January 18, 2007
The Downside of Uprightness and Intellectual Integrity

Mrs. Batard recommended that I read Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer (1951), a year or so ago. Reading it has been be a pungent, acrid exercise because of some of the universal truths it exposes, but also because of Hoffer’s tendency to denigrate those he describes as “men of words”. Just reading the footnotes, it is apparent that although Hoffer has great scorn for those he describes as “men of words”, at the same time, it is obvious that Hoffer is not only a “man of words” but spent an inordinate amount of time reading the works of “men of words”. Hoffer’s disdain seemed to be directed primarily at propagandist writers. I imagine that if Hoffer were alive today, he would loathe writers emanating from such institutions on the list at this link. He might also have had contempt and scorn for the organization that created the list as well, although he did acknowledge that there were “good” and ”bad” mass movements, which seems to be a somewhat simplistic way of defining any “mass movement”. I could find no reference to or denunciation of Roosevelt era politics and the propaganda conservatives accused it of engaging in.

Hoffer seemed to loath propaganda, as long as it fit his definition of “bad” propaganda. I have previously written that Hoffer seemed to have great disdain for Ayn Rand’s propaganda, although he subtly made the point.

Hoffer described himself as “just a longshoreman”. That description may have been accurate — after reading the book, I can’t seem to come to any conclusion that Hoffer had any strong convictions about political ideology of any sort.

One of Hoffer’s purposes in writing the book seems to have been to engage into an inquiry into how the highly educated, highly cultured citizens of the nation of Germany allowed the Fascists of Nazi Germany to become their rulers. Perhaps this is why Eisenhower found it so fascinating. The book is, in part, an investigation into how what has been described to me as “the mass man” can, through the leaders they elect democratically, overturn the sanity of a nation. I would argue that the book is just as relevant today in explaining why we have had to endure disastrously incompetent leadership for at least the last six years. That leadership seems to have taken much of its attempts at propagandizing the nation straight out of the pages of True Believer.

Hoffer seemed to have great scorn for propagandists, whether from the right or the left. The great lesson of the book is that it offers insights into how and why certain creeds, sects, and political operatives are able to gain their following. A short selection from the book appears below; however, for those who dare, I recommend the book, not necessarily because it is an enjoyable read. Hofer had a caustic and acidic method of presenting his ideas. I would also mention that although my links above are to Wikipedia, I caution everyone to read Wikipedia entries with suspicion. I removed the Wikipedia entries from my last post because those who I believe to be right wing propagandists had distorted the work and author I mentioned. If this post interests you, I recommend you read more about Hoffer from other sources. A short selection from True Believer follows:

Hitler dressed eighty million Germans in constumes and made them perform in a grandiose, heroic and bloody opera. In Russia, where even the building of a latrine involves some self-sacrifice, life has been an uninterrupted soul-stirring drama going on for thirty years, and its end is not yet. The people of London acted heroically under a hail of bombs because Churchill cast them in the role of heroes. They played their heroic role before a vast audience — ancestors, contemporaries and posterity — and on the stage lighted by a burning world city and to the music of barking guns and screaming bombs. It is doubtful whether in our contemporary world, with its widespread individual differentation, any measure of general self-sacrifice can be realized without theatrical hocus-pocus and fireworks. It is difficult to see, therefore, how the present Labor government in England can realize its program of socialization, which demands some measure of self-sacrifice from every Briton, in the colorless and undramatic setting of socialist Britain. The untheatricality of most British Socialist leaders is a mark of uprightness and intellectual integrity, but it handicaps the experiment of nationalization....

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Posted by Buck Batard at January 18, 2007 12:00 PM
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