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The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of…

The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (Perennial… (original 1951; edition 2009)

by Eric Hoffer

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Title:The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (Perennial Classics)
Authors:Eric Hoffer
Info:Harper Perennial (2009), Edition: Reissue, Paperback, 192 pages
Collections:Your library

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The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer (1951)



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Amazing to think the man was self taught. Amazing insight presented in clear concise language. Puts all of today's psychobabble to shame. ( )
  zguba | Apr 25, 2014 |
The subtitle says it all in this extended essay from 1951. Dated, perhaps, but it's age is in its favor, as the "Hitler Decade" and world war is just past, Stalin still has his grip, and other socio-political movements are stirring. He makes broad assertions, free of any in depth analysis, and at times is redundant, but I found his thinking overall convincing. ( )
  JamesMScott | Mar 23, 2014 |
Hoffer is a harsh observer of the peculiarities of "the masses" and a cruel psychologist of the "frustrated individual." His insights into the way those two factors together produce mass movements seem realistic, disinterested, and worth serious consideration. ( )
  dmac7 | Jun 17, 2013 |
This is more like thinking out loud than a systematic book. The author divides the chapters into short bites, almost like distinct thoughts, and ponders the nature of people who are firmly committed to an idea, the sort of personality that joins a mass movement. Although there are some very interesting thoughts in here, this shouldn't be mistaken for a scholarly research work. This is less about data than about the author's musings. Some of the things he says are right on the mark with what we've learned in the past half century of sociological and psychological research, but other things sound very dated and didn't necessarily hold up under rigorous testing. There are also times when the author sort of sounds like someone nostalgic for a time when things didn't change, and other times when he sounds like he's egging on the revolutionaries. Overall, a decent read, but nothing earth shattering. ( )
1 vote quantum_flapdoodle | Sep 26, 2012 |
It's rare that a book has the impact on me this one did, especially first read in mature adulthood; a book that often made me wish to underline paragraph after paragraph. It's a very short, simply written and accessible book--the main text is only 168 pages. The preface tells us it intends to examine "active, revivalist phase of mass movements." On the GoodReads review site it's on a "notable atheist books" list, which I consider absolutely bizarre. The ideas in the book definitely cut both ways, and is irreverent in looking at Christianity, Islam, as well as Communism and Nazism in examining the dynamics of mass movements, but it warns against fanatical, intolerant forms of atheistic movements just as much as against religiously inspired ones.

I thought the book was scarily prescient, especially since I could see many of the conditions Hoffer notes as conducive to mass movements in the contemporary America scene, and Hoffer makes no bones that all revolutions and mass movements have their scary, violent phase that can fall into a dark age. It was interesting that this book published in 1951 observed that revolutions happen not so much at the most oppressive point of a regime, but just when it loosens its hold and begins reform--that immediately made me think of how the Iron Curtain was finally rent--after "glasnost." Revolutions gain their followers, Hoffer believes, from the frustrated. Those who have something to lose and fear losing it, while leaders of mass movement gin up hope for the future.

And what Hoffer had to say about the relationship between individualism, fanaticism and mass movements I found fascinating and resonant:

Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves... The less just a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready is he to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause... In running away from ourselves we either fall on our neighbor's shoulders or fly at their throat.

It was not sheer hypocrisy when the rank-and-file of Nazis declared themselves not guilty of all those enormities they committed. They considered themselves cheated and maligned when made to shoulder responsibility for obeying orders. Had they not joined the Nazi movement in order to be free of responsibility?

It's not the content of their beliefs that matter in how movements form and grow according to Hoffer. Whether you look at America's current Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street crowd, Hoffer seems to suggest, you're likely to see more similarities than differences in the group dynamics. I'm not sure I agree. I think there are huge differences between a Nazi mass rally addressed by Hitler and the Civil Rights March led by and addressed by Martin Luther King. I'm not old enough to remember first hand, but it seems to me that the American Civil Rights movement was conservative (in a small "c" sense), not radical in spirit. The main focus was non-violent resistance, even if it evoked violence from its opponents. It didn't seek to change so much as to include. The goal wasn't to burn the house of America down to rebuild from the foundations, but let more people in through the door--and I suspect that does make a difference. Just as there was a difference between the American Revolution that sought to regain traditional rights secured during a period of Imperial benign neglect and the much more radical French and Russian revolutions which aspired to radical change with their terrors and purges.

Hoffer does end the book by stressing mass movements, for all their dangerous aspects, are not always a bad thing by any means. As agents of change, they're "instruments of resurrection" for societies that could otherwise remain moribund. ( )
1 vote LisaMaria_C | Apr 9, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060505915, Paperback)

A stevedore on the San Francisco docks in the 1940s, Eric Hoffer wrote philosophical treatises in his spare time while living in the railroad yards. The True Believer -- the first and most famous of his books -- was made into a bestseller when President Eisenhower cited it during one of the earliest television press conferences.Completely relevant and essential for understanding the world today, The True Believer is a visionary, highly provocative look into the mind of the fanatic and a penetrating study of how an individual becomes one.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:45:58 -0400)

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Discusses the appeal of mass movements, types of potential converts, factors promoting self-sacrifice and good & bad mass movements.

(summary from another edition)

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