The Crowd
Gustave le Bon

Part 1 out of 4

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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,


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