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H.L. Mencken

“I believe that any man who takes the liberty of another into his keeping is bound to become a tyrant, and that any man who yields up his liberty, in however slight the measure, is bound to become a slave.” - H.L. Mencken, 1927

“The average man’s love of liberty is nine-tenths imaginary. It takes a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty — and he is usually an outlaw in democratic societies.” – H.L. Mencken

Henry Louis Mencken (September 12, 1880 – January 29, 1956) was an American journalist and author. In the 1920s the New York Times dubbed him “the most powerful private citizen in the United States,”<ref>Ben A. Franklin, “Mencken Monument Spurs 'Frenzied Piffle',” The New York Times, June 9, 1984, Sec. 1, p. 9</ref> while Walter Lippmann (regarded as “the most influential journalist in American history”)<ref>Jacqueline Foertsch, American Culture in the 1940s (Edinburgh University Press, 2008) ISBN 0748624139, p. 56</ref> called him “the most powerful personal influence on this whole generation of educated people.”<ref>Walter Lippmann, “H.L. Mencken,” The Saturday Review of Literature December 11, 1926</ref>

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Mencken left school at the age of 15. When his father died, he went into newspaper work at the age of 18, rising to become one of the most famous journalists of the Jazz Age. He became editor of The Smart Set and The American Mercury, quintessential iconoclastic American magazines of the roaring twenties. His most successful book was The American Language.


As a child, Mencken was sent to Methodist Sunday School (which he defined as “a prison in which children do penance for the evil conscience of their parents”)<ref>H.L. Mencken, “The Jazz Webster,” in A Book of Burlesques (New York: Knopf, 1920), p. 208</ref> to allow his father, an unbeliever, free time for a nap.<ref>Doug Linder (2004), H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), Tessenssee vs. John Scopes: The Monkey Trial, 1925. Famous Trials in American History</ref> “It left me an infidel,“ he wrote, “as [my father] was, and his father had been before him.”<ref>Henry Louis Mencken , Happy Days, 1880-1892, Volume 1 (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1940), p. 188</ref> Mencken described himself as “absolutely devoid of what is called religious feeling.”<ref>H.L. Mencken, “Confession of a Theological Moron,” in S.T. Joshi, ed., H.L. Mencken on Religion (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2002) ISBN 1573929824, p. 32</ref> In his view: “Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration&mdash;courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and, above all, love of the truth. In brief, it is a fraud.”<ref>Charles A. Fecher, Mencken: A Study of his Thought (New York: Knopf, 1978) ISBN 0394413547, p. 81</ref> Mencken singled out Christianity for ridicule:

Darwinism, Social Darwinism and Nietzscheanism

Mencken was a Darwinist; it was he who convinced the American Civil Liberties Union and Clarence Darrow, the greatest trial lawyer of his day, to take the Scopes trial,<ref>Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, Mencken: The American Iconoclast (Oxford University Press, 2005) ISBN 0195072383, p. 1</ref> writing that “the sacrifice of Scopes would be a small thing.”<ref>Henry Louis Mencken, Thirty-five Years of Newspaper Work: A Memoir by H. L. Mencken (Baltimore: JHU Press, 2006) ISBN 0801885566, p. 137</ref> Mencken then covered the trial, his mocking coverage earning him his greatest fame.

Mencken was not merely a Darwinist, but a “confirmed Social Darwinist”<ref>Mark Lewis, “Mencken Vs. The Red Menace,” Forbes, April 2, 2009</ref> and Nietzschean.<ref>Cf. Henry Louis Mencken, The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1908)</ref> Mencken called Nietzsche's book Thus Spake Zarathustra:

Both Nietzsche and Mencken were “confirmed rationalists and materialists… deeply opposed to Christianity,” as well as “firm believers in a 'natural' caste system…. In Nietzsche's case, his belief in a caste system was based on the concept that some individuals are naturally superior to others, and should therefore be in the upper caste. Mencken's idealized caste system was cruder; it was simple Social Darwinism.”<ref>Charles Bufe, “Introduction,” H.L. Mencken, The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (Tucson, Ariz.: See Sharp Press, 2003) ISBN 1884365310, pp. iii</ref>

Underlying both men's advocacy of a caste system was an “incomprehension of, and a near-total lack of respect for, the lower economic classes.”<ref>Charles Bufe, “Introduction,” H.L. Mencken, The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (Tucson, Ariz.: See Sharp Press, 2003) ISBN 1884365310, pp. ii</ref>


Mencken was not fond of his fellow Americans. He wrote:

Nor was he fond of the United States itself. He wrote: “My grandfather, I believe, made a mistake when he came to this country [from Germany]…. I have spent all of my 62 years here, but I still find it impossible to fit myself into the accepted patterns of American life and thought. After all these years, I remain a foreigner.”<ref>Charles A. Fecher, ed., The Diary of H.L. Mencken (New York: Knopf, 1989) ISBN 039456877X, p. 215</ref> He preferred the Germany of Kaiser Wilhelm, which he said had a “superbly efficient ruling caste.”<ref>H.L. Mencken, “The Mailed Fist and its Prophet,” The Atlantic Monthly, November 1914</ref>

Mencken's vicious attacks on Republican Presidents Calvin Coolidge (“Nero fiddled, but Coolidge only snored”),<ref>Vincent Fitzpatrick, H.L. Mencken (Mercer University Press, 2004) ISBN 0865549214, p. 66</ref> Warren Harding (“he writes the worst English that I have ever encountered”)<ref>H. L. Mencken, On Politics: A Carnival of Buncombe (Baltimore: JHU Press, 2006) ISBN 0801885558, p. 42</ref> and Herbert Hoover (“a dud”)<ref>H. L. Mencken, On Politics: A Carnival of Buncombe (Baltimore: JHU Press, 2006) ISBN 0801885558, p. 272</ref> made him a favorite of the literati, lionized throughout the publishing world. But when Mencken similarly lampooned the Democrat Franklin Roosevelt (“a fraud from snout to tail”),<ref>Charles A. Fecher, ed., The Diary of H.L. Mencken (New York: Knopf, 1989) ISBN 039456877X, p. 131</ref> whom he had supported in 1932,<ref>Vincent Fitzpatrick, H.L. Mencken (Mercer University Press, 2004) ISBN 0865549214, p. 108</ref> he suddenly found himself a pariah, shunned by the establishment.<ref>Terry Teachout, “Editor's Introduction, in H. L. Mencken, A Second Mencken Chrestomathy: A New Selection from the Writings of America's Legendary Editor, Critic, and Wit (Baltimore: JHU Press, 2006) ISBN 0801885493, p. xiii</ref> “[T]he New Deal might appear to offer just the sort of target [Mencken] loved,” wrote Alistair Cooke, but “the New Deal was Mencken's Waterloo, and Roosevelt his Wellington.” According to Cooke, “Mencken had a clear eye for the realities that conceived the Roosevelt period,” yet “it was the Roosevelt era that brought him to the mat.” Cooke added that “The decline of his prestige was very swift,” so that by “the middle 1930's he all but abandoned the preoccupation of his palmy days, his self-chosen trade as 'a critic of ideas.'”<ref>Alistair Cooke, “An Introduction to H.L. Mencken,” in The Vintage Mencken (New York: Knopf, 1955), p. vi</ref>

Since the publication of Mencken's diaries in 1991, he has been lambasted as anti-Semitic, racist and “pro-Nazi.”<ref>”Mencken Was Pro-Nazi, His Diary Shows,“ Los Angeles Times, December 5, 1989</ref> He wrote:

In his diary, Mencken referred to “the Jews and whores who hang about the theatres and nightclubs”;<ref>Henry Louis Mencken, My Life as Author and Editor (New York: Knopf, 1993) ISBN 0679413154, p. 203</ref> his publisher Alfred Knopf, wrote Mencken, “showed a certain amount of the obnoxious tactlessness of his race”;<ref>Terry Teachout, The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken (New York: HarperCollins, 2002) ISBN 006050529X, p. 137</ref> George Jean Nathan, his former co-editor at The American Mercury, he wrote, had “a typically Jewish inferiority complex.”<ref>Terry Teachout, The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken (New York: HarperCollins, 2002) ISBN 006050529X, p. 88</ref> Nathan commented, “I guess it would be right to say that [Mencken] never wholly liked Jews. He respected them, he was amused by them, he was even afraid of them, but he didn't like them. Maybe he even disliked them. I suppose that's anti-Semitism.”<ref>Charles Angoff, “George Jean Nathan: A Candid Portrait,” The Atlantic Monthly, December 1962</ref>

Further Material

Mencken was a rabidly anti-Christian newspaper critic and journalist who savaged evangelicals, William Jennings Bryan and, more privately, blacks and Jews.

Mencken was obsessed with social status. He broke off a relationship to his lover, Marion Bloom, because she had not been wealthy or sophisticated enough, as well as his disdain towards her conversion to Christianity Science.

Twenty-five years after Mencken's death, the publication of his diary revealed him to be a complete bigot towards almost anyone other than his own German ethnicity, including his remark that “There is no other Jew in Baltimore who seems suitable” to belong to a private club in Baltimore, after its only Jewish member passed away. Of blacks Mencken said in 1943, “it is impossible to talk anything resembling discretion or judgment to a colored woman.”<ref>The Diary of H. L. Mencken, published by Alfred A. Knopf.</ref> But during his life, Mencken was lionized by his fellow liberal journalists as the “Sage of Baltimore,” and to this day evolutionists are grateful to him for how he ridiculed (and misrepresented) the facts that transpired at the Scopes Trial.

Mencken had contempt for religion and faith, such as:<ref></ref>

:Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking.

: Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.

H.L. Mencken had this to say about moral victories: “In human history a moral victory is always a disaster, for it debauches and degrades both the victor and the vanquished.”<ref></ref>

H.L.Mencken's extraordinarily bigoted obituary of Bryan, the three-time Democratic presidential nominee and Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson, concluded with the following:<ref></ref>

:Bryan, at his best, was simply a magnificent job-seeker. The issues that he bawled about usually meant nothing to him. He was ready to abandon them whenever he could make votes by doing so, and to take up new ones at a moment's notice. For years he evaded Prohibition as dangerous; then he embraced it as profitable. At the Democratic National Convention last year he was on both sides, and distrusted by both. In his last great battle there was only a baleful and ridiculous malignancy. If he was pathetic, he was also disgusting.

:Bryan was a vulgar and common man, a cad undiluted. He was ignorant, bigoted, self-seeking, blatant and dishonest. His career brought him into contact with the first men of his time; he preferred the company of rustic ignoramuses. It was hard to believe, watching him at Dayton, that he had traveled, that he had been received in civilized societies, that he had been a high officer of state. He seemed only a poor clod like those around him, deluded by a childish theology, full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things. He was a peasant come home to the dung-pile. Imagine a gentleman, and you have imagined everything that he was not.

:The job before democracy is to get rid of such canaille. If it fails, they will devour it.


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Snippet from Wikipedia: H. L. Mencken

Henry Louis Mencken (September 12, 1880 – January 29, 1956) was an American journalist, essayist, satirist, cultural critic and scholar of American English. He commented widely on the social scene, literature, music, prominent politicians and contemporary movements. His satirical reporting on the Scopes Trial, which he dubbed the "Monkey Trial," also gained him attention.

As a scholar, Mencken is known for The American Language, a multi-volume study of how the English language is spoken in the United States. As an admirer of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, he was an outspoken opponent of organized religion, theism, populism, and representative democracy, the latter of which he viewed as systems in which inferior men dominated their superiors. Mencken was a supporter of scientific progress, and was critical of osteopathy and chiropractic. He was also an ardent critic of economics.

Mencken opposed the American entry into both World War I and World War II. Some of the terminology in his private diary entries has been described by some researchers as racist and antisemitic, although this characterisation has been disputed. His attitude to African-Americans reflected the conservative paternalism of his era and "the kind of anti-Semitism that appears in Mencken's private diary may be found elsewhere: for example, in the early letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson." He seemed to show a genuine enthusiasm for militarism, though never in its American form. "War is a good thing," he once wrote, "because it is honest, it admits the central fact of human nature ... A nation too long at peace becomes a sort of gigantic old maid."

His longtime home in the Union Square neighborhood of West Baltimore was turned into a city museum, the H. L. Mencken House. His papers were distributed among various city and university libraries, with the largest collection held in the Mencken Room at the central branch of Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library.

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h.l._mencken.txt · Last modified: 2020/03/12 18:34 (external edit)