Eric Hoffer

Eric Hoffer ( born July 25, 1902 in New York City; † 21 May 1983; California ) was an American philosopher, social critic and author. He has shown in ten books, of which the first, The True Believer, both by himself and by the critics as his best and most important is considered his ideas. In February 1983, he was honored by Ronald Reagan with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


Hoffer was born in New York City, the son of German immigrants. At age five he could read English and German, but became blind after his mother had fallen down a flight of stairs with him in the arm. At the age of fifteen, he regained his sight. For fear of going blind again, he began to read as much as possible. He did not lose his sight, but kept the habit of reading a lot, his life with.

After the early death of his parents Hoffer was looking for a job that would give him enough time to read. He moved to California, where he was not allowed ( according to rumors ) on medical grounds for military service. His deep rejection of National Socialism motivated him to work in the San Francisco Naval Shipyard in the construction of warships. During this time he began his lifelong habit to form in addition to his work as casual laborers (later in agriculture, as a gold prospector or Dockers ) including literary. After he had by chance found the Essays of Michel de Montaigne in a second-hand bookshop, he felt called to write.

Hoffer's philosophy of mass movements

Hoffer was one of the first to recognize the self-esteem as central to the psychological well- being of individuals. In contrast to today stressed the benefit of a high self-esteem Hoffer looked at the consequences of a lack of self-worth. He tried ( exemplified in Hitler's National Socialism and Stalin's Soviet communism) to understand the causes of totalitarian mass movements from the psychological presentation of the respective trailers. In general, he saw fanaticism and self-righteousness caused by insecurity and self-doubt. As he writes in The True Believer, people compensate according to his observations, the lack of content of one's life by a passionate devotion to the external world or a leader person or ideology. Although Hoffer developed his ideas primarily to the totalitarian mass movements of his time, he did not hesitate to describe less extreme movements of religious or political affiliation as a focal point of unsafe people.

Hoffer's theses were not only new, but without any reference to the psychological teachings of his time ( Freudian psychology). Admirer of Hoffer's ideas write its independence from the academic world and the freedom from constraints, the originality of his ideas.

Hoffer and the " intellectuals "

Hoffer was in his day one of the USA 's most inclined writers. He did not understand themselves as " intellectuals ", especially as he understood the term negative for anti -American academics. In his view, academics were hungry for power in the first place and compensated for them in democratic states (but not totalitarian states ) denied power by important made ​​by excessive criticism.

Hoffer himself saw his own origins from a modest milieu encouraging. He saw himself as an outsider and outsiders understood as a pioneer society. Although he faced left-wing academics clearly critical, you can not call conservatives him. He stood outside the currents of his time and saw itself as a dock worker whose letter had been brought from his living circumstances. Maybe that's why he joined with another great outsider of academia, Hannah Arendt, a special sympathy.


  • The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, 1951 (. Ger The fanatic A pathology of the partisan, February 1965 Rowohlt )
  • The Passionate State of Mind, 1955 ( aphorisms )
  • The Ordeal of Change, 1963 (Eng. The fear of the new )
  • The Temper of Our Time, 1967 (Eng. The presence of the pulse felt )
  • Working and Thinking on the Waterfront, 1969
  • Reflections on the Human Condition, 1973
  • In Our Time, 1976
  • First Things, Last Things, 1979
  • Before the Sabbath, 1979
  • Truth Imagined, 1983