Progress, then, as I see it, is to be measured by the accuracy of man's knowledge of nature's forces. If you examine this sentence carefully you will observe that I conceive progress as a sort of process of disillusion. Man gets ahead, in other words, by discarding the theory of to-day for the fact of to-morrow. Moses believed that the earth was flat, Caesar believed that his family doctor could cure pneumonia, and Columbus believed that devils entered into harmless old women and turned them into witches... You and I, knowing that all three of these distinguished men were wrong in their beliefs, are their superiors to that extent.
Men versus the Man: A Correspondence between Robert Rives La Monte, Socialist, and H.L. Mencken, Individualist , p.29-30
If you point out that human progress, as I have defined it, involves the practical enslavement of two-thirds of the human race, my answer is that I can't help it. If you point out that a slave always runs the risk of being oppressed by a particularly cruel master, I answer that a master always runs the risk of having his brains knocked out by a particularly enterprising slave.
...an aristocracy must constantly justify its existence. In other words, there must be no artificial conversion of its present strength into perpetual rights. The way must be always open for the admission of strong men from the lower orders, and the way must be always open, too, for the expulsion of men whose strength fails.
Well, then, what virtues do I demand in the man who claims enrollment in the highest cast? .... the chief of these qualities is a sort of restless impatience with things as they are - a sort of insatiable desire to help along the evolutionary process. .... By his life and labors, the human race, or some part of it, makes some measurable progress, however small, upward from the ape.
I admit freely enough that, by careful breeding, supervision of environment and education, extending over many generations, it might be possible to make an appreciable improvement in the stock of the American negro, for example, but I must maintain that this enterprise would be a ridiculous waste of energy, for there is a high-caste white stock ready at hand, and it is inconceivable that the negro stock, however carefully it might be nurtured, could ever even remotely approach it. The educated negro of today is a failure, not because he meets insuperable difficulties in life, but because he is a negro. He is, in brief, a low-caste man, to the manner born, and he will remain inert and inefficient until fifty generations of him have lived in civilization. And even then, the superior white race will be fifty generations ahead of him.
Generalizations, indeed, all have their limits - even this one. Apply them often enough, and you will come inevitably upon some disconcerting exception.... But because philosophy is long and life is short we must assume, even when we can't entirely believe, that [things] fall into groups and classes, else we could never hope to study them at all.
Here, then, I arrive at that doctrine of human rights which seems to me to be most in accord with the inflexible and beneficient laws of nature... Of these rights there are two classes - first, those which a man (or a class of men) wrests from his environment by force; and secondly, those which he obtains by an exchange of values. ...he is exercising a right of the second class when he takes his skill and industry into the open market and sells them for whatever they will bring. .... There is, in a word, no irreducible minimum of compensation, due to every man by virtue of his mere existence as a human being. No man has any right to life, save that which he proves by mastering his environment.
[III:22] Truth would quickly cease to become stranger than fiction, once we got as used to it.
 A man is called a good fellow for doing things which, if done by a woman, would land her in a lunatic asylum.
[V:2] A great nation is any mob of people which produces at least one honest man a century.
 There is only one justification for having sinned, and that is to be glad of it.
 Firmness in decision is often merely a form of stupidity. It indicates an inability to think the same thing out twice.
Selected from A Little Book in C Major 
- A Christian ecclesiastic of a rank superior to that attained by Christ.
- A place in which gentlemen who have never been to Heaven brag about it to people who will never get there.
- A ticket speculator outside the gates of Heaven.
- The inner voice which warns us that someone is looking.
- The feeling that makes one believe a man, even when one knows that one would lie in his place.
- A comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh.
- That which one believes of others. It is a sin to believe evil of others, but it is seldom a mistake.
- A series of failures. Every failure teaches a man something, to wit, that he will probably fail again.
- A bribe paid by a rich man to escape the lawful penalty of his crime.
- A No. 16 neck in a No. 15 1/2 collar.
- One who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
- The morality of those who are having a better time.
- The theory that some other fellow has just as little taste.
- The delusion that one woman differs from another.
- The theory that every human act must either be right or wrong, and that 99% of them are wrong.
- One employed by the wicked to prove to them by his example that virtue doesn't pay.
- An idea (a) that is admitted to be true by everyone,and (b) that is not true.
- The theory that the patient will probably get well anyhow, and is certainly a damned fool.
- A day given over by Americans to wishing that they themselves were dead and in Heaven, and that their neighbors were dead and in Hell.
- Sunday School
- A prison in which children do penance for the evil conscience of their parents.
- A Book of Burlesques [1916, 1924], 2nd ed., selected from "The Jazz Webster", pp.201-210
 A man always blames the woman who fools him. In the same way he blames the door he walks into in the dark.
 Whenever a husband and wife begin to discuss their marriage they are giving evidence at a coroner's inquest.
 Strike an average between what a woman thinks of her husband a month before she marries him and what she thinks of him a year afterward, and you will have the truth about him...
 The great secret of happiness in love is to be glad that the other fellow married her.
 A man may be a fool and not know it - but not if he is married.
Ibid., selected from "The Old Subject", pp.213-9.
The American, in other words, thinks that the sinner has no rights that any one is bound to respect, and he is prone to mistake an unsupported charge of sinning, provided it be made violently enough, for actual proof and confession.
A Book of Prefaces : "Puritanism As a Literary Force", p.248
What, ladies and gentlemen, in hell or out of it, are we to do with the Ethiop? Who shall answer the thunderous demands of the emerging coon? For emerging he is, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and there will come a morn, believe me or not, when those with ears to hear and hides to feel will discover that he is to be boohed and put off no longer - that he has at last got the power to exact a square answer, and that the days of his docile service as minstrel, torch and goat are done. When that morn dawns, I pray upon both knees, I shall be safe in the Alps, and not below the Potomac River, hurriedly disguised with burnt cork and trying to get out on the high gear.
"Si Mutare Potest Aethiops Pellum Suam" in the Smart Set, Sep 17, quoted in Carl R. Dolmetsch's The Smart Set Anthology , p.243
The black has learned the capital lesson that property is necessary to self-respect, that he will never get anywhere so long as he is poor. Once he is secure in that department he will take up the business of getting back his plain constitutional rights.
It is only the savage, whether of the African bush or of the American gospel tent, who pretends to know the will and intent of God exactly and completely.
Damn! A Book of Calumny , quoted in The Great Thoughts
At the moment of the contemporary metaphysician's loftiest flight, when he is most gratefully warmed by the feeling that he is far above all the ordinary airlanes and has an absolutely novel concept by the tail, he is suddenly pulled up by the discovery that what is entertaining him is simply the ghost of some ancient idea that his school-master forced into him in 1887...
In Defense of Women [1918, rev. 1922], pp.viii-ix
...in the United States, alone among the great nations of history, there is a right way to think and a wrong way to think in everything...in the most trivial matters of everyday life.
...democracy is based upon so childish a complex of fallacies that they must be protected by a rigid system of taboos, else even half-wits would argue it to pieces.
A man's women folk, whatever their outward show of respect for his merit and authority, always regard him secretly as an ass, and with something akin to pity. His most gaudy sayings and doings seldom deceive them; they see the actual man within, and know him for a shallow and pathetic fellow. In this fact, perhaps, lies one of the best proofs of feminine intelligence, or, as the common phase makes it, feminine intuition.
Ibid., Part I, p.3
"Human creatures," says ["the Franco-Englishman, W.L."] George, borrowing from Weininger, "are never entirely male or entirely female; there are no men, there are no women, but only sexual majorities." Find me an obviously intelligent man, a man free from sentimentality and illusion, a man hard to deceive, a man of the first class, and I'll show you a man with a wide streak of woman in him.
The caveman is all muscles and mush. Without a woman to rule him and think for him, he is a truly lamentable spectacle: a baby with whiskers, ...a feeble and preposterous caricature of God.
The truth is that neither sex, without some fertilization by the complementary characters of the other, is capable of the highest reaches of human endeavor. Man, without a saving touch of woman in him, is too doltish, too naive and romantic, too easily deluded and lulled to sleep by his imagination to be anything above a cavalryman, a theologian or a stock-broker. And woman, without some trace of that divine innocence which is masculine, is too harshly the realist for those vast projections of the fancy which lie at the heart of what we call genius. Here, as elsewhere in the universe, the best effects are obtained by a mingling of elements.
What men, in their egoism, constantly mistake for a deficiency of intelligence in woman is merely an incapacity for mastering that mass of small intellectual tricks...which constitutes the chief mental equipment of the average male. A man thinks that he is more intelligent than his wife because he can add up a column of figures more accurately, and because he understands the imbecile jargon of the stock market, and because he is able to distinguish between the ideas of rival politicians, and because he is privy to the minutiae of some sordid and degrading business or profession, say soap-selling or the law.
Women decide the larger questions of life correctly and quickly, not because they are lucky guessers, not because they practise a magic inherited from savagery, but simply and solely because they have sense. They see at a glance what most men could not see with searchlights and telescopes... They are the supreme realists of the race.
The boons of civilization are so noisily cried up by sentimentalists that we are all apt to overlook its disadvantages. Intrinsically, it is a mere device for regimenting men. Its perfect symbol is the goose-step. The most civilized man is simply that man who has been most successful in caging and harnessing his honest and natural instincts - that is, the man who has done most cruel violence to his own ego in the interest of the commonweal.
Ibid., Part II, pp.51-52
Your true savage, reserved, dignified, and courteous, knows how to mask his feelings, even in the face of the most desperate assault upon them; your civilized man is forever yielding to them. Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes...
Ibid., pp.52-53 [BEGINNING HALF CUT: CHECK PAGES]
The woman who has not had a child remains incomplete, ill at ease, and more than a little ridiculous. She is in the position of a man who has never stood in battle; she has missed the most colossal experience of her sex.
Ibid., Part III, p.67
...the intangible and wavering line which separates business success from a prison cell.
If the average man is made in God's image, then a man such as Beethoven or Aristotle is plainly superior to God, and so God may be jealous of him, and eager to see his superiority perish with his bodily frame. All animal breeders know how difficult it is to maintain a fine strain. The universe seems to be in a conspiracy to encourage the endless reproduction of peasants and Socialists, but a subtle and mysterious opposition stands eternally against the reproduction of philosophers.
Such banal striving is most prodigally on display in the United States, where superficiality amounts to a national disease.
Ibid., Part V, p.195
...that weighing and choosing faculty which seems to give a man at once his sense of mastery and his feeling of helplessness.
The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche , p.4
In the youth of every man there comes over him a sudden yearning to be a good fellow: to be "Bill" or "Jim" to multitudes, and to go down into legend with Sir John Falstaff and Tom Jones.
The ideal state for a philosopher, indeed, is celibacy tempered by polygamy.
We are apt to forget that a great man is thus not only great, but also a man: that a philosopher, in a life time, spends less hours pondering the destiny of the race than he gives over to wondering if it will rain tomorrow and to meditating upon the toughness of stakes...
Wherefore, Nietzsche concluded that the chief characteristic of a moral system was its tendency to perpetuate itself unchanged, and to destroy all who questioned it or denied it.
It was morality that burned the books of the ancient sages, and morality that halted the free inquiry of the Golden Age and substituted for it the credulous imbecility of the Age of Faith. It was a fixed moral code and a fixed theology which robbed the human race of a thousand years by wasting them upon alchemy, heretic-burning, witchcraft and sacerdotalism.
Nothing is more patent, indeed, than the fact that charity merely converts the unfit - who, in the course of nature, would soon die out and so cease to encumber the earth - into parasites - who live on indefinitely, a nuisance and a burden to their betters.
[The superman's] whole concern, in brief, will be to live as long as possible and so to avoid as much as possible all of those things which shorten life... As a result he will cease all effort to learn why the world exists and will devote himself to acquiring knowledge [as to] how it exists.
...philosophy first constructs a scheme of happiness and then tries to fit the world to it...
...the negro, no matter how much he is educated, must remain, as a race, in a condition of subservience; that he must remain the inferior of the stronger and more intelligent white man so long as he retains racial differentiation. Therefore, the effort to educate him has awakened in his mind ambitions and aspirations which, in the very nature of things, must go unrealized, and so, while gaining nothing whatever materially, he has lost all his old contentment, peace of mind and happiness.
...women, as a sex, are shrewd, resourceful, and acute; but the very fact that they are always concerned with imminent problems and that, in consequence, they are unaccustomed to dealing with the larger riddles of life, makes their mental attitude essentially petty. .... 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; ...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 scarcely a conception of abstract truth. Thus is proved a fact noted by Schopenhauer and many other observers: that a woman seldom manifests any true sense of justice or of honor.
We see about us that women are becoming more and more independent and self- sufficient and that, as individuals, they have less and less need to seek and retain the good will and protection of individual men, but we overlook the fact that this tendency is fast undermining the ancient theory that the family is a necessary and impeccable institution and that without it progress would be impossible. As a matter of fact, the idea of the family, as it exists today, is based entirely upon the idea of feminine helplessness. .... Wipe out your masculine defender, and your feminine parasite-haus-frau - and where is your family?
...school teachers, taking them by and large, are probably the most ignorant and stupid class of men in the whole group of mental workers.
During the majority of his waking hours he is in close association with his pupils, who are admittedly his inferiors, and so he rapidly acquires the familiar, self-satisfied professorial attitude of mind.
...the proof of an idea is not to be sought in the soundness of the man fathering it, but in the soundness of the idea itself. One asks of a pudding, not if the cook who offers it is a good woman, but if the pudding itself is good.
When we appropriate money from the public funds to pay for vaccinating a horde of negroes, we do not do it because we have any sympathy for them or because we crave their blessings, but simply because we don't want them to be falling ill of smallpox in our kitchens and stables, to the peril of our own health and the neglect of our necessary drudgery.
...the essential inferiority of the inefficient should be insisted upon, that the penalties of deliberate slackness should be swift and merciless.
...for a professor must have a theory, as a dog must have fleas.
Prejudices: First Series , Ibid.: "Criticism of Criticism of Criticism", p.12
The prophesying business is like writing fugues; it is fatal to every one save the man of absolute genius.
Ibid.: "The Late Mr. Wells", p.31
...the great artists of the world are never Puritans, and seldom respectable. No virtuous man - that is, virtuous in the Y.M.C.A. sense - has ever painted a picture worth looking at, or written a symphony worth hearing, or a book worth reading...
Ibid.: "The Blushful Mystery", p.198
The smallest atom of truth represents some man's bitter toil and agony; for every ponderable chunk of it there is a brave truth-seeker's grave upon some lonely ash-heap and a soul roasting in hell.
Prejudices: First Series, quoted in The Great Quotations
[The intelligensia.] For various reasons this shadowy caste is largely made up of men who have official stamps upon their learning - that is, of professors, of doctors of philosophy; outside of academic circles it tends to shade off very rapidly into a half-world of isolated anarchists. One of those reasons is plain enough: the old democratic veneration for mere schooling, inherited from the Puritans of New England, is still in being, and the mob, always eager for short cuts in thinking, is disposed to accept a schoolmaster without looking beyond his degree. .... Whatever the ramification of causes, the fact is plain that the pedagogues have almost a monopoly of what passes for the higher thinking in the land. .... They dominate the weeklies of opinion; they are to the fore in every review; they write nine-tenths of the serious books of the country; they begin to invade the newspapers...
Prejudices: Second Series : "The National Letters", pp.80-1
One may no more live in the world without picking up the moral prejudices of the world than one will be able to go to hell without perspiring.
Ibid.: "Scientific Examination of a Popular Virtue", p.174
In brief, she assumed that, being a man, I was vain to the point of imbecility, and this assumption was correct, as it always is.
Here, precisely, is what is the matter with most of the notions that go floating about the country, particularly in the field of reform. The trouble with them is not only that they won't and don't work; the trouble with them, more importantly, is that the thing they propose to accomplish is intrinsically, or at all events most probably, beyond accomplishment. That is to say, the problem they are ostensibly designed to solve is a problem that is insoluble. .... Unluckily, it is difficult for a certain type of mind to grasp the concept of insolubility.
Ibid.: "The Cult of Hope", p.212
The formula of the argument is simple and familiar: to dispose of a problem all that is necessary is to deny that it exists.
Ibid.: "The Divine Afflatus", p.155
...there is always a well-known solution to every human problem - neat, plausible, and wrong.
The practical politician, as every connoisseur of ochlocracy knows, is not a man who seeks to inoculate the innumerable caravan of voters with new ideas; he is a man who seeks to search out and prick into energy the basic ideas that are already in them, and to turn the resultant effervescence of emotion to his own uses.
From Mencken's 97-page preface to The American Credo: A Contribution toward the Interpretation of the National Mind  by George Jean Nathan and H.L. Mencken, pp.8-9
No article of faith is proof against the disintegrating effects of increasing information; one might almost describe the acquirement of knowledge as a process of disillusion.
...the basic delusion that men may be governed and yet be free.
It would surprise no independent observer if the motto,
were one day expunged from the coins of the republic by the Junkers at Washington, and the far more appropriate word, substituted. Nor would it astound any save the most romantic if, at the same time, the goddess of liberty were taken off the silver dollars to make room for a bas relief of a policeman in a spiked helmet.
...the chronic human incapacity for accurate self-analysis.
...the thing which sets off the American from all other men, and gives peculiar colour not only to the pattern of his daily life but also adds to the play of his inner ideas, is what, for want of a more exact term, may be called social aspiration.
There is no American who cannot hope to lift himself another notch or two, if he is good; there is absolutely no hard and fast impediment to his progress. But neither is there any American who doesn't have to keep on fighting for whatever position he has; no wall of caste is there to protect him if he slips. .... The older societies of Europe, as everyone knows, protect their caste lines a great deal more resolutely.
...one is always most bitter, not toward the author of one's wrongs, but toward the victim of one's wrongs.
The one motive that is intelligible to [the mob-man] is the desire for profit, and he commonly concludes at once that this is what moves the propagandist before him. His reasoning is defective, but his conclusion is far from wrong. In point of fact, idealism is not a passion in America, but a trade; all the salient idealists make a living at it, and some of them, for example, Dr. Bryan and the Rev. Dr. Sunday, are commonly believed to have amassed huge fortunes. For an American to advocate a cause without any hope of private usufruct is almost unheard of...
The surest way to get on in politics in America is to play the leading part in a prosecution which attracts public notice.
It is the fundamental theory of all the more recent American law...that the average citizen is half-witted, and hence not to be trusted to either his own devices or his own thoughts.
is a bird that knows no closed season - and if he won't come down to Texas oil stock, or one-night cancer cures, or building lots in Swampshurst, he will always come down to Inspiration and Optimism, whether political, theological, pedagogical, literary, or economic.
Prejudices: Third Series : "On Being an American", p.16
No sane man, employing an American plumber to repair a leaky drain, would expect him to do it at the first trial, and in precisely the same way no sane man, observing an American Secretary of State in negotiation with Englishmen and Japs, would expect him to come off better than second best. Third-rate men, of course, exist in all countries, but it is only here that they are in full control of the state, and with it of all the national standards.
The mob-man, a savage set amid civilization, ....believes firmly that right and wrong are immovable things - that they have an actual and unchangeable existence, and that any challenge of them, by word or act, is a crime against society. And with the concept of wrongness, of course, he always confuses the concept of differentness - to him the two are indistinguishable.
All [of the American's] foreign wars have been fought with foes either too weak to resist them or too heavily engaged elsewhere to make more than a half-hearted attempt. The combats with Mexico and Spain were not wars; they were simply lynchings.
Truth, indeed, is something that is believed in completely only by persons who have never tried personally to pursue it to its fastness and grab it by the tail. .... Nine times out of ten, in the arts as in life, there is no truth to be discovered; there is only error to be exposed.
Ibid.: "Footnote on Criticism", pp.92-93
...constructive criticism irritates me. I do not object to being denounced, but I can't abide being school-mastered, especially by men I regard as imbeciles.
The primary aim of the novel, at all times and everywhere, is the representation of human beings at their follies and villainies, and no other art form clings to that aim so faithfully. It sets forth, not what might be true, but what actually is true. ....the novel is concerned with human nature as it is practically revealed and with human experience as men actually know it. If it departs from that representational fidelity ever so slightly, it becomes to that extent a bad novel...
Ibid.: "The Novel", p.205
[The tender-minded.] They are, on the one hand, pathologically sensitive to the sorrows of the world, and, on the other hand, pathologically susceptible to the eloquence of quacks. What seems to lie in all of them is the doctrine that evils so vast as those they see about them must and
be laid - that it would be an insult to a just God to think of them as permanent and irremediable.
Ibid.: "The Forward-Looker", p.219
After all, the world is not our handiwork, and we are not responsible for what goes on in it, save within very narrow limits.
Unluckily for the man of tender mind, he is quite incapable of any such easy dismissal of the great plagues and conundrums of existence. It is of the essence of his character that he is too sensitive and sentimental to put them ruthlessly out of his mind: he cannot view even the crunching of a cockroach without feeling the snapping of his own ribs. And it is of the essence of his character that he is unable to escape the delusion of duty - that he can't rid himself of the notion that, whenever he observes anything in the world that might conceivably be improved, he is commanded by God to make every effort to improve it.
...even stupidity, it must be plain, has its uses in the world, and some of them are uses that intelligence cannot meet. One would not tell off a Galileo or a Pasteur to drive an ash-cart, or an Ignatius Loyola to be a stockbroker, or a Brahms to lead the orchestra in a Broadway cabaret. By the same token, one would not ask a Herbert Spencer or a Duns Scotus to instruct sucklings. Such men would not only be wasted at the job; they would also be incompetent.
Ibid.: "Education", pp.247-8
Like most other professional writers I get a good many letters from my customers. Complaints, naturally, are far more numerous than compliments; it is only indignation that can induce the average man to brave the ardors of pen and ink.
A youth of seventeen who is not a poet is simply an ass... But a man of fifty who still writes poetry is either an unfortunate who has never developed, intellectually, beyond his teens, or a conscious buffoon who pretends to be something that he isn't...
Prejudices: Fourth Series : "High and Ghostly Matters", p.65
All love affairs, in truth, are farcical - that is, to the spectators. When one hears that some old friend has succumbed to the blandishments of a sweet one, however virtuous and beautiful she may be, one does not gasp and roll one's eyes; one simply laughs. When one hears, a year or two later, that they are quarreling, one laughs again. When one hears that the bride is seeking consolation from the curate of the parish, one laughs a third time. When one hears that the bridegroom, in revenge, is sneaking his stenographer to dinner at an Italian restaurant, one laughs a fourth time. And so on.
Ibid.: "Reflections on Human Monogomy", pp.103-4
The satisfaction that a man gets out of conquering - which is to say, succumbing to - a woman of noticeable pulchritude is chiefly the rather banal one of parading her before other men. He likes to show her off as he likes to show his expensive automobile or his big door-knob factory.
Good government is that which delivers the citizen from the risk of being done out of his life and property too arbitrarily and violently - one that relieves him sufficiently from the barbaric business of guarding them to enable him to engage in gentler, more dignified and more agreeable undertakings...
Ibid.: "On Government", p.221
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?
That erroneous assumption is to the effect that the aim of public education is to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence, and so make them fit to discharge the duties of citizenship in an enlightened and independent manner. Nothing could be further from the truth. 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 and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else.
"The Library" in The American Mercury, Apr 24, p.504
The Liberals have many tails, and chase them all.
What restrains us from killing is partly fear of punishment, partly moral scruple, and partly what may be described as a sense of humor.
"The Library" in The American Mercury, Jan 25, p.122
But to denounce it as un-American seems to me to be a ridiculous folly, a gross and idiotic misuse of words. The Klan is actually as thoroughly American as Rotary or the Moose. Its childish mummery is American, its highfalutin bombast is American, and its fundamental philosophy is American. The very essence of Americanism is the doctrine that the other fellow, if he happens to be in a minority, has absolutely no rights - that enough is done for him when he is allowed to live at all.
"Clinical Notes" in The American Mercury, Mar 25, p.321
The ideal way to get rid of any infectious disease would be to shoot instantly every person who comes down with it.
"The Library" in the The American Mercury, Mar 25, p.379
Flag Pledge - An oath to defend the national ensign against foreign and domestic foes. In most States it is exacted of school children.
Red - Any man who advocates or believes in any political idea not commonly accepted. In America Nietzsche and John Stuart Mill would be Reds.
Americana 1925 , pp.305 and 309
It remains impossible...to separate the democratic idea from the theory that there is a mysterious merit, an esoteric and ineradicable rectitude, in the man at the bottom of the scale - that inferiority, by some strange magic, becomes a kind of superiority...
Notes on Democracy , Part I, p.3
Government under democracy is thus government by orgy, almost by orgasm.
Love, to the inferior man, remains almost wholly a physical matter. The heroine he most admires is the one who offers the grossest sexual provocation; the hero who makes his wife roll her eyes is a perambulating phallus.
The fact is that liberty, in any true sense, is a concept that lies quite beyond the reach of the inferior man's mind. He can imagine and even esteem, in his way, certain false forms of liberty - for example, the right to choose between two political mountebanks, and to yell for the more obviously dishonest - but the reality is incomprehensible to him. And no wonder, for genuine liberty demands of its votaries a quality he lacks completely, and that is courage. The man who loves it must be willing to fight for it; blood, said Jefferson, is its natural manure. More, he must be able to endure it - an even more arduous business. Liberty means self-reliance, it means resolution, it means the capacity for doing without.
The great masses of men, though theoretically free, are seen to submit supinely to oppression and exploitation of a hundred abhorrent sorts. Have they no means of resistance? Obviously they have. The worst tyrant, even under democratic plutocracy, has but one throat to slit. The moment the majority decided to overthrow him he would be overthrown. But the majority lacks the resolution; it cannot imagine taking the risks.
It is [a politician's] business to get and hold his job at all costs. If he can hold it by lying, he will hold it by lying; if lying peters out, he will try to hold it by embracing new truths. His ear is ever close to the ground.
Ibid., Part II, p.99
The average man doesn't want to be free. He wants to be safe.
Ibid., Part III, p.148
...many an American Congressman comes to Washington from a district attorney's office: you may be sure that he is seldom promoted because he has been jealous of the liberties of the citizen.
Theoretically, the American people should be happier than any other; actually, they are probably the least happy in Christendom. The trouble with them is that they do not trust one another - and without mutual trust there can be no ease, and no genuine happiness. What avails it for a man to have money in the bank and a Ford in his garage if he knows that his neighbors on both sides are watching him through knotholes, and that the pastor of the tabernacle down the road is planning to have him sent to jail? The thing that makes life charming is not money, but the society of our fellow men, and the thing that draws us to our fellow men is not admiration for their inner virtues, their hard striving to live according to the light that is in them, but admiration for their outer graces and decencies - in brief, confidence that they will always act generously and understandingly in their intercourse with us. We must trust them before we may enjoy them. Manifestly, it is impossible to put any such trust in a Puritan. With the best intentions in the world he cannot rid himself of the delusion that his duty to save us from our sins...
My business is not prognosis, but diagnosis.
Ibid., Part IV, p.195
Democratic man, as I have remarked, is quite unable to think of himself as a free individual; he must belong to a group, or shake with fear and loneliness - and the group, of course, must have its leaders.
I doubt that he [Hergesheimer] could tell a noun in the nominative case from a noun in the objective. But neither could any other man who writes as well as he does. Such esoteric knowledge is the exclusive possession of grammarians, whose pride in it runs in direct ratio to its inaccuracy, unimportance and imbecility. English grammar as a science thus takes its place with phrenology and the New Thought: the more a grammarian knows of it, the less he is worth listening to.
Prejudices: Fifth Series : "Four Makers of Tales", p.42
For it is the natural tendency of the ignorant to believe what is not true. In order to overcome that tendency it is not sufficient to exhibit the true; it is also necessary to expose and denounce the false.
Ibid., "From the Files of a Book Reviewer", p.123
So long as theologians keep within their proper bounds, science has no quarrel with them, for it is no more able to prove that they are wrong then they themselves are able to prove that they are right. But human experience shows that they never keep within their proper bounds voluntarily; they are always bulging over the line, and making a great uproar over things that they know nothing about.
The fundamental purpose of education, in college as in the high-school and so on down to the kindergarten, is to set the young mind upon a track, and keep it running there in all decorum. The task of a pedagogue, in other words, is not to turn out anarchists, but to turn out correct and respectable citizens.
"Editorial" in The American Mercury, Apr 26, p.418
I don't think the boy of lively mind is hurt much by going to college. If he encounters mainly jackasses, then he learns the useful lesson that this is a jackass world.
[Government] is apprehended, not as a committee of citizens chosen to carry on the communal business of the whole population, but as a separate and autonomous corporation, mainly devoted to exploiting the population for the benefit of its own members. .... When a private citizen is robbed, a worthy man is deprived of the fruits of his industry and thrift; when the government is robbed, the worst that happens is that certain rogues and loafers have less money to play with than they had before.
Prejudices: Sixth Series : "From the Memoirs of a Subject of the United States", p.57
For youth, though it may lack knowledge, is certainly not devoid of intelligence: it sees through shams with sharp and terrible eyes. When a schoolmaster is an ass, which happens in Christendom more often than not, you may be sure that even the dullest of his pupils is well aware of it.
Ibid.: "The Pedagogy of Sex", p.202
The eugenists constantly make the false assumption that a healthy degree of human progress demands a large and steady supply of absolutely first-rate men. Here they succumb to the modern craze for mass production. Because a hundred policemen, or garbage men, or bootleggers are manifestly better than one they conclude absurdly that a hundred Beethovens would be better than one. But this is not true. The actual value of a genius often lies in his very singularity. .... The number of first-rate men necessary to make a high civilization is really very small. If the United States could produce one Shakespeare or Newton or Bach or Michaelangelo or Vesalius a century it would be doing better than any nation has ever done in history. Such a culture as we have is due to a group of men so small that all of them alive at one time could be hauled in a single Pullman train. .... .... Imagine a country housing 100 head of Aristotles! It would be as unhappy as a city housing 100 head of Jesse James.
Ibid.: "Dives into Quackery", pp.237-9
It is the invariable habit of bureaucracies, at all times and everywhere, to assume...that every citizen is a criminal. Their one apparent purpose, pursued with a relentless and furious diligence, is to convert the assumption into a fact. They hunt endlessly for proofs, and, when proofs are lacking, for mere suspicions. The moment they become aware of a definite citizen, John Doe, seeking what is his right under the law, they begin searching feverishly for an excuse for withholding it from him.
Ibid.: "Life under Bureaucracy", pp.241-2
It seems to me that society usually wins. There are, to be sure, free spirits in the world, but their freedom, in the last analysis, is not much greater than that of a canary in a cage. They may leap from perch to perch; they may bathe and guzzle at their will; they may flap their wings and sing. But they are still in the cage, and soon or late it conquers them.
"Editorial" in The American Mercury, Jul 27, p.288
It is not a sign of communal well-being when men turn to their government to execute all their business for them, but rather a sign of decay, as in the United States today. The state, indeed, is but one of the devices that a really healthy community sets up to manage its affairs.
"The Library" in The American Mercury, Aug 27, p.507
The natural tendency of every government is to grow steadily worse - that is, to grow more satisfactory to those who constitute it and less satisfactory to those who support it.
The body of prehensile men constituting the government of every civilized state is a corporation of precisely the same character. What they have to sell to their customers is a form of service that is necessary to the orderly function- ing of society, but they do not produce it as an altruistic act; they produce it for sale. Their aim is to get as much as they can for as little of it as will meet the demand. When the times are running well for them they forget their customers altogether and devote themselves almost wholly to their own advantage and profit; when times are evil they are forced to consider the discontents across the counter.
Lincoln marked the half-way post on the road to the sewers [in presidents].
"The Library" in The American Mercury, Oct 27, p.251
Life may not be exactly pleasant, but it is at least not dull. Heave yourself into Hell today, and you may miss, tomorrow or next day, another Scopes trial, or another War to End War, or perchance a rich and buxom widow with all her first husband's clothes. There are always more Hardings hatching. I advocate hanging on as long as possible.
"The Library" in The American Mercury, Apr 28, p.510
Capitalism undoubtedly has certain boils and blotches upon it, but has it as many as government? Has it as many as marriage? Has it as many as religion? I doubt it. It is the only basic institution of modern man that shows any genuine health and vigor. ...the only serious criticism of capitalism comes from ladies and gentlemen who are palpably somewhat balmy. The trouble with all of them is that they are constructive critics: not content to tear down, they try to build up. It is a fatal error...
"Editorial" in The American Mercury, Aug 28, p.507, The Curse of Government Sub-title to a review in "The Library" in The American Mercury, Sep 28, p.123
Slaves are probably quite as necessary to civilization as men of genius. The human race seems incapable of becoming civilized en masse. Some one must milk the cows - and milking cows and being civilized appear to be as incompatable as drinking highballs and standing on one's head.
"The Library" in The American Mercury, Jan 29, p.124
...our third-rate snivelization.... There is something even more valuable to civilization than wisdom, and that is character.
Hanging one scoundrel, it appears, does not deter the next. Well, what of it? The first one is at least disposed of.
Today every town in Christendom has a prison, and all of them are bulging. At least half of their inmates, on being turned loose, return to crime. But the sentimentalists would not consent to their abolition in favor of logical, effective punishments. They pity the criminal far too much to do anything sensible about him, either for his benefit or for that of society.
...gynecologists - perhaps the most ignorant class of men, when it comes to knowledge of women, in the country...
"The Library" in The American Mercury, Sep 29, p.127
[Mencken is reviewing the essays which were submitted to the Mercury's college competition.]
This, then, is the verdict of survivors whose wounds are still fresh: that not more than one American pedagogue in twenty is worth his salt. The rest run a grand curve from scholars who know something but want the skill to impart it, to frauds who lack both the learning they pretend to sell and the wit to conceal their lack of it.
"Editorial" in The American Mercury, Oct 29, p.162
The typical tale was of a student greatly interested in this or that branch of learning - and baffled in his attempts to master it by the incompetence of his instructor. Such evidence is hard to dispose of, for as philosophers observed long ago, a boy's judgement of a man is apt to be pretty accurate. Women are easy to fool, and so are men, but not boys. What they admire in elders of their own sex is usually real, and what they view with contempt is real too. Nor do they fail to distinguish between genuine ability and the mere habit of being amiable.
In order to teach chemistry or psychology or even history or Greek a man must actually know something, but for the teacher of English nothing seems to be necessary beyond a crude capacity to read and write.
[Mencken is reviewing the essays which were submitted to the Mercury's college competition.]
The student body, seen through the eyes of the essayists, came out almost as badly as the faculty. Life at an American college has plainly become more or less uncomfortable to a young man or woman of active and eager mind... What they reported was a society almost as completely dominated by mass production as the Great Society they must now enter. The campus swarms with youths whose talents, however gaudy, simply do not include a talent for ingesting the humanities.
Who ever heard, indeed, of an autobiography that was not [interesting]? I can recall none in all the literature of the world.
"The Library" in the American Mercury, Jan 30, p.122
...the obvious fact that human beings are not naturally humane - that they take a keen delight in cruelty whenever it seems to be safe.
"Editorials" in the American Mercury, Feb 30, p.153
[Wowsers] are all dirty fellows, and in many of them the sexual obsession is so manifest that it becomes revolting. Old Comstock himself, as everyone knows, kept a collection of filthy pictures in his desk, and vastly enjoyed exhibiting it to like-minded visitors.
"The Library" in the American Mercury, Jun 30, p.
In old Abe, in fact, the cross-roads politician was always visible. He never did anything without figuring out its consequences to five places of decimals, and when those consequences promised to damage his private fortunes he usually found a good reason to refrain.
"The Library" in the American Mercury, Aug 30, p.507
It seems to me that the United States would be a great deal better off today if it had a war on its hands, somewhere or other, all the time. I do not mean, of course, such puerile buffoonery as now goes on from time to time in Nicaragua and Haiti, but real war, occupying say a quarter of a million or half a million men.
"Editorials" in the The American Mercury, Nov 30, p.284
...war itself is a moral substitute for many things that are far worse. While the late combat to free the world from Wagner, Koch and Nietzsche was being fought, no one heard anything about the Ku Klux Klan, or, indeed, about Prohibition. These horrors descended upon us when the Armistice was signed, and millions of morons found themselves without entertainment.
Liberty was real in Athens so long as it bore some more or less logical relation to merit - so long as the state's willingness to let a man alone ran with his capacity to govern himself. It began to degenerate the moment it became the common possession of all citizens.... The climax of the process, as everyone knows, was the trial of Socrates. By that time liberty was worth no more in Athens than it is worth today in Oklahoma or Mississippi.
"The Library" in the American Mercury, Nov 30, p.379
The only kind of freedom that the mob can imagine is freedom to annoy and oppress its betters, and that is precisely the kind that we mainly have.
...such works as Milton's "Areopagitica" and Mill's "Liberty" are not used as text-books in the American colleges. Surely that is asking far too much. Who could imagine a pedagogue honestly believing in liberty? If he did his life would be one long stultification, for he lives in a world in which he has no rights as against his superiors, the trustees, and need grant no substantial rights to his inferiors, the students. .... When Milton and Mill begin to be taught seriously in American colleges then Huxley and Darwin will be taught in Catholic parochial schools.
There were jails, of course, from the earliest times, but they were used mainly to detain persons accused of crime until their guilt could be determined. Once they were found guilty they were not commonly returned to durance, but punished forthwith, either by death, by exile, by fine, or by some form of corporal suffering. Prisons were set up by philanthropists eager to do away with these ancient cruelties, but what they mainly accomplished was to make cruelty more facile. The very fact that they were regarded as humane suggested longer and longer sentences, and so today, at least in the United States, it is common for men to be locked up for years for crimes which, in a more innocent day, would have been punished by some such triviality as branding on the hand, a few hours in the pillory, a good cowhiding, or the loss of an ear.
The argument that capital punishment degrades the state is moonshine, for if that were true then it would degrade the state to send men to war... The state, in truth, is degraded in its very nature: a few butcheries cannot do it any further damage.
Alone among the animals, [man] is dowered with the capacity to invent imaginary worlds, and he is always making himself unhappy by trying to move into them. Thus he underrates the world in which he actually lives, and so misses most of the fun that is in it. That world, I am convinced, could be materially improved, but even as it stands it is good enough to keep any reasonable man entertained for a lifetime. As for me, I roll out of my couch every morning with the most agreeable expectations. In the morning paper there is always massive and exhilarating evidence that the human race, despite its ages-long effort to imitate the seraphim, is still doomed to be irrevocably human, and in my morning mail I always get soothing proof that there are men left who are even worse asses than I am.
From Living Philosophies [1931, ed. by Will Durant], p.180
The common view of science is that it is a sort of machine for increasing the race's store of dependable facts. It is that only in part; in even larger part it is a machine for upsetting undependable facts.
I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind - that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.
I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.
I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war on liberty, and that the democratic government is at least as bad as any of the other forms.
But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than to be ignorant.
[Pedagogues:] More than any other class of blind leaders of the blind they are responsible for the degrading standardization which now afflicts the American people.
"What Is Going On in the World", The American Mercury, Feb 33, p.131
And out of each [schoolhouse] is vomited the standard product of the New Pedagogy - an endless procession of adolescents who have been taught everything save that which is true, and outfitted with every trick save those that are socially useful.
They have taken the care and upbringing of children out of the hands of parents, where it belongs, and thrown it upon a gang of irresponsible and unintelligent quacks.
...a trick that belongs to the ABC of the bureaucratic mystery: ...how to scare politicians and public alike.
...a sort of Socratic minstrel-show...
"The Library" in the American Mercury, Nov 33, p.379
...those who have competence in some measure...are the only human beings I can think of who will be worth the oil it will take to fry them in hell.
Heathen Days , p.viii
Whether it happens to show itself in the artless mumbo-jumbo of a Winnebago Indian or in the elaborately refined and metaphysical rites of a Christian archbishop, its single function is to give man access to the powers which seem to control his destiny, and its single purpose is to induce those powers to be friendly to him. That function and that purpose are common to all religions, ancient or modern, savage or civilized, and they are the only common characters that all of them show. Nothing else is essential.
Treatise on the Gods [1930, 2nd. ed., 1946], p.4
All mammals, in truth, seem to have an inborn tendency to identify causation with volition. They are naturally pugnacious, and life to them consists largely of a search for something or someone to blame it on.
...it is a peculiarity of
that he is a teaching animal, and longs always to instruct and improve his fellows.
It is Hell, of course, that makes priests powerful, not Heaven, for after thousands of years of so-called civilization fear remains the one common denominator of mankind.
To a clergyman lying under a vow of chastity any act of sex is immoral, but his abhorrence of it naturally increases in proportion as it looks safe and is correspondingly tempting. As a prudent man, he is not much disturbed by incitations which carry their obvious and certain penalties; what shakes him is the enticement bare of any probable secular retribution. Ergo, the worst and damndest indulgence is that which goes unwhipped. So he teaches that it is no sin for a woman to bear a child to a drunken and worthless husband, even though she may believe with sound reason that it will be diseased and miserable all its life, but if she resorts to any mechanical or chemical device, however harmless, to prevent its birth, she is doomed by his penology to roast in Hell forever, along with the assassin of orphans and the scoundrel who forgets his Easter duty.
The only safe skeptic is one who was never exposed to faith in his infancy. Converts of more mature years are always more or less unreliable.
But any man who afflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood, and that is what happened to those of Jesus.
Perhaps Jesus Himself, had He lived fifty years, would have somewhat ameliorated His admonitions, bearing the incurable frailty of human nature in mind. As it was, He preached a scheme of conduct that was bearable only on the assumption that it would not have to be borne very long - that is, on the assumption that the kingdom of God as at hand.
On both sides of the Reformation fence the Christian church fought for its life, and nearly everywhere it had the support of the universities, which is to say, of official learning, which is to say, of organized ignorance.
...the American Republic, the envy and despair of all other nations...
Save among politicians it is no longer necessary for any educated American to profess belief in Thirteenth Century ideas.
There is, in fact, no reason to believe that any given natural phenomenon, however marvellous it may seem today, will remain forever inexplicable. Soon or late the laws governing the production of life itself will be discovered in the laboratory, and man may set up business as a creator in his own account.
...history deals mainly with captains and kings, gods and prophets, exploiters and despoilers, not with useful men.
If the theological answer to all questions had ever actually prevailed in the world the progress of the race would have come to an end, and there would be no difference today between a good European and a good pygmy in the African jungles. Everything that we are we owe to Satan and his bootleg apples.
The fact, however, that threats of Hell have their social uses is not an argument in favor of the truth of religion; it is simply an argument against the human race. More, it is probably libellous, for the overwhelming majority of men and women are not nearly so vicious as the fancy of theologians makes them out [to be]. Very few men, if Hell were proved to be a fiction tomorrow, would take to the highroad and cut throats, and very few women would turn drabs.
All of us, indeed, who have ever come to close quarters with theologians must have left them with an elated feeling that our sort of decency is a great deal better than theirs. For they are not, as a class, fair men, nor is there any honesty in them. To find their match in secular life recourse must be had, not to philosophers, but to politicians.
The God of love that they preach invariably turns out, on examination, to be a God of harsh and arbitrary penalties and brutalities, just as the brotherhood of man that they preach, brought to the test, turns out to be only a kind of hatred. Hell is still their headquarters...
One seldom discovers a true believer that is worth knowing.
The human race is in such a dreadful state that no rational person can talk about it without resorting to seditious and obscene language.
Life interview: "Mr. Mencken Sounds Off", August 5, 1946, p.45
Even the most clear-headed man can think clearly only for brief stretches. If he does it for half an hour of consecutive time he beats Aristotle. The average citizen of a free democracy does it no more than ten minutes altogether in a lifetime. In brief, we have lost the sureness of instinct of the baboon and not yet perfected sureness of reasoning. It will take a long time to do so - perhaps 100,000 more years.
In the end, I suppose, mankind will be got in order by the only means that has ever worked in the past or will ever work hereafter, to wit, by the appearance of a first-rate military conqueror. His chances of success become better every day. Most of the peoples of the earth will welcome him, as they have always done heretofore. There are two reasons for this. The first is that very few people really care for liberty: what they crave is merely security. The second is that a military conqueror, whatever you may say against him, is at least a better man than the politicians who now run the human race. Compare Alexander the Great, for example, to such mountebanks as Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt.
As for the atomic bomb itself, I believe it is the greatest of all American inventions, and one of the imperishable glories of Christianity. It surpasses the burning of heretics on all counts, but especially on the count that it has given the world an entirely new disease, to wit, galloping carcinoma. I have been reading with great edification in the medical journals of the clinical pictures presented at Hiroshima. Large numbers of the victims, I was proud to note, were women and children. They were slowly fried or roasted to death... In many cases their agonies were prolonged, and they suffered worse than any bishop will ever suffer in hell.
A professional politician is a professionally dishonorable man. In order to get anywhere near high office he has to make so many compromises and submit to so many humiliations that he becomes indistinguishable from a streetwalker.
The trouble with Communism is the Communists, just as the trouble with Christianity is the Christians.
I graduated the Polytechnic very early - I was only fifteen - and never went to school since, thank God. Most men that escape college have a regret that pursues them, but I must confess I'm much too vain to have any such regret. I think that what I was doing when the boys of my generation were in college - listening to idiot lectures and cheering football games and doing all the foolish and silly and useless things that college boys do, I was a young reporter on the street, and I believe that a young newspaper reporter in a big city
led a life that has never been matched on earth, for romance and interest.
The Library of Congress interview (not the Caedmon Records's abridgement), 6/30/48, transcribed my me
No, I never got a scoop in my life. They were the things that were esteemed in those days. They never seemed to me to have any sense: most scoops were bad stories, and they were always exaggerated and played up in an idiot manner.
I'm thoroughly convinced that editors don't help authors.
The volume of mail that comes in to a magazine or a newspaper or a radio station is no index of anything, except that you happen to attract a lot of idiots, because most people that write letters to newspapers are fools. Intelligent people seldom do it - they do it sometimes, but not often. I used to, in my days of running a column - I welcomed the letters that came in, and, in fact, edited them. I was in charge of the letter column, and always let anyone in who denounced me violently get in - because I believe that people like to read abuse.
A man who is an agnostic by inheritance, so that he doesn't remember any time that he wasn't, has almost no hatred for the religious.
I believe there is a limit beyond which free speech cannot go, but it's a limit that's very seldom mentioned. It's the point where free speech begins to collide with the right to privacy. I don't think there are any other conditions to free speech. I've got a right to say and believe anything I please, but I haven't got a right to press it on anybody else. .... Nobody's got a right to be a nuisance to his neighbors.
...when I get propaganda [in the mail], and with it there is one of those reply-paid postal cards or envelopes, I always send it back empty... They have to pay three - four cents to get it back, and it's my polite way of saying, "That for you."
...people will believe what they want to believe.
I don't go to hear music much because I dislike sitting in seats, confined for an hour or two between maybe unpleasant people and having to hear stuff that maybe I don't want to hear. When you go to a concert, you have to take what the professor offers.
The way for newspapers to meet the competition of radio and television is simply to get out better papers.
To sum up: 1. The cosmos is a gigantic fly-wheel making 10,000 revolutions a minute. 2. Man is a sick fly taking a dizzy ride on it. 3. Religion is the theory that the wheel was designed and set spinning to give him the ride.
A Mencken Chrestomathy : "Coda", p.9
A metaphysician is one who, when you remark that twice two makes four, demands to know what you mean by twice, what you mean by two, what by makes, and what by four.
Ibid.: "The Metaphysician", pp.13-14
Their fundamental error consists in assuming that the whole aim of punishing criminals is to deter other (potential) criminals... This, I believe, confuses a part with the whole. Deterrence, obviously, is
one of the aims of punishment, but it is surely not the only one... At least one of them, practically considered, is more important... I borrow a term from the late Aristotle:
. , so used, means a salubrious discharge of emotions, a healthy letting off of steam.... ....A keeps a store and has a bookkeeper, B. B steals $700, employs it in playing dice or bingo, and is cleaned out. What is A to do? Let B go? If he does he will not be able to sleep at night. The sense of injury, of injustice, of frustration will haunt him like pruritus. So he turns B over to the police, and they hustle B to prison. Thereafter, A can sleep. More, he has pleasant dreams. He pictures B chained to the wall of a dungeon a hundred feet underground, devoured by rats and scorpions. It is so agreeable that he forgets his $700. He has got his .
Ibid.: "The Penalty of Death", pp.118-9
School-days, I believe, are the unhappiest in the whole span of human existence. They are full of dull, unintelligible tasks, new and unpleasant ordinances, brutal violations of common sense and common decency. It doesn't take a reasonably bright boy long to discover that most of what is rammed into him is nonsense, and that no one really cares very much whether he learns it or not. His parents, unless they are infantile in mind, tend to be bored by his lessons and labors, and are unable to conceal the fact from his sharp eyes. His first teachers he views simply as disagreeable policemen; his later ones he usually sets down, quite accurately, as asses.
Ibid.: "Travail", p.308
The idea that [school-children] are happy is of a piece with the idea that the lobster in the pot is happy.
Ibid., selected from "Sententiae", pp.616-626
- I am against slavery simply because I dislike slaves.
- The life of man in this world is like the life of a fly in a room filled with 100 boys, each armed with a fly swatter.
- When a woman says she won't, it is a good sign that she will. And when she says she will it is an even better sign.
- If x is the population of the United States and y is the degree of imbecility of the average American, then democracy is the theory that x X y is less than y.
- Puritanism - The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
My whole life, once I get free from my present engagements, will be devoted to combating Puritanism. But in the meantime, I see clearly that the Puritans have nearly all the cards. They drew up the laws now on the statute books, and they cunningly contrived them to serve their own purposes. The only attack that will ever get anywhere will be directed - not at the Puritan heroes but at the laws they hide behind. In this attack, I am full of hope that shrapnel will play a part.
Quoted in Edgar Kelmer's The Irreverent Mr. Mencken , p.79
[Kelmer writing:] And whenever his niece, his brother Charlie's girl, was brought down from Pittsburgh, he spent the afternoons with her, rolling the dice, exhibiting picture books, and deploying a menagerie of rubber elephants. Once, reflecting upon his success with the little girl, he remarked, "What a father was spoiled when I dedicated my life to learning."
I have never tried to convert anyone to anything. No man writing can avoid being pawed over by the imbecile type of person who is hunting for someone to follow - the natural subordinate, the Yes-man. Some of these vermin have followed me. I have no more grievance in losing them than would a dog when the fleas which pestered him left him and fell on another dog.
Ibid., to a reporter in 1929, p.264
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.
Minority Report: H.L. Mencken's Notebooks , p.3
I long ago suggested that, in trials for murder or assault, it should be competent for the defense to introduce testimony showing the character of the victim. Certainly it is absurd to inflict the same punishment for killing or mauling a perfectly decent and innocent person, and doing the same to a gunman or other professional ruffian. I am willing to go further. That is, I am willing to admit evidence to show that the victim, though not a criminal himself, was of such small social value that his death or injury was no appreciable public loss.
The objection to sterilizing criminals is mainly theological, and hence irrational. .... Certainly the chances that he will produce criminal children are sufficiently strong to justify subjecting him to the trivial injury and inconvenience of sterilization. On the one hand the sentimentalists argue that crime is a disease, and on the other hand they deny that it runs in families. All human experience is against this. Nine out of ten professional criminals come from families that are plainly abnormal. Even if it be argued that their criminality is a product of their environment..., it follows that the environment they themselves provide for their children is very likely to produce more criminals. The theory that crime is caused by poverty is not supported by the known facts. The very poor, in fact, tend to be just as law-abiding as the rich, and perhaps even more so.
The essential difficulty of pedagogy lies in the impossibility of inducing a sufficiency of superior men and women to become pedagogues. Children, and especially boys, have sharp eyes for the weaknesses of the adults set over them. It is impossible to make boys take seriously the teaching of men they hold in contempt.
No man can be friendly to another whose personal habits differ materially from his own. Even the trivialities of table manners thus become important. The fact probably explains much of race prejudice, and even more of national prejudice.
...the cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy. This is like saying that the cure for crime is more crime...
Philosophy consists very largely of one philosopher arguing that all other philosophers are jackasses. He usually proves it, and I should add that he also usually proves that he is one himself.
The fact that I have no remedy for all the sorrows of the world is no reason for my accepting yours. It simply supports the strong probability that yours is a fake.
In the long run, perhaps, we'll reach a point in human progress where denying the truth will be a crime, and not only a crime but a dishonorable act. This point has been envisioned by the man who argued in Harper's...that there is a moral obligation to be intelligent.
Many a boy of really fine mind is ruined in school. Along with a few sound values, many false ones are thrust into his thinking, and he inevitably acquires something of the attitude of mind of the petty bureaucrats told off to teach him.
I can't recall ever changing my mind about any capital matter. My general body of fundamental ideas is the same today as it was in the days when I first began to ponder.
Of all the human qualities, the one I admire the most is competence. A tailor who is really able to cut and fit a coat seems to me an admirable man, and by the same token a university professor who knows little or nothing of the thing he presumes to teach seems to me to be a fraud and a rascal.
Of all the classes of men, I dislike the most those who make their livings by talking - actors, clergymen, politicians, pedagogues, and so on. .... It is almost impossible to imagine a talker who sticks to the facts. Carried away by the sound of his own voice and the applause from the groundlings, he makes inevitably the jump from logic to mere rhetoric.
It takes a long while for a naturally trustful person to reconcile himself to the idea that after all God will not help him.
Who will argue that 98.6 Fahrenheit is the right temperature for man? .... It may be that we are all actually freezing: hence the pervading stupidity of mankind. At 110 or 115 degrees even archbishops might be intelligent.
The more noisy Negro leaders, by depicting all whites as natural and implacable enemies to their race, have done it a great disservice. Large numbers of whites who were formerly very friendly to it, and willing to go to great lengths to help it, are now resentful and suspicious.
I believe that any man or woman who, for a period of say five years, has earned his or her living in some lawful and useful occupation, without any recourse to public assistance, should be allowed to vote and that no one else should be allowed to vote.
The idea that the sole aim of punishment is to prevent crime is obviously grounded upon the theory that crime can be prevented, which is almost as dubious as the notion that poverty can be prevented.
One of the things that makes a Negro unpleasant to white folk is the fact that he suffers from their injustice. He is thus a standing rebuke to them, and they try to put him out of their minds. The easiest way to do so is to insist that he keep his place.
By an inferior man I mean one who knows nothing that is not known to every adult, who can do nothing that could not be learned by anyone in a few weeks, and who meanly admires mean things.
To wage a war for a purely moral reason is as absurd as to ravish a woman for a purely moral reason.
The kind of man who wants the government to adopt and enforce his ideas is always the kind of man whose ideas are idiotic.
Every contribution to human progress on record has been made by some individual who differed sharply from the general, and was thus, almost
, superior to the general. Perhaps the palpably insane must be excepted here, but I can think of no others. Such exceptional individuals should be permitted, it seems to me, to enjoy every advantage that goes with their superiority.... The rest are as negligible as the race of cockroaches, who have gone unchanged for a million years.
The Army regulations provide that every man must be treated "so as to preserve his self-respect." This is the essence of conduct in civilized society.
An individual who forces himself to accept this or that idea, or who pretends to accept this or that idea, not only on the ground that believing in it is an act of virtue, but also on the ground that doing so is prudent, is both a fool and a knave.
The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.
Science, at bottom, is really anti-intellectual. It always distrusts pure reason, and demands the production of objective fact.
Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. .... The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on "I am not too sure."
A fool who, after plain warning, persists in dosing himself with dangerous drugs should be free to do so, for his death is a benefit to the race in general.
What ass first let lose the doctrine that the suffrage is a high boon and .COMMENT above is correct END COMMENT voting a noble privilege? Looking back over my 19 years [of it] I can recall few times when I have voted with anything approaching exhilaration...
A Carnival of Buncombe: Writings on Politics , edited by Malcolm Moos, p.32
[Harding:] ...he has the courage of his hypocrisies.
All the extravagance and incompetence of our present government is due, in the main, to lawyers... They are responsible for nine-tenths of the useless and vicious laws that now clutter the statute-books, and for all the evils that go with the vain attempt to enforce them. Every Federal judge is a lawyer. So are most Congressmen. Every invasion of the plain rights of the citizen has a lawyer behind it. If all lawyers were hanged tomorrow, and their bones sold to a mah jong factory, we'd all be freer and safer, and our taxes would be reduced by almost a half.
The older I grow the less I esteem mere ideas. In politics, particularly, they are transient and unimportant. .... There are only men who have character and men who lack it.
We suffer most when the White House busts with ideas.
A good part of this ignorance is probably due to the powerful effect of shibboleths. Every American is taught in school that all Americans are free, and so he goes on believing it his whole life - overlooking the plain fact that no Negro is really free in the South, and no miner in Pennsylvania, and no radical in any of a dozen great States. He hears of equality before the law, and he accepts it as a reality, though it exists nowhere, and there are Federal laws which formally repudiate it. In the same way he is taught that religious toleration prevails among us, and uncritically swallows the lie. No such thing really exists. No such thing has ever existed.
The only good bureaucrat is one with a pistol at his head. Put it in his hand and it's good-by to the Bill of Rights.
If the American people really tire of democracy and want to make a trial of Fascism, I shall be the last person to object. But if that is their mood, then they had better proceed toward their aim by changing the Constitution and not by forgetting it.
There is, indeed, no genuine disposition among American public officials, or indeed among public officials anywhere, to reduce public expenses. As I have pointed out in this place a hundred times, they always try to lay on at least $2 every time they "save" $1.
[Roosevelt's New Deal:] There is, in fact, only one intelligible idea in the whole More Abundant Life rumble-bumble, and that is the idea that whatever A earns really belongs to B. A is any honest and industrious man or woman; B is any drone or jackass.
[The demagogue:] His actual purpose is never concealed from the judicious. He is always after a job for himself, and if he talks loudly enough and foolishly enough he not infrequently gets it. There then begins an inevitable cycle of disillusion. His poor victims, reaching out for the moon, find to their disquiet that what he has really handed to them is only a cabbage. He must begin to promise two moons, three moons, a dozen moons.... Presently the demagogue is chased away - and another rises to fill his room.
They have convinced millions of the lazy lowly that the taxpayer owes them a living - that every cent he earns by hard labor is, and of a right ought to be, theirs. .... It will not be easy to dissipate such romantic notions. It will take a long time, and it may also require some rough stuff. But mainly it will take time, and while that time is running on the taxpayer will have a lot to think about.
...the "I Am Not a Communist, But --------" Club.
...every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.
...the intelligent, like the unintelligent, are responsive to propaganda...
I have yet to meet [a socialist] who was not as gullible as a Mississippi darkey - nay, as a Mississippi white man.
The Bathtub Hoax : "The Believing Mind", p.20
Is Genesis incredible? Does it go counter to the known facts? Perhaps. But do not forget to add that it is divinely simple - that even a Tennessee judge can understand it.
Ibid.: "Fundamentalism: Divine and Secular", p.122
The central difficulty lies in the fact that all of the sciences have made such great progress during the last century that they have got quite beyond the reach of man.
Shave a gorilla and it would be almost impossible, at twenty paces, to distinguish him from a heavyweight champion of the world. Skin a chimpanzee, and it would take an autopsy to prove he was not a theologian.
Ibid.: "Cousin Jocko", p.134
In some ways, indeed, [a gorilla] is measurably more clever than many men. It cannot be fooled as easily; it does not waste so much time doing useless things. If it desires, for example, to get a banana, hung out of reach, it proceeds to the business with a singleness of purpose and a fertility of resource that, in a traffic policeman, would seem almost pathological. There are no fundamentalists among the primates. They believe nothing that is not demonstrable. When they confront a fact they recognize it instantly, and turn it to their uses with admirable readiness. There are liars among them, but no idealists.
Of Schubert I hesitate to speak. The fellow was scarcely human. His merest belch was as lovely as the song of the sirens. He sweated beauty as naturally as a Christian sweats hate.
H.L. Mencken on Music , ed. by Louis Cheslock:
"From a Letter to Isaac Goldberg", 6 May 25, p.198
There are, indeed, only two kinds of music: German music and bad music.
An absolutely new idea is one of the rarest things known to man.
Letter to Isaac Goldberg, quoted in Goldberg's The Man Mencken, p.259
[Letter to Theodore Dreiser, 3 Nov 09] The scientific impulse seems to me to be the very opposite of the religious impulse. When a man seeks knowledge he is trying to gain means of fighting his own way in the world, but when he prays he confesses that he is unable to do so. .... The feeling of abasement, of incapacity, is inseparable from the religious impulse, but against that feeling all exact knowledge makes war. The efficient man does not cry out "Save me, O God". On the contrary, he makes diligent efforts to save himself. But suppose he fails? Doesn't he throw himself, in the end, on the mercy of the gods? Not at all. He accepts his fate with philosophy, buoyed up by the consciousness that he has done his best. Irreligion, in a word, teaches men how to die with dignity, just as it teaches them how to live with dignity.
Letters of H.L. Mencken , edited by Guy J. Forgue, pp.8-9
[Letter to Burton Rascoe, (Summer 1920?):] ...free speech is too dangerous to a democracy to be permitted.
I believe that the public likes criticism only in so far as it is a good show, which means only in so far as it is bellicose. The crowd is always with the prosecution. Hence, when I have to praise a writer, I usually do it by attacking his enemies. And when I say the crowd I mean all men. My own crowd is very small and probably somewhat superior, but it likes rough-house just as much as a crown around a bulletin-board.
I am often wrong. My prejudices are innumerable, and often idiotic. My aim is not to determine facts, but to function freely and pleasantly - as Nietzsche used to say, to dance with arms and legs.
I believe that nothing is unconditionally true, and hence I am opposed to every statement of positive truth and to every man who states it. Such men seem to me to be idiots or scoundrels.
I can't understand the martyr. Far from going to the stake for a Great Truth, I wouldn't even miss a meal for it. My notion is that all the larger human problems are insoluble, and that life is quite meaningless - a spectacle without purpose or moral. I detest all efforts to read a moral into it.
I do not believe in education, and am glad I never went to a university. Beyond the rudiments, it is impossible to teach anything. All the rest the student acquires himself. His teacher merely makes it difficult for him. I never learned anything in school.
[Letter to Upton Sinclair, 10 Dec (24)] The news that The American Mercury is "lacking in constructive points of view" is surely not news to me. If any such points of view ever get into it, it will only be my mutilated and pathetic corpse. The uplift has damn nigh ruined the country. What we need is more sin.
[Letter to Percy Marks, 3 Feb (25?)] The Puritan is simply one who, because of physical cowardice, lack of imagination or religious superstition, is unable to get any joy out of the satisfaction of his natural appetites. Taking a drink, he fears that he is headed for the gutter. Grabbing a gal, he is staggered by thoughts of hell and syphilis. Observing that other men do such things innocently, he hates them.
[Letter to Charles Green Shaw, 2 Dec (27)] If I ever marry, it will be on a sudden impulse, as a man shoots himself.
Adultery is hitting below the belt. If I ever married the very fact that the woman was my wife would be sufficient to convince me that she was superior to all other women. My vanity is excessive. Wherever I sit is the head of the table. This fact makes me careless of ordinary politeness. I don't like to be made much of. Such things please only persons who are doubtful about their position. I was sure of mine, such as it is, at the age of 12.
I have little belief in human progress. The human race is incurably idiotic. It will never be happy.
Economic independence is the foundation of the only sort of freedom worth a damn.
[Letter to George S. Schuyler, 15 May (29)] The plain fact is that neither the whites nor the blacks know where they are heading. I have read as much as most men and yet I can never formulate a plausible picture of the relation of the races say fifty years hence.
[Letter to Upton Sinclair, 17 Oct 30] The word wowser... means one who devotes himself to interfering with the private pleasures of his fellow-men.
[Letter to George S. Schuyler, 15 Jun 31] I think the Negro people should feel secure enough by now to face a reasonable ridicule without terror. I am unalterably opposed to all efforts to put down free speech, whatever the excuse.
[Letter to Richard J. Beamish, 7 July 34] My guess is that Hitler himself will be bumped off very soon. In the long run the Junkers are bound to come back.
[Letter to Roscoe Peacock, 7 May 36] Communists have no more humor than Christians. No man who believes in apocalypses can possibly bring himself to laugh.
[Letter to J.B. Dudek, 13 Nov 36] I begin to believe seriously that large numbers of the American people are completely incapable of understanding English. Whenever I write anything that sets up controversy its meaning is distorted almost instantly. Even the editorial writers of newspapers seem to be unable to understand the plainest sentence. I ascribe all this to the public schools. They have been debauching the American mind for years...
[Letter to Ezra Pound, 12 Jan 37] It seems to me that one of the prime jobs of every educated man on this earth is to denounce charlatans. New ones are always popping up, and the common run of idiots are always succumbing to them. There is little if any difference between one and another.
[Letter to Jim Tully, 22 Jan 40] The plain truth is that I am not a fair man, and don't want to hear both sides.
[Letter to Walter F. White, 6 Dec 43] Race relations never improve in war time; they always worsen. And it is when the boys come home the Ku Klux Klans are organized. I believe with George Schuyler that the only really feasible way to improve the general situation of the American Negro is to convince more and more whites that he is, as men go in this world, a decent fellow, and that amicable living with him is not only possible but desirable. Every threat of mass political pressure, every appeal to political mountebanks, only alarms the white brother, and so postpones the day of reasonable justice.
Actually, [the censors's] purpose is to save themselves. In other words, they are men severely menaced by the slightest sexual provocation - men of an abnormal and often bizarre eroticism - men in constant dread that they will not be able to police themselves. To you or to me, normal men, it is difficult to understand their horror of the most banal indelicacy. The spectacle of a nude statue has no more effect on me than the spectacle of a beer-keg.
H.L. Mencken's Smart Set Criticism : "The Anatomy of Ochlocracy", p.154
But the true secret of the expurgator's folly is to be sought, not in his stupidity, but in his moral fervor. He is, in brief, a professional moralist of the most offensive kind, and, like all other members of his clan, he is unable to estimate anything save in terms of morality. He sees Shakespeare, not as a great artist, but as a great teacher - and by the term great teacher, of course, he means one who preaches the particular brand of morality he himself regards as perfect. All passages which fail to qualify by that test are cut out - as proofs of the dramatist's fallibility or perversity. The fact that they may be of artistic importance never enters the expurgator's head.
The Young Mencken : "The Expurgators", pp.139-140
What I really want to do...is to call attention (a) to the American's lack of individual enterprise, and (b) to his lack of communal enterprise. The first of these accusations, of course, he will sharply resent... His chief boast, indeed, is that the civilization he adorns puts a high premium upon enterprise and originality... But originality and opportunity to do what? To make money, yes. To launch new religions... - yes again. To change the old platitudes into new platitudes, the superstitions of yesterday into the superstitions of today - yes a third time. But certainly not opportunity to tackle head on...the timeworn and doddering delusions of the race, to clear away the corruptions that make government a game for thieves and morals a petty vice for old maids and patriotism the last refuge of scoundrels - to think, in brief, as men whose thinking is worthwhile...
Ibid.: "The American", p.296
...the newly-arrived immigrant's dominating desire to lose his differentiation as soon as possible. It costs him a lot every day, not only in actual wages but also in social opportunity and in public respect.... So long as he remains a palpable foreigner, he is a common butt, and on no higher level than the native blackamoor.
Ibid.: "The American: His Ideas of Freedom", p.306
...[The American's] large body of laws fails to serve him. Why do such private organizations as the Consumers' League, the S.P.C.A., the Society against Unnecessary Noises, the Society for the Suppression of Vice, the Travelers' Aid Society, the Legal Aid Society...flourish so amazingly in the United States? Simply because the American, if he would enjoy his common rights, must fight for them extra-legally. Simply because his government does not protect him.
Ibid.: "The American: His Freedom", pp.353-4
I am not only wrong, it appears, I am also immoral - the familiar step in Puritan logic.
Ibid.: "Answers to Correspondents", p.525
[Letter to Upton Sinclair, 14 Oct (17)] So long as there are men in the world, 99 percent of them will be idiots, and so long as 99 percent of them are idiots they will thirst for religion, and so long as they thirst for religion, it will remain a weapon over them. I see no way out. If you blow up one specific faith, they will embrace another.
The New Mencken Letters , edited by Carl Bode, p.76
[Letter to Estelle Bloom Kubitz, 24 Jul 19] Logically, the sanest, kindest thing that could be done with the hopeless poor ...would be to knock them in the head. .... Temporary poverty, of course, can be relieved. A woman thrown upon the world with dependent children can be helped.
[Letter to James Weldon Johnson, 8 Aug (19)] What the inciting cause of the current riots may be is hard to determine, but it is easy to see in the actual rough-house the familiar liking of the low-caste white man for a chance to be cruel, with huge odds on his side. He is, by nature, a gang-fighter; a poltroon under his hide, he delights in operations which allow him to kill without risk.
[Letter to Harry Rickel, 12 Sep (20)] I cross the 40-year mark with severe hay-fever, but otherwise in prime condition. I have no less than three new girls lined up to be probed during the next few weeks; I am able to drink 10 seidels of 7% without pissing my pants; I can yell as loud as a policeman; my piano technique was never better. For all of which let credit go to God.
[Letter to Paul Patterson, 21 Jul (28)] A letter column always tends to be monopolized by cranks and bores.
[Letter to Albert C. Ritchie, 5 Oct 32] But I wonder where we will land if trial Judges begin deciding that the fact that a man has committed an atrocious crime is proof sufficient that he is not responsible for his acts.
[Letter to James F. King, 4 Aug 34] Certainly it is absurd to say that a man who has been taken three or four times running in crimes of violence deserves another chance. In many a case he has had half a dozen chances. Society simply can't endure criminals who stand ready at all times to butcher innocent people for gain. .... .... .... I agree with you thoroughly that very few prisoners in the penitentiaries of this country could be described reasonably as brutal criminals. I have, in fact, argued frequently that the average law-breaker scarcely deserves imprisonment at all. I am strongly against locking up men in cages. Those whose offenses are relatively trivial could be dealt with otherwise and much more effectively.
[Letter to Roscoe Peacock, 23 Aug 34] It seems to me that a great university ought to have room in it for men subscribing to every sort of idea that is currently prevalent.
[Letter to Corliss Lamont, 22 Apr 36] ...at ease in Yahweh's Palm Beach.
[Letter to Edgar R. Dawson, 3 Dec 37] I have long been convinced that the idea of liberty is abhorrent to most human beings. What they want is security, not freedom. Thus it seldom causes any public indignation when an enterprising tyrant claps down on one of his enemies. To most men it seems a natural proceeding.
[Letter to Cal Tinney, 5 Feb 41] I think the United States should mind its own business. If it is actually commissioned by God to put down totalitarianism, let it start in Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Santo Domingo and Mississippi.
[Letter to Edgar Kelmer, 1 Nov 46] It seems to me that an artist needs no formal recognition whatsoever. He works primarily to please himself, and if he manages to do so he has sufficient reward. The rest may be taken on trust. I have never heard of a really good man who went unrecognized altogether. .... I simply can't imagine any man of dignity accepting Pulitzer Prizes, honorary degrees or other such fripperies. Nine-tenths of them go to obvious quacks. Getting one is like being elected to the Elks.
But the fact remains that the Southern whites have to deal with the actual Negroes before them, and not with a theoretical race of African kings. These actual Negroes show actual defects that are very real and very serious. The leaders of the race, engrossed by the almost unbearable injustices that it faces, are apt to forget them.
Quoted in Edward A. Martin's H.L. Mencken and the Debunkers , pp.41-2
That Negroes, in more than one way, are superior to most American whites is something that I have long believed. I pass over their gift for music (which is largely imaginary) and their greater dignity (which Dr. Eleanor R. Wembridge has described more eloquently than I could do it), and point to their better behavior as members of our common society. Are they, on the lower levels, somewhat turbulent and inclined to petty crime? Perhaps. But that crime is seldom anti-social. It gets a lot of advertising when it is, but that is not often. Professional criminals are rare among Negroes, and, what is more important, professional reformers are still rarer. The horrible appetite of the low-caste Anglo-Saxon to police and harass his fellow-men is practically non-existent among them. No one ever hears of Negro wowsers inventing new categories of crime, and proposing to jail thousands of their own people for committing them. Negro Prohibitionists are almost as rare as Catholic Prohibitionists. No Negro has ever got a name by pretending to be more virtuous than the rest of us. In brief, the race is marked by extraordinary decency.
Quoted in Charles Scruggs's The Sage in Harlem , p.42
The notion that artists flourish upon adversity and misunderstanding, that they are able to function to the utmost in an atmosphere of indifference or hostility - this notion is nine-tenths nonsense.
[Letter, 7 Jan 19] The older I get the more I am convinced that, if I am ever to do anything worth a damn, it must be done entirely alone. Moreover, I am more comfortable that way.
Dreiser-Mencken Letters , Vol.2, p.332
[Letter, 27 Mar 21] You say you are not striking at me when you complain of Van Doren. Well, why in hell shouldn't you strike at me, if the spirit moves you? When I write about you as an author I put aside all friendship and try to consider you objectively. When[,] as an author, you discuss me as a critic, you are free to do the same thing, and ought to do it. In this department I am a maniacal advocate of free speech. Politeness is the worst curse of the world.
[Letter, 17 Apr 39] Kant was probably the worst writer ever heard of on earth before Karl Marx. Some of his ideas were really quite simple, but he always managed to make them seem unintelligible. I hope he is in Hell.
[Letter, 6 Dec 41] What we are looking at, I suspect, is the suicide of democracy - as clumsy and noisy an affair as the suicide of a whale or a locomotive. Whether or not Hitler has invented anything better I can't make out. But it seems to me to be pretty clear that we are in for some sort of imitation of his scheme in this country. I stand ready to join up with anything that is announced, just as I stand ready to be baptized for a box of good 5-cent cigars.
Some boys go to college and eventually succeed in getting out. Others go to college and never succeed in getting out. The latter are called professors.
Quoted in Vincent Fitzpatrick's H.L. Mencken , p.3
The uplifters have sworn to put down the villainous practice of copulation in this fair republic, and I begin to suspect that they will do it. . . . Their ideal is a nation devoted to masturbation and the praise of God. The American of the future will do his lovemaking in the bathroom, and he will be found in the same place when his country is invaded. [Ellipsis not mine. - JW]
My one purpose in writing I have explained over and over again: it is simply to provide a katharsis for my own thoughts. They worry me until they are set forth in words.
The Diary of H.L. Mencken , p.133
The American people, I am convinced, really detest free speech. At the slightest alarm they are ready and eager to put it down. Looking back, I sometimes marvel that I managed, despite this implacable hostility, to launch some of my notions. War, in this country, wipes out all rules of fair play, even those prevailing among wild animals. .... I have not written a single line in this war, and I wrote none in the last, that I am not prepared to ratify today. There has been no acquiescence in my enforced silence. .... The government I live under has been my enemy all of my active life. When it has not been engaged in silencing me, it has been engaged in robbing me. So far as I can recall I have never had any contact with it that was not an outrage on my dignity and an attack upon my security.
I certainly agree with your feeling about the Communists and Fascists, though I fear I can't follow your into the arms of [the] Holy Church. All persons who propose to improve the human race seem to me to be equally fraudulent.
Quoted in John Fante & H.L. Mencken: A Personal Correspondence 1930-1952, letter of 11-18-36, p.104
I agree with you thoroughly that there is a great deal of bosh in Nietzsche. Worse, the bosh occurs in the midst of his very best stuff. Thus, there is no way to read him without swallowing the whole together.
Quoted in ibid., letter of 3-30-38, p.120
The average newspaper, especially of the better sort, has the intelligence of a hillbilly evangelist, the courage of a rat, the fairness of a prohibitionist boob-jumper, the information of a high-school janitor, the taste of a designer of celluloid valentines, and the honor of a police-station lawyer.
"Review of 'The Brass Check,' requoted. The American Guardian, June 21, 1941."
A good [politician] is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.
Newsweek, 9-12-55, quoted in
What I admire most in any man is a serene spirit, a steady freedom from moral indignation, an all-embracing tolerance... when he fights he fights in the manner of a gentleman fighting a duel, not in that of a longshoreman cleaning out a waterfront saloon. That is to say, he carefully guards his amour-prope by assuming that his opponent is as decent a man as he is, and just as honest - and perhaps, after all, right. [Ellipsis not mine. - JW]
Quoted by Alistaire Cooke in Six Men, p.94
To me the scientific point of view is completely satisfying, and it has been so as long as I can remember. Not once in this life have I ever been inclined to seek a rock and a refuge elsewhere. It leaves a good many dark spots in the universe, to be sure, but not a hundredth time as many as theology. We may trust it, soon or late, to throw light upon many of them, and those that remain dark will be beyond illumination by any other agency. It also fails on occasion to console, but so does theology...
Quoted in Charles A. Fecher's Mencken: A Study of His Thought, p.84
Imagine hanging the stones of a man
, where they are forever getting themselves knocked, pinched, and bruised. Any decent mechanic would have put them in the exact center of the body, protected by an envelope twice as thick as a Presbyterian's skull. Moreover, consider certain parts of the female - always too large or too small. The elemental notion of standardization seems to have never presented itself to the celestial Edison.
Letter, quoted in On Mencken, p.10
No great work of art was ever produced in a town in which half the citizens of the town turned out in nightshirts and sidearms to terrorize the other half. And no great work of art was ever produced in a town which yielded itself at intervals to debauches of religious frenzy, with some preposterous mountebank of an evangelist roaring objurgations from his platform at every idea and ideal upon which the civilization of the modern world is based. Try to imagine a Shakespeare beset by fundamentalism, or a Goethe trying to work with the Ku Klux Klan roaring under his door.
Quoted in Hobson's
There was a time when the American citizen was an idealist himself. Now he is only idealism's raw material, as a cow is the raw material of butter, ice-cream and custard pie - a stuff milked, tickled, clubbed and pulverized into beauty by ordained virtuosi. I am still so young that my toupee looks natural, yet I can remember when, if ordered to toe a mark or climb astraddle upon a rail, the Americano would resist with harsh words, and even with his fists. Now he leaps to position like a well-trained circus horse.
The Impossible H.L. Mencken , edited by Marion Elizabeth Rodgers: "Traffic", p.56
If it is unlawful to urge that an idea be carried out, is it also unlawful to state it academically and point out its possible merits?
Ibid.: "On Liberty", p.75
The one sure cure for the professional criminal is the rope. Once it has been applied to his neck, his days of preying upon his betters are over, and the cops have accomplished something that is lasting and real.
Ibid.: "Crime as a Trade", p.99
The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naive and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who loves his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.
Ibid.: "The Coolidge Buncombe", pp.411-2
Intelligence has been commoner among American Presidents than high character...
Ibid.: "The Men Who Rule Us", p.424
I can't imagine a genuinely intelligent boy getting much out of college, even out of a good college, save it be a cynical habit of mind. For even the good ones are manned chiefly by third-rate men, and any boy of sharp wits is sure to penetrate to their inferiority almost instantly. Men can fool other men, but they can seldom fool boys.
Ibid.: "The Golden Age of Pedagogy", pp.556-7
It is common to assume that human progress affects everyone - that even the dullest man, in these bright days, knows more than any man of, say, the Eighteenth Century, and is far more civilized. This assumption is quite erroneous. The men of the educated minority, no doubt, know more than their predecessors, and of some of them, perhaps, it may be said that they are more civilized - though I should not like to be put to giving names - but the great masses of men, even in this inspired republic, are precisely where the mob was at the dawn of history. They are ignorant, they are dishonest, they are cowardly, they are ignoble. They know little if anything that is worth knowing, and there is not the slightest sign of a natural desire among them to increase their knowledge.
Such immortal vermin, true enough, get their share of the fruits of human progress, and so they may be said, in a way to have their part in it. .... He has at hand a thousand devices for making life less wearisome and more tolerable: the telephone, railroads, bichloride tablets, newspapers, sewers, correspondence schools, delicatessen. But he had no more to do with bringing these things into the world than the horned cattle in the fields, and he does no more to increase them today than the birds of the air.
On the contrary, he is generally against them, and sometimes with immense violence. Every step in human progress, from the first feeble stirrings in the abyss of time, has been opposed by the great majority of men.
Ibid.: "Homo Neanderthalensis", pp.562-3
The inferior man's reasons for hating knowledge are not hard to discern. He hates it because it is complex - because it puts an unbearable burden upon his meager capacity for taking in ideas. Thus his search is always for short cuts. Their aim is to make the unintelligible simple, and even obvious.
The intellectual heritage of the race belongs to the minority, and to the minority only. The majority has no more to do with it than it has to do with the ecclesiastical politics on Mars.
...the fundamentalist mind, running in a single rut for fifty years, is now quite unable to comprehend dissent from its basic superstitions, or to grant any common honesty, or even any decency, to those who reject them.
Ibid.: "Mencken Declares Strictly Fair Trial Is Beyond Ken of Tennessee Fundamentalists", p.590
Evangelical Christianity, as everyone knows, is founded upon hate, as the Christianity of Christ was founded upon love.
Ibid.: "Bryan", p.605
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