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THE REASONING POWER OF CROWDS





It cannot absolutely be said that crowds do not reason and are
not to be influenced by reasoning.

However, the arguments they employ and those which are capable of
influencing them are, from a logical point of view, of such an
inferior kind that it is only by way of analogy that they can be
described as reasoning.

The inferior reasoning of crowds is based, just as is reasoning
of a high order, on the association of ideas, but between the
ideas associated by crowds there are only apparent bonds of
analogy or succession. The mode of reasoning of crowds resembles
that of the Esquimaux who, knowing from experience that ice, a
transparent body, melts in the mouth, concludes that glass, also
a transparent body, should also melt in the mouth; or that of the
savage who imagines that by eating the heart of a courageous foe
he acquires his bravery; or of the workman who, having been
exploited by one employer of labour, immediately concludes that
all employers exploit their men.

The characteristics of the reasoning of crowds are the
association of dissimilar things possessing a merely apparent
connection between each other, and the immediate generalisation
of particular cases. It is arguments of this kind that are
always presented to crowds by those who know how to manage them.
They are the only arguments by which crowds are to be influenced.
A chain of logical argumentation is totally incomprehensible to
crowds, and for this reason it is permissible to say that they do
not reason or that they reason falsely and are not to be
influenced by reasoning. Astonishment is felt at times on
reading certain speeches at their weakness, and yet they had an
enormous influence on the crowds which listened to them, but it
is forgotten that they were intended to persuade collectivities
and not to be read by philosophers. An orator in intimate
communication with a crowd can evoke images by which it will be
seduced. If he is successful his object has been attained, and
twenty volumes of harangues--always the outcome of
reflection--are not worth the few phrases which appealed to the
brains it was required to convince.

It would be superfluous to add that the powerlessness of crowds
to reason aright prevents them displaying any trace of the
critical spirit, prevents them, that is, from being capable of
discerning truth from error, or of forming a precise judgment on
any matter. Judgments accepted by crowds are merely judgments
forced upon them and never judgments adopted after discussion.
In regard to this matter the individuals who do not rise above
the level of a crowd are numerous. The ease with which certain
opinions obtain general acceptance results more especially from
the impossibility experienced by the majority of men of forming
an opinion peculiar to themselves and based on reasoning of their
own.





Next: THE IMAGINATION OF CROWDS

Previous: THE IDEAS OF CROWDS



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