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04/2022 – Gustave Le Bon: la politica nell’epoca delle folle

ISSN: 2037-495X
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dossier: gustave le bon: politica e potere nell’epoca delle folle

Il mistero di Gustave Le Bon. Folla, inconscio e politica nella lunga «era delle folle» Damiano Palano

La visione sociologica della folla alla fine del XIX secolo Vincent Rubio

Faust a Rue Vignon. Gustave Le Bon e le radici «inconsce» della politica Damiano Palano

Tra ereditarietà e condizionamento. Note sul concetto di «inconscio» in Gustave Le Bon di Francesco Gallino

Corpo a corpo. Sull’autonomia politica delle folle Christian Borch

La «Psychologie des Foules» di Gustave Le Bon e la psicologia sociale contemporanea. Elementi per un bilancio John Drury

Simone Weil e il collettivo, Michela Nacci

Ernesto Laclau e la psicologia collettiva classica. Appunti sul capo, le masse e il populismo Samuele Mazzolini


archivio del realismo politico

Prefazione alla «Psychologie des foules» (1895) Gustave Le Bon

Polemica sulla «Psychologie des foules» (1895) Scipio Sighele, Enrico Ferri, Gustave Le Bon e Gabriel Tarde

I cicli della credenza e della conoscenza (1911) Gustave Le Bon

Insegnamenti psicologici della guerra europea (1916) Gustave Le Bon

La fisionomia attuale del mondo (1927) Gustave Le Bon

Dalla corrispondenza di Gustave Le Bon (1931)


storia del pensiero politico

Lo storico «gentiluomo» e schivo. Federico Chabod e Perugia (1934-1943) Leonardo Varasano

Tra abbagli e visioni. Per un’interpretazione del liberalismo italiano Antonio Masala

Quando Nenni cercava a destra “sponde” antiatlantiche. L’attenzione di “Mondo Operaio” per il neutralismo neo-irredentista di Attilio Tamaro (1950-1951) Gianni Scipione Rossi


comunicazione politica

I talk show italiani alla prova. Cosa ha mostrato la copertura del Covid e della guerra in Ucraina Donatella Campus

Notizia sugli Autori





Damiano Palano, The Mystery of Gustave Le Bon. Crowd, Unconscious and Politics in the Long «Age of the Crowds»

More than ninety years after his death, Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931) remains in many ways an «enigma». The heterogeneity of his reflection and the contradictions of his theses are evident, just as today the distortions of his thought are striking. All these reasons would be enough to consider Le Bon as a thinker of the past, but the success of his thought did not end and the Psychologie des foules continues to be reprinted all over the world. The «mystery» of Gustave Le Bon is therefore largely related to this success. Why can an obviously racist thinker, who was convinced of the inferiority of women, still be considered current today? Why do his works continue to be read, despite the fact that his theoretical foundations have been fiercely criticized by social psychology? This article, which introduces a dossier on Gustave Le Bon, tries to provide some possible answers.

Kewywords: Le Bon; Crowd; Race; Unconscious


Vincent Rubio, The Sociological Perspective on the Crowd at the End of the 19th Century

In France and Italy the last decade of the nineteenth century is a place of a particular interest in the crowd. It is a recurrent theme during this century and ancient philosophers were already interested in it. Nevertheless, the perspective on the crowd at the end of the nineteenth century is specific because of its scientific aims. As such, it favors the view making the crowd a collective abstraction and thus defending a position in many respects (pre)sociological. This reveals paradoxes and contradictions of the rising sociology, of the “crowd object”, and ultimately, our civilization’s foundations.

Keywords: Crowd; Le Bon; Tarde; Sighele


Damiano Palano, «Faust at Rue Vignon». Gustave Le Bon and the «Unconscious» Roots of Politics

This article reconstructs the itinerary of Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931), focusing in particular on the aspects most closely connected to the search for the «laws» of rise and fall of civilizations. Indeed, throughout his intellectual career Le Bon cultivated the ambition of providing a credible answer to the problem of French decadence. In other words, he tried to become a kind of Machiavelli of the «era of the crowds». The article argues that this political objective affected Le Bon’s theory and his psychology of crowds. Since he wanted to make his political recipes appear credible to the elites of the Third Republic, he in fact had to modify his theoretical architecture on non-secondary points. He managed to hide the inconsistencies under the veil of effective rhetoric, but, in retrospect, one can easily recognize that, in his theory, he uses three different ideas of the unconscious to explain the behavior of crowds, peoples and «races».

Kewywords: Le Bon; Crowd; Race; Unconscious


Francesco Gallino, Between Heredity and Conditioning. Notes on the Concept of the Unconscious in Gustave Le Bon

In 1994 Marcel Gauchet described two relatively unstudied traditions of 19th-century French psychology: that of the ‘hereditary unconscious’ (which tended to be nationalist and racist) and that of the ‘cerebral unconscious’, centred on the notion of reflex. Starting from Gauchet’s categories, this essay attempts to highlight some relevant – and yet mostly unseen – elements of the conception of ‘unconscious’ in Gustave Le Bon. Interpreters today mainly focus on two of Le Bon’s works: Psychologie des foules (1895), and (to a lesser extent) Lois psychologiques de l’évolution des peuples (1894). These works apparently accredit Le Bon’s belonging to the tradition of the ‘hereditary’ unconscious, i.e. an unconscious which has sedimented over millennia and is therefore unchangeable. A glance at his earlier (on the physiology of nervous systems) and later (on pedagogy) studies, however, shows another conception alongside this one. That is, an extremely detailed and precise study of reflexes and their modifiability. The unconscious then becomes something malleable, no longer in millennia but in weeks: something that can be manipulated in others (e.g. for political purposes) or in oneself (in almost ‘anthropotechnical’ terms). These reflections bring Le Bon much closer to Pavlov than to Jung. And suggest rethinking the (at least theorical) links between what we usually call ‘behaviourism’ and classical French thought, for example in the context of reflections on concepts such as habit and costume.

Keywords: Le Bon; Physiology; Crowd; Automatism


Christian Borch, Body to Body: On the Political Anatomy of Crowds

This article challenges the negative image that, since the late 19th century, has been associated with crowds, and it does so by focusing on a number of bodilyanatomic aspects of crowd behavior. I first demonstrate that the work of one of the leading crowd psychologists, Gustave Le Bon, instigated a racist body politics. As a contrast to Le Bon’s political program, I examine Walt Whitman’s poetry and argue that the crowd may embody a democratic vision that emphasizes the social and political import of sexuality and body-to-body contact. Further, I dispute classical crowd theory’s idea of an antagonistic relationship between crowds and individuality. Following Elias Canetti, I claim instead that the bodily compression of crowds in fact liberates individuals and creates a democratic transformation. The analysis results in a rehabilitation of crowds and briefly suggests how a reinterpretation of crowd behavior may inform current debates in social theory.

Keywords: Le Bon; Whitman; Crowd; Mass


John Drury, Gustave Le Bon’s Psychologie des foules and Contemporary Psychology. Elements for an Evaluation

This article presents a review of the reception of Gustave Le Bon’s theses by twentieth-century social psychology and, moreover, it proposes a critical evaluation of the French scholar’s claims. Gustave Le Bon’s Psychologie des foules was in fact defined by Gordon W. Alllport as the «most influential» book ever written in the field of social psychology. Over the decades, however, Le Bon’s theses have been radically criticized and abandoned. In this way, social psychology has often ended up forgetting the specificity of crowd behavior. The article shows that psychologists who have recently dealt with crowds have instead demonstrated that crowds are not irrational actors, but they act on the basis of specific social identities, which are activated in the presence of certain circumstances. Finally, the text illustrates the characteristics of an Elaborate Social Identity Model (ESIM), built by the author in collaboration with other scholars.

Keywords: Le Bon; crowds; discourses of science; history of science; psychology; public understanding of science; riots; science and popular culture; social identity


Michela Nacci, Simone Weil and the Collective

Crowd, multitude, mass are words that have recently known a certain fortune. They are inhomogeneous in size and in the quality of the participation they offer and require. The article deals with the different ways of dealing with them by Simone Weil, Eduard L. Bernaÿs, José Ortega y Gasset, Serge Tchachotine, Davis Riesman, Elias Canetti. The article shows that, in Weil’s perspective, the collective represents both the industrialized, technocratic and totalitarian world and the condition of voluntary subjection to the opinions and decisions of a compact group.Keywords: Crowd; Mass; Weil; Canetti


Samuele Mazzolini, Ernesto Laclau and Classical Collective Psychology. Notes on the Leader, the Masses and Populism

Ernesto Laclau’s early political and intellectual upbringing took place in a country, Argentina, where the denigration of the masses has historically been a constant topos. It is thus not fortuitous that in the initial chapters of On Populist Reason, Laclau engages with the classical authors of crowd psychology in order both to demonstrate the anti-popolar bias of that literature (which nowadays seems to inform much of the contemporary debate on populism) and to rescue and rework some of its analytical tools in order to construe his own theory of populism. The paper first provides a literary and political overview of the chasm between elites and the masses in Argentina and its influence on Laclau’s approach. It then moves into the scrutiny of how Laclau has reinterpreted the contribution of authors the likes of Le Bon, Taine, Tarde, McDougall and Freud. Finally, the text delves into Laclau’s discussion of Freud and highlights some of the aporias in the incorporation of the insights of the Austrian psychoanalyst.

Keywords: Laclau; Freud; Crowd; Populism


Donatella Campus, The Coverage of Covid-19 and Ukraine War: A Challange to the Italian TV Talkshows

Italian television talk shows dealt extensively on Covid-19 and Ukraine war. Their coverage was sometimes critized because some talk shows invited guests that could not regarded as real experts and/or created polarization on the subjects. The article discusses the characteristics of the talk show format, its inclination toward a spectacular coverage of the news, the role of experts. It also offers some reflections on the effects of exposure to talk shows on the public.

Keywords: Talk Show; Pandemia; Ukraine War; Infotainment


Antonio Masala, Dazzle and Visions. For an Interpretation of Italian Liberalism

This essay runs through some of the distinctive traits, problems and watershed moments of the Italian liberal tradition. First, it chronicles that which, in the 19th century, was its relationship with nationalism, the doctrine of the Church and the development of economic theories. Back then, liberalism managed to come up with valuable ideas and plans, but never became the prevailing approach, except on a few unexceptional circumstances. The big transformation happened in the early twentieth century, when it tried to find some convergence or even some foundation in the tradition of idealistic philosophy. Apart from its intentions, that was a distortion of liberalism; an attempt that was somewhat unique but which helped bring the Italian liberal tradition to its theoretical and political marginalisation. Only more recently did Italian liberalism eventually reconnect with the most innovative and fruitful movements of the international debate. Some final conclusions deal with the political history of Italy and the current crisis of the so-called liberal international order as well.

Keywords: Liberalism; Hayek; Bruno Leoni; Neo-Liberalism


Gianni Scipione Rossi, When Nenni was looking to the Right anti-Atlantic Shores. The Attention of “Mondo Operaio” for the Neo-irredendist neutralism of Attilio Tamaro (1950-1951)

Attilio Tamaro (1884-1956), a particular figure in the Italian second postwar period, was an historian, intellectual and diplomat. One of the most radical irredentists of Trieste at the beginning of the Twentieth century, since 1945, Tamaro fought for the return of the city to Italy: among the pages of the conservative and anti-communist press, he pursued this objective, supporting the neutralism between the blocs. Tamaro hoped for an agreement with the Soviet Union to stem the expansionism of Tito’s Yugoslavia. Although this position was isolated in public debate, the socialist leader Pietro Nenni appreciated it and tried to use it politically. The essay highlights how Tamaro’s neutralism has been seen as a positive element by the socialist magazine «Mondo Operaio».

Keywords: Irredentism; Neutralism; Attilio Tamaro; Pietro Nenni


Leonardo Varasano, A Bashful Historian and a Gentleman. Federico Chabod and Perugia (1934-1943)

A relevant amount of academic literature is already available on Federico Chabod, one of the leading Italian historians of the last century; however, also considering new scholarly sources, it is now possible to investigate further his moral and intellectual profile, as well as his controversial relation with fascism. This is the purpose of this paper, which aims to describe the complex connection with the city of Perugia, that was pivotal to his academic cursus honorum and to some of Chabod’s most iconic historic theories. His experience in Perugia was longer than originally thought (it goes from 1934 to 1943), and was certainly linked to the old Università degli Studi, to the newly established Università per Stranieri, but also to the Deputazione di Storia patria per l’Umbria – Chabod’s link to the latter, in particular, is investigated here for the first time.

Keywords: Federico Chabod; Perugia; Fascism; Nation