Excerpts from Gustav Le Bon's "The Crowd" (Written in 1895)

  It is crowds that have furnished the torrents of blood requisite for the triumph of every belief.

  Crowds are only cognizant of simple and extreme sentiments: the opinions, ideas, and beliefs suggested to them are accepted or rejected as a whole, and considered as absolute truths or as not less absolute errors.  This is always the case with beliefs induced by a process of suggestion instead of engendered by reasoning.  everyone is aware of the intolerance that accompanies religious beliefs, and of the despotic empire they exercise on the mind.

  When by various processes an idea has ended by penetrating into the minds of crowds it possesses an irresistible power, and brings about a series of effects, opposition to which is bootless.  The philosophical ideas which resulted in the French Revolution took nearly a century to implant themselves in the mind of the crowd.  Their irresistible force, when once they had taken root, is known.  The striving of an entire nation towards the conquest of social equality, and the realization of abstract rights and ideal liberties, caused the tottering of all thrones and profoundly disturbed the Western world.  During twenty years the nations were engaged in internecine conflict, and Europe witnessed hecatombs that would have terrified Ghengis Khan and Tamerlane. 
  A long time is necessary for ideas to establish themselves in the minds of crowds, but just as long a time is needed for them to be eradicated.  For this reason crowds, as far as ideas are concerned, are always several generations behind learned men and philosophers.  All statesmen are well aware to-day of the admixture of error contained in the fundamental ideas I referred to a short while back, but as the influence of these ideas is still very powerful they are obliged to govern in accordance with principles in the truth of which they have ceased to believe.

  The characteristics of the reasoning of crowds are the association of dissimilar things possessing a merely apparent connection between each other, and the immediate generalization of particular cases.  It is arguments of this kind that are always presented to crowds by those who know how to manage them.  They are the only arguments by which crowds are to be influenced. . . . Astonishment is felt at times on reading certain speeches at their weakness, and yet they had an enormous influence on the crowds which listened to them; but it is forgotten that they were intended to persuade collectivities and not to be read by philosophers.  An orator in intimate communication with a crowd can evoke images by which it will be seduced.  If he is successful his object has been attained, and twenty volumes of harangues -- always the outcome of reflection -- are not worth the few phrases which appealed to the brains it was required to convince.  

Just as is the case with respect to persons in whom the reasoning power is absent, the figurative imagination of crowds is very powerful, very active, and very susceptible of being keenly impressed.  The images evoked in their mind by a personage, an event, an accident, are almost as lifelike as the reality.  Crowds are to some extent in the position of the sleeper whose reason, suspended for the time being, allows the arousing in his mind of images of extreme intensity which would quickly be dissipated could they be submitted to the action of reflection.  Crowds, being incapable both of reflection and of reasoning, are devoid of the notion of improbability; and it is to be noted that in a heberal way it is the most improbable things that are the most striking.
  This is why it happens that it is always the marvelous and legendary side of events that more especially strike crowds.  When a civilization is analyzed it is seen that in reality, it is the marvelous and the legendary that are its true supports.  Appearances have always played a much more important part than reality in history, where the unreal is always of greater moment than the real.  
  Crowds being only capable of thinking in images are only to be impressed by images.  It is only images that terrify or attract them and become motives of action.  

  The power of conquerors and the strength of States is based on the popular imagination.  It is more particularly by working upon this imagination that crowds are led.  All great historical facts, the rise of Buddhism, of Christianity, of Islam, the reformation, the French Revolution, and, in our own time the threatening invasion of Socialism, are the direct or indirect consequences of strong  impressions produced in the imagination of the crowd.

  It was not by means of cunning rhetoric that Antony succeeded in making the populace rise against the murderers of Caesar; it was by reading his will to the multitude and pointing to his corpse.

  it is not, then, the facts in themselves that strike the popular imagination, but the way in which they take place and are brought under notice.  It is necessary that by their condensation, if I may thus express myself, they should produce a startling image which fills and besets the mind.  To know the art of impressing the imagination of crowds is to know at the same time the art of governing them.

Sentiment has never been vanquished in its eternal conflict with reason.

  When studying the imagination of crowds we saw that it is particularly open to the impressions produced by images.  These images do not always lie ready to hand, but it is possible to evoke them by the judicious employment of words and formulas.  Handled with art, they possess in sober truth the mysterious power formerly attributed to them by the adepts of magic.  They cause tempests, which in turn they are capable of stilling.  A pyramid far loftier than that of old Cheops could be raised merely with the bones of men who have been victims of the power of words and formulas. 

  Reason and arguments are incapable of combating certain words and formulas.  They are uttered with solemnity in the presence of crowds, and as soon as they have been pronounced an expression of respect is visible on every countenance and all heads are bowed.

  The images evoked by words being independent of their sense, they very from age to age and from people to people, their formulas remaining identical.  Certain transitory images are attached to certain words: the word is merely as it were the button of an electric bell that calls them up.  

  Notwithstanding all its progress, philosophy has been unable as yet to offer the masses any ideal that can charm them; but, as they must have their illusions at all costs, they turn instinctively, as the insect seeks the light, to the rhetoricians who accord them what they want.  Not truth, but error has always been the chief factor in the evolution of nations . . .  The masses have never thirsted after truth.  They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring the deify error, if error seduce them.  Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is aways their victim.

  The nineteenth century and that which preceded it will doubtless be alluded to by historians as an era of curious experiments which in no other age have been tried in such number.  
  The most gigantic of these experiments was the French Revolution.  To find out that a society is not to be refashioned from top to bottom in accordance with the dictates of pure reason, it was necessary that several millions of men should be massacred and that Europe should be profoundly disturbed for a period of twenty years.  To prove to us experimentally that dictators cost the nations who acclaim them dear, two ruinous experiences have been required in fifty years, and in spite of their clearness they do not seem to have been sufficiently convincing.  The first, nevertheless, cost three millions of men and an invasion, the second involved a loss of territory, and carried in its wake the necessity of permanent armies.  A third was almost attempted not long since, and will assuredly be attempted one day.

  In enumerating the factors capable of making an impression on the minds of crowds all mention of reason might be dispensed with, were it not necessary to point out the negative value of its influence.
  We have already shown that crowds are not to be influenced by reasoning and can only comprehend rough-and-ready associations of ideas.  The orators who know how to make an impression upon them always appeal in consequence to their sentiments and never to their reason.  The laws of logic have no action on crowds.  To bring home conviction to crowds it is necessary first of all to comprehend throughly the sentiments by which they are animated, to pretend to share these sentiments, then to endeavor to modify them by calling up, by means of rudimentary associations, certain eminently suggestive notions, to be capable, if need be, of going back to the point of view from which a start was made, and, above all, to divine from instant to instant the sentiments to which one's discourse is giving birth.

  It is not even necessary to descend so low as primitive beings to obtain an insight into the utter powerlessness of reasoning when it has to fight against sentiment.  Let us merely call to mind how tenacious, for centuries long, have been religious superstitions in contradiction with the simplest logic.  For nearly two thousand years the most luminous geniuses have bowed before their laws, and modern times have to be reached for their veracity to be merely contested.  The Middle Ages and the 
Renaissance possessed many enlightened men, but not a single man who attained by reasoning to an appreciations of the childish side of his superstitions, or who promulgated even a slight doubt as to the misdeeds of the devil or the necessity of burning sorcerers.  

  What little insight we can get into these forces must be sought for in the general course of the evolution of a people, and not in the isolated facts from which this evolution appears at times to proceed.  Were these facts alone to be taken into consideration, history would seem to be the result of a series of improbable chances.  It was improbable that a Galilean carpenter should become for two thousand years an all-powerful God in whose name the most important civilizations were founded; improbable, too, that a few bands of Arabs, emerging from their deserts, should conquer the greater part of the old Graeco-roman world, and establish an empire greater than that of Alexander; improbable, again, that in Europe, at an advanced period of its development, and when authority throughout it had been systematically hierarchised, an obscure lieutenant of artillery should have succeeded in reigning over a multitude of peoples and kings.
  Let us leave reason, then, to philosophers, and not insist too strongly on its intervention in the governing of men.  It is not by reason, but most often in spite of it, that are created those sentiments that are the mainsprings of all civilization - sentiments such as honour, self-sacrifice, religious faith, patriotism, and the love of glory.

  The leader has most often started as one of the led.  He has himself been hypnotized by the idea, whose apostle he has since become.  It has taken possession of him to such a degree that everything outside it vanishes, and that every contrary opinion appears to him an error or a superstition.  

  Nations have never lacked leaders, but all of the latter have by no means been animated by those strong convictions proper to apostles.  These leaders are often subtle rhetoricians, seeking only their own personal instincts.  The influence they can assert in this manner may be very great, but it is always ephemeral.  The men of ardent convictions who have stirred the soul of crowds, the Peter the Hermits, the Luthers, the Savonarolas, the men of the French Revolution, have only exercised their fascination after having been themselves fascinated first of all by a creed.  They are then able to call up in the souls of their fellows that formidable force knows as faith, which renders a man the absolute slave of his dream.  
  The arousing of faith - whether religious, political, or social, whether faith in a work, in a person, or an idea - has always been the function of the great leaders of crowds, and it is on this account that their influence is always very great.  Of all the forces at the disposal of humanity, faith has always been one of the most tremendous, and the Gospel rightly attributes to it the power of moving mountains.  to endow a man with faith is to multiply his strength tenfold. The great events of history have been brought about by obscure believers, who have had little beyond their faith in their favor.  It is not by the aid of the learned or of philosophers, and still less of skeptics, that have been built up the great religions which have swayed the world, or the vast, empires which have spread from one hemisphere to the other.

  From the dawn of civilization onwards crowds have always undergone the influence of illusions.  It is to the creators of illusions that they have raised more temples, statues, and alters than to any other class of men.  Whether it be the religious illusions of the past or the philosophic and social illusions of the present, these formidable sovereign powers are always found at the head of all the civilizations that have successively flourished on our planet.  It is in their name there were built the temples of Chaldea and Egypt and the religious edifices of the Middle Ages, and that a vast upheaval shook the whole of Europe a century ago, and there is not one of our political, artistic, or social conceptions that is free from their powerful impress.  Occasionally, at the cost of terrible disturbances, man overthrows them, but he seems condemned always to set them up again.  Without them he would never have emerged from the primitive barbarian state, and without them, again, he would soon return to it.  Doubtless they are futile shadows; but these children of our dreams have forced the nations to create whatever the arts may boast of splendor or civilization of greatness. 

When, however, it is proposed to imbue the mind of a crowd with ideas and beliefs - with modern social theories, for instance, the leaders have recourse to different expedients.  The principal of them are three in number and clearly defined- affirmation, repetition and contagion.  Their actions is somewhat slow, but its effects, once produced, are very lasting.
  Affirmation pure and simple, kept free of all reasoning and all proof, is one of the surest means of making an idea enter the mind of crowds. 

Whether the feelings exhibited by a crowd be good or bad, they present the double character of being very simple and very exaggerated.  On this point, as on so may others, an individual in a crowd resembles primitive beings.  Inaccessible to fine distinctions he sees things as a whole, and is  blind to their intermediate phrases.  The exaggeration of the sentiments of a crowd is heightened  by the fact that any feeling when once it is exhibited communicating itself very quickly by a process of suggestion and contagion, the evident approbation of which it is the object considerably increases its force.

The violence of the feelings of crowds is also increased, especially in heterogeneous crowds,  by the absence of all sense of responsibility.  The certainty of impunity, a certainty the stronger as the crowd is more numerous, and the notion of considerable momentary force due to number, make possible in the case of crowds sentiments and acts impossible for the isolated individual.  In crowds the foolish, ignorant, and envious persons are freed from the sense of their insignificance and powerlessness, and are possessed instead by the notion of brutal and temporary but immense strength.

Given to exaggeration in its feelings, a crowd is only impressed by excessive sentiments.  An orator wishing to move a crowd must make abusive use of violent affirmations.  To exaggerate, to affirm, to resort to repetitions, and never to attempt to prove anything by reasoning are methods of argument well known to speakers at public meetings. 

Authoritativeness and intolerance are are sentiments of which crowds have a very clear notion, which they easily conceive and which they entertain as readily as they put them in practice when once they are imposed upon them.  Crowds exhibit a docile respect for force, and are but slightly impressed by kindness, which for them is scarcely other than a form of weakness.  Their sympathies have never been bestowed on easy-going masters, but on tyrants who vigorously oppressed them.  It is to these latter that they always erect the loftiest statues.  It is true that they willingly trample on the despot when they have stripped of his power, but it is because, having lost his strength, he has resumed his place among the feeble, who are to be despised because they are not to be feared.  They type of hero dear to crowds will always have the semblance of a Caesar.  His insignia attract them, his authority overawes them, and his sword instills them with fear. 


Whatever the ides suggested to crowds they can only exercise influence on condition they assume a very absolute, uncompromising, and simple shape.  They present themselves then in the guise of images, and are only accessible to the masses under this form.

When  by various processes an idea has ended by penetrating into the minds of crowds, it possesses an irresistible power and brings about a series of effects, opposition to which is bootless.  The philosophical ideas which resulted in the French Revolution took nearly a century to implant themselves in the mind of the crowd.  Their irresistible force, when once they had take root, is known.  The striving of an entire nation towards the conquest of social equality and the realization of abstract rights and ideal liberties, caused the tottering of all thrones and profoundly  disturbed the Western world.

A long time is necessary for ideas to establish themselves in the minds of crowds, but just as long a time is necessary for them to be eradicated.