Thursday, August 11, 2011

Dame Rose Macaulay on Mobs (23 February, 1952)

“Do you feel that people, particularly in crowds, are getting rather frightening?  Or perhaps they always were.  Mob hysteria seems to attack them so often and so violently, and they . . . climb onto the bonnets of their car, shriek like Maenads, and block the traffic completely, so that police have to clear a way for the wretched victims. . . I suppose this mass hysteria has always been with us; it crops up all through history, and has taken many forms.  The French revolution mobs shouting for the guillotine; the Jews shouting “Crucify Him!”; the wild religious revivalists of the Middle ages; the Jacquerie; the anti-Jewish pogrom crowds yelling against Jews; to-day football [i.e., soccer] crowds trampling one another to death at the gates; and all those terrible film fans screaming.

I suppose there is a deep potential excitement in human nature, like a wild animal, and being surrounded by a crowd unleashes it, and out it leaps, feeding on the excitement of its neighbors and growing madder and madder, till people are chased and lynched . . . Yet individually the mob are probably ordinary quite decent and kindly people.  How horrible a thing it would be to be at their mercy, when they turn into a pack of baying wolves.  O Sapientia!  What are we made of?  How can God endure us?"

Dame Rose Macaulay, a letter to Fr. J. Johnson, 23 February, 1952 

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