Eric Hoffer Quotes


Star The basic test of freedom is perhaps less in what we are free to do than in what we are free not to do.
The aspiration toward freedom is the most essentially human of all human manifestations.
People unfit for freedom - who cannot do much with it - are hungry for power. The desire for freedom is an attribute of a "have" type of self. It says: leave me alone and I shall grow, learn, and realize my capacities. The desire for power is basically an attribute of a "have not" type of self.
What are we when we are alone? Some, when they are alone, cease to exist.
You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you.
The opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a god or not.
To know a person's religion we need not listen to his profession of faith but must find his brand of intolerance.
Take man's most fantastic invention- God. Man invents God in the image of his longings, in the image of what he wants to be, then proceeds to imitate that image, vie with it, and strive to overcome it.
When the Greeks said, "Whom the gods love die young," they probably meant, as Lord Sankey suggested, that those favored by the gods stay young till the day they die; young and playful.
It is not actual suffering but a taste of better things which excites people to revolt.
When people are bored, it is primarily with their own selves that they are bored.
When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.
An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything in to an empty head.
The capacity for getting along with our neighbor depends to a large extent on the capacity for getting along with ourselves. The self-respecting individual will try to be as tolerant of his neighbor's shortcomings as he is of his own.
The remarkable thing is that we really love our neighbors as ourselves: we do unto others as we do unto ourselves. We hate others when we hate ourselves. We are tolerant of others when we tolerate ourselves. We forgive others when we forgive ourselves. We are prone to sacrifice others when we are ready to sacrifice ourselves.
Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance. A mass movement offers them unlimited opportunities for both.
It is not love of self but hatred of self which is at the root of the troubles that afflict our world.
We do not usually look for allies when we love. Indeed, we often look on those who love with us as rivals and trespassers. But we always look for allies when we hate.
It is easier to love humanity than to love your neighbor.
How much easier is self-sacrifice than self-realization.
All mass movements avail themselves of action as a means of unification. The conflicts a mass movement seeks and incites serve not only to down its enemies but also to strip its followers of their distinct individuality and render them more soluble in the collective medium.
There is apparently some connection between dissatisfaction with oneself and proneness to credulity. The urge to escape our real self is also an urge to escape the rational and the obvious. The refusal to see ourselves as we are develops a distaste for facts and cold logic. There is no hope for the frustrated in the actual and the possible. Salvation can come to them only from the miraculous, which seeps through a crack in the iron wall of inexorable reality. They asked to be deceived.
The uncompromising attitude is more indicative of an inner uncertainty than a deep conviction. The implacable stand is directed more against the doubt within than the assailant without.
Our quarrel with the world is an echo of the endless quarrel proceeding within us.
Animals can learn, but it is not by learning that they become dogs, cats, or horses. Only man has to learn to become what he is supposed to be.
The savior who wants to turn men into angels is as much a hater of human nature as the totalitarian despot who wants to turn them into puppets.
No one is truly literate who cannot read his own heart.
No one has a right to happiness.
There is a guilty conscience behind every brazen word and act and behind every manifestation of self-righteousness.
Unity and self-sacrifice, of themselves, even when fostered by the most noble means, produce a facility for hating. Even when men league themselves mightily together to promote tolerance and peace on earth, they are likely to be violently intolerant toward those not of a like mind.
The truth seems to be that propaganda on its own cannot force its way into unwilling minds; neither can it inculcate something wholly new; nor can it keep people persuaded once they have ceased to believe. It penetrates into minds already open, and rather than instill opinion it articulates and justifies opinions already present in the minds of its recipients.
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.
In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.
Wise living consists perhaps less in acquiring good habits than in acquiring as few habits as possible.
The craving to change the world is perhaps a reflection of the craving to change ourselves.
Where things have not changed at all, there is the least likelihood of revolution.
People who bite the hand that feeds them usually lick the boot that kicks them.
The revulsion from an unwanted self, and the impulse to forget it, mask it, slough it off and lose it, produce both a readiness to sacrifice the self and a willingness to dissolve it by losing one's individual distinctness in a compact collective whole.
Quite often in history action has been the echo of words. An era of talk was followed by an era of events. The new barbarism of the twentieth century is the echo of words bandied about by brilliant speakers and writers in the second half of the nineteenth.
What the intellectual craves above all else is to be taken seriously, to be treated as a decisive force in shaping history. He is far more at home in a society that weighs his every word and keeps close watch on his attitudes than in a society that cares not what he says or does. He would rather be persecuted than ignored.
Every extreme attitude is a flight from the self.
The untalented are more at ease in a society that gives them valid alibis for not achieving than in one where opportunities are abundant. In an affluent society, the alienated who clamor for power are largely untalented people who cannot make use of the unprecedented opportunities for self-realization, and cannot escape the confrontation with an ineffectual self.
There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day: we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life. Moreover, when we have an alibi for not writing a book, painting a picture, and so on, we have an alibi for not writing the greatest book and not painting the greatest picture. Small wonder that the effort expended and the punishment endured in obtaining a good alibi often exceed the effort and grief requisite for the attainment of a most marked achievement.
It is the fate of every great achievement to be pounced upon by pedants and imitators who drain it of life and turn it into an orthodoxy which stifles all stirrings of originality.
Our achievements speak for themselves. What we have to keep track of are our failures, discouragements, and doubts. We tend to forget the past difficulties, the many false starts, and the painful groping. We see our past achievements as the end result of a clean forward thrust, and our present difficulties as signs of decline and decay.
Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.
When we leave people on their own, we are delivering them into the hands of a ruthless taskmaster from whose bondage there is no escape. The individual who has to justify his existence by his own efforts is in eternal bondage to himself.
There are many who find the burdens, the anxiety, and the isolation of an individual existence unbearable. His is particularly true when the opportunities for self-advancement are relatively meager, and one's individual interests and prospects do not seem worth living for. Such persons sooner or later turn their backs on an individual existence and strive to acquire a sense of worth and a purpose by an identification with a holy cause, a leader, or a movement. The faith and pride they derive from such an identification serve them as substitutes for the unattainable self-confidence and self-respect.
However different the holy causes people die for, they perhaps die basically for the same thing.
It is loneliness that makes the loudest noise. This is true of men as of dogs.
It is part of the formidableness of a genuine mass movement that the self-sacrifice it promotes includes also a sacrifice of some of the moral sense which cramps and restrains our nature.
Far more crucial than what we know or do not know is what we do not want to know. One often obtains a clue to a person's nature by discovering the reasons for his or her imperviousness to certain impressions.
The wise learn from the experience of others, and the creative know how to make a crumb of experience go a long way.
All leaders strive to turn their followers into children.
The frustrated follow a leader less because of their faith that he is leading them to a promised land than because of their immediate feeling that he is leading them away from their unwanted selves. Surrender to a leader is not a means to an end but a fulfillment. Whither they are led is of secondary importance.
The ability to get along without an exceptional leader is the mark of social vigor.
We are unified both by hating in common and by being hated in common.
It is not sheer malice that pricks our ears to evil reports about our fellow men. For there are frequent moments when we feel lower than the lowest of mankind, and this opinion of ourselves isolates us. Hence the rumor that all flesh is base comes almost as a message of hope. It breaks down the wall that has kept us apart, and we feel one with humanity.
The most gifted members of the human species are at their creative best when they cannot have their way, and must compensate for what they miss by realizing and cultivating their capacities and talents.
Man is a luxury loving animal. Take away play, fancies, and luxuries, and you will turn man into a dull, sluggish creature, barely energetic enough to obtain a bare subsistence. A society becomes stagnant when its people are too rational or too serious to be tempted by baubles.
Man is the only creature that strives to surpass himself, and yearns for the impossible.
There is probably an element of malice in the readiness to overestimate people: we are laying up for ourselves the pleasure of later cutting them down to size.
When the weak want to give an impression of strength they hint menacingly at their capacity for evil. It is by its promise of a sense of power that evil often attracts the weak.
The monstrous evils of the twentieth century have shown us that the greediest money grubbers are gentle doves compared with money-hating wolves like Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler, who in less than three decades killed or maimed nearly a hundred million men, women, and children and brought untold suffering to a large portion of mankind.
Whoever originated the cliche that money is the root of all evil knew hardly anything about the nature of evil and very little about human beings.
...there is no alienation that a little power will not cure.
When watching men of power in action it must be always kept in mind that, whether they know it or not, their main purpose is the elimination or neutralization of the independent individual- the independent voter, consumer, worker, owner, thinker- and that every device they employ aims at turning men into a manipulable "animated instrument" which is Aristotle's definition of a slave.
The individual's most vital need is to prove his worth, and this usually means an insatiable hunger for action. For it is only the few who can acquire a sense of worth by developing and employing their capacities and talents. The majority prove their worth by keeping busy.
We have rudiments of reverence for the human body, but we consider as nothing the rape of the human mind.
The hatred and cruelty which have their source in selfishness are ineffectual things compared with the venom and ruthlessness born of selflessness.
The desire to belong is partly a desire to lose oneself.
The Greeks invented logic but were not fooled by it.
Those who see their lives as spoiled and wasted crave equality and fraternity more than they do freedom. If they clamor for freedom, it is but freedom to establish equality and uniformity. The passion for equality is partly a passion for anonymity: to be one thread of the many which make up a tunic; one thread not distinguishable from the others. No one can then point us out, measure us against others and expose our inferiority.
Where freedom is real, equality is the passion of the masses. Where equality is real, freedom is the passion of a small minority.
One of the surprising privileges of intellectuals is that they are free to be scandalously asinine without harming their reputations.
Fair play is primarily not blaming others for anything that is wrong with us.
The rule seems to be that those who find no difficulty in deceiving themselves are easily deceived by others. They are easily persuaded and led.
We all have private ails. The troublemakers are they who need public cures for their private ails.
A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.
Language was invented to ask questions. Answers may be given by grunts and gestures, but questions must be spoken. Humanness came of age when man asked the first question. Social stagnation results not from a lack of answers but from the absence of the impulse to ask questions.
We often use strong language not to express a powerful emotion but to evoke it in us.
Our sense of power is more vivid when we break a man's spirit than when we win his heart.
Absolute power corrupts even when exercised for humane purposes. The benevolent despot who sees himself as a shepherd of the people still demands from others the submissiveness of sheep.
It is often the failure who is the pioneer in new lands, new undertakings, and new forms of expression.
A war is not won if the defeated enemy has not been turned into a friend.
We lie loudest when we lie to ourselves.
The end comes when we no longer talk with ourselves. It is the end of genuine thinking and the beginning of the final loneliness.

The remarkable thing is that the cessation of the inner dialogue marks also the end of our concern with the world around us. It is as if we noted the world and think about it only when we have to report it to ourselves.


It is the pull of opposite poles that stretches souls. And only stretched souls make music.
Every era has a currency that buys souls. In some the currency is pride, in others it is hope, in still others it is a holy cause. There are of course times when hard cash will buy souls, and the remarkable thing is that such times are marked by civility, tolerance, and the smooth working of everyday life.
There is sublime thieving in all giving. Someone gives us all he has and we are his.

Back to main quotes

If you have quotation to add, please send it to me.