Introduction: “Lévy-Bruhl on gambling”

Frédéric Keck


After his most successful book, La mentalité primitive (), Lévy-Bruhl published in The Criterion, a journal then directed by poet T. S. Elliott, an article entitled “Primitive mentality and gambling” whose French version, “Mentalité primitive et jeu de hasard,” was published two years later in the Revue de Paris. In this introduction to the forum around the reedition of this text, I contextualize this and other works by this author not only within the intellectual currents of the day, but also within events in broader French society in the period leading up to WWI, and particularly the “Dreyfus Affair,” which directly affected him. My interpretation is the following: while Dreyfus was accused by the army with arguments whose rationality was borrowed from magic and witchcraft, and the dreyfusards had to use the rationality of the Enlightenment to defend him, Lévy-Bruhl and his fellow socialists had to « think like primitives » when they engaged in the war as in a gamble.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/709811