The renewal of civilisation has nothing to do with movements which bear the character of experiences of the crowd; these are never anything but reactions to external happenings. But civilisation can only revive when there shall come into being in a number of individuals a new tone of mind independent of the one prevalent among the crowd and in opposition to it, a tone of mind which will gradually win influence over the collective one, and in the end determine its character. It is only an ethical movement which can rescue us from the slough of barbarism, and the ethical comes into existence only in individuals ...
So wrote the late Dr Albert Schweitzer.
The point of this essay is to draw to your attention, a book titled The Crowd by Gustave Le Bon.
First published in 1895, the book has never been out of print. The book is not only a classic, but is one of the best selling scientific books in social psychology and collective behaviour ever written.
Le Bon analyses the nature of crowds and their role in political movements. He presents crowd behaviour as a problem of science and power - a natural phenomenon with practical implications. The book was the first to expand the scope of inquiry beyond criminal crowds to include all possible kinds of collective phenomena.
Le Bon emphasises the various areas of modern life where crowd behaviour holds sway, particular political upheavals. He focuses on electoral campaigns, parliaments, juries, labour agitation and street demonstrations. His treatment of crowds is far from complimentary.
Although I have not been able to find any hard evidence, there are some who believe that the book was closely studied by both Hitler and Mussolini. Both were great readers and both knew how to manipulate and influence crowds. It is arguable that the fascist theories of leadership that emerged in the 1920s owed much to his theories of crowd psychology. Indeed, Hitler’s Mien Kampf largely drew on the propaganda techniques proposed in Le Bon's 1895 book.
Hitler certainly had all of the essential characteristics of a successful crowd leader. “That is an unshakeable belief in himself, and an iron will. More of a man of action than a great thinker, not gifted with great foresight as this quality generally conduces to doubt and inactivity. Morbidly nervous excitable, and half deranged, bordering on madness, but an unshakeable faith in himself and his cause, with convictions so strong that all reasoning was lost on him.”
Written in 1895 when Hitler was only four-years-old, the above description fitted the German Fuhrer to a T.
The description also fits Napoleon and Mussolini and Chairman Mao. Likewise, General Franco of Spain, and Peron, the Argentinean Dictator. And, likewise, Pol Pot. Other outstanding examples were Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, especially Lenin.
“Contempt and persecution do not affect them, or only serve to excite them the more. They sacrifice their personal interest, their family - everything. The very instinct of self preservation is entirely obliterated in them, so much so that often the only recompense they solicit is that of martyrdom”. Chile’s Communist leader Allende is a perfect example of this phenomenon.
“The intensity of their faith gives great power of suggestion to their words. The multitude is ready to listen to the strong willed man, who knows how to impose himself upon it. Men gathered in a crowd lose all force of will, and turn instinctively to the person who possesses the quality they lack.”
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