of view several lines of imitation intersected one 
another in the brilliant eighteenth-century idea of ap- 
plying the steam-engine, which had already been em- 
ployed in factories, to the satisfaction of the desire for ocean 
travel a desire which had originated through the spread 
of many antecedent naval inventions. The subsequent ad- 
aptation of the screw to the steamboat, both of which had 
been known of separately for a long time, was a similar 
idea. When Harvey had optical proof of the valves of the 
veins, and when this combined in his mind with his exist- 
ing anatomical knowledge, he discovered the circulation of 
the blood. This discovery was hardly anything more, on 
the whole, than the encounter of traditional truths with 
others (namely, with the methods and practices which 
Harvey had long followed docilely as a disciple, and which 
alone enabled him to finally advance his master proposi- 

Social Resemblances and Imitation 45 

tion). The development of a new theorem in the mind 
of a geometrician through the combination of two old 
theorems is pretty nearly analogous. 

Since, then, all inventions and discoveries are composed 
of prior imitations; excepting certain extraneous accretions, 
of themselves unfruitful, and since these composites 
are themselves imitated and are destined to become, in turn, 
elements of still more complex combinations, it follows that 
there is a genealogical tree of such successful initiatives 
and that they appear in an irreversible, although other- 
wise indeterminate, sequence, suggestive of the pange- 
netic theory of the old philosophers. Every successful in- 
vention actualises one of the thousand possible, or rather, 
given certain conditions, necessary, inventions, which are 
carried in the womb of its parent invention, and by its ap- 
pearance it annihilates the majority of those possibilities 
and makes possible a host of heretofore impossible inven- 
tions. These latter inventions will or will not come into 
existence according to the extent and direction* of the radia- 
tion of its imitation through communities which are 
already illuminated by other lights. To be sure, only the 
most useful, if you please, of the future inventions and 
by most useful I mean those which best answer the problems 
of the time will survive, for every invention, like every dis- 
covery, is an answer to a problem. But aside from the fact 
that these problems, 1 inasmuch as they are themselves the 
vague expressions of certain indefinite wants, are capable of 
manifold solutions; the point of interest is to know how, 
why, and by whom they have been raised ; why one date was 
chosen rather than another, and, finally, why one solution 
was chosen in one place, and another in another place. 2 

1 In politics they are called questions: the Eastern question, the 
social question, etc. 

2 Sometimes the same solution is adopted almost everywhere, although 
the problem may have lent itself to other solutions. That is, you may 
say, because the choice in question is the most natural one. True, but 
is not this the very reason, perhaps, why, although it was disclosed only 
in one place, and not everywhere at the same time, it ended by spreading 
in all directions? For example, almost all primitive peoples think of 
the future abode of the wicked as subterranean and of that of the good 

46 Laws of Imitation 

All this depends upon individual initiatives, upon the nature 
of the scholars and inventors of the past. From the earliest 
of these, the greatest, perhaps, our avalanche of progress 
has rolled down out of the zenith of history. 

It is difficult for us to imagine how necessary genius and 
exceptional circumstances were for the development of the 
simplest ideas. To tame and make use of harmless in- 
digenous animals, instead of merely hunting them, would 
seem at first to be the most natural, as well as the 
most fruitful, of initiatives, an inevitable initiative, in 
fact. Yet we know that, although the horse originally be- 
longed to the American fauna, it had disappeared from 
America when that continent was discovered, and, according 
to Bourdeau, its disappearance is generally explained (Con- 
quete du, monde animal) on the ground that " in many 
places (in the Old World as well) it had been annihilated by 
the hunter for food, before the herdsman had conceived the 
idea of domesticating it." And so we see that this idea was 
far from being an inevitable one. The domestication of the 
horse depended upon some individual accident. It had to 
occur in some one place whence it could spread through imi- 
tation. But what is true of this quadruped is undoubtedly 
true of all domestic animals and of all cultivated plants. 
Now, can we imagine humanity without these prime in- 
ventions ! 

In general, if we do not wish to explain resemblances be- 
tween communities which are separated by more or less in- 
surmountable obstacles (although these may not have 
existed in the past), through the common possession of 
some entirely forgotten primitive model, only one other ex- 
planation, as a rule, remains. Each community must have 
exhausted all the inventions which were possible in a given 
line save the one adopted, and eliminated all its other 

as celestial. The similarity of such conceptions is often minute. Ac- 
cording to Tylor, the Salish Indians of Oregon believe that the bad 
dwell after death in a place of eternal snow, where they " are tantalised 
by the sight of game which they cannot kill, and water which they 
cannot drink" [Primitive Culture, II, 84, Edward B. Tylor, London, 
1871. Tr.] 

Social Resemblances and Imitation 47 

useless or less useful ideas. But the comparative barren- 
ness of imagination which characterises primitive people is 
opposed to this hypothesis. We should then accept the 
former hypothesis and refuse to renounce it without good 
reason. Is it certain, for example, that the idea of building 
lake dwellings came to the ancient inhabitants of both 
Switzerland and New Guinea without any suggestion of 
imitation ? The same question arises in relation to the cut- 
ting and polishing of flints, to the use of tendons and fish- 
bones for sewing, or to the rubbing together of two pieces 
of wood for fire. Before we deny the possibility of a diffu- 
sion of these ideas through a world-wide process of gradual 
and prolonged imitation, the immense duration of prehis- 
toric times must be brought to mind, and we must not 
overlook the evidence of the existence of relations be- 
tween very distant peoples not only in the age of bronze, 
when tin was sometimes brought from a great distance, but 
also in the smooth stone and perhaps even in the rough 
stone age. The great invasions which have raged at all 
periods of history must have aided and often universalised 
the spread of civilising ideas. Even in prehistoric "times 
this was true. Indeed it must have been especially true in 
those times, for the ease with which great conquests are 
effected depends upon the primitive and disintegrated 
nature of the people to be conquered. The irruption of the 
Mongols in the thirteenth century is a good instance of these 
periodic deluges, and we know that it broke down, in the 
full tide of medievalism, the closest of race barriers and 
put China and Hindustan into communication with each 
other and with Europe. 1 

1 In a very interesting article in the Revue des Deux Mondes of 
May i, 1890, M. Goblet d'Alviella aptly comments upon the rapidity and 
facility of the circulation of religious symbols by means of travellers, 
of slavery, and of currency, the latter of which is a veritable system 
of moving bas-reliefs. This is true also of political symbols. The 
two-headed eagle, for example, on the arms of both the Emperor of 
Austria and the Czar of Russia has come down to them from the 
ancient Germanic empire. It was brought there through the Eastern 
expedition of Frederick the Second in the thirteenth century, when he 
borrowed it from the Turks. Furthermore, M. Goblet d'Alviella says 

48 Laws of Imitation 

Even in default of such violent events, a world-wide in- 
terchange of examples could not have failed to take place 
eventually. At this point, let me make the following general 
remark: The majority of historians are not inclined to 
admit the influence of one civilisation upon another unless 
they can prove the existence of some intercommercial or 
military relations. They think, implicitly, that the action 
of one nation upon another at a distance, of Egypt upon 
Mesopotamia, for example, or of China upon the Roman 
Empire, presupposes the transportation of troops or the 
sending of ships or caravans from one to the other. They 
would not admit, for example, that currents of Babylonian 
and Egyptian civilisation may have intermingled before the 
conquest of Mesopotamia by Egypt in the sixteenth century 
before our era. Oppositely, in virtue of the same point of 
view, as soon as a similarity of works of art, of monuments, 
of tombs, of mortuary relics, proves to them the action of 
one civilisation upon another, they at once conclude that 
wars or regular transactions of some kind must have 
occurred between them. 

In view of the relations which I have established between 
the three forms of universal repetition, the above precon- 
ception suggests the error of the old-time physicists, who 
saw in every physical action between two distant bodies, like 
the imparting of heat or light, the proof of a transmission 
of matter. Did not Newton himself think that the diffu- 
sion of solar light was produced by the emission of particles 
projected by the sun through boundless space? There is 
as much difference between my point of view and the ordi- 
nary one as there is in optics between the vibratory theory 
and the theory of emission. Of course I do not deny that 

that there are reasons for thinking that the astonishing likeness between 
this two-headed eagle and the eagle which is also two-headed and which 
figures upon the most ancient bas-reliefs of Mesopotamia, is due to a 
series of imitations. Note in this same article the reference to the 
widespread imitation of the Gamma cross as a luck piece. It is prob- 
able, on the other hand, that the idea of using the cross to symbolise 
the god of the air or the compass-card arose spontaneously and not 
through imitation in Mesopotamia and in the Aztec empire. 

Social Resemblances and Imitation 49 

social action is effected, or rather aroused, by the movements 
of armies or merchant vessels; but I challenge the view that 
such movements are the sole or even the principal mode 
through which the contagion of civilisation takes place. 
Men of different civilisations come into mutual contact on 
their respective frontiers, where, independently of war or 
trade, they are naturally inclined to imitate one another. 
And so, without its being necessary for them to displace one 
another in the sense of checking the spread of one another's 
examples, they continually and over unlimited distances 
react upon one another, just as the molecules of the sea 
drive forward its waves without displacing one another in 
their direction. Consequently, long before the arrival of 
Pharaoh's army in Babylon, sundry external observances 
and industrial secrets had passed from hand to hand, in 
some way or other, from Egypt to Babylon. 

Here we have the first principle of history. Let us note 
closely the continuity, the power and the irresistibility of 
its action. Given the necessary time, it will inevitably 
reach out to the ends of the earth. Now, in view of the fact 
that man's past is to be reckoned in hundreds of thousands 
of years, there is ample reason to think that it must have 
spread through the entire universe before the nearby his- 
toric ages which we call antiquity, began. 

Moreover, it is not necessary that the thing which is 
propagated should be beautiful or useful or rational. In 
the Middle Ages, for example, a grotesque custom existed 
in many different places of parading, seated backwards upon 
an ass, husbands who had been beaten by their wives. 
Obviously such an absurd idea could not have arisen spon- 
taneously at the same time in different brains. Was it not 
due to imitation? And yet M. Baudrillart is led by current 
prejudice to believe that popular festivals originated of 
themselves without any conscious or deliberate individual 
initiative. " The festivals of Tarasque at Tarascon, of 
Graouilli at Metz, of Loup vert at Jumieges, of Gargouille 
at Rouen, and many others, he says, were never established, 
in all probability, by a formal decree [I admit this] or 

50 Laws of Imitation 

by premeditated desire [the error is here] ; they were made 
periodic by unanimous and spontaneous agreement. . . ." 
Imagine thousands of people simultaneously conceiving and 
spontaneously carrying out such extraordinary things ! 

To sum up, everything which is social and non-vital or 
non-physical in the phenomena of societies is caused by im- 
itation. This is true of both social similarities and dissimi- 
larities. And so, the epithet natural is generally and not im- 
properly bestowed upon the spontaneous and non-suggested 
resemblances which arise between different societies in 
every order of social facts. If we like to look at societies on 
the side of their spontaneous resemblances, we have the 
right to call this aspect of their laws, cults, governments, 
customs and crimes, natural law, natural religion, natural 
governments, natural industry, natural art (I do not 
mean naturalistic art), natural crime. Now, such sponta- 
neous resemblances have, of course, some significance. 
But, unfortunately, we waste our time in trying to get at 
their exact meaning, and because of their irremediable 
vagueness and arbitrariness of character, they must end 
by repelling the positive and scientifically trained mind. 

I may be reminded of the fact that although imitation 
is a social thing, the tendency to imitate in order to avoid 
the trouble of inventing, a tendency which is born of in- 
stinctive indolence, is an absolutely natural thing. But al- 
though this tendency may, of necessity, precede the first 
social act, the act whereby it is satisfied, yet its own strength 
and direction varies very much according to the nature of 
existing habits of imitation. It may still be argued that 
this tendency is only one form of a desire which I myself 
hold to be innate and deep-seated and from which I deduce, 
later on, all the laws of social reason, namely, desire for a 
maximum of strong and stable belief. If these laws exist, 
the resemblances which they produce in people's ideas and 
institutions have, in as much as there can be nothing social 
in their origin, a natural and non-social cause. For 
example, the savages of America, Africa, and Asia all ex- 
plain sickness on the ground of diabolical possession, the 

Social Resemblances and Imitation 51 

entrance of evil spirits into the body of the diseased this, 
in itself, is quite a singular coincidence; then when they 
have once adopted this explanation they all conceive of the 
idea of curing through exorcism as a logical outcome. In 
reply, I say that although it cannot be denied that there is 
a certain logical orientation on the part of the presocial 
man, the desire for logical co-ordination has been enhanced 
and directed by the influences of the social environment, 
where it is subject to the widest and strangest fluctuations} 
and where, like every other desire, it waxes strong and defi- 
nite according to the measure of satisfaction which it re- 
ceives. We shall see the proof of this at another time. 

2. This leads me to examine another leading objec- 
tion which may be raised against me. As a matter of fact, 
I have gained little in proving that all civilisations, even 
the most divergent, are rays from a single primordial 
centre, if there are reasons for thinking that, after a certain 
point, the distance between them begins to diminish rather 
than increase, and that, whatever may have been the point 
of departure, the evolution of languages, myths, crafts, 
laws, sciences, and arts has been drawing nearer and nearer 
to a beaten track, so that their goal must always have been 
the same, predetermined and inevitable. 

It is for us to ascertain if this hypothesis be true. It 
is not true. Let me first point out the extravagant conse- 
quence that it involves. It implies that, given sufficient time, 
the scientific spirit must lead, no matter what its path of 
speculation may be, to the infinitesimal calculus in mathe- 
matics, to the law of gravitation in astronomy, to the union 
of forces in physics, to atomism in chemistry, and in bi- 
ology to natural selection or to some other ulterior form 
of evolution. Moreover, since the industrial and the mili- 
tary and the artistic imagination must have depended upon 
this would-be unique and inevitable science in their search 
for the means of satisfying virtually innate wants, it follows 
that the invention of the locomotive and the electric tele- 
graph, for example, of torpedoes and Krupp guns, of 
Wagnerian opera and naturalistic novels, was a necessary 

52 Laws of Imitation 

thing, more necessary, perhaps, than the simplest expres- 
sion of the art of pottery. Now, unless I am much mis- 
taken, one might as well say that from its very beginnings 
and throughout all its metamorphoses, life tended to give 
birth to certain predetermined forms of existence and that 
the duck-bill, for example, or the lizard or ophrys or cactus 
or man himself was a necessary occurrence. Would it not 
be more plausible to admit that the ever fresh problem of 
life was of itself undertermined and susceptible of multiple 
solutions ? 

The illusion which I am opposing owes its verisimili- 
tude to a kind of quid pro quo. The progress of civilisation 
is unquestionably manifest in the gradual equalisation 
that is being established throughout an ever vaster territory. 
This process is so thorough that some day, perhaps, a 
single stable and definite social type will cover the entire 
surface of a globe 1 that was formerly divided up among a 
thousand different unrelated or rival types. But does the 
work of universal equalisation in which we are taking part 
reveal the slightest common movement on the part of differ- 
ent societies towards the same pole ? Not in the least, since 
the equalisation is plainly due to the submersion of the 
greater number of our original civilisations by the over- 
flow of one whose waters are advancing in continually 
enlarging circles of imitation. To see how far independent 
civilisations are from tending to merge together spon- 
taneously, let us compare in their stages of final develop- 
ment the Byzantine Empire of the Middle Ages, for 
example, with the Chinese Empire of the same epoch. Both 
civilisations had long since put forth all their fruit and 
reached their extreme limits of growth. The question 
at issue is whether in this final state of consummation 
they resembled each other more than they did at any previous 

1 In the long run, however, as we shall see later on, the exclusive 
imitation of custom will have to prevail over the proselyting imitation 
of fashion. As a result of this law, the disintegration of mankind into 
distinct states and civilisations may very possibly be the final stage 
of society. Only, these civilisations will be less in number and greater 
in scale than those of past or present times. 

Social Resemblances and Imitation 53 

time. It seems to me that the very opposite is much more 
true. Compare Saint Sophia with its mosaics to a pagoda 
with its porcelains, the mystic miniatures of Byzantine 
manuscripts to the flat paintings of Chinese vases, the life 
of a mandarin occupied with literary frivolities and setting 
but an intermittent example of labour to that of a Byzantine 
bishop, devoted to the mingled ruses and subtleties of di- 
plomacy and theology, etc. The contrast is complete be- 
tween the ideal of exquisite landscape gardening, of swarm- 
ing families, and of lowered morality that is dear to one of 
these peoples, and the ideal of Christian salvation, of mon- 
astic celibacy and of ascetic perfection which fascinates the 
other. It is difficult to class under the same term of religion 
the ancestor-worship which is the basis of the one, and the 
worship of divine personages or of saints which is the soul 
of the other. But if I go back to the most ancient ages of 
those Greeks and Romans whose twofold culture was 
amalgamated and completed in the Lower Empire, I shall 
find a family organisation which would seem to be pat- 
terned after that of China. In fact, in the ancient Aryan, 
and, I may add, Semitic, family, we find, as in the Chinese 
family, not only the worship of ancestors and of household 
gods, we also find the same contrivances for honouring the 
dead, namely, food offerings and the singing of hymns ac- 
companied by genuflexion. We find, too, the same fictions, 
particularly the fiction of adoption whose purpose is to ac- 
complish, in spite of the occasional barrenness of wives, 
the chief end in view, the perpetuation with the family of 
the family-cult. 

We shall have the counterproof of this truth, if, instead 
of comparing two original peoples at two successive phases 
of their history, we compare two classes or two social levels 
in each of them. The traveller, to be sure, will observe 
that there is greater dissimilarity in many European coun- 
tries, even in the most backward, between the common peo- 
ple who have remained faithful to their ancient customs 
than between persons belonging to the upper classes. But 
it is because the latter have been the first to be touched by 

54 Laws of Imitation 

the rays of invading fashion; here the resemblance is ob- 
viously the child of imitation. On the other hand, when 
two nations have remained hermetically shut off from each 
other, there are certainly greater differences between the 
ideas, the tastes, and the habits of their nobles or clergy than 
between those of their farmers or mechanics. 

The reason of this is that the more civilised a nation or 
class becomes, the more it escapes from the narrow banks in 
whose thraldom the same universal corporeal wants have 
hemmed its development. It flows out into the freedom of the 
aesthetic life, where its ship of art is wafted at the pleasure of 
the breezes with which its own past fills its sails. If civilisa- 
tion were only the full expansion of organic life by means of 
the social environment, this would not be so; but it seems as 
if life, in expanding in this way, sought above all to free 
itself from itself, to break through its own circle; as if it 
bloomed only to wither away, as if nothing were more es- 
sential to it (this is the case with all reality, perhaps), 'than 
to rid itself of its very essence. Accordingly, the super- 
fluity, the luxury, the thing of beauty, I mean the special 
thing of beauty which every nation and every age makes its 
own, is, in every society, the pre-eminently social thing; 
it is the raison d'etre of all the rest, of all that which is use- 
ful and necessary. Now we shall see that the exclusively 
imitative origin of resemblances becomes more and more 
indisputable as one passes from things of use to things of 
beauty. Artistic habits of eye, born of ancient individual 
caprice in art, become super-organic wants which the artist 
is obliged to satisfy, and which singularly limit the field 
of his fancy. But this imitation, which has nothing vital 
in it, varies as much as possible with time and place. Thus 
the eye of the Greek, beginning with a certain epoch, 
needed to see his columns in keeping with the Ionic or Co- 
rinthian order, whereas the eye of the Egyptian, under the 
Old Empire, exacted a square pier, and, under the Middle 
Empire, a column with lotos-bulb capital. Here, in this 
sphere of pure art, or rather of almost pure art, for archi- 
tecture will always be an industrial art, my formula relating 

Social Resemblances and Imitation 55 

to imitation as the unique cause of true social resemblances, 
applies to the very letter. 

It would apply still more exactly in sculpture, painting, 
music, and poetry. In fact, the aesthetic ideas and judg- 
ments to which art corresponds, do not exist before it. 
They have nothing in them that is fixed and uniform. 
They differ from the bodily wants and sense-perceptions 
which in a certain measure predetermine works of in- 
dustry and force them to repeat themselves vaguely among 
different peoples. When a product belongs both to in- 
dustry and to art, we must expect it to be like other 
products from foreign and independent sources in its in- 
dustrial characteristics and to differ from them on its 
aesthetic side. In general, this differential element seems 
of slight importance to the practical man. Are not the 
monuments, the vases, the furniture, and the hymns and 
epics of different civilisations differentiated from each 
merely in detail? But detail, the characteristic shade, the 
turn of the sentence, the peculiar colouring, all this is style 
and manner; to the artist it is more important than any- 
thing else. The pointed arch of one place, the semi-circular 
of another, the pediment of still another, is both the most 
visible and most significant character of its respective 
society. It is the master-form which controls, instead of 
being controlled by, utilities, and, in this respect, it may 
well be likened to those morphological characteristics which 
rule over functions and by which living types are recog- 
nised. This is the reason why we can deny from the 
aesthetic, that is, from the most purely social, point of view, 
that any real likeness exists between works which differ 
from each other only in detail. We can assert, for ex- 
ample, that the graceful little Egyptian temple at Elephante 
is, in spite of its appearance, unlike a peripteral Greek temple. 
Consequently, we can set aside the question of ascertaining 
if this resemblance is not a proof that, as Champollion 
thought, Greece copied Egypt. After all, this amounts to 
saying that the formula applies the more exactly, the more 
it is a question of like products satisfying wants which are 
more artificial than natural, that is, which belong to a social 

56 Laws of Imitation 

rather than vital order of things. From this we may infer 
that if certain products ever intersected each other, products 
that were inspired by exclusively social motives, and that 
were absolutely disconnected from any vital functions, this 
principle would be verified with the utmost exactness. 

There has been much talk among artists of an alleged law 
of development which would subject the fine arts to turn 
forever in the same circle and repeat themselves indefinitely. 
Unfortunately no one has ever been able to formulate it with 
any precision without running foul of the facts. This ob- 
servation may be likewise applied, although in a lesser de- 
gree, as we should expect from what has preceded, to the 
development of religions, languages, governments, laws, 
morals, and sciences. Although M. Perrot shares in the 
aforesaid current prejudice, yet in his Histoire de I' art 
he is forced to admit that the evolution of architectural 
orders did not pass through analagous phases in Egypt and 
Greece. When the most ancient stone columns of both 
places came to take the place of wooden piers, they un- 
doubtedly began by more or less faithfully imitating them 
and they retained for a long time this counterfeit character; 
and in both countries the native plants, the acanthus in 
Greece, the lotos or palm in Egypt, were reproduced in the 
ornamentation of the capitals. Again, without doubt, the 
Greek or Egyptian column, massive and undivided as it 
was in the beginning, came to be subdivided into three 
parts, the capital, the shaft, and the base. Finally, the 
decoration of the capital in Greece and of the entire column 
in Egypt undoubtedly went on, becoming more and more 
complicated and surcharged with fresh ornamentation. 

But of these three analogies, the first is only another 
witness to our first principle, the instinctive imitativeness of 
social man, and the third sets off for us a necessary corol- 
lary of this principle, the gradual accumulation of non-con- 
tradictory inventions, thanks to the conservation and dif- 
fusion of each of them through the imitation of which each 
is the centre of radiation. As for the second, it is one of 
those functional analogies of which I spoke above. In fact, 
as soon as the need of shelter came to require dwellings of 

Social Resemblances and Imitation 57 

a certain elevation for its satisfaction, this tripartite divi- 
sion of the column was pretty much necessitated by the 
nature of the materials used and by the law of gravity. 
If we wish to get at the truth of the pseudo-law of re- 
ligious or political or other kinds of development which I 
have just been criticising in passing, we shall see that it 
may be resolved into resemblances which fall within the three 
preceding categories. If any fails to fall within them, it is 
because imitation has intervened. For example, the point 
of similarity between Christianity and Buddhism, but es- 
pecially between Christianity and the worship of Krishna, 
are so multiple, that they have seemed sufficient to some of 
the most learned authorities, notably to Weber, to justify 
the affirmation that an historical relationship exists between 
the aforesaid religions. The conjecture is the less astonish- 
ing because it is about proselyting religions. 

Besides, and here the significant divergences will stand 
out, among the Greeks the proportion of the supports were 
always modified in the same direction, " a higher and higher 
fraction expressed the ratio between the height of the 
shaft and its diameter. The Doric of the Parthenon is 
more slender than that of the old temple of Corinth; it is 
less so than the Roman Doric. This was not the case in 
Egypt, its forms did not tend to grow more tapering with 
the lapse of the centuries. The proportions of the polyg- 
onal or of the fascicular column of Beni-Hassan are not 
more thickset than those of the columns of much earlier 
monuments." We even find the contrary of this, the 
exact inverse of Hellenic evolution. " There are thus," con- 
cludes the author I cite from, " capricious oscillations in the 
course of Egyptian art. It is less regular than that of 
classic art; it does not seem to be governed by an equally 
severe internal logic." 2 

I prefer to say that it follows from this that art is un- 
willing to be shut up in a formula, since, at times, this 
formula, if formula there be, seems to apply, whereas at 

1 [Histoirc de I'art, I, 574, Georges Perrot and Charles Chipiez, Paris, 
1882. TV.] 

2 [Ibid., II, 57S- TV.] 

58 Laws of Imitation 

other times it is plain that it does not apply at all, and pre- 
cisely in that which to the eyes of those who know con- 
cerns the most important, the most expressive, and the most 
profound characteristics. When it is a question of look- 
ing at the column from the utilitarian point of view, ex- 
ternal conditions narrowly circumscribe the field of archi- 
tectural invention and impose certain fundamental ideas 
upon it like themes for variation. But when once the 
strait was crossed along which all schools had to follow in 
almost parallel courses, the schools turned in different direc- 
tions and drifted apart; and yet they were not more free, 
only each obeyed merely the inspirations of its own peculiar 
genius. From now on, there is an end to coincidences, and 
dissimilarities are deepened. 1 The individual influence of 
great masters, either living or dead, becomes sovereign and 
preponderant in the transformations of their arts. In this 
way the " capricious oscillations " of Egyptian architec- 
ture may be explained; and, if the development of Greek 
architecture appears to be more rectilinear, is this not an il- 
lusion? If we do not limit ourselves to the consideration of 
two or three remarkable centuries of Greek development, if 
we include the entire unfolding of Greek art from its scarcely 
known beginnings to its final Byzantine transformations, 
shall we not see that that increasing need of more slender 
proportions which M. Perrot points out, begins, at a certain 
epoch, to diminish? The birth and growth of this optical 
need was due to a series of elegant and graceful artists, just 
as generations of solid builders made the need of massive 
solidity a general and permanent thing on the banks of the 
Nile. And yet contributions of a different style were not 
lacking when an architect of originality, one less inclined to 
conform to the national genius than to reform it, made his 
appearance on the scene. But how much these considera- 
tions would gain by being illustrated by examples taken 
from the higher arts, from painting and poetry and music ! 

1 Do we find anything analogous to the obelisk outside of Egypt? 
It is because obelisks do not answer to a need that is for the most part 
natural, like doors or windows or like columns in so far as they are 
supports, but to a need that is almost entirely social. 



THE meaning which I attach to society can be clearly 
enough inferred from what has preceded, but it is proper 
to express this fundamental notion still more precisely. 


What is a society ? The general answer is as follows : It 
is a group of distinct individuals who render one another 
mutual services. But this definition is as false as it is clear. 
It has been the source of all those confusions which have so 
often been made between so-called animal societies, or the 
majority of them, and the only true societies, which do in- 
clude, in a certain connection, a small number of animals. 1 

For this wholly economic notion, a notion which bases the 
social group upon mutual helpfulness, it might be an ad- 
vantage to substitute a purely juristic conception of society. 
In this case, an individual would not be associated with 
those to whom he was useful or who were useful to him, 
but with those, and only with those, who had established 
over him recognised rights of law, custom, and conven- 
tionality, or over whom he had analogous rights, with or 
without reciprocity. But we shall see that although this 
is a preferable point of view, yet it unduly restricts the so- 
cial group, just as the economic point of view unduly en- 
larges it. Finally, we might think of the social tie as en- 
tirely political or religious in character. Belief in the same 
religion or collaboration for the same patriotic purpose, a 
purpose common to all the associates and one absolutely 
distinct from their different individual wants, for whose 

1 I should be sorry to have the reader find any implicit criticism in 
these lines of the work of M. Espinas upon " Animal Societies." That 
work is redeemed by too many true and profound insights to be ar 
raigned for the confusion referred to in the text. 

60 Laws of Imitation 

satisfaction it matters little whether they aid each other or 
not, would constitute a true social relationship. Such moral 
and mental unanimity is undoubtedly characteristic of ma- 
ture societies; but it is also true that social ties may begin 
without it. They exist, for example, among Europeans of 
different nationalities. Consequently, this definition is too 
narrow. Moreover, the conformity of aims and beliefs of 
which we are speaking, this mental likeness, which may 
characterise tens and hundreds of millions of men at the 
same time, is not born all of a sudden. It is produced 
little by little, and extends from one man to another by 
means of imitation. This, then, is always the point to which 
we must return. 

If the relation of one social unit to another consisted es- 
sentially of an exchange of services, we should not only 
have to recognise the right of animal groups to be called 
societies, we should have to admit that they were the socie- 
ties par excellence. The mutual services of shepherd and 
husbandman, of hunter and fisherman, of baker and butcher, 
are far less than those which the different sexes of white 
ants render one another. Among animals themselves, 
the most typical societies would not be formed by the 
highest, by bees, ants, horses, and beavers, but by the lowest, 
by the siphonophorse, for example, where division of labour 
is so complete that eating and digesting are carried on 
separately by different individuals. There can be no more 
signal interchange of services than this. Applying this 
view to mankind it might be saidj without irony, that the 
strength of the social tie between men was in proportion to 
the degree of their reciprocal usefulness. The master who 
shelters and nourishes his slave and the noble who defends 
and protects his serf, in return for their subordinate ser- 
vices, are examples of mutual service. The reciprocity is 
gained, to be sure, by force; but that fact is insignificant if 
the economic point of view is the primary one and if we 
think that it is bound to encroach more and more upon the 
juristic point of view. . . Consequently, the social tie be- 
tween the Spartan and the helot, or between a noble and his 

What is a Society ? 6 1 

serf, or between a Hindoo warrior and a Hindoo merchant, 
is stronger than that between free Spartan citizens, or that 
between the feudal nobles of a single country, or that be- 
tween the helots or serfs who live in the same village, in 
spite of the fact that the members of all these classes may 
possess the same customs and language and religion ! 

We have erred in thinking that societies in becoming 
civilised have favoured economic at the expense of juristic 
relations. In doing this, we forget that all labour and ser- 
vice and exchange is based upon a true system of contract, 
a system which is guaranteed by more and more formal and 
complex legislation; and we forget that to this accumula- 
tion of legal rules are added commercial and other kinds of 
usages which have the force of law, besides a host of all 
kinds of procedures, from the simple but general formalities 
of polite manners to electoral and parliamentary practices. 1 
Society is far more a system of mutually determined engage- 
ments and agreements, of rights and duties, than a system 
of mutual services. This is the reason why it is established 
between beings who are alike or who differ little from each 
other. Economic production exacts a specialisation of apt- 
itudes. If this specialisation were fully developed in ac- 
cordance with the logically inevitable although unexpressed 
wish of economists, we should have as many distinct hu- 
man species as there are miners, farmers, weavers, lawyers, 
physicians, etc. But, fortunately, the assured and undeni- 
able preponderance of juridical relations prevents any exces- 
sive differentiation of workers. In fact, it is continually 
diminishing such distinctions. Here Law, it is true, is 
only one form or outcome of man's inclination towards imi- 
tation. Is it from the standpoint of utilitarianism that the 
peasant is given an education and instructed in his rights 
when as the result of this kind of education the rural popu- 
lation may desert its plough and spade and the double 
mammal of husbandry and herding may dry up? The 

1 It is a mistake to think that the rule of ceremony, of ceremonial 
government, to use Spencer's term, is on the decline. At the side of 
outgrown conventions or dying-out ceremonial, vigorous ceremonies 
arise and multiply under the name of conventions. 

62 Laws of Imitation 

cult of equality has outweighed any fear of this latter 
contingency. We have wished to promote in the social 
scale certain classes which formerly, in spite of a constant 
exchange of services, did not come in for so much con- 
sideration and, consequently, we have appreciated that it 
was necessary to assimilate them through the contagion of 
imitation with the members of a higher grade of society. 
To put it better, it was necessary to bring into their mental 
and social life ideas, desires, and needs, in a word, individ- 
ual elements like those which constituted the mind and 
character of the members of that society. 

Beings which differ greatly in kind, the shark, for ex- 
ample, and the little fish which he uses as a mouth scavenger, 
or man and the domestic animals, can be of much service 
to each other, and at times, like the huntsman and his dog 
or like men and women very different as they often are from 
each other, work together in a common undertaking. But 
the recognition and assumption by two beings of mutual 
rights and obligations involves one indispensable condition, 
the possession of a common foundation of ideas and tradi- 
tions, of a common language or interpreter. These close 
points of likeness are formed by education, which is one of 
the forms by which imitation spreads. For this reason the 
recognition of mutual responsibilities never arose between 
the Spanish or English conquerors of America and the con- 
quered natives. In this case; racial dissimilarity either 
played a much smaller role than difference of language, 
custom, or religion; or it served merely as an added cause 
of incompatibility. 1 This is the reason, on the other hand, 
that a close chain of reciprocal rights and obligations 
united all members of the feudal tree from its topmost 
branch to its nethermost root in an eminently juridical in- 
stitution. Here, in fact, Christian propagandism had 

1 In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when military and 
civil populations were radically unlike, the standards of the time 
justified the perpetration of every kind of outrage, of rape, pillage, 
massacre, etc., by campaigning troops upon either friendly or hostile 
civilians. But among themselves soldiers were more sparing of one 

What is a Society ? 63 

produced in the twelfth century the most profound mental 
assimilation from the emperor to the serf that has ever 
been seen. And it was essentially because of this network 
of rights, that feudal Europe formed from one end of it to 
the other a true society, the society of Christendom, which 
was as widespread as Romanism (Romanitas) in the best 
days of the Roman Empire. If we require any counter- 
proof of this, we may find it in the fact that a real social tie 
is never established between the Chinese and Hindoo emi- 
grants to the Antilles and their white masters by their 
reciprocity of services, or even by their bilateral contracts, 
for they never become assimilated to one another. Here 
two or three distinct civilisations, two or three distinct 
groups of inventions which have spread out through imita- 
tion in their own particular spheres, come into mutual con- 
tact and mutual service, but there is no society in the true 
sense of the word. 

The Hindoo caste system was based mainly on an eco- 
nomic conception of society. Castes were distinct races 
which were of vast assistance to one another. We see, 
then, that the tendency to subordinate moral considerations 
of rights to utilitarian considerations of service and occupa- 
tion does not denote an advanced state of civilisation. 
This tendency diminishes, in fact, as mankind improves and 
as industry itself progresses. 1 In reality, the civilised 
man of to-day is inclined to do without the assistance of 
his fellow. He appeals less and less to the professional 

1 In his remarkable work on Cinematics, Reuleaux, the German 
director of the Industrial Academy of Berlin, observes that industrial 
progress demonstrates more clearly every day that economists err in 
attaching undue importance to the division of labour. It is the co- 
ordination which results from it that deserves the chief praise. This 
is true also of " the division of organic labour " ; without an admirable 
organic harmony, it would not be in the slightest degree a step in vital 
progress. " The principle of machine work," M. Reuleaux remarks in 
particular, " contradicts, in part, at any rate, the principle of division 
of labour. ... In the most improved modern factories, the men 
who tend the different machines are shifted from one place to another 
in order to break the monotony of their work." An increasing special- 
isation in the work of the machine produces the opposite result in the 
work of the mechanic. Otherwise, as Reuleaux observes, the workman 
would become more mechanical as the machine became a better workman. 

64 Laws of Imitation 

specialist who is fundamentally unlike himself and more 
and more to the forces of subjugated nature. Is not the 
social ideal of the future the enlarged reproduction of the 
city of antiquity, where slaves would be replaced by ma- 
chines, an idea that has been tediously reiterated, and 
where a small homogeneous group of citizens in constant 
imitation and assimilation of one another, hut inde- 
pendent and self-sufficient in other respects, in times of 
peace at least, would constitute the sum total of civilised 
men? Economic solidarity establishes a vital rather than 
a social tie between workers and no organisation of labour 
will ever be comparable, in this respect, to the most im- 
perfect organism. Juridical solidarity has, on the other 
hand, a purely social character, because it presupposes the 
kind of similarity that is due to imitation. Given this simi- 
larity, and we have, notwithstanding a lack of recognised 
rights, a beginning of society. Louis XIV did not recog- 
nise the fact that his subjects had any claims whatsoever 
upon him, and his subjects shared his delusion; nevertheless, 
he was socially related to them, because both he and they 
were products of the same classical and Christian educa- 
tion, because everyone from the Court at Paris to the heart 
of Brittany and Provence looked up to him as a model, 
and because he himself was unconsciously reacted upon by 
the influence of his courtiers, a kind of diffused imitation 
experienced by him in return for that radiating from him. 
Social relations, I repeat, are much closer between indi- 
viduals who resemble each other in occupation and edu- 
cation, even if they are competitors, than between those 
who stand most in need of each other. Lawyers, journal- 
ists, magistrates, all professional men, are cases in point. 
So society has been properly denned by common speech 
as a group of people who, although they may disagree in 
ideas and sentiments, yet, having had the same kind of 
bringing up, have a common meeting ground and see and 
influence one another for pleasure. As for the employees 
of the same shop or factory who meet together for mutual 
assistance or collaboration, they constitute a commercial or 

What is a Society ? 65 

industrial society, not a society pure and simple, not a 
society in the unqualified sense of the word. 1 

A nation, which is a kind of super-organic organism 
made up of co-operative castes and classes and professions, 
is quite different from a society. This distinction is ob- 
vious in the denationalisation and socialisation which is 
taking place to-day among hundreds of millions of men. 
It does not seem to me that the multiple uniformities to 
which we are hastening in language, education, instruction, 
etc., have as yet proved to be the fittest ways to assure the 
accomplishment of the innumerable tasks which nations 
and associations of individuals have heretofore divided up 
among themselves. It may well be that the scholar-peasant 
is not a better farmer for his learning, nor the sol- 
dier a better disciplined or, who knows, a braver fighter. 
But when we bring the steadfast partisans of progress 
face to face with these threatening possibilities, it is because 
we do not have the point of view which they, perhaps un- 
consciously, hold. They wish for the most intense kind of 
socialisation, not for the highest and strongest kind of social 
organisation, quite a different thing. They would be satis- 
fied, if need be, by an exuberance of social life in a weakened 
social organisation. We have still to learn how desirable 
this end may be. Let us hold this question in reserve. 

The fret and instability of modern societies must seem 
inexplicable to economists and, in general, to those sociolo- 
gists who base society upon reciprocal utility. As a matter 
of fact, reciprocity of services between different classes and 
different nations does plainly exist, and it increases day 
by day, thanks to the co-operation of law and custom, 
with the utmost rapidity. But we forget that the in- 

1 Both lawyers and physicians vie with fellow professionals for public 
patronage, but, in the legal profession, community of work tempers 
the heat and bitterness of competition and selfish resentment and neces- 
sarily develops certain fraternal relations. Among physicians, on the 
contrary, nothing takes the edge off their struggle and rivalry ; for as 
a rule they do not work together. Consequently, paroxysms of pro- 
fessional hatred and animosity characterise the medical fraternity, and, 
I may add, all bodies of men, such as notaries, pharmacists, or merchants, 
who work independently of one another. 

66 Laws of Imitation 

dividuals who compose these classes and nations are be- 
coming even more rapidly and thoroughly assimilated, 
although this process of imitation is still hindered by irri- 
tating obstacles, by customs, and even by laws which are, 
perhaps, the more irritating the less discouraging they ap- 
pear to be. 

Contemporary civilisation in England, America, France, 
in all modern countries, tends to diminish the intellectual 
difference, which was becoming more and more deep and 
far-reaching, between men and women by opening up 
most of men's occupations to women and by letting the 
latter share in almost all the advantages of training and 
education of the former. In this respect, civilisation treats 
the weaker sex just as it treated the peasant or free agri- 
cultural labourer when it took him out of the distinct caste 
into which it had gradually come to put him and replaced 
him in the big social group. Now, is social utility the end 
in view in either case? Were these transformations 
brought about to enable either class to be more successful 
in performing its special function, in cultivating the soil, 
or in nourishing and caring for children? On the contrary, 
many pessimists like myself foresee the time when, in con- 
sequence of these changes, we shall be without agricultural 
labourers, without nurses, and even without mothers who 
can or will nourish the continually decreasing number of 
their children. But because the enlargement of the social cir- 
cle was the end in view and because the assimilation of 
^vomen with men, of peasants with townsmen, was an indis- 
pensable condition of this socialisation, assimilation had to 

As early as the eighteenth century, in a more restricted 
social circle, in the brilliant social life of the common meet- 
ing ground of the salon, both sexes were brought closer 
together in tastes and ideas than they were in the Middle 
Ages; and we know that this social advantage was bought 
at the price of family fruitfulness and even at that of 
family honour. And yet people were happy under these 
circumstances, because a higher necessity impels the social 

What is a Society ? 67 

circle, be it what it may, to continually widen its circum- 

Am I socially related to other men who may belong to the 
same physical type and possess the same organs and the same 
senses that I do? Am I socially related to an educated deaf 
mute who may closely resemble me in face and figure? No, 
I am not. Inversely, the animals of La Fontaine's fables, 
the fox, the cricket, the cat, and the dog, live together in so- 
ciety, in spite of the difference in species which separates 
them, because they all speak the same language. 1 We eat, 
drink, digest, walk, or cry without being taught. These acts 
are purely vital. But talking requires the hearing of con- 
versation, as we know from the case of deaf mutes who are 
dumb because they are deaf. Consequently, I begin to feel 
a social kinship with everyone who talks, even if it be in a 

1 Romanes devotes one very interesting chapter in his Mental Evolu- 
tion in Animals to the influence of imitation upon the origin and devel- 
opment of instincts. This influence is much greater and more far- 
spread than we suppose. It is not only the related and even the un- 
related individuals of the same species who copy one another, many 
song birds learn to sing only through the teaching of their mothers or 
companio'ns. individuals of different species as well borrow both the 
useful and the unmeaning peculiarities of one another. Here we see the 
deep-seated desire to imitate for the sake of imitation, the desire which 
is the original source of all our arts. A mocking-bird can imitate a 
cock's crow so accurately that the very hens are deceived. Darwin 
thought that some hive-bees that he had observed had borrowed from 
the humble-bees their ingenious method of sucking the nectar of certain 
flowers by boring their under sides. Certain birds and insects and ani- 
mals are creatures of genius, and genius even in the animal world can 
count upon some measure of success. Only, these social attempts prove 
abortive for lack of language. Not man only, but every animal, reaches 
out according to his degree of mentality to a social life as the sine qua 
non of mental development. Why is this? Because the cerebral func- 
tion, the mind, is distinguished from other functions in not being a 
simple adaptation of definite means to definite ends, but in being an 
adaptation to many indeterminate ends which depend more or less upon 
chance to be made definite through the same far-reaching means by 
which they are in the first instance pursued, namely, through imitation 
of outside things. This infinite outside, this outer world which is 
pictured, represented, imitated, by sensation and intelligence, is pri- 
marily universal nature in its continual and irresistible action by sug- 
gestion upon the animal's brain and muscular system; later on, how- 
ever, it is pre-eminently the social environment. 

68 Laws of Imitation 

strange tongue, providing our two idioms appear to me 
to have some common source. This social tie may be 
weak and inadequate, but it gains in strength as other 
common traits, all originating in imitation, are added 
to it. 

Society may therefore be defined as a group of beings 
who are apt to imitate one another, or who, without actual 
imitation, are alike in their possession of common traits 
which are ancient copies of the same model. 


We must not confuse the social type of a given place or 
period, as it is more or less incompletely reproduced in every 
member of the social group, with the social group itself. 
What constitutes this type? A certain number of wants 
and ideas which have been created by thousands of time- 
accumulated inventions and discoveries. These wants 
harmonise to a certain extent, that is, they contribute to the 
supremacy of some dominant desire which is the soul of a 
given epoch or people. The ideas or beliefs also harmonise 
more or less ; that is, they are logically related to one another 
or, at least, they do not in general mutually contradict one 
another. This twofold, always incomplete, and, in certain 
notes, discordant accord, which is gradually established be- 
tween things which have been fortuitously produced and 
brought together, may be perfectly well compared to what 
is called in a living body organic adaptation. But it has the 
advantage of being free from the mystery which is inherent 
in this latter kind of harmony; it points out in extremely 
clear terms the relations of means to an end or of conse- 
quences to a principle, two relations which amount, after all, 
to one, the latter one of the two. What is the meaning of the 
incompatibility or discord that may exist between two organs, 
or conformations, or characteristics taken from two differ- 
ent species? We do not know, but we do know that when 
two ideas are incompatible it means that one of them implies 
a negative to the affirmative of the other and that for the 
same reason the consistency of two ideas means the lack, or 

What is a Society ? 69 

the apparent lack, of all such implications. Finally, we know 
that when two ideas more or less agree, it is because the one 
implies in a more or less considerable number of its aspects 
the affirmation of a more or less considerable number of the 
points which the other affirms. There is nothing less obscure, 
nothing more enlightening, than these psychical acts of af- 
firmation and negation. In them the whole life of the mind 
is wrapped up. Nor is there anything more intelligible than 
their opposition. In it is expressed the opposition between 
desire and repulsion, between velle and nolle. Thus we see 
that a social type or what is called a particular civilisation 
is a veritable system, a more or less coherent theory, whose 
inner contradictions eventually strengthen themselves or 
eventually break out and force its disruption. Under such con- 
ditions it is easy to understand why there are certain pure 
and strong types of civilisation and certain mixed and feeble 
types, and why the purest types change and decay upon the 
addition of new inventions which stimulate new desires and 
beliefs and disturb the balance of old desires and faiths; 
why, in other words, all inventions cannot be added to 
others, and why many can merely be substituted for others, 
those, namely, that stimulate desires and beliefs which are 
implicitly or explicitly contradictory in all the logical ex- 
actness of the word. Therefore, in the oscillations of his- 
tory there is nothing but endless additions and subtractions 
of quantities of faith or desire which are brought forward 
by discoveries and which reinforce or neutralise one an- 
other, like intersecting vibrations. 

This is the national type which, as I have said, is re- 
peated in every member of the nation. It is like a great 
seal, which makes an imperfect mark upon the bits of wax 
which it stamps, but which could not be completely recast 
without comparing all its impressions. 


What I defined above was really not so much society, in 
the common sense of the word, as sociality. A society is 
always in different degrees an association, and association 

70 Laws of Imitation 

is to sociality, to imitativeness, so to speak, what organisa- 
tion is to vitality, or what molecular structure is to the 
elasticity of the ether. Here are some new analogies in 
addition to those which seemed to me to be presented in 
such abundance by the three great forms of Universal 
Repetition. But, perhaps, in order to fully understand 
sociality in its relative form, the only one in which in va- 
rious degrees it actually occurs, it may be well to conceive 
of it, hypothetically, as perfect and absolute. In its hypo- 
thetical form it would consist of such an intense concentra- 
tion of urban life that as soon as a good idea arose in one 
mind it would be instantaneously transmitted to all minds 
throughout the city. This hypothesis is analogous to that 
of physicists who state that if the elasticity of the ether 
were perfect, luminious excitations, etc., would be trans- 
mitted without lapse of time. Would it not be useful for 
biologists to conceive, on their part, of an absolute irrita- 
bility incarnated in a kind of ideal protoplasm, a conception 
which would help them to understand the varying vitality 
of real protoplasm? 

With this for our starting point, if we wish to carry our 
analogy straight through, life would be. merely the organi- 
sation of protoplasmic irritability, matter, the organisation 
of ethereal elasticity, and society, the organisation of imi- 
tativeness. Now, it is almost superfluous to remark that the 
hypothesis which was conceived of by Thompson and 
adopted by Wurtz on the origin of atoms and molecules, 
the vortex theory, extremely plausible and probable as it 
is, to say the least, as well as the universally accepted 
protoplasmic theory of life, fully answers one of the de- 
mands of our point of view. Given a mass of children who 
have been brought up together and given the same educa- 
tion in the same environment and who have not yet sepa- 
rated into classes and professions, and we have the ground- 
matter of society. It kneads this mass, and then, through an 
artificial and inevitable differentiation of functions, develops 
it into a nation. Given a mass of protoplasm, i. e., of ho- 
mogeneous molecules, which can be, but have not been, 

What is a Society? 71 

organised, and which have all been assimilated by virtue 
of the obscure mode of reproduction from which they 
originated, and we have the ground-matter of life. 
From it, cells, tissues, individuals, and species are 
formed. Finally, given a mass of homogeneous ether 
whose elements are thrilled by the same rapidly exchanging 
vibrations, according to our theoretical chemists, and we 
have the ground-matter of matter. From this the corpus- 
cles of all bodies, however heterogeneous they may be, are 
made. For a body is merely an accord of differentiated and 
subordinated vibrations which have been separately pro- 
duced in distinct and interwoven series, just as an organism 
is only an accord of different elementary and harmonious 
inward reproductions, of distinct and interwoven kinds of 
histological elements, or just as a nation is only an accord of 
traditions, customs, teachings, tendencies, and ideas which 
have spread in different ways through imitation, but which 
are subordinate to one another in a fraternal and mutually 
helpful hierarchy. 

The law of differentiation, then, comes into play here. 
But it is not superfluous to note that the homogeneity upon 
which it acts under three superimposed forms is a super- 
ficial, although real, homogeneity, and that, if we continue 
the analogy, our sociological point of view would lead us to 
admit that in protoplasm there are some elements which 
have highly individualistic features under their mask of 
apparent uniformity, and that in ether itself the atoms are 
individually as characteristic as the children of the best dis- 
ciplined school may be. Heterogeneity, not homogeneity, 
is at the heart of things. Could anything be more im- 
probable or more absurd than the co-existence of an endless 
number of elements created to be co-eternally alike ? Things 
are not born alike, they become alike. And, besides, is 
not the inborn diversity of the elements the sole possible 
justification of their variability? 

I might be willing to go still further and say that without 
this initial and fundamental heterogeneity, the homogene- 
ity which screens and disguises it never would or could have 

72 Laws of Imitation 

occurred. In fact, all homogeneity is a likeness of parts 
and all likeness is the outcome of an assimilation which has 
been produced by the voluntary or non-voluntary repetition 
of what was in the beginning an individual innovation. 
But there is something more to be said. When the homo- 
geneity in question, when ether or protoplasm, when a mass 
of people who have been levelled down and put upon a foot- 
ing of equality, becomes differentiated in order to become 
organised, do we not find, judging from what passes in our 
own societies at least, that the change in its character is 
another effect of the very same cause? After proselytism 
has assimilated a people, despotism steps in to rule over 
them and impose a hierarchy upon them; but despot and 
apostle are alike refractory individuals upon whom the 
democratic or aristocratic yoke of others has been a burden. 
For every individual conflict or outbreak which succeeds 
in this way there are, of course, hundreds of millions which 
are suppressed, but which are, nevertheless, the nursery of 
the great innovations of the future. This wealth of varia- 
tions, this exuberance of picturesque fancies and erratic 
designs which Nature unrolls so magnificently under her 
austere garb of time-honoured laws, repetitions, and 
rhythms can have but one source; the tumultuous originality 
of elements that have been but partly brought under these 
yokes of nature, the radical and innate diversity that bursts 
out through all these uniformities of law to be transfigured 
upon the fair surface of things. 

I will not follow up these last considerations, for they 
would lead us away from our subject. I only wished to 
point out that our search for law, i. e., for like facts 
either in nature or history, must not make us forget their 
hidden agents, agents which are both original and individ- 
ual. Passing on. then, we may draw a useful lesson from 
what preceded, namely, that the assimilation together with 
the equalisation of the members of a society is not, as we 
are led to think, the final term of a prior social progres- 
sion; it is, on the contrary, the point of departure for a 
new social advance. Every new form of civilisation be- 

What is a Society ? 73 

gins in this way. In the homogeneous and democratic 
communities of the early Christians, the bishop was merely 
one of the faithful and the pope was not to be distinguished 
from the bishop. In the Prankish army, booty was dis- 
tributed in equal portions between the king and his compan- 
ions-in-arms. The first caliphs to succeed Mahomet argued 
in court like simple Mahometans ; the equality of all the sons 
of the Prophet before the Koran had not yet become the 
mere fiction which the equality of Frenchmen or Europeans 
before the law is eventually bound to become. Then, by 
degrees, a radical inequality, the condition of solid organi- 
sation, came to be hollowed out in the Arab world, some- 
what as the ecclesiastical hierarchy of Catholicism or the 
feudal pryamid of the Middle Ages was formed. The past 
speaks for the future. Equality is only a transition between 
two hierarchies, just as liberty is only a passage between 
two disciplines. But this does not mean that the confidence 
and power, the knowledge and security, of every citizen do 
not go on increasing from age to age. 

Now let us take up another aspect of our foregoing 
thought. Homogeneous and democratic communities pre- 
cede churches and states, for the same reason, I say, that 
tissues precede organs. Moreover, once tissues and com- 
munities have been formed, they become organic and hier- 
archical for the same reason which caused their formation 
in the first place. The growth of still undifferentiated and 
unutilised tissue is evidence of the peculiar ambition and 
eagerness of the germ which propagates itself in this way, 
just as the creation of a club or circle or fraternity of 
kindred spirits is evidence of the ambition of the enter- 
prising man who originated it in order to spread some plan 
or idea of his own. Now, the community becomes con- 
solidated into a hierarchical corporation, and tissue be- 
comes organic, for the sake of self -propagation and self- 
defence against existing or anticipated enemies. For the 
living or for the social being, to act and function is a 
necessary condition for the conservation and extension of its 
essential nature, for the early development of which it was 

74 Laws of Imitation 

at first enough for it to multiply uniform copies of itself. 
But self-propagation and not self-organisation is the prime 
demand of the social as well as of the vital thing. Organi- 
sation is but the means of which propagation, of which 
generative or imitative repetition, is the end. 

To sum up, to the question which I began by asking: 
What is society? I have answered: Society is imitation. 
We have still to ask: What is imitation? Here the soci- 
ologist should yield to the psychologist. 


i. Taine sums up the thought of the most eminent 
physiologists when he happily remarks that the brain is a 
repeating organ for the senses and is itself made up of 
elements which repeat one another. In fact, the sight of 
such a congery of like cells and fibres makes any other idea 
impossible. Moreover, direct proof is at hand in the nu- 
merous observations and experiments which show that the 
cutting away of one hemisphere of the brain, and even the 
removal of much of the substance of the other, affects only 
the intensity, without at all changing the integrity, of the 
intellectual functions. The part that was removed, there- 
fore, did not. collaborate with the part that remained; both 
parts could only copy and reinforce each other. Their 
relation was not economic and utilitarian, but imitative and 
social in the sense that I use that term. Whatever may be 
the cellular function which calls forth thought (a highly 
complex vibration, perhaps? ), there is no doubt that it is 
reproduced and multiplied in the interior of the brain every 
moment of our mental life and that to every distinct per- 
ception a distinct cellular function corresponds. The in- 
definite and inexhaustible continuation of these intricate and 
richly intersecting radiations constitutes memory and habit. 
When the multiplying repetition in question is confined to 
the nervous system, we have memory; when it spreads 
out into the muscular system, we have habit. Memory, 

What is a Society ? 75 

so to speak, is a purely nervous habit; habit is both a nervous 
and a muscular memory. 

Thus every act of perception, in as much as it involves 
an act of memory, which it always does, implies a kind of 
habit, an unconscious imitation of self by self. There is, 
evidently, nothing social in this. When the nervous sys- 
tem is sufficiently excited to set in motion a certain set of 
muscles, habit, properly speaking, appears. It is another 
case of non-social, or, as I might better say, of presocial 
or subsocial self-imitation. This does not mean that, as 
alleged, an idea is an abortive act. Action is only the fol- 
lowing up of an idea, the acquisition of a steadfast faith. 
Muscle works only for the enrichment of nerves and brain. 

But if the remembered idea or image was originally 
lodged in the mind through conversation or reading, if the 
habitual act originated in the view or knowledge of a similar 
act on the part of others, these acts of memory and habit 
are social as well as psychological facts, and they show us 
the kind of imitation of which I have already spoken at such 
length. 1 Here we have memory and habit which are not in- 
dividual, but collective. Just as a man does not see, listen, 
walk, stand, write, play the flute, or, what is more, invent or 
imagine, except by means of many co-ordinated muscular 
memories, so a society could not exist or change or advance 
a single step unless it possessed an untold store of blind rou- 
tine and slavish imitation which was constantly being added 
to by successive generations. 

2. What is the -essential nature of the suggestion which 
passes from one cerebral cell to another and which consti- 

1 While correcting the proofs of my second edition, I read in the 
Revue de inetaphysique a brief review of an article of Mr. Baldwin's 
which appeared in 1894 in Mind under the title of Imitation; A Chapter 
in the Natural History of Consciousness. " Mr. Baldwin." writes his 
rfeviewer, " wishes to define and generalise the theories of Tarde. Bio- 
logical imitation, or imitation which is primarily subcortical, is a cir- 
cular reaction of the nerves, that is, it reproduces its own stimulus. 
Psychological or cortical imitation is habit (expressed in the principle 
of identity) and accommodation (expressed in the principle of sufficient 
reason). It is, in short, sociological, plastic, and only secondarily sub- 

76 Laws of Imitation 

tutes mental life? We do not know. 1 Do we know any- 
thing more about the essence of the suggestion which passes 
from one person to another and which constitutes social 
life? We do not; for if we take this phenomenon in itself, 
in its higher state of purity and intensity, we find it re- 
lated to one of the most mysterious of facts, a fact which 
is being studied with intense curiosity by the baffled philo- 
sophic alienists of the day, i. e., somnambulism. 2 If you 
re-read contemporaneous works on this subject, especially 
those of Richet, Binet and Fere, Beaunis, Bernheim, Del- 
bceuf, I shall not seem fanciful in thinking of the social man 
as a veritable somnambulist. I think, on the contrary, that 
I am conforming to the most rigorous scientific method in 
endeavouring to explain the complex by the simple, the com- 
pound by the element, and to throw light upon the mixed 
and complicated social tie, as we know it, by means of a 
social tie which is very pure, which is reduced to its 
simplest expression, and which is so happily realised for the 
edification of the sociologist in a state of somnambulism. 
Let us take the hypothetical case of a man who has been re- 
moved from every extra-social influence, from the direct 
view of natural objects, and from the instinctive obses- 
sions of his different senses, and who has communication 
only with those like himself or, more especially, to simplify 
the question, with one person like himself. Is not such an 
ideal subject the proper one through which to study by ex- 
periment and observation the really essential characteristics 
of social relations, set free in this way from all com- 
plicating influences of a natural or physical order? But 

1 At the time when the foregoing and the following considerations 
first appeared in print, in November, 1884, in the Revue philosophique, 
hypnotic suggestion was but barely spoken of and the idea of univer- 
sal social suggestion, an idea which has since been so strongly em- 
phasised by Bernheim and others, was cast up against me as an un- 
tenable paradox. Nothing could be commoner than this view at 

2 This old-fashioned term shows that at the time of the first publica- 
tion of this passage the word hypnotism had not as yet been altogether 
substituted for somnambulism. 

What is a Society ? 77 

are not hypnotism and somnambulism the exact realisation of 
this hypothesis? Then I shall not excite surprise if I briefly 
review the principal phenomena of these singular states and 
if I find both magnified and diminutised, both overt and 
covert, forms of them in social phenomena. Through such 
a comparison, we may perhaps come to a better understand- 
ing of the fact that is called abnormal by showing to what 
extent it is general, and of the fact that is general by per- 
ceiving its distinctive traits in high relief in the apparent 

The social like the hypnotic state is only a form of dream, 
a dream of command and a dream of action. Both the som- 
nambulist and the social man are possessed by the illusion 
that their ideas, all of which have been suggested to them, 
are spontaneous. To appreciate the truth of this sociolog- 
ical point of view, we must not take ourselves into con- 
sideration, for should we admit this truth about ourselves, 
we would then be escaping from the blindness which it af- 
firms; and in this way a counter argument might be made 
out. Let us call to mind some ancient people whose civili- 
sation differs widely from our own, the Egyptians, or Spar- 
tans, or Hebrews. Did not that people think, like us, that 
they were autonomous, although, in reality, they were but 
the unconscious puppets whose strings were pulled by their 
ancestors or political leaders or prophets, when they were 
not being pulled by their own contemporaries? What 
distinguishes us modern Europeans from these alien and 
primitive societies is the fact that the magnetisation has be- 
come mutual, so to speak, at least to a certain extent; and 
because we, in our democratic pride, a little exaggerate 
this reciprocity, because, moreover, forgetting that in be- 
coming mutual, this magnetisation, the source of all faith 
and obedience, has become general, we err in flattering 
ourselves that we have become less credulous and docile, 
less imitative, in short, than our ancestors. This is a fal- 
lacy, and we shall have to rid ourselves of it. But even if 
the aforesaid notion were true, it would nevertheless be 
clear that before the relations of model and copyist, of mas- 

78 Laws of Imitation 

ter and subject, of apostle and neophyte, had become re- 
ciprocal or alternative, as we ordinarily see them in our 
democratic society, they must of necessity have begun by 
being one-sided and irreversible. Hence castes. Even in the 
most democratic societies, the one-sidedness and irreversi- 
bility in question always exist at the basis of social imita- 
tions, i. e., in the family. For the father is and always will 
be his son's first master, priest, and model. Every society, 
even at present, begins in this way. 

Therefore, in the beginning of every old society, there 
must have been, a fortiori, a great display of authority ex- 
ercised by certain supremely imperious and positive indi- 
viduals. Did they rule through terror and imposture, as 
alleged? This explanation is obviously inadequate. They 
ruled through their prestige. The example of the magneti- 
ser alone can make us realise the profound meaning of this 
word. The magnetiser does not need to lie or terrorise to 
secure the blind belief and the passive obedience of his mag- 
netised subject. He has prestige that tells the story. 
That means, I think, that there is in the magnetised subject 
a certain potential force of belief and desire which is an- 
chored in all kinds of sleeping but unforgotten memories, and 
that this force seeks expression just as the water of a lake 
seeks an outlet. The magnetiser alone is able through a 
chain of singular circumstances to open the necessary outlet 
to this force. All forms of prestige are alike; they differ 
only in degree. We have prestige in the eyes of anyone 
in so far as we answer his need of affirming or of will- 
ing some given thing. Nor is it necessary for the mag- 
netiser to speak in order to be believed and obeyed. He 
need only act; an almost imperceptible gesture is suffi- 

This movement, together with the thought and feeling 
which it expresses, is immediately reproduced. Maudsley 
says that he is not sure that the somnambulist is not enabled 
to read unconsciously what is in the mind through " an 
unconscious imitation of the attitude and expression of the 
person whose exact muscular contradictions are instinctively 

What is a Society ? 79 

copied." 1 Let us observe that the magnetised subjects imi- 
tates the magnetiser, but that the latter does not imitate the 
former. Mutual imitation, mutual prestige or sympathy, in 
the meaning of Adam Smith, is produced only in our so- 
called waking life and among people who seem to exercise no 
magnetic influence over one another. If, then, I have put 
prestige, and not sympathy, at the foundation and origin of 
society, it is because, as I have said before, the unilateral 
must have preceded the reciprocal. 2 Without an age of au- 
thority, however surprising this fact may be, an age of com- 
parative fraternity would never have existed. But, to return, 
why should we really marvel at the one-sided, passive imi- 
tation of the somnambulist? Any act of any one of our 
fellows inspires us who are lookers-on with the more or less 
irrational idea of imitation. If we at times resist this tend- 
ency, it is because it is neutralised by some antagonistic 
suggestions of memory or perception. Since the somnam- 
bulist is for the time being deprived of this power of resist- 
ance, he can illustrate for us the imitative quiescence of the 
social being in so far as he is social, i. e., in so far as he has 
relations exclusively with his fellows and, especially, with 
one of his fellows. 

If the social man were not at the same time a natural be- 
ing, open and sensitive to the impressions of external na- 
ture and of alien societies, he would never be capable of 
change. Like associates would remain forever incapable 
of changing spontaneously the type of traditional ideas and 
desires which had been impressed upon them by the conven- 
tional teaching of their parents, priests, or leaders. Cer- 
tain peoples have been known to approach singularly close 
to this condition. Nascent communities, like young chil- 
dren, are, in general, indifferent and insensible to all which 

1 The Pathology of Mind [p. 69. Henry Maudsley, M. D., New 
York, 1890. The italics are the author's. TV.]. 

8 On this point I need correction. Sympathy is certainly the primary 
source of sociability and the hidden or overt soul of every kind of 
imitation, even of imitation which is envious and calculating, even of 
imitation of an enemy. Only, it is certain that sympathy itself begins 
by being one-sided instead of mutual. 

8o Laws of Imitation 

does not concern man or the kind of man whom they re- 
semble, the man of their own race or tribe. 1 " The som- 
nambulist sees and hears," says A. Maury, " only what enters 
into the preoccupations of his dream," In other words, all 
his power of belief and desire is concentrated on a single 
point. Is not this the exact effect of obedience and imita- 
tion through fascination? Is not fascination a genuine 
neurosis, a kind of unconscious polarisation of love and 

Now many great men from Rameses to Alexander, from 
Alexander to Mahomet, from Mahomet to Napoleon, have 
thus polarised the soul of their people! How often has a 
prolonged gaze upon the brilliant point of one man's glory 
or genius thrown a whole people into a state of catalepsy ! 
The torpor that appears in somnambulism is, as we know, 
only superficial; it masks an intense excitement. This is 
the reason why the somnambulist does not hesitate to per- 
form great feats of strength and skill. A similar phenome- 
non occurred at the beginning of the nineteenth century 
when military France fell into a passive and, at the same 
time, feverish state of mingled torpor and excitement and 
performed prodigies in obedience to the gesture of its im- 
perial fascinator. There is nothing better fitted than this ata- 
vistic phenomenon to plunge us into the remote past, to make 
us realise the influence which must have been exerted upon 
their contemporaries by those great semi-mythical persons 
to whom all civilisations trace their origin and to whom 
their legends attribute the revelation of all their knowledge, 
laws, and industries. Cannes in Babylon, Quetz-alcoatl in 
Mexico, the divine pre-Menes dynasties in Egypt, etc., are 
cases in point. 2 Under close observation, all these king- 

1 Science, then, is the source of every social revolution. It is this 
extra-social research which opens for us the windows of the social 
phalanstery in which we live and lets in the light of the universe. How 
many phantoms are scattered by this light ! But then, too, how many 
perfectly preserved mummies it crumbles into dust ! 

2 In his profound Asiatic studies of the religious and social customs 
of the Far East, Sir Alfred Lyall (who seems to have studied on the 
spot the actual formation of tribes and clans in certain parts of India) 

What is a Society ? 8 1 

gods who figure in mythologies and dynasties are seen to be 
inventors or importers of foreign inventions. They are, in 
a word, initiators. Thanks to the deep and intense stupor 
caused by their first miracles, each of their assertions and 
commands opened out an immense vent to the vast, vague, 
and impotent aspirations, to the blind and futile desires for 
faith and activity, which they had called into being. 

At present, when we speak of obedience, we mean a con- 
scious and voluntary act. But primitive obedience was far 
different. When the subject weeps at the bidding of the 
hypnotist, it is not the ego only, but the whole organism, 
that obeys. The obedience of crowds and armies to their 
demagogues and captains is, at times, almost equally 
strange. And so is their credulity. " It is a curious 
sight," says M. Charles Richet, "to see a somnambulist make 
gestures of distaste and nausea and experience real suf- 
focation when an empty bottle is put under his nose and he 
is told that it contains ammonia, or, on the other hand, to 
see him inhale ammonia without showing the least discom- 
fort when he is told that it is pure water." We have a 
strange analogy in the artificial, absurd, and extravagant, 
but none the less deep, active, and obstinate, beliefs of an- 
cient peoples, of those, indeed, who were the freest and the 
most cultivated of all the ancients; and this, too, long after 

attributes a preponderating influence in primitive societies to the indi- 
vidual action of men of note. " To borrow Carlyle's words," he says, 
"the perplexed jungle of primitive society springs out of many roots, 
but the hero is the tap-root from which in a great degree all the rest 
were nourished and grown. In Europe, where the landmarks of nation- 
alities are fixed, and the fabric of civilisation firmly entrenched, people 
are often inclined to treat as legendary the enormous part in the 
foundation of their race or institutions attributed by primitive races 
to their heroic ancestor. Yet it may be difficult to overrate the impres- 
sion which must have been produced by daring and successful exploits 
upon the primitive world, where the free impulsive play of a great 
man's forces is little controlled by artificial barriers. ... In such 
times, whether a group which is formed upon the open surface of 
society shall spread out into a clan or tribe, or break up prematurely, 
seems to depend very much upon the strength and energy of its 
founder " [Asiatic Studies, Religious and Social, p. 168 ; Sir Alfred C. 
Lyall, K. C. B., C. I. E., second edition, London, 1884. TV.]. 

82 Laws of Imitation 

their first phase of autocratic theocracy had passed away. 
Were not the most abominable monstrosities, Greek love, for 
example, deemed worthy of the songs of Anacreon and 
Theocritus and of the philosophy of Plato? Were not ser- 
pents, cats, bulls, and cows worshipped by prostrate popula- 
tions ? Were not mysteries, metempsychoses, dogmas in ab- 
solute contradiction to the direct evidence of the senses, not 
to speak of such absurdities as the arts of augury, astrology, 
and sorcery, unanimously believed in? On the other hand, 
were not the most natural sentiments repressed with horror, 
paternal love, for example, in communities where the uncle 
took precedence over the father, or sexual jealousy among 
tribes whose wives were owned in common? Has not the 
most impressive beauty of nature or art been overlooked or 
condemned, and this even in modern times, because it vio- 
lated the taste of the period ? The attitude of the Romans to- 
wards the picturesqueness of the Alps or Pyrenees, or that 
of our own seventeenth and eighteenth centuries towards 
the masterpieces of Shakespeare or the art of Holland, is an 
example. In short, are not the clearest experiences and 
observations controverted and the most palpable truths ar- 
raigned, whenever they come into opposition with the tra- 
ditional ideas that are the antique offspring of prestige and 

Civilised peoples flatter themselves with thinking that 
they have escaped from this dogmatic slumber. Their 
error can be explained. The oftener a person has been 
magnetised, the easier and quicker is it for him to be re- 
magnetised. This fact shows us how it is that societies 
come to imitate one another with increasing ease and ra- 
pidity. As they become civilised and, consequently, more 
and more imitative, they also become less and less aware 
that they are imitating. In this particular, mankind is like 
the individual man. A child is, unquestionably, a true som- 
nambulist; the older it grows, the more complex its dream 
becomes, until it thinks that, because of this very complex- 
ity, it has been awakened. But the child errs. When a 
ten- or twelve-year-old boy leaves his family for school, he 

What is a Society? 83 

seems to himself to have become demagnetised, to have been 
aroused from his dream of parental respect and admiration. 
Whereas, in reality, he becomes still more prone to ad- 
miration and imitation in his submission to the ascendency 
of one of his masters or, better still, of some prestigeful 
classmate. The alleged awakening is only a change or 
piling up of slumbers. In the substitution of fashion-mag- 
netisation for custom-magnetisation, the usual symptom of 
incipient social revolution, we have an analogous, although 
magnified, phenomenon. 

We should also observe, however, that as the suggestions 
of example become more numerous and diversified around 
an individual, each of them loses in intensity, and the in- 
dividual becomes freer to determine his choice according to 
the preference of his own character, on the one hand, and 
on the other, according to certain logical laws which I will 
discuss elsewhere. Thus it is certain that the progress of 
civilisation renders subjection to imitation at once more 
personal and more rational. We are just as much enslaved 
as our ancestors by the examples of our environment, but 
we make a better use of them through our more logical and 
more individual choice, one adapted to our own ends and to 
our particular nature. And yet, as we shall see, this does 
not keep extra-logical and prestigeful influences from al- 
ways playing a very considerable part. 

This part is remarkably potent and interesting in the case 
of an individual who suddenly passes from an impoverished 
environment to one rich in all kinds of suggestions. Then 
there is no need of such a brilliant and striking object as 
personal glqry or genius to bewitch him and to put him to 
sleep. The college freshman, the Japanese traveller in Eu- 
rope, the countryman in Paris, are as stupefied as if they 
were in a state of catalepsy. Their attention is so bent upon 
everything they see and hear, especially upon the actions of 
the human beings around them, that it is absolutely with- 
drawn from everything they have previously seen and heard, 
or even thought of or done. It is not that their memory 
is destroyed, for it has never been as alert or as quick to re- 

84 Laws of Imitation 

spond to the slightest word which recalls to them, with a 
wealth of hallucinating detail, their distant country, their 
home, or their previous existence. But memory becomes 
absolutely paralysed; all its own spontaneity is lost. In 
this singular condition of intensely concentrated attention, 
of passive and vivid imagination, these stupefied and fevered 
beings inevitably yield themselves to the magical charm of 
their new environment. They believe everything that they 
see, and they continue in this state for a long time. It is 
always more fatiguing to think for one's self than to think 
through the minds of others. Besides, whenever a man 
lives in an animated environment, in a highly strung and 
diversified society which is continually supplying him with 
fresh sights, with new books and music and with constantly 
renewed conversation, he gradually refrains from all in- 
tellectual effort; his mind, growing more and more stulti- 
fied and, at the same time, more and more excited, be- 
comes, as I have said, somnambulistic. Such a state of 
mind is characteristic of many city dwellers. The noise 
and movement of the streets, the display of shop-windows, 
and the wild and unbridled rush of existence affect them 
like magnetic passes. Now, is not city life a concentrated 
and exaggerated type of social life? 

If these persons end by becoming examples themselves, 
this also is due to imitation. Suppose a somnambulist 
should imitate his medium to the point of becoming a me- 
dium himself and magnetising a third person, who, in turn, 
would imitate him, and so on, indefinitely. Is not social 
life this very thing? Terraces of consecutive and con- 
nected magnetisations are the rule; the mutual magnetisa- 
tion of which I spoke above is exceptional. In general, a 
naturally prestigeful man will stimulate thousands of people 
to copy him in every particular, even in that of his prestige, 
thereby enabling them to influence, in turn, millions of in- 
ferior men. It is only at rare moments, after the movement 
down the scale is spent, that an inverse movement takes 
place and that, in a period of democracy, millions of men 
collectively fascinate and tyrannise over their quondam 

What is a Society ? 85 

mediums. If every society stands forth as a hierarchy, it 
is because every society reveals the terracing of which I 
have just spoken and to which, in order to be stable, its 
hierarchy must correspond. 

Besides, social somnambulism, as I have said already, is 
not brought about through fear or the power of conquest, 
but through admiration and a sense of brilliant and irksome 
superiority. And so it sometimes happens that the con- 
queror is magnetised by the conquered. Just as a savage 
chief or a social upstart is all eyes and ears, is charmed or 
intimidated in spite of his pride, in the midst of a great city, 
or in a fashionable drawing room. But he sees and hears 
only what astonishes him and holds him captive; for a sin- 
gular mixture of anaesthesia and hvperses.thesia of the senses, 
is the dominant characteristic of somnambulists. Conse- 
quently, they copy all the usages, the language, the accent, 
etc., of their new environment. The Germans did this in the 
Roman world. They forgot German and spoke Latin. 
They composed hexameters. They bathed in marble baths. 
They dubbed themselves patricians. The Romans them- 
selves did this in the Athens which they had conquered. 
The Hyksos conquerors of Egypt were subjugated by its 

But is there any need to ransack history for examples? 
Let us look nearer home. The kind of momentary paral- 
ysis of mind, tongue, and arm, the profound agitation of the 
whole being and the lack of self-possession which is called 
intimidation, deserves special study. The intimidated 
man loses, under the gaze of another person, his self-posses- 
sion and is wont to become manageable and malleable by 
others. He feels this and struggles against it, but his only 
success lies in bringing himself to an awkward standstill; he 
is still strong enough to neutralise any external impetus, but 
not strong enough to regain the mastery of his own power 
of motion. It will be admitted, perhaps, that this singular 
state, a state that we have all more or less passed through at 
a certain age, has a great many points in common with som- 
nambulism. But when timidity is routed, when one is put 

86 Laws of Imitation 

at his ease, as they say, has demagnetisation set in? Far 
from that, to be put at one's ease in a given society is to 
adopt its manners and fashions, to speak its dialect, to copy 
its gestures, in short, to finally abandon one's self unresist- 
ingly to the many surrounding currents of subtle influences 
against which one first struggled in vain, and to abandon 
one's self so completely that all consciousness of this 
self-abandonment is lost. Timidity is a conscious and, con- 
sequently, an incomplete magnetisation. It may be com- 
pared to that drowsy state which precedes the profound 
slumber in which the somnambulist moves and speaks. It 
is a nascent social state which accompanies every transi- 
tion from one society to another, or from the limits of the 
family to a wider social life. 

It is for this reason, perhaps, that so-called rough dia- 
monds, people who strongly rebel against assimilation and 
who are really unsociable, remain timid during their whole 
life. They are but partially subject to somnambulism. On 
the other hand, are not people who never feel awkward 
and embarrassed, who never experience any real timidity 
upon entering a drawing room or a lecture hall, or any cor- 
responding stupor in taking up a science or art for the first 
time (for the trouble produced by entrance into a new call- 
ing whose difficulties frighten one and whose prescribed 
methods do violence to one's old habits, may be perfectly 
well compared to intimidation), are not such people sociable 
in the highest degree? Are they not excellent copyists, i. e., 
devoid of any particular avocation or any controlling 
ideas, and do they not possess the eminently Chinese or 
Japanese faculty of speedily adapting themselves to their 
environment? In their readiness to fall asleep, are they 
not somnambulists of the first order? Intimidation plays 
an immense part in society under the name of Respect. 
Everyone will acknowledge this, and, although the part is 
sometimes misinterpreted, it is never in the least exagger- 
ated. Respect is neither unmixed fear nor unmixed love, 
nor is it merely the combination of the two, although it is a 
fear which is beloved by him who entertains it. Respect is, 

What is a Society ? 87 

primarily, the impression of an example by one person upon 
another who is psychologically polarised. Of course we 
must distinguish the respect of which we are conscious 
from that which we dissemble to ourselves under an as- 
sumed contempt. But taking this distinction into account, 
it is evident that whomsoever we imitate we respect, and 
that whomsoever we respect we imitate or tend to imitate. 
There is no surer sign of a displacement of social authority 
than deviations in the current of these examples. The man 
or the woman of the world who reflects the slang or undress 
of the labourer or the intonation of the actress, has more 
respect and deference for the person copied than he or she 
is himself or herself aware. Now what society would last 
for a single day without the general and continuous circu- 
lation of both the above forms of respect? 

But I must not dwell any longer upon the above compari- 
son. At any rate, I hope that I have at least made my reader 
feel that to thoroughly understand the essential social fact, 
as I perceive it, knowledge of the infinitely subtle facts of 
mind is necessary, and that the roots of even what seems to 
be the simplest and most superficial kind of sociology strike 
far down into the depths of the most inward and hidden 
parts of psychology and physiology. Society is imitation 
and imitation is a kind of somnambulism. This is the 
epitome of this chapter. As for the second part of the prop- 
osition, I beg the reader's indulgence for any exaggeration 
I may have been guilty of. I must also remove a possible 
objection. It may be urged that submission to some as- 
cendency does not always mean following the example of 
the person whom we trust and obey. But does not belief in 
anyone always mean belief in that which he believes or 
seems to believe? Does not obedience to someone mean 
that we will that which he wills or seems to will ? Inven- 
tions are not made to order, nor are discoveries under- 
taken as a result of persuasive suggestion. Consequently, 
to be credulous and docile, and to be so as pre-eminently as 
the somnambulist and the social man, is to be, primarily, 
imitative. To innovate, to discover, to awake for an instant 

88 Laws of Imitation 

from his dream of home and country, the individual must 
escape, for the time being, from his social surroundings. 
Such unusual audacity makes him super-social rather than 

One word more. We have just seen that memory as 
well as habit, or muscular memory, as I have already called 
it, is very keen in the case of somnambulists or quasi-som- 
nambulists, while their credulity and docility are extreme. 
In other words their imitation of self (memory and habit 
are, in fact, nothing more than this) is as remarkable as 
their imitation of others. Is there no connection between 
these two facts? " It cannot be too clearly apprehended," 
Maudsley says emphatically, " that there is a sort of innate 
tendency to mimicry in the nervous system." * If this 
tendency is inherent in the final nerve elements, we may 
be permitted to conjecture that the relations between the 
cells within the same brain have some analogy to the singu- 
lar relation between two brains, one of which fascinates the 
other, and that this relation consists of a special polarisa- 
tion in the latter of the belief and desire which are stored 
up in each of its elements. In this way, perhaps, certain 
curious facts might be explained, the fact, for example, that 
in dreams there is a spontaneous arrangement of images 
which combine together according to some inward logic, 
and which are evidently under the control of one of them 
which imposes itself upon the others, and gives them their 
tone through the superiority, undoubtedly, of the nervous 
element in which it was contained and from which it 
issued. 2 

1 [Mental Pathology, p. 68. TV.] 

2 This view agrees with the master thought developed by M. Paul- 
ban in his profoundly thoughtful work upon mental activity. (Alcan, 



WHAT is history? This is the first question which pre- 
sents itself to us. The most natural way for us to answer 
it and, at the same time, formulate the laws of imitation, is 
by turning our attention to two very distinct lines of re- 
search which have been highly honoured in recent days, the 
study of archaeology and the study of statistics. I will show 
that as these studies have grown in value and fruitfulness, a 
point of view similar to mine in the matter of social phe- 
nomena has been unconsciously adopted in them and that, in 
this respect, the general conclusions and salient points of 
these two sciences, or, rather, of these two very dissimilar 
methods, are seen to be remarkably similar. Let us first 
consider the subject of archaeology. 

When human skulls and implements of various kinds 
happen to be found in some Gallo-Roman tomb, or in some 
cave belonging to the stone age, the archaeologist keeps the 
implements for himself and hands over the skulls to the an- 
thropologist. The anthropologist studies races, the archae- 
ologist, civilisations. It is useless for them to lock arms 
with each other; they are, nevertheless, radically unlike, as 
much as a horizontal line is unlike, even at the point of in- 
tersection, the vertical line which may be erected upon it. 
The anthropologist utterly ignores the biography of the Cro- 
Magnon or Neanderthal man whom he is examining. He 
cares nothing at all for this; his one aim is to distinguish 


90 Laws of Imitation 

the same racial character in one skull or skeleton after an- 
other. Although this very racial character has been re- 
produced and multiplied through heredity from some indi- 
vidual peculiarity, still it is impossible for the anthropologist 
to attempt to trace this back. The archaeologist likewise ig- 
nores, three-quarters of the time, the names of the dead 
whose ashes remain to be deciphered like an enigma and 
looks for and sees in them only the artistic or industrial 
process, or the characteristic desires and beliefs, or the rites, 
dogmas, words, and grammatical forms that are revealed by 
the contents of their tombs. And yet all these things were 
transmitted and propagated by imitation from some single 
and almost always unknown inventor for whose radiant in- 
vention every one of the anonymous unearthed objects was 
but an ephemeral vehicle, a mere place for growth. 

The deeper the past in which the archaeologist buries him- 
self the more he loses sight of personalities. Even manu- 
scripts begin to be scarce prior to the twelfth century. 
Besides, manuscripts, which are, for the most part, nothing 
but official records, interest him primarily because of their 
impersonal character. Then, nothing but buildings or their 
ruins and, finally, nothing but a few remains of pottery and 
bronze, of flint weapons and implements, survive for archae- 
ological guess-work. And what a wonderful treasure of 
facts and inferences, of invaluable information, has been 
extracted in this humble shape from the earth's entrails 
wherever the picks of modern excavators have penetrated, 
in Italy, in Greece, in Egypt, in Asia Minor, in Mesopota- 
mia, in America ! There was a time when archaeology, like 
numismatics, was only the servant of pragmatic history, 
when the only merit that would have been recognised in the 
present work of the Egyptologists was its confirmation of 
the fragments of Manetho. At present, however, the roles 
are inverted. Historians are nothing more than subordi- 
nate guides, auxiliaries of those excavators who, revealing to 
us the things about which the former are silent, give us the de- 
tails, so to speak, of the fauna and flora, of the hidden wealth 
of life and of the harmonious regularities of those lands 

Archeology and Statistics 91 

that are so picturesquely described by historic landscapists. 
Through the archaeologists we know what particular group 
of ideas, of professional or hieratic secrets, of peculiar de- 
sires, constituted the individual whom the annalists call a 
Roman or an Egyptian or a Persian. Below the surface, in 
some way, of the violent and so-called culminating events 
that are spoken of as conquests, invasions, or revolutions, 
the archaeologists show us the daily and indefinite drift and 
piling up of the sediments of true history, the stratifications 
of successive and contagion-spread discoveries. 

The archaeological point of view, therefore, is the best 
from which to see that violent events which are in them- 
selves dissimilar, and whose series are as irregular as moun- 
tain ridges, have merely served to aid or hinder, to restrict 
or enlarge, the quiet and even spread of various given ideas 
of genius in certain more or less badly defined territories. 
And just as Thucydides, Herodotus, and Livy become 
mere cicerones, faithful or false as it happens, to the anti- 
quarians, so the heroes of the historians, their generals, 
statesmen, and legislators, may pass for the unconscious 
and, at times, refractory servants of the numberless and ob- 
scure inventors of bronze, of the art of weaving or writing, 
of oar and sail and plough, whose very date and birthplace 
cost the antiquarians even more effort to discover and locate 
than their names. Of course there is no doubt but that 
great warriors and statesmen have themselves had new and 
brilliant ideas, true inventions in the big sense of the word, 
but their inventions were bound not to be imitated. 1 They 
may be military plans or parliamentary measures, laws, de- 
crees, or political revolutions, but they take no place in 
history unless they promote or retard other kinds of inven- 
tions which are already known and which are destined to 
be peacefully imitated. History would pay no more at- 
tention to the manoeuvres at Marathon, at Arabela, or at 
Austerlitz than to so many skilful games of chess, were it 

1 If they are imitated, it is against the wish of their authors, as was 
the case, for example, with the turning movement of Ulm which the 
Germans copied so skilfully against the nephew of Napoleon. 

92 Laws of Imitation 

not for the well-known influence which these victories had 
respectively over the development of the arts of Greece in 
Asia, and of French institutions in Europe. 

History, as it is commonly understood, is, in short, only 
the co-operation or opposition of certain non-imitable inven- 
tions of merely temporary usefulness with or to a number of 
useful and imitable inventions. As for the direct causation 
of the latter by the former, it would be as impossible as the 
creation of a lizard or" the development of the wing of a con- 
dor through an upheaval of the Andes or Pyrenees. It is 
true that the indirect action of the former is considerable, 
for, as an invention is, after all, merely the singular inter- 
section of heterogeneous imitations in one brain, an excep- 
tional brain, to be sure. everything that opens fresh outlets 
to the radiations of different imitations tends to multiply 
the chances of such intersections. 1 

Here I shall open a parenthesis in order to anticipate an 
objection. It may be urged that I am exaggerating the 
social importance both of the sheepish tendency to imitate 
and of the inventive imagination of mankind. Man does 
not invent for the pleasure of inventing, but for the satis- 
faction of some want that he experiences. Genius takes 
its own time to unfold. Consequently, it is the series of 
wants, not the series of inventions, which is the pre-em- 
inently notable thing; and civilisation consists as much in 
the gradual multiplication and replacing of wants as in the 
gradual accumulation and substitution of arts and indus- 
tries. On the other hand, man does not always imitate for 
the pleasure of imitating either his ancestors or his foreign 
contemporaries. Out of all those inventions, discoveries, 
or theories which solicit his imitation or adhesion (his in- 
tellectual imitation), he for the most part, or more and 
more, imitates and adopts only those which seem to him to 

1 As an example of the indirect influence of imitation upon invention, 
we know that as a result of the growing fashion in France of taking 
water-cures, the advantage (?) of discovering new mineral springs was 
realised, and between the years 1838 and 1863 the waters of two hun- 
dred and thirty-four new springs were discovered or collected. 

Archaeology and Statistics 93 

be useful and true. It is, then, a search for utility and 
truth, not a tendency towards imitation, which characterises 
the social man, and it were much better to define civilisation 
as the growing utilisation or verification of. arts or ideas 
than as the growing assimilation of muscular and cerebral 

I answer by suggesting in the first place that, since the 
desire for cannot precede the notion of an object, no social 
desire can be prior to the invention by which the conception 
of the commodity, or article, or service able to satisfy it, 
was made possible. It is true that the invention was the re- 
sponse to a vague desire, that, for example, the idea of the 
electric telegraph solved the long-standing problem of a more 
rapid epistolary form of communication. But it is in becom- 
ing specific in this way that such a desire is spread and 
strengthened, that it is born into the social world. Besides, 
was it not developed itself by some past, or series of past, in- 
ventions, as in the given example, by the establishment of a 
postal service and, later, of the aerial telegraph ? Even phys- 
ical needs cannot become social forces unless, as I have al- 
ready had occasion to observe, they are made specific in an 
analogous way. It is only too clear that the desire to smoke, 
to drink tea or coffee, etc., did not appear until after the dis- 
covery of tea, or coffee, or tobacco. Here is another ex- 
ample among a thousand. " Clothing does not result from 
modesty," M. Wiener justly observes (Le Perou); "on 
the contrary, modesty appears as a result of clothing, that is 
to say, the clothing which conceals any part of the human 
body makes the nakedness of the part which we are accus- 
tomed to see covered, appear indecent." In other words, 
the desire to be clothed, in so far as it is a social desire, is 
due to the discovery of clothing, of certain kinds of clothes. 
Inventions are far from being, then, the simple effects of 
social necessities; they are their causes. Nor do I think 
that I have over-emphasised them. Inventors may, at given 
times, direct their imagination in line with the vague desires 
of the public, but we must not forget, I repeat, that these 
popular desires have themselves been aroused by previous 

94 Laws of Imitation 

inventors who were in turn indirectly influenced by still 
older inventors. This goes on until we finally find, on the 
one hand, as the primordial and necessary basis of every 
society and civilisation, certain simple, although very ar- 
duous, inspirations which are due, undoubtedly, to a very 
small number of innate and purely vital wants; and, on the 
other hand, certain still more important chance discoveries 
which were made for the mere pleasure of discovery, and 
which were nothing more than the play of a naturally crea- 
tive imagination. How many languages, religions, and 
poems, how many industries even, have begun in this way ! 
So much for invention. The same answer may be made 
in regard to imitation. It is true that we do not do every- 
thing that we do through routine or fashion and that we 
do not believe everything that we believe through prejudice 
or on authority although popular credulity, docility, and 
passivity are immensely greater than is usually admitted. 
But even when imitation is voluntary and deliberate, even 
when we do and believe that which appears to be the most 
useful and the most believable thing, our acts and thoughts 
are predetermined. Our acts are what they are because 
they are the fittest to satisfy and develop the wants which 
previous imitation of other inventions had first seeded in us; 
our thoughts, because they were the most consistent with the 
knowledge acquired by us of other thoughts which were 
themselves acquired because they were confirmed by other 
preliminary ideas or by visual, tactile, and other kinds of 
impressions which we got by renewing for ourselves certain 
scientific experiences or observations, after the example of 
those who first undertook them. 1 Thus imitations, like in- 

1 The character of our pre-existing wants and purposes does not 
alone influence or determine us in choosing the thoughts and acts, the 
creeds and careers, which we are always copying from others. The laws 
of respective countries, the prohibition of a certain industry, for ex- 
ample, or free trade, or obligatory instruction in a given branch of 
knowledge, are also factors. But laws act upon imitation in the same 
way, at bottom, as wants and purposes. They both rule over us, and 
the only difference in their rule is that the one is an outward master 
and the other an inward tyrant. Moreover, laws are only the expres- 

Archaeology and Statistics 95 

ventions, are seen to be linked together one after the other, 
in mutual if not in self dependence. If we follow back 
this second chain as we did the first, we come, logically, 
at last, to self-originating imitation, so to speak, to the 
mental state of primitive savages who, like children, imi- 
tate for the mere pleasure of imitating. This motive de- 
termines most of their acts, all of the acts, in fact, which 
belong to their social life. And so I have not overrated 
the importance of imitation, either. 


In brief, the picture of primitive society which rises be- 
fore me is that of a feeble, wayward imagination scattered 
here and there in the midst of a vast passive wiitativeness 
which receives and perpetuates all its vagaries as the water 
of a lake circles out under the stroke of a bird's wing on its 
surface. It seems to me that archaeological researches fully 
confirm this view. Sumner Maine says in his Early His- 
tory of Institutions: " Mr. Taylor has justly observed the 
true lesson of the new science of Comparative Mythology 
is the barrenness in primitive times of the mental faculty 
which we most associate with mental fertility, the Imagina- 
tion. Comparative jurisprudence as might be expected 
from the natural stability of law and custom yet more 
strongly suggests the same inference." This observation 
has only to be generalised. What is simpler, for example, 
than to represent Fortune with a horn of plenty, or Venus 
holding an apple in her hand? Yet Pausanias takes the 
trouble to tell us that the former emblem was originally 
conceived of by Bupalus, one of the oldest sculptors of 
Greece, and the latter, by Canachus, a sculptor of ygina. 

sion of the ruling wants and purposes of the governing class at a given 
time, and these wants and purposes may be always explained in the 
way that I have already indicated. 

1 [Lectures on the Early History of Institutions, p. 225, Sir Henry 
Sumner Maine, K. C. S. I., LL. D., F. R. S., New York, 1875. TV.] 

96 Laws of Imitation 

From these insignificant ideas in the minds of these two 
men are derived, then, the innumerable statues of Fortune 
and Venus which are characterised by these emblems. 

Archaeological studies point to another fact which is just 
as important although it has been less observed. They 
show that in ancient times man was much less hermetically 
bound up in his local traditions and customs and was much 
more imitative of the outside world and open to foreign 
fashions in the matter of trinkets, weapons, and even of in- 
stitutions and industries, than we have been led to suppose. 
It is truly surprising to find that at a certain period of antiq- 
uity such a useless thing as amber was imported from its 
original place of deposit on the Baltic to the extremes of 
southern Europe. The similarity in the decorations of the 
contemporary tombs of widely separated races is also a sur- 
prising fact. " At the same very remote period," writes M. 
Maury, on the subject of Euganean antiquities (Journal des 
savants, 1882), "the same art, whose productions we are 
now beginning to recognise, was spread through the littoral 
provinces of Asia Minor, through the Archipelago, and 
through Greece. The Etruscans seem to have held a 
place in this school. Every nation modified its principles ac- 
cording to its own genius." Finally, it is marvellous to find 
that, even in the most primitive of prehistoric ages, the types 
of flakes, of drawings, and of bone implements are the same 
almost all over the globe. 1 It seems as if every well-defined 
archaeological period were distinguished by the preponderat- 
ing prestige of some particular civilisation which illu- 

1 At first sight the striking similarity of the axes and arrowheads, and 
the other flint tools and weapons, which were discovered on both the 
old and the new continent, might seem to be the result of a mere coinci- 
dence, which the identity of human wants in war, hunting, clothing, etc., 
would sufficiently explain. But we already know the objections which 
could be raised against this explanation. Moreover, we must note the 
fact that polished axes, arrowheads, and even idols of jade and jadeite, 
stones that were absolutely unknown throughout the American conti- 
nent, have been found in Mexico. Is not this a proof that during the 
stone age the germs of civilisation were carried over from the Old 
World to the New? The event of such an importation in later periods 
is doubtful (see M. de Nadaillac, Amerique prehistorique, p. 542)- 

Archaeology and Statistics 97 

urinated and coloured all other rival or subject civilisations 
somewhat as every palseontological period is the reign of 
some great animal species, of some mollusk, reptile, or 

Archaeology can also show us that men have always been 
much less original than they themselves are pleased' to be- 
lieve. We come to overlook what we no longer look for, 
and we no longer look for what we have always under our 
eyes. For this reason, the faces of our fellow countrymen 
always impress us by the dissimilarity of their distinctive 
traits. Although they belong to the same race, we ignore 
their common racial traits. On the other hand, the people 
we see in our travels, Chinese, Arabians, negroes, all look 
alike. One might say that the truth lay between these op- 
posite impressions. But in this instance, as in most, the 
method of averaging is erroneous. For the cause of 
the illusion which partly blinds the man settled down among 
his fellow citizens, the film of habit, does not dull the eye of 
the traveller among strangers. Therefore, the impressions 
of the latter are likely to be much more exact than those of 
the former, and they testify to the fact that among indi- 
viduals of the same race inherited traits of similarity always 
outnumber traits of dissimilarity. 

Well, for a like reason, in turning from the vital to the 
social world, we are always exclusively impressed, not by 
the analogies, but by the differences which are, in general, 
apparent between the pictures and statues and writings of 
ourcontemporary painters and sculptors and writers, and be- 
tween the manners and gestures and witticisms of the friends 
and acquaintances in our drawing rooms. When, however, 
we glance over the works of Etruscan art in the Campana 
Museum, or when we pass for the first time through gal- 
leries of Dutch or Venetian or Florentine or Spanish art, 
containing pictures of the same school or period, or when 
we examine the mediaeval manuscripts in our archives, or 
when, in a museum of historic art, we view the rifled con- 
tents of Egyptian tombs, it seems to us that we are behold- 
ing almost indistinguishable copies of a single model and 

98 Laws of Imitation 

that formerly, in the same country and at the same time, 
every style of writing, painting, sculpturing, building, every 
form of social life, in fact, was so much like every other 
as to be taken for it. This impression cannot be mislead- 
ing, and it, too, should make us realise, by analogy, that we 
ourselves are infinitely more imitative than inventive. This 
is no mean lesson to draw from archaeological studies. It is 
certain that within a century almost all the novelists and 
artists and, above all, the poets, most of whom are the 
apes or rather the lemurs of Victor Hugo, of whose origi- 
nality we so naively boast, will justly pass for the servile 
copyists of one another. 

In a preceding chapter I tried to prove that all or almost 
all social resemblances were due to imitation just as all or 
almost all vital resemblances were caused by heredity. 
This simple principle has been implicitly and unanimously 
accepted by modern archaeologists as the guiding thread in 
the very obscure labyrinths of their immense subterraneous 
excavations, and, from the services which it has already 
rendered, we may predict those which it will still be called 
upon to give. Suppose that an ancient Etruscan tomb is 
discovered? How is its age to be determined? 
What is the subject of its frescoes? We can solve 
these problems by noting the slight and sometimes 
elusive resemblances between its paintings and others of a 
Greek origin ; and in this way we may at once infer that 
Greece was already imitated by Etruria at the time when 
the tomb was constructed. It does not occur to us to ex- 
plain these resemblances as fortuitous coincidences. Imita- 
tion is the postulate which serves as a guide in these ques- 
tions, and which, under wise management, is never mis- 
leading. Scholars are, to be sure, too often carried away 
by the naturalistic prejudices of their times; they do not 
limit themselves to deducing imitation from facts of re- 
semblance, but infer kinship from them likewise. From 
the fact, for example, that the vases, situlce, etc., found in 
the excavations at Este, in Venetia, were curiously like 
those found at Verona, Belluno, and elsewhere, M. Maury 

Archaeology and Statistics 99 

inclines to think that the builders of these different tombs 
belonged to the same people. Nothing seems to justify this 
conjecture. To be sure, M. Maury takes the trouble to add 
that, " at any rate, they belonged to populations who 
observed the same funeral rites and who possessed a com- 
mon industry " a somewhat different matter. At any 
rate, it seems pretty certain that even if the so-called 
Etruscans of the North, of Venetia, had Etruscan blood in 
their veins, they mixed it very freely with Celtic blood. On 
this point, M. Maury remarks elsewhere upon the influence 
which a civilised nation has always exerted, even without 
conquest, over its barbarous neighbours. " Etruscan works 
of art were clearly imitated," he says, " by the Gauls of Cis- 
alpine Gaul." And so likeness between artistic products is 
no proof at all of consanguinity, it points only to a contagion 
of imitation. 

In order to connect the unknown with the known archae- 
ologists have been obliged to seek for the secret of past 
generations in the most remote and, to the lay eye, imper- 
ceptible analogies in the matter of form, style, situation, lan- 
guage, legend, dress, etc., thereby training themselves to 
discover the unexpected everywhere. Some of these unex- 
pected things are based on fact; others, on different de- 
grees of likelihood according to a very extensive scale of 
probability. In this way archaeologists have contributed in 
a wonderful degree to deepening and widening the domain 
of human imitativeness and to almost entirely reducing the 
civilisation of every people, even that which at first may 
seem to be the most original, into a combination of imitations 
of other peoples. They know that Arabian art, in spite of 
its distinctive features, is merely the fusion of Persian 
with Greek art, that Greek art borrowed certain processes 
from Egyptian and perhaps from other sources, and that 
Egyptian art was formed from or amplified by many suc- 
cessive Asiatic and even African contributions. There is 
no assignable limit to this archaeological decomposition of 
civilisations; there is no social molecule which their chem- 
istry has not a fair hope of resolving into its constituent 

loo Laws of Imitation 

atoms. Meanwhile, their labours have reduced the number 
of still indecomposable centres of civilisation to three or 
four, in the Old World, and to one or two in the New. In 
the latter, strange to say, they are all situated on plateaux 
(Mexico and Peru), and in the former, at the mouth or on 
the banks of great rivers (the Nile, the Euphrates, the 
Ganges, and the rivers of China), although great water 
courses, as M. de Candolle justly remarks, are neither more 
uncommon nor more unhealthy in America than in Europe 
and Asia, and although habitable plateaux are not lacking 
in these latter parts of the world. The arbitrary factor 
which influences the choice of the first makers or importers 
of civilisation in the pitching of their tents shows itself here. 
And, perhaps, the civilisations that come from them will 
bear to the end of time the ineffaceable mark of their 
primordial caprice! 

Thanks to the archaeologists we learn where and when a 
new discovery first appeared, how far and how long it has 
spread, and by what roads it has travelled from the place of 
its origin to its adopted country. Although they may not 
take us back to the first furnace which turned out bronze 
or iron, they do take us back to the first country and 
century in which the pointed arch, printing, and oil-paint- 
ing, and, still much more anciently, the orders of Greek 
architecture, the Phoenician alphabet, etc., displayed them- 
selves to a justly marvelling world. They devote all their 
curiosity 1 and activity to following up a given invention 
through its manifold disguises and modifications, to recog- 
nising the atrium in the cloister, the praetorium of the Ro- 
man magistrate in the Roman church, the Etruscan bench 
in the curule-chair, or to tracing out the boundaries of the 
region to which an invention has spread through gradual 

1 1 know that the curiosity of the antiquarian is often vain and 
puerile. Even the greatest among them, men like Schliemann, seem 
more bent upon discovering something relating to a celebrated individ- 
ual, to a Hector or Priam or Agamemnon, than upon following out the 
course of the principal inventions of the past. But the personal aim 
and motive of the workers is one thing, the net gain and specific fruit 
of their work, another. 

Archaeology and Statistics 101 

self-propagation and beyond which, for yet to be discovered 
reasons (in my opinion they are always the competition of 
rival inventions), it has been unable to pass, or to studying 
the results of the intersection of different inventions which 
have spread so widely that they have finally come together 
in one imaginative brain. 

In short, these scholars are forced, perhaps uncon- 
sciously, into surveying the social life of the past from a 
point of view which is continually approximating that 
which I claim should be adopted knowingly and willingly by 
the sociologist. I refer here to the pure sociologist, who, 
through a necessary although artificial abstraction, is dis- 
tinguished from the naturalist. In distinction to histo- 
rians who see nothing else in history than the conflicts and 
competitions of individuals, that is, of the arms and legs as 
well as of the minds of individuals, and who, in regard to 
the latter, do not differentiate between ideas and desires of 
the most diverse origins, confusing those few that are new 
and personal with a mass of those that are merely copies; in 
distinction to those poor carvers-up of reality who have 
been unable to perceive the true dividing line between vital 
and social facts, the point where they separate without tear- 
ing, archaeologists stand out as makers of pure sociology, be- 
cause, as the personality of those they unearth is impene- 
trable, and only the work of the dead, the vestiges of their 
archaic wants and ideas, are open to their scrutiny, they 
hear, in a certain way, like the Wagnerian ideal, the music 
without seeing the orchestra of the past. In their own 
eyes, I know, this is a cruel deprivation; but time, in de- 
stroying the corpses and blotting out the memories of the 
painters and writers and modellers whose inscriptions and 
palimpsests they decipher and whose frescoes and torsos 
and potsherds they so laboriously interpret, has, neverthe- 
less, rendered them the service of setting free everything 
that is properly social in human events by eliminating 
everything that is vital and by casting aside as an impurity 
the carnal and fragile contents of the glorious form which 
is truly worthy of resurrection. 

IO2 Laws of Imitation 

To archaeologists, then, history becomes both simplified 
and transfigured. In their eyes it consists merely of the 
advent and development, of the competitions and conflicts, 
of original wants and ideas, or, to use a single term, 
of inventions. Inventions thus become great historic 
figures and the real agents of human progress. The proof 
that this idealistic point of view is the just one, lies in its 
fruitfulness. Through its happy, although, I repeat, in- 
voluntary, adoption, do not philologist and mythologist, the 
modern archaeologist, under different names, cut all the 
Gordian knots and shed light upon all the obscurities 
of history and, without taking away any of its grace 
and picturesqueness, bestow upon it the charm of the- 
ory? If history is on the way to become a science, is 
it not due to this point of view ? 


Something is likewise due to the statistician. The stat- 
istician, like the archaeologist, considers human affairs from 
an entirely abstract and impersonal standpoint. He pays 
no attention to individuals, to Peter or Paul; he concerns 
himself only with their works, or, rather, with those acts of 
theirs which reveal their wants and ideas, with the act of 
buying or selling, of manufacturing, of voting, of commit- 
ting or repressing crime, of suing for judicial separation, 
and even with the acts of being born, of marrying, of pro- 
creating, and of dying. All these individual acts are re- 
lated on some of their sides to social life, in as much as 
the spread of certain examples or prejudices seems to aid 
in raising or lowering the rates of birth and marriage, and 
to affect the prolificness of marriages and the mortality 
of infants. 

If archaeology is the collection and classification of similar 
products where the highest possibledegreeof similarity is the 
most important thing, Statistics is an enumeration of acts 
which are as much alike as possible. Here the art is in the 

Archaeology and Statistics 103 

choice of units; the more alike and equal they are, the better 
they are. What is the subject of Statistics unless, like that of 
archaeology, it is inventions and the imitative editions of 
inventions? Only, the latter study treats of inventions 
which are for the most part dead, worn out by their very 
activity, whereas the former treats of living inventions 
which are often modern or contemporaneous and which are 
in actual process of growth and expansion, of arrest or of 
decay. The one is the palaeontology, the other the physi- 
ology, of society. While archaeology tells us that speci- 
mens of Greek pottery were transported in Phoenician ves- 
sels at a certain rate of speed to certain places on the shores 
of the Mediterranean and far beyond, Statistics tells us what 
islands of Oceanica, how near the North or the South Pole, 
the English vessels of to-day carry the cotton goods of Eng- 
land and what number of yards they annually export to 
foreign markets. We must admit, however, that the field 
of invention seems to belong more especially to archaeology, 
and that of imitation, to Statistics. While jthe former en- 
deavours to follow out the thread between successive dis- 
coveries, the latter excels in estimating their individual ex- 
pansion. The domain of archaeology is the more philo- 
sophic, that of Statistics, the more scientific. 

To be sure, the methods of these two sciences are pre- 
cisely opposite to each other, but this is because of the dif- 
ference in the external conditions of their investigations. 
Archaeology studies the scattered examples of the same art 
a long time before it is able to hazard a conjecture about 
the origin or date of the primary process from which it has 
developed. For example, all the Indo-European languages 
must be known before they can be related to a perhaps im- 
aginary mother tongue, to Aryac, or to their elder sister, 
Sanskrit. Archaeology laboriously travels back from imita- 
tions to their source. The science of statistics, on the other 
hand, almost always knows the source of the expansions 
which it is measuring; it goes from causes to effects, from 
discoveries to their more or less successful development ac- 
cording to given years and countries. By means of its sue- 

IO4 Laws of Imitation 

cessive records, it will tell you that, from the time that the 
invention of steam engines began to gradually spread and 
strengthen the need for coal throughout France, the output 
of French coal increased at a perfectly regular rate and that 
from 1759 to 1869 it multiplied sixty-two and one-half 
times. In the same way you may also learn that after the 
discovery of beet sugar, or, rather, after the utility of the 
discovery was no longer doubted, the manufacture of this 
commodity was increased at an equally regular rate from 
seven millions of kilograms in 1828 (until then it was al- 
most stationary for the reason implied above) to one hun- 
dred and fifty millions of kilograms thirty years later 
(Maurice Block). 

I have taken the less interesting examples, but do we not 
witness by means of even these dry figures the birth and 
gradual establishment and progress of a new want or fash- 
ion in the community? In general, there is nothing more 
instructive than the chronological tables of statisticians, in 
which they show us the increasing rise or fall, year by year, 
of some special kind of consumption or production, of some 
particular political opinion as it is expressed in the returns 
of the ballot box, or of some specific desire for security that 
is embodied in fire-insurance premiums, in savings-bank ac- 
counts, etc. These are all, at bottom, representations in the 
life of some desire or belief that has been imported and 
copied. Every one of these tables, or, rather, every one of the 
graphical curves which represent them, is, in a way, an his- 
torical monograph. Taken together they form the best his- 
torical narrative that it is possible to have. Synchronous 
tables giving comparisons between provinces or between 
countries are generally much less interesting. Let us con- 
trast, as data for philosophic reflection, a table of crimi- 
nality in the departments of France with a curve showing 
the increase of recidivists during the last fifty years; or, 
let us compare the proportion of the urban to the rural 
population with that of the urban population year by 
year. We shall see in the latter case, for example, that the 
proportion increased from 1851 to 1882 at a regular and 

Archaeology and Statistics 105 

uninterrupted rate from twenty-five to thirty-three per cent., 
i. e., from a fourth to a third. This fact evidences the ac- 
tion of some definite social cause, whereas a comparison of 
the proportions between two neighbouring departments, be- 
tween twenty-eight per cent., for example, in the one, and 
twenty-six per cent, in the other, is not at all instructive. 
Similarly, a table giving the civil burials which had occurred 
in Paris or in the provinces for the last ten years would 
be significant; just as a comparison of the number of civil 
burials in France, England, and Germany at any given time 
would be relatively valueless. I do not mean that it would be 
useless to state that in 1870 the number of private telegraphic 
despatches amounted in France to fourteen millions, in Ger- 
many to eleven millions, and in England to twenty-four 
millions. But it is much more instructive to know that in 
France, especially, there had been an increase from nine 
thousand despatches in 1851 to four millions in 1859, to ten 
millions in 1869, and, finally, to fourteen millions in 1879. 
We cannot follow this varying rate of increase without be- 
ing reminded of the growth of living things. Why is there 
this difference between curves and tables? Because, as a 
rule, although there are many exceptions, curves alone deal 
with the spread of imitation. 

Statistics evidently follows a much more natural course 
than archaeology and, although it supplies the same kind of 
information, it is much more accurate. Its method is pre- 
eminently the sociological method, and it is only because 
we cannot apply it to extinct societies that we substitute the 
method of archeeology. How many trivial medals and mo- 
saics, how many cinerary urns and funeral inscriptions, we 
should be willing to exchange for the industrial, the com- 
mercial, or even the criminal statistics of the Roman Em- 
pire! But in order that Statistics may render all the ser- 
vices which we expect of it and may triumph against the 
ironical criticism to which it is exposed, it must, like archae- 
ology, be conscious both of its true usefulness and of its 
actual limitations; it must know where it is going and 
where it should go, nor must it underrate the dangers of 

106 Laws of Imitation 

the road which will take it to its goal. In itself it is merely a 
substitute. Psychological statistics which would take note 
of the individual gains and losses of special beliefs and de- 
sires called forth originally by some innovator, would alone, 
if the thing were practically possible, give the underlying 
explanation of the figures of ordinary statistics. 1 Ordinarily 
Statistics does not weigh; it only counts, and in its reck- 
oning it includes nothing but acts, acts of manufacture 
and consumption, purchases, sales, crimes, prosecutions, 
etc. But it is only after it has reached a certain 
degree of intensity that growing desire becomes ac- 
tion, or that decreasing desire suddenly unmasks itself 
and gives way to some contrary and hitherto restrained 
desire. This is also true of belief. In looking over 
the work of statisticians, it is most important to re- 
member that the things which are under calculation are es- 
sentially subjective qualities, desires and beliefs, and that 
very often the acts which they enumerate, although equal 
in number, give expression to very different weights among 
these things. At certain times during the last century, 
church attendance remained numerically the same, whereas 
religious faith was on the decline. . When the prestige of a 
government has been injured, the devotion of its adherents 
may be half destroyed although their number may hardly 
have diminished. This fact is shown by the vote on the 
very eve of a sudden political downfall. It is a source of 
delusion to those who are unduly reassured or discouraged 
by electoral statistics. 

Successful imitations are numerous indeed, but how few 
they are in comparision with those which are still unreal- 
ised ojects of desire! So-called popular wishes, the aspira- 
tions of a small town, for example, or of a single class, are 

1 According to the statistics of railroads, omnibuses, excursion 
steamers, etc., their receipts diminish regularly every Friday. This 
points to the very widespread, although much weakened, prejudice about 
the danger of undertaking anything at all on that day of the week. If 
we followed the variations in this periodic diminution from year to 
year, the gradual decline of the absurd belief in question might be easily 

Archeology and Statistics 107 

composed exclusively, at a given moment, of tendencies, 
which, unfortunately, cannot at the time be realised, to ape 
in all particulars some richer town or some superior class. 
This body of simian proclivities constitutes the potential 
energy of a society. It takes only a commercial treaty, or a 
new discovery, or a political revolution, events which make 
certain luxuries and powers, which had before been re- 
served for the privileged ones of fortune or intellect, ac- 
cessible to those possessing thinner purses or fewer abilities, 
to convert it into actual energy. This potential energy, 
then, is of great importance, and it would be well to bear 
its fluctuations in mind. And yet ordinary statistics seem 
to pay no attention to this force. The labour of making an 
approximate estimate of it would seem ridiculous, although 
it might be done by many indirect methods and might at 
times be of advantage to Statistics. In this respect, archae- 
ology is superior in the information which it gives us 
about buried societies; for although it may teach us less 
about their activities in point of detail and precision, it 
pictures their aspirations more faithfully. A Pompeiian 
fresco reveals the psychological condition of a provincial 
town under the Roman Empire much more clearly than all 
the statistical volumes of one of the principal places of a 
French department can tell us about the actual wishes of its 

Let me add, that Statistics is of such recent origin that it 
it has not yet shot out all its branches, whereas its older col- 
laborator has ramified in all directions. There is an 
archaeology of language, comparative philology, which 
draws up separate monographs for us of the life of every 
root from its accidental origin in the mouth of some ancient 
speaker through its endless reproductions and multiplica- 
tions by means of the remarkable uniformity of innumer- 
able generations of men. There is in archaeology of reli- 
gion, comparative mythology, which deals separately with 
every myth and with its endless imitative editions, just as 
philology treats every word. There is an archaeology of 
law, of politics, of ethnology, and, finally, of art and indus- 

io8 Laws of Imitation 

try. They likewise devote a separate treatise to every legal 
idea or fiction, to every custom or institution, to every type 
or creation of art, to every industrial process, and, in addi- 
tion, to the power of reproduction by example which is 
peculiar to each of these things. And we have a corre- 
sponding number of distinct and flourishing sciences. But, 
hitherto, in the matter of truly and exclusively sociological 
statistics, we have had to be content with statistics of com- 
merce and industry, and with judicial statistics, not to speak 
of certain hybrid statistics which straddle both the physio- 
logical and the social worlds, statistics of population, of 
births, marriages, deaths, medical statistics, etc. In tables of 
election figures we have merely the germ of political statis- 
tics. 1 As to religious statistics, which should give us a 
graphic representation of the relative annual spread of dif- 
ferent sects and of the thermometric variations, so to speak, 
in the faith of their adherents; as to linguistic statistics, 
which should figure for us not only upon the comparative 
expansion of different idioms, but upon the vogue or decline, 
in each one of them, of every vocable, of every form of 
speech, I fear that, if I should say anything more about 
these hypothetical sciences, I might bring a smile to the lips 
of my readers. 

However, I have amply justified the assertion that the 
statistician looks at human affairs from the same point of 
view as the archaeologist and that this point of view coin- 
cides with mine. At the risk of distorting it, let me simplify 
it in a brief summary before we continue. In the midst of 
an incoherent mass of historic facts, a puzzling dream or 
nightmare, reason vainly seeks for an order which it does 

1 It may be that universal suffrage is of no value except on one of its 
sides, a side hitherto overlooked. It has decided value as an intermit- 
tent study in political statistics, through which a nation is made con- 
scious of the changes in its desires and opinions in vital matters. To 
work under the conditions which are required for the calculation of 
probabilities, this study must be based upon very large numbers. Hence 
the necessity for extending the franchise as much as possible, and, 
especially, of absolutely universalising sr>-called universal suffrage. (On 
this subject, see an article published in my Etudes penales et sociales). 

Archaeology and Statistics 109 

not find because it refuses to look in the right direction. 
Sometimes it imagines that this order has been found and, 
in its conception of history as the fragment of a poem which 
is unintelligible except in its entirety, it refers us for the 
solution of the enigma to the moment when the final des- 
tinies of humanity shall have been fulfilled and its most 
hidden origins absolutely revealed. We may as well repeat 
the famous phrase: Ignorabimus. But if we look beneath 
the names and dates of history, beneath its battles and 
revolutions, what do we see? We see specific desires that 
have been excited or sharpened by certain inventions or 
practical initiatives, each of which appears at a certain point 
from which, like a luminous body, it shoots out incessant 
radiations which harmoniously intersect with thousands of 
analogous vibrations in whose multiplicity there is an en- 
tire lack of confusion. We also see specific beliefs that 
have been produced by certain discoveries or hypotheses 
that also radiate at a variable rate and within variable 
limits. The order in which these inventions or discoveries 
appear and are developed is, in a large measure, merely 
capricious and accidental; but, at length, through an evi- 
table elimination of those which are contrary to one; another 
(i. e., of those which more or less contradict one another 
through some of their implicit propositions), the simulta- 
neous group which they form becomes harmonious and 
coherent. Viewed thus as an expansion of waves issuing 
from distinct centres and as a logical arrangement of these 
centres and of their circles of vibration, a nation, a city, the 
most humble episode in the so-called poem of history, be- 
comes a living and individual whole, a fine spectacle for the 
contemplation of the philosopher. 


If this point of view is correct, if it is really the fittest 
from which to elucidate social events on their regular, 
numerable, and measurable sides, it follows that Statistics 

no Laws of Imitation 

should adopt it, not partially and unconsciously, but know- 
ingly and unreservedly, and thus, like archaeology, be spared 
many fruitless investigations and tribulations. 1 will enu- 
merate the principal consequences that would result from 
this. In the first place, sociological Statistics, having acquired 
a touchstone for the knowledge of what did and what did not 
belong to it, and having become convinced that the immense 
field of human imitation, and only that field, was its exclu- 
sive possession, would leave to naturalists the care of 
tabulating statistics so purely anthropological in their 
results as, for example, the statistics of exemption from 
military service in the different departments of France, or 
the task of constructing tables of mortality (I do not include 
tables of birth rates, for, in this case, example is a powerful 
factor in restraining or stimulating racial fecundity). This 
is pure biology, just as much as the use of M. Marey's 
graphical method, or as the observation of disease through 
the myograph and sphgymograph and pneumograph, 
mechanical statisticians, so to speak, of contractions and 
pulsations and respiratory movements. 

In the second place, the sociological statistician would 
never forget that his proper task was the measurement of 
specific beliefs and desires and the use of the most direct 
methods to grasp these elusive quantities, and that an 
enumeration of acts which resembled each other as much as 
possible (a condition which is badly fulfilled by criminal 
statistics among others), and, failing this, an enumeration 
of like products, of articles of commerce, for example, 
should always relate to the following, or, rather, to the two 
following ends: (i) through the tabulation of acts or 
products to trace out the curve of the successive increases, 
standstills, or decreases in every new or old want and in 
every new or old idea, as it spreads out and consolidates 
itself or as it is crushed back and uprooted; (2) through 
a skilful comparision between series that have been obtained 
in this way, and through emphasising their concomitant va- 
riations, to denote the various aids and hindrances which 
these different imitative propagations or consolidations of 

Archaeology and Statistics 1 1 1 

wants and ideas lend or oppose to one another (according 
to the varying degrees in which the more or less numerous 
and implicit propositions of which they always consist, 
more or less endorse or contradict one another). Nor 
should the sociological statistician neglect the influence, in 
these matters, of sex, age, temperament, climate, and 
seasons, natural causes whose force is measured, at any rate 
when it exists, by physical or biological statistics. 

In other words, sociological statistics have: (i) to de- 
termine the imitative power which inheres in every inven- 
tion at any given time and place; (2) to demonstrate the 
beneficial or harmful effects which result from the imitation 
of given inventions and, consequently, to influence those 
who are acquainted with such numerical results, in their 
tendencies towards following or disregarding the examples 
in question. In brief, the entire object of this kind of re- 
search is the knowledge and control of imitations. Medical 
statistics may be cited to show how the latter aim has been 
reached. Medical statistics, as a matter of fact, are related 
to social science in as much as they compare the proportion, 
in the case of every disease, of sufferers who are cured by 
the use of the different methods and remedies of ancient 
or recent discovery. In this way it has contributed to the 
spread of vaccination, of the treatment of the itch by para- 
siticides, etc. Statistics which show that crime, suicide, and 
mental derangements are greatly increased through residence 
in cities would tend to moderate, very feebly to be sure, the 
great current of imitation which carries the country popula- 
tion to the cities. M. Bertillon assures us that even statistics 
of marriage would encourage us to make an even greater 
use than we do of that very ancient invention of our fore- 
fathers, a more original invention, let me say, parenthet- 
ically, than it may seem, in showing us the diminished 
mortality of married men in comparision with bachelors of 
a corresponding age. But I must not linger on this deli- 
cate subject. 

The second of the two problems which I have just noted 
and which seem to me to impose themselves upon the statis- 

H2 Laws of Imitation 

tician, cannot be solved before the first. It is perhaps well to 
note this fact. Are we not putting the cart before the horse 
when we try to calculate, as we often do, the influence of 
certain punishments, for example, or religious beliefs or of 
a certain kind of education upon criminal tendencies before 
we have measured the force of these tendencies in free play, 
in the days of mob rule, when the populations are uncon- 
trolled by police or priest or teacher, and turn to arson, 
murder, and pillage, deeds which are at once imitated from 
one end of a country to the other ? 

The preliminary operation, then, would be the prepara- 
tion of a table of our principal innate or gradually acquired 
desires, beginning with the social desire to marry or have 
children, and of our principal old or new beliefs; or, which 
is one and the same thing, of certain families of acts, be- 
longing to a single type, and expressing, with more or 
less exactness, its intrinsic powers. In this connection, com- 
mercial and industrial statistics, statistics that become so 
interesting from the above standpoint, are of especial value. 
Does not every article which is made or sold, correspond, 
in fact, to some special desire or idea ? Does not the prog- 
ress of its sale and manufacture at a given time and place 
express its motor power, i. e., its rate of propagation, as 
well as its mass, as it were, i. e., its importance? Statistics 
of commerce and industry are, then, the main foundation 
of all other statistics. Better still, if the thing were 
practicable, would be the application, on a larger scale, 
to the living, of the method of investigation which arch- 
aeology uses in relation to the dead. I mean a precise 
and complete house-to-house inventory of all the furniture 
in a given country and the annual numerical variations in 
all of its different kinds of furniture. This would give us 
an excellent photograph of our social condition; it would 
be somewhat analogous to the admirable pictures of extinct 
civilisations which the delvers into the past have made in 
their careful inventories of the contents of the tombs, the 
houses of the dead, of Egypt, Italy, Asia Minor, and 

Archeology and Statistics 113 

But in the absence of such an inquisitorial census as I 
have in mind and of the glass houses which it presupposes, 
complete and systematic statistics of commerce and indus- 
try, and, particularly, statistics of publications showing us 
the relative changes in the annual publication of different 
kinds of books, suffice to give us the needed data. Theoret- 
ically, judicial statistics take a second place, and it must be 
admitted that, although in one way they are more pro- 
foundly interesting, in another, they are inferior. Their 
units lack similarity. If I am told that during the current 
year a certain furnace has turned out one million steel rails 
or that a given manufactory is in receipt of ten thousand 
bales of cotton, I have to deal with like units representing like 
wants. But it would be idle to divide thefts, for example, or 
distraints into classes and sub-classes; we should never 
succeed in keeping distinct acts which are quite dissimilar, 
inspired as they are by different wants and ideas, proceed- 
ing from different origins and belonging, in this way, to 
many different classes of activity. The most one could do 
would be to make a separate column for the assassinations 
of women by mutilation or poisonings by strychnine or other 
offences of recent contrivance which really fall into one 
group and constitute certain characteristic criminal 
fashions. Felonies and misdemeanours should properly be 
classified according to their methods of execution. Then 
the empire of imitation in such matters could be seen. It 
would be necessary to descend to details. If crimes could 
be classified according to the nature of the prize at stake, or 
of the hardship eliminated, we should have a different and 
yet a natural kind of classification which would reproduce 
under a new form a classification of the industrial articles or 
services whose purchase procures for honest people corre- 
sponding satisfactions. 

ii4 Laws of Imitation 

When the field of sociological statistics has been clearly 
defined, when the curves relating to the propagation, that is 
to say, to the consolidation as well, of every special want 
and opinion, for a certain number of years and over a certain 
stretch of country, have been plainly traced, the interpreta- 
tion of these hieroglyphic curves, curves that are at times as 
strange and picturesque as mountain profiles, more often 
as sinuous and graceful as living forms, has still to be made. 
I am very much mistaken if our point of view will not 
prove very helpful here. The lines in question are always 
ascending or horizontal or descending, or, if they are ir- 
regular, they can always be decomposed in the same way into 
three kinds of linear elements, into inclines, plateaux, and 
declines. According to Quetelet and his school, the pla- 
teaux would belong pre-eminently to the statistician; their 
discovery should be his finest triumph and the constant 
object of his ambition. According to this view, the most 
fitting foundation for a social physics would be the uniform 
reproduction, during a considerable period, of the same num- 
ber, not only of births and marriages, but also of crimes and 
litigations. Hence the error (it no longer exists, to be sure, 
thanks, especially, to recent official statistics concerning the 
progressive criminality of the last half-century), of 
thinking that the latter figures have, in reality, been 
uniformly reproduced. But if the reader has taken the 
trouble to follow me, he will realise that, without detract- 
ing at all from the importance of the horizontal lines, 
the ascending lines, indicating as they do the regular 
spread of some kind of imitation, have a far higher theoret- 
ical value. The reason is this: The fact that a new taste 
or idea has taken root in a mind which is constituted 
in a certain fashion carries with it no reason why this inno- 
vation should not spread more or less rapidly through an 
indefinite number of supposedly like minds in communi- 

Archaeology and Statistics 115 

cation with one another. It would spread instantane- 
ously through all these minds if they were absolutely 
alike and if their intercommunication were perfect. It is 
this ideal, an ideal that is happily beyond realisation, that we 
are fast approaching. The rapid diffusion of telephones in 
America from the moment of their first appearance there 
is one proof in point. This ideal is almost reached already 
in the matter of legislative innovations. Laws or de- 
crees which were once slowly and laboriously administered 
in one province after another are to-day executed from 
one end to the other of a state the very day of their pas- 
sage or promulgation. This occurs because in this case 
there is no hindrance whatsoever. Lack of communication 
in social physics plays the same role as lack of elasticity in 
physics. The one hinders imitation as much as the other, 
vibration. But the imitative spread of certain well-known 
inventions (railroads, telegraphs, etc.), tends to diminish, 
to the benefit of every other invention, this insufficiency of 
mental contact. As for mental dissimilarity, it likewise 
tends to be effaced by the spread of wants and ideas which 
have arisen from past inventions and whose work of as- 
similation in this way facilitates the propagation of future 
inventions. I mean of future non-contradictory inventions. 
When wants or ideas are once started, they always 
tend to continue to spread of themselves in a true geometric 
progression. 1 This is the ideal scheme to which their curve 
would conform if they could spread without mutual obstruc- 
tion. But as such checks are, at one time or another, inevita- 
ble, and as they continue to increase, every one of these social 
forces must eventually run up against a wall which for the 
time being is insurmoutable and must through accident, 
not at all through natural necessity, fall temporarily into 
that static condition whose meaning statisticians in general 

1 At the same time, they tend to entrench themselves, and their prog- 
ress extensively hastens their progress intensively. Let us note, 
incidentally, that there is no past or present enthusiasm or fanaticism 
of historic importance that cannot be explained through this interaction 
of the imitation of self with the imitation of others. 

1 1 6 Laws of Imitation 

appear to so little understand. In this case, as in all others, 
a static condition means equilibrium, a joint standstill of 
concurrent forces. I am far from denying the theoretic in- 
terest of this state, because these equilibria are equivalent to 
equations. If, for example, I see that the consumption of 
coffee or chocolate has ceased to increase in a certain country 
at a certain date, I know that the strength of the desire there 
for coffee or chocolate is exactly equal to that of certain rival 
desires which would have to remain unsatisfied, considering 
the average fortune, by a more ample satisfaction of the 
former. The price of every article is determined in this 
way. But does not every one of the annual figures in pro- 
gressive series or slopes also express an equation between 
the strength, at a certain date, of the desire in question and 
the strength of competing desires which hindered its further 
development at the same date? Moreover, if progression 
ceased at one point rather than at another, if the plateau is 
neither higher nor lower than it is, is it not because of a 
mere accident of history, that is to say, because of the fact 
that the opposing invention, from which arose the antago- 
nistic wants that barred the progress in question, appeared at 
one time and place rather than at another, or because of the 
fact that it actually did appear instead of not appearing at 

Plateaux, let me add, are always unstable equilibria. After 
an approximately horizontal position has been sustained for 
a more or less prolonged time, the curve begins to rise or fall, 
the series begins to grow or diminish with the appearance of 
new auxiliary and confirmatory or antagonistic and contra- 
dictory inventions. As for diminishing series, they are 
merely, as we see, the result of successful growths which 
have suppressed some declining public taste or opinion which 
was once in vogue; they do not deserve the attention of the 
theorist except as the other side of the picture of the grow- 
ing series which they presuppose. 

Let me also state that whenever the statistician is able to 
lay hold of the origin of an invention and to trace out year by 
year its numerical career, he shows us curves which, for a 

Archeology and Statitiscs 117 

certain time, at least, are constantly rising, and rising, too, 
although for a much shorter period, with great regularity. 
If this perfect regularity fail to continue, it is for reasons 
which I will shortly indicate. But when very ancient in- 
ventions like monogamy or Christian marriage are under 
consideration, inventions which have had time to pass 
through their progressive period and which have rounded 
out, so to speak, their whole sphere of imitation, we ought 
not to be surprised if Statistics, in its ignorance of their be- 
ginnings, represents them by horizontal lines that show 
scarce a deviation. In view of this, there is nothing aston- 
ishing in the fact that the proportion of the annual number 
of marriages to the total population remains about constant 
(except in France, I may say, where there is a gradual dim- 
inution in this proportion) or even in the fact that the in- 
fluence of marriage upon crime or suicide is expressed each 
year by pretty much the same figures. Here we are dealing 
with ancient institutions which have passed into the blood 
of a people just like the natural factors of climate, seasons, 
temperament, sex, and age, which influence the mass of 
human acts with such striking uniformity (which has been 
greatly exaggerated, however, as it is much more circum- 
scribed than is generally supposed) and with a regularity 
that is also remarkable, in quite a different way, again, in 
connection with vital phenomena like death and disease. 

And yet, what do we find at the bottom of even these uni- 
form series? Let us see; the digression will be brief. Statis- 
tics have shown, for example, that the death rate from one to 
five years of age is always three times greater in the littoral 
departments of the Mediterranean than in the rest of France, 
or, at any rate, than in more favoured departments. The ex- 
planation of this fact is found, it seems, in the extreme heat 
of the Provencal climate during summer. This season is as 
harmful to early infancy (another statistical revelation con- 
trary to current opinion) as winter is to old age. At any 
rate, climate intervenes in this instance, as a constant and 
fixed cause. But what is climate but a nominal entity by 
which a certain group of realities is expressed, to wit : the 

1 1 8 Laws of Imitation 

sun, a radiation of light which tends towards indefinite ex- 
pansion in unbounded space and which the earth-obstacle 
opposes and checks; the winds, i. e., fragments of more or 
less well demarcated cyclones which are continually striving 
to swell themselves out and reach over the entire globe and 
which are held in check only by mountain chains or counter 
whirlwinds; altitude, the effect of up-pushing subterranean 
forces which hoped for an endless expansion of the happily 
resistant crust of the earth; latitude, the effect of the rota- 
tion of the still fluid terrestial globe in its vain efforts at 
further contraction; the nature of the earth, that is, of 
molecules whose but partially satisfied affinities are engaged 
in fruitless activity and whose power of attraction, venting 
itself over any distance, strives for impossible contacts; 
finally, to a certain extent, the earth's flora, its various veg- 
etal species or varieties, each of which, from discontent with 
its own habitat, would cover the entire surface of the globe 
except for the restraint imposed upon its avidity by the 
rivalry of all the others. 

I might just as well say of age, sex, and other influences 
of nature what I have said of climate. In short, all external 
realities, whether physical or vital, display the same infinite 
unrealised and unreali sable ambitions, ambitions that re- 
ciprocally stimulate and paralyse one another. The thing 
in them that we call the fixity or immutability of the laws of 
nature, the supreme reality, is, at bottom, only their inabil- 
ity to travel further in their strictly natural course and real- 
ise themselves more fully. Well, this is also true of the fixed 
(the momentarily fixed) influences which Statistics discovers 
or pretends to discover in the social order; for social realities, 
ideas and desires, are not less ambitious than others, and it 
is into them that analysis resolves those social entities which 
are called customs, institutions, language, legislation, reli- 
gion, science, industry, and art. The oldest of these things, 
those past adolescence, have ceased to grow; but the younger 
are still developing. One proof of this, among others, is 
seen in the incessant swelling of our budgets. They have 
enlarged, and will continue to enlarge until some final catas- 

Archaeology and Statistics . 119 

trophe occur which will be, in turn, the point of departure 
for a renewed increase which will end in the same way, and 
so on indefinitely. Without going back of 1819, from that 
date to 1869 the amount of indirect taxes has arisen very reg- 
ularly from 544 to 1323 millions of francs. When thirty- 
three or thirty-seven millions of men, thirty-three in 1819, 
thirty-seven in 1869, have increasing wants because they 
are copying one another more and more, they must produce 
and consume more and more in order to satisfy their wants, 
and it is inevitable that their public expenditures should in- 
crease in proportion to their private expenditures. 1 

If our European civilisation had long ago put forth, like 
Chinese civilisation, all that it was able to in the matters of 
invention and discovery, if, while living upon its old capital, 
it was exclusively composed of old wants and ideas, without 
the slightest new addition whatsoever, Quetelet's wish 
would probably, in accordance with what has preceded, be 

If statistics were applied to every aspect of our social life, 
they would lead in all cases to certain uniform series, 
which would unroll horizontally and which would be quite 
analogous to the famous " laws of nature." It is perhaps 
because Nature is much older than we, and because she has 
had the requisite time in which to bring to this state of in- 
ventive exhaustion all her own civilisations I mean her 
living types (true cellular societies, as we know) that we 
ascribe to her the fixity and permanence that we praise so 
highly. This is the reason for that fine and so much ad- 
mired periodicity of the figures given by sociologico-physio>- 
logical Statistics, so to speak, which obstinately insists upon 
emphasising the constantly uniform influences of age or sex 
upon criminality or nuptiality. We could be certain in 
advance of such regularity, just as we could be sure, if 

1 This increase is not peculiar to the nineteenth century. M. Dela- 
hante says (Une famille de finances an XVI I I e siecle) that under the 
ancient regime " the ferme generate brought in to the government a 
steadily increasing revenue of from one hundred to one hundred and 
sixty millions. [I, 195, Paris, 1880. Tr.] 

1 20 Laws of Imitation 

we classified criminals as nervous, bilious, lymphatic, or 
sanguine, or, who knows, even as blondes or brunettes, that 
the annual participation of each of these groups in the annual 
perpetration of crime would be seen to be always the same. 

Perhaps I had better draw attention to the fact that cer- 
tain statistical regularities which seem to be of another kind 
belong, at bottom, to the above-mentioned group. For ex- 
ample, why for the last fifty years, at least, have the convic- 
tions of police courts been appealed nearly at the rate of 
forty-five per thousand, whereas, during the same period, 
the public prosecutor has been steadily cutting down the 
number of his appeals to one-half? This decrease in 
the government's appeals is the direct effect of increas- 
ing imitation in the legal profession. But how can 
the numerical standstill in the matter of prisoners' appeals 
be explained? Let us observe that when the man who 
has been sentenced is considering whether or not he should 
carry his case to a higher court he is not usually in- 
fluenced by what other men like himself are doing or would 
do under similar circumstances. He is generally ignorant 
about such examples. He pays even less attention to the 
statistics that would prove to him that courts of appeal are 
becoming more and more inclined to confirm the decisions 
of the lower courts. But, other things being equal (that is, 
reasons for hope or fear, based upon the circumstances of 
the case, having on an average the same annual weight), it 
is the degree of boldness in the man's nature which influences 
him either to fear failure or hope for success, thereby 
making him act in one way or the other. Here, again, as 
an additional weight in the balance is the definite quantity 
of daring and self-confidence which goes to make up the 
usual temperament of delinquents and which necessarily 
finds expression as such in the uniform proportion of their 

The error made by Quetelet may be explained historically. 
The first attempts of Statistics were concerned, to be sure, 
with population, that is, with the birth, death, and marriage 
rates that prevailed among both sexes at different ages and 

Archaeology and Statistics 121 

in different places, and, as these effects of climatic and 
physiological or of very ancient social causes naturally gave 
rise to regular repetitions of almost constant figures, the 
mistake was made of generalising observations that subse- 
quently proved false. And thus it was possible for statistics, 
whose regularity only expresses, at bottom, the imitative 
bondage of the masses to the individual fancies or concep- 
tions of superior individuals, to be called upon to confirm 
the current prejudice that the general facts of social life are 
determined, not by human minds and wills, but by certain 
myths that are called natural laws ! 

And yet statistics of population should have opened our 
eyes by this time. The total of population never remains 
stationary in any country; it increases or decreases at a rate 
which is singularly variable among different peoples and in 
different centuries. How can this fact be explained on the 
hypothesis of social physics? How can we ourselves ex- 
plain it ? Here we have a need which is certainly very old, 
the need of paternity, the extent of whose rise or fall finds 
an eloquent expression in the annual birth rate. Now, 
statistics show that, old as it is, it is subject to enormous 
oscillations, and if we consult history, the history of France, 
for example, it reveals to us a succession, in the past, 
of gradual and alternating depopulations and repopulations 
of territory. The fact is that this attribute of age is purely 
fictitious. The natural and instinctive desire for fatherhood 
is one thing and the social, imitative, and rational desire, 
another. The former may be constant; but the latter, 
which is grafted upon the former at every great change of 
customs, laws, or religions, is subject to periodic fluctuation 
and renewal. Economists err in confounding the two, or, 
rather, in considering the former only, whereas, it is the 
latter which is alone important to the sociologist. 

Now, there are as many new and distinct desires of the 
latter kind for paternity as there are distinct and successive 
motives because of which the social man desires to have 
children. And we always find certain practical discoveries 
or theoretic conceptions in explanation of the origin of each 

122 Laws of Imitation 

of these motives. The Spanish-American or Anglo-Saxon 
is prolific because he has America to people. If Christo- 
pher Columbus had made no discovery, what millions of 
men would have remained unborn! The insular English- 
man is prolific because he has a third of the globe to colonise, 
a direct consequence of the series of fortunate explorations, 
of the traits of maritime and warlike genius, and, above all, 
of the personal initiatives, not to speak of other causes, that 
won for him his colonies. In Ireland the introduction of the 
potato raised the population from three millions in 1766, to 
eight million three hundred thousand in 1845. The an- 
cient Aryan desired descendants in order that his altar-flame 
might never be extinguished, nor the altar ever fail to receive 
its sacred libation; for he was persuaded by his religion 
that its extinction would bring misfortune to his soul. The 
zealous Christian dreams of being the head of a numerous 
family in docile obedience to the multiplicamini of his Bible. 
To the early Roman to have children meant to give warriors 
to the Republic, a republic which would never have existed 
but for that group of inventions, of military and political in- 
stitutions of Etruscan, Sabine, and Latin origin, which 
Rome exploited. To develop mines, railroads, and cotton 
mills is to give new hands to the industries that are born of 
modern inventions. Christopher Columbus, Watt, Fulton, 
Stephenson, Ampere, Parmentier, can pass, whether celi- 
bates or not, for the greatest of all the multipliers of the 
human species that have ever existed. 

Let me stop here; I have said enough to make myself 
clear. It is possible that fathers will always regard their 
actual children from the same point of view, but they will 
certainly consider their potential children quite differently 
according to whether, like the ancient pater familias, they 
look upon them as domestic slaves without any ultimate 
rights, or whether, like Europeans of to-day, they think of 
them as the perhaps exacting masters and creditors to 
whom they themselves may some day be enslaved. This is a 
result of the difference in customs and laws which wants and 
ideas have made. We see that here, as elsewhere, individual 

Archaeology and Statistics 123 

initiatives and their contagious imitations, have accom- 
plished everything, socially, I mean. Thousands of centu- 
ries ago the human species might have been reduced to a 
negligible number of individuals and, like bear or bison,have 
ceased to progress, had not some man of genius arrived 
from tim.e to time, in the course of history, to stimulate its 
reproductive power, either by opening new outlets to human 
activity through industry or colonisation or, as a religious 
reformer, like Luther, by reviving or, rather, by rejuvenating 
in an entirely new form the religious zeal of the community 
and its general belief in Providence as the protector of all the 
birds of the air. Every stimulus of this kind may be said to 
have aroused a fresh desire, in the social sense, for paternity, 
and this desire was added to, or substituted for, preceding 
desires, the former more often than the latter, and then pro- 
ceeded, in its turn, along its own line of development. 

Now, let us take one of these purely social desires for pro- 
creation in its inception and let us follow its course. Such an 
example will serve as well as another to develop the general 
law which I am about to formulate. Suppose that in the 
midst of a population which has been stationary for a long 
time because the desire for children has been exactly coun- 
terbalanced by a fear of the greater misery which their mul- 
tiplication would entail, the report is suddenly spread abroad 
that the discovery and conquest of a great island by a com- 
patriot has secured to people a new means of enlarging their 
families without impoverishing themselves, with an increase 
of wealth, in fact, to themselves. As this news travels and 
is confirmed, the desire for paternity redoubles, that is, the 
pre-existent desire is redoubled by the addition of a new de- 
sire. But the latter is not satisfied at once. It has to con- 
tend with a whole tribe of rooted habits and antique 
practices which have given birth to a general belief that ac- 
climatisation in such a distant land is impossible and death 
from famine, or fever, or homesickness, a certainty. Many 
years must elapse before this pervasive opposition can be 
generally overcome. Then a current of emigration sets in, 
and the colonists, set free from prejudice, begin to indulge 

124 Laws of Imitation 

in extreme fecundity. At this time the tendency towards a 
geometric progression which governs not merely the desire 
to procreate, but all other desires as well, is actualised and, 
to a certain extent, satisfied. But this period does not last. 
The increase in the birth rate soon falls off because of the 
very development of prosperity which accompanies it. 
Needs of luxury, of leisure, and of a fancied independence 
which it has itself created encroach upon it day by day. 
When they reach a certain point the ultra-civilised man is 
placed in the dilemma of choosing between the joys offered 
by them and the joys of a numerous family. If he choose 
the former, he renounces the latter. Hence an inevitable 
arrest of the progression in question. Then, if an extreme 
kind of civilisation continue, a depopulation sets in like that 
which occurred in the Roman Empire, and like that 
which modern Europe and even America are bound some 
day to experience. But a depopulation like this never has 
gone and never will go very far, because of the fact that if 
it were to pass beyond a certain limit, it would bring about 
a setback to civilisation and a diminution in the desire for 
luxury which would again raise the level of population. 
Therefore, if nothing new occur, the establishment, after 
some oscillations, of a static condition will necessarily be 
maintained until some new order of chance or genius takes 

We need not fear to generalise this observation. Since 
it applies to such an apparently primitive desire as that for 
paternity, how much more readily would it apply to the so- 
called needs of luxury, all of which are plainly the result of 
discovery, to the desire, for example, for locomotion by 
steam. Although this desire was at first restrained by fear 
of accidents and by the habit of sedentary life, its successful 
development was not delayed until it came into contact, in 
our own day, with the more redoubtable adversaries that it 
had itself, in part, created and encouraged. I mean the need 
for the thousand various satisfactions of civilised life but 
for the satisfaction of which the pleasure of travel could not 
fail to increase indefinitely. The same remark applies as 

Archaeology and Statistics 125 

truly, although less obviously, to desires of a higher order, 
to the desire for equality, or for political liberty, or, let me 
add, for truth. These desires, the third included, are of 
fairly recent origin. The first arose from the humanistic 
and rationalistic philosophy of the eighteenth century; the 
second, from English parliamentarism. The sources and 
leaders of the first movement we know, and, without going 
back very far, it would not be difficult to name the successive 
inventors and promotors of the second. As for the desire 
for truth, this torment, if we are to believe M. Dubois-Rey- 
mond, was unknown to classic antiquity, a lack which ex- 
plains the strange inferiority in science and industry of that 
brilliant and otherwise eminently gifted period; it was the 
peculiar fruit of Christianity, of that spiritual religion 
which, in exacting faith even more than deeds, and faith 
in accredited historic facts, teaches man the high value 
of truth. Thus Christianity gave birth to its great rival, 
to science, the modern check upon its heretofore trium- 
phant propagation. Science dates barely from the sixteenth 
century, when the love of truth, great as it was, was confined 
to a small band of devotees. It has been widening its bound- 
aries ever since then. But already there are clear signs that 
the twentieth century will not be as absorbed in disinterested 
curiosity as the three centuries which preceded it. And it 
may be safely predicted that the day is not far distant when 
the need for well-being, which industry, the child of science, 
is developing without limitation, will suppress scientific zeal 
and will lead coming generations to a utilitarian sacrifice of 
their free and individualistic worship of hopeless truth to the 
social need for some common and, perhaps, state-imposed 
consoling and comforting illusion. And it is certain that 
neither our already much diminished thirst for political 
liberty nor our present passion for equality will escape a 
similar fate. 

Perhaps the same thing should be said of desire for pri- 
vate property. Without adopting all the ideas of M. de 
Laveleye on this subject we must recognise the facts that this 
desire, one which arose from a group of agricultural inven- 

126 Laws of Imitation 

tions and which is a prime agent in civilisation, was pre- 
ceded by a desire for common property (the North Ameri- 
can pueblos, the Hindoo village-community, the Russian 
mir, etc. ) ; that, as a matter of fact, it has not ceased to grow 
up to the present day at the expense of the latter desire, as 
is proved by the gradual division of undivided property, of 
our common lands, for example; that it is no longer growing, 
however, and that when it once enters into competition with 
desire for superior subsistence and for more general well- 
being, it will withdraw before the rival to which it itself 
gave birth. 

Every new belief as well as every social desire passes, as it 
spreads, through the three phases that I have described, be- 
fore reaching its final resting place. To sum up, then, every 
desire or belief has first to toil through a network of con- 
trary habits or convictions, then, after this obstacle is over- 
come and victory won, it has to expand until new enemies 
are raised up by its triumph to hinder its progress and 
finally to oppose an insurmountable frontier to its further 
spread. In the case of a desire, these new enemies will 
consist mainly of habits which it has directly or indirectly 
established. In the case of a belief, which we know is always 
partly erroneous, they will consist of somewhat conflicting 
ideas which have been derived from it or whose discovery 
has been prompted by it, of heresies or of sciences proceed- 
ing from and yet contrary to the given dogma whose vic- 
torious and world-wide course is thereby arrested, and of 
scientific theories or of industrial inventions which have 
been suggested by antecedent theories whose application 
is limited and whose truth or success is hemmed in by them. 1 

1 When a befief or desire has ceased to spread, it can nevertheless 
continue to send down roots into its circumscribed field. Take, for 
example, a religion, or a revolutionary doctrine, after its period of con- 
quest. Besides, a gradual taking-root of this kind presents, like the 
gradual expansion which it follows or accompanies, certain well-defined 
and analogous phases. In the beginning, when belief is still contested, 
it is conscious judgment; just as nascent desire is, for the same reason, 
purpose or volition. Subsequently, thanks to an unanimity which grows 
and which strengthens the convictions and volitions of each individual, 

Archasology and Statistics 127 

A slow advance in the beginning, followed by rapid and 
uniformly accelerated progress, followed again by progress 
that continues to slacken until it finally stops : these, then, 
are the three ages of those real social beings which I call 
inventions or discoveries. None of them is exempt from 
this experience any more than a living being from an an- 
alogous, or, rather, identical, necessity. A slight incline, a 
relatively sharp rise, and then a fresh modification of the 
slope until the plateau is reached : This is also, in abridg- 
ment, the profile of every hill, its characteristic curve. This 
is the law which, if taken as a guide by the statistician and, 
in general, by the sociologist, would save them from many 
illusions. They would no longer think, for example, that the 
populations of Russia, Germany, the United States, Brazil, 
will continue to grow at their present rates of increase. They 
would no longer fearfully compute the hundreds of millions 
of Russians or Germans that France will have to fight one 
hundred years hence. Nor, would they continue to think 
that the need of railroad travel, of letter-writing and tele- 
graphing, of newspaper reading, and of political activity, 
will develop in France in the future as rapidly as they have 
done in the past. These errors may be costly. 

All these needs will cease, just as, without comparing 
them in any other way, the need of tattooing, cannibalism, 
and tent life, which appear in remote times to have been 
very quick-spreading fashions, came to an end. In more 
recent periods, the passion for ascetic or monastic life is 
an example. A moment arrives, to be sure, when an ac- 
quired desire comes, by reason of its growth, to vie with 
even innate desires, some of which are always stronger than 
it. It is because of this fact that, as I have said before, 
the most original civilisations, at a certain point, and in 

judgment passes over into principle or dogma or almost unconscious 
quasi-perception, and purpose, into pure passion or desire. Finally, dog- 
matic quasi-perception, finding itself more and more jostled by the direct 
perceptions of opposing and stronger senses, ceases to gain in strength, 
and acquired desire, coming into greater and greater opposition with 
certain innate and more energetic desires, is arrested, in its turn, in its 
downward movement into the depths of the heart. 

128 Laws of Imitation 

spite of their free development, leave off accentuating their 
differences. It might almost be thought that they subse- 
quently tended to narrow them down; but this illusion is 
easily explained by their frequent intercourse and by the 
preponderating influence of one civilisation over the other. 
A slow and inevitable assimilation through imitation and 
an apparent return to nature results, because the shock of 
two contending civilisations weakens in each of them the 
factitious needs in which they differ and conflict and 
strengthens the primordial needs in which they resemble 
each other. Does it follow that, in the last analysis, organic 
needs ultimately control the course of artistic and industrial 
progress just as external reality ends by controlling the 
course of thought? It does not, for let us observe that no 
nation has ever been able to push its civilisation far ahead 
and to reach its limit of divergence except on the condi- 
tion of being eminently conservative and, like Egypt, China, 
or Greece, attached to the particular traditions in which the 
divergence is best expressed. But let us close this paren- 

Now, of the three phases of development which I have 
indicated, it is the second that is of the greatest theoretical 
importance; it is not the final static condition which is 
merely the limit of the third and to which statisticians ap- 
pear to attach so much value. Between the rounded sum- 
mit of a mountain and the gentle slope of its base there is a 
certain direction which marks better than any other the 
exact energy of the forces which raised it up before the 
denudation of its peak or the heaping up of its base. Thus 
the intermediate phase in question is the one best fitted to 
show the energy of the upheaval which the corresponding 
innovation has stamped on the human heart. This phase 
would be the only one, it would absorb the other two, if 
rational and voluntary imitation could be substituted in 
everything and everywhere for unreflecting and mechanical 
imitation. It is evident, moreover, that it requires less time 
for a new article of manufacture to find a market and that 
it also requires less time for its circulation to be cut off, 

Archaeology and Statistics 129 

according to the measure in which this substitution is 

It remains to be shown how through the application of 
the preceding law the most complex and, at first sight, the 
most puzzling curves can be readily deciphered and inter- 
preted. There are few curves, to be sure, which plainly 
conform to the ideal type which I have outlined; for there 
are few inventions which, as they spread and encounter 
others, do not bestow upon or receive from one of the lat- 
ter some success-accelerating improvement or which are not 
undermined by other inventions or checked by some physical 
or physiological accident like a dearth or epidemic, not to 
speak of political accidents. But, then, if our norm is not 
seen in the whole it is, at least, in the details. Let us ig- 
nore the disturbing influence of the natural accidents of 
war or revolution. Let us overlook any rise in the curve 
of thefts that may be due to the high price of wheat or 
any deflection in the curve of drunkenness that may be due 
to the phylloxera. After we have easily discounted the 
part played by these extraneous movements, we may be 
sure, upon inspecting a given curve, particularly if it has 
been plotted according to the rules that were given some 
pages back, that as soon as the first obstacles are overcome 
and it has assumed a well-marked upward movement ac- 
cording to a definite angle, every upward deviation will 
reveal the insertion of some auxiliary discovery or improve- 
ment at the corresponding date, and every drop towards the 
horizontal will reveal, on the other hand, according to our 
foregoing law, the shock of some hostile invention. 1 

1 Or else the drop is only apparent. Under the ancient regime, the 
consumption of tobacco was continually increasing, just as it is at 
present. This fact was proved by the steady increase of the taxes col- 
lected under the fermes generates. From thirteen millions in 1730 there 
was a rise to twenty-six millions in 1758, when there was a sudden 
drop in the receipts. It seemed at first to point to a restriction of 
the consumption, but it was then shown that the revenue was simply 
the victim of a fraud that had been organised on an immense scale. 
See on this subject M. Dehhante's book, Une famille de finance au 
XVIII e fiecle, II. 312. and the following To return to the advance in 
the consumption of tobacco, it increased from thirteen millions in 1730 

130 Laws of Imitation 

And if we study by itself the effect produced by each 
successive improvement, we shall see that it, too, has taken, 
according to the law in question, a certain time in which to 
make itself acceptable, that it has then spread very quickly, 
then less quickly, and that it finally has ceased to spread at 
all. Is it necessary to recall the gradual but prodigious ex- 
tension that every improvement in the loom, in the electric 
telegraph, or in the manufacture of steel has given, after 
a certain period of probation, to textile industries, to 
telegraphic activity, to the production of steel ? And is not 
each of these improvements due to some new inventor fol- 
lowing upon the steps of earlier ones? When an unex- 
pected outlet has been opened up to a local industry, to the 
iron industry, for example, through the suppression of in- 
ternal taxation or through an international treaty which has 
doubled or tripled the sale of its products, again what do 
we see but the felicitous intersection of two great currents of 
imitation, the one starting from Adam Smith and the other, 
according to mythology, from Tubal Cain or from him, 
whoever he may have been, who was the forerunner of our 
metallurgists? If, at a certain date, we see that the 
curve of arson or of judicial separations is suddenly rising, 
we shall find, if we investigate, that the rise in the former 
is explained by the introduction, at the corresponding date, 
of the invention of insurance companies, and that the rise 
in the latter is explained by some immediately preceding 
legislative invention which permits poor people to litigate 
free of charge. 

When, for example, an irregular statistical curve resists 
the preceding analysis and cannot be resolved into normal, 
or into segments of normal, curves, it means that it is in 
itself insignificant, that it is based on curious, but absolutely 
non-instructive, enumerations of unlike units and of arbi- 
trary groups of certain acts or objects in which, however, 

to seventy-four millions in 1835, and then to one hundred and fifty-three 
millions in 1855, and to two-hundred and ninety millions in 1875. And 
yet this rate tends to slacken. It is remarkable that the American 
Indians, who taught us the use of tobacco, have recently altogether lost 
the habits of tobacco and snuff. 

Archaeology and Statistics 131 

order would suddenly appear if the presence of a definite 
underlying desire or belief were revealed. Let us consider 
the table of the annual expenditure on public works by the 
French government from 1833 to tne present time. This 
series of figures is exceptionally irregular, although if it be 
taken as a whole it presents, in spite of its discontinuity, a 
remarkable progression. I will merely draw attention to the 
fact that in 1843 the figures took a sudden rise and re- 
mained at the high level of about one hundred and twenty 
millions until 1849, when they suddenly fell at a very rapid 
rate. This sharp rise was due, as we know, to the building 
of railroads at this period. This is equivalent to saying that 
at this time the imitative spread of railroad invention in 
France ran counter to that of the much more ancient inven- 
tions which make up the sum of other public works, such as 
highroads, bridges, canals, etc. Unfortunately for the 
regularity of the series, the state intervened and monopo- 
lised this new kind of work and so substituted for the con- 
tinuous progression which unmolested private initiative 
could not have failed to produce, the discontinuity which 
characterises those intermittent explosions of the collective 
will called laws. But, after all, a real and incontestable reg- 
ularity does exist, although hidden below these numerical 
gyrations which state intervention creates for the interpre- 
ter of statistics. How, in fact, did the law of June u, 1842, 
which provided for the establishment of our first great net- 
work of railroads, come to be passed, unless it was because 
of the fact that before this date the idea of railroads had 
circulated abroad and that confidence, which was at first so 
feeble and unsettled in the utility of the new discovery, and 
desire for its realisation, which was at first a mere matter 
of curiosity, had been silently growing? 

Here we have the constant and regular progression which 
the preceding table disguises, but by which it can alone be 
explained. For is it not because of the uninterrupted 
course of this twofold advance in confidence and desire, 
following its normal curve, that the Chamber has adopted 
the Freycinet plan in recent years, and that expenditure for 

132 Laws of Imitation 

public works has again risen to alarming proportions? 
Now is it not evident that had we undertaken to make an 
approximate numerical measurement of this progress of 
public opinion the idea of the above table would undoubtedly 
have been the most inappropriate of means for this end ? Of 
course an estimate of the annual increase in the number of 
voyages and voyagers and in the transportation of freight 
by rail would be more valuable. 


Having given an account of the subject, the aim, and 
the resources of sociological Statistics as an applied study of 
the laws of imitation, I have now to discuss its probable 
future. The special appetite which it has whetted rather 
than satisfied, this thirst for social knowledge of mathemat- 
ical precision and impersonal impartiality, is only incipient; 
its development lies in the future. It is only in its first phase 
and before reaching its predestined goal, it can, like every 
other need, look forward with perfect propriety to immense 

Let us take any graphical curve, that, for example, of 
criminal recidivists for the last fifty years. If its physiog- 
nomy is unlike that of the human face, is it not, at least, like 
the silhouette of hills and vales, or, since it is a question of 
movement, for in statistics we speak quite properly of the 
movement of criminality, of birth or marriage rates, like 
the sinuous lines, the sharp rises and sudden falls, in the 
flight of a swallow? Let me stop a moment at this com- 
parison and consider if it is specious? Why should the 
statistical diagrams that are gradually traced out on this 
paper from accumulations of successive crimes and 
misdemeanours whose records are transmitted in official 
reports to the government, from the government in an- 
nual returns to the bureau of statistics at Paris and 
from this bureau, in blue books, to the magistrates of 
the different tribunals why should these silhouettes, which 

Archaeology and Statistics 133 

likewise give visible expression to masses or series of co- 
existent or successive facts, be the only ones to be taken as 
symbolical, whereas the line traced on my retina by the flight 
of a swallow is deemed an inherent reality in the being which 
it expresses and which essentially consists, it seems to me, of 
moving figures, of movements in an imaginary space? 
Is there really less symbolism in one case than in 
the other ? Is not my retinal image, the curve traced on my 
retina by the flight of this swallow, merely the expression 
of a mass of facts (the different states of the bird) which 
we have not the slightest reason in the world to consider as 
analogous to our visual impression? 

If this is so, and philosophers will readily grant that it 
is, let us continue our discussion. 

The most appreciable difference, then, between statistical 
curves and visual images consists in the fact that the former 
are laborious to trace or even interpret, whereas the latter 
record themselves on our retinae without any effort on our 
part and lend themselves with the greatest ease to our in- 
terpretation. The former, moreover, are traced long after 
the causation and appearance of the changes and events 
which they represent, and represent, too, in the most inter- 
mittent and irregular as well as in the most dilatory fashion, 
whereas the latter always show us regularly and uninter- 
ruptedly what has just occurred or what is actually occurring. 
But if each of these differences is taken by itself, they will 
all be seen to be more apparent than real and to be reducible 
to differences of degree. If Statistics continues to progress 
as it has done for several years, if the information which 
it gives us continues to gain in accuracy, in despatch, in bulk, 
and in regularity, a time may come when upon the accom- 
plishment of every social event a figure will at once issue 
forth automatically, so to speak, to take its place on the 
statistical registers that will be continuously communicated 
to the public and spread abroad pictorially by the daily 
press. Then, at every step, at every glance cast upon poster 
or newspaper, we shall be assailed, as it were, with statis- 
tical facts, with precise and condensed knowledge of all the 

134 Laws of Imitation 

peculiarities of actual social conditions, of commercial gains 
or losses, of the rise or falling off of certain political parties, 
of the progress or decay of a certain doctrine, etc., in 
exactly the same way as we are assailed when we open our 
eyes by the vibrations of the ether which tell us of the ap- 
proach or withdrawal of such and such a so-called body and 
of many other things of a similar nature. This information 
is interesting from the point of view of the conservation 
and development of our organs, just as the former news is 
interesting from the point of view of the conservation and 
development of our social being, of our reputation and 
wealth, of our power, and of our honour. 

Consequently, granted that statistics be extended and 
completed to this extent, a statistical bureau might be com- 
pared to an eye or ear. Like the eye or ear, it would save 
us trouble by synthesising collections of scattered homogene- 
ous units for us, and it would give us the clear, precise, and 
smooth result of this elaboration. And, certainly, under 
such conditions, it would be no more difficult for an edu- 
cated man to keep informed of the slightest current changes 
in religious or political opinion than for a man whose eye- 
sight was impaired by age to recognise a friend at a dis- 
tance, or to distinguish the approach of an obstacle in time 
to avoid it. Let us hope that the day will come when the 
representative or legislator who is called upon to reform the 
justiciary or the penal code and yet who is, hypothetically, 
ignorant of juridical statistics, will be as rare and inconceiv- 
able a being as a blind omnibus driver or a deaf orchestral 
leader would be to-day. 1 

I might freely say, then, that each of our senses gives us, 

1 According to Burckhardt, Florence and Venice must have been the 
cradle of statistics. " Fleets, armies, power and political influence, fall 
under the debit and credit of a trader's ledger" [The Civilization of 
the Period of the Renaissance in Italy, I, 97, Jacob Burckhardt. English 
translation by S. G. C. Middlemore, London, 1878. TV.]. We find 
detailed statistics in Milan dating from 1288. In reality, embryonic 
statistics must have always existed in even the most ignorant and 
negligent states, just as there are rudimentary senses in the very lowest 

Archaeology and Statistics 135 

in its own way and from its special point of view, the statis- 
tics of the external world. Their characteristic sensations 
are in a certain way their special graphical tables. Every 
sensation colour, sound, taste, etc., is only a number, a 
collection of innumerable like units of vibrations that are 
represented collectively by this single figure. The affective 
character of these different sensations is merely their dis- 
tinctive mark, it is analogous to the difference which char- 
acterises the figures of our system of notation. How 
should we know the sounds of do, of re, of mi, except for 
the fact that there is in the air about us, during a certain 
consecutive period of time, a certain proportionate number 
per second of so-called sonorous vibrations? What does 
the colour red, blue, yellow, or green mean except that the 
ether is agitated, during a certain consecutive period of time, 
by a certain proportionate number of so-called luminous 
vibrations ? 

Touch, as a sense of temperature, is nothing more than 
the statistics of the heat vibrations of the ether; as a sense 
of resistance and weight, it is merely the statistics of our 
muscular contractions. But the impressions of touch, 
unlike those of sight and hearing, follow one another 
without definite proportions; there is no tactile gamut. 
Hence the inferiority of this sense. Statisticians are 
lacking in the same way when they fail to give 
us the relative proportions of their crudely tabulated 
figures. As for the senses of smell and taste, if 
they are justly ranked as altogether inferior senses, is 
it not because, poor statisticians as they are, they do not 
conform to our elementary rules, but are satisfied with de- 
fective figures, with the expressions of faulty additions in 
which the most heterogeneous units, all sorts of nervous 
vibrations and chemical actions, have been thrown together 
in the same kind of disorder that we see in a badly made 
budget ? 

The reader may have noticed that some of our news- 
papers publish from day to day graphical curves, showing 
the fluctuations of the different securities of the stock-ex- 

136 Laws of Imitation 

change, as well as other changes about which it is useful to 
know. These curves are now relegated to the last page, 
but they tend to encroach upon the others, and, perhaps, be- 
fore long, at any rate, at some time in the future when peo- 
ple have been satiated with declamation and polemic, just as 
very well read minds begin to be with literature, and when 
they will read the papers merely for their multifarious state- 
ments of exact and ungarnished fact, they will usurp the 
place of honour. The public journals, then, will become 
socially what our sense organs are vitally. Every printing 
office will become a mere central station for different bu- 
reaus of statistics just as the ear-drum is a bundle of acous- 
tic nerves, or as the retina is a bundle of special nerves each 
of which registers its characteristic impression on the brain. 
At present Statistics is a kind of embryonic eye, like that of 
the lower animals which see just enough to recognise the ap- 
proach of foe or prey. But this already is a great benefit 
to have bestowed upon us, and through it we may be 
kept from running serious dangers. 

The analogy is plain. It is strengthened by a compar- 
ison of the part taken by the senses throughout the animal 
world, from the lowest to the highest rung of the mental 
ladder, with the role that has been played by newspapers 
during the course of civilisation. In the case of mollusk, 
insect, and even of quadruped, the senses are more than the 
mere scouts of the intelligence the more imperfect they 
are, the more important they become. But their functions 
diminish as they become localised, and the nearer the ap- 
proach to man, the more subordinate the position which 
they hold. Similarly, in growing and inferior civilisations 
like our own (for our descendants will look down upon us 
just as we do upon our lower brethren), newspapers do 
more than furnish their reader with thought-stimulating 
information; they think and decide for him and he is me- 
chanically moulded and guided by them. A sure sign of ad- 
vance in civilisation upon the part of a certain class of read- 
ers, is the fact that the newspaper which appeals to them 
devotes a smaller portion of itself to phrases and a larger 

Archasology and Statistics 137 

portion to facts and figures and to brief and reliable infor- 
mation. The ideal newspaper of this kind would be one 
without political articles and full of graphical curves and 
succinct editorials. 

It is obvious that I am not inclined to minimise the func- 
tion of statistics. And yet, although I realise its future im- 
portance, I must point out, before concluding, a certain ex- 
aggerated expectation which is sometimes entertained in 
relation to it. When we see that these numerical results 
become more and more constant and regular as they come to 
refer to larger and larger numbers, we are at times inclined 
to think that if the tide of population continues to advance 
and great states to enlarge, a movement will come when 
in the distant future all social phenomena will be reducible 
to mathematical formulas. Hence the mistaken inference 
is drawn that the statistician will some day be able to fore- 
tell future social conditions with as much certainty as the as- 
tronomist of to-day predicts the next eclipse of Venus. 
In this event Statistics would be fated to plunge further 
and further ahead into the future as archaeology has gone 
back into the past. 

But from all that which has gone before we know that 
Statistics is hemmed within the field of imitation and that 
the field of invention is forbidden ground. The future will 
be made by as yet unknown inventors and no real law con- 
cerning their successive advents can be formulated. In this 
respect, the future is like the past. It does not fall to the 
archaeologist to tell precisely what processes of ancient art 
or industry preceded those which had been substituted for 
them in the use of a given people at a certain period of its 
history. Why should the statisician be more fortunate in 
the opposite direction ? The empire of great men, the even- 
tual disturbers of prognosticated curves, cannot fail to in- 
crease, rather than diminish. The progress of population 
will only extend their imitative following. The progress of 
civilisation will but hasten and facilitate the imitation of 
their examples, while, at the same time, it will multiply for a 
certain period the number of inventive geniuses. It seems 

138 Laws of Imitation 

as if the further we progressed the more all kinds of new 
and unforeseen things flowed out from the class that gov- 
erns, from the discoveries, and that among the class that is 
governed, the copyists, the things that are foreseen (which 
start, however, from the unforeseen) spread themselves 
out more and more uniformly and monotonously. 

And yet, on closer view, progress would seem to have 
spurred on the ingenuity of invention-aping imitation rather 
than to have fertilised the inventive genius. True inven- 
tion, invention which is worthy of the name, becomes more 
difficult day by day; so that, some time in the near future, 
it cannot fail to become more rare. And, finally, it must 
become exhausted; for the mind of any given race is not 
capable of indefinite development. It follows that, sooner 
or later, every civilisation, Asiatic or European, is fated to 
beat itself against its banks and begin its endless cycle over 
again. Then Statistics will undoubtedly possess the prom- 
ised gift of prophecy. But this goal is far distant. Mean- 
while, all that can be said is that in as much as the direction 
of future inventions is chiefly determined by prior inven- 
tions, and in as much as the latter are becoming more and 
more preponderating because of their accumulation, pre- 
dictions based upon statistics may one day be hazarded with 
a certain degree of probability, just as it is also quite prob- 
able that archaeology may come to throw light upon the 
origins of history. 


It is not superfluous to note, in conclusion, that as the 
preceding chapter was an answer to the difficult question 
"What is Society?" so this chapter is an answer to the 
question " What is History ? " We have searched much and 
in vain for the distinctive marks of historic facts, for the 
signs by which we should recognise the natural or human 
events that were worthy the notice of the historian. 
According to the learned, history is a collection of 

Archaeology and Statistics 139 

those things that have had the greatest celebrity. I 
prefer to consider it a collection of those things that 
have been the most successful, that is, of those ini- 
tiatives that have been the most imitated. An immensely 
successful thing may have had no celebrity at all A 
new word, for example, may slip into a language and 
become entrenched in it without arousing any attention; 
a new idea or religious rite may make its way, obscure 
and unnoticed, into a community; an industrial process may 
spread anonymously throughout the world. There is no 
truly historic fact outside of those that can be classed in 
one of the three following categories : ( i ) The progress or 
decay of some kind of imitation. (2) The appearance of one 
of those combinations of different imitations which I call 
inventions, and which come in time to be imitated. (3) 
The actions either of human beings, or of animal, vegetal, 
or physical forces, which result in the imposition of new 
conditions upon the spread of certain imitations whose bear- 
ing and direction are thereby modified. From this latter 
point of view, a volcanic eruption, the submerging of an 
island or continent, even an eclipse, when it occasions the 
defeat of a superstitious army, and, still more, the acciden- 
tal illness or death of an important personage, can have the 
same kind and degree of historic importance as a battle or 
a treaty of peace or an international alliance. The issue of 
a war in which the fate of a civilisation was at stake, has 
often depended upon inclement weather. The severe 
winter of 1811 affected the destinies of France and Russia 
as seriously as did the Napoleonic plan of campaign. From 
this point of view pragmatic and even anecdotal history 
regains the place which philosophers have so often refused 
to grant it. Nevertheless, the career of imitations is, on 
the whole, the only thing which is of interest to history. 
Therein lies its true definition. 



STATISTICS gives us a sort of empirical law or graphical 
formula for the very complex causes of the particular spread 
of every kind of imitation. We must now consider those 
general laws, laws which are really worthy the name of sci- 
ence, which govern all imitations, and to this end we must 
study, one by one, the different categories of causes which 
we have heretofore merged together. 

Our problem is to learn why, given one hundred differ- 
ent innovations conceived of at the same time innova- 
tions in the forms of words, in mythological ideas, in in- 
dustrial processes, etc. ten will spread abroad, while 
ninety will be forgotten. In order to solve this question 
systematically let us first divide those influences which 
have favoured or hindered the diffusion of successful or non- 
successful innovations into physical and social causes. But 
in this book let us pass over the first order of causes, those, 
for example, which make the people of southern coun- 
tries prefer new words composed of voiced to those com- 
posed of whispered vowels, and the people of northern 
countries, the Opposite. In the same way there are in my- 
thology, in artistic or industrial technique, or in govern- 
ment, many peculiarities which result from a racial confor- 
mation of ear or larynx, from cerebral predispositions, 
from meteoric conditions or from the nature of fauna 
and flora. Let us put all this to one side. I do not 
mean that it has no real importance in sociology. It is 
of interest, for example, to note the influence which may 
be exerted upon the entire course of a civilisation by the na- 
ture of a new and spontaneous production of its soil. Much 


The Logical Laws of Imitation 141 

depends upon the spot in which it springs; the conditions 
of labour, and, consequently, the family groups and political 
institutions of a fertile valley are different from those of a 
moor more or less rich in pasture-land. We must thank 
those scholars who devote themselves to researches of this 
character, researches which are as useful in sociology as 
studies upon the modification of species by the action of 
climate or general environment are in biology. It would 
be erroneous to think, however, that because we had 
shown the adaptation of living or social types to external 
phenomena we had thereby explained them. The expla- 
nation must be sought for in the laws which express the 
internal relations of cells or of minds in association. This 
is the reason why, in this discussion of pure and abstract, 
not of concrete and applied, sociology, I must set aside all 
considerations of the above nature. 

Now, social causes are of two kinds, the logical and the 
non-logical. This distinction is of the greatest importance. 
Logical causes operate whenever an individual "prefers a 
given innovation to others because he thirif$ .ft^is more 
tiSeful or more true than others, that is, mdre in accord 
than they are with the aims or principles that have already 
found a place in his mind (through imitation, of course). 
In such instances, the old or new inventions or discoveries 
are themselves the only question; they are isolated from 
any prestige or discredit which may have attached to those 
circulating them or to the time and place of their origin. 
But logical action is very rarely untrammelled in this way. 
In general, the extra-logical influences to which I have 
referred interfere in the choice of the examples to be fol- 
lowed, and often, as we shall see further on, the poorest 
innovations, from the point of view of logic, are selected 
because of their place, or even date or birth. 

Unless these necessary distinctions are constantly borne 
in mind, it is impossible to understand the simplest social 
facts. Language is a notable example. It seems to me 
that its present inextricable skein might be readily un- 
ravelled by applying these ideas (if any professional philolo- 

142 Laws of Imitation 

gist would pay me the compliment of adopting them). 
Philologists seek for those laws which should govern the for- 
mation and transformation of languages. But, hitherto, 
they have only been able to formulate rules which are sub- 
ject to very many exceptions, in regard to both changes 
in sound (phonetic laws) and changes in meaning, in re- 
gard to the acquisition of new words through the combina- 
tion of old roots or of new grammatical forms through the 
modification of old forms, etc. Why is this? Because only 
imitation and not invention is subject to law in the true 
sense of the word. Now, small, successive inventions have 
always had to accumulate in order to form or transform 
an idiom. Besides, in the service of language a large part 
must be conceded, at the outset, to the accidental and 

It is because of these individual factors that, among 
other peculiarities, there are a certain number of 
roots in a language, that one root will consist of three con- 
sonants and another of a single syllable, or that one termi- 
nation and not another will be adopted at the behest of a 
given shade of thought. After this concession has been 
made to invention and to influences of a climatic or phy- 
siological order, a great field is still open to the laws of 

There is, of course, apart from both the irrational 
and important, not to say pregnant, motives of which 
I have been speaking, a host of minor linguistic inven- 
tions which were suggested to their unknown authors by 
way of analogy, 1 i. c., through imitation of self or 
others; and it is in this direction that linguistic inven- 
tions are subject to law. The first man to conceive 
the idea of expressing capacity for respect by adding 
the suffix bills, which, according to hypothesis, was al- 
ready used in the compound amabilis, to the root of 
veneratio, or of creating Germanicus upon the model of 
Italicus, was an unconscious inventor, but, to put it briefly, 

1 Philologists all recognise the immense role played by analogy in 
their science. See Sayce in particular on this point. 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 143 

he imitated at the same time that he invented. Whenever 
terminations, or, similarly, declensions or conjugations, have 
been broadened and generalised in this way, imitation of 
self and of others has taken place, and precisely to this 
extent is the formation and transformation of languages 
subject to formulation into rules. But these rules, which 
should explain to us why one among many almost synono- 
mous forms of speech which are concurrently at the service 
of the tribal, or civic, or national mind has alone fought 
its way into general usage, fall into very distinct 

In the first place, we see that the incessant struggle be- 
tween minor linguistic inventions which always ends in the 
imitation of one of them, and in the abortion of the others, 
finally comes to transform a language in such a way as to 
adapt it, more or less rapidly and completely, according 
to the spirit of the community, to external realities and 
to the social purposes of language. Enlargements of vo- 
cabulary correspond to increases in the number of human 
beings and of their modes of life. Grammar, by means of 
a more flexible conjugation of verbs or a clearer or more 
logical arrangement of phrases, lends itself to the expres- 
sion of more subtle relations in time and space. 
The softening and differentiation of vowels (in Sanskrit 
they are all sharp sounds in a or o; in Greek and Latin, 
e, u, ou, and i have been added to the vocal key-board) and 
the contraction and abbreviation of words render a lan- 
guage more and more pliable and expressive, and dis- 
tinguished philologists like M. Regnaud 1 have raised to the 
dignity of a law the vowel softening and the contraction of 
words of the Indo-European family. In fact, in Zend, 
Greek, Latin, French, English, and German, the e appears 
" in an infinite number of cases as a weakened substitute 
for a," whereas, " the opposite never, or hardly ever, takes 
place." If, by the way, this rule could be accepted un- 
reservedly, we should have here a pretty example of lin- 
guistic irreversibility. 

1 See his Essais de linguistique evolutionniste, previously cited. 

144 Laws of Imitation 

But, on the other hand, even in the most perfect idioms, 
even in that Greek of which it may be said that its con- 
jugation is a " system of applied logic," * we see that 
many modifications effected in the course of time are far 
from being advances in utility or truth. Is the loss of / and 
v (digamma) or, in many cases, of an initial sibilant of 
any advantage to Greek? Is it not rather a cause of de- 
terioration? In France have not certain expanded forms 
succeeded contracted ones contrary to the law of word con- 
traction, as portique from porche, capital from cheptal, etc. ? 
In such cases certain influences, in regard to which the 
need of logic and finality had no part, preponderated. We 
know that in the case of the last example certain writers of 
renown manufactured many words like portique and capital 
in servile imitation of Latin, and that they succeeded by 
means of their own prestige in putting them into circula- 
tion. 2 

But I do not wish to dwell at greater length upon the 
science of language. I am content with having indicated 
in these few observations the drift of the laws which we 
have still to formulate. In this chapter, the logical laws 
will occupy our attention exclusively. 

Invention and imitation are, as we know, the elementary 
social acts. But what is the social substance or force 

1 Curtius, the historian, has borrowed this expression from his 
brother, the philologist. See his History of Greece [I, 24, English 
translation by A. W. Ward, M. A., London, 1868. TV.]. 

2 We also know that when one of many rival dialects like those, for 
example, of Greece or of mediaeval France, succeeds in supplanting its 
competitors and in crushing them back into the rank of patois, this 
privilege is not always and never altogether due to its intrinsic merits. 
It owes it primarily to political triumphs, and to the real or fancied 
superiority of the province in which it was first spoken. It was thanks 
to the prestige of Paris that the speech of the Isle of France became 
the French language. We may note, in passing, that the laws of imita- 
tion serve to explain both the inward transformations of a language 
and its outward diffusion. 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 145 

through which this act is accomplished and of which it is 
merely the form? In other words, what is invented 
or imitated? The thing which is invented, the thing 
which is imitated, is always an idea or a volition, a judg- 
ment or a purpose, which embodies a certain amount of 
belief and desire. And here we have, in fact, the very soul 
of words, of religious prayers, of state administration, of 
the articles of a code, of moral duties, of industrial achieve- 
ments or of artistic processes. Desire and belief : they are 
the substance and the force, they are the two psychological 
quantities 1 which are found at the bottom of all the sensa- 

1 1 take the liberty of referring the reader, if he be a psychologist, to two 
articles which I published in August and September, 1880, in the Revue 
philosophique upon belief and desire and the possibility of measuring them. 
These articles were republished unrevised in my Essais et melanges 
sociologiques. Since then my ideas on this subject have been somewhat 
modified. But let me state in what respects. At present I realise that 
I may have somewhat exaggerated the role of belief and desire in 
individual psychology, and I no longer affirm that these two aspects 
of the ego are the only things in us which are susceptible of addition 
and diminution. On the other hand, I now attribute to them a greater 
importance in social psychology. We may admit that there are other 
quantities in the soul; we may concede to the psycho-physicists, for 
example, in spite of M. Bergson's remarkable study on the Donnees 
immedlates de la conscience which conforms so well in other respects 
to my own point of view on this subject that the intensity of sensa- 
tions, considered apart from their relation to reason, and apart from the 
amount of attention which is bestowed upon them, changes in degree 
without changing In nature, and that it therefore lends itself to experi- 
mental measurement. But it is nevertheless true that, from the social 
standpoint, belief and desire bear a unique character that is well adapted 
to distinguish them from simple sensation. This character consists in 
the fact that the contagion of mutual example re-enforces beliefs and 
desires that are alike, and weakens or strengthens, according to circum- 
stances, beliefs and desires that are unlike, among all those individuals 
who experience them at the same time and who are conscious of so 
experiencing them. Whereas, although a visual or auditory sensation 
may be felt in a theatre, for example, in the' midst of a crowd attentive 
to the same concert or spectacle, it is in no way modified by the simul- 
taneity of the analogous impressions' experienced by the surrounding 
public. From certain astounding historical occurrences we may infer 
how intense a man's belief or desire may become, when it is also experi- 
enced by everybody else around him. For example, even in the depraved 
but still credulous Italy of the Renaissance, epidemics of repentance 
burst out from time to time, which, as Burckhardt says 1 , touched even 
the most hardened consciences. These epidemics, of which the one at 
Florence of 1494-98, under Savonarola, is only one among hundreds, 

146 Laws of Imitation 

tional qualities with which they combine; and when inven- 
tion and then imitation takes possession of them in order to 
organise and use them, they also are the real social quanti- 
ties. Societies are organised according to the agreement 
or opposition of beliefs which reinforce or limit one an- 
other. Social institutions depend entirely upon these con- 
ditions. Societies function according to the competition 
or co-operation of their desires or wants. Beliefs, princi- 
pally religious and moral beliefs, but juristic and political 
beliefs as well, and even linguistic beliefs (for how many 
acts of faith are implied in the lightest talk and what an ir- 
resistible although unconscious power of persuasion our 
mother tongue, a true mother indeed, exerts over us), are 
the plastic forces of societies. Economic or aesthetic wants 
are their functional forces. 

These beliefs and desires which invention and imitation 
make specific and in this sense create, although they virtu- 
ally exist prior to the action of the latter, originate far be- 
low the social world in the world of life. In like way, the 
plastic and functional forces of life that are made specific 
and turned to account by generation, originate beneath the 
animate in the physical world. In like way, the vibration- 
ruled molecular and motor forces of the physical world 
originate in turn in an inscrutable hypophysical world that 
some of our physicists call the world of noumena, others, 
Energy, and yet others, the Unknowable. Energy is the 
most widespread name for this mystery. By this single 
term a reality is designated which, as we can see, is always 
twofold in its manifestations; and this eternal bifurcation, 
which is reproduced under astonishing metamorphoses in 
each successive stage of universal life, is not the least of the 

for one occurred after every plague or disaster, revealed the deep and 
steady activity of the Christian faith. Wherever souls are possessed of 
the same faith or ideal, intermittent outbursts of similar contagions are 
the result. We ourselves no longer have epidemics of penitence, unless 
they are in the form of contagious pilgrimages those unique manifesta- 
tions of the power of suggestion, but we do have epidemics of luxury. 
of gambling, of lotteries, of stock-sneculation, of gigantic railroad 
undertakings, as well as epidemics of Hegelianism, Darwinism, etc. 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 147 

common characteristics to be noted between life's stages. 
Under the different terms of matter and motion, of organs 
and functions, of institutions and progress, this great dis- 
tinction between the static and the dynamic, in which is also- 
included that between Space and Time, divides the whole 
universe in two. 

It is important to state at the outset and firmly establish 
the relation between these two terms. There is a profound 
insight underlying the Spencerian formula of Evolution 
which states that all evolution is gain in matter with cor- 
responding loss in motion, and that all dissolution is the in- 
verse. Translated into a somewhat modified and less ma- 
terialistic phraseology this thought means that every de- 
velopment in life or society is a growth in organisation off- 
set or, rather, secured by a relative diminution in function. 
As an organism grows in weight or dimension, as it unfolds 
and differentiates its characteristic forms, it loses its vital- 
ity, 1 just because it has used it up in the process, a fact Mr. 
Spencer fails to mention. As a society enlarges and ex- 
pands, as it perfects and differentiaties its institutions, its 
language, religion, law, government, industry, and art, it 
loses its civilising and propelling vigour; for it has been 
using it up in its course. In other words, if it is true 
that the substance of social institutions consists in the sum 
of faith and confidence, of truth and security, in a word, 
in the unanimous beliefs which they embody, and that the 
motor power of social progress consists in the sum of the 
curiosities and ambitions and of the consistent desires 
which it expresses, if all this is so, then as a society ad- 
vances it becomes richer in beliefs than in desires. The 
true and final object of desire, then, is belief. The only 
raiscm d'etre of the impulses of the heart is the formation of 
high degrees of mental certitude and assurance, and the 
further a society has progressed the more is it possessed, 
like a mature mind, of stability and tranquillity, of strong 

1 The body of a child contains more vital activity, in proportion to its 
siee, than that of a mature man. The relative vitality of the adult has 


148 Laws of Imitation 

convictions and dead passions, the former having- been 
slowly formed and crystallised by the latter. 1 Social 
peace, a unanimous belief in the same ideal or in the same 
illusion, a unanimity which presupposes a continually 
widening and deepening assimilation of humanity this 
is the goal for which, irrespective of our wishes, all social 
revolutions are bound. This is progress, that is to say, 
social advancement along logical lines. 

Now, how is progress effected? When an individual 
reflects upon a given subject first one idea comes to him and 
then another until from idea to idea, from elimination to eli- 
mination, he finally seizes upon the guiding thread to the 
solution of the problem and then, from that moment, passes 
quickly out from the twilight into the light. Does not the 
same thing happen in history? When a society elaborates 
some great conception, which the curious public pushes for- 
ward before science can correct and develop it, the me- 
chanical explanation of the world, for example, or when it 
dreams in its ambition of some great achievement like the 
use of steam in manufacture or locomotion or navigation be- 
fore it can turn its activity to exploiting it, what happens? 
The problem that is raised in this way at once prompts 
people to make and entertain all kinds of contradictory in- 
ventions and vagaries which appear first here and then 
there, only to disappear, until the advent of some clear 
formula or some suitable mechanism which throws all the 
others into the background and which serves thencefor- 
ward as the fixed basis for future improvements and de- 
velopments. Progress, then, is a kind of collective think- 
ing, which lacks a brain of its own, but which is made 
possible, thanks to imitation, by the soliditary of the brains 

1 Let us fully understand each other on this point too. In the course 
of civilisation desires increase in number, but decrease in strength, 
whereas truth and security are both multiplied and strengthened at an 
even more rapid rate. The contrast is a more striking one, if the condi- 
tion of barbarity, and not that of savagery, be taken as the starting point 
of the evolution of civilisation. The latter state, according to our 
present means of observation, is the final term of a social evolution 
complete in itself, not the first term of a higher evolution. 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 149 

of numerous scholars and inventors who interchange their 
successive discoveries. (The fixation of discoveries 
through writing, which makes possible their transmission 
over long stretches of time and space, is equivalent to the 
fixation of images which takes place in the individual brain 
and which constitutes the cellular stereotype-plate of 
memory. ) 

It follows that social like individual progress is effected 
in two ways, through substitution and through accumula- 
tion. Certain discoveries and inventions can only be used 
as substitutes, others can be accumulated. Hence we have 
logical combats and logical alliances. This is the general 
classification which we will adopt, and in it we shall have 
no difficulty in placing all historical events. 

Moreover, in different societies discord between fresh de- 
sires and old, between a new scientific idea and existing 
religious dogmas, is not always immediately perceived nor 
perceived within the same period of time. Besides, when the 
discord is perceived, the desire to put an end to it is not al- 
ways equally strong. The nature and intensity of the desire 
vary with time and place. In fact, Reason exists in 
societies as well as in individuals; and Reason in all cases 
is merely a desire like any other, a specific desire which 
like others is more or less developed by its own 
satisfactions as well as created by the very inventions 
or discoveries which have satisfied it; that is to say 
that systems, programmes, catechisms, and constitu- 
tions, in undertaking to render ideas and volitions co- 
herent, create and stimulate the very desire for their co- 
herence. This desire is a real force, located in individual 
brains. Its rise and fall and its direction and object vary 
according to given periods and countries. At times, it is 
a passing breeze; at times, a whirlwind. To-day it at- 
tacks the government of states; yesterday and the day be- 
fore it attacked languages; to-morrow it may make an 
attack upon our industrial organisations, and another 
time upon our sciences; but it never pauses in its incessant 
labour of regeneration or revolution. 

150 Laws of Imitation 

This desire, as I have said, has been aroused and re- 
cruited by a series of initiations and imitations. But this is 
equivalent to saying by a series of imitations, for an inno- 
vation that is not imitated is socially non-existent. Con- 
sequently all those streams and currents of belief and de- 
sire which flow side by side or contrary to one another in so- 
ciety, quantities whose subtractions and additions are regu- 
lated by social logic, a kind of social algebra, all, including 
the very desire for this general reckoning and the belief in its 
possibility, all are derived from imitation. For nothing in 
history is self-creative; not even its own ever-incomplete 
unity, the secular fruit of constant and more or less suc- 
cessful efforts. A drama, to be sure, a stage play, a frag- 
ment in which the whole of history is mirrored, is a logical 
and gradual and intricate harmony which seems to work it- 
self out independently of anybody's design. But we know 
that this appearance is misleading and that the harmony 
transpires as surely and rapidly as it does only because it an- 
swers to the imperious need for unity that is felt by the 
dramatist as well as by the public to whom he has sug- 
gested it. 

Everything, even the desire to invent, has the same 
origin. In fact, this desire completes and is part of the 
logical need for unification, if it is true, as I might prove, 
that logic is both a problem of a maximum and a problem 
of equilibrium. The more a people invent and discover, the 
more inventive and the more eager for new discoveries they 
grow. It is also through imitation that this noble kind of 
craving takes possession of those minds that are worthy of 
it. Now, discoveries are gains in certitude, inventions, in 
confidence and security. The desire to discover and invent 
is, consequently, the twofold form which the tendency to- 
ward achieving a maximum of public faith takes on. This 
creative tendency which is peculiar to synthesising and as- 
similating minds often alternates, is sometimes concomi- 
tant, but in all cases always agrees with the critical tend- 
ency towards an equilibrium of beliefs through the elimi- 
nation of those inventions or discoveries which are contrary 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 151 

to the majority of their number. The desire for unanim- 
ity of faith and the desire for purification of faith is each 
in turn more fully satisfied, but in general their ebullitions 
either coincide with, or follow closely upon each other. 
For just because imitation is their common source, both of 
them, the desire for stable as well as that for absolute 
faith, have a degree of intensity proportionate, other things 
being equal, to the degree of animation in the social life, 
that is, to the multiplicity of relations between individuals. 
Any fine combination of ideas must first shine out in the 
mind of the individual before it can illumine the mind of a 
nation; and its chance of being produced in the individual 
mind depends upon the frequency of the intellectual ex- 
changes between minds. A contradiction between two in- 
stitutions or two principles will not harass a society until 
it has been noted by some exceptionally sagacious person, 
some systematic thinker, who, having been checked in his 
conscious efforts to unify his own group of ideas, points out 
the aforesaid difficulty. This explains the social impor- 
tance of philosophers. And the greater the amount of 
mutual intellectual stimulation and, consequently, the 
greater the circulation of ideas within a nation, the more 
readily will such a difficulty be perceived. 

In the course of the nineteenth century, for example, 
the relations of man to man having been multiplied beyond 
all expectation as a result of inventions in locomotion, and 
the action of imitation having become very powerful, very 
rapid, and very far-reaching, we should not be surprised to 
see that the passion for social reforms, for systematic and 
rational social reorganisations has taken on its present pro- 
portions, just as, by virtue of its previous conquests, the 
passion for social, especially industrial, conquests over 
nature has known no bounds. Therefore it is safe 
to predict that a century of adjustment will follow upon the 
past century of discovery. (Does not the nineteenth cen- 
tury deserve this name?) Civilisation requires that an 
afflux of discovery and an effort to harmonise discoveries 
shall coincide with or follow one another. 

1 52 Laws of Imitation 

On the other hand, when societies are in their uninvent- 
ive phases they are also uncritical, and vice versa. They 
embrace the most contradictory beliefs of surrounding fash- 
ions or inherited traditions; 1 and no one notes the contra- 
dictions. And yet, at the same time, they carry within 
themselves, as a result of the contributions of fashion and 
tradition, much scattered thought and knowledge which 
would reveal from a certain angle a fruitful although un- 
suspected self -consistency. In the same way they borrow 
out of curiosity from their different neighbours, or cherish 
out of piety as a heritage from their different forefathers, 
the most dissimilar arts and industries, which develop in 
them ill-assorted needs and opposing currents of activity. 
Nor are these practical antinomies, any more than the 
aforesaid theoretical contradictions, felt or formulated by 
anybody, although everybody suffers from the unrest which 
they provoke. But at the same time neither do such primi- 
tive peoples perceive that certain of their artistic processes 
and mechanical tools are fitted to be of the greatest mutual 
service and to work powerfully together for the same end, 
the one serving as the efficient means of the other, just as 
certain perceptions serve as intermediaries in explaining 
certain hypotheses which they confirm. 

The grindstone and the paddle-wheel were known about 
for a long time without the idea occurring to people that by 
means of a certain artifice, that is, by adding a third inven- 
tion, a mill, to the other two, they might be made to co- 

1 M. Earth, for example, says that " Buddhism carried in itself the 
denial, not of the regime of castes in general, but of the caste of the 
Brahmans, and this without respect to any doctrine of equality, and 
without, for its part, having any thought of revolt. Thus it is quite 
possible that the opposition which existed remained for long an uncon- 
scious one on both sides " [The Religions of India, pp. 125-26, A. Barth, 
English translation by Rev J. Wood, London, 1882. TV.]. Finally, it 
became flagrant, but, for all that, and here was another unconscious 
contradiction, " the name brahman remained a title of honour among 
the Buddhists, and in Ceylon it was given to kings " [Ibid., p. 127. 
TV.] . somewhat as the titles of count and marauis are valued in our own 
democratic society, in spite of its stand against the principles of 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 153 

operate to an extraordinary degree. Back in Babylon, 
bricks were marked with the names of their maker by means 
of movable characters or stamps, and books were com- 
posed; but the thought of combining these two ideas, of 
composing books with movable characters, was not con- 
ceived of, although it was a very simple matter and one 
that would have precipitated the coming of printing by 
some thousands of years. 

The cart and the piston likewise coexisted for a long 
time without giving rise to the idea of using the latter 
(through other inventions, of course) as a means of pro- 
pelling the former. On the other hand, at the close of the 
decadent Middle Ages, for example, how many pagan and 
licentious tastes for luxury, importations or revivals from 
Arabia or from the ancient world, crept through castle 
loopholes and monastery windows to ingratiate themselves 
within and to form bold medleys, not at all disturbing, 
however, to the men of those times, with the existing 
practices of Christian piety and the rude customs of the 
feudal system! Even in our own days, how many op- 
posite and contradictory objects our industrial or national 
activity is engaged in achieving ! And yet, as the exchange 
and friction of ideas and the communication and trans- 
fusion of needs becomes more rapid, the elimination of 
the weaker by the stronger, when opposition arises, will be 
more quickly accomplished and, at the same time, and for 
the same reason, mutually helpful and confirmatory aims 
and ideas will be more prompt to encounter each other in 
the ingenious mind. In these two ways, social life must 
necessarily reach a degree of logical unity and power 
hitherto unknown. 1 

1 Now we can see why the process of unifying the national faith by 
the expulsion of religious or political heretics (the revocation of the 
Edict of Nantes, every kind of religious persecution) is always far 
from accomplishing its object. It keeps a population, to be sure, igno- 
rant of those contradictions which might undermine their beliefs, but, 
although it may maintain the latter, it also precludes additions to their 
number. For the ignorance of contradictions which dulls the critical 
sense also sterilises the imagination and dims the consciousness of mu- 

1 54 Laws of Imitation 

I have now pointed out how the social need for logic, 
through which alone a social logic is formed, arises and 
develops. It is at present necessary to see how it sets about 
to obtain satisfaction. We already know that its two tend- 
encies are distinguishable, the one creative, the other criti- 
cal, the one abounding in combinations of old accumulable 
inventions and discoveries, the other in struggles between 
alternative inventions or discoveries. We shall study 
each of these tendencies separately, beginning with the 

II. The Logical 1 Duel 

Suppose that a discovery, an invention, has appeared. 
There are straightway two facts for us to note about it; 
its gains in faith, as it spreads from one person to another, 
and the losses in faith to which it subjects the invention 
which had the same object or satisfied the same desire when 
it intervened. Such an encounter gives rise to a logical 
duel. For example, cuneiform writing spread for a long 
time undisturbed throughout Central Asia, while Phoeni- 
cian writing had the same career in the Mediterranean 
basin. But one day these two alphabets came into conflict 
over the territory of the former; and cuneiform writing 
slowly receded, but did not disappear until about the first 
century of our era. 

Studied in detail, then, the history of societies, like 
psychologial evolution, is a series or a simultaneous occur- 
rence of logical duels (when it is not one of logical unions). 
What happened in the case of writing had already happened 
in that of language. Linguistic progress is effected first 
by imitation and then by rivalry between two languages or 

tual confirmations. Moreover, a time comes when, as Colins says, 
enquiry can no longer be repressed. 

1 1 might just as well have said Ideological as logical, just as, later 
on, the term logical union means teleological union as well. But it 
seemed well to identify the two points of view in this chapter at least. 

The Logical Law of Imitation 155 

dialects which quarrel over the same country and one of 
which is crowded back by the other, or between two terms or 
idioms which correspond to the same idea. This struggle 
is a conflict between opposite theses implicit in every word 
or idiom which tends to substitute itself for another word 
or grammatical form. If, at the moment I think of a horse, 
the two words equus and caballus, borrowed from two dif- 
ferent Latin dialects, come into my mind at the same time, 
it is as if the judgment " equus is a better designation than 
caballus " were contradicted in my thought by the judg- 
ment " caballus is better than equus." If I have to choose 
between i and .$ to express plurality, for example, this 
choice is also conditioned by judgments which are intrinsi- 
cally contradictory. During the formation of the Romance 
tongues thousands of like contradictions came into the 
brains of the Gallo-Romans, Spaniards, and Italians; and 
the need of adjusting them gave birth to the modern lan- 
guages. What philologists call the gradual simplification 
of grammars is only the result of the work of elimination 
that is prompted by a vague feeling of these implicit con- 
tradictions. This is the reason, for example, that Italian 
always uses i and Spanish, s, whereas Latin sometimes 
made use of i and sometimes of s. 

I have compared the logical struggle to a duel. In fact, 
in each of these separate combats, in each of the elementary 
facts of social life that pass through an edition of number- 
less copies, the opposing aims or judgments are always two 
in number. Have you ever seen a battle take place in an- 
cient or mediaeval or modern times between three of four 
parties? Never. There may be seven or eight, or ten or 
twelve, armies of different nationalities, but there can be 
only two hostile camps, just as in the counsel of war prior 
to a battle there are never more than two opinions at the 
same time, in relation to any plan of action, the one for it 
and the other made up of those united against it. And, 
obviously, the quarrel to be fought out upon the battlefield 
may always be summed up in a yes opposed to a no. Every 
casus belli is this, at bottom. Of course the adversary who 

156 Laws of Imitation 

gainsays the other (in religious wars principally) or who 
thwarts the plan of the other (in political wars) has his 
own particular thesis or plan as well; but only in as much as 
his thought or will is more or less directly or indirectly, im- 
plicitly or explicitly, negative or obstructive, does it render 
the conflict inevitable. Hence whatever political parties or 
fragments of parties there may be in a country, for example, 
there are never more than two sides In relation to any ques- 
tion, the government and the opposition, the fusion of 
heterogeneous parties united on their negative side. 

This remark applies generally. At all times and 
places the apparent continuity of history may be decom- 
posed into distinct and separable events, events both small 
and great, which consist of questions followed by solutions. 
Now, a question for societies, as for individuals, is a waver- 
ing between a given affirmation and a given negation, or 
between a given goal and a given impediment; and a solu- 
tion, as we shall see later on, is only the suppression of one 
of the two adversaries or of their inconsistency. For the 
moment I shall speak of questions only. They are really 
logical discourses; one says yes, the other, no. One desires 
a yes, the other, a no. It makes no difference whether we 
are dealing with language or religion, with jurisprudence 
or government, the distinction between the affirmative and 
the negative side is easily found. 

In the elementary linguistic duel which we were consider- 
ing above, the established term or idiom affirms and the 
new term or idiom denies. In the religious duel, the ortho- 
dox dogma affirms, the heterodox denies, just as, later, 
when science tends to replace religion, the accepted theory 
is the affirmation that is controverted by the new theory. 
Juridical contests are of two kinds. The one occurs in the 
bosom of a parliament or cabinet whenever it deliberates 
upon a law or decree, the other, in the bosom of a court 
whenever a case is tried before it. Now, the legislator must 
always choose between the adoption or the rejection of the 
proposed law, I. e., between its affirmation or its negation. 
As for the judge, we know that in every suit that is brought 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 157 

before him, a peculiarity that has been overlooked in spite 
of its significance, there is always a plaintiff who affirms 
something and a defendant who denies it. If the defendant 
puts in a counter claim, this means that a second suit is 
added to the first. If other parties intervene, each of them 
takes on the character of plaintiff or defendant and thus 
multiplies the number of the separate questions between the 
litigants of the action. In political contests a distinction 
should be made between foreign and intestine wars. The 
latter are called civil wars when they reach their highest 
pitch of intensity and result in armed violence. In ordinary 
times, they constitute the parliamentary or election contests 
of political factions. In a foreign war is there not always 
an offensive and defensive army, one in favour of a fight 
and the other against it? And, above all, is not the cause 
of war the advance of some claim, or, if it be a doctrinal 
war, of some dogma that is noised about and pushed for- 
ward by one of the belligerents and rejected by the other? 
In electoral or parliamentary wars there are as many sepa- 
rate combats as the number of measures or principles that are 
proposed or proclaimed on the one hand and condemned or 
contradicted on the other. This process between an official 
plaintiff and one or more opposing defendants is renewed 
under countless pretexts, from the moment that a ministry 
or government is first formed; it is ended by the destruc- 
tion of the opposition as, for example, in 1594, by the de- 
feat of the Catholic League or by the downfall of the gov- 
ernment or ministry. As for industrial rivalries, to conclude, 
they consist, if we consider them closely, in many successive 
or simultaneous duels between inventions that have spread 
and been established for a shorter or longer period and one 
or more new inventions that are trying to spread by satisfy- 
ing more fully the same need. Thus there are always in an in- 
dustrially progressive society a certain number of old prod- 
ucts which defend themselves with varying fortune against 
new ones. The production and consumption of the former 
embody a strong affirmation or conviction, in the case of 
tallow candles, for example, we have the affirmation that 

158 Laws of Imitation 

this means of lighting is the best and most economical, 
that is impugned by the production and consumption of the 
latter. We are surprised to find a conflict of propositions 
underlying the quarrel over shop-counters. The quarrels 
that are to-day past history between cane sugar and beet 
sugar, between the stage-coach and the locomotive, between 
the sailboat and the steamboat, etc., were once real social 
discussions or even argumentations.' For not only two 
propositions, but two syllogisms, were here face to face, 
according to a general condition unheeded by logicians. The 
one said, for example, " The horse is the fastest domestic ani- 
mal. Now, locomotion is possible only by means of animals; 
consequently the stage-coach is the best means of locomo- 
tion." To this, the other answered : " The horse is, to be 
sure, the fastest animal, but it is not true that only brute 
forces can be utilised in the transportation of men and 
merchandise, consequently, your conclusion is false." This 
observation should be generalised, and it would be easy for 
us to discover many syllogistic rebuffs of a similar kind in 
the above logical duels. 

I may add that, in the case of industry, the contest is not 
merely one between two inventions meeting the same need or 
between the manufacturers or corporations or classes which 
have monopolised them separately. It is also one between 
two different needs. The one, some widespread and domi- 
nant desire that has been developed by a number of antece- 
dent inventions, like the love of country, for example, among 
the ancient Romans, is supposed to be of superior impor- 
tance; the other, aroused by some recent or recently im- 
ported inventions, like the taste for objects of art or for 
Asiatic effeminacy, implicitly impugns the superiority of the 
first, against which it contends. This kind of contest seems, 
of course, to be more closely connected with morality than 
with industry; but in a certain sense morality is only indus- 
try viewed in its high and truly political aspect. Govern- 
ment is only a special kind of industry that is able or is sup- 
posed to be able to satisfy the chief need and aim that the 
nature of long-prevailing systems of production and con- 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 159 

sumption or of long-ruling convictions has planted without 
a rival in the heart of a people and to which morality insists 
that all others be subordinated. One country clamours for 
glory, another for territory, a third for money; it all depends 
whether its people have done most of their work under arms 
or at the plough or in the factory. As nations or as individ- 
uals, we are ever unwittingly under the control of some 
guiding desire or, rather, some persistent resolution which, 
born itself of some past victory, has always fresh combats 
to wage. We are also under the control of some fixed 
idea or opinion which' has been adopted after some hesi- 
tation and whose citadel is continually being attacked. 
This is. called a state of mind in individuals, and a state 
of society in nations. Every mental or social state im- 
plies, then, while it lasts, an ideal. To the formation of 
the ideal which morality defends and preserves, all the 
military and industrial as well as all the aesthetic past of 
a society has contributed. And finally art itself has its 
own peculiar conflicts of theses and antitheses. In each of 
its domains there is always some prevailing school that 
affirms a certain type of beauty which is denied by some 
other school. 

But here I should linger for a moment to emphasise the 
preceding points. We are considering social facts mainly 
from the logical point of view, that is, from the point of 
view of the corroborative or contradictory beliefs which they 
imply, rather than from that of the auxiliary or contrary 
desires which they likewise imply. It is difficult to under- 
stand how inventions and their aggregates, institutions, ca-n 
either endorse or disavow one another, and this point I 
must make clear once for all. Invention only satisfies or 
provokes desire; desire expresses itself as purpose; and 
purpose, besides being a pseud o- judgment in its affirmative 
or negative form (I desire, I do not desire), includes some 
hope or fear, generally hope, that is, it always includes a true 
judgment. Hope or fear means affirmation or negation 
accompanied by a greater or less degree of belief that the 
thing desired will come to pass. Suppose that I wish to be 

160 Laws of Imitation 

a Deputy, a desire which has been developed in me 
through the invention of universal suffrage and representa- 
tion, it means that I hope to become a Deputy by means of 
certain well-known methods. And if my opponents hinder 
me (because they believe that another will aid them more in 
obtaining the places which they desire, a desire which has 
been provoked in them by the old or new invention of the 
functions in question), it is because they have some 
quite contradictory hopes. I affirm that thanks to my 
good management I shall probably be elected; they deny it. 
If they should absolutely cease denying and lose all hope, 
they would no longer oppose me, and the teleological duel 
would end, as it always does end, in the logical duel a 
proof of the capital importance of the latter. 

What is social life but a continual turmoil of vague hopes 
and fears intermittently excited by fresh ideas which stir 
up fresh desires? When we dwell upon the conflict or 
competition of desires we get a social teleology, when upon 
that of hopes, a social logic. When two inventions satisfy 
the same desire, they clash together, as I have shown, be- 
cause each implies on the part of its respective producer or 
consumer the hope or conviction that it is the better adapted 
to the end in view, and, consequently, that the other is the 
inferior of the two. But, even when two inventions satisfy 
two different desires, they may contradict each other, either 
because the desires are dissimilar expressions of a higher 
desire which each thinks itself the fitter to express, or be- 
cause the satisfaction of either requires that the other shall 
remain unsatisfied and because each hopes that this will be 
the outcome. 

We have an example of the first case in the invention of 
oil painting in the fifteenth century. This invention gain- 
said the ancient invention of painting on wax in the sense 
that the growing passion for the former contested with the 
existing taste for the latter the right of considering itself 
the best form of the love of pictures. As an example of 
the second case we have the invention of gunpowder in the 
fourteenth century. In developing among sovereigns an ever- 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 161 

growing craving for conquest and centralisation, a craving 
which required the subjection of the feudal lords for its 
satisfaction, it found itself in opposition with the inventions 
of fortified castles and elaborate armour, inventions which 
had developed the need for feudal independence among the 
nobility; and if the latter persisted in their resistance to 
their king, it was because they continued to have as much 
confidence in their castles and cuirasses as the king in his 

But in history the chief contradiction between two inven- 
tions arises from their satisfying the same desire. The 
Christian invention of the diaconate and the episcopacy cer- 
tainly contradicted the pagan invention of the praetorship 
and consulship and patriciate, for both Christian and pagan 
thought that their desire for grandeur was satisfied by their 
respective dignities and denied that it could be satisfied by 
the dignities of the other. Consequently a social state 
which tolerated all of these opposite institutions at the same 
time contained a hidden evil; and, as a matter of fact, many 
contradictions of this kind contributed, after the advent of 
Christianity, to the break-up of the Roman Empire and to 
that absorption of Roman civilisation which at the Renas- 
cence forced the civilisation of Christendom to give way in 
its turn. In a way, too, the invention of the monastic rule 
of the first religious orders also gainsaid the ancient inven- 
tion of the Roman phalanx, since each of these inventions, 
in the eyes of those who made use of it, satisfied, to the 
exclusion of the other, the desire for true security. 

In like manner the Doric and Corinthian orders were 
gainsaid by the pointed style, and the hexameter and pen- 
tameter by the rhymed verse of ten syllables. The hexame- 
ter and the Corinthian order satisfied the Roman's desire 
for literary and architectural beauty; they failed to do this 
for the twelfth-century Frenchman, whom the ten-syllabled 
verse, dear to the trouveres, and the style of Notre Dame de 
Paris alone satisfied. The irreconciliable elements in such 
conceptions, then, are the judgments which accompany them. 
This is so true that when in modern times a more liberal 

1 62 Laws of Imitation 

taste attributes grandeur to both the patriciate and the 
episcopacy and beauty to both the hexameter and the heroic 
measure, formerly antagonistic elements are reconciled, 
just as long before this monasticism and militarism came 
into perfect harmony when it was seen that in the one lay 
security for the life to come and in the other, for life from 
day to day. 

It is quite certain, therefore, that all social advances by 
means of elimination consist, at first, of duels between an- 
tagonistic affirmatives and negatives. But it is well to note 
that the negative is not entirely self-sustaining, that it 
must depend upon some new thesis which is itself gain- 
said by the thesis of the affirmative. In times of progress, 
then, the elimination must always be a substitution; and 
I have merged these two ideas into the latter one. This 
necessity explains the weakness of certain political opposi- 
tions which have no programmes of their own, and whose 
impotent criticism controverts everything and affirms noth- 
ing. For the same reason no great religious heretic or re- 
former ever confined himself wholly to the negative side in 
any effective opposition to dogma. The cutting dialectic of a 
Lucian did less to shatter the statue of Jupiter than the lisp- 
ing by slaves of the least of the Christian dogmas. It has 
been justly observed, too, that an established system of 
philosophy resists all attack until the day when its enemies 
have become its rivals in the establishment of another 
original philosophic system. 

However ridiculous a school of art may be, it continues 
vigorous until replaced. It took the pointed style to kill 
the Roman style of architecture, and the art of the Re- 
nascence to kill the Gothic. Classic tragedy would 
have survived its critics but for the appearance of the 
romantic drama, hybrid though it was. A commercial 
article disappears from consumption only because another 
article satisfying the same want takes its place, or^because 
the want that it satisfies has been suppressed by a change of 
fashion or custom, and this change can be accounted for 
not alone by the spread of some new distaste or objection, 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 163 

but by that of some new taste or principle as well. 1 In the 
same way a new legal principle or procedure must be 
formulated or adopted before inconvenient or antiquated 
principles or procedures can disappear. In Rome archaic 
civil processes would have persisted indefinitely but for 
the ingenious invention of the Formulary system. 
Quiritian law gave way only to the happy fictions and 
liberal inspirations of Praetorian law. In our own days 
the French penal code, as well as many other foreign crim- 
inal codes, is clearly old-fashioned and contrary to public 
opinion, but it will be maintained until criminologists agree 
upon some new theory of penal responsibility that will be 
generally adopted. 

Finally, if a people retain the same number of ideas to 
be verbally expressed (if it loses some of its ideas without 
acquiring at least an equal number, its civilisation is de- 
clining instead of progressing), the words and gram- 
matical forms of its language can be eliminated only through 
the spread of equivalent terms or idioms. When one word 
dies another is born, and, consequently, or analogously, when 
one language perishes, it means that another has been born 
within it or outside of it. Latin would still be spoken, in 
spite of the barbarian invasions/providing certain important 
linguistic inventions, the derivation of articles from pro- 
nouns, for example, or the characterisation of the future 
tense by the infinitive followed by the verb to have (avoir) 
(aimer-ai), had not come to group themselves together 
somewhere or other to form a rallying point for the Romance 
languages. Here were new theses without which the 
antithesis, which consisted in opposition to the cases and 
tenses of the Latin declensions and conjugations, would 
never have succeeded. 

Thus every logical duel is in reality twofold, consisting 
of two sets of diametrically opposite affirmations and nega- 

1 Under the inroads, however, of poverty, disease, or general misfor- 
tune a want may disappear without being replaced at all ; or it may be 
replaced only by increased intensity on the part of lower wants which 
have become excessive and exclusive of all others. Then a decline 
or set-back instead of an advance in civilisation takes place. 

164 Laws of Imitation 

tions. Still, although, at every moment of social life, one 
of the two hostile theses gainsays the other, yet it presents 
itself as pre-eminently self -affirmative; whereas the second 
thesis, although it likewise affirms itself, owes its promi- 
nence only to its contradiction of the first. It is essential 
both for the politician and the historian to distinguish in 
every case whether the affirmative or the negative side 
preponderates and to note the moment when the roles are 
reversed. This moment almost always arrives. There 
is a certain time when a growing philosophy or religious 
or political sect owes all its popularity to the support which 
it lends to the controvertists of the accepted thesis or 
dogma or to the detractors of government; later, when 
this philosophy or sect has enlarged, we see that all the 
forces of the still resistant national church or orthodox phi- 
losophy or established government are called upon to serve 
as a protection against the objections, the doubts, and the 
alarms that have been aroused by the ideas and preten- 
sions of the innovators, ideas and pretensions that have by 
this time become attractive in themselves. In the case of 
industry and fine arts, it is for the pleasure of change, of 
not doing the usual thing, that that part of the public 
which is influenced by fashion adopts a new product to the 
neglect of some old one; then when the novelty has be- 
come acclimated and appreciated for its own sake the older 
product seeks a refuge in the cherished habits of the other 
part of the public which is partial to custom and which 
wishes to show in that way that it also does not do the 
same thing as the rest of the world. In the struggle of a 
new form of speech with some old expression, the new form 
at first relies upon its chiefly negative charm for neologists- 
who wish to talk out of the ordinary; and when the new 
form in turn becomes time-worn, the older expression finds 
support in its turn, but upon its negative side merely, 
among the lovers of archaisms who do not wish to talk 
like all the rest of the world. The same somersaults are 
turned in a duel between a new principle of justice and a 
traditional one. 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 165 

It is now essential to distinguish between the cases in 
which the logical duel of theses and antitheses is individual 
and those in which it is social. The distinction could not 
be more clear-cut. The social duel commences only after 
the individual one has ceased. Every act of imitation is 
preceded by hesitation on the part of the individual, for 
every discovery or invention that seeks to spread abroad 
always finds some obstacle to overcome in some of the 
ideas or practices that have already been adopted by every 
member of the public. And then in the heart or mind of 
every such person some kind of a conflict sets in. It may 
be between two candidates, that is, between two policies 
which solicit his vote, or, if he be a statesman, between two 
perplexing lines of action. It may be between two theories 
which sway his scientific belief; or between religion and irre- 
ligion, or between two sects which contend for his religious 
adherence. It may be between two objects of art or com- 
merce which hold his taste and his purchase price in sus- 
pense. If he be a legislator, it may be between two con- 
trary bills 1 or principles that seem equally important; or, 
if he be a lawyer, between two solutions of a legal ques- 
tion over which he is reflecting, or between two expres- 
sions which suggest themselves at the same time to his 
hesitating tongue. Now, as long as a man hesitates in this 
way, he refrains from imitation, whereas it is only as an 
imitator that he is a part of society. When he finally imi- 
tates, it means that he has come to a decision. 

Let us suppose, although it is an hypothesis that could 
never be realised, that all the members of a nation were 
simultaneously and indefinitely in a state of indecision like 
that which I have described. Then war would be at an 
end, for an ultimatum or a declaration of war presup- 
poses the making of individual decisions by cabinet of- 
ficers. For war to exist, the clearest type of the logical 
duel in society, peace must first have been established in the 

1 A greater number of bills may be up for consideration, but there- 
are never more than two in conflict at the same time in the hesitating 
mind of the law-maker. 

1 66 Laws of Imitation 

minds of the ministers or rulers who before that hesitated 
to formulate the thesis and antithesis embodied in the two 
opposing armies. For the same reason there would be no 
more election contests. There would be an end to re- 
ligious quarrels and to scientific schisms and disputes, be- 
cause this division of society into separate churches or 
theories presupposes that some single doctrine has finally 
prevailed in the previously divided thought or conscience of 
each of their respective followers. Parliamentary discus- 
sions would cease. There would be an end to litigation. A 
lawsuit, the presentation of a social difficulty for settlement, 
shows that each party has already settled in his own mind 
the mental difficulty that was presented to him. Industrial 
competition between rival establishments would cease be- 
cause their rivalry depended upon each having its separate 
group of patrons, and now their products would no longer 
vie against one another in their patrons' hearts. There 
would be an end to the struggles and encroachments of dif- 
ferent kinds of law, such as those between the Custom and 
the Roman law of mediaeval France, for such national per- 
plexity means that individuals have chosen one or the other 
of the two bodies of law. There would be an end to con- 
tests for pre-eminence between distinct dialects, between the 
Langue d'Oc and the Langue d'O'il, for example, for a lin- 
guistic hesitation of this kind in a nation is due to the 
linguistic steadfastness of the individuals who compose it. 
In brief, to reiterate, social irresolution begins when in- 
dividual irresolution ends. Nowhere else can be seen to 
greater advantage the striking similarity and dissimilar- 
ity of the logic and psychology of society to the logic and 
psychology of the individual. I hasten to add that al- 
though the hesitation which precedes an act of imitation is 
merely an individual fact, yet it is caused by social facts, 
that is, by other accomplished acts of imitation. The re- 
sistance which a man always puts up against the influence, 
whether rational or prestigeful, of another man whom he 
is about to copy is always the outcome of some prior in- 
fluence which he has already experienced. His delay in 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 167 

imitating is due to the intersection in his mind of a given 
current of imitation with an inclination towards a different 
imitation. It is well to note here that even the spread of an 
imitation involves it in an encounter and struggle with 
another imitation. 

At the same time it may be seen that the necessity of 
there being only two adversaries in social oppositions is ex- 
plained by the universality of imitation, the essential fact 
of social life. In fact, only two theses or judgments can 
be in opposition wherever this elementary fact occurs : the 
thesis or purpose of the individual-model and the thesis 
or purpose of the individual-copy. If we wish to look 
abroad over masses of human beings, the duel may be seen 
to be reproduced, magnified, and socialised under thousands 
of forms; but the more narrow and complete the order of 
the phenomena of human association in question, the more 
clearly will it be reflected in the total group of facts. It 
is very clear in military affairs as armies become disciplined 
and centralised and as it comes about that only one great 
combat is waged at the same time on the same battlefield 
instead of the multiplied single combats of the Homeric 
period. It is very distinct, too, in religions, as they grow 
more united and more hierarchical. The duel between 
Catholicism and Protestantism, or between Catholicism 
and free thought, implies an advance in the organisation 
of these cults and of that of free thought as well. The duel 
is less clear in politics, but it becomes more clear as parties 
advance in organisation. It is even less clear in industry; 
but if industry ever comes to be organised on a socialistic 
basis, the case will change. In language it is very 
vague, for language has become less conscious of national- 
ity than any other human product. However, I mentioned 
above the struggle of the Langue d'Oc and -the Langue 
d'O'il, and there are many other analogous examples. The 
duel became vague, too, in jurisprudence when the study of 
law ceased to be a passion, and law schools were no longer re- 
cruited by the trained and enthusiastic followers of famous 
professors, and ceased to witness anything comparable to the 

1 68 Laws of Imitation 

great contentions of the Sabiniani and Proculiani at Rome, 
of the Romanists and Feudists at the close of the Middle 
lAges, etc. 

When social irresolution has been produced and accentu- 
ated it must be transformed in its turn into resolution. 
How? Through a fresh series of individual states of ir- 
resolution followed by acts of imitation. If several 
political programmes are splitting a nation up, one of them 
will spread, through means of propaganda or terror, until 
it has won over almost everybody one by one. The same is 
true of one among many rival churches or philosophies. 
It is useless to multiply examples. Finally, when a certain 
degree of the unanimity which is never absolute comes to 
be realised, all irresolution, whether individual or social, 
is very nearly over. This is the inevitable finish. Every- 
thing which we see anchored and rooted in our customs 
and beliefs of to-day began by being the object of ardent 
discussion. There is no peaceful institution which has not 
been mothered by discord. Grammars, codes, catechisms, 
written and unwritten constitutions, ruling industries, 
sovereign systems of versification, all these things which 
are in themselves the categorical basis of society, have been 
the slow and gradual work of social dialetic. Every gram- 
matical rule expresses the triumph of some habit of speech 
which has spread at the expense of other partially con- 
tradictory habits. Every article of the French Code is a bar- 
gain or treaty made after bloody street broils, after stirring 
journalistic polemics, and after rhetorical parliamentary tem- 
pests. No constitutional principle has ever been accepted 
except in the wake of revolutions, etc. 1 

The categories of the individual mind originated in the 

1 A distinction has been made between constitutions that are made to 
order, or, if you like, improvised, and contract constitutions that are 
formed little by little (see M. Boutmy). This distinction is elsewhere 
of importance. But, in the last analysis, constitutions that are made to 
order themselves result from a transaction between the opposing parties 
in the bosom of the parliament from which they spring. Onlv in these 
cases, there is but one struggle, and one contract, whereas the English 
Constitution, for example, was the outcome of a great number of strug- 
gles and contracts between pre-existent powers. 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 169 

same way. 1 Our slightly developed notions of time, space, 
matter, and force are, according to the well-grounded con- 
clusion of the new psychology, the result of the inhibi- 
tions, inductions, and acquisitions that take place in the 
individual during the first period of life. But, just as the 
little child in the cradle possesses at an age which defies 
analysis the germ of vague ideas on space and time, if 
not on matter and force, so every primitive society pre- 
sents to us a confused body of grammatical rules, of cus- 
toms, of religious ideas, and of political forces about whose 
formation we are absolutely ignorant. 

The conclusion of society's logical duel occurs in three 
different ways. (i) It quite often happens that one of 
the two adversaries is suppressed merely by the natural 
prolongation of the other's progress. For example, 
the Phoenician writing had only to continue to spread 
to annihilate the cuneiform. The petroleum lamp had 
only to be known to cause the brazier of nut oil, a slight 
modification of the Roman lamp, to fall into disuse in 
the shanties of Southern France. Sometimes, however, 
a moment arrives when the progress of even the favoured 
rival is checked by some increasing difficulty in dis- 
lodging the enemy beyond a certain point. Then, (2) 
if the need of settling the contradiction is felt strongly 
enough, arms are resorted to, and victory results in the 
violent suppression of one of the two duellists. Here 
may be easily classed the case in which an authorita- 
tive, although non-military, force intervenes, as hap- 
pened in the vote of the Council of Nice in favour of 
the Athanasian creed, or in the conversion of Con- 
stantine to Christianity, or as happens in any impor- 
tant decision following upon the deliberations of a dictator 
or assembly. In this case, the vote or decree, like the 
victory in the other case, is a new external condition which 

1 In a treatise published in August and September, 1889, in the 
Revue philosophique, under the title of Categories logiques et institu- 
tions sociales, and reproduced in my Logique sociale (1894), I have 
developed at length the parallel which I have here confined myself to 

170 Laws of Imitation 

favours one of the two rival theses or volitions at the ex- 
pense of the other and disturbs the natural play of spread- 
ing and competing imitations somewhat as a sudden climatic 
change resulting from a geological accident in a given lo- 
cality disturbs the propagation of life by preventing 
the multiplication of some naturally fertile animal or 
vegetal species and by facilitating that of others which 
otherwise had been less prolific. Finally, (3) the an- 
tagonists are often seen to be reconciled, or one of them is 
seen to be wisely and voluntarily expelled through the in- 
tervention of some new discovery or invention. 

Let us consider for a while this last and, as it seems to 
me, most important case, for here the intervening condition 
comes from within rather than from without. Besides, 
the successful discovery or invention plays the same part 
here as that played in the preceding case by the happy in- 
spiration of the general on the battlefield whose flash of 
military genius ensured the victory of his side. It took 
the discovery, for example, of the circulation of the blood, 
to put an end to the interminable discussions of the anat- 
omists of the sixteenth century. It took the astronom- 
ical discoveries due to the invention of the telescope, at 
the beginning of the seventeenth century, to settle the 
question in favour of the Pythagorean hypothesis and con- 
trary to those of the Aristotelians whether the sun re- 
volved around the earth or the earth around the sun, as 
well as many other questions which divided the astrono- 
mists into two camps. Turn to any library and see how 
many sometime burning questions, how many belching 
volcanoes of argument and abuse, are now cold and ex- 
tinct! And the cooling down has almost always been 
started, as if by a miracle, by some scholarly, or apparently, 
by some even erudite or imaginary, discovery. There is 
not a page of the catechism which is at present unchallenged 
by believers but whose every line embodies the outcome of 
violent polemics between the founders of its dogma, between 
the Church Fathers or the Councils. 

What was needed to end these at times bloody combats? 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 171 

The discovery of some more or less authentic and sacred 
text, or of some new theological conception unless some 
supposedly infallible authority cut short the controversy by 
force. In the same way, how many conflicts between 
men's wills and desires have been settled or singularly, 
calmed down by some industrial or even by some political 
invention! Before the invention of wind-mills or water- 
mills, desire for bread and aversion to the enervating labour 
of grinding by hand were openly antagonistic in the hearts 
of the master and his slaves. To wish to eat bread was 
to wish this atrocious fatigue for one's self or for others, 
and not to wish this fatigue for one's self, if one were a 
slave, was to wish that nobody should eat bread. When 
the water-mill was invented, it was an immense relief to 
slave-labour, and the aforesaid desires ceased to impede each 
other. Before the invention of the cart, one of the most 
wonderful inventions of antiquity, the need to transport 
heavy weights and the wish not to exhaust one's strength 
by carrying them on one's shoulder and not to prostrate 
beasts of burden with them fought together and blocked 
each other's way in people's feelings. In short, slavery 
was but a necessary evil for the accomplishment of pain- 
ful and obligatory work the necessity of which was recog- 
nised by the slave as well as by his master. The master 
threw the burden of it upon the slave in order that, as far 
as he himself was concerned, at any rate, the conflict of 
contradictory desires might be settled; otherwise it would 
have been settled for nobody. This chronic antagonism 
of desires and interests gave way but gradually to com- 
parative harmony through a series of capital inventions 
which provided for the utilisation of the inanimate forces 
of nature, of steam, of the winds and streams, etc., to the 
great and equal advantage of both master and slave. 

Here each intervening invention did better than merely 
to suppress one of the terms of the difficulty; it suppressed 
their contrariety. This is what happens in the unravelling 
of a comedy (for an invention is a denouement, and 
vice versa), when the contradiction in the wills of a father 

172 Laws of Imitation 

and son, for example, comes to a point that seems to be in- 
surmountable, some unexplained disclosure shows that it is 
entirely fictitious and groundless. 1 Industrial inventions 
may be compared, then, to the unravelling of a comedy, in 
other words, they are pleasing and satisfactory to all the 
world, whereas military inventions, with their perfected 
armaments and cunning strategy and eagle-eyed perception 
at critical moments, plainly suggest the unravelling of a 
tragedy where the triumph of one rival is the death of the 
other, where so much passion and prejudice is embodied 
in the actors, where the contradiction between their de- 
sires and their convictions is so serious that harmony be- 
comes impossible and the final sacrifice inevitable. Every 
victory is in this way the suppression, if not of the van- 
quished, at least of his national and resisting will, by the 
national will of the victor. It is this rather than a mutual 
agreement, in spite of the treaty which follows and which 
is an involuntary compact. In short, history is a tissue, an 
interlacing of tragedies and comedies, of horrible tragedies 
and cheerless comedies. If we look closely, we can 

1 We sometimes have, or, rather, we think we have, these happy sur- 
prises in politics and religion as well as in industry. Renan makes a 
somewhat similar remark. " In great historic movements," he says 
(the early Church, the Reformation, the French Revolution), "there 
is a moment of exaltation when men, bound together by some common 
work (Peter and Paul, Lutherans and Calvinists, Montagnards and 
Girondists, etc.), turn from or kill one another for some shadow of a 
difference, and then there is a moment of reconciliation when the 
attempt is made to prove that the apparent enemies have been really 
working together in sympathy for the same end. After a time a single 
doctrine issues forth from all this discord, and perfect agreement reigns 
(or seems to reign) between the followers of those who had once 
anathematised one another" (Les Evangeles). In moments of exalta- 
tion the slightest shades of difference must lead to violence, for in the 
extraordinary light of an exalted conscience this shadow, this partial 
mutual contradiction, is perceived, and, since every man at such times 
embodies himself wholly in the thesis which he has adopted, and devotes 
himself absolutely to its unlimited propagation, the suppression of any 
thesis that contradicts his own involves the murder of him or them m 
whom the former is embodied. Later, when the first actors have dis- 
appeared and been replaced by less enthusiastic successors, the luke- 
warmness of opposite convictions lets us throw a convenient veil over 
their mutual contradictions. A mere lowering of the general plane of 
belief has brought about this change. 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 173 

easily distinguish them. This is perhaps the reason, I 
may say in passing, why, in our much more industrial than 
military age, it is not surprising to find that, on the stage, 
where real life is reflected, tragedy is becoming more neg- 
lected day by day and is yielding to comedy, which grows 
and flourishes, but which becomes sombre and gloomy at 
the same time. 

III. The Logical Union 

Now that we have discussed the inventions and dis- 
coveries which fight and replace each other, I have to 
deal with those which aid and add to each other. It must 
not be inferred from the order I have followed that progress 
through substitution originally preceded progress through 
accumulation. In reality, the latter necessarily preceded, 
just as it plainly follows, the former. The latter is both 
the alpha and the omega; the former is but a middle term. 
For example, the formation of languages certainly began 
in a successive acquisition of words, of verbal forms, which, 
as they expressed ideas hitherto unexpressed, found no ri- 
vals to contest their establishment; and this circumstance 
undoubtedly facilitated their first steps. In the beginnings 
of primordial religion the legends and myths with which it 
was enriched found in their character of answers to en- 
tirely fresh questions no prior solutions to contradict them, 
and it was easy for them not to contradict each other, 
since they gave separate answers to differerffquestions. It 
was probably difficult for primitive customs to graft them- 
selves upon the waywardness peculiar to a state of nature; 
but as they answered to problems of justice which had 
until then been unpropounded and as they regulated in- 
dividual relations which had until then been unregulated, 
they had the good fortune to have no pre-existing customs 
to combat, and it was an easy matter for them not to become 
embroiled with one another. 

174 Laws of Imitation 

Finally, primitive political organisations must have been 
free to develop up to a certain point without any inward 
disturbance or military or industrial struggle. The very 
first form of government was in answer to a demand for 
security which had until then received no satisfaction, and 
this circumstance was favourable to its establishment. 
When the art of war first arose, every new weapon or 
drill or tactic could be added to those already in existence, 
whereas, in our own day it is seldom that a new engine of 
war or a new military regulation does not have to battle 
for some time with others which its introduction has 
rendered useless. In the beginnings of industry, in its pas- 
toral and agricultural forms, every newly cultivated plant 
and every newly domesticated animal were added to the 
feeble resources of field and barn, of garden and stable, 
and did not, like to-day, replace other domestic plants and 
animals of almost equal worth. At that time, likewise, 
every new astronomical or physical observation which lit 
up some hitherto obscure point in the human mind took 
an undisputed place side by side with anterior observa- 
tions which it in no way contradicted. It was a question 
of scattering shadows, not of overcoming falsehoods. It 
was a question of exploiting unbounded and uncultivated 
lands, not of improving lands that had already been worked 
by other possessors. 

But we should not overlook the fact that the kind of ac- 
cumulation which precedes substitution by means of 
logical duels is different from that which follows it. The 
first kind consists of a weak aggregation of elements whose 
principal bond lies in not contradicting one another; the 
second, in a vigorous group of elements which not only do 
not contradict one another, but, for the most part, confirm 
one another. And this should be so, because of the con- 
tinually growing need of strong and comprehensive belief. 
From what has preceded we can already see the truth of this 
remark; it will presently become still more apparent. I 
will show that along all lines there are two distinct kinds 
of inventions or discoveries, those that are capable of in- 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 175 

definite accumulation (although they may also be replaced) 
and those that, after a certain degree of accumulation has 
been reached, must, if progress is to continue, be replaced. 
Now, the distribution of both kinds takes place quite natur- 
ally in the course of progress. The first both precede and 
follow the second, but in the latter instance, after the exhaus- 
tion of the second, they present a systematic character which 
they previously lacked. 

A language may grow without limit through the ad- 
dition of new words corresponding to new ideas; 
but although nothing may check the increasing bulk 
of its vocabulary, the additions to its grammar are re- 
stricted. Outside of a small number of grammatical rules 
and forms which are alike in character and which meet, 
more or less satisfactorily, all the needs of the lan- 
guage, no new rule or form can arise without entering into 
opposition with others and without tending to recast the 
idiom in a different mould. If the idea of expressing case 
by means of a preposition followed by an article comes into 
a language which is already possessed of declensions, either 
the article and the preposition must eventually eliminate the 
declensions, or the declensions must repel them. Now, 
let me observe, after the grammar of a language has be- 
come fixed, its vocabulary does not cease to grow richer; 
on the contrary, it increases still more rapidly; besides, 
from this time on, as every new term takes on the same 
grammatical livery, it not only does not contradict the 
others, but even indirectly confirms their implicit prop- 
ositions. For example, every new word which came 
into Latin with the termination us or a seemed in its de- 
clension to reiterate and confirm that which was said by 
all the other words similarly terminated and declined, 
namely, the following general propositions: us and a are 
signs of Latinity, i, u, a, um are signs of the genitive, the 
dative, the accusative, etc. 

Religions have also, like languages, two aspects. They 
have their dictionary of narrative and legend, their start- 
ing point, and their religious grammar of dogma and 

176 Laws of Imitation 

ritual. The former is composed of Biblical or mythological 
tales, of histories of gods and demi-gods, of heroes and 
saints, and it can develop without stop; but the latter 
cannot be extended in the same way. After all the main 
conscience-tormenting problems have been solved accord- 
ing to the peculiar principle of the given religion, a moment 
comes when no new dogma can be introduced which does 
not partly contradict established dogma; similarly, no new 
rite, in as much as it is an expression of dogma, can be freely 
introduced when all the dogmas have already been ex- 
pressed in ritual. Now, after the creed and ritual of a re- 
ligion have been defined, its martyrology, hagiography, and 
ecclesiastical history never fail to grow richer, and this even 
more rapidly than before. Moreover, the saints and mar- 
tyrs and devotees of a mature religion, not only do not con- 
tradict one another in the conventionality and orthodoxy of 
all their acts, thoughts, and even miracles, but mutually re- 
flect and endorse one another. In this respect they differ 
from the divine or heroic persons, from the gods and demi- 
gods, from the patriarchs and apostles, as well as from the 
legends and prodigies, that succeeded one another before 
the making of dogma and ritual. 

Here I must open a parenthesis for quite an important 
observation. If a religion is primarily narrative, it is 
highly variable and plastic; if it is primarily dogmatic, it 
is essentially unchangeable. In Greco-Latin paganism 
there is almost no dogma, and since ritual has, therefore, 
almost no dogmatic significance its symbolism is of the 
more distinctly narrative kind. It may represent, for ex- 
ample, an episode in the life of Ceres or Bacchus. Under- 
stood in this way there may be no end to the ac- 
cumulation of different rites. If dogma amounted to al- 
most nothing, narrative was almost everything, in ancient 
polytheism. Therefore it had an incredible facility for 
enrichment. This is analogous to the inflation of a modern 
idiom, like English, which, although it is grammatically 
very poor, incorporates all manner of foreign words by 
merely making a slight change in their termination, a kind 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 1 77 

of linguistic baptism. But although this capacity for un- 
limited enlargement is a cause of viability in a narrative 
religion, this does not mean that it is particularly well 
fortified against the attacks of criticism. It is quite a dif- 
ferent thing from the solid theological system or body of 
self-consistent or apparently self-consistent dogma and 
dogmatic ritual that can rise up in a mass to confront any 
outside controversialist that may oppose them. 

But to return. What is true of religion is also true of 
that which seeks to replace it, of science. As long as sci- 
ence merely enumerates and describes facts, sense-given 
data, it is susceptible of indefinite extension. And science 
begins in this way by being a collection of non-related as 
well as non-contradictory phenomena. But as soon as it 
becomes dogmatic and law-making, in turn, as soon as it 
conceives of theories that are able to give to facts the air 
of mutual confirmation instead of merely mutual non-con- 
tradiction, as soon, indeed, as it unwittingly synthesises 
the data of sensation under intuitive mental forms which 
are implicit general propositions called time, space, 
matter, and force, then science becomes, perhaps, the 
most incapable of extension of all human achieve- 
ments. Scientific theories undoubtedly become more com- 
plete, but this happens through mutual substitution and 
through periodically fresh starts, whereas observations and 
experiments go on accumulating. Certain leading hy- 
potheses that reappear from one age to another atomism, 
dynamism (modern evolutionism), monadology, idealism 
(Platonic or Hegelian) are the inflexible frames of the 
swelling and overflowing mass of facts. Only, among 
these master thoughts, these hypotheses or inventions of 
science, there are certain ones which receive increasing 1 
confirmation from one another and from the continual ac- 
cumulation of newly discovered facts which, in consequence, 
no longer merely restrict themselves to not contradicting 
one another, but reciprocally repeat and confirm one another, 
as if bearing witness together to the same law or to the 
same collective proposition. Before Newton, successive as- 

178 Laws of Imitation 

tronomical discoveries did not contradict one another; since 
Newton, they confirm one another. Ideally, every distinct 
science should be reducible, like modern astronomy, to a 
single formula, and these different formulas should be 
bound together by some higher formula. In a word, there 
should be no longer sciences, but Science, just as in a 
polytheistic religion which has become monotheistic by 
means of selection there are no longer gods, but God. 

And so in a tribe which passes from a pastoral to an ag- 
ricultural and then to a manufacturing state, adding wheat 
fields and rice fields to its pasture lands, enriching its 
orchards and gardens, elaborating its textile fabrics, inter- 
ests do not fail to multiply nor corresponding laws and cus- 
toms to accumulate. But the general principles of law 
which finally shine out from such a medley are always lim- 
ited in number, and for them progress means substitution. 
Now, after the formation of a legal grammar, the dictionary 
of law, in France called the Bulletin des lots, can, of course, 
visibly enlarge and redouble its activity as well; but from 
this time on, succeeding laws are garbed in the same uniform 
of theory, a uniform which adapts them to codification, to 
a rural code, to a commercial code, to a maritime code, etc. 
This systematisation would have been impossible before. 

Finally, from the point of view of government (I use the 
word in its large sense to mean the directed activity of a 
nation in all its forms) analogous distinctions are ex- 
hibited. We may say that the directed national activity 
is either militant or industrial and that the former type of 
activity is divisible into military and politcal forces, ac- 
cording as it consists of the short and bloody warfare of 
armies or of the long and stormy warfare of parties, of the 
oppression of a conquered and tributary foreigner or of that 
of a home foe who has been crushed down by taxation. Now, 
it is remarkable that in both these subdivisions, the adminis- 
trative side is continually unfolding and improving as its 
functions multiply, whereas the arts of war and statesman- 
ship are always moving in a narrow circle of strategies and 
constitutions which may be gathered up into a small num- 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 179 

her of different and mutually exclusive types. But it is 
only after civil or military functions have been taken and 
multiplied by some constitutional or strategic plan, that 
they converge, instead of merely refraining from over- 
diverging, and that they form a true state or army, instead of 
a horde or federation of barbarians. 

As for the industrial division of directed national ac- 
tivity, the same remarks are applicable, modified by certain 
observations. Industry, as I have already said, can be 
separated only in thought from the dominant ethics and 
aesthetics of any given period. If we hold to this idea as 
we should, we shall perceive that only a certain number of 
new industrial ideas or inventions are, as I have so often 
repeated, susceptible of indefinite progress, that is to say, of 
an almost endless amount of accumulation. The industrial 
machinery of course increases; but the ends of the service to 
which all these means are eventually put, follow one another 
only through mutual elimination. At first sight and taking 
the means and ends of industry collectively without dis- 
tinguishing between them, it would seem as if the in- 
dustrial systems of different periods had wholly replaced 
each other. Nothing is less like the industry of Greece or 
Rome than the industry of Assyria; the industry of the 
seventeenth century is quite unlike that of the Middle Ages 
and modern manufacture unlike the hand labour of our 
forefathers. In fact, each of these great groups of human 
actions is held together and inspired by some great domi- 
nant desire which completely changes from one age to an- 
other. It may be the desire to prepare for the life after 
death or the desire to propitiate one's gods or to honour 
and embellish one's city, or the desire to give expression 
to religious faith or kingly pride or the desire to equalise 
society. The change in this highest aim of all explains the 
sequence of those striking works in which a whole period 
is epitomised, works like the Egyptian tomb, the Greek 
temple, the Roman circus and triumphal arch, the mediaeval 
cathedral, the palace of the seventeenth century, the railroad 
stations or city structures of to-day. 

180 Laws of Imitation 

But, as a matter of fact, it is the civilisation and not the 
industry which has disappeared forever in this way, if by 
civilisation we mean the sum of a period's moral and 
aesthetic aims and industrial means. The junction of the 
former with the latter is always partially accidental. For 
the given ends exploited the, given means because they 
happened to run across them, but they might have made 
use of others, and although the given means did serve the 
given ends, they stood ready to serve different ones as well. 
Now, the ends pass away; but the means, or what is essen- 
tial in them, remain. An imperfect machine survives, by 
a sort of metempsychosis, in the more perfect and com- 
plex one which was in whole or in part the cause of its 
annihilation; and every primitive mechanism such as the 
rod, the lever, or the wheel reappears in our most modern 
implements. The long bow survives in the cross bow, the 
cross bow in the arquebuse and gun. The primitive cart 
survives in the carriage on springs and the latter in the 
locomotive. The stage-coach was not routed, but absorbed, 
by the locomotive, which added something to it, namely, 
steam and the capacity for a higher rate of speed. On the 
other hand, the Christian's desire for mystical salvation did 
not absorb, but actually routed the Roman's desire for civic 
glory, just as the Copernican theory banished the Ptolemaic 

In short, the industrial inventions which have followed 
one another for thousands of years may be compared to 
the vocabulary of a language or to the facts of science. 
As I have said above, many tools and products are, in truth, 
dethroned by others, just as many inexact pieces of in- 
formation have been driven out by more accurate knowl- 
edge, but, in the long run, the number of tools and prod- 
ucts, like the sum of knowledge, has increased. Science 
properly called, a collection of facts that can be drawn 
upon to prove a given theory, is comparable to industry 
properly called, a store of processes and mechanisms that 
can serve to actualise a given system of morals or aesthetics. 
Industry, in this sense, is the content whose form is sup- 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 181 

plied by prevailing ideas of justice and beauty, by ideas 
concerning the criterion of conduct. And by industry 
I also mean art, in as much as it is distinct from the 
changing ideal which uplifts it and which lends to its 
manifold secrets and facilities their profound inspiration. 
Now, the resources of industry, including the artifices of 
artists and even of poets, go on multiplying both before 
and after the formation of well-defined moral and aesthetic 
systems, that is, of a hierarchy of wants consecrated by 
unanimous judgment, but, before this is formed, they are 
scattered, whereas, after it is formed, they are concentrated ; 
and it is only then, when a single thought is implicitly af- 
firmed in all the branches of national industry, that they 
present the spectacle of that mutual confirmation, of that 
unique orientation and of that admirable internal harmony 
which was known in Greece and in the twelfth century of 
our era and which our grandchildren may, perhaps, live to 

For the time being, we must confess, and this remark 
leads us to new considerations, our modern contemporary 
epoch is in search of its pole. Its character has been 
rightly described as chiefly scientific and industrial. By 
that we must understand that theoretically a successful 
search for facts has predominated over preoccupation with 
philosophic ideas and that, practically, a search for the 
means has predominated over regard for the ends of ac- 
tivity. That means that our modern world has at all 
times and places instinctively precipitated itself in the di- 
rection of discoveries or inventions that can be accumulated 
without questioning whether the neglected discoveries or 
inventions that can be substituted for one another did not 
alone justify and give value to the others. But let us, at 
any rate, put this question to ourselves : Is it true that the 
sides of social thought and conduct that cannot be indefi- 
nitely extended (grammars, dogma, and theories, principles 
of justice, political policy and strategy, morals and aesthetics) 
are less worth cultivating than the sides that can be in- 
definitely extended (vocabularies, mythologies and descrip- 

1 82 Laws of Imitation 

tive sciences, customs, collections of laws, industries, sys- 
tems of civil and military administration) ? 

Indeed, on the contrary, the side open to substitution, 
that which after a certain point cannot be extended, is al- 
ways the essential side. Grammar is the whole of lan- 
guage. Theory is the whole of science, and dogma, of 
religion. Principles constitute justice. Strategy, war. 
Government is but a political idea. Morality is the sum of 
industry, for industry amounts to neither more nor less 
than its end. The ideal is surely the all of art. What 
are words good for but for building sentences, or facts, 
but for making theories? What are laws good for but to 
unfold or consecrate higher principles of justice? For 
what use are the arms, the tactics, and the different divi- 
sions of an army but to form part of the strategical plan 
of the general in command ? Of what use are the multiple 
services, functions, and administrative departments of a 
state but to aid in the constitutional schemes of the states- 
man who represents the victorious political party? Of 
what use are the different crafts and products of a coun- 
try but to co-operate in achieving the objects of its pre- 
vailing morality? Of what use are schools and works of 
art and literature to a society but to formulate and 
strengthen its characteristic ideal? 

Only it is much easier to move forward in the direction 
of possible acquisitions and endowments than in that of 
necessary substitutions and sacrifices. It is much easier 
to pile up neologism upon neologism than to master one's 
own tongue and, thereby, gradually improve its grammar; 
to bring together scientific observations and experiments, 
than to supply science with theories of a more general and 
demonstrated order; to multiply miracles and pious prac- 
tices than to substitute rational for outworn religious 
dogma; to manufacture laws by the dozen than to con- 
ceive of a new principle of justice fitted to conciliate all 
interests; to increase the complexity of armaments and 
tactics, of offices and functions, and to have excellent civil 
or military administrators than to have eminent generals 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 183 

or statesmen able to conceive of the proper plan at the 
desired moment and to contribute by their example to re- 
modelling and improving military art or statecraft; to mul- 
tiply wants by virtue of an ever richer and more varied 
consumption and production than to substitute for some 
dominant want a superior and preferable want, one 
more conducive to order and peace; finally, to artistic- 
ally unroll an inexhaustible series of tricks and ingenuities 
than to obtain the slightest insight into some fine new thing 
that was more worthy of exciting love and enthusiasm. 

But modern Europe has been somewhat carried away by 
the deceptive charm of doing things easily. This is the 
reason of the especially striking contrast between the 
wealth of its legislation and the feebleness of its juridical 
system (compare it, in this particular, with Trajan's 
Rome or even with Justinian's Constantinople), or between 
its industrial exuberance and its aesthetic poverty (compare 
it, in this respect, to the great days of the French Middle 
Ages or of the Italian Renaissance). I might also bring 
forward to a certain extent the contrast between 
modern Europe's sciences and its philosophy of science. 
But I hasten to recognise the fact that although the philo- 
sophic side of its knowledge is comparatively neglected, 
it has been the object of a much more profound and ex- 
tensive cultivation than the moral side of its activity. In- 
dustry, from this point of view, is notably behind science. 
It has aroused, on all sides, factitious wants which it 
satisfies indiscriminately without bothering itself about 
their arrangement or harmony. In this it resembles the 
ill-digested science of the sixteenth century which gave 
birth to a crop of incoherent and pedantic guesses and 
vagaries each of which was fostered by a certain number of 
facts. Contemporary activity, contemporary civilisation 
must straighten out this chaos of heterogeneous wants, 
just as the science of the sixteenth century had to bridle 
the imagination of its scholars, and prune away the ma- 
jority of their conceptions in order to give others a chance 
to be transformed into theories. What are the simple 

184 Laws of Imitation 

and fruitful wants which the future will develop, and what 
are the sterile and smothered wants that it will cast 
aside? This is the secret. It is hard to find out, but we 
must make the attempt. All these wrangling or ill-adjusted 
wants which flourish at every point on the industrial field,, 
and which have their passionate devotees, constitute a sort 
of moral fetichism or polytheism which seeks to branch 
out into a comprehensive and authoritative moral monothe- 
ism, into a great new and potent system of aesthetics. 

Besides, it is industry far more than civilisation that has 
progressed in recent times. As a proof of this I might 
point to my embarrassment a while ago in trying to find 
some characteristic monument of our modern industry. 
It is a strange fact and one that has been lost sight of that, 
at present, the grandest works of industry are not indus- 
trial products, but industrial implements, namely, great 
factories, prodigious machines, immense railroad stations. 
How trivial are the things, even the most important things, 
which come out of our great foundries or factories; how 
trivial the fine houses and theatres and city halls compared 
with the giant laboratories themselves! How the petty 
magnificence of our private or public luxury fades away 
before our industrial expositions, where the sole useful- 
ness of the products is self-display! Once the opposite 
was true, when the miserable huts of Pharaoh's fellahs, or 
the obscure stalls of mediaeval artisans surrounded the gi- 
gantic pyramid or cathedral that was reared on high 
through the sum of their combined efforts. It seems in 
these days as if industry existed for the sake of industry, 
just as science exists for the sake of science. 

Additional Considerations 

We have seen that social^ progress is accomplished 
through a series of substitutions and accumulations. It 
is certainly necessary to distinguish between these two proc- 
esses; and yet evolutionists have made the mistake, here 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 185 

as elsewhere, of merging them together Perhaps 
the term evolution is badly chosen. We may call it social 
evolution, however, when an invention quietly spreads 
through imitation the elementary fact in society; or even 
when a new invention that has already been imitated grafts 
itself upon a prior one which it fosters and completes. And 
yet why should we not use, in this second instance, the 
more precise term of insertion? A philosophy of universal 
Insertion would be a happy contribution to the correction 
of the theory of universal Evolution. Finally, when a new, 
invention, an invisible microbe at first, later on a fatal 
disease, brings with it a germ which will eventually destroy, 
the old invention to which it attaches itself, how can the 
latter be said to evolve? Did the Roman Empire evolve 
when Christianity inoculated it with the virus of radical 
negations of its fundamental principles? No, this was 
counter-evolution, revolution perhaps, but certainly not 
evolution. At bottom, of course, in this case as in the pre- 
ceding, there is nothing, elementarily, but evolution, be- 
cause everything is imitation; but, since these evolutions 
and imitations struggle against each other, it is a great 
mistake to consider the sum formed by these conflicting 
elements as a single evolution. I thought it important 
to note this fact in passing. 

Let us note another more important fact. Whatever 
method may be used to suppress conflict between beliefs or 
between interests and to bring about their agreement, it al- 
most always happens (does it not always happen?) that the 
resulting harmony creates a new kind of antagonism. For 
contradictions and contrarieties of details, some massive con- 
tradiction or contrariety has been substituted, and this also 
seeks a solution for itself only to raise up still greater op- 
positions, and so on until the final solution is reached. In- 
stead of quarrelling together over cattle or game, over 
utilitarian objects, a million of men will organise them- 
selves into an army and work together for the subjection 
of a neighbouring people. This is the rallying point of 
all their avarice and activity. And, in fact, before com- 

1 86 Laws of Imitation 

merce and exchange existed, militarism must have been for 
a long time the only logical outcome of the problem raised 
up by rival interests. But militarism gives birth to war, 
and war between two peoples is a substitute for thousands 
of individual struggles. 

In the same way a group of some hundred men will 
cease from individual fights and plots and counterplots and 
will set to labour together in one workshop. Their acts 
are no longer antagonistic, but from this very fact an un- 
expected contrariety arises, namely, the rivalry of their 
workshop with others that turn out the same kind of goods. 
This is not all. The workmen in every factory are col- 
lectively interested in its prosperity; in any case their desires 
in production, thanks to the division of organised labour, 
converge towards the same end. The soldiers of an army 
have likewise a common interest in victory. But, at the 
same time, the struggle between so-called Capital and so- 
called Labour, that is, between the total number of employers 
and the total number of workmen, 1 as well as rivalry be- 
tween different ranks in an army or between different 
classes in a nation, is aroused by this imperfect agreement. 
These teleological problems are inherent in the very prog- 
ress of industrial or military organisation, just as scientific 
progress raises problems of logic and uncloaks soluble and 
insoluble antinomies of reason which an earlier state of 
ignorance had concealed. 

The feudal system on one hand and the ecclesiastical 
hierarchy on the other were powerful in allaying the pas- 
sions and consolidating the interests of the Middle Ages. 
But the great and bloody conflict between the Papacy and 
the Empire, between the Guelphs, the partisans of the Pope, 
and the Ghibellines, the partisans of the Emperor (at first 
a logical, later, a teleological, i. e., political, duel), arose 

1 This is so true that already in the sixteenth century we find 
" opposed to syndicates of employers (corporations), syndicates of 
organised labourers" (see Louis Guibert, Les anciennes corporations en 
Limousin, etc.). Combinations of workmen in Paris, in Lyons, and 
elsewhere, " supply the printers, the bakers, the hatters, with resources 
with which to resist their masters." 

The Logical Laws of Imitation 187 

from the chock of these two harmonious systems which 
could not be mutually harmonised without the downfall of 
one of them. The question is whether or not the displace- 
ment of such contradictions or contrarieties is advantageous 
and whether the harmony of interests or of minds can ever 
be complete without being offset by discord. In other 
words, whether or not a certain amount of error and false- 
hood, of deception and sacrifice, will not always be neces- 
sary for the maintenance of social peace? 

When the displacement of contradictions or contrarie- 
ties consists in their centralisation, an advantage is cer- 
tainly gained. Although the organisation of standing 
armies may provoke cruel wars, that is better than in- 
numerable combats of small feudal bands or of primitive 
families. Although the progress of the sciences may have 
disclosed profound mysteries, and although great chasms 
may divide different schools of philosophy because of 
the new questions over which they contend in arguments 
drawn from the same scientific arsenal, we are not able to re- 
gret the times of ignorance that were free from these prob- 
lems. In short, science has done more to satisfy poignant 
curiosity than to arouse it, civilisation has done more to 
satisfy needs than to engender passions. Inventions and 
discoveries act as cures through the method of substitution. 
By stilling natural wants and arousing those of luxury, in- 
ventions substitute less urgent for more urgent desires. 
Discoveries replace the first very anxious states of igno- 
rance by perhaps as many, but, at any rate, by less disquiet- 
ing, states of not-knowing. And, then, can we not see the 
goal to which this protean transformation of contradiction 
and contrariety leads us? Competition ends inevitably in 
monopoly. Free trade and laisser-aller tends towards the 
legal organisation of labour. War tends to the hyper- 
trophy of states; it will go on producing enormous ag- 
glomerations until the political unity of the civilised world is 
finally consummated and universal peace is assured. The 
more the conflict between masses that is caused by the sup- 
pression of minor conflicts increases in emphasis and scale 

1 88 Laws of Imitation 

(until a point is even reached which makes us regret the lat- 
ter), the more inevitable this peaceful outcome of it all be- 
comes. When a royal army was substituted for provincial or 
feudal militia, it began by containing a much smaller num- 
ber of soldiers than the effective total of the former militia, 
and consequently the amount of disaster involved in the 
conflicts of royal armies was far from equalling that which 
would have existed in the conflicts which they precluded. 
But this advantage has, as we know, been decreasing in 
proportion to the irresistible necessity that has forced each 
state to enlarge its military contingent to such a point that, 
at present, the great nations have drafted all their able- 
bodied men into their armies. Therefore, all the gain of 
civilisation in this respect would vanish, did not the very 
enormity of these armies betoken the imminence of some 
decisive upheaval followed by some colossal unity-and- 
peace-bringing conquest unless our soldiers' weapons 
should become rusty from lack of service and end by drop- 
ping out of their hands. 



WE have now to study the non-logical causes of prefer- 
ence or aversion which are back of different kinds of rival 
imitations and which determine their victory or defeat. 

Before entering upon these considerations, however, let 
me say a few words about certain modes which an imitation 
may assume. The modes, namely, of exactness or inexact- 
ness, of consciousness or unconsciousness. 

i. In the first place, imitation may be either vague or 
precise. Let us enquire whether, as the acts or ideas to be 
imitated increase in number and complexity in the course 
of civilisation, imitation becomes more exact or more con- 
fused. We might think that every forward step in com- 
plexity brought with it additional inaccuracy. Just the 
opposite, however, may be observed. Imitation is to such 
an extent the primal soul of social life, that among civilised 
men skill and facility in imitating increases even faster 
than the number and complexity of inventions. Besides, it 
establishes resemblances that become more and more com- 
plete. In doing this, it bears out its analogy to reproduc- 
tion and vibration. Vibrations of light are much more 
numerous and delicate than vibrations of sound, and yet 
the light of the stars is transmitted to us with a marvellous 
accuracy that is never reached by the latter. The equally 
numerous and complex vibrations of electricity are trans- 
mitted with incomparable and what would be incredible 
fidelity, but for the striking proofs given to us by the 
telegraph and telephone and phonograph. A noise is a 
series of unlike waves, whereas a sound is a series of waves 


190 Laws of Imitation 

that are very much alike; nevertheless the latter with their 
linked harmonies are more complex than the former. Is 
it true that when heredity has to reproduce highly differ- 
entiated organisms it produces less exact resemblances than 
when it has to reproduce beings of a lower order ? On the 
contrary, the type of a cat or orchid is at least as well con- 
served as that of a zoophyte or mushroom. The faintest va- 
rieties in human races can, if they have the time in which to 
become fixed, be perpetuated with the utmost perfection by 

From any point of view social life is bound to lead, in its 
prolongation, to the formation of etiquette, that is, to the 
complete triumph of conventionality over individual fancy. 
Language, religion, politics, war, law, architecture, music, 
painting, poetry, polite manners, etc., give rise to a con- 
ventionality that is the more complete, to an etiquette that 
is the more exacting and tyrannical, the longer it has lasted 
and the more undisturbed it has been in its development. 
Orthography or linguistic purism, the etiquette of language, 
and ritual, the etiquette of religion, possess about an equal 
degree of arbitrary precision, when their respective lan- 
guage and religion are alike very old and very original. 1 

1 Nothing equals the strangeness of certain cults unless it be their 
persistence. But the same thing may be said of language. It is a fixed 
caprice, an established, everlasting disorder, like that of the starry 
heavens. What is stranger or more irrational than the use of the word 
cabinet to designate a group of ministers, or of the word Porte as a 
name for the Ottoman government ? What logical relation exists between 
the wor.ds horse, equus, '/TTTTOJ, and the animal they represent? And yet 
no law, however sensible and useful it may be, is followed with the 
same degree of readiness, constancy, and respect as the custom of using 
accepted words, however outlandish they may appear. In the same way, 
what resemblance is there, at bottom, between that chain of sacramental 
ceremonies which is called the Mass, and the sentiment of high morality 
and refined spirituality of which it is a means of expression among 
Catholic populations? Mass is another word in point; and we know 
the tenacity of this old word. The difficulty for a whole people to agree 
at the same time upon the choice of a better term, or to renounce their 
needs of expression, sacred or secular, is really insurmountable ; for 
such an agreement would be possible only through the spread of imita- 
tion, and not through contact. For this reason, although religious per- 
secutions which are directed towards the suppression or replacement of 
some cult appear to be highly rational, they are, in reality, most absurd; 

Extra-Logical Influences 191 

Although Christianity has grown more complex, from 
century to century, it has shown itself from its very begin- 
ning more and more exacting in point of regularity, uni- 
formity, and orthodoxy. Although savage languages are 
very meagre, they are, according to Sayce and Whitney, 
as variable and as carelessly transmitted as civilised lan- 
guages, in spite of their richness, are uniform and persist- 
ent. Procedure, the etiquette of justice, is also very for- 
mal when the law is very old, however complicated it may 
have become. Ceremonial, the etiquette of worldly rela- 
tions, is less strict among nations whose polite society is 
of later origin than their law or religion. The contrary is 
true in Chinese society for the opposite reason. Prosody, 
the etiquette of poetry, becomes more and more despotic 
as versification increases and, strange to say, as the poetic 
imagination expands. Red tape and administrative routine, 
the etiquette of government, increase day by day with 
differentiation in government. Architecture requires its 
followers to become more and more servile in the repetition 
of the consecrated types that are for the time being in 
favour. This is true also of music. Painting also requires 
its servants to reproduce with more and more photo- 
graphic exactness the models of nature or tradition. Under 
the ancient regime, the military uniform was less general 
and less respected than it is to-day, and the farther back 
we go the greater individual variety do we find in the dress 
of military ranks. According to Burckhardt, at Florence, 
in the Middle Ages, everyone dressed to suit his fancy as if 
at a mask-ball. How we should be scandalised to-day by 
such license! 

This need for conventionality is so natural to social man 
that after it has reached a certain degree of strength it 
becomes conscious of itself and adopts violent and ex- 
peditious means for its satisfaction. All old civilisations 

about as absurd as linguistic persecutions. The latter never succeed in 
their aim to substitute one language for another, except, at times, 
through the spontaneous imitation of a superior, of a conqueror by the 

192 Laws of Imitation 

have had their masters of ceremony, high functionaries who 
are charged with the perpetuation of traditional rites. 4 
,We find these chamberlains under different names not 
only in monarchical states, in Egypt, China, in the Roman 
Empire, in the Lower Empire, in the Escurial of Philip II 
and his successor, in the Versailles of Louis XIV, but in 
republics as well, in Rome, where the censor kept a strict 
oversight over old usages, and even in Athens, where 
religious life was subject to the most absolute formal- 
ism. We ridicule all of this, overlooking the fact that our 
smart tailors and dressmakers, our big manufacturers, and 
even our journalists, bear exactly the same relation to 
fashion-imitation as these masters of civil or religious cere- 
mony bore to custom-imitation and that they are likely to 
take on the same comic importance that the latter did. The 
former cut out our clothes, our conversations, our information, 
our tastes, and our various wants according to one uniform 
pattern from which it is improper to depart. Its sameness 
from one end of the continent to the other passes for the 
most obvious sign of civilisation, just as the perpetuation 
for century upon century of certain legends, traditions, and 
customs was once taken, and much more wisely, for the 
foundation of a people's grandeur. 2 

2. In the second place, imitation may be conscious or 
unconscious, deliberate or spontaneous, voluntary or in- 
voluntary. But I do not attach great importance to this 
classification. Is it true that as a people becomes civilised 
its manner of imitating becomes more and more voluntary, 
conscious, and deliberate? I think the opposite is true. 
Just as with the individual unconscious habits were origi- 

1 Some of these rites are very strange. At the moment when, on the 
night of the wedding, the marriage of the Emperor of China is con- 
summated, two great personages are present at the solemnity, and sing 
a love duet in the imperial alcove. 

2 Everything that is true in Spencer's chapter on what he calls 
ceremonial government implicitly confirms the above. The writer errs 
in thinking, as he seems to do, that ceremony is decreasing, and that its 
sway is strongest in the beginnings of societies. But what he takes for 
primitive societies had already a long past behind them in which the 
so-called rule of ceremony had already been slowly formed. 

Extra-Logical Influences 193 

nally conscious and self-determined acts, so in the nation 
everything that is done or said by tradition or custom 
began by being a difficult and much-questioned importa- 
tion. I should add, to be sure, that many imitations are 
from the very beginning unconscious and involuntary. 
This is so of the imitation of the accents, manners, and 
more often of the ideals and sentiments peculiar to the en- 
vironment in which we live. It is also plain that imita- 
tion of the will of others I know no other way of defining 
spontaneous obedience is necessarily involuntary. But 
let us observe that the involuntary and unconscious forms 
of imitation never become voluntary and conscious, where- 
as the voluntary and conscious forms are likely to take on 
the opposite characteristics. Let us distinguish, moreover, 
between the consciousness of imitating or the will to imi- 
tate someone in thinking or doing a certain thing and the 
consciousness of conceiving the thought or the will to 
perform the act. Consciousness or volition, in this latter 
sense, is the constant and universal fact which the progress 
of civilisation neither augments nor diminishes. In the 
former sense, there is nothing more variable, and civilisation 
does not seem to encourage consciousness or will under- 
stood in this way. Certainly the savage in whose eyes the 
ancient custom or religion of his tribe is justice or truth 
incarnate is no less conscious of imitating his ancestors 
and is no less desirous of imitating them in practising his 
juridical or religious rites, than is the modern labourer or 
even the modern bourgeois of imitating his neighbor, or 
employer, or editor, in repeating what he has read in his 
newspaper or in buying the piece of furniture which he has 
seen in the parlour of his employer or neighbour. But, in fact, 
in both cases, man is wrong in thinking that he imitates 
because he wishes to. For this very will to imitate has 
been handed down through imitation. Before imitating 
the act of another we begin by feeling the need from which 
this act proceeds, and we feel it precisely as we do only 
because it has been suggested to us. 

After these remarks on the intrinsic characteristics of 

194 Laws of Imitation 

imitations, let us turn our attention to the inequalities that 
they present in their career by reason of their content 
(according as the content is the sign or the thing signified, 
an inward or an outward model), or by reason of the alleged 
superiority or inferiority of the persons or classes or even 
places from which they issue or of the past or present epochs 
in which they originate. In this chapter I propose to show 
that, the logical or teleological values being by hypothesis 
equal, (i) the subjective model will be imitated before the 
objective, 1 and (2) the example of persons or classes as well 
as of localities that are thought superior will prevail over 
the example of inferior persons or classes or localities. In 
the following chapters I shall show that a like presumption 
of superiority attaches (3) at times to the present, at times 
to the past, and is a potent factor and one of considerable 
historic significance in favour either of the examples of our 
fathers, or of those of our contemporaries. 

I. Imitation from Within to Without 

This would be the moment, if I did not shrink from so 
difficult a task, to exploit an entirely unexplored field and 
compare the different functions of organic or psychological 
life from the point of view of their more or less pronounced 
tendencies, in the average case, to transmit themselves 
through imitation. This relative transmissibility varies 
greatly from one period or nation to another. It will be 
impossible to measure it with any precision until the day 
when Statistics shall have redeemed all its promises. A 
few words, then, on this subject must suffice. 

Is not thirst more contagious through imitation than 
hunger? I think it is. This may explain the rapid strides 
of alcoholism. Although gourmandism has also increased, 
as we may infer from the more varied and abundant diet of 

1 This advance from within to without, from the thing signified to 
the sign, really answers an innate need of logic, and, therefore, the con- 
siderations based upon it might have found a place, up to a certain 
point, in the preceding chapter. 

Extra-Logical Influences 195 

the middle classes, of the labourer, and of the peasant, its 
advance has certainly been slower. The same drinks 
may be in vogue over a great stretch of country (tea in one 
place, wine in another, beer here, mate there, etc. ) , whereas 
the greatest diversity may still prevail in local viands. 
Is thirst more or less contagious than sexual desires? I 
think less so. Debauchery is the first vice to develop, even 
before alcoholism, in large gatherings of men and. women 
or in newly populated cities. Movements of the leg, and 
especially movements of the upper part of the body, are still 
more easily communicated. The impetus of marching to- 
gether is one of the great military forces. The soldier's 
tendency to keep step and march with his fellows is innate 
before it is obligatory. It has been proved through careful 
tests that everybody in the same village walks on an average 
at the same rate of speed. As for characteristic manners 
and gestures, they are much more readily transmitted than 
peculiarities of gait among people who are accustomed to 
live together. This is partly the reason why in modern 
hospitals hysterical convulsions readily take on the character 
of an epidemic, like the diabolical possessions in the con- 
vents of the past. The vocal function, like all functions of 
intercourse, is eminently imitative, particularly on its intel- 
lectual side, in diction and pronuncation, not in the timbre 
of the voice. 1 Accent is also transmitted. But this hap- 
pens gradually and during youth. Every city retains a 
characteristic accent long after its food and dress have 
become like those of other cities. Yawning, I mean the 
yawn of boredom, whch has a mental cause, is much more 
contagious than sneezing or coughing. 

The functions of the higher senses are more transmis- 
sible through imitation than those of the lower. We are 
much more likely to copy someone who is looking at or 
listening to something than someone who is smelling a 
flower or tasting a dish. This is the reason why in large 

1 Children take the most lively pleasure in reproducing all the 
striking sounds, even more than in copying the gestures, in their 

196 Laws of Imitation 

cities a gathering is so soon formed around a lounging- 
place. We plunge into the waiting line behind the doors 
of a theatre much more eagerly than into the restaurant 
behind whose window panes we see its patrons enjoying 
their dinner. 

All passions and needs for luxury are more contagious 
than simple appetites and primitive needs. But shall we 
say, as to passions, that admiration, confidence, love, and 
resignation are superior in this respect to contempt, dis- 
trust, hatred, and envy? In general, yes, otherwise society 
would not endure. 1 For the same reason, and in spite of 
frequent epidemics of panic, hope is certainly more catch- 
ing than terror. Indolence is likewise more so than am- 
bition and avarice, the spirit of saving than avidity. And 
this is very fortunate for the peace of society. Is courage 
more catching than cowardice? I am much less certain of 
this. Here curiosity deserves a special, if not the chief, 
place of honour. All those throngs of people which end in 
bringing on revolutions in religion, government; art, and 
industry begin to collect under the sway of this sentiment. 
iWhen a person is seen to be curious about what once may 
have appeared to be the merest trifle, we immediately 
desire to know about it. This movement spreads very 
quickly, and the intensity of everybody's desire increases 
in proportion to its spread, through the effect of mutual 
reaction. Whenever any novelty whatsoever, a sermon, a 
political platform, a philosophic idea, a commercial article, 
a poem, a novel, a drama, or an opera, appears in some 
notable place, i. c., in a capital city, it is only necessary for 
the attention of ten persons to become ostensibly fixed 
upon this thing in order that one hundred, one thousand, or 
ten thousand persons may quickly take an interest in it 
and enthuse about it. At times, this phenomenon takes on 
the character of hysteria. In the fifteenth century when 
Bohm, the German piper, began to preach his evangel of 

1 At any rate, during the ascendency of a people. It is only in its 
decline that it sees judgments of disparagement spread more rapidly 
than judgments of admiration. 

Extra-Logical Influences 197 

fraternal equality and community of goods, an epidem- 
ical exodus set in. " The journeymen hastened from 
their workshops, the farm maids ran with their sickles in 
their hands," reports a chronicler, cited by Jansenn, and in 
a few hours more than thirty thousand men had assembled 
in a foodless desert. Once general curiosity has been ex- 
cited, the mob is irresistibly predisposed tQ be carried 
away by all the different kinds of ideas and desires which 
the preacher, the orator, the dramatist, and the novelist of 
the hour may seek to popularise. 

M. Ribot has pointed out that the memory of senti- 
ments is much more persistent than that of ideas. I should 
say the like of the imitation of sentiments compared with 
the imitation (i. e., the spread) of ideas. Certainly morals 
and religious and moral sentiments which consist of recip- 
rocal impregnations of affective states have a greater tenac- 
ity than opinions or even principles. 

But now I have sufficiently glanced over a group of ideas 
that I do not wish to analyse more closely. Let us turn to 
a truth of more general import. 

All imitations in which logic has no place fall into two 
great categories, namely, credulity and docility, imitation 
of belief and imitation of desires. It may see strange to call 
passive adherence to the idea of another, imitation; but if, 
as I have said, it matters little whether the reflection of one 
brain upon another be active or passive in character, the 
extension which I give to the usual meaning of this word is 
highly legitimate. If we say that the scholar imitates his 
master when he repeats his spoken words, why should we 
not say that the former has already imitated the latter as 
soon as he has adopted in thought the idea which he after- 
wards expresses in speech? It may also surprise the reader 
to find that I consider obedience a kind of imitation; but 
this assimilation, which can, at any rate, be easily justified, 
is necessary, and it alone permits the full significance of the 
phenomenon of imitation to be recognised. When one 
person copies another, when one class begins to pattern 
its dress, its furniture, and its amusements after those of 

198 Laws of Imitation 

another, it means that it has already borrowed from, the 
latter the wants and sentiments of which these methods 
of life are the outward manifestations. Consequently it 
can and must have borrowed the latter's volitions, that is, 
have willed in accordance with its will. 1 

Is it possible to deny that volition, together with emotion 
and conviction, is the most contagious of psychological 
states? An energetic and authoritive man wields an ir- 
resistible power over feeble natures. He gives them the 
direction which they lack. Obedience to him is not a duty, 
but a need. That is the way every social tie begins. Obe- 
dience, in short, is the sister of faith. People obey for the 
same reason that they believe; and just as their faith is the 
radiation of that of some apostle, so their activity is merely 
the outgoing of some master will. Whatever the master 
wills or has willed, they will; whatever the apostle believes 
or has believed, they believe. And it is because of this 
that whatever the master or apostle subsequently does or 
says, they, in turn, do or say or are inclined to do or say. 
Those, persons and classes, in fact, whom one is most 
inclined to imitate, are those whom one is most docile in 
obeying. The common people have always been inclined 
to copy kings and courts and upper classes according to 
the measure in which they have submitted to their rule. 
During the years preceding the French Revolution, Paris 
no longer copied court fashions, and no longer applauded 
the plays in favour at Versailles, because the spirit of insub- 
ordination had already made rapid strides. In all periods, 

1 Moreover, commands began by being set examples. I have indi- 
cated the steps in the gradual transformation of example into command 
in the preface of my Logique sociale, p. vii. " In a band of monkeys, 
horses, dogs, or even bees or ants, the leader sets an example of the act 
which he mentally orders and the rest of the band imitate him. Grad- 
ually the imperative intention is separated from the initiative of the act 
which is commanded and with which it was at first merged. Finally 
the leader merely outlines the act: later on, he reduces it to a gesture 
and then to some sign, a cry, a look, an attitude, and, finally, to an 
articulate sound. But the word always calls up the image of the act to 
be performed, a familiar act, of course, for a stroke of genius cannot 
be described in advance, and this image is equivalent to the primitive 
example set by the leader." 

Extra-Logical Influences 199 

the ruling classes have been or have begun by being the 
model classes. In the cradle of society, in the family, this 
close correlation between imitation, strictly speaking, and 
obedience and credulity is clearly shown. The father is, 
especially at first, the infallible oracle and sovereign ruler 
of his child; and for this reason he is his child's highest 
model. 1 

Imitation, then, contrary to what we might infer from cer- 
tain appearances, proceeds from the inner to the outer man. 
It seems at first sight as if a people or a class began to imitate 
another by copying its luxury and its fine arts before it be- 
came possessed of its tastes and literature, of its aims and 
ideas, in a word, of its spirit. Precisely the contrary, how- 
ever, occurs. In the sixteenth century fashions in dress 
came into France from Spain. 2 This was because Spanish 
literature had already been imposed upon us at the time 
of Spain's pre-eminence. In the seventeenth century, 
when the preponderance of France was established, French 
literature ruled over Europe, and subsequently French arts 
and French fashions made the tour of the world. When 
Italy, overcome and downtrodden as she was, invaded us 
in the fifteenth century, with her arts and fashions, but, first 
of all, with her marvellous poetry, it was because the prestige 
of her higher civilisation and of the Roman Empire that 
she had unearthed and transfigured had subjugated her 
conquerors. Besides, the consciences of Frenchmen were 
Italianised long before their houses or dress or furniture 

1 This must be so, let us observe, if the action at a distance of one 
brain upon another, which I call imitation, is to be classed with hypnotic 
suggestion, in so far, at least, as a normal and continuous phenomenon 
may be compared with a rare anomaly which it reproduces on a larger 
but much less intense scale. We know how credulous and docile the 
hypnotic subject becomes. We know what a good comedian he is. We 
know, too, how deeply the personality which is suggested to him be- 
comes incarnated in him. We know that at first it penetrates, or appears 
to penetrate into his very heart and character before it expresses itself 
in his posture or gesture or speech. His dominant characteristics are 
absolute credulity and docility. 

2 Bodin writes that " in the matter of dress he will always be rated 
dull and loutish who does not apparel himself in the prevailing fashion 
which has come to us from Spain with the farthingale." 

2oo Laws of Imitation 

through their habit of submission to the transalpine 

Did these very Italians who fell to aping their own Greco- 
Roman restorations begin by reflecting the externals of 
the ancient world, its statues, its frescoes, its Ciceronian 
periods, in order to become gradually filled by its spirit? 
On the contrary, it was to their hearts that their tran- 
splendent model made its first appeal. This neo-paganism 
was the conversion of a whole community, first its scholars 
and then its artists (this order is irreversible), to a dead 
religion; and whenever a new religion, it matters not 
whether it be living or dead, that is made fascinating by 
some compelling apostle, takes hold of a man, it is first 
believed in and then practised. It does not begin with 
mummeries. Mummeries do not lead to virtues and con- 
victions. Far from that, it is the neophyte, above all, who 
is impressed by the soul of a religion independent of its 
external form, and formalism of worship does not become 
empty and meaningless until much later, when religion has 
lost its place in people's hearts although it may still survive 
in their usages. Thus the neophyte of the early Renais- 
sance continues in his feudal or Christian habits of life, but 
in faith he is already pagan, as his excess of sensuality and 
his overruling passion for glory go to prove. It is only at 
a later period that he becomes a pagan in morals and man- 
ners, first in morals and then in manners. The same thing 
happened, if we go farther back, in the case of the bar- 
barians of the fifth or sixth century, in the case of a 
Clovis for example, or a Chilperic. They forced them- 
selves to bow down to the customs of Rome and decorated 
themselves with the consular insignia. But before becoming 
Latinised in that clumsy, superficial sense they had experi- 
enced a much more profound Latinisation in being con- 
verted to Christianity, for at that date the Roman civilisa- 
tion which fascinated them survived only in Christianity. 

Let us suppose that two peoples of different religions 
come into contact, pagans with Christians, Christians with 
Moslems, Buddhists with Confucians, etc. Each bor- 

Extra-Logical Influences 201 

rows from the other certain new rites to illustrate its own 
peculiar dogmas, and, at the same time, while each con- 
tinues to practise its ancient rites it receives new dogmas 
which are more or less contradictory to the old. Now do 
rites spread more or less quickly than dogmas? The per- 
sistence of old rites in new religions shows that they spread 
less quickly. In the same way two peoples may borrow 
both each other's ideas and forms of speech, but they will 
borrow the former before the latter. If they borrow each 
other's legal procedure and ceremonial together with each 
other's principles of justice, the exchange of the latter will 
be much more rapid than that of the former. And so we 
have at Rome, in England, in France, etc., the persistence of 
legal form long after legal reform. 

In this way imitation passes on from one people to an- 
other, as well as from one class to another within the same 
people. Do we ever see one class which is in contact with, 
but which has never, hypothetically, been subject to the 
control of, another determine to copy its accent, its 
dress, its furniture, and its buildings, and end by em- 
bracing its principles and beliefs? This would invert the 
universal and necessary order of things. The strongest 
proof, indeed, that imitation spreads from within to without 
is to be found in the fact that in the relations between dif- 
ferent classes, envy never precedes obedience and trust, 
but is always, on the contrary, the sign and the result of a 
previous state of obedience and trust. Blind and docile 
devotion to the Roman patricians, to the Athenian eupatri- 
des, or to the French nobility of the old regime preceded 
the envy. i. e., the desire to imitate them externally, which 
they came to inspire. Envy is the symptom of a social 
transformation which, in bringing classes together and 
in lessening the inequality of their resources, renders) 
possible not only the transmission, as before, of their 
thoughts and aims, not only patriotic or religious com- 
munion and participation in the same worship, but the 
radiation of their luxury and well-being as well. Obedi- 
ence, the cause, engenders envy, the effect. Consequently, 

2O2 Laws of Imitation 

when, for example, the ancient plebeians or the middle class 
Guelphs in the Italian cities of the Middle Ages, came into 
power, their manner of using it was an evidence and a con- 
tinuation of their preceding bondage, since the oppressive 
laws which they enacted against the sometime reigning 
aristocracies were suggested by the need which they felt 
to copy their ancient masters. 

It will be observed that obedience and trust, the subjec- 
tive imitation of a recognised superior, is prompted by a 
devotion and, so to speak, loving admiration, just as the ob- 
jective imitation of a questioned or disowned superior results 
from envious disparagement; and it is clear that com- 
munities pass from love to covert envy or from admiration 
to open contempt in respect to their old masters, but that 
they never pass back, as far as the latter are concerned, at 
any rate, from envy to love or from contempt to admira- 
tion. To satisfy their persistent need of loving and admir- 
ing, they must continue to raise up new idols for themselves, 
from time to time, only to shatter them later on. 1 

It is a great mistake to say that populations are controlled 
by fear alone. On the contrary, everything points to the fact 
that in the beginnings of all great civilisations or, rather, of 
all religious or political institutions whatsoever, modern 
ones included, there have been unheard-of expenditures of 
love and of unsatisfied love at that. This fact explains every- 
thing; without it, nothing is explained. If the king-god 
whom Spencer has so strongly portrayed had not been 
loved as well as feared, he w6uld have been straightway 
killed. And, to go back to the cradle of societies, are we 

1 After a certain point, the more superficial social inequalities become, 
the harder they are for inferiors to endure. The cause of this is 
that after they have been softened down beyond a certain point, they 
fail to produce either admiration or credulity or obedience, all of which 
dispositions make for social strength, and they, therefore, lose their 
raison d'etre. Then they inspire envy, and envy helps to make them 
disappear. The demands of utility are analogous, in this case, to those 
of beauty. The beautiful rules out any compromise between an ellipse 
and a circle or between a parallelogram and a square. As soon as the 
disproportion between the two axes of the ellipse or between the length 
and breadth of the parallelogram ceases to be sufficiently pronounced, 

Extra-Logical Influences 203 

to believe that the patriarch of antiquity, the first of the 
king-gods, owed his absolute authority over his children 
and his slaves exclusively to their terror? His children, 
if not his slaves, certainly loved him. They probably loved 
him much more than he himself loved them; for here, as 
elsewhere, the unilateral seems to have preceded the re- 
ciprocal tie. Ancient documents lead us to think that 
there was far less paternal tenderness on the part of the 
fathers of antiquity than on the part of those of the present 
day. I am not speaking of mothers, for the causes of their 
affection are vital much more than social, and it is to this 
fact that it owes its relative depth and steadfastness. 
Filial love itself, then, must have begun as an almost one- 
sided unsatisfied affection. We may picture the head of 
the primitive family as king, judge, priest, and teacher all 
in one. Like a little Louis XIV, he failed to recognise 
that his subjects had any claims upon him and in perfect 
egotism offered himself to their adoration. In view of his 
own glorification he acknowledged, to be sure, the duty of 
protecting them. And they were as grateful to him, in 
return, as if he had bestowed a favour upon them. Hence 
his apotheosis. It was necessary for the family-cult and 
for the perpetuation of the family, the basis of city and 

The Bible and all ancient legislation testify to the extent 
to which the patriarch was believed in and obeyed. His 
thought was divined and his will willed almost without a 
word, and it was because of this that his children had so 
keen an inclination to follow his example in all things, to 
reproduce his accent, his language, his gestures, and his 
manners. They would never have been led to believe in 

our aesthetic sense desires its suppression altogether, and the smaller the 
disproportion, the stronger our wish or desire. Now as soon as an ap- 
proximate equality is effected between the different classes of a society, 
envy itself, having accomplished its work of assimilation, tends to dis- 
appear ; and then its work is endangered by this very extreme. The 
need of individual divergence, of dissimilation, or, as we say, of liberty, 
grows out of the equality which is born of resemblance ; and society 
would return to the disintegration of savagery, providing new causes of 
inequality did not arise. But arise they always do. 

204 Laws of Imitation 

and obey him by futilely mimicking the outside man had 
they not first understood him by means of their faith and 
docility. The formation of a social tie by the first method 
was impossible. But let us go back still further, to that pre- 
historic dawn when the art of speech was unknown. At that 
time how was the secret content of the mind, its desires and 
ideas, transfused from one brain to another? That it was, 
in fact, effected we may infer from what happens in the 
societies of animals who seem to understand one another 
almost without signs, as if through a kind of psychological 
electrisation by suggestion. It must be admitted that in 
that age inter-cerebral action at a distance may have taken 
place with perhaps remarkable intensity, with an intensity 
which has diminished from that time on. Hypnotic sugges- 
tion can give us some vague idea of this in so far as a morbid 
phenomenon can resemble a normal one. This action is 
the elementary and fundamental problem which sociological 
psychology (which begins where physiological psychology 
leaves off) should undertake to solve. 

The invention of language wonderfully facilitated, but 
did not originate, the inoculation of ideas and desires of 
one mind by another and consequently the progress of imi- 
tation ab interioribus ad exteriora. For had not this prog- 
'ress already existed, the birth of language would be in- 
conceivable. It is not difficult to understand how the first 
inventor of speech set to associating in his own mind a 
given thought and a given sound (perfected by gesture), 
but it is difficult to understand how he was able to suggest 
this relation to another by merely making him hear the 
given sound. If the listener merely repeated this sound 
like a parrot, without attaching to it the required meaning, 
it is impossible to see how this superficial and mechanical 
re-echoing could have led him to understand the meaning 
of the strange speaker or carried him over from the sound 
to the word. It must then be admitted that the sense was 
transmitted with the sound, that it reflected the sound. 
And whoever is acquainted with the feats of hypnotism, 
with the miracles of suggestion, that have been popularised 

Extra-Logical Influences 205 

to so great an extent of late, should certainly not be reluc- 
tant to admit this postulate. 

Moreover, observation of two- or three-year-old children 
who are beginning to talk adds great weight to this hy- 
pothesis. It is easily seen that they understand what is 
said to them long before they are themselves able to say 
the same things. How could this be possible unless they 
had already imitated older persons ab interioribus ad ex- 
terior a? Now, this point admitted, the establishment of 
language, marvellous as it seems, presents no further dif- 
ficulties. Speech was not, in the beginning of history, 
what it has since become, namely, an interchange of knowl- 
edge and opinion. In accordance with the law which I 
have frequently formulated that the unilateral precedes the 
reciprocal in and for everything, speech must have been at 
first a purely one-sided lesson or command of a father to 
his children, a prayer to an unresponsive deity, i. e., a kind 
of sacerdotal and monarchical function, eminently authori- 
tative and accompanied by some suggested hallucination 
or action, a sacrament, an august monopoly. The ruler, 
like the modern schoolmaster, alone had the right to 
speak aloud in his domain. Besides, only a chosen few, 
objects of admiration and, then, of envy, knew how to 

Later the right of writing was also monopolised by the 
upper classes, and this fact explains the prestige that writing, 
according to Sacred Scripture, still held, in the past, in the 
eyes of the unlettered. If speech has wholly lost this same 
prestige, it is undoubtedly because it is much more ancient. 
That it once possessed it is proved by the virtue that attached . 
to so-called sacramental expressions in old legal procedures, 
as well as by the magical power attributed to Prayer in 
its apotheosis in the Vedas of the Aryans and to the Word, 
the Logos, by the Byzantines and Christians. In another 
chapter I will show that the needs of consumption have 
in every order of facts preceded the needs of production 
and that this important phenomenon is related to the prog- 
ress of imitation from within to without. If this is so, 

206 Laws of Imitation 

the need of listening must have preceded that of speak- 

When the action at a distance of a dominant mind over 
one that is dominated has once been facilitated and regulated 
by the habit of verbal communication it acquires an irresist- 
ible force. We can get some idea of what language was 
originally as an instrument of government from the power 
that it exerts to-day in its most recent form, the daily press, 
in spite of the fact that the latter has lost part of its power 
through its expansion and self-combativeness. It is due to 
speech that imitation in the human world has accentuated 
its leading characteristic of first attaching itself to the most 
intrinsic thing in its living model and of reproducing with 
incredible precision the hidden side, the thoughts and aims, 
before it seizes upon and reflects with less exactness the 
outward gestures, attitudes, and movements of its model. 
The opposite occurs among animals, where imitation is ef- 
fected in a pretty inexact manner, and only in the reproduc- 
tion of songs and cries and muscular acts and where the 
transmission of nervous phenomena, of ideas and desires, 
is always vague. Because of this animal societies stand 
still; for although some ingenious idea might gleam 
through the brain of a crow or bison, it would, according to 
hypothesis, die with him and be necessarily lost to the com- 
munity. With animals, it is primarily and pre-eminently 
muscle which imitates muscle; with us, it is primarily and 
pre-eminently nerve which imitates nerve and brain which 
imitates brain. This is the chief contrast through which 
we may explain the superiority of human societies. In 
them no good idea is lost, and every exceptional thinker 
lives on in the posterity which he raises up to his own level. 
Good ideas may have been for a long time only the visions 
of a madman or the caprices of a despot. It matters not, 
for in passing from the leader to the multitude they at least 
produce the immense and fundamental benefit of that re- 
ligious or political unanimity which alone makes collective 
discipline and military action possible, just as, in the fu- 
ture, when true ideas and useful applications shall have 

Extra-Logical Influences 207 

come to light, general participation in the same science and 
in the same morality will be an indispensable factor in any 
great florescence of art or industry. 

Let us note in relation to the arts that their evolution 
does not proceed, as Spencer contends, from the more ob- 
jective to the more subjective, from architecture through 
sculpture and drawing to music and poetry. On the con- 
trary, it always opens with some great book or epic or 
poetical work of very remarkable relative perfection. The 
Iliad, the Bible, Dante, etc., are the high sources from which 
all the fine arts are fated to flow. 

This progress from within to without, if we try to ex- 
press it more precisely, means two things: (i) That imi- 
tation of ideas precedes the imitation of their expression. 
(2) That imitation of ends precedes imitation of means. 
Ends or ideas are the inner things, means or expressions, 
the outer. Of course, we are led to copy from others 
everything which seems to us a new means for attaining 
our old ends, or satisfying our old wants, or a new ex- 
pression for our old ideas; and we do this at the same time 
that we begin to adopt innovations which awaken new 
ideas and new ends in us. Only these new ends, these 
needs for novel kinds of consumption, take hold of us and 
propagate themselves in us much more readily and rapidly 
than the aforesaid means or expressions. 1 

A nation which is becoming civilised and whose wants are 
multiplying consumes much more than it is able or than it 
desires to produce. That amounts to saying, in the lan- 
guage of aesthetics, that the diffusion of sentiments antici- 
pates that of talents. Sentiments are habits of judgment 
and desire which have become very alert and almost un- 

1 1 do not mean to deny that the outside of the model is sometimes 
imitated to the exclusion of the inside. But when we begin in this way, 
as women and children often do (less often, however, than one might 
think), with outward imitation, we stop short there; whereas, if we begin 
with inward imitation, we pass on from it to the other. Dostoiiesky 
tells us that after some years of prison life he became like his fellow 
convicts superficially. " Their habits, their ideas, their dress, left their 
colour upon me and became mine on the surface, without penetrating at 
all into my inner nature." 

20 8 Laws of Imitation 

conscious through repetition. Talents are habits of activity 
which have also gained a mechanical facility by repetition. 
Both sentiments and talents, then, are habits; the only dif- 
ference between them is that the former are subjective, and 
the latter, objective facts. Now, is it not true that aes- 
thetic sentiments form and spread long before the talents 
which are fitted to satisfy them ? And have we not a proof 
of this in the commonplace observation that the virtuosity 
of periods of decadence survives the exhaustion of their 
inspiration ? 

No art makes its own religion; style does not create the 
thought back of it; but a religion or an idea ultimately 
makes the art or style which expresses and illustrates it. 
Can we imagine the painting of Cimabue or Giotto being 
prior to the spread of Christianity? Our law explains 
why the fusion of beliefs is always and everywhere accom- 
plished long before that of arts or that of morals and why, 
consequently, even in the periods of small and hostile neigh- 
bouring states, a common religion can spread over a vast 
territory. We know that the Greek games and oracles, 
particularly the Delphic Oracle and the Olympic games, 
at first created and then continued to strengthen the senti- 
ment of Hellenic nationality in spite of the small states into 
which Greece was broken up. But long before the games 
became a common centre, long before they gave people an 
opportunity to see and imitate each other from the point 
of view of the outward things of life, the authority of the 
oracles was recognised by all. Their origin is lost in a 
fabulous antiquity. And so in the Middle Ages, also, a 
common faith dominated Europe long before the great 
monarchies with their brilliant courts and their exchanges 
of contagious luxury began to assimilate the outsides of 
their respective peoples. There is not a single example of 
the contrary. 

We know that if juridical or legislative changes are viable, 
they never precede, but follow at some distance the intel- 
lectual or economic changes to which they correspond. 
Our thesis requires this. It also requires, as a corollary, 

Extra-Logical Influences 209 

that laws, which are the outer framework of society, should 
survive for some time their inner reason for existence, the 
wants and ideas which they embody. Coming' later or pro- 
ceeding less quickly, they must or may persist afterwards. 
This is also true of certain customs, as observation shows 
us, and this general phenomenon is alone able to explain the 
particular case to which I have referred. The survivals 
of custom, to use Lubbock's excellent term, have had so 
much light thrown upon them, that it is useless to cite 
many examples. Nevertheless, let us call to mind that 
after the matriarchal system was abolished and even for- 
gotten, a simulation of it was perpetuated in the couvade, 
the attribution of a fictitious maternity to the father, and 
that after marriage by capture had fallen into disuse, mar- 
riage ceremonies preserved the fiction of it. Up to the 
marriage of Louis XVI, the custom of paying down thir- 
teen deniers upon the conclusion of a marriage prevailed 
in France, in certain provinces at least, as a relic from the 
time of wife-purchase. Sects who rejected the dogma of 
the Eucharist have simulated the communion service and 
free-thinkers who opposed infant baptism have celebrated 
a civic quasi-baptism of their children. Moreover, what 
living religion has not borrowed its external observances, 
its rites and processions, from some dead religion? Is not 
the conservation of a linguistic root whose meaning has 
changed a survival of the same kind that is complicated, 
as in the preceding case, by the introduction of a new mean- 
ing which adapts an old organ to a fresh function ? I have 
just spoken of juridical survivals. Our codes are full of 
them. Although feudal law has been dead for centuries, 
I defy a jurist to do without it in explaining the famous 
distinction between a possessory and a petitory action, the 
nightmare of our justices of the peace. Finally, in the 
sphere of art and poetry, there is nothing more usual than 
to see the cloak of a certain school whose soul is extinct 
pass on to some new genius. 

What does this prove? In the first place it proves the 
tenacity, the energy, of the inclination which leads man to 

2i o Laws of Imitation 

imitate the past. But, besides these aesthetic or ritualistic 
or purely mechanical simulations of vanished wants and 
beliefs, we also see the survival of the outward parts of 
imitation after the inward parts a natural fact, if the lat- 
ter are older or have evolved more rapidly than the former. 

The survivals in question give us the counter-proof of 
our law. The following observation will remove any re- 
maining doubt. As they spread abroad, honorary titles 
(sieur instead of seigneur), salutations (a slight inclination 
of the head instead of the bent knee of feudal times), com- 
pliments, and manners become abbreviated, diluted, and 
simplified. Spencer has shown this in a masterly way. 
This fact demands that others of a like kind be 
brought into relation with it. Words are contracted from 
being constantly used and vulgarised. They lose their 
edge and wear themselves out like a rolling stone. Re- 
ligious beliefs lose their intensity, arts degenerate, etc. 
These facts seem to prove that imitation is the necessary 
weakening of that which is imitated and that new inven- 
tions or entirely fresh sources for imitation are therefore 
necessary for the timely reanimation of expiring social 
energy. And there is much truth in this, as we shall see 
later on. But is it always so? No; these resemblances 
occur only between the final periods of those different 
evolutions which we have been comparing. Before a word 
contracts, it must be formed and fostered and magnified by 
a series of ascendent and not yet decadent imitations. Be- 
fore an etiquette is shaken, it must have established itself 
through the reinforcement of every imitation of which it 
has been the object. Before a dogma or a rite declines, 
it must have asserted and spread itself throughout the youth 
of its religion. 

Whence comes this contrast? Does it not result from 
the fact that in the first period imitation was essentially 
from within and had to do with the spread of beliefs or de- 
sires, of beliefs and desires whose outward forms were 
merely their expression, were merely secondary objects, 
of beliefs and desires which gradually flared up by virtue 

Extra-Logical Influences 211 

of their own law through their very propagation and mutual 
reflection; whereas, in the second period, the outward 
forms continued to spread in spite of the gradual drying up 
of their inward source and had, consequently, to lose in 
strength? And so the phenomenon is explained on the 
ground that imitation passes from within to without, from 
the thing signified to its sign. Now, why does a moment 
come when it is not the inward side of the model, the faith 
or desire implicit in the act or speech in question, but the 
outward side which is reproduced? It is because another 
faith or desire which is entirely or partly irreconcilable with! 
the former appears on the very scene where the other has 
already spread itself. Then, although the model continues 
to live on the surface, it is stricken to the heart. It goes on 
living in a state of self-mutilation and suicide until the 
moment when some new spirit succeeds it. 1 We know; 
from the writings of Tertullian and the discoveries of 
archaeology that in spite of the religious fervour and inward 
sincerity of the early Christians they continued, both men 
and women, to live externally, to dress, to coiffe, and even 
to amuse themselves like pagans, without regard to the anti- 
Christian indecency of the garments and amusements in 

I cannot conclude this discussion of imitation ab inte- 
rioribus ad exteriora without briefly calling attention to the 
analogy which imitation presents in this relation as well as 
in so many others to the other forms of Repetition. 

It is obvious, from the very obscurity that is inherent in 
the study of life, that all the developments of life, from 
fecundation to death, proceed from some wholly internal 
and absolutely hidden action, from some vital faith or in- 
spiration, so to speak, which is breathed into the germ by 

1 " Ceremonial is the great museum of history," observes M. Paul 
Viollet with much truth. If this is so, and we can hardly doubt it, it 
is time to dispose of Spencer's idea of ceremony as primitive govern- 
ment. A museum is far from being a primitive thing which is complete 
at birth and which shrinks in course of time. It takes a long time for 
it to be formed and enlarged. Besides, it replenishes itself from age to 

212 Laws of Imitation 

its progenitors and which is anterior to its manifestations. 
The evolution of the individual is the drawing out of this 
germ. At the moment of conception the parents repeat 
themselves in the child in their most essential vital char- 
acteristics before they repeat themselves, thanks to the 
former transmission, in their more visible and external 
traits; for in the fecundated germ the whole future growth 
is potential. Similarly, at the moment when a catechumen 
is converted, some apostle is repeating himself on his deep- 
est social side, the side which is soon to be the source of 
the religious prayers and observances of the catechumen, 
where the apostle's own prayers and observances will be no 
less faithfully reproduced. The analogy to physical phe- 
nomena of a like order is more conjectural. And yet we 
know the fruitlessness of efforts to explain, for example, 
the transmission or repetition of movements, either through 
contact or at a distance, without presupposing the existence 
of some preliminary communication of a hidden force or 
attraction; and the attempts to explain chemical changes 
and combinations as combinations of atoms without parts 
or dimensions have been equally unsuccessful. Let us con- 
clude that in nature, as in society, Repetition, i. e., Action, 
proceeds, I cannot repeat it too often, ab interioribus ad ex- 

Will the reader perchance argue, among other objec- 
tions which could be raised against this thesis, that women 
are much more prompt to adopt foreign fashions in 
clothes than foreign ideas? But in this instance the in- 
trinsic thing, the thing signified, is either a woman's vain 
affirmation of self, when in order to raise herself a peg she 
imitates the dress of a higher class whose pride and vices 
and pretensions have already taken hold of her, or the sex- 
ual desire to please, when she imitates her fellows or equals 
because she has first been persuaded, so often mistakenly, 
that she will be beautified by the adoption of some new 
style of dress or headgear. Moreover, the example of 
womankind is an illustration not only of the law of the 
spread of imitation from above to below, which I am about 

Extra-Logical Influences 2 1 3 

to discuss, but likewise of the law which we are considering 
at present. Every woman we know imitates the man whom 
she loves or admires or to whose ascendency she submits. 
But we may also notice that the man's sentiments and ideas 
are communicated to her long before she has copied his 
mannerisms or literary knack, or adopted his forms of 
speech or accent. When a woman passes into a family or 
community which she considers superior to her own, she be- 
comes at once impregnated with the ideas, the passions, the 
prejudices, the vices or the virtues which prevail in her new 
society, and she becomes saturated with them much sooner 
than a man under similar circumstances. If, at the beginning, 
woman is, in many respects, notably in matters of religious 
belief, unimpressionable to outside examples, it is because 
the principle of imitation from within to without is abso- 
lutely applicable in her case. As a corollary of this principle, 
the external manifestations of an ancient belief persist in the 
speech, gestures, habits, and manners of woman, much more 
than in the case of man, long after it has itself disappeared 
and been secretly replaced by another. The new cult must 
have won a stronghold in the soul of a woman long before 
she decides to adopt its outward garb. This has always 
been so, and it is still so. In the sixteenth century Mar- 
guerite de Valois and her feminine following were at heart 
converted to Calvinism, in fact it was through them that 
the doctrine of Calvin, in spite of its being a doctrine so 
little suited to please them, began to spread through France, 
but they continued to practice the Catholic religion, in part, 
undoubtedly, from fear of being butchered, but, primarily, 
because of the logical necessity which rules that the things 
signified should precede their signs. 

II. Imitation of the Superior by the Inferior 

The profoundly subjective character that is taken on from 
the earliest times by human imitation, the privilege which 
it has of binding souls together from their very centres, 

214 Laws of Imitation 

involves, as may be seen from what has preceded, the 
growth of human inequality and the formation of a social 
hierarchy. This was inevitable, since the relation of model 
to copy developed into that of apostle to neophyte, of master 
to subject. Consequently, from the very fact that imita- 
tion proceeded from the inside to the outside of the model, 
it had to consist in a descent of example, in a descent from 
the superior to the inferior. This is a second law that is 
partly implied in the first, but it needs separate examination. 

Moreover, let us be sure that we understand the exact 
bearing of the considerations in hand as well as of those 
that have preceded. In the first place, we know that they 
are based on the hypothesis that the influence of prestige, 
of alleged superiority, is neither partly nor wholly neutral- 
ised by the action of logical laws. However lowly or even 
despised may be the author or introducer of a new idea of 
relatively striking truth or utility, it always ends by spread- 
ing through the public. Thus the evangel of slaves and 
Jews spread throughout the aristocratic Roman world be- 
cause it was more adapted than polytheism to answer the 
main problems of the Roman conscience. Thus at a cer- 
tain period in ancient Egypt the use of the horse was intro- 
duced from Asia in spite of the Egyptians' contempt for 
Asiatics, because for many kinds of work the horse was 
obviously preferable to the mule, which had been in use up 
to that time. There are innumerable examples of this kind. 
Similarly, the most objective of examples, a word detached 
from its meaning, a religious rite from its dogma, a pecul- 
iarity of custom from the want which it expresses, a work 
or art from the social ideal which it embodies, may readily 
spread in a strange environment whose ruling needs and 
principles find it to their advantage to replace their usual 
methods of expression by this new one which is perhaps 
more picturesque, or more clear, or more forcible. 

In the second place, even when the action of logical laws 
does not intervene, it is not only the superior who causes 
himself to be copied by the inferior, the patrician by the 
plebeian, the nobleman by the commoner, the cleric by the 

Extra-Logical Influences 215 

layman, and, at a later period, the Parisian by the pro- 
vincial, the townsman by the peasant, etc., it is also the in- 
ferior who, in a certain measure, much less, to be sure, is 
copied, or is likely to be copied, by the superior. When 
two men are together for a long time, whatever may be 
their difference in station, they end by imitating each other 
reciprocally, although, of the two, the one imitates much the 
more, the other much the less. The colder body imparts 
its heat to the warmer. The haughtiest country gentleman 
cannot keep his accent, his manners, and his point of view 
from being a little like those of his servants and tenants. 
For the same reason many provincialisms and countrified 
expressions creep into the language of cities, and even capi- 
tals, and slang phrases penetrate at times into drawing 
rooms. This influence from the bottom to the top of a 
scale characterises all classes of facts. Nevertheless, on 
the whole, it is the generous radiation of the warm body 
towards the cold, not the insignificant radiation of the cold 
body towards the warm, that is the main fact in physics 
and the one which explains the final tendency of the uni- 
verse towards an everlasting equilibrium of temperature. 
Similarly, in sociology, the radiation of examples from 
above to below is the only fact worth consideration because 
of the general levelling which it tends to produce in the 
human world. 

i. Now let me endeavour to elucidate the truth which we 
are discussing. There is nothing more natural than that 
those who love each other should copy each other, or, 
rather, as this phenomenon always begins by being one- 
sided, that the lover should copy the beloved. But in proof 
of the depth which is reached by the action of imitation in 
man's heart we see people aping one another everywhere, 
even in their fights. The conquered never fail to copy 
their conquerors if only to prepare for their revenge. When 
they borrow the military organisation of their conquerors 
they are careful to say and they sincerely think that their 
sole motive is a utilitarian calculation. But we shall find 
this explanation inadequate, if we compare this fact with 

2 1 6 Laws of Imitation 

a considerable number of correlated facts in which the sen- 
timent of utility plays no part whatsoever. 

For example, the conquered do not merely borrow the 
superior weapons, the longer range guns, and the more ad- 
mirable methods of their conqueror; they also take from 
him many of his insignificant military peculiarities and 
habits, whose acclimatisation, granted that it were possible, 
would raise difficulties wholly out of proportion to its feeble 
advantages. During the thirteenth century Florence and 
Sienna, who were always at war with each other, arrayed 
troops against each other that were not only organised in 
the same way, but that were also preceded by that strange 
cart (carroccio) and singular bell (martinella) which were 
at first peculiar to Lombardy, that is, to what was for a 
long time the most powerful part of Italy (so much so that 
Lombard and Italian had the same meaning), and which 
were then imported with certain modifications to Florence, 
whence, thanks to the prestige of that flourishing city, they 
spread to its hostile neighbours. And yet the cart was an 
encumbrance and the bell a real danger. Why, then, should 
both Florence and Sienna have copied those peculiarities 
instead of keeping to their own customs? For the same 
reason that the lower classes of society, that is, the defeated, 
or the sons of the defeated, in civil wars, copy the dress, 
the manners, the speech, the vices, etc., of the upper classes. 
It will not be said, in this instance, that the imitation is a 
military operation in view of revenge. It is simply the satis- 
faction of a special fundamental need in social life the final 
consequence of which is the preparation through many con- 
flicts of conditions of future peace. 1 

Whatever may be the organisation of a society, aristo- 
cratic or democratic, we may be sure, if we see imitation 
making rapid strides in it, that the inequality between its 

J It seems that before the Japanese came into communication with 
China they possessed a syllabic writing, or several, in fact, of much 
greater usefulness and convenience than the Chinese writing ; but as soon 
as this youthful and pre-eminently suggestible people felt the prestige 
of the superiority which they attributed to the mandarins, they adopted 
Chinese writing to the hindrance of their own progress. 

Extra-Logical Influences 217 

different levels is very great, besides being more or less ap- 
parent. And we have only to learn the set of its main cur- 
rent of examples, overlooking the unimportant back eddies, 
to discover the real social power. If the nation is on an 
aristocratic basis the thing is very simple. Given the op- 
portunity, a nobility will always and everywhere imitate its 
leaders, its kings or suzerains, and the people, likewise, given 
the opportunity, its nobility. Baudrillart writes in his 
Histoire de luxe that at Constantinople under the Byzantine 
emperors, " the court looks up to the prince, the city looks 
to the court for its model, and the poor man gazes upon 
the rich man and wishes to share in his luxury." * The 
same was true in France under Louis XIV. Saint-Simon 
writes on the same subject of luxury: "It is a sore that 
once introduced becomes an internal, all-devouring cancer, 
for it quickly communicates itself from the court at 
Paris to the provinces and the armies." M. de Barante 
writes that in the fifteenth century " it was purposed to 
strictly forbid all those games, dice, cards, or rackets, which 
had found a way to the people in imitation of the court." 
The innumerable card players that we see in the inns and 
taverns of to-day are, then, unwitting copyists of our old 
royal courts. Forms and rules of politeness have spread 
through the same channel. Courtesy comes from the 
court, as civility comes from the city. The accent of the 
court and, later on, that of the capital spread little by little 
to all classes and to all provinces of the nation. We 
may be sure that in times past there were a Babylonian ac- 
cent, a Ninevite accent, a Memphite accent, just as there 
are to-day a Parisian accent, a Florentine accent, and a Ber- 
lin accent. This transmission of accent, precisely because it 
is one of the most unconscious, irresistible, and inexplicable 
forms of imitation, very properly illustrates the depth of 
that force and the truth of that law which I am expounding. 
When we see that the influence of the upper classes upon 
the lower, of townsmen upon rustics, of colonial whites 
upon native blacks, of adults upon children, of upper 
1 [II, 340.-7Y.] 

2i 8 Laws of Imitation 

classmen upon lower, is felt even in the matter of 
accent, we can no longer doubt that it is felt a fortiori 
in matters of writing, gesture, facial expression, dress, and 

The tendency to ape the hierarchical superior and the 
rapidity with which this inclination has at all times satis- 
fied itself, at the slightest touch of public prosperity, de- 
serve to be indicated. 1 The frequency of the sumptu- 
ary edicts during the entire period of the old regime is a 
proof of this, just as the multiplicity of a river's dykes 
bears witness to the impetuosity of its currents. The 
first French Court dates from Charles VIII; but we must 
not think that the imitative contagion of court manners 
and luxury took several centuries to reach down to the 
common people of France. From the time of Louis XII 
its influence was felt everywhere. The disasters of the 
religious wars arrested its development in the sixteenth 
century, but, in the following century, it started up again 
very rapidly. Then the miseries brought on by the last 
war of the Grand Monarch occasioned another setback. 
During the eighteenth century there was a fresh start; 
under the Revolution, another reaction. In the time of 
the First Empire the advance began again on a great 
scale; but from that time on it took a democratic form 
about which we need not trouble ourselves for the moment. 
Under Francis I and Henry II the spread of the luxury 
begun under Louis XII continued. At this period a 
sumptuary law forbade " all peasants, labourers, and valets, 
unless attached to princes, to wear silken doublets or hose 
overladen or puffed out with silk." From 1543 to the time 
of the League there were eight important ordinances 
against luxury. " Some of them," says Baudrillart, " apply 
to every French subject; they interdict the use of cloth of 
gold, of silver, or of silk." 2 Such was the general elegance 

1 The point to which this craze can go may be seen from the following 
example. In 1705, according to the Marquis d'Argenson, the very 
yalets of men of high rank had servants. 

2 [Histoire de luxe, III, 440. TV.] 

Extra-Logical Influences 219 

that prevailed on the eve of the religious wars. 1 To justify 
laws in restraint of trade " one of the reasons most fre- 
quently cited was the fact that France was ruining itself in 
the purchase of objects of luxury." Besides, the same fact 
is revealed in the prosperity of the industries of luxury 
which presuppose an extensive patronage. 2 

If we go still farther back to classical antiquity, the same 
law will be verified. We learn from a text of Sidonius 
Apollinaris that the speaking of Latin was begun in Gaul 
by the Gallic nobility and spread from them, together with 
Roman morals and ideas, into the bosom of the people. 

Here is another example. Let us picture to ourselves 

1 Abundant proof that the same condition existed in Germany is given 
by Johannes Janssen. For example, " in Pomerania and the island of 
Rugen, . . . the peasants are rich. They wear none but English gar- 
ments or others as good. Their dress is as fine as that formerly worn 
by the burghers or nobles " [Die allgemeinen Zustdnde des deutschen 
Volkes beim Ausgang des Mittelalters, p. 312, ninth edition, Freiburg, 
1883. TV.]. 

These lines are quoted by Janssen from Kantzow, a Pomeranian 
historian of the time. We learn from sermons that silken garments 
were being worn by the peasants. In Italy, according to Burckhardt, 
there was at the same period the same descent of luxury to all classes. 

2 This contagion of luxury has often been an instrument for the 
spread of useful things. Our most useful species (animal), Bourdeau 
says in his Conquete du monde animal, were originally bred for amuse- 
ment rather than for the then unforseen advantages which its do- 
mestication might procure. The same motive leads us to-day to search for 
new and peculiar species, and in primitive times every animal that was 
conquered had this charm of novelty. Formerly in Rome and Greece 
a duck or a goose was presented as a love-token to the beloved woman 
or child. In the time of Caesar the Britons kept chickens and geese 
for luxurious display, not for consumption ... ; in the sixteenth 
century the Indian duck and turkey ornamented the parks of the 
nobility before they descended into the ranks of ordinary poultry to 
be banished to the barnyard. . . . This movement is logical and 
necessary. Only the wealthy classes are able to have costly lessons and 
make hazardous experiments. But when success is assured the gain 
becomes general." 

If the Gallic nobility began to adopt the speech and customs of Rome, 
after the conquest, it was because then, for the first time, they felt 
the superiority of Rome. Why did the American Indians never adopt 
European civilisation ? Because their immense pride kept them from 
considering themselves inferior to Anglo-Americans. On the other 
hand, the negroes of America, who have been accustomed to recognise 

22O Laws of Imitation 

the basin of the Mediterranean in the eighth century before 
Christ; at the moment of the great Tyrian or Sidonian pros- 
perity, when the Phoenicians, the European carriers of the 
arts of Egypt and Assyria, were arousing among the Greeks 
and other peoples a taste for luxurious and beautiful things. 
These merchants were not like modern English traders in 
cheap and common fabrics; like the mediaeval Venetians, 
they were wont to display along the seaboard fine products 
that appealed to the rich people of all countries, purple gar- 
ments, perfumes, golden cups, figurines, costly armour, ex- 
voto offerings, graceful and charming ornaments. Thus 
all over, in Sardinia, in Etruria, in Greece, in the Archi- 
pelago, in Asia Minor, and in Gaul, the highest classes, the 
chosen few, might be seen wearing helmets, swords, brace- 
lets, and tunics which were more or less alike from one end 
to the other of this vast region, while beneath them the ple- 
beian population continued to be differentiated from one 
another by their characteristic dress and weapons. And yet, 
although these plebeians differed so much from their leaders 
on the outside, they closely resembled them in their ideas 
and passions, in their religious superstitions and ethical prin- 

In the fourteenth or fifteenth century of our era, exactly 
the same spectacle would have struck the Arthur Young 
of that time in travelling through France and Europe. At 
this epoch the same Venetian products had spread every- 
where and were inundating and assimilating palaces and 
chateaux and city mansions, whereas, although the same 
religion and morality prevailed in huts and cottages as in 
noble and sumptuous dwellings, the former still retained 
their distinct and original characteristics. Now, little by 
little, from above to below, assimilation has so advanced 
both in antiquity and in modern times, that finally a great 
carrying trade, not for the use of the few, but for that 
of the entire mass of a vast people, has become possible, 

the supremacy of the whites, even after the abolition of slavery, have 
had a very strong and noticeable tendency to copy their masters, or 
their sometime masters, in everything. 

Extra-Logical Influences 221 

to the great advantage of the England of to-day, of the 
America of to-morrow. 1 

Therefore the apologists for aristocracy have, in my opin- 
ion, passed over its best justification. The principal role of a 
nobility, its distinguishing mark, is its initiative, if not in- 
ventive, character. Invention can start from the lowest ranks 
of the people, but its extension depends upon the existence 
of some lofty social elevation, a kind of social water-tower, 
whence a continuous water-fall of imitation may descend. 
At every period and in every country the aristocratic body 
has been open to foreign novelties and has been quick to im- 
port them, 3 just as the staff of an army is the best-informed 
part of the army on the subject of foreign military innova- 
tions, and the most apt in adopting them intelligently, there- 
by rendering as much service as by the discipline which it 
inspires. As long as its vitality endures, a nobility may 
be recognised by this characteristic. When, on the other 
hand, it throws itself back upon traditions, jealously at- 
taches itself to them and defends them against the attacks of 
a people whom it had previously accustomed to changes, 
it is safe to say that its great work is done, however useful it 
may be in this complementary role of moderator, and that 
its decline has set in.* 

1 Let me antfcipate an objection. It may be urged that in imitating 
foreign fashions in dress, armour, and furniture, the Mediterranean 
aristocracy in the time of the Phoenicians, and the European aristoc- 
racy at the time of the Venetian commerce, proceeded ab exterioribus 
ad interiora; but this would be a mistake. Both these aristocracies 
succumbed to the prestige of some dominating nation, of Egypt or of 
Assyria, of Italy or of Constantinople. The literature of these coun- 
tries had penetrated them before their arts; their glory had subjugated 
them. The social function of aristocracies is to initiate populations 
into an admiration and envy of foreign things, and thus to cut a way 
for fashion-imitation as a substitute for custom-imitation. 

2 Another example : it was through the Roman aristocracy, during 
the days of the Scipios, that Greek ideas and Greek speech and civilisa- 
tion reached Rome. 

* It sometimes, or, even, often, happens that the conquerors pattern 
themselves after the conquered, borrowing their habits, their laws, and 
their language. The Franks in Gaul became Latinised and spoke a 
"Romance tongue. The same thing happened to the Normans in 
England, to the Varangians in Russia, etc. But in these cases it was 

222 Laws of Imitation 

2. In this respect, in spite of appearances to the contrary, 
the ecclesiastical resembles the civil hierarchy. Certainly, 
had it not been for the strongly aristocratic constitution of 
the Christian clergy, the spread of the same dogmas and, 
later on, of the same rites, could never have covered such an 
immense space as it did, and produced, in spite of the disin- 
tegration of feudal society, that great unity of spirit and 
ritual called Christianity. It was because of the lack of such 
a pyramidal organisation that, although Protestanism ap- 
peared at an epoch of great national centralisation instead of 
disintegration, at an epoch, therefore, which was highly fa- 
vourable for the diffusion of one uniform doctrine or cult, it 
was, nevertheless, split up into an endless number of sects. 
Now, as long as the pontifical court and the episcopal body 
of the Catholic clergy continued to be an active aristocracy, 
their special characteristic was their monopoly of religious 
initiatives; and the singular complexity of the dogmas and 
cult which were enriched and expanded at each council and 
synod testified to their initiating propensity. Through 
these numerous and frequently reform reunions, the bishops 
and abbots kept in touch with new fashions in theology, in 
casuistry, and in liturgy, and enabled these fashions to reach 
downwards. 1 Their taste for innovation went even farther; 
it was not confined to the religious sphere. The higher clergy 
became depraved at the end of the Middle Ages for the same 
reason for which, later on, the French nobility became ener- 
vated. It was because, at that epoch, it was the pre-eminently 
superior and controlling class, the first to be touched by the 
dawn of a new civilisation. If the ecclesiastical pinnacles of 

because the conqueror felt the social superiority of the conquered, and 
the more real and appreciated this superiority the more faithfully was 
the latter reflected by the former. As the Anglo-Saxon was only 
slightly superior to the Norman of William the Conqueror, there was 
a fusion of two civilisations and, especially, of two languages, into one 
civilisation and into one new language, rather than a triumph of the 
Saxon element. Besides, we know that the Gallo-Roman nobility sur- 
vived the invasion and continued to take the lead. 

1 In India, according to Earth, the Brahmans are at the head of 
all religious innovations, the source, in that country, of all changes 

Extra-Logical Influences 223 

the Europe of that day had withstood the influence of new in- 
ventions and discoveries, and, consequently, of new manners 
and morals, the arrival of modern civilisation would have 
certainly been retarded for several centuries if not indefinitely 

In a period of theocratic aristocracy, if the hovel copies 
the chateau, the chateau copies some church or temple, first 
in its style of architecture and then in the different forms 
of art and luxury which develop in it before spreading 
down to lower circles. In the Middle Ages the cathedral 
goldsmith and cabinet-maker set the standard for the sec- 
ular artisans who filled the dwellings of the nobles with 
Gothic jewelry and furniture. Sculpture, painting, poetry, 
and music were secularised in the same way. Just as the 
royal courts created, under the form of flattery and of nar- 
row and one-sided courtesy, the habit of reciprocal and gen- 
eral amiability and politeness, and just as the example of the 
command of one chief or of the privileges of a chosen few 
had only to spread to give birth to law, the command of each 
to all and of all to each, so we find in the beginning of every 
literature some sacred book, the Book of all others, the book 
of which all later secular books are merely sanctuary-stolen 
reflections, in the beginning of all writing some historic 
writing, in the beginning of all music some religious dirge 
or lyric, at the beginning of all sculpture some idol, at the 
beginning of all painting some tomb or temple fresco or; 
some monachal illumination of the sacred book. . . . Tem- 
ples, then, antedate palaces, in the right of being considered 
the secular, and, for a long time, the indispensable centres of 
the spread of civilisation in the extrinsic and superficial 
meaning of the word as well as in its intrinsic and deeper 
meaning, in matters of art and elegance as well as in those 
of maxim and conviction. 1 

1 The instructive traveller, Abbe Pelitot, says that among the Esqui- 
maux the men, but not the women, pray in the morning and evening. 
With us the opposite is the more frequent occurrence. In this connec- 
tion the Revue scientifique (November 21, 1888) justly remarks that 
" among all primitive peoples, religion, like war and hunting, is the 

224 Laws of Imitation 

3. It is during the periods when the sacerdotal rule is 
declining and when ecclesiastical teaching is becoming less 
and less the source of beliefs that the art and luxury of 
priestly examples come to be more and more closely fol- 
lowed, and that there is no fear of profaning the decorative 
sides of worship in secularising them. In the same way when 
aristocratic rule begins to weaken, and wherTless obedience 
is paid to privileged classes, people are emboldened to copy 
them in external things. We know that this conforms to 
advance ab exterior'ibus ad exteriora, but it is also in part 
explained by the application of another very general law, 
which should be combined with that concerning the imita- 
tion of superiors. If the latter were unconditional, the most 
superior thing would be the one to be most imitated ; but, in 
reality, the thing that is most imitated is the most superior 
one of those that arc nearest. In fact, the influence of the 
model's example is efficacious inversely to its distance as well 
as directly to its superiority. Distance is understood here 
in its sociological meaning. However distant in space a 
stranger may be, he is close by, from this point of view, if we 
have numerous and daily relations with him and if we have 
every facility to satisfy our desire to imitate him. This law 
of the imitation of the nearest, of the least distant, explains 
the gradual and consecutive character of the spread of an 
example that has been set by the highest social ranks. We 
may infer, as its corollary, when we see a lower class setting 
itself to imitating for the first time a much higher class, 
that the distance between the two had diminished. 1 

function of the men." From this fact, we may properly infer that if 
religion survives longer in the hearts and in the habits of women, it is 
because they originally adopted it from the example of their lords 
and masters. Another confirmation of our law. 

1 " How does it happen," queries M. Melchoir de Vogue, " that the 
negro fetich worshippers who are pursued by the man-hunting negro 
Moslems adopt with so much facility the Mahometan faith of their 
persecutors? " It is the imitation of a superior. But it is necessary for 
the superior to be near ; the superiority must not be great enough to dis- 
courage imitation. That is the reason why Christianity makes little 
progress among negroes. Whereas the conquests of Islam among 
them are almost as rapid as the conquests of the days of Mahomet. 

Extra-Logical Influences 225 

4. A period is called democratic as soon as the distance 
between all classes has lessened enough, through various 
causes, to allow of the external imitation of the highest by 
the lowest. In every democracy, then, like our own, where the 
fever of subjective and objective assimilation is intense, we 
may be sure of the existence of an established or incipient 
social hierarchy of recognised superiors, of superiors 
through heredity or selection. In our own case it is not dif- 
ficult to perceive by whom the ancient aristocracy was re- 
placed after the sceptre of the refinements of life had in large 
part slipped from its grasp. In the first place the admin- 
istrative hierarchy has been growing more complicated, 
adding to its height by increasing the number of its grades 
and to its breadth by increasing the number of its function- 
aries. The same thing is true in the case of our military 
hierarchy because of the reasons which have forced modern 
European States to become military nations. Prelates and 
princes of the blood, monks and cavaliers, monasteries and 
chateaux have been suppressed to give place to publicists 1 
and financiers, to artists and politicians, to theatres, banks, 
bazaars, barracks, government buildings, and to the other 
monuments that are grouped within the circumference of a 
capital. Here celebrities of every kind congregate. Now 
what are all the different kinds and degrees of glory or 
notoriety that are known to society, but a brilliant hierarchy 
of either filled or vacant places which the public alone is 
free, or thinks it is free, to dispose of ? 

Now, instead of becoming more simple and more humble, 
this aristocracy of place, this platform of brilliant stations, 
grows more and more impressive through the very effect of 
democratic transformations which lower national and class 
walls and give a more and more universal and international 
suffrage to the candidates for fame. The amount of glory 
that may be divided among the actors increases in propor- 
tion to the number of the spectators who are clapping or 

1 Tocqueville shows in a masterly way (Democratic en Amerique) 
that " the sway of journalism must extend as men grow more and 
more equal." 

226 Laws of Imitation 

hissing in the pit, and the distance between the most obscure 
onlooker and the most applauded player enlarges accord- 
ingly. The apotheosis of Victor Hugo, an impossible oc- 
currence thirty years ago, revealed the existence of a high 
mountain of literary glory which has been recently raised up, 
like the Pyrenees in the past, from out of a vast and un- 
broken plain, and which, with its train of minor peaks, piled 
up at its base, offers itself henceforward to the ambition of 
future poets. Invisible mountains of this kind are ever 
springing up through the pavements of big cities, where they 
crowd upon each other like the roofs of houses. In the 
prodigious growth, in the hypertrophy of great cities and, es- 
pecially, of capitals, where oppressive privileges take root and 
ramify, while the last traces of the privileges of the past are 
jealously effaced, is to be found the kind of inequality which! 
modern life creates and which it finds indispensable, in fact, 
in managing and promoting the great currents of its indus- 
trial production and consumption, i. e., of imitation on an 
immense scale. The course of a Ganges like this necessi^ 
tated a Himalayas. Paris is the Himalayas of France. 
Paris unquestionably rules more royally and more orientally; 
over the provinces than the court ever ruled over the city. 
Every day the telegraph or the railroad distributes its ready- 
made ideas, wishes, conversations, revolutions, its ready- 
made dresses and furniture, throughout the whole of France. 
The suggestive and imperious fascination which it instan-i 
taneously exerts over this vast territory is so profound, so 
complete, and so sustained, that it no longer surprises any- 
one. This kind of magnetisation has become chronic. It is 
called liberty and equality. It is futile for the city labourer 
to consider himself a democrat in working for the destruc- 
tion of the middle classes (engaged as he is in rising into the 
middle class himself) ; he is none the less an aristocrat him- 
self, the much admired and the much envied aristocrat of the 
peasant. The peasant is to the labourer what the labourer 
is to his employer. This is the cause of the emigration out 
of the rural districts. 

Although the sivorn communes of the Middle Ages grew 

Extra-Logical Influences 227 

out of a spirit of hostility against the local over-lord and 
against feudalism in general, nevertheless, as M. Luchaire 
informs us, their effect and their aim was to raise the city 
in which they were established to the rank of a collective 
seigniory, the vassal or suzerain of other seigniories, receiv- 
ing or contributing feudal dues and having its own rank in 
the feudal hierarchy. The seals of the communes generally 
represented military emblems, a foot soldier, or an armed 
knight on a galloping horse, like the seals of the nobility. 
The same writer, in his exhaustive historical work on the 
subject, has proved that the emancipating movement of the 
communes of the twelfth century was not confined to the 
cities but that, following their example, the mere villages 
on their outskirts or beyond freed themselves in the same 
way, by confederation. The historians have hitherto ignored 
this fact, but it is nevertheless incontestable that, in the Mid- 
dle Ages, there were first urban communes and then rural 
communes. It is a remarkable thing that the same order is 
followed even in the case of agricultural innovations. 
Roscher says, for example, that " it was in the town that 
the modern system of rent, of ground rent, was first sub- 
stituted for feudal dues, as may be seen from the Charter: 
of Ghent of 1259 in the Warnkoenig." Let me add that 
contrary to the opinion of Augustin Thierry the emancipar 
tion of the communes was not caused by popular insurrec- 
tion, by a spontaneous uprising of lowly artisan corpora- 
tions, but, as recent historical research has shown, 1 by an 
originally very exclusive league of rich merchants who were 
already associated in guilds or religious brotherhoods and 
who formed the aristocracy of the city. " They were trans- 
formed into real leagues and ranged behind themselves the . 
rest of the inhabitants, so that the commune started, in 
general, from a league of all the inhabitants grouped to- 
gether under the oath of the middle-class aristocracy." 

A capital, a great modern city, is the first choice, the 
cream, so to speak, of the population. While the numerical 

1 See Histoire generale of Lavisse and Rambaud, II, 431 and 

228 Laws of Imitation 

importance of the two sexes is about equal in a nation taken 
as a whole, the number of men in great centres is notably 
larger than that of women. Besides, the proportion of adults 
is far greater in the cities than it is in the rest of the country. 
Finally, and above all, the cities attract to themselves from 
all directions the most active brains and the most nervous 
organisms, the fittest to utilise modern inventions. This 
is the way in which they form the modern aristocracy, a 
select, non-hereditary, but liberally recruited body; and yet 
this does not keep it in the least from being as scornful of 
the lower rural population as were ever the nobles of the 
old regime of the common people. 1 This new aristoc- 
racy is as selfish, as rapacious, and as destructive as 
the ancient aristocracy, and if, like all aristocracies, it did 
not speedily renew itself by the incoming of new ele- 
ments, it also would quickly perish from the vices which 
at into it, from tuberculosis and syphilis, its characteristic 
diseases, from poverty, its curse, from alcoholism, from all 
those causes which render its death rate unusually high in 
spite of its exceptionally distinguished constituency. 

Modern capitals not only help to suppress and equalise all 
the subordinate parts of their nation, they also aid in the as- 
similation of the different communities lying between them, 
and from this point of view they again play the role of the 
ancient royal courts. Under the Plantagenets, the luxuries of 
France and England were, in spite of the infrequency of 
travel and international relations, strikingly alike. This 
similarity can be explained only as an outcome of the influ- 

1 At first it would seem as if the law of imitation from above 
to below were inapplicable to the propagation of Christianity in view 
of its original spread among the lower classes. It is true that its prog- 
ress amounted to little until it won over the upper classes and even 
the Imperial court. But we should note, especially, that Christianity 
began to spread in cities, in large cities first, and that it was 
only later that it reached the country districts where the lowest class of 
peasants (pagani) made their home. Fustel de Coulanges (Mo- 
narchic franque, p. 517) draws attention to this urban propagation of 
Christianity. Early Christianity like modern socialism spread through 
the capitals. " Tfiis contagious evil," Pliny writes to Trajan, " has 
spread not only in the cities, but also in the towns and villages." 

Extra-Logical Influences 229 

ence of the constant communication between the French and 
English courts. The courts were, therefore, mutual centres 
of light and colour. Through the constant interplay of their 
rays over national frontiers, they supplied people with 
their first examples of a certain kind of uniformity. To-day 
the capitals, the daughters of the courts, take their place. 
In them all eventually successful initiatives are concentrated, 
towards them all eyes turn, and as they are in constantly 
reciprocal relations, universal uniformity, offset by a per- 
petual variability, must be the result of their prolonged pre- 
ponderance. Let me add that, in their reciprocal relations, 
the movement of imitation from above to below is also 
observed. There is always one capital after which the 
others are likely to pattern themselves both at heart and on 
the surface, just as formerly there was always one court 
which was the general model. It is the capital of the pre- 
ponderating people, or of the people that had preponderated 
up to the time in question, just as formerly it was the court 
of the victorious king or of the king who had been long 
accustomed to victory in spite of recent defeats. 1 

In democratic countries, as Tocqueville remarks, majori- 
ties, as well as capitals, have prestige. " As citizens become 
more equal and more alike the tendency of each to blindly 
believe in a given man or class diminishes. The disposition 

1 Preaching, like all other branches of rhetorical art, had fashions 
in the past whose variety compensated for the relative immutability 
of dogma. Here again the laws of imitation apply. When scholasticism 
came in at the Sorbonne, first the divines of Paris, then those of the 
provincial towns, and finally those of the rural districts, fell to preaching 
according to set argumentative forms, and we have to be familiar with 
the ordinary force of the currents of imitation to conceive how this dry. 
and repellent manner of preaching could have been established. Later, 
at the polished court of Louis XIV, the preachers, who were by 
this time courtiers and men of the world themselves, adapted the 
language of society to their Advent or Lenten or other kinds of ser- 
mons ; and then this reform spread little by little from the Court 
to the Capital, from the Capital to the big and then to the smaller 
cities. But at the time when La Bruyere wrote, this practice had 
only begun to spread abroad, as we may see from the following remark : 
" Scholasticism has at last been banished from all the pulpits of the 
large cities and relegated to towns and villages for the instruction and 
salvation of the labourer and wine-dresser." 

230 Laws of Imitation 

to believe the masses increases and public opinion guides 
society more and more." Since the majority becomes the 
real political power, the universally recognised superior, its 
prestige is submitted to for the same reason that that of a 
monarch or nobility was formerly bowed down to. But 
there is still another reason. " In times of equality men have 
no faith in one another because of their mutual likeness; 
but this very resemblance inspires them with an almost un- 
limited confidence in the judgement of the public; for it 
seems improbable to them that when all have the same 
amount of light, the truth should not be found on the side 
of the greatest number." This appears logical and mathe- 
matical; if men are like units, then it is the greatest sum of 
these units which must be in the right. But in reality this is 
an illusion are based upon a constant oversight of the role 
played here by imitation. When an idea arises in triumph 
from the ballot-box we should be infinitely less inclined to bow 
down before it if we realised that nine hundred and ninety- 
nine thousandths of the votes that it polled were but echoes. 
Even the most careful historians are constantly misled by 
this and are inclined to enthuse with the crowd over the 
unanimity of certain popular wishes which the people's 
leaders have inspired, as if it were something marvellous. 
Unanimities should be greatly distrusted. Nothing is a bet- 
ter indication of the intensity of the imitative impulse. 

Everything, even progress towards equality, is effected 
by imitation and by the imitation of superior classes. Be- 
fore political and social equality between all classes of so- 
ciety was possible or even conceivable, it had to be estab- 
lished on a small scale in one of them. Now, it was 
first seen to occur on top. From Louis XI to Louis XVI 
the different grades of nobility which had formerly, in the 
time of great vassals and of pure feudalism, been separated 
by such impassable distances were steadily levelled, and, 
thanks to the crushing prestige of royalty and to the com- 
parative multiplicity of the points of contact between all men 
of gentle birth, fusion was brought about even between 
the nobility of the sword and the nobility of the gown. 

Extra-Logical Influences 231 

Now, strange to say, while this levelling was being ac- 
complished on top, the innumerable sections of the middle 
classes and the common people continued to hold aloof 
from one another with even intensified class vanity until 
the eve of '89. Read Tocqueville for an enumeration, for 
example, of the different grades of upper, middle, and lower 
middle classes in a town of the ancient regime at this date. 
There was certainly more antagonism between the consuls 
and the petty merchants of the eighteenth century than be- 
tween those of the Middle Ages. The apparent paradox 
may therefore be safely advanced that the real preparatory 
work in behalf of modern equality was carried on in the 
past, not by the middle classes, but by the nobility. In this 
respect, as well as in the diffusion of philosophic ideas and 
in the impetus that was given to industry through a taste 
for exotic fashions, aristocracy was the unconscious 
mother of modern times. Moreover, these causes are 
linked together. If the royal courts had not levelled the 
ranks of the nobility, the literary and, consequently, the 
philosophic, radiations of the seventeenth and eighteenth 
centuries would not have darted forth, and fashion-imitation, 
the love of foreign-bred innovations, would never have 
prevailed over ancestor-imitation in the bosom of the rul- 
ing and influential caste. Consequently, the original centre 
of all these centres is the king. 1 

1 Political manfa, like drunkenness, began by being the privilege of 
the upper classes. A century ago this passion thrived among great 
lords and ladies, and among the scholars of the land, whereas the 
people and even the lower middle classes remained comparatively 
indifferent to this kind of emotion. In our own day, the higher 
classes and people of education are apt to take relatively little in- 
terest in politics or to discuss them with unwarranted moderation. 
'In the conversations of fashionable society such questions occur 
merely incidentally, in the course of gossip, as we may see from the 
insignificant place that they hold in the journals which picture " so- 
ciety." But as this passion for dangerous problems abates on top, 
it descends and spreads from one social level to another. The time 
will come when a combination of political mania and alcoholism will 
raise the folly of the masses to the highest pitch. Of course, I do not 
wish to associate religious or even superstitious faith or practice 
with the above aberrations. But I may be allowed to point out, as 

232 Laws of Imitation 

Thus, whether the social organisation be theocratic, aris- 
tocratic, or democratic, the course of imitation always fol- 
lows the same law. It proceeds, given equal distances, 
from superior to inferior, and, in the latter, from 
within to without. One essential point of difference, 
however, must be noted. When the standard-setting points 
of superiority are transmitted by heredity, as in the case 
of the ancient nobility and in the priesthood of a caste 
system, or communicated by consecration (a kind of ficti- 
tious heredity or adoption), as in the case of acquired 
nobility and of the Buddhist and Christian priesthood, they 
are inherent in the person himself considered under all 
his aspects. The supposedly superior individual is copied 
in all respects. He appears to copy no one below himself, 
and this is approximately true. The relation of the model 
to the copy is, consequently, almost one-sided. But when 
for this aristocracy based on the vital tie of real or fictitious 
affiliation an aristocracy of purely social factors, recruited 
by spontaneous choice, is substituted, prestige attaches 
only to the special aspect in which the individual is prom- 
inent. He is imitated in this respect only, all others are 

The man no longer exists who is imitated in 
every thing, and he who is most imitated himself imi- 

one of the explanations of the religiosity of the masses of the people, 
that in very remote antiquity religion began by being the exclusive 
luxury of a few patricians before it became a general and vulgarised 
need of the plebeians. j' 

Fortunately the passion for politics was not the only thing to 
spread in this way; the love of country was spreading at the same 
time. The sentiment of patriotism first arose in the ranks of the 
aristocracy, whence it afterwards passed down, little by little, through 
imitation, to the middle classes and to the common people. On 
this point the democratic historian, Perrens, may be credited. " The 
sentiment of patriotism," he says, " was not popularised until after 
the Hundred Years War, but it had already had a long life among the 
gentry; it had already appeared in the twelfth century in the poems 
which they had inspired. Douce France is from that time on a 
favotirite expression in the poetry of chivalry. After the disaster of 
Poitiers, it burst out for a time among the middle classes and the 
common people." 

Extra-Logical Influences 233 

tates, in some particulars, some one of his imitators. Thus 
imitation, in becoming generalised, has also become mutual- 
ised and specialised. 

5. It is not enough, however, to say that imitation 
spreads from above to below; I must be more definite 
about the concept of the superiority in question. Shall 
we say that it is always the higher political or economic 
classes who set the standard? It is not. At those times, 
for example, when power, and with power enhanced facility 
for acquiring wealth, is in the hands of the people's repre- 
sentatives, the latter are desired to be rather than estimated 
to be superior by those who elect and elevate them. Now,, 
the privilege of having one's self reflected on all sides be- 
longs to the kind of superiority which is believed in, not 
to that which is merely desired. In fact, to desire a man's 
promotion is to realise that he is not already high up, and 
that fact alone often keeps him from having prestige. This 
is the reason why so many successful candidates have so 
little weight with their electors. But, in this case, the 
classes or persons who have real prestige are those classes 
that have had power and wealth up to a still recent period, 
even if they have actually been despoiled of them, or those 
persons who, through their eminent and timely talents, are 
on the road to fame and fortune. Again, when a man has 
been powerful or rich for a long time, he inevitably wins 
consideration through the conviction that gradually comes 
to people that he really deserves his advantages. So, in 
spite of everything, the two ideas of power and wealth are 
sure to be connected with that of social superiority. 

They are connected, however, as effect to cause. It be- 
hooves us to go back to the cause, to learn what are the 
qualities which lead or have led men, or groups of men, to 
power and wealth and which make them the objects of 
the admiration, envy, and imitation of their neighbours. 
In primitive times they were physical vigour and skill, 
physical bravery; later, skill in war and eloquence in 
council; still later, aesthetic imagination, industrial inge- 
nuity, scientific genius. In brief, the superiority which 

234 Laws of Imitation 

is imitated is the superiority which is understood; 1 and 
that which is understood is what is believed, or seen, to 
be conducive to benefits which are appreciated because they 
satisfy certain wants. I may say, parenthetically, that these 
wants are derived, to be sure, from organic life, but that 
their social mould and channel are made by the example of 
others. Sometimes these benefits are vast domains, great 
herds of cattle, numerous leuds or vassals seated around 
the immense tables of their over-lords, sometimes they are 
capital cities and a constituency of devoted electors. Again 
they may be men's hopes of heaven and the credit they 
are supposed to have with great personages beyond the 

If I am asked, What is the series of social superiorities 
which takes place in the course of civilisation? I shall an- 
swer that it depends upon that series of social goods which 
are successively pursued under so many changing forms 
by the majority of men of a given epoch and country. 
Now, what impels and directs this latter series? It is 
the sequence of both mutually helpful and mutually hin- 
dering inventions and discoveries which present themselves 

1 It has been noticed that all the Roman provinces west of the 
Adriatic (Italy, Sicily, Spain, Gaul, Germany, etc.) were more or 
less easily Latinised, and had to adopt the laws, language, and cus- 
toms of Rome; whereas in the East, even after the conquest of 
Greece, the Greek language and civilisation continued to hold their own 
and even to spread. This was because the superiority of the Romans 
was recognised by those whom they had conquered in the West, by the 
Celts, Iberians, Germans, etc., whereas Greek nationality refused, even 
after its downfall, to confess itself inferior to the barbarians of the 
Tiber, and preserved its proud sentiment of intellectual pre-eminence. 
For a like reason, the Gallo-Romans, who were conquered at a later 
date, refused to assimilate with the Germans. An entirely analagous 
thing occurs whenever the common people come into power and set 
to imitating the manners and customs of a fallen aristocracy whom 
they have always recognised as holding the sceptre of the refinements 
of life. The prestige of Rome and Constantinople, as well as of 
Athens, was magnified by their very downfall. 

It is evident that all the external history of Rome is explained by 
the law of imitation from upper to lower. Its internal history is 
explained in the same way. The Roman plebs raised itself up only 
through copying the customs and then the prerogatives and privileges 
of the patricians, beginning with legal marriage. 

Extra-Logical Influences 235 

one after the other to the human mind, in the irreversible, 
to a certain extent, and inevitable order that is indicated 
by social logic. The discovery of the advantage of cave 
dwellings, the invention of stone weapons, of bows and ar- 
rows, of bone needles, of fire from the friction of wood, etc. 
kindled for the first troglodytes their ideal of happiness, 
a lucky hunt, fur garments, game (human, at times!) 
eaten in the recesses of a smoke-filled cave. Later on, 
the discovery of certain ideas of natural history and the im- 
portant and immensely fruitful invention of domesticating 
animals brought a change of ideal; great herds of cattle 
under patriarchal supervision was the new dream. Then 
the discovery of the first elements of astronomy, the inven- 
tion of domesticating plants, i. e., of agriculture, the dis- 
covery of metals and the invention of architecture made 
possible a dream of great domains peopled by slaves and 
dominated over by a palace, the model of houses to come. 
Finally, the discovery of the sciences, from the nascent 
physics of the Greeks and the babbling chemistry of the 
Egyptians up to our own learned treatises, and the inven- 
tion of arts and industries, from the hymn to the drama 
or from the grindstone to the steam mill, made possible 
the gradual building up of the happiness of our millionaires, 
the piling up of their bank accounts or of their government 
or real-estate securities. So much for wealth. As for 
power, the same considerations apply in the succession of 
its historic forms. 

In view of these facts, a definite answer shapes itself to 
the question we are concerned with. The qualities which 
make a man superior in any country and at any period are 
those which enable him to understand the group of dis- 
coveries and to make use of the group of inventions which 
have already appeared. Sometimes, quite often, in fact, 
it is some accidental or objective condition rather than per- 
sonal qualities which enable an individual to make use of, 
or, for a time, monopolise the leading inventions of his 
day; and, in general, these two factors are in combination. 
Although the tribe or city where a progressive idea or a 

236 Laws of Imitation 

superior industrial process or a more powerful military 
engine happens to appear, may be inferior in race and 
culture, yet it will retain a monopoly of the novelty for a 
long time. It may have been due to such a change as this 
that the Turanians had the advantage throughout remote 
antiquity of being almost the only people to practise metal- 
lurgy. The prosperity of the Phoenicians is partly ex- 
plained through the discovery on their shores of the little 
purple-producing shell-fish. From this a great maritime 
export-trade arose which was most timely in encouraging 
the natural bent of these Semitic peoples towards naviga- 
tion. The first people to domesticate the elephant or horse 
must have derived immense advantage from them in war. 
Formerly, the mere fact of being the son of a father who 
was possessed of the natural qualities demanded by the 
civilisation of his day was an advantageous condition which 
stood in lieu of those qualities. The idea of hereditary 
nobility came about in this way. 1 Finally, when a given 
locality has long held the privilege of attracting to itself 
those individuals who are the best endowed from the point 
of view of contemporary ambition, a presumption of supe- 
riority attaches, as I have said before, to residence in that 
place, and this is one of the most favourable circumstances 
for the happy employment of the resources furnished by the 
civilisation of the time. In our own day, when science 
and industry are the great bodies of discoveries and inven- 
tions which we must appropriate in order to grow rich, it 
is advantageous to live in .the great cities where scholars, 
inventors, and capitalists are concentrated. This is so 
much the case that it is often enough for a woman who is 
a newcomer in a provincial town, to be a Parisian, to set 
the style in the place. During the feudal period, when 

1 Let me add that the idea of nobility arose at a time when the 
physical and moral qualities that were necessary to make use of the 
very simple military engines and methods of the period were readily 
developed by proper training and were easily transmitted by in- 
heritance, much more easily than the subtle characteristics of modern 
times. And so the son of a powerful warrior generally came to 
have a well-founded reputation of his own. 

Extra-Logical Influences 237 

the art of war, which was then the unique source of terri- 
torial wealth, was the customary privilege of the lord of 
the castle, the castle inmate, however lowly his station, 
far outranked the citizen. This was not so in Italy, how- 
ever. There the cities learned how to organise bodies of 
militia to keep the neighbouring castles under control. 
When the royal court came to be formed, the courtiers 
of Versailles totally eclipsed, for like reasons, the Notables 
of Paris, the royal favour having become the supreme prize. 

We must see that social superiority always and every- 
where cpnsis.t_s_of_Qbjective circumstances-ar .o subjective 
traits which aid in_the exploitation of existing. discoveries 
and inventions. Now let us remove to one side the first 
of these two sources of superiority and turn our attention 
to the matter of subjective traits. Here, undoubtedly, the 
qualities which make a man, or a group of men, superior, 
are always bodily characteristics or personal qualities; 
nevertheless, the character of their superiority is wholly 
social, since it consists in their pre-eminent aptitude to carry 
out the objects of social thought. From the very begin- 
nings of humanity, when physical force is supposed to have 
ruled superior, the successful savage was not the most vig- 
orous one; he was the most agile one, the one most skil- 
ful in handling bow and club and sling, in cutting stone. 
Nowadays it is useless for a man to be muscular and well- 
proportioned ; unless he also possesses that cerebral hy- 
pertrophy which was once abnormal and disastrous, but 
which is now normally exacted by the exigencies of our 
civilisation, he is condemned to defeat. Between these 
two extremes there is, perhaps, no peculiarity of race or 
temperament, no morbid or monstrous trait which has not 
had its day of glory and expansion. Were we not surprised 
by the bestial although royal and authoritative type of the 
recently unearthed Rameses the Great? How many of 
our instinctive criminals would have been heroes in other 
days! How many madmen would have had statues and 
altars erected to them ! 

But through this oscillating multiformity, which explains 

Laws of Imitation 

0. fc* the partly fortuitous character of inventions and discoveries, 
it is easy to remark, on the whole, the gradual decline 
of aptitudes that are muscular rather than nervous and the 
concomitant progress of aptitudes that are nervous rather 
than muscular. The countryman is muscular; the citizen 
is nervous; the same distinction exists between the civilised 
and the uncivilised man. Why is this? There are two 
reasons. In the first place, social logic eliminates a smaller 
number of contradictory discoveries and inventions than 
the number of the consistent ones which it accumulates; 
and the resulting excess of complexity necessitates a more 
highly developed cerebral capacity and a more perfect cere- 
bral organisation. In the second place, the accumulation of 
mechanical inventions puts an increasing number of animal, 
chemical, and physical forces at the disposition of man and 
frees him day by day from having to reinforce them with 
muscular labour. 1 

Racial or individual differentiation is, we see, like a 
musical instrument upon which inventive genius is free to 
play under the general guidance of social logic. This has 
an important corollary for historians. If you are seeking 
the cause of a people's prosperity or decay you must look 
for it in the peculiarities of its organism which rendered 
it particularly fit to make use of contemporaneous knowl- 
edge, or in the appearance of new knowledge which it was 
not physically able to utilise as it had its old knowledge. 
If the elements of a civilisation are given and you wish to 
describe with accuracy its parent race, on its mental side, 
at any rate, the same principle will serve as a guide. In 
this way we have been able, instinctively, to describe the 
psychology of the primitive Etruscan or Babylonian. A 

1 From this it follows that everywhere, at any given moment in 
history, the superior classes belong to races that are more mixed and 
complex and artificial than those of the inferior classes. In Egypt, 
the fellah has remained like the ancient Egyptians, whereas his mas- 
ters have fallen away from the ancient type. The higher the class, 
the more extensive its matrimonial market. The higher you mount 
in the ranks of the old French nobility, the more scattered do you 
find its marriages. The royal family was at the top and it had all 
Europe for its matrimonial domain. 

Extra-Logical Influences 239 

people who were marvellously gifted for the chase and whose 
very agility and more brilliant parts unfitted them for pas- 
toral occupations, had inevitably, in spite of their vigour, to 
succumb in a pastoral period, just as nowadays, in our in- 
dustrial cities the old-fashioned poetic or artistic tempera- 
ment succumbs. In general, the advent of some new race 
corresponds to every fresh influx of important, civilisation- 
shaping inventions. It may be because the established race 
was born without the traits required in the exploitation of 
the rising ideas, or, because, although it may once have 
have had these traits, it has come to lose them while it was 
controlled by its old ideas. Every established civilisation 
ends by creating its own race. Our own civilisation, for 
example, is engaged in shaping for itself the American of 
the future. 

Let me conclude with the observation that the social 
peaks, the classes or nations which are most imitated by 
others, are those within which the greatest amount of re- 
ciprocal imitation goes on. Great modern cities are char- 
acterised by the intensity of their imitation of internal 
things; it is proportionate to the density of their population 
and to the multiform multiplicity of the relations of their 
inhabitants. This, as M. Bordier justly remarks, accounts 
for the " epidemic and contagious " nature of their fashions 
and vices, as well as of their maladies and of all the striking 
phenomena which occur in them. Formerly, the aristo- 
cratic classes, especially the royal courts, were distinguished 
by this same characteristic. 1 

6. The law which I have been developing is certainly 
very simple; but I think that if we do not lose it from 
view certain points of history which have hitherto been ob- 
scure may be cleared up. To cite one only, what is more 
shadowy than the formation of the feudal system during the 
Merovingian and Carolingian period? In spite of the ser- 
vice of Fustel de Coulanges in throwing light upon this 
subject by revealing the Roman origins of many alleged 
German institutions, many sides of the question are still 

1 See Vie des societes, p. 159. 

240 Laws of Imitation 

obscure, and I certainly do not pretend to scatter all theil' 
shadows. But I take the liberty of pointing out to his- 
torians who are throwing light upon these dark places 
that among other things they may have failed to suffi- 
ciently reckon with the examples set by the Merovingian 
king and the inevitable radiations of these examples. The 
majority of historians have not taken the trouble to notice 
that the feudal tie of the lord to his vassal as it was con- 
stituted and generalised in the ninth and tenth centuries 
is strangely like the relation between the king and his an- 
trustions as it existed in some of the royal palaces during 
the fifth and sixth centuries. If historians have noted 
this fact, they have not classified it properly. The antrus- 
tion is devoted body and soul to his king, like a vassal 
to his lord, in return for the protection which shields him. 
In the beginning, to be sure, the antrustionship is tempo- 
rary, but it soon becomes hereditary and proprietary as well. 
M. Glasson writes that " land grants were at an early time 
attached to the antrustionship, and this dignity was trans- 
mitted from father to son long before the capitulary of 
Kiersy recognised the hereditary character of benefices and 
offices." Thus, the two main features of feudalism, in- 
heritance and land-tenure, existed in the case of the an- 
trustion before existing in the case of the beneficiary. Is it 
not natural to see in the latter a manifolded copyist of the 
former, and for the same reason to consider the beneficiaries 
of beneficiaries, the petty vassals of a great vassal, as new 
imitative editions of the same model ? 1 It is a con- 
troverted question," as M. Glasson puts it, " whether the 
king alone had antrustions or whether the great nobles were 

1 This attempt to solve the problem of feudalism must not be con- 
founded with an hypothesis which has been put forth concerning the 
origin of the nobility. It has been queried whether the Prankish 
nobility is not derived, physiologically, from the antrustions. M. 
Glasson denies this, and, apparently, with reason. Nobles are born 
(in the vital meaning of the word) from royal functionaries whose 
functions have become hereditary. This does not preclude the fact 
that in gaining the inheritance they must have thought of the 
antrustions and desired to have them themselves. 

Extra-Logical Influences 241 

also entitled to have them. In my opinion no decisive 
reason can be given on one side or the other." But how 
can we admit that the nobles could have withstood the de- 
sire to have the same kind of body-guards as those of their 
monarch ? Call to mind La Fontaine's line : " Every petty 
prince has his ambassadors." The oath of homage and al- 
legiance is another characteristic of the feudal tie; and is 
it not a multiplied copy of the oath of fidelity pledged to 
the Merovingian kings by their subjects? There is nothing 
analogous to this oath under the Roman Empire. It would 
have been very surprising if this peculiar custom had not 
made an impression, and if, later on, when suzerains had 
come to exact the same kind of an oath from their followers, 
it had not been the thing to suggest this idea to them. 
Finally, is not the origin of most of the feudal rights ex- 
plained quite naturally by certain of the imposts or rents 
that were the dues of the Merovingian monarch? M. 
Glasson says, for example, that " the custom of making 
gifts to the king under certain circumstances, notably on 
the occasion of fetes or marriages, already existed under 
the Merovingians. . . . The first Carolingians regulated 
this custom and changed these gifts into a direct tax." * 
Now, later on " under feudalism, the nobles exacted similar 
gifts from their vassals'' z on precisely the same kind of 
occasions. Is not this significant? Why should not these 
royal examples have been imitated when it is known that so 
many others were imitated, especially those which help to 
explain to us the characteristics taken on by mediaeval serf- 
dom? It has been asked how it was that the serf of the 
Merovingian period, from whom his master could exact 
almost arbitrarily any service whatsoever, came to evolve 
into the serf of the eleventh century from whom only a 
fixed quit-rent could be demanded? The answer has been 
made in drawing attention to the fact that this substitution 
of a fixed for an arbitrary arrangement began by being an 

1 [Histoire du droit et des institutions de la France, II, 482. E. 
Glasson, Paris, 1888. Tr.] 
[/&</., II, 483- Tr.] 

242 Laws of Imitation 

innovation in the royal and ecclesiastical domains. To 
quote again from the learned author I have already cited, 
" the nobles imitated the Church, the abbeys, and the king 
in all their acts, and the quit-rent tended to become a fixed 
charge everywhere." 

Fustel de Coulanges is too clear-sighted to have altogether 
misinterpreted the importance of the antrustions. In his 
Origines du systeme feodal, where he studies minutely the 
Roman, Gothic, and German sources of feudalism, he dedi- 
cates a few pages, but only a few, to the king's trust in 
the midst of long chapters upon the Roman precarium, upon 
benefices, patronage, etc. It is a pity, in my humble opin- 
ion, that he puts the first of these subjects in the same or, 
in fact, in a considerably lower rank than the others, and I 
think that he would have escaped this error had he reckoned 
upon the universal tendency of men to copy one another, 
and, above all, had he considered the particularly contagious 
nature of royal example in all periods of history. To be 
sure, the Roman precarium and even the various kinds of 
benefice and patronage, Germanic, Roman, or Gallic, are 
merely modes of land appropriation and of personal sub- 
jection; they are without any military character and, in 
general, they lack the religious sanction of the oath. Those 
customs are undoubtedly the conditions and even the very 
roots of the feudal tie, but they do not constitute it. They 
are too trivial and too widespread among the most diverse 
nations to explain adequately one of the most original 
forms of society that the world has ever seen. Only when 
these different sources met in a single current in the court 
of the Merovingian king, in a military and sacramental 
setting, did the germ of feudalism really expand. Our 
eminent historian seems to almost recognise this in the fol- 
lowing remarkable passage (p. 332) : " We already find 
here," he says, in concluding his over-short chapter on the 
royal trust, " certain features which will persist in feudalism. 
In the first place we find as essentials, the oath and the con- 
tract; we also find that the oath is taken in its characteristic 
form, upon the hand of the chief, sword at side. Finally, 

Extra-Logical Influences 243 

we find certain terms which are also characteristic, the 
terms trusty man [fidele], friend, peer, and, in particular, 
the Germanic term which corresponds to the term man 
[homme]." The italics are mine. Truly, I cannot conceive 
why the author did not attach more importance later on to 
such striking analogies. We shall reread his book in vain 
to find anything in all his careful analyses of other institu- 
tions which is anywhere near as closely suggestive of feud- 

Only one feature, I repeat, is lacking in this picture of 
perfect resemblance. The title of antrustion is purely in- 
dividual, it is not inherited. A man becomes a king's an- 
trustion by spontaneous agreement. The title of vassal in 
the tenth century is, on the contrary, hereditary, and al- 
though the necessity of new investiture with every genera- 
tion, through the plighting of a new oath of homage 
and allegiance, is recognised, as a matter of fact it merely 
testifies to the original voluntary and contractual nature 
of a tie which has eventually come to be innate and heredi- 
tary. This difference is explained by another law of imita- 
tion which we are about to discuss, the law by which fashion 
entrenches itself as custom, i. e., the hereditary consolida- 
tion of what began by spreading itself contagiously from 
contemporary to contemporary. 

After all, the preceding historical hypothesis is only 
offered as a specimen of the services which, in more skilful 
and scholarly hands, might be rendered by the application 
of the general ideas which we have been developing. 



Custom and Fashion 

THE presumption of superiority which recommends one 
among a thousand examples of equal logical value, attaches 
not only to the persons, classes, and localities from which 
the example emanates, but to the time of its origin as well. 
I intend to devote this chapter to a consideration of this last- 
named order of influences. It is, we see, only a consequence 
of the law of the imitation of the superior, looked at under a 
fresh aspect. Let us begin by laying down the principle that 
even in societies which are, like our own, the most over-run 
with foreign and contemporary (thus doubly accredited) 
literature, institutions, ideas, and turns of speech, ancestral 
prestige still immensely outweighs the prestige of these 
recent innovations. Let us compare some of the few 
English, German, and Russian words that have recently 
been popularised, with the foundations of our old French 
vocabulary; some of the fashionable theories on evolution 
or pessimism with the mass of our ancient traditional con- 
victions; our present-day reform legislation with the bulk 
of our codes, whose fundamental points are as ancient as 
Roman law; and so on. Imitation, then, that is engaged in 
the currents of fashion is but a very feeble stream compared 
with the great torrent of custom. And this must necessarily 
be so. 1 But, however slender this stream may be, its 

1 Just as from the social point of view, or, at least, from the point 
of view of temporary, if not lasting, social peace, it is much more 
important that beliefs should be held in common than that they should 
be true, hence the supreme importance of religions ; so, from the 


Extra-Logical Influences 245 

work of inundation or irrigation is considerable, and it 
behoves us to study its periodic rises and falls in the very 
irregular kind of rhythm in which they occur. 

In all countries a certain kind of revolution is gradually 
effected in people's minds. The habit of taking on faith 
one's priests and one's ancestors is superseded by the habit 
of repeating the words of contemporary innovators. This 
is called substituting the spirit of investigation for cre- 
dulity. Actually, it is merely a welcoming of foreign and 
persuasive ideas following upon a blind acceptance of tra- 
ditional and authoritative affirmations. By persuasion is 
meant the apparent agreement of these foreign ideas with 
those that are already established in dogmatic minds, that is, 
with dogmatic ideas. The difference, we see, does not lie in 
the voluntary or non- voluntary nature of the acceptance. If 
traditional affirmations are accepted, I will not say more 
freely, but more quickly and vigorously, by the mind of the 
child, and are imposed upon it through authority, not 
through persuasion, it means that the mind of the child was 
a tabula rasa when the dogmas came into it, and that to be 
received they had neither to confirm nor contradict any 

same point of view, the important thing in the matter of public in- 
struction is the common, much more than the useful, nature of knowl- 
edge; or, rather, the principal utility of knowledge consists in its 
being common property, consists in its very diffusion. It is cer- 
tainly easy to prove that the teaching of Greek and Latin is not the 
most useful thing in relation to human wants (aside from the want 
which we are about to discuss), any more than such and such re- 
ligious dogmas are among the things of which we have the best 
proofs. The only advantage, but it is a big one, of maintaining this 
instruction, is in not breaking the chain between generations, in not cut- 
ting ourselves off too sharply and too utterly from our forefathers 
and from each other; in conforming ourselves as members of an 
educated class to one another and to our forebears in order that, 
united by the tie of imitating the same model, we shall not fail to 
form one single society. Although a youth might possess much truer 
and much more valuable knowledge than our collegiate students, if 
he did not know what they knew, he would be socially estranged 
from them. This is, at bottom, the real and inner reason, whether 
avowed or unconscious, why, even in spite of unanimous criticism, 
respect for so many archaic things persists. There is no stronger 
confirmation than this of the conception of the social tie that has 
been brought out in this book. 

246 Laws of Imitation 

idea that was already established there. They had only to 
arouse fresh curiosity, and to give it indifferent satisfaction. 
This is the whole difference. It follows that the authorita- 
tive form of impression must have necessarily preceded the 
persuasive form, and that the latter is an outcome of the 

Similarly, in every country, a like revolution occurs in the 
case of people's volitions. Passive obedience to ancestral 
orders, customs, and influence, comes to be not replaced, but 
neutralised in part, by submission to the pressure, advice, 
and suggestions of contemporaries. In acting according 
to these last-named motives, the modern man flatters himself 
that he is making a free choice of the propositions that are 
made to him, whereas, in reality, the one that he welcomes 
and follows is the one that meets his pre-existent wants and 
desires, wants and desires which are the outcome of his 
habits and customs, of his whole past of obedience. 

The epochs, and societies in which the prestige of an- 
tiquity rules exclusively are those where, as in ancient Rome, 
antiquity means, in addition to its proper sense, some be- 
loved object. Nihil mihi antiquius est, nothing is dearer to 
me, said Cicero. In China and Siberia 1 you tell the passer- 
by, to please him, that he looks aged, and your interlocutor 
is deferentially addressed as elder brother. The epochs and 
the societies which are, on the contrary, controlled by the 
prestige of novelty are those where it is proverbial to say 
that everything new is admirable. And yet the traditional 
and customary element is always, I repeat, preponderant in 
social life, and this preponderance is forcibly revealed in the 
way in which the most radical and revolutionary innova- 
tions spread abroad; for their supporters can further them 
only through oratorical or literary talent, through superior 
handling of language, not of scientific, or philosophic, or 
technical language, all bristling with new terms, but of the 
old and antique language of the people, so well known to 

1 See Dostoiesky's Maison des marts. And so in Siberia, in speaking 
of a man twenty years old, they say : " My respects to old man so- 

Extra-Logical Influences 247 

Luther and Voltaire and Rousseau. The old ground is 
always the vantage-point from which to tumble down old 
edifices and to rear up new ones. The established morality 
is always the basis for the introduction of new political 

It seems as if I ought to cross-classify the foregoing 
distinctions between imitation of a native and ancient model 
and imitation of a new and foreign model. Is it not pos- 
sible for both the ancient and the novel models to have 
prestige, although the former is neither native, nor the 
latter foreign to either family or city? This may be so, of 
course, but it is such a rare occurrence that it is not worth 
the trouble of making the distinction. Those epochs whose 
byword is " everything new is admirable " are essentially 
externalised on the surface, at least, for we know that in 
reality they are more deeply penetrated than they think for 
by ancestral religion; and those epochs whose unique 
maxim is " everything antique is good," live a life wholly 
from within. When we no longer venerate the past of 
our family or city we cease, a fortiori, to venerate every 
other past, and the present alone seems to inspire us with 
respect. Inversely, when it is only necessary to be blood- 
kindred or compatriots, to be considered equals, the stranger 
alone seems to produce as a rule that impression of respect 
which leads to imitation. Remoteness in space acts here 
like the remoteness in time in the former case. In periods 
when custom is in the ascendant, men are more infatuated 
about their country than about their time; for it is the past 
which is pre-eminently praised. In ages when fashion 
rules, men are prouder, on the contrary, of their time than 
of their country. 

Is the revolution to which I have referred universal and 
necessary? It is, for the reason that independently of any 
contact with alien civilisation, a given people within a given 
territory must inevitably continue to grow in numbers, and 
must no less inevitably progress in consequence towards 
urban life. Now, this progress causes the nervous excita- 
bility which develops aptitude for imitation. Primitive 

248 Laws of Imitation 

rural communities can only imitate their fathers, and so 
they acquire the habit of ever turning towards the past, be- 
cause the only period of their life in which they are open to 
the impressions of a model is their infancy, the age that is 
characterised by nervous susceptibility, and because, as chil- 
dren, they are under paternal rule. On the other hand, the 
nervous plasticity and openness to impressions of adults in 
cities is in general well enough preserved to permit them to 
continue to model themselves upon new types brought in 
from outside. 

In contradiction to this view may be cited the example 
of nomadic peoples like the Tartars, Arabs, etc., who appear 
for many centuries past to have been irrevocably tradition- 
bound. But perhaps, or, rather, undoubtedly, their present 
state of immobility is the end of the historic cycle which 
they had to traverse, the equilibrium which they have 
reached at the close of the anterior stages in which their 
semi-civilisation was formed by means of successive impor- 
tations. In fact, the corresponding involution of the revolu- 
tion we have discussed is no less necessary. Man escapes, 
and then but partly, from the yoke of custom, only to fall 
under it again, that is, to fix and consolidate, in falling 
under it again, the conquests due to his temporary emanci- 
pation. If he is full of genius and vitality, he escapes again 
and makes new conquests, only to pause for the second time, 
and so on. These are the historic somersaults of the great 
peoples of civilisation. There is a notable proof of this in 
the fact that the progress of urban life is not continuous; 
after accesses of fever like that which is now raging 
through Europe, it suffers intermittent setbacks and lets 
rural life develop again at its expense. This development 
takes place in all manner of ways, not only in the numerical 
increase of scattered rural and village communities, but, 
likewise, in the increase of wealth and welfare and en- 
lightment outside of the great centres. A mature civili- 
sation like China, for example, or ancient Egypt, or the Peru 
of the Incas ( ?), or feudal Europe in the twelfth century,. 
is always essentially rural in the sense that the general level 

Extra-Logical Influences 249 

of its cities remains static, while that of its country districts 
continues to rise. Our own Europe, according to all proba- 
bilities, and in spite of the apparent unlikelihood of this 
hypothesis, is bound towards a like goal. 

But this final return from the spirit of fashion to that of 
custom is in no sense a retrogression. In order to thor- 
oughly understand it, it is necessary to throw some light on 
the analogies presented by animate nature. Let us note that 
each of the three great forms of universal repetition, vibra- 
tion, reproduction, and imitation, is at first tied Up with and 
subservient to the form from which it sprang, but that it 
soon tends to escape and, then, to subordinate the latter to 
itself. Among the vegetal and the lowest animal species we 
see that reproduction is the slave of vibration. Their vital- 
ity, in its alternating periods of torpor and revival, follows 
closely upon changes of season, upon solar light and! 
heat, whose ethereal vibrations stimulate the vibrating mole- 
cules of organic substances. But as life evolves, it consents 
less docilely to turn like a top under the whip of the sun's 
rays; and, although it can never escape from the enforced 
flagellation, it gradually transforms it into a regulative 
thing. Thanks to various processes which permit it to store 
up the products of solar radiation, it succeeds in holding in 
reserve certain internal explosives and combustibles which 
are always ready for the nervous system to use. Life sets 
them off and burns them up at its own pleasure, not at that 
of the seasons, in order to give itself the vibratory stimulus 
that is indispensable to muscular effort, to flying, to jump- 
ing, to fighting. A moment comes when life not only does 
not depend upon physical forces, i. e., the great currents of 
ethereal or molecular vibrations and the combustions which - 
generate them, but, in large measure, controls them. Man, 
who even in the most extreme types of civilisation, remains 
a simple living being, changes night into day, winter into 
summer, the north into the south, with his street lights, his 
furnaces, and his locomotives, and renders subject to him- 
self, one after the other, all the vibratory energies of nature, 
heat, electricity, and even the light of the sun. 

250 Laws of Imitation 

Generation seems to me to hold analogous relations to 
imitation. In the beginning, it is likewise fitting that the 
latter should timidly attach itself to the former, like a child 
to its parent. And we see that in all very primitive societies 
the privileges of being believed in and obeyed, and of set- 
ting the example, are connected with the function of 
procreation. The father is imitated because he is the 
procreator. If an invention is to be imitated, it must be 
adopted by the pater familias, and the domain in which it 
can spread terminates with the limits of the family. The 
family must multiply for it to continue to spread. Because 
?af the same principle or the same connection of ideas, the 
transmission of sacerdotal or monarchical power is con- 
ceived of, at a less remote period, as possible only by way of 
inheritance, and the vital principle regulates the course of 
the social principle. Then every race has its own language, 
its own religion, its own legislation, and its own nationality. 
Parenthetically, I may say that the desire in our own day 
to give an exorbitant historical importance to the idea of 
race is a sort of anachronism a naturalistic point of view 
which can only be explained by the remarkable progress of 
the natural sciences. 

But, from the very beginning, every discovery or inven- 
tion feels itself cramped within the limits of the family 
or tribe, or even within those of the race, and seeks expan- 
sion by a less lengthy method than the procreation of chil- 
dren; and, from time to time, some invention will burst its 
bounds and cause itself to be imitated outside, thereby 
making a road for others. This tendency of imitation to 
free itself from reproduction hides, at first, under the in- 
genious mask of the latter, under the fiction of adoption, 
for example, or naturalisation of foreigners, adoption by 
the nation. It manifests itself more boldly in the admission 
of aliens to national worship (the admission of the Gentiles, 
for example, to the Jewish and Christian rites after the time 
of St. Paul), in the appearance of so-called proselyting 
religions, in the substitution of an elective or consecrated 
priesthood for an hereditary priesthood or of an elective 

Extra-Logical Influences 251 

presidency for hereditary rulership, in the power accorded 
to the lower classes to participate in the honours of the 
upper classes (the honour accorded to the plebeians, for 
example, of becoming praetors or consuls like the patri- 
cians), in people's growing eagerness to learn foreign lan- 
guages or to learn the ruling dialect of their own country 
to the neglect of the local patois, and to copy every striking 
peculiarity in the customs, arts, and institutions of 

Finally, the social principle becomes despotic in turn, and 
dominates, in its emancipation, the vital principle. At first 
a feeble body of inventions, an embryonic civilisation, de- 
pended upon the pleasure of the race in which it had 
appeared for a chance to spread. It could hope to spread 
only as its race spread. Later on, on the contrary, after a 
conquering civilisation has made the tour of the world, no 
race can survive or propagate itself unless it be apt, and only 
in the measure that it is apt, in developing that potent body 
of discoveries and inventions that is organised in sciences 
and industries. Then, too, practical Malthusianism is in- 
troduced into the habits of society. This may be taken as a 
negative form of the subjection of reproduction to imita- 
tion, since it consists in restraining the power of the former 
within the estimated limits of production, i. e., of labour, 
an essentially imitative thing. 1 We have the positive form 
not only, as I have said, in the choice of the fittest race to 
further the civilising idea, but also in the gradual forma- 
tion of new races for this purpose, races born of age-long 
habits and of chance or deliberate intercrossings. The 
day may already be foreseen when civilised man, after hav- 
ing created so many vegetal and animal varieties to satisfy 
his own wants or whims, and after having kneaded at 
will the lower forms of life, as if to train himself for 
some higher purpose, will dare to approach the problem of 
directing his own development, of scientifically and delib- 

1 The most exaggerated expression of this negative subjection of 
generation to imitation is found in the monastic orders which exact, 
together with the vow of obedience (or, rather, of both obedience and 
conformity in belief), the vow of chastity. 

252 Laws of Imitation 

erately transforming his own physical nature in the direc- 
tion most consistent with the ultimate intent of his civilisa- 

But, while we wait for this living masterpiece of human 
art, for this artificial and superior human race which is 
destined to supplant all known races, we can say that each 
of the national types that has been formed since the dawn of 
history is a fixed variety of the human type, due to the 
long-continued action of some particular civilisation which 
has unwittingly created it for its mirror. In less than 
two centuries we have seen the birth and establish- 
ment in the United States of an Anglo-American type. 
This original product serves many sides of our European 
civilisation as an admirable means for their propagation 
and progress. The same thing has always happened in the 
past. English, Spanish, French, Roman, Greek, Phoeni- 
cian, Persian, Hindoo, Egyptian, and other living or 
dead products of social domestication are merely modi- 
fied offshoots of the ancient Aryan or Semitic trunk. 

I have purposely omitted the Chinese type, although it 
probably realises the most complete adaptation of a given 
race to a given civilisation in the fact that each has become 
inseparable from the other. In this case, the civilisation 
seems to have been moulded by the race as much as the race 
by the civilisation, to infer from the essentially familial 
character which this people has retained in spite of its 
prodigious expansion. The complete harmony of these two 
elements without any very apparent subordination of either 
of them to the other, is not the least peculiarity of this 
unique empire. It has known how to make much out of 
little in all things; in it the national is only the domestic 
on an immense scale. This is true, too, of its civilisation 
taken as a whole. Like its other features, it has remained 
rudimentary in spite of its refinement and even high at- 
tainments. Its language has grown rich and cultivated 
without ceasing to be monosyllabic. Its government is 
both patriarchal and imperialistic. In its religion 
animism and ancestor-worship persist under the purest 

Extra-Logical Influences 253 

form of spiritualism. Its art is as awkward and childish 
as it is subtle. Its agricultural system is simple and yet 
finished. Its industry is backward, and yet it thrives. In 
a word, China has been able to stop, all along the line, in 
the first of the three stages which I have indicated, and 
its example proves to us that, although the order of their 
succession is irreversible, a people is not obliged to pass 
through all of them to the end. 

Now, what happens when a certain original form of civ- 
ilisation has arisen and spread within a tribe for centuries 
through custom, and has then passed beyond and spread in 
neighbouring related or unrelated tribes through fashion, de- 
veloping itself all the while, what happens when it ends 
by welding together all the tribes in which it has 
spread into a new human variety which is called a na- 
tion? When this physical type is once fixed, the civ- 
ilisation attaches itself to it; it seems to have created 
it only to settle down in it. Ceasing to look beyond 
its own frontiers, it thinks only of its own posterity, 
and forgets the foreigner as long, at least, as he does not 
force it to pay attention to him by some rude external 
shake-up. At this time everything in it takes on a national 
garb. It is to be observed that sooner or later every civ- 
ilisation tends towards this period of drawing in upon and 
consolidating itself. Although our own European civilisa- 
tion is following in all directions and through all varieties 
of races its own line of expansion, yet even it already shows 
plain signs of an inclination to choose out or fashion for 
itself some universally invading and exterminating race. 
Which will be this chosen and privileged race? Will it be 
Germanic or neo-Latin ? And what part, alas ! will be 
played by French blood in its definite formation? An 
anxious question for a patriotic heart ! But " the future 
is no man's," says the poet. However this may be, imita- 
tion which was at first custom-imitation and then fashion- 
imitation, turns back again to custom, but under a form that 
is singularly enlarged and precisely opposite to its first 
form. In fact, primitive custom obeys, whereas custom in 

254 Laws of Imitation 

its final stage commands, generation. The one is the ex- 
ploitation of a social by a living form; the other, the 
exploitation of a living by a social form. 

This is the general formula which sums up the whole de- 
velopment of every civilisation, at least of all those which 
have been able to go the length of their course without 
sudden annihilation. But this formula applies even better 
to each of the partial developments of a society, to the little 
secondary waves which fringe, as it were, and constitute 
its full onward sweep, that is to say, to the evolution, as 
we shall show in the following sections of this chapter, of 
each of its separate elements, to language, religion, govern- 
ment, law, industry, art, and morality. 

If the distinction between custom epochs and fashion 
epochs is not clearly defined in history, if it does not seem 
salient to historians, it is because epidemics of foreign imi- 
tation and sheeplike innovation very rarely flourish in all, or 
almost all, the regions of social activity at the same time. 
To-day they may make a revolutionary attack upon re- 
ligion, to-morrow, upon politics or literature; another day, 
upon language, etc. Communities are like individuals; 
they are often revolutionary in politics and at the same 
time set and orthodox in religion, or innovators in politics 
and conservative purists and classicists in literature. 

And the periods of these crises vary greatly in length in 
different cases. When by exception many of them do occur 
together, as, for example, in the Greek world in the sixth 
and fifth centuries before Christ, or as in Europe in the six- 
teenth or eighteenth centuries of our era, or as in contem- 
poraneous Japan, 1 it is then impossible to misunderstand 
the eminently revolutionary character of the times or not 
to note their contrast to the ages which immediately pre- 
ceded or followed them. But such synchronisms are rare. 

1 The frenzy for foreign imitation which reigns at present in Japan 
is exceptional, but not as much so as one might think. I hope, in 
this chapter, to dispose my reader to surmise that similar fevers have 
appeared here and there from the most remote period of antiquity, 
and that this hypothesis can alone explain many obscure events. 

Extra-Logical Influences 255 

With the benefit of this observation, let us apply our three- 
fold division to the different aspects of social life and 
examine the facts which it explains. 

I. Language 

Different families or clans originally speak each its own 
separate tongue, 1 until the day comes when they begin to 
form a tribe; then the advantage of speaking a common 
idiom is appreciated, and, during a more or less prolonged 
period, one of the idioms, that generally of the ruling fam- 
ily, suppresses all the others. 

The members of ruling families who have known and 
who have wished to know only the language of their fath- 
ers, come to learn, as a matter of fashion or taste, that of 
their foreign masters. Then, when the fusion of blood is 
completely effected, the tongue of the tribe, the great new 
family, first spreads and then takes root. It is a language 
that, after having begun by being foreign to the greater 
number of those who speak it, has, in turn, become a native 

1 1 agree entirely with those philologists who assert that language 
did not appear spontaneously in an infinite number of places and 
families at the same time. However natural the desire of com- 
municating one's thoughts to one's fellows may have become, it was 
certainly not able to bring the invention of speech into existence 
everywhere at the same time. Besides, let me remark that this desire 
was developed through the very speech which satisfied it, and did not 
exist before it, so to speak. It is extremely likely that it was ex- 
perienced exceptionally violently by some savage of genius, and that 
through him the first manifestations of language took place in a 
single family. From this family, as from a centre, the example of 
this fruitful innovation spread very rapidly, and straightway brought 
to speaking families so great an advantage over non-speaking families, 
that the latter speedily disappeared ; so that from that time on the 
faculty of speech became the characteristic of the human species. Only, 
and on this point we must uphold M. Sayce and other eminent philolo- 
gists who oppose the monogenists, it was not so much the first 
crude products of linguistic invention which were imitated as this new 
direction of the inventor's spirit. All ingenious members of primitive 
families were more inspired when they heard spoken words for the 
first time to invent articulations like those, or pretty much like those, 
which they had heard, than to reproduce the very same articulations. 

256 Laws of Imitation 

tongue, and one exclusively dear to all its speakers, who 
despise and reject all other foreign idioms. This is not 
all. It is well to observe that from now on the family, I 
mean the artificial as well as natural, patriarchal family of 
kinsfolk, slaves, and adopted strangers, is not the only 
primitive social group. By the side of it must be con- 
sidered as the yeast of all ulterior progress, the inevitable 
reunion of the unclassed, of all the family outcasts, who 
are forced to organise into hordes for conquest or self- 
protection. The number of these outcasts increases with 
the increasing despotism of domestic law under patriarchal 
rule. If imitation is the true social life, these physiolog- 
ically heterogenous elements will have no difficulty, even in 
the most primitive times, in merging together socially. 
From a linguistic point of view, this fusion will result in 
the creation of a composite language like the hybrid idioms 
of certain seaport towns. There has been, then, not only 
in periods of decay, but from the very beginning, a kind of 
philological as well as a kind of religious syncretism. 
But let us continue. Later on, when tribes themselves 

This must have been the great occupation of the nascent imagination. 
Sayce also says very truly : " It is perfectly plain that at a certain period 
of social life the tendency to express one's self inarticulate language must 
have been irresistible. Man must have rejoiced, like the savage or like 
the child of to-day in exploiting his newly acquired power. The 
child never tires of repeating the words which it has learned; the 
savage and the primary scholar of imitating new ones." Hence the 
originally infinite multiplicity of tongues. That unity of language which 
is imagined by the partisans of monogenism cannot be attributed to 
the beginning, but only to the end, of philological evolution. " Modern 
races are only the chosen remainder of an innumerable variety of 
vanished species. As much can certainly be said of languages. . . . 
Here and there certain languages have been stereotyped and spared by 
some happy selection; here and there the fragments of certain others 
may be found ; but the largest number have perished as utterly as the 
animals of geological antiquity. . . . Pliny tells us that in Cocylium 
there were more than three hundred dialects. Sagard reckoned in 
1631 that among the Hurons of North America the same language 
was rarely found in two villages or even in two families within the 
same village." And this is not surprising, if we call to mind the 
permanent hostility which separates all families in primitive times. 
The following statement is still stranger : " In the island of Tas- 
mania, a population of fifty persons had no less than four dialects." 

Extra-Logical Influences 257 

seek to mingle together and form a confederation, the 
same phases are repeated on a larger scale. From the dif- 
fusion of one of the characteristic tribal languages and the 
suppression of the others, we pass on to the first foreign 
and, then, in turn, maternal, language of the city. Later 
on there is a new series in the same rhythm. The languages 
of cities and provinces which have concentrated into states 
vanish before the fatuous adoption 1 of one among them, and 
the resulting triumphant language finally becomes a national 
tongue which is as jealous and exclusive, as custom-bound 
and traditional, as those which preceded it. We ourselves 
are at this stage. But do we in Europe, where the need of 
international alliance and confederation is so manifest, do 
we not feel the anticipatory signs of the opening of a new 
period ? Our mania for borrowing from the vocabularies of 
neighbouring peoples and our craze for teaching our chil- 
dren foreign languages are clear indications of this. Neol- 
ogism flourishes everywhere, just as archaism once flour- 
ished. A certain language which is spreading with gigantic 
strides I do not mean Volapuk, I mean English is tend- 
ing to become universal. The day may come when this 
language, or some other, a language which will be the uni- 
versal mother-tongue and which will be as familiar, as fixed, 
and as lasting as it is cultivated and widespread, will merge 
the whole human species into a single social family. 

Within every separate nation, large or small, we may 
observe analagous effects. Tocqueville has very justly re- 
marked that in aristocratic societies where, as we know, 
everything is hereditary or customary each class has not 
only its own habits, but its own tongue, a tongue which it has 
carved out of the common idiom for itself. It " adopts by 
choice certain words and certain terms which afterwards 

1 And how rapidly this takes place at times ! The following is one 
example among a thousand. Friedlander tells us that " not more 
than twenty years had elapsed after the entire submission of Pan- 
nonia, when Velleius Paterculus wrote his history, and when knowl- 
edge of the Latin language and even that of its literature had spread 
to a host of places in the wild and rough and wholly barbarous region 
which included Hungary, together with the eastern part of Austria." 

258 Laws of Imitation 

pass from generation to generation like their estates. The 
same idiom then comprises a language of the poor and a 
language of the rich, a language of the plebeian and a lan- 
guage of the nobility, a learned language and a vulgar one." 
and, let me add, a sacred language and a secular language, 
the language of ceremonial and the language of everyday 
speech. On the contrary, when " men, being no longer re- 
strained by ranks, meet on terms of constant intercourse," 
that is to say, when fashion-imitation begins to act openly, 
" all the words of a language are mingled and patois dis- 
appear. There is no patois in the New World." 1 

A language can spread in two ways by means of fashion. 
Thanks to conquest or to its own recognised literary su- 
periority, it may be studied voluntarily by the aristocracies 
of neighbouring nations; they will be the first to renounce 
their own barbarous tongues and, later on, to inspire the 
lower classes with either a vain or a utilitarian desire to 
renounce them also. In the second place, it may exert a 
very sensible influence over those nations which it has not 
succeeded in subjugating in this way. Although the former 
may preserve their own maternal idiom, yet they copy the 
latter in their literature, they borrow from it the construc- 
tion of its phrases, the harmony of its periods, its refinements, 
its prosody. This second kind of external imitation, this 
so-called literary cultivation of a language, frequently occurs 
in history and often coincides with the first kind. Thus at 
Rome, in the time of the Scipios, the young nobles not only 
studied Greek, they Hellenised the style of their own tongue. 
In France, in the sixteenth century, the nobility first learned 
to speak Spanish and Italian and then adapted French to 
Spanish and Italian phraseology. To go farther back into 
the past, it is probable that the Persian Persianised in this 
way neighbouring tongues, that the Arab Arabianised them, 

Now, in the one form or other, linguistic fashion 

1 [Democracy in America, II, 82, Alexis de Tocqueville. Englisfi 
translation by Henry Reeve, Cambridge, 1863, 2d edition. Tr.] 

Extra-Logical Influences 259 

leads to custom. The foreign tongue that is studied and 
substituted for the maternal idiom, becomes, as I have said, 
the mother-tongue; the foreign' culture which is introduced 
into a national language becomes national itself before long. 
In less than a century the Greek periods, the Greek metres, 
and the Greek constructions that were borrowed by Latin 
incorporated themselves in the genius of the Latin language 
and came to be transmitted as national products. 

But throughout the above remarks I have attributed to 
imitation of foreigner and contemporary many changes 
which are due in large part to imitation of superior. It is, 
in fact, very difficult to distinguish between these two kinds 
of contagion. The former, however, does sometimes ap- 
pear to be experienced by itself, notably in that badly 
demarcated period where, in the night, in the vast forest of 
the early Middle Ages, the Romance languages were born, 
like so many philological cryptogams, with such rapidity 
and in such obscurity. The linguists, like the old-time 
naturalists, have been in great haste to explain this ap- 
parently miraculous phenomenon on the hypothesis of true 
spontaneous generation. I confess that I am not satisfied; 
by their explanation, and I think I can affirm that the sup- 
posed miracle will continue to be mysterious until we come 
to take another idea as our starting point, the idea, namely, 
that towards the ninth century of our era, the spirit of in- 
vention, having turned a little capriciously in the direction 
of language, perhaps because every other outlet was closed 
to it by circumstances, the breath of fashion, so to speak, 
began to blow, and for a long time drove and scattered to 
the four corners of Latin Europe and even beyond the 
new germs that had appeared somewhere or other, it mat- 
ters little just where. If, as we are assured, the Romance 
idioms were born on the spot from the spontaneous decom- 
position of Latin in consequence of the breaking off of all 
pre-existing communication between the disintegrated pop- 
ulations of the Empire, it would be astonishing to find that 
Latin had been corrupted everywhere at the same time and 
in equal degree, and that nowhere, in no little isolated 

26 o Laws of Imitation 

region, had the old Latin tongue survived with its declen- 
sions, its conjugations, and its syntax. 

Such simultaneousness, such universality of corruption, 
in a time of such distraction and in the case of such a 
tenacious and such a live thing as language, may well as- 
tonish us. Moreover, if this were so, what should we think 
of the uniformity of structure which is to be observed be- 
tween all the dialects and languages which germinated to- 
gether from the rotten trunk of Latin? Certain "close 
and profound analogies exist " between the Langue d'Oc, the 
Langue d'Oil, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Walloon, and 
between their provincial variations, analogies which Littre 
justly admires, but about which he errs when he sees in 
them the effect of some general necessity. Was it a neces- 
sary and predetermined thing that everywhere, at all points 
at the same time, the article should spring up and be derived 
from the pronoun ille, or that the perfect indefinite should 
be added to the Latin preterite to form with the aid of the 
verb avoir placed in front of the past particle j'ai aimai, 
ai amat, ho amato, he amado, or that the word meus should 
be arbitrarily taken as a new suffix to constitute the new 
adverb, chere-ment, cara-men, caramente. ... ? It 
is clear that each of these ingenious ideas sprang up in some 
place or other from which it radiated everywhere. But the 
sweep 1 and rapidity of this radiation would be inexplicable 
unless we admitted the existence of some special current of 
fashion in relation to the facts in question. 

It would be inexplicable just because of that very ter- 
ritorial disintegration, and of that very rupture of ancient 
communications which has falsely appeared to furnish an 

1 It seems to have passed even beyond the limits of the Empire. I 
find the proof of this in the fact that about the same period German and 
even Slavonic experienced transformations that were quite like those 
in the transition of Latin to the Romance tongues. Cournot observes 
that " according to Grimm and Bopp, the use of the auxiliary verb 
for the conjugation of the perfect tense did not begin to appear in 
the Germanic languages before the eighth or ninth century." Let him 
who can explain this coincidence on any other ground than that of 

Extra-Logical Influences 261 

explanation of the phenomenon in question. Contrariwise, 
there is no better proof than this example of the reality and 
intensity of those special, intermittent currents which I 
feel compelled to hypothecate. Thus, in the sixteenth cen- 
tury, the teaching of Luther spread across the many bris- 
tling frontiers of those times with an unheard-of speed that 
was due to a similar hurricane, a religious one this time. 
It vent itself throughout the whole of Europe; only, as the 
force of its blasts diminished, it assumed in each province 
or region a special physiognomy, comparable to the diver- 
sity of the Romance dialects in the eleventh century, after 
each province had reassumed its linguistic isolation. It 
must not be said, then, that in the ninth and tenth centuries 
Latin decomposed of itself. It no more decomposed of it- 
self than did Catholicism at the time of Luther's sermons. 
In both cases the introduction of unexpected and really fresh 
microbes was necessary to bring about the decomposition 
that has been advanced as the cause itself. This decom- 
position followed, but did not precede, the grammatical or 
theological innovations which transformed the language or 
religion in question. To spread these seeds far and wide, 
a kind of an epidemic disposition to welcome foreign novel- 
ties was necessary. 

Ordinarily, every community brings this hospitable open- 
ing out of itself to an end by shutting itself up into its cus- 
toms. Compare the extreme slowness with which even a 
conquering language spreads beyond its habitual area with 
the above-cited linguistic conversion of the masses of the 
Romance populations! Or compare the usual amount of 
time it takes to snatch a few catechumens away from their 
native religion, with the extraordinary success of the Cath- 
olic apostolate throughout the Greek and Roman worlds, 
and throughout Germany and Ireland during the first cen- 
turies of our era, or with the amazing triumphs of Luther 
at the time of the Reformation! 

These great revolutions cannot be credited, or can be 
credited only in part, to the prestige of a superior. The 
Romance revolution in language, like the Christian revo- 

262 Laws of Imitation 

lution in religion, in its first centuries, at least, arose and 
spread in the bosom of the common people and of con- 
quered nations. Nor could intrinsic superiority, in the 
birth of Romance speech, at any rate, account for its tri- 
umph over Latin, although the logical laws of imitation do 
apply here. When the embryo of Romance speech was 
once substituted for the Latin language, it was undoubtedly 
by means of logical substitution and accumulation, as I said 
above, that this embryo grew and matured. But the pref- 
erence which led in the beginning to the adoption of this 
still rudimentary language had certainly nothing rational 
about it, and if in the innumerable logical duels which oc- 
curred at that time between the Latin and the Romance 
forms the latter had always the advantage, it was pre- 
cisely because they had the wind of fashion behind them. 
And yet an attempt has been made to justify this fact by 
observing that because the article, the conditional, and the 
perfect indefinite were lacking in Latin, Romance stepped 
in to fill up the gap. And so the admirable instrument 
which served the great writers of Rome was inadequate for 
the barbarian colonists! Besides, if the innovation to 
which I refer had been favoured merely on the ground of 
improvements, Latin, whose genius was in no way contra- 
dicted by them, would only have been enriched by them. 
But, as a matter of fact, it was destroyed by them, for the 
same spirit which prompted them also prompted certain 
substitutions, substitutions which I cannot think of as pro- 
gressive, that of the preposition for the case of the declen- 
sion, for example. Let no one say that the delicate feeling 
of the inflections of the declension was necessarily lost as a 
result of intellectual coarsening. Nothing penetrates gross 
minds better than the subtleties of language. The popula- 
tions of this period were far from having a dulled philolog- 
ical sense; it was so acute that they put themselves use- 
lessly to the effort of invention for the mere pleasure of 
invention, it seems to me, and because the human imagina- 
tion must take some direction or other. And let us admire 
the imaginative luxury of these primitive people! Littre, 

Extra-Logical Influence 263 

who accuses them of having lost the key to Latin through 
rusticity, does not perceive that he refutes himself in the fol- 
lowing lines : " Every student of language will realise how 
much delicacy and grammatical discrimination was devel- 
oped at the beginning of our language, how lacking modern 
French is in these particulars, and how false the opinion, 
as I shall not cease to reiterate, which makes grammatical 
barbarity our starting point." 

No philologist will have difficulty in upholding this as- 
sertion. It applies to the formation of the Aryan languages 
as well. The preceding considerations make a fitting intro- 
duction, I think, to certain insights into the social conditions 
which presided over their prehistoric appearance, into the 
debauch of invention and the zeal of imitation from which 
they proceeded. This need of irrational linguistic revolu- 
tion is one of the first epidemics of fashion which rages 
among the adolescent, as we may see in our colleges. And 
it affects the adolescence of nations as well. 

The effects produced in the domain of language by the 
alternate transition from custom to fashion, and from fash- 
ion to custom, are both many and plain. In the first place, 
when imitation of the foreigner is combined with that of 
the superior, a great progress is always to be seen, because 
of a gradual enlargement of the territory that belongs to 
the triumphant languages, and because of a reduction in the 
total number of the languages that are spoken. But even 
when fashion works alone, it is effective in the same direc- 
tion; for the linguistic disintegration of feudal Europe, 
compared with the Roman Empire, must not be attributed 
to fashion. It was the fault of the custom which was forced 
to grow up after it; and it is very likely that if fashion had 
not helped to spread the budding Romance tongues, Latin, 
left to itself in each distinct canton, would have evolved 
without revolution in a thousand different directions, and 
given rise to a still more lamentable disentegration. 

Now, in view of the fact that language is the most potent 
and indispensable means of human communication, it is safe 
to affirm that the social transformations which are brought 

264 Laws of Imitation 

about on a given territory in the direction of a levelling as- 
similation of all classes and localities by the introduction 
of locomotives as substitutes for wagons are as nothing 
compared with the same kind of social changes that are due 
to the overflow of one great dialect over several petty ones, 
of one language over several dialects. Linguistic similar- 
ity is the sine qua non of all other social similarities, and, 
consequently, of all those noble and glorious forms of 
human activity which presuppose the establishment of those 
similarities and which work on them as on a canvas. The 
transient period, in particular, in which a language spreads 
on the surface through fashion alone, makes possible the 
advent of what is called (for everything is relative) great 
national literature. The maximum of value, or, what 
amounts to the same thing, fame, to which literary works 
can attain, is limited to the number of those who can under- 
stand them. Consequently, in order that they may raise 
themselves to a far greater height of value or glory than 
what has ever been reached before, their language must 
flow out far beyond its old-time banks irrespective of the 
fact that the perspective of a more brilliant prize will stimu- 
late genius. And yet this is not enough. Although a 
given language might be unified if it were visibly trans- 
formed from generation to generation by a series of fashion- 
spread grammatical vagaries without any strict fidelity to 
usages or rules, yet its people would favour the blossoming 
of ephemeral shows, the masterpieces of a day, applauded 
to-day, forgotten to-morrow; they would refuse to conse- 
crate those august and enduring reputations, whose majesty 
grows in the course of ages because every new genera- 
tion enlarges their public. Brilliant literature, there might 
be, but there would be no classic literature. A classic writer 
is an ancient literary innovator who is imitated and ad- 
mired by his contemporaries, and then by following gener- 
ations, because his language has remained unchanged. 
Living, he owes his incomparable celebrity to the recent 
diffusion of his language; dead, he owes his lasting author- 
ity to the fixation of his language by custom. 

Extra-Logical Influences 265 

Successive crises of fashion also tend, other things being 
equal, to make prominent, those linguistic innovations which 
are the fittest to direct language into a certain channel which 
it is difficult to define, but which is characterised, -notably 
in English, by the simplification of grammar and by the 
enlargement of vocabulary, and by a utilitarian advance 
towards clearness and regularity, which is not without in- 
jury to poetic qualities. 1 Let us bear in mind these charac- 
teristics; they will soon repeat themselves under other 
names. . 

II. Religion 

Religions have often been divided into two great classes : 
those that proselyte and those that do not. But the truth 
is that at first even the most hospitable religions began by 
being jealously closed to the foreigner. We shall find this 
so, at least, if we go back to their true origins. Buddhism, 
to be sure, appealed from its very birth to men of every 
race; but Buddhism is only a detached branch of Brahmin- 
ism, and Brahminism admits of no means of propagation, in 
principle at least, but transmission through blood. 2 As 
for Christianity, it did not spread before the time of St. 
Paul beyond the Jewish race. Besides, it sprang out of the 
Mosaism which had always repulsed the Gentiles. It is 
only a Jewish heresy, as a child of Israel once proudly said. 
Before Islamism conquered so many nations, it remained 
for a long time an exclusively Arabian thing, and its armed 
pontificate was hereditary among the descendants of Ma- 
homet. Before the advent of Apollo, in Greece, every tribe 

1 Even in the substitution of the Romance tongues for Latin, and 
in spite of the grammatical refinements of these nascent tongues, this 
tendency is satisfied by their analytical character and simplified con- 

2 It is true, according to Lyall's recent and direct observations, that 
through the aid of numerous fictions ancient Hindoo cults have suc- 
ceeded in assimilating, by way of conversion, many non-Aryan peoples 
in India. But the latter have the name of having been Aryanised. 
And, besides, those very fictions by which they elude the rigour of the 
ancient regulation testify to the degree of its former severity. 

266 Laws of Imitation 

had its own gods. The rapidly propagated cult of Apollo 
was the first bond of union between the Hellenic cities. Ex- 
clusive religions always precede non-exclusive religions, for 
the same reason that castes always precede classes, monop- 
olies, commercial freedom, and privileges, equality before 
the law. In brief, this famous distinction between proselyt- 
ing and non-proselyting religions merely means that the 
need of expansion that is common to all alike is satisfied 
in the one case by the transmission of useful maxims of 
piety to the posterity of the same race, a posterity that is 
always becoming more and more numerous, this is the 
cause of the ardent desire of the Hebrew and Aryan of 
antiquity for a numerous offspring, 1 whereas in the other 
case, the same need seeks an easier and a quicker satisfaction 
in the transmission of its rites and dogmas to contempo- 
raries of other race and blood. In the first case the propa- 
gating agent is custom; in the second, that which I call 
fashion. And the passage from the first to the second is 
only an extraordinary advance of imitation; it has passed 
from pedestrianism to flight. 

But the most expansive and hospitable worships end early 
or late by reaching their natural limits, and in spite of their 
vain efforts to pass beyond them, and in spite, even, of the 
accidental breaks which they sometimes effect in them (just 
as Mahometanism has been proselyting again of late on 
an immense scale in the heart of Africa), they resign them- 
selves to confessing that a given nationality or group of 

1 Let me add that in the most exclusive religions, the desire to imi- 
tate the foreigner, the inclination to be in keeping with certain 
dominating international fashions, even in matters of religion, is ex- 
perienced much more than one might suppose. For example, Israel, 
before the time of Samuel, was troubled and embarrassed in the midst 
of other nations because it had no national god " in the manner of 
other -peoples." (See Darmesteter, Les Prophetes.) It needed both 
a god and a king upon the model adopted by its neighbours. " Give 
us a king to judge us, as other peoples have," says the Hebrew people 
to Samuel. It is certain that a like sentiment resulted upon a hundred 
other occasions, and for a hundred other peoples, in unifying the 
types of divinity and monarchy which obtained in regions of more or 
less vast dimensions. 

Extra-Logical Influences 267 

kindred nationalities is their unique and, henceforward, 
impassable domain. Here they draw back and implant 
themselves, and here they generally break up into frag- 
ments. From now on, their chief care is not to spread 
themselves among distant peoples by means of conquest and 
conversion, but to prolong and perpetuate themselves for 
future generations through the education of childhood. All 
the great religions of our own days have reached this stage 
of withdrawal, a stage which is at first, before the decline 
which follows it, not lacking in fruitfulness. 

But the three periods which I have pointed out as exist- 
ing in each of the great religions had already been traversed 
by the lower types of religion on which they were based; 
and so on until we come to the lowest rung of the religious 
ladder, where we find ancestor or fetich worship, purely 
familial cults. 1 In the most ancient times, then, proselytism 
must have been known and practised, since a common wor- 
ship, the worship of the god of the city, succeeded in establish- 
ing itself and in slowly crushing out the different domestic 
cults of different families. But it must also have always hap- 
jpened that the vogue of an exotic god, of a god outside of 
the household, was followed by a static period, when the 
exotic god became established as a patriotic god, because 
we find that these city gods became as hostile to, and as ex- 
clusive of, one another, as the household gods of a more re- 
mote age. Thus the historic rhythm of religions is an alter- 
nating transition from proselytism to exclusivism and vice 
versa, indefinitely. The statement that exclusivism was the 
first link in the chain could not be made without some 

The opposite view could be maintained. In India, where 
in the depths of Hindooism the birth of some very low form 
of religion is actually an everyday occurrence, Lyall in- 
forms us that their starting point lies in the preaching of 
some exalted reformer, of some ascetic or celibate, who 

1 For the original universality of the patriarchal family among 
those peoples, at least, who were destined for civilisation, see the 
extensive proof given by Sumner Maine in his Ancient Law, 

268 Laws of Imitation 

has completely broken with his family and caste. He gains 
adherents on all sides, and then, from his followers' habits 
of eating and marrying among themselves, the sect be- 
comes a caste in its turn, and ends by localising itself as a 
family. But we should be exaggerating the bearing of this 
contemporaneous fact if we saw in it a complete representa- 
tion of what must have occurred at the origin of religions. 
It is valuable, however, as confirming the hypothesis ac- 
cording to which the family is not the unique source of 
societies. A band, or horde, or group of those who are 
called indifferently family exiles or emigrants, would be the 
first term of a social evolution differing very much from the 
preceding, although interwoven with it and modelled upon it. 
Besides, everything is a witness to the fact that all religions 
began in animism, that belief in deity was originally fear of 
spirits; and it is very probable that one of the first and 
principal manifestations of animism was the deification of 
dead ancestors, and that the souls of dead kinsmen were 
the first spirits that were feared. As for spirits of a 
different origin, the personified forces of nature in an- 
thropomorphism, or, rather, at first, as we shall see, in 
spontaneous zoomorphism, was it not necessary to get the 
authority of the head of the family, of the chief, to have 
them adopted unanimously? The really primitive religion, 
then, could only be transmitted through blood. 

In this connection let us note the strange character of 
ancestor apotheosis, and, especially, of its universality. For 
it seems very difficult to understand this worship and vener- 
ation of the dead, this obedience to the dead, in those crude 
times when one is accustomed to think of the adoration of 
power as ruling alone. I think that this phenomenon, to 
be understood, must be brought into relation with another 
equally general and primitive fact, the fact of gerontocracy. 
All primitive societies, however unendowed and unprogress- 
ive they may be, have veneration and fetich worship for 
old age. But how can this fresh fact be reconciled with 
the rule of brute force? How does it happen that in a 
young world, in the midst of perpetual conflicts, old men 

Extra-Logical Influences 269 

are not relegated to the rear ? The likeliest explanation, in 
my opinion, is the following: In the primitive family, 
which is very self-centred and very hostile to even neigh- 
bouring families, the examples of the father must have a 
potent and irresistible influence over his children, his wives, 
and his slaves. In fact, the need of direction which they 
experience in view of their utter ignorance and lack of ex- 
ternal stimulus, can be satisfied only through imitation 
of some one man, and he must be the man whom they have 
been in the habit of imitating from their cradles. The 
prestige of the example of the father, the king-priest of his 
small state, equals the sum of all that prestige to which our 
modern civilised Europe is subject, for the most part un- 
consciously, but whose influence is dispersed by a thousand 
different channels of docility and credulity, under the in- 
fluence of teachers, comrades, friends, or strangers, instead 
of being concentrated in a single basin of paternal cus- 
toms and traditions. Given this fact and the fact that the 
paternal magnetisation, as it were, is the more complete in 
the beginning the greater the age of the father, it having 
had more time to act in, the fact which Buckle has 
brought forward may be very well explained, the fact, 
namely, that the more prodigious the size and strength and 
intelligence that are attributed by primitive peoples to their 
superhuman giants, and heroes, and geniuses, the more re- 
mote is the past to which they tend to assign them. This 
is an optical effect, an orientation of admiration, which 
parental prestige is able to account for. The children know 
that their own father trembles before the shadow of his an- 
cestor. The idol, then, of their idol must seem a superior 
kind of god to them. 

But Buckle might also have observed that even in the 
most remote period of antiquity the worship of the for- 
eigner appears alongside that of the ancestor. The distant 
in space is no less prestigious to barbarians and savages 
than the distant in time. And the wonders of the world 
they dream of, their Edens and Hells, in particular, and the 
beings they endow with supernatural power are localised by 

270 Laws of Imitation 

their legends on the borders of the known universe. The 
Aztecs thought that they were fated to be conquered by a 
divine race hailing from the shores of the far East. The 
Peruvians held an analogous belief. It is impossible not to 
recognise, moreover, that several of their gods were the 
alien reformers or conquerors who had charmed or sub- 
jugated their forefathers. The same fact may be observed 
in all old religions. The reason of it is that, from the most 
remote period of antiquity, parental prestige must have 
often been arrested by the sudden appearance of some ex- 
ternal and superior prestige. From time to time some un- 
known chief of invincible fame rises up out of the distant 
horizon; all are prostrate before him, and the Penates are 
for the moment forgotten. A newcomer, a bringer of se- 
cret and admirable knowledge, is conceived of as an all- 
powerful sorcerer before whom the whole world trembles. 
The multiplication of such apparitions is all that is needed 
to turn men towards a new form of adoration, to substitute 
the fascination of the distant for that of the past. 1 More- 
over, it is likely that the despotic authority of foreign mas- 
ters and civilisers was copied from that of the pater familias, 
and the apotheosis of these epochs, whether filial or servile, 
displays itself to us as the highest degree of reverential fear. 
It is, therefore, not astonishing that the most despotic 
gods are also the most revered. To-day, families which are 
ruled by authority show us the same state of things. The 
terrifying character of ancient deities and the humiliating 
nature of ancient cults are not due to a source for which 
man need blush. And we can understand the persistence 
of such beliefs in ancient societies from the fact of their 

1 Hence the apotheosis of inventors which is such an important 
source of mythologies. " Among the Phoenicians, as among the 
Iranians, the invention of fire and the beginning of a divine worship 
seem to be closely related. In reading the Biblical, Phoenician, 
Babylonian, and Iranian cosmogonies, side by side, we recognise in 
them the intention to represent in the succession of generic, instead 
of individual personages, the succession of the inventions and develop- 
ments which had guided the human race up to the time when the 
cosmogones were written" (Littre. Fragments de philosophic posi- 
tive) [p. 311. Paris, 1876. TV.]. 

Extra-Logical Influences 271 

dependence upon the social principle without which the so- 
cieties themselves could not have been possible. For this 
reason, although atheism would certainly have been a great 
relief to the hearts of devout people as an emancipation 
from their chronic state of terror, atheism could not spread 
at a time when it would have been social suicide. 

Nevertheless, in the beginnings of mankind, the isolation 
of human families that were scattered in a growling wilder- 
ness of animal life must have been great enough to have 
prevented them from encountering or fighting one another 
very often. The cause, then, to which I have referred 
could not have gained its full importance until later. On 
the other hand, another class of strange charmers must 
have played, it seems to me, a preponderating, although 
overlooked or inadequately appreciated, role in the forma- 
tion of very ancient mythologies. These were, at first, wild 
beasts and venomous serpents; and then domestic animals. 
And I lay stress upon this side of mythologies, because here 
we have, in the most remote ages, the isolated action of fash- 
ion, independent of any such imitation of superiority as we 
had in the kind of progress which we have already dis- 

To-day we hunt wild beasts, but our first ancestors fought 
them. It was with wild beasts, primarily, that they 
were forced to be constantly at war, either for food or 
self-defence. " As often pursued as pursuer." Primitive 
man was undoubtedly far from feeling the contempt which 
we feel for the hare and quail of our plains, or even for the 
wolves and boars of our lingering forests, for the lions, 
the cave bears, the rhinoceros, and the mammoths against 
which he fought day after day with thrilling turns of for- 
tune. The end of the tertiary period and the beginning of 
the quartenary period, that is, of the age when man began 
to count for something, is characterised by a formidable 
" emission of flesh eaters." Such a deadly and such a cun- 
ning fauna had never before appeared on the earth. Ele- 
phants, rhinoceroses, tigers twelve feet long, lions, hyenas, 
etc., all belonged to extinct species of which extant ones are 

272 Laws of Imitation 

but pale reflections, and all habitually preyed upon man. 
Before these terrible belligerents, much more than before 
the great men of prey of neighbouring tribes, he trembled 
with that sacred fear which is the beginning of all devotion. 
And afterwards, when he found himself in the presence of 
any great phenomenon, a tempest, the phases of the moon, 
the rise or setting of the sun, etc., and when he animated the 
phenomenon in order to understand it, his spontaneous per- 
sonification of it was more animal-like than human. For 
him to personify was to animalise, rather than to humanise. 
If all primitive gods, from the Scandinavan Pantheon to the 
Aztec Olympia, are saturated with blood and are unmerci- 
ful in exacting a periodic tribute of human lives, a" tribute 
which comes to be rendered to them later on in an equiva- 
lent of animal lives, until only its shadow and mere vege- 
table symbol survives in the Christian host, if all these 
archaic divinities are cannibals, is it not because man con- 
ceived of them, not precisely in his own image, but in the 
type of those great superhuman monsters, reptiles or 
carnivora, which often devoured him? 

This hypothesis allows us to rate primitive man as superior 
to his deities, since it explains their ferocity, not on the 
ground of his alleged wickedness, but on that of the hard 
conditions of his precarious and anxious and perilous ex- 
istence. Now, nothing supports the ordinary hypothesis 
according to which man has modelled his gods after himself. 
The resemblance is so slight! They are immortal and in- 
vulnerable, he so ephemeral! They are caprice incarnate, 
he is routine itself. They command surrounding nature as 
its masters; he falls prostrate before the pettiest meteor. 
My conjecture, on the contrary, is based, as we have seen, 
on serious considerations. I may add that the universality 
of sanguinary deities is naturally explained by the universal- 
ity of ferocious beasts; and the fact that all races have the 
same starting point explains, in turn, the similarity of the 
phases traversed by religious evolution: human sacrifices, 
animal sacrifices, fruit offerings, spiritual symbolism. 

Moreover, if our point of view is true, it follows that 

Extra-Logical Influences 273 

when, in a subsequent age, the ebb tide of animality and the 
rising tide of humanity enhanced the importance of war 
between man and man, and diminished that of the war be- 
tween man and beasts, the gods of human form must have 
decidedly prevailed over the beast-like gods. This is just 
what happened; this gradual humanising of deities is one 
of our most substantiated facts. The Egyptian deities, 
with a man's face on an animal's body, or with an animal's 
face on a man's body, show us the most ancient transition 
that is known from the prehistoric zoomorphic gods to the 
purely anthropomorphic gods which the Greeks gradually 
elaborated. It was a profound transformation, whose ac- 
complishment could not fail to revolutionise the divine idea. 
Originally, deity was pre-eminently destructive; whereas 
with us it is primarily creative. Warlike gods were neces- 
sarily triumphant, and in war to triumph was to destroy. 
Incidentally, it seems to me that the habitual or ritualis- 
tic anthropophagy of primitive peoples is explained by the 
foregoing considerations. When man was overcome, and 
this frequently happened, in his combats with monsters, he 
was always devoured. Consequently, when he happened 
to overthrow them, he took it as his duty to kill and eat 
them, however unedible they might be, not only for food, 
but, following the everlasting custom of military retaliation, 
for the sake of reprisal as well. 1 On this supposition, what 
should happen when two tribes made war against each 
other? Such chance combats wedged themselves in be- 
tween the familiar combats with the great carnivora, and 
bore the same relation to them as species to genus. And 
so it naturally came to be a rule for captives, and even for 
the corpses of the conquered, to be treated like animals that 
had been trapped or beaten; they were sacrificed and sol- 
emnly eaten at a triumphant feast. The first triumph must 
have been a banquet. Thus cannibalism must have arisen, 
originally, from imitation of the primitive chase, although 

1 This undoubtedly is the reason why, in prehistoric coves, we never 
find among their flint implements any complete animal skeleton, not 
even those of cave bears. 

274 Laws of Imitation 

it might have been maintained later on for motives of a 
mystical or utilitarian nature. 1 

It may be seen how proper the preceding considerations 
are to explain a fact which greatly astonishes mythologists 
and which has called forth the most contradictory hypoth- 
eses from them, the fact, namely, that everywhere in the 
world the most ancient gods of mythology have been 
animals, savage and often ferocious beasts, and that if in 
the progress of the ages their zoomorphic, their theriomor- 
phic character has gradually changed into anthropomorph- 

1 Let me add to this a consideration of a more sentimental nature, 
which will present in a still more favourable light the primitive adora- 
tion of animals. Originally, the social group is so small that it is 
unable to satisfy the greed of sociability which it has itself developed. 
This want grows more rapidly, much more rapidly, than the group. 
Consequently, those sentiments which find difficulty in venting them- 
selves in the relations of man with his fellows, scattered as they are, 
and, especially in his relations to his friends and associates, the only 
ones that he can be with to any extent, must pour themselves out upon 
the creatures of nature, and especially upon the animals that are in 
constant contact with primitive man. This is perhaps the partial ex- 
planation of the great part which both wild and domestic animality 
plays in the life of the savage and the early troglodyte. The draw- 
ings of mammoths, of whales, of lions, etc., upon their ivory plates 
or staffs of command testify to their zoolatry, or, rather, to their 

Goblet d'Alviella is quite right in seeing in these first attempts at 
art a response to the needs of deity, rather than to still undeveloped 
aesthetic needs. These mysterious gods, these god-beasts, must have 
inspired a strange kind of terror, a terror as strange as their 
monstrous shapes, as well as a singular kind of piety, a servile admira- 
tion which, in spite of its servility, was a touching and true form of 
adoration. Whatever terrifies always ends by being adored. But 
this animal idolatry is only part of the semi-social relations which 
primitive man created between himself and animal nature. On the 
other side, the domestic animals probably inspired in him a certain 
genuinely paternal or filial tenderness. There is still a trace of this 
in the affectionate care that the peasant daily bestows upon his cat- 
tle; he is never separated from them without regret. An animal slave, 
like a human slave, is easily taken into the family. 

It is probable, therefore, that in the beginning the cords of the 
heart that were set in vibration by nature and, especially, by animal 
nature, were of much greater importance compared with those that 
were stirred by human society than their actual relative importance. 
An attempt was made to gain real social intercourse with animals ; 
hence the attribution of language to animals, as Goblet d'Alviella 
reasonably surmises. 

Extra-Logical Influences 275 

ism, it is never impossible to discern the deified beast under 
the humanised god. 1 The animal companion of a god has 
begun by being the god himself. This was true of the 
goose of Priapus, of the cuckoo of Hera, of the mouse of 
Apollo, of the owl of Pallas, as well as of the humming- 
bird of the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli. It has been proved 
that, prior to the invasion of the Shepherd Kings, " when- 
ever the gods [Egyptian] appeared on monuments they 
were represented by animals." Shall we explain with 
Lang this universal deification of the surrounding fauna 
(and, at times, of the flora), as the result of totemism, of 
the universal custom among savages and primitive peoples 
of recognising some animal as their first tribal ancestor? 
And then shall we proceed to connect animal worship with 
ancestor worship? On the contrary, I think that, in this 
case, the effect is taken for the cause. Totemism does not 
explain the deification of animals; this deification can 
alone give a reasonable explanation of totemism. 2 The ani- 
mal is not reputed to be an ancestor until after it has been 
deified. Now, why has it been deified ? Because the sight 
of it inspired terror or admiration, or merely because it 
once chanced to create a lively feeling of surprise as the 
result, undoubtedly, of a mistaken observation on the part 
of some ignorant observer. The first animal, the first 
natural being which appealed to the savage's curiosity, 
opened out a new world to him, a world outside of his 
family, or, rather, made a new opening for him into that 
world which the never-ending growling of savage creatures 
had never allowed him wholly to ignore. Seen through his 
dreams or fears, either the commonplace or the terrible 

1 On this point I refer my readers to the Mythology of Mr. Andrew 
Lang. [Published in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Tr.] 

2 On the other hand, I readily admit that the interdiction, which 
is so frequent in ancient religions, against eating the flesh of certain 
animals, is explained by totemism and not at all by motives of 
hygiene. These motives were trumped up afterwards, like those of 
the somnambulist, who is quick to act on suggestion, to justify himself 
in his own eyes for the unconscious act of obedience which he is 
about to commit. 

276 Laws of Imitation 

animal revealed to him something outside of himself or his 
people that was worthy of his interest. This animal, then, 
this stranger, whose prestige he feels and yields to, tears 
him away from the exclusive prestige of his divine ances- 
tors and despotic masters. And if the deified animal 
comes to take higher rank than that of the latter, it is none 
the less true that, far from this new cult being derived from 
the family cult, it must have been in opposition to it. In 
the beginnings of mankind, when animality dominated, the 
stranger after whom man must have sought to model him- 
self, and to whose fascination he must have yielded after he 
had escaped from that of his forefathers, must have been, 
ordinarily, an animal, although, from time to time, and 
later on more frequently, encounters with other tribes al- 
lowed the human stranger to play a like part. It is certain 
that two prominent kinds of myths are to be found side by 
side in all old mythologies, myths about animal-gods and 
myths about divine or heroic civilisers. This curious 
juxtaposition would be most incomprehensible unless my 
point of view were accepted. According to it, these two 
classes of myths are merely varieties of one genus. Both 
witness from the most remote periods to the action of ex- 
ternal and contemporaneous prestige, the source of fashion, 
as contrasted with paternal prestige, the source of custom. 
Let us continue. I have not yet finished my enumera- 
tion of the principal sources of primordial religions. To 
conclude this conjectural and somewhat digressive investi- 
gation, I may say that after the deification of fierce beasts, 
domestic animals should have been and were deified. Thus 
good gods came to take a place next to bad gods, forming 
in this way a transitory phase that it is well to notice be- 
tween theriomorphism and anthropomorphism, in addition 
to the transitions already referred to. Conceive, indeed, of 
the immense and beneficent change which was wrought 
when, in the midst of some small human colony, which 
lacked all forms of industry or agriculture and all means of 
supply but the bow and harpoon, some savage genius 
dreamed of domesticating a dog, a sheep, a reindeer, a cow. 

Extra-Logical Influences 277 

an ass, or a horse. 1 What do all our modern inventions 
amount to in comparison \vith this capital invention of 
domestication? This was the first decisive victory over 
animality. Now, of all historic events, the greatest and 
the most surprising is, unquestionably, the one which alone 
made history possible, the triumph of man over surround- 
ing fauna. Moreover, the farther back one travels into 
the past, the greater the value of cattle appears to be. Cat- 
tle were the most precious part of spoil, the most coveted 
kind of treasure, and the first form of money. Hence, the 
deification of bulls, oxen, and cows in the Old World and of 
llamas in America. This was a great advance upon the 
apotheosis of carnivorous animals. Egypt is a witness to 
this fact in the pre-eminence which she accorded to her 
Apis over the tiger, lion, and cat-like deities of her more 
ancient mythology. Archaic Greece gave a great impetus 
to the development of this already civilised form of animal 
worship. We have the proof of this, among other facts, 
in the myth of the centaurs, half men, half horses, which 
undoubtedly expresses the gradual humanisation of a primi- 
tive horse-worship, and to correspond in this new phase of 
the divine idea to the human-faced tiger-gods of Egypt. 
In his excavations in Argolis, Schliemann discovered 
thousands of very ancient idols in which a similar meta- 
morphosis from a cow-goddess to a woman-goddess 2 could 
be traced through its many phases up to the point when two 
almost invisible little horns was the last sign of the origi- 
nally bovine nature of the divinity. This explains the lit- 
tle-understood Homeric epithet of boopis. It is unnecessary 
to remind the reader of the cow-worship of India. 

1 Inventions in matters of domestication are so significant that, like 
those relating to the conquest of minerals, they have seemed adequate 
to characterise different civilisations. Just as ages are marked out 
as the rough stone age or the polished stone age, as the age of bronze, 
as the age of iron, so the peoples possessing oxen and cows (the 
primitive Aryas), or horses (Turanians, Arabs), or asses (Egyptians), 
or camels (the desert Nomads), or reindeer (Laps), etc., are, or may 
be, distinguished accordingly. 

2 They were " either in the form of woman with horns on both 
sides of the breast, or in the form of cows." 

278 Laws of Imitation 

But man celebrated the wonders of domestication not 
merely by his worship of different kinds of cattle; he also 
celebrated it in the nature of the cult which he paid to gods 
of various origins. After he had domesticated animals and 
had appreciated the immense advantage of their exploita- 
tion, he must have asked himself whether he could not also 
domesticate some of those gods, of those great spirits which 
he had already conceived of as the hidden springs of the 
great mechanisms of nature, of sun and moon, of rain and 
tempest, and which he had pictured under the lineaments 
of men and animals. Once these conceptions had been 
taken and developed into an innumerable divine fauna, the 
domestication of divinities must have been the great pre- 
occupation of men of ability. It was a question of having 
one's own spirits attached to one's dwelling, like sheep, or 
dogs, or reindeer. These were the Lares; and they were 
not always, as a matter of fact, the souls of ancestors. But 
how were these wild deities to be overcome and humanised? 
By methods strangely like those which had served in the 
subjection of tame animals, namely, by caresses and flattery, 
by offering them the advantage, rare in those times, of a 
regular and abundant nourishment which would entirely 
relieve them of the effort of searching for an uncertain and 
intermittent one. Here we have the origin of sacrifices. 
This view will cease to appear odd if we try to conceive 
of what domestication must originally have been. To us 
the trained horse that is docile under its bit is merely a 
certain muscular force under our control. But to the sav- 
age of bygone ages, just as, to a certain extent, to the 
Arab of to-day, the horse possessed a hidden power which 
could not be managed without a certain superstitious fear 
of, or respect for, its latent mystery. Therefore, it is less 
surprising for worship to have been an attempt at domestica- 
tion, if domestication was really a kind of worship. 

In support of these speculations, I will add another which 
completes them and which seems to me to be equally prob- 
able. The idea of reducing men to slavery, instead of kill- 
ing and eating them, must have arisen after the idea of 

Extra-Logical Influences 279 

training animals instead of feeding- on them, for the same 
reason that war against wild beasts must have preceded 
that against alien tribes. When man enslaved and domes- 
ticated his kind, he substituted the idea of human beasts of 
burden for that of human prey. 

But the preceding speculations on the probable origin of 
the earliest religions is, to be frank, a digression for which 
I crave the reader's indulgence. Let us return to our spe- 
cial subject and let us seek out, as we have already done in 
the case of language, the consequences which are involved 
in the transition, in questions of religion, from custom to 
fashion, and from fashion to custom, that is to say, in the 
development of a worship following upon its establishment 
in an enlarged domain. In the second place, let us ask 
ourselves what are the inner characteristics which the ex- 
pansion of a cult presupposes and which enable it to be 
successful ? I answer, in a word, to the first point of view, 
that a widespread religion is a prerequisite of every great 
civilisation, and that a stable religion is the no less neces- 
sary condition of every strong and original civilisation. As 
its cult, so its culture. To the second point of view I an- 
swer that the most spiritual and philanthropic religion has 
the greatest chance of expansion, and that, on the other 
hand, a religion which spreads beyond its source tends to 
become spiritualised and humanised. 

This tendency of religions to become spiritualised in their 
onward movement is well known. The worship of Apollo, 
for example, which is so pure and noble a worship in com- 
parison with the gross cults which it succeeded, Hebrew 
prophecy, which is spiritual, compared with the Mosaism 
which preceded it, Christianity, which is still more spiritual, 
and the particularly refined forms of Christian spirituality, 
Protestantism and Janseism, all these are so many success- 
ive steps in religious evolution. But now we know the 
reason of this progress. The idea of deity, which was at 
first bestial or physical in the times when the relations of 
men with beasts and nature were more frequent and im- 
portant than their relations with their non-related fellows, 

280 Laws of Imitation 

becomes gradually spiritualised, or, to put it better, human- 
ised, in the social sense of the word, as man comes into 
closer touch with both related and non-related man and as 
his direct contact with nature diminishes. And we have 
seen how the animal character of ancient gods came to be 
effaced and replaced by human traits, which have them- 
selves ended by vanishing, transfigured, into a sublime 
dream of infinite Wisdom and Power. This change was 
wrought in the divine idea at the same time that religion, of 
which it is the soul, passed beyond the limits of its cradle 
in the family. These two transformations must have been 
parallel, for they emanated from the same cause: the pre- 
ponderance that was acquired by the social and, conse- 
quently, by the spiritual side of human things over their 
natural and material side. Imitation was emancipated 
from heredity for the same reason that mind was disen- 
gaged from matter. 1 On the other hand, the latter progress 
facilitated the former. The god who is the least corporeal 
and the most spiritual is the one who has the most chance 
of subjugating foreign peoples; for men of different races 
differ less from one another intellectually than physically, 

1 In Greece and Rome, especially, the more or less advanced spirit- 
ualisation of a religion which had been hitherto materialistic was ac- 
companied by the substitution of a priesthood, recruited by voluntary 
consecration, by election or by lot, for an originally hereditary priest- 
hood. This innovation took place at Athens about 510 B. c., through 
the reform of Cleisthenes, who completed the work of Solon and sup- 
pressed the four ancient tribes, which were religious corporations based 
upon consanguinity, and replaced them with new tribes composed of 
demes, a purely territorial division. Sacerdotal functions became, in 
consequence, elective. A similar change was effected at Sparta and 
in many other Greek cities at the same epoch, just when philosophy 
had begun to creep into dogma. At Rome the fight between the 
patricians and the plebeians turned largely on the question whether 
the functions of the flamens, the salians, the vestals, and the sac- 
rificial king should continue to be hereditary or should be passed on 
through election. A moment came, towards the end of the Republic, 
when the light of Greece had begun to shine upon it, when the plebs, 
who had already gained access to the different magistracies which 
had before that been reserved to the patricians, likewise obtained a 
right to aspire to the sacerdotal dignities which the superior caste 
had kept to itself and transmitted as a privilege of birth. This was 
one of the last conquests of the plebs. 

Extra-Logical Influences 281 

or, at any rate, their physical differences are less rigid and 
unmalleable and more easily effaced through gradual as- 
similation than their physical differences. For the same 
reason the most systematic mythology is the one that is 
fated to win territory. 

The springing up of a religion beyond its native race in- 
volves, we may suppose, another important progress. Is it 
because its founder has proclaimed the brotherhood of men 
of all races that a religion is apt to overflow, or does its 
founder profess this regenerating dogma to create in it this 
aptitude? It matters not. It is clear that the proclama- 
tion of such a truth greatly favours the propagation of the 
beliefs which are united to it. Christianity and Buddhism 
are proofs of this. When the spirit of Custom is in full 
sway, religious sentiment is directed towards the past or 
the future, man's great preoccupation is centred about his 
ancestors and his posthumous life, as in China or Egypt, 
or about his posterity, as in Israel. In a word, the devout 
spirit is supported by the thought of the infinite in time. On 
the contrary, where the spirit of Fashion is fully triumphant, 
religious sentiment receives its liveliest inspirations and its 
most spontaneous impulses from the thought of the im- 
mensity of the earth and heavens, from the conception 
of a universe whose boundaries are forever receding and 
of a great omnipresent God, the common father of all! 
beings scattered throughout the infinity of space. Are not 
the sympathy, the pity, and the love which are engendered in 
the hearts of the devout by this belief the very source of 
moral life? It follows that the most moral religions are 
necessarily the most contagious. And, as I fail to see how 
any high standard of morality can arise and spread by any 
other means than an all-conquering religion, I think I am 
justified in accepting the conclusion of history that no great 
civilisation could ever have existed without religious 

I may add that without a stable religious institution, one 
resting on its conquests, a strong and original civilisation is 
impossible. By this I mean a profoundly logical social 

282 Laws of Imitation 

state, from which, by means of a long and painful elabora- 
tion, all important contradictions have been banished, a state 
where the majority of elements are in agreement, and where 
almost everything proceeds from the same principles and 
converges towards the same ends. It takes a long time for 
a religious faith to recast in this way, in its own image, the 
small or large society which it has been invading. 

We do not know, to be sure, how long it took the religion 
of Egypt, before the old empire, after the indigenous gods 
of Memphis, or of some other city, had spread the entire 
length of the Nile Valley, to give birth to Egyptian civilisa- 
tion. We are also ignorant of the duration of the incuba- 
tion of Babylonian civilisation by the primitive religion 
of Chaldea, once its gods had radiated throughout the sweep 
of that once thickly peopled and highly fertile valley. But we 
do know that the cult of the Delphic Apollo, the first religion 
that was common to all the Doric and Ionic branches of 
Greece, dates from the tenth century, B. c., and that " the 
climax of maturity and beauty " in the art and poetry and 
philosophy and statecraft of Greece was reached about the 
sixth century. We also know that the literature, archi- 
tecture, philosophy, and governmental system of the Chris- 
tian Middle Ages had just begun to flourish and grow 
into harmony with the law of Christ in the eleventh century 
of our era, four or five hundred years after the spread of 
Christianity through Europe. Arabian civilisation, born of 
Mahomet, required a shorter period of gestation, but we 
know how long it lasted. 

It is not true, then, that the progress of civilisation re- 
sults in the side-tracking of religion. It is the essence of 
religion to be everything or nothing. If an established 
religion falls behind, it is because another religion has 
slipped silently and unperceived into its place, and has lent 
itself to the setting up of a new civilisation which will end 
by being just as religious as the prior civilisation in its best 
days. If, in the beginning of societies, everything in the 
most trivial thoughts and acts of man, from the cradle to 
the tomb, is ritualistic and superstitious, mature and consum- 

Extra-Logical Influences 283 

mate civilisations present the same conditions. It has been 
said that the peculiarity of Christianity has been its aloof- 
ness from statecraft, in contrast to the intimate alliance of 
the cults of antiquity with the power of the state. But this 
feature is only apparent. In the spiritual and missionary 
religions of modern days, as well as in the gross and exclu- 
sive religions of antiquity, morals and dogma are in- 
separable; there is a higher law for conduct as well as for 
thought. Only, in consequence of the external expansion 
which results, as we know, from its internal developments, 
a religion ceases to be able to regulate of itself all the small 
details of practical thought and will. Like a ruler whose 
kingdom has grown more extensive, and whose administra- 
tion has become more complicated, it delegates to its 
subalterns a part of its twofold authority of teacher and 
ruler, leaving a certain amount of independence to its dele- 
gates, who are pretty badly supervised by it because they are 
so far below it. 

On one side, then, religion abandons to kings and states- 
men, to whose personality it is quite indifferent, providing 
they are true believers, the care of commanding armies, of 
levying taxes, and of making laws, on the condition that they 
attempt nothing contrary to the general precepts of its cate- 
chism, a sort of supreme constitution. Thus religion be- 
comes the sovereign ruler of souls and the final court of 
appeal for anyone who has been abused by secular power. 
On another side, it also allows inquisitive and enquiring 
minds to discover and formulate certain theories and natural 
laws, but it allows this, of course, on the condition of teach- 
ing nothing which openly contradicts the verses of its sacred 
books or the conclusions drawn from its texts. 

In short, the god of the Christian or Moslem was, 
during the whole of the Middle Ages, at least, the sole 
teacher and master of Christianity or Islamism, occupying, 
in this particular, the same position as the divine Lars of the 
primitive family ; and the pope or caliph, the organ of deity, 
taught and commanded as a sovereign. The only difference 
between the omnipotence of savage or barbaric religions 

284 Laws of Imitation 

and that of civilised religions lies in the fact that the former 
expresses itself through ritual, the formal equivalent of that 
period of morality; and the second, through morality, the 
spiritual equivalent of ritual. Ritual becomes more pro- 
found as it disguises itself. Was it not primitively the 
supreme statecraft of the ancients, the pre-eminent military 
and civil art of diplomacy? The armies of antiquity went 
into action only after they had been stimulated by the cere- 
monies of the war heralds, by sacrifices, and by the sacra- 
mental observations and experiments of the augurs. It is 
no exaggeration to say that the thrusts of lance and sword 
that followed seemed to the men of those times to continue 
as accessories the rites which had preceded them, a sort of 
sanguinary sacrament. Nor, for the same reason, did any 
deliberative assembly in these same epochs enter into any 
debate without the sacrifice of some victim or the offering 
up of some prayer or the performance of some rite of purifi- 
cation. Voting, as well as fighting, was only one way of 
worshipping and praying to one's gods, of placating and 
glorifying them. 

Later on, when different cities and peoples come into 
communication with one another and endeavour to im- 
pose their rites, become more simple in their expansion, upon 
one another, a moment arrives when a purely spiritual cult, 
i. e., morality as it is understood by Christians, Moslems, 
and Buddhists, seems to be the only cult worth the name. 
Then people say that morality should dominate politics and 
even soar over war. They also say, and with no less reason, 
that it should rule over art and industry. As a matter of fact, 
religion has always been implicitly conceived of in the 
bosom of every religious people, not only as a higher form 
of statecraft and diplomacy, but as the first of all arts and 
the most important of all industries. Architecture, sculp- 
ture, painting, poetry, music, metal-working, and cabinet- 
making, all forms of art, arise from the temple and issue 
from it, like a procession, to continue outside the solemni- 
ties occurring within. To the citizens of the Greek cities the 
great hecatombs were undoubtedly great productions of 

Extra-Logical Influences 285 

wealth and value, of security and power. This was in part 
imaginary, but not wholly so, for it is certain that faith is 
power. What was the petty labour of a slave or an 
artisan in comparison with those mystical works ? And, be- 
sides, there was no important act in the life of a husbandman, 
or even of an artisan, which did not begin with the offering 
up of a prayer to the gods, or with a procession of the 
Arval Brethren, or with the sacrifice of a lamb, so that every 
industrial or agricultural task was merely a prolonged 
prayer or sacrifice. In a more advanced and spiritual civili- 
sation the same thing is expressed, at bottom, in saying that 
work is a form of duty, and that the economic side of 
societies, like their political and artistic sides, is merely a 
development of their moral side. 

Moreover, on the day when a scholar, like Galileo, under- 
takes to formulate the simplest scientific law or fact that 
is contrary to the shortest verse of Sacred Scripture; or on 
the day when a ruler publishes the pettiest decree that is 
contrary to the most subordinate precept of an established 
religion, an authorisation, for example, to sell meat during 
a fast or to work on Sunday, or on the day, finally, when 
a branch of industry or art begins to flourish in a given 
country, although it is deemed immoral and impious by the 
local religion, a profane theatre, for example, or a free- 
thinking journal on this very day, a germ of dissolution 
has entered into the social body, and there is the most 
urgent need either for this germ to be expelled, notably by 
an inquisition, or for it to grow through philosophic or 
revolutionary or reform propagandism, and extend itself 
to the point of reconstructing the social order upon new 
foundations. This is the point we are at in Europe. It is 
a problem in social logic that is set before us by this redoubt- 
able dilemma. 1 We do not know how it will be solved. 
But we may be certain that when the order of the future is 
once consummated, unanimous belief in an indisputable 
truth, in an incontestable Good and Right will become again 

1 May we wait long for its solution ! For the sake of freedom of 
thought may the inappreciable intellectual anarchy which Auguste 
Comte deplored be prolonged! 

286 Laws of Imitation 

what it once was, intense and intolerant. And science, trans- 
figured by a vast synthesis and supplemented by a highly 
aesthetic morality, will be the religion of the future, before 
which all professors and statesmen, all minds and wills, 
will humbly bow. 

The omnipotence and omnipresence of religion in all 
functions of society justify the exceptional place which reli- 
gion has been accorded in this chapter. But this considera- 
tion must not prevent us at present from examining rapidly 
and separately the fragmentary and secondary governments 
that rule with the consent of religion, although not with- 
out a threatening kind of independence, namely, the phi- 
losophy of certain periods on the one side and, on the 
other, the government, in the usual sense of the word, 
and the legislation and custom of all periods. When 
an accredited philosophic system arises in a serious- 
minded nation, it stands in the same relation towards 
religious dogma as a form of government, a body 
of law, or the sum of people's wants stands in any 
country towards its religious morality. The one is the 
foundation-stone of thought, the other of conduct. But this 
does not prevent the frequent occurrence of conflicts be- 
tween the suzerain, or so-called suzerain authority, and 
those authorities that are vassal to it. Struggles between 
philosophies and theologies correspond to those between 
empires and priesthoods. Besides, if it is true that religion 
controls civilisation in its entirety and moulds it after itself, 
it is no less certain that the temporarily prevailing philos- 
ophy directs and develops its own science, or that the 
established government directs and develops its own politics 
and war, or that legislation and custom determine the course 
and character of industry. Let us see whether the transition 
from custom to fashion and vice versa occurs here as above, 
and whether it produces like effects. In any case, let us 
refrain, for lack of space, from touching upon the philo- 
sophic and scientific sides of societies, an undertaking that 
would require a separate volume. Let us pass on to the 
practical side. 

Extra-Logical Influences 287 

III. Government 

All the foregoing remarks amount to saying that in the 
beginning the family, or the pseudo- family that grew up by 
the side of it, was the only social group, and that every 
subsequent change resulted in lessening its importance in 
this respect by constituting new and more ample groups 
which were formed artificially, at the expense of the social 
side of families, and which reduced them to mere physio- 
logical expressions; but that, finally, such dismembered 
families tended to aggregate into a kind of enlarged family 
that was both natural and social like the original family, 
except that the physiological characteristics, which were 
transmitted through heredity, existed mainly to facilitate 
the transmission through imitation of the elements of civili- 
sation, and not vice versa. In fact, we have already seen 
from the linguistic point of view that in very remote pre- 
historic times every family must have had its own language, 
and that later on a single language embraced thousands of 
families who finally, because of the greater facility for 
connubittm between speakers of the same tongue, gave birth 
to one race. Thus every tongue eventually had its own race, 
i. e., its own great family, whereas, primitively, every 
family, as I have said, possessed its own tongue. We have 
also seen how, in the question of religion, every family had 
originally its own cult and was a church in itself, but who, 
later on, the same cult united thousands of families who, 
finally, through the more or less strict interdiction of mar- 
riage with infidels and the exclusive practice of connubium, 
combined into one race that was expressly created for its 

We can now see from the point of view of government an 
analogous series of transformations. In the beginning every 
family formed a distinct state; then followed a state which 
contained thousands of families, welded together by a purely 
artificial tie, and, finally, every state made its own nation, 
*. e., its particular race or sub-race, its own family. 

288 Laws of Imitation 

On this point, I might repeat what Fustel de Coulanges 
and Sumner Maine have said so well about the gradual 
transformation of the patria potestas into the imperium of 
the Roman magistracy, about the primordial union and the 
progressive separation of the power to procreate and the 
power to command. But I will not bore the reader with 
this. I prefer to observe that it is proper to round off 
this point of view by admitting that from the com- 
mencement of history, or even pre-history, artificial states 
were formed through a general infatuation for some re- 
nowned chief or brigand, and enlarged by those who had 
broken loose from surrounding families. Cities of refuge, 
like early Rome and the free cities of the Middle Ages, can 
give us some idea of these primitive aggregates. They 
were, perhaps, or rather undoubtedly, the first cities, prop- 
erly speaking. And, as a matter of fact, the urban element, 
which has co-existed from the earliest time with the rural 
element, has always been distinguished by its predominant 
and widespread spirit of innovation, compared with the con- 
servative spirit of the latter. We may infer that these orig- 
inal collections of undisciplined people have been the most 
active centres for war and conquests and that, consequently, 
although all the scourges born of war may be imputed to 
them, yet theirs is the honour of having created great na- 
tional agglomerations, the eventual guarantee of wealth 
and peace. 

In addition, we may see that custom and fashion are 
everywhere embodied politically in two great parties whose 
alternating strife and triumph explain all political advances. 
In fact, there are never more than two opposing parties, 
however subdivided they may be. Their names differ in 
different countries and at different times, but the one may 
be called, without impropriety, the party of conservatism, 
and the other the party of innovation. Among seaboard 
populations, their rivalry is usually expressed through that 
between agricultural interests, such as Aristides, the con- 
servative, personified at Athens, and maritime interests 
such as were embodied in the innovator, Themistocles. 

Extra-Logical Influences 289 

Among continental populations, the rivalry is between com- 
merce and agriculture, between towns and country districts, 
between artisans and peasants. Now, it is fairly clear that 
the strife between conservatives and liberals, which is as 
ancient as history and which had already begun in the 
bosom of the primitive family or tribe, always leads back to 
that between custom and fashion. The progressive party 
welcomes with its whole heart the new ideas, the new rights, 
and the new products that are imported over land or sea 
and imitated as foreign models, whereas the party of tradi- 
tion resists them with all the weight of the ideas and 
customs and industries which it has inherited from its fore- 
fathers. More specifically, the party of innovators desires 
to modify the political constitution of its country, in con- 
formity with tHe theories which have been suggested to it 
by the sight of outside governments and which, in spite of, 
or by reason of, this very suggestion, a more or less uncon- 
scious one, seem applicable, through imitation, to all the 
peoples of the earth. The Tory party, on the contrary, de- 
sires people to respect and maintain unaltered the form of 
government which prevailed in the past. 1 We know that 

1 At any given period there will always seem to be, among the most 
prominent communities, one to embody the spirit of conservatism, and 
another, the spirit of novelty. But if we go back to the past of each, 
we shall see the contrast reversed. In our own days, the antithesis 
tias been represented until recently by England and France, just as 
in ancient Greece it was represented by the conservative Dorians and 
the innovating lonians. This has been repeated ad nauseam. Boutmy 
writes in his Etudes de droit constitutionnel, that " in France a 
natural and immediate authority is given to those ideas (political) 
which are sentimentally based upon the unity of mankind in general. 
In England it is given to those ideas that are sentimentally based upon 
ties with preceding generations. We are content only with a broad 
and extensive conception which everybody may share with us, and 
before whose articles of universal legislation all will bow. The 
English are satisfied with a narrow and intensive conception in which 
the centuries of their national life are seen in perspective, one after 
the other." 

In other words, we enthuse over ideas which are capable of spread- 
ing through free and external imitation, since we have generally re- 
ceived them ourselves through this kind of imitation ; whereas, our 
neighbours care only for those ideas which are and which can only 
be transmitted through an exclusive and hereditary form of imitation. 

290 Laws of Imitation 

whenever and wherever a conflict arises between these two 
parties, it is because a liberal party that has been stimulated 
or awakened by contact with an outer and a more brilliant 
world has reappeared in the midst of a people who have 
been unwittingly traditional, and has aroused the conserva- 
tive party, i. e., the immense majority, to self-consciousness. 
This means that at first custom held sway here alone, or 
almost alone, but that at this point fashion has begun to 
replace it. 

Meanwhile fashion grows, and the party which represents 
it and which was at first defeated ends by getting the inno- 
vations which it extols, accepted. The result of this is that 
the world makes a step in advance towards international 
political assimilation. This assimilation goes on even when 
political agglomeration, which is a different thing, is static 
or retrogressive. Indeed, even during antiquity and the 
Middle Ages, the uniformity of government which accom- 
panies or heralds governmental unity was always brought 
about on any given territory the territory being at one 
time very small and then becoming more and more exten- 
sive by the triumph of some innovating party. Dating 

But, it may be said in passing, that English parliamentarism is not 
precluded by its original character from communicating itself from 
one people to another, travelling by means of the freest and most 
general kind of contagion that has ever been seen. Then, we know 
that in the seventeenth century, England personified the spirit of 
revolution in comparison with monarchical France; and, now, after a 
rest of two centuries, do we not feel that the revolutionary yeast is 
working on British soil, thanks to the germs of radical or socialistic 
ideas that have been introduced from the Continent? It may easily 
happen that when this crisis is raging among the islanders across 
the Channel, the foundation of a national government will be finally 
laid in France. 

Let me add that the distinction which M. Boutmy draws between 
those constitutions' which explicitly aspire to universality and those 
which are content to last during the life of a given race or nation, 
suggests the distinction between open and proselyting religions and 
exclusive and non-proselyting religions. According to this analogy^ 
the French system holds the future in its hands, since proselyting re- 
ligions always have the advantage of their rivals. But just as the 
most expansive cult finally settles down and closes its doors, the most 
cosmopolitan system of government ends, as we shall see, by becoming, 
in its turn, an ancestral custom. 

Extra-Logical Influences 291 

from the heroic period of Greece we can find certain traces 
of the breath of fashion blowing from time to time across 
communities who were supposed to be among those most 
custom-bound. It is very surprising, for example, to find 
the Dorians, who are such a tradition-bound race at the 
moment when history throws her light upon them, governed 
by certain institutions which were imported from Crete by 
the foreigner Lycurgus, and subject, moreover, to non- 
Dorian royal families. Can these facts be otherwise ex- 
plained than by presupposing some anterior age in which 
foreign prestige swayed this nation, a nation which subse- 
quently succumbed again to the prestige of its forefathers ? 

The second fact referred to is in no sense exceptional; on 
the contrary, it frequently occurs. The Greek historian' 
Curtius cites, in this connection, the government of the 
Molossians by the Oacidae, of the Macedonians by the Te- 
menidae, of the Lyncestae by the Bacchiadse, of the loniana 
by the Lycians, etc., just as the Swedes are governed in our 
own day by the successors of Bernadotte. This prestige of 
the foreigner, therefore, has been general at times from the 
most remote periods. It must have gone very deep if we 
admit, with the learned author whom I have cited, that 
belief in the divine extraction of kings is explained by their 
foreign origin. Since their home vanishes into a distant 
unknown region, " they might be accounted sons of the 
gods, an honour which natives could scarcely have received 
from their countrymen." Besides, wherever we see primi- 
tive families loyal subjects to one of their own number, or 
even to one of their own race, we must infer that this privi- 
leged family owes its supremacy to a more or less ephemeral 
infatuation by which admiration of ancestors has been 
momentarily eclipsed. But, although family sentiment may 
be broken for a time by the advent of some dynasty in this 
way, it is subsequently awakened and magnified under the 
name of civic spirit or patriotism. 

If we find that in the tenth century Europe was covered 
with thousands of little states, called seigniories, that were 
i [Ward's translation, I, 147. Tr.] 

292 Laws of Imitation 

all pretty much alike in their feudal constitution, whose 
originality was as striking as their resemblance in the midst 
of their diversity, we cannot doubt that the typical fief, 
wherever it originated, was copied by the intelligent liberals 
of the time and imposed by them upon recalcitrant reaction- 
aries like the Gallo-Roman senators or others. The fief 
was at that time the great fruitful novelty, the model to 
which the royal power itself came to conform after, as we 
have seen already it had likewise suggested it. Before that 
the king had vaguely associated his authority with that of 
the ancient Roman emporors, the traditional type of sover- 
eign power in the popular mind. It seemed as if the very 
essence of this supremacy lay in universal dominion or in 
the dream of it. But Hugues Capet was inspired with 
what might be called an idea of genius, a very simple idea 
withal. Instead of looking behind him in the Roman Em- 
pire for his ideal, he took it from his own neighbourhood. 
According to Sumner Maine, he is the prototype and the 
initiator of strictly feudal, non-imperial royalty. " Hugues 
Capet and his descendants were kings of France in an 
entirely new sense; they had the same relations to the soil 
of France as the baron held towards his fief and the vassal 
towards his land." The invention, in short, consisted 
merely in modelling sovereignty upon suzerainty and in ex- 
tending over the entire territory of a great nation the feudal 
relations which had hitherto been confined to the petty 
limits of a canton. Witness, nevertheless, its success. " All 
subsequent sovereignty was based on this new model. The 
sovereignty of the Norman kings, copied from that of the 
kings of France, was positively territorial. Territorial 
rulers were established in Spain, in Naples, and in all the 
Italian principalities which were founded upon the ruins of 
municipal liberties." 1 

In modern times the contagion of another master- 
thought, of one which was in contradiction to the preceding, 
and which was forced to dethrone it in order to propagate 

1 Similarly, ecclesiastical administration took on an imperial garb 
during the Empire, and a feudal one during the Middle Ages. 

Extra-Logical Influences 293 

itself, has spread still more rapidly, namely, the idea of the 
state as we understand it to-day. Where was modern state- 
craft born? In the petty Italian republics, and, first of all, 
in Florence, whence the modern type of political activity 
spread to France and Spain and Germany and even to 
England. Spain and France, in particular, who disputed 
for such a long time over Italy, " began," says Burckhardt, 
" to resemble the centralised Italian states, and, indeed, to 
copy them, only on a gigantic scale." * Upon this fashion 
is grafted in the eighteenth century 2 a fashion which does 
not contradict it in any way, but which completes it. Anglo- 
mania becomes the rage. The parliamentary constitution 
of England began to be copied before its general diffusion 
in the nineteenth century, under two original forms, first 
by the United States, which made a simple republican trans- 
lation of it, as Sumner Maine has shown in his Popular 
Government, and then by revolutionary France, which 
hastened to drive parliamentarism into Rousseau-inspired 
radicalism. This last transformation, whose dawn was 
greeted as a marvellous creation, called forth I do not know 
how many ephemeral republics in South America, over- 
whelmed the Old World and reacted even upon British soil. 
One of the most remarkable traits of the liberal party 
and, consequently, of those times in which that party rules, 
is the cosmopolitan character of its aspirations. Cosmopol- 
itanism, indeed, is not the exclusive privilege of our own 
time. It flourished in all those periods of antiquity and 
medievalism in which fashion-imitation held sway. " Cos- 
mopolitanism," says Burckhardt, " is ... a sign of an 

1 [Middlemore r s translation, I, 128. Tr.] 

2 The eighteenth century inaugurated the reign of fashion on a 
large scale. This fact is very evident in the particulars of morals and 
institutions of this century. At this time, for example, the secret ballot 
came into use in municipal elections, and M. Albert Babeau tells us (in 
his work on the city of the old regime) that this was a fashion. He 
adds that already in the sixteenth century another age of invading 
fashions the corporation of Angers had adopted this manner of vot- 
ing, justifying itself by the usages at "the elections of senators at 
Venice, Genoa, Milan, and Rome." " So alert and eager for models 
was the municipal spirit at this time ! " 

294 Laws of Imitation 

epoch in which new worlds are discovered and men feel no 
longer at home in the old. We see it among the Greeks 
after the Peloponnesian War ; * Plato, as Niebuhr says, was 
not a good citizen. . . . Diogenes went so far as to pro- 
claim homelessness a pleasure and calls himself, . . . 
anokiS. * The Italians of the Renascence were cosmo- 
politan even before the fifteenth century, not merely because 
they had become habituated to their exile, but because their 
epoch and their country abounded in innovations of every 
kind and because people's minds were turned towards 
foreign and contemporary things even more than towards 
the domestic and patriotic things of their past. The weaken- 
ing of French patriotism in the sixteenth and seventeenth 
centuries is notorious. Let us call to mind the monstrous 
foreign alliances that were made by the different parties 
during the religious wars and the compliments of Voltaire 
to the King of Prussia after Rosbach. Even Herder and 
Fichte, who became such ardent patriots under the heel of 
the conqueror, began by holding the idea of fatherland in 
contempt. In contemporary Germany and France it has 
taken the evident necessity of armed defence to restore to 
national sentiment some part of its old-time vigour. 

But does everything terminate in the victory of fashion 
over routine? Not at all. This victory is itself incom- 
plete until the conservative party, resigned to its defeat 
and to taking a subordinate place, transforms itself into 
a national party and set itself to making the sap of tra- 
dition circulate in the new graft of progress. This na- 
tionalisation of foreign elements is the completion of the 
historical drama which contact with different or superior 
neighbouring civilisations unfolds. Thus the feudal king- 
doms which were founded by fashion on the model of the 
Capetian monarchy became national and traditional in the 
highest degree. 

The stream of custom returns, then, to its channel sin- 
gularly enlarged, to be sure and a new cycle begins. It 

1 In reality it must have appeared many times long before this. 

2 [Ibid., 187, footnote 3. Tr.] 

Extra-Logical Influences 295 

spins itself out and ends like its predecessors. And this 
will undoubtedly continue until the political uniformity and 
unity of the whole human genus are achieved. The innovat- 
ing party plays, then, in all of this, only a transitory, al- 
though an indispensable, part. It serves as a mediator be- 
tween the spirit of comparatively narrow conservatism 
which precedes it and the spirit of comparatively liberal 
conservatism which follows it. (Consequently, traditional- 
ism should no longer be opposed to liberalism. From our 
point of view the two are inseparable.^ Without hereditary 
imitation, without conservative tradition, any invention or 
novelty that was introduced by a liberal party would perish 
still-born, for the latter is related to the former like shadow 
to substance, or, rather, like a light to its lamp. The most 
radical revolutions seek to be traditionalised, so to speak, 
and, reciprocally, at the source of the most rigid tradi- 
tions we find some revolutionary condition. The object of 
every historic transformation seems to be to debouch in an 
immense and potent and final custom, where free and vig- 
orous imitation will finally unite the greatest possible in- 
tensiveness to the greatest possible extensiveness. 

Let me continue this subject in order to remark that the 
pursuit of this ideal is accomplished along the line of a 
rhythmical repetition of the same phases upon a scale of in- 
creasing size. In the transition from the primitive govern- 
ment of the family to tribal government, societies must have 
passed through exactly the same periods as contemporary 
societies are painfully traversing in order to pass from their 
systems of national government to the continental govern- 
ment of the future. Meanwhile, the foundations of munici- 
pal government and, then, of the government of small states 
or provinces, and, last of all, of the government of nations, 
all required the same series of efforts. To understand how 
each of these successive and intermittent enlargements of 
the political aggregates of the past took place, we should 
observe the manner in which modern political aggrandise- 
ments are effected. The little American republics which 
were to become the United States, lived separate and inde- 

296 Law of Imitation 

pendent. One day a common danger brought them to- 
gether and their union was proclaimed. The war which 
was the occasion of this great event was merely an historic 
accident, like the wars for conquest or independence 
which, during the course of history, have occasioned, have 
hastened, or retarded, but in no sense caused, the really 
stable extensions of the state from the family-state to 
the nation-state. The American Union, then, was de- 
creed; but what made it possible and lasting? What was 
the cause that not only necessitated this federal tie, but 
that still works to make it closer, day by day, a cause that 
will eventually bring forth unity out of union ? Tocqueville 
will tell us. " In the English colonies of the North, more 
generally known as the States of New England, the two or 
three main ideas which now constitute the basis of the 
social theory of the United States were first combined. 
The principles of New England spread at first to the 
neighbouring states; they then passed successively to 
the more distant ones; and, at last, if I may so speak, 
they interpenetrated the whole confederation. They 
now extend their influence beyond their limits, over the 
whole American world. The civilisation of New Eng- 
land 1 has been like a beacon lit upon a hill, which, after 
it has diffused its warmth immediately around it, also tinges 
the distant horizon with its glow." 2 It is cer- 
tain that if each of the United States had remained 
faithful to the constitution of its fathers, if it had not 
welcomed the two or three foreign ideas which were 
formulated by a small group of neighbouring states, the po- 
litical similarity of all these states, which alone made possi- 
ble their political fusion, would never have existed. Fash- 
ion-imitation was, then, the cause of this progress. I may 
add that the ideas which were imported in this way into a 
majority of the United States were so fully acclimatised 

1 The author gives us the reason of its pre-eminent contagiousness. 
The colonists of New England, the Puritan immigrants, were the only 
people to cross the ocean to work for an idea. 

* [Reeve's translation, I, 37. TV.] 

Extra-Logical Influences 297 

in them as to become part and parcel of their primitive cus- 
toms. The final result was a collective patriotism which was 
not less intense or less traditional or self-assertive than their 
original forms of patriotism. 

If the great American federation has just originated 
in this way. under our very eyes, we ought to believe that 
the origin of the little Greek federation was not very differ- 
ent. The innumerable municipal republics scattered 
through Greece and the Archipelago were almost exact 
copies of the two principal types, the Dorian and the 
Ionian. Evidently the resemblance which prompted them 
to unite on all occasions, could not be explained by the mere 
fact of colonisation by common mother-cities ; such a propa- 
gation through heredity must have been followed by a pro- 
pagation through imitation, and it was this that inaugurated 
a new era of Greek civilisation. Then Sparta and Athens, 
like fires lit up in lofty places, as Tocqueville says, radiated 
abroad. Here was fashion-imitation; and when fashion 
became settled and imbedded, it represented to all the cities 
a common national custom which inspired the liveliest and 
most hereditary patriotic sentiment that had ever been seen. 
But, if we consider each of these little cities apart in its 
deep attachment to its original institutions, before the as- 
similation of which I am speaking, and question how the 
different tribes of which it was composed came themselves 
to federate and form a city, we shall find no other reason 
but that of their pre-existing similarity, a similarity which 
had been effected by the radiant brilliancy of one of 
their number, voluntarily or coercively copied by the 

These periods of brilliancy towards which the eyes of the 
historians turn of their own accord, the age of Pericles, the 
age of Augustus, the age of Louis XIV, are characterised, 
in common, by the introduction, after an era of sudden 
innovations and rapid annexations and assimilations, of a 
new form of society and the inauguration of a new tra- 
dition. After language has been subject to change for a 
long time, it becomes fixed in a mould which is hencefor- 

298 Laws of Imitation 

ward respected. After many changes have been produced 
in religion by an over-hospitable welcoming of alien ideas, 
it is re-established and reorganised. After great upheav- 
als, political institutions, remodelled and reorganised, take 
root anew. After innumerable gropings in the dark, art, in 
all its branches, finds its classical direction, and hencefor- 
ward maintains itself in it. After a chaos of ordinances, 
decrees, and laws, legislation codifies and ossifies itself, so to 
speak. In this respect, Pericles, although he was the head 
of a democratic state and of the most stirring one of an- 
cient peoples, resembles Augustus and Louis XIV. Under 
him, all those elements of Athenian civilisation, which were 
disorganised in consequence of the great current of fashion- 
imitation which had preceded him, and which, more- 
ever, was never interrupted for long in the Greek world, 
given over, as it was, to an intermixture of commercial and 
maritime civilisations, came into logical agreement like that 
of the elements of Latin and of French civilisation, 
under the two great emulators of Periclean glory, subse- 
quently to the troublous times which had disorganised 
the Roman Republic, before the advent of the one, and 
French society before that of the other. Then the Attic 
dialect began to spread everywhere, and to impose its co- 
lonial empire upon every one; and in its spread and con- 
solidation it became fixed as the immortal language of the 
whole of subsequent antiquity. Then, too, sculpture and 
dramatic poetry attained their apogee, their exemplary per- 
fection. And then, finally, government and finance took a 
truly permanent and conservative stand. For, although 
Pericles inclined towards intellectual novelties and wel- 
comed foreign writers and thinkers, he was as conserva- 
tive as Augustus and Louis XIV, each of whom was the 
patron and abettor of the intellectual and artistic life which 
he welcomed in order to appropriate it to himself. 

Now, it is clear that if a return is made to tradition dur- 
ing these epochs of great men, or of great reigns, it is to 
an enlarged tradition, to a tradition that has been enlarged 
in two ways, by the extension of the territory over which 

Extra-Logical Influences 299 

it rules, and by the elaboration of the elements of which it 
is composed. Before Pericles, Athens was merely a greater 
and more illustrious city than the other Greek cities. Dur- 
ing his time it became the capital of a fairly vast empire, 
whose life depended upon its life, and the intensity and 
complexity of this life was quite a different thing from 
that of the early centuries of Athens. 

We have seen how the great centuries of which I am 
speaking may be considered under two aspects; in the first 
place, as the time when a new logical equilibrium is reached 
through what I have called the grammar in contrast to the 
dictionary of the elements of civilisation; in the second place, 
as the point of departure for a new era of traditional life. 
But these two aspects are bound together, for it is because 
innovations, introduced by the breath of fashion, have be- 
come harmonised, that they have subsequently become im- 
bedded as customs. The proof that they have been harmo- 
nised is visible in the symmetrical and even artificial air 
which all the creations of such memorable epochs take on. 
In them, political administrations are uniform and central- 
ised. In them, the streets and squares of cities are trans- 
formed into geometric symmetry. For example, when 
Pericles rebuilt Sybaris under the name of Thurii, Curtius 
tells us that the city " was laid out on the plan of the 
Piraeaus," that " four principal roads ran from end to end 
and three from side to side." We can read in Babeau, 
La Ville sous I'ancien regime, of the transformations a la 
Haussmann, which were effected in all the cities of France 
under Louis XIV, and we can compare all of this with what 
Roman archaeology teaches us about post-Augustan cities. 
Besides, although the austere and autocratic Pericles, the 
descendant of an illustrious family, a kind of republican 
Pitt, desired maritime grandeur and imperial expansion for 
Athens, he jealously opposed the introduction of the alien 
into the city as a member of the civic body. On this point, 
he reverted, Curtius tells us, " to antique, severe, and archaic 
legislation." He governed democratically, but he sup- 
pressed all democratic principles, i. e., " rotation in office, 

300 Laws of Imitation 

division of authority, and even responsibility in public of- 
fice." Like Augustus, he concentrated in his own person 
all the functions of the Republic, and out of them he made 
himself a sovereign power. 

However, he had nothing in common with the ancient 
tyrants but appearances. The tyrant was far from repre- 
senting or favouring the conservatism of custom; in spite 
of his despotism, he favoured those currents of foreign fash- 
ion which dissolved national traditions, his great stum- 
bling block. Pericles, on the contrary, inaugurated a 
return to the life of tradition, because it was to his in- 

I do not mean to say that Pericles, in imposing his au- 
thority and in stamping his seal upon the institutions of his 
country, created that desire of a more national and tradi- 
tional life by which he profited for the time being too 
short a time, unfortunately. The Persian wars, like all 
warlike crises, had revived the sentiment of nationality (but 
of an aggrandised nationality) which had, in the preceding 
centuries, notably in the sixth century, been weakened by 
the drain upon it of cosmopolitan life. " Whereas, in the 
time of Solon," says Curtius (II, 476), "the facile 
life of the lonians (of Asia) flourished at Athens, whose 
wealthy citizens took pleasure in displaying their pur- 
ple and gold and perfumes, their horses, their hounds, their 
favourites, and their banquets, it is incontestable that with! 
the Persian wars a more serious view of life penetrated the 
nation." There was a return to the customs of the Athe- 
nian forefathers. " The victory of Marathon brought back 
into honour the old Attic race of the cultivators of the soil; 
and the more the core of the Athenian people came to con- 
sider themselves superior to the maritime populations of 
Ionia [a form of pride, let us note, which is always depend- 
ent upon custom-imitation], the more they desired inde- 
pendence in language, customs, and dress." Dress became 
simpler in a return to primitive austerity. " Here was a 
purely objective difference between the Asiatic lonians and 
the Athenians; but their customs and habits of life had al- 

Extra-Logical Influences 301 

ready varied for a long time" This is a proof of the priority 
of subjective over objective imitation. 

There are many signs to show that the time immediately 
preceding Pericles, the beginning of the fifth century, and, 
especially, the sixth century, were periods in which the wind 
of foreign imitation blew throughout the Archipelago, in all 
the civilised or to-be-civilised basins of the Mediterranean. 
This was the epoch of Polycrates and the other Greek ty- 
rants, all of whom were opposed to the ancient morality, all 
of whom were propagators of foreign customs and pre- 
cursors of modern administrative government. More- 
over, tyranny plainly showed by its rapid spread from 
island to island, at this epoch, the impressionability of the 
period to extraneous examples. A still better indication of 
this was the unheard-of spectacle that could be seen in 
Egypt, under the Psammetichi and under Amasis, in their 
imitation of the life of Greece and in their efforts to intro- 
duce it into the classical land of tradition ! Amasis " was 
married to a woman of Cyrene; his boon companions were 
Greeks, and Greek princes were his friends and guests; like 
Croesus [the innovator of Lydia], he honoured the gods of 
the Greeks." It was in this way, in the eighteenth century 
of our era, that Frederick the Great attempted to Gallicise 
his kingdom. Darius may be considered to have shared in 
this movement of Hellenisation, but under more hidden and 
general forms. At any rate, he opened the way to the great 
administrative empires which followed him. Persia was 
" utterly transformed by him. A new spirit of administra- 
tion took the place of its ancient customs." 

Hence the individualism which appeared at this time. 
" An entirely new sentiment of personality was awakened." 
People dared to think for themselves; from this audacity 
philosophy was born. The Sophists were the agents of the 
intellectual freedom of the individual. Hence, too, the cos- 
mopolitanism of this epoch. 

Have I said enough to show the leading role which is 
played in political history by the alternation in the levels of 
the two great currents between which imitation unequally 


Laws of Imitation 

divides itself? Undoubtedly not, but I will conclude this ex- 
position by studying more closely the political consequences 
which result from the occurrence of this simple rhythmi- 
cal change in the direction of a single force and the charac- 
teristics which must be taken on by any form of govern- 
ment to fit itself to expand or to implant itself in the way 
that I have described. 

The consequences are, in brief, as we already know, the 
progressive enlargement and consolidation of the political 
agglomeration, and, then, as we shall see, a continually 
growing administrative and military centralisation, the in- 
creasing opportunity given to a personal government to 
make itself universal and later on to perpetuate itself 
through becoming traditional. The characteristics are a 
relatively rational and democratic air in the case of consti- 
tutions that are expanding and an air of relative originality 
and authority in the case of constitutions that have already 
spread and that are already established. All this will be- 
come clearer through a comparison of our antithesis with 
two different but kindred antitheses, upon which two emi- 
nent although unequal thinkers are agreed. 

Both Tocqueville and Spencer have had a lively appre- 
ciation of the great social transformation which is the slow 
and irresistible movement of our age. They have both en- 
deavoured to formulate it in terms in which they thought 
they saw a general law of history. Spencer was especially 
impressed by the industrial development of our time. In 
this he saw the dominant trait which explained all the other 
traits of our societies, notably, the emancipation of the indi- 
vidual, the substitution of constitutional rights for natural 
rights, of the regime of contract for the regime of status, of 
justice for privilege, and of free and voluntary association 
for hereditary and state-imposed corporations. In general- 
ising this view he considered the directing of activity 
towards depredation or production, towards war or peace, 
a major fact which sufficed to characterise two ever-con- 
flicting types of civilisation: the militant type, which is ap- 
proaching extinction, and the industrial type, which is 

Extra-Logical Influences 303 

destined to an idyllic and grandiose future of peace, liberty, 
morality, and love. 1 

Tocqueville was profoundly and religiously impressed, 
as he tells us, by that levelling of conditions which is precip- 
itating the peoples of Europe and America towards the in- 
evitable slope of democracy. In his x eyes, desire for equal- 
ity is the highest motor power of our times, just as desire 
for privilege was the highest motor power of the past, and 
upon the opposition of those two forces he bases the con- 
trast between aristocratic and democratic societies which 
have at all times differed in everything, in language, in re- 
ligion, in industry, in literature, and in art, as well as in 
politics. Without alarm on the contrary, with evident 
sympathy, but without superfluous illusions or, at least, 
without any dose of optimism that could be compared with 
that of Spencer's he foresees the results of the equalisation 
that is to be consummated in the future of democracy, and 
he depicts them in a way which is at times prophetic. 

On many points the antitheses of Spencer and Tocqueville 
agree, for it seems as if Spencer's militant societies were pre- 
cisely, in many respects, the aristocracies of Tocqueville, 
and as if the industrial societies of the former tended to 
identify themselves with the democracies of the latter. 
Spencer tells us, however, that militancy engenders obliga- 
tory co-operation and the oppression of the individual under 
administrative centralisation, and that industrialism makes 
for voluntary co-operation, individual independence, and de- 

1 Comte, and not Mr. Spencer, was the author of the antithesis be- 
tween the industrial and the militant types of society. Comte did more 
than merely point out this antithesis; he often developed it; he even 
exaggerated it. He established, for example, an indissoluble tie be- 
tween industrial evolution and artistic evolution, a tie that practically 
belied classical antiquity. Still, there is much truth at bottom in this 
point of view. 

Only, even while exaggerating the merits of industrial activity and 
its superiority over the activity of war, Comte was careful not to 
carry this distinction to the point of considering it the line of cleavage, 
so to speak, in sociology. He knew that religious evolution, the succes- 
sion and differentiation of theological and scientific forms and ideas, 
has a far-reaching control over these secondary considerations. And 
this is what Mr. Spencer failed to see. 

304 Laws of Imitation 

centralisation. Tocqueville, on the contrary, in pages where 
the most solid erudition is joined to the most thoughtful 
and sincere insight, is forced to conclude, at the last and 
against his wish, that democratic equality, born of general 
uniformity, leads us almost inevitably to oppressive centrali- 
sation and excessive paternalism, and that local franchises 
and personal guarantees were far more surely protected 
in times of aristocratic differentiation and inequality. This 
avowal must have cost him dear, and I do not see how he 
reconciles his passionate love for liberty, a love which far 
outweighs his love for equality, with his sympathy for the 
conventional and intolerant state, in a word, for the socialis- 
tic state, which he so clearly foresees. And yet his liberal- 
ism is not more inconsistent than that of the great English 
evolutionist. At any rate, which of the two is in the 
right? Must we agree with Tocqueville in holding that an 
aristocratic rule is decentralising, differentiating, and, in 
a sense, liberal, and that a democratic rule is centralising, 
levelling, and authoritative; or must we accept Spencer's ap- 
parently inverse proposition? 

I think that Tocqueville's thesis contains a greater 
amount of truth, but that he was wrong in not bringing out 
more clearly a certain side of his thought which has re- 
mained in the shade. At bottom, he generally means by 
aristocratic rule the dominance of custom, and by demo- 
cratic rule, the dominance of fashion, and, if he had ex- 
pressed his thought in these terms, he would have been in- 
contestably in the right. But his expression was inexact, 
for it is not essential to aristocracy to be bound to the spirit 
of tradition, and every democracy is not hospitable to nov- 
elties. Nevertheless, his merit consists in his having dis- 
criminated between the hereditary and non-hereditary origin 
of powers and rights, of sentiments and ideas, and of not 
having misconstrued the capital importance of this distinc- 
tion, a distinction which is wholly neglected or barely 
touched upon by Spencer. Spencer does not distinguish 
between the hereditary and customary, i. e., feudal, form of 
militancy, and its voluntary, legislative, and outwardly imi- 

Extra-Logical Influences 305 

tative form, a form which is peculiar to our contemporaries. 
To him the important fact is whether the nature of ordinary 
activity is bellicose or industrial. But to say that obliga- 
tory co-operation is peculiar to every nation under the domi- 
nation of an army, under the pretext that military organisa- 
tion is essentially coercive, is to forget the fact that a great 
workshop is.governed just as authoritatively as a barbarous 
horde, or as a modern fleet or regiment. Was not the Peru 
of the Incas a great phalanstery rather than a great bar- 
racks ? At any rate, no military despotism was ever more 
dictatorial than this agricultural despotism. This was be- 
cause obedience to custom was never more rigorously en- 
forced, except, perhaps, in China. China is the least war- 
like and the most laborious country in the world; but in 
spite of this, co-operation there is as obligatory as it can 
possibly be, intolerance is absolute, and administrative cen- 
tralisation is carried as far as the absence of railroads and 
telegraphs allows of in such an extensive stretch of territory. 
For there the yoke of custom and ancestral domination 
weighs everybody down, beginning with the Emperor. 1 

Spencer attributes to the militancy of France, whose de- 
velopment, as he says, surpasses that of England, because 

1 Is it by any chance the habit of fighting which strengthens authority 
and makes it hereditary? It is not; a victorious war might, of course, 
lead to the extension of a pre-existing nobility, or it might even create 
a new nobility, but only on the condition that the given society lived 
under the rule of custom and was thus predisposed to make all power 
hereditary. Otherwise, it would not have this effect at all. Could 
twenty years of continual warfare create a feudal system in moderni 
Europe? It might create a dictatorship, based upon an even more in- 
solent plutocracy than that of to-day; nothing more. In fact, every 
nobility is, originally, rural, patriarchal, and domestic. Aristocracies 
are particularly vigorous and unchangeable when they are not bel- 
ligerent. The Swiss aristocracy is an example. In spite of its repub- 
lican and federal form, it was perpetuated up to our own times long 
after the rest of the continent had set towards democracy. If, in 
spite of this, the idea of militancy is generally associated with aris- 
tocratic control, it is because the territorial disintegration which is 
produced by the aristocratic preponderance of custom multiplies the 
occasions of armed conflicts. Industrialism is so little incompatible 
with militancy that the city that was perhaps the most warlike city of 
the Middle Ages, Florence, was at the same epoch the most industrial 
region of Europe. Ancient Athens is another example. 

306 Laws of Imitation 

of the more frequent wars of the former, the dictatorial and 
centralising character of the old French regime (completed, 
in this respect, as we know, by the Revolution). But let 
us observe that this character was accentuated in proportion 
to the encroachment of the royal power, which, in its de- 
pendence upon the communes, that is, upon the industrial 
classes of the nation, extended itself to the detriment of the 
, warrior caste of feudal lords. If it did not result in pre- 
venting foreign and intermittent wars, it did, at least, pre- 
vent steady and intestine warfare, much to the advantage 
of labour. The King of France was essentially a peace 
bringer. England remained in a state of comparative de- 
centralisation, because she continued to be an aristocratic 
country. Her industrial wealth, which, up to the end of the 
eighteenth century, was not superior to that of France, 
counted for nothing in this result. As for the entirely re- 
cent tendency of contemporary nations towards state social- 
ism, so strong an argument against the liberalising in- 
fluence that is attributed by Spencer to industrial develop- 
ment, and such a formal refutation of his views upon the 
political future, is it permissible to interpret it as an ac- 
cidental and momentary effect of the exaggerated arma- 
ments which the Franco-Prussian war imposed upon 
Europe? And would it not be more exact to attribute to 
this profound and invincible and, to all appearances, lasting 
movement, an internal and permanent, instead of a for- 
tuitous and external, cause, one which would closely connect 
the progress of the modern state with the progress of modern 
industry and democracy ? * 

1 Even in the United States, in spite of the essentially peaceful 
character of its people, a universal tendency towards centralisation 
may be observed. The Journal des economistes says (July, 1886) that 
in the March number of the Political Science Quarterly, an American 
review published in Boston, an article of Mr. Burgess' tends to prove 
that " an internal process is going on to reduce the importance of the 
States to that of provinces or departments and to augment the 
importance of the Union. Moreover, the author proves that the Union 
has always had precedence over the States." See also on this sub- 
ject the interesting and instructive work of M. Claudio Jannet upon 
the tats-Unis contemporains. (Fourth edition, 1888). 

Extra-Logical Influences 307 

This cause lies in the habit, which is becoming daily more 
general, of taking examples that are near at hand, in the 
present, instead of those that belong exclusively to the past. 
It is remarkable that from the time this habit began to 
prevail, nations have been urged, either by war or peace, 
in the direction of extreme centralisation and unification, 
and of the broadening and deepening of democracy, just as 
when the opposite habit prevailed, war and peace, chateaux 
and guilds, contributed to the maintenance of feudal dis- 
integration. Why is this ? ^ Because external imitation 
produces that great uniformity of ideas and tastes, of 
usages and wants, which makes possible and then neces- 
sary, not only the fusion of the assimilated peoples, but the 
equalising of their rights and conditions, i. e., juridical sim- 
ilarity between members of communities who have become 
alike in so many other respects. Because, in addition, this 
uniformity makes possible for the first time, and then neces- 
sary, both wholesale industry, machine production, and whole- 
sale war, machine destruction. And, finally, because this same 
uniformity, which makes one man equal to another, neces- 
sarily leads to the treatment of men as like units, to the me- 
chanical consideration and calculation of their desires by 
means of universal suffrage and of their actions by means of 
statistics, and to the restraining of them all under a uniform 
system of discipline by means of those other mechanisms 
that are called administrative bureaus or departments. Here 
the truly essential and causal thing is the multiplication of 
external relations among classes and peoples. This is so 
true that the social transformation in question set in imme- 
diately after the comparatively modern inventions in print- 
ing, in locomotion, and in communication, that it develops 
parallelly with the propagation of these inventions and that, 
in those places where it has not yet begun, the laying of rail- 
roads and the setting up of telegraph poles suffice to in- 
augurate it. If American democracy shows in a remark- 
able degree the features which M. de Tocqueville has at- 
tributed to democracies in general, and, notably, to Euro- 
pean democracies, whose portrait he has drawn for them in 

308 Laws of Imitation 

advance, it is because North America has anticipated Europe 
in its bold and extensive use of new methods of transporta- 
tion, in its steamboats and railroads, it is because nowhere 
else has there been so much or such rapid travelling, nor so 
great an interchange of letters and telegrams. 

Moreover, may we not suppose that in the future, when 
our democracies are firmly established, they will differ 
in many points from the picture that Tocqueville makes of 
them? Is it true that a democratic rule essentially implies 
the empire of what I call fashion? Must its opinions and 
practices be in consequence unstable, as well as chaotic and 
domineering? Must the short-sightedness and capricious- 
ness of its majorities equal their omnipotence? I see no 
reason to think this. The social being, after all, however 
social he may be, is a living being, born through the power 
of generation and born for it. He wishes to perpeutate his 
social body, and he knows no better way of doing this than 
to attach it to his physical body, and transmit it with his 
blood. Every civilisation which has run its course, Egypt, 
China, the Roman Empire, has presented the spectacle of a 
more or less extensive society, drawing back through the 
promptings of filial piety, after its conversion through a kind 
of beneficent epidemic to a given body of ideas and institu- 
tions, and shutting itself up in these ideas and institutions for 
ages at a time. I have already referred to China. In the 
last centuries of the Roman Empire we find a society which 
is not democratic, which is, on the contrary, pretty aristo- 
cratic, but which is very uniform, and at the same time very 
stable and mechanical, and which is ruled over by a highly 
centralised administration. Ancient Egypt, which was to 
a certain extent democratic, was no less striking in its uni- 
formity from one end to the other of the Nile basin, in its 
administrative centralisation, and in its prodigious immuta- 
bility as well. All these examples and arguments suggest 
the thought that our own contemporaneous society may be 
unwittingly gravitating, in spite of its transient mobility 
and momentary bias for individual liberty (just as the 
fluctuations of the sea give a free air to a vessel), towards 

Extra-Logical Influences 309 

an age of fixed custom in which the present work of render- 
ing all things uniform will be completed. Towards the end 
of his work Tocqueville had a presentiment of this. Once 
a democratic state is established, he says, far from favouring 
revolutions, it is antagonistic to them ; and, he adds : " I 
can easily discern a state of polity which, when combined 
with the principle of equality, would render society more 
stationary than it has ever been in our western part of the 
world." x 

1 [Reeve's translation, II, 315-6 TV.] 

In an attentive reading of Tocqueville it may be perceived that al- 
though he never troubles himself to formulate the principle of imita- 
tion he is always running across it, and curiously enumerating its 
consequences. But if he had expressed it clearly and placed it at the 
head of his deductions, he would, I think, have been spared many 
minor errors and contradictions. He justly remarks that " no society 
can prosper without like beliefs, or, rather, there is none that subsists 
without them ; for without common ideas, there is no common action, 
and without common action, men there may be, but not a social body." 
This means, at bottom, that the true social relation consists in imita- 
tion, since similarity of ideas, I mean of those ideas which are needed 
by society, is always acquired, never inborn. It is through equality 
that he justly explains the omnipotence of majorities the redoubtable 
problem of the future and the singular potency of public opinion in 
democratic states, a sort of " immense pressure " which is brought to 
bear by the spirit of all upon the spirit of each. On the other hand, 
he explains equality by means of similarity, of which, truly speaking, it 
is only one aspect. He says that only when men resemble each other 
to a certain extent do they recognise each other's mutual rights. What 
is there to add to this? Only one word, but it is indispensable: the 
fact that imitation must have and has caused this similarity, a similar- 
ity which was not in the least innate. Imitation, then, is the es- 
sentially social action from which everything proceeds. 

" In democratic centuries," Tocqueville says again, " men's extreme 
mobility and their impatient desires cause them to move continually 
from one locality to another, and cause the inhabitants of different 
countries to intermingle, to see and hear each other and borrow from 
each other. And so it is not only the members of one nation who 
grow alike; nations themselves are assimilated." Under the term of 
democratic revolution, the effects of a preponderance of fashion-imi- 
tation could not be better described. He offers an ingenious and, I 
think, valid reason for that tendency of democracies towards general 
and abstract ideas which makes them lose sight of living realities; 
namely, that as men grow more alike, they find less difficulty in look- 
ing at themselves collectively, in summing themselves up, and they 
thereby acquire the habit of seeing everything in this way. This is 
another effect of imitation. I have taken these examples among a 


Laws of Imitation 

IV. Legislation 

The above consideration concerning government may be 
applied to legislation. 1 Legislation, like political and mil- 
itary systems, is only a particular development of religion. 
And, as a matter of fact, law was originally as sacred a 
thing as kingship. The most ancient collection of laws, 
Deuteronomy, the Irish codes of the ancient Brehons, the 
code of Manu, are inextricably mingled with legendary 
lore and cosmogonic explanations. This fact shows that 
the prophet who dogmatises and is deified after death is 
one with the legislator who commands and the king who 
governs. In the beginnings of history the father of the 
family, as well as the leader of the social group, is all that in 
one. His essential quality is that of pontiff, and, as such, he 
is, in consequence, both chief and judge. He is chief, in as 
much as he directs the collective action of the group for the 
common interest of all its members. He is judge when he 
interposes his authority between these members to settle 
their differences. If his method of settling them is con- 
tinuous and self-consistent, if he possesses a system of juris- 
prudence, as our jurists would say, he comes to prevent their 
occurrence. And from that time on law exists in his little 
society; the memory of his past decisions implies the 
prevision of his future judgments. Then legislation is in the 
beginning and always, at bottom, nothing more than ac- 
cumulated, generalised and capitalised justice, just as a con- 
stitution is merely accumulated, generalized, and system- 
atised politics. Legislation is to justice, a constitution is 
to politics, what the Lake of Geneva is to the Rhone. 

In general, there is between common law which is passed 
down by tradition and statute law which is born of some 
current of reform opinion the same difference as between 

thousand similar ones. Again he writes : " It is not so much the 
rational desire to remain united which keeps a great number of citizens 
under one government, as the instinctive aad, in a way, involuntary 
agreement which results from a similarity of sentiments and opinions." 
1 For the role of imitation and of social logic in the formation of 
law, see my Transformations du droit. 

Extra-Logical Influences 311 

natural and rationalistic constitutions, or between exclusive 
and proselyting religions, or even between dialects and cul- 
tivated languages. Dialects, local cults, original systems of 
government, and customs, seek to transmit themselves from 
generation to generation; cultivated languages, open-armed 
religions, ready-made constitutions, and new codes, seek 
to spread themselves from man to man, either within the 
circumference of a single country or beyond it. This does 
not prevent the most widespread language from having 
been originally like any other dialect; or the most penetrat- 
ing kind of religion from having germinated in some nar- 
row sect; or the most triumphant and ambitious constitu- 
tion from having been suggested by some petty, local gov- 
ernment, like that of Lacedaemon, with which our conven- 
tions were so much taken, or, at any rate, by some tradi- 
tional government, like that of England, over which our 
parliamentarians are still so enthusiastic; or, finally, the 
most contagious kinds of legislations like Roman law, or 
its hybrid derivative, modern French law, from having their 
source or sources in such humble customs as the primitive 
jus quiritium or the Prankish laws. Nor does this prevent 
the most widespread language, religion, constitution, or 
piece of legislation from contracting after its expansion, 
from becoming localised after its diffusion, and from tend- 
ing to become in its turn a dialect, a local cult, a peculiar 
constitution or custom, but all this upon a much greater 
scale and with a higher degree of complexity. There are, 
then, I reiterate, three phases to be considered; and from 
the legislative point of view, just as in all other aspects, 
their characteristics are well marked. In the first, Law is 
extremely multiform and extremely stable, very different in 
different countries, and immutable from age to age. In the 
second, it is, on the contrary, very uniform and very change- 
able, as is the case in modern Europe. In the third, it en- 
deavours to combine its acquired uniformity with its refound 
stability. A cursory glance will show us that this is the 
rhythm in which the whole history of Law is played. 
There was a time when every family or pseudo-family 

312 Laws of Imitation 

possessed its own peculiar law, then every clan and tribe, 
then every city, then every province. " In order to un- 
derstand how each of these successive steps towards the 
prospective unity of the legislative domain was accom- 
plished, let us study the transitions from provincial to na- 
tional law. For a long time every province of France pos- 
sessed its own distinct customs, but gradually a body of 
royal ordinances came to be superposed upon these customs. 
Moreover, it should be noted that every parliament and tri- 
bunal interpreted new laws in its own way, and created its 
own separate system of jurisprudence. This juristic 
habit reduced legislation to the original provinciality 
whence it seemed unable to escape in a time that was still 
dominated by hereditary imitation. But, finally, contagious 
imitation, the tendency to copy the legislative and juristic 
innovations of Paris, having definitely prevailed, the edicts 
of the Parisian legislators of the Revolution and of the Em- 
pire were readily obeyed throughout the France whose prov- 
inces had ceased to bow down before the authority of 
their own ancestors and of native jurists. What is more, 
the jurisprudence of every court or tribunal was modelled 
(by compulsion, someone may say, but why, unless the need 
of territorial conformity had become imperative?) upon the 
jurisprudence of the court of cassation at Paris. Let me 
add that already our national jurisprudence, established in 
this way by fashion, is tending to become transfixed by tra- 
dition and to carry legislation with it into its own state of 
immobility. The law of the Twelve Tables, which ended by 
being the venerable tradition and sacred custom of Rome, 
began by being a foreign importation that a fine outburst of 
fashion-imitation caused to be adopted. 

While this movement is transpiring, a still more majestic 
change is inaugurated. The same cause which rendered 
necessary first the superposition and then the substitution 
of national law upon or in place of provincial laws, compels 
the different national laws to reflect one of their own number, 
and to prepare for the legislative unification of the future. It 
was in the sixteenth century, unsettled period though it was, 

Extra-Logical Influences 313 

a time of contagious innovations, that Roman Law arose 
from its scattered ashes and spread throughout every state, 
while in each one of them the progress of the royal power 
was making their legislation uniform. Yesterday it was 
the Napoleonic Code that crossed the frontiers of the 
French Empire. (To-day, unfortunately, no prestigious 
authority is arising potent enough to construct a new mon- 
ument of law to dazzle the eyes from afar; but everything 
leads us to think that if it did appear somewhere or other, 
it would be copied with unheard-of rapidity everywhere 
witness the comparative success of the Torrens act. In the 
absence of really new juristic solutions, the new problems 
of law which occur, in connection, for example, with indus- 
trial accidents and labour legislation, are barely formulated' 
in any corner of the world before they violently rebound to 
every other corner. 

Well, if it is true that the disposition of the modern pub- 
lic towards free imitation of outside things has alone 
made possible the diffusion of the French Code, for ex- 
ample, is it not likely that in past ages, when the same pro- 
vincial law came to prevail over a certain number of cities, 
and the same municipal law over a certain number of 
tribes, etc., a like disposition characterised the public of 
those times, and that without it none of these gradual ex- 
tensions of the juristic sphere would have occurred ? When 
in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries we see in France and 
Germany a certain number of cities which had been pre- 
viously governed by very distinct customs, presenting a com- 
parative similarity of legislation, we know that in France 
this uniformity was established through the imitative spread 
of the first charter granted to a commune, a document 
which fascinated the eye of the public of the period, and we 
know that the idea of mutual imitation in this respect came 
to cities which already had multiple relations with each 
other by way of commerce or treaty, or through language 
or kinship. The customs of Lorris, for example, spread 
with great rapidity in the royal domain and in Champagne. 
The same thing happened in Germany. " Almost all the 

314 Laws of Imitation 

municipal laws of the Rhine towns are like those of 
Cologne," writes M. Schulte, in his classical work upon the 
history of German law. 1 The Rhine towns lived a com- 
mon life through that continuous stream of mutual imita- 
tion which was sustained and symbolised by the current of 
their river. " The law of Liibeck," says the same author, 
" was the model for that of Holstein and Schleswig, and 
the majority of the cities on the Baltic Sea." The law of 
Magdeburg was parallelled and developed, too, by Halle, 
Leipsic, Breslau, and other "sister cities," and from Bres- 
lau it " spread to Silesia, Bohemia, Poland, and Moravia, 
so that it was pretty closely followed through the entire 
East." 2 Nevertheless, after any municipal law or charter 
has spread in this way through fashion, after it has been 
somewhat modified, it soon becomes one of the most cher- 
ished of customs in the hearts of its administrators. 

In letting this thought sink into our minds, we shall save 
ourselves from the error of differentiating between an- 
cient and modern law, of digging a factitious abyss be- 
tween them, and of supposing that the bridging-over from 
one to the other, in so far as it is genuine, has only been ef- 
fected once in the world's history. That eminent thinker 
who has penetrated so profoundly into the law of the past, 
Sir Henry Sumner Maine, is not free from illusion of this 
kind. According to him, the great, the capital revolution 
which has been accomplished in law is that which took 
place, as he supposes, when the idea of common territory 
was substituted for that of consanguinity as a basis for 
poitical and juridical union. There is much truth in this 
view, but if we endeavour to particularise it, we shall see 
that it ought to be expressed in other terms, and that it 
would gain by such a translation. It is certain that the 
family was for a long time the narrow domain to which 
moral obligations were confined, and that all the rest of the 

1 [Histoire du droit et des institutions de I'Allemagne, p. 159. 
Frederic de Schulte. French translation by Marcel Fournier. Paris, 
1882. Tr.} 

2 [Ibid., p. 162. Tr.] 

Extra-Logical Influences 3 1 5 

universe was field for prey. Consequently, the ancient 
pater familias had power over life and death in his house- 
hold; he could condemn to death his wife, his children, and 
his slaves. But what was this hermetically sealed family 
life but a profession of complete disdain on the part of its 
members for all external examples? It is obviously diffi- 
cult to maintain such exclusi veness ; little by little domestic 
barriers are broken down and foreign influences are added 
to paternal traditions. It is then, when different families 
have begun to lend and borrow to and from one another, 
that relations of neighbourhood combine with those of kin- 
ship in the creation of legal ties. But as the only recog- 
nised type of solidarity was habitually the tie of blood, ties 
of friendship were at first fictitiously classed under this 
tie by adoption or otherwise. Later, in Christian countries, 
spiritual fatherhood, the relation of godfather to godchild, 
with the rights and duties which accompany it, must be 
classed with paternity by adoption, just as the relation of 
spiritual nurse, that is, of spiritual preceptor, to disciple 
must be classed with that of foster-father to foster-child 
(the fosterage of Ireland). In Ireland, for example, the 
preceptor had the right to succeed to the fortune of his dis- 
ciple. In this same country, I am still citing Sumner Maine, 
the very ecclesiastical organisation, the bulk of the monas- 
teries and bishoprics, simulated a true tribe. It is perhaps 
because of a like fiction that the names of father, brother, 
mother, and sister are given to the inmates of convents and 
monasteries, in spite of their obligatory celibacy. 

But, little by little, as non-related individuals came to inter- 
mingle and to assimilate with one another more and more, 
the impossibility of extending similar fictions to their new 
relations insured the rejection of these fictions, and the 
simple fact of living together in the same country sufficed 
to bind men legally to one another. Why was this? Be- 
cause in the great majority of cases compatriots had 
become very much alike through their habit of reciprocal 
imitation. When, as an exception, a particular group was 
different from the others, like the Jews in the Middle Ages, 

31 6 Laws of Imitation 

or the American negroes, or the Spanish Moors under 
Philip II, or like the Catholics in Protestant countries, or 
the Protestants in Catholic countries, during the sixteenth 
century, participation in the law of the land was refused, or 
with great difficulty conceded to them, in spite of their 
common territory. So true is it that the real foundation 
and first condition of law is the existence of a certain kind 
of preliminary similarity between the men that it is to 
unite. When blood relationship was a requisite, it was 
because it alone presupposed this degree of resemblance, 
whereas, at present, the possession of a common territory 
suffices to give birth to this presumption. Besides, the 
tie of a common territory aspires to strengthen itself 
through the addition of the tie of kinship. In modern na- 
tions, where distinct races have had time to fuse together 
through their prolonged submission to the same laws, the 
national party are convinced that they have common an- 
cestors, although the apparently territorial character of their 
law disguises their faith in their common kinship. Seeley 
justly places foremost among the conditions of national 
unification, " community of race, or, rather, belief in such 
community." In the most modern as well as in the most 
ancient times, then, the important thing is not so much real 
consanguinity as fictitious or reputed consanguinity. Thus 
we see that the action of fashion-imitation has produced, 
not once, but very often, the important juridical revolution 
to which Sumner Maine refers. But from the expression 
of this author it would seem as if physiological or physical 
causes, generation, or climate, or soil, were the factors of 
this transformation, whereas an essentially sociological 
force, imitation, has done it all. 

In the preceding remarks it is true that imitation of su- 
periors appears to be confused with imitation of contem- 
poraneous innovators. But there are cases in the domain 
of jurisprudence, as well as elsewhere, in which it is dif- 
ferentiated. The history of penal law furnishes us with 
many striking examples of this. I will merely indicate 
them here, as I have already spoken of them at some length 

Extra-Logical Influences 317 

in another work. 1 It is stupifying to find with what ra- 
pidity certain odious and absurd criminal procedures, like 
torture or certain inadequate and unintelligent ones like the 
jury system, have, at certain epochs, been propagated. Tor- 
ture was in fashion in Europe from the time of the unearthing 
of Roman law at Bologna, and up to the sixteenth century 
it spread like an inundation of blood. In the eighteenth 
century people fell in love with the jury system, without 
understanding it, upon the word of a few anglomaniacs; so 
much so that in 1789 all the official instructions of the elec- 
tors to the deputies at the States-General were unanimous 
on this, as on so many other points. And we know how far 
prepossession for this lame and blind kind of justice has 
spread in our century of equality and enlightenment. Are 
we not forced to surmise from these two examples that the 
method which preceded torture, judicial combat, was itself 
propagated by means of some similar infatuation? 

At any rate, it is notable that these foreign fashions were 
not slow to plant themselves as cherished customs in the 
hearts of the people. At present, the jury is a national and 
inviolable institution in France. But in the seventeenth 
century torture was honoured in the same way. Several 
times the States-General of the sixteenth century, and even 
those of 1614, declared themselves in favour not only of the 
maintenance, but even of the extension, of this method of 
proof, thereby bearing witness to the far-reaching extent 
of its popularity. 

Let me hasten to add that the fevers of fashion here, as 
elsewhere, rarely produce such bad effects, and that since 
they are in general merely auxiliary to imitation of su- 
periority and to social logic, they ordinarily favour the 
progress of legislation. As much could be said of the new 
customs which follow upon these crises. Let us enquire, 
then, into the characteristics which are apt to be taken on 
by a legislation which seeks first to extend itself and then 
to implant itself upon the vaster territory, and into the 

1 See my Philosophic penale (edited by Storck, 1890). 

318 Laws of Imitation 

consequences of both this extension and this entrench- 

These characteristics are, in general, greater richness of 
content and greater simplicity of form. In expanding law, 
greater weight is attached to contracts, to reciprocal en- 
gagements, to equity, to humanity, and to individual reason ; 
and in law which is being fixed and codified, in addition to 
these qualities, an air of learned casuistry and despotic regu- 
lation. Roman law, as it was spontaneously formed under 
the influence of the jus gentium and the praetorian modifica- 
tions and as it was codified and transfixed during the 
Empire, is a remarkable example of this twofold type. 
Wherever it was propagated by the jurists, it was received 
for justice and logic incarnate, and this fact partly accounts 
for the annihilation under it of all the other original legisla- 
tions of antiquity or the Middle Ages. Wherever it was 
established it became the potent instrument of despots. Let 
us note at this point that although we oppose equity to 
privilege and justice to custom, equity and privilege, justice 
and custom, have the same origin. Custom appears just to 
primitive men because, whether it favour or sacrifice the 
individual, it treats him in the same manner as it does the 
'only persons to whom he is wont to compare himself, 
namely, his ancestors and the members of his caste. His 
desire to be treated like others is satisfied in this way in 
spite of the juridical disparities and dissimilarities which 
custom establishes between those who are already dissimilar 
in every respect. But when the individual begins to care 
more for this juristic likeness to his fellow-countrymen and 
to his contemporaries in general than for his likeness to his 
ancestors and kinsfolk, because his resemblance to the 
former has become marked in other respects, the equality 
of treatment to which he makes claim is what we call justice 
or equity. It matters little to him, then, if he is treated 
quite differently from his forefathers, provided he is treated 
like his neighbour. 

To a certain extent the distinction between real and 
personal property, the social preponderance of which seems 

Extra-Logical Influences 319 

to alternate, is connected with that between custom-imita- 
tion and fashion-imitation. In times of custom and tradi- 
tion ancestral heritages, lands, houses, offices, business 
houses, etc., are considered, and justly so at this time, much 
the most important part of a fortune. What the individual 
can acquire in the course of his ephemeral life through his 
particular little industry, through his commerce or through 
his spontaneous initiative or through the initiative that he 
has imitated from his contemporaries, does not in general 
add much to this hereditary fund, the fruit of accumulated 
savings produced by the exploitation of ancient inventions, 
of inventions in agriculture, in finance, in industry, in art, 

It is natural in these epochs to consider the patrimony 
as the most sacred piece of property, worthy of being safe- 
guarded in its integrity by tutelary, laws, by successoral or 
feudal repurchase, by substitution or by religious respect 
for testamentary disposition. The habit of imitating one's 
forefathers first of all, of turning to the past for the choice of 
one's models, leads to the habit of obeying one's ancestors and 
of respecting their wishes above everything else. On the con- 
trary, when imitation of contemporaries rages, that is to say, 
when the latter are remarkably inventiveand when their inven- 
tions throw ancestral ones for the time being into the shade, 
the facility for growing rich in exploiting contemporaneous 
innovations is so great, that a patrimony is likely to be con- 
sidered more and more as a mere outfit, initial capital to be 
either promptly dispersed or increased tenfold through bold 
speculation or labour or enterprise. Consequently, a patri- 
mony loses its prestige and acquired property takes on a 
nobler character. At such times no property seems more 
respectable than that which is gained through personal 
effort, through the intelligent use of new industrial or agri- 
cultural ideas, etc. This is where we stand to-day in France 
and everywhere else. Consequently, it is not astonishing 
that there is some little talk everywhere, mistaken talk, I 
think, of making an attack upon the old laws of succession, 
of suppressing or limiting the right of bequest and the capac- 

320 Laws of Imitation 

ity to inherit and of basing the right of holding property 
exclusively upon personal labour. 

Obviously, here as everywhere else the influence of 
fashion-imitation is exerted in an individualistic sense. 
Parenthetically, I may observe that this opposition between 
real and personal property is at the bottom of the opposition 
between the juristic and the economic points of view. It is 
notable that political economy was born in Greece, in 
Florence, and, in the eighteenth century, in England, during 
their ages of fashion. 

The consequences which are involved by the progress of 
Law, first in extension and then in stability, are of several 
kinds; for legislation is concerned with all the directions 
which individual activity can take, and these directions far 
outnumber those of collective activity which are controlled 
by the constitution of the government. All that a national 
party can do collectively consists of military or diplomatic ac- 
tion in relation to other states or of internal political reform, 
the production of power or glory, or of national liberty, a 
more highly rated occupation. Moreover, a political reform is 
only the manipulating by legislation of matters which bear 
upon the acts and interests of private life, upon individual 
rights and duties. But the acts which individuals may per- 
form separately are innumerable: they relate to rural or 
urban occupations of every nature, to all kinds of agricul- 
tural and industrial work, to all kinds of crime, to all forms 
of adjusted or conflicting interests. We must distinguish 
here between activity that is contrary to and activity that is 
in accordance with the laws. Activity which is contrary to 
law and which must be anticipated by law in order to be 
suppressed, is the sum of those occurrences which lead to 
civil or criminal actions; since the former, no less than the 
latter, presuppose a violation of justice by one of the con- 
testants, only it is a violation that is supposed to have been 
committed by mistake and not by bad will. Activity in 
accordance with law is primarily the sum of all the works 
of civil or criminal justice, the production of peace and secur- 
ity, a special kind of industry, as well as the peaceful and 

Extra-Logical Influences 321 

legal exercise of all callings, the production of multiform 
wealth, industry strictly speaking. Now, in matters of 
justice, the uniformity of legislation which follows upon a 
diversity of legislation results in centralising and regulating, 
I was about to say in making mechanical, the administration 
of justice and in enlarging systems of jurisprudence; and 
stability of legislation results in consecrating and consoli- 
dating such enlarged systems of jurisprudence. This is 
particularly true of civil justice, although the penal system 
is subject to analagous changes. To a customary and me- 
chanical penal system, one abounding in strange and 
atrocious as well as in absurd forms of torture, a method- 
ical and rational system succeeded. This was undoubtedly 
too slow in coming, but it has already led to a singular con- 
trast between the penitentiaries of to-day and the jails of 
the past. Indeed, every revolutionary access of fashion, in 
any order of facts whatsoever, introduces a higher degree 
of rationality into our society, just as every reversion to 
custom introduces a higher degree of wisdom. 

In relation to any industry whatsoever, the substitu- 
tion of uniform legislation for legislative disintegration is 
a sine qua non of all production on a large scale, of all pro- 
duction requiring machinery or concentration of capital, in 
questions of railroads, of manufacturies, or of extensive 
farming. Thus uniform legislation is indispensable if we 
care to have brilliant prosperity; and stable legislation is 
indispensable if our prosperity is to be lasting. At any rate, 
as industrial development is still more directly dependent 
iipon variations in such fundamental and implicit laws 
as the laws of want and habit than it is upon law technically 
speaking, it is proper to relegate considerations of this kind 
to the following section. But among industries, there is 
one, namely, agriculture, which is more immediately de- 
pendent upon legislation. We know, indeed, how much the 
progress of agriculture, which is carried on by machines 
and which has extensive markets at its command, can be 
hindered by a multiplicity of customs having the force of 
law, in questions of apprenticeship, of usufruct, of different 

322 Laws of Imitation 

kinds of ownership, of mortgages, of successions, of sales, 
of rent, of prescribing for title, etc. When these barriers 
are cast aside by the optional or obligatory, but in either 
case contagious, adoption of a single body of laws that has 
emanated from some prestigious court or capital or from 
some contemporaneous celebrity, the impetus is finally given 
to agriculture on a great scale. 

V. Usages and Wants. Political Economy 

Usage is the most despotic and the most circumstantial 
of governments, the most rigorous and the best-obeyed kind 
of legislation. By usage I mean those thousand and one 
traditional or recently established habits which regulate 
private conduct, not abstractly and from a distance, like law, 
but close at hand and in every detail, and which include all 
the artificial wants, all the tastes and distastes, and all the 
peculiarities of morals and manners which characterise a 
given country or a given period. It is for the satisfaction of 
this group of special desires in the special forms which are 
determined by them and in conformity to the more or less 
badly formulated laws of political economy that industry 
exerts itself. In this sense, usage, like government and law, 
is connected with religion. It is an offshoot of ritual. Who 
would guess, for example, that our habit of writing from 
left to right has a sacerdotal origin ? And yet this is abso- 
lutely so. The Greeks originally followed the example of 
the Phoenicians and wrote from right to left; but later on, 
following the example of their priests, who wrote down the 
oracles in the opposite direction because the direction 
towards the right was of good augury, the east lying to the 
right of the sacrificer who watches the sky with his face 
towards the north, they made an entire reform in this 
particular in their old habits. " Because people turned 
towards the right to pray," says Curtius, " the sacri- 
ficial cup, the casque which held the lots, the harp that was 
to celebrate the gods, were all passed on from left to right." 

Extra-Logical Influences 323 

In view of this explanation of the direction in which we 
write, it is curious to find anthropologists explaining it on 
physiological grounds. Moreover, even in supposedly irre- 
ligious societies, usage never fails to express the true and 
deep cult, the chivalric or materialistic, the aristocratic or 
democratic, ideal which dominates and directs them. The 
mere form of the seats and chests of the twelfth and eigh- 
teenth centuries is enough to reveal the mysticism of the 
first period and the epicurism of the second. 

To-day, the same kind of comfort in food, in dwellings, 
and in clothing, the same kind of luxury, the same forms of 
politeness, bid fair to win their way through the whole of 
Europe, America, and the rest of the world. We no longer 
wonder at this uniformity, a condition which would have 
appeared so amazing to Herodotus. It is, nevertheless, a 
capital fact, and although it was itself developed through 
the progress of industry, without it our immense industrial 
wealth would be impossible. A traveller through Europe 
in the twelfth century would not have failed to observe that 
at every step, from one canton to another, communities who 
were possessed of the same religion and, often, of the same 
language and law and form of government, differed 
strangely from one another in their methods of nourishment, 
lodging, clothing, personal adornment, and amusement. 1 But 
had the traveller passed through the same places one hun- 
dred years later, he would not have perceived any marked 
difference in these same particulars between the different 
generations of a given canton. On the contrary, the modern 
continental tourist will find, particularly in large cities and 
among the upper classes, a persistent sameness in hotel fare 
and service, in household furniture, in clothes and jewelry, 
in theatrical notices, and in the volumes in shop windows. 
But let him return ten or fifteen years later and he will find 
many changes in all these things. New dishes will figure 

1 Thus ideas and dogmas spread more easily than usages, and the 
latter were assimilated but slowly in the train of the former. This 
fact is an example of what I have said above about the progress of 
imitation from within out. 

324 Laws of Imitation 

on the bill of fare; an entirely different style and perhaps 
a new kind of utility will characterise the furniture; new- 
fashioned costumes will have sprung from the imagination 
of the fashionable dressmakers, and new forms of jewelry 
from the phantasy of the jeweller's brain; new comedies and 
operas and novels will be in vogue. This contrast, one which 
I have referred to before, is more striking in this case than 
in any other. 

Does this mean that the gradual and general or regular 
substitution of diversity in space for diversity in time and 
of similarity in time for similarity in space which is due to 
the progress of our civilisations must be considered as an 
inevitable law of history, and as an entirely irreversible 
order of things ? No. Only the normal transition from geo- 
graphical diversity to geographical similarity is really irre- 
versible; for we cannot imagine, unless as a consequence of 
some social cataclysm, the return of usages to a state of dis- 
integration once their unity was established. But we can 
well conceive, without any mental somersault, of a chrono- 
logical reversal of the transition from identity to differen- 
tiation; we can well conceive that after a period of capricious 
changes or rather of hasty experiments, usages might be- 
come fixed. Steadfastness in the case of habits is far from 
contradicting in any respect their universality; it completes 
it. Europe, which is still so stormy, but which was not 
always so, is unconsciously making for this peace-bringing 
port. The fever of civilisation which torments it is not an 
entirely new and unheard-of thing in history; and we know 
how it ends. We may be sure that the entire basin of the 
Nile or Euphrates, or the whole of the Middle Empire, or 
all India, was not made partially uniform in more or less 
remote or obscure epochs without feverish agitation, seeing 
that this involved the destruction of a great number of local 
peculiarities. These were blotted out by a current of conta- 
gion whose transitory violence is evidenced to by this very ef- 
fect. But this current, having done its work, has disap- 
peared. And behind it, upon the great Asiatic territories over 
which it must have flowed, we are surprised to find not only 

Extra-Logical Influences 325 

an amazing resemblance in dress, in furniture, etc., but an 
immutable fidelity to ancient usages as well. This is so 
marked that the type of dwelling, for example, and of in- 
terior arrangements that is still made use of in Oriental 
palaces, enables us to reconstruct the plan of the ancient 
palaces of Assyria in spite of the shapeless character of their 

It is infinitely likely that the alternating play of the two 
kinds of imitation was alone able to transform the world to 
the point of gradually effacing all traces of the primitive 
checker-board of local usages. But I must anticipate an 
objection. Because archaeologists of prehistoric times find 
in every cave-dwelling about the same types of flakes, of 
knives, of very simple utensils, they hastily conclude that 
their savage possessors did not differ at all from one another 
in their clothes or morals or methods of life, and that this 
resemblance was due to the spontaneous appearance of the 
same ideas and wants among primitive men. But this con- 
clusion is absolutely arbitrary, and the only one that is 
authorised by logic is that the production or consumption 
of flint arms or tools, of pottery, etc., was propagated by 
fashion-imitation over vast regions at those remote periods 
during which we are often led to think that tribal imitation 
played an insignificant part. When I call to mind that the 
Incas, in spite of their high degree of civilisation, nevef had 
any notion of a wagon or wheel, nor of illumination by 
means of a lamp or candle, thereby utilising the oleaginous 
substances which were right under their hands, I cannot 
doubt but that the majority of savage peoples would have 
always been ignorant of the art of pottery if they had not 
been taught it from outside. Consequently, it seems a fal- 
lacy to me to see in the almost universal diffusion of this art 
proof of the necessity of the innateness of certain dis- 

I realise, however, that the life of savages on the lowest 
rung of the human ladder is almost as much lacking in 
originality as in variety, and that they resemble each other 
in many particulars without having imitated each other the 

326 Laws of Imitation 

least in the world. But their similarity in this respect is in 
no way social. It is entirely vital, for the only wants which 
they know are natural wants with a very slight impression 
of the special characteristics of the family. 1 Let us pass on 
to the point when the family has become more artificial than 
natural and begins to be and to wish to be a society, not 
solely a physiological group. Then true usages, fictitious 
wants which overlie or swell out physical wants, begin. 
They arise as distinct things in the several groups, and as 
they become more precise and more numerous in each group 
they become differentiated in them. But their internal pre- 
cision and richness continues without let, whereas their 
external differentiation is soon checked by the inmate tend- 
ency to copy the foreigner famous for invention or con- 
quest. Now and then this tendency has free scope and, 
thanks to this intermittent spirit of introducing foreign 
wants and to its combination with the steady spirit of 
conserving traditional wants, every tribe, and then every 
city, and then every province, and then every large nation, 
and finally almost the whole of the civilised globe, presents 
the spectacle, in respect to usages, as in so many other re- 
spects, of advances in similarity joined with increasing 
degrees of complexity. 

If one wished to explain the architectural style and 
fashion of a given locality merely on the ground of the ex- 
igencies of its climate, one would be greatly handicapped. 
In Asia Minor, for example, all the houses on the slope of 
the Black Sea are roofed with tiles, whereas on the slope 
towards Cyprus their roofs are terraced, " whatever may 
be," says M. lisee Reclus, " the difference of climate." It 

1 Besides, this similarity is far from being complete. M. Smile 
Riviere, who has given much study to the fauna of prehistoric caves, 
remarks upon the extreme rarity of the remains of fish in the grottoes 
of Mentone. He is suprised by this fact, and has difficulty in explain- 
ing how it was that a seaboard people and one whose sea was so abound- 
ing in fish were so little or not at all addicted to fishing. Is not the 
most simple explanation of this curious phenomenon the fact that 
these cave dwellers had not yet had the idea of inventing adequate 
or fitting means of catching the fish off their coasts? 

Extra-Logical Influences 327 

is a question of fashion or custom, or, rather, of an ancient 
fashion that has become a custom. From one end to the 
other of the United States, from top to bottom, throughout 
all classes, even among good-looking women (and there is 
certainly no more striking example of the power of imitation 
than this) we find the repugnant habit of tobacco chewing, 
a fact that explains the universal presence of the spittoon, 
the most indispensable piece of furniture in America. 1 Is 
this a habit that is made necessary by the exigencies of race 
and climate? Not at all; it is another case of fashion and 

Let me dwell a little upon this point, if only to emphasise 
a distinction which might have been expressly indicated in 
the preceding sections, but which finds a more natural place 
here, the distinction between production and consumption. 
In that beginning of society of which I have been speaking, 
every family or every horde began by being a workshop 
and a storehouse of all kinds of useful things, besides 
being both church and state. In other words, it pro- 
duced all that it consumed and consumed all that it pro- 
duced either in the matter of private and individual utilities 
or in that of beliefs or in that of collective utilities. This 
means that exchange, economic solidarity, did not exist be- 
tween families any more than political or religious solidarity. 
Certain families did not produce wheat or rice, linen or 
cloth, for the consumption of other families in exchange 
for the different products or services, political or military 
services, for example, of the latter, any more than certain 
families taught or ruled over others, furnishing them with 
an intellectual or volitional direction which the latter be- 
lieved in and followed, in return for the latter's services 
or products. Now I must show how production became 
differentiated from consumption all along this line, and 
it is incumbent upon me to prove that the law of the 

1 [It is unnecessary to point out to American readers the infelicity 
of this illustration; but it may be well, for the benefit of English read- 
ers of Mrs. Trollope or Charles Dickens, to state that it is not founded 
on fact. Tr.] 

328 Laws of Imitation 

alternation of the two kinds of imitation applies both to 
the spread of productive acts and to that of the desires of 

When the family is an exclusive and self-sufficient work- 
shop, the secrets and processes of fabrication, of domestica- 
tion, and of cultivation are transmitted from father to son, 
and imitation functions only through heredity. At the same 
time the wants which this embryonic industry satisfies are 
transmitted in the same manner. But when the family 
learns of better processes in use elsewhere, and copies them, 
forsaking its old mistakes, then the new products, which 
are always a little different from the old, must be desired 
and called for simultaneously on the part of consumers. 
Consequently, new needs of consumption must have them- 
selves been transmitted by fashion. Finally, it always hap- 
pens that after an influx of industrial innovations has been 
freely welcomed on the part of an inheritance- and custom- 
bound imitation, the desire to fix them as customs on a 
larger scale appears. In this way corporations are born. 
Parallelly, corresponding desires of consumption end by 
taking root and becoming national habits. 1 Then this proc- 
ess begins anew. On the other hand, an era of free competi- 
tion, that is, of free external imitation, succeeds to the close 
corporations of the old regime, and this new era invariably 
winds up with a return to the ancient monopoly on a vaster 

1 Periods of fashion-imitation may be recognised by the effacement 
of certain characteristics which had previously distinguished the dif- 
ferent professions. This means, in fact, that each individual looks 
about him and seeks to copy people in other occupations instead of 
choosing his patron, his chief, the head of his professional family, for 
his unique model. 

Voltaire writes, for example, in his Siecle de Louis XIV: " Formerly 
all the different conditions of life could be recognised by their charac- 
teristic defects. Military people and young men who were about to 
enter upon the profession of war had an exaggerated vivacity, and 
members of the legal profession, a forbidding gravity, to which the 
habit of always wearing their robes, even in the royal court, con- 
tributed not a little. This was also the case in the medical profession 
and in the universities. Merchants still wore mean attire when they 
met together, and when they called upon ministers of state. In those 
days the greatest merchants were but common men. But as soon as 

Extra -Logical Influences 329 

scale, under the name of great companies or professional 
syndicates. On the other hand, a rule of general caprice 
and all-pervasive fashion succeeds to the old usages of past 
times until the appointed hour comes for the quiescence of 
people's souls in wants that are alike stable and uniform. 

Here we must take note of an apparently simple fact, but 
one, however, which has had great consequences in history. 
[Desires of consumption are in general much more rapidly 
and much more readily communicated than the desires of 
production which correspond to them. The first time that a 
primitive tribe sees any objects of war or adornment in 
bronze, it straightway desires to possess similar articles. But 
it is not until much later that it desires to make such objects 
for itself. Meanwhile, and the wait may be a long one, it 
appeals to the fabricators of some foreign tribe, and thus 
commerce arises. It has been noted with surprise that among 
the Semites, the Cushites, and the Aryans (not among the 
Chinese) the composition of prehistoric bronze was always 
the same, in spite of the possibly arbitrary proportion of its 
elements. M. Lenormand says this is " an important fact 
and one which proves that the same invention was passed 
on from one to another over a region whose geographical 
limits have been accurately determined by M. de Rouge- 
mont." This means that at a certain prehistoric period the 
desire to acquire this newly discovered metal spread from 

citizens began to meet together in public buildings, at public spectacles 
and promenades, in order to enjoy the amenities of life, the outward 
appearance of them all became little by little almost identical. Now- 
adays, we perceive that polite manners have made their way through 
all conditions of life. All these changes gradually reacted upon the 

Broca used to say that memory is not a simple faculty. Every cerebral 
function has its particular memory and its own habits. I shall say as 
much of imitation, the social memory. Every social function, and, 
especially, every pursuit, has its own particular style, that is, its own 
proper channel and current of imitation. Professional imitation deserves 
a special study. It should be subdivided into two chapters, one upon 
the prejudices and the other upon the customs that characterise every 
profession. At certain times, professional imitation runs in a narrow 
channel, at other times, it spreads at large, and different kinds of pro- 
fessional imitation connect with one another. 

330 Laws of Imitation 

people to people like a powder train, and that the majority 
of tribes or peoples bought it long before they knew how to 
make it. Otherwise, its composition would have varied very 
materially in different places. Many other facts confirm this 
point of view, notably the spread of amber, in prehistoric 
ages, to very great distances from the place in which it was 
discovered. Thus the same condition held in the past as in 
the present. To-day, the nations which are entering upon 
civilisation are the markets for the old nations of Europe, 
because they have caught the contagion of new wants with- 
out being as yet stung to emulation by the sight of new 
industry. England's worldwide commercial conquests, so 
fruitful of immense consequences, result from this. 1 

Although this phenomenon is or appears to be very sim- 
ple, the contrary phenomenon would be, a priori, much more 
conceivable. Desires of production have to spread only in a 
small group of men in order to be realised, whereas, if 
desires of consumption are to be viable, they must propa- 
gate themselves through a large mass of people. It is conse- 
quently surprising to find that when a whole people are 
charmed into wearing certain stuffs and jewels, and into 
living in houses which are built on certain plans, no 
member of the community is inspired with a lively desire 
to produce these stuffs and jewels and houses. So imitative 
is man, in general, and so passive besides, in his manner 
of imitating. However this may be, the fact that we have 
noticed may be observed in every order of social facts. The 
taste for reading poetry, for looking at pictures, for listen- 
ing to music or plays, comes to all peoples through the imi- 
tation of some neighbour long before the taste to versify or 
to paint, or to compose operas or tragedies. Hence the 
universal radiation and the international character of certain 

1 " The Bushmen, who have been decimated by hunger, are sur- 
rounded by pastoral peoples. And, for centuries, they have preyed upon 
their neighbours' herds, only to destroy them; the idea of breeding 
animals themselves has never occurred to them" (Zaborowski, Revue 
scientifique, December 17, 1892.) In this case, desire for consumption 
has so far preceded desire for production, that the latter has not yet 
shown itself. 

Extra-Logical Influences 331 

great literary and artistic reputations. 1 In the same way, 
the need to be governed by intelligent and adequate legisla- 
tion comes to a people long before the desire or the capacity 
to elaborate a judicial system. Hence the spread of Roman 
law among the Visigoths and other barbarians and, after 
the Renascence, in almost all of feudal Europe. In this 
same way, too, the need of religious sentiment precedes that 
of religious as well as that of philosophic genius, i. e., theo- 
retic invention. Hence the very rapid conversion of young 
or aged peoples to a new religion. Similarly, communities 
love military and patriotic glory through imitation before 
they possess the genius for war or statecraft which makes 
for a glorious army or fatherland. This circumstance fa- 
vours the annexation of large territories by illustrious 
conquerors; it favours the formation, for example, of 
.the Roman Empire. Finally, communities experience, 
through contact with foreign peoples, the desire to speak a 
rich and cultivated language before they are either capable 
or desirous of that cultivation which alone enriches and per- 
fects an idiom. I may say the same thing of the lower 
classes, who in their contact with the educated classes are 
eager to copy the polite language of the court or drawing 
room before they make any pretence of reproducing fash- 
ionable life. Hence the rapid progress that is made by cer- 
tain languages or dialects throughout a continent or coun- 
try. The spread of Greek throughout the Eastern Empire, 
of the dialect of the Isle-de-France throughout France, and 
.of English throughout North America and the world in 
general, are examples in point. 2 

This priority along all lines of the needs for consumption 

1 In his interesting work, entitled Politique Internationale, M. Novicow 
seems to think that a nationality that is worthy of the name should 
produce the arts and literature that it consumes. This is a mistake, 
I think. According to this, as long as we in modern Europe were 
principally fed upon Greek and Latin literature, there was no such 
thing as French, or English, or Spanish, or German nationality. 

2 The fifteen- or eighteen-months-old infant cannot talk, but he can 
understand his mother's speech. According to Houzeau, certain 
animals, monkeys and dogs, come to guess the meaning of their masters' 
words. They, too, consume language before they produce it. 

332 Laws of Imitation 

over those for production may be deduced as an important 
corollary from the course of imitation ab interioribus ad 
exteriora, i. e., from the thing signified to the sign. Here 
the sign is the productive act which actualises the idea and 
aim of the thing which is to be consumed. This idea and 
this aim are the hidden content of which the consumed prod- 
uct is the form. Now, in periods of change, the form, 
as we know, always lags behind the content. Guyau re- 
marks very justly, for example, that " the political revo- 
lution of the first half of this century [in France] was ac- 
complished in thought before it took shape in action : philo- 
sophic, religious, and social ideas which had been previously 
unknown to the poets burst forth in the beautiful setting 
of the tranquil alexandrines of Delille." The change to 
romanticism in verse was the making of the literary prod- 
uct appropriate to meet the demand of the new soul of 
poetry. Does not this inability of innovators to find at 
once suitable metres and processes and symbols of art for 
their ideas and sentiments suggest the impossibility on the 
part of countries which have been but just initiated into 
new desires for luxury and comfort to create industries 
adapted to the satisfaction of these desires ? 

No social phenomenon has had greater consequences than 
the one in question. It has been a potent factor, as we 
have seen, in breaking down the barriers of nationalities 
before the torrent of civilising examples which escaped from 
it or which entered into it. International exchange arose 
in that way. Suppose that the need to reproduce, in every 
order of things, the new object that had been seen abroad 
had preceded or accompanied the need to consume this 
article, what would have happened? Primitive families 
would have copied one another without uniting together; 
they would have remained as much aloof from, if not as 
hostile to, one another after every act of borrowing as they 
were before it, like the monads of Liebnitz, which reflect 
but do not influence one another. It is true that this 
heterogeneity combined with this similarity, this disin- 
tegration in this uniformity, implies a kind of contradiction 

Extra-Logical Influences 333 

which cannot be indefinitely prolonged. And so the imi- 
tative passivity of mankind has had the happy result of mul- 
tiplying the commercial and political and intellectual ties 
of human groups and of effecting or preparing their fusion. 
When, after it has been passive for a long time, imitation 
finally becomes active, when a people who have for a long 
time imported from abroad the books and paintings, the 
articles of luxury and the statesmen and legislators which 
it needs, undertakes to supply its own literature and art, 
its own luxuries, its own diplomacy, the greater part of 
its attempts fail. Or, if they do succeed by means of a 
high tariff, or by means of other methods of protection 
which tend to re-establish the community's previous state of 
isolation, its acquired habits are too strong to be entirely 
broken off, and they will regain their hold some day or other, 
to the advantage of all concerned. 

In reality, when new desires for production break forth 
in a people, long after the establishment of new desires 
for consumption, they do not consist in simply and solely 
copying the literature, the arts, the industries, and the 
strategy of the nation whose products have heretofore inun- 
dated the aforesaid people. But an original system of pro- 
duction appears, which in its turn endeavours, and usually 
with success, to open up a market for itself among the origi- 
nal foreign producers. Moreover, in the preceding sec- 
tions I concluded that the widespread propagation of a 
single language, of a single religion, of a single govern- 
mental authority, or of a single body of laws, was the first 
and preliminary condition of a great literature or civilisation 
or statecraft or system of security. And now I shall have 
no difficulty in showing that the widespread propagation 
of the same number of wants and tastes, or, in a word, 
of the same individual usages, is the first and preliminary 
condition of great wealth and of a great industrial system 
as well as of a great art (to anticipate the following sec- 
tion on this latter point). 

Here, as before, we must distinguish the influence which 
the transition from custom to fashion in matters of usages 

334 Laws of Imitation 

and, later on, the return from fashion to a more extensive 
custom, exercises upon the characteristics of industry. 

It is clear that in an age when custom imposed different 
kinds of food and clothing and furniture and houses in 
different localities, in localities where they remained fixed 
for several generations, machine production on a large scale 
would be, even if it were known, without a market. The 
artisan of such an epoch is bent upon making only a small 
number of very solid and durable articles, 1 whereas, later 
on, in periods when the same fashion holds sway over 
more than one country, although it changes from year to 
year, the quantity and not the stability of the product is 
the aim of industry. A builder of American trading ves- 
sels told Tocqueville that on account of the frequent change 
there in naval fashions it was to his interest to construct ves- 
sels of little durability. In ages of custom, the producer 
seeks the narrow and long-drawn-out market of the future, 
in ages of fashion he seeks the vast ephemeral market of 
the outside world. As far as products whose essential 
quality is permanency are concerned, such as buildings, 
jewelry of gold or precious stones, furniture, bookbindings, 
statues, etc., the insufficiency of contemporaneous patron- 
age in times of custom may be compensated for up to a cer- 
tain point by the prospect of the future patronage to which 
each generation will contribute. And so, the Middle Ages, 
in spite of the disintegration of their 2 local usages, possessed 

1 " The woollen industry of Rome," says Roscher, " is distinguished 
by the solidity of its products, for which monastic dress, whose fashion 
does not change, has set the standard." 

2 This does not mean that the Middle Ages were unacquainted with 
the charms of fashion. From the time of the thirteenth century, accord- 
ing to Cibrario, the nobility delighted " to dress in germents borrowed 
from the most distant nations, like the Saracens and Sclavonians." 
Florentine women wore the " crude green " of Cambria. Changes of 
fashion in everything bearing upon dress were pretty frequent among 
the nobility and the wealthy middle classes. They were much less 
frequent, however, than they are to-day in all articles whatsoever, and 
among all classes. " The dress of the common people," says M. 
Rambaud, " changed very little during the Middle Ages." This is 
because it remained a matter of tradition. " On the other hand," he 
adds, " the wealthy classes had a capricious variety of fashions." This is 

Extra-Logical Influences 33$ 

its great architects and goldsmiths, its remarkable cabinet- 
makers and binders and sculptors. But for products destined 
to more or less immediate destruction, for those whose con- 
sumption is speedy, this compensation does not exist. Con- 
sequently, we must not be surprised to find that horticulture 
and even agriculture, that ordinary glass work and pottery 
and cloth-making, prospered or progressed so little during 
the feudal period. Inversely, if the fickleness of taste in 
times of fashion hinders the development of such arts 
and industries as architecture and statuary, things that 
must look to the future, a uniformity of taste over a vast 
territory highly favours, in spite of their instability, the 
progress of all manufacture which is essentially ephemeral, 
such as paper-making, journalism, weaving, landscape-gar- 
dening, etc. Nevertheless, if renewed stability were ever 
added to the .acquired uniformity of usages, a third period 
of incomparable prosperity would open out to industry. 
Already such a period may be foreseen. China arrived 
centuries ago at this happy goal. We know how surpris- 
ing her industrial wealth is in view of the slender treasury of 
inventions that she exploits. 

Have I in any of this been exaggerating the role of imita- 
tion? I think not, for it is remarkable that when a great 
system of industry is introduced into a country it at first 
applies itself to objects of luxury, to tapestry, jewels, etc., 
and it is only later that it includes objects of secondary and 
then of prime necessity. Why is this ? Because usages are 
assimilated in the upper classes, the consumers of objects of 
luxury, before this assimilation is accomplished among the 
common people. Therefore Colbert was very unjustly 
blamed for having encouraged the manufacturer of silks and 
other aristocratic industries. In his time, this was the only 

because they experienced the influence of fashion. At all periods, in 
antiquity as well as in the Middle Ages, it is notable that the rule of 
fashion accompanies the brilliant and ascendant phases of civilisations. 
" The Persians," says Herodotus, " are most curious concerning foreign 
usages. In fact, they have copied the dress of the Medes . . . and in 
war they use Egyptian cuirasses. They have borrowed pederasty from 
the Greeks." 

336 Laws of Imitation 

course open to him. And yet Roscher, in pointing out the 
apparently fantastic order of the successive forms of in- 
dustry, does not seem to me to have perceived its reason. 
" In ancient times," he says, " the greatly inferior means of 
transportation, the manners and customs of different coun- 
tries, and, finally, lack of machinery, resulted necessarily 
in a much greater dispersion of industry." Here the cause 
which I have pointed out as unique is not even mentioned. 
Those which have been substituted for it are merely, in my 
opinion, its consequences. Was not inadequacy of transpor- 
tation, for example, as well as difference of character, of 
customs, and manners, the result of putting a too feeble 
emphasis on foreign imitations on the part of consumers? 
If different localities had desired to buy the same articles, 
the need of common routes would have been experienced 
and, before long, satisfied. But roads 1 which were opened 
out by the bridge-building friars (a religious body which 
was expressly created in the Middle Ages for the construction 
of roads and bridges, a kind of clerical administration for 
bridges and highways) went to ruin for lack of use. Under 
the Roman Empire, too, excellent roads existed; but, in spite 
of the impetus given to universal assimilation by the pres- 
tige of Rome, 2 as the particular usages of the different 
provinces remained pretty dissimilar, industry on a large 
scale was little known at this period. 3 

1 See Jusserand, La Vie nomade, in the Middle Ages. 

1 There is one astonishing fact which reveals both the prestige of 
Rome, and man's tendency to imitate his conqueror, namely, the fact 
that so odd and inconvenient a habit as that of eating in a reclining 
position became general throughout the Empire, or, at least, throughout 
the higher classes. From this usage was derived a luxury with which 
we are no longer familiar, the eating as distinguished from the sleeping 
couch; and, I may add, from the nuptial couch, which differed from 

3 There were, however, thanks to the spread of Roman models, even 
in the barbarian world, exporting industries. The barbarians insensibly 
became Latinised in their wants and tastes, and, " little by little," says 
Amedee Thierry, " the use of Roman merchandise became so general, 
that the garments of the Sarmatian and the German were made either 
out of goods produced in the neighbouring provinces, or in Italy " 
(Tableau de I'empire remain). 

Extra-Logical Influences 337 

As for the lack of machinery, the same explanation ap- 
plies. For, as a matter of fact, the germ of machinery that 
was fit to start or develop a great system of industry was 
latent in antiquity in all the branches of production that 
were scattered through Egypt and Phoenicia and Greece 
and Babylonia. If it had been propagated by fashion-imi- 
tation among producers, it could not have failed to suggest 
rapid improvements. The great lack, then, was the lack 
of a tendency to imitate the foreigner. Thus everything 
comes back to this. The first condition for the viability 
of paper-making on a large scale is, undoubtedly, a suffici- 
ently general habit of writing. Besides, machinery, strictly 
speaking, is not indispensable to industry on a large scale. 
There is manufacture as well as machine- facture. In 
Rome, before the days of the printing press, there were 
great workshops of copyists who manufactured editions of 
Virgil and Horace and other classics. Here was an excep- 
tionally extensive industry, because it appealed to the schol- 
ars of the whole Empire, scholars who were possessed of 
the same education, who spoke the same language, and who 
were inspired by the same literary tastes. 1 

We must not overlook the following fact. The mere 
existence of a similarity of wants and usages is not suf- 
ficient to make industry on a large scale possible. Recogni- 
tion of the similarity is also necessary. In the Middle Ages, 
according to Jusserand, none but kings and their suites, 
none but great nobles, pilgrims, fugitive criminals, a few 

1 The slow progress of industry during the Middle Ages, and even in 
the beginning of the modern era, has also been attributed to the 
absurdity of sumptuary laws, and the narrow and mechanical organisa- 
tion of corporations'. But here again we have but the consequences of 
my explanation. Sumptuary laws checked or deadened the tendencv 
to imitate one class on the part of other classes; and corporate 
monopoly prevented outside producers from copying the processes in 
use by members of the corporation. It has been said that the industrial 
prosperity of Germany, even before 1871, was due to its tariff union or 
Zollverein. But suppose that those petty principalities, those free towns, 
those hundreds of past fragments of present-day Germany, had kept 
their several characteristic wants and luxuries, would any tariff union 
have been possible? Certainly not 

"338 Laws of Imitation 

wandering workmen, minstrels, preaching and begging 
friars, and hawkers of relics and indulgences, passed over 
the bad roads of the periods. From this enumeration it 
appears that the sole or principal industry of exportation 
that was popular at this epoch was the sale of relics and 
indulgences. As for the minstrels, they worked only for 
a few castles and for one or two royal courts. Does this 
mean that the people had only one desire in common, 
namely, that of buying relics and indulgences ? * No, but 
this similarity, derived, as it was, from a common religion, 
was known to all, whereas the other resemblances, in gen- 
eral, were not. Nevertheless, pilgrims and other wander- 
ers helped to spread, little by little, the originally vague con- 
sciousness of these resemblances. They even helped to in- 
crease the number of the already numerous points of re- 
semblance. In this respect, they paved the way for the in- 
dustry of the future. The preaching friars unconsciously 
contributed to the same end in assimilating people's minds, 
in spreading democratic ideas under an evangelical guise, 
or evangelical ideas under a democratic guise. In this way 
they moved souls, and this is always the right road, even 
to material well-being. The ardent homilies of innumer- 
able Savonarolas, the preaching of Luther and his follow- 
ers, the passionate theories of our Encyclopedists, were all 
necessary factors in causing almost all classes and nations 
to consciously and openly dress and live in approximately 
the same way. It is this condition which permits industry 
to unfold its wings. 

Among the usages whose similarity is essential to exten- 
sive industry there is one which it is important to consider 
above all, because the assimilation of all the others would 
amount to very little, unless it, too, were assimilated. I 
mean that which is concerned with the regulation of price. 
I freely admit that some logical rule, although not that, 

'This gave rise to an entirely new luxury, let me say in passing, to 
one which the most luxurious Romans never dreamed of, to the luxury 
of shrines and reliquaries. 

Extra-Logical Influences 339 

to be sure, of supply and demand, as applied by dogmatic 
economists, but one more precise and more complete, pre- 
sides over the formation of price when for the first time 
any specific price is formed. But when a price has once 
been established as a result of an openly discussed calcula- 
tion or contract, it spreads through fashion far beyond the 
places where those special conditions which rationally de- 
termine it prevail; or else, it persists in a place through 
custom long after the first conditions of its establishment 
there have disappeared. But although this persistence 
through custom or diffusion by fashion be or ought to be 
considered by classical economists as an abuse or trans- 
gression of their laws, it is certain that without this persist- 
ance or diffusion, according to the period, industry would 
have been hindered from its very start. Would our great 
commercial houses be possible if each of the towns to 
which they express their innumerable stores wished to pay 
for them according to its traditional price and refused to 
conform to their uniform price? And could our great fac- 
tories carry on their business for long if each one of them 
insisted upon always paying the same customary wages to 
its work-people in disregard of the rise or fall of wages in 
the general market? Formerly, on the other hand, when 
every artisan worked with a view to the future, when every 
perspective in the narrow circumference of contemporaneous 
time was closed, 1 when he could not count for his livelihood 
or fortune upon the extension of his patronage and his re- 
turns, when he could count only upon their permanency, 
when rigid ties bound him for years at a stretch to his 
patron, and when the patrons themselves were bound to- 
gether in a perpetual association, what security could there 

1 On this subject, I take the liberty of referring the reader to two 
articles which I wrote for the Revue philosophique, in September and 
October, 1881, under the title La Psychologic en economic politique. 
See, especially, p. 405 and the following in that volume of the Revue. 
I dealt more comprehensively with the same subject in 1888, in the 
Revue economique of M. Gide, under the title Les deux Sens de la 
valeur. (These studies were reproduced with additions in my Logique 
sociale, 1894.) 

340 Laws of Imitation 

have been for either consumers or producers if future prices 
had not been fixed and assured in advance? Thus the cus- 
tomary fixation of prices in the past compensated for their 
local variation, just as in the present their uniformity com- 
pensates for their changeability. Some day, perhaps, 
they will end by being both fixed and uniform, and by fur- 
nishing a scope and steadiness of outlet to production which 
will increase its audacity tenfold. 

In fact every new fashion endeavours to become rooted in 
custom; but only a iew are successful for the same reason 
that many germs are abortive. However, the introduc- 
tion of only a few foreign wants, or of novel means of 
satisfying them, suffices to complicate the consumption of a 
given country; for pre-existent wants and luxuries do not 
give way or disappear without prolonged resistance. In 
Europe the habit of eating bread was not encroached upon 
by the importation of Asiatic rice, any more than in Asia 
the habit of eating rice suffered to any serious extent from 
the introduction of European bread. But the dietary in 
both places became complicated by a new element. " The 
mistake was made in France, 1 at the time of the signing 
of the commercial treaty of 1860, of thinking that French 
wines were going to replace beer in the United Kingdom. 
We fancied that we could make our wines reach a class 
of consumers that was supposed to have abstained from them 
because of their high tariff and consequent high price. 
This forecast was ill-founded. If French wine has made 
some progress in British markets, it is only among a 
very limited circle of patrons, of which neither the working 
classes nor even the majority of the middle classes 2 form 
a part. Although our alcoholic products are better appre- 
ciated to-day, this has in no way come about at the cost of 
beer. The consumption of beer has always increased in 
very different proportions from that of foreign wines." 

1 Journal des economistes, February, 1882. 

*In this case, as everywhere else, we see that the higher up we go in 
the social scale, the slighter the attachment we find to native habits, and 
the greater the openness to contagions of foreign things. 

Extra-Logical Influences 341 

Thus wine has been added to beer in England, but it has 
in no respect replaced it. 

The characteristics which the rule of fashion in the matter 
of usages inspires in industry are easy to guess. In 
order to spread through a kind of conquering epidemic, 
language must become more regular and more prosaic, it 
must take on a more logical and a less animated air, re- 
ligion must become more spiritual, more rational and less 
original, a government must become more administrative, 
less prestigious, legislation must shine through the reason 
and equity rather than through the originality of its forms, 
finally, an industrial system must develop its mechanical 
and scientific side at the expense of its spontaneous and 
artistic side./ In a word, the apparently singular fact 
is that the rule of fashion is tied to that of reason. I 
may add, to that of individualism and to that of naturalism. 
This is explained when we consider that imitation of con- 
temporaries has to do with models individually considered, 
detached from any parent stock, whereas imitation of ances- 
tors emphasises the tie of hereditary solidarity between the 
individual and his forebears. And we may also readily per- 
ceive that all epochs of fashion-imitation Athens under 
Solon, Rome under the Scipios, Florence in the fifteenth 
century, Paris in the sixteenth and, later on, in the eighteenth 
century are characterised by the more or less trium- 
phant invasion of so-called natural law (as well read in- 
dividual law) against civil law, of so-called natural 
against traditional religion, of art which I shall also call 
natural, that is to say, of art which is faithfully observant 
and reflective of individual reality, against hieratic and cus- 
tomary art, of natural morality, as we shall soon see, against 
national morality. The Italian humanists and Rabelais, 
Montaigne, Voltaire, personify this naturalistic and indi- 
vidualistic character under divers aspects. Since nothing 
is more natural to the individual human being than reason, 
since nothing is better able to satisfy individual reason than 
the substitution of a symmetrical and logical order for the 
mysterious complications of life, we must not be surprised 

342 Laws of Imitation 

to find rationalism, individualism, and naturalism hand in 
hand. The rule of fashion is distinguished in every order 
of things by the blossoming of certain great and free in- 
dividualities. It is at such times that, in language, gram- 
marians, like Vaugelas, have free play; even the wholesale 
makers of idioms, of Volapiik, for example, can hope for 
some success, providing, of course, their reforms have the 
stamp of regularity and symmetry. In religion, it is the 
era of great reformers, of great heretics and philosophers, 
who succeed, providing they simplify and rationalise re- 
ligion. In statecraft, in legislation, it is the epoch of illus- 
trious legislators and founders of empire, of men who per- 
fect codification and administration. Economically, it is 
the period of the great industrial inventors who perfect 
machinery. vEsthetically, I may add, it is the time of glo- 
rious creators of art who carry to the highest point of me- 
chanical perfection the tricks t and devices of composition. 
Besides, wherever we see that great reputations have been 
made, we may affirm that there the contagion of fashion 
has raged, although each of these glories may have been 
the point of departure of some traditional fetichism that is 
as exclusive and tenacious as the preceding forms of fetich 
worship which it destroyed. The Molierites, for example, 
with their prior attachment to the petty traditions of the 
theatre frangais, must not make us forget that their idol, 
Moliere, was, in his innovating century of art, the most 
open-minded man to innovations, the worst enemy to fe- 
tiches. These followers of Moliere can make us understand 
the followers of Homer. We may be sure that Homer, like 
Moliere, appeared in an age of imitative expansion, when 
all the Archipelago and the whole of Asia Minor were be- 
ginning to open out to the radiations of Ionia. 

To sum up, the role played by custom and fashion in the 
economic sphere closely corresponds to the action exerted 
in the other spheres of the social world by these two always 
co-existent, but alternately increasing and decreasing, forms 
of imitation. It falls without any difficulty into the general 
law which I have formulated. But, in addition, the reason 

Extra-Logical Influences 343 

of this law, of this vacillating struggle between custom and 
fashion which lasts until the ultimate triumph of the former, 
is at present suggested to us. Since every invention is the 
centre of some particular imitation which emanates from it, 
the desire to imitate must always be directed, by preference, 
towards the side where the richest galaxy of inventions is 
shining, that is to say, sometimes, exclusively towards the 
past, if one's ancestors were inventive or if they were 
more inventive than one's contemporaries, and sometimes, 
and this more and more frequently, towards the contempo- 
raneous and the foreign, if one's contemporaries are more 
inventive than one's own ancestors. Now, these two situa- 
tions will inevitably alternate for a long time, for, as soon 
as some mine of discoveries is disclosed, all the world 
exploits it, and it does not take long for it to become, for the 
time being, exhausted, thereby swelling the legacy of the past 
until some new vein be found; and when the last of these 
mines shall have been discovered, we shall have our ances- 
tors alone to appeal to for examples. 

There is a certain reciprocity of stimulation between the 
rule of fashion and the progress of contemporary invention 
which should not make us fail to recognise the priority of 
the latter. Undoubtedly, as I have said already, once the 
current of fashion has been set free, it excites the inventive 
imagination along the lines that are the fittest to accelerate 
its overflow; but what set it free, if it was not the impetus 
that was given to it by contact with some neighbouring 
country whose fruitful novelties had been more or less spon- 
taneously struck out? We cannot doubt that this is so in 
our own century in whatever has to do with industry; for 
certainly the first cause of that fascination which causes all 
European peoples to imitate one another was steam ma- 
chinery, which led to production on a large scale, and of rail- 
roads, which led to the distant transportation of products 
not to speak of telegraphs. It is especially in the matters of 
industry and science that the modern imagination has had 
full swing; and it is especially on its economic and scientific 
side that it has broken down the barriers of custom. In 

344 Laws of Imitation 

matters of art, on the contrary, just as the creative Imagina- 
tion has often been lacking in them, so the spirit of tradition 
has subsisted in them, taken as a whole. The details are 
significant. In architecture we have invented almost noth- 
ing; our epoch has slavishly copied Gothic, Roman, and By- 
zantine models. In this respect the nineteenth century was 
as much given over to tradition at least until the advent 
of what might be called architecture in iron as the twelfth 
century was given over to innovation. 

In fact, in spite of the partly accidental character of inven- 
tions, inventors themselves are so imitative, that there is in 
every period a current of inventions which is in a certain 
general sense religious or architectural or sculptural or 
musical or philosophical. There are certain currents of imi- 
tation which must through force of habit precede others. 
For example, the mythological genius must have habitually 
I will not say, with Comte, necessarily exerted itself be- 
fore the metaphysical genius. The creative genius of lan- 
guage was most certainly prior to either. And this was the 
one to be exhausted first of all ; so we should not be surprised 
if in the most progressive societies, societies which are the 
most scornful of custom in other respects, the empire of cus- 
tom in what has to do with language prevails more and more, 
day by day, through a more exaggerated respect for orthog- 
raphy and a growing spirit of philological conservatism. It 
seems to me that many apparent peculiarities in history could 
be explained by considerations drawn from the same source. 
But the reader will be able to make for himself such applica- 
tions as I have not indicated here. 

VI. Morality and Art 

Tastes which are formulated into principles of art and 
morals which are formulated into principles of morality, 
alike variable according to time and place, direct two im- 
portant parts of social activity and, consequently, form part, 

Extra-Logical Influences 345 

like usages, laws, and constitutions, of the government of 
societies, in the large and true meaning of the word. This 
is so true that the more moral or artistic a people become, 
the less need they have of being governed. Consummate 
morality would make the coming of a-n-archy possible. But 
in order to avoid the commonplaces which I might indulge 
in in this twofold subject, I wish to limit myself here to a 
very brief discussion. I need not prove, I think it is enough 
to merely point out, the religious origin of art, of which I 
spoke in a previous chapter, 1 or of morality, whose 
duties were at first understood as divine commands. /Moral 
sentiments and artistic tastes emanate, then, from religion. 
Let me add, from the family. At the time when every family 
and tribe had its own language and worship, it had, when 
it was artistically well endowed, its particular art, which was 
piously transmitted from father to son, and when it was sup- 
plied with sympathetic instincts it had its particular morality 
where its own group of moral, often immoral, prejudices 
and of odd and difficult sacrifices had been scrupulously ob- 
served from time immemorial. How often must these walled- 
up arts and exclusive morals have broken down their barriers ! 
How often, after their overflow outside, must they have shut 
their doors and secured themselves behind their new fron- 
tiers, only to push them forward again from time to time and 
from age to age ! All this had to be done before it was pos- 
sible to see on this earth the unheard-of sight of many vast 
nations feeling, at the same time and in about the same way, 
the beautiful and the ugly, good and evil, admiring or mock- 
ing at the same pictures, the same novels, the same dramas, 
the same operas, applauding the same acts of virtue or be- 
coming indignant over the same crimes, crimes that are 
made public by the daily press in the four corners of the 
globe at the same, time. 

1 Up to the last days of the Roman Empire, public spectacles and 
celebrations in which all the forms of art were displayed, made part 
of the solemnities of religion. Moreover, the ancients were not at all 
familiar with the entirely modern distinction between secular and sacred 

346 Laws of Imitation 

Under this new aspect the world shows us again the con- 
trast which I have pointed out so often. Formerly, in those 
times when custom predominated in art and in morals as in 
religion and in politics, every nation and, to go back still 
further, every province was distinguished from neighbour- 
ing nations and provinces and cities by its original products 
of jewelry, chiselled weapons, ornate furniture, figurines 
and poetic legends as well as by its characteristic vir- 
tues, so that often, in different places, the beautiful and 
the good appeared quite different; but, on the other hand, 
from one century to another, in each country, the beautiful 
and the good were unchanging, and the same virtues, the 
same objects of art, were invariably reproduced. Nowadays, 
on the contrary, in our era of widespread and penetrating 
fashions, artistic works and virtuous acts are about the same 
everywhere, upon two continents at least, whereas, from 
decade to decade, not to say from year to year, the styles and 
schools of painters, musicians, and poets are transformed 
along with the public taste, and moral maxims are them- 
selves worn out and changed and renewed with alarming 
facility. Nevertheless, we must not be over-alarmed by this 
extraordinary mutability, if it be true that, in connection 
with a corresponding universality, it is related to a whole 
series of rhythmical oscillations which grow bigger and 
bigger and whose consequences, from the point of view of 
morality, especially, have been most salutary, and if it be 
true that the experience of the past justify us in counting 
upon a return, in the more or less immediate future, to a 
reassuring fixity of ideals, joined, at last, to peace-bringing 

However simple moral duties may seem to those who have 
practised them for a long time, they were all in their begin- 
nings individual and original inventions, inventions which, 
like all others, appeared and spread one after the other. 1 

1 Buckle, as we see, was strangely mistaken when he contrasted the 
immutability of morality with the progressive character of intelligence 
and science. The immutability is only one of degree; and in this 
relative sense the antithesis is true. 

Extra-Logical Influences 347 

They were instigated and helped to succeed, at times by the 
dogmas of a new religion whose practical and, usually, ex- 
tremely strange consequences they were logical in scorning, 
at times by the new conditions of social life with which they 
found themselves in agreement. It is in this way that suc- 
cessive inventions of art owe their appearance and their 
fortune to changes either in ideas or in morals. Respect for 
old age, blood- feud, hospitality, bravery; later on, la- 
bour, honesty, respect for the cattle, or fields, or women of 
others ; still later, patriotism, feudal loyalty, almsgiving, the 
emancipation of slaves, the relief of unfortunates, etc., were 
ushered in in the different ages of humanity, like the Egyp- 
tian tomb, or the Grecian temple, or the Gothic cathedral. 
It was therefore necessary for the breath of fashion, so to 
speak, to blow and scatter the germ of every new duty as 
well as that of every new thing of beauty that had duly 
blossomed forth somewhere or other, throughout the world, 
over the forbidding walls of tribes and cities shut up in their 
traditional art and morality. Hence the contradictions 
which arose so frequently between ancient customs and im- 
ported examples, and this partly explains the so frequently 
negative character of moral proscriptions as well as of 
canons of taste. Thou shalt not kill thy conquered enemy 
to devour him, thou shalt not sell thy children or kill thy 
slaves without a motive, thou shalt not kill or beat thy wives 
except for infidelity, thou shalt not steal thy neighbour's 
ass or ox, etc. these are the highly original and much-dis- 
cussed prohibitions which, in their respective epochs, com- 
posed the major part of the moral code of every people. 
Their aesthetic code is, likewise, full of prohibitions instead 
of positive directions for the guidance of taste. 

I do not mean to say in what has preceded that the senti- 
ment of fraternity as well as of equality and liberty and 
justice, that is to say, the germs and soul of moral life, is a 
modern discovery. That which is modern is the enormous 
compass of the human group where this superior sentiment 
is supposed to rule. This sentiment has always existed as a 
matter of fact, but it exists in groups which become more 

348 Laws of Imitation 

and more narrow the further back we go in the course of 
history. This potent and exquisite sentiment is, in fact, the 
very sweetening of social life, its peculiar charm and magic, 
the sole counter-balance to its inconveniences, and these in- 
conveniences are such that, if this unique advantage had ever 
ceased to show itself in any society, that society would have 
fallen straightway into dust. They who have seen nothing 
in primitive humanity but combats and massacres, but the 
cannibalism and other horrors that were commited by one 
tribe upon another, they who have seen nothing but the 
lashes of the whip upon the slave, or the sale of little children 
by their fathers, these people have not understood primitive 
societies. They have looked at them only on the outside, 
they have not penetrated within. The inner side, the essence, 
the content of these societies is the relation which existed in 
them between the equals which composed them, between the 
family heads of the same tribe or clan, between the citizens 
of Sparta or Athens in the agora, between the nobles of the 
old regime in a drawing room Always and every- 
where, passing quarrels excepted, we see that union and 
peace and politeness prevailed in the reciprocal relations 
that were established between these equals, who in them- 
selves exclusively composed the social group, to the exclu- 
sion of slaves, of minor sons, and of women, not to mention 
strangers. Strangers are, in comparison with the common 
interest of the equals, the obstacle to be overcome. Minors, 
women, and slaves are, in comparison with the same 
interest, a mere means of service. But neither the latter 
nor the former are associates. 

Only, in the long run, contact with these peers inspires 
inferiors with a lively desire to be admitted into their magic 
circle, to force the circumference of their fraternal intimacy 
to widen out. This desire is realised but gradually and not 
without difficulty, not without revolutions. How is it 
realised? By the mere play of long-continued imitation. 1 

1 The Roman plebeians were assimilated with the patricians through 
imitation. According to Vico, the Roman plebs began by demanding 

Extra-Logical Influences 349 

When we attribute a preponderating share in this result to 
the preaching of philosophers or theologians, be they Stoics or 
Apostles, we take the effect for the cause. A moment always 
comes when, from having copied the superior in everything, 
in thought, in speech, in prayer, in dress, and in general 
methods of life, the inferior inspires him with the irresistible 
feeling that they both belong by right to the same society. 
Then this feeling finds expression, ordinarily in an exagger- 
ated form, in some philosophic or theological formula which 
strengthens it and which favours its expansion. When Soc- 
rates, in his dialogues, raised somewhat the dignity of 
women and even of slaves, when Plato, going still further, 
dreamed, in his Republic, of the complete equality of man 
and woman and of the suppression of slavery, it was because, 
in contemporaneous Athens, women had begun to cross the 
thresholds of the gynecia, and because the slave was already 
assimilated with the free man. 1 " The common people of 
Athens do not differ from the slaves in dress or in general 
bearing or in any other particular," says Xenophon. Be- 
sides, before his twofold Utopia could be realised, it was 
necessary that for many more centuries the distance between 
man and woman, between the citizen and the slave, should 
continue to diminish until it reached the point that was at- 
tained under the Antonines. Aristotle was much more con- 
sistent with the practical morality of his time when he justi- 
fied slavery ; and the contrary opinion of the first masters of 
Stoicism on this point remained practically unechoed until 
the day when the world was ripe for the words of Epio- 

Unfortunately, friendship, as well as society, is " a circle 

" not the right of contracting marriages with the patricians, but of con- 
tracting marriages like those of the patricians, cunnubia patrum, and 
not cum patribus." 

1 Another cause which may have contributed to softening the lot of 
the Athenian slaves, was, I think the inferiority in which women 
were kept at Athens, and in all the rest of Greece. We see in the 
Alcestis of Euripides, in Xenophon, and elsewhere, that Greek women 
inspired their slaves with an affectionate attachment, due, undoubtedly, 
to their common life and common subjection. They strove side by side 
for emancipation. 

350 Laws of Imitation 

which deforms itself in stretching out too far," and this 
serious objection has instigated the resistance of conserva- 
tives of all periods to the wishes of subject classes who 
aspired to equality. But it is necessary for this objection to 
fall away and for the social circle to widen itself out to the 
limits of humankind. We may query whether the gradual ex- 
tension of the field of the sentiment of which I am speaking 
has not been bought at the price of its intensity, and whether 
there is not reason for thinking that in the past, in the remote 
past even, it was much more intense, where it existed, than 
it is at present. Has the word pietas the same force and ful- 
ness of meaning, has it the same divine unction, for us that it 
had for the ancients ? 

It has been very justly observed that just as foreign wars, 
the Persian Wars, for example, tend to strengthen the 
morality of the belligerents, so civil or quasi-civil wars, the 
Peloponnesian War, for example, are demoralising. Why 
so? The same means are used, there is always the same 
trickery and violence. But, in the one case, it is directed 
against a group of men who were strangers to one another 
to begin with and who, after the struggle and in consequence 
of the contact of war, become so much less strange to one 
another than they were before that they usually fall to copy- 
ing one another; whereas, in the other case, they are directed 
against a group of men who were before that one another's 
social brothers and relations, one another's friends and com- 
patriots. Thus, in the one case, in that of foreign war, the 
social field has not been curtailed, it even tends to enlarge 
itself, and the social tie is strengthened; in the other case, 
the social field is diminutised and the social tie is weakened. 
Here, then, everything is social loss; and that is why we 
properly talk of demoralisation. There is no better illustra- 
tion of the eminently social character of morality. 

At any rate, it is certain that from century to century the 
moral public, like the artistic public, has not ceased to extend 
itself, not by constant, but by intermittent, aggrandisement. 
By this I mean that the group of persons to whom the indi- 
vidual recognises that he owes certain duties and whose 

Extra-Logical Influences 351 

opinion influence his morality, 1 just as the circle of persons 
for whom the artist works and whose judgments count for 
something in his eyes, has gone on enlarging. This enlarge- 
ment has been twofold; on the surface, by the incessant 
pushing forward of the urban and provincial and national 
frontiers across which the virtuous man of the city or of the 
province or of the nation saw no one to whom he felt under 
any obligation of pity or justice and across which the artist 
or the poet saw none but barbarians ; 2 and, in depth, by the 
lowering of the barriers which separated classes and limited 
the horizon of duty and of good taste for each of them. This 
was a progress which was already immense of itself, but 
which was in addition accompanied necessarily by an inter- 
nal remodelling of morals and arts. Now, how was this 
progress accomplished, how must it have been accomplished? 
We have first to answer that all the outbursts and o'. r erflow- 
ings of external imitation that had been brought about from 
the religious, political, industrial, legislative, or linguistic 
point of view, indifferently, were potent contributions to this 
result, through assimilating day by day an increasing num- 
ber of men. If, from the beginning of the sixteenth century, 
popular rights forbid the sacking of captured cities, the en- 
slavement of the conquered or the confiscation of his goods, 
if, from the same epoch, the right of succession to the estate 
of a deceased alien (droit d'aubaine) was no longer claimed, 

1 See on this subject my Criminalite comparee, p. 188 and the 
following, and my Philosophic penale. 

2 We can follow, in certain epochs, the stages of this development. 
Up to Socrates, only the spirit of the city reigned in the little Greek 
republics; from Socrates to Plato, after the Persian wars and the work 
of fusion which followed them, the spirit of Greek nationality appeared 
(like French patriotism after the Hundred Years' War). Even Plato 
thinks of the Greek and of the Barbarian as two distinct beings, although 
his theory of ideas ought to have had the good effect, at least, of bring- 
ing them together in his thought under the idea of man. The conquests 
of Alexander extend Greece to the middle of Asia, the distinction 
between Greece and Persia, " those two sisters," is wiped out, and the 
moral field is singularly enlarged; but outside of the combination of 
Persian and Greek, man is not recognised as a brother. Under the 
Roman conquest, Greece, Italy, Spain, Gaul, Africa, and even Germany, 
come into the charmed circle. 

352 Laws of Imitation 

if, in a word, duties towards the stranger, at least towards 
the European and Christian stranger, came to be recognised, 
it is largely due to the fact that this innovating century gave 
a remarkable impetus to fashion-imitation on our continent 
and was pre-eminently distinguished by the wide paths which 
it opened out to this form of imitation. If Racine wrote for 
some thousands of people of good taste in France, and if Vic- 
tor Hugo has written in our day for some millions of admir- 
ers in France and Europe, a great part of this extension of 
the literary public is due to the fresh inundation of the 
general current of examples, which, after the conservative 
seventeenth century, was brought about in the eighteenth 
century and which still flows under our eyes. Let us sup- 
pose that the steam machine, the loom, the locomotive, and 
the telegraph had not been invented, that the principal facts 
of modern chemistry and physics had not been discovered, 
Europe would unquestionably have remained broken up in 
an endless number of little dissimilar provinces, a state of 
things as incompatible with a broad system of art or 
morality as with an extensive system of industry. Thus all 
the good ideas which have civilised the world may be con- 
sidered auxiliary inventions and discoveries of art and 

But, in matters of morality, at least, this general cause 
would not have sufficed to bring about the overthrow of the 
obstacles which were in the way of the enlargement of its 
domain. To the ideas which indirectly effected this prog- 
ress, must be added those which had it for its direct and 
more or less conscious object. In this class I place in the 
first rank all those fictions which in those primitive times 
when it was necessary to be related by blood in order to be 
social and moral compatriots created artificial systems of 
consanguinity and extended to them the advantages of 
natural kinship. Among many barbarian peoples the custom 
prevails of cementing an alliance by mixing together a few 
drops of the blood of the different contracting parties, who 
thereby become in a sense consanguineous. Such a usage 
could only have been imagined in an epoch when men judged 

Extra Logical Influences 353 

themselves under moral obligations only within the limits 
of the ties of blood; and Tylor has reason to celebrate this 
as " a discovery of a solemn means of extending beyond the 
narrow limits of the family the duties and affections of the 
fraternity." Adoption with its many strange forms was 
another no less ingenious means that worked towards the 
same end. Finally, the practice of hospitality might well 
have been based upon some analogous idea. The fact of 
entering into a house, into the domestic temple, might well 
have been regarded as a fictitious incorporation into the 
family, remotely comparable to adoption or to the mingling 
together of drawn drops of blood. But of all such ingenu- 
ities, the most marvellous and the most fruitful is undoubt- 
edly the word of Christ : " Every man is thy brother, ye are 
all the sons of God." By virtue of this all men were included 
in one blood-relationship. 

When, through these processes or others like them, or 
simply as a result of the levelling of civilisation, a more 
ample opportunity is given for the doing of upright acts or 
for the making of aesthetic things, we see peoples or classes 
who had before been cooped up by their own peculiar arts 
and morals inclined to interchange them; and from this 
common tendency results the triumph of a higher art or 
morality, which is, in turn, inevitably transformed. There 
is the same difference between imported morality and inbred, 
domestic morality, between a fashion-morality and a custom- 
morality, as between an art that is exotic, that is acclimating 
itself, and an art that is indigenous. The inspiration of the 
latter, in spite of its relative age and immutability, has much 
more freshness and force and originality. We have no cause 
to wonder at this; any more than at the oddly youthful 
energy which is inherent in the duties that are imposed by 
antique customs, in the duty of family vengeance, especially. 
But there are other points which I prefer to emphasise. 

There are two points to note on the subject of art. In the 
first place, art, in the ages of custom, when it is born sponta- 
neously, without any wholesale importation, springs up from 
handicraft, " like a flower from its stem," under the warmth 

354 Laws of Imitation 

of religious inspiration. This was the case in Egypt, in 
Greece, in China, in Mexico and Peru, and in Florence. 1 
Architecture, Gothic or otherwise, is born of the builder's 
craft ; the painting of the fourteenth century, of illuminating, 
and illuminating, of the craft of the copyists; sculpture, of 
mediaeval cabinet-making, of the tombs of Egypt; modern 
music, of the ecclesiastical habit of intoning; eloquence, of 
the professions which involve speaking, of bench and bar; 
poetry and literature, of the different ways of speaking, of 
narration, of instigation, of persuasion. In the second place, 
at the same epochs, the work of art answers, not to the need 
of knowing something new, which is peculiar to the ages of 
fashion where curiosity is excited by the very stimulants 
which come in from outside, but to the truly loving need of 
seeing again, of finding again with tireless and ever keener 
eagerness, that which one has already known and loved, 
admired or adored, divine types of ancestral religion, 
divine legends, the history of the saints, epic tales of 
national history, the familiar scenes of life which conform 
to old customs, in a word, the traditional emotions which are 
summed up, for the artist and for his public, in a profound 
love for a remote past and in a profound hope in a long 
future on earth or in the posthumous future that is promised 
by religion. We do not demand the expression of fleeting 
impressions from architecture or music, impressions that are 
borrowed from foreign or from dead and artificially restored 
civilisations; we demand from them a vivid expression and 
reproduction of the impressions that are wrought into our 
life. We do not ask sculpture or painting to invent exotic 
or imaginary groups and scenes and landscapes, but to repro- 
duce vividly and expressively the twelve apostles, St. 
Michael, St. Christopher, Christ, the Virgin, or family por- 
traits or pictures representing the city of our birth with the 
dresses and celebrations and idiosyncracies which we think 
will last forever. We do not ask the epic or drama to inter- 

1 At Florence, the trades which were called the arts, and which 
deserved this name, were, indisputably, the cradle of the fine-arts. 

Extra-Logical Influences 355 

est us by keeping us in ignorance of its climax or by the 
novelty of its subject, we ask it to vividly reproduce the 
legendary lore that we have known from childhood, the 
death of Prometheus or Hercules, the misfortunes of CEdi- 
pus, the drama of the creation from Lucifer to Christ or 
Anti-Christ, the death of Roland, etc. 

These are the two principal characteristics of art proper 
in the ages of tradition. It may be seen that they are linked 
together. The art of these ages is, I will not say industrial, 
but professional, because it is formed by a slow accumulation 
of aesthetic processes which are transmitted with useful direc- 
tions from father to son, and the cause which has produced 
this effect, that is to say, the habit of having one's heart and 
mind always turned towards the past, towards one's fore- 
bears and their subjective models, also makes it necessary for 
art to be the living and magical mirror of a past that is itself 
still living, of a past, in other terms, that is full of faith in 
its own future existence, instead of being the factitious 
resurrection of some extinct past or the translation of some 
foreign works. In ages of fashion, on the contrary, it 
must naturally happen that the forms of imported art 
show themselves detached from their stem, since it is the 
flower, and not the stem, that, in this case, attracts curios- 
ity. Then art becomes handicraft more often than handi- 
craft becomes art. And curiosity, the characteristic of 
these epochs, demands a misleading and irritating kind of 
satisfaction, which supplies it with a continuous stream of 
invention, of invention to order and by formula, of novels 
and dramas based upon fictitious happenings, of fantastic 
pictures, of unheard-of-music, of eclectic movements, 
Curious times want only artists of imagination; loving 
and believing times want artists imbued with faith and 

We see that either because of its origin, or of its subject, 
or of its inspiration, the art of fashion differs 'from the art 
of custom. A difference that is, in many respects, analo- 
gous, distinguishes the two corresponding kinds of moral- 
ity. Their origin, in the first place, is quite distinct. The 

356 Laws of Imitation 

essentially religious virtues of tradition are the natural 
flowering of the wants of the restricted group where they 
blossom. Reflected virtues, namely those of a lower class 
that seeks to appropriate to itself the moral qualities of an 
aristocracy, those of a people which is taking moral or 
immoral lessons from another, just as at the Restoration 
England copied French morals, these reflected virtues are 
an ethical veneer, an arbitrary decoration of the every- 
day conduct which they overlie, but which is not in touch 
with them. In such cases the borrowed virtues are even 
unearthed from the past, but from a dead or fashion- 
revived past. This phenomenon of moral mimicry, by which 
fashion takes on a false air of custom, is not at all rare in 
history. But moral reforms, where we see, for example, 
virtues which had their raison d'etre among the Hebrew 
patriarchs or the Christians of the primitive Church, re- 
appearing in the midst of the sixteenth century in Europe, 
are, in reality, innovations which have been born in the soul 
of an apostle in love with a past which he fails to under- 
stand, and which have subsequently spread abroad, thanks 
to the general drawing of people's hearts into the ways 
of free imitation. In this they absolutely resemble those 
literary or artistic renascences, another kind of conven- 
tional archaism, which have often been seen. The objects 
and the motives of the two kinds of morality which I am 
comparing are no less clearly distinguished. Customary 
duties impose upon the individual certain sacrifices in view 
of certain peculiar but permanent wants of his walled-in 
and exclusive society, of his family, tribe, city, canton, or 
state. Borrowed duties, conventional and so-called na- 
tional duties, order the individual to sacrifice himself to 
more general interests, to interests that are scattered among 
a large number of men, but to interests which are often 
more transient and less lasting. The man of traditional 
times draws the power to accomplish the sacrifice that is 
demanded of him from the hereditary solidarity which 
makes him one with the series of generations in which he 
is a single link, in such a way that, in dying for his family, 

Extra-Logical Influences 357 

for his tribe, or for his city, in order to contribute to the 
immortality of the great collective person of which he 
is a part, he thinks that he is devoting himself to himself. 
Moreover, he usually draws this power from the promises of 
his inherited and ancestral religion. This double source 
of energy dries up partly or wholly for the man of an 
innovating age. In such ages imitation frees itself from 
heredity, and ties between kindred, between forebears and 
descendants, are obliterated by the connections between the 
unrelated individuals who are detached from their fam- 
ilies x and brought together by the age. In such ages, the 
clash of different religions or of religion and philosophy 
tends to engender scepticism. But the men of these pe- 
riods substitute for these losses in part an entirely new 
development of the highest kind of moral energy, the senti- 
ment of honour. 

I mean honour, not in the sense of family and aristocracy, 
but in the democratic and individual sense, in the modern 
sense, since we are unquestionably passing through a period 
of fashion-imitation, one which is pre-eminently remarka- 
ble for its breadth and permanency. This second mean- 
ing, dating from the Italian Renascence, according to 
Buckle, must in reality have been formed wherever the 

1 Hence the individualistic character of fashion-morality, analogous 
to that of fashion-art. This means that in the eyes of the artist, as in 
those of the moralist, individuals begin to count for something in them- 
selves. But this does not prevent duty in times of fashion having 
very general, although very fleeting, interests for its object, just as the 
works of art of the same times excel in photographing under the linea- 
ments of an individual, widespread, although highly variable, psycho- 
logical states. I have pointed out above the naturalistic character of 
fashion-morality and of fashion-art. " In the second half of the 
sixteenth century," H. Brunetiere very truly says, " beneath the religious 
wars, the great question at stake is to know whether the antique 
morality, the morality that was founded in theology on the dogma of 
the fall of man, but in reality upon the experience of the natural 
perversity of man, is to be ousted from the government of human 
conduct, and whether nature alone will suffice from this time on to 
maintain the social institution." Here, it will be noted, incidentally, that 
the inspiration of naturalism and individualism coincides with the 
inspiration of optimism. Is it that pessimism, I mean true pessimism 
(the pessimism of Christianity and Janseism, for example), not the 
pure kind, belongs to ages of custom, and optimism to ages of fashion ? 

358 Laws of Imitation 

spread of public morality was rapid through the lowering' 
of certain social barriers. Why is it, we shall be asked, 
that this desire for personal consideration must grow while 
the antique bases of morality, the family and religion, are 
being more and more undermined? Because the same 
cause which shakes the latter to their foundations is fit 
to consolidate and extend the former, I mean the progress 
of communication and of the indefinitely accelerated cir- 
culation of ideas in a domain that is being incessantly en- 
larged far and beyond the walls of clans, classes, creeds, 
or states. The substitution of fashion-imitation for cus- 
tom-imitation results in breaking down pride of birth and 
dogmatic belief, but it also results in arousing, through 
the progressive assimilation of people's minds, the irre- 
sistible power of public opinion. Now, what is honour 
but a passive, spontaneous, and heroic obedience to public 
opinion ? 

We are witnesses to the birth and growth of this new 
and potent motive, whenever a young conscript passes out 
from the paternal roof to his regiment. At the end of 
a short time, he no longer thinks of the father for whom he 
had had a reverential fear, or of the field which he coveted, 
or of the young girl whom he was courting with the idea 
of founding a family; he thinks still less of the catechisings 
of his curate. All the springs of his laborious honesty 
and of his relatively pure morals have dried up. But his 
morality has changed rather than degenerated, and what 
he has lost in continence or in love of work he has re- 
gained in courage and in probity, because in addition to 
the thought of court-martial he has had to sustain him in 
his life of barrack-room discipline and at his post of duty 
on the field of battle the idea of avoiding, even at the price 
of death, shame or humiliation in the eyes of his com- 
rades. At the same time he is conscious of being useful 
in the accomplishment of his new duties to a mass of men 
who have just become his fellows, to the great country 
which is assimilating him and for which he formerly cared 
so little, absorbed as he was in his domestic preoccupations. 

Extra-Logical Influences 359 

To this I may add that if his new morality is adapted 
to the care of more numerous, less personal, and more ex- 
tensive interests, his old morality was fitted to watch over 
less momentary and more lasting interests. In any case, 
the effect of the sacrifices that are required by his new 
duties reaches much farther, proportionally, in space than 
in time, whereas, formerly, the sacrifices demanded of him 
by his duties had a utility that was narrowly hemmed in 
by his immediate surroundings, but that was relatively con- 
siderably prolonged into the future. All the strictly do- 
mestic and patriarchal, local and primitive virtues, female 
chastity, for example, are privations that are undergone 
for the advantage of a single family, to be sure, but for 
the advantage of the whole posterity of that family. In- 
versely, modern morality, which is very indulgent to the 
vices for which our grandchildren will alone have to suffer, 
blames severely the faults which may react harmfully upon 
Our contemporaries, remote though these contemporaries 
may be. In this, it seems as if the morality of ages of fash- 
ion resembled their politics. Whatever may be the form of 
their government, the statesman of to-day differ from those 
of other days both in their enlarged horizon of watchful- 
ness over a larger number of similar interests subject simul- 
taneously to identical laws, and by their much shorter 
range of foresight. Formerly the feudal king of the Isle- 
de-France, shut up in his narrow domain, looked forward 
from the start to the development in future ages of this 
fine realm of France and he toiled painfully on in the pur- 
suit of this future ideal. We have seen the kinglet of 
petty Prussia sacrifice the present in his calculation of a far 
distant, imperial future which his grandchildren, alas ! have 
seen shine. Nowadays, would any political assembly in 
any country whatsoever, beginning with Germany, consent to 
sacrifice some actual interest in view of some benefit from 
which only the second or third generation to follow would 
profit? Far from that, it is to our descendants that we 
charge up the bill of our debts and follies. I need not 
explain, after all that has been said, how this striking con- 

360 Laws of Imitation 

trast, this offsetting by extension of abbreviations in dura- 
tion, is related to the distinction between the two forms of 

But if it is true that every stream of fashion tends to 
betake itself to the big and tranquil lake of custom, this 
contrast can be but temporary. Without doubt, as long 
as the stream flows, the prescriptions or interdictions of 
morality will bear less and less upon acts that are useful or 
prejudicial to our children or grandchildren alone, espe- 
cially upon certain facts of conjugal fidelity or infidelity, 
of filial piety or domestic waywardness, of cowardice or 
patriotic bravery, which were considered in other days 
cardinal virtues or capital crimes, but whose salutary or 
disastrous effects are experienced only in the long run. 
After me, the deluge, society will say. Unfortunately, 
society might end by perishing from the too frequent reit- 
eration of this phrase. Besides, we have reason for think- 
ing that after a time of progressive but transitory short- 
sightedness, collective forethought will begin again to ap- 
ply itself to time after it has vent itself upon space, and 
that nations will become as widely conscious of their per- 
manent as of their general interests. The moment will 
arrive when civilisation will, finally, at its culminating point, 
draw back upon itself, just as it has already done so many 
times in the course of history, in Egypt, in China, at 
Rome, at Constantinople. . . . The past speaks for the 
future. Then morality will become again, in many re- 
spects, what it has been, distinguished for grandeur and 
logic. Casuistry will spring up again in a more rational set- 
ting. To the duties of honour, an artificial morality which 
contents an age enslaved to a fickle public opinion, the duties 
of conscience, as our fathers knew them, will succeed. 
They will be as imperious, as absolute, as deeply rooted 
in the human heart, but they will be superior in light and 
reason. And at the same time, art, turning back from its 
brilliant vagaries, will drench itself again in the profound 
sources of faith and love. 

There is much to be said in explanation of the historic 

Extra-Logical Influences 361 

phenomenon of renascences, the hybrid phenomenon of 
fashion and custom, to which I referred above. It is a 
subject which is a little distinct from that of the present 
chapter, for in connection with it we do not see a new fash- 
ion becoming in its turn a custom, but we see it taking on 
the aspect of some ancient custom. This additional re- 
lation of the two branches of imitation deserves to be 
examined. In science and industry, an entirely new idea 
and one that it gives itself out as new, can spread through 
fashion; for in its birth it brings with it experimental 
proofs of truth and utility. But the case is different in 
the fine arts, in religion, in literature, in philosophy itself 
up to a certain point, in statecraft, in morals, and, finally 5 
wherever the choice of solutions is abandoned in large 
measure to the discretionary power of the judgment and is 
unable to depend upon a rigid demonstration. In this case* 
upon what authority, that of facts being pretty nearly lack- 
ing, could fashion depend for the triumph of its novelties 
over the old strongholds of custom? By what right is 
she entitled to array the products of enterprising reason or 
imagination against time-proved rules and ideas and insti- 
tutions? | Therefore, if she wish to succeed, she must as- 
sume the mask of the enemy and besiege existing custom 
by unearthing some ancient custom long since fallen into 
discredit and rejuvenated for the needs of her cause. And 
so we see all religious reforms pretending, with more or 
less complete sincerity, to return to the forgotten sources 
of the religion upon which they were grafted. This was the 
pretence of the protestantism of all the sects of the sixteenth 
century, the first century to inaugurate the grande mode of 
modern times. It was also the pretence of the Mussulman 
sect of the Ouahabites, which was born in the eighteenth 
century and which spread and is still spreading in Asia 
and Africa, where it boasts of steeping Islam again in 
the primitive Koran (see Revue scientifique, November 5, 
1887). And this is the pretence of all the sects which 
swarm over the old but still fruitful trunks of Hindooism 
and Brahmanism and which think that they are restoring 

362 Laws of Imitation 

the antique religion of India to its original state. This 
was also the thought of Buddhism, the Protestantism of 
the East. 

If this is so with religious reforms, it is no less so with 
reforms in literature or art. When fresh sap begins to cir- 
culate in the souls of artists and poets, it is under the form 
of a renascence of some distant past which it interprets 
to the outer world. Shall I cite the humanism of the Italian 
Renascence, the Ciceronianism of Erasmus, the neo-Hellen- 
ism or neo-Latinism of the architects and sculptors and 
painters of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the neo- 
Gothic flavour of the romanticism of 1830? From the time 
of Hadrian, the craze for Latin poetry, which had raged 
among the upper classes at Rome from the time of Augus- 
tus, and which had spread step by step to the provinces, 
began to subside. Why? Because a new fashion put in 
its appearance, that of the new Greek sophists, whose art 
had been born again a true renascence, indeed, and 
had aroused admiration and, later on, general imita- 
tion. This fascination lasted a long time and produced 
a factitious and, likewise, archaic reawakening of Greek 

The same thing is true of legislative reform. The top of 
fashion, in this connection, was a fashion which, in the six- 
teenth century, made all the codes of Europe uniform. It 
consisted of unearthing the Corpus Juris and of introducing 
under cover of the Roman name all the salutary or perni- 
cious usurpations of lawmakers or kings or emperors. The 
same thing is even true of political reforms. Sometimes this 
is obvious. The French parliament, for example, in in- 
augurating an entirely new and original control of the royal 
power by judicial authority, invoked the antique customs 
of the Franks and imagined that they were resurrecting 
the political constitution that they saw in their dreams. 
At other times, although it is less obvious, it is none the 
less true. Even the French Revolution prided itself upon 
copying Athens and Sparta. Finally, the very boldest of 
philosophers, men who were the least respectful of prece- 

Extra-Logical Influences 363 

dents, our French Encyclopedists, judged that the support 
that logic seemed to lend to their plans of social recon- 
struction was insufficient; and the at times sincere desire 
to rediscover the forgotten attributes of the human race, 
to reproduce in its primal purity the supposed state of 
nature, combines in their writing, as well as it can, with 
their cult of Reason. A great deal of prehistoric archaeology 
is mixed up with their idealogy. 

Moreover, renascences, let me repeat, are more apparent 
than real. Burckhardt shows that the resurrection of an- 
tiquity was only one of the innovations of the fiftenth cen- 
tury in Italy, of the Italian Renascence, and that, in its 
re-birth, Greek and Latin antiquity was strongly Italianised. 
Besides, this innovation was only a fashion following, like 
any other, in the tail of certain discoveries, namely, the 
archaeological discoveries resulting from the diggings in the 
sacred soil of antique Rome or in the libraries of the mon- 
asteries. Prior to these numerous finds of statues, inscrip- 
tions, manuscripts, and ruins of all kinds, antiquity may 
well have been taken on faith and admired, but it could not 
have been imitated. 

The Reformation, I may say, was only a German Re- 
nascence, just as the Renascence was only an Italian Refor- 
mation. The return to life and youth which Italy exacted 
from the old classical antiquity that she was said to be 
imitating, Germany demanded from its alleged and still 
more imaginary imitation of primitive Christianity. (It 
would be a mistake, between parentheses, to see in the first 
of these two movements merely the prelude of the second. 
The Humanists were merely the chance allies of the Luther- 
ans. As a matter of fact, each movement was a complete 
evolution in itself. The Renascence was not, as has been 
said, a superficial revolution of people's souls; it was, for 
a narrow group of souls reared in the aristocracy of art 
and intellect, a profound dechristianisation which, under- 
neath the Reformation, was to spread among us in the 
eighteenth century.) As the Renascence was connected 
with discoveries in arts and letters, so the Reformation pro- 

364 Laws of Imitation 

ceeded, in large part, from the invention of printing. The 
idea of acquiring by the mere reading of sacred books the 
highest type of knowledge, a full solution of the most 
difficult problems, could only have arisen when the sudden 
and extraordinary diffusion and invasion of books, hitherto 
unknown, had developed a general epidemic of reading and 
of the illusion of thinking that books were the source of all 
truth. It was perhaps because of this, Germany being the 
birthplace of printing, that Protestantism was German in 
its origin. Otherwise, this fact would be surprising, for, 
prior to the Reformation, all great heresies, all attempted 
rebellions against the Church, started from the South of 
Europe, a more civilised region than the North. 

Fashion and custom have still another relation of which 
I have not spoken, and which requires to be distinguished 
both from the revival of an antique custom by a recent 
fashion and from the consolidation of a fashion into a 
custom. I refer to the very frequent cases in which a 
new fashion creeps, in order to introduce itself, under a still 
living custom which it insensibly changes and appropriates 
to itself. 

For example, it has been noted that long after 
the importation of bronze among communities that had 
previously been restricted to the chipping of flints, bronze 
tools and weapons were made to imitate the forms of en- 
tirely outworn tools and weapons of flint. It has also been 
proved that Greek architecture is explained by the reproduc- 
tion in stone or marble of the peculiarities of the huts of 
the primitive populations of Hellas, The most ornate 
columns of the temples of Miletus or Athens were modelled 
upon ancient wooden structures. The architectural type 
of China is explained by the primitive tent. What does 
this mean but the grafting of new fashions upon the still 
living trunk of old customs? Does it not imply the neces- 
sity of this grafting among societies based on custom, and is 
it not, above all, an act of art and of morality in order to 
make innovations live and endure? When the fashion of 
iron or marble was introduced after the example of foreign 

Extra-Logical Influences 365 

peoples, the only way it could become acclimated was 
through adopting the uniform of national usages. 

An entirely parallel phenomenon is produced when new 
maxims or sentiments of morality filter into a social group 
whose horizon tends to enlarge and, in order to make them- 
selves acceptable, have to have themselves introduced by the 
very prejudices whose place they are taking. Thus in a 
clan where only contracts between blood relations have 
ever been recognised as valid, contracts are made with 
strangers by means of such ceremonies as the intermingling 
of drops of blood to counterfeit consanguinity. Thus, 
when the feudal disintegration of the Middle Ages began 
to give way to monarchical centralisation, the duty of 
fidelity to the king, which was soon to be substituted for the 
duty of the vassal towards his over-lord, began by affecting 
a feudal colour, and seemed to express nothing more than 
a more general tie of vassalage, etc. 



AFTER having studied the principal laws of imitation we 
have still to make their general meaning clear, to complete 
them by certain observations, and to point out several im- 
portant consequences which proceed from them. 

/The supreme law of imitation seems to be its tendency 
towards indefinite progression. This immanent and im- 
mense kind of ambition 1 is the soul of the universe. It 
expresses itself, physically, in the conquest of space by light, 
vitally, in the claim of even the humblest species to cover 
the entire globe with its kind. It seems to impel every dis- 
covery or innovation, however futile, including the most 
insignificant individual innovations, to scatter itself through 
the whole of the indefinitely broadened social field. But 
unless this tendency be backed up by the coming together 

1 Let me express the full depth of my thought upon the unknown and 
unknowable source of universal repetitions. It may be that an immense 
and all-pervasive ambition is not a sufficient explanation. I confess 
that at times another occurs to me. I reflect upon the fact that delight 
in endless and tireless self-repetition is one of the signs of love; that 
it is the peculiarity of love, both in art and life, to continually say and 
resay the same thing, to continually picture and repicture the same 
subject. Then I ask myself whether this universe, which seems to 
delight in its monotonous repetitions, might not reveal, in its depths, 
an infinite outpouring of hidden love, greater even than that of ambition. 
I cannot keep from conjecturing that all things, in spite of intestine 
struggles, have been made, separately, con amore, and that only in this 
lies, evil and misfortune notwithstanding, the explanation of their beauty. 
And yet, at other times, in reflecting upon death, I am led to justify 
pessimism. Everything repeats itself, and nothing persists. These are 
the two characteristics of our universe, the second growing out of the 
first. Why should it be chimerical to conceive of a perfect world, of a 
world that was both stable and original, where everything lasted, and 
where nothing repeated itself? But a truce to these dreams! 


Remarks and Corollaries 367 

of inventions which are logically and Ideologically auxil- 
iary, or by the help of the prestige which belongs to al- 
leged superiorities, it is checked by the different obstacles 
which it has successively to overcome or to turn aside. These 
obstacles are the logical and teleological contradictions 
which are opposed to it by other inventions, or the barriers 
which have been raised up by a thousand causes, by racial 
pride and prejudice, for the most part, between different 
families and tribes and peoples and, within each people or 
tribe, between different classes. Consequently, if a good 
idea is introduced in one of these groups, it propagates 
itself without any difficulty until it finds itself stopped short 
by the group's frontiers. Fortunately, this arrest is only 
a slowing up. It is true that, at first, in the case of class 
barriers, a happy innovation which has happened to origi- 
nate and make its way in a lower class, does not, dur- 
ing periods of hereditary aristocracy and of physio- 
logical inequality, so to speak, spread further, unless the 
advantage of adopting it appear plain to the higher classes; 
but, on the other hand, innovations which have been made 
or accepted by the latter classes easily reach down, as I 
have shown already, to those lower levels which are accus- 
tomed to feel their prestige. And it happens that, as a 
result of this prolonged descent, the lower strata gradually 
mount up, step by step, to swell the highest ranks with their 
successive increments. Thus, through assimilating them- 
selves with their models, the copies come to equal them, that 
is, they become capable of becoming models in their turn, 
while assuming a superiority which is no longer hereditary, 
which is no longer centred in the whole person, but which 
is individual and vicarious. The march of imitation from 
top to bottom still goes on, but the inequality which it 
implies has changed in character. Instead of an aristo- 
cratic, intrinsically organic inequality, we have a demo- 
cratic inequality, of an entirely social origin, which we may 
call inequality if we wish, but which is really a reciprocity 
of invariably impersonal prestiges, alternating from individ- 
ual to individual and from profession to profession. In 

368 Laws of Imitation 

this way, the field of imitation has been constantly growing 
and freeing itself from heredity. 

In the second place, in regard to barriers between fami- 
lies, tribes, or peoples, it is equally true that while the knowl- 
edge or institutions or beliefs or industries which belong 
to any group while it is powerful and triumphant, spread 
without difficulty to neighbouring groups that have been 
conquered and brought low; on the other hand, the examples 
of the weak and vanquished, if we except the case of those 
whose civilisation is obviously superior, are practically non- 
existent for their conquerors. Hence it follows, paren- 
thetically, that war is much more of a civiliser for the 
conquered than for the conqueror, for the latter does not 
deign to learn from the former, whereas the former submits 
himself to the ascendency of victory and borrows from his 
enemy a number of fruitful ideas to add to his national store. 
The Egyptians took nothing from the books of the captive 
Hebrews. They made a great mistake. Whereas the Jews 
gained much inspiration from the hieroglyphics of their 
masters. But, as I have said, when a people dominates 
others through its brilliancy, others, who heretofore had 
imitated none but their forefathers, imitate it. Now, this 
extra-national propagation of imitation, to which I have 
given the name of fashion, is, at bottom, merely the appli- 
cation to the relations between states of the law which 
governs the relations between classes. Thanks to the in- 
vasion of fashion, imitation always descends from the 
state which is for the time being superior to those which 
are for the time inferior, just as it descends from the high- 
est to the lowest rungs of the social ladder. Conse- 
quently, we shall not be surprised to see the rule of fashion 
producing effects in the former case similar to those pro- 
duced by it in the matter. In effect, just as the radiation of 
the examples of the higher classes results in preparing the 
way for their enlargement, where imitation is facile and 
reciprocal, through the absorption of the lower classes by 
them, so the contagious prestige of preponderating states 
results in preparing the way for their extension, for the 

Remarks and Corollaries 369 

extension of states which were originally families, then 
tribes, and, later, cities and nations, and which have been 
constantly enlarged through the assimilation of neighbours 
whom they have annexed, or through the annexation of 
neighbours whom they have assimilated. 

Another analogy. Just as the play of imitation from top 
to bottom leads, in its continuation, to so-called democratic 
equality, that is to say, to the fusion of all classes into one, 
in which reciprocal imitation is admirably practised through 
the acceptance of one another's respective superiorities, so 
a prolonged process of fashion-imitation ends by putting 
pupil-peoples upon the same level, both in their armaments 
and in their arts and sciences, with their master-people. It 
creates a kind of federation between them like that which is 
called in modern times, for example, the European balance 
of power. By this is meant the reciprocity of every kind 
of service or exchange which goes on incessantly between 
the different great centres which divide up European civ- 
ilisation. In this way, in international relations, the free and 
unimpeded domain of imitation has been enlarged with 
scarcely an interruption. 

But, at the same time, Tradition and Custom, the con- 
servative forms of imitation, have been fixing and perpet- 
uating its new acquisitions and consolidating its incre- 
ments in the heart of every class of people that has been 
raised up through the example of higher classes or of more 
civilised neighbours. At the same time, too, every germ 
of imitation which may have been secreted in the brain of 
any imitator in the form of a new belief or aspiration, of 
a new idea or faculty, has been steadily developing in out- 
ward signs, in words and acts which, according to the law 
of the march from within to without, have penetrated into 
his entire nervous and muscular systems. 

Here then we have the laws of the preceding chapters 
in focus from the same point of view. Through them, 
the tendency of imitation, set free from generation, to- 
wards geometric progression, expresses and fulfils itself more 
and more. Every act of imitation, therefore, results in 

370 Laws of Imitation 

the preparation of conditions that will make possible and 
that will facilitate new acts of imitation of an increasingly 
free and rational and, at the same time, precise and definite 
character. These conditions are the gradual suppression 
of caste, class, and nationality barriers and, I may add, the 
lessening of distances through more rapid means of loco- 
motion, as well as through greater density of population. 
This last condition is realised in the degree that fruitful, 
that is to say, widely imitated, agricultural or industrial in- 
ventions, and the equally fruitful discovery of new lands 
promote the world-wide circulation of the most inventive 
and, at the same time, the most imitative races. Let us 
suppose that all these conditions are combined and that 
they are fulfilled in the highest degree. Then, wherever 
a happy initiative might show itself in the whole mass of 
humanity, its transmission by imitation would be almost 
instantaneous, like the propagation of a wave in a perfectly 
elastic medium. We are approaching this strange ideal. 
Already, in certain special phases, where the most essential 
of the conditions which I have indicated happen to be 
combined, social life reveals the reality of the aforesaid 
tendency. We see it, for example, in the world of scholars, 
who, although they are widely scattered, are in constant 
touch with one another through multiple international com- 
munications. We see it, too, in the perpetual and universal 
contact of merchants. Haeckel said in an address delivered 
in 1882 on the success of Darwin's theories: "The prodi- 
gious influence which the decisive victory of the evolutionary 
idea exercises over all the sciences, an influence which grows 
in geometric progression year by year, opens out to us the 
most consoling perspectives." In fact, the success of Dar- 
win and Spencer has been amazingly swift. As for the 
rapidity of commercial imitation as soon as it is given free 
scope, it has been a matter for observation in every period, 
not merely in our own. Read in Ranke the description of the 
progress of Antwerp from 1550 to 1566. During those six- 
teen years the commerce of that city with Spain doubled; 
with Portugal, Germany, and France it was more than 

Remarks and Corollaries 371 

tripled; with England, it increased twenty- fold! Unfortu- 
nately, war put an end to this prosperity. But in such inter- 
mittent flights we see the steady force which pushes on to 
indefinite commercial expansion. 

It is now proper to bring to light a general observation, 
a special side of which I have just been indicating in point- 
ing out the passing of unilateral into reciprocal imitation. 
The mere play of imitation has resulted, then, not only in 
extending it, but in making it two-sided as well. Now, this 
effect which imitation produces upon itself, it also produces 
upon many other connections between people. Ultimately 
it transforms all unilateral into mutual relations. 

We ceased long ago to believe in Rousseau's " social con- 
tract." We know that far from having been the first tie 
between human wills, contract was a bond of slow formation, 
that it took centuries of subjection to the empire of the 
coercive decree, of the passively obeyed command, to sug- 
gest the idea of the reciprocal decree, as it were, of the com- 
plex bond by which two wills are linked together in alternate 
command and obedience. Nevertheless, many people still be- 
lieve, although the error is quite similar, that exchange 
was the first step taken by mankind. This was not 
so at all. Before the idea of exchanging came that 
of present making or that of thieving, much simpler rela- 
tions. 1 Perhaps you also believe that at the very outset men 
talked, discussed, and interchanged ideas with one another 
like the shepherds of an eclogue? Now, this exchange did 
not occur in primitive times any more than did that of men's 
products. Discussion presupposes the concession on both 

1 On this subject see Spencer's Sociology, Vol. III., where he 
tells how gifts, which are at first voluntary and one-sided (either from 
the superior to the inferior, or inversely), become, little by little, habit- 
ual, obligatory, and reciprocal. But Spencer forgets to tell of the leading 
part played by imitation in all of this. 

372 Laws of Imitation 

sides of the right of mutual enlightenment; but before that 
it presupposes the possession of truth, that is to say, of an 
individual perception or opinion which attributes to itself 
the rightful power of being recognised by all normal minds. 
Would the idea of this kind of power be possible without the 
preliminary experience of such power as exercised by a 
father, priest, or teacher? Is it not dogma that has alone 
made possible the conception of truth? In the same way, 
if some reader of idyls were inclined to think that primitive 
men, even the gentlest savages, were familiar with courtesy 
and mutual consideration, he should be shown the proofs 
that urbanity in France and everywhere else, born as it was 
'of the non-reciprocal homages and compliments paid to 
chiefs, over-lords, and kings, is the gradual vulgarising, as 
history clearly shows, of this one-sided flattery as it becomes 
a mutual thing in its expansion. Alas! We cannot even 
believe that war, if by that word we mean the exchange of 
blows inflicted by weapons, which are more or less alike, 
was the first international relation between human groups. 
The chase, that is to say, the destruction or expulsion of 
some defenceless being, of a peaceful tribe by a brigand 
horde, preceded anything worthy of the name of war. 1 

Now, how did the human chase come to make way for 
human warfare? How did flattery come to make way for 
courtesy, credulity for free enquiry, dogmatism for mutual 
instruction ? Docility for voluntary agreement and absolut- 
ism for self-government ? Privilege for equality before the 
law, present-making or theft for exchange, 2 slavery for in- 

1 1 refer to human relations ; for in the relations of primitive man to 
animals relations which have no direct bearing upon sociology the 
opposite seems to have occurred; since, as we have seen already, man 
fought with savage beasts before he had the means to hunt them. 

* In the beginning the administration of the sacrament was gratu- 
itous; it was an out-and-out gift. (On this subject see Paul Viollet, 
Histoire du droit frangais, p. 385). " Little by little, communities came 
to respond to these gifts with others, with presents that were sponta- 
neous, and not in the least obligatory, until, finally, these offerings 
came to be dues. Fire-insurance companies are societies for mutual aid. 
They date back to 1786 under this reciprocal form. But they were pre- 
ceded by non-mutual benefit societies, by systematic almsgiving for the 

Remarks and Corollaries 373 

dustrial co-operation ? And, finally, primitive marriage, the 
one-sided appropriation of the wife by the husband, for mar- 
riage as we know it, the appropriation of the wife by the 
husband and of the husband by the wife? I answer : through 
the slow and inevitable effect of imitation, of imitation under 
all its forms. It will be easy to quickly prove this. I need 
do nothing more than indicate the transitory phases that 
have been traversed in the course of the above transforma- 

In the beginning, one man always monopolises the power 
and the right to teach; no one disputes it to him. Every- 
thing that he says must be believed by all, and he alone has 
the right to deliver oracles. But at last the desire arises 
among those who have drunk in with the greatest credulity 
the words of their master, to be infallible like him, to re- 
semble him in that particular as well. Hence those efforts 
of genius on the part of philosophers which will end one day 
by bringing about the recognition of every individual's right 
to spread his own particular faith and to evangelise even his 
pristine masters. But before this they must limit themselves 
to more humble pretensions ; and imitation of the theologians 
is so thoroughly the spirit of their dissimulated revolt that 
they feel happy if, while they submit without discussion to 
dogma, although to dogma which is for the first time 
hemmed into a particularly assigned sphere, they succeed in 
dogmatising in their own little domain by imposing upon 
scholars and scientists certain capital ideas which are laid 
down as incontrovertible, the theories of Aristotle or Plato, 
for example, in as much as they are not contrary to religious 
faith. On the other hand, at the same period of transition, 
scientists who also bow down to a certain extent under the 
metaphysical yoke, know how to dogmatise in their turn. 
It is a series of dogmatic rebounds which make evident the 
need of imitation from which this singular stage of thought 

benefit of sufferers from fire (see Babeau, La Ville sous I'ancien regime, 
II, 146). The right of divorce began by being one-sided, to the 
exclusive advantage of the husband, before it became reciprocal, etc. 

374 Laws of Imitation 

proceeds. It is nevertheless true that the emancipation of 
human reason comes from the same source. In fact, there 
is something contradictory and artificial in the attitude of 
the mind which already feels its own power, but which, be- 
lieving in its right to impose its convictions without discus- 
sion upon others, nevertheless believes that it is its duty to 
accept without examination the convictions of others. So 
much timidity is inconsistent with so much pride. And so 
the time comes when a bolder and more logical mind con- 
ceives the desire of dogmatising without restriction, of 
asserting and imposing its convictions both above and 
below. Its example is at once followed, and discussion be- 
comes general. Free thought is nothing else but the mutual 
conflict and mutual restraint of many such self-asserting, 
contradictory individual infallibilities. 

Originally, one man commands and the others obey. 
Authority, like instruction, is monopolised by the father or 
the teacher. The rest of the group has no other function 
but to obey. But this autocratic authority becomes an object 
of envy. The ambitious among those that are ruled over 
conceive the idea of reconciling their subjection with their 
craving for power. At first they dream of limiting, of cir- 
cumscribing the authority exerted over them by their rulers, 
then of diverting it, still in a limited and definite form, to the 
subjects next in rank. We have here a hierarchy of limited 
but indisputable commanding powers. The feudal system 
was the realisation of this idea on the greatest scale. But, 
as a matter of fact, the military organisation of any period 
is its most obvious incarnation, and this example shows us 
that the conception in question, just as the preceding and 
analogous conception, that of the hierarchy of dogmatic 
systems, answers to a permanent need in societies, their need 
of patriotic defence or of educating their children. 
Later on, however, men dare more, they wish to be able to 
command in certain respects those whom in other respects 
they obey and vice versa, or to be able to command for a 
time those who have been or who will be obeyed at another 
time. This reciprocity is obtained by recruiting the men in 

Remarks and Corollaries 375 

the public service from all classes, by rotation in office, and 
by the right of universal suffrage. The mere fact of voting 
implies on the part of the voter a pledge to submit to whom- 
soever may be elected and in this way imparts to the decrees 
of the latter a character of tacit contract. Can the popular 
sovereignty which is formed in this way be said to be any- 
thing else but kingly sovereignty multiplied into millions of 
examples? Without the example of the latter, as it is 
notably embodied in Louis XIV, would the former have ever 
been conceived ? 

All social changes or advances which have been effected 
by the substitution of the reciprocal for the unilateral rela- 
tion, and which I deem consequences of the action of imita- 
tion, are attributed by Spencer to the replacement of 
" militancy " by " industrialism." But the development of 
industry itself is subject to the law in question. In fact, the 
first germ of industry is unpaid slave labour or the labour 
of woman, the born slave of primitive man. The Arab, for 
example, is waited on, nourished, dressed, and even lodged 
by his numerous wives, just as the Roman was by his slaves. 
For this reason polygny is as necessary to him as our 
numerous tradesmen to us. The relations between producer 
and consumer begin, then, like those between father and son 
or between husband and wife, by being abusive. But by 
dint of working gratis for others, the slave aspires to make 
someone work gratis for himself, and, thanks to a gradual 
restriction in the power of his masters in no longer control- 
ling all his acts or all his time, he ends by accumulating 
savings which first enable him to buy his freedom and then 
to purchase one or more slaves, his victims in turn. Had he 
dreamed only of freedom, he would have hastened to enjoy 
it in isolation, providing for his own wants himself. But, as 
a matter of fact, he copies the wants of his ancient masters; 
in the satisfaction of these wants, he wishes to be served, like 
them, by others; and as this condition becomes more and 
more general, the times comes when all these ancient emanci- 
pated slaves, all of whom pretend to have slaves, alternately 
or mutually serve one another. Hence division of labour 

376 Laws of Imitation 

and industrial co-operation. 1 Of course, let it be said once 
for all, the desire of imitation would not have succeeded in 
effecting either the aforesaid transformations or those I am 
about to mention had not certain inventions or discoveries 
made them possible. The invention of the water-mill, for 
example, in lightening slave labour to a considerable degree, 
prepared the way for the slave's emancipation; and, in 
general, if a sufficient number of machines had not been suc- 
cessively invented, we might still have slaves in our midst. 
Scientific discoveries, notably astronomical ones, have alone 
given the opportunity to individual reason to fight advan- 
tageously against dogmatic authority. Juristic discoveries 
or inventions, the dictation of new legal formulas by writers 
or publicists, have alone permitted national sovereignty to 
manifold and thereby replace the sovereignty of royalty. But 
it is nevertheless true that the desire to imitate the superior, 
to be, like him, believed in, obeyed, and waited upon, was an 
immense, although latent, force which urged on the trans- 
formations I have mentioned; and it needed only the neces- 
sary accident of these inventions or discoveries to be devel- 

J The more mutual services of all kinds become, in the course of 
industrial and commercial progress, the more arbitrary and capricious 
is the character assumed by the wants which are thereby satisfied. 
The consumer, who is also a producer, determines more and more how 
he is to be served, and when he is to be served. He determines to make, 
everything cater to his momentary desires, no matter how fleeting and 
extravagant they may be. This is called, in high-flown language, the 
emancipation of the individual. Now, this may be readily explained 
through the laws of imitation. In the beginning, capriciousness is the 
monopoly of the master, the pater familias or king, who has himself 
waited upon by his children, his slaves, or his subjects without 
reciprocity. It is also the monopoly of the god whom prostrate adorers 
serve, without the right of demanding any equivalent from him for the 
sacrifices made at his feet. Therefore, if reciprocity of services has only 
been brought about, in the long run, by a prolonged and free-spread 
imitation of the one-sided service by which heads of families, kings, 
and the nobility modelled upon them, gods and demi-gods are benefited, 
it is natural for consumers, in seeking to ape the rulers of a past time, 
in their character of consumers at least, to affect to give to their needs an 
air of somewhat royal and divine caprice. In this way our growing 
democratic independence and self-sufficiency has come in a straight line 
from theocratic and monarchical absolutism. 

Remarks and Corollaries 377 

Let us continue. The chase of man is, as I have said, the 
first international relation. A tribe, a folk, thanks to the 
discovery of some new weapon or of some new improvement 
of which it has the secret, exterminates or subjugates all its 
neighbours. Such undoubtedly were the rapid conquests of 
the ancient metal-possessing Aryans over the smooth- or 
rough-stone peoples; such were the American " settlements " 
of Europeans among the ill-fated Indians, a people without 
horses or game-supplying guns. Now, how was true war- 
fare, a two-sided chase, according to the usage of civilised 
nations, substituted for this one-sided warfare, so to speak? 
Through the imitative spread among all these peoples of the 
weapons and tactics which had led to the triumph of one of 
their number. But they dream of imitating this conqueror 
still further, they seek to obtain a military monopoly like 
him, to discover some overpowering weapon which will 
make them invincible and will again reduce war to a chase. 
Fortunately, this dream has never been fulfilled except in a 
slight degree, although the Prussians with their needle-rifles 
did in fact treat the Austrians at Sadowa as a sportsman 
does a rabbit. As an intermediate stage between these two 
terms of evolution, I may mention certain barbarous epochs 
in which a people which has been completely overthrown 
and made tributary consoles itself for its defeat by crushing 
without a motive one of its more feeble neighbours and 
making it in turn pay tribute. In Gaul, in Csesar's time, cer- 
tain peoples were clients of others, an international arrange- 
ment which could be defined as the feudal system applied to 
inter-state relations. 

I have kept to the last an example which, although it is 
the least important, is the best fitted to illustrate the truth 
of my ideas. In a democratic society, a society which has 
always been preceded by aristocratic, monarchical, or theo- 
cratic rule, we may see the people in the street bow to one 
another, address one another with mutual politeness, and 
shake hands with one another. Whence come these usages ? 
I leave to Spencer the task of pointing out in a masterly way 
the royal or religious source of all this and of showing how; 

378 Laws of Imitation 

the prostration of the whole body became slowly transformed 
into a slight inclination of the figure or uncovering of the 
head. Let me add that if removing the hat is but the much 
modified survival of the primitive obeisance, it is also the 
mutualised form of the latter. I may say as much of the 
homage or flattery of the court whose crude incense, burned 
on the altar of the mighty, suffocates us when a puff of it 
reaches us over the distance of a century or two in the dedi- 
cation of some old book. The compliments which well-bred 
people pay each other to-day are far from being so exag- 
gerated, but they have the advantage of being reciprocal. 
So, too, are those visits which were formerly, in their char- 
acter of homage, unilateral. Politeness is merely reciprocity 
of flattery. Moreover, we know beyond a doubt that the 
desire of the petty potentate for ambassadors, of the marquis 
for pages, of the courtier for a court, that the general need 
of being flattered, waited on, and saluted like a nobleman, 
was the secret factor which little by little, in France and 
elsewhere, made every man polite. It began with the court, 
then reached the city, then the chateaux, and then all classes 
to the very lowest. The urbanity which characterised the 
ancient regime from the time of Louis XIV was the inter- 
mediate state, analogous to the transitory phases that were 
referred to above. Each of the innumerable ranks into 
which the society of that period was broken up forced the 
rank below it to pay it gratuitious courtesies, visits and obei- 
sances, which it did not return. 1 It was a hierarchy of 
impertinences, as La Bruyere observes somewhere. But as 

1 Or, in case the superior did make obeisances, and pays visits and 
compliments, it was always the inferior who began the saluting, the visit- 
ing, and the complimenting. At that time there was an obligatory 
salutation of class by class as of rank by rank; to-day, we know only 
the salutation of man by man, and it is arranged in such away that 
the same man is not always the first to bow. We find a description in 
La Bruyere of the transition of the unilateral to the reciprocal cour- 
tesy. His Menippe, when people bow to him " is embarrassed to know 
whether or not he should return it, and, while he is deliberating, you 
have already passed him by." This trait is truly obsolete. Do we ever 
see anyone, in these days, no matter how high his position, hesitating to 
return the greeting of the humblest of his fellow citizens? 

Remarks and Corollaries 379 

we near the close of this vanished world, we perceive that 
courtesies are becoming mutual and that " equality " is 
approaching. In fact, of all the levelling methods that have 
been invented in the course of civilisation perhaps none is as 
powerful and as inconspicuous as that of politeness in man- 
ners and customs. What Cicero said of friendship, amicitia 
pares aut facit aut invenit, applies perfectly to urbanity and 
especially to the life of polite society. The drawing room 
admits equals only or equalises those whom it admits. 
Through this latter feature, it constantly tends to diminish, 
even outside of itself, those social inequalities which within 
it are immediately effaced. When hierarchical functionaries 
of very unequal rank meet very frequently in society, their 
relations show the effects of it even during the interval 
between their social meetings. Polite manners are even 
superior to railroads in overcoming distances, not only 
between civil or military functionaries, but also between 
classes which eventually draw nearer to one another by virtue 
of bowing to or shaking hands with one another. In our 
changing society thousands of people are daily flattered 
by hearing themselves addressed as sir or madam. In this, 
as in so many other respects, in its countenance of the rules 
of fashion, in its devotion to the philosophic ideas of the 
eighteenth century, the nobility of the old regime helped to 
undermine its own foundations and " buried itself in its 


The preceding considerations upon the transition of the 
unilateral to the reciprocal lead us quite naturally to treat 
of a question of greater interest and of one which should 
have been handled by sociologists, I mean the problem of 
what is reversible and what irreversible in history. 1 Every- 

1 1 do not use the words reversible and irreversible in the same sense 
which they have in legal phraseology and in the dictionary, but in the 
construction which is given to them by physicists, especially in thermo- 
dynamics, where a mechanism is called reversible which can act indiffer- 
ently in either of two opposite directions'. 

380 Laws of Imitation 

body feels that in certain respects a society can pass in a 
precisely opposite direction through certain phases that it 
has already traversed, but that in other respects it is cut off 
from any such regression. We have seen above that after 
having passed from custom to fashion, communities can go 
back from fashion to custom to custom that has broad- 
ened, out, to be sure, never to that which has been narrowed 
in; but can they, after they have substituted reciprocal for 
unilateral relations, retrograde from the former to the 
latter? They cannot, and for a reason that I have already 
implied. " Monopolies," Cournot very justly remarks, 
" great trading or fighting corporations, the slave trade, 
negro slavery, and all the colonial institutions which go with 
it, are things for which the world has no further wish, which 
have disappeared or which are about to disappear, without 
our being able to think that they will ever return any more 
than the slavery or the forum of antiquity or than mediseval 
feudalism." This is true, but upon what is this conviction 
based ? The reason should be stated, and yet Cournot does 
not state it. We have learned that this necessary and irre- 
versible transition from monopoly to commercial freedom, 
from slavery to exchange of services, etc., is a corollary of 
the laws of imitation. Now, these laws may cease to act, 
either in part or in whole, and, in this case, a society perishes 
partially or completely; but the laws cannot be reversed. 

Again, is it conceivable for a great empire, like the Roman 
Empire of Marcus Aurelius, to turn about and become first 
an Italian republic Hellenised by a Scipio, then an unculti- 
vated and fanatical republic governed by a Cato, then a little 
barbarous village organised by a Numa? Or can it even 
be conceived that after having passed from a violent to an 
astute and voluptuous state of criminality, as is always the 
case, and from crimes to vices, a society ceases to be vicious 
to again become austere and sanguinary? We could as well 
conceive of an adult organism retrograding from maturity to 
youth, from youth to infancy, and ending by returning to the 
ovum from which it issued, or of a burnt-out star, like the 
moon, setting itself to retraversing the exhausted series of 

Remarks and Corollaries 381 

its ancient geological periods or of its vanished faunas and 
floras. Dissolution is never, in spite of Spencer's opinion to 
the contrary, the symmetrical pendant of evolution. Does 
that mean that the world has really one direction and one 
goal, or, rather, that all reality, in its constant discontent, 
with its destiny and in its preference for the unknown or 
even for annihilation as against its own past, refuses pri- 
marily to relive its life, to retrace its path ? 

I hasten to add that, on one of its important sides, histor- 
ical reversibility or irreversibility cannot be explained by the 
laws of imitation alone. Successive inventions and discov- 
eries, which imitation lays hold of in order to spread them 
abroad, do not follow one another accidentally. A rational 
tie which we do not need to dwell upon here, but which has 
been clearly pointed out by Auguste Comte in his concep- 
tion of the development of the sciences and which has 
been definitely traced out by Cournot, in his masterly treatise 
upon L ' Enchainement des idees fondamentales, binds them 
to one another ; and we cannot but admit that to a large ex- 
tent their order, the order, for example, of mathematical dis- 
coveries from Pythagoras to us, might have been inverted. 
Here, irreversibility is based upon the laws of inventive 
logic, and not upon those of imitation. 

Let us stop for a moment to justify, in passing, the dis- 
tinction that I have just drawn. yThe order of successive 
inventions is distinct from the order of successive imitations, 
although imitation does mean imitation of invention. The 
laws, in fact, which govern the first of these two series should 
not be confused with those, even the logical ones, which 
govern the second. It is not necessary for all imitations 
of inventions to pass through the terms of the irreversible 
series which inventions, whether they be imitated or not, 
must necessarily traverse one by one. We could, if put to 
it, conceive of a succession of inventions, which were logic- 
ally antecedent to the final consummate one, unfolding in 
one and the same master mind; and, as a matter of fact, it 
is seldom that an inventor does not climb up several obscure 
rungs in such a ladder before reaching the illustrious step. 

382 Laws of Imitation 

The laws of invention belong essentially to individual logic; 
the laws of imitation belong in part to social logic. More- 
over, just as imitation does not fall exclusively within social 
logic, but depends upon extra-logical influence as well, is 
it not obvious that invention itself is produced mentally, 
through conditions which are not alone the apparition of 
premises in the mind of which it is the logical conclusion, but 
which are also other associations of ideas, called inspiration, 
intuition, genius? 

Meanwhile, let us not forget that every invention and 
every discovery consists in the interference in somebody's 
mind of certain old pieces of information that have generally 
been handed down by others. What did Darwin's thesis about 
natural selection amount to? To having proclaimed the 
fact of competition among living things ? No, but in having 
for the first time combined this idea with the ideas of vari- 
ability and heredity. 1 The former idea, as it was proclaimed 
by Aristotle, remained sterile until it was associated with the 
two latter ideas. From that as a starting point, we may say 
that the generic term, of which invention is but a species, 
is the fruitful interference of repetitions. If this be true, I 
may perhaps be allowed to set forth, without emphasis, an 
hypothesis which occurs to me at this point. However 
numerous may be the different kinds of things which are 
repeated, if we suppose that the centres of these repetitive 
radiations, otherwise known as inventions or the biological 
or physical analogues of inventions, be regularly placed, 
their interferences may be foreseen; and these interferences 
or new centres will themselves present as much regularity 
in their disposition as did the primary centres. In such a 
universe, everything, however complex it might be, would 
be regular; nothing would either be or seem accidental. If, 
on the contrary, we assume that the primitive centres are 
irregular in position, the position of the secondary centres 
will also be unordered and their irregularity will equal that 
of the primary centres. Thus, there will never be in the world 

* See Giard's article in the Revue scientifique, December i, 1888. 

Remarks and Corollaries 383 

anything but the same quantity of irregularity, so to speak, 
only it will appear under the most changing forms. Let me 
add that, in spite of all, these changing forms must have a 
certain indefinable likeness. The original irregularity is 
reflected in its enlarged copies, the derived irregularities. 
From this I conclude that, although the idea of Repetition 
dominates the whole universe, it does not constitute it. For 
the bottom of it, I think, is a certain sum of innate, eternal, 
and indestructible diversity without which the world would 
be as monotonous as it is vast. Stuart Mill was led by his 
reflections to a similar postulate. 

Whatever may be said of the conjecture which I have 
just hazarded, I am sure that there must be a combination 
of the two kinds of laws which I have pointed out to entirely 
explain the irreversible character of even the simplest social 
transformations. Let us take, for example, the changes in 
dress in France during the last three centuries and let us 
suppose them to have occurred in an inverse order. The 
hypothesis seems acceptable, a priori; at least it seems to 
involve no greater contradiction than the idea of playing a 
melody backwards, beginning with the last note and ending 
with the first. Parenthetically, it is a strange thing that in this 
way an entirely new melody is produced which, without hav- 
ing anything in common with the original one, is sometimes 
satisfactory to one's ear. But imagine the courtiers of Louis 
XIV dressed in the black coat and waistcoat, in the trousers 
and silk hat of our present fashions. Imagine the trousers 
gradually replaced by knickerbockers, the short hair by wigs, 
the coats by embroidered, gilded, and many-coloured suits 
with side-swords, and our democratic contemporaries decked 
out like the followers of the Sun-King! It would be gro- 
tesque. There would be such an inconsistency between a 
man's exterior and his ideas, between the succession of cos- 
tumes and that of events, opinions, and customs, that it is 
useless to dwell upon the impossibility of the thing. It is 
impossible, because the events, the opinions and the customs 
of which the clothes should be, up to a certain point, the 
expression, are linked together from the time of Louis XIV 

384 Laws of Imitation 

by a certain logic whose laws, as well as the laws of imita- 
tion, are opposed to the reversing of their melody, so to speak. 
This is so true that our hypothetical inversion would be in- 
finitely less absurd if it were a question of women's clothes. 
We could, at a pinch, without making any other change in 
modern history, imagine the court ladies of the seventeenth 
century wearing the dresses and even the hats of the fashion- 
able ladies of the nineteenth century. We could imagine 
that they were followed by the crinoline and then by the high 
Greek bodice of Mme. Recamier and Mme. Tallien, and 
that these metamorphoses led our contemporaries to dress 
like Mme. de Maintenon or to arrange their hair like Mile. 
de Fontange. It would be a little strange, but it would not 
be out of the question. And yet how is it that the current of 
women's fashions can be conceived of as turned back, with- 
out its being necessary to think of the current of customs 
and ideas as reversed also, whereas this is not true of men's 
fashions? This can undoubtedly be explained because of 
women's infinitely smaller participation in political and intel- 
lectual work; because of their dominant interest at all times 
and places in being physically pleasing, and because of the 
fundamental immutability of their nature which, in spite of 
their love of change, rebels against the wear of civilisation. 
But let us note the fact that for women, as for men, it is 
impossible to conceive of a reversion from extreme com- 
plexity to primitive simplicity in that succession of inven- 
tions relating to weaving which has brought us goods of a 
more and more varied and intricate character. The laws of 
logic forbid it. In the same way they forbid us to suppose 
that the series of weapons which has reached us from the 
Middle Ages might have been reversed and that we might 
have passed from the needle-rifle to the flint-gun, to arque- 
buses, to cross-bows and long-bows, or from Krupp gun 
to culverin or balista. Besides, the laws of imitation show 
us the impossibility of admitting that after either men's or 
women's clothes had been, according to hypothesis, more 
or less alike in cut and material for all classes and provinces 
in France under Louis XIV, just as they are in our day, they 

Remarks and Corollaries 385 

could gradually become differentiated in different classes and 
in different parishes as of yore. This is inadmissible, 1 even 
were we to suppose at the same time that all our telegraphs 
and railroads had been destroyed after having existed under 
Louis XIV, and had carried away with them the intense 
desires for affiliation and assimilation to which they had 
given birth. For such a violent death on the part of our 
civilisation would reduce all its imitative functions to inertia, 
but it would not make them retroactive. A chronicle 2 tells 
us how Louis XIII was rilled with admiration, upon his 
entrance into Marseilles, for the soldiers of the militia, and 
was especially pleased to see that " some of them were 
dressed in savage style, as Americans, Indians, Turks, and 
Moors." It was only under Louis XV, in fact, that a uni- 
form became general. Imagine the effect produced by a 
return in our day, if one could be made, to such an antique 
medley of military garments! Such diversity of costume 
would not be tolerated, that is, it would not seem natural or 
normal, unless it spread abroad as a fashion; and, in this 
case, the very multiformity would be a kind of uniform, a 
similitude which consisted of copying the variety of others. 
Let us turn our attention to the kind of historical irre- 
versibility which is adequately accounted for by the laws of 
imitation, just as the laws of reproduction and of vibration 
are able to explain some, but not all, kinds of irreversibility 
in nature. A great national language cannot return to the 
little local dialect from which it has sprung. Not that it 
cannot be broken up by some political catastrophe into frag- 
ments which will become dialects. But, in this case, the 
differentiation of dialects will be due to the compulsory 
imprisonment in each province of the linguistic innovations 
that have sprung up in the place and that formerly would 
have radiated to the remotest part of the land. Moreover, 
each dialect that is made in this way will not resemble the 
primitive dialect in the least, nor will it incline to reproduce 

1 What becomes here of the famous law of progressive differenti- 
ation considered as a necessity of universal evolution? 
2 See Babeau, La Ville sous fancien regime. 

386 Laws of Imitation 

the latter. It will tend to spread over to its neighbours and 
to its own good to re-establish unity of language over a vast 
area. What I say of language applies also to religion. But 
let us cast a glance over the social life in its entirety. 

It has often been remarked that civilisation has the effect 
of raising the level of the masses from an intellectual and 
moral, from an aesthetic and economic point of view, rather 
than of rearing still higher in these different respects the 
higher peaks of society. But this vague, indefinite formula 
has been not unjustly the subject of refutation because of 
failure to point out the cause of the phenomenon in view. 
This cause we know. Since every invention which has once 
been launched clear of the mass of those that are already 
established in the social environment, must spread out and 
establish itself in turn by winning a place for itself in one 
class after another until it reaches the very lowest, it follows 
that the final result to which the indefinite continuation of 
all these outspreadings from centres which appear at distant 
points and in high places, must be a general and uniform 
illumination. It is in this way, by virtue of the law of vibra- 
tory radiation, that the sources of heat as they appear one 
after another tend to produce, according to a famous deduc- 
tion of physicists, a great universal equilibrium of tempera- 
ture which is higher than the actual temperature of inter- 
stellar space, but lower than that of suns. It is in this way, 
too, that the dissemination of species according to the law 
of their geometric progression, or, in other terms, of their 
prolific radiation, tends to cover the entire earth, which is 
still very unequally peopled, with a uniform stratum of living 
beings which will be denser throughout its whole extent than 
the average density of its present population. Obviously, 
the terms of our comparisons correspond exactly. The sur- 
face of the earth is the domain that is open to the radiation 
of light, just as space is the domain that is open to that of heat 
and light and as the human species, inasmuch as it is a living 
species, is the domain that is open to the spread of inventive 
genius. After this statement, we can understand how cos- 
mopolitan and democratic assimilation is an inevitable tend- 

Remarks and Corollaries 387 

ency of history for the same reason that the complete and 
uniform peopling of the globe and the complete and uniform 
calorification of space are the objects of the vital and of the 
physical universe. It is so of necessity, for of the two 
chief forces, invention and imitation, which help us to inter- 
pret the whole of history, the former, the source of privi- 
leges, monopolies, and aristocratic inequalities, is intermit- 
tent, rare, and eruptive only at certain infrequent periods, 
whereas the latter, which is so democratic and levelling, is 
continuous and incessant like the stream deposition of the 
Nile or Euphrates. But we can understand also that it may 
well happen that at periods when works of genius crowd 
upon and stimulate one another, in feverish and inventive 
ages like ours, the progress of civilisation is accompanied by 
a momentary increase of every kind of inequality, or, if the 
imaginative fever has centred in one place, of a special kind. 
In our day, when the creative spirit has turned primarily 
towards the sciences, the distance between our most dis- 
tinguished scholars and the most uncultivated dregs of our 
population is much greater from the point of view of the sum 
and substance of learning than it was in the Middle Ages or 
antiquity. In the innovating periods of which I speak the 
whole question consists of knowing whether the precipitate 
eruption of inventions has been faster than their current of 
example. Now, this is a question of fact which statistics 
alone can solve. 

Believing that the transition from an aristocratic to a 
democratic order is irreversible, Tocqueville refuses to think 
that any aristocracy can be formed in a democratic environ- 
ment. But I must be clear on this point. 1 If, in conse- 

1 Let us note that through a regular and uninterrupted series of 
transformations, the ecclesiastical organisation of Christian Europe 
passed from an evangelical, equality-loving democracy to the aristocracy 
of the early bishops, then to the modified monarchy of the Bishop of 
Rome, as it was limited by the Councils, and, finally, to the absolutism of 
papal infallibility. This is the exact opposite of the evolution accom- 
plished by secular society. But, on the other hand, in this case as in 
that, the evolution has been from multiformity to uniformity, from 
disintegration to centralisation. 

388 Laws of Imitation 

quence of the cause of which we know, societies hasten 
towards an increasing assimilation and an incessant accumu- 
lation of similarities, it does not follow that they are also 
progressing towards a greater and greater development of 
democracy. For imitative assimilation is only the stuff out 
of which societies are made; this stuff is cut out and put into 
use by social logic, which tends to the most solid kind of 
unification through the specialisation and co-operation of 
aptitudes, and through the specialisation and mutual con- 
firmation of minds. It is therefore quite possible and even 
probable that a very strong hierarchy may be the destined 
goal of any civilisation, 1 although every consummate civili- 
sation which has reached its ultimate fruition is marked by 
the diffusion of the same wants and ideas, if not by the same 
powers and wealth, throughout the mass of its citizens. 
This much, however, may be granted to Tocqueville after 
an aristocracy which is based upon the hereditary prestige 
of birth has been destroyed in a country, it can never come 
to life again. We know, in fact, that the social form of Re- 
petition, imitation, tends to free itself more and more from 
its vital form, from heredity. 

We are also justified in affirming that national agglomer- 
ations will enlarge to a greater and greater degree, and that 
they will consequently become less dense and that the con- 
trary will never be realised unless a catastrophe occur. This 
is a result (as pointed out by M. Gide in his little work upon 
the colonies 2 ) of universal assimilation, especially in the 
matter of armaments. In fact " it is clear that the day when 
we shall all be formed in the same mould, the day when one 
man will be worth another, the power of every people will 

. i The Byzantine Empire was the goal of Greco-Roman civilisation ; 
the Chinese Empire, of Chinese civilisation; the Mogul Empire, of 
Hindoo civilisation; the Empire of the Pharaohs, of Egyptian civilisa- 
tion, etc. 

2 M. Gide expressly refers to the '*' laws of imitation," for he was one 
of the first to accept my point of view, and in his Principes d'economie 
politique he gives a pretty good place to my theory of value, the applica- 
tion of this general point of view, as I presented it a long time ago, in 
several articles in the Revue philosophique. 

Remarks and Corollaries 389 

be mathematically proportioned to the number of its popula- 
tion " and, consequently, a struggle between a small state 
and a big one will be impossible or disastrous for the 
former. This is an additional argument for the numerous 
reasons which we have for foreseeing a colossal empire in 
the future. In every period prior to our own, larger states 
extended themselves as far or farther than the then means 
of communication made practicable. But at present it is 
plain that the great inventions of our times will make pos- 
sible and enduring much more extensive agglomerations 
than those which now exist. This is an historic anomaly, 
unexampled in the past, and we must believe that it is fated 
to disappear. The world is more ready at present for a 
concentration of the whole of Europe, northern Africa, and 
half of Asia into a single state than it ever was for the Ro- 
man or Mahometan conquest, or for the empire of Charles 
V. Does this mean that we must expect to see a single 
empire extending over the entire globe? It does not; from 
the law which I developed above on the alternation of 
fashion and custom, on the final and inevitable return to 
a protective tariff of custom after a more or less lengthy 
period of free trade in examples, it follows that the natural, 
I do not refer to the factitious, aggrandisement of a state 
could never pass beyond certain limits. Consequently, we 
are not justified in conceiving the hope that a single state 
will rule over the whole earth or that the possibility of war 
will be suppressed. On the other hand, as the unification 
or at least the federation of civilised nations becomes more 
desirable and more longed for, the obstacles in the way of its 
realisation, patriotic pride and prejudice, national antagon- 
isms, misunderstood or narrowly interpreted collective in- 
terests, accumulated historical memories, all these things will 
not cease to grow. The checking of this growing aspiration 
by this growing difficulty might be considered the infernal 
torment to which man is condemned by civilisation. It 
seems as if the mirage of perpetual and universal peace 
loomed up before our eyes with more and more brilliancy but 
at a greater and greater distance. 

390 Laws of Imitation 

In a limited and relative sense, however, we may believe 
that this ideal will be temporarily realised through the future 
conquests of a people, whose name we do not know, who is 
destined to play this glorious part. But then, after this 
Empire has been established, after it has bestowed upon a 
great part of the world a security comparable to the majesty 
of a Roman peace increased tenfold in depth and extent, 1 

1 Historians err in feeling, or affecting to feel, an unjustifiable 
contempt for all great social similarities in language, religion, politics, 
art, etc., which have been visibly effected by the imitation of some pres- 
tigious model, whether or not the prestige be that of a conqueror or 
merely of a stranger. They are wont to treat with scorn the great 
agglomerations of peoples, the great social unities, the Roman Empire, 
for example, which are made possible in this way, and to declare them 
factitious. This does not keep them from highly valuing, over-valuing, 
in fact, other similarities, other unities, which they consider natural and 
spontaneous. They are not aware that these are also caused by imita- 
tion, by imitation which is, in certain cases, unconscious and unthinking, 
instead of conscious and deliberate, but which is nevertheless imitation. 
Superstitious reverence for the unconscious, and ignorance of the 
leading part played in human affairs by imitation in its many overt or 
hidden forms, give rise in the best minds to many such contradictions. 

Here is an example, which I borrow from the very erudite Histoire 
des institutions politiques of M. Viollet (p. 256). This distinguished 
historian belongs to the very large number of those who contrast the 
senility of the Roman Empire with the fruitful and spirited adolescence 
of the German barbarians. He considers that the great imperial unity, 
is artificial and, by contrast, he is led to consider that every little unity 
produced by the break-up of the Empire is natural and spontaneous. 
The frightful chaos from the sixth to the tenth century, which was 
relieved only by the period of Charlemagne, the glorious and conscious 
imitator of the Caesars, seems to him to be only a crisis in racial 
development ; its gloom is " an aurora." It all seems admirable to him. 
first the disintegration, and yet this is evidently a step backward, for I 
do not know how many centuries, and then, and this seems contradictory 
to me, the obvious but futile inclination to reconstruct the broken unity, 
under the form of re-enlarging nationalities. " The Occident," he says, 
" as it was happily and definitely disintegrated, having no longer any 
uncontested tie but that of a community of religious and philosophic 
beliefs, or any similar institutions, but institutions which were born 
spontaneously, so to speak, from similar wants, was about to present 
the admirable spectacle of a diversity a thousand times richer, more 
fruitful, and more harmonious than the best-planned homogeneity." 
Now, let us not forget that, had it not been for the long duration of the 
Empire, for the age-long propagation of currents of imitation in 
language, ideas, manners, and institutions, there would have been no 
similarity of ^vants between so many originally heterogeneous peoples. 
And, as for community of religious as well as of philosophic beliefs, 

Remarks and Corollaries 391 

it may happen that an entirely new social phenomenon, one 
neither conforming nor contrary to the principles that I 
have propounded, may appear to our descendants. We may 
wonder, to be sure, whether universal similarity under all its 
present or future forms, in regard to dress, to the alphabet, 
perhaps to language, to sciences, to law, etc., we may wonder 
whether it is the consummate fruit of civilisation or whether 

this was clearly due to those multiple conversions, to those imitative 
contagions between minds and souls that the unity of the Roman Empire 
alone made possible. Thus, that which the writer I have quoted so 
much admired as being contrary to a factitious imperial unity, is, in its 
origin, imperial. Suppress that, and nothing remains but the unre- 
stricted disintegration which takes us back to a state of savagery. 

If we fully comprehended the truth of the observation, that, unless 
man in society is inventing, a rare occurrence, or unless he is following 
impulses which are of a purely organic origin, likewise a rarer and rarer 
occurrence, he is always, in act or thought, imitating, whether he is 
conscious of it or not, whether he yields to a so-called imitative impulse 
or whether he makes a rational and deliberate choice from among the 
models which are offered to him to imitate ; if we knew this, if this 
were our starting-point, we would be cautious of admiring, with a 
childish superstition, the great currents of unconscious and thoughtless 
imitation in social phenomena, and we would, on the other hand, 
recognise the superiority of acts of voluntary and rational imitation. 

We would also recognise how invincible and irresistible, in virtue of 
the laws of imitation, is the immense impetus of all things towards 
uniformity. I do not deny the picturesque side of the " rich diversity " 
that the chaotic period of the Merovingians and Carlovingians was a 
factor in producing in the great feudal period. But in modern times has 
there not been a. return to uniformity, and even an enlargement of it; 
in short, is not our present civilisation by way of being cast in a single,, 
unique mould? Nowadays, have we not to seek the depths of some 
African desert or Chinese village to avoid seeing the same hats and 
dresses, the same cigars, the same newspapers? 

Thus, in spite of the political disintegration which has persisted, 
although in a minor degree, a social level has been reconstructed. This 
cannot be imputed to a political unity, as in the case of the Roman 
Empire, as if it were its sole or principal cause. The Roman conquest 
favoured and hastened the social assimilation of Europe, and in doing 
that it rendered a great service to the cause of civilisation, since civili- 
sation is precisely nothing else than this work of unification, of social 
complication, of mutual and harmonious imitation. But, even without 
the Roman conquest, social unity would have been brought about in 
Europe only it would have been accomplished in the same way as that 
of Asia or Africa was accomplished ; that is, less well, and less peace- 
fully. It would have entailed fearful massacres, and, without doubt, 
the progress of inventions and discoveries would have been less ad- 
vanced, just as happened in Asia and Africa. 

And so I do not join with those who consider that imperial unity 

39 2 Laws of Imitation 

its sole raiso'n d'etre and its final consequence are not the un- 
folding of individual differences that will be more valid, more 
intense, more radical, and, at the same time, more subtle, 
than the differences that were annihilated. It is certain that 
after a cosmopolitan inundation has left a thick deposit of 
ideas and customs over all humanity, the demolished nation- 
alities will never be reconstructed; men will never return to 
their Chinese ancestor-worship nor to their contempt for 
foreign usages; they will never prefer to accentuate their 
fixed idiosyncrasies rather than to hasten general changes 
shared in by all alike. But it is perfectly possible that civili- 
sation may pause some day to draw back and give birth 
to new offspring, that the flood of imitation may be banked 
in, 1 and that through the very effect of its excessive devel- 
opment, the need of sociability may diminish or, rather, may 
become altered and transformed into a sort of general 
misanthropy. While this would be quite compatible with 

was disastrous because of the very memory that it left behind, a 
memory which proved a source of delusion for the Middle Ages. 
" This dire idea of universal monarchy lasted for more than a thou- 
sand years." Dire in Avhat? Is it not evident that the small degree 
of higher order and harmony which persisted in this anarchy of 
warring fiefs, the political dust of the imperial block, was due to 
the very dream and memory of the Empire, and that without the 
pope, the spiritual emperor, or even without the German Caesar, this 
dust might have been incapable of ever regaining life and organisation? 

1 Our inclination to imitate stranger or neighbour does not increase 
in proportion to the multiplication of our relations with him. Of 
course when there are practically no relations at all, there is no tend- 
ency to imitate him, because there is no knowledge of him; but, on 
the other hand, when we know him too well to be able to continue 
in our envy or admiration of him, we no longer take him for our 
model. There is, therefore, a certain point between too little and too 
much communication, where the highest degree of the need of imitat- 
ing others may be formed. How shall we determine this p.oint? It 
is a difficult matter. We may say that it is the optical point where 
we are near enough to have all the illusion of the scenery without 
being near enough to be aware of the stage machinery. 

It is essential to note the consequence of the preceding fact. It 
follows that the multiplied communications between peoples and classes, 
through railroads, telegraphs, and telephones, will result in leading 
them back to a taste for and a pious observance of their distinctive 
idiosyncrasies, and of their particular habits and customs. Is not the 
present return to the spirit of nationality due in part, in slight part, to 
this cause, in spite of the fact that its chief cause is militarism? 

Remarks and Corollaries 393 

a diminution of commercial intercourse and with the reduc- 
tion of economic exchange to what was strictly necessary, 
it would be well fitted to strengthen in each of us the distinc- 
tive traits of our individuality. Then the finest flower 
of our social life, the aesthetic life, would blossom forth, 
and as it became full-blown all men would come to have 
a share in it, a rare and imperfect condition at present. And 
then the social life, with its complicated apparatus of confin- 
ing functions and monotonous rehearsals, would finally ap- 
pear, like the organic life which it follows and complements, 
in its true colours. It would appear as a long, obscure, and 
tortuous transition from a state of elementary diversity to 
one marked by the possession of personal physiognomy. It 
would appear as a mysterious alembic of numberless spiral 
curves where one thing is sublimated in another, where out 
of an infinite number of elements that have been bent and 
crushed and despoiled of their distinct characteristics is 
mental and fleeting attributes of personality, its idiosyn- 
extracted an essential and volatile principle, the funda- 
crasies, its ways of thinking and feeling, here to-day, van- 
ished to-morrow. 


Accent, spread of, 217. 

Adaptation to environment, ex- 
planation of Hying or social 
types not found in their, 141. 

Adoption, fiction of, 53, 250, 315, 

352-3, 365- . 

Agriculture, its rivalry with com- 
merce, 289; its progress depend- 
ent upon uniformity of law, 321- 
2; its failure to progress under 
feudalism, 335. 

Alcoholism, explanation of spread 
of, 194, 195 ; spread of, from 
superior to inferior, 231 N. I. 

Amber, its importation in an- 
tiquity, 96, 330. 

Ammonite, 25 N. I. 

Ancestor-worship, 53, 267 sq., 275. 

Animals, invention among, 3, 4; 
imitation among, 3, 4 N.