THE LEADERS OF CROWDS.





As soon as a certain number of living beings are gathered

together, whether they be animals or men, they place themselves

instinctively under the authority of a chief.



In the case of human crowds the chief is often nothing more than

a ringleader or agitator, but as such he plays a considerable

part. His will is the nucleus around which the opinions of the

crowd are grouped and attain to identity. He constitutes the

first element towards the organisation of heterogeneous crowds,

and paves the way for their organisation in sects; in the

meantime he directs them. A crowd is a servile flock that is

incapable of ever doing without a master.



The leader has most often started as one of the led. He has

himself been hypnotised by the idea, whose apostle he has since

become. It has taken possession of him to such a degree that

everything outside it vanishes, and that every contrary opinion

appears to him an error or a superstition. An example in point

is Robespierre, hypnotised by the philosophical ideas of

Rousseau, and employing the methods of the Inquisition to

propagate them.



The leaders we speak of are more frequently men of action than

thinkers. They are not gifted with keen foresight, nor could

they be, as this quality generally conduces to doubt and

inactivity. They are especially recruited from the ranks of

those morbidly nervous, excitable, half-deranged persons who are

bordering on madness. However absurd may be the idea they uphold

or the goal they pursue, their convictions are so strong that all

reasoning is lost upon them. Contempt and persecution do not

affect them, or only serve to excite them the more. They

sacrifice their personal interest, their family--everything. The

very instinct of self-preservation is entirely obliterated in

them, and so much so that often the only recompense they solicit

is that of martyrdom. The intensity of their faith gives great

power of suggestion to their words. The multitude is always

ready to listen to the strong-willed man, who knows how to impose

himself upon it. Men gathered in a crowd lose all force of will,

and turn instinctively to the person who possesses the quality

they lack.



Nations have never lacked leaders, but all of the latter have by

no means been animated by those strong convictions proper to

apostles. These leaders are often subtle rhetoricians, seeking

only their own personal interest, and endeavouring to persuade by

flattering base instincts. The influence they can assert in this

manner may be very great, but it is always ephemeral. The men of

ardent convictions who have stirred the soul of crowds, the Peter

the Hermits, the Luthers, the Savonarolas, the men of the French

Revolution, have only exercised their fascination after having

been themselves fascinated first of all by a creed. They are

then able to call up in the souls of their fellows that

formidable force known as faith, which renders a man the absolute

slave of his dream.



The arousing of faith--whether religious, political, or social,

whether faith in a work, in a person, or an idea--has always been

the function of the great leaders of crowds, and it is on this

account that their influence is always very great. Of all the

forces at the disposal of humanity, faith has always been one of

the most tremendous, and the gospel rightly attributes to it the

power of moving mountains. To endow a man with faith is to

multiply his strength tenfold. The great events of history have

been brought about by obscure believers, who have had little

beyond their faith in their favour. It is not by the aid of the

learned or of philosophers, and still less of sceptics, that have

been built up the great religions which have swayed the world, or

the vast empires which have spread from one hemisphere to the

other.



In the cases just cited, however, we are dealing with great

leaders, and they are so few in number that history can easily

reckon them up. They form the summit of a continuous series,

which extends from these powerful masters of men down to the

workman who, in the smoky atmosphere of an inn, slowly fascinates

his comrades by ceaselessly drumming into their ears a few set

phrases, whose purport he scarcely comprehends, but the

application of which, according to him, must surely bring about

the realisation of all dreams and of every hope.



In every social sphere, from the highest to the lowest, as soon

as a man ceases to be isolated he speedily falls under the

influence of a leader. The majority of men, especially among the

masses, do not possess clear and reasoned ideas on any subject

whatever outside their own speciality. The leader serves them as

guide. It is just possible that he may be replaced, though very

inefficiently, by the periodical publications which manufacture

opinions for their readers and supply them with ready- made

phrases which dispense them of the trouble of reasoning.



The leaders of crowds wield a very despotic authority, and this

despotism indeed is a condition of their obtaining a following.

It has often been remarked how easily they extort obedience,

although without any means of backing up their authority, from

the most turbulent section of the working classes. They fix the

hours of labour and the rate of wages, and they decree strikes,

which are begun and ended at the hour they ordain.



At the present day these leaders and agitators tend more and more

to usurp the place of the public authorities in proportion as the

latter allow themselves to be called in question and shorn of

their strength. The tyranny of these new masters has for result

that the crowds obey them much more docilely than they have

obeyed any government. If in consequence of some accident or

other the leaders should be removed from the scene the crowd

returns to its original state of a collectivity without cohesion

or force of resistance. During the last strike of the Parisian

omnibus employes the arrest of the two leaders who were directing

it was at once sufficient to bring it to an end. It is the need

not of liberty but of servitude that is always predominant in the

soul of crowds. They are so bent on obedience that they

instinctively submit to whoever declares himself their master.



These ringleaders and agitators may be divided into two clearly

defined classes. The one includes the men who are energetic and

possess, but only intermittently, much strength of will, the

other the men, far rarer than the preceding, whose strength of

will is enduring. The first mentioned are violent, brave, and

audacious. They are more especially useful to direct a violent

enterprise suddenly decided on, to carry the masses with them in

spite of danger, and to transform into heroes the men who but

yesterday were recruits. Men of this kind were Ney and Murat

under the First Empire, and such a man in our own time was

Garibaldi, a talentless but energetic adventurer who succeeded

with a handful of men in laying hands on the ancient kingdom of

Naples, defended though it was by a disciplined army.



Still, though the energy of leaders of this class is a force to

be reckoned with, it is transitory, and scarcely outlasts the

exciting cause that has brought it into play. When they have

returned to their ordinary course of life the heroes animated by

energy of this description often evince, as was the case with

those I have just cited, the most astonishing weakness of

character. They seem incapable of reflection and of conducting

themselves under the simplest circumstances, although they had

been able to lead others. These men are leaders who cannot

exercise their function except on the condition that they be led

themselves and continually stimulated, that they have always as

their beacon a man or an idea, that they follow a line of conduct

clearly traced. The second category of leaders, that of men of

enduring strength of will, have, in spite of a less brilliant

aspect, a much more considerable influence. In this category are

to be found the true founders of religions and great

undertakings: St. Paul, Mahomet, Christopher Columbus, and de

Lesseps, for example. Whether they be intelligent or

narrow-minded is of no importance: the world belongs to them.

The persistent will-force they possess is an immensely rare and

immensely powerful faculty to which everything yields. What a

strong and continuous will is capable of is not always properly

appreciated. Nothing resists it; neither nature, gods, nor man.



The most recent example of what can be effected by a strong and

continuous will is afforded us by the illustrious man who

separated the Eastern and Western worlds, and accomplished a task

that during three thousand years had been attempted in vain by

the greatest sovereigns. He failed later in an identical

enterprise, but then had intervened old age, to which everything,

even the will, succumbs.



When it is desired to show what may be done by mere strength of

will, all that is necessary is to relate in detail the history of

the difficulties that had to be surmounted in connection with the

cutting of the Suez Canal. An ocular witness, Dr. Cazalis, has

summed up in a few striking lines the entire story of this great

work, recounted by its immortal author.



"From day to day, episode by episode, he told the stupendous

story of the canal. He told of all he had had to vanquish, of

the impossible he had made possible, of all the opposition he

encountered, of the coalition against him, and the

disappointments, the reverses, the defeats which had been

unavailing to discourage or depress him. He recalled how England

had combatted him, attacking him without cessation, how Egypt and

France had hesitated, how the French Consul had been foremost in

his opposition to the early stages of the work, and the nature of

the opposition he had met with, the attempt to force his workmen

to desert from thirst by refusing them fresh water; how the

Minister of Marine and the engineers, all responsible men of

experienced and scientific training, had naturally all been

hostile, were all certain on scientific grounds that disaster was

at hand, had calculated its coming, foretelling it for such a day

and hour as an eclipse is foretold."



The book which relates the lives of all these great leaders would

not contain many names, but these names have been bound up with

the most important events in the history of civilisation.





THE INTOLERANCE, DICTATORIALNESS AND CONSERVATISM OF CROWDS. THE MEANS OF ACTION OF THE LEADERS: AFFIRMATION, REPETITION, CONTAGION facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback