Mencken commented literature, politics, music and pseudo-experts. He was skeptical of populism, organized religion, economic theories, and very critical of creationism, Christian fundamentalism, and anti-intellectualism. Mencken’s books are still very popular. He is best known for his multi-volume study “The American Language”.
H.L. Mencken Quotes
Love is like war; easy to begin but very hard to stop.
Government is actually the worst failure of civilized man. There has never been a really good one, and even those that are most tolerable are arbitrary, cruel, grasping, and unintelligent.
Any man who inflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood.
Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration – courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and above all, love of the truth.
Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.
Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in their readiness to doubt.
The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.
People constantly speak of ‘the government’ doing this or that, as they might speak of God doing it. But the government is really nothing but a group of men, and usually they are very inferior men.
Alone among the animals, man has the capacity to invent imaginary worlds, and is always making himself unhappy by trying to move into them.
All government, of course, is against liberty.
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.
A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.
Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking.
The objection to Puritans is not that they try to make us think as they do, but that they try to make us do as they think.
As democracy is perfected, the office 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.
I believe that any man who takes the liberty of another into his keeping is bound to become a tyrant, and that any man who yields up his liberty, in however slight the measure, is bound to become a slave.
Good government is that which delivers the citizen from the risk of being done out of his life and property too arbitrarily and violently.
I can’t imagine a genuinely intelligent boy getting much out of college, even out of a good college, save it be a cynical habit of mind.
There is only one justification for having sinned, and that is to be glad of it.
Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.
Judge: a law student who marks his own papers.
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.
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.
The average man doesn’t want to be free. He wants to be safe.
If a politician can hold his job by lying, he will hold it by lying; if lying peters out, he will try to hold it by embracing new truths.
Do not overestimate the decency of the human race.
I have little belief in human progress. The human race is incurably idiotic. It will never be happy.
There is something even more valuable to civilization than wisdom, and that is character.
What is the professor’s function? To pass on to numskulls a body of so-called knowledge that is fragmentary, unimportant, and largely untrue.
It doesn’t take a majority to make a rebellion; it takes only a few determined leaders and a sound cause.
Men in the mass never brook the destructive discussion of their fundamental beliefs, and that impatience is naturally most evident in those societies in which men in the mass are most influential. Democracy and free speech are not facets of one gem; democracy and free speech are eternal enemies.
The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.
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.
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.
Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
All government, in its essence, is a conspiracy against the superior man: its one permanent object is to oppress him and cripple him.
Unquestionably, there is progress. The average American now pays out twice as much in taxes as he formerly got in wages.
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.