Monday, January 18, 2021

Eric Hoffer on "Mass Movements" as Explained by P.J. O'Rourke

From Why Mass Movements Make a Mess:

Mass movements seem to be massing up these days, with protesters pulling down statues here and rally-goers pulling off face masks there… and demagogues pulling a fast one everywhere, calling for nationalism or socialism or nativism or iconoclasticism or isolationism (for at least 14 days). It’s this “–ism” versus that “–is-not-ism” with everyone becoming some kind of zealot, extremist, radical, or fanatic.

We’re all in danger of turning into what Eric Hoffer called “true believers.”

Below is a selection of quotes from The True Believer (and note how many of them can be applied to any or all mass movements and each and every of their most ardent supporters):


  • They who clamor loudest for freedom are often the ones least likely to be happy in a free society… They want to eliminate free competition and the ruthless testing to which the individual is continually subjected in a free society.
  • Freedom aggravates at least as much as it alleviates frustration. Freedom of choice places the whole blame of failure on the shoulders of the individual… Unless a man has the talents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden.
  • The reason that the inferior elements of a nation can exert a marked influence on its course is that… [they] crave to dissolve their spoiled, meaningless selves in some soul-stirring spectacular communal undertaking.
  • 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.

Let me encourage you to read Hoffer's book The True Believer, it's short, pithy and spot on. If, however, you aren't up to that, there's an interesting summary here

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:17 PM

    Hoffer was one of the greatest thinkers on mass movements of the 20th century. He started out trying to understand why the German people fell under the spell of Hitler. But what he did not seem to understand was the influence of the threat of concentration camps and death on people that simply wanted to live their lives in peace.