by Patrick Appel
A reader writes:
For several reasons, a mass movement of the sort Hoffer described is unlikely in present circumstances.
First, the present economic downturn is more a hiccup in prosperity than an incubator for a mass movement. Unemployment is nothing like it was during the Great Depression. We are experiencing nothing like the hyperinflation in post-World War I Germany, nor the squalor and oppression in czarist Russia. In addition, calling the Reagan Revolution a mass movement of Hofferian grandeur is a bit of a stretch.
The movements inspired by Ron Paul, Barack Obama and Sarah Palin, as well as the so-called Tea Party movement, gained momentum from the Internet, but the Internet also limited their scope.
Yes, like-minded people, even lunatics, are able to find their co-religionists more easily now than ever before. At the same time, the internet causes fissures to appear in any mass movement at a very early stage. Enforcement of ideological conformity is more difficult online than when people have to gather together on the street or in a smoke-filled room.
What is more likely is that we will continue to see a rise in intense mini-movements which make a lot of noise but gain very little traction. These mini-movements can become dangerous and may result in an uptick of violent incidents like the Oklahoma City bombing. However, the risk--or the possibility--of a mass movement developing that transforms American society is getting lower as information becomes more broadly available.
The present circumstances are more likely to breed anarchy than they are to breed a mass movement.