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

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

Chapter 1
Psychological Metamorphosis of the Leaders

THE APATHY of the masses and their need for guidance has as its counterpart in the leaders a natural greed for power. Thus the development of the democratic oligarchy is accelerated by the general characteristics of human nature. What was initiated by the need for organization, administration, and strategy is completed by psychological determinism.

The average leader of the working-class parties is morally not lower, but on the whole higher, in quality than the average leaders of the other parties. This has sometimes been unreservedly admitted by the declared adversaries of socialism. Yet it cannot be denied that the permanent exercise of leadership exerts upon the moral character of the leaders an influence which is essentially pernicious. Yet this also, from a certain point of view, is perhaps good. The bitter words which Labruyère applied to the great men of the court of Louis XIV, that the imitative mania and veneration exhibited towards them by the masses would have grown into an absolute idolatry, if it had occurred to any of them to be simply good men as well as great ones -- these words, mutatis mutandis, could be applied with equal truth to the leaders of the vast democratic movements of our own days.1

In the majority of instances, and above all at the opening of his career, the leader is sincerely convinced of the excellence of the principles he advocates. Le Bon writes with good reason: "The leader has usually been at one time the led. He himself has been hynotized by the idea of which he afterwards becomes the apostate."2 In many cases the leader, at first no more than a single molecule of the mass, has become detached from this involuntarily, without asking whither his instinctive action was leading him, without any personal motive whatever. He has been pushed forward by a clearer vision, by a profounder sentiment, and by a more ardent desire for the general good; he has been inspired by the elasticity and seri

____________________
1
Labruyère, Caractères, Penaud, Paris, p. 156.
2
Trans. from Gustave le Bon, Psychologie des Foules, ed. cit., p. 106. Cf. also S. G. Hobson, Boodle and Cant, International Socialist Review, Chicago, 1902, ii, No. 8, p. 585.

-205-

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