Wednesday, 12 November 2014

H.L. Mencken

Over the years I don’t think I’ve ever come across a Mencken book so by the grace and favour of Internet Archive I downloaded Prejudices for a more extensive read than the snippets I’ve encountered. Generally they were rambunctious claymore swings at perennial follies with more exuberance and better writing than most journalism though that bar may be more suitable for limbo dancing. I feel that he’s not as good an essayist as he is claimed to be. There’s a uniformity of tone and volume that is wearing. Tirade fatigue sets in and one begins to notice that beyond the abstractions of ‘big government’ and any religion whatever, his sneers at ‘lintheads’ and ‘southern crackers’ manifest elitist contempt. He was a eugenicist and racial theorist when that was commonplace. He failed to look closely at those dismal examples of progressive thought and missed an opportunity to turn his scorn on them and perhaps make them less fashionable. To be clear, he wasn’t wrong about everything, just the important things.

The great problem ahead of the United States is that of reducing the high differential birthrate of the inferior orders, for example, the hillbillies of Appalachia, the gimme farmers of the Middle West, the lintheads of the South, and the Negroes. The prevailing political mountebanks have sought to put down a discussion of this as immoral: their aim has been to prosper and increase the unfit as much as possible, always at the expense of the fit. But this can’t go on forever, else we’ll have frank ochlocracy in America, and the progress of civilization will be halted altogether.
—Minority Report: H. L. Mencken’s Notebooks

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