My article on Conformism and Crowd-Violence (subtitled “When the Majority is really a Mob”), appearing at Angel Millar’s People of Shambhala website, should appeal to readers of The Orthosphere. The article begins with a discussion of René Girard, specifically of his book I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (2001), from which it moves into a consideration of texts by Seneca (his Seventh Letter) and Saint Augustine (the anecdote of his friend Alypius at the gladiatorial games). Along the way I discuss the parallels between ancient mob-phenomena and what, in modern politics, is called “community organization.” I offer a sample below –
Seneca’s vocabulary anticipates many an observation that Girard makes about the category of the sacred, first that, being collective, the sacred belongs to the mob (that is to the lynch mob) and next that it is contagious. “From the outset of this study,” Girard remarks in Violence and the Sacred, “I have regarded violence as something eminently communicable.” Taking antique discourse seriously where the modern mentality sees it merely as mythic, Girard notes that “at times it is impossible to stay immune from violence.” Again: “The sacred consists of all those forces whose dominance over man increases or seems to increase in proportion to man’s efforts to master them.” From Seneca’s perspective the size of the crowd correlates with its infectiousness, a large crowd being indicative of an especially virulent infection. Rubbing elbows with the vulgate, as Seneca writes, leaves one “bedaubed” by its toxicity. But does Seneca, foreshadowing Girard, associate crowds and violence? The answer is yes and in investigating [the matter] we shall see how Seneca’s discourse differs from Philostratus’ discourse when they both write about theaters and theatrics.