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The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind Paperback – September, 1982
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Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Gustave LeBon (1841-1931) was a French physician who wrote widely on scientific subjects, including anatomy and physiology, anthropology, and history. Many of his writings focused in particular on national traits, crowd behavior, and racial superiority. His numerous books include The Civilization of Arabs, The Psychology of Peoples, and The Crowd.
Robert Nye is George Lynn Cross Research Professor in the department of history at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author of Crime, Madness and Politics in Modern France: The Medical Concept of National Decline and The Origins of Crowd Psychology: Gustave Le Bon and the Crisis of Mass Democracy in the Third Republic.
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Top Customer Reviews
If you want to understand the political scene today--the decline of statesmanship, the rise of spin-meistership, the mindless polling, the pandering to the electorate, the throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks lowest common denominator pragmatisim of our political leaders--read this book!
In his Preface, Le Bon lays out his understanding of the role of crowds, particularly as concerns the "present age" (his own time period). Le Bon explains the manner in which the unconscious activity of crowds has replaced the conscious activity of the individual. Le Bon also shows how he belongs to no particular school and thus claims that he is free from the biases of all such schools. Further, le Bon contends that the spirit of reform has guided crowds and that the era of crowds has replaced the divine right of kings. Following this, le Bon turns to "The Era of Crowds" in his Introduction. Le Bon explains how crowds have come to take a prominent place within national thought and that the modern age has become an era of crowds. Le Bon further offers that an understanding of crowds is essential for legislators and statesmen. The first "Book" of this book is entitled "The Mind of Crowds". Le Bon begins by considering the general characteristics of crowds. Le Bon defines the crowd in terms of psychology and distinguishes his definition from that of the commonplace understanding of the crowd. Le Bon further explains the "psychological law of the mental unity of crowds". Le Bon contends that in a crowd brain activity is reduced and there is a prominence of medullar activity, meaning that crowds act largely unconsciously. Following this, le Bon turns to the sentiments and morality of crowds. Le Bon contends that there is an impulsiveness, mobility, and irritability of crowds. Le Bon also contends that there are racial differences among crowds. Further, le Bon argues that crowds are credulous and readily influenced by suggestion. Le Bon also contends that crowds do not admit doubt or uncertainty and always head towards extremes. Further, le Bon contends that there is an intolerance, dictatorialness, and conservativism of crowds. In addition, le Bon contends that while crowds may act in accordance with a lower morality than that of the individual, it is also possible for crowds to have a higher morality than the individual and thus be prone to heroics. Following this, le Bon turns his attention to the ideas, reasoning power, and imagination of crowds. Le Bon contends that lofty ideas must be dumbed down before they can appeal to crowds. Le Bon further argues that crowds cannot be substantially influenced by reasoning and that their level of reasoning is entirely inferior to that of the individual. Finally, le Bon contends that crowds are prone to the imagination and they think in images, and that further the marvelous has always had some influence on crowds which is frequently linked to statesmen. Following this, le Bon turns his attention to the religious shape assumed by all the convictions of crowds. Le Bon argues that popular gods have never completely disappeared and that even atheism may take on a religious shape under the influence of crowds. Le Bon considers the religious shape of such historical occurrences as the Reformation, Saint Bartholomew, and the Terror following the French Revolution. Le Bon also considers the religious role of such great religions as Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. The second "Book" of this book is entitled "The Opinions and Beliefs of Crowds". Here, le Bon begins by considering remote factors of the opinions and beliefs of crowds. Le Bon considers such factors as race, traditions, time, political and social institutions, and political and social institutions as they relate to instruction and education regarding the opinions and beliefs of crowds. Following this, le Bon turns his attention to the immediate factors of the opinions and beliefs of crowds. Le Bon considers such factors as images, words, and formulae, illusions, experience, and reason. Next, le Bon considers the leaders of crowds and their means of persuasion. Le Bon begins by arguing that there is an instinctive need of all crowds to obey a leader. Le Bon also considers various characteristics of such leaders. Further, le Bon considers the means of action of the leaders, which he classifies as affirmation, repetition, and contagion. Together these principles explain the actions of crowds under a leader. In addition, le Bon considers the prestige of a leader, arguing that a leader must possess a certain prestige. Le Bon defines prestige and argues that there are different kinds of prestige including acquired prestige and personal prestige, as well as showing how prestige is lost. Following this, le Bon considers limitations of the variability of the beliefs and opinions of crowds. Le Bon considers fixed beliefs of crowds, noting how they have formed, as well as the possibility of changeability of beliefs of crowds, arguing that beliefs of crowds have become more and more in flux and that further the beliefs of crowds tend towards indifference. The third "Book" of this book is entitled "The Classification and Description of the Different Kinds of Crowds". Le Bon begins by considering the classification of crowds into heterogeneous and homogeneous crowds. Le Bon argues that there are different races which constitute crowds and examines the effect of race and civilization in contrast to barbarism. Le Bon further argues that there are different kinds of homogeneous crowds including sects, castes, and classes. Following this, le Bon examines criminal crowds. Le Bon considers their psychology and the role of the unconscious. Le Bon further considers the role of crowds in the September massacre as well as other criminal crowds. Following this, le Bon considers criminal juries as crowds. Le Bon examines the role of juries arguing that they serve a useful purpose and should not be replaced by magistrates. Le Bon examines statistics on juries arguing that their decisions are often superior to those of experts or magistrates in that they are frequently more lenient and less prone to personal vendettas. Following this, le Bon considers electoral crowds. Le Bon points out some inferior points of democracy but notes that it also has some strong points as well. Le Bon notes the role of electoral crowds in the committees of the Revolution as well as the role of universal suffrage. Following this, le Bon ends by considering parliamentary assemblies, noting the roles of leaders and the progressive loss of liberties with the increase of state power. Le Bon ends by reflecting upon the rise and fall of civilizations and the passage into barbarism and relating this to his discussion of crowds.
This book offers a classic study of the crowd psychology. It was an important book for many during the early half of the Twentieth century during a period when totalitarianisms were developing and in which crowds arose led by powerful leaders. This book continues to be important though for what it has to say about the role of the crowd and large groups of people. It is recommended to those who want to understand mass psychology and the role that crowds play in society and politics.