Culture, propaganda and crowds
by Chetan Parikh
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In a must-read book, “The Age of the Crowd”, the author, Serge Moscovici, writes on crowd psychology.


“It is clear that the domain of crowd psychology was shaped (and it is here that its novelty lies) by three major perceptions: (a) the masses are a social phenomenon; (b) the total incorporation of individuals into a mass is explained by suggestion; (c) hypnosis is the model of the action of the leader on the mass. These perceptions transformed a collection of odd phenomena, exceptions and minor facts into major data of reality and objects of science. They enabled Le Bon to provide a sketch for the first version of a system of crowd psychology. This system included a number of key ideas, the following half-dozen in particular:


1.    In psychological terms, a crowd is a collection of individuals endowed with mental unity and not a group of individuals coming together in the same place.


2.    Both the individual and the mass act, the former consciously and the latter unconsciously, since consciousness is individual and unconsciousness collective.


3.    Despite their outwardly revolutionary aspect, crowds are conservative. In the end they always re-establish the order they have overthrown, since for them as for any hypnotised subject, the past is infinitely more powerful than the present.


4.    Whatever their cultural background, their beliefs or their social status, masses need to submit to a leader. He neither sways them by reason nor dominates them by force but, like a hypnotist, wins them over by his glamour and prestige.


5.    Propaganda (or ‘communication’) has an irrational basis, collective beliefs, and an instrument, immediate or long-distance suggestion. Most of our actions are the result of our beliefs. Critical intelligence and a lack of conviction and passion are the two obstacles to action. These can be overcome by suggestion, which is why mass propaganda necessarily makes use of language which is allegorical, active and full of images and of straightforward and imperative formulas.


6.    All politics aimed at governing the masses, whether they be a party, a class or a nation, is of necessity a politics of the imagination. It must be based on a sovereign idea (revolution, the fatherland) or indeed an obsession implanted and cultivated in the mind of each mass-man until he is susceptible to its suggestive power. This is subsequently transformed into collective acts and images.


These key ideas reflect a certain picture of human nature which is hidden in individuals but obvious in masses. Crowd psychology sees itself above as science dealing with those masses and not with society or history.”