Thursday, February 6, 2014

The good life is compounded of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect

Someone emailed me with the following signature line quotation from Eric Hoffer,
Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket
What a great line, both because of insight as well as comporting with the facts. It seems, also, to explain why Revel's observation that The dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe is true. Movements lead to revolutions, businesses lead to regulation and reform.

The actual Hoffer quote is different. From The Temper of Our Time (1967)
Up to now, America has not been a good milieu for the rise of a mass movement. What starts out here as a mass movement ends up as a racket, a cult, or a corporation.
I like the vernacular version better.

I have never read Hoffer but I see from Wikiquotes that I need to find some of his books.

Other quotes from the same book. Startling insight and prescience.
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.
It is of course entirely spurious but the habitat with greatest sympathy for repressive behaviors is the University and among our major universities today, half the employees are educators and half are administrators.
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.
Indeed, at the level of national policy, too often we let the best be the enemy of the good to our great detriment.
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.
That's an interesting list of measures. Banish poverty - Done in terms of absolute measures and by definition it cannot be achieved in relative terms. Lift up the Negro to true equality - Incomplete but nearly there in terms of equal outcomes for equal effort. Withdraw from Vietnam - Done. Give half of the national income as foreign aid - Well not as foreign aid, but interestingly, half of national government expenditures are income transfers (taking from one group to give to another) rather than expenditures on the commonweal (infrastructure, defense, etc.)

Have to stop. There is more and more. One last one from his first book which landed him on the intellectual scene, The True Believer.
When hopes and dreams are loose in the streets, it is well for the timid to lock doors, shutter windows and lie low until the wrath has passed. For there is often a monstrous incongruity between the hopes, however noble and tender, and the action which follows them.
Ouch - some observations appear timeless.
Failure in the management of practical affairs seems to be a qualification for success in the management of public affairs.
And this one seems to have a certain vibrancy.
We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand. A doctrine that is understood is shorn of its strength.

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