How Crowds Are Formed

In his well-known work on the psychology of the crowd Le Bon noted the

fact that the unconscious plays a large part in determining the behavior

of crowds. But he is not clear in his use of the term "unconscious." In

fact, as Graham Wallas justly points out, his terminology is very loose

indeed. Le Bon seems to have made little or no attempt to discover in

detail the processes of this unconscious. In company with most

ychologists of his time, he based his explanation upon the theory of

"suggestion and imitation." He saw in the unconscious merely a sort of

mystical "common humanity," from which he derived his--also

mystical--idea of a common crowd-mind which each individual in the crowd

in some unexplained manner shared. He says:

The most striking peculiarity presented by a psychological crowd

is the following: Whoever be the individuals that compose it,

however like or unlike be their mode of life, their occupations,

their character or their intelligence, the fact that they have

been transformed into a crowd puts them in possession of a sort

of collective mind which makes them feel, think, and act in a

manner quite different from that in which each individual of

them would feel, think, and act were he in a state of


It is easy to prove how much the individual forming part of a

crowd differs from the isolated individual, but it is less easy

to discover the causes of this difference.

To obtain, at any rate, a glimpse of them it is necessary in the

first place to call to mind the truth established by modern

psychology, that unconscious phenomena play an altogether

preponderating part, not only in organic life, but also in the

operations of intelligence.... Our conscious acts are the

outcome of an unconscious substratum created in the mind in the

main by heredity. This substratum consists of innumerable

characteristics handed down from generation to generation which

constitute the genius of the race....

It is more especially with respect to those unconscious elements

which constitute the genius of a race that all the individuals

belonging to it resemble each other.... It is precisely these

general qualities of character, governed by forces of which we

are unconscious and possessed by the majority of normal

individuals of a race in much the same degree--it is precisely

these qualities, I say, that in crowds become common property.

In the collective mind the intellectual aptitudes of the

individuals, and in consequence their individuality, are

weakened. The heterogeneous is swamped in the homogeneous and

the unconscious qualities obtain the upper hand.

It may safely be said, I think, that this assumed impersonal collective

mind of the crowd has no existence in a sound psychology. People's

minds show, of course, innumerable mutual influences, but they do not

fuse and run together. They are in many respects very similar, but

similarity is not identity, even when people are crowded together. Our

author has doubtless borrowed here rather uncritically from Herbert

Spencer's organic conception of society--his later statement, not quoted

here, that the alleged merging of the heterogeneous in the homogeneous

would logically imply a regression to a lower stage in evolution, is

another bit of Spencerian jargon commonly accepted in Le Bon's day.

When, however, Graham Wallas, in The Great Society, states that Le Bon

is not "himself clear whether he means that crowds have no collective

consciousness, or that every individual in a crowd is completely

unconscious," it seems to me that Wallas is a little unfair. Neither Le

Bon nor the relation of the unconscious to the crowd-mind may be

dismissed in Wallas's apparently easy manner. Le Bon has established two

points which I think cannot be successfully denied: first, that the

crowd is essentially a psychological phenomenon, people behaving

differently in a crowd from the way they behave when isolated; and

second, that the unconscious has something to do with crowd-thinking and


Wallas says of Le Bon:

Tarde and Le Bon were Frenchmen brought up on vivid descriptions

of the Revolution and themselves apprehensive of the spread of

socialism. Political movements which were in large part carried

out by men conscious and thoughtful, though necessarily ill

informed, seemed therefore to them as they watched them from the

outside to be due to the blind and unconscious impulses of

masses "incapable both of reflection and of reasoning."

There is some truth in this criticism. In spite of the attempt of the

famous author of crowd-psychology to give us a really scientific

explanation of crowd-phenomena, his obviously conservative bias robs his

work of much of its power to convince. We find here, just as in the case

of Gobineau, Nietzsche, Faguet, Conway, and other supporters of the

aristocratic idea, an a priori principle of distrust of the common

people as such. In many passages Le Bon does not sufficiently

distinguish between the crowd and the masses. Class and mass are opposed

to each other as though, due to their superior reasoning powers, the

classes were somehow free from the danger of behaving as crowd. This is

of course not true. Any class may behave and think as a crowd--in fact

it usually does so in so far as its class interests are concerned.

Anyone who makes a study of the public mind in America to-day will find

that the phenomena of the crowd-mind are not at all confined to

movements within the working class or so-called common people.

It has long been the habit of conservative writers to identify the crowd

with the proletariat and then to feel that the psychology of the

situation could be summed up in the statement that the crowd was simply

the creature of passion and blind emotion. The psychology which lies

back of such a view--if it is psychology rather than class prejudice--is

the old intellectualism which sought to isolate the intellect from the

emotional nature and make the true mental life primarily a knowledge

affair. The crowd, therefore, since it was regarded as an affair of the

emotions, was held to be one among many instances of the natural mental

inferiority of the common people, and a proof of their general unfitness

for self-government.

I do not believe that this emotional theory is the true explanation of

crowd-behavior. It cannot be denied that people in a crowd become

strangely excited. But it is not only in crowds that people show

emotion. Feeling, instinct, impulse, are the dynamic of all mental life.

The crowd doubtless inhibits as many emotions as it releases. Fear is

conspicuously absent in battle, pity in a lynching mob. Crowds are

notoriously anaesthetic toward the finer values of art, music, and

poetry. It may even be argued that the feelings of the crowd are

dulled, since it is only the exaggerated, the obvious, the cheaply

sentimental, which easily moves it.

There was a time when insanity was also regarded as excessive emotion.

The insane man was one who raved, he was mad. The word "crazy" still

suggests the condition of being "out of one's mind"--that is, driven by

irrational emotion. Psychiatry would accept no such explanation to-day.

Types of insanity are distinguished, not with respect to the mere amount

of emotional excitement they display, but in accordance with the

patient's whole psychic functioning. The analyst looks for some

mechanism of controlling ideas and their relation to impulses which are

operating in the unconscious. So with our understanding of the

crowd-mind. Le Bon is correct in maintaining that the crowd is not a

mere aggregation of people. It is a state of mind. A peculiar psychic

change must happen to a group of people before they become a crowd. And

as this change is not merely a release of emotion, neither is it the

creation of a collective mind by means of imitation and suggestion. My

thesis is that the crowd-mind is a phenomenon which should best be

classed with dreams, delusions, and the various forms of automatic

behavior. The controlling ideas of the crowd are the result neither of

reflection nor of "suggestion," but are akin to what, as we shall see

later, the psychoanalysts term "complexes." The crowd-self--if I may

speak of it in this way--is analogous in many respects to "compulsion

neurosis," "somnambulism," or "paranoiac episode." Crowd ideas are

"fixations"; they are always symbolic; they are always related to

something repressed in the unconscious. They are what Doctor Adler would

call "fictitious guiding lines."

There is a sense in which all our thinking consists of symbol and

fiction. The laws, measurements, and formulas of science are all as it

were "shorthand devices"--instruments for relating ourselves to reality,

rather than copies of the real. The "truth" of these working ideas is

demonstrated in the satisfactoriness of the results to which they lead

us. If by means of them we arrive at desired and desirable adaptations

to and within our environment, we say they are verified. If, however, no

such verification is reached, or the result reached flatly contradicts

our hypothesis, the sane thinker holds his conclusions in abeyance,

revises his theories, or candidly gives them up and clings to the real

as empirically known.

Suppose now that a certain hypothesis, or "fiction," instead of being an

instrument for dealing with external reality, is unconsciously designed

as a refuge from the real. Suppose it is a symbolic compromise among

conflicting desires in the individual's unconscious of which he cannot

rid himself. Suppose it is a disguised expression of motives which the

individual as a civilized being cannot admit to his own consciousness.

Suppose it is a fiction necessary to keep up one's ego consciousness or

self-appreciative feeling without which either he or his world would

instantly become valueless. In these latter cases the fiction is not and

cannot be, without outside help, modified by the reality of experience.

The complex of ideas becomes a closed system, a world in and of itself.

Conflicting facts of experience are discounted and denied by all the

cunning of an insatiable, unconscious will. The fiction then gets itself

substituted for the true facts of experience; the individual has "lost

the function of the real." He no longer admits its disturbing elements

as correctives. He has become mentally unadjusted--pathological.

Most healthy people doubtless would on analysis reveal themselves as

nourishing fictions of this sort, more or less innocent in their

effects. It is possible that it is by means of such things that the

values of living are maintained for us all. But with the healthy these

fictions either hover about the periphery of our known world as shadowy

and elusive inhabitants of the inaccessible, or else they are socially

acceptable as religious convention, race pride, ethical values, personal

ambition, class honor, etc. The fact that so much of the ground of our

valuations, at least so far as these affect our self-appreciation, is

explicable by psychologists as "pathological" in origin need not startle

us. William James in his Varieties of Religious Experience, you will

remember, took the ground that in judging of matters of this kind, it is

not so much by their origins--even admitting the pathological as a

cause--but by their fruits that we shall know them. There are "fictions"

which are neither innocent nor socially acceptable in their effects on

life and character. Many of our crowd-phenomena belong, like paranoia,

to this last class.

As I shall try to show later, the common confusion of the crowd with

"society" is an error. The crowd is a social phenomenon only in the

sense that it affects a number of persons at the same time. As I have

indicated, people may be highly social without becoming a crowd. They

may meet, mingle, associate in all sorts of ways, and organize and

co-operate for the sake of common ends--in fact, the greater part of our

social life might normally have nothing in common with crowd-behavior.

Crowd-behavior is pseudo-social--if social organizations be regarded as

a means to the achievement of realizable goods. The phenomena which we

call the crowd-mind, instead of being the outgrowth of the directly

social, are social only in the sense that all mental life has social

significance; they are rather the result of forces hidden in the

personal and unconscious psyche of the members of the crowd, forces

which are merely released by social gatherings of a certain sort.

Let us notice what happens in a public meeting as it develops into a

crowd, and see if we can trace some of the steps of the process. Picture

a large meeting-hall, fairly well filled with people. Notice first of

all what sort of interest it is which as a rule will most easily bring

an assemblage of people together. It need not necessarily be a matter of

great importance, but it must be something which catches and challenges

attention without great effort. It is most commonly, therefore, an

issue of some sort. I have seen efforts made in New York to hold mass

meetings to discuss affairs of the very greatest importance, and I have

noted the fact that such efforts usually fail to get out more than a

handful of specially interested persons, no matter how well advertised,

if the subject to be considered happens not to be of a controversial

nature. I call especial attention to this fact because later we shall

see that it is this element of conflict, directly or indirectly, which

plays an overwhelming part in the psychology of every crowd.

It is the element of contest which makes baseball so popular. A debate

will draw a larger crowd than a lecture. One of the secrets of the large

attendance of the forum is the fact that discussion--"talking back"--is

permitted and encouraged. The evangelist Sunday undoubtedly owes the

great attendance at his meetings in no small degree to the fact that he

is regularly expected to abuse some one.

If the matter to be considered is one about which there is keen partisan

feeling and popular resentment--if it lends itself to the spectacular

personal achievement of one whose name is known, especially in the face

of opposition or difficulties--or if the occasion permits of resolutions

of protest, of the airing of wrongs, of denouncing abuse of some kind,

or of casting statements of external principles in the teeth of "enemies

of humanity," then, however trivial the occasion, we may count on it

that our assembly will be well attended. Now let us watch the


The next thing in importance is the speaker. Preferably he should be an

"old war horse," a victor in many battles, and this for a psychological

reason which we shall soon examine. Whoever he is, every speaker with

any skill knows just when this state of mind which we call "crowd"

begins to appear. My work has provided me with rather unusual

opportunities for observing this sort of thing. As a regular lecturer

and also as director of the forum which meets three nights a week in the

great hall of Cooper Union, I have found that the intellectual interest,

however intense, and the development of the crowd-spirit are accompanied

by wholly different mental processes. Let me add in passing that the

audiences which gather at Cooper Union are, on the whole, the most

alert, sophisticated, and reflective that I have ever known. I doubt if

in any large popular assembly in America general discussion is carried

on with such habitual seriousness. When on rare occasions the spirit of

the crowd begins to manifest itself--and one can always detect its

beginnings before the audience is consciously aware of it--I have

noticed that discussion instantly ceases and people begin merely to

repeat their creeds and hurl cant phrases at one another. All then is

changed, though subtly. There may be laughter as at first; but it is

different. Before, it was humorous and playful, now there is a note of

hostility in it. It is laughter at some one or something. Even the

applause is changed. It is more frequent. It is more vigorous, and

instead of showing mere approval of some sentiment, it becomes a means

of showing the numerical strength of a group of believers of some sort.

It is as if those who applaud were unconsciously seeking to reveal to

themselves and others that there is a multitude on their side.

I have heard the most exciting and controversial subjects discussed, and

seen the discussion listened to with the intensest difference of

opinion, and all without the least crowd-phenomena--so long as the

speaker refrained from indulging in generalities or time-worn forms of

expression. So long as the matter discussed requires close and sustained

effort of attention, and the method of treatment is kept free from

anything which savors of ritual, even the favorite dogmas of popular

belief may be discussed, and though the interest be intense, it will

remain critical and the audience does not become a crowd. But let the

most trivial bit of bathos be expressed in rhythmical cadences and in

platitudinous terms, and the most intelligent audience will react as a

crowd. Crowd-making oratory is almost invariably platitudinous. In fact,

we think as a crowd only in platitudes, propaganda, ritual, dogma, and

symbol. Crowd-ideas are ready-made, they possess finality and

universality. They are fixed. They do not develop. They are ends in

themselves. Like the obsessions of the insane, there is a deadly

inevitability in the logic of them. They are "compulsions."

During the time of my connection with the Cooper Union Forum, we have

not had a crowd-demonstration in anything more than an incipient form.

The best laboratory for the study of such a phenomenon is the political

party convention, the mass meeting, or the religious revival. The

orators who commonly hold forth at such gatherings know intuitively the

functional value of bathos, ridicule, and platitude, and it is upon such

knowledge that they base the success of their careers in "getting the

crowd." The noisy "demonstrations" which it has of late become the

custom to stage as part of the rigmarole of a national party convention

have been cited as crowning examples of the stupidity and excess of

crowd enthusiasm. But this is a mistake. Anyone who has from the gallery

witnessed one or more of these mock "stampedes" will agree that they are

exhibitions of endurance rather than of genuine enthusiasm or of true

crowd-mindedness. They are so obviously manipulated and so deliberately

timed that they can hardly be regarded as true crowd-movements at all.

They are chiefly interesting as revelations of the general insincerity

of the political life of this republic.

True crowd-behavior requires an element of spontaneity--at least on the

part of the crowd. And we have abundant examples of this in public

meetings of all sorts. As the audience becomes crowd, the speaker's

cadence becomes more marked, his voice more oracular, his gestures more

emphatic. His message becomes a recital of great abstract "principles."

The purely obvious is held up as transcendental. Interest is kept upon

just those aspects of things which can be grasped with least effort by

all. Emphasis is laid upon those thought processes in which there is

greatest natural uniformity. The general, abstract, and superficial come

to be exalted at the expense of that which is unique and personal. Forms

of thought are made to stand as objects of thinking.

It is clear that such meaning as there is in those abstract names,

"Justice," "Right," "Liberty," "Peace," "Glory," "Destiny," etc., or in

such general phrases as "Brotherly Love," "Grand and Glorious," "Public

Weal," "Common Humanity," and many others, must vary with each one's

personal associations. Popular orators deal only with the greatest

common denominator of the meaning of these terms--that is, only those

elements which are common to the associations of all. Now the common

associations of words and phrases of this general nature are very

few--hardly more than the bare sound of the words, plus a vague mental

attitude or feeling of expectancy, a mere turning of the eyes of the

mind, as it were, in a certain direction into empty space. When, for

instance, I try now to leave out of the content of "justice" all my

personal associations and concrete experiences, I can discover no

remaining content beyond a sort of grand emptiness, with the intonations

of the word booming in my auditory centers like the ringing of a distant

bell. As "public property," the words are only a sort of worn banknote,

symbols of many meanings and intentions like my own, deposited in

individual minds. Interesting as these personal deposits are, and much

as we are mutually interested by them and moved to harmonious acting and

speaking, it is doubtful if more than the tiniest fragment of what we

each mean by "justice" can ever be communicated. The word is a

convenient instrument in adjusting our conduct to that of others, and

when such adjustment seems to meet with mutual satisfaction we say,

"That is just." But the just thing is always a concrete situation. And

the general term "justice" is simply a combination of sounds used to

indicate the class of things we call just. In itself it is but a form

with the content left out. And so with all other such abstractions.

Now if attention can be directed to this imaginary and vague "meaning

for everybody"--which is really the meaning for nobody--and so directed

that the associations with the unique in personal experience are

blocked, these abstractions will occupy the whole field of

consciousness. The mind will yield to any connection which is made among

them almost automatically. As conscious attention is cut away from the

psyche as a whole, the objects upon which it is centered will appear to

have a reality of their own. They become a closed system, perfectly

logical it may be in itself, but with the fatal logic commonly found in

paranoia--the fiction may become more real than life itself. It may be

substituted, while the spell is on, for the world of actual experience.

And just as the manifest content of a dream is, according to Freud, the

condensed and distorted symbol of latent dream-thoughts and desires in

the unconscious, so, in the case we are discussing, the unconscious

invests these abstract terms with its own peculiar meanings. They gain a

tremendous, though undefined, importance and an irresistible compelling


Something like the process I have described occurs when the crowd

appears. People are translated to a different world--that is, a

different sense of the real. The speaker is transfigured to their

vision. His words take on a mysterious importance; something tremendous,

eternal, superhuman is at stake. Commonplace jokes become irresistibly

amusing. Ordinary truths are wildly applauded. Dilemmas stand clear with

all middle ground brushed away. No statement now needs qualification.

All thought of compromise is abhorrent. Nothing now must intervene to

rob these moments of their splendid intensity. As James once said of

drunkenness, "Everything is just utterly utter." They who are not for us

are against us.

The crowd-mind consists, therefore, first of all, of a disturbance of

the function of the real. The crowd is the creature of Belief. Every

crowd has its peculiar "illusions," ideals, dreams. It maintains its

existence as a crowd just so long as these crowd-ideas continue to be

held by practically all the members of the group--so long, in fact, as

such ideas continue to hold attention and assent to the exclusion of

ideas and facts which contradict them.

I am aware of the fact that we could easily be led aside at this point

into endless metaphysical problems. It is not our purpose to enter upon

a discussion of the question, what is the real world? The problem of the

real is by no means so simple as it appears "to common sense." Common

sense has, however, in practical affairs, its own criteria, and beyond

these it is not necessary for us now to stray. The "illusions" of the

crowd are almost never illusions in the psychological sense. They are

not false perceptions of the objects of sense. They are rather akin to

the delusions and fixed ideas commonly found in paranoia. The man in

the street does not ordinarily require the technique either of

metaphysics or of psychiatry in order to characterize certain

individuals as "crazy." The "crazy" man is simply unadjustable in his

speech and conduct. His ideas may be real to him, just as the

color-blind man's sensations of color may be as real as those of normal

people, but they won't work, and that is sufficient.

It is not so easy to apply this criterion of the real to our

crowd-ideas. Social realities are not so well ordered as the behavior of

the forces of nature. Things moral, religious, and political are

constantly in the making. The creative role which we all play here is

greater than elsewhere in our making of reality. When most of our

neighbors are motivated by certain ideas, those ideas become part of the

social environment to which we must adjust ourselves. In this sense they

are "real," however "crazy." Every struggle-group and faction in society

is constantly striving to establish its ideas as controlling forces in

the social reality. The conflicts among ideals are therefore in a sense

conflicts within the real. Ideas and beliefs which seek their

verification in the character of the results to which they lead, may

point to very great changes in experience, and so long as the believer

takes into account the various elements with which he has to deal, he

has not lost his hold upon reality. But when one's beliefs or principles

become ends in themselves, when by themselves they seem to constitute an

order of being which is more interesting than fact, when the believer

saves his faith only by denying or ignoring the things which contradict

him, when he strives not to verify his ideas but to "vindicate" them,

the ideas so held are pathological. The obsessions of the paranoiac are

of this sort. We shall see later that these ideas have a meaning, though

the conscious attention of the patient is systematically diverted from

that meaning. Crowd-ideas are similar. The reason why their pathology is

not more evident is the fact that they are simultaneously entertained by

so great a number of people.

There are many ideas in which our faith is sustained chiefly by the

knowledge that everyone about us also believes them. Belief on such

ground has commonly been said to be due to imitation or suggestion.

These do play a large part in determining all our thinking, but I can

see no reason why they should be more operative in causing the

crowd-mind than in other social situations. In fact, the distinctive

phenomena which I have called crowd-ideas clearly show that other causes

are at work.

Among civilized people, social relationships make severe demands upon

the individual. Primitive impulses, unchecked eroticism, tendencies to

perversions, and antisocial demands of the ego which are in us all, are

constantly inhibited, resisted, controlled and diverted to socially

acceptable ends. The savage in us is "repressed," his demands are so

habitually denied that we learn to keep him down, for the most part,

without conscious effort. We simply cease to pay attention to his

gnawing desires. We become decently respectable members of society

largely at the expense of our aboriginal nature. But the primitive in us

does not really die. It asserts itself harmlessly in dreams.

Psychoanalysis has revealed the fact that every dream is the realization

of some desire, usually hidden from our conscious thought by our

habitual repression. For this reason the dream work consists of symbols.

The great achievement of Freud is the technique which enables the

analyst to interpret this symbolism so that his own unconscious thought

and desire are made known to the subject. The dream is harmless and is

normally utilized by the unconscious ego because during sleep we cannot

move. If one actually did the things he dreamed, a thing which happens

in various somnambulisms, the dream would become anything but harmless.

Every psychosis is really a dramatized dream of this sort.

Now as it is the social which demands the repression of our primitive

impulses, it is to be expected that the unconscious would on certain

occasions make use of this same social in order to realize its primitive

desires. There are certain mental abnormalities, such as dementia

praecox, in which the individual behaves in a wholly antisocial manner,

simply withdrawing into himself. In the crowd the primitive ego

achieves its wish by actually gaining the assent and support of a

section of society. The immediate social environment is all pulled in

the same direction as the unconscious desire. A similar unconscious

impulse motivates each member of the crowd. It is as if all at once an

unspoken agreement were entered into whereby each member might let

himself go, on condition that he approved the same thing in all the

rest. Of course such a thing cannot happen consciously. Our normal

social consciousness would cause us each to resist, let us say, an

exhibition of cruelty--in our neighbors, and also in ourselves. The

impulse must therefore be disguised.

The term "unconscious" in the psychology of the crowd does not, of

course, imply that the people in the crowd are not aware of the fact

that they are lynching a negro or demanding the humiliation or

extermination of certain of their fellows. Everybody is perfectly aware

of what is being said and done; only the moral significance of the

thing is changed. The deed or sentiment, instead of being disapproved,

appears to be demanded, by moral principle, by the social welfare, by

the glory of the state, etc. What is unconscious is the fact that the

social is actually being twisted around into giving approval of the

things which it normally forbids. Every crowd considers that it is

vindicating some sacred principle. The more bloody and destructive the

acts to which it is impelled, the more moral are its professions. Under

the spell of the crowd's logic certain abstract principles lead

inevitably to the characteristic forms of crowd-behavior. They seem to

glorify such acts, to make heroes and martyrs of those who lead in their


The attention of everyone is first centered on the abstract and

universal, as I have indicated. The repressed wish then unconsciously

gives to the formulas which the crowd professes a meaning different from

that which appears, yet unconsciously associated with it. This

unconscious meaning is of course an impulse to act. But the motive

professed is not the real motive.

Normally our acts and ideas are corrected by our social environment. But

in a crowd our test of the real fails us, because, since the attention

of all near us is directed in the same way as our own, the social

environment for the time fails to check us. As William James said:

The sense that anything we think is unreal can only come when

that thing is contradicted by some other thing of which we

think. Any object which remains uncontradicted is ipso facto

believed and posited as "absolute reality."

Our immediate social environment is all slipping along with us. It no

longer contradicts the thing we want to believe, and, unconsciously,

want to do. As the uncontradicted idea is, for the time, reality, so is

it a motor impulse. The only normal reason why we do not act immediately

upon any one of our ideas is that action is inhibited by ideas of a

contradictory nature. As crowd, therefore, we find ourselves moving in a

fictitious system of ideas uncritically accepted as real--not as in

dreams realizing our hidden wishes, merely in imagination, but also

impelled to act them out in much the way that the psychoeurotic is

impelled to act out the fixed ideas which are really the symbols of his

suppressed wish. In other words, a crowd is a device for indulging

ourselves in a kind of temporary insanity by all going crazy together.

Of the several kinds of crowds, I have selected for our discussion the

mass meeting, because we are primarily interested in the ideas which

dominate the crowd. The same essential psychological elements are also

found in the street crowd or mob. Serious mob outbreaks seldom occur

without mass meetings, oratory, and propaganda. Sometimes, as in the

case of the French Revolution and of the rise of the Soviets in Russia,

the mass meetings are held in streets and public places. Sometimes, as,

for instance, the crowds in Berlin when Germany precipitated the World

War, a long period of deliberate cultivation of such crowd-ideas as

happen to be advantageous to the state precedes. There are instances,

such as the Frank case, which brought unenviable fame to Georgia, when

no mass meeting seems to have been held. It is possible that in this

instance, however, certain newspapers, and also the trial--which, as I

remember, was held in a theater and gave an ambitious prosecuting

attorney opportunity to play the role of mob leader--served the purpose

of the mass meeting.

The series of outbreaks in New York and other cities, shortly after the

War, between the socialists and certain returned soldiers, seem to have

first occurred quite unexpectedly, as do the customary negro lynchings

in the South. In each case I think it will be found that the complex of

crowd-ideas had been previously built up in the unconscious. A

deep-seated antagonism had been unconsciously associated with the

self-appreciative feelings of a number of individuals, all of which

found justification in the consciousness of these persons in the form

of devotion to principle, loyalty, moral enthusiasm, etc. I suspect that

under many of our professed principles there lurk elements of

unconscious sadism and masochism. All that is then required is an

occasion, some casual incident which will so direct the attention of a

number of these persons that they provide one another temporarily with a

congenial social environment. In the South this mob complex is doubtless

formed out of race pride, a certain unconscious eroticism, and will to

power, which unfortunately has too abundant opportunity to justify

itself as moral indignation. With the returned soldiers the unconscious

desires were often rather thinly disguised--primitive impulses to

violence which had been aroused and hardly satisfied by the war, a wish

to exhibit themselves which found its opportunity in the knowledge that

their lawlessness would be applauded in certain influential quarters, a

dislike of the nonconformist, the foreign, and the unknown, which took

the outward form of a not wholly unjustifiable resentment toward the

party which had to all appearances unpatriotically opposed our entrance

into the war.

Given a psychic situation of this nature, the steps by which it leads to

mob violence are much alike in all cases. All together they simply

amount to a process of like direction of the attention of a sufficient

number of persons so affected as to produce a temporary social

environment in which the unconscious impulses may be released with

mutual approval. The presence of the disliked object or person gains

general attention. At first there is only curiosity; then amusement;

there is a bantering of crude witticisms; then ridicule. Soon the joking

turns to insults. There are angry exclamations. A blow is struck. There

is a sudden rush. The blow, being the act which the members of the crowd

each unconsciously wished to do, gains general approval, "it is a blow

for righteousness"; a "cause" appears. Casually associated persons at

once become a group, brought together, of course, by their interest in

vindicating the principles at stake. The mob finds itself suddenly doing

things which its members did not know they had ever dreamed of.

Different as this process apparently is from that by which a meeting is

turned into a crowd by an orator, I think it will be seen that the two

are essentially alike.

Thus far we have been considering crowd-movements which are local and

temporary--casual gatherings, which, having no abiding reason for

continued association, soon dissolve into their individual elements.

Frequently, after participating in such a movement, the individual, on

returning to his habitual relations, "comes to." He wonders what the

affair was all about. In the light of his re-established control

ideas--he will call it "reason"--the unconscious impulses are again

repressed; he may look with shame and loathing upon yesterday's orgy.

Acts which he would ordinarily disapprove in his neighbors, he now

disapproves in himself. If the behavior of the crowd has not been

particularly atrocious and inexcusable to ordinary consciousness, the

reaction is less strong. The voter after the political campaign merely

"loses interest." The convert in the revival "backslides." The striker

returns to work and is soon absorbed by the daily routine of his task.

The fiery patriot, after the war, is surprised to find that his hatred

of the enemy is gradually waning. Electors who have been swept by a wave

of enthusiasm for "reform" and have voted for a piece of ill-considered

restrictive legislation easily lapse into indifference, and soon look

with unconcern or amusement upon open violations of their own

enactments. There is a common saying that the public has a short memory.

Pick up an old newspaper and read about the great movements and causes

which were only a short time ago stirring the public mind, many of them

are now dead issues. But they were not answered by argument; we simply

"got over" them.

Not all crowd-movements, however, are local and temporary. There are

passing moments of crowd-experience which are often too sweet to lose.

The lapse into everyday realism is like "falling from grace." The crowd

state of mind strives often to keep itself in countenance by

perpetuating the peculiar social-psychic conditions in which it can

operate. There are certain forms of the ego consciousness which are best

served by the fictions of the crowd. An analogy here is found in

paranoia, where the individual's morbid fixed ideas are really devices

for the protection of his self-esteem. The repressed infantile psyche

which exists in us all, and in certain neurotics turns back and attaches

itself to the image of the parent, finds also in the crowd a path for

expression. It provides a perpetual interest in keeping the crowd-state

alive. Notice how invariably former students form alumni associations,

and returned soldiers at once effect permanent organizations; persons

who have been converted in one of Mr. Sunday's religious campaigns do

the same thing--indeed there are associations of all sorts growing out

of these exciting moments in people's common past experience, the

purpose of which is mutually to recall the old days and aid one another

in keeping alive the enlarged self-feeling.

In addition to this, society is filled with what might be called

"struggle groups" organized for the survival and dominance of similarly

constituted or situated people. Each group has its peculiar interests,

economic, spiritual, racial, etc., and each such interest is a mixture

of conscious and unconscious purposes. These groups become sects, cults,

partisan movements, class struggles. They develop propaganda, ritual,

orthodoxies, dogma, all of which are hardly anything more than

stereotyped systems of crowd-ideas. These systems differ from those of

the neurosis in that the former are less idiosyncratic, but they

undoubtedly perform much the same function. The primary aim of every

such crowd is to keep itself together as a crowd. Hardly less important

is the desire of its members to dominate over all outsiders. The

professed purpose is to serve some cause or principle of universal

import. Thus the crowd idealizes itself as an end, makes sanctities of

its own survival values, and holds up its ideals to all men, demanding

that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess--which is to say,

that the crowd believes in its own future supremacy, the members of the

group knowing that such a belief has survival value. This principle is

used by every politician in predicting that his party is bound to win at

the next election.

Hence the crowd is a device by which the individual's "right" may be

baptized "righteousness" in general, and this personality by putting on

impersonality may rise again to new levels of self-appreciation. He

"belongs to something," something "glorious" and deathless. He himself

may be but a miserable clod, but the glory of his crowd reflects upon

him. Its expected triumph he already shares. It gives him back his lost

sense of security. As a good crowd man, true believer, loyal citizen,

devoted member, he has regained something of his early innocence. In

other members he has new brothers and sisters. In the finality of his

crowd-faith there is escape from responsibility and further search. He

is willing to be commanded. He is a child again. He has transferred his

repressed infantilism from the lost family circle to the crowd. There is

a very real sense in which the crowd stands to his emotional life in

loco parentis.

It is to be expected, therefore, that wherever possible the crowd-state

of mind will be perpetuated. Every sort of device will be used to keep

the members of the crowd from coming to. In almost every organization

and social relationship there will be a tendency on part of the

unconscious to behave as crowd. Thus permanent crowds exist on every

hand--especially wherever political, moral, or religious ideas are

concerned. The general and abstract character of these ideas makes them

easily accessible instruments for justifying and screening the

unconscious purpose. Moreover it is in just those aspects of our social

life where repression is greatest that crowd-thinking is most common,

for it is by means of such thinking and behavior that the unconscious

seeks evasions and finds its necessary compensations.

The modern man has in the printing press a wonderfully effective means

for perpetuating crowd-movements and keeping great masses of people

constantly under the sway of certain crowd-ideas. Every crowd-group has

its magazines, press agents, and special "literature" with which it

continually harangues its members and possible converts. Many books, and

especially certain works of fiction of the "best-seller" type, are

clearly reading-mob phenomena.

But the leader in crowd-thinking par excellence is the daily

newspaper. With few exceptions our journals emit hardly anything but

crowd-ideas. These great "molders of public opinion," reveal every

characteristic of the vulgar mob orator. The character of the writing

commonly has the standards and prejudices of the "man in the street."

And lest this man's ego consciousness be offended by the sight

of anything "highbrow"--that is, anything indicating that there

may be a superior intelligence or finer appreciation than his

own--newspaper-democracy demands that everything more exalted than the

level of the lowest cranial altitude be left out. The average result is

a deluge of sensational scandal, class prejudice, and special pleading

clumsily disguised with a saccharine smear of the cheapest moral

platitude. Consequently, the thinking of most of us is carried on

chiefly in the form of crowd-ideas. A sort of public-meeting self is

developed in the consciousness of the individual which dominates the

personality of all but the reflective few. We editorialize and

press-agent ourselves in our inmost musings. Public opinion is

manufactured just as brick are made. Possibly a slightly better

knowledge of mechanical engineering is required for making public

opinion, but the process is the same. Both can be stamped out in the

quantity required, and delivered anywhere to order. Our thinking on most

important subjects to-day is as little original as the mental processes

of the men who write and the machines which print the pages we read and

repeat as our own opinions.

Thomas Carlyle was never more sound than when railing at this "paper

age." And paper, he wisely asked us to remember, "is made of old rags."

Older writers who saw the ragged throngs in the streets were led to

identify the mob or crowd with the tattered, illiterate populace. Our

mob to-day is no longer merely tramping the streets. We have it at the

breakfast table, in the subway, alike in shop and boudoir, and

office--wherever, in fact, the newspaper goes. And the raggedness is not

exterior, nor is the mob confined to the class of the ill-clad and the

poor. The raggedness, and tawdriness have now become spiritual, a

universal presence entering into the fabric of nearly all our mental


We have now reached a point from which we can look back over the ground

we have traversed and note the points of difference between our view and

the well-known theory of Le Bon. The argument of the latter is as

follows: (1) From the standpoint of psychology, the crowd, as the term

is here defined, is not merely a group of people, it is the appearance

within such a group of a special mental condition, or crowd-mind. (2)

The sentiments and ideas of all the persons in the gathering take one

and the same direction. (3) Conscious personality vanishes. (4) A

collective mind is formed: This is Le Bon's "Law of the mental unity of

crowds." (5) This collective mind consists in the main of "general

qualities of character" which are our common racial inheritance. It is

an "unconscious substratum" which in the crowd becomes uppermost,

dominating over the unique personal consciousness. (6) Three causes

determine the characteristics of the crowd-mind, (a) From purely

numerical considerations, the individual acquires a sentiment of

invincible power which encourages him in an unrestrained yielding to his

instincts, (b) Contagion, or imitation, and (c) hypnotic suggestion

cause the individuals in the crowd to become "slaves of all the

unconscious activities of the spinal cord." (7) The resulting

characteristics of the crowd are (a) a descent of several rungs in the

ladder of civilization, (b) a general intellectual inferiority as

compared with the isolated individual, (c) loss of moral responsibility,

(d) impulsiveness, (e) credulity, (f) exaggeration, (g) intolerance, (h)

blind obedience to the leader of the crowd, (i) a mystical emotionalism.

(8) The crowd is finally and somewhat inconsistently treated by Le Bon

as being identical with the masses, the common people, the herd.

Without pausing to review the criticisms of this argument which were

made at the beginning of our discussion, our own view may be summarized

as follows: (1) The crowd is not the same as the masses, or any class or

gathering of people as such, but is a certain mental condition which may

occur simultaneously to people in any gathering or association. (2) This

condition is not a "collective mind." It is a release of repressed

impulses which is made possible because certain controlling ideas have

ceased to function in the immediate social environment. (3) This

modification in the immediate social environment is the result of mutual

concessions on the part of persons whose unconscious impulses to do a

certain forbidden thing are similarly disguised as sentiments which meet

with conscious moral approval. (4) Such a general disguising of the real

motive is a characteristic phenomenon of dreams and of mental pathology,

and occurs in the crowd by fixing the attention of all present upon the

abstract and general. Attention is thus held diverted from the

individual's personal associations, permitting these associations and

their accompanying impulses to function unconsciously. (5) The abstract

ideas so entertained become symbols of meanings which are unrecognized;

they form a closed system, like the obsessions of the paranoiac, and as

the whole group are thus moved in the same direction, the "compulsory"

logic of these ideas moves forward without those social checks which

normally keep us within bounds of the real. Hence, acting and thinking

in the crowd become stereotyped and "ceremonial." Individuals move

together like automatons. (6) As the unconscious chiefly consists of

that part of our nature which is habitually repressed by the social, and

as there is always, therefore, an unconscious resistance to this

repressive force, it follows that the crowd state, like the neurosis,

is a mechanism of escape and of compensation. It also follows that the

crowd-spirit will occur most commonly in reference to just those social

forms where repression is greatest--in matters political, religious, and

moral. (7) The crowd-mind is then not a mere excess of emotion on the

part of people who have abandoned "reason"; crowd-behavior is in a sense

psychopathic and has many elements in common with somnambulism, the

compulsion neurosis, and even paranoia. (8) Crowds may be either

temporary or permanent in their existence. Permanent crowds, with the

aid of the press, determine in greater or less degree the mental habits

of nearly everyone. The individual moves through his social world like a

popular freshman on a college campus, who is to be "spiked" by one or

another fraternity competing for his membership. A host of crowds

standing for every conceivable "cause" and "ideal" hover constantly

about him, ceaselessly screaming their propaganda into his ears,

bullying and cajoling him, pushing and crowding and denouncing one

another, and forcing all willy-nilly to line up and take sides with them

upon issues and dilemmas which represent the real convictions of