The Absolutism Of The Crowd-mind

Wherever conscious thinking is determined by unconscious mechanisms, and

all thinking is more or less so, it is dogmatic in character. Beliefs

which serve an unconscious purpose do not require the support of

evidence. They persist because they are demanded. This is a common

symptom of various forms of psychoneurosis. Ideas "haunt the mind" of

the patient; he cannot rid himself of them. He may know they are

foolish, but he is compelled to think them. In severe cases, he may hear

voices or experience other hallucinations which are symbolic of the

obsessive ideas. Or his psychic life may be so absorbed by his one fixed

idea that it degenerates into the ceaseless repetition of a gesture or a

phrase expressive of this idea.

In paranoia the fixed ideas are organized into a system. Brill says:

I know a number of paranoiacs who went through a stormy period

lasting for years, but who now live contentedly as if in another

world. Such transformations of the world are common in paranoia.

They do not care for anything, as nothing is real to them. They

have withdrawn their sum of libido from the persons of their

environment and the outer world. The end of the world is the

projection of this internal catastrophe. Their subjective world

came to an end since they withdrew their love from it. By a

secondary rationalization, the patients then explain whatever

obtrudes itself upon them as something intangible and fit it in

with their own system. Thus one of my patients who considers

himself a sort of Messiah denies the reality of his own parents

by saying that they are only shadows made by his enemy, the

devil, whom he has not yet wholly subdued. Another paranoiac in

the Central Islip State Hospital, who represented himself as a

second Christ, spends most of his time sewing out on cloth crude

scenes containing many buildings, interspersed with pictures of

the doctors. He explained all this very minutely as the new

world system.... Thus the paranoiac builds up again with his

delusions a new world in which he can live.... (Italics mine.)

However, a withdrawal of libido is not an exclusive occurrence

in paranoia, nor is its occurrence anywhere necessarily followed

by disastrous consequences. Indeed, in normal life there is a

constant withdrawal of libido from persons and objects without

resulting in paranoia or other neuroses. It merely causes a

special psychic mood. The withdrawal of the libido as such

cannot therefore be considered as pathogenic of paranoia. It

requires a special character to distinguish the paranoiac

withdrawal of libido from other kinds of the same process. This

is readily found when we follow the further utilization of the

libido thus withdrawn. Normally, we immediately seek a

substitute for the suspended attachment, and until one is found

the libido floats freely in the psyche and causes tensions which

influence our moods. In hysteria the freed sum of libido

becomes transformed into bodily innervations of fear. Clinical

indications teach us that in paranoia a special use is made of

the libido which is withdrawn from its object ... the freed

libido in paranoia is thrown back on the ego and serves to

magnify it.

Note the fact that there is a necessary relation between the fixed ideal

system of the paranoiac and his withdrawal of interest in the outside

world. The system gains the function of reality for him in the same

measure that, loving not the world nor the things that are in the world,

he has rendered our common human world unreal. His love thrown back upon

himself causes him to create another world, a world of "pure reason," so

to speak, which is more congenial to him than the world of empirical

fact. In this system he takes refuge and finds peace at last. Now we see

the function, at least so far as paranoia is concerned, of the ideal

system. As Brill says, it is a curative process of a mind which has

suffered "regression" or turning back of its interest from the affairs

of ordinary men and women, to the attachments of an earlier stage in its

history. To use a philosophical term, the paranoiac is the Simon-pure

"solipsist." And as a priori thinking tends, as Schiller has shown,

ever to solipsism, we see here the grain of truth in G. K. Chesterton's

witty comparison of rationalism and lunacy.

"Regression," or withdrawal of the libido, is present to some degree I

believe in all forms of the neurosis. But we are informed that a

withdrawal of the libido may, and frequently does, occur also in normal

people. Knowledge of the neurosis here, as elsewhere, serves to throw

light on certain thought processes of people who are considered normal.

Brill says that "normally we seek a substitute for the suspended

attachment." New interests and new affections in time take the places of

the objects from which the feelings have been torn. In analytical

psychology the process by which this is achieved is called a


Now the crowd is in a sense a "transference phenomenon." In the

temporary crowd or mob this transference is too transitory to be very

evident, though even here I believe there will generally be found a

certain esprit de corps. In permanent crowds there is often a marked

transference to the other members of the group. This is evident in the

joy of the new convert or the newly initiated, also in such terms of

affection as "comrade" and "brother." I doubt, however, if this

affection, so far as it is genuine among individuals of a certain crowd,

is very different from the good will and affection which may spring up

anywhere among individuals who are more or less closely associated, or

that it ever really extends beyond the small circle of personal friends

that everyone normally gains through his daily relations with others.

But to the crowd-mind this transference is supposed to extend to all the

members of the group; they are comrades and brothers not because we like

them and know them intimately, but because they are fellow members. In

other words, this transference, so far as it is a crowd phenomenon as

such, is not to other individuals, but to the idea of the crowd itself.

It is not enough for the good citizen to love his neighbors in so far as

he finds them lovable; he must love his country. To the churchman the

Church herself is an object of faith and adoration. One does not become

a humanitarian by being a good fellow; he must love "humanity"--which is

to say, the bare abstract idea of everybody. I remember once asking a

missionary who was on his way to China what it was that impelled him to

go so far in order to minister to suffering humanity. He answered, "It

is love." I asked again, "Do you really mean to say that you care so

much as that for Chinese, not one of whom you have ever seen?" He

answered, "Well, I--you see, I love them through Jesus Christ." So in a

sense it is with the crowd-man always; he loves through the crowd.

The crowd idealized as something sacred, as end in itself, as something

which it is an honor to belong to, is to some extent a disguised object

of our self-love. But the idea of the crowd disguises more than

self-love. Like most of the symbols through which the unconscious

functions, it can serve more than one purpose at a time. The idea of the

crowd also serves to disguise the parental image, and our own imaginary

identification or reunion with it. The nation is to the crowd-man the

"Fatherland," the "mother country," "Uncle Sam"--a figure which serves

to do more than personalize for cartoonists the initials U. S. Uncle Sam

is also the father-image thinly disguised. The Church is "the Mother,"

again the "Bride." Such religious symbols as "the Heavenly Father" and

the "Holy Mother" also have the value of standing for the parent image.

For a detailed discussion of these symbols, the reader is referred to

Jung's Psychology of the Unconscious.

In another connection I have referred to the fact that the crowd stands

to the member in loco parentis. Here I wish to point out the fact that

such a return to the parent image is commonly found in the

psychoneurosis and is what is meant by "regression." I have also dwelt

at some length on the fact that it is by securing a modification in the

immediate social environment, ideally or actually, that the crowd

permits the escape of the repressed wish. Such a modification in the

social at once sets the members of the crowd off as a "peculiar people."

Interest tends to withdraw from the social as a whole and center in the

group who have become a crowd. The Church is "in the world but not of

it." The nation is an end in itself, so is every crowd. Transference to

the idea of the crowd differs then from the normal substitutes which we

find for the object from which affection is withdrawn. It is itself a

kind of regression. In the psychoneurosis--in paranoia most clearly--the

patient's attempt to rationalize this shifting of interest gives rise to

the closed systems and ideal reconstructions of the world mentioned in

the passage quoted from Brill.

Does the crowd's thinking commonly show a like tendency to construct an

imaginary world of thought-forms and then take refuge in its ideal

system? As we saw at the beginning of our discussion, it does. The

focusing of general attention upon the abstract and universal is a

necessary step in the development of the crowd-mind.

The crowd does not think in order to solve problems. To the crowd-mind,

as such, there are no problems. It has closed its case beforehand. This

accounts for what Le Bon termed the "credulity" of the crowd. But the

crowd believes only what it wants to believe and nothing else. Anyone

who has been in the position of a public teacher knows how almost

universal is the habit of thinking in the manner of the crowd and how

difficult it is to get people to think for themselves. One frequently

hears it said that the people do not think, that they do not want to

know the truth.

Ibsen makes his Doctor Stockman say:

What sort of truths are they that the majority usually supports?

They are truths that are of such advanced age that they are

beginning to break up.... These "majority truths" are like last

year's cured meat--like rancid tainted ham; and they are the

origin of the moral scurvy that is rampant in our

communities.... The most dangerous enemy of truth and freedom

among us is the compact majority, yes, the damned compact

liberal majority ... the majority has might on its side

unfortunately, but right it has never.

It is not really because so many are ignorant, but because so few are

able to resist the appeal which the peculiar logic of crowd-thinking

makes to the unconscious, that the cheap, the tawdry, the half-true

almost exclusively gain popular acceptance. The average man is a

dogmatist. He thinks what he thinks others think he is thinking. He is

so used to propaganda that he can hardly think of any matter in other

terms. It is almost impossible to keep the consideration of any subject

of general interest above the dilemmas of partisan crowds. People will

wherever possible change the discussion of a mooted question into an

antiphonal chorus of howling mobs, each chanting its ritual as ultimate

truth, and hurling its shibboleths in the faces of the others. Pursuit

of truth with most people consists in repeating their creed. Nearly

every movement is immediately made into a cult. Theology supplants

religion in the churches. In popular ethics a dead formalism puts an end

to moral advance. Straight thinking on political subjects is

subordinated to partisan ends. Catch-phrases and magic formulas become

substituted for scientific information. Even the Socialists, who feel

that they are the intellectually elect--and I cite them here as an

example in no unfair spirit, but just because so many of them are really

well-informed and "advanced" in their thinking--have been unable to save

themselves from a doctrinaire economic orthodoxy of spirit which is

often more dogmatic and intolerant than that of the "religious folks" to

whose alleged "narrow-mindedness" every Socialist, even while repeating

his daily chapter from the Marxian Koran, feels himself superior.

The crowd-mind is everywhere idealistic, and absolutist. Its truths are

"given," made-in-advance. Though unconsciously its systems of logic are

created to enhance the self-feeling, they appear to consciousness as

highly impersonal and abstract. As in the intellectualist philosophies,

forms of thought are regarded as themselves objects of thought. Systems

of general ideas are imposed upon the minds of men apparently from

without. Universal acceptance is demanded. Thought becomes stereotyped.

What ought to be is confused with what is, the ideal becomes more real

than fact.

In the essays on "Pragmatism" William James showed that the rationalist

system, even that of the great philosopher, is in large measure

determined by the thinker's peculiar "temperament." Elsewhere he speaks

of the "Sentiment of Rationality." For a discussion of the various types

of philosophical rationalism, the reader is referred to the criticisms

by William James, F. C. S. Schiller, Dewey, and other Pragmatists. It is

sufficient for our purpose to note the fact that the rationalist type of

mind everywhere shows a tendency to assert the unreality of the world of

everyday experience, and to seek comfort and security in the

contemplation of a logically ordered system or world of "pure reason."

Ideals, not concrete things, are the true realities. The world with

which we are always wrestling is but a distorted manifestation, a

jumbled, stereotyped copy of what James ironically referred to as "the

de luxe edition which exists in the Absolute." The parable of the cave

which Plato gives in the Republic represents ordinary knowledge as a

delusion, and the empirically known world as but dancing shadows on the

wall of our subterranean prison.

R. W. Livingstone, who sees in Platonism, from the very beginning, a

certain world-weariness and turning away of the Greek spirit from the

healthy realism which had formerly characterized it, says:

For if Greece showed men how to trust their own nature and lead

a simply human life, how to look straight in the face of the

world and read the beauty that met them on the surface, certain

Greek writers preached a different lesson from this. In

opposition to directness they taught us to look past the

"unimaginary and actual" qualities of things to secondary

meanings and inner symbolism. In opposition to liberty and

humanism they taught us to mistrust our nature, to see in it

weakness, helplessness, and incurable taint, to pass beyond

humanity to communion with God, to live less for this world than

for one to come.... Perhaps to some people it may seem

surprising that this writer is Plato.

According to this view reality may be found only by means of "pure

knowledge," and, to give a familiar quotation from the Phaedo:

If we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of

the body; the soul in herself must behold things in themselves;

and then we shall attain the wisdom which we desire and of which

we say that we are lovers; not while we live, but after death;

for if, while in company with the body, the soul cannot have

pure knowledge, one of two things follows--either knowledge is

not to be obtained at all, or if at all after death.

Intellectualism may not always be so clearly other-worldly as Plato

shows himself to be in this passage. But it commonly argues that behind

the visible world of "illusory sense experience" lies the true ground

and cause--an unseen order in which the contradictions of experience are

either unknown or harmonized, an external and unchangeable "Substance,"

a self-contained Absolute to which our ephemeral personalities with

their imperfections and problems are unknown. A "thing in itself," or

principle of Being which transcends our experience.

This type of thinking, whether it be known as Idealism, Rationalism,

Intellectualism, or Absolutism, finds little sympathy from those who

approach the study of philosophy from the standpoint of psychology. The

following passages taken from Studies in Humanism by Schiller, show

that even without the technique of the analytical method, it was not

hard to detect some of the motives which prompted the construction of

systems of this sort. The partisanism of one of these motives is rather

suggestive for our study of the mind of the crowd. Says our author:

Logical defects rarely kill beliefs to which men, for

psychological reasons, remain attached.... This may suggest to

us that we may have perhaps unwittingly misunderstood

Absolutism, and done it a grave injustice.... What if its real

appeal was not logical but psychological?...

The history of English Absolutism distinctly bears out these

anticipations. It was originally a deliberate importation from

Germany, with a purpose. And this purpose was a religious

one--that of counteracting the antireligious developments of

Science. The indigenous philosophy, the old British empiricism,

was useless for this purpose. For though a form of

intellectualism, its sensationalism was in no wise hostile to

Science. On the contrary, it showed every desire to ally itself

with, and to promote, the great scientific movement of the

nineteenth century, which penetrated into and almost overwhelmed

Oxford between 1859 and 1870.

But this movement excited natural and not unwarranted alarm in

that great center of theology. For Science, flushed with its

hard-won liberty, ignorant of philosophy, and as yet unconscious

of its proper limitations, was decidedly aggressive and

overconfident. It seemed naturalistic, nay, materialistic, by

the law of its being. The logic of Mill, the philosophy of

Evolution, the faith in democracy, in freedom, in progress (on

material lines), threatened to carry all before them.

What was to be done? Nothing directly; for on its own ground

Science seemed invulnerable, and had the knack of crushing the

subtlest dialectics by the knockdown force of sheer scientific

fact. But might it not be possible to change the venue, to

shift the battleground to a region ubi instabilis terra unda

(where the land afforded no firm footing), where the frozen sea

could not be navigated, where the very air was thick with mists

so that phantoms might well pass for realities--the realm, in

short, of metaphysics?...

So it was rarely necessary to do more than recite the august

table of a priori categories in order to make the most

audacious scientist feel that he had got out of his depth; while

at the merest mention of the Hegelian dialectic all the

"advanced thinkers" of the time would flee affrighted.

Schiller's sense of humor doubtless leads him to exaggerate somewhat the

deliberateness of this importation of German metaphysics. That these

borrowed transcendental and dialectical systems served their purpose in

the warfare of traditional theologies against Science is but half the

truth. The other half is that these logical formulas provided certain

intelligent believers with a defense, or safe refuge, in their own inner


That this is the case, Schiller evidently has little doubt. After

discussing Absolutism itself as a sort of religion, and showing that its

"catch-words" taken at their face value are not only emotionally barren,

but also logically meaningless because "inapplicable to our actual

experience," he then proceeds to an examination of the unconscious

motives which determine this sort of thinking. His description of these

motives, so far as it goes, is an excellent little bit of analytical

psychology. He says:

How then can Absolutism possibly be a religion? It must appeal

to psychological motives of a different sort, rare enough to

account for its total divergence from the ordinary religious

feelings and compelling enough to account for the fanaticism

with which it is held and the persistence with which the same

old round of negations has been reiterated through the ages. Of

such psychological motives we shall indicate the more important

and reputable.

(1) It is decidedly flattering to one's spiritual pride to feel

oneself a "part" or "manifestation" or "vehicle" or

"reproduction" of the Absolute Mind, and to some this feeling

affords so much strength and comfort and such exquisite delight

that they refrain from inquiring what these phrases mean.... It

is, moreover, the strength of this feeling which explains the

blindness of Absolutists toward the logical defects of their own


(2) There is a strange delight in wide generalization merely as

such, which, when pursued without reference to the ends which it

subserves, and without regard to its actual functioning, often

results in a sort of logical vertigo. This probably has much to

do with the peculiar "craving for unity" which is held to be the

distinctive affliction of philosophers. At any rate, the thought

of an all-embracing One or Whole seems to be regarded as

valuable and elevating quite apart from any definite function it

performs in knowing, or light it throws on any actual problem.

(3) The thought of an Absolute Unity is cherished as a guarantee

of cosmic stability. In face of the restless vicissitudes of

phenomena it seems to secure us against falling out of the

Universe. It assures us a priori--and that is its supreme

value--that the cosmic order cannot fall to pieces and leave us

dazed and confounded among the debris.... We want to have an

absolute assurance a priori concerning the future, and the

thought of the absolute seems designed to give it. It is

probably this last notion that, consciously or unconsciously,

weighs most in the psychology of the Absolutists' creed.

In this connection the reader will recall the passage quoted from

Adler's The Neurotic Constitution, in which it was shown that the

fictitious "guiding-lines" or rational systems of both the neurotic and

normal are motivated by this craving for security. But it makes all the

difference in the world whether the system of ideas is used, as in

science and common sense, to solve real problems in an objective world,

or is created to be an artificial and imaginary defense of the ego

against a subjective feeling of insecurity; whether, in a word, the

craving for security moves one to do something calculated to render the

forces with which he must deal concretely more congenial and hospitable

to his will, or makes him content to withdraw and file a demur to the

challenge of the environment in the form of theoretical denial of the

reality of the situation.

There is no denying the fact that Absolute Idealism, if not taken too

seriously, may have the function for some people of steadying their

nerves in the battle of life. And though, as I believe, logically

untenable, it not infrequently serves as a rationalization of

faith-values which work out beneficially, and, quite apart from their

metaphysical trappings, may be even indispensable. Yet when carried to

its logical conclusions such thinking inevitably distorts the meaning of

personal living, robs our world and our acts of their feeling of

reality, serves as an instrument for "regression" or withdrawal of

interest from the real tasks and objects of living men and women, and in

fact functions for much the same purpose, if not precisely in the same

way, as do the ideal systems of the psychopath.

In justice to idealism it should be added that this is by no means the

only species of Rationalism which may lead to such psychic results.

There are various paths by which the craving for artificial security may

lead to such attempts to reduce the whole of possible experience to

logical unity that the realities of time and change and of individual

experience are denied. How many deterministic theories, with all their

scientific jargon, are really motivated by an inability to accept a

world with an element of chance in it. There is a sense in which all

science by subsuming like individuals in a common class, and thus

ignoring their individuality, in so far as they are alike in certain

respects, gains added power over all of them. There is a sense, too, in

which science, by discovering that whenever a given combination of

elements occurs, a definitely foreseen result will follow, is justified

in ignoring time and treating certain futures as if they were already

tucked up the sleeves of the present. It should be remembered that this

sort of determinism is purely methodological, and is, like all thinking,

done for a purpose--that of effecting desirable ends in a world made up

of concrete situations.

When this purpose becomes supplanted by a passion to discount all future

change in general--when one imagines that he has a formula which enables

him to write the equation of the curve of the universe, science has

degenerated into scientificism, or head-in-the-sand philosophy. The

magic formula has precisely the same psychic value as the "absolute." I

know a number of economic determinists, for instance, who just cannot

get out of their heads the notion that social evolution is a process

absolutely underwritten, guaranteed, and predictable, without the least

possible doubt. In such a philosophy of history as this the individual

is of course a mere "product of his environment," and his role as a

creator of value is nil. On this "materialistic" theory, the individual

is as truly a mere manifestation of impersonal evolutionary forces as he

is, according to orthodox Platonism, a mere manifestation of the

abstract idea of his species. Notwithstanding the professed

impersonalism of this view, its value for consolation in minimizing the

causes of the spiritual difference in men--that is, its function for

enhancing the self-feeling of some people, is obvious. That such an idea

should become a crowd-idea is not to be wondered at. And this leads me

to my point. It is no mere accident that the crowd takes to

rationalistic philosophies like a duck to water.

The crowd-man, however unsophisticated he may be, is a Platonist at

heart. He may never have heard the word epistemology, but his theory of

knowledge is essentially the same as Plato's. Religious crowds are, to

one familiar with the Dialogues, astonishingly Platonic. There is the

same habit of giving ontological rather than functional value to general

ideas, the same other-worldliness, the same moral dilemmas, the same

contempt for the material, for the human body, for selfhood; the same

assertion of finality, and the conformist spirit.

Reformist crowds differ only superficially from religious crowds.

Patriotic crowds make use of a different terminology, but their mental

habits are the same. It has become a cult among crowds with tendencies

toward social revolution to paint their faces with the colors of a

borrowed nineteenth-century materialism. But all this is mere swagger

and "frightfulness," an attempt to make themselves look terrible and

frighten the bourgeois. I am sure that no one who has seen all this

radical rigmarole, as I have had occasion to see it, can be deceived by

it. These dreadful materialist doctrines of the radical crowd are wooden

guns, no thicker than the soap-box. As a matter of fact, the radical

crowds are extremely idealistic. With all their talk of proletarian

opposition to intellectualism, Socialists never become a crowd without

becoming as intellectualist as Fichte or Hegel. There is a sense in

which Marx himself never succeeded in escaping Hegel's dilemmas, he only

followed the fashion in those days of turning them upside down.

With radical crowds as with conservative, there is the same substitution

of a closed system of ideas for the shifting phenomena of our empirical

world; the same worship of abstract forms of thought, the same

uncompromising spirit and insistence upon general uniformity of

opinions; the same orthodoxy. All orthodoxy is nothing other than the

will of the crowd to keep itself together. With all kinds of crowds,

also, there is the same diverting of attention from the personal and the

concrete to the impersonal and the general; the same flight from reality

to the transcendental for escape, for consolation, for defense, for

vindication; the same fiction that existence is at bottom a sort of

logical proposition, a magic formula or principle of Being to be

correctly copied and learned by rote; the same attempt to create the

world or find reality by thinking rather than by acting.

The intellectualist bias of the average man is doubtless due in great

part to the fact that theology, and therefore the religious education of

the young, both Christian and Jewish, has throughout the history of

these religions been saturated with Platonism. But then, the universal

sway of this philosopher may be explained by the fact that there is

something in his abstractionism which is congenial to the creed-making

propensities of the crowd-mind. The great a priori thinkers, Plato,

St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Green,

etc., have often been called solitary men, but it is significant that

their doctrines survive in popularized form in the creeds and

shibboleths of permanent crowds of all descriptions. While humanists,

nominalists, empiricists, realists, pragmatists, men like Protagoras,

Epicurus, Abelard, Bacon, Locke, Hume, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bergson,

James, have always had a hard time of it. They are considered

destructive, for the reason that the tendency of their teaching is to

disintegrate the crowd-mind and call one back to himself. Their names

are seldom mentioned in popular assemblies except to discredit them.

Yet it is on the whole these latter thinkers who orient us in our real

world, make us courageously face the facts with which we have to deal,

stimulate our wills, force us to use our ideas for what they

are--instruments for better living,--inspire us to finer and more

correct valuations of things, and point out the way to freedom for those

who dare walk in it.

All this, however, is the very thing that the crowd-mind is running

headlong away from. As a crowd we do not wish to think empirically. Why

should we seek piecemeal goods by tedious and dangerous effort, when we

have only to do a little trick of attention, and behold The Good,

abstract, perfect, universal, waiting just around the corner in the

realm of pure reason, ready to swallow up and demolish all evil? Are we

not even now in possession of Love, Justice, Beauty, and Truth by the

sheer magic of thinking of them in the abstract, calling them

"principles" and writing the words with the initial letters in capitals?

The very mental processes by which a group of people becomes a crowd

change such abstract nouns from mere class names into copies of

supermundane realities.

In wholesome thinking principles are of course necessary. They are what

I might call "leading ideas." Their function is to lead to more

satisfactory thinking--that is, to other ideas which are desired. Or

they are useful in leading us to actions the results of which are

intended and wished for. They may also be principles of valuation

guiding us in the choice of ends. If there were no substantial agreement

among us concerning certain principles we could not relate our conduct

to one another at all; social life would be impossible. But necessary as

such leading ideas are, they are means rather than ends. Circumstances

may demand that we alter them or make exceptions to their application.

To the crowd-mind a principle appears as an end in itself. It must be

vindicated at all costs. To offend against it in one point is to be

guilty of breaking the whole law. Crowds are always uncompromising about

their principles. They must apply to all alike. Crowds are no respecters

of persons.

As crowd-men we never appear without some set of principles or some

cause over our heads. Crowds crawl under their principles like worms

under stones. They cover up the wrigglings of the unconscious, and

protect it from attack. Every crowd uses its principles as universal

demands. In this way it gets unction upon other crowds, puts them in the

wrong, makes them give assent to the crowd's real purpose by challenging

them to deny the righteousness of the professed justifications of that

purpose. It is said that the Sioux Indians, some years ago, used to put

their women and children in front of their firing line. The braves could

then crouch behind these innocent ones and shoot at white men, knowing

that it would be a violation of the principles of humanity for the white

soldiers to shoot back and risk killing women and children. Crowds

frequently make just such use of their principles. About each crowd,

like the circle of fire which the gods placed about the sleeping

Brunhilde, there is a flaming hedge of logical abstractions, sanctions,

taboos, which none but the intellectually courageous few dare cross. In

this way the slumbering critical faculties of the crowd-mind are

protected against the intrusion of realities from outside the cult. The

intellectual curiosity of the members of the group is kept within proper

bounds. Hostile persons or groups dare not resist us, for in so doing

they make themselves enemies of Truth, of Morality, of Liberty, etc.

Both political parties, by a common impulse, "drape themselves in the

Flag." It is an interesting fact that the most antagonistic crowds

profess much the same set of principles. The "secondary rationalization"

of crowds, both Northern and Southern, at the time of the Civil War,

made use of our traditional principles of American Liberty, and

Christian Morality. We have seen both pacifist and militarist crowds

setting forth their manifestoes in terms of New Testament teaching. Each

religious sect exists only to teach "the one system of doctrine

logically deduced from Scripture."

As an illustration of this sort of reasoning, I give here a few passages

from a propagandist publication in which the crowd-will to dominate

takes the typical American method of striving to force its cult ideas

upon the community as a whole by means of restrictive moralist

legislation--in this case attempt is made to prohibit the exhibition of

motion pictures on Sunday. That the demand for such legislation is for

the most part a pure class-crowd phenomenon, designed to enhance the

self-feeling and economic interests of the "reformers," by keeping the

poor from having a good time, is I think, rather obvious. The reasoning

here is interesting, as the real motive is so thinly disguised by

pietistic platitudes that the two follow each other in alternate


(1) Sunday Movies are not needed. The people have six days and

six nights each week on which to attend the movies. Is not that

plenty of time for all?

(2) Sunday Movie Theaters commercialize the Christian Sabbath.

While "the Sabbath was made for man," yet it is God's day. We

have no right to sell it for business purposes. It is a day for

rest and worship, not a day for greed and gain. Sunday would,

of course, be the best day in the week financially for the

movies. It would also be the best day in the week for the open

saloons and horse-racing, but that is no reason why these should

be allowed on Sunday. The Sabbath must not be commercialized.

(3) Sunday Movie Theaters destroy the rest and quiet of many

people, especially those who live in the residential district

of cities and in the neighborhood where such motion-picture

theaters are located. Great crowds pour along the streets near

such theaters, often breaking the Sunday quiet of that part of

the city by loud and boisterous talk.

Thousands of people every year are moving away from the downtown

noisy districts of the cities out into the quiet residential

districts in order to have quiet Sundays. But when a

motion-picture theater comes and locates next to their homes, or

in their block, as has been done in many cases, and great noisy,

boisterous crowds surge back and forth before their homes all

Sunday afternoon and evening, going to the movies, they are

being robbed of that for which they paid their money when they

bought a home in that quiet part of the city....

(4) ... Anything that injures the Christian Sabbath injures the

Christian churches, and certainly Sunday motion-picture

theaters, wherever allowed, do injure the Christian Sabbath....

Dr. Wilbur F. Crafts of Washington, D. C., probably the greatest

authority on the Sabbath question in this country, says, "The

Sabbath-keeping nations are the strongest physically, mentally,

morally, financially, and politically." Joseph Cook said, "It

is no accident that the nations that keep the Sabbath most

carefully are those where there is the most political freedom."

Sabbath-breaking nations gradually lose their political


(5) Sunday Movie Theaters injure the Christian Sabbath and thus

injure the morals of the people. Anything that injures the

morals of the people, injures the nation itself. From a

patriotic standpoint, we ought to stand for strict observance

of the Christian Sabbath, as past experience has shown and the

testimony of many witnesses proves that a disregard of the

Christian Sabbath produces crime and immorality and tends to

destroy the free institutions which have helped to make our

nation great....

Fundamentally, all such vicious laws are unconstitutional.

Sunday Movie Theaters disregard the rights of labor.... Canon

William Sheafe Chase has aptly said, "No man has the Christ

spirit who wants a better time on Sunday than he is willing to

give everyone else."...

Col. Fairbanks, the famous scale manufacturer, said: "I can tell

by watching the men at work Monday which spent Sunday in sport

and which at home, church, or Sabbath-school. The latter do

more and better work."

Superintendents of large factories in Milwaukee and elsewhere

have said, "When our men go on a Sunday excursion, some cannot

work Monday, and many who work cannot earn their wages, while

those who had no sport Sunday do their best day's work

Monday." (Italics mine.)

We need not be surprised to find that the closed ideational system which

in the first instance is a refuge from the real, becomes in turn a

device for imposing one's will upon his fellows. The believer's ego is

served in both instances. It is interesting to note also that this

self-feeling appears in crowd-thinking as its very opposite. The

greatest enemy of personality is the crowd. The crowd does not want

valuable men; it wants only useful men. Everyone must justify his

existence by appealing to the not-self. One may do nothing for his own

sake. He may not even strive for spiritual excellence for such a reason.

He must live for "principle," for "the great cause," for impersonal

abstractions--which is to say, he must live for his crowd, and so make

it easier for the other members to do the same with a good face.

The complex of ideas in which the crowd-mind as we have seen takes

refuge, being necessarily made up of abstract generalizations, serves

the crowd-will to social dominance through the very claim to

universality which such ideas exert. Grant that an idea is an absolute

truth, and it follows, of course, that it must be true on all occasions

and for everyone. The crowd is justified, therefore, in sacrificing

people to its ideal--itself. The idea is no longer an instrument of

living; it is an imperative. It is not yours to use the idea; the idea

is there to use you. You have ceased to be an end. Anything about you

that does not partake of the reality of this idea has no right to be,

any experience of yours which happens to be incommensurable with this

idea loses its right to be; for experience as such has now only a

"phenomenal existence." The crowd, by identifying its will to power

with this idea, becomes itself absolute. Your personal self, as an

end, is quite as unwelcome to the Absolute as to the crowd. There must

be no private property in thought or motive. By making everybody's

business my business, I have made my business everybody's business.

There may be only one standard--that of our crowd, which, because of its

very universal and impersonal character is really nobody's.

The absolutism of the crowd-mind with its consequent hostility to

conscious personality finds a perfect rationalization in the ethical

philosophy of Kant. The absolutism of the idea of Duty is less

skillfully elaborated in its popular crowd-manifestations, but in its

essentials it is always present, as propaganda everywhere when carefully

analyzed will show. We must not be deceived by Kant's assertion that the

individual is an end. This individual is not you or I, or anyone; it is

a mere logical abstraction. By declaring that everyone is equally an

end, Kant ignores all personal differences, and therefore the fact of

individuality as such. We are each an end in respect to those qualities

only in which we are identical--namely, in that we are "rational

beings." But this rational being is not a personal intelligence; it is a

fiction, a bundle of mental faculties assumed a priori to exist, and

then treated as if it were universally and equally applicable to all

actually existing intelligences.

In arguing that "I am never to act otherwise than so that I could also

will that my maxim should become a universal law," Kant may be easily

understood as justifying any crowd in seeking to make its peculiar

maxims universal laws. Who but a Rationalist or a crowd-man presumes to

have found the "universal law," who else would have the effrontery to

try to legislate for every conscience in existence? But this presumption

has its price. In thus universalizing my moral will, I wholly

depersonalize it. He says:

It is of extreme importance to remember that we must not allow

ourselves to think of deducing the reality of this principle

from the particular attributes of human nature. For duty is to

be a practical unconditional necessity of action; it must

therefore hold for all rational beings (to whom an imperative

can apply at all), and for this reason only be also a law for

all human wills. On the contrary, whatever it deduces from the

particular natural characteristics of humanity, from certain

feelings and propensions, nay, even if possible from any

particular tendency proper to human reason, and which need not

necessarily hold for the will of every rational being, this may

indeed supply us with a maxim but not with a law; with a

subjective principle on which we may have a propension or

inclination to act, but not with an objective principle on which

we should be enjoined to act, even though all our

propensions, inclinations, and natural dispositions were

opposed to it. In fact, the sublimity and intrinsic dignity

of the command in duty are so much the more evident the less

subjective impulses favor it, and the more they oppose it

[italics here are mine], without being able in the slightest

degree to weaken the obligation of the law or to diminish its


... An action done from duty derives its moral worth not from

the purpose which is to be attained by it, but from the maxim

by which it is determined. It (this moral worth) cannot lie

anywhere but in the principle of The Will, without regard to

the ends which can be attained by such action.

This loss of the conscious self in the universal, this turning away from

the empirically known, this demand that an a priori principle be

followed to its deadly practical conclusion regardless of the ends to

which it leads, is of utmost importance for our study. It is precisely

what the paranoiac does after his own fashion. In crowd-thinking it is

often made the instrument of wholesale destruction and human slaughter.

The mob is ever motivated by this logic of negation, and of automatic

behavior. It is thus that compulsive thinking sways vast hordes of men

and women, impelling them, in the very name of truth or righteousness,

to actions of the most atrocious character. It is this which robs most

popular movements of their intelligent purposiveness, unleashes the

fanatic and the bigot, and leads men to die and to kill for a phrase.

This way of thinking points straight to Salem, Massachusetts, to the

torture-chamber, the pile of fagots and the mill pond at Rosmersholm.

The habit of thinking as a crowd is so widespread that it is impossible

to trace the influence of its rationalistic negations in the daily

mental habits of most of us. We play out our lives as if we were but

acting a part which some one had assigned to us. The fact that we are

ourselves realities, as inevitable as falling rain, and with the same

right to be as the rocks and hills, positively startles us. We feel that

we must plead extenuation, apologize for our existence, as if the end

and aim of living were to serve or vindicate a Good which, being

sufficient in itself and independent of us, can never be realized as

actually good for anybody. We behave as if we were unprofitable

servants, cringing before wrathful ideas which, though our own

creations, we permit to lord it over us. Our virtues we regard not as

expressions of ourselves or as habitual ways of reaching desirable

goods, but as if they were demanded of us unwillingly by something not

self. We should remind ourselves that these big words we idolize have no

eyes to see us and no hearts to care what we do, that they are but

symbols of ideas which we might find very useful if we dared to become

masters of them. The most common use we make of such ideas is to beat

one another and ourselves into line with them, or enforce upon

ourselves and others the collection of a debt which was contracted only

by our unconscious desire to cheat at cards in the game of civilization.

A conscious recognition of this desire and its more deliberate and

voluntary resistance in ourselves rather than in our neighbors, a candid

facing of the fact of what we really are and really want, and a mutual

readjustment of our relations on this recognized basis would doubtless

deliver us from the compulsion of crowd-thinking in somewhat the same

way that psychoanalysis is said to cure the neurotic by revealing to him

his unconscious wish.

That some such cure is an imperative social need is evident. To-day the

mob lurks just under the skin of most of us, both ignorant and educated.

The ever-increasing frequency of outbreaks of mob violence has its

source in the crowd-thinking which is everywhere encouraged. The mob

which may at any time engulf us is, after all, but the logical

conclusion and sudden ripening of thought processes which are commonly

regarded as highly respectable, idealistic, and moral.

How Crowds Are Formed The Crowd A Creature Of Hate facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail