Jump to navigation Jump to search First edition publ. Claassen Verlag Crowds and Power German : Masse und Macht is a book by Elias Canetti , dealing with the dynamics of crowds and "packs" and the question of how and why crowds obey power of rulers. Canetti draws a parallel between ruling and paranoia. It is notable for its unusual tone; although wide-ranging in its erudition, it is not scholarly or academic in a conventional way. Rather, it reads like a manual written by someone outside the human race explaining to another outsider in concise and highly metaphoric language how people form mobs and manipulate power.
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It reads like a series of essays by Montaigne but all directed toward the phenomenon of human organisation. Each essay, which might include references as diverse as the anthropology of South American tribes to the history of European warfare, contains some comment which is not only arresting but revelatory of profound insight.
Who knew that an apparently sociological treatise could be so creative, so enthralling, so literate? His unit of analysis is the crowd, which may arise from something more primitive called a pack, but which takes on uniquely crowd-like characteristics and force. The crowd, depending on its type, of which there are several, has an implicit crowd-mind, not dissimilar perhaps from the hive-mind of bees or ten-year old girls. After establishing his basic crowd-typology, Canetti presents page after page of remarkable observations and conclusions about what makes each type behave as it does.
Only a few of his crowds could be termed mobs. Prototypical of an institutionalised crowd is religion. Congregants must be united but not excited enough to press for too rapid expansion nor irritated enough by its demands to provoke departure. Consequently: "Their feeling of unity is dispensed to them in doses and the continuation of the church depends on the rightness of the dosage. Parliamentary crowds are only possible because the losers in democratic election are not killed or physically harmed.
It was a threat not just to Clinton but to the essential conditions of elected government. The very solemnity with which elections are conducted, argues Canetti, derives from the renunciation of death an instrument of decision. His discussion of National Crowd Symbols is presented almost as an aside but is particularly thought-provoking. They have an emotional significance that is real the last night of the Proms comes to mind, as does the role of the Dijkgraaf in the political unity of Holland.
Others are less apparent but of very practical historical import. For example, the Marching Forest of the Army in Germany, a symbol of pan-Germanic strength and unity created by Bismarck was fatally disgraced by the Treaty of Versailles. Islam, he believes, is inherently a religion of continuous warfare as indicated by selections from the Quran. But similar references in the Christian and Hebrew Bible are not quoted.
This is an interesting hypothesis which has been articulated elsewhere but with neither discussion nor additional confirming material in Crowds and Power. But even here his insights are at least as provocative and stimulating as most organisational theorists today. Crowds and Power is a refreshing look at how human beings act in groups. Refreshing because after almost six decades this inter-disciplinary work has never found a disciplinary home in the social sciences and consequently never has been turned into countless doctoral theses and academic articles.
It is a phenomenology not a sociological study. The obvious point of Crowds and Power is to escape from the tacit, largely unexamined presumptions and categories of social scientific thought. It remains therefore suggestive, if not inspirational. But very few social scientists would dare cite it to their colleagues.
It breaks the rate, as it were, in both creativity and literacy and so is ignored.
It reads like a series of essays by Montaigne but all directed toward the phenomenon of human organisation. Each essay, which might include references as diverse as the anthropology of South American tribes to the history of European warfare, contains some comment which is not only arresting but revelatory of profound insight. Who knew that an apparently sociological treatise could be so creative, so enthralling, so literate? His unit of analysis is the crowd, which may arise from something more primitive called a pack, but which takes on uniquely crowd-like characteristics and force.
Crowds and Power
The Ardittis can be traced to the 14th century, when they were court physicians and astronomers to the Aragonese royal court of Alfonso IV and Pedro IV. Before settling in Ruse, they had migrated into Italy and lived in Livorno in the 17th century. In , his father died suddenly, and his mother moved with their children first to Lausanne , then Vienna in the same year. They lived in Vienna from the time Canetti was aged seven onwards. His mother insisted that he speak German, and taught it to him. By this time Canetti already spoke Ladino his native language , Bulgarian , English, and some French; the latter two he studied in the one year they were in Britain. Canetti went back to Vienna in in order to study chemistry.