Exploraing Mass Psyche in Literature and Politics

What is right is right and what is wrong is more right! What is matter how you manipulate, infuse or confuse people and all the gullible Gulliver’s. There are some personalities who can rise above the limitations and weaknesses of the common nature. And they can also control the mass psyche. The history of world civilisations is not in want of such personalities or never suffers from the scarcity of them.


I will deal with two Roman history plays of Shakespeare and some historical figures and events.

In Julius Caesar and in Coriolanus, Shakespeare dealt well with mass psyche and its nature. How mass sentiment can be aroused with slight motivation, how they can be used to achieve a goal and how fickle mass psyche is most of the cases; we will get a clear picture of those elements in this two plays.

In Julius Caesar we will find the same citizens of Rome who stand for Julius Caesar, Brutus and Mark Antony one after another. In the 1st act, scene one of Julius Caesar we will see a commoner expressing to the city guards: “We make the holiday, to see Caesar and to rejoice in his triumph.” By doing so they forgot their earlier master Pompey whom they loved and admired no less than Julius Caesar! It is that crowd who offered crown thrice to Caesar and made him all powerful and possible emperor of Rome and autocrat. Interestingly they all were driven again with the conspiracy of Caius Cassius, Casca, Cinna and Brutus.

After stabbing Caesar in a brutal and cowardly manner Brutus, dear friend of Caesar gave a speech in support of their killing of the possible autocrat of Rome. Every citizens present there were behind Brutus and the conspirators’ action!

To our utter surprise when Mark Antony summoned the same citizens with this fashion: “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears”(act 3, scene 2, line 73) and gave a powerful and evocative speech in praise of Julius Caesar and against his cruel killing, the crowd started changing their stands again! He deftly turns the public opinion against the assassination by manipulating the emotions of the mass people in contrast to the rational tone of the Brutus’s speech. Antony rouses the mob to drive the conspirators from Rome. Amid the violence, the innocent poet, Cinna, is confused with the conspirator Lucius Cinna and is murdered by the mob. It’s again a typical nature of mass function in all ages.

In Coriolanus we will see almost the same scenario. Though Caius Martius, later Coriolanus had very rough views on masses that he sometimes called/termed as “dissentious rogues” (act 1, scene 1, line 162) he provided us with some harsh truths of the mass psyche. How weak and vulnerable mass psyche is, he pointed it out by this comment when said- “He that trusts to you, where he should find you lions, finds you hares;…”(act 1, scene 1, line 170). He goes further saying-“Who deserves greatness, deserves your hate; and your affections are a sick man’s appetite.”( line 176)


Let us glance at some of the historical events and characters who were behind those: Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, two prophets of Fascism and Nazism were two of the tycoons who could control mass psyche better than anyone else of their time and most probably of all times! They could infuse, confuse and manipulate masses to their utmost level and made them do what they wanted to.

It is said in the last days of the second world war when Germany was losing, only Berlin remained unconquered by the allied forces Hitler could still nurture such a strength in his speech that as if they were going to win the battle soon. Those who were presented there would have such confident feelings.

Let’s come to Indian subcontinent. Bal Gangader Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, M.A. Jinnah, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mowlana Bhasani and Bangabandhu were some of the figures who had a stronghold over mass psyche. Yet they most of the time used it for the welfare of the masses with some major exceptions of Bal Gangader Tilak, Bipin Pal, B. Patel and M.A. Jinnah.

As I was going through selected writings of Jawaharlal Nehru I found some confidential notes on events and disturbances in Bihar riot in 1946, which came in aftermath of Noakhali and Calcutta riot.

He wrote, “Bihar is a province with a sturdy and yet a very poor peasantry. They are a likable people, easily led and sometimes easily misled. Perhaps more than anyone in India, they have a capacity for mass functioning. Mass psychology pervades them and, if an idea gets hold of the people, they are prepared to act ‘en masse’ in furthermore of that idea.”

In another of his statement in an assembly debate he said, “One of the worst features of the situation is the dominance of rumors which exaggerate everything and sometimes create out of nothing. The most fantastic accounts spread rapidly and are believed in.”

I think it’s a beautiful example which tells us how mass psyche works, reacts and functions.


At this juncture I want to conclude by saying that by controlling mass psyche so many good things had done by some great sons of history and at the same so many worst things also came on earth.  It creates and destroys with the same hand! Now there are only two choices ahead of us: will we turn into masses and be controlled by some idiots to the hell or we become the controller of mass psyche and lead them forward for a goal?


Sabidin Ibrahim

This article first appeared in the daily observer

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