Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy

By Robert Michels; Cedar Paul et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
The Political Gratitude of the Masses

IN ADDITION to the political indifference of the masses and to their need for guidance, there is another factor, and one of a loftier moral quality, which contributes to the supremacy of the leaders, and this is the gratitude felt by the crowd for those who speak and write on their behalf. The leaders acquire fame as defenders and advisers of the people; and while the mass, economically indispensable, goes quietly about its daily work, the leaders, for love of the cause, must often suffer persecution, imprisonment, and exile.

These men, who have often acquired, as it were, an aureole of sanctity and martyrdom, ask one reward only for their services, gratitude. Sometimes this demand for gratitude finds written expression. Among the masses themselves this sentiment of gratitude is extremely strong. If from time to time we encounter exceptions to this rule, if the masses display the blackest ingratitude towards their chosen leaders, we may be certain that there is on such occasions a drama of jealousy being played beneath the surface. There is a demagogic struggle, fierce, masked, and obstinate, between one leader and another, and the mass has to intervene in this struggle, and to decide between the adversaries. But in favoring one competitor, it necessarily displays "ingratitude" towards the other. Putting aside these exceptional cases, the mass is sincerely grateful to its leaders, regarding gratitude as a sacred duty. As a rule, this sentiment of gratitude is displayed in the continual re-election of the leaders who have deserved well of the party, so that leadership commonly becomes perpetual. It is the general feeling of the mass that it would be "ungrateful" if they failed to confirm in his functions every leader of long service.

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