top of page
  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

A Macat Analsis - Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer


In my hurried book ordering I accidentally bought the Macat Analysis rather than the original text of ‘The True Believer – Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements’. However, it turned out to be a happy mistake as it provided a critical analysis of the text and comparison to other writings. What I found most interesting was Hoffer’s focus on the psychological profile of converts to mass movements and the socio economic conditions which breed such mentality – rather than the ideas or manipulation strategies used by the leaders of the movement. This is something which I have personally observed during my encounters with the British far-right during the pro and anti-Brexit campaigns. I have (perhaps stupidly or naïvely) engaged in discussions with several neo-Nazis or alt-right activists and what I have always noticed is the deprivation from which they have come and the pain and desperation which has formed their world views. As a homogenous mass capable of terrifying acts of violence, it is difficult to find compassion for these people but on an individual basis it is easier to see their humanity and the suffering which has led to their radicalisation.




‘Most analysts study extremist organisations by analysing the words and writings of their leaders. First, they try to understand the group’s philosophy, their ideas. Then they look to describe why a specific group of people finds this ideology so attractive. But Hoffer takes a different approach. He argues that the people who join cults, fascist and authoritarian parties, or political movements all suffer from the same psychological shortcomings. These individuals have low self-esteem, finding little of worth with their own characters. They have become frustrated with their own situations, have lost all faith in themselves, and, as a result, no longer value their identity.’ (page 11)


‘Today, analysts often talk about how terrorist organisations take advantage of poverty and frustration to breed hatred and radicalism. The True Believer provides a language for understanding how these social and psychological conditions might well create a fertile ground for radical groups.’ (page 13)


‘he says people act out of a sense of desperation and hopelessness. Having lost all sense of self-worth, they become willing to cast their lot in with a particular group and follow its leaders blindly. Arguing that the causes of all mass movements are psychological (arising in the mind and out of a person’s mental state), Hoffer argues that extremist groups have many traits in common.’ (page 15)


‘But as Spanish liberal philosopher José Ortega y Gasset warned his readers, these new political movements were characterised by the first appearance of “a type of man who does not want to give reasons to be right, but simply shows himself resolved to impose those opinions. That is the new thing: the right not to be reasonable, the ‘reason of unreason’.” It seemed politics now lay in the hands of a crowd that could be easily manipulated.’ (page 20)


‘The most significant thing all mass movements have in common, Hoffer argues, is the psychological profile of those who join them. Hoffer devotes most of The True Believer to detailing the reasons extremist groups appeal to the downtrodden. He also sees many of the same traits in their leaders’ personalities, as well as in the stages of development that all mass movements pass through.’ (page 24)


‘Hoffer primarily focuses on the psychological factors that cause a person to join a mass movement that will rub out his or her individuality. For Hoffer, the best understanding of a mass movement does not come from examining its ideas , its leaders, or its organisation. Instead, Hoffer argues that all mass movements attract the same frustrated personality type.’ (page 27)


‘Hoffer argues that we cannot explain mass movements, or radical groups, by the ideas they promote. In his view, people join extremist groups, by the ideas they promote. In his view, people join extremist groups not because of their particular ideology, but because they need to fulfil a basic psychological need. They will grasp at any means necessary to escape their own persistent sense of despair: “Their innermost craving is for a new life – a rebirth – or, failing this, a chance to acquire new elements of pride, confidence, hope, a sense of purpose and worth by an identification with a holy cause”.’ (page 32)


“The fanatic is perpetually incomplete and insecure. He cannot generate self-assurance out of his individual resources – out of his rejected self – but finds it only by clinging passionately to whatever support he happens to embrace.” – Eric Hoffer


‘Hoffer argued that mass movements start with people who have stopped believing in themselves and have lost all hope for their own future. Desperate to create some sort of meaning in their own lives, these people gravitate to new and radical causes.’ (page 34)


‘Hoffer pays particular attention to the ways radical groups bring their followers together by encouraging hatred: “Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to empty life.” It is not only people’s dedication to the causes put forward by the group, but also their shared fanatical rejection of existing ideas or people that causes radical groups to stick together.’ (page 35)


“The personality of the leader is probably a crucial factor in determining the nature and duration of a mass movement. Such rare leaders as Lincoln and Gandhi not only curb the evil inherent in a mass movement but are willing to put an end to the movement when its objective is more or less realised.” – Eric Hoffer


‘The most important distinction relates to the nature of the movement’s goals. While good mass movements pursue concrete and realistic goals, bad mass movements phrase their aims vaguely. Hoffer argues that positive mass movements are often characterised by the overthrow of a long-entrenched authority. All mass movements feature a tendency toward imitation and tend to promote self-denial.’ (page 40)


‘’Hoffer also frequently displays prejudice. He sees different races and nationalities as being characterised by distinct psychological dispositions, or tendencies. Unlike people who believe in scientific racism, Hoffer rejects the idea that these differences are because of inborn biological differences between races. Instead he argues that different national characteristics stem from each particular group’s long and unique history.’ (page 45)


Hoffer declared, “America is a nation which has run on morals, “America is a nation that has run on morals, almost independent or its leaders or Congress. For a long time America didn’t need a government. People from all over the world came here, worked hard and made America work.” To the very end, the character of the people, rather than of their leaders, mattered most to Hoffer.’ (pages 48-49)


‘He proved to be a controversial figure because of his vocal criticisms of Civil Right Leaders. Hoffer accused them of encouraging rage in the African American community and if failing to build communal institutions.’ (Page 49)


‘Hoffer remained a lifelong atheist. He didn’t believe in God, but as he matured he adopted a more respectful tone towards the religion of Christianity. By the end of his life, he had stopped referring to Christianity as a mass movement, and even praised it for promoting individual responsibility among those who followed it.’ (page 54)


“The practice of terror serves the true believer not only to cow and crush his opponents but also invigorate and intensify his faith.” – Eric Hoffer


‘Contemporary scholars have explored Hoffer’s psychological model for a number of reasons. Chiefly, they want to explain why cultivating hatred for “others” appears to be such a powerful weapon for terror organisations in their attempts to recruit new members. Analysts of modern-day global terror networks agree with Hoffer. They suggest that these organisations get significant mileage from redirecting people’s internal feelings of frustration and channelling it into hatred of an external enemy.’ (page 60)


‘In The True Believer, Hoffer concentrated on the psychological suffering of the people who join radical movements. He also addressed the ways mass movements shape those initial insecurities into fanatical hatred. The work articulates at least some of the reasons why people become willing to join groups that lie so far outside the mainstream. (page 68)


bottom of page