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

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

Chapter 4
The Cult of Veneration Among the Masses

THE SOCIALIST parties often identify themselves with their leaders to the extent of adopting the leaders' names. Thus, in Germany from 1863 to 1875 there were Lassallists and Marxists; whilst in France, until quite recently, there were Broussists, Allemanists, Guesdists, and Jauràsists. The fact that these personal descriptive terms tend to pass out of use in such countries as Germany may be attributed to two distinct causes: in the first place, there has been an enormous increase in the membership and especially in the voting strength of the party; and secondly, within the party, dictatorship has given place to oligarchy, and the leaders of this oligarchy are inspired by sentiments of mutual jealousy. As a supplementary cause may be mentioned the general lack of leaders of conspicuous ability, capable of securing and maintaining an absolute and indisputable authority.

The English anthropo-sociologist Frazer contends that the maintenance of the order and authority of the state is to a large extent dependent upon the superstitious ideas of the masses, this being, in his view, a bad means used to a good end. Among such superstitious notions, Frazer draws attention to the belief so frequent among the people that their leaders belong to a higher order of humanity than themselves.1 The phenomenon is, in fact, conspicuous in the history of the socialist parties during the last fifty years. The supremacy of the leaders over the mass depends, not solely upon the factors already discussed, but also upon the widespread superstitious reverence paid to the leaders on account of their superiority in formal culture -- for which a much greater respect is commonly felt than for true intellectual worth.

The adoration of the led for the leaders is commonly latent. It reveals itself by signs that are barely perceptible, such as the tone of veneration in which the idol's name is pronounced, the perfect docility with which the least of his signs is obeyed, and the indignation which is aroused by any critical attack upon his personality. But where the individuality of the leader is

____________________
1
J. G. Frazer, Psyche's Task, Macmillan, London, 1909, p. 56.

-93-

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