PREPARATORY FACTORS OF THE BELIEF OF CROWDS
The origin of the beliefs of crowds is the consequence of a
preliminary process of elaboration--
Study of the different factors of these beliefs.
1. RACE. The predominating influence it exercises--It
represents the suggestions of ancestors. 2. TRADITIONS.
They are the synthesis of the soul of the race--Social importance
of traditions--How, after having been necessary they become
harmful--Crowds are the most obstinate maintainers of traditional
ideas. 3. TIME. It prepares in succession the establishment
of beliefs and then their destruction. It is by the aid of this
factor that order may proceed from chaos. 4. POLITICAL AND
SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS. Erroneous idea of their part--Their
influence extremely weak--They are effects, not causes--Nations
are incapable of choosing what appear to them the best
institutions--Institutions are labels which shelter the most
dissimilar things under the same title-- How institutions may
come to be created--Certain institutions theoretically bad, such
as centralisation obligatory for certain nations. 5.
INSTITUTIONS AND EDUCATION. Falsity of prevalent ideas as to the
influence of instruction on crowds-- Statistical
indications--Demoralising effect of Latin system of
education--Part instruction might play--Examples furnished by
Having studied the mental constitution of crowds and become
acquainted with their modes of feeling, thinking, and reasoning,
we shall now proceed to examine how their opinions and beliefs
arise and become established.
The factors which determine these opinions and beliefs are of two
kinds: remote factors and immediate factors.
The remote factors are those which render crowds capable of
adopting certain convictions and absolutely refractory to the
acceptance of others. These factors prepare the ground in which
are suddenly seen to germinate certain new ideas whose force and
consequences are a cause of astonishment, though they are only
spontaneous in appearance. The outburst and putting in practice
of certain ideas among crowds present at times a startling
suddenness. This is only a superficial effect, behind which must
be sought a preliminary and preparatory action of long duration.
The immediate factors are those which, coming on the top of this
long, preparatory working, in whose absence they would remain
without effect, serve as the source of active persuasion on
crowds; that is, they are the factors which cause the idea to
take shape and set it loose with all its consequences. The
resolutions by which collectivities are suddenly carried away
arise out of these immediate factors; it is due to them that a
riot breaks out or a strike is decided upon, and to them that
enormous majorities invest one man with power to overthrow a
The successive action of these two kinds of factors is to be
traced in all great historical events. The French Revolution--to
cite but one of the most striking of such events--had among its
remote factors the writings of the philosophers, the exactions of
the nobility, and the progress of scientific thought. The mind
of the masses, thus prepared, was then easily roused by such
immediate factors as the speeches of orators, and the resistance
of the court party to insignificant reforms.
Among the remote factors there are some of a general nature,
which are found to underlie all the beliefs and opinions of
crowds. They are race, traditions, time, institutions, and
We now proceed to study the influence of these different factors.
This factor, race, must be placed in the first rank, for in
itself it far surpasses in importance all the others. We have
sufficiently studied it in another work; it is therefore needless
to deal with it again. We showed, in a previous volume, what an
historical race is, and how, its character once formed, it
possesses, as the result of the laws of heredity such power that
its beliefs, institutions, and arts--in a word, all the elements
of its civilisation--are merely the outward expression of its
genius. We showed that the power of the race is such that no
element can pass from one people to another without undergoing
the most profound transformations.
history being quite unintelligible without it, I devoted four
chapters to its demonstration in my last book ("The Psychological
Laws of the Evolution of Peoples"). From it the reader will see
that, in spite of fallacious appearances, neither language,
religion, arts, or, in a word, any element of civilisation, can
pass, intact, from one people to another.
Environment, circumstances, and events represent the social
suggestions of the moment. They may have a considerable
influence, but this influence is always momentary if it be
contrary to the suggestions of the race; that is, to those which
are inherited by a nation from the entire series of its
We shall have occasion in several of the chapters of this work to
touch again upon racial influence, and to show that this
influence is so great that it dominates the characteristics
peculiar to the genius of crowds. It follows from this fact that
the crowds of different countries offer very considerable
differences of beliefs and conduct and are not to be influenced
in the same manner.
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