Quotes from Eric Hoffer, Moral and Social Philosopher

 

In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

 

Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), Section 32, writer, philosopher, longshoreman

 

WBro Todd of Devotion shared the above quote with me recently and I thought I would share it with you and some more from this philosopher. Eric Hoffer (1902-1983) was an American moral and social philosopher. He was the author of ten books and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in February 1983. His first book, The True Believer (1951), was widely recognized as a classic, receiving critical acclaim from both scholars and laymen, although Hoffer believed that The Ordeal of Change was his finest work. Below are some more quotes from this thinker.

 


Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.

 

We lie loudest when we lie to ourselves.

 

Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.

 

To become different from what we are, we must have some awareness of what we are.

 

The uncompromising attitude is more indicative of an inner uncertainty than of deep conviction. The implacable stand is directed more against the doubt within than the assailant without.

 

Kindness can become its own motive. We are made kind by being kind.

 

The only index by which to judge a government or a way of life is by the quality of the people it acts upon. No matter how noble the objectives of a government, if it blurs decency and kindness, cheapens human life, and breeds ill will and suspicion — it is an evil government.

 

Rabid suspicion has nothing in it of skepticism. The suspicious mind believes more than it doubts. It believes in a formidable and ineradicable evil lurking in every person.

 

There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day: we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life...Small wonder that the effort expended and the punishment endured in obtaining a good alibi often exceed the effort and grief requisite for the attainment of a most marked achievement.

 

When people are free to do as we please, they usually imitate each other.

 

It has often been said that power corrupts. But it is perhaps equally important to realize that weakness, too, corrupts. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many. Hatred, malice, rudeness, intolerance, and suspicion are the faults of weakness. The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them but from the sense of inadequacy and impotence. They hate not wickedness but weakness. When it is their power to do so, the weak destroy weakness wherever they see it.

 

You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you.

 

Propaganda … serves more to justify ourselves than to convince others; and the more reason we have to feel guilty, the more fervent our propaganda.

 

Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.

 

Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance. A mass movement offers them unlimited opportunities for both.

 

In the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom — freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse. Herein undoubtedly lies part of the attractiveness of a mass movement.

 

Self-contempt, however vague, sharpens our eyes for the imperfections of others. We usually strive to reveal in others the blemishes we hide in ourselves.

 

The fanatic cannot be weaned away from his cause by an appeal to his reason or moral sense. … He cannot be convinced, but only converted.

 

The most effective way to silence our guilty conscience is to convince ourselves and others that those we have sinned against are indeed depraved creatures, deserving every punishment, even extermination.  We cannot pity those we have wronged, nor can we be indifferent toward them.  We must hate and persecute them or else leave the door open to self-contempt.

 

It is loneliness that makes the loudest noise. This is as true of men as of dogs.

 

There are similarities between absolute power and absolute faith: a demand for absolute obedience, a readiness to attempt the impossible, a bias for simple solutions — to cut the knot rather than unravel it, the viewing of compromise as surrender. Both absolute power and absolute faith are instruments of dehumanization. Hence, absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power.

 

Our greatest weariness comes from work not done.

 

Nature has no compassion. Nature accepts no excuses and the only punishment it knows is death.

 

Nonconformists travel as a rule in bunches. You rarely find a nonconformist who goes it alone. And woe to him inside a nonconformist clique who does not conform with nonconformity.

 

If it is a virtue to love my neighbor as a human being, it must be a virtue — and not a vice — to love myself, since I am a human being, too.

 

Man’s only legitimate end in life is to finish God’s work — to bring to full growth the capacities and talents implanted in us.

 

When we believe ourselves in possession of the only truth, we are likely to be indifferent to common everyday truths.

 

Good judgment in our dealings with others consists not in seeing through deceptions and evil intentions but in being able to waken the decency dormant in every person.

 

Far more crucial than what we know or do not know is what we do not want to know.

 

We usually see only the things we are looking for — so much so that we sometimes see them where they are not.

 

The sick in soul insist that it is humanity that is sick, and they are the surgeons to operate on it. They want to turn the world into a sickroom. And once they get humanity strapped to the operating table, they operate on it with an ax.

 

A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.

 

You accept certain unlovely things about yourself and manage to live with them. The atonement for such an acceptance is that you make allowances for others — that you cleanse yourself of the sin of self-righteousness.

 

Self-contempt, however vague, sharpens our eyes for the imperfections of others. We usually strive to reveal in others the blemishes we hide in ourselves.

 

The frustrated follow a leader less because of their faith that he is leading them to a promised land than because of their immediate feeling that he is leading them away from their unwanted selves. Surrender to a leader is not a means to an end but a fulfilment. Whither they are led is of secondary importance.

 

How terribly hard and almost impossible it is to tell the truth... We deal with the truth as the cook deals with meat and vegetables.

 

We are ready to die for an opinion but not for a fact: indeed, it is by our readiness to die that we try to prove the factualness of our opinion.

 

Good writing, like gold, combines lustrous lucidity with high density. What this means is good writing is packed with hints.

 

A multitude of words is probably the most formidable means of blurring and obscuring thought. There is no thought, however momentous, that cannot be expressed lucidly in 200 words.

 

There is a tendency to judge a race, a nation or any distinct group by its least worthy members.

 

Glory is largely a theatrical concept. There is no striving for glory without a vivid awareness of an audience — the knowledge that our mighty deeds will come to the ears of our contemporaries or “of those who are to be.”

 

In products of the human mind, simplicity marks the end of a process of refining, while complexity marks a primitive stage. Michelangelo’s definition of art as the purgation of superfluities suggests that the creative effort consists largely in the elimination of that which complicates and confuses a pattern
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