Friday, July 31, 2009

Minority Report (7). HL Mencken

Minority Report: HL Mencken’s Notebooks (7). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1956.

Why read it? One of the most celebrated curmudgeons in American history. Mencken writes in half-truths. He’s half wrong, but he is also half right. His style jolts the reader. He will make you think. The topics are random, from a collection of ideas that had gathered dust over the years but which he had never developed into full-blown essays. Reading these quotes again, I am thinking of the irreverence of the television show, All in the Family. Mencken might be a great Archie Bunker, if Archie Bunker could write.

Sample quotes and ideas:

“The human race, taking one day with another, has very little respect for intelligence; what it really admires is presumption, effrontery, dogmatism.” p. 134.

“There seems to be a deep instinct in women which teaches them that most of the aspirations of men are vain.” p. 139.

“Progress…is almost always attained at the cost of human happiness.” p. 139.

Democracy: “…the heavy stressing of self-reliance, the doctrine of equality before the law, government by laws, not men, the insistence upon free competition.” p. 139.

“It takes a long while for a naturally trustful person to reconcile himself to the idea that after all God will not help him.” p. 141.

“All social organizations have the common end of making the joiner feel important, and, in some way or other, powerful.” p. 143.

“…the American people have been bolstering up its government’s powers and giving it more and more jurisdiction over their affairs…paying for that folly in increased taxes and diminished liberties.” p. 143.

“The idea at the bottom of the Christian Eucharist is precisely the idea at the bottom of cannibalism. The devotee believes that he will acquire something of the psychological quality of the creature by devouring its body.” p. 148.

“The politician is the most transient of the world’s great men. Who knows who was Speaker of the House under Hayes?” p. 149.

“One of the most amusing by-products of war is its pricking of the fundamental democratic delusion…his God-given rights, his inalienable freedom, his sublime equality to his masters…. Of a sudden he is thrust into a training camp, and discovers that he is a slave after all—that even his life is not his own.” p. 150.

To be continued.

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