Thursday, 28 February 2013

The True Believer by Eric Hoffer

This slim book (175 pages), first published in 1951 , became a classic in social psychology and tells us how a person becomes a fanatic and what the dynamics of a mass movement are .It is very provocative and insightful , and is as relevant today as it was in 1951.I enjoyed reading it and benefited immensely from it .                                                     
        Early Christianity was very outspoken  in its antagonism  toward the family .When one of His  disciples asked leave to go and bury his father,Jesus said to him:"Follow me;and let the dead bury their dead."Disruption of the family creates a responsiveness to the appeal of mass movements.Hitler made full use of"the society ladies thirsting for adventure, sick of their empty lives, no longer getting a kick out of love affairs." A rising mass movement preaches the immediate hope.Later, as the movement  comes into  possession of power,the emphasis is shifted  to the distant hope.
                         It requires an exceptional leader to mobilise existing attitudes and impulses into a drive of  mass movement . In such leaders , we do not find exceptional intelligence, noble character and originality  indispensable , or even   desirable."The main requirements seem to be : audacity and a joy in defiance;an iron will;a fanatical conviction that he is in possession of the one and only truth faith in his destiny and luck; a capacity for passionate hatred;contempt for the present;a cunning estimate of human nature;a delight in symbols , spectacles and ceremonials;unbounded brazenness which finds expression in a disregard of consistency and fairness;a capacity for winning and holding the utmost loyalty of a group of able lieutenants. The leader has to be practical and a realist, yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist .       
                              The book is about the active phase of mass movements.This phase is dominated by the true believer-the man of fanatical faith who is ready to sacrifice his life for a holy cause.When we lead a selfless life , we gain enormously in self -esteem.'The vanity of the selfless, even those who practice utmost humility,is boundless." ''True Believer attempts successfully to trace the genesis of such a fanatic and outline his nature.The opposite of religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic  who cares not  whether there is God or not .The atheist is a religious person .The fanatic mostly comes  from the ranks of the non-creative men of words.He is often ready to sacrifice relatives and friends for his holy cause.A movement is pioneered by men of words, materialized by fanatics and consolidated by men of action .
                               A very insightful book on fanatics , true believers and mass movements.