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The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (Perennial Classics)
The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (Perennial Classics)
by Eric Hoffer
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.69
137 used & new from $4.98

36 of 160 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An intellectual poseur in the style of Ayn Rand, May 8, 2010
Conservative "intellectuals" exist largely as tokens, figures around which intelligent yet hopelessly incorrect people can rally to assert their erudition and defend the respect that comes with the claim to a tradition of thought. It doesn't seem to matter much whether they have anything original or accurate to say about the world, so long as they can say it articulately with enough fancy words. This was the case with William F. Buckley, a reactionary creep of the highest order who managed to forestall, until the end of his life, the completion of any of his sentences, a feat which kept millions of American conservatives enthralled and convinced of his staggering intelligence. Lesser known and considerably more blunt, but equally pointless, was Eric Hoffer, who worked as a stevedore for most of his life while writing about politics and philosophy in his spare time, making his books perfect for some middle-class Republican to put on display in a show of phony solidarity with the working class.

But Hoffer himself was not in solidarity with the working class, as he displays in his first book, The True Believer, ostensibly a treatise on the psychology of fanaticism that reads like a poor man's version of Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm (Hoffer even steals his thesis wholesale on page 31). Speaking of poor men, under the category of "potential converts" to what he calls a "mass movement," Hoffer classes no less than five different types of poor people as "undesirables," this being the overall class of human slime which have formed the base of popular movements from Christianity to Communism, according to him. The word "slime" comes by way of a quote from Genesis at the beginning of the book. I infer that this is what he thinks of his subjects because, after describing them with such contemptuous arrogance in Part 2, he makes it perfectly clear on page 124 that it is the attitude of these failures, weaklings and mental defectives which constitutes the glue holding a revolutionary movement together.

I should point out that I am not defending the Nazis, Bolsheviks or any of the other groups at which his criticisms are levelled, and since his analysis ignores every factor in the success of totalitarianism besides the despicable character of people who didn't have the strength to embrace their alienation and accept the status quo, it has little real connection to that phenomenon in the first place. This is political philosophy for children. It will make right-wingers feel better about hating the groups they already hate, as evidenced by the fact that it enjoyed a resurgence of interest among them after 9/11 as an explanation of Islamic fundamentalism, but it adds nothing to our understanding of the subject it claims to address. It is simplistic, dualistic, and promotes the classic American Dream myth that the only thing stopping us from realizing our goals is our own flaws, including the flaw of having pathetic goals in the first place.

President Eisenhower mentioned The True Believer during a press conference, and Hoffer won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983. The ringing endorsement of this man by the United States government shows that he was a tool of the establishment as well as a hack. Do your mind a favor and read Chomsky instead.
Comment Comments (21) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 9, 2015 2:04 PM PDT

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