The Psychology of Revolution
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THE PSYCHOLOGY OF REVOLUTION
GUSTAVE LE BON
INTRODUCTION. THE REVISION OF HISTORY
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL ELEMENTS OF REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENTS
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF REVOLUTIONS
CHAPTER I. SCIENTIFIC AND POLITICAL REVOLUTIONS
1. Classification of Revolutions
2. Scientific Revolutions
3. Political Revolutions
4. The results of Political Revolutions
CHAPTER II. RELIGIOUS REVOLUTIONS
1. The importance of the study of Religious Revolutions in
respect of the comprehension of the great Political
2. The beginnings of the Reformation and its first
3. Rational value of the doctrines of the Reformation
4. Propagation of the Reformation
5. Conflict between different religious beliefs. The
impossibility of tolerance
6. The results of Religious Revolutions
CHAPTER III. THE ACTION OF GOVERNMENTS IN REVOLUTIONS
1. The feeble resistance of Governments in time of
2. How the resistance of Governments may overcome
3. Revolutions effected by Governments. Examples: China,
4. Social elements which survive the changes of Government
CHAPTER IV. THE PART PLAYED BY THE PEOPLE IN REVOLUTIONS
1. The stability and malleability Of the national mind
2. How the People regards Revolution
3. The supposed part of the People during Revolution
4. The popular entity and its constituent elements
THE FORMS OF MENTALITY PREVALENT DURING REVOLUTION
CHAPTER I. INDIVIDUAL VARIATIONS OF CHARACTER IN TIME OF
1. Transformations of Personality
2. Elements of character predominant in time of Revolution
CHAPTER II. THE MYSTIC MENTALITY AND THE JACOBIN MENTALITY
1. Classification of mentalities predominant in time of
2. The Mystic Mentality
3. The Jacobin Mentality
CHAPTER III. THE REVOLUTIONARY AND CRIMINAL MENTALITIES
1. The Revolutionary Mentality
2. The Criminal Mentality
CHAPTER IV. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF REVOLUTIONARY CROWDS
1. General characteristics of the crowd
2. How the stability of the racial mind limits the
oscillations of the mind of the crowd
3. The role of the leader in Revolutionary Movements
CHAPTER V. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE REVOLUTIONARY ASSEMBLIES
1. Psychological characteristics of the great Revolutionary
2. The Psychology of the Revolutionary Clubs
3. A suggested explanation of the progressive exaggeration
of sentiments in assemblies
THE ORIGINS OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
CHAPTER 1. THE OPINIONS OF HISTORIANS CONCERNING THE FRENCH
1. The Historians of the Revolution
2. The theory of Fatalism in respect of the Revolution
3. The hesitation of recent Historians of the Revolution
4. Impartiality in History
CHAPTER II. THE PSYCHOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS OF THE ANCIEN REGIME
1. The Absolute Monarchy and the Basis of the Ancien Regime
2. The inconveniences of the Ancien Regime
3. Life under the Ancien Regime
4. Evolution of Monarchical feeling during the Revolution
CHAPTER III. MENTAL ANARCHY AT THE TIME OF THE REVOLUTION
AND THE INFLUENCE ATTRIBUTED TO THE PHILOSOPHERS
1. Origin and Propagation of Revolutionary Ideas
2. The supposed influence of the Philosophers of the
eighteenth century upon the Genesis of the Revolution.
Their dislike of Democracy
3. The philosophical ideas of the Bourgeoisie at the time of
CHAPTER IV. PSYCHOLOGICAL ILLUSIONS RESPECTING THE FRENCH
1. Illusions respecting Primitive Man, the return to the
State of Nature, and the Psychology of the People
2. Illusions respecting the possibility of separating Man
from his Past and the power of Transformation attributed
to the Law
3. Illusions respecting the Theoretical Value of the great
THE RATIONAL, AFFECTIVE, MYSTIC, AND COLLECTIVE INFLUENCES ACTIVE
DURING THE REVOLUTION
CHAPTER I. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY
1. Psychological influences active during the French
2. Dissolution of the Ancien Regime. The assembling of
the States General
3. The constituent Assembly
CHAPTER II. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
1. Political events during the life of the Legislative
2. Mental characteristics of the Legislative Assembly
CHAPTER III. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE CONVENTION
1. The Legend of the Convention
2. Results of the triumph of the Jacobin Religion
3. Mental characteristics of the Convention
CHAPTER IV. THE GOVERNMENT OF THE CONVENTION
1. The activity of the Clubs and the Commune during the
2. The Government of France during the Convention: the
3. The End of the Convention. The Beginnings of the
CHAPTER V. INSTANCES OF REVOLUTIONARY VIOLENCE
1. Psychological Causes of Revolutionary Violence
2. The Revolutionary Tribunals
3. The Terror in the Provinces
CHAPTER VI. THE ARMIES OF THE REVOLUTION
1. The Revolutionary Assemblies and the Armies
2. The Struggle of Europe against the Revolution
3. Psychological and Military Factors which determined the
success of the Revolutionary Armies
CHAPTER VII. PSYCHOLOGY OF THE LEADERS OF THE REVOLUTION
1. Mentality of the men of the Revolution. The respective
influence of violent and feeble characters
2. Psychology of the Commissaries or Representatives
3. Danton and Robespierre
4. Fouquier-Tinville, Marat, Billaud-Varenne, &c.
5. The destiny of those Members of the Convention who
survived the Revolution
THE CONFLICT BETWEEN ANCESTRAL INFLUENCES AND REVOLUTIONARY
CHAPTER I. THE LAST CONVULSIONS OF ANARCHY. THE DIRECTORY
1. Psychology of the Directory
2. Despotic Government of the Directory. Recrudescence of
3. The Advent of Bonaparte
4. Causes of the Duration of the Revolution
CHAPTER II. THE RESTORATION OF ORDER. THE CONSULAR REPUBLIC
1. How the work of the Revolution was confirmed by the
2. The re-organisation of France by the Consulate
3. Psychological elements which determined the success of
the work of the Consulate
CHAPTER III. POLITICAL RESULTS OF THE CONFLICT BETWEEN
TRADITIONS AND THE REVOLUTIONARY PRINCIPLES DURING THE
1. The psychological causes of the continued Revolutionary
Movements to which France has been subject
2. Summary of a century's Revolutionary Movements in France
THE RECENT EVOLUTION OF THE REVOLUTIONARY PRINCIPLES
CHAPTER I. THE PROGRESS OF DEMOCRATIC BELIEFS SINCE THE
1. Gradual propagation of Democratic Ideas after the
2. The unequal influence of the three fundamental principles
of the Revolution
3. The Democracy of the ``Intellectuals'' and Popular
4. Natural Inequalities and Democratic Equalisation
CHAPTER II. THE RESULTS OF DEMOCRATIC EVOLUTION
1. The influence upon social evolution of theories of no
2. The Jacobin Spirit and the Mentality created by
3. Universal Suffrage and its representatives
4. The craving for Reforms
5. Social distinctions in Democracies and Democratic Ideas
in various countries
CHAPTER III. THE NEW FORMS OF DEMOCRATIC BELIEF
1. The conflict between Capital and Labour
2. The evolution of the Working Classes and the Syndicalist
3. Why certain modern Democratic Governments are gradually
being transformed into Governments by Administrative
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF REVOLUTION
THE REVISION OF HISTORY
The present age is not merely an epoch of discovery; it is also a
period of revision of the various elements of knowledge. Having
recognised that there are no phenomena of which the first cause
is still accessible, science has resumed the examination of her
ancient certitudes, and has proved their fragility. To-day she
sees her ancient principles vanishing one by one. Mechanics is
losing its axioms, and matter, formerly the eternal substratum of
the worlds, becomes a simple aggregate of ephemeral forces in
Despite its conjectural side, by virtue of which it to some
extent escapes the severest form of criticism, history has not
been free from this universal revision. There is no longer a
single one of its phases of which we can say that it is certainly
known. What appeared to be definitely acquired is now once more
put in question.
Among the events whose study seemed completed was the French
Revolution. Analysed by several generations of writers, one
might suppose it to be perfectly elucidated. What new thing can
be said of it, except in modification of some of its details?
And yet its most positive defenders are beginning to hesitate in
their judgments. Ancient evidence proves to be far from
impeccable. The faith in dogmas once held sacred is shaken. The
latest literature of the Revolution betrays these uncertainties.
Having related, men are more and more chary of drawing
Not only are the heroes of this great drama discussed without
indulgence, but thinkers are asking whether the new dispensation
which followed the ancien regime would not have established
itself naturally, without violence, in the course of progressive
civilisation. The results obtained no longer seem in
correspondence either with their immediate cost or with the
remoter consequences which the Revolution evoked from the
possibilities of history.
Several causes have led to the revision of this tragic period.
Time has calmed passions, numerous documents have gradually
emerged from the archives, and the historian is learning to
interpret them independently.
But it is perhaps modern psychology that has most effectually
influenced our ideas, by enabling us more surely to read men and
the motives of their conduct.
Among those of its discoveries which are henceforth applicable to
history we must mention, above all, a more profound understanding
of ancestral influences, the laws which rule the actions of the
crowd, data relating to the disaggregation of personality, mental
contagion, the unconscious formation of beliefs, and the
distinction between the various forms of logic.
To tell the truth, these applications of science, which are
utilised in this book, have not been so utilised hitherto.
Historians have generally stopped short at the study of
documents, and even that study is sufficient to excite the doubts
of which I have spoken.
The great events which shape the destinies of peoples--
revolutions, for example, and the outbreak of religious beliefs--
are sometimes so difficult to explain that one must limit oneself
to a mere statement.
From the time of my first historical researches I have been
struck by the impenetrable aspect of certain essential phenomena,
those relating to the genesis of beliefs especially; I felt
convinced that something fundamental was lacking that was
essential to their interpretation. Reason having said all it
could say, nothing more could be expected of it, and other means
must be sought of comprehending what had not been elucidated.
For a long time these important questions remained obscure to me.
Extended travel, devoted to the study of the remnants of vanished
civilisations, had not done much to throw light upon them.
Reflecting upon it continually, I was forced to recognise that
the problem was composed of a series of other problems, which I
should have to study separately. This I did for a period of
twenty years, presenting the results of my researches in a
succession of volumes.
One of the first was devoted to the study of the psychological
laws of the evolution of peoples. Having shown that the
historic races--that is, the races formed by the hazards of
history--finally acquired psychological characteristics as stable
as their anatomical characteristics, I attempted to explain how a
people transforms its institutions, its languages, and its arts.
I explained in the same work why it was that individual
personalities, under the influence of sudden variations of
environment, might be entirely disaggregated.
But besides the fixed collectivities formed by the peoples, there
are mobile and transitory collectivities known as crowds. Now
these crowds or mobs, by the aid of which the great movements of
history are accomplished, have characteristics absolutely
different from those of the individuals who compose them. What
are these characteristics, and how are they evolved? This new
problem was examined in The Psychology of the Crowd.
Only after these studies did I begin to perceive certain
influences which had escaped me.
But this was not all. Among the most important factors of
history one was preponderant--the factor of beliefs. How are
these beliefs born, and are they really rational and voluntary,
as was long taught? Are they not rather unconscious and
independent of all reason? A difficult question, which I dealt
with in my last book, Opinions and Beliefs.
So long as psychology regards beliefs as voluntary and rational
they will remain inexplicable. Having proved that they are
usually irrational and always involuntary, I was able to propound
the solution of this important problem; how it was that beliefs
which no reason could justify were admitted without
difficulty by the most enlightened spirits of all ages.
The solution of the historical difficulties which had so long
been sought was thenceforth obvious. I arrived at the conclusion
that beside the rational logic which conditions thought, and was
formerly regarded as our sole guide, there exist very different
forms of logic: affective logic, collective logic, and mystic
logic, which usually overrule the reason and engender the
generative impulses of our conduct.
This fact well established, it seemed to me evident that if a
great number of historical events are often uncomprehended, it is
because we seek to interpret them in the light of a logic which
in reality has very little influence upon their genesis.
All these researches, which are here summed up in a few lines,
demanded long years for their accomplishment. Despairing of
completing them, I abandoned them more than once to return to
those labours of the laboratory in which one is always sure of
skirting the truth and of acquiring fragments at least of
But while it is very interesting to explore the world of material
phenomena, it is still more so to decipher men, for which reason
I have always been led back to psychology.
Certain principles deduced from my researches appearing likely to
prove fruitful, I resolved to apply them to the study of concrete
instances, and was thus led to deal with the Psychology of
Revolutions--notably that of the French Revolution.
Proceeding in the analysis of our great Revolution, the
greater part of the opinions determined by the reading of books
deserted me one by one, although I had considered them
To explain this period we must consider it as a whole, as many
historians have done. It is composed of phenomena simultaneous
but independent of one another.
Each of its phases reveals events engendered by psychological
laws working with the regularity of clockwork. The actors in
this great drama seem to move like the characters of a previously
determined drama. Each says what he must say, acts as he is
bound to act.
To be sure, the actors in the revolutionary drama differed from
those of a written drama in that they had not studied their
parts, but these were dictated by invisible forces.
Precisely because they were subjected to the inevitable
progression of logics incomprehensible to them we see them as
greatly astonished by the events of which they were the heroes as
are we ourselves. Never did they suspect the invisible powers
which forced them to act. They were the masters neither of their
fury nor their weakness. They spoke in the name of reason,
pretending to be guided by reason, but in reality it was by no
means reason that impelled them.
``The decisions for which we are so greatly reproached,'' wrote
Billaud-Varenne, ``were more often than otherwise not intended or
desired by us two days or even one day beforehand: the crisis
alone evoked them.''
Not that we must consider the events of the Revolution as
dominated by an imperious fatality. The readers of our works
will know that we recognise in the man of superior qualities the
role of averting fatalities. But he can dissociate himself
only from a few of such, and is often powerless before the
sequence of events which even at their origin could scarcely be
ruled. The scientist knows how to destroy the microbe before it
has time to act, but he knows himself powerless to prevent the
evolution of the resulting malady.
When any question gives rise to violently contradictory opinions
we may be sure that it belongs to the province of beliefs and not
to that of knowledge.
We have shown in a preceding work that belief, of unconscious
origin and independent of all reason, can never be influenced by
The Revolution, the work of believers, has seldom been judged by
any but believers. Execrated by some and praised by others, it
has remained one of those dogmas which are accepted or rejected
as a whole, without the intervention of rational logic.
Although in its beginnings a religious or political revolution
may very well be supported by rational elements, it is developed
only by the aid of mystic and affective elements which are
absolutely foreign to reason.
The historians who have judged the events of the French
Revolution in the name of rational logic could not comprehend
them, since this form of logic did not dictate them. As the
actors of these events themselves understood them but ill, we
shall not be far from the truth in saying that our
Revolution was a phenomenon equally misunderstood by those
who caused it and by those who have described it. At no period
of history did men so little grasp the present, so greatly ignore
the past, and so poorly divine the future.
. . . The power of the Revolution did not reside in the
principles--which for that matter were anything but novel--which
it sought to propagate, nor in the institutions which it sought
to found. The people cares very little for institutions and even
less for doctrines. That the Revolution was potent indeed, that
it made France accept the violence, the murders, the ruin and the
horror of a frightful civil war, that finally it defended itself
victoriously against a Europe in arms, was due to the fact that
it had founded not a new system of government but a new religion.
Now history shows us how irresistible is the might of a strong
belief. Invincible Rome herself had to bow before the armies of
nomad shepherds illuminated by the faith of Mahommed. For the
same reason the kings of Europe could not resist the
tatterdemalion soldiers of the Convention. Like all apostles,
they were ready to immolate themselves in the sole end of
propagating their beliefs, which according to their dream were to
renew the world.
The religion thus founded had the force of other religions, if
not their duration. Yet it did not perish without leaving
indelible traces, and its influence is active still.
We shall not consider the Revolution as a clean sweep in
history, as its apostles believed it. We know that to
demonstrate their intention of creating a world distinct from the
old they initiated a new era and professed to break entirely with
all vestiges of the past.
But the past never dies. It is even more truly within us than
without us. Against their will the reformers of the Revolution
remained saturated with the past, and could only continue, under
other names, the traditions of the monarchy, even exaggerating
the autocracy and centralisation of the old system. Tocqueville
had no difficulty in proving that the Revolution did little but
overturn that which was about to fall.
If in reality the Revolution destroyed but little it favoured the
fruition of certain ideas which continued thenceforth to develop.
The fraternity and liberty which it proclaimed never greatly
seduced the peoples, but equality became their gospel: the pivot
of socialism and of the entire evolution of modern democratic
ideas. We may therefore say that the Revolution did not end with
the advent of the Empire, nor with the successive restorations
which followed it. Secretly or in the light of day it has slowly
unrolled itself and still affects men's minds.
The study of the French Revolution to which a great part of this
book is devoted will perhaps deprive the reader of more than one
illusion, by proving to him that the books which recount the
history of the Revolution contain in reality a mass of legends
very remote from reality.
These legends will doubtless retain more life than history
itself. Do not regret this too greatly. It may interest a few
philosophers to know the truth, but the peoples will always
prefer dreams. Synthetising their ideal, such dreams will always
constitute powerful motives of action. One would lose courage
were it not sustained by false ideas, said Fontenelle. Joan of
Arc, the Giants of the Convention, the Imperial epic--all these
dazzling images of the past will always remain sources of hope in
the gloomy hours that follow defeat. They form part of that
patrimony of illusions left us by our fathers, whose power is
often greater than that of reality. The dream, the ideal, the
legend--in a word, the unreal--it is that which shapes history.
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL ELEMENTS OF REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENTS
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF REVOLUTIONS
SCIENTIFIC AND POLITICAL REVOLUTIONS
1. Classification of Revolutions.
We generally apply the term revolution to sudden political
changes, but the expression may be employed to denote all sudden
transformations, or transformations apparently sudden, whether of
beliefs, ideas, or doctrines.
We have considered elsewhere the part played by the rational,
affective, and mystic factors in the genesis of the opinions and
beliefs which determine conduct. We need not therefore return to
the subject here.
A revolution may finally become a belief, but it often commences
under the action of perfectly rational motives: the suppression
of crying abuses, of a detested despotic government, or an
unpopular sovereign, &c.
Although the origin of a revolution may be perfectly rational, we
must not forget that the reasons invoked in preparing for it do
not influence the crowd until they have been transformed
into sentiments. Rational logic can point to the abuses to be
destroyed, but to move the multitude its hopes must be awakened.
This can only be effected by the action of the affective and
mystic elements which give man the power to act. At the time of
the French Revolution, for example, rational logic, in the hands
of the philosophers, demonstrated the inconveniences of the
ancien regime, and excited the desire to change it. Mystic
logic inspired belief in the virtues of a society created in all
its members according to certain principles. Affective logic
unchained the passions confined by the bonds of ages and led to
the worst excesses. Collective logic ruled the clubs and the
Assemblies and impelled their members to actions which neither
rational nor affective nor mystic logic would ever have caused
them to commit.
Whatever its origin, a revolution is not productive of results
until it has sunk into the soul of the multitude. Then events
acquire special forms resulting from the peculiar psychology of
crowds. Popular movements for this reason have characteristics
so pronounced that the description of one will enable us to
comprehend the others.
The multitude is, therefore, the agent of a revolution; but not
its point of departure. The crowd represents an amorphous being
which can do nothing, and will nothing, without a head to lead
it. It will quickly exceed the impulse once received, but it
never creates it.
The sudden political revolutions which strike the historian most
forcibly are often the least important. The great revolutions
are those of manners and thought. Changing the name of a
government does not transform the mentality of a people. To
overthrow the institutions of a people is not to re-shape its
The true revolutions, those which transform the destinies of the
peoples, are most frequently accomplished so slowly that the
historians can hardly point to their beginnings. The term
evolution is, therefore, far more appropriate than revolution.
The various elements we have enumerated as entering into the
genesis of the majority of revolutions will not suffice to
classify them. Considering only the designed object, we will
divide them into scientific revolutions, political revolutions,
and religious revolutions.
2. Scientific Revolutions.
Scientific revolutions are by far the most important. Although
they attract but little attention, they are often fraught with
remote consequences, such as are not engendered by political
revolutions. We will therefore put them first, although we
cannot study them here.
For instance, if our conceptions of the universe have profoundly
changed since the time of the Revolution, it is because
astronomical discoveries and the application of experimental
methods have revolutionised them, by demonstrating that
phenomena, instead of being conditioned by the caprices of the
gods, are ruled by invariable laws.
Such revolutions are fittingly spoken of as evolution, on account
of their slowness. But there are others which, although of the
same order, deserve the name of revolution by reason of their
rapidity: we may instance the theories of Darwin,
overthrowing the whole science of biology in a few years; the
discoveries of Pasteur, which revolutionised medicine during the
lifetime of their author; and the theory of the dissociation of
matter, proving that the atom, formerly supposed to be eternal,
is not immune from the laws which condemn all the elements of the
universe to decline and perish.
These scientific revolutions in the domain of ideas are purely
intellectual. Our sentiments and beliefs do not affect them.
Men submit to them without discussing them. Their results being
controllable by experience, they escape all criticism.
3. Political Revolutions.
Beneath and very remote from these scientific revolutions, which
generate the progress of civilisations, are the religious and
political revolutions, which have no kinship with them. While
scientific revolutions derive solely from rational elements,
political and religious beliefs are sustained almost exclusively
by affective and mystic factors. Reason plays only a feeble part
in their genesis.
I insisted at some length in my book Opinions and Beliefs on
the affective and mystic origin of beliefs, showing that a
political or religious belief constitutes an act of faith
elaborated in unconsciousness, over which, in spite of all
appearances, reason has no hold. I also showed that belief often
reaches such a degree of intensity that nothing can be opposed to
it. The man hypnotised by his faith becomes an Apostle, ready to
sacrifice his interests, his happiness, and even his life for the
triumph of his faith. The absurdity of his belief matters
little; for him it is a burning reality. Certitudes of mystic
origin possess the marvellous power of entire domination over
thought, and can only be affected by time.
By the very fact that it is regarded as an absolute truth a
belief necessarily becomes intolerant. This explains the
violence, hatred, and persecution which were the habitual
accompaniments of the great political and religious revolutions,
notably of the Reformation and the French Revolution.
Certain periods of French history remain incomprehensible if we
forget the affective and mystic origin of beliefs, their
necessary intolerance, the impossibility of reconciling them when
they come into mutual contact, and, finally, the power conferred
by mystic beliefs upon the sentiments which place themselves at
The foregoing conceptions are too novel as yet to have modified
the mentality of the historians. They will continue to attempt
to explain, by means of rational logic, a host of phenomena which
are foreign to it.
Events such as the Reformation, which overwhelmed France for a
period of fifty years, were in no wise determined by rational
influences. Yet rational influences are always invoked in
explanation, even in the most recent works. Thus, in the
General History of Messrs. Lavisse and Rambaud, we read the
following explanation of the Reformation:--
``It was a spontaneous movement, born here and there amidst the
people, from the reading of the Gospels and the free individual
reflections which were suggested to simple persons by an
extremely pious conscience and a very bold reasoning power.''
Contrary to the assertion of these historians, we may say with
certainty, in the first place, that such movements are never
spontaneous, and secondly, that reason takes no part in their
The force of the political and religious beliefs which have moved
the world resides precisely in the fact that, being born of
affective and mystic elements, they are neither created nor
directed by reason.
Political or religious beliefs have a common origin and obey the
same laws. They are formed not with the aid of reason, but more
often contrary to all reason. Buddhism, Islamism, the
Reformation, Jacobinism, Socialism, &c., seem very different
forms of thought. Yet they have identical affective and mystic
bases, and obey a logic that has no affinity with rational logic.
Political revolutions may result from beliefs established in the
minds of men, but many other causes produce them. The word
discontent sums them up. As soon as discontent is generalised a
party is formed which often becomes strong enough to struggle
against the Government.
Discontent must generally have been accumulating for a long time
in order to produce its effects. For this reason a revolution
does not always represent a phenomenon in process of termination
followed by another which is commencing but rather a continuous
phenomenon, having somewhat accelerated its evolution. All the
modern revolutions, however, have been abrupt movements,
entailing the instantaneous overthrow of governments. Such, for
example, were the Brazilian, Portuguese, Turkish, and Chinese
To the contrary of what might be supposed, the very conservative
peoples are addicted to the most violent revolutions. Being
conservative, they are not able to evolve slowly, or to adapt
themselves to variations of environment, so that when the
discrepancy becomes too extreme they are bound to adapt
themselves suddenly. This sudden evolution constitutes a
Peoples able to adapt themselves progressively do not always
escape revolution. It was only by means of a revolution that the
English, in 1688, were able to terminate the struggle which had
dragged on for a century between the monarchy, which sought to
make itself absolute, and the nation, which claimed the right to
govern itself through the medium of its representatives.
The great revolutions have usually commenced from the top, not
from the bottom; but once the people is unchained it is to the
people that revolution owes its might.
It is obvious that revolutions have never taken place, and will
never take place, save with the aid of an important fraction of
the army. Royalty did not disappear in France on the day when
Louis XVI. was guillotined, but at the precise moment when his
mutinous troops refused to defend him.
It is more particularly by mental contagion that armies become
disaffected, being indifferent enough at heart to the established
order of things. As soon as the coalition of a few officers had
succeeded in overthrowing the Turkish Government the Greek
officers thought to imitate them and to change their government,
although there was no analogy between the two regimes.
A military movement may overthrow a government--and in the
Spanish republics the Government is hardly ever destroyed by any
other means--but if the revolution is to be productive of great
results it must always be based upon general discontent and
Unless it is universal and excessive, discontent alone is not
sufficient to bring about a revolution. It is easy to lead a
handful of men to pillage, destroy, and massacre, but to raise a
whole people, or any great portion of that people, calls for the
continuous or repeated action of leaders. These exaggerate the
discontent; they persuade the discontented that the government is
the sole cause of all the trouble, especially of the prevailing
dearth, and assure men that the new system proposed by them will
engender an age of felicity. These ideas germinate, propagating
themselves by suggestion and contagion, and the moment arrives
when the revolution is ripe.
In this fashion the Christian Revolution and the French
Revolution were prepared. That the latter was effected in a few
years, while the first required many, was due to the fact that
the French Revolution promptly had an armed force at its
disposal, while Christianity was long in winning material power.
In the beginning its only adepts were the lowly, the poor, and
the slaves, filled with enthusiasm by the prospect of seeing
their miserable life transformed into an eternity of delight. By
a phenomenon of contagion from below, of which history affords us
more than one example, the doctrine finally invaded the upper
strata of the nation, but it was a long time before an
emperor considered the new faith sufficiently widespread to be
adopted as the official religion.
4. The Results of Political Revolutions.
When a political party is triumphant it naturally seeks to
organise society in accordance with its interests. The
organisation will differ accordingly as the revolution has been
effected by the soldiers, the Radicals, or the Conservatives, &c.
The new laws and institutions will depend on the interests of the
triumphant party and of the classes which have assisted it--the
clergy for instance.
If the revolution has triumphed only after a violent struggle, as
was the case with the French Revolution, the victors will reject
at one sweep the whole arsenal of the old law. The supporters of
the fallen regime will be persecuted, exiled, or exterminated.
The maximum of violence in these persecutions is attained when
the triumphant party is defending a belief in addition to its
material interests. Then the conquered need hope for no pity.
Thus may be explained the expulsion of the Moors from Spain, the
autodafes of the Inquisition, the executions of the
Convention, and the recent laws against the religious
congregations in France.
The absolute power which is assumed by the victors leads them
sometimes to extreme measures, such as the Convention's decree
that gold was to be replaced by paper, that goods were to be sold
at determined prices, &c. Very soon it runs up against a wall of
unavoidable necessities, which turn opinion against its tyranny,
and finally leave it defenceless before attack, as befell at the
end of the French Revolution. The same thing happened
recently to a Socialist Australian ministry composed almost
exclusively of working-men. It enacted laws so absurd, and
accorded such privileges to the trade unions, that public opinion
rebelled against it so unanimously that in three months it was
But the cases we have considered are exceptional. The majority
of revolutions have been accomplished in order to place a new
sovereign in power. Now this sovereign knows very well that the
first condition of maintaining his power consists in not too
exclusively favouring a single class, but in seeking to
conciliate all. To do this he will establish a sort of
equilibrium between them, so as not to be dominated by any one of
these classes. To allow one class to become predominant is to
condemn himself presently to accept that class as his master.
This law is one of the most certain of political psychology. The
kings of France understood it very well when they struggled so
energetically against the encroachments first of the nobility and
then of the clergy. If they had not done so their fate would
have been that of the German Emperors of the Middle Ages, who,
excommunicated by the Pope, were reduced, like Henry IV. at
Canossa, to make a pilgrimage and humbly to sue for the Pope's
This same law has continually been verified during the course of
history. When at the end of the Roman Empire the military caste
became preponderant, the emperors depended entirely upon their
soldiers, who appointed and deposed them at will.
It was therefore a great advantage for France that she was so
long governed by a monarch almost absolute, supposed to
hold his power by divine right, and surrounded therefore by a
considerable prestige. Without such an authority he could have
controlled neither the feudal nobility, nor the clergy, nor the
parliaments. If Poland, towards the end of the sixteenth
century, had also possessed an absolute and respected monarchy,
she would not have descended the path of decadence which led to
her disappearance from the map of Europe.
We have shewn in this chapter that political revolutions may be
accompanied by important social transformations. We shall soon
see how slight are these transformations compared to those
produced by religious revolutions.
1. The importance of the study of Religious Revolutions in
respect of the comprehension of the great Political Revolutions.
A portion of this work will be devoted to the French Revolution.
It was full of acts of violence which naturally had their
These exceptional events will always fill us with astonishment,
and we even feel them to be inexplicable. They become
comprehensible, however, if we consider that the French
Revolution, constituting a new religion, was bound to obey the
laws which condition the propagation of all beliefs. Its fury
and its hecatombs will then become intelligible.
In studying the history of a great religious revolution, that of
the Reformation, we shall see that a number of psychological
elements which figured therein were equally active during the
French Revolution. In both we observe the insignificant bearing
of the rational value of a belief upon its propagation, the
inefficacy of persecution, the impossibility of tolerance between
contrary beliefs, and the violence and the desperate struggles
resulting from the conflict of different faiths. We also observe
the exploitation of a belief by interests quite independent
of that belief. Finally we see that it is impossible to modify
the convictions of men without also modifying their existence.
These phenomena verified, we shall see plainly why the gospel of
the Revolution was propagated by the same methods as all the
religious gospels, notably that of Calvin. It could not have
been propagated otherwise.
But although there are close analogies between the genesis of a
religious revolution, such as the Reformation, and that of a
great political revolution like our own, their remote
consequences are very different, which explains the difference of
duration which they display. In religious revolutions no
experience can reveal to the faithful that they are deceived,
since they would have to go to heaven to make the discovery. In
political revolutions experience quickly demonstrates the error
of a false doctrine and forces men to abandon it.
Thus at the end of the Directory the application of Jacobin
beliefs had led France to such a degree of ruin, poverty, and
despair that the wildest Jacobins themselves had to renounce
their system. Nothing survived of their theories except a few
principles which cannot be verified by experience, such as the
universal happiness which equality should bestow upon humanity.
2. The beginnings of the Reformation and its first disciples.
The Reformation was finally to exercise a profound influence upon
the sentiments and moral ideas of a great proportion of mankind.
Modest in its beginnings, it was at first a simple struggle
against the abuses of the clergy, and, from a practical point of
view, a return to the prescriptions of the Gospel. It never
constituted, as has been claimed, an aspiration towards freedom
of thought. Calvin was as intolerant as Robespierre, and all the
theorists of the age considered that the religion of subjects
must be that of the prince who governed them. Indeed in every
country where the Reformation was established the sovereign
replaced the Pope of Rome, with the same rights and the same
In France, in default of publicity and means of communication,
the new faith spread slowly enough at first. It was about 1520
that Luther recruited a few adepts, and only towards 1535 was the
new belief sufficiently widespread for men to consider it
necessary to burn its disciples.
In conformity with a well-known psychological law, these
executions merely favoured the propagation of the Reformation.
Its first followers included priests and magistrates, but were
principally obscure artisans. Their conversion was effected
almost exclusively by mental contagion and suggestion.
As soon as a new belief extends itself, we see grouped round it
many persons who are indifferent to the belief, but who find in
it a pretext or opportunity for gratifying their passions or
their greed. This phenomenon was observed at the time of the
Reformation in many countries, notably in Germany and in England.
Luther having taught that the clergy had no need of wealth, the
German lords found many merits in a faith which enabled them to
seize upon the goods of the Church. Henry VIII. enriched
himself by a similar operation. Sovereigns who were often
molested by the Pope could as a rule only look favourably upon a
doctrine which added religious powers to their political powers
and made each of them a Pope. Far from diminishing the
absolutism of rulers, the Reformation only exaggerated it.
3. Rational value of the doctrines of the Reformation.
The Reformation overturned all Europe, and came near to ruining
France, of which it made a battle-field for a period of fifty
years. Never did a cause so insignificant from the rational
point of view produce such great results.
Here is one of the innumerable proofs of the fact that beliefs
are propagated independently of all reason. The theological
doctrines which aroused men's passions so violently, and notably
those of Calvin, are not even worthy of examination in the light
of rational logic.
Greatly concerned about his salvation, having an excessive fear
of the devil, which his confessor was unable to allay, Luther
sought the surest means of pleasing God that he might avoid Hell.
Having commenced by denying the Pope the right to sell
indulgences, he presently entirely denied his authority, and that
of the Church, condemned religious ceremonies, confession, and
the worship of the saints, and declared that Christians should
have no rules of conduct other than the Bible. He also
considered that no one could be saved without the grace of God.
This last theory, known as that of predestination, was in Luther
rather uncertain, but was stated precisely by Calvin, who made it
the very foundation of a doctrine to which the majority of
Protestants are still subservient. According to him: ``From
all eternity God has predestined certain men to be burned and
others to be saved.'' Why this monstrous iniquity? Simply
because ``it is the will of God.''
Thus according to Calvin, who for that matter merely developed
certain assertions of St. Augustine, an all-powerful God would
amuse Himself by creating living beings simply in order to burn
them during all eternity, without paying any heed to their acts
or merits. It is marvellous that such revolting insanity could
for such a length of time subjugate so many minds--marvellous
that it does so still.
 The doctrine of predestination is still taught in Protestant
catechisms, as is proved by the following passage extracted from
the last edition of an official catechism for which I sent to
``By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some
men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and
others foreordained to everlasting death.
``These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are
particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so
certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or
``Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before
the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal
and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure
of His will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of
His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or
good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing
in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto;
and all to the praise of his glorious grace.
``As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the
eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the
means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in
Adam, are redeemed by Christ; are effectually called unto faith
in Christ by His spirit working in due season; are justified,
adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power through faith unto
salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually
called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect
The psychology of Calvin is not without affinity with that of
Robespierre. Like the latter, the master of the pure truth, he
sent to death those who would not accept his doctrines. God, he
stated, wishes ``that one should put aside all humanity when it
is a question of striving for his glory.''
The case of Calvin and his disciples shows that matters which
rationally are the most contradictory become perfectly reconciled
in minds which are hypnotised by a belief. In the eyes of
rational logic, it seems impossible to base a morality upon the
theory of predestination, since whatever they do men are sure of
being either saved or damned. However, Calvin had no difficulty
in erecting a most severe morality upon this totally illogical
basis. Considering themselves the elect of God, his disciples
were so swollen by pride and the sense of their own dignity that
they felt obliged to serve as models in their conduct.
4. Propagation of the Reformation.
The new faith was propagated not by speech, still less by process
of reasoning, but by the mechanism described in our preceding
work: that is, by the influence of affirmation, repetition,
mental contagion, and prestige. At a much later date
revolutionary ideas were spread over France in the same fashion.
Persecution, as we have already remarked, only favoured this
propagation. Each execution led to fresh conversions, as was
seen in the early years of the Christian Church. Anne Dubourg,
Parliamentary councillor, condemned to be burned alive, marched
to the stake exhorting the crowd to be converted. ``His
constancy,'' says a witness, ``made more Protestants among the
young men of the colleges than the books of Calvin.''
To prevent the condemned from speaking to the people their
tongues were cut out before they were burned. The horror of
their sufferings was increased by attaching the victims to an
iron chain, which enabled the executioners to plunge them into
the fire and withdraw them several times in succession.
But nothing induced the Protestants to retract, even the offer of
an amnesty after they had felt the fire.
In 1535 Francis I., forsaking his previous tolerance, ordered six
fires to be lighted simultaneously in Paris. The Convention, as
we know, limited itself to a single guillotine in the same city.
It is probable that the sufferings of the victims were not very
excruciating; the insensibility of the Christian martyrs had
already been remarked. Believers are hypnotised by their faith,
and we know to-day that certain forms of hypnotism engender
The new faith progressed rapidly. In 1560 there were two
thousand reformed churches in France, and many great lords, at
first indifferent enough, adhered to the new doctrine.
5. Conflict between different religious beliefs--Impossibility
I have already stated that intolerance is always an accompaniment
of powerful religious beliefs. Political and religious
revolutions furnish us with numerous proofs of this fact, and
show us also that the mutual intolerance of sectaries of the same
religion is always much greater than that of the defenders
of remote and alien faiths, such as Islamism and Christianity.
In fact, if we consider the faiths for whose sake France was so
long rent asunder, we shall find that they did not differ on any
but accessory points. Catholics and Protestants adored exactly
the same God, and only differed in their manner of adoring Him.
If reason had played the smallest part in the elaboration of
their belief, it could easily have proved to them that it must be
quite indifferent to God whether He sees men adore Him in this
fashion or in that.
Reason being powerless to affect the brain of the convinced,
Protestants and Catholics continued their ferocious conflicts.
All the efforts of their sovereigns to reconcile them were in
vain. Catherine de Medicis, seeing the party of the Reformed
Church increasing day by day in spite of persecution, and
attracting a considerable number of nobles and magistrates,
thought to disarm them by convoking at Poissy, in 1561, an
assembly of bishops and pastors with the object of fusing the two
doctrines. Such an enterprise indicated that the queen, despite
her subtlety, knew nothing of the laws of mystic logic. Not in
all history can one cite an example of a belief destroyed or
reduced by means of refutation. Catherine did not even know that
although toleration is with difficulty possible between
individuals, it is impossible between collectivities. Her
attempt failed completely. The assembled theologians hurled
texts and insults at one another's heads, but no one was moved.
Catherine thought to succeed better in 1562 by promulgating an
edict according Protestants the right to unite in the public
celebration of their cult.
This tolerance, very admirable from a philosophical point of
view, but not at all wise from the political standpoint, had no
other result beyond exasperating both parties. In the Midi,
where the Protestants were strongest, they persecuted the
Catholics, sought to convert them by violence, cut their throats
if they did not succeed, and sacked their cathedrals. In the
regions where the Catholics were more numerous the Reformers
suffered like persecutions.
Such hostilities as these inevitably engendered civil war. Thus
arose the so-called religious wars, which so long spilled the
blood of France. The cities were ravaged, the inhabitants
massacred, and the struggle rapidly assumed that special quality
of ferocity peculiar to religious or political conflicts, which,
at a later date, was to reappear in the wars of La Vendee.
Old men, women, and children, all were exterminated. A certain
Baron d'Oppede, first president of the Parliament of Aix, had
already set an example by killing 3,000 persons in the space of
ten days, with refinements of cruelty, and destroying three
cities and twenty-two villages. Montluc, a worthy forerunner of
Carrier, had the Calvinists thrown living into the wells until
these were full. The Protestants were no more humane. They did
not spare even the Catholic churches, and treated the tombs and
statues just as the delegates of the Convention were to treat the
royal tombs of Saint Denis.
Under the influence of these conflicts France was progressively
disintegrated, and at the end of the reign of Henri III. was
parcelled out into veritable little confederated municipal
republics, forming so many sovereign states. The royal power was
vanishing. The States of Blois claimed to dictate their wishes
to Henri III., who had fled from his capital. In 1577 the
traveller Lippomano, who traversed France, saw important cities--
Orleans, Tours, Blois, Poitiers--entirely devastated, the
cathedrals and churches in ruins, and the tombs shattered. This
was almost the state of France at the end of the Directory.
Among the events of this epoch, that which has left the darkest
memory, although it was not perhaps the most murderous, was the
massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572, ordered, according to the
historians, by Catherine de Medicis and Charles IX.
One does not require a very profound knowledge of psychology to
realise that no sovereign could have ordered such an event. St.
Bartholomew's Day was not a royal but a popular crime. Catherine
de Medicis, believing her existence and that of the king
threatened by a plot directed by four or five Protestant leaders
then in Paris, sent men to kill them in their houses, according
to the summary fashion of the time. The massacre which followed
is very well explained by M. Battifol in the following terms:--
``At the report of what was afoot the rumour immediately ran
through Paris that the Huguenots were being massacred; Catholic
gentlemen, soldiers of the guard, archers, men of the people, in
short all Paris, rushed into the streets, arms in hand, in order
to participate in the execution, and the general massacre
commenced, to the sound of ferocious cries of `The
Huguenots! Kill, kill!' They were struck down, they were
drowned, they were hanged. All that were known as heretics were
so served. Two thousand persons were killed in Paris.''
By contagion, the people of the provinces imitated those of
Paris, and six to eight thousand Protestants were slain.
When time had somewhat cooled religious passions, all the
historians, even the Catholics, spoke of St. Bartholomew's Day
with indignation. They thus showed how difficult it is for the
mentality of one epoch to understand that of another.
Far from being criticised, St. Bartholomew's Day provoked an
indescribable enthusiasm throughout the whole of Catholic Europe.
Philip II. was delirious with joy when he heard the news, and the
King of France received more congratulations than if he had won a
But it was Pope Gregory XIII. above all who manifested the
keenest satisfaction. He had a medal struck to commemorate the
happy event, ordered joy-fires to be lit and cannon fired,
celebrated several masses, and sent for the painter Vasari to
depict on the walls of the Vatican the principal scenes of
carnage. Further, he sent to the King of France an ambassador
instructed to felicitate that monarch upon his fine action. It
is historical details of this kind that enable us to comprehend
the mind of the believer. The Jacobins of the Terror had a
mentality very like that of Gregory XIII.
 The medal must have been distributed pretty widely, for the
cabinet of medals at the Bibliotheque Nationale possesses
three examples: one in gold, one in silver, and one in copper.
This medal, reproduced by Bonnani in his Numism. Pontific.
(vol. i. p. 336), represents on one side Gregory XIII., and on
the other an angel striking Huguenots with a sword. The exergue
is Ugonotorum strages, that is, Massacre of the Huguenots.
(The word strages may be translated by carnage or massacre, a
sense which it possesses in Cicero and Livy; or again by
disaster, ruin, a sense attributed to it in Virgil and Tacitus.)
Naturally the Protestants were not indifferent to such a
hecatomb, and they made such progress that in 1576 Henri III. was
reduced to granting them, by the Edict of Beaulieu, entire
liberty of worship, eight strong places, and, in the Parliaments,
Chambers composed half of Catholics and half of Huguenots.
These forced concessions did not lead to peace. A Catholic
League was created, having the Duke of Guise at its head, and the
conflict continued. But it could not last for ever. We know how
Henri IV. put an end to it, at least for a time, by his
abjuration in 1593, and by the Edict of Nantes.
The struggle was quieted but not terminated. Under Louis XIII.
the Protestants were still restless, and in 1627 Richelieu was
obliged to besiege La Rochelle, where 15,000 Protestants
perished. Afterwards, possessing more political than religious
feeling, the famous Cardinal proved extremely tolerant toward the
This tolerance could not last. Contrary beliefs cannot come into
contact without seeking to annihilate each other, as soon as one
feels capable of dominating the other. Under Louis XIV. the
Protestants had become by far the weaker, and were forced to
renounce the struggle and live at peace. Their number was then
about 1,200,000, and they possessed more than 600 churches,
served by about 700 pastors. The presence of these
heretics on French soil was intolerable to the Catholic clergy,
who endeavoured to persecute them in various ways. As these
persecutions had little result, Louis XIV. resorted to
dragonnading them in 1685, when many individuals perished, but
without further result. Under the pressure of the clergy,
notably of Bossuett, the Edict of Nantes was revoked, and the
Protestants were forced to accept conversion or to leave France.
This disastrous emigration lasted a long time, and is said to
have cost France 400,000 inhabitants, men of notable energy,
since they had the courage to listen to their conscience rather
than their interests.
6. The results of Religious Revolutions.
If religious revolutions were judged only by the gloomy story of
the Reformation, we should be forced to regard them as highly
disastrous. But all have not played a like part, the civilising
influence of certain among them being considerable.
By giving a people moral unity they greatly increase its material
power. We see this notably when a new faith, brought by
Mohammed, transforms the petty and impotent tribes of Arabia into
a formidable nation.
Such a new religious belief does not merely render a people
homogeneous. It attains a result that no philosophy, no code
ever attained: it sensibly transforms what is almost
unchangeable, the sentiments of a race.
We see this at the period when the most powerful religious
revolution recorded by history overthrew paganism to substitute a
God who came from the plains of Galilee. The new ideal demanded
the renunciation of all the joys of existence in order to
acquire the eternal happiness of heaven. No doubt such an ideal
was readily accepted by the poor, the enslaved, the disinherited
who were deprived of all the joys of life here below, to whom an
enchanting future was offered in exchange for a life without
hope. But the austere existence so easily embraced by the poor
was also embraced by the rich. In this above all was the power
of the new faith manifested.
Not only did the Christian revolution transform manners: it also
exercised, for a space of two thousand years, a preponderating
influence over civilisation. Directly a religious faith triumphs
all the elements of civilisation naturally adapt themselves to
it, so that civilisation is rapidly transformed. Writers,
artists and philosophers merely symbolise, in their works, the
ideas of the new faith.
When any religious or political faith whatsoever has triumphed,
not only is reason powerless to affect it, but it even finds
motives which impel it to interpret and so justify the faith in
question, and to strive to impose it upon others. There were
probably as many theologians and orators in the time of Moloch,
to prove the utility of human sacrifices, as there were at other
periods to glorify the Inquisition, the massacre of St.
Bartholomew, and the hecatombs of the Terror.
We must not hope to see peoples possessed by strong beliefs
readily achieve tolerance. The only people who attained to
toleration in the ancient world were the polytheists. The
nations which practise toleration at the present time are those
that might well be termed polytheistical, since, as in England
and America, they are divided into innumerable sects.
Under identical names they really adore very different deities.
The multiplicity of beliefs which results in such toleration
finally results also in weakness. We therefore come to a
psychological problem not hitherto resolved: how to possess a
faith at once powerful and tolerant.
The foregoing brief explanation reveals the large part played by
religious revolutions and the power of beliefs. Despite their
slight rational value they shape history, and prevent the peoples
from remaining a mass of individuals without cohesion or
strength. Man has needed them at all times to orientate his
thought and guide his conduct. No philosophy has as yet
succeeded in replacing them.
THE ACTION OF GOVERNMENTS IN REVOLUTIONS
1. The feeble resistance of Governments in time of Revolution.
Many modern nations--France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Poland,
Japan, Turkey, Portugal, &c.--have known revolutions within the
last century. These were usually characterised by their
instantaneous quality and the facility with which the governments
attacked were overthrown.
The instantaneous nature of these revolutions is explained by the
rapidity of mental contagion due to modern methods of publicity.
The slight resistance of the governments attacked is more
surprising. It implies a total inability to comprehend and
foresee created by a blind confidence in their own strength.
The facility with which governments fall is not however a new
phenomenon. It has been proved more than once, not only in
autocratic systems, which are always overturned by palace
conspiracies, but also in governments perfectly instructed in the
state of public opinion by the press and their own agents.
Among these instantaneous downfalls one of the most striking was
that which followed the Ordinances of Charles X. This monarch
was, as we know, overthrown in four days. His minister
Polignac had taken no measures of defence, and the king was so
confident of the tranquillity of Paris that he had gone hunting.
The army was not in the least hostile, as in the reign of Louis
XVI., but the troops, badly officered, disbanded before the
attacks of a few insurgents.
The overthrow of Louis-Philippe was still more typical, since it
did not result from any arbitrary action on the part of the
sovereign. This monarch was not surrounded by the hatred which
finally surrounded Charles X., and his fall was the result of an
insignificant riot which could easily have been repressed.
Historians, who can hardly comprehend how a solidly constituted
government, supported by an imposing army, can be overthrown by a
few rioters, naturally attributed the fall of Louis-Philippe to
deep-seated causes. In reality the incapacity of the generals
entrusted with his defence was the real cause of his fall.
This case is one of the most instructive that could be cited, and
is worthy of a moment's consideration. It has been perfectly
investigated by General Bonnal, in the light of the notes of an
eye-witness, General Elchingen. Thirty-six thousand troops were
then in Paris, but the weakness and incapacity of their officers
made it impossible to use them. Contradictory orders were given,
and finally the troops were forbidden to fire on the people, who,
moreover--and nothing could have been more dangerous--were
permitted to mingle with the troops. The riot succeeded without
fighting and forced the king to abdicate.
Applying to the preceding case our knowledge of the
psychology of crowds, General Bonnal shows how easily the riot
which overthrew Louis-Philippe could have been controlled. He
proves, notably, that if the commanding officers had not
completely lost their heads quite a small body of troops could
have prevented the insurgents from invading the Chamber of
Deputies. This last, composed of monarchists, would certainly
have proclaimed the Count of Paris under the regency of his
Similar phenomena were observable in the revolutions of Spain and
These facts show the role of petty accessory circumstances
in great events, and prove that one must not speak too readily of
the general laws of history. Without the riot which overthrew
Louis-Philippe, we should probably have seen neither the Republic
of 1848, nor the Second Empire, nor Sedan, nor the invasion, nor
the loss of Alsace.
In the revolutions of which I have just been speaking the army
was of no assistance to the government, but did not turn against
it. It sometimes happens otherwise. It is often the army which
effects the revolution, as in Turkey and Portugal. The
innumerable revolutions of the Latin republics of America are
effected by the army.
When a revolution is effected by an army the new rulers naturally
fall under its domination. I have already recalled the fact that
this was the case at the end of the Roman Empire, when the
emperors were made and unmade by the soldiery.
The same thing has sometimes been witnessed in modern times. The
following extract from a newspaper, with reference to the
Greek revolution, shows what becomes of a government dominated by
``One day it was announced that eighty officers of the navy would
send in their resignations if the government did not dismiss the
leaders of whom they complained. Another time it was the
agricultural labourers on a farm (metairie) belonging to the
Crown Prince who demanded the partition of the soil among them.
The navy protested against the promotion promised to Colonel
Zorbas. Colonel Zorbas, after a week of discussion with
Lieutenant Typaldos, treated with the President of the Council as
one power with another. During this time the Federation of the
corporations abused the officers of the navy. A deputy demanded
that these officers and their families should be treated as
brigands. When Commander Miaoulis fired on the rebels, the
sailors, who first of all had obeyed Typaldos, returned to duty.
This is no longer the harmonious Greece of Pericles and
Themistocles. It is a hideous camp of Agramant.''
A revolution cannot be effected without the assistance or at
least the neutrality of the army, but it often happens that the
movement commences without it. This was the case with the
revolutions of 1830 and 1848, and that of 1870, which overthrew
the Empire after the humiliation of France by the surrender of
The majority of revolutions take place in the capitals, and by
means of contagion spread through the country; but this is not a
constant rule. We know that during the French Revolution La
Vendee, Brittany, and the Midi revolted spontaneously against
2. How the resistance of Governments may overcome Revolution.
In the greater number of the revolutions enumerated above, we
have seen governments perish by their weakness. As soon as they
were touched they fell.
The Russian Revolution proved that a government which defends
itself energetically may finally triumph.
Never was revolution more menacing to the government. After the
disasters suffered in the Orient, and the severities of a too
oppressive autocratic regime, all classes of society, including a
portion of the army and the fleet, had revolted. The railways,
posts, and telegraph services had struck, so that communications
between the various portions of the vast empire were interrupted.
The rural class itself, forming the majority of the nation, began
to feel the influence of the revolutionary propaganda. The lot
of the peasants was wretched. They were obliged, by the system
of the mir, to cultivate soil which they could not acquire. The
government resolved immediately to conciliate this large class of
peasants by turning them into proprietors. Special laws forced
the landlords to sell the peasants a portion of their lands, and
banks intended to lend the buyers the necessary purchase-money
were created. The sums lent were to be repaid by small annuities
deducted from the product of the sale of the crops.
Assured of the neutrality of the peasants, the government could
contend with the fanatics who were burning the towns, throwing
bombs among the crowds, and waging a merciless warfare. All
those who could be taken were killed. Such extermination is the
only method discovered since the beginning of the world by which
a society can be protected against the rebels who wish to destroy
The victorious government understood moreover the necessity of
satisfying the legitimate claims of the enlightened portion of
the nation. It created a parliament instructed to prepare laws
and control expenditure.
The history of the Russian Revolution shows us how a government,
all of whose natural supports have crumbled in succession, can,
with wisdom and firmness, triumph over the most formidable
obstacles. It has been very justly said that governments are not
overthrown, but that they commit suicide.
3. Revolutions effected by Governments.--Examples:
China, Turkey, &c.
Governments almost invariably fight revolutions; they hardly ever
create them. Representing the needs of the moment and general
opinion, they follow the reformers timidly; they do not precede
them. Sometimes, however, certain governments have attempted
those sudden reforms which we know as revolutions. The stability
or instability of the national mind decrees the success or
failure of such attempts.
They succeed when the people on whom the government seeks to
impose new institutions is composed of semi-barbarous tribes,
without fixed laws, without solid traditions; that is to say,
without a settled national mind. Such was the condition of
Russia in the days of Peter the Great. We know how he sought to
Europeanise the semi-Asiatic populations by means of force.
Japan is another example of a revolution effected by a
government, but it was her machinery, not her mind that was
It needs a very powerful autocrat, seconded by a man of genius,
to succeed, even partially, in such a task. More often than not
the reformer finds that the whole people rises up against him.
Then, to the contrary of what befalls in an ordinary revolution,
the autocrat is revolutionary and the people is conservative.
But an attentive study will soon show you that the peoples are
always extremely conservative.
Failure is the rule with these attempts. Whether effected by the
upper classes or the lower, revolutions do not change the souls
of peoples that have been a long time established. They only
change those things that are worn by time and ready to fall.
China is at the present time making a very interesting but
impossible experiment, in seeking, by means of the government,
suddenly to renew the institutions of the country. The
revolution which overturned the dynasty of her ancient sovereigns
was the indirect consequence of the discontent provoked by
reforms which the government had sought to impose with a view to
ameliorating the condition of China. The suppression of opium
and gaming, the reform of the army, and the creation of schools,
involved an increase of taxation which, as well as the reforms
themselves, greatly indisposed the general opinion.
A few cultured Chinese educated in the schools of Europe profited
by this discontent to raise the people and proclaim a republic,
an institution of which the Chinese could have had no conception.
It surely cannot long survive, for the impulse which has given
birth to it is not a movement of progress, but of reaction. The
word republic, to the Chinaman intellectualised by his European
education, is simply synonymous with the rejection of the yoke of
laws, rules, and long-established restraints. Cutting off his
pigtail, covering his head with a cap, and calling himself a
Republican, the young Chinaman thinks to give the rein to all his
instincts. This is more or less the idea of a republic that a
large part of the French people entertained at the time of the
China will soon discover the fate that awaits a society deprived
of the armour slowly wrought by the past. After a few years of
bloody anarchy it will be necessary to establish a power whose
tyranny will inevitably be far severer than that which was
overthrown. Science has not yet discovered the magic ring
capable of saving a society without discipline. There is no need
to impose discipline when it has become hereditary, but when the
primitive instincts have been allowed to destroy the barriers
painfully erected by slow ancestral labours, they cannot be
reconstituted save by an energetic tyranny.
As a proof of these assertions we may instance an experiment
analogous to that undertaken by China; that recently attempted by
Turkey. A few years ago young men instructed in European schools
and full of good intentions succeeded, with the aid of a
number of officers, in overthrowing a Sultan whose tyranny seemed
insupportable. Having acquired our robust Latin faith in the
magic power of formulae, they thought they could establish the
representative system in a country half-civilised, profoundly
divided by religious hatred, and peopled by divers races.
The attempt has not prospered hitherto. The authors of the
reformation had to learn that despite their liberalism they were
forced to govern by methods very like those employed by the
government overthrown. They could neither prevent summary
executions nor wholesale massacres of Christians, nor could they
remedy a single abuse.
It would be unjust to reproach them. What in truth could they
have done to change a people whose traditions have been fixed so
long, whose religious passions are so intense, and whose
Mohammedans, although in the minority, legitimately claim to
govern the sacred city of their faith according to their code?
How prevent Islam from remaining the State religion in a country
where civil law and religious law are not yet plainly separated,
and where faith in the Koran is the only tie by which the idea of
nationality can be maintained?
It was difficult to destroy such a state of affairs, so that we
were bound to see the re-establishment of an autocratic
organisation with an appearance of constitutionalism--that is to
say, practically the old system once again. Such attempts afford
a good example of the fact that a people cannot choose its
institutions until it has transformed its mind.
4. Social elements which survive the changes of Government after
What we shall say later on as to the stable foundation of the
national soul will enable us to appreciate the force of systems
of government that have been long established, such as ancient
monarchies. A monarch may easily be overthrown by conspirators,
but these latter are powerless against the principles which the
monarch represents. Napoleon at his fall was replaced not by his
natural heir, but by the heir of kings. The latter incarnated an
ancient principle, while the son of the Emperor personified ideas
that were as yet imperfectly established in men's minds.
For the same reason a minister, however able, however great the
services he has rendered to his country, can very rarely
overthrow his Sovereign. Bismarck himself could not have done
so. This great minister had single-handed created the unity of
Germany, yet his master had only to touch him with his finger and
he vanished. A man is as nothing before a principle supported by
But even when, for various reasons, the principle incarnated by a
government is annihilated with that government, as happened at
the time of the French Revolution, all the elements of social
organisation do not perish at the same time.
If we knew nothing of France but the disturbances of the last
hundred years and more we might suppose the country to live in a
state of profound anarchy. Now her economic, industrial, and
even her political life manifests, on the contrary, a continuity
that seems to be independent of all revolutions and governments.
The fact is that beside the great events of which history treats
are the little facts of daily life which the books neglect to
tell. They are ruled by imperious necessities which halt for no
man. Their total mass forms the real framework of the life of
While the study of great events shows us that the nominal
government of France has been frequently changed in the space of
a century, an examination of the little daily events will prove,
on the contrary, that her real government has been little
Who in truth are the real rulers of a people? Kings and
ministers, no doubt, in the great crises of national life, but
they play no part whatever in the little realities which make up
the life of every day. The real directing forces of a country
are the administrations, composed of impersonal elements which
are never affected by the changes of government. Conservative of
traditions, they are anonymous and lasting, and constitute an
occult power before which all others must eventually bow. Their
action has even increased to such a degree that, as we shall
presently show, there is a danger that they may form an anonymous
State more powerful than the official State. France has thus
come to be governed by heads of departments and government
clerks. The more we study the history of revolutions the more we
discover that they change practically nothing but the label. To
create a revolution is easy, but to change the soul of a people
is difficult indeed.
THE PART PLAYED BY THE PEOPLE IN REVOLUTIONS
1. The stability and malleability of the national mind.
The knowledge of a people at any given moment of its history
involves an understanding of its environment and above all of its
past. Theoretically one may deny that past, as did the men of
the Revolution, as many men of the present day have done, but its
influence remains indestructible.
In the past, built up by slow accumulations of centuries, was
formed the aggregation of thoughts, sentiments, traditions, and
prejudices constituting the national mind which makes the
strength of a race. Without it no progress is possible. Each
generation would necessitate a fresh beginning.
The aggregate composing the soul of a people is solidly
established only if it possesses a certain rigidity, but this
rigidity must not pass a certain limit, or there would be no such
thing as malleability.
Without rigidity the ancestral soul would have no fixity, and
without malleability it could not adapt itself to the changes of
environment resulting from the progress of civilization.
Excessive malleability of the national mind impels a people to
incessant revolutions. Excess of rigidity leads it to
decadence. Living species, like the races of humanity, disappear
when, too fixedly established by a long past, they become
incapable of adapting themselves to new conditions of existence.
Few peoples have succeeded in effecting a just equilibrium
between these two contrary qualities of stability and
malleability. The Romans in antiquity and the English in modern
times may be cited among those who have best attained it.
The peoples whose mind is most fixed and established often effect
the most violent revolutions. Not having succeeded in evolving
progressively, in adapting themselves to changes of environment,
they are forced to adapt themselves violently when such
adaptation becomes indispensable.
Stability is only acquired very slowly. The history of a race is
above all the story of its long efforts to establish its mind.
So long as it has not succeeded it forms a horde of barbarians
without cohesion and strength. After the invasions of the end of
the Roman Empire France took several centuries to form a national
She finally achieved one; but in the course of centuries this
soul finally became too rigid. With a little more malleability,
the ancient monarchy would have been slowly transformed as it was
elsewhere, and we should have avoided, together with the
Revolution and its consequences, the heavy task of remaking a
The preceding considerations show us the part of race in the
genesis of revolutions, and explain why the same revolutions will
produce such different effects in different countries; why, for
example, the ideas of the French Revolution, welcomed with
such enthusiasm by some peoples, were rejected by others.
Certainly England, although a very stable country, has suffered
two revolutions and slain a king; but the mould of her mental
armour was at once stable enough to retain the acquisitions of
the past and malleable enough to modify them only within the
necessary limits. Never did England dream, as did the men of the
French Revolution, of destroying the ancestral heritage in order
to erect a new society in the name of reason.
``While the Frenchman,'' writes M. A. Sorel, ``despised his
government, detested his clergy, hated the nobility, and revolted
against the laws, the Englishman was proud of his religion, his
constitution, his aristocracy, his House of Lords. These were
like so many towers of the formidable Bastille in which he
entrenched himself, under the British standard, to judge Europe
and cover her with contempt. He admitted that the command was
disputed inside the fort, but no stranger must approach.''
The influence of race in the destiny of the peoples appears
plainly in the history of the perpetual revolutions of the
Spanish republics of South America. Composed of half-castes,
that is to say, of individuals whose diverse heredities have
dissociated their ancestral characteristics, these populations
have no national soul and therefore no stability. A people of
half-castes is always ungovernable.
If we would learn more of the differences of political capacity
which the racial factor creates we must examine the same nation
as governed by two races successively.
The event is not rare in history. It has been manifested in a
striking manner of late in Cuba and the Philippines, which passed
suddenly from the rule of Spain to that of the United States.
We know in what anarchy and poverty Cuba existed under Spanish
rule; we know, too, to what a degree of prosperity the island was
brought in a few years when it fell into the hands of the United
The same experience was repeated in the Philippines, which for
centuries had been governed by Spain. Finally the country was no
more than a vast jungle, the home of epidemics of every kind,
where a miserable population vegetated without commerce or
industry. After a few years of American rule the country was
entirely transformed: malaria, yellow fever, plague and cholera
had entirely disappeared. The swamps were drained; the country
was covered with railways, factories and schools. In thirteen
years the mortality was reduced by two-thirds.
It is to such examples that we must refer the theorist who has
not yet grasped the profound significance of the word race, and
how far the ancestral soul of a people rules over its destiny.
2. How the people regards Revolution.
The part of the people has been the same in all revolutions. It
is never the people that conceives them nor directs them. Its
activity is released by means of leaders.
Only when the direct interests of the people are involved do we
see, as recently in Champagne, any fraction of the people rising
spontaneously. A movement thus localised constitutes a mere
Revolution is easy when the leaders are very influential. Of
this Portugal and Brazil have recently furnished proofs. But new
ideas penetrate the people very slowly indeed. Generally it
accepts a revolution without knowing why, and when by chance it
does succeed in understanding why, the revolution is over long
The people will create a revolution because it is persuaded to do
so, but it does not understand very much of the ideas of its
leaders; it interprets them in its own fashion, and this fashion
is by no means that of the true authors of the revolution. The
French Revolution furnished a striking example of this fact.
The Revolution of 1789 had as its real object the substitution of
the power of the nobility by that of the bourgeoisie; that is,
an old elite which had become incapable was to be replaced
by a new elite which did possess capacity.
There was little question of the people in this first phase of
the Revolution. The sovereignty of the people was proclaimed,
but it amounted only to the right of electing its
Extremely illiterate, not hoping, like the middle classes, to
ascend the social scale, not in any way feeling itself the equal
of the nobles, and not aspiring ever to become their equal, the
people had views and interests very different to those of the
upper classes of society.
The struggles of the assembly with the royal power led it to call
for the intervention of the people in these struggles. It
intervened more and more, and the bourgeois revolution rapidly
became a popular revolution.
An idea having no force of its own, and acting only by virtue of
possessing an affective and mystic substratum which supports it,
the theoretical ideas of the bourgeoisie, before they could act
on the people, had to be transformed into a new and very definite
faith, springing from obvious practical interests.
This transformation was rapidly effected when the people heard
the men envisaged by it as the Government assuring it that it was
the equal of its former masters. It began to regard itself as a
victim, and proceeded to pillage, burn, and massacre, imagining
that in so doing it was exercising a right.
The great strength of the revolutionary principles was that they
gave a free course to the instincts of primitive barbarity which
had been restrained by the secular and inhibitory action of
environment, tradition, and law.
All the social bonds that formerly contained the multitude were
day by day dissolving, so that it conceived a notion of unlimited
power, and the joy of seeing its ancient masters ferreted out and
despoiled. Having become the sovereign people, were not all
things permissible to it?
The motto of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, a true manifestation
of hope and faith at the beginning of the Revolution, soon merely
served to cover a legal justification of the sentiments of
jealousy, cupidity, and hatred of superiors, the true motives of
crowds unrestrained by discipline. This is why the Revolution so
soon ended in disorder, violence, and anarchy.
From the moment when the Revolution descended from the middle to
the lower classes of society, it ceased to be a domination of the
instinctive by the rational, and became, on the contrary,
the effort of the instinctive to overpower the rational.
This legal triumph of the atavistic instincts was terrible. The
whole effort of societies an effort indispensable to their
continued existence--had always been to restrain, thanks to the
power of tradition, customs, and codes, certain natural instincts
which man has inherited from his primitive animality. It is
possible to dominate them--and the more a people does overcome
them the more civilised it is--but they cannot be destroyed. The
influence of various exciting causes will readily result in their
This is why the liberation of popular passions is so dangerous.
The torrent, once escaped from its bed, does not return until it
has spread devastation far and wide. ``Woe to him who stirs up
the dregs of a nation,'' said Rivarol at the beginning of the
Revolution. ``There is no age of enlightenment for the
3. The supposed Part of the People during Revolution.
The laws of the psychology of crowds show us that the people
never acts without leaders, and that although it plays a
considerable part in revolutions by following and exaggerating
the impulses received, it never directs its own movements.
In all political revolutions we discover the action of leaders.
They do not create the ideas which serve as the basis of
revolutions, but they utilise them as a means of action. Ideas,
leaders, armies, and crowds constitute four elements which all
have their part to play in revolutions.
The crowd, roused by the leaders, acts especially by means of its
mass. Its action is comparable to that of the shell which
perforates an armour-plate by the momentum of a force it did not
create. Rarely does the crowd understand anything of the
revolutions accomplished with its assistance. It obediently
follows its leaders without even trying to find out what they
want. It overthrew Charles X. because of his Ordinances without
having any idea of the contents of the latter, and would have
been greatly embarrassed had it been asked at a later date why it
Deceived by appearances, many authors, from Michelet to Aulard,
have supposed that the people effected our great Revolution.
``The principal actor,'' said Michelet, ``is the people.''
``It is an error to say,'' writes M. Aulard, ``that the French
Revolution was effected by a few distinguished people or a few
heroes. . . . I believe that in the whole history of the period
included between 1789 and 1799 not a single person stands out who
led or shaped events: neither Louis XVI. nor Mirabeau nor Danton
nor Robespierre. Must we say that it was the French people that
was the real hero of the French Revolution? Yes--provided we see
the French people not as a multitude but as a number of organised
And in a recent work M. A. Cochin insists on this conception of
``And here is the wonder: Michelet is right. In proportion as
we know them better the facts seem to consecrate the fiction:
this crowd, without chiefs and without laws, the very image of
chaos, did for five years govern and command, speak and act, with
a precision, a consistency, and an entirety that were
marvellous. Anarchy gave lessons in order and discipline to the
defeated party of order . . . twenty-five millions of men, spread
over an area of 30,000 square leagues, acted as one.''
Certainly if this simultaneous conduct of the people had been
spontaneous, as the author supposes, it would have been
marvellous. M. Aulard himself understands very well the
impossibilities of such a phenomenon, for he is careful, in
speaking of the people, to say that he is speaking of groups, and
that these groups may have been guided by leaders:--
``And what, then, cemented the national unity? Who saved this
nation, attacked by the king and rent by civil war? Was it
Danton? Was it Robespierre? Was it Carnot? Certainly these
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