In 1951, the American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote The True Believer. This book discussed the phenomenon of the politcial mass movement, which one can argue, is the cause of a great deal of historical evil and suffering. While blaming the charasmatic and dishonest people who start such movements, he placed the majority of responsibility on a certain type of individual who becomes a zealot.

Hoffer considered large mass movements like Fascism, Communism and radical Islam. But movements can be smaller and thankfully less damaging, revolving around smaller issues like animal rights, software, conspiracy theories, etc.

I ran across a small collection of quotations from that work, which I wanted to post here:

“Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance. A mass movement offers them unlimited opportunities for both.”

“In an affluent society, the alienated who clamor for power are largely untalented people who cannot make use of the unprecedented opportunities for self-realization, and cannot escape the confrontation with an ineffectual self.”

“Such persons sooner or later turn their backs on an individual existence and strive to acquire a sense of worth and a purpose by an identification with a holy cause, a leader, or a movement. The faith and pride they derive from such an identification serve them as substitutes for the unattainable self-confidence and self-respect.”

“When watching men of power in action it must be always kept in mind that, whether they know it or not, their main purpose is the elimination or neutralization of the independent individual- the independent voter, consumer, worker, owner, thinker…”

“A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”