Another excerpt from Eric Hoffer’s book The True Believer (1951), picking back up on page 85, chapter 14:
Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all unifying agents. It pulls and whirls the individual away from his own self, makes him oblivious of his weal and fortune, frees him of jealousness and self-seeking. He becomes an anonymous particle quivering with a craving to fuse and coalesce with his like into one flaming mass. Heine suggests that what Christian love cannot do is effected by a common hatred.
Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil. Usually the strength of a mass movement is proportionate to the vividness and tangibility of its devil. When Hitler was asked whether he thought the Jew must be destroyed, he answered: “No. . . . We should have then to invent him. It is essential to have a tangible enemy, not merely an abstract one.” F. A. Voigt tells of a Japanese mission that arrived in Berlin in 1932 to study the National Socialist movement. Voigt asked a member of the mission what he thought of the movement. He replied: “It is magnificent. I wish we could have something like it in Japan, only we can’t, because we haven’t got any Jews.” It is perhaps true that the insight and shrewdness of the men who know how to set a mass movement in motion, or how to keep one going, manifest themselves as much in knowing how to pick a worthy enemy as in knowing what doctrine to embrace and what program to adopt. The theoreticians of the Kremlin hardly waited for the guns of the Second World War to cool before they picked the democratic West, and particularly America, as the chosen enemy. It is doubtful whether any gesture of goodwill of any concession from our side will reduce the volume and venom of vilification against us emanating from the Kremlin.
One of Chiang Kai-shek’s most serious shortcomings was his failure to find an appropriate devil once the Japanese enemy vanished from the scene at the end of the war. The ambitious but simple-minded General was perhaps too self-conceited to realize that it was not he but the Japanese devil who generated the enthusiasm, the unity and the readiness for self-sacrifice of the Chinese masses.
Common hatred unites the most heterogeneous elements. To share a common hatred, with an enemy even, is to infect him with a feeling of kinship, and thus sap his powers of resistance. Hitler used anti-Semitism not only to unify his Germans but also to sap the res0luteness of Jew-hating Poland, Rumania, Hungary, and finally even France. He made a similar use of anti-communism.
It seems that, like the ideal deity, the ideal devil is one. We have it from Hitler—the foremost authority on devils—that the genius of a great leader consists in concentrating all hatred on a single foe, making “even adversaries far removed from one another seem to belong to a single category.” When Hitler picked the Jew as devil, he pooled practically the whole world outside Germany with Jews or those who worked for them. “Behind England stands Israel, and behind France, and behind the United States.” Stalin, too, adheres to the monotheistic principle when picking a devil. Formerly his devil was a fascist; now he is an American plutocrat.
Again, like an ideal deity, the ideal devil is omnipotent and omnipresent. When Hitler was asked whether he was not attributing rather too much importance to Jews, he exclaimed: “No, no, no! . . . It is impossible to exaggerate the formidable quality of the Jew as an enemy.” Every difficulty and failure within the movement is the work of the devil, and every success is a triumph over his evil plotting.
Finally, it seems, the ideal devil is a foreigner. To qualify as a devil, a domestic enemy must be given foreign ancestry. Hitler found it easy to brand the German Jews as foreigners. The Russian revolutionary agitators emphasized the foreign origin (Varangian, Tartar, Western) of the Russian aristocracy. In the French Revolution, the aristocrats were seen as “descendants of barbarous Germans, while French commoners were descendants of civilized Gauls and Romans.” In the Puritan Revolution the royalists “were labeled ‘Normans,’ descendants of a group of foreign invaders.”
Pausing for just a moment here, in today’s heated battle of the sexes we can also see how each sex is being framed as if foreign through the use of Evolutionary Biology and Evolutionary Psychology teachings that in the hands of some are being misused to drive a wedge between the sexes by playing up our distinctions and differences. The argument tends to be that women and men are hard-wired to be very different, and while this certainly tends to be true on some levels, the push here is to gloss over similarities and also to ignore cultural influences that arguably have tremendous impact on how we live, what roles we adopt, and how we view ourselves and one another. In short, the evo-psych-fused-in-with-evo-bio argument can be used by nefarious individuals to narrow the inquiry so severely that it produces a false dichotomy that serves the purpose of promoting polarization between the sexes.
Carrying on, picking back up on page 88:
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 understandable that we should look for others to side with us when we have a just grievance and crave to retaliate against those who wronged us. The puzzling thing is that when our hatred does not spring from a visible grievance and not seem justified, the desire for allies becomes more pressing. It is chiefly the unreasonable hatreds that drive us to merge with those who hate as we do, and it is this kind of hatred that serves as one of the most effective cementing agents.
Whence come these unreasonable hatreds, and why their unifying effect? They are an expression of a desperate effort to suppress an awareness of our inadequacy, worthlessness, guilt and other shortcomings of the self. Self-contempt is here transmuted into hatred of others—and there is a most determined and persistent effort to mask this switch. Obviously, the most effective way of doing this is to find others, as many as possible, who hate as we do. Here more than anywhere else we need general consent, and much of our proselytizing consists perhaps in infecting others not with our brand of faith but with our particular brand of unreasonable hatred.
Even in the case of a just grievance, our hatred comes less from a wrong done to us than from the consciousness of our helplessness, inadequacy and cowardice—in other words from self-contempt. When we feel superior to our tormentors, we are likely to despise them, even pity them, but not hate them. That the relation between grievance and hatred is not simple and direct is also seen from the fact that the released hatred is not always directed against those who wronged us. Often, when we are wronged by one person, we turn our hatred on a wholly unrelated person or group. Russians, bullied by Stalin’s secret police, are easily inflamed against “capitalist warmongers”; Germans, aggrieved by the Versailles treaty, avenged themselves by exterminating Jews; Zulus, oppressed by Boers, butcher Hindus; white trash, exploited by Dixiecrats, lynch Negroes.
Self-contempt produces in man “the most unjust and criminal passions imaginable, for he conceives a mortal hatred against that truth which blames him and convinces him of his faults.”
That hatred springs more from self-contempt than from a legitimate grievance is seen in the intimate connection between hatred and a guilty conscience.
There is perhaps no surer way of infecting ourselves with virulent hatred toward a person than by doing him a grave injustice. That others have a just grievance against us is a more potent reason for hating them than that we have a just grievance against them. We do not make people humble and meek when we show them their guilt and cause them to be ashamed of themselves. We are more likely to stir their arrogance and rouse in them a reckless aggressiveness. Self-righteousness is a loud din raised to drown the voice of guilt within us.
There is a guilty conscience behind every brazen word and act and behind every manifestation of self-righteousness.
To wrong those we hate is to add fuel to our hatred. Conversely, to treat an enemy with magnanimity is to blunt our hatred for him.
The most effective way to silence our guilty conscience is to convince ourselves and others that those we have sinned against are indeed depraved creatures, deserving every punishment, even extermination. We cannot pity those we have wronged, nor can we be indifferent toward them. We must hate and persecute them or else leave the door open to self-contempt.
A sublime religion inevitably generates a strong feeling of guilt. There is an unavoidable contrast between loftiness of profession and imperfection of practice. And, as one would expect, the feeling of guilt promotes hate and brazenness. Thus it seems that the more sublime the faith the more virulent the hatred it breeds.
It is easier to hate an enemy with much good in him than one who is all bad. We cannot hate those we despise. The Japanese had an advantage over us in that they admired us more than we admired them. They could hate us more fervently than we could hate them. The Americans are poor haters in international affairs because of their innate feeling of superiority over all foreigners. An American’s hatred for a fellow American (for Hoover or Roosevelt) is far more virulent than any antipathy he can work up against foreigners. […] Should Americans begin to hate foreigners wholeheartedly, it will be an indication that they have lost confidence in their own way of life.
The undercurrent of admiration in hatred manifests itself in the inclination to imitate those we hate. Thus every mass movement shapes itself after its specific devil. Christianity at its height realized the image of the anti-christ. The Jacobins practiced all the evils of the tyranny they had risen against. Soviet Russia is realizing the purest and most colossal example of monopolistic capitalism. Hitler took the Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion for his guide and textbook; he followed them “down to the veriest detail.”
It is startling to see how the oppressed almost invariably shape themselves in the image of their hated oppressors. That the evil men do lives after them is partly due to the fact that those who have reason to hate the evil most shape themselves after it and thus perpetuate it. It is obvious, therefore, that the influence of the fanatic is bound to be out of all proportion to his abilities. Both by converting and antagonizing, he shapes the world in his own image. Fanatic Christianity puts its imprint upon the ancient world both by gaining adherents and by evoking in its pagan opponents a strange fervor and a new ruthlessness. Hitler imposed himself upon the world both by promoting Nazism and by forcing the democracies to become zealous, intolerant, and ruthless. Communist Russia shapes both its adherents and its opponents in its own image.
Thus, though hatred is a convenient instrument for mobilizing a community for defense, it does not, in the long run, come cheap. We pay for it by losing all or many of the values we have set out to defend.
Hitler, who sensed the undercurrent of admiration in hatred, drew a remarkable conclusion. It is of the utmost importance, he said, that the National Socialist should seek and deserve the violent hatred of his enemies. Such hatred would be proof of the superiority of the National Socialist faith. “The best yardstick for the value of his [the National Socialist’s] attitude, for the sincerity of his conviction, and the force of his will is the hostility he receives from the . . . enemy.”
It seems that when we are oppressed by the knowledge of our worthlessness we do not see ourselves as lower than some and higher than others, but as lower than the lowest of mankind. We hate then the whole world, and we would pour our wrath upon the whole of creation.
There is a deep reassurance for the frustrated in witnessing the downfall of the fortunate and the disgrace of the righteous. They see in a general downfall an approach to the brotherhood of all. Chaos, like the grave, is a haven of equality. Their burning conviction that there must be a new life and a new order is fueled by the realization that the old will have to be razed to the ground before the new can be built. Their clamor for a millennium is shot through with a hatred for all that exists, and a craving for the end of the world.
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.
Whether it is true or not as Pascal says that “all men by nature hate each other,” and that love and charity are only “a feint and a false image, for at bottom they are but hate,” one cannot escape the impression that hatred is an all-pervading ingredient in the compounds and combinations of our inner life. All our enthusiasms, devotions, passions and hopes, when they decompose, release hatred. On the other hand it is possible to synthesize an enthusiasm, a devotion and a hope by activating hatred. Said Martin Luther: “When my heart is cold and I cannot pray as I should I scourge myself with the thought of the impeity and ingratitude of my enemies, the Pope and his accomplices and vermin, and Zwingli, so that my heart swells with righteous indignation and hatred and I can say with warmth and vehemence: ‘Holy be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done!’ And the hotter I grow the more ardent do my prayers become.”
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 estrangement from the self, without which there can be neither selflessness nor a full assimilation of the individual into a compact whole, produces, as already mentioned, a proclivity for passionate attitudes, including passionate hatred. There are also other factors which favor the growth of hatred in an atmosphere of unity and selflessness. The act of self-denial seems to confer on us the right to be harsh and merciless toward others. The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is that the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer us apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit this earth and the kingdom of heaven, too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen shall perish.
There is also this: when we renounce the self and become part of a compact whole, we not only renounce personal advantage but are also rid of personal responsibility. There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations, doubts and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgment. When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom—freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse. Herein undoubtedly lies part of the attractiveness of a mass movement. We find there the “right to dishonour,” which according to Dostoyevsky has an irresistible fascination. […]
Thus hatred is not only a means of unification but also its product. Renan says that we have never, since the world began, heard of a merciful nation. Nor, one may add, have we heard of a merciful church or a merciful revolutionary party. The hatred and cruelty which have their source in selfishness are ineffectual things compared with the venom and ruthlessness born of selflessness.
When we see the bloodshed, terror and destruction born of such generous enthusiasms as the love of God, love of Christ, love of a nation, compassion for the oppressed and so on, we usually blame this shameful perversion on a cynical, power-hungry leadership. Actually, it is the unification set in motion by these enthusiasms, rather than the manipulations of a scheming leadership, that transmutes noble impulses into a reality of hatred and violence. The deindividualization which is a prerequisite for thorough integration and selfless dedication is also, to a considerable extent, a process of dehumanization. The torture chamber is a corporate institution.
[Bold emphases mine]
Stopping there for today, on page 94.