Thursday, April 30, 2009

The True Believer. Eric Hoffer.

The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. Eric Hoffer. New York: Time Incorporated. 1951 (1963).

Why read it? Nonfiction. Why do people become addicted to certain causes? What are the effects of this addiction on the participant’s personality?

Hoffer’s style of composition is somewhat unusual. He appears to be jotting random thoughts. But they are not really random. The reader has to supply the connections. The basic idea is an attempt to understand why people join the Communist party. Why people become Nazis. Why people become fanatical about Hillary Clinton in the 2008 presidential election. Why the news media worshipped Barack Obama to the point that many members of the press lost their objectivity. Why people become fanatical about their NFL or major league baseball teams. Hoffer offers somewhat disturbing insights into the phenomenon of the “joiner.”

Ultimately, people are transferring their lost faith in themselves to their faith in a cause.

Sample quotes.

From the editors of Time: “Hoffer’s hero is ‘the autonomous man,’ the confident man at peace with himself, engaged in the present.” xii. ……… “… ‘the true believer,’ who begins as a frustrated man driven by guilt, failure and self-disgust to bury his own identity in a cause oriented to some future goal.’ ” p. xii. ………. “…key terms, ‘frustrated’ and ‘mass movement,’ seem to depend on each other.” p. xiv.

“[The true believer] is the state of mind of the man who is willing to sacrifice himself, if need be to die, for a cause—no matter what the cause.” Sidney Hook. p. xx. ………. “In our world, frustration is the inescapable and unendurable fate of the many; they can break away from this fate only by losing themselves in causes, ends, and movements greater than themselves.” Sidney Hook. p. xxi. ………. “There is nothing that a fanatic will not do to achieve his goal: the end justifies the use of any means.” Sidney Hook. p. xxv.

Thoreau: “If anything ail a man, so that he does not perform his functions, if he have a pain in his bowels even…he forthwith sets about reforming the world” p. 6. ………. “We counteract a deep feeling of insecurity by making of our existence a fixed routine.” p. 7. ………. “The men who rush into undertakings of vast change usually feel they are in possession of some irresistible power.” p. 8. ………. “What seems to count more than possession of instruments of power is faith in the future.” p. 9.

“If the Communists win Europe and a large part of the world, it will not be because they know how to stir up discontent or how to infect people with hatred, but because they know how to preach hope. p. 9. ………. “Finally, they must be wholly ignorant of the difficulties involved n their vast undertaking.” p. 11. ………. “A mass movement attracts and holds a following not because it can satisfy the passion for self-advancement, but because it can satisfy the passion for self-renunciation.” p. 12.

“…a sense of purpose and worth by an identification with a holy cause.” p. 13. ……… “Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.” p. 14. ………. “The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready is he to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race, or his holy cause.” p. 14.

Comment: On every page of this book, you will find ideas that will make you think deeply about human nature. RayS.

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