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Mencken Connections


Published March 27, 2002 at 4:00 a.m.

Third-rate men, of course, exist in all countries, but it is only here that they are in full control of the state, and with it of all the national standards....It would astound no one but the most romantic if the goddess of liberty were taken off the silver dollars to make room for a bas relief of a policeman in a spiked helmet.

H. L. Mencken (1880-1956)

Oh, dear. What will we do about Henry? That's the above-quoted Mencken "Henry Louis" one of the sharpest thinkers ever popped on an unsuspecting public, the most prominent critic, journalist and commentator of his day and, to boot, an appalling racist and misogynist.

"What, ladies and gentlemen, in hell or out of it, are we to do with the Ethiop?" Mencken wrote in a repellent passage. "Who shall answer the thunderous demands of the emerging coon?" Mencken hated "Negroes" and he hated women, but do we throw out all his thought and all his writing because he was, as we insist for ourselves, "not perfect?"

Mencken: "What I really want to do is to call attention … to the timeworn and doddering delusions of the race, to clear away the corruptions that make government a game for thieves and morals a petty vice for old maids and patriotism the last refuge of scoundrels to think, in brief, as men whose thinking is worthwhile."

Consider: A mother of five children in Texas is forced to breed like a sow at the command of her pastor and her husband who also demanded that she "home school" his spawn. She drowns the brood one by one in a bathtub and is judged to be "sane" and to "know right from wrong." She's the only one who does, apparently, and she'll spend the rest of her life in jail for it.

The husband's been seen on TV ever since it started, and has told Larry King: "She got one shot of Haldol and Ativan and she was up on her feet, taking showers, shaving her legs, getting food, talking. Just as open as I'd ever seen her. And she recovered. And this is a it's a post-partum depression."

Mencken: "The caveman is all muscles and mush. Without a woman to rule him and think for him, he is a truly lamentable spectacle: a baby with whiskers … a feeble and preposterous caricature of God."

Consider: A choir boy or more gets patted on the ass by his priest, even "interfered with," and the trauma allegedly done to him for the rest of his life is enough to try and sentence the whole Catholic Church, at a time when faith is never more needed or desired.

Anyone who's ever been forced to take a shower after gym class with a herd of adolescent boys knows that "innocence" isn't high among their traits. Faith, I take it, is the triumph of ideal over weakness. But no one asks what good our pederast priests might be doing elsewhere, while Jimmy and Tommy are smirking in their cassocks. No one wonders or even guesses about the thought and labor they put in for people who it is now proved, if the Jesus tale hadn't done so already will slay them the moment they fall.

Mencken: "The ideal state for a philosopher is celibacy tempered by polygamy."

No one asks where the parents of these boys were, or why they can't and won't speak an open word to their children about human sexuality. No one blames the Pope, "ailing" for such a long time now, he's about to match Mother Theresa for longevity.

Is that offensive? I hope so. I hope people will scream and shout, but they won't. We live in a "civil society," where nothing is more important than anything else, distinctions are obliterated, sex is blared through every medium and children are taught to be "abstinent" in school.

Mencken: "Youth, though it may lack knowledge, is certainly not devoid of intelligence: It sees through shams with sharp and terrible eyes. When a schoolmaster is an ass, which happens in Christendom more often than not, you may be sure that even the dullest of his pupils is well aware of it. "

Consider: An American president who can't speak English ("Don't misunder- estimate me!"); a "vice"-president building underground bunkers for his ilk; an attorney general who declares dissent to be treason; and a press so craven it wears the flag on its dick.

I remember the days when you could get arrested for abusing the flag. It wasn't meant to be hung from cars, for instance; it was to be burned, with all respect, rather than cheapened in any way. The flags I see tonight from my hotel window filthy, tattered, faded in grimy windows seem to me frankly like so many swastikas. Although I think they'd have made you keep them cleaner in Germany.

Mencken: "If the American people really tire of democracy and want to make a trial of Fascism, I shall be the last person to object. But if that is their mood, then they had better proceed toward their aim by changing the Constitution and not by forgetting it."

Come on, somebody get upset!

Mencken: "Constructive criticism irritates me. I do not object to being denounced, but I can't abide being school-mastered, especially by men I regard as imbeciles."