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THE LEADERS OF CROWDS.





As soon as a certain number of living beings are gathered
together, whether they be animals or men, they place themselves
instinctively under the authority of a chief.

In the case of human crowds the chief is often nothing more than
a ringleader or agitator, but as such he plays a considerable
part. His will is the nucleus around which the opinions of the
crowd are grouped and attain to identity. He constitutes the
first element towards the organisation of heterogeneous crowds,
and paves the way for their organisation in sects; in the
meantime he directs them. A crowd is a servile flock that is
incapable of ever doing without a master.

The leader has most often started as one of the led. He has
himself been hypnotised by the idea, whose apostle he has since
become. It has taken possession of him to such a degree that
everything outside it vanishes, and that every contrary opinion
appears to him an error or a superstition. An example in point
is Robespierre, hypnotised by the philosophical ideas of
Rousseau, and employing the methods of the Inquisition to
propagate them.

The leaders we speak of are more frequently men of action than
thinkers. They are not gifted with keen foresight, nor could
they be, as this quality generally conduces to doubt and
inactivity. They are especially recruited from the ranks of
those morbidly nervous, excitable, half-deranged persons who are
bordering on madness. However absurd may be the idea they uphold
or the goal they pursue, their convictions are so strong that all
reasoning is lost upon them. Contempt and persecution do not
affect them, or only serve to excite them the more. They
sacrifice their personal interest, their family--everything. The
very instinct of self-preservation is entirely obliterated in
them, and so much so that often the only recompense they solicit
is that of martyrdom. The intensity of their faith gives great
power of suggestion to their words. The multitude is always
ready to listen to the strong-willed man, who knows how to impose
himself upon it. Men gathered in a crowd lose all force of will,
and turn instinctively to the person who possesses the quality
they lack.

Nations have never lacked leaders, but all of the latter have by
no means been animated by those strong convictions proper to
apostles. These leaders are often subtle rhetoricians, seeking
only their own personal interest, and endeavouring to persuade by
flattering base instincts. The influence they can assert in this
manner may be very great, but it is always ephemeral. The men of
ardent convictions who have stirred the soul of crowds, the Peter
the Hermits, the Luthers, the Savonarolas, the men of the French
Revolution, have only exercised their fascination after having
been themselves fascinated first of all by a creed. They are
then able to call up in the souls of their fellows that
formidable force known as faith, which renders a man the absolute
slave of his dream.

The arousing of faith--whether religious, political, or social,
whether faith in a work, in a person, or an idea--has always been
the function of the great leaders of crowds, and it is on this
account that their influence is always very great. Of all the
forces at the disposal of humanity, faith has always been one of
the most tremendous, and the gospel rightly attributes to it the
power of moving mountains. To endow a man with faith is to
multiply his strength tenfold. The great events of history have
been brought about by obscure believers, who have had little
beyond their faith in their favour. It is not by the aid of the
learned or of philosophers, and still less of sceptics, that have
been built up the great religions which have swayed the world, or
the vast empires which have spread from one hemisphere to the
other.

In the cases just cited, however, we are dealing with great
leaders, and they are so few in number that history can easily
reckon them up. They form the summit of a continuous series,
which extends from these powerful masters of men down to the
workman who, in the smoky atmosphere of an inn, slowly fascinates
his comrades by ceaselessly drumming into their ears a few set
phrases, whose purport he scarcely comprehends, but the
application of which, according to him, must surely bring about
the realisation of all dreams and of every hope.

In every social sphere, from the highest to the lowest, as soon
as a man ceases to be isolated he speedily falls under the
influence of a leader. The majority of men, especially among the
masses, do not possess clear and reasoned ideas on any subject
whatever outside their own speciality. The leader serves them as
guide. It is just possible that he may be replaced, though very
inefficiently, by the periodical publications which manufacture
opinions for their readers and supply them with ready- made
phrases which dispense them of the trouble of reasoning.

The leaders of crowds wield a very despotic authority, and this
despotism indeed is a condition of their obtaining a following.
It has often been remarked how easily they extort obedience,
although without any means of backing up their authority, from
the most turbulent section of the working classes. They fix the
hours of labour and the rate of wages, and they decree strikes,
which are begun and ended at the hour they ordain.

At the present day these leaders and agitators tend more and more
to usurp the place of the public authorities in proportion as the
latter allow themselves to be called in question and shorn of
their strength. The tyranny of these new masters has for result
that the crowds obey them much more docilely than they have
obeyed any government. If in consequence of some accident or
other the leaders should be removed from the scene the crowd
returns to its original state of a collectivity without cohesion
or force of resistance. During the last strike of the Parisian
omnibus employes the arrest of the two leaders who were directing
it was at once sufficient to bring it to an end. It is the need
not of liberty but of servitude that is always predominant in the
soul of crowds. They are so bent on obedience that they
instinctively submit to whoever declares himself their master.

These ringleaders and agitators may be divided into two clearly
defined classes. The one includes the men who are energetic and
possess, but only intermittently, much strength of will, the
other the men, far rarer than the preceding, whose strength of
will is enduring. The first mentioned are violent, brave, and
audacious. They are more especially useful to direct a violent
enterprise suddenly decided on, to carry the masses with them in
spite of danger, and to transform into heroes the men who but
yesterday were recruits. Men of this kind were Ney and Murat
under the First Empire, and such a man in our own time was
Garibaldi, a talentless but energetic adventurer who succeeded
with a handful of men in laying hands on the ancient kingdom of
Naples, defended though it was by a disciplined army.

Still, though the energy of leaders of this class is a force to
be reckoned with, it is transitory, and scarcely outlasts the
exciting cause that has brought it into play. When they have
returned to their ordinary course of life the heroes animated by
energy of this description often evince, as was the case with
those I have just cited, the most astonishing weakness of
character. They seem incapable of reflection and of conducting
themselves under the simplest circumstances, although they had
been able to lead others. These men are leaders who cannot
exercise their function except on the condition that they be led
themselves and continually stimulated, that they have always as
their beacon a man or an idea, that they follow a line of conduct
clearly traced. The second category of leaders, that of men of
enduring strength of will, have, in spite of a less brilliant
aspect, a much more considerable influence. In this category are
to be found the true founders of religions and great
undertakings: St. Paul, Mahomet, Christopher Columbus, and de
Lesseps, for example. Whether they be intelligent or
narrow-minded is of no importance: the world belongs to them.
The persistent will-force they possess is an immensely rare and
immensely powerful faculty to which everything yields. What a
strong and continuous will is capable of is not always properly
appreciated. Nothing resists it; neither nature, gods, nor man.

The most recent example of what can be effected by a strong and
continuous will is afforded us by the illustrious man who
separated the Eastern and Western worlds, and accomplished a task
that during three thousand years had been attempted in vain by
the greatest sovereigns. He failed later in an identical
enterprise, but then had intervened old age, to which everything,
even the will, succumbs.

When it is desired to show what may be done by mere strength of
will, all that is necessary is to relate in detail the history of
the difficulties that had to be surmounted in connection with the
cutting of the Suez Canal. An ocular witness, Dr. Cazalis, has
summed up in a few striking lines the entire story of this great
work, recounted by its immortal author.

"From day to day, episode by episode, he told the stupendous
story of the canal. He told of all he had had to vanquish, of
the impossible he had made possible, of all the opposition he
encountered, of the coalition against him, and the
disappointments, the reverses, the defeats which had been
unavailing to discourage or depress him. He recalled how England
had combatted him, attacking him without cessation, how Egypt and
France had hesitated, how the French Consul had been foremost in
his opposition to the early stages of the work, and the nature of
the opposition he had met with, the attempt to force his workmen
to desert from thirst by refusing them fresh water; how the
Minister of Marine and the engineers, all responsible men of
experienced and scientific training, had naturally all been
hostile, were all certain on scientific grounds that disaster was
at hand, had calculated its coming, foretelling it for such a day
and hour as an eclipse is foretold."

The book which relates the lives of all these great leaders would
not contain many names, but these names have been bound up with
the most important events in the history of civilisation.





Next: THE MEANS OF ACTION OF THE LEADERS: AFFIRMATION, REPETITION, CONTAGION

Previous: 1. THE LEADERS OF CROWDS.



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