I picked up a copy of The True Believer by Eric Hoffer several years ago. First published in 1951, it contains thoughts from the self-taught philosopher on the nature of fanaticism and mass movements, from the early Christians up through the world altering political movements of the first half of the 20th century such as Communism, Nationalism and Fascism. With the election of he-who-will-not-be named, this book has come back into the public discussion and I have seen it cited in a number of articles. It’s finally next up on my reading list.
Hoffer (1898-1983) was a self-taught thinker with a knack for seeing the tides and patterns that swirl beneath the surface of history. He was also a working man with a natural distrust for bosses and those who hold power over others. We could use him today. A most fascinating guy.
–Eric Hoffer ( The Ordeal of Courage 1963)
I read the above quote and was captivated by the idea behind it and tried to fit its content into what I observe. There was a certain resonance and I wanted to know more about its writer, Eric Hoffer. I am ashamed to say I knew nothing of his life or his work, this man who died in 1983 known as the Longshoreman Philosopher. But thanks to the internet, there is a wide array of available resources including several sites who focus solely on the work of Hoffer. Below is the short bio from the website of The Eric Hoffer Project:
Former migratory worker and longshoreman, Eric Hoffer burst on the scene in 1951 with his irreplaceable tome, The True Believer, and assured his place among the most important thinkers of the twentieth century. Nine books later, Hoffer remains a vital figure with his cogent insights to the nature of mass movements and the essence of humankind.
Of his early life, Hoffer has written: “I had no schooling. I was practically blind up to the age of fifteen. When my eyesight came back, I was seized with an enormous hunger for the printed word. I read indiscriminately everything within reach—English and German.
“When my father (a cabinetmaker) died, I realized that I would have to fend for myself. I knew several things: One, that I didn’t want to work in a factory; two, that I couldn’t stand being dependent on the good graces of a boss; three, that I was going to stay poor; four, that I had to get out of New York. Logic told me that California was the poor man’s country.”
Through ten years as a migratory worker and as a gold-miner around Nevada City, Hoffer labored hard but continued to read and write during the years of the Great Depression. The Okies and the Arkies were the “new pioneers,” and Hoffer was one of them. He had library cards in a dozen towns along the railroad, and when he could afford it, he took a room near a library for concentrated thinking and writing.
In 1943, Hoffer chose the longshoreman’s life and settled in California. Eventually, he worked three days each week and spent one day as “research professor” at the University of California in Berkeley. In 1964, he was the subject of twelve half-hour programs on national television. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983.
“America meant freedom and what is freedom? To Hoffer it is the capacity to feel like oneself. He felt like Eric Hoffer; sometimes like Eric Hoffer, working man. It could be said, I believe, that he as the first important American writer, working class born, who remained working class-in his habits, associations, environment. I cannot think of another. Therefore, he was a national resource. The only one of its kind in the nation’s possession.” – Eric Sevareid, from his dedication speech to Eric Hoffer, San Francisco, CA, September 17, 1985
I think I have found some new reading material for the winter…