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Leader and the Crowd

Democracy in American Public Discourse, 1880-1941

Daria Frezza Translated by Martha King

Publication Year: 2007

Daria Frezza covers six tumultuous decades of transatlantic history to examine how European theories of mass politics and crowd psychology influenced American social scientists' perception of crowds, mobs, democratic "people," and its leadership. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the development of an urban-industrial mass society and the disordered influx of millions of immigrants required a redefinition of these important categories in American public discourse. Frezza shows how in the Atlantic crossing of ideas American social scientists reelaborated the European theories of crowd psychology and the racial theories then in fashion. Theorists made a sharp distinction between the irrationality of the crowd, including lynchings, and the rationality of the democratic "public."

However, this paradigm of a rational Anglo-Saxon male public in opposition to irrational mobs--traditionally considered to be composed of women, children, "savages"--was challenged by the reality of southern lynch mobs made up of white Anglo-Saxons, people who used mob violence as an instrument of subjugation over an allegedly inferior race. After World War I, when the topic of eugenics and immigration restrictions ignited the debate of exclusion/inclusion regarding U.S. citizenship, Franz Boas's work provided a significant counterbalance to the biased language of race. Furthermore, the very concept of democracy was questioned from many points of view.

During the Depression years, social scientists such as John Dewey critically analyzed the democratic system in comparison to European dictatorships. The debate then acquired an international dimension. In the "ideological rearmament of America" on the eve of World War II, social scientists criticized Nazi racism but at the same time stressed how racism was also deeply rooted in America. This is a fresh and provocative look at the parallels between the emergence of America as a world power and the maturing of the new discipline of social science.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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pp. ix-xii

This book was first published in Italian in 2001 as Il leader, la folla, la democrazia nel discorso pubblico americano: 1880-1941. It was awarded the 2002 Pozzale Luigi Russo literary prize in Italy and was selected by the Organization of American Historians...

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pp. 1-8

The behavior of crowds in their alleged unpredictability or presumed rationality has been a subject of interest to social scientists as well as to historians for the past two centuries...

PART ONE. From the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era

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Chapter 1. American Democracy in the Gilded Age: The Individual, the Crowd, and the "People"

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pp. 11-35

In 1901 in the Atlantic Monthly the ex-Congregationalist minister Gerald Stanley Lee warned his readers about the risks of a new tyranny that was threatening American society, "the tyranny of crowds," an obvious play on the phrase "the tyranny of the majority," around...

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Chapter 2. The Language of Race, the Crowd, and the Public in the Progressive Era

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pp. 36-67

Faith in modernity drove the great engine of progress. In the words of Richard Ely, founder of the Department of Economics, Political Science, and the History of Science at the University of Wisconsin: "Keep off the track! The train of progress is coming!"...

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Chapter 3. The Mob Stereotype

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pp. 68-96

Savages, women, and children represented the three groups most easily swayed by the mob, according to the vocabulary used by social scientists. Beginning with the theories of Darwin and Spencer, people in these categories were traditionally considered...

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Chapter 4. The Paradox of a Conformist Democracy

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pp. 97-120

The analysis of crowds-public-mob paralleled in public discourse at the end of the century the debate about the real characteristics of individuality. The French school of Le Bon and Tarde emphasized...

PART TWO. The Twenties and Thirties

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Chapter 5. Criticism of Mass Democracy after World War I

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pp. 123-149

The solar eclipse of 1919 after the end of World War I had aroused worldwide expectation: on that occasion it would be possible to test Einstein’s revolutionary general theory of relativity...

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Chapter 6. From the Factory to the Nation: Leadership or Domination

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pp. 150-169

The director of the American Management Association, Sam Lewisohn, in reference to the "harmony of interests" advocated by entrepreneurs, insisted they should ask themselves to what extent it respected the workers' interests...

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Chapter 7. The International Challenge

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pp. 170-210

The Great Depression had swept away not only economic certainty but also public confidence in the values underpinning American society. In the aftermath many quarters strongly questioned the very concept of democracy, presenting controversial...

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Chapter 8. The Defense of Democracy

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pp. 211-238

At the end of the 1930s with the United States facing the threat of international conflict, social scientists attempted to redefine the democratic principles and values in the name of which the entire country would be asked to mobilize...


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pp. 239-280

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 281-218


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pp. 319-335

E-ISBN-13: 9780820336473
E-ISBN-10: 0820336475
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820329130
Print-ISBN-10: 0820329134

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 593301915
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Leader and the Crowd

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Subject Headings

  • Democracy -- United States -- History.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1933-1945.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1865-1933.
  • Collective behavior -- United States -- History.
  • Political leadership -- United States -- History.
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