aggregate of many men presents some characteristics that are not found in the unities that compose it. The psychology of a multitude of men is a special psychology; for the passions, the inclinations, and the thoughts of the individuals who compose it are combined in such a way that the conduct of a man mixed with a crowd will be quite different from that which he would observe if he were alone. The phenomenon we are studying is the effect of a similar difference between the characters of an aggregate of men and the characters of its units. A crowd of men is always more afraid of the new, more conservative, than are the men who compose it. For that reason a usage is more stable and less subject to variation in proportion to the number of men who observe it. The larger the multitude grows the more intense does its misoneism (hatred of novelty) become.
Every one can observe that it is easy for a man to change his individual habits, but that the habits of a family, being more fixed, are changed with greater difficulty. In fact, in some families there are ways that are preserved for two or three generations. But fixed as family customs are, they are unstable enough if we compare them to the usages of large aggregates, to the whole population of a city, for example. In all Europe, in Italy, France, and Germany some of the cities still celebrate the festivals of the middle ages, occasionally even Roman festivals, which plunge a whole population every year into the past again. The costumes, the banners, and the signals, everything in these festivals is old, and no one would be satisfied to use anything modern in them, for all their beauty would then seem to vanish. We find yet more superannuated usages when we consider still larger human aggregates; for while in the usages of a city we find survivals of its history, in the usages common to all civilized men we find survivals of the ancient primitive life, customs which appertain to the savage period. Of such, for example, is the worship of ancestors; for that exists no longer among peoples of high civilization, and rites relating to it have been nearly entirely abandoned. Yet these rites, which exist no longer in individual practice, still survive as a general usage among all Roman Catholic peoples, for the ceremony of the day of the dead is nothing else than a survival from the ancient ancestral religion. On that day all turn back in a mass to perform acts relating to that religion—visiting of the graves, renewing of the floral crowns, etc.—like those we find in use among savage tribes, although no thought or notion of the worship of ancestors is left among us. What does not exist as an individual practice still survives as a general usage.
- La Foule criminelle, Paris, 1892.