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THE PSYCHOLOGY OF REVOLUTION
BY
GUSTAVE LE BON


CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION. THE REVISION OF HISTORY
PART I

THE PSYCHOLOGICAL ELEMENTS OF REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENTS


BOOK I

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF REVOLUTIONS

CHAPTER I. SCIENTIFIC AND POLITICAL REVOLUTIONS
1. Classification of Revolutions
2. Scientific Revolutions
3. Political Revolutions
4. The results of Political Revolutions

CHAPTER II. RELIGIOUS REVOLUTIONS
1. The importance of the study of Religious Revolutions in
respect of the comprehension of the great Political
Revolutions
2. The beginnings of the Reformation and its first
disciples
3. Rational value of the doctrines of the Reformation
4. Propagation of the Reformation
5. Conflict between different religious beliefs. The
impossibility of tolerance
6. The results of Religious Revolutions

CHAPTER III. THE ACTION OF GOVERNMENTS IN REVOLUTIONS
1. The feeble resistance of Governments in time of
Revolution
2. How the resistance of Governments may overcome
Revolution
3. Revolutions effected by Governments. Examples: China,
Turkey, &c
4. Social elements which survive the changes of Government
after Revolution

CHAPTER IV. THE PART PLAYED BY THE PEOPLE IN REVOLUTIONS
1. The stability and malleability Of the national mind
2. How the People regards Revolution
3. The supposed part of the People during Revolution
4. The popular entity and its constituent elements

BOOK II

THE FORMS OF MENTALITY PREVALENT DURING REVOLUTION

CHAPTER I. INDIVIDUAL VARIATIONS OF CHARACTER IN TIME OF
REVOLUTION
1. Transformations of Personality
2. Elements of character predominant in time of Revolution

CHAPTER II. THE MYSTIC MENTALITY AND THE JACOBIN MENTALITY
1. Classification of mentalities predominant in time of
Revolution
2. The Mystic Mentality
3. The Jacobin Mentality

CHAPTER III. THE REVOLUTIONARY AND CRIMINAL MENTALITIES
1. The Revolutionary Mentality
2. The Criminal Mentality

CHAPTER IV. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF REVOLUTIONARY CROWDS
1. General characteristics of the crowd
2. How the stability of the racial mind limits the
oscillations of the mind of the crowd
3. The role of the leader in Revolutionary Movements

CHAPTER V. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE REVOLUTIONARY ASSEMBLIES
1. Psychological characteristics of the great Revolutionary
Assemblies
2. The Psychology of the Revolutionary Clubs
3. A suggested explanation of the progressive exaggeration
of sentiments in assemblies

PART II

BOOK I

THE ORIGINS OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION

CHAPTER 1. THE OPINIONS OF HISTORIANS CONCERNING THE FRENCH
REVOLUTION
1. The Historians of the Revolution
2. The theory of Fatalism in respect of the Revolution
3. The hesitation of recent Historians of the Revolution
4. Impartiality in History

CHAPTER II. THE PSYCHOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS OF THE ANCIEN REGIME
1. The Absolute Monarchy and the Basis of the Ancien Regime
2. The inconveniences of the Ancien Regime
3. Life under the Ancien Regime
4. Evolution of Monarchical feeling during the Revolution

CHAPTER III. MENTAL ANARCHY AT THE TIME OF THE REVOLUTION
AND THE INFLUENCE ATTRIBUTED TO THE PHILOSOPHERS
1. Origin and Propagation of Revolutionary Ideas
2. The supposed influence of the Philosophers of the
eighteenth century upon the Genesis of the Revolution.
Their dislike of Democracy
3. The philosophical ideas of the Bourgeoisie at the time of
the Revolution

CHAPTER IV. PSYCHOLOGICAL ILLUSIONS RESPECTING THE FRENCH
REVOLUTION
1. Illusions respecting Primitive Man, the return to the
State of Nature, and the Psychology of the People
2. Illusions respecting the possibility of separating Man
from his Past and the power of Transformation attributed
to the Law
3. Illusions respecting the Theoretical Value of the great
Revolutionary Principles

BOOK II

THE RATIONAL, AFFECTIVE, MYSTIC, AND COLLECTIVE INFLUENCES ACTIVE
DURING THE REVOLUTION

CHAPTER I. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY
1. Psychological influences active during the French
Revolution
2. Dissolution of the Ancien Regime. The assembling of
the States General
3. The constituent Assembly

CHAPTER II. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
1. Political events during the life of the Legislative
Assembly
2. Mental characteristics of the Legislative Assembly

CHAPTER III. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE CONVENTION
1. The Legend of the Convention
2. Results of the triumph of the Jacobin Religion
3. Mental characteristics of the Convention

CHAPTER IV. THE GOVERNMENT OF THE CONVENTION
1. The activity of the Clubs and the Commune during the
Convention
2. The Government of France during the Convention: the
Terror
3. The End of the Convention. The Beginnings of the
Directory

CHAPTER V. INSTANCES OF REVOLUTIONARY VIOLENCE
1. Psychological Causes of Revolutionary Violence
2. The Revolutionary Tribunals
3. The Terror in the Provinces

CHAPTER VI. THE ARMIES OF THE REVOLUTION
1. The Revolutionary Assemblies and the Armies
2. The Struggle of Europe against the Revolution
3. Psychological and Military Factors which determined the
success of the Revolutionary Armies

CHAPTER VII. PSYCHOLOGY OF THE LEADERS OF THE REVOLUTION

1. Mentality of the men of the Revolution. The respective
influence of violent and feeble characters
2. Psychology of the Commissaries or Representatives
``on Mission''
3. Danton and Robespierre
4. Fouquier-Tinville, Marat, Billaud-Varenne, &c.
5. The destiny of those Members of the Convention who
survived the Revolution

BOOK III

THE CONFLICT BETWEEN ANCESTRAL INFLUENCES AND REVOLUTIONARY
PRINCIPLES

CHAPTER I. THE LAST CONVULSIONS OF ANARCHY. THE DIRECTORY
1. Psychology of the Directory
2. Despotic Government of the Directory. Recrudescence of
the Terror
3. The Advent of Bonaparte
4. Causes of the Duration of the Revolution

CHAPTER II. THE RESTORATION OF ORDER. THE CONSULAR REPUBLIC
1. How the work of the Revolution was confirmed by the
Consulate
2. The re-organisation of France by the Consulate
3. Psychological elements which determined the success of
the work of the Consulate

CHAPTER III. POLITICAL RESULTS OF THE CONFLICT BETWEEN
TRADITIONS AND THE REVOLUTIONARY PRINCIPLES DURING THE
LAST CENTURY
1. The psychological causes of the continued Revolutionary
Movements to which France has been subject
2. Summary of a century's Revolutionary Movements in France


PART III

THE RECENT EVOLUTION OF THE REVOLUTIONARY PRINCIPLES

CHAPTER I. THE PROGRESS OF DEMOCRATIC BELIEFS SINCE THE
REVOLUTION
1. Gradual propagation of Democratic Ideas after the
Revolution
2. The unequal influence of the three fundamental principles
of the Revolution
3. The Democracy of the ``Intellectuals'' and Popular
Democracy
4. Natural Inequalities and Democratic Equalisation

CHAPTER II. THE RESULTS OF DEMOCRATIC EVOLUTION
1. The influence upon social evolution of theories of no
rational value
2. The Jacobin Spirit and the Mentality created by
Democratic Beliefs
3. Universal Suffrage and its representatives
4. The craving for Reforms
5. Social distinctions in Democracies and Democratic Ideas
in various countries

CHAPTER III. THE NEW FORMS OF DEMOCRATIC BELIEF
1. The conflict between Capital and Labour
2. The evolution of the Working Classes and the Syndicalist
Movement
3. Why certain modern Democratic Governments are gradually
being transformed into Governments by Administrative
Castes

CONCLUSIONS


THE PSYCHOLOGY OF REVOLUTION

INTRODUCTION

THE REVISION OF HISTORY

The present age is not merely an epoch of discovery; it is also a
period of revision of the various elements of knowledge. Having
recognised that there are no phenomena of which the first cause
is still accessible, science has resumed the examination of her
ancient certitudes, and has proved their fragility. To-day she
sees her ancient principles vanishing one by one. Mechanics is
losing its axioms, and matter, formerly the eternal substratum of
the worlds, becomes a simple aggregate of ephemeral forces in
transitory condensation.

Despite its conjectural side, by virtue of which it to some
extent escapes the severest form of criticism, history has not
been free from this universal revision. There is no longer a
single one of its phases of which we can say that it is certainly
known. What appeared to be definitely acquired is now once more
put in question.

Among the events whose study seemed completed was the French
Revolution. Analysed by several generations of writers, one
might suppose it to be perfectly elucidated. What new thing can
be said of it, except in modification of some of its details?

And yet its most positive defenders are beginning to hesitate in
their judgments. Ancient evidence proves to be far from
impeccable. The faith in dogmas once held sacred is shaken. The
latest literature of the Revolution betrays these uncertainties.
Having related, men are more and more chary of drawing
conclusions.

Not only are the heroes of this great drama discussed without
indulgence, but thinkers are asking whether the new dispensation
which followed the ancien regime would not have established
itself naturally, without violence, in the course of progressive
civilisation. The results obtained no longer seem in
correspondence either with their immediate cost or with the
remoter consequences which the Revolution evoked from the
possibilities of history.

Several causes have led to the revision of this tragic period.
Time has calmed passions, numerous documents have gradually
emerged from the archives, and the historian is learning to
interpret them independently.

But it is perhaps modern psychology that has most effectually
influenced our ideas, by enabling us more surely to read men and
the motives of their conduct.

Among those of its discoveries which are henceforth applicable to
history we must mention, above all, a more profound understanding
of ancestral influences, the laws which rule the actions of the
crowd, data relating to the disaggregation of personality, mental
contagion, the unconscious formation of beliefs, and the
distinction between the various forms of logic.

To tell the truth, these applications of science, which are
utilised in this book, have not been so utilised hitherto.
Historians have generally stopped short at the study of
documents, and even that study is sufficient to excite the doubts
of which I have spoken.


The great events which shape the destinies of peoples -
revolutions, for example, and the outbreak of religious beliefs -
are sometimes so difficult to explain that one must limit oneself
to a mere statement.

From the time of my first historical researches I have been
struck by the impenetrable aspect of certain essential phenomena,
those relating to the genesis of beliefs especially; I felt
convinced that something fundamental was lacking that was
essential to their interpretation. Reason having said all it
could say, nothing more could be expected of it, and other means
must be sought of comprehending what had not been elucidated.

For a long time these important questions remained obscure to me.
Extended travel, devoted to the study of the remnants of vanished
civilisations, had not done much to throw light upon them.

Reflecting upon it continually, I was forced to recognise that
the problem was composed of a series of other problems, which I
should have to study separately. This I did for a period of
twenty years, presenting the results of my researches in a
succession of volumes.

One of the first was devoted to the study of the psychological
laws of the evolution of peoples. Having shown that the
historic races - that is, the races formed by the hazards of
history - finally acquired psychological characteristics as stable
as their anatomical characteristics, I attempted to explain how a
people transforms its institutions, its languages, and its arts.
I explained in the same work why it was that individual
personalities, under the influence of sudden variations of
environment, might be entirely disaggregated.

But besides the fixed collectivities formed by the peoples, there
are mobile and transitory collectivities known as crowds. Now
these crowds or mobs, by the aid of which the great movements of
history are accomplished, have characteristics absolutely
different from those of the individuals who compose them. What
are these characteristics, and how are they evolved? This new
problem was examined in The Psychology of the Crowd.

Only after these studies did I begin to perceive certain
influences which had escaped me.

But this was not all. Among the most important factors of
history one was preponderant - the factor of beliefs. How are
these beliefs born, and are they really rational and voluntary,
as was long taught? Are they not rather unconscious and
independent of all reason? A difficult question, which I dealt
with in my last book, Opinions and Beliefs.

So long as psychology regards beliefs as voluntary and rational
they will remain inexplicable. Having proved that they are
usually irrational and always involuntary, I was able to propound
the solution of this important problem; how it was that beliefs
which no reason could justify were admitted without
difficulty by the most enlightened spirits of all ages.

The solution of the historical difficulties which had so long
been sought was thenceforth obvious. I arrived at the conclusion
that beside the rational logic which conditions thought, and was
formerly regarded as our sole guide, there exist very different
forms of logic: affective logic, collective logic, and mystic
logic, which usually overrule the reason and engender the
generative impulses of our conduct.

This fact well established, it seemed to me evident that if a
great number of historical events are often uncomprehended, it is
because we seek to interpret them in the light of a logic which
in reality has very little influence upon their genesis.


All these researches, which are here summed up in a few lines,
demanded long years for their accomplishment. Despairing of
completing them, I abandoned them more than once to return to
those labours of the laboratory in which one is always sure of
skirting the truth and of acquiring fragments at least of
certitude.

But while it is very interesting to explore the world of material
phenomena, it is still more so to decipher men, for which reason
I have always been led back to psychology.

Certain principles deduced from my researches appearing likely to
prove fruitful, I resolved to apply them to the study of concrete
instances, and was thus led to deal with the Psychology of
Revolutions - notably that of the French Revolution.

Proceeding in the analysis of our great Revolution, the
greater part of the opinions determined by the reading of books
deserted me one by one, although I had considered them
unshakable.

To explain this period we must consider it as a whole, as many
historians have done. It is composed of phenomena simultaneous
but independent of one another.

Each of its phases reveals events engendered by psychological
laws working with the regularity of clockwork. The actors in
this great drama seem to move like the characters of a previously
determined drama. Each says what he must say, acts as he is
bound to act.

To be sure, the actors in the revolutionary drama differed from
those of a written drama in that they had not studied their
parts, but these were dictated by invisible forces.

Precisely because they were subjected to the inevitable
progression of logics incomprehensible to them we see them as
greatly astonished by the events of which they were the heroes as
are we ourselves. Never did they suspect the invisible powers
which forced them to act. They were the masters neither of their
fury nor their weakness. They spoke in the name of reason,
pretending to be guided by reason, but in reality it was by no
means reason that impelled them.

``The decisions for which we are so greatly reproached,'' wrote
Billaud-Varenne, ``were more often than otherwise not intended or
desired by us two days or even one day beforehand: the crisis
alone evoked them.''

Not that we must consider the events of the Revolution as
dominated by an imperious fatality. The readers of our works
will know that we recognise in the man of superior qualities the
role of averting fatalities. But he can dissociate himself
only from a few of such, and is often powerless before the
sequence of events which even at their origin could scarcely be
ruled. The scientist knows how to destroy the microbe before it
has time to act, but he knows himself powerless to prevent the
evolution of the resulting malady.


When any question gives rise to violently contradictory opinions
we may be sure that it belongs to the province of beliefs and not
to that of knowledge.

We have shown in a preceding work that belief, of unconscious
origin and independent of all reason, can never be influenced by
reason.

The Revolution, the work of believers, has seldom been judged by
any but believers. Execrated by some and praised by others, it
has remained one of those dogmas which are accepted or rejected
as a whole, without the intervention of rational logic.

Although in its beginnings a religious or political revolution
may very well be supported by rational elements, it is developed
only by the aid of mystic and affective elements which are
absolutely foreign to reason.

The historians who have judged the events of the French
Revolution in the name of rational logic could not comprehend
them, since this form of logic did not dictate them. As the
actors of these events themselves understood them but ill, we
shall not be far from the truth in saying that our
Revolution was a phenomenon equally misunderstood by those
who caused it and by those who have described it. At no period
of history did men so little grasp the present, so greatly ignore
the past, and so poorly divine the future.


. . . The power of the Revolution did not reside in the
principles - which for that matter were anything but novel - which
it sought to propagate, nor in the institutions which it sought
to found. The people cares very little for institutions and even
less for doctrines. That the Revolution was potent indeed, that
it made France accept the violence, the murders, the ruin and the
horror of a frightful civil war, that finally it defended itself
victoriously against a Europe in arms, was due to the fact that
it had founded not a new system of government but a new religion.

Now history shows us how irresistible is the might of a strong
belief. Invincible Rome herself had to bow before the armies of
nomad shepherds illuminated by the faith of Mahommed. For the
same reason the kings of Europe could not resist the
tatterdemalion soldiers of the Convention. Like all apostles,
they were ready to immolate themselves in the sole end of
propagating their beliefs, which according to their dream were to
renew the world.

The religion thus founded had the force of other religions, if
not their duration. Yet it did not perish without leaving
indelible traces, and its influence is active still.


We shall not consider the Revolution as a clean sweep in
history, as its apostles believed it. We know that to
demonstrate their intention of creating a world distinct from the
old they initiated a new era and professed to break entirely with
all vestiges of the past.

But the past never dies. It is even more truly within us than
without us. Against their will the reformers of the Revolution
remained saturated with the past, and could only continue, under
other names, the traditions of the monarchy, even exaggerating
the autocracy and centralisation of the old system. Tocqueville
had no difficulty in proving that the Revolution did little but
overturn that which was about to fall.

If in reality the Revolution destroyed but little it favoured the
fruition of certain ideas which continued thenceforth to develop.

The fraternity and liberty which it proclaimed never greatly
seduced the peoples, but equality became their gospel: the pivot
of socialism and of the entire evolution of modern democratic
ideas. We may therefore say that the Revolution did not end with
the advent of the Empire, nor with the successive restorations
which followed it. Secretly or in the light of day it has slowly
unrolled itself and still affects men's minds.


The study of the French Revolution to which a great part of this
book is devoted will perhaps deprive the reader of more than one
illusion, by proving to him that the books which recount the
history of the Revolution contain in reality a mass of legends
very remote from reality.

These legends will doubtless retain more life than history
itself. Do not regret this too greatly. It may interest a few
philosophers to know the truth, but the peoples will always
prefer dreams. Synthetising their ideal, such dreams will always
constitute powerful motives of action. One would lose courage
were it not sustained by false ideas, said Fontenelle. Joan of
Arc, the Giants of the Convention, the Imperial epic - all these
dazzling images of the past will always remain sources of hope in
the gloomy hours that follow defeat. They form part of that
patrimony of illusions left us by our fathers, whose power is
often greater than that of reality. The dream, the ideal, the
legend - in a word, the unreal - it is that which shapes history.


PART I

THE PSYCHOLOGICAL ELEMENTS OF REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENTS


BOOK I

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF REVOLUTIONS

CHAPTER I

SCIENTIFIC AND POLITICAL REVOLUTIONS

1. Classification of Revolutions.

We generally apply the term revolution to sudden political
changes, but the expression may be employed to denote all sudden
transformations, or transformations apparently sudden, whether of
beliefs, ideas, or doctrines.

We have considered elsewhere the part played by the rational,
affective, and mystic factors in the genesis of the opinions and
beliefs which determine conduct. We need not therefore return to
the subject here.

A revolution may finally become a belief, but it often commences
under the action of perfectly rational motives: the suppression
of crying abuses, of a detested despotic government, or an
unpopular sovereign, &c.

Although the origin of a revolution may be perfectly rational, we
must not forget that the reasons invoked in preparing for it do
not influence the crowd until they have been transformed
into sentiments. Rational logic can point to the abuses to be
destroyed, but to move the multitude its hopes must be awakened.
This can only be effected by the action of the affective and
mystic elements which give man the power to act. At the time of
the French Revolution, for example, rational logic, in the hands
of the philosophers, demonstrated the inconveniences of the
ancien regime, and excited the desire to change it. Mystic
logic inspired belief in the virtues of a society created in all
its members according to certain principles. Affective logic
unchained the passions confined by the bonds of ages and led to
the worst excesses. Collective logic ruled the clubs and the
Assemblies and impelled their members to actions which neither
rational nor affective nor mystic logic would ever have caused
them to commit.

Whatever its origin, a revolution is not productive of results
until it has sunk into the soul of the multitude. Then events
acquire special forms resulting from the peculiar psychology of
crowds. Popular movements for this reason have characteristics
so pronounced that the description of one will enable us to
comprehend the others.

The multitude is, therefore, the agent of a revolution; but not
its point of departure. The crowd represents an amorphous being


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