Freedom And Government By Crowds

The whole philosophy of politics comes down at last to a question of

four words. Who is to govern? Compared with this question the problem of

the form of government is relatively unimportant. Crowd-men, whatever

political faith they profess, behave much the same when they are in

power. The particular forms of political organization through which

their power is exerted are mere incidentals. There is the same

self-laudation, the same tawdry array of abstract principles, the same

exploitation of under crowds, the same cunning in keeping up

appearances, the same preference of the charlatan for positions of

leadership and authority. Machiavelli's Prince, or Dostoievsky's Grand

Inquisitor, would serve just as well as the model for the guidance of a

Caesar Borgia, a leader of Tammany Hall, a chairman of the National

Committee of a political party, or a Nicolai Lenin.

Ever since the days of Rousseau certain crowds have persisted in the

conviction that all tyrannies were foisted upon an innocent humanity by

a designing few. There may have been a few instances in history where

such was the case, but tyrannies of that kind have never lasted long.

For the most part the tyrant is merely the instrument and official

symbol of a dominant crowd. His acts are his crowd's acts, and without

his crowd to support him he very soon goes the way of the late Sultan of

Turkey. The Caesars were hardly more than "walking delegates,"

representing the ancient Roman Soldiers' soviet. They were made and

unmade by the army which, though Caesars might come and Caesars might go,

continued to lord it over the Roman world. While the army was pagan,

even the mild Marcus Aurelius followed Nero's example of killing

Christians. When finally the army itself became largely Christian, and

the fiction that the Christians drank human blood, worshiped the head of

an ass, and were sexually promiscuous was no longer good patriotic

propaganda, the Emperor Constantine began to see visions of the Cross in

the sky. The Pope, who is doubtless the most absolute monarch in the

Occident, is, however, "infallible" only when he speaks

ex-cathedra--that is, as the "Church Herself." His infallibility is

that of the Church. All crowds in one way or another claim

infallibility. The tyrant Robespierre survived only so long as did his

particular revolutionary crowd in France.

The fate of Savonarola was similar. From his pulpit he could rule

Florence with absolute power just so long as he told his crowd what it

wished to hear, and so long as his crowd was able to keep itself

together and remain dominant. The Stuarts, Hohenzollerns, Hapsburgs, and

Romanoffs, with all their claims to divine rights, were little more than

the living symbols of their respective nation-crowds. They vanished when

they ceased to represent successfully the crowd-will.

In general, then, it may be said that where the crowd is, there is

tyranny. Tyranny may be exercised through one agent or through many,

but it nearly always comes from the same source--the crowd. Crowd-rule

may exist in a monarchical form of government, or in a republic. The

personnel of the dominant crowd will vary with a change in the form of

the state, but the spirit will be much the same. Conservative writers

are in the habit of assuming that democracy is the rule of crowds pure

and simple. Whether crowd-government is more absolute in a democracy

than in differently constituted states is a question. The aim of

democratic constitutions like our own is to prevent any special crowd

from intrenching itself in a position of social control and thus

becoming a ruling class. As the experiment has worked out thus far it

can hardly be said that it has freed us from the rule of crowds. It has,

however, multiplied the number of mutually suspicious crowds, so that no

one of them has for long enjoyed a sufficiently great majority to make

itself clearly supreme, though it must be admitted that up to the

present the business-man crowd has had the best of the deal. The story

of the recent Eighteenth Amendment shows how easy it is for a determined

crowd, even though in a minority, to force its favorite dogmas upon the

whole community. We shall doubtless see a great deal more of this sort

of thing in the future than we have in the past. And if the various

labor groups should become sufficiently united in a "proletarian" crowd

there is nothing to prevent their going to any extreme.

We are passing through a period of socialization. All signs point to the

establishment of some sort of social state or industrial commonwealth.

No one can foresee the extent, to which capital now privately owned is

to be transferred to the public. It is doubtful if anything can be done

to check this process. The tendency is no sooner blocked along one

channel than it begins to seep through another. In itself there need be

nothing alarming about this transition. If industry could be better

co-ordinated and more wisely administered by non-crowd men for the

common good, the change might work out to our national advantage.

It is possible to conceive of a society in which a high degree of social

democracy, even communism, might exist along with a maximum of freedom

and practical achievement. But we should first have to get over our

crowd-ways of thinking and acting. People would have to regard the state

as a purely administrative affair. They would have to organize for

definite practical ends, and select their leaders and administrators

very much as certain corporations now do, strictly on the basis of their

competency. Political institutions would have to be made such that they

could not be seized by special groups to enhance themselves at the

expense of the rest. Partisanship would have to cease. Every effort

would have to be made to loosen the social control over the individual's

personal habits. The kind of people who have an inner gnawing to

regulate their neighbors, the kind who cannot accept the fact of their

psychic inferiority and must consequently make crowds by way of

compensation, would have to be content to mind their own business.

Police power would have to be reduced to the minimum necessary to

protect life and keep the industries running. People would have to

become much more capable of self-direction as well as of voluntary

co-operation than they are now. They would have to be more resentful of

petty official tyranny, more independent in their judgments and at the

same time more willing to accept the advice and authority of experts.

They would have to place the control of affairs in the hands of the type

of man against whose dominance the weaker brethren have in all ages

waged war--that is, the free spirits and natural masters of men. All pet

dogmas and cult ideas that clashed with practical considerations would

have to be swept away.

Such a conception of society is, of course, wholly utopian. It could not

possibly be realized by people behaving and thinking as crowds. With our

present crowd-making habits, the process of greater socialization of

industry means only increased opportunities for crowd-tyranny. In the

hands of a dominant crowd an industrial state would be indeed what

Herbert Spencer called the "coming slavery."

As it is, the state has become overgrown and bureaucratic. Commissions

of all sorts are being multiplied year by year. Public debts are piled

up till they approach the point of bankruptcy. Taxes are increasing in

the same degree. Statutes are increased in number until one can hardly

breathe without violating some decree, ordinance, or bit of sumptuary

legislation. Every legislative assembly is constantly besieged by the

professional lobbyists of a swarm of reformist crowds. Busybodies of

every description twist the making and the enforcement of law into

conformity with their peculiar prejudices. Censorships of various kinds

are growing in number and effrontery. Prohibition is insincerely put

forth as a war measure. Ignorant societies for the "suppression of vice"

maul over our literature and our art. Parents of already more children

than they can support may not be permitted lawfully to possess

scientific knowledge of the means of the prevention of conception. The

government, both state and national, takes advantage of the war for

freedom to pass again the hated sort of "alien and sedition" laws from

which the country thought it had freed itself a century ago. A host of

secret agents and volunteer "guardians of public safety" are ready to

place every citizen under suspicion of disloyalty to the government. Any

advocacy of significant change in established political practices is

regarded as sedition. An inquisition is set up for the purpose of

inquiring into people's private political opinions. Reputable citizens

are, on the flimsiest hearsay evidence or rumor that they entertain

nonconformist views, subjected to public censure by notoriety-seeking

"investigation commissions"--and by an irresponsible press. Only members

of an established political party in good standing are permitted to

criticize the acts of the President of the United States. Newspapers and

magazines are suppressed and denied the privilege of the mails at the

whim of opinionated post-office officers or of ignorant employees of the

Department of Justice. An intensely patriotic weekly paper in New York,

which happened to hold unconventional views on the subject of religion,

has had certain issues of its paper suppressed for the offense of

publishing accounts of the alleged misconduct of the Y. M. C. A.

The stupidity and irresponsibility of the Russian spy-system which has

grown up in this country along with our overweening state is illustrated

by an amusing little experience which happened to myself several months

after the signing of the armistice with Germany. All through the trying

months of the war the great audience at Cooper Union had followed me

with a loyalty and tolerance which was truly wonderful. Though I knew

that many had not always been in hearty accord with my rather

spontaneous and outspoken Americanism, the Cooper Union Forum was one of

the few places in America where foreign and labor elements were present

in large numbers in which there was no outbreak or demonstration of any

kind which could possibly be interpreted as un-American. We all felt

that perhaps the People's Institute with its record of twenty years'

work behind it had been of some real service to the nation in adhering

strictly to its educational method and keeping its discussions wholly

above the level of any sort of crowd-propaganda.

However, in the course of our educational work, it became my task to

give to a selected group of advanced students a course of lectures upon

the Theory of Knowledge. The course was announced with the title, "How

Free Men Think," and the little folder contained the statement that it

was to be a study of the Humanist logic, with Professor F. C. S.

Schiller's philosophical writings to be used as textbooks. The

publication of this folder announcing the course was held up by the

printer, and we learned that he had been told not to print it by some

official personage whose identity was not revealed. Notwithstanding the

fact that Schiller is professor of philosophy in Corpus Christi College,

Oxford, and is one of the best-known philosophical writers in the

English-speaking world, and holds views practically identical with what

is called the "American School," led by the late William James, it

developed that the government agents--or whoever they were--objected to

the publication of the announcement on the ground that they thought

Schiller was a German. Such is our intellectual freedom regarding

matters which have no political significance whatever, in a world made

"safe for democracy." But we must not permit ourselves to despair or

grow weary of life in this "safety first" world--waves of

pseudo-patriotic panic often follow on the heels of easily won victory.

Crowd-phenomena of such intensity are usually of short duration, as

these very excesses soon produce the inevitable reaction.

The question, however, arises, is democracy more conducive to freedom

than other forms of political organization? To most minds the terms

"liberty" and "democracy" are almost synonymous. Those who consider that

liberty consists in having a vote, in giving everyone a voice regardless

of whether he has anything to say, will have no doubts in the matter.

But to those whose thinking means more than the mere repetition of

eighteenth-century crowd-ideas, the question will reduce itself to this:

Is democracy more conducive to crowd-behavior than other forms of

government? Le Bon and those who identify the crowd with the masses

would answer with an a priori affirmative. I do not believe the

question may be answered in any such off-hand manner. It is a question

of fact rather than of theory. Theoretically, since we have

demonstrated I think that the crowd is not the common people as such,

but is a peculiar form of psychic behavior, it would seem that there is

no logical necessity for holding that democracy must always and

everywhere be the rule of the mob. And we have seen that other forms of

society may also suffer from crowd-rule. I suspect that the repugnance

which certain aristocratic, and bourgeois writers also, show for

democracy is less the horror of crowd-rule as such, than dislike of

seeing control pass over to a crowd other than their own. Theoretically

at least, democracy calls for a maximum of self-government and personal

freedom. The fact that democracy is rapidly degenerating into tyranny of

all over each may be due, not to the democratic ideal itself, but the

growing tendency to crowd-behavior in modern times. It may be that

certain democratic ideals are not so much causes as effects of

crowd-thinking and action. It cannot be denied that such ideals come in

very handy these days in the way of furnishing crowds with effective

catchwords for their propaganda and of providing them with ready-made

justifications for their will to power. I should say that democracy has

indirectly permitted, rather than directly caused, an extension in the

range of thought and behavior over which the crowd assumes


In comparing democracy with more autocratic forms of government, this

extent or range of crowd-control over the individual is important. Of

course, human beings will never permit to one another a very large

degree of personal freedom. It is to the advantage of everyone in the

struggle for existence to reduce his neighbors as much as possible to

automatons. In this way one's own adjustment to the behavior of others

is made easier. If we can induce or compel all about us to confine their

actions to perfect routine, then we may predict with a fair degree of

accuracy their future behavior, and be prepared in advance to meet it.

We all dread the element of the unexpected, and nowhere so much as in

the conduct of our neighbors. If we could only get rid of the humanly

unexpected, society would be almost fool-proof. Hence the resistance to

new truths, social change, progress, nonconformity of any sort; hence

our orthodoxies and conventions; hence our incessant preaching to our

neighbors to "be good"; hence the fanaticism with which every crowd

strives to keep its believers in line. Much of this insistence on

regularity is positively necessary. Without it there could be no social

or moral order at all. It is in fact the source and security of the

accepted values of civilization, as Schiller has shown.

But the process of keeping one another in line is carried much farther

than is necessary to preserve the social order. It is insisted upon to

the extent that will guarantee the survival, even the dominance, of the

spiritually sick, the morally timid, the trained-animal men, those who

would revert to savagery, or stand utterly helpless the moment a new

situation demanded that they do some original thinking in the place of

performing the few stereotyped tricks which they have acquired; the

dog-in-the-manger people, who because they can eat no meat insist that

all play the dyspeptic lest the well-fed outdistance them in the race of

life or set them an example in following which they get the stomach

ache; the people who, because they cannot pass a saloon door without

going in and getting drunk, cannot see a moving-picture, or read a

modern book, or visit a bathing beach without being tormented with their

gnawing promiscuous eroticism, insist upon setting up their own

perverted dilemmas as the moral standard for everybody.

Such people exist in great numbers in every society. They are always

strong for "brotherly love," for keeping up appearances, for removing

temptation from the path of life, for uniform standards of belief and

conduct. Each crowd, in its desire to become the majority, to hold the

weaker brethren within its fold, and especially as everyone of us has a

certain amount of this "little brother" weakness in his own nature,

which longs to be pampered if only the pampering can be done without

hurting our pride--the crowd invariably plays to this sort of thing and

bids for its support. As the little brother always expresses his

survival-values in terms of accepted crowd-ideas, no crowd can really

turn him down without repudiating its abstract principles. In fact, it

is just this weakness in our nature which, as we have seen, leads us to

become crowd-men in the first place. Furthermore, we have seen that any

assertion of personal independence is resented by the crowd because it

weakens the crowd-faith of all.

The measure of freedom granted to men will depend, therefore, upon how

many things the crowd attempts to consider its business. There is a law

of inertia at work here. In monarchical forms of government, where the

crowd-will is exercised through a single human agent, the monarch may be

absolute in regard to certain things which are necessary to his own and

his crowd's survival. In such matters "he can do no wrong"; there is

little or no appeal from his decisions. But the very thoroughness with

which he hunts down nonconformity in matters which directly concern his

authority, leaves him little energy for other things. Arbitrary power

is therefore usually limited to relatively few things, since the

autocrat cannot busy himself with everything that is going on. Within

the radius of the things which the monarch attempts to regulate he may

be an intolerable tyrant, but so long as he is obeyed in these matters,

so long as things run on smoothly on the surface, there are all sorts of

things which he would prefer not to have brought to his attention, as

witness, for instance, the letter of Trajan to the younger Pliny.

With a democracy it is different. While the exercise of authority is

never so inexorable--indeed democratic states frequently pass laws for

the purpose of placing the community on record "for righteousness,"

rather than with the intention of enforcing such laws--the number of

things which a democracy will presume to regulate is vastly greater than

in monarchical states. As sovereignty is universal, everybody becomes

lawmaker and regulator of his neighbors. As the lawmaking power is

present everywhere, nothing can escape its multieyed scrutiny. All sorts

of foibles, sectional interests, group demands, class prejudices become

part of the law of the land. A democracy is no respecter of persons and

can, under its dogma of equality before the law, admit of no exceptions.

The whole body politic is weighed down with all the several bits of

legislation which may be demanded by any of the various groups within

it. An unusual inducement and opportunity are thus provided for every

crowd to force its own crowd-dilemmas upon all.

The majority not only usurps the place of the king, but it tends to

subject the whole range of human thought and behavior to its

authority--everything, in fact, that anyone, disliking in his neighbors

or finding himself tempted to do, may wish to "pass a law against."

Every personal habit and private opinion becomes a matter for public

concern. Custom no longer regulates; all is rationalized according to

the logic of the crowd-mind. Public policy sits on the doorstep of every

man's personal conscience. The citizen in us eats up the man. Not the

tiniest personal comfort may yet be left us in private enjoyment. All

that cannot be translated into propaganda or hold its own in a

legislative lobby succumbs. If we are to preserve anything of our

personal independence, we must organize ourselves into a crowd like the

rest and get out in the streets and set up a public howl. Unless some

one pretty soon starts a pro-tobacco crusade and proves to the

newspaper-reading public that the use of nicotine by everybody in equal

amount is absolutely necessary for the preservation of the American

home, for economic efficiency and future military supremacy, we shall

doubtless all soon be obliged to sneak down into the cellar and smoke

our pipes in the dark.

Here we see the true argument for a written constitution, and also, I

think, a psychological principle which helps us to decide what should be

in a constitution and what should not. The aim of a constitution is to

put a limit to the number of things concerning which a majority-crowd

may lord it over the individual. I am aware that the appeal to the

Constitution is often abused by predatory interests which skulk behind

its phraseology in their defense of special economic privilege. But,

nevertheless, people in a democracy may be free only so long as they

submit to the dictation of the majority in just and only those few

interests concerning which a monarch, were he in existence, would take

advantage of them for his personal ends. There are certain political

and economic relations which cannot be left to the chance exploitation

of any individual or group that happens to come along. Some one is sure

to come along, for you may be sure that if there is a possible

opportunity to take advantage, some one will do it sooner or later.

Now because people have discovered that there is no possible individual

freedom in respect to certain definite phases of their common life which

are always exposed to seizure by exploiters, democrats have substituted

a tyranny of the majority for the tyranny of the one or the favored few

which would otherwise be erected at these points. Since it is necessary

to give up freedom in these regions anyway, there is some compensation

in spreading the tyrannizing around so that each gets a little share of

it. But every effort should be made to limit the tyranny of the

majority to just these points. And the line limiting the number of

things that the majority may meddle with must be drawn as hard and fast

as possible, since every dominant crowd, as we have seen, will squeeze

the life out of everything human it can get its hands on. The minute a

majority finds that it can extend its tyranny beyond this strictly

constitutionally limited sphere, nothing remains to stop it; it becomes

worse than an autocracy. Tyranny is no less abhorrent just because the

number of tyrants is increased. A nation composed of a hundred million

little tyrants snooping and prying into every corner may be democratic,

but, personally, if that ever comes to be the choice I think I should

prefer one tyrant. He might occasionally look the other way and leave me

a free man, long enough at least for me to light my pipe.

True democrats will be very jealous of government. Necessary as it is,

there is no magic about government, no saving grace. Government cannot

redeem us from our sins; it will always require all the decency we

possess to redeem the government. Government always represents the moral

dilemmas of the worst people, not the best. It cannot give us freedom;

it can give or grant us nothing but what it first takes from us. It is

we who grant to the government certain powers and privileges necessary

for its proper functioning. We do not exist for the government; it

exists for us. We are not its servants; it is our servant. Government at

best is a useful and necessary machine, a mechanism by which we protect

ourselves from one another. It has no more rights and dignities of its

own than are possessed by any other machine. Its laws should be obeyed,

for the same reason that the laws of mechanics should be

obeyed--otherwise the machine will not run.

As a matter of fact it is not so much government itself against which

the democrat must be on guard, but the various crowds which are always

seeking to make use of the machinery of government in order to impose

their peculiar tyranny upon all and invade the privacy of everyone. By

widening the radius of governmental control, the crowd thus pinches down

the individuality of everyone with the same restrictions as are imposed

by the crowd upon its own members.

Conway says:

Present-day Democracy rests on a few organized parties. What

would a democracy be like if based on millions of independent

Joneses each of whom decided to vote this or that way as he

pleased? The dominion of the crowd would be at an end, both for

better and for worse. We shall not behold any such revolution in

the world as we know it....

Thus we must conclude that the crowd by its very nature tends,

and always must tend, to diminish (if possible, to the vanishing

point) the freedom of its members, and not in one or two

respects alone, but in all. The crowd's desire is to swallow up

the individuality of its members and reduce them one and all to

the condition of crowd units whose whole life is lived according

to the crowd-pattern and is sacrificed and devoted to


An excellent illustration of this crowd-dominance crops up in my

afternoon paper.... It appears that in certain parts of the

country artisans, by drinking too much alcohol, are reducing

their capacity of doing their proper work, which happens at the

moment to be of great importance to the country at war. Many

interferences with liberty are permitted in war time by general

consent. It is accordingly proposed to put difficulties in the

way of these drinkers by executive orders. One would suppose

that the just way to do this would be to make a list of the

drinkers and prohibit their indulgence. But this is not the way

the crowd works. To it everyone of its constituent members is

like another, and all must be drilled and controlled alike....

Whatever measure is adopted must fall evenly on all classes,

upon club, restaurant and hotel as upon public house. Could

anything be more absurd? Lest a gunmaker or a shipbuilder in

Glasgow should drink too much, Mr. Asquith must not take a glass

of sherry with his lunch at the Athenaeum!...

We live in days when crowd dominion over individuals has been

advancing at a headlong pace.... If he is not to drink in London

lest a Glasgow engineer should get drunk, why should not his

eating be alike limited? Why not the style and cut of his

clothes? Why not the size and character of his house? He must

cause his children to be taught at least the minimum of muddled

information which the government calls education. He must insure

for his dependents the attention of an all-educated physician,

and the administration of drugs known to be useless. If the

crowd had its way every mother and infant would be under the

orders of inspectors, regardless of the capacity of the parent.

We should all be ordered about in every relation of life from

infancy to manhood.... Freedom would utterly vanish, and this,

not because the crowd can arrange things better than the

individual. It cannot. It lacks the individual's brains. The

ultimate reason for all this interference is the crowd's desire

to swallow up and control the unit. The instinct of all crowds

is to dominate, to capture and overwhelm the individual, to make

him their slave, to absorb all his life for their service.

The criticism has often been made of democracy that it permits too much

freedom; the reverse of this is nearer the truth. It was de Tocqueville,

I think, who first called attention to the "tyranny of the majority" in

democratic America. Probably one of the most comprehensive and

discriminating studies that have ever been made of the habits and

institutions of any nation may be found in the work of this observing

young Frenchman who visited our country at the close of its first half

century of political independence. De Tocqueville's account of Democracy

in America is still good reading, much of it being applicable to the

present. This writer was in no sense an unfriendly critic. He praised

much that he saw, but even in those days (the period of 1830) he was not

taken in by the fiction that, because the American people live under

laws of their own making, they are therefore free. Much of the following

passages taken here and there from Chapters XIV and XV is as true today

as it was when it was written:

America is therefore a free country in which, lest anybody be

hurt by your remarks, you are not allowed to speak freely of

private individuals, of the State, or the citizens, or the

authorities, of public or private undertakings, in short of

anything at all, except perhaps the climate and the soil, and

even then Americans will be found ready to defend both as if

they had concurred in producing them.

The American submits without a murmur to the authority of the

pettiest magistrate. This truth prevails even in the trivial

details of national life. An American cannot converse--he speaks

to you as if he were addressing a meeting. If an American were

condemned to confine himself to his own affairs, he would be

robbed of one-half of his existence; his wretchedness would be


The moral authority of the majority in America is based on the

notion that there is more intelligence and wisdom in a number of

men united than in a single individual.... The theory of

equality is thus applied to the intellects of men.

The French, under the old regime, held it for a maxim that the

King could do no wrong. The Americans entertain the same opinion

with regard to the majority.

In the United States, all parties are willing to recognize the

rights of the majority, because they all hope at some time to be

able to exercise them to their own advantage. The majority

therefore in that country exercises a prodigious actual

authority and a power of opinion which is nearly as great (as

that of the absolute autocrat). No obstacles exist which can

impair or even retard its progress so as to make it heed the

complaints of those whom it crushes upon its path. This state of

things is harmful in itself and dangerous for the future.

As the majority is the only power which it is important to

court, all its projects are taken up with the greatest ardor;

but no sooner is its attention distracted than all this ardor


There is no power on earth so worthy of honor in itself, or

clothed with rights so sacred, that I would admit its

uncontrolled and all-predominant authority.

In my opinion the main evil of the present democratic

institutions of the United States does not arise, as is so often

asserted in Europe, from their weakness, but from their

irresistible strength.... I am not so much alarmed by the

excessive liberty which reigns in that country, as by the

inadequate securities which one finds against tyranny. When an

individual or party is wronged in the United States, to whom can

he apply for redress?

It is in the examination of the exercise of thought in the

United States that we clearly perceive how far the power of the

majority surpasses all the powers with which we are acquainted

in Europe. At the present time the most absolute monarchs in

Europe cannot prevent certain opinions hostile to their

authority from circulating in secret through their dominions and

even in their courts.

It is not so in America. So long as the majority is undecided,

discussion is carried on, but as soon as its decision is

announced everyone is silent....

I know of no country in which there is so little independence of

mind and real freedom of discussion as in America. In America

the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of

opinion. Within these barriers an author may write what he

pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them. Not that he is

in danger of an auto-da-fe, but he is exposed to continued

obloquy and persecution. His political career is closed for

ever. Every sort of compensation, even that of celebrity, is

refused him. Those who think like him have not the courage to

speak out, and abandon him to silence. He yields at length,

overcome by the daily effort which he has to make, and subsides

into silence as if he felt remorse for having spoken the truth.

Fetters and headsmen were coarse instruments ... but

civilization has perfected despotism itself. Under absolute

despotism of one man, the body was attacked to subdue the soul,

but the soul escaped the blows and rose superior. Such is not

the course adopted in democratic republics; there the body is

left free, but the soul is enslaved....

The ruling power in the United States is not to be made game of.

The smallest reproach irritates its sensibilities. The slightest

joke which has any foundation in truth renders it indignant.

Everything must be the subject of encomium. No writer, whatever

his eminence, can escape paying his tribute of adoration to his

fellow citizens.

The majority lives in the perpetual utterance of self-applause,

and there are certain truths which Americans can only learn from

strangers, or from experience. If America has not yet had any

great writers, the reason is given in these facts--there can be

no literary genius without freedom of opinion, and freedom of

opinion does not exist in America.

Such passages as the above, quoted from the words of a friendly student

of American democracy, show the impression which, notwithstanding our

popular prattle about freedom, thoughtful foreigners have since the

beginning received. And de Tocqueville wrote long before crowd-thinking

had reached anything like the development we see at present. To-day the

tyrannizing is not confined to the majority-crowd. All sorts of

minority-crowds, impatient of waiting until they can by fair means

persuade the majority to agree with them, begin to practice coercion

upon everyone within reach the minute they fall into possession of some

slight advantage which may be used as a weapon. From the industrial side

we were first menaced by the "invisible government" of organized vested

interests; now, by a growing tendency to government by strikes.

Organized gangs of all sorts have at last learned the amusing trick of

pointing a pistol at the public's head and threatening it with

starvation, and up go its hands, and the gang gains whatever it wants

for itself, regardless of anyone else. But this "hold-up game" is by no

means confined to labor. Capitalistic soviets have since the beginning

of the war taken advantage of situations to enhance their special

crowd-interests. The following, quoted from a letter written during the

war to the Atlantic Monthly, by a thoroughly American writer, Charles

D. Stewart, describes a type of mob rule which existed in almost every

part of the nation while we were fighting for freedom abroad:

Carlyle said that "Of all forms of government, a government of

busybodies is the worst." This is true. It is worse than

Prussianism, because that is one form of government, at least;

and worse than Socialism, because Socialism would be run by law,

anyway. But government by busybodies has neither head nor tail;

working outside the law, it becomes lawless; and having no law

to support it, it finally depends for its enforcement upon

hoodlums and mob rule. When the respectable and wealthy elements

are resorting to this sort of government, abetted by the

newspapers and by all sorts of busybody societies intent upon

"government by public sentiment," we finally have a new thing in

the world and a most obnoxious one--mob rule by the rich; with

the able assistance of the hoodlums--always looking for a


It starts as follows:

The government wishes a certain amount of money. It therefore

appeals to local pride; it sets a "quota," which has been

apportioned to each locality, and promises of a fine

"over-the-top" flag to be hoisted over the courthouse. All well

and good; local pride is a very fine thing, competition is


But the struggle that ensues is not so much local pride as it

looks to be.

Milwaukee, for instance, a big manufacturing center, is noted

for its German population. This, the local proprietors fear, may

affect its trade. It may be boycotted to some extent. A

traveling man comes back and says that a certain dealer in

stoves refuses to buy stoves made in Milwaukee!

Ha!--Milwaukee must redeem its reputation; it must always go

over the top: it must be able to affix this stamp to all its


Now, as the state has a quota, and the county and city has each

its quota, so each individual must have his quota. Each

individual must be "assessed" to buy a certain quota [government

war loan] of bonds. Success must be made sure: the manufacturers

must see the honor of Milwaukee, and Wisconsin, maintained.

It is not compulsory to give a certain "assessed" amount to the

Y. M. C. A.; and the government does not make a certain quota of

bonds compulsory on citizens--oh, no! it is not compulsory, only

you must abide by your assessment. And we will see that you do.

No excuse accepted....

Picture to yourself the following "collection committee"

traveling out of the highly civilized, "kultured" city of


Twenty-five automobiles containing sixty to seventy respectable

citizens of Milwaukee.

One color guard (a flag at the head) with two home guardsmen in

citizens' clothes.

Two deputy sheriffs.

One "official" photographer.

One "official" stenographer.

One banker (this personage to make arrangements to lend a farmer

the money in case he protests that he has subscribed too much


This phalanx, entirely lawless, moves down upon a farmer who is

urging two horses along a cloddy furrow, doing his fall plowing.

They form a semicircle about him; the speechmaker says, "Let us

salute the flag" (watching him to see that he does it promptly);

and while his horses stand there the speechmaker delivers a

speech. He must subscribe his "assessed" amount--no excuses

accepted. If he owes for the farm, and has just paid his

interest, and has only fifteen dollars to go on with, it makes

no difference. He must subscribe the amount of his "assessment,"

and "sign here."

If not, what happens? The farmer all the time, of course, is

probably scared out of his wits, or does not know what to make

of this delegation of notables bearing down upon his solitary

task in the fields. But if he argues too much, he finds this.

They have a large package of yellow placards reading:



And they put them all over his place. He probably signs.

Now bear in mind that this method is not practiced merely

against farmers who have made unpatriotic remarks, or have

refused to support the war. It is practiced against a farmer who

has taken only one hundred dollars when he was assessed a

hundred and fifty--and this is to make him "come across" with

the remainder.

You might ask, Is this comic opera or is it government?

And now we come to the conclusion. Imagine yourself either a

workman in Milwaukee, or a farmer out in the country. You are

dealt with in this entirely Prussian manner--possibly the

committee, which knows little of your financial difficulties in

your home, has just assessed you arbitrarily.

Your constitutional rights do not count. There is no remedy. If

you are painted yellow, the District Attorney will pass the

buck--he knows what the manufacturer expects of him, and the

financier. The state officers of these drives, Federal

representatives, are always Milwaukee bankers.

But for you there is no remedy if you are "assessed" too high.

With the Y. M. C. A., and other religious society drives, the

same assessment scheme is worked. You cannot give to the

Y. M. C. A. You are told right off how much you are to pay.

It would seem that in our democracy freedom consists first of freedom to

vote; second, of freedom to make commercial profit; third, of freedom to

make propaganda; fourth, of freedom from intellectual and moral

responsibility. Each of these "liberties" is little more than a

characteristic form of crowd-behavior. The vote, our most highly prized

modern right, is nearly always so determined by crowd-thinking that as

an exercise of individual choice it is a joke. Men are herded in droves

and delivered by counties in almost solid blocks by professional traders

of political influence. Before each election a campaign of crowd-making

is conducted in which every sort of vulgarity and insincerity has

survival value, in which real issues are so lost in partisan propaganda

as to become unrecognizable. When the vote is cast it is commonly a

choice between professional crowd-leaders whose competency consists in

their ability to Billy Sundayize the mob rather than in any marked

fitness for the office to which they aspire--also between the horns of a

dilemma which wholly misstates the issue involved and is trumped up

chiefly for purposes of political advertising. Time and again the

franchise thus becomes an agency by which rival crowds may fasten their

own tyrannies upon one another.

Freedom to make commercial profit, to get ahead of others in the race

for dollars, is what democracy generally means by "opportunity." Nothing

is such a give-away of the modern man as the popular use of the word

"individualism." It is no longer a philosophy of becoming something

genuine and unique, but of getting something and using it according to

your own whims and for personal ends regardless of the effect upon

others. This pseudo-individualism encourages the rankest selfishness and

exploitation to go hand in hand with the most deadly spiritual

conformity and inanity. Such "individualism" is, as I have pointed out,

a crowd-idea, for it is motivated by a cheaply disguised ideal of

personal superiority through the mere fact of possessing things.

Paradoxical as it may appear at first sight, this is really the old

crowd notion of "equality," for, great as are the differences of wealth

which result, every man may cherish the fiction that he possesses the

sort of ability necessary for this kind of social distinction. Such

superiority thus has little to do with personal excellence; it is the

result of the external accident of success. One man may still be "as

good as another."

Against this competitive struggle now there has grown up a counter-crowd

ideal of collectivism. But here also the fiction of universal spiritual

equality is maintained; the competitive struggle is changed from an

individual to a gang struggle, while the notion that personal worth is

the result of the environment and may be achieved by anyone whose belly

is filled still persists. Proletarians for the most part wish,

chinch-bug fashion, to crawl into the Elysian fields now occupied by the

hated capitalists. The growing tendency to industrial democracy will

probably in the near future cut off this freedom to make money, which

has been the chief "liberty" of political democracy until now, but

whether liberty in general will be the gainer thereby remains to be

seen. One rather prominent Socialist in New York declares that liberty

is a "myth." He is correct, in so far as the democratic movement, either

political or social, is a crowd-phenomenon. Socialist agitators are

always demanding "liberty" nevertheless, but the liberty which they

demand is little more than freedom to make their own propaganda. And

this leads us to the third liberty permitted by modern democracy.

The "freedom of speech" which is everywhere demanded in the name of

democracy is not at all freedom in the expression of individual opinion.

It is only the demand for advertising space on the part of various

crowds for the publication of their shibboleths and propaganda. Each

crowd, while demanding this freedom for itself, seeks to deny it to

other crowds, and all unite in denying it to the non-crowd man wherever

possible. The Puritan's "right to worship according to the dictates of a

man's own conscience" did not apply to Quakers, Deists, or Catholics.

When Republicans were "black abolitionists" they would have regarded any

attempt to suppress The Liberator, as edited by William Lloyd

Garrison, as an assault upon the constitutional liberties of the whole

nation. But they are not now particularly interested in preserving the

constitutional liberties of the nation as represented in the right of

circulation of The Liberator, edited by Max Eastman. In Jefferson's

time, when Democrats were accused of "Jacobinism," they invoked the

"spirit of 1776" in opposition to the alien and sedition laws under

which their partisan propaganda suffered limitation. To-day, when they

are striving to outdo the Republicans in "Americanization propaganda,"

they actually stand sponsor for an espionage law which would have made

Jefferson or Andrew Jackson froth at the mouth. Socialists are convinced

that liberty is dead because Berger and Debs are convicted of uttering

opinions out of harmony with temporarily dominant crowd-ideas of

patriotism. But when Theodore Dreiser was put under the ban for the

crime of writing one of the few good novels produced in America, I do

not recall that Socialists held any meetings of protest in Madison

Square Garden. I have myself struggled in vain for three hours or more

on a street corner in Green Point trying to tell liberty-loving

Socialists the truth about the Gary schools. When the politicians in our

legislative assemblies were tricked into passing the obviously unliberal

Eighteenth Amendment, I was much interested in learning how the bulk of

the Socialists in the Cooper Union audiences felt about it. As I had

expected, they regarded it as an unpardonable infringement of personal

freedom, as a typical piece of American Puritan hypocrisy and

pharisaism. But they were, on the whole, in favor of it because they

thought it would be an aid to Bolshevist propaganda, since it would make

the working class still more discontented! Such is liberty in a

crowd-governed democracy.... It is nothing but the liberty of crowds to

be crowds.

The fourth liberty in democratic society to-day is freedom from moral and

intellectual responsibility. This is accomplished by the magic of

substituting the machinery of the law for self-government, bureaucratic

meddlesomeness for conscience, crowd-tyranny for personal decency.

Professor Faguet has called democracy the "cult of incompetence" and the

"dread of responsibility." He is not far wrong, but these epithets apply

not so much to democracy as such as to democracy under the heel of the

crowd. The original aim of democracy, so far as its philosophical

thinkers conceived of it, was to set genius free from the trammels of

tradition, realize a maximum of self-government, and make living

something of an adventure. But crowds do not so understand democracy.

Every crowd looks upon democracy simply as a scheme whereby it may have

its own way. We have seen that the crowd-mind as such is a device for

"kidding" ourselves, for representing the easiest path to the

enhancement of our self-feeling as something highly moral, for making

our personal right appear like universal righteousness, for dressing up

our will to lord it over others, as if it were devotion to impersonal

principle. As we have seen, the crowd therefore insists upon universal

conformity; goodness means only making everyone alike. By taking refuge

in the abstract and ready-made system of crowd-ideas, the unconscious

will to power is made to appear what it is not; the burden of

responsibility is transferred to the group with its fiction of absolute

truth. Le Bon noted the fact of the irresponsibility of crowds, but

thought that such irresponsibility was due to the fact that the crowd,

being an anonymous gathering, the individual could lose his identity in

the multitude. The psychology of the unconscious has provided us with

what I think is a better explanation, but the fact of irresponsibility

remains and is evident in all the influence of crowd-thinking upon

democratic institutions. The crowd-ideal of society is one in which

every individual is protected not only against exploitation, but against

temptation--protected therefore against himself. The whole tendency of

democracy in our times is toward just such inanity. Without the least

critical analysis of accepted moral dilemmas, we are all to be made

moral in spite of ourselves, regardless of our worth, without effort on

our part, moral in the same way that machines are moral, by reducing the

will to mere automatic action, leaving no place for choice and

uncertainty, having everyone wound up and oiled and regulated to run at

the same speed. Each crowd therefore strives to make its own moral

ideas the law of the land. Law becomes thus a sort of anthology of

various existing crowd-hobbies. In the end moral responsibility is

passed over to legislatures, commissions, detectives, inspectors, and

bureaucrats. Anything that "gets by" the public censor, however rotten,

we may wallow in with a perfect feeling of respectability. The right and

necessity of choosing our way is superseded by a system of statutory

taboos, which as often as not represent the survival values of the

meanest little people in the community--the kind who cannot look upon a

nude picture without a struggle with their perverted eroticism, or

entertain a significant idea without losing their faith.

The effect of all this upon the intellectual progress and the freedom of

art in democratic society is obvious, and is just what, to one who

understands the mechanisms of the crowd-mind, might be expected. No

wonder de Tocqueville said he found less freedom of opinion in America

than elsewhere. Explain it as you will, the fact is here staring us in

the face. Genius in our democracy is not free. It must beg the

permission of little crowd-men for its right to exist. It must stand,

hat in hand, at the window of the commissioner of licenses and may gain

a permit for only so much of its inspiration as happens to be of

use-value to the uninspired. It must play the conformist, pretend to be

hydra-headed rather than unique, useful rather than genuine, a servant

of the "least of these" rather than their natural master. It must

advertise, but it may not prophesy. It may flatter and patronize the

stupid, but it may not stand up taller than they. In short, democracy

everywhere puts out the eyes of its Samson, cuts off his golden-rayed

locks, and makes him grind corn to fill the bellies of the Philistines.

From the beginning of the nineteenth century until now it has been

chiefly the business man, the political charlatan, the organizer of

trade, the rediscoverer of popular prejudices who have been preferred in

our free modern societies. Keats died of a broken heart; Shelley and

Wagner were exiled; Beethoven and Schubert were left to starve; Darwin

was condemned to hell fire; Huxley was denied his professorship;

Schopenhauer was ostracized by the elite; Nietzsche ate his heart out in

solitude; Walt Whitman had to be fed by a few English admirers, while

his poems were prohibited as obscene in free America; Emerson was for

the greater part of his life persona non grata at his own college;

Ingersoll was denied the political career which his genius merited; Poe

lived and died in poverty; Theodore Parker was consigned to perdition;

Percival Lowell and Simon Newcomb lived and died almost unrecognized by

the American public. Nearly every artist and writer and public teacher

is made to understand from the beginning that he will be popular in just

the degree that he strangles his genius and becomes a vulgar,

commonplace, insincere clown.

On the other hand steel manufacturers and railroad kings, whose business

record will often scarcely stand the light, are rewarded with fabulous

millions and everyone grovels before them. When one turns from the

"commercialism," which everywhere seems to be the dominant and most

sincere interest in democratic society, when one seeks for spiritual

values to counterbalance this weight of materialism, one finds in the

prevailing spirit little more than a cult of naive sentimentality.

It can hardly be denied that if Shakespeare, Boccaccio, Rabelais,

Montaigne, Cassanova, Goethe, Dostoievsky, Ibsen, Tolstoi, Rousseau, St.

Augustine, Milton, Nietzsche, Swinburne, Rossetti, or even Flaubert,

were alive and writing his masterpiece in America to-day, he would be

instantly silenced by some sort of society for the prevention of vice,

and held up to the public scorn and ridicule as a destroyer of our

innocence and a corrupter of public morals. The guardians of our

characters are ceaselessly expurgating the classics lest we come to harm

reading them. I often think that the only reason why the Bible is

permitted to pass through our mails is because hardly anyone ever reads


It is this same habit of crowd-thinking which accounts to a great extent

for the dearth of intellectual curiosity in this country. From what we

have seen to be the nature of the crowd-mind, it is to be expected that

in a democracy in which crowds play an important part the condition

described by de Tocqueville will generally prevail. There is much truth

in his statement that it seems at first as if the minds of all the

Americans "were formed upon the same model." Spiritual variation will be

encouraged only in respect to matters in which one crowd differs from

another. The conformist spirit will prevail in all. Intellectual

leadership will inevitably pass to the "tight-minded." There will be

violent conflicts of ideas, but they will be crowd ideas.

The opinions about which people differ are for the most part ready-made.

They are concerned with the choice of social mechanisms, but hardly with

valuations. With nearly all alike, there is a notion that mankind may be

redeemed by the magic of externally manipulating the social environment.

There is a wearisome monotony of professions of optimism, idealism,

humanitarianism, with little knowledge of what these terms mean.

I am thinking of all those young people who, in the decade and a half

which preceded the war, represented the finished product of our

colleges and universities. What a stretch of imagination is needed

before one may call these young people educated! How little of

intellectual interest they have brought back from school to their

respective communities! How little cerebral activity they have stirred

up! Habits of study, of independent thinking, have seldom been acquired.

The "educated" have possibly gained a little in social grace; they have

in some cases learned things which are of advantage to them in the

struggle for position. Out of the confused mass of unassimilated

information which they dimly remember as the education which they "got,"

a sum of knowledge doubtless remains which is greater in extent than

that possessed by the average man, but, though greater in extent, this

knowledge is seldom different in kind. There is the same superficiality,

the same susceptibility to crowd-thinking on every subject. The mental

habits of American democracy are probably best reflected to-day by the

"best-seller" novel, the Saturday Evening Post, the Chautauqua, the

Victrola, the moving picture.

Nearly everyone in America can read, for the "schoolhouse is the bulwark

of democratic freedom." However, with the decrease in illiteracy there

has gone a corresponding lowering of literary and intellectual

standards, a growing timidity in telling the truth, and a passion for

the sensationally commonplace. If it be true that before people may be

politically free they must be free to function mentally, one wonders how

much of an aid to liberty the public schools in this country have been,

or if, with their colossal impersonal systems and stereotyped methods of

instruction, they have not rather on the whole succeeded chiefly in

making learning uninteresting, dulling curiosity and killing habits of

independent thinking. There is probably no public institution where the

spirit of the crowd reigns to the extent that it does in the public

school. The aim seems to be to mold the child to type, make him the

good, plodding citizen, teaching him only so much as some one thinks it

is to the public's interest that he should know. I am sure that everyone

who is familiar with the actions of the school authorities in New York

City during the two years, 1918 and 1919, will be impelled to look

elsewhere for much of that liberty which is supposed to go with


Some years ago I conducted a little investigation into the mental habits

of the average high-school graduate. An examination was made of twenty

or more young people who had been out of school one year. This is

doubtless too limited a number to give the findings great general

significance, but I give the results in brief for what they are worth.

These students had been in school for eleven years. I thought that they

ought at least to have a minimum of general cultural information and to

be able to express some sort of opinion about the commonplaces of our

spiritual heritage. The questions asked were such as follow: What is the

difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution

of the United States? What is a dicotyledon? Does the name Darwin mean

anything to you? Have you ever heard of William James? What is the

significance of the battle of Tours? Who was Thomas Jefferson? There

were twenty questions in all. The average grade, even with the most

liberal marking, was 44.6. The general average was raised by one pupil

who made a grade of 69. But then we should not be too severe upon the

public-school graduate. One of the brightest college graduates I know

left a large Eastern institution believing that Karl Marx was a

philologist. Another, a graduate from a Western college, thought that

Venus de Milo was an Italian count who had been born without any arms. I

know a prominent physician, whose scientific training is such that he

has been a lecturer in a medical college, who believes that Heaven is

located just a few miles up in the sky, beyond the Milky Way. These are

doubtless exceptional cases, but how many persons with university

degrees are there who have really caught the spirit of the humanistic

culture, or have ever stopped to think why the humanities are taught in

our colleges? How many are capable of discriminating criticism of works

of music, or painting, literature, or philosophy? My own experience

convinces me, and I am sure that other public teachers who have had a

like experience will bear witness to the same lamentable fact, that such

little genuine intellectual interest as there is in this country is

chiefly confined to immigrant Jews, our American youth being, on the

whole, innocent of it. The significance of this fact is obvious, as is

its cause. Due to the conformist spirit of the dominant crowd,

native-born Americans are losing their intellectual leadership.

We must not ignore the fact that there is among the educated here a

small and, let us hope, growing group of youthful "intellectuals." But

in the first place the proportion of these to the whole mass is

tragically small. In the second place intellectual liberalism has been

content for the most part to tag along behind the labor movement, as if

the chief meaning of the intellectual awakening were economic. It is no

disparagement of labor to say that the intellect in this country of

crowds has also other work to do, and that, until it strikes out for

itself, neither the labor movement nor anything else will rise above

commonplace crowd dilemmas. Too much of our so-called intellectualism is

merely the substitution of ready-made proletarian crowd-ideas for the

traditional crowd-ideas which pass for thinking among the middle


All the facts which have been pointed out above are the inevitable

consequences of government by crowds. There can be no real liberty with

crowds because there can be no personal independence. The psychic

mechanisms of the crowd are hostile to conscious personality. The

independent thinker cannot be controlled by catchwords. In our day

intellectual freedom is not smothered in actual martyr fires, but it is

too often strangled in the cradle. The existence of new values, a thing

which will inevitably happen where the human spirit is left free in its

creative impulses, is disturbing to the crowd-mind. Education must

therefore be made "safe for democracy"; it must be guarded carefully

lest the youth become an original personal fact, a new spiritual

creation. I realize the element of truth in the statement often made,

that there is already too much spiritual originality in the youths of

this generation. I am not contending that certain phases of egoism

should not be checked by education. A solid intellectual basis must be

created which will make social living possible. The trouble is,

however, that this task is done too well. It is the merely useful man,

not the unusual man, whom the crowd loves. Skill is encouraged, for,

whether it be skill in serving or in demanding service, skill in itself

does not upset existing crowd-values. Reflection is "wicked" for it

leads to doubt, and doubt is non-gregarious behavior. Education ceases

to be the path of spiritual freedom; it becomes a device for harnessing

the spirit of youth in the treadmill of the survival-values of the

crowd. It is also the revenge of the old against the young, a way of

making them less troublesome. It teaches the rules for success in a

crowd-governed world while taking advantage of the natural credulity of

childhood to draw the curtain with such terrifying mummery about the

figure of wisdom that the average mind, never having the daring or

curiosity to lift it, will remain to its dying day a dullard and a

mental slave without suspecting the fact. Every "dangerous" thought is

denatured and expurgated. The student is skillfully insulated from any

mental shock that might galvanize him into original intellectual life.

The classic languages are taught for purposes of "discipline." After six

or seven years' study of Greek literature in the accepted manner one may

be able to repeat most of the rules of Goodwin's Greek Grammar, and

pride himself upon being a cultivated person, knowing in the end less

of the language than a bootblack from modern Athens knows of it, or than

a waiter from Bologna knows of English after one year's residence in

Greenwich Village. And the all-important thing is that never once has

the student been given a glimpse of the beautiful free pagan life which

all this literature is about.

Science is taught that the student, if he has ability, may learn how to

make a geological survey of oil lands, construct and operate a cement

factory, make poison gas, remove infected tonsils, or grow a culture of

bacteria; but should he cease to hold popular beliefs about the origin

of life or the immortality of the soul it is well for him to keep the

tragic fact to himself. Those who teach history, economics, and

political science in such a way as to stimulate independence of thinking

on the part of the stud

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