Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Eric Hoffer

American Longshoreman, Social Writer and Philosopher awarded Presidential Medal of Freeedom

"However much we guard against it, we tend to shape ourselves in the image others have of us."

"It is easier to love humanity as a whole than to love one's neighbor."

"It is not love of self but hatred of self which is at the root of the troubles that afflict our world."

"Everything seems possible when we are absolutely helpless or absolutely powerful - and both states stimulate our credulity."

"Every extreme attitude is a flight from the self."

"Excesses are essentially gestures. It is easy to be extremely cruel, magnanimous, humble, or self-sacrificing when we see ourselves actors in a performance."

"Far more crucial than what we know or do not know is what we do not want to know."

"Great evils befall the world when the powerful begin to copy the weak. The desperate devices which enable the weak to survive are unequaled instruments of oppression and extermination in the hands of the strong."

"Glory is largely a theatrical concept. There is no striving for glory without a vivid awareness of an audience."

"The majority of people prove their worth by keeping busy. A busy life is the nearest thing to a purposeful life."

"Self-righteousness is a loud din raised to drown the voice of guilt within us."

"The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness."

"Kindness can become its own motive. We are made kind by being kind."

"The remarkable thing is that we really love our neighbor as ourselves: we do unto others as we do unto ourselves. We are tolerant toward others when we tolerate ourselves."

"The sense of inferiority inherent in the act of imitation breeds resentment. The impulse of the imitators is to overcome the model they imitate."

"We cannot be sure that we have something worth living for unless we are ready to die for it."

"We can see through others only when we see through ourselves."

"The self-despisers are less intent on their own increase than on the diminution of others. Where self-esteem is unobtainable, envy takes the place of greed."

"We lie loudest when we lie to ourselves."

"When people are bored it is primarily with their own selves that they are bored."

"We probably have a greater love for those we support than those who support us. Our vanity carries more weight than our self-interest... There is sublime thieving in all giving. Someone gives us all he has and we are his."

"A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding."

"Without a sense of proportion there can be neither good taste nor genuine intelligence, nor perhaps moral integrity."

"A mass movement attracts and holds a following not because it can satisfy the desire for self-advancement, but because it can satisfy the passion for self-renunciation."

"Action can give us the feeling of being useful, but only words can give us a sense of weight and purpose."

"When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other. Originality is deliberate and forced, and partakes of the nature of a protest."

"Wise living consists perhaps less in acquiring good habits than in acquiring as few habits as possible."

"Charlatanism of some degree is indispensable to effective leadership."

"A plant needs roots in order to grow. With man it is the other way around: only when he grows does he have roots and feels at home in the world."

"A preoccupation with the future not only prevents us from seeing the present as it is but often prompts us to rearrange the past."

"Death has but one terror, that it has no tomorrow."

"Even in slight things the experience of the new is rarely without some stirring of foreboding."

"How many and deep are the divisions between human beings? Not only are there divisions between races, nations, classes and religions but also almost totally incomprehension between sexes, the old and young, the sick and healthy. There would be no society if living together depended upon understanding each other."

"However much we talk of the inexorable laws governing the life of individuals and of societies, we remain at the bottom convinced that in human affairs everything in more or less fortuitous. We do not even believe in the inevitability of our own death. Hence the difficulty of deciphering the present, of detecting the seeds of things to come as they germinate before our eyes. We are not attuned to seeing the inevitable."

"It is a sign of a creeping inner death when we no longer can praise the living."

"It could be that human nature is stubbornly resistant to drastic change. Hence the fact that they who set their hearts on realizing revolutionary changes are as a rule hostile to human nature; they become antihuman, so to speak. They will do all they can to turn men into soulless material."

"It is the individual only who is timeless. Societies, cultures, and civilizations - past and present - are often incomprehensible to outsiders, but the individual's hunger, anxieties, dreams, and preoccupations have remained unchanged through the millennia. Thus, we are up against the paradox that the individual who is more complex, unpredictable, and mysterious than any communal entity is the one nearest to our understanding; so near that even the interval of millennia cannot weaken our feeling of kinship. If in some manner the voice of an individual reaches us from the remotest distance of time, it is a timeless voice speaking about ourselves."

"It is to escape responsibility for failure that the weak so eagerly throw themselves into grandiose undertakings."

"It is a paradox of the post-industrial age that, despite its technical omnipotence, it is as dominated by words and magic as any primitive tribe. A haze of empty words, coming from the word factories of the universities, is corrupting the air of our ailing cities. The young lurch not so much from one illusion to another as from one cliché to another."

"It is often the failure who is the pioneer in new lands, new undertaking, and new forms of expression."

"It sometimes seems that the thing we least possess and can call our own is our self. We cannot be sure of our faculties, talents, and creative powers. We can possess and keep under lock and key only that which is not part of the 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 the lack of answers but from the absence of the impulse to ask questions."

"It sometimes seems that intense desire creates not only its own opportunities, but its own talents."

"Man started out as a "weak thing of the world" and evolved "to confound the things that are mighty." And within the human species, too, the weak often develop aptitudes and devises which enable them not only to survive but to prevail over the strong. Indeed, the formidableness of the human species stems from the survival of its weak. Were it not for the compassion that moves us to care for the sick, the crippled, and the old there would probably would have been neither culture or civilization. The crippled warrior who had to stay behind while the manhood of the tribe went out to war was the storyteller, teacher, and artisan. The old and the sick had a hand in the development of the arts of healing and of cooking. One thinks of the venerable sage, the unhinged medicine man, the epileptic prophet, the blind bard, and the witty hunchback and dwarf."

"No invention could ever take the hard work out of creating - out of good writing, painting, composing, inventing, etc. The economy of the spirit is incurably an economy of scarcity. An affluent society might be able to dispense with the ethic of work in its everyday life, but to attain any sort of excellence it will have to implant implacable taskmasters in the breasts of its people. Indeed, without the disciple of the creative effort the affluent society will be without stability. It might have to become a creative society in order to survive."

"One might equate growing up with a mistrust of words. A mature person trusts his eyes more than his ears. Irrationality often manifests itself in upholding the word against the evidence of the eyes. Children, savages and true believers remember far less what they have seen than what they have heard."

"Not actual suffering but the hope of better things incites people to revolt."

"No matter how noble the objectives of a government, if it blurs decency and kindness, cheapens human life, and breeds ill will and suspicion - it is an evil government."

"Our greatest pretenses are built up not to hide the evil and the ugly in us, but our emptiness. The hard thing to hide is something that is not there."

"One wonders whether a generation that demands satisfaction of all its needs and instant solutions of the world's problems will produce anything of lasting value. Such a generation, even when equipped with the most modern technology, will be essentially primitive - it will stand in awe of nature, and submit to the tutelage of medicine men."