The Psychology of Revolution
by Gustave le Bon
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[14] The impotence of ministers in their own departments has been well described by one of them, M. Cruppi, in a recent book. The most ardent wishes of the minister being immediately paralysed by his department, he promptly ceases to struggle against it.

This diminution of the power of democratic Governments can only develop. One of the most constant laws of history is that of which I have already spoken: Immediately any one class becomes preponderant—nobles, clergy, army, or the people—it speedily tends to enslave others. Such were the Roman armies, which finally appointed and overthrew the emperors; such were the clergy, against whom the kings of old could hardly struggle; such were the States General, which at the moment of Revolution speedily absorbed all the powers of government, and supplanted the monarchy.

The caste of functionaries is destined to furnish a fresh proof of the truth of this law. Preponderant already, they are beginning to speak loudly, to make threats, and even to indulge in strikes, such as that of the postmen, which was quickly followed by that of the Government railway employees. The administrative power thus forms a little State within the State, and if its present rate of revolution continues it will soon constitute the only power in the State. Under a Socialist Government there would be no other power. All our revolutions would then have resulted in stripping the king of his powers and his throne in order to bestow them upon the irresponsible, anonymous and despotic class of Government clerks.

To foresee the issue of all the conflicts which threaten to cloud the future is impossible. We must steer clear of pessimism as of optimism; all we can say is that necessity will always finally bring things to an equilibrium. The world pursues its way without bothering itself with our speeches, and sooner or later we manage to adapt ourselves to the variations of our environment. The difficulty is to do so without too much friction, and above all to resist the chimerical conceptions of dreamers. Always powerless to re-organise the world, they have often contrived to upset it.

Athens, Rome, Florence, and many other cities which formerly shone in history, were victims of these terrible theorists. The results of their influence has always been the same—anarchy, dictatorship, and decadence.

But such lessons will not affect the numerous Catilines of the present day. They do not yet see that the movements unchained by their ambitions threaten to submerge them. All these Utopians have awakened impossible hopes in the mind of the crowd, excited their appetites, and sapped the dykes which have been slowly erected during the centuries to restrain them.

The struggle of the blind multitudes against the elect is one of the continuous facts of history, and the triumph of popular sovereignties without counterpoise has already marked the end of more than one civilisation. The elect create, the plebs destroys. As soon as the first lose their hold the latter begins its precious work.

The great civilisations have only prospered by dominating their lower elements. It is not only in Greece that anarchy, dictatorship, invasion, and, finally, the loss of independence has resulted from the despotism of a democracy. Individual tyranny is always born of collective tyranny. It ended the first cycle of the greatness of Rome; the Barbarians achieved the second.


The principal revolutions of history have been studied in this volume. But we have dealt more especially with the most important of all—that which for more than twenty years overwhelmed all Europe, and whose echoes are still to be heard.

The French Revolution is an inexhaustible mine of psychological documents. No period of the life of humanity has presented such a mass of experience, accumulated in so short a time.

On each page of this great drama we have found numerous applications of the principles expounded in my various works, concerning the transitory mentality of crowds and the permanent soul of the peoples, the action of beliefs, the influence of mystic, affective, and collective elements, and the conflict between the various forms of logic.

The Revolutionary Assemblies illustrate all the known laws of the psychology of crowds. Impulsive and timid, they are dominated by a small number of leaders, and usually act in a sense contrary to the wishes of their individual members.

The Royalist Constituent Assembly destroyed an ancient monarchy; the humanitarian Legislative Assembly allowed the massacres of September. The same pacific body led France into the most formidable campaigns.

There were similar contradictions during the Convention. The immense majority of its members abhorred violence. Sentimental philosophers, they exalted equality, fraternity, and liberty, yet ended by exerting the most terrible despotism.

The same contradictions were visible during the Directory. Extremely moderate in their intentions at the outset, the Assemblies were continually effecting bloodthirsty coups d'etat. They wished to re-establish religious peace, and finally sent thousands of priests into imprisonment. They wished to repair the ruins which covered France, and only succeeded in adding to them.

Thus there was always a complete contradiction between the individual wills of the men of the revolutionary period and the deeds of the Assemblies of which they were units.

The truth is that they obeyed invisible forces of which they were not the masters. Believing that they acted in the name of pure reason, they were really subject to mystic, affective, and collective influences, incomprehensible to them, and which we are only to-day beginning to understand.

Intelligence has progressed in the course of the ages, and has opened a marvellous outlook to man, although his character, the real foundation of his mind, and the sure motive of his actions, has scarcely changed. Overthrown one moment, it reappears the next. Human nature must be accepted as it is.

The founders of the Revolution did not resign themselves to the facts of human nature. For the first time in the history of humanity they attempted to transform men and society in the name of reason.

Never was any undertaking commenced with such chances of success. The theorists, who claimed to effect it, had a power in their hands greater than that of any despot.

Yet, despite this power, despite the success of the armies, despite Draconian laws and repeated coups d'etat, the Revolution merely heaped ruin upon ruin, and ended in a dictatorship.

Such an attempt was not useless, since experience is necessary to the education of the peoples. Without the Revolution it would have been difficult to prove that pure reason does not enable us to change human nature, and, consequently, that no society can be rebuilt by the will of legislators, however absolute their power.

Commenced by the middle classes for their own profit, the Revolution speedily became a popular movement, and at the same time a struggle of the instinctive against the rational, a revolt against all the constraints which make civilisation out of barbarism. It was by relying on the principle of popular sovereignty that the reformers attempted to impose their doctrines. Guided by leaders, the people intervened incessantly in the deliberations of the Assemblies, and committed the most sanguinary acts of violence.

The history of the multitudes during the Revolution is eminently instructive. It shows the error of the politicians who attribute all the virtues to the popular soul.

The facts of the Revolution teach us, on the contrary, that a people freed from social constraints, the foundations of civilisation, and abandoned to its instinctive impulses, speedily relapses into its ancestral savagery. Every popular revolution which succeeds in triumphing is a temporary return to barbarism. If the Commune of 1871 had lasted, it would have repeated the Terror. Not having the power to kill so many people, it had to confine itself to burning the principal monuments of the capital.

The Revolution represents the conflict of psychological forces liberated from the bonds whose function it is to restrain them. Popular instincts, Jacobin beliefs, ancestral influences, appetites, and passions unloosed, all these various influences engaged in a furious mutual conflict for the space of ten years, during which time they soaked France in blood and covered the land with ruins.

Seen from a distance, this seems to be the whole upshot of the Revolution. There was nothing homogeneous about it. One must resort to analysis before one can understand and grasp the great drama and display the impulses which continually actuated its heroes. In normal times we are guided by the various forms of logic—rational, affective, collective, and mystic—which more or less perfectly balance one another. During seasons of upheaval they enter into conflict, and man is no longer himself.

We have by no means undervalued in this work the importance of certain acquisitions of the Revolution in respect of the rights of the people. But with many other historians, we are forced to admit that the prize gained at the cost of such ruin and bloodshed would have been obtained at a later date without effort, by the mere progress of civilisation. For a few years gained, what a load of material disaster, what moral disintegration! We are still suffering as a result of the latter. These brutal pages in the book of history will take long to efface: they are not effaced as yet.

Our young men of to-day seem to prefer action to thought. Disdaining the sterile dissertations of the philosophers, they take no interest in vain speculation concerning matters whose essential nature remains unknown.

Action is certainly an excellent thing, and all real progress is a result of action, but it is only useful when properly directed. The men of the Revolution were assuredly men of action, yet the illusions which they accepted as guides led them to disaster.

Action is always hurtful when, despising realities, it professes violently to change the course of events. One cannot experiment with society as with apparatus in a laboratory. Our political upheavals show us what such social errors may cost.

Although the lesson of the Revolution was extremely categorical, many unpractical spirits, hallucinated by their dreams, are hoping to recommence it. Socialism, the modern synthesis of this hope, would be a regression to lower forms of evolution, for it would paralyse the greatest sources of our activity. By replacing individual initiative and responsibility by collective initiative and responsibility mankind would descend several steps on the scale of human values.

The present time is hardly favourable to such experiments. While dreamers are pursuing their dreams, exciting appetites and the passions of the multitude, the peoples are every day arming themselves more powerfully. All feel that amid the universal competition of the present time there is no room for weak nations.

In the centre of Europe a formidable military Power is increasing in strength, and aspiring to dominate the world, in order to find outlets for its goods, and for an increasing population, which it will soon be unable to nourish.

If we continue to shatter our cohesion by intestine struggles, party rivalries, base religious persecutions, and laws which fetter industrial development, our part in the world will soon be over. We shall have to make room for peoples more solidly knit, who have been able to adapt themselves to natural necessities instead of pretending to turn back upon their course. The present does not repeat the past, and the details of history are full of unforeseen consequences; but in their main lines events are conditioned by eternal laws.


Absolute monarchy, the Acceleration of forces of violence Administrations, real ruling forces Affective logic Affirmation, power of Alexander I of Russia Alsace loss of Ambition, as a motive of revolution Anarchy, followed by dictatorship; mental Ancestral soul Ancien regime, bases of the; inconveniences of; life under; dissolution of Ancients, Council of Anti-clerical laws Armies, of the Republic; character of; victories of; causes of success Army, role of, in revolution; in 1789 Assemblies, the Revolutionary; psychology of; obedient to the clubs; see National, Constituent, Legislative Assemblies, Convention, &c. Assignats Augustine, St. Aulaud, M. Austria, revolution in; royalist illusions as to her attitude; attacks the Republic

Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J., on coal strike Barras Barrere Bartholomew, St., Massacre of; European rejoicing over Bastille, taking of the Battifol, M. Bayle, P. Beaulieu, Edict of Bedouin, executions at Belgium, invasion of Beliefs, affective and mystic origin of; intolerance of; justification of; intolerance greatest between allied beliefs; intolerance of democratic and socialistic beliefs Berquin, executed by Sorbonne Berry, Duchess de Billaud-Varenne Bismarck Blanc, Louis Blois, States of Bonaparte, see Napoleon Bonnal, General Bossuet Bourdeau, M. Bourgeoisie, their jealousy of the nobles causes the Revolution; their thirst for revenge; the real authors of the Revolution; philosophic ideas of Brazilian Revolution, the Britanny, revolt in Broglie, de Brumaire, coup d'etat of Brunswick, Duke of, his manifesto Buddhism Bureaucracy in France

Caesar, on division amid the Gauls Caesarism Caesars follow anarchy and dominate mobs Cahiers, the Calvin; compared to Robespierre Carnot Carrier; crimes of, and trial Catechism of the Scottish Presbyterians Catherine de Medicis Catholic League Cavaignac, General Chalandon Champ-de-Mars, affair of the Charles IX Charles X China, revolution in Chinese labour Christian Revolution, the Christians, mutual hatred of Church, confiscation of goods of the Civil War Clemenceau, M. Clergy; civil constitution of Clubs, the, 24- psychology of the; obeyed by the Assemblies; closed; increasing power of the; see Jacobins Coalition, the Cochin, A. Colin, M. Collective ideas; collective logic Collot d'Herbois Commissaries of the Convention, psychology of Committees, the Governmental Commune of Paris, the; in insurrection; chief power in State; orders massacre of September; tyranny of Commune of 1871 Communes, the revolutionary Comte, A. Concordat, the Condorcet Constituent Assembly, the; psychology of the; its fear of the people; temporarily resists the people; loses power; its last action Constitution of 1791; of 1793; of 1795; of the year VIII Constitutions, faith in Constraints, social, necessity of Consulate, the Contagion, mental; causes of; in crowds Contrat Social, the Convention, giants of the; inconsistency of; decimates itself; psychology of the; cowardice of; mental characteristics of; composition of; fear in the; besieged by the Commune; surrenders Girondists; Government of the; abolishes royalty; dissolved Council of State Couthon Criminal mentality Cromwell Crowd, Psychology of the Crowds in the French Revolution Cruppi, M. Cuba Cunisset-Carnot Currency, paper

Danton Darwin, Charles Dausset, M. "Days,''of May 31; June 2; of June 20; of Aug. 10; of June 2; of Oct. 5 Debidour, M. Declaration of Rights, the Democracy; intellectual and popular Departmental insurrections Desmoulins, Camille Dictatorship follows anarchy Diderot Directory, the, failure of; closes clubs; psychology of the; government of the; deportations under Discontent, result of Dreux-Breze Drinkmann, Baron Dubourg, Anne, burned Dumas, President of the Revolutionary Tribunal Dumouriez Durel

Ego, analysis of the Elchingen, General Elizabeth, Empress of Russia Emigres, banished Empire, the Second Encyclopaedists, the England, coal strike in English Revolution; Constitution Enthusiasm Envy Equality Evolution

Faguet, E. Fatalism, historians on Faubourgs, disarmed Fear Federation Ferrer, notes on anniversary of execution of Fersen Five Hundred, the Fontenelle France, kings of; artificial unity of Francis I Franco-Prussian war Fraternity Freethinkers, intolerance of French Revolution, the, revision of ideas concerning; generally misunderstood; a new religious movement; origins of; religions nature of; descends to lower classes; causes of; opinions of historians concerning; becomes a popular government; causes of democratisation; causes of the Revolution; a struggle of instinct against reason Fouche, at Lyons Fouquier-Tinville Freron

Galileo German Emperors "Giants'' of the Convention; mediocrity of Gilbert-Liendon Girondists, the; late of the; surrendered by the Convention; vote for Louis' death Glosson, Professor, experiment in crowd psychology Governments, feeble resistance of, to revolution; best tactics to pursue; revolutions effected by Greek Revolution Gregoire Gregory XIII Guillotine, regeneration by Guiraud, M. Guise, Duke of Guizot

Hamel, M. Hamilton, General Hanotaux, G. Hanriot Hatred, value of Haxo, General Hebert Hebertists Helvetius Henri II Henri III Henri IV Henry IV of Germany Henry VIII of England

Historians, mistaken views of, re French Revolution; opinions of; concerning Hoche, General Holbach Holland, invasion of Hugo, Victor Huguenots, massacre of Humboldt Hunter's ancestral instinct of carnage

Iena, explosion on board of Impartiality, impossibility of Incendiarism, of Commune of 1871 Inequality, craving for Inquisition, the Islam Italy, revolution in

Jacobinism; failure of; modern; its craze for reforms Jacobins, the; real protagonists of the Revolution; claim to reorganise France in name of pure reason; they rule France; results of their triumph; theories of; small numbers of; the clubs closed,; downfall of Jourdan, General

La Bruyere La Fayette Lanessan, M. Langlois, General Latin mind, the Lavisse Lavoisier Leaders, popular, psychology of Lebon Lebrun, Mme. Vigee Legendary history Legislation, faith in Legislative Assembly, the psychology of; character of; timidity of Lettres de cachet Levy, General Liberte, the, explosion on board "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity'' Lippomano Logics, different species of Louis XIII Louis XIV; poverty under Louis XVI; flight and capture; his chance; powers restored,; a prisoner;regarded as traitor; suspended; trial of;execution of, a blunder Louis XVII Louis XVIII Louis-Philippe Luther

MacMahon, Marshal Madelin Mohammed Maistre, de Malesherbes Marat Marie Antoinette; influence of Marie Louise Massacres, during wars of religion; during the French Revolution; see September, Commissaries, &c. Mentalities prevalent in time of revolution Merlin Michelet Midi, revolt in the Mirabeau Monarch, position of, under the Reformation Monarchical feeling Montagnards Montesquieu Montluc Moors in Spain Mountain, the Mystic logic Mystic mentality

Nantes, Edict of; revoked Nantes, massacres at Napoleon; in Russia; on fatalism; on the 5th of October; in Italy; in Egypt; returns; as Consul; reorganises France; defeated Napoleon III National Assembly, the National Guard Nature, return to, illusions respecting Necker Noailles, Comte de Nobles renounce privileges; emigrate

October, "days'' of Olivier, E. Opinions and Beliefs Oppede, Baron d' Orleans, Duc d'

Paris, her share in the Revolution. See People Pasteur Peasants, condition of, before Revolution; burn chateaux People, the, in revolution; never directs itself; supposed part of; the reality; analysis of; the base populace; commences to terrorise the Assemblies; the sections rise Peoples, the Psychology of Persecution, religious Personality, transformation of, during revolution Peter the Great Petion Philip II Philippines Philosophers, influence of Plain, the Poissy, assembly of Poland, decadence of; revolution in; partition of Political beliefs Pope, the Portuguese Revolution Positivism Predestination Presbyterian Catechism Protestants, martyrs; persecute Catholics; exodus of; mentality of Prussia, invades France Public safety, committee of


Racial mind, stability of the Rambaud, M. Rational logic, seldom guides conduct; original motive in French Revolution Reason, Goddess of Reformation, the; rational poverty of doctrines Reforms, Jacobin craving for Religion, the French republic a form of Religion, wars of, the Repetition, value of Republic, the first; the second; the third Revision, necessity of Revolution of 1789; see French Revolution; of 1836; of 1848; of 1870 Revolutions, classification of; origin of; usual object of Revolutions, political; results of Revolutions, religious Revolutions, scientific Revolutionary army Revolutionary communes Revolutionary mentality Revolutionary municipalities Revolutionary tribunals Robespierre; compared to Calvin; High Pontiff; pontiff; reigns alone; sole master of the Convention; psychology of; his fall Rochelle Roland, Mme. Roman Empire Rossignol Rousseau Roussel, F. Russia Russian Revolution Russo-Japanese war

Saint-Denis, destruction of tombs at Saint-Just Sedan September, massacres of Sieyes Social distinctions Socialism; hates the elect Sorel, A. Spain, revolution in States General Sulla Suspects, Law of Syndicalism

Tacitus Taine; on Jacobinism; his work Taxes, pro-revolutionary Terror, the; motives of;psychology of; executions during; stupefying effect of; in the provinces; in the departments Thermidor, reaction of Thiebault, General Thiers; President Third Estate, jealousy of the Tocqueville

Tolerance, impossible between opposed or related beliefs Togo, Admiral Toulon; fall of Tradition Tsushima Tuileries, attacked; Louis prisoner in; attacked by populace Turenne Turgot Turkey, revolution in

United States Universal suffrage

Valmy Vanity, cause of revolution Varennes, flight to Vasari Vendee, La Vergniaud Versailles, attack on Violence, causes of Voltaire

Wendell, Barrett Williams, H.

Young, Arthur


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