H. L. Mencken, an enigmatic figure of the 20th century, was a razor-sharp writer known for his acerbic wit and unflinching criticism of societal norms. As a prominent cultural commentator and journalist, Mencken's eloquent prose dissected the fabric of American society, revealing its contradictions and hypocrisies. With a penchant for iconoclasm, he challenged the status quo through his scathing essays, fervently championing free speech, individualism, and intellectual honesty. Mencken's influence extended beyond his writing, as he played a vital role in shaping the "American Mercury" magazine, a platform for innovative ideas and maverick voices. His legacy, however, remains a double-edged sword—lauded for his linguistic flair and incisive insights, yet criticized for occasionally veering into cynicism. Mencken's enduring impact lies in his ability to rouse readers from complacency, urging them to question authority and embrace the power of the written word to scrutinize and reshape the world.
H. L. Mencken Quotes
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.
The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.
Love is like war: easy to begin but very hard to stop.
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.
Morality is doing what is right, no matter what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told, no matter what is right.
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.
The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office.
Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.
Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.
The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.
The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.
When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental - men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost... All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre.
Puritanism. The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
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.
Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of Jackals by Jackasses.
People do not expect to find chastity in a whorehouse. Why, then, do they expect to find honesty and humanity in government, a congeries of institutions whose modus operandi consists of lying, cheating, stealing, and if need be, murdering those who resist?
The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.
Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.
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.
Most people want security in this world, not liberty.
Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.
For every problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.
Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.
A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.
If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.
An idealist is one who, on noticing that roses smell better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.
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.
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.
The State doesn't just want you to obey, it wants to make you WANT to obey.
Socialist: A man suffering from an overwhelming conviction to believe what is not true.
The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.
It is the classic fallacy of our time that a moron run through a university and decorated with a Ph.D. will thereby cease to be a moron.
No professional politician is ever actually in favor of public economy. It is his implacable enemy, and he knows it. All professional politicians are dedicated wholeheartedly to waste and corruption. They are the enemies of every decent man.
Laws are no longer made by a rational process of public discussion; they are made by a process of blackmail and intimidation, and they are executed in the same manner
On one issue, at least, men and women agree. They both distrust women.
A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.
It is even harder for the average ape to believe that he has descended from man.
A judge is a law student who marks his own examination papers.
Misogynist: A man who hates women as much as women hate one another.
The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself.
Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant.
The best teacher is not the one who knows most but the one who is most capable of reducing knowledge to that simple compound of the obvious and wonderful.
School days, I believe, are the unhappiest in the whole span of human existence. They are full of dull, unintelligible tasks, new and unpleasant ordinances, brutal violations of common sense and common decency. It doesn't take a reasonably bright boy long to discover that most of what is rammed into him is nonsense, and that no one really cares very much whether he learns it or not.
The state remains, as it was in the beginning, the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men.
The average man never really thinks from end to end of his life. The mental activity of such people is only a mouthing of cliches. What they mistake for thought is simply a repetition of what they have heard. My guess is that well over 80 percent of the human race goes through life without having a single original thought.
A professional politician is a professionally dishonorable man. In order to get anywhere near high office he has to make so many compromises and submit to so many humiliations that he becomes indistinguishable from a streetwalker.
You can't do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth.
The plain fact is that education is itself a form of propaganda - a deliberate scheme to outfit the pupil, not with the capacity to weigh ideas, but with a simple appetite for gulping ideas ready-made. The aim is to make 'good' citizens, which is to say, docile and uninquisitive citizens.
The Jews could be put down very plausibly as the most unpleasant race ever heard of. As commonly encountered they lack any of the qualities that mark the civilized man: courage, dignity, incorruptibility, ease, confidence. They have vanity without pride, voluptuousness without taste, and learning without wisdom. Their fortitude, such as it is, is wasted upon puerile objects, and their charity is mainly a form of display.
Equality before the law is probably forever unattainable. It is a noble ideal, but it can never be realized, for what men value in this world is not rights but privileges.
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.
Liberty is of small value to the lower third of humanity. They greatly prefer security, which means protection by some class above them. They are always in favor of despots who promise to feed them. The only liberty an inferior man really cherishes is the liberty to quit work, stretch out in the sun, and scratch himself.
The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
The ideal Government of all reflective men, from Aristotle onward, is one which lets the individual alone - one which barely escapes being no government at all.
All government is, in its essence, organized exploitation, and in virtually all of its existing forms it is the implacable enemy of every industrious and well-disposed man.
the average man does not want to be free. he simply wants to be safe.
Sometimes the idiots outvote the sensible people.
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.
The fact is that liberty, in any true sense, is a concept that lies quite beyond the reach of the inferior man's mind. And no wonder, for genuine liberty demands of its votaries a quality he lacks completely, and that is courage. The man who loves it must be willing to fight for it; blood, said Jefferson, is its natural manure. Liberty means self-reliance, it means resolution, it means the capacity for doing without the average man doesn't want to be free. He wants to be safe.
Freedom of press is limited to those who own one.
There's really no point to voting. If it made any difference, it would probably be illegal.
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.
I believe that all government is evil, and that trying to improve it is largely a waste of time.
When somebody says it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.
Bachelors know more about women than married men; if they didn't they'd be married too.
Civilization, in fact, grows more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; 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, most of them imaginary. Wars are no longer waged by the will of superior men, capable of judging dispassionately and intelligently the causes behind them and the effects flowing out of them. The are now begun by first throwing a mob into a panic; they are ended only when it has spent its ferine fury.
Government is actually the worst failure of civilized man.
The common argument that crime is caused by poverty is a kind of slander on the poor.
The kind of man who demands that government enforce his ideas is always the kind whose ideas are idiotic.
The older I get the more I admire and crave competence, just simple competence, in any field from adultery to zoology.
A Progressive is one who is in favor of more taxes instead of less, more bureaus and jobholders, more paternalism and meddling, more regulation of private affairs and less liberty. In general, he would be inclined to regard the repeal of any tax as outrageous.
Evangelical Christianity, as everyone knows, is founded upon hate, as the Christianity of Christ was founded upon love.
It doesn't take a majority to make a rebellion; it takes only a few determined leaders and a sound cause.
Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong.
Kant was probably the worst writer ever heard of on earth before Karl Marx. Some of his ideas were really quite simple, but he always managed to make them seem unintelligible. I hope he is in Hell.
The chief difference between free capitalism and State socialism seems to be this: that under the former a man pursues his own advantage openly, frankly and honestly, whereas under the latter he does so hypocritically and under false pretenses.
A church is a place in which gentlemen who have never been to Heaven brag about it to persons who will never get there.
My belief in free speech is so profound that I am seldom tempted to deny it to the other fellow. Nor do I make any effort to differentiate between the other fellow right and that other fellow wrong, for I am convinced that free speech is worth nothing unless it includes a full franchise to be foolish and even...malicious.
Well, I tell you, if I have been wrong in my agnosticism, when I die I'll walk up to God in a manly way and say, Sir, I made an honest mistake.
A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.
Mankind has failed miserably in its effort to devise a rational system of government. [...] The art of government is the exclusive possession of quacks and frauds. It has been so since the earliest days, and it will probably remain so until the end of time.
What men value in this world is not rights but privileges.
The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of truth - that error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it has been cured of one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one.
The whole drift of our law is toward the absolute prohibition of all ideas that diverge in the slightest form from the accepted platitudes, and behind that drift of law there is a far more potent force of growing custom, and under that custom there is a natural philosophy which erects conformity into the noblest of virtues and the free functioning of personality into a capital crime against society.
The great masses of men, though theoretically free, are seen to submit supinely to oppression and exploitation of a hundred abhorrent sorts. Have they no means of resistance? Obviously they have. The worst tyrant, even under democratic plutocracy, has but one throat to slit. The moment the majority decided to overthrow him he would be overthrown. But the majority lacks the resolution; it cannot imagine taking the risks.
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.
And what is a good citizen? Simply one who never says, does or thinks anything that is unusual. Schools are maintained in order to bring this uniformity up to the highest possible point. A school is a hopper into which children are heaved while they are still young and tender; therein they are pressed into certain standard shapes and covered from head to heels with official rubber-stamps.
Journalism is to politician as dog is to lamp-post.
The art of politics, under democracy, is simply the art of ringing it. Two branches reveal themselves. There is the art of the demagogue, and there is the art of what may be called, by a shot-gun marriage of Latin and Greek, the demaslave. They are complementary, and both of them are degrading to their practitioners. The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots. The demaslave is one who listens to what these idiots have to say and then pretends that he believes it himself.
A man may be a fool and not know it, but not if he is married.
There are two impossibilities in life: "just one drink" and "an honest politician."
It is the natural tendency of the ignorant to believe what is not true. In order to overcome that tendency it is not sufficient to exhibit the true; it is also necessary to expose and denounce the false.
Communism, like any other revealed religion, is largely made up of prophecies.
Sunday is a day given over by Americans to wishing that the themselves were dead and in Heaven, and that their neighbors were dead and in Hell.
The American people, North and South, went into the [Civil] war as citizens of their respective states, they came out as subjects ... what they thus lost they have never got back.
The central belief of every moron is that he is the victim of a mysterious conspiracy against his common rights and true deserts.
The only good bureaucrat is one with a pistol at his head. Put it in his hand and it's good-bye to the Bill of Rights.
When fanatics are on top there is no limit to oppression.
There is no idea so stupid that you can't find a professor who will believe it.
Once a woman passes a certain point in intelligence she finds it almost impossible to get a husband: she simply cannot go on listening without snickering.
The final test of truth is ridicule. Very few dogmas have ever faced it and survived.
The ideal way to get rid of any infectious disease would be to shoot instantly every person who comes down with it.
The main thing that every political campaign in the United States demonstrates is that the politicians of all parties, despite their superficial enmities, are really members of one great brotherhood. Their principal, and indeed their sole, object is to collar public office, with all the privileges and profits that go therewith. They achieve this collaring by buying votes with other people's money.
Even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights: the right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities, provided only that he does not try to inflict them upon others by force; he has the right to argue for them as eloquently as he can. But he has no right to be protected from the criticism of those who do not hold them. He has no right to demand that they be treated as sacred. He has no right to preach them without challenge.
A fool who, after plain warning, persists in dosing himself with dangerous drugs should be free to do so, for his death is a benefit to the race in general.
After all is said and done, a hell lot of a lot more is said than done.
The average man does not get pleasure out of an idea because he thinks it is true; he thinks it is true because he gets pleasure out of it.
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.
Probably the worst thing that has happened in America in my time is the decay of confidence in the courts. No one can be sure any more that in a given case they will uphold the plainest mandate of the Constitution. On the contrary, everyone begins to be more or less convinced in advance that they won't. Judges are chosen not because they know the Constitution and are in favor of it, but precisely because they appear to be against it.
There is no record in the history of a nation that ever gained anything valuable by being unable to defend itself.
Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.
Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in their readiness to doubt.
"The more noisy Negro leaders, by depicting all whites as natural and implacable enemies to their race, have done it a great disservice. Large numbers of whites who were formerly very friendly to it, and willing to go to great lengths to help it, are now resentful and suspicious."
Women decide the larger questions of life correctly and quickly, not because they are lucky guessers, not because they are divinely inspired, not because they practice a magic inherited from savagery, but simply and solely because they have sense. They see at a glance what most men could not see with searchlights and telescopes.... They are the supreme realists of the race.
The most popular man under a democracy is not the most democratic man, but the most despotic man. The common folk delight in the exactions of such a man. They like him to boss them. Their natural gait is the goose step.
The time must come inevitably when mankind shall surmount the imbecility of religion, as it has surmounted the imbecility of religion's ally, magic. It is impossible to imagine this world being really civilized so long as so much nonsense survives. In even its highest forms religion embraces concepts that run counter to all common sense. It can be defended only by making assumptions and adopting rules of logic that are never heard of in any other field of human thinking.
The only cure for contempt is counter-contempt.
Whenever "A" attempts by law to impose his moral standards upon "B," "A" is most likely a scoundrel.
Free speech is too dangerous to a democracy to be permitted
Change is not progress.
It is common to assume that human progress affects everyone - that even the dullest man, in these bright days, knows more than any man of, say, the Eighteenth Century, and is far more civilized. This assumption is quite erroneous. . . . The great masses of men, even in this inspired republic, are precisely where the mob was at the dawn of history. They are ignorant, they are dishonest, they are cowardly, they are ignoble. They know little if anything that is worth knowing, and there is not the slightest sign of a natural desire among them to increase their knowledge.
Liberty is not for these slaves; I do not advocate inflicting it against their conscience. On the contrary, I am strongly in favor of letting them crawl and grovel all they please before whatever fraud or combination of frauds they choose to venerate...Our whole practical government is grounded in mob psychology and the Boobus Americanus will follow any command that promises to make him safer.
The only really happy folk are married women and single men.
I believe that any man who takes the liberty of another into his keeping is bound to become a tyrant, and that any man who yields up his liberty, in however slight the measure, is bound to become a slave.
The cynics are right nine times out of ten.
All government, in its essence, is a conspiracy against the superior man: its one permanent object is to oppress him and cripple him.
Unsuccessful candidates for the Presidency should be quietly hanged as a matter of public sanitation and decorum.
Love is an emotion that is based on an opinion of women that is impossible for those who have had any experience with them.
Liberals have many tails and chase them all.
The longest sentence you can form with two words is: I do.
Justice is what you get when you run out of money.
God is a Republican, and Santa Claus is a Democrat.
There's no underestimating the intelligence of the American public.
No matter how long he lives, no man ever becomes as wise as the average woman of forty-eight.
The essence of science is that it is always willing to abandon a given idea, however fundamental it may seem to be, for a better one; the essence of theology is that it holds its truths to be eternal and immutable. To be sure, theology is always yielding a little to the progress of knowledge, and only a Holy Roller in the mountains of Tennessee would dare to preach today what the popes preached in the Thirteenth Century, but this yielding is always done grudgingly, and thus lingers a good while behind the event.
The great secret of happiness in love is to be glad that the other fellow married her.
Elections are futures markets in stolen property.
Never argue with a man whose job depends on not being convinced.
The average man's love of liberty is nine-tenths imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice and truth... It takes a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty - and he is usually an outlaw in democratic societies.
All government, of course, is against liberty.
The intelligent, like the unintelligent, are responsive to propaganda.
People say we need religion when what they really mean is we need police.
― H. L. Mencken Quotes
Tal Gur is an author, founder, and impact-driven entrepreneur at heart. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey and most recent book, The Art of Fully Living, has led him to found Elevate Society.