Wednesday, July 06, 2005


I was just assisting a patron from Tennessee who teaches at Morgan State. He saw my reading material and we got to talking--he's researching a book on H.L. Mencken about the wholly unfair drubbing old Henry has taken from the PC crowd (he's been labelled racist and anti-Semitic and generally intolerant). My patron was impassioned about righting this injustice, given that H.L. was a friend of the NAACP and considering that most of his drinking companions and the members of his intellectual circle were German Jews, and I was pleased when he told me Knopf was interested in his book. "I used tuh be the director of the H.L. Mencken House before Baaaawltimawhr closed down the City Life museums," he told me in a long syrupy drawl, and we talked about Mencken and what he'd think of America today, overrun as it is by his least favorite sort of human being: fanatical Christers.

Here's what Mencken thought about Americans [from On Being an American]:

It is, for example, one of my firmest and most sacred beliefs, reached after an inquiry extending over a score of years and supported by incessant prayer and meditation, that the government of the United States, in both its legislative arm and its executive arm, is ignorant, incompetent, corrupt, and disgusting-and from this judgement I except no more than twenty living lawmakers and no more than twenty executioners of their laws. It is a belief no less piously cherished that the administration of justice in the Republic is stupid, dishonest, and against all reason and equity-and from this judgement I except no more than thirty judges, including two upon the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States. It is another that the foreign policy of the United States-its habitual manner of dealing with other nations, whether friend or foe-is hypocritical, disingenuous, knavish, and dishonorable-and from this judgment I consent to no exceptions whatever, either recent or long past. And it is my fourth (and, to avoid too depressing a bill, final) conviction that the American people, taking one with another, constitute the most timorous, sniveling, poltroonish, ignominious mob of serfs and goose-steppers ever gathered under one flag in Christendom since the end of the Middle Ages, and that they grow more timorous, more sniveling, more poltroonish, more ignominious every day.

So why did Henry live here his entire life?

It is my contention that, if this definition be accepted, there is no country on the face of the earth wherein a man roughly constituted as I am-a man of my general weaknesses, vanities, appetites, prejudices, and aversions-can be so happy, or even one-half so happy, as he can be in these free and independent states. Going further, I lay down the proposition that it is a sheer physical impossibility for such a man to live in These States and not be happy-that it is as impossible to him as it would be to a schoolboy to weep over the burning down of his schoolhouse. If he says that he isn't happy here, then he either lies or is insane. Here the business of getting a living, particularly since the war brought the loot of all Europe to the national strong-box, is enormously easier than it is in any other Christian land-so easy, in fact, that an educated and forehanded man who fails at it must actually make deliberate efforts to that end. Here the general average of intelligence, of knowledge, of competence, of integrity, of self-respect, of honor is so low that any man who knows his trade, does not fear ghosts, has read fifty good books, and practices the common decencies stands out as brilliantly as a wart on a bald head, ann is thrown willy-nilly into meager and exclusive aristocracy.

And here, more than anywhere else that I know of or have heard of, the daily panorama of human existence, of private and communal folly-the unending procession of governmental extortions and chicaneries, of commercial brigandages, and throat-slittings, of theological buffooneries, of aesthetic ribaldries, of legal swindles and harlotries, of miscellaneous rogueries, villainies, imbecilities, grotesqueries, and extavagences-is so inordinately gross and preposterous, so perfectly brought up to the highest conceivable amperage, so steadily enriched with an almost fabulous daring and originality, that only the man who was born with a petrified diaphragm can fail to laugh himself to sleep every night, and to awake every morning with all the eager, unflagging expectation of a Sunday-school superintendent touring the Paris peep-shows.

[emphases mine] Every time I read this I laugh heartily until the tears roll.