These cynical but witty H.L. Mencken quotes will give you an alternative perspective of American politics, philosophy, and events from the early 20th century.
H.L. Mencken was a scholar, journalist, essayist, and commentator on American affairs. He followed the philosophy of German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, and was outspoken against organized religion and representative democracy.
Mencken was also critical of economics and alternative medicines like chiropractic, though he supported scientific progress. His commentary on the political affairs of his time was usually very cynical and satiric, though not without wit.
Mencken earned himself national notoriety as a correspondent for the Baltimore Sun.
Don’t forget to also check out these Friedrich Nietzsche quotes on life and love.
H.L. Mencken quotes criticizing politics
1. “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.” — H.L. Mencken
2. “A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.” — H.L. Mencken
3. “Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.” — H.L. Mencken
4. “Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.” — H.L. Mencken
5. “The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, and intolerable.” — H.L. Mencken
6. “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.” — H.L. Mencken
7. “The kind of man who wants the government to adopt and enforce his ideas is always the kind of man whose ideas are idiotic.” — H.L. Mencken
8. “Whenever you hear a man speak of his love for his country, it is a sign that he expects to be paid for it.” — H.L. Mencken
9. “A politician is an animal which can sit on a fence and yet keep both ears to the ground.” — H.L. Mencken
10. “If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.” — H.L. Mencken
11. “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” — H.L. Mencken
12. “It [the State] has taken on a vast mass of new duties and responsibilities; it has spread out its powers until they penetrate to every act of the citizen, however secret; it has begun to throw around its operations the high dignity and impeccability of a State religion; its agents become a separate and superior caste, with authority to bind and loose, and their thumbs in every pot. But it still remains, as it was in the beginning, the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men.” — H.L. Mencken
13. “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.” — H.L. Mencken
14. “In the United States, doing good has come to be, like patriotism, a favorite device of persons with something to sell.” — H.L. Mencken
H.L. Mencken quotes criticizing democracy
15. “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” — H.L. Mencken
16. “Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.” — H.L. Mencken
17. “Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses.” — H.L. Mencken
18. “Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.” — H.L. Mencken
19. “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.” — H.L. Mencken
20. “As democracy is perfected, the office of President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. 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.” — H.L. Mencken
H.L. Mencken quotes commentating on humanity
21. “The basic fact about human existence is not that it is a tragedy, but that it is a bore. It is not so much a war as an endless standing in line. The objection to it is not that it is predominantly painful, but that it is lacking in sense.” — H.L. Mencken
22. “The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.” — H.L. Mencken
23. “The trouble with Communism is the Communists, just as the trouble with Christianity is the Christians.” — H.L. Mencken
24. “The fact is that the average man’s love of liberty is nine-tenths imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice, and truth. He is not actually happy when free; he is uncomfortable, a bit alarmed, and intolerably lonely.” — H.L. Mencken
25. “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.” — H.L. Mencken
26. “It is the dull man who is always sure, and the sure man who is always dull.” — H.L. Mencken
27. “The great artists of the world are never Puritans, and seldom even ordinarily respectable. No virtuous man — that is, virtuous in the Y.M.C.A. sense — has ever painted a picture worth looking at, or written a symphony worth hearing, or a book worth reading.” — H.L. Mencken
28. “The most costly of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind.” — H.L. Mencken
29. “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.” — H.L. Mencken
30. “If women believed in their husbands they would be a good deal happier and also a good deal more foolish.” — H.L. Mencken
31. “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” — H.L. Mencken
32. “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.” — H.L. Mencken
33. “To sum up: 1. The cosmos is a gigantic fly-wheel making 10,000 revolutions a minute. 2. Man is a sick fly taking a dizzy ride on it. 3. Religion is the theory that the wheel was designed and set spinning to give him the ride.” — H.L. Mencken
34. “In the duel of sex, woman fights from a dreadnought and man from an open raft.” — H.L. Mencken
35. “An idealist is one who, on noticing that roses smell better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.” — H.L. Mencken
36. “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.” — H.L. Mencken
More H.L. Mencken quotes on being an American
37. “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 and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogies, and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else.” — H.L. Mencken
38. “It was morality that burned the books of the ancient sages, and morality that halted the free inquiry of the Golden Age and substituted for it the credulous imbecility of the Age of Faith. It was a fixed moral code and a fixed theology which robbed the human race of a thousand years by wasting them upon alchemy, heretic-burning, witchcraft and sacerdotalism.” — H.L. Mencken
39. “I am suspicious of all the things that the average people believe.” — H.L. Mencken
40. “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” — H.L. Mencken
41. “Love is like war: easy to begin but very hard to stop.” — H.L. Mencken
42. “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.” — H.L. Mencken
43. “No article of faith is proof against the disintegrating effects of increasing information; one might almost describe the acquirement of knowledge as a process of disillusion.” — H.L. Mencken
44. “Puritanism. The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” — H.L. Mencken
45. “Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.” — H.L. Mencken
46. “I believe in only one thing: liberty; but I do not believe in liberty enough to want to force it upon anyone.” — H.L. Mencken
47. “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.” — H.L. Mencken
48. “Morality is doing what is right, no matter what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told, no matter what is right.” — H.L. Mencken
49. “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.” — H.L. Mencken
50. “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.” — H.L. Mencken
What did you learn from these H.L. Mencken quotes?
H.L. Mencken is considered one of the most influential journalists of the 20th century. Because of the controversial stance that his writing took, his essays and correspondences offered a unique perspective that went against the opinions of the majority of the population.
Mencken’s satirical approach offered humorous criticism no matter what current event was taking place. His writings on prohibition offered the same dry humor as his writings on the Great Depression.
Mencken is also known for publishing The American Language, a book that looked at idioms and expressions that were unique to American English as opposed to European English. At the time of his death in 1956, Mencken was the leading authority on the language of the American people.
Did you enjoy these H.L. Mencken quotes and sayings? Which quote was your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.
April 26, 2021 7:00 AM EST