Monday, August 25, 2014

Eric Hoffer: on total commitment

No. 54

Anyone aware of the imperfections inherent in human affairs is hardly capable of total commitment.  Part of him will inevitably remain uncommitted.  It is the perch of uncommitment which makes an act of self-sacrifice sublimely human, and distinguishes the man of faith from the fanatic.

-- Eric Hoffer --
from Reflections on the Human Condition

The question that immediately comes to my mind is what Hoffer means by self-sacrifice.   Would this include suicide bombers, those who strap a bomb to themselves and then go on a school bus or in a crowded restaurant or a market and blow up themselves and numerous others--men, women, and children?   Is this sublimely human or the act of a fanatic?   How can one distinguish between them?



  1. Maybe you could look at whether that person is doing the act for self benefit or not - even perceived self benefit. The bomber is doing it for (probably) fame, praise, glory (here and in the hereafter) and status (even after they die, people will talk about their act with praise.) But to me, self sacrifice should be done with absolutely no thought toward yourself - you are totally fixed on benefit to a person or persons.

  2. Cheryl,

    I think what you are describing is altruism--and yes, altruism is something I would never attribute to a fanatic.

  3. Perhaps he is speaking about sacrifice in the name of the greater good of civilization (which does not permit moral relativism but universal morality and ethics) -- but the form of the sacrifice remains open to discussion. Must a person die as a sacrifice, or does selfless service fill the bill? Hmmmm.

    1. RT,

      I think Hoffer is referring to those sacrifices that bring about the greater good, not just in the name of it. I suspect he would also include selfless service, but at present, I can't offer any proof of this.