The True Believer by Eric Hoffer Summary (8/10)
The True Believer is a 1951 book by American writer Eric Hoffer, in which the author discusses the psychological causes of fanaticism. The book was widely influential, and is still cited today. In 2002, the Book-of-the-Month Club ranked The True Believer number 23 on its list of the 100 most influential books of the 20th century.
Hoffer argues that mass movements are powered by people who have lost faith in their own ability to effect change in their own lives, and are looking for a powerful force to right the wrongs they see around them. He further argues that such people are often economically marginal and feel powerless and excluded from the mainstream of society. As a result, they are willing to believe in anything that promises to give them a sense of power and belonging.
Hoffer argues that all mass movements, whether religious, political, or social, share certain characteristics: they offer a sense of power and belonging to their followers; they have a charismatic leader who promises to right the wrongs of the world; and they offer simple answers to complex problems. Hoffer further argues that mass movements often arise in times of great social upheaval, when people are feeling lost and uncertain. He also argues that mass movements often turn violent, as their leaders seek to consolidate power and suppress dissent.
Hoffer also argues that all mass movements share certain characteristics, including a focus on absolutes and an us-versus-them mentality. He further argues that all mass movements are equally counterproductive, regardless of their ideology or goals. Ultimately, Hoffer concludes that mass movements rarely achieve their stated goals; instead, they simply create new problems while exacerbating existing ones.
Which mass movements is Hoffer referring to? All of them. The author is not singling out any particular ideology or group, but is instead making a general observation about the nature of mass movements. This is a key point that helps to explain Hoffer’s later argument that all mass movements are equally counterproductive. In the past, mass movements were often motivated by a desire to improve the lot of their followers. However, Hoffer argues that in today’s world, mass movements are more likely to be motivated by a desire for power and control. In the book, Hoffer gives the example of the Nazi movement in Germany. He argues that the Nazis did not come to power in order to improve the lives of their followers; instead, they came to power in order to gain control over the German government. He further argues that the Nazi regime was able to consolidate power and suppress dissent because it offered a simple answer to the complex problems of the world. The Nazi regime was able to convince its followers that the Jews were to blame for all of Germany’s problems, and that by exterminating the Jews, Germany would be able to create a utopia. Of course, the Nazi regime did not achieve its stated goals; instead, it led to the deaths of millions of people and the destruction of Europe.
Another example in the book is the Russian Revolution. He argues that the Bolshevik regime was able to consolidate power and suppress dissent because it offered a simple answer to the complex problems of the world. The Bolshevik regime was able to convince its followers that the capitalists were to blame for all of Russia’s problems, and that by exterminating the capitalists, Russia would be able to create a utopia. Again, the regime did not achieve its stated goals; instead, it led to the deaths of millions of people and the destruction of Europe. Hoffer argues that the common thread between these two examples is that both regimes offered a simple answer to a complex problem.
“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.” This quote helps to explain Hoffer’s argument that all mass movements are equally counterproductive.
“The game of history is usually played by the best and the worst over the heads of the majority in the middle.” This is another quote that helps to explain Hoffer’s argument that all mass movements are equally counterproductive. The best and worst are those who are most likely to be involved in a mass movement, while the majority in the middle is less likely to be involved. This is because the best and worst are more likely to have strong beliefs that they are willing to fight for, while the majority in the middle is more likely to be apathetic.
“A mass movement attracts and holds a following not because it can satisfy the desire for self-advancement, but because it can satisfy the passion for self-renunciation.” This is a quote that explain’s Hoffer’s argument that mass movements attract and hold a following because of their ability to provide individuals with a sense of self-worth.
“There is in us a tendency to locate the shaping forces of our existence outside ourselves. Success and failure are unavoidably related in our minds with the state of things around us.” The observation here is that we tend to think that the things that happen to us are the result of something happening outside of us, but in fact, we are the cause of everything that happens to us. This is why Hoffer believes that mass movements are so attractive to people; they provide individuals with a sense of control over their lives. When things are going well, we tend to attribute it to our own efforts, but when things are going poorly, we tend to attribute it to external forces. Mass movements provide individuals with a way to feel like they are in control of their lives, even when they are not.
“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. In pre-Hitlerian Germany it was often a toss up whether a restless youth would join the Communists or the Nazis.” This is an observation that Hoffer makes in the book about why people are attracted to mass movements. He argues that people are not only attracted to a particular mass movement, but to any movement that offers them a sense of control. When people are feeling powerless, they are more likely to be attracted to a mass movement that offers a sense of hope.
“Thus the differences between the conservative and the radical seem to spring mainly from their attitude toward the future. Fear of the future causes us to lean against and cling to the present, while faith in the future renders us receptive to change.” This is an interesting point about the difference between conservatives and radicals. Hoffer argues that conservatives are afraid of change, while radicals are more open to it. This is because conservatives tend to believe that the future will be worse than the present, while radicals tend to believe that the future will be better than the present. This difference in attitude is what leads to the different actions that conservatives and radicals take. For example, conservatives are more likely to rely on the government to solve their problems, while radicals are more likely to start their own organizations. This is because conservatives believe that the government can be trusted, while radicals believe that the government is corrupt. The results of this difference in attitude are seen in the way that conservatives and radicals behave. Conservatives are more likely to vote, while radicals are more likely to commit violence.
“Freedom aggravates at least as much as it alleviates frustration. Freedom of choice places the whole blame of failure on the shoulders of the individual.” This is an important point that Hoffer makes in the book about freedom and how it relates to frustration. He argues that freedom causes more frustration than it solves. For example, if I am free to choose what I eat, but I am not happy with the results, then I will be frustrated. Freedom also places the whole blame of failure on the individual.
“In the past, religious movements were the conspicuous vehicles of change. The conservatism of a religion — its orthodoxy — is the inert coagulum of a once highly reactive sap.” This is an interesting observation that Hoffer makes in the book about why religious movements are so effective. He argues that the conservatism of a religious movement is the result of a once highly reactive sap. When a religion is first founded, it is full of energy and excitement. This is because the religion is reacting to the society around it.
“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.” This is an important point that Hoffer makes in the book about why people are so patriotic. He argues that people are more patriotic when they feel that they are not excellent at something. For example, if I am not excellent at basketball, then I will be more patriotic towards basketball because it is a team sport. When people feel that they are not excellent at something, they are more likely to put all of their eggs in one basket, which is why Hoffer argues that people are more patriotic towards their nation, religion, race, or holy cause.
“Mass movement do not usually rise until the prevailing order has been discredited. The discrediting is not an automatic result of the blunders and abuses of those in power, but the deliberate work of men of words with a grievance.” Hoffer argues that the discrediting of the prevailing order is not an automatic result of the blunders and abuses of those in power. The discrediting of the prevailing order is the deliberate work of men of words with a grievance. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. did not rise to prominence until the American civil rights movement had been discredited.
“Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil. Usually the strength of a mass movement is proportionate to the vividness and tangibility of its devil.” This is an important point that Hoffer makes in the book about mass movements. He argues that a mass movement cannot rise without belief in a devil. For example, the American civil rights movement could not have risen without belief in the devil of racism. The more vivid and tangible the devil, the stronger the mass movement will be.
“We join a mass movement to escape individual responsibility, or, in the words of the ardent young Nazi, “to be free from freedom.” We abandon our responsibility to think, to discriminate, to choose. We willingly surrender our power to choose. We become victims, or, as Hoffer says, “the more 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.”
“The unavoidable conclusion seems to be that when the individual faces torture or annihilation, he cannot rely on the resources of his own individuality. His only source of strength is in not being himself but part of something mighty, glorious, and indestructible.” This is an important point that Hoffer makes in the book about why people join mass movements. He argues that when people face torture or annihilation, they need to find something that is mighty, glorious, and indestructible. For example, during World War II, many people joined the Nazi party because they believed that it was a mighty, glorious, and indestructible movement.
“Self-contempt, however vague, sharpens our eyes for the imperfections of others. We usually strive to reveal in others the blemishes we hide in ourselves.”This is a clear reminder of the quote by Jesus when he said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” When we feel self-contempt, we usually strive to reveal in others the blemishes we hide in ourselves. This is why it is important for people to have pure hearts. By having pure hearts, people are able to see God. Jesus also said, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you cannot see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.’
“No matter how vital we think the role of leadership in the rise of a mass movement, there is no doubt that the leader cannot create the conditions which make the rise of a movement possible. He cannot conjure a movement out of the void. There has to be an eagerness to follow and obey, and an intense dissatisfaction with things as they are, before movement and leader can make their appearance.” Hoffer makes this point in the book about how movement and leadership can only come about if there is an eagerness to follow and obey and an intense dissatisfaction with things as they are. For example, during the American civil rights movement, many people were eager to follow and obey Fidel Castro, and they were extremely dissatisfied with the state of racism in America.
The True Believer is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the psychological causes of fanaticism. While Hoffer’s arguments are sometimes overly generalistic, his insights are nonetheless profound and his conclusions are as relevant today as they were when the book was first published. This is a classic work that deserves to be read and re-read.