Eric Hoffer's acclaimed 1950's bestseller,
The True Believer, was a seminal and timely analysis on fanaticism.
His critical arguments can be expressed by the following:
- 1. Fanaticism is not total commitment
to a particular ideology, but a general frame of mind; to the
fanatic, ideologies are interchangeable.
2. Fanaticism derives from the frustration and sense of personal
failure individuals experience during periods of rapid social
3. Fanaticism sometimes serves a good end; a nation's creative
potential better survives revolution than social stagnation.
4. Successful mass movements foster self-sacrifice over self-fulfillment.
The latter is assigned to an ever-receding future, often evoked
from an idealized past.
5. As the past and future are fictionalized, so must be the present.
Mass leaders must invest their goal with drama and make-believe
in order to exact that degree of self-sacrifice that alone liberated
them and their followers from self-contempt and self-rejection.
6. Successful mass movements are largely effected by negative
personality types acting upon their most negative impulses (cowardice,
for example, may compel belief in fanatical ideology in order
to rationalize craven behavior).
7. The hope, pride, and confidence enjoyed by the "unified"
(politically committed) individual derive from his sense of being
"delivered from the meaningless burden of an autonomous
8. Some sort of faith is indispensable for most people. Those
who discredit one faith create the need for another.
9. Only the fanatic can effect total upheaval. He will not accept
reform because the world that has thwarted his own (often artistic)
aspiration must be torn up root and branch. He alone will proceed
beyond propaganda to coercion.
10. Slogans to the contrary, the fanatic has no use for "freedom
and equality" as commonly understood. To him "freedom"
means never having to make a choice and "equality"
means never encountering his betters.
The most visible contemporary "true
believers" manifest themselves in the Religious Right, particularly
televangelism. True Believers are sharply contrasted with self-motivated
people who aren't afraid to take a stand for their own carefully
-excerpted from a Free Inquiry article
by Richard Arnold, Winter 1994/95 issue