The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind
Dover edition, 2002
First published in 1895
Iii - Psychological results come from humans just being assembled.
Iv – Teachings of pure reason are very often contrary to those of practical reason.
From the impression on the eyes even geometric forms may appear different.
V – “The philosopher who studies social phenomena should bear in mind that side by side with their theoretical value they possess a practical value, and that this latter, so far as the evolution of civilization is concerned, is alone of importance.”
Visible social phenomena appear to be the result of an immense unconscious working.
Language too must have emerged from the ‘unconscious genius of crowds.’
THE ERA OF CROWDS
IX - The great upheavals are all preceded by modifications of peoples’ ideas.
The present epoch is one such moment.
Two bases are at the base of this:
1) The destruction of those religious, political, and social beliefs in which all the elements of our civilization are rooted.
2) The creation of entirely new conditions of existence and thought as a result of science and industry.
X – The era we are entering is the era of crowds.
Scarcely a century ago the rivalries of sovereigns shaped events.
Xi – The intro of universal suffrage did not start the transformation of power. It took place with the propagation of certain ideas.
They have learned that they have interests and power. They are syndicates before which authorities capitulate themselves.
Little adapted to reasoning, crowds are quick to act.
Xii – “There has been no bankruptcy of science.” “Science promised us truth, or at least a knowledge of such relations as our intelligence can seize: in never promised us peace or happiness.”
Xii – xiii “from the moment when the moral forces on which a civilization rested have lost their strength, its final dissolution is brought about by those unconscious and brutal crowds known, justifiably enough, as barbarians.”
There are both criminal and heroic crowds.
Xiv – Napoleon read crowds well.
Crowds don’t notice indirect taxes, they notice taxes on income, even if the former is 10 times higher.
Xv – Taine imperfectly understood the French Revolution because he never understood the genius of crowds.
BOOK ONE: THE MIND OF CROWDS
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF CROWDS –
PSYCHOLOGICAL LAW OF THEIR MENTAL UNITY
2 – By way of definition, a crowd is when all the persons gathered take one and the same direction.
This could be 6 people. Whereas 100s together by accident may not be a crowd.
3 – This uniformity of mind accounts for how good people could be ruthless in the context of crowds.
4 – Those in crowds think and feel much differently than they would individually.
He describes it as an ‘emergent property,’ saying it is like when chemical combinations happen they ‘form a new body possessing properties quite different from those of the bodies that served to form it.”
5 – “The conscious life of the mind is of small importance in comparison with its unconscious life.”
“From the intellectual POV an abyss may exist between a great mathematician and a bootmaker, but from the point of view of character the difference is most often slight or non-existent.”
6 – These unconscious forces are held in common and in common amount by members of a race.
A gathering of men of distinction and a group of imbeciles might not make different decisions. Both rely on average capabilities in crowds.
IS it average or new characteristics? New, he says. How?
1st, in crowds people get a feeling of invincibility.
2nd is contagion.
7 – 3rd is suggestibility.
It is like the hypnotized person in the hands of a hypnotizer.
8 – Only it is stronger as it is fueled by reciprocity. “by the mere fact that he forms part of an organized crowd, a man descends several rungs in the ladder of civilization.” He goes from cultivated individual to a creature acting on instinct.
THE SENTIMENTS AND MORALITY OF CROWDS
10 – People might think the crowd’s characteristics are those found in ‘inferior forms of evolution, in women, savages, and children’. He says this is just analogy – too far afield to look into here.
a) Impulsiveness, Mobility, and Irritability of Crowds
Crowds’ acts are far more under the influence of the spinal chord than the brain.
12 - Crowds don’t do premeditation: they do impulse of the moment. It will not let anything between it and its desire, like a savage.
13 – Race is a fundamental characteristic herein. “For instance, the difference between a Latin and an Anglo-Saxon crowd is striking.” Latin crowds (such as the French) are more easily incited to violence.
b) The Suggestibility and Credulity of Crowds
15 – The crowd thinks in images, and the image leads to another image, with little connection.
St. George is to have appeared on the walls of Jerusalem to all the crusaders. Such is always the mechanism of the collective hallucinations so frequent in history.
17 – While written reports say these things happen by the supernatural, they are the result of very simple tricks.
18 – First someone vaguely remembers something and then contagion follows, affirming this initial illusion. This becomes the nucleus of a crystallization.
19 – It will be remarked that these recognitions are mostly often made by women and children – that is precisely by the most impressionable persons.
20 – Treatises on logic rely on infallible individuals. The fallacies of the crowd show us that logic treatises need to be rewritten.
It clearly results from what precedes that works of history must be considered as works of pure imagination.
21 – Legends rise as crowds transform facts and especially in consequence of racial characteristics. Different races give rise to different sorts of legends.
The transformation can happen in just a few years. Napoleon became a philanthropist.
Due to crowds’ influence, ‘history is scarcely capable of preserving the memory of anything but myths.’
c) The Exaggeration of Ingenuousness of the Sentiments of Crowds.
22 – Like women, this simplicity and exaggeration in crowds, goes to extremes.
23 – Heroes qualities are always amplified by the crowd.
d) The Intolerance, Dictatorialness, and Conservatism of Crowds.
24 – Crowds accept or reject ideas as wholes. Truth or error. It is authoritative and intolerant of dissent. Dissent is meant with howls of fury.
Latin crowds find these in the greatest extreme. So much so that they ‘entirely destroyed that sentiment of the independence of the individual so powerful in the Anglo-Saxon” in them.
25 – Among the Latin races the Jacobins of every epoch, from those of the Inquisition downwards, have never been able to attain a different conception of liberty.”
“Crowds exhibit a docile respect for force, and are but lightly impressed by kindness, which for them is scarcely other than a form of weakness.”
26 – Crowd’s violence is just sporadic. They quickly get tired of disorder and return to servitude. Jacobins to Bonaparte. They have a fetish for respect of tradition.
e) The Morality of Crowds
Crowds are too impulsive and mobile for morality as commonly understood. They are heroic and ready to die for ideas they scarcely understand.
28 – Even scoundrels can be transformed into righteous folk of this kind by crowds. They can do low instincts and lofty morality, disinterestedness, resignation, and absolute devotion to chimerical ideals.
29 – But we should not complain, for if in certain cases, they had “reasoned and consulted their immediate interests, it is possible that no civilization would have grown up on our planet and humanity would have had no history..”
THE IDEAS, REASONING POWER, AND IMAGINATION OF CROWDS
a) The Ideas of Crowds
29 – Before ‘We showed that every civilization is the outcome of a small number of fundamental ideas that are very rarely renewed.”
30 - How do crowds get these ideas? Two ways: Accident, including infatuation for an individual or a doctrine. 2) or via “fundamental ideas,” to which the environment, the laws of heredity and public opinion give a very great stability – such are ‘metapolitics’ (mod term) such as religious beliefs of the past and social and democratic ideas of today.
Today’s fundamental ideas are tottering.
For ideas to take hold they must be absolute. And, they are not logical, they replace each other by succession, like magic lantern slides.
31 – Individuals have fundamental ideas too.
But ideas are accessible to crowds only after they’ve achieved a very simple shape. This is required for them to be popular.
32 - The merit of the idea is not important from a social point of view, it is unconscious, a sentiment. Demonstration has no impact on most minds. After, people repeat their arguments just as before.
33 – The philosophical ideas of the French Revolution took nearly a century to be implanted into the crowd’s mind. It takes time. Just as long is needed for them to be eradicated.
B) The Reasoning Power of Crowds
The ‘reasoning’ is based on the association of ideas. But with crowds there is only analogy or succession.
34 - Like a savage who eats a heart and thinks they’ll get courage. The crowd doesn’t do critical thinking.
c) The imagination of crowds
The marvelous and legendary side of events especially strike crowds.
For this reason theatrical presentations always work well on a crowd. Bread and spectaculars
36 – The power of conquerors and the strength of the state are based on the popular imagination. They are never moved by intelligence.
37 – Condensing big events and how they are presented also impacts them.
A RELIGIOUS SHAPE ASSUMED BY ALL THE CONVICTIONS OF CROWDS
We have seen that crowds tolerate neither discussion nor contradiction, and that crowds’ convictions tend to turn into actions.
We have also seen that crowds only entertain violent and extreme sentiments (adoration or antipathy).
These reactions are what he must term ‘religious.’ It includes blind submission and heroes.
39 – They result in intolerance and fanaticism. Napoleon was a god for 15 years, then Satan.
The founders of new creeds must inspire crowds with fanatical sentiments. Rome was not maintained by force, but by religious admiration.
40 – There were alters in honor of the emperor in the smallest townships. Today we have statues and portraits instead of alters.
41 – The worship of revolutionary philosophers is religion transformed. Taine missed all this, as he is just a ‘naturalist’.
42 – When people tell us that the St. Bartholomew massacre was the work of a king, they show themselves ignorant of the psychology of crowds and sovereigns.
BOOK II: THE OPINIONS AND BELIEFS OF CROWDS
REMOTE FACTORS OF THE OPINIONS AND BELIEFS OF CROWDS
The factors that move crowds are a) remote and b) immediate.
Remote ones render crowds capable of adopting convictions. They lay the groundwork.
The immediate ones allow the idea to take shape and set t loose with all its consequences. It is the ‘trigger’ so to speak. They set loose the consequences.
This happens in all great historical events.
Among remote factors are race traditions, time, institutions and education.
It is “the result of the laws of heredity, such power that its beliefs, institutions, and arts, - in a word, all the elements of its civilization – are merely the outward expression of its genius.”
“The power of the race is such that no element can pass from one people to another without undergoing the most profound transformations.
Thus, crowds of different countries offer very considerable differences of beliefs and conducts.
In the footnotes he says that in his book, “The Psychological Laws of the Evolution of Peoples” that “neither language, religion, arts, or, in a word, any element of civilization can pass, intact, from one people to another.”
Reason cannot recast a people / society from one line to another. “A people is an organism created by the past, and , like other organisms, it can only be modified by slow hereditary accumulations.”
46 - This is not to be regretted, without this a nations genius or civilization would be possible.
Civilization can’t happen without tradition and progress can’t happen without the destruction of these traditions. The difficulty is to find the right equilibrium.
Crowds either go for extreme conservation or violence. But most of this is illusion as people go back to their original worship.
48 - The time must be ripe for an idea. These ideas need time to germinate. Such concepts are “daughters of the past and the mothers of the future, but throughout slaves of time.”
No form of government was founded in a day, they need centuries.
d) Political and Social Institutions.
The idea that governments and institutions can remedy society is widely accepted.
49 – But, institutions and governments are the product of the race. They are not the creators of an epoch, but are created by it. People are governed as their character determines that they shall be governed.
See for example, that England, the most democratic country on earth has a monarchy and despotism is rampant in Spanish – American republics, despite their republican constitutions.
50 – It is nice to have philosophical dissertations on the advantages and disadvantages of centralization, but it doesn’t take hold forever until it takes hold widely.
51 – Look at the economic disparities between N and S America. All institutions which are not intimately modeled on that character merely represent a borrowed garment, a transitory disguise.
(the footnote says the different races in France are as yet imperfectly blended).
E) Instruction and Education
54 – The State which
manufactures via textbooks persons with diplomas, can employ only a small
amount and leaves the others unemployed.
And, knowledge acquired with no use leads a man to revolt.
55 – We need to replace textbook education with industrial education that can return men to the field.
Classical education seems great, but success comes from judgment, experience, initiative and character.
In footnotes we get told of the English error of educating people in ways that will lead to rebellion as the first effect of their instruction is to lower their morality.
56 – 7 or 8 years of being taken away from real life removes an indispensible aid in assimilation.
57 – With Anglo-Saxons we don’t get book learning, but object lessons. The engineer is trained in a workshop.
58 – That’s why at 25 an American is still capable of spontaneous enterprise. He is not only a machine, but a motor.
59 – 60 This is not a digression. The instruction given youth is the future and we have bred an “army of the discontented ready to obey all the suggestions of utopians and rhetoriticians.”
THE IMMEDIATE FACTORS OF THE OPINIONS OF CROWDS
What follows is a description of what stirs immediate impressions in crowds:
1) Images, words, and formulas.
Crowds are particularly susceptible to images.
The power of words are bound up with the images they evoke, but they have power independent of their images, even when ill-defined. Words like “democracy, socialism, equality, liberty” and such. A magical power is attached to these short syllables.
62 – These words are uttered with extreme solemnity in
front of crowds.
The words change slowly, but the images associated with them change quickly. He believes clear translation of distant languages is impossible.
63 – What did a word like ‘fatherland’ signify to an Athenian or Spartan unless it was a cult of Athens or Sparta.
64 – What is required is to know the meaning of a word at a particular moment in time.
Statesmen must baptize indifferent words things people can’t endure under their old names. Liberty and Fraternity means tyranny.
65 – Democracy has much different meaning now.
It is to illusions that crowds have raised temples, statues and alters.
67 – The philosophers of the last century devoted
themselves with fervour to the destruction of the
illusions on which our forefathers lived for centuries.
Philosophy has been unable as of yet to offer the masses any ideal that can charm them. But, as they need illusions, they moth-like, seek out rhetoriticians who give them what they want. Not truth, but error has always been the chief factor in the evolution of nations.
The masses have never thirsted after truth, preferring to deify error.
Experience is the only effective process by which a truth may be established in the mind of the masses.
68 – The experience of one generation is useless for
the next. History only serves to
show what experiences need to be repeated, implanted in the mind of the masses.
This is the era of experiments, especially the French Revolution. Which showed that society is not to be refashioned from the top down. That is all.
70 - This
is a negative example. Reason does
not cause immediate impact. Look at religion’s hold.
71 – It seems at times as if nations were as determined as acorns, but such secret forces. These are the evolution of a people. If we cannot figure this out, then all becomes a series of improbable chances.
THE LEADERS OF CROWDS AND THEIR MEANS OF PERSUASION
As soon as a number of living beings get together they place
themselves instinctively under the authority of a chief.
73 – The leaders are recruited from the ranks of the morbidly nervous bordering on madness.
Great leaders are motivated by faith.
74 – The great masses of men do not possess any clear and reasoned ideas on any subject outside their own specialty.
77 – The means of Action of the Leaders: Affirmation, Repetition, Contagion. Affirmation has no real influence unless it is constantly repeated. Repetition makes it like a demonstrated truth.
78 – When we hear it said many times, we imagine we have heard it in many quarters.
“Ideas, sentiments, emotions, and beliefs possess in crowds a contagious power as intense as that of microbes.”
79 – “Man, like animals, has a natural tendency to imitation. Imitation is a necessity for him, provided always that the imitation is quite easy.”
Fashion: “For this reason men who are too superior to their epoch are generally without influence upon it.” That is why Europeans have no influence on Eastern folk.
80 – Opinions work not only on opinions, but upon feeling. The opinions and beliefs of crowds are specially propagated by contagion, but never by reasoning. And every opinion adopted by the populace always ends up implanting itself with great vigor in the highest social strata. This is funny as the ideas invariably started with an elite.
81 – prestige
Ideas propagated by contagion get prestige. Neither Gods, kings, nor women have reigned without it.
There are two kinds of prestige: acquired and personal.
Acquired comes from name, fortune and reputation.
Personal is particular to the individual.
82 – in footnote: The influence of titles, decorations
and uniforms on crowds is to be traced in all countries. Even
those in which people prize independence.
83 – Great leaders like Buddha, Jesus and Mahomet, Joan of Arc and Napoleon have had great personal prestige.
84 – Napoleon fascinated all who came into contact with him.
88 – Some painters have prestige as well.
89 – Prestige lost by a want of success disappears quickly.
LIMITATIONS OF THE VARIABILITY OF THE BELIEFS AND OPINIONS OF CROWDS
90 – The opinions and beliefs of crowds are of two kinds: permanent and transitory – which ever age sees rise and fall - such as theories of literature and the arts.
91 – It is easy to see when an idea is doomed. That is when its value is called into question. Even permanent beliefs are little more than fictions and can only survive on the basis of not being examined.
“As yet a nationhas never been
able to change its beliefs without being condemned at the same time to
transform all the elements of its civilization.”
“General beliefs are indispensible as . . . They alone are capable of inspiring faith and creating a sense of duty.”
Nations have always understood the importance of said beliefs. “Plainly it is not for nothing that nations have always displayed intolerance in the defense of their opinions.”
92 – European scientific geniuses like Newton and Galileo never questioned many religious dogmas.
93 – Absurdity of beliefs has never been an obstacle to their triumph.
94 – Romans did not become so because they were under historical suggestion. The task of philosophers is to find the dynamics sustaining beliefs.
95 – Changeable opinions of crowds are greater in number than ever. That is because old ideas are losing hold and crowds are gaining strength while the newspaper press is taking root.
96 – This has led to something new under the sun – the powerlessness of governments to direct opinion. A curious symptom of the time is to see popes and kinds being consented to be interviewed for the judgment of the people in popular press.
97 – The press and government closely watch opinion, but there is a total absence of any sort of direction of opinion in history and science.
98 – At the present day, as the result of discussion and analysis, all opinions are losing their prestige . . . and few survive capable of arousing our enthusiasm.”
“A civilization, when the moment has come for crowds to acquire a high hand over it, is at the mercy of too many chances to endure for long. Could anything postpone for a while the hour of its ruin, it would be precisely the extreme instability of the opinions of crowds and their growing indifference with respect to all general beliefs.”
BOOK III: THE CLASSIFICATION AND DESCRIPTION OF THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF CROWDS
THE CLASSIFICATION OF CROWDS
“Our starting point will be the simple multitude. It’s most inferior form is met with when the multitude is composed of individuals belonging to different races. In this case its only common bond of union is the will, more or less respected, of the chief.”
This is like barbarians.
101 – At a higher level are multitudes who under certain influences have acquitted common characteristics, and have ended by forming a single race. They are crowds but can also be ruled by racial characteristics.
These can be further melded into organized or psychological crowds.
So, finally, we get:
Heterogeneous crowds: 1. Anonymous or 2. crowds not anonymous: juries, parliamentary assemblies and
Homogeneous crowds: 1. Sects (political and religious). 2. Castes (military, priestly, working) or 3. Economic classes.
This work has concerned heterogeneous crowds. These street crowds have different classes, etc.
102 – Race is important here. A crowd of random Chinamen will differ from random Frenchmen in thinking and feeling.
Socialist attempts to get different races into a single congress has always been disastrous.
Latins always lean towards centralization and dictatorship. The English or American crowd sets no store on the State. French crowds look for equality.
The inferior (bad) characteristics of the crowd are less accentuated when the race is strong.
2. Homogeneous Crowds: The study of such crowds is reserved for another volume.
CROWDS TERMED CRIMINAL CROWDS
This doesn’t mean crowds composed of criminals, but crowds that do criminal acts. We saw this in action at the Bastille.
105 – Done by the crowd it is a crime legally, but not psychologically. The crowd is open to suggestions, credulous, prone to exaggerated sentiments and such.
106 – Judge and executioner, they do not consider themselves criminal. But they dance and kill aristocrats.
107 – And they have their scruples. They refuse to take jewels and such from their victims, but hand them over to the committee.
109 – The education of the jury does not matter, the verdicts remain the same.
110 – Of course they are led by sentiment. And they are indulgent of breeches of the law if the motive is passion.
111 – The orator does not need to address all the jury, but just its leaders.
114 – It is always better for the defendant to see a magistrate than a jury.
115 – It is of primary importance that the candidate should have prestige. And he should make fantastic promises. If appealing to working men, it is not possible to go too far in stigmatizing employers.
116 – You must say that the rival candidate is a scoundrel and been convicted of several crimes.
Radicals have figured out that a centralized republic is a Monarchy in disguise.
117 – People start to say Long live the Republic. It is the same.
119 – How can an elector form an opinion? This supposes a naēve view of hmans as thinkers. Crowds have opinions that have been imposed upon them, but never boast reasoned opinions.
120 – This doesn’t mean Le Bon is against universal suffrage. Crowds make bad decisions.
121 – But so do ‘select’ crowds.
122 – In each country the average opinions of those elected represent the genius of the race, and they will not be found to alter sensibly from one generation to another. So we are back to the fundamental bedrock of race.
Parliaments are heterogeneous crowds that are not anonymous.
It expresses the idea that a large gathering of men is more competent than individuals.
124 – They have simplicity in their opinions – especially among Latin peoples. All crowds exaggerate the worth of their principles and push them to extreme consequence.
125 – All members have local opinions that cannot be shaken. But on general questions there is no fixity of opinion. And as general questions are more predominant, indecision is the rule.
And, it is the leaders who are masters, as with all crowds.
126 – The necessity of leaders is obvious as men forming crowds cannot do without a master.
127 – In consequence the leader with sufficient prestige wields almost absolute power.
Yet a leader is seldom in advance of public opinion; almost always all he does is follow it and espouse all its errors. To lead it he should be aware of the fascinating influence of words and images.
128 - He must be full of energetic affirmations unburdened by proofs.
129 – On occasion, the leader may be intelligent and educated. But these qualities, as a rule, do him more harm than good. Robespierre’s speeches were frequently incoherent.
130 – If he only has good arguments, he may obtain a hearing, but he will not lead.
131 – When parliamentary assemblies reach a certain pitch of excitement, they become identical with ordinary heterogeneous crowds – as the French Revolution shows.
The decisions they took were not considered a single day before they were taken, they went from crisis to crisis.
132 – They approved measures which they held in horror.
133 – The work of crowds is always inferior to that of isolated individuals.
134 – Moreover they present two serious dangers: 1) waste and 2) more seriously, they progressively steal the liberty of the individual.
136 – Regulations grow in number.
137 – And they increase as the indifference and helplessness of the individual increases. The State becomes an all – powerful God.
If we look at their main lines of genesis what do we see?
At the dawn of civilization a swarm of men of various origin were brought together by the chances of migrations, invasions, and conquests: men of different blood and languages.
138 – They are barbarians and nothing is stable with them. At length they blend and we get more fixity; a people.
At this stage a new civilization has come. The race will acquire the qualities needed to give it splendor.
After this period of creation the time of destruction begins, from which neither men nor gods can escape.
This hour is always marked by the
weakening of the ideal that was the mainstay of the race.
With the progressive perishing of its ideal the race loses more and more qualities that lent it cohesion, unity and strength.
139 - The collective egoism of the race is replaced by an excessive egoism of the individual, accompanied with less character and a weakening capacity for action.
It becomes just an conglomerate of individuals sans cohesion, artificially held together for a time by its traditions and institutions. Self government goes and the state takes more and more power. It becomes a crowd again – it will vanish at the first storm.
“To pass in pursuit of an ideal from the barbarous to the civilized state, and then, when this ideal has lost its virtue, to decline and die, such is the cycle of the life of a people.”