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 hav

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.