Ruling the mob

I have always been nervous of mass demonstrations, or crowds which seem to have a mind of their own. I fear their irrationality. As Mark Antony said to the Roman mob: “O judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason.”

Psychologists and sociologists have spent much time studying crowd behaviour, and it seems that both Mark Antony and I have underestimated the factors at work. An excellent overview of research was provided by Drury and Stott in 2011.

At one time it was thought that, under the influence of the crowd, individual personality was lost, and its members, who might otherwise be quite normal, became barbarian creatures of instinct. The Tottenham riots, following the shooting of Mark Duggan in August 2011, might well have been the subject of one 19th-century expert’s view: “Crowds, after a period of excitement, enter upon a purely automatic and unconscious state, in which they are guided by suggestion.”

But the modern view describes crowd behaviour in terms of what we know about group dynamics. Seen in that way, it appears altogether more rational. If that understanding is correct then we have a better chance of both controlling crowds and correcting the original causes.

The collective behaviour of a crowd requires that its members become aware of themselves as a group with common aims. In the Tottenham riots we may suppose that the group shared a general suspicion and dislike of the police. The Mark Duggan shooting was the occasion of the crowd coming together. But then the phenomenon of collective group norms began to influence the situation. It is argued that the brain is wired to respond to the norms of the group with which we identify. Indeed, we may find our automatic error-monitoring activity warns us of the inadvisability of being too different from others. In such a situation the personal identity of the individual tends to be replaced by his social identity as a member of a group, and behaviour follows suit.

In the Tottenham example, the mood of the crowd developed and changed, following on the responses of the police. But this is quite rational. We are frequently in situations, including benign and positive ones – such as Christmas shopping crowds – in which our inclinations are reinforced and magnified by our acceptance of the social identity shared with those who surround us and who share similar concerns.

But this central dynamic is often obscured. There may be individuals who are troublemakers, and so raise the temperature. And there are opportunists who use the cover of rational grievance to seize personal benefit. This can lead to an assumption that the whole crowd can be written off as hysterical ne’er-do-wells. Such a verdict prevents us from looking at the deeper, and perhaps avoidable, causes of resentment. Our better understanding of the dynamic of the crowd enables civil authority to respond in constructive ways, rather than aggravating the crowd’s collective resentment through harsh attempts to control what it erroneously takes to be a criminal mob.

The same phenomena may be seen in the distasteful subject of gang rape. While we have seen this recently in India, and know of its occurrence in the gang culture of this country, we are aware that it has been with us throughout history. An interesting analysis by the psychologist David Lisak throws light on this.

Although the occasion for gang rape is sexual, it is fundamentally a crime of male aggression – an expression of anger and hate. Lisak says: “At the top of the list is power, a feeling of being able to dominate and control another human being, to force them to do something against their will that you want.” Sexual success is a way in which men can define themselves, and if their masculinity is threatened a need to prove their sexual success may be the shared value which reinforces the collective aggression of the gang.

It may seem strange to us that women can be seen as objects of fear and hatred and, in some sense, the property of the male. But in fact such attitudes are to be seen throughout history in different cultures, including our own. We may understand it more readily in societies where women are seen as fundamentally inferior, but I suspect that it can lurk deep in the male psyche anywhere. We should expect to find it more prevalent in countries such as India, where gender selection produces substantially more males than females. Not only is this an indication of gynophobia but it gives rise to an excessive male population who cannot find partners. It is more likely to increase than to decrease in the future.

It may seem contrary to describe gang rape as rational, yet it must be seen as an expression of deep attitudes which exist both in the individual and societal culture. While we must hold offenders responsible, societies must look more deeply at the conditions in which such atrocities become more likely to happen. Lisak concludes: “It is obvious that women around the world are viewed as vulnerable and as legitimate targets for hatred and the exercise of power. A culture has to examine why that is and how it came to be and how it can be changed.”

Mark Antony knew this all the time. He brilliantly changed a group united in their fear of a dictator into a group united in their passion for a benefactor. He was a psychologist, too.

My thanks to Dr John Drury of Sussex University for mentoring this. Remaining mistakes are mine. If anyone wishes to research this question more deeply, please use “Contact Us”, above, and I will send you references.

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Catholic Herald columns, Moral judgment, Neuroscience and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

58 Responses to Ruling the mob

  1. tyke says:

    It’s interesting that there is also a tendency in the Church to organise massive events (WYD springs to mind, but we also have diocesan-wide gatherings) which leverage the crowd mentality in order to reinforce the sense of belonging of the participants.

    In my case, this sort of event planted something that only came out years later and encouraged me to take an active part in the community, be it Church or secular.

  2. Singalong says:

    Two crowd situations have come immediately to my mind, though they are not contemporary.

    One is the crowd which bayed for the life of the criminal Barrabas in preference to that of Jesus Christ, which was worked on by His enemies, and manipulated by fear of displeasing the Roman masters of the Jews. The use of fear still occurs in all tyrannical societies. It is said that severe punishment was faced recently by North Koreans who were observed not crying enough in the crowds which were required to gather in mourning the death of Kim Jong il.

    Another is the huge crowd which witnessed the miracle of the sun dancing and spinning at Fatima, which I think was a real spiritual event showing the power and might of God, and calling us all to worship and repentance, but it does lead to consideration of the possibility and circumstances which can and do sometimes lead to mass hallucination.

    (I hope this does not come twice, this second time trying to send)

    • St.Joseph says:

      Yes I am sure you are right about mass haluicination. Although I have never heard of any happening have you.
      Also the miracle of the Sun was a very spiritual event. Not only seen by the crowds, but also by those over 50 miles away, with newspaper pictures and photos, which are shown on the web site. I have somewhere the Irish newspaper of my grandmothers when it was printed just after it happened.
      There were conversions all over the world when this happened by those who did not believe but who went there to show it was a hoax.
      It is amazing how the Holy Spirit is working when we see the millions .at the Holy Fathers Masses and his weekly Papal Audiences shown on EWTN.
      Also as Jake says about the Community meetings Peace is found in those who are there
      As far a private hallucinations are concerned, one is always advised to speak to a good holy priest if one can not discern them for their selves, as Satan comes to deceive!!.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Speaking about hallucinations I will tell you about one I had at around it must have been around 8 or 9 years old.
        I had a little friend (who is dead now at aged 40 with a brain tumour) RIP, Anyway we were quite naughty not destructive in any way just childish pranks, like tying thread on neighbours door handles and hiding in the garden (they knew it was us!
        At Holy Mass we would giggle as in those days we were in the children’s choir and one Sunday as I was coming back from Holy Communion-she started to pull her Rosary beads from her mouth slowly I just burst out laughing and pretended to fall on ground as if I had fainted .My mother picked me up everyone felt sorry for me and she took me home.
        We we allowed to sit in the Church next to the school if it was raining as we Catholics and in the choir.We got bored one day and decided that it was really naughty what we did before hand and we said we would go up to Jesus and kneel at Altar rails and see which on could stay without laughing .We knew Jesus was there and we thought He would not mind as He was our friend.
        Anyway I went to bed that night and I got the biggest fright I would ever have as I lay down the bed began to burn up like a blazing fire and I saw this angry face with long white hair blazing angry eyes and I knew at that time it was God not Jesus-I did not understand the Trinity then. The shame I felt and sorrow and remembered what I did in Church.. I told my friend next day and we said we would never ever do things like that again., to upset God like that After that I felt for a long time Jesus leap in my chest when I received Him in Holy Communion.
        Physiological Guilt I believe it to be.Never told my mother or she would clipped my ear for misbehaving especially in Church The Church is called St Joseph.

    • Peter Nyikos says:

      Singalong, could you or St. Joseph point us to some websites where a listing of contemporary, eyewitness accounts can be found? I’ve only read accounts far removed from the actual events. And the accounts themselves are not very detailed as to what was seen.

      I do recall reading that the accounts of the eyewitnesses themselves were quite varied, and perhaps the standard account is a case similar to the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes: people not wanting to contradict an account they heard from someone else, and lending their affirmations to it.

      The accounts may have been embellished, too, and the actual phenomenon (which was NOT the sun dancing, nor the earth dancing to make it look like the sun was dancing) might have a simple explanation.

      I was once at Conyers, Georgia, on the estate of a woman who claimed to be seeing apparitions, and I, along with a huge crowd, witnessed a very impressive sun dog. Unlike most sun dogs I have seen, this was superimposed on rapidly moving clouds and it changed appearance very rapidly.

      Gasps and murmurs of delight abounded, and I wonder how many thought they were witnessing something miraculous. Most people I have talked to over the years about sun dogs did not even know what a sun dog is.

      During most other sun dogs I have seen, the sun itself was hidden either by clouds or by buildings and the sun dog could have easily been mistaken for the sun shining through some clouds.

      This is addressed primarily to “St. Joseph”: If there were no movie films taken of the event, how could a mere photograph show the sun dancing? Unsteadiness of the camera holder’s hand could easily account for any “dancing” seen in a still photo.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Peter Nykios.
        I am not into looking for miracles especially on websites,I have no interest in that sort of thing.
        I believe that the Fatima Story and Lourdes to be true and accepted by Holy Mother Church..
        If you wish to know about Fatima. Sister Lucia has written a few books, she was last of the 3 children to die just before Pope John Paul 2nd. as told by Our Lady when they would all die Her books are worth reading. St Padre Pio alsois supposed to have had certain miracles happen to him also he was known to bi-locate if that is the right word.
        Jesus’s Birth -Life death and Resurrection for our salvation etc is all I need to know.
        Although I have read most of it in scripture. being a catholic..

      • Peter Nyikos says:

        St. Joseph, you wrote about photos being on “the web site”. Where can I find this website?

        I did read a bit of the memoirs of Sister Lucia, but was struck by the fact that, for instance, the predictions about Russia were only made public after Russia had had not only a revolution but a civil war and re-conquest of Georgia, Byelorussia, the Ukraine, and many other “Soviet Socialist Republics”.

        Also, one thing Sister Lucia attributed to the Blessed Virgin did more to shake my faith than everything atheists have ever written, put together: “Many sinners go to hell because there is no one to pray for them or to make sacrifices for them.” This is obvious injustice, and it took me a long time to recover even partly from the blow my faith suffered from reading it.

        Only the writings of a non-Catholic, C. S. Lewis, really helped in the recovery. Lewis’s _The Great Divorce_ changed not just my idea of hell but also made palatable for the first time the idea that someone might willingly choose hell rather than heaven after being shown what both are really like.

  3. Vincent says:

    I recall much emphasis in my Catholic school on the importance of keeping good company (and avoiding bad company). This seems an important instance of avoiding the benefits and temptations involved in an uncritical acceptance of group identity.

    The most plausible explanation of the Barabbas incident I have heard was that the Jewish crowd wanted a messiah who would come as a king and lead them to victory over their oppressors. Not someone riding on a donkey.Their cry: “His blood be on us and on our children” has proved historically unfortunate.

    • Singalong says:

      Yes, Vincent, I think that is true of the Jewish leaders, but the crowds had been happy enough to applaud Jesus riding on the donkey a few days previously when He entered Jerusalem. By the time He was being tried by Pilate they had been manipulated into fear and hatred, so much so that they could humiliate themselves by declaring their allegiance to the detested Caesar.

    • tim says:

      “His blood be on us and on our children” may be taken (should be taken, I believe) as applying not to the Jewish people, but to the whole human race. As the favored of God, the Jews represented not only themselves, but the rest of us. And taken so, it must be a blessing rather than a curse. It is an example of the divine irony of the Gospels. Another instance: “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but God”.

  4. Singalong says:

    St. Joseph, that is a very vivid memory from all those years ago. Your mother will know by now of course!
    Acounts of Healing services in Catholic and non Catholic venues sometimes sound as if mass hysteria is operating. I saw people falling down after the laying on of hands on one occasion, and found it very puzzling.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I could never be into all that,although some receive a lot of blessings from it. Also the speaking in tongues, I suppose I was not gifted for all those blessings.
      I have just come home from 2 hrs Vespers and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, that’s more me..

  5. tyke says:

    I think that there more to the ‘crowd mentality’ than just ‘hysteria’. In a crowd (*) as described by Quentin we have
    1) a recognition of a common aim
    2) a reluctance to be different
    3) a reinforcement (whether positive or negative) of shared attitudes
    In short a ‘sense of belonging’.

    (*) I avoid the word ‘mob’ because it has too many negative overtones.

    In the extreme this can lead to hysteria certainly. However what is interesting is to understand and to channel this sort of mentality towards constructive outcomes. No, I’m not being cynical or manipulative. This is what happens every day in political meetings, church services, sporting and cultural events… It’s a part of our make-up. If we ignore it, then I’m sure there’ll be others who won’t.

    And being able to channel it positively leads to events that ‘click’, and that are enjoyed by those that take part. As long as it’s clear to everyone what is happening (and why), there’s no need to consider it as sinister in any way.

    […Now, I’ll just retire to a bomb shelter until the flak dies down 🙂 ]

    • St.Joseph says:

      Having been brought up in the horse racing trade my father being a National Hunt Jockey.,I spent most of my Saturdays at race meetings, which I hated!
      To a very young child the racket they made as the horses were running sounded like hysteria as if they were all gone mad,then rushing to the winners enclosure.Everyone else rushing to put their bets on, But there was never any trouble. I remember everyone happy and laughing. It is like that at all sport I suppose..

    • St.Joseph says:

      That made me smile!
      I don’t know how to put the smiley face in!

  6. Ignatius says:

    Most of my youth was spent either in gangs or engaged in mass events such as football or all night dance clubs. From there I graduated to student marches against pretty much anything you can think of, I lay in the London streets to protest against America’s use of cruise missiles and ran with the Socialist workers party pack to challenge the ‘fascists’. A little later I found myself at the front of large evangelical church gatherings praying over people in tongues till they fell over. There was then a bit of a pause when I became all solitary and contemplative but my innate gregariousness won out and I now find myself waving the thurifer at everybody and leading the procession, belting round the lanes in a peleton with the cycling club, or walking round the seminary in packs of 50 or so saying the rosary. Last year I went to see Coldplay in Manchester and spent 2 hours jumping up and down with 50,000 others ….strange old business being human isn’t it!!

    • St.Joseph says:

      We have something in common then, we have seen everything, done everything-both been a bit of a Heinz 57 Variety. couple.But it is interesting to look back on..

    • John Nolan says:

      I hope it was the thurible you were waving and not the thurifer! In any case the thurible is carried in procession, not waved at all and sundry. I assume that “Coldplay” is a popular music ensemble, and observing the crowds at these performances I wonder what motivates them to jump up and down and wave their arms in the air. Is it because if they simply listened (the normal reaction to music) they would realize there wasn’t much substance to the music? Medieval peasants would dance to music, but their dance was measured and ritualized – even a tarantella has rules. Perhaps people nowadays are so tired of civilization they feel the urge to behave like savages every now and then.

      • Ignatius says:

        “..Medieval peasants would dance to music, but their dance was measured and ritualized – even a tarantella has rules. Perhaps people nowadays are so tired of civilization they feel the urge to behave like savages every now and then…..”

        Coldplay concerts have their rules to you know…any case what about the Shakers!!! You are right about civilisation though-people get fed up of the trappings so go for a night out…didn’t you ever?
        PS I finally put the thurifer down after he promised not to goggle at my girlfriend ever again!

  7. Nektarios says:

    Ruling the mob – it depends on who is playing the part of the mob? Those in the crowd or march or demonstration and those who are whiter than white supposedly controlling the crowds?
    How many times has one seen a peaceful demonstration turn nasty as the police for no seeming reason begin wading into the crowds batons waving, tazer guns at the ready, not mention pepper sprays, water canons and last but not least rubber bullets and live ammunition when they deem it necessary. This method of crowd control seems to be universal. So who actually is the mob?

    Shall we talk of the mob who rule in the Church, not only the RCC but all of them. Are the sheep of members, conditioned to obey the thought up rules and regulations to impose order and any detour will incur sending in the heavyweight mob?
    Shall we talk of the mob of Scientific world who really punch way beyond their weight because most of their so called authority is built on theory, but go against it and you will be treated as ignorant, mad or stupid to hold you own understanding.
    So who is the Mob?

    Shall we talk of the mob of politicians, business corporations imposing their will on all of us
    Using people to their own economic or inglorious ends – so who is this mob actually.

    Nothing could be further from the truth than the truth that the mob that needs ruling is the average person in the street.

    Identification, seen as a positive by tyke an others, is little more than the herd mentality. But the herd mentality may true of many animals, but not Man. That is conditioned into the person at
    a very early age, before 5 years old. Such conditioned herd mentality in Man is has nothing to do with identity and a false sense of actually belonging.
    Who are the mobs that condition all these silly concepts?
    Are they the real mobs that need us to control them? If so, there is a battle brewing.
    I think I will joint tyke in his bunker – till the madness subsides.

    • Nektarios says:

      sorry folks, I spotted a few mistakes but having typing problems with words and spacing
      going hayward, not to mention other distractions..

  8. Ignatius says:

    “..Who are the mobs that condition all these silly concepts?..”
    Never ask for who the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

  9. Nektarios says:

    Further to my last comment….
    If for you and others if they meditate, look – I exist.
    Does this I that exists include a mob with its interests, its purposes, its aims or just its own?
    What is the interests of I; what is its purposes its, aims &c. Are they not all external, transient
    and nothing to do with I?

  10. Peter Nyikos says:

    Here in the USA, a particularly destructive form of mob behavior is the so-called “race riot.” The late sixities had many of them, and a few lessons learned were forgotten in what may have been the most destructive of them all, the “race riot” [orgy of massive looting and vandalism] that followed the “not guilty” verdict on the policemen who beat Rodney King.

    The dynamic in these riots is that a huge, angry crowd mills around, peacefully for a while. Then some habitual petty criminals start breaking into stores and stealing. The rest of the participants hold back for a while, but when they see the criminals get away scot-free, more and more of them are emboldened to follow their example, and soon all pandemonium breaks loose.

    One city where this was well understood was a city in Ohio (Akron, if memory serves). The police were out in force where the crowd gathered, and as soon as anyone broke a window, he was summarily arrested, and no “race riot” ensued.

    The lesson was either forgotten by the Los Angeles police many years later, or was cynically ignored, because police where actually ordered out of the area where the mob was gathered in the wake of the Rodney King verdict. Vandalism and looting raged on a huge scale, unchecked for two or more days, with peaceful marches protesting the lack of decisive police action by huge numbers of mainly Asiatic individuals who had lost so much, until Rodney himself went on television and broadcast his famous “Can’t we all just get along?” speech.

    • Quentin says:

      It’s not easy to analyse crowd behaviour in the race riots to which you refer. We are often relying on press reports which are unconsciously influenced by the journalists’ assumptions about what has happened. I can only suppose, and it is a guess, that the shared identity of the crowd was one of deep resentment at racial injustice which was institutionalised in the USA at the time. There was certainly destruction and looting in the Tottenham riots but on the whole the targets were those who represented (for the crowd) the interests which it associated with keeping them disadvantaged. (Although of course there were crooks among them, and the newspapers selected these for much publicity. But that was not the character of the crowd as a whole.)

      You might like to read a very careful analysis of several different riots. It very much supports the description which I gave in my original posting. You’ll find it here: Mad Mobs and Englishmen by Steve Reicher and Cliff Stott (Amazon Media). It’s a Kindle download and very cheap.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Your words came to mind-Mad Mobs and Englishmen.
        The student riots a couple of years ago my eldest grandson and I were speaking about them and he told me one of his friends was involved in the London riots at the time and he said he tried to talk him out of it however it was no use. My grandson said to me he was ‘mad’ to go. .My grandson said at the time he ought to spend time his studying., which my grandson did with a first class degree, and now has a successful job and recently promoted..

  11. Ignatius says:

    I remember well the Toxteth riots in Liverpool and then the next summer in Leeds-I was living there. There was the dynamic as above and we saw the same thing in Croydon a year or so ago. So we recognise crowd behaviour but, so far, tend to see only the negative in it- yet there are other aspects of ‘crowd’ behaviour . Three days ago I was in a prison chapel for Mass and something quite interesting happened. There had been a disturbance on the general wing of the prison so much of the block was shut down. Prisoners classed as vulnerable came from another wing so most of them managed to attend. The priest was called away for a few minutes leaving only me and the organist in this group of about 40 men all a little excited and anxious about the atmosphere in the prison….I was a bit nervous about this !
    After a few minutes the priest returned along with a couple of warders -instantly the men settled and what followed was a powerful sense of God in the celebration of the Mass What struck me about that encounter was how much those men actually wanted and needed order – an order that perhaps seperately they could not provide for themselves.
    After I came out of the prison on that Saturday morning I walked down into town on my way to work. There was a huge melee of people all gathered together for what turned out to be a Santa parade with switching on of the Christmas lights!! It was great, thousands of people all put in a good
    mood by the ‘festive feel’ of the day. I could not help but think of Jesus and his compassion for the ‘multitude’ gathered as they were with no master but fairy stories and christmas lights to cheer them up. Yet there was a sense of the ‘good’ in that multitude and of the potential for good will to be generated, a sense that would not be felt by individuals about their daily shopping alone. One of the things that strikes me about saying the rosary as a large communal event at the seminary I attend is how ‘supra personal’ the whole thing is and how one can get somehow a taste of freedom from the burdens of the self by being ‘incorporated’ as it were into a wider body that ,of course, represents the body of Christ. Individualism is, in my view, rather an overrated thing here in the West.

  12. claret says:

    The dynamics of ‘mob rule’ have far wider implications than football matches and even race riots as they always tend to ‘burn themselves out’ after about three days and the perpetrators run out of energy and go home.
    What is far more disturbing is how a whole country can seem to be determined to go to hell in a handcart.
    In 1930’s Germany the population of a whole nation (with exceptions of course,) that prided itself on its civil rule of law and the arts went on a sort of collective frenzy and orgy of violence and cruelty that was without limits and stuck with it to the bitter end.
    Other countries learned from this, thought it something to be admired, and followed suit.
    What dynamics can do this?

    • Nektarios says:

      Essentially it is an induced sense of fear as it was in the case of Germany in the WW2.
      There is too much to mention here on what the dynamics of fear are? However to mention a few: Inducing a state of fear on a country, by what ever means produces the demand to protect the nation.
      Those in power who induced this state of fear, use it to act in a totalitarian way, over-riding
      any sense of democracy, law or doing what is right.
      Then there is the enforcement of fear, which is total conformity to the State, in this case,
      under all sorts of punishments including imprisonment and being shot.
      It put families against each other, spying on each other, injustice, falsehoods and the like
      until they got total conformity.
      The state of fear for the nation, with the call to defend the nation, meant in turn everyone was or could be called up or utilized militarily.
      People get used to living like that very quickly, the fear for their lives, not only from a supposed enemy, but from the State itself.

      Here the dynamic being built on falsehood breaks down. People see, no one is really threatening them, apart from those their State is threatening and warring with.
      Questions arise, and to quell that, the State has to produce more fear, more atrocities on its own people, more atrocities on others.
      Something has to give in the end. What brought WW2 to an end was Germany ran out of fuel.
      Hitler committed suicide. What was striking about those who stood trial at Nuremburg,
      was they saw themselves as completely innocent of war crimes as they all had been
      filled by a spirit of fear themselves, saw no war crimes, only a defence of the nation.
      Even today, those WW2 German war criminals that remain who had been caught lived out their days hidden in a spirit of fear.
      We can go into this at different levels of course, but I hope this posting helps a little with your question about mob rule dynamics.

    • Quentin says:

      The dynamic here appears to have three elements. First the stifling shame undergone by the German population — in large part from the heavy sanctions so foolishly imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. (That mistake was avoided after WWII). The inbred suspicion of the Jews — so widespread on the Continent — making them emotionally attractive culprits. Thirdly the brilliant rhetoric of the Nazi leaders.

      The result was a population prepared to be passive and to avert their eyes. Thus they went along with what was happening — without ever collectively facing up to it. And, once momentum was achieved, it just continued until enough high explosive stopped it. There is nothing inherently vile about the German nature; it was human nature wot did it.

      • St.Joseph says:

        One of the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit is Fear of the Lord’

      • Ignatius says:


        You miss out one thing in your analysis…fear of brutal retaliation. As you know the brown shirts were a rising force at the time. Brutal reprisal is usually the tool which lies behind most attempts to cow a population and. unsurprisingly, it works. You know no doubt the apocryphal but apparently true of the church along the train line to one of the death camps whose congregation, faced with the choice between insurrection/certain death, or passive acquiescence chose simply to sing their hymns louder as the trains went by. With a family and children at home I would most likely have done the same and so would most of us. We do not need to overwork this subject I feel as it isn’t particularly mysterious- from the Siberian camps to the Miners strike at Orgreave, the tactic is pretty obviously successful.

      • Quentin says:

        I’m sure you’re right, Mike. Fear would also have been a contributory element in many cases, particularly by the time the Nazis were in full control. But we need here also to remember the attraction in the early stages of Germany asserting its nationalism by taking over new territories, and also the attraction of being able to pass the blame for German problems onto the Jews. I fear that Catholic culture in those days by and large was anti Jewish.

        Here’s a true story (From the late Donald Nicholl, who was at a German university if the ’30s.) Many of the Catholic students joined the Nazi party. But one friend of his refused to do so. When asked why, he said: “I’m not the greatest brain, but when I see a movement which teaches me to hate a group of people, I know that it’s not fit for a Catholic.”

        Alice von Hildebrand’s account of her husband’s memoirs is worth reading. One point that she mentions is that the excommunication which had been automatic for Catholics was lifted when Hitler came to power.

  13. Nektarios says:

    St. Joseph
    The fear of God is not the same as fear of man.
    One cannot love or know, or want to be with, or near what one fears, as it is with the fear of man.
    Another word for `fear of God’ is `attachment’ to Him.
    The fear or awe or deep reference comes not by compulsion, but by knowing Him.
    And knowing Him cannot take place in one apart from faith and attention in the spirit of Love.
    He, God, is always there.
    Perfect love overcomes fear, and faith is swallowed up in sight.

  14. St.Joseph says:

    Correct. However it is a shame that ‘man’ does not fear Him more then maybe we would have a more peaceful world!.
    I am not speaking about man who has a ‘perfect love for Him!.They live a different world!
    I thought you would understand what I meant-one Christian to another.

  15. John Nolan says:

    In 1993 I witnessed a riot in Les Halles, Paris (the café owner had prudently moved his furniture inside and locked the doors) and it was rather ritualized. The mob had prised up cobblestones to use as missiles which at a prearranged signal they hurled at the CRS who were drawn up on the opposite side of the square. After three volleys of stones a whistle was blown and the CRS charged, whereupon the mob scattered (and unencumbered by riot gear, got away easily). After an interval both sides regrouped and the performance was repeated.

    • Ignatius says:

      John Nolan,

      Ritualised is a good word John. I should say every fracas I’ve ever been involved in-from football to back street gangs-has been strongly ritualised. Back then people only ever got seriously hurt by mistake really or perhaps someone went ‘a bit too far’ when they were showing off. I’ve had this theory for years that its a kind of primitive play and everyone knows their part.

  16. Geordie says:

    I am uncomfortable with crowd behaviour. The World Youth gatherings leave me with some concern. When I worked, I used to go the conferences, where everyone was fired with enthusiasm for the job. Then we returned home and nothing changed. I don’t see our churches packed with young people after their excursions to Australia or S. America. Rallies, like meetings, give the illusion of having achieved something; whereas in reality the world stumbles along as usual

    • Vincent says:

      Wisely said, Geordie.

      • Ignatius says:

        I don’t agree with that. I went to many charismatic meetings in the 80’s and early 90’s. Of course the superficial enthusiasm didn’t last but beneath all that a smouldering wick was lit that burns still. The world changes slowly-one heart at a time-and usually its years before the outworking and the wick has burned so gradual you don’t notice it…for me I now visit prison instead of being almost in it!.

    • Quentin says:

      Although I note the very first comment here — when Tyke reported that such an event bore fruit years later. Horses for courses?

  17. John Nolan says:


    I tend to be suspicious of anything that smacks of ‘enthusiasm’ and have never taken part in a march or demonstration even in a worthy cause, since I don’t believe rational argument is best served by large numbers of people shouting simplistic slogans. Weimar Germany had its cradle in political violence, and throughout the 1920s people took their politics to the streets. Organized violence and intimidation by communists and nationalists alike was commonplace. Riots like Toxteth and Tottenham may originate in an incident inflamed by rumour, and underlying tensions can easily come to the surface; but they are inchoate and arson and looting become ends in themselves.

    Very different are riots like that in Grosvenor Square in 1968, where a significant number of demonstrators were determined to storm the US embassy. The police were equally determined to prevent this, not least because the embassy was guarded by armed marines. In the so-called Battle of Orgreave (18 June 1984) between 5000 and 6000 ‘pickets’ attempted by sheer weight of numbers to force the closure of a key British Steel coking plant, having failed to persuade the steel workers’ union to support them. The government was determined to prevent this and did so by deploying an even greater number of police. They could have achieved the same result with a platoon of infantry prepared to use limited lethal force, but for fairly obvious reasons did not use this option.

    In both these incidents the ‘crowd’ had a clearly defined objective, and as far as the authorities were concerned success of failure depended on whether or not these objectives were thwarted. By the way, I always thought you were a sensible chap and was surprised to read you were once an adherent of the “loony Left”. I trust that you can now say, with Coleridge, “I have snapped my squeaking baby-trumpet of sedition and the fragments lie scattered in the lumber-room of penitence”.

  18. Ignatius says:

    Ha ha, John:
    Liked your discussion of Orgreave, I remember it well and ,as you say, mounted police made more sense than bullets! I was once trodden on by a police horse in Leeds when the National Front had grown bold and were demonstrating so we all turned out in reply! As to me being a sensible chap:
    “If a man is not a socialist before the age of 40 he has no heart. If he is still one after that age he has no head!”
    Can’t remember who said that but you can see why…and yes.. Coleridge and I would have had a laugh about it all…where is the quote from?

  19. Ignatius says:

    PS: John

    “….Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace…”

    You’ll know this chap, I guess he was once far from being sensible!

    • John Nolan says:

      Mike, the quotation is from a letter of 1798 from Coleridge to his brother. There is a very readable book by the liberal Tory Sir Ian Gilmour, “Riot, Risings and Revolution: Governance and Violence in 18th century England” (1992). He observes that the violence of those below is more often than not the consequence of the violence of the state and its rulers, although those in power would deny this connection. “Marvelling at the skilful beneficence of their own rule, they are convinced that the ruled can have no cause for complaint; hence they infer that popular violence must stem from licentiousness, perversity or agitation”.

  20. St.Joseph says:

    Peter Nykios.
    I am interested in your interest in Fatima.
    They do have an official Web Site, I can not tell you where it is only it is from Fatima..
    The photos of the sun dancing are taken from the newspaper photographers at the time.
    Where you will find them I don’t know, only that I have seen them,also the newspapers I am not that into the computer. I am interested to know as to why you are so concerned with miracles.of that kind to give you faith. ‘Blessed are those who believe and have seen,But more Blessed are those who believe and have not seen’.!
    To what you say about hell- there is one,whether one goes there or not is up to themselves.!
    God never sends anyone there..

  21. St.Joseph says:

    Silent demonstrations are sometimes the only way that public opinion is heard.
    I say this in contrast to the public killing of bombs in the Underground and where innocent people and children are doing their shopping in peace. and I do mean ‘silent demonstrations!’.

  22. John Nolan says:

    Ironically, public opinion is probably of less account nowadays than it was in the 18th century. In 1752 Parliament voted to adopt the Gregorian calendar, which meant losing eleven days in September. Most people were then paid on a daily basis, but rents were due quarterly. Out came the London mob. The government conceded the point and made the necessary adjustment. Until 1752 the new year began on Lady Day (25 March). The only remnant of this is the fiscal year which begins on 5 April, which is eleven days after Lady Day.

  23. claret says:

    Whilst I can see the rational explanation as described above into the reasons for the rise of Nazism I still am of the opinion that it was a lot to do with crowd dynamics. Hence they had the the mass gatherings ( all filmed,) the book burnings, the excessive use of flags, the unbridled adulation etc. All techniques for appealing to the masses.
    As for rhetoric, Hitler’s speeches were far from inspiring as they were incoherent, rambling nonsense. They did though benefit from the crowd dynamic aroused from shouting loudly and so building up to mass hysteria.

    • Quentin says:

      The measure of rhetoric is whether it achieves the objectives of the speaker. That ability to stir a crowd by enormous, shouting, energy, by the repeated usage of key words, by appeal to the lowest motives wrapped in noble phrases, has always been the weapons of the demagogue. No one did it better than Hitler.

      • johnbunting says:

        An interesting ‘aside’ to this is that the St Austin Review, Sept/Oct 2005, had a short article by Joseph Pearce, in response to John Cornwell’s ‘Hitler’s Pope’, and Daniel Goldhagen’s ‘Hitler’s Willing Executioners’ and later writings.
        Two maps of Germany in the early 1930s were shown: one showed the distribution of the Catholic population, shaded from black, most Catholics, to white, least Catholics. The other showed the distribution of votes for the the National Socialists in the 1932 elections: black for most, white for least. One map was virtually a negative of the other, the support for the Nazis being least in the predominantly Catholic areas of Bavaria and the Rhineland.
        Not the full story of course, but food for thought.

  24. Ignatius says:

    I’ve seen the films of all that stuff-they were on TV recently…I must say it all looked quite enthralling to be part of – me and my football chums of days gone by would’ve loved it. But it didn’t work for Moseley in the East End did it? To the great credit of the Cockney tribes as I understand it. I guess the demagogue, as John Nolan notes, only thrives in the right kind of soil?

  25. Nektarios says:

    As we are nearing the end of the time for this topic, I was interested to see the divide on class grounds. The poor, those of low education and those from working class backgrounds were demonized by the middle to upper class groups and toffs in Parliament as the unwashed, the unruly and those who protested for better rights for ordinary people.
    When I look at some of the history of this – for example: a rich English landlord in the Highlands of Scotland, many were paid so little, given so little by way of provision for them or their children to even live on, they would steal a sheep or even some grain, for which they would be sent into penal servitude in Australia, or worse, hanged.
    All this was orchestrated by Government.
    This reminds me of a rather funny discussion about a different mob – the Mafia. The question came up, which of the Mafia were the most powerful? For a while it was argued between the Italian, Chinese and American Mafia. Who was going to win this discussion.
    It seemed to be going the Italian Mafia’s way until an English Politician spoke up. He state that the English Mob was the most powerful in the world. The others just laughed at his seemingly incredulous remark.
    “I will explain why the British Mob are the most powerful in the world.”, he said. The Italian Chinese and the American mobs are seen as criminal. Law enforcement agencies around the world
    want the leaders and members locked up for murder and extortion and various other unmentionable crimes. This does not happen with the British Mob.
    You see, the differences between the British Mob and all of the other Mobs is, we are the oldest.
    Our Mafia is at least 300 older than the rest of the other Mobs…. And why does the Law not want to imprison, execute or deport any of the British Mob? You see, the British Mob has got what all of the rest lack – respectability!”

  26. tim says:

    Totally off-topic – but I’m much taken by Nektarios’s coining of ‘hayward’, which I take to be a portmanteau word combining ‘wayward’ and ‘haywire’….

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