Highlights from Martin’s The Behavior of Crowds
Post from June 28, 2017 (↻ October 4, 2018), filed under Everything Else.
Emphasis as it appears in the original work may be missing, and my own edits, though marked, may be broad. Then, important: By sharing these highlights I neither implicitly endorse nor recommend respective authors and their views. Assume that I know little of the authors, and that I have a nuanced view on the matter. (Everything the highlights can tell is that—much like the books themselves—for some reason or other I found them of interest.) When detailed understanding of my views is important, ask me.
There is a popular notion
[…]that the individual and society are essentially irreconcilable principles. The individual is assumed to be by nature an antisocial being. Society, on the other hand, is opposed in principle to all that is personal and private. The demands of society, its welfare and aims, are treated as if they were a tax imposed upon each and every one by something foreign to the natural will or even the happiness of all. It is as if society as “thing-in-itself” could prosper in opposition to the individuals who collectively constitute it.
[…]both the individual and the social, according to such a view, are empty abstractions. The individual is, in fact, a social entity. Strip him of his social interests, endowments, and habits, and the very feeling of self, or “social me” as William James called it, vanishes and nothing is left but a Platonic idea and a reflex arc. The social also is nothing else than the manner in which individuals habitually react to one another.
[…]the social problem can never be solved, because it is not a real problem at all.
[…]social struggle is in certain of its phases a conflict within the personal psyche itself. Suppose that the apparently impersonal element in social behavior is not impersonal in fact, but is, for the most part, the result of an impersonal manner of thinking about ourselves.
Every psychic fact must really be an act of somebody. There are no ideas without thinkers to think them, no impersonal thoughts or disembodied impulses, no “independent” truths, no transcendental principles existing in themselves and outside of human heads.
No matter how many people think and behave as I do, each of us knows only his own thought and behavior.
To each the social is nil except in so far as he experiences it himself, and to each it is something unique when viewed from within.
In this discussion the word “crowd” must be understood to mean the peculiar mental condition which sometimes occurs when people think and act together
I know of nothing which to-day so menaces not only the values of civilization, but also
[…]achievement of personality and true knowledge of self, as the growing habit of behaving as crowds.
Our society is becoming a veritable babel of gibbering crowds.
[…]we must become a cult, write our philosophy of life in flaming headlines, and sell our cause in the market. […]we must strive to cajole the majority into imagining itself on our side. For only with the majority with us, whoever we are, can we live. It is numbers, not values, that count—quantity not quality. Everybody must “moral-crusade,” “agitate,” “press-agent,” play politics. Everyone is forced to speak as the crowd, think as the crowd, understand as the crowd.
The industrial and political danger of the soviet would amount to little or nothing, were it not for the fact that the modern world is already spiritually sovietized.
[…]we have ignored Emersons warning that we must rely upon ourselves [.]
There is certainly nothing new in the discovery that our social behavior is not what it ought to be.
Strictly speaking, psychoanalysis is a therapeutic method. It has, however, greatly enriched our knowledge of mental pathology
[…]the fact that have been transformed into a crowd puts them in possession of a sort of collective mind which makes them feel, think, and act in a manner quite different from that in which each individual of them would feel, think, and act were he in a state of isolation…”
Le Bon has established two points
[…]: First, that the crowd is essentially a psychological phenomenon, people behaving differently in a crowd from the way they behave when isolated; and second, that the unconscious has something to do with crowd-thinking and acting.
It cannot be denied that people in a crowd become strangely excited. But it is not only in crowds that people show emotion. Feeling, instinct, impulse, are the dynamic of all mental life.
The crowd doubtless inhibits as many emotions as it releases. Fear is conspicuously absent in battle, pity in a lynching mob.
The crowd is not a mere aggregation of people. It is a state of mind. A peculiar psychic change must happen to a group of people before they become a crowd.
[…]My thesis is that the crowd-mind is a phenomenon which should best be classed with dreams, delusions, and the various forms of automatic behavior.
There is a sense in which all our thinking consists of symbol and fiction.
The crowd is a social phenomenon only in the sense that it affects a number of persons at the same time.
[…]people may be highly social without becoming a crowd.
It is the element of contest which makes baseball so popular. A debate will draw a larger crowd than a lecture.
[…]every speaker with any skill knows just when this state of mind which we call “crowd” begins to appear.
Crowd-making oratory is almost invariably platitudinous. In fact, we think as a crowd only in platitudes, propaganda, ritual, dogma, and symbol. Crowd-ideas are ready-made, they possess finality and universality. They are fixed. They do not develop. They are ends in themselves.
[…]They are “compulsions.”
True crowd-behavior requires an element of spontaneity—at least on the part of the crowd.
[…]As the audience becomes crowd, the speakers cadence becomes more marked, his voice more oracular, his gestures more emphatic. His message becomes a recital of great abstract “principles.” The purely obvious is held up as transcendental. Interest is kept upon just those aspects of things which can be grasped with least effort by all.
Popular orators deal only with the greatest common denominator of the meaning of these terms —that is, only those elements which are common to the associations of all.
As “public property,” the words are only a sort of worn banknote, symbols of many meanings and intentions like my own, deposited in individual minds.
[…]the general term “justice” is simply a combination of sounds used to indicate the class of things we call just. In itself it is but a form with the content left out. And so with all other such abstractions.
People are translated to a different world —that is, a different sense of the real. The speaker is transfigured to their vision. His words take on a mysterious importance; something tremendous, eternal, superhuman is at stake. Commonplace jokes become irresistibly amusing. Ordinary truths are wildly applauded. Dilemmas stand clear with all middle ground brushed away. No statement now needs qualification. All thought of compromise is abhorrent. Nothing now must intervene to rob these moments of their splendid intensity.
The crowd-mind consists, therefore, first of all, of a disturbance of the function of the real. The crowd is the creature of Belief. Every crowd has its peculiar “illusions,” ideals, dreams.
Social realities are not so well ordered as the behavior of the forces of nature. Things moral, religious, and political are constantly in the making.
When most of our neighbors are motivated by certain ideas, those ideas become part of the social environment to which we must adjust ourselves. In this sense they are “real,” however “crazy.”
There are many ideas in which our faith is sustained chiefly by the knowledge that everyone about us also believes them.
[…]social relationships make severe demands upon the individual. Primitive impulses, unchecked eroticism, tendencies to perversions, and antisocial demands of the ego which are in us all, are constantly inhibited, resisted, controlled and diverted to socially acceptable ends.
In the crowd the primitive ego achieves its wish by actually gaining the assent and support of a section of society. The immediate social environment is all pulled in the same direction as the unconscious desire.
What is unconscious is the fact that the social is actually being twisted around into giving approval of the things which it normally forbids. Every crowd considers that it is vindicating some sacred principle.
Normally our acts and ideas are corrected by our social environment. But in a crowd our test of the real fails us, because, since the attention of all near us is directed in the same way as our own, the social environment for the time fails to check us.
“The sense that anything we think is unreal can only come when that thing is contradicted by some other thing of which we think. Any object which remains uncontradicted is ipso facto believed and posited as ‘absolute reality.’”—William James
The only normal reason why we do not act immediately upon any one of our ideas is that action is inhibited by ideas of a contradictory nature.
[…]a crowd is a device for indulging ourselves in a kind of temporary insanity by all going crazy together.
Serious mob outbreaks seldom occur without mass meetings, oratory, and propaganda. Sometimes, as in the case of the French Revolution and of the rise of the Soviets in Russia, the mass meetings are held in streets and public places. Sometimes, as, for instance, the crowds in Berlin when Germany precipitated the World War, a long period of deliberate cultivation of such crowd-ideas as happen to be advantageous
[…]the steps by which it leads to mob violence are much alike in all cases. All together they simply amount to a process of like direction of the attention of a sufficient number of persons so affected as to produce a temporary social environment in which the unconscious impulses may be released with mutual approval. The presence of the disliked object or person gains general attention. At first there is only curiosity; then amusement; there is a bantering of crude witticisms; then ridicule. Soon the joking turns to insults. There are angry exclamations. A blow is struck. There is a sudden rush. The blow, being the act which the members of the crowd each unconsciously wished to do, gains general approval, “it is a blow for righteousness”; a “cause” appears.
Frequently, after participating in such a movement, the individual, on returning to his habitual relations, “comes to.” He wonders what the affair was all about.
[…]If the behavior of the crowd has not been particularly atrocious and inexcusable to ordinary consciousness, the reaction is less strong.
There is a common saying that the public has a short memory. Pick up an old newspaper and read about the great movements and causes which were only a short time ago stirring the public mind, many of them are now dead issues. But they were not answered by argument; we simply “got over” them.
Not all crowd-movements, however, are local and temporary. There are passing moments of crowd-experience which are often too sweet to lose. The lapse into everyday realism is like “falling from grace.”
[…]the crowd is a device by which the individuals “right” may be baptized “righteousness” in general, and this personality by putting on impersonality may rise again to new levels of self-appreciation. He “belongs to something,” something “glorious” and deathless. He himself may be but a miserable clod, but the glory of his crowd reflects upon him.
[…]the leader in crowd-thinking par excellence is the daily newspaper. With few exceptions our journals emit hardly anything but crowd-ideas.
[…]the thinking of most of us is carried on chiefly in the form of crowd-ideas.
Public opinion is manufactured just as brick are made. Possibly a slightly better knowledge of mechanical engineering is required for making public opinion, but the process is the same. Both can be stamped out in the quantity required, and delivered anywhere to order.
The argument of is as follows:
- From the standpoint of psychology, the crowd, as the term is here defined, is not merely a group of people, it is the appearance within such a group of a special mental condition, or crowd-mind.
- The sentiments and ideas of all the persons in the gathering take one and the same direction.
- Conscious personality vanishes.
- A collective mind is formed: This is Le Bons “Law of the mental unity of crowds.”
- This collective mind consists in the main of “general qualities of character” which are our common racial inheritance. It is an “unconscious substratum” which in the crowd becomes uppermost, dominating over the unique personal consciousness.
- Three causes determine the characteristics of the crowd-mind,
- from purely numerical considerations, the individual acquires a sentiment of invincible power which encourages him in an unrestrained yielding to his instincts,
- contagion, or imitation, and
- hypnotic suggestion cause the individuals in the crowd to become “slaves of all the unconscious activities of the spinal cord.”
- The resulting characteristics of the crowd are
- a descent of several rungs in the ladder of civilization,
- a general intellectual inferiority as compared with the isolated individual,
- loss of moral responsibility,
- blind obedience to the leader of the crowd,
- a mystical emotionalism.
- The crowd is finally and somewhat inconsistently treated by Le Bon as being identical with the masses, the common people, the herd.
[…]our own view may be summarized as follows:
- The crowd is not the same as the masses, or any class or gathering of people as such, but is a certain mental condition which may occur simultaneously to people in any gathering or association.
- This condition is not a “collective mind.” It is a release of repressed impulses which is made possible because certain controlling ideas have ceased to function in the immediate social environment.
- This modification in the immediate social environment is the result of mutual concessions on the part of persons whose unconscious impulses to do a certain forbidden thing are similarly disguised as sentiments which meet with conscious moral approval.
- Such a general disguising of the real motive is a characteristic phenomenon of dreams and of mental pathology, and occurs in the crowd by fixing the attention of all present upon the abstract and general. Attention is thus held diverted from the personal associations
- The abstract ideas so entertained become symbols of meanings which are unrecognized; they form a closed system, like the obsessions of the paranoiac, and as the whole group are thus moved in the same direction, the “compulsory” logic of these ideas moves forward without those social checks which normally keep us within bounds of the real. Hence, acting and thinking in the crowd become stereotyped and “ceremonial.” Individuals move together like automatons.
- As the unconscious chiefly consists of that part of our nature which is habitually repressed by the social, and as there is always, therefore, an unconscious resistance to this repressive force, it follows that the crowd state, like the neurosis, is a mechanism of escape and of compensation. It also follows that the crowd-spirit will occur most commonly in reference to just those social forms where repression is greatest—in matters political, religious, and moral.
- The crowd-mind is then not a mere excess of emotion on the part of people who have abandoned “reason”; crowd-behavior is in a sense psychopathic and has many elements in common with somnambulism, the compulsion neurosis, and even paranoia.
- Crowds may be either temporary or permanent in their existence. Permanent crowds, with the aid of the press, determine in greater or less degree the mental habits of nearly everyone.
Each crowd sees in the professions of its antagonist convincing proof of the insincerity and hypocrisy of the other side.
[…]self-deception is a necessary step in crowd-formation and is a sine qua non of becoming a crowd. It is only necessary for members of a crowd to deceive themselves and one another for the crowd-mind to function perfectly; I doubt if they are often successful in deceiving anybody else.
[…]recall how extensive a fabric of plausibilities a delusion may build up in its defense in order at the same time to satisfy a repressed wish, and keep the true meaning of the subjects acts and thoughts from conscious attention.
“There is a kind of forgetting which distinguishes itself by the difficulty with which memory is awakened, even by strong appeals, as if a subjective resistance struggled against the revival. Such forgetting has received the name of ‘repression’ in psychopathology
Consciousness is, therefore, not the whole of our psychic activity. Much of our behavior is reflex and automatic.
We have only to relax our attention a little to enter the world of day dreams, of art, and religion; we can never hold it so rigid as to be wholly rational for long.
All analysis reveals the fact that the unconscious of the individual is concerned primarily with himself.
The neurosis goes back to some organic defect or other cause of childish humiliation. As a result, the cause of such humiliation
[…]gains special attention.
“The feeling which the individual has of his own inferiority, incompetency, the realization of his smallness, of his weakness, of his uncertainty, thus becomes the appropriate working basis which, because of the intrinsically associated feelings of pleasure and pain, furnishes the inner impulse to advance toward an imaginary goal…”
The erotic interest of the child, at first quite without any object at all, is soon attached to one or the other of the parents, then, in the “narcissus period” is centered upon the individual himself, after which, normally, but not without some storm and stress, it becomes detached and capable of “object love”—that is, love of a person of the opposite sex.
Between the period of love of parents and object love, the adolescent youth passes through a period when he is “in love with himself.” The fact that many people remain in some measure fixed in this period of their development is not surprising when we remember that self-feeling occupies a central place in the unconscious at all times.
Persons suffering with paranoia are characterized by an insatiable demand for love along with a psychic incapacity to give love. They have an exaggerated sense of their own importance which is sustained by a wholly unreal but deadly logical system of a priori ideas
Psychoanalysts commonly assert that the difference between the normal and the abnormal is largely one of degree and of success in adjustment.
It is altogether conceivable that another path lies open—that of occasional compromise in our mutual demands on one another.
That the crowd always insists on being flattered is a fact known intuitively by every orator and editor.
Vox populi est vox Dei is obviously the apotheosis of own voice while speaking as crowd-man.
Notice how each group and section in society, so far as it permits itself to think as crowd, claims to be “the people.”
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.
The crowd is never so much at home as “on the band wagon.”
When a crowd is defeated and its hope of victory fades, the individual soon abandons the unsuccessful group.
Every crowd has a list of heroic names which it uses in its propaganda and in its self-laudation.
Nothing so easily catches general attention and creates a crowd as a contest of any kind.
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.
[…]No crowd can afford to be laughed at. Crowd men have little sense of humor, certainly none concerning themselves and their crowd-ideas.
The crowd would perish if it lost its “ideals.”
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.
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.
[…]Jung calls attention to the likeness between religious fanaticism and paranoia. […]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.
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.
The forbidden thing protrudes itself upon consciousness as a negation.
[…]the moral is a life, not something ready-made and complete once for all.”—John Dewey
The crowd admits of no personal superiority other than that which consists in absolute conformity to its own negative standards.
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.
Projection is a common device whereby even normal and isolated individuals justify themselves in hating. Most of us love to think evil of our enemies and opponents.
The close psychological relation between the neurosis and the crowd-mind is shown by the fact that the two so frequently appear at the same moment, play so easily into each others hands, and are apparently reactions to the very same social situation.
Listen to the crowd-orator and you will also learn that there are all sorts of abominable “conspiracies” against “the people.” “The nation is full of traitors.” The Church is being “undermined by cunning heretics.” “The Bolshevists are in secret league with the Germans to destroy civilization.” “Socialists are planning to corrupt the morals of our youth and undermine the sacredness of the home.” “The politicians gang intends to loot the community.” “Wall Street is conspiring to rob the people of their liberties.”
[…]And so on and so forth, wherever any crowd can get a hearing for its propaganda. Always the public welfare is at stake; society is threatened.
It cannot be denied that our present social order is characterized by deep and fundamental social injustices, nor that bitter struggles between the various groups in society are inevitable. But the crowd forever ignores its own share in the responsibility for human ills, and each crowd persists in making a caricature of its enemies, real and imagined, nourishing itself in a delusion of persecution which is like nothing so much as the characteristic obsessions of the paranoiac.
This likeness between the propaganda of the crowd and the delusions of paranoia is illustrated daily in our newspapers.
is characteristic of both the delusions of paranoia and the rumors of the crowd.
Every sort of crowd is prone to give credence to rumors of this nature, and to accuse all those who can not at once give uncritical acceptance to such tales of sympathy with the enemy.
Like the paranoiac, every crowd is potentially if not actually homicidal in its tendencies.
[…]it is this fiction of justification which the crowd-man must defend.
The crowd’s delusion of persecution, conspiracy, or oppression is thus a defense mechanism of this nature.
The homicidal tendencies of the crowd-mind always reveal themselves the minute the crowd becomes sufficiently developed and powerful to relax for the time being the usual social controls.
The classic example of the killing crowd is, of course, a nation at war.
The moment when war is declared is usually hailed with tremendous popular enthusiasm and joy. There is a general lifting of spirits. There is a sense of release, a nation-wide exultation, a sigh of relief as we feel the deadening hand of social control taken from our throats. The homicidal wish-fancy, which in peace times and in less sovereign crowds exists only as an hypothesis, can now become a reality.
The difference between national spirit and that of Imperial Prussia is obvious, but the difference in this respect, great as it is, is one of degree rather than of kind, and is due largely to the fact that the political organization of Germany permitted the Prussian patriots to hold the national mind in a permanent crowd state to a degree which is even now hardly possible in this republic.
My point is that a nation becomes warlike to precisely the extent that its people may be made to think and behave as a crowd. Once a crowd, it is always “in the right” however aggressive and ruthless its behavior; every act or proposal which is calculated to involve the nation-crowd in a controversy, which gains some advantage over neighboring peoples, or intensifies hatred once it is released, is wildly applauded.
Freud in his little book, War and Death, regards war as a temporary “regression” in which primitive impulses which are repressed by civilization, but not eradicated, find their escape. He argues that most people live psychologically “beyond their means.”
I believe that every crowd is “against some one.”
[…]the Church has seldom been wholly free from the crowd-spirit, and the Church crowd will persecute as quickly as any other. In each period of its history when Christian believers have been organized as dominant crowds the Church has resorted to the severest forms of persecution.
Just so the Hebrew Prophet cried “Babylon is fallen,” so the early Christians pictured Satan cast into the bottomless pit, so the Jacobins cried “A bas les Aristocrats,” our own Revolutionary crowds cried “Down with George III,” and the Union soldiers sang, “Hang Jeff Davis on a Sour Apple Tree.” I repeat that wherever the crowd-mind appears, it will always be found to be “against” some one.
An interesting fact about the hostility of a crowd is its ability on occasion to survive the loss of its object. It may reveal the phenomenon which psychologists call “displacement.” That is to say, another object may be substituted for the original one without greatly changing the quality of the feeling. A mob in the street, driven back from the object of its attack, will loot a store or two before it disperses. Or, bent on lynching a certain negro, it may even substitute an innocent man, if robbed of its intended victim
[…]. Such facts would seem to show that these hostile acts are really demanded by mechanisms within the psyche.
He who touches the tabooed object himself becomes taboo.
The crowd resorts to all sorts of devices to bind its members together permanently in a common faith. It resists disintegration as the worst conceivable evil. Disintegration means that crowd-men must lose their pet fiction—which is to say, their “faith.” The whole system elaborated by the unconscious fails to function
Strong spirits can stand this disillusionment. They have the power to create new, more workable ideals. They become capable of self-analysis. They learn to be legislators of value and to revise their beliefs for themselves. Their faiths become not refuges, but instruments for meeting and mastering the facts of experience and giving them meaning. The strong are capable of making their lives spiritual adventures in a real world. The “truths” of such persons are not compulsive ideas, they are working hypotheses which they are ready, as occasion may demand, to verify at great personal risk, or to discard when proved false. Such persons sustain themselves in their sense of personal worth less by defense mechanisms than by the effort of will which they can make.
“The huge world that girdles us about puts all sorts of questions to us, and tests us in all sorts of ways.
[…]When a dreadful object is presented, or when life as a whole turns up its dark abysses to our view, then the worthless ones among us lose their hold on the situation altogether, and either escape from its difficulties by averting their attention, or, if they cannot do that, collapse into yielding masses of plaintiveness and fear.”—William James
A crowd is like an unsound banking institution. People are induced to carry their deposits of faith in it, and so long as there is no unusual withdrawing of accounts the insolvent condition may be covered up.
The classic illustration of the manner in which the crowd is led to discredit the witness to values contrary to its own, is the oration of Mark Antony in Shakespeares “Julius Cæsar.”
At first with great courtesy—“The noble Brutus hath told you Cæsar was ambitious; if it were so it was a grievous fault .. for Brutus is an honorable man, so are they all, all honorable men.” This sentence is repeated four times in the first section; Cæsar was a good faithful friend to Antony, “But… and Brutus is an honorable man.” Again Cæsar refused the crown, but “Brutus is an honorable man.” Cæsar wept when the poor cried, “sure, Brutus is an honorable man, I speak not to disprove what he says” but “men have lost their reason” and “my heart is in the coffin there with Cæsar.” The citizens are sorry for the weeping Antony; they listen more intently now. Again—“If I were disposed to stir your hearts and minds to mutiny and rage”—but that would be to wrong Brutus and Cassius, “Who you all know are honorable men”—this time said with more marked irony. Rather than wrong such honorable men, Antony prefers to “wrong the dead, to wrong myself—and you.” That sentence sets Brutus squarely in opposition to the speaker and his audience. Cæsars will is mentioned—if only the commons knew what was in it, but Antony will not read it, “you are not wood, you are not stones, but men.” The speaker now resists their demand to hear the will, he ought not have mentioned it. He fears he has, after all, wronged “the honorable men whose daggers have stabbed Cæsar.” The citizens have caught the note of irony now; the honorable men are “traitors,” “villains,” “murderers.” From this point on the speakers task is easy; they have become a crowd.
The crowd hates in order that it may believe in itself.
Brill says that “normally we seek a substitute for the suspended attachment.” New interests and new affections in time take the places of the objects from which the feelings have been torn. In analytical psychology the process by which this is achieved is called a “transference.”
So in a sense it is with the crowd-man always; he loves through the crowd.
The crowd does not think in order to solve problems. To the crowd-mind, as such, there are no problems. It has closed its case beforehand.
[…]the crowd believes only what it wants to believe and nothing else.
Ibsen makes his Doctor Stockman say:
“What sort of truths are they that the majority usually supports? They are truths that are of such advanced age that they are beginning to break up… These “majority truths” are like last years cured meat—like rancid tainted ham; and they are the origin of the moral scurvy that is rampant in our communities… The most dangerous enemy of truth and freedom among us is the compact majority, yes, the damned compact liberal majority … the majority has might on its side unfortunately, but right it has never.”
The average man is a dogmatist. He thinks what he thinks others think he is thinking.
“ taught us to look past the ‘unimaginary and actual’ qualities of things to secondary meanings and inner symbolism. In opposition to liberty and humanism they taught us to mistrust our nature, to see in it weakness, helplessness, and incurable taint, to pass beyond humanity to communion with God, to live less for this world than for one to come…”
“ was originally a deliberate importation from Germany, with a purpose. And this purpose was a religious one—that of counteracting the antireligious developments of Science.
Science, flushed with its hard-won liberty, ignorant of philosophy, and as yet unconscious of its proper limitations, was decidedly aggressive and overconfident.
What was to be done? Nothing directly; for on its own ground Science seemed invulnerable, and had the knack of crushing the subtlest dialectics by the knockdown force of sheer scientific fact.”
“How then can Absolutism possibly be a religion? It must appeal to psychological motives of a different sort
- It is decidedly flattering to spiritual pride to feel oneself a ‘part’ or ‘manifestation’ or ‘vehicle’ or ‘reproduction’ of the Absolute Mind, and to some this feeling affords so much strength and comfort and such exquisite delight that they refrain from inquiring what these phrases mean…
- There is a strange delight in wide generalization merely as such, which, when pursued without reference to the ends which it subserves, and without regard to its actual functioning, often results in a sort of logical vertigo.
- The thought of an Absolute Unity is cherished as a guarantee of cosmic stability. In face of the restless vicissitudes of phenomena it seems to secure us against falling out of the Universe. It assures us a priori—and that is its supreme value—that the cosmic order cannot fall to pieces
There is no denying the fact that Absolute Idealism, if not taken too seriously, may have the function for some people of steadying their nerves in the battle of life.
[…]it not infrequently serves as a rationalization of faith-values which work out beneficially, and, quite apart from their metaphysical trappings, may be even indispensable. Yet when carried to its logical conclusions such thinking inevitably distorts the meaning of personal living, robs our world and our acts of their feeling of reality, serves as an instrument for “regression” or withdrawal of interest from the real tasks and objects of living men and women, and in fact functions for much the same purpose, if not precisely in the same way, as do the ideal systems of the psychopath.
[…]when one imagines that he has a formula which enables him to write the equation of the curve of the universe, science has degenerated into scientificism, or head-in-the-sand philosophy. The magic formula has precisely the same psychic value as the “absolute.”
I know a number of economic determinists, for instance, who just cannot get out of their heads the notion that social evolution is a process absolutely underwritten, guaranteed, and predictable, without the least possible doubt. In such a philosophy of history as this the individual is of course a mere “product of his environment,” and his role as a creator of value is nil.
These dreadful materialist doctrines of the radical crowd are wooden guns, no thicker than the soap-box. As a matter of fact, the radical crowds are extremely idealistic.
It is said that the Sioux Indians, some years ago, used to put their women and children in front of their firing line. The braves could then crouch behind these innocent ones and shoot at white men, knowing that it would be a violation of the principles of humanity for the white soldiers to shoot back and risk killing women and children.
It is an interesting fact that the most antagonistic crowds profess much the same set of principles. The “secondary rationalization” of crowds, both Northern and Southern, at the time of the Civil War, made use of our traditional principles of American Liberty, and Christian Morality.
The greatest enemy of personality is the crowd. The crowd does not want valuable men; it wants only useful men.
Grant that an idea is an absolute truth, and it follows, of course, that it must be true on all occasions and for everyone. The crowd is justified, therefore, in sacrificing people to its ideal—itself. The idea is no longer an instrument of living; it is an imperative. It is not yours to use the idea; the idea is there to use you. You have ceased to be an end.
[…]The crowd, by identifying its will to power with this idea, becomes itself absolute. […]By making everybody’s business my business, I have made my business everybody’s business.
We must not be deceived by assertion that the individual is an end. This individual is not you or I, or anyone; it is a mere logical abstraction. By declaring that everyone is equally an end, Kant ignores all personal differences, and therefore the fact of individuality as such.
In thus universalizing my moral will, I wholly depersonalize it.
“An action done from duty derives its moral worth not from the purpose which is to be attained by it, but from the maxim by which it is determined.”
This loss of the conscious self in the universal, this turning away from the empirically known, this demand that an a priori principle be followed to its deadly practical conclusion regardless of the ends to which it leads, is of utmost importance for our study. It is precisely what the paranoiac does after his own fashion. In crowd-thinking it is often made the instrument of wholesale destruction and human slaughter. The mob is ever motivated by this logic of negation, and of automatic behavior.
We play out our lives as if we were but acting a part which some one had assigned to us.
Our virtues we regard not as expressions of ourselves or as habitual ways of reaching desirable goods, but as if they were demanded of us unwillingly by something not self.
We should remind ourselves that these big words we idolize have no eyes to see us and no hearts to care what we do, that they are but symbols of ideas
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.
If the word “revolution” be taken to mean fundamental change in mens 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.”
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.
[…]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. […]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 […]. 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 […].
[…]everyone with ability to learn and with genuine intellectual interests may achieve a remarkable degree of learning. […]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.
Genius is not congenital superiority. It is the result of hard work.
[…]the “intellectual snobbishness” which the crowd resents is nothing else than the crowd-mans own fiction of self-importance, projected upon those whose imagined superiority he envies.
[…]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.
[…]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.
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.
Moreover, the commercial ability is the sort which the average man most commonly thinks he possesses in some degree.
[…]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.
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.
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.
[…]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.
[…]this is what a revolution is—the dictatorship of a new crowd. […]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.
[…]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. […]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 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 crowds social dominance.
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.
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.
A revolution occurs when the dominant crowd begins to weaken.
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 challenged.
The dominant crowd in each historical epoch gained its original supremacy by means of revolution.
Nothing but useless misery can result from dividing crowd against crowd. Crowd-thinking, as I have said, does not solve problems.
Radical crowd-behavior does not resolve the situation, it only inverts it.
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.
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.
It is a significant fact that a crowds rule is generally challenged in the name of the very abstract ideas of which it has long posed as the champion.
For instance, there is liberty. Every crowd demands it when it is seeking power; no crowd permits it when it is in power.
[…]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.
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.
[…]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.
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, Gods 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.
Messianism is a revolutionary crowd phenomenon.
[…]all revolutionary propaganda is “social gospel.”
[…]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 […].
“ 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 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.”
Every revolutionary crowd of every description is a pilgrimage set out to regain our lost Paradise.
If the dream were ever realized, I think William James was correct in saying that we should find it to be but a “sheeps 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.
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.
[…]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.
[…]“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.
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.
[…]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.”
[…]the crowd must persuade itself that only one solution of the social problem is possible, and that one inevitable—its own.
Revolutionary crowd-thinking is not “creative intelligence.” It is hocus-pocus […].
We have all read how the “citizens” of the French Revolution danced in the streets for sheer joy in their new-won liberty. Those who were in Petrograd during the days which immediately followed the downfall of the Tsar bear witness to a like almost mystical sense of the general goodness of human kind and of joy in human fellowship.
With the return to the commonplace tasks of daily life, some effort, and indeed further rationalization, is needed to keep up the feeling that the new and wonderful age has really come to stay.
[…] People become impatient and censorious. There is a searching of hearts. People watch their neighbors, especially their rivals, to make sure that nothing in their behavior shall confirm the misgivings which are vaguely felt in their own minds.
Meanwhile, however, the revolutionary leaders have set up a dictatorship of their own, which, while necessary to “save the revolution,” is itself a practical negation of the revolutionary dream of a free world.
[…]it would seem that on the whole the idea that revolutions help the progress of the race is a hoax. Where advancement has been achieved in freedom, in intelligence, in ethical values, in art or science, in consideration for humanity, in legislation, it has in each instance been achieved by unique individuals, and has spread chiefly by personal influence, never gaining assent except among those who have power to recreate the new values won in their own experience.
Faddism is neither radicalism nor a symptom of progress. It is a mark of the passion for uniformity or the conservatism of the crowd-mind. It is change; but its change is insignificant.
While the workers are still a counter-crowd, struggling for power against the present ruling class, they are of course held together by a common cause—namely, their opposition to capital. But with labors triumph, everybody becomes a worker, and there is no one longer to oppose. That which held the various elements of labor together in a common crowd of revolt has now ceased to exist, “class consciousness” has therefore no longer any meaning. Labor itself has ceased to exist as a class by reason of its very triumph. What then remains to hold its various elements together in a common cause? Nothing at all. The solidarity of the workers vanishes, when the struggle which gave rise to that solidarity ceases. There remains now nothing but the humanitarian principle of the solidarity of the human race.
As the purely proletarian character of this dictatorship becomes meaningless, the crowd-struggle switches from that of labor as a whole against capital, to a series of struggles within the dominant labor group itself.
The experience of Russia has even now shown that if the soviets are to save themselves from nation-wide bankruptcy, specially trained men must be found to take charge of their industrial and political activities. Long training is necessary for the successful management of large affairs, and becomes all the more indispensable as industry, education, and political affairs are organized on a large scale.
[…]an intellectual class must be developed. Does anyone imagine that this new class of rulers will hesitate to make use of every opportunity to make itself a privileged class?
[…]in the hands of a well-organized body of laborers, especially in those trades where the number of apprentices may be controlled, industrial power becomes a much more effective weapon than it is in the hands of the present capitalistic owners.
The whole philosophy of politics comes down at last to a question of four words. Who is to govern? Compared with this question the problem of the form of government is relatively unimportant.
All crowds in one way or another claim infallibility.
[…]it may be said that where the crowd is, there is tyranny.
[…]up to the present the business-man crowd has had the best of the deal.
It is possible to conceive of a society in which a high degree of social democracy, even communism, might exist along with a maximum of freedom and practical achievement. But we should first have to get over our crowd-ways of thinking and acting. People would have to regard the state as a purely administrative affair. They would have to organize for definite practical ends, and select their leaders and administrators very much as certain corporations now do, strictly on the basis of their competency.
[…]Partisanship would have to cease. Every effort would have to be made to loosen the social control over the individuals personal habits. […]would have to be content to mind their own business. Police power would have to be reduced to the minimum necessary to protect life and keep the industries running. People would have to become much more capable of self-direction as well as of voluntary co-operation than they are now. They would have to be more resentful of petty official tyranny, more independent in their judgments and at the same time more willing to accept the advice and authority of experts. They would have to place the control of affairs in the hands of the type of man against whose dominance the weaker brethren have in all ages waged war—that is, the free spirits and natural masters of men.
Crowd-phenomena of such intensity are usually of short duration, as these very excesses soon produce the inevitable reaction.
The question, however, arises, is democracy more conducive to freedom than other forms of political organization? To most minds the terms “liberty” and “democracy” are almost synonymous. Those who consider that liberty consists in having a vote, in giving everyone a voice regardless of whether he has anything to say, will have no doubts in the matter.
Theoretically at least, democracy calls for a maximum of self-government and personal freedom. The fact that democracy is rapidly degenerating into tyranny of all over each may be due, not to the democratic ideal itself, but the growing tendency to crowd-behavior
[…]. […]democracy has indirectly permitted, rather than directly caused, an extension in the range of thought and behavior over which the crowd assumes dictatorship.
[…]human beings will never permit to one another a very large degree of personal freedom. It is to the advantage of everyone in the struggle for existence to reduce his neighbors as much as possible to automatons. In this way own adjustment to the behavior of others is made easier. If we can induce or compel all about us to confine their actions to perfect routine, then we may predict with a fair degree of accuracy their future behavior, and be prepared in advance to meet it. We all dread the element of the unexpected, and nowhere so much as in the conduct of our neighbors. If we could only get rid of the humanly unexpected, society would be almost fool-proof. Hence the resistance to new truths, social change, progress, nonconformity of any sort […]. Much of this insistence on regularity is positively necessary. Without it there could be no social or moral order at all. […]
But the process of keeping one another in line is carried much farther than is necessary to preserve the social order. It is insisted upon to the extent that will guarantee the survival, even the dominance, of the spiritually sick, the morally timid, the trained-animal men, those who would revert to savagery, or stand utterly helpless the moment a new situation demanded that they do some original thinking
Each crowd, in its desire to become the majority, to hold the weaker brethren within its fold, and especially as everyone of us has a certain amount of this “little brother” weakness in his own nature, which longs to be pampered if only the pampering can be done without hurting our pride—the crowd invariably plays to this sort of thing and bids for its support.
[…]we have seen that any assertion of personal independence is resented by the crowd because it weakens the crowd-faith of all.
The measure of freedom granted to men will depend, therefore, upon how many things the crowd attempts to consider its business.
Arbitrary power is therefore usually limited to relatively few things, since the autocrat cannot busy himself with everything that is going on.
With a democracy it is different.
[…]the number of things which a democracy will presume to regulate is vastly greater than in monarchical states. As sovereignty is universal, everybody becomes lawmaker and regulator of his neighbors. As the lawmaking power is present everywhere, nothing can escape its multieyed scrutiny. […]A democracy is no respecter of persons and can, under its dogma of equality before the law, admit of no exceptions. […]An unusual inducement and opportunity are thus provided for every crowd to force its own crowd-dilemmas upon all.
The majority not only usurps the place of the king, but it tends to subject the whole range of human thought and behavior to its authority—everything, in fact, that anyone, disliking in his neighbors or finding himself tempted to do, may wish to “pass a law against.”
Here we see the true argument for a written constitution, and also, I think, a psychological principle which helps us to decide what should be in a constitution and what should not. The aim of a constitution is to put a limit to the number of things concerning which a majority-crowd may lord it over the individual.
[…]if there is a possible opportunity to take advantage, some one will do it sooner or later.
[…]every effort should be made to limit the tyranny of the majority to just these points. And the line limiting the number of things that the majority may meddle with must be drawn as hard and fast as possible, since every dominant crowd, as we have seen, will squeeze the life out of everything human it can get its hands on. […]Tyranny is no less abhorrent just because the number of tyrants is increased.
A nation composed of a hundred million little tyrants snooping and prying into every corner may be democratic, but, personally, if that ever comes to be the choice I think I should prefer one tyrant.
Government always represents the moral dilemmas of the worst people, not the best. It cannot give us freedom; it can give or grant us nothing but what it first takes from us.
It is we who grant to the government certain powers and privileges necessary for its proper functioning. We do not exist for the government; it exists for us. We are not its servants; it is our servant.
[…]laws should be obeyed, for the same reason that the laws of mechanics should be obeyed—otherwise the machine will not run.
[…]the crowd by its very nature tends, and always must tend, to diminish (if possible, to the vanishing point) the freedom of its members, and not in one or two respects alone, but in all. […]
One would suppose that the just way to would be to make a list of the drinkers and prohibit their indulgence. But this is not the way the crowd works. To it everyone of its constituent members is like another, and all must be drilled and controlled alike… Whatever measure is adopted must fall evenly on all classes, upon club, restaurant and hotel as upon public house. Could anything be more absurd?
If the crowd had its way every mother and infant would be under the orders of inspectors, regardless of the capacity of the parent. We should all be ordered about in every relation of life from infancy to manhood… Freedom would utterly vanish, and this, not because the crowd can arrange things better than the individual. It cannot. It lacks the individuals brains. The ultimate reason for all this interference is the crowds desire to swallow up and control the unit. The instinct of all crowds is to dominate, to capture and overwhelm the individual, to make him their slave, to absorb all his life for their service.”
The criticism has often been made of democracy that it permits too much freedom; the reverse of this is nearer the truth.
“An American cannot converse—he speaks to you as if he were addressing a meeting. If an American were condemned to confine himself to his own affairs, he would be robbed of one-half of his existence; his wretchedness would be unbearable…
As the majority is the only power which it is important to court, all its projects are taken up with the greatest ardor; but no sooner is its attention distracted than all this ardor ceases.
I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America.
The ruling power in the United States is not to be made game of. The smallest reproach irritates its sensibilities. The slightest joke which has any foundation in truth renders it indignant. Everything must be the subject of encomium. No writer, whatever his eminence, can escape paying his tribute of adoration to his fellow citizens.”
Freedom to make commercial profit, to get ahead of others in the race for dollars, is what democracy generally means by “opportunity.”
Nothing is such a give-away of the modern man as the popular use of the word “individualism.” It is no longer a philosophy of becoming something genuine and unique, but of getting something and using it according to your own whims and for personal ends regardless of the effect upon others. This pseudo-individualism encourages the rankest selfishness and exploitation to go hand in hand with the most deadly spiritual conformity and inanity.
The “freedom of speech” which is everywhere demanded in the name of democracy is not at all freedom in the expression of individual opinion. It is only the demand for advertising space on the part of various crowds for the publication of their shibboleths and propaganda.
[…]liberty in a crowd-governed democracy… It is nothing but the liberty of crowds to be crowds.
The fourth liberty in democratic society to-day is freedom from moral and intellectual responsibility. This is accomplished by the magic of substituting the machinery of the law for self-government, bureaucratic meddlesomeness for conscience, crowd-tyranny for personal decency.
[…]Faguet has called democracy the “cult of incompetence” and the “dread of responsibility.” […]crowds do not so understand democracy. Every crowd looks upon democracy simply as a scheme whereby it may have its own way.
The crowd-ideal of society is one in which every individual is protected not only against exploitation, but against temptation—protected therefore against himself.
[…]we are all to be made moral in spite of ourselves, regardless of our worth, without effort on our part, moral in the same way that machines are moral […]. In the end moral responsibility is passed over to legislatures, commissions, detectives, inspectors, and bureaucrats. Anything that “gets by” the public censor, however rotten, we may wallow in with a perfect feeling of respectability.
Genius in our democracy is not free. It must beg the permission of little crowd-men for its right to exist.
From the beginning of the nineteenth century until now it has been chiefly the business man, the political charlatan, the organizer of trade, the rediscoverer of popular prejudices who have been preferred in our free modern societies. Keats died of a broken heart; Shelley and Wagner were exiled; Beethoven and Schubert were left to starve; Darwin was condemned to hell fire; Huxley was denied his professorship; Schopenhauer was ostracized by the élite; Nietzsche ate his heart out in solitude; Walt Whitman had to be fed by a few English admirers, while his poems were prohibited as obscene in free America; Emerson was for the greater part of his life persona non grata at his own college; Ingersoll was denied the political career which his genius merited; Poe lived and died in poverty; Theodore Parker was consigned to perdition; Percival Lowell and Simon Newcomb lived and died almost unrecognized by the American public.
Nearly every artist and writer and public teacher is made to understand from the beginning that he will be popular in just the degree that he strangles his genius and becomes a vulgar, commonplace, insincere clown.
With nearly all alike, there is a notion that mankind may be redeemed by the magic of externally manipulating the social environment.
[…]intellectual liberalism has been content for the most part to tag along behind the labor movement, as if the chief meaning of the intellectual awakening were economic.
The existence of new values, a thing which will inevitably happen where the human spirit is left free in its creative impulses, is disturbing to the crowd-mind. Education must therefore be made “safe for democracy”
It is the merely useful man, not the unusual man, whom the crowd loves.
Education ceases to be the path of spiritual freedom; it becomes a device for harnessing the spirit of youth in the treadmill of the survival-values of the crowd.
[…]the facts which ultimately make for our freedom or slavery are of the mind. The statement that we cannot be politically or economically a free people until we attain mental freedom is a platitude, but it is one which needs special emphasis in this day when all attention is directed to the external […].
Democracy in and of itself is no more sure a guarantee of liberty than other forms of government.
[…]crowd-behavior has been known in all historic periods. Democracy cannot be said to have caused it. It may be a mere accident of history that the present development of crowd-mindedness has come along with that of democratic institutions. Democracy has indeed given new kinds of crowds their hope of dominance.
The first and greatest effort must be to free democracy from crowd-mindedness, by liberating our own thinking.
[…]he must trace his malady back to its source in the unconscious, and learn the meaning of his conscious behavior as it is related to his unconscious desires. Then he must do a difficult thing—he must accept the fact of himself at its real worth.
We shall be free when we cease pampering ourselves, stop lying to ourselves and to one another, and give up the crowd-mummery in which we indulge because it happens to flatter our hidden weaknesses! In the end we shall only begin to solve the social problem when we can cease together taking refuge from reality in systems made up of general ideas that we should be using as tools in meeting the tasks from which as crowd-men and neurotics people run away; when we discontinue making use of commonly accepted principles and ideals as defense formations for shameful things in which we can indulge ourselves with a clear conscience only by all doing them together.
There must be an increase in the number of unambitious men, men who can rise above vulgar dilemmas and are deaf to crowd propaganda, men capable of philosophical tolerance, critical doubt and inquiry, genuine companionship, and voluntary co-operation in the achievement of common ends, free spirits who can smile in the face of the mob
People in crowds are not thinking together; they are not thinking at all, save as a paranoiac thinks. They are not working together; they are only sticking together.
[…]By dissolving everything in “one great union” people who cannot climb alone expect to ooze into the co-operative commonwealth or kingdom of heaven.
What we need is not only more education, but a different kind of education.
There is more hope in an illiterate community where people hate lying than in a high-school educated nation which reads nothing but trash and is fed up on advertising, newspapers, popular fiction, and propaganda.
Traditional educational methods have more often given encouragement to crowd-thinking than to independence of judgment. Thinking has been divorced from doing.
[…]The act of learning has been treated as if it were the passive reception of information imposed from without.
Even science, taught in this spirit may be destructive of intellectual freedom. Professor Dewey says that while science has done much to modify mens thoughts, still
“It must be admitted that to a considerable extent the progress thus procured has been only technical; it has provided more efficient means for satisfying pre-existent desires rather than modified the quality of human purposes.
[…]Men move more swiftly and surely to the realization of their ends, but their ends too largely remain what they were prior to scientific enlightenment. This fact places upon education the responsibility of using science in a way to modify the habitual attitude of imagination and feeling, not leave it just an extension of our physical arms and legs…
The problem of an educational use of science is then to create an intelligence pregnant with belief in the possibility of the direction of human affairs by itself. The method of science ingrained through education in habit means emancipation from rule of thumb and from the routine generated by rule of thumb procedure…
That science may be taught as a set of formal and technical exercises is only too true. This happens whenever information about the world is made an end in itself. The failure of such instruction to procure culture is not, however, evidence of the antithesis of natural knowledge to humanistic concern, but evidence of a wrong educational attitude.”
The free mind is the functioning mind, the mind which is not inhibited in its work by any conflict within itself.
It is possible to make a cult of science itself. Crowd-propaganda is often full of pseudoscientific jargon of this sort. Specialization in technical training may produce merely a high-class trained-animal man, of the purely reflex type, who simply performs a prescribed trick which he has learned
[…]. In the presence of the unexpected such a person may be as helpless as any other animal. […]Much so-called scientific training in our schools to-day is of this sort. It results not in freedom, but in what Bergson would call the triumph of mechanism over freedom.
It is human interest which gives scientific knowledge any meaning. Science must be taught in the humanist spirit. It may not ignore this quality of human interest which exists in all knowledge. To do so is to cut off our relations with reality.
“Knowledge is humanistic in quality not because it is about human products in the past, but because of what it does in liberating human intelligence and human sympathy. Any subject-matter which accomplishes this result is humane and any subject-matter which does not accomplish it is not even educational.”
William James once said that the good which came from such study was the ability to “know a good man when we see him.” The student would thus become more capable of discriminating appreciation. He would grow to be a judge of values. He would acquire sharp likes and dislikes and thus set up his own standards of judgment. He would become an independent-thinker and therefore an enemy of crowds.
After becoming acquainted with the intellectual freedom and courage and love of life which are almost everywhere manifest in the literature of the ancients, something happens to a man. He becomes acquainted with himself as a valuing animal. Few things are better calculated to make free spirits than these very classics
Many of these patients are the mental slaves of convention. They have been terrified by it; its weight crushes them; when they discover that their own impulses or behavior are in conflict with what they regard as absolute standards, they cannot bear the shock. They do not know how to use morality; they simply condemn themselves; they seek reconciliation by all sorts of crazy ideas which develop into the psychoneurosis.
The practice of psychoanalysis as a therapeutic method is really hardly anything more than re-education.
[…]This process of education, in a word, is humanistic.
[…]the neurosis is but one path of escape from this conflict of self with the imperatives and abstract ideas through which social control is exercised. The second way is to deny, unconsciously, the true meaning of these ideas, and this, as we have seen, is crowd-thinking.
[…]the humanist, however social he may be, cannot be a crowd-man. He, too, will have his ideals, but they are not made-in-advance goods which all must accept; they are good only as they may be made good in real experience, true only when verified in fact. […]Nothing is regarded as so final and settled that the spirit of inquiry should be discouraged from efforts to modify and improve it.
[…]James used to say, we shall never know what this world really is or is to become until the last mans vote is in and counted.
“A pragmatic intelligence is a creative intelligence, not a routine mechanic.”
As all thinking is purposive, and therefore partial, emphasizing just those aspects of things which are useful for our present problem, it follows that the sum total of partial views cannot give us the whole of reality or anything like a true copy of it. Existence as a whole cannot be reduced to any logical system. The One and the Absolute are therefore meaningless and are only logical fictions
From all this follows the humanist view of Truth. Truth is nothing complete and existing in itself independent of human purpose.
[…]truth is what we say about an idea when it works. It must be made true, by ourselves—that is, verified. Truth is therefore of human origin, frankly, man-made.
[…]how, if the individual man is the measure of all things, is there to be any common measure? How any agreement? May not a thing be good and true for one and not for another? How, then, shall there be any getting together without an outside authority and an absolute standard? The answer, as Schiller and James showed, is obvious; life is a matter of adjustment. We each constitute a part of the environment. At certain points our desires conflict, our valuations are different, and yet our experience at these points overlaps, as it were. It is to our common advantage to have agreement at these points. Out of our habitual adjustments to one another, a body of mutual understanding and agreement grows up which constitutes the intellectual and moral order of life. But this order, necessary as it is, is still in the making. […]This order of life is purely practical; it exists for us, not we for it, and because we have agreed that certain things shall be right and true, it does not follow that righteousness and truth are fixed and final and must be worshiped as pure ideas in such a way that the mere repetition of these words paralyzes […].
Life may not be reduced to a logical unity, but it is an organic whole for each of us, and we do not reach that organic unity by adding mutually exclusive partial views of it together.
Selfhood is realized in the satisfactoriness of the results which one is able to achieve in the very fullness of his activity and the richness of his interests.
Such a free spirit needs no crowds to keep up his faith, and he is truly social, for he approaches his social relationships with intelligent discrimination and judgments of worth which are his own.
Read the whole book: The Behavior of Crowds.
About the Author
Jens Oliver Meiert is a technical lead and author (sum.cumo, W3C, O’Reilly). He loves trying things, including in the realms of philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com he shares and generalizes and exaggerates some of his thoughts and experiences.
If you have any thoughts or questions (or recommendations) about what he writes, leave a comment or a message.
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