Monday, August 3, 2009

Minority Report (8) HL Mencken

Minority Report: HL Mencken’s Notebooks (8). 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 New Deal not only cost the American tax payer billions and greatly depleted the accumulated resources of the country, it also burdened future generations with a charge that will grow larger and larger as year chases year.” p. 159.

“There is a great need of a history of political corruption in America.” p. 160.

“The essence of science is that it is always wiling to abandon a given idea, however fundamental it may seem to be, for a better one.” p. 166.

“The English know how to make the best of things…so-called muddling through is simply skill at dealing with the inevitable.” p. 167.

“The only liberty an inferior man really cherishes is the liberty to quit work, stretch out in the sun, and scratch himself.” p. 168.

“The only way a government can provide for jobs for all citizens is by deciding what every man shall do.” p. 168.

“Is a young man bound to serve his country in war? What is called his country is only the government, and that government consists merely of professional politicians…who never sacrifice themselves for their country…and make all wars, but very few of them ever die in one.” p. 173.

“The thing that makes philosophers respected is not actually their profundity, but simply their obscurity.” p. 178.

“Yesterday the danger that a soldier ran in the field was the danger of a duelist with a sword in hand; today it is much more like the danger of a hog in a slaughter-house.” p. 179.

“Life on this earth is not only without rational significance, but also apparently unintentional.” p. 182.

To be continued.

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