Thursday, February 5, 1998

The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind

by Gustave LeBon
Translator not named; with an introduction by Robert A. Nye (my thesis advisor).

There are two ways to approach this polemical rant.  The first is as an historical product: it's a conservative response to the vagaries of the masses, which in LeBon's day were leading to the dangers of socialism, indifference, and decadence.  The primitive crowd mentality was destroying civilization, as LeBon saw it, and this work is meant to address why, and offers insights on how the statesman can control crowds better (not through reason but empty platitudes and obvious imagery).

The second way to look at the work is as a scholarly argument: in this it fails utterly.  Self-contradictory, rambling and perfunctory when it comes to "proving" his notions, LeBon is certainly a shrewd observer of the crowd mentality, but his conclusions are illogical, misplaced, and false.  This book is in fact itself a good example of crowd manipulation as LeBon sees it!  That is, it is repetitive, avoids rational argument and invokes vague causes like race genius and civilizing sentiment. 

three stars