H. L. Mencken

(Henry Louis Mencken)

H. L. Mencken
H. L. Mencken
  • Born: September 12, 1880
  • Died: January 29, 1956
  • Nationality: American
  • Profession: Journalist, Satirist, Critic









Quote Topics Cited
... a charlatan, a mountebank, a zany without sense or dignity. Compliments, Insults & Rebukes
... the gustiest and gloriest, loudest and lustiest, the deadliest and damndest orator ever heard on this or any other earth ..., the champion boob-bumper of all epoches. Compliments, Insults & Rebukes
.In politics a man must learn to rise above principle. Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising
[Calvin Coolidge] ... is at bottom simply a cheap and trashy fellow, deficient in sense and almost devoid of any notion of honor—in brief, a dreadful little cad. Compliments, Insults & Rebukes
[Characterizing William Jennings Bryan:] ... a tinpot Pope in the Coca-Cola belt. Compliments, Insults & Rebukes
[William Jennings Bryan was] a poor clod, a peasant come home to the barnyard, motivated solely by the ambition of a common man to get his hand upon the collar of his superiors, or, failing that, to get his thumb into their eyes. Compliments, Insults & Rebukes
… he writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean-soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm (I was about to write abscess!) of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash. Compliments, Insults & Rebukes
A Galileo could no more be elected president of the United States than he could be elected Pope of Rome. Both high posts are reserved for men favored by God with an extraordinary genius for swathing the bitter facts of life in bandages of self-illusion. Presidency, Vice Presidency & Prime Ministership
A national campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism [the convention] and a couple of hangings thrown in. It is better, even, than war. Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising
A society made up of individuals who were all capable of original thought would probably be unendurable. The pressure of ideas would simply drive it frantic. Copyrights, Patents & Intellectual Property
A somewhat greasy bald-headed man with his mouth open.... What animated him from end to end of his grotesque career was simply ambition—the ambition of a common man to get his hand upon the collar of his superiors, or, failing that, to get his thumb into their eyes. Compliments, Insults & Rebukes
Adultery is democracy applied to love. Democracies & Republics
After meditation and prayer ... I conclude with melancholy that God lays upon me the revolting duty of voting for the numbskull, [Warren] Gamaliel [Harding], on the first Tuesday in November. Compliments, Insults & Rebukes
All government, in its essence, is a conspiracy against the superior man. Miscellaneous
All successful newspapers are ceaselessly querulous and bellicose. They never defend anyone or anything if they can help it; if the job is forced upon them, they tackle it by denouncing someone or something else.. Media, Journalism & The Press
An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup. Compliments, Insults & Rebukes
As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. Presidency, Vice Presidency & Prime Ministership
Booboisie Compliments, Insults & Rebukes
Clergymen are the ticket scalpers outside the gates of heaven. Religion has been a curse to mankind. Compliments, Insults & Rebukes
Conscience is the inner voice that warns us that someone may be looking. Morality, Ethics & Conflict of Interest
Democracy is ... a form of religion; it is the worship of jackals by jackasses. Democracies & Republics
Democracy is that system of government under which the people, having 35,717,342 native-born whites to choose from, including thousands who are handsome and many who are wise, pick out a Coolidge to be head of the State. Compliments, Insults & Rebukes
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard. Democracies & Republics
Equality before the law is probably forever unattainable. It is a noble ideal, but it can never be realized Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising
Every censorship, however good its intent, degenerates inevitably into tyranny. Freedom & Liberty
Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods. Voters, Voting & Elections
Government is actually the worst failure of civilized man. There has never been a really good one, and even those that are most tolerable are arbitrary, cruel, grasping and unintelligent. Compliments, Insults & Rebukes
He leads a new crusade, his bald head glistening... One somehow pities him, despite his so palpable imbecilities... But let no one, laughing at him, underestimate the magic that lies in his black, malignant eye, his frayed but still eloquent voice. He can shake and inflame these poor ignoramuses as no other man among us... Oratory, Discussion & Debate
Here, indeed, was his one really notable talent. He slept more than any other President, whether by day or by night ... Nero fiddled, but Coolidge only snored ... He had no ideas, and he was not a nuisance. Presidency, Vice Presidency & Prime Ministership
His career will greatly engage historians, if any good ones ever appear in America, but it will be of even more interest to psychologists. Presidency, Vice Presidency & Prime Ministership
Honor is simply the morality of superior men. Miscellaneous
Human progress is furthered, not by conformity, but by aberration. Development & Growth
I am my own party. Political Parties & Machines
If experience teaches us anything it teaches us this: that a good politician, under democracy, is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar. Compliments, Insults & Rebukes
If he [Franklin Delano Roosevelt] became convinced tomorrow that coming out for cannibalism would get him the votes he so sorely needs, he would begin fattening a missionary on the White House backyard come Wednesday. Voters, Voting & Elections
In the combat between the emerging Negroes of the South and the ruling white trash, I sympathize greatly with the Negro. Minorities & Women
It doesn't take a majority to make a rebellion; it takes only a few determined leaders and a good cause. Rebellion, Revolution, Insurgency & Resistance
It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics and chemistry. Privacy, Abortion & Family Planning
It is the business of the journalist … to stand in permanent Opposition. Media, Journalism & The Press
Nero fiddled while Rome burned, but [Calvin] Coolidge only snores. Compliments, Insults & Rebukes
Never argue with a man whose job depends on his not being convinced. Negotiating & Negotiations
No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people. Miscellaneous
Nothing is so abject and pathetic as a politician who has lost his job, save only a retired stud-horse. Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising
One always thinks of him [Theodore Roosevelt] as a glorified bouncer engaged eternally in cleaning out bar-rooms—and not too proud to gouge when the inspiration came to him or to bite in the clinches. Compliments, Insults & Rebukes
One horselaugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. Oratory, Discussion & Debate
One of the things that makes a Negro unpleasant to white folk is the fact that he suffers from their injustice. He is thus a standing rebuke to them. Discrimination & Prejudice
Our system of checks and balances .... The people keep the politicians from stealing too much, and the politicians keep the people from getting too crazy. Management & Managing Government
People who write letters to the editor are idiots. Compliments, Insults & Rebukes
Plutocracy [government by the wealthy] lacks all the essential characters of a true democracy: a clean tradition, culture, public spirit, honesty, honor, courage—above all, courage. Democracies & Republics
Political conventions are as fascinating as a circus or a hanging. Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising
Politics consists wholly of a succession of unintelligent crazes, many of them so idiotic that they exist only as battle-cries and shibboleths and are not reducible to logical statement at all. Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising
Poverty is a soft pedal upon all branches of human activity. Poverty
Reform campaigns which periodically rock our large cities,—and our small ones, too,— … are not intellectual wars upon erroneous principles, but emotional wars upon errant men: they always revolve around the pursuit of some definite, concrete, fugitive malefactor, or group of malefactors. That is to say, they belong to popular sport rather than to the science of government. Reform, Change, Transformation & Reformers
Religion deserves no more respect than a pile of garbage Religion & God
Roosevelt, if he had lived, would probably have been unbeatable, despite the inevitable reaction against the war. He was so expert a demagogue that it would have been easy for him to divert the popular discontent to some other object. He could have been beaten only by a demagogue even worse than he was himself. Presidency, Vice Presidency & Prime Ministership
Socialism is simply the degenerate capitalism of bankrupt capitalists. It's one genuine object is to get more money for its professors. Compliments, Insults & Rebukes
The art of leading the vulgar, in itself, does no discredit to its practitioner. Lincoln practiced it unashamed, and so did Webster, Clay, and Henry. What is more, these men practiced it with frank allowance for the naïveté of the people they presumed to lead. Leaders & Leadership
The chief contribution of Protestantism to human thought is its massive proof that God is a bore. Religion & God
The cosmos is a gigantic fly-wheel making 10,000 revolutions a minute. Man is a sick fly taking a dizzy ride on it. Religion is the theory that the wheel was designed and set spinning to give him a ride. Religion & God
The cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy. Democracies & Republics
The difference between a moral man and a man of honor is that the latter regrets a discreditable act, even when it has worked and he has not been caught. Morality, Ethics & Conflict of Interest
The essential objection to democracy is that, with few exceptions, it imposes degrading acts and attitudes upon the men responsible for the welfare and dignity of the state. Democracies & Republics
The function of a newspaper in a democracy is to stand as a sort of chronic opposition to the reigning quacks. Media, Journalism & The Press
The liberation of the human mind has never been furthered by dunderheads; it has been furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt, after all, was safe Miscellaneous
The majority of men prefer delusion to truth. It soothes. It is easy to grasp. Above all, it fits more snugly than the truth into a universe of false appearances—of complex and irrational phenomena, defectively grasped. Human Nature
The military caste did not originate as a party of patriots, but as a party of bandits. Military & Veterans
The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself... Almost inevitably, he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, and intolerable. Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising
The public always tires of its messiahs, and soon or late invariably turns them out, whether they be good, which is uncommon, or bad, which is the rule. Voters, Voting & Elections
The saddest life is that of a political aspirant under democracy. His failure is ignominious and his success is disgraceful. Detriments & Qualifications ;Public Office: Benefits
The truth is that Christian theology, like every other theology, is not only opposed to the scientific spirit; it is also opposed to all other attempts at rational thinking. Religion & God
The urge to save humanity is almost always a false-face for the urge to rule it. Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising
The worst government is the most moral. Morality, Ethics & Conflict of Interest
The worst government is the most moral. One composed of cynics is often very tolerant and human. But when fanatics are on top there is no limit to oppression. Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising ;Management & Managing Government
Time is a great legalizer, even in the field of morals. Morality, Ethics & Conflict of Interest
Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule-- and both commonly succeed, and are right. Political Parties & Machines
Unionism seldom, if ever, uses such power it has to insure better work; almost always it devotes a large part of that power to safeguarding bad work. Labor Unions, Labor Relations & Strikes
What is not true, as everyone knows, is always immensely more fascinating and satisfying to the vast majority of men than what is true. Truth has a harshness that alarms them, and an air of finality that collides with their incurable romanticism.. Human Nature
What men value in this world is not rights but privileges. Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising
A bad man is the sort who weeps every time he speaks of a good woman. Time
A church is a place in which gentlemen who have never been to heaven brag about it to persons who will never get there.
A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.
A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.
A judge is a law student who marks his own examination papers.
A man always remembers his first love with special tenderness, but after that he begins to bunch them. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex
A man may be a fool and not know it, but not if he is married.
A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.
A politician is an animal which can sit on a fence and yet keep both ears to the ground.
A professor must have a theory as a dog must have fleas. Education, Learning, Knowledge & Training
A prohibitionist is the sort of man one couldn't care to drink with, even if he drank.
A Sunday school is a prison in which children do penance for the evil conscience of their parents.
Alimony - the ransom that the happy pay to the devil.
All government, of course, is against liberty. Government
All men are frauds. The only difference between them is that some admit it. I myself deny it.
Archbishop - A Christian ecclesiastic of a rank superior to that attained by Christ.
As the arteries grow hard, the heart grows soft.
Bachelors know more about women than married men; if they didn't they'd be married too. Women ;Families, Children & Parenting
Before a man speaks it is always safe to assume that he is a fool. After he speaks, it is seldom necessary to assume it.
Communism, like any other revealed religion, is largely made up of prophecies. Religion & God
Conscience is a mother-in-law whose visit never ends.
Criticism is prejudice made plausible.
Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.
Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of Jackals by Jackasses.
Democracy is only a dream: it should be put in the same category as Arcadia, Santa Claus, and Heaven.
Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage. Leaders & Leadership ;Government ;Science, Mathematics, Engineering & Technology ;Arts, Culture, Entertainment & Lifestyle
Don't overestimate the decency of the human race.
Each party steals so many articles of faith from the other, and the candidates spend so much time making each other's speeches, that by the time election day is past there is nothing much to do save turn the sitting rascals out and let a new gang in. Time ;Religion & God
Every man is his own hell.
Every man sees in his relatives, and especially in his cousins, a series of grotesque caricatures of himself. Relationships
Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.
Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable. Religion & God
For centuries, theologians have been explaining the unknowable in terms of the-not-worth-knowing.
For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.
For it is mutual trust, even more than mutual interest that holds human associations together. Our friends seldom profit us but they make us feel safe. Marriage is a scheme to accomplish exactly that same end. Trust ;Families, Children & Parenting
Giving every man a vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good.
God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. Religion & God
Have you ever watched a crab on the shore crawling backward in search of the Atlantic Ocean, and missing? That's the way the mind of man operates.
Historian: an unsuccessful novelist. History
Husbands never become good; they merely become proficient.
I believe in only one thing: liberty; but I do not believe in liberty enough to want to force it upon anyone.
I believe that all government is evil, and that trying to improve it is largely a waste of time. Time ;Government
I believe that it is better to tell the truth than a lie. I believe it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe it is better to know than to be ignorant. Truth
I confess I enjoy democracy immensely. It is incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing.
I go on working for the same reason that a hen goes on laying eggs.
I hate all sports as rabidly as a person who likes sports hates common sense. Sports & Athletics
I never lecture, not because I am shy or a bad speaker, but simply because I detest the sort of people who go to lectures and don't want to meet them.
I never smoked a cigarette until I was nine.
I write in order to attain that feeling of tension relieved and function achieved which a cow enjoys on giving milk.
If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.
If women believed in their husbands they would be a good deal happier and also a good deal more foolish. Women ;Trust
If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.
Immorality: the morality of those who are having a better time. Time
In the duel of sex woman fights from a dreadnought and man from an open raft.
In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican. Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising
In war the heroes always outnumber the soldiers ten to one. War & Peace
Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what stings is justice.
It doesn't take a majority to make a rebellion; it takes only a few determined leaders and a sound cause.
It is even harder for the average ape to believe that he has descended from man. Humor
It is hard for the ape to believe he descended from man.
It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place. Truth
It is impossible to imagine Goethe or Beethoven being good at billiards or golf.
It is impossible to imagine the universe run by a wise, just and omnipotent God, but it is quite easy to imagine it run by a board of gods. Religion & God
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.
It is not materialism that is the chief curse of the world, as pastors teach, but idealism. Men get into trouble by taking their visions and hallucinations too seriously.
It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics or chemistry.
Judge: a law student who marks his own examination-papers.
Legend: A lie that has attained the dignity of age. History
Let's not burn the universities yet. After all, the damage they do might be worse.
Life is a constant oscillation between the sharp horns of dilemmas. Life
Life is a dead-end street. Life
Love is an emotion that is based on an opinion of women that is impossible for those who have had any experience with them. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex ;Women
Love is like war: easy to begin but very hard to stop. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex ;War & Peace
Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex
Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex
Man is a beautiful machine that works very badly.
Man is always looking for someone to boast to; woman is always looking for a shoulder to put her head on.
Man weeps to think that he will die so soon; woman, that she was born so long ago.
Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who would want to live in an institution? Humor ;Families, Children & Parenting
Men have a much better time of it than women. For one thing, they marry later; for another thing, they die earlier. Time ;Women ;Families, Children & Parenting
Morality is the theory that every human act must be either right or wrong, and that 99 % of them are wrong.
Most people are unable to write because they are unable to think, and they are unable to think because they congenitally lack the equipment to do so, just as they congenitally lack the equipment to fly over the moon.
Most people want security in this world, not liberty.
Nevertheless, it is even harder for the average ape to believe that he has descended from man.
Nine times out of ten, in the arts as in life, there is actually no truth to be discovered; there is only error to be exposed. Truth ;Life
No man ever quite believes in any other man. One may believe in an idea absolutely, but not in a man.
No married man is genuinely happy if he has to drink worse whisky than he used to drink when he was single.
No matter how happily a woman may be married, it always pleases her to discover that there is a nice man who wishes that she were not.
No matter how long he lives, no man ever becomes as wise as the average woman of forty-eight.
No one in this world, so far as I know - and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me - has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Money, Coins & Minting
Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public. Humor
On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
One may no more live in the world without picking up the moral prejudices of the world than one will be able to go to hell without perspiring.
One of the most mawkish of human delusions is the notion that friendship should be eternal, or, at all events, life-long, and that any act which puts a term to it is somehow discreditable. Friendship
Opera in English is, in the main, just about as sensible as baseball in Italian.
Platitude: an idea (a) that is admitted to be true by everyone, and (b) that is not true.
Poetry has done enough when it charms, but prose must also convince. Literature, Writers & Writing
Puritanism. The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
Say what you will about the ten commandments, you must always come back to the pleasant fact that there are only ten of them.
Self-respect: the secure feeling that no one, as yet, is suspicious.
Strike an average between what a woman thinks of her husband a month before she marries him and what she thinks of him a year afterward, and you will have the truth about him. Truth
Temptation is a woman's weapon and man's excuse.
Temptation is an irresistible force at work on a movable body. Work, Workers & The Labor Force
The capacity of human beings to bore one another seems to be vastly greater than that of any other animal.
The chief value of money lies in the fact that one lives in a world in which it is overestimated. Money, Coins & Minting
The cynics are right nine times out of ten.
The most costly of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind.
The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out... without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, intolerable. Government
The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.
The one permanent emotion of the inferior man is fear - fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable. What he wants above everything else is safety.
The only cure for contempt is counter-contempt.
The only really happy folk are married women and single men. Women
The opera is to music what a bawdy house is to a cathedral. Music, Chants & Rapps
The penalty for laughing in a courtroom is six months in jail; if it were not for this penalty, the jury would never hear the evidence.
The theory seems to be that as long as a man is a failure he is one of God's children, but that as soon as he succeeds he is taken over by the Devil. Religion & God ;Failure
The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising
The worst government is often the most moral. One composed of cynics is often very tolerant and humane. But when fanatics are on top there is no limit to oppression. Government
Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing.
There are men so philosophical that they can see humor in their own toothaches. But there has never lived a man so philosophical that he could see the toothache in his own humor. Humor
There is a saying in Baltimore that crabs may be prepared in fifty ways and that all of them are good.
There is always an easy solution to every problem - neat, plausible, and wrong.
Time stays, we go. Time
To be in love is merely to be in a state of perceptual anesthesia - to mistake an ordinary young woman for a goddess. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex
To die for an idea; it is unquestionably noble. But how much nobler it would be if men died for ideas that were true!
Unquestionably, there is progress. The average American now pays out twice as much in taxes as he formerly got in wages.
War will never cease until babies begin to come into the world with larger cerebrums and smaller adrenal glands. War & Peace
We are here and it is now. Further than that, all human knowledge is moonshine. Education, Learning, Knowledge & Training
We must be willing to pay a price for freedom. Freedom & Liberty
We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart. Respect ;Religion & God
Wealth - any income that is at least one hundred dollars more a year than the income of one's wife's sister's husband.
When a new source of taxation is found it never means, in practice, that the old source is abandoned. It merely means that the politicians have two ways of milking the taxpayer where they had one before.
When women kiss it always reminds one of prize fighters shaking hands. Women
Whenever a husband and wife begin to discuss their marriage they are giving evidence at a coroner's inquest. Families, Children & Parenting
Whenever you hear a man speak of his love for his country, it is a sign that he expects to be paid for it. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex
Women always excel men in that sort of wisdom which comes from experience. To be a woman is in itself a terrible experience. Women
Women have simple tastes. They get pleasure out of the conversation of children in arms and men in love. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex ;Women

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