Great men and ordinary men
by Chetan Parikh
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In a classic book, “The Age of the Crowd”, the author, Serge Moscovici, writes on mass psychology.


“HOW, WE MIGHT ASK, is the psychology of great men different from that of ordinary ones? All the comparisons we have spent so long on have taken us no further, which is hardly surprising. Such men are not marked off from the ordinary run of mortals by either their intelligence, their eloquence or their strength. We shall therefore make use of the less specific and more social indicator employed by the anthropologist Marcel Mauss when contrasting homo duplex, the divided individual, and homo simplex, the united and whole one. The former's separate consciousness enables him to conquer his instincts and face up to the external world. The latter's reason and feelings intermingle, and his reaction is a total one in every situation. One the one hand, as Marcel Mauss writes:


Only the civilised persons of the upper strata of our own and a small number of other civilisations of earlier periods, eastern and less technically developed, are able to control the different spheres of their consciousness. They are different from other men, specialised and often differentiated hereditarily by the division of labour, which is also frequently hereditary. Above all else, however, they are further differentiated in their own consciousness and are conscious. This means that they can resist their instincts and, as a result of their education and upbringing, their ideas and their deliberate choices, can control all their actions. (Mauss, 1973: 306)


On the other hand, however:


The ordinary person is split and feels that he has a soul; but he is not captain of his fate. Nowadays the average man - and to an even greater extent the average woman - and almost everyone in archaic and backward societies, is a whole, by which I mean that his whole being is affected by his slightest perception or the least mental shock. (Mauss, 1973: 306)


Here we have a picture of two distinct human categories. The first corresponds to our culture's idea of the individual, of which Faust, tom between his two ‘souls’, is the outstanding example. The second relates to mass man as described by crowd psychology. For the moment, it seems scarcely possible to improve on the two definitions, but we can perhaps fill out the anthropological picture by adding a few psychological details.


We can suppose that the divided man has a sharply-defined super-ego and an ego with a high degree of self-esteem. His main concern is self-conservation and his own mental life is satisfying. He is also independent and self-confident. That is what we understand when we say of someone that he has will-power and the courage of his convictions. An individual of this kind is particularly apt to ‘act as a support for others, to take on the role of leader and to give a fresh stimulus to cultural development or to damage the established state of affairs’ (Freud: XXI, 218). There is an obsessional side to him and the kind of tenacity that reflects a predominant super-ego; hence the characteristic sense of mission that makes him a man of action (Freud: XXI, 84).


Looking at the united and whole man, we can also see that he too must have self-esteem and be self-centred enough to survive to hold his own in a highly competitive society where everyone has to resist the pressures he is subjected to. His predominant feature, however, is the erotic component of the libido. Attracting the love of others is his main concern and losing it what worries him most. This makes him dependent on those who can give him love or withdraw it and ready to conform to the dictates of his drives. Seeking satisfaction in that area colours his whole existence, and that combination of self-love and love of others, of the narcissistic and the erotic libido, ‘is perhaps the one we must regard as the commonest of all. It unites opposites which are able to moderate one another in it’ (Freud: XXI, 219). That is why even if such individuals are aware of a gap between consciousness and effects, they neither separate them nor see a clash between them.


We can also fill out our picture of these two distinct kinds of individual by using a general hypothesis concerning their psychic make-up. We could sum up Mauss’s divided individual by saying that he is split between the two opposite forces of love and identification, or between Eros and mimesis, and is torn between extreme individuality and extreme sociability, each of which seeks to dominate the other. This tension arises from the fact that he has wholly identified himself with an idea, a group or an ideal person and is consequently, as Le Bon would have said, hypnotised by them. The voice of conscience constantly reminds him that it is his duty not to succumb to his instincts, urging him to pursue his goal exclusively. The voice ‘produces a few great men, many psychotics and many neurotics’ (Freud and Bullitt, 1966: 41).


Freud expresses his ideas as follows:


Fools, visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics and lunatics have played great roles at all times in the history of mankind and not merely when the accident of birth had bequeathed them sovereignty. Usually they have wreaked havoc; but not always. Such persons have exercised far-reaching influence upon their own and later times, they have given impetus to important cultural movements and have made great discoveries. They have been able to accomplish such achievements on the one hand through the help of the intact portion of their personalities, that is to say in spite of their abnormalities; but on the other hand it is often precisely the pathological traits of their characters, the one-sidedness of their development, the abnormal strengthening of certain desires, the uncritical and unrestrained abandonment to a single aim, which give them the power to drag others after them and to overcome the resistance of the world. (Freud and Bullitt, 1966: xvi)


However exaggerated or shocking this picture may be, we have to take it into account. It is a familiar one in crowd psychology, as we have already seen with Le Bon and Tarde, and we cannot be aware of it without seeing it there. It may be a fiction, but a fiction of that kind is not without some connection with reality, otherwise it would not be so effectively present in all cultures. However that may be, the picture does throw a certain amount of light on the crowds devoted to the man it represents.


The whole man, on the other hand, combines both aspects of one and the same force, the narcissistic and the erotic libido, just as attraction and repulsion are the two aspects of gravity in the same body. It is in this sense, of course, that he is simple, being made, so to speak, from a single material and obeying a single force, love. The other force, identification with a person or a collective goal, is only moderately strong in his case, and the result is that his conscience - his super-ego, in short - does not ask more of him than his love for himself and others demands. It is a gentle voice, ‘an agreeable one for the person who harbors it: but it has the disadvantage that it permits the development of a very ordinary human being’ (Freud and Bullitt, 1966: 41). But we should not imagine this man as being simple-minded or having an impoverished interior life.


That is the dividing-line we have been looking for. It presupposes that Eros and mimesis are sharply separated and mutually opposed in the divided man. If there is a conflict, mimesis always has the last word. The united and whole man, on the other hand, is filled with harmony. Mimesis always respects the primacy of Eros and takes care to avoid any excess or lack of due measure. That is why this kind of man can only expect to be obeyed by a crowd in proportion to the love he receives from it.”