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The True Believer—By Eric Hoffer

My notes

The big idea of this book is to highlight the events and attitudes that make up a mass movement. The moral value of any particular mass movement is ignored, Hoffer is more interested in finding the common thread of what makes them possible and what elements lead to their relative success or failure.

The abandonment of self, or self-renunciation, is the root of fanaticism. Whether it be built for sins committed or reviling for the inner man, Hoffer posits this is the primary condition that makes a man ripe for joining a mass movement. Whether this comes from internal or external stimuli is not the concern. The felt need of insufficiencies, and the desire to bury that thought somewhere, is what makes the canvas of a true believer.

A mass movement is concerned only with the future. The present must be deconstructed. Made to look worthless. The past may be the desired outcome. Or the past may represent elements of the desired outcome.

Self-sacrifice is the ultimate goal for those wooing the fanatics. The self-renunciation finds it’s culmination in self-sacrifice. In this way, the boring fellow is granted eternity - as he lives not for himself, but for the mass movement.

The ground is made ripe for a mass movement by men of intellect. Writers, philosophers, artists. These acts of creativity tend to put chinks in the armor of the establishment. They themselves do not start the mass movement, but they do tend to precede them.

There were interesting bits on the Jews in Eastern Europe versus the Jews in Palastine. When a man feels isolated, he’s not prone to fight. He just went with the flow to internment camps. But when a man feels part of a collective whole already, his identity is satisfied, and the fighting for the group comes naturally. This thought feels similar to the story of 300, or Israel’s small armies in the Bible. Because they were already part of a collective mass movement, their identity was part of the whole, and they were able to take on powers much greater than their numbers would suggest.

The closing paragraph was great. That mass movements are ultimately a story of resurrection, and Hoffer’s historical references begin with Christianity. While I read his words with skepticism on moral judgement, (I thought he considered all movements bad), this closing idea seemed fair. That perhaps there is a longing in man to lose himself into a greater whole. And perhaps Jesus’ church is that place where men should find their identity. All other movements since then have elements and perversions of the order set out for us. This, of course, is me reconciling my 17 years of belief with the thoughts posited in this book.

I started this book because of a disdain for my experience at Mars Hill. What in myself led to my fanaticism, and abandoning myself to such an unhealthy organization? As I read, most of the elements were there.

I could go on about the elements. The main takeaway for me, is to be aware of these elements. To attempt to be sober-minded in my judgements. To not use this information to manipulate others into fanaticism. To not myself return to a place where I’m giving myself to an unhealthy cause.


to rely on the evidence of the senses and of reason is heresy and treason. It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible.

Strength of faith manifests itself not in moving mountains, but in not seeing mountains to move.

When a movement begins to rationalize its doctrine and make it intelligible, it is a sign that its dynamic soon is over; that it is primarily interested in stability.

Self-righteousness is a loud din raised to drown the voice of guilt within us […] There is a guilty conscience behind every brazen word and act and behind every manifestation of self-righteousness.


The True Believer
Eric Hoffer