Five People Who Have Influenced Me The Most – Eric Hoffer

I somehow feel this post is of a most timely nature. We – in the US – have been in presidential election posture for an uncommonly mind-numbing long period already. The actual vote won’t even take place for another 8-9 months, yet here we sit, inundated with all the lameness, lying and hyperbole our television sets and message boards can provide. It drives me up to the point of distraction – a dreadful position to find one’s self on the eve of such an important juncture. I also know my view is hardly unique. My most admired minds, my friends, are all in the same boat, floating on a miasma of stupid.

It inspires me to seek origins. Where does it all come from? How did we get here? What are the underlying messages within this eggshell of irrationality? Who is addressing most what we need to hear and vote for? And how would we ever arrive at a blend of this need and reality?

The man portrayed below helps me weather any number of social and personal confusions. I agree it is weirdly positioned in a landscape blog as I make clear at the onset. But who the hell cares where we get what we need? I’m sticking with that, lol. Sue me.

I’ll no doubt place these sporadically because the meat of this blog is landscaping and not all of these figures – in fact only one – is a landscaper. But I also believe we can do things such as this not only as exercises to explain ourselves to others, but to actually honor that which they accomplished. There is always merit in praising those who deserve it. It gives them a wider audience and writing about their influence on myself  supplies information about what they mean to the world – even if it merely my small corner.

(Click any image to enlarge)


There is no personal rating system which quantifies these values. Just the fact that I simply know what effect their products and work have had on my life. But let me begin with one who talks about a value and a process without which I would not be able to do this blog. I am, if nothing else, about working. The tasks of landscaping – among the many in this kaleidoscopic field – involved serious quantities of dead lifting. I once tried to figure out the total weight of an average day’s efforts, where I moved one heavy thing to another location and I believe I came up with somewhere around five tons. Now, earlier when I was younger, this would have all been moved by hand – moved by wheelbarrow or shovel and rake. Later, of course, I did less, although, because I got smarter and began finding budgets and tools to support machines for the work I had once labored over, I bet the tonnage moves up substantially. Well, anyway, it does not have to be as hard or as onerous as it seems. In spite of how brutal it felt at the times – Lord, how many of those??? – I made out OK, after all. But in the end I thoroughly enjoyed it and I got some spiritual fulfillment from a guy who has always been all over work about the “value of work” – Eric Hoffer.


Eric Hoffer posed himself as The Everyman, although, the truth is he considered himself far more aligned with the stragglers and the “underclass”. He believed that work and the development of a trade which one does well is a rite of passage for young men and that the affluence of the post war period of the 50’s and 60’s contributed to a longer “adolescence”, in that this development was often avoided – sometimes through the advice of parents: “If you don’t get your degree, you’ll be in Viet Nam or longshoring or digging ditches!” He thus earned the title of “conservative” from academics – whom he also criticized for being very desirous of power but who also bit the hands that fed them.  When called an intellectual, he insisted that he was a longshoreman. Hoffer has been dubbed by some authors as “longshoreman philosopher.” Academics had a hard time with Hoffer. 😉


As a kid of 5, in 1907, in New York City, his mother fell while holding him, down a flight of stairs. She died two years later from complications of that fall and Eric lost his sight at the age of 7. He also lost much of his memory as well. It was 8 years later when his sight miraculously returned and one of the prominent desires he had always had came to fruition – he read books like crazy. He remained a voracious reader his entire life.


He moved at the age of 20 to Los Angleles where he figured a poor man could live in such weather. He lived on the street and sold oranges door-to-door until he realized he was a natural salesman and he could make good money. Uncomfortable with that idea, he quit. He was in something of a downward spiral and he attempted suicide and failed but it “scared him straight”. The experience gave him a new determination to live adventurously. It was then he left skid row and became a  migrant worker, and then, after that 5 year phase he took on various odd jobs, finally moving  to San Fransisco in 1941. He tried joining the war effort but was rejected because of a hernia so he did what he thought would help most by becoming a longshoreman at the docks. He settled down and stayed for the remainder of his life, working at the docks until he was 65. He began writing then and even ended up with a column as time went by.

Hoffer’s first book caused quite a sensation: “The Ordeal of Change”.  In a nutshell, Hoffer addresses one of his most fascinating themes, mass movements and mass psychology. I happen to like this stuff as well, but Hoffer always and forever included the working man in his diatribes. Indeed, it is the premise from which this all flows. The most central theme of all, for Hoffer is self-esteem.


Self Esteem

Hoffer focused on the consequences of a lack of self-esteem. He assumed self-esteem is granted by labor and by accomplishment in the real world. But he saw other puzzles of a grander sort when he stopped to analyze the totalitarian movements that caused World War 2.  He postulated that fanaticism and self-righteousness are rooted in self-hatred, self-doubt, and insecurity. As he describes in True Believer, he believed a passionate obsession with the outside world or with the private lives of other people is merely a craven attempt to compensate for a lack of meaning in one’s own life. In this simple assumption is where my own considerations merge with his. Granted that’s a simple bit of logic, yet it tells us much in just that simplicity.

Hoffer always contended that the world was “changing too fast”. To quote Wikipedia’s succinct passage explaining this:

“In Hoffer’s view, rapid change is not a positive thing for a society, and too rapid change can cause a regression in maturity for those who were brought up in a very different society than what that society has become. He noted that in 1960s America, many young adults were still living in extended adolescence. Seeking to explain the attraction of the New Left protest movements, he characterized them as the result of widespread affluence, (and including the rise of an overwhelming  Corporate Culture) which, in his words, “is robbing a modern society of whatever it has left of puberty rites to routinize the attainment of manhood.”



“Hoffer further notes that the reason working-class Americans did not by and large join in the 1960s protest movements and subcultures was they had entry into meaningful labor as an effective rite of passage out of adolescence, while both the very poor who lived on welfare and the affluent were, in his words “prevented from having a share in the world’s work and of proving their manhood by doing a man’s work and getting a man’s pay” and thus remained in a state of extended adolescence, lacking in necessary self-esteem, and prone to joining mass movements as a form of compensation.”

Make no mistake, the actual issues of The Movement during that time were relevant. Women’ Rights, racial equality, corporate accountability, an unproductive war sending 400 kids a week home in bags were all compelling as they could possibly be. They burst through and are as relevant even now. Those times saw the intersection of an incredible number of changing things. Bear in mind as well that that generation were raised with the specter of Nuclear War as real as anything we can imagine. I know my dreams were full of fearsome mushroom clouds and unearthly destruction, too.

For Me

I am a fan. He is the working man’s common sense philosopher who butted his head against the Freudians and the academics of his day, extremely unfashionable yet amazingly penetrating. Hoffer’s lack of a formal college education contributed to his independent thought, and his books remain as insightful and just as classic today.

I recall first reading him and reveling in how much plain common sense it all made. Eric Hoffer hit me like a ton of bricks right when I was most ready for him, I believe. I just felt fortunate to have run across a man who valued work in an era when it actually seemed – and does, still seem – to not matter in people’s assessment of what it takes to be happy. His commentary on the mass movements of modern politics should be primary reading for anyone who wonders how these movements form and how the develop more.


It’s all a puzzle but it also explains my views of life and work. It has much to do with this blog inasmuch as I am working here, too. Since I am working, and since I get some self-esteem from this project, I feel it’s natural to explain why. I do promise this will be a rather final statement about self-esteem. I like it – we all like it – it works to make a body feel good. Everything else is as it should be, I reckon.

After all, we like looking into things. 😉



Making stuff can be terrific fun in the end.



Finally, as if this post needed lengthening, lol……….. I want to add what Ike thought about modern times and Eric Hoffer. I feel nothing is more eloquent than what he wrote in this very private mail where his full admiration for Hoffer stands as absolutely gigantic:

The story began in 1958, when Eisenhower received a letter from Robert Biggs, a terminally ill World War II veteran. Biggs told the president that he “felt from your recent speeches the feeling of hedging and a little uncertainty.” He added, “We wait for someone to speak for us and back him completely if the statement is made in truth.”

Eisenhower could have discarded Biggs’s note or sent a canned response. But he didn’t. He composed a thoughtful reply. After enduring Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who had smeared his old colleague Gen. George C. Marshall as a Communist sympathizer, and having guarded the Republican Party against the newly emergent radical right John Birch Society, which labeled him and much of his cabinet Soviet agents, the president perhaps welcomed the opportunity to expound on his vision of the open society.

“I doubt that citizens like yourself could ever, under our democratic system, be provided with the universal degree of certainty, the confidence in their understanding of our problems, and the clear guidance from higher authority that you believe needed,” Eisenhower wrote on Feb. 10, 1959. “Such unity is not only logical but indeed indispensable in a successful military organization, but in a democracy debate is the breath of life.”

Eisenhower also recommended a short book — “The True Believer” by Eric Hoffer, a self-educated itinerant longshoreman who earned the nickname “the stevedore philosopher.” “Faith in a holy cause,” Hoffer wrote, “is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.”

Though Eisenhower was criticized for lacking an intellectual framework or even an interest in ideas, he was drawn to Hoffer’s insights. He explained to Biggs that Hoffer “points out that dictatorial systems make one contribution to their people which leads them to tend to support such systems — freedom from the necessity of informing themselves and making up their own minds concerning these tremendous complex and difficult questions.” The authoritarian follower, Eisenhower suggested, desired nothing more than insulation from the pressures of a free society.

Alluding to Senator McCarthy and his allies, Eisenhower pointed out that cold war fears were distorted and exploited for political advantage. “It is difficult indeed to maintain a reasoned and accurately informed understanding of our defense situation on the part of our citizenry when many prominent officials, possessing no standing or expertness as they themselves claim it, attempt to further their own ideas or interests by resorting to statements more distinguished by stridency than by accuracy.”

5 thoughts on “Five People Who Have Influenced Me The Most – Eric Hoffer

  1. Thanks, Allen – I guess. Funny, you know. I am of the impression I can do what I like, pretty much, in here. It is, after all, my own. I realize the risk of adding politics or philosophy to a gardening blog – it is huge. You’ll note I stay away from politics entirely. But work I do know and Hoffer, as you know, is a working man’s philosopher – and how many of them are there? My later influences are people like Olmstead, so I get more relevant, lol……….until CG Jung, of course. 😉
    .-= Steve´s last blog ..Designing Garden Pathways – Natural Stone =-.

  2. “In time of drastic change, learners inherit the earth”…Unfortunately, many of those learners fail to pass on what they have learned…either because of greed and need of power, or because they lack the motivation, ability, or desire to teach others.
    Loved this blog!

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