Quotes for "The True Believer"

Eric Hoffer

  • 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.
  • “All I say is by way of discourse, and nothing by way of advice. I should not speak so boldly if it were my due to be believed.”
  • Peter the Great was probably the equal, in dedication, power and ruthlessness, of many of the most successful revolutionary or nationalist leaders. Yet he failed in his chief purpose, which was to turn Russia into a Western nation. And the reason he failed was that he did not infuse the Russian masses with some soul-stirring enthusiasm.
  • In modern times, the mass movements involved in the realization of vast and rapid change are revolutionary and nationalist—singly or in combination.
  • fervor. Judged by present indications, the renascence of Asia will be brought about through the instrumentality of nationalist movements rather than by other mediums.
  • 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.
  • There is in us a tendency to locate the shaping forces of our existence outside ourselves.
  • 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.
  • The abjectly poor, too, stand in awe of the world around them and are not hospitable to change. It is a dangerous life we live when hunger and cold are at our heels. There is thus 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.
  • When our mode of life is so precarious as to make it patent that we cannot control the circumstances of our existence, we tend to stick to the proven and the familiar. We counteract a deep feeling of insecurity by making of our existence a fixed routine. We hereby acquire the illusion that we have tamed the unpredictable.
  • mind.4 Lenin and the Bolsheviks who plunged recklessly into the chaos of the creation of a new world had blind faith in the omnipotence of Marxist doctrine. The Nazis had nothing as potent as that doctrine, but they had faith in an infallible leader and also faith in a new technique.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • If the Communists win Europe and a large part of the world, it will not be because they know how to stir up discontent or how to infect people with hatred, but because they know how to preach hope.
  • 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.
  • As for the hopeful: it does not seem to make any difference who it is that is seized with a wild hope—whether it be an enthusiastic intellectual, a land-hungry farmer, a get-rich-quick speculator, a sober merchant or industrialist, a plain workingman or a noble lord—they all proceed recklessly with the present, wreck it if necessary, and create a new world. There can thus be revolutions by the privileged as well as by the underprivileged.
  • 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.
  • Experience is a handicap.
  • 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.
  • Still, the fact remains that a practical concern cannot endure unless it can appeal to and satisfy self-interest, while the vigor and growth of a rising mass movement depend on its capacity to evoke and satisfy the passion for self-renunciation.
  • Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.
  • What looks like giving a hand is often a holding on for dear life.
  • war.”2 In a modern society people can live without hope only when kept dazed and out of breath by incessant hustling.
  • 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.
  • We cannot be sure that we have something worth living for unless we are ready to die for it.
  • We can have qualified confidence in ourselves, but the faith we have in our nation, religion, race or holy cause has to be extravagant and uncompromising.
  • Since all mass movements draw their adherents from the same types of humanity and appeal to the same types of mind, it follows: (a) all mass movements are competitive, and the gain of one in adherents is the loss of all the others; (b) all mass movements are interchangeable.
  • Said Luther: “In the eyes of the Italians we Germans are merely low Teutonic swine. They exploit us like charlatans and suck the country to the marrow. Wake up Germany!”7
  • The problem of stopping a mass movement is often a matter of substituting one movement for another. A social revolution can be stopped by promoting a religious or nationalist movement. Thus in countries where Catholicism has recaptured its mass movement spirit, it counteracts the spread of communism.
  • Emigration offers some of the things the frustrated hope to find when they join a mass movement, namely, change and a chance for a new beginning.
  • The superior individual, whether in politics, literature, science, commerce or industry, plays a large role in shaping a nation, but so do individuals at the other extreme—the failures, misfits, outcasts, criminals, and all those who have lost their footing, or never had one, in the ranks of respectable humanity. The game of history is usually played by the best and the worst over the heads of the majority in the middle.
  • 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.1
  • A nation without dregs and malcontents is orderly, decent, peaceful and pleasant, but perhaps without the seed of things to come. It was not the irony of history that the undesired in the countries of Europe should have crossed an ocean to build a new world on this continent. Only they could do it.
  • The discarded and rejected are often the raw material of a nation’s future. The stone the builders reject becomes the cornerstone of a new world.
  • 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.
  • Where people toil from sunrise to sunset for a bare living, they nurse no grievances and dream no dreams.
  • Every meal is a fulfillment; to go to sleep on a full stomach is a triumph; and every windfall a miracle. What need could they have for “an inspiring super-individual goal which would give meaning and dignity to their lives?” They are immune to the appeal of a mass movement.
  • The poor on the borderline of starvation live purposeful lives. To be engaged in a desperate struggle for food and shelter is to be wholly free from a sense of futility. The goals are concrete and immediate.
  • Misery does not automatically generate discontent, nor is the intensity of discontent directly proportionate to the degree of misery. Discontent is likely to be highest when misery is bearable; when conditions have so improved that an ideal state seems almost within reach.
  • Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some. We are less dissatisfied when we lack many things than when we seem to lack but one thing.
  • 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?
  • 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.”9 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?
  • Where freedom is real, equality is the passion of the masses. Where equality is real, freedom is the passion of a small minority. Equality without freedom creates a more stable social pattern than freedom without equality.
  • 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.”
  • 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.
  • It is futile to judge the viability of a new movement by the truth of its doctrine and the feasibility of its promises. What has to be judged is its corporate organization for quick and total absorption of the frustrated.
  • When people revolt in a totalitarian society, they rise not against the wickedness of the regime but its weakness.
  • 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.
  • An effective mass movement cultivates the idea of sin. It depicts the autonomous self not only as barren and helpless but also as vile. To confess and repent is to slough off one’s individual distinctness and separateness, and salvation is found by losing oneself in the holy oneness of the congregation.
  • the technique of a mass movement aims to infect people with a malady and then offer the movement as a cure. “What a task confronts the American clergy"—laments an American divine—"preaching the good news of a Savior to people who for the most part have no real sense of sin.”2
  • The reader is expected to quarrel with much that is said in this part of the book. He is likely to feel that much has been exaggerated and much ignored. But this is not an authoritative textbook. It is a book of thoughts, and it does not shy away from half-truths so long as they seem to hint at a new approach and help to formulate new questions.
  • 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.
  • One realizes now that the ghetto of the Middle Ages was for the Jews more a fortress than a prison. Without the sense of utmost unity and distinctness which the ghetto imposed upon them, they could not have endured with unbroken spirit the violence and abuse of those dark centuries. When the Middle Ages returned for a brief decade in our day, they caught the Jew without his ancient defenses and crushed him.
  • The untheatricality of most British Socialist leaders is a mark of uprightness and intellectual integrity, but it handicaps the experiment of nationalization which is undoubtedly the central purpose of their lives.1
  • To lose one’s life is but to lose the present; and, clearly, to lose a defiled, worthless present is not to lose much.
  • All mass movements deprecate the present by depicting it as a mean preliminary to a glorious future; a mere doormat on the threshold of the millennium.
  • when we fail in attempting the possible, the blame is solely ours; but when we fail in attempting the impossible, we are justified in attributing it to the magnitude of the task. There is less risk in being discredited when trying the impossible than when trying the possible. It is thus that failure in everyday affairs often breeds an extravagant audacity.
  • The self-mastery needed in overcoming their appetites gives them an illusion of strength. They feel that in mastering themselves they have mastered the world.
  • 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.
  • 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 baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence.
  • If a doctrine is not unintelligible, it has to be vague; and if neither unintelligible nor vague, it has to be unverifiable.
  • The devout are always urged to seek the absolute truth with their hearts and not their minds.
  • A peculiar side of credulity is that it is often joined with a proneness to imposture. The association of believing and lying is not characteristic solely of children. The inability or unwillingness to see things as they are promotes both gullibility and charlatanism.
  • we realize that the chief preoccupation of an active mass movement is to instill in its followers a facility for united action and self-sacrifice, and that it achieves this facility by stripping each human entity of its distinctness and autonomy and turning it into an anonymous particle with no will and no judgment of its own.
  • The fanatic is not really a stickler to principle. He embraces a cause not primarily because of its justness and holiness but because of his desperate need for something to hold on to.
  • He hungers for the deep assurance which comes with total surrender—with the wholehearted clinging to a creed and a cause. What matters is not the contents of the cause but the total dedication and the communion with a congregation.
  • “There seems to be a thin line between violent, extreme nationalism and treason.”25
  • To wrong those we hate is to add fuel to our hatred. Conversely, to treat an enemy with magnanimity is to blunt our hatred for him.
  • It is easier to hate an enemy with much good in him than one who is all bad. We cannot hate those we despise. The Japanese had an advantage over us in that they admired us more than we admired them. They could hate us more fervently than we could hate them.
  • The Americans are poor haters in international affairs because of their innate feeling of superiority over all foreigners.
  • Thus, though hatred is a convenient instrument for mobilizing a community for defense, it does not, in the long run, come cheap. We pay for it by losing all or many of the values we have set out to defend.
  • 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.
  • Imitation is often a shortcut to a solution. We copy when we lack the inclination, the ability or the time to work out an independent solution. People in a hurry will imitate more readily than people at leisure. Hustling thus tends to produce uniformity.
  • Propaganda by itself, however skillful, cannot keep people persuaded once they have ceased to believe. To maintain itself, a mass movement has to order things so that when the people no longer believe, they can be made to believe by force.25
  • Propaganda thus serves more to justify ourselves than to convince others;
  • [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.”
  • stronger.”29 Fanatical orthodoxy is in all movements a late development. It comes when the movement is in full possession of power and can impose its faith by force as well as 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 also seems that, where a mass movement can either persuade or coerce, it usually chooses the latter. Persuasion is clumsy and its results uncertain.
  • The proselytizing fanatic strengthens his own faith by converting others.
  • It needs the iron will, daring and vision of an exceptional leader to concert and mobilize existing attitudes and impulses into the collective drive of a mass movement.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • What are the talents requisite for such a performance? Exceptional intelligence, noble character and originality seem neither indispensable nor perhaps desirable.
  • Charlatanism of some degree is indispensable to effective leadership. There can be no mass movement without some deliberate misrepresentation of facts. No solid, tangible advantage can hold a following and make it zealous and loyal unto death.
  • 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.
  • Perhaps the clue to any heroic career is an unbounded capacity for imitation; a single-minded fashioning after a model. This excessive capacity for imitation indicates that the hero is without a fully developed and realized self.
  • The leader has to be practical and a realist, yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist.
  • 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.
  • To the frustrated, freedom from responsibility is more attractive than freedom from restraint. They are eager to barter their independence for relief from the burdens of willing, deciding and being responsible for inevitable failure. They willingly abdicate the directing of their lives to those who want to plan, command and shoulder all responsibility.
  • In time of crisis, during floods, earthquakes, epidemics, depressions and wars, separate individual effort is of no avail, and people of every condition are ready to obey and follow a leader. To obey is then the only firm point in a chaotic day-by-day existence.
  • 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.
  • When the leader in a free society becomes contemptuous of the people, he sooner or later proceeds on the false and fatal theory that all men are fools, and eventually blunders into defeat.
  • He must, as someone said, find out where the people are going so that he may lead them.
  • In a more or less free society, the leader can retain his hold on the people only when he has blind faith in their wisdom and goodness.
  • One of the reasons that Communist leaders are losing out in our unions is that by following the line and adopting the tactics of the party, they are assuming the attitude and using the tactics of a mass movement leader in an organization made up of free men.
  • in an active mass movement, the leader can exact blind obedience, he can operate on the sound theory that all men are cowards, treat them accordingly and get results.
  • One is never really stripped for action unless one is stripped of a distinct and differentiated self. An active people thus tends toward uniformity.
  • Men of thought seldom work well together, whereas between men of action there is usually an easy camaraderie. Teamwork is rare in intellectual or artistic undertakings, but common and almost indispensable among men of action.
  • Revolutionary and nationalist enthusiasms have a similar effect: they, too, can turn spiritless and inert people into fighters and builders.
  • Thus the taste of continuous successful action is fatal to the spirit of collectivity.
  • The true believer who succeeds in all he does gains self-confidence and becomes reconciled with his self and the present. He no longer sees his only salvation in losing himself in the oneness of a corporate body and in becoming an anonymous particle with no will, judgment and responsibility of his own. He seeks and finds his salvation in action, in proving his worth and in asserting his individual superiority. Action cannot lead him to self-realization, but he readily finds in it self-justification.
  • Mass movements make extensive use of suspicion in their machinery of domination. The rank-and-file within the Nazi party were made to feel that they were continually under observation and were kept in a permanent state of uneasy conscience and fear.49
  • Mass movements make extensive use of suspicion in their machinery of domination. The rank-and-file within the Nazi party were made to feel that they were continually under observation and were kept in a permanent state of uneasy conscience and fear.49 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 innocent people are deliberately accused and sacrificed in order to keep suspicion alive.
  • True loyalty between individuals is possible only in a loose and relatively free society.
  • Collective unity is not the result of the brotherly love of the faithful for each other. The loyalty of the true believer is to the whole—the church, party, nation—and not to his fellow true believer.
  • The true believer is eternally incomplete, eternally insecure.
  • Mass movements do not usually rise until the prevailing order has been discredited.
  • 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.1
  • 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.
  • The fanatical extremist, no matter how eloquent, strikes them as dangerous, traitorous, impractical or even insane.
  • As long as the existing order functions in a more or less orderly fashion, the masses remain basically conservative. They can think of reform but not of total innovation.
  • The preliminary work of undermining existing institutions, of familiarizing the masses with the idea of change, and of creating a receptivity to a new faith, can be done only by men who are, first and foremost, talkers or writers and are recognized as such by all.
  • Things are different in the case of the typical man of words. The masses listen to him because they know that his words, however urgent, cannot have immediate results. The authorities either ignore him or use mild methods to muzzle him. Thus imperceptibly the man of words undermines established institutions, discredits those in power, weakens prevailing beliefs and loyalties, and sets the stage for the rise of a mass movement.
  • Whatever the type, there is a deep-seated craving common to almost all men of words which determines their attitude to the prevailing order. It is a craving for recognition; a craving for a clearly marked status above the common run of humanity.
  • 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 (see Section 1) but also by creating articulate minorities through educational work which was largely philanthropic.
  • What de Rémusat said of Thiers is perhaps true of most men of words: “he has much more vanity than ambition; and he prefers consideration to obedience, and the appearance of power to power itself. Consult him constantly, and then do just as you please. He will take more notice of your deference to him than of your actions.”3
  • There is apparently an irremediable insecurity at the core of every intellectual, be he noncreative or creative. Even the most gifted and prolific seem to live a life of eternal self-doubting and have to prove their worth anew each day.
  • However much the protesting man of words sees himself as the champion of the downtrodden and injured, the grievance which animates him is, with very few exceptions, private and personal.
  • There is a moment in the career of almost every faultfinding man of words when a deferential or conciliatory gesture from those in power may win him over to their side. At a certain stage, most men of words are ready to become timeservers and courtiers. Jesus Himself might not have preached a new Gospel had the dominant Pharisees taken Him into the fold, called Him Rabbi, and listened to Him with deference. A bishopric conferred on Luther at the right moment might have cooled his ardor for a Reformation. The young Karl Marx could perhaps have been won over to Prussiandom by the bestowal of a title and an important government job; and Lassalle, by a title and a court uniform.
  • His pity is usually hatched out of his hatred for the powers that be.4 “It is only a few rare and exceptional men who have that kind of love toward mankind at large that makes them unable to endure patiently the general mass of evil and suffering, regardless of any relation it may have to their own lives.”
  • Whenever we find a dispensation enduring beyond its span of competence, there is either an entire absence of an educated class or an intimate alliance between those in power and the men of words. Where all learned men are clergymen, the church is unassailable. Where all learned men are bureaucrats or where education gives a man an acknowledged superior status, the prevailing order is likely to be free from movements of protest.
  • 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 men of letters of eighteenth-century France are the most familiar example of intellectuals pioneering a mass movement.
  • Jesus was not a Christian, nor was Marx a Marxist.
  • The genuine man of words himself can get along without faith in absolutes. He values the search for truth as much as truth itself. He delights in the clash of thought and in the give-and-take of controversy. If he formulates a philosophy and a doctrine, they are more an exhibition of brilliance and an exercise in dialectics than a program of action and the tenets of a faith.
  • 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.
  • However, the freedom the masses crave is not freedom of self-expression and self-realization, but freedom from the intolerable burden of an autonomous existence. They want freedom from “the fearful burden of free choice,”19 freedom from the arduous responsibility of realizing their ineffectual selves and shouldering the blame for the blemished product.
  • Actually, the only people cheated in the process are the intellectual precursors. They rise against the established order, deride its irrationality and incompetence, denounce its illegitimacy and oppressiveness, and call for freedom of self-expression and self-realization. They take it for granted that the masses who respond to their call and range themselves behind them crave the same things.
  • The fact that mass movements as they arise often manifest less individual freedom18 than the order they supplant, is usually ascribed to the trickery of a power-hungry clique that kidnaps the movement at a critical stage and cheats the masses of the freedom about to dawn.
  • once a movement gets rolling, power falls into the hands of those who have neither faith in, nor respect for, the individual. And the reason they prevail is not so much that their disregard of the individual gives them a capacity for ruthlessness, but that their attitude is in full accord with the ruling passion of the masses.
  • The reason for the tragic fate which almost always overtakes the intellectual midwives of a mass movement is that, no matter how much they preach and glorify the united effort, they remain essentially individualists.
  • The immediate result of a mass movement usually corresponds to what the people want. They are not cheated in the process.
  • It is not the wickedness of the old regime they rise against but its weakness; not its oppression, but its failure to hammer them together into one solid, mighty whole.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Peter Viereck points out that most of the Nazi bigwigs had artistic and literary ambitions which they could not realize. Hitler tried painting and architecture; Goebbels, drama, the novel and poetry; Rosenberg, architecture and philosophy; von Schirach, poetry; Funk, music; Streicher, painting. “Almost all were failures, not only by the usual vulgar criterion of success but by their own artistic criteria.”
  • 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.
  • A movement is pioneered by men of words, materialized by fanatics and consolidated by men of action.
  • The self-confidence of these rare leaders is derived from and blended with their faith in humanity, for they know that no one can be honorable unless he honors mankind.
  • 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.2 The genuine man of action is not a man of faith but a man of law.
  • The members of the institutionalized collective body are expected to act as one man, yet they must represent a loose aggregation rather than a spontaneous coalescence. They must be unified only through their unquestioning loyalty to the institutions. Spontaneity is suspect, and duty is prized above devotion.
  • Still, he cannot help being awed by the tremendous achievements of faith and spontaneity in the early days of the movement when a mighty instrument of power was conjured out of the void.
  • 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 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.
  • Now it seems to be true that no 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 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.
  • 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.
  • It is not the idealism and the fervor of the movement which are the cause of any cultural renascence which may follow it, but rather the abrupt relaxation of collective discipline and the liberation of the individual from the stifling atmosphere of blind faith and the disdain of his self and the present.
  • 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. This seems to be true both when the movement ends in triumph (as in the case of the Dutch Rebellion) or when it ends in defeat (as in the case of the Puritan Revolution).
  • Sometimes the craving to fill the void left by the lost or deserted holy cause becomes a creative impulse.
  • Said Rabbi Jacob (first century, A.D.): “He who walks in the way … and interrupts his study [of the Torah] saying: ‘How beautiful is this tree’ [or] ‘How beautiful is this ploughed field’ … [has] made himself guilty against his own soul.”6
  • 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.
  • The vague objective is perhaps indispensable for the development of chronic extremism. Said Oliver Cromwell: “A man never goes so far as when he does not know whither he is going.”8
  • “Let us tremble. At this very moment, perchance, the religion of the future is in the making; and we have no part in it!
  • Credulity has deep roots. Socialism may bring back by the complicity of Catholicism a new Middle Age, with barbarians, churches, eclipses of liberty and individuality-in a word, of civilization.”
  • The horror a small nation has of wasting its precious human material, its urgent need for internal harmony and cohesion as a safeguard against aggression from without, and, finally, the feeling of its people that they are all of one family make it possible to foster a readiness for utmost co-operation without recourse to either religiofication or militarization.
  • “The Germans,” she said, “are vigorously submissive. They employ philosophical reasonings to explain what is the least philosophic thing in the world, respect for force and the fear which transforms that respect into admiration.”
  • 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.
  • Stalin molded his possible successors in his own image, and the Russian people can probably expect more of the same for the next several decades.
  • Dostoyevsky puts the following words in Bishop Tihon’s mouth: “outright atheism is more to be respected than worldly indifference … the complete atheist stands on the penultimate step to most perfect faith, … but the indifferent person has no faith whatever except a bad fear.”
  • There is a grain of sense and more than a grain of nonsense in these declamations.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In normal times a democratic nation is an institutionalized association of more or less free individuals. When its existence is threatened and it has to unify its people and generate in them a spirit of utmost self-sacrifice, the democratic nation must transform itself into something akin to a militant church or a revolutionary party.
  • And it is perhaps true that extreme intellectual fastidiousness or a businessman’s practical-mindedness disqualifies a man for national leadership.
  • England’s ideal of the country gentleman and France’s ideal of the retired rentier are concrete and limited. This definiteness of their national ideal has perhaps something to do with the lessened drive of the two nations. In America, Russia and Germany the ideal is indefinite and unlimited.
  • Only a goal which lends itself to continued perfection can keep a nation potentially virile even though its desires are continually fulfilled. The goal need not be sublime.
  • 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.
  • The important point is that the foreign influence does not act in a direct way. It is not the introduction of foreign fashions, manners, speech, ways of thinking and of doing things which shakes a social body out of its stagnation. 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.
  • J. B. S. Haldane counts fanaticism among the only four really important inventions made between 3000 B.C. and 1400 A.D.