WHAT IS MEANT BY THE RELIGIOUS SENTIMENT





It is independent ofthe worship of a divinity--

Its characteristics--The strength of

convictions assuming a religious shape--Various examples--Popular

gods have never disappeared--New forms under which they are

revived--Religious forms of atheism--Importance of these notions

from the historical point of view-- The Reformation, Saint

Bartholomew, the Terror, and all analogous events are the result

of the religious sentiments of crowds and not of the will of

isolated individuals.





We have shown that crowds do not reason, that they accept or

reject ideas as a whole, that they tolerate neither discussion

nor contradiction, and that the suggestions brought to bear on

them invade the entire field of their understanding and tend at

once to transform themselves into acts. We have shown that

crowds suitably influenced are ready to sacrifice themselves for

the ideal with which they have been inspired. We have also seen

that they only entertain violent and extreme sentiments, that in

their case sympathy quickly becomes adoration, and antipathy

almost as soon as it is aroused is transformed into hatred.

These general indications furnish us already with a presentiment

of the nature of the convictions of crowds.



When these convictions are closely examined, whether at epochs

marked by fervent religious faith, or by great political

upheavals such as those of the last century, it is apparent that

they always assume a peculiar form which I cannot better define

than by giving it the name of a religious sentiment.



This sentiment has very simple characteristics, such as worship

of a being supposed superior, fear of the power with which the

being is credited, blind submission to its commands, inability to

discuss its dogmas, the desire to spread them, and a tendency to

consider as enemies all by whom they are not accepted. Whether

such a sentiment apply to an invisible God, to a wooden or stone

idol, to a hero or to a political conception, provided that it

presents the preceding characteristics, its essence always

remains religious. The supernatural and the miraculous are found

to be present to the same extent. Crowds unconsciously accord a

mysterious power to the political formula or the victorious

leader that for the moment arouses their enthusiasm.



A person is not religious solely when he worships a divinity, but

when he puts all the resources of his mind, the complete

submission of his will, and the whole-souled ardour of fanaticism

at the service of a cause or an individual who becomes the goal

and guide of his thoughts and actions.



Intolerance and fanaticism are the necessary accompaniments of

the religious sentiment. They are inevitably displayed by those

who believe themselves in the possession of the secret of earthly

or eternal happiness. These two characteristics are to be found

in all men grouped together when they are inspired by a

conviction of any kind. The Jacobins of the Reign of Terror were

at bottom as religious as the Catholics of the Inquisition, and

their cruel ardour proceeded from the same source.



The convictions of crowds assume those characteristics of blind

submission, fierce intolerance, and the need of violent

propaganda which are inherent in the religious sentiment, and it

is for this reason that it may be said that all their beliefs

have a religious form. The hero acclaimed by a crowd is a

veritable god for that crowd. Napoleon was such a god for

fifteen years, and a divinity never had more fervent worshippers

or sent men to their death with greater ease. The Christian and

Pagan Gods never exercised a more absolute empire over the minds

that had fallen under their sway.



All founders of religious or political creeds have established

them solely because they were successful in inspiring crowds with

those fanatical sentiments which have as result that men find

their happiness in worship and obedience and are ready to lay

down their lives for their idol. This has been the case at all

epochs. Fustel de Coulanges, in his excellent work on Roman

Gaul, justly remarks that the Roman Empire was in no wise

maintained by force, but by the religious admiration it inspired.

"It would be without a parallel in the history of the world," he

observes rightly, "that a form of government held in popular

detestation should have lasted for five centuries. . . . It

would be inexplicable that the thirty legions of the Empire

should have constrained a hundred million men to obedience." The

reason of their obedience was that the Emperor, who personified

the greatness of Rome, was worshipped like a divinity by

unanimous consent. There were altars in honour of the Emperor in

the smallest townships of his realm. "From one end of the Empire

to the other a new religion was seen to arise in those days which

had for its divinities the emperors themselves. Some years

before the Christian era the whole of Gaul, represented by sixty

cities, built in common a temple near the town of Lyons in honour

of Augustus. . . . Its priests, elected by the united Gallic

cities, were the principal personages in their country. . . . It

is impossible to attribute all this to fear and servility. Whole

nations are not servile, and especially for three centuries. It

was not the courtiers who worshipped the prince, it was Rome, and

it was not Rome merely, but it was Gaul, it was Spain, it was

Greece and Asia."



To-day the majority of the great men who have swayed men's minds

no longer have altars, but they have statues, or their portraits

are in the hands of their admirers, and the cult of which they

are the object is not notably different from that accorded to

their predecessors. An understanding of the philosophy of

history is only to be got by a thorough appreciation of this

fundamental point of the psychology of crowds. The crowd demands

a god before everything else.



It must not be supposed that these are the superstitions of a

bygone age which reason has definitely banished. Sentiment has

never been vanquished in its eternal conflict with reason.

Crowds will hear no more of the words divinity and religion, in

whose name they were so long enslaved; but they have never

possessed so many fetishes as in the last hundred years, and the

old divinities have never had so many statues and altars raised

in their honour. Those who in recent years have studied the

popular movement known under the name of Boulangism have been

able to see with what ease the religious instincts of crowds are

ready to revive. There was not a country inn that did not

possess the hero's portrait. He was credited with the power of

remedying all injustices and all evils, and thousands of men

would have given their lives for him. Great might have been his

place in history had his character been at all on a level with

his legendary reputation.



It is thus a very useless commonplace to assert that a religion

is necessary for the masses, because all political, divine, and

social creeds only take root among them on the condition of

always assuming the religious shape--a shape which obviates the

danger of discussion. Were it possible to induce the masses to

adopt atheism, this belief would exhibit all the intolerant

ardour of a religious sentiment, and in its exterior forms would

soon become a cult. The evolution of the small Positivist sect

furnishes us a curious proof in point. What happened to the

Nihilist whose story is related by that profound thinker

Dostoiewsky has quickly happened to the Positivists. Illumined

one day by the light of reason he broke the images of divinities

and saints that adorned the altar of a chapel, extinguished the

candles, and, without losing a moment, replaced the destroyed

objects by the works of atheistic philosophers such as Buchner

and Moleschott, after which he piously relighted the candles.

The object of his religious beliefs had been transformed, but can

it be truthfully said that his religious sentiments had changed?



Certain historical events--and they are precisely the most

important--I again repeat, are not to be understood unless one

has attained to an appreciation of the religious form which the

convictions of crowds always assume in the long run. There are

social phenomena that need to be studied far more from the point

of view of the psychologist than from that of the naturalist.

The great historian Taine has only studied the Revolution as a

naturalist, and on this account the real genesis of events has

often escaped him. He has perfectly observed the facts, but from

want of having studied the psychology of crowds he has not always

been able to trace their causes. The facts having appalled him

by their bloodthirsty, anarchic, and ferocious side, he has

scarcely seen in the heroes of the great drama anything more than

a horde of epileptic savages abandoning themselves without

restraint to their instincts. The violence of the Revolution,

its massacres, its need of propaganda, its declarations of war

upon all things, are only to be properly explained by reflecting

that the Revolution was merely the establishment of a new

religious belief in the mind of the masses. The Reformation, the

massacre of Saint Bartholomew, the French religious wars, the

Inquisition, the Reign of Terror are phenomena of an identical

kind, brought about by crowds animated by those religious

sentiments which necessarily lead those imbued with them to

pitilessly extirpate by fire and sword whoever is opposed to the

establishment of the new faith. The methods of the Inquisition

are those of all whose convictions are genuine and sturdy. Their

convictions would not deserve these epithets did they resort to

other methods.



Upheavals analogous to those I have just cited are only possible

when it is the soul of the masses that brings them about. The

most absolute despots could not cause them. When historians tell

us that the massacre of Saint Bartholomew was the work of a king,

they show themselves as ignorant of the psychology of crowds as

of that of sovereigns. Manifestations of this order can only

proceed from the soul of crowds. The most absolute power of the

most despotic monarch can scarcely do more than hasten or retard

the moment of their apparition. The massacre of Saint

Bartholomew or the religious wars were no more the work of kings

than the Reign of Terror was the work of Robespierre, Danton, or

Saint Just. At the bottom of such events is always to be found

the working of the soul of the masses, and never the power of

potentates.





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