Hoffer on Hope & Change

The millions of immigrants dumped on our shores after the Civil War underwent a tremendous change, and it was a highly irritating and painful experience. Not only were they transferred, almost overnight, to a wholly foreign world, but they were, for the most part, torn from the warm communal existence of a small town or village somewhere in Europe and exposed to the cold and dismal isolation of an individual existence. They were misfits in every sense of the world, and ideal material for a revolutionary explosion. But they had a vast continent at their disposal, and fabulous opportunities for self-advancement, and an environment which held self-reliance and individual enterprise in high esteem. And so these immigrants from stagnant small towns and villages in Europe plunged into a mad pursuit of action. They tamed and mastered a continent in an incredibly short time, and we are still in the backwash of that mad pursuit.

Things are different when people subjected to drastic change find only meager opportunities for action or when they cannot, or are not allowed to, attain self-confidence and self-esteem by individual pursuits. In this case, the hunger for confidence, for worth, and for balance directs itself toward the attainment of substitutes. The substitute for self-confidence is faith; the substitute for self-esteem is pride; and the substitute for individual balace is fusion with others into a compact group.

It needs no underlining that this reaching out for substitutes means trouble. In the chemistry of the soul, a substitute is almost always explosive if for no other reason than we can never have enough of it…We can be satisfied with moderate confidence in ourselves and with a moderately good opinion of ourselves, but the faith we have in a holy cause has to be extravagant and uncompromising, and the pride we derive from an identification with a nation, race, leader, or party is extreme and overbearing. The fact that a substitute can never become an organic part of ourselves makes our holding on to it passionate and intolerant.

To sum up: When a population undergoing drastic change is without abundant opportunities for individual action and self-advancement, it develops a hunger for faith, pride, and unity. It becomes receptive to all manner of proselytizing, and is eager to throw itself into collective undertakings which aim at “showing the world.” In other words, drastic change, under certain conditions, creates a proclivity for fanatical attitudes, united action, and spectacular manifestations of flouting and defiance; it creates an atmosphere of revolution.

–Eric Hoffer, The Ordeal of Change

(emphasis added)

7 thoughts on “Hoffer on Hope & Change”

  1. Because a worthless political class has wrecked the economy many have lost hope. And, according to Hoffer, these people may be out for blood. This could get real ugly.

    But what would Hoffer know? Where did he get his degree? Sarc off.

    Very good link.The net preserves what the gatekeepers prefer to ignore.

  2. Thanks, David. I’d never heard of Hoffer until a few years ago when a friend sent me his Between the Devil and The Dragon. What a great book that one is!

  3. In rereading that profound piece the thought came to me that – Hitler’s rise to power was for that very reason. Millions of educated Germans out of work with no immediate hope of getting work.

    In so many ways my short time in the Army – stationed in Germany in the early 70s – was an enlightening experience.

    For 3 months I had a Eurrail Pass – a pass for 1st class train travel anywhere and anytime I wanted, subject to the needs of the Army ;-) They would let me go for 2 weeks – come back for 2 weeks and so on – until my leave was used up.

    I got to talk with a lot of people – from a woman who – when faced with my (to me) innocent question of “what did you do in the war? said – choking back tears, “I buried my baby in a concentration camp” – to the well-dressed middle class Germans who told me that “Until Stalingrad we all thought Hitler was pretty good”, while acknowledging Nicholas’ question of what people do with knowledge of a train about to careen off into a canyon, most people – hearing bad news/rumors – choose to ignore it.

    But Hitler had put millions of people back to work in what I have heard – the first time a nation used massive borrowing. He gave millions of Germans pride in what to me was a Faustian agreement.

    And in this country with millions of people forming an underclass with no hope of a job, vast bureaucracies and laws inhibiting the formation of new jobs – particularly jobs that companies for a variety of reasons see advantageous in exporting to China – for millions of people the train is on the verge of going off the tracks.

  4. To Bill Brandt,

    You write correctly “vast bureaucracies and laws inhibiting the formation of new jobs”.

    That is the primary reason /that companies for a variety of reasons see advantages in exporting jobs to China/.

  5. Many of my kin emigrated to the USA in the late 19th century. The reason given was cheap land and less competition.

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