The true believer

It seems to me that the seemingly ever-increasing growth and unification of a variety of groups and their activities are beginning to define and clarify what they are all about. A recent photo in Time magazine (Aug 28, 2017 edition) shows a man lying in the street holding onto his walking cane while he is being beaten by a club-wielding “counter protester” who is surrounded by other cheering club-bearers. The caption reads, “[C]ounter protesters beat protesters in Charlottesville.” Kinda sounds like a report on a sporting event, doesn’t it?

According to the caption of an AP photo taken during a recent rally in Boston, “A man wearing a T-shirt bearing the name of President Donald Trump … is hit by a flying bottle … near a “free Speech” rally staged be conservative activists.” [DDN 08/20/17] Note: that rally, which was cut short by authorities fearful of widespread violence, was not affiliated with the KKK, Nazi, or any kindred organization. Instead it was to protest colleges and universities denying conservative speakers on campus, removing conservative professors, and similar actions. Different venues, same violent reaction.

I was recently talking with “Paul”, a guy I’ve known for fifty or more years, about these and other events such as the demands that statues and other memorials, not only of Confederate officers and officials, but those of Washington, Jefferson, am Lincoln (“The Great Emancipator) and Columbus be gotten rid of. Demands for the destruction of the faces of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt on Mt Rushmore are becoming more insistent. This frenzy has even surfaced in New Orleans where a statue of Joan of Arc, the famous French patriot and martyr, was attacked. How about them apples.

Paul told me we should be prepared for the next stage in this progression. – book burning. He noted that many schools have already embraced this movement in the classroom so the next likely move would be to destroy any writings that are counter to their beliefs. He compared the current movement’s actions with those of Nazi Germany, Communist Chins, the USSR and other similar regimes.

What I found fascinating with Paul’s working man’s observations was their similarity to those of Eric Hoffer (1902 – 1983) who wrote a very disturbing book, “The true believer: Thoughts on the nature of mass movements” published in 1951. Hoffer was not some ivory-tower academic nor a politician, but was a working class person. He spent most of his life as a longshoreman even after he started writing. He authored ten books and was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983. Here is an extract from the preface of The True Believer. You can judge his observations for yourself.

“All mass movements generate in their adherents … a proclivity for united action; all of them, irrespective of the doctrine they preach and the program they project, breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred , and intolerance: all of them are capable of releasing a powerful flow of activity in certain departments of life; all of them demand blind faith and singlehearted (sic) allegiance. All movements, however different in doctrine and aspiration, … appeal to the same types of mind. Although there are obvious differences between the fanatical Christian, the fanatical Mohammedan, the fanatical nationalist, the fanatical Communist and the fanatical Nazi, it is yet true that the fanaticism which animates them may be viewed and treated as one. … It is necessary for most of us these days to have some insight into the motives and responses of the true believer. For though ours is a godless age, it is the very opposite of irreligious. The true believer is everywhere on the march, and both by converting and antagonizing he is shaping the world in his own image.”

I’m sure Paul has never heard of Eric Hoffer much less read any of his writings, but as I was listening to what Paul had to say I was thinking how well he was attuned to the reality of what’s going on. He commented on how hatred and demonizing of those who do not conform to the beliefs and demands of this current movement are part and parcel of their doctrine. Eric Hoffer put it this way, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” It’s too bad nobody reads Hoffer these days. At least that’s how it seems to me.

By Bill Taylor

Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at