Insights from an Uncommon Man: Quotes from Eric Hoffer

“Good writing, like gold, combines lustrous lucidity with high density.” — Eric Hoffer, Journal Note

“In human affairs, every solution serves only to sharpen the problem, to show us more clearly what we are up against. There are no final solutions.”

Eric Hoffer — Reflections on the Human Condition

Eric Hoffer was born in the Bronx just before the start of the 20th century. When he was five his mother fell down a flight of stair while carrying him and as a result of the accident he lost both his mother and his sight. Miraculously, he regained his sight at age 15. He was so afraid of losing his sight again that he became an avid reader, to fill his mind with as much as he could in the event he again lost his sight.

He went on to write ten books. When I was in college his first book, The True Believer, spoke with such force that to this day I return to it to retrieve insights and bolster my arguments when discussing mass movements and social psychology.

What I remember most from when I first read him was that worked as a longshoremen till he retired at age 65, He was not from the elite class but a common man with uncommon insights. In 1983 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Though The True Believer gained him the most recognition, he considered his book The Ordeal of Change to be his most import.

Here is a collection of quotes from his writings. I like to put a space between each so as to deliver them like a series of seeds, each warranting at least a few moments isolation for deeper reflection. I hope it whets your appetite for more.

“When hopes and dreams are loose in the streets, it is well for the timid to lock doors, shutter windows and lie low until the wrath has passed. For there is often a monstrous incongruity between the hopes, however noble and tender, and the action which follows them. It is as if ivied maidens and garlanded youths were to herald the four horsemen of the apocalypse.”
The True Believer

“A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.” — The True Believer

“Glory is largely a theatrical concept. There is no striving for glory without a vivid awareness of an audience — the knowledge that our mighty deeds will come to the ears of our contemporaries or “of those that are to be.” We are ready to sacrifice our true, transitory self for the imaginary eternal self we are building up, by our heroic deeds, in the opinion and imagination of others.”
The True Believer

“Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life.”
The True Believer
[Ednote: I think here again of “Hate Week” in Orwell’s 1984.]

“Every extreme attitude is a flight from the self.”
The Passionate State of Mind

“To most of us nothing is so invisible as an unpleasant truth. Though it is held before our eyes, pushed under our noses, rammed down our throats — we know it not.” — The Passionate State of Mind

“To become different from what we are, we must have some awareness of what we are.” — The Passionate State of Mind

“Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.”
The Passionate State of Mind

“The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.”
The Passionate State of Mind

“The explosive component in the contemporary scene is not the clamor of the masses but the self-righteous claims of a multitude of graduates from schools and universities. This army of scribes is clamoring for a society in which planning, regulation, and supervision are paramount and the prerogative of the educated.”
The Ordeal of Change

“When cowardice becomes a fashion its adherents are without number, and it masquerades as forbearance, reasonableness and whatnot.”
First Things, Last Things

For Writers

“My writing is done in railroad yards while waiting for a freight, in the fields while waiting for a truck, and at noon after lunch. Towns are too distracting.”
— Letter to Margaret Anderson

“Wordiness is a sickness of American writing. Too many words dilute and blur ideas.” — Letter to Mrs. Blumberg

“If anybody asks me what I have accomplished, I will say all I have accomplished is that I have written a few good sentences.”
Margin note on one of his manuscripts

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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