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General characteristics of electoral crowds--The manner of
persuading them--The qualities that should be possessed by a
candidate--Necessity of prestige--Why working men and peasants so
rarely choose candidates from their own class--The influence of
words and formulas on the elector--The general aspect of election
oratory--How the opinions of the elector are formed--The power of
political committees--They represent the most redoubtable form of
tyranny--The committees of the Revolution-- Universal suffrage
cannot be replaced in spite of its slight psychological
value--Why it is that the votes recorded would remain the same
even if the right of voting were restricted to a limited class of
citizens--What universal suffrage expresses in all countries.

ELECTORAL crowds--that is to say, collectivities invested with
the power of electing the holders of certain
functions--constitute heterogeneous crowds, but as their action
is confined to a single clearly determined matter, namely, to
choosing between different candidates, they present only a few of
the characteristics previously described. Of the characteristics
peculiar to crowds, they display in particular but slight
aptitude for reasoning, the absence of the critical spirit,
irritability, credulity, and simplicity. In their decision,
moreover, is to be traced the influence of the leaders of crowds
and the part played by the factors we have enumerated:
affirmation, repetition, prestige, and contagion.

Let us examine by what methods electoral crowds are to be
persuaded. It will be easy to deduce their psychology from the
methods that are most successful.

It is of primary importance that the candidate should possess
prestige. Personal prestige can only be replaced by that
resulting from wealth. Talent and even genius are not elements
of success of serious importance.

Of capital importance, on the other hand, is the necessity for
the candidate of possessing prestige, of being able, that is, to
force himself upon the electorate without discussion. The reason
why the electors, of whom a majority are working men or peasants,
so rarely choose a man from their own ranks to represent them is
that such a person enjoys no prestige among them. When, by
chance, they do elect a man who is their equal, it is as a rule
for subsidiary reasons--for instance, to spite an eminent man, or
an influential employer of labour on whom the elector is in daily
dependence, and whose master he has the illusion he becomes in
this way for a moment.

The possession of prestige does not suffice, however, to assure
the success of a candidate. The elector stickles in particular
for the flattery of his greed and vanity. He must be overwhelmed
with the most extravagant blandishments, and there must be no
hesitation in making him the most fantastic promises. If he is a
working man it is impossible to go too far in insulting and
stigmatising employers of labour. As for the rival candidate, an
effort must be made to destroy his chance by establishing by dint
of affirmation, repetition, and contagion that he is an arrant
scoundrel, and that it is a matter of common knowledge that he
has been guilty of several crimes. It is, of course, useless to
trouble about any semblance of proof. Should the adversary be
ill-acquainted with the psychology of crowds he will try to
justify himself by arguments instead of confining himself to
replying to one set of affirmations by another; and he will have
no chance whatever of being successful.

The candidate's written programme should not be too categorical,
since later on his adversaries might bring it up against him; in
his verbal programme, however, there cannot be too much
exaggeration. The most important reforms may be fearlessly
promised. At the moment they are made these exaggerations
produce a great effect, and they are not binding for the future,
it being a matter of constant observation that the elector never
troubles himself to know how far the candidate he has returned
has followed out the electoral programme he applauded, and in
virtue of which the election was supposed to have been secured.

In what precedes, all the factors of persuasion which we have
described are to be recognised. We shall come across them again
in the action exerted by words and formulas, whose magical sway
we have already insisted upon. An orator who knows how to make
use of these means of persuasion can do what he will with a
crowd. Expressions such as infamous capital, vile exploiters,
the admirable working man, the socialisation of wealth, &c.,
always produce the same effect, although already somewhat worn by
use. But the candidate who hits on a new formula as devoid as
possible of precise meaning, and apt in consequence to flatter
the most varied aspirations, infallibly obtains a success. The
sanguinary Spanish revolution of 1873 was brought about by one of
these magical phrases of complex meaning on which everybody can
put his own interpretation. A contemporary writer has described
the launching of this phrase in terms that deserve to be

"The radicals have made the discovery that a centralised republic
is a monarchy in disguise, and to humour them the Cortes had
unanimously proclaimed a FEDERAL REPUBLIC, though none of the
voters could have explained what it was he had just voted for.
This formula, however, delighted everybody; the joy was
intoxicating, delirious. The reign of virtue and happiness had
just been inaugurated on earth. A republican whose opponent
refused him the title of federalist considered himself to be
mortally insulted. People addressed each other in the streets
with the words: `Long live the federal republic!' After which
the praises were sung of the mystic virtue of the absence of
discipline in the army, and of the autonomy of the soldiers.
What was understood by the `federal republic?' There were those
who took it to mean the emancipation of the provinces,
institutions akin to those of the United States and
administrative decentralisation; others had in view the abolition
of all authority and the speedy commencement of the great social
liquidation. The socialists of Barcelona and Andalusia stood out
for the absolute sovereignty of the communes; they proposed to
endow Spain with ten thousand independent municipalities, to
legislate on their own account, and their creation to be
accompanied by the suppression of the police and the army. In
the southern provinces the insurrection was soon seen to spread
from town to town and village to village. Directly a village had
made its pronunciamento its first care was to destroy the
telegraph wires and the railway lines so as to cut off all
communication with its neighbours and Madrid. The sorriest
hamlet was determined to stand on its own bottom. Federation had
given place to cantonalism, marked by massacres, incendiarism,
and every description of brutality, and bloody saturnalia were
celebrated throughout the length and breadth of the land."

With respect to the influence that may be exerted by reasoning on
the minds of electors, to harbour the least doubt on this subject
can only be the result of never having read the reports of an
electioneering meeting. In such a gathering affirmations,
invectives, and sometimes blows are exchanged, but never
arguments. Should silence be established for a moment it is
because some one present, having the reputation of a "tough
customer," has announced that he is about to heckle the candidate
by putting him one of those embarrassing questions which are
always the joy of the audience. The satisfaction, however, of
the opposition party is shortlived, for the voice of the
questioner is soon drowned in the uproar made by his adversaries.
The following reports of public meetings, chosen from hundreds of
similar examples, and taken from the daily papers, may be
considered as typical:--

"One of the organisers of the meeting having asked the assembly
to elect a president, the storm bursts. The anarchists leap on
to the platform to take the committee table by storm. The
socialists make an energetic defence; blows are exchanged, and
each party accuses the other of being spies in the pay of the
Government, &c. . . . A citizen leaves the hall with a black

"The committee is at length installed as best it may be in the
midst of the tumult, and the right to speak devolves upon
`Comrade' X.

"The orator starts a vigorous attack on the socialists, who
interrupt him with shouts of `Idiot, scoundrel, blackguard!' &c.,
epithets to which Comrade X. replies by setting forth a theory
according to which the socialists are `idiots' or `jokers.'"

"The Allemanist party had organised yesterday evening, in the
Hall of Commerce, in the Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple, a great
meeting, preliminary to the workers' fete of the 1st of May. The
watchword of the meeting was `Calm and Tranquillity!'

"Comrade G---- alludes to the socialists as `idiots' and

"At these words there is an exchange of invectives and orators
and audience come to blows. Chairs, tables, and benches are
converted into weapons," &c., &c.

It is not to be imagined for a moment that this description of
discussion is peculiar to a determined class of electors and
dependent on their social position. In every anonymous assembly
whatever, though it be composed exclusively of highly educated
persons, discussion always assumes the same shape. I have shown
that when men are collected in a crowd there is a tendency
towards their mental levelling at work, and proof of this is to
be found at every turn. Take, for example, the following extract
from a report of a meeting composed exclusively of students,
which I borrow from the Temps of 13th of February, 1895:--

"The tumult only increased as the evening went on; I do not
believe that a single orator succeeded in uttering two sentences
without being interrupted. At every instant there came shouts
from this or that direction or from every direction at once.
Applause was intermingled with hissing, violent discussions were
in progress between individual members of the audience, sticks
were brandished threateningly, others beat a tattoo on the floor,
and the interrupters were greeted with yells of `Put him out!' or
`Let him speak!'

"M. C---- lavished such epithets as odious and cowardly,
monstrous, vile, venal and vindictive, on the Association, which
he declared he wanted to destroy," &c., &c.

How, it may be asked, can an elector form an opinion under such
conditions? To put such a question is to harbour a strange
delusion as to the measure of liberty that may be enjoyed by a
collectivity. Crowds have opinions that have been imposed upon
them, but they never boast reasoned opinions. In the case under
consideration the opinions and votes of the electors are in the
hands of the election committees, whose leading spirits are, as a
rule, publicans, their influence over the working men, to whom
they allow credit, being great. "Do you know what an election
committee is?" writes M. Scherer, one of the most valiant
champions of present-day democracy. "It is neither more nor less
than the corner-stone of our institutions, the masterpiece of the
political machine. France is governed to-day by the election

constitute perhaps the most redoubtable danger resulting from the
power of crowds. They represent in reality the most impersonal
and, in consequence, the most oppressive form of tyranny. The
leaders who direct the committees being supposed to speak and act
in the name of a collectivity, are freed from all responsibility,
and are in a position to do just as they choose. The most savage
tyrant has never ventured even to dream of such proscriptions as
those ordained by the committees of the Revolution. Barras has
declared that they decimated the convention, picking off its
members at their pleasure. So long as he was able to speak in
their name, Robespierre wielded absolute power. The moment this
frightful dictator separated himself from them, for reasons of
personal pride, he was lost. The reign of crowds is the reign of
committees, that is, of the leaders of crowds. A severer
despotism cannot be imagined.

To exert an influence over them is not difficult, provided the
candidate be in himself acceptable and possess adequate financial
resources. According to the admissions of the donors, three
millions of francs sufficed to secure the repeated elections of
General Boulanger.

Such is the psychology of electoral crowds. It is identical with
that of other crowds: neither better nor worse.

In consequence I draw no conclusion against universal suffrage
from what precedes. Had I to settle its fate, I should preserve
it as it is for practical reasons, which are to be deduced in
point of fact from our investigation of the psychology of crowds.
On this account I shall proceed to set them forth.

No doubt the weak side of universal suffrage is too obvious to be
overlooked. It cannot be gainsaid that civilisation has been the
work of a small minority of superior intelligences constituting
the culminating point of a pyramid, whose stages, widening in
proportion to the decrease of mental power, represent the masses
of a nation. The greatness of a civilisation cannot assuredly
depend upon the votes given by inferior elements boasting solely
numerical strength. Doubtless, too, the votes recorded by crowds
are often very dangerous. They have already cost us several
invasions, and in view of the triumph of socialism, for which
they are preparing the way, it is probable that the vagaries of
popular sovereignty will cost us still more dearly.

Excellent, however, as these objections are in theory, in
practice they lose all force, as will be admitted if the
invincible strength be remembered of ideas transformed into
dogmas. The dogma of the sovereignty of crowds is as little
defensible, from the philosophical point of view, as the
religious dogmas of the Middle Ages, but it enjoys at present the
same absolute power they formerly enjoyed. It is as unattackable
in consequence as in the past were our religious ideas. Imagine
a modern freethinker miraculously transported into the midst of
the Middle Ages. Do you suppose that, after having ascertained
the sovereign power of the religious ideas that were then in
force, he would have been tempted to attack them? Having fallen
into the hands of a judge disposed to send him to the stake,
under the imputation of having concluded a pact with the devil,
or of having been present at the witches sabbath, would it have
occurred to him to call in question the existence of the devil or
of the sabbath? It were as wise to oppose cyclones with
discussion as the beliefs of crowds. The dogma of universal
suffrage possesses to-day the power the Christian dogmas formerly
possessed. Orators and writers allude to it with a respect and
adulation that never fell to the share of Louis XIV. In
consequence the same position must be taken up with regard to it
as with regard to all religious dogmas. Time alone can act upon

Besides, it would be the more useless to attempt to undermine
this dogma, inasmuch as it has an appearance of reasonableness in
its favour. "In an era of equality," Tocqueville justly remarks,
"men have no faith in each other on account of their being all
alike; yet this same similitude gives them an almost limitless
confidence in the judgment of the public, the reason being that
it does not appear probable that, all men being equally
enlightened, truth and numerical superiority should not go hand
in hand."

Must it be believed that with a restricted suffrage--a suffrage
restricted to those intellectually capable if it be desired--an
improvement would be effected in the votes of crowds? I cannot
admit for a moment that this would be the case, and that for the
reasons I have already given touching the mental inferiority of
all collectivities, whatever their composition. In a crowd men
always tend to the same level, and, on general questions, a vote,
recorded by forty academicians is no better than that of forty
water-carriers. I do not in the least believe that any of the
votes for which universal suffrage is blamed--the
re-establishment of the Empire, for instance-- would have fallen
out differently had the voters been exclusively recruited among
learned and liberally educated men. It does not follow because
an individual knows Greek or mathematics, is an architect, a
veterinary surgeon, a doctor, or a barrister, that he is endowed
with a special intelligence of social questions. All our
political economists are highly educated, being for the most part
professors or academicians, yet is there a single general
question--protection, bimetallism, &c.--on which they have
succeeded in agreeing? The explanation is that their science is
only a very attenuated form of our universal ignorance. With
regard to social problems, owing to the number of unknown
quantities they offer, men are substantially, equally ignorant.

In consequence, were the electorate solely composed of persons
stuffed with sciences their votes would be no better than those
emitted at present. They would be guided in the main by their
sentiments and by party spirit. We should be spared none of the
difficulties we now have to contend with, and we should certainly
be subjected to the oppressive tyranny of castes.

Whether the suffrage of crowds be restricted or general, whether
it be exercised under a republic or a monarchy, in France, in
Belgium, in Greece, in Portugal, or in Spain, it is everywhere
identical; and, when all is said and done, it is the expression
of the unconscious aspirations and needs of the race. In each
country the average opinions of those elected represent the
genius of the race, and they will be found not to alter sensibly
from one generation to another.

It is seen, then, that we are confronted once more by the
fundamental notion of race, which we have come across so often,
and on this other notion, which is the outcome of the first, that
institutions and governments play but a small part in the life of
a people. Peoples are guided in the main by the genius of their
race, that is, by that inherited residue of qualities of which
the genius is the sum total. Race and the slavery of our daily
necessities are the mysterious master-causes that rule our



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