Mob rule

Mob rule or ochlocracy (Greek: ὀχλοκρατία, romanized: okhlokratía; Latin: ochlocratia) is the rule of government by a mob or mass of people and the intimidation of legitimate authorities. Insofar as it represents a pejorative for majoritarianism, it is akin to the Latin phrase mobile vulgus, meaning "the fickle crowd", from which the English term "mob" originally was derived in the 1680s.

Ochlocracy is synonymous in meaning and usage to the modern, informal term "mobocracy", which arose in the 18th century as a colloquial neologism. Likewise, whilst the ruling mobs in ochlocracies may sometimes genuinely reflect the will of the majority in a manner approximating democracy, ochlocracy is characterized by the absence or impairment of a procedurally civil and democratic process.[1]

An "ochlocrat" is one who is an advocate or partisan of ochlocracy. It also may be used as an adjective ("ochlocratic" or "ochlocratical").

Origin and theory

Polybius appears to have coined the term in his 2nd century BC work Histories (6.4.6).[2] He uses it to name the "pathological" version of popular rule in opposition to the good version, which he refers to as democracy. There are numerous mentions of the word "ochlos" in the Talmud in which "ochlos" refers to anything from "mob", "populace", to "armed guard" as well as in the writings of Rashi, a Jewish commentator on the Bible. The word was first recorded in English in 1584, derived from the French ochlocratie (1568), which stems from the original Greek okhlokratia, from okhlos ("mob") and kratos ("rule", "power", "strength").

Ancient Greek political thinkers regarded ochlocracy as one of the three "bad" forms of government (tyranny, oligarchy, and ochlocracy) as opposed to the three "good" forms of government: monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. They distinguished "good" and "bad" according to whether the government form would act in the interest of the whole community ("good") or in the exclusive interests of a group or individual at the expense of justice ("bad").

The Polybian terminology for forms of state in ancient Greek philosophy has become customary. Polybius' predecessor Aristotle distinguished between different forms of democracy, stating that those disregarding the rule of law devolved into ochlocracy[3] The Polybian distinction between democracy and ochlocracy is absent in the works of Plato, who considered democracy to be a degraded form of government.[4]

The threat of "mob rule" to a democracy is restrained by ensuring that the rule of law protects minorities or individuals against short-term demagoguery or moral panic.[5] Although considering how laws in a democracy are established or repealed by the majority, the protection of minorities by rule of law is questionable. Some authors, like Bosnian political theoretician Jasmin Hasanović, connect the emergence of ochlocracy in democratic societies with the decadence of democracy in neoliberalism in which "the democratic role of the people has been reduced mainly to the electoral process".[6]

Mobs in history

Historians often comment on mob rule as a factor in the rise of Rome and its maintenance, as the city of Rome itself was large between 100,000 and 250,000 citizens while the aristocracy and even the military was very small by comparison to the citizenry. Lapses in this control often led to loss of official power, and, often enough, the lives of the officials, most notably in the reign of Commodus when Cleander unwisely used the Praetorian Guard against a mob which had come to call for his head. As historian Edward Gibbon relates it:

The people...demanded with angry clamors the head of the public enemy. Cleander, who commanded the Praetorian Guards, ordered a body of cavalry to sally forth and disperse the seditious multitude. The multitude fled with precipitation towards the city; several were slain, and many more were trampled to death; but when the cavalry entered the streets their pursuit was checked by a shower of stones and darts from the roofs and windows of the houses. The footguards, who had long been jealous of the prerogatives and insolence of the Praetorian cavalry, embraced the party of the people. The tumult became a regular engagement and threatened a general massacre. The Praetorians at length gave way, oppressed with numbers; and the tide of popular fury returned with redoubled violence against the gates of the palace, where Commodus lay dissolved in luxury, and alone unconscious of the civil war...Commodus started from his dream of pleasure and commanded that the head of Cleander should be thrown out to the people. The desired spectacle instantly appeased the tumult...[7]

This followed a previous incident in which the legions of Britain had demanded and received the death of Perennis, the prior administrator. The mob thus realized that it had every chance of success.

During the late 17th and early 18th centuries, English life was very disorderly. Although the Duke of Monmouth's rising of 1685 was the last rebellion, there was scarcely a year in which London or the provincial towns did not see aggrieved people breaking out into riots. In Queen Anne's reign (1702–14) the word "mob", first heard of not long before, came into general use. With no police force there was little public order.[8] Several decades later, the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots swept through London, claiming hundreds of lives; at the time, a proclamation painted on the wall of Newgate prison announced that the inmates had been freed by the authority of "His Majesty, King Mob".

The Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts during the 1690s, in which the unified belief of the townspeople overpowered the logic of the law, also has been cited by one essayist as an example of mob rule.[9]

In 1837 Abraham Lincoln wrote about lynching and "the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country—the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions in lieu of the sober judgment of courts, and the worse than savage mobs for the executive ministers of justice".[10]

Mob violence played a prominent role in the early history of the Latter Day Saint movement.[11] Examples include the expulsions from Missouri, the Haun's Mill massacre, the death of Joseph Smith, the expulsion from Nauvoo, the murder of Joseph Standing, and the Cane Creek Massacre.[12][13] In an 1857 speech, Brigham Young gave an address demanding military action against "mobocrats".

See also



  1. Hasanović, Jasmin. "Ochlocracy in the Practices of Civil Society: A Threat for Democracy?". Studia Juridica et Politica Jaurinensis. Archived from the original on 15 May 2018.
  2. "Polybius, Histories, The Rotation of Polities". Archived from the original on 26 February 2008. Retrieved 29 March 2008.
  3. Aristotle Politics, Bk IV, Part IV
  4. Blössner, Norbert (2007). "The City-Soul Analogy". In Ferrari, G. R. F. (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to Plato's Republic. Translated from the German by G. R. F. Ferrari. Cambridge University Press.
  5. Jesús Padilla Gálvez, Democracy in Times of Ochlocracy, Synthesis philosophica, Vol. 32 No.1, 2017, pp. 167-178."Archived copy". Archived from the original on 24 December 2017. Retrieved 18 December 2017.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. Hasanović, Jasmin. "Ochlocracy in the Practices of Civil Society: A Threat for Democracy?". Studia Juridica et Politica Jaurinensis. Archived from the original on 15 May 2018.
  7. Gibbon, Edward (1862). The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. 1 (Sir William Smith ed.). pp. 228–229.
  8. Clark, Sir George (1956). The Later Stuarts, 1660–1714. The Oxford History of England: Oxford University Press. pp. 258–259. ISBN 0-19-821702-1.
  9. "Mob Rule and Violence in American Culture". Archived from the original on 21 February 2010. Retrieved 20 January 2010.
  10. "Opposition to Mob-Rule Archived 2009-01-09 at the Wayback Machine", The Writings of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 1.
  11. Arrington, Leonard J. & Bitton, Davis (1992). The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-Day Saints. University of Illinois Press. p. 45. ISBN 9780252062360. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  12. "Cane Creek Massacre". TNMormonHistory. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  13. Wingfield, Marshall (1958). "Tennessee's Mormon Massacre". Tennessee Historical Quarterly. 17 (1): 19–36. JSTOR 42621358.


  • Campbell, Francis Stuart (pseudonym for Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn) (1943) The Menace of the Herd. Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company/
  • EtymologyOnLine
  • Quotations related to Mob rule at Wikiquote
  • The dictionary definition of mob rule at Wiktionary

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