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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/358

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

THE EVOLUTION OF CIVILIZATION AND THE ARTS.
By M. GUSTAVE LE BON.

WE sought to show, in an address on the Influence of European Civilization on Colonies (1889), that civilized nations can not impose their civilization on the lower races, and to demonstrate the insufficiency of education, institutions, or creeds to change the social condition of inferior peoples. We maintained that all the elements of a civilization correspond with certain modes of feeling and thinking, or with a mental constitution representing the past of a whole race, the hereditary motives of conduct resulting from the experience and acts of a long series of ancestors. Only centuries, not conquerors, can essentially transform these. We held, further, that a people can rise in civilization only by a series of steps; and that, if we try by educating them to evade those steps, we only confuse their morals, and leave them at a lower level than the one they had themselves reached. And we assumed that the Arabs are the only modern people capable of civilizing inferior peoples, because they alone still have extremely simple institutions and creeds. I intend now to make the question general, and to show that the higher races have never been influenced by a foreign civilization more rapidly than the lower races; and that if they have sometimes adopted creeds, institutions, languages, and arts different from those of their ancestors, it was not till they had slowly and profoundly transformed them and brought them into relation with their mental constitution.

History appears to contradict this proposition on every page, and to show us peoples who have changed the elements of their civilization and adopted new religions, languages, and institutions; but a closer examination of these supposed changes shows us that, while the names of these things may have been changed with great ease, the realities concealed behind the names have continued to live, and have been transformed only with extreme slowness. The theory is likely to appear most paradoxical in the case of religious creeds; but, in fact, we find some of the most striking verifications of it in them. Everybody knows that all the great religions—Brahmanism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam—have provoked conversions of entire races, which have come over to them all at once. But a close study will convince us that in these cases it has been the name of the religion and not the religion itself that has been changed; and that the newly adopted creeds have suffered modifications that would bring them into conformity with the old creeds they replaced, and of which they were simply the continuation, and this sometimes to such an