Eric Hoffer and Mass Movements

I encountered Eric Hoffer’s work at the same time and in the same circumstances that brought me to Nock. I was about 20 years old and exploring used-book stores in San Francisco. It was there where I espied a book titled Memoirs of a Superfluous Man. Attracted to the nondescript black book by the title, I pulled it from the shelf.

Closely in time and place I also purchased a gray-covered hardbound copy of The True Believer. There is no reason to believe that Hoffer, who succeeded Nock by three or so decades, ever paid much attention to the older man. But Hoffer’s works, especially the 1951 masterpiece, The True Believer, complement Nock’s ideas.

In the summer of 1971, while I still lived in Monterey, California, as a student at the Defense Language Institute, I obtained an address for Eric Hoffer and, on a trip into San Francisco ostensibly to prowl more bookstores, I spent the day finding the humble house bearing the address I’d been provided. It was late on a Saturday when I finally stood before the façade in the evening shadows and contemplated knocking or ringing the doorbell.

I couldn’t make myself do it. What would I say? What, indeed, did I really know? I realized that, even if Eric Hoffer came to the door or if someone admitted me to meet him, I would appear a fool, a fan of his books, a gadfly, a mere youth. But I came that close.

I could dangle a sample Hoffer quote here, but nearly every paragraph in the book is a nugget of wisdom worthy of that honor. And I refrain from merely pasting blocks of text from Wikipedia. Anyone can readily look up the article about him there. still sells a paperback edition of The True Believer for an exorbitant price. (Are its other editions so long out of print that used copies have become scarce?) An excellent glimpse of its main points can be found at the Farnham Street blog. I recommend spending a few minutes there if not curled up with the slim volume itself.

I also recommend that a reader search out The Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone de Beauvoir. Other modern philosophers whom Nock himself might recommend if he were with us are Maria Popova, Nassim Taleb and Shane Parrish.

=David A. Woodbury=

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