Eric Hoffer is downright fascinating, and that’s putting it mildly. He’s a living example of what John Taylor Gatto meant when he said that American schools were dumbing down children. A man who was blind for years during his childhood and until his early teens, this waiter and longeshoreman taught himself and became one of the world’s greatest political philosophers. The True Believer remains a fascinating and extremely relevant study of fanaticism six decades on, and Hoffer’s empirical observations are simple but profound. There are times when Hoffer accomplishes more in one sentence than another author could in ten pages.
Of course, Hoffer does have his downsides as well – he really seems to be quite conservative and rather judgmental on many issues, but these flaws are relatively minor in comparison to the quality of his observations and his writing.
Perhaps one of his most interesting observations is that fanatics do not so much believe as get attached to their beliefs, and that a fanatic attached to one belief can just as well go over to the ‘enemy’ camp if it offers viable benefits. Attachment, strikingly, matters more than belief, and a fanatic has a striking capacity for turning themselves from traitor to the cause to penitent criminal, if it turns out to be of practical benefit.
This won’t be the last time I return to Hoffer. This man is too huge to waste.
- Eric Hoffer: Longshoreman Philosopher (nalert.blogspot.com)
- Eric Hoffer on alibis and achievement (nevalalee.wordpress.com)
- Fanaticism and the Fact-Proof Screen (atheistrev.com)