H. L. Mencken was an staunch individualist and an unbridled libertarian. He was a man full of enormous gusto, sparkling wit, and a keen intellect which spanned many fields of knowledge. He also had a zest for the dramatic events of the everyday world which made him a born journalist.
Mencken never wavered from his deep devotion to liberty, but he became increasingly convinced that the bulk of his fellow men were broken and beyond repair. Undaunted by a lack of peers, he railed joyously against the vapid, brutish, idiocy as things disintegrated around him. He always sailed joyously into the fray, slashing and cutting happily into the formidable bunk and folly he saw all around him, and gleefully puncturing the balloons of fear and pomposity.
His every article vigorously cleansed the stables of one’s mind of all the sanctimony, hypocrisy, absurdity, and common cliché. His calling in life, as he once put it, was one of “heaving the dead cat into the temple” to “show the stupefied worshipers of the inane that he would not be struck dead on the spot.”
His writing and his in-your-face Gonzo Libertarianism grew to become an enormous liberating force upon the best minds of a whole generation. He always performed his legendary feats purely for his own enjoyment, with “no inner shame or quaking” at going against the judgment of the herd.
Here are a few quotes and comments by the Master Libertarian, Henry Louis Mencken:
A bad man is the sort who weeps every time he speaks of a good woman.
A celebrity is one who is known to many persons he is glad he doesn’t know.
A church is a place in which gentlemen who have never been to heaven brag about it to persons who will never get there.
A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.
A good citizen is one who never says, does, or thinks anything that is unusual. Schools are maintained in order to bring uniformity up to the highest possible point. School is a hopper into which children are heaved while they are still young and tender; therein they are pressed into certain standard shapes and covered from head to heels with official rubber-stamps.
A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.
A home is not a mere transient shelter: its essence lies in the personalities of the people who live in it.
A judge is a law student who marks his own examination papers.
A man always remembers his first love with special tenderness, but after that he begins to bunch them.
A man may be a fool and not know it, but not if he is married.
A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in.
A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.
A poet more than thirty years old is simply an overgrown child.
A politician is an animal which can sit on a fence and yet keep both ears to the ground.
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.
A professor must have a theory as a dog must have fleas.
A prohibitionist is the sort of man one couldn’t care to drink with, even if he drank.
A society made up of individuals who were all capable of original thought would probably be unendurable.
A Sunday school is a prison in which children do penance for the evil conscience of their parents.
Adultery is the application of democracy to love.
Alimony – the ransom that the happy pay to the devil.
All government, of course, is against liberty.
All men are frauds. The only difference between them is that some admit it. I myself deny it.
All successful newspapers are ceaselessly querulous and bellicose. They never defend anyone or anything if they can help it; if the job is forced on them, they tackle it by denouncing someone or something else.
All zoos actually offer to the public in return for the taxes spent upon them is a form of idle and witless amusement, compared to which a visit to a penitentiary, or even to a State legislature in session, is informing, stimulating and ennobling.
An idealist is one who, on noticing that roses smell better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
Any man who afflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood.
Archbishop – A Christian ecclesiastic of a rank superior to that attained by Christ.
As the arteries grow hard, the heart grows soft.
As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
Bachelors know more about women than married men; if they didn’t they’d be married too.
Before a man speaks it is always safe to assume that he is a fool. After he speaks, it is seldom necessary to assume it.
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.
Communism, like any other revealed religion, is largely made up of prophecies.
Congress consists of one third scoundrels, two thirds idiots, and three thirds cowards.
Conscience is a mother-in-law whose visit never ends.
Conscience is the inner voice that warns us that someone might be looking.
Creator: a comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh.
Criticism is prejudice made plausible.
Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.
Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of Jackals by Jackasses.
Democracy is only a dream: it should be put in the same category as Arcadia, Santa Claus, and Heaven.
Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.
Democracy is the pathetic belief in the wisdom of collective ignorance.
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.
Democracy: The worship of jackals by jackasses.
Don’t overestimate the decency of the human race.
Each party steals so many articles of faith from the other, and the candidates spend so much time making each other’s speeches, that by the time election day is past there is nothing much to do save turn the sitting rascals out and let a new gang in.
Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.
Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.
Every man is his own hell.
Every man sees in his relatives, and especially in his cousins, a series of grotesque caricatures of himself.
Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.
Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.
For centuries, theologians have been explaining the unknowable in terms of the-not-worth-knowing.
For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.
For it is mutual trust, even more than mutual interest that holds human associations together. Our friends seldom profit us but they make us feel safe. Marriage is a scheme to accomplish exactly that same end.
Giving every man a vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good.
God is the immemorial refuge of the incompetent, thehelpless, the miserable. They find not only sanctuary in His arms, but also a kind of superiority, soothing to their macerated egos; He will set them above their betters.
Government is a broker in pillage.
Happiness is the china shop; love is the bull.
Have you ever watched a crab on the shore crawling backward in search of the Atlantic Ocean, and missing? That’s the way the mind of man operates.
He marries best who puts it off until it is too late.
Historian: an unsuccessful novelist.
Honor is simply the morality of superior men.
Husbands never become good; they merely become proficient.
I believe in only one thing: liberty; but I do not believe in liberty enough to want to force it upon anyone.
I believe that all government is evil, and that trying to improve it is largely a waste of time.
I believe that it is better to tell the truth than a lie. I believe it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe it is better to know than to be ignorant.
I confess I enjoy democracy immensely. It is incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing.
I detest converts almost as much as I do missionaries.
I go on working for the same reason that a hen goes on laying eggs.
I hate all sports as rabidly as a person who likes sports hates common sense.
I never lecture, not because I am shy or a bad speaker, but simply because I detest the sort of people who go to lectures and don’t want to meet them.
I never smoked a cigarette until I was nine.
I write in order to attain that feeling of tension relieved and function achieved which a cow enjoys on giving milk.
If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.
If women believed in their husbands they would be a good deal happier and also a good deal more foolish.
If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.
Immorality: the morality of those who are having a better time.
Immortality is the condition of a dead man who doesn’t believe he is dead.
In the duel of sex woman fights from a dreadnought and man from an open raft.
In the United States, doing good has come to be, like patriotism, a favorite device of persons with something to sell.
In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican.
In war the heroes always outnumber the soldiers ten to one.
Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what sting is justice.
It doesn’t take a majority to make a rebellion; it takes only a few determined leaders and a sound cause.
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.
It is even harder for the average ape to believe that he has descended from man.
It is hard for the ape to believe he descended from man.
It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place.
It is impossible to imagine Goethe or Beethoven being good at billiards or golf.
It is impossible to imagine the universe run by a wise, just and omnipotent God, but it is quite easy to imagine it run by a board of gods.
It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.
It is not materialism that is the chief curse of the world, as pastors teach, but idealism. Men get into trouble by taking their visions and hallucinations too seriously.
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.
It is the dull man who is always sure, and the sure man who is always dull.
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.
Judge: a law student who marks his own examination-papers.
Lawyer: one who protects us against robbery by taking away the temptation.
Legend: A lie that has attained the dignity of age.
Let’s not burn the universities yet. After all, the damage they do might be worse.
Liberals have many tails and chase them all.
Life is a constant oscillation between the sharp horns of dilemmas.
Life is a dead-end street.
Love is an emotion that is based on an opinion of women that is impossible for those who have had any experience with them.
Love is like war: easy to begin but very hard to stop.
Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another.
Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.
Man is a beautiful machine that works very badly.
Man is a natural polygamist: he always has one woman leading him by the nose, and another hanging on to his coattails.
Man is always looking for someone to boast to; woman is always looking for a shoulder to put her head on.
Man is never honestly the fatalist, nor even the stoic. He fights his fate, often desperately. He is forever entering bold exceptions to the rulings of the bench of gods. This fighting, no doubt, makes for human progress, for it favors the strong and the brave. It also makes for beauty, for lesser men try to escape from a hopeless and intolerable world by creating a more lovely one of their own.
Man weeps to think that he will die so soon; woman, that she was born so long ago.
Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who would want to live in an institution?
Men are the only animals that devote themselves, day in and day out, to making one another unhappy. It is an art like any other. Its virtuosi are called altruists.
Men have a much better time of it than women. For one thing, they marry later; for another thing, they die earlier.
Misogynist: A man who hates women as much as women hate one another.
Morality is the theory that every human act must be either right or wrong, and that 99 % of them are wrong.
Most people are unable to write because they are unable to think, and they are unable to think because they congenitally lack the equipment to do so, just as they congenitally lack the equipment to fly over the moon.
Most people want security in this world, not liberty.
Never let your inferiors do you a favor – it will be extremely costly.
Nevertheless, it is even harder for the average ape to believe that he has descended from man.
New York: A third-rate Babylon.
Nine times out of ten, in the arts as in life, there is actually no truth to be discovered; there is only error to be exposed.
No man ever quite believes in any other man. One may believe in an idea absolutely, but not in a man.
No man of genuinely superior intelligence has ever been an actor. Even supposing a young man of appreciable mental powers to be lured upon the stage, as philosophers are occasionally lured into bordellos, his mind would be inevitably and almost immediately destroyed by the gaudy nonsense issuing from his mouth every night.
No married man is genuinely happy if he has to drink worse whisky than he used to drink when he was single.
No matter how happily a woman may be married, it always pleases her to discover that there is a nice man who wishes that she were not.
No matter how long he lives, no man ever becomes as wise as the average woman of forty-eight.
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.
Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.
Of all escape mechanisms, death is the most efficient.
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.
Opera in English is, in the main, just about as sensible as baseball in Italian.
Philosophy consists very largely of one philosopher arguing that all others are jackasses. He usually proves it, and I should add that he also usually proves that he is one himself.
Platitude: an idea (a) that is admitted to be true by everyone, and (b) that is not true.
Poetry has done enough when it charms, but prose must also convince.
Public opinion, in its raw state, gushes out in the immemorial form of the mob’s fear. It is piped into central factories, and there it is flavoured and coloured and put into cans.
Puritanism. The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
Say what you will about the ten commandments, you must always come back to the pleasant fact that there are only ten of them.
School teachers, taking them by and large, are probably the most ignorant and stupid class of men in the whole group of mental workers.
Self-respect: the secure feeling that no one, as yet, is suspicious.
Shakespeare: after all, a man who did nothing more than string together a lot of old, well-known quotations.
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.
Sunday – A day given over by Americans to wishing they were dead and in heaven, and that their neighbors were dead and in hell.
Temptation is a woman’s weapon and man’s excuse.
Temptation is an irresistible force at work on a movable body.
The basic fact about human existence is not that it is a tragedy, but that it is a bore. It is not so much a war as an endless standing in line.
The best years are the forties; after fifty a man begins to deteriorate, but in the forties he is at the maximum of his villainy.
The capacity of human beings to bore one another seems to be vastly greater than that of any other animal.
The chief contribution of Protestantism to human thought is its massive proof that God is a bore.
The chief value of money lies in the fact that one lives in a world in which it is overestimated.
The common argument that crime is caused by poverty is a kind of slander on the poor.
The cosmos is a gigantic flywheel making 10,000 revolutions per minute. Man is a sick fly taking a dizzy ride on this flywheel. Religion is the theory that this flywheel was designed and set spinning to give man the ride.
The cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy!
The cynics are right nine times out of ten.
The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.
The difference between a moral man and a man of honor is that the latter regrets a discreditable act, even when it has worked and he has not been caught.
The first kiss is stolen by the man; the last kiss is begged by the woman.
The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office.
The men the American public admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.
The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind.
The most costly of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind.
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 older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.
The one permanent emotion of the inferior man is fear – fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable. What he wants above everything else is safety.
The only cure for contempt is counter-contempt.
The only good bureaucrat is one with a pistol at his head. Put it in his hand and it’s good-bye to the Bill of Rights.
The only really happy folk are married women and single men.
The opera is to music what a bawdy house is to a cathedral.
The penalty for laughing in a courtroom is six months in jail; if it were not for this penalty, the jury would never hear the evidence.
The theory seems to be that as long as a man is a failure he is one of God’s children, but that as soon as he succeeds he is taken over by the Devil.
The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
The truth, indeed, is something that mankind, for some mysterious reason, instinctively dislikes. Every man who tries to tell it is unpopular, and even when, by the sheer strength of his case, he prevails, he is put down as a scoundrel.
The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of truth – that the error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it is cured of one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one.
The worst government is often the most moral. One composed of cynics is often very tolerant and humane. But when fanatics are on top there is no limit to oppression.
Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing.
There are men so philosophical that they can see humor in their own toothaches. But there has never lived a man so philosophical that he could see the toothache in his own humor.
There is a saying in Baltimore that crabs may be prepared in fifty ways and that all of them are good.
There is always an easy solution to every problem – neat, plausible, and wrong.
Time stays, we go.
To be in love is merely to be in a state of perceptual anesthesia – to mistake an ordinary young woman for a goddess.
To die for an idea; it is unquestionably noble. But how much nobler it would be if men died for ideas that were true!
Truth would quickly cease to be stranger than fiction, once we got as used to it.
Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule – and both commonly succeed, and are right.
Unquestionably, there is progress. The average American now pays out twice as much in taxes as he formerly got in wages.
War will never cease until babies begin to come into the world with larger cerebrums and smaller adrenal glands.
We are here and it is now. Further than that, all human knowledge is moonshine.
We must be willing to pay a price for freedom.
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.
Wealth – any income that is at least one hundred dollars more a year than the income of one’s wife’s sister’s husband.
What men value in this world is not rights but privileges.
When A annoys or injures B on the pretense of saving or improving X, A is a scoundrel.
When a new source of taxation is found it never means, in practice, that the old source is abandoned. It merely means that the politicians have two ways of milking the taxpayer where they had one before.
When women kiss it always reminds one of prize fighters shaking hands.
Whenever a husband and wife begin to discuss their marriage they are giving evidence at a coroner’s inquest.
Whenever you hear a man speak of his love for his country, it is a sign that he expects to be paid for it.
Women always excel men in that sort of wisdom which comes from experience. To be a woman is in itself a terrible experience.
Women have simple tastes. They get pleasure out of the conversation of children in arms and men in love.
All government, in its essence, is a conspiracy against the superior man: its one permanent object is to oppress him and cripple him. If it be aristocratic in organization, then it seeks to protect the man who is superior only in law against the man who is superior in fact; if it be democratic, then it seeks to protect the man who is inferior in every way against both. One of its primary functions is to regiment men by force, to make them as much alike as possible and as dependent upon one another as possible, to search out and combat originality among them. All it can see in an original idea is potential change, and hence an invasion of its prerogatives. The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are.
Do they believe that the aim of teaching English is to increase the exact and beautiful use of the language? Or that it is to inculcate and augment patriotism? Or that it is to diminish sorrow in the home? Or that it has some other end, cultural, economic, or military? … it was their verdict by a solemn referendum that the principal objective in teaching English was to make good spellers, and that after that came the breeding of good capitalizers. … I have maintained for years, sometimes perhaps with undue heat: that pedagogy in the United States is fast descending to the estate of a childish necromancy, and that the worst idiots, even among pedagogues, are the teachers of English. It is positively dreadful to think that the young of the American species are exposed day in and day out to the contamination of such dark minds. What can be expected of education that is carried on in the very sewers of the intellect? How can morons teach anything that is worth knowing?
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 upon liberty and the democratic form is as bad as any of the other forms.
I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.
I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech — alike for the humblest man and the mightiest, and in the utmost freedom of conduct that is consistent with living in organized society.
I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.
I believe in the reality of progress.
I — But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that 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 be ignorant.
I propose that it shall be no longer malum in se for a citizen to pummel, cowhide, kick, gouge, cut, wound, bruise, maim, burn, club, bastinado, flay, or even lynch a government jobholder, and that it shall be malum prohibitum only to the extent that the punishment exceeds the jobholder’s deserts. The amount of this excess, if any, may be determined very conveniently by a petit jury, as other questions of guilt are now determined. The flogged judge, or Congressman, or other jobholder, on being discharged from hospital — or his chief heir, in case he has perished — goes before a grand jury and makes a complaint, and, if a true bill is found, a petit jury is empaneled and all the evidence is put before it. If it decides that the jobholder deserves the punishment inflicted upon him, the citizen who inflicted it is acquitted with honor. If, on the contrary, it decides that this punishment was excessive, then the citizen is adjudged guilty of assault, mayhem, murder, or whatever it is, in a degree apportioned to the difference between what the jobholder deserved and what he got, and punishment for that excess follows in the usual course.
It is often argued that religion is valuable because it makes men good, but even if this were true it would not be a proof that religion is true. That would be an extension of pragmatism beyond endurance. Santa Claus makes children good in precisely the same way, and yet no one would argue seriously that the fact proves his existence. The defense of religion is full of such logical imbecilities.
Laws are no longer made by a rational process of public discussion; they are made by a process of blackmail and intimidation, and they are executed in the same manner. The typical lawmaker of today is a man wholly devoid of principle — a mere counter in a grotesque and knavish game. If the right pressure could be applied to him, he would be cheerfully in favor of polygamy, astrology or cannibalism.
It is the aim of the Bill of Rights, if it has any remaining aim at all, to curb such prehensile gentry. Its function is to set a limitation upon their power to harry and oppress us to their own private profit. The Fathers, in framing it, did not have powerful minorities in mind; what they sought to hobble was simply the majority. But that is a detail. The important thing is that the Bill of Rights sets forth, in the plainest of plain language, the limits beyond which even legislatures may not go. The Supreme Court, in Marbury v. Madison, decided that it was bound to execute that intent, and for a hundred years that doctrine remained the corner-stone of American constitutional law.
Liberty and democracy are eternal enemies, and every one knows it who has ever given any sober reflection to the matter. A democratic state may profess to venerate the name, and even pass laws making it officially sacred, but it simply cannot tolerate the thing. In order to keep any coherence in the governmental process, to prevent the wildest anarchy in thought and act, the government must put limits upon the free play of opinion. In part, it can reach that end by mere propaganda, by the bald force of its authority — that is, by making certain doctrines officially infamous. But in part it must resort to force, i.e., to law. One of the main purposes of laws in a democratic society is to put burdens upon intelligence and reduce it to impotence. Ostensibly, their aim is to penalize anti-social acts; actually their aim is to penalize heretical opinions. At least ninety-five Americans out of every 100 believe that this process is honest and even laudable; it is practically impossible to convince them that there is anything evil in it. In other words, they cannot grasp the concept of liberty. Always they condition it with the doctrine that the state, i.e., the majority, has a sort of right of eminent domain in acts, and even in ideas — that it is perfectly free, whenever it is so disposed, to forbid a man to say what he honestly believes. Whenever his notions show signs of becoming “dangerous,” ie, of being heard and attended to, it exercises that prerogative. And the overwhelming majority of citizens believe in supporting it in the outrage. Including especially the Liberals, who pretend — and often quite honestly believe — that they are hot for liberty. They never really are. Deep down in their hearts they know, as good democrats, that liberty would be fatal to democracy — that a government based upon shifting and irrational opinion must keep it within bounds or run a constant risk of disaster. They themselves, as a practical matter, advocate only certain narrow kinds of liberty — liberty, that is, for the persons they happen to favor. The rights of other persons do not seem to interest them. If a law were passed tomorrow taking away the property of a large group of presumably well-to-do persons — say, bondholders of the railroads — without compensation and without even colorable reason, they would not oppose it; they would be in favor of it. The liberty to have and hold property is not one they recognize. They believe only in the liberty to envy, hate and loot the man who has it.
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.
No government, of its own motion, will increase its own weakness, for that would mean to acquiesce in its own destruction … governments, whatever their pretensions otherwise, try to preserve themselves by holding the individual down … Government itself, indeed, may be reasonably defined as a conspiracy against him. Its one permanent aim, whatever its form, is to hobble him sufficiently to maintain itself.
Of all the classes of men, I dislike most those who make their livings by talking — actors, clergymen, politicians, pedagogues, and so on. All of them participate in the shallow false pretenses of the actor who is their archetype. 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 of the groundlings, he makes inevitably the jump from logic to mere rhetoric.
Off goes the head of the king, and tyranny gives way to freedom. The change seems abysmal. Then, bit by bit, the face of freedom hardens, and by and by it is the old face of tyranny. Then another cycle, and another. But under the play of all these opposites there is something fundamental and permanent — the basic delusion that men may be governed and yet be free.
One hears murmurs against Mussolini on the ground that he is a desperado: the real objection to him is that he is a politician. Indeed, he is probably the most perfect specimen of the genus politician on view in the world today. His career has been impeccably classical. Beginning life as a ranting Socialist of the worst type, he abjured Socialism the moment he saw better opportunities for himself on the other side, and ever since then he has devoted himself gaudily to clapping Socialists in jail, filling them with castor oil, sending blacklegs to burn down their houses, and otherwise roughing them. Modern politics has produced no more adept practitioner.
The fact is that the average man’s love of liberty is nine-tenths imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice and truth. He is not actually happy when free; he is uncomfortable, a bit alarmed, and intolerably lonely. Liberty is not a thing for the great masses of men. It is the exclusive possession of a small and disreputable minority, like knowledge, courage and honor. It takes a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty — and he is usually an outlaw in democratic societies.
The pedant and the priest have always been the most expert of logicians — and the most diligent disseminators of nonsense and worse. The liberation of the human mind has never been furthered by such learned dunderheads; it has been furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt, after all, was safe — that the god in the sanctuary was finite in his power, and hence a fraud. One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent.
What are the hallmarks of a competent writer of fiction? The first, it seems to me, is that he should be immensely interested in human beings, and have an eye sharp enough to see into them, and a hand clever enough to draw them as they are. The second is that he should be able to set them in imaginary situations which display the contents of their psyches effectively, and so carry his reader swiftly and pleasantly from point to point of what is called a good story.
When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental — men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost… All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men.