Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The End of a Movement

I'm trying to curb the conservative coverage here on The Masticator, but I couldn't help calling attention to this gem of a quote by Pat Buchanan from the current New Yorker:
“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”
Very quotable. It's apparently a paraphrase of something Eric Hoffer once said.

Eric Hoffer (1902-1983; pictured at left) may be best known as the author of the 1951 pop-sociology book The True Believer, in which he described "the nature of mass movements." Hoffer was a self-educated longshoreman from the Bronx who couldn't serve in the War because of his health. He wrote 11 books, the last of which (an autobiography) was published poshumously.

Reading through some of the quotations available on The Eric Hoffer Resource, it's clear that he was a product of the Cold War, with that very American combination of a suspicion of conformity (read: Communists) and a suspicion of non-comformity (liberals and other artsy-types). Here's a sampling:
"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."

"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."

"When grubbing for necessities man is still an animal. He becomes uniquely human when he reaches out for the superfluous and extravagant."

"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."

"We clamor for equality chiefly in matters in which we ourselves cannot hope to attain excellence. To discover what a man truly craves but knows he cannot have we must find the field in which he advocates absolute equality. By this test Communists are frustrated Capitalists."

"It is not actual suffering but a taste of better things which excites people to revolt."

"The technique of a mass movement aims to infect people with a malady and then offer the movement as a cure."
A few of the quotes reveal a loneliness and distrust of solitude:
"A man by himself is in bad company."

"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."

"It is loneliness that makes the loudest noise. This is true of men as of dogs."
But I digress. The original quote was Hoffer, but paraphrased by Pat Buchanan. It's from an article pondering the possibility of the conservative movement's death called "The Fall of Conservatism." Is it as simple as a rift between social/religious conservatives and fiscal/libertarian conservatives?

Not exactly. George Packer writes:
"The fact that the least conservative, least divisive Republican in the 2008 race is the last one standing—despite being despised by significant voices on the right—shows how little life is left in the movement that Goldwater began, Nixon brought into power, Ronald Reagan gave mass appeal, Newt Gingrich radicalized, Tom DeLay criminalized, and Bush allowed to break into pieces."
Put that way, it sounds pathetically mismanaged.

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