The Egoism Of The Crowd-mind

The unconscious egoism of the individual in the crowd appears in all

forms of crowd-behavior. As in dreams and in the neurosis this self

feeling is frequently though thinly disguised, and I am of the opinion

that with the crowd the mechanisms of this disguise are less subtle. To

use a term which Freud employs in this connection to describe the

process of distortion in dreams, the "censor" is less active in the

crowd than in most phases of mental life. Though the conscious thinking

is carried on in abstract and impersonal formula, and though, as in the

neurosis, the "compulsive" character of the mechanisms developed

frequently--especially in permanent crowds--well nigh reduces the

individual to an automaton, the crowd is one of the most naive devices

that can be employed for enhancing one's ego consciousness. The

individual has only to transfer his repressed self feeling to the idea

of the crowd or group of which he is a member; he can then exalt and

exhibit himself to almost any extent without shame, oblivious of the

fact that the supremacy, power, praise, and glory which he claims for

his crowd are really claimed for himself.

That the crowd always insists on being flattered is a fact known

intuitively by every orator and editor. As a member of a crowd the

individual becomes part of a public. The worship with which men regard

"The Public," simply means that the personal self falls at the feet of

the same self regarded as public, and likewise demands that obeisance

from all. Vox populi est vox Dei is obviously the apotheosis of one's

own voice while speaking as crowd-man. When this "god-almightiness"

manifests itself along the solitary path of the psychoneurosis it

becomes one of the common symptoms of paranoia. The crowd, in common

with paranoia, uniformly shows this quality of "megalomania." Every

crowd "boosts for" itself, lauds itself, gives itself airs, speaks with

oracular finality, regards itself as morally superior, and will, so far

as it has the power, lord it over everyone. Notice how each group and

section in society, so far as it permits itself to think as crowd,

claims to be "the people." To the working-class agitator, "the cause of

labor is the cause of humanity," workers are always, "innocent exploited

victims, kept down by the master class whose lust for gain has made

them enemies of Humanity and Justice." "Workers should rule because they

are the only useful people; the sole creators of wealth; their dominance

would mean the end of social wrong, and the coming of the millennium of

peace and brotherhood, the Kingdom of Heaven on the Earth, the final

triumph of Humanity!"

On the other hand, the wealthy and educated classes speak of themselves

as "the best people"; they are "society." It is they who "bear the

burdens of civilization, and maintain Law and Order and Decency." Racial

and national crowds show the same megalomania. Hebrews are "God's

chosen." "The Dutch Company is the best Company that ever came over from

the Old Country." "The Irish may be ornery, and they ain't worth much,

but they are a whole lot better than the ---- ---- Dutch." "Little

Nigger baby, black face, and shiny eye, you're just as good as the poor

white trash, an' you'll git thar by and by." "He might have been a

Russian or a Prussian, ... but it's greatly to his credit that he is an

Englishman." The German is the happy bearer of Kultur to a barbarian

world. America is "The land of the free and the home of the brave," and

so on, wherever a group has become sufficiently a crowd to have a

propaganda of its own. Presbyterians are "the Elect," the Catholics

have the "true church of God," the Christian Scientists have alone

attained "Absolute Truth."

A number of years ago, when the interest in the psychology of the crowd

led me to attempt a study of Mr. Sunday's revival meetings, then in

their earlier stages, certain facts struck me with great force. Whatever

else the revival may be, it provides the student of psychology with a

delightful specimen for analysis. Every element of the mob or crowd-mind

is present and the unconscious manifests itself with an easy naivete

which is probably found nowhere else, not even in the psychiatric

clinic. One striking fact, which has since provided me with food for a

good deal of reflection, was the place which the revival holds in what I

should like to call the spiritual economy of modern democracy.

It is an interesting historical fact that each great religious revival,

from Savonarola down, has immediately followed--and has been the

resistance of the man in the street to--a period of intellectual

awakening. Mr. Sunday's meetings undeniably provided a device whereby a

certain psychic type, an element which had hitherto received scant

recognition in the community, could enormously enhance his ego

consciousness. It would be manifestly unfair to say that this is the

sole motive of the religious revival, or that only this type of mind is

active in it. But it is interesting to see whose social survival values

stand out most prominently in these religious crowd-phenomena. The

gambler, the drunkard, the loafer, the weak, ignorant, and unsuccessful,

whose self-esteem it may be assumed had always been made to suffer in

small communities, where everyone knew everyone else, had only to yield

himself to the pull of the obviously worked-up mechanism of the

religious crowd, and lo! all was changed. He was now the repentant

sinner, the new convert, over whom there was more rejoicing in heaven,

and, what was more visible, also for a brief time, in the Church, than

over the ninety and nine just persons. He was "redeemed," an object now

of divine love, a fact which anyone who has studied the effects of these

crowd-movements scientifically will agree was at once seized upon by

these converts to make their own moral dilemmas the standards of

righteousness in the community, and hence secure some measure of


This self-adulation of crowds, with its accompanying will to be

important, to dominate, is so constant and characteristic a feature of

the crowd-mind that I doubt if any crowd can long survive which fails to

perform this function for its members. Self-flattery is evident in the

pride with which many people wear badges and other insignia of groups

and organizations to which they belong, and in the pompous names by

which fraternal orders are commonly designated. In its more

"exhibitionist" types it appears in parades and in the favorite ways in

which students display their "college spirit." How many school and

college "yells" begin with the formula, "Who are We?" obviously designed

to call general attention to the group and impress upon people its


In this connection I recall my own student days, which are doubtless

typical--the pranks which served the purpose of bringing certain groups

of students into temporary prominence and permitted them for a brief

period to regard themselves as comic heroes, the practices by which the

different classes and societies sought to get the better of one another,

the "love feasts" of my society which were hardly more than mutual

admiration gatherings, the "pajama" parades in which the entire student

body would march in costume (the wearing of which by an isolated

individual would probably have brought him before a lunacy commission)

all through the town and round and round the dormitories of the women's

college a mile or so away, in order to announce a victory in some

intercollegiate contest or other. There was the brazenness--it seems

hardly credible now--with which the victors on such occasions would

permit themselves to be carried on their comrades' shoulders through

the public square, also the deportment with which a delegation of

students would announce their arrival in a neighboring college town and

the grinning self-congratulation with which we would sit in chapel and

hear a wrathful president denounce our group behavior as "boorishness

and hoodlumism." There was the unanimous conviction of us all, for no

other reason I imagine than that it was graced with our particular

presence, that our own institution was the most superior college in

existence, and I well remember the priggishness with which at student

banquets we applauded the sentiment repeated ad nauseam, that the

great aim of education and the highest mark of excellence in our college

was the development of character. What is it all but a slightly

exaggerated account of the egoism of all organized crowds? Persons of

student age are for the most part still in the normal "narcissus"

period, and their ego-mania is naturally less disguised than that of

older groups. But even then we could never have given such open

manifestation to it as isolated individuals; it required the


The egoism of the crowd commonly takes the form of the will to social

dominance and it is in crowd behavior that we learn how insatiable the

repressed egoism of mankind really is. Members of the crowd are always

promising one another a splendid future triumph of some sort. This

promise of victory, which is nearly always to be enjoyed at the expense,

discomfiture, and humiliation of somebody else, is of great advantage in

the work of propaganda. People have only to be persuaded that

prohibition, or equal suffrage, or the single tax "is coming," and

thousands whose reason could not be moved by argument, however logical

it might be, will begin to look upon it with favor. The crowd is never

so much at home as "on the band wagon." Each of the old political

parties gains strength through the repeated prediction of victory in the

presidential campaign of 1920. The Socialist finds warmth in the

contemplation of the "coming dictatorship of the proletariat." The

Prohibitionist intoxicates himself by looking forward to a "dry world."

So long as the German crowds expected a victorious end of the war, their

morale remained unbroken, the Kaiser was popular.

When a crowd is defeated and its hope of victory fades, the individual

soon abandons the unsuccessful group. The great cause, being now a

forlorn hope, is seen in a different light, and the crowd character of

the group vanishes. When, however, certain forces still operate to keep

the crowd state of mind alive--forces such as race feeling, patriotism,

religious belief, or class consciousness--the ego consciousness of the

individuals so grouped finds escape in the promise of heaven, the

Judgment Day, and that "far off divine event toward which the whole

creation moves." Meanwhile the hope of victory is changed into that

"impotent resentment" so graphically described by Nietzsche.

Another way in which the self feeling of the crowd functions is in

idealizing those who succeed in gaining its recognition. The crowd

always makes a hero of the public person, living or dead. Regardless of

what he really did or was, he is transformed into a symbol of what the

crowd wishes to believe him to be. Certain aspects of his teaching and

various incidents which would appear in his biography are glossed over,

and made into supports for existing crowd-ideas and prejudices. Most of

the great characters in history have suffered in this way at the hands

of tradition. The secret of their greatness, their uniqueness and

spiritual isolation, is in great part ignored. The crowd's own secret is

substituted. The great man now appears great because he possessed the

qualities of little men. He is representative man, crowd man. Every

crowd has a list of heroic names which it uses in its propaganda and in

its self-laudation. The greatness which each crowd reveres and demands

that all men honor is just that greatness which the crowd treasures as

a symbol of itself, the sort of superiority which the members of the

crowd may suck up to swell their own ego consciousness.

Thus, hero worship is unconsciously worship of the crowd itself, and the

constituents thereof. The self-feeling of a crowd is always enhanced by

the triumph of its leader or representative. Who, at a ball game or

athletic event, has not experienced elation and added self-complacency

in seeing the home team win? What other meaning has the excited

cheering? Even a horse on a race track may become the representative of

a crowd and lift five thousand people into the wildest joy and ecstasy

by passing under a wire a few inches ahead of a rival. We have here one

of the secrets of the appeal which all such exhibitions make to people.

Nothing so easily catches general attention and creates a crowd as a

contest of any kind. The crowd unconsciously identifies its members with

one or the other competitor. Success enables the winning crowd to "crow

over" the losers. Such an occasion becomes symbolic and is utilized by

the ego to enhance its feeling of importance.

A similar psychological fact may be observed in the "jollifications" of

political parties after the election of their candidates for high

office. This phenomenon is also seen, if I may say so without being

misunderstood, in the new spirit which characterizes a people victorious

in war, and is to no small degree the basis of the honor of successful

nations. It is seen again in the pride which the citizens of a small

town show in the fact that the governor of the state is a native of the

place. This same principle finds place in such teachings of the Church

as the doctrine of the "communion of the saints," according to which the

spiritual grace and superiority of the great and pure become the common

property of the Church, and may be shared by all believers as a saving


Every organized crowd is jealous of its dignity and honor and is bent

upon keeping up appearances. Nothing is more fatal to it than a

successful assault upon its prestige. Every crowd, even the casual

street mob, clothes the egoistic desires of its members or participants

in terms of the loftiest moral motive. No crowd can afford to be laughed

at. Crowd men have little sense of humor, certainly none concerning

themselves and their crowd-ideas. Any laughter they indulge in is more

likely to be directed at those who do not believe with them. The

crowd-man resents any suspicion of irreverence or criticism of his

professions, because to question them is to weaken the claim of his

crowd upon the people, and to destroy in those professed ideals their

function of directing his own attention away from the successful

compromise of his unconscious conflicts which the crowd had enabled him

to make. The crowd would perish if it lost its "ideals." It clings to

its fixed ideas with the same tenacity as does the paranoiac. You can no

more reason with the former than you can with the latter, and for much

the same cause; the beliefs of both are not the fruit of inquiry,

neither do they perform the normal intellectual function of adjustment

to environment; they are mechanisms of the ego by which it keeps itself

in countenance.

Much of the activity of the unconscious ego is viewed by psychologists

as "compensation." Devices which serve the purpose of compensating the

ego for some loss, act of self-sacrifice, or failure, are commonly

revealed by both the normal and the unadjusted. The popular notion that

unsatisfied desires sooner or later perish of starvation is at best but

a half truth. These desires after we have ceased to attend them become

transformed. They frequently find satiety in some substitute which the

unconscious accepts as a symbol of its real object. Dreams of normal

people contain a great deal of material of this sort. So do day-dreams,

and art. Many religious beliefs also serve this purpose of compensation.

Jung follows Freud in pointing out as a classic example of the

compensation in dreams, that of Nebuchadnezzar, in the Bible.

Nebuchadnezzar at the height of his power had a dream which

foretold his downfall. He dreamed of a tree which had raised its

head even up to Heaven and now must be hewn down. This was a

dream which is obviously a counterpoise to the exaggerated

feeling of royal power.

According to Jung, we may expect to find only those things contained in

the unconscious which we have not found in the conscious mind. Many

conscious virtues and traits of character are thus compensations for

their opposite in the unconscious.

In the case of abnormal people, the individual entirely fails to

recognize the compensating influences which arise in the

unconscious. He even continues to accentuate his onesidedness;

this is in accord with the well-known psychological fact that

the worst enemy of the wolf is the wolfhound, the greatest

despiser of the negro is the mulatto, and that the biggest

fanatic is the convert; for I should be a fanatic were I to

attack a thing outwardly which inwardly I am obliged to concede

is right.

The mentally unbalanced man tries to defend himself against his

own unconscious--that is to say, he battles against his own

compensating influences. In normal minds opposites of feeling

and valuations lie closely associated; the law of this

association is called "ambivalence," about which we shall see

more later. In the abnormal, the pairs are torn asunder, the

resulting division, or strife, leads to disaster, for the

unconscious soon begins to intrude itself violently upon the

conscious processes.

An especially typical form of unconscious compensation ... is

the paranoia of the alcoholic. The alcoholic loses his love for

his wife; the unconscious compensation tries to lead him back

again to his duty, but only partially succeeds, for it causes

him to become jealous of his wife as if he still loved her. As

we know, he may go so far as to kill both his wife and himself,

merely out of jealousy. In other words, his love for his wife

has not been entirely lost. It has simply become subliminal; but

from the realm of consciousness it can now only reappear in the

form of jealousy.... We see something of a similar nature in the

case of the religious convert.... The new convert feels himself

constrained to defend the faith he has adopted (since much of

the old faith still survives in the unconscious associations) in

a more or less fanatical way. It is exactly the same in the

paranoiac who feels himself constantly constrained to defend

himself against all external criticism, because his delusional

system is too much threatened from within.

It is not necessary for us to enter here upon a discussion of the

processes by which these compensating devices are wrought out in the

psychoneurosis. It is significant, though, that Jung calls attention to

the likeness between religious fanaticism and paranoia. Now it is

obvious that the fanaticism of the religious convert differs

psychologically not at all from that of any other convert. We have

already noted the fact that most religious conversions are accomplished

by the crowd. Moreover the crowd everywhere tends to fanaticism. The

fanatic is the crowd-man pure and simple. He is the type which it ever

strives to produce. His excess of devotion, and willingness to sacrifice

both himself and everyone else for the crowd's cause, always wins the

admiration of his fellow crowd-members. He has given all for the crowd,

is wholly swallowed by it, is "determined not to know anything save" his

crowd and its propaganda. He is the martyr, the true believer, "the

red-blooded loyal American" with "my country right or wrong." He is the

uncompromising radical whose prison record puts to shame the less

enthusiastic members of his group. He is the militant pacifist, the

ever-watchful prohibitionist, and keeper of his neighbors' consciences,

the belligerent moral purist, who is scandalized even at the display of

lingerie in the store windows, the professional reformer who in every

community succeeds in making his goodness both indispensable and


One need not be a psychologist to suspect that the evil against which

the fanatic struggles is really in large measure in himself. He has

simply externalized, or "projected" the conflict in his own unconscious.

Persons who cry aloud with horror at every change in the style of

women's clothing are in most cases persons whose ego is gnawed by a

secret promiscuous eroticism. The scandalmonger, inhibited from doing

the forbidden thing, enjoys himself by a vicarious indulgence in

rottenness. The prohibition agitator, if not himself an alcoholic barely

snatched from the burning, is likely to be one who at least feels safer

in a democracy where it is not necessary to resist temptation while

passing a saloon door. Notice that the fanatic or crowd-man always

strives to universalize his own moral dilemmas. This is the device by

which every crowd seeks dominance in the earth. A crowd's virtues and

its vices are really made out of the same stuff. Each is simply the

other turned upside down, the compensation for the other. They are alike

and must be understood together as the expression of the type of person

who constitutes the membership of some particular group or crowd.

I'll never use tobacco, it is a filthy weed

I'll never put it in my mouth, said little Robert Reed.

But obviously, little Robert is already obsessed with a curious interest

in tobacco. His first word shows that he has already begun to think of

this weed in connection with himself. Should a crowd of persons

struggling with Robert's temptation succeed in dominating society,

tobacco would become taboo and thus would acquire a moral significance

which it does not have at present. So with all our crowd-ethics. The

forbidden thing protrudes itself upon consciousness as a negation. The

negation reveals what it is that is occupying the inner psyche, and is

its compensation. There are certain psychoneuroses in which this

negative form of compensation is very marked. Now it is a noteworthy

fact that with the crowd the ethical interest always takes this negative


The healthy moral will is characterized by a constant restating of the

problem of living in terms of richer and higher and more significant

dilemmas as new possibilities of personal worth are revealed by

experience. New and more daring valuations are constantly made. The

whole psychic functioning is enriched. Goodness means an increase of

satisfactions through a more adequate adjustment to the real--richer

experience, more subtle power of appreciation and command, a

self-mastery, sureness, and general personal excellence--which on

occasions great and small mark the good will as a reality which counts

in the sum total of things. Something is achieved because it is really

desired; existence is in so far humanized, a self has been realized. As

Professor Dewey says:

If our study has shown anything it is that the moral is a

life, not something ready-made and complete once for all. It is

instinct with movement and struggle, and it is precisely the

new and serious situations which call out new vigor and lift it

to higher levels.

It is not so with the crowd-ethic. It is interesting to note that from

the "Decalogue" to Kant's "Categorical Imperative," crowd-morals always

and everywhere take the form of prohibitions, taboos, and ready-made

standards, chiefly negative. Freud has made an analytical study of the

Taboo as found in primitive society and has shown that it has a

compensatory value similar to that of the taboos and compulsions of

certain neurotics.

The crowd admits of no personal superiority other than that which

consists in absolute conformity to its own negative standards. Except

for the valuations expressed by its own dilemmas, "one man is as good as

another"--an idea which it can be easily seen serves the purpose of

compensation. The goodness which consists of unique personal superiority

is very distasteful to the crowd. There must be only one standard of

behavior, alike for all. A categorical imperative. The standard as set

up is of the sort which is most congenial, possible of attainment, and

even necessary for the survival of the members of some particular crowd.

It is their good, the converse and compensation of their own vices,

temptations, and failures. The crowd then demands that this good shall

be THE GOOD, that it become the universal standard. By such means even

the most incompetent and unadventurous and timid spirits may pass

judgment upon all men. They may cry to the great of the earth, "We have

piped unto you and you have not danced." Judged by the measure of their

conformity to the standards of the small, the great may be considered no

better, possibly not so good as the little spirits. The well are forced

to behave like the spiritually sick. The crowd is a dog in the manger.

If eating meat maketh my brother to be scandalized, or giveth him the

cramps, I shall remain a vegetarian so long as the world standeth.

Nietzsche was correct on this point. The crowd--he called it the

herd--is a weapon of revenge in the hands of the weaker brother. It is a

Procrustean bed on which every spiritual superiority may be lopped off

to the common measure, and every little ego consciousness may be

stretched to the stature of full manhood.

The Crowd And The Unconscious The Fruits Of Revolution New Crowd-tyrannies For Old facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail