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H L Mencken:
selected quotations

New translation, the Magna Carta


Henry Louis Mencken, 1880 – 1956
Mencken is often cynical and shallow, but sometimes amusing or interesting.

  • No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.

  • Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

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

  • The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, intolerable.

  • The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamourous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

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

  • An idealist is one who, on noticing that roses smell better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.

  • 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.

  • It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics or chemistry.
    (Comment on the Vatican’s approval of ‘the rhythm method’ of contraception, which widely became known as ‘Vatican roulette’.)

  • Communism, like any other revealed religion, is largely made up of prophecies.

  • Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.

  • A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.

  • For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

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

  • I go on working for the same reason that a hen goes on laying eggs.

  • If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.

  • Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who would want to live in an institution?

  • If women believed in their husbands they would be a good deal happier and also a good deal more foolish.

  • Temptation is a woman’s weapon and man’s excuse.

  • It is even harder for the average ape to believe that he has descended from man.

  • But the right to freedom obviously includes the right to be foolish. If what I say must be passed over for its sagacity by censors, however wise and prudent, then I have no free speech. And if what I may believe - about gall-stones, the Constitution or God - is conditioned by law, then I am not a free man.
    from Christian Science, 1927

  • [The aim of public education is not] to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. ... Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim ... 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... and that is its aim everywhere else. The American Mercury, April 1924

Thanx to Joe Hutcheon for bringing this writer to my closer attention.


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