INTRODUCTION. THE ERA OF CROWDS.
The evolution of the present age--The great changes in
civilisation are the consequence of changes in National
thought--Modern belief in the power of crowds--It transforms the
traditional policy of the European states--How the rise of the
popular classes comes about, and the manner in which they
exercise their power--The necessary consequences of the power of
the crowd--Crowds unable to play a part other than
destructive--The dissolution of worn-out civilisations is the
work of the crowd--General ignorance of the psychology of crowds--
Importance of the study of crowds for legislators and statesmen.
The great upheavals which precede changes of civilisations 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 overthrow 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. The 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, and
beliefs. The memorable events 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
race 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 first 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
The ideas of the past, although half destroyed, being still very
powerful, and 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, with the
last surviving sovereign force of modern times, the power of
crowds. On the ruins of so many ideas formerly considered beyond
discussion, and to-day decayed or decaying, of so many sources of
authority that successive revolutions have destroyed, this power,
which alone has arisen in their stead, seems soon destined to
absorb the others. While all our ancient 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 continually on the
increase. The age we are about to enter will in truth be the ERA
Next: OF CROWDS.