Charles-Marie Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931) was a leading French polymath – an individual whose knowledge and ideas spans numerous subjects and who draws upon this knowledge to solve specific problems.
He wrote a book, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, that became one of the seminal works of crowd psychology. In this book, Le Bon presents an argument that not only makes sense in theory, but that history has shown to work – not only once, but twice in the twentieth century. And it seems to be working now in the United States – putting our Constitutional Republic in peril.
In a nutshell, here is his train of thought:
- While all our ancient beliefs are tottering and disappearing, while the old pillars of society are giving way one by one, the power of the crowd is the only force that nothing menaces, and of which the prestige is continually on the increase.
- This was beginning of mass politics. Spendiing less time targeting the educated – and start targeting the crowd.
- There is a psychological law of the mental unity of crowds.
- When individuals identify themselves with crowds, they lose the ability to think for themselves. Instead, they think WITH the crowd.
- Accordingly, crowd psychology acts as a hypnotizer – individuals in the crowd are hypnotized. All feelings and thoughts are bent in the direction determined by the hypnotizer.
- To sway a crowd doesn’t require the hypnotizer to tell the truth – instead, the hypnotizer tells the crowd what they want to hear – and appeals to the crowd’s emotions.
- The masses never thirst for truth – they turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduces them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master – and whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.
- So, the strategy is to simplify ideas and win over a crowd of like-minded people. Don’t be tied to the truth – instead, appeal to the crowd who can become emotionally tied to your ideas. In short, tell them illusions that they want to hear.
- This requires the critical skill of Communications – and relegates moot the Information skill (that seeks truth). As a result, the hypnotizer can use the Analysis skill to draw conclusions to her/his own desire – whether or not these conclusions are true – and sway the crowd.
- This technique becomes even more power through the Technology skill. Instead of relying on newspapers, magazines, or in-person speeches, the hypnotizer can reach mass audiences through televised rallies, well-placed cable commentators, or mass media outlets such as Facebook or Twitter.
Does this sound familiar?
- It should – not only because we seem to be seeing this strategy in action today, but also because we witnessed the strategy being successfully used in two occasions during the twentieth century.
Have we learned from history?
- Some of us have – and some of us apparently haven’t.
Does history repeat itself?
- One thing is for sure: We seem to be well on the way to witnessing history repeat itself.
- That our Constitutional Republic is in peril should be eminently clear – at least to those who haven’t been hypnotized.