The Psychology of Revolution
by Gustave le Bon
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[4] These pretensions do at least seem to be growing untenable to the more advanced republicans.

"The rage with the socialists'' writes M. Clemenceau, "is to endow with all the virtues, as though by a superhuman reason, the crowd whose reason cannot be much to boast of.'' The famous statesman might say more correctly that reason not only cannot be prominent in the crowd but is practically nonexistent.

Now in what does this entity really consist, this mysterious fetich which revolutionists have revered for more than a century?

It may be decomposed into two distinct categories. The first includes the peasants, traders, and workers of all sorts who need tranquillity and order that they may exercise their calling. This people forms the majority, but a majority which never caused a revolution. Living in laborious silence, it is ignored by the historians.

The second category, which plays a capital part in all national disturbances, consists of a subversive social residue dominated by a criminal mentality. Degenerates of alcoholism and poverty, thieves, beggars, destitute "casuals,'' indifferent workers without employment—these constitute the dangerous bulk of the armies of insurrection.

The fear of punishment prevents many of them from becoming criminals at ordinary times, but they do become criminals as soon as they can exercise their evil instincts without danger.

To this sinister substratum are due the massacres which stain all revolutions.

It was this class which, guided by its leaders, continually invaded the great revolutionary Assemblies. These regiments of disorder had no other ideal than that of massacre, pillage, and incendiarism. Their indifference to theories and principles was complete.

To the elements recruited from the lowest dregs of the populace are added, by way of contagion, a host of idle and indifferent persons who are simply drawn into the movement. They shout because there are men shouting, and revolt because there is a revolt, without having the vaguest idea of the cause of shouting or revolution. The suggestive power of their environment absolutely hypnotises them, and impels them to action.

These noisy and maleficent crowds, the kernel of all insurrections, from antiquity to our own times, are the only crowds known to the orator. To the orator they are the sovereign people. As a matter of fact this sovereign people is principally composed of the lower populace of whom Thiers said:—

"Since the time when Tacitus saw it applaud the crimes of the emperors the vile populace has not changed. These barbarians who swarm at the bottom of societies are always ready to stain the people with every crime, at the beck of every power, and to the dishonour of every cause.''

At no period of history was the role of the lowest elements of the population exercised in such a lasting fashion as in the French Revolution.

The massacres began as soon as the beast was unchained—that is, from 1789, long before the Convention. They were carried out with all possible refinements of cruelty. During the killing of September the prisoners were slowly chopped to bits by sabre- cuts in order to prolong their agonies and amuse the spectators, who experienced the greatest delight before the spectacle of the convulsions of the victims and their shrieks of agony.

Similar scenes were observed all over France, even in the early days of the Revolution, although the foreign war did not excuse them then, nor any other pretext.

From March to September a whole series of burnings, killings, and pillagings drenched all France in blood. Taine cites one hundred and twenty such cases. Rouen, Lyons, Strasbourg, &c., fell into the power of the populace.

The Mayor of Troyes, his eyes destroyed by blows of scissors, was murdered after hours of suffering. The Colonel of Dragoons Belzuce was cut to pieces while living. In many places the hearts of the victims were torn out and carried about the cities on the point of a pike.

Such is the behaviour of the base populace so soon as imprudent hands have broken the network of constraints which binds its ancestral savagery. It meets with every indulgence because it is in the interests of the politicians to flatter it. But let us for a moment suppose the thousands of beings who constitute it condensed into one single being. The personality thus formed would appear as a cruel and narrow and abominable monster, more horrible than the bloodiest tyrants of history.

This impulsive and ferocious people has always been easily dominated so soon as a strong power has opposed it. If its violence is unlimited, so is its servility. All the despotisms have had it for their servant. The Caesars are certain of being acclaimed by it, whether they are named Caligula, Nero, Marat, Robespierre, or Boulanger.

Beside these destructive hordes whose action during revolution is capital, there exists, as we have already remarked, the mass of the true people, which asks only the right to labour. It sometimes benefits by revolutions, but never causes them. The revolutionary theorists know little of it and distrust it, aware of its traditional and conservative basis. The resistant nucleus of a country, it makes the strength and continuity of the latter.

Extremely docile through fear, easily influenced by its leaders, it will momentarily commit every excess while under their influence, but the ancestral inertia of the race will soon take charge again, which is the reason why it so quickly tires of revolution. Its traditional soul quickly incites it to oppose itself to anarchy when the latter goes too far. At such times it seeks the leader who will restore order.

This people, resigned and peaceable, has evidently no very lofty nor complicated political conceptions. Its governmental ideal is always very simple, is something very like dictatorship. This is why, from the times of the Greeks to our own, dictatorship has always followed anarchy. It followed it after the first Revolution, when Bonaparte was acclaimed, and again when, despite opposition, four successive plebiscites raised Louis Napoleon to the head of the republic, ratified his coup d'etat, re-established the Empire, and in 1870, before the war, approved of his rule.

Doubtless in these last instances the people was deceived. But without the revolutionary conspiracies which led to disorder, it would not have been impelled to seek the means of escape therefrom.

The facts recalled in this chapter must not be forgotten if we wish fully to comprehend the various roles of the people during revolution. Its action is considerable, but very unlike that imagined by the legends whose repetition alone constitutes their vitality.





1. Transformations of Personality.

I have dwelt at length elsewhere upon a certain theory of character, without which it is absolutely impossible to understand divers transformations or inconsistencies of conduct which occur at certain moments, notably in time of revolution. Here are the principal points of this theory:

Every individual possesses, besides his habitual mentality, which, when the environment does not alter, is almost constant, various possibilities of character which may be evoked by passing events.

The people who surround us are the creatures of certain circumstances, but not of all circumstances. Our ego consists of the association of innumerable cellular egos, the residues of ancestral personalities. By their combination they form an equilibrium which is fairly permanent when the social environment does not vary. As soon as this environment is considerably modified, as in time of insurrection, this equilibrium is broken, and the dissociated elements constitute, by a fresh aggregation, a new personality, which is manifested by ideas, feelings, and actions very different from those formerly observed in the same individual. Thus it is that during the Terror we see honest bourgeois and peaceful magistrates who were noted for their kindness turned into bloodthirsty fanatics.

Under the influence of environment the old personality may therefore give place to one entirely new. For this reason the actors in great religious and political crises often seem of a different essence to ourselves; yet they do not differ from us; the repetition of the same events would bring back the same men.

Napoleon perfectly understood these possibilities of character when he said, in Saint Helena:—

"It is because I know just how great a part chance plays in our political decisions, that I have always been without prejudices, and very indulgent as to the part men have taken during our disturbances. . . . In time of revolution one can only say what one has done; it would not be wise to say that one could not have done otherwise. . . . Men are difficult to understand if we want to be just. . . . Do they know themselves? Do they account for themselves very clearly? There are virtues and vices of circumstance.''

When the normal personality has been disaggregated under the influence of certain events, how does the new personality form itself? By several means, the most active of which is the acquisition of a strong belief. This orientates all the elements of the understanding, as the magnet collects into regular curves the filings of a magnetic metal.

Thus were formed the personalities observed in times of great crises: the Crusades, the Reformation, the Revolution notably.

At normal times the environment varies little, so that as a rule we see only a single personality in the individuals that surround us. Sometimes, however, it happens that we observe several, which in certain circumstances may replace one another.

These personalities may be contradictory and even inimical. This phenomenon, exceptional under normal conditions, is considerably accentuated in certain pathological conditions. Morbid psychology has recorded several examples of multiple personality in a single subject, such as the cases cited by Morton Prince and Pierre Janet.

In all these variations of personality it is not the intelligence which is modified, but the feelings, whose association forms the character.

2. Elements of Character Predominant in Time of Revolution.

During revolution we see several sentiments developed which are commonly repressed, but to which the destruction of social constraints gives a free vent.

These constraints, consisting of the law, morality, and tradition, are not always completely broken. Some survive the upheaval and serve to some extent to damp the explosion of dangerous sentiments.

The most powerful of these restraints is the soul of the race. This determines a manner of seeing, feeling, and willing common to the majority of the individuals of the same people; it constitutes a hereditary custom, and nothing is more powerful than the ties of custom.

This racial influence limits the variations of a people and determines its destiny within certain limits in spite of all superficial changes.

For example, to take only the instances of history, it would seem that the mentality of France must have varied enormously during a single century. In a few years it passed from the Revolution to Caesarism, returned to the monarchy, effected another Revolution, and then summoned a new Caesar. In reality only the outsides of things had changed.

We cannot insist further here on the limits of national variability, but must now consider the influence of certain affective elements, whose development during revolution contributes to modify individual or collective personalities. In particular I will mention hatred, fear, ambition, jealousy or envy, vanity, and enthusiasm. We observe their influence during several of the upheavals of history, notably during the course of the French Revolution, which will furnish us with most of our examples.

Hatred.—The hatred of persons, institutions, and things which animated the men of the Revolution is one of these affective phenomena which are the more striking the more one studies their psychology. They detested, not only their enemies, but the members of their own party. "If one were to accept unreservedly,'' said a recent writer, "the judgments which they expressed of one another, we should have to conclude that they were all traitors and boasters, all incapable and corrupt, all assassins or tyrants.'' We know with what hatred, scarcely appeased by the death of their enemies, men persecuted the Girondists, Dantonists, Hebertists, Robespierrists, &c.

One of the chief causes of this feeling resided in the fact that these furious sectaries, being apostles in possession of the absolute verity, were unable, like all believers, to tolerate the sight of infidels. A mystic or sentimental certitude is always accompanied by the need of forcing itself on others, is never convinced, and does not shrink from wholesale slaughter when it has the power to commit it.

If the hatreds that divided the men of the Revolution had been of rational origin they would not have lasted long, but, arising from affective and mystic factors, men could neither forget nor forgive. Their sources being identical in the different parties, they manifested themselves on every hand with identical violence.

It has been proved, by means of documents, that the Girondists were no less sanguinary than the Montagnards. They were the first to declare, with Petion, that the vanquished parties should perish. They also, according to M. Aulard, attempted to justify the massacres of September. The Terror must not be considered simply as a means of defence, but as the general process of destruction to which triumphant believers have always treated their detested enemies. Men who can put up with the greatest divergence of ideas cannot tolerate differences of belief.

In religious or political warfare the vanquished can hope for no quarter. From Sulla, who cut the throats of two hundred senators and five or six thousand Romans, to the men who suppressed the Commune, and shot down more than twenty thousand after their victory, this bloody law has never failed. Proved over and over again in the past, it will doubtless be so in the future.

The hatreds of the Revolution did not arise entirely from divergence of belief. Other sentiments—envy, ambition, and self-love—also engendered them. The rivalry of individuals aspiring to power led the chiefs of the various groups in succession to the scaffold.

We must remember, moreover, that the need of division and the hatred resulting therefrom seem to be constituent elements of the Latin mind. They cost our Gaulish ancestors their independence, and had already struck Caesar.

"No city,'' he said, "but was divided into two factions; no canton, no village, no house in which the spirit of party did not breathe. It was very rarely that a year went by without a city taking up arms to attack or repulse its neighbours.''

As man has only recently entered upon the age of knowledge, and has always hitherto been guided by sentiments and beliefs, we may conceive the vast importance of hatred as a factor of his history.

Commandant Colin, professor at the College of War, remarks in the following terms on the importance of this feeling during certain wars:—

"In war more than at any other time there is no better inspiring force than hatred; it was hatred that made Blucher victorious over Napoleon. Analyse the most wonderful manoeuvres, the most decisive operations, and if they are not the work of an exceptional man, a Frederick or a Napoleon, you will find they are inspired by passion more than by calculation. What would the war of 1870 have been without the hatred which we bore the Germans?''

The writer might have added that the intense hatred of the Japanese for the Russians, who had so humiliated them, might be classed among the causes of their success. The Russian soldiers, ignorant of the very existence of the Japanese, had no animosity against them, which was one of the reasons of their failure.

There was assuredly a good deal of talk of fraternity at the time of the Revolution, and there is even more to-day. Pacificism, humanitarianism, and solidarity have become catchwords of the advanced parties, but we know how profound are the hatreds concealed beneath these terms, and what dangers overhang our modern society. Fear.—Fear plays almost as large a part in revolutions as hatred. During the French Revolution there were many examples of great individual courage and many exhibitions of collective cowardice.

Facing the scaffold, the men of the Convention were always brave in the extreme; but before the threats of the rioters who invaded the Assembly they constantly exhibited an excessive pusillanimity, obeying the most absurd injunctions, as we shall see if we re-read the history of the revolutionary Assemblies.

All the forms of fear were observed at this period. One of the most widespread was the fear of appearing moderate. Members of the Assemblies, public prosecutors, representatives "on mission,'' judges of the revolutionary tribunals, &c., all sought to appear more advanced than their rivals. Fear was one of the principal elements of the crimes committed at this period. If by some miracle it could have been eliminated from the revolutionary Assemblies, their conduct would have been quite other than it was, and the Revolution itself would have taken a very different direction.

Ambition, Envy, Vanity, &c.—In normal times the influence of these various affective elements is forcibly contained by social necessities. Ambition, for instance, is necessarily limited in a hierarchical form of society. Although the soldier does sometimes become a general, it is only after a long term of service. In time of revolution, on the other hand, there is no need to wait. Every one may reach the upper ranks almost immediately, so that all ambitions are violently aroused. The humblest man believes himself fitted for the highest employments, and by this very fact his vanity grows out of all measure.

All the passions being more or less aroused, including ambition and vanity, we see the development of jealousy and envy of those who have succeeded more quickly than others.

The effect of jealousy, always important in times of revolution, was especially so during the great French Revolution. Jealousy of the nobility constituted one of its most important factors. The middle classes had increased in capacity and wealth, to the point of surpassing the nobility. Although they mingled with the nobles more and more, they felt, none the less, that they were held at a distance, and this they keenly resented. This frame of mind had unconsciously made the bourgeoisie keen supporters of the philosophic doctrine of equality.

Wounded self-love and jealousy were thus the causes of hatreds that we can scarcely conceive today, when the social influence of the nobility is so small. Many members of the Convention—Carrier, Marat, and others—remembered with anger that they had once occupied subordinate positions in the establishments of great nobles. Mme. Roland was never able to forget that, when she and her mother were invited to the house of a great lady under the ancien regime, they had been sent to dine in the servants' quarters.

The philosopher Rivarol has very well described in the following passage, already cited by Taine, the influence of wounded self- love and jealousy upon the revolutionary hatreds:—

"It is not,'' he writes, "the taxes, nor the lettres de cachet, nor any of the other abuses of authority; it is not the sins of the intendants, nor the long and ruinous delays of justice, that has most angered the nation; it is the prejudices of the nobility for which it has exhibited the greatest hatred. What proves this clearly is the fact that it is the bourgeois, the men of letters, the men of money, in fact all those who are jealous of the nobility, who have raised the poorer inhabitants of the cities against them, and the peasants in the country districts.''

This very true statement partly justifies the saying of Napoleon:

"Vanity made the Revolution; liberty was only the pretext.''

Enthusiasm.—The enthusiasm of the founders of the Revolution equalled that of the apostles of the faith of Mohammed. And it was really a religion that the bourgeois of the first Assembly thought to found. They thought to have destroyed an old world, and to have built a new one upon its ruins. Never did illusion more seductive fire the hearts of men. Equality and fraternity, proclaimed by the new dogmas, were to bring the reign of eternal happiness to all the peoples. Man had broken for ever with a past of barbarity and darkness. The regenerated world would in future be illuminated by the lucid radiance of pure reason. On all hands the most brilliant oratorical formulae saluted the expected dawn.

That this enthusiasm was so soon replaced by violence was due to the fact that the awakening was speedy and terrible. One can readily conceive the indignant fury with which the apostles of the Revolution attacked the daily obstacles opposed to the realisation of their dreams. They had sought to reject the past, to forget tradition, to make man over again. But the past reappeared incessantly, and men refused to change. The reformers, checked in their onward march, would not give in. They sought to impose by force a dictatorship which speedily made men regret the system abolished, and finally led to its return.

It is to be remarked that although the enthusiasm of the first days did not last in the revolutionary Assemblies, it survived very much longer in the armies, and constituted their chief strength. To tell the truth, the armies of the Revolution were republican long before France became so, and remained republican long after France had ceased to be so.

The variations of character considered in this chapter, being conditioned by certain common aspirations and identical changes of environment, finally became concrete in a small number of fairly homogeneous mentalities. Speaking only of the more characteristic, we may refer them to four types: the Jacobin, mystic, revolutionary, and criminal mentalities.



1. Classification of Mentalities predominant in Time of Revolution.

The classifications without which the study of the sciences is impossible must necessarily establish the discontinuous in the continuous, and for that reason are to a certain extent artificial. But they are necessary, since the continuous is only accessible in the form of the discontinuous.

To create broad distinctions between the various mentalities observable in time of revolution, as we are about to do, is obviously to separate elements which encroach upon one another, which are fused or superimposed. We must resign ourselves to losing a little in exactitude in order to gain in lucidity. The fundamental types enumerated at the end of the preceding chapter, and which we are about to describe, synthetise groups which would escape analysis were we to attempt to study them in all their complexity.

We have shown that man is influenced by different logics, which under normal conditions exist in juxtaposition, without mutually influencing one another. Under the action of various events they enter into mutual conflict, and the irreducible differences which divide them are visibly manifested, involving considerable individual and social upheavals.

Mystic logic, which we shall presently consider as it appears in the Jacobin mind, plays a very important part. But it is not alone in its action. The other forms of logic—affective logic, collective logic, and rational logic—may predominate according to circumstances.

2. The Mystic Mentality.

Leaving aside for the moment the influence of affective, rational, and collective logic, we will occupy ourselves solely with the considerable part played by the mystic elements which have prevailed in so many revolutions, and notably in the French Revolution.

The chief characteristic of the mystic temperament consists in the attribution of a mysterious power to superior beings or forces, which are incarnated in the form of idols, fetiches, words, or formulae.

The mystic spirit is at the bottom of all the religious and most political beliefs. These latter would often vanish could we deprive them of the mystic elements which are their chief support.

Grafted on the sentiments and passionate impulses which it directs, mystic logic constitutes the might of the great popular movements. Men who would be by no means ready to allow themselves to be killed for the best of reasons will readily sacrifice their lives to a mystic ideal which has become an object of adoration.

The principles of the Revolution speedily inspired a wave of mystic enthusiasm analogous to those provoked by the various religious beliefs which had preceded it. All they did was to change the orientation of a mental ancestry which the centuries had solidified.

So there is nothing astonishing in the savage zeal of the men of the Convention. Their mystic mentality was the same as that of the Protestants at the time of the Reformation. The principal heroes of the Terror—Couthon, Saint-Just, Robespierre, &c.—were Apostles. Like Polyeuctes, destroying the altars of the false gods to propagate his faith, they dreamed of converting the globe. Their enthusiasm spilled itself over the earth. Persuaded that their magnificent formulae were sufficient to overturn thrones, they did not hesitate to declare war upon kings. And as a strong faith is always superior to a doubtful faith, they victoriously faced all Europe.

The mystic spirit of the leaders of the Revolution was betrayed in the least details of their public life. Robespierre, convinced that he was supported by the Almighty, assured his hearers in a speech that the Supreme Being had "decreed the Republic since the beginning of time.'' In his quality of High Pontiff of a State religion he made the Convention vote a decree declaring that "the French People recognises the existence of the Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul.'' At the festival of this Supreme Being, seated on a kind of throne, he preached a lengthy sermon.

The Jacobin Club, directed by Robespierre, finally assumed all the functions of a council. There Maximilien proclaimed "the idea of a Great Being who watches over oppressed innocence and who punishes triumphant crime.''

All the heretics who criticised the Jacobin orthodoxy were excommunicated—that is, were sent to the Revolutionary Tribunal, which they left only for the scaffold.

The mystic mentality of which Robespierre was the most celebrated representative did not die with him. Men of identical mentality are to be found among the French politicians of to-day. The old religious beliefs no longer rule their minds, but they are the creatures of political creeds which they would very soon force on others, as did Robespierre, if they had the chance of so doing. Always ready to kill if killing would spread their faith, the mystics of all ages have employed the same means of persuasion as soon as they have become the masters.

It is therefore quite natural that Robespierre should still have many admirers. Minds moulded like his are to be met with in their thousands. His conceptions were not guillotined with him. Old as humanity, they will only disappear with the last believer.

This mystic aspect of all revolutions has escaped the majority of the historians. They will persist for a long time yet in trying to explain by means of rational logic a host of phenomena which have nothing to do with reason. I have already cited a passage from the history of MM. Lavisse and Rambaud, in which the Reformation is explained as "the result of the free individual reflections suggested to simple folk by an extremely pious conscience, and a bold and courageous reason.''

Such movements are never comprehended by those who imagine that their origin is rational. Political or religious, the beliefs which have moved the world possess a common origin and follow the same laws. They are formed, not by the reason, but more often contrary to reason. Buddhism, Christianity, Islamism, the Reformation, sorcery, Jacobinism, socialism, spiritualism, &c., seem very different forms of belief, but they have, I repeat, identical mystic and affective bases, and obey forms of logic which have no affinity with rational logic. Their might resides precisely in the fact that reason has as little power to create them as to transform them.

The mystic mentality of our modern political apostles is strongly marked in an article dealing with one of our recent ministers, which I cite from a leading journal:

"One may ask into what category does M. A——fall? Could we say, for instance, that he belongs to the group of unbelievers? Far from it! Certainly M. A—— has not adopted any positive faith; certainly he curses Rome and Geneva, rejecting all the traditional dogmas and all the known Churches. But if he makes a clean sweep it is in order to found his own Church on the ground so cleared, a Church more dogmatic than all the rest; and his own inquisition, whose brutal intolerance would have no reason to envy the most notorious of Torquemadas.

" 'We cannot,' he says, 'allow such a thing as scholastic neutrality. We demand lay instruction in all its plenitude, and are consequently the enemies of educational liberty.' If he does not suggest erecting the stake and the pyre, it is only on account of the evolution of manners, which he is forced to take into account to a certain extent, whether he will or no. But, not being able to commit men to the torture, he invokes the secular arm to condemn their doctrines to death. This is exactly the point of view of the great inquisitors. It is the same attack upon thought. This freethinker has so free a spirit that every philosophy he does not accept appears to him, not only ridiculous and grotesque, but criminal. He flatters himself that he alone is in possession of the absolute truth. Of this he is so entirely sure that everyone who contradicts him seems to him an execrable monster and a public enemy. He does not suspect for a moment that after all his personal views are only hypotheses, and that he is all the more laughable for claiming a Divine right for them precisely because they deny divinity. Or, at least, they profess to do so; but they re-establish it in another shape, which immediately makes one regret the old. M. A—— is a sectary of the goddess Reason, of whom he has made a Moloch, an oppressive deity hungry for sacrifice. No more liberty of thought for any one except for himself and his friends; such is the free thought of M. A——. The outlook is truly attractive. But perhaps too many idols have been cast down during the last few centuries for men to bow before this one.''

We must hope for the sake of liberty that these gloomy fanatics will never finally become our masters.

Given the silent power of reason over mystic beliefs, it is quite useless to seek to discuss, as is so often done, the rational value of revolutionary or political ideas. Only their influence can interest us. It matters little that the theories of the supposed equality of men, the original goodness of mankind, the possibility of re-making society by means of laws, have been given the lie by observation and experience. These empty illusions must be counted among the most potent motives of action that humanity has known.

3. The Jacobin Mentality.

Although the term "Jacobin mentality'' does not really belong to any true classification, I employ it here because it sums up a clearly defined combination which constitutes a veritable psychological species.

This mentality dominates the men of the French Revolution, but is not peculiar to them, as it still represents one of the most active elements in our politics.

The mystic mentality which we have already considered is an essential factor of the Jacobin mind, but it is not in itself enough to constitute that mind. Other elements, which we shall now examine, must be added.

The Jacobins do not in the least suspect their mysticism. On the contrary, they profess to be guided solely by pure reason. During the Revolution they invoked reason incessantly, and considered it as their only guide to conduct.

The majority of historians have adopted this rationalist conception of the Jacobin mind, and Taine fell into the same error. It is in the abuse of rationalism that he seeks the origin of a great proportion of the acts of the Jacobins. The pages in which he has dealt with the subject contain many truths, however, and as they are in other ways very remarkable, I reproduce the most important passages here:—

"Neither exaggerated self-love nor dogmatic reasoning is rare in the human species. In all countries these two roots of the Jacobin spirit subsist, secret and indestructible. . . . At twenty years of age, when a young man is entering into the world, his reason is stimulated simultaneously with his pride. In the first place, whatever society he may move in, it is contemptible to pure reason, for it has not been constructed by a philosophic legislator according to a principle, but successive generations have arranged it according to their multiple and ever-changing needs. It is not the work of logic, but of history, and the young reasoner shrugs his shoulders at the sight of this old building, whose site is arbitrary, whose architecture is incoherent, and whose inconveniences are obvious. . . . The majority of young people, above all those who have their way to make, are more or less Jacobin on leaving college. . . . Jacobinism is born of social decomposition just as mushrooms are born of a fermenting soil. Consider the authentic monuments of its thought—the speeches of Robespierre and Saint-Just, the debates of the Legislative Assembly and the Convention, the harangues, addresses, and reports of Girondists and Montagnards. Never did men speak so much to say so little; the empty verbiage and swollen emphasis swamp any truth there may be beneath their monotony and their turgidity. The Jacobin is full of respect for the phantoms of his reasoning brain; in his eyes they are more real than living men, and their suffrage is the only suffrage he recognises—he will march onward in all sincerity at the head of a procession of imaginary followers. The millions of metaphysical wills which he has created in the image of his own will sustain him by their unanimous assent, and he will project outwards, like a chorus of triumph and acclamation, the inward echo of his own voice.''

While admiring Taine's description, I think he has not exactly grasped the psychology of the Jacobin.

The mind of the true Jacobin, at the time of the Revolution as now, was composed of elements which we must analyse if we are to understand its function.

This analysis will show in the first place that the Jacobin is not a rationalist, but a believer. Far from building his belief on reason, he moulds reason to his belief, and although his speeches are steeped in rationalism he employs it very little in his thoughts and his conduct.

A Jacobin who reasoned as much as he is accused of reasoning would be sometimes accessible to the voice of reason. Now, observation proves, from the time of the Revolution to our own days, that the Jacobin is never influenced by reasoning, however just, and it is precisely here that his strength resides.

And why is he not accessible to reason? Simply because his vision of things, always extremely limited, does not permit of his resisting the powerful and passionate impulses which guide him.

These two elements, feeble reason and strong passions, would not of themselves constitute the Jacobin mind. There is another.

Passion supports convictions, but hardly ever creates them. Now, the true Jacobin has forcible convictions. What is to sustain them? Here the mystic elements whose action we have already studied come into play. The Jacobin is a mystic who has replaced the old divinities by new gods. Imbued with the power of words and formulae, he attributes to these a mysterious power. To serve these exigent divinities he does not shrink from the most violent measures. The laws voted by our modern Jacobins furnish a proof of this fact.

The Jacobin mentality is found especially in narrow and passionate characters. It implies, in fact, a narrow and rigid mind, inaccessible to all criticism and to all considerations but those of faith.

The mystic and affective elements which dominate the mind of the Jacobin condemn him to an extreme simplicity. Grasping only the superficial relations of things, nothing prevents him from taking for realities the chimerical images which are born of his imagination. The sequence of phenomena and their results escape him. He never raises his eyes from his dream.

As we may see, it is not by the development of his logical reason that the Jacobin exceeds. He possesses very little logic of this kind, and therefore he often becomes dangerous. Where a superior man would hesitate or halt the Jacobin, who has placed his feeble reason at the service of his impulses, goes forward with certainty.

So that although the Jacobin is a great reasoner, this does not mean that he is in the least guided by reason. When he imagines he is being led by reason it is really his passions and his mysticism that lead him. Like all those who are convinced and hemmed in by the walls of faith, he can never escape therefrom.

A true aggressive theologian, he is astonishingly like the disciples of Calvin described in a previous chapter. Hypnotised by their faith, nothing could deter them from their object. All those who contradicted their articles of faith were considered worthy of death. They too seemed to be powerful reasoners. Ignorant, like the Jacobins, of the secret forces that led them, they believed that reason was their sole guide, while in reality they were the slaves of mysticism and passion.

The truly rationalistic Jacobin would be incomprehensible, and would merely make reason despair. The passionate and mystical Jacobin is, on the contrary, easily intelligible.

With these three elements—a very weak reasoning power, very strong passions, and an intense mysticism—we have the true psychological components of the mind of the Jacobin.



1. The Revolutionary Mentality.

We have just seen that the mystic elements are one of the components of the Jacobin mentality. We shall now see that they enter into another form of mentality which is also clearly defined, the revolutionary mentality.

In all ages societies have contained a certain number of restless spirits, unstable and discontented, ready to rebel against any established order of affairs. They are actuated by the mere love of revolt, and if some magic power could realise all their desires they would simply revolt again.

This special mentality often results from a faulty adaptation of the individual to his surroundings, or from an excess of mysticism, but it may also be merely a question of temperament or arise from pathological disturbances.

The need of revolt presents very different degrees of intensity, from simple discontent expressed in words directed against men and things to the need of destroying them. Sometimes the individual turns upon himself the revolutionary frenzy that he cannot otherwise exercise. Russia is full of these madmen, who, not content with committing arson or throwing bombs at hazard into the crowd, finally mutilate themselves, like the Skopzis and other analogous sects.

These perpetual rebels are generally highly suggestible beings, whose mystic mentality is obsessed by fixed ideas. Despite the apparent energy indicated by their actions they are really weak characters, and are incapable of mastering themselves sufficiently to resist the impulses that rule them. The mystic spirit which animates them furnishes pretexts for their violence, and enables them to regard themselves as great reformers.

In normal times the rebels which every society contains are restrained by the laws, by their environment—in short, by all the usual social constraints, and therefore remain undetected. But as soon as a time of disturbance begins these constraints grow weaker, and the rebel can give a free reign to his instincts. He then becomes the accredited leader of a movement. The motive of the revolution matters little to him; he will give his life indifferently for the red flag or the white, or for the liberation of a country which he has heard vaguely mentioned.

The revolutionary spirit is not always pushed to the extremes which render it dangerous. When, instead of deriving from affective or mystic impulses, it has an intellectual origin, it may become a source of progress. It is thanks to those spirits who are sufficiently independent to be intellectually revolutionary that a civilisation is able to escape from the yoke of tradition and habit when this becomes too heavy. The sciences, arts, and industries especially have progressed by the aid of such men. Galileo, Lavoisier, Darwin, and Pasteur were such revolutionaries.

Although it is not necessary that a nation should possess any large number of such spirits, it is very necessary that it should possess some. Without them men would still be living in caves.

The revolutionary audacity which results in discoveries implies very rare faculties. It necessitates notably an independence of mind sufficient to escape from the influence of current opinions, and a judgement that can grasp, under superficial analogies, the hidden realities. This form of revolutionary spirit is creative, while that examined above is destructive.

The revolutionary mentality may, therefore, be compared to certain physiological states in the life of the individual which are normally useful, but which, when exaggerated, take a pathological form which is always hurtful.

2. The Criminal Mentality.

All the civilised societies inevitably drag behind them a residue of degenerates, of the unadapted, of persons affected by various taints. Vagabonds, beggars, fugitives from justice, thieves, assassins, and starving creatures that live from day to day, may constitute the criminal population of the great cities. In ordinary times these waste products of civilisation are more or less restrained by the police. During revolution nothing restrains them, and they can easily gratify their instincts to murder and plunder. In the dregs of society the revolutionaries of all times are sure of finding recruits. Eager only to kill and to plunder, little matters to them the cause they are sworn to defend. If the chances of murder and pillage are better in the party attacked, they will promptly change their colours.

To these criminals, properly so called, the incurable plague of all societies, we must add the class of semi-criminals. Wrongdoers on occasion, they never rebel so long as the fear of the established order restrains them, but as soon as it weakens they enrol themselves in the army of revolution.

These two categories—habitual and occasional criminals—form an army of disorder which is fit for nothing but the creation of disorder. All the revolutionaries, all the founders of religious or political leagues, have constantly counted on their support.

We have already stated that this population, with its criminal mentality, exercised a considerable influence during the French Revolution. It always figured in the front rank of the riots which occurred almost daily. Certain historians have spoken with respect and emotion of the way in which the sovereign people enforced its will upon the Convention, invading the hall armed with pikes, the points of which were sometimes decorated with newly severed heads. If we analyse the elements composing the pretended delegations of the sovereign people, we shall find that, apart from a small number of simple souls who submitted to the impulses of the leaders, the mass was almost entirely formed of the bandits of whom I have been speaking. To them were due the innumerable murders of which the massacres of September and the killing of the Princesse de Lamballe were merely typical.

They terrorised all the great Assemblies, from the Constituent Assembly to the Convention, and for ten years they helped to ravage France. If by some miracle this army of criminals could have been eliminated, the progress of the Revolution would have been very different. They stained it with blood from its dawn to its decline. Reason could do nothing with them but they could do much against reason.



1. General Characteristics of the Crowd.

Whatever their origin, revolutions do not produce their full effects until they have penetrated the soul of the multitude. They therefore represent a consequence of the psychology of crowds.

Although I have studied collective psychology at length in another volume, I must here recall its principal laws.

Man, as part of a multitude, is a very different being from the same man as an isolated individual. His conscious individuality vanishes in the unconscious personality of the crowd.

Material contact is not absolutely necessary to produce in the individual the mentality of the crowd. Common passions and sentiments, provoked by certain events, are often sufficient to create it.

The collective mind, momentarily formed, represents a very special kind of aggregate. Its chief peculiarity is that it is entirely dominated by unconscious elements, and is subject to a peculiar collective logic.

Among the other characteristics of crowds, we must note their infinite credulity and exaggerated sensibility, their short- sightedness, and their incapacity to respond to the influences of reason. Affirmation, contagion, repetition, and prestige constitute almost the only means of persuading them. Reality and experience have no effect upon them. The multitude will admit anything; nothing is impossible in the eyes of the crowd.

By reason of the extreme sensibility of crowds, their sentiments, good or bad, are always exaggerated. This exaggeration increases still further in times of revolution. The least excitement will then lead the multitude to act with the utmost fury. Their credulity, so great even in the normal state, is still further increased; the most improbable statements are accepted. Arthur Young relates that when he visited the springs near Clermont, at the time of the French Revolution, his guide was stopped by the people, who were persuaded that he had come by order of the Queen to mine and blow up the town. The most horrible tales concerning the Royal Family were circulated, depicting it as a nest of ghouls and vampires.

These various characteristics show that man in the crowd descends to a very low degree in the scale of civilisation. He becomes a savage, with all a savage's faults and qualities, with all his momentary violence, enthusiasm, and heroism. In the intellectual domain a crowd is always inferior to the isolated unit. In the moral and sentimental domain it may be his superior. A crowd will commit a crime as readily as an act of abnegation.

Personal characteristics vanish in the crowd, which exerts an extraordinary influence upon the individuals which form it. The miser becomes generous, the sceptic a believer, the honest man a criminal, the coward a hero. Examples of such transformations abounded during the great Revolution.

As part of a jury or a parliament, the collective man renders verdicts or passes laws of which he would never have dreamed in his isolated condition.

One of the most notable consequences of the influence of a collectivity upon the individuals who compose it is the unification of their sentiments and wills. This psychological unity confers a remarkable force upon crowds.

The formation of such a mental unity results chiefly from the fact that in a crowd gestures and actions are extremely contagious. Acclamations of hatred, fury, or love are immediately approved and repeated.

What is the origin of these common sentiments, this common will? They are propagated by contagion, but a point of departure is necessary before this contagion can take effect. Without a leader the crowd is an amorphous entity incapable of action.

A knowledge of the laws relating to the psychology of crowds is indispensable to the interpretation of the elements of our Revolution, and to a comprehension of the conduct of revolutionary assemblies, and the singular transformations of the individuals who form part of them. Pushed by the unconscious forces of the collective soul, they more often than not say what they did not intend, and vote what they would not have wished to vote.

Although the laws of collective psychology have sometimes been divined instinctively by superior statesmen, the majority of Governments have not understood and do not understand them. It is because they do not understand them that so many of them have fallen so easily. When we see the facility with which certain Governments were overthrown by an insignificant riot—as happened in the case of the monarchy of Louis-Philippe—the dangers of an ignorance of collective psychology are evident. The marshal in command of the troops in 1848, which were more than sufficient to defend the king, certainly did not understand that the moment he allowed the crowd to mingle with the troops the latter, paralysed by suggestion and contagion, would cease to do their duty. Neither did he know that as the multitude is extremely sensible to prestige it needs a great display of force to impress it, and that such a display will at once suppress hostile demonstrations. He was equally ignorant of the fact that all gatherings should be dispersed immediately. All these things have been taught by experience, but in 1848 these lessons had not been grasped. At the time of the great Revolution the psychology of crowds was even less understood.

2. How the Stability of the Racial Mind limits the Oscillations of the Mind of the Crowd.

A people can in a sense be likened to a crowd. It possesses certain characteristics, but the oscillations of these characteristics are limited by the soul or mind of the race. The mind of the race has a fixity unknown to the transitory mind of the crowd.

When a people possesses an ancestral soul established by a long past the soul of the crowd is always dominated thereby.

A people differs from a crowd also in that it is composed of a collection of groups, each having different interests and passions. In a crowd properly so-called—a popular assembly, for example—there are unities which may belong to very different social categories.

A people sometimes seems as mobile as a crowd, but we must not forget that behind its mobility, its enthusiasms, its violence and destructiveness, the extremely tenacious and conservative instincts of the racial mind persist. The history of the Revolution and the century which has followed shows how the conservative spirit finally overcomes the spirit of destruction. More than one system of government which the people has shattered has been restored by the people.

It is not as easy to work upon the mind of the people—that is, the mind of the race—as on the mind of a crowd. The means of action are indirect and slower (journals, conferences, speeches, books, &c.). The elements of persuasion always come under the headings already given: affirmation, repetition, prestige, and contagion.

Mental contagion may affect a whole people instantaneously, but more often it operates slowly, creeping from group to group. Thus was the Reformation propagated in France.

A people is far less excitable than a crowd; but certain events— national insults, threats of invasion, &c.—may arouse it instantly. Such a phenomenon was observed on several occasions during the Revolution, notably at the time of the insolent manifesto issued by the Duke of Brunswick. The Duke knew little indeed of the psychology of the French race when he proffered his threats. Not only did he considerably prejudice the cause of Louis XVI.; but he also damaged his own, since his intervention raised from the soil an army eager to fight him.

This sudden explosion of feeling throughout a whole race has been observed in all nations. Napoleon did not understand the power of such explosions when he invaded Spain and Russia. One may easily disaggregate the facile mind of a crowd, but one can do nothing before the permanent soul of a race. Certainly the Russian peasant is a very indifferent being, gross and narrow by nature, yet at the first news of invasion he was transformed. One may judge of this fact on reading a letter written by Elizabeth, wife of the Emperor Alexander I.

"From the moment when Napoleon had crossed our frontiers it was as though an electric spark had spread through all Russia; and if the immensity of its area had made it possible for the news to penetrate simultaneously to every corner of the Empire a cry of indignation would have arisen so terrible that I believe it would have resounded to the ends of the earth. As Napoleon advances this feeling is growing yet stronger. Old men who have lost all or nearly all their goods are saying: 'We shall find a way of living. Anything is preferable to a shameful peace.' Women all of whose kin are in the army regard the dangers they are running as secondary, and fear nothing but peace. Happily this peace, which would be the death-warrant of Russia, will not be negotiated; the Emperor does not conceive of such an idea, and even if he would he could not. This is the heroic side of our position.''

The Empress describes to her mother the two following traits, which give some idea of the degree of resistance of which the soul of the Russian is capable:—

"The Frenchmen had caught some unhappy peasants in Moscow, whom they thought to force to serve in their ranks, and in order that they should not be able to escape they branded their hands as one brands horses in the stud. One of them asked what this mark meant; he was told it signified that he was a French soldier. 'What! I am a soldier of the Emperor of the French!' he said. And immediately he took his hatchet, cut off his hand, and threw it at the feet of those present, saying, 'Take it—there's your mark!'

"At Moscow, too, the French had taken a score of peasants of whom they wished to make an example in order to frighten the villagers, who were picking off the French foraging parties and were making war as well as the detachments of regular troops. They ranged them against a wall and read their sentence in Russian. They waited for them to beg for mercy: instead of that they took farewell of one another and made their sign of the cross. The French fired on the first of them; they waited for the rest to beg for pardon in their terror, and to promise to change their conduct. They fired on the second, and on the third, and so on all the twenty, without a single one having attempted to implore the clemency of the enemy. Napoleon has not once had the pleasure of profaning this word in Russia.''

Among the characteristics of the popular mind we must mention that in all peoples and all ages it has been saturated with mysticism. The people will always be convinced that superior beings—divinities, Governments, or great men—have the power to change things at will. This mystic side produces an intense need of adoration. The people must have a fetich, either a man or a doctrine. This is why, when threatened with anarchy, it calls for a Messiah to save it.

Like the crowd, but more slowly, the people readily passes from adoration to hatred. A man may be the hero of the people at one period, and finally earn its curses. These variations of popular opinion concerning political personalities may be observed in all times. The history of Cromwell furnishes us with a very curious example.[5]

[5] After having overthrown a dynasty and refused a crown he was buried like a king among kings. Two years later his body was torn from the tomb, and his head, cut off by the executioner, was exposed above the gate of the House of Parliament. A little while ago a statue was raised to him. The old anarchist turned autocrat now figures in the gallery of demigods.

4. The Role of the Leader in Revolutionary Movements.

All the varieties of crowds—homogeneous and heterogeneous, assemblies, peoples, clubs, &c.—are, as we have often repeated, aggregates incapable of unity and action so long as they find no master to lead them.

I have shown elsewhere, making use of certain physiological experiments, that the unconscious collective mind of the crowd seems bound up with the mind of the leader. The latter gives it a single will and imposes absolute obedience.

The leader acts especially through suggestion. His success depends on his fashion of provoking this suggestion. Many experiments have shown to what point a collectivity may be subjected to suggestion.[6]

[6] Among the numerous experiments made to prove this fact one of the most remarkable was performed on the pupils of his class by Professor Glosson and published in the Revue Scientifique for October 28, 1899.

"I prepared a bottle filled with distilled water carefully wrapped in cotton and packed in a box. After several other experiments I stated that I wished to measure the rapidity with which an odour would diffuse itself through the air, and asked those present to raise their hands the moment they perceived the odour. . . . I took out the bottle and poured the water on the cotton, turning my head away during the operation, then took up a stop-watch and awaited the result. . . . I explained that I was absolutely sure that no one present had ever smelt the odour of the chemical composition I had spilt. . . . At the end of fifteen seconds the majority of those in front had held up their hands, and in forty seconds the odour had reached the back of the hall by fairly regular waves. About three-quarters of those present declared that they perceived the odour. A larger number would doubtless have succumbed to suggestion, if at the end of a minute I had not been forced to stop the experiment, some of those in the front rows being unpleasantly affected by the odour, and wishing to leave the hall.''

According to the suggestions of the leaders, the multitude will be calm, furious, criminal, or heroic. These various suggestions may sometimes appear to present a rational aspect, but they will only appear to be reasonable. A crowd is in reality inaccessible to reason; the only ideas capable of influencing it will always be sentiments evoked in the form of images.

The history of the Revolution shows on every page how easily the multitude follows the most contradictory impulses given by its different leaders. We see it applaud just as vigorously at the triumph of the Girondists, the Hebertists, the Dantonists, and the Terrorists as at their successive downfalls. One may be quite sure, also, that the crowd understood nothing of these events.

At a distance one can only confusedly perceive the part played by the leaders, for they commonly work in the shade. To grasp this clearly we must study them in contemporary events. We shall then see how readily the leader can provoke the most violent popular movements. We are not thinking here of the strikes of the postmen or railway men, in which the discontent of the employees might intervene, but of events in which the crowd was not in the least interested. Such, for example, was the popular rising provoked by a few Socialist leaders amidst the Parisian populace on the morrow of the execution of Ferrer, in Spain. The French crowd had never heard of Ferrer. In Spain his execution was almost unnoticed. In Paris the incitements of a few leaders sufficed to hurl a regular popular army upon the Spanish Embassy, with the intention of burning it. Part of the garrison had to be employed to protect it. Energetically repulsed, the assailants contented themselves with sacking a few shops and building some barricades.

At the same time, the leaders gave another proof of their influence. Finally understanding that the burning of a foreign embassy might be extremely dangerous, they ordered a pacific demonstration for the following day, and were as faithfully obeyed as if they had ordered the most violent riot. No example could better show the importance of leaders and the submission of the crowd

The historians who, from Michelet to M. Aulard, have represented the revolutionary crowd as having acted on its own initiative, without leaders, do not comprehend its psychology.



1. Psychological Characteristics of the great Revolutionary Assemblies.

A great political assembly, a parliament for example, is a crowd, but a crowd which sometimes fails in effectual action on account of the contrary sentiments of the hostile groups composing it.

The presence of these groups, actuated by different interests, must make us consider an assembly as formed of superimposed and heterogeneous crowds, each obeying its particular leaders. The law of the mental unity of crowds is manifested only in each group, and it is only as a result of exceptional circumstances that the different groups act with a single intention.

Each group in an assembly represents a single being. The individuals contributing to the formation of this being are no longer themselves, and will unhesitatingly vote against their convictions and their wishes. On the eve of the day when Louis XVI. was to be condemned Vergniaud protested with indignation against the suggestion that he should vote for his death; but he did so vote on the following day.

The action of a group consists chiefly in fortifying hesitating opinions. All feeble individual convictions become confirmed upon becoming collective.

Leaders of great repute or unusual violence can sometimes, by acting on all the groups of an assembly, make them a single crowd. The majority of the members of the Convention enacted measures entirely contrary to their opinions under the influence of a very small number of such leaders.

Collectivities have always given way before active sectaries. The history of the revolutionary Assemblies shows how pusillanimous they were, despite the boldness of their language respecting kings, before the leaders of the popular riots. The invasion of a band of energumens commanded by an imperious leader was enough to make them vote then and there the most absurd and contradictory measures.

An assembly, having the characteristics of a crowd, will, like a crowd, be extreme in its sentiments. Excessive in its violence, it will be excessive in its cowardice. In general it will be insolent to the weak and servile before the strong.

We remember the fearful humility of the Parliament when the youthful Louis XIV. entered, whip in hand, to pronounce his brief speech. We know with what increasing impertinence the Constituent Assembly treated Louis XVI. as it felt that he was becoming defenceless. Finally, we recall the terror of the Convention under the reign of Robespierre.

This characteristic of assemblies being a general law, the convocation of an assembly by a sovereign when his power is failing must be regarded as a gross error in psychology. The assembling of the States General cost the life of Louis XVI. It all but lost Henry III. his throne, when, obliged to leave Paris, he had the unhappy idea of assembling the Estates at Blois. Conscious of the weakness of the king, the Estates at once spoke as masters of the situation, modifying taxes, dismissing officials, and claiming that their decisions should have the force of law.

This progressive exaggeration of sentiments was plainly demonstrated in all the assemblies of the Revolution. The Constituent Assembly, at first extremely respectful toward the royal authority and its prerogatives, finally proclaimed itself a sovereign Assembly, and treated Louis XVI as a mere official. The Convention, after relatively moderate beginnings, ended with a preliminary form of the Terror, when judgments were still surrounded by certain legal guarantees: then, quickly increasing its powers, it enacted a law depriving all accused persons of the right of defence, permitting their condemnation upon the mere suspicion of being suspect. Yielding more and more to its sanguinary frenzy, it finally decimated itself. Girondists, Hebertists, Dantonists, and Robespierrists successively ended their careers at the hands of the executioner.

This exaggeration of the sentiments of assemblies explains why they were always so little able to control their own destinies and why they so often arrived at conclusions exactly contrary to the ends proposed. Catholic and royalist, the Constituent Assembly, instead of the constitutional monarchy it wished to establish and the religion it wished to defend, rapidly led France to a violent republic and the persecution of the clergy.

Political assemblies are composed, as we have seen, of heterogeneous groups, but they have sometimes been formed of homogeneous groups, as, for instance, certain of the clubs, which played so enormous a part during the Revolution, and whose psychology deserves a special examination.

2. The Psychology of the Revolutionary Clubs.

Small assemblies of men possessing the same opinions, the same beliefs, and the same interests, which eliminate all dissentient voices, differ from the great assemblies by the unity of their sentiments and therefore their wills. Such were the communes, the religious congregations, the corporations, and the clubs during the Revolution, the secret societies during the first half of the nineteenth century, and the Freemasons and syndicalists of to-day.

The points of difference between a heterogeneous assembly and a homogeneous club must be thoroughly grasped if we are to comprehend the progress of the French Revolution. Until the Directory and especially during the Convention the Revolution was directed by the clubs.

Despite the unity of will due to the absence of dissident parties the clubs obey the laws of the psychology of crowds. They are consequently subjugated by leaders. This we see especially in the Jacobin Club, which was dominated by Robespierre.

The function of the leader of a club, a homogeneous crowd, is far more difficult than that of a leader of a heterogeneous crowd. The latter may easily be led by harping on a small number of strings, but in a homogeneous group like a club, whose sentiments and interests are identical, the leader must know how to humour them and is often himself led.

Part of the strength of homogeneous agglomerations resides in their anonymity. We know that during the Commune of 1871 a few anonymous orders sufficed to effect the burning of the finest monuments of Paris: the Hotel de Ville, the Tuileries, the Cour des Comptes, the buildings of the Legion of Honour, &c. A brief order from the anonymous committees, "Burn Finances, burn Tuileries,'' &c., was immediately executed. An unlooked-for chance only saved the Louvre and its collections. We know too what religious attention is in our days accorded to the most absurd injunctions of the anonymous leaders of the trades unions.

The clubs of Paris and the insurrectionary Commune were not less scrupulously obeyed at the time of the Revolution. An order emanating from these was sufficient to hurl upon the Assembly a popular army which dictated its wishes.

Summing up the history of the Convention in another chapter, we shall see how frequent were these irruptions, and with what servility the Assembly, which according to the legends was so powerful bowed itself before the most imperative injunctions of a handful of rioters. Instructed by experience, the Directory closed the clubs and put an end to the invasion of the populace by energetically shooting them down.

The Convention had early grasped the superiority of homogeneous groups over heterogeneous assemblies in matters of government, which is why it subdivided itself into committees composed each of a limited number of individuals. These committees—of Public Safety, of Finance, &c.—formed small sovereign assemblies in the midst of the larger Assembly. Their power was held in check only by that of the clubs.

The preceding considerations show the power of groups over the wills of the members composing them. If the group is homogeneous, this action is considerable; if it is heterogeneous, it is less considerable but may still become important, either because the more powerful groups of an assembly will dominate those whose cohesion is weaker or because certain contagious sentiments will often extend themselves to all the members of an assembly.

A memorable example of this influence of groups occurred at the time of the Revolution, when, on the night of the 4th of August, the nobles voted, on the proposition of one of their members, the abandonment of feudal privileges. Yet we know that the Revolution resulted in part from the refusal of the clergy and the nobles to renounce their privileges. Why did they refuse to renounce them at first? Simply because men in a crowd do not act as the same men singly. Individually no member of the nobility would ever have abandoned his rights.

Of this influence of assemblies upon their members Napoleon at St. Helena cited some curious examples: "Nothing was more common than to meet with men at this period quite unlike the reputation that their acts and words would seem to justify. For instance, one might have supposed Monge to be a terrible fellow; when war was decided upon he mounted the tribune of the Jacobins and declared that he would give his two daughters to the two first soldiers to be wounded by the enemy. He wanted the nobles to be killed, &c. Now, Monge was the most gentle and feeble of men, and wouldn't have had a chicken killed if he had had to do it with his own hands, or even to have it done in his presence.''

3. A Suggested Explanation of the Progressive Exaggeration of Sentiments in Assemblies.

If collective sentiments were susceptible of exact quantitative measurement, we might translate them by a curve which, after a first gradual ascent, runs upward with extreme rapidity and then falls almost vertically. The equation of this curve might be called the equation of the variations of collective sentiments subjected to a constant excitation.

It is not always easy to explain the acceleration of certain sentiments under the influence of a constant exciting cause. Perhaps, however, one may say that if the laws of psychology are comparable to those of mechanics, a cause of invariable dimensions acting in a continuous fashion will rapidly increase the intensity of a sentiment. We know, for example, that a force which is constant in dimension and direction, such as gravity acting upon a mass, will cause an accelerated movement. The speed of a free object falling in space under the influence of gravity will be about 32 feet during the first second, 64 feet during the next, 96 feet during the next, &c. It would be easy, were the moving body allowed to fall from a sufficient height, to give it a velocity sufficient to perforate a plate of steel.

But although this explanation is applicable to the acceleration of a sentiment subjected to a constant exciting cause, it does not tell us why the effects of acceleration finally and suddenly cease. Such a fall is only comprehensible if we bring in physiological factors—that is, if we remember that pleasure, like pain, cannot exceed certain limits, and that all sensations, when too violent, result in the paralysis of sensation. Our organism can only support a certain maximum of joy, pain, or effort, and it cannot support that maximum for long together. The hand which grasps a dynamometer soon exhausts its effort, and is obliged suddenly to let go.

The study of the causes of the rapid disappearance of certain groups of sentiments in assemblies will remind us of the fact that beside the party which is predominant by means of its strength or prestige there are others whose sentiments, restrained by this force or prestige, have not reached their full development. Some chance circumstance may somewhat weaken the prevailing party, when immediately the suppressed sentiments of the adverse parties may become preponderant. The Mountain learned this lesson after Thermidor.

All analogies that we may seek to establish between the laws of material phenomena and those which condition the evolution of affective and mystic factors are evidently extremely rough. They must be so until the mechanism of the cerebral functions is better understood than it is to-day.







1. The Historians of the Revolution.

The most contradictory opinions have been expressed respecting the French Revolution, and although only a century separates us from the period in question it seems impossible as yet to judge it calmly. For de Maistre it was "a satanic piece of work,'' and "never was the action of the spirit of darkness so evidently manifested.'' For the modern Jacobins it has regenerated the human race.

Foreigners who live in France still regard it as a subject to be avoided in conversation.

"Everywhere,'' writes Barrett Wendell, "this memory and these traditions are still endowed with such vitality that few persons are capable of considering them dispassionately. They still excite both enthusiasm and resentment; they are still regarded with a loyal and ardent spirit of partisanship. The better you come to understand France the more clearly you see that even to- day no study of the Revolution strikes any Frenchman as having been impartial.''

This observation is perfectly correct. To be interpretable with equity, the events of the past must no longer be productive of results and must not touch the religious or political beliefs whose inevitable intolerance I have denoted.

We must not therefore be surprised that historians express very different ideas respecting the Revolution. For a long time to come some will still see in it one of the most sinister events of history, while to others it will remain one of the most glorious.

All writers on the subject have believed that they have related its course with impartiality, but in general they have merely supported contradictory theories of peculiar simplicity. The documents being innumerable and contradictory, their conscious or unconscious choice has readily enabled them to justify their respective theories.

The older historians of the Revolution—Thiers, Quinet, and, despite his talent, Michelet himself, are somewhat eclipsed to- day. Their doctrines were by no means complicated; a historic fatalism prevails generally in their work. Thiers regarded the Revolution as the result of several centuries of absolute monarchy, and the Terror as the necessary consequence of foreign invasion. Quinet described the excesses of 1793 as the result of a long-continued despotism, but declared that the tyranny of the Convention was unnecessary, and hampered the work of the Revolution. Michelet saw in this last merely the work of the people, whom he blindly admired, and commenced the glorification continued by other historians.

The former reputation of all these historians has been to a great extent effaced by that of Taine. Although equally impassioned, he threw a brilliant light upon the revolutionary period, and it will doubtless be long before his work is superseded.

Work so important is bound to show faults. Taine is admirable in the representation of facts and persons, but he attempts to judge by the standard of rational logic events which were not dictated by reason, and which, therefore, he cannot interpret. His psychology, excellent when it is merely descriptive, is very weak as soon as it becomes explanatory. To affirm that Robespierre was a pedantic "swotter'' is not to reveal the causes of his absolute power over the Convention, at a time when he had spent several months in decimating it with perfect impunity. It has very justly been said of Taine that he saw well and understood little.

Despite these restrictions his work is highly remarkable and has not been equalled. We may judge of his immense influence by the exasperation which he causes among the faithful defenders of Jacobin orthodoxy, of which M. Aulard, professor at the Sorbonne, is to-day the high priest. The latter has devoted two years to writing a pamphlet against Taine, every line of which is steeped in passion. All this time spent in rectifying a few material errors which are not really significant has only resulted in the perpetration of the very same errors.

Reviewing his work, M. A. Cochin shows that M. Aulard has at least on every other occasion been deceived by his quotations, whereas Taine erred far more rarely. The same historian shows also that we must not trust M. Aulard's sources.

"These sources—proceedings, pamphlets, journals, and the speeches and writings of patriots—are precisely the authentic publications of patriotism, edited by patriots, and edited, as a rule, for the benefit of the public. He ought to have seen in all this simply the special pleading of the defendant: he had, before his eyes, a ready-made history of the Revolution, which presents, side by side with each of the acts of the 'People,' from the massacres of September to the law of Prairial, a ready- made explanation according to the republican system of defence.''

Perhaps the fairest criticism that one can make of the work of Taine is that it was left incomplete. He studied more especially the role of the populace and its leaders during the revolutionary period. This inspired him with pages vibrating with an indignation which we can still admire, but several important aspects of the Revolution escaped him.

Whatever one may think of the Revolution, an irreducible difference will always exist between historians of the school of Taine and those of the school of M. Aulard. The latter regards the sovereign people as admirable, while the former shows us that when abandoned to its instincts and liberated from all social restraint it relapses into primitive savagery. The conception of M. Aulard, entirely contrary to the lessons of the psychology of crowds, is none the less a religious dogma in the eyes of modern Jacobins. They write of the Revolution according to the methods of believers, and take for learned works the arguments of virtual theologians.

2. The Theory of Fatalism in respect of the Revolution.

Advocates and detractors of the Revolution often admit the fatality of revolutionary events. This theory is well synthetised in the following passage from the History of the Revolution, by Emile Olivier:—

"No man could oppose it. The blame belongs neither to those who perished nor to those who survived; there was no individual force capable of changing the elements and of foreseeing the events which were born of the nature of things and circumstances.''

Taine himself inclines to this idea:—

"At the moment when the States General were opened the course of ideas and events was not only determined but even visible. Each generation unwittingly bears within itself its future and its past; from the latter its destinies might have been foretold long before the issue.''

Other modern authors, who profess no more indulgence for the violence of the revolutionaries than did Taine, are equally convinced of this fatality. M. Sorel, after recalling the saying of Bossuet concerning the revolutions of antiquity: "Everything is surprising if we only consider particular causes, and yet everything goes forward in regular sequence,'' expresses an intention which he very imperfectly realises: "to show in the Revolution, which seems to some the subversion and to others the regeneration of the old European world, the natural and necessary result of the history of Europe, and to show, moreover, that this revolution had no result—not even the most unexpected—that did not ensue from this history, and was not explained by the precedents of the ancien regime.''

Guizot also had formerly attempted to prove that our Revolution, which he quite wrongly compared to that of England, was perfectly natural and effected no innovations:—

"Far from having broken with the natural course of events in Europe, neither the English revolution nor our own did, intended, or said anything that had not been said, intended, and done a hundred years before its outbreak.

" . . . Whether we regard the general doctrines of the two revolutions or the application made of them—whether we deal with the government of the State or with the civil legislation, with property or with persons, with liberty or with power, we shall find nothing of which the invention can be attributed to them, nothing that will not be encountered elsewhere, or that was not at least originated in times which we qualify as normal.''

All these assertions merely recall the banal law that a phenomenon is simply the consequence of previous phenomena. Such very general propositions do not teach us much.

We must not try to explain too many events by the principle of fatality adopted by so many historians. I have elsewhere discussed the significance of such fatalities, and have shown that the whole effort of civilisation consists in trying to escape therefrom. Certainly history is full of necessities, but it is also full of contingent facts which were, and might not have been. Napoleon himself, on St. Helena, enumerated six circumstances which might have checked his prodigious career. He related, notably, that on taking a bath at Auxonne, in 1786, he only escaped death by the fortuitous presence of a sandbank. If Bonaparte had died, then we may admit that another general would have arisen, and might have become dictator. But what would have become of the Imperial epic and its consequences without the man of genius who led our victorious armies into all the capitals of Europe?

It is permissible to consider the Revolution as being partly a necessity, but it was above all—which is what the fatalistic writers already cited do not show us—a permanent struggle between theorists who were imbued with a new ideal, and the economic, social, and political laws which ruled mankind, and which they did not understand. Not understanding them, they sought in vain to direct the course of events, were exasperated at their failure, and finally committed every species of violence. They decreed that the paper money known as assignats should be accepted as the equivalent of gold, and all their threats could not prevent the fictitious value of such money falling almost to nothing. They decreed the law of the maximum, and it merely increased the evils it was intended to remedy. Robespierre declared before the Convention "that all the sans- culottes will be paid at the expense of the public treasury, which will be fed by the rich,'' and in spite of requisitions and the guillotine the treasury remained empty.

Having broken all human restraints, the men of the Revolution finally discovered that a society cannot live without them; but when they sought to create them anew they saw that even the strongest society, though supported by the fear of the guillotine, could not replace the discipline which the past had slowly built up in the minds of men. As for understanding the evolution of society, or judging men's hearts and minds, or foreseeing the consequences of the laws they enacted, they scarcely attempted to do so.

The events of the Revolution did not ensue from irreducible necessities. They were far more the consequence of Jacobin principles than of circumstances, and might have been quite other than they were. Would the Revolution have followed the same path if Louis XVI. had been better advised, or if the Constituent Assembly had been less cowardly in times of popular insurrection? The theory of revolutionary fatality is only useful to justify violence by presenting it as inevitable.

Whether we are dealing with science or with history we must beware of the ignorance which takes shelter under the shibboleth of fatalism Nature was formerly full of a host of fatalities which science is slowly contriving to avoid. The function of the superior man is, as I have shown elsewhere, to avert such fatalities.

3. The Hesitations of recent Historians of the Revolution.

The historians whose ideas we have examined in the preceding chapter were extremely positive in their special pleading. Confined within the limits of belief, they did not attempt to penetrate the domain of knowledge. A monarchical writer was violently hostile to the Revolution, and a liberal writer was its violent apologist.

At the present time we can see the commencement of a movement which will surely lead to the study of the Revolution as one of those scientific phenomena into which the opinions and beliefs of a writer enter so little that the reader does not even suspect them.

This period has not yet come into being; we are still in the period of doubt. The liberal writers who used to be so positive are now so no longer. One may judge of this new state of mind by the following extracts from recent authors:—

M. Hanotaux, having vaunted the utility of the Revolution, asks whether its results were not bought too dearly, and adds:—

"History hesitates, and will, for a long time yet, hesitate to answer.''

M. Madelin is equally dubious in the book he has recently published:—

"I have never felt sufficient authority to form, even in my inmost conscience, a categorical judgment on so complex a phenomenon as the French Revolution. To-day I find it even more difficult to form a brief judgement. Causes, facts, and consequences seem to me to be still extremely debatable subjects.''

One may obtain a still better idea of the transformation of the old ideas concerning the Revolution by perusing the latest writings of its official defenders. While they professed formerly to justify every act of violence by representing it as a simple act of defence, they now confine themselves to pleading extenuating circumstances. I find a striking proof of this new frame of mind in the history of France for the use of schools, published by MM. Aulard and Debidour. Concerning the Terror we read the following lines:—

"Blood flowed in waves; there were acts of injustice and crimes which were useless from the point of view of national defence, and odious. But men had lost their heads in the tempest, and, harassed by a thousand dangers, the patriots struck out in their rage.''

We shall see in another part of this work that the first of the two authors whom I have cited is, in spite of his uncompromising Jacobinism, by no means indulgent toward the men formerly qualified as the "Giants of the Convention.''

The judgments of foreigners upon our Revolution are usually distinctly severe, and we cannot be surprised when we remember how Europe suffered during the twenty years of upheaval in France.

The Germans in particular have been most severe. Their opinion is summed up in the following lines by M. Faguet:—

"Let us say it courageously and patriotically, for patriotism consists above all in telling the truth to one's own country: Germany sees in France, with regard to the past, a people who, with the great words 'liberty' and 'fraternity' in its mouth, oppressed, trampled, murdered, pillaged, and fleeced her for fifteen years; and with regard to the present, a people who, with the same words on its banners, is organising a despotic, oppressive, mischievous, and ruinous democracy, which none would seek to imitate. This is what Germany may well see in France; and this, according to her books and journals, is, we may assure ourselves, what she does see.''

For the rest, whatever the worth of the verdicts pronounced upon the French Revolution, we may be certain that the writers of the future will consider it as an event as passionately interesting as it is instructive.

A Government bloodthirsty enough to guillotine old men of eighty years, young girls, and little children: which covered France with ruins, and yet succeeded in repulsing Europe in arms; an archduchess of Austria, Queen of France, dying on the scaffold, and a few years later another archduchess, her relative, replacing her on the same throne and marrying a sub- lieutenant, turned Emperor—here are tragedies unique in human history. The psychologists, above all, will derive lessons from a history hitherto so little studied by them. No doubt they will finally discover that psychology can make no progress until it renounces chimerical theories and laboratory experiments in order to study the events and the men who surround us.[7]

[7] This advice is far from being banal. The psychologists of the day pay very little attention to the world about them, and are even surprised that any one should study it. I have come across an interesting proof of this indifferent frame of mind in a review of one of my books which appeared in the Revue philosophique and was inspired by the editor of the review. The author reproaches me with "exploring the world and the newspapers rather than books.''

I most gladly accept this reproach. The manifold facts of the journals and the realities of the world are far more instructive than philosophical lucubrations such as the Revue is stuffed with.

Philosophers are beginning to see the puerility of such reproaches. It was certainly of the forty volumes of this fastidious publication that Mr. William James was thinking when he wrote that all these dissertations simply represented "a string of facts clumsily observed and a few quarrelsome discussions.'' Although he is the author of the best known treatise on psychology extant, the eminent thinker realises "the fragility of a science that oozes metaphysical criticism at every joint.'' For more than twenty years I have tried to interest psychologists in the study of realities, but the stream of university metaphysics is hardly yet turned aside, although it has lost its former force

4. Impartiality in History.

Impartiality has always been considered as the most essential quality of the historian. All historians since Tacitus have assured us that they are impartial.

In reality the writer sees events as the painter sees a landscape—that is, through his own temperament; through his character and the mind of the race.

A number of artists, placed before the same landscape, would necessarily interpret it in as many different fashions. Some would lay stress upon details neglected by others. Each reproduction would thus be a personal work—that is to say, would be interpreted by a certain form of sensibility.

It is the same with the writer. We can no more speak of the impartiality of the historian than we can speak of the impartiality of the painter.

Certainly the historian may confine himself to the reproduction of documents, and this is the present tendency. But these documents, for periods as near us as the Revolution, are so abundant that a man's whole life would not suffice to go through them. Therefore the historian must make a choice.

Consciously sometimes, but more often unconsciously, the author will select the material which best corresponds with his political, moral, and social opinions.

It is therefore impossible, unless he contents himself with simple chronologies summing up each event with a few words and a date, to produce a truly impartial volume of history. No author could be impartial; and it is not to be regretted. The claim to impartiality, so common to-day, results in those flat, gloomy, and prodigiously wearisome works which render the comprehension of a period completely impossible.

Should the historian, under a pretext of impartiality, abstain from judging men—that is, from speaking in tones of admiration or reprobation?

This question, I admit, allows of two very different solutions, each of which is perfectly correct, according to the point of view assumed—that of the moralist or that of the psychologist.

The moralist must think exclusively of the interest of society, and must judge men only according to that interest. By the very fact that it exists and wishes to continue to exist a society is obliged to admit a certain number of rules, to have an indestructible standard of good and evil, and consequently to create very definite distinctions between vice and virtue. It thus finally creates average types, to which the man of the period approaches more or less closely, and from which he cannot depart very widely without peril to society.

It is by such similar types and the rules derived from social necessities that the moralist must judge the men of the past. Praising those which were useful and blaming the rest, he thus helps to form the moral types which are indispensable to the progress of civilisation and which may serve others as models. Poets such as Corneille, for example, create heroes superior to the majority of men, and possibly inimitable; but they thereby help greatly to stimulate our efforts. The example of heroes must always be set before a people in order to ennoble its mind.

Such is the moralist's point of view. That of the psychologist would be quite different. While a society has no right to be tolerant, because its first duty is to live, the psychologist may remain indifferent. Considering things as a scientist, he no longer asks their utilitarian value, but seeks merely to explain them.

His situation is that of the observer before any phenomenon. It is obviously difficult to read in cold blood that Carrier ordered his victims to be buried up to the neck so that they might then be blinded and subjected to horrible torments. Yet if we wish to comprehend such acts we must be no more indignant than the naturalist before the spider slowly devouring a fly. As soon as the reason is moved it is no longer reason, and can explain nothing.

The functions of the historian and the psychologist are not, as we see, identical, but of both we may demand the endeavour, by a wise interpretation of the facts, to discover, under the visible evidences, the invisible forces which determine them.



1. The Absolute Monarchy and the Bases of the Ancien Regime.

Many historians assure us that the Revolution was directed against the autocracy of the monarchy. In reality the kings of France had ceased to be absolute monarchs long before its outbreak.

Only very late in history—not until the reign of Louis XIV.—did they finally obtain incontestable power. All the preceding sovereigns, even the most powerful, such as Francis I., for example, had to sustain a constant struggle either against the seigneurs, or the clergy, or the parliaments, and they did not always win. Francis himself had not sufficient power to protect his most intimate friends against the Sorbonne and the Parliament. His friend and councillor Berquin, having offended the Sorbonne, was arrested upon the order of the latter body. The king ordered his release, which was refused. He was obliged to send archers to remove him from the Conciergerie, and could find no other means of protecting him than that of keeping him beside him in the Louvre. The Sorbonne by no means considered itself beaten. Profiting by the king's absence, it arrested Berquin again and had him tried by Parliament. Condemned at ten in the morning, he was burned alive at noon.

Built up very gradually, the power of the kings of France was not absolute until the time of Louis XIV. It then rapidly declined, and it would be truly difficult to speak of the absolutism of Louis XVI.

This pretended master was the slave of his court, his ministers, the clergy, and the nobles. He did what they forced him to do and rarely what he wished. Perhaps no Frenchman was so little free as the king.

The great power of the monarchy resided originally in the Divine origin which was attributed to it, and in the traditions which had accumulated during the ages. These formed the real social framework of the country.

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