Read CROWDS AND HEROES - CHAPTER II of Crowds A Moving-Picture of Democracy, free online book, by Gerald Stanley Lee, on


But it is not only socially destructive.  It is dumb and helpless for crowds to try to get on without heroes.  Big events and big men are crowd expressions.  Heroes, World Fairs, and Titanic disasters are crowd words, the crowd’s way of seeing and saying things.

Crowds think in great men, or they think in simple, big, broadly drawn events, or words of one syllable, like coal strikes.

A whole world works through to an entirely new idea, the idea that England is not necessarily impregnable, in the Boer war.  And we see England, by way of South Africa, searching her own heart.  The Meat Trust, by raising prices for a few trial weeks, makes half a nation think its way over into vegetarianism or semi-vegetarianism.

In the American war with Spain modern thought attacked the last pathetic citadel in modern life of polite illusion, of lie-poetry, and in that one little flash of war between the Spain spirit and the American spirit, in our modern world, the nations got their final and conclusive sense of what the Spanish civilization really was, of the old Don Quixote thinking, of the delightful, brave, courtly blindness, of the world’s last stronghold of pomposity, of vague, empty prettiness, of talking grand and shooting crooked.

Japan and Russia fight with guns, but the real fight is not between their guns, but between two great national conceptions of human life.  Like two vast national searchlights we saw them turned on each other, two huge, grim, naked civilizations, and now in an awful light and roar, and now in stately sudden silence, while we all looked on, all breathless and concentrated, we saw them, as on some strange vast stage of the world, all lit up, exposed, penetrated by the minds of men forever.  While they fought before us we saw the last two thousand years flash up once more and fade away, and then the next two thousand years on its slide, with one click before our faces was fastened into place.

Men see great spiritual conceptions or ideals for a world when the great ideals are dramatized, when they stalk out before us, are acted out before our eyes by mighty nations.  Before the stage we sit silently and think and watch the ideals of a world, the souls of the nations struggling together, and as we watch we discover our souls for ourselves, we define our ideals for ourselves.  We make up our minds.  We see what we want.  We begin to live.

I have come to believe that the hero, in the same way, is the common man’s desire and prayer writ large.  It is his way of keeping it refreshed before him so that he sees it, recalls it, suns himself in it, lifts up his life to it, every day.