THE INTOLERANCE, DICTATORIALNESS AND CONSERVATISM OF CROWDS.
Crowds are only cognisant of simple and extreme sentiments; the
opinions, ideas, and beliefs suggested to them are accepted or
rejected as a whole, and considered as absolute truths or as not
less absolute errors. This is always the case with beliefs
induced by a process of suggestion instead of engendered by
reasoning. Every one is aware of the intolerance that
accompanies religious beliefs, and of the despotic empire they
exercise on men's minds.
Being in doubt as to what constitutes truth or error, and having,
on the other hand, a clear notion of its strength, a crowd is as
disposed to give authoritative effect to its inspirations as it
is intolerant. An individual may accept contradiction and
discussion; a crowd will never do so. At public meetings the
slightest contradiction on the part of an orator is immediately
received with howls of fury and violent invective, soon followed
by blows, and expulsion should the orator stick to his point.
Without the restraining presence of the representatives of
authority the contradictor, indeed, would often be done to death.
Dictatorialness and intolerance are common to all categories of
crowds, but they are met with in a varying degree of intensity.
Here, once more, reappears that fundamental notion of race which
dominates all the feelings and all the thoughts of men. It is
more especially in Latin crowds that authoritativeness and
intolerance are found developed in the highest measure. In fact,
their development is such in crowds of Latin origin that they
have entirely destroyed that sentiment of the independence of the
individual so powerful in the Anglo-Saxon. Latin crowds are only
concerned with the collective independence of the sect to which
they belong, and the characteristic feature of their conception
of independence is the need they experience of bringing those who
are in disagreement with themselves into immediate and violent
subjection to their beliefs. Among the Latin races the Jacobins
of every epoch, from those of the Inquisition downwards, have
never been able to attain to a different conception of liberty.
Authoritativeness and intolerance are sentiments of which crowds
have a very clear notion, which they easily conceive and which
they entertain as readily as they put them in practice when once
they are imposed upon them. Crowds exhibit a docile respect for
force, and are but slightly impressed by kindness, which for them
is scarcely other than a form of weakness. Their sympathies have
never been bestowed on easy-going masters, but on tyrants who
vigorously oppressed them. It is to these latter that they
always erect the loftiest statues. It is true that they
willingly trample on the despot whom they have stripped of his
power, but it is because, having lost his strength, he has
resumed his place among the feeble, who are to be despised
because they are not to be feared. The type of hero dear to
crowds will always have the semblance of a Caesar. His insignia
attracts them, his authority overawes them, and his sword instils
them with fear.
A crowd is always ready to revolt against a feeble, and to bow
down servilely before a strong authority. Should the strength of
an authority be intermittent, the crowd, always obedient to its
extreme sentiments, passes alternately from anarchy to servitude,
and from servitude to anarchy.
However, to believe in the predominance among crowds of
revolutionary instincts would be to entirely misconstrue their
psychology. It is merely their tendency to violence that
deceives us on this point. Their rebellious and destructive
outbursts are always very transitory. Crowds are too much
governed by unconscious considerations, and too much subject in
consequence to secular hereditary influences not to be extremely
conservative. Abandoned to themselves, they soon weary of
disorder, and instinctively turn to servitude. It was the
proudest and most untractable of the Jacobins who acclaimed
Bonaparte with greatest energy when he suppressed all liberty and
made his hand of iron severely felt.
It is difficult to understand history, and popular revolutions in
particular, if one does not take sufficiently into account the
profoundly conservative instincts of crowds. They may be
desirous, it is true, of changing the names of their
institutions, and to obtain these changes they accomplish at
times even violent revolutions, but the essence of these
institutions is too much the expression of the hereditary needs
of the race for them not invariably to abide by it. Their
incessant mobility only exerts its influence on quite superficial
matters. In fact they possess conservative instincts as
indestructible as those of all primitive beings. Their fetish-
like respect for all traditions is absolute; their unconscious
horror of all novelty capable of changing the essential
conditions of their existence is very deeply rooted. Had
democracies possessed the power they wield to-day at the time of
the invention of mechanical looms or of the introduction of
steam-power and of railways, the realisation of these inventions
would have been impossible, or would have been achieved at the
cost of revolutions and repeated massacres. It is fortunate for
the progress of civilisation that the power of crowds only began
to exist when the great discoveries of science and industry had
already been effected.
Next: THE MORALITY OF CROWDS.
Previous: THE EXAGGERATION AND INGENUOUSNESS OF THE SENTIMENTS OF CROWDS.