“The True Believer” by Eric Hoffer (1951) – Part 2 – The Potential Converts

Chapter 4 – The Role of the Undesirables in Human Affairs (18-19)

  • 18 – Often a society is judged by its least worthy members, fairly or unfairly. The middle class is typically inert. Those who do the work are shaped by minorities at the top & bottom.
    • The superior individuals shape the nation but so do the bottom, who have either lost their footing or never had it. The middle class usually don’t play a large role in the game of history.
    • Inferior elements can exert influence without reverence to the present. In the present, their lives wasted & they’re ready to insert chaos into things. Their undertakings are supposed to be soul-stirring & require united action. They’re recruited the earliest & put their mark on upheavals & movements.
      • They’re raw material of a nation’s future. A nation without dregs is orderly & peaceful but without seeds of change. Only the undesired would & could leave Europe to come to America.
  • 19 – Disaffected in categories: the poor, misfits, outcasts, minorities, adolescent youth, ambitious, vicious or obsessed, impotent, selfish, bored, & sinners.

Chapter 5 – The Poor (20-35)

The New Poor

  • 20 – Not all poor are frustrated – some are smug in their decay & don’t want anything new. Often they feel stuck in poverty & accept it. It rally takes a cataclysm to shake them out of it.
    • The new poor are usually the frustrated, disinherited & dispossessed. Lately there’s been enormous periodic increases of a new type of poor & has contributed to mass movements. Until recently, the new poor came from propertied classes but lately it’s the plain working man. Historically, as long as they lived at a subsistence level, they could live well in good times & be poor in bad times. Now unemployment is a degradation. He feels disinherited & injured by the unjust order of things & is available for those who have a new deal for him.

The Abject Poor

  • 21 – Those who are near to starvation live purposeful lives because every effort is to struggle for food & shelter. These are concrete & immediate goals. They’re immune to mass movements. They have no grievances or dreams to give voice to
  • 22 – Discontent is likely to be highest when misery is bearable. Conditions have to be improved to where an ideal state seems within reach. It’s not the suffering but the taste of better things which excited people to revolt.
    • Intensity of discontent is in inverse proportion to the distance from the object fervently desired. We must be within sight of the promised land to incite discontent.
  • 23 – Frustration is greater when we have much & want more than when we have nothing at all. More lack has less dissatisfaction than less lack.
  • 24 – We dare more when striving for superfluities than for necessities.
  • 25 – A rising mass movement preaches the immediate hope. They wish to stir followers to act & the hope around the corner prompts to them to act.
    • Christianity preached the end of the world & heaven was around the corner. Mohammed dangled loot in front of the faithful. Jacobins promised liberty & equality, etc.
    • As the movement comes into power, the emphasis on hope shifts further away. An “arrived” movement becomes conservative immediately & pushes for the preservation of the present, obedience & patience.

The Free Poor

  • 26 – While slaves are poor, there’s no danger of them to form or join a mass movement. Individual frustration doesn’t exist due to absolute equality. Trouble makers are the newly enslaved or freed.
    • Freedom aggregates as much as it alleviates frustration. Freedom of choice places blame on the individual & encourages many attempts which necessarily mean multiple failures & consequent frustration.
    • Unless a man has talents to make something of himself, freedom is annoying. What use is freedom if you’re ineffectual? Joining a mass movement is trying to be free from freedom. Society is a fertile ground when lacking palliatives for frustration.
  • 27 – Even a mass movement against as oppressive order never gives people freedom afterwards. It’s main goal is unity & self-sacrifice, requiring the surrender of an individual’s will, judgment & advantage.
    • In forgetting or postponing individual liberty, they maintain a zealous following. Fanatics fear liberty more than persecution. In adhering to tenets & command, they get a sense of liberation from fear, burdens & hopelessness.
    • Once passed its active stage & solidified into stable institutions, the individual liberty has a chance to emerge. The shorter the phase, the more it’ll seem that the movement itself was the one who brought the freedom, especially in throwing off harsh tyrannies.
  • 28 – Those who see their lives as a waste crave equality & fraternity more than freedom. They want freedom, but for equality & uniformity. There’s a passion for equality is a passion for anonymity, indistinguishable from others. That way our inferiority isn’t readily seen.
    • Those who scream for freedom are the least happy in a free society. They blame failures on present restraints & want to end free competition & ruthless testing of the individual in a free society.
  • 29 – Where freedom is real, equality is the passion of the masses. Where equality is real, freedom is the passion of the small minority. Equality without freedom creates a more stable social pattern than freedom without equality.

The Creative Poor

  • 30 – Poverty together with creativity is usually free of frustration. Ability to create bolsters our self-confidence. We can see things grow & develop under our hand every day. Decline of handicrafts has led to the rise of frustration & increased susceptibility of individuals to mass movements.
    • The fading of creativity causes impulses away from creative projects to escape in something with meaning – mass movements.

The Unified Poor

  • 31 – The poor members of a compact group are relatively free from frustration & immune to mass movements. The less a person sees himself as an autonomous individual capable of shaping his own course & responsible for his life, the less likely he is to see poverty as a sign of inferiority. Members of these groups have a high “revolting point” than autonomous individuals, needing more misery & humiliation to revolt.
    • A mass movement must break down all existing group ties to get a decent following. The ideal potential convert is an isolated individual with nothing to make his internal pathetic existence. When there’s a good corporate patter, it must attack & disrupt it. It attacks families, as well as national, racial & religious ties.
  • 32 – Mass movements’ attitude towards family is interesting. All contemporary mass movements are hostile towards families & do what they can to disrupt them. They undermine parental authority & facilitate divorce, take over responsibility of children’s education & encourage illegitimacy.
    • Christianity was antagonistic towards families, placing fellow members ahead of actual family members.
    • Proselytizers are home-wreckers whether consciously or not by weakening family cohesion. Disruption of the family automatically fosters a collective spirit & creating responsiveness to the appeal of mass movements.
  • 33 – Discontent in backward countries isn’t due to to contact with domineering foreigners but the crumbling of tribal solidarity & communal life.
    • The ideal of self-advancement of the West brings individual frustration. The clash of communal existence with individualism orphans them & mass movements arise out of a desire for group existence, as well as an escape from Western individualism.
    • Western colonizing powers offer natives independence & individual freedom & self-reliance but it usually ends up as isolation. Banding together, in masses they try to escape ineffectual & purposeless individual existence.
    • Colonizing powers should be to encourage communal cohesion among the natives, fostering equality & brotherhood. Even if wholly philanthropic, a colonizing power must preserve & reinforce the corporate pattern. Don’t concentrate on the individual but fuse innovations & reforms into tribal channels to allow the tribe to progress as a whole.
    • Encouraging communal cohesion prevents colonial unrest & labor unrest in industrialized colonizing countries. Employers & colonizing powers often play works & natives off each other under a policy of “divide & rule”. But this forces them to join unions or nationalist, racial or religious organizations to fight back.
  • 34 – A rising mass movement attracts & holds its following not through doctrines & promises but the refuge it offers from anxiety & meaninglessness of the individual’s life. It doesn’t cure them by giving them an absolute truth of fixing things but by freeing them from their ineffectual selves by making them a part of whole.
    • In order to succeed, a mass movement must quickly develop a corporative organization & integrate newcomers who are frustrated. New creeds vie for the allegiance of the populace & the one with the best framework wins.
  • 35 – The most favorable scenario for mass movements is where corporate structure is disintegrated. In the early days of Christianity, villagers & heath-dwellers clung to their traditional pagan cults while the cities embraced Christianity due to the fact that social & political groupings were either weakened or dissolved.
    • As one pattern of corporate cohesion weakens, conditions are ripe for the rise of mass movements & a new unity. When people revolt in a totalitarian society, they rise not against its wickedness but its weakness.

Chapter 6 – Misfits (36-37)

  • 36 – Misfits’ frustration can vary in intensity. Temporary misfits are people who haven’t found a place in life yet but still hope to. The adolescent youth, new graduates, veterans, immigrants, etc. are those.
    • They’re restless & dissatisfied because they’re afraid their best years will be wasted. They’re receptive to proselytizing but aren’t staunch converts because they aren’t irrevocably estranged from the self.
    • Veterans of prolonged wars followed by periods of social unrest for both winners & losers see a rise in mass movements. They’ve been removed from civilian routine & returning is a slow & painful readjustment.
  • 37 – Permanent misfits due to lack of talent or bodily/mental defect can’t do what they crave, achieve a sense of fulfillment. Whatever they try to do, they fail at.
    • They can only find salvation is separation from the self & joining a mass movement by renouncing individual will, judgment & ambition.
    • The incurably frustrated have an unfulfilling craving for creative work & never tasting success gives them a desperate passion. Even dedication to a holy cause doesn’t always cure the problem. They’re likely to become the most violent extremists.

Chapter 7 – The Inordinately Selfish

  • 38 – Those who are most susceptible to frustration. The more selfish, the worse the disappointments. The inordinately selfish are the most persuasive champions of selfishness. The fiercest fanatics are often the selfish forces by shortcomings & external circumstances to lose faith in themselves. They shift focus to a holy cause.

Chapter 8 – The Ambitious Feeling Unlimited Possibilities

  • 39 – Unlimited possibilities can cause frustration as much as having none. When possibilities seem to have no limit, it deprecates the present. The present seems so terrible compared to what the future holds that gold-hunters & enthusiasts are ready for sacrifice to get the future reward.

Chapter 9 – Minorities

  • 40 – The minority is in a precarious situation even if protected by law or force. There’s a sense of insecurity intent on preserving of identity & blending in with the majority. The minority individual joins a minority wholly to protect himself from assimilation.
    • Minorities bent on assimilation, in the absence of discrimination, are much more likely to be successful & consequently, don’t need mass movements.
    • Often not wanting to assimilate is a result of a threat or sense of inferiority but a sense of superiority which drives them to band together with members of similar backgrounds. Most of these are the least successful members of their minority groups.

Chapter 10 – The Bored

  • 41 – The ripeness of a mass movement in society is the prevalence of unrelieved boredom. This precedes the rise of mass movements. These are the most likely early adherents than the exploited & oppressed.
    • When people are bored, they’re bored with themselves & their meaningless existence. People not conscious of the political separateness aren’t accessible to boredom. When people live autonomous lives & aren’t badly off but without abilities & opportunities for creative work or useful action, the boredom will drive them to give themselves meaning.
    • Boredom usually gets spinsters & middle-aged women to join mass movements. Marriage often gives women equivalents to a mass movement – a new name, new future, new life, etc.

Chapter 11 – The Sinners

  • 42 – Fervent patriotism, & religious & revolutionary drive serves as a refuge from a guilty conscience. Both the sinner & sinned against find mass movements as an escape from a blemished life.
    • Mass movements seem to be custom made for a catharsis for the soul. The proselytizing mass movements bring the same as that of a repentant criminal. Self-sacrifice required in a mass movement is an atonement for sin. To confess & repent is to slough off individual distinctness & salvation is only found by losing oneself in a holy oneness of a congregation.
    • Crime is a substitute. When public opinion & law enforcement aren’t stringent & poverty isn’t absolute, underground pressure of malcontents & misfits leaks into crime. When there’s exaltation of mass movements, common crime declines.

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