Scarcely a century ago the traditional policy of European states

and the rivalries of sovereigns were the principal factors that

shaped events. The opinion of the masses scarcely counted, and

most frequently indeed did not count at all. To-day it is the

traditions which used to obtain in politics, and the individual

tendencies and rivalries of rulers which do not count; while, on

the contrary, the voice of the masses has become preponderant.

It is this voice that dictates their conduct to kings, whose

endeavour is to take note of its utterances. The destinies of

nations are elaborated at present in the heart of the masses, and

no longer in the councils of princes.

The entry of the popular classes into political life--that is to

say, in reality, their progressive transformation into governing

classes--is one of the most striking characteristics of our epoch

of transition. The introduction of universal suffrage, which

exercised for a long time but little influence, is not, as might

be thought, the distinguishing feature of this transference of

political power. The progressive growth of the power of the

masses took place at first by the propagation of certain ideas,

which have slowly implanted themselves in men's minds, and

afterwards by the gradual association of individuals bent on

bringing about the realisation of theoretical conceptions. It is

by association that crowds have come to procure ideas with

respect to their interests which are very clearly defined if not

particularly just, and have arrived at a consciousness of their

strength. The masses are founding syndicates before which the

authorities capitulate one after the other; they are also

founding labour unions, which in spite of all economic laws tend

to regulate the conditions of labour and wages. They return to

assemblies in which the Government is vested, representatives

utterly lacking initiative and independence, and reduced most

often to nothing else than the spokesmen of the committees that

have chosen them.

To-day the claims of the masses are becoming more and more

sharply defined, and amount to nothing less than a determination

to utterly destroy society as it now exists, with a view to

making it hark back to that primitive communism which was the

normal condition of all human groups before the dawn of

civilisation. Limitations of the hours of labour, the

nationalisation of mines, railways, factories, and the soil, the

equal distribution of all products, the elimination of all the

upper classes for the benefit of the popular classes, &c., such

are these claims.

Little adapted to reasoning, crowds, on the contrary, are quick

to act. As the result of their present organisation their

strength has become immense. The dogmas whose birth we are

witnessing will soon have the force of the old dogmas; that is to

say, the tyrannical and sovereign force of being above

discussion. The divine right of the masses is about to replace

the divine right of kings.

The writers who enjoy the favour of our middle classes, those who

best represent their rather narrow ideas, their somewhat

prescribed views, their rather superficial scepticism, and their

at times somewhat excessive egoism, display profound alarm at

this new power which they see growing; and to combat the disorder

in men's minds they are addressing despairing appeals to those

moral forces of the Church for which they formerly professed so

much disdain. They talk to us of the bankruptcy of science, go

back in penitence to Rome, and remind us of the teachings of

revealed truth. These new converts forget that it is too late.

Had they been really touched by grace, a like operation could not

have the same influence on minds less concerned with the

preoccupations which beset these recent adherents to religion.

The masses repudiate to-day the gods which their admonishers

repudiated yesterday and helped to destroy. There is no power,

Divine or human, that can oblige a stream to flow back to its


There has been no bankruptcy of science, and science has had no

share in the present intellectual anarchy, nor in the making of

the new power which is springing up in the midst of this anarchy.

Science promised us truth, or at least a knowledge of such

relations as our intelligence can seize: it never promised us

peace or happiness. Sovereignly indifferent to our feelings, it

is deaf to our lamentations. It is for us to endeavour to live

with science, since nothing can bring back the illusions it has


Universal symptoms, visible in all nations, show us the rapid

growth of the power of crowds, and do not admit of our supposing

that it is destined to cease growing at an early date. Whatever

fate it may reserve for us, we shall have to submit to it. All

reasoning against it is a mere vain war of words. Certainly it

is possible that the advent to power of the masses marks one of

the last stages of Western civilisation, a complete return to

those periods of confused anarchy which seem always destined to

precede the birth of every new society. But may this result be


Up to now these thoroughgoing destructions of a worn-out

civilisation have constituted the most obvious task of the

masses. It is not indeed to-day merely that this can be traced.

History tells us, that from the moment when the moral forces on

which a civilisation rested have lost their strength, its final

dissolution is brought about by those unconscious and brutal

crowds known, justifiably enough, as barbarians. Civilisations

as yet have only been created and directed by a small

intellectual aristocracy, never by crowds. Crowds are only

powerful for destruction. Their rule is always tantamount to a

barbarian phase. A civilisation involves fixed rules,

discipline, a passing from the instinctive to the rational state,

forethought for the future, an elevated degree of culture--all of

them conditions that crowds, left to themselves, have invariably

shown themselves incapable of realising. In consequence of the

purely destructive nature of their power crowds act like those

microbes which hasten the dissolution of enfeebled or dead

bodies. When the structure of a civilisation is rotten, it is

always the masses that bring about its downfall. It is at such a

juncture that their chief mission is plainly visible, and that

for a while the philosophy of number seems the only philosophy of


Is the same fate in store for our civilisation? There is ground

to fear that this is the case, but we are not as yet in a

position to be certain of it.

However this may be, we are bound to resign ourselves to the

reign of the masses, since want of foresight has in succession

overthrown all the barriers that might have kept the crowd in


We have a very slight knowledge of these crowds which are

beginning to be the object of so much discussion. Professional

students of psychology, having lived far from them, have always

ignored them, and when, as of late, they have turned their

attention in this direction it has only been to consider the

crimes crowds are capable of committing. Without a doubt

criminal crowds exist, but virtuous and heroic crowds, and crowds

of many other kinds, are also to be met with. The crimes of

crowds only constitute a particular phase of their psychology.

The mental constitution of crowds is not to be learnt merely by a

study of their crimes, any more than that of an individual by a

mere description of his vices.

However, in point of fact, all the world's masters, all the

founders of religions or empires, the apostles of all beliefs,

eminent statesmen, and, in a more modest sphere, the mere chiefs

of small groups of men have always been unconscious

psychologists, possessed of an instinctive and often very sure

knowledge of the character of crowds, and it is their accurate

knowledge of this character that has enabled them to so easily

establish their mastery. Napoleon had a marvellous insight into

the psychology of the masses of the country over which he

reigned, but he, at times, completely misunderstood the

psychology of crowds belonging to other races;[1] and it is

because he thus misunderstood it that he engaged in Spain, and

notably in Russia, in conflicts in which his power received blows

which were destined within a brief space of time to ruin it. A

knowledge of the psychology of crowds is to-day the last resource

of the statesman who wishes not to govern them--that is becoming

a very difficult matter--but at any rate not to be too much

governed by them.

psychology any better. Talleyrand wrote him that "Spain would

receive his soldiers as liberators." It received them as beasts

of prey. A psychologist acquainted with the hereditary instincts

of the Spanish race would have easily foreseen this reception.

It is only by obtaining some sort of insight into the psychology

of crowds that it can be understood how slight is the action upon

them of laws and institutions, how powerless they are to hold any

opinions other than those which are imposed upon them, and that

it is not with rules based on theories of pure equity that they

are to be led, but by seeking what produces an impression on them

and what seduces them. For instance, should a legislator,

wishing to impose a new tax, choose that which would be

theoretically the most just? By no means. In practice the most

unjust may be the best for the masses. Should it at the same

time be the least obvious, and apparently the least burdensome,

it will be the most easily tolerated. It is for this reason that

an indirect tax, however exorbitant it be, will always be

accepted by the crowd, because, being paid daily in fractions of

a farthing on objects of consumption, it will not interfere with

the habits of the crowd, and will pass unperceived. Replace it

by a proportional tax on wages or income of any other kind, to be

paid in a lump sum, and were this new imposition theoretically

ten times less burdensome than the other, it would give rise to

unanimous protest. This arises from the fact that a sum

relatively high, which will appear immense, and will in

consequence strike the imagination, has been substituted for the

unperceived fractions of a farthing. The new tax would only

appear light had it been saved farthing by farthing, but this

economic proceeding involves an amount of foresight of which the

masses are incapable.

The example which precedes is of the simplest. Its appositeness

will be easily perceived. It did not escape the attention of

such a psychologist as Napoleon, but our modern legislators,

ignorant as they are of the characteristics of a crowd, are

unable to appreciate it. Experience has not taught them as yet

to a sufficient degree that men never shape their conduct upon

the teaching of pure reason.

Many other practical applications might be made of the psychology

of crowds. A knowledge of this science throws the most vivid

light on a great number of historical and economic phenomena

totally incomprehensible without it. I shall have occasion to

show that the reason why the most remarkable of modern

historians, Taine, has at times so imperfectly understood the

events of the great French Revolution is, that it never occurred

to him to study the genius of crowds. He took as his guide in

the study of this complicated period the descriptive method

resorted to by naturalists; but the moral forces are almost

absent in the case of the phenomena which naturalists have to

study. Yet it is precisely these forces that constitute the true

mainsprings of history.

In consequence, merely looked at from its practical side, the

study of the psychology of crowds deserved to be attempted. Were

its interest that resulting from pure curiosity only, it would

still merit attention. It is as interesting to decipher the

motives of the actions of men as to determine the characteristics

of a mineral or a plant. Our study of the genius of crowds can

merely be a brief synthesis, a simple summary of our

investigations. Nothing more must be demanded of it than a few

suggestive views. Others will work the ground more thoroughly.

To-day we only touch the surface of a still almost virgin soil.