Eric Hoffer’s “The True Believer”

Thursday, January 21, 2010
Posted in category The Resistance

I am ashamed to say I have never read the book.

A reader, Alex, just dropped a comment about the book on my blog. I understand that Eric Hoffer’s “The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements” is a splendid read.

Butler Shaffer and I were in one of those great bookstores in Stillwater, Minnesota a few months ago, and we came across an old (expensive first edition) copy of that book. $42! Butler said I _have to_ read it. I don’t know how I got by not reading that book. Butler told me the story of Hoffer being a longshoreman. Since then, I have read much online about Hoffer, his views, and his work.

He was actually quite productive, writing for Saturday Evening Post, Harper’s Magazine, and other notable publications of the time. He was called the “bare knuckle philosopher.” Here’s an interview with Hoffer from …… People magazine? When asked, “What is this country’s major problem right now?” … he answered: “Inflation. President Ford saw that, but not enough other people realize it. Inflation can destroy a society. It produced Hitler, for example.” Yes, I had a “Whip Inflation Now” badge that I wore as a kid.

I just recently ordered a real cheap copy from Amazon and I have been looking through the book, though I have not read it cover to cover just yet. One of my favorite Hoffer quotes: “A heresy can spring only from a system that is in full vigor.”

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3 Responses to Eric Hoffer’s “The True Believer”

  1. Tomás says:

    January 23rd, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    OMG OMG OMG…that book is such a gem! I am *so glad* you’ve stumbled upon it. I can honestly say that book shaped my current belief system the most, even more than Rand as important as she was to me.

  2. Jeannie Queenie says:

    January 24th, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    After tackling all of Ayn Rand’s books in the 50′s/60′s, I read Hoffer’s TRUE BELIEVER and THE PASSIONATE STATE OF MIND. Yes, both are incredible reads that are so apropos to today’s political/religious scene. The man was way ahead of his time. It is safe to say perhaps, that Eric being so grounded, surpasses Rand in her idealism often prohibited by reality.

    This philosopher longshoreman was incredibly insightful to the changes going on then. He was aware how mass movements can follow nationalistic themes. He gave no free pass to religion either, viewing christians and muslims as having similar fascistic mindsets and an emphasis on entitlement that is, to say, that they had a right to expect others to save their butts. Hoffer saw rites of puberty lacking amongst males, thus making them ripe for any mass movement such as the hippie generation. Both poor and the affluent were part of that mass movement, but the working class were too busy to play nonsense. All the weenie rockers of that time, manifested this lack of manhood both in their music as well as physical stature. Few ever seem to question why those years of crap music were so obnoxious and repulsive—a hugh cry to be challenged out of prolonged adolesence which still manifests today even in some fifty/sixty year olds. The 60′s Harvard drug guru, Timothy Leary, takes credit for corrupting our youth with drugs. Who would have thunk this nutcake would have had a hand in making a drug market for the terrorists we fight today. Bill Ayers, another 60′s whackjob thought terrorism was the answer to all woes. His gal pal, B Dorne was titillated at Sharon Tate being stabbed by the deranged Manson. I shudder to think that both Ayers, a prof, and B.Dorne are the major heads of a Chicago special school for little kids…chilling….AND a friend of Obama. Hoffer perceived that academics CRAVED power, but didn’t get it in Western democratic countries, but intellectuals thrived in totalitarian countries. The man hammered down the 60′s mass movement so correctly. And if he were still around today, he would be alarmed to know that not much as changed. Well, maybe it will. Since Brown defeated Coakley two days ago, perhaps that totalitarian machine on the hill hoping to drag us all down will be defeated after all. What started as a mass movement one year ago with many mesmirized in a cult-like following of the Messiah, is looking more and more like it could go up in smoke. The ‘mass movement’ will turn out to be the ass movement, that is, only asses aka intellectuals and the poor ever thought we should trip into totalitarianism. I can think of no other philosopher of the last 1/2 century to be more deserving of the Presidential Medal of Freedom than Hoffer. He got that medal in 1983 around the time he died.Yes, he is worth reading. For starters the two I mentioned above.

  3. EotS says:

    February 1st, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    Hoffer was one of my early readings in individualism and liberty. The True Believer is definitely a classic.

    There is one Hoffer quote that I’ve held close all these years, and it is the reason I firmly believe that the stateless society will be a reality; that one day the age of the state will be looked back upon as a blight on the history of mankind:

    “The aspiration toward freedom is the most essentially human of all human manifestations.”

    And another favorite, just for kicks:

    “An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything in to an empty head.”

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