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The Egoism Of The Crowd-mind

The unconscious egoism of the individual in the crowd appears in all
forms of crowd-behavior. As in dreams and in the neurosis this self
feeling is frequently though thinly disguised, and I am of the opinion
that with the crowd the mechanisms of this disguise are less subtle. To
use a term which Freud employs in this connection to describe the
process of distortion in dreams, the "censor" is less active in the
crowd than in most phases of mental life. Though the conscious thinking
is carried on in abstract and impersonal formula, and though, as in the
neurosis, the "compulsive" character of the mechanisms developed
frequently--especially in permanent crowds--well nigh reduces the
individual to an automaton, the crowd is one of the most naive devices
that can be employed for enhancing one's ego consciousness. The
individual has only to transfer his repressed self feeling to the idea
of the crowd or group of which he is a member; he can then exalt and
exhibit himself to almost any extent without shame, oblivious of the
fact that the supremacy, power, praise, and glory which he claims for
his crowd are really claimed for himself.

That the crowd always insists on being flattered is a fact known
intuitively by every orator and editor. As a member of a crowd the
individual becomes part of a public. The worship with which men regard
"The Public," simply means that the personal self falls at the feet of
the same self regarded as public, and likewise demands that obeisance
from all. Vox populi est vox Dei is obviously the apotheosis of one's
own voice while speaking as crowd-man. When this "god-almightiness"
manifests itself along the solitary path of the psychoneurosis it
becomes one of the common symptoms of paranoia. The crowd, in common
with paranoia, uniformly shows this quality of "megalomania." Every
crowd "boosts for" itself, lauds itself, gives itself airs, speaks with
oracular finality, regards itself as morally superior, and will, so far
as it has the power, lord it over everyone. Notice how each group and
section in society, so far as it permits itself to think as crowd,
claims to be "the people." To the working-class agitator, "the cause of
labor is the cause of humanity," workers are always, "innocent exploited
victims, kept down by the master class whose lust for gain has made
them enemies of Humanity and Justice." "Workers should rule because they
are the only useful people; the sole creators of wealth; their dominance
would mean the end of social wrong, and the coming of the millennium of
peace and brotherhood, the Kingdom of Heaven on the Earth, the final
triumph of Humanity!"

On the other hand, the wealthy and educated classes speak of themselves
as "the best people"; they are "society." It is they who "bear the
burdens of civilization, and maintain Law and Order and Decency." Racial
and national crowds show the same megalomania. Hebrews are "God's
chosen." "The Dutch Company is the best Company that ever came over from
the Old Country." "The Irish may be ornery, and they ain't worth much,
but they are a whole lot better than the ---- ---- Dutch." "Little
Nigger baby, black face, and shiny eye, you're just as good as the poor
white trash, an' you'll git thar by and by." "He might have been a
Russian or a Prussian, ... but it's greatly to his credit that he is an
Englishman." The German is the happy bearer of Kultur to a barbarian
world. America is "The land of the free and the home of the brave," and
so on, wherever a group has become sufficiently a crowd to have a
propaganda of its own. Presbyterians are "the Elect," the Catholics
have the "true church of God," the Christian Scientists have alone
attained "Absolute Truth."

A number of years ago, when the interest in the psychology of the crowd
led me to attempt a study of Mr. Sunday's revival meetings, then in
their earlier stages, certain facts struck me with great force. Whatever
else the revival may be, it provides the student of psychology with a
delightful specimen for analysis. Every element of the mob or crowd-mind
is present and the unconscious manifests itself with an easy naivete
which is probably found nowhere else, not even in the psychiatric
clinic. One striking fact, which has since provided me with food for a
good deal of reflection, was the place which the revival holds in what I
should like to call the spiritual economy of modern democracy.

It is an interesting historical fact that each great religious revival,
from Savonarola down, has immediately followed--and has been the
resistance of the man in the street to--a period of intellectual
awakening. Mr. Sunday's meetings undeniably provided a device whereby a
certain psychic type, an element which had hitherto received scant
recognition in the community, could enormously enhance his ego
consciousness. It would be manifestly unfair to say that this is the
sole motive of the religious revival, or that only this type of mind is
active in it. But it is interesting to see whose social survival values
stand out most prominently in these religious crowd-phenomena. The
gambler, the drunkard, the loafer, the weak, ignorant, and unsuccessful,
whose self-esteem it may be assumed had always been made to suffer in
small communities, where everyone knew everyone else, had only to yield
himself to the pull of the obviously worked-up mechanism of the
religious crowd, and lo! all was changed. He was now the repentant
sinner, the new convert, over whom there was more rejoicing in heaven,
and, what was more visible, also for a brief time, in the Church, than
over the ninety and nine just persons. He was "redeemed," an object now
of divine love, a fact which anyone who has studied the effects of these
crowd-movements scientifically will agree was at once seized upon by
these converts to make their own moral dilemmas the standards of
righteousness in the community, and hence secure some measure of

This self-adulation of crowds, with its accompanying will to be
important, to dominate, is so constant and characteristic a feature of
the crowd-mind that I doubt if any crowd can long survive which fails to
perform this function for its members. Self-flattery is evident in the
pride with which many people wear badges and other insignia of groups
and organizations to which they belong, and in the pompous names by
which fraternal orders are commonly designated. In its more
"exhibitionist" types it appears in parades and in the favorite ways in
which students display their "college spirit." How many school and
college "yells" begin with the formula, "Who are We?" obviously designed
to call general attention to the group and impress upon people its

In this connection I recall my own student days, which are doubtless
typical--the pranks which served the purpose of bringing certain groups
of students into temporary prominence and permitted them for a brief
period to regard themselves as comic heroes, the practices by which the
different classes and societies sought to get the better of one another,
the "love feasts" of my society which were hardly more than mutual
admiration gatherings, the "pajama" parades in which the entire student
body would march in costume (the wearing of which by an isolated
individual would probably have brought him before a lunacy commission)
all through the town and round and round the dormitories of the women's
college a mile or so away, in order to announce a victory in some
intercollegiate contest or other. There was the brazenness--it seems
hardly credible now--with which the victors on such occasions would
permit themselves to be carried on their comrades' shoulders through
the public square, also the deportment with which a delegation of
students would announce their arrival in a neighboring college town and
the grinning self-congratulation with which we would sit in chapel and
hear a wrathful president denounce our group behavior as "boorishness
and hoodlumism." There was the unanimous conviction of us all, for no
other reason I imagine than that it was graced with our particular
presence, that our own institution was the most superior college in
existence, and I well remember the priggishness with which at student
banquets we applauded the sentiment repeated ad nauseam, that the
great aim of education and the highest mark of excellence in our college
was the development of character. What is it all but a slightly
exaggerated account of the egoism of all organized crowds? Persons of
student age are for the most part still in the normal "narcissus"
period, and their ego-mania is naturally less disguised than that of
older groups. But even then we could never have given such open
manifestation to it as isolated individuals; it required the

The egoism of the crowd commonly takes the form of the will to social
dominance and it is in crowd behavior that we learn how insatiable the
repressed egoism of mankind really is. Members of the crowd are always
promising one another a splendid future triumph of some sort. This
promise of victory, which is nearly always to be enjoyed at the expense,
discomfiture, and humiliation of somebody else, is of great advantage in
the work of propaganda. People have only to be persuaded that
prohibition, or equal suffrage, or the single tax "is coming," and
thousands whose reason could not be moved by argument, however logical
it might be, will begin to look upon it with favor. The crowd is never
so much at home as "on the band wagon." Each of the old political
parties gains strength through the repeated prediction of victory in the
presidential campaign of 1920. The Socialist finds warmth in the
contemplation of the "coming dictatorship of the proletariat." The
Prohibitionist intoxicates himself by looking forward to a "dry world."
So long as the German crowds expected a victorious end of the war, their
morale remained unbroken, the Kaiser was popular.

When a crowd is defeated and its hope of victory fades, the individual
soon abandons the unsuccessful group. The great cause, being now a
forlorn hope, is seen in a different light, and the crowd character of
the group vanishes. When, however, certain forces still operate to keep
the crowd state of mind alive--forces such as race feeling, patriotism,
religious belief, or class consciousness--the ego consciousness of the
individuals so grouped finds escape in the promise of heaven, the
Judgment Day, and that "far off divine event toward which the whole
creation moves." Meanwhile the hope of victory is changed into that
"impotent resentment" so graphically described by Nietzsche.

Another way in which the self feeling of the crowd functions is in
idealizing those who succeed in gaining its recognition. The crowd
always makes a hero of the public person, living or dead. Regardless of
what he really did or was, he is transformed into a symbol of what the
crowd wishes to believe him to be. Certain aspects of his teaching and
various incidents which would appear in his biography are glossed over,
and made into supports for existing crowd-ideas and prejudices. Most of
the great characters in history have suffered in this way at the hands
of tradition. The secret of their greatness, their uniqueness and
spiritual isolation, is in great part ignored. The crowd's own secret is
substituted. The great man now appears great because he possessed the
qualities of little men. He is representative man, crowd man. Every
crowd has a list of heroic names which it uses in its propaganda and in
its self-laudation. The greatness which each crowd reveres and demands
that all men honor is just that greatness which the crowd treasures as
a symbol of itself, the sort of superiority which the members of the
crowd may suck up to swell their own ego consciousness.

Thus, hero worship is unconsciously worship of the crowd itself, and the
constituents thereof. The self-feeling of a crowd is always enhanced by
the triumph of its leader or representative. Who, at a ball game or
athletic event, has not experienced elation and added self-complacency
in seeing the home team win? What other meaning has the excited
cheering? Even a horse on a race track may become the representative of
a crowd and lift five thousand people into the wildest joy and ecstasy
by passing under a wire a few inches ahead of a rival. We have here one
of the secrets of the appeal which all such exhibitions make to people.
Nothing so easily catches general attention and creates a crowd as a
contest of any kind. The crowd unconsciously identifies its members with
one or the other competitor. Success enables the winning crowd to "crow
over" the losers. Such an occasion becomes symbolic and is utilized by
the ego to enhance its feeling of importance.

A similar psychological fact may be observed in the "jollifications" of
political parties after the election of their candidates for high
office. This phenomenon is also seen, if I may say so without being
misunderstood, in the new spirit which characterizes a people victorious
in war, and is to no small degree the basis of the honor of successful
nations. It is seen again in the pride which the citizens of a small
town show in the fact that the governor of the state is a native of the
place. This same principle finds place in such teachings of the Church
as the doctrine of the "communion of the saints," according to which the
spiritual grace and superiority of the great and pure become the common
property of the Church, and may be shared by all believers as a saving

Every organized crowd is jealous of its dignity and honor and is bent
upon keeping up appearances. Nothing is more fatal to it than a
successful assault upon its prestige. Every crowd, even the casual
street mob, clothes the egoistic desires of its members or participants
in terms of the loftiest moral motive. No crowd can afford to be laughed
at. Crowd men have little sense of humor, certainly none concerning
themselves and their crowd-ideas. Any laughter they indulge in is more
likely to be directed at those who do not believe with them. The
crowd-man resents any suspicion of irreverence or criticism of his
professions, because to question them is to weaken the claim of his
crowd upon the people, and to destroy in those professed ideals their
function of directing his own attention away from the successful
compromise of his unconscious conflicts which the crowd had enabled him
to make. The crowd would perish if it lost its "ideals." It clings to
its fixed ideas with the same tenacity as does the paranoiac. You can no
more reason with the former than you can with the latter, and for much
the same cause; the beliefs of both are not the fruit of inquiry,
neither do they perform the normal intellectual function of adjustment
to environment; they are mechanisms of the ego by which it keeps itself
in countenance.

Much of the activity of the unconscious ego is viewed by psychologists
as "compensation." Devices which serve the purpose of compensating the
ego for some loss, act of self-sacrifice, or failure, are commonly
revealed by both the normal and the unadjusted. The popular notion that
unsatisfied desires sooner or later perish of starvation is at best but
a half truth. These desires after we have ceased to attend them become
transformed. They frequently find satiety in some substitute which the
unconscious accepts as a symbol of its real object. Dreams of normal
people contain a great deal of material of this sort. So do day-dreams,
and art. Many religious beliefs also serve this purpose of compensation.
Jung follows Freud in pointing out as a classic example of the
compensation in dreams, that of Nebuchadnezzar, in the Bible.

Nebuchadnezzar at the height of his power had a dream which
foretold his downfall. He dreamed of a tree which had raised its
head even up to Heaven and now must be hewn down. This was a
dream which is obviously a counterpoise to the exaggerated
feeling of royal power.

According to Jung, we may expect to find only those things contained in
the unconscious which we have not found in the conscious mind. Many
conscious virtues and traits of character are thus compensations for
their opposite in the unconscious.

In the case of abnormal people, the individual entirely fails to
recognize the compensating influences which arise in the
unconscious. He even continues to accentuate his onesidedness;
this is in accord with the well-known psychological fact that
the worst enemy of the wolf is the wolfhound, the greatest
despiser of the negro is the mulatto, and that the biggest
fanatic is the convert; for I should be a fanatic were I to
attack a thing outwardly which inwardly I am obliged to concede
is right.

The mentally unbalanced man tries to defend himself against his
own unconscious--that is to say, he battles against his own
compensating influences. In normal minds opposites of feeling
and valuations lie closely associated; the law of this
association is called "ambivalence," about which we shall see
more later. In the abnormal, the pairs are torn asunder, the
resulting division, or strife, leads to disaster, for the
unconscious soon begins to intrude itself violently upon the
conscious processes.

An especially typical form of unconscious compensation ... is
the paranoia of the alcoholic. The alcoholic loses his love for
his wife; the unconscious compensation tries to lead him back
again to his duty, but only partially succeeds, for it causes
him to become jealous of his wife as if he still loved her. As
we know, he may go so far as to kill both his wife and himself,
merely out of jealousy. In other words, his love for his wife
has not been entirely lost. It has simply become subliminal; but
from the realm of consciousness it can now only reappear in the
form of jealousy.... We see something of a similar nature in the
case of the religious convert.... The new convert feels himself
constrained to defend the faith he has adopted (since much of
the old faith still survives in the unconscious associations) in
a more or less fanatical way. It is exactly the same in the
paranoiac who feels himself constantly constrained to defend
himself against all external criticism, because his delusional
system is too much threatened from within.

It is not necessary for us to enter here upon a discussion of the
processes by which these compensating devices are wrought out in the
psychoneurosis. It is significant, though, that Jung calls attention to
the likeness between religious fanaticism and paranoia. Now it is
obvious that the fanaticism of the religious convert differs
psychologically not at all from that of any other convert. We have
already noted the fact that most religious conversions are accomplished
by the crowd. Moreover the crowd everywhere tends to fanaticism. The
fanatic is the crowd-man pure and simple. He is the type which it ever
strives to produce. His excess of devotion, and willingness to sacrifice
both himself and everyone else for the crowd's cause, always wins the
admiration of his fellow crowd-members. He has given all for the crowd,
is wholly swallowed by it, is "determined not to know anything save" his
crowd and its propaganda. He is the martyr, the true believer, "the
red-blooded loyal American" with "my country right or wrong." He is the
uncompromising radical whose prison record puts to shame the less
enthusiastic members of his group. He is the militant pacifist, the
ever-watchful prohibitionist, and keeper of his neighbors' consciences,
the belligerent moral purist, who is scandalized even at the display of
lingerie in the store windows, the professional reformer who in every
community succeeds in making his goodness both indispensable and

One need not be a psychologist to suspect that the evil against which
the fanatic struggles is really in large measure in himself. He has
simply externalized, or "projected" the conflict in his own unconscious.
Persons who cry aloud with horror at every change in the style of
women's clothing are in most cases persons whose ego is gnawed by a
secret promiscuous eroticism. The scandalmonger, inhibited from doing
the forbidden thing, enjoys himself by a vicarious indulgence in
rottenness. The prohibition agitator, if not himself an alcoholic barely
snatched from the burning, is likely to be one who at least feels safer
in a democracy where it is not necessary to resist temptation while
passing a saloon door. Notice that the fanatic or crowd-man always
strives to universalize his own moral dilemmas. This is the device by
which every crowd seeks dominance in the earth. A crowd's virtues and
its vices are really made out of the same stuff. Each is simply the
other turned upside down, the compensation for the other. They are alike
and must be understood together as the expression of the type of person
who constitutes the membership of some particular group or crowd.

I'll never use tobacco, it is a filthy weed
I'll never put it in my mouth, said little Robert Reed.

But obviously, little Robert is already obsessed with a curious interest
in tobacco. His first word shows that he has already begun to think of
this weed in connection with himself. Should a crowd of persons
struggling with Robert's temptation succeed in dominating society,
tobacco would become taboo and thus would acquire a moral significance
which it does not have at present. So with all our crowd-ethics. The
forbidden thing protrudes itself upon consciousness as a negation. The
negation reveals what it is that is occupying the inner psyche, and is
its compensation. There are certain psychoneuroses in which this
negative form of compensation is very marked. Now it is a noteworthy
fact that with the crowd the ethical interest always takes this negative

The healthy moral will is characterized by a constant restating of the
problem of living in terms of richer and higher and more significant
dilemmas as new possibilities of personal worth are revealed by
experience. New and more daring valuations are constantly made. The
whole psychic functioning is enriched. Goodness means an increase of
satisfactions through a more adequate adjustment to the real--richer
experience, more subtle power of appreciation and command, a
self-mastery, sureness, and general personal excellence--which on
occasions great and small mark the good will as a reality which counts
in the sum total of things. Something is achieved because it is really
desired; existence is in so far humanized, a self has been realized. As
Professor Dewey says:

If our study has shown anything it is that the moral is a
life, not something ready-made and complete once for all. It is
instinct with movement and struggle, and it is precisely the
new and serious situations which call out new vigor and lift it
to higher levels.

It is not so with the crowd-ethic. It is interesting to note that from
the "Decalogue" to Kant's "Categorical Imperative," crowd-morals always
and everywhere take the form of prohibitions, taboos, and ready-made
standards, chiefly negative. Freud has made an analytical study of the
Taboo as found in primitive society and has shown that it has a
compensatory value similar to that of the taboos and compulsions of
certain neurotics.

The crowd admits of no personal superiority other than that which
consists in absolute conformity to its own negative standards. Except
for the valuations expressed by its own dilemmas, "one man is as good as
another"--an idea which it can be easily seen serves the purpose of
compensation. The goodness which consists of unique personal superiority
is very distasteful to the crowd. There must be only one standard of
behavior, alike for all. A categorical imperative. The standard as set
up is of the sort which is most congenial, possible of attainment, and
even necessary for the survival of the members of some particular crowd.
It is their good, the converse and compensation of their own vices,
temptations, and failures. The crowd then demands that this good shall
be THE GOOD, that it become the universal standard. By such means even
the most incompetent and unadventurous and timid spirits may pass
judgment upon all men. They may cry to the great of the earth, "We have
piped unto you and you have not danced." Judged by the measure of their
conformity to the standards of the small, the great may be considered no
better, possibly not so good as the little spirits. The well are forced
to behave like the spiritually sick. The crowd is a dog in the manger.
If eating meat maketh my brother to be scandalized, or giveth him the
cramps, I shall remain a vegetarian so long as the world standeth.
Nietzsche was correct on this point. The crowd--he called it the
herd--is a weapon of revenge in the hands of the weaker brother. It is a
Procrustean bed on which every spiritual superiority may be lopped off
to the common measure, and every little ego consciousness may be
stretched to the stature of full manhood.

Next: The Crowd A Creature Of Hate

Previous: The Crowd And The Unconscious

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