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By Charles Lindholm
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But despite this modern obstacle to charismatic communion, Durkheim affirmed that all human communities must retain the potential for charismatic experience, since without it they are mere aggregations of highly intelligent but rapacious beasts, plundering and destroying one another. Only the sharing of communitas in the ritual can give an inner sense of higher purpose, and this is necessary not only for the foundation of society but for individuals as well, who need a transcendent object to escape from despair and isolation.
These individual, but replicable, aspects of the leader offer specific and obvious locations for imitation and identification by the followers. In this perspective, the leader, by showing both his generic humanity and his (culturally acceptable) individuality in a way that is forceful and single-minded, can galvanize the amorphous, empathetic crowd to compulsive imitation and obedience. He is both a creature of the crowd, since he must mirror its innermost desires within a given cultural matrix, and also the creator of the crowd, since he brings it into being and gives it form by his every personal gesture.
The group reinforced and magnified the flow of energy by forming "a mesmeric `chain,' something like an electric circuit" (Darnton 1968:8). 2 Mesmerism was also practiced outdoors, especially in large open spaces where groups of people encircled a large tree, to which they were tied by "mesmerically charged" ropes, prefiguring the later mass rallies in the French Revolution which were held around Liberty Trees. In this context, the Puysegur brothers, two of Mesmer's disciples, discovered a more direct way to induce mass hypnosis, putting large numbers of onlookers into trance simultaneously by the contagious power of suggestion.