The Psychology Of Revolutionary Crowds

The crowd-mind is seen at its best and at its worst in revolution. To

many minds, revolution is so essentially a crowd phenomenon that the

terms revolution and crowd-rule are almost synonymous. "Hurrah, the mob

rules Russia," cried certain radicals in the spring of 1917--"Let the

people rule everywhere." Others, more conservative, saw in every

extravagant deed and atrocity alleged to have happened in Russia only

the th
ng logically to be expected where the mob rules. The idea of

revolution is itself so commonly a crowd-idea that the thinking--if

thinking it may be called--of most people on this subject depends

principally upon which crowd we happen to belong to, the crowd which

sustains the ego-feeling of its members by the hope of revolution, or

the crowd which, for similar reason, brands everything which opposes its

interests, real or imaginary, as "anarchy" and "Bolshevism."

If the word "revolution" be taken to mean fundamental change in men's

habits of thought, and life, and the forms of their relations to one

another, then it may be said that great "revolutions may be and have

been achieved with a relatively small degree of crowd-thinking and mob

violence." Much of the normal development of civilization, for instance,

the great scientific advance of the nineteenth century, the spread of

culture, the creation of artistic values, the rise in the standard of

living, is change of this sort. Such change is, however, gradual. It is

brought about by countless concrete adaptations, by thinking always

toward realizable ends. New and often unforeseeable results are thus

reached; but they are reached, as in all organic growth and in all sound

thinking, by a series of successful adjustments within the real. True

progress is doubtless made up of changes of this sort. But for the

course of progress to run on uninterrupted and undefeated we should have

to be, both in our individual and social behavior, the reasonable beings

which certain nineteenth-century utilitarians mistook us for.

It is the fool thing, the insincere thing, that more commonly happens in

matters social and political. The adjustment reached is not often a

solution of a social problem worked out deliberately on the

"greatest-happiness" principle. It is commonly a status quo, or

balance of power among contending crowds, each inspired by the fiction

of its own importance, by self-idealization, and desire to rule. It is

an unstable equilibrium usually held in place for the time by a dominant

crowd. This dominant crowd may itself be composed of quarreling

factions, but these parties, so long as they share enough of the

supremacy to keep up their self-feeling, so long, in fact, as their

members may even be able to make themselves believe that they, too, are

in the upper set, or so long as they continue to hope for success in the

social game as now played, unite in repeating the catchwords which

justify their crowd in its supremacy. The dominant group identifies its

own interests with the general welfare. And in the sense that some sort

of order, or any at all, is to be preferred to social chaos, there is an

element of truth in this identification.

The fact remains, however, that the dominant crowd possesses always much

of the crowd-spirit which originally secured for it its enviable

position. Its ideas, like those of all crowds, are devices for

sustaining the self-feeling of its members, for protecting itself, for

keeping the group together, for justification. They are only

secondarily, if at all, instruments for dealing with new and perplexing

social situations. It cannot be denied that a certain set of opinions,

prejudices, mannerisms, ceremonies "go with" the social position which

corresponds to them. They are the ready-made habits of the "set" or

class. They are badges by which the "gentleman" is distinguished, the

evening clothes of the psyche, as it were. Many of these crowd-forms

represent true values of living, some of them are useful in our dealings

with reality; if this were not so, if such spiritual tattooings or

ceremonial forms were wholly harmful, the crowd which performed them

would be at such a disadvantage that it could not hold its own. But that

considerations of utility--other than the function which such

ceremonialism is known to have for the unconscious always--do not

directly govern these forms of thought and behavior is seen in the fact

that so many of them, as Sumner says of "folkways," are either harmful

or useless in dealing with matters of fact.

The dominant crowd, therefore, in just so far as it must remain a crowd

in order to secure its own position of supremacy, must strive to force

all social realities into the forms of its own conflicts and dilemmas.

Inevitably the self-feeling of a great many people, who are forced by

the dominant crowd to conform and labor with no compensation, is hurt.

They cannot but contrast their own lot with that of their more fortunate

neighbors. Of all things, people probably resist most the feeling of

inferiority. Any suggestion that the difference in social position is

due to a similar difference in personal worth or in ability is hotly

resented. The resentment is in no wise abated by the fact that in some

cases this suggestion may be true. Compensations are at once created by

the unconscious. In mediaeval times "all men were brothers and were equal

before the altars of the Church and in heaven." Thus distinctions of

merit, other than those which prevailed in the social order, were set up

in the interest of the common man.

As the influence of the Renaissance directed general attention from the

realm of the spiritual to practical affairs of earth, these

compensations changed from thoughts of the future world to dreams of the

future of this world. The injured self-feeling dwells upon the economic

or political inequalities which flow from the dominance of the ruling

crowd. The injustices and acts of exploitation, which are certainly

neither new nor rare occurrences in human relations, are seized upon as

if it were these things, not the assumption to superiority, which were

the issue at stake.

At the time of the French Revolution the Third Estate, or Bourgeois,

which showed itself quite as capable of exploiting the poor as ever were

the older aristocrats, saw itself only as part of the wronged and

exploited "people." The sufferings of the poor, which it was frequently

even then profiting in quite as heartily, to say the least, as the

titled nobility, were represented as the grievance of all mankind

against the hated nobility. That the ideas of "liberty, equality, and

fraternity" which these good tradesmen preached may easily become the

sort of compensatory ideas we have been discussing is shown by the fact

of the genuine astonishment and indignation of the burghers when later

their employees made use of this same phrase in the struggles between

labor and capital. Sans-culottism had quite as many psychological

motives as economic behind it.

How pompous, hateful, and snobbish were those titled folk with their

powdered wigs, carriages, fine clothes, and their exclusive social

gatherings to which honest citizens, often quite as wealthy as

themselves, were not invited. If the "people"--that is, the burghers

themselves--only had a chance they would be just as fine ladies and

gentlemen as those who merely inherited their superiority. Down with the

aristocrats! All men were equal and always had been. There must be

fraternity and the carier ouvert les talents, in other words,

brotherhood and free competition.

I am sure, from all I have ever seen or read of social revolt and

unrest, that this injured self-feeling, or defense against the sense of

personal inferiority, while not the only motive, is the most powerful

one at work. It crops out everywhere, in the layman's hatred of the

clergy during the Reformation, in that curious complex of ideas whereby

the uneducated often look upon a college diploma as something little

short of magical, and defend their ego against this ridiculously

exaggerated mark of distinction and accompanying feeling of

self-reproach by a slur at "high-brows." Few people realize how general

this feeling is; the trick of making fun of the educated is one of the

commonest forms of crowd-humor in America, both in vaudeville and in

popular oratory. I have previously pointed out the fact that the

religious revival in our day is to a great extent characterized by a

popular resistance to scholars. No one can read Mr. Sunday's sermons and

deny this fact. The City of New York gave the largest majority in its

history to the candidate for the office of mayor who made opposition to

"experts" the main issue in his campaign. Scores of times I have heard

popular speakers resort to this trick to gain favor with their

audiences, and I cannot remember ever having known such sentiments to

fail to gain applause--I am not speaking now of strictly academic

groups, but of general gatherings.

The point of interest here is that these same people have a most

extravagant notion of the value of the academic training which they

encourage the crowd speaker in ridiculing. I have made it a practice of

talking with a great many people personally and drawing them out on this

point, and I have found that this is almost uniformly the case. F. B., a

cigar maker by trade, says, "Oh, if I had only had sense enough to go on

to school when I had the opportunity!" E. L., a mechanic, says, "I might

have been somebody, if I had been given any chance to get an education."

R., a sort of jack-of-all-trades, says, "If I only had N.'s education,

I'd be a millionaire." B., a farmer with limited intellectual interests,

says, "I tell you, my boys are not going to be like me; they have got to

go to college." G., a waiter, says, "I don't know much," and then

proceeds to impress me with the latest bit of academic information which

he has picked up. C., a printer, who has been moderately successful,

says: "I'd give ten thousand dollars right this minute if I knew Greek;

now there is ---- and there is ----, neighbors of mine, they're highly

educated. When I'm with them I'm ashamed and feel like a dub."

When, on such occasions, I repeatedly say that the average academic

student really learns hardly anything at all of the classic languages,

and cite the small fruits of my own years of tedious study as an

example, the effect produced is invariably comforting--until I add that

one need not attend a university seven years or even four to become

educated, but that nearly everyone with ability to learn and with

genuine intellectual interests may achieve a remarkable degree of

learning. The answer of the perplexed person is then often an

extenuation. "Well, you see, a busy person or a working man is so tired

after the day's work that he has no energy left for study," or it is,

"Wait till the working class have more leisure, then they, too, can be

cultivated." Passing over this extenuation, which ignores the fact that

some of the best informed and clearest thinking people one meets are

working people, while the average university graduate leads anything but

an intellectual life, it can hardly be denied, I think, that our crowd

cult of anti-"highbrowism" is really a defense mechanism against an

inner feeling of inferiority. Now the interesting thing about this

feeling of inferiority is the exaggerated notion of the superiority of

the college-trained, which is entertained chiefly by the uneducated

themselves. What appears here is in fact nothing other than a cheapening

of the idea of superiority. Personal excellence is something which

anyone may attain; it is not something congenital, but something to be

added on; one "gets an education," possesses something of advantage,

merely by a few years of conventional study of books. Anyone might do

that, therefore. "I, too, if I only cared to, or had been given

opportunity, might now be famous." "The difference between myself and

the world's greatest genius is not a spiritual chasm which I could not

myself, at least hypothetically, cross." "It is rather an 'acquired

character,' a mere fruit of special opportunity--which in a few cases it

doubtless may be--but it is something external; at bottom we are all


Many facts may be advanced to corroborate the results of our analysis

here. The crowd always resents the Carlyle, William James, Nietzsche,

Goethe theory of genius. Genius is not congenital superiority. It is the

result of hard work. The genius is not a unique personal fact, he is a

"representative man." He says just what his age is thinking. The

inarticulate message of his contemporaries simply becomes articulate in

some one, and behold a genius. In other words, I suppose, all Vienna,

messenger boys and bootblacks especially, were suddenly fascinated by

Schiller's "Ode to Joy" and went about whistling improvised musical

renderings of the theme of this poem, till the deaf Beethoven heard and

wrote these whistlings down in the form of the Ninth Symphony.

According to the crowd, Luther did not create the Reformation, or

Petrarch the Renaissance; these movements themselves created their

leaders and founders; all that the genius did was to interpret and

faithfully obey the People's will. Ergo, to be a genius one need only

study hard enough to be able to tell the people what they already think.

The superiority of genius is therefore no different from that of any

educated person; except in degree of application. Anyone of us might

possess this superiority. In other words, the "intellectual

snobbishness" which the crowd resents is nothing else than the

crowd-man's own fiction of self-importance, projected upon those whose

imagined superiority he envies. It is recognized, even exaggerated by

the unlearned, because it is precisely the sort of superiority which the

ignorant man himself, in his ignorance, imagines that he himself would

display if he "only had the chance," and even now possesses


We have made the foregoing detour because I think it serves to

illustrate, in a way, the psychic processes behind much revolutionary

propaganda and activity. I would not attempt to minimize the extent of

the social injustice and economic slavery which a dominant crowd,

whether ecclesiastical, feudal, or capitalistic, is guilty of in its

dealings with its subjects. But every dominant crowd, certain sections

of the "proletariat" as quickly as any other, will resort to such

practices, and will alike justify them by moral catchwords the minute

its supremacy over other crowds gives it opportunity. Therefore there is

a certain amount of tautology in denouncing the "master class" for its

monstrous abuses. That the real point at issue between the dominant

crowd and the under crowd is the assumed personal superiority of the

members of the former, rather than the economic "exploitation" which it

practices, is shown by the fact that the French Revolution was led by

wealthy bourgeois, and that the leading revolutionary element in the

working class to-day consists, not of the "down and out" victims of

capitalist exploitation, but of the members of the more highly skilled

and better paid trades, also of certain intellectuals who are not

"proletarians" at all.

And now we come to our point: the fiction of superiority of the dominant

crowd, just as in the case of the assumed personal superiority of the

intellectuals, is resented by the under crowd because it is secretly

recognized by the under crowd. Of course the dominant crowd, like all

crowds, is obsessed by its feelings of self-importance, and this feeling

is apparently vindicated by its very social position. But the fiction is

recognized at its full face value, and therefore resented by the under

crowds, because that is precisely the sort of personal supremacy to

which they also aspire.

One commonly hears it said to-day, by those who have made the catchwords

of democracy their crowd cult, that the issue in modern society is

between democracy and capitalism. In a sense this may be true, but only

in a superficial sense; the real issue is between the personal self as a

social entity and the crowd. Capitalism is, to my mind, the logical

first fruit of so-called democracy. Capitalism is simply the social

supremacy of the trader-man crowd. For a hundred years and more

commercial ability--that of organizing industry and selling goods--has

been rewarded out of all proportion to any other kind of ability,

because, in the first place, it leads to the kind of success which the

ordinary man most readily recognizes and envies--large houses, fine

clothes, automobiles, exclusive clubs, etc. A Whittier may be ever so

great a poet, and yet sit beside the stove in the general store of his

little country village, and no one thinks he is so very wonderful. Some

may envy him his fame, but few will envy and therefore be fascinated by

that in him which they do not understand. But a multimillionaire in

their community is understood; everyone can see and envy his success; he

is at once both envied and admired.

Moreover, the commercial ability is the sort which the average man most

commonly thinks he possesses in some degree. While, therefore, he

grumbles at the unjust inequalities in wealth which exist in modern

society, and denounces the successful business man as an exploiter and

fears his power, the average man will nevertheless endure all this, much

in the same spirit that a student being initiated into a fraternity will

take the drubbing, knowing well that his own turn at the fun will come

later. It is not until the members of the under crowd begin to suspect

that their own dreams of "aping the rich" may never come true that they

begin to entertain revolutionary ideas. In other words, forced to

abandon the hope of joining the present dominating crowd, they begin to

dream of supplanting and so dispossessing this crowd by their own crowd.

That the dominant crowd is just as much to blame for this state of

affairs as the under crowd, perhaps more so, is shown by the history of

every period preceding a revolutionary outbreak. I will dwell at some

length on this fact later. My point here is that, first, a revolution,

in the sense that the word means a violent uprising against the existing

order, is a psychological crowd-phenomenon--and second, that it takes

two crowds to make a revolution.

Writers, like Le Bon, have ignored the part which the dominant crowd

plays in such events. They have thought of revolution only as the

behavior of the under crowd. They have assumed that the crowd and the

people were the same. Their writings are hardly more than conservative

warnings against the excess and wickedness of the popular mind once it

is aroused. Sumner says:

Moral traditions are the guides which no one can afford to

neglect. They are in the mores, and they are lost in every great

revolution of the mores. Then the men are morally lost.

Le Bon says, writing of the French Revolution:

The people may kill, burn, ravage, commit the most frightful

cruelties, glorify its hero to-day and throw him into the gutter

to-morrow; it is all one; the politicians will not cease to

vaunt its virtues, its high wisdom, and to bow to its every


Now in what does this entity really consist, this mysterious

fetich which revolutionists have revered for more than a


It may be decomposed into two distinct categories. The first

includes the peasants, traders, and workers of all sorts who

need tranquillity and order that they may exercise their

calling. This people forms the majority, but a majority which

never caused a revolution. Living in laborious silence, it is

ignored by historians.

The second category, which plays a capital part in all national

disturbances, consists of a subversive social residue dominated

by a criminal mentality. Degenerates of alcoholism and poverty,

thieves, beggars, destitute "casuals," indifferent workers

without employment--these constitute the dangerous bulk of the

armies of insurrection.... To this sinister substratum are due

the massacres which stain all revolutions.... To elements

recruited from the lowest dregs of the populace are added by

contagion a host of idle and indifferent persons who are simply

drawn into the movement. They shout because there are men

shouting, and revolt because there is a revolt, without having

the vaguest idea of the cause of the shouting or revolution. The

suggestive power of the environment absolutely hypnotized them.

This idea, which is held with some variation by Sumner, Gobineau,

Faguet, and Conway, is, I believe, both unhistorical and

unpsychological, because it is but a half-truth. This substratum of the

population does at the moment of revolution become a dangerous mob. Such

people are unadjusted to any social order, and the least deviation from

the routine of daily life throws them off their balance. The relaxation

of authority at the moment when one group is supplanting another in

position of social control, is to these people like the two or three

days of interregnum between the pontificates of Julius and Leo,

described by Cellini. Those who need some one to govern them, and they

are many, find their opportunity in the general disturbance. They

suddenly react to the revolutionary propaganda which up to this minute

they have not heeded, they are controlled by revolutionary crowd-ideas

in a somnambulistic manner, and like automatons carry these ideas

precipitately to their deadly conclusion. But this mob is not the really

revolutionary crowd and in the end it is always put back in its place by

the newly dominant crowd. The really revolutionary crowd consists of the

group who are near enough the dominant crowd to be able to envy its

"airs" with some show of justification, and are strong enough to dare

try issue with it for supreme position. Madame Rolland, it will be

remembered, justified her opposition to aristocrats on the principle of

equality and fraternity, but she could never forget her resentment at

being made, in the home of a member of this aristocracy, to eat with the


What Le Bon and others seem to ignore is that the ruling class may be

just as truly a crowd as the insurrectionary mob, and that the violent

behavior of revolutionary crowds is simply the logic of crowd-thinking

carried to its swift practical conclusion.

It is generally assumed that a revolution is a sudden and violent change

in the form of government. From what has been said it will be seen that

this definition is too narrow. History will bear me out in this. The

Protestant Reformation was certainly a revolution, as Le Bon has shown,

but it affected more than the government or even the organization of the

Church. The French Revolution changed the form of the government in

France several times before it was done, passing through a period of

imperial rule and even a restoration of the monarchy. But the revolution

as such survived. Even though later a Bourbon or a prince of the House

of Orleans sat on the throne of France, the restored king or his

successor was hardly more than a figurehead. A new class, the Third

Estate, remained in fact master of France. There had been a change in

the ownership of the land; power through the control of vested property

rested with the group which in 1789 began its revolt under the

leadership of Mirabeau. A new dictatorship had succeeded the old. And

this is what a revolution is--the dictatorship of a new crowd. The

Russian revolutionists now candidly admit this fact in their use of the

phrase "the dictatorship of the proletariat." Of course it is claimed

that this dictatorship is really the dictatorship of "all the people."

But this is simply the old fiction with which every dominant crowd

disguises seizure of power. Capitalist republicanism is also the rule of

all the people, and the pope and the king, deriving their authority from

God, are really but "the servants of all."

As we have seen, the crowd mind as such wills to dominate. Society is

made up of struggle groups, or organized crowds, each seeking the

opportunity to make its catchwords realities and to establish itself in

the position of social control. The social order is always held intact

by some particular crowd which happens to be dominant. A revolution

occurs when a new crowd pushes the old one out and itself climbs into

the saddle. When the new crowd is only another faction within the

existing dominant crowd, like one of our established political parties,

the succession will be accomplished without resort to violence, since

both elements of the ruling crowd recognize the rules of the game. It

will also not result in far-reaching social changes for the same reason.

A true revolution occurs when the difference between the dominant crowd

and the one which supplants it is so great as to produce a general

social upheaval. The Reformation, the French Revolution, and the

"Bolshevist" coup d'etat in Russia, all were of this nature. A new

social leadership was established and secured by a change in each case

in the personnel of the ownership of such property as would give the

owners the desired control. In the first case there was a transfer of

property in the church estates, either to the local congregations, or

the state, or the denomination. In the second case the property

transferred was property in land, and with the Russian revolutionists

landed property was given to the peasants and vested capital turned

over to the control of industrial workers.

Those who lay all emphasis on this transfer of property naturally see

only economic causes in revolutionary movements. Economics, however, is

not a science of impersonal things. It treats rather of men's relations

to things, and hence to one another. It has to do with valuations and

principles of exchange and ownership, all of which need psychological

restatement. The transfer of the ownership of property in times of

revolution to a new class is not an end, it is a means to a new crowd's

social dominance. The doctrines, ideals, and principles believed by the

revolutionary crowd also serve this end of securing its dominance, as do

the social changes which it effects, once in power.

Revolutions do not occur directly from abuses of power, for in that case

there would be nothing but revolution all the time, since every dominant

crowd has abused its power. It is an interesting fact that revolution

generally occurs after the abuses of which the revolutionists complain

have been in great measure stopped--that is, after the ruling crowd has

begun to make efforts at reform. The Reformation occurred in the

pontificate of Leo X. If it had been the result of intolerable abuse

alone, it would have happened in the time of Alexander VI, Borgia. The

French Revolution fell upon the mild head of Louis XVI, though the

wrongs which it tried to right mostly happened in the reign of his

predecessor. In most cases the abuses, the existence of which a

revolutionary crowd uses for propaganda purposes, are in turn repeated

in new form by itself after it becomes dominant. The Reformers in the

sixteenth and seventeenth centuries resorted to much the same kind of

persecution from which they had themselves earlier suffered. The

Constituent Assembly, though it had demanded liberty, soon set up a more

outrageous tyranny through its own committees than any that the Louies

had dreamed of. Bolshevists in capitalist countries are the greatest

advocates of free speech; in Russia they are the authors of a very

effective press-censorship.

No, it is hardly the abuses which men suffer from their ruling crowds

which cause insurrection. People have borne the most terrible outrages

and suffered in silence for centuries. Russia itself is a good example

of this.

A revolution occurs when the dominant crowd begins to weaken. I think

we find proof of this in the psychology of revolutionary propaganda. A

general revolution is not made in a day, each such cataclysm is preceded

by a long period of unrest and propaganda of opposition to the existing

order and its beneficiaries. The Roman Republic began going to pieces

about a hundred years before the battle of Actium. The social unrest

which followed the Punic Wars and led to the revolt of the brothers

Gracchi was never wholly checked during the century which followed. The

dominant party had scarcely rid itself of these troublesome "demagogues"

than revolt broke out among the slave population of Sicily. This was

followed by the revolt of the Italian peasants, then again by the

insurrection of Spartacus, and this in turn by the civil war between

Marius and Sulla, the conspiracy of Catiline, the brief triumph of

Julius Caesar over the Senate, the revenge of the latter in the

assassination of Caesar, and the years of turmoil during the Second


It is doubtful if there was at any time a very clear or widespread

consciousness of the issues which successively arose during that unhappy

century. It would seem that first one counter-crowd and then another,

representing various elements of the populace, tried issue with the

ruling crowd. The one factor which remained constant through all this

was the progressive disintegration of the dominant party. The supremacy

of the Patres Conscripti et Equites became in fact a social

anachronism the day that Tiberius Gracchus demanded the expropriation of

the landed aristocracy. The ideas whereby the dominant crowd sought to

justify its pre-emptions began to lose their functional value. Only the

undisguised use of brute force was left. Such ideas ceased to convince.

Men of unusual independence of mind, or men with ambitious motives, who

had grown up within the dominant crowd, began to throw off the spell of

its control-ideas, and, by leaving it, to weaken it further from within.

No sooner was this weakness detected by other groups than every sort of

grievance and partisan interest became a moral justification for efforts

to supplant the rulers. The attempt of the dominant crowd to retain its

hold by repeating its traditional justification-platitudes, unchanged,

but with greater emphasis, may be seen in the orations of Cicero. It

would be well if some one besides high-school students and their Latin

teachers were to take up the study of Cicero; the social and

psychological situation which this orator and writer of moral essays

reveals has some suggestive similarities to things which are happening


The century and more of unrest which preceded both the Reformation and

the French Revolution is in each instance a long story. But in both

there is the same gradual loss of prestige on the part of the dominant

crowd; the same inability of this crowd to change with the changes of

time; to find new sanctions for itself when the old ones were no longer

believed; the same unadaptability, the same intellectual and moral

bankruptcy, therefore, the same gradual disintegration from within; the

same resort to sentimentalism and ineffective use of force, the same

circle of hungry counter-crowds waiting around with their tongues

hanging out, ready to pounce upon that before which they had previously

groveled, and to justify their ravenousness as devotion to principle;

the same growing fearlessness, beginning as perfectly loyal desire to

reform certain abuses incidental to the existing order, and advancing,

with every sign of disillusionment or weakness, to moral indignation,

open attack upon fundamental control ideas, bitter hostility, augmented

by the repressive measures taken by the dominant crowd to conserve a

status quo which no longer gained assent in the minds of a growing

counter-crowd; finally force, and a new dominant crowd more successful

now in justifying old tyrannies by principles not yet successfully


In the light of these historical analogies the record of events during

the last seventy-five years in western Europe and America is rather

discomforting reading, and I fear the student of social psychology will

find little to reassure him in the pitiable lack of intellectual

leadership, the tendency to muddle through, the unteachableness and

general want of statesmanlike vision displayed by our present dominant

crowds. If a considerable number of people of all classes, those who

desire change as well as those who oppose it, could free their thinking

from the mechanisms of the crowd-mind, it might be possible to find the

working solution of some of our pressing social problems and save our

communities from the dreadful experience of another revolution. Our hope

lies in the socially minded person who is sufficiently in touch with

reality to be also a non-crowd man.

Anyone who is acquainted with the state of the public mind at present,

knows that a priori arguments against revolution as such are not

convincing, except to those who are already convinced on other ground.

The dominant crowd in each historical epoch gained its original

supremacy by means of revolution. One can hardly make effective use of

the commonplace antirevolutionary propaganda of defense of a certain

order which has among its most ardent supporters people who are proud to

call themselves sons and daughters of the Revolution. Skeptics at once

raise the question whether, according to such abstract social ethics,

revolutionists become respectable only after they are successful or have

been a long time dead. In fact, the tendency to resort to such reasoning

is one among many symptoms that the conservative mind has permitted

itself to become quite as much a crowd-phenomenon as has the radical


The correct approach here is psychological and pragmatic. There is an

increasingly critical social situation, demanding far-reaching

reconstructive change; only the most hopeless crowd-man would presume to

deny this fact. The future all depends upon the mental processes with

which we attempt to meet this situation. Nothing but useless misery can

result from dividing crowd against crowd. Crowd-thinking, as I have

said, does not solve problems. It only creates ideal compensations and

defense devices for our inner conflicts. Conservative crowd-behavior has

always done quite as much as anything else to precipitate a

revolutionary outbreak. Radical crowd-behavior does not resolve the

situation, it only inverts it. Any real solution lies wholly outside

present crowd-dilemmas. What the social situation demands most is a

different kind of thinking, a new education, an increasing number of

people who understand themselves and are intellectually and morally

independent of the tyranny of crowd-ideas.

From what has been said above, it follows that revolutionary propaganda

is not directly the cause of insurrection. Such propaganda is itself an

effect of the unconscious reaction between a waning and a crescent

crowd. It is a symptom of the fact that a large number of people have

ceased to believe in or assent to the continued dominance of the present

controlling crowd and are looking to another.

There is always a tendency among conservative crowds to hasten their own

downfall by the manner in which they deal with revolutionary propaganda.

The seriousness of the new issue is denied; the crowd seeks to draw

attention back to the old issue which it fought and won years ago in the

hour of its ascendancy. The fact that the old charms and shibboleths no

longer work, that they do not now apply, that the growing counter-crowd

is able to psychoanalyze them, discover the hidden motives which they

disguise, and laugh at them, is stoutly denied. The fiction is

maintained to the effect that present unrest is wholly uncalled-for,

that everything is all right, that the agitators who "make people

discontented" are alien and foreign and need only be silenced with a

time-worn phrase, or, that failing, shut up by force or deported, and

all will be well.

I do not doubt that before the Reformation and the French Revolution

there were ecclesiastics and nobles aplenty who were quite sure that the

masses would never have known they were miserable if meddling disturbers

had not taken the trouble to tell them so. Even an honest critical

understanding of the demands of the opposing crowd is discouraged,

possibly because it is rightly felt that the critical habit of mind is

as destructive of one crowd-complex as the other and the old crowd

prefers to remain intact and die in the last ditch rather than risk

dissolution, even with the promise of averting a revolution. Hence the

Romans were willing to believe that the Christians worshiped the head of

an ass. The mediaeval Catholics, even at Leo's court, failed to grasp the

meaning of the outbreak in north Germany. Thousands saw in the

Reformation only the alleged fact that the monk Luther wanted to marry a

wife. To-day one looks almost in vain among business men, editors, and

politicians for a more intelligent understanding of socialism. A crowd

goes down to its death fighting bogies, and actually running upon the

sword of its real enemy, because a crowd, once its constellation of

ideas is formed, never learns anything.

The crowd-group contains in itself, in the very nature of

crowd-thinking, the germs which sooner or later lay it low. When a crowd

first becomes dominant, it carries into a place of power a number of

heterogeneous elements which have, up to this time, been united in a

great counter-crowd because of their common dissatisfaction with the old

order. Gradually the special interests of these several groups become

separated. The struggle for place is continued as a factional fight

within the newly ruling crowd. This factional struggle greatly

complicates every revolutionary movement. We witness this in the

murderously hostile partisan conflicts which broke out in the

revolutionary Assemblies in France. It is seen again in the Reformation,

which had hardly established itself when the movement was rent by

intense sectarian rivalries of all sorts. The same is true of Russia

since the fall of the Tsar, and of Mexico ever since the overthrow of

the Diaz regime. If these factional struggles go so far as to result in

schism--that is, in a conscious repudiation by one or more factions of

the revolutionary creed which had formerly united them all, there is

disintegration and in all probability a return to the old ruling crowd.

This reaction may also be made possible by a refusal of one faction to

recognize the others as integral parts of the newly triumphant crowd. If

the new crowd after its victory can hold itself together, the revolution

is established. It then becomes the task of the leading faction in the

newly dominant crowd to grab the lion's share of the spoils for itself,

give the other factions only so much prestige as will keep alive in

their minds the belief that they, too, share in the new victory for

"humanity" and hold the new social order together, while at the same

time justifying its own leadership by the compulsive power of the idea

which they all alike believe. This belief, as we have seen, is the sine

qua non of the continued existence of any crowd. A dominant crowd

survives so long as its belief is held uncritically and repeated and

acted upon automatically both by the members of the crowd and its

victims. When the factions which have been put at a disadvantage by the

leading faction renounce the belief, or awake to the fact that they

"have been cheated," disintegration begins.

Between the crowd's professed belief and the things which it puts into

practice there is a great chasm. Yet the fiction is uniformly maintained

that the things done are the correct and faithful application of the

great principles to which the crowd is devoted. We saw in our study of

crowd-ideas in general that such ideas are not working programs, but are

screens which disguise and apparently justify the real unconscious

motive of crowd-behavior. The crowd secures its control, first, by

proclaiming in the most abstract form certain generally accepted

principles, such as freedom, righteousness, brotherly love--as though

these universal "truths" were its own invention and exclusive monopoly.

Next, certain logical deductions are made from these principles which,

when carried to their logical conclusions regardless of fact or the

effect produced, make the thing which the crowd really wants and does

appear to be a vindication of the first principles. It is these

inferences which go to make up the conscious thinking or belief of the

crowd. Thus in the revolutionary convention in France all agree to the

principles of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Fidelity to these

principles would to a non-crowd mean that the believer should not try to

dictate to his fellows what they must believe and choose, that he would

exercise good will in his dealings with them and show them the same

respect which he wished them to have for himself. But the crowd does not

understand principles in this manner. Do all agree to the great slogan

of the revolution? Well, then, fidelity to Liberty, Equality, and

Fraternity demands that the enemies of these principles and the crowd's

definition of them be overthrown. The Mountain is the truly faithful

party, hence to the guillotine with the Gironde. This chasm between

crowd faith and crowd practice is well illustrated in the case of those

Southern patriots in America who were ready to fight and die for the

rights of man as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, but

refused to apply the principle of the inalienable rights of all men to

their own black slaves. Or, again in the case of nineteenth-century

capitalism, liberty must be given to all alike. Liberty means equal

opportunity. Equal opportunity means free competition in business. Free

competition exists only where there is an "incentive"; hence the

investor must be encouraged and his gains protected by law. Therefore

anti-capitalistic doctrines must be suppressed as subversive of our free

institutions. Immigrants to whom for a generation we have extended the

hospitality of our slums and labor camps, and the opportunity of freely

competing with our well-intrenched corporations, must be made to feel

their ingratitude if they are so misguided as to conclude, from the fact

that hundreds of leading radicals have been made to serve jail

sentences, while after thirty years of enforcing the antitrust law not a

single person has ever been sent to prison, that possibly this is not a

free land.

Or again--one convicts himself of being a crowd-man who shows partiality

among crowds--the principle of democracy is generally accepted. Then

there should be industrial democracy as well as political--hence the

"Dictatorship of the Proletariat"--for the workers are "the people."

Parliamentary assemblies elected by all the people do not necessarily

represent labor. Organized labor, therefore, though a minority of the

whole, should establish "industrial democracy" by force. So, according

to Bolshevist crowd-logic, democracy means the rule of a minority by

means of force.

Now it is this fictitious, paranoiac, crowd-logic which one must be able

to dispel before he can extricate himself from the clutches of his

crowd. If he subjects the whole fabric of abstractions to critical

analysis, revalues it, puts himself above it, assumes a pragmatic

attitude toward whatever truths it contains, dares to test these truths

by their results in experience and to use them for desired ends; if, in

short, he scrutinizes his own disguised impulses, brings them to

consciousness as what they are, and refuses to be deceived as to their

real import, even when they appear dressed in such sheep's clothing as

absolutes and first principles, he becomes a non-crowd man, a social

being in the best sense.

Those, however, who continue to give assent to the crowd's first

principles, who still accept its habit of a priori reasoning, merely

substituting for its accepted deductions others of their own which in

turn serve to conceal and justify their own unconscious desires, will

turn from the old crowd only to be gobbled up by a new and

counter-crowd. Such people have not really changed. They denounce the

old crowd on the ground that "it has not lived up to its principles." It

is a significant fact that a crowd's rule is generally challenged in

the name of the very abstract ideas of which it has long posed as the


For instance, there is liberty. Every crowd demands it when it is

seeking power; no crowd permits it when it is in power. A crowd which is

struggling for supremacy is really trying to free itself and as many

people as possible from the control of another crowd. Naturally, the

struggle for power appears to consciousness as a struggle for liberty as

such. The controlling crowd is correctly seen to be a tyrant and

oppressor. What the opposition crowd does not recognize is its own wish

to oppress, hidden under its struggle for power. We have had occasion to

note the intolerance of the crowd-mind as such. A revolutionary crowd,

with all its lofty idealism about liberty, is commonly just as

intolerant as a reactionary crowd. It must be so in order to remain a

crowd. Once it is triumphant it may exert its pressure in a different

direction, but the pinch is there just the same. Like its predecessor,

it must resort to measures of restraint, possibly even a "reign of

terror," in order that the new-won "liberty"--which is to say, its own

place at the head of the procession--may be preserved. The denial of

freedom appears therefore as its triumph, and for a time people are

deceived. They think they are free because everyone is talking about


Eventually some one makes the discovery that people do not become free

just by repeating the magic word "liberty." A disappointed faction of

the newly emancipated humanity begins to demand its "rights." The crowd

hears its own catchwords quoted against itself. It proceeds to prove

that freedom exists by denouncing the disturbers and silencing them, if

necessary, by force. The once radical crowd has now become reactionary.

Its dream of world emancipation is seen to be a hoax. Lovers of freedom

now yoke themselves in a new rebel crowd so that oppressed humanity may

be liberated from the liberators. Again, the will to power is clothed in

the dream symbols of an emancipated society, and so on around and around

the circle, until people learn that with crowds freedom is impossible.

For men to attain to mastery of themselves is as abhorrent to one crowd

as to another. The crowd merely wants freedom to be a crowd--that is, to

set up its own tyranny in the place of that which offends the

self-feeling of its members.

The social idealism of revolutionary crowds is very significant for our

view of the crowd-mind. There are certain forms of revolutionary belief

which are repeated again and again with such uniformity that it would

seem the unconscious of the race changes very little from age to age.

The wish-fancy which motivates revolutionary activity always appears to

consciousness as the dream of an ideal society, a world set free; the

reign of brotherly love, peace, and justice. The folly and wickedness of

man is to cease. There will be no more incentive for men to do evil. The

lion and the lamb shall lie down together. Old extortions and tyrannies

are to be left behind. There is to be a new beginning, poverty is to be

abolished, God's will is to be done in earth, or men are at last to live

according to reason, and the inalienable rights of all are to be

secured; or the co-operative commonwealth is to be established, with no

more profit-seeking and each working gladly for the good of all. In

other words, the mind of revolutionary crowds is essentially

eschatological, or Messianic. The crowd always imagines its own social

dominance is a millennium. And this trait is common to revolutionary

crowds in all historical periods.

We have here the psychological explanation of the Messianic faith which

is set forth with tremendous vividness in Biblical literature. The

revolutionary import of the social teaching of both the Hebrew and

Christian religions is so plain that I do not see how any honest and

well-informed person can even attempt to deny it. The telling

effectiveness with which this element in religious teaching may be used

by clever radicals to convict the apologists of the present social

order by the words out of their own mouths is evident in much of the

socialist propaganda to-day. The tendency of the will to revolt, to

express itself in accepted religious symbols, is a thing to be expected

if the unconscious plays the important part in crowd-behavior that we

have contended that it does.

The eighth-century Hebrew prophet mingles his denunciations of those who

join house to house and field to field, who turn aside the way of the

meek, and sit in Samaria in the corner of a couch and on the silken

cushions of a bed, who have turned justice to wormwood and cast down

righteousness to the earth, etc., etc.,--reserving his choicest woes of

course for the foreign oppressors of "my people"--with promises of "the

day of the Lord" with all that such a day implies, not only of triumph

of the oppressed over their enemies, but of universal happiness.

Similarly the same complex of ideas appears in the writings which deal

with the Hebrew "Captivity" in the sixth century B.C., with the revolt

of the Maccabeans, and again in the impotent hatred against the Romans

about the time of the origin of Christianity.

The New Testament dwells upon some phase of this theme on nearly every

page. Blessed are ye poor, and woe unto you who are rich, you who laugh

now. The Messiah has come and with him the Kingdom of the Heavens, but

at present the kingdom is revealed only to the believing few, who are in

the world, but not of it. However, the Lord is soon to return; in fact,

this generation shall not pass away until all these things be

accomplished. After a period of great trial and suffering there is to be

a new world, and a new and holy Jerusalem, coming down from the skies

and establishing itself in place of the old. All the wicked, chiefly

those who oppress the poor, shall be cast into a lake of fire. There

shall be great rejoicing, and weeping and darkness and death shall be no


The above sketch of the Messianic hope is so brief as to be hardly more

than a caricature, but it will serve to make my point clear, that

Messianism is a revolutionary crowd phenomenon. This subject has been

presented in great detail by religious writers in recent years, so that

there is hardly a member of the reading public who is not more or less

familiar with the "social gospel." My point is that all revolutionary

propaganda is "social gospel." Even when revolutionists profess an

antireligious creed, as did the Deists of the eighteenth century, and as

do many modern socialists with their "materialist interpretation of

history," nevertheless the element of irreligion extends only to the

superficial trappings of the revolutionary crowd-faith, and even here

is not consistent. At bottom the revolutionists' dream of a new world is


I am using the word "religious" in this connection in its popular sense,

meaning no more than that the revolutionary crowd rationalizes its dream

of a new world-order in imagery which repeats over and over again the

essentials of the Biblical "day of the Lord," or "kingdom of heaven" to

be established in earth. This notion of cosmic regeneration is very

evident in the various "utopian" socialist theories. The Fourierists and

St. Simonists of the early part of the nineteenth century were extremely

Messianic. So-called "scientific socialists" are now inclined to

ridicule such idealistic speculation, but one has only to scratch

beneath the surface of present-day socialist propaganda to find under

its materialist jargon the same old dream of the ages. A great

world-change is to come suddenly. With the triumph of the workers there

will be no more poverty or ignorance, no longer any incentive to men to

do evil to one another. The famous "Manifesto" is filled with such

ideas. Bourgeois society is doomed and about to fall. Forces of social

evolution inevitably point to the world-wide supremacy of the working

class, under whose mild sway the laborer is to be given the full product

of his toil, the exploitation of children is to cease, true liberty

will be achieved, prostitution, which is somehow a bourgeois

institution, is to be abolished, everyone will be educated, production

increased till there is enough for all, the cities shall no more lord it

over the rural communities, all alike will perform useful labor, waste

places of the earth will become cultivated lands and the fertility of

the soil will be increased in accordance with a common plan, the state,

an instrument of bourgeois exploitation, will cease to exist; in fact,

the whole wicked past is to be left behind, for as

The Communist revolution is the most radical rupture with

traditional property relations, no wonder that its development

involves the most radical rupture with traditional ideas.

In fine,

In place of the old bourgeois society with its classes and class

antagonisms we shall have an association in which the free

development of each is the condition for the free development of


Le Bon says of the French Revolution:

The principles of the Revolution speedily inspired a wave of

mystic enthusiasm analogous to those provoked by the various

religious beliefs which had preceded it. All they did was to

change the orientation of a mental ancestry which the centuries

had solidified.

So there is nothing astonishing in the savage zeal of the men of

the Convention. Their mystic mentality was the same as that of

the Protestants at the time of the Reformation. The principal

heroes of the Terror--Couthon, Saint Just, Robespierre,

etc.--were apostles. Like Polyeuctes destroying the altars of

the false gods to propagate his faith, they dreamed of

converting the globe.... The mystic spirit of the leaders of the

Revolution was betrayed in the least details of their public

life. Robespierre, convinced that he was supported by the

Almighty, assured his hearers in a speech that the Supreme Being

had "decreed the Republic since the beginning of time."

A recent writer, after showing that the Russian revolution has failed to

put the Marxian principles into actual operation, says of Lenin and his


They have caught a formula of glittering words; they have

learned the verbal cadences which move the masses to ecstasy;

they have learned to paint a vision of heaven that shall

outflare in the minds of their followers the shabby realities of

a Bolshevik earth. They are master phraseocrats, and in Russia

they have reared an empire on phraseocracy.

The alarmists who shriek of Russia would do well to turn their

thoughts from Russia's socialistic menace. The peril of Russia

is not to our industries, but to our states. The menace of the

Bolsheviki is not an economic one, it is a political menace. It

is the menace of fanatic armies, drunken with phrases and

sweeping forward under Lenin like a Muscovite scourge. It is the

menace of intoxicated proletarians, goaded by invented visions

to seek to conquer the world.

In Nicolai Lenin the Socialist, we have naught to fear. In

Nicolai Lenin the political chief of Russia's millions, we may

well find a menace, for his figure looms over the world. His

Bolshevik abracadabra has seduced the workers of every race. His

stealthy propaganda has shattered the morale of every army in

the world. His dreams are winging to Napoleonic flights, and

well he may dream of destiny; for in an age when we bow to

phrases, it is Lenin who is the master phraseocrat of the world.

Passing over the question of Lenin's personal ambitions, and whether our

own crowd-stupidity, panic, and wrong-headed Allied diplomacy may not

have been contributing causes of the menace of Bolshevism, it can hardly

be denied that Bolshevism, like all other revolutionary crowd-movements,

is swayed by a painted vision of heaven which outflares the miseries of

earth. Every revolutionary crowd of every description is a pilgrimage

set out to regain our lost Paradise.

Now it is this dream of paradise, or ideal society, which deserves

analytical study. Why does it always appear the minute a crowd is

sufficiently powerful to dream of world-power? It will readily be

conceded that this dream has some function in creating certain really

desirable social values. But such values cannot be the psychogenesis of

the dream. If the dream were ever realized, I think William James was

correct in saying that we should find it to be but a "sheep's heaven

and lubberland of joy," and that life in it would be so "mawkish and

dishwatery" that we should gladly return to this world of struggle and

challenge, or anywhere else, if only to escape the deadly inanity.

We have already noted the fact that this dream has the function of

justifying the crowd in its revolt and will to rule. But this is by no

means all. The social idealism has well been called a dream, for that is

just what it is, the daydream of the ages. It is like belief in fairies,

or the Cinderella myth. It is the Jack-and-the-beanstalk philosophy. The

dream has exactly the same function as the Absolute, and the ideal

world-systems of the paranoiac; it is an imaginary refuge from the

real. Like all other dreams, it is the realization of a wish. I have

long been impressed with the static character of this dream; not only is

it much the same in all ages, but it is always regarded as the great

culmination beyond which the imagination cannot stretch. Even those who

hold the evolutionary view of reality and know well that life is

continuous change, and that progress cannot be fixed in any passing

moment, however sweet, are generally unable to imagine progress going on

after the establishment of the ideal society and leaving it behind.

Revolutionary propaganda habitually stops, like the nineteenth-century

love story, with a general statement, "and so they lived happily ever

after." It is really the end, not the beginning or middle of the story.

It is the divine event toward which the whole creation moves, and having

reached it, stops. Evolution having been wound up to run to just this

end, time and change and effort may now be discontinued. There is

nothing further to do. In other words, the ideal is lifted clear out of

time and all historical connections. As in other dreams, the empirically

known sequence of events is ignored. Whole centuries of progress and

struggle and piecemeal experience are telescoped into one imaginary

symbolic moment. The moment now stands for the whole process, or rather

it is substituted for the process. We have taken refuge from the real

into the ideal. The "Kingdom of Heaven," "Paradise," "The Return to Man

in the State of Nature," "Back to Primitive New Testament Christianity,"

"The Age of Reason," "Utopia," the "Revolution," the "Co-operative

Commonwealth," all mean psychologically the same thing. And that thing

is not at all a scientific social program, but a symbol of an easier and

better world where desires are realized by magic, and everyone's check

drawn upon the bank of existence is cashed. Social idealism of

revolutionary crowds is a mechanism of compensation and escape for

suppressed desires.

Is there any easier way of denying the true nature and significance of

our objective world than by persuading ourselves that that world is even

now doomed, and is bound suddenly to be transformed into the land of our

heart's desire? Is it not to be expected that people would soon learn

how to give those desires greater unction, and to encourage one another

in holding to the fictions by which those desires could find their

compensation and escape, by resorting to precisely the crowd-devices

which we have been discussing?

The Messianists of Bible times expected the great transformation and

world cataclysm to come by means of a divine miracle. Those who are

affected by the wave of premillennialism which is now running through

certain evangelical Christian communions are experiencing a revival of

this faith with much of its primitive terminology.

Evolutionary social revolutionists expect the great day to come as the

culmination of a process of economic evolution. This is what is meant by

"evolutionary and revolutionary socialism." The wish-fancy is here

rationalized as a doctrine of evolution by revolution. Thus the

difference between the social revolutionist and the Second Adventist is

much smaller than either of them suspects. As Freud would doubtless say,

the difference extends only to the "secondary elaboration of the

manifest dream formation"--the latent dream thought is the same in both

cases. The Adventist expresses the wish in the terminology of a

prescientific age, while the social revolutionist makes use of modern

scientific jargon. Each alike finds escape from reality in the

contemplation of a new-world system. The faith of each is a scheme of

redemption--that is, of "compensation." Each contemplates the sudden,

cataclysmic destruction of the "present evil world," and its replacement

by a new order in which the meek shall inherit the earth. To both alike

the great event is destined, in the fullness of time, to come as a thief

in the night. In the one case it is to come as the fulfillment of

prophecy; in the other the promise is underwritten and guaranteed by

impersonal forces of "economic evolution."

This determinism is in the one case what Bergson calls "radical

finalism," and in the other "radical mechanism." But whether the

universe exists but to reel off a divine plan conceived before all

worlds, or be but the mechanical swinging of the shuttle of cause and

effect, what difference is there if the point arrived at is the same? In

both cases this point was fixed before the beginning of time, and the

meaning of the universe is just that and nothing else, since that is

what it all comes to in the end.

Whether the hand which turns the crank of the world-machine be called

that of God or merely "Evolution," it is only a verbal difference; it is

in both cases "a power not ourselves which makes for righteousness." And

the righteousness? Why, it is just the righteousness of our own

crowd--in other words, the crowd's bill of rights painted in the sky by

our own wish-fancy, and dancing over our heads like an aurora borealis.

It is the history of all crowds that this dazzling pillar of fire in the

Arctic night is hailed as the "rosy-fingered dawn" of the Day of the


Or, to change the figure somewhat, the faithful crowd has but to follow

its fiery cloud to the promised land which flows with milk and honey;

then march for an appointed time about the walls of the wicked bourgeois

Jericho, playing its propaganda tune until the walls fall down by magic

and the world is ours. No revolution is possible without a miracle and

a brass band.

I have no desire to discourage those who have gone to work at the real

tasks of social reconstruction--certainly no wish to make this study an

apology for the existing social order. In the face of the ugly facts

which on every hand stand as indictments of what is called "capitalism,"

it is doubtful if anyone could defend the present system without

recourse to a certain amount of cynicism or cant. The widespread social

unrest which has enlisted in its service so much of the intellectual

spirit of this generation surely could never have come about without

provocation more real than the work of a mere handful of

"mischief-making agitators." The challenge to modern society is not

wholly of crowd origin.

But it is one thing to face seriously the manifold problems of

reconstruction of our social relations, and it is quite another thing to

persuade oneself that all these entangled problems have but one

imaginary neck which is waiting to be cut with a single stroke of the

sword of revolution in the hands of "the people." Hundreds of times I

have heard radicals, while discussing certain evils of present society,

say, "All these things are but symptoms, effects; to get rid of them you

must remove the cause." That cause