Jump to navigation Jump to search First edition publ. Claassen Verlag Crowds and Power German : Masse und Macht is a book by Elias Canetti , dealing with the dynamics of crowds and "packs" and the question of how and why crowds obey power of rulers. Canetti draws a parallel between ruling and paranoia. It is notable for its unusual tone; although wide-ranging in its erudition, it is not scholarly or academic in a conventional way. Rather, it reads like a manual written by someone outside the human race explaining to another outsider in concise and highly metaphoric language how people form mobs and manipulate power. Unlike much non-fiction writing, it is highly poetic and seething with anger.
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Start free Blinkist trial Upgrade to Premium Read or listen now Synopsis Crowds and Power is a troubling, prophetic and erudite analysis of human groups and their interaction with power. Written by Nobel laureate Elias Canetti, it asks why humans who prize individuality seek out membership in crowds and how rulers exploit that desire. This study is as wide-ranging in the sources it draws upon as it is thought-provoking in the conclusions it reaches.
Key idea 1 of 11 There are five different types of crowd that can be distinguished by their emotional content. Every member enjoys the same standing, regardless of previous differences. Those are the general traits of all crowds, but there are also specific types of crowds. In fact, there are five different kinds of crowd according to their emotional content. This crowd has a clear objective — to kill its chosen target.
A classic example is the crowd that called for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Then there are flight crowds. These are formed when a group of people is faced with a common threat. Once the danger passes, however, the crowd dissolves. Next are prohibition crowds. Their purpose is refusal — think of striking workers manning a picket line.
Reversal crowds are also rebellious, but their aim is to overturn existing power hierarchies. They form when slaves revolt against their masters or soldiers turn their weapons on their officers. Finally, there are feast crowds. Their purpose? Common and equal indulgence, typically in the form of lavish food-based festivals. There are four attributes that define all crowds. The first is growth. Second is equality. As soon as a crowd has formed, all its members are equal.
Third, crowds are typically dense. Bodies are pressed up against each other, and nothing can stand in the way of this proximity or divide members from one another. Finally, every crowd has a goal. Without a purpose, the crowd disperses and people become individuals concerned with their personal affairs once more. Once Jesus had been crucified, for example, the crowd that had been baying for his blood left the scene, and its members returned to their normal lives.
Key ideas in this title There are five different types of crowd that can be distinguished by their emotional content. The rituals of Christianity and Shia Islam reflect their origins in the lamenting pack. Seizing, killing and eating are acts of power symbolized by hands, fingers and the mouth. Survivors are often powerful simply because survival is understood as a sign of power.
Commands were originally a threat of death that only later became domesticated. Transformation is a key component of power, as southern-African bushmen have long known. Rank, posture and the regulation of time are also connected to power. Final summary.
It reads like a series of essays by Montaigne but all directed toward the phenomenon of human organisation. Each essay, which might include references as diverse as the anthropology of South American tribes to the history of European warfare, contains some comment which is not only arresting but revelatory of profound insight. Who knew that an apparently sociological treatise could be so creative, so enthralling, so literate? His unit of analysis is the crowd, which may arise from something more primitive called a pack, but which takes on uniquely crowd-like characteristics and force. The crowd, depending on its type, of which there are several, has an implicit crowd-mind, not dissimilar perhaps from the hive-mind of bees or ten-year old girls. After establishing his basic crowd-typology, Canetti presents page after page of remarkable observations and conclusions about what makes each type behave as it does.
Crowds and Power
The Ardittis can be traced to the 14th century, when they were court physicians and astronomers to the Aragonese royal court of Alfonso IV and Pedro IV. Before settling in Ruse, they had migrated into Italy and lived in Livorno in the 17th century. In , his father died suddenly, and his mother moved with their children first to Lausanne , then Vienna in the same year. They lived in Vienna from the time Canetti was aged seven onwards. His mother insisted that he speak German, and taught it to him.