By the time a writer is given a newspaper column, in most cases that means his work is no longer readable. Exceptions are few. The first columnist whose work I awaited with eagerness was Eric Hoffer. His “Reflections” was syndicated in U.S. newspapers, including The Cleveland Press, from January 1968 to April 1970 – my high school years. I read the columns, clipped them and pasted them in a scrapbook. From them I moved on to Hoffer’s books, in particular The True Believer, and I suspect Hoffer, a longshoreman by trade, was among the reasons I became a newspaper reporter.
The work of another columnist, Thomas Sowell, never attracted me until I read his piece eight years ago on Hoffer, who I sensed had been virtually eclipsed from cultural memory. Sowell distilled Hoffer’s vision and used his insights to presciently diagnose the ebbing “Occupy” fad:
“People who are fulfilled in their own lives and careers are not the ones attracted to mass movements: `A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding,’ Hoffer said. `When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business.’”
Now Kevin D. Williamson has written a fine essay/review devoted to Sowell at Commentary:
“One of the great and brilliant things about Thomas Sowell is that he, like most nerds, appears to be simply immune to certain social conventions. This is a critical thing about him—because the social conventions of modern intellectual life demand that certain things go studiously unnoticed, that certain subjects not be breached, or breached only in narrow ways approved by the proper authorities.”
The same might be said of Hoffer.