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Freedom And Government By Crowds

The whole philosophy of politics comes down at last to a question of
four words. Who is to govern? Compared with this question the problem of
the form of government is relatively unimportant. Crowd-men, whatever
political faith they profess, behave much the same when they are in
power. The particular forms of political organization through which
their power is exerted are mere incidentals. There is the same
self-laudation, the same tawdry array of abstract principles, the same
exploitation of under crowds, the same cunning in keeping up
appearances, the same preference of the charlatan for positions of
leadership and authority. Machiavelli's Prince, or Dostoievsky's Grand
Inquisitor, would serve just as well as the model for the guidance of a
Caesar Borgia, a leader of Tammany Hall, a chairman of the National
Committee of a political party, or a Nicolai Lenin.

Ever since the days of Rousseau certain crowds have persisted in the
conviction that all tyrannies were foisted upon an innocent humanity by
a designing few. There may have been a few instances in history where
such was the case, but tyrannies of that kind have never lasted long.
For the most part the tyrant is merely the instrument and official
symbol of a dominant crowd. His acts are his crowd's acts, and without
his crowd to support him he very soon goes the way of the late Sultan of
Turkey. The Caesars were hardly more than "walking delegates,"
representing the ancient Roman Soldiers' soviet. They were made and
unmade by the army which, though Caesars might come and Caesars might go,
continued to lord it over the Roman world. While the army was pagan,
even the mild Marcus Aurelius followed Nero's example of killing
Christians. When finally the army itself became largely Christian, and
the fiction that the Christians drank human blood, worshiped the head of
an ass, and were sexually promiscuous was no longer good patriotic
propaganda, the Emperor Constantine began to see visions of the Cross in
the sky. The Pope, who is doubtless the most absolute monarch in the
Occident, is, however, "infallible" only when he speaks
ex-cathedra--that is, as the "Church Herself." His infallibility is
that of the Church. All crowds in one way or another claim
infallibility. The tyrant Robespierre survived only so long as did his
particular revolutionary crowd in France.

The fate of Savonarola was similar. From his pulpit he could rule
Florence with absolute power just so long as he told his crowd what it
wished to hear, and so long as his crowd was able to keep itself
together and remain dominant. The Stuarts, Hohenzollerns, Hapsburgs, and
Romanoffs, with all their claims to divine rights, were little more than
the living symbols of their respective nation-crowds. They vanished when
they ceased to represent successfully the crowd-will.

In general, then, it may be said that where the crowd is, there is
tyranny. Tyranny may be exercised through one agent or through many,
but it nearly always comes from the same source--the crowd. Crowd-rule
may exist in a monarchical form of government, or in a republic. The
personnel of the dominant crowd will vary with a change in the form of
the state, but the spirit will be much the same. Conservative writers
are in the habit of assuming that democracy is the rule of crowds pure
and simple. Whether crowd-government is more absolute in a democracy
than in differently constituted states is a question. The aim of
democratic constitutions like our own is to prevent any special crowd
from intrenching itself in a position of social control and thus
becoming a ruling class. As the experiment has worked out thus far it
can hardly be said that it has freed us from the rule of crowds. It has,
however, multiplied the number of mutually suspicious crowds, so that no
one of them has for long enjoyed a sufficiently great majority to make
itself clearly supreme, though it must be admitted that up to the
present the business-man crowd has had the best of the deal. The story
of the recent Eighteenth Amendment shows how easy it is for a determined
crowd, even though in a minority, to force its favorite dogmas upon the
whole community. We shall doubtless see a great deal more of this sort
of thing in the future than we have in the past. And if the various
labor groups should become sufficiently united in a "proletarian" crowd
there is nothing to prevent their going to any extreme.

We are passing through a period of socialization. All signs point to the
establishment of some sort of social state or industrial commonwealth.
No one can foresee the extent, to which capital now privately owned is
to be transferred to the public. It is doubtful if anything can be done
to check this process. The tendency is no sooner blocked along one
channel than it begins to seep through another. In itself there need be
nothing alarming about this transition. If industry could be better
co-ordinated and more wisely administered by non-crowd men for the
common good, the change might work out to our national advantage.

It is possible to conceive of a society in which a high degree of social
democracy, even communism, might exist along with a maximum of freedom
and practical achievement. But we should first have to get over our
crowd-ways of thinking and acting. People would have to regard the state
as a purely administrative affair. They would have to organize for
definite practical ends, and select their leaders and administrators
very much as certain corporations now do, strictly on the basis of their
competency. Political institutions would have to be made such that they
could not be seized by special groups to enhance themselves at the
expense of the rest. Partisanship would have to cease. Every effort
would have to be made to loosen the social control over the individual's
personal habits. The kind of people who have an inner gnawing to
regulate their neighbors, the kind who cannot accept the fact of their
psychic inferiority and must consequently make crowds by way of
compensation, would have to be content to mind their own business.
Police power would have to be reduced to the minimum necessary to
protect life and keep the industries running. People would have to
become much more capable of self-direction as well as of voluntary
co-operation than they are now. They would have to be more resentful of
petty official tyranny, more independent in their judgments and at the
same time more willing to accept the advice and authority of experts.
They would have to place the control of affairs in the hands of the type
of man against whose dominance the weaker brethren have in all ages
waged war--that is, the free spirits and natural masters of men. All pet
dogmas and cult ideas that clashed with practical considerations would
have to be swept away.

Such a conception of society is, of course, wholly utopian. It could not
possibly be realized by people behaving and thinking as crowds. With our
present crowd-making habits, the process of greater socialization of
industry means only increased opportunities for crowd-tyranny. In the
hands of a dominant crowd an industrial state would be indeed what
Herbert Spencer called the "coming slavery."

As it is, the state has become overgrown and bureaucratic. Commissions
of all sorts are being multiplied year by year. Public debts are piled
up till they approach the point of bankruptcy. Taxes are increasing in
the same degree. Statutes are increased in number until one can hardly
breathe without violating some decree, ordinance, or bit of sumptuary
legislation. Every legislative assembly is constantly besieged by the
professional lobbyists of a swarm of reformist crowds. Busybodies of
every description twist the making and the enforcement of law into
conformity with their peculiar prejudices. Censorships of various kinds
are growing in number and effrontery. Prohibition is insincerely put
forth as a war measure. Ignorant societies for the "suppression of vice"
maul over our literature and our art. Parents of already more children
than they can support may not be permitted lawfully to possess
scientific knowledge of the means of the prevention of conception. The
government, both state and national, takes advantage of the war for
freedom to pass again the hated sort of "alien and sedition" laws from
which the country thought it had freed itself a century ago. A host of
secret agents and volunteer "guardians of public safety" are ready to
place every citizen under suspicion of disloyalty to the government. Any
advocacy of significant change in established political practices is
regarded as sedition. An inquisition is set up for the purpose of
inquiring into people's private political opinions. Reputable citizens
are, on the flimsiest hearsay evidence or rumor that they entertain
nonconformist views, subjected to public censure by notoriety-seeking
"investigation commissions"--and by an irresponsible press. Only members
of an established political party in good standing are permitted to
criticize the acts of the President of the United States. Newspapers and
magazines are suppressed and denied the privilege of the mails at the
whim of opinionated post-office officers or of ignorant employees of the
Department of Justice. An intensely patriotic weekly paper in New York,
which happened to hold unconventional views on the subject of religion,
has had certain issues of its paper suppressed for the offense of
publishing accounts of the alleged misconduct of the Y. M. C. A.

The stupidity and irresponsibility of the Russian spy-system which has
grown up in this country along with our overweening state is illustrated
by an amusing little experience which happened to myself several months
after the signing of the armistice with Germany. All through the trying
months of the war the great audience at Cooper Union had followed me
with a loyalty and tolerance which was truly wonderful. Though I knew
that many had not always been in hearty accord with my rather
spontaneous and outspoken Americanism, the Cooper Union Forum was one of
the few places in America where foreign and labor elements were present
in large numbers in which there was no outbreak or demonstration of any
kind which could possibly be interpreted as un-American. We all felt
that perhaps the People's Institute with its record of twenty years'
work behind it had been of some real service to the nation in adhering
strictly to its educational method and keeping its discussions wholly
above the level of any sort of crowd-propaganda.

However, in the course of our educational work, it became my task to
give to a selected group of advanced students a course of lectures upon
the Theory of Knowledge. The course was announced with the title, "How
Free Men Think," and the little folder contained the statement that it
was to be a study of the Humanist logic, with Professor F. C. S.
Schiller's philosophical writings to be used as textbooks. The
publication of this folder announcing the course was held up by the
printer, and we learned that he had been told not to print it by some
official personage whose identity was not revealed. Notwithstanding the
fact that Schiller is professor of philosophy in Corpus Christi College,
Oxford, and is one of the best-known philosophical writers in the
English-speaking world, and holds views practically identical with what
is called the "American School," led by the late William James, it
developed that the government agents--or whoever they were--objected to
the publication of the announcement on the ground that they thought
Schiller was a German. Such is our intellectual freedom regarding
matters which have no political significance whatever, in a world made
"safe for democracy." But we must not permit ourselves to despair or
grow weary of life in this "safety first" world--waves of
pseudo-patriotic panic often follow on the heels of easily won victory.
Crowd-phenomena of such intensity are usually of short duration, as
these very excesses soon produce the inevitable reaction.

The question, however, arises, is democracy more conducive to freedom
than other forms of political organization? To most minds the terms
"liberty" and "democracy" are almost synonymous. Those who consider that
liberty consists in having a vote, in giving everyone a voice regardless
of whether he has anything to say, will have no doubts in the matter.
But to those whose thinking means more than the mere repetition of
eighteenth-century crowd-ideas, the question will reduce itself to this:
Is democracy more conducive to crowd-behavior than other forms of
government? Le Bon and those who identify the crowd with the masses
would answer with an a priori affirmative. I do not believe the
question may be answered in any such off-hand manner. It is a question
of fact rather than of theory. Theoretically, since we have
demonstrated I think that the crowd is not the common people as such,
but is a peculiar form of psychic behavior, it would seem that there is
no logical necessity for holding that democracy must always and
everywhere be the rule of the mob. And we have seen that other forms of
society may also suffer from crowd-rule. I suspect that the repugnance
which certain aristocratic, and bourgeois writers also, show for
democracy is less the horror of crowd-rule as such, than dislike of
seeing control pass over to a crowd other than their own. Theoretically
at least, democracy calls for a maximum of self-government and personal
freedom. The fact that democracy is rapidly degenerating into tyranny of
all over each may be due, not to the democratic ideal itself, but the
growing tendency to crowd-behavior in modern times. It may be that
certain democratic ideals are not so much causes as effects of
crowd-thinking and action. It cannot be denied that such ideals come in
very handy these days in the way of furnishing crowds with effective
catchwords for their propaganda and of providing them with ready-made
justifications for their will to power. I should say that democracy has
indirectly permitted, rather than directly caused, an extension in the
range of thought and behavior over which the crowd assumes

In comparing democracy with more autocratic forms of government, this
extent or range of crowd-control over the individual is important. Of
course, human beings will never permit to one another a very large
degree of personal freedom. It is to the advantage of everyone in the
struggle for existence to reduce his neighbors as much as possible to
automatons. In this way one's own adjustment to the behavior of others
is made easier. If we can induce or compel all about us to confine their
actions to perfect routine, then we may predict with a fair degree of
accuracy their future behavior, and be prepared in advance to meet it.
We all dread the element of the unexpected, and nowhere so much as in
the conduct of our neighbors. If we could only get rid of the humanly
unexpected, society would be almost fool-proof. Hence the resistance to
new truths, social change, progress, nonconformity of any sort; hence
our orthodoxies and conventions; hence our incessant preaching to our
neighbors to "be good"; hence the fanaticism with which every crowd
strives to keep its believers in line. Much of this insistence on
regularity is positively necessary. Without it there could be no social
or moral order at all. It is in fact the source and security of the
accepted values of civilization, as Schiller has shown.

But the process of keeping one another in line is carried much farther
than is necessary to preserve the social order. It is insisted upon to
the extent that will guarantee the survival, even the dominance, of the
spiritually sick, the morally timid, the trained-animal men, those who
would revert to savagery, or stand utterly helpless the moment a new
situation demanded that they do some original thinking in the place of
performing the few stereotyped tricks which they have acquired; the
dog-in-the-manger people, who because they can eat no meat insist that
all play the dyspeptic lest the well-fed outdistance them in the race of
life or set them an example in following which they get the stomach
ache; the people who, because they cannot pass a saloon door without
going in and getting drunk, cannot see a moving-picture, or read a
modern book, or visit a bathing beach without being tormented with their
gnawing promiscuous eroticism, insist upon setting up their own
perverted dilemmas as the moral standard for everybody.

Such people exist in great numbers in every society. They are always
strong for "brotherly love," for keeping up appearances, for removing
temptation from the path of life, for uniform standards of belief and
conduct. Each crowd, in its desire to become the majority, to hold the
weaker brethren within its fold, and especially as everyone of us has a
certain amount of this "little brother" weakness in his own nature,
which longs to be pampered if only the pampering can be done without
hurting our pride--the crowd invariably plays to this sort of thing and
bids for its support. As the little brother always expresses his
survival-values in terms of accepted crowd-ideas, no crowd can really
turn him down without repudiating its abstract principles. In fact, it
is just this weakness in our nature which, as we have seen, leads us to
become crowd-men in the first place. Furthermore, we have seen that any
assertion of personal independence is resented by the crowd because it
weakens the crowd-faith of all.

The measure of freedom granted to men will depend, therefore, upon how
many things the crowd attempts to consider its business. There is a law
of inertia at work here. In monarchical forms of government, where the
crowd-will is exercised through a single human agent, the monarch may be
absolute in regard to certain things which are necessary to his own and
his crowd's survival. In such matters "he can do no wrong"; there is
little or no appeal from his decisions. But the very thoroughness with
which he hunts down nonconformity in matters which directly concern his
authority, leaves him little energy for other things. Arbitrary power
is therefore usually limited to relatively few things, since the
autocrat cannot busy himself with everything that is going on. Within
the radius of the things which the monarch attempts to regulate he may
be an intolerable tyrant, but so long as he is obeyed in these matters,
so long as things run on smoothly on the surface, there are all sorts of
things which he would prefer not to have brought to his attention, as
witness, for instance, the letter of Trajan to the younger Pliny.

With a democracy it is different. While the exercise of authority is
never so inexorable--indeed democratic states frequently pass laws for
the purpose of placing the community on record "for righteousness,"
rather than with the intention of enforcing such laws--the number of
things which a democracy will presume to regulate is vastly greater than
in monarchical states. As sovereignty is universal, everybody becomes
lawmaker and regulator of his neighbors. As the lawmaking power is
present everywhere, nothing can escape its multieyed scrutiny. All sorts
of foibles, sectional interests, group demands, class prejudices become
part of the law of the land. A democracy is no respecter of persons and
can, under its dogma of equality before the law, admit of no exceptions.
The whole body politic is weighed down with all the several bits of
legislation which may be demanded by any of the various groups within
it. An unusual inducement and opportunity are thus provided for every
crowd to force its own crowd-dilemmas upon all.

The majority not only usurps the place of the king, but it tends to
subject the whole range of human thought and behavior to its
authority--everything, in fact, that anyone, disliking in his neighbors
or finding himself tempted to do, may wish to "pass a law against."
Every personal habit and private opinion becomes a matter for public
concern. Custom no longer regulates; all is rationalized according to
the logic of the crowd-mind. Public policy sits on the doorstep of every
man's personal conscience. The citizen in us eats up the man. Not the
tiniest personal comfort may yet be left us in private enjoyment. All
that cannot be translated into propaganda or hold its own in a
legislative lobby succumbs. If we are to preserve anything of our
personal independence, we must organize ourselves into a crowd like the
rest and get out in the streets and set up a public howl. Unless some
one pretty soon starts a pro-tobacco crusade and proves to the
newspaper-reading public that the use of nicotine by everybody in equal
amount is absolutely necessary for the preservation of the American
home, for economic efficiency and future military supremacy, we shall
doubtless all soon be obliged to sneak down into the cellar and smoke
our pipes in the dark.

Here we see the true argument for a written constitution, and also, I
think, a psychological principle which helps us to decide what should be
in a constitution and what should not. The aim of a constitution is to
put a limit to the number of things concerning which a majority-crowd
may lord it over the individual. I am aware that the appeal to the
Constitution is often abused by predatory interests which skulk behind
its phraseology in their defense of special economic privilege. But,
nevertheless, people in a democracy may be free only so long as they
submit to the dictation of the majority in just and only those few
interests concerning which a monarch, were he in existence, would take
advantage of them for his personal ends. There are certain political
and economic relations which cannot be left to the chance exploitation
of any individual or group that happens to come along. Some one is sure
to come along, for you may be sure that if there is a possible
opportunity to take advantage, some one will do it sooner or later.

Now because people have discovered that there is no possible individual
freedom in respect to certain definite phases of their common life which
are always exposed to seizure by exploiters, democrats have substituted
a tyranny of the majority for the tyranny of the one or the favored few
which would otherwise be erected at these points. Since it is necessary
to give up freedom in these regions anyway, there is some compensation
in spreading the tyrannizing around so that each gets a little share of
it. But every effort should be made to limit the tyranny of the
majority to just these points. And the line limiting the number of
things that the majority may meddle with must be drawn as hard and fast
as possible, since every dominant crowd, as we have seen, will squeeze
the life out of everything human it can get its hands on. The minute a
majority finds that it can extend its tyranny beyond this strictly
constitutionally limited sphere, nothing remains to stop it; it becomes
worse than an autocracy. Tyranny is no less abhorrent just because the
number of tyrants is increased. A nation composed of a hundred million
little tyrants snooping and prying into every corner may be democratic,
but, personally, if that ever comes to be the choice I think I should
prefer one tyrant. He might occasionally look the other way and leave me
a free man, long enough at least for me to light my pipe.

True democrats will be very jealous of government. Necessary as it is,
there is no magic about government, no saving grace. Government cannot
redeem us from our sins; it will always require all the decency we
possess to redeem the government. Government always represents the moral
dilemmas of the worst people, not the best. It cannot give us freedom;
it can give or grant us nothing but what it first takes from us. It is
we who grant to the government certain powers and privileges necessary
for its proper functioning. We do not exist for the government; it
exists for us. We are not its servants; it is our servant. Government at
best is a useful and necessary machine, a mechanism by which we protect
ourselves from one another. It has no more rights and dignities of its
own than are possessed by any other machine. Its laws should be obeyed,
for the same reason that the laws of mechanics should be
obeyed--otherwise the machine will not run.

As a matter of fact it is not so much government itself against which
the democrat must be on guard, but the various crowds which are always
seeking to make use of the machinery of government in order to impose
their peculiar tyranny upon all and invade the privacy of everyone. By
widening the radius of governmental control, the crowd thus pinches down
the individuality of everyone with the same restrictions as are imposed
by the crowd upon its own members.

Conway says:

Present-day Democracy rests on a few organized parties. What
would a democracy be like if based on millions of independent
Joneses each of whom decided to vote this or that way as he
pleased? The dominion of the crowd would be at an end, both for
better and for worse. We shall not behold any such revolution in
the world as we know it....

Thus we must conclude that the crowd by its very nature tends,
and always must tend, to diminish (if possible, to the vanishing
point) the freedom of its members, and not in one or two
respects alone, but in all. The crowd's desire is to swallow up
the individuality of its members and reduce them one and all to
the condition of crowd units whose whole life is lived according
to the crowd-pattern and is sacrificed and devoted to

An excellent illustration of this crowd-dominance crops up in my
afternoon paper.... It appears that in certain parts of the
country artisans, by drinking too much alcohol, are reducing
their capacity of doing their proper work, which happens at the
moment to be of great importance to the country at war. Many
interferences with liberty are permitted in war time by general
consent. It is accordingly proposed to put difficulties in the
way of these drinkers by executive orders. One would suppose
that the just way to do this would be to make a list of the
drinkers and prohibit their indulgence. But this is not the way
the crowd works. To it everyone of its constituent members is
like another, and all must be drilled and controlled alike....
Whatever measure is adopted must fall evenly on all classes,
upon club, restaurant and hotel as upon public house. Could
anything be more absurd? Lest a gunmaker or a shipbuilder in
Glasgow should drink too much, Mr. Asquith must not take a glass
of sherry with his lunch at the Athenaeum!...

We live in days when crowd dominion over individuals has been
advancing at a headlong pace.... If he is not to drink in London
lest a Glasgow engineer should get drunk, why should not his
eating be alike limited? Why not the style and cut of his
clothes? Why not the size and character of his house? He must
cause his children to be taught at least the minimum of muddled
information which the government calls education. He must insure
for his dependents the attention of an all-educated physician,
and the administration of drugs known to be useless. If the
crowd had its way every mother and infant would be under the
orders of inspectors, regardless of the capacity of the parent.
We should all be ordered about in every relation of life from
infancy to manhood.... Freedom would utterly vanish, and this,
not because the crowd can arrange things better than the
individual. It cannot. It lacks the individual's brains. The
ultimate reason for all this interference is the crowd's desire
to swallow up and control the unit. The instinct of all crowds
is to dominate, to capture and overwhelm the individual, to make
him their slave, to absorb all his life for their service.

The criticism has often been made of democracy that it permits too much
freedom; the reverse of this is nearer the truth. It was de Tocqueville,
I think, who first called attention to the "tyranny of the majority" in
democratic America. Probably one of the most comprehensive and
discriminating studies that have ever been made of the habits and
institutions of any nation may be found in the work of this observing
young Frenchman who visited our country at the close of its first half
century of political independence. De Tocqueville's account of Democracy
in America is still good reading, much of it being applicable to the
present. This writer was in no sense an unfriendly critic. He praised
much that he saw, but even in those days (the period of 1830) he was not
taken in by the fiction that, because the American people live under
laws of their own making, they are therefore free. Much of the following
passages taken here and there from Chapters XIV and XV is as true today
as it was when it was written:

America is therefore a free country in which, lest anybody be
hurt by your remarks, you are not allowed to speak freely of
private individuals, of the State, or the citizens, or the
authorities, of public or private undertakings, in short of
anything at all, except perhaps the climate and the soil, and
even then Americans will be found ready to defend both as if
they had concurred in producing them.

The American submits without a murmur to the authority of the
pettiest magistrate. This truth prevails even in the trivial
details of national life. An American cannot converse--he speaks
to you as if he were addressing a meeting. If an American were
condemned to confine himself to his own affairs, he would be
robbed of one-half of his existence; his wretchedness would be

The moral authority of the majority in America is based on the
notion that there is more intelligence and wisdom in a number of
men united than in a single individual.... The theory of
equality is thus applied to the intellects of men.

The French, under the old regime, held it for a maxim that the
King could do no wrong. The Americans entertain the same opinion
with regard to the majority.

In the United States, all parties are willing to recognize the
rights of the majority, because they all hope at some time to be
able to exercise them to their own advantage. The majority
therefore in that country exercises a prodigious actual
authority and a power of opinion which is nearly as great (as
that of the absolute autocrat). No obstacles exist which can
impair or even retard its progress so as to make it heed the
complaints of those whom it crushes upon its path. This state of
things is harmful in itself and dangerous for the future.

As the majority is the only power which it is important to
court, all its projects are taken up with the greatest ardor;
but no sooner is its attention distracted than all this ardor

There is no power on earth so worthy of honor in itself, or
clothed with rights so sacred, that I would admit its
uncontrolled and all-predominant authority.

In my opinion the main evil of the present democratic
institutions of the United States does not arise, as is so often
asserted in Europe, from their weakness, but from their
irresistible strength.... I am not so much alarmed by the
excessive liberty which reigns in that country, as by the
inadequate securities which one finds against tyranny. When an
individual or party is wronged in the United States, to whom can
he apply for redress?

It is in the examination of the exercise of thought in the
United States that we clearly perceive how far the power of the
majority surpasses all the powers with which we are acquainted
in Europe. At the present time the most absolute monarchs in
Europe cannot prevent certain opinions hostile to their
authority from circulating in secret through their dominions and
even in their courts.

It is not so in America. So long as the majority is undecided,
discussion is carried on, but as soon as its decision is
announced everyone is silent....

I know of no country in which there is so little independence of
mind and real freedom of discussion as in America. In America
the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of
opinion. Within these barriers an author may write what he
pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them. Not that he is
in danger of an auto-da-fe, but he is exposed to continued
obloquy and persecution. His political career is closed for
ever. Every sort of compensation, even that of celebrity, is
refused him. Those who think like him have not the courage to
speak out, and abandon him to silence. He yields at length,
overcome by the daily effort which he has to make, and subsides
into silence as if he felt remorse for having spoken the truth.

Fetters and headsmen were coarse instruments ... but
civilization has perfected despotism itself. Under absolute
despotism of one man, the body was attacked to subdue the soul,
but the soul escaped the blows and rose superior. Such is not
the course adopted in democratic republics; there the body is
left free, but the soul is enslaved....

The ruling power in the United States is not to be made game of.
The smallest reproach irritates its sensibilities. The slightest
joke which has any foundation in truth renders it indignant.
Everything must be the subject of encomium. No writer, whatever
his eminence, can escape paying his tribute of adoration to his
fellow citizens.

The majority lives in the perpetual utterance of self-applause,
and there are certain truths which Americans can only learn from
strangers, or from experience. If America has not yet had any
great writers, the reason is given in these facts--there can be
no literary genius without freedom of opinion, and freedom of
opinion does not exist in America.

Such passages as the above, quoted from the words of a friendly student
of American democracy, show the impression which, notwithstanding our
popular prattle about freedom, thoughtful foreigners have since the
beginning received. And de Tocqueville wrote long before crowd-thinking
had reached anything like the development we see at present. To-day the
tyrannizing is not confined to the majority-crowd. All sorts of
minority-crowds, impatient of waiting until they can by fair means
persuade the majority to agree with them, begin to practice coercion
upon everyone within reach the minute they fall into possession of some
slight advantage which may be used as a weapon. From the industrial side
we were first menaced by the "invisible government" of organized vested
interests; now, by a growing tendency to government by strikes.
Organized gangs of all sorts have at last learned the amusing trick of
pointing a pistol at the public's head and threatening it with
starvation, and up go its hands, and the gang gains whatever it wants
for itself, regardless of anyone else. But this "hold-up game" is by no
means confined to labor. Capitalistic soviets have since the beginning
of the war taken advantage of situations to enhance their special
crowd-interests. The following, quoted from a letter written during the
war to the Atlantic Monthly, by a thoroughly American writer, Charles
D. Stewart, describes a type of mob rule which existed in almost every
part of the nation while we were fighting for freedom abroad:

Carlyle said that "Of all forms of government, a government of
busybodies is the worst." This is true. It is worse than
Prussianism, because that is one form of government, at least;
and worse than Socialism, because Socialism would be run by law,
anyway. But government by busybodies has neither head nor tail;
working outside the law, it becomes lawless; and having no law
to support it, it finally depends for its enforcement upon
hoodlums and mob rule. When the respectable and wealthy elements
are resorting to this sort of government, abetted by the
newspapers and by all sorts of busybody societies intent upon
"government by public sentiment," we finally have a new thing in
the world and a most obnoxious one--mob rule by the rich; with
the able assistance of the hoodlums--always looking for a

It starts as follows:

The government wishes a certain amount of money. It therefore
appeals to local pride; it sets a "quota," which has been
apportioned to each locality, and promises of a fine
"over-the-top" flag to be hoisted over the courthouse. All well
and good; local pride is a very fine thing, competition is

But the struggle that ensues is not so much local pride as it
looks to be.

Milwaukee, for instance, a big manufacturing center, is noted
for its German population. This, the local proprietors fear, may
affect its trade. It may be boycotted to some extent. A
traveling man comes back and says that a certain dealer in
stoves refuses to buy stoves made in Milwaukee!

Ha!--Milwaukee must redeem its reputation; it must always go
over the top: it must be able to affix this stamp to all its

Now, as the state has a quota, and the county and city has each
its quota, so each individual must have his quota. Each
individual must be "assessed" to buy a certain quota [government
war loan] of bonds. Success must be made sure: the manufacturers
must see the honor of Milwaukee, and Wisconsin, maintained.

It is not compulsory to give a certain "assessed" amount to the
Y. M. C. A.; and the government does not make a certain quota of
bonds compulsory on citizens--oh, no! it is not compulsory, only
you must abide by your assessment. And we will see that you do.
No excuse accepted....

Picture to yourself the following "collection committee"
traveling out of the highly civilized, "kultured" city of

Twenty-five automobiles containing sixty to seventy respectable
citizens of Milwaukee.

One color guard (a flag at the head) with two home guardsmen in
citizens' clothes.

Two deputy sheriffs.

One "official" photographer.

One "official" stenographer.

One banker (this personage to make arrangements to lend a farmer
the money in case he protests that he has subscribed too much

This phalanx, entirely lawless, moves down upon a farmer who is
urging two horses along a cloddy furrow, doing his fall plowing.

They form a semicircle about him; the speechmaker says, "Let us
salute the flag" (watching him to see that he does it promptly);
and while his horses stand there the speechmaker delivers a
speech. He must subscribe his "assessed" amount--no excuses
accepted. If he owes for the farm, and has just paid his
interest, and has only fifteen dollars to go on with, it makes
no difference. He must subscribe the amount of his "assessment,"
and "sign here."

If not, what happens? The farmer all the time, of course, is
probably scared out of his wits, or does not know what to make
of this delegation of notables bearing down upon his solitary
task in the fields. But if he argues too much, he finds this.
They have a large package of yellow placards reading:


And they put them all over his place. He probably signs.

Now bear in mind that this method is not practiced merely
against farmers who have made unpatriotic remarks, or have
refused to support the war. It is practiced against a farmer who
has taken only one hundred dollars when he was assessed a
hundred and fifty--and this is to make him "come across" with
the remainder.

You might ask, Is this comic opera or is it government?

And now we come to the conclusion. Imagine yourself either a
workman in Milwaukee, or a farmer out in the country. You are
dealt with in this entirely Prussian manner--possibly the
committee, which knows little of your financial difficulties in
your home, has just assessed you arbitrarily.

Your constitutional rights do not count. There is no remedy. If
you are painted yellow, the District Attorney will pass the
buck--he knows what the manufacturer expects of him, and the
financier. The state officers of these drives, Federal
representatives, are always Milwaukee bankers.

But for you there is no remedy if you are "assessed" too high.

With the Y. M. C. A., and other religious society drives, the
same assessment scheme is worked. You cannot give to the
Y. M. C. A. You are told right off how much you are to pay.

It would seem that in our democracy freedom consists first of freedom to
vote; second, of freedom to make commercial profit; third, of freedom to
make propaganda; fourth, of freedom from intellectual and moral
responsibility. Each of these "liberties" is little more than a
characteristic form of crowd-behavior. The vote, our most highly prized
modern right, is nearly always so determined by crowd-thinking that as
an exercise of individual choice it is a joke. Men are herded in droves
and delivered by counties in almost solid blocks by professional traders
of political influence. Before each election a campaign of crowd-making
is conducted in which every sort of vulgarity and insincerity has
survival value, in which real issues are so lost in partisan propaganda
as to become unrecognizable. When the vote is cast it is commonly a
choice between professional crowd-leaders whose competency consists in
their ability to Billy Sundayize the mob rather than in any marked
fitness for the office to which they aspire--also between the horns of a
dilemma which wholly misstates the issue involved and is trumped up
chiefly for purposes of political advertising. Time and again the
franchise thus becomes an agency by which rival crowds may fasten their
own tyrannies upon one another.

Freedom to make commercial profit, to get ahead of others in the race
for dollars, is what democracy generally means by "opportunity." Nothing
is such a give-away of the modern man as the popular use of the word
"individualism." It is no longer a philosophy of becoming something
genuine and unique, but of getting something and using it according to
your own whims and for personal ends regardless of the effect upon
others. This pseudo-individualism encourages the rankest selfishness and
exploitation to go hand in hand with the most deadly spiritual
conformity and inanity. Such "individualism" is, as I have pointed out,
a crowd-idea, for it is motivated by a cheaply disguised ideal of
personal superiority through the mere fact of possessing things.
Paradoxical as it may appear at first sight, this is really the old
crowd notion of "equality," for, great as are the differences of wealth
which result, every man may cherish the fiction that he possesses the
sort of ability necessary for this kind of social distinction. Such
superiority thus has little to do with personal excellence; it is the
result of the external accident of success. One man may still be "as
good as another."

Against this competitive struggle now there has grown up a counter-crowd
ideal of collectivism. But here also the fiction of universal spiritual
equality is maintained; the competitive struggle is changed from an
individual to a gang struggle, while the notion that personal worth is
the result of the environment and may be achieved by anyone whose belly
is filled still persists. Proletarians for the most part wish,
chinch-bug fashion, to crawl into the Elysian fields now occupied by the
hated capitalists. The growing tendency to industrial democracy will
probably in the near future cut off this freedom to make money, which
has been the chief "liberty" of political democracy until now, but
whether liberty in general will be the gainer thereby remains to be
seen. One rather prominent Socialist in New York declares that liberty
is a "myth." He is correct, in so far as the democratic movement, either
political or social, is a crowd-phenomenon. Socialist agitators are
always demanding "liberty" nevertheless, but the liberty which they
demand is little more than freedom to make their own propaganda. And
this leads us to the third liberty permitted by modern democracy.

The "freedom of speech" which is everywhere demanded in the name of
democracy is not at all freedom in the expression of individual opinion.
It is only the demand for advertising space on the part of various
crowds for the publication of their shibboleths and propaganda. Each
crowd, while demanding this freedom for itself, seeks to deny it to
other crowds, and all unite in denying it to the non-crowd man wherever
possible. The Puritan's "right to worship according to the dictates of a
man's own conscience" did not apply to Quakers, Deists, or Catholics.
When Republicans were "black abolitionists" they would have regarded any
attempt to suppress The Liberator, as edited by William Lloyd
Garrison, as an assault upon the constitutional liberties of the whole
nation. But they are not now particularly interested in preserving the
constitutional liberties of the nation as represented in the right of
circulation of The Liberator, edited by Max Eastman. In Jefferson's
time, when Democrats were accused of "Jacobinism," they invoked the
"spirit of 1776" in opposition to the alien and sedition laws under
which their partisan propaganda suffered limitation. To-day, when they
are striving to outdo the Republicans in "Americanization propaganda,"
they actually stand sponsor for an espionage law which would have made
Jefferson or Andrew Jackson froth at the mouth. Socialists are convinced
that liberty is dead because Berger and Debs are convicted of uttering
opinions out of harmony with temporarily dominant crowd-ideas of
patriotism. But when Theodore Dreiser was put under the ban for the
crime of writing one of the few good novels produced in America, I do
not recall that Socialists held any meetings of protest in Madison
Square Garden. I have myself struggled in vain for three hours or more
on a street corner in Green Point trying to tell liberty-loving
Socialists the truth about the Gary schools. When the politicians in our
legislative assemblies were tricked into passing the obviously unliberal
Eighteenth Amendment, I was much interested in learning how the bulk of
the Socialists in the Cooper Union audiences felt about it. As I had
expected, they regarded it as an unpardonable infringement of personal
freedom, as a typical piece of American Puritan hypocrisy and
pharisaism. But they were, on the whole, in favor of it because they
thought it would be an aid to Bolshevist propaganda, since it would make
the working class still more discontented! Such is liberty in a
crowd-governed democracy.... It is nothing but the liberty of crowds to
be crowds.

The fourth liberty in democratic society to-day is freedom from moral and
intellectual responsibility. This is accomplished by the magic of
substituting the machinery of the law for self-government, bureaucratic
meddlesomeness for conscience, crowd-tyranny for personal decency.
Professor Faguet has called democracy the "cult of incompetence" and the
"dread of responsibility." He is not far wrong, but these epithets apply
not so much to democracy as such as to democracy under the heel of the
crowd. The original aim of democracy, so far as its philosophical
thinkers conceived of it, was to set genius free from the trammels of
tradition, realize a maximum of self-government, and make living
something of an adventure. But crowds do not so understand democracy.
Every crowd looks upon democracy simply as a scheme whereby it may have
its own way. We have seen that the crowd-mind as such is a device for
"kidding" ourselves, for representing the easiest path to the
enhancement of our self-feeling as something highly moral, for making
our personal right appear like universal righteousness, for dressing up
our will to lord it over others, as if it were devotion to impersonal
principle. As we have seen, the crowd therefore insists upon universal
conformity; goodness means only making everyone alike. By taking refuge
in the abstract and ready-made system of crowd-ideas, the unconscious
will to power is made to appear what it is not; the burden of
responsibility is transferred to the group with its fiction of absolute
truth. Le Bon noted the fact of the irresponsibility of crowds, but
thought that such irresponsibility was due to the fact that the crowd,
being an anonymous gathering, the individual could lose his identity in
the multitude. The psychology of the unconscious has provided us with
what I think is a better explanation, but the fact of irresponsibility
remains and is evident in all the influence of crowd-thinking upon
democratic institutions. The crowd-ideal of society is one in which
every individual is protected not only against exploitation, but against
temptation--protected therefore against himself. The whole tendency of
democracy in our times is toward just such inanity. Without the least
critical analysis of accepted moral dilemmas, we are all to be made
moral in spite of ourselves, regardless of our worth, without effort on
our part, moral in the same way that machines are moral, by reducing the
will to mere automatic action, leaving no place for choice and
uncertainty, having everyone wound up and oiled and regulated to run at
the same speed. Each crowd therefore strives to make its own moral
ideas the law of the land. Law becomes thus a sort of anthology of
various existing crowd-hobbies. In the end moral responsibility is
passed over to legislatures, commissions, detectives, inspectors, and
bureaucrats. Anything that "gets by" the public censor, however rotten,
we may wallow in with a perfect feeling of respectability. The right and
necessity of choosing our way is superseded by a system of statutory
taboos, which as often as not represent the survival values of the
meanest little people in the community--the kind who cannot look upon a
nude picture without a struggle with their perverted eroticism, or
entertain a significant idea without losing their faith.

The effect of all this upon the intellectual progress and the freedom of
art in democratic society is obvious, and is just what, to one who
understands the mechanisms of the crowd-mind, might be expected. No
wonder de Tocqueville said he found less freedom of opinion in America
than elsewhere. Explain it as you will, the fact is here staring us in
the face. Genius in our democracy is not free. It must beg the
permission of little crowd-men for its right to exist. It must stand,
hat in hand, at the window of the commissioner of licenses and may gain
a permit for only so much of its inspiration as happens to be of
use-value to the uninspired. It must play the conformist, pretend to be
hydra-headed rather than unique, useful rather than genuine, a servant
of the "least of these" rather than their natural master. It must
advertise, but it may not prophesy. It may flatter and patronize the
stupid, but it may not stand up taller than they. In short, democracy
everywhere puts out the eyes of its Samson, cuts off his golden-rayed
locks, and makes him grind corn to fill the bellies of the Philistines.

From the beginning of the nineteenth century until now it has been
chiefly the business man, the political charlatan, the organizer of
trade, the rediscoverer of popular prejudices who have been preferred in
our free modern societies. Keats died of a broken heart; Shelley and
Wagner were exiled; Beethoven and Schubert were left to starve; Darwin
was condemned to hell fire; Huxley was denied his professorship;
Schopenhauer was ostracized by the elite; Nietzsche ate his heart out in
solitude; Walt Whitman had to be fed by a few English admirers, while
his poems were prohibited as obscene in free America; Emerson was for
the greater part of his life persona non grata at his own college;
Ingersoll was denied the political career which his genius merited; Poe
lived and died in poverty; Theodore Parker was consigned to perdition;
Percival Lowell and Simon Newcomb lived and died almost unrecognized by
the American public. Nearly every artist and writer and public teacher
is made to understand from the beginning that he will be popular in just
the degree that he strangles his genius and becomes a vulgar,
commonplace, insincere clown.

On the other hand steel manufacturers and railroad kings, whose business
record will often scarcely stand the light, are rewarded with fabulous
millions and everyone grovels before them. When one turns from the
"commercialism," which everywhere seems to be the dominant and most
sincere interest in democratic society, when one seeks for spiritual
values to counterbalance this weight of materialism, one finds in the
prevailing spirit little more than a cult of naive sentimentality.

It can hardly be denied that if Shakespeare, Boccaccio, Rabelais,
Montaigne, Cassanova, Goethe, Dostoievsky, Ibsen, Tolstoi, Rousseau, St.
Augustine, Milton, Nietzsche, Swinburne, Rossetti, or even Flaubert,
were alive and writing his masterpiece in America to-day, he would be
instantly silenced by some sort of society for the prevention of vice,
and held up to the public scorn and ridicule as a destroyer of our
innocence and a corrupter of public morals. The guardians of our
characters are ceaselessly expurgating the classics lest we come to harm
reading them. I often think that the only reason why the Bible is
permitted to pass through our mails is because hardly anyone ever reads

It is this same habit of crowd-thinking which accounts to a great extent
for the dearth of intellectual curiosity in this country. From what we
have seen to be the nature of the crowd-mind, it is to be expected that
in a democracy in which crowds play an important part the condition
described by de Tocqueville will generally prevail. There is much truth
in his statement that it seems at first as if the minds of all the
Americans "were formed upon the same model." Spiritual variation will be
encouraged only in respect to matters in which one crowd differs from
another. The conformist spirit will prevail in all. Intellectual
leadership will inevitably pass to the "tight-minded." There will be
violent conflicts of ideas, but they will be crowd ideas.

The opinions about which people differ are for the most part ready-made.
They are concerned with the choice of social mechanisms, but hardly with
valuations. With nearly all alike, there is a notion that mankind may be
redeemed by the magic of externally manipulating the social environment.
There is a wearisome monotony of professions of optimism, idealism,
humanitarianism, with little knowledge of what these terms mean.

I am thinking of all those young people who, in the decade and a half
which preceded the war, represented the finished product of our
colleges and universities. What a stretch of imagination is needed
before one may call these young people educated! How little of
intellectual interest they have brought back from school to their
respective communities! How little cerebral activity they have stirred
up! Habits of study, of independent thinking, have seldom been acquired.
The "educated" have possibly gained a little in social grace; they have
in some cases learned things which are of advantage to them in the
struggle for position. Out of the confused mass of unassimilated
information which they dimly remember as the education which they "got,"
a sum of knowledge doubtless remains which is greater in extent than
that possessed by the average man, but, though greater in extent, this
knowledge is seldom different in kind. There is the same superficiality,
the same susceptibility to crowd-thinking on every subject. The mental
habits of American democracy are probably best reflected to-day by the
"best-seller" novel, the Saturday Evening Post, the Chautauqua, the
Victrola, the moving picture.

Nearly everyone in America can read, for the "schoolhouse is the bulwark
of democratic freedom." However, with the decrease in illiteracy there
has gone a corresponding lowering of literary and intellectual
standards, a growing timidity in telling the truth, and a passion for
the sensationally commonplace. If it be true that before people may be
politically free they must be free to function mentally, one wonders how
much of an aid to liberty the public schools in this country have been,
or if, with their colossal impersonal systems and stereotyped methods of
instruction, they have not rather on the whole succeeded chiefly in
making learning uninteresting, dulling curiosity and killing habits of
independent thinking. There is probably no public institution where the
spirit of the crowd reigns to the extent that it does in the public
school. The aim seems to be to mold the child to type, make him the
good, plodding citizen, teaching him only so much as some one thinks it
is to the public's interest that he should know. I am sure that everyone
who is familiar with the actions of the school authorities in New York
City during the two years, 1918 and 1919, will be impelled to look
elsewhere for much of that liberty which is supposed to go with

Some years ago I conducted a little investigation into the mental habits
of the average high-school graduate. An examination was made of twenty
or more young people who had been out of school one year. This is
doubtless too limited a number to give the findings great general
significance, but I give the results in brief for what they are worth.
These students had been in school for eleven years. I thought that they
ought at least to have a minimum of general cultural information and to
be able to express some sort of opinion about the commonplaces of our
spiritual heritage. The questions asked were such as follow: What is the
difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution
of the United States? What is a dicotyledon? Does the name Darwin mean
anything to you? Have you ever heard of William James? What is the
significance of the battle of Tours? Who was Thomas Jefferson? There
were twenty questions in all. The average grade, even with the most
liberal marking, was 44.6. The general average was raised by one pupil
who made a grade of 69. But then we should not be too severe upon the
public-school graduate. One of the brightest college graduates I know
left a large Eastern institution believing that Karl Marx was a
philologist. Another, a graduate from a Western college, thought that
Venus de Milo was an Italian count who had been born without any arms. I
know a prominent physician, whose scientific training is such that he
has been a lecturer in a medical college, who believes that Heaven is
located just a few miles up in the sky, beyond the Milky Way. These are
doubtless exceptional cases, but how many persons with university
degrees are there who have really caught the spirit of the humanistic
culture, or have ever stopped to think why the humanities are taught in
our colleges? How many are capable of discriminating criticism of works
of music, or painting, literature, or philosophy? My own experience
convinces me, and I am sure that other public teachers who have had a
like experience will bear witness to the same lamentable fact, that such
little genuine intellectual interest as there is in this country is
chiefly confined to immigrant Jews, our American youth being, on the
whole, innocent of it. The significance of this fact is obvious, as is
its cause. Due to the conformist spirit of the dominant crowd,
native-born Americans are losing their intellectual leadership.

We must not ignore the fact that there is among the educated here a
small and, let us hope, growing group of youthful "intellectuals." But
in the first place the proportion of these to the whole mass is
tragically small. In the second place intellectual liberalism has been
content for the most part to tag along behind the labor movement, as if
the chief meaning of the intellectual awakening were economic. It is no
disparagement of labor to say that the intellect in this country of
crowds has also other work to do, and that, until it strikes out for
itself, neither the labor movement nor anything else will rise above
commonplace crowd dilemmas. Too much of our so-called intellectualism is
merely the substitution of ready-made proletarian crowd-ideas for the
traditional crowd-ideas which pass for thinking among the middle

All the facts which have been pointed out above are the inevitable
consequences of government by crowds. There can be no real liberty with
crowds because there can be no personal independence. The psychic
mechanisms of the crowd are hostile to conscious personality. The
independent thinker cannot be controlled by catchwords. In our day
intellectual freedom is not smothered in actual martyr fires, but it is
too often strangled in the cradle. The existence of new values, a thing
which will inevitably happen where the human spirit is left free in its
creative impulses, is disturbing to the crowd-mind. Education must
therefore be made "safe for democracy"; it must be guarded carefully
lest the youth become an original personal fact, a new spiritual
creation. I realize the element of truth in the statement often made,
that there is already too much spiritual originality in the youths of
this generation. I am not contending that certain phases of egoism
should not be checked by education. A solid intellectual basis must be
created which will make social living possible. The trouble is,
however, that this task is done too well. It is the merely useful man,
not the unusual man, whom the crowd loves. Skill is encouraged, for,
whether it be skill in serving or in demanding service, skill in itself
does not upset existing crowd-values. Reflection is "wicked" for it
leads to doubt, and doubt is non-gregarious behavior. Education ceases
to be the path of spiritual freedom; it becomes a device for harnessing
the spirit of youth in the treadmill of the survival-values of the
crowd. It is also the revenge of the old against the young, a way of
making them less troublesome. It teaches the rules for success in a
crowd-governed world while taking advantage of the natural credulity of
childhood to draw the curtain with such terrifying mummery about the
figure of wisdom that the average mind, never having the daring or
curiosity to lift it, will remain to its dying day a dullard and a
mental slave without suspecting the fact. Every "dangerous" thought is
denatured and expurgated. The student is skillfully insulated from any
mental shock that might galvanize him into original intellectual life.
The classic languages are taught for purposes of "discipline." After six
or seven years' study of Greek literature in the accepted manner one may
be able to repeat most of the rules of Goodwin's Greek Grammar, and
pride himself upon being a cultivated person, knowing in the end less
of the language than a bootblack from modern Athens knows of it, or than
a waiter from Bologna knows of English after one year's residence in
Greenwich Village. And the all-important thing is that never once has
the student been given a glimpse of the beautiful free pagan life which
all this literature is about.

Science is taught that the student, if he has ability, may learn how to
make a geological survey of oil lands, construct and operate a cement
factory, make poison gas, remove infected tonsils, or grow a culture of
bacteria; but should he cease to hold popular beliefs about the origin
of life or the immortality of the soul it is well for him to keep the
tragic fact to himself. Those who teach history, economics, and
political science in such a way as to stimulate independence of thinking
on the part of the stud

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