'The Mob' - by Vigilant, Westralian Worker, 9 November 1917, page 3

Here, and again on 29 August 1919, Vigilant refers to two books by Gustave Le Bon: The Crowd and The Psychology of Revolution. Curtin referred E.G. Theodore to the same two books in late 1931.

Fitzgerald notes that Vigilant:

Vigilant Is impressed by, but detached from, Le Bon, whom Vigilant sees as an opponent of democracy.

Vigilant does not reject Le Bon’s low opinion of crowd (mob) behaviour but suggests it is remediable. (In fact, Vigilant’s assertion that education is “the great task” implies acceptance of Le Bon’s estimate of the masses.) [1]


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The Mob by Vigilant

A play of more than ordinary interest, especially at “a time like this,” is “The Mob,” by John Galsworthy. The scene is set in the capital city of a Great Power. War is expected – against a nation of mountain tribesmen. Stephen More, an Under Secretary for State, with promise of a brilliant career before him, finds that he cannot justify either the war or the annexation that is sure to follow it, and decides to speak against it in the House. He does so, and resigns his Under-Secretaryship. In the sequel he stumps the country from end to end in the endeavor – as a rule fruitless – to make his voice heard against the war. Before long his constituents send a deputation to demand his resignation for the whole country is now “seeing red,” as a result of a terrible reverse in which the tribesmen annihilated a whole regiment in a mountain pass.

More has almost reduced the deputation to silence by the force of his logic, and asks in conclusion

“What is a man who holds a faith with all his heart to do? Please tell me.”
Banning: “I was just thinking of those poor fellows in the Pass.”
More: “I can see them, as well as you, Banning. But, Imagine! Up in our country – the Black Valley – twelve thousand foreign devils dead and dying – the crows busy over them – in our own country, our own valley – ours – ours - violated. Would you care about “the poor fellows” in that Pass? – Invading dogs! Kill them – kill them! You would, and I would too!”

This appeal has almost succeeded. The deputation is about to withdraw, determined to defend their member before his constituents, when –

“Bagpipes!” “Highlanders!”

They watch them march past and Banning turns on More, outraged:

“Can you hear that go by man – when your country’s just been struck?”

Noises from the street” “Give the beggars hell, boys!” “Wipe your feet on their dirty country!” “Don’t leave them a gory acre!” (Cheers.)
More: “That’s reality! By Heaven!”

More resigns his seat, and goes on with his campaign. He is deserted by his friends, his own family. His butler and his private secretary alone stick to him. Though bitterly assailed everywhere by cowardly mobs, his courage and pertinacity are only increased. But Galsworthy’s masterly painting of mob scenes we prefer to leave for first hand reading – his plays can be obtained in Perth at 2/6 each. One passage, however, we feel constrained to quote. It is More’s swan song.

“You – Mob – are the most contemptible thing under the sun. When you walk the street, God goes in...You’re the thing that pelts the weak; kicks women; howls down free speech. This today, that tomorrow. Brain – you have none. Spirit – not a ghost of it! If you’re not meanness, there’s no such thing. If you’re not cowardice, there is no cowardice. Patriotism – there are two kinds – that of our soldiers, and this of mine. You have neither!

  My country is not yours. Mine is that great country which shall never take toll from the weakness of others. Ah! You can break my head and my windows, but don’t think you can break my faith. You could never break or shake it, if you were a million to one.”

The vagaries of mobs have formed material for the work of more than one writer of the first water. Shakespeare, in “Julius Caesar,” shows an intimate and exact knowledge of the principals of mob oratory. Brutus and Cassius, in carefully reasoned speeches, show that the murder of Caesar was unavoidable, if the freedom of the State were to be preserved, and having concluded, left their auditors in thoughtful mood, with the admonition to remain, and hear what Antony would say. The latter, under pretence of a funeral oration, appealed subtly to every passion, and swept away reason in a tide of wrath. Brutus displayed the injuries wrought by Caesar against the Republic. Antony exposed the gaping wounds in Caesar’s body, making each a mouth to plead the cause of Caesar. And that the wily Antony knew well what he was about is proved by his words, when the crowd rushed off to burn the house of Brutus; - Mischief, thou are afoot!”

Amongst the great mobs of history those of the French Revolution hold the front place. Their history has been ably written by our own Carlyle – the inspired mob of the Bastile, the starving mob that marched to Versailles, the bloody mob of the September massacres.

But these pages of French history have been discussed specifically from the point of view of the student of mob psychology by a French author named Gustave Le Bon. His works “The Crowd” and the “The Psychology of Revolution” can be obtained (English translations) at 1/6 in Perth. The former is a scientific study of mob in the abstract, the latter an attempt to use the conclusion of the author to explain the French Revolution. In brief, his theory is that men, in crowds, lose the advantages of reason and civilisation, and sink back to the primitive. Their actions are then controlled, for better or worse, by instinct, impulse and emotion. Units of the crowd become capable of deeds of heroism, or of infamy, from which the individual (apart from mob influence) would shrink in fear or horror.

Le Bon takes the view that Democracy is a handing over of the affairs of nations to mobs. He believes that reason would thereby be replaced by passion, only for the fact that the mob-leaders are in reality autocrats of the most absolute type. They rule by understanding the mob. This view is not unfamiliar, but we are inclined to think that Le Bon misses something, and that something is the fact that the masses today are becoming more and more leavened with the ferment of studentship. Their instincts are changing –adapting themselves to the needs of democracy. Even if we grant, with Le Bon, that they will be swayed by instinct, were it not better for the State to be run according to the dictates of an educated instinct, rather than at the behest of selfish pseudo-rational greed? Meantime, for Labor, the great task is education.


1. John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. Curtin: Book discussions (largely from Our Bookshelf), 1917 - 1988. JCPML00653/36