Feel Like Mencken Love

June 29, 2012 § 6 Comments

By now reader you know I have an absolutely unhealthy obsession with characters of the Old Right, and one of my favorite dudes of that era is H.L. Mencken (1880-1956). Mencken was a writer, primarily writing in newspapers, who did the bulk of his work in the first half of the twentieth century. He is usually associated with the city of Baltimore where he spent nearly all his life, living in the same house for all but five years.

In this post I, as H.R. will do my best not to step on the toes of  H.L. but instead allow him to speak for himself on M.B. (my blog) through quotations from his works. For you reader, I’ll attempt to channel Mencken. Which should be far more satisfying than when I tried to channel Coco Chanel  in some weird, new-age play on words.

Though he truly came into his own as a critic of FDR and the New Deal, Mencken was a complex guy who had a lot to say about a lot of things. He’s often brash and very pessimistic about the common man (whom he labeled the boob-oisie) which leads some to call him an elitist and a mocking nihilist but there’s far more to Mencken than that and a sampling of his writing will lead you to the realization that he is motivated by nothing less than individual liberty.

I believe in only one thing: liberty; but I do not believe in liberty enough to want to force it upon anyone.

Mencken time and again employed much of his considerable venom by targeting political quackery.

The whole 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.

Or he would skewer both the people and the politicians.

Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem – neat, plausible, and wrong.

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

Have you ever watched a crab on the shore crawling backward in search of the Atlantic Ocean, and missing? That’s the way the mind of man operates.

Or

Nature abhors a moron.

Mencken, like many of the Old Right, was originally a man of the left. A lifelong Democrat, Mencken actually voted for Roosevelt in 1932 but again, like others of the Old Right, found himself on the right by default as the country swung sharply to the left in the 1930’s.

Roosevelt transformed millions of Americans from citizens into clients. The direct effect of this was evil, and the indirect effect was even worse, for all these people were robbed of their self-respect.

 FDR just happened to be the target du jour as he ballooned the size and scope of the State at the very time Mencken was at his peak. Often though, rather than attacking those currently in office, Mencken railed against government in the abstract.

Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.

It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.

Some of his writings beg to be screamed from a roof or scrolled in an unending loop among the “Breaking News” ticker that takes up the bottom third of the screen on cable news. Like this classic statement that hits a little too close to home currently.

The men the American public admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.

There are of course Mencken detractors. They often point to his smattering of anti-Semitism and while that can be troubling in anyone there are a few things to keep in mind. First, Mencken’s views on Jews evolved over time and he gradually came around to demanding that the Jews escaping Europe during World War Two be freely admitted to the United States and this brought him into conflict with many in the U.S. government right up to the highest levels. Second, and this is maybe more important than the first point but I’m not dragging it up there, Mencken was certainly a man of his times. Aren’t we all men of our times? (except of course for my now seven female readers). But think about this for a minute reader. Regardless of how we abhor it now, anti-Semitism was alive and well in the 20th century and widely accepted even in the highest social classes. In that sense whatever Mencken’s views on Jews were he was certainly no different and undoubtedly more tolerant than a large portion of the population. It’s ugly but true. Your grandparents and great grandparents were most likely no different either reader so don’t go gettin’ all uppity.

Another of Mencken’s charms is that he could be playful and yet a moment later give the reader a good crack across the face with a line that seems to come from some strange dimension where political correctness has not yet landed. Try these out:

Of all escape mechanisms, death is the most efficient.

Misogynist: A man who hates women as much as women hate one another.

(Speaking of misogyny)   How little it takes to make life unbearable: a pebble in the shoe, a cockroach in the spaghetti, a woman’s laugh.

(On Shakespeare)   After all, all he did was string together a lot of old, well-known quotations.

The honorary degree is a way of honoring a pompous ass. No honest person would accept a degree he hadn’t worked for. Honorary degrees are suitable only for realtors, chiropractors, and presidents of the United States.

The theory seems to be that so long as a man is a failure he is one of God’s chillun (yes he wrote chillun), but that as soon as he succeeds he is taken over by the Devil.

A few more… Jesus, it’s raining Men(cken)… Hallelujia!

No one hates his job so heartily as a farmer.

The only good bureaucrat is one with a pistol at his head. Put it in his hand and it’s goodbye Bill of Rights.

Two juicy ones on education.

The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all: it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.

A school is a hopper into which children are heaved while they are still young and tender; therein they are pressed into certain standard shapes and covered from head to heels with official rubber-stamps.

Now for my sake, but especially yours reader (I like you, I really like you!) I try to keep my posts around the 1000 word mark so I won’t go into detail about Mencken’s great Bath Tub Hoax but you may want to click the link. Or clink the lick you dyslexic perv.

Keep in mind though, even through all his irreverence is a man who cares deeply about the human condition and who fosters a hope that people can live as individuals with little interference from the State and its minions who slink around to carry out its liberty stealing edicts. So with Mencken come for the laughs, stay for the liberty! But do check him out, he’s an American original and he was a smart dude. I mean, did you notice all those semicolons?

I’ll leave you with one of my favorites from H.L. that will probably hit most of us right in the gut.

The fact is the average man’s love of liberty is nine-tenths imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice, and truth. He is not actually happy when free; he is uncomfortable, a bit alarmed, and intolerably lonely. Liberty is not a thing for the great masses of men. It is the exclusive possession of a small and disreputable minority, like knowledge, courage, and honor. It takes a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty- and he is usually an outlaw in democratic societies.

H.R. Gross

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§ 6 Responses to Feel Like Mencken Love

  • […] Feel Like Mencken Love (lambertham5859.wordpress.com) […]

  • Teepee12 says:

    We Jews are spoil-sports about Antisemitism, for which we are frequently accused of having “no sense of humor.” However, it IS more important that Mencken changed his mind than that he started out in a wrong place. Despite your opinion, many people are not products of “their time.” Always there are multitudes of writers, philosophers, journalists, and just plain folk who think for themselves. Sometimes, they have to be pretty secretive about it, but many have swum against the tides of their times. I thank God for them. Reminds me of being a kid and complaining about not being allowed to do what everyone else was doing and getting the classic line: “If everyone was jumping off the roof, would you do it too?” These days, apparently the answer to that is yes, they would. They are. They will. Eagerly. With mindless enthusiasm. I could stomach the ‘old right.’ Even though I wasn’t part of it, I could respect it. The people in it had principles defensible by logic and reason, even if I personally didn’t subscribe to them. Now, “right” is the name given to a bunch of bigots and haters. They hate me. Maybe you too. They can’t say it outright, but that’s what they mean and we all know it. I wonder how H.L. would have felt about these bozos.

    • vonmises1881 says:

      I’ll give anyone a pass who grows up in a bigoted society/neighborhood/family, and yet comes around and finds their way out of it. In fact, that may be more impressive than someone who was taught enlightened thinking from birth and never had to eschew that kind of garbage to begin with. And I would bet good money, if I had any, that Mencken grew up in such an environment. So I disagree with you in the sense that we aren’t people of our times. A child is programmed to be a bigot and that in itself makes them a “person of their times”. Some are able to rise above this from the beginning but I think they are certainly the exception to the rule. Grow up around bigots, you’re probably going to be a bigot. Maybe we’re people of our geography as well since bigoted thinking certainly has pockets where it is far more prevalent than in other places.
      As for the current right being anti-Semitic that’s a bit of a stretch in the sense that the neo-cons in particular have been pro Israel for quite some time and a number of the neo-con intellectuals and politicians are in fact Jewish. Some would say they’re too pro-Semitic in their almost unquestioning backing of Israel and in some of the Christian fundamentalist, end of days, rhetoric. And it seems that this filters down to the rank and file who always seem all too willing to back Israel at any cost. Of course, a large number of this latter group may not even know one single Jew personally but they seem to back Jews in the abstract. In the end though, I’m still a man of the Old Right and as such have to agree with you that the current right at the very least doesn’t understand me and at worst would probably hate me. Thanks for the comment. H.R. Gross

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  • […] Feel Like Mencken Love (lambertham5859.wordpress.com) […]

  • […] still holding out. I’ve linked to a few of my old posts about the Old Right. Here, here, here, here and here. So if you’re looking to kill a half hour have a go at them and you may enjoy […]

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