CROWDS AND POWER by Ellas Canetti


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For nearly, pages, Canetti pursues an anthropological approach to political science; then, somehow, the shift is made to a political approach to social psychology. The discourse here is of social distances, of crowds formed spontaneously so that individuals may temporarily equalize the distances of rank in order to feel a primitive kind of emotional unity that they cannot otherwise experience. Biblical and secular history, mythology, archaeology, philology, and many other academic disciplines have been tapped for contributions to this study of crowds, packs, mobs, funerals, communions, parliaments, and audiences, armies, juries. Hardly a form of assembly is overlooked, whatever the purpose for which human beings may gather. The attributes, circumstances, and results of the gatherings are examined from every point of view: density, growth, speed, direction, stimulus, and outcome. Some curious and remote examples are constricted into the mold of Canetti's speculations: he compares a trove of money to a crowd and claims that inflation corresponds with the loss of identity suffered by each single crowd-member. The unravelling of his views of the relationship of crowds to power is an exercise in pedagogic erudition which, while awesomely original in spots, is rambling and dry in others.

Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 1962
Publisher: Viking