Crowds and Power

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First edition (publ. Claassen Verlag)

Crowds and Power (German: Masse und Macht) is a 1960 book by Elias Canetti, dealing with the dynamics of crowds and "packs" and the question of how and why crowds obey power of rulers. Canetti draws a parallel between ruling and paranoia. Also, the memoirs of Daniel Paul Schreber are analyzed with an implicit critique of Sigmund Freud[citation needed] and Gustave Le Bon[citation needed].

The book was translated from German into English by Carol Stewart in 1962 and published by Gollancz.


It is notable for its unusual tone; although wide-ranging in its erudition, it is not scholarly or academic in a conventional way. Rather, it reads like a manual written by someone outside the human race explaining to another outsider in concise and highly metaphoric language how people form mobs and manipulate power. Unlike much non-fiction writing, it is highly poetic and seething with anger.

On asking questions: "On the questioner the effect is a feeling of enhanced power. He enjoys this and consequentially asks more and more questions; every answer he receives is an act of submission. Personal freedom consists largely in having a defense against questions. The most blatant tyranny is the one which asks the most blatant questions."[1]

This work remains important for the insights it provided into the Eastern European upheaval which can be understood within the framework Canetti puts forth.[2] Showing the growth of crowds and their power against even the power of the state.


  1. ^ Crowds and Power, p. 285
  2. ^ Kiss (2004), p.730


  • Brill, Lesley: "Terrorism, Crowds and Power, and the Dogs of War." Anthropological Quarterly 76 (1), Winter 2003: 87–94.
  • Canetti, Elias (1984). Crowds and Power. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-51820-3.
  • Honneth, Axel: "The Perpetuation of the State of Nature: on the Cognitive Content of Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power." Thesis Eleven 1996 45: 69–85.
  • Kiss, Endre: "Does mass psychology renaturalize political theory? On the methodological originality of ‘Crowds and Power’." The European Legacy: Toward New Paradigms 9 (6), 2004: 725–738.
  • McClelland, John: "The Place of Elias Canetti's Crowds and Power in the History of Western Social and Political Thought." Thesis Eleven 1996 45: 16–27.
  • Phillips, William: "History on the Couch." The New York Review of Books, Volume 1, Number 1, February 1, 1963.