‘The skill to keep things in good repair’

I greatly admire the writings of the self-taught philosopher, Eric Hoffer.  His book, The True Believer, published in 1951, is the best book I know for explaining the psychology of today’s radical terrorists.  His regular job was as a longshoreman in San Francisco.  He wrote this in his journal for July 7, 1958

As I walked several blocks from the bus stop to the docks, I was impressed by the gardens in front of the houses.  The houses, of average size, are fairly old, yet in excellent shape.  The people living there are mostly workingmen.

Eric Hoffer

Eric Hoffer

The sight of the gardens and houses turned my mind to the question of maintenance.  It is the capacity for maintenance which is the best test for the vigor and stamina of a society.

Any society can be galvanized for a while to build something, but the will and the skill to keep things in good repair day in, day out are fairly rare.

At present, neither in the Communist countries nor in the newly created nations is there a pronounced capacity for maintenance.

I wonder how true it is that after the Second World War the countries with the best maintenance were the first to recover.  I am thinking of Holland, Belgium and Western Germany.   I don’t know how it is in Japan.

The Incas had an intense awareness of maintenance.  They assigned whole villages and tribes to keep roads, bridges and buildings in good repair.

I read somewhere that in ancient Rome a man was disqualified as a candidate for office because his garden showed neglect.

I wonder what Hoffer, who died in 1983, would think of America’s crumbling roads, bridges, transit systems, airports and infrastructure generally.  Would he think that Americans, both individually and as a nation, still have the will and the skill to keep things in good repair?


Here’s an entry from Hoffer’s journal on December 2, 1958.

When a workingman becomes Americanized, you can no longer spot him on the street as a workingman.  He begins to look and act like everybody else, and only by looking at his hands can you tell he is a workingman.

In business, Americanization means a cut in red tape and probably also in supervisory personnel.  There is also a kind of blurring between different kinds of business.  The workingman benefits more from Americanization than any other segment of the population.

I think there was a time when American business, and Americans generally, did have a justified reputation for being practical and getting the job done regardless of rules and customs.  What happened?

Hoffer thought the USA of his day was the best country in the world for working people, and despised alienated intellectuals who disputed that fact.  What, I wonder, would he think of the USA today?

Tags: ,

2 Responses to “‘The skill to keep things in good repair’”

  1. prayerwarriorpsychicnot Says:

    Reblogged this on Citizens, not serfs.


  2. John Pennington Says:

    Hoffer’s “The True Believer” was formative for me.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: