History

Heeding the Sage of Baltimore

A new edition of H.L. Mencken's Prejudices captures the legendary journalist at his corrosive best

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On July 27, 1925, the great journalist and literary critic H.L. Mencken published his obituary for the left-wing populist, Christian fundamentalist, and three-time Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan in the Baltimore Evening Sun. "Imagine a gentleman," Mencken wrote, "and you have imagined everything that he was not." Bryan had been "deluded by a childish theology, full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all beauty, all fine and noble things." Mencken practically danced on his grave.

Less than two weeks earlier, the two men had been together in Dayton, Tennessee for the sensational trial of John Scopes, the public school teacher arrested for teaching Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Bryan was there to aid the prosecution while Mencken filed scathing reports about the persecution of "the infidel Scopes" and quietly strategized with the defense. "Convert [the trial] into a headlong assault on Bryan," Mencken told defense attorney Clarence Darrow. And so Darrow did, grilling the aged populist on the witness stand about his biblical literalism and hostility to science. A week later Bryan was dead.

It was a major event in Mencken's long career, and it came in the midst of a particularly influential period. The same busy stretch of history that produced the Scopes "Monkey Trial" also saw President Woodrow Wilson's wartime suppression of free speech and civil liberties, the prohibition of alcohol, the South's bloody epidemic of lynchings and racial terrorism, and the birth of the modern welfare-warfare state. An atheist, an individualist, and a classical liberal of extreme Jeffersonian tendencies, Mencken railed against them all, collecting many of his best attacks in the six-volume series of books he aptly titled Prejudices.

Originally published between 1919 and 1927, Prejudices was Mencken's attempt to "insert some rat-poison" into the country's political and literary life. It did the trick. Now, thanks to Prejudices: The Complete Series, a hefty new two-volume set published by the Library of America, today's readers can taste Mencken's rat-poison pen for themselves.

Whether he was denouncing alcohol prohibition ("the criminal, in the public eye, is not the bootlegger and certainly not his customer, but the enforcement officer"), moral crusader Anthony Comstock ("a good woman, to him, was simply one who was efficiently policed"), or government itself ("in any dispute between a citizen and the government, it is my instinct to side with the citizen"), the overriding theme of the series remained steady: individual liberty versus the tyranny of the majority.

Take Mencken's horror at the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, which he called the "Wilson hallucination." Under the terms of Wilson's Espionage Act of 1917, it became illegal to criticize the U.S. government during wartime. Among the victims of this vile law was the radical union leader and Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene Debs, who spent three years rotting in federal prison for delivering an anti-war speech. Facing strong pressure to pardon Debs once the Great War was over, liberal hero Wilson flatly refused. "Magnanimity was simply beyond him," Mencken wrote. "Confronted, on his death-bed, with the case of poor Debs, all his instincts compelled him to keep Debs in jail." Mencken was no fan of Debs' left-wing politics, of course; Mencken once described the typical Progressive as "one who is in favor of…more paternalism and meddling, more regulation of private affairs and less liberty." He simply hated government criminality in all its ugly forms.

Similarly, at a time when most leading Progressives (including Wilson) supported racial segregation and turned a blind eye to the horrors of the Jim Crow South, Mencken attacked the lawlessness of "Klu Kluxry" and routinely praised (and published) the work of black writers, including W.E.B. Du Bois, Walter White, and George Schuyler. Indeed, White later said that Mencken pushed him to write his first novel, The Fire in the Flint, and then helped him secure a publisher. Zora Neale Hurston was a major Mencken fan. And according to the Harlem Renaissance giant James Weldon Johnson, "Mencken had made a sharper impression on my mind than any other American then writing."

Because the last volume of Prejudices came out in 1927, readers of this handsome new edition unfortunately miss one of Mencken's most perceptive critiques of majoritarianism, his 1930 American Mercury assault on Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. First appointed to the Court in 1902, Holmes became an icon to the reform-minded thanks to his dissenting opinions in cases like Lochner v. New York (1905), where Holmes attacked the majority for striking down a maximum working hours law. Mencken dug deeper, surveying Justice Holmes' votes to uphold alcohol prohibition, prohibit foreign-language teaching during wartime, permit forced sterilization, and keep Eugene Debs locked in prison. "Over and over again, in these opinions," Mencken wrote, Holmes "advocated giving the legislature full head-room, and over and over again he protested against using the Fourteenth Amendment to upset novel and oppressive laws, aimed frankly at helpless minorities." This wasn't responsible judging, Mencken concluded, it was judicial abdication.

Today, with our simplistic Red-Blue political divide, Mencken's hostility to both church and state would find no comfortable home. That's too bad. As Prejudices makes abundantly clear, the world is a better place when there's someone like H.L. Mencken standing athwart the majority yelling "stop!"

Damon W. Root is an associate editor at Reason magazine.

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108 responses to “Heeding the Sage of Baltimore

  1. For the sake of balance, Predjucies got a terrible review in the Wall Street Journal.

    Here it is

    http://online.wsj.com/article/…..81972.html

    Pick your favorite review.

    1. I enjoy Mencken quite a lot, but I mildly agree with this review. Hey, filling column inches is a bitch. Then again, this is true for every columnist who has ever lived. It is a rare Mencken column that doesn’t have a few great lines in it, it may take several paragraphs to get there but they are usually there.

      Reading Mencken’s Chrestomoathy may be a better read than the Prejudices series, although Library Of America series books aren’t for those with passing interest. But you can find books of Mencken’s columns/reports from political conventions and they DO blow Prejudices out of the water.

    2. Interesting that both reviews end in similar:

      “He flourished in the first quarter of the century, but I doubt there would be room in America for him now. His prose style aside, he was an independent mind. There are only two camps today, and he would be in neither.”

  2. Traci Lordes choose her porn name because of Jack Lord.

    There is no greater tribute.

    1. CRAP wrong thread.

      1. Be there. At the other thread.

  3. The biggest threat to individual liberty is ourselves. We enjoy forming groups that require the surrendering of personal liberties as part of the membership. We are becoming desensitized to the surrender. At some point people will have no problem surrendering them to government because it’s just something you do to get something you want.

    1. Re: TrickyVic,

      The biggest threat to individual liberty is ourselves. We enjoy forming groups that require the surrendering of personal liberties as part of the membership.

      Well, some of those memberships suddenly gang up on you. The Tonys and Chads of the world would call that “Democracy.”

      1. Sure, that’s why Ben Franklin thinks I should be able to defend myself against them.

        Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting what’s for dinner. Liberty is a well armed sheep.

    2. Excellent, well said.

  4. Mencken would have a blast with the current Christian vs. Muslim debate. Perhaps he would point out that words are not violence, that polling is not reality, that despite all the “anger” and “racism,” no Muslims have been harmed in the making of this false crisis.

    1. Well, maybe not in the USA, but a whole lot of Muslims have been killed beyond our borders.

      IIRC, one Sikh was murdered in Arizona shortly after 9/11 because some idiot saw the turban and assumed he was a Taliban.

      -jcr

      1. A Muslims biggest fear, should be other Muslims.

        1. Then we shouldn’t offer them a distraction.

    2. Yeah, Mencken would talk about how it is a pointless debate, because both sides are wrong.

      1. Think about it. Every day we are bombarded with polls that indicate how much Americans hate Muslims. Apparently, most of us want the “Ground Zero” mosque to be moved to Connecticut, or better yet, Yemen. There’s “angry rhetoric” everywhere! Except in the real world, where American Muslims go about their business as safely and tediously as the rest of us. But that isn’t good enough for the major media. They want a fight. They need a story that fits their Red vs. Blue “political season” narrative. They take the most insignificant loser from a backwater Christian sect and shine a spotlight on him, all because he threatened to burn a book. But not just any book, a holy book, the friggin’ Koran itself! And they mine the “Twittersphere” for incendiary or just plain stupid remarks from famous Christian bigots. And idiot Administration officials take the bait, turning a local curiosity into an international incident, in which photogenic, illiterate rioters burn American flags and scream, “Death to the Great Satan!” Which they never would have done otherwise, because they love us so much.

        1. I think you described the situation very well. The media don’t produce reports, they produce “stories.” A story has to have conflict, otherwise it’s just a report. If there’s no conflict inherent in a situation, they’ll make one up. It’s mostly a lie. Or at least, it should be a lie. Conflict isn’t the only possible relationship between people and groups but you wouldn’t know that from reading the papers. Maybe they’ve trained *us* to assume conflict as the default relationship. Wish they’d quit.

  5. Mencken was a hell of a kick ass guy. He could turn a phrase as they say.

  6. Mencken was also an anti-semite.

    1. Re: Lest we forget,

      Mencken was also an anti-semite.

      What constitutes an “anti-semite,” so as to call Mencken one? Or, did Mencken ever say “I am an anti-semite”?

    2. No one’s perfect.

    3. Lest we forget|9.10.10 @ 5:38PM|#

      Mencken was also an anti-semite.

      How about some examples of his alleged racism?

      1. Well he was German and didn’t like the Old Testament.

        1. Or the new one!

      2. Well, there’s this:

        In a 1962 article about George Nathan (Mencken’s co-editor at the literary magazine The Smart Set), Charles Angoff, who had previously published a biography of Mencken, addressed the issue of Mencken’s anti-Semitism head-on. Angoff described a conversation he had with Nathan two years after Mencken’s death:

        “I decided to come right out with my question: ‘Was Mencken anti-Semitic? I think that in a very real sense he was, and I say so in my book. Anyway, I strongly hint at it.’ Nathan was silent for a few seconds, then said, ‘If you say what you have just told me, you won’t be wrong. Perhaps I can put it this way. Menck was a Prussian.’ Nathan hesitated again. Then he added, ‘I guess it would be right to say that he never wholly liked Jews. He respected them, he was amused by them, he was even afraid of them, but he didn’t like them. Maybe he even disliked them. I suppose that’s anti-Semitism.'”

        But one of Mencken’s most prominent Jewish friends, the publishing giant Alfred A. Knopf, painted a very different kind of picture of Mencken. …

        From The Atlantic.

        1. Looks like hearsay to me. Can you point to any of Mencken’s own words to corroborate your claim of racism?

          1. In Treatise on the Gods (1930), Mencken wrote:

            “The Jews could be put down very plausibly as the most unpleasant race ever heard of. As commonly encountered, they lack many of the qualities that mark the civilized man: courage, dignity, incorruptibility, ease, confidence. They have vanity without pride, voluptuousness without taste, and learning without wisdom. Their fortitude, such as it is, is wasted upon puerile objects, and their charity is mainly a form of display.”

            Wikipedia

            1. Did you actually read your link?

              From it

              Nevertheless, Mencken had a favorable attitude toward the “Judaized” plutocracy as compared to the “Christianized” democrats and proletarians, whom he held in bitter contempt:

              “But whenever you find a Davidsb?ndlerschaft making practise against the Philistines, there you will find a Jew laying on. Maybe it was this fact that caused Nietzsche to speak up for the children of Israel quite as often as he spoke against them. He was not blind to their faults, but when he set them beside Christians he could not deny their general superiority. Perhaps in America and England, as on the Continent, the increasing Jewishness of the plutocracy, while cutting it off from all chance of ever developing into an aristocracy, will yet lift it to such a dignity that it will at least deserve a certain grudging respect.”

              And this

              As Hitler gradually conquered Europe, Mencken attacked President Franklin D. Roosevelt for refusing to admit Jewish refugees into the United States:

              “There is only one way to help the fugitives, and that is to find places for them in a country in which they can really live. Why shouldn’t the United States take in a couple hundred thousand of them, or even all of them?”.

              Yes what a horrible anti-semite.

              Or is that the new word for an anti-socialist?

            2. You’re confusing a curmudgeon with a racist. He talked bad about lots of groups.

              You had to deliberately misread and misrepresent this quote as you didn’t include the rest. Typical collectivist disingenuousness.

    4. Calling Mencken and anti-semite displays only a passing familiarity with his work. Mencken was anti-idiot, and if someone acted the fool, he spoke as he saw about it. This included Jews. He also spoke up in favor of expressly Jewish causes.

      It has become very popular to call Mencken an anti-semite, as recently literature has found it sells well to tear down many formerly popular icons, but the truth is that he was anything but.

      1. A continuation; We’re allowed, as people, to dislike other people. Even in large groups. Humans tend to want to be tribal anyway.
        There is disliking people, and there is advocating for their destruction or for some harm to come to them.
        Antisemitism has become a loaded term, implying some intent to destroy or a great hatred of that group – It, by association, flips the “He’s a Nazi” switch. It is a term that does not allow for three-dimension reality, or painting someone in a full spectrum; Leaving room only for a very flat, black or white, idea of a person or group.

      2. Oh, for Christ sakes, grow some skin. I have read Mencken tearing down at least three groups of which I happen to be a member. What he said about Southerners makes that quote about Jews look tame. Big fucking hairy ass deal.

    5. Mencken was also an anti-semite.

      An odd sort then. In the 1930s he advocated the United States take in the Jews of Germany, in part arguing that they were a superior, talented group of people who would be a boon for the United States.

      I think he was mainly a social Darwinist, for instance he thought that a kid dying from a disease because his Christian Scientist parents wouldn’t take him to a doctor was no tragedy for the human race.

    6. “Mencken was also an anti-semite.” [sic]

      That’s rubbish. He was an equal-opportunity asshole. Here’s what he wrote about women:

      “Women’s constant thought is, not to lay down broad principles of right and wrong; not to place the whole world in harmony with some great scheme of justice; not to consider the future of nations; not to make two blades of grass grow where one grew before; but to deceive, influence, sway, and please men. Normally, their weakness makes masculine protection necessary to their existence and to the exercise of their overpowering maternal instinct, and so their whole effort is to obtain this protection in the easiest way possible. The net result is that feminine morality is a morality of opportunism and imminent expediency, and that the normal woman has no respect for, and thus scarcely any conception of abstract truth. Thus is proved the fact noted by Schopenhauer and many other observers: that a woman seldom manifests any true sense of justice or of honor.”

      (“Friedrich Nietzsche”, 1913, Transaction Publishers edition 1997, p. 177)

      I fuckin’ love that guy.

  7. Warty, if Baltimore produced Mencken, it can’t be so bad!

    Um, or can it?

    1. Don’t forget me.

    2. Doesn’t matter. You harbor Modell; you delenda est.

  8. Mencken was seriously a badass. I’ve been reading some of his stuff recently and he is such a master of language that it makes me feel ashamed.

    “Suppose two-thirds of the members of the national House of Representatives were dumped into the Washington garbage incinerator tomorrow, what would we lose to offset our gain of their salaries and the salaries of their parasites?”

    More here: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/H._L._Mencken

    1. Only two-thirds? Alas he lived in better times.

      1. Hey, it’s a start.

  9. Mencken dug deeper, surveying Justice Holmes’ votes to uphold alcohol prohibition, prohibit foreign-language teaching during wartime, permit forced sterilization, and keep Eugene Debs locked in prison.[…] This wasn’t responsible judging, Mencken concluded, it was judicial abdication.

    Mencken would have a field day with today’s court, especially with the “wise” Latina and the newly appointed ugly bureaucrat-turned justice.

    1. Just to comment on one “prohibit foreign-language teaching during wartime”. That is time when you need people proficient in foreign languages most.

    1. I’m a little amused that Pat Buchanan is featured in one of the photos.

  10. Today, with our simplistic Red-Blue political divide, Mencken’s hostility to both church and state would find no comfortable home.

    The principled voice of his writings didn’t have one yesterday, either, but that’s not who he really was. It’s not who anyone is.

    When he was working on the Prejudices material, America had two proto-Nazi parties (though the Democrats were a bit past “proto-” by then), and he wasn’t very Nazi-y, so he wasn’t really “comfortable” with either of them, intellectually?and he wouldn’t be now, either, for other intellectual reasons.

    But unexamined affiliative mental tics are even more decisive now than they were in his time, and his most consistent pre-rational sidings?a vanguardist/DuBoisian/soft-eugenics type zoological take on the dangerously icky mob, and WASPy antisemtism (with exceptions for the Good Ones)?do have a single home here in these “simlpistic” times.

    Of “our”s.

    1. Did you hurt yourself writing that?

      1. Hurt me reading it.

    2. Simplistic?
      Ok…Well after I go to the Anti-mosque rally I’ll be checking out Newts new movie america at risk.If its not too windy a nice Koran burning might bring out the patriots.The only way republicans ever win elections is by bringing the McCarthy out because they have no policies so gotta get the rabble rowsed against something.If it has deark skin all the better.

      1. You’re a geenius.

        1. I hate nibbers

  11. Mencken was an anti-semite.
    Ron Paul is racist.
    Yadda, yadda, yadda..

    Sometimes you get in trouble when you slam identity politics …. HARD.
    Demographics are data, individuals in the flesh are given a chance.
    Very simple

    1. Menkin was a racist.But hey he slammed everyone.

      1. Frog in a pot? Is that some kind of Daniel Quinn shit? Fuckin’ hippie.

    2. Well, quite frankly, Mencken was right. He had a far more nuanced view of race than most people today hold, where if you acknowledge any tendency (positive or negative) based on race or ethnicity, you must be considered a hate-filled, venom-spewing Nazi.

  12. I read somewhere that Bryan’s autopsy showed that he had been born without bass vocal cords, which was said to ‘splain his great oratorical voice.

  13. No matter louis vuitton or Gucci ,they both stand for a luxury taste and an elegant temperament. To show your differnece,going out with wearing louis vuitton handbags,Gucci handbags or Chanel handbags is your own choice,but I think because the brilliant quality and technique of louis vuitton bags , only theLouis Vuitton handbas can set off that you are pretty extraordinary.

    1. Save it, pal. Mencken was a Prada man to the last and so am I.

  14. I have a hard time believing you can judge Mencken an anti-anything by quoting a passage where he puts the screws to a group of people.

    I mean his job for half a century was doing exactly that to whatever person of group of people were in his sights. Furthermore, considering the kind of words he set aside for Christians, maybe whatever problems he had with Jews had nothing to do with them specifically, but rather their religiousness.

  15. I thank god every day that he wasn’t around during my administration.

    Love,

    Jimmy.

    1. You aren’t alone

      1. No fooling.

        1. Finally we agree on something.

          1. Who’s Mencken?

            1. Well, he obviously wasn’t a real American.

    2. If we listened to Carter we would be off oil and not fighting 2 wars over it today.Wouldnt want that.And we wouldnt be buy 90% of our wind turbine parts from China.Coming soon……..solar and electric cars we will be buying from them.And we had it all first.Hmmmmmmm

      1. A serial idiot. Wonderful.

      2. >If we listened to Carter we would be off oil and not fighting 2 wars over it today.

        Yes, because all the laws of economics can be suspended if we only wish hard enough!

        -jcr

      3. I remember waiting in line while Carter tried that. It didn’t work out so well, but it did drive the price of oil through the roof.

        Carter is a rube peanut farmer and a socialist.

        In a never ending quest for aesthetics, we’ve finally book ended his lack of economic understanding by electing a community organizer socialist.

        Neither represent the summit of their chosen profession. But Ivy League socialist economists view them as geniuses.

        Only Orwell is allowed to comment.

      4. I say, froggie, old boy, what part of Jimmy Carter’s program did we fail to enact?

        The only one I can think of was delaying spending increases and postponing new programs until the budget was balanced.

        And considering the party that controlled congress then you’ll have to re-write history to make Tip O’Neill and Ted Kennedy into Republicans for any of this to suit your narrative.

      5. Maybe if we hadn’t stopped building nuclear plants, we would at least be less dependent on oil.
        Indeed, the environmentalists have systematically closed off every viable alternative to fossil fuels that currently exist.
        We can’t use nuclear plants, we can’t build hydroelectric dams, we can’t we can’t use more coal, we can’t even use solar or wind power if it might possibly cause the extinction of a desert lizard or interview with some liberal NIMBYs view of the coastline.
        So now it’s basically: live a miserable existence to “conserve” fossil fuels (which will then be bought by the Chinese and every other country that isn’t run by envirotards) and other resources, because it’s more moral. And if you disagree, it’s obviously because you hate children, rainbows, and puppies with large, soulful eyes.

      6. Batteries aren’t green technology. Ask Jimmy’s Dept. of Energy.

      7. I forget – where’s all that oil from Afghanistan going? Certainly not to my local gas pump.

        Idiot.

      8. Keep telling yourself that.

      9. Why the hell does it matter if we’re on or off oil?

        Let’s stop subsidizing oil and stop subsidizing ‘green’ energy and we’ll find out right quick what is most cost efficient.

        What we want is cheap energy. Subsidies increase costs not reduce them.

  16. from Holy Writ, ’23, cuz think about it-
    “Whoever it was who translated the Bible into excellent French is chiefly responsible for the collapse of Christianity in France. Contrariwise, the men who put the Bible into archaic, sonorous & often unintelligible English gave Christianity a new lease of life wherever English is spoken. They did their work at a time of great theological blather & turmoil, when men of all sorts, even the least intelligent, were beginning to take a vast & unhealthy interest in exegetics & apologetics…”
    change some words & add the drugs & put H.L.M & H.S.T. in the thunderDome of heaven & everybody wins!
    & thanks for that recipe t’other day, somebody ;D

  17. heed the sage of being against American involvement in WWII. Maybe that’s why he’s there with Buchanan from upthread. I mean, it’s like the libertarians and Islam!

  18. I mean, really. This is fucktardish.

  19. In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican.
    H. L. Mencken

    1. Hey, the retard’s back!

      Your doing a great job bashing those Republicans on a libertarian site!

      1. Libertarians are the sociopaths of the republican party.

        1. [citation needed]

          1. William Hickman, who kidnapped a 12-year-old girl called Marion Parker from her junior high school, raped her, and dismembered her body, which he sent mockingly to the police in pieces. Rand wrote great stretches of praise for him, saying he represented “the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul. ? Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should.” She called him “a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy,” shimmering with “immense, explicit egotism.” Rand had only one regret: “A strong man can eventually trample society under its feet. That boy [Hickman] was not strong enough.”

            1. Interestingly enough, Rand hated libertarians. hmmm…

            2. Um, I hate Rand.

              That said, I somehow doubt that she expressed open admiration of a rapist and murderer. Perhaps you could cite a source, froggie? Or are you just being a blathering idiot again?

            3. As opposed to Anita Dunn whose favorite ‘political philosopher’ is Mao Tse Tung?

              This is weaksauce even for a collectivist.

              1) Rand wasn’t a libertarian.
              2) Were she so, Rand’s opinion about a killer doesn’t have any relevance to the validity of that philosophy.
              3) As usual the pathetic collectivist takes a misleading part of her quote which was :

              “And when we look at the other side of it — there is a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy turned into a purposeless monster”

              Clue: It may fool conservatives or liberals but when you dice up a quote into sentence fragments we know immediately you are lying, and it only takes a 10 second google search to demonstrate you are a liar.

            4. You do realize that Rand wasn’t a libertarian and hated libertarians?

          2. William Hickman, who kidnapped a 12-year-old girl called Marion Parker from her junior high school, raped her, and dismembered her body, which he sent mockingly to the police in pieces. Rand wrote great stretches of praise for him, saying he represented “the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul. ? Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should.” She called him “a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy,” shimmering with “immense, explicit egotism.” Rand had only one regret: “A strong man can eventually trample society under its feet. That boy [Hickman] was not strong enough.”

            1. Bandwagon fallacy, anyone?

              So with this logic.

              Timothy McVeigh proves that Christians are terrorist fanatics.

              Hitler proves that Catholics are genocidal Jew haters.

              Stalin proves that Atheists are mass murderers.

              Bonus: Hitler and Stalin both had mustaches proves people with mustaches are crazy elite mass murderers.

              1. I think generally speaking colleftivists have been stripped of any critical thinking facility. That’s why all they can do accomplish is appeals to emotion and the most base appeals to emotion.

  20. It’s a little-known fact, but Frank Zappa was the H.L. Mencken of rock music.

    1. I thought he was the Spike Jones, actually.

      1. Spike Jones could not have done anything like “Uncle Remus” or “Call Any Vegetable”.

        1. i’d lay that Menck would have approved of I AM the Slime. hell, probably did enjoy Cocktails For Two…

  21. “To the average American or Englishman the very name of anarchy causes a shudder, because it invariably conjures up a picture of a land terrorized by low-browed assassins with matted beards, carrying bombs in one hand and mugs of beer in the other. But as a matter of fact, there is no reason whatever to believe that, if all laws were abolished tomorrow, such swine would survive the day. They are incompetents under our present paternalism and they would be incompetents under Dionysian anarchy. The only difference between the two states is that the former, by its laws, protects men of this sort, whereas the latter would work their speedy annihilation.”

    (“Friedrich Nietzsche”, 1913; Transaction Publishers edition, 1993, pp. 196-197)

    1. Almost makes me want to be an anarchist.

      1. I would go further: the state actually empowers these “low-browed, assassin-incompetents” and gives them medals, uniforms, “access,” etc.

        1. Seems about right.

  22. Mencken was an agnostic, not an atheist.

    I’ll probably never execute my old plan to do a model funeral service for agnostics, admittedly damned. I am now too near my own need for it to give it the proper lightness of touch. Some day somebody else will do one. It is really amazing that none has ever been drawn up. An agnostic’s funeral, as things stand, consists mainly of idiotic speeches–that is, when there is any ceremony at all.
    — H. L. Mencken, diary, May 11 1940

  23. If for nothing else, Mencken should be imitated, nay revered, for his mastery of the English language. He could soothe, he could tickle, he could induce reverie and even awe with it. He could use it to burn and blast and crush, to sweep away cant, bloviation and conceit in an Olympian tide of caustic common sense. Or again, he could use it as tool of investigation and comparison.

    Why, then, does every generation bring a fresh accusation of bigotry against Mencken? I think my own father said it best: ” I remember him. He could spot a phony a mile away.” Indeed, ol’ Henry was the closest thing we have to a Linnaeus, in the taxonomy of “public servants” and “public policy”- which we now classify as “kleptocracy” ( as long as it doesn’t refer to Western governments, who do the same thing). The phonies fear him even yet- that he will pass on his gimlet eye to present generations,and posthumously engender the sort of withering criticism that laid the ghost of William Jennings Bryan before he was even cold.

    And they fear him justly- imagine his powers of penetration and deflation turned on the Civil Rights and ethnic grievance racket, the education cartel, the welfare industry. OR even- gasp!- what he would make of The Obama. (papier-mache’ scraps and kindling, most likely). Or from the other side, the matching insanities of the War on Drugs and the mutation of the National Security industry following 9/11.

    When I spend an afternoon immersed in the soothing blasphemies of the Bard of Baltimore, I find myself strengthened and refreshed for the fight against the con men, delusionaries, grifters and bullies ( left AND right) that infest our present scene- as they have plagued the times before this, and will do in the times yet to come, forever amen, until God becomes weary at last and explodes the sun on us.

    For Mencken held no belief in the Perfection of the Human Race – specifically, neither divine nor secular, nor its perfectabilty in general. The old boy was a stone atheist, as I am not. And so I cannot help but think what a cosmic jest it would be for him to be forgiven wholly and translated Above, to wake in the company of angels, not merely forgiven but appreciated.

    As long as they pour good beer up there, I think he’d play along…

    1. Dude, you are so gay for writing this.

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