Chuckling at American Politics: The ‘Sage of Baltimore’

H. L. Mencken died in 1956. Regular readers of the modest offerings distributed from this digital soapbox know my affection for this stirring, prescient Sage whose social commentary fastballs have lost none of their zip when thrown once more across the polarized and intellectually paralyzed American body politic. The acerbic, combative Mencken, whose peerless coverage of every national American political convention between 1920 and 1948 is eclipsed only by his elevation of Clarence Darrow to secular saint in the 1925 Scopes ‘Monkey Trial’, stands apart. Like Oscar Wilde in his first encounter with the US Border authorities while on a North American speaking tour, Mencken had nothing to declare except his brilliance.

I can hear H L laughing his ass off

I share only some of Mencken’s personal philosophy; my own Oxford Movement, 100% made-in-Canada meritocratic sensibilities Mencken would likely dismiss as the unfortunate result of over thinking one’s case. He was an avowed libertarian and atheist, the two intellectual pistons that gave his work such remarkable finesse and industrial grade grit, often in the same paragraph. From his bully pulpit at the Baltimore Sun, Mencken raged against the poseurs and the proud. I offer you five trenchant Mencken quotations that retain their contemporary appeal – the thought of this worldly, wiseass wolf loose among the modern-day ‘Tea Party’ chickens is a thought too delicious to contemplate. Long live the King!

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.

I believe that all government is evil, and that trying to improve it is largely a waste of time.

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.

…And for the latter-day Republican loons, as distinguished from the principled (even if misguided) real American conservatives?

I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.