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´╗┐Title: The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind
Author: Le Bon, Gustave
Language: English
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1. The Female Offender.  By Professor LOMBROSO.
   Edited, with Introduction, by W. DOUGLAS MORRISON.
2. Criminal Sociology.  By Professor ENRICO FERRI.
3. Juvenile Offender.  By W. DOUGLAS MORRISON.


BY GUSTAVE LE BON {b. May 7, 1841--d. Dec 13, 1931}

The following work is devoted to an account of the
characteristics of crowds.

The whole of the common characteristics with which heredity
endows the individuals of a race constitute the genius of the
race.  When, however, a certain number of these individuals are
gathered together in a crowd for purposes of action, observation
proves that, from the mere fact of their being assembled, there
result certain new psychological characteristics, which are added
to the racial characteristics and differ from them at times to a
very considerable degree.

Organised crowds have always played an important part in the life
of peoples, but this part has never been of such moment as at
present.  The substitution of the unconscious action of crowds
for the conscious activity of individuals is one of the principal
characteristics of the present age.

I have endeavoured to examine the difficult problem presented by
crowds in a purely scientific manner--that is, by making an
effort to proceed with method, and without being influenced by
opinions, theories, and doctrines.  This, I believe, is the only
mode of arriving at the discovery of some few particles of truth,
especially when dealing, as is the case here, with a question
that is the subject of impassioned controversy.  A man of science
bent on verifying a phenomenon is not called upon to concern
himself with the interests his verifications may hurt.  In a
recent publication an eminent thinker, M. Goblet d'Alviela, made
the remark that, belonging to none of the contemporary schools, I
am occasionally found in opposition of sundry of the conclusions
of all of them.  I hope this new work will merit a similar
observation.  To belong to a school is necessarily to espouse its
prejudices and preconceived opinions.

Still I should explain to the reader why he will find me draw
conclusions from my investigations which it might be thought at
first sight they do not bear; why, for instance, after noting the
extreme mental inferiority of crowds, picked assemblies included,
I yet affirm it would be dangerous to meddle with their
organisation, notwithstanding this inferiority.

The reason is, that the most attentive observation of the facts
of history has invariably demonstrated to me that social
organisms being every whit as complicated as those of all beings,
it is in no wise in our power to force them to undergo on a
sudden far-reaching transformations.  Nature has recourse at
times to radical measures, but never after our fashion, which
explains how it is that nothing is more fatal to a people than
the mania for great reforms, however excellent these reforms may
appear theoretically.  They would only be useful were it possible
to change instantaneously the genius of nations.  This power,
however, is only possessed by time.  Men are ruled by ideas,
sentiments, and customs--matters which are of the essence of
ourselves.  Institutions and laws are the outward manifestation
of our character, the expression of its needs.  Being its
outcome, institutions and laws cannot change this character.

The study of social phenomena cannot be separated from that of
the peoples among whom they have come into existence.  From the
philosophic point of view these phenomena may have an absolute
value; in practice they have only a relative value.

It is necessary, in consequence, when studying a social
phenomenon, to consider it successively under two very different
aspects.  It will then be seen that the teachings of pure reason
are very often contrary to those of practical reason.  There are
scarcely any data, even physical, to which this distinction is
not applicable.  From the point of view of absolute truth a cube
or a circle are invariable geometrical figures, rigorously
defined by certain formulas.  From the point of view of the
impression they make on our eye these geometrical figures may
assume very varied shapes.  By perspective the cube may be
transformed into a pyramid or a square, the circle into an
ellipse or a straight line.  Moreover, the consideration of these
fictitious shapes is far more important than that of the real
shapes, for it is they and they alone that we see and that can be
reproduced by photography or in pictures.  In certain cases there
is more truth in the unreal than in the real.  To present objects
with their exact geometrical forms would be to distort nature and
render it unrecognisable.  If we imagine a world whose
inhabitants could only copy or photograph objects, but were
unable to touch them, it would be very difficult for such persons
to attain to an exact idea of their form.  Moreover, the
knowledge of this form, accessible only to a small number of
learned men, would present but a very minor interest.

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
civilisation is concerned, is alone of importance.  The
recognition of this fact should render him very circumspect with
regard to the conclusions that logic would seem at first to
enforce upon him.

There are other motives that dictate to him a like reserve.  The
complexity of social facts is such, that it is impossible to
grasp them as a whole and to foresee the effects of their
reciprocal influence.  It seems, too, that behind the visible
facts are hidden at times thousands of invisible causes.  Visible
social phenomena appear to be the result of an immense,
unconscious working, that as a rule is beyond the reach of our
analysis.  Perceptible phenomena may be compared to the waves,
which are the expression on the surface of the ocean of
deep-lying disturbances of which we know nothing.  So far as the
majority of their acts are considered, crowds display a
singularly inferior mentality; yet there are other acts in which
they appear to be guided by those mysterious forces which the
ancients denominated destiny, nature, or providence, which we
call the voices of the dead, and whose power it is impossible to
overlook, although we ignore their essence.  It would seem, at
times, as if there were latent forces in the inner being of
nations which serve to guide them.  What, for instance, can be
more complicated, more logical, more marvellous than a language?
Yet whence can this admirably organised production have arisen,
except it be the outcome of the unconscious genius of crowds?
The most learned academics, the most esteemed grammarians can do
no more than note down the laws that govern languages; they would
be utterly incapable of creating them.  Even with respect to the
ideas of great men are we certain that they are exclusively the
offspring of their brains?  No doubt such ideas are always
created by solitary minds, but is it not the genius of crowds
that has furnished the thousands of grains of dust forming the
soil in which they have sprung up?

Crowds, doubtless, are always unconscious, but this very
unconsciousness is perhaps one of the secrets of their strength.
In the natural world beings exclusively governed by instinct
accomplish acts whose marvellous complexity astounds us.  Reason
is an attribute of humanity of too recent date and still too
imperfect to reveal to us the laws of the unconscious, and still
more to take its place.  The part played by the unconscious in
all our acts is immense, and that played by reason very small.
The unconscious acts like a force still unknown.

If we wish, then, to remain within the narrow but safe limits
within which science can attain to knowledge, and not to wander
in the domain of vague conjecture and vain hypothesis, all we
must do is simply to take note of such phenomena as are
accessible to us, and confine ourselves to their consideration.
Every conclusion drawn from our observation is, as a rule,
premature, for behind the phenomena which we see clearly are
other phenomena that we see indistinctly, and perhaps behind
these latter, yet others which we do not see at all.




















The evolution of the present age--The great changes in
civilisation are the consequence of changes in National
thought--Modern belief in the power of crowds--It transforms the
traditional policy of the European states--How the rise of the
popular classes comes about, and the manner in which they
exercise their power--The necessary consequences of the power of
the crowd--Crowds unable to play a part other than
destructive--The dissolution of worn-out civilisations is the
work of the crowd--General ignorance of the psychology of crowds--
Importance of the study of crowds for legislators and statesmen.

The great upheavals which precede changes of civilisations such
as the fall of the Roman Empire and the foundation of the Arabian
Empire, seem at first sight determined more especially by
political transformations, foreign invasion, or the overthrow of
dynasties.  But a more attentive study of these events shows that
behind their apparent causes the real cause is generally seen to
be a profound modification in the ideas of the peoples.  The true
historical upheavals are not those which astonish us by their
grandeur and violence.  The only important changes whence the
renewal of civilisations results, affect ideas, conceptions, and
beliefs.  The memorable events of history are the visible effects
of the invisible changes of human thought.  The reason these
great events are so rare is that there is nothing so stable in a
race as the inherited groundwork of its thoughts.

The present epoch is one of these critical moments in which the
thought of mankind is undergoing a process of transformation.

Two fundamental factors are at the base of this transformation.
The first is the destruction of those religious, political, and
social beliefs in which all the elements of our civilisation are
rooted.  The second is the creation of entirely new conditions of
existence and thought as the result of modern scientific and
industrial discoveries.

The ideas of the past, although half destroyed, being still very
powerful, and the ideas which are to replace them being still in
process of formation, the modern age represents a period of
transition and anarchy.

It is not easy to say as yet what will one day be evolved from
this necessarily somewhat chaotic period.  What will be the
fundamental ideas on which the societies that are to succeed our
own will be built up?  We do not at present know.  Still it is
already clear that on whatever lines the societies of the future
are organised, they will have to count with a new power, with the
last surviving sovereign force of modern times, the power of
crowds.  On the ruins of so many ideas formerly considered beyond
discussion, and to-day decayed or decaying, of so many sources of
authority that successive revolutions have destroyed, this power,
which alone has arisen in their stead, seems soon destined to
absorb the others.  While all our ancient beliefs are tottering
and disappearing, while the old pillars of society are giving way
one by one, the power of the crowd is the only force that nothing
menaces, and of which the prestige is continually on the
increase.  The age we are about to enter will in truth be the ERA

Scarcely a century ago the traditional policy of European states
and the rivalries of sovereigns were the principal factors that
shaped events.  The opinion of the masses scarcely counted, and
most frequently indeed did not count at all.  To-day it is the
traditions which used to obtain in politics, and the individual
tendencies and rivalries of rulers which do not count; while, on
the contrary, the voice of the masses has become preponderant.
It is this voice that dictates their conduct to kings, whose
endeavour is to take note of its utterances.  The destinies of
nations are elaborated at present in the heart of the masses, and
no longer in the councils of princes.

The entry of the popular classes into political life--that is to
say, in reality, their progressive transformation into governing
classes--is one of the most striking characteristics of our epoch
of transition.  The introduction of universal suffrage, which
exercised for a long time but little influence, is not, as might
be thought, the distinguishing feature of this transference of
political power.  The progressive growth of the power of the
masses took place at first by the propagation of certain ideas,
which have slowly implanted themselves in men's minds, and
afterwards by the gradual association of individuals bent on
bringing about the realisation of theoretical conceptions.  It is
by association that crowds have come to procure ideas with
respect to their interests which are very clearly defined if not
particularly just, and have arrived at a consciousness of their
strength.  The masses are founding syndicates before which the
authorities capitulate one after the other; they are also
founding labour unions, which in spite of all economic laws tend
to regulate the conditions of labour and wages.  They return to
assemblies in which the Government is vested, representatives
utterly lacking initiative and independence, and reduced most
often to nothing else than the spokesmen of the committees that
have chosen them.

To-day the claims of the masses are becoming more and more
sharply defined, and amount to nothing less than a determination
to utterly destroy society as it now exists, with a view to
making it hark back to that primitive communism which was the
normal condition of all human groups before the dawn of
civilisation.  Limitations of the hours of labour, the
nationalisation of mines, railways, factories, and the soil, the
equal distribution of all products, the elimination of all the
upper classes for the benefit of the popular classes, &c., such
are these claims.

Little adapted to reasoning, crowds, on the contrary, are quick
to act.  As the result of their present organisation their
strength has become immense.  The dogmas whose birth we are
witnessing will soon have the force of the old dogmas; that is to
say, the tyrannical and sovereign force of being above
discussion.  The divine right of the masses is about to replace
the divine right of kings.

The writers who enjoy the favour of our middle classes, those who
best represent their rather narrow ideas, their somewhat
prescribed views, their rather superficial scepticism, and their
at times somewhat excessive egoism, display profound alarm at
this new power which they see growing; and to combat the disorder
in men's minds they are addressing despairing appeals to those
moral forces of the Church for which they formerly professed so
much disdain.  They talk to us of the bankruptcy of science, go
back in penitence to Rome, and remind us of the teachings of
revealed truth.  These new converts forget that it is too late.
Had they been really touched by grace, a like operation could not
have the same influence on minds less concerned with the
preoccupations which beset these recent adherents to religion.
The masses repudiate to-day the gods which their admonishers
repudiated yesterday and helped to destroy.  There is no power,
Divine or human, that can oblige a stream to flow back to its

There has been no bankruptcy of science, and science has had no
share in the present intellectual anarchy, nor in the making of
the new power which is springing up in the midst of this anarchy.
Science promised us truth, or at least a knowledge of such
relations as our intelligence can seize: it never promised us
peace or happiness.  Sovereignly indifferent to our feelings, it
is deaf to our lamentations.  It is for us to endeavour to live
with science, since nothing can bring back the illusions it has

Universal symptoms, visible in all nations, show us the rapid
growth of the power of crowds, and do not admit of our supposing
that it is destined to cease growing at an early date.  Whatever
fate it may reserve for us, we shall have to submit to it.  All
reasoning against it is a mere vain war of words.  Certainly it
is possible that the advent to power of the masses marks one of
the last stages of Western civilisation, a complete return to
those periods of confused anarchy which seem always destined to
precede the birth of every new society.  But may this result be

Up to now these thoroughgoing destructions of a worn-out
civilisation have constituted the most obvious task of the
masses.  It is not indeed to-day merely that this can be traced.
History tells us, that from the moment when the moral forces on
which a civilisation rested have lost their strength, its final
dissolution is brought about by those unconscious and brutal
crowds known, justifiably enough, as barbarians.  Civilisations
as yet have only been created and directed by a small
intellectual aristocracy, never by crowds.  Crowds are only
powerful for destruction.  Their rule is always tantamount to a
barbarian phase.  A civilisation involves fixed rules,
discipline, a passing from the instinctive to the rational state,
forethought for the future, an elevated degree of culture--all of
them conditions that crowds, left to themselves, have invariably
shown themselves incapable of realising.  In consequence of the
purely destructive nature of their power crowds act like those
microbes which hasten the dissolution of enfeebled or dead
bodies.  When the structure of a civilisation is rotten, it is
always the masses that bring about its downfall.  It is at such a
juncture that their chief mission is plainly visible, and that
for a while the philosophy of number seems the only philosophy of

Is the same fate in store for our civilisation?  There is ground
to fear that this is the case, but we are not as yet in a
position to be certain of it.

However this may be, we are bound to resign ourselves to the
reign of the masses, since want of foresight has in succession
overthrown all the barriers that might have kept the crowd in

We have a very slight knowledge of these crowds which are
beginning to be the object of so much discussion.  Professional
students of psychology, having lived far from them, have always
ignored them, and when, as of late, they have turned their
attention in this direction it has only been to consider the
crimes crowds are capable of committing.  Without a doubt
criminal crowds exist, but virtuous and heroic crowds, and crowds
of many other kinds, are also to be met with.  The crimes of
crowds only constitute a particular phase of their psychology.
The mental constitution of crowds is not to be learnt merely by a
study of their crimes, any more than that of an individual by a
mere description of his vices.

However, in point of fact, all the world's masters, all the
founders of religions or empires, the apostles of all beliefs,
eminent statesmen, and, in a more modest sphere, the mere chiefs
of small groups of men have always been unconscious
psychologists, possessed of an instinctive and often very sure
knowledge of the character of crowds, and it is their accurate
knowledge of this character that has enabled them to so easily
establish their mastery.  Napoleon had a marvellous insight into
the psychology of the masses of the country over which he
reigned, but he, at times, completely misunderstood the
psychology of crowds belonging to other races;[1] and it is
because he thus misunderstood it that he engaged in Spain, and
notably in Russia, in conflicts in which his power received blows
which were destined within a brief space of time to ruin it.  A
knowledge of the psychology of crowds is to-day the last resource
of the statesman who wishes not to govern them--that is becoming
a very difficult matter--but at any rate not to be too much
governed by them.

[1] His most subtle advisers, moreover, did not understand this
psychology any better.  Talleyrand wrote him that "Spain would
receive his soldiers as liberators."  It received them as beasts
of prey.  A psychologist acquainted with the hereditary instincts
of the Spanish race would have easily foreseen this reception.

It is only by obtaining some sort of insight into the psychology
of crowds that it can be understood how slight is the action upon
them of laws and institutions, how powerless they are to hold any
opinions other than those which are imposed upon them, and that
it is not with rules based on theories of pure equity that they
are to be led, but by seeking what produces an impression on them
and what seduces them.  For instance, should a legislator,
wishing to impose a new tax, choose that which would be
theoretically the most just?  By no means.  In practice the most
unjust may be the best for the masses.  Should it at the same
time be the least obvious, and apparently the least burdensome,
it will be the most easily tolerated.  It is for this reason that
an indirect tax, however exorbitant it be, will always be
accepted by the crowd, because, being paid daily in fractions of
a farthing on objects of consumption, it will not interfere with
the habits of the crowd, and will pass unperceived.  Replace it
by a proportional tax on wages or income of any other kind, to be
paid in a lump sum, and were this new imposition theoretically
ten times less burdensome than the other, it would give rise to
unanimous protest.  This arises from the fact that a sum
relatively high, which will appear immense, and will in
consequence strike the imagination, has been substituted for the
unperceived fractions of a farthing.  The new tax would only
appear light had it been saved farthing by farthing, but this
economic proceeding involves an amount of foresight of which the
masses are incapable.

The example which precedes is of the simplest.  Its appositeness
will be easily perceived.  It did not escape the attention of
such a psychologist as Napoleon, but our modern legislators,
ignorant as they are of the characteristics of a crowd, are
unable to appreciate it.  Experience has not taught them as yet
to a sufficient degree that men never shape their conduct upon
the teaching of pure reason.

Many other practical applications might be made of the psychology
of crowds.  A knowledge of this science throws the most vivid
light on a great number of historical and economic phenomena
totally incomprehensible without it.  I shall have occasion to
show that the reason why the most remarkable of modern
historians, Taine, has at times so imperfectly understood the
events of the great French Revolution is, that it never occurred
to him to study the genius of crowds.  He took as his guide in
the study of this complicated period the descriptive method
resorted to by naturalists; but the moral forces are almost
absent in the case of the phenomena which naturalists have to
study.  Yet it is precisely these forces that constitute the true
mainsprings of history.

In consequence, merely looked at from its practical side, the
study of the psychology of crowds deserved to be attempted.  Were
its interest that resulting from pure curiosity only, it would
still merit attention.  It is as interesting to decipher the
motives of the actions of men as to determine the characteristics
of a mineral or a plant.  Our study of the genius of crowds can
merely be a brief synthesis, a simple summary of our
investigations.  Nothing more must be demanded of it than a few
suggestive views.  Others will work the ground more thoroughly.
To-day we only touch the surface of a still almost virgin soil.





What constitutes a crowd from the psychological point of view--A
numerically strong agglomeration of individuals does not suffice
to form a crowd--Special characteristics of psychological
crowds--The turning in a fixed direction of the ideas and
sentiments of individuals composing such a crowd, and the
disappearance of their personality--The crowd is always dominated
by considerations of which it is unconscious--The disappearance
of brain activity and the predominance of medullar activity--The
lowering of the intelligence and the complete transformation of
the sentiments--The transformed sentiments may be better or worse
than those of the individuals of which the crowd is composed--A
crowd is as easily heroic as criminal.

In its ordinary sense the word "crowd" means a gathering of
individuals of whatever nationality, profession, or sex, and
whatever be the chances that have brought them together.  From
the psychological point of view the expression "crowd" assumes
quite a different signification.  Under certain given
circumstances, and only under those circumstances, an
agglomeration of men presents new characteristics very different
from those of the individuals composing it.  The sentiments and
ideas of all the persons in the gathering take one and the same
direction, and their conscious personality vanishes.  A
collective mind is formed, doubtless transitory, but presenting
very clearly defined characteristics.  The gathering has thus
become what, in the absence of a better expression, I will call
an organised crowd, or, if the term is considered preferable, a
psychological crowd.  It forms a single being, and is subjected

It is evident that it is not by the mere fact of a number of
individuals finding themselves accidentally side by side that
they acquire the character of an organised crowd.  A thousand
individuals accidentally gathered in a public place without any
determined object in no way constitute a crowd from the
psychological point of view.  To acquire the special
characteristics of such a crowd, the influence is necessary of
certain predisposing causes of which we shall have to determine
the nature.

The disappearance of conscious personality and the turning of
feelings and thoughts in a definite direction, which are the
primary characteristics of a crowd about to become organised, do
not always involve the simultaneous presence of a number of
individuals on one spot.  Thousands of isolated individuals may
acquire at certain moments, and under the influence of certain
violent emotions--such, for example, as a great national
event--the characteristics of a psychological crowd.  It will be
sufficient in that case that a mere chance should bring them
together for their acts to at once assume the characteristics
peculiar to the acts of a crowd.  At certain moments half a dozen
men might constitute a psychological crowd, which may not happen
in the case of hundreds of men gathered together by accident.  On
the other hand, an entire nation, though there may be no visible
agglomeration, may become a crowd under the action of certain

A psychological crowd once constituted, it acquires certain
provisional but determinable general characteristics.  To these
general characteristics there are adjoined particular
characteristics which vary according to the elements of which the
crowd is composed, and may modify its mental constitution.
Psychological crowds, then, are susceptible of classification;
and when we come to occupy ourselves with this matter, we shall
see that a heterogeneous crowd--that is, a crowd composed of
dissimilar elements--presents certain characteristics in common
with homogeneous crowds--that is, with crowds composed of
elements more or less akin (sects, castes, and classes)--and side
by side with these common characteristics particularities which
permit of the two kinds of crowds being differentiated.

But before occupying ourselves with the different categories of
crowds, we must first of all examine the characteristics common
to them all.  We shall set to work like the naturalist, who
begins by describing the general characteristics common to all
the members of a family before concerning himself with the
particular characteristics which allow the differentiation of the
genera and species that the family includes.

It is not easy to describe the mind of crowds with exactness,
because its organisation varies not only according to race and
composition, but also according to the nature and intensity of
the exciting causes to which crowds are subjected.  The same
difficulty, however, presents itself in the psychological study
of an individual.  It is only in novels that individuals are
found to traverse their whole life with an unvarying character.
It is only the uniformity of the environment that creates the
apparent uniformity of characters.  I have shown elsewhere that
all mental constitutions contain possibilities of character which
may be manifested in consequence of a sudden change of
environment.  This explains how it was that among the most savage
members of the French Convention were to be found inoffensive
citizens who, under ordinary circumstances, would have been
peaceable notaries or virtuous magistrates.  The storm past, they
resumed their normal character of quiet, law-abiding citizens.
Napoleon found amongst them his most docile servants.

It being impossible to study here all the successive degrees of
organisation of crowds, we shall concern ourselves more
especially with such crowds as have attained to the phase of
complete organisation.  In this way we shall see what crowds may
become, but not what they invariably are.  It is only in this
advanced phase of organisation that certain new and special
characteristics are superposed on the unvarying and dominant
character of the race; then takes place that turning already
alluded to of all the feelings and thoughts of the collectivity
in an identical direction.  It is only under such circumstances,
too, that what I have called above the PSYCHOLOGICAL LAW OF THE
MENTAL UNITY OF CROWDS comes into play.

Among the psychological characteristics of crowds there are some
that they may present in common with isolated individuals, and
others, on the contrary, which are absolutely peculiar to them
and are only to be met with in collectivities.  It is these
special characteristics that we shall study, first of all, in
order to show their importance.

The most striking peculiarity presented by a psychological crowd
is the following: Whoever be the individuals that compose it,
however like or unlike be their mode of life, their occupations,
their character, or their intelligence, the fact that they have
been transformed into a crowd puts them in possession of a sort
of collective mind which makes them feel, think, and act in a
manner quite different from that in which each individual of them
would feel, think, and act were he in a state of isolation.
There are certain ideas and feelings which do not come into
being, or do not transform themselves into acts except in the
case of individuals forming a crowd.  The psychological crowd is
a provisional being formed of heterogeneous elements, which for a
moment are combined, exactly as the cells which constitute a
living body form by their reunion a new being which displays
characteristics very different from those possessed by each of
the cells singly.

Contrary to an opinion which one is astonished to find coming
from the pen of so acute a philosopher as Herbert Spencer, in the
aggregate which constitutes a crowd there is in no sort a
summing-up of or an average struck between its elements.  What
really takes place is a combination followed by the creation of
new characteristics, just as in chemistry certain elements, when
brought into contact--bases and acids, for example--combine to
form a new body possessing properties quite different from those
of the bodies that have served to form it.

It is easy to prove how much the individual forming part of a
crowd differs from the isolated individual, but it is less easy
to discover the causes of this difference.

To obtain at any rate a glimpse of them it is necessary in the
first place to call to mind the truth established by modern
psychology, that unconscious phenomena play an altogether
preponderating part not only in organic life, but also in the
operations of the intelligence.  The conscious life of the mind
is of small importance in comparison with its unconscious life.
The most subtle analyst, the most acute observer, is scarcely
successful in discovering more than a very small number of the
unconscious motives that determine his conduct.  Our conscious
acts are the outcome of an unconscious substratum created in the
mind in the main by hereditary influences.  This substratum
consists of the innumerable common characteristics handed down
from generation to generation, which constitute the genius of a
race.  Behind the avowed causes of our acts there undoubtedly lie
secret causes that we do not avow, but behind these secret causes
there are many others more secret still which we ourselves
ignore.  The greater part of our daily actions are the result of
hidden motives which escape our observation.

It is more especially with respect to those unconscious elements
which constitute the genius of a race that all the individuals
belonging to it resemble each other, while it is principally in
respect to the conscious elements of their character--the fruit
of education, and yet more of exceptional hereditary
conditions--that they differ from each other.  Men the most
unlike in the matter of their intelligence possess instincts,
passions, and feelings that are very similar.  In the case of
every thing that belongs to the realm of sentiment--religion,
politics, morality, the affections and antipathies, &c.--the most
eminent men seldom surpass the standard of the most ordinary
individuals.  From the intellectual point of view an abyss may
exist between a great mathematician and his boot maker, but from
the point of view of character the difference is most often
slight or non-existent.

It is precisely these general qualities of character, governed by
forces of which we are unconscious, and possessed by the majority
of the normal individuals of a race in much the same degree--it
is precisely these qualities, I say, that in crowds become common
property.  In the collective mind the intellectual aptitudes of
the individuals, and in consequence their individuality, are
weakened.  The heterogeneous is swamped by the homogeneous, and
the unconscious qualities obtain the upper hand.

This very fact that crowds possess in common ordinary qualities
explains why they can never accomplish acts demanding a high
degree of intelligence.  The decisions affecting matters of
general interest come to by an assembly of men of distinction,
but specialists in different walks of life, are not sensibly
superior to the decisions that would be adopted by a gathering of
imbeciles.  The truth is, they can only bring to bear in common
on the work in hand those mediocre qualities which are the
birthright of every average individual.  In crowds it is
stupidity and not mother-wit that is accumulated.  It is not all
the world, as is so often repeated, that has more wit than
Voltaire, but assuredly Voltaire that has more wit than all the
world, if by "all the world" crowds are to be understood.

If the individuals of a crowd confined themselves to putting in
common the ordinary qualities of which each of them has his
share, there would merely result the striking of an average, and
not, as we have said is actually the case, the creation of new
characteristics.  How is it that these new characteristics are
created?  This is what we are now to investigate.

Different causes determine the appearance of these
characteristics peculiar to crowds, and not possessed by isolated
individuals.  The first is that the individual forming part of a
crowd acquires, solely from numerical considerations, a sentiment
of invincible power which allows him to yield to instincts which,
had he been alone, he would perforce have kept under restraint.
He will be the less disposed to check himself from the
consideration that, a crowd being anonymous, and in consequence
irresponsible, the sentiment of responsibility which always
controls individuals disappears entirely.

The second cause, which is contagion, also intervenes to
determine the manifestation in crowds of their special
characteristics, and at the same time the trend they are to take.
Contagion is a phenomenon of which it is easy to establish the
presence, but that it is not easy to explain.  It must be classed
among those phenomena of a hypnotic order, which we shall shortly
study.  In a crowd every sentiment and act is contagious, and
contagious to such a degree that an individual readily sacrifices
his personal interest to the collective interest.  This is an
aptitude very contrary to his nature, and of which a man is
scarcely capable, except when he makes part of a crowd.

A third cause, and by far the most important, determines in the
individuals of a crowd special characteristics which are quite
contrary at times to those presented by the isolated individual.
I allude to that suggestibility of which, moreover, the contagion
mentioned above is neither more nor less than an effect.

To understand this phenomenon it is necessary to bear in mind
certain recent physiological discoveries.  We know to-day that by
various processes an individual may be brought into such a
condition that, having entirely lost his conscious personality,
he obeys all the suggestions of the operator who has deprived him
of it, and commits acts in utter contradiction with his character
and habits.  The most careful observations seem to prove that an
individual immerged for some length of time in a crowd in action
soon finds himself--either in consequence of the magnetic
influence given out by the crowd, or from some other cause of
which we are ignorant--in a special state, which much resembles
the state of fascination in which the hypnotised individual finds
himself in the hands of the hypnotiser.  The activity of the
brain being paralysed in the case of the hypnotised subject, the
latter becomes the slave of all the unconscious activities of his
spinal cord, which the hypnotiser directs at will.  The conscious
personality has entirely vanished; will and discernment are lost.
All feelings and thoughts are bent in the direction determined by
the hypnotiser.

Such also is approximately the state of the individual forming
part of a psychological crowd.  He is no longer conscious of his
acts.  In his case, as in the case of the hypnotised subject, at
the same time that certain faculties are destroyed, others may be
brought to a high degree of exaltation.  Under the influence of a
suggestion, he will undertake the accomplishment of certain acts
with irresistible impetuosity.  This impetuosity is the more
irresistible in the case of crowds than in that of the hypnotised
subject, from the fact that, the suggestion being the same for
all the individuals of the crowd, it gains in strength by
reciprocity.  The individualities in the crowd who might possess
a personality sufficiently strong to resist the suggestion are
too few in number to struggle against the current.  At the
utmost, they may be able to attempt a diversion by means of
different suggestions.  It is in this way, for instance, that a
happy expression, an image opportunely evoked, have occasionally
deterred crowds from the most bloodthirsty acts.

We see, then, that the disappearance of the conscious
personality, the predominance of the unconscious personality, the
turning by means of suggestion and contagion of feelings and
ideas in an identical direction, the tendency to immediately
transform the suggested ideas into acts; these, we see, are the
principal characteristics of the individual forming part of a
crowd.  He is no longer himself, but has become an automaton who
has ceased to be guided by his will.

Moreover, by the mere fact that he forms part of an organised
crowd, a man descends several rungs in the ladder of
civilisation.  Isolated, he may be a cultivated individual; in a
crowd, he is a barbarian--that is, a creature acting by instinct.
He possesses the spontaneity, the violence, the ferocity, and
also the enthusiasm and heroism of primitive beings, whom he
further tends to resemble by the facility with which he allows
himself to be impressed by words and images--which would be
entirely without action on each of the isolated individuals
composing the crowd--and to be induced to commit acts contrary to
his most obvious interests and his best-known habits.  An
individual in a crowd is a grain of sand amid other grains of
sand, which the wind stirs up at will.

It is for these reasons that juries are seen to deliver verdicts
of which each individual juror would disapprove, that
parliamentary assemblies adopt laws and measures of which each of
their members would disapprove in his own person.  Taken
separately, the men of the Convention were enlightened citizens
of peaceful habits.  United in a crowd, they did not hesitate to
give their adhesion to the most savage proposals, to guillotine
individuals most clearly innocent, and, contrary to their
interests, to renounce their inviolability and to decimate

It is not only by his acts that the individual in a crowd differs
essentially from himself.  Even before he has entirely lost his
independence, his ideas and feelings have undergone a
transformation, and the transformation is so profound as to
change the miser into a spendthrift, the sceptic into a believer,
the honest man into a criminal, and the coward into a hero.  The
renunciation of all its privileges which the nobility voted in a
moment of enthusiasm during the celebrated night of August 4,
1789, would certainly never have been consented to by any of its
members taken singly.

The conclusion to be drawn from what precedes is, that the crowd
is always intellectually inferior to the isolated individual, but
that, from the point of view of feelings and of the acts these
feelings provoke, the crowd may, according to circumstances, he
better or worse than the individual.  All depends on the nature
of the suggestion to which the crowd is exposed.  This is the
point that has been completely misunderstood by writers who have
only studied crowds from the criminal point of view.  Doubtless a
crowd is often criminal, but also it is often heroic.  It is
crowds rather than isolated individuals that may be induced to
run the risk of death to secure the triumph of a creed or an
idea, that may be fired with enthusiasm for glory and honour,
that are led on--almost without bread and without arms, as in the
age of the Crusades--to deliver the tomb of Christ from the
infidel, or, as in '93, to defend the fatherland.  Such heroism
is without doubt somewhat unconscious, but it is of such heroism
that history is made.  Were peoples only to be credited with the
great actions performed in cold blood, the annals of the world
would register but few of them.



The crowd is at the mercy of all exterior exciting causes, and
reflects their incessant variations--The impulses which the crowd
obeys are so imperious as to annihilate the feeling of personal
interest-- Premeditation is absent from crowds--Racial influence.
SUGGESTION.  The obedience of crowds to suggestions--The images
evoked in the mind of crowds are accepted by them as
realities--Why these images are identical for all the individuals
composing a crowd--The equality of the educated and the ignorant
man in a crowd--Various examples of the illusions to which the
individuals in a crowd are subject--The impossibility of
according belief to the testimony of crowds--The unanimity of
numerous witnesses is one of the worst proofs that can be invoked
to establish a fact--The slight value of works of history.
CROWDS.  Crowds do not admit doubt or uncertainty, and always go
to extremes--Their sentiments always excessive.   4.  THE
reasons of these sentiments--The servility of crowds in the face
of a strong authority--The momentary revolutionary instincts of
crowds do not prevent them from being extremely
conservative--Crowds instinctively hostile to changes and
progress.   5. THE MORALITY OF CROWDS.  The morality of
crowds, according to the suggestions under which they act, may be
much lower or much higher than that of the individuals composing
them--Explanation and examples-- Crowds rarely guided by those
considerations of interest which are most often the exclusive
motives of the isolated individual--The moralising role of

Having indicated in a general way the principal characteristics
of crowds, it remains to study these characteristics in detail.

It will be remarked that among the special characteristics of
crowds there are several--such as impulsiveness, irritability,
incapacity to reason, the absence of judgment and of the critical
spirit, the exaggeration of the sentiments, and others
besides--which are almost always observed in beings belonging to
inferior forms of evolution--in women, savages, and children, for
instance.  However, I merely indicate this analogy in passing;
its demonstration is outside the scope of this work.  It would,
moreover, be useless for persons acquainted with the psychology
of primitive beings, and would scarcely carry conviction to those
in ignorance of this matter.

I now proceed to the successive consideration of the different
characteristics that may be observed in the majority of crowds.


When studying the fundamental characteristics of a crowd we
stated that it is guided almost exclusively by unconscious
motives.  Its acts are far more under the influence of the spinal
cord than of the brain.  In this respect a crowd is closely akin
to quite primitive beings.  The acts performed may be perfect so
far as their execution is concerned, but as they are not directed
by the brain, the individual conducts himself according as the
exciting causes to which he is submitted may happen to decide.  A
crowd is at the mercy of all external exciting causes, and
reflects their incessant variations.  It is the slave of the
impulses which it receives.  The isolated individual may be
submitted to the same exciting causes as the man in a crowd, but
as his brain shows him the inadvisability of yielding to them, he
refrains from yielding.  This truth may be physiologically
expressed by saying that the isolated individual possesses the
capacity of dominating his reflex actions, while a crowd is
devoid of this capacity.

The varying impulses to which crowds obey may be, according to
their exciting causes, generous or cruel, heroic or cowardly, but
they will always be so imperious that the interest of the
individual, even the interest of self-preservation, will not
dominate them.  The exciting causes that may act on crowds being
so varied, and crowds always obeying them, crowds are in
consequence extremely mobile.  This explains how it is that we
see them pass in a moment from the most bloodthirsty ferocity to
the most extreme generosity and heroism.  A crowd may easily
enact the part of an executioner, but not less easily that of a
martyr.  It is crowds that have furnished the torrents of blood
requisite for the triumph of every belief.  It is not necessary
to go back to the heroic ages to see what crowds are capable of
in this latter direction.  They are never sparing of their life
in an insurrection, and not long since a general,[2] becoming
suddenly popular, might easily have found a hundred thousand men
ready to sacrifice their lives for his cause had he demanded it.

[2] General Boulanger.

Any display of premeditation by crowds is in consequence out of
the question.  They may be animated in succession by the most
contrary sentiments, but they will always be under the influence
of the exciting causes of the moment.  They are like the leaves
which a tempest whirls up and scatters in every direction and
then allows to fall.  When studying later on certain
revolutionary crowds we shall give some examples of the
variability of their sentiments.

This mobility of crowds renders them very difficult to govern,
especially when a measure of public authority has fallen into
their hands.  Did not the necessities of everyday life constitute
a sort of invisible regulator of existence, it would scarcely be
possible for democracies to last.  Still, though the wishes of
crowds are frenzied they are not durable.  Crowds are as
incapable of willing as of thinking for any length of time.

A crowd is not merely impulsive and mobile.  Like a savage, it is
not prepared to admit that anything can come between its desire
and the realisation of its desire.  It is the less capable of
understanding such an intervention, in consequence of the feeling
of irresistible power given it by its numerical strength.  The
notion of impossibility disappears for the individual in a crowd.
An isolated individual knows well enough that alone he cannot set
fire to a palace or loot a shop, and should he be tempted to do
so, he will easily resist the temptation.  Making part of a
crowd, he is conscious of the power given him by number, and it
is sufficient to suggest to him ideas of murder or pillage for
him to yield immediately to temptation.  An unexpected obstacle
will be destroyed with frenzied rage.  Did the human organism
allow of the perpetuity of furious passion, it might be said that
the normal condition of a crowd baulked in its wishes is just
such a state of furious passion.

The fundamental characteristics of the race, which constitute the
unvarying source from which all our sentiments spring, always
exert an influence on the irritability of crowds, their
impulsiveness and their mobility, as on all the popular
sentiments we shall have to study.  All crowds are doubtless
always irritable and impulsive, but with great variations of
degree.  For instance, the difference between a Latin and an
Anglo-Saxon crowd is striking.  The most recent facts in French
history throw a vivid light on this point.  The mere publication,
twenty-five years ago, of a telegram, relating an insult supposed
to have been offered an ambassador, was sufficient to determine
an explosion of fury, whence followed immediately a terrible war.
Some years later the telegraphic announcement of an insignificant
reverse at Langson provoked a fresh explosion which brought about
the instantaneous overthrow of the government.  At the same
moment a much more serious reverse undergone by the English
expedition to Khartoum produced only a slight emotion in England,
and no ministry was overturned.  Crowds are everywhere
distinguished by feminine characteristics, but Latin crowds are
the most feminine of all.  Whoever trusts in them may rapidly
attain a lofty destiny, but to do so is to be perpetually
skirting the brink of a Tarpeian rock, with the certainty of one
day being precipitated from it.


When defining crowds, we said that one of their general
characteristics was an excessive suggestibility, and we have
shown to what an extent suggestions are contagious in every human
agglomeration; a fact which explains the rapid turning of the
sentiments of a crowd in a definite direction.  However
indifferent it may be supposed, a crowd, as a rule, is in a state
of expectant attention, which renders suggestion easy.  The first
suggestion formulated which arises implants itself immediately by
a process of contagion in the brains of all assembled, and the
identical bent of the sentiments of the crowd is immediately an
accomplished fact.

As is the case with all persons under the influence of
suggestion, the idea which has entered the brain tends to
transform itself into an act.  Whether the act is that of setting
fire to a palace, or involves self-sacrifice, a crowd lends
itself to it with equal facility.  All will depend on the nature
of the exciting cause, and no longer, as in the case of the
isolated individual, on the relations existing between the act
suggested and the sum total of the reasons which may be urged
against its realisation.

In consequence, a crowd perpetually hovering on the borderland of
unconsciousness, readily yielding to all suggestions, having all
the violence of feeling peculiar to beings who cannot appeal to
the influence of reason, deprived of all critical faculty, cannot
be otherwise than excessively credulous.  The improbable does not
exist for a crowd, and it is necessary to bear this circumstance
well in mind to understand the facility with which are created
and propagated the most improbable legends and stories.[3]

[3] Persons who went through the siege of Paris saw numerous
examples of this credulity of crowds.  A candle alight in an
upper story was immediately looked upon as a signal given the
besiegers, although it was evident, after a moment of reflection,
that it was utterly impossible to catch sight of the light of the
candle at a distance of several miles.

The creation of the legends which so easily obtain circulation in
crowds is not solely the consequence of their extreme credulity.
It is also the result of the prodigious perversions that events
undergo in the imagination of a throng.  The simplest event that
comes under the observation of a crowd is soon totally
transformed.  A crowd thinks in images, and the image itself
immediately calls up a series of other images, having no logical
connection with the first.  We can easily conceive this state by
thinking of the fantastic succession of ideas to which we are
sometimes led by calling up in our minds any fact.  Our reason
shows us the incoherence there is in these images, but a crowd is
almost blind to this truth, and confuses with the real event what
the deforming action of its imagination has superimposed thereon.
A crowd scarcely distinguishes between the subjective and the
objective.  It accepts as real the images evoked in its mind,
though they most often have only a very distant relation with the
observed fact.

The ways in which a crowd perverts any event of which it is a
witness ought, it would seem, to be innumerable and unlike each
other, since the individuals composing the gathering are of very
different temperaments.  But this is not the case.  As the result
of contagion the perversions are of the same kind, and take the
same shape in the case of all the assembled individuals.

The first perversion of the truth effected by one of the
individuals of the gathering is the starting-point of the
contagious suggestion.  Before St. George appeared on the walls
of Jerusalem to all the Crusaders he was certainly perceived in
the first instance by one of those present.  By dint of
suggestion and contagion the miracle signalised by a single
person was immediately accepted by all.

Such is always the mechanism of the collective hallucinations so
frequent in history--hallucinations which seem to have all the
recognised characteristics of authenticity, since they are
phenomena observed by thousands of persons.

To combat what precedes, the mental quality of the individuals
composing a crowd must not be brought into consideration.  This
quality is without importance.  From the moment that they form
part of a crowd the learned man and the ignoramus are equally
incapable of observation.

This thesis may seem paradoxical.  To demonstrate it beyond doubt
it would be necessary to investigate a great number of historical
facts, and several volumes would be insufficient for the purpose.

Still, as I do not wish to leave the reader under the impression
of unproved assertions, I shall give him some examples taken at
hazard from the immense number of those that might be quoted.

The following fact is one of the most typical, because chosen
from among collective hallucinations of which a crowd is the
victim, in which are to be found individuals of every kind, from
the most ignorant to the most highly educated.  It is related
incidentally by Julian Felix, a naval lieutenant, in his book on
"Sea Currents," and has been previously cited by the Revue

The frigate, the Belle Poule, was cruising in the open sea for
the purpose of finding the cruiser Le Berceau, from which she had
been separated by a violent storm.  It was broad daylight and in
full sunshine.  Suddenly the watch signalled a disabled vessel;
the crew looked in the direction signalled, and every one,
officers and sailors, clearly perceived a raft covered with men
towed by boats which were displaying signals of distress.  Yet
this was nothing more than a collective hallucination.  Admiral
Desfosses lowered a boat to go to the rescue of the wrecked
sailors.  On nearing the object sighted, the sailors and officers
on board the boat saw "masses of men in motion, stretching out
their hands, and heard the dull and confused noise of a great
number of voices."  When the object was reached those in the boat
found themselves simply and solely in the presence of a few
branches of trees covered with leaves that had been swept out
from the neighbouring coast.  Before evidence so palpable the
hallucination vanished.

The mechanism of a collective hallucination of the kind we have
explained is clearly seen at work in this example.  On the one
hand we have a crowd in a state of expectant attention, on the
other a suggestion made by the watch signalling a disabled vessel
at sea, a suggestion which, by a process of contagion, was
accepted by all those present, both officers and sailors.

It is not necessary that a crowd should be numerous for the
faculty of seeing what is taking place before its eyes to be
destroyed and for the real facts to be replaced by hallucinations
unrelated to them.  As soon as a few individuals are gathered
together they constitute a crowd, and, though they should be
distinguished men of learning, they assume all the
characteristics of crowds with regard to matters outside their
speciality.  The faculty of observation and the critical spirit
possessed by each of them individually at once disappears.  An
ingenious psychologist, Mr. Davey, supplies us with a very
curious example in point, recently cited in the Annales des
Sciences Psychiques, and deserving of relation here.  Mr. Davey,
having convoked a gathering of distinguished observers, among
them one of the most prominent of English scientific men, Mr.
Wallace, executed in their presence, and after having allowed
them to examine the objects and to place seals where they wished,
all the regulation spiritualistic phenomena, the materialisation
of spirits, writing on slates, &c.  Having subsequently obtained
from these distinguished observers written reports admitting that
the phenomena observed could only have been obtained by
supernatural means, he revealed to them that they were the result
of very simple tricks.  "The most astonishing feature of Monsieur
Davey's investigation," writes the author of this account, "is
not the marvellousness of the tricks themselves, but the extreme
weakness of the reports made with respect to them by the
noninitiated witnesses.  It is clear, then," he says, "that
witnesses even in number may give circumstantial relations which
are completely erroneous, but whose result is THAT, IF THEIR
DESCRIPTIONS ARE ACCEPTED AS EXACT, the phenomena they describe
are inexplicable by trickery.  The methods invented by Mr. Davey
were so simple that one is astonished that he should have had the
boldness to employ them; but he had such a power over the mind of
the crowd that he could persuade it that it saw what it did not
see."  Here, as always, we have the power of the hypnotiser over
the hypnotised.  Moreover, when this power is seen in action on
minds of a superior order and previously invited to be
suspicious, it is understandable how easy it is to deceive
ordinary crowds.

Analogous examples are innumerable.  As I write these lines the
papers are full of the story of two little girls found drowned in
the Seine.  These children, to begin with, were recognised in the
most unmistakable manner by half a dozen witnesses.  All the
affirmations were in such entire concordance that no doubt
remained in the mind of the juge d'instruction.  He had the
certificate of death drawn up, but just as the burial of the
children was to have been proceeded with, a mere chance brought
about the discovery that the supposed victims were alive, and
had, moreover, but a remote resemblance to the drowned girls.  As
in several of the examples previously cited, the affirmation of
the first witness, himself a victim of illusion, had sufficed to
influence the other witnesses.

In parallel cases the starting-point of the suggestion is always
the illusion produced in an individual by more or less vague
reminiscences, contagion following as the result of the
affirmation of this initial illusion.  If the first observer be
very impressionable, it will often be sufficient that the corpse
he believes he recognises should present-- apart from all real
resemblance--some peculiarity, a scar, or some detail of toilet
which may evoke the idea of another person.  The idea evoked may
then become the nucleus of a sort of crystallisation which
invades the understanding and paralyses all critical faculty.
What the observer then sees is no longer the object itself, but
the image evoked in his mind.  In this way are to be explained
erroneous recognitions of the dead bodies of children by their
own mother, as occurred in the following case, already old, but
which has been recently recalled by the newspapers.  In it are to
be traced precisely the two kinds of suggestion of which I have
just pointed out the mechanism.

"The child was recognised by another child, who was mistaken.
The series of unwarranted recognitions then began.

"An extraordinary thing occurred.  The day after a schoolboy had
recognised the corpse a woman exclaimed, `Good Heavens, it is my

"She was taken up to the corpse; she examined the clothing, and
noted a scar on the forehead.  `It is certainly,' she said, `my
son who disappeared last July.  He has been stolen from me and

"The woman was concierge in the Rue du Four; her name was
Chavandret.  Her brother-in-law was summoned, and when questioned
he said, `That is the little Filibert.' Several persons living in
the street recognised the child found at La Villette as Filibert
Chavandret, among them being the boy's schoolmaster, who based
his opinion on a medal worn by the lad.

"Nevertheless, the neighbours, the brother-in-law, the
schoolmaster, and the mother were mistaken.  Six weeks later the
identity of the child was established.  The boy, belonging to
Bordeaux, had been murdered there and brought by a carrying
company to Paris."[4]

[4] L'Eclair, April 21, 1895.

It will be remarked that these recognitions are most often made
by women and children--that is to say, by precisely the most
impressionable persons.  They show us at the same time what is
the worth in law courts of such witnesses.  As far as children,
more especially, are concerned, their statements ought never to
be invoked.  Magistrates are in the habit of repeating that
children do not lie.  Did they possess a psychological culture a
little less rudimentary than is the case they would know that, on
the contrary, children invariably lie; the lie is doubtless
innocent, but it is none the less a lie.  It would be better to
decide the fate of an accused person by the toss of a coin than,
as has been so often done, by the evidence of a child.

To return to the faculty of observation possessed by crowds, our
conclusion is that their collective observations are as erroneous
as possible, and that most often they merely represent the
illusion of an individual who, by a process of contagion, has
suggestioned his fellows.  Facts proving that the most utter
mistrust of the evidence of crowds is advisable might be
multiplied to any extent.  Thousands of men were present
twenty-five years ago at the celebrated cavalry charge during the
battle of Sedan, and yet it is impossible, in the face of the
most contradictory ocular testimony, to decide by whom it was
commanded.  The English general, Lord Wolseley, has proved in a
recent book that up to now the gravest errors of fact have been
committed with regard to the most important incidents of the
battle of Waterloo--facts that hundreds of witnesses had
nevertheless attested.[5]

[5] Do we know in the case of one single battle exactly how it
took place?  I am very doubtful on the point.  We know who were
the conquerors and the conquered, but this is probably all.  What
M. D'Harcourt has said with respect to the battle of Solferino,
which he witnessed and in which he was personally engaged, may be
applied to all battles--"The generals (informed, of course, by
the evidence of hundreds of witnesses) forward their official
reports; the orderly officers modify these documents and draw up
a definite narrative; the chief of the staff raises objections
and re-writes the whole on a fresh basis.  It is carried to the
Marshal, who exclaims, `You are entirely in error,' and he
substitutes a fresh edition.  Scarcely anything remains of the
original report."  M. D'Harcourt relates this fact as proof of
the impossibility of establishing the truth in connection with
the most striking, the best observed events.

Such facts show us what is the value of the testimony of crowds.
Treatises on logic include the unanimity of numerous witnesses in
the category of the strongest proofs that can be invoked in
support of the exactness of a fact.  Yet what we know of the
psychology of crowds shows that treatises on logic need on this
point to be rewritten.  The events with regard to which there
exists the most doubt are certainly those which have been
observed by the greatest number of persons.  To say that a fact
has been simultaneously verified by thousands of witnesses is to
say, as a rule, that the real fact is very different from the
accepted account of it.

It clearly results from what precedes that works of history must
be considered as works of pure imagination.  They are fanciful
accounts of ill-observed facts, accompanied by explanations the
result of reflection.  To write such books is the most absolute
waste of time.  Had not the past left us its literary, artistic,
and monumental works, we should know absolutely nothing in
reality with regard to bygone times.  Are we in possession of a
single word of truth concerning the lives of the great men who
have played preponderating parts in the history of humanity--men
such as Hercules, Buddha, or Mahomet?  In all probability we are
not.  In point of fact, moreover, their real lives are of slight
importance to us.  Our interest is to know what our great men
were as they are presented by popular legend.  It is legendary
heroes, and not for a moment real heroes, who have impressed the
minds of crowds.

Unfortunately, legends--even although they have been definitely
put on record by books--have in themselves no stability.  The
imagination of the crowd continually transforms them as the
result of the lapse of time and especially in consequence of
racial causes.  There is a great gulf fixed between the
sanguinary Jehovah of the Old Testament and the God of Love of
Sainte Therese, and the Buddha worshipped in China has no traits
in common with that venerated in India.

It is not even necessary that heroes should be separated from us
by centuries for their legend to be transformed by the
imagination of the crowd.  The transformation occasionally takes
place within a few years.  In our own day we have seen the legend
of one of the greatest heroes of history modified several times
in less than fifty years.  Under the Bourbons Napoleon became a
sort of idyllic and liberal philanthropist, a friend of the
humble who, according to the poets, was destined to be long
remembered in the cottage.  Thirty years afterwards this
easy-going hero had become a sanguinary despot, who, after having
usurped power and destroyed liberty, caused the slaughter of
three million men solely to satisfy his ambition.  At present we
are witnessing a fresh transformation of the legend.  When it has
undergone the influence of some dozens of centuries the learned
men of the future, face to face with these contradictory
accounts, will perhaps doubt the very existence of the hero, as
some of them now doubt that of Buddha, and will see in him
nothing more than a solar myth or a development of the legend of
Hercules.  They will doubtless console themselves easily for this
uncertainty, for, better initiated than we are to-day in the
characteristics and psychology of crowds, they will know that
history is scarcely capable of preserving the memory of anything
except myths.


Whether the feelings exhibited by a crowd be good or bad, they
present the double character of being very simple and very
exaggerated.  On this point, as on so many others, an individual
in a crowd resembles primitive beings.  Inaccessible to fine
distinctions, he sees things as a whole, and is blind to their
intermediate phases.  The exaggeration of the sentiments of a
crowd is heightened by the fact that any feeling when once it is
exhibited communicating itself very quickly by a process of
suggestion and contagion, the evident approbation of which it is
the object considerably increases its force.

The simplicity and exaggeration of the sentiments of crowds have
for result that a throng knows neither doubt nor uncertainty.
Like women, it goes at once to extremes.  A suspicion transforms
itself as soon as announced into incontrovertible evidence.  A
commencement of antipathy or disapprobation, which in the case of
an isolated individual would not gain strength, becomes at once
furious hatred in the case of an individual in a crowd.

The violence of the feelings of crowds is also increased,
especially in heterogeneous crowds, by the absence of all sense
of responsibility.  The certainty of impunity, a certainty the
stronger as the crowd is more numerous, and the notion of a
considerable momentary force due to number, make possible in the
case of crowds sentiments and acts impossible for the isolated
individual.  In crowds the foolish, ignorant, and envious persons
are freed from the sense of their insignificance and
powerlessness, and are possessed instead by the notion of brutal
and temporary but immense strength.

Unfortunately, this tendency of crowds towards exaggeration is
often brought to bear upon bad sentiments.  These sentiments are
atavistic residuum of the instincts of the primitive man, which
the fear of punishment obliges the isolated and responsible
individual to curb.  Thus it is that crowds are so easily led
into the worst excesses.

Still this does not mean that crowds, skilfully influenced, are
not capable of heroism and devotion and of evincing the loftiest
virtues; they are even more capable of showing these qualities
than the isolated individual.  We shall soon have occasion to
revert to this point when we come to study the morality of

Given to exaggeration in its feelings, a crowd is only impressed
by excessive sentiments.  An orator wishing to move a crowd must
make an abusive use of violent affirmations.  To exaggerate, to
affirm, to resort to repetitions, and never to attempt to prove
anything by reasoning are methods of argument well known to
speakers at public meetings.

Moreover, a crowd exacts a like exaggeration in the sentiments of
its heroes.  Their apparent qualities and virtues must always be
amplified.  It has been justly remarked that on the stage a crowd
demands from the hero of the piece a degree of courage, morality,
and virtue that is never to be found in real life.

Quite rightly importance has been laid on the special standpoint
from which matters are viewed in the theatre.  Such a standpoint
exists no doubt, but its rules for the most part have nothing to
do with common sense and logic.  The art of appealing to crowds
is no doubt of an inferior order, but it demands quite special
aptitudes.  It is often impossible on reading plays to explain
their success.  Managers of theatres when accepting pieces are
themselves, as a rule, very uncertain of their success, because
to judge the matter it would be necessary that they should be
able to transform themselves into a crowd.[6]

[6] It is understandable for this reason why it sometimes happens
that pieces refused by all theatrical managers obtain a
prodigious success when by a stroke of chance they are put on the
stage.  The recent success of Francois Coppee's play "Pour la
Couronne" is well known, and yet, in spite of the name of its
author, it was refused during ten years by the managers of the
principal Parisian theatres.

"Charley's Aunt," refused at every theatre, and finally staged at
the expense of a stockbroker, has had two hundred representations
in France, and more than a thousand in London.  Without the
explanation given above of the impossibility for theatrical
managers to mentally substitute themselves for a crowd, such
mistakes in judgment on the part of competent individuals, who
are most interested not to commit such grave blunders, would be
inexplicable.  This is a subject that I cannot deal with here,
but it might worthily tempt the pen of a writer acquainted with
theatrical matters, and at the same time a subtle
psychologist--of such a writer, for instance, as M. Francisque

Here, once more, were we able to embark on more extensive
explanations, we should show the preponderating influence of
racial considerations.  A play which provokes the enthusiasm of
the crowd in one country has sometimes no success in another, or
has only a partial and conventional success, because it does not
put in operation influences capable of working on an altered

I need not add that the tendency to exaggeration in crowds is
only present in the case of sentiments and not at all in the
matter of intelligence.  I have already shown that, by the mere
fact that an individual forms part of a crowd, his intellectual
standard is immediately and considerably lowered.  A learned
magistrate, M. Tarde, has also verified this fact in his
researches on the crimes of crowds.  It is only, then, with
respect to sentiment that crowds can rise to a very high or, on
the contrary, descend to a very low level.


Crowds are only cognisant of simple and extreme sentiments; the
opinions, ideas, and beliefs suggested to them are accepted or
rejected as a whole, and considered as absolute truths or as not
less absolute errors.  This is always the case with beliefs
induced by a process of suggestion instead of engendered by
reasoning.  Every one is aware of the intolerance that
accompanies religious beliefs, and of the despotic empire they
exercise on men's minds.

Being in doubt as to what constitutes truth or error, and having,
on the other hand, a clear notion of its strength, a crowd is as
disposed to give authoritative effect to its inspirations as it
is intolerant.  An individual may accept contradiction and
discussion; a crowd will never do so.  At public meetings the
slightest contradiction on the part of an orator is immediately
received with howls of fury and violent invective, soon followed
by blows, and expulsion should the orator stick to his point.
Without the restraining presence of the representatives of
authority the contradictor, indeed, would often be done to death.

Dictatorialness and intolerance are common to all categories of
crowds, but they are met with in a varying degree of intensity.
Here, once more, reappears that fundamental notion of race which
dominates all the feelings and all the thoughts of men.  It is
more especially in Latin crowds that authoritativeness and
intolerance are found developed in the highest measure.  In fact,
their development is such in crowds of Latin origin that they
have entirely destroyed that sentiment of the independence of the
individual so powerful in the Anglo-Saxon.  Latin crowds are only
concerned with the collective independence of the sect to which
they belong, and the characteristic feature of their conception
of independence is the need they experience of bringing those who
are in disagreement with themselves into immediate and violent
subjection to their beliefs.  Among the Latin races the Jacobins
of every epoch, from those of the Inquisition downwards, have
never been able to attain to a different conception of liberty.

Authoritativeness and intolerance are sentiments of which crowds
have a very clear notion, which they easily conceive and which
they entertain as readily as they put them in practice when once
they are imposed upon them.  Crowds exhibit a docile respect for
force, and are but slightly impressed by kindness, which for them
is scarcely other than a form of weakness.  Their sympathies have
never been bestowed on easy-going masters, but on tyrants who
vigorously oppressed them.  It is to these latter that they
always erect the loftiest statues.  It is true that they
willingly trample on the despot whom they have stripped of his
power, but it is because, having lost his strength, he has
resumed his place among the feeble, who are to be despised
because they are not to be feared.  The type of hero dear to
crowds will always have the semblance of a Caesar.  His insignia
attracts them, his authority overawes them, and his sword instils
them with fear.

A crowd is always ready to revolt against a feeble, and to bow
down servilely before a strong authority.  Should the strength of
an authority be intermittent, the crowd, always obedient to its
extreme sentiments, passes alternately from anarchy to servitude,
and from servitude to anarchy.

However, to believe in the predominance among crowds of
revolutionary instincts would be to entirely misconstrue their
psychology.  It is merely their tendency to violence that
deceives us on this point.  Their rebellious and destructive
outbursts are always very transitory.  Crowds are too much
governed by unconscious considerations, and too much subject in
consequence to secular hereditary influences not to be extremely
conservative.  Abandoned to themselves, they soon weary of
disorder, and instinctively turn to servitude.  It was the
proudest and most untractable of the Jacobins who acclaimed
Bonaparte with greatest energy when he suppressed all liberty and
made his hand of iron severely felt.

It is difficult to understand history, and popular revolutions in
particular, if one does not take sufficiently into account the
profoundly conservative instincts of crowds.  They may be
desirous, it is true, of changing the names of their
institutions, and to obtain these changes they accomplish at
times even violent revolutions, but the essence of these
institutions is too much the expression of the hereditary needs
of the race for them not invariably to abide by it.  Their
incessant mobility only exerts its influence on quite superficial
matters.  In fact they possess conservative instincts as
indestructible as those of all primitive beings.  Their fetish-
like respect for all traditions is absolute; their unconscious
horror of all novelty capable of changing the essential
conditions of their existence is very deeply rooted.  Had
democracies possessed the power they wield to-day at the time of
the invention of mechanical looms or of the introduction of
steam-power and of railways, the realisation of these inventions
would have been impossible, or would have been achieved at the
cost of revolutions and repeated massacres.  It is fortunate for
the progress of civilisation that the power of crowds only began
to exist when the great discoveries of science and industry had
already been effected.


Taking the word "morality" to mean constant respect for certain
social conventions, and the permanent repression of selfish
impulses, it is quite evident that crowds are too impulsive and
too mobile to be moral.  If, however, we include in the term
morality the transitory display of certain qualities such as
abnegation, self-sacrifice, disinterestedness, devotion, and the
need of equity, we may say, on the contrary, that crowds may
exhibit at times a very lofty morality.

The few psychologists who have studied crowds have only
considered them from the point of view of their criminal acts,
and noticing how frequent these acts are, they have come to the
conclusion that the moral standard of crowds is very low.

Doubtless this is often the case; but why?  Simply because our
savage, destructive instincts are the inheritance left dormant in
all of us from the primitive ages.  In the life of the isolated
individual it would be dangerous for him to gratify these
instincts, while his absorption in an irresponsible crowd, in
which in consequence he is assured of impunity, gives him entire
liberty to follow them.  Being unable, in the ordinary course of
events, to exercise these destructive instincts on our fellow-
men, we confine ourselves to exercising them on animals.  The
passion, so widespread, for the chase and the acts of ferocity of
crowds proceed from one and the same source.  A crowd which
slowly slaughters a defenceless victim displays a very cowardly
ferocity; but for the philosopher this ferocity is very closely
related to that of the huntsmen who gather in dozens for the
pleasure of taking part in the pursuit and killing of a luckless
stag by their hounds.

A crowd may be guilty of murder, incendiarism, and every kind of
crime, but it is also capable of very lofty acts of devotion,
sacrifice, and disinterestedness, of acts much loftier indeed
than those of which the isolated individual is capable.  Appeals
to sentiments of glory, honour, and patriotism are particularly
likely to influence the individual forming part of a crowd, and
often to the extent of obtaining from him the sacrifice of his
life.  History is rich in examples analogous to those furnished
by the Crusaders and the volunteers of 1793.  Collectivities
alone are capable of great disinterestedness and great devotion.
How numerous are the crowds that have heroically faced death for
beliefs, ideas, and phrases that they scarcely understood!  The
crowds that go on strike do so far more in obedience to an order
than to obtain an increase of the slender salary with which they
make shift.  Personal interest is very rarely a powerful motive
force with crowds, while it is almost the exclusive motive of the
conduct of the isolated individual.  It is assuredly not
self-interest that has guided crowds in so many wars,
incomprehensible as a rule to their intelligence--wars in which
they have allowed themselves to be massacred as easily as the
larks hypnotised by the mirror of the hunter.

Even in the case of absolute scoundrels it often happens that the
mere fact of their being in a crowd endows them for the moment
with very strict principles of morality.  Taine calls attention
to the fact that the perpetrators of the September massacres
deposited on the table of the committees the pocket-books and
jewels they had found on their victims, and with which they could
easily have been able to make away.  The howling, swarming,
ragged crowd which invaded the Tuileries during the revolution of
1848 did not lay hands on any of the objects that excited its
astonishment, and one of which would have meant bread for many

This moralisation of the individual by the crowd is not certainly
a constant rule, but it is a rule frequently observed.  It is
even observed in circumstances much less grave than those I have
just cited.  I have remarked that in the theatre a crowd exacts
from the hero of the piece exaggerated virtues, and it is a
commonplace observation that an assembly, even though composed of
inferior elements, shows itself as a rule very prudish.  The
debauchee, the souteneur, the rough often break out into murmurs
at a slightly risky scene or expression, though they be very
harmless in comparison with their customary conversation.

If, then, crowds often abandon themselves to low instincts, they
also set the example at times of acts of lofty morality.  If
disinterestedness, resignation, and absolute devotion to a real
or chimerical ideal are moral virtues, it may be said that crowds
often possess these virtues to a degree rarely attained by the
wisest philosophers.  Doubtless they practice them unconsciously,
but that is of small import.  We should not complain too much
that crowds are more especially guided by unconscious
considerations and are not given to reasoning.  Had they, in
certain cases, reasoned and consulted their immediate interests,
it is possible that no civilisation would have grown up on our
planet and humanity would have had no history.



1. THE IDEAS OF CROWDS.  Fundamental and accessory
ideas--How contradictory ideas may exist simultaneously--The
transformation that must be undergone by lofty ideas before they
are accessible to crowds-- The social influence of ideas is
independent of the degree of truth they may contain.   2. THE
REASONING POWER OF CROWDS.  Crowds are not to be influenced by
reasoning--The reasoning of crowds is always of a very inferior
order--There is only the appearance of analogy or succession in
the ideas they associate.   3. THE IMAGINATION OF CROWDS.
Strength of the imagination of crowds--Crowds think in images,
and these images succeed each other without any connecting
link--Crowds are especially impressed by the marvellous--Legends
and the marvellous are the real pillars of civilisation--The
popular imagination has always been the basis of the power of
statesmen--The manner in which facts capable of striking the
imagination of crowds present themselves for observation.


WHEN studying in a preceding work the part played by ideas in the
evolution of nations, we showed that every civilisation is the
outcome of a small number of fundamental ideas that are very
rarely renewed.  We showed how these ideas are implanted in the
minds of crowds, with what difficulty the process is effected,
and the power possessed by the ideas in question when once it has
been accomplished.  Finally we saw that great historical
perturbations are the result, as a rule, of changes in these
fundamental ideas.

Having treated this subject at sufficient length, I shall not
return to it now, but shall confine myself to saying a few words
on the subject of such ideas as are accessible to crowds, and of
the forms under which they conceive them.

They may be divided into two classes.  In one we shall place
accidental and passing ideas created by the influences of the
moment: infatuation for an individual or a doctrine, for
instance.  In the other will be classed the fundamental ideas, to
which the environment, the laws of heredity and public opinion
give a very great stability; such ideas are the religious beliefs
of the past and the social and democratic ideas of to-day.

These fundamental ideas resemble the volume of the water of a
stream slowly pursuing its course; the transitory ideas are like
the small waves, for ever changing, which agitate its surface,
and are more visible than the progress of the stream itself
although without real importance.

At the present day the great fundamental ideas which were the
mainstay of our fathers are tottering more and more.  They have
lost all solidity, and at the same time the institutions resting
upon them are severely shaken.  Every day there are formed a
great many of those transitory minor ideas of which I have just
been speaking; but very few of them to all appearance seem
endowed with vitality and destined to acquire a preponderating

Whatever be the ideas suggested to crowds they can only exercise
effective influence on condition that they assume a very
absolute, uncompromising, and simple shape.  They present
themselves then in the guise of images, and are only accessible
to the masses under this form.  These imagelike ideas are not
connected by any logical bond of analogy or succession, and may
take each other's place like the slides of a magic-lantern which
the operator withdraws from the groove in which they were placed
one above the other.  This explains how it is that the most
contradictory ideas may be seen to be simultaneously current in
crowds.  According to the chances of the moment, a crowd will
come under the influence of one of the various ideas stored up in
its understanding, and is capable, in consequence, of committing
the most dissimilar acts.  Its complete lack of the critical
spirit does not allow of its perceiving these contradictions.

This phenomenon is not peculiar to crowds.  It is to be observed
in many isolated individuals, not only among primitive beings,
but in the case of all those--the fervent sectaries of a
religious faith, for instance--who by one side or another of
their intelligence are akin to primitive beings.  I have observed
its presence to a curious extent in the case of educated Hindoos
brought up at our European universities and having taken their
degree.  A number of Western ideas had been superposed on their
unchangeable and fundamental hereditary or social ideas.
According to the chances of the moment, the one or the other set
of ideas showed themselves each with their special accompaniment
of acts or utterances, the same individual presenting in this way
the most flagrant contradictions.  These contradictions are more
apparent than real, for it is only hereditary ideas that have
sufficient influence over the isolated individual to become
motives of conduct.  It is only when, as the result of the
intermingling of different races, a man is placed between
different hereditary tendencies that his acts from one moment to
another may be really entirely contradictory.  It would be
useless to insist here on these phenomena, although their
psychological importance is capital.  I am of opinion that at
least ten years of travel and observation would be necessary to
arrive at a comprehension of them.

Ideas being only accessible to crowds after having assumed a very
simple shape must often undergo the most thoroughgoing
transformations to become popular.  It is especially when we are
dealing with somewhat lofty philosophic or scientific ideas that
we see how far-reaching are the modifications they require in
order to lower them to the level of the intelligence of crowds.
These modifications are dependent on the nature of the crowds, or
of the race to which the crowds belong, but their tendency is
always belittling and in the direction of simplification.  This
explains the fact that, from the social point of view, there is
in reality scarcely any such thing as a hierarchy of ideas--that
is to say, as ideas of greater or less elevation.  However great
or true an idea may have been to begin with, it is deprived of
almost all that which constituted its elevation and its greatness
by the mere fact that it has come within the intellectual range
of crowds and exerts an influence upon them.

Moreover, from the social point of view the hierarchical value of
an idea, its intrinsic worth, is without importance.  The
necessary point to consider is the effects it produces.  The
Christian ideas of the Middle Ages, the democratic ideas of the
last century, or the social ideas of to-day are assuredly not
very elevated.  Philosophically considered, they can only be
regarded as somewhat sorry errors, and yet their power has been
and will be immense, and they will count for a long time to come
among the most essential factors that determine the conduct of

Even when an idea has undergone the transformations which render
it accessible to crowds, it only exerts influence when, by
various processes which we shall examine elsewhere, it has
entered the domain of the unconscious, when indeed it has become
a sentiment, for which much time is required.

For it must not be supposed that merely because the justness of
an idea has been proved it can be productive of effective action
even on cultivated minds.  This fact may be quickly appreciated
by noting how slight is the influence of the clearest
demonstration on the majority of men.  Evidence, if it be very
plain, may be accepted by an educated person, but the convert
will be quickly brought back by his unconscious self to his
original conceptions.  See him again after the lapse of a few
days and he will put forward afresh his old arguments in exactly
the same terms.  He is in reality under the influence of anterior
ideas, that have become sentiments, and it is such ideas alone
that influence the more recondite motives of our acts and
utterances.  It cannot be otherwise in the case of crowds.

When by various processes an idea has ended by penetrating into
the minds of crowds, it possesses an irresistible power, and
brings about a series of effects, opposition to which is
bootless.  The philosophical ideas which resulted in the French
Revolution took nearly a century to implant themselves in the
mind of the crowd.  Their irresistible force, when once they had
taken root, is known.  The striving of an entire nation towards
the conquest of social equality, and the realisation of abstract
rights and ideal liberties, caused the tottering of all thrones
and profoundly disturbed the Western world.  During twenty years
the nations were engaged in internecine conflict, and Europe
witnessed hecatombs that would have terrified Ghengis Khan and
Tamerlane.  The world had never seen on such a scale what may
result from the promulgation of an idea.

A long time is necessary for ideas to establish themselves in the
minds of crowds, but just as long a time is needed for them to be
eradicated.  For this reason crowds, as far as ideas are
concerned, are always several generations behind learned men and
philosophers.  All statesmen are well aware to-day of the
admixture of error contained in the fundamental ideas I referred
to a short while back, but as the influence of these ideas is
still very powerful they are obliged to govern in accordance with
principles in the truth of which they have ceased to believe.


It cannot absolutely be said that crowds do not reason and are
not to be influenced by reasoning.

However, the arguments they employ and those which are capable of
influencing them are, from a logical point of view, of such an
inferior kind that it is only by way of analogy that they can be
described as reasoning.

The inferior reasoning of crowds is based, just as is reasoning
of a high order, on the association of ideas, but between the
ideas associated by crowds there are only apparent bonds of
analogy or succession.  The mode of reasoning of crowds resembles
that of the Esquimaux who, knowing from experience that ice, a
transparent body, melts in the mouth, concludes that glass, also
a transparent body, should also melt in the mouth; or that of the
savage who imagines that by eating the heart of a courageous foe
he acquires his bravery; or of the workman who, having been
exploited by one employer of labour, immediately concludes that
all employers exploit their men.

The characteristics of the reasoning of crowds are the
association of dissimilar things possessing a merely apparent
connection between each other, and the immediate generalisation
of particular cases.  It is arguments of this kind that are
always presented to crowds by those who know how to manage them.
They are the only arguments by which crowds are to be influenced.
A chain of logical argumentation is totally incomprehensible to
crowds, and for this reason it is permissible to say that they do
not reason or that they reason falsely and are not to be
influenced by reasoning.  Astonishment is felt at times on
reading certain speeches at their weakness, and yet they had an
enormous influence on the crowds which listened to them, but it
is forgotten that they were intended to persuade collectivities
and not to be read by philosophers.  An orator in intimate
communication with a crowd can evoke images by which it will be
seduced.  If he is successful his object has been attained, and
twenty volumes of harangues--always the outcome of
reflection--are not worth the few phrases which appealed to the
brains it was required to convince.

It would be superfluous to add that the powerlessness of crowds
to reason aright prevents them displaying any trace of the
critical spirit, prevents them, that is, from being capable of
discerning truth from error, or of forming a precise judgment on
any matter.  Judgments accepted by crowds are merely judgments
forced upon them and never judgments adopted after discussion.
In regard to this matter the individuals who do not rise above
the level of a crowd are numerous.  The ease with which certain
opinions obtain general acceptance results more especially from
the impossibility experienced by the majority of men of forming
an opinion peculiar to themselves and based on reasoning of their


Just as is the case with respect to persons in whom the reasoning
power is absent, the figurative imagination of crowds is very
powerful, very active and very susceptible of being keenly
impressed.  The images evoked in their mind by a personage, an
event, an accident, are almost as lifelike as the reality.
Crowds are to some extent in the position of the sleeper whose
reason, suspended for the time being, allows the arousing in his
mind of images of extreme intensity which would quickly be
dissipated could they be submitted to the action of reflection.
Crowds, being incapable both of reflection and of reasoning, are
devoid of the notion of improbability; and it is to be noted that
in a general way it is the most improbable things that are the
most striking.

This is why it happens that it is always the marvellous and
legendary side of events that more specially strike crowds.  When
a civilisation is analysed it is seen that, in reality, it is the
marvellous and the legendary that are its true supports.
Appearances have always played a much more important part than
reality in history, where the unreal is always of greater moment
than the real.

Crowds being only capable of thinking in images are only to be
impressed by images.  It is only images that terrify or attract
them and become motives of action.

For this reason theatrical representations, in which the image is
shown in its most clearly visible shape, always have an enormous
influence on crowds.  Bread and spectacular shows constituted for
the plebeians of ancient Rome the ideal of happiness, and they
asked for nothing more.  Throughout the successive ages this
ideal has scarcely varied.  Nothing has a greater effect on the
imagination of crowds of every category than theatrical
representations.  The entire audience experiences at the same
time the same emotions, and if these emotions are not at once
transformed into acts, it is because the most unconscious
spectator cannot ignore that he is the victim of illusions, and
that he has laughed or wept over imaginary adventures.
Sometimes, however, the sentiments suggested by the images are so
strong that they tend, like habitual suggestions, to transform
themselves into acts.  The story has often been told of the
manager of a popular theatre who, in consequence of his only
playing sombre dramas, was obliged to have the actor who took the
part of the traitor protected on his leaving the theatre, to
defend him against the violence of the spectators, indignant at
the crimes, imaginary though they were, which the traitor had
committed.  We have here, in my opinion, one of the most
remarkable indications of the mental state of crowds, and
especially of the facility with which they are suggestioned.  The
unreal has almost as much influence on them as the real.  They
have an evident tendency not to distinguish between the two.

The power of conquerors and the strength of States is based on
the popular imagination.  It is more particularly by working upon
this imagination that crowds are led.  All great historical
facts, the rise of Buddhism, of Christianity, of Islamism, the
Reformation, the French Revolution, and, in our own time, the
threatening invasion of Socialism are the direct or indirect
consequences of strong impressions produced on the imagination of
the crowd.

Moreover, all the great statesmen of every age and every country,
including the most absolute despots, have regarded the popular
imagination as the basis of their power, and they have never
attempted to govern in opposition to it "It was by becoming a
Catholic," said Napoleon to the Council of State, "that I
terminated the Vendeen war.  By becoming a Mussulman that I
obtained a footing in Egypt.  By becoming an Ultramontane that I
won over the Italian priests, and had I to govern a nation of
Jews I would rebuild Solomon's temple."  Never perhaps since
Alexander and Caesar has any great man better understood how the
imagination of the crowd should be impressed.  His constant
preoccupation was to strike it.  He bore it in mind in his
victories, in his harangues, in his speeches, in all his acts.
On his deathbed it was still in his thoughts.

How is the imagination of crowds to be impressed?  We shall soon
see.  Let us confine ourselves for the moment to saying that the
feat is never to be achieved by attempting to work upon the
intelligence or reasoning faculty, that is to say, by way of
demonstration.  It was not by means of cunning rhetoric that
Antony succeeded in making the populace rise against the
murderers of Caesar; it was by reading his will to the multitude
and pointing to his corpse.

Whatever strikes the imagination of crowds presents itself under
the shape of a startling and very clear image, freed from all
accessory explanation, or merely having as accompaniment a few
marvellous or mysterious facts: examples in point are a great
victory, a great miracle, a great crime, or a great hope.  Things
must be laid before the crowd as a whole, and their genesis must
never be indicated.  A hundred petty crimes or petty accidents
will not strike the imagination of crowds in the least, whereas a
single great crime or a single great accident will profoundly
impress them, even though the results be infinitely less
disastrous than those of the hundred small accidents put
together.  The epidemic of influenza, which caused the death but
a few years ago of five thousand persons in Paris alone, made
very little impression on the popular imagination.  The reason
was that this veritable hecatomb was not embodied in any visible
image, but was only learnt from statistical information furnished
weekly.  An accident which should have caused the death of only
five hundred instead of five thousand persons, but on the same
day and in public, as the outcome of an accident appealing
strongly to the eye, by the fall, for instance, of the Eiffel
Tower, would have produced, on the contrary, an immense
impression on the imagination of the crowd.  The probable loss of
a transatlantic steamer that was supposed, in the absence of
news, to have gone down in mid-ocean profoundly impressed the
imagination of the crowd for a whole week.  Yet official
statistics show that 850 sailing vessels and 203 steamers were
lost in the year 1894 alone.  The crowd, however, was never for a
moment concerned by these successive losses, much more important
though they were as far as regards the destruction of life and
property, than the loss of the Atlantic liner in question could
possibly have been.

It is not, then, the facts in themselves that strike the popular
imagination, but the way in which they take place and are brought
under notice.  It is necessary that by their condensation, if I
may thus express myself, they should produce a startling image
which fills and besets the mind.  To know the art of impressing
the imagination of crowds is to know at the same time the art of
governing them.



What is meant by the religious sentiment--It is independent of
the worship of a divinity--Its characteristics--The strength of
convictions assuming a religious shape--Various examples--Popular
gods have never disappeared--New forms under which they are
revived--Religious forms of atheism--Importance of these notions
from the historical point of view-- The Reformation, Saint
Bartholomew, the Terror, and all analogous events are the result
of the religious sentiments of crowds and not of the will of
isolated individuals.

We have shown that crowds do not reason, that they accept or
reject ideas as a whole, that they tolerate neither discussion
nor contradiction, and that the suggestions brought to bear on
them invade the entire field of their understanding and tend at
once to transform themselves into acts.  We have shown that
crowds suitably influenced are ready to sacrifice themselves for
the ideal with which they have been inspired.  We have also seen
that they only entertain violent and extreme sentiments, that in
their case sympathy quickly becomes adoration, and antipathy
almost as soon as it is aroused is transformed into hatred.
These general indications furnish us already with a presentiment
of the nature of the convictions of crowds.

When these convictions are closely examined, whether at epochs
marked by fervent religious faith, or by great political
upheavals such as those of the last century, it is apparent that
they always assume a peculiar form which I cannot better define
than by giving it the name of a religious sentiment.

This sentiment has very simple characteristics, such as worship
of a being supposed superior, fear of the power with which the
being is credited, blind submission to its commands, inability to
discuss its dogmas, the desire to spread them, and a tendency to
consider as enemies all by whom they are not accepted.  Whether
such a sentiment apply to an invisible God, to a wooden or stone
idol, to a hero or to a political conception, provided that it
presents the preceding characteristics, its essence always
remains religious.  The supernatural and the miraculous are found
to be present to the same extent.  Crowds unconsciously accord a
mysterious power to the political formula or the victorious
leader that for the moment arouses their enthusiasm.

A person is not religious solely when he worships a divinity, but
when he puts all the resources of his mind, the complete
submission of his will, and the whole-souled ardour of fanaticism
at the service of a cause or an individual who becomes the goal
and guide of his thoughts and actions.

Intolerance and fanaticism are the necessary accompaniments of
the religious sentiment.  They are inevitably displayed by those
who believe themselves in the possession of the secret of earthly
or eternal happiness.  These two characteristics are to be found
in all men grouped together when they are inspired by a
conviction of any kind.  The Jacobins of the Reign of Terror were
at bottom as religious as the Catholics of the Inquisition, and
their cruel ardour proceeded from the same source.

The convictions of crowds assume those characteristics of blind
submission, fierce intolerance, and the need of violent
propaganda which are inherent in the religious sentiment, and it
is for this reason that it may be said that all their beliefs
have a religious form.  The hero acclaimed by a crowd is a
veritable god for that crowd.  Napoleon was such a god for
fifteen years, and a divinity never had more fervent worshippers
or sent men to their death with greater ease.  The Christian and
Pagan Gods never exercised a more absolute empire over the minds
that had fallen under their sway.

All founders of religious or political creeds have established
them solely because they were successful in inspiring crowds with
those fanatical sentiments which have as result that men find
their happiness in worship and obedience and are ready to lay
down their lives for their idol.  This has been the case at all
epochs.  Fustel de Coulanges, in his excellent work on Roman
Gaul, justly remarks that the Roman Empire was in no wise
maintained by force, but by the religious admiration it inspired.
"It would be without a parallel in the history of the world," he
observes rightly, "that a form of government held in popular
detestation should have lasted for five centuries. . . .  It
would be inexplicable that the thirty legions of the Empire
should have constrained a hundred million men to obedience."  The
reason of their obedience was that the Emperor, who personified
the greatness of Rome, was worshipped like a divinity by
unanimous consent.  There were altars in honour of the Emperor in
the smallest townships of his realm.  "From one end of the Empire
to the other a new religion was seen to arise in those days which
had for its divinities the emperors themselves.  Some years
before the Christian era the whole of Gaul, represented by sixty
cities, built in common a temple near the town of Lyons in honour
of Augustus. . . .  Its priests, elected by the united Gallic
cities, were the principal personages in their country. . . .  It
is impossible to attribute all this to fear and servility.  Whole
nations are not servile, and especially for three centuries.  It
was not the courtiers who worshipped the prince, it was Rome, and
it was not Rome merely, but it was Gaul, it was Spain, it was
Greece and Asia."

To-day the majority of the great men who have swayed men's minds
no longer have altars, but they have statues, or their portraits
are in the hands of their admirers, and the cult of which they
are the object is not notably different from that accorded to
their predecessors.  An understanding of the philosophy of
history is only to be got by a thorough appreciation of this
fundamental point of the psychology of crowds.  The crowd demands
a god before everything else.

It must not be supposed that these are the superstitions of a
bygone age which reason has definitely banished.  Sentiment has
never been vanquished in its eternal conflict with reason.
Crowds will hear no more of the words divinity and religion, in
whose name they were so long enslaved; but they have never
possessed so many fetishes as in the last hundred years, and the
old divinities have never had so many statues and altars raised
in their honour.  Those who in recent years have studied the
popular movement known under the name of Boulangism have been
able to see with what ease the religious instincts of crowds are
ready to revive.  There was not a country inn that did not
possess the hero's portrait.  He was credited with the power of
remedying all injustices and all evils, and thousands of men
would have given their lives for him.  Great might have been his
place in history had his character been at all on a level with
his legendary reputation.

It is thus a very useless commonplace to assert that a religion
is necessary for the masses, because all political, divine, and
social creeds only take root among them on the condition of
always assuming the religious shape--a shape which obviates the
danger of discussion.  Were it possible to induce the masses to
adopt atheism, this belief would exhibit all the intolerant
ardour of a religious sentiment, and in its exterior forms would
soon become a cult.  The evolution of the small Positivist sect
furnishes us a curious proof in point.  What happened to the
Nihilist whose story is related by that profound thinker
Dostoiewsky has quickly happened to the Positivists.  Illumined
one day by the light of reason he broke the images of divinities
and saints that adorned the altar of a chapel, extinguished the
candles, and, without losing a moment, replaced the destroyed
objects by the works of atheistic philosophers such as Buchner
and Moleschott, after which he piously relighted the candles.
The object of his religious beliefs had been transformed, but can
it be truthfully said that his religious sentiments had changed?

Certain historical events--and they are precisely the most
important--I again repeat, are not to be understood unless one
has attained to an appreciation of the religious form which the
convictions of crowds always assume in the long run.  There are
social phenomena that need to be studied far more from the point
of view of the psychologist than from that of the naturalist.
The great historian Taine has only studied the Revolution as a
naturalist, and on this account the real genesis of events has
often escaped him.  He has perfectly observed the facts, but from
want of having studied the psychology of crowds he has not always
been able to trace their causes.  The facts having appalled him
by their bloodthirsty, anarchic, and ferocious side, he has
scarcely seen in the heroes of the great drama anything more than
a horde of epileptic savages abandoning themselves without
restraint to their instincts.  The violence of the Revolution,
its massacres, its need of propaganda, its declarations of war
upon all things, are only to be properly explained by reflecting
that the Revolution was merely the establishment of a new
religious belief in the mind of the masses.  The Reformation, the
massacre of Saint Bartholomew, the French religious wars, the
Inquisition, the Reign of Terror are phenomena of an identical
kind, brought about by crowds animated by those religious
sentiments which necessarily lead those imbued with them to
pitilessly extirpate by fire and sword whoever is opposed to the
establishment of the new faith.  The methods of the Inquisition
are those of all whose convictions are genuine and sturdy.  Their
convictions would not deserve these epithets did they resort to
other methods.

Upheavals analogous to those I have just cited are only possible
when it is the soul of the masses that brings them about.  The
most absolute despots could not cause them.  When historians tell
us that the massacre of Saint Bartholomew was the work of a king,
they show themselves as ignorant of the psychology of crowds as
of that of sovereigns.  Manifestations of this order can only
proceed from the soul of crowds.  The most absolute power of the
most despotic monarch can scarcely do more than hasten or retard
the moment of their apparition.  The massacre of Saint
Bartholomew or the religious wars were no more the work of kings
than the Reign of Terror was the work of Robespierre, Danton, or
Saint Just.  At the bottom of such events is always to be found
the working of the soul of the masses, and never the power of





Preparatory factors of the beliefs of crowds--The origin of the
beliefs of crowds is the consequence of a preliminary process of
elaboration-- Study of the different factors of these beliefs.
1. RACE. The predominating influence it exercises--It
represents the suggestions of ancestors.   2. TRADITIONS.
They are the synthesis of the soul of the race--Social importance
of traditions--How, after having been necessary they become
harmful--Crowds are the most obstinate maintainers of traditional
ideas.   3. TIME. It prepares in succession the establishment
of beliefs and then their destruction.  It is by the aid of this
factor that order may proceed from chaos.   4. POLITICAL AND
SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS. Erroneous idea of their part--Their
influence extremely weak--They are effects, not causes--Nations
are incapable of choosing what appear to them the best
institutions--Institutions are labels which shelter the most
dissimilar things under the same title-- How institutions may
come to be created--Certain institutions theoretically bad, such
as centralisation obligatory for certain nations.   5.
INSTITUTIONS AND EDUCATION. Falsity of prevalent ideas as to the
influence of instruction on crowds-- Statistical
indications--Demoralising effect of Latin system of
education--Part instruction might play--Examples furnished by
various peoples.

Having studied the mental constitution of crowds and become
acquainted with their modes of feeling, thinking, and reasoning,
we shall now proceed to examine how their opinions and beliefs
arise and become established.

The factors which determine these opinions and beliefs are of two
kinds: remote factors and immediate factors.

The remote factors are those which render crowds capable of
adopting certain convictions and absolutely refractory to the
acceptance of others.  These factors prepare the ground in which
are suddenly seen to germinate certain new ideas whose force and
consequences are a cause of astonishment, though they are only
spontaneous in appearance.  The outburst and putting in practice
of certain ideas among crowds present at times a startling
suddenness.  This is only a superficial effect, behind which must
be sought a preliminary and preparatory action of long duration.

The immediate factors are those which, coming on the top of this
long, preparatory working, in whose absence they would remain
without effect, serve as the source of active persuasion on
crowds; that is, they are the factors which cause the idea to
take shape and set it loose with all its consequences.  The
resolutions by which collectivities are suddenly carried away
arise out of these immediate factors; it is due to them that a
riot breaks out or a strike is decided upon, and to them that
enormous majorities invest one man with power to overthrow a

The successive action of these two kinds of factors is to be
traced in all great historical events.  The French Revolution--to
cite but one of the most striking of such events--had among its
remote factors the writings of the philosophers, the exactions of
the nobility, and the progress of scientific thought.  The mind
of the masses, thus prepared, was then easily roused by such
immediate factors as the speeches of orators, and the resistance
of the court party to insignificant reforms.

Among the remote factors there are some of a general nature,
which are found to underlie all the beliefs and opinions of
crowds.  They are race, traditions, time, institutions, and

We now proceed to study the influence of these different factors.


This factor, race, must be placed in the first rank, for in
itself it far surpasses in importance all the others.  We have
sufficiently studied it in another work; it is therefore needless
to deal with it again.  We showed, in a previous volume, what an
historical race is, and how, its character once formed, it
possesses, as the result of the laws of heredity such power that
its beliefs, institutions, and arts--in a word, all the elements
of its civilisation--are merely the outward expression of its
genius.  We showed that the power of the race is such that no
element can pass from one people to another without undergoing
the most profound transformations.[7]

[7] The novelty of this proposition being still considerable and
history being quite unintelligible without it, I devoted four
chapters to its demonstration in my last book ("The Psychological
Laws of the Evolution of Peoples").  From it the reader will see
that, in spite of fallacious appearances, neither language,
religion, arts, or, in a word, any element of civilisation, can
pass, intact, from one people to another.

Environment, circumstances, and events represent the social
suggestions of the moment.  They may have a considerable
influence, but this influence is always momentary if it be
contrary to the suggestions of the race; that is, to those which
are inherited by a nation from the entire series of its

We shall have occasion in several of the chapters of this work to
touch again upon racial influence, and to show that this
influence is so great that it dominates the characteristics
peculiar to the genius of crowds.  It follows from this fact that
the crowds of different countries offer very considerable
differences of beliefs and conduct and are not to be influenced
in the same manner.


Traditions represent the ideas, the needs, and the sentiments of
the past.  They are the synthesis of the race, and weigh upon us
with immense force.

The biological sciences have been transformed since embryology
has shown the immense influence of the past on the evolution of
living beings; and the historical sciences will not undergo a
less change when this conception has become more widespread.  As
yet it is not sufficiently general, and many statesmen are still
no further advanced than the theorists of the last century, who
believed that a society could break off with its past and be
entirely recast on lines suggested solely by the light of reason.

A people is an organism created by the past, and, like every
other organism, it can only be modified by slow hereditary

It is tradition that guides men, and more especially so when they
are in a crowd.  The changes they can effect in their traditions
with any ease, merely bear, as I have often repeated, upon names
and outward forms.

This circumstance is not to be regretted.  Neither a national
genius nor civilisation would be possible without traditions.  In
consequence man's two great concerns since he has existed have
been to create a network of traditions which he afterwards
endeavours to destroy when their beneficial effects have worn
themselves out.  Civilisation is impossible without traditions,
and progress impossible without the destruction of those
traditions.  The difficulty, and it is an immense difficulty, is
to find a proper equilibrium between stability and variability.
Should a people allow its customs to become too firmly rooted, it
can no longer change, and becomes, like China, incapable of
improvement.  Violent revolutions are in this case of no avail;
for what happens is that either the broken fragments of the chain
are pieced together again and the past resumes its empire without
change, or the fragments remain apart and decadence soon succeeds

The ideal for a people is in consequence to preserve the
institutions of the past, merely changing them insensibly and
little by little.  This ideal is difficult to realise.  The
Romans in ancient and the English in modern times are almost
alone in having realised it.

It is precisely crowds that cling the most tenaciously to
traditional ideas and oppose their being changed with the most
obstinacy.  This is notably the case with the category of crowds
constituting castes.  I have already insisted upon the
conservative spirit of crowds, and shown that the most violent
rebellions merely end in a changing of words and terms.  At the
end of the last century, in the presence of destroyed churches,
of priests expelled the country or guillotined, it might have
been thought that the old religious ideas had lost all their
strength, and yet a few years had barely lapsed before the
abolished system of public worship had to be re-established in
deference to universal demands.[8]

[8] The report of the ex-Conventionist, Fourcroy, quoted by
Taine, is very clear on this point.

"What is everywhere seen with respect to the keeping of Sunday
and attendance at the churches proves that the majority of
Frenchmen desire to return to their old usages and that it is no
longer opportune to resist this natural tendency. . . .  The
great majority of men stand in need of religion, public worship,
WHICH I MYSELF HAVE BEEN LED AWAY, to believe in the possibility
of instruction being so general as to destroy religious
prejudices, which for a great number of unfortunate persons are a
source of consolation. . . .  The mass of the people, then, must
be allowed its priests, its altars, and its public worship."

Blotted out for a moment, the old traditions had resumed their

No example could better display the power of tradition on the
mind of crowds.  The most redoubtable idols do not dwell in
temples, nor the most despotic tyrants in palaces; both the one
and the other can be broken in an instant.  But the invisible
masters that reign in our innermost selves are safe from every
effort at revolt, and only yield to the slow wearing away of


In social as in biological problems time is one of the most
energetic factors.  It is the sole real creator and the sole
great destroyer.  It is time that has made mountains with grains
of sand and raised the obscure cell of geological eras to human
dignity.  The action of centuries is sufficient to transform any
given phenomenon.  It has been justly observed that an ant with
enough time at its disposal could level Mount Blanc.  A being
possessed of the magical force of varying time at his will would
have the power attributed by believers to God.

In this place, however, we have only to concern ourselves with
the influence of time on the genesis of the opinions of crowds.
Its action from this point of view is still immense.  Dependent
upon it are the great forces such as race, which cannot form
themselves without it.  It causes the birth, the growth, and the
death of all beliefs.  It is by the aid of time that they acquire
their strength and also by its aid that they lose it.

It is time in particular that prepares the opinions and beliefs
of crowds, or at least the soil on which they will germinate.
This is why certain ideas are realisable at one epoch and not at
another.  It is time that accumulates that immense detritus of
beliefs and thoughts on which the ideas of a given period spring
up.  They do not grow at hazard and by chance; the roots of each
of them strike down into a long past.  When they blossom it is
time that has prepared their blooming; and to arrive at a notion
of their genesis it is always back in the past that it is
necessary to search.  They are the daughters of the past and the
mothers of the future, but throughout the slaves of time.

Time, in consequence, is our veritable master, and it suffices to
leave it free to act to see all things transformed.  At the
present day we are very uneasy with regard to the threatening
aspirations of the masses and the destructions and upheavals
foreboded thereby.  Time, without other aid, will see to the
restoration of equilibrium.  "No form of government," M. Lavisse
very properly writes, "was founded in a day.  Political and
social organisations are works that demand centuries.  The feudal
system existed for centuries in a shapeless, chaotic state before
it found its laws; absolute monarchy also existed for centuries
before arriving at regular methods of government, and these
periods of expectancy were extremely troubled."


The idea that institutions can remedy the defects of societies,
that national progress is the consequence of the improvement of
institutions and governments, and that social changes can be
effected by decrees-- this idea, I say, is still generally
accepted.  It was the starting-point of the French Revolution,
and the social theories of the present day are based upon it.

The most continuous experience has been unsuccessful in shaking
this grave delusion.  Philosophers and historians have
endeavoured in vain to prove its absurdity, but yet they have had
no difficulty in demonstrating that institutions are the outcome
of ideas, sentiments, and customs, and that ideas, sentiments,
and customs are not to be recast by recasting legislative codes.
A nation does not choose its institutions at will any more than
it chooses the colour of its hair or its eyes.  Institutions and
governments are the product of the race.  They are not the
creators of an epoch, but are created by it.  Peoples are not
governed in accordance with their caprices of the moment, but as
their character determines that they shall be governed.
Centuries are required to form a political system and centuries
needed to change it.  Institutions have no intrinsic virtue: in
themselves they are neither good nor bad.  Those which are good
at a given moment for a given people may be harmful in the
extreme for another nation.

Moreover, it is in no way in the power of a people to really
change its institutions.  Undoubtedly, at the cost of violent
revolutions, it can change their name, but in their essence they
remain unmodified.  The names are mere futile labels with which
an historian who goes to the bottom of things need scarcely
concern himself.  It is in this way, for instance, that
England,[9] the most democratic country in the world, lives,
nevertheless, under a monarchical regime, whereas the countries
in which the most oppressive despotism is rampant are the
Spanish-American Republics, in spite of their republican
constitutions.  The destinies of peoples are determined by their
character and not by their government.  I have endeavoured to
establish this view in my previous volume by setting forth
categorical examples.

[9] The most advanced republicans, even of the United States,
recognise this fact.  The American magazine, The Forum, recently
gave categorical expression to the opinion in terms which I
reproduce here from the Review of Reviews for December, 1894:--

"It should never be forgotten, even by the most ardent enemies of
an aristocracy, that England is to-day the most democratic
country of the universe, the country in which the rights of the
individual are most respected, and in which the individual
possesses the most liberty."

To lose time in the manufacture of cut-and-dried constitutions
is, in consequence, a puerile task, the useless labour of an
ignorant rhetorician.  Necessity and time undertake the charge of
elaborating constitutions when we are wise enough to allow these
two factors to act.  This is the plan the Anglo-Saxons have
adopted, as their great historian, Macaulay, teaches us in a
passage that the politicians of all Latin countries ought to
learn by heart.  After having shown all the good that can be
accomplished by laws which appear from the point of view of pure
reason a chaos of absurdities and contradictions, he compares the
scores of constitutions that have been engulfed in the
convulsions of the Latin peoples with that of England, and points
out that the latter has only been very slowly changed part by
part, under the influence of immediate necessities and never of
speculative reasoning.

"To think nothing of symmetry and much of convenience; never to
remove an anomaly merely because it is an anomaly; never to
innovate except when some grievance is felt; never to innovate
except so far as to get rid of the grievance; never to lay down
any proposition of wider extent than the particular case for
which it is necessary to provide; these are the rules which have,
from the age of John to the age of Victoria, generally guided the
deliberations of our two hundred and fifty Parliaments."

It would be necessary to take one by one the laws and
institutions of each people to show to what extent they are the
expression of the needs of each race and are incapable, for that
reason, of being violently transformed.  It is possible, for,
instance, to indulge in philosophical dissertations on the
advantages and disadvantages of centralisation; but when we see a
people composed of very different races devote a thousand years
of efforts to attaining to this centralisation; when we observe
that a great revolution, having for object the destruction of all
the institutions of the past, has been forced to respect this
centralisation, and has even strengthened it; under these
circumstances we should admit that it is the outcome of imperious
needs, that it is a condition of the existence of the nation in
question, and we should pity the poor mental range of politicians
who talk of destroying it.  Could they by chance succeed in this
attempt, their success would at once be the signal for a
frightful civil war,[10] which, moreover, would immediately bring
back a new system of centralisation much more oppressive than the

[10] If a comparison be made between the profound religious and
political dissensions which separate the various parties in
France, and are more especially the result of social questions,
and the separatist tendencies which were manifested at the time
of the Revolution, and began to again display themselves towards
the close of the Franco-German war, it will be seen that the
different races represented in France are still far from being
completely blended.  The vigorous centralisation of the
Revolution and the creation of artificial departments destined to
bring about the fusion of the ancient provinces was certainly its
most useful work.  Were it possible to bring about the
decentralisation which is to-day preoccupying minds lacking in
foresight, the achievement would promptly have for consequence
the most sanguinary disorders.  To overlook this fact is to leave
out of account the entire history of France.

The conclusion to be drawn from what precedes is, that it is not
in institutions that the means is to be sought of profoundly
influencing the genius of the masses.  When we see certain
countries, such as the United States, reach a high degree of
prosperity under democratic institutions, while others, such as
the Spanish-American Republics, are found existing in a pitiable
state of anarchy under absolutely similar institutions, we should
admit that these institutions are as foreign to the greatness of
the one as to the decadence of the others.  Peoples are governed
by their character, and all institutions which are not intimately
modelled on that character merely represent a borrowed garment, a
transitory disguise.  No doubt sanguinary wars and violent
revolutions have been undertaken, and will continue to be
undertaken, to impose institutions to which is attributed, as to
the relics of saints, the supernatural power of creating welfare.
It may be said, then, in one sense, that institutions react on
the mind of the crowd inasmuch as they engender such upheavals.
But in reality it is not the institutions that react in this
manner, since we know that, whether triumphant or vanquished,
they possess in themselves no virtue.  It is illusions and words
that have influenced the mind of the crowd, and especially
words-- words which are as powerful as they are chimerical, and
whose astonishing sway we shall shortly demonstrate.


Foremost among the dominant ideas of the present epoch is to be
found the notion that instruction is capable of considerably
changing men, and has for its unfailing consequence to improve
them and even to make them equal.  By the mere fact of its being
constantly repeated, this assertion has ended by becoming one of
the most steadfast democratic dogmas.  It would be as difficult
now to attack it as it would have been formerly to have attacked
the dogmas of the Church.

On this point, however, as on many others, democratic ideas are
in profound disagreement with the results of psychology and
experience.  Many eminent philosophers, among them Herbert
Spencer, have had no difficulty in showing that instruction
neither renders a man more moral nor happier, that it changes
neither his instincts nor his hereditary passions, and that at
times--for this to happen it need only be badly directed--it is
much more pernicious than useful.  Statisticians have brought
confirmation of these views by telling us that criminality
increases with the generalisation of instruction, or at any rate
of a certain kind of instruction, and that the worst enemies of
society, the anarchists, are recruited among the prize-winners of
schools; while in a recent work a distinguished magistrate, M.
Adolphe Guillot, made the observation that at present 3,000
educated criminals are met with for every 1,000 illiterate
delinquents, and that in fifty years the criminal percentage of
the population has passed from 227 to 552 for every 100,000
inhabitants, an increase of 133 per cent.  He has also noted in
common with his colleagues that criminality is particularly on
the increase among young persons, for whom, as is known,
gratuitous and obligatory schooling has--in France--replaced

It is not assuredly--and nobody has ever maintained this
proposition-- that well-directed instruction may not give very
useful practical results, if not in the sense of raising the
standard of morality, at least in that of developing professional
capacity.  Unfortunately the Latin peoples, especially in the
last twenty-five years, have based their systems of instruction
on very erroneous principles, and in spite of the observations of
the most eminent minds, such as Breal, Fustel de Coulanges,
Taine, and many others, they persist in their lamentable
mistakes.  I have myself shown, in a work published some time
ago, that the French system of education transforms the majority
of those who have undergone it into enemies of society, and
recruits numerous disciples for the worst forms of socialism.

The primary danger of this system of education--very properly
qualified as Latin--consists in the fact that it is based on the
fundamental psychological error that the intelligence is
developed by the learning by heart of text-books.  Adopting this
view, the endeavour has been made to enforce a knowledge of as
many hand-books as possible.  From the primary school till he
leaves the university a young man does nothing but acquire books
by heart without his judgment or personal initiative being ever
called into play.  Education consists for him in reciting by
heart and obeying.

"Learning lessons, knowing by heart a grammar or a compendium,
repeating well and imitating well--that," writes a former
Minister of Public Instruction, M. Jules Simon, "is a ludicrous
form of education whose every effort is an act of faith tacitly
admitting the infallibility of the master, and whose only results
are a belittling of ourselves and a rendering of us impotent."

Were this education merely useless, one might confine one's self
to expressing compassion for the unhappy children who, instead of
making needful studies at the primary school, are instructed in
the genealogy of the sons of Clotaire, the conflicts between
Neustria and Austrasia, or zoological classifications.  But the
system presents a far more serious danger.  It gives those who
have been submitted to it a violent dislike to the state of life
in which they were born, and an intense desire to escape from it.
The working man no longer wishes to remain a working man, or the
peasant to continue a peasant, while the most humble members of
the middle classes admit of no possible career for their sons
except that of State-paid functionaries.  Instead of preparing
men for life French schools solely prepare them to occupy public
functions, in which success can be attained without any necessity
for self-direction or the exhibition of the least glimmer of
personal initiative.  At the bottom of the social ladder the
system creates an army of proletarians discontented with their
lot and always ready to revolt, while at the summit it brings
into being a frivolous bourgeoisie, at once sceptical and
credulous, having a superstitious confidence in the State, whom
it regards as a sort of Providence, but without forgetting to
display towards it a ceaseless hostility, always laying its own
faults to the door of the Government, and incapable of the least
enterprise without the intervention of the authorities.

The State, which manufactures by dint of textbooks all these
persons possessing diplomas, can only utilise a small number of
them, and is forced to leave the others without employment.  It
is obliged in consequence to resign itself to feeding the first
mentioned and to having the others as its enemies.  From the top
to the bottom of the social pyramid, from the humblest clerk to
the professor and the prefect, the immense mass of persons
boasting diplomas besiege the professions.  While a business man
has the greatest difficulty in finding an agent to represent him
in the colonies, thousands of candidates solicit the most modest
official posts.  There are 20,000 schoolmasters and mistresses
without employment in the department of the Seine alone, all of
them persons who, disdaining the fields or the workshops, look to
the State for their livelihood.  The number of the chosen being
restricted, that of the discontented is perforce immense.  The
latter are ready for any revolution, whoever be its chiefs and
whatever the goal they aim at.  The acquisition of knowledge for
which no use can be found is a sure method of driving a man to

[11] This phenomenon, moreover, is not peculiar to the Latin
peoples.  It is also to be observed in China, which is also a
country in the hands of a solid hierarchy of mandarins or
functionaries, and where a function is obtained, as in France, by
competitive examination, in which the only test is the
imperturbable recitation of bulky manuals.  The army of educated
persons without employment is considered in China at the present
day as a veritable national calamity.  It is the same in India
where, since the English have opened schools, not for educating
purposes, as is the case in England itself, but simply to furnish
the indigenous inhabitants with instruction, there has been
formed a special class of educated persons, the Baboos, who, when
they do not obtain employment, become the irreconcilable enemies
of the English rule.  In the case of all the Baboos, whether
provided with employment or not, the first effect of their
instruction has been to lower their standard of morality.  This
is a fact on which I have insisted at length in my book, "The
Civilisations of India"--a fact, too, which has been observed by
all authors who have visited the great peninsula.

It is evidently too late to retrace our steps.  Experience alone,
that supreme educator of peoples, will be at pains to show us our
mistake.  It alone will be powerful enough to prove the necessity
of replacing our odious text-books and our pitiable examinations
by industrial instruction capable of inducing our young men to
return to the fields, to the workshop, and to the colonial
enterprise which they avoid to-day at all costs.

The professional instruction which all enlightened minds are now
demanding was the instruction received in the past by our
forefathers.  It is still in vigour at the present day among the
nations who rule the world by their force of will, their
initiative, and their spirit of enterprise.  In a series of
remarkable pages, whose principal passages I reproduce further
on, a great thinker, M. Taine, has clearly shown that our former
system of education was approximately that in vogue to-day in
England and America, and in a remarkable parallel between the
Latin and Anglo-Saxon systems he has plainly pointed out the
consequences of the two methods.

One might consent, perhaps, at a pinch, to continue to accept all
the disadvantages of our classical education, although it
produced nothing but discontented men, and men unfitted for their
station in life, did the superficial acquisition of so much
knowledge, the faultless repeating by heart of so many
text-books, raise the level of intelligence.  But does it really
raise this level?  Alas, no!  The conditions of success in life
are the possession of judgment, experience, initiative, and
character--qualities which are not bestowed by books.  Books are
dictionaries, which it is useful to consult, but of which it is
perfectly useless to have lengthy portions in one's head.

How is it possible for professional instruction to develop the
intelligence in a measure quite beyond the reach of classical
instruction?  This has been well shown by M. Taine.

"Ideas, he says, are only formed in their natural and normal
surroundings; the promotion of the growth is effected by the
innumerable impressions appealing to the senses which a young man
receives daily in the workshop, the mine, the law court, the
study, the builder's yard, the hospital; at the sight of tools,
materials, and operations; in the presence of customers, workers,
and labour, of work well or ill done, costly or lucrative.  In
such a way are obtained those trifling perceptions of detail of
the eyes, the ear, the hands, and even the sense of smell, which,
picked up involuntarily, and silently elaborated, take shape
within the learner, and suggest to him sooner or, later this or
that new combination, simplification, economy, improvement, or
invention.  The young Frenchman is deprived, and precisely at the
age when they are most fruitful, of all these precious contacts,
of all these indispensable elements of assimilation.  For seven
or eight years on end he is shut up in a school, and is cut off
from that direct personal experience which would give him a keen
and exact notion of men and things and of the various ways of
handling them."

" . . . At least nine out of ten have wasted their time and pains
during several years of their life--telling, important, even
decisive years.  Among such are to be counted, first of all, the
half or two-thirds of those who present themselves for
examination--I refer to those who are rejected; and then among
those who are successful, who obtain a degree, a certificate, a
diploma, there is still a half or two-thirds--I refer to the
overworked.  Too much has been demanded of them by exacting that
on a given day, on a chair or before a board, they should, for
two hours in succession, and with respect to a group of sciences,
be living repertories of all human knowledge.  In point of fact
they were that, or nearly so, for two hours on that particular
day, but a month later they are so no longer.  They could not go
through the examination again.  Their too numerous and too
burdensome acquisitions slip incessantly from their mind, and are
not replaced.  Their mental vigour has declined, their fertile
capacity for growth has dried up, the fully-developed man
appears, and he is often a used-up man.  Settled down, married,
resigned to turning in a circle, and indefinitely in the same
circle, he shuts himself up in his confined function, which he
fulfils adequately, but nothing more.  Such is the average yield:
assuredly the receipts do not balance the expenditure.  In
England or America, where, as in France previous to 1789, the
contrary proceeding is adopted, the outcome obtained is equal or

The illustrious psychologist subsequently shows us the difference
between our system and that of the Anglo-Saxons.  The latter do
not possess our innumerable special schools.  With them
instruction is not based on book-learning, but on object lessons.
The engineer, for example, is trained in a workshop, and never at
a school; a method which allows of each individual reaching the
level his intelligence permits of.  He becomes a workman or a
foreman if he can get no further, an engineer if his aptitudes
take him as far.  This manner of proceeding is much more
democratic and of much greater benefit to society than that of
making the whole career of an individual depend on an
examination, lasting a few hours, and undergone at the age of
nineteen or twenty.

"In the hospital, the mine, the factory, in the architect's or
the lawyer's office, the student, who makes a start while very
young, goes through his apprenticeship, stage by stage, much as
does with us a law clerk in his office, or an artist in his
studio.  Previously, and before making a practical beginning, he
has had an opportunity of following some general and summary
course of instruction, so as to have a framework ready prepared
in which to store the observations he is shortly to make.
Furthermore he is able, as a rule, to avail himself of sundry
technical courses which he can follow in his leisure hours, so as
to co-ordinate step by step the daily experience he is gathering.
Under such a system the practical capabilities increase and
develop of themselves in exact proportion to the faculties of the
student, and in the direction requisite for his future task and
the special work for which from now onwards he desires to fit
himself.  By this means in England or the United States a young
man is quickly in a position to develop his capacity to the
utmost.  At twenty-five years of age, and much sooner if the
material and the parts are there, he is not merely a useful
performer, he is capable also of spontaneous enterprise; he is
not only a part of a machine, but also a motor.  In France, where
the contrary system prevails--in France, which with each
succeeding generation is falling more and more into line with
China--the sum total of the wasted forces is enormous."

The great philosopher arrives at the following conclusion with
respect to the growing incongruity between our Latin system of
education and the requirements of practical life:--

"In the three stages of instruction, those of childhood,
adolescence and youth, the theoretical and pedagogic preparation
by books on the school benches has lengthened out and become
overcharged in view of the examination, the degree, the diploma,
and the certificate, and solely in this view, and by the worst
methods, by the application of an unnatural and anti-social
regime, by the excessive postponement of the practical
apprenticeship, by our boarding-school system, by artificial
training and mechanical cramming, by overwork, without thought
for the time that is to follow, for the adult age and the
functions of the man, without regard for the real world on which
the young man will shortly be thrown, for the society in which we
move and to which he must be adapted or be taught to resign
himself in advance, for the struggle in which humanity is
engaged, and in which to defend himself and to keep his footing
he ought previously to have been equipped, armed, trained, and
hardened.  This indispensable equipment, this acquisition of more
importance than any other, this sturdy common sense and nerve and
will-power our schools do not procure the young Frenchman; on the
contrary, far from qualifying him for his approaching and
definite state, they disqualify him.  In consequence, his entry
into the world and his first steps in the field of action are
most often merely a succession of painful falls, whose effect is
that he long remains wounded and bruised, and sometimes disabled
for life.  The test is severe and dangerous.  In the course of it
the mental and moral equilibrium is affected, and runs the risk
of not being re-established.  Too sudden and complete disillusion
has supervened.  The deceptions have been too great, the
disappointments too keen."[12]

[12] Taine, "Le Regime moderne," vol. ii., 1894.  These pages are
almost the last that Taine wrote.  They resume admirably the
results of the great philosopher's long experience.
Unfortunately they are in my opinion totally incomprehensible for
such of our university professors who have not lived abroad.
Education is the only means at our disposal of influencing to
some extent the mind of a nation, and it is profoundly saddening
to have to think that there is scarcely any one in France who can
arrive at understanding that our present system of teaching is a
grave cause of rapid decadence, which instead of elevating our
youth, lowers and perverts it.

A useful comparison may be made between Taine's pages and the
observations on American education recently made by M. Paul
Bourget in his excellent book, "Outre-Mer."  He, too, after
having noted that our education merely produces narrow-minded
bourgeois, lacking in initiative and will-power, or
anarchists--"those two equally harmful types of the civilised
man, who degenerates into impotent platitude or insane
destructiveness"--he too, I say, draws a comparison that cannot
be the object of too much reflection between our French lycees
(public schools), those factories of degeneration, and the
American schools, which prepare a man admirably for life.  The
gulf existing between truly democratic nations and those who have
democracy in their speeches, but in no wise in their thoughts, is
clearly brought out in this comparison.

Have we digressed in what precedes from the psychology of crowds?
Assuredly not.  If we desire to understand the ideas and beliefs
that are germinating to-day in the masses, and will spring up
to-morrow, it is necessary to know how the ground has been
prepared.  The instruction given the youth of a country allows of
a knowledge of what that country will one day be.  The education
accorded the present generation justifies the most gloomy
previsions.  It is in part by instruction and education that the
mind of the masses is improved or deteriorated.  It was necessary
in consequence to show how this mind has been fashioned by the
system in vogue, and how the mass of the indifferent and the
neutral has become progressively an army of the discontented
ready to obey all the suggestions of utopians and rhetoricians.
It is in the schoolroom that socialists and anarchists are found
nowadays, and that the way is being paved for the approaching
period of decadence for the Latin peoples.



1. IMAGES, WORDS AND FORMULAE. The magical power of words
and formulae--The power of words bound up with the images they
evoke, and independent of their real sense--These images vary
from age to age, and from race to race--The wear and tear of
words--Examples of the considerable variations of sense of
much-used words--The political utility of baptizing old things
with new names when the words by which they were designated
produced an unfavourable impression on the masses-- variations of
the sense of words in consequence of race differences--The
different meanings of the word "democracy" in Europe and America.
2. ILLUSIONS. Their importance--They are to be found at the
root of all civilisations--The social necessity of
illusions--Crowds always prefer them to truths.   3.
EXPERIENCE. Experience alone can fix in the mind of crowds truths
become necessary and destroy illusions grown
dangerous--Experience is only effective on the condition that it
be frequently repeated--The cost of the experiences requisite to
persuade crowds.   4. REASON. The nullity of its influence on
crowds--Crowds only to be influenced by their unconscious
sentiments-- The role of logic in history--The secret causes of
improbable events.

We have just investigated the remote and preparatory factors
which give the mind of crowds a special receptivity, and make
possible therein the growth of certain sentiments and certain
ideas.  It now remains for us to study the factors capable of
acting in a direct manner.  We shall see in a forthcoming chapter
how these factors should be put in force in order that they may
produce their full effect.

In the first part of this work we studied the sentiments, ideas,
and methods of reasoning of collective bodies, and from the
knowledge thus acquired it would evidently be possible to deduce
in a general way the means of making an impression on their mind.
We already know what strikes the imagination of crowds, and are
acquainted with the power and contagiousness of suggestions, of
those especially that are presented under the form of images.
However, as suggestions may proceed from very different sources,
the factors capable of acting on the minds of crowds may differ
considerably.  It is necessary, then, to study them separately.
This is not a useless study.  Crowds are somewhat like the sphinx
of ancient fable: it is necessary to arrive at a solution of the
problems offered by their psychology or to resign ourselves to
being devoured by them.


When studying the imagination of crowds we saw that it is
particularly open to the impressions produced by images.  These
images do not always lie ready to hand, but it is possible to
evoke them by the judicious employment of words and formulas.
Handled with art, they possess in sober truth the mysterious
power formerly attributed to them by the adepts of magic.  They
cause the birth in the minds of crowds of the most formidable
tempests, which in turn they are capable of stilling.  A pyramid
far loftier than that of old Cheops could be raised merely with
the bones of men who have been victims of the power of words and

The power of words is bound up with the images they evoke, and is
quite independent of their real significance.  Words whose sense
is the most ill-defined are sometimes those that possess the most
influence.  Such, for example, are the terms democracy,
socialism, equality, liberty, &c., whose meaning is so vague that
bulky volumes do not suffice to precisely fix it.  Yet it is
certain that a truly magical power is attached to those short
syllables, as if they contained the solution of all problems.
They synthesise the most diverse unconscious aspirations and the
hope of their realisation.

Reason and arguments are incapable of combatting certain words
and formulas.  They are uttered with solemnity in the presence of
crowds, and as soon as they have been pronounced an expression of
respect is visible on every countenance, and all heads are bowed.
By many they are considered as natural forces, as supernatural
powers.  They evoke grandiose and vague images in men's minds,
but this very vagueness that wraps them in obscurity augments
their mysterious power.  They are the mysterious divinities
hidden behind the tabernacle, which the devout only approach in
fear and trembling.

The images evoked by words being independent of their sense, they
vary from age to age and from people to people, the formulas
remaining identical.  Certain transitory images are attached to
certain words: the word is merely as it were the button of an
electric bell that calls them up.

All words and all formulas do not possess the power of evoking
images, while there are some which have once had this power, but
lose it in the course of use, and cease to waken any response in
the mind.  They then become vain sounds, whose principal utility
is to relieve the person who employs them of the obligation of
thinking.  Armed with a small stock of formulas and commonplaces
learnt while we are young, we possess all that is needed to
traverse life without the tiring necessity of having to reflect
on anything whatever.

If any particular language be studied, it is seen that the words
of which it is composed change rather slowly in the course of
ages, while the images these words evoke or the meaning attached
to them changes ceaselessly.  This is the reason why, in another
work, I have arrived at the conclusion that the absolute
translation of a language, especially of a dead language, is
totally impossible.  What do we do in reality when we substitute
a French for a Latin, Greek, or Sanscrit expression, or even when
we endeavour to understand a book written in our own tongue two
or three centuries back?  We merely put the images and ideas with
which modern life has endowed our intelligence in the place of
absolutely distinct notions and images which ancient life had
brought into being in the mind of races submitted to conditions
of existence having no analogy with our own.  When the men of the
Revolution imagined they were copying the Greeks and Romans, what
were they doing except giving to ancient words a sense the latter
had never had?  What resemblance can possibly exist between the
institutions of the Greeks and those designated to-day by
corresponding words?  A republic at that epoch was an essentially
aristocratic institution, formed of a reunion of petty despots
ruling over a crowd of slaves kept in the most absolute
subjection.  These communal aristocracies, based on slavery,
could not have existed for a moment without it.

The word "liberty," again, what signification could it have in
any way resembling that we attribute to it to-day at a period
when the possibility of the liberty of thought was not even
suspected, and when there was no greater and more exceptional
crime than that of discussing the gods, the laws and the customs
of the city?  What did such a word as "fatherland" signify to an
Athenian or Spartan unless it were the cult of Athens or Sparta,
and in no wise that of Greece, composed of rival cities always at
war with each other?  What meaning had the same word "fatherland"
among the ancient Gauls, divided into rival tribes and races, and
possessing different languages and religions, and who were easily
vanquished by Caesar because he always found allies among them?
It was Rome that made a country of Gaul by endowing it with
political and religious unity.  Without going back so far,
scarcely two centuries ago, is it to be believed that this same
notion of a fatherland was conceived to have the same meaning as
at present by French princes like the great Conde, who allied
themselves with the foreigner against their sovereign?  And yet
again, the same word had it not a sense very different from the
modern for the French royalist emigrants, who thought they obeyed
the laws of honour in fighting against France, and who from their
point of view did indeed obey them, since the feudal law bound
the vassal to the lord and not to the soil, so that where the
sovereign was there was the true fatherland?

Numerous are the words whose meaning has thus profoundly changed
from age to age--words which we can only arrive at understanding
in the sense in which they were formerly understood after a long
effort.  It has been said with truth that much study is necessary
merely to arrive at conceiving what was signified to our great
grandfathers by such words as the "king" and the "royal family."
What, then, is likely to be the case with terms still more

Words, then, have only mobile and transitory significations which
change from age to age and people to people; and when we desire
to exert an influence by their means on the crowd what it is
requisite to know is the meaning given them by the crowd at a
given moment, and not the meaning which they formerly had or may
yet have for individuals of a different mental constitution.

Thus, when crowds have come, as the result of political upheavals
or changes of belief, to acquire a profound antipathy for the
images evoked by certain words, the first duty of the true
statesman is to change the words without, of course, laying hands
on the things themselves, the latter being too intimately bound
up with the inherited constitution to be transformed.  The
judicious Tocqueville long ago made the remark that the work of
the consulate and the empire consisted more particularly in the
clothing with new words of the greater part of the institutions
of the past--that is to say, in replacing words evoking
disagreeable images in the imagination of the crowd by other
words of which the novelty prevented such evocations.  The
"taille" or tallage has become the land tax; the "gabelle," the
tax on salt; the "aids," the indirect contributions and the
consolidated duties; the tax on trade companies and guilds, the
license, &c.

One of the most essential functions of statesmen consists, then,
in baptizing with popular or, at any rate, indifferent words
things the crowd cannot endure under their old names.  The power
of words is so great that it suffices to designate in well-chosen
terms the most odious things to make them acceptable to crowds.
Taine justly observes that it was by invoking liberty and
fraternity--words very popular at the time-- that the Jacobins
were able "to install a despotism worthy of Dahomey, a tribunal
similar to that of the Inquisition, and to accomplish human
hecatombs akin to those of ancient Mexico."  The art of those who
govern, as is the case with the art of advocates, consists above
all in the science of employing words.  One of the greatest
difficulties of this art is, that in one and the same society the
same words most often have very different meanings for the
different social classes, who employ in appearance the same
words, but never speak the same language.

In the preceding examples it is especially time that has been
made to intervene as the principal factor in the changing of the
meaning of words.  If, however, we also make race intervene, we
shall then see that, at the same period, among peoples equally
civilised but of different race, the same words very often
correspond to extremely dissimilar ideas.  It is impossible to
understand these differences without having travelled much, and
for this reason I shall not insist upon them.  I shall confine
myself to observing that it is precisely the words most often
employed by the masses which among different peoples possess the
most different meanings.  Such is the case, for instance, with
the words "democracy" and "socialism" in such frequent use

In reality they correspond to quite contrary ideas and images in
the Latin and Anglo-Saxon mind.  For the Latin peoples the word
"democracy" signifies more especially the subordination of the
will and the initiative of the individual to the will and the
initiative of the community represented by the State.  It is the
State that is charged, to a greater and greater degree, with the
direction of everything, the centralisation, the monopolisation,
and the manufacture of everything.  To the State it is that all
parties without exception, radicals, socialists, or monarchists,
constantly appeal.  Among the Anglo-Saxons and notably in America
this same word "democracy" signifies, on the contrary, the
intense development of the will of the individual, and as
complete a subordination as possible of the State, which, with
the exception of the police, the army, and diplomatic relations,
is not allowed the direction of anything, not even of public
instruction.  It is seen, then, that the same word which
signifies for one people the subordination of the will and the
initiative of the individual and the preponderance of the State,
signifies for another the excessive development of the will and
the initiative of the individual and the complete subordination
of the State.[13]

[13] In my book, "The Psychological Laws of the Evolution of
Peoples," I have insisted at length on the differences which
distinguish the Latin democratic ideal from the Anglo-Saxon
democratic ideal.  Independently, and as the result of his
travels, M. Paul Bourget has arrived, in his quite recent book,
"Outre-Mer," at conclusions almost identical with mine.


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]

[14] Daniel Lesueur.

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.


Experience constitutes almost the only effective process by which
a truth may be solidly established in the mind of the masses, and
illusions grown too dangerous be destroyed.  To this end,
however, it is necessary that the experience should take place on
a very large scale, and be very frequently repeated.  The
experiences undergone by one generation are useless, as a rule,
for the generation that follows, which is the reason why
historical facts, cited with a view to demonstration, serve no
purpose.  Their only utility is to prove to what an extent
experiences need to be repeated from age to age to exert any
influence, or to be successful in merely shaking an erroneous
opinion when it is solidly implanted in the mind of the masses.

Our century and that which preceded it will doubtless be alluded
to by historians as an era of curious experiments, which in no
other age have been tried in such number.

The most gigantic of these experiments was the French Revolution.
To find out that a society is not to be refashioned from top to
bottom in accordance with the dictates of pure reason, it was
necessary that several millions of men should be massacred and
that Europe should be profoundly disturbed for a period of twenty
years.  To prove to us experimentally that dictators cost the
nations who acclaim them dear, two ruinous experiences have been
required in fifty years, and in spite of their clearness they do
not seem to have been sufficiently convincing.  The first,
nevertheless, cost three millions of men and an invasion, the
second involved a loss of territory, and carried in its wake the
necessity for permanent armies.  A third was almost attempted not
long since, and will assuredly be attempted one day.  To bring an
entire nation to admit that the huge German army was not, as was
currently alleged thirty years ago, a sort of harmless national
guard,[15] the terrible war which cost us so dear had to take
place.  To bring about the recognition that Protection ruins the
nations who adopt it, at least twenty years of disastrous
experience will be needful.  These examples might be indefinitely

[15] The opinion of the crowd was formed in this case by those
rough-and-ready associations of dissimilar things, the mechanism
of which I have previously explained.  The French national guard
of that period, being composed of peaceable shopkeepers, utterly
lacking in discipline and quite incapable of being taken
seriously, whatever bore a similar name, evoked the same
conception and was considered in consequence as harmless.  The
error of the crowd was shared at the time by its leaders, as
happens so often in connection with opinions dealing with
generalisations.  In a speech made in the Chamber on the 31st of
December, 1867, and quoted in a book by M. E. Ollivier that has
appeared recently, a statesman who often followed the opinion of
the crowd but was never in advance of it--I allude to M.
Thiers--declared that Prussia only possessed a national guard
analogous to that of France, and in consequence without
importance, in addition to a regular army about equal to the
French regular army; assertions about as accurate as the
predictions of the same statesman as to the insignificant future
reserved for railways.


In enumerating the factors capable of making an impression on the
minds of crowds all mention of reason might be dispensed with,
were it not necessary to point out the negative value of its

We have already shown that crowds are not to be influenced by
reasoning, and can only comprehend rough-and-ready associations
of ideas.  The orators who know how to make an impression upon
them always appeal in consequence to their sentiments and never
to their reason.  The laws of logic have no action on crowds.[16]
To bring home conviction to crowds it is necessary first of all
to thoroughly comprehend the sentiments by which they are
animated, to pretend to share these sentiments, then to endeavour
to modify them by calling up, by means of rudimentary
associations, certain eminently suggestive notions, to be
capable, if need be, of going back to the point of view from
which a start was made, and, above all, to divine from instant to
instant the sentiments to which one's discourse is giving birth.
This necessity of ceaselessly varying one's language in
accordance with the effect produced at the moment of speaking
deprives from the outset a prepared and studied harangue of all
efficaciousness.  In such a speech the orator follows his own
line of thought, not that of his hearers, and from this fact
alone his influence is annihilated.

[16] My first observations with regard to the art of impressing
crowds and touching the slight assistance to be derived in this
connection from the rules of logic date back to the seige of
Paris, to the day when I saw conducted to the Louvre, where the
Government was then sitting, Marshal V----, whom a furious crowd
asserted they had surprised in the act of taking the plans of the
fortifications to sell them to the Prussians.  A member of the
Government (G. P----), a very celebrated orator, came out to
harangue the crowd, which was demanding the immediate execution
of the prisoner.  I had expected that the speaker would point out
the absurdity of the accusation by remarking that the accused
Marshal was positively one of those who had constructed the
fortifications, the plan of which, moreover, was on sale at every
booksellers.  To my immense stupefaction--I was very young
then--the speech was on quite different lines.  "Justice shall be
done," exclaimed the orator, advancing towards the prisoner, "and
pitiless justice.  Let the Government of the National Defence
conclude your inquiry.  In the meantime we will keep the prisoner
in custody."  At once calmed by this apparent concession, the
crowd broke up, and a quarter of an hour later the Marshal was
able to return home.  He would infallibly have been torn in
pieces had the speaker treated the infuriated crowd to the
logical arguments that my extreme youth induced me to consider as
very convincing.

Logical minds, accustomed to be convinced by a chain of somewhat
close reasoning, cannot avoid having recourse to this mode of
persuasion when addressing crowds, and the inability of their
arguments always surprises them.  "The usual mathematical
consequences based on the syllogism--that is, on associations of
identities--are imperative . . ." writes a logician.  "This
imperativeness would enforce the assent even of an inorganic mass
were it capable of following associations of identities."  This
is doubtless true, but a crowd is no more capable than an
inorganic mass of following such associations, nor even of
understanding them.  If the attempt be made to convince by
reasoning primitive minds--savages or children, for instance--the
slight value possessed by this method of arguing will be

It is not even necessary to descend so low as primitive beings to
obtain an insight into the utter powerlessness of reasoning when
it has to fight against sentiment.  Let us merely call to mind
how tenacious, for centuries long, have been religious
superstitions in contradiction with the simplest logic.  For
nearly two thousand years the most luminous geniuses have bowed
before their laws, and modern times have to be reached for their
veracity to be merely contested.  The Middle Ages and the
Renaissance possessed many enlightened men, but not a single man
who attained by reasoning to an appreciation of the childish side
of his superstitions, or who promulgated even a slight doubt as
to the misdeeds of the devil or the necessity of burning

Should it be regretted that crowds are never guided by reason?
We would not venture to affirm it.  Without a doubt human reason
would not have availed to spur humanity along the path of
civilisation with the ardour and hardihood its illusions have
done.  These illusions, the offspring of those unconscious forces
by which we are led, were doubtless necessary.  Every race
carries in its mental constitution the laws of its destiny, and
it is, perhaps, these laws that it obeys with a resistless
impulse, even in the case of those of its impulses which
apparently are the most unreasoned.  It seems at times as if
nations were submitted to secret forces analogous to those which
compel the acorn to transform itself into an oak or a comet to
follow its orbit.

What little insight we can get into these forces must be sought
for in the general course of the evolution of a people, and not
in the isolated facts from which this evolution appears at times
to proceed.  Were these facts alone to be taken into
consideration, history would seem to be the result of a series of
improbable chances.  It was improbable that a Galilean carpenter
should become for two thousand years an all-powerful God in whose
name the most important civilisations were founded; improbable,
too, that a few bands of Arabs, emerging from their deserts,
should conquer the greater part of the old Graco-Roman world, and
establish an empire greater than that of Alexander; improbable,
again, that in Europe, at an advanced period of its development,
and when authority throughout it had been systematically
hierarchised, an obscure lieutenant of artillery should have
succeeded in reigning over a multitude of peoples and kings.

Let us leave reason, then, to philosophers, and not insist too
strongly on its intervention in the governing of men.  It is not
by reason, but most often in spite of it, that are created those
sentiments that are the mainsprings of all
civilisation--sentiments such as honour, self- sacrifice,
religious faith, patriotism, and the love of glory.



1. THE LEADERS OF CROWDS.  The instinctive need of all
beings forming a crowd to obey a leader--The psychology of the
leaders of crowds--They alone can endow crowds with faith and
organise them--The leaders forcibly despotic--Classification of
the leaders--The part played by the will.   2. THE MEANS OF
ACTION OF THE LEADERS.  Affirmation, repetition, contagion--The
respective part of these different factors--The way in which
contagion may spread from the lower to the upper classes in a
society--A popular opinion soon becomes a general opinion.
3. PRESTIGE. Definition of prestige and classification of its
different kinds--Acquired prestige and personal prestige--Various
examples--The way in which prestige is destroyed.

We are now acquainted with the mental constitution of crowds, and
we also know what are the motives capable of making an impression
on their mind.  It remains to investigate how these motives may
be set in action, and by whom they may usefully be turned to
practical account.


As soon as a certain number of living beings are gathered
together, whether they be animals or men, they place themselves
instinctively under the authority of a chief.

In the case of human crowds the chief is often nothing more than
a ringleader or agitator, but as such he plays a considerable
part.  His will is the nucleus around which the opinions of the
crowd are grouped and attain to identity.  He constitutes the
first element towards the organisation of heterogeneous crowds,
and paves the way for their organisation in sects; in the
meantime he directs them.  A crowd is a servile flock that is
incapable of ever doing without a master.

The leader has most often started as one of the led.  He has
himself been hypnotised by the idea, whose apostle he has since
become.  It has taken possession of him to such a degree that
everything outside it vanishes, and that every contrary opinion
appears to him an error or a superstition.  An example in point
is Robespierre, hypnotised by the philosophical ideas of
Rousseau, and employing the methods of the Inquisition to
propagate them.

The leaders we speak of are more frequently men of action than
thinkers.  They are not gifted with keen foresight, nor could
they be, as this quality generally conduces to doubt and
inactivity.  They are especially recruited from the ranks of
those morbidly nervous, excitable, half-deranged persons who are
bordering on madness.  However absurd may be the idea they uphold
or the goal they pursue, their convictions are so strong that all
reasoning is lost upon them.  Contempt and persecution do not
affect them, or only serve to excite them the more.  They
sacrifice their personal interest, their family--everything.  The
very instinct of self-preservation is entirely obliterated in
them, and so much so that often the only recompense they solicit
is that of martyrdom.  The intensity of their faith gives great
power of suggestion to their words.  The multitude is always
ready to listen to the strong-willed man, who knows how to impose
himself upon it.  Men gathered in a crowd lose all force of will,
and turn instinctively to the person who possesses the quality
they lack.

Nations have never lacked leaders, but all of the latter have by
no means been animated by those strong convictions proper to
apostles.  These leaders are often subtle rhetoricians, seeking
only their own personal interest, and endeavouring to persuade by
flattering base instincts.  The influence they can assert in this
manner may be very great, but it is always ephemeral.  The men of
ardent convictions who have stirred the soul of crowds, the Peter
the Hermits, the Luthers, the Savonarolas, the men of the French
Revolution, have only exercised their fascination after having
been themselves fascinated first of all by a creed.  They are
then able to call up in the souls of their fellows that
formidable force known as faith, which renders a man the absolute
slave of his dream.

The arousing of faith--whether religious, political, or social,
whether faith in a work, in a person, or an idea--has always been
the function of the great leaders of crowds, and it is on this
account that their influence is always very great.  Of all the
forces at the disposal of humanity, faith has always been one of
the most tremendous, and the gospel rightly attributes to it the
power of moving mountains.  To endow a man with faith is to
multiply his strength tenfold.  The great events of history have
been brought about by obscure believers, who have had little
beyond their faith in their favour.  It is not by the aid of the
learned or of philosophers, and still less of sceptics, that have
been built up the great religions which have swayed the world, or
the vast empires which have spread from one hemisphere to the

In the cases just cited, however, we are dealing with great
leaders, and they are so few in number that history can easily
reckon them up.  They form the summit of a continuous series,
which extends from these powerful masters of men down to the
workman who, in the smoky atmosphere of an inn, slowly fascinates
his comrades by ceaselessly drumming into their ears a few set
phrases, whose purport he scarcely comprehends, but the
application of which, according to him, must surely bring about
the realisation of all dreams and of every hope.

In every social sphere, from the highest to the lowest, as soon
as a man ceases to be isolated he speedily falls under the
influence of a leader.  The majority of men, especially among the
masses, do not possess clear and reasoned ideas on any subject
whatever outside their own speciality.  The leader serves them as
guide.  It is just possible that he may be replaced, though very
inefficiently, by the periodical publications which manufacture
opinions for their readers and supply them with ready- made
phrases which dispense them of the trouble of reasoning.

The leaders of crowds wield a very despotic authority, and this
despotism indeed is a condition of their obtaining a following.
It has often been remarked how easily they extort obedience,
although without any means of backing up their authority, from
the most turbulent section of the working classes.  They fix the
hours of labour and the rate of wages, and they decree strikes,
which are begun and ended at the hour they ordain.

At the present day these leaders and agitators tend more and more
to usurp the place of the public authorities in proportion as the
latter allow themselves to be called in question and shorn of
their strength.  The tyranny of these new masters has for result
that the crowds obey them much more docilely than they have
obeyed any government.  If in consequence of some accident or
other the leaders should be removed from the scene the crowd
returns to its original state of a collectivity without cohesion
or force of resistance.  During the last strike of the Parisian
omnibus employes the arrest of the two leaders who were directing
it was at once sufficient to bring it to an end.  It is the need
not of liberty but of servitude that is always predominant in the
soul of crowds.  They are so bent on obedience that they
instinctively submit to whoever declares himself their master.

These ringleaders and agitators may be divided into two clearly
defined classes.  The one includes the men who are energetic and
possess, but only intermittently, much strength of will, the
other the men, far rarer than the preceding, whose strength of
will is enduring.  The first mentioned are violent, brave, and
audacious.  They are more especially useful to direct a violent
enterprise suddenly decided on, to carry the masses with them in
spite of danger, and to transform into heroes the men who but
yesterday were recruits.  Men of this kind were Ney and Murat
under the First Empire, and such a man in our own time was
Garibaldi, a talentless but energetic adventurer who succeeded
with a handful of men in laying hands on the ancient kingdom of
Naples, defended though it was by a disciplined army.

Still, though the energy of leaders of this class is a force to
be reckoned with, it is transitory, and scarcely outlasts the
exciting cause that has brought it into play.  When they have
returned to their ordinary course of life the heroes animated by
energy of this description often evince, as was the case with
those I have just cited, the most astonishing weakness of
character.  They seem incapable of reflection and of conducting
themselves under the simplest circumstances, although they had
been able to lead others.  These men are leaders who cannot
exercise their function except on the condition that they be led
themselves and continually stimulated, that they have always as
their beacon a man or an idea, that they follow a line of conduct
clearly traced.  The second category of leaders, that of men of
enduring strength of will, have, in spite of a less brilliant
aspect, a much more considerable influence.  In this category are
to be found the true founders of religions and great
undertakings: St. Paul, Mahomet, Christopher Columbus, and de
Lesseps, for example.  Whether they be intelligent or
narrow-minded is of no importance: the world belongs to them.
The persistent will-force they possess is an immensely rare and
immensely powerful faculty to which everything yields.  What a
strong and continuous will is capable of is not always properly
appreciated.  Nothing resists it; neither nature, gods, nor man.

The most recent example of what can be effected by a strong and
continuous will is afforded us by the illustrious man who
separated the Eastern and Western worlds, and accomplished a task
that during three thousand years had been attempted in vain by
the greatest sovereigns.  He failed later in an identical
enterprise, but then had intervened old age, to which everything,
even the will, succumbs.

When it is desired to show what may be done by mere strength of
will, all that is necessary is to relate in detail the history of
the difficulties that had to be surmounted in connection with the
cutting of the Suez Canal.  An ocular witness, Dr. Cazalis, has
summed up in a few striking lines the entire story of this great
work, recounted by its immortal author.

"From day to day, episode by episode, he told the stupendous
story of the canal.  He told of all he had had to vanquish, of
the impossible he had made possible, of all the opposition he
encountered, of the coalition against him, and the
disappointments, the reverses, the defeats which had been
unavailing to discourage or depress him.  He recalled how England
had combatted him, attacking him without cessation, how Egypt and
France had hesitated, how the French Consul had been foremost in
his opposition to the early stages of the work, and the nature of
the opposition he had met with, the attempt to force his workmen
to desert from thirst by refusing them fresh water; how the
Minister of Marine and the engineers, all responsible men of
experienced and scientific training, had naturally all been
hostile, were all certain on scientific grounds that disaster was
at hand, had calculated its coming, foretelling it for such a day
and hour as an eclipse is foretold."

The book which relates the lives of all these great leaders would
not contain many names, but these names have been bound up with
the most important events in the history of civilisation.


When it is wanted to stir up a crowd for a short space of time,
to induce it to commit an act of any nature--to pillage a palace,
or to die in defence of a stronghold or a barricade, for
instance--the crowd must be acted upon by rapid suggestion, among
which example is the most powerful in its effect.  To attain this
end, however, it is necessary that the crowd should have been
previously prepared by certain circumstances, and, above all,
that he who wishes to work upon it should possess the quality to
be studied farther on, to which I give the name of prestige.

When, however, it is proposed to imbue the mind of a crowd with
ideas and beliefs--with modern social theories, for instance--the
leaders have recourse to different expedients.  The principal of
them are three in number and clearly defined--affirmation,
repetition, and contagion.  Their action is somewhat slow, but
its effects, once produced, are very lasting.

Affirmation pure and simple, kept free of all reasoning and all
proof, is one of the surest means of making an idea enter the
mind of crowds.  The conciser an affirmation is, the more
destitute of every appearance of proof and demonstration, the
more weight it carries.  The religious books and the legal codes
of all ages have always resorted to simple affirmation.
Statesmen called upon to defend a political cause, and commercial
men pushing the sale of their products by means of advertising
are acquainted with the value of affirmation.

Affirmation, however, has no real influence unless it be
constantly repeated, and so far as possible in the same terms.
It was Napoleon, I believe, who said that there is only one
figure in rhetoric of serious importance, namely, repetition.
The thing affirmed comes by repetition to fix itself in the mind
in such a way that it is accepted in the end as a demonstrated

The influence of repetition on crowds is comprehensible when the
power is seen which it exercises on the most enlightened minds.
This power is due to the fact that the repeated statement is
embedded in the long run in those profound regions of our
unconscious selves in which the motives of our actions are
forged.  At the end of a certain time we have forgotten who is
the author of the repeated assertion, and we finish by believing
it.  To this circumstance is due the astonishing power of
advertisements.  When we have read a hundred, a thousand, times
that X's chocolate is the best, we imagine we have heard it said
in many quarters, and we end by acquiring the certitude that such
is the fact.  When we have read a thousand times that Y's flour
has cured the most illustrious persons of the most obstinate
maladies, we are tempted at last to try it when suffering from an
illness of a similar kind.  If we always read in the same papers
that A is an arrant scamp and B a most honest man we finish by
being convinced that this is the truth, unless, indeed, we are
given to reading another paper of the contrary opinion, in which
the two qualifications are reversed.  Affirmation and repetition
are alone powerful enough to combat each other.

When an affirmation has been sufficiently repeated and there is
unanimity in this repetition--as has occurred in the case of
certain famous financial undertakings rich enough to purchase
every assistance-- what is called a current of opinion is formed
and the powerful mechanism of contagion intervenes.  Ideas,
sentiments, emotions, and beliefs possess in crowds a contagious
power as intense as that of microbes.  This phenomenon is very
natural, since it is observed even in animals when they are
together in number.  Should a horse in a stable take to biting
his manger the other horses in the stable will imitate him.  A
panic that has seized on a few sheep will soon extend to the
whole flock.  In the case of men collected in a crowd all
emotions are very rapidly contagious, which explains the
suddenness of panics.  Brain disorders, like madness, are
themselves contagious.  The frequency of madness among doctors
who are specialists for the mad is notorious.  Indeed, forms of
madness have recently been cited--agoraphobia, for
instance--which are communicable from men to animals.

For individuals to succumb to contagion their simultaneous
presence on the same spot is not indispensable.  The action of
contagion may be felt from a distance under the influence of
events which give all minds an individual trend and the
characteristics peculiar to crowds.  This is especially the case
when men's minds have been prepared to undergo the influence in
question by those remote factors of which I have made a study
above.  An example in point is the revolutionary movement of
1848, which, after breaking out in Paris, spread rapidly over a
great part of Europe and shook a number of thrones.

Imitation, to which so much influence is attributed in social
phenomena, is in reality a mere effect of contagion.  Having
shown its influence elsewhere, I shall confine myself to
reproducing what I said on the subject fifteen years ago.  My
remarks have since been developed by other writers in recent

"Man, like animals, has a natural tendency to imitation.
Imitation is a necessity for him, provided always that the
imitation is quite easy.  It is this necessity that makes the
influence of what is called fashion so powerful.  Whether in the
matter of opinions, ideas, literary manifestations, or merely of
dress, how many persons are bold enough to run counter to the
fashion?  It is by examples not by arguments that crowds are
guided.  At every period there exists a small number of
individualities which react upon the remainder and are imitated
by the unconscious mass.  It is needful however, that these
individualities should not be in too pronounced disagreement with
received ideas.  Were they so, to imitate them would be too
difficult and their influence would be nil.  For this very reason
men who are too superior to their epoch are generally without
influence upon it.  The line of separation is too strongly
marked.  For the same reason too Europeans, in spite of all the
advantages of their civilisation, have so insignificant an
influence on Eastern people; they differ from them to too great
an extent.

"The dual action of the past and of reciprocal imitation renders,
in the long run, all the men of the same country and the same
period so alike that even in the case of individuals who would
seem destined to escape this double influence, such as
philosophers, learned men, and men of letters, thought and style
have a family air which enables the age to which they belong to
be immediately recognised.  It is not necessary to talk for long
with an individual to attain to a thorough knowledge of what he
reads, of his habitual occupations, and of the surroundings amid
which he lives."[17]

[17] Gustave le Bon, "L'Homme et les Societes," vol.  ii. p. 116.

Contagion is so powerful that it forces upon individuals not only
certain opinions, but certain modes of feeling as well.
Contagion is the cause of the contempt in which, at a given
period, certain works are held--the example of "Tannhauser" may
be cited--which, a few years later, for the same reason are
admired by those who were foremost in criticising them.

The opinions and beliefs of crowds are specially propagated by
contagion, but never by reasoning.  The conceptions at present
rife among the working classes have been acquired at the
public-house as the result of affirmation, repetition, and
contagion, and indeed the mode of creation of the beliefs of
crowds of every age has scarcely been different.  Renan justly
institutes a comparison between the first founders of
Christianity and "the socialist working men spreading their ideas
from public-house to public-house"; while Voltaire had already
observed in connection with the Christian religion that "for more
than a hundred years it was only embraced by the vilest

It will be noted that in cases analogous to those I have just
cited, contagion, after having been at work among the popular
classes, has spread to the higher classes of society.  This is
what we see happening at the present day with regard to the
socialist doctrines which are beginning to be held by those who
will yet be their first victims.  Contagion is so powerful a
force that even the sentiment of personal interest disappears
under its action.

This is the explanation of the fact that every opinion adopted by
the populace always ends in implanting itself with great vigour
in the highest social strata, however obvious be the absurdity of
the triumphant opinion.  This reaction of the lower upon the
higher social classes is the more curious, owing to the
circumstance that the beliefs of the crowd always have their
origin to a greater or less extent in some higher idea, which has
often remained without influence in the sphere in which it was
evolved.  Leaders and agitators, subjugated by this higher idea,
take hold of it, distort it and create a sect which distorts it
afresh, and then propagates it amongst the masses, who carry the
process of deformation still further.  Become a popular truth the
idea returns, as it were, to its source and exerts an influence
on the upper classes of a nation.  In the long run it is
intelligence that shapes the destiny of the world, but very
indirectly.  The philosophers who evolve ideas have long since
returned to dust, when, as the result of the process I have just
described, the fruit of their reflection ends by triumphing.


Great power is given to ideas propagated by affirmation,
repetition, and contagion by the circumstance that they acquire
in time that mysterious force known as prestige.

Whatever has been a ruling power in the world, whether it be
ideas or men, has in the main enforced its authority by means of
that irresistible force expressed by the word "prestige."  The
term is one whose meaning is grasped by everybody, but the word
is employed in ways too different for it to be easy to define it.
Prestige may involve such sentiments as admiration or fear.
Occasionally even these sentiments are its basis, but it can
perfectly well exist without them.  The greatest measure of
prestige is possessed by the dead, by beings, that is, of whom we
do not stand in fear--by Alexander, Caesar, Mahomet, and Buddha,
for example.  On the other hand, there are fictive beings whom we
do not admire--the monstrous divinities of the subterranean
temples of India, for instance--but who strike us nevertheless as
endowed with a great prestige.

Prestige in reality is a sort of domination exercised on our mind
by an individual, a work, or an idea.  This domination entirely
paralyses our critical faculty, and fills our soul with
astonishment and respect.  The sentiment provoked is
inexplicable, like all sentiments, but it would appear to be of
the same kind as the fascination to which a magnetised person is
subjected.  Prestige is the mainspring of all authority.  Neither
gods, kings, nor women have ever reigned without it.

The various kinds of prestige may be grouped under two principal
heads: acquired prestige and personal prestige.  Acquired
prestige is that resulting from name, fortune, and reputation.
It may be independent of personal prestige.  Personal prestige,
on the contrary, is something essentially peculiar to the
individual; it may coexist with reputation, glory, and fortune,
or be strengthened by them, but it is perfectly capable of
existing in their absence.

Acquired or artificial prestige is much the most common.  The
mere fact that an individual occupies a certain position,
possesses a certain fortune, or bears certain titles, endows him
with prestige, however slight his own personal worth.  A soldier
in uniform, a judge in his robes, always enjoys prestige.  Pascal
has very properly noted the necessity for judges of robes and
wigs.  Without them they would be stripped of half their
authority.  The most unbending socialist is always somewhat
impressed by the sight of a prince or a marquis; and the
assumption of such titles makes the robbing of tradesmen an easy

[18] The influence of titles, decorations, and uniforms on crowds
is to be traced in all countries, even in those in which the
sentiment of personal independence is the most strongly
developed.  I quote in this connection a curious passage from a
recent book of travel, on the prestige enjoyed in England by
great persons.

"I had observed, under various circumstances, the peculiar sort
of intoxication produced in the most reasonable Englishmen by the
contact or sight of an English peer.

"Provided his fortune enables him to keep up his rank, he is sure
of their affection in advance, and brought into contact with him
they are so enchanted as to put up with anything at his hands.
They may be seen to redden with pleasure at his approach, and if
he speaks to them their suppressed joy increases their redness,
and causes their eyes to gleam with unusual brilliance.  Respect
for nobility is in their blood, so to speak, as with Spaniards
the love of dancing, with Germans that of music, and with
Frenchmen the liking for revolutions.  Their passion for horses
and Shakespeare is less violent, the satisfaction and pride they
derive from these sources a less integral part of their being.
There is a considerable sale for books dealing with the peerage,
and go where one will they are to be found, like the Bible, in
all hands."

The prestige of which I have just spoken is exercised by persons;
side by side with it may be placed that exercised by opinions,
literary and artistic works, &c.  Prestige of the latter kind is
most often merely the result of accumulated repetitions.
History, literary and artistic history especially, being nothing
more than the repetition of identical judgments, which nobody
endeavours to verify, every one ends by repeating what he learnt
at school, till there come to be names and things which nobody
would venture to meddle with.  For a modern reader the perusal of
Homer results incontestably in immense boredom; but who would
venture to say so?  The Parthenon, in its present state, is a
wretched ruin, utterly destitute of interest, but it is endowed
with such prestige that it does not appear to us as it really is,
but with all its accompaniment of historic memories.  The special
characteristic of prestige is to prevent us seeing things as they
are and to entirely paralyse our judgment.  Crowds always, and
individuals as a rule, stand in need of ready-made opinions on
all subjects.  The popularity of these opinions is independent of
the measure of truth or error they contain, and is solely
regulated by their prestige.

I now come to personal prestige.  Its nature is very different
from that of artificial or acquired prestige, with which I have
just been concerned.  It is a faculty independent of all titles,
of all authority, and possessed by a small number of persons whom
it enables to exercise a veritably magnetic fascination on those
around them, although they are socially their equals, and lack
all ordinary means of domination.  They force the acceptance of
their ideas and sentiments on those about them, and they are
obeyed as is the tamer of wild beasts by the animal that could
easily devour him.

The great leaders of crowds, such as Buddha, Jesus, Mahomet, Joan
of Arc, and Napoleon, have possessed this form of prestige in a
high degree, and to this endowment is more particularly due the
position they attained.  Gods, heroes, and dogmas win their way
in the world of their own inward strength.  They are not to be
discussed: they disappear, indeed, as soon as discussed.

The great personages I have just cited were in possession of
their power of fascination long before they became illustrious,
and would never have become so without it.  It is evident, for
instance, that Napoleon at the zenith of his glory enjoyed an
immense prestige by the mere fact of his power, but he was
already endowed in part with this prestige when he was without
power and completely unknown.  When, an obscure general, he was
sent, thanks to influential protection, to command the army of
Italy, he found himself among rough generals who were of a mind
to give a hostile reception to the young intruder dispatched them
by the Directory.  From the very beginning, from the first
interview, without the aid of speeches, gestures, or threats, at
the first sight of the man who was to become great they were
vanquished.  Taine furnishes a curious account of this interview
taken from contemporary memoirs.

"The generals of division, amongst others Augereau, a sort of
swashbuckler, uncouth and heroic, proud of his height and his
bravery, arrive at the staff quarters very badly disposed towards
the little upstart dispatched them from Paris.  On the strength
of the description of him that has been given them, Augereau is
inclined to be insolent and insubordinate; a favourite of Barras,
a general who owes his rank to the events of Vendemiaire who has
won his grade by street-fighting, who is looked upon as bearish,
because he is always thinking in solitude, of poor aspect, and
with the reputation of a mathematician and dreamer.  They are
introduced, and Bonaparte keeps them waiting.  At last he
appears, girt with his sword; he puts on his hat, explains the
measures he has taken, gives his orders, and dismisses them.
Augereau has remained silent; it is only when he is outside that
he regains his self-possession and is able to deliver himself of
his customary oaths.  He admits with Massena that this little
devil of a general has inspired him with awe; he cannot
understand the ascendency by which from the very first he has
felt himself overwhelmed."

Become a great man, his prestige increased in proportion as his
glory grew, and came to be at least equal to that of a divinity
in the eyes of those devoted to him.  General Vandamme, a rough,
typical soldier of the Revolution, even more brutal and energetic
than Augereau, said of him to Marshal d'Arnano in 1815, as on one
occasion they mounted together the stairs of the Tuileries:
"That devil of a man exercises a fascination on me that I cannot
explain even to myself, and in such a degree that, though I fear
neither God nor devil, when I am in his presence I am ready to
tremble like a child, and he could make me go through the eye of
a needle to throw myself into the fire."

Napoleon exercised a like fascination on all who came into
contact with him.[19]

[19] Thoroughly conscious of his prestige, Napoleon was aware
that he added to it by treating rather worse than stable lads the
great personages around him, and among whom figured some of those
celebrated men of the Convention of whom Europe had stood in
dread.  The gossip of the period abounds in illustrations of this
fact.  One day, in the midst of a Council of State, Napoleon
grossly insults Beugnot, treating him as one might an unmannerly
valet.  The effect produced, he goes up to him and says, "Well,
stupid, have you found your head again?"  Whereupon Beugnot, tall
as a drum-major, bows very low, and the little man raising his
hand, takes the tall one by the ear, "an intoxicating sign of
favour," writes Beugnot, "the familiar gesture of the master who
waxes gracious."  Such examples give a clear idea of the degree
of base platitude that prestige can provoke.  They enable us to
understand the immense contempt of the great despot for the men
surrounding him--men whom he merely looked upon as "food for

Davoust used to say, talking of Maret's devotion and of his own:
"Had the Emperor said to us, `It is important in the interest of
my policy that Paris should be destroyed without a single person
leaving it or escaping,' Maret I am sure would have kept the
secret, but he could not have abstained from compromising himself
by seeing that his family got clear of the city.  On the other
hand, I, for fear of letting the truth leak out, would have let
my wife and children stay."

It is necessary to bear in mind the astounding power exerted by
fascination of this order to understand that marvellous return
from the Isle of Elba, that lightning-like conquest of France by
an isolated man confronted by all the organised forces of a great
country that might have been supposed weary of his tyranny.  He
had merely to cast a look at the generals sent to lay hands on
him, and who had sworn to accomplish their mission.  All of them
submitted without discussion.

"Napoleon," writes the English General Wolseley, "lands in France
almost alone, a fugitive from the small island of Elba which was
his kingdom, and succeeded in a few weeks, without bloodshed, in
upsetting all organised authority in France under its legitimate
king; is it possible for the personal ascendency of a man to
affirm itself in a more astonishing manner?  But from the
beginning to the end of this campaign, which was his last, how
remarkable too is the ascendency he exercised over the Allies,
obliging them to follow his initiative, and how near he came to
crushing them!"

His prestige outlived him and continued to grow.  It is his
prestige that made an emperor of his obscure nephew.  How
powerful is his memory still is seen in the resurrection of his
legend in progress at the present day.  Ill-treat men as you
will, massacre them by millions, be the cause of invasion upon
invasion, all is permitted you if you possess prestige in a
sufficient degree and the talent necessary to uphold it.

I have invoked, no doubt, in this case a quite exceptional
example of prestige, but one it was useful to cite to make clear
the genesis of great religions, great doctrines, and great
empires.  Were it not for the power exerted on the crowd by
prestige, such growths would be incomprehensible.

Prestige, however, is not based solely on personal ascendency,
military glory, and religious terror; it may have a more modest
origin and still be considerable.  Our century furnishes several
examples.  One of the most striking ones that posterity will
recall from age to age will be supplied by the history of the
illustrious man who modified the face of the globe and the
commercial relations of the nations by separating two continents.
He succeeded in his enterprise owing to his immense strength of
will, but also owing to the fascination he exercised on those
surrounding him.  To overcome the unanimous opposition he met
with, he had only to show himself.  He would speak briefly, and
in face of the charm he exerted his opponents became his friends.
The English in particular strenuously opposed his scheme; he had
only to put in an appearance in England to rally all suffrages.
In later years, when he passed Southampton, the bells were rung
on his passage; and at the present day a movement is on foot in
England to raise a statue in his honour.

"Having vanquished whatever there is to vanquish, men and things,
marshes, rocks, and sandy wastes," he had ceased to believe in
obstacles, and wished to begin Suez over again at Panama.  He
began again with the same methods as of old; but he had aged,
and, besides, the faith that moves mountains does not move them
if they are too lofty.  The mountains resisted, and the
catastrophe that ensued destroyed the glittering aureole of glory
that enveloped the hero.  His life teaches how prestige can grow
and how it can vanish.  After rivalling in greatness the most
famous heroes of history, he was lowered by the magistrates of
his country to the ranks of the vilest criminals.  When he died
his coffin, unattended, traversed an indifferent crowd.  Foreign
sovereigns are alone in rendering homage to his memory as to that
of one of the greatest men that history has known.[20]

[20] An Austrian paper, the Neue Freie Presse, of Vienna, has
indulged on the subject of the destiny of de Lesseps in
reflections marked by a most judicious psychological insight.  I
therefore reproduce them here:--

"After the condemnation of Ferdinand de Lesseps one has no longer
the right to be astonished at the sad end of Christopher
Columbus.  If Ferdinand de Lesseps were a rogue every noble
illusion is a crime.  Antiquity would have crowned the memory of
de Lesseps with an aureole of glory, and would have made him
drink from the bowl of nectar in the midst of Olympus, for he has
altered the face of the earth and accomplished works which make
the creation more perfect.  The President of the Court of Appeal
has immortalised himself by condemning Ferdinand de Lesseps, for
the nations will always demand the name of the man who was not
afraid to debase his century by investing with the convict's cap
an aged man, whose life redounded to the glory of his

"Let there be no more talk in the future of inflexible justice,
there where reigns a bureaucratic hatred of audacious feats.  The
nations have need of audacious men who believe in themselves and
overcome every obstacle without concern for their personal
safety.  Genius cannot be prudent; by dint of prudence it could
never enlarge the sphere of human activity.

". . . Ferdinand de Lesseps has known the intoxication of triumph
and the bitterness of disappointment--Suez and Panama.  At this
point the heart revolts at the morality of success.  When de
Lesseps had succeeded in joining two seas princes and nations
rendered him their homage; to-day, when he meets with failure
among the rocks of the Cordilleras, he is nothing but a vulgar
rogue. . . .  In this result we see a war between the classes of
society, the discontent of bureaucrats and employes, who take
their revenge with the aid of the criminal code on those who
would raise themselves above their fellows. . . .  Modern
legislators are filled with embarrassment when confronted by the
lofty ideas due to human genius; the public comprehends such
ideas still less, and it is easy for an advocate-general to prove
that Stanley is a murderer and de Lesseps a deceiver."

Still, the various examples that have just been cited represent
extreme cases.  To fix in detail the psychology of prestige, it
would be necessary to place them at the extremity of a series,
which would range from the founders of religions and empires to
the private individual who endeavours to dazzle his neighbours by
a new coat or a decoration.

Between the extreme limits of this series would find a place all
the forms of prestige resulting from the different elements
composing a civilisation--sciences, arts, literature, &c.--and it
would be seen that prestige constitutes the fundamental element
of persuasion.  Consciously or not, the being, the idea, or the
thing possessing prestige is immediately imitated in consequence
of contagion, and forces an entire generation to adopt certain
modes of feeling and of giving expression to its thought.  This
imitation, moreover, is, as a rule, unconscious, which accounts
for the fact that it is perfect.  The modern painters who copy
the pale colouring and the stiff attitudes of some of the
Primitives are scarcely alive to the source of their inspiration.
They believe in their own sincerity, whereas, if an eminent
master had not revived this form of art, people would have
continued blind to all but its naive and inferior sides.  Those
artists who, after the manner of another illustrious master,
inundate their canvasses with violet shades do not see in nature
more violet than was detected there fifty years ago; but they are
influenced, "suggestioned," by the personal and special
impressions of a painter who, in spite of this eccentricity, was
successful in acquiring great prestige.  Similar examples might
be brought forward in connection with all the elements of

It is seen from what precedes that a number of factors may be
concerned in the genesis of prestige; among them success was
always one of the most important.  Every successful man, every
idea that forces itself into recognition, ceases, ipso facto, to
be called in question.  The proof that success is one of the
principal stepping-stones to prestige is that the disappearance
of the one is almost always followed by the disappearance of the
other.  The hero whom the crowd acclaimed yesterday is insulted
to-day should he have been overtaken by failure.  The reaction,
indeed, will be the stronger in proportion as the prestige has
been great.  The crowd in this case considers the fallen hero as
an equal, and takes its revenge for having bowed to a superiority
whose existence it no longer admits.  While Robespierre was
causing the execution of his colleagues and of a great number of
his contemporaries, he possessed an immense prestige.  When the
transposition of a few votes deprived him of power, he
immediately lost his prestige, and the crowd followed him to the
guillotine with the self-same imprecations with which shortly
before it had pursued his victims.  Believers always break the
statues of their former gods with every symptom of fury.

Prestige lost by want of success disappears in a brief space of
time.  It can also be worn away, but more slowly by being
subjected to discussion.  This latter power, however, is
exceedingly sure.  From the moment prestige is called in question
it ceases to be prestige.  The gods and men who have kept their
prestige for long have never tolerated discussion.  For the crowd
to admire, it must be kept at a distance.



1. FIXED BELIEFS. The invariability of certain general
beliefs--They shape the course of a civilisation--The difficulty
of uprooting them--In what respect intolerance is a virtue in a
people--The philosophic absurdity of a belief cannot interfere
with its spreading.   2. THE CHANGEABLE OPINIONS OF CROWDS.
The extreme mobility of opinions which do not arise from general
beliefs--Apparent variations of ideas and beliefs in less than a
century--The real limits of these variations--The matters
effected by the variation--The disappearance at present in
progress of general beliefs, and the extreme diffusion of the
newspaper press, have for result that opinions are nowadays more
and more changeable--Why the opinions of crowds tend on the
majority of subjects towards indifference--Governments now
powerless to direct opinion as they formerly did--Opinions
prevented to-day from being tyrannical on account of their
exceeding divergency.


A close parallel exists between the anatomical and psychological
characteristics of living beings. In these anatomical
characteristics certain invariable, or slightly variable,
elements are met with, to change which the lapse is necessary of
geological ages.  Side by side with these fixed, indestructible
features are to be found others extremely changeable, which the
art of the breeder or horticulturist may easily modify, and at
times to such an extent as to conceal the fundamental
characteristics from an observer at all inattentive.

The same phenomenon is observed in the case of moral
characteristics.  Alongside the unalterable psychological
elements of a race, mobile and changeable elements are to be
encountered.  For this reason, in studying the beliefs and
opinions of a people, the presence is always detected of a fixed
groundwork on which are engrafted opinions as changing as the
surface sand on a rock.

The opinions and beliefs of crowds may be divided, then, into two
very distinct classes.  On the one hand we have great permanent
beliefs, which endure for several centuries, and on which an
entire civilisation may rest.  Such, for instance, in the past
were feudalism, Christianity, and Protestantism; and such, in our
own time, are the nationalist principle and contemporary
democratic and social ideas.  In the second place, there are the
transitory, changing opinions, the outcome, as a rule, of general
conceptions, of which every age sees the birth and disappearance;
examples in point are the theories which mould literature and the
arts--those, for instance, which produced romanticism,
naturalism, mysticism, &c.  Opinions of this order are as
superficial, as a rule, as fashion, and as changeable.  They may
be compared to the ripples which ceaselessly arise and vanish on
the surface of a deep lake.

The great generalised beliefs are very restricted in number.
Their rise and fall form the culminating points of the history of
every historic race.  They constitute the real framework of

It is easy to imbue the mind of crowds with a passing opinion,
but very difficult to implant therein a lasting belief.  However,
a belief of this latter description once established, it is
equally difficult to uproot it.  It is usually only to be changed
at the cost of violent revolutions.  Even revolutions can only
avail when the belief has almost entirely lost its sway over
men's minds.  In that case revolutions serve to finally sweep
away what had already been almost cast aside, though the force of
habit prevented its complete abandonment.  The beginning of a
revolution is in reality the end of a belief.

The precise moment at which a great belief is doomed is easily
recognisable; it is the moment when its value begins to be called
in question.  Every general belief being little else than a
fiction, it can only survive on the condition that it be not
subjected to examination.

But even when a belief is severely shaken, the institutions to
which it has given rise retain their strength and disappear but
slowly.  Finally, when the belief has completely lost its force,
all that rested upon it is soon involved in ruin.  As yet a
nation has never been able to change its beliefs without being
condemned at the same time to transform all the elements of its
civilisation.  The nation continues this process of
transformation until it has alighted on and accepted a new
general belief: until this juncture it is perforce in a state of
anarchy.  General beliefs are the indispensable pillars of
civilisations; they determine the trend of ideas.  They alone are
capable of inspiring faith and creating a sense of duty.

Nations have always been conscious of the utility of acquiring
general beliefs, and have instinctively understood that their
disappearance would be the signal for their own decline.  In the
case of the Romans, the fanatical cult of Rome was the belief
that made them masters of the world, and when the belief had died
out Rome was doomed to die.  As for the barbarians who destroyed
the Roman civilisation, it was only when they had acquired
certain commonly accepted beliefs that they attained a measure of
cohesion and emerged from anarchy.

Plainly it is not for nothing that nations have always displayed
intolerance in the defence of their opinions.  This intolerance,
open as it is to criticism from the philosophic standpoint,
represents in the life of a people the most necessary of virtues.
It was to found or uphold general beliefs that so many victims
were sent to the stake in the Middle Ages and that so many
inventors and innovators have died in despair even if they have
escaped martyrdom.  It is in defence, too, of such beliefs that
the world has been so often the scene of the direst disorder, and
that so many millions of men have died on the battlefield, and
will yet die there.

There are great difficulties in the way of establishing a general
belief, but when it is definitely implanted its power is for a
long time to come invincible, and however false it be
philosophically it imposes itself upon the most luminous
intelligence.  Have not the European peoples regarded as
incontrovertible for more than fifteen centuries religious
legends which, closely examined, are as barbarous[21] as those of
Moloch?  The frightful absurdity of the legend of a God who
revenges himself for the disobedience of one of his creatures by
inflicting horrible tortures on his son remained unperceived
during many centuries.  Such potent geniuses as a Galileo, a
Newton, and a Leibnitz never supposed for an instant that the
truth of such dogmas could be called in question.  Nothing can be
more typical than this fact of the hypnotising effect of general
beliefs, but at the same time nothing can mark more decisively
the humiliating limitations of our intelligence.

[21] Barbarous, philosophically speaking, I mean.  In practice
they have created an entirely new civilisation, and for fifteen
centuries have given mankind a glimpse of those enchanted realms
of generous dreams and of hope which he will know no more.

As soon as a new dogma is implanted in the mind of crowds it
becomes the source of inspiration whence are evolved its
institutions, arts, and mode of existence.  The sway it exerts
over men's minds under these circumstances is absolute.  Men of
action have no thought beyond realising the accepted belief,
legislators beyond applying it, while philosophers, artists, and
men of letters are solely preoccupied with its expression under
various shapes.

From the fundamental belief transient accessory ideas may arise,
but they always bear the impress of the belief from which they
have sprung.  The Egyptian civilisation, the European
civilisation of the Middle Ages, the Mussulman civilisation of
the Arabs are all the outcome of a small number of religious
beliefs which have left their mark on the least important
elements of these civilisations and allow of their immediate

Thus it is that, thanks to general beliefs, the men of every age
are enveloped in a network of traditions, opinions, and customs
which render them all alike, and from whose yoke they cannot
extricate themselves.  Men are guided in their conduct above all
by their beliefs and by the customs that are the consequence of
those beliefs.  These beliefs and customs regulate the smallest
acts of our existence, and the most independent spirit cannot
escape their influence.  The tyranny exercised unconsciously on
men's minds is the only real tyranny, because it cannot be fought
against.  Tiberius, Ghengis Khan, and Napoleon were assuredly
redoubtable tyrants, but from the depth of their graves Moses,
Buddha, Jesus, and Mahomet have exerted on the human soul a far
profounder despotism.  A conspiracy may overthrow a tyrant, but
what can it avail against a firmly established belief?  In its
violent struggle with Roman Catholicism it is the French
Revolution that has been vanquished, and this in spite of the
fact that the sympathy of the crowd was apparently on its side,
and in spite of recourse to destructive measures as pitiless as
those of the Inquisition.  The only real tyrants that humanity
has known have always been the memories of its dead or the
illusions it has forged itself.

The philosophic absurdity that often marks general beliefs has
never been an obstacle to their triumph.  Indeed the triumph of
such beliefs would seem impossible unless on the condition that
they offer some mysterious absurdity.  In consequence, the
evident weakness of the socialist beliefs of to-day will not
prevent them triumphing among the masses.  Their real inferiority
to all religious beliefs is solely the result of this
consideration, that the ideal of happiness offered by the latter
being realisable only in a future life, it was beyond the power
of anybody to contest it.  The socialist ideal of happiness being
intended to be realised on earth, the vanity of its promises will
at once appear as soon as the first efforts towards their
realisation are made, and simultaneously the new belief will
entirely lose its prestige.  Its strength, in consequence, will
only increase until the day when, having triumphed, its practical
realisation shall commence.  For this reason, while the new
religion exerts to begin with, like all those that have preceded
it, a destructive influence, it will be unable, in the future, to
play a creative part.


Above the substratum of fixed beliefs, whose power we have just
demonstrated, is found an overlying growth of opinions, ideas,
and thoughts which are incessantly springing up and dying out.
Some of them exist but for a day, and the more important scarcely
outlive a generation.  We have already noted that the changes
which supervene in opinions of this order are at times far more
superficial than real, and that they are always affected by
racial considerations.  When examining, for instance, the
political institutions of France we showed that parties to all
appearance utterly distinct--royalists, radicals, imperialists,
socialists, &c.--have an ideal absolutely identical, and that
this ideal is solely dependent on the mental structure of the
French race, since a quite contrary ideal is found under
analogous names among other races.  Neither the name given to
opinions nor deceptive adaptations alter the essence of things.
The men of the Great Revolution, saturated with Latin literature,
who (their eyes fixed on the Roman Republic), adopted its laws,
its fasces, and its togas, did not become Romans because they
were under the empire of a powerful historical suggestion.  The
task of the philosopher is to investigate what it is which
subsists of ancient beliefs beneath their apparent changes, and
to identify amid the moving flux of opinions the part determined
by general beliefs and the genius of the race.

In the absence of this philosophic test it might be supposed that
crowds change their political or religious beliefs frequently and
at will.  All history, whether political, religious, artistic, or
literary, seems to prove that such is the case.

As an example, let us take a very short period of French history,
merely that from 1790 to 1820, a period of thirty years'
duration, that of a generation.  In the course of it we see the
crowd at first monarchical become very revolutionary, then very
imperialist, and again very monarchical.  In the matter of
religion it gravitates in the same lapse of time from Catholicism
to atheism, then towards deism, and then returns to the most
pronounced forms of Catholicism.  These changes take place not
only amongst the masses, but also amongst those who direct them.
We observe with astonishment the prominent men of the Convention,
the sworn enemies of kings, men who would have neither gods nor
masters, become the humble servants of Napoleon, and afterwards,
under Louis XVIII., piously carry candles in religious

Numerous, too, are the changes in the opinions of the crowd in
the course of the following seventy years.  The "Perfidious
Albion" of the opening of the century is the ally of France under
Napoleon's heir; Russia, twice invaded by France, which looked on
with satisfaction at French reverses, becomes its friend.

In literature, art, and philosophy the successive evolutions of
opinion are more rapid still.  Romanticism, naturalism,
mysticism, &c., spring up and die out in turn.  The artist and
the writer applauded yesterday are treated on the morrow with
profound contempt.

When, however, we analyse all these changes in appearance so far
reaching, what do we find?  All those that are in opposition with
the general beliefs and sentiments of the race are of transient
duration, and the diverted stream soon resumes its course.  The
opinions which are not linked to any general belief or sentiment
of the race, and which in consequence cannot possess stability,
are at the mercy of every chance, or, if the expression be
preferred, of every change in the surrounding circumstances.
Formed by suggestion and contagion, they are always momentary;
they crop up and disappear as rapidly on occasion as the
sandhills formed by the wind on the sea-coast.

At the present day the changeable opinions of crowds are greater
in number than they ever were, and for three different reasons.

The first is that as the old beliefs are losing their influence
to a greater and greater extent, they are ceasing to shape the
ephemeral opinions of the moment as they did in the past.  The
weakening of general beliefs clears the ground for a crop of
haphazard opinions without a past or a future.

The second reason is that the power of crowds being on the
increase, and this power being less and less counterbalanced, the
extreme mobility of ideas, which we have seen to be a peculiarity
of crowds, can manifest itself without let or hindrance.

Finally, the third reason is the recent development of the
newspaper press, by whose agency the most contrary opinions are
being continually brought before the attention of crowds.  The
suggestions that might result from each individual opinion are
soon destroyed by suggestions of an opposite character.  The
consequence is that no opinion succeeds in becoming widespread,
and that the existence of all of them is ephemeral.  An opinion
nowadays dies out before it has found a sufficiently wide
acceptance to become general.

A phenomenon quite new in the world's history, and most
characteristic of the present age, has resulted from these
different causes; I allude to the powerlessness of governments to
direct opinion.

In the past, and in no very distant past, the action of
governments and the influence of a few writers and a very small
number of newspapers constituted the real reflectors of public
opinion.  To-day the writers have lost all influence, and the
newspapers only reflect opinion.  As for statesmen, far from
directing opinion, their only endeavour is to follow it.  They
have a dread of opinion, which amounts at times to terror, and
causes them to adopt an utterly unstable line of conduct.

The opinion of crowds tends, then, more and more to become the
supreme guiding principle in politics.  It goes so far to-day as
to force on alliances, as has been seen recently in the case of
the Franco-Russian alliance, which is solely the outcome of a
popular movement.  A curious symptom of the present time is to
observe popes, kings, and emperors consent to be interviewed as a
means of submitting their views on a given subject to the
judgment of crowds.  Formerly it might have been correct to say
that politics were not a matter of sentiment.  Can the same be
said to-day, when politics are more and more swayed by the
impulse of changeable crowds, who are uninfluenced by reason and
can only be guided by sentiment?

As to the press, which formerly directed opinion, it has had,
like governments, to humble itself before the power of crowds.
It wields, no doubt, a considerable influence, but only because
it is exclusively the reflection of the opinions of crowds and of
their incessant variations.  Become a mere agency for the supply
of information, the press has renounced all endeavour to enforce
an idea or a doctrine.  It follows all the changes of public
thought, obliged to do so by the necessities of competition under
pain of losing its readers.  The old staid and influential organs
of the past, such as the Constitutionnel, the Debats, or the
Siecle, which were accepted as oracles by the preceding
generation, have disappeared or have become typical modern
papers, in which a maximum of news is sandwiched in between light
articles, society gossip, and financial puffs.  There can be no
question to-day of a paper rich enough to allow its contributors
to air their personal opinions, and such opinions would be of
slight weight with readers who only ask to be kept informed or to
be amused, and who suspect every affirmation of being prompted by
motives of speculation.  Even the critics have ceased to be able
to assure the success of a book or a play.  They are capable of
doing harm, but not of doing a service.  The papers are so
conscious of the uselessness of everything in the shape of
criticism or personal opinion, that they have reached the point
of suppressing literary criticism, confining themselves to citing
the title of a book, and appending a "puff" of two or three
lines.[22]  In twenty years' time the same fate will probably
have overtaken theatrical criticism.

[22] These remarks refer to the French newspaper press.--Note of
the Translator.

The close watching of the course of opinion has become to-day the
principal preoccupation of the press and of governments.  The
effect produced by an event, a legislative proposal, a speech, is
without intermission what they require to know, and the task is
not easy, for nothing is more mobile and changeable than the
thought of crowds, and nothing more frequent than to see them
execrate to-day what they applauded yesterday.

This total absence of any sort of direction of opinion, and at
the same time the destruction of general beliefs, have had for
final result an extreme divergency of convictions of every order,
and a growing indifference on the part of crowds to everything
that does not plainly touch their immediate interests.  Questions
of doctrine, such as socialism, only recruit champions boasting
genuine convictions among the quite illiterate classes, among the
workers in mines and factories, for instance.  Members of the
lower middle class, and working men possessing some degree of
instruction, have either become utterly sceptical or extremely
unstable in their opinions.

The evolution which has been effected in this direction in the
last twenty-five years is striking.  During the preceding period,
comparatively near us though it is, opinions still had a certain
general trend; they had their origin in the acceptance of some
fundamental belief.  By the mere fact that an individual was a
monarchist he possessed inevitably certain clearly defined ideas
in history as well as in science, while by the mere fact that he
was a republican, his ideas were quite contrary.  A monarchist
was well aware that men are not descended from monkeys, and a
republican was not less well aware that such is in truth their
descent.  It was the duty of the monarchist to speak with horror,
and of the republican to speak with veneration, of the great
Revolution.  There were certain names, such as those of
Robespierre and Marat, that had to be uttered with an air of
religious devotion, and other names, such as those of Caesar,
Augustus, or Napoleon, that ought never to be mentioned
unaccompanied by a torrent of invective.  Even in the French
Sorbonne this ingenuous fashion of conceiving history was

[23] There are pages in the books of the French official
professors of history that are very curious from this point of
view.  They prove too how little the critical spirit is developed
by the system of university education in vogue in France.  I cite
as an example the following extracts from the "French Revolution"
of M. Rambaud, professor of history at the Sorbonne:

"The taking of the Bastille was a culminating event in the
history not only of France, but of all Europe; and inaugurated a
new epoch in the history of the world!"

With respect to Robespierre, we learn with stupefaction that "his
dictatorship was based more especially on opinion, persuasion,
and moral authority; it was a sort of pontificate in the hands of
a virtuous man!" (pp. 91 and 220.)

At the present day, as the result of discussion and analysis, all
opinions are losing their prestige; their distinctive features
are rapidly worn away, and few survive capable of arousing our
enthusiasm.  The man of modern times is more and more a prey to

The general wearing away of opinions should not be too greatly
deplored.  That it is a symptom of decadence in the life of a
people cannot be contested.  It is certain that men of immense,
of almost supernatural insight, that apostles, leaders of
crowds--men, in a word, of genuine and strong convictions--exert
a far greater force than men who deny, who criticise, or who are
indifferent, but it must not be forgotten that, given the power
possessed at present by crowds, were a single opinion to acquire
sufficient prestige to enforce its general acceptance, it would
soon be endowed with so tyrannical a strength that everything
would have to bend before it, and the era of free discussion
would be closed for a long time.  Crowds are occasionally
easy-going masters, as were Heliogabalus and Tiberius, but they
are also violently capricious.  A civilisation, 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.





The general divisions of crowds--Their classification.   1.
HETEROGENEOUS CROWDS.  Different varieties of them--The influence
of race--The spirit of the crowd is weak in proportion as the
spirit of the race is strong--The spirit of the race represents
the civilised state and the spirit of the crowd the barbarian
state.   2. HOMOGENEOUS CROWDS.  Their different
varieties--Sects, castes, and classes.

We have sketched in this work the general characteristics common
to psychological crowds.  It remains to point out the particular
characteristics which accompany those of a general order in the
different categories of collectivities, when they are transformed
into a crowd under the influences of the proper exciting causes.
We will, first of all, set forth in a few words a classification
of crowds.

Our starting-point will be the simple multitude.  Its 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 a
chief.  The barbarians of very diverse origin who during several
centuries invaded the Roman Empire, may be cited as a specimen of
multitudes of this kind.

On a higher level than these multitudes composed of different
races are those which under certain influences have acquired
common characteristics, and have ended by forming a single race.
They present at times characteristics peculiar to crowds, but
these characteristics are overruled to a greater or less extent
by racial considerations.

These two kinds of multitudes may, under certain influences
investigated in this work, be transformed into organised or
psychological crowds.  We shall break up these organised crowds
into the following divisions:--

                         1. Anonymous crowds (street
                           crowds, for example).
A. Heterogeneous         2. Crowds not anonymous
    crowds.                 (juries, parliamentary assemblies,
                          1. Sects (political sects,
                             religious sects, &c.).
                          2. Castes (the military caste,
B. Homogeneous               the priestly caste, the
    crowds.                  working caste, &c.).
                          3. Classes (the middle classes,
                             the peasant classes, &c.).

We will point out briefly the distinguishing characteristics of
these different categories of crowds.


It is these collectivities whose characteristics have been
studied in this volume.  They are composed of individuals of any
description, of any profession, and any degree of intelligence.

We are now aware that by the mere fact that men form part of a
crowd engaged in action, their collective psychology differs
essentially from their individual psychology, and their
intelligence is affected by this differentiation.  We have seen
that intelligence is without influence in collectivities, they
being solely under the sway of unconscious sentiments.

A fundamental factor, that of race, allows of a tolerably
thorough differentiation of the various heterogeneous crowds.

We have often referred already to the part played by race, and
have shown it to be the most powerful of the factors capable of
determining men's actions.  Its action is also to be traced in
the character of crowds.  A crowd composed of individuals
assembled at haphazard, but all of them Englishmen or Chinamen,
will differ widely from another crowd also composed of
individuals of any and every description, but of other
races--Russians, Frenchmen, or Spaniards, for example.

The wide divergencies which their inherited mental constitution
creates in men's modes of feeling and thinking at once come into
prominence when, which rarely happens, circumstances gather
together in the same crowd and in fairly equal proportions
individuals of different nationality, and this occurs, however
identical in appearance be the interests which provoked the
gathering.  The efforts made by the socialists to assemble in
great congresses the representatives of the working-class
populations of different countries, have always ended in the most
pronounced discord.  A Latin crowd, however revolutionary or
however conservative it be supposed, will invariably appeal to
the intervention of the State to realise its demands.  It is
always distinguished by a marked tendency towards centralisation
and by a leaning, more or less pronounced, in favour of a
dictatorship.  An English or an American crowd, on the contrary,
sets no store on the State, and only appeals to private
initiative.  A French crowd lays particular weight on equality
and an English crowd on liberty.  These differences of race
explain how it is that there are almost as many different forms
of socialism and democracy as there are nations.

The genius of the race, then, exerts a paramount influence upon
the dispositions of a crowd.  It is the powerful underlying force
that limits its changes of humour.  It should be considered as an
STRONG.  The crowd state and the domination of crowds is
equivalent to the barbarian state, or to a return to it.  It is
by the acquisition of a solidly constituted collective spirit
that the race frees itself to a greater and greater extent from
the unreflecting power of crowds, and emerges from the barbarian
state.  The only important classification to be made of
heterogeneous crowds, apart from that based on racial
considerations, is to separate them into anonymous crowds, such
as street crowds, and crowds not anonymous--deliberative
assemblies and juries, for example.  The sentiment of
responsibility absent from crowds of the first description and
developed in those of the second often gives a very different
tendency to their respective acts.


Homogeneous crowds include: 1. Sects; 2. Castes; 3. Classes.

The SECT represents the first step in the process of organisation
of homogeneous crowds.  A sect includes individuals differing
greatly as to their education, their professions, and the class
of society to which they belong, and with their common beliefs as
the connecting link.  Examples in point are religious and
political sects.

The CASTE represents the highest degree of organisation of which
the crowd is susceptible.  While the sect includes individuals of
very different professions, degrees of education and social
surrounding, who are only linked together by the beliefs they
hold in common, the caste is composed of individuals of the same
profession, and in consequence similarly educated and of much the
same social status.  Examples in point are the military and
priestly castes.

The CLASS is formed of individuals of diverse origin, linked
together not by a community of beliefs, as are the members of a
sect, or by common professional occupations, as are the members
of a caste, but by certain interests and certain habits of life
and education almost identical.  The middle class and the
agricultural class are examples.

Being only concerned in this work with heterogeneous crowds, and
reserving the study of homogeneous crowds (sects, castes, and
classes) for another volume, I shall not insist here on the
characteristics of crowds of this latter kind.  I shall conclude
this study of heterogeneous crowds by the examination of a few
typical and distinct categories of crowds.



Crowds termed criminal crowds--A crowd may be legally yet not
psychologically criminal--The absolute unconsciousness of the
acts of crowds--Various examples--Psychology of the authors of
the September massacres--Their reasoning, their sensibility,
their ferocity, and their morality.

Owing to the fact that crowds, after a period of excitement,
enter upon a purely automatic and unconscious state, in which
they are guided by suggestion, it seems difficult to qualify them
in any case as criminal.  I only retain this erroneous
qualification because it has been definitely brought into vogue
by recent psychological investigations.  Certain acts of crowds
are assuredly criminal, if considered merely in themselves, but
criminal in that case in the same way as the act of a tiger
devouring a Hindoo, after allowing its young to maul him for
their amusement.

The usual motive of the crimes of crowds is a powerful
suggestion, and the individuals who take part in such crimes are
afterwards convinced that they have acted in obedience to duty,
which is far from being the case with the ordinary criminal.

The history of the crimes committed by crowds illustrates what

The murder of M. de Launay, the governor of the Bastille, may be
cited as a typical example.  After the taking of the fortress the
governor, surrounded by a very excited crowd, was dealt blows
from every direction.  It was proposed to hang him, to cut off
his head, to tie him to a horse's tail.  While struggling, he
accidently kicked one of those present.  Some one proposed, and
his suggestion was at once received with acclamation by the
crowd, that the individual who had been kicked should cut the
governor's throat.

"The individual in question, a cook out of work, whose chief
reason for being at the Bastille was idle curiosity as to what
was going on, esteems, that since such is the general opinion,
the action is patriotic and even believes he deserves a medal for
having destroyed a monster.  With a sword that is lent him he
strikes the bared neck, but the weapon being somewhat blunt and
not cutting, he takes from his pocket a small black-handled knife
and (in his capacity of cook he would be experienced in cutting
up meat) successfully effects the operation."

The working of the process indicated above is clearly seen in
this example.  We have obedience to a suggestion, which is all
the stronger because of its collective origin, and the murderer's
conviction that he has committed a very meritorious act, a
conviction the more natural seeing that he enjoys the unanimous
approval of his fellow-citizens.  An act of this kind may be
considered crime legally but not psychologically.

The general characteristics of criminal crowds are precisely the
same as those we have met with in all crowds: openness to
suggestion, credulity, mobility, the exaggeration of the
sentiments good or bad, the manifestation of certain forms of
morality, &c.

We shall find all these characteristics present in a crowd which
has left behind it in French history the most sinister
memories--the crowd which perpetrated the September massacres.
In point of fact it offers much similarity with the crowd that
committed the Saint Bartholomew massacres.  I borrow the details
from the narration of M. Taine, who took them from contemporary

It is not known exactly who gave the order or made the suggestion
to empty the prisons by massacring the prisoners.  Whether it was
Danton, as is probable, or another does not matter; the one
interesting fact for us is the powerful suggestion received by
the crowd charged with the massacre.

The crowd of murderers numbered some three hundred persons, and
was a perfectly typical heterogeneous crowd.  With the exception
of a very small number of professional scoundrels, it was
composed in the main of shopkeepers and artisans of every trade:
bootmakers, locksmiths, hairdressers, masons, clerks, messengers,
&c.  Under the influence of the suggestion received they are
perfectly convinced, as was the cook referred to above, that they
are accomplishing a patriotic duty.  They fill a double office,
being at once judge and executioner, but they do not for a moment
regard themselves as criminals.

Deeply conscious of the importance of their duty, they begin by
forming a sort of tribunal, and in connection with this act the
ingenuousness of crowds and their rudimentary conception of
justice are seen immediately.  In consideration of the large
number of the accused, it is decided that, to begin with, the
nobles, priests, officers, and members of the king's
household--in a word, all the individuals whose mere profession
is proof of their guilt in the eyes of a good patriot--shall be
slaughtered in a body, there being no need for a special decision
in their case.  The remainder shall be judged on their personal
appearance and their reputation.  In this way the rudimentary
conscience of the crowd is satisfied.  It will now be able to
proceed legally with the massacre, and to give free scope to
those instincts of ferocity whose genesis I have set forth
elsewhere, they being instincts which collectivities always have
it in them to develop to a high degree.  These instincts,
however--as is regularly the case in crowds--will not prevent the
manifestation of other and contrary sentiments, such as a
tenderheartedness often as extreme as the ferocity.

"They have the expansive sympathy and prompt sensibility of the
Parisian working man.  At the Abbaye, one of the federates,
learning that the prisoners had been left without water for
twenty-six hours, was bent on putting the gaoler to death, and
would have done so but for the prayers of the prisoners
themselves.  When a prisoner is acquitted (by the improvised
tribunal) every one, guards and slaughterers included, embraces
him with transports of joy and applauds frantically," after which
the wholesale massacre is recommenced.  During its progress a
pleasant gaiety never ceases to reign.  There is dancing and
singing around the corpses, and benches are arranged "for the
ladies," delighted to witness the killing of aristocrats.  The
exhibition continues, moreover, of a special description of

A slaughterer at the Abbaye having complained that the ladies
placed at a little distance saw badly, and that only a few of
those present had the pleasure of striking the aristocrats, the
justice of the observation is admitted, and it is decided that
the victims shall be made to pass slowly between two rows of
slaughterers, who shall be under the obligation to strike with
the back of the sword only so as to prolong the agony.  At the
prison de la Force the victims are stripped stark naked and
literally "carved" for half an hour, after which, when every one
has had a good view, they are finished off by a blow that lays
bare their entrails.

The slaughterers, too, have their scruples and exhibit that moral
sense whose existence in crowds we have already pointed out.
They refuse to appropriate the money and jewels of the victims,
taking them to the table of the committees.

Those rudimentary forms of reasoning, characteristic of the mind
of crowds, are always to be traced in all their acts.  Thus,
after the slaughter of the 1,200 or 1,500 enemies of the nation,
some one makes the remark, and his suggestion is at once adopted,
that the other prisons, those containing aged beggars, vagabonds,
and young prisoners, hold in reality useless mouths, of which it
would be well on that account to get rid.  Besides, among them
there should certainly be enemies of the people, a woman of the
name of Delarue, for instance, the widow of a poisoner:  "She
must be furious at being in prison, if she could she would set
fire to Paris: she must have said so, she has said so.  Another
good riddance."  The demonstration appears convincing, and the
prisoners are massacred without exception, included in the number
being some fifty children of from twelve to seventeen years of
age, who, of course, might themselves have become enemies of the
nation, and of whom in consequence it was clearly well to be rid.

At the end of a week's work, all these operations being brought
to an end, the slaughterers can think of reposing themselves.
Profoundly convinced that they have deserved well of their
country, they went to the authorities and demanded a recompense.
The most zealous went so far as to claim a medal.

The history of the Commune of 1871 affords several facts
analogous to those which precede.  Given the growing influence of
crowds and the successive capitulations before them of those in
authority, we are destined to witness many others of a like



Criminal juries--General characteristics of juries--statistics
show that their decisions are independent of their
composition--The manner in which an impression may be made on
juries--The style and influence of argument--The methods of
persuasion of celebrated counsel--The nature of those crimes for
which juries are respectively indulgent or severe--The utility of
the jury as an institution, and the danger that would result from
its place being taken by magistrates.

Being unable to study here every category of jury, I shall only
examine the most important--that of the juries of the Court of
Assize.  These juries afford an excellent example of the
heterogeneous crowd that is not anonymous.  We shall find them
display suggestibility and but slight capacity for reasoning,
while they are open to the influence of the leaders of crowds,
and they are guided in the main by unconscious sentiments.  In
the course of this investigation we shall have occasion to
observe some interesting examples of the errors that may be made
by persons not versed in the psychology of crowds.

Juries, in the first place, furnish us a good example of the
slight importance of the mental level of the different elements
composing a crowd, so far as the decisions it comes to are
concerned.  We have seen that when a deliberative assembly is
called upon to give its opinion on a question of a character not
entirely technical, intelligence stands for nothing.  For
instance, a gathering of scientific men or of artists, owing to
the mere fact that they form an assemblage, will not deliver
judgments on general subjects sensibly different from those
rendered by a gathering of masons or grocers.  At various
periods, and in particular previous to 1848, the French
administration instituted a careful choice among the persons
summoned to form a jury, picking the jurors from among the
enlightened classes; choosing professors, functionaries, men of
letters, &c.  At the present day jurors are recruited for the
most part from among small tradesmen, petty capitalists, and
employes.  Yet, to the great astonishment of specialist writers,
whatever the composition of the jury has been, its decisions have
been identical.  Even the magistrates, hostile as they are to the
institution of the jury, have had to recognise the exactness of
the assertion.  M. Berard des Glajeux, a former President of the
Court of Assizes, expresses himself on the subject in his
"Memoirs" in the following terms:--

"The selection of jurymen is to-day in reality in the hands of
the municipal councillors, who put people down on the list or
eliminate them from it in accordance with the political and
electoral preoccupations inherent in their situation. . . .  The
majority of the jurors chosen are persons engaged in trade, but
persons of less importance than formerly, and employes belonging
to certain branches of the administration. . . .  Both opinions
and professions counting for nothing once the role of judge
assumed, many of the jurymen having the ardour of neophytes, and
men of the best intentions being similarly disposed in humble
situations, the spirit of the jury has not changed: ITS VERDICTS

Of the passage just cited the conclusions, which are just, are to
be borne in mind and not the explanations, which are weak.  Too
much astonishment should not be felt at this weakness, for, as a
rule, counsel equally with magistrates seem to be ignorant of the
psychology of crowds and, in consequence, of juries.  I find a
proof of this statement in a fact related by the author just
quoted.  He remarks that Lachaud, one of the most illustrious
barristers practising in the Court of Assize, made systematic use
of his right to object to a juror in the case of all individuals
of intelligence on the list.  Yet experience--and experience
alone--has ended by acquainting us with the utter uselessness of
these objections.  This is proved by the fact that at the present
day public prosecutors and barristers, at any rate those
belonging to the Parisian bar, have entirely renounced their
right to object to a juror; still, as M. des Glajeux remarks, the
verdicts have not changed, "they are neither better nor worse."

Like all crowds, juries are very strongly impressed by
sentimental considerations, and very slightly by argument.  "They
cannot resist the sight," writes a barrister, "of a mother giving
its child the breast, or of orphans."  "It is sufficient that a
woman should be of agreeable appearance," says M. des Glajeux,
"to win the benevolence of the jury."

Without pity for crimes of which it appears possible they might
themselves be the victims--such crimes, moreover, are the most
dangerous for society--juries, on the contrary, are very
indulgent in the case of breaches of the law whose motive is
passion.  They are rarely severe on infanticide by girl-mothers,
or hard on the young woman who throws vitriol at the man who has
seduced and deserted her, for the reason that they feel
instinctively that society runs but slight danger from such
crimes,[24] and that in a country in which the law does not
protect deserted girls the crime of the girl who avenges herself
is rather useful than harmful, inasmuch as it frightens future
seducers in advance.

[24] It is to be remarked, in passing, that this division of
crimes into those dangerous and those not dangerous for society,
which is well and instinctively made by juries is far from being
unjust.  The object of criminal laws is evidently to protect
society against dangerous criminals and not to avenge it.  On the
other hand, the French code, and above all the minds of the
French magistrates, are still deeply imbued with the spirit of
vengeance characteristic of the old primitive law, and the term
"vindicte" (prosecution, from the Latin vindicta, vengeance) is
still in daily use.  A proof of this tendency on the part of the
magistrates is found in the refusal by many of them to apply
Berenger's law, which allows of a condemned person not undergoing
his sentence unless he repeats his crime.  Yet no magistrate can
be ignorant, for the fact is proved by statistics, that the
application of a punishment inflicted for the first time
infallibly leads to further crime on the part of the person
punished.  When judges set free a sentenced person it always
seems to them that society has not been avenged.  Rather than not
avenge it they prefer to create a dangerous, confirmed criminal.

Juries, like all crowds, are profoundly impressed by prestige,
and President des Glajeux very properly remarks that, very
democratic as juries are in their composition, they are very
aristocratic in their likes and dislikes:  "Name, birth, great
wealth, celebrity, the assistance of an illustrious counsel,
everything in the nature of distinction or that lends brilliancy
to the accused, stands him in extremely good stead."

The chief concern of a good counsel should be to work upon the
feelings of the jury, and, as with all crowds, to argue but
little, or only to employ rudimentary modes of reasoning.  An
English barrister, famous for his successes in the assize courts,
has well set forth the line of action to be followed:--

"While pleading he would attentively observe the jury.  The most
favourable opportunity has been reached.  By dint of insight and
experience the counsel reads the effect of each phrase on the
faces of the jurymen, and draws his conclusions in consequence.
His first step is to be sure which members of the jury are
already favourable to his cause.  It is short work to definitely
gain their adhesion, and having done so he turns his attention to
the members who seem, on the contrary, ill-disposed, and
endeavours to discover why they are hostile to the accused.  This
is the delicate part of his task, for there may be an infinity of
reasons for condemning a man, apart from the sentiment of

These few lines resume the entire mechanism of the art of
oratory, and we see why the speech prepared in advance has so
slight an effect, it being necessary to be able to modify the
terms employed from moment to moment in accordance with the
impression produced.

The orator does not require to convert to his views all the
members of a jury, but only the leading spirits among it who will
determine the general opinion.  As in all crowds, so in juries
there are a small number of individuals who serve as guides to
the rest.  "I have found by experience," says the counsel cited
above, "that one or two energetic men suffice to carry the rest
of the jury with them."  It is those two or three whom it is
necessary to convince by skilful suggestions.  First of all, and
above all, it is necessary to please them.  The man forming part
of a crowd whom one has succeeded in pleasing is on the point of
being convinced, and is quite disposed to accept as excellent any
arguments that may be offered him.  I detach the following
anecdote from an interesting account of M. Lachaud, alluded to

"It is well known that during all the speeches he would deliver
in the course of an assize sessions, Lachaud never lost sight of
the two or three jurymen whom he knew or felt to be influential
but obstinate.  As a rule he was successful in winning over these
refractory jurors.  On one occasion, however, in the provinces,
he had to deal with a juryman whom he plied in vain for
three-quarters of an hour with his most cunning arguments; the
man was the seventh juryman, the first on the second bench.  The
case was desperate.  Suddenly, in the middle of a passionate
demonstration, Lachaud stopped short, and addressing the
President of the court said:  `Would you give instructions for
the curtain there in front to be drawn?  The seventh juryman is
blinded by the sun.'  The juryman in question reddened, smiled,
and expressed his thanks.  He was won over for the defence."

Many writers, some of them most distinguished, have started of
late a strong campaign against the institution of the jury,
although it is the only protection we have against the errors,
really very frequent, of a caste that is under no control.[25]  A
portion of these writers advocate a jury recruited solely from
the ranks of the enlightened classes; but we have already proved
that even in this case the verdicts would be identical with those
returned under the present system.  Other writers, taking their
stand on the errors committed by juries, would abolish the jury
and replace it by judges.  It is difficult to see how these
would-be reformers can forget that the errors for which the jury
is blamed were committed in the first instance by judges, and
that when the accused person comes before a jury he has already
been held to be guilty by several magistrates, by the juge
d'instruction, the public prosecutor, and the Court of
Arraignment.  It should thus be clear that were the accused to be
definitely judged by magistrates instead of by jurymen, he would
lose his only chance of being admitted innocent.  The errors of
juries have always been first of all the errors of magistrates.
It is solely the magistrates, then, who should be blamed when
particularly monstrous judicial errors crop up, such, for
instance, as the quite recent condemnation of Dr. L---- who,
prosecuted by a juge d'instruction, of excessive stupidity, on
the strength of the denunciation of a half-idiot girl, who
accused the doctor of having performed an illegal operation upon
her for thirty francs, would have been sent to penal servitude
but for an explosion of public indignation, which had for result
that he was immediately set at liberty by the Chief of the State.
The honourable character given the condemned man by all his
fellow-citizens made the grossness of the blunder self-evident.
The magistrates themselves admitted it, and yet out of caste
considerations they did all they could to prevent the pardon
being signed.  In all similar affairs the jury, confronted with
technical details it is unable to understand, naturally hearkens
to the public prosecutor, arguing that, after all, the affair has
been investigated by magistrates trained to unravel the most
intricate situations.  Who, then, are the real authors of the
error--the jurymen or the magistrates?  We should cling
vigorously to the jury.  It constitutes, perhaps, the only
category of crowd that cannot be replaced by any individuality.
It alone can temper the severity of the law, which, equal for
all, ought in principle to be blind and to take no cognisance of
particular cases.  Inaccessible to pity, and heeding nothing but
the text of the law, the judge in his professional severity would
visit with the same penalty the burglar guilty of murder and the
wretched girl whom poverty and her abandonment by her seducer
have driven to infanticide.  The jury, on the other hand,
instinctively feels that the seduced girl is much less guilty
than the seducer, who, however, is not touched by the law, and
that she deserves every indulgence.

[25] The magistracy is, in point of fact, the only administration
whose acts are under no control.  In spite of all its
revolutions, democratic France does not possess that right of
habeas corpus of which England is so proud.  We have banished all
the tyrants, but have set up a magistrate in each city who
disposes at will of the honour and liberty of the citizens.  An
insignificant juge d'instruction (an examining magistrate who has
no exact counterpart in England.--Trans.), fresh from the
university, possesses the revolting power of sending to prison at
will persons of the most considerable standing, on a simple
supposition on his part of their guilt, and without being obliged
to justify his act to any one.  Under the pretext of pursuing his
investigation he can keep these persons in prison for six months
or even a year, and free them at last without owing them either
an indemnity or excuses.  The warrant in France is the exact
equivalent of the lettre de cachet, with this difference, that
the latter, with the use of which the monarchy was so justly
reproached, could only be resorted to by persons occupying a very
high position, while the warrant is an instrument in the hands of
a whole class of citizens which is far from passing for being
very enlightened or very independent.

Being well acquainted with the psychology of castes, and also
with the psychology of other categories of crowds, I do not
perceive a single case in which, wrongly accused of a crime, I
should not prefer to have to deal with a jury rather than with
magistrates.  I should have some chance that my innocence would
be recognised by the former and not the slightest chance that it
would be admitted by the latter.  The power of crowds is to be
dreaded, but the power of certain castes is to be dreaded yet
more.  Crowds are open to conviction; castes never are.



General characteristics of electoral crowds--The manner of
persuading them--The qualities that should be possessed by a
candidate--Necessity of prestige--Why working men and peasants so
rarely choose candidates from their own class--The influence of
words and formulas on the elector--The general aspect of election
oratory--How the opinions of the elector are formed--The power of
political committees--They represent the most redoubtable form of
tyranny--The committees of the Revolution-- Universal suffrage
cannot be replaced in spite of its slight psychological
value--Why it is that the votes recorded would remain the same
even if the right of voting were restricted to a limited class of
citizens--What universal suffrage expresses in all countries.

ELECTORAL crowds--that is to say, collectivities invested with
the power of electing the holders of certain
functions--constitute heterogeneous crowds, but as their action
is confined to a single clearly determined matter, namely, to
choosing between different candidates, they present only a few of
the characteristics previously described.  Of the characteristics
peculiar to crowds, they display in particular but slight
aptitude for reasoning, the absence of the critical spirit,
irritability, credulity, and simplicity.  In their decision,
moreover, is to be traced the influence of the leaders of crowds
and the part played by the factors we have enumerated:
affirmation, repetition, prestige, and contagion.

Let us examine by what methods electoral crowds are to be
persuaded.  It will be easy to deduce their psychology from the
methods that are most successful.

It is of primary importance that the candidate should possess
prestige. Personal prestige can only be replaced by that
resulting from wealth.  Talent and even genius are not elements
of success of serious importance.

Of capital importance, on the other hand, is the necessity for
the candidate of possessing prestige, of being able, that is, to
force himself upon the electorate without discussion.  The reason
why the electors, of whom a majority are working men or peasants,
so rarely choose a man from their own ranks to represent them is
that such a person enjoys no prestige among them.  When, by
chance, they do elect a man who is their equal, it is as a rule
for subsidiary reasons--for instance, to spite an eminent man, or
an influential employer of labour on whom the elector is in daily
dependence, and whose master he has the illusion he becomes in
this way for a moment.

The possession of prestige does not suffice, however, to assure
the success of a candidate.  The elector stickles in particular
for the flattery of his greed and vanity.  He must be overwhelmed
with the most extravagant blandishments, and there must be no
hesitation in making him the most fantastic promises.  If he is a
working man it is impossible to go too far in insulting and
stigmatising employers of labour.  As for the rival candidate, an
effort must be made to destroy his chance by establishing by dint
of affirmation, repetition, and contagion that he is an arrant
scoundrel, and that it is a matter of common knowledge that he
has been guilty of several crimes.  It is, of course, useless to
trouble about any semblance of proof.  Should the adversary be
ill-acquainted with the psychology of crowds he will try to
justify himself by arguments instead of confining himself to
replying to one set of affirmations by another; and he will have
no chance whatever of being successful.

The candidate's written programme should not be too categorical,
since later on his adversaries might bring it up against him; in
his verbal programme, however, there cannot be too much
exaggeration.  The most important reforms may be fearlessly
promised.  At the moment they are made these exaggerations
produce a great effect, and they are not binding for the future,
it being a matter of constant observation that the elector never
troubles himself to know how far the candidate he has returned
has followed out the electoral programme he applauded, and in
virtue of which the election was supposed to have been secured.

In what precedes, all the factors of persuasion which we have
described are to be recognised.  We shall come across them again
in the action exerted by words and formulas, whose magical sway
we have already insisted upon.  An orator who knows how to make
use of these means of persuasion can do what he will with a
crowd.  Expressions such as infamous capital, vile exploiters,
the admirable working man, the socialisation of wealth, &c.,
always produce the same effect, although already somewhat worn by
use.  But the candidate who hits on a new formula as devoid as
possible of precise meaning, and apt in consequence to flatter
the most varied aspirations, infallibly obtains a success.  The
sanguinary Spanish revolution of 1873 was brought about by one of
these magical phrases of complex meaning on which everybody can
put his own interpretation.  A contemporary writer has described
the launching of this phrase in terms that deserve to be

"The radicals have made the discovery that a centralised republic
is a monarchy in disguise, and to humour them the Cortes had
unanimously proclaimed a FEDERAL REPUBLIC, though none of the
voters could have explained what it was he had just voted for.
This formula, however, delighted everybody; the joy was
intoxicating, delirious.  The reign of virtue and happiness had
just been inaugurated on earth.  A republican whose opponent
refused him the title of federalist considered himself to be
mortally insulted.  People addressed each other in the streets
with the words:  `Long live the federal republic!'  After which
the praises were sung of the mystic virtue of the absence of
discipline in the army, and of the autonomy of the soldiers.
What was understood by the `federal republic?'  There were those
who took it to mean the emancipation of the provinces,
institutions akin to those of the United States and
administrative decentralisation; others had in view the abolition
of all authority and the speedy commencement of the great social
liquidation.  The socialists of Barcelona and Andalusia stood out
for the absolute sovereignty of the communes; they proposed to
endow Spain with ten thousand independent municipalities, to
legislate on their own account, and their creation to be
accompanied by the suppression of the police and the army.  In
the southern provinces the insurrection was soon seen to spread
from town to town and village to village.  Directly a village had
made its pronunciamento its first care was to destroy the
telegraph wires and the railway lines so as to cut off all
communication with its neighbours and Madrid.  The sorriest
hamlet was determined to stand on its own bottom.  Federation had
given place to cantonalism, marked by massacres, incendiarism,
and every description of brutality, and bloody saturnalia were
celebrated throughout the length and breadth of the land."

With respect to the influence that may be exerted by reasoning on
the minds of electors, to harbour the least doubt on this subject
can only be the result of never having read the reports of an
electioneering meeting.  In such a gathering affirmations,
invectives, and sometimes blows are exchanged, but never
arguments.  Should silence be established for a moment it is
because some one present, having the reputation of a "tough
customer," has announced that he is about to heckle the candidate
by putting him one of those embarrassing questions which are
always the joy of the audience.  The satisfaction, however, of
the opposition party is shortlived, for the voice of the
questioner is soon drowned in the uproar made by his adversaries.
The following reports of public meetings, chosen from hundreds of
similar examples, and taken from the daily papers, may be
considered as typical:--

"One of the organisers of the meeting having asked the assembly
to elect a president, the storm bursts.  The anarchists leap on
to the platform to take the committee table by storm.  The
socialists make an energetic defence; blows are exchanged, and
each party accuses the other of being spies in the pay of the
Government, &c. . . .  A citizen leaves the hall with a black

"The committee is at length installed as best it may be in the
midst of the tumult, and the right to speak devolves upon
`Comrade' X.

"The orator starts a vigorous attack on the socialists, who
interrupt him with shouts of `Idiot, scoundrel, blackguard!' &c.,
epithets to which Comrade X. replies by setting forth a theory
according to which the socialists are `idiots' or `jokers.'"

"The Allemanist party had organised yesterday evening, in the
Hall of Commerce, in the Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple, a great
meeting, preliminary to the workers' fete of the 1st of May.  The
watchword of the meeting was `Calm and Tranquillity!'

"Comrade G---- alludes to the socialists as `idiots' and

"At these words there is an exchange of invectives and orators
and audience come to blows.  Chairs, tables, and benches are
converted into weapons," &c., &c.

It is not to be imagined for a moment that this description of
discussion is peculiar to a determined class of electors and
dependent on their social position.  In every anonymous assembly
whatever, though it be composed exclusively of highly educated
persons, discussion always assumes the same shape.  I have shown
that when men are collected in a crowd there is a tendency
towards their mental levelling at work, and proof of this is to
be found at every turn.  Take, for example, the following extract
from a report of a meeting composed exclusively of students,
which I borrow from the Temps of 13th of February, 1895:--

"The tumult only increased as the evening went on; I do not
believe that a single orator succeeded in uttering two sentences
without being interrupted.  At every instant there came shouts
from this or that direction or from every direction at once.
Applause was intermingled with hissing, violent discussions were
in progress between individual members of the audience, sticks
were brandished threateningly, others beat a tattoo on the floor,
and the interrupters were greeted with yells of `Put him out!' or
`Let him speak!'

"M. C---- lavished such epithets as odious and cowardly,
monstrous, vile, venal and vindictive, on the Association, which
he declared he wanted to destroy," &c., &c.

How, it may be asked, can an elector form an opinion under such
conditions?  To put such a question is to harbour a strange
delusion as to the measure of liberty that may be enjoyed by a
collectivity.  Crowds have opinions that have been imposed upon
them, but they never boast reasoned opinions.  In the case under
consideration the opinions and votes of the electors are in the
hands of the election committees, whose leading spirits are, as a
rule, publicans, their influence over the working men, to whom
they allow credit, being great.  "Do you know what an election
committee is?" writes M. Scherer, one of the most valiant
champions of present-day democracy.  "It is neither more nor less
than the corner-stone of our institutions, the masterpiece of the
political machine.  France is governed to-day by the election

[26] Committees under whatever name, clubs, syndicates, &c.,
constitute perhaps the most redoubtable danger resulting from the
power of crowds.  They represent in reality the most impersonal
and, in consequence, the most oppressive form of tyranny.  The
leaders who direct the committees being supposed to speak and act
in the name of a collectivity, are freed from all responsibility,
and are in a position to do just as they choose.  The most savage
tyrant has never ventured even to dream of such proscriptions as
those ordained by the committees of the Revolution.  Barras has
declared that they decimated the convention, picking off its
members at their pleasure.  So long as he was able to speak in
their name, Robespierre wielded absolute power.  The moment this
frightful dictator separated himself from them, for reasons of
personal pride, he was lost.  The reign of crowds is the reign of
committees, that is, of the leaders of crowds.  A severer
despotism cannot be imagined.

To exert an influence over them is not difficult, provided the
candidate be in himself acceptable and possess adequate financial
resources.  According to the admissions of the donors, three
millions of francs sufficed to secure the repeated elections of
General Boulanger.

Such is the psychology of electoral crowds.  It is identical with
that of other crowds: neither better nor worse.

In consequence I draw no conclusion against universal suffrage
from what precedes.  Had I to settle its fate, I should preserve
it as it is for practical reasons, which are to be deduced in
point of fact from our investigation of the psychology of crowds.
On this account I shall proceed to set them forth.

No doubt the weak side of universal suffrage is too obvious to be
overlooked.  It cannot be gainsaid that civilisation has been the
work of a small minority of superior intelligences constituting
the culminating point of a pyramid, whose stages, widening in
proportion to the decrease of mental power, represent the masses
of a nation.  The greatness of a civilisation cannot assuredly
depend upon the votes given by inferior elements boasting solely
numerical strength.  Doubtless, too, the votes recorded by crowds
are often very dangerous.  They have already cost us several
invasions, and in view of the triumph of socialism, for which
they are preparing the way, it is probable that the vagaries of
popular sovereignty will cost us still more dearly.

Excellent, however, as these objections are in theory, in
practice they lose all force, as will be admitted if the
invincible strength be remembered of ideas transformed into
dogmas.  The dogma of the sovereignty of crowds is as little
defensible, from the philosophical point of view, as the
religious dogmas of the Middle Ages, but it enjoys at present the
same absolute power they formerly enjoyed.  It is as unattackable
in consequence as in the past were our religious ideas.  Imagine
a modern freethinker miraculously transported into the midst of
the Middle Ages.  Do you suppose that, after having ascertained
the sovereign power of the religious ideas that were then in
force, he would have been tempted to attack them?  Having fallen
into the hands of a judge disposed to send him to the stake,
under the imputation of having concluded a pact with the devil,
or of having been present at the witches sabbath, would it have
occurred to him to call in question the existence of the devil or
of the sabbath?  It were as wise to oppose cyclones with
discussion as the beliefs of crowds.  The dogma of universal
suffrage possesses to-day the power the Christian dogmas formerly
possessed.  Orators and writers allude to it with a respect and
adulation that never fell to the share of Louis XIV.  In
consequence the same position must be taken up with regard to it
as with regard to all religious dogmas.  Time alone can act upon

Besides, it would be the more useless to attempt to undermine
this dogma, inasmuch as it has an appearance of reasonableness in
its favour.  "In an era of equality," Tocqueville justly remarks,
"men have no faith in each other on account of their being all
alike; yet this same similitude gives them an almost limitless
confidence in the judgment of the public, the reason being that
it does not appear probable that, all men being equally
enlightened, truth and numerical superiority should not go hand
in hand."

Must it be believed that with a restricted suffrage--a suffrage
restricted to those intellectually capable if it be desired--an
improvement would be effected in the votes of crowds?  I cannot
admit for a moment that this would be the case, and that for the
reasons I have already given touching the mental inferiority of
all collectivities, whatever their composition.  In a crowd men
always tend to the same level, and, on general questions, a vote,
recorded by forty academicians is no better than that of forty
water-carriers.  I do not in the least believe that any of the
votes for which universal suffrage is blamed--the
re-establishment of the Empire, for instance-- would have fallen
out differently had the voters been exclusively recruited among
learned and liberally educated men.  It does not follow because
an individual knows Greek or mathematics, is an architect, a
veterinary surgeon, a doctor, or a barrister, that he is endowed
with a special intelligence of social questions.  All our
political economists are highly educated, being for the most part
professors or academicians, yet is there a single general
question--protection, bimetallism, &c.--on which they have
succeeded in agreeing?  The explanation is that their science is
only a very attenuated form of our universal ignorance.  With
regard to social problems, owing to the number of unknown
quantities they offer, men are substantially, equally ignorant.

In consequence, were the electorate solely composed of persons
stuffed with sciences their votes would be no better than those
emitted at present.  They would be guided in the main by their
sentiments and by party spirit.  We should be spared none of the
difficulties we now have to contend with, and we should certainly
be subjected to the oppressive tyranny of castes.

Whether the suffrage of crowds be restricted or general, whether
it be exercised under a republic or a monarchy, in France, in
Belgium, in Greece, in Portugal, or in Spain, it is everywhere
identical; and, when all is said and done, it is the expression
of the unconscious aspirations and needs of the race.  In each
country the average opinions of those elected represent the
genius of the race, and they will be found not to alter sensibly
from one generation to another.

It is seen, then, that we are confronted once more by the
fundamental notion of race, which we have come across so often,
and on this other notion, which is the outcome of the first, that
institutions and governments play but a small part in the life of
a people.  Peoples are guided in the main by the genius of their
race, that is, by that inherited residue of qualities of which
the genius is the sum total.  Race and the slavery of our daily
necessities are the mysterious master-causes that rule our



Parliamentary crowds present most of the characteristics common
to heterogeneous crowds that are not anonymous--The simplicity of
their opinions--Their suggestibility and its limits--Their
indestructible, fixed opinions and their changed opinions--The
reason of the predominance of indecision--The role of the
leaders--The reason of their prestige--They are the true masters
of an assembly whose votes, on that account, are merely those of
a small minority--The absolute power they exercise--The elements
of their oratorical art--Phrases and images--The psychological
necessity the leaders are under of being in a general way of
stubborn convictions and narrow-minded--It is impossible for a
speaker without prestige to obtain recognition for his
arguments-- The exaggeration of the sentiments, whether good or
bad, of assemblies-- At certain moments they become
automatic--The sittings of the Convention--Cases in which an
assembly loses the characteristics of crowds--The influence of
specialists when technical questions arise--The advantages and
dangers of a parliamentary system in all countries--It is adapted
to modern needs; but it involves financial waste and the
progressive curtailment of all liberty--Conclusion.

In parliamentary assemblies we have an example of heterogeneous
crowds that are not anonymous.  Although the mode of election of
their members varies from epoch to epoch, and from nation to
nation, they present very similar characteristics.  In this case
the influence of the race makes itself felt to weaken or
exaggerate the characteristics common to crowds, but not to
prevent their manifestation.  The parliamentary assemblies of the
most widely different countries, of Greece, Italy, Portugal,
Spain, France, and America present great analogies in their
debates and votes, and leave the respective governments face to
face with identical difficulties.

Moreover, the parliamentary system represents the ideal of all
modern civilised peoples.  The system is the expression of the
idea, psychologically erroneous, but generally admitted, that a
large gathering of men is much more capable than a small number
of coming to a wise and independent decision on a given subject.

The general characteristics of crowds are to be met with in
parliamentary assemblies: intellectual simplicity, irritability,
suggestibility, the exaggeration of the sentiments and the
preponderating influence of a few leaders.  In consequence,
however, of their special composition parliamentary crowds offer
some distinctive features, which we shall point out shortly.

Simplicity in their opinions is one of their most important
characteristics.  In the case of all parties, and more especially
so far as the Latin peoples are concerned, an invariable tendency
is met with in crowds of this kind to solve the most complicated
social problems by the simplest abstract principles and general
laws applicable to all cases.  Naturally the principles vary with
the party; but owing to the mere fact that the individual members
are a part of a crowd, they are always inclined to exaggerate the
worth of their principles, and to push them to their extreme
consequences.  In consequence parliaments are more especially
representative of extreme opinions.

The most perfect example of the ingenuous simplification of
opinions peculiar to assemblies is offered by the Jacobins of the
French Revolution.  Dogmatic and logical to a man, and their
brains full of vague generalities, they busied themselves with
the application of fixed-principles without concerning themselves
with events.  It has been said of them, with reason, that they
went through the Revolution without witnessing it.  With the aid
of the very simple dogmas that served them as guide, they
imagined they could recast society from top to bottom, and cause
a highly refined civilisation to return to a very anterior phase
of the social evolution.  The methods they resorted to to realise
their dream wore the same stamp of absolute ingenuousness.  They
confined themselves, in reality, to destroying what stood in
their way.  All of them, moreover--Girondists, the Men of the
Mountain, the Thermidorians, &c.--were alike animated by the same

Parliamentary crowds are very open to suggestion; and, as in the
case of all crowds, the suggestion comes from leaders possessing
prestige; but the suggestibility of parliamentary assemblies has
very clearly defined limits, which it is important to point out.

On all questions of local or regional interest every member of an
assembly has fixed, unalterable opinions, which no amount of
argument can shake.  The talent of a Demosthenes would be
powerless to change the vote of a Deputy on such questions as
protection or the privilege of distilling alcohol, questions in
which the interests of influential electors are involved.  The
suggestion emanating from these electors and undergone before the
time to vote arrives, sufficiently outweighs suggestions from any
other source to annul them and to maintain an absolute fixity of

[27] The following reflection of an English parliamentarian of
long experience doubtless applies to these opinions, fixed
beforehand, and rendered unalterable by electioneering
necessities:  "During the fifty years that I have sat at
Westminster, I have listened to thousands of speeches; but few of
them have changed my opinion, not one of them has changed my

On general questions--the overthrow of a Cabinet, the imposition
of a tax, &c.--there is no longer any fixity of opinion, and the
suggestions of leaders can exert an influence, though not in
quite the same way as in an ordinary crowd.  Every party has its
leaders, who possess occasionally an equal influence.  The result
is that the Deputy finds himself placed between two contrary
suggestions, and is inevitably made to hesitate.  This explains
how it is that he is often seen to vote in contrary fashion in an
interval of a quarter of an hour or to add to a law an article
which nullifies it; for instance, to withdraw from employers of
labour the right of choosing and dismissing their workmen, and
then to very nearly annul this measure by an amendment.

It is for the same reason that every Chamber that is returned has
some very stable opinions, and other opinions that are very
shifting.  On the whole, the general questions being the more
numerous, indecision is predominant in the Chamber--the
indecision which results from the ever- present fear of the
elector, the suggestion received from whom is always latent, and
tends to counterbalance the influence of the leaders.

Still, it is the leaders who are definitely the masters in those
numerous discussions, with regard to the subject-matter of which
the members of an assembly are without strong preconceived

The necessity for these leaders is evident, since, under the name
of heads of groups, they are met with in the assemblies of every
country.  They are the real rulers of an assembly.  Men forming a
crowd cannot do without a master, whence it results that the
votes of an assembly only represent, as a rule, the opinions of a
small minority.

The influence of the leaders is due in very small measure to the
arguments they employ, but in a large degree to their prestige.
The best proof of this is that, should they by any circumstance
lose their prestige, their influence disappears.

The prestige of these political leaders is individual, and
independent of name or celebrity: a fact of which M. Jules Simon
gives us some very curious examples in his remarks on the
prominent men of the Assembly of 1848, of which he was a

"Two months before he was all-powerful, Louis Napoleon was
entirely without the least importance.

"Victor Hugo mounted the tribune.  He failed to achieve success.
He was listened to as Felix Pyat was listened to, but he did not
obtain as much applause.  `I don't like his ideas,' Vaulabelle
said to me, speaking of Felix Pyat,' but he is one of the
greatest writers and the greatest orator of France.'  Edgar
Quinet, in spite of his exceptional and powerful intelligence,
was held in no esteem whatever.  He had been popular for awhile
before the opening of the Assembly; in the Assembly he had no

"The splendour of genius makes itself less felt in political
assemblies than anywhere else.  They only give heed to eloquence
appropriate to the time and place and to party services, not to
services rendered the country.  For homage to be rendered
Lamartine in 1848 and Thiers in 1871, the stimulant was needed of
urgent, inexorable interest.  As soon as the danger was passed
the parliamentary world forgot in the same instant its gratitude
and its fright."

I have quoted the preceding passage for the sake of the facts it
contains, not of the explanations it offers, their psychology
being somewhat poor.  A crowd would at once lose its character of
a crowd were it to credit its leaders with their services,
whether of a party nature or rendered their country.  The crowd
that obeys a leader is under the influence of his prestige, and
its submission is not dictated by any sentiment of interest or

In consequence the leader endowed with sufficient prestige wields
almost absolute power.  The immense influence exerted during a
long series of years, thanks to his prestige, by a celebrated
Deputy,[28] beaten at the last general election in consequence of
certain financial events, is well known.  He had only to give the
signal and Cabinets were overthrown.  A writer has clearly
indicated the scope of his action in the following lines:--

[28] M. Clemenceau.--Note of the Translator.

"It is due, in the main, to M. X---- that we paid three times as
dearly as we should have done for Tonkin, that we remained so
long on a precarious footing in Madagascar, that we were
defrauded of an empire in the region of the Lower Niger, and that
we have lost the preponderating situation we used to occupy in
Egypt.  The theories of M. X---- have cost us more territories
than the disasters of Napoleon I."

We must not harbour too bitter a grudge against the leader in
question.  It is plain that he has cost us very dear; but a great
part of his influence was due to the fact that he followed public
opinion, which, in colonial matters, was far from being at the
time what it has since become.  A leader is seldom in advance of
public opinion; almost always all he does is to follow it and to
espouse all its errors.

The means of persuasion of the leaders we are dealing with, apart
from their prestige, consist in the factors we have already
enumerated several times.  To make a skilful use of these
resources a leader must have arrived at a comprehension, at least
in an unconscious manner, of the psychology of crowds, and must
know how to address them.  He should be aware, in particular, of
the fascinating influence of words, phrases, and images.  He
should possess a special description of eloquence, composed of
energetic affirmations--unburdened with proofs-- and impressive
images, accompanied by very summary arguments.  This is a kind of
eloquence that is met with in all assemblies, the English
Parliament included, the most serious though it is of all.

"Debates in the House of Commons," says the English philosopher
Maine, "may be constantly read in which the entire discussion is
confined to an exchange of rather weak generalities and rather
violent personalities.  General formulas of this description
exercise a prodigious influence on the imagination of a pure
democracy.  It will always be easy to make a crowd accept general
assertions, presented in striking terms, although they have never
been verified, and are perhaps not susceptible of verification."

Too much importance cannot be attached to the "striking terms"
alluded to in the above quotation.  We have already insisted, on
several occasions, on the special power of words and formulas.
They must be chosen in such a way as to evoke very vivid images.
The following phrase, taken from a speech by one of the leaders
of our assemblies, affords an excellent example:--

"When the same vessel shall bear away to the fever-haunted lands
of our penitentiary settlements the politician of shady
reputation and the anarchist guilty of murder, the pair will be
able to converse together, and they will appear to each other as
the two complementary aspects of one and the same state of

The image thus evoked is very vivid, and all the adversaries of
the speaker felt themselves threatened by it.  They conjured up a
double vision of the fever-haunted country and the vessel that
may carry them away; for is it not possible that they are
included in the somewhat ill-defined category of the politicians
menaced?  They experienced the lurking fear that the men of the
Convention must have felt whom the vague speeches of Robespierre
threatened with the guillotine, and who, under the influence of
this fear, invariably yielded to him.

It is all to the interest of the leaders to indulge in the most
improbable exaggerations.  The speaker of whom I have just cited
a sentence was able to affirm, without arousing violent
protestations, that bankers and priests had subsidised the
throwers of bombs, and that the directors of the great financial
companies deserve the same punishment as anarchists.
Affirmations of this kind are always effective with crowds.  The
affirmation is never too violent, the declamation never too
threatening.  Nothing intimidates the audience more than this
sort of eloquence.  Those present are afraid that if they protest
they will be put down as traitors or accomplices.

As I have said, this peculiar style of eloquence has ever been of
sovereign effect in all assemblies.  In times of crisis its power
is still further accentuated.  The speeches of the great orators
of the assemblies of the French Revolution are very interesting
reading from this point of view.  At every instant they thought
themselves obliged to pause in order to denounce crime and exalt
virtue, after which they would burst forth into imprecations
against tyrants, and swear to live free men or perish.  Those
present rose to their feet, applauded furiously, and then,
calmed, took their seats again.

On occasion, the leader may be intelligent and highly educated,
but the possession of these qualities does him, as a rule, more
harm than good.  By showing how complex things are, by allowing
of explanation and promoting comprehension, intelligence always
renders its owner indulgent, and blunts, in a large measure, that
intensity and violence of conviction needful for apostles.  The
great leaders of crowds of all ages, and those of the Revolution
in particular, have been of lamentably narrow intellect; while it
is precisely those whose intelligence has been the most
restricted who have exercised the greatest influence.

The speeches of the most celebrated of them, of Robespierre,
frequently astound one by their incoherence: by merely reading
them no plausible explanation is to be found of the great part
played by the powerful dictator:--

"The commonplaces and redundancies of pedagogic eloquence and
Latin culture at the service of a mind childish rather than
undistinguished, and limited in its notions of attack and defence
to the defiant attitude of schoolboys.  Not an idea, not a happy
turn of phrase, or a telling hit: a storm of declamation that
leaves us bored.  After a dose of this unexhilarating reading one
is attempted to exclaim `Oh!' with the amiable Camille

It is terrible at times to think of the power that strong
conviction combined with extreme narrowness of mind gives a man
possessing prestige.  It is none the less necessary that these
conditions should be satisfied for a man to ignore obstacles and
display strength of will in a high measure.  Crowds instinctively
recognise in men of energy and conviction the masters they are
always in need of.

In a parliamentary assembly the success of a speech depends
almost solely on the prestige possessed by the speaker, and not
at all on the arguments he brings forward.  The best proof of
this is that when for one cause or another a speaker loses his
prestige, he loses simultaneously all his influence, that is, his
power of influencing votes at will.

When an unknown speaker comes forward with a speech containing
good arguments, but only arguments, the chances are that he will
only obtain a hearing.  A Deputy who is a psychologist of
insight, M. Desaubes, has recently traced in the following lines
the portrait of the Deputy who lacks prestige:--

"When he takes his place in the tribune he draws a document from
his portfolio, spreads it out methodically before him, and makes
a start with assurance.

"He flatters himself that he will implant in the minds of his
audience the conviction by which he is himself animated.  He has
weighed and reweighed his arguments; he is well primed with
figures and proofs; he is certain he will convince his hearers.
In the face of the evidence he is to adduce all resistance would
be futile.  He begins, confident in the justice of his cause, and
relying upon the attention of his colleagues, whose only anxiety,
of course, is to subscribe to the truth.

"He speaks, and is at once surprised at the restlessness of the
House, and a little annoyed by the noise that is being made.

"How is it silence is not kept?  Why this general inattention?
What are those Deputies thinking about who are engaged in
conversation?  What urgent motive has induced this or that Deputy
to quit his seat?

"An expression of uneasiness crosses his face; he frowns and
stops.  Encouraged by the President, he begins again, raising his
voice.  He is only listened to all the less.  He lends emphasis
to his words, and gesticulates: the noise around him increases.
He can no longer hear himself, and again stops; finally, afraid
that his silence may provoke the dreaded cry, `The Closure!' he
starts off again.  The clamour becomes unbearable."

When parliamentary assemblies reach a certain pitch of excitement
they become identical with ordinary heterogeneous crowds, and
their sentiments in consequence present the peculiarity of being
always extreme.  They will be seen to commit acts of the greatest
heroism or the worst excesses.  The individual is no longer
himself, and so entirely is this the case that he will vote
measures most adverse to his personal interests.

The history of the French Revolution shows to what an extent
assemblies are capable of losing their self-consciousness, and of
obeying suggestions most contrary to their interests.  It was an
enormous sacrifice for the nobility to renounce its privileges,
yet it did so without hesitation on a famous night during the
sittings of the Constituant Assembly.  By renouncing their
inviolability the men of the Convention placed themselves under a
perpetual menace of death and yet they took this step, and were
not afraid to decimate their own ranks, though perfectly aware
that the scaffold to which they were sending their colleagues
to-day might be their own fate to-morrow.  The truth is they had
attained to that completely automatic state which I have
described elsewhere, and no consideration would hinder them from
yielding to the suggestions by which they were hypnotised.  The
following passage from the memoirs of one of them,
Billaud-Varennes, is absolutely typical on this score:  "The
decisions with which we have been so reproached," he says, "WERE
Nothing can be more accurate.

The same phenomena of unconsciousness were to be witnessed during
all the stormy sittings of the Convention.

"They approved and decreed measures," says Taine, "which they
held in horror--measures which were not only stupid and foolish,
but measures that were crimes--the murder of innocent men, the
murder of their friends.  The Left, supported by the Right,
unanimously and amid loud applause, sent to the scaffold Danton,
its natural chief, and the great promoter and leader of the
Revolution.  Unanimously and amid the greatest applause the
Right, supported by the Left, votes the worst decrees of the
revolutionary government.  Unanimously and amid cries of
admiration and enthusiasm, amid demonstrations of passionate
sympathy for Collot d'Herbois, Couthon, and Robespierre, the
Convention by spontaneous and repeated re-elections keeps in
office the homicidal government which the Plain detests because
it is homicidal, and the Mountain detests because it is decimated
by it.  The Plain and the Mountain, the majority and the
minority, finish by consenting to help on their own suicide.  The
22 Prairial the entire Convention offered itself to the
executioner; the 8 Thermidor, during the first quarter of an hour
that followed Robespierre's speech, it did the same thing again."

This picture may appear sombre.  Yet it is accurate.
Parliamentary assemblies, sufficiently excited and hypnotised,
offer the same characteristics.  They become an unstable flock,
obedient to every impulsion.  The following description of the
Assembly of 1848 is due to M. Spuller, a parliamentarian whose
faith in democracy is above suspicion.  I reproduce it from the
Revue litteraire, and it is thoroughly typical.  It offers an
example of all the exaggerated sentiments which I have described
as characteristic of crowds, and of that excessive changeableness
which permits of assemblies passing, from moment to moment, from
one set of sentiments to another entirely opposite.

"The Republican party was brought to its perdition by its
divisions, its jealousies, its suspicions, and, in turn, its
blind confidence and its limitless hopes.  Its ingenuousness and
candour were only equalled by its universal mistrust.  An absence
of all sense of legality, of all comprehension of discipline,
together with boundless terrors and illusions; the peasant and
the child are on a level in these respects.  Their calm is as
great as their impatience; their ferocity is equal to their
docility.  This condition is the natural consequence of a
temperament that is not formed and of the lack of education.
Nothing astonishes such persons, and everything disconcerts them.
Trembling with fear or brave to the point of heroism, they would
go through fire and water or fly from a shadow.

"They are ignorant of cause and effect and of the connecting
links between events.  They are as promptly discouraged as they
are exalted, they are subject to every description of panic, they
are always either too highly strung or too downcast, but never in
the mood or the measure the situation would require.  More fluid
than water they reflect every line and assume every shape.  What
sort of a foundation for a government can they be expected to

Fortunately all the characteristics just described as to be met
with in parliamentary assemblies are in no wise constantly
displayed.  Such assemblies only constitute crowds at certain
moments.  The individuals composing them retain their
individuality in a great number of cases, which explains how it
is that an assembly is able to turn out excellent technical laws.
It is true that the author of these laws is a specialist who has
prepared them in the quiet of his study, and that in reality the
law voted is the work of an individual and not of an assembly.
These laws are naturally the best.  They are only liable to have
disastrous results when a series of amendments has converted them
into the outcome of a collective effort.  The work of a crowd is
always inferior, whatever its nature, to that of an isolated
individual.  It is specialists who safeguard assemblies from
passing ill-advised or unworkable measures.  The specialist in
this case is a temporary leader of crowds.  The Assembly is
without influence on him, but he has influence over the Assembly.

In spite of all the difficulties attending their working,
parliamentary assemblies are the best form of government mankind
has discovered as yet, and more especially the best means it has
found to escape the yoke of personal tyrannies.  They constitute
assuredly the ideal government at any rate for philosophers,
thinkers, writers, artists, and learned men--in a word, for all
those who form the cream of a civilisation.

Moreover, in reality they only present two serious dangers, one
being inevitable financial waste, and the other the progressive
restriction of the liberty of the individual.

The first of these dangers is the necessary consequence of the
exigencies and want of foresight of electoral crowds.  Should a
member of an assembly propose a measure giving apparent
satisfaction to democratic ideas, should he bring in a Bill, for
instance, to assure old-age pensions to all workers, and to
increase the wages of any class of State employes, the other
Deputies, victims of suggestion in their dread of their electors,
will not venture to seem to disregard the interests of the latter
by rejecting the proposed measure, although well aware they are
imposing a fresh strain on the Budget and necessitating the
creation of new taxes.  It is impossible for them to hesitate to
give their votes.  The consequences of the increase of
expenditure are remote and will not entail disagreeable
consequences for them personally, while the consequences of a
negative vote might clearly come to light when they next present
themselves for re-election.

In addition to this first cause of an exaggerated expenditure
there is another not less imperative--the necessity of voting all
grants for local purposes.  A Deputy is unable to oppose grants
of this kind because they represent once more the exigencies of
the electors, and because each individual Deputy can only obtain
what he requires for his own constituency on the condition of
acceding to similar demands on the part of his colleagues.[29]

[29] In its issue of April 6, 1895, the Economiste published a
curious review of the figures that may be reached by expenditure
caused solely by electoral considerations, and notably of the
outlay on railways.  To put Langayes (a town of 3,000
inhabitants, situated on a mountain) in communication with Puy, a
railway is voted that will cost 15 millions of francs.  Seven
millions are to be spent to put Beaumont (3,500 inhabitants) in
communication with Castel-Sarrazin; 7 millions to put Oust (a
village of 523 inhabitants) in communication with Seix (1,200
inhabitants); 6 millions to put Prade in communication with the
hamlet of Olette (747 inhabitants), &c.  In 1895 alone 90
millions of francs were voted for railways of only local utility.
There is other no less important expenditure necessitated also by
electioneering considerations.  The law instituting workingmen's
pensions will soon involve a minimum annual outlay of 165
millions, according to the Minister of Finance, and of 800
millions according to the academician M. Leroy-Beaulieu.  It is
evident that the continued growth of expenditure of this kind
must end in bankruptcy.  Many European countries--Portugal,
Greece, Spain, Turkey--have reached this stage, and others, such
as Italy, will soon be reduced to the same extremity.  Still too
much alarm need not be felt at this state of things, since the
public has successively consented to put up with the reduction of
four-fifths in the payment of their coupons by these different
countries.  Bankruptcy under these ingenious conditions allows
the equilibrium of Budgets difficult to balance to be instantly
restored.  Moreover, wars, socialism, and economic conflicts hold
in store for us a profusion of other catastrophes in the period
of universal disintegration we are traversing, and it is
necessary to be resigned to living from hand to mouth without too
much concern for a future we cannot control.

The second of the dangers referred to above--the inevitable
restrictions on liberty consummated by parliamentary
assemblies--is apparently less obvious, but is, nevertheless,
very real.  It is the result of the innumerable laws--having
always a restrictive action--which parliaments consider
themselves obliged to vote and to whose consequences, owing to
their shortsightedness, they are in a great measure blind.

The danger must indeed be most inevitable, since even England
itself, which assuredly offers the most popular type of the
parliamentary regime, the type in which the representative is
most independent of his elector, has been unable to escape it.
Herbert Spencer has shown, in a work already old, that the
increase of apparent liberty must needs be followed by the
decrease of real liberty.  Returning to this contention in his
recent book, "The Individual versus the State," he thus expresses
himself with regard to the English Parliament:--

"Legislation since this period has followed the course, I pointed
out.  Rapidly multiplying dictatorial measures have continually
tended to restrict individual liberties, and this in two ways.
Regulations have been established every year in greater number,
imposing a constraint on the citizen in matters in which his acts
were formerly completely free, and forcing him to accomplish acts
which he was formerly at liberty to accomplish or not to
accomplish at will.  At the same time heavier and heavier public,
and especially local, burdens have still further restricted his
liberty by diminishing the portion of his profits he can spend as
he chooses, and by augmenting the portion which is taken from him
to be spent according to the good pleasure of the public

This progressive restriction of liberties shows itself in every
country in a special shape which Herbert Spencer has not pointed
out; it is that the passing of these innumerable series of
legislative measures, all of them in a general way of a
restrictive order, conduces necessarily to augment the number,
the power, and the influence of the functionaries charged with
their application.  These functionaries tend in this way to
become the veritable masters of civilised countries.  Their power
is all the greater owing to the fact that, amidst the incessant
transfer of authority, the administrative caste is alone in being
untouched by these changes, is alone in possessing
irresponsibility, impersonality, and perpetuity.  There is no
more oppressive despotism than that which presents itself under
this triple form.

This incessant creation of restrictive laws and regulations,
surrounding the pettiest actions of existence with the most
complicated formalities, inevitably has for its result the
confining within narrower and narrower limits of the sphere in
which the citizen may move freely.  Victims of the delusion that
equality and liberty are the better assured by the multiplication
of laws, nations daily consent to put up with trammels
increasingly burdensome.  They do not accept this legislation
with impunity.  Accustomed to put up with every yoke, they soon
end by desiring servitude, and lose all spontaneousness and
energy.  They are then no more than vain shadows, passive,
unresisting and powerless automata.

Arrived at this point, the individual is bound to seek outside
himself the forces he no longer finds within him.  The functions
of governments necessarily increase in proportion as the
indifference and helplessness of the citizens grow.  They it is
who must necessarily exhibit the initiative, enterprising, and
guiding spirit in which private persons are lacking.  It falls on
them to undertake everything, direct everything, and take
everything under their protection.  The State becomes an
all-powerful god.  Still experience shows that the power of such
gods was never either very durable or very strong.

This progressive restriction of all liberties in the case of
certain peoples, in spite of an outward license that gives them
the illusion that these liberties are still in their possession,
seems at least as much a consequence of their old age as of any
particular system.  It constitutes one of the precursory symptoms
of that decadent phase which up to now no civilisation has

Judging by the lessons of the past, and by the symptoms that
strike the attention on every side, several of our modern
civilisations have reached that phase of extreme old age which
precedes decadence.  It seems inevitable that all peoples should
pass through identical phases of existence, since history is so
often seen to repeat its course.

It is easy to note briefly these common phases of the evolution
of civilisations, and I shall terminate this work with a summary
of them.  This rapid sketch will perhaps throw some gleams of
light on the causes of the power at present wielded by crowds.

If we examine in their main lines the genesis of the greatness
and of the fall of the civilisations that preceded our own, what
do we see?

At the dawn of civilisation a swarm of men of various origin,
brought together by the chances of migrations, invasions, and
conquests.  Of different blood, and of equally different
languages and beliefs, the only common bond of union between
these men is the half-recognised law of a chief.  The
psychological characteristics of crowds are present in an eminent
degree in these confused agglomerations.  They have the transient
cohesion of crowds, their heroism, their weaknesses, their
impulsiveness, and their violence.  Nothing is stable in
connection with them.  They are barbarians.

At length time accomplishes its work.  The identity of
surroundings, the repeated intermingling of races, the
necessities of life in common exert their influence.  The
assemblage of dissimilar units begins to blend into a whole, to
form a race; that is, an aggregate possessing common
characteristics and sentiments to which heredity will give
greater and greater fixity.  The crowd has become a people, and
this people is able to emerge from its barbarous state.  However,
it will only entirely emerge therefrom when, after long efforts,
struggles necessarily repeated, and innumerable recommencements,
it shall have acquired an ideal.  The nature of this ideal is of
slight importance; whether it be the cult of Rome, the might of
Athens, or the triumph of Allah, it will suffice to endow all the
individuals of the race that is forming with perfect unity of
sentiment and thought.

At this stage a new civilisation, with its institutions, its
beliefs, and its arts, may be born.  In pursuit of its ideal, the
race will acquire in succession the qualities necessary to give
it splendour, vigour, and grandeur.  At times no doubt it will
still be a crowd, but henceforth, beneath the mobile and changing
characteristics of crowds, is found a solid substratum, the
genius of the race which confines within narrow limits the
transformations of a nation and overrules the play of chance.

After having exerted its creative action, time begins that work
of destruction from which neither gods nor men escape.  Having
reached a certain level of strength and complexity a civilisation
ceases to grow, and having ceased to grow it is condemned to a
speedy decline.  The hour of its old age has struck.

This inevitable hour is always marked by the weakening of the
ideal that was the mainstay of the race.  In proportion as this
ideal pales all the religious, political, and social structures
inspired by it begin to be shaken.

With the progressive perishing of its ideal the race loses more
and more the qualities that lent it its cohesion, its unity, and
its strength.  The personality and intelligence of the individual
may increase, but at the same time this collective egoism of the
race is replaced by an excessive development of the egoism of the
individual, accompanied by a weakening of character and a
lessening of the capacity for action.  What constituted a people,
a unity, a whole, becomes in the end an agglomeration of
individualities lacking cohesion, and artificially held together
for a time by its traditions and institutions.  It is at this
stage that men, divided by their interests and aspirations, and
incapable any longer of self-government, require directing in
their pettiest acts, and that the State exerts an absorbing

With the definite loss of its old ideal the genius of the race
entirely disappears; it is a mere swarm of isolated individuals
and returns to its original state--that of a crowd.  Without
consistency and without a future, it has all the transitory
characteristics of crowds.  Its civilisation is now without
stability, and at the mercy of every chance.  The populace is
sovereign, and the tide of barbarism mounts.  The civilisation
may still seem brilliant because it possesses an outward front,
the work of a long past, but it is in reality an edifice
crumbling to ruin, which nothing supports, and destined to fall
in at the first storm.

To pass in pursuit of an ideal from the barbarous to the
civilised state, and then, when this ideal has lost its virtue,
to decline and die, such is the cycle of the life of a people.

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