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A stevedore on the San Francisco docks in the 1940s, Eric Hoffer wrote philosophical treatises in his spare time while living in the railroad yards. The True Believer -- the first and most famous of his books -- was made into a bestseller when President Eisenhower cited it during one of the earliest television press conferences. Completely relevant and essential for unders A stevedore on the San Francisco docks in the 1940s, Eric Hoffer wrote philosophical treatises in his spare time while living in the railroad yards. The True Believer -- the first and most famous of his books -- was made into a bestseller when President Eisenhower cited it during one of the earliest television press conferences. Completely relevant and essential for understanding the world today, The True Believer is a visionary, highly provocative look into the mind of the fanatic and a penetrating study of how an individual becomes one.


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A stevedore on the San Francisco docks in the 1940s, Eric Hoffer wrote philosophical treatises in his spare time while living in the railroad yards. The True Believer -- the first and most famous of his books -- was made into a bestseller when President Eisenhower cited it during one of the earliest television press conferences. Completely relevant and essential for unders A stevedore on the San Francisco docks in the 1940s, Eric Hoffer wrote philosophical treatises in his spare time while living in the railroad yards. The True Believer -- the first and most famous of his books -- was made into a bestseller when President Eisenhower cited it during one of the earliest television press conferences. Completely relevant and essential for understanding the world today, The True Believer is a visionary, highly provocative look into the mind of the fanatic and a penetrating study of how an individual becomes one.

10 review for The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    So you've decided to start your own cult or mass movement. Fantastic. Just remember that it's not all fun and games- there's a good deal of planning and work involved. You'd be well-advised to read Eric Hoffer's The True Believer in full before you do anything, but here, as I understand them, are a few of his main points: First of all, somewhat counter-intuitively, the contents of your platform or doctrine are almost irrelevant. Whatever you do, don't wrack your brain or search your soul for legi So you've decided to start your own cult or mass movement. Fantastic. Just remember that it's not all fun and games- there's a good deal of planning and work involved. You'd be well-advised to read Eric Hoffer's The True Believer in full before you do anything, but here, as I understand them, are a few of his main points: First of all, somewhat counter-intuitively, the contents of your platform or doctrine are almost irrelevant. Whatever you do, don't wrack your brain or search your soul for legitimate solutions to people's problems- complete waste of time. Remember that the primary motivation most people have for joining the movement is found within themselves (more on this in the next paragraph). You will need a story, of course, but its basic requirements are that it a) illustrates (or reinforces) that the present is intolerable, and b) promises great success, even a utopia, in the far, distant future. The vaguer and more nebulous this promise, the less concrete (modern example: "make America great again"), the better. As Hoffer writes, ...though a mass movement at first turns its back on the past, it eventually develops a vivid awareness, often specious, of a distant glorious past...a vivid awareness of past and future robs the present of its reality. It makes the present a...section in a procession or parade. The followers...see themselves in a soul-stirring drama played to a vast audience- generations gone and generations yet to come. Remember that people generally do not join because of the rightness or wrongness of your cause. They join, rather, to forget their individual existences. Hoffer is describing what he believes is a certain psychological type: ...a mass movement, particularly in its active...phase, appeals to those not intent on bolstering and advancing a cherished self, but to those who crave to be rid of an unwanted self...Their innermost craving is for a new life- a rebirth- or...a sense of purpose and worth by an identification with a holy cause. As individuals they feel themselves to be failures, but in a group they can ascribe to their lives purpose and meaning, even if it is only in "the eyes of posterity." Let your opponents patiently try to persuade with reason and logic- don't get caught up in that game. Instead, keep in mind that the seed of belief is this inner desperation to lose one's self in a holy cause. The playing field is emotion, not reason, and the vitality of the movement ultimately depends on its ability to foster cohesion, unity, the sense of being part of a tribe. Establish this, and it doesn't matter how self-evidently absurd your movement's core beliefs are (see: Scientology); perhaps their absurdity is even part of your movement's test of loyalty and faith. Those who desire this sense of communion, and taste it just once, may never again be able to live without it. Hoffer writes, It is doubtful whether the fanatic who deserts his holy cause or is suddenly left without one can ever adjust...to an autonomous...existence. He remains a homeless hitch hiker on the highways of the world thumbing a ride on any eternal cause that rolls by...He is even ready to join...against his former...cause, but it must be a genuine crusade- uncompromising, intolerant, proclaiming the one and only truth... Though his single-minded dedication is a holding on for dear life, he easily sees himself as the supporter and defender of the holy cause to which he clings...He cannot be weaned away from his cause by an appeal to his reason or moral sense. But he finds no difficulty in swinging suddenly and wildly from one holy cause to another. He cannot be convinced but only converted. Propaganda should also be designed with this in mind; it doesn't persuade anyone who doesn't want, on some level, to be persuaded. As Hoffer writes, "rather than instill opinion it [propaganda] articulates and justifies opinions already present in the minds of its recipients...it is the music of their own souls they hear in the impassioned words of the propagandist." That said, persuasion without accompanying coercion is often ineffective. Take it from no less an authority than Joseph Goebbels, who apparently once said, "a sharp sword must always stand behind propaganda if it is to be really effective." Sorry to say, but violence is going to be necessary. Likewise the fomenting of suspicion among your followers, which brings us to...The Enemy. Yes, you're going to need an enemy. Perhaps you already have one selected, in which case you're ahead of the game. But this enemy, the indispensable devil of every mass movement- is omnipresent. He plots both outside and inside the ranks of the faithful. It is his voice that speaks through the mouth of the dissenter...If anything goes wrong within the movement, it is his doing. As Hitler said, apparently in an unguarded moment, "if the Jew did not exist, we would have had to invent him." But if the movement encounters difficulties, why not just admit it? If you have to ask, you still have a lot to learn. ...mass movements strive to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the...absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth...outside it...The fanatical Communist refuses to believe any unfavorable report or evidence about Russia, nor will he be disillusioned by seeing with his own eyes the cruel misery there... The "fact-proof screen" is of course another way to instill unity and cohesion. Outside influence reminds your followers that there are (perhaps justifiable) opinions and beliefs that counter those your movement teaches; such opinions must always be characterized as dissent, heresy, samizdat, "the dishonest media", etc., lest the unity of your movement be threatened. According to Hoffer, the Nazis and Communists strangely, or maybe not so strangely, often looked to the ranks of their enemy for potential converts. ...each proselytizing mass movement seems to regard the zealous adherents of its antagonist as its own potential converts. Hitler looked on the German communists as potential National Socialists...On the other hand, Karl Radek looked on the Nazi Brown Shirts as a reserve for future Communist recruits. Maybe they sensed, intuitively, that psychologically they were the same, placed only by circumstance on opposing sides. And oh yes- eventually you're going to need a leader. There's no need to search the ends of the earth for someone of "...exceptional intelligence, noble character and originality", which according to Hoffer, "seem neither indispensable nor perhaps desirable." The following qualities, rather, would seem to be those to look for: audacity and a joy in defiance; an iron will; a fanatical conviction that he is in possession of the one and only truth; faith in his destiny and luck; a capacity for passionate hatred; contempt for the present; a cunning estimate of human nature; a delight in symbols (spectacles and ceremonials); unbounded brazenness which finds expression in a disregard for consistency and fairness; a recognition that the innermost craving of a following is for communion and that there can never be too much of it; a capacity for winning and holding the utmost loyalty of a group of able lieutenants. Now don't screw it up. It was sometime after the Soviets had turned the tide of the war at Stalingrad, I once read, that it became common for Germans to start rolling their eyes or responding with obscenities to colleagues on the street who would greet them with the customary salute. Why? I think it has to do with the second-to-last quality quoted above: "a capacity for winning." Hitler was finally losing, and it suddenly seemed absurd to raise your arm and proclaim allegiance to that funny-looking guy with the losing cause. This, as I see it, is the one thing that will turn your followers against you. So just be sure to never lose- and if you do, for god's sake cover it up. Once your followers see what a fraud you are...well, you do know how Mussolini and Ceausescu died, don't you?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Larry

    #2 on my list of the ten most influential books in my life. At this point mybest guess is that I read this around 1960. It was a clear and incisive look at the people who believe as a matter of faith and not as a matter of logic or fact. What is more amazing is that the author was a longshoreman who had no formal education beyond high school. Reading his insights was my first understanding of the workings of the minds of irrational people. The principles of mass irrationality apply to religion, #2 on my list of the ten most influential books in my life. At this point mybest guess is that I read this around 1960. It was a clear and incisive look at the people who believe as a matter of faith and not as a matter of logic or fact. What is more amazing is that the author was a longshoreman who had no formal education beyond high school. Reading his insights was my first understanding of the workings of the minds of irrational people. The principles of mass irrationality apply to religion, politics and most other group behavior of human beings. While it is usually incomprehensible to rational actors Mr. Hoffer's book always comes to mind when I need to grasp the motivation of certain groups. His ideas are as certain today as they were when I first encountered them over 40 years ago.

  3. 5 out of 5

    James

    Outstanding. A concise and astute portrait of the personality type that is drawn to authoritarian institutions, whether political or religious. Hoffer makes an excellent case that the mass movements - the fascists, the communists, and the various brands of religious fundamentalists, that have caused so much death, suffering, and chaos throughout history in their attempts to impose their values and belief systems on others, have all depended on people of basically similar character to fill their Outstanding. A concise and astute portrait of the personality type that is drawn to authoritarian institutions, whether political or religious. Hoffer makes an excellent case that the mass movements - the fascists, the communists, and the various brands of religious fundamentalists, that have caused so much death, suffering, and chaos throughout history in their attempts to impose their values and belief systems on others, have all depended on people of basically similar character to fill their ranks. The true believer, as Hoffer portrays him/her, is someone who yearns for certainty and fears ambiguity; who sees the world in dualistic terms, black and white with no gray areas; who prefers to simply follow orders, letting others make the hard ethical decisions; who revels in belonging to an exclusive group and looking down on outsiders, particularly if they belong to a group the leaders have chosen as scapegoats. Every voter should read this book and then look at the world today - the politics of fear and division, the growth of fundamentalist religion, the strident bigots on talk radio and TV - and then start working to reduce the danger they all pose to the freedoms in our Constitution, to the separation of church and state, and to our standing in the world.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    This book possesses a terrible timelessness. Though written a few years after World War II to examine the factors that led people to embrace fascism and communism, it still rings true for our times, clearly explaining the reasons why so many people have embraced anger, intolerance, and a foolish wish to return to an America that never was. People need to read Eric Hoffer now more than ever. Those who see themselves as stuck in a life with no prospects, losers at the game of economic and social su This book possesses a terrible timelessness. Though written a few years after World War II to examine the factors that led people to embrace fascism and communism, it still rings true for our times, clearly explaining the reasons why so many people have embraced anger, intolerance, and a foolish wish to return to an America that never was. People need to read Eric Hoffer now more than ever. Those who see themselves as stuck in a life with no prospects, losers at the game of economic and social success, want to know what happened and who is going to do something about it. They are uninterested in explanations of global macroeconomic forces and long term dislocations caused by skill imbalances. They want someone to blame, someone, that is, other than themselves. In this short book Hoffer dissects their anger and fear, their willingness to surrender themselves to leaders who will do their thinking for them, their susceptibility to even the crudest of propaganda, and their need to find an enemy to blame and to strike out against. None of this needs to have any basis in rational thought, because if they were capable of rationally analyzing their situation they would not have jumped on this bandwagon to begin with. How do we deal with this? We would like to think that education would do it, or economic recovery, or even religion, but all of those were available previously and did not stop the slide into irrationality. As Mark Twain said, “You can’t reason someone out of something that they weren’t reasoned into in the first place.” I suppose all we can do is recognize the problems when they occur, and work diligently to oppose the forces of ignorance, intolerance, and violence. We have no choice. If we can’t stand up against them, we will lose our freedom, our security, and our rights. By the time the good and decent German citizens in the 1930s realized what was going on, it was too late for them. Let’s hope it is not too late for us. This is a book that each of us needs to strongly recommend to our friends. It explains the present as well as the past. Let’s hope it is not also a roadmap to our future.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Murtaza

    In trying to understand why this book has been so popular for so long, I can only conclude that its because it is infinitely useful for political purposes. This is basically a book of musings about what drives the average follower of a mass ideological movement, as well as the life-cycles and nature of such movements. Rather than any empirical argument there is a lot of psychoanalysis and pithy philosophical quotes. A book of musings is fine, but Hoffer is unable to make anything even close to a In trying to understand why this book has been so popular for so long, I can only conclude that its because it is infinitely useful for political purposes. This is basically a book of musings about what drives the average follower of a mass ideological movement, as well as the life-cycles and nature of such movements. Rather than any empirical argument there is a lot of psychoanalysis and pithy philosophical quotes. A book of musings is fine, but Hoffer is unable to make anything even close to an authoritative statement about anything. He just makes declarations and moves on. Unless you assign him some kind of divine inspiration — or more likely are invested in taking what he has to say and applying it to your political enemies — it is highly questionable what the point of this book is. This book came out in the 1950s, not long after the defeat of Nazism and with the fear of Communism still large in peoples minds. I can see then how the book answered a specific need at the time to get some kind of handle on these movements. Hoffer goes even further and yokes in Christianity and Islam together with these modern ideologies in one more-or-less seamless category of "mass movements." Although these modern movements undoubtedly have religious overtones it's also possible to get very lazy with this analogy and even become wildly inconsistent in argument. I'm not going to bother going through a point-by-point analysis but needless to say his grasp of history is very superficial and mostly based on popular stereotypes. Hoffer's general idea of what causes people to join mass movements today is their own feeling of inner void, with outside material factors not being decisive. People get swept up in things for personal reasons not necessarily related to the stated goals of any movement. This should already be obvious to anyone. Almost everything Hoffer says in this book that is true is similarly obvious. The book is mercifully redeemed by its brevity. For this Hoffer deserves some genuine credit. His book is a useful tool for denigrating and insulting any new political movement by accusing their members of personal psychological shortcomings. No doubt everyone is driven by such shortcomings at some level, no less those in the status quo. The problem is this book fails to substantiate anything, it just makes blank assertions which may or may not be useful to someone in power at a given political moment. Also in an era of deep ironic feeling (at least in the West) where people are disinclined to believe too much in anything, it is unclear who exactly this book still applies to. Pass.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alexis

    This book for me is like when you've just met someone and you're talking to them and you find that you have so much in common, and you like them so much that you stutter in trying to say ten different things at once because you're so excited and then you just trip over your own foot and fall in the lake. This book for me is like when you've just met someone and you're talking to them and you find that you have so much in common, and you like them so much that you stutter in trying to say ten different things at once because you're so excited and then you just trip over your own foot and fall in the lake.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    I read this to get a better understanding of mass indoctrination whether it be religion, Nazism, Stalinism, and more recent developments in our populist era, namely Trump. The author lists what he feels are the commonalities to all of these, whether it be Nazism, ISIS or the “moonies” or even a small religious movement like the Branch Davidians of David Koresh. The author uses the word “mass movement”, whereas I would use the word “cult”; perhaps the word “cult” was not in vogue when this was wri I read this to get a better understanding of mass indoctrination whether it be religion, Nazism, Stalinism, and more recent developments in our populist era, namely Trump. The author lists what he feels are the commonalities to all of these, whether it be Nazism, ISIS or the “moonies” or even a small religious movement like the Branch Davidians of David Koresh. The author uses the word “mass movement”, whereas I would use the word “cult”; perhaps the word “cult” was not in vogue when this was written in 1950. There were parts of his dissertation that I felt were off-base or irrelevant as when he speaks of colonialism. A recurring theme is that mass movements appeal to the frustrated. They find meaning in this holy cause – be it religious or secular (like Nazism). Individualism is lost in the mass movement. I have difficulties with this as the author kept emphasizing how one’s individualism was completely evaporated by the mass movement. There were, for example, differences in the behaviour of Germans under the sway of Nazism. Page 16 (my book) Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves. All mass movements are uncompromising. They have all the answers; deviationists are not tolerated. And interestingly in a country with competing mass movements such as Germany in the early 1930’s, membership could change from one to another mass movement (i.e. communists could sway their allegiance and convert to the Nazi Party). The frustrated is on the lookout for any group with a holy cause. Page 51 [Hitler] knew that the chief passion of the frustrated was to belong. Page 79 Above all, he must never feel alone. The mass movements require uncompromising devotion which creates suspicion. Page 44 Matthew 10: 35-37 For I am come to set man at variance against his father, and daughters against her mother. And the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me. Page 153 It is the sacred duty of the true believer to be suspicious. Returning army veterans can often be lured into mass movements, they are looking for structure and meaning – and many are “frustrated”. Hate is a prime unifier in a mass movement. The present is vilified as decadent. Also, reason and logic are deprecated. There is only one truth – a doctrine. Page 101 If a doctrine is not unintelligible, it has to be vague; and if neither intelligible nor vague, it has to be unverifiable. All mass movements require a leader – Hitler being a prime example. Hitler was the original leader and led Germany into “action” (other mass movements have successor leaders like Stalin after Lenin). “Action” is another fundamental of a mass movement. But “action” can lead to a state of normality. “Action” requires more individual participation. The author did not fully explain this contradiction. Also, there were vast differences between Hitler who was worshipped and adored and Stalin, who may have been worshipped, but certainly not fawned over like Hitler, fear is more appropriate when describing Stalin. A considerable portion of this book worked and did remind me of George Orwell’s “1984”. It illustrates very well the commonality of mass movements – whether they be political or religious. Their doctrines leave no room for dissension. This is short book, clearly written, and well worth reading.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ross Blocher

    The True Believer seeks to explain the causes of mass movements and how political upheavals emerge predictably from psychological and sociological predispositions. It is broad, confident, and hugely insightful. Eric Hoffer wrote The True Believer in 1951, with World War II fresh in memory and other threats emerging around the world - and yet, his insights feel current and often frighteningly prescient (one cannot help but interpret his observations in the light of Trump's presidency: parallels o The True Believer seeks to explain the causes of mass movements and how political upheavals emerge predictably from psychological and sociological predispositions. It is broad, confident, and hugely insightful. Eric Hoffer wrote The True Believer in 1951, with World War II fresh in memory and other threats emerging around the world - and yet, his insights feel current and often frighteningly prescient (one cannot help but interpret his observations in the light of Trump's presidency: parallels others have drawn). And yet, Hoffer had no formal training: he was widely read and had an amazing mind for synthesis, but worked in restaurants and fields, and as a gold prospector and longshoreman, where he wrote his influential books. He came to prominence after Dwight Eisenhower hailed this volume in 1952, and was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan in 1983. Though a short book, The True Believer is dense and takes a while to parse. Hoffer speaks in absolutes: broad, sweeping statements that my mind immediately wants to challenge. He anticipates this, saying, "The reader is expected to quarrel with much that is said... he is likely to feel that much has been exaggerated and much ignored. But this is not an authoritative textbook. It is a book of thoughts, and it does not shy away from half-truths so long as they seem to hint at a new approach and help to formulate new questions." (p60) He's going for simplicity, and indeed - nuance would make this a much longer book. You're sure to find a few new vocabulary words in the process, too. There is also copious use of abstract language that forced me to stop after each sentence and apply the concepts to real-world situations to get a picture of what he's saying. For example, in a typical sentence: "We have seen that the acrid secretion of the frustrated mind, though composed chiefly of fear and ill will, acts yet as a marvelous slime to cement the embittered and disaffected into one compact whole." (p124) Another: "Contrary to what one would expect, propaganda becomes more fervent and importunate when it operates in conjunction with coercion than when it has to rely solely on its own effectiveness." (p106) Sometimes I'll have to re-read a sentence a few times to get a good feel for its meaning: "Oh yeah, that makes sense." Or, "Well, you already made that point just in the last paragraph." Or, "Wow, that's brilliant. I should highlight that." There were many such passages, and if I had taken a highlighter to all the salient and highly quotable statements, it would be a brightly colored book indeed. I didn't, and so I'm struggling right now to jump straight to the best examples. Here's a few quotes from this Goodreads list: "Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil." "The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world." "People with a sense of fulfillment think it is a good world and would like to conserve it as it is, while the frustrated favor radical change." "The permanent misfits can find salvation only in a complete separation from the self; and they usually find it by losing themselves in the compact collectivity of a mass movement." "Propaganda ... serves more to justify ourselves than to convince others; and the more reason we have to feel guilty, the more fervent our propaganda." I did quarrel with some of what was said, thought of counter-examples here-and-there, and in some ways this book is simply a product of its time. One example: we hear constant refrains about "men of action" and "men of words" without a nod to the existence of women. Hoffer regularly cites Moses and the Exodus as examples, as if those actually happened. And yet, none of these criticisms should preclude anyone from wrestling and working their way through. It's a potent, thought-provoking book, and I'd recommend it simply for the internal dialog it prompts.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    I haven't yet read the other reviews of this, as I didn't want my own to be influenced, but I would imagine other reviewers will have commented on the author's background. He had very little formal education, but seems to have been an extraordinarily perceptive and articulate person. Of this work he says himself "...this is not an authoritative textbook. It is a book of thoughts, and it does not shy away from half-truths so long as they seem to hint at a new approach and help to formulate new que I haven't yet read the other reviews of this, as I didn't want my own to be influenced, but I would imagine other reviewers will have commented on the author's background. He had very little formal education, but seems to have been an extraordinarily perceptive and articulate person. Of this work he says himself "...this is not an authoritative textbook. It is a book of thoughts, and it does not shy away from half-truths so long as they seem to hint at a new approach and help to formulate new questions." I don't agree with absolutely everything the author says in this book, and parts of it are a little dated, but that said, rarely have I read anything that has caused me to think "That's exactly right" quite as often as this. If you have ever wondered, as I have, why passionate supporters of a particular cause are so impervious to evidence that contradicts their preconceptions, this book will give you the answer. Some years ago I read Patrick Leigh Fermor's "A Time of Gifts", the first part of the trilogy recounting his trek through Europe in 1933-34. At one point, in Germany, he meets a Nazi stormtrooper who tells PLF that he was a former member of the communist Rot Front. I was surprised that a communist would have defected to the Nazis. Eric Hoffer would not have been surprised. His book explains how all mass movements and extremist groups appeal to the same mindset. It is a cause that matters, not the cause. It's a rare thing to encounter a book that really provides new insights into why the world is the way it is. This goes straight into the top five of non-fiction books that I have read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    A mainstay of any library, this slim book on political extremism was written, not by a professor but by a gifted amateur, an American stevedore willing to think through not the historical problem of radicalization in this or that society, but who becomes an extremist. What is the psychology of the extremist as opposed to that of more moderate people. Who is more likely to join an extremist movement? It was written in the 1950's, not long after the defeat of the Third Reich, a time when the probl A mainstay of any library, this slim book on political extremism was written, not by a professor but by a gifted amateur, an American stevedore willing to think through not the historical problem of radicalization in this or that society, but who becomes an extremist. What is the psychology of the extremist as opposed to that of more moderate people. Who is more likely to join an extremist movement? It was written in the 1950's, not long after the defeat of the Third Reich, a time when the problem of extremism was very much on the world's mind. Hoffer's term "Mass Movements" might be better translated today as "cult." Who exactly becomes a cultist, or is vulnerable to that kind of true belief? Is there something essentially different between someone who becomes a radical anti-semite, a Bolshevik, an evangelical or fanatical religious follower, a white supremacist, a Scientologist and the like, and other people with a less aggressive, black and white, totalitarian view of the world? Something he notes is the "interchangeability of mass movements." That people find it easier to move from say, Communism to Nazisim, than from communism to socialism or Nazism to mainstream conservatism. "When people are ripe for a mass movement, they're usually ripe for any effective movement, and not solely for one with a particular doctrine or program." "The inordinately selfish {one of the list of vulnerable types] are particularly susceptible to frustration. The more selfish a person, the ore poignant his disappointments. It is the inordinately selfish, therefore, who are likely to be the most persuasive champions of selflessness. The fiercest fanatics are often selfish people who when forced, by innate shortcomings or external circumstances, to lose faith in those own selves. The separate the excellent instrument of their selfishness from their ineffectual selves and attach it to the service of some holy cause. And though it be a faith of love and humility they adopt, they can be neither loving nor humble."It is a fascinating, theme based exploration of mass movements, though some people will be disturbed to see their idealistic noble causes lumped in with totalitarian ones. "The superior individual, whether in politics, literature, science commerce or industry plays a large role in shaping a nation, but so do individuals at the other extreme, the failures, misfits, outcasts, criminals, and all those who have lost their footing, or never had one, in the ranks of respectable humanity. The game of history is usually played by the best and the worst over the heads of the majority in the middle."Very much worth reading--speaks to our highly polarized time, helping us better see what radicalizes people and ultimately suggesting ways in which the non=extreme element of society can be strengthened. flag 14 likes · Like  · see review Dec 29, 2012 Grady Ormsby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer is a political philosophy classic from 1951. It has lost absolutely nothing to age. In Walden Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." This could easily be seen as Hoffer's starting point. "The true believer" begins as a frustrated man driven by guilt, failure and/or self-disgust to bury his own identity in a cause oriented to some future goal. It scarcely seems to matter whether the The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer is a political philosophy classic from 1951. It has lost absolutely nothing to age. In Walden Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." This could easily be seen as Hoffer's starting point. "The true believer" begins as a frustrated man driven by guilt, failure and/or self-disgust to bury his own identity in a cause oriented to some future goal. It scarcely seems to matter whether the cause is a religion, a nationalistic movement or a political credo. What matters most is faith because faith gives the frustrated man an anchor and armor against fact. The cause must also emphasize hope because hope allows the desparate man to escape from the intolerable present. Hoffer's hero is the "autonomous man," not lonely or isolated, but one who is at peace with himself and engaged in the present. I found this to be an especially interesting read at the end of a contentious political campaign where there was an abundance of lock-step, hide-bound, narrow-minded ideologues listening only to what reinforced the bounds of their comfort zones even though it might be totally unrelated to reality. flag 14 likes · Like  · see review Jan 19, 2016 Sean rated it it was ok Holy generalizations, Batman! While there were some insightful points made in the book, mostly it felt like a long, disjointed collection of the author's personal unfounded assertions. Hoffer makes sweeping generalizations about people's motivations and engages in hack psychology ad nauseam.The organization is odd as well, with 125 "Sections" in just 168 pages - some of the sections were literally one sentence, and often they don't seem to have any sort of logical connection or flow. Holy generalizations, Batman! While there were some insightful points made in the book, mostly it felt like a long, disjointed collection of the author's personal unfounded assertions. Hoffer makes sweeping generalizations about people's motivations and engages in hack psychology ad nauseam.The organization is odd as well, with 125 "Sections" in just 168 pages - some of the sections were literally one sentence, and often they don't seem to have any sort of logical connection or flow. flag 12 likes · Like  · see review View all 4 comments Apr 24, 2010 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it it was amazing Recommends it for: Everyone Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: Liz's Book? Shelves: philosophy, non-fiction, political, ebooks, psychology It's rare that a book has the impact on me this one did, especially first read in mature adulthood; a book that often made me wish to underline paragraph after paragraph. It's a very short, simply written and accessible book--the main text is only 168 pages. The preface tells us it intends to examine "active, revivalist phase of mass movements." On the GoodReads review site it's on a "notable atheist books" list, which I consider absolutely bizarre. The ideas in the book definitely cut both ways It's rare that a book has the impact on me this one did, especially first read in mature adulthood; a book that often made me wish to underline paragraph after paragraph. It's a very short, simply written and accessible book--the main text is only 168 pages. The preface tells us it intends to examine "active, revivalist phase of mass movements." On the GoodReads review site it's on a "notable atheist books" list, which I consider absolutely bizarre. The ideas in the book definitely cut both ways, and is irreverent in looking at Christianity, Islam, as well as Communism and Nazism in examining the dynamics of mass movements, but it warns against fanatical, intolerant forms of atheistic movements just as much as against religiously inspired ones. I thought the book was scarily prescient, especially since I could see many of the conditions Hoffer notes as conducive to mass movements in the contemporary America scene, and Hoffer makes no bones that all revolutions and mass movements have their scary, violent phase that can fall into a dark age. It was interesting that this book published in 1951 observed that revolutions happen not so much at the most oppressive point of a regime, but just when it loosens its hold and begins reform--that immediately made me think of how the Iron Curtain was finally rent--after "glasnost." Revolutions gain their followers, Hoffer believes, from the frustrated. Those who have something to lose and fear losing it, while leaders of mass movement gin up hope for the future. And what Hoffer had to say about the relationship between individualism, fanaticism and mass movements I found fascinating and resonant:Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves... The less just 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... In running away from ourselves we either fall on our neighbor's shoulders or fly at their throat.It was not sheer hypocrisy when the rank-and-file of Nazis declared themselves not guilty of all those enormities they committed. They considered themselves cheated and maligned when made to shoulder responsibility for obeying orders. Had they not joined the Nazi movement in order to be free of responsibility?It's not the content of their beliefs that matter in how movements form and grow according to Hoffer. Whether you look at America's current Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street crowd, Hoffer seems to suggest, you're likely to see more similarities than differences in the group dynamics. I'm not sure I agree. I think there are huge differences between a Nazi mass rally addressed by Hitler and the Civil Rights March led by and addressed by Martin Luther King. I'm not old enough to remember first hand, but it seems to me that the American Civil Rights movement was conservative (in a small "c" sense), not radical in spirit. The main focus was non-violent resistance, even if it evoked violence from its opponents. It didn't seek to change so much as to include. The goal wasn't to burn the house of America down to rebuild from the foundations, but let more people in through the door--and I suspect that does make a difference. Just as there was a difference between the American Revolution that sought to regain traditional rights secured during a period of Imperial benign neglect and the much more radical French and Russian revolutions which aspired to radical change with their terrors and purges.Hoffer does end the book by stressing mass movements, for all their dangerous aspects, are not always a bad thing by any means. As agents of change, they're "instruments of resurrection" for societies that could otherwise remain moribund. flag 12 likes · Like  · see review View all 3 comments Jan 20, 2019 Cody rated it it was amazing "It is the true believer's ability to "shut his eyes and stop his ears" to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy. He cannot be frightened by danger nor disheartened by obstacles nor baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence. Strength of faith, as Bergson pointed out, manifests itself not in moving mountains but in not seeing mountains to move." (80)"The effectiveness of a doctrine does not come from its "It is the true believer's ability to "shut his eyes and stop his ears" to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy. He cannot be frightened by danger nor disheartened by obstacles nor baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence. Strength of faith, as Bergson pointed out, manifests itself not in moving mountains but in not seeing mountains to move." (80)"The effectiveness of a doctrine does not come from its meaning but from its certitude. No doctrine however profound and sublime will be effective unless it is presented as an embodiment of the one and only truth. It must be the one word from which all things are and all things speak." (80)"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." (91)The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer is the single most important piece of sociological literature in both the 20th and 21st centuries. Each chapter, sentence, and even word has such a weight and depth to it that if you blink you may fear missing out on something so psychologically paramount to any degree of what makes a mass movement. In a word, it's brilliant.Hoffer, as the mini-bio on the cover of the book states, was self-educated. How incredible this is, as this book was published in 1951, and is perhaps more important today than it was in that beginning of that post-WWII period. He of course covers movements such as the Third Reich under Adolf Hitler or the 1917 Russian Revolution under Vladimir Lenin and then the ruling of the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. Both are easy targets but encompass the power of mass movements in a frightening way. Hoffer also analyses religious movements, in particular Christianity and Islam, which from a sociological standpoint are just so fascinating to look and contemplate. What's also significant to illustrate is the educational objectivity he carries throughout the book, as it's perfectly balanced in that regard.While all these studies are equally indispensable in the studying of mass movements, it's the contemporary associations that Hoffer didn't get to see which really quantifies the power of this book. Over the last few years we have begun to see a rise and predominance of the conservative right in places like the United States, the Philippines, and Russia who use the playbook of mass movements to their full advantage. You take a look at a leader like Donald Trump, (who always seems to have a "devil" on hand to crucify and mangles information in what has become known as "alternative facts" ) Rodrigo Duterte, (whose war on drugs and nationalist quotes embody the extremes of mass movements) or Vladimir Putin, (who restricts media and information to his favour so what is presented to the Russian people is his version of the truth) and see Hoffer was speaking about something that is timeless and eternal to the study of humanity. There is so much to unpack here, but simply put, The True Believer is a truly brilliant piece of sociological insight. flag 11 likes · Like  · see review View 2 comments May 17, 2017 David Gustafson rated it it was amazing Eric Hoffer was an autodidactic longshoreman who was the author of ten books. He became a cult figure in 1960's America resulting in two, one-hour CBS interviews with Eric Sevareid. I cannot recall another author ever being accorded such exposure on the commercial television networks. President Eisenhower mentioned "The True Believer" at a press conference and he gave copies to personal friends.Although it touches on Christianity and Islam and bills itself as 'thoughts on the nature of mass move Eric Hoffer was an autodidactic longshoreman who was the author of ten books. He became a cult figure in 1960's America resulting in two, one-hour CBS interviews with Eric Sevareid. I cannot recall another author ever being accorded such exposure on the commercial television networks. President Eisenhower mentioned "The True Believer" at a press conference and he gave copies to personal friends.Although it touches on Christianity and Islam and bills itself as 'thoughts on the nature of mass movements,' "The True Believer" is a child of the Second Wold War and its primary focus is the fanaticism of National Socialism and Communism.Recently, an interesting new friend at the Pot Limit Omaha games asked me if I had ever read "The True Believer?" I nodded and he said it was as pertinent today as it was to the postwar world.I read "The True Believer" as a twenty-year-old with big, big opinions and a very scant bibliography of history and economics. Most of it went over my head and I retained very little of its content. The time for a reread was most appropriate. I cannot count the times that a smirk has crossed my face recently when people have compared the mild, political edginess between today's political correctness and populism to the heady days of Germany's Weimar Republic and the bloody street fights between National Socialists and Marxists. The reread reaffirmed the smirk on my face. Hoffer's 'thoughts on the nature of mass movements' provides a minutely detailed post mortem on the psychology of charismatic leaders and fanatical followers. It gives a compelling insight into the main ingredients that inflamed the pre-war population. I think you will find that very few of those ingredients are an active compound in today's political cocktail.Eric Hoffer's "The True Believer" is an indispensable asset to understanding the twentieth century for every serious student of history. flag 21 likes · Like  · see review View 2 comments Feb 05, 2021 Hadrian rated it liked it Shelves: nonfiction, history, politics-political-science The True Believer has been popular for so long, and when I first read it years ago, I was deeply impressed. Now, I have to admit I'm much more skeptical. On the one hand, the book makes so many observations and sometimes sweeping judgments of 'mass movements' - and lumping so many of them together. And Hoffer only sometimes makes citations or provides any historical examples for his points, so the whole book is a string of assertions. Anecdotally, I can't think he's completely off the mark - a d The True Believer has been popular for so long, and when I first read it years ago, I was deeply impressed. Now, I have to admit I'm much more skeptical. On the one hand, the book makes so many observations and sometimes sweeping judgments of 'mass movements' - and lumping so many of them together. And Hoffer only sometimes makes citations or provides any historical examples for his points, so the whole book is a string of assertions. Anecdotally, I can't think he's completely off the mark - a discussion of how people join mass movements because of a lack of meaning in their lives? Sure. Or how some people whipsaw violently between one extreme end of the political spectrum to the other or make excuses for the behavior of other extremists - as if, consciously or not, they know they're speaking to the same groups of desperate people. But I can't treat it as an end-all be-all. At best, it raises points for further discussion, but it is no argument. flag 11 likes · Like  · see review Apr 08, 2019 Charles Haywood rated it it was ok Eric Hoffer was, Dwight Eisenhower said in 1952, his favorite philosopher. This endorsement made Hoffer, a self-educated San Francisco stevedore, famous. "The True Believer" is the book that Eisenhower gave all his friends. Read today, however, this book is mediocre, at best. It is the type of book that congratulates the reader while pretending to challenge him; it is a mirror that reflects to the reader what he wants to hear—especially for self-proclaimed “moderates” of flexible principle like Eric Hoffer was, Dwight Eisenhower said in 1952, his favorite philosopher. This endorsement made Hoffer, a self-educated San Francisco stevedore, famous. "The True Believer" is the book that Eisenhower gave all his friends. Read today, however, this book is mediocre, at best. It is the type of book that congratulates the reader while pretending to challenge him; it is a mirror that reflects to the reader what he wants to hear—especially for self-proclaimed “moderates” of flexible principle like Eisenhower. "The True Believer" is the Cream of Wheat of political books—you can taste anything you want in it, and if you add the right toppings yourself, you can be sure that you will be pleased.Hoffer was not only self-educated, he also manufactured his own life story. He claimed to be born in 1898 in the Bronx to Alsatian German immigrants, grown up there, and to have later lived on Skid Row in Los Angeles. The first records of him show up in the 1940s, when he started working on the Los Angeles docks, which he did for decades. Most of his backstory is probably false; he spoke with a Bavarian accent, and no New York accent, and the rest of his life story has zero confirmation, but it doesn’t really matter, since the essential facts about him are his auto-didacticism and his close actual connection with the working man."The True Believer" attempts to construct a theory of irrational fanaticism as the basis for all mass movements, which for Hoffer means basically Christianity, Islam, Communism, and Nazism. It is written primarily in the form of aphorisms, which Hoffer delivers to us like Moses delivering the tablets of the law. Aphorism, though, is not argument. For the first few pages, the book seems insightful, but soon enough the reader starts to wonder where the meat is. And to the extent there is any attempt to tie the aphorisms together, it is through the frame of psychobabble, where we are told that supporters of mass movements are all merely and purely frustrated individuals seeking an outlet and a purpose, rather than rational actors. This gives the reader a feeling of superiority, since of course he is not frustrated, he is highly rational, and he can see clearly where the rubes went wrong. He would never go Nazi, or Communist. He would #Resist! I’m pretty sure this warm feeling that Hoffer blesses the reader with is the real cause for the popularity of this book.The book itself can be parsed pretty quickly. Hoffer first tries to explain the appeal of mass movements. He tells us that they arise because people want change, and an effective mass movement claims “the key to the future.” Also, we are told that there is a big difference between the hopes that people put in mass movements and what usually results. That’s not insightful; it’s obvious to a child. Only mildly more insightful is Hoffer’s point that people who join mass movements aren’t interested in advancement, but in renunciation of themselves, by which they “gain enormously in self-esteem.” From this, though, Hoffer jumps to the explicit conclusion that “all mass movements are interchangeable”; their “particular program or doctrine” is completely irrelevant.This is silly and simplistic. While it is true that as a historical matter the foot soldiers of Communism often rapidly became Nazis, as both Patrick Leigh Fermor and Sebastian Haffner observed contemporaneously, the reverse was not true (why, I am not sure, and certainly Hoffer has no insights). Moreover, in his attempt to design a one-size-fits-all theory of mass movements, Hoffer cannot distinguish between religious belief and political belief that functions as a religion. While there are similarities in some instances, and the recognition of Communism as a type of religion was not universal in 1951, when this book was published, he overstates the similarities, and thereby undermines his whole book. In particular, religious belief tends to have a very different impact on beliefs regarding temporal actions than do non-religious mass movements. And if it were true that “one mass movement readily transforms itself to another,” there would be mass conversions at times in history between Islam and Christianity, or vice versa, and that has never happened. Nor has any other mass movement transformed itself into another. Communism and Nazism were defeated and died (though zombie Communism, in the form of the modern Left, is still with us); they did not transform. This suggests that the actual ideological content of mass movements is far more important than Hoffer thinks. In fact, Hoffer thinks it is completely irrelevant, which is demonstrably false.Hoffer, as can be seen, has an extremely limited grasp of history. You would think an auto-didact would know more, but Hoffer’s own reading seems to have run mostly to philosophy (he cannot stop citing Pascal, for example) and the Bible (though he was an atheist). He can perhaps be excused for buying into the popular mid-century myth that the Middle Ages were a time of stagnation in Europe, but it’s just ignorant to say that the Industrial Revolution was “a revolution by the rich.” It’s equally ignorant to say that “the men who started the French Revolution were wholly without political experience [and] the same is true of the Bolsheviks [and the] Nazis.” And that’s just in the first few pages; there is much more of the same. Hoffer attempts to show erudition by fairly frequent footnotes, but it’s a very limited selection, heavy on the Bible, and also heavy on dubious sources, including Hermann Rauschning, whose book "Hitler Speaks," which Hoffer often cites, turned out to be a fiction, and Ernest Renan, an anti-Semite who liked some Jews, the Ashkenazi, because, he said, they were really Khazars, not Jews.Next Hoffer spends a lot of time on “potential converts,” but he really only has one point, which is that those who are psychically frustrated are likely to be converts. We are subjected to interminable aphorisms about such “disaffected” people, whom Hoffer divides into eleven groups, such as “the poor,” “misfits,” “outcasts,” “minorities,” “the ambitious,” “the impotent,” the “bored,” and so on. The three people left in any given society who cannot be said to fit into any of these categories are apparently the only people immune to the lure of fanaticism. To all these people, Hoffer says, a mass movement offers them the chance to escape themselves; to have not freedom, but release from irrelevancy and a dead-end life. They want “freedom from the intolerable burden of an autonomous existence.” Which is, broadly, true enough for all people, since people seek transcendence, not autonomy, but is so broad as to be meaningless.In his third section, Hoffer talks about “united action and self-sacrifice.” This is, Hoffer says, the mechanism by which the frustrated are lifted outside of themselves. They can do this more effectively if they see themselves as part of a whole; when isolated, men break under attack. United action is easier if a luminous future is looked for, and if the present is deprecated. By the same token, those who subscribe to mass movements are not susceptible to rational argument; they are ideologues. What else unifies mass movements? Again, we are given a shotgun list: hatred, imitation, persuasion, coercion, leadership, etc. All this is like saying that the mechanism of all life on Earth is the Sun: true enough, but a bit far upstream to prove anything.Finally, Hoffer attempts to outline the life cycle of mass movements. He claims that mass movements are started by “men of words” who crave recognition. They themselves are not fanatic in the sense that Hoffer uses that for those who actually drive mass movements, and are often swept aside by those more comfortable with chaos. Those, in their turn, are replaced by the “practical men of action,” who solidify, channel, and control the mass movement. At this point, not the earlier “active phase,” new creative energies are unleashed, or can be. And eventually the cycle begins again. Maybe, but this again ignores both the differences between religion as mass movement and modern political ideologies, and that over two thousand years a lot happens, so you can always find some apparently relevant examples to shoehorn into your framework, while ignoring the rest of history.So that’s the book. I, and other readers, would quickly forget it, except for two things. The first is as a historical footnote of the 1950s. Hoffer maintained some prominence for thirty years, much loved on the Right for bringing to popular recognition that Communism was (and is) a religion as much as a political movement. Ronald Reagan gave Hoffer the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983 (he died in 1984). The second, and more interesting, is that "The True Believer" has achieved an afterlife as a text of the modern American Left.From the time of Eisenhower until 2007, the American Right, embodied for all relevant purposes in the Republican party, was the party of contented losers. Other than fighting Communism, the Right was happy, or happy enough, to cede all control of policy to the Left, and not to fight the destruction of America by the cultural Marxists. And on economic policy, the Republican party was eager to cooperate with the globalists, the Koch brothers and George Soros joining hands and tap-dancing on the graves of jobless men who killed themselves with Oxycontin and Mexican black tar.But in 2007, the Tea Party arose, in retrospect an existential threat to the Left and to Republicans cast in the mold of the pusillanimous Bush family. This was fanaticism reborn! Who might offer us insight, said Jeb Bush over Thanksgiving dinner, having called his good friend Hillary Clinton to discuss? Perhaps Eric Hoffer, whom Poppy knew? And so it was that the establishment Republocrats began citing Hoffer again, warning against the chthonic fanaticism that the Tea Party embodied, driven by fear and frustration, as against the rational, calm leadership that they offered, if only people would ignore all their massive failures, like that inconvenient Iraq thing, and accept increases in average GDP per capita as the sole measure of American success, while ignoring to whom the gains were actually accruing.This soothing bedtime story was put back on the shelf when the Tea Party was successfully destroyed, but like all bedtime stories, it became useful again soon enough, this time when Trump won. Hillary, between bouts of drunken crying, began suggesting to her red-eyed minions that "The True Believer" was a book they should read, if they wanted to understand how the dumb people who voted for Trump were really Nazis. In other words, Hoffer has been weaponized today as an argument against all social change—or rather, against social change in the wrong direction, since social change in the Left direction is mere rational acceptance of inevitable Progress. The beauty of Hoffer in this endeavor is that in a book of aphorisms, one can always easily find an aphorism that appears to fit any circumstance, and use the authority of the author to polish up what is, if examined closely, almost always a banal thought of dubious general applicability.Oh, I suppose this book isn’t totally worthless. The reader doesn’t gain much confidence from Hoffer’s own slippery attempt to deflect criticism, though. “But this is not an authoritative textbook. It is a book of thoughts, and it does not shy away from half-truths so long as they seem to hint as a new approach and help to formulate new questions.” Sonorous words to admit that the book is merely a lazy form of stone soup—as long as the reader brings all the knowledge and content, he will be satisfied, just as in the old bedtime story of the itinerant fraudster. And beyond that, most this book is just plain boring. I had to force myself to finish. You should not bother starting. flag 9 likes · Like  · see review View all 10 comments Jul 13, 2016 Ademption rated it liked it Shelves: non-fiction, philosophy This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Full disclosure, I don't know what to make of this book. Eric Hoffer writes in a folksy knowing way about fanatics and their influence on mass movements. The man lived through two world wars, held a variety of blue collar jobs, and read lots of books during the tumultuous years of the American 20th century. While Hoffer's musings ring true, he writes in giant headlines that can neither be proven nor disproved. He pulls quotes from the Bible, Mein Kampf, biographies, and sociology and philosophy Full disclosure, I don't know what to make of this book. Eric Hoffer writes in a folksy knowing way about fanatics and their influence on mass movements. The man lived through two world wars, held a variety of blue collar jobs, and read lots of books during the tumultuous years of the American 20th century. While Hoffer's musings ring true, he writes in giant headlines that can neither be proven nor disproved. He pulls quotes from the Bible, Mein Kampf, biographies, and sociology and philosophy texts. He gives these selected quotes equal footing and novel interpretations, all of which support his thoughts. But it can be equally argued that these quotes were pulled deliberately out of context, clipped and positioned by his novel interpretations to perfectly fit his thesis. The bulk of the book details the mechanics of the vile fanatic vis-à-vis mass movements. The terrible fanatic drives mass movements to do irreparable damage to societies. In the last few pages, Hoffer says immense, reforming creativity is often unleashed before or after the active phase of mass movements. He asserts that it is better that some people die and society is reformed to create a new order rather than have a stagnant, decaying society slowly crumble. It is unclear to me whether the Hoffer who says fanatics and mass movements are mostly bad can be reconciled with the Hoffer that who says we can break some eggs when we conclude we are living in a dark age. The last few pages felt like they were from another book, written by an editor, or revised by the author later in life. Though it was probably all Hoffer, the last few pages felt like a huge left turn. Awkwardly, Hoffer also discounts all Asian societies as stagnant, except those industrious and fanatical Japanese. This latter view is clearly prejudiced. Hoffer believes the masses are composed of desperate men looking for movements, theatrics, causes, and rituals to envelope themselves in. The movements and rituals hide people's shortcomings from themselves. This is echoed by Ernest Becker in The Denial of Death and Escape from Evil; however, Becker's focus is the individual, performing heroic rituals to hide death from himself, to distract himself with adventure and achievements. Hoffer asserts that these frustrated masses can be ripe for elitist men of words, men of action and fanatics to exploit. Note to Publisher: The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements also seems to fit better as political philosophy rather than sociology/psychology, since Hoffer discusses how he thinks groups work, supporting his thoughts with broad historical judgments and quotes.In sum, I don't know what to make of this book other than to use it as a blueprint for experimenting on small groups of impressionable North Americans in order to galvanize them into doing my bidding. Wish me luck. flag 9 likes · Like  · see review View all 4 comments May 24, 2019 J.M. Hushour rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition "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." -ThoreauHoffer presents us with a tremendous and important book on the fanatic and fanatical follower. This should be required reading in every school and household in our current age. Far too complex and comprehensive to even be properly summarized, I can recommend this for anyone attempting to understand all the potential mindsets, perceived inad "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." -ThoreauHoffer presents us with a tremendous and important book on the fanatic and fanatical follower. This should be required reading in every school and household in our current age. Far too complex and comprehensive to even be properly summarized, I can recommend this for anyone attempting to understand all the potential mindsets, perceived inadequacies and generally deflated sense of the self that sends folks pouring into mass movements, largely for negative reasons. Nothing is immune to his scrutiny. Everything from Christianity to Nazism is put under the scope here and neatly dissected. A lot of Hoffer's general thesis comes down to individual dissatisfaction with one's life and the need to attach oneself to something larger to forestall any sense of personal failure. Unifying factors like hatred, self-sacrifice in the name of immersion, and a general sense of displeasure and faithlessness in the present drives the sad-sack fanatic onwards.Hoffer, a former longshoreman, writes concisely and thoughtfully, full of warning and not above some wry scatological humor. flag 9 likes · Like  · see review Nov 20, 2008 James Henderson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition Shelves: philosophy, sociology, read-and-reread, top-twenty, great-books-group, favorites, study-group, time-reading-prog I have read this book several times over the years, starting the summer before I entered college. It is a classic in the sense that it both retains a freshness upon rereading and succeeds in challenging the reader with the thoughts that it presents. I use the word thoughts in the sense that Pascal wrote his own Pensees in the Seventeenth Century. Hoffer's observations on the nature of mass movements are still essential reading for anyone who desires to understand the nature of the twentieth cent I have read this book several times over the years, starting the summer before I entered college. It is a classic in the sense that it both retains a freshness upon rereading and succeeds in challenging the reader with the thoughts that it presents. I use the word thoughts in the sense that Pascal wrote his own Pensees in the Seventeenth Century. Hoffer's observations on the nature of mass movements are still essential reading for anyone who desires to understand the nature of the twentieth century culture--and even the twenty-first. His short collection of thoughtful essays are divided into four parts: 1)the appeal of mass movements, 2) the potential converts, 3) Self-sacrifice and other unifying agents, and 4) a concluding summing up of some particular aspects of true believers and the movements to which they adhere.Early in the book Hoffer identifies many true believers as those who seek "substitutes either for the whole self or for the elements which make life bearable and which they cannot evoke out of their individual resources." (p 13) They are people "who see their lives as irremediably spoiled cannot find a worth-while purpose in self-advancement. The prospect of an individual career cannot stir them to a mighty effort, nor can it evoke in them faith and a single-minded dedication. They look on self-interest as on something tainted and evil; something unclean and unlucky. Anything undertaken under the auspices of the self seems to them foredoomed. Nothing that has its roots and reasons in the self can be noble and good. Their innermost craving is for a new life -- a rebirth -- or, failing this, a chance to acquire new elements of pride, confidence, hope, a sense of purpose and worth by an identification with a holy cause." (p 12) The book continues with a focus on Hoffer's analysis of the means used to motivate true believers and bind them together. He concludes his analysis with a discussion of the energumen of those who join both good and bad mass movements. His prose style is at once aphoristic and thoughtful. It is distinguished by a depth that is demonstrated by the breadth of his personal reading and studies. There are references to the thoughts of thinkers as disparate as Epictetus, Machiavelli, Montaigne, Thoreau, Dostoevsky, and many more. His thoughts spurred my thinking more than forty years ago and rereading this short but challenging book continues to raise questions that help me better understand myself and the society around me. Eric Hoffer was a thinker whose writings in this and his several other books helped to shape my personal philosophy of life. flag 7 likes · Like  · see review View 2 comments Mar 25, 2018 Leonard rated it it was amazing Shelves: favorite, sociology, politics Eric Hoffer wrote in the 1940s about the mass movements such as the rise of the Bolshevists, the Fascists and the Nazis, but he seemed to be describing the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the Arab Spring, and the current populist movements such as Brexit. We may say that he was a prophet, but more accurately, he had isolated the ingredients that make up mass movements. Demonstration in TunisiaHe understood that mixing discontent for the present and hope for the future breeds a desire for change. He Eric Hoffer wrote in the 1940s about the mass movements such as the rise of the Bolshevists, the Fascists and the Nazis, but he seemed to be describing the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the Arab Spring, and the current populist movements such as Brexit. We may say that he was a prophet, but more accurately, he had isolated the ingredients that make up mass movements. Demonstration in TunisiaHe understood that mixing discontent for the present and hope for the future breeds a desire for change. He understood that a person plunges into a mass movement to dissolve his/her hated self and to replace it with a grand and almost immortal collective self. He understood the psychology of those who would tend to become followers, as well as those who would seize the chance to lead the movements. He discovered the phases of mass movements and the types of individuals who would lead, from the intellectuals to the fanatics to the pragmatists. He discovered self-sacrifice and unifying actions as the key ingredients to sustaining and advancing mass movements. BREXITHoffer’s The True Believer is required reading for our age, when populist movements dominate the global arena. It will give us insights into the who, what and how of these mass movements, insights that would help us navigate through our times. flag 7 likes · Like  · see review View all 10 comments Feb 12, 2008 Matt rated it it was amazing Shelves: underrated-lost-classics, wisdom-philosophical-investigatons, shattering, social-crit Aphoristic, harsh, beautifully articulated.It's about how giant seas of people congeal to hate or be fascinated by a certain object, person, ideology. A guidebook, even, if you were so cynical enough to want to start a cult.This is real wisdom. I'll prove it to you: open it at any page and read it real slow, carefully, and reflect a little after about a paragrpah or so. You know he's right.Funny thing- I decided to buy it for real when I was leafing through it in a bookstore (I'd been exposed to Aphoristic, harsh, beautifully articulated.It's about how giant seas of people congeal to hate or be fascinated by a certain object, person, ideology. A guidebook, even, if you were so cynical enough to want to start a cult.This is real wisdom. I'll prove it to you: open it at any page and read it real slow, carefully, and reflect a little after about a paragrpah or so. You know he's right.Funny thing- I decided to buy it for real when I was leafing through it in a bookstore (I'd been exposed to it in high school) and I noticed that one of the chapter headings (it was written in the early 50's, if memory serves) was exactly the same as the title of one of those rather trashy fad tomes about how people just aren't happy any more: "When Having What You Want Isn't Making You Happy" or thereabouts.Scarily real and evocative. You learn little pockets of insight that you take for granted as a skeptical human being, that were pointedly and profoundly articulated for you many years ago.It's not a matter of what: the Catholic church, Hitler, Communism, it's more a matter of why. The patterns can be the same, the modus operandi is going to be in the ballpark. Mass movements are just that- mass movements.Hoffer doesn't preach and he doesn't groan or lecture. He instructs, he tells parables, he shares wisdom.Startlingly accurate now and forever. He bit off a chunk of the truth. flag 7 likes · Like  · see review Dec 14, 2016 Stephanie Sun rated it it was amazing Prose reminiscent of that other Eric, Eric Blair a.k.a. George Orwell, at times. Form and focus reminiscent of that other ordinary American turned accidental thought leader, Jane Jacobs.Puts things in the context of 1955 and through the perspective of a San Francisco dockworker with a great deal of common sense.Rarely uses the word Fascism, rather nationalist is used for nationalist movements, sometimes just "reactionary" if it is a hard-right movement in its nascent stages.Highly recommended. Prose reminiscent of that other Eric, Eric Blair a.k.a. George Orwell, at times. Form and focus reminiscent of that other ordinary American turned accidental thought leader, Jane Jacobs.Puts things in the context of 1955 and through the perspective of a San Francisco dockworker with a great deal of common sense.Rarely uses the word Fascism, rather nationalist is used for nationalist movements, sometimes just "reactionary" if it is a hard-right movement in its nascent stages.Highly recommended. flag 7 likes · Like  · see review Jul 17, 2012 Gwern rated it really liked it Moved to gwern.net. Moved to gwern.net. flag 7 likes · Like  · see review View 1 comment Sep 06, 2008 Jeremy rated it it was ok This is a very difficult book for me to rate. I definitely would not dismiss the book as simple-minded nor useless. It was very well-written and thought-provoking. But I disagreed so much with its basic premise and the arguments that flowed from it that I felt giving it any better than two stars would give an appearance that I agreed with some of its message - which I didn't. I found flaws in Hoffer's analysis and observations left and right. First, he weakens his entire generalizations of polit This is a very difficult book for me to rate. I definitely would not dismiss the book as simple-minded nor useless. It was very well-written and thought-provoking. But I disagreed so much with its basic premise and the arguments that flowed from it that I felt giving it any better than two stars would give an appearance that I agreed with some of its message - which I didn't. I found flaws in Hoffer's analysis and observations left and right. First, he weakens his entire generalizations of political movements by picking three movements as his case studies - Fascism, Communism, and Christianity - that are very authoritarian in nature. He then uses these movements to generalize all political grassroots movements. Sure, movements may have a touch of authoritarianism or bureaucracy here and there - and so to this extent, his analysis is valid. But much of this part of his critique seems more suitably applied and generalized to inherently authoritarian frameworks - such as governments and bureaucracies - then political movements. Also, his very very long laundry list of the types of people who join movements grew to the point of absurdity. According to Hoffer, the types of people that join political movements (only because they hate their own self-image) includes: the poor, the "misfits", the "sinners", the bored, the disaffected, minorities, and the young idealists, So, in other words, pretty much everybody except rich white people in a position of power. Seems to me there is a simpler explanation to explain why rich white people don't join movements than Hoffer advances in this book. His book to me read like an intellectualist justification for the scruffy old grouch that dismisses all idealists as "dirty hippies". Nevertheless, the examination of arguments that are unsound, such as Hoffer's, can often help you find and realize a more correct or useful analysis, which I feel like I did. For this, the book was useful. flag 6 likes · Like  · see review View all 3 comments Oct 20, 2018 Bonnie Brandt rated it really liked it This book was so fascinating. It was also a very dense short read. I could only read 10 or 20 pages at a time. I picked this up on our libraries new acquisition shelf so I thought it was a newly published book. It turns out that it was written in the 1950’s when there were a lot of remnants of mass movements that the world was still trying to clean up from and a few in progress.The main focus is the thought processes of people who stream to a mass movement. This seems a particularly well timed r This book was so fascinating. It was also a very dense short read. I could only read 10 or 20 pages at a time. I picked this up on our libraries new acquisition shelf so I thought it was a newly published book. It turns out that it was written in the 1950’s when there were a lot of remnants of mass movements that the world was still trying to clean up from and a few in progress.The main focus is the thought processes of people who stream to a mass movement. This seems a particularly well timed read with our current president announcing himself a nationalist. The points he makes are very repetitive but with what seems like additional insights. He begins with a comment on this not being text but his points being made to be discussed and debated. The author himself seems very interesting. He is a self educated scholar and philosopher who was working class. He became an adjunct professor in California. Is this even possible any more? flag 7 likes · Like  · see review Sep 29, 2009 Kressel Housman rated it it was amazing Shelves: psychology, non-fiction, philosophy, history It’s a good thing this book was under 200 pages because it was such a heavy read, I might have given up in the middle if the ending hadn’t been in clear sight. I stuck with it because it’s a classic in historiography. Rabbi Wein recommends it in several of his lectures. Many would be surprised that a rabbi would recommend what is largely an anti-religious book, but it seems the author recognizes the redemptive power of religion (i.e. the concluding sentence). He also “gets” Jewish history, which It’s a good thing this book was under 200 pages because it was such a heavy read, I might have given up in the middle if the ending hadn’t been in clear sight. I stuck with it because it’s a classic in historiography. Rabbi Wein recommends it in several of his lectures. Many would be surprised that a rabbi would recommend what is largely an anti-religious book, but it seems the author recognizes the redemptive power of religion (i.e. the concluding sentence). He also “gets” Jewish history, which was refreshing.The book describes how mass movements, be they religious or political, make converts of the frustrated by promising a great future, indoctrinating them in the virtue of self-sacrifice, and unifying them against a common enemy. The followers, who are already frustrated with their lives, are fertile ground for all this. Self-sacrifice is no problem for them because self-destruction is what they are after. This applies as much to a soldier on a suicide mission as it does the average Joe who loses his identity in the movement.While there is much in the book that seems undeniably true, as a religious person, I think it’s a good thing to live for a value beyond oneself, particularly if that value is self-perfection. The author seems to “get” this, too, and in one of my favorite insights (some of his sentences are real gems, while others are long and woolly), he states that religion can be sublime, but the more sublime the religion, the greater the potential for the individual to perpetually feel himself lesser. Yes, says this religious person, and so we stick to our religion for inspiration to higher levels. Work on oneself becomes a creative process like any other, and according to the author, creativity is the ultimate sign of health. I imagine this book is popular with somewhat nihilistic intellectuals who’d lump religious folk together with followers of Nazism and communism, calling all of us “sheep.” But that kind of demonizing strikes me as the same kind of demonizing that mass movements use. In feeling superior to those religious “sheep,” the anti-religious intellectual convinces himself of his own superiority. It reminds me of a guy I knew in college who said disparagingly, “Religion comes from psychological need.” If I could have articulated my thoughts better at the time, I would have said, “Are you beyond need?” I honestly don’t think anybody is, just as I don’t think anyone can avoid being a joiner or believing in something. We’re not alone in this world, after all.There may well be a basic psychological profile common to all believers, but as the last chapter states, some mass movements are good. The measure, according to the author, is whether the mass movement grows past its revolutionary phase and delivers on the reforms its promised. If “fighting the enemy” is the only thing the movement is all about, it won’t bring anything positive to the world. flag 7 likes · Like  · see review Jul 24, 2019 Michael Perkins rated it really liked it The Quest for Certitude.Some excellent insights into the mind of the fanatic, including his insecurities and contradictions. Excerpts....The effectiveness of a doctrine does not come from its meaning but from its certitude. No doctrine however profound and sublime will be effective unless it is presented as the embodiment of the one and only truth.There is perhaps no surer way of infecting ourselves with virulent hatred toward a person than by doing him a grave injustice. {As the saying goes: "I The Quest for Certitude.Some excellent insights into the mind of the fanatic, including his insecurities and contradictions. Excerpts....The effectiveness of a doctrine does not come from its meaning but from its certitude. No doctrine however profound and sublime will be effective unless it is presented as the embodiment of the one and only truth.There is perhaps no surer way of infecting ourselves with virulent hatred toward a person than by doing him a grave injustice. {As the saying goes: "I hate whom I have wronged."]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. Hence it is that people with a sense of fulfillment think it a good world and would like to conserve it as it is, while the frustrated favor radical change.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. 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.”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.In a modern society people can live without hope only when kept dazed and out of breath by incessant hustling.The reason that the inferior elements of a nation can exert a marked influence on its course is that they are wholly without reverence toward the present. They see their lives and the present as spoiled beyond remedy and they are ready to waste and wreck both: hence their recklessness and their will to chaos and anarchy.The most effective way to silence our guilty conscience is to convince ourselves and others that those we have sinned against are indeed depraved creatures, deserving every punishment, even extermination. flag 5 likes · Like  · see review Aug 14, 2011 Booze Hound rated it it was amazing I dont know where to start, the book interweaves so many disciplines, history, politics, psychology, sociology, and religion. Its very well crafted and a must read for anyone involved in "political movements" or interested in such. Im breezing through it, easy read. I completed it in one day. And Eric Hoffer was a true gangsta (he was blind as a kid, homeless most his life, and tried killing himself at 30), so makes the book that much cooler! One complaint I have is how Hoffer creates dichotomie I dont know where to start, the book interweaves so many disciplines, history, politics, psychology, sociology, and religion. Its very well crafted and a must read for anyone involved in "political movements" or interested in such. Im breezing through it, easy read. I completed it in one day. And Eric Hoffer was a true gangsta (he was blind as a kid, homeless most his life, and tried killing himself at 30), so makes the book that much cooler! One complaint I have is how Hoffer creates dichotomies and systematic catergorization of what the "true believer" is. I think this is a common theme of 1950s writing and psychology. Black and white, simplifying everything into easily disgestible categories to construct your argument; sterotyping, and so on. Because of this, I substract one star....like anyone cares...who the fuck am I to subtract one star! OK, I'll add a star back.... flag 5 likes · Like  · see review Apr 24, 2013 Mary rated it it was amazing Shelves: terrorism, history, russia, psychology, war, cult One of the most helpful books I've ever read. So illuminating for my interests. The perfect outline for those of us trying to understand terrorism, cults, religions, the military, communism, fascism, revolutions.... One of the most helpful books I've ever read. So illuminating for my interests. The perfect outline for those of us trying to understand terrorism, cults, religions, the military, communism, fascism, revolutions.... flag 5 likes · Like  · see review « previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 … next »

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