Eric Hoffer was a San Francisco longshoreman who self-educated and left behind "The True Believer," an astonishingly insightful examination of the phenomenon of mass movements. Hoffer wrote the book in 1951, when two of the most malignant mass movements in human history, those that produced the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, sprung up, and the writing reflects that to an extent. His insights are timeless, though, and are applicable in examining mass movements of any era.
Hoffer observes that the type of person inclined to join a mass movement values equality and fraternity more than freedom, quoting one Nazi in Germany who stated that he "wanted to be free from freedom." Those who join mass movements respond to the promise of hope and belonging that such movements provide, and Hoffer notes the essentially religious nature of the Communist and Nazi movements, calling Stalinism another opiate of the people.
The author discusses how susceptible certain personality types are to joining mass movements and contrasts practical organizations (collections of individuals with healthy self-esteem) versus mass movements (agglomerations of those with low self-esteem who tend up end up behaving like mobs).
Hoffer asserts that there are conditions in societies that are favorable for the formation of mass movements, and talks of how movements arise, develop, and progress in stages. Men of words and men of action play distinct roles in the formation of mass movements, and the author describes types and roles of leaders in mass movements, who employ persuasion, coercion, and propaganda to psychologically bully those who cannot endure an autonomous existence into choosing self-immolation over healthy individuality.
Other topics touched on include the interchangeability of mass movements, antidotes to mass movements, attitudes of mass movements toward families, and why mass movements tend to lead to unrestrained violence. There are dozens of stunning insights into the human condition in this classic which is just as timely and important today as it was nearly seventy years ago.