Furthest Right

The Conflict of Peoples and Classes (Gustave Le Bon)

Taken from Gustave Le Bon’s The Psychology of Socialism (Book 5: The Conflict Between the Laws of Evolution, The Democratic Ideal, and the Aspirations of the Socialists – Chapter 3: The Conflict of Peoples and Classes), 1899.

1. The natural conflict of individuals and of species:-The universal conflict of creatures is a constant law of nature – It is the essential law of progress-Nature is intolerant of weakness. 2. The conflict of peoples: – The constant conflict of people against people since the beginning of history – The right of the strongest has always been the arbiter of their destinies – Why strength and right are identical – How a small State may sometimes exist – The rights of nations are measured by the strength they have at their disposal to defend them – How the civilised nations apply the foregoing principles to the negroe – What the dissertations of the theologians and philanthropists are worth – Right and justice in international relations – Why international struggles will probably be keener in the future than in the past. 3. The struggle of the classes :- Its antiquity – Its necessity — Why, so far from effacing itself, it can only increase — The useless attempts of religions to suppress the struggle between the classes – The gulfs which separate the classes are in reality far more profound than formerly – The programme of the Socialists – The reciprocal lack of comprehension of the two parties opposed – The important part played by error in history. 4. The future of Socialistic struggles: — The violence of the struggle against the Socialists – The struggle in the United States – The difficulties which the old societies will experience in defending themselves – The disintegration of their armies.

THE only process that Nature has been able to discover for the amelioration of species is to bring into the world far more creatures than she is able to nourish, and to establish between them a perpetual struggle in which only the strongest and the best adapted can survive. This conflict takes place not only between the different species, but also between the individuals of the same species, and it is often between the latter that it is most violent.
By this process of selection all creatures have been slowly perfected since the beginning of the world ; by this process man has been evolved from the primitive types of the geological periods and our savage ancestors have slowly raised themselves to civilisation. From a sentimental point of view this struggle for existence with the survival of the fittest may appear to be extremely barbarous. But we must remember that were it not for this conflict we should still be miserably disputing an uncertain prey with all the animals we have finally subjected.

The struggle that Nature enforces on her creatures is universal and constant. Wherever there is no conflict there is not only no progress, but a tendency towards rapid degeneration.

After showing us the conflict prevailing among all living creatures, the naturalists have shown us that the same conflict prevails in our own bodies.

“Far from lending themselves to a mutual harmony,” writes M. J. Kunstler, ” the different parts of the bodies of living creatures seem, on the contrary, to be in perpetual conflict with one another. Any development of one part has, as its correlative consequence, a diminution of the importance of the other parts. In other words, any part that increases itself does so at the expense of other parts.

” Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire has already given a rough sketch of this phenomenon in establishing his `principle of the equilibrium of the organs.’ The modern theory of phagocytosis does not add very much to this principle, but it determines with greater clearness the process by which the phenomenon is produced.

“Not only do the organs struggle with one another, but all the parts of the body, no matter what they may be. For example, this conflict is to be observed in the tissues, between the various elements of the same tissue. The evolution of the weaker elements is diminished or arrested, it may be ruthlessly sacrificed for the benefit of the stronger elements, which thereby become more flourishing.

” Events would seem to denote that living organisms have only a determined quantity of evolutive power to expend. If, by means of any artifice or accident, this evolutionary force is directed to any one organ or process, the other organs are rendered more or less stationary, or may even recede. These facts, taken together, naturally lead one to compare them with the observed results of the law of primogeniture. When one of the children of a family is favoured in the division of the paternal goods, the share of the other children is by that fact diminished.”
Nature exhibits an absolute intolerance for weakness. All that is weak is promptly doomed to perish. She respects only physical or intellectual strength. As intelligence is in strict relation to the amount of cerebral matter the individual possesses, we see that the rights of a living creature, in the eyes of Nature, are in close relation to the capacity of its skull. By this alone has man been able to arrogate to himself the right to kill the lower animals. If the latter could be consulted they would doubtless remark that the laws of Nature are very afflicting. The only consolation to be offered them is that Nature is full of other fatalities quite as afflicting. With a more highly-developed nervous system the edible animals would perhaps form a sort of trades-union, in order to escape the butcher’s knife ; but they would “or gain much by that. Left to themselves, no longer able to rely on the interested and even very attentive cares of their breeders, what would be their fate ? In countries still virgin they might pick up a miserable livelihood in the prairies, but there they would encounter the teeth of the carnivora, and if they escaped them it would be only for a slow death by hunger as soon as they became too old to seek out and dispute their food with their fellows.

To the weak, however, Nature has given a certain means of perpetuating themselves through the ages, in spite of all their enemies, by endowing them with a fecundity capable of tiring the appetite of all these enemies. For instance, a female herring deposits more than 60,000 eggs every year, so that a sufficient number of herring always escape to assure the continuation of the species. It would even appear that Nature has brought as much vigilance to bear to assure the perpetuity of the lowest species, the most obscure parasites, as to assure the existence of the highest organisms. The life of the greatest genius is not of more importance to her than the existence of the most miserable microbe. Nature is neither cruel nor kind. She thinks only of the species, and remains indifferent-formidably indifferentto the individual. Our ideas of justice are unknown to her. We may protest against her laws, but we have to put up with her.

Has man succeeded in evading for his own part the hard laws of nature to which all creatures must submit ? Have the relations between one people and another been a little softened by civilisation ? Has the struggle become less bitter in the midst of humanity than between the species ?

History teaches us the contrary. It tells us that the nations have always been struggling, have always continued to struggle, and that since the beginning of the world the right of the strongest has always been the arbiter of their destinies.
This was the law of the past, and it is the law of the present. Nothing denotes that it will not be the law of the future also.

Not that there is to-day any lack of theologians and philanthropists to protest against it. To them we owe the numberless volumes in which they appeal, in eloquent phrases, to right arid to justice, a kind of sovereign divinities who direct the world from the depths of the skies. But the facts have always given the lie to their vain phraseology. These facts tell us that right exists only when it possesses the necessary strength to make itself respected. We cannot say that might is greater than right, for might and right are identical. No right can enforce itself without might. No one, I imagine, will doubt that a country which should confide in right and justice, and disband its army, would be immediately invaded, pillaged, and enslaved by its neighbours. If weak states such as Turkey, Greece, Portugal, Spain, and China are still able to subsist, it is only on account of the rivalry of the stronger states that wish to take possession of them. Obliged to consider the sensibilities of states as strong as themselves, the powerful states can despoil the weaker only with prudence, and can assimilate their provinces only by fragments. In this manner have Bosnia, Malta, Cyprus, and Egypt been stolen one by one from the peoples who possessed them. As for those countries that are practically without defence, the powerful states have no scruples in invading their territory.

No nation must forget to-day that its rights are exactly limited hp the forces at it,, disposal to defend those rights. The sole acknowledged right of the sheep is to deliver up its cutlets to beings possessing a greater skull than its own. The sole recognised right of the negroes is to see their country invaded and pillaged by the whites, and to be shot down if they resist. If they do not resist they are merely lightened of all their possessions, and then made to work under the lash in order to enrich the invaders. Such was the history of the natives of America. Such is to-day the story of the inhabitants of Africa. The negroes are now learning the penalty of being weak. To please the philanthropists who write books, a number of amiable orations on the unhappy lot of these native populations are let loose before the shooting begins. This benevolence is even extended to the sending of missionaries, whose pockets are bulging with bibles and bottles of alcohol, in order to initiate them into the benefits of civilisation. The negroes, whose heads are thick, are not very ready to perceive the greatness of these benefits. It is, however, incontestable that even though we do rob them and shoot them down without scruple, we at least save them from the prospect of being eaten by their own countrymen. I imagine, however, that if their flesh had been more than indifferent to the white man, they would not escape this fate now any more than in the past. Then the destiny of the negro would doubtless have been that of the ox, when that pacific animal begins to fail at the plough. When he became unable to work any longer he would be sent to the slaughter-house after a previous fattening. There would have been no lack of profound theologians to thank the Creator that, after evidently having created the ox to furnish men with beefsteaks, He took the trouble to add the negro.
Leaving these foolish babblings of the theologians and philanthropists vii vile Side, we must recognise, as a matter of daily observation, that human laws have been utterly powerless to modify the laws of nature, and that the latter continue to determine the relations of one people with another. All theories of right and justice are futile. International relations are to-day what they have been since the beginning of the world, when different interests are in question, or when it is merely a matter of a nation wishing to enlarge itself. Right and justice have never played any part in the relations of nations of unequal strength. Be conqueror or conquered, hunter or chased : such has always been the law. The phrases of diplomatists and the sermons of orators remind one of the civilities uttered by men of the world when they have resumed their coats. The man of the world will efface himself to let you pass, and will ask with affectionate sympathy after your most distant relations. But let any circumstance arise in which his interests are concerned, and you behold these superficial sentiments vanish on the instant. Then it is a matter of each for himself, though he have to crush the women and children who embarrass him under his heel, or stun them with a cudgel, as at the Charity Bazaar or at the wreck of the Bourgogne. There are certainly exceptions, brave men who are ready to sacrifice themselves for their fellows, but they are so rare that they are regarded as heroes, and their names are handed down to posterity.

We have very little reason to believe that the conflict of people with people will be less violent in the future than it has been in the past. On the other hand, there are very good reasons for believing that it will be far more violent. When nation was severed from nation by distances that science had not learned to bridge over, the causes of conflict were rare. To-day they are becoming more and more frequent. Formerly international struggles were Provoked by dynastic interests or the whims of conquerors In they future the principal motives of international conflict will be those great economic interests on which the very lives of the nations depend, the importance of which we have already seen. The approaching struggles of the nations will be struggles for very life, and will hardly be terminated but by the utter annihilation of one of the combatants.
These are essential truths which it is in no one’s interest to conceal, and which it is very dangerous to wish to conceal. I think it will be admitted as sufficiently evident that one might have rendered the Spaniards a great service in teaching them thoroughly, twenty-five years ago, that as soon as they should be sufficiently weakened by their interminable intestine quarrels any nation could profit by the first pretext to seize on their colonies, and would succeed without difficulty, in spite of the prayers of the monks and the protection of madonnas. Then, perhaps, they would have understood the utility of having fewer revolutions, delivering fewer speeches, and organising their defences in such a fashion as to prohibit the idea of attacking them. A small nation can defend itself very well if sufficiently energetic. Many nations are to-day devoting a third of their Budgets to military expenses, and this price of assurance against the aggressions of their neighbours would certainly be less heavy if it were well employed.

The Collectivists attribute to their high priest Karl Marx the statement of the fact that history is dominated b the struggles of the different classes over matters of economic interests, and also the assertion that this struggle must disappear on account of the absorption of all classes in one single class-the working class.

The first point, the struggle of the classes, is a banality as old as the world. By the mere fact of the unequal partition of wealth and power, caused by natural inequalities, or merely by social necessities, men have always been divided into classes, of which the interests were necessarily more or less exposed, and consequently at war. But the idea that this struggle might cease is one of those chimerical conceptions that are completely contradicted by the realities, and its realisation is very far from being a desirable thing. Without the conflict of individuals, races, and classes–in a word, without universal conflict, man would never have emerged from savagery, would never have attained to civilisation.
The tendency to conflict, which, as we have seen, dominates the relations of the animal species and of men, is also predominant in the relations of individuals and of classes.

” We have only to look around us in the world in which we live,” writes Mr. Kidd, ” to see that this rivalry which man maintains with his fellows has become the leading and dominant feature of our civilisation. It makes itself felt now throughout the whole fabric of society. If we examine the motives of our daily life, and of the lives of those with whom we come in contact, we shall have to recognise that the first and principal thought in the minds of the vast majority is how to hold our own therein . . . . The implements of industry prove even more effective and deadly weapons than the sword.”

And not only is there a struggle between the classes, but between the individuals of the same class, and the struggle between the latter, as in nature, is the most violent.[1] The Socialists themselves, although now and then united for a common end, the destruction of our present society, are unable to assemble together without the most violent discord.
The struggle to-day is more violent than it has ever been before, and this for many reasons ; amongst others, for this, that we have followed after chimeras of justice and equality which are unknown to Nature. These empty formula have done and will do more ill to man than all the ills which destiny has condemned him to suffer.

” There is no social justice,” writes M. Bouge very justly, “because Nature herself is not just. Injustice and inequality are with us from the cradle.

” From the cradle to the grave, all through the course of an existence of which she arbitrarily prolongs or curtails the blessing or the burden, the inequality of Nature follows man step by step.

” Inequality under a thousand forms! Natural inequality, the chances of birth and inheritance, physical advantages or disgrace, intellectual disparities, and the inequalities of destiny . . . .

Long before Socialism the religions had also dreamed the dream of suppressing the struggle of people with people, class with class, and individual, but what was the result of their endeavour save to make fiercer the very struggles they wished to abolish ? Were not the wars they provoked the cruellest of all, the most fruitful of political and social disasters ?
Can we hope that with the progress of civilisation the struggle of the classes will diminish ? On the contrary, everything tends to show that it will become far more intense than it has ever been in the past.

There are two reasons for this : the first is the more and more profound division between the classes, the second is the power which the new methods of association give to the various classes to defend their demands.

The first reason can hardly be contested. The differences between the classes of men and masters, proprietors and proletariats, for example, are visibly greater than the old differences of caste, say the difference between the people and the nobility. The distance created by birth, it was then considered, could not be bridged over. It was the result of the Divine will, and was accepted without discussion. Violent abuses might sometimes give rise to revolts, but the people revolted solely against the abuses, and not against the established order of things.

To-day it is quite otherwise. The people revolt not against the abuses, which were never less than at present, but against the whole social system. At present Socialism wishes to destroy the upper classes, simply to take their place and to take possession of their wealth.

“Their end,” says M. Boilley, “is soon stated ; they wish, without preamble, to form a popular class which shall expropriate the upper classes. They wish to launch forth the poor man in pursuit of the rich, and the profit account Nvill be closed by the monopolising of the spoils of the vanquished. Timour and Ghengis Khan led their multitudes on the same quest.”

These conquerors, it is true, had much the same motives, but those whom they threatened with conquest knew perfectly well that their only chance of salvation was by defending themselves with energy, while to-day the adversaries of the new barbarians think of nothing but parleying with them, and of prolonging their existence a little by a series of concessions which do nothing but encourage those who are gathering for the assault, and provoke their contempt.
The struggles of the future will be aggravated by the fact that they will not be inspired, as were the old wars of conquest, by the desire to pillage an enemy who once conquered became an object of indifference. To-day furious hatred rages between the combatants, a hatred which is gradually tending to assume a religious form, and thus to acquire the special characteristics of ferocity and insubordination which invariably animate a true believer.

We have already perceived one of the chiefest causes of the present war of the classes it) the extreme falsity of the ideas which the opposing parties have formed of one another. While studying the foundations of beliefs we saw too clearly to what a degree the relations of being with being are dominated by utter miscomprehension to wonder at the impossibility of eliminating that factor. The fiercest wars, and the religious struggles which have stained the world with blood, and have done most to change the face of civilisations and empires, .have very often arisen from some such miscomprehension. Very often it is the very falsity of an idea which constitutes its strength. The most glaring error becomes, for the crowd, a radiant truth, if it be sufficiently repeated. Nothing is easier to sow than error, and when it has taken root it has the omnipotence of the dogmas of religion. It inspires faith, and nothing can stand against faith. In the Middle Ages half of (lie West hurled itself on the East fur the sake of the most erroneous concepts ; by such errors the successors of Mahomet established their gigantic empire ; by such errors Europe was later on deluged with blood and fire. The falsity of the parent ideas of these upheavals is to-day evident to a child. To-day they are merely vague words, of which the centuries have so exhausted the life that we can no longer understand the power they once exercised. None the less was this power irresistible, for there was a time when the clearest reason, the most obvious demonstrations, were powerless to prevail against it. It is time only, and never reason, that has power to slay phantoms.
The magical empire of lying words is not a thing of the past. The soul of the people has changed, but its beliefs are always as false as ever, and the words that sway it are always as deceptive. Error, under new names, preserves its ancient magic.

Made inevitable by the irresistible laws of Nature, aggravated by the new conditions of civilisation, by the miscomprehension which dominates the reciprocal relations of the classes, by the increasing divergency of their interests, the conflict of the classes is destined to become more violent than it has ever been at any period of the world’s history. The hour is approaching when the social edifice will suffer the most redoubtable assaults that have ever been made on it.

The new barbarians are threatening not only the possessors of wealth, but our very civilisation, which appears to them merely the guardian of luxury, and a useless complication.

Never have the maledictions of their leaders been so furious; never has any people whose gods and thresholds were threatened by a pitiless enemy given vent to such imprecations. The more pacific of the Socialists confine themselves to demanding the expropriation of the upper-classes. The more ardent wish for their utter annihilation. According to a sentiment expressed by one of them at a meeting, and cited by M. Boilley, ” the skins of the infamous bourgeois will at least do to make gloves of.”

As far as they can, these ringleaders suit the action to the word. The list of crimes committed in Europe by the advance-guard of Socialism during the last fifteen years is very significant. Three sovereigns assassinated, one of them an empress, and two others wounded ; six prefects of police killed, and a considerable number of deaths caused by explosions in palaces, theatres, dwelling-houses, and railway stations. One of these explosions, that at the Liceo Theatre at Barcelona, had eighty-three victims ; that at the Winter Palace at St. Petersburg killed eight persons, and wounded forty-five. The number of journals in Europe that egg on the movement is reckoned at forty. We may judge, from the violence of these skirmishes, what a savage ferocity will animate the struggle when it has become general.
Doubtless the past has seen struggles as violent, but the conditions of the opposing forces were very different, and the defence of society a much easier matter. Then the crowd had no political power. It had not yet learned how to associate itself and thus to form armies which blindly obeyed the orders of absolute chiefs. What association may do we learn from the last strike in Chicago. It ended in the strike of all the railway men in the United States, and had as its further results the burning of the palaces of the Exposition arid the immense workshops of the Pulman Company. The Government assumed the upper hand only by suspending civil rights, proclaiming martial law, and delivering veritable battle to the insurgents. The strikers were shot down without pity, and defeated ; but we can imagine the hatred that must fill the hearts of the survivors, among both the vanquished workmen and the successful masters, whose ruin the former had provoked by arson, pillage, and massacre.

The United States would seem fated to furnish the Old World with the first examples of the struggles which will take place between intelligence, capacity, capital, and the terrible army of the unfit of which I shall presently speak, the social sediment which has been so greatly increased by the modern development of industry.
The issue of the struggle in the United States will doubtless be their division into a number of rival republics. Their fate does not concern us ; it interests us only as an example. This example will perhaps save Europe from the complete triumph of Socialism; that is to say, from a return to the most shameful barbarism.

The social question will be singularly complicated in the United States by the fact that the great republic is divided into regions whose interests are very different, and consequently conflicting. M. de Varigny has very well presented this fact in the following lines

” Washington continues to be the neutral ground on which political questions are decided, but it is not the place in which these questions arise and affect American life. The life of the nation is to be found elsewhere ; its unity is not established, and it has no homogeneity. Under the apparent union of a great people-and union is not unity-there are profound divergencies, diverse interests, and conflicting tendencies. They are only emphasised by time; they grow more evident as history unrolls itself ; and they assert themselves in such facts as the War of Secession, which brought the Union within air inch of destruction.
” If we examine closely this vast republic, which Russia and China alone surpass in extent of territory, and which already ranks fifth in the world in respect of population, we shall first of all be struck by this fact-that the United States are divided into three sections by a geographical and commercial grouping; the Southern States, those of the North and West, and those of the Pacific ; and already there are germs of division between the North and the West. The various interests of these groups result in incompatible demands, and for fifteen years the politicians have been seeking, without discovering, the means of making industries live and prosper under a common tariff which in reality call for a special régime. The South produces raw material, such as sugar and cotton, the North is manufacturing, the West agricultural, and the Pacific agricultural and mining. The system of protection now in vogue is ruining the South, embarrassing the West, and making the fortune of the North, to which free trade would deliver a terrible blow.”
But we must not too closely forecast the fate of any nation on a few general indications. Our destiny is still concealed by the impenetrable mists of the future. It is often possible to foresee the direction of the forces which lead us, but it is futile to seek to define their effects or discern their course. All that we can say is, that tile defence of the old societies will become very difficult. The evolution of things has sapped the foundation of the edifice of the past ages. The army, the last pillar of the edifice, the only one that might yet sustain it, has entered on a process of disintegration, and its worst enemies are now to be found in the educated classes. Our ignorance of certain incontestable evidences of psychology, an ignorance which will strike the historians of the future with amazement, lids led the greater number of the European states almost entirely to renounce their means of defence, by replacing the professional army, such as England so rightly contents herself with, and with which she dominates the world, by undisciplined crowds, who are supposed to learn one of the most difficult of professions in a few months. You have not made soldiers of millions of men simply because you have taught them drill. You have merely produced mobs without discipline, resistance, or courage, more dangerous for those who try to handle them than to their enemies.[2]

The danger of these multitudes, from the point of view of social defence, resides not only in their military insufficiency, but in the spirit which animates them. The professional armies formed a special caste, with sentiments apart, strangers to everything that did not interest them directly, and having nothing to look for from outside. But these crowds who only pass sufficient time in the army to suffer the tediousness of military life, and to regard it with horror, what sentiments of caste are they likely to have ? Taken from the workshop, the factory, the dockyard, where they will promptly return, of what value will they be in the defence of a social order that they disdain, and incessantly hear attacked ? This is the danger that the Governments do not yet see, and on which it would consequently be quite useless to insist. I doubt, however, if a single European State can exist long without a permanent army, relying only on universal compulsory service. Doubtless the latter satisfies our eager craving for a low equality, but is it really admissible that the satisfaction of such a craving should endanger the very existence of a race ?
The future will inform both nations and Governments on this point. Experience is the only book that nations can learn from. Unfortunately the reading of this book has always cost them terribly dear.


1 – This is very evident, since competition is scarcely possible except between individuals of the same class : and on account of the increasing number of the competitors, the competition is becoming fiercer. The competitors put up with uric another because they cannot do otherwise, but the tenderest sentiment they entertain for one another is a ferocious jealousy. The following description of the salle de garde of medical students, recently published in a medical journal, clearly shows the nature of the sentiments that the necessities of civilisation are steadily propagating in all classes :
” To-day the salle de garde has become orderly, but frigid and taciturn. The medical student is no more the jolly companion of old, ready to chum up with everybody ; he is frozen in his own dignity, and imagines that the eyes of the world are on him. Each student keeps guard over himself, and keeps his ideas to himself, when he has any, for fear lest his neighbour should profit by them. Thanks to the formidable prospect of the examinations, lie shuts himself jealously within himself. The comrade of to-day hill be the rival of to-morrow, and in the race for diplomas friendship must be forgotten.”

2 – I hope one day to enter more fully into these questions in a study of the psychology of war. It is plain that we cannot, for reasons of a purely moral order, suppress the universal compulsory service, which has the advantage of giving a little discipline to men who are all but destitute of that quality ; but we might arrive at a very simple compromise: – reduce compulsory service to one year, and maintain a permanent army et 200,000 to 300,000 men formed as in England of enlisted volunteers, who would make a military career their profession.


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