Mencken: Quotes

You will have to forgive me for posting long quotes from Mencken. I think most of you would agree with him in the quotes below.

The whole life of the inferior man, including especially his so called thinking, is purely a biochemical process, and exactly comparable to what goes on in a barrel of cider, yet he knows no more about its chemistry than a cow and no more about biology than its calf.

He is more ignorant of elementary anatomy and physiology than the Egyptian quacks of 4000BC. His knowledge of astronomy is confined to a few marvels, most of which he secretly doubts. He has never so much as heard of ethnology, pathology or embryology. Greek, to him, is only a jargon spoken by bootblacks, and Wagner is a retired baseball player. He has never heard of Euripides, of Hippocrates, of Aristotle, or of Plato. Or of Vesalius, Newton and Roger Bacon, The fine arts are complete blanks to him, He doesn’t know what a Doric column is, or an etching, or a fugue. He is as ignorant of sonnets and the Gothic style as he is of ecclesiastical politics in Abyssinia. Homer, Virgil, Cervantes, Bach, Raphael, Rubens, Beethoven – all such colossal names are empty sounds to him, blowing idly down the wind. So far as he is concerned these great and noble men might as well have perished in the cradle. The stupendous beauties that they conjured into being are nothing to him: he sticks to the tabloids and the movies, with Hot Dog or its like for Sunday afternoon, A politician by instinct and a statesman by divine right, he has never heard of ‘The Republic* or ‘Leviathan/ A Feinschmecker of pornography, he is unaware of Freud.

In the same book, writing on Christianity he says

Do I forget his central virtue – at least in Christendom? Do I forget his simple piety, his touching fidelity to the faith? I forget nothing: I simply answer, What faith? Is it argued by any rational man that the debased Christianity cherished by the mob in all the Christian countries of to-day has any colourable likeness to the body of ideas preached by Christ? If so, then let us have a better teaching of the Bible in the schools. The plain fact is that this bogus Christianity has no more relation to the system of Christ than it has to the system of Aristotle. It is the invention of Paul and his attendant rabble-rousers – a body of men exactly comparable to the corps of evangelical pastors of to-day, which is to say, a body devoid of sense and lamentably indifferent to common honesty. The mob, having heard Christ, turned against Him, and applauded His crucifixion. His theological ideas were too logical and too plausible for it, and his ethical ideas were enormously too austere. What it yearned for was the old comfortable balderdash under a new and gaudy name, and that is precisely what Paul offered it. He borrowed from all the wandering dervishes and soul-snatchers of Asia Minor, and flavoured the stew with remnants of the Greek demonology. The result was a code of doctrines so discordant and so nonsensical that no two men since, examining it at length, have ever agreed upon its precise meaning. But Paul knew his mob: he had been a travelling labour leader. He knew that nonsense was its natural provender – that the unintelligible soothed it like sweet music. He was the Stammvater of all the Christian mobmasters of to-day, terrorizing and enchanting the mob with their insane damnations, eating their seven fried chickens a week, passing the diligent plate, busy among the women.

Men vs the man

In his last letter to La Monte, on the question of Socialism against Individualism, he writes

I am not a religious man, but I cannot think upon my own good fortune in life without a feeling that my thanks should go forth, somewhere and to someone. Wealth and eminence and power are beyond my poor strength and skill but on the side of sheer chance I am favoured beyond all computation. My day’s work is not an affliction but a pleasure; my labour selling in the open market, brings me the comforts that I desire; I am assured against all but a remote danger of starvation in my old age. Outside my window, in the street, a man labours in the rain with pick and shovel, and his reward is merely a roof for to-night and tomorrow’s three meals. Contemplating the difference between his luck and mine, I cannot fail to wonder at the eternal meaninglessness of life. I wonder thus and pity his lot, and then, after a while, perhaps, I begin to reflect that in many ways he is probably luckier than I.

But I wouldn’t change places with him.

The series of letters between La Monte and Mencken are quite interesting and both sides are persuasive. For a brief moment, La Monte almost persuaded me to socialism, but I think at the end, I have to agree with Mencken that socialism attempts to fight the laws of nature.

The charge of racism on Mencken, I think is justified. His view of the Aframerican, the Russian peasant and Jew doesn’t leave any doubts as to his low opinion of them.

In general, it is a good read.