The Crowd
Gustave le Bon

Part 2 out of 4

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


From the dawn of civilisation onwards crowds have always
undergone the influence of illusions. It is to the creators of
illusions that they have raised more temples, statues, and altars
than to any other class of men. Whether it be the religious
illusions of the past or the philosophic and social illusions of
the present, these formidable sovereign powers are always found
at the head of all the civilisations that have successively
flourished on our planet. It is in their name that were built
the temples of Chaldea and Egypt and the religious edifices of
the Middle Ages, and that a vast upheaval shook the whole of
Europe a century ago, and there is not one of our political,
artistic, or social conceptions that is free from their powerful
impress. Occasionally, at the cost of terrible disturbances, man
overthrows them, but he seems condemned to always set them up
again. Without them he would never have emerged from his
primitive barbarian state, and without them again he would soon
return to it. Doubtless they are futile shadows; but these
children of our dreams have forced the nations to create whatever
the arts may boast of splendour or civilisation of greatness.

"If one destroyed in museums and libraries, if one hurled down on
the flagstones before the churches all the works and all the
monuments of art that religions have inspired, what would remain
of the great dreams of humanity? To give to men that portion of
hope and illusion without which they cannot live, such is the
reason for the existence of gods, heroes, and poets. During
fifty years science appeared to undertake this task. But science
has been compromised in hearts hungering after the ideal, because
it does not dare to be lavish enough of promises, because it
cannot lie."[14]

[14] Daniel Lesueur.

The philosophers of the last century devoted themselves with
fervour to the destruction of the religious, political, and
social illusions on which our forefathers had lived for a long
tale of centuries. By destroying them they have dried up the
springs of hope and resignation. Behind the immolated chimeras
they came face to face with the blind and silent forces of
nature, which are inexorable to weakness and ignore pity.

Notwithstanding all its progress, philosophy has been unable as
yet to offer the masses any ideal that can charm them; but, as
they must have their illusions at all cost, they turn
instinctively, as the insect seeks the light, to the rhetoricians
who accord them what they want. Not truth, but error has always
been the chief factor in the evolution of nations, and the reason
why socialism is so powerful to-day is that it constitutes the
last illusion that is still vital. In spite of all scientific
demonstrations it continues on the increase. Its principal
strength lies in the fact that it is championed by minds
sufficiently ignorant of things as they are in reality to venture
boldly to promise mankind happiness. The social illusion reigns
to-day upon all the heaped-up ruins of the past, and to it
belongs the future. The masses have never thirsted after truth.
They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste,
preferring to deify error, if error seduce them. Whoever can
supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever
attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The prestige of which I have just spoken is exercised by persons;
side by side with it may be placed that exercised by opinions,
literary and artistic works, &c. Prestige of the latter kind is
most often merely the result of accumulated repetitions.
History, literary and artistic history especially, being nothing
more than the repetition of identical judgments, which nobody
endeavours to verify, every one ends by repeating what he learnt
at school, till there come to be names and things which nobody
would venture to meddle with. For a modern reader the perusal of
Homer results incontestably in immense boredom; but who would
venture to say so? The Parthenon, in its present state, is a
wretched ruin, utterly destitute of interest, but it is endowed
with such prestige that it does not appear to us as it really is,
but with all its accompaniment of historic memories. The special


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