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It is independent ofthe worship of a divinity--
Its characteristics--The strength of
convictions assuming a religious shape--Various examples--Popular
gods have never disappeared--New forms under which they are
revived--Religious forms of atheism--Importance of these notions
from the historical point of view-- The Reformation, Saint
Bartholomew, the Terror, and all analogous events are the result
of the religious sentiments of crowds and not of the will of
isolated individuals.

We have shown that crowds do not reason, that they accept or
reject ideas as a whole, that they tolerate neither discussion
nor contradiction, and that the suggestions brought to bear on
them invade the entire field of their understanding and tend at
once to transform themselves into acts. We have shown that
crowds suitably influenced are ready to sacrifice themselves for
the ideal with which they have been inspired. We have also seen
that they only entertain violent and extreme sentiments, that in
their case sympathy quickly becomes adoration, and antipathy
almost as soon as it is aroused is transformed into hatred.
These general indications furnish us already with a presentiment
of the nature of the convictions of crowds.

When these convictions are closely examined, whether at epochs
marked by fervent religious faith, or by great political
upheavals such as those of the last century, it is apparent that
they always assume a peculiar form which I cannot better define
than by giving it the name of a religious sentiment.

This sentiment has very simple characteristics, such as worship
of a being supposed superior, fear of the power with which the
being is credited, blind submission to its commands, inability to
discuss its dogmas, the desire to spread them, and a tendency to
consider as enemies all by whom they are not accepted. Whether
such a sentiment apply to an invisible God, to a wooden or stone
idol, to a hero or to a political conception, provided that it
presents the preceding characteristics, its essence always
remains religious. The supernatural and the miraculous are found
to be present to the same extent. Crowds unconsciously accord a
mysterious power to the political formula or the victorious
leader that for the moment arouses their enthusiasm.

A person is not religious solely when he worships a divinity, but
when he puts all the resources of his mind, the complete
submission of his will, and the whole-souled ardour of fanaticism
at the service of a cause or an individual who becomes the goal
and guide of his thoughts and actions.

Intolerance and fanaticism are the necessary accompaniments of
the religious sentiment. They are inevitably displayed by those
who believe themselves in the possession of the secret of earthly
or eternal happiness. These two characteristics are to be found
in all men grouped together when they are inspired by a
conviction of any kind. The Jacobins of the Reign of Terror were
at bottom as religious as the Catholics of the Inquisition, and
their cruel ardour proceeded from the same source.

The convictions of crowds assume those characteristics of blind
submission, fierce intolerance, and the need of violent
propaganda which are inherent in the religious sentiment, and it
is for this reason that it may be said that all their beliefs
have a religious form. The hero acclaimed by a crowd is a
veritable god for that crowd. Napoleon was such a god for
fifteen years, and a divinity never had more fervent worshippers
or sent men to their death with greater ease. The Christian and
Pagan Gods never exercised a more absolute empire over the minds
that had fallen under their sway.

All founders of religious or political creeds have established
them solely because they were successful in inspiring crowds with
those fanatical sentiments which have as result that men find
their happiness in worship and obedience and are ready to lay
down their lives for their idol. This has been the case at all
epochs. Fustel de Coulanges, in his excellent work on Roman
Gaul, justly remarks that the Roman Empire was in no wise
maintained by force, but by the religious admiration it inspired.
"It would be without a parallel in the history of the world," he
observes rightly, "that a form of government held in popular
detestation should have lasted for five centuries. . . . It
would be inexplicable that the thirty legions of the Empire
should have constrained a hundred million men to obedience." The
reason of their obedience was that the Emperor, who personified
the greatness of Rome, was worshipped like a divinity by
unanimous consent. There were altars in honour of the Emperor in
the smallest townships of his realm. "From one end of the Empire
to the other a new religion was seen to arise in those days which
had for its divinities the emperors themselves. Some years
before the Christian era the whole of Gaul, represented by sixty
cities, built in common a temple near the town of Lyons in honour
of Augustus. . . . Its priests, elected by the united Gallic
cities, were the principal personages in their country. . . . It
is impossible to attribute all this to fear and servility. Whole
nations are not servile, and especially for three centuries. It
was not the courtiers who worshipped the prince, it was Rome, and
it was not Rome merely, but it was Gaul, it was Spain, it was
Greece and Asia."

To-day the majority of the great men who have swayed men's minds
no longer have altars, but they have statues, or their portraits
are in the hands of their admirers, and the cult of which they
are the object is not notably different from that accorded to
their predecessors. An understanding of the philosophy of
history is only to be got by a thorough appreciation of this
fundamental point of the psychology of crowds. The crowd demands
a god before everything else.

It must not be supposed that these are the superstitions of a
bygone age which reason has definitely banished. Sentiment has
never been vanquished in its eternal conflict with reason.
Crowds will hear no more of the words divinity and religion, in
whose name they were so long enslaved; but they have never
possessed so many fetishes as in the last hundred years, and the
old divinities have never had so many statues and altars raised
in their honour. Those who in recent years have studied the
popular movement known under the name of Boulangism have been
able to see with what ease the religious instincts of crowds are
ready to revive. There was not a country inn that did not
possess the hero's portrait. He was credited with the power of
remedying all injustices and all evils, and thousands of men
would have given their lives for him. Great might have been his
place in history had his character been at all on a level with
his legendary reputation.

It is thus a very useless commonplace to assert that a religion
is necessary for the masses, because all political, divine, and
social creeds only take root among them on the condition of
always assuming the religious shape--a shape which obviates the
danger of discussion. Were it possible to induce the masses to
adopt atheism, this belief would exhibit all the intolerant
ardour of a religious sentiment, and in its exterior forms would
soon become a cult. The evolution of the small Positivist sect
furnishes us a curious proof in point. What happened to the
Nihilist whose story is related by that profound thinker
Dostoiewsky has quickly happened to the Positivists. Illumined
one day by the light of reason he broke the images of divinities
and saints that adorned the altar of a chapel, extinguished the
candles, and, without losing a moment, replaced the destroyed
objects by the works of atheistic philosophers such as Buchner
and Moleschott, after which he piously relighted the candles.
The object of his religious beliefs had been transformed, but can
it be truthfully said that his religious sentiments had changed?

Certain historical events--and they are precisely the most
important--I again repeat, are not to be understood unless one
has attained to an appreciation of the religious form which the
convictions of crowds always assume in the long run. There are
social phenomena that need to be studied far more from the point
of view of the psychologist than from that of the naturalist.
The great historian Taine has only studied the Revolution as a
naturalist, and on this account the real genesis of events has
often escaped him. He has perfectly observed the facts, but from
want of having studied the psychology of crowds he has not always
been able to trace their causes. The facts having appalled him
by their bloodthirsty, anarchic, and ferocious side, he has
scarcely seen in the heroes of the great drama anything more than
a horde of epileptic savages abandoning themselves without
restraint to their instincts. The violence of the Revolution,
its massacres, its need of propaganda, its declarations of war
upon all things, are only to be properly explained by reflecting
that the Revolution was merely the establishment of a new
religious belief in the mind of the masses. The Reformation, the
massacre of Saint Bartholomew, the French religious wars, the
Inquisition, the Reign of Terror are phenomena of an identical
kind, brought about by crowds animated by those religious
sentiments which necessarily lead those imbued with them to
pitilessly extirpate by fire and sword whoever is opposed to the
establishment of the new faith. The methods of the Inquisition
are those of all whose convictions are genuine and sturdy. Their
convictions would not deserve these epithets did they resort to
other methods.

Upheavals analogous to those I have just cited are only possible
when it is the soul of the masses that brings them about. The
most absolute despots could not cause them. When historians tell
us that the massacre of Saint Bartholomew was the work of a king,
they show themselves as ignorant of the psychology of crowds as
of that of sovereigns. Manifestations of this order can only
proceed from the soul of crowds. The most absolute power of the
most despotic monarch can scarcely do more than hasten or retard
the moment of their apparition. The massacre of Saint
Bartholomew or the religious wars were no more the work of kings
than the Reign of Terror was the work of Robespierre, Danton, or
Saint Just. At the bottom of such events is always to be found
the working of the soul of the masses, and never the power of



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