“What monstrosities would walk the streets were some people's faces as unfinished as their minds.”
― Eric Hoffer
Today, Mr. David Brooks of the New York Times summarized Eric Hoffer's 1951 book, “The True Believer”. Here are a few of Mr. Hoffer's observations on fanaticism as digested by Mr. Brooks.
Mass movements...only arise in certain conditions, when a once sturdy social structure is in a state of decay or disintegration.They are driven primarily by frustration.Their personal ambitions are unfulfilled.They have lost faith in their own abilities to realize their dreams.Freedom aggravates their sense of frustration because they have no one to blame but themselves for their perceived mediocrity.The successful mass movement tells such people that the cause of their frustration is outside themselves, and that the only way to alter their personal situation is to transform the world in some radical way....the successful mass movement first denigrates the present. Its doctrine celebrates a glorious past and describes a utopian future, but the present is just an uninspiring pit.The golden future begins to seem more vivid and real than the present, and in this way the true believer begins to dissociate herself from the everyday facts of her life...The individual’s identity is defined by the collective group identity, and fortified by a cultivated hatred for other groups.It can also be addictive. If the true believer permitted himself to lose faith in his creed then all that self-imposed suffering would have been for nothing.These movements generate a lot of hatred. But ultimately, Hoffer argues, they are driven by a wild hope. They believe an imminent perfect future can be realized if they proceed recklessly to destroy the present.This kind of thinking is fantastical. “In the practice of mass movements,” Hoffer continues, “make-believe plays perhaps a more enduring role than any other factor.”(Hoffer) "...they must have the feeling that by the possession of some potent doctrine, infallible leader or some new technique they have access to a source of irresistible power."(Hoffer) "They must also have an extravagant conception of the prospects and potentialities of the future."(Hoffer) "...they must be wholly ignorant of the difficulties involved in their vast undertaking. Experience is a handicap.”
What should be most remarkable to any casual observer (and what none of Mr. Brooks' Beltway colleagues will dare to remark upon) is the genuinely terrifying amount of overlap between the subject of Mr. Brooks' article ("How ISIS Makes Radicals") and the modern history of Mr. Brooks' very own Conservative movement.
In fact, Eric Hoffer might well have been talking about Mr. Brooks himself when he described how defenders of the establishment "even when feeble or tolerant" will rouse themselves to some kind of action "against the activist tactics of the fanatic", but will give a pass to the fanatic when he is a "man of words" (ie. a fellow member of the teevee, radio and newspaper pundit club) even when it is painfully obvious this is what sets the stage for the activist fanatics (emphasis added):
Things are different in the case of the typical man of words. The masses listen to him because they know that his words, however urgent, cannot have immediate results. The authorities either ignore him or use mild methods to muzzle him. Thus imperceptibly the man of words undermines established institutions, discredits those in power, weakens prevailing beliefs and loyalties, and sets the stage for the rise of a mass movement.
Over the course of his career, Mr. Brooks has provided future historians with a remarkably clear picture of the rise and fall of American Conservatism's Brain Caste. First, during the high cotton days of Conservatism, Mr. Brooks' wormed his way into the intellectual vanguard of the "Reagan Revolution" -- a mass movement of angry, disaffected citizens which most definitely rose to power by denigrating the present while mesmerizing its followers with visions of "a glorious past and ... a utopian future".
Then, as his Glorious Revolution went tits up during the Age of Bush, praising the "infallible leader" and his "potent doctrine" and composing extravagant paeans the the "prospects and potentialities of the future" suddenly went out of fashion. That was the moment when Mr. Brooks ducked behind the curtain, flung everything he had written to-date straight down the memory and triumphantly re-emerged as the High Priest of the Both Siderist Church of Lyin'tology -- the new state-religion of the toxic and corrupt establishment which Reaganism and the Bush Regime left in its wake.
Mr. Brooks has carved out a profitable and influential niche for himself in the manufactured reality he help to make; a manufactured reality which he defends -- irony alert! -- by denigrating the present and spinning tales of Conservatism's glorious past and bright future with as much contempt for actual history and factual reality as any other fanatic. The difference is that Mr. Brooks has already profited handsomely from the wingnut avalanche he helped create, and he would now very much like to stop is halfway down the mountain, while Donald Trump and his true believers want to ride the avalanche -- whoopin' and hollerin' -- all the way to the bottom and straight through the tidy little Village where Mr. Brooks and all of his friends live and work and rule the world.