“The cynics are right nine times out of ten.” – H. L. Mencken, American journalist, essayist, satirist, and scathing critic of American life and culture, who died on 29 January 1956. If you have seen the movie “Idiocracy,” then you know the view of the United States that informs much of Mencken’s work (Mencken coined the term “booboisie”).
Sadly, everything that he set his considerable intelligence and wit against during the first half of the 20th century has returned with a vengeance, if, in fact, it ever left, including anti-intellectualism, Creationism, evangelical Christianity, demented politics, and alternative medicine – the list of folly in our Republic is depressingly long. We badly need a greater number of eloquent skeptics in our midst, and anyone discouraged by the mindless drivel that passes for cultural and political discourse in our nation will find much that is heartening, darkly amusing, and inarguably true in Mencken’s books.
Below – Some quotes from the Great Cynic; was he right nine times out of ten?
“A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in.”
“Adultery is the application of democracy to love.
“A Sunday school is a prison in which children do penance for the evil conscience of their parents.”
“A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.”
“A judge is a law student who marks his own examination papers.”
“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.”
“An idealist is one who, on noticing that roses smell better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.”
“Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.”
“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
“Immorality: the morality of those who are having a better time.”
“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.”
“Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.”
“Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who would want to live in an institution?”
“Most people want security in this world, not liberty.”
“No matter how long he lives, no man ever becomes as wise as the average woman of forty-eight.”
“Puritanism. The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”
“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.”
“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.”
“When women kiss it always reminds one of prize fighters shaking hands.”
“Time stays, we go.”