Sunday, November 27, 2016

The True Believer, Eric Hoffer

The subject book is a classic published in 1951 by a rather interesting gentleman who was once homeless as well as being a longshoreman, self taught, read massively, and went on to win the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983.

He believes that all mass movements are interchangeable in that they are driven by the same human needs. He considers the Roman Empire, Christianity, Islam, the Reformation, the Puritans, the US revolution, the French revolution, the communist takeover of Russia, and others to be "interchangeable".

...the vigor and growth of a mass movement depend on it's capacity to evoke and satisfy the passion for self-renunciation. When a mass movement begins to attract people who are interested in their individual careers, it is a sign that it has passed it's vigorous stage. 
He argues that mass movements depend on the "frustrated". Those that see their lives as somehow "spoiled" and they crave a "new life", a "rebirth". The mass movement let's them lose their spoiled selves in a cause.

"Those who clamor for freedom are often the ones least likely to be happy in a free society."  
"Where freedom is real, equality is the passion of the masses. Where equality is real, freedom is the passion of a small minority. Equality without freedom creates a more stable social pattern than than freedom without equality" 
In the old USSR there was a lot of "equality" and the small cadre of the "elite" had freedom. Here, at least in BOistan, the constant cry of the supposed mass was for "equality", while the "elite" like Hillary were able to be free from even the law.

"The poor who are are members of a compact group -- a tribe, a closely knit family, a compact racial or religious group -- are relatively free from frustration and almost immune to a mass movement." 
Therefore, those trying to move the mass into their column attack the family, the church and the community and attempt to balkanize races and other identity groups so people are "all alone" except in relation to the mass movement.

"The game of history is usually played by the best and the worst over the heads of the majority of the middle."
By "best" he doesn't mean "morally best" -- he means powerful, educated, those with resources. "The elite". The elite are "true believers" because they will get the power, the poor are the "true believers" because the elite have promised them the spoils. The "silent majority" are a bunch of stooges still working hard, trying to keep their families together in the face of attacks by the elite, often going to church. You know them -- "The Basket of Deploreables".

"The loyalty of the true believer is to the whole -- the church, party, nation -- and not to his fellow true believer. True loyalty between individuals is possible only in loose and relatively free society". 
.... when the frustrated congregate in a mass movement, the air is heavy laden with suspicion. there is prying and spying ...  
The surprising thing is that this pathological mistrust within the ranks leads not to dissension, but to strict conformity. Knowing themselves continually watched, the faithful strive to escape suspicion by adhering zealously to prescribed behavior and opinion. Strict orthodoxy is as much the result of mutual suspicion as of ardent faith.   
I could go on quoting at length -- it is full of them. He was writing assuming that communism was likely implacable and would nearly certainly "win", but as always (in his mind), it's success would breed complacency in it's upper ranks which would finally be detected as weakness by the masses and result in a new mass movement.

Hoffer considers mass movements to "just be" -- Luther, Hitler, Stalin, Cromwell, George Washington, Jesus, Mohammad -- all "merely mass movement leaders". Sorting out the details on "good or bad" is not his real purpose -- just pointing out that the "active phase" as the movement is growing is "messy", maybe even "evil" (one could think of it like childbirth), but what comes after varies a lot.

I think it is clear that the left in this country has been on a sputtering attempt to create a mass movement in the US since at least FDR, and probably Wilson.

The most decisive for the effectiveness of a mass movement leader seem to be audacity, fanatical faith in a holy cause, an awareness of the importance of the close-knit collectivity, and above all, the ability to evoke fervent devotion in a group of able lieutenants. 
 The biggest thing missing in Bill Clinton, Obama and Hillary was "fervent able lieutenants".  There were simply none to name. It is ironic that Nixon, Reagan and W all had their "fervent able lieutenants", but lacked a "holy cause" and certainly any concept of "close knit collectivity".

Trump? Well, it remains to be seen -- "Make America Great Again" isn't exactly 99 theses!

The book is a classic of political philosophy. As an atheist, Hoffer naturally discounts the idea that "Jesus is different", but as mass movements go, Christianity has been around a LONG time, and actually encourages it's adherents to be worthless but redeemed with infinite worth in Christ. They can "lose themselves" in Christ who is fully God and fully Man, without having to lose themselves in some "mass movement" -- rather than "suspicion, prying and spying" (definitely a factor in hyper fundamentalist sects), they can be blood brothers, watching carefully for the log in their own eye, and being redeemed without losing themselves in some earthly "perfection".  It's only 170 pages long, and more meaty than I can cover in this blog length.

Well worth your time, highly recommended.

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