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Posted by on Jun 5, 2012 in Media, Politics, Religion, Society | 4 comments

Prime Time for True Believers

Political views have not changed much over 25 years, a Pew survey suggests, but party affiliation has driven more Americans to extremes than ever before.

Understanding what they have in common prompts a new look at the work of a social philosopher whose work was praised by one Republican, Eisenhower in the 1950s, and rewarded with a Presidential Medal of Freedom by another, Reagan, just before Eric Hoffer’s death in 1983.

His central theme was the anatomy of what Hoffer called “The True Believer”—-the unthinking adherent of mass movements from Communism and Fascism to Christianity and Islam.

“Passionate hatred,” he wrote, “can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance.”

In those days, such true believers were limited to the fringes of post-World War II America in the ranks of dwindling Communist faithful and their Joe McCarthy enemies. In a prosperous and optimistic time, their ideas did not take root. But now that the political soil is far different, Hoffer’s description has more relevance:

“All mass movements generate in their adherents a readiness to die and a proclivity for united action; all of them, irrespective of the doctrine they preach and the program they project, breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred and intolerance; all of them are capable of releasing a powerful flow of activity in certain departments of life; all of them demand blind faith and single-hearted allegiance.”

Hoffer’s true believer” is “without wonder and hesitation.”


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  • The_Ohioan

    True believers are probably not as rare in bad times as in good times, however, the problem is that there are more of them who profess to be true believers (which most people can see through – e.g. Limbaugh) in positions of influence.

    I’m not willing to die for any current cause and if many were, we would not even be holding an election in the resulting chaos.

  • The_Ohioan

    On the other hand, the true believer pastors Curtis, Worley, and Leatherman are perfectly willing to consider killing non-believers if not to die themselves.

  • slamfu

    Life is good, we have in reality very few real enemies. Not like it used to be. So, we turn on eachother. Americans are nursed on the idea of individual awesomeness and accomplishment. There is the fertile ground where this stuff takes root.

  • Rcoutme

    I am willing to die for my faith (Christianity), it is just that I am in a place where it is unlikely that I will be called on to do so. Meanwhile, there are others who ARE dying for their beliefs (via drone attacks, etc.).

    The United States had better wake up to the reality that people in other parts of the world will put up with our fanaticism for only so long before they decide we are being bullies.

    Carlos Mencia was talking about a friend of his who was Muslim. “He said, ‘You don’t understand, my people are serious. They are looking to get nuclear weapons. They blew up two of your buildings.’

    “I said, ‘Yeah, you blew up two of our buildings and we blew up two of your countries! And as for nuclear weapons…we’ve already got them and we’ve used them. If you don’t believe me, call up Japan and ask for…'”

    I won’t finish the quote as it is sort of raunchy. The point is, we Americans do not seem to have a sense of proportionality when it comes to the terrorists.

    When the shoe bomber was caught on an airplane, the airport security made everyone take of their shoes from then on. Comedians joked that it was a good thing that the guy wasn’t wearing an underwear bomb. They joked that way until the next guy wore an underwear bomb.

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