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Scarcely a century ago the traditional policy of European states
and the rivalries of sovereigns were the principal factors that
shaped events. The opinion of the masses scarcely counted, and
most frequently indeed did not count at all. To-day it is the
traditions which used to obtain in politics, and the individual
tendencies and rivalries of rulers which do not count; while, on
the contrary, the voice of the masses has become preponderant.
It is this voice that dictates their conduct to kings, whose
endeavour is to take note of its utterances. The destinies of
nations are elaborated at present in the heart of the masses, and
no longer in the councils of princes.

The entry of the popular classes into political life--that is to
say, in reality, their progressive transformation into governing
classes--is one of the most striking characteristics of our epoch
of transition. The introduction of universal suffrage, which
exercised for a long time but little influence, is not, as might
be thought, the distinguishing feature of this transference of
political power. The progressive growth of the power of the
masses took place at first by the propagation of certain ideas,
which have slowly implanted themselves in men's minds, and
afterwards by the gradual association of individuals bent on
bringing about the realisation of theoretical conceptions. It is
by association that crowds have come to procure ideas with
respect to their interests which are very clearly defined if not
particularly just, and have arrived at a consciousness of their
strength. The masses are founding syndicates before which the
authorities capitulate one after the other; they are also
founding labour unions, which in spite of all economic laws tend
to regulate the conditions of labour and wages. They return to
assemblies in which the Government is vested, representatives
utterly lacking initiative and independence, and reduced most
often to nothing else than the spokesmen of the committees that
have chosen them.

To-day the claims of the masses are becoming more and more
sharply defined, and amount to nothing less than a determination
to utterly destroy society as it now exists, with a view to
making it hark back to that primitive communism which was the
normal condition of all human groups before the dawn of
civilisation. Limitations of the hours of labour, the
nationalisation of mines, railways, factories, and the soil, the
equal distribution of all products, the elimination of all the
upper classes for the benefit of the popular classes, &c., such
are these claims.

Little adapted to reasoning, crowds, on the contrary, are quick
to act. As the result of their present organisation their
strength has become immense. The dogmas whose birth we are
witnessing will soon have the force of the old dogmas; that is to
say, the tyrannical and sovereign force of being above
discussion. The divine right of the masses is about to replace
the divine right of kings.

The writers who enjoy the favour of our middle classes, those who
best represent their rather narrow ideas, their somewhat
prescribed views, their rather superficial scepticism, and their
at times somewhat excessive egoism, display profound alarm at
this new power which they see growing; and to combat the disorder
in men's minds they are addressing despairing appeals to those
moral forces of the Church for which they formerly professed so
much disdain. They talk to us of the bankruptcy of science, go
back in penitence to Rome, and remind us of the teachings of
revealed truth. These new converts forget that it is too late.
Had they been really touched by grace, a like operation could not
have the same influence on minds less concerned with the
preoccupations which beset these recent adherents to religion.
The masses repudiate to-day the gods which their admonishers
repudiated yesterday and helped to destroy. There is no power,
Divine or human, that can oblige a stream to flow back to its

There has been no bankruptcy of science, and science has had no
share in the present intellectual anarchy, nor in the making of
the new power which is springing up in the midst of this anarchy.
Science promised us truth, or at least a knowledge of such
relations as our intelligence can seize: it never promised us
peace or happiness. Sovereignly indifferent to our feelings, it
is deaf to our lamentations. It is for us to endeavour to live
with science, since nothing can bring back the illusions it has

Universal symptoms, visible in all nations, show us the rapid
growth of the power of crowds, and do not admit of our supposing
that it is destined to cease growing at an early date. Whatever
fate it may reserve for us, we shall have to submit to it. All
reasoning against it is a mere vain war of words. Certainly it
is possible that the advent to power of the masses marks one of
the last stages of Western civilisation, a complete return to
those periods of confused anarchy which seem always destined to
precede the birth of every new society. But may this result be

Up to now these thoroughgoing destructions of a worn-out
civilisation have constituted the most obvious task of the
masses. It is not indeed to-day merely that this can be traced.
History tells us, that from the moment when the moral forces on
which a civilisation rested have lost their strength, its final
dissolution is brought about by those unconscious and brutal
crowds known, justifiably enough, as barbarians. Civilisations
as yet have only been created and directed by a small
intellectual aristocracy, never by crowds. Crowds are only
powerful for destruction. Their rule is always tantamount to a
barbarian phase. A civilisation involves fixed rules,
discipline, a passing from the instinctive to the rational state,
forethought for the future, an elevated degree of culture--all of
them conditions that crowds, left to themselves, have invariably
shown themselves incapable of realising. In consequence of the
purely destructive nature of their power crowds act like those
microbes which hasten the dissolution of enfeebled or dead
bodies. When the structure of a civilisation is rotten, it is
always the masses that bring about its downfall. It is at such a
juncture that their chief mission is plainly visible, and that
for a while the philosophy of number seems the only philosophy of

Is the same fate in store for our civilisation? There is ground
to fear that this is the case, but we are not as yet in a
position to be certain of it.

However this may be, we are bound to resign ourselves to the
reign of the masses, since want of foresight has in succession
overthrown all the barriers that might have kept the crowd in

We have a very slight knowledge of these crowds which are
beginning to be the object of so much discussion. Professional
students of psychology, having lived far from them, have always
ignored them, and when, as of late, they have turned their
attention in this direction it has only been to consider the
crimes crowds are capable of committing. Without a doubt
criminal crowds exist, but virtuous and heroic crowds, and crowds
of many other kinds, are also to be met with. The crimes of
crowds only constitute a particular phase of their psychology.
The mental constitution of crowds is not to be learnt merely by a
study of their crimes, any more than that of an individual by a
mere description of his vices.

However, in point of fact, all the world's masters, all the
founders of religions or empires, the apostles of all beliefs,
eminent statesmen, and, in a more modest sphere, the mere chiefs
of small groups of men have always been unconscious
psychologists, possessed of an instinctive and often very sure
knowledge of the character of crowds, and it is their accurate
knowledge of this character that has enabled them to so easily
establish their mastery. Napoleon had a marvellous insight into
the psychology of the masses of the country over which he
reigned, but he, at times, completely misunderstood the
psychology of crowds belonging to other races;[1] and it is
because he thus misunderstood it that he engaged in Spain, and
notably in Russia, in conflicts in which his power received blows
which were destined within a brief space of time to ruin it. A
knowledge of the psychology of crowds is to-day the last resource
of the statesman who wishes not to govern them--that is becoming
a very difficult matter--but at any rate not to be too much
governed by them.

psychology any better. Talleyrand wrote him that "Spain would
receive his soldiers as liberators." It received them as beasts
of prey. A psychologist acquainted with the hereditary instincts

of the Spanish race would have easily foreseen this reception.

It is only by obtaining some sort of insight into the psychology
of crowds that it can be understood how slight is the action upon
them of laws and institutions, how powerless they are to hold any
opinions other than those which are imposed upon them, and that
it is not with rules based on theories of pure equity that they
are to be led, but by seeking what produces an impression on them
and what seduces them. For instance, should a legislator,
wishing to impose a new tax, choose that which would be
theoretically the most just? By no means. In practice the most
unjust may be the best for the masses. Should it at the same
time be the least obvious, and apparently the least burdensome,
it will be the most easily tolerated. It is for this reason that
an indirect tax, however exorbitant it be, will always be
accepted by the crowd, because, being paid daily in fractions of
a farthing on objects of consumption, it will not interfere with
the habits of the crowd, and will pass unperceived. Replace it
by a proportional tax on wages or income of any other kind, to be
paid in a lump sum, and were this new imposition theoretically
ten times less burdensome than the other, it would give rise to
unanimous protest. This arises from the fact that a sum
relatively high, which will appear immense, and will in
consequence strike the imagination, has been substituted for the
unperceived fractions of a farthing. The new tax would only
appear light had it been saved farthing by farthing, but this
economic proceeding involves an amount of foresight of which the
masses are incapable.

The example which precedes is of the simplest. Its appositeness
will be easily perceived. It did not escape the attention of
such a psychologist as Napoleon, but our modern legislators,
ignorant as they are of the characteristics of a crowd, are
unable to appreciate it. Experience has not taught them as yet
to a sufficient degree that men never shape their conduct upon
the teaching of pure reason.

Many other practical applications might be made of the psychology
of crowds. A knowledge of this science throws the most vivid
light on a great number of historical and economic phenomena
totally incomprehensible without it. I shall have occasion to
show that the reason why the most remarkable of modern
historians, Taine, has at times so imperfectly understood the
events of the great French Revolution is, that it never occurred
to him to study the genius of crowds. He took as his guide in
the study of this complicated period the descriptive method
resorted to by naturalists; but the moral forces are almost
absent in the case of the phenomena which naturalists have to
study. Yet it is precisely these forces that constitute the true
mainsprings of history.

In consequence, merely looked at from its practical side, the
study of the psychology of crowds deserved to be attempted. Were
its interest that resulting from pure curiosity only, it would
still merit attention. It is as interesting to decipher the
motives of the actions of men as to determine the characteristics
of a mineral or a plant. Our study of the genius of crowds can
merely be a brief synthesis, a simple summary of our
investigations. Nothing more must be demanded of it than a few
suggestive views. Others will work the ground more thoroughly.
To-day we only touch the surface of a still almost virgin soil.



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