November 25, 2010

Another Reason to Give Thanks

H.L. Mencken, writing in 1926:
I have alluded somewhat vaguely to the merits of democracy. One of them is quite obvious: it is, perhaps, the most charming form of government ever devised by man. The reason is not far to seek. It is based upon propositions that are palpably not true and 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. They turn, in all the great emergencies of life, to the ancient promises, transparently false but immensely comforting, and of all those ancient promises there is none more comforting than the one to the effect that the lowly shall inherit the earth. It is at the bottom of the dominant religious system of the modern world, and it is at the bottom of the dominant political system. The latter, which is democracy, gives it an even higher credit and authority than the former, which is Christianity. More, democracy gives it a certain appearance of objective and demonstrable truth. The mob man, functioning as citizen, gets a feeling that he is really important to the world - that he is genuinely running things. Out of his maudlin herding after rogues and mountebanks there comes to him a sense of vast and mysterious power—which is what makes archbishops, police sergeants, the grand goblins of the Ku Klux and other such magnificoes happy. And out of it there comes, too, a conviction that he is somehow wise, that his views are taken seriously by his betters - which is what makes United States Senators, fortune tellers and Young Intellectuals happy. Finally, there comes out of it a glowing consciousness of a high duty triumphantly done which is what makes hangmen and husbands happy.
There's more. (Via Strike the Root, which at the moment features a brief, eloquent quote from Thomas Jefferson in the upper lefthand corner.)

I especially note these two sentences from later in Mencken's piece:
I need not point to what happens invariably in democratic states when the national safety is menaced. All the great tribunes of democracy, on such occasions, convert themselves, by a process as simple as taking a deep breath, into despots of an almost fabulous ferocity.
An exceedingly wise and far-seeing man, that H.L. He names Lincoln, Roosevelt (that would be the ghastly Theodore), and Wilson as examples of this principle. I've written extensively about Wilson's profoundly repellent record; see "Blinded by the Story: Liberals and Progressives as Political Creationists," "Unwelcome History -- Religion, the Progressives, Empire and the Drug War," and from the ancient era of 2004, "Bush and the Legions of the Damned" (see the second half of that essay, which details only some of Wilson's loathsome record).

So why do I say that Mencken's unremittingly harsh, biting -- and accurate -- observations about democracy are a cause for gratitude?

You don't live in one.

And to think some readers criticize me for never looking on the bright side! How frightfully unfair.