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From the dawn of civilisation onwards crowds have always
undergone the influence of illusions. It is to the creators of
illusions that they have raised more temples, statues, and altars
than to any other class of men. Whether it be the religious
illusions of the past or the philosophic and social illusions of
the present, these formidable sovereign powers are always found
at the head of all the civilisations that have successively
flourished on our planet. It is in their name that were built
the temples of Chaldea and Egypt and the religious edifices of
the Middle Ages, and that a vast upheaval shook the whole of
Europe a century ago, and there is not one of our political,
artistic, or social conceptions that is free from their powerful
impress. Occasionally, at the cost of terrible disturbances, man
overthrows them, but he seems condemned to always set them up
again. Without them he would never have emerged from his
primitive barbarian state, and without them again he would soon
return to it. Doubtless they are futile shadows; but these
children of our dreams have forced the nations to create whatever
the arts may boast of splendour or civilisation of greatness.

"If one destroyed in museums and libraries, if one hurled down on
the flagstones before the churches all the works and all the
monuments of art that religions have inspired, what would remain
of the great dreams of humanity? To give to men that portion of
hope and illusion without which they cannot live, such is the
reason for the existence of gods, heroes, and poets. During
fifty years science appeared to undertake this task. But science
has been compromised in hearts hungering after the ideal, because
it does not dare to be lavish enough of promises, because it
cannot lie."[14]

The philosophers of the last century devoted themselves with
fervour to the destruction of the religious, political, and
social illusions on which our forefathers had lived for a long
tale of centuries. By destroying them they have dried up the
springs of hope and resignation. Behind the immolated chimeras
they came face to face with the blind and silent forces of
nature, which are inexorable to weakness and ignore pity.

Notwithstanding all its progress, philosophy has been unable as
yet to offer the masses any ideal that can charm them; but, as
they must have their illusions at all cost, they turn
instinctively, as the insect seeks the light, to the rhetoricians
who accord them what they want. Not truth, but error has always
been the chief factor in the evolution of nations, and the reason
why socialism is so powerful to-day is that it constitutes the
last illusion that is still vital. In spite of all scientific
demonstrations it continues on the increase. Its principal
strength lies in the fact that it is championed by minds
sufficiently ignorant of things as they are in reality to venture
boldly to promise mankind happiness. The social illusion reigns
to-day upon all the heaped-up ruins of the past, and to it
belongs the future. The masses have never thirsted after truth.
They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste,
preferring to deify error, if error seduce them. Whoever can
supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever
attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.

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