May 1, 2018


Hoffer and the True Believers: a review of The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements  by Eric Hoffer (PEDRO BLAS GONZÁLEZ, University Bookman)

In many respects, Eric Hoffer is a symbol of a type of man and thinker that can no longer be replicated today. His critical ability for philosophical reflection is not something that he took from teachers and other intellectuals. This is verified by his limited formal education. This may also explain why his intellect and ability to decipher destructive social trends were never contaminated by fashionable theories and radical ideology. By refuting the claims of the latter, Hoffer was able to keep his thought rooted in and dependent on truth, as this informs the life of independent thinkers.

Because Hoffer was not a radical--an alleged committed intellectual--he did not embrace the many forms of hypocrisy and dishonesty that are so prevalent among intellectuals. As a nonconformist and independent thinker, Hoffer's thought is not the result of having to accommodate the demands of radical ideology.

Hoffer's ability to decipher the moral makeup of radicalized twentieth-century intellectuals is truly insightful. He recognized these intellectuals as being nonchalant about logic and reason. He was horrified by their reluctance to accept common sense. This is because true believers replace facts, statistics, economics, and irrefutable time-proven history with irrational and politicized passions. In contradistinction to self-absorbed intellectuals, Hoffer enables the reader to witness how philosophical reflection engenders the art of self-reflection and self-knowledge.

Hoffer's stoicism has much to teach us about thoughtful people. His horse sense refused to give in to fashionable mendacity. Also, because Hoffer embraced physical work from an early age, his ability to make sense of essential categories of human reality remained rooted. His genius for pointing out the essences that determine our understanding of reality is that of a man who showed tremendous respect for the redeeming nature of work. Hoffer shares Wyndham Lewis's idea that too much schooling actually can do serious harm to a person's ability to distinguish between appearance and truth, fantasy and reality. Hoffer thought this also applied to many intellectuals during his time.

Hoffer showed little patience for the social and political mayhem emerging from the hippie era. He had instead a profound understanding that reality has very little to do with our utopian claims. His work also has much to teach us today about the demise of the hierarchy of values and subsequent destruction of our most sacred institutions. It is ironic that in a time of dissolution like the 1960s, Hoffer was one of the few American thinkers who remained a genuinely free spirit.

Hoffer's thought does not employ neologisms and unnecessary technical terms. The driving concern of his thought is man's loss of existential autonomy--what philosophers like Ortega y Gasset and Camus have called authenticity. Hoffer's genius is showcased in his treatment of concepts like individuality, authenticity, and autonomy. For him these are not mere words to be toyed with but fundamental human values. Hoffer took ideas that during his time had already taken on a modish, debased appeal and rooted them to vital life. It is in this regard that one can refer to Hoffer as a philosopher of the lived experience.

Being a thinker concerned with questions relating to vital life during the positivistic twentieth century had major drawbacks. Because Hoffer embraced a philosophy of commonsense values that addressed everyday life, the radicalized academic establishment has dismissed him. Hoffer's major crime, as it is easy to see today, is that he tried to wrest control of moral values away from nihilistic intellectuals. By safeguarding basic truths and values--ideas that enable man to flourish in daily life--from becoming the domain of fashionable theories, Hoffer was made persona non grata by radical ideologues and opportunistic intellectuals. Yet while being shunned by radicalized academics, Hoffer enjoyed tremendous success among his readers in the general public.

Posted by at May 1, 2018 6:56 PM