Archive for the ‘Mass movements’ Category

About twenty years ago, a pastor that I knew recommended a book to me–The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer. (Michael Deming, if you’re reading this, you were right.) It’s taken me all that time to get around to it–graduate school, relationships, jobs, many other books, and life occupied my attention–but now having read it, I give it my wholehearted endorsement.

This book was the rare kind that I couldn’t underline standout passages because I’d have to underline the entire text. Others in this category have been Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, books that give a comprehensive explanation of life.

Hoffer analyzes mass movements. His claim is that they all are essentially identical. Since the book was written in 1951, his main examples are Nazism, Communism, and Zionism as contemporary cases, and he spends a good deal of time discussing the American and French revolutions as well. He gives the rise of both Christianity and Islam for a perspective from long ago.

For a mass movement to succeed, there must be a body of frustrated people who see no way to fulfill themselves. As a result, they seek a movement that will erase their individuality, thereby relieving their disgust with self. In support of this, he observes that a true believer can easily convert from one belief to another, but does not shed fanaticism in the process. This is because the doctrines of movements are not fundamental to the psychological comfort provided by belonging. Instead, they shut down the independent voice in the believer’s mind.

I have long been suspicious of any large group of human beings. Individuals can accomplish extraordinary things. Groups of individuals who know themselves to be capable of achievement can occasionally perform great feats–see NASA for its first several decades. But mass movements just shift the rabble around.

The True Believer will show you how that happens. It will then be up to you to find fulfillment on your own.

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