The Masses are the Suggestibility and Fickleness

­­­­ The Massification and Dictatorial Regimes

Between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Western sensibility seemed pervaded by an increasing awareness of the presence of a crisis in “action”. The term “crisis of civilization” echoed in the novelists, historians, poets and artists works and soon it became a sort of “commonplace”. There were many signs of crisis: the machines dominance , the dehumanizing effects of technology, the reduction of human relations to economic relations, the enrichment  worship, regarded as the generator of all the symbolic values, the loss of the spiritual dimension and  more authentic values, the cultural impoverishment, frenzy, neurosis, sense of loss, atomization of social life, massification and finally  depersonalization.

About the individual absorption into the crowd, French ethnologist and sociologist Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931) intervened. He was an intelligent and successful author of crowd psychology. The great twentieth-century dictators (Mussolini, Stalin and Hitler) knew this author, and said they had learned the techniques to persuade and influence the masses by him. Le Bon thought was inevitable the time of the masses, that one should be controlled in some way, exploiting the characteristics of them. In particular, the main characteristics of the masses are the suggestibility and fickleness; so that the public speaker wants to seduce the mass must often use some violent remarks, exaggerate, repeat, never attempting to prove something. In addition, the psychological and cultural regression in infantile and primitive levels allows of obvious credulity, intolerance and insensitivity to the nuances. Finally, the mass has a strong willingness to surrender to a “chief” having charisma and prestige.

The Le Bon’s text inaugurated a series of studies on this theme. In this sense, the work of the American psychologist William McDonegall (1871-1938) is very important, and, in his book “The Group Mind” (1920), he argues that inhibition mechanisms of control makes itself known with the emergence of regressive and primitive behaviours that propel the individual to perform acts that he would disapprove in normal living conditions. The Spanish philosopher and essayist Ortega y Gasset wrote important studies about this topic in his famous essay “The Revolt of the Masses” (1930). Ortega y Gasset opposed the mass to the nobility: who feel to something transcendental service is a nobleman; the nobility is synonymous with the courageous life, always determined to go beyond himself, while those without momentum and lock themselves into a vortex of repetition belongs to the mass, which is invading the history. This fact implies the road to mediocrity.  He emphasizes the danger that the mass society supports the supremacy of a few Elites and the emergence of dictatorial regimes, where the State aims to extend its control over all aspects of human actions.