In enumerating the factors capable of making an impression on the

minds of crowds all mention of reason might be dispensed with,

were it not necessary to point out the negative value of its


We have already shown that crowds are not to be influenced by

reasoning, and can only comprehend rough-and-ready associations

of ideas. The orators who know how to make an impression upon

them always appeal in consequence to their sentiments and never

to their reason. The laws of logic have no action on crowds.[16]

To bring home conviction to crowds it is necessary first of all

to thoroughly comprehend the sentiments by which they are

animated, to pretend to share these sentiments, then to endeavour

to modify them by calling up, by means of rudimentary

associations, certain eminently suggestive notions, to be

capable, if need be, of going back to the point of view from

which a start was made, and, above all, to divine from instant to

instant the sentiments to which one's discourse is giving birth.

This necessity of ceaselessly varying one's language in

accordance with the effect produced at the moment of speaking

deprives from the outset a prepared and studied harangue of all

efficaciousness. In such a speech the orator follows his own

line of thought, not that of his hearers, and from this fact

alone his influence is annihilated.

crowds and touching the slight assistance to be derived in this

connection from the rules of logic date back to the seige of

Paris, to the day when I saw conducted to the Louvre, where the

Government was then sitting, Marshal V----, whom a furious crowd

asserted they had surprised in the act of taking the plans of the

fortifications to sell them to the Prussians. A member of the

Government (G. P----), a very celebrated orator, came out to

harangue the crowd, which was demanding the immediate execution

of the prisoner. I had expected that the speaker would point out

the absurdity of the accusation by remarking that the accused

Marshal was positively one of those who had constructed the

fortifications, the plan of which, moreover, was on sale at every

booksellers. To my immense stupefaction--I was very young

then--the speech was on quite different lines. "Justice shall be

done," exclaimed the orator, advancing towards the prisoner, "and

pitiless justice. Let the Government of the National Defence

conclude your inquiry. In the meantime we will keep the prisoner

in custody." At once calmed by this apparent concession, the

crowd broke up, and a quarter of an hour later the Marshal was

able to return home. He would infallibly have been torn in

pieces had the speaker treated the infuriated crowd to the

logical arguments that my extreme youth induced me to consider as

very convincing.

Logical minds, accustomed to be convinced by a chain of somewhat

close reasoning, cannot avoid having recourse to this mode of

persuasion when addressing crowds, and the inability of their

arguments always surprises them. "The usual mathematical

consequences based on the syllogism--that is, on associations of

identities--are imperative . . ." writes a logician. "This

imperativeness would enforce the assent even of an inorganic mass

were it capable of following associations of identities." This

is doubtless true, but a crowd is no more capable than an

inorganic mass of following such associations, nor even of

understanding them. If the attempt be made to convince by

reasoning primitive minds--savages or children, for instance--the

slight value possessed by this method of arguing will be


It is not even necessary to descend so low as primitive beings to

obtain an insight into the utter powerlessness of reasoning when

it has to fight against sentiment. Let us merely call to mind

how tenacious, for centuries long, have been religious

superstitions in contradiction with the simplest logic. For

nearly two thousand years the most luminous geniuses have bowed

before their laws, and modern times have to be reached for their

veracity to be merely contested. The Middle Ages and the

Renaissance possessed many enlightened men, but not a single man

who attained by reasoning to an appreciation of the childish side

of his superstitions, or who promulgated even a slight doubt as

to the misdeeds of the devil or the necessity of burning


Should it be regretted that crowds are never guided by reason?

We would not venture to affirm it. Without a doubt human reason

would not have availed to spur humanity along the path of

civilisation with the ardour and hardihood its illusions have

done. These illusions, the offspring of those unconscious forces

by which we are led, were doubtless necessary. Every race

carries in its mental constitution the laws of its destiny, and

it is, perhaps, these laws that it obeys with a resistless

impulse, even in the case of those of its impulses which

apparently are the most unreasoned. It seems at times as if

nations were submitted to secret forces analogous to those which

compel the acorn to transform itself into an oak or a comet to

follow its orbit.

What little insight we can get into these forces must be sought

for in the general course of the evolution of a people, and not

in the isolated facts from which this evolution appears at times

to proceed. Were these facts alone to be taken into

consideration, history would seem to be the result of a series of

improbable chances. It was improbable that a Galilean carpenter

should become for two thousand years an all-powerful God in whose

name the most important civilisations were founded; improbable,

too, that a few bands of Arabs, emerging from their deserts,

should conquer the greater part of the old Graco-Roman world, and

establish an empire greater than that of Alexander; improbable,

again, that in Europe, at an advanced period of its development,

and when authority throughout it had been systematically

hierarchised, an obscure lieutenant of artillery should have

succeeded in reigning over a multitude of peoples and kings.

Let us leave reason, then, to philosophers, and not insist too

strongly on its intervention in the governing of men. It is not

by reason, but most often in spite of it, that are created those

sentiments that are the mainsprings of all

civilisation--sentiments such as honour, self- sacrifice,

religious faith, patriotism, and the love of glory.

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