chapter  9
18 Pages

The Triumph of the Crowd: Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf (1924–5)

The old equation of crowd theory: violence equals atavism, is implicit in Freud’s social theory as a whole, and shows that his theory of the crowd is still firmly rooted in the concerns of the fin de siècle, when violence was a matter for reflection. When Sorel reflected about violence before 1914, he was doing far more than merely observing that civilized men thought they were living in societies where violence had decreased in the past and could be expected to decline in the future. What he was really interested in was what enabled people to think like that, which in its turn meant asking what the ideological configurations were which encouraged them to think like that. What was at issue was not just that men found the progressive decline in the evidence of violence encouraging; rather what was at issue was what made the expectation of further decline a matter of certain prediction, and therefore of smug self-congratulation. Sorel was enough of a Marxist always to smell ideology when an age begins to congratulate itself on what it thinks, and he was right to smell ideology in the age’s view of violence. What Sorel points to is a world in which all social theory with any pretensions at all to being progressive, was writing violence out of its picture of the world and that world’s future, and what angers him is that most socialists had by 1900 become part of the progressive consensus. What makes Sorel an original in his own time is his insistence that violence has a future. The violence that Sorel preached (the word is deliberate) was the necessary violence of class war, ‘domestic’ violence, not war between nations, but what he actually says about violence fits the case of international war equally well. For Sorel violence is not instrumental in the ordinary sense, not a means towards a specific end, because he realizes that if violence is only instrumental then in principle substitute means can always be found for it. Violence is still instrumental for Sorel, but its aim is to form the kind of revolutionary consciousness which makes the determined pursuit of revolutionary ends more likely. Consciousness always interposes itself between violence and its object. The end which violence pursues does not have to be a ‘real’ end at all; it can be a fantasy or a myth; all that the pursuit of a mythologized end has to do is to energize revolutionaries; real revolutionary ends will come out of this violence-loaded energy.