The strange epidemic of “mass formation hypnosis”

A critical reading of the book "The Psychology of Totalitarianism" by Mattias Desmet.

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Among the many sur­pri­sing psy­cho­lo­gi­cal and social phe­no­me­na we wit­nes­sed during the Covid-19 pan­de­mic, there was an often radi­cal pola­ri­za­tion of public opi­nion and dis­course. The big divide was cas­ted in a sim­plis­tic oppo­si­tion bet­ween real scien­tists, ‘pro­gres­sives’ and sup­por­ters of govern­ment poli­cies on the one hand, pseu­dos­cien­tists, popu­lists, conspi­ra­cists and impos­tors on the other hand (see Stie­gler, 2021).

Whe­reas some socio­lo­gists, phi­lo­so­phers, poli­ti­cal scien­tists and even legal scho­lars have drawn the atten­tion to the dele­te­rious effects of this divide, psy­chia­trists and psy­cho­lo­gists see­med to have been less vocal. The most wide­ly spread and, for the time being the most influen­tial psy­cho­lo­gi­cal rea­ding of the cri­sis stems from Dr. Mat­tias Des­met, pro­fes­sor for cli­ni­cal psy­cho­lo­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ghent, Bel­gium. Mat­tias Des­met has become very famous on social media for his radi­cal views on the social psy­cho­lo­gy of the pan­de­mic. Accor­ding to this Bel­gian scien­tist, most of us have tur­ned ‘mad’ through what he des­cribes as “mass for­ma­tion”, “mass for­ma­tion hyp­no­sis” and in some of his inter­views even ass “mass for­ma­tion psy­cho­sis”. Since during his innu­me­rable inter­views, his view see­med to be somew­hat chan­ging and evol­ving, it was thus wor­thw­hile wai­ting for his book. In June 2022, The Psy­cho­lo­gy of Tota­li­ta­ria­nism final­ly got publi­shed.1

Prof. Des­met has a uni­ver­sal solu­tion to the mas­sive pro­blem at hand : a return to the “living uni­verse” where “man is able to receive [ulti­mate know­ledge], by tuning his vibra­tions, like a string, to the fre­quen­cy of things” (Des­met 2022, p. 184).

The totalitarianism of the world

It is quite obvious that mass sup­port for tota­li­ta­ria­nism comes nei­ther from igno­rance nor from brainwashing. 

Arendt, 1991, p. XXIII

One fine mor­ning in Novem­ber 2017, Mat­tias Des­met, staying at a friend’s cot­tage in the Ardennes, was sei­zed with a sud­den intui­tion : “[…] I was grip­ped by the pal­pable and acute awa­re­ness of a new tota­li­ta­ria­nism that had left its seed and made the fabric of socie­ty stif­fen” (Des­met, 2022, p. 1).

Mat­tias Des­met, co-author of a hun­dred articles on depres­sion, alexi­thy­mia and the eva­lua­tion of psy­cho­the­ra­pies, rea­li­zed that it “could no lon­ger be denied” that govern­ments were depri­ving us of our free­dom, that “alter­na­tive voices” were no lon­ger tole­ra­ted, that “secu­ri­ty forces” were increa­sing dra­ma­ti­cal­ly, “and more” (Des­met, 2022, p. 1 – 2, 90). Accor­ding to Des­met these are the most obvious signs of a world plun­ged into “tota­li­ta­ria­nism”.

In his ana­ly­sis, Des­met refers to the “dys­to­pian vision” (sic) of the Ger­man Jewish phi­lo­so­pher Han­nah Arendt but cri­ti­cizes her for not clear­ly unders­tan­ding in her “vision” the pro­found dif­fe­rence bet­ween tra­di­tio­nal dic­ta­tor­ships and tota­li­ta­ria­nism. This is an odd claim given that, accor­ding to Arendt her­self, the focus of her 900 page stu­dy of The Ori­gins of Totalitarianism’s is pre­ci­se­ly an ela­bo­ra­tion of the radi­cal his­to­ri­cal novel­ty of the Nazi and Soviet regimes : “This book is about the ori­gins and ele­ments of total domi­na­tion, as we have known it as a new ‹form of state,› I believe, in the Third Reich and in the Bol­she­vik regime” (Arendt, 1991, p. 16). Not so for Desmet.

In any case, it seems sur­pri­sing to esta­blish a diag­no­sis or even an ana­ly­sis of tota­li­ta­ria­nism with the sole work of Han­nah Arendt in 2022. On the one hand, the notion of tota­li­ta­ria­nism has obvious­ly been dis­cus­sed, deve­lo­ped and cri­ti­cal­ly deba­ted in poli­ti­cal phi­lo­so­phy, socio­lo­gy, poli­ti­cal science and his­to­ry since Arendt’s ori­gi­nal ana­ly­sis. (See Losur­do, 2004) On the other hand, Arendt’s essen­tia­list concep­tion of tota­li­ta­ria­nism is based on three consti­tu­tive ele­ments : the consti­tu­tion of depo­li­ti­ci­sed masses fol­lo­wing the First World War, the dupli­ca­tion of state ins­ti­tu­tions sup­por­ting constant mobi­li­sa­tion through the use of pro­pa­gan­da for the pur­poses of the move­ment, and ter­ror as the ‹essence› of tota­li­ta­ria­nism, which finds its model in the construc­tion of concen­tra­tion camps.

Yet, if one could indeed dis­cuss the ques­tion of the masses in the libe­ral demo­cra­cies of the 21st cen­tu­ry, one would find nei­ther a fas­cist, Nazi or socia­list tota­li­ta­rian move­ment, nor the ter­ror of the concen­tra­tion camps or Gulags in Wes­tern Europe today. If the psy­cho­lo­gy of tota­li­ta­ria­nism pro­poses itself not only as a rea­ding of his­to­ri­cal tota­li­ta­ria­nism, but of the sup­po­sed tota­li­ta­ria­nism of today (2017 and beyond), it is dif­fi­cult to see what Des­met could be refer­ring to.

Totalitarianism as psychology

For Mat­tias Des­met, Arendt did not grasp the true nature of tota­li­ta­ria­nism. He sur­pri­sin­gly argues that what poli­ti­cal phi­lo­so­phy, poli­ti­cal science, socio­lo­gy, and his­to­ry have got­ten wrong until now is nothing less that the true dis­tinc­tion bet­ween tra­di­tio­nal dic­ta­tor­ships and tota­li­ta­ria­nism : it’s psy­cho­lo­gi­cal, and not its poli­ti­cal or socio­lo­gi­cal dif­fe­rences. Thus, only psy­cho­lo­gy allows us to unders­tand the inti­mate mecha­nisms of tota­li­ta­ria­nism. (sic, Des­met, 2022, p. 2)

Accor­ding to Des­met, clas­si­cal dic­ta­tor­ships are based on “pri­mi­tive psy­cho­lo­gi­cal mecha­nisms”, like the “cli­mate of fear” (ibid., p. 2). But “tota­li­ta­ri­zed popu­la­tions” (sic), that sacri­fice their per­so­nal inter­est for the com­mu­ni­ty, are sub­ject to an insi­dious “mass for­ma­tion ». To Des­met only this new psy­cho­lo­gy of “mass for­ma­tion” allows us to dis­tin­guish tota­li­ta­ria­nism from dictatorship.

Thus Des­met, via his “pal­pable and acute awa­re­ness” of the world”, can sweep away 70 years of poli­ti­cal, socio­lo­gi­cal, his­to­ri­cal and phi­lo­so­phi­cal research on the concepts and the facts of “tota­li­ta­ria­nism. In the same way, he can ignore Han­nah Arendt’s radi­cal cri­ti­cism of the psy­cho­lo­gi­za­tion of tota­li­ta­ria­nism, – to her, it see­med absurd to explain tota­li­ta­ria­nism by a hyp­no­tic fas­ci­na­tion or some kind of “magi­cal spell” on the masses.2

The concept of “mass for­ma­tion” thus seems fun­da­men­tal to Desmet’s ana­ly­sis of tota­li­ta­ria­nism. Unfor­tu­na­te­ly, the rea­der will have to wait in vain for a real defi­ni­tion of this see­min­gly ori­gi­nal ana­ly­sis in The Psy­cho­lo­gy of Tota­li­ta­ria­nism.3 Sear­ching for Desmet’s new psy­cho­lo­gi­cal concept in the rele­vant inter­na­tio­nal scien­ti­fic data­bases such as Pub­Med, Sco­pus, Web of Science, Scien­ce­Di­rect, or even Google Scho­lar yields no results. “Mass for­ma­tion” and even more so “mass for­ma­tion hyp­no­sis” seem to be ori­gi­nal crea­tions of Prof. Des­met. But as we shall see, the mys­te­ry of “mass for­ma­tion” can easi­ly be dis­pel­led, when we fol­low the sole “scien­ti­fic” refe­rence in the book.

In lieu of a defi­ni­tion, the pro­fes­sor of cli­ni­cal psy­cho­lo­gy explains : “mass for­ma­tion” is in fact “mass hyp­no­sis” which consti­tutes “a kind of group hyp­no­sis that des­troys individual’s ethi­cal self-awa­re­ness and robs them of their abi­li­ty to think cri­ti­cal­ly” (ibid., p. 2 – 3). Ins­tead of one concept without a solid defi­ni­tion, we end up having three.

Obvious­ly, as this “pro­cess is insi­dious in nature” and “popu­la­tions fall prey to it unsus­pec­tin­gly”, nobo­dy will have noti­ced it. This would mean that we all fell prey to a hyp­no­sis which in fact is a psy­cho­sis, but without noti­cing nei­ther our hyp­no­sis, nor our psychosis.

By ther­mo­dy­na­mic ana­lo­gy, Des­met explains that “mass for­ma­tion” repre­sents a “a com­plex and dyna­mic phe­no­me­non that can be com­pa­red to the way convec­tion pat­terns arise in water or gas when they are hea­ted up” (Des­met, 2022, p. 93)4. Thus, “mass for­ma­tion would bring indi­vi­duals into a new psy­cho­lo­gi­cal ‘state of motion’” (Ibid.) where, let us not for­get, col­lec­tive hyp­no­sis “des­troys indi­vi­duals’ ethi­cal self-awa­re­ness and robs them of their abi­li­ty to think cri­ti­cal­ly.“ (ibid., p. 2).

The unexpected return of Gustave Le Bon

In the “kind of hyp­no­sis” that Des­met des­cribes, the rea­der will easi­ly reco­gnize Gus­tave Le Bon’s crowd psy­cho­lo­gy from 1895. For behind the new term “mass for­ma­tion” we find the old “crowd for­ma­tion” (men­tio­ned only once in Le Bon’s work) and its result : Le Bon’s “crowd soul” or “col­lec­tive soul”, which Des­met dubs “group soul” (ibid., p. 91 – 92, 124 – 125). Contra­ry to most social psy­cho­lo­gists or socio­lo­gists, Des­met does not care to dif­fe­ren­tiate bet­ween groups, mobs, social move­ments, disas­ter beha­vior, mass hys­te­ria, moral panics or any other types of crowds or crowd beha­vior. For Desmet’s “psy­cho­lo­gy of tota­li­ta­ria­nism”, there’s only one type of crowd : the crowd of the tota­li­ta­ri­zed masses.

Unsur­pri­sin­gly, Gus­tave le Bon is also the only ‘scien­ti­fic’ source), in terms of social psy­cho­lo­gy. (Le Bon him­self was a medi­cal doc­tor, and a right-wing poli­ti­cal acti­vist tur­ned ama­teur psy­cho­lo­gist. Unsur­pri­sin­gly, Desmet’s “mass for­ma­tion” reca­pi­tu­lates the most ste­reo­ty­pi­cal fea­tures of Le Bon’s “crowd soul”.

In the soul of crowds, Le Bon belie­wed, “conscious per­so­na­li­ty vanishes” (Le Bon, 2013, p. 9), indi­vi­dua­li­ty fades away (ibid. p. 12), and is absor­bed by “the men­tal uni­ty of the crowds” (ibid. , p. 11), even­tual­ly resem­bling a “mee­ting of imbe­ciles” (ibid. , p. 12), capable of the “most blood­thirs­ty acts” (ibid. , pp. 14, 18, 42).

Simi­lar­ly, we read in Desmet’s Psy­cho­lo­gy of Tota­li­ta­ria­nism : “The masses are incli­ned to com­mit atro­ci­ties against those who resist them and typi­cal­ly exe­cute them as if it were an ethi­cal, sacred duty.” (Des­met, pp. 103 – 104) One can­not help but think of the Ita­lian judge Sci­pio Sighele’s 1868 work The Cri­mi­nal Crowd, that pro­found­ly ins­pi­red Le Bon himself.

Yet Des­met adds a ‘spi­ri­tual’ dimen­sion to this clas­si­cal 19th cen­tu­ry locus com­mu­nis which, as we shall see, is no mere acces­so­ry in his thin­king : “Crowds and their rulers are blind­ly drag­ged into a mael­strom of des­truc­tion, until they are confron­ted with the ulti­mate conse­quence of the ratio­nale that has mono­po­li­zed their mind : the mecha­nis­tic logic of a dead, soul­less uni­verse.” (sic, ibid., p. 119 – 120)

Crowd psychology without crowds

Wha­te­ver the proxi­mi­ty of “mass for­ma­tion” to the “crowd soul”, Des­met dis­penses, as we have seen, with any dif­fe­ren­tia­tion as to crowds. While Le Bon pro­poses a clas­si­fi­ca­tion of crowds into hete­ro­ge­neous crowds – ano­ny­mous and non-ano­ny­mous crowds – and homo­ge­neous crowds – sects, castes and classes – each of which mani­fests its own struc­tures and dyna­mics, and while even Arendt makes a mora­lis­tic dis­tinc­tion bet­ween tribes, rabble, masses, impo­ve­ri­shed crowds and popu­la­tion, Des­met is hap­py with his unique “mass for­ma­tion” cove­ring the his­to­ri­cal world psy­cho­lo­gy of totalitarianism.

Ano­ther ori­gi­na­li­ty that Des­met intro­duces into his ori­gi­nal para­phrase of Le Bon is his idio­syn­cra­tic defi­ni­tion of the crowd. For Le Bon, and all social psy­cho­lo­gists to this day, crowds are always ephe­me­ral phe­no­me­na of people phy­si­cal­ly gathe­red in one place at one time. This is what F. E. H. Wijer­mans reminds us of in her doc­to­ral the­sis at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Gro­nin­gen : wha­te­ver the psy­cho­lo­gi­cal defi­ni­tions of the crowd may be, they “all share the notion of a num­ber of people in the same place at the same time, i.e. a gathe­ring” (Wijer­mans, p. 12). Unsur­pri­sin­gly, the Oxford English Dic­tio­na­ry defines crowds as a “large num­ber of per­sons gathe­red so clo­se­ly toge­ther as to press upon or impede each other ; a throng, a dense multitude”.

This is no lon­ger requi­red for Des­met. Unlike the psy­cho­lo­gi­cal crowds of social psy­cho­lo­gy, the crowds of “mass for­ma­tion” – Desmet’s pun on crowds/masses is easy to detect – may start out as ephe­me­ral, but end up being durable. Simi­lar­ly, uni­ty of place and time is no lon­ger requi­red : indi­vi­duals in “mass for­ma­tion” can be iso­la­ted, locked down in their apart­ments for months and years and still mani­fest all the phe­no­me­na of dein­di­vi­dua­li­za­tion, irra­tio­na­li­ty, hyp­no­sis, and psy­cho­sis that arise from the sup­po­sed “dis­so­lu­tion” into the mass. And if all this were not enough, Des­met explains, the phe­no­me­non of “mass for­ma­tion” has a long his­to­ry : even before the pan­de­mic, it has been impo­sed upon the unk­no­wing popu­la­tions of the earth in an increa­sin­gly regu­lar and per­sistent way since the Enligh­ten­ment (Des­met, 2022, p. 92).

Beyond the reality principle

The ques­tion that keeps coming up for the rea­der of The Psy­cho­lo­gy of Tota­li­ta­ria­nism is : what is Des­met tal­king about ? Where are these crowds under per­ma­nent hyp­no­sis that are incli­ned to com­mit atro­ci­ties ? Where can we find these “psy­cho­tic” masses, how can we reco­gnize them ? And what do we mean by “mass hyp­no­sis” or “mass psy­cho­sis”? Also, if the world has become tota­li­ta­rian and the world popu­la­tion psy­cho­tic, how could the Bel­gian pro­fes­sor escape ? We will pro­ba­bly never find out.

One might also won­der why Des­met, a tea­cher of psy­cho­ana­ly­tic psy­cho­the­ra­py and a resear­cher in psy­cho­ana­ly­tic psy­cho­the­ra­py pro­cesses5 , makes no men­tion of the psy­cho­ana­ly­tic contri­bu­tions to issues of crowd psy­cho­lo­gy. Without even men­tio­ning Freud’s crowd psy­cho­lo­gy, cri­ti­cal of Le Bon, and W. Rei­ch’s famous Mass Psy­cho­lo­gy of Fas­cism, from which Des­met obvious­ly bor­rows his title, there actual­ly is a psy­cho­ana­ly­tic lite­ra­ture on these issues and that could have contri­bu­ted to the dis­cus­sion. Of course, just like social psy­cho­lo­gy research, these approaches would soon have cal­led into ques­tion the heri­tage of hyp­no­sis, sug­ges­ti­bi­li­ty, conta­gion and irra­tio­na­li­ty of the crowds, which is requi­red for Desmet’s ima­gi­na­ry psy­cho­lo­gy of totalitarianism.

Thus, Des­met moves from poli­ti­cal-fic­tion to psy­cho­lo­gy-fic­tion – since 1895, Le Bon’s ori­gi­nal insights into the soul of crowds have been fal­si­fied again and again in their enti­re­ty (see Van Ness & Sum­mers-Effler, 2016, Borch, 2013) – to a his­to­ry-fic­tion. Des­met ends up with an inter­pre­ta­tion of the world as a whole, even deve­lo­ping a simi­lar­ly unu­sual solu­tion to all of our poli­ti­cal, cultu­ral, and sani­ta­ry problems.

In this pos­ture, one will have reco­gni­zed the figure of the uni­ver­sal expert, so dear to Le Bon who, star­ting from his contempt of the revo­lu­tio­na­ry crowds, offe­red a psy­cho­lo­gy for the use of the cultu­ral and poli­ti­cal elite. If Le Bon’s psy­cho­lo­gy has ended up dee­ply mar­king popu­lar psy­cho­lo­gy to this day (see Rubio, 2008), we easi­ly for­get the fact that his psy­cho­lo­gi­cal ana­lyses also had a clear­ly decla­red and assu­med poli­ti­cal intention.

Le Bon was no friend of the crowds. On the contra­ry, he belie­ved that “civi­li­za­tions have been crea­ted and gui­ded […] by a small intel­lec­tual aris­to­cra­cy” (Le Bon, 2013, p. 4), never by the crowds. This was shown by the French Revo­lu­tion or the Paris Com­mune. The crowds des­troy the ratio­nal order and esta­blish the rei­gn of the irra­tio­nal : “From the moment the Revo­lu­tion des­cen­ded from the bour­geoi­sie into the popu­lar stra­ta, it cea­sed to be a domi­na­tion of the ratio­nal over the ins­tinc­tive and became ins­tead the effort of the ins­tinc­tive to domi­nate the ratio­nal.” (Le Bon, 2021, p. 56) And when Le Bon writes “crowds”, he is always thin­king of social move­ments, “popu­lar classes” and even dan­ge­rous socialists.

The politics of psychological totalitarianism

Crowd psy­cho­lo­gy and its new name, “mass for­ma­tion”, bear the mark of conser­va­tive eli­tism. But in Le Bon, crowd psy­cho­lo­gy is addres­sed to the Sta­tes­man who will no lon­ger be able to govern the “pri­mi­tive bar­ba­rism” (Le Bon, 2021, p. 64) of the popu­lar classes, but who equip­ped with the new psy­cho­lo­gi­cal know­ledge will at least be able “not to be too com­ple­te­ly gover­ned by them.” (Le Bon, 2013, p. 5)

Des­met reverses this pers­pec­tive in part : crowds are indeed hyp­no­ti­zed, irra­tio­nal, and psy­cho­tic, but it is up to experts to free them from their poli­ti­cal and his­to­ri­cal bonds. The psy­cho­lo­gy of “mass for­ma­tion” attempts to save the psy­cho­tic masses from totalitarianism.

The nega­tive free­dom Des­met envi­sions is thus easy to conceive : it is the free­dom from tota­li­ta­ria­nism impo­sed by “secu­ri­ty agen­cies”, by the “gene­ral advance of the sur­veillance socie­ty” by the “increa­sing pres­sure on the right to pri­va­cy” and the increase in citi­zen-to-citi­zen denun­cia­tion, the “loss of sup­port for basic demo­cra­tic prin­ciples” and by “the intro­duc­tion of an expe­ri­men­tal vac­ci­na­tion pro­gram” (Des­met, 2022, p. 90 – 91).

But it is the posi­tive free­dom, not the free­dom from, but free­dom to, that dis­tin­guishes Des­met’s sur­pri­sing psy­cho­lo­gi­cal poli­tics. For what Des­met claims is no less than a spi­ri­tual revo­lu­tion on a glo­bal scale, meant to free us from the “mecha­nis­tic ideo­lo­gy” (sic, ibid., p. 37, 44, 46, 46, 50, 63 …)of the Enlightenment.

The healing spiritualism of the living universe

How then, asks Des­met, can we trans­cend the dead mecha­nics of the Enligh­ten­ment ? For the ideo­lo­gy of the Enligh­ten­ment sees the uni­verse as a “mecha­nis­tic inter­ac­tion bet­ween dead ele­men­ta­ry par­ticles” (Des­met, 2022, p. 148 and 162). In fact, this ideo­lo­gy alrea­dy exis­ted in 400 BC with Leu­cip­pus and Demo­cri­tus, but never mind chro­nol­gy. Let us not bother with his­to­ri­cal details any more than with psy­cho­lo­gi­cal, scien­ti­fic, or poli­ti­cal trifles. The big pic­ture counts.

Now, what “Ein­stein, Wer­ner Hei­sen­berg, Erwin Schrö­din­ger, Louis de Bro­glie, Planck, Bohr, Wolf­gang Pau­li, Sir Arthur Edding­ton, Sir James Jean” have shown in their “contem­pla­tive works” (sic, ibid., p. 180), is that the human being must “trans­cend ratio­na­li­ty” in order to rea­lize his full poten­tia­li­ty (ibid., p. 90 – 91). The “ulti­mate know­ledge […] vibrates in all things” (ibid. p. 16, 184) of the living Universe.

So let us conclude with Des­met : “The awa­re­ness that no logic is abso­lute is the pre­re­qui­site for men­tal free­dom. The gap in the logic lite­ral­ly opens up a space for our own style and for the desire to create. […] Per­haps, it might also work against viruses?” (Des­met, p. 188).

Under the cob­bles­tones of the ele­men­ta­ry par­ticles of the dead uni­verse of the Enligh­ten­ment, the beach of the living uni­ver­sal conscious­ness deter­mi­ning the ele­men­ta­ry par­ticles (ibid., p. 162) in a “cir­cu­lar cau­sa­li­ty” (ibid., p. 164) going from the spi­rit to the mat­ter and back.

It is now up to the true experts of the living uni­verse to show the dazed people the way out of their hyp­no­tic tota­li­ta­ria­nism : the expert of the uni­ver­sal vital vibra­tions will enable the people to trans­cend ratio­na­li­ty, to over­come the sepa­ra­tion of mat­ter and spi­rit, to wake up from their hyp­no­sis, to cure from their psy­cho­sis, to heal them­selves from any phy­si­cal and men­tal ill­nesses (ibid., p. 168), and to deve­lop an uni­ma­gi­nable phy­si­cal strength (ibid., p. 166). The last one might indeed by use­ful when the psy­chia­tric ambu­lance care team is out to get you.

Unques­tio­na­bly, Des­met shows us the way beyond ratio­na­li­ty and the effect of our “own style and desire to create” (ibid., p. 188), far away from the rea­li­ty of the “dead uni­verse” and of false experts. Let us wish Prof. Des­met’s spi­ri­tual revo­lu­tion good luck. But until the real world will fol­low in the foots­teps of the spi­ri­tual conscious­ness of the living uni­verse, we might be bet­ter ser­ved by less fan­cy and more matter.


  1. All page num­bers refer to the elec­tro­nic ver­sion of the book. ↩︎
  2. In her nuan­ced dis­cus­sion of Hit­ler’s “magic spell” and fas­ci­na­tion, for example, Arendt is very expli­cit­ly oppo­sed to the psy­cho­lo­gi­za­tion of tota­li­ta­ria­nism : “To believe that Hit­ler’s suc­cesses res­ted on his ‹force of fas­ci­na­tion› is quite absurd ; with it alone he would have gone no fur­ther than a social lion.” (Arendt, 1991, p. 658) Des­met seems to com­ple­te­ly ignore Arendt’s dis­cus­sions of the nature and func­tions of the « masses » in Nazi and Soviet tota­li­ta­ria­nism. ↩︎
  3. This is pro­ba­bly because for Mat­tias Des­met, “mass for­ma­tion” and « tota­li­ta­ria­nism » are two dif­ferent names for the same intui­tive rea­li­ty. ↩︎
  4. Gus­tave Le Bon used an orga­nic meta­phor to express this same emergent pro­per­ty : “The psy­cho­lo­gi­cal crowd is a pro­vi­sio­nal being, com­po­sed of hete­ro­ge­neous ele­ments for an ins­tant wel­ded toge­ther, abso­lu­te­ly as the cells of a living body form by their reu­nion a new being mani­fes­ting cha­rac­ters quite dif­ferent from those which each of these cells pos­sesses.” (Le Bon, 2013, p. 11) ↩︎
  5. See the men­tal­ly pro­ject CV page : http://​men​tal​ly​-pro​ject​.eu/​p​a​r​t​n​e​r​s​/​t​e​a​m​/​m​a​t​t​h​i​a​s​-​d​e​s​m​et- ↩︎


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Borch, C. (2013). The Poli­tics of Crowds : An Alter­na­tive His­to­ry of Socio­lo­gy. Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press.

Des­met, M. (2022). The Psy­cho­lo­gy of Tota­li­ta­ria­nism. White River Junc­tion, Ver­mont. Chel­sea Green Publishing.

Le Bon, G. (2013). Psy­cho­lo­gie des foules (9th edi­tion). Paris. PUF.

Le Bon, G. (2021). La revo­lu­tion fran­çaise et la psy­cho­lo­gie des foules.

Losur­do, Dome­ni­co. 2004. « Pour une cri­tique de la caté­go­rie de tota­li­ta­risme ». Actuel Marx 35(1):115‑47.

Rubio, V. (2008). Gus­tave le Bon’s Psy­cho­lo­gy of crowds. A back­ground know­ledge. Socie­ties, 100(2), 79 – 89.

Stie­gler, B. (2021). Demo­cra­cy in Pan­de­mic : Health, research, edu­ca­tion. Gal­li­mard.

Van Ness, J., & Sum­mers-Effler, E. (2016). Rei­ma­gi­ning col­lec­tive beha­vior. In S. Abru­tyn (Ed.), Hand­book of Contem­po­ra­ry Socio­lo­gi­cal Theo­ry (pp. 527 – 546).

Wijer­mans, F. E. H. (n.d.). Unders­tan­ding crowd beha­vior : Simu­la­ting situa­ted indi­vi­duals. Gro­nin­gen. Uni­ver­si­ty of Groningen.