This 19th century French sociologist is worth reading, as he is somehow the way station between Pascal and Rene Girard, with an influence on Bruno Latour as well. Tarde focuses on how copying helps to explain social order and also how it drives innovation. For Tarde, copying, innovation, and ethos are all part of an integrated vision. He covers polarization and globalization as well and at times it feels like he has spent time on Twitter.
It is hard to pull his sentences out of their broader context but here is one:
We have seen that the true, basic sources of power are propagated discoveries or inventions.
The role of impulse and chance in the direction of inventive activity will cease to amaze us if we recall that such genius almost always begins in the service of a game or is dependent on a religious idea or superstition.
…contrary to the normal state of affairs, images in the inventor’s hallucinatory reverie tend to become strong states while sensations become weak states.
…When the self is absorbed in a goal for a long time, it is rare that the sub-self, incorrectly called the unconscious, does not participate in this obsession, conspiring with our consciousness and collaborating in our mental effort. This conspiracy, this collaboration whose service is faithful yet hidden, is inspiration…
He argues that societies in their uninventive phase are also largely uncritical, and for that reason. (Doesn’t that sound like a point from a Peter Thiel talk?)
He explicitly considers the possibility that the rate of scientific innovation may decline, in part because the austere and moral mentality of semi-rural family life, which is most favorable for creativity in his view, may be replaced by the whirlpool of distractions associated with the urban lifestyles of the modern age.
Attentive crowds are those who crowd around the pulpit of a preacher or lecturer, a lectern, a platform, or in front of the stage where a moving drama is being performed. Their attention — and inattention — is always stronger and more constant than would be that of the individual in the group if he were alone.
Tarde argues that desires are intrinsically heterogeneous, and economics makes the mistake of reducing them to a near-tautologous “desire for wealth.”
Not all of it hangs together, but I would rather read Tarde than Durkheim or Comte, the other two renowned French sociologists of the 19th century.