Henry Louis Mencken, known as the “Sage of Baltimore”, was an American journalist, essayist, magazine editor, satirist, and a savage critic of American life and culture. Mencken, a contrarian who admired the German philosopher Nietzsche, had little time for representative democracy or religion. He has also served as an inspiration for the American libertarian movement. As Don Boudreaux has pointed out, it’s a great shame that he was born before the creation of the blogosphere. He would have certainly have been worth reading. Here are some of my favourite quotes:
Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.
The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.
When a new source of taxation is found it never means, in practice, that the old source is abandoned. It merely means that the politicians have two ways of milking the taxpayer where they had one before.
A church is a place in which gentlemen who have never been to heaven brag about it to persons who will never get there.
A professor must have a theory as a dog must have fleas.
No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.
It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics or chemistry.
Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.
On Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class: … a cent’s worth of information wrapped in a bale of polysyllables…. It was as if the practice of that incredibly obscure and malodorous style were a relentless disease, a sort of progressive intellectual diabetes, a leprosy of the horse sense. Words were flung upon words until all recollection that there must be a meaning in them, a ground and excuse for them, were lost. One wandered in a labyrinth of nouns, adjectives, verbs, pronouns, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and participles, most of them swollen and nearly all of them unable to walk. It was, and is, impossible to imagine worse English, within the limits of intelligible grammar. It was clumsy, affected, opaque, bombastic, windy, empty. It was without grace or distinction and it was often without the most elementary order…. Worse, there was nothing at the bottom of all this strident wind-music – the ideas it was designed to set forth were, in the overwhelming main, poor ideas, and often they were ideas that were almost idiotic. The concepts underlying, say, “The Theory of the Leisure Class” were simply Socialism and well water.
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
We are, in fact, a nation of evangelists; every third American devotes himself to improving and lifting up his fellow citizens, usually by force; the messianic delusion is our national disease.
Demagogue: one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.
If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.
On the economics profession: Its dismalness is largely a delusion, due to the fact that its chief ornaments, at least in our own day, are university professors. The professor must be an obscurantist or he is nothing; he has a special and unmatchable talent for dullness; his central aim is not to expose the truth clearly, but to exhibit his profundity, his esotericity — in brief, to stagger sophomores and other professors.
Immorality: the morality of those who are having a better time.
The worst government is often the most moral. One composed of cynics is often very tolerant and humane. But when fanatics are on top there is no limit to oppression.
Morality is the theory that every human act must be either right or wrong, and that 99 % of them are wrong.
A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.
Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.
Communism, like any other revealed religion, is largely made up of prophecies.
On Woodrow Wilson: he accomplished with a great deal more skill than they did themselves the great task of reducing all the difficulties of the hour to a few sonorous and unintelligible phrases, often with theological overtones – that he knew better than they did how to arrest and enchant the boobery with words that were simply words, and nothing else. The vulgar like and respect that sort of balderdash. A discourse packed with valid ideas, accurately expressed, is quite incomprehensible to them. What they want is the sough of vague and comforting words – words cast into phrases made familiar to them by the whooping of their customary political and ecclesiastical rabble-rousers, and by the highfalutin style of the newspapers that they read. Woodrow knew how to conjure up such words. He knew how to make them glow, and weep. He wasted no time upon the heads of his dupes, but aimed directly at their ears, diaphragms and hearts.
The strange American ardor for passing laws, the insane belief in regulation and punishment, plays into the hands of the reformers, most of them quacks themselves. Their efforts, even when honest, seldom accomplish any appreciable good.
The chief contribution of Protestantism to human thought is its massive proof that God is a bore.