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


“I now propose to develop further the brief outline of the division between the two kinds of leaders with the aim of showing more clearly its concrete nature and widening the scope of the contrast between them. The first and most important aspect of that contrast lies precisely in their propensity to either ban or encourage the representation of themselves in the form of images, which they can either reject or use as an instrument of their power. By virtually refusing to use it in this way, Mosaic leaders tend to control the radiant strength of the ‘great man’ and reduce the temptation that others feel to imitate them and see reality through their eyes. In doing so, they hope to prevent religion becoming superstition, charisma a magic amulet and their own person a false god and an object of adoration. It is not by chance that the Mosaic prohibition has frequently been renewed throughout history. Indeed, Marx did precisely that in modem times, writing to one of his comrades that when he and Engels joined the Communists, they did so on the understanding that everything connected with the superstitious adoration of authority would be banished from its statutes.


Totemic leaders, on the other hand, do all that is in their power to encourage a cult of their personality, trying unceasingly to establish a visual, metaphor-laden legend around themselves and the idea supporting them. They do the easiest thing, which is to draw on traditional customs and ways of thought. This allows them to keep an ancient and familiar content, the Golden Calf of the imagination, beneath the attractive trappings of the new. To this, the crowd submits very rapidly.


This is what the fathers of the Christian Church did, assimilating a whole baggage of pagan customs and local divinities (who underwent baptism and re-emerged as saints) when they set out to win over whole peoples. And to establish its power it instituted glittering and splendid ceremonies, the magic rituals and pomps of the world it had conquered and which it had the chance of controlling by such means. As Max Weber observes, 'mass religion in particular is frequently and directly dependent on artistic devices for the required potency of its effects, since it is inclined to make concessions to the needs of the masses, which everywhere tend towards magic and idolatry' (Weber, 1965: 244). The Chevalier de Jancourt had made the same observation much earlier:


Those who have governed peoples in all ages have always made use of paintings and statues, the better to inspire in them the feelings they wished them to have, both in religion and in politics.


Once they take this path, leaders set up a living Pantheon as a receptacle for the signs of their authority in which they occupy the chief place. They make themselves into idols to capture the crowd's attention, stage-managing their person and their function in order to increase their hold over it. They tell the whole world to create a likeness, their likeness, and to have faith in it. Their personality is imposed on the crowd by the sea of portraits and emblems the crowd carries everywhere, which are to be found in homes as well as in public places.


At least, that is what happens unless they have the unusual gift of changing the crowd itself into their image, as happened some years ago in Peking when the huge crowd in Red Square formed a portrait of Mao, who was watching them from the stage and could see himself in them. When there is this mirage, individuals are gathered from all sides, caught up in the mirror the leader offers and dominated by sensations, losing their critical powers. The leader who knows how to make himself into an idol enjoys the absolute sovereignty of one man over all others, since he is in direct control of their memory.


The second difference between Mosaic and totemic leaders is that the former want to identify the mass with a religion or an idea and suppress themselves to that end, whilst the latter seek to identify the mass with themselves and become its central preoccupation. Mosaic leaders therefore try to abolish the external signs of power, seeking to affirm, by the modesty of their attitude, that they are part of ordinary humanity, as if they were afraid of offending the ideal they serve. Their attitude is always one of sobriety and their power is always discreet. They try to diminish their own stature and are aware of the fragile nature of what they have accomplished. They have no illusions about the chances of success of any human undertaking. The Bible says of Moses, 'Now the Man Moses was very meek, above all the men which are upon the face of the earth'.


This characteristic has become the criterion by which we judge the calibre of a great man. It is an indication of maturity and the renunciation of the pleasures of power. It reassures and meets the crowd's longing for purity, reconciling it with authority. It is even stressed in Khrushchev's famous secret report on the harm done by the cult of personality: 'The great modesty of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the great leader of the Revolution, is well known.' As all the accounts tell us, the latter was unostentatious and sober in speech and extremely polite in all his dealings. Trotsky relates how, during mass demonstrations, he would collect his notes as soon as his speech was finished and leave the stage quickly, to escape the inevitable sequel of the cries and cheers of thousands and wave after wave of tumultuous applause. He had little in common with those who came after him, for they were and still are applauded to order.


The words ‘humility’ and ‘modesty’ evoke a simple idea when they are applied to leaders. The man has sacrificed his ambitions to the cause, and not the opposite. We all see that as the true sign of real faith and genuine wealth. As the poet Rumi says:


Thus a branch laden with fruit is bowed down towards the ground, and a branch without fruit holds its head high, like the poplar. When there is a great abundance of fruit, there are supports to stop the branches trailing on the earth. The Prophet (be he blest) was very modest, for all the fruits of the world, from its beginning to its end, are gathered in him. Therefore he is the most modest.


Totemic leaders, however, make a show of their extraordinary qualities. In order to attract mass attention, they create an aura of personal omnipotence and infallibility in all their deeds. They want everything they are and do to be matchless and recall these things incessantly. Their self-confidence is visible and contagious. They start by persuading the crowd that they are not like other men and hence come to believe it themselves. The crowd tells itself that its leader can do great things and even perform miracles. The man who has been marked out in this way seems to have been designated by God, history or nature. This makes him, like Stalin, an outstanding example of this kind of leader,


a superman endowed with supernatural qualities like a god. Such a man is supposed to know everything, to think for everybody, to do everything and to be infallible. (Lazitch, 1976: 53)

It goes without saying that the two kinds of leader can only be understood with reference to each other. We cannot, of course, judge how important they are in the life of a society or say which is better suited to which kind of crowd. Questions of that nature will be answered one day, if there is need of it. It is easy to see, however, that Mosaic leaders take a loftier road, for they primarily and principally ask the masses to give up any immediate satisfaction of their desires and instincts. This is not done for the sake of authority or abstinence, but only as a means of confronting the external world and the constraints of work and social life. It is by recognising the limits of the world and interiorising them in terms of an ideal that we become masters of ourselves, for in so doing we become the masters of our instincts and desires. Consequently, since it is for their sake that we have made these sacrifices, we identify more closely with our community and its aims.


In short, such leaders ask of others what they ask of themselves and dominate them to the extent that they dominate themselves. This means that their authority has an ethical origin, as Freud writes:


But ethics is a limitation of instinct. The Prophets are never tired of asserting that God requires nothing other from his people than a just and virtuous life - that is, abstention from every instinctual satisfaction which is still condemned as vicious by our morality to-day as well. (Freud: XXIII, 118-19)


But this sacrifice, far from diminishing individuals psychologically, enhances them and gives them self-confidence. Why should this be so? Because the leaders who ask it of them play for each individual the part of a strict but fair super-ego of the kind that parents are thought to provide; and for many people meeting its demands, conforming to its ideal and winning its approval is a source of satisfaction. Their ego feels itself transported and strengthened, and this is of capital importance. 'When the ego has brought the super-ego the sacrifice of an instinctual renunciation, it expects to be rewarded by receiving more love from it. The consciousness of deserving this love is felt by it as pride' (Freud: XXID, 117).


It means an increase in their self-esteem, in so far as it makes them feel superior to others who are still slaves to instincts and desires and have failed where they have succeeded. They feel they are special and have a keen sense of being a people chosen for an exclusive mission, like the early Christians, the French during the Revolution and, more recently, the socialists.


It is not surprising that totemic leaders adapt themselves to the masses as they are and do not ask of them anything that would disturb them or that they would refuse to understand. They do the opposite, in fact, and continually seek to reassure them that their instincts and needs are sound and promise to satisfy them in full. On the other hand, they are ready to limit that satisfaction by means of external repression, the army and police being the most effective ways of achieving this. Such reassurance entails two kinds of consequences. On the one hand, both individuals and the mass more or less expect miracles and rediscover their childish faith in an omnipotent person or magic formula. This justifies their infinite growth, as does publicity every day, enclosing the masses in a world of illusions, a Utopia of abundance or boundless justice, a magic world, in fact.


The authority of leaders of this kind could be said to be of an economic nature in so far as it comes from the ability to satisfy needs or to promise that they will be satisfied. Even ideas are seen in this way. For example, Christianity is a way of satisfying the need for immortality and happiness and socialism is a means of satisfying that for comfort and the enjoyment of earthly riches. The inevitable result of this is a fall in the self-esteem of both the individual and the masses, but for the opposite reasons to those we have just seen, namely that the expected rewards do not come from the super-ego. Indeed, the latter is severely critical of each person's deeds, and the ego is consequently weakened. People feel inferior to the leaders, on whom the partly-illusory satisfaction of desires now depends, and also to those who have accepted a renunciation that reconciles them with the ideals of the ego. In short, Mosaic leaders can only govern if they strengthen the ego, and totemic leaders only if they weaken it. At least that is logically what should happen, but reality is not often synonymous with a logical framework.


The fact is also that crowd psychology began by describing mainly totemic leaders, with Napoleon as the prototype, and later, in Freud's work, offered an analysis of Mosaic leaders, whose prototype is the prophet of Israel. The contrast between them lies in the prohibition against setting up idols imposed on the masses and that against charming the masses imposed on leaders. Movement from one to the other would be like that from a science smacking of magic to one based on reason or from a society which refuses to recognise the autonomy of private and public life to a divided society which does recognise it and enshrines it in the ethic it imposes on its leaders. As Freud wrote:


Going back to ethics, we may say in conclusion that a part of its precepts are justified rationally by the necessity for delimiting the rights of society as against the individual, the rights of the individual as against society and those of individuals as against one another. (Freud: XXIII, 122)


But in mass societies the opposite is most often the case. That means that there is still something we do not know, which is why the latter, which is progress from the historical point of view, goes hand in hand with psychic regression. The very fact that we cannot solve this problem shows that we are operating at the limits of the hypotheses we have proposed in the attempt to provide some degree of rational explanation of a reality which still needs a great deal more.”