General characteristics of electoral crowds--The manner of

persuading them--The qualities that should be possessed by a

candidate--Necessity of prestige--Why working men and peasants so

rarely choose candidates from their own class--The influence of

words and formulas on the elector--The general aspect of election

oratory--How the opinions of the elector are formed--The power of

political committees--They represent the most redoubtable form of

tyranny--The committees of the Revolution-- Universal suffrage

cannot be replaced in spite of its slight psychological

value--Why it is that the votes recorded would remain the same

even if the right of voting were restricted to a limited class of

citizens--What universal suffrage expresses in all countries.

ELECTORAL crowds--that is to say, collectivities invested with

the power of electing the holders of certain

functions--constitute heterogeneous crowds, but as their action

is confined to a single clearly determined matter, namely, to

choosing between different candidates, they present only a few of

the characteristics previously described. Of the characteristics

peculiar to crowds, they display in particular but slight

aptitude for reasoning, the absence of the critical spirit,

irritability, credulity, and simplicity. In their decision,

moreover, is to be traced the influence of the leaders of crowds

and the part played by the factors we have enumerated:

affirmation, repetition, prestige, and contagion.

Let us examine by what methods electoral crowds are to be

persuaded. It will be easy to deduce their psychology from the

methods that are most successful.

It is of primary importance that the candidate should possess

prestige. Personal prestige can only be replaced by that

resulting from wealth. Talent and even genius are not elements

of success of serious importance.

Of capital importance, on the other hand, is the necessity for

the candidate of possessing prestige, of being able, that is, to

force himself upon the electorate without discussion. The reason

why the electors, of whom a majority are working men or peasants,

so rarely choose a man from their own ranks to represent them is

that such a person enjoys no prestige among them. When, by

chance, they do elect a man who is their equal, it is as a rule

for subsidiary reasons--for instance, to spite an eminent man, or

an influential employer of labour on whom the elector is in daily

dependence, and whose master he has the illusion he becomes in

this way for a moment.

The possession of prestige does not suffice, however, to assure

the success of a candidate. The elector stickles in particular

for the flattery of his greed and vanity. He must be overwhelmed

with the most extravagant blandishments, and there must be no

hesitation in making him the most fantastic promises. If he is a

working man it is impossible to go too far in insulting and

stigmatising employers of labour. As for the rival candidate, an

effort must be made to destroy his chance by establishing by dint

of affirmation, repetition, and contagion that he is an arrant

scoundrel, and that it is a matter of common knowledge that he

has been guilty of several crimes. It is, of course, useless to

trouble about any semblance of proof. Should the adversary be

ill-acquainted with the psychology of crowds he will try to

justify himself by arguments instead of confining himself to

replying to one set of affirmations by another; and he will have

no chance whatever of being successful.

The candidate's written programme should not be too categorical,

since later on his adversaries might bring it up against him; in

his verbal programme, however, there cannot be too much

exaggeration. The most important reforms may be fearlessly

promised. At the moment they are made these exaggerations

produce a great effect, and they are not binding for the future,

it being a matter of constant observation that the elector never

troubles himself to know how far the candidate he has returned

has followed out the electoral programme he applauded, and in

virtue of which the election was supposed to have been secured.

In what precedes, all the factors of persuasion which we have

described are to be recognised. We shall come across them again

in the action exerted by words and formulas, whose magical sway

we have already insisted upon. An orator who knows how to make

use of these means of persuasion can do what he will with a

crowd. Expressions such as infamous capital, vile exploiters,

the admirable working man, the socialisation of wealth, &c.,

always produce the same effect, although already somewhat worn by

use. But the candidate who hits on a new formula as devoid as

possible of precise meaning, and apt in consequence to flatter

the most varied aspirations, infallibly obtains a success. The

sanguinary Spanish revolution of 1873 was brought about by one of

these magical phrases of complex meaning on which everybody can

put his own interpretation. A contemporary writer has described

the launching of this phrase in terms that deserve to be


"The radicals have made the discovery that a centralised republic

is a monarchy in disguise, and to humour them the Cortes had

unanimously proclaimed a FEDERAL REPUBLIC, though none of the

voters could have explained what it was he had just voted for.

This formula, however, delighted everybody; the joy was

intoxicating, delirious. The reign of virtue and happiness had

just been inaugurated on earth. A republican whose opponent

refused him the title of federalist considered himself to be

mortally insulted. People addressed each other in the streets

with the words: `Long live the federal republic!' After which

the praises were sung of the mystic virtue of the absence of

discipline in the army, and of the autonomy of the soldiers.

What was understood by the `federal republic?' There were those

who took it to mean the emancipation of the provinces,

institutions akin to those of the United States and

administrative decentralisation; others had in view the abolition

of all authority and the speedy commencement of the great social

liquidation. The socialists of Barcelona and Andalusia stood out

for the absolute sovereignty of the communes; they proposed to

endow Spain with ten thousand independent municipalities, to

legislate on their own account, and their creation to be

accompanied by the suppression of the police and the army. In

the southern provinces the insurrection was soon seen to spread

from town to town and village to village. Directly a village had

made its pronunciamento its first care was to destroy the

telegraph wires and the railway lines so as to cut off all

communication with its neighbours and Madrid. The sorriest

hamlet was determined to stand on its own bottom. Federation had

given place to cantonalism, marked by massacres, incendiarism,

and every description of brutality, and bloody saturnalia were

celebrated throughout the length and breadth of the land."

With respect to the influence that may be exerted by reasoning on

the minds of electors, to harbour the least doubt on this subject

can only be the result of never having read the reports of an

electioneering meeting. In such a gathering affirmations,

invectives, and sometimes blows are exchanged, but never

arguments. Should silence be established for a moment it is

because some one present, having the reputation of a "tough

customer," has announced that he is about to heckle the candidate

by putting him one of those embarrassing questions which are

always the joy of the audience. The satisfaction, however, of

the opposition party is shortlived, for the voice of the

questioner is soon drowned in the uproar made by his adversaries.

The following reports of public meetings, chosen from hundreds of

similar examples, and taken from the daily papers, may be

considered as typical:--

"One of the organisers of the meeting having asked the assembly

to elect a president, the storm bursts. The anarchists leap on

to the platform to take the committee table by storm. The

socialists make an energetic defence; blows are exchanged, and

each party accuses the other of being spies in the pay of the

Government, &c. . . . A citizen leaves the hall with a black


"The committee is at length installed as best it may be in the

midst of the tumult, and the right to speak devolves upon

`Comrade' X.

"The orator starts a vigorous attack on the socialists, who

interrupt him with shouts of `Idiot, scoundrel, blackguard!' &c.,

epithets to which Comrade X. replies by setting forth a theory

according to which the socialists are `idiots' or `jokers.'"

"The Allemanist party had organised yesterday evening, in the

Hall of Commerce, in the Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple, a great

meeting, preliminary to the workers' fete of the 1st of May. The

watchword of the meeting was `Calm and Tranquillity!'

"Comrade G---- alludes to the socialists as `idiots' and


"At these words there is an exchange of invectives and orators

and audience come to blows. Chairs, tables, and benches are

converted into weapons," &c., &c.

It is not to be imagined for a moment that this description of

discussion is peculiar to a determined class of electors and

dependent on their social position. In every anonymous assembly

whatever, though it be composed exclusively of highly educated

persons, discussion always assumes the same shape. I have shown

that when men are collected in a crowd there is a tendency

towards their mental levelling at work, and proof of this is to

be found at every turn. Take, for example, the following extract

from a report of a meeting composed exclusively of students,

which I borrow from the Temps of 13th of February, 1895:--

"The tumult only increased as the evening went on; I do not

believe that a single orator succeeded in uttering two sentences

without being interrupted. At every instant there came shouts

from this or that direction or from every direction at once.

Applause was intermingled with hissing, violent discussions were

in progress between individual members of the audience, sticks

were brandished threateningly, others beat a tattoo on the floor,

and the interrupters were greeted with yells of `Put him out!' or

`Let him speak!'

"M. C---- lavished such epithets as odious and cowardly,

monstrous, vile, venal and vindictive, on the Association, which

he declared he wanted to destroy," &c., &c.

How, it may be asked, can an elector form an opinion under such

conditions? To put such a question is to harbour a strange

delusion as to the measure of liberty that may be enjoyed by a

collectivity. Crowds have opinions that have been imposed upon

them, but they never boast reasoned opinions. In the case under

consideration the opinions and votes of the electors are in the

hands of the election committees, whose leading spirits are, as a

rule, publicans, their influence over the working men, to whom

they allow credit, being great. "Do you know what an election

committee is?" writes M. Scherer, one of the most valiant

champions of present-day democracy. "It is neither more nor less

than the corner-stone of our institutions, the masterpiece of the

political machine. France is governed to-day by the election


constitute perhaps the most redoubtable danger resulting from the

power of crowds. They represent in reality the most impersonal

and, in consequence, the most oppressive form of tyranny. The

leaders who direct the committees being supposed to speak and act

in the name of a collectivity, are freed from all responsibility,

and are in a position to do just as they choose. The most savage

tyrant has never ventured even to dream of such proscriptions as

those ordained by the committees of the Revolution. Barras has

declared that they decimated the convention, picking off its

members at their pleasure. So long as he was able to speak in

their name, Robespierre wielded absolute power. The moment this

frightful dictator separated himself from them, for reasons of

personal pride, he was lost. The reign of crowds is the reign of

committees, that is, of the leaders of crowds. A severer

despotism cannot be imagined.

To exert an influence over them is not difficult, provided the

candidate be in himself acceptable and possess adequate financial

resources. According to the admissions of the donors, three

millions of francs sufficed to secure the repeated elections of

General Boulanger.

Such is the psychology of electoral crowds. It is identical with

that of other crowds: neither better nor worse.

In consequence I draw no conclusion against universal suffrage

from what precedes. Had I to settle its fate, I should preserve

it as it is for practical reasons, which are to be deduced in

point of fact from our investigation of the psychology of crowds.

On this account I shall proceed to set them forth.

No doubt the weak side of universal suffrage is too obvious to be

overlooked. It cannot be gainsaid that civilisation has been the

work of a small minority of superior intelligences constituting

the culminating point of a pyramid, whose stages, widening in

proportion to the decrease of mental power, represent the masses

of a nation. The greatness of a civilisation cannot assuredly

depend upon the votes given by inferior elements boasting solely

numerical strength. Doubtless, too, the votes recorded by crowds

are often very dangerous. They have already cost us several

invasions, and in view of the triumph of socialism, for which

they are preparing the way, it is probable that the vagaries of

popular sovereignty will cost us still more dearly.

Excellent, however, as these objections are in theory, in

practice they lose all force, as will be admitted if the

invincible strength be remembered of ideas transformed into

dogmas. The dogma of the sovereignty of crowds is as little

defensible, from the philosophical point of view, as the

religious dogmas of the Middle Ages, but it enjoys at present the

same absolute power they formerly enjoyed. It is as unattackable

in consequence as in the past were our religious ideas. Imagine

a modern freethinker miraculously transported into the midst of

the Middle Ages. Do you suppose that, after having ascertained

the sovereign power of the religious ideas that were then in

force, he would have been tempted to attack them? Having fallen

into the hands of a judge disposed to send him to the stake,

under the imputation of having concluded a pact with the devil,

or of having been present at the witches sabbath, would it have

occurred to him to call in question the existence of the devil or

of the sabbath? It were as wise to oppose cyclones with

discussion as the beliefs of crowds. The dogma of universal

suffrage possesses to-day the power the Christian dogmas formerly

possessed. Orators and writers allude to it with a respect and

adulation that never fell to the share of Louis XIV. In

consequence the same position must be taken up with regard to it

as with regard to all religious dogmas. Time alone can act upon


Besides, it would be the more useless to attempt to undermine

this dogma, inasmuch as it has an appearance of reasonableness in

its favour. "In an era of equality," Tocqueville justly remarks,

"men have no faith in each other on account of their being all

alike; yet this same similitude gives them an almost limitless

confidence in the judgment of the public, the reason being that

it does not appear probable that, all men being equally

enlightened, truth and numerical superiority should not go hand

in hand."

Must it be believed that with a restricted suffrage--a suffrage

restricted to those intellectually capable if it be desired--an

improvement would be effected in the votes of crowds? I cannot

admit for a moment that this would be the case, and that for the

reasons I have already given touching the mental inferiority of

all collectivities, whatever their composition. In a crowd men

always tend to the same level, and, on general questions, a vote,

recorded by forty academicians is no better than that of forty

water-carriers. I do not in the least believe that any of the

votes for which universal suffrage is blamed--the

re-establishment of the Empire, for instance-- would have fallen

out differently had the voters been exclusively recruited among

learned and liberally educated men. It does not follow because

an individual knows Greek or mathematics, is an architect, a

veterinary surgeon, a doctor, or a barrister, that he is endowed

with a special intelligence of social questions. All our

political economists are highly educated, being for the most part

professors or academicians, yet is there a single general

question--protection, bimetallism, &c.--on which they have

succeeded in agreeing? The explanation is that their science is

only a very attenuated form of our universal ignorance. With

regard to social problems, owing to the number of unknown

quantities they offer, men are substantially, equally ignorant.

In consequence, were the electorate solely composed of persons

stuffed with sciences their votes would be no better than those

emitted at present. They would be guided in the main by their

sentiments and by party spirit. We should be spared none of the

difficulties we now have to contend with, and we should certainly

be subjected to the oppressive tyranny of castes.

Whether the suffrage of crowds be restricted or general, whether

it be exercised under a republic or a monarchy, in France, in

Belgium, in Greece, in Portugal, or in Spain, it is everywhere

identical; and, when all is said and done, it is the expression

of the unconscious aspirations and needs of the race. In each

country the average opinions of those elected represent the

genius of the race, and they will be found not to alter sensibly

from one generation to another.

It is seen, then, that we are confronted once more by the

fundamental notion of race, which we have come across so often,

and on this other notion, which is the outcome of the first, that

institutions and governments play but a small part in the life of

a people. Peoples are guided in the main by the genius of their

race, that is, by that inherited residue of qualities of which

the genius is the sum total. Race and the slavery of our daily

necessities are the mysterious master-causes that rule our


CROWDS TERMED CRIMINAL CROWDS EXPERIENCE facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail