Great Apolitical Mobs

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A good place for Jesse to start not writing his apolitical history of rioting is Bill Buford's Among the Thugs, an account of British soccer violence. Buford found himself actually joining in violence that he found both appalling and purposeless, and has plenty of interesting observations to offer.

Crowds, he argues, have an organic and self-organizing dimension that is little understood because so few of the people who have written about violent mobs have ever been part of them. If I remember correctly, Buford is particularly dismissive of Gustave Le Bon's once-influential ideas about crowd behavior.

Nobel-winning novelist and critic Elias Canetti, however, was part of the 1927 crowd that set fires in Vienna. Canetti's ideas about how crowds form and "discharge" are similar to Buford's. In fact, Canetti offers an entire morphology of mobs, though I'm pretty sure he overlooked the beer-ad mob.

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  1. To quote the Scottish janitor Willy from the Simpsons, “You call this a soccer riot!?!? Let’s take ’em to school, boys!!!”

  2. Obligatory soccer-bashing remark: “Appalling and purposeless”? Hey! That’s just like soccer itself!

  3. When I read ex-Weatherman Bill Ayers memoir Fugitive Days, in which he described participating in street fighting in Chicago in 1969 during the “Days of Rage,” it reminded me of nothing more than Buford’s football hooligans in Among The Thugs. The pleasure in violence was the same.

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