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Factors Promoting Self-sacrifice

Identification with a Collective Whole


To ripen a person for self-sacri􀀞ce he must be stripped of his individual identity and distinctness. He must cease to be George, Hans, Ivan, or Tadao—a human atom with an existence bounded by birth and death. The most drastic way to achieve this end is by the complete assimilation of the individual into a collective body. The fully assimilated individual does not see himself and others as human beings. When asked who he is, his automatic response is that he is a German, a Russian, a Japanese, a Christian, a Moslem, a

member of a certain tribe or family. He has no purpose, worth and destiny apart from his collective body; and as long as that body lives he cannot really die.

To a man utterly without a sense of belonging, mere life is all that matters. It is the only reality in an eternity of nothingness, and he clings to it with shameless despair. Dostoyevsky gave words to this state of mind in Crime and Punishment (Part II, Chapter 4). The student Raskolnikov wanders about the streets of St. Petersburg in a delirious state. He had. several days ago murdered two old women with an ax. He feels cut o􀀰 from mankind. As he passes through the red-light district near the Hay Market he muses: “if one had to live on some high rock on such a narrow ledge that he’d only room to stand, and the ocean, everlasting darkness, everlasting solitude, everlasting tempest around him, if he had to remain standing on a square yard of space all his life, a thousand years, eternity, it were better to live so than to die at once! Only to live, to live and live!

Life whatever it may be!” Life whatever it may be!”

The effacement of individual separateness must be thorough. In every act, however trivial, the individual must by some ritual associate himself with the congregation, the tribe, the party, etcetera. His joys and sorrows, his pride and con􀀞dence must spring from the fortunes and capacities of the group rather than from his individual prospects and abilities. Above all, he must never feel alone. Though stranded on a desert island, he must still feel that he

is under the eyes of the group. To be cast out from the groupshould be equivalent to being cut off from life.

This is undoubtedly a primitive state of being, and its most

perfect examples are found among primitive tribes. Mass

movements strive to approximate this primitive perfection, and we are not imagining things when the anti-individualist bias of contemporary mass movements strikes us as a throwback to the primitive.


Eric Hoffer The True Believer 

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