As partisans on the left and right try to co-opt and compare the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements, both sides ignore that they aren’t really that different at all. Both, in fact, hew to the same conventions as all mass movements. And as the 2012 presidential candidates — including President Obama — attempt to form their positions on each one, they’d all be wise to put them in perspective.
In Eric Hoffer’s seminal 1951 work, “The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements,” the similarity is drawn with startling clarity.
The work of a self-educated gold prospector-turned-longshoreman-turned philosopher, the treatise examines important mass movements in history from the French Revolution to the Nazis. It’s also refreshingly devoid of political correctness. Hoffer describes those who may be susceptible to the allure of mass movements in practically Dickensian terms: They are either “misfits,” “spinsters” or “the inordinately selfish,” to name a few.
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