Democracy is Overrated, III
Two H.L. Mencken quotes, for the Dems crying in their beer this week. The point is that it is hard for someone who believes in the wisdom of “the people” to accept it when “the people” disagree. I happened upon these two quotes in something I wrote some time ago, and they seemed to have a particular freshness....My favorite part is the bit where he says: "What I can’t make out is how any man can believe in democracy who feels for and with [common citizens], and is pained when they are debauched and made a show of." Dems? How about the show last Tuesday? Weren't your common citizens debauched and made a show of?
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 dishonor. Is that assumption commonly sound? Then the farce only grows more glorious…Is [democracy] extraordinarily wasteful, extravagant, dishonest? Then so is every other form of government: all alike are enemies to decent men….In the long run, it may turn out that rascality is an ineradicable necessity 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 [common citizens], and is pained when they are debauched and made a show of. How can any man be a democrat who is sincerely a democrat? (H.L. Mencken, Notes on Democracy, 1926.
It [is impossible] to separate the democratic idea from the theory that there is a mystical merit, an esoteric and ineradicable rectitude, in the man at the bottom of the scale—that inferiority, by some strange magic, becomes superiority—nay, the superiority of superiorities. What baffles statesmen is to be solved by the people, instantly and by a sort of seraphic intuition. This notion . . . originated in the poetic fancy of gentlemen on the upper levels— sentimentalists who, observing to their distress that the ass was overladen, proposed to reform transportation by putting him in the cart. (H.L. Mencken, from Notes on Democracy, 1926.