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The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Eric Hoffer

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Though first published in 1951, Eric Hoffer's text on mass movements is an important argument for our time. In a mere 168 pages organized into four parts, Hoffer looks at the appeal of mass movements, the potential converts, united action and self-sacrifice, and finally the beginning and end of mass movements. The discussion draws upon examples from religious, social, and nationalistic movements.

The True Believer The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements covers quite a lot of ground for such a compact volume. This is perhaps no surprise to those who are familiar with Hoffer and his disdain for wordiness, which he expressed in a 1977 letter that established an essay contest with a 500-word limit. “Wordiness,” wrote Hoffer, “is a sickness of American writing.”

Many words have been committed to review and analysis of The True Believer so instead of adding to the noise I will simply confess my particular interest in the book because of the author himself. The book is well-organized and presents a convincing argument for understanding mass movements, but this is not the work of a professional sociologist who is able to spend all of his days observing people and writing about them. Eric Hoffer is often called the Longshoreman Philosopher because he was known as a philosopher even though he was self-educated and employed only as a longshoreman.

Through his voracious reading, he had exposed himself to a great deal of information and the thoughts of many men who came before him—undoubtedly including those he would find disagreeable. This would give him a great deal of food for thought. Hoffer later noted that much of his writing was done on the docks while waiting for ships to arrive to be unloaded and in leisure moments during a break for lunch. In his writing, Hoffer synthesized many ideas into clearly-expressed thoughts on complex issues.

In considering this, I couldn't help but feel a bit sad—a touch disappointed that more of our countrymen are not inclined to spend their time in reading and thought. Today's workers, irrespective of the color of their collar, will find themselves following the “normal” course of action after work: kicking back with a beer or two in front of the television, looking for some validation. The sense of sadness emerged when I began to wonder what other useful things might find themselves being presented if only more people would be inclined not to look at their professional pursuits as a means to an end: the funding of idleness and trivial pursuits.

Reflecting on another thought from Hoffer, however, I quickly recovered. “A society that refuses to strive for superfluities is likely to end up lacking in necessities.”

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2007-10-28 06:12 PM

Re: Eric Hoffer

Posted by gravesp at 2007-10-30 07:55 AM
Awesome commentary. The fifth paragraph speaks volumes of truth.
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