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IMPULSIVENESS, MOBILITY, AND IRRITABILITY OF CROWDS.





When studying the fundamental characteristics of a crowd we
stated that it is guided almost exclusively by unconscious
motives. Its acts are far more under the influence of the spinal
cord than of the brain. In this respect a crowd is closely akin
to quite primitive beings. The acts performed may be perfect so
far as their execution is concerned, but as they are not directed
by the brain, the individual conducts himself according as the
exciting causes to which he is submitted may happen to decide. A
crowd is at the mercy of all external exciting causes, and
reflects their incessant variations. It is the slave of the
impulses which it receives. The isolated individual may be
submitted to the same exciting causes as the man in a crowd, but
as his brain shows him the inadvisability of yielding to them, he
refrains from yielding. This truth may be physiologically
expressed by saying that the isolated individual possesses the
capacity of dominating his reflex actions, while a crowd is
devoid of this capacity.

The varying impulses to which crowds obey may be, according to
their exciting causes, generous or cruel, heroic or cowardly, but
they will always be so imperious that the interest of the
individual, even the interest of self-preservation, will not
dominate them. The exciting causes that may act on crowds being
so varied, and crowds always obeying them, crowds are in
consequence extremely mobile. This explains how it is that we
see them pass in a moment from the most bloodthirsty ferocity to
the most extreme generosity and heroism. A crowd may easily
enact the part of an executioner, but not less easily that of a
martyr. It is crowds that have furnished the torrents of blood
requisite for the triumph of every belief. It is not necessary
to go back to the heroic ages to see what crowds are capable of
in this latter direction. They are never sparing of their life
in an insurrection, and not long since a general,[2] becoming
suddenly popular, might easily have found a hundred thousand men
ready to sacrifice their lives for his cause had he demanded it.







Any display of premeditation by crowds is in consequence out of
the question. They may be animated in succession by the most
contrary sentiments, but they will always be under the influence
of the exciting causes of the moment. They are like the leaves
which a tempest whirls up and scatters in every direction and
then allows to fall. When studying later on certain
revolutionary crowds we shall give some examples of the
variability of their sentiments.

This mobility of crowds renders them very difficult to govern,
especially when a measure of public authority has fallen into
their hands. Did not the necessities of everyday life constitute
a sort of invisible regulator of existence, it would scarcely be
possible for democracies to last. Still, though the wishes of
crowds are frenzied they are not durable. Crowds are as
incapable of willing as of thinking for any length of time.

A crowd is not merely impulsive and mobile. Like a savage, it is
not prepared to admit that anything can come between its desire
and the realisation of its desire. It is the less capable of
understanding such an intervention, in consequence of the feeling
of irresistible power given it by its numerical strength. The
notion of impossibility disappears for the individual in a crowd.
An isolated individual knows well enough that alone he cannot set
fire to a palace or loot a shop, and should he be tempted to do
so, he will easily resist the temptation. Making part of a
crowd, he is conscious of the power given him by number, and it
is sufficient to suggest to him ideas of murder or pillage for
him to yield immediately to temptation. An unexpected obstacle
will be destroyed with frenzied rage. Did the human organism
allow of the perpetuity of furious passion, it might be said that
the normal condition of a crowd baulked in its wishes is just
such a state of furious passion.

The fundamental characteristics of the race, which constitute the
unvarying source from which all our sentiments spring, always
exert an influence on the irritability of crowds, their
impulsiveness and their mobility, as on all the popular
sentiments we shall have to study. All crowds are doubtless
always irritable and impulsive, but with great variations of
degree. For instance, the difference between a Latin and an
Anglo-Saxon crowd is striking. The most recent facts in French
history throw a vivid light on this point. The mere publication,
twenty-five years ago, of a telegram, relating an insult supposed
to have been offered an ambassador, was sufficient to determine
an explosion of fury, whence followed immediately a terrible war.
Some years later the telegraphic announcement of an insignificant
reverse at Langson provoked a fresh explosion which brought about
the instantaneous overthrow of the government. At the same
moment a much more serious reverse undergone by the English
expedition to Khartoum produced only a slight emotion in England,
and no ministry was overturned. Crowds are everywhere
distinguished by feminine characteristics, but Latin crowds are
the most feminine of all. Whoever trusts in them may rapidly
attain a lofty destiny, but to do so is to be perpetually
skirting the brink of a Tarpeian rock, with the certainty of one
day being precipitated from it.





Next: THE SUGGESTIBILITY AND CREDULITY OF CROWDS.

Previous: 3. THE EXAGGERATION AND INGENUOUSNESS OF THE SENTIMENTS OF



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