Eric Hoffer’s ‘True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements’ was published in 1951, but its wisdom is more relevant now than ever. Hoffer, the “longshoreman philosopher,” was an intellectual giant; his observations on human nature are essential reading for all Americans. In recent years, the split between the defenders of individual liberty and those who yearn to be lost in the collective has widened. The United States of America is united in name only, and the seeds of sinister things to come have shifted the cultural dirt with germination.

While I will always be grateful for the education I received at the University of Southern California, the bulk of my intellectual growth during my early twenties occurred because I was willing to seek out books my college professors never included on their recommended reading’ lists. I learned a lot by listening to my professors, but I knew that my greatest expansion would happen when I figured out what they didn’t want me to hear.

Eric Hoffer was kept from me by the “intellectuals” who were paid (handsomely) to introduce me to the best and brightest minds of human history. Don’t let his work be kept from you:

People whose lives are barren and insecure seem to show a greater willingness to obey than people who are self sufficient and self-confident. To the frustrated, freedom from responsibility is more attractive than freedom from restraint. They are eager to barter their independence for relief from the burdens of willing, deciding and being responsible for inevitable failure. They willingly abdicate the directing of their lives to those who want to plan, command and shoulder all responsibility. Moreover, submission by all to a supreme leader is an approach to their ideal of equality. …

The frustrated are also likely to be the most steadfast followers. It is remarkable, that, in a co-operative effort, the least self-reliant are the least likely to be discouraged by defeat. For they join others in a common undertaking not so much to ensure the success of a cherished project as to avoid an individual shouldering of blame in case of failure. When the common undertaking fails, they are still spared the one thing they fear most, namely, the showing up of their individual shortcomings. Their faith remains unimpaired and they are eager to follow in a new attempt.

The frustrated follow a leader less because of their faith that he is leading them to a promised land than because of their immediate feeling that he is leading them away from their unwanted selves. Surrender to a leader is not a means to an end but a fulfillment. Whither they are led is of secondary importance. (Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. 118-119.)

Sounds familiar? If not, you haven’t been paying attention to the American political landscape since 2008. The election (and re-election) of the Marshall Applewhite of modern American politics — and the blithe acceptance of policies anathema to the long-term health of a free nation — have been harbingers of things to come.

Don’t believe me? Ask yourself how it’s possible for a modern Paul Revere like Mark Dice was able to get Californians to willingly sign a petition to support an “Orwellian police state” with “Nazi Germany” as its model. Any way you slice it, the “Orwellian Police State” video is a sad commentary on the state of union. A certain percentage of the population will always be clueless, but there are some encounters that should receive near-universal revulsion. A request to sign up for a “police state” is one of them.

The stage is set for America to change drastically overnight. The room is filled with the fumes of tyranny, and all that is required for destruction and pain on an unprecedented scale is a spark. Perhaps an economic crash somewhere around the $25 trillion debt mark? Iran officially going nuclear? A large-scale terror attack on American soil? Take your pick.

Perhaps the final piece of the puzzle will fall into place when Americans, now content to bludgeon each other with violent rhetoric, tire of blaming political rivals and turn their attention to external boogeymen.

The Americans are poor haters in international affairs because of their innate feeling of superiority over all foreigners. An American’s hatred for a fellow American … is far more virulent than any antipathy he can work up against foreigners. … Should Americans begin to hate foreigners whole-heartedly, it will be an indication that they have lost confidence in their own way of life.” (Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. 96)

If you are concerned about the nation, I suggest reading ‘True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.’ While most institutions of higher learning these days are not interested in introducing you to men like Eric Hoffer, plenty of bloggers are happy to do so. Search them out, read their work, and together we might be able to pass on a freer society to future generations of Americans.

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

9 comments

  1. Indeed, sounds a LOT like what is happening in the U.S. right now. I’ll have to read it sometime. I especially like the points about how some Americans demonize their own countrymen for a mere political difference and about the freedom from responsibility. Personal responsibility is viewed as anathema by today’s society, to be sure.

    1. Hoffer’s critiques of statism are spot on, and in general he’s got an accurate reading of the nature of man. He’s not particularly kind to organized religion, so I do have my qualms with him, but in general his insights are incredibly profound.

    1. I’m interested in hearing what you think of the book. Hoffer had a huge impact on me as a young man. He’s up there with Thomas Sowell in terms of intellectuals who really altered my philosophical trajectory.

    2. From the bits I read in preview, the book seems pretty fascinating and thought-provoking. Not a fan of Sowell, though. I will give it a read.

      I know your reading list is backlogged, but check out “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character)” and see if that might be a good read. I loved it.

    3. Sowell is fascinating because he used to be a Marxist and his time working for the Department of Labor changed him in many ways. He talks about how he was trying to follow the data, and the bureaucrats hated him because his data threatened their jobs/budget, etc.

      Yeah, I’ll keep this one on reserve for that reason alone. I’m in Chicago this week and I went into the bookstore yesterday. It took a lot of willpower to prevent myself from buying another book! The good thing is that I can just go into the back end on WordPress and bring this reply up whenever I need it. Once I knock out a few books I’ll be able to return my attention to it.

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