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Thread: The True Believer

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    The True Believer

    I'm sure most people here, partisans or otherwise, have thought to themselves at one point "How can a person believe the things they do", whether its conservatism, liberalism, Christianity, Islam, or any other mass movement. I've just finished reading a book for the second time called "The True Believer" by Eric Hoffer and its become sort of a Bible for me when it comes to understanding people.

    Whats really great about this book in my opinion is that it is not done with much sense of superiority or judgment by the author. He doesn't claim or make it clear with his tone or language that he views himself as above or immune to any other person and merely provides an analysis on what he considers to be part of "the Human condition" and that is the psychological causes of fanaticism. He doesn't claim to have all the answers either.

    He also does not, except for the cases of Communism and Nazism, judge mass movements as being good or bad. He even cites individuals such as Abraham Lincoln and Gandhi as because those who begun mass movements, and who clearly accomplished something good. Again, he's merely attempting to understand something about the nature of Man.

    This book was written in 1951 and focuses a great deal on Fascism, ie Nazism in the book, and Communism of the Soviet Union. Now I do not claim that those who consider themselves conservatives, liberals, Christians, Muslims, etc to be fanatics or members of fanatical groups, there are in my opinion many similarities between the psychological reasons an individual becomes a die-hard, sometimes literal, support of a certain group, whether its true fanaticism like Nazism or something more tame such as modern day conservatism or liberalism.

    Whether you read it because you think it'll tell why those Reps or Dems, Conservatives or Liberals, are they way they are or because you want to understand yourself or people better in general I think you'll find it an extremely eye opening read.


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    Re: The True Believer

    Can you give us maybe a brief summary of what he advances in this book?
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    Re: The True Believer

    Quote Originally Posted by Hoplite View Post
    Can you give us maybe a brief summary of what he advances in this book?
    The True Believer - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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    Re: The True Believer

    A truly excellent book which should be read by all educated individuals which explains the past and far too much of the movements of today and the thinking of the current True Believers.
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    Re: The True Believer

    This looks interesting. I am going to pick up a copy at amazon.com
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    Re: The True Believer

    Quote Originally Posted by Hoplite View Post
    Can you give us maybe a brief summary of what he advances in this book?
    One of the major points of the book is that he believes a fanatic, or as he often calls them in the book, a "True Believer" is so because he has a psychological characteristic that makes him one. He argues that it has nothing or little to do with the actual nature of the movement, a die hard Nazi could just as easily be a die hard communist because what each movement gives the fanatic are the same. To name a few they are an absolute moral certainty of his actions and cause, a sense of superiority to other people, the promise of a better and perfect future, and irrefutable view on life and the world. The way, in his opinion, a man can believe the Bible or the Koran is absolute in its teachings is no different than the way a man can believe the teaching of a political philosophy are absolute.

    It also discusses how mass movements maintain these beliefs amongst their followers:

    The true believer is “without wonder and hesitation.” “An active mass movement rejects the present and centers its interest on the future.” (p. 82) The mass movement hates independence and individualism. The focus is on “obedience” and “one mindedness.” “Uniformity” must be developed. (p. 101) Members must be “deindividualized” and “incorporated” into the mass movement. “When we lose our individual independence in the incorporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom—freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse.” (p. 100)

    He also talks about what circumstances in society best allow a mass movement to begin. ""Discontent is likely to be highest when misery is bearable; when conditions have so improved that an ideal state seems almost within reach. A grievance is most poignant when almost redressed."

    Amazon.com: The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (Perennial Classics) (9780060505912): Eric Hoffer: Books

    More excerpts

    THE TRUE BELIEVER excerpts

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    Re: The True Believer

    I read the book in the late sixties. I'd suggest adding some Richard Dawkins to the mix as well.

    People seldom analyze WHY they believe what they do, they do not understand where the ideas in their head came from, and they do not step back from the influence of those around them long enough to ask whether they would believe what they believe were it not for this influence.

    Seems to me that the majority of humanity is closer to the true believer than the independent thinker, however. Belief without reason isn't limited to the religious or those in cults, as people of all stripes base their assumptions on the assumptions of others. Our very political identity here in these forums too often becomes the stuff of such as we replicate the "conservative" view, the "libertarian" view or go about the business of conforming to the political correctness of the left.

    We are all true believers at some level.
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    Re: The True Believer

    Quote Originally Posted by megaprogman View Post
    This looks interesting. I am going to pick up a copy at amazon.com
    Let me know what ya think.

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    Re: The True Believer

    Hoffer cemented my belief that centrism (empiricism, independent thought, pragmatism, etc.) can be its own legitimate ideology, and not a simple bastardization of leftism and rightism. There's a clear aversion to extremism that's inherent in most of the populace and there's a clear inclination in some people to cower before power in order to show repentance for personal failure and insecurity, and Hoffer did a spectacular job of showing that.
    Last edited by mgblack; 03-14-11 at 11:29 PM.

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    Re: The True Believer

    I read Hoffer bank in the 60s, too. My opinion is that skeptics are born and not made. Those who tend to be true believers in one venue are also true believers in another.

    I read research saying that the weird religious cults have more success proselytizing with Christians than with aethists. Someone who already believes something with no reason will find believing something else with no reason reasonable.

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