the true believer: thoughts on the nature of mass movements

Readers have two ways of interpreting the book. The kind interpretation is that the book warns readers of the cyclical nature of social revolutions, religious movements and nationalist movements; warning readers that the prerequisites of mass movements are always there. The less kind interpretation is that the book provides a play-by-play for creating your first cult.

In the latter sense, this book is a must-read for aspiring sociopathic cult leaders (or just regular sociopathic business leaders).

Here are some good ideas from the book:

The Appeal Of Mass Movements

Mass movements are based on three parts: A strong sense of discontent, an irresistible sense of power to change things and a faith in the future as a result of the change.


A mass movement attracts and holds a following not because it can satisfy the desire for self-advancement, but because it can satisfy the passion for self-renunciation.

There is a fundamental difference between the appeal of a mass movement and the appeal of a practical organisation. The practical organisation offers opportunities for self-advancement, and its appeal is mainly to self-interest. A mass movement, particularly in its active, revivalist phase, appeals not to those intent on bolstering and advancing a cherished self, but to those who seek to be rid of an unwanted self.

Archetypal Convert

The description of the potential convert coincides with the postmodernist idea of a person who commits philosophical suicide; i.e. a person who avoids the Absurdity of the search for meaning and gives in to living in bad faith.

In the book, he describes the poor, the misfit, the inordinately selfish, the ambitious feeling unlimited opportunities, the minority, the bored. the sinner, as archetypes who want to renunciate themselves of their inadequacies, failures, emptiness, in a favour of a larger force of power and faith.

To Convert is to Strengthen One’s Own Faith

The urge to proselytize comes not from a deeply held belief in the truth of doctrine but from an urge of the fanatic to “strengthen his own faith by converting others”.

The Interchangeability of Mass Movements

Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves. When one movement fails, the convert will merely move on to the next mass movement in vogue.

A Specific Doctrine

All of them irrespective of the doctrine they preach and the program they project, breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred and intolerance;

The Questionably Unethical Application To Business

This is me describing some questionably unethical takeaways:

  • Hire people that are seeking rebirth: The unproven fresh graduate, the migrant, the self-described failure. Frame the work that they will do as an opportunity to change or revolutionise xyz industry. The will run the extra mile for you.
  • Over-promise product value proposition. USP must not only address a serious enough painpoint, i.e. discontent. But also include the promise of sudden and spectacular change and a faith in the future of said change.
  • Choose susceptible Target Audiences: Find customers who are part of existing mass movements. They trade one for another as long as it alleviates the need to think of our lives as puny and meaningless.