by G Le Bon · Cited by 4749 — By Gustave Le Bon. 1895. The following work is devoted to an account of the characteristics of crowds. The whole of the common characteristics with which
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The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind By Gustave Le Bon 1895 The following work is devoted to an account of the characteristics of crowds. The whole of the common character istics with which heredity e ndows the individuals of a race constitute the genius of the race. When, however, a certain number of these individuals are gathered together in a crowd for purposes of action, observation proves that, from the me re fact of their being assembled, there result certain new psychological ch aracteristics, which are added to the racial characteristics and differ from them at times to a very considerable degree. Organised crowds have al ways played an important part in th e life of peoples, but this part has never been of such moment as at present. The s ubstitution of the unconscious action of crowds for the conscious activity of individuals is one of the principal characteristics of the present age. I have endeavoured to examine the difficult problem presented by crowds in a purely scientific manner – that is, by making an effort to procee d with method, and without being influenced by opinions, theories, and doctrines. This, I believe, is the only mode of arriving at the discovery of some few particles of truth, especially when deali ng, as is the case here, with a question that is the subject of impassioned controvers y. A man of science bent on ve rifying a phenomenon is not called upon to concern himself with the interests his veri fications may hurt. In a recent publication an eminent thinker, M. Goblet d’Alviela, made the remark that, belonging to none of the contemporary schools, I am occasionally found in opposition of s undry of the conclusions of all of them. I hope this new work will merit a similar observation. To belong to a school is necessarily to espouse its prejudices and preconceived opinions. Still I should explain to the reader why he will find me draw conc lusions from my investigations which it might be thought at first sight they do no t bear; why, for instance, after noting the extreme mental inferiority of crowds, pi cked assemblies included, I yet a ffirm it would be dangerous to meddle with their organisation, no twithstanding this inferiority. The reason is, that the most attent ive observation of the facts of hi story has invariably demonstrated to me that social organisms being every whit as compli cated as those of all beings, it is in no wise in our power to force them to undergo on a sudden far-reaching transformations. Nature has recourse at times to radical measures, but never after our fashion, which explai ns how it is that nothing is more fatal to a people than the mania for great reforms, however excellent these reforms may appear theoretically. They would only be useful were it possibl e to change instantaneously the genius of nations. This power, however, is onl y possessed by time. Men are ruled by ideas, sentiments, and customs – matters which are of th e essence of ourselves. In stitutions and laws are

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2the outward manifestation of our character, the expression of its needs. Being its outcome, institutions and laws cannot change this character. The study of social phenomena cannot be separate d from that of the peoples among whom they have come into existence. From the philosoph ic point of view these phenomena may have an absolute value; in practice they have only a relative value. It is necessary, in consequence, when studying a social phenomenon, to consider it successively under two very different aspects. It will then be seen that the teachi ngs of pure reason are very often contrary to those of practical reason. There are scarcely any data, even physical, to which this distinction is not applicable. From the point of view of absolute truth a cube or a circle are invariable geometrical figures, rigor ously defined by certain formulas. From the point of view of the impression they make on our eye these geometrical figures may assume ve ry varied shapes. By perspective the cube may be transformed into a pyramid or a square, the circle into an ellipse or a straight line. Moreover, the consider ation of these fictitious shapes is far more important than that of the real shapes, for it is they and they al one that we see and that can be reproduced by photography or in pictures. In certain cases there is more truth in the unreal than in the real. To present objects with their exact geometrical form s would be to distort nature and render it unrecognisable. If we imagine a world whose inha bitants could only copy or photograph objects, but were unable to touch them, it would be very difficult for such persons to attain to an exact idea of their form. Moreover, the knowledge of this fo rm, accessible only to a small number of learned men, would present but a very minor interest. The philosopher who studies social phenomena shoul d bear in mind that side by side with their theoretical value they possess a pract ical value, and that this latter, so far as the evolution of civilisation is concerned, is alone of importance. The recognition of this fact should render him very circumspect with regard to the conclusions that logic would seem at first to enforce upon him. There are other motives that dictate to him a like re serve. The complexity of social facts is such, that it is impossible to grasp them as a whole and to foresee the effects of their reciprocal influence. It seems, too, that behind the visible facts are hi dden at times thousands of invisible causes. Visible social phenomena appear to be th e result of an immense, unconsci ous working, that as a rule is beyond the reach of our analysis. Pe rceptible phenomena may be compared to the waves, which are the expression on the surface of the ocean of deep-lying disturban ces of which we know nothing. So far as the majority of their acts are considered, crowds display a singularly inferior mentality; yet there are other acts in which they appear to be gu ided by those mysterious forces which the ancients denominated destiny, nature, or providence, which we call the voices of the dead, and whose power it is impossible to overlook, although we ignore their essence. It would seem, at times, as if there were latent forces in the inner being of nations which serve to gui de them. What, for instance, can be more complicated, more logical, more marv ellous than a language? Yet whence can this admirably organised production have arisen, except it be the outcome of the unconscious genius of crowds? The most learned academics, the most esteemed grammarians can do no more than note down the laws that govern languages; they would be utterly incapable of cr eating them. Even with respect to the ideas of great men are we certain that they are exclusively the offspring of their brains? No doubt such ideas are al ways created by solitary minds, but is it not the genius of crowds that has furnished the thousands of grains of dust forming the soil in whic h they have sprung up?

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3Crowds, doubtless, are always unconscious, but this very unconsciousness is perhaps one of the secrets of their strength. In the natural world beings exclusively governed by instinct accomplish acts whose marvellous complexity astounds us. Reason is an attribute of huma nity of too recent date and still too imperfect to reveal to us the laws of the unconscious, and still more to take its place. The part played by the unconscious in all our acts is immense, and that played by reason very small. The unconscious acts like a force still unknown. If we wish, then, to remain within the narrow but safe limits within which science can attain to knowledge, and not to wander in the domain of vague conjecture and vain hypothesis, all we must do is simply to take note of such phenomena as ar e accessible to us, and c onfine ourselves to their consideration. Every conclusion drawn from our obser vation is, as a rule, premature, for behind the phenomena which we see clearly are other phenomena that we see indistinctly, and perhaps behind these latter, yet others which we do not see at all.

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5INTRODUCTION. THE ERA OF CROWDS. The evolution of the present age – The great change s in civilisation are the consequence of changes in National thought – Modern belief in the power of crowds – It tran sforms the tradit ional policy of the European states – How the rise of the popul ar classes comes about, and the manner in which they exercise their power – The necessary conseque nces of the power of the crowd – Crowds unable to play a part other than destru ctive – The dissolution of worn-out civilisations is the work of the crowd – General ignorance of the psychology of cr owds – Importance of the study of crowds for legislators and statesmen. The great upheavals which precede changes of civilis ations such as the fall of the Roman Empire and the foundation of the Arabian Empire, seem at first sight determined more especially by political transformations, foreign invasion, or the ove rthrow of dynasties. But a more attentive study of these events shows that behind their apparent causes the real cause is generally seen to be a profound modification in the ideas of the peoples. Th e true historical upheavals are not those which astonish us by their grandeur and violence. The only important changes whence the renewal of civilisations results, affect ideas, conceptions, an d beliefs. The memorable ev ents of history are the visible effects of the invisible changes of human thought. The reason these great events are so rare is that there is nothing so stable in a r ace as the inherited groundwork of its thoughts. The present epoch is one of these critical moments in which the thought of mankind is undergoing a process of transformation. Two fundamental factors are at the base of this transformation. The fi rst is the destruction of those religious, political, and social beliefs in which all the elements of our civilisation are rooted. The second is the creation of entirely new conditions of existence and thought as the result of modern scientific and industrial discoveries. The ideas of the past, although half destroyed, bei ng still very powerful, a nd the ideas which are to replace them being still in process of formation, the modern age represents a period of transition and anarchy. It is not easy to say as yet what will one day be evolved from this necessarily somewhat chaotic period. What will be the fundamental ideas on which the societies that are to succeed our own will be built up? We do not at present know. Still it is already clear that on whatever lines the societies of the future are organised, they will have to count with a new power, w ith the last surviving sovereign force of modern times, the power of cr owds. On the ruins of so many ideas formerly considered beyond discussion, and to-day decayed or decaying, of so many sour ces of authority that successive revolutions have destroyed, this power, wh ich alone has arisen in their stead, seems soon destined to absorb the others. While all our anci ent beliefs are tottering and disappearing, while the old pillars of society are giving way one by one, the power of the crowd is the only force that nothing menaces, and of which the prestige is conti nually on the increase. The age we are about to enter will in truth be the ERA OF CROWDS. Scarcely a century ago the traditional policy of Eur opean states and the rivalr ies of sovereigns were the principal factors that shaped events. The opinion of the ma sses scarcely counted, and most frequently indeed did not count at all. To-day it is the traditions which used to obtain in politics, and

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6the individual tendencies and riva lries of rulers which do not count; while, on the contrary, the voice of the masses has become preponderant. It is th is voice that dictates th eir conduct to kings, whose endeavour is to take note of its utterances. The destinies of nations are elaborated at present in the heart of the masses, and no longer in the councils of princes. The entry of the popular classes into political life – that is to say, in real ity, their progressive transformation into governing classes – is one of th e most striking characteris tics of our epoch of transition. The introduction of universal suffrag e, which exercised for a long time but little influence, is not, as might be thought, the distinguishing feature of this tr ansference of political power. The progressive growth of the power of the masses took pl ace at first by the propagation of certain ideas, which have slowly implanted them selves in men’s minds, and afterwards by the gradual association of individuals bent on bringing about the realis ation of theoretical conceptions. It is by association that crowds have come to procure ideas with re spect to their interests which are very clearly defined if not particularly just, and have arrived at a consciousness of their strength. The masses are founding syndicates be fore which the authorities capitula te one after the other; they are also founding labour unions, which in spite of a ll economic laws tend to regulate the conditions of labour and wages. They return to assemblies in which the Govern ment is vested, representatives utterly lacking initiative and i ndependence, and reduced most often to nothing else than the spokesmen of the committees that have chosen them. To-day the claims of the masse s are becoming more and more sharply defined, and amount to nothing less than a determination to utterly destroy society as it now exists, with a view to making it hark back to that primitive communism which was the normal condition of all human groups before the dawn of civilisation. Limitations of the hours of labour, the nationalisation of mines, railways, factories, and the so il, the equal distribution of all products, the elimination of all the upper classes for the benefit of the popular classes, &c., such are these claims. Little adapted to reason ing, crowds, on the contrary, are quick to act. As the result of their present organisation their strength has become immense. The dogmas whose birth we are witnessing will soon have the force of the old dogmas; that is to say, the tyrannical and s overeign force of being above discussion. The divine right of the masses is about to replace the divine right of kings. The writers who enjoy the favour of our middle cl asses, those who best represent their rather narrow ideas, their somewhat prescribed views, their rather superficial scepticism, and their at times somewhat excessive egoism, disp lay profound alarm at this new pow er which they see growing; and to combat the disorder in men’s minds they are addressing de spairing appeals to those moral forces of the Church for which they formerly prof essed so much disdain. They talk to us of the bankruptcy of science, go back in penitence to Rome, and remind us of the teachings of revealed truth. These new converts forget that it is too la te. Had they been really touched by grace, a like operation could not have the sa me influence on minds less conc erned with the preoccupations which beset these recent adherents to religion. The masses repudiate to-day the gods which their admonishers repudiated yesterday and helped to de stroy. There is no power, Divine or human, that can oblige a stream to flow back to its source. There has been no bankruptcy of science, and science has had no share in the present intellectual anarchy, nor in the making of the new power which is springing up in the midst of this anarchy. Science promised us truth, or at least a knowledge of such relations as our intelligence can seize: it

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8misunderstood the psychology of cr owds belonging to other races; 1 and it is because he thus misunderstood it that he engaged in Spain, and notab ly in Russia, in conflicts in which his power received blows which were destined within a br ief space of time to ruin it. A knowledge of the psychology of crowds is to-day the last resource of the statesman who wishes not to govern them – that is becoming a very difficult matter – but at any rate not to be too much governed by them. It is only by obtaining some sort of insight into the psychology of crowds that it can be understood how slight is the action upon them of laws and institutions, how powerless they are to hold any opinions other than those which are imposed upon th em, and that it is not with rules based on theories of pure equity that they are to be le d, but by seeking what produc es an impression on them and what seduces them. For instance, should a legi slator, wishing to impose a new tax, choose that which would be theoretically the most just? By no means. In practice the most unjust may be the best for the masses. Should it at the same time be the least obvi ous, and appare ntly the least burdensome, it will be the most easily tolerated. It is for this reason that an indirect tax, however exorbitant it be, will always be accepted by the cr owd, because, being paid daily in fractions of a farthing on objects of consumption, it will not interf ere with the habits of the crowd, and will pass unperceived. Replace it by a proportional tax on wages or income of any other kind, to be paid in a lump sum, and were this new imposition theoretica lly ten times less burdensome than the other, it would give rise to unanimous protest. This aris es from the fact that a sum relatively high, which will appear immense, and will in consequence stri ke the imagination, has been substituted for the unperceived fractions of a farthing. The new tax would only appear li ght had it been saved farthing by farthing, but this economic proc eeding involves an amount of fo resight of which the masses are incapable. The example which precedes is of the simplest. It s appositeness will be eas ily perceived. It did not escape the attention of such a ps ychologist as Napoleon, but our m odern legislators, ignorant as they are of the characteristics of a crowd, are unable to appreciate it. Expe rience has not taught them as yet to a sufficient degree that men never shape their conduct upon the teaching of pure reason. Many other practical applic ations might be made of the psyc hology of crowds. A knowledge of this science throws the most vivid light on a great nu mber of historical and economic phenomena totally incomprehensible without it. I sha ll have occasion to show that the reason why the most remarkable of modern historians, Taine, has at times so imperfectly understood the events of the great French Revolution is, that it never occurred to him to st udy the genius of crowds. He took as his guide in the study of this complicated period the descriptive method resorted to by naturalists; but the moral forces are almost absent in the case of the phe nomena which naturalists have to study. Yet it is precisely these forces that constitute the true mainsprings of history. 1 His most subtle advisers, moreover, did not u nderstand this psycholo gy any better. Talleyrand wrote him that “Spain would receive his soldiers as liberators.” It rece ived them as b easts of prey. A psychologist acquainted with the hereditary instinct s of the Spanish race would have easily foreseen this reception.

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9In consequence, merely looked at from its prac tical side, the study of the psychology of crowds deserved to be attempted. Were its interest that resulting from pure curiosity only, it would still merit attention. It is as interesting to decipher th e motives of the actions of men as to determine the characteristics of a mineral or a plant. Our study of the genius of crowds can merely be a brief synthesis, a simple summary of our investigations. Nothing more mu st be demanded of it than a few suggestive views. Others will wo rk the ground more thoroughly. To -day we only touch the surface of a still almost virgin soil. BOOK I THE MIND OF CROWDS CHAPTER I GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF CROWDS. – PSYCHOLOGICAL LAW OF THEIR MENTAL UNITY. What constitutes a crowd from the psychological point of view – A numerically strong agglomeration of individuals doe s not suffice to form a crowd – Special characteristics of psychological crowds – The turning in a fixed direction of the idea s and sentiments of individuals composing such a crowd, and the disappearance of their personality – The crowd is always dominated by considerations of which it is unc onscious – The disappearan ce of brain activity and the predominance of medullar activity – The lowering of the intelligence and the complete transformation of the sentiments – The transformed sentiments may be better or worse than those of the individuals of which the crowd is composed – A crowd is as easily heroic as criminal. In its ordinary sense the word “crowd” means a ga thering of individuals of whatever nationality, profession, or sex, and whatever be the chances that have brought them together. From the psychological point of view the expression “crowd” assumes quite a different signification. Under certain given circumstances, and only under those ci rcumstances, an agglomeration of men presents new characteristics very different from those of the individuals co mposing it. The sentiments and ideas of all the persons in the gathering take one and the same direction, and their conscious personality vanishes. A collective mind is formed, doubtless transito ry, but presenti ng very clearly defined characteristics. The gatherin g has thus become what, in the absence of a bette r expression, I will call an organised crowd, or, if the term is considered preferable, a psychological crowd. It forms a single being, and is subjected to the LAW OF THE MENTAL UNITY OF CROWDS. It is evident that it is not by the mere fact of a number of individuals finding themselves accidentally side by side that they acquire th e character of an organised crowd. A thousand individuals accidentally gathered in a public place without any determined object in no way constitute a crowd from the psyc hological point of view. To acquire the special characteristics of such a crowd, the influence is necessary of certain predisposing causes of wh ich we shall have to determine the nature.

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10The disappearance of conscious personality and the turning of feelings and thoughts in a definite direction, which are the primary characteristics of a crowd about to become organised, do not always involve the simultaneous pr esence of a number of individua ls on one spot. Thousands of isolated individuals may acquire at certain mome nts, and under the influence of certain violent emotions – such, for example, as a great nation al event – the characteri stics of a psychological crowd. It will be sufficient in that case that a me re chance should bring them together for their acts to at once assume the characterist ics peculiar to the acts of a crowd. At certain moments half a dozen men might constitute a psychological crow d, which may not happen in the case of hundreds of men gathered together by accident. On the ot her hand, an entire nation, though there may be no visible agglomeration, may become a crow d under the action of certain influences. A psychological crowd once constituted, it acquire s certain provisional but determinable general characteristics. To these general characteristics there are adjoined particular characteristics which vary according to the elements of which the cr owd is composed, and may modify its mental constitution. Psychological crowds, then, are susceptible of classifi cation; and when we come to occupy ourselves with this matter, we shall see that a heterogeneous crowd – that is, a crowd composed of dissimilar elements – presents ce rtain characteristics in common with homogeneous crowds – that is, with crowds composed of elements more or less akin (sects, castes, and classes) – and side by side with th ese common characteristics particularit ies which permit of the two kinds of crowds being differentiated. But before occupying ourselves with the different categories of crowds, we mu st first of all examine the characteristics common to them all. We shal l set to work like the na turalist, who begins by describing the general characteristics common to a ll the members of a family before concerning himself with the particular characteristics which a llow the differentiation of the genera and species that the family includes. It is not easy to describe the mind of crowds with exactness, becau se its organisation varies not only according to race and composition, but also according to the nature and intensity of the exciting causes to which crowds are subjected. The same difficulty, however, pr esents itself in the psychological study of an individual. It is only in novels that indivi duals are found to traverse their whole life with an unvarying characte r. It is only the un iformity of the envir onment that creates the apparent uniformity of characters. I have shown elsewhere that all mental constitutions contain possibilities of character which may be manife sted in consequence of a sudden change of environment. This explains how it was that among the most savage members of the French Convention were to be found inoffensive citizen s who, under ordinary circumstances, would have been peaceable notaries or virtuous magistrate s. The storm past, they resumed their normal character of quiet, law-abiding citizens. Napoleon found amongst th em his most docile servants. It being impossible to study here all the successive degrees of organisation of crowds, we shall concern ourselves more especially with such crow ds as have attained to the phase of complete organisation. In this way we shall see what crowds may become, but not what th ey invariably are. It is only in this advanced phase of organisation that certain new and special characteristics are superposed on the unvarying and dominant character of the race; then takes place that turning already alluded to of all the feeli ngs and thoughts of the collectivity in an identical direction. It is only under such circumstances, too, that what I have called above the PSYCHOLOGICAL LAW OF THE MENTAL UNITY OF CROWDS comes into play.

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11Among the psychological characteristics of crowds th ere are some that they may present in common with isolated individuals, and ot hers, on the contrary, which are absolutely peculiar to them and are only to be met with in colle ctivities. It is th ese special characteri stics that we shall study, first of all, in order to show their importance. The most striking peculiarity presented by a psyc hological crowd is the fo llowing: Whoever be the individuals that compose it, howev er like or unlike be th eir mode of life, th eir occupations, their character, or their intel ligence, the fact that they have been transformed into a crowd puts them in possession of a sort of collect ive mind which makes them feel, think, and act in a manner quite different from that in which each individual of them would feel, think, and ac t were he in a state of isolation. There are certain ideas and feelings which do not come into being, or do not transform themselves into acts except in the case of indi viduals forming a crowd. The psychological crowd is a provisional being formed of heterogeneous elem ents, which for a moment are combined, exactly as the cells which constitute a living body form by their reunion a new being which displays characteristics very different from thos e possessed by each of the cells singly. Contrary to an opinion which one is astonish ed to find coming from the pen of so acute a philosopher as Herbert Spencer, in the aggregate which constitutes a crowd there is in no sort a summing-up of or an average struck between its elements. What rea lly takes place is a combination followed by the creation of new char acteristics, just as in chemistry certain elements, when brought into contact – bases and acids, for example – co mbine to form a new body possessing properties quite different from those of the bodi es that have served to form it. It is easy to prove how much th e individual forming part of a crowd differs from the isolated individual, but it is less easy to discover the causes of this difference. To obtain at any rate a glimpse of them it is nece ssary in the first place to call to mind the truth established by modern psychology, that unconscious phenomena play an alt ogether preponderating part not only in organic life, but also in the operations of the intel ligence. The conscious life of the mind is of small importance in comparison with its unconscious life. The most subtle analyst, the most acute observer, is scarcely successful in discovering more than a very small number of the unconscious motives that determine his conduct. Our conscious acts ar e the outcome of an unconscious substratum created in the mind in the main by hereditary influences. This substratum consists of the innumerable common characteristi cs handed down from gene ration to generation, which constitute the genius of a race. Behind the avowed causes of our acts there undoubtedly lie secret causes that we do not avow , but behind these secret causes th ere are many others more secret still which we ourselves ignore. The greater part of our daily actions ar e the result of hidden motives which escape our observation. It is more especially with respect to those uncon scious elements which cons titute the genius of a race that all the individuals belonging to it resemble each other, while it is principally in respect to the conscious elements of their character – the fruit of education, and yet more of exceptional hereditary conditions – that they differ from each other. Men the most unlike in the matter of their intelligence possess instincts, passions, and feelings th at are very similar. In the case of every thing that belongs to the realm of sentiment – religion, politics, morality, the affections and antipathies, &c. – the most eminent men seldom surpass the standa rd of the most ordinary individuals. From the

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