When the Powerful Copy the Weak: Eric Hoffer’s American Prophecy

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave?

Homeland Security Advisory System

Trenchant and timely words from Eric Hoffer, one of Bruce Lee’s favorite philosophers:

There is always a danger that the suppression of a specific clearly defined evil will result in its replacement by an evil that is more widely diffused—one that infects the whole fabric of life. Thus, the suppression of religious fanaticism usually gives rise to a secular fanaticism that invades every department of life. The banning of conventional war-making may result in an endless undeclared war.

It has been often said that power corrupts. But it is perhaps equally important to realize that weakness, too, corrupts. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many. Hatred, malice, rudeness, intolerance, and suspicion are the fruits of weakness.

The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them, but from the sense of their inadequacy and impotence. They hate not wickedness but weakness. When it is in their power to do so, the weak destroy weakness wherever they see it.

Woe to the weak when they are preyed upon by the weak. The self-hatred of the week is likewise an instance of their hatred of weakness.

Eric Hoffer
Eric Hoffer

The mere possession of power does not inevitably lead to aggression. It is when power is wedded to chronic fear that it becomes formidable. Some inner unbalance is apparently needed to keep people on the go, and it needs the unbalancing of fear to activate power.

Only when power utilizes the propensities and talents of the weak does it become ruthless and vicious.

It is a talent of the weak to persuade themselves that…they are showing the way when they are running away; that they see the light when they feel the heat.

Great evils befall the world when the powerful begin to copy the weak. The desperate devices which enable the weak to survive are unequaled instruments of oppression and extermination in the hands of the strong.

Fear and freedom are mutually exclusive.

Today’s Homeland Security Threat Level: Elevated.

Source: “The Passionate State of Mind” by Eric Hoffer


  1. Makes you kind of nervous about the next couple decades, doesn’t it? Makes me think about moving to… well, moving somewhere.

  2. Fascinating post. Thanks for going in depth with Hoffer, I would have never heard of him otherwise. Certainly we have entered a time of endless undeclared war via our Middle Eastern involvements, but we are also in a time of apathy and ignorance towards the covert wars we are fighting elsewhere [ie, widely diffused evil]… The ‘powerful-weak’ killing the ‘weak-weak’ for a few more bucks. All the talk of weakness begs the question what Hoffer might have meant by strength. So by implication, I venture to say Hoffer’s take on strength is echoed in the Daoist notion: he who conquers men shows force, he who conquers himself is truly strong.

  3. Sydney, I hesitated to read “The Passionate State of Mind” due to its New-Agey title, but the contents are brilliant. Hoffer received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work.

    I plan a follow-up post on the meaning of courage and cowardice.

  4. I agree, the title carries misleading connotations! I look forward to hearing your work on courage and cowardice. It is these type of thoughts [Hoffer’s analysis] that are amazing to me in their pliability. They can be applied to external situations and our own internal states.

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