Background for The Time of Trump: THE TRUE BELIEVER by Eric Hoffer (1951)
We should not be surprised by fanaticism and terrorism in
recent years. For the last few decades, we've been going through
Eric Hoffer's analysis of how to produce fanatics as if it
were a checklist; violent mass movements may be next.
— Rich Erlich, kvetching, late 20thcentury
Hoffer, Eric. The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. 1951. New York: HarperPerennial, 1966/1989.
A 2010 reissue and other editions of TBare conveniently available from Amazon.com <https://www.amazon.com/True-Believer-Thoughts-Movements-Perennial/dp/0060505915>.
My collection of essays, Views from a Jagged Orbit opens with "Introduction: The True Believer," and I tell there the story of my first teaching Eric Hoffer's long essay; but that's not, of course, the whole story.
When Aristotle said that a story has "a beginning, middle, and an end," I'm sure a couple or more wise-asses in his audience responded with the ancient Greek for "Well, duh!" — although it's actually a pretty profound, and certainly important, observation. With history, one can always ask, "What came before that? What came after that" — until you get a more or less linked series of episodes from Creation to the Twilight of the Gods or the Big Bang to Big Crunch or the Heat Death of the Universe … or whatever. The art of story-telling requires that you start at a place that feels right for a beginning and end where you get "the sense of an ending."
In terms of images in my mind, my coming to The True Believer starts in the kitchen of the Pi Lambda Phi Fraternity house at the U of I in Champaign, Illinois, in the late-ish 1960s, talking politics with the cook. She was a Black woman who supported Robert Kennedy and argued that he was no longer the callow young opportunist who'd worked for Joe McCarthy but the one hope for racial peace in the US.
She convinced me, and I became a Kennedy supporter.
My next memory from the period is being waked up in a hide-a-bed in a living room in Brooklyn so my hosts could watch and listen to the news of Bobby Kennedy's assassination (5/6 June 1968). And soon after that, I followed other Kennedy supporters into the campaign of George McGovern, and the following August found myself working as a driver for the press corps with McGovern at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
And so I found myself driving through Grant Park on or about 28 August 1968chauffeuring members of Senator McGovern's family and intimidating/bullshitting Illinois National Guardsmen so the McGoverns and I could get the hell out of the sealed Park; and so, a bit later, I found myself at Michigan and Balbo trying to locate a McGovern campaign car and driver — and McGovern delegate — in the midst of a riot.
And so I got very interested — personally, viscerally interested — in political violence and read or re-read very seriously Hoffer's study of fanaticism.
And so I ended up teaching The True Believer my first semester "at the big desk" in a classroom, and pretty much every few years thereafter for forty years.
And having taught The True Believer so frequently, I sold a lot of books for Hoffer and (later) the Hoffer estate and feel no guilt for this posting following at least the temporary disappearance of Hoffer's 1951 flawed mini-classic from the Adobe Cloud. I give below some important excerpts, with commentary. Page numbers are from the cited hard copy of the HarperPerennial edition of 1966, reset 1989.
* * *
Title: Hoffer's title points at one of the deep and inevitable flaws in The True Believer; "the True Believer" is a type, an abstraction.
Types can devolve into stereotypes and even at their best are useful the way a diagram of An Ideal Mammal/Vertebrate/Arthropod/Whatever is useful: as a teaching device to illustrate a basic design, not a photo of something you'll ever find in nature.
Note on "Frustrated": Hoffer's one discursive note is to the Preface, noting "The word 'frustrated' is not used in this book as a clinical term. It denotes here people who, for one reason or another, feel that their lives are spoiled or wasted" (p. 169).
From the Preface
Starting out from the fact that the frustrated "predominate among the early adherents of all mass movements and that they usually join of their own accord, it is assumed: 1) that frustration of itself, without any proselytizing prompting from the outside, can generate most of the peculiar characteristics of the true believer; 2) that an effective technique of conversion consists basically in the inculcation and fixation of proclivities and responses indigenous to the frustrated mind" (p. xii).
In 1951 Hitler was dead and Fascism apparently smashed, but the memory was still alive. Communism in the Russian Empire in its USSR form was long out of its activist phase (see below), but Stalin was still alive and there remained fanatical Communists in the USSR and elsewhere — forming mass movements when combined in a revisionist sort of way with nationalism. (Classic Marxism had identities other than class as the products of "false consciousness.") So:
It is necessary for most of us these days to have some insight into the motives and responses of the true believer. For though ours is a godless age, it is the very opposite of irreligious. The true believer is everywhere on the march, and both by converting and antagonizing he is shaping the world in his own image. And whether we are to line up with him or against him, it is well that we should know all we can concerning his nature and potentialities. (xiii)
PART 1: The Appeal of Mass Movements
Revolutionary, Religious and Nationalist Movements:
It is a truism that many who join a rising revolutionary movement are attracted by the prospect of sudden and spectacular change in their conditions of life. A revolutionary movement is a conspicuous instrument of change. Not so obvious is the fact that religious and nationalist movements too can be vehicles of change. […] Where self-advancement cannot, or is not allowed to, serve as a driving force, other sources of enthusiasm have to be found if momentous changes, such as the awakening and renovation of a stagnant society or radical reforms in the character and pattern of life of a community, are to be realized and perpetuated. Religious, revolutionary and nationalist movements are such generating plants of general enthusiasm. (§1; p. 3)
"In modern times, the mass movements involved in the realization of vast and rapid change are revolutionary and nationalist—singly or in combination." But Hoffer reminds us of the past power of religious movements, and notes that had Chiang Kai-shek "known how to set in motion a genuine mass movement, or at least sustain the nationalist enthusiasm kindled by the Japanese invasion, he might have been acting now as the renovator of China. Since he did not know how, he was easily shoved aside by the masters of the art of 'religiofication' — the art of turning practical purposes into holy causes" under Mao and the Chinese communists (§1; p. 5).
The West and Nationalist Movements in "the Orient" ca. 1951 (to our time):
It is not difficult to see why America and Britain (or any Western democracy) could not play a direct and leading role in rousing the Asiatic countries from their backwardness and stagnation: the democracies are neither inclined nor perhaps able to kindle a revivalist spirit in Asia’s millions. The contribution of the Western democracies to the awakening of the East has been indirect and certainly unintended. They have kindled an enthusiasm of resentment against the West; and it is this anti-Western fervor which is at present rousing the Orient from its stagnation of centuries. §1; p. 5)
Discontent and Hope:
Discontent by itself does not invariably create a desire for change. Other factors have to be present before discontent turns into disaffection. One of these is a sense of power. * * * There is […] a conservatism of the destitute as profound as the conservatism of the privileged, and the former is as much a factor in the perpetuation of a social order as the latter. [***] Offhand one would expect that the mere possession of power would automatically result in a cocky attitude toward the world and a receptivity to change. But it is not always so. The powerful can be as timid as the weak. What seems to count more than possession of instruments of power is faith in the future. Where power is not joined with faith in the future, it is used mainly to ward off the new and preserve the status quo. On the other hand, extravagant hope, even when not backed by actual power, is likely to generate a most reckless daring. For the hopeful can draw strength from the most ridiculous sources of power—a slogan, a word, a button. No faith is potent unless it is also faith in the future; unless it has a millennial component. So, too, an effective doctrine: as well as being a source of power, it must also claim to be a key to the book of the future.Those who would transform a nation or the world cannot do so by breeding and captaining discontent or by demonstrating the reasonableness and desirability of the intended changes or by coercing people into a new way of life. They must know how to kindle and fan an extravagant hope. [***] When hopes and dreams are loose in the streets, it is well for the timid to lock doors. (§3-4, §5; pp. 8-9, 11)
No Experience Necessary (Indeed, "Experience is a handicap.")
For men to plunge headlong into an undertaking of vast change, they must be intensely 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. The men who started the French Revolution were wholly without political experience. The same is true of the Bolsheviks, Nazis and the revolutionaries in Asia. The experienced man of affairs is a latecomer. He enters the movement when it is already a going concern. (§6; p. 11)
I.II: The Desire for Self-Renunciation in a Holy Cause
There is a fundamental difference between the appeal of a mass movement and the appeal of a practical organization. The practical organization offers opportunities for self-advancement, and its appeal is mainly to self-interest. On the other hand, a mass movement, particularly in its active, revivalist phase, appeals not to those intent on bolstering and advancing a cherished self, but to those who crave to be rid of an unwanted self. A mass movement attracts and holds a following not because it can satisfy the desire for self-advancement, but because it can satisfy the passion for self-renunciation. People who see their lives as irremediably spoiled cannot find a worthwhile purpose in self-advancement. The prospect of an individual career cannot stir them to a mighty effort, nor can it evoke in them faith and a single-minded dedication. They look on self-interest as on something tainted and evil; something unclean and unlucky. Anything undertaken under the auspices of the self seems to them foredoomed. Nothing that has its roots and reasons in the self can be good and noble. Their innermost craving is for a new life—a rebirth—or, failing this, a chance to acquire new elements of pride, confidence, hope, a sense of purpose and worth by an identification with a holy cause. (§7; p. 12)
I.III: "The Interchangeability of Mass Movements"
When people are ripe for a mass movement, they are usually ripe for any effective movement, and not solely for one with a particular doctrine or program. In pre-Hitlerian Germany it was often a toss up whether a restless youth would join the Communists or the Nazis. In the overcrowded pale of Czarist Russia the simmering Jewish population was ripe both for revolution and Zionism. […] This receptivity to all movements does not always cease even after the potential true believer has become the ardent convert of a specific movement. Where mass movements are in violent competition with each other, there are not infrequent instances of converts—even the most zealous—shifting their allegiance from one to the other. A Saul turning into Paul is neither a rarity nor a miracle. (§14; pp. 16-17)
PART 2: The Potential Converts
IV. "The Role of the Undesirables in Human Affairs"
There is a tendency to judge a race, a nation or any distinct group by its least worthy members. Though manifestly unfair, this tendency has some justification. For the character and destiny of a group are often determined by its inferior elements. The inert mass of a nation, for instance, is in its middle section. The decent, average people who do the nation’s work in cities and on the land are worked upon and shaped by minorities at both ends—the best and the worst.[…] The game of history is usually played by the best and the worst over the heads of the majority in the middle. The reason that the inferior elements of a nation can exert a marked influence on its course is that they are wholly without reverence toward the present. They see their lives and the present as spoiled beyond remedy and they are ready to waste and wreck both: hence their recklessness and their will to chaos and anarchy. They also crave to dissolve their spoiled, meaningless selves in some soul-stirring spectacular communal undertaking—hence their proclivity for united action. Thus they are among the early recruits of revolutions, mass migrations and of religious, racial and chauvinist movements, and they imprint their mark upon these upheavals and movements which shape a nation’s character and history.§18, p. 24)
Though the disaffected are found in all walks of life, they are most frequent in the following categories: (a) the poor, (b) misfits, (c) outcasts, (d) minorities, (e) adolescent youth, (f) the ambitious (whether facing insurmountable obstacles or unlimited opportunities), (g) those in the grip of some vice or obsession, (h) the impotent (in body or mind), (i) the inordinately selfish, (j) the bored, (k) the sinners. (§19; p. 25)
V. "The Poor"
The New Poor
Not all who are poor are frustrated. Some of the poor stagnating in the slums of the cities are smug in their decay. […] Even the respectable poor, when their poverty is of long standing, remain inert. They are awed by the immutability of the order of things. It takes a cataclysm […] to open their eyes to the transitoriness of the “eternal order.” It is usually those whose poverty is relatively recent, the “new poor,” who throb with the ferment of frustration. The memory of better things is as fire in their veins. They are the disinherited and dispossessed who respond to every rising mass movement.(§20; p. 26)
Moment of Most Threat to Soviet Russia (and an Aphorism)
The most dangerous moment for the regime of the Politburo will be when a considerable improvement in the economic conditions of the Russian masses has been achieved and the iron totalitarian rule somewhat relaxed. (§22; p. 29) // Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some. (§23; p. 29)
"The Free Poor"(and some problems with Hoffer's attitude toward people)
Slaves are poor; yet where slavery is widespread and long established, there is little likelihood for the rise of a mass movement. The absolute equality among the slaves, and the intimate communal life in slave quarters, preclude individual frustration. In a society with an institution of slavery the troublemakers are the newly enslaved and the freed slaves. In the case of the latter it is the burden of freedom which is at the root of their discontent.
Freedom aggravates at least as much as it alleviates frustration.Freedom of choice places the whole blame of failure on the shoulders of the individual. And as freedom encourages a multiplicity of attempts, it unavoidably multiplies failure and frustration. Freedom alleviates frustration by making available the palliatives of action, movement, change and protest. Unless a man has the talents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden. Of what avail is freedom to choose if the self be ineffectual? (§26; p. 31)
Slaves in various cultures were also kept in line by terror and, in some systems, hope of gaining freedom. Slaves may've experienced "absolute equality" insofar as they were all equally chattel (under chattel slavery), but there were blatant inequalities of conditions, and undoubtedly "internal" social hierarchies, as in prisons. "Freedom of choice places the whole blame of failure on the shoulders of the individual" only if the individual has been conditioned to accept some myth of absolute freedom of choice: E.g., "You can be anything you want to be," when I'd like to be a porpoise.
Freedom from Responsibility
We join a mass movement to escape individual responsibility, or, in the words of the ardent young Nazi, “to be free from freedom.”It was not sheer hypocrisy when the rank-and-file Nazis declared themselves not guilty of all the enormities they had committed. They considered themselves cheated and maligned when made to shoulder responsibility for obeying orders. Had they not joined the Nazi movement in order to be free from responsibility? (§26; p. 31)
The final question is rhetorical; note Erich Fromm's at-the-time well-known 1941 book Escape from Freedom.
Freedom/Equality, and a Nicely Cynical (and Snobbish) Aphorism: "Where freedom is real, equality is the passion of the masses. Where equality is real, freedom is the passion of a small minority." (§29; p. 33)
Something of a Digression Here on Movement Hostility to "The Family"
The attitude of rising mass movements toward the family is of considerable interest. Almost all our contemporary movements showed in their early stages a hostile attitude toward the family, and did all they could to discredit and disrupt it. […] Still, not one of our contemporary movements was so outspoken in its antagonism toward the family as was early Christianity. Jesus minced no words: “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me.” [***] As one would expect, a disruption of the family, whatever its causes, fosters automatically a collective spirit and creates a responsiveness to the appeal of mass movements. (§32; pp. 36, 37)
Snobbish Analysis of Discontent among the Colonized, but With a Valid Point (and One Hoffer Applies Also to Us)
The discontent generated in backward countries by their contact with Western civilization is not primarily resentment against exploitation by domineering foreigners. It is rather the result of a crumbling or weakening of tribal solidarity and communal life. The ideal of self-advancement which the civilizing West offers to backward populations brings with it the plague of individual frustration. All the advantages brought by the West are ineffectual substitutes for the sheltering and soothing anonymity of a communal existence. Even when the Westernized native attains personal success —becomes rich, or masters a respected profession — he is not happy. He feels naked and orphaned. The nationalist movements in the colonial countries are partly a striving after group existence and an escape from Western individualism. The Western colonizing powers offer the native the gift of individual freedom and independence. They try to teach him self-reliance. What it all actually amounts to is individual isolation. It means the cutting off of an immature and poorly furnished individual from the corporate whole and releasing him, in the words of Khomiakov, “to the freedom of his own impotence.” The feverish desire to band together and coalesce into marching masses so manifest both in our homelands and in the countries we colonize is the expression of a desperate effort to escape this ineffectual, purposeless individual existence. (§33; pp. 38-39)
Again, the use of Types here slides into stereotypes. It would be useful to have some statistics to refine the generalizations and give some "texture" and nuance. But that was a job for later students, with different training and agendas from Hoffer's.
Divide et Impera (Divide and Rule)
The device of “divide and rule” is ineffective when it aims at a weakening of all forms of cohesion among the ruled. The breaking up of a village community, a tribe or a nation into autonomous individuals does not eliminate or stifle the spirit of rebellion against the ruling power. An effective division is one that fosters a multiplicity of compact bodies—racial, religious or economic—vying with and suspicious of each other.
Even when a colonial power is wholly philanthropic and its sole aim is to bring prosperity and progress to a backward people, it must do all it can to preserve and reinforce the corporate pattern. It must not concentrate on the individual but inject the innovations and reforms into tribal or communal channels and let the tribe or the community progress as a whole. (§33; p. 39)
Armies and/vs. Mass Movements || Intact vs. Crumbling Collective Bodies
Another and final illustration of the thesis that effective collective bodies are immune to the appeal of mass movements but that a crumbling collective pattern is the most favorable milieu for their rise is found in the relation between the collective body we know as an army and mass movements. There is hardly an instance of an intact army giving rise to a religious, revolutionary or nationalist movement. On the other hand, a disintegrating army — whether by the orderly process of demobilization or by desertion due to demoralization — is fertile ground for a proselytizing movement. The man just out of the army is an ideal potential convert, and we find him among the early adherents of all contemporary mass movements. He feels alone and lost in the free-for-all of civilian life. The responsibilities and uncertainties of an autonomous existence weigh and prey upon him. He longs for certitude, camaraderie, freedom from individual responsibility, and a vision of something altogether different from the competitive free society around him — and he finds all this in the brotherhood and the revivalist atmosphere of a rising movement. (§35; p. 45)
Earlier in the book, Hoffer points to a complexity on armies and movements: "It was the new poor in seventeenth-century England who ensured the success of the Puritan Revolution. […] It was this mass of the dispossessed who furnished the recruits for [Oliver] Cromwell’s new-model army" (§20; p. 26), with Cromwell's army the strong arm of the Puritan Revolution and a source of radical thinkers.
Hoffer's habit of typological thinking gets him into trouble here (and elsewhere): "The man just out of the army" is an abstraction; for Hoffer's point we'd need statistics on actual men who had been demobilized and discharged, most of whom don't end up in mass movements (or drug addicts or suicides or failures).
Corporate Disintegration —> Rise of Mass Movements
Enlightenment —> Mass Movements that are Socialist, Nationalist, or Racist
The milieu most favorable for the rise and propagation of mass movements is one in which a once compact corporate structure is, for one reason or another, in a state of disintegration. The age in which Christianity rose and spread “was one when large numbers of men were uprooted. The compact city states had been partly merged into one vast empire … and the old social and political groupings had been weakened or dissolved.”Christianity made its greatest headway in the large cities where lived “thousands of deracinated individuals, some of them slaves, some freedmen, and some merchants, who had been separated by force or voluntarily from their hereditary milieu.”In the countryside where the communal pattern was least disturbed, the new religion found the ground less favorable. The villagers (pagani) and the heath-dwellers (heathen) clung longest to the ancient cults. […]
The general rule seems to be that as one pattern of corporate cohesion weakens, conditions become ripe for the rise of a mass movement and the eventual establishment of a new and more vigorous form of compact unity. […] If the religious mood is undermined by enlightenment, the rising movements will be socialist, nationalist or racist. The French Revolution, which was also a nationalist movement, came as abreaction not against the vigorous tyranny of the Catholic Church and the ancient regime but against their weakness and ineffectuality. When people revolt in a totalitarian society, they rise not against the wickedness of the regime but its weakness. (§35; pp. 42-43)
Temporary Misfits: Unemployed Youth, College Grads, Veterans, Immigrants
The frustration of misfits can vary in intensity. There are first the temporary misfits: people who have not found their place in life but still hope to find it. Adolescent youth, unemployed college graduates, veterans, new immigrants and the like are of this category. They are restless, dissatisfied and haunted by the fear that their best years will be wasted before they reach their goal. They are receptive to the preaching of a proselytizing movement and yet do not always make staunch converts. For they are not irrevocably estranged from the self; they do not see it as irremediably spoiled. It is easy for them to conceive an autonomous existence that is purposeful and hopeful. The slightest evidence of progress and success reconciles them with the world and their selves. (§36; p. 46)
"Permanent Misfits," Especially Failures in Creative Fields
The permanent misfits are those who because of a lack of talent or some irreparable defect in body or mind cannot do the one thing for which their whole being craves. No achievement, however spectacular, in other fields can give them a sense of fulfillment. Whatever they undertake becomes a passionate pursuit; but they never arrive, never pause. […]
The most incurably frustrated — and, therefore, the most vehement — among the permanent misfits are those with an unfulfilled craving for creative work. Both those who try to write, paint, compose, etcetera [sic], and fail decisively, and those who after tasting the elation of creativeness feel a drying up of the creative flow within and know that never again will they produce aught worthwhile, are alike in the grip of a desperate passion. Neither fame nor power nor riches nor even monumental achievements in other fields can still their hunger. Even the wholehearted dedication to a holy cause does not always cure them. Their unappeased hunger persists, and they are likely to become the most violent extremists in the service of their holy cause. (§37; pp. 47-48)
We might want to dial back a bit the reference to failed or failing artists, but Hoffer had in mind Hitler and a number of other high-ranking Nazis.
VII. "The Inordinately Selfish"
The inordinately selfish are particularly susceptible to frustration. The more selfish a person, the more poignant his disappointments. It is the inordinately selfish, therefore, who are likely to be the most persuasive champions of selflessness. The fiercest fanatics are often selfish people who were forced, by innate shortcomings or external circumstances, to lose faith in their own selves. They separate the excellent instrument of their selfishness from their ineffectual selves and attach it to the service of some holy cause. And though it be a faith of love and humility they adopt, they can be neither loving nor humble. (§38; p. 48)
VIII. "The Ambitious Facing Unlimited Opportunities":
"Unlimited opportunities can be as potent a cause of frustration as a paucity or lack of opportunities. When opportunities are apparently unlimited, there is an inevitable deprecation of the present. The attitude is: 'All that I am doing or possibly can do is chicken feed compared with what is left undone'" (§39; p. 49)
A minority which preserves its identity is inevitably a compact whole which shelters the individual, gives him a sense of belonging and immunizes him against frustration. On the other hand, in a minority bent on assimilation, the individual stands alone, pitted against prejudice and discrimination. He is also burdened with the sense of guilt, however vague, of a renegade. The orthodox Jew is less frustrated than the emancipated Jew. The segregated Negro in the South is less frustrated than the nonsegregated Negro in the North.
Again, within a minority bent on assimilation, the least and most successful (economically and culturally) are likely to be more frustrated than those in between.
X "The Bored"
There is perhaps no more reliable indicator of a society’s ripeness for a mass movement than the prevalence of unrelieved boredom. In almost all the descriptions of the periods preceding the rise of mass movements there is reference to vast ennui; and in their earliest stages mass movements are more likely to find sympathizers and support among the bored than among the exploited and oppressed. To a deliberate fomenter of mass upheavals, the report that people are bored stiff should be at least as encouraging as that they are suffering from intolerable economic or political abuses. (§41; pp. 51-52)
No feminist, Hoffer has it that "Boredom accounts for the almost invariable presence of spinsters and middle-aged women at the birth of mass movements. Even in the case of Islam and the Nazi movement, which frowned upon feminine activity outside the home, we find women of a certain type playing an important role in the early stage of their development" (§41; p. 52). Especially given Hoffer's definition of "frustrated" and his emphasis on frustration, boredom would be only part of the explanation for why talented women would involve themselves in movements in sexist societies. Hoffer cites "society ladies" providing early finance for the Nazis and "bored wives of businessmen before the French Revolution." Contemporary scholars of religious history would point to the Prophet (sic) Miriam and her role in the Exodus — which Hoffer notes as a particularly literal mass movement — and women in the early Christian church.
XI "The Sinners"
Fervent patriotism as well as religious and revolutionary enthusiasm often serves as a refuge from a guilty conscience. It is a strange thing that both the injurer and the injured, the sinner and he who is sinned against, should find in the mass movement an escape from a blemished life. Remorse and a sense of grievance seem to drive people in the same direction. It sometimes seems that mass movements are custom-made to fit the needs of the criminal — not only for the catharsis of his soul but also for the exercise of his inclinations and talents. The technique of a proselytizing mass movement aims to evoke in the faithful the mood and frame of mind of a repentant criminal. (§42; p. 53)
PART 3: United Action and Self-Sacrifice
XII "Preface" (to Part 3)
"Frustration," "self-sacrifice," and Other Aspects of Fanaticism
The vigor of a mass movement stems from the propensity of its followers for united action and self-sacrifice. […] With few exceptions, any group or organization which tries, for one reason or another, to create and maintain compact unity and a constant readiness for self-sacrifice usually manifests the peculiarities — both noble and base — of a mass movement. On the other hand, a mass movement is bound to lose much which distinguishes it from other types of organization when it relaxes its collective compactness and begins to countenance self-interest as a legitimate motive of activity. In times of peace and prosperity, a democratic nation is an institutionalized association of more or less free individuals. On the other hand, in time of crisis, when the nation's existence is threatened, and it tries to reinforce its unity and generate in its people a readiness for self-sacrifice, it almost always assumes in some degree the character of a mass movement. The same is true of religious and revolutionary organizations: whether or not they develop into mass movements depends less on the doctrine they preach and the program they project than on the degree of their preoccupation with unity and the readiness for self-sacrifice. [§43; p. 58]
The important point is that in the poignantly frustrated the propensities for united action and self-sacrifice arise spontaneously. It should be possible, therefore, to gain some clues concerning the nature of these propensities, and the technique to be employed for their deliberate inculcation, by tracing their spontaneous emergence in the frustrated mind. What ails the frustrated? It is the consciousness of an irremediably blemished self. Their chief desire is to escape that self — and it is this desire which manifests itself in a propensity for united action and self-sacrifice. The revulsion from an unwanted self, and the impulse to forget it, mask it, slough it off and lose it, produce both a readiness to sacrifice the self and a willingness to dissolve it by losing one’s individual distinctness in a compact collective whole. Moreover, the estrangement from the self is usually accompanied by a train of diverse and seemingly unrelated attitudes and impulses which a closer probing reveals to be essential factors in the process of unification and of self-sacrifice. In other words, frustration not only gives rise to the desire for unity and the readiness for self-sacrifice but also creates a mechanism for their realization. Such diverse phenomena as a deprecation of the present, a facility for make-believe, a proneness to hate, a readiness to imitate, credulity, a readiness to attempt the impossible, and many others which crowd the minds of the intensely frustrated are, as we shall see, unifying agents and prompters of recklessness. (§43; p.59, Erlich's emphasis) * * *
The capacities for united action and self-sacrifice seem almost always to go together. When we hear of a group that is particularly contemptuous of death, we are usually justified in concluding that the group is closely knit and thoroughly unified.2 On the other hand, when we face a member of a compact group, we are likely to find him contemptuous of death. Both united action and self-sacrifice require self-diminution. In order to become part of a compact whole, the individual has to forego much. He has to give up privacy, individual judgment and often individual possessions. To school a person to united action is, therefore, to ready him for acts of self-denial. On the other hand, the man who practices self-abnegation sloughs off the hard shell which keeps him apart from others and is thus made assimilable. Every unifying agent is, therefore, a promoter of self-sacrifice and vice versa. (§43; pp. 60-61)
It is well to outline here the plan followed in Sections 44–63,which deal with the subject of self-sacrifice. The technique of fostering a readiness to fight and to die consists in separating the individual from his flesh-and-blood self—in not allowing him to be his real self. This can be achieved by the thorough assimilation of the individual into a compact collective body—Sections 44–46; by endowing him with an imaginary self (make-believe)—Section 47; by implanting in him a deprecating attitude toward the presentand riveting his interest on things that are not yet — Sections 48–55; by interposing a fact-proof screen between him and reality (doctrine) — Sections 56–59; by preventing, through the injection of passions, the establishment of a stable equilibrium between the individual and his self (fanaticism)—Sections 60–63. (§43; p. 61, Erlich's emphasis)
XIII "Factors Promoting Self-Sacrifice"
"Identification with a Collective Whole"
Taking Self-SacrificeLiterally: The Individual and the Group
To ripen a person for self-sacrifice he must be stripped of his individual identity and distinctness. He must cease to be George, Hans, Ivan, or Tadao — a human atom with an existence bounded by birth and death. The most drastic way to achieve this end is by the complete assimilation of the individual into a collective body. The fully assimilated individual does not see himself and others as human beings. When asked who he is, his automatic response is that he is a German, a Russian, a Japanese, a Christian, a Moslem, a member of a certain tribe or family. He has no purpose, worth and destiny apart from his collective body; and as long as that body lives he cannot really die.
To a man utterly without a sense of belonging, mere life is all that matters. (§44; p. 62)
Cf. O'Brien to Winston Smith in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four on the sense of power and even immortality that comes with total surrender to, and identification with, the Party, which O'Brien thinks immortal.
Above all, he [the True Believer] must never feel alone. Though stranded on a desert island, he must still feel that he is under the eyes of the group. To be cast out from the group should be equivalent to being cut off from life.
This is undoubtedly a primitive state of being, and its most perfect examples are found among primitive tribes. Mass movements strive to approximate this primitive perfection, and we are not imagining things when the anti-individualist bias of contemporary mass movements strikes us as a throwback to the primitive. (§45; p. 63)
On the other hand, note hypermodern civilized people in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1931/32), who must never feel alone, contrasted with John, the Savage, who understands the virtues of solitude.
The Positive Power of Identification
The capacity to resist coercion stems partly from the individual’s identification with a group. The people who stood up best in the Nazi concentration camps were those who felt themselves members of a compact party (the Communists), of a church (priests and ministers), or of a close-knit national group. The individualists, whatever their nationality, caved in. [***]
The unavoidable conclusion seems to be that when the individual faces torture or annihilation, he cannot rely on the resources of his own individuality. His only source of strength is in not being himself but part of something mighty, glorious and indestructible. Faith here is primarily a process of identification; the process by which the individual ceases to be himself and becomes part of something eternal. (§45; pp. 63-64)
Hoffer gives examples from Russian individuals "who cringe and crawl before Stalin's secret police" and those who identified with Mother Russia in fighting the Nazi invaders. Similarly with the Jews in Hitler's Europe as opposed to those fighting in and for Palestine, the creation of the State of Israel (§45; p, 65).
Dying and killing seem easy when they are part of a ritual, ceremonial, dramatic performance or game. There is need for some kind of make-believe in order to face death unflinchingly. […] It is one of the main tasks of a real leader to mask the grim reality of dying and killing by evoking in his followers the illusion that they are participating in a grandiose spectacle, a solemn or light-hearted dramatic performance.
Hitler dressed eighty million Germans in costumes and made them perform in a grandiose, heroic and bloody opera. In Russia, where even the building of a latrine involves some self-sacrifice, life has been an uninterrupted soul-stirring drama going on for thirty years, and its end is not yet. The people of London acted heroically under a hail of bombs because Churchill cast them in the role of heroes. […] It is doubtful whether in our contemporary world, with its widespread individual differentiation, any measure of general self-sacrifice can be realized without theatrical hocus-pocus and fireworks. [***]
The indispensability of play-acting in the grim business of dying and killing is particularly evident in the case of armies. Their uniforms, flags, emblems, parades, music, and elaborate etiquette and ritual are designed to separate the soldier from his flesh-and-blood self and mask the overwhelming reality of life and death. We speak of the theater of war and of battle scenes. […]
Glory is largely a theatrical concept. There is no striving for glory without a vivid awareness of an audience. (§47; pp. 66-68)
"DEPRECATION OF THE PRESENT"
At its inception a mass movement seems to champion the present against the past. It sees in the established institutions and privileges an encroachment of a senile, vile past on a virginal present. But, to pry loose the stranglehold of the past, there is need for utmost unity and unlimited self-sacrifice. This means that the people called upon to attack the past in order to liberate the present must be willing to give up enthusiastically any chance of ever tasting or inheriting the present. The absurdity of the proposition is obvious. Hence the inevitable shift in emphasis once the movement starts rolling. The present — the original objective — is shoved off the stage and its place taken by posterity—the future. More still: the present is driven back as if it were an unclean thing and lumped with the detested past. The battle line is now drawn between things that are and have been, and the things that are not yet. To lose one’s life is but to lose the present; and, clearly, to lose a defiled, worthless present is not to lose much. (§48; p. 69)
Not only does a mass movement depict the present as mean and miserable — it deliberately makes it so. […]. It views ordinary enjoyment as trivial or even discreditable, and represents the pursuit of personal happiness as immoral. To enjoy oneself is to have truck with the enemy — the present. The prime objective of the ascetic ideal preached by most movements is to breed contempt for the present. The campaign against the appetites is an effort to pry loose tenacious tentacles holding on to the present. That this cheerless individual life runs its course against a colorful and dramatic background of collective pageantry serves to accentuate its worthlessness.
The very impracticability of many of the goals which a mass movement sets itself is part of the campaign against the present. (§48; pp. 68-69)
Faith in miracles, too, implies a rejection and a defiance of the present. When [the Church Father] Tertullian proclaimed, “And He was buried and rose again; it is certain because it is impossible,” he was snapping his fingers at the present. Finally, the mysticism of a movement is also a means of deprecating the present. It sees the present as the faded and distorted reflection of a vast unknown throbbing underneath and beyond us. The present is a shadow and an illusion. (§48; p. 70)
Magical thinking is widespread, including in the USA, but much of the discussion above is immediately relevant more for a hard-core puritanical religious movement such as the Taliban or the would-be Islamic State. For those in the US and Europe, and the, so to speak, "kinder, gentler" successor to ISIS et al., this:
A glorification of the past can serve as a means to belittle the present. But unless joined with sanguine expectations of the future, an exaggerated view of the past results in an attitude of caution and not in the reckless strivings of a mass movement. On the other hand, there is no more potent dwarfing of the present than by viewing it as a mere link between a glorious past and a glorious future. Thus, though a mass movement at first turns its back on the past, it eventually develops a vivid awareness, often specious, of a distant glorious past. (§50; pp. 71-72, Erlich's emphasis)
The Taliban, ISIS, et al. have a strong advantage over 20th-c. mass movements who had to invent glorious pasts. Europe's Dark Ages — and helping them into those Dark Ages — was the start of the great Islamic conquests; Europe's Medieval Period was the era of the great Muslim civilizations. Islam has a "glorious past" and Muslims can be promised an even more "glorious future." US history is still too short to compete, but Hoffer's analysis suggests a truly charismatic leader — see below — could organize a movement around "Make America Great Again."
Making Predictions: "A deprecating attitude toward the present fosters a capacity for prognostication. The well-adjusted make poor prophets. On the other hand, those who are at war with the present have an eye for the seeds of change and the potentialities of small beginnings" (§51; pp. 72-73).
Digression on World-Views Around the Political Horse Shoe or Omega (Ω)
It is of interest to compare here the attitudes toward present, future and past shown by the conservative, the liberal, the skeptic, the radical and the reactionary. The conservative doubts that the present can be bettered, and he tries to shape the future in the image of the present. […] To the skeptic the present is the sum of all that has been and shall be. [Quoting Koheleth, "Ecclesiastes"] “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” The liberal sees the present as the legitimate offspring of the past and as constantly growing and developing toward an improved future: to damage the present is to maim the future. All three then cherish the present, and, as one would expect, they do not take willingly to the idea of self-sacrifice. Their attitude toward self-sacrifice is best expressed by the skeptic: “for a living dog is better than a dead lion" [Koheleth].
The radical and the reactionary loathe the present. They see it as an aberration and a deformity. Both are ready to proceed ruthlessly and recklessly with the present, and both are hospitable to the idea of self-sacrifice. Wherein do they differ? Primarily in their view of the malleability of man’s nature. The radical has a passionate faith in the infinite perfectibility of human nature. […]. The reactionary does not believe that man has unfathomed potentialities for good in him. If a stable and healthy society is to be established, it must be patterned after the proven models of the past. He sees the future as a glorious restoration rather than an unprecedented innovation.
In reality the boundary line between radical and reactionary is not always distinct [and both are areas for Hoffer's True Believers — RDE]. The reactionary manifests radicalism when he comes to recreate his ideal past. His image of the past is based less on what it actually was than on what he wants the future to be. He innovates more than he reconstructs. A somewhat similar shift occurs in the case of the radical when he goes about building his new world. He feels the need for practical guidance, and since he has rejected and destroyed the present he is compelled to link the new world with some point in the past. If he has to employ violence in shaping the new, his view of man’s nature darkens and approaches closer to that of the reactionary.
The blending of the reactionary and the radical is particularly evident in those engaged in a nationalist revival. The followers of Gandhi in India and the Zionists in Palestine would revive a glorified past and simultaneously create an unprecedented Utopia. The prophets, too, were a blend of the reactionary and the radical. They preached a return to the ancient faith and also envisaged a new world and a new life. (§52; pp. 73-74, Erlich's emphasis)
"THINGS WHICH ARE NOT"
One of the rules that emerges from a consideration of the factors that promote self-sacrifice is that we are less ready to die for what we have or are than for what we wish to have and to be. It is a perplexing and unpleasant truth that when men already have “something worth fighting for,” they do not feel like fighting. (§54; pp. 76-77)
It is not altogether absurd that people should be ready to die for a button, a flag, a word, an opinion, a myth and so on. It is on the contrary the least reasonable thing to give one’s life for something palpably worth having. For, surely, one’s life is the most real of all things real, and without it there can be no having of things worth having. Self-sacrifice cannot be a manifestation of tangible self-interest. Even when we are ready to die in order not to get killed, the impulse to fight springs less from self-interest than from intangibles such as tradition, honor (a word), and, above all, hope. (§55; p. 76)
"DOCTRINE" v. Facts
The readiness for self-sacrifice is contingent on an imperviousness to the realities of life. 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. […] All active mass movements strive, therefore, to interpose a factproof 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. […] To rely on the evidence of the senses and of reason is heresy and treason. 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. […]
It is the true believer’s ability to “shut his eyes and stop his ears” to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy. He cannot be frightened by danger nor disheartened by obstacles nor baffed by contradictions because he denies their existence. (§56; p. 79, Erlich's emphasis)
The effectiveness of a doctrine does not come from its meaning but from its certitude. No doctrine however profound and sublime will be effective unless it is presented as the embodiment of the one andonly truth. […] Crude absurdities, trivial nonsense and sublime truths are equally potent in readying people for self-sacrifice if they are accepted as the sole, eternal truth.
It is obvious, therefore, that in order to be effective a doctrine must not be understood, but has rather to be believed in. We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand. […]
The devout are always urged to seek the absolute truth with their hearts and not their minds. […] When a movement begins to rationalize its doctrine and make it intelligible, it is a sign that its dynamic span is over […]. For […] the stability of a regime requires the allegiance of the intellectuals, and it is to win them rather than to foster self-sacrifice in the masses that a doctrine is made intelligible. If a doctrine is not unintelligible, it has to be vague; and if neither unintelligible nor vague, it has to be unverifable. One has to get to heaven or the distant future to determine the truth of an effective doctrine. When some part of a doctrine is relatively simple, there is a tendency among the faithful to complicate and obscure it. Simple words are made pregnant with meaning and made to look like symbols in a secret message. There is thus an illiterate air about the most literate true believer. He seems to use words as if he were ignorant of their true meaning. (§57; pp. 80-81, Erlich's emphasis)
The American President Donald J. Trump may just be bad with words or have issues of brain aging, but it should be becoming clear why Timothy Snyder and other people familiar with the nastier 20th-c. mass movements became quickly nervous about Trumpism (and why Nineteen Eighty-Four spiked in sales).
[…M]ass movements are often necessary for the realization of drastic and abrupt changes. It seems necessary for the realization of drastic and abrupt changes. It seems strange that even practical and desirable changes, such as the renovation of stagnant societies, should require for their realization an atmosphere of intense passion and should have to be accompanied by all the faults and follies of an active mass movement. (§60; p. 83)
The fanatic cannot be weaned away from his cause by an appeal to his reason or moral sense. He fears compromiseand cannot be persuaded to qualify the certitude and righteousness of his holy cause. But he fnds no diffculty in swinging suddenly and wildly from one holy cause to another. He cannot be convinced but only converted. (§61; pp. 85-86, Erlich's emphasis)
Again, there is a problem with a typological approach: "The fanatic" is a Platonic ideal we shouldn't expect to find in nature — but like the ideal butterfly or "Representative Vertebrate" in an introductory biology book, it's a useful model.
On Faith, Conversion, Treason, and that Political Omega (Ω)
The opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a God or not. The atheist is a religious person. […] He is an atheist with devoutness and unction. […] So, too, the opposite of the chauvinist is not the traitor but the reasonable citizen who is in love with the present and has no taste for martyrdom and the heroic gesture. The traitor is usually a fanatic — radical or reactionary — who goes over to the enemy in order to hasten the downfall of a world he loathes. Most of the traitors in the Second World War came from the extreme right. “There seems to be a thin line between violent, extreme nationalism and treason.”
The kinship between the reactionary and the radical has been dealt with in Section 52. All of us who lived through the Hitler decade know that the reactionary and the radical have more in common than either has with the liberal or the conservative. (§62, p. 86)
He ["the fanatic] sees in tolerance a sign of weakness, frivolity and ignorance" (§68; p. 87)
XIV "Unifying Agents"
Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all unifying agents. […] Heine suggests that what Christian love cannot do is effected by a common hatred.
Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil. Usually the strength of a mass movement is proportionate to the vividness and tangibility of its devil. (§65; p. 91)
It seems that, like the ideal deity, the ideal devil is one. We have it from Hitler — the foremost authority on devils — that the genius of a great leader consists in concentrating all hatred on a single foe, making “even adversaries far removed from one another seem to belong to a single category. ”When Hitler picked the Jew as his devil, he peopled practically the whole world outside Germany with Jews or those who worked for them. […] Stalin, too, adheres to the monotheistic principle when picking a devil. Formerly this devil was a fascist; now he is an American plutocrat. […]
Finally, it seems, the ideal devil is a foreigner. To qualify as a devil, a domestic enemy must be given a foreign ancestry. (§67; pp. 92-93)
Injuries and Hatred / Making Opponents Feel Guilty
There is perhaps no surer way of infecting ourselves with virulent hatred toward a person than by doing him a grave injustice. That others have a just grievance against us is a more potent reason for hating them than that we have a just grievance against them. We do not make people humble and meek when we show them their guilt and cause them to be ashamed of themselves. We are more likely to stir their arrogance and rouse in them a reckless aggressiveness. (§69; p. 95, Erlich's emphasis)
The most effective way to silence our guilty conscience is to convince ourselves and others that those we have sinned against are indeed depraved creatures, deserving every punishment, even extermination. We cannot pity those we have wronged, nor can we be indifferent toward them. We must hate and persecute them or else leave the door open to self-contempt. (§71; pp. 95-96)
Intolerance and Violence Among the Righteous and Self-Righteous
Unity and self-sacrifice, of themselves, even when fostered by the most noble means, produce a facility for hating. Even when men league themselves mightily together to promote tolerance and peace on earth, they are likely to be violently intolerant toward those not of a like mind.
There is also this: when we renounce the self and become part of a compact whole, we not only renounce personal advantage but are also rid of personal responsibility. There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations, doubts and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgment. When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom—freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse. Herein undoubtedly lies part of the attractiveness of a mass movement. […] Hitler had a contemptuous opinion of the brutality of the autonomous individual. “Any violence which does not spring from a firm, spiritual base, will be wavering and uncertain. It lacks the stability which can only rest in a fanatical outlook.” [***]
The deindividualization which is a prerequisite for thorough integration and selfless dedication is also, to a considerable extent, a process of dehumanization. The torture chamber is a corporate institution. (§77; pp. 100-01)
Imitation and Obedience / Self-Sacrifice as Loss of Self
Obedience itself consists as much in the imitation of an example as in the following of a precept. […]
The chief burden of the frustrated is the consciousness of a blemished, ineffectual self, and their chief desire is to slough off the unwanted self and begin a new life. They try to realize this desire either by finding a new identity or by blurring and camouflaging their individual distinctness; and both these ends are reached by imitation. (§78; p. 101)
Immigrants to US: Rebirth
A feeling of superiority counteracts imitation. Had the millions of immigrants who came to this country been superior people — the cream of the countries they came from — there would have been not one U.S.A. but a mosaic of lingual and cultural groups. It was due to the fact that the majority of the immigrants were of the lowest and the poorest, the despised and the rejected, that the heterogeneous millions blended so rapidly and thoroughly. They came here with the ardent desire to shed their old world identity and be reborn to a new life; and they were automatically equipped with an unbounded capacity to imitate and adopt the new. The strangeness of the new country attracted rather than repelled them. They craved a new identity and a new life—and the stranger the new world the more it suited their inclination. Perhaps, to the non-Anglo-Saxons, the strangeness of the language was an added attraction. To have to learn to speak enhanced the illusion of being born anew.
Contempt/Hatred of Outsiders
Contempt for the outside world is of course the most effective defense against disruptive imitation. However, an active mass movement prizes hatred above passive contempt; and hatred does not stiflee imitation but often stimulates it […]. (§82; p. 104)
"PERSUASION AND COERCION"
Propaganda and Its Limits
[… P]ropaganda on its own cannot force its way into unwilling minds; neither can it inculcate something wholly new; nor can it keep people persuaded once they have ceased to believe. It penetrates only into minds already open, and rather than instill opinion it articulates and justifies opinions already present in the minds of its recipients. The gifted propagandist brings to a boil ideas and passions already simmering in the minds of his hearers. He echoes their innermost feelings. Where opinion is not coerced, people can be made to believe only in what they already “know.” (§83; p. 105)
Both they who convert and they who are converted by coercion need the fervent conviction that the faith they impose or are forced to adopt is the only true one. Without this conviction, the proselytizing terrorist, if he is not vicious to begin with, is likely to feel a criminal, and the coerced convert see himself as a coward who prostituted his soul to live.
Propaganda thus serves more to justify ourselves than to convince others; and the more reason we have to feel guilty, the more fervent our propaganda. (§84; pp. 106-7)
Violence and Fanaticism, Terrorism (Including US Terrorism)
It is probably as true that violence breeds fanaticism as that fanaticism begets violence.It is often impossible to tell which came first. Both those who employ violence and those subject to it are likely to develop a fanatical state of mind. Ferrero says of the terrorists of the French Revolution that the more blood they “shed the more they needed to believe in their principles as absolutes. Only the absolute might still absolve them in their own eyes and sustain their desperate energy. [They] did not spill all that blood because they believed in popular sovereignty as a religious truth; they tried to believe in popular sovereignty as a religious truth because their fear made them spill so much blood. ”The practice of terror serves the true believer not only to cow and crush his opponents but also to invigorate and intensify his own faith. Every lynching in our South not only intimidates the Negro but also invigorates the fanatical conviction of white supremacy. In the case of the coerced, too, violence can beget fanaticism. There is evidence that the coerced convert is often as fanatical in his adherence to the new faith as the persuaded convert, and sometimes even more so. […]
Thus coercion when implacable and persistent has an unequaled persuasiveness, and this not only with simple souls but also with those who pride themselves on the strength and integrity of their intellect. When an arbitrary decree from the Kremlin forces scientists, writers, and artists to recant their convictions and confess their errors, the chances are that such recantations and confessions represent genuine conversions rather than lip service. It needs fanatical faith to rationalize our cowardice. (§85; 107-08, Erlich's emphasis)
Hoffer may be too optimistic here about the level of violence needed to get people to submit enthusiastically. The Nazis and Stalinists (and enthusiasts under Lenin as well) were thugs and were enforcing policies that killed people. Threats to employment and status may be enough to force conformity when less is at stake. (Alternatively, Americans knuckle under to much less force than used many other places.)
Christian Persuasion and Coercion
There is hardly an example of a mass movement achieving vast proportions and a durable organization solely by persuasion. Professor K. S. Latourette, a very Christian historian, has to admit that “However incompatible the spirit of Jesus and armed force may be, and however unpleasant it may be to acknowledge the fact, as a matter of plain history the latter has often made it possible for the former to survive.” It was the temporal sword that made Christianity a world religion. Conquest and conversion went hand in hand, the latter often serving as a justification and a tool for the former. Where Christianity failed to gain or retain the backing of state power, it achieved neither a wide nor a permanent hold. (§86, p. 108)
Force and Faith — to Crush or Extend a Mass Movement
The assertion that a mass movement cannot be stopped by force is not literally true. Force can stop and crush even the most vigorous movement. But to do so the force must be ruthless and persistent. And here is where faith enters as an indispensable factor. For a persecution that is ruthless and persistent can come only from fanatical conviction. [Quoting Hitler,] “Any violence which does not spring from a firm, spiritual base, will be wavering and uncertain. It lacks the stability which can only rest in a fanatical outlook.” The terrorism which emanates from individual brutality neither goes far enough nor lasts long enough. It is spasmodic, subject to moods and hesitations. “But as soon as force wavers and alternates with forbearance, not only will the doctrine to be repressed recover again and again, but it will also be in a position to draw new benefit from every persecution. ”The holy terror only knows no limit and never flags.
Thus it seems that we need ardent faith not only to be able to resist coercion,but also to be able to exercise it effectively.
No matter how vital we think the role of leadership in the rise of a mass movement [and Hoffer thinks the Leader definitely vital], there is no doubt that the leader cannot create the conditions which make the rise of a movement possible. He cannot conjure a movement out of the void. There has to be an eagerness to follow and obey, and an intense dissatisfaction with things as they are, before movement and leader can make their appearance. When conditions are not ripe, the potential leader, no matter how gifted, and his holy cause, no matter how potent, remain without a following. The First World War and its aftermath readied the ground for the rise of the Bolshevik, Fascist[,] and Nazi movements. Had the war been averted or postponed a decade or two, the fate of Lenin, Mussolini[,] and Hitler would not have been different from that of the brilliant plotters and agitators of the nineteenth century who never succeeded in ripening the frequent disorders and crises of their time into full-scale mass movements. (§89; p. 112)
Once the stage is set, the presence of an outstanding leader is indispensable.Without him there will be no movement. The ripeness of the times does not automatically produce a mass movement, nor can elections, laws and administrative bureaus hatch one. It was Lenin who forced the flow of events into the channels of the Bolshevik revolution. Had he died in Switzerland, or on his way to Russia in 1917, it is almost certain that the other prominent Bolsheviks would have joined a coalition government. The result might have been a more or less liberal republic run chiefly by the bourgeoisie. In the case of Mussolini and Hitler the evidence is even more decisive: without them there would have been neither a Fascist nor a Nazi movement. (§90; p. 112, Erlich's emphasis)
Qualifications for the Leader
Exceptional intelligence, noble character and originality seem neither indispensable nor perhaps 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 recognition that the innermost craving of a following is for communion and that there can never be too much of it; a capacity for winning and holding the utmost loyalty of a group of able lieutenants. This last faculty is one of the most essential and elusive. The uncanny powers of a leader manifest themselves not so much in the hold he has on the masses as in his ability to dominate and almost bewitch a small group of able men. These men must be fearless, proud, intelligent and capable of organizing and running large-scale undertakings, and yet they must submit wholly to the will of the leader, draw their inspiration and driving force from him, and glory in this submission.
Not all the qualities enumerated above are equally essential. The most decisive for the effectiveness of a mass movement leader seem to be audacity, fanatical faith in a holy cause, an awareness of the importance of a close-knit collectivity, and, above all, the ability to evoke fervent devotion in a group of able lieutenants. Trotsky’s failure as a leader came from his neglect, or more probably his inability, to create a machine of able and loyal lieutenants. He did not attract personal sympathies, or if he did he could not keep them. (§90; 114-15, Erlich's emphasis)
If you're following the Donald J. Trump analogies, and would just as soon Mr. Trump did not lead an effective mass movement, what is hopeful here is his apparent inability so far (July of 2018) to recruit a significant cadre of lieutenants of high ability. He certainly can recruit a cabinet that will glory in submission, but maybe not consistently enough to prevent leaks and other evidence of palace intrigue. Since originally writing this in June of 2017, however, Mr. Trump has been more successful recruiting.
Leadership and Ideas (crude is okay) / Facts (optional)
The crude ideas advanced by many of the successful mass movement leaders of our time incline one to assume that a certain coarseness and immaturity of mind is an asset to leadership.However, it was not the intellectual crudity of an Aimee McPherson or a Hitler which won and held their following but the boundless self-confidence which prompted these leaders to give full rein to their preposterous ideas. A genuinely wise leader who dared to follow out the course of his wisdom would have an equal chance of success. The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.
Charlatanism of some degree is indispensable to effective leadership. There can be no mass movement without some deliberate misrepresentation of facts.(§91; p. 116, Erlich's emphasis)
Obedience of Followers, Centrality Thereof
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. When Stalin forces scientists, writers and artists to crawl on their bellies and deny their individual intelligence, sense of beauty and moral sense, he is not indulging a sadistic impulse but is solemnizing, in a most impressive way, the supreme virtue of blind obedience. All mass movements rank obedience with the highest virtues and put it on a level with faith […].Obedience is not only the first law of God, but also the first tenet of a revolutionary party and of fervent nationalism. “Not to reason why” is considered by all mass movements the mark of a strong and generous spirit. […]
The true believer, no matter how rowdy and violent his acts, is basically an obedient and submissive person. (§92; 117, Erlich's emphasis)
The frustrated follow a leader less because of their faith that he is leading them to a promised land than because of their immediate feeling that he is leading them away from their unwanted selves. Surrender to a leader is not a means to an end but a fulfillment. Whither they are led is of secondary importance.(§94; p. 119)
"ACTION" AND FAITH/TRUTH
All mass movements avail themselves of action as a means of unification. The conflicts a mass movement seeks and incites serve not only to down its enemies but also to strip its followers of their distinct individuality and render them more soluble in the collective medium. Clearing of land, building of cities, exploration and large-scale industrial undertakings serve a similar purpose. Even mere marching can serve as a unifier. The Nazis made vast use of this preposterous variant of action. Hermann Rauschning, who at first thought this eternal marching a senseless waste of time and energy, recognized later its subtle effect. “Marching diverts men’s thoughts. Marching kills thought. Marching makes an end of individuality.” (§98; p. 121)
Faith organizes and equips man’s soul for action.To be in possession of the one and only truth and never doubt one’s righteousness; to feel that one is backed by a mysterious power whether it be God, destiny or the law of history; to be convinced that one’s opponents are the incarnation of evil and must be crushed; to exult in self-denial and devotion to duty—these are admirable qualifications for resolute and ruthless action in any field. (§99; p. 122, Erlich's ephasis)
Mass movements make extensive use of suspicion in their machinery of domination. […]Fear of one’s neighbors, one’s friends and even one’s relatives seems to be the rule within all mass movements. Now and then innocentpeople are deliberately accused and sacrificed in order to keep suspicion alive. Suspicion is given a sharp edge by associating all opposition within the ranks with the enemy threatening the movement from without. This enemy — the indispensable devil of every mass movement — is omnipresent. […] It is the sacred duty of the true believer to be suspicious. He must be constantly on the lookout for saboteurs, spies and traitors. (§100; p. 124)
"THE EFFECTS OF UNIFICATION"
The exaltation of the true believer does not flow from reserves of strength and wisdom but from a sense of deliverance: he has been delivered from the meaningless burdens of an autonomous existence. “We Germans are so happy. We are free from freedom.”(§102; p. 127, Erlich's emphasis on what became a well-known quotation)
PART 4: Beginning and End
XV. "MEN OF WORDS"
Mass movements do not usually rise until the prevailing order has been discredited. The discrediting is not an automatic result of the blunders and abuses of those in power, but the deliberate work of men of words with a grievance. Where the articulate are absent or without a grievance, the prevailing dispensation, though incompetent and corrupt, may continue in power until it falls and crumbles of itself. On the other hand, a dispensation of undoubted merit and vigor may be swept away if it fails to win the allegiance of the articulate minority. (§104; p. 130)
The division between men of words, fanatics and practical men of action, as outlined in the following sections, is not meant to be categorical. Men like Gandhi and Trotsky start out as apparently ineffectual men of words and later display exceptional talents as administrators or generals. A man like Mohammed starts out as a man of words, develops into an implacable fanatic and finally reveals a superb practical sense. A fanatic like Lenin is a master of the spoken word and unequaled as a man of action. What the classification attempts to suggest is that the readying of the ground for a mass movement is done best by men whose chief claim to excellence is their skill in the use of the spoken or written word; that the hatching of an actual movement requires the temperament and the talents of the fanatic; and that the final consolidation of the movement is largely the work of practical men of action.The emergence of an articulate minority where there was none before is a potential revolutionary step. The Western powers were indirect and unknowing fomenters of mass movements in Asia not only by kindling resentment [...] but also by creating articulate minorities through educational work which was largely philanthropic. (§104; p. 131, Erlich's emphasis)
The rapid spread of Christianity in the Roman world was partly due to the fact that the pagan cults it sought to supplant were already thoroughly discredited. The discrediting was done, before and after the birth of Christianity, by the Greek philosophers who were bored with the puerility of the cults and denounced and ridiculed them in schools and city streets. Christianity made little headway against Judaism because the Jewish religion had the ardent allegiance of the Jewish men of words. The rabbis and their disciples enjoyed an exalted status in Jewish life of that day, where the school and the book supplanted the temple and the fatherland. In any social order where the reign of men of words is so supreme, no opposition can develop within and no foreign mass movement can gain a foothold.
The mass movements of modern time, whether socialist or nationalist, were invariably pioneered by poets, writers, historians, scholars, philosophers and the like. The connection between intellectual theoreticians and revolutionary movements needs no emphasis. But it is equally true that all nationalist movements — from the cult of la patrie in revolutionary France to the latest nationalist rising in Indonesia — were conceived not by men of action but by faultfinding intellectuals. (§107; p. 138)
When we debunk a fanatical faith or prejudice, we do not strike at the root of fanaticism. We merely prevent its leaking out at a certain point, with the likely result that it will leak out at some other point. Thus by denigrating prevailing beliefs and loyalties, the militant man of words unwittingly creates in the disillusioned masses a hunger for faith. For the majority of people cannot endure the barrenness and futility of their lives unless they have some ardent dedication, or some passionate pursuit in which they can lose themselves. Thus, in spite of himself, the scoffing man of words becomes the precursor of a new faith.
The genuine man of words himself can get along without faith in absolutes. […] The fanatics and the faith-hungry masses, however, are likely to invest such speculations with the certitude of holy writ, and make them the fountainhead of a new faith. Jesus was not a Christian, nor was Marx a Marxist. (§107; p. 139-40)
Hoffer notes the "irreverence of the Renaissance" preparing the ground for the revival/fanaticism of the Reformation and Counter Reformation. We can add today the scientific breakthroughs of the 19thcentury and the development of Biblical textual studies and archeology — eliciting the Fundamentalisms of the 20thcentury into the 21st.
To sum up, the militant man of words prepares the ground for the rise of a mass movement: 1) by discrediting prevailing creeds and institutions and detaching from them the allegiance of the people; 2) by indirectly creating a hunger for faith in the hearts of those who cannot live without it, so that when the new faith is preached it finds an eager response among the disillusioned masses; 3) by furnishing the doctrine and the slogans of the new faith; 4) by undermining the convictions of the “better people"— those who can get along without faith—so that when the new fanaticism makes its appearance they are without the capacity to resist it. They see no sense in dying for convictions and principles, and yield to the new order without a fight.
Thus when the irreverent intellectual has done his work:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand,
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
[W. B. Yeats, "The Second Coming," 1919/1920]
The stage is now set for the fanatics. (§108; pp. 140-41)
XVI. "The Fanatics"
When the moment is ripe, only the fanatic can hatch a genuine mass movement. Without him the disaffection engendered by militant men of words remains undirected and can vent itself only in pointless and easily suppressed disorders. Without him the initiated reforms, even when drastic, leave the old way of life unchanged, and any change in government usually amounts to no more than a transfer of power from one set of men of action to another. Without him there can perhaps be no new beginning. When the old order begins to fall apart, many of the vociferous men of words, who prayed so long for the day, are in a funk. The first glimpse of the face of anarchy frightens them out of their wits. They forget all they said about the “poor simple folk” and run for help to strong men of action—princes, generals, administrators, bankers, landowners—who know how to deal with the rabble and how to stem the tide of chaos.
Not so the fanatic. Chaos is his element.(§110; p. 143, Erlich's emphasis)
Whence come the fanatics? Mostly from the ranks of the noncreative men of words.The most significant division between men of words is between those who can find fulfillment in creative work and those who cannot. The creative man of words, no matter how bitterly he may criticize and deride the existing order, is actually attached to the present. His passion is to reform and not to destroy. […] When the struggle with the old order is bitter and chaotic and victory can be won only by utmost unity and self-sacrifice, the creative man of words is usually shoved aside and the management of affairs falls into the hands of the noncreative men of words — the eternal misfits and the fanatical contemners of the present.
The man who wants to write a great book, paint a great picture, create an architectural masterpiece, become a great scientist, and knows that never in all eternity will he be able to realize this, his innermost desire, can find no peace in a stable social order—old or new. He sees his life as irrevocably spoiled and the world perpetually out of joint. He feels at home only in a state of chaos.
The creative man of words is ill at ease in the atmosphere of an active movement. He feels that its whirl and passion sap his creative energies. […] The result is that, once the movement starts rolling, he either retires voluntarily or is pushed aside. Moreover, since the genuine man of words can never wholeheartedly and for long suppress his critical faculty, he is inevitably cast in the role of the heretic. Thus unless the creative man of words stifles the newborn movement by allying himself with practical men of action or unless he dies at the right moment, he is likely to end up either a shunned recluse or in exile or facing a firing squad. (§ 111; p. 144-45)
The danger of the fanatic to the development of a movement is that he cannot settle down. Once victory has been won and the new order begins to crystallize, the fanatic becomes an element of strain and disruption. […] Hatred has become a habit. With no more outside enemies to destroy, the fanatics make enemies of one another. Hitler — himself a fanatic — could diagnose with precision the state of mind of the fanatics who plotted against him within the ranks of the National Socialist party. In his order to the newly appointed chief of the SA after the purge of Röhm in 1934 he speaks of those who will not settle down: “… without realizing it, [they] have found in nihilism their ultimate confession of faith … their unrest and disquietude can find satisfaction only in some conspiratorial activity of the mind, in perpetually plotting the disintegration of whatever the set-up of the moment happens to be.”(§112; p. 146, Erlich's emphasis)
If allowed to have their way, the fanatics may split a movement into schism and heresies which threaten its existence. Even when the fanatics do not breed dissension, they can still wreck the movement by driving it to attempt the impossible. Only the entrance of a practical man of action can save the achievements of the movement. (§112; p. 147)
XVII. "The Practical Men of Action"
A movement is pioneered by men of words, materialized by fanatics and consolidated by men of action.
It is usually an advantage to a movement, and perhaps a prerequisite for its endurance, that these roles should be played by different men succeeding each other as conditions require. When the same person or persons (or the same type of person) leads a movement from its inception to maturity, it usually ends in disaster. […] There is of course the possibility of a change in character. A man of words might change into a genuine fanatic or into a practical man of action. Yet the evidence points that such metamorphoses are usually temporary, and that sooner or later there is a reversion to the original type. (§113; pp. 147-48)
On rare leaders who can use elements of mass movements and fanaticism without becoming The Leader for a mass movement.
There are, of course, rare leaders such as Lincoln, Gandhi, even F.D.R., Churchill[,] and Nehru.They do not hesitate to harness man’s hungers and fears to weld a following and make it zealous unto death in the service of a holy cause; but unlike a Hitler, a Stalin, or even a Luther and a Calvin,they are not tempted to use the slime of frustrated souls as mortar in the building of a new world. The self-confidence of these rare leaders is derived from and blended with their faith in humanity […]. (§113; p. 148, Erlich's emphasis)
The man of action saves the movement from the suicidal dissensions and the recklessness of the fanatics. But his appearance usually marks the end of the dynamic phase of the movement. The war with the present is over. The genuine man of action is intent not on renovating the world but on possessing it. Whereas the life breath of the dynamic phase was protest and a desire for drastic change, the final phase is chiefly preoccupied with administering and perpetuating the power won.
With the appearance of the man of action the explosive vigor of the movement is embalmed and sealed in sanctified institutions. A religious movement crystallizes in a hierarchy and a ritual; a revolutionary movement, in organs of vigilance and administration; a nationalist movement, in governmental and patriotic institutions. (§114; p. 149, Erlich's emphasis)
The chief preoccupation of a man of action when he takes over an “arrived” movement is to fix and perpetuate its unity and readiness for self-sacrifice. His ideal is a compact, invincible whole that functions automatically. To achieve this he cannot rely on enthusiasm, for enthusiasm is ephemeral. Persuasion, too, is unpredictable. He inclines, therefore, to rely mainly on drill and coercion. He finds the assertion that all men are cowards less debatable than that all men are fools, and, in the words of Sir John Maynard, inclines to found the new order on the necks of the people rather than in their hearts. The genuine man of action is not a man of faith but a man of law. (§115; p. 150)
On a Mature, Settled-Down Mass Movement:
In the hands of a man of action the mass movement ceases to be a refuge from the agonies and burdens of an individual existence and becomes a means of self-realization for the ambitious. [***] The movement at this stage still concerns itself with the frustrated — not to harness their discontent in a deadly struggle with the present, but to reconcile them with it; to make them patient and meek. To them it offers the distant hope, the dream and the vision.Thus at the end of its vigorous span the movement is an instrument of power for the successful and an opiate for the frustrated. (§116; p. 152, Erlich's emphasis)
XVIII. "Good and Bad Mass Movements"
"THE UNATTRACTIVENESS AND STERILITY OF THE ACTIVE PHASE"
[… N]o matter how noble the original purpose of a movement and however beneficent the end result, its active phase is bound to strike us as unpleasant if not evil. The fanatic who personifies this phase is usually an unattractive human type. He is ruthless, self-righteous, credulous, disputatious, petty and rude. He is often ready to sacrifice relatives and friends for his holy cause. The absolute unity and the readiness for self-sacrifice which give an active movement its irresistible drive and enable it to undertake the impossible are usually achieved at a sacrifice of much that is pleasant and precious in the autonomous individual. No mass movement, however sublime its faith and worthy its purpose, can be good if its active phase is overlong, and, particularly, if it is continued after the movement is in undisputed possession of power. Such mass movements as we consider more or less beneficent—the Reformation, the Puritan, French and American Revolutions, and many of the nationalist movements of the past hundred years—had active phases which were relatively short, though while they lasted they bore, to a greater or lesser degree, the imprint of the fanatic. (§117; p. 153, Erlich's emphasis)
Creativity following the end of the active phase of a movement,
The mass movement leader who benefits his people and humanity knows not only how to start a movement, but, like Gandhi, when to end its active phase.
Where a mass movement preserves for generations the pattern shaped by its active phase (as in the case of the militant church through the Middle Ages), or where by a successive accession of fanatical proselytes its orthodoxy is continually strengthened (as in the case of Islam), the result is an era of stagnation — a dark age. Whenever we find a period of genuine creativeness associated with a mass movement, it is almost always a period which either precedes or, more often, follows the active phase. Provided the active phase of the movement is not too long and does not involve excessive bloodletting and destruction, its termination, particularly when it is abrupt, often releases a burst of creativeness.(§117; p. 154, Erlich's emphasis)
Stengths of the Movement can be weaknesses in a context for creativity.
The interference of an active mass movement with the creative process is deep-reaching and manifold: 1) The fervor it generates drains the energies which would have flowed into creative work. […] 2) It subordinates creative work to the advancement of the movement. Literature, art and science must be propagandistic and they must be “practical.” […] 3) Where a mass movement opens vast fields of action (war, colonization, industrialization), there is an additional drain of creative energy. 4) The fanatical state of mind by itself can stifle all forms of creative work. The fanatic’s disdain for the present blinds him to the complexity and uniqueness of life. The things which stir the creative worker seem to him either trivial or corrupt. […] St. Bernard of Clerveaux could walk all day by the lake of Geneva and never see the lake. […] The blindness of the fanatic is a source of strength (he sees no obstacles), but it is the cause of intellectual sterility and emotional monotony. The fanatic is also mentally cocky, and hence barren of new beginnings. At the root of his cockiness is the conviction that life and the universe conform to a simple formula — his formula. He is thus without the fruitful intervals of groping, when the mind is as it were in solution — ready for all manner of new reactions, new combinations and new beginnings. (§118; pp. 155-56, Erlich's emphasi)
"SOME FACTORS WHICH DETERMINE THE LENGTH OF THE ACTIVE PHASE"
A mass movement with a concrete, limited objective is likely to have a shorter active phase than a movement with a nebulous, indefinite objective. The vague objective is perhaps indispensable for the development of chronic extremism. […] When a mass movement is set in motion to free a nation from tyranny, either domestic or foreign, or to resist an aggressor, or to renovate a backward society, there is a natural point of termination once the struggle with the enemy is over or the process of reorganization is nearing completion. On the other hand, when the objective is an ideal society of perfect unity and selflessness whether it be the City of God, a Communist heaven on earth, or Hitler's warrior state-the active phase is without an automatic end. (§120; p. 157, Erlich's emphasis)
Modest recommendation for limiting big social experiments to small states.
The promising communal settlements in the small state of Israel and the successful programs of socialization in the small Scandinavian states indicate perhaps that when the attempt to realize an ideal society is undertaken by a small nation with a more or less homogeneous population it can proceed and succeed in an atmosphere which is neither hectic nor coercive. […] It would probably be fortunate for the Occident if the working out of all extreme social experiments were left wholly to small states with homogeneous, civilized populations.The principle of a pilot plant, practiced in the large mass-production industries, could thus perhaps be employed in the realization of social progress. (§121; p. 159, Erlich's emphasis)
On the question, Could it happen here — fanatical, mass-movement authoritarianism in the USA:
One cannot maintain with certitude that it would be impossible for a Hitler or a Stalin to rise in a country with an established tradition of freedom. What can be asserted with some plausibility is that in a traditionally free country a Hitler or a Stalin might not find it too difficult to gain power but extremely hard to maintain himself indefinitely. Any marked improvement in economic conditions would almost certainly activate the tradition of freedom which is a tradition of revolt. In Russia, as pointed out in Section 45, the individual who pitted himself against Stalin had nothing to identify himself with, and his capacity to resist coercion was nil. But in a traditionally free country the individual who pits himself against coercion does not feel an isolated human atom but one of a mighty race — his rebellious ancestors. (§121; p. 160)
After some 160 pages of saying some pretty hard things about The True Believer (fanatic!) and the sterility and bloodiness of the active phase of Mass Movements, Hoffer looks, a bit, on the bright side.
When we see the Reformation, the Puritan, American and French revolutions and many of the nationalist uprisings terminate, after a relatively short active phase, in a social order marked by increased individual liberty, we are witnessing the realization of moods and examples which characterized the earliest days of these movements. All of them started out by defying and overthrowing a long-established authority. The more clear-cut this initial act of defiance and the more vivid its memory in the minds of the people, the more likely is the eventual emergence of individual liberty. There was no such clear-cut act of defiance in the rise of Christianity. It did not start by overthrowing a king, a hierarchy, a state or a church. […] The eventual emancipation of the Christian mind at the time of the Renaissance in Italy drew its inspiration not from the history of early in Italy drew its inspiration not from the history of early Christianity but from the stirring examples of individual independence and defiance in the Graeco-Roman past. There is a similar lack of a dramatic act of defiance at the birth of Islam and of the Japanese collective body, and in neither are there even now signs of genuine individual emancipation. German nationalism, too, unlike the nationalism of most Western countries, did not start with a spectacular act of defiance against established authority. It was taken under the wing from its beginning by the Prussian army.5 The seed of individual liberty in Germany is in its Protestantism and not its nationalism. The Reformation, the American, French and Russian revolutions and most of the nationalist movements opened with a grandiose overture of individual defiance, and the memory of it is kept green.
By this test, the eventual emergence of individual liberty in Russia is perhaps not entirely hopeless.
"USEFUL MASS MOVEMENTS"
All the true believers of our time—whether Communist, Nazi, Fascist, Japanese or Catholic—declaimed volubly (and the Communists still do) on the decadence of the Western democracies. The burden of their talk is that in the democracies people are too soft, too pleasure-loving and too selfish to die for a nation, a God or a holy cause. This lack of a readiness to die, we are told, is indicative of an inner rot—a moral and biological decay. The democracies are old, corrupt and decadent. They are no match for the virile congregations of the faithful who are about to inherit the earth.There is a grain of sense and more than a grain of nonsense in these declamations. […]
According to the Nazis, Germany was decadent in the 1920's and wholly virile in the 1930's. Surely a decade is too short a time to work significant biological or even cultural changes in a population of millions. It is nevertheless true that in times like the Hitler decade the ability to produce a mass movement in short order is of vital importance to a nation. The mastery of the art of religiofication is an essential requirement in the leader of a democratic nation, even though the need to practice it might not arise. And it is perhaps true that extreme intellectual fastidiousness or a businessman’s practical-mindedness disqualifies a man for national leadership. (§124; p. 163, Erlich's emphasis)
Though it cannot be maintained that mass movements are the only effective instrument of renascence, it seems yet to be true that in large and heterogeneous social bodies such as Russia, India, China, the Arabic world and even Spain, the process of awakening and renovation depends on the presence of some widespread fervent enthusiasm which perhaps only a mass movement can generate and maintain. When the process of renovation has to be realized in short order, mass movements may be indispensable even in small homogeneous societies.The inability to produce a full-fledged mass movement can be, therefore, a grave handicap to a social body. It has probably been one of China’s great misfortunes during the past hundred years that its mass movements (the Taiping rebellion and the Sun Yat-sen revolution) deteriorated or were stifled too soon. […]
It is probably better for a country that when its government begins to show signs of chronic incompetence it should be overthrown by a mighty mass upheaval — even though such overthrow involves a considerable waste of life and wealth — than that it should be allowed to fall and crumble of itself. A genuine popular upheaval is often an invigorating, renovating and integrating process. Where governments are allowed to die a lingering death, the result is often stagnation and decay […]. And since men of words usually play a crucial role in the rise of mass movements,it is obvious that the presence of an educated and articulate minority is probably indispensable for the continued vigor of a social body. It is necessary, of course, that the men of words should not be in intimate alliance with the established government.The long social stagnation of the Orient has many causes, but there is no doubt that one of the most important is the fact that for centuries the educated were not only few but almost always part of the government — either as officials or priests.(§125; pp. 165-66, Erlich's emphasis)
Indirectly, foreign influences are important for mass movements, and rebirths.
Foreign influence seems to be a prevailing factor in the process of social renascence. Jewish and Christian influences were active in the awakening of Arabia at the time of Mohammed. In the awakening of Europe from the stagnation of the Middle Ages we also find foreign influences —Graeco-Roman and Arabic. Western influences were active in the awakening of Russia, Japan and several Asiatic countries. The important point is that the foreign influence does not act in a direct way. […] The foreign influence acts mainly by creating an educated minority where there was none before or by alienating an existing articulate minority from the prevailing dispensation; and it is this articulate minority which accomplishes the work of renascence by setting in motion a mass movement. In other words, the foreign influence is merely the first link in a chain of processes, the last link of which is usually a mass movement; and it is the mass movement which shakes the social body out of its stagnation. In the case of Arabia, the foreign influences alienated the man of words, Mohammed, from the prevailing dispensation in Mecca. Mohammed started a mass movement (Islam) which shook and integrated Arabia for a time. In the time of the Renaissance, the foreign influences (Graeco-Roman and Arabic) facilitated the emergence of men of words who had no connection with the church, and also alienated many traditional men of words from the prevailing Catholic dispensation. The resulting movement of the Reformation shook Europe out of its torpor. In Russia, European influence (including Marxism) detached the allegiance of the intelligentsia from the Romanovs, and the eventual Bolshevik revolution is still at work renovating the vast Muscovite Empire. §125; pp. 166-67)
Hoffer concludes his text with an impressive if somewhat odd choice of sources to cite: "J. B. S. Haldane counts fanaticism among the only four really important inventions made between 3000 B.C. and 1400 A.D. It was a Judaic-Christian invention. And it is strange to think that in receiving this malady of the soul the world also received a miraculous instrument for raising societies and nations from the dead—an instrument of resurrection" (p. 168).
* * * * *
In another period of global warming, in a world heavily armed with nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, in a world in which ISIS awaits its Saladin and the Muscuvite Empire and the rulers in Bejing are reasserting themselves — in our world, a Trumpist mass movement might indeed get America moving again, but toward what?