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Eric Hoffer
(25 Jul 1902 - 21 May 1983)

American philosopher and author who was self-educated man who was successful as an author of philosophical books and magazine articles. He described himself as "a tourist in life." His earlier experience included working in a box factory, as a migratory field laborer, a gold prospector, a construction camp dishwasher and many years as longshoreman (1943-66).

Science Quotes by Eric Hoffer (69 quotes)

A fateful process is set in motion when the individual is released “to the freedom of his own impotence” and left to justify his existence by his own efforts. The autonomous individual, striving to realize himself and prove his worth, has created all that is great in literature, art, music, science and technology. The autonomous individual, also, when he can neither realize himself nor justify his existence by his own efforts, is a breeding call of frustration, and the seed of the convulsions which shake our world to its foundations.
— Eric Hoffer
In The Passionate State of Mind (1955), 18.
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A just society must strive with all its might to right wrongs even if righting wrongs is a highly perilous undertaking. But if it is to survive, a just society must be strong and resolute enough to deal swiftly and relentlessly with those who would mistake its good will for weakness.
— Eric Hoffer
In 'Thoughts on the Present', First Things, Last Things (1971), 101.
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A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.
— Eric Hoffer
In The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951), 14.
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A world that did not lift a finger when Hitler was wiping out six million Jewish men, women, and children is now saying that the Jewish state of Israel will not survive if it does not come to terms with the Arabs. My feeling is that no one in this universe has the right and the competence to tell Israel what it has to do in order to survive. On the contrary, it is Israel that can tell us what to do. It can tell us that we shall not survive if we do not cultivate and celebrate courage, if we coddle traitors and deserters, bargain with terrorists, court enemies, and scorn friends.
— Eric Hoffer
In Before the Sabbath (1979), 6.
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An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head.
— Eric Hoffer
Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 54.
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Collective unity is not the result of the brotherly love of the faithful for each other. The loyalty of the true believer is to the whole—the church, party, nation—and not to his fellow true believer. True loyalty between individuals is possible only in a loose and relatively free society.
— Eric Hoffer
In The True Believer (1951), 122
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Commitment becomes hysterical when those who have nothing to give advocate generosity, and those who have nothing to give up preach renunciation.
— Eric Hoffer
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 31.
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Forty years ago the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead thought it self-evident that you would get a good government if you took power out of the hands of the acquisitive and gave it to the learned and the cultivated. At present, a child in kindergarten knows better than that.
— Eric Hoffer
In Before the Sabbath (1979), 40-41.
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Free men are aware of the imperfection inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions, that our freedom, justice, equality, etc. are far from absolute, and that the good life is compounded of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect. The rejection of approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestation of a nihilism that loathes freedom, tolerance, and equity.
— Eric Hoffer
In The Temper of Our Time (1967), 103.
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How much easier is self-sacrifice than self-realization!
— Eric Hoffer
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 30.
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I have always played with the fancy that some contagion from outer space had been the seed of man. Our passionate preoccupation with the sky, the stars, and a God somewhere in outer space is a homing impulse. We are drawn back to where we came from.
— Eric Hoffer
Commenting on the first moon landing. Quoted in The New York Times (21 July 1969), 6.
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In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.
— Eric Hoffer
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 22.
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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 the sense of inadequacy and impotence. We cannot win the weak by sharing our wealth with them. They feel our generosity as oppression. St. Vincent De Paul cautioned his disciples to deport themselves so that the poor “will forgive them the bread you give them.”
— Eric Hoffer
In 'The Awakening of Asia', The Ordeal of Change (1963), 12.
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It is disconcerting that present-day young who did not know Stalin and Hitler are displaying the old naïveté. After all that has happened they still do not know that you cannot build utopia without terror, and that before long terror is all that’s left.
— Eric Hoffer
In Before the Sabbath (1979), 120.
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It is easier to love humanity as a whole than to love one’s neighbor. There may even be a certain antagonism between love of humanity and love of neighbor; a low capacity for getting along with those near us often goes hand in hand with a high receptivity to the idea of the brotherhood of men. About a hundred years ago a Russian landowner by the name of Petrashevsky recorded a remarkable conclusion: “Finding nothing worthy of my attachment either among women or among men, I have vowed myself to the service of mankind.” He became a follower of Fourier, and installed a phalanstery on his estate. The end of the experiment was sad, but what one might perhaps have expected: the peasants—Petrashevsky’s neighbors-burned the phalanstery.
— Eric Hoffer
In 'Brotherhood', The Ordeal of Change (1963), 91.
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It is hard to tell what causes the pervasive timidity. One thinks of video-induced stupor, intake of tranquilizers, fear of not living to enjoy the many new possessions and toys, the example of our betters in cities and on campuses who high-mindedly surrender to threats of violence and make cowardice fashionable.
— Eric Hoffer
In 'Thoughts on the Present', First Things, Last Things (1971), 111.
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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 kinshiIf in some manner the voice of an individual reaches us from the remotest distance of time, it is a timeless voice speaking about ourselves.
— Eric Hoffer
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 97.
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It is the malady of our age that the young are so busy teaching us that they have no time left to learn.
— Eric Hoffer
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 22.
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It is true that when pride releases energies and serves as a spur to achievement, it can lead to a reconciliation with the self and the attainment of genuine self-esteem.
— Eric Hoffer
In The Passionate State of Mind (1955), 23.
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Marx never did a day’s work in his life, and knew as much about the proletariat as I do about chorus girls.
— Eric Hoffer
In Before the Sabbath (1979), 60.
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Modern man is weighed down more by the burden of responsibility than by the burden of sin. We think him more a savior who shoulders our responsibilities than him who shoulders our sins. If instead of making decisions we have but to obey and do our duty, we feel it as a sort of salvation.
— Eric Hoffer
In The Passionate State of Mind (1955), 53.
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Nature has no compassion.… [It] accepts no excuses and the only punishment it knows is death.
— Eric Hoffer
In Between the Devil and the Dragon: The Best Essays and Aphorisms of Eric Hoffer (1982), 7.
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Nonconformists travel as a rule in bunches. You rarely find a nonconformist who goes it alone. And woe to him inside a nonconformist clique who does not conform with nonconformity.
— Eric Hoffer
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 33.
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Obviously, what our age has in common with the age of the Reformation is the fallout of disintegrating values. What needs explaining is the presence of a receptive audience. More significant than the fact that poets write abstrusely, painters paint abstractly, and composers compose unintelligible music is that people should admire what they cannot understand; indeed, admire that which has no meaning or principle.
— Eric Hoffer
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 62.
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One wonders whether a generation that demands instant satisfaction of all its needs and instant solution 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.
— Eric Hoffer
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 38.
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One would like to see mankind spend the balance of the century in a total effort to clean up and groom the surface of the globe – wipe out the jungles, turn deserts and swamps into arable land, terrace barren mountains, regulate rivers, eradicate all pests, control the weather, and make the whole land mass a fit habitation for Man. The globe should be our and not nature’s home, and we no longer nature’s guests.
— Eric Hoffer
In The Temper of Our Time (1967), 94.
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Our credulity is greatest concerning the things we know least about. And since we know least about ourselves, we are ready to believe all that is said about us. Hence the mysterious power of both flattery and calumny.... It is thus with most of us: we are what other people say we are. We know ourselves chiefly by hearsay.
— Eric Hoffer
In The Passionate State of Mind (1955), 80.
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Our greatest weariness comes from work not done.
— Eric Hoffer
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 96.
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Ours is a golden age of minorities. At no time in the past have dissident minorities felt so much at home and had so much room to throw their weight around. They speak and act as if they were “the people,” and what they abominate most is the dissent of the majority.
— Eric Hoffer
In 'The Trend Toward Anarchy', In Our Time (1976), 52.
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People who bite the hand that feeds them usually lick the boot that kicks them.
— Eric Hoffer
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 84.
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Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many.… The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them but from the sense of their inadequacy and impotence. They hate not wickedness but weakness. When it is in their power to do so, the weak destroy weakness wherever they see it.
— Eric Hoffer
In The Passionate State of Mind (1955), 28.
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Pride is a sense of worth derived from something that is not organically part of us, while self-esteem derives from the potentialities and achievements of the self. We are proud when we identify ourselves with an imaginary self, a leader, a holy cause, a collective body or possessions. There is fear and intolerance in pride; it is sensitive and uncompromising. The less promise and potency in the self, the more imperative is the need for pride. The core of pride is self-rejection.
— Eric Hoffer
In The Passionate State of Mind (1955), 23.
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Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.
— Eric Hoffer
In The Passionate State of Mind (1955), 138.
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Scratch an intellectual, and you find a would-be aristocrat who loathes the sight, the sound and the smell of common folk.
— Eric Hoffer
In 'The Young and the New York Times Magazine (22 Nov 1970), 120.
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Self-righteousness is a loud din raised to drown the voice of guilt within us.
— Eric Hoffer
In The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951) Section 69
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Some of the worst tyrannies of our day genuinely are ‘vowed’ to the service of mankind, yet can function only by pitting neighbor against neighbor. The all-seeing eye of a totalitarian regime is usually the watchful eye of the next-door neighbor. In a Communist state love of neighbor may be classed as counter-revolutionary.
— Eric Hoffer
In 'Brotherhood', The Ordeal of Change (1963), 91.
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The attitude of the intellectual community toward America is shaped not by the creative few but by the many who for one reason or another cannot transmute their dissatisfaction into a creative impulse, and cannot acquire a sense of uniqueness and of growth by developing and expressing their capacities and talents. There is nothing in contemporary America that can cure or alleviate their chronic frustration. They want power, lordship, and opportunities for imposing action. Even if we should banish poverty from the land, lift up the Negro to true equality, withdraw from Vietnam, and give half of the national income as foreign aid, they will still see America as an air-conditioned nightmare unfit for them to live in.
— Eric Hoffer
In 'Some Thoughts on the Present', The Temper of Our Time (1967), 107.
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The best education will not immunize a person against corruption by power. The best education does not automatically make people compassionate. We know this more clearly than any preceding generation. Our time has seen the best-educated society, situated in the heart of the most civilized part of the world, give birth to the most murderously vengeful government in history.
— Eric Hoffer
In Before the Sabbath (1979), 40-41.
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The central task of education is to implant a will and facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people. The truly human society is a learning society, where grandparents, parents, and children are students together.
— Eric Hoffer
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 22.
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The education explosion is producing a vast number of people who want to live significant, important lives but lack the ability to satisfy this craving for importance by individual achievement. The country is being swamped with nobodies who want to be somebodies.
— Eric Hoffer
From address to employees of the Phillips Petroleum Co. In Bartlesville, Oklahoma, excerpted in the Franklin, Indiana, The Daily Journal (23 Jan 1978), 2.
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The explosive component in the contemporary scene is not the clamor of the masses but the self-righteous claims of a multitude of graduates from schools and universities. This army of scribes is clamoring for a society in which planning, regulation, and supervision are paramount and the prerogative of the educated. They hanker for the scribe’s golden age, for a return to something like the scribe-dominated societies of ancient Egypt, China, and Europe of the Middle Ages. There is little doubt that the present trend in the new and renovated countries toward social regimentation stems partly from the need to create adequate employment for a large number of scribes. And since the tempo of the production of the literate is continually increasing, the prospect is of ever-swelling bureaucracies.
— Eric Hoffer
In 'Scribe, Writer, and Rebel', The Ordeal of Change (1963), 109.
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The fact is that up to now the free society has not been good for the intellectual. It has neither accorded him a superior status to sustain his confidence nor made it easy for him to acquire an unquestioned sense of social usefulness. For he derives his sense of usefulness mainly from directing, instructing, and planning-from minding other people’s business-and is bound to feel superfluous and neglected where people believe themselves competent to manage individual and communal affairs, and are impatient of supervision and regulation. A free society is as much a threat to the intellectual’s sense of worth as an automated economy is to the workingman’s sense of worth. Any social order that can function with a minimum of leadership will be anathema to the intellectual.
— Eric Hoffer
In 'Concerning Individual Freedom', The Ordeal of Change (1963), 141.
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The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.
— Eric Hoffer
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 94.
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The history of this country was made largely by people who wanted to be left alone. Those who could not thrive when left to themselves never felt at ease in America.
— Eric Hoffer
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 34.
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The individual on his own is stable only so long as he is possessed of self-esteem. The maintenance of self-esteem is a continuous task which taxes all of the individual’s powers and inner resources. We have to prove our worth and justify our existence anew each day. When, for whatever reason, self-esteem is unattainable, the autonomous individual becomes a highly explosive entity. He turns away from an unpromising self and plunges into the pursuit of pride—the explosive substitute for self-esteem. All social disturbances and upheavals have their roots in crises of individual self-esteem, and the great endeavor in which the masses most readily unite is basically a search for pride.
— Eric Hoffer
In The Passionate State of Mind (1955), 18
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The intellectual craves a social order in which uncommon people perform uncommon tasks every day. He wants a society throbbing with dedication, reverence, and worshiHe sees it as scandalous that the discoveries of science and the feats of heroes should have as their denouement the comfort and affluence of common folk. A social order run by and for the people is to him a mindless organism motivated by sheer physiologism.
— Eric Hoffer
In 'Concerning Individual Freedom', The Ordeal of Change (1963, 1990), 100.
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The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.
— Eric Hoffer
In The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951), 14.
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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.
— Eric Hoffer
In 'Money', In Our Time (1976), 37.
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The nineteenth century planted the words which the twentieth ripened into the atrocities of Stalin and Hitler. There is hardly an atrocity committed in the twentieth century that was not foreshadowed or even advocated by some noble man of words in the nineteenth.
— Eric Hoffer
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 40.
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The nineteenth century was naïve because it did not know the end of the story. It did not know what happens when dedicated idealists come to power; it did not know the intimate linkage between idealists and policemen, between being your brother’s keeper and being his jailkeeper.
— Eric Hoffer
In Before the Sabbath (1979), 120.
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The ratio between supervisory and producing personnel is always highest where the intellectuals are in power. In a Communist country it takes half the population to supervise the other half.
— Eric Hoffer
In The Temper of Our Time (1967), 70.
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The sick in soul insist that it is humanity that is sick, and they are the surgeons to operate on it. They want to turn the world into a sickroom. And once they get humanity strapped to the operating table, they operate on it with an ax.
— Eric Hoffer
In The Passionate State of Mind (1955, 1996), 68.
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The unavoidable conclusion is that the unprecedented meekness of the majority is responsible for the increase in violence. Social stability is the product of an equilibrium between a vigorous majority and violent minorities. Disorder does not come from an increased inner pressure or from the interaction of explosive ingredients. There is no reason to believe that the nature of the violent minorities is now greatly different from what it was in the past. What has changed is the will and ability of the majority to react.
— Eric Hoffer
In 'Thoughts on the Present', First Things, Last Things (1971), 110.
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The weakness of a soul is proportionate to the number of truths that must be kept from it.
— Eric Hoffer
In The Passionate State of Mind (1955), 40.
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There is probably nothing more sublime than discontent transmuted into a work of art, a scientific discovery, and so on.
— Eric Hoffer
In Working and Thinking on the Waterfront: A Journal, June 1958-May 1959 (1969), 65.
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They who clamor loudest for freedom are often the ones least likely to be happy in a free society. The frustrated, oppressed by their shortcomings, blame their failure on existing restraints. Actually, their innermost desire is for an end to the “free for all.” They want to eliminate free competition and the ruthless testing to which the individual is continually subjected in a free society.
— Eric Hoffer
In The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951), 32.
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This minding of other people’s business expresses itself in gossip, snooping and meddling, and also in feverish interest in communal, national and racial affairs. In running away from ourselves we either fall on our neighbor’s shoulder or fly at his throat.
— Eric Hoffer
In The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951), 14.
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Those who see their lives as spoiled and wasted crave equality and fraternity more than they do freedom. If they clamor for freedom, it is but freedom to establish equality and uniformity. The passion for equality is partly a passion for anonymity: to be one thread of the many which make up a tunic; one thread not distinguishable from the others. No one can then point us out, measure us against others and expose our inferiority.
— Eric Hoffer
In The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951), 31-32.
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To believe that if we could have but this or that we would be happy is to suppress the realization that the cause of our unhappiness is in our inadequate and blemished selves. Excessive desire is thus a means of suppressing our sense of worthlessness.
— Eric Hoffer
In The Passionate State of Mind (1955), aph. 6.
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To find the cause of our ills in something outside ourselves, something specific that can be spotted and eliminated, is a diagnosis that cannot fail to appeal. To say that the cause of our troubles is not in us but in the Jews, and pass immediately to the extermination of the Jews, is a prescription likely to find a wide acceptance.
— Eric Hoffer
In The Passionate State of Mind (1955), 79.
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To most of us nothing is so invisible as an unpleasant truth. Though it is held before our eyes, pushed under our noses, rammed down our throats- we know it not.
— Eric Hoffer
In The Passionate State of Mind (1955), 39.
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Unless a man has talents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden. Of what avail is freedom to choose if the self be ineffectual? We join a mass movement to escape individual responsibility, or, in the words of the ardent young Nazi, “to be free from freedom.”
— Eric Hoffer
In The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951), 30.
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We all have private ails. The troublemakers are they who need public cures for their private ails.
— Eric Hoffer
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 31.
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We lie loudest when we lie to ourselves.
— Eric Hoffer
In The Passionate State of Mind (1955), 45.
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We take for granted the need to escape the self. Yet the self can also be a refuge. In totalitarian countries the great hunger is for private life. Absorption in the minutiae of an individual existence is the only refuge from the apocalyptic madhouse staged by maniacal saviors of humanity.
— Eric Hoffer
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 35.
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What monstrosities would walk the streets were some people’s faces as unfinished as their minds.
— Eric Hoffer
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 55.
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When cowardice becomes a fashion its adherents are without number, and it masquerades as forbearance, reasonableness and whatnot.
— Eric Hoffer
In 'Thoughts on the Present', First Things, Last Things (1971), 109.
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Where there is the necessary technical skill to move mountains, there is no need for the faith that moves mountains.
— Eric Hoffer
…...
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With some people solitariness is an escape not from others but from themselves. For they see in the eyes of others only a reflection of themselves.
— Eric Hoffer
In The Passionate State of Mind (1955), 128.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton



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