“Freedom aggravates at least as much as it alleviates frustration. Freedom of choice places the whole blame of failure on the shoulders of the individual. And as freedom encourages a multiplicity of attempts, it unavoidably multiplies failure.”
I believe (pun intended) that this book is probably one of the most intriguing that I’ve ever read. It was the fourth book of a list of seven that can change the way you view the world. This book has succeeded in explaining to me why, and who are most susceptible to joining a mass movement.
Hoffer’s writing style is simple and to the point, which is a massive relief after some of the non-fiction works I’ve recently read. Having said that, this book is also outdated, in that the original work is from 1951, and it shows in the way Hoffer writes about certain historical groups he mentions in this book.
Nevertheless, this book can be frightening to read. Hoffer explains how mass movements are capable of removing the sense of self, and replace this with willingness to sacrifice one’s life for the greater good that is the mass movement of that particular individual.
The book’s content has a clear path and explains all facets that come with mass movements. First Hoffer tries to describe the appeal of mass movements, followed by possible converts who would join such a cause. This varies from the poor, to the misfits, to minorities. He carefully explains why people of those categories are most likely to join a mass movement.
The part following possible converts is about united action and self sacrifice. This explains how mass movements actually work, and how they are capable of stripping one’s individually in favour of belonging to a collective, with a clear goal. This part illustrated how even those who deem themselves to be highly intelligent can find themselves to be caught in the trap of joining a mass movement.
The final part of the book concerns itself with the beginning and the end of a mass movement. There are several types of people a mass movement needs in order to be successful; men of words, fanatics, and men of action. The leader of a mass movement can’t be all of those, and as such it is important that he recognizes this, in order to make the movement succeed in its goal.
One thing that is truly astounding after finishing this book is that you consider everything Hoffer has said, and recognize that no matter what era humanity has passed, there have always been mass movements. It is a thing that perpetually repeats itself. And as most things go, perhaps it is true that even when a mass movement succeeds in what it set out to do, after it vanishes and a new order is established, eventually a new mass movement will rise to overthrow it. Just as it is with empires, kingdoms and other forms of government.
The book ends with the following passage. One that you should really allow to sink in:
“J.B.S. Haldane counts fanaticism among the only four important inventions made between 3000 B.C. and 1400 A.D. It was a Judaic-Christian invention. And it is strange to think that in receiving this malady of the soul the world also received a miraculous instrument for raising societies and nations from the dead— an instrument of resurrection.”
If you’re even remotely interested in knowing why people would join a mass movement, or sacrifice their own life for their cause (usually taking many with them), then look no further. This book will explain it to you. Knowing this, it is more clear to me that we Humans are not as strong mentally as we think we are. We are easily fooled, and easily persuaded.