Mosaic and totemic leaders
by Chetan Parikh
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In a classic, “The Age of the Crowd”, the author, Serge Moscovici, writes on leadership and mass psychology.


“LEADERS WIELD THEIR POWER because they have exceptional gifts and an idea, a view of the world, that they proclaim. It becomes the major passion of a class, a party or a people. We sense the presence of these gifts, which are truly charismatic, in an individual most frequently when words that would seem ridiculous in anyone else's mouth and actions that would appear bogus if anyone else performed them are far from being laughable or out of place when they originate from him. Coming from him, they make a strong impression on us and we see them as signs of a man at one with his ideas and his mission.


But let us consider the variety of modern leaders. We can distinguish two main kinds, the Mosaic and the totemic. Under the first heading, we immediately think of prophets, founders of republics (as in the United States, for example) and the creators of social and religious movements such as Mahomet, Marx or Gandhi, and under the second of tyrants, mob orators and the wizard-kings or shamans of so-called primitive societies.


Putting them into categories is not enough, however. We also need to know what crowd psychology has to tell us about the basis of such selection. There can be no doubt that the main one, which we are often unaware of but which subsumes all the others, is the prohibition against making images. This means opposing any recourse to rituals, magical procedures and teachings which create a concrete representation of their gods and leaders. With Moses, it was a question of the principle of authority: ‘Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.’


Whoever follows and respects this prohibition is turning his gaze away from transitory figures and towards invisible realities, and his ears are tuned to catch the sense of words and not their sound. For the important thing is still what is said, not how it is said, and what men must admire and respect is higher ideas and not the men who embody them, who are really no more than flesh-and-blood idols. With this commandment, Moses wanted to prevent the return of those he had driven out, the magicians and worshippers of fetishes who create illusions and hypnotise peoples.


Among the precepts of the Moses religion there is one that is of greater importance than appears to begin with. This is the prohibition against making an image of God - the compulsion to worship a God whom one cannot see. In this, I suspect, Moses was outdoing the strictness of the Aten religion. Perhaps he merely wanted to be consistent: his God would in that case have neither a name nor a countenance. Perhaps it was a fresh measure against magical abuses. But if this prohibition were accepted, it must have a profound effect. For it meant that a sensory perception was given second place to what may be called an abstract idea a triumph of intellectuality over sensuality or, strictly speaking, an instinctual renunciation, with all its necessary psychological consequences. (Freud: XXIII, 112-13)


By making the forbidding of likenesses a measure of the progress of culture and intelligence, Freud makes their glut of images, adulation and splendiferous homage the sign of a regression towards an enslavement to the instincts, which can be observed in a substitution which takes place. Instead of impersonal obedience to the religion, god, social teaching and so on that the leader represents, there is a personal one to him and his name. These are the snares and delusions masses and leaders alike must reject if they are to recover part of the lost ground of reason. Only if they do that can they look forward to living one day in the world as it should be, the world of which the Zohar says that ‘it will be a world without images in which there will be no comparison between the image and what it represents’.”