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The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind Summary

The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind by Gustave La Bon explains the psychology of crowds, their vulnerabilities, and their greatest virtues. It is easy to be infected with the enthusiasm and the emotions that crowds evoke, which is why it is necessary to apply critical thinking, and not to yield every impulse you have.

Summary

Crowds are not adapted to reasoning; they are quick to act. The dogmas that are created by the crowd will have the power of old dogmas, they will be as tyrannical, and they will be above discussion. The divine right of kings is replaced by the divine right of the masses.

A small intellectual aristocracy create civilizations, not crowds. Crowds can only destroy – their rule is a barbarian phase.

But when the structure of civilization is corrupt, it is the masses that bring its downfall.

Crowds can either be heroic or criminal.

The make-up of a crowd is not an average of its constituent elements, but something with entirely new characteristics, just like how in chemistry, bases and acids combine to form a new body.

The collective mind compromises individuality. the homogenous, unconscious qualities swamp the heterogenous.

Crowds possess ordinary and common qualities but cannot accomplish acts that require high intelligence. In crowds, it is stupidity and not wit that is accumulated.  

A crowd is the slave of the impulses it receives. The isolated individual may submit to the same causes as the man in a crowd, but the isolated individual’s brain shows him the error of yielding to them.

Crowds think in images and does not distinguish between the subjective and objective.

The crowd sees things as a whole and is blind to intermediate phases. The sentiments of crowds are simple or exaggerated.

The tendency of crowds to exaggerate constitute the instincts of primitive man. Crowds that are skillfully influenced, are capable of devotion, and of displaying the highest virtues, more so than the isolated individual.

Crowds have conservative instincts. Often, they change the names of the institutions, and may accomplish violent revolutions, but the essence of these institutions do not change too much.

It takes a long time for ideas to establish themselves in the minds of crowds, and just as long for them to be eradicated. This is why crowds are several generations behind the educated and the philosophers.

Crowds make judgements that are forced upon them, and not judgements adopted after discussion.

The crowd demands a god before anything else. Reason has not banished superstition. If they cease to hear more of divinity and religion, they will still yield to their religious instincts.

People are like an organism that was created by the past, and like any organism, can only change by slow hereditary accumulations. Tradition is what guides men; no civilization would be possible without it.

The consequence of this is that since man has existed, he has had to contend with the same concerns, to create a network of traditions that he endeavors to destroy after their benefits have been worn out.  Civilization is not possible without tradition, and progress is not possible without destruction of those traditions.

Philosophy, despite its progress, has never been able to charm the masses. It has never been truth, but error that has been the main factor in the evolution of nations. Socialism is still powerful because it is the last illusion that is still vital, despite all the evidence against it.

It’s strength lies in the fact that it is championed by people who are ignorant enough of things as they are, that they are ready to venture boldly to promise mankind happiness. The masses have never thirsted for truth, they prefer to deify error, if error seduces them.

Man, like animals, has a natural tendency to imitate. And imitation is necessary provided it is easy. The opinions of the crowd are propagated by contagion, and not by reasoning.

The Crowd: A Study of the Popular MindThe Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind Summary 1

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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