On The Sublime Pleasures Of Cynicism

With the Congressional Democrats caving in to George Bush's monarchial machinations, one can draw solace from the past...

Henry L. Mencken was one of the most prolific writers of the early 20th Century. The test of a great writer is how well his or her scribblings stand up over time. Shakespeare, of course, comes to mind here. But for those disposed to a more curmudgeonly and cynical attitude about modern times, Mencken could have been writing most of this yesterday. Laugh, chuckle, guffaw or give a knowing wink. Here's some of Mencken's more memorable turns-of-phrase:

On Democracy: “Democracy is the pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.”
On the Department of Justice: "[The Department of Justice] has been engaged in sharp practices since the earliest days and remains a fecund source of oppression and corruption today. It is hard to recall an administration in which it was not the center of grave scandal."

On Morons (1): "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."

On Morons (2): "The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre - the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. 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." http://www.snopes.com/politics/quotes/mencken.asp

On Elections: "Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods."

On Activism: "Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist that black flag, and begin slitting throats."

On Delusion: "The most costly of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind."

On Liars and Truth: "The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth."
Good And Hard: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it... good and hard."

On Democracy: "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."

On Democracy: "I have spoken hitherto of the possibility that democracy may be a self-limiting disease, like measles. It is, perhaps, something more: it is self-devouring. One cannot observe it objectively without being impressed by its curious distrust of itself—its apparently ineradicable tendency to abandon its whole philosophy at the first sign of strain. I need not point to what happens invariably in democratic states when the national safety is menaced. All the great tribunes of democracy, on such occasions, convert themselves, by a process as simple as taking a deep breath, into despots of an almost fabulous ferocity."

On Government: "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."

On Honesty: "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."

On Radicalism: "The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair."

On Religion: "For centuries, theologians have been explaining the unknowable in terms of the-not-worth-knowing."

On State Terror: "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace in a continual state of alarm (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing them with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

On Dissent: "The great masses of men, though theoretically free, are seen to submit supinely to oppression and exploitation of a hundred abhorrent sorts. Have they no means of resistance? Obviously they have. The worst tyrant, even under democratic plutocracy, has but one throat to slit. The moment the majority decided to overthrow him he would be overthrown. But the majority lacks the resolution; it cannot imagine taking the risks."

On Voting: "There's really no point to voting. If it made any difference, it would probably be illegal."

On Democracy: "I have spoken hitherto of the possibility that democracy may be a self-limiting disease, like measles. It is, perhaps, something more: it is self-devouring. One cannot observe it objectively without being impressed by its curious distrust of itself—its apparently ineradicable tendency to abandon its whole philosophy at the first sign of strain. I need not point to what happens invariably in democratic states when the national safety is menaced. All the great tribunes of democracy, on such occasions, convert themselves, by a process as simple as taking a deep breath, into despots of an almost fabulous ferocity."

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