Sociology Index

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Gustave Le Bon

Charles-Marie Gustave Le Bon (7 May 1841 – 13 December 1931) was a French polymath whose areas of interest included anthropology, psychology, sociology, medicine, invention, and physics. He is best known for his 1895 work The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, which is considered one of the seminal works of crowd psychology. He published a number of medical articles and books before joining the French Army after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. Defeat in the war coupled with being a first-hand witness to the Paris Commune of 1871 strongly shaped Le Bon's worldview. He then travelled widely, and analysed the peoples and the civilisations he encountered under the umbrella of the nascent field of anthropology, developing an essentialist view of humanity, and invented a portable cephalometer during his travels. In the 1890s, he turned to psychology and sociology, in which fields he released his most successful works. Le Bon developed the view that crowds are not the sum of their individual parts, proposing that within crowds there forms a new psychological entity, the characteristics of which are determined by the "racial unconscious" of the crowd.

Gustave Le Bon created his psychological and sociological theories, and performed experiments in physics and published popular books on the subject, anticipating the mass–energy equivalence and prophesising the Atomic Age. Le Bon was critical of democracy and socialism. Le Bon's works were influential to such disparate figures as Theodore Roosevelt and Benito Mussolini, Sigmund Freud and José Ortega y Gasset, Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin. Charles-Marie Gustave Le Bon figures among eminent sociologists of the world.

From 1871 on, Le Bon was an avowed opponent of socialist pacifists and protectionists, who he believed were halting France's martial development and stifling her industrial growth; stating in 1913: "Only people with lots of cannons have the right to be pacifists." - Le Bon, Gustave (1913). Aphorismes du temps présent. Ernest Flammarion.

He warned his countrymen of the deleterious effects of political rivalries in the face of German military might and rapid industrialisation, and therefore was uninvolved in the Dreyfus Affair which dichotomised France. - Widener 1979.