Why would you want to read a 60-year-old book about fanatics and their followers, written by a self-educated itinerant farm-worker and longshoreman? Because, in a mere 168 pages, The True Believer by Eric Hoffer clarifies —more than any other book or social theory that I know of— the nature of today’s religious and political mass movements, including the Catholic Church, Christian fundamentalists, China’s cultural revolution, Iran, Al Quaeda, the Arab Spring, Birchers, Birthers, and Tea Party loyalists. It is a mental searchlight and a unique pair of glasses, which illuminate and clarify today’s political and religious movements. It is an easily understood yet scholarly work which you will read, re-read, savor, contemplate, and treasure. In the 1950’s Dwight Eisenhower brought The True Believer and its author Eric Hoffer to the nation’s attention. In 1983, Ronald Reagan awarded Eric Hoffer the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Eric Hoffer is is so succinct, simple, and profound that writing about him must fail to do him justice. So, I’ll let him speak for himself. Here are a few thought provoking quotes, from among the hundreds of gems in his book.
“Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.” (p14) Hoffer makes the case that followers in mass movements are fleeing their frustrated lives.
“A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.” (p14)
“When people are ripe for a mass movement, they are usually ripe for any effective movement, and not solely for one with a particular doctrine or program.” (p16) “all mass movements are interchangeable”… they compete for the same followers. (p17) Hoffer’s examples include how readily Communists converted to Fascists and vice-versa. My conclusion is that all extremists are blood brothers. Hoffer points out that the opposite of any extremist is a moderate; extremists frequently change causes, but seldom do they become moderates.
“In pre-war Italy and Germany practical businessmen acted in an entirely “logical” manner when they encouraged a Fascist and a Nazi movement in order to stop communism. But in doing so, these practical and logical people promoted their own liquidation.” (p19) Would someone kindly send copies of this book to the Koch brothers and Mitt Romney?
“The milieu most favorable for the rise and propagation of mass movements is one in which a once compact corporate structure is, for one reason or another, in a state of disintegration.” (p42)
“The vigor of a mass movement stems from the propensity of its followers for united action and self-sacrifice.” (p 59)
“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all unifying agents.” “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without a belief in a devil. Usually the strength of a mass movement is proportionate to the vividness and tangibility of its devil. When Hitler was asked whether he thought the Jew must be destroyed, he answered: “No…We should have then to invent him. It is essential to have a tangible enemy, not merely an abstract one. ” (p91)
“Finally, it seems, the ideal devil is a foreigner. To qualify as a devil, a domestic enemy must be given a foreign ancestry.” (p93) Sound familiar? Anyone we know who is intensely hated by people who deny his citizenship and charge that he is a Muslim?
“That hatred springs more from self-contempt than Continue reading