THE PSYCHOLOGY OF REVOLUTION BY GUSTAVE LE BON
CONTENTS INTRODUCTION. THE REVISION OF HISTORY PART I
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL ELEMENTS OF REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENTS
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF REVOLUTIONS
CHAPTER I. SCIENTIFIC AND POLITICAL REVOLUTIONS 1. Classification of Revolutions 2. Scientific Revolutions 3. Political Revolutions 4. The results of Political Revolutions
CHAPTER II. RELIGIOUS REVOLUTIONS 1. The importance of the study of Religious Revolutions in respect of the comprehension of the great Political Revolutions 2. The beginnings of the Reformation and its first disciples 3. Rational value of the doctrines of the Reformation 4. Propagation of the Reformation 5. Conflict between different religious beliefs. The impossibility of tolerance 6. The results of Religious Revolutions
CHAPTER III. THE ACTION OF GOVERNMENTS IN REVOLUTIONS 1. The feeble resistance of Governments in time of Revolution 2. How the resistance of Governments may overcome Revolution 3. Revolutions effected by Governments. Examples: China, Turkey, &c 4. Social elements which survive the changes of Government after Revolution CHAPTER IV. THE PART PLAYED BY THE PEOPLE IN REVOLUTIONS 1. The stability and malleability Of the national mind 2. How the People regards Revolution 3. The supposed part of the People during Revolution 4. The popular entity and its constituent elements
THE FORMS OF MENTALITY PREVALENT DURING REVOLUTION
CHAPTER I. INDIVIDUAL VARIATIONS OF CHARACTER IN TIME OF REVOLUTION 1. Transformations of Personality 2. Elements of character predominant in time of Revolution
CHAPTER II. THE MYSTIC MENTALITY AND THE JACOBIN MENTALITY 1. Classification of mentalities predominant in time of Revolution 2. The Mystic Mentality 3. The Jacobin Mentality
CHAPTER III. THE REVOLUTIONARY AND CRIMINAL MENTALITIES 1. The Revolutionary Mentality 2. The Criminal Mentality
CHAPTER IV. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF REVOLUTIONARY CROWDS 1. General characteristics of the crowd 2. How the stability of the racial mind limits the oscillations of the mind of the crowd 3. The role of the leader in Revolutionary Movements
CHAPTER V. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE REVOLUTIONARY ASSEMBLIES 1. Psychological characteristics of the great Revolutionary Assemblies 2. The Psychology of the Revolutionary Clubs 3. A suggested explanation of the progressive exaggeration of sentiments in assemblies
THE ORIGINS OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
CHAPTER 1. THE OPINIONS OF HISTORIANS CONCERNING THE FRENCH REVOLUTION 1. The Historians of the Revolution 2. The theory of Fatalism in respect of the Revolution 3. The hesitation of recent Historians of the Revolution 4. Impartiality in History CHAPTER II. THE PSYCHOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS OF THE ANCIEN REGIME 1. The Absolute Monarchy and the Basis of the Ancien Regime 2. The inconveniences of the Ancien Regime 3. Life under the Ancien Regime 4. Evolution of Monarchical feeling during the Revolution
CHAPTER III. MENTAL ANARCHY AT THE TIME OF THE REVOLUTION AND THE INFLUENCE ATTRIBUTED TO THE PHILOSOPHERS 1. Origin and Propagation of Revolutionary Ideas 2. The supposed influence of the Philosophers of the eighteenth century upon the Genesis of the Revolution. Their dislike of Democracy 3. The philosophical ideas of the Bourgeoisie at the time of the Revolution
CHAPTER IV. PSYCHOLOGICAL ILLUSIONS RESPECTING THE FRENCH REVOLUTION 1. Illusions respecting Primitive Man, the return to the State of Nature, and the Psychology of the People 2. Illusions respecting the possibility of separating Man from his Past and the power of Transformation attributed to the Law 3. Illusions respecting the Theoretical Value of the great Revolutionary Principles
THE RATIONAL, AFFECTIVE, MYSTIC, AND COLLECTIVE INFLUENCES ACTIVE DURING THE REVOLUTION
CHAPTER I. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY 1. Psychological influences active during the French Revolution 2. Dissolution of the Ancien Regime. The assembling of the States General 3. The constituent Assembly
CHAPTER II. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY 1. Political events during the life of the Legislative Assembly 2. Mental characteristics of the Legislative Assembly
CHAPTER III. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE CONVENTION 1. The Legend of the Convention 2. Results of the triumph of the Jacobin Religion 3. Mental characteristics of the Convention
CHAPTER IV. THE GOVERNMENT OF THE CONVENTION 1. The activity of the Clubs and the Commune during the Convention 2. The Government of France during the Convention: the Terror 3. The End of the Convention. The Beginnings of the Directory CHAPTER V. INSTANCES OF REVOLUTIONARY VIOLENCE 1. Psychological Causes of Revolutionary Violence 2. The Revolutionary Tribunals 3. The Terror in the Provinces
CHAPTER VI. THE ARMIES OF THE REVOLUTION 1. The Revolutionary Assemblies and the Armies 2. The Struggle of Europe against the Revolution 3. Psychological and Military Factors which determined the success of the Revolutionary Armies
CHAPTER VII. PSYCHOLOGY OF THE LEADERS OF THE REVOLUTION
1. Mentality of the men of the Revolution. The respective influence of violent and feeble characters 2. Psychology of the Commissaries or Representatives "on Mission'' 3. Danton and Robespierre 4. Fouquier-Tinville, Marat, Billaud-Varenne, &c. 5. The destiny of those Members of the Convention who survived the Revolution
THE CONFLICT BETWEEN ANCESTRAL INFLUENCES AND REVOLUTIONARY PRINCIPLES
CHAPTER I. THE LAST CONVULSIONS OF ANARCHY. THE DIRECTORY 1. Psychology of the Directory 2. Despotic Government of the Directory. Recrudescence of the Terror 3. The Advent of Bonaparte 4. Causes of the Duration of the Revolution
CHAPTER II. THE RESTORATION OF ORDER. THE CONSULAR REPUBLIC 1. How the work of the Revolution was confirmed by the Consulate 2. The re-organisation of France by the Consulate 3. Psychological elements which determined the success of the work of the Consulate
CHAPTER III. POLITICAL RESULTS OF THE CONFLICT BETWEEN TRADITIONS AND THE REVOLUTIONARY PRINCIPLES DURING THE LAST CENTURY 1. The psychological causes of the continued Revolutionary Movements to which France has been subject 2. Summary of a century's Revolutionary Movements in France
THE RECENT EVOLUTION OF THE REVOLUTIONARY PRINCIPLES CHAPTER I. THE PROGRESS OF DEMOCRATIC BELIEFS SINCE THE REVOLUTION 1. Gradual propagation of Democratic Ideas after the Revolution 2. The unequal influence of the three fundamental principles of the Revolution 3. The Democracy of the "Intellectuals'' and Popular Democracy 4. Natural Inequalities and Democratic Equalisation
CHAPTER II. THE RESULTS OF DEMOCRATIC EVOLUTION 1. The influence upon social evolution of theories of no rational value 2. The Jacobin Spirit and the Mentality created by Democratic Beliefs 3. Universal Suffrage and its representatives 4. The craving for Reforms 5. Social distinctions in Democracies and Democratic Ideas in various countries
CHAPTER III. THE NEW FORMS OF DEMOCRATIC BELIEF 1. The conflict between Capital and Labour 2. The evolution of the Working Classes and the Syndicalist Movement 3. Why certain modern Democratic Governments are gradually being transformed into Governments by Administrative Castes
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF REVOLUTION
THE REVISION OF HISTORY
The present age is not merely an epoch of discovery; it is also a period of revision of the various elements of knowledge. Having recognised that there are no phenomena of which the first cause is still accessible, science has resumed the examination of her ancient certitudes, and has proved their fragility. To-day she sees her ancient principles vanishing one by one. Mechanics is losing its axioms, and matter, formerly the eternal substratum of the worlds, becomes a simple aggregate of ephemeral forces in transitory condensation.
Despite its conjectural side, by virtue of which it to some extent escapes the severest form of criticism, history has not been free from this universal revision. There is no longer a single one of its phases of which we can say that it is certainly known. What appeared to be definitely acquired is now once more put in question.
Among the events whose study seemed completed was the French Revolution. Analysed by several generations of writers, one might suppose it to be perfectly elucidated. What new thing can be said of it, except in modification of some of its details?
And yet its most positive defenders are beginning to hesitate in their judgments. Ancient evidence proves to be far from impeccable. The faith in dogmas once held sacred is shaken. The latest literature of the Revolution betrays these uncertainties. Having related, men are more and more chary of drawing conclusions.
Not only are the heroes of this great drama discussed without indulgence, but thinkers are asking whether the new dispensation which followed the ancien regime would not have established itself naturally, without violence, in the course of progressive civilisation. The results obtained no longer seem in correspondence either with their immediate cost or with the remoter consequences which the Revolution evoked from the possibilities of history.
Several causes have led to the revision of this tragic period. Time has calmed passions, numerous documents have gradually emerged from the archives, and the historian is learning to interpret them independently.
But it is perhaps modern psychology that has most effectually influenced our ideas, by enabling us more surely to read men and the motives of their conduct.
Among those of its discoveries which are henceforth applicable to history we must mention, above all, a more profound understanding of ancestral influences, the laws which rule the actions of the crowd, data relating to the disaggregation of personality, mental contagion, the unconscious formation of beliefs, and the distinction between the various forms of logic.
To tell the truth, these applications of science, which are utilised in this book, have not been so utilised hitherto. Historians have generally stopped short at the study of documents, and even that study is sufficient to excite the doubts of which I have spoken.
The great events which shape the destinies of peoples— revolutions, for example, and the outbreak of religious beliefs— are sometimes so difficult to explain that one must limit oneself to a mere statement.
From the time of my first historical researches I have been struck by the impenetrable aspect of certain essential phenomena, those relating to the genesis of beliefs especially; I felt convinced that something fundamental was lacking that was essential to their interpretation. Reason having said all it could say, nothing more could be expected of it, and other means must be sought of comprehending what had not been elucidated.
For a long time these important questions remained obscure to me. Extended travel, devoted to the study of the remnants of vanished civilisations, had not done much to throw light upon them.
Reflecting upon it continually, I was forced to recognise that the problem was composed of a series of other problems, which I should have to study separately. This I did for a period of twenty years, presenting the results of my researches in a succession of volumes.
One of the first was devoted to the study of the psychological laws of the evolution of peoples. Having shown that the historic races—that is, the races formed by the hazards of history—finally acquired psychological characteristics as stable as their anatomical characteristics, I attempted to explain how a people transforms its institutions, its languages, and its arts. I explained in the same work why it was that individual personalities, under the influence of sudden variations of environment, might be entirely disaggregated.
But besides the fixed collectivities formed by the peoples, there are mobile and transitory collectivities known as crowds. Now these crowds or mobs, by the aid of which the great movements of history are accomplished, have characteristics absolutely different from those of the individuals who compose them. What are these characteristics, and how are they evolved? This new problem was examined in The Psychology of the Crowd.
Only after these studies did I begin to perceive certain influences which had escaped me.
But this was not all. Among the most important factors of history one was preponderant—the factor of beliefs. How are these beliefs born, and are they really rational and voluntary, as was long taught? Are they not rather unconscious and independent of all reason? A difficult question, which I dealt with in my last book, Opinions and Beliefs.
So long as psychology regards beliefs as voluntary and rational they will remain inexplicable. Having proved that they are usually irrational and always involuntary, I was able to propound the solution of this important problem; how it was that beliefs which no reason could justify were admitted without difficulty by the most enlightened spirits of all ages.
The solution of the historical difficulties which had so long been sought was thenceforth obvious. I arrived at the conclusion that beside the rational logic which conditions thought, and was formerly regarded as our sole guide, there exist very different forms of logic: affective logic, collective logic, and mystic logic, which usually overrule the reason and engender the generative impulses of our conduct.
This fact well established, it seemed to me evident that if a great number of historical events are often uncomprehended, it is because we seek to interpret them in the light of a logic which in reality has very little influence upon their genesis.
All these researches, which are here summed up in a few lines, demanded long years for their accomplishment. Despairing of completing them, I abandoned them more than once to return to those labours of the laboratory in which one is always sure of skirting the truth and of acquiring fragments at least of certitude.
But while it is very interesting to explore the world of material phenomena, it is still more so to decipher men, for which reason I have always been led back to psychology.
Certain principles deduced from my researches appearing likely to prove fruitful, I resolved to apply them to the study of concrete instances, and was thus led to deal with the Psychology of Revolutions—notably that of the French Revolution.
Proceeding in the analysis of our great Revolution, the greater part of the opinions determined by the reading of books deserted me one by one, although I had considered them unshakable.
To explain this period we must consider it as a whole, as many historians have done. It is composed of phenomena simultaneous but independent of one another.
Each of its phases reveals events engendered by psychological laws working with the regularity of clockwork. The actors in this great drama seem to move like the characters of a previously determined drama. Each says what he must say, acts as he is bound to act.
To be sure, the actors in the revolutionary drama differed from those of a written drama in that they had not studied their parts, but these were dictated by invisible forces.
Precisely because they were subjected to the inevitable progression of logics incomprehensible to them we see them as greatly astonished by the events of which they were the heroes as are we ourselves. Never did they suspect the invisible powers which forced them to act. They were the masters neither of their fury nor their weakness. They spoke in the name of reason, pretending to be guided by reason, but in reality it was by no means reason that impelled them.
"The decisions for which we are so greatly reproached,'' wrote Billaud-Varenne, "were more often than otherwise not intended or desired by us two days or even one day beforehand: the crisis alone evoked them.''
Not that we must consider the events of the Revolution as dominated by an imperious fatality. The readers of our works will know that we recognise in the man of superior qualities the role of averting fatalities. But he can dissociate himself only from a few of such, and is often powerless before the sequence of events which even at their origin could scarcely be ruled. The scientist knows how to destroy the microbe before it has time to act, but he knows himself powerless to prevent the evolution of the resulting malady.
When any question gives rise to violently contradictory opinions we may be sure that it belongs to the province of beliefs and not to that of knowledge.
We have shown in a preceding work that belief, of unconscious origin and independent of all reason, can never be influenced by reason.
The Revolution, the work of believers, has seldom been judged by any but believers. Execrated by some and praised by others, it has remained one of those dogmas which are accepted or rejected as a whole, without the intervention of rational logic.
Although in its beginnings a religious or political revolution may very well be supported by rational elements, it is developed only by the aid of mystic and affective elements which are absolutely foreign to reason.
The historians who have judged the events of the French Revolution in the name of rational logic could not comprehend them, since this form of logic did not dictate them. As the actors of these events themselves understood them but ill, we shall not be far from the truth in saying that our Revolution was a phenomenon equally misunderstood by those who caused it and by those who have described it. At no period of history did men so little grasp the present, so greatly ignore the past, and so poorly divine the future.
. . . The power of the Revolution did not reside in the principles—which for that matter were anything but novel—which it sought to propagate, nor in the institutions which it sought to found. The people cares very little for institutions and even less for doctrines. That the Revolution was potent indeed, that it made France accept the violence, the murders, the ruin and the horror of a frightful civil war, that finally it defended itself victoriously against a Europe in arms, was due to the fact that it had founded not a new system of government but a new religion.
Now history shows us how irresistible is the might of a strong belief. Invincible Rome herself had to bow before the armies of nomad shepherds illuminated by the faith of Mahommed. For the same reason the kings of Europe could not resist the tatterdemalion soldiers of the Convention. Like all apostles, they were ready to immolate themselves in the sole end of propagating their beliefs, which according to their dream were to renew the world.
The religion thus founded had the force of other religions, if not their duration. Yet it did not perish without leaving indelible traces, and its influence is active still.
We shall not consider the Revolution as a clean sweep in history, as its apostles believed it. We know that to demonstrate their intention of creating a world distinct from the old they initiated a new era and professed to break entirely with all vestiges of the past.
But the past never dies. It is even more truly within us than without us. Against their will the reformers of the Revolution remained saturated with the past, and could only continue, under other names, the traditions of the monarchy, even exaggerating the autocracy and centralisation of the old system. Tocqueville had no difficulty in proving that the Revolution did little but overturn that which was about to fall.
If in reality the Revolution destroyed but little it favoured the fruition of certain ideas which continued thenceforth to develop.
The fraternity and liberty which it proclaimed never greatly seduced the peoples, but equality became their gospel: the pivot of socialism and of the entire evolution of modern democratic ideas. We may therefore say that the Revolution did not end with the advent of the Empire, nor with the successive restorations which followed it. Secretly or in the light of day it has slowly unrolled itself and still affects men's minds.
The study of the French Revolution to which a great part of this book is devoted will perhaps deprive the reader of more than one illusion, by proving to him that the books which recount the history of the Revolution contain in reality a mass of legends very remote from reality.
These legends will doubtless retain more life than history itself. Do not regret this too greatly. It may interest a few philosophers to know the truth, but the peoples will always prefer dreams. Synthetising their ideal, such dreams will always constitute powerful motives of action. One would lose courage were it not sustained by false ideas, said Fontenelle. Joan of Arc, the Giants of the Convention, the Imperial epic—all these dazzling images of the past will always remain sources of hope in the gloomy hours that follow defeat. They form part of that patrimony of illusions left us by our fathers, whose power is often greater than that of reality. The dream, the ideal, the legend—in a word, the unreal—it is that which shapes history.
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL ELEMENTS OF REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENTS
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF REVOLUTIONS
SCIENTIFIC AND POLITICAL REVOLUTIONS
1. Classification of Revolutions.
We generally apply the term revolution to sudden political changes, but the expression may be employed to denote all sudden transformations, or transformations apparently sudden, whether of beliefs, ideas, or doctrines.
We have considered elsewhere the part played by the rational, affective, and mystic factors in the genesis of the opinions and beliefs which determine conduct. We need not therefore return to the subject here.
A revolution may finally become a belief, but it often commences under the action of perfectly rational motives: the suppression of crying abuses, of a detested despotic government, or an unpopular sovereign, &c.
Although the origin of a revolution may be perfectly rational, we must not forget that the reasons invoked in preparing for it do not influence the crowd until they have been transformed into sentiments. Rational logic can point to the abuses to be destroyed, but to move the multitude its hopes must be awakened. This can only be effected by the action of the affective and mystic elements which give man the power to act. At the time of the French Revolution, for example, rational logic, in the hands of the philosophers, demonstrated the inconveniences of the ancien regime, and excited the desire to change it. Mystic logic inspired belief in the virtues of a society created in all its members according to certain principles. Affective logic unchained the passions confined by the bonds of ages and led to the worst excesses. Collective logic ruled the clubs and the Assemblies and impelled their members to actions which neither rational nor affective nor mystic logic would ever have caused them to commit.
Whatever its origin, a revolution is not productive of results until it has sunk into the soul of the multitude. Then events acquire special forms resulting from the peculiar psychology of crowds. Popular movements for this reason have characteristics so pronounced that the description of one will enable us to comprehend the others.
The multitude is, therefore, the agent of a revolution; but not its point of departure. The crowd represents an amorphous being which can do nothing, and will nothing, without a head to lead it. It will quickly exceed the impulse once received, but it never creates it.
The sudden political revolutions which strike the historian most forcibly are often the least important. The great revolutions are those of manners and thought. Changing the name of a government does not transform the mentality of a people. To overthrow the institutions of a people is not to re-shape its soul.
The true revolutions, those which transform the destinies of the peoples, are most frequently accomplished so slowly that the historians can hardly point to their beginnings. The term evolution is, therefore, far more appropriate than revolution.
The various elements we have enumerated as entering into the genesis of the majority of revolutions will not suffice to classify them. Considering only the designed object, we will divide them into scientific revolutions, political revolutions, and religious revolutions.
2. Scientific Revolutions.
Scientific revolutions are by far the most important. Although they attract but little attention, they are often fraught with remote consequences, such as are not engendered by political revolutions. We will therefore put them first, although we cannot study them here.
For instance, if our conceptions of the universe have profoundly changed since the time of the Revolution, it is because astronomical discoveries and the application of experimental methods have revolutionised them, by demonstrating that phenomena, instead of being conditioned by the caprices of the gods, are ruled by invariable laws.
Such revolutions are fittingly spoken of as evolution, on account of their slowness. But there are others which, although of the same order, deserve the name of revolution by reason of their rapidity: we may instance the theories of Darwin, overthrowing the whole science of biology in a few years; the discoveries of Pasteur, which revolutionised medicine during the lifetime of their author; and the theory of the dissociation of matter, proving that the atom, formerly supposed to be eternal, is not immune from the laws which condemn all the elements of the universe to decline and perish.
These scientific revolutions in the domain of ideas are purely intellectual. Our sentiments and beliefs do not affect them. Men submit to them without discussing them. Their results being controllable by experience, they escape all criticism.
3. Political Revolutions.
Beneath and very remote from these scientific revolutions, which generate the progress of civilisations, are the religious and political revolutions, which have no kinship with them. While scientific revolutions derive solely from rational elements, political and religious beliefs are sustained almost exclusively by affective and mystic factors. Reason plays only a feeble part in their genesis.
I insisted at some length in my book Opinions and Beliefs on the affective and mystic origin of beliefs, showing that a political or religious belief constitutes an act of faith elaborated in unconsciousness, over which, in spite of all appearances, reason has no hold. I also showed that belief often reaches such a degree of intensity that nothing can be opposed to it. The man hypnotised by his faith becomes an Apostle, ready to sacrifice his interests, his happiness, and even his life for the triumph of his faith. The absurdity of his belief matters little; for him it is a burning reality. Certitudes of mystic origin possess the marvellous power of entire domination over thought, and can only be affected by time.
By the very fact that it is regarded as an absolute truth a belief necessarily becomes intolerant. This explains the violence, hatred, and persecution which were the habitual accompaniments of the great political and religious revolutions, notably of the Reformation and the French Revolution.
Certain periods of French history remain incomprehensible if we forget the affective and mystic origin of beliefs, their necessary intolerance, the impossibility of reconciling them when they come into mutual contact, and, finally, the power conferred by mystic beliefs upon the sentiments which place themselves at their service.
The foregoing conceptions are too novel as yet to have modified the mentality of the historians. They will continue to attempt to explain, by means of rational logic, a host of phenomena which are foreign to it.
Events such as the Reformation, which overwhelmed France for a period of fifty years, were in no wise determined by rational influences. Yet rational influences are always invoked in explanation, even in the most recent works. Thus, in the General History of Messrs. Lavisse and Rambaud, we read the following explanation of the Reformation:—
"It was a spontaneous movement, born here and there amidst the people, from the reading of the Gospels and the free individual reflections which were suggested to simple persons by an extremely pious conscience and a very bold reasoning power.''
Contrary to the assertion of these historians, we may say with certainty, in the first place, that such movements are never spontaneous, and secondly, that reason takes no part in their elaboration.
The force of the political and religious beliefs which have moved the world resides precisely in the fact that, being born of affective and mystic elements, they are neither created nor directed by reason.
Political or religious beliefs have a common origin and obey the same laws. They are formed not with the aid of reason, but more often contrary to all reason. Buddhism, Islamism, the Reformation, Jacobinism, Socialism, &c., seem very different forms of thought. Yet they have identical affective and mystic bases, and obey a logic that has no affinity with rational logic.
Political revolutions may result from beliefs established in the minds of men, but many other causes produce them. The word discontent sums them up. As soon as discontent is generalised a party is formed which often becomes strong enough to struggle against the Government.
Discontent must generally have been accumulating for a long time in order to produce its effects. For this reason a revolution does not always represent a phenomenon in process of termination followed by another which is commencing but rather a continuous phenomenon, having somewhat accelerated its evolution. All the modern revolutions, however, have been abrupt movements, entailing the instantaneous overthrow of governments. Such, for example, were the Brazilian, Portuguese, Turkish, and Chinese revolutions.
To the contrary of what might be supposed, the very conservative peoples are addicted to the most violent revolutions. Being conservative, they are not able to evolve slowly, or to adapt themselves to variations of environment, so that when the discrepancy becomes too extreme they are bound to adapt themselves suddenly. This sudden evolution constitutes a revolution.
Peoples able to adapt themselves progressively do not always escape revolution. It was only by means of a revolution that the English, in 1688, were able to terminate the struggle which had dragged on for a century between the monarchy, which sought to make itself absolute, and the nation, which claimed the right to govern itself through the medium of its representatives.
The great revolutions have usually commenced from the top, not from the bottom; but once the people is unchained it is to the people that revolution owes its might.
It is obvious that revolutions have never taken place, and will never take place, save with the aid of an important fraction of the army. Royalty did not disappear in France on the day when Louis XVI. was guillotined, but at the precise moment when his mutinous troops refused to defend him.
It is more particularly by mental contagion that armies become disaffected, being indifferent enough at heart to the established order of things. As soon as the coalition of a few officers had succeeded in overthrowing the Turkish Government the Greek officers thought to imitate them and to change their government, although there was no analogy between the two regimes.
A military movement may overthrow a government—and in the Spanish republics the Government is hardly ever destroyed by any other means—but if the revolution is to be productive of great results it must always be based upon general discontent and general hopes.
Unless it is universal and excessive, discontent alone is not sufficient to bring about a revolution. It is easy to lead a handful of men to pillage, destroy, and massacre, but to raise a whole people, or any great portion of that people, calls for the continuous or repeated action of leaders. These exaggerate the discontent; they persuade the discontented that the government is the sole cause of all the trouble, especially of the prevailing dearth, and assure men that the new system proposed by them will engender an age of felicity. These ideas germinate, propagating themselves by suggestion and contagion, and the moment arrives when the revolution is ripe.
In this fashion the Christian Revolution and the French Revolution were prepared. That the latter was effected in a few years, while the first required many, was due to the fact that the French Revolution promptly had an armed force at its disposal, while Christianity was long in winning material power. In the beginning its only adepts were the lowly, the poor, and the slaves, filled with enthusiasm by the prospect of seeing their miserable life transformed into an eternity of delight. By a phenomenon of contagion from below, of which history affords us more than one example, the doctrine finally invaded the upper strata of the nation, but it was a long time before an emperor considered the new faith sufficiently widespread to be adopted as the official religion.
4. The Results of Political Revolutions.
When a political party is triumphant it naturally seeks to organise society in accordance with its interests. The organisation will differ accordingly as the revolution has been effected by the soldiers, the Radicals, or the Conservatives, &c.
The new laws and institutions will depend on the interests of the triumphant party and of the classes which have assisted it—the clergy for instance.
If the revolution has triumphed only after a violent struggle, as was the case with the French Revolution, the victors will reject at one sweep the whole arsenal of the old law. The supporters of the fallen regime will be persecuted, exiled, or exterminated.
The maximum of violence in these persecutions is attained when the triumphant party is defending a belief in addition to its material interests. Then the conquered need hope for no pity. Thus may be explained the expulsion of the Moors from Spain, the autodafes of the Inquisition, the executions of the Convention, and the recent laws against the religious congregations in France.
The absolute power which is assumed by the victors leads them sometimes to extreme measures, such as the Convention's decree that gold was to be replaced by paper, that goods were to be sold at determined prices, &c. Very soon it runs up against a wall of unavoidable necessities, which turn opinion against its tyranny, and finally leave it defenceless before attack, as befell at the end of the French Revolution. The same thing happened recently to a Socialist Australian ministry composed almost exclusively of working-men. It enacted laws so absurd, and accorded such privileges to the trade unions, that public opinion rebelled against it so unanimously that in three months it was overthrown.
But the cases we have considered are exceptional. The majority of revolutions have been accomplished in order to place a new sovereign in power. Now this sovereign knows very well that the first condition of maintaining his power consists in not too exclusively favouring a single class, but in seeking to conciliate all. To do this he will establish a sort of equilibrium between them, so as not to be dominated by any one of these classes. To allow one class to become predominant is to condemn himself presently to accept that class as his master. This law is one of the most certain of political psychology. The kings of France understood it very well when they struggled so energetically against the encroachments first of the nobility and then of the clergy. If they had not done so their fate would have been that of the German Emperors of the Middle Ages, who, excommunicated by the Pope, were reduced, like Henry IV. at Canossa, to make a pilgrimage and humbly to sue for the Pope's forgiveness.
This same law has continually been verified during the course of history. When at the end of the Roman Empire the military caste became preponderant, the emperors depended entirely upon their soldiers, who appointed and deposed them at will.
It was therefore a great advantage for France that she was so long governed by a monarch almost absolute, supposed to hold his power by divine right, and surrounded therefore by a considerable prestige. Without such an authority he could have controlled neither the feudal nobility, nor the clergy, nor the parliaments. If Poland, towards the end of the sixteenth century, had also possessed an absolute and respected monarchy, she would not have descended the path of decadence which led to her disappearance from the map of Europe.
We have shewn in this chapter that political revolutions may be accompanied by important social transformations. We shall soon see how slight are these transformations compared to those produced by religious revolutions.
1. The importance of the study of Religious Revolutions in respect of the comprehension of the great Political Revolutions.
A portion of this work will be devoted to the French Revolution. It was full of acts of violence which naturally had their psychological causes.
These exceptional events will always fill us with astonishment, and we even feel them to be inexplicable. They become comprehensible, however, if we consider that the French Revolution, constituting a new religion, was bound to obey the laws which condition the propagation of all beliefs. Its fury and its hecatombs will then become intelligible.
In studying the history of a great religious revolution, that of the Reformation, we shall see that a number of psychological elements which figured therein were equally active during the French Revolution. In both we observe the insignificant bearing of the rational value of a belief upon its propagation, the inefficacy of persecution, the impossibility of tolerance between contrary beliefs, and the violence and the desperate struggles resulting from the conflict of different faiths. We also observe the exploitation of a belief by interests quite independent of that belief. Finally we see that it is impossible to modify the convictions of men without also modifying their existence.
These phenomena verified, we shall see plainly why the gospel of the Revolution was propagated by the same methods as all the religious gospels, notably that of Calvin. It could not have been propagated otherwise.
But although there are close analogies between the genesis of a religious revolution, such as the Reformation, and that of a great political revolution like our own, their remote consequences are very different, which explains the difference of duration which they display. In religious revolutions no experience can reveal to the faithful that they are deceived, since they would have to go to heaven to make the discovery. In political revolutions experience quickly demonstrates the error of a false doctrine and forces men to abandon it.
Thus at the end of the Directory the application of Jacobin beliefs had led France to such a degree of ruin, poverty, and despair that the wildest Jacobins themselves had to renounce their system. Nothing survived of their theories except a few principles which cannot be verified by experience, such as the universal happiness which equality should bestow upon humanity.
2. The beginnings of the Reformation and its first disciples.
The Reformation was finally to exercise a profound influence upon the sentiments and moral ideas of a great proportion of mankind. Modest in its beginnings, it was at first a simple struggle against the abuses of the clergy, and, from a practical point of view, a return to the prescriptions of the Gospel. It never constituted, as has been claimed, an aspiration towards freedom of thought. Calvin was as intolerant as Robespierre, and all the theorists of the age considered that the religion of subjects must be that of the prince who governed them. Indeed in every country where the Reformation was established the sovereign replaced the Pope of Rome, with the same rights and the same powers.
In France, in default of publicity and means of communication, the new faith spread slowly enough at first. It was about 1520 that Luther recruited a few adepts, and only towards 1535 was the new belief sufficiently widespread for men to consider it necessary to burn its disciples.
In conformity with a well-known psychological law, these executions merely favoured the propagation of the Reformation. Its first followers included priests and magistrates, but were principally obscure artisans. Their conversion was effected almost exclusively by mental contagion and suggestion.
As soon as a new belief extends itself, we see grouped round it many persons who are indifferent to the belief, but who find in it a pretext or opportunity for gratifying their passions or their greed. This phenomenon was observed at the time of the Reformation in many countries, notably in Germany and in England.
Luther having taught that the clergy had no need of wealth, the German lords found many merits in a faith which enabled them to seize upon the goods of the Church. Henry VIII. enriched himself by a similar operation. Sovereigns who were often molested by the Pope could as a rule only look favourably upon a doctrine which added religious powers to their political powers and made each of them a Pope. Far from diminishing the absolutism of rulers, the Reformation only exaggerated it.
3. Rational value of the doctrines of the Reformation.
The Reformation overturned all Europe, and came near to ruining France, of which it made a battle-field for a period of fifty years. Never did a cause so insignificant from the rational point of view produce such great results.
Here is one of the innumerable proofs of the fact that beliefs are propagated independently of all reason. The theological doctrines which aroused men's passions so violently, and notably those of Calvin, are not even worthy of examination in the light of rational logic.
Greatly concerned about his salvation, having an excessive fear of the devil, which his confessor was unable to allay, Luther sought the surest means of pleasing God that he might avoid Hell.
Having commenced by denying the Pope the right to sell indulgences, he presently entirely denied his authority, and that of the Church, condemned religious ceremonies, confession, and the worship of the saints, and declared that Christians should have no rules of conduct other than the Bible. He also considered that no one could be saved without the grace of God.
This last theory, known as that of predestination, was in Luther rather uncertain, but was stated precisely by Calvin, who made it the very foundation of a doctrine to which the majority of Protestants are still subservient. According to him: "From all eternity God has predestined certain men to be burned and others to be saved.'' Why this monstrous iniquity? Simply because "it is the will of God.''
Thus according to Calvin, who for that matter merely developed certain assertions of St. Augustine, an all-powerful God would amuse Himself by creating living beings simply in order to burn them during all eternity, without paying any heed to their acts or merits. It is marvellous that such revolting insanity could for such a length of time subjugate so many minds—marvellous that it does so still.
 The doctrine of predestination is still taught in Protestant catechisms, as is proved by the following passage extracted from the last edition of an official catechism for which I sent to Edinburgh:
"By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.
"These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
"Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.
"As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ; are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.''
The psychology of Calvin is not without affinity with that of Robespierre. Like the latter, the master of the pure truth, he sent to death those who would not accept his doctrines. God, he stated, wishes "that one should put aside all humanity when it is a question of striving for his glory.''
The case of Calvin and his disciples shows that matters which rationally are the most contradictory become perfectly reconciled in minds which are hypnotised by a belief. In the eyes of rational logic, it seems impossible to base a morality upon the theory of predestination, since whatever they do men are sure of being either saved or damned. However, Calvin had no difficulty in erecting a most severe morality upon this totally illogical basis. Considering themselves the elect of God, his disciples were so swollen by pride and the sense of their own dignity that they felt obliged to serve as models in their conduct.
4. Propagation of the Reformation.
The new faith was propagated not by speech, still less by process of reasoning, but by the mechanism described in our preceding work: that is, by the influence of affirmation, repetition, mental contagion, and prestige. At a much later date revolutionary ideas were spread over France in the same fashion.
Persecution, as we have already remarked, only favoured this propagation. Each execution led to fresh conversions, as was seen in the early years of the Christian Church. Anne Dubourg, Parliamentary councillor, condemned to be burned alive, marched to the stake exhorting the crowd to be converted. "His constancy,'' says a witness, "made more Protestants among the young men of the colleges than the books of Calvin.''
To prevent the condemned from speaking to the people their tongues were cut out before they were burned. The horror of their sufferings was increased by attaching the victims to an iron chain, which enabled the executioners to plunge them into the fire and withdraw them several times in succession.
But nothing induced the Protestants to retract, even the offer of an amnesty after they had felt the fire.
In 1535 Francis I., forsaking his previous tolerance, ordered six fires to be lighted simultaneously in Paris. The Convention, as we know, limited itself to a single guillotine in the same city. It is probable that the sufferings of the victims were not very excruciating; the insensibility of the Christian martyrs had already been remarked. Believers are hypnotised by their faith, and we know to-day that certain forms of hypnotism engender complete insensibility.
The new faith progressed rapidly. In 1560 there were two thousand reformed churches in France, and many great lords, at first indifferent enough, adhered to the new doctrine.
5. Conflict between different religious beliefs—Impossibility of Tolerance.
I have already stated that intolerance is always an accompaniment of powerful religious beliefs. Political and religious revolutions furnish us with numerous proofs of this fact, and show us also that the mutual intolerance of sectaries of the same religion is always much greater than that of the defenders of remote and alien faiths, such as Islamism and Christianity. In fact, if we consider the faiths for whose sake France was so long rent asunder, we shall find that they did not differ on any but accessory points. Catholics and Protestants adored exactly the same God, and only differed in their manner of adoring Him. If reason had played the smallest part in the elaboration of their belief, it could easily have proved to them that it must be quite indifferent to God whether He sees men adore Him in this fashion or in that.
Reason being powerless to affect the brain of the convinced, Protestants and Catholics continued their ferocious conflicts. All the efforts of their sovereigns to reconcile them were in vain. Catherine de Medicis, seeing the party of the Reformed Church increasing day by day in spite of persecution, and attracting a considerable number of nobles and magistrates, thought to disarm them by convoking at Poissy, in 1561, an assembly of bishops and pastors with the object of fusing the two doctrines. Such an enterprise indicated that the queen, despite her subtlety, knew nothing of the laws of mystic logic. Not in all history can one cite an example of a belief destroyed or reduced by means of refutation. Catherine did not even know that although toleration is with difficulty possible between individuals, it is impossible between collectivities. Her attempt failed completely. The assembled theologians hurled texts and insults at one another's heads, but no one was moved. Catherine thought to succeed better in 1562 by promulgating an edict according Protestants the right to unite in the public celebration of their cult.
This tolerance, very admirable from a philosophical point of view, but not at all wise from the political standpoint, had no other result beyond exasperating both parties. In the Midi, where the Protestants were strongest, they persecuted the Catholics, sought to convert them by violence, cut their throats if they did not succeed, and sacked their cathedrals. In the regions where the Catholics were more numerous the Reformers suffered like persecutions.
Such hostilities as these inevitably engendered civil war. Thus arose the so-called religious wars, which so long spilled the blood of France. The cities were ravaged, the inhabitants massacred, and the struggle rapidly assumed that special quality of ferocity peculiar to religious or political conflicts, which, at a later date, was to reappear in the wars of La Vendee.
Old men, women, and children, all were exterminated. A certain Baron d'Oppede, first president of the Parliament of Aix, had already set an example by killing 3,000 persons in the space of ten days, with refinements of cruelty, and destroying three cities and twenty-two villages. Montluc, a worthy forerunner of Carrier, had the Calvinists thrown living into the wells until these were full. The Protestants were no more humane. They did not spare even the Catholic churches, and treated the tombs and statues just as the delegates of the Convention were to treat the royal tombs of Saint Denis.
Under the influence of these conflicts France was progressively disintegrated, and at the end of the reign of Henri III. was parcelled out into veritable little confederated municipal republics, forming so many sovereign states. The royal power was vanishing. The States of Blois claimed to dictate their wishes to Henri III., who had fled from his capital. In 1577 the traveller Lippomano, who traversed France, saw important cities— Orleans, Tours, Blois, Poitiers—entirely devastated, the cathedrals and churches in ruins, and the tombs shattered. This was almost the state of France at the end of the Directory.
Among the events of this epoch, that which has left the darkest memory, although it was not perhaps the most murderous, was the massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572, ordered, according to the historians, by Catherine de Medicis and Charles IX.
One does not require a very profound knowledge of psychology to realise that no sovereign could have ordered such an event. St. Bartholomew's Day was not a royal but a popular crime. Catherine de Medicis, believing her existence and that of the king threatened by a plot directed by four or five Protestant leaders then in Paris, sent men to kill them in their houses, according to the summary fashion of the time. The massacre which followed is very well explained by M. Battifol in the following terms:—
"At the report of what was afoot the rumour immediately ran through Paris that the Huguenots were being massacred; Catholic gentlemen, soldiers of the guard, archers, men of the people, in short all Paris, rushed into the streets, arms in hand, in order to participate in the execution, and the general massacre commenced, to the sound of ferocious cries of 'The Huguenots! Kill, kill!' They were struck down, they were drowned, they were hanged. All that were known as heretics were so served. Two thousand persons were killed in Paris.''
By contagion, the people of the provinces imitated those of Paris, and six to eight thousand Protestants were slain.
When time had somewhat cooled religious passions, all the historians, even the Catholics, spoke of St. Bartholomew's Day with indignation. They thus showed how difficult it is for the mentality of one epoch to understand that of another.
Far from being criticised, St. Bartholomew's Day provoked an indescribable enthusiasm throughout the whole of Catholic Europe.
Philip II. was delirious with joy when he heard the news, and the King of France received more congratulations than if he had won a great battle.
But it was Pope Gregory XIII. above all who manifested the keenest satisfaction. He had a medal struck to commemorate the happy event, ordered joy-fires to be lit and cannon fired, celebrated several masses, and sent for the painter Vasari to depict on the walls of the Vatican the principal scenes of carnage. Further, he sent to the King of France an ambassador instructed to felicitate that monarch upon his fine action. It is historical details of this kind that enable us to comprehend the mind of the believer. The Jacobins of the Terror had a mentality very like that of Gregory XIII.
 The medal must have been distributed pretty widely, for the cabinet of medals at the Bibliotheque Nationale possesses three examples: one in gold, one in silver, and one in copper. This medal, reproduced by Bonnani in his Numism. Pontific. (vol. i. p. 336), represents on one side Gregory XIII., and on the other an angel striking Huguenots with a sword. The exergue is Ugonotorum strages, that is, Massacre of the Huguenots. (The word strages may be translated by carnage or massacre, a sense which it possesses in Cicero and Livy; or again by disaster, ruin, a sense attributed to it in Virgil and Tacitus.)
Naturally the Protestants were not indifferent to such a hecatomb, and they made such progress that in 1576 Henri III. was reduced to granting them, by the Edict of Beaulieu, entire liberty of worship, eight strong places, and, in the Parliaments, Chambers composed half of Catholics and half of Huguenots.
These forced concessions did not lead to peace. A Catholic League was created, having the Duke of Guise at its head, and the conflict continued. But it could not last for ever. We know how Henri IV. put an end to it, at least for a time, by his abjuration in 1593, and by the Edict of Nantes.
The struggle was quieted but not terminated. Under Louis XIII. the Protestants were still restless, and in 1627 Richelieu was obliged to besiege La Rochelle, where 15,000 Protestants perished. Afterwards, possessing more political than religious feeling, the famous Cardinal proved extremely tolerant toward the Reformers.
This tolerance could not last. Contrary beliefs cannot come into contact without seeking to annihilate each other, as soon as one feels capable of dominating the other. Under Louis XIV. the Protestants had become by far the weaker, and were forced to renounce the struggle and live at peace. Their number was then about 1,200,000, and they possessed more than 600 churches, served by about 700 pastors. The presence of these heretics on French soil was intolerable to the Catholic clergy, who endeavoured to persecute them in various ways. As these persecutions had little result, Louis XIV. resorted to dragonnading them in 1685, when many individuals perished, but without further result. Under the pressure of the clergy, notably of Bossuett, the Edict of Nantes was revoked, and the Protestants were forced to accept conversion or to leave France. This disastrous emigration lasted a long time, and is said to have cost France 400,000 inhabitants, men of notable energy, since they had the courage to listen to their conscience rather than their interests.
6. The results of Religious Revolutions.
If religious revolutions were judged only by the gloomy story of the Reformation, we should be forced to regard them as highly disastrous. But all have not played a like part, the civilising influence of certain among them being considerable.
By giving a people moral unity they greatly increase its material power. We see this notably when a new faith, brought by Mohammed, transforms the petty and impotent tribes of Arabia into a formidable nation.
Such a new religious belief does not merely render a people homogeneous. It attains a result that no philosophy, no code ever attained: it sensibly transforms what is almost unchangeable, the sentiments of a race.
We see this at the period when the most powerful religious revolution recorded by history overthrew paganism to substitute a God who came from the plains of Galilee. The new ideal demanded the renunciation of all the joys of existence in order to acquire the eternal happiness of heaven. No doubt such an ideal was readily accepted by the poor, the enslaved, the disinherited who were deprived of all the joys of life here below, to whom an enchanting future was offered in exchange for a life without hope. But the austere existence so easily embraced by the poor was also embraced by the rich. In this above all was the power of the new faith manifested.
Not only did the Christian revolution transform manners: it also exercised, for a space of two thousand years, a preponderating influence over civilisation. Directly a religious faith triumphs all the elements of civilisation naturally adapt themselves to it, so that civilisation is rapidly transformed. Writers, artists and philosophers merely symbolise, in their works, the ideas of the new faith.
When any religious or political faith whatsoever has triumphed, not only is reason powerless to affect it, but it even finds motives which impel it to interpret and so justify the faith in question, and to strive to impose it upon others. There were probably as many theologians and orators in the time of Moloch, to prove the utility of human sacrifices, as there were at other periods to glorify the Inquisition, the massacre of St. Bartholomew, and the hecatombs of the Terror.
We must not hope to see peoples possessed by strong beliefs readily achieve tolerance. The only people who attained to toleration in the ancient world were the polytheists. The nations which practise toleration at the present time are those that might well be termed polytheistical, since, as in England and America, they are divided into innumerable sects. Under identical names they really adore very different deities.
The multiplicity of beliefs which results in such toleration finally results also in weakness. We therefore come to a psychological problem not hitherto resolved: how to possess a faith at once powerful and tolerant.
The foregoing brief explanation reveals the large part played by religious revolutions and the power of beliefs. Despite their slight rational value they shape history, and prevent the peoples from remaining a mass of individuals without cohesion or strength. Man has needed them at all times to orientate his thought and guide his conduct. No philosophy has as yet succeeded in replacing them.
THE ACTION OF GOVERNMENTS IN REVOLUTIONS
1. The feeble resistance of Governments in time of Revolution.
Many modern nations—France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Poland, Japan, Turkey, Portugal, &c.—have known revolutions within the last century. These were usually characterised by their instantaneous quality and the facility with which the governments attacked were overthrown.
The instantaneous nature of these revolutions is explained by the rapidity of mental contagion due to modern methods of publicity. The slight resistance of the governments attacked is more surprising. It implies a total inability to comprehend and foresee created by a blind confidence in their own strength.
The facility with which governments fall is not however a new phenomenon. It has been proved more than once, not only in autocratic systems, which are always overturned by palace conspiracies, but also in governments perfectly instructed in the state of public opinion by the press and their own agents.
Among these instantaneous downfalls one of the most striking was that which followed the Ordinances of Charles X. This monarch was, as we know, overthrown in four days. His minister Polignac had taken no measures of defence, and the king was so confident of the tranquillity of Paris that he had gone hunting. The army was not in the least hostile, as in the reign of Louis XVI., but the troops, badly officered, disbanded before the attacks of a few insurgents.
The overthrow of Louis-Philippe was still more typical, since it did not result from any arbitrary action on the part of the sovereign. This monarch was not surrounded by the hatred which finally surrounded Charles X., and his fall was the result of an insignificant riot which could easily have been repressed.
Historians, who can hardly comprehend how a solidly constituted government, supported by an imposing army, can be overthrown by a few rioters, naturally attributed the fall of Louis-Philippe to deep-seated causes. In reality the incapacity of the generals entrusted with his defence was the real cause of his fall.
This case is one of the most instructive that could be cited, and is worthy of a moment's consideration. It has been perfectly investigated by General Bonnal, in the light of the notes of an eye-witness, General Elchingen. Thirty-six thousand troops were then in Paris, but the weakness and incapacity of their officers made it impossible to use them. Contradictory orders were given, and finally the troops were forbidden to fire on the people, who, moreover—and nothing could have been more dangerous—were permitted to mingle with the troops. The riot succeeded without fighting and forced the king to abdicate.
Applying to the preceding case our knowledge of the psychology of crowds, General Bonnal shows how easily the riot which overthrew Louis-Philippe could have been controlled. He proves, notably, that if the commanding officers had not completely lost their heads quite a small body of troops could have prevented the insurgents from invading the Chamber of Deputies. This last, composed of monarchists, would certainly have proclaimed the Count of Paris under the regency of his mother.
Similar phenomena were observable in the revolutions of Spain and Portugal.
These facts show the role of petty accessory circumstances in great events, and prove that one must not speak too readily of the general laws of history. Without the riot which overthrew Louis-Philippe, we should probably have seen neither the Republic of 1848, nor the Second Empire, nor Sedan, nor the invasion, nor the loss of Alsace.
In the revolutions of which I have just been speaking the army was of no assistance to the government, but did not turn against it. It sometimes happens otherwise. It is often the army which effects the revolution, as in Turkey and Portugal. The innumerable revolutions of the Latin republics of America are effected by the army.
When a revolution is effected by an army the new rulers naturally fall under its domination. I have already recalled the fact that this was the case at the end of the Roman Empire, when the emperors were made and unmade by the soldiery.
The same thing has sometimes been witnessed in modern times. The following extract from a newspaper, with reference to the Greek revolution, shows what becomes of a government dominated by its army:—
"One day it was announced that eighty officers of the navy would send in their resignations if the government did not dismiss the leaders of whom they complained. Another time it was the agricultural labourers on a farm (metairie) belonging to the Crown Prince who demanded the partition of the soil among them. The navy protested against the promotion promised to Colonel Zorbas. Colonel Zorbas, after a week of discussion with Lieutenant Typaldos, treated with the President of the Council as one power with another. During this time the Federation of the corporations abused the officers of the navy. A deputy demanded that these officers and their families should be treated as brigands. When Commander Miaoulis fired on the rebels, the sailors, who first of all had obeyed Typaldos, returned to duty. This is no longer the harmonious Greece of Pericles and Themistocles. It is a hideous camp of Agramant.''
A revolution cannot be effected without the assistance or at least the neutrality of the army, but it often happens that the movement commences without it. This was the case with the revolutions of 1830 and 1848, and that of 1870, which overthrew the Empire after the humiliation of France by the surrender of Sedan.
The majority of revolutions take place in the capitals, and by means of contagion spread through the country; but this is not a constant rule. We know that during the French Revolution La Vendee, Brittany, and the Midi revolted spontaneously against Paris.
2. How the resistance of Governments may overcome Revolution.
In the greater number of the revolutions enumerated above, we have seen governments perish by their weakness. As soon as they were touched they fell.
The Russian Revolution proved that a government which defends itself energetically may finally triumph.
Never was revolution more menacing to the government. After the disasters suffered in the Orient, and the severities of a too oppressive autocratic regime, all classes of society, including a portion of the army and the fleet, had revolted. The railways, posts, and telegraph services had struck, so that communications between the various portions of the vast empire were interrupted.
The rural class itself, forming the majority of the nation, began to feel the influence of the revolutionary propaganda. The lot of the peasants was wretched. They were obliged, by the system of the mir, to cultivate soil which they could not acquire. The government resolved immediately to conciliate this large class of peasants by turning them into proprietors. Special laws forced the landlords to sell the peasants a portion of their lands, and banks intended to lend the buyers the necessary purchase-money were created. The sums lent were to be repaid by small annuities deducted from the product of the sale of the crops.
Assured of the neutrality of the peasants, the government could contend with the fanatics who were burning the towns, throwing bombs among the crowds, and waging a merciless warfare. All those who could be taken were killed. Such extermination is the only method discovered since the beginning of the world by which a society can be protected against the rebels who wish to destroy it.
The victorious government understood moreover the necessity of satisfying the legitimate claims of the enlightened portion of the nation. It created a parliament instructed to prepare laws and control expenditure.
The history of the Russian Revolution shows us how a government, all of whose natural supports have crumbled in succession, can, with wisdom and firmness, triumph over the most formidable obstacles. It has been very justly said that governments are not overthrown, but that they commit suicide.
3. Revolutions effected by Governments.—Examples: China, Turkey, &c.
Governments almost invariably fight revolutions; they hardly ever create them. Representing the needs of the moment and general opinion, they follow the reformers timidly; they do not precede them. Sometimes, however, certain governments have attempted those sudden reforms which we know as revolutions. The stability or instability of the national mind decrees the success or failure of such attempts.
They succeed when the people on whom the government seeks to impose new institutions is composed of semi-barbarous tribes, without fixed laws, without solid traditions; that is to say, without a settled national mind. Such was the condition of Russia in the days of Peter the Great. We know how he sought to Europeanise the semi-Asiatic populations by means of force.
Japan is another example of a revolution effected by a government, but it was her machinery, not her mind that was reformed.
It needs a very powerful autocrat, seconded by a man of genius, to succeed, even partially, in such a task. More often than not the reformer finds that the whole people rises up against him. Then, to the contrary of what befalls in an ordinary revolution, the autocrat is revolutionary and the people is conservative. But an attentive study will soon show you that the peoples are always extremely conservative.
Failure is the rule with these attempts. Whether effected by the upper classes or the lower, revolutions do not change the souls of peoples that have been a long time established. They only change those things that are worn by time and ready to fall.
China is at the present time making a very interesting but impossible experiment, in seeking, by means of the government, suddenly to renew the institutions of the country. The revolution which overturned the dynasty of her ancient sovereigns was the indirect consequence of the discontent provoked by reforms which the government had sought to impose with a view to ameliorating the condition of China. The suppression of opium and gaming, the reform of the army, and the creation of schools, involved an increase of taxation which, as well as the reforms themselves, greatly indisposed the general opinion.
A few cultured Chinese educated in the schools of Europe profited by this discontent to raise the people and proclaim a republic, an institution of which the Chinese could have had no conception.
It surely cannot long survive, for the impulse which has given birth to it is not a movement of progress, but of reaction. The word republic, to the Chinaman intellectualised by his European education, is simply synonymous with the rejection of the yoke of laws, rules, and long-established restraints. Cutting off his pigtail, covering his head with a cap, and calling himself a Republican, the young Chinaman thinks to give the rein to all his instincts. This is more or less the idea of a republic that a large part of the French people entertained at the time of the great Revolution.
China will soon discover the fate that awaits a society deprived of the armour slowly wrought by the past. After a few years of bloody anarchy it will be necessary to establish a power whose tyranny will inevitably be far severer than that which was overthrown. Science has not yet discovered the magic ring capable of saving a society without discipline. There is no need to impose discipline when it has become hereditary, but when the primitive instincts have been allowed to destroy the barriers painfully erected by slow ancestral labours, they cannot be reconstituted save by an energetic tyranny.
As a proof of these assertions we may instance an experiment analogous to that undertaken by China; that recently attempted by Turkey. A few years ago young men instructed in European schools and full of good intentions succeeded, with the aid of a number of officers, in overthrowing a Sultan whose tyranny seemed insupportable. Having acquired our robust Latin faith in the magic power of formulae, they thought they could establish the representative system in a country half-civilised, profoundly divided by religious hatred, and peopled by divers races.
The attempt has not prospered hitherto. The authors of the reformation had to learn that despite their liberalism they were forced to govern by methods very like those employed by the government overthrown. They could neither prevent summary executions nor wholesale massacres of Christians, nor could they remedy a single abuse.
It would be unjust to reproach them. What in truth could they have done to change a people whose traditions have been fixed so long, whose religious passions are so intense, and whose Mohammedans, although in the minority, legitimately claim to govern the sacred city of their faith according to their code? How prevent Islam from remaining the State religion in a country where civil law and religious law are not yet plainly separated, and where faith in the Koran is the only tie by which the idea of nationality can be maintained?
It was difficult to destroy such a state of affairs, so that we were bound to see the re-establishment of an autocratic organisation with an appearance of constitutionalism—that is to say, practically the old system once again. Such attempts afford a good example of the fact that a people cannot choose its institutions until it has transformed its mind.
4. Social elements which survive the changes of Government after Revolution.
What we shall say later on as to the stable foundation of the national soul will enable us to appreciate the force of systems of government that have been long established, such as ancient monarchies. A monarch may easily be overthrown by conspirators, but these latter are powerless against the principles which the monarch represents. Napoleon at his fall was replaced not by his natural heir, but by the heir of kings. The latter incarnated an ancient principle, while the son of the Emperor personified ideas that were as yet imperfectly established in men's minds.
For the same reason a minister, however able, however great the services he has rendered to his country, can very rarely overthrow his Sovereign. Bismarck himself could not have done so. This great minister had single-handed created the unity of Germany, yet his master had only to touch him with his finger and he vanished. A man is as nothing before a principle supported by opinion.
But even when, for various reasons, the principle incarnated by a government is annihilated with that government, as happened at the time of the French Revolution, all the elements of social organisation do not perish at the same time.
If we knew nothing of France but the disturbances of the last hundred years and more we might suppose the country to live in a state of profound anarchy. Now her economic, industrial, and even her political life manifests, on the contrary, a continuity that seems to be independent of all revolutions and governments.
The fact is that beside the great events of which history treats are the little facts of daily life which the books neglect to tell. They are ruled by imperious necessities which halt for no man. Their total mass forms the real framework of the life of the people.
While the study of great events shows us that the nominal government of France has been frequently changed in the space of a century, an examination of the little daily events will prove, on the contrary, that her real government has been little altered.
Who in truth are the real rulers of a people? Kings and ministers, no doubt, in the great crises of national life, but they play no part whatever in the little realities which make up the life of every day. The real directing forces of a country are the administrations, composed of impersonal elements which are never affected by the changes of government. Conservative of traditions, they are anonymous and lasting, and constitute an occult power before which all others must eventually bow. Their action has even increased to such a degree that, as we shall presently show, there is a danger that they may form an anonymous State more powerful than the official State. France has thus come to be governed by heads of departments and government clerks. The more we study the history of revolutions the more we discover that they change practically nothing but the label. To create a revolution is easy, but to change the soul of a people is difficult indeed.
THE PART PLAYED BY THE PEOPLE IN REVOLUTIONS
1. The stability and malleability of the national mind.
The knowledge of a people at any given moment of its history involves an understanding of its environment and above all of its past. Theoretically one may deny that past, as did the men of the Revolution, as many men of the present day have done, but its influence remains indestructible.
In the past, built up by slow accumulations of centuries, was formed the aggregation of thoughts, sentiments, traditions, and prejudices constituting the national mind which makes the strength of a race. Without it no progress is possible. Each generation would necessitate a fresh beginning.
The aggregate composing the soul of a people is solidly established only if it possesses a certain rigidity, but this rigidity must not pass a certain limit, or there would be no such thing as malleability.
Without rigidity the ancestral soul would have no fixity, and without malleability it could not adapt itself to the changes of environment resulting from the progress of civilization.
Excessive malleability of the national mind impels a people to incessant revolutions. Excess of rigidity leads it to decadence. Living species, like the races of humanity, disappear when, too fixedly established by a long past, they become incapable of adapting themselves to new conditions of existence.
Few peoples have succeeded in effecting a just equilibrium between these two contrary qualities of stability and malleability. The Romans in antiquity and the English in modern times may be cited among those who have best attained it.
The peoples whose mind is most fixed and established often effect the most violent revolutions. Not having succeeded in evolving progressively, in adapting themselves to changes of environment, they are forced to adapt themselves violently when such adaptation becomes indispensable.
Stability is only acquired very slowly. The history of a race is above all the story of its long efforts to establish its mind. So long as it has not succeeded it forms a horde of barbarians without cohesion and strength. After the invasions of the end of the Roman Empire France took several centuries to form a national soul.
She finally achieved one; but in the course of centuries this soul finally became too rigid. With a little more malleability, the ancient monarchy would have been slowly transformed as it was elsewhere, and we should have avoided, together with the Revolution and its consequences, the heavy task of remaking a national soul.
The preceding considerations show us the part of race in the genesis of revolutions, and explain why the same revolutions will produce such different effects in different countries; why, for example, the ideas of the French Revolution, welcomed with such enthusiasm by some peoples, were rejected by others.
Certainly England, although a very stable country, has suffered two revolutions and slain a king; but the mould of her mental armour was at once stable enough to retain the acquisitions of the past and malleable enough to modify them only within the necessary limits. Never did England dream, as did the men of the French Revolution, of destroying the ancestral heritage in order to erect a new society in the name of reason.
"While the Frenchman,'' writes M. A. Sorel, "despised his government, detested his clergy, hated the nobility, and revolted against the laws, the Englishman was proud of his religion, his constitution, his aristocracy, his House of Lords. These were like so many towers of the formidable Bastille in which he entrenched himself, under the British standard, to judge Europe and cover her with contempt. He admitted that the command was disputed inside the fort, but no stranger must approach.''
The influence of race in the destiny of the peoples appears plainly in the history of the perpetual revolutions of the Spanish republics of South America. Composed of half-castes, that is to say, of individuals whose diverse heredities have dissociated their ancestral characteristics, these populations have no national soul and therefore no stability. A people of half-castes is always ungovernable.
If we would learn more of the differences of political capacity which the racial factor creates we must examine the same nation as governed by two races successively.
The event is not rare in history. It has been manifested in a striking manner of late in Cuba and the Philippines, which passed suddenly from the rule of Spain to that of the United States.
We know in what anarchy and poverty Cuba existed under Spanish rule; we know, too, to what a degree of prosperity the island was brought in a few years when it fell into the hands of the United States.
The same experience was repeated in the Philippines, which for centuries had been governed by Spain. Finally the country was no more than a vast jungle, the home of epidemics of every kind, where a miserable population vegetated without commerce or industry. After a few years of American rule the country was entirely transformed: malaria, yellow fever, plague and cholera had entirely disappeared. The swamps were drained; the country was covered with railways, factories and schools. In thirteen years the mortality was reduced by two-thirds.
It is to such examples that we must refer the theorist who has not yet grasped the profound significance of the word race, and how far the ancestral soul of a people rules over its destiny.
2. How the people regards Revolution.
The part of the people has been the same in all revolutions. It is never the people that conceives them nor directs them. Its activity is released by means of leaders.
Only when the direct interests of the people are involved do we see, as recently in Champagne, any fraction of the people rising spontaneously. A movement thus localised constitutes a mere riot.
Revolution is easy when the leaders are very influential. Of this Portugal and Brazil have recently furnished proofs. But new ideas penetrate the people very slowly indeed. Generally it accepts a revolution without knowing why, and when by chance it does succeed in understanding why, the revolution is over long ago.
The people will create a revolution because it is persuaded to do so, but it does not understand very much of the ideas of its leaders; it interprets them in its own fashion, and this fashion is by no means that of the true authors of the revolution. The French Revolution furnished a striking example of this fact.
The Revolution of 1789 had as its real object the substitution of the power of the nobility by that of the bourgeoisie; that is, an old elite which had become incapable was to be replaced by a new elite which did possess capacity.
There was little question of the people in this first phase of the Revolution. The sovereignty of the people was proclaimed, but it amounted only to the right of electing its representatives.
Extremely illiterate, not hoping, like the middle classes, to ascend the social scale, not in any way feeling itself the equal of the nobles, and not aspiring ever to become their equal, the people had views and interests very different to those of the upper classes of society.
The struggles of the assembly with the royal power led it to call for the intervention of the people in these struggles. It intervened more and more, and the bourgeois revolution rapidly became a popular revolution.
An idea having no force of its own, and acting only by virtue of possessing an affective and mystic substratum which supports it, the theoretical ideas of the bourgeoisie, before they could act on the people, had to be transformed into a new and very definite faith, springing from obvious practical interests.
This transformation was rapidly effected when the people heard the men envisaged by it as the Government assuring it that it was the equal of its former masters. It began to regard itself as a victim, and proceeded to pillage, burn, and massacre, imagining that in so doing it was exercising a right.
The great strength of the revolutionary principles was that they gave a free course to the instincts of primitive barbarity which had been restrained by the secular and inhibitory action of environment, tradition, and law.
All the social bonds that formerly contained the multitude were day by day dissolving, so that it conceived a notion of unlimited power, and the joy of seeing its ancient masters ferreted out and despoiled. Having become the sovereign people, were not all things permissible to it?
The motto of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, a true manifestation of hope and faith at the beginning of the Revolution, soon merely served to cover a legal justification of the sentiments of jealousy, cupidity, and hatred of superiors, the true motives of crowds unrestrained by discipline. This is why the Revolution so soon ended in disorder, violence, and anarchy.
From the moment when the Revolution descended from the middle to the lower classes of society, it ceased to be a domination of the instinctive by the rational, and became, on the contrary, the effort of the instinctive to overpower the rational.
This legal triumph of the atavistic instincts was terrible. The whole effort of societies an effort indispensable to their continued existence—had always been to restrain, thanks to the power of tradition, customs, and codes, certain natural instincts which man has inherited from his primitive animality. It is possible to dominate them—and the more a people does overcome them the more civilised it is—but they cannot be destroyed. The influence of various exciting causes will readily result in their reappearance.
This is why the liberation of popular passions is so dangerous. The torrent, once escaped from its bed, does not return until it has spread devastation far and wide. "Woe to him who stirs up the dregs of a nation,'' said Rivarol at the beginning of the Revolution. "There is no age of enlightenment for the populace.''
3. The supposed Part of the People during Revolution.
The laws of the psychology of crowds show us that the people never acts without leaders, and that although it plays a considerable part in revolutions by following and exaggerating the impulses received, it never directs its own movements.
In all political revolutions we discover the action of leaders. They do not create the ideas which serve as the basis of revolutions, but they utilise them as a means of action. Ideas, leaders, armies, and crowds constitute four elements which all have their part to play in revolutions.
The crowd, roused by the leaders, acts especially by means of its mass. Its action is comparable to that of the shell which perforates an armour-plate by the momentum of a force it did not create. Rarely does the crowd understand anything of the revolutions accomplished with its assistance. It obediently follows its leaders without even trying to find out what they want. It overthrew Charles X. because of his Ordinances without having any idea of the contents of the latter, and would have been greatly embarrassed had it been asked at a later date why it overthrew Louis-Philippe.
Deceived by appearances, many authors, from Michelet to Aulard, have supposed that the people effected our great Revolution.
"The principal actor,'' said Michelet, "is the people.''
"It is an error to say,'' writes M. Aulard, "that the French Revolution was effected by a few distinguished people or a few heroes. . . . I believe that in the whole history of the period included between 1789 and 1799 not a single person stands out who led or shaped events: neither Louis XVI. nor Mirabeau nor Danton nor Robespierre. Must we say that it was the French people that was the real hero of the French Revolution? Yes—provided we see the French people not as a multitude but as a number of organised groups.''
And in a recent work M. A. Cochin insists on this conception of popular action.
"And here is the wonder: Michelet is right. In proportion as we know them better the facts seem to consecrate the fiction: this crowd, without chiefs and without laws, the very image of chaos, did for five years govern and command, speak and act, with a precision, a consistency, and an entirety that were marvellous. Anarchy gave lessons in order and discipline to the defeated party of order . . . twenty-five millions of men, spread over an area of 30,000 square leagues, acted as one.''
Certainly if this simultaneous conduct of the people had been spontaneous, as the author supposes, it would have been marvellous. M. Aulard himself understands very well the impossibilities of such a phenomenon, for he is careful, in speaking of the people, to say that he is speaking of groups, and that these groups may have been guided by leaders:—
"And what, then, cemented the national unity? Who saved this nation, attacked by the king and rent by civil war? Was it Danton? Was it Robespierre? Was it Carnot? Certainly these individual men were of service: but unity was in fact maintained and independence assured by the grouping of the French into communes and popular societies—people's clubs. It was the municipal and Jacobin organisation of France that forced the coalition of Europe to retreat. But in each group, if we look more closely, there were two or three individuals more capable than the rest, who, whether leaders or led, executed decisions and had the appearance of leaders, but who (if, for instance, we read the proceedings of the people's clubs) seem to us to have drawn their strength far more from their group than from themselves.
M. Aulard's mistake consists in supposing that all these groups were derived "from a spontaneous movement of fraternity and reason.'' France at that time was covered with thousands of little clubs, receiving a single impulsion from the great Jacobin Club of Paris, and obeying it with perfect docility. This is what reality teaches us, though the illusions of the Jacobins do not permit them to accept the fact.
 In the historical manuals which M. Aulard has prepared for the use of classes in collaboration with M. Debidour the role attributed to the people as an entity is even more marked. We see it intervening continually and spontaneously; here are a few examples:—
The "Day'' of June the 20th: "The king dismissed the Girondist members. The people of Paris, indignant, rose spontaneously and invaded the Tuileries.''
The "Day'' of August 10th: "The Legislative Assembly dared not overthrow it; it was the people of Paris, aided by the Federals of the Departments, who effected this revolution at the price of its blood.''
The conflict of the Girondists and the Mountain: "This discord in the face of the enemy was dangerous. The people put an end to it on the days of the 31st of May and the 2nd of June, 1793, when it forced the Convention to expel the leaders of the Gironde from its midst and to decree their arrest.''
4. The Popular Entity and its Constituent Elements.
In order to answer to certain theoretical conceptions the people was erected into a mystic entity, endowed with all the powers and all the virtues, incessantly praised by the politicians, and overwhelmed with flattery. We shall see what we are to make of this conception of the part played by the people in the French Revolution.
To the Jacobins of this epoch, as to those of our own days, this popular entity constitutes a superior personality possessing the attributes, peculiar to divinities, of never having to answer for its actions and never making a mistake. Its wishes must be humbly acceded. The people may kill, burn, ravage, commit the most frightful cruelties, glorify its hero to-day and throw him into the gutter to-morrow; it is all one; the politicians will not cease to vaunt its virtues, its high wisdom, and to bow to its every decision.