Monday, April 2, 2012


By H.L. Mencken (1926)

(exerpts below chosen by J. Craig Green)

Section 1 (Democratic Man), Chapter 1 (His Appearance in this World)

Democracy came into the Western World to the tune of sweet, soft music. There was, at the start, no harsh bawling from below; there was only a dulcet twittering from above.

Democratic man thus began as an ideal being, full of ineffable virtues and romantic wrongs – in brief, as Rousseau’s noble savage in smock and jerkin, brought out of the tropical wilds to shame the lords and masters of the civilized lands. The fact continues to have important consequences to this day. It remains impossible, as it was in the Eighteenth Century, to separate the democratic idea from the theory that there is a
mystical merit, an esoteric and ineradicable rectitude, in the man at the bottom of the scale – that inferiority, by some magic, by some strange magic, becomes a superiority – nay the superiority of superiorities. Everywhere on earth… the movement is toward a more completer and more enamoured enfranchisement of the lower orders.

Down there, one hears, lies a deep, illimitable reservoir of righteousness and wisdom, unpolluted from the corruption of privilege. What baffles statesmen is to be solved by the people, instantly and by a sort of seraphic intuition. Their yearnings are pure; they alone are capable of a perfect patriotism; in them is the only hope of peace and happiness on this lugubrious ball. The cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy!

This notion, as I hint, originated in the poetic fancy of gentlemen of the upper levels – sentimentalists who, observing to their distress that the ass was over-laden, proposed to reform transport by putting him in the cart…

Early Democratic man seems to have given little thought to the democratic ideal, and less veneration. What he wanted was something concrete and highly materialistic – more to eat, less work, higher wages, less taxes… His aim was not to exterminate the Baron, but simply to bring the baron back to a proper discharge of his baronial business. When, by the wild shooting that naturally accompanies all mob movements, the former end was accidentally accomplished, and men in the mob began to take on baronial airs, the mob itself quickly showed its opinion of them by butchering them deliberately and in earnest… (Mencken discusses the French Revolution,1828 America and Marx here).

…The dictatorship of the proletariat, tried here and there, has turned out to be – if I may venture a prejudicial judgment – somewhat impractical. Even the most advanced Liberals, observing the thing in being, have been moved to cough softly in their hands.

But it would certainly be going beyond the facts to say that the underlying democratic dogma has been abandoned, or even appreciably overhauled… The central aim of all the Christian governments of today, in theory if not in fact, is to further their liberation, to augment their power, to drive ever larger and larger pipes into the reservoir of their natural wisdom. That government is called good which responds most quickly and accurately to their desires and ideas. That is called bad which conditions their omnipotence and puts a question mark on their omniscience.

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