An Introduction to Social Psychology

Chapter 15: Imitation, Play and Habit

William McDougall

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IN Chapter IV. we discussed the three fundamental forms of mental interaction—suggestion, sympathy, and imitation. In each case, we said, the process of interaction results in the assimilation of the mental state of the recipient or patient to that of the agent. In each case we need a pair of words to denote the parts of the agent and of the patient respectively. "Suggest" denotes the part of the agent in assimilating the cognitive state of the patient to his own; but we have no word for the part played by the patient in the process, unless we adopt the ugly expression—"to be suggestioned." "Imitate" and "sympathise" denote the part of the patient in the process of assimilation of his actions and of his affective state to those of the agent; but we have no words denoting the part of the agent in these processes. Since these three processes co-operate intimately in social life, we may avoid the difficulty arising from this lack of terms by following M. Tarde,[l] who extends the meaning of the word "imitation" to cover all three processes as viewed from the side of the patient. If we do that, we still need a correlative word to denote all three processes viewed from the side of the agent. I propose to use the words "impress" and "impression"

(333) in this sense.[2] We may also follow M. Tarde in using "contra-imitation" to denote the process of contra-suggestion viewed from the side of the patient.

Impression and imitation are, then, processes of fundamental importance for social life. M. Tarde writes : —"Nous dirons donc . . .qu'une société est un groupe de gens qui présentent entre eux beaucoup de similitudes produites par imitation ou par contre-imitation" ;[3] and in thus making imitation the very essence of social life he hardly exaggerates its importance. In Section I. we have considered some of the ways in which imitation moulds the growing individual and assimilates him to the type of the society into which he is born. In this Section we must consider the results of imitation from the point of view of the society as a whole rather than from that of the development of the individual.

Imitation is the prime condition of all collective mental life. I propose to reserve for another volume the de-tailed study of collective mental processes. Here I would dismiss the subject by merely pointing out that when men think, feel, and act as members of a group of any kind—whether a mere mob, a committee, a political or religious association, a city, a nation, or any other social aggregate—their collective actions show that the mental processes of each man have been profoundly modified in virtue of the fact that he thought, felt, and acted as one of a group and in reciprocal mental action with the other members of the group and with the group as a whole. In the simpler forms of social grouping, imitation (taken in the wide sense defined above) is the principal condition of this profound alteration of the individual's mental processes. And, even in the most developed forms of

( 334) social aggregation, it plays a fundamental part (although greatly complicated by other factors) in rendering possible the existence and operation of the collective mind, its collective deliberation, emotion, character, and volition.

Without entering further into the discussion of the conditions, nature, and operations of the collective mind, we may note some of the principal points of interest presented by imitation as a social factor.

In the development of individual human beings, imitation, as we have seen, is the great agency through which the child is led on from the life of mere animal impulse to the life of self-control, deliberation, and true volition. And it has played a similar part in the development of the human race and of human society.

The mental constitution of man differs from that of the highest animals chiefly in that man has an indefinitely greater power of learning, of profiting by experience, of acquiring new modes of reaction and adjustment to an immense variety of situations. This superiority of man would seem to be due in the main to his possession of a very large brain, containing a mass of plastic nervous tissue which exceeds in bulk the sum of the innately organised parts and makes up the principal part of the substance of the cerebral hemispheres. This great brain, and the immense capacity for mental adaptation and acquisition implied by it, must have been evolved hand in hand with the development of man's social life and with that of language, the great agent and promoter of social life. For to an individual living apart from any human society the greater part of this brain and of this capacity for acquisition would be useless and would lie dormant for lack of any store of knowledge, belief, and custom to be acquired or assimilated. Whereas animal

( 335) species have advanced from lower to higher levels of mental life by the improvement of the innate mental constitution of the species, man, since he became man, Isis progressed in the main by means of the increase in volume and improvement in quality of the sum of knowledge, belief, and custom, which constitutes the tradition of any society. And it is to the superiority of the moral and intellectual tradition of his society that the superiority of civilised man over existing savages and over his savage forefathers is chiefly, if not wholly, due. This increase and improvement of tradition has been effected by countless steps, each relatively small and unimportant, initiated by the few original minds of the successive generations and incorporated in the social tradition t h rough the acceptance or imitation of them by the mass o f men. All that constitutes culture and civilisation, all, or nearly all, that distinguishes the highly cultured European intellectually and morally from the men of the stone age of Europe, is then summed up in the word "tradition," and all tradition exists only in virtue of imitation; for it is only by imitation that each generation takes up and makes its own the tradition of the pre-ceding generation; and it is only by imitation that any improvement, conceived by any mind endowed with that rarest of all things, a spark of originality, can become embodied within the tradition of his society.

Imitation is, then, not only the great conservative force of society, it is also essential to all social progress. We may briefly glance at its social operations, under these two heads.[4]

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Imitation as a Conservative Agency

The similarities obtaining between the individuals of any one country, any one county, social class, school, university, profession, or community of any kind, and distinguishing them from the members of any other similar community, are in the main due to the more intimate intercourse with one another of the members of the one community, to their consequent imitation of one an-other, and to their acceptance by imitation of the same tradition. Under this head fall similarities of language, of religious, political, and moral convictions, habits of dressing, eating, dwelling, and of recreation, all those routine activities which make up by far the greater part of the lives of men.[5]

There is widely current a vague belief that the national characteristics of the people of any country are in the main innate characters. But there can be no serious question that this popular assumption is erroneous and that national characteristics, at any rate all those that distinguish the peoples of the European countries, are in the main the expressions of different traditions. There are innate differences of mental constitution between the races and sub-races of men and between the peoples of the European countries; and these innate

( 337) peculiarities are very important, because they exert through long periods of time a constant bias or moulding influence upon the growth of national cultures and traditions. But, relatively to the national peculiarities acquired by each individual in virtue of his participation in the traditions of his country, the innate peculiarities are slight and are almost completely obscured in each individual by these superimposed acquired characters. If the reader is inclined to doubt the truth of these statements, let him make an effort of imagination and suppose that throughout a period of half a century every child born to English parents was at once ex-changed (by the power of a magician's wand) for an infant of the French, or other European, nation. Soon after the close of this period the English nation would be composed of individuals of French extraction, and the French nation of individuals of English extraction. It is, I think, clear that, in spite of this complete exchange of innate characters between the two nations, there would be but little immediate change of national characteristics. The French people would still speak French, and the English would speak English, with all the local diversities to which we are accustomed and without perceptible change of pronunciation. The religion of the French would still be predominantly Roman Catholic, and the English people would still present the same diversity of Protestant creeds. The course of political institutions would have suffered no profound change, the customs and habits of the two peoples would exhibit only such changes as might be attributed to the lapse of time, though an acute observer might notice an appreciable approximation of the two peoples towards one an-other in all these respects. The inhabitant of France would still be a Frenchman and the inhabitant of Eng-

( 338) -land an Englishman to all outward seeming, save that the physical appearance of the two peoples would be transposed. And we may go even further and assert that the same would hold good if a similar exchange of infants were effected between the English and any other less closely allied nation, say the Turks or the Japanese.

The dominance of the traditional characters, acquired by each generation through imitation, over innate characters holds good not only in respect to the characters mentioned above, but also, though perhaps in a smaller degree, in respect to those modes of activity which are regarded as essentially the expressions of individuality, namely, the various forms of art-production, of science, of literature, of conversation. The immensely increased intercourse of peoples characteristic of the present age has already done much to obscure these national differences and peculiarities, but we have only to go back to earlier ages to see that the force of imitation is in these fields of human activity, as well as in all others, immensely greater than the force of individuality or of innate peculiarities. For, the further back we go in time and in cultural level, the more strictly and locally peculiar does each kind of cultural element appear. So persistent are such traditional peculiarities that archaeologists and anthropologists confidently trace the distribution and affinities of extinct peoples and races throughout great periods of time and large areas by noting peculiarities of modes of sepulture, of carving, of building, of the shape, size, or ornamentation of pottery, of weapons, or of any other durable manufactured article, or even slight peculiarities in the mode of laying stones together to form a building of any kind.

It is a general law of imitation that modes of doing persist more obstinately than modes of thinking and

( 339) feeling. Hence the many remarkable instances of survival of former stages of culture generally take the form of practices whose meanings and original purposes have been long forgotten or completely transformed. One of the most interesting examples of such vestigial remnants of in earlier culture is the survival of the forms of marriage by capture among the peasantry of various 1?uropean countries up to, or nearly up to, the present tune; and, in fact, the practice of throwing rice and old shoes after the departing bridegroom, which is still ob-served among us, is probably the last surviving remnant of the forms of marriage by capture. In some parts of Europe there survives a vestige of another form of marriage, namely, marriage by purchase—the bridegroom gives to the parents of his bride a few grains of corn; and it is the more striking that the old practice persists in the shape of this formal act, where the actual spirit of the transaction has been transformed into its opposite, and the bride is expected to bring to her husband, or to buy him with, a substantial dowry. In a similar way nearly all our old-fashioned village festivals are survivals of the practices, the pagan rites and ceremonies, by means of which our ancestors propitiated and honoured the various powers or divinities whom they conceived to preside over the processes of nature that most nearly affected their welfare. The May-day festival, for example, is probably a survival from the rites by means of which some god or goddess of vegetation was worshipped and propitiated ; and many other instances might be cited.[6] At the present time the transformation of such religious rites into mere holiday festivals may be ob-

( 340) -served in actual and rapid progress in various odd corners of the world.[7]

This tendency of practices to survive by continued imitation, long after their original significance has been for-gotten, has had far more important effects than that of preserving vestiges as curiosities for the anthropologists. There can be no doubt that practices so surviving the memory of their significance have in many cases been interpreted and been given a new meaning by the generations that found themselves performing them in blind obedience to tradition; although, from the nature of the case, it can seldom be possible to attain more than a speculative probability in regard to such transformations and developments. As an example of processes of this kind, we may note Robertson Smith's speculation to the effect that the ever-burning altar fire, which be-came among so many peoples a symbol and a condition of the life and prosperity of a people or a city, was a re-interpreted survival of the fire which originally was used to consume the parts of the sacrificial victim too holy to be otherwise disposed of.[8] And of many of the symbolical rites of the higher religions it has been shown that they may with some plausibility be regarded as re-interpreted survivals of older rituals.

Dr. A. Beck [9] goes further, and argues forcibly that all, or most, myths and dogmas, and, in fact, all religious conceptions of the lower cultures, were arrived at by this process of re-interpretation of survivals of practices once of practical utility.

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Among some peoples the conservative power of imitation is, of course, displayed much more strongly than among others. The force of custom is generally supreme among peoples at a low level of culture. Among them the sufficient justification and supreme sanction of all action is custom. And, even after a people has made considerable progress in the scale of civilisation, it is al-ways liable to become fixed and stationary once more under the supremacy of tradition; then no innovation, no invention made within the nation, no ideas coming from outside it, can obtain a foothold or find general acceptance within it, because no individual and no other people has in the eyes of that people a prestige that can rival lie prestige of its own past and of the great men of its own past history. A society, arrived at a fair level of civilisation and sufficiently strongly organised to resist violent attacks from without, may persist through long ages almost unchanged, as we see in the case of the Chinese people. Then, with every generation that passes away, the prestige of the past becomes greater, because it becomes more deeply shrouded in the mists and the mystery of age; and so the cake of custom becomes ever harder and more unbreakable.

Imitation as an Agent of Progress

If imitation, maintaining customs and traditions of every kind, is the great conservative agency in the life of societies, it plays also a great and essential part in bringing about the progress of civilisation. Its operation as a factor in progress is of two principal kinds : (I) the spread by imitation throughout a people of ideas and practices generated within it from time to time by its exceptionally gifted members; (2) the spread by imitation of ideas and practices from one people to an-

( 342) -other. There are certain features or laws of the spreading by imitation that are common to these two forms of the process.

The spread of any culture element, a belief, an art, a convention, a sentiment, a habit or attitude of mind of any kind, tends to proceed in geometrical progression, because each individual or body of individuals that imitates the new idea and embodies it in practice becomes an additional centre of radiation of that idea to all individuals and groups that come in contact with it; and also because, with each step of the spread of the idea over a wider area and to larger numbers of persons, the power of mass-suggestion grows in virtue of mere numbers.

The rapidity of the spreading of a culture-element by imitation among any people depends in great measure upon two conditions: first, the density of population ; secondly, the degree of development of means of communication and the degree of use made of these means. These propositions are so obviously true that we need not dwell upon them. We have only to look around us to see how, in our own country at the present time, the rapid development of the means of communication during the latter part of the nineteenth century has so facilitated spread by imitation among our dense population as to bring about a very high degree of uniformity in many respects. Local dialects are rapidly passing away, and local peculiarities of dress and social convention have already been almost obliterated, while local sports, such as golf, have spread in a few years throughout the country. The rate of spreading of trivial passing fashions is marvellous—a new way of shaking hands, the fashion of dropping the "g" and saying "Good mornin'," the shape and size of ladies' hats or a style of wearing

(343) his hair, such games as ping-pong and diabolo—all these and a hundred other fashions suddenly and mysteriously appear and, having in a few months ravaged the whole country like deadly pestilences, disappear as suddenly as they came. In almost all such cases imitation and contra-imitation work strongly together; each victim is moved not only by the prestige of those whom he imitates, but also by the desire to be different from the mass who have not yet adopted the fashion. And it is owing to this strong element of contra-imitation that these trivial fashions are usually so fleeting; for, as soon as the fashion has spread to a certain proportion of the total population, the operation of contra-imitation is reversed and begins to make for the abolition of the fashion and its supplanting by some other—the mistress cannot possibly continue to wear the new shape of hat, however becoming to her, because her maids and her humbler neighbours have begun to imitate it.

These trivial fashions generally pass away completely. ilut all new ideas that spread by imitation must first be-come fashions, before they can become embodied in tradition as customs; and the easy catching-on and rapid spread of new fashions are sure indications that the culture of a people is mobile and plastic, that it is ready and likely to embody new features in its customs, beliefs, and institutions, and so to undergo change ; though such change is not necessarily or always progress towards a better state of civilisation or of social organisation.

Imitation modifies a people's civilisation in one of two ways—by substitution or by accumulation ; that is to say, the new culture-element, spreading by imitation among a people, either conflicts with, drives out, and supplants some older traditional element, or constitutes an exten-

( 344) -sion, complication, and enrichment of the existing tradition. Thus a language or a religious system may be imitated by one people from another, and may completely supplant the indigenous language or religion. But more commonly it becomes worked up with the indigenous language, or religion, enriching it and rendering it more complex and more adequate to the needs of the people; as when, for example, the Norman-French language was largely imitated by the English people, and so became in large part incorporated in the English language; or as when the religion of Buddha was adopted by the Japanese people, partially fusing with, rather than supplanting, their national Shinto religion of ancestor-worship.

An idea or practice that has once begun to be imitated by a people tends to spread to the maximum extent possible under the given conditions of society ; and then the custom or institution in which it has become embodied tends to persist indefinitely with this maximum degree of intensity and diffusion ; and it only recedes or disappears under the influence of some newly introduced antagonistic rival. In illustration of this law we may cite tea-drinking, tobacco-smoking, or lawn tennis. It is when imitation of any idea has reached this saturation point or degree of maximum diffusion, that the statistician shows numerically the constancy of the occurrence of its external manifestations, and cites his figures to prove that the actions of man are as completely deter-mined and as predictable as the motions of the heavenly bodies.

The imitation of peoples follows the fundamental law of all imitation—the law, namely, that the source from which the impression comes is one enjoying prestige, is an individual or collective personality that is stronger, more complex, or more highly developed, and therefore

( 345) to some extent mysterious, not completely ejective, to the imitators. Whether the ideas of an individual shall be accepted by his fellow-countrymen depends not so ninth upon the nature of those ideas as upon the degree of prestige which that individual has or can secure. The founders of new religions have always secured prestige, partly by their personal force and character, partly by acquiring a reputation for supernatural powers by means of falling occasionally into trance or ecstasy, or by the working of miracles, or in virtue of a reputed miraculous Origin, or by all of these together. A great general, having secured prestige by his military exploits, may then, like the first Napoleon, impress his ideas of social organisation upon a whole people. A statesman, having se-cured prestige by his eloquence and parliamentary skill, can then set the tone of political life, and, under the two-party system, can make approximately one half of the people of his country accept his ideas almost without question. Of this, two very striking illustrations have recently been afforded by English political changes—the acceptance of Gladstone's "Home Rule" idea and of Mr. Chamberlain's idea of Protection. If the latter idea should become generally accepted, it will be a most striking instance of social imitation on a great scale. Ten years ago the dogma of Free Trade was universally accepted in this country, save by a few sceptics, who for lack of prestige could get no hearing; yet now half, or nearly half, the country clamours for Protection. And this great change is almost entirely due to the influence of one self-reliant man of established prestige.

But originality is a very rare quality, and still more rarely is it combined with the moral and physical and social advantages necessary for the acquisition of high prestige ; hence, if the progress of each nation took place

( 346) only by the acceptance of the ideas of its own great men, progress would have been very much slower than it actually has been.

The imitation of one people by another has been a principal condition of the progress of civilisation in all its stages, but more especially in its later stages. The people that is imitated by another is always one of more highly evolved civilisation or of greater skill and power in the use of the particular idea or institution that is imitated. The most striking example of this process afforded by history is the imitation of the Romans by the peoples of Western Europe whom they conquered, and, at a later period, by the peoples by whom they were conquered. The immense prestige of the Romans enabled them to continue to impress their language, their religion, their laws, their architecture, and all the principal features of their material civilisation upon these peoples, even when their military power had declined. On the other hand, although the Romans conquered the Grecian world, they were not imitated by it ; but rather them-selves became the imitators in respect to most of the higher elements of culture; for the prestige of Greece in respect to all forms of art and literature was greater than that of Rome.

The imitation of Western Europe by Japan is, of course, the most striking instance of modern times. And this case is unique in that the imitation is in the main self-conscious and deliberate, whereas in all former ages national imitation has been largely of lower forms. For in national as in individual imitation we have to recognise very different modes of imitation, ranging from the immediate unreflecting acceptance of a mode of thought or action to its adoption by an organised national effort of collective volition after careful deliberation.

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Perhaps the great influence of national imitation on the progress of civilisation is illustrated most clearly by the study of national arts, especially of architecture. The distinctive forms of art of each nation can, almost without exception, be traced back to two or more ancestral sources, from the blending and adaptation of which the new national art has resulted. The work of archeologists largely consists in tracing these streams of influence and the results of their blendings.

The further back we go towards periods of simpler civilisation, the more striking becomes the evidence of diffusion of ideas by imitation. For, in the simpler civilisations of past ages, ideas were fewer and, there-fore, of greater individual importance. We find, for ex-ample, evidence of the almost world-wide diffusion of certain myths—of which a notable example has been worked out in detail by Mr. Hartland in his "Legend of Perseus." And this wide diffusion of myths constitutes, perhaps, the most striking illustration of imitation on a }seat scale, because in this case the operation of imitation is not complicated by any material, or other definite social advantages or disadvantages resulting from or accompanying it on the part of the imitated or of the imitating people.

The same is, perhaps, less strictly true of such customs as peculiar modes of sepulture, e.g., burning or mound-burial. But the process of imitation has achieved its most important results in the case of the great discoveries that have increased man's power over nature and constituted essential steps in the evolution of civilisation—agriculture, the domestication of animals, the use of the arch and dome in building, of the bow and of gun-powder in warfare, of the wheel in locomotion, the art of printing, of glass-making, the application of steam as

(348) a substitute for other forms of power; each of these has been discovered in some one or two places only, has been first applied among some one or two peoples only, and has been diffused by imitation throughout the world.

Our present civilisation—so rich and complex in language, in laws, in science and art, in literature, in institutions and material resources—is, then, the outcome, not of the original discoveries and ideas of men of our own race, or of any one people, but of the peoples of the whole world. No one of the leading European nations has created its own civilisation, but each one has rather appropriated the various elements of its culture from all the peoples of the earth, adapting them and combining them to meet its special needs, and itself contributing a small though important part to the whole.

There is one rule or law which, as M. Tarde has pointed out, holds good of international collective imitation, but not of individual imitation. It is that, as Tarde expresses it, such imitation proceeds from with-in outwards; that is to say, the ideas and sentiments of a people are first imitated by another, and, not until they have become widely spread and established, are the forms in which they are externalised, or expressed and embodied, imitated also. Thus, in the greater instances of national imitation, for example, the imitation of British parliamentary institutions by other nations, there occurs first a period during which the ideas and sentiments underlying them are imitated ; and it is not until thin assimilation of ideas has passed beyond the stage of fashion and they have become a part of the national tradition, that effective imitation of the institutions them-selves is possible. If such institutions are imposed upon a people by authority before this stage of assimilation has been reached, the institutions will be liable to break

(349) down hopelessly. Hence the failure of parliamentary government in various South American republics, and in Russia, and its inevitable failure in the Philippine Islands if introduced there by the authority of the American people. It is in accordance with this law that among civilised peoples the study of foreign literature, in which its ideas of other peoples are conveyed most clearly and in the most diffusible form, usually prepares the way for imitation of institutions, arts, laws, and customs. Thus the Renaissance of Western Europe was prepared for by the study of Hellenic literature, and the spread of British political institutions was preceded by the study of the writings of our political philosophers, from Hobbes and Locke to Adam Smith, Bentham, and Mill.

Within any nation imitation tends always to spread from upper to lower classes, rather than in the reverse direction. This is due to the fundamental law of imitation, namely, that prestige is the principal condition that enables one person or group to impress others. And iii international imitation this spreading from above downwards through the social strata is especially clearly manifested; for it is usually by the upper classes, or by sections of them, that imitations of foreign ideas and customs are originally made, the further spread of the foreign elements then proceeding by class-imitation. In this way aristocracies of many nations have performed valuable services for which they have not usually been given due credit. In all earlier ages royal courts have served as centres for the reception and diffusion of foreign ideas. Owing to the greater freedom of communication between courts than between other parts o f nations, foreign ideas were more readily introduced and assimilated by the members of a court, and from them were transmitted to the rest of the nation; whereby

( 350) its life was enriched and its civilisation advanced. In this way, for example, the court of Frederick the Great introduced French culture to a relatively backward Prussia.

In recent times royal courts and hereditary aristocracies have been to a great extent superseded in these functions by the great capitals, which are in a sense their off-spring. Thus Paris has succeeded to the French court as the centre of assimilation and diffusion of foreign ideas, and its immense prestige enables it to impress its ideas upon the whole of France. The aristocracy of intellect, which in former ages was usually an appanage of the courts and now is generally gathered in the capitals, plays an important part both in introducing foreign ideas and in securing to court or capital the prestige which renders possible the diffusion of those ideas.

Besides thus serving as the means of introducing and diffusing foreign ideas, hereditary aristocracies and courts are enabled, in virtue of their prestige and quite independently of any merits of their members, to secure another important advantage to nations, namely, by setting a common standard, which is accepted for imitation by all classes of the people, they make for homogeneity of the ideas and sentiments of the people ; and this is a great condition of national strength. It is, then, perhaps, no mere coincidence that the progressive nations have been the nations whose social organisation comprises an hereditary aristocracy and a hierarchy of classes ; whereas the unprogressive nations, those which though strongly organised have ceased to progress, are those which have had no native aristocracy, or have been organised on the caste system—a system which precludes class-imitation. This impossibility of class-imitation under a strict caste system is, no doubt, one of the principal

(351) conditions of the stagnation of the Brahmanic civilisation of India. And the backwardness of Russia may be ascribed in large measure to the same condition; for there the conquering northmen, the Varegs, established a military and bureaucratic aristocracy which has remained relatively ineffective in civilising the masses of Slav peasantry, owing to the lack of any middle classes by whom the aristocrats might have been imitated. The stationary state of the civilisation of China, and the great difference as regards the rapidity of permeation by European ideas between the Chinese and the Japanese (who are closely allied by blood) must be ascribed in great measure to the absence of an hereditary native aristocracy among the Chinese. For in Japan a native aristocracy of great prestige has in recent years imitated the ideas of Western civilisation and, by impressing these foreign-gathered ideas and institutions upon the mass of the people, has produced and is still producing a very rapid advance of Japanese civilisation in many important respects. Whereas in China there exists no native aristocracy—for the Manchu nobles are regarded as barbarian usurpers and have not the prestige, even if they had the will, to play the same role as the aristocratic class if Japan; and the governing class, which consists of men of letters chosen by examination from among all classes

f the people, has no hereditary class-prestige, and there-fore has but little power of impressing upon the people the ideas which it has acquired from Western civilisation.

In England the influence of the hereditary aristocracy in securing homogeneity of national thought, sentiment, ;Intl custom, has been very great. An Englishman notoriously loves a lord and imitates him; and, though this national snobbishness lends itself to ridicule and has its

( 352) bad aspects, especially perhaps in that it has done much to abolish the picturesque local and class differences of speech and manners and dress, it has yet aided greatly in making the English people the most mentally homogeneous nation in the world, and so in bringing it further than any other along the path of evolution of a national self-consciousness and a truly national will.

Contra-imitation demands a few words of separate notice. It plays a considerable part, as Tarde has pointed out, in rendering societies homogeneous. Some small societies or associations of cranks and faddists owe their existence chiefly to its operation. In national societies also it is operative, especially strongly perhaps in the English nation. Most Englishmen would scorn to kiss and embrace one another or to gesticulate freely, if only because Frenchmen do these things ; they would not wear their hair either long or very closely cropped, because Germans do so; they would not have a conscript army or universal military training, because nearly every other European nation has them. The Chinese people shows how contra-imitation may operate as a considerable conservative power in a people among whom it is strongly developed. It prevents or greatly retards their assimilation by imitation of foreign ideas, and at the same time it confirms them in the maintenance of those practices, such as the wearing of the queue, by means of which they make themselves visibly distinguished from all other peoples.


It is hardly necessary to say anything of the socialising influence of the play tendency. It is obvious that even its cruder manifestations, athletic contests and games of all sorts, not only exert among us an import-

( 353) -ant influence in moulding individuals, preparing them for social life, for co-operation, for submission, and for leadership, for the postponement of individuals to collective ends, but also are playing no inconsiderable part in shaping the destinies of the British Empire, by encouraging a friendly intercourse and rivalry between its widely scattered parts, and by keeping the various parts present to the consciousness of each other part. Wherever games have been customary, they must have exerted similar socialising influences in some degree. The modern Olympic games (in this respect resembling those of ancient Greece), and the many international sporting contests of the present time, are doing something to bring nations into more sympathetic relations, and may yet do much more in this direction.

The play impulse is usually regarded as one of the principal roots of artistic production. In so far as this is the case, it has its share in the socialising influences of art, which are so great and so obvious that it is hardly necessary to mention them. The works of art produced within a nation direct the attention of individuals to-wards certain aspects of life and nature, and teach them all to experience the same emotions in face of these aspects. In this way they tend to the increase of mutual understanding and sympathy, and they further that homogeneity of mind which is an essential condition of the development of the collective mental life of a people.

In a similar way art tends to soften and socialise the relations between nations. When of two nations each has learnt to appreciate and admire the art-products of the other, the gulf between them is bridged over and a firm foundation for mutual sympathy and regard is laid. As a prominent instance, consider how greatly the art of the Japanese has facilitated their entrance into the

( 354) exclusive circle of civilised and progressive peoples. Or again, consider how great an influence towards European solidarity is exerted by the common admiration of the nations of Europe for the sculpture of ancient Greece, for the music of modern Germany, the Gothic architecture of France and England, the paintings of Italy.


Of the great general tendencies common to the minds of all men of all ages, the last of our list in Section I. was the tendency for all mental processes to become facilitated by repetition, the tendency to the formation of habits of thought and action which became more and more fixed in the individual as he grows older ; and the consequent preference, increasing greatly in each individual with advancing age, for the familiar and the dislike of all that is novel in more than a very moderate degree.

It was said above that imitation is the great conservative tendency of society, because it leads each generation to adopt with but little change the mass of customs and traditions of the preceding generation. But imitation is conservative in virtue only of the co-operation of the tendency we are now considering. For this tendency sets narrow limits to that other tendency of imitation—the tendency to produce social changes by the introduction into any class or people of the ways of thought and action of other classes or peoples. It is this tendency which secures that each generation imitates chiefly its predecessor rather than any foreign models; for the native, and local, and class ways of thought, feeling, and action are the models first presented to the child ; under their influence the earliest

( 355) habits are formed, and a strong bias is determined ; so that, by the time the individual comes under the influence of foreign models, he is already moulded to the pattern of his nation, his class, his locality, and is but little capable of radical change ; that is to say, in virtue of habits formed on the pattern of his class and nation, he is already refractory to the influence of foreign models, save in a small degree. In short, the formation of habits by the individuals of each generation is an essential condition of the perpetuation of custom, and custom is the principal condition of all social organisation.

One point is worthy of special notice in this connection. The prevalence of certain conditions of life, of certain types of culture and modes of occupation, within a society are favourable to the influence of the elder members of the society, while other conditions are unfavourable to their influence. Thus, the mode of life of pastoral peoples, especially of pastoral nomads, is eminently favourable to the influence and authority of the elder men ; their long experience renders their judgments highly valuable in all that concerns the welfare of the herds, and their bodily infirmity does not diminish this value. On the other hand, among tribes of people much given to warfare the physical vigour and the bold initiative of youth are high qualifications for leadership; hence the influence of the elders is relatively less. Accordingly, we find that societies of the former kind are in general extremely stable and conservative. They develop a patriarchal system, and under the conservative influence of their patriarchs they remain unchanged for long ages. There are pastoral nomads still existing under a social organisation which has remained unchanged since the dawn of history and, not improbably, from a much more remote period. On

( 356) the other hand, the warlike peoples are much more liable to change. We have already seen that they have been the most progressive peoples; and their progress has been due in part, no doubt, to the effects of military group-selection and to the moralising influences of war, but in part also to their less conservative character which they owe to the diminished influence of the older, and therefore more conservative, individuals.

The tendency to the formation of habits, which pervades every function of the mind, exerts in yet another way an immense influence on private life, and, perhaps, an even greater influence on the collective life of societies; I refer to the tendency to convert means into ends. It is hardly too much to say that in very many persons, not given to reflection on and analysis of motives, the ends of their actions seldom come clearly and explicitly to consciousness. Their actions are largely determined by the blind instinctive impulses on the one hand, and on the other, by simple acquiescence in, and imitation of, the kinds of activity they see going on about them. Of many women especially is this true. Many a woman who spends half her energies in making things clean and tidy and setting her house in order either never explicitly recognises the end of this activity, namely, domestic comfort, convenience, and happiness, or else, losing sight of this end and transforming the means into an end, sacrifices in a considerable degree the true end to the perfection of the means. With men nothing is commoner than that the earning of money, at first undertaken purely as means to an end, becomes an end in itself. So with all of us, the perfection of powers, whether of the body or of the mind, the acquisition of learning, of a good literary style, or of any other accomplishment, is very apt to become an end in itself,

( 357) to which the true end may be in large measure sacrificed; and some moralists even expressly commend the transformation of such means into ends.

In the collective thought and action of societies this tendency appears even more strongly than in private conduct, and for this reason—while a man may question the usefulness of any particular mode of activity that is practiced by a few of his fellows only, he is less likely to raise any such question in regard to any practice that he finds faithfully observed by all his fellows. The fact that all his fellows observe the practice is sufficient to put it beyond criticism and to lead him to regard it as an end in itself. And this is one of the principal bases of custom. The ends or purposes of many customs are lost in the mists of antiquity. In some cases, perhaps, the end has never been clearly defined in any one man's mind. The custom may have arisen as a compromise or fusion between diverse customs, or through some purely instinctive mode of reaction, or through perverted imitation of some foreign model. But, however and for whatever purpose instituted, a custom once established, the practice of it always becomes in some degree an end in itself, and men are prepared to maintain it, often at great cost of effort or discomfort, long after it serves any useful end. Hence the fact that meaningless formalities and rites continue to surround almost all ancient institutions.

Besides thus playing its part as one of the conservative forces, this tendency leads also to many mistaken social efforts and institutions, or to the undue emphasis of social truths. Thus, such things as liberty and equality are seen by a Rousseau to be means to human happiness ; he preaches liberty and equality ; his ideas are accepted by the masses, and liberty and equality

( 358) become for them ends in themselves, and all social well-being is for a time sacrificed to them. In a similar way Free Trade was preached by Cobden as a means to an end. The idea was widely accepted, and for great numbers of men the means has become an end. So also by setting up as ends liberty and equality, which are but means to human welfare and happiness, the people of the United States of America have brought upon themselves the insoluble negro problem; and the British people, in virtue of the same tendency, is in danger of creating a similar problem in South Africa.

Our brief review of the social operations of the primary tendencies of the human mind is finished. Enough perhaps has been said to convince the reader that the life of societies is not merely the sum of the activities of individuals moved by enlightened self-interest, or by intelligent desire for pleasure and aversion from pain; and to show him that the springs of all the complex activities that make up the life of societies must be sought in the instincts and in the other primary tendencies that are common to all men and are deeply rooted in the remote ancestry of the race.


  1. 'Les Lois de l’Imitation," Paris, 1904, and "Les Lois Sociales," Paris, 1902.
  2. Following in this respect Professor Giddings.
  3. "Les Lois de l'Imitation," p. xii.
  4. The following summary account of the social operations of imitation is in large part extracted from M. Tarde's well-known treatise, "Les Lois de l'Imitation."
  5. The last century has seen a great change in respect to the force with which his immediate social environment bears upon the individual; but, that the form of each man's religious belief is determined for him by the tradition of his society, was strictly true almost without exception in all earlier ages, and still re-mains true as regards the mass of men. There has been a similar weakening as regards the influence of political tradition, but still it is roughly true that "every little boy and girl that's born into this world alive is either a little liberal or else a little conservative," and for the most part continues so throughout life.
  6. Cf. especially Professor J. G. Frazer's "Golden Bough."
  7. The process was going on rapidly in the islands of the Torres Straits at the time I spent some months there ten years ago. The natives had been converted to Christianity (nominally, at least) some twenty years before the date of my visit.
  8. "Religion of the Semites."
  9. "Die Nachahmung," Leipzig, 1903.

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