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The True Believer Paperback – October 6, 1989
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"Its theme is political fanaticism, with which it deals severely and brilliantly...." -- The New Yorker
"One of the most provocative books of our immediate day." -- Christian Science Monitor
From the Back Cover
A highly provocative, bestselling analysis of the fanatic -- the individual compelled to join a cause, any cause -- and a penetrating study of mass movements from early Christianity to modern nationalism and Communism.
Reporting on the true believer, Air Hoffer examines with Machiavellian detachment mass movements, from Christianity in its infancy to the national uprisings of our own day. His analysis of the psychology of mass movements is a brilliant and frightening study of the mind of the fanatic, the individual whose, personal failings lead him to join a cause, any cause, even at peril to life -- or yours.
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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.
Anyone looking for an explanation will find it in Eric Hofer's "Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements: The True Believer." Hofer breaks mass movements down into all its working parts: the appeal of mass movements, the potential converts, united action and self-sacrifice, and the beginning and end. Hofer details the players in mass movements: the poor, the misfits, the inordinately selfish, the ambitious, minorities, the bored, and the sinners. He examines their motives and gratifications. He explains the background of leaders of prior movements, in particular, Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini, telling us the strengths and limitations they brought to their respective movements. The reader will note the insight that the author can bring to the historical events that fit neatly into our knowledge of history.
What is even more fascinating is the background of the author. A stevedore working on the docks of San Francisco in the 1940's, he penned his treatise from his home in the railroad yards. It is evident that Hoffer's genius far exceeded his level of education. His writing is lucid, thought provoking, and he writes his assertions using a rich vocabulary. He has many highly regarded references from Pascal and Guglielmo Ferrero, to Kenneth Scott Latourette and Machiavelli.
Freud's psychoanalytic theory was the catalyst for modern psychological thought, but wasn't proven. It was accepted on faith or personal experience. Hofer's work can also be thought of as work like Freud's. The insights and conclusions are captivating, but lack empirical validity. It is the only limitation I could find in this book, but it is an important one. It is like knowing that tree moss will kill an infection, but not knowing why.
This work is extraordinarily interesting, has great insight into the human character as part of a mass movement, impressive references, but ultimately requires the reader to take the author's words on faith.
This book is worth it for the true believer.
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E.g. The revolutionary effect of the educational work done by Western colonizing powers in India is noticeable.Read more