I've been reading Eric Hoffers Eric Hoffer 1951 book "The True Believer: Thoughts on the nature of mass movements" Hoffer looks at various mass movements, religious and secular, good and bad, from Christianity through WW2.
Hoffer's work has held up extraordinarily well. His analysis of mass movements brings a surprising degree of clarity to our understanding of mass movements that have sprung up after the publication of his book, and his explanation of mass movements can be applied to the Tea Party and OWS.
Hoffer explains how mass movements attract people in times of personal or political crisis with the promise of a Utopia that is probably unreachable.
Movements got trough three stages, attracting different types of people at each stage:
1) Discrediting the existing order.
2) Overthrowing the existing order.
3) Enforcing the new status quo.
Mass movements give rise to new competing mass movements, and competition is one of the most effective ways to oppose a mass movement. In this diary, we look at the Tea Party and OWS as mass movements at different stages in their life cycleand compare their use of Hoffer's tactics
Life Cycle of Mass Movements - The Three Stages
"Men of words" lay the groundwork and discredit the existing order as decadent or corrupt. These men are often outside the power structure, and they may be coffee house revolutionaries, failed artists or civil servants, poets, or persecuted minorities.
Fanatics are swept up in the urge to destroy the present in pursuit of a utopia. Their visions may be rooted in the past or the future, nationalism, or religion. The fanatic may come from a variety of backgrounds. Fanatics may be minorities (the Civil Rights movement), unemployed students (OWS), demobilized armies (The Bonus Army), elderly (Tea Party), or workers unemployed by recessions or the collapse of an industry . Or they may be bored, or narcissists, or selfish (libertarians), or what Hofffer calls "misfits." Often the "misfit" is simply someone who is not in the right place at the right time, and a movement may go through many years of false starts before gaining broad support. If the movement has suffered previous defeats, it will be tribal and obsessed with purity and ritual.
The fanatic is motivated by the urge for self sacrifice. While movements attract demobilized troops, and active army's command structure easliy resists mass movements.
The "men of words" may still be contributing slogans and ideas, but the fanatics tend to be anti-intellectual. Their goals may not be realistic, in fact they may be little more than crude propaganda. For the Tea Party, many of their boogeymen are obscure academics. While OWS is not antintellectual, it includes people who are more interested in drumming than debate.
The mass movement in the active phase attacks all existing institutions. It also generally attacks the family, and certainly in the Tea Party ("Let him die") we see breakdown of the social contract that extends to basic services as well as any obligation to the "parasites" who failed to get rich or who were less that savvy investors. Here we see OWS as being more interested in protecting the status quo of the social contract, unlike most revolutionary movements.
The movement is taken over by a "men of action." These organization men are the politicians, who are served by bureaucrats and clerks. These midlevel people are generic management types, "career men" who are seeking professional advancement with whoever pays a good salary. The organization keeps the revolutionary slogans and ceremonies, but the goals of the revolution have been abandoned. The bad mass movement becomes ruthless in its use of intimidation. Innocent people may be randomly tortured and killed for no purpose except to intimidate the population. At this stage, mass movements lose their distinctive character, and various systems freely borrow tactics, propaganda, and goals from other movements. This is why it is more informative to compare Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto than to compare the mangled "philosophy" of Stalinism and The Third Reich.
But let's not forget that even good mass movements may resort to force and intimidation. The Abolition movement eventually resulted in Sherman's March, but there were inevitable reactionary movements in the wake of the Confederacy's defeat including the KKK and Jim Crow, and desegregation had to be ended by Ike and JFK at the point of bayonets, which resulted in "massive resistance" and the South turning Republican. And so we see the domino effect of mass movements, and that force is not only a tool of evil.
The Cycle of Leadership
At each stage there is a power struggle for control of the movement. While a mass movement may give people the illusion of freedom because stuff is getting broken, it is likely to be overwhelmed and absorbed by many of the same powers they are rebelling against. The men of words in the cafes are uncomfortable with the fanatic street fighters, and the fanatic's constant habit of subversion is a threat to the new status quo. As the new status quo takes hold, the old order's clerks and bureaucrats are likely to resurface. As we have seen in Eastern Europe, reform governments may hold office for only a single term before being booted out by an oppressive new regime seeking to "take our country back." The intellectuals and fanatics are likely to be imprisoned, exiled, or shot.
Or in the words of The Who "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."
Sometimes the fanatic like Hitler or Stalin can become the leader when the mass movement gains power, but the results are usually an arbitrary reign of terror. The best leaders are the one who are willing to lose their office rather giving into demands for a bloody national purification, and Hoffer cites Washington, Lincoln, Churchill, and Ghandi. On the other hand, Steve Jobs was a messianic figure who got bumped out by the career men, but Apple discovered that Jobs was needed to give the company his personal vision.
While the Tea party has attempted to use a strategy of leaderless resistance, this has not prevented the movement from being co-opted instantly by the corporatists and career men seeking personal advancement and the protection of the status quo. They followed Hoffer's model, and they have made the Tea Party part of the status quo. This has been unsatisfactory to the base, who have been cheated out of the overthrow of the existing order.
The rich men of words at Fox wanted to attract fanatics to the Tea Party, but they also want to make it just another part of the status quo without actually breaking any eggs.
Although figures like Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry bring a religious fin de siècle to the debate, they are unwilling to assume the role of Hoffer's "man of action" (or Karl popper's tyrannical "Great Man") who will purge their mass movement of fanatics with the ruthless terror of a Night Of the Long Knives.
Nationally, the Tea Party is stuck uncomfortably in the role of a minority party in a system that deprives it of the power it would have in a parliamentary system. The status quo needs a way to fully absorb it using mythology and propaganda, but it doesn't have a coalition system where the Tea Party could live. The Tea Party lacks both formal political and street fighter mojo, and this frustration drives its members back to subverting the status quo in the area must accessible to them: the GOP. No doubt the GOP would like a ruthless purge of the Tea Party, but it lacks a way to insert a loyal leadership.
At the state level, the Tea party is represented by several governors who seem to fit the model of misifits and failures who see themselves as messianic figures. The passage of GOP laws in Wisconsin had remarkable parallels to the Enabling Acts (which hardly seems coincidental), and governors like Scott Walker seek a swift nihilistic dismantling of the present order. There is not enough time between the 2008 and 2012 election cycles to run them for national office. But these people also seem to have a very short shelf life, and they would need to advance through the ruthless use of power rather than fair and free elections, and we see that in new voting laws.
Part of the GOP's problem is that they fundamentally misunderstand Obama's election as the result of a personality cult that can be countered by a personality cult of their own design. Obama was elected as a result of the totally discrediting of the Bush administration, not because of a media that sold the American public on a Marxist agenda. The GOP's best work is done on the level of nonsense slogans, but they have failed to repudiate the past policies and leadership.
This absence of a leader on the right has led to an attempt to resurrect Newt's political career. Newt's "Contract With America" was a mass movement by the rich in which Newt was clearly Hoffer's "man of words." But Newt is no longer capable of discrediting the system because Newt himself has been discredited so many times. While Newt talks a good game promising Stalinist purges of the enemy within, but he is no longer the genuine fanatic that the base craves. After all, the status quo has been very very good to Newt, and his status as a "Washington insider" discredits him as a mass movement fanatic. Newt has found a very good niche as a gadfly, using his random rebelliousness to subvert the status quo in small ways to sell books and earn speaking fees.
Causes of Mass Movements
Mass movements can result from economic disruption, such as the Depression, or the loss of a war. However, mass movements can also be awakened by a period of rising affluence or reform, including the American and French revolutions, or "peoples' revolutions" in Eastern Europe, when a population becomes aware of new possibilities and old restrictions they no longer tolerate.
A mass movement can also be the revolution of the wealthy, and this might include the "Reagan Revolution." Hoffer cites earlier examples include the British Land Clearances and the social dislocations wrought by the Industrial Revolution. Hoffer points out that these revolutions by the wealthy led to mass movements by the poor, the way that the Land Clearances led to Puritanism and the English Civil War, while the Industrial Revolution gave us Marxism and the Russian Revolution. The cycles of mass movements and radical political swings is also consistent with Karl Popper's model of history.
While external events can discredit the existing order, it also requires the "men of words." Propaganda can be used to stir a mass movement, and in Fox News we see an organization that is dedicated to discrediting the idea of civil government and Fox devoted considerable effort to hatching and shaping the Tea Party. MSNBC and Comedy Central must also get some credit for the rise of OWS by discrediting the status quo of Fox News. The Comedy Central rally struck a powerful blow to the Tea Party by vastly outnumbering the Glenn Beck's 9-12 rally a few weeks before, and providing a public spectacle.
The Source Of Revolutionaries
The mass movement appeals to what Hopper described as "misfits," meaning people who are frustrated and who have been unable to reach their full potential.
The "misfit" may be the victim of discrimination, layoffs, bad luck, youth unemployment, or actual lack of talent in their first choice of careers. Some of them are people with merit, some of them are merely destructive, and many of them seem to show undreampt of talents when they are members of a mass movement. For people who are driven by a combination of guilt, fear, and anger, the mass movement is a narcotic that brings relief from their emotional confusion. Many leaders of rebellions spent years in coffee houses or studying obscure subjects before suddenly reinventing themselves are audacious leaders. These are people that do not have a lot to lose. We can see this in movies like "A Face In The Crowd" and "Fight Club."
As Hoffer notes, even Jesus fit the role of the misfit, and he probably would not have founded a new religion if the Pharisees has called him "Rabbi" and put him on the payroll. Likewise, if Hitler's application to art school had been accepted, there would have been no Nazism, and if Castro had been signed by the New York Yankees , there would have been no Cuban revolution (OK the last one is an urban legend, but you get the point http://www.snopes.com/...)
Group identity is essential and Hoffer emphasizes the roles of self-sacrifice, such as the bond seen in combat veterans.
While OWS appeals to unemployed and underemployed college graduates, the Tea Party also appeals to misfits. To be sure, their greatest appeal seem to be among the rural and elderly with the eternal complaints that the world has spiraled into unprecedented corruption.
Hoffer says that are two ways to battle a mass movement: by ruthless suppression, or to make it compete with another mass movement. Today we see OWS competing with the Tea Party. It does not matter that groups may have very different agendas, because the fanatics in the active phase of a movement are likely to change sides. They are attracted by action more than philosophy.
However, the Tea Party is no longer in its active phase. The active phase was so brief that it went nearly unnoticed. Hoffer referred to the status quo regime as a "corporation," and in the case the Tea Party really is an extension of corporate interests.
We have also seen the attempt to launch a "53%" tax payer movement to counter OWS. These proud taxpayers often claim to be working two jobs and more than 60 hours a week without benefits, and this demonstrates Hoffer's principle of unity through self sacrifice. These 53 percenters also seem to fit Hoffer's descriptions of misfits and failures who join mass movements, and the 53% is a savvy attempt to counter OWS using the domino effect that spawns mass movements one after another.
Unifying The Group
Hoffer says that group identity is essential. Nobody, no matter how strong can resist torture if he feels he is truly alone in the world. But if he believes he is part of a group, he draws confidence from knowing other people believe the same thing.
OWS' use of "We are the 99%" is brilliant in defining itself as an inclusive economic movement that is not ready to be defined by the traditional GOP strategy of wedge issues. This has left the Tea Party scrambling to position themselves as economic populists. Whenever I see a right wing blog comment trying to refute the idea that the Tea Party is a tool of the rich, they cite their own annual income as being under $30,000.
Group identity can also be rooted in history. The Tea Party and other right wing groups go to great lengths to claim to represent the views of the Founding Fathers. Conveniently for them, the Founding Fathers invariably believe whatever is expedient for movement conservatives on any given day.
Religious belief or persecution can also bind the group. In the Glenn Beck base of Christian evangelicals, there is a constant effort to cast themselves as outcasts and victims of persecution about to be swamped by immigrants and their deluge of brown babies, much as the Nazis created the myth of the endangered Aryan Christian under siege by immigrants. When the group identity is tied to paranoid beliefs and conspiracies, they are united in what Hoffer calls the "make believe" of mass movements.
Hoffer makes it clear that "believers" are are also nonbelievers. They are not skeptics - they are denialists. I don't think Hoffer uses that word, and instead refers to the "make believe" and simultaneous "nonbelief" at the core of mass movements. Fervent belief any one thing requires the denial of a hundred other things that are obviously real, a phenomenon that has long been understood by theologians. Religion may require the denial of realities that are right under our noses. Or as they say on Myth Busters: "I reject your reality and substitute my own!"
The Tea Party certainly makes strong use of disbelief in the forms of global warming denial, racism denial, evolution denial, slavery-caused-the-Civil-War denial, WMD-never-found denial, Obama-isn't-American denial, and in the case of Pat Buchannan, Holocaust denial. Feel free to point out more examples, and I'll add them to the list.
Group identity is essential and Hoffer emphasizes the roles of self-sacrifice, such as the bond seen in combat veterans. The group is bound together by a shared sense of sacrifice and the yearning for a utopia based on a right wing past or a left wing future. These visions don’t need to be credible, and the Tea Party's utopia without government or regulations isn't plausible. And although the Tea party is certainly promising lots of self sacrifice, it is not shared sacrifice , and even the fanatics seem uninspired by this vision. War can also be a form a self sacrifice that will be embraced by a certain percentage of the population, and we see Mitt Romney banging the war drums to rally the base.
While OWS has been criticized for lacking a clear agenda, this is probably less of a problem than we are being led to believe, and it might be premature for OWS to target a specific goal. However, OWS has a sense of self sacrifice, as shown in their passive resistance. Their ability to absorb punishment is a powerful motivator and serves to bind the group.
Imitation (Mic Check!)
Both OWS and the right make extensive use of imitation. The right wing's use of daily talking points breathtaking, and the left has never has that sort of message control. However, OWS' use of the human microphone also encourages unit cohesion in the same way marching and drills bonds the infantry.
The conservatives makes full use of hatred to unite the group hatred against anything that might be an agent of change. Space does not permit even a partial list of the right's use of hatred, but their obsessive hostility targets a broad spectrum of people, from scientists, to Michelle Obama, to Barbara Streisand.
The tea party's violent hatred of OWS is inevitable for other reasons besides competition. OWS is not competing head to head with the Tea Party, or even acknowledging them, so the Tea party is going to suffer narcissistic rage at being ignored (think "Fatal Attraction") by people who "think they are better." Envy is a deadly motivator of hatred as far back as Cain and Abel, and according to theories of aggression and hatred. Hoffer points out how hatred of intellectuals has driven many mass movements in the fanatic and corporate stages, so OWS' complaints about the cost of university will generate violent contempt in its opponents.
Passive resistance by OWS is also likely to create violent hatred by their critics. As Hoffer points out, mistreatment of a group creates a sense of guilt that can be overcome by ratcheting up the hatred of the persecuted group. Passive resistance relys on guilt, so abuse is likely to double and double again before suppression buckles, and only when it's documented.
Besides the make believe of future utopias, there is also the make believe of street theater and play acting. When the Tea party was in its active phase, it managed to rally as many as 100,000 people for Glenn Beck. But it was also the moment that the Tea Party really jumped the shark tank, as the organizers asked participants to leave their signs and costumes at home. Signs and silly costumes matter to a movement that is in its active phase. On the left, there are factions that have their own costumes ranging from nudity to the menacing Black Bloc anarchists. As OWS has been pushed out of some of its encampments by the police, some protestors have worn tents as if they were ponchos, and the police have definitely not been amused by this tactic. The violent suppression of silly costumes is so ingrained in most cultures that it's not clear if the police even realize their strategic importance.
While conservatives are obsessed with action for the sake of action, the left has a surplus of men of words. So the constant presence and action of OWS is welcome change, even while the number of Tea Party events and turnout has dwindled.
Reaction Of The Status Quo To Mass Movements
As a tool of the status quo, the Tea Party is treated with remarkable deference by the media and resembles the corporate "Ur-Fascism" described Umberto Ecco. We see politicians, corporate media, and especially the Tea party react to OWS as existential threat, indeed we see it described as vermin in ways that are reminiscent of the Nazis description of the Warsaw Ghetto. OWS critics also complain about "class warfare," and promising to end class warfare was a trademark of German National Socialism. One of the main themes in attempts to discredit OWS is the idea that it is merely the product of a larger powerful conspiracy, including the right's usual Jewish boogey man, George Soros. As always, Glenn Beck uses Hitler's strategy of claiming all his enemies are "a single category."
The status quo tries to discredit the mass movement, but the disadvantaged members of mass movements are going to be very resistant to scorn from a culture that has already rejected them. So the status quo must fight mass movement by creating a mass movement of its own, often using the unifying principals of hatred. As mentioned above, this can be seen in the attempt to create a 53% movement.
Mass movements of the status quo attracts people who ready to respond ruthlessly to "take back their country." If you read conservative websites like TheBlaze, you will find long threads of comments by people obsessed with violence against OWS.
But there is risk in this strategy - many Germans of the 1930's welcomed Fascism's promise to protect the Fatherland from Socialism, only to be consumed by the new mass movement of the Nazis. The American antebellum south pushed back against civil rights, but endured years of domestic terrorism from the KKK.
I occurs to me thawt Hoffer seemed to overlook the use of dialectics to redirect mass movements and protect the status quo. As a movement goes from the active phase to become the status quo, the revolutionary goals are usually discarded but the slogans recycled. This is dialectics, and it has been used on both the left and the right.
The people yelling the most about "tyranny" will be the ones trying to become tyrants, the people screeching the most about "the Constitution" will be trying to prevent constitutional rule, the people who talk the most about religion will be the least religious.
This may be hard for people to accept, but the Bible is very clear on this point. Jesus was a rebel who founded a mass movement, and he was rebelling against the "hypocrites" and Pharisees, who took the language of religion and used it to protect the status quo. Today, Christianity has completely dropped the discussion of modern Pharisees and hypocrites, because Christianity is no longer a rebel movement, it is the status quo that has subverted most of the original teachings. America's Founding Fathers had good reason to denounce the abuse of Christianity, considering that the Church of England functioned as a direct extension of the English government in many areas.