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A nice late present for Christmas

If you have friends with a fondness for great, acerbic wit and writing, then get them this collection by H.L. Mencken, the “Sage of Baltimore”. Here is a good article in the Times (of London) about a nicely bound double volume of his writings.

I’d love to have seen him get to work on Obama, iDave, and for that matter, Silvio Berlusconi.

3 comments to A nice late present for Christmas

  • Paul Marks

    Mr B. has his faults (many of them) – but his victory has sent the establishment left into a rage of despair.

    And I love that – I take a Germanic delight in the mental anguish of the enemy.

    A politician may have terrible faults – but then much worse politicians come along and the people who drove them from office may have pause to reconsider.

    After all the S. of B. made his name mocking Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge.

    And then spent the rest of his life profoundly wishing that they (or someone with a similar view of goverment) was back in charge again.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    One interesting thing is that Mencken’s America is so recognizably ‘America’ even today, almost a century later. Continuity of foible is a sign of stability, after a fashion.

  • Paul Marks

    PersonFroPorlock – whether you mean it to be so or not, what you say is hopeful.

    It is the standard Glenn Beck (and other) view – that, deep down, the American people have NOT been corrupted by the modern entitlement state. That the American people with their silly belief in God (rather than the state) and in tradition (rather than academic doctrines) still exist (perhaps this hope is absurd – but there we go).

    Actually Mencken did not like this America much – to him it was the British strain in Americans, even more absurd because it Britain itself it had already (mostly) died out.

    Mencken would rather the Americans had been more like Imperial Germany – rejecting “primitive” notions of religion in favour of modern theology (“religion” with a God shaped hole in it). He even disliked some athiest Americans – because they believed in such reactionary ideas of as free will (being a well read man Mencken was a philosphical determinist) and rejected the “order” that Imperial Germany offered, in favor of an absurd “freedom” that Mencken claimed (sometimes correctly claimed) was just a cover for corruption and sillyness.

    He particularly disliked the “Puritan” spirit – if only Americans would be less up tight and learn to enjoy (without guilt) sexual and other sensual freedoms, then they would be less obsessed with the idea that man could be self governing – without the guidence of the state in the economic realm (and so on). The time of the homestead was over – the time of the city had come, and (according to the great sage) the city needed a strong an active government. Not a mixture of corruption and anarchy.

    Of course when the strong and active govenrment came (under first Hoover and then F.D.R.) Mencken did not like it. I doubt he would have liked Imperial Germany either (from which F.D.R. got his ideas – both via his teachers and lecturers, and from his own years living there as a boy). And Mencken certainly would NOT have liked Nazi Germany – although he did make an ass of himself by claiming (in the 1930’s) that the bad events there were exaggerated by silly Puritan types unwilling to adjust to the modern world.

    However, I know of no evidence that Mencken ever repented of his support for such things as doctor licensing (oppsed by so many in his youth – but upeld by him as the state creating high standards in place of anarchy) and so on. Or his mocking of “Rednecks” with their “Bible in one hand and rifle in the other” – what he called the “English” element in America (a mixture of hypocritical puritanism in social matters – with a reactionary view of independence in everything else). Actually it was as much Scots-Irish as “English” – but his general point was valid.

    The belief in (inspite of moral failure after moral failure) free will – and of the effort to live under a higher law than the state (a “Puritan” view – actually it was among many non Puritans as well, such as Hooker back in the 16th century) a view that Mecken held infected even American athiests.

    I repeat when H.L.M. finally lived to see a “modern”, “scientific” state, he hated it. But if he ever wrote “I am sorry I mocked all those Babbitts [for the quite men with their charitable activities and so on – were just as much despised “English” as the wild Rednecks were] they had a point” I do not remember reading it.

    H.L.M. in the 1920’s backed all the Progressive writers and artists and so on – with their attacks on reactionary notions like free will, independence, mutual aid and charity. And then was horrified by what the Progressives tried to build to replace “Babbitt” (that the hopeless small town man has the same name as one of the few writers of the time who defended the old virtues – what Kipling called, without mockery, the “Gods of the Copybook Headings”, is no accident).

    I repeat I think that H.LM. would have been horrified by Nazi Germany (and so on) also. But when the time for resisting such tyranny came it was (as Orwell put in the English case) it was “Colonel Blimp and the old school tie” that stepped forward (it was still, in the main, a rather different tradition than the one Cameron and co are from in the moder world) and it the old reactionaries alone in 1939 – the Progressives (whether Fascist or Maxist) were not interested in 1939.

    Even F.D.R. (and even after 1941) did not appeal to the new dreams – he appealed to the old principles, God and freedom. Of the notion of a higher law than that of the state (and so on).

    Whether he believed in a word of it himself I doubt – but he knew that the Rednecks from the rural areas and the Babbitts from the urban areas (see the “Middletown” sociolgical studies of them – both business owners and EMPLOYEES had hopelessly “reactionary” basic beliefs even in the midst of the New Deal) believed it all – believed it with all their hearts (no matter they sometimes failed to live it in their lives – they picked themselves from their moral failure and tried again – even if they were athiests, i.e. had no belief in God or life after death, they believed the same “reactionary” moral and political doctrines).

    The Rednecks and the Babbitts – the loud men and the quiet men, at heart they believed in the same things. And it was their blood that drove back the forces of Nazi Germany, Facist Italy, and Imperial Japan (also a Progressive power – the idea that it was throw back to Feudal Japan is just wrong). And it was their blood that held the line against Communism (another Progressive doctrine) in Korea – and faught so many battles around the world.

    And the “clever” people who mocked such ideas as free will, personal responsiblity and self government. They were no bloody use at all.