H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) was an American journalist,essayist, magazine editor, satirist, critic of American life and culture, and scholar of American English. Known as the “Sage of Baltimore“, he is regarded as one of the most influential American writers and prose stylists of the first half of the twentieth century.
Mencken is eminently quotable and you will find a number of his quotes on this blog. I like everything about his creed except his naive libertarianism regarding government. He seems unaware that the social contract demands the sacrifice of some liberty for the social order. Unfortunately, like so many young intellectuals, he was a secret anarchist who thought the laws of civil society applied only to others. So I vehemently disagree with his claim “that all government is evil.” I am surprised that such a smart man could hold such a senseless belief. Still I strongly concur with the rest of his creed. Here it is.
I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind—that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.
I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.
I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty…
I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.
I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech…
I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.
I believe in the reality of progress.
I – But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.
2 thoughts on “Mencken’s Creed”
Mencken was right and you, I’m sorry to tell you, are wrong. Government is evil. Not merely for the reason Mencken offers — that Government, when push comes to shove, is a guy with a badge and a gun giving orders, and in a free society we should have as little of that as we can manage — but also because everything that Government does is paid for by an act of extortion (the tax collector confiscating a chunk of your income at gunpoint).
This is not to say that Government is unnecessary, or that we’d be better off if we were to rid ourselves of it completely, but simply that the things that Government does — even the necessary and wholesome things — are an abridgement of someone’s liberty paid for by the sacrifice of someone’s property.
It’s painful to post such libertarian nonsense–especially the idea that the membership dues one pays to live in a civil society is a form of theft. However I will say this, quoting a friend, “Of all the political movements out there, the Libertarians have the coolest rhetoric. No matter what the issue is, they get to talk about Freedom vs. Tyranny and quote all that rousing stuff the Founders said about King George.”
Now I’m too old and have taught for too long to think I can change anyone’s mind about anything they’re psychologically committed to, but the best short reply to this kind of thinking is titled: “Why I Am Not A Libertarian” and it can be found at: