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Eric Hoffer : The Inconvenience of Passion

Extracts from :

Eric Hoff er

The Passionate State of Mind


1. There is in most passions a shrinking away from ourselves. The passionate pursuer has all the earmarks of a fugitive.

Passions usually have their roots in that which is blemished, crippled, incomplete and insecure within us. The passionate attitude is less a response to stimuli from without than an emanation of an inner dissatisfaction.

3. That we pursue something passionately does not always mean that we really want it or have a special aptitude for it. Often, the thing we pursue most passionately is but a

substitute for the one thing we really want and cannot have. It is usually safe to predict

that the ful llment of an excessively cherished desire is not likely to still our nagging


4. It seems that we are most busy when we do not do the one thing we ought to do; most greedy when we cannot have the one thing we really want; most hurried when we can never arrive; most self-righteous when irrevocably in the wrong.

5. It is strange how the moment we have reason to be dissatis ed with ourselves we are set upon by a pack of insistent clamorous desires. Is desire somehow an expression of the centrifugal force that tears and pulls us away from an undesirable self ?

Ascetisicm is sometimes a deliberate e ffort to reverse a reaction in the chemistry of our soul: by suppressing desire we try to rebuild and bolster our self-esteem.

6. To believe that if we could have 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.

7. Every intense desire is perhaps basically a desire to be diff erent from what we are. Hence probably the imperiousness of the desire for fame, which is a desire for a self utterly unlike the real self.

14. The soul intensity induced by an inner inadequacy constitutes a release of energy, and it depends on a person's endowments and on attending circumstances whether the released energy works itself out in discontent, in desire, in sheer action or in creativeness.

The chemistry of dissatisfaction is as the chemistry of some marvelously potent tar. In it are the building stones of explosives, stimulants, poisons, opiates, perfumes and stenches.

15. For all we know, the wholly harmonious individual might be without the impulse to push on, and without the compulsion to strive for perfection in any department of life. There is always a chance that the perfect society might be a stagnant society.

17. There is perhaps no better way of measuring the natural endowment of a soul than by its ability to transmute dissatisfaction into a creative impulse. The genuine artist is as much a dissatis ed person as the revolutionary, yet how diametrically opposed are the products each distills from his dissatisfaction.

19. By adequate canalization and under favorable circumstances, any kind of enthusiasm, however crude in nature and origin, can be diverted into creativeness. The enthusiasm born of an error can be canalized into a passionate search for truth.

22. "MORE !" is as e ffective a revolutionary slogan as was ever invented by doctrinaires of discontent. The American, who cannot learn to want what he has, is a permanent revolutionary. He glories in change, has faith in that which he has not yet, and is ready to give his life for it.

25. The propensity to action is symptomatic of an inner unbalance. To be balanced is to be more or less at rest. Action is at bottom a swinging and ailing of the arms to regain one's balance and keep afloat. And if it be true, as Napoleon wrote to Carnot, that "the art of government is not to let men grow stale," then it is an art of unbalancing.

30. We acquire a sense of worth either by realizing our talents, or by keeping busy, or by identifying ourselves with something apart from us, be it a cause, a leader, a group, possessions and the like. Of the three, the path of self-realization is the most difficult. It is taken only when other avenues to a sense of worth are more or less blocked. Men of talent have to be encouraged and goaded to engage in creative work. Their groans and laments echo through the ages.

Action is a highroad to self-con fidence and esteem. Where it is open, all energies flow toward it. It comes readily to most people, and its rewards are tangible. The cultivation of

the spirit is elusive and dicult, and the tendency toward it is rarely spontaneous. Where

the opportunities for action are many, cultural creativeness is likely to be neglected.

The cultural flowering of New England came to an almost abrupt end with the opening of the West. The relative cultural sterility of the Romans might perhaps be explained by their

empire rather than by an innate lack of genius. The best talents were attracted by the

rewards of administrative posts just as the best talents in America are attracted by the

rewards of a business career.

36. Give people pride and they'll live on bread and water, bless their exploiters, and

even die for them. If there is pride to be derived from an identi cation with a leader, we grovel in the dust before a Napoleon, Hitler or Stalin and are ready to die for him. If there is distinction in su ffering, we search for martyrdom as for hidden treasure.

64. What is the farthest removed from our flesh-and-blood selves ?


To attach people to words is to detach them most e ffectively from life and possessions,

and thus ready them for reckless acts of self-sacrifi ce. Men will fight and die for a word

more readily than for anything else.

They are dangerous times when words are everything.

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