The Crowd
Gustave le Bon

Part 3 out of 4

characteristic of prestige is to prevent us seeing things as they
are and to entirely paralyse our judgment. Crowds always, and
individuals as a rule, stand in need of ready-made opinions on
all subjects. The popularity of these opinions is independent of
the measure of truth or error they contain, and is solely
regulated by their prestige.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

Our starting-point will be the simple multitude. Its most
inferior form is met with when the multitude is composed of
individuals belonging to different races. In this case its only
common bond of union is the will, more or less respected of a
chief. The barbarians of very diverse origin who during several
centuries invaded the Roman Empire, may be cited as a specimen of
multitudes of this kind.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

The history of the crimes committed by crowds illustrates what

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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