The True Believer

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 4/24/2014

Written in the fifties with Communism, Fascism and Nazism in mind. Eisenhower read it in 1952, gave copies to friends, and recommended it to others. The True Believer earned renewed attention after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and also after the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street protests.

Hoffer argues that:
When our individual interests and prospects do not seem worth living for, we are in desperate need for something apart from us to live for. All forms of dedication, devotion, loyalty and self-surrender are in essence a desperate clinging to something which might give worth and meaning to our futile, spoiled lives.
The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.
Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.
There is no doubt that in exchanging a self-centered for a selfless life we gain enormously in self-esteem.
For men to plunge headlong into an undertaking of vast change, they must be intently discontented yet not destitute, and they must have the feeling that by the possession of some potent doctrine, infallible leader or some new technique they have access to a source of irresistible power. They must also have an extravagant conception of the prospects and potentialities of the future. Finally, they must be wholly ignorant of the difficulties involved in their vast undertaking. Experience is a handicap.
A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business.
The poor on the borderline of starvation live purposeful lives. To be engaged in a desperate struggle for food and shelter is to be wholly free from a sense of futility.
The permanent misfits can find salvation only in a complete separation from the self; and they usually find it by losing themselves in the compact collectivity of a mass movement.
The total surrender of a distinct self is a prerequisite for the attainment of both unity and self-sacrifice; and there is probably no more direct way of realizing this surrender than by inculcating and extolling the habit of blind obedience. 
He who is free to draw conclusions from his individual experience and observation is not usually hospitable to the idea of martyrdom. For self-sacrifice is an unreasonable act. It cannot be the end-product of a process of probing and deliberating. All active mass movements strive, therefore, to interpose a fact proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside it.
It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible. What we know as blind faith is sustained by innumerable unbeliefs.
We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand. A doctrine that is understood is shorn of its strength. 
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. 
Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.
The enemy—the indispensible devil of every mass movement—is omnipresent. He plots both outside and inside the ranks of the faithful. It is his voice that speaks through the mouth of the dissenter, and the deviationists are his stooges. If anything goes wrong within the movement, it is his doing. It is the sacred duty of the true believer to be suspicious. He must be constantly on the lookout for saboteurs, spies and traitors. 
Collective unity is not the result of the brotherly love of the faithful for each other. The loyalty of the true believer is to the whole — the church, party, nation — and not to his fellow true believer. True loyalty between individuals is possible only in a loose and relatively free society. 
Glory is largely a theatrical concept. There is no striving for glory without a vivid awareness of an audience. 
Once the stage is set, the presence of an outstanding leader is indispensable. Without him there will be no movement. 
A movement is pioneered by men of words, materialized by fanatics and consolidated by men of action. 
Whatever the type, there is a deep-seated craving common to almost all men of words which determines their attitude to the prevailing order. It is a craving for recognition; a craving for a clearly marked status above the common run of humanity. 
There is a moment in the career of almost every fault-finding man of words when a deferential or conciliatory gesture from those in power may win him over to their side. 
His pity is usually hatched out of his hatred for the powers that be. 
Theodore Herzl and the Jewish intellectuals were driven to Zionism by the humiliations heaped upon millions of Jews in Russia, and by the calumnies to which the Jews in the rest of continental Europe were subjected toward the end of the nineteenth century. 
In modern times, nationalism is the most copious and durable source of mass enthusiasm, and that nationalist fervor must be tapped if the drastic changes projected and initiated by revolutionary enthusiasm are to be consummated.

This great hype which I consider a part of the American propaganda, has only one purpose as stated by Chomsky in his book Media Control:
The rest of the population ought to be deprived of any form of organization, because organization just causes trouble. People have to be atomized and segregated and alone. They're not supposed to organize, because then they might be something beyond spectators of action.