Libertarian Quotes 21: Just Mencken
H.L. Mencken (1880–1956) is one of the most amusing writers in American history but also a wry observer often ahead of his times. Novice readers often conclude he said the very opposite of what he said because for Mencken, no subject was so serious as to to not be explained a bit satirically, always with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. He ridiculed everyone—including himself—at one point of or another, even people whose rights he diligently defended, and frequently resorted to intentional exaggeration.
That style of writing is difficult to understand when read by modern dogmatic eyes. His satire or insults are taken as serious and thus the ideological readers concludes Mencken took a position entirely contrary to his actual one. Sadly, one of the first things an ideologue loses is their ability to laugh. But, the one person who would not be shocked by that, was Mencken himself. This publication of Libertarian Quotes is entirely made up of material by the the great author himself.
- The believing mind is externally impervious to evidence. The most that can be accomplished with it is to induce it to substitute one delusion for another. It rejects all overt evidence as wicked…
- The worst government is 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.
- Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on “I am not too sure.”
- The legislature, like the executive, has ceased to be even the creature of the people: it is the creature of pressure groups, and most of them, it must be manifest, are of dubious wisdom and even more dubious honesty. 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.
- Even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities as long as he pleases, provided only he does not try to inflict them upon other men by force. He has a right to argue for them as eloquently as he can, in season and out of season. He has a right to teach them to his children. But certainly he has no right to be protected against the free criticism of those who do not hold them. He has no right to demand that they be treated as sacred. He has no right to preach them without challenge.
- 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 a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty — and he is usually an outlaw in democratic societies. It is, indeed, only the exceptional man who can even stand it. The average man doesn’t want to be free. He simply wants to be safe.
- There is only one way to help the fugitives, and that is to find places for them in a country in which they can really live. Why shouldn’t the United States take in a couple hundred thousand of them, or even all of them?
- The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.
- “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.”
- Let no one mistake it for comedy, farcical though it may be in all its details. It serves notice on the country that Neanderthal man is organizing in these forlorn backwaters of the land, led by a fanatic, rid of sense and devoid of conscience.
- The essence of science is that it is always willing to abandon a given idea for a better one; the essence of theology is that it holds its truths to be eternal and immutable.
- The only thing I respect is intellectual honesty, of which, of course, intellectual courage is a necessary part. A Socialist who goes to jail for his opinions seems to me a much finer man than the judge who sends him there, though I disagree with all the ideas of the Socialist and agree with some of those of the judge. But though he is fine, the Socialist is nevertheless foolish, for he suffers for what is untrue.
- 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 and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Equality before the law is probably forever unattainable. It is a noble ideal, but it can never be realized, for what men value in this world is not rights but privileges.
- Their vagueness about the exact nature of superiority is not the only thing that corrupts the fine fury of the eugenists. Even more dismaying is their gratuitous assumption that all of the socially useful and laudable qualities (whatever they may be) are the exclusive possession of one class of men, and that the other classes lack them altogether. This is plainly not true.
- 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.
- 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.
- Truth would quickly cease to be stranger than fiction, once we got used to it.
- The final test of truth is ridicule. Very few dogmas have ever faced it and survived.
- My literary theory, like my politics, is based chiefly upon one idea, to wit, the idea of freedom. I am, in belief, a libertarian of the most extreme variety.
- The strange American ardor for passing laws, the insane belief in regulation and punishment, plays into the hands of the reformers, most of them quacks themselves. Their efforts, even when honest, seldom accomplish any appreciable good. The Harrison Act, despite its cruel provisions, has not diminished drug addiction in the slightest. The Mormons, after years of persecution, are still Mormons, and one of them is now a power in the Senate. Socialism in the United States was not laid by the Espionage Act; it was laid by the fact that the socialists, during the war, got their fair share of the loot. Nor was the stately progress of osteopathy and chiropractic halted by the early efforts to put them down. Oppressive laws do not destroy minorities; they simply make bootleggers.
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