One of my favorite books is The Crowd by Gustave Le Bon. If you haven’t read it, you need to go pick up a copy immediately. This book will help you understand the average American more than any other text.
I very much enjoyed the summary of the book provided by The Worthy House. Here’s an excerpt of the article, but I encourage you to read the whole thing. It should garner major interest in the book:
The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (Gustave Le Bon)
Gustave Le Bon, born in 1841, was a French genius, whose interests covered everything from anthropology to physics. Among other accomplishments, he posited mass-energy equivalence before Albert Einstein (and complained when Einstein got the credit). The Crowd was written at the end of a century of turmoil in France, in an attempt to examine and understand the fundamental nature of crowds. Though often criticized because its conclusions are not to the taste of those who would use crowds to advance their political goals, it has never been sidelined or superseded. To this day, this book is the gold standard of crowd analysis; you can tell this by attacks on Le Bon during last summer’s Floyd Riots, by those wanting to believe that the rioters were wise and coherent seekers after justice, rather than sub-rational masses fired by the basest of impulses.
Le Bon’s fundamental point is that the actions of crowds are not rational; they are a mass of uncoordinated and largely unconscious behaviors from which what we today call emergent properties arise. But they are nonetheless complex organisms, capable of being analyzed. Unlike modern so-called social scientists, Le Bon did not conduct surveys or lard his work with pseudoscience. All his thoughts are based on observation of history. In his view, although crowds existed throughout history, they were the major problem for advanced Western societies. “The substitution of the unconscious action of crowds for the conscious activity of individuals is one of the principal characteristics of the present age.”
Le Bon saw his time as a time of great change; the old verities, most of all sources of authority, which were individual and particular, were all falling by the wayside. He saw their replacement; “The age we are about to enter will in truth be the Era of Crowds.” Not because of popular sovereignty, however; Le Bon, like Carl Schmitt, thought parliamentarianism and other structural attempts to manifest the general will a sham. Rather, because the masses, through crowd behavior, will now dictate the direction of nations. This is not precisely anarchy, but it is not an advance, because civilizations are “only created and directed by a small intellectual aristocracy, never by crowds. Crowds are only powerful for destruction.” He explicitly sees the dominance of crowds as barbarism and the likely end of Western civilization. That’s not Le Bon’s primary concern, though; he is trying to understand crowds. What to do with the information, he leaves for others.
The Academy of Ideas also provides some great quotes from the book:
“It is crowds rather than isolated individuals that may be induced to run the risk of death to secure the triumph of a creed or an idea, that may be fired with enthusiasm for glory and honour… Such heroism is without doubt somewhat unconscious, but it is of such heroism that history is made.”
“He is no longer himself, but has become an automaton who has ceased to be guided by his will.”
“In a crowd every sentiment and act is contagious, and contagious to such a degree that an individual readily sacrifices his personal interest to the collective interest.”
“Ideas being only accessible to crowds after having assumed a very simple shape must often undergo the most thoroughgoing transformations to become popular. It is especially when we are dealing with somewhat lofty philosophical or scientific ideas that we see how far-reaching are the modifications they require in order to lower them to the level of the intelligence of crowds…. However great or true an idea may have been to begin with, it is deprived of almost all that which constituted its elevation and its greatness by the mere fact that it has come within the intellectual range of crowds and exerts an influence upon them.”
“The majority of men, especially among the masses, do not possess clear and reasoned ideas on any subject whatever outside their own specialty. The leader serves them as guide.”
“By many they are considered as natural forces, as supernatural powers. They evoke grandiose and vague images in men’s minds, but this very vagueness that wraps them in obscurity augments their mysterious power. They are the mysterious divinities hidden behind the tabernacle, which the devout only approach in fear and trembling.”
“Were it possible to induce the masses to adopt atheism, disbelief would exhibit all the intolerant ardour of a religious sentiment, and in its exterior forms would soon become a cult.”
“The tyranny exercised unconsciously on men’s minds is the only real tyranny, because it cannot be fought against.”
The beauty of this book is its distance from our modern age and our modern politics. It provides an understanding of the “crowd” (or, in a more modern sense, “mob”) without any care for the current political atmosphere.
This means it is applicable to both the left and the Right. You can see elements of the crowd’s mindset in everything—even dissident spheres—once you grasp the concepts within.
It is likely that this understanding will be required for any successful organization of dissidents. Dissidents won’t win strictly through logic and arguments. We need actual leaders, and leaders need to understand the crowd. The most important aspect of this understanding is probably a thorough recognition of the “idea” concept and the power of “words”. I will definitely write on these two topics in the near future.
The Trump effect, the insane trans cultists, and everything else in the modern world makes a lot more sense when you understand how these crowds work.
Read it if you haven’t. Well worth the time investment.
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