Why people join mass movements like communism, nationalism, and fascism? Why do people marching in the streets for social, political, or religious movements? Why do millions of people sometimes decide to follow a single leader fanatically?
Well, in this book, The True Believer, Eric Hoffer gives the answer to all of these questions. The key message in this book is whether right-wing or left, political or religious, all mass movements share the same characteristic. Under the right circumstances, it's possible for any of us to get hypnotized by group mentality and become a true believer. From Christianity to National Socialism, Eric Hoffer shows how all mass movements are similar. People join mass movements because of personal feelings of inadequacy or failure, to escape their seemingly powerless individual self. Eric Hoffer says: “fate in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.” Even though each mass movement is based on different ideas and doctrines, they all have a lot in common. A strong belief that a better future is possible. A strong leader that can channel the discontent of the masses, a clear common enemy. In this book summary, I will give you some of the key ideas about mass movements that Eric Hoffer teaches us in his book.
Key idea #1: On the surface, all mass movements are driven by the same emotions, frustration, and motivations.
Eric Hoffer says that all mass movements follow the same pattern and people who join them have similar motivations. Hundreds of years ago, most of the big movements were religious. That's how Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism spread over the world. About a thousand years ago, the pope was considered the most powerful person in Europe and probably the world. Later, the movements became more nationalistic and social. Some of them were good. For example, there was the nationalist that gave America Independence and Gandhi’s movement in India, which gave a billion people freedom from British rule. In fact, in India, Gandhi is now called the “father of the nation”.
Key #2: Passionate hate gives people purpose and unity.
Do you remember the last election in your country? Most popular politicians are masters of stirring up hate and anger. They know that strong emotions will motivate people to go out and vote for them. And what more powerful emotion than anger and hate. Every successful mass movement stirs up the hate and anger towards someone, something, or some group of people. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in God, But never without belief in a devil. In every mass movement, there is a devil, a clear common enemy. Hitler united people against the Jews who he blamed for Germany's economic problems. When he was asked whether he thought that the Jews must be destroyed, he answered: “No, It is essential to have a tangible enemy, not merely an abstract one.”
Key idea #3: people join mass movements to escape the powerless individual self.
When someone feels frustrated and out of control in their life, they usually blame things outside of themselves, the government, the economy,…, anything but themselves. People have a desire to join mass movements when they don't like their life and feel powerless to change them. And more often than not, people who feel in control of their life don't want to join a mass movement. These people do not want radical change because they are happy to follow their dreams within the existing systems and they believe they have the power to do that. When people feel powerless and frustrated, the freedom they deeply crave is freedom from personal responsibility. Obeying orders feels like a relief to these people. Like taking a heavy load off of their shoulders. Eric Hoffer calls these people the true believers. For a true believer, it's a relief to join a mass movement. Now they have a direction. Now they feel part of something bigger than themselves. And best of all, they are not personally responsible if the movement fails, which lets them avoid feeling not good enough again. Eric Hoffer says: “the desire to belong is partly a desire to lose oneself.”
By now, you should have learned something about the basic nature of mass movements and why people join them.