The True Believer - Discussion Questions



  1. What is Hoffer's central thesis regarding mass movements? To what does he attribute their formation? What are the specific ingredients necessary to create a movement?
  2. How does he describe or define the True Believer? What is the appeal of a mass movement to its followers?
  3. Overall, how would you say Hoffer views human nature? Do you agree with his view or not?
  4. Hoffer sees similarities in all mass movements despite their ideological content. They are, he believes, interchangeable. Do you agree with his lumping together of, say, the nazi-fascist movement with the early Christian or Jewish religion?
  5. Hoffer writes, "We are less ready to die for what we have or are than for what we wish to have and to be. It is a perplexing and unpleasant truth that when men already have 'something worth fighting for' they do not feel like fighting." Do you agree with this passage, or disagree? Or somewhere in between?
  6. What roles (and why) do make-believe, play-acting, ceremonies and pageantry play in mass movements? Why are they important? What about fear-mongering and hatred of outsiders...or the world at large...? What role do they play?
  7. Some readers have talked about the timelessness of Hoffer's book—that it is as relevant now as it was nearly 60 years ago when first issued. Do you agree or disagree...and for what reasons? What, if any, parallels do you see today?
  8. Identify some mass movements that have developed after 1951, the year this book was published?
  9. Do you agree, or not, with this statement by Hoffer: "Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves."
  10. In what ways does a mass movement, according to Hoffer, improve participants' self-esteem? What does he mean when he says, "the vanity of the selfless, even those who practice utmost humility, is boundless"? (A side question: Does that vanity also apply to individual acts of charity—do we feel proud of ourselves when we donate to a cause? Is that the reason we give, even when we're not part of a movement?)
  11. Here is another comment by Hoffer: "Self-righteousness is a loud din raised to drown the voice of guilt within us." First of all, define self-righteousness. Then consider the meaning of Hoffer's passage...and whether or no you agree with him.
  12. Is Hoffer's book a dispassionate (objective) work? Or is it a polemical statement that makes judgments on mass movements and their members?
  13. Hoffer claims that the success of a movement doesn't depend on the truth of its claims but by how well its organization and management deliver fulfillment to their followers. Agree? Give examples? Disagree?
  14. Does Hoffer believe that mass moments are bad? What do you think?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)