advertisement 1
advertisement
SEARCH:
Monday, May 29th, 2017                                                 SUBSCRIBE TO OUR RSS FEEDrss feed

Last Words on Democracy

Published by on April 14, 2010

Last Words on Democracy thumbnail

by H.L. Mencken (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.

All these forms of happiness, of course, are illusory. They don’t last. The democrat, leaping into the air to flap his wings and praise God, is for ever coming down with a thump. The seeds of his disaster, as I have shown, lie in his own stupidity: he can never get rid of the naive delusion – so beautifully Christian – that happiness is something to be got by taking it away from the other fellow. But there are seeds, too, in the very nature of things: a promise, after all, is only a promise, even when it is supported by divine revelation, and the chances against its fulfillment may be put into a depressing mathematical formula. Here the irony that lies under all human aspiration shows itself: the quest for happiness, as always, brings only unhappiness in the end. But saying that is merely saying that the true charm of democracy is not for the democrat but for the spectator. That spectator, it seems to me, is favoured with a show of the first cut and calibre. Try to imagine anything more heroically absurd! What grotesque false pretenses! What a parade of obvious imbecilities! What a welter of fraud! But is fraud unamusing? Then I retire forthwith as a psychologist. The fraud of democracy, I contend, is more amusing than any other, more amusing even, and by miles, than the fraud of religion. Go into your praying-chamber and give sober thought to any of the more characteristic democratic inventions: say, Law Enforcement. Or to any of the typical democratic prophets: say, the late Archangel Bryan. If you don’t come out paled and palsied by mirth then you will not laugh on the Last Day itself, when Presbyterians step out of the grave like chicks from the egg, and wings blossom from their scapulae, and they leap into interstellar space with roars of joy.

I have spoken hitherto of the possibility that democracy may be a self-limiting disease, like measles. It is, perhaps, something more: it is self-devouring. One cannot observe it objectively without being impressed by its curious distrust of itself—its apparently ineradicable tendency to abandon its whole philosophy at the first sign of strain. 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. Lincoln, Roosevelt and Wilson come instantly to mind: Jackson and Cleveland are in the background, waiting to be recalled. Nor is this process confined to times of alarm and terror: it is going on day in and day out. Democracy always seems bent upon killing the thing it theoretically loves. I have rehearsed some of its operations against liberty, the very cornerstone of its political metaphysic. It not only wars upon the thing itself; it even wars upon mere academic advocacy of it. I offer the spectacle of Americans jailed for reading the Bill of Rights as perhaps the most gaudily humorous ever witnessed in the modern world. Try to imagine monarchy jailing subjects for maintaining the divine right of Kings! Or Christianity damning a believer for arguing that Jesus Christ was the Son of God! This last, perhaps, has been done: anything is possible in that direction. But under democracy the remotest and most fantastic possibility is a common-place of every day. All the axioms resolve themselves into thundering paradoxes, many amounting to downright contradictions in terms. The mob is competent to rule the rest of us—but it must be rigorously policed itself. There is a government, not of men, but of laws – but men are set upon benches to decide finally what the law is and may be. The highest function of the citizen is to serve the state – but the first assumption that meets him, when he essays to discharge it, is an assumption of his disingenuousness and dishonour. Is that assumption commonly sound? Then the farce only grows the more glorious.

I confess, for my part, that it greatly delights me. I enjoy democracy immensely. It is incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing. Does it exalt dunderheads, cowards, trimmers, frauds, cads? Then the pain of seeing them go up is balanced and obliterated by the joy of seeing them come down. Is it inordinately wasteful, extravagant, dishonest? Then so is every other form of government: all alike are enemies to laborious and virtuous men. Is rascality at the very heart of it? Well, we have borne that rascality since 1776, and continue to survive. In the long run, it may turn out that rascality is necessary to human government, and even to civilization itself – that civilization, at bottom, is nothing but a colossal swindle. I do not know: I report only that when the suckers are running well the spectacle is infinitely exhilarating. But I am, it may be, a somewhat malicious man: my sympathies, when it comes to suckers, tend to be coy. What I can’t make out is how any man can believe in democracy who feels for and with them, and is pained when they are debauched and made a show of. How can any man be a democrat who is sincerely a democrat?

SHARE THIS VIA EMAIL OR SOCIAL MEDIA:
Email this to someoneShare on FacebookShare on VKTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on RedditPrint this page

Related Articles:

Readers' Comments





  • Her killer was made into a hero
  • Literature, US News »

    Homeless Jack on “Grabbing Some Pussy”

    November 7, 2016

    Homeless Jack on “Grabbing Some Pussy” thumbnail

    We discovered this piece scrawled on some foolscap left on our doorstep, an all-lower-case Kerouac-style stream of consciousness rap, and offer it as we found it. by H. Millard trump is an american original and a throwback to the days when americans were bursting with confidence and energy and the sheer joy of freedom and […]

    Africa, History »

    ‘The Choice of Achilles’: John Alan Coey Against the New World Order

    January 3, 2013

    ‘The Choice of Achilles’: John Alan Coey Against the New World Order thumbnail

    by T.R. Bennington AS EVER, BUT ESPECIALLY in our present state of civilizational malaise, there is a need for figures with the power to inspire — men who in less confused and cynical times would have been unabashedly described as heroic. One such figure is Corporal John Alan Coey, a young soldier who has perhaps […]

    Science »

    Quarter of Americans Convinced Sun Revolves Around Earth

    March 2, 2015

    Quarter of Americans Convinced Sun Revolves Around Earth thumbnail

    “DOES the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?” If you answered the latter, you’re among a quarter of Americans who also got it wrong, according to a new report by the National Science Foundation. A survey of 2,200 people that was released Friday revealed some alarming truths about […]

  • Reader’s Comments

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Pages

  • Login / Register / RSS

  • Classic Essays »

    Concerning Inflation

    July 23, 2015

    Concerning Inflation thumbnail

    by Garet Garrett NO ONE WOULD be so absurd as to propose that you might restore a nation’s prosperity by changing its weights and measures. Suppose the Government should say, on behalf of the wheat farmer, to increase his income, “Hereafter the half bushel shall be the legal full bushel”; and on behalf of the […]

    Opinion, Reports »

    What’s Wrong with the Real Right? – part 1

    October 19, 2014

    What’s Wrong with the Real Right? – part 1 thumbnail

    by T.R. Bennington FOR ANY political movement that seeks eventual ascendancy, it is incumbent to engage in regular bouts of self-analysis. As a casual but sympathetic observer of the so-called far-right, I have compiled a list of what I believe to be some of the tactical errors and misconceptions made and held respectively by many […]

    Literature, US News »

    Homeless Jack on “Grabbing Some Pussy”

    November 7, 2016

    Homeless Jack on “Grabbing Some Pussy” thumbnail

    We discovered this piece scrawled on some foolscap left on our doorstep, an all-lower-case Kerouac-style stream of consciousness rap, and offer it as we found it. by H. Millard trump is an american original and a throwback to the days when americans were bursting with confidence and energy and the sheer joy of freedom and […]

  • Names and Topics



  • FEATURED ARTICLES

    History »

    Tom Watson: The Rich Jews Indict a State!

    March 19, 2014

    Tom Watson: The Rich Jews Indict a State! thumbnail

    The Whole South Traduced. In the Matter of Leo Frank. by Thomas E. Watson (pictured), Watson’s Magazine, Volume 21 Number 6, October 1915 ABNORMAL CONDITIONS prevail in this country, and the situation grows more complicated, year by year. We have carried the “asylum” idea to such extravagant liberality, that the sewage of the whole world […]

    History »

    Tom Watson: The Official Record in the Case of Leo Frank, a Jew Pervert

    March 19, 2014

    Tom Watson: The Official Record in the Case of Leo Frank, a Jew Pervert thumbnail

    by Thomas E. Watson (pictured), Watson’s Magazine, Volume 21 Number 5, September 1915 IN NEW YORK, there lived a fashionable architect, whose work commanded high prices. He was robust, full of manly vigor, and so erotic that he neglected a handsome and refined young wife to run after little girls. As reported in the papers […]

    History »

    Tom Watson: The Celebrated Case of The State of Georgia vs. Leo Frank

    March 19, 2014

    Tom Watson: The Celebrated Case of The State of Georgia vs. Leo Frank thumbnail

    by Thomas E. Watson (pictured), Watson’s Magazine, Volume 21 Number 4, August 1915 THE LAWS OF Georgia are extraordinarily favorable to a person accused of crime. He is not only protected in all of his rights under the Constitution of the United States, but he enjoys privileges far beyond those limits. No indictment against him […]

    History »

    Tom Watson: A Full Review of the Leo Frank Case

    March 19, 2014

    Tom Watson: A Full Review of the Leo Frank Case thumbnail

    by Thomas E. Watson, Watson’s Magazine, Volume 20 Number 5, March 1915 ON THE 23rd page of Puck, for the week ending January 16, 1915, there is, in the smallest possible type, in the smallest possible space, at the bottom of the page, the notice of ownership, required by law. Mankind are informed that Puck […]

    History »

    Tom Watson: The Leo Frank Case

    March 19, 2014

    Tom Watson: The Leo Frank Case thumbnail

    by Thomas E. Watson (pictured), Watson’s Magazine, Volume 20 Number 3, January 1915 AN AGED MILLIONAIRE of New York had a lawyer named Patrick, and this lawyer poisoned his old client, forged a will in his own favor; was tried, convicted and sentenced—and is now at liberty, a pardoned man. Through the falling out among Wall […]

    History »

    The Leo Frank Trial: Closing Arguments, Solicitor Dorsey

    December 5, 2013

    The Leo Frank Trial: Closing Arguments, Solicitor Dorsey thumbnail

    by Bradford L. Huie THE AMERICAN MERCURY now presents the final closing arguments by Solicitor Hugh Dorsey (pictured) in the trial of Leo Frank for the murder of Mary Phagan — a powerful summary of the case and a persuasive argument that played a large part in the decision of the jury to find Frank […]

    History »

    ADL: 100 Years of Hate

    October 20, 2013

    ADL: 100 Years of Hate thumbnail

    by Valdis Bell TODAY MARKS THE 100th anniversary of the largest and most-well funded hate and defamation group in the history of mankind: the Anti-Defamation League, or “ADL.” The organization was originally called the “Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith” after its parent group, the Jewish fraternal order B’nai B’rith (meaning “Sons of the Covenant,” or, […]

    History »

    The Leo Frank Trial: Closing Arguments of Hooper, Arnold, and Rosser

    October 18, 2013

    The Leo Frank Trial: Closing Arguments of Hooper, Arnold, and Rosser thumbnail

    The American Mercury continues its centenary coverage of the trial of Leo Frank for the slaying of Mary Phagan with the closing arguments presented by the prosecution and defense. by Bradford L. Huie IT’S A LONG READ — but an essential one for everyone who wants to consider himself well-informed on the Leo Frank case: […]

    History »

    The Leo Frank Trial: Week Four

    September 14, 2013

    The Leo Frank Trial: Week Four thumbnail

    Join The American Mercury as we recount the events of the final week of the trial of Leo Frank (pictured) for the slaying of Mary Phagan. by Bradford L. Huie ON THE HEELS of Leo Frank’s astounding unsworn statement to the court, the defense called a number of women who stated that they had never […]

    History »

    The Leo Frank Trial: Week Three

    August 26, 2013

    The Leo Frank Trial: Week Three thumbnail

    The trial of Leo Frank (pictured) for the murder of Mary Phagan ended its third week 100 years ago today. Join us as we break through the myths surrounding the case and investigate what really happened. by Bradford L. Huie AS THE THIRD WEEK of the trial dawned, the prosecution had just made its case […]