Elias Canetti


“It is only in a crowd that man can become free of this fear of being touched. That is the only situation in which the fear changes into its opposite.”

“The crowd he needs is the dense crowd, in which body is pressed to body; a crowd, too, whose psychical constitution is also dense or compact, so that he no longer notices who it is that presses against him.”

Ideally, all are equal there; no distinctions count, not even that of sex. The man pressed against him is the same as himself. He feels him as he feels himself. ”

“The more fiercely people press together, the more certain they feel that they do not fear each other.”

“The feeling of relief is most striking where the density of the crowd is greatest.”


“It seems as though the movement of some of them transmits itself to the others. But that is not all; they have a goal which is there before they can find words for it. This goal is the blackest spot where most people are gathered.”

“As soon as it exists at all, it wants to consist of more people: the urge to grow is the first and supreme attribute of the crowd. It wants to seize everyone within reach; anything shaped like a human being can join it. The natural crowd is the open crowd; there are no limits whatever to its growth; it does not recognize houses, doors or locks and those who shut themselves in are suspect.”

“The closed crowd renounces growth and puts the stress on permanence. The first thing to be noticed about it is that it has a boundary. It establishes itself by accepting its limitations. It creates a space for itself which it will fill. This space can be compared to a vessel into which liquid is being poured and whose capacity is known. (…) In this way the crowd sacrifices its chance of growth, but gains in staying power. It is protected from outside influences which could become hostile and dangerous and it sets its hope on repetition.”

The building is waiting for them; it exists for their sake and, so long as it is there, they will be able to meet in the same manner. The space is theirs, even during the ebb, and in its emptiness it reminds them of the flood.”


“The most important occurrence within the crowd is the discharge.(…) This is the moment when all who belong to the crowd get rid of their differences and feel equal.”

“All life, so far as he knows it, is laid out in distances the house in which he shuts himself and his property, the positions he holds, the rank he desires-all these serve to create distances, to confirm and extend them. Any free or large gesture of approach towards another human being is inhibited. Impulse and counter impulse ooze away as in a desert.”

“But the satisfaction of being higher in rank than others does not compensate for the loss of freedom of movement. Man petrifies and darkens in the distances he has created. He drags at the burden of them, but cannot move. He forgets that it is self-inflicted, and longs for liberation. But how, alone, can he free himself?

Only together can men free themselves from their burdens of distance; and this, precisely, is what happens in a crowd.

“But the moment of discharge, so desired and so happy, contains its own danger. It is based on an illusion; the people who suddenly feel equal have not really become equal; nor will they feel equal for ever. They return to their separate houses, they lie down on their own beds, they keep their possessions and their names.”

“But the crowd, as such, disintegrates. It has a presentiment of this and fears it. It can only go on existing if the process of discharge is continued with new people who join it. Only the growth of the crowd prevents those who belong to it creeping back under their private burdens.”


The destructiveness of the crowd is often mentioned as its most conspicuous quality, and there is no denying the fact that it can be observed everywhere, in the most diverse countries and civilizations. It is discussed and disapproved of, but never really explained.”

“The destruction of representational images is the destruction of a hierarchy which is no longer recognized. It is the violation of generally established and universally visible and valid distances.”

“The more usual kind of destruction mentioned above is simply an attack on all boundaries. Windows and doors belong to houses; they are the most vulnerable part of their exterior and, once they are smashed, the house has lost its individuality; anyone (…) In these houses live the supposed enemies of the crowd, those people who try to keep away from it. What separated them has now been destroyed and nothing stands between them and the crowd. They can come out and join it; or they can be fetched.”

“In the crowd the individual feels that he is transcending the limits of his own person. (…) With the lifting of these burdens of distance he feels free; his freedom is the crossing of these boundaries

“An earthen pot irritates him, for it is all boundaries. The closed doors of a house irritate him. Rites and ceremonies, anything which preserves distances, threaten him and seem unbearable. He fears that, sooner or later, an attempt will be made to force the disintegrating crowd back into these pre-existing vessels.”


“An open crowd has no clear feeling or idea of the size it may attain; it does not depend on a known building which it has to fill; its size is not determined; it wants to grow indefinitely and what it needs for this is more and more people”

“The regularity of church-going and the precise and familiar repetition of certain rites safeguard for the crowd something like a domesticated experience of itself

“But more important than this external event is the corresponding inner movement: the dissatisfaction with the limitation of the number of participants, the sudden will to attract, the passionate determination to reach all men.”

“The crowd is no longer content with pious promises and conditionals. It wants to experience for itself the strongest possible feeling of its own animal force and passion and, as means to this end, it will use whatever social pretexts and demands offer themselves. The first point to emphasise is that the crowd never feels saturated.”


“One of the most striking traits of the inner life of a crowd is the feeling of being persecuted, a peculiar angry sensitiveness and irritability directed against those it has once and forever nominated as enemies.”

“But it can also be attacked from within, namely by meeting the demands which led to its formation. Its weaker adherents then drop away and others on the point of joining tum back. An attack from outside can only strengthen the crowd; those who have been physically scattered are more strongly drawn together again. An attack from within, on the other hand, is really dangerous; a strike which has achieved any gains crumbles visibly. It is an appeal to individual appetites and the crowd, as such, regards it as bribery, as “immoral”; it runs counter to its clear-cut basic conviction.”

“The besiegers certainly watch for a chance to attack, but they also try to prevent new recruits reaching the city. To do this they keep on strengthening the walls from outside. (In this strange siege the walls are more important to the assailants than to the defenders.)


“Fire is as dangerous to human beings as it is to animals; it is the strongest and oldest symbol of the crowd.”

“The common unmistakable danger creates a com­mon fear.”

“The sudden command to flee which the fire gives is immediately countered by the impossibility of any common movement. Each man sees the door through which he must pass; and he sees himself alone in it, sharply cut off from all the others. It is the frame of a picture which very soon dominates him.”

“Whilst the individual no longer feels himself as “crowd”, he is still completely surrounded by it. Panic is a disin­tegration of the crowd within the crowd.”

“Fire, as a symbol for the crowd, has entered the whole economy of man’s feelings and become an immutable part of it.”

“The people he pushes away are like burning objects to him; their touch is hostile, and on every part of his body; and it terrifies him. Anyone who stands in his way is tainted with the general hostility of fire.”

“Disintegration through panic can only be averted by prolonging the original state of united crowd fear.”


“The arena is well demarcated from the outside world. It is usually visible from far off and its situation in the city-the space which it occupies-is well known. People always feel where it is, even if they are not thinking of it.”

“Outside, facing the city, the arena displays a lifeless wall; inside is a wall of people. The spectators turn their backs to the city. They have been lifted out of its structure of walls and streets and, for the duration of their time in the arena, they do not care about anything which happens there; they have left behind all their associations, rules and habits.”

“Every spectator has a thousand in front of him, a thousand heads. As long as he is there, all the others are there too; whatever excites him, excites them; and he sees it (…). Their visible excitement increases his own. There is no break in the crowd which sits like this, exhibiting itself to itself”


1.The crowd always wants to grow. There are no natural boundaries to its growth. Where such boundaries have been artificially created – eg. in all institutions which are used for the preservation of closed crowds- an eruption of the crowd is always possible and will, in fact, happen from time to time. There are no institutions which can be absolutely relied on to prevent the growth of the crowd once and for all.

2. Within the crowd there is equality. This is absolute and indisputable and never questioned by the crowd itself. It is of fundamental importance and one might even define a crowd as a state of absolute equality. A head is a head, an arm is an arm, and differences between individual heads and arms are irrelevant. It is for the sake of this equality that people become a crowd and they tend to overlook anything which might detract from it. All demands for justice and all theories of equality ultimately derive their energy from the actual experience of equality familiar to anyone who has been part of a crowd.

3. The crowd loves density. It can never feel too dense. Nothing must stand between its parts or divide them; everything must be the crowd itself. The feeling of density is strongest in the moment of discharge. One day it may be possible to determine this density more accurately and even to measure it.

4. The crowd needs a direction. It is in movement and it moves towards a goal. The direction, which is common to all its members, strengthens the feeling of equality. A goal outside the individual members and common to all of them drives underground all the private differing goals which are fatal to the crowd as such. Direction is essential for the continuing existence of the crowd. Its constant fear of disintegration means that it will accept any goal. A crowd exists so long as it has an unttained goal.”