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The Absolutism Of The Crowd-mind

Wherever conscious thinking is determined by unconscious mechanisms, and
all thinking is more or less so, it is dogmatic in character. Beliefs
which serve an unconscious purpose do not require the support of
evidence. They persist because they are demanded. This is a common
symptom of various forms of psychoneurosis. Ideas "haunt the mind" of
the patient; he cannot rid himself of them. He may know they are
foolish, but he is compelled to think them. In severe cases, he may hear
voices or experience other hallucinations which are symbolic of the
obsessive ideas. Or his psychic life may be so absorbed by his one fixed
idea that it degenerates into the ceaseless repetition of a gesture or a
phrase expressive of this idea.

In paranoia the fixed ideas are organized into a system. Brill says:

I know a number of paranoiacs who went through a stormy period
lasting for years, but who now live contentedly as if in another
world. Such transformations of the world are common in paranoia.
They do not care for anything, as nothing is real to them. They
have withdrawn their sum of libido from the persons of their
environment and the outer world. The end of the world is the
projection of this internal catastrophe. Their subjective world
came to an end since they withdrew their love from it. By a
secondary rationalization, the patients then explain whatever
obtrudes itself upon them as something intangible and fit it in
with their own system. Thus one of my patients who considers
himself a sort of Messiah denies the reality of his own parents
by saying that they are only shadows made by his enemy, the
devil, whom he has not yet wholly subdued. Another paranoiac in
the Central Islip State Hospital, who represented himself as a
second Christ, spends most of his time sewing out on cloth crude
scenes containing many buildings, interspersed with pictures of
the doctors. He explained all this very minutely as the new
world system.... Thus the paranoiac builds up again with his
delusions a new world in which he can live.... (Italics mine.)

However, a withdrawal of libido is not an exclusive occurrence
in paranoia, nor is its occurrence anywhere necessarily followed
by disastrous consequences. Indeed, in normal life there is a
constant withdrawal of libido from persons and objects without
resulting in paranoia or other neuroses. It merely causes a
special psychic mood. The withdrawal of the libido as such
cannot therefore be considered as pathogenic of paranoia. It
requires a special character to distinguish the paranoiac
withdrawal of libido from other kinds of the same process. This
is readily found when we follow the further utilization of the
libido thus withdrawn. Normally, we immediately seek a
substitute for the suspended attachment, and until one is found
the libido floats freely in the psyche and causes tensions which
influence our moods. In hysteria the freed sum of libido
becomes transformed into bodily innervations of fear. Clinical
indications teach us that in paranoia a special use is made of
the libido which is withdrawn from its object ... the freed
libido in paranoia is thrown back on the ego and serves to
magnify it.

Note the fact that there is a necessary relation between the fixed ideal
system of the paranoiac and his withdrawal of interest in the outside
world. The system gains the function of reality for him in the same
measure that, loving not the world nor the things that are in the world,
he has rendered our common human world unreal. His love thrown back upon
himself causes him to create another world, a world of "pure reason," so
to speak, which is more congenial to him than the world of empirical
fact. In this system he takes refuge and finds peace at last. Now we see
the function, at least so far as paranoia is concerned, of the ideal
system. As Brill says, it is a curative process of a mind which has
suffered "regression" or turning back of its interest from the affairs
of ordinary men and women, to the attachments of an earlier stage in its
history. To use a philosophical term, the paranoiac is the Simon-pure
"solipsist." And as a priori thinking tends, as Schiller has shown,
ever to solipsism, we see here the grain of truth in G. K. Chesterton's
witty comparison of rationalism and lunacy.

"Regression," or withdrawal of the libido, is present to some degree I
believe in all forms of the neurosis. But we are informed that a
withdrawal of the libido may, and frequently does, occur also in normal
people. Knowledge of the neurosis here, as elsewhere, serves to throw
light on certain thought processes of people who are considered normal.
Brill says that "normally we seek a substitute for the suspended
attachment." New interests and new affections in time take the places of
the objects from which the feelings have been torn. In analytical
psychology the process by which this is achieved is called a

Now the crowd is in a sense a "transference phenomenon." In the
temporary crowd or mob this transference is too transitory to be very
evident, though even here I believe there will generally be found a
certain esprit de corps. In permanent crowds there is often a marked
transference to the other members of the group. This is evident in the
joy of the new convert or the newly initiated, also in such terms of
affection as "comrade" and "brother." I doubt, however, if this
affection, so far as it is genuine among individuals of a certain crowd,
is very different from the good will and affection which may spring up
anywhere among individuals who are more or less closely associated, or
that it ever really extends beyond the small circle of personal friends
that everyone normally gains through his daily relations with others.

But to the crowd-mind this transference is supposed to extend to all the
members of the group; they are comrades and brothers not because we like
them and know them intimately, but because they are fellow members. In
other words, this transference, so far as it is a crowd phenomenon as
such, is not to other individuals, but to the idea of the crowd itself.
It is not enough for the good citizen to love his neighbors in so far as
he finds them lovable; he must love his country. To the churchman the
Church herself is an object of faith and adoration. One does not become
a humanitarian by being a good fellow; he must love "humanity"--which is
to say, the bare abstract idea of everybody. I remember once asking a
missionary who was on his way to China what it was that impelled him to
go so far in order to minister to suffering humanity. He answered, "It
is love." I asked again, "Do you really mean to say that you care so
much as that for Chinese, not one of whom you have ever seen?" He
answered, "Well, I--you see, I love them through Jesus Christ." So in a
sense it is with the crowd-man always; he loves through the crowd.

The crowd idealized as something sacred, as end in itself, as something
which it is an honor to belong to, is to some extent a disguised object
of our self-love. But the idea of the crowd disguises more than
self-love. Like most of the symbols through which the unconscious
functions, it can serve more than one purpose at a time. The idea of the
crowd also serves to disguise the parental image, and our own imaginary
identification or reunion with it. The nation is to the crowd-man the
"Fatherland," the "mother country," "Uncle Sam"--a figure which serves
to do more than personalize for cartoonists the initials U. S. Uncle Sam
is also the father-image thinly disguised. The Church is "the Mother,"
again the "Bride." Such religious symbols as "the Heavenly Father" and
the "Holy Mother" also have the value of standing for the parent image.
For a detailed discussion of these symbols, the reader is referred to
Jung's Psychology of the Unconscious.

In another connection I have referred to the fact that the crowd stands
to the member in loco parentis. Here I wish to point out the fact that
such a return to the parent image is commonly found in the
psychoneurosis and is what is meant by "regression." I have also dwelt
at some length on the fact that it is by securing a modification in the
immediate social environment, ideally or actually, that the crowd
permits the escape of the repressed wish. Such a modification in the
social at once sets the members of the crowd off as a "peculiar people."
Interest tends to withdraw from the social as a whole and center in the
group who have become a crowd. The Church is "in the world but not of
it." The nation is an end in itself, so is every crowd. Transference to
the idea of the crowd differs then from the normal substitutes which we
find for the object from which affection is withdrawn. It is itself a
kind of regression. In the psychoneurosis--in paranoia most clearly--the
patient's attempt to rationalize this shifting of interest gives rise to
the closed systems and ideal reconstructions of the world mentioned in
the passage quoted from Brill.

Does the crowd's thinking commonly show a like tendency to construct an
imaginary world of thought-forms and then take refuge in its ideal
system? As we saw at the beginning of our discussion, it does. The
focusing of general attention upon the abstract and universal is a
necessary step in the development of the crowd-mind.

The crowd does not think in order to solve problems. To the crowd-mind,
as such, there are no problems. It has closed its case beforehand. This
accounts for what Le Bon termed the "credulity" of the crowd. But the
crowd believes only what it wants to believe and nothing else. Anyone
who has been in the position of a public teacher knows how almost
universal is the habit of thinking in the manner of the crowd and how
difficult it is to get people to think for themselves. One frequently
hears it said that the people do not think, that they do not want to
know the truth.

Ibsen makes his Doctor Stockman say:

What sort of truths are they that the majority usually supports?
They are truths that are of such advanced age that they are
beginning to break up.... These "majority truths" are like last
year's cured meat--like rancid tainted ham; and they are the
origin of the moral scurvy that is rampant in our
communities.... The most dangerous enemy of truth and freedom
among us is the compact majority, yes, the damned compact
liberal majority ... the majority has might on its side
unfortunately, but right it has never.

It is not really because so many are ignorant, but because so few are
able to resist the appeal which the peculiar logic of crowd-thinking
makes to the unconscious, that the cheap, the tawdry, the half-true
almost exclusively gain popular acceptance. The average man is a
dogmatist. He thinks what he thinks others think he is thinking. He is
so used to propaganda that he can hardly think of any matter in other
terms. It is almost impossible to keep the consideration of any subject
of general interest above the dilemmas of partisan crowds. People will
wherever possible change the discussion of a mooted question into an
antiphonal chorus of howling mobs, each chanting its ritual as ultimate
truth, and hurling its shibboleths in the faces of the others. Pursuit
of truth with most people consists in repeating their creed. Nearly
every movement is immediately made into a cult. Theology supplants
religion in the churches. In popular ethics a dead formalism puts an end
to moral advance. Straight thinking on political subjects is
subordinated to partisan ends. Catch-phrases and magic formulas become
substituted for scientific information. Even the Socialists, who feel
that they are the intellectually elect--and I cite them here as an
example in no unfair spirit, but just because so many of them are really
well-informed and "advanced" in their thinking--have been unable to save
themselves from a doctrinaire economic orthodoxy of spirit which is
often more dogmatic and intolerant than that of the "religious folks" to
whose alleged "narrow-mindedness" every Socialist, even while repeating
his daily chapter from the Marxian Koran, feels himself superior.

The crowd-mind is everywhere idealistic, and absolutist. Its truths are
"given," made-in-advance. Though unconsciously its systems of logic are
created to enhance the self-feeling, they appear to consciousness as
highly impersonal and abstract. As in the intellectualist philosophies,
forms of thought are regarded as themselves objects of thought. Systems
of general ideas are imposed upon the minds of men apparently from
without. Universal acceptance is demanded. Thought becomes stereotyped.
What ought to be is confused with what is, the ideal becomes more real
than fact.

In the essays on "Pragmatism" William James showed that the rationalist
system, even that of the great philosopher, is in large measure
determined by the thinker's peculiar "temperament." Elsewhere he speaks
of the "Sentiment of Rationality." For a discussion of the various types
of philosophical rationalism, the reader is referred to the criticisms
by William James, F. C. S. Schiller, Dewey, and other Pragmatists. It is
sufficient for our purpose to note the fact that the rationalist type of
mind everywhere shows a tendency to assert the unreality of the world of
everyday experience, and to seek comfort and security in the
contemplation of a logically ordered system or world of "pure reason."
Ideals, not concrete things, are the true realities. The world with
which we are always wrestling is but a distorted manifestation, a
jumbled, stereotyped copy of what James ironically referred to as "the
de luxe edition which exists in the Absolute." The parable of the cave
which Plato gives in the Republic represents ordinary knowledge as a
delusion, and the empirically known world as but dancing shadows on the
wall of our subterranean prison.

R. W. Livingstone, who sees in Platonism, from the very beginning, a
certain world-weariness and turning away of the Greek spirit from the
healthy realism which had formerly characterized it, says:

For if Greece showed men how to trust their own nature and lead
a simply human life, how to look straight in the face of the
world and read the beauty that met them on the surface, certain
Greek writers preached a different lesson from this. In
opposition to directness they taught us to look past the
"unimaginary and actual" qualities of things to secondary
meanings and inner symbolism. In opposition to liberty and
humanism they taught us to mistrust our nature, to see in it
weakness, helplessness, and incurable taint, to pass beyond
humanity to communion with God, to live less for this world than
for one to come.... Perhaps to some people it may seem
surprising that this writer is Plato.

According to this view reality may be found only by means of "pure
knowledge," and, to give a familiar quotation from the Phaedo:

If we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of
the body; the soul in herself must behold things in themselves;
and then we shall attain the wisdom which we desire and of which
we say that we are lovers; not while we live, but after death;
for if, while in company with the body, the soul cannot have
pure knowledge, one of two things follows--either knowledge is
not to be obtained at all, or if at all after death.

Intellectualism may not always be so clearly other-worldly as Plato
shows himself to be in this passage. But it commonly argues that behind
the visible world of "illusory sense experience" lies the true ground
and cause--an unseen order in which the contradictions of experience are
either unknown or harmonized, an external and unchangeable "Substance,"
a self-contained Absolute to which our ephemeral personalities with
their imperfections and problems are unknown. A "thing in itself," or
principle of Being which transcends our experience.

This type of thinking, whether it be known as Idealism, Rationalism,
Intellectualism, or Absolutism, finds little sympathy from those who
approach the study of philosophy from the standpoint of psychology. The
following passages taken from Studies in Humanism by Schiller, show
that even without the technique of the analytical method, it was not
hard to detect some of the motives which prompted the construction of
systems of this sort. The partisanism of one of these motives is rather
suggestive for our study of the mind of the crowd. Says our author:

Logical defects rarely kill beliefs to which men, for
psychological reasons, remain attached.... This may suggest to
us that we may have perhaps unwittingly misunderstood
Absolutism, and done it a grave injustice.... What if its real
appeal was not logical but psychological?...

The history of English Absolutism distinctly bears out these
anticipations. It was originally a deliberate importation from
Germany, with a purpose. And this purpose was a religious
one--that of counteracting the antireligious developments of
Science. The indigenous philosophy, the old British empiricism,
was useless for this purpose. For though a form of
intellectualism, its sensationalism was in no wise hostile to
Science. On the contrary, it showed every desire to ally itself
with, and to promote, the great scientific movement of the
nineteenth century, which penetrated into and almost overwhelmed
Oxford between 1859 and 1870.

But this movement excited natural and not unwarranted alarm in
that great center of theology. For Science, flushed with its
hard-won liberty, ignorant of philosophy, and as yet unconscious
of its proper limitations, was decidedly aggressive and
overconfident. It seemed naturalistic, nay, materialistic, by
the law of its being. The logic of Mill, the philosophy of
Evolution, the faith in democracy, in freedom, in progress (on
material lines), threatened to carry all before them.

What was to be done? Nothing directly; for on its own ground
Science seemed invulnerable, and had the knack of crushing the
subtlest dialectics by the knockdown force of sheer scientific
fact. But might it not be possible to change the venue, to
shift the battleground to a region ubi instabilis terra unda
(where the land afforded no firm footing), where the frozen sea
could not be navigated, where the very air was thick with mists
so that phantoms might well pass for realities--the realm, in
short, of metaphysics?...

So it was rarely necessary to do more than recite the august
table of a priori categories in order to make the most
audacious scientist feel that he had got out of his depth; while
at the merest mention of the Hegelian dialectic all the
"advanced thinkers" of the time would flee affrighted.

Schiller's sense of humor doubtless leads him to exaggerate somewhat the
deliberateness of this importation of German metaphysics. That these
borrowed transcendental and dialectical systems served their purpose in
the warfare of traditional theologies against Science is but half the
truth. The other half is that these logical formulas provided certain
intelligent believers with a defense, or safe refuge, in their own inner

That this is the case, Schiller evidently has little doubt. After
discussing Absolutism itself as a sort of religion, and showing that its
"catch-words" taken at their face value are not only emotionally barren,
but also logically meaningless because "inapplicable to our actual
experience," he then proceeds to an examination of the unconscious
motives which determine this sort of thinking. His description of these
motives, so far as it goes, is an excellent little bit of analytical
psychology. He says:

How then can Absolutism possibly be a religion? It must appeal
to psychological motives of a different sort, rare enough to
account for its total divergence from the ordinary religious
feelings and compelling enough to account for the fanaticism
with which it is held and the persistence with which the same
old round of negations has been reiterated through the ages. Of
such psychological motives we shall indicate the more important
and reputable.

(1) It is decidedly flattering to one's spiritual pride to feel
oneself a "part" or "manifestation" or "vehicle" or
"reproduction" of the Absolute Mind, and to some this feeling
affords so much strength and comfort and such exquisite delight
that they refrain from inquiring what these phrases mean.... It
is, moreover, the strength of this feeling which explains the
blindness of Absolutists toward the logical defects of their own

(2) There is a strange delight in wide generalization merely as
such, which, when pursued without reference to the ends which it
subserves, and without regard to its actual functioning, often
results in a sort of logical vertigo. This probably has much to
do with the peculiar "craving for unity" which is held to be the
distinctive affliction of philosophers. At any rate, the thought
of an all-embracing One or Whole seems to be regarded as
valuable and elevating quite apart from any definite function it
performs in knowing, or light it throws on any actual problem.

(3) The thought of an Absolute Unity is cherished as a guarantee
of cosmic stability. In face of the restless vicissitudes of
phenomena it seems to secure us against falling out of the
Universe. It assures us a priori--and that is its supreme
value--that the cosmic order cannot fall to pieces and leave us
dazed and confounded among the debris.... We want to have an
absolute assurance a priori concerning the future, and the
thought of the absolute seems designed to give it. It is
probably this last notion that, consciously or unconsciously,
weighs most in the psychology of the Absolutists' creed.

In this connection the reader will recall the passage quoted from
Adler's The Neurotic Constitution, in which it was shown that the
fictitious "guiding-lines" or rational systems of both the neurotic and
normal are motivated by this craving for security. But it makes all the
difference in the world whether the system of ideas is used, as in
science and common sense, to solve real problems in an objective world,
or is created to be an artificial and imaginary defense of the ego
against a subjective feeling of insecurity; whether, in a word, the
craving for security moves one to do something calculated to render the
forces with which he must deal concretely more congenial and hospitable
to his will, or makes him content to withdraw and file a demur to the
challenge of the environment in the form of theoretical denial of the
reality of the situation.

There is no denying the fact that Absolute Idealism, if not taken too
seriously, may have the function for some people of steadying their
nerves in the battle of life. And though, as I believe, logically
untenable, it not infrequently serves as a rationalization of
faith-values which work out beneficially, and, quite apart from their
metaphysical trappings, may be even indispensable. Yet when carried to
its logical conclusions such thinking inevitably distorts the meaning of
personal living, robs our world and our acts of their feeling of
reality, serves as an instrument for "regression" or withdrawal of
interest from the real tasks and objects of living men and women, and in
fact functions for much the same purpose, if not precisely in the same
way, as do the ideal systems of the psychopath.

In justice to idealism it should be added that this is by no means the
only species of Rationalism which may lead to such psychic results.
There are various paths by which the craving for artificial security may
lead to such attempts to reduce the whole of possible experience to
logical unity that the realities of time and change and of individual
experience are denied. How many deterministic theories, with all their
scientific jargon, are really motivated by an inability to accept a
world with an element of chance in it. There is a sense in which all
science by subsuming like individuals in a common class, and thus
ignoring their individuality, in so far as they are alike in certain
respects, gains added power over all of them. There is a sense, too, in
which science, by discovering that whenever a given combination of
elements occurs, a definitely foreseen result will follow, is justified
in ignoring time and treating certain futures as if they were already
tucked up the sleeves of the present. It should be remembered that this
sort of determinism is purely methodological, and is, like all thinking,
done for a purpose--that of effecting desirable ends in a world made up
of concrete situations.

When this purpose becomes supplanted by a passion to discount all future
change in general--when one imagines that he has a formula which enables
him to write the equation of the curve of the universe, science has
degenerated into scientificism, or head-in-the-sand philosophy. The
magic formula has precisely the same psychic value as the "absolute." I
know a number of economic determinists, for instance, who just cannot
get out of their heads the notion that social evolution is a process
absolutely underwritten, guaranteed, and predictable, without the least
possible doubt. In such a philosophy of history as this the individual
is of course a mere "product of his environment," and his role as a
creator of value is nil. On this "materialistic" theory, the individual
is as truly a mere manifestation of impersonal evolutionary forces as he
is, according to orthodox Platonism, a mere manifestation of the
abstract idea of his species. Notwithstanding the professed
impersonalism of this view, its value for consolation in minimizing the
causes of the spiritual difference in men--that is, its function for
enhancing the self-feeling of some people, is obvious. That such an idea
should become a crowd-idea is not to be wondered at. And this leads me
to my point. It is no mere accident that the crowd takes to
rationalistic philosophies like a duck to water.

The crowd-man, however unsophisticated he may be, is a Platonist at
heart. He may never have heard the word epistemology, but his theory of
knowledge is essentially the same as Plato's. Religious crowds are, to
one familiar with the Dialogues, astonishingly Platonic. There is the
same habit of giving ontological rather than functional value to general
ideas, the same other-worldliness, the same moral dilemmas, the same
contempt for the material, for the human body, for selfhood; the same
assertion of finality, and the conformist spirit.

Reformist crowds differ only superficially from religious crowds.
Patriotic crowds make use of a different terminology, but their mental
habits are the same. It has become a cult among crowds with tendencies
toward social revolution to paint their faces with the colors of a
borrowed nineteenth-century materialism. But all this is mere swagger
and "frightfulness," an attempt to make themselves look terrible and
frighten the bourgeois. I am sure that no one who has seen all this
radical rigmarole, as I have had occasion to see it, can be deceived by
it. These dreadful materialist doctrines of the radical crowd are wooden
guns, no thicker than the soap-box. As a matter of fact, the radical
crowds are extremely idealistic. With all their talk of proletarian
opposition to intellectualism, Socialists never become a crowd without
becoming as intellectualist as Fichte or Hegel. There is a sense in
which Marx himself never succeeded in escaping Hegel's dilemmas, he only
followed the fashion in those days of turning them upside down.

With radical crowds as with conservative, there is the same substitution
of a closed system of ideas for the shifting phenomena of our empirical
world; the same worship of abstract forms of thought, the same
uncompromising spirit and insistence upon general uniformity of
opinions; the same orthodoxy. All orthodoxy is nothing other than the
will of the crowd to keep itself together. With all kinds of crowds,
also, there is the same diverting of attention from the personal and the
concrete to the impersonal and the general; the same flight from reality
to the transcendental for escape, for consolation, for defense, for
vindication; the same fiction that existence is at bottom a sort of
logical proposition, a magic formula or principle of Being to be
correctly copied and learned by rote; the same attempt to create the
world or find reality by thinking rather than by acting.

The intellectualist bias of the average man is doubtless due in great
part to the fact that theology, and therefore the religious education of
the young, both Christian and Jewish, has throughout the history of
these religions been saturated with Platonism. But then, the universal
sway of this philosopher may be explained by the fact that there is
something in his abstractionism which is congenial to the creed-making
propensities of the crowd-mind. The great a priori thinkers, Plato,
St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Green,
etc., have often been called solitary men, but it is significant that
their doctrines survive in popularized form in the creeds and
shibboleths of permanent crowds of all descriptions. While humanists,
nominalists, empiricists, realists, pragmatists, men like Protagoras,
Epicurus, Abelard, Bacon, Locke, Hume, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bergson,
James, have always had a hard time of it. They are considered
destructive, for the reason that the tendency of their teaching is to
disintegrate the crowd-mind and call one back to himself. Their names
are seldom mentioned in popular assemblies except to discredit them.
Yet it is on the whole these latter thinkers who orient us in our real
world, make us courageously face the facts with which we have to deal,
stimulate our wills, force us to use our ideas for what they
are--instruments for better living,--inspire us to finer and more
correct valuations of things, and point out the way to freedom for those
who dare walk in it.

All this, however, is the very thing that the crowd-mind is running
headlong away from. As a crowd we do not wish to think empirically. Why
should we seek piecemeal goods by tedious and dangerous effort, when we
have only to do a little trick of attention, and behold The Good,
abstract, perfect, universal, waiting just around the corner in the
realm of pure reason, ready to swallow up and demolish all evil? Are we
not even now in possession of Love, Justice, Beauty, and Truth by the
sheer magic of thinking of them in the abstract, calling them
"principles" and writing the words with the initial letters in capitals?
The very mental processes by which a group of people becomes a crowd
change such abstract nouns from mere class names into copies of
supermundane realities.

In wholesome thinking principles are of course necessary. They are what
I might call "leading ideas." Their function is to lead to more
satisfactory thinking--that is, to other ideas which are desired. Or
they are useful in leading us to actions the results of which are
intended and wished for. They may also be principles of valuation
guiding us in the choice of ends. If there were no substantial agreement
among us concerning certain principles we could not relate our conduct
to one another at all; social life would be impossible. But necessary as
such leading ideas are, they are means rather than ends. Circumstances
may demand that we alter them or make exceptions to their application.

To the crowd-mind a principle appears as an end in itself. It must be
vindicated at all costs. To offend against it in one point is to be
guilty of breaking the whole law. Crowds are always uncompromising about
their principles. They must apply to all alike. Crowds are no respecters
of persons.

As crowd-men we never appear without some set of principles or some
cause over our heads. Crowds crawl under their principles like worms
under stones. They cover up the wrigglings of the unconscious, and
protect it from attack. Every crowd uses its principles as universal
demands. In this way it gets unction upon other crowds, puts them in the
wrong, makes them give assent to the crowd's real purpose by challenging
them to deny the righteousness of the professed justifications of that
purpose. It is said that the Sioux Indians, some years ago, used to put
their women and children in front of their firing line. The braves could
then crouch behind these innocent ones and shoot at white men, knowing
that it would be a violation of the principles of humanity for the white
soldiers to shoot back and risk killing women and children. Crowds
frequently make just such use of their principles. About each crowd,
like the circle of fire which the gods placed about the sleeping
Brunhilde, there is a flaming hedge of logical abstractions, sanctions,
taboos, which none but the intellectually courageous few dare cross. In
this way the slumbering critical faculties of the crowd-mind are
protected against the intrusion of realities from outside the cult. The
intellectual curiosity of the members of the group is kept within proper
bounds. Hostile persons or groups dare not resist us, for in so doing
they make themselves enemies of Truth, of Morality, of Liberty, etc.
Both political parties, by a common impulse, "drape themselves in the
Flag." It is an interesting fact that the most antagonistic crowds
profess much the same set of principles. The "secondary rationalization"
of crowds, both Northern and Southern, at the time of the Civil War,
made use of our traditional principles of American Liberty, and
Christian Morality. We have seen both pacifist and militarist crowds
setting forth their manifestoes in terms of New Testament teaching. Each
religious sect exists only to teach "the one system of doctrine
logically deduced from Scripture."

As an illustration of this sort of reasoning, I give here a few passages
from a propagandist publication in which the crowd-will to dominate
takes the typical American method of striving to force its cult ideas
upon the community as a whole by means of restrictive moralist
legislation--in this case attempt is made to prohibit the exhibition of
motion pictures on Sunday. That the demand for such legislation is for
the most part a pure class-crowd phenomenon, designed to enhance the
self-feeling and economic interests of the "reformers," by keeping the
poor from having a good time, is I think, rather obvious. The reasoning
here is interesting, as the real motive is so thinly disguised by
pietistic platitudes that the two follow each other in alternate

(1) Sunday Movies are not needed. The people have six days and
six nights each week on which to attend the movies. Is not that
plenty of time for all?

(2) Sunday Movie Theaters commercialize the Christian Sabbath.
While "the Sabbath was made for man," yet it is God's day. We
have no right to sell it for business purposes. It is a day for
rest and worship, not a day for greed and gain. Sunday would,
of course, be the best day in the week financially for the
movies. It would also be the best day in the week for the open
saloons and horse-racing, but that is no reason why these should
be allowed on Sunday. The Sabbath must not be commercialized.

(3) Sunday Movie Theaters destroy the rest and quiet of many
people, especially those who live in the residential district
of cities and in the neighborhood where such motion-picture
theaters are located. Great crowds pour along the streets near
such theaters, often breaking the Sunday quiet of that part of
the city by loud and boisterous talk.

Thousands of people every year are moving away from the downtown
noisy districts of the cities out into the quiet residential
districts in order to have quiet Sundays. But when a
motion-picture theater comes and locates next to their homes, or
in their block, as has been done in many cases, and great noisy,
boisterous crowds surge back and forth before their homes all
Sunday afternoon and evening, going to the movies, they are
being robbed of that for which they paid their money when they
bought a home in that quiet part of the city....

(4) ... Anything that injures the Christian Sabbath injures the
Christian churches, and certainly Sunday motion-picture
theaters, wherever allowed, do injure the Christian Sabbath....

Dr. Wilbur F. Crafts of Washington, D. C., probably the greatest
authority on the Sabbath question in this country, says, "The
Sabbath-keeping nations are the strongest physically, mentally,
morally, financially, and politically." Joseph Cook said, "It
is no accident that the nations that keep the Sabbath most
carefully are those where there is the most political freedom."
Sabbath-breaking nations gradually lose their political

(5) Sunday Movie Theaters injure the Christian Sabbath and thus
injure the morals of the people. Anything that injures the
morals of the people, injures the nation itself. From a
patriotic standpoint, we ought to stand for strict observance
of the Christian Sabbath, as past experience has shown and the
testimony of many witnesses proves that a disregard of the
Christian Sabbath produces crime and immorality and tends to
destroy the free institutions which have helped to make our
nation great....

Fundamentally, all such vicious laws are unconstitutional.

Sunday Movie Theaters disregard the rights of labor.... Canon
William Sheafe Chase has aptly said, "No man has the Christ
spirit who wants a better time on Sunday than he is willing to
give everyone else."...

Col. Fairbanks, the famous scale manufacturer, said: "I can tell
by watching the men at work Monday which spent Sunday in sport
and which at home, church, or Sabbath-school. The latter do
more and better work."

Superintendents of large factories in Milwaukee and elsewhere
have said, "When our men go on a Sunday excursion, some cannot
work Monday, and many who work cannot earn their wages, while
those who had no sport Sunday do their best day's work
Monday." (Italics mine.)

We need not be surprised to find that the closed ideational system which
in the first instance is a refuge from the real, becomes in turn a
device for imposing one's will upon his fellows. The believer's ego is
served in both instances. It is interesting to note also that this
self-feeling appears in crowd-thinking as its very opposite. The
greatest enemy of personality is the crowd. The crowd does not want
valuable men; it wants only useful men. Everyone must justify his
existence by appealing to the not-self. One may do nothing for his own
sake. He may not even strive for spiritual excellence for such a reason.
He must live for "principle," for "the great cause," for impersonal
abstractions--which is to say, he must live for his crowd, and so make
it easier for the other members to do the same with a good face.

The complex of ideas in which the crowd-mind as we have seen takes
refuge, being necessarily made up of abstract generalizations, serves
the crowd-will to social dominance through the very claim to
universality which such ideas exert. Grant that an idea is an absolute
truth, and it follows, of course, that it must be true on all occasions
and for everyone. The crowd is justified, therefore, in sacrificing
people to its ideal--itself. The idea is no longer an instrument of
living; it is an imperative. It is not yours to use the idea; the idea
is there to use you. You have ceased to be an end. Anything about you
that does not partake of the reality of this idea has no right to be,
any experience of yours which happens to be incommensurable with this
idea loses its right to be; for experience as such has now only a
"phenomenal existence." The crowd, by identifying its will to power
with this idea, becomes itself absolute. Your personal self, as an
end, is quite as unwelcome to the Absolute as to the crowd. There must
be no private property in thought or motive. By making everybody's
business my business, I have made my business everybody's business.
There may be only one standard--that of our crowd, which, because of its
very universal and impersonal character is really nobody's.

The absolutism of the crowd-mind with its consequent hostility to
conscious personality finds a perfect rationalization in the ethical
philosophy of Kant. The absolutism of the idea of Duty is less
skillfully elaborated in its popular crowd-manifestations, but in its
essentials it is always present, as propaganda everywhere when carefully
analyzed will show. We must not be deceived by Kant's assertion that the
individual is an end. This individual is not you or I, or anyone; it is
a mere logical abstraction. By declaring that everyone is equally an
end, Kant ignores all personal differences, and therefore the fact of
individuality as such. We are each an end in respect to those qualities
only in which we are identical--namely, in that we are "rational
beings." But this rational being is not a personal intelligence; it is a
fiction, a bundle of mental faculties assumed a priori to exist, and
then treated as if it were universally and equally applicable to all
actually existing intelligences.

In arguing that "I am never to act otherwise than so that I could also
will that my maxim should become a universal law," Kant may be easily
understood as justifying any crowd in seeking to make its peculiar
maxims universal laws. Who but a Rationalist or a crowd-man presumes to
have found the "universal law," who else would have the effrontery to
try to legislate for every conscience in existence? But this presumption
has its price. In thus universalizing my moral will, I wholly
depersonalize it. He says:

It is of extreme importance to remember that we must not allow
ourselves to think of deducing the reality of this principle
from the particular attributes of human nature. For duty is to
be a practical unconditional necessity of action; it must
therefore hold for all rational beings (to whom an imperative
can apply at all), and for this reason only be also a law for
all human wills. On the contrary, whatever it deduces from the
particular natural characteristics of humanity, from certain
feelings and propensions, nay, even if possible from any
particular tendency proper to human reason, and which need not
necessarily hold for the will of every rational being, this may
indeed supply us with a maxim but not with a law; with a
subjective principle on which we may have a propension or
inclination to act, but not with an objective principle on which
we should be enjoined to act, even though all our
propensions, inclinations, and natural dispositions were
opposed to it. In fact, the sublimity and intrinsic dignity
of the command in duty are so much the more evident the less
subjective impulses favor it, and the more they oppose it
[italics here are mine], without being able in the slightest
degree to weaken the obligation of the law or to diminish its

... An action done from duty derives its moral worth not from
the purpose which is to be attained by it, but from the maxim
by which it is determined. It (this moral worth) cannot lie
anywhere but in the principle of The Will, without regard to
the ends which can be attained by such action.

This loss of the conscious self in the universal, this turning away from
the empirically known, this demand that an a priori principle be
followed to its deadly practical conclusion regardless of the ends to
which it leads, is of utmost importance for our study. It is precisely
what the paranoiac does after his own fashion. In crowd-thinking it is
often made the instrument of wholesale destruction and human slaughter.
The mob is ever motivated by this logic of negation, and of automatic
behavior. It is thus that compulsive thinking sways vast hordes of men
and women, impelling them, in the very name of truth or righteousness,
to actions of the most atrocious character. It is this which robs most
popular movements of their intelligent purposiveness, unleashes the
fanatic and the bigot, and leads men to die and to kill for a phrase.
This way of thinking points straight to Salem, Massachusetts, to the
torture-chamber, the pile of fagots and the mill pond at Rosmersholm.

The habit of thinking as a crowd is so widespread that it is impossible
to trace the influence of its rationalistic negations in the daily
mental habits of most of us. We play out our lives as if we were but
acting a part which some one had assigned to us. The fact that we are
ourselves realities, as inevitable as falling rain, and with the same
right to be as the rocks and hills, positively startles us. We feel that
we must plead extenuation, apologize for our existence, as if the end
and aim of living were to serve or vindicate a Good which, being
sufficient in itself and independent of us, can never be realized as
actually good for anybody. We behave as if we were unprofitable
servants, cringing before wrathful ideas which, though our own
creations, we permit to lord it over us. Our virtues we regard not as
expressions of ourselves or as habitual ways of reaching desirable
goods, but as if they were demanded of us unwillingly by something not
self. We should remind ourselves that these big words we idolize have no
eyes to see us and no hearts to care what we do, that they are but
symbols of ideas which we might find very useful if we dared to become
masters of them. The most common use we make of such ideas is to beat
one another and ourselves into line with them, or enforce upon
ourselves and others the collection of a debt which was contracted only
by our unconscious desire to cheat at cards in the game of civilization.

A conscious recognition of this desire and its more deliberate and
voluntary resistance in ourselves rather than in our neighbors, a candid
facing of the fact of what we really are and really want, and a mutual
readjustment of our relations on this recognized basis would doubtless
deliver us from the compulsion of crowd-thinking in somewhat the same
way that psychoanalysis is said to cure the neurotic by revealing to him
his unconscious wish.

That some such cure is an imperative social need is evident. To-day the
mob lurks just under the skin of most of us, both ignorant and educated.
The ever-increasing frequency of outbreaks of mob violence has its
source in the crowd-thinking which is everywhere encouraged. The mob
which may at any time engulf us is, after all, but the logical
conclusion and sudden ripening of thought processes which are commonly
regarded as highly respectable, idealistic, and moral.

Next: The Psychology Of Revolutionary Crowds

Previous: The Crowd A Creature Of Hate

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