The true believer: Thoughts on the nature of mass movements (Time reading program special edition)

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ISBN 13: 9780809436033

Eric Hoffer. Publisher: Time-Life Books , This specific ISBN edition is currently not available.

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View all copies of this ISBN edition:. Synopsis About this title Book by Hoffer, Eric "synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Book

The fanatic feels fulfilled only in a perpetual struggle for power and change. The book also explores the behavior of mass movements once they become established as social institutions or leave the "active phase". With their collapse of a communal framework, people can no longer defeat their abiding feelings of insecurity and uncertainty by belonging to a compact whole. If the isolated individual lacks opportunities for personal advancement, development of talents, and action such as those found on a frontier , he will seek substitutes.

The substitutes would be pride instead of self-confidence, memberships in a collective whole like a mass movement, absolute certainty instead of understanding. The "practical men of action" take over leadership from the fanatics, marking the end of the "dynamic phase" and steering the mass movement away from the fanatic's self-destructiveness. The movement at this stage still concerns itself with the frustrated—not to harness their discontent in a deadly struggle with the present, but to reconcile them with it; to make them patient and meek.

The focus shifts from immediate demands for revolution to establishing the mass movement as a social institution where the ambitious can find influence and fame. Leadership uses an eclectic bricolage of ideological scraps to reinforce the doctrine, borrowing from whatever source is successful in holding the attention of true believers.

For example, proto-Christians were fanatics, predicting the end of the world, condemning idolatry, demanding celibacy and sowing discontent between family members, yet from those roots grew Roman Catholicism , which mimicked the elaborate bureaucratic structure of the Roman Empire , canonized early Christians as saints, and borrowed pagan holidays and rites. In the absence of a practical man of action, the mass movement often withers and dies with the fanatic Nazism died as a viable mass movement with Hitler's death.

The True Believer:Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements | Open Library

Mass movements that succeed in causing radical change often exceed in brutality the former regime that the mass movement opposed. The Bolsheviks in Russia and the Jacobins in France ostensibly formed in reaction to the oppression of their respective monarchies but proved themselves far more vicious and brutal in oppressing their opponents.

Hoffer does not take an exclusively negative view of "true believers" and the mass movements they begin. He gives examples of how the same forces that give rise to true believer mass movements can be channelled in more positive ways:. There are, of course, rare leaders such as Lincoln , Gandhi, even F.

They do not hesitate to harness man's hungers and fears to weld a following and make it zealous unto death in service of a holy cause; but unlike a Hitler, a Stalin , or even a Luther and a Calvin , they are not tempted to use the slime of frustrated souls as mortar in the building of a new world They know that no one can be honorable unless he honors mankind".

Hoffer argues that the length of the "active phase" of a mass movement, the most energetic phase when fanatics are in control, can be predicted with some accuracy. Mass movements with a specific goal tend to be shorter-lived and feature less terror and bloodshed such as the American Revolution. In contrast, an amorphous goal tends to result in a longer active phase of decades rather than months or years and also include substantially more bloodshed such as the Bolsheviks in Russia, National Socialism in Germany.

In either case, Hoffer suggests that mass movements are accompanied by a dearth of creative innovation because so much energy is devoted to the mass movement. For example, in England, John Milton began a draft of his epic poem Paradise Lost in the s before turning his literary talents to pamphleteering for the Commonwealth of England , only to finish the poem and his other major works after a change in government in President Dwight Eisenhower read The True Believer in , gave copies to friends, and recommended it to others.

Allen Scarbrough chose The True Believer as one of 25 books that "you need to read to know just about everything". The True Believer earned renewed attention after the terrorist attacks of September 11, , [19] and also after the Tea Party Protests and Occupy Wall Street protests a decade later. Hillary Clinton , in her book What Happened , about her loss to Donald Trump in the presidential race, cited The True Believer as a book she recommended to her staff during the campaign. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Citizens of today's troubled America sitting down with the book would be stunned at how Hoffer's words provoke a reverberation so precise in echoing both the roots and allure of Trumpism. When placed beside Trump and his political movement, Hoffer's commentary takes on the appearance of reversed engineered prophecy. In the beginning there was Trump trumpeting the ridiculous allegation regarding Obama's birth certificate:. Because if he can't—if he can't, if he wasn't born in this country, which is a real possibility…then he has pulled one of the great cons in the history of politics.

You have Trump's assault on any press media or news outlet refusing to kowtow to his public image or challenging his contrived assertions:. We have to talk to find out what's going on, because the press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control. It's fake, phony, fake. He cannot be frightened by danger nor disheartened by obstacle nor baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence.

All active mass movements strive, therefore, to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. Let their name be put out there. Let their name be put out.

We have people that don't have it. We have people that are morally corrupt.

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We have people that are selling this country down the drain. He plots both outside and inside the ranks of the faithful.


It is his voice that speaks through the mouth of the dissenter, and the deviationists are his stooges. If anything goes wrong within the movement, it is his doing. It is the sacred duty of the true believer to be suspicious. He must be constantly on the lookout for saboteurs, spies and traitors.

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 think that I would have great diplomatic skills. I think that I would be able to get along with people very well. I've had a great success in my life. I think the world would unite if I were the leader of the United States.

What has to be judged is its corporate organization for quick and total absorption of the frustrated. Where new creeds vie with each other for the allegiance of the populace, the one which comes with the most perfected collective framework wins. But if I get elected president, I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make America great again.

Thus, 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. Religious movements go back to the day of creation; social revolutions tell of a golden age when men were free, equal, and independent; nationalist movements revive or invent memories of past greatness. Trump positioned himself as able to fix all the wrongs of the country just by the force of his personality. They like me. I like them. You know, it's amazing. I mean, it's going to be — you know, it's going to be beautiful.

I'm both. Hoffer diagnosed the difference:. It is obvious, therefore, that in order to be effective a doctrine must not be understood, but has rather to be believed in. We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand. If a doctrine is not unintelligible, it has to be vague; and if neither unintelligible nor vague, it has to be unverifiable. For men to plunge headlong into an undertaking of vast change, they must be intensely discontented yet not destitute, and they must have the feeling that by the possession of some potent doctrine, infallible leader or some new technique they have access to a source of irresistible power.