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REASON





In enumerating the factors capable of making an impression on the
minds of crowds all mention of reason might be dispensed with,
were it not necessary to point out the negative value of its
influence.

We have already shown that crowds are not to be influenced by
reasoning, and can only comprehend rough-and-ready associations
of ideas. The orators who know how to make an impression upon
them always appeal in consequence to their sentiments and never
to their reason. The laws of logic have no action on crowds.[16]
To bring home conviction to crowds it is necessary first of all
to thoroughly comprehend the sentiments by which they are
animated, to pretend to share these sentiments, then to endeavour
to modify them by calling up, by means of rudimentary
associations, certain eminently suggestive notions, to be
capable, if need be, of going back to the point of view from
which a start was made, and, above all, to divine from instant to
instant the sentiments to which one's discourse is giving birth.
This necessity of ceaselessly varying one's language in
accordance with the effect produced at the moment of speaking
deprives from the outset a prepared and studied harangue of all
efficaciousness. In such a speech the orator follows his own
line of thought, not that of his hearers, and from this fact
alone his influence is annihilated.



crowds and touching the slight assistance to be derived in this
connection from the rules of logic date back to the seige of
Paris, to the day when I saw conducted to the Louvre, where the
Government was then sitting, Marshal V----, whom a furious crowd
asserted they had surprised in the act of taking the plans of the
fortifications to sell them to the Prussians. A member of the
Government (G. P----), a very celebrated orator, came out to
harangue the crowd, which was demanding the immediate execution
of the prisoner. I had expected that the speaker would point out
the absurdity of the accusation by remarking that the accused
Marshal was positively one of those who had constructed the
fortifications, the plan of which, moreover, was on sale at every
booksellers. To my immense stupefaction--I was very young
then--the speech was on quite different lines. "Justice shall be
done," exclaimed the orator, advancing towards the prisoner, "and
pitiless justice. Let the Government of the National Defence
conclude your inquiry. In the meantime we will keep the prisoner
in custody." At once calmed by this apparent concession, the
crowd broke up, and a quarter of an hour later the Marshal was
able to return home. He would infallibly have been torn in
pieces had the speaker treated the infuriated crowd to the
logical arguments that my extreme youth induced me to consider as
very convincing.



Logical minds, accustomed to be convinced by a chain of somewhat
close reasoning, cannot avoid having recourse to this mode of
persuasion when addressing crowds, and the inability of their
arguments always surprises them. "The usual mathematical
consequences based on the syllogism--that is, on associations of
identities--are imperative . . ." writes a logician. "This
imperativeness would enforce the assent even of an inorganic mass
were it capable of following associations of identities." This
is doubtless true, but a crowd is no more capable than an
inorganic mass of following such associations, nor even of
understanding them. If the attempt be made to convince by
reasoning primitive minds--savages or children, for instance--the
slight value possessed by this method of arguing will be
understood.

It is not even necessary to descend so low as primitive beings to
obtain an insight into the utter powerlessness of reasoning when
it has to fight against sentiment. Let us merely call to mind
how tenacious, for centuries long, have been religious
superstitions in contradiction with the simplest logic. For
nearly two thousand years the most luminous geniuses have bowed
before their laws, and modern times have to be reached for their
veracity to be merely contested. The Middle Ages and the
Renaissance possessed many enlightened men, but not a single man
who attained by reasoning to an appreciation of the childish side
of his superstitions, or who promulgated even a slight doubt as
to the misdeeds of the devil or the necessity of burning
sorcerers.

Should it be regretted that crowds are never guided by reason?
We would not venture to affirm it. Without a doubt human reason
would not have availed to spur humanity along the path of
civilisation with the ardour and hardihood its illusions have
done. These illusions, the offspring of those unconscious forces
by which we are led, were doubtless necessary. Every race
carries in its mental constitution the laws of its destiny, and
it is, perhaps, these laws that it obeys with a resistless
impulse, even in the case of those of its impulses which
apparently are the most unreasoned. It seems at times as if
nations were submitted to secret forces analogous to those which
compel the acorn to transform itself into an oak or a comet to
follow its orbit.

What little insight we can get into these forces must be sought
for in the general course of the evolution of a people, and not
in the isolated facts from which this evolution appears at times
to proceed. Were these facts alone to be taken into
consideration, history would seem to be the result of a series of
improbable chances. It was improbable that a Galilean carpenter
should become for two thousand years an all-powerful God in whose
name the most important civilisations were founded; improbable,
too, that a few bands of Arabs, emerging from their deserts,
should conquer the greater part of the old Graco-Roman world, and
establish an empire greater than that of Alexander; improbable,
again, that in Europe, at an advanced period of its development,
and when authority throughout it had been systematically
hierarchised, an obscure lieutenant of artillery should have
succeeded in reigning over a multitude of peoples and kings.

Let us leave reason, then, to philosophers, and not insist too
strongly on its intervention in the governing of men. It is not
by reason, but most often in spite of it, that are created those
sentiments that are the mainsprings of all
civilisation--sentiments such as honour, self- sacrifice,
religious faith, patriotism, and the love of glory.





Next: 1. THE LEADERS OF CROWDS.

Previous: EXPERIENCE



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