The U.S. hasn't generated many great philosophers, but former longshoreman Eric Hoffer was arguably the greatest of them. Born in 1898 and dying in 1983, Hoffer lived through two world wars and the depression, and saw technology evolve from the steam age to the computer age.

His observations about life, religion and politics (drawn mostly from his masterwork, "The True Believer") seem more relevant and pointed today than when he originally wrote them in 1951. Here are 24 gems:

  1. "Absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power."
  2. "Add a few drops of venom to a half truth and you have an absolute truth."
  3. "An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head."
  4. "Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for lost faith in ourselves."
  5. "Far more crucial than what we know or do not know is what we do not want to know."
  6. "For many people, an excuse is better than an achievement because an achievement, no matter how great, leaves you having to prove yourself again in the future; but an excuse can last for life.
  7. "Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil."
  8. "It has often been said that power corrupts. But it is perhaps equally important to realize that weakness, too, corrupts. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many. Hatred, malice, rudeness, intolerance, and suspicion are the faults of weakness. The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them but from their sense of inadequacy and impotence. We cannot win the weak by sharing our wealth with them. They feel our generosity as oppression."
  9. "Naivete in grownups is often charming; but when coupled with vanity it is indistinguishable from stupidity."
  10. "Never forget that one of the most gifted, best educated nations in the world, of its own free will, surrendered its fate into the hands of a maniac."
  11. "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.
  12. "Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some. We are less dissatisfied when we lack many things than when we seem to lack but one thing."
  13. "Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life."
  14. "Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves."
  15. "Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength."
  16. "Should Americans begin to hate foreigners wholeheartedly, it will be an indication that they have lost confidence in their own way of life."
  17. "The hardest thing to cope with is not selfishness or vanity or deceitfulness, but sheer stupidity."
  18. "The opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a god or not."
  19. "The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness."
  20. "To know a person's religion, we need not listen to his profession of faith but must find his brand of intolerance."
  21. "We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand."
  22. "We lie the loudest when we lie to ourselves."
  23. "You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you."
  24. "You can never get enough of what you don't need to make you happy."
Published on: Oct 28, 2019
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