Henry Louis Mencken Quotes

Imagine the Creator as a low comedian, and at once the world becomes explicable.
Creator: a comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh.
Demagogue: one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.
Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.
The only really happy folk are married women and single men.
A good [politician] is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.
There is only one honest impulse at the bottom of Puritanism, and that is the impulse to punish the man with a superior capacity for happiness.
All zoos actually offer the public, in return for the taxes spent upon them, is a form of idle witless amusment, compared to which a visit to the state penitentiary, or even a state legislature in session, is informing, stimulating and enobling.
Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody is looking.
A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.
The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind.
Don't overestimate the decency of the human race.
There's no underestimating the intelligence of the American public.
War will never cease until babies begin to come into the world with larger cerebrums and smaller adrenal glands.
To wage a war for a purely moral reason is as absurd as to ravish a woman for a purely moral reason.
We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.
The kind of man who wants the government to adopt and enforce his ideas is always the kind of man whose ideas are idiotic.
People constantly speak of "the government" doing this or that, as they might speak of God doing it. But the government is really nothing but a group of men, and usually they are very inferior men. They may have some better man working for them, but they themselves are seldom worthy of any respect.
All government, in its essence, is organized exploitation, and in virtually all of its existing forms it is the implacable enemy of every industrious and well-disposed man.
For every problem, there is one solution which is simple, neat and wrong.
Every failure teaches a man something, to wit, that he will probably fail again.
On one issue at least, men and women agree; they both distrust women.
Women have simple tastes. They can get pleasure out of the conversation of children in arms and men in love.
To be in love is merely to be in a state of perpetual anesthesia - to mistake an ordinary young woman for a goddess.
No matter how happily a woman may be married, it always pleases her to discover that there is a nice man who wishes that she were not.
God is the immemorial refuge of the incompetent, the helpless, the miserable. They find not only sanctuary in His arms, but also a kind of superiority, soothing to their macerated egos; He will set the above their betters.
The true function of art is to...edit nature and so make it coherent and lovely. The artist is a sort of impassioned proofreader, blue-penciling the bad spelling of God.
For men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt.
There are two kinds of books: those that no one reads and those that no one ought to read.
The only good bureaucrat is one with a pistol at his head. Put it in his hand and it's good-by to the Bill of Rights.
Unquestionably, there is progress. The average American now pays out twice as much in taxes as he formerly got in wages.
No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.
It is the fundamental theory of all the more recent American law...that the average citizen is half-witted, and hence not to be trusted to either his own devices or his own thoughts.
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.
Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.
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.
The idea that the sole aim of punishment is to prevent crime is obviously grounded upon the theory that crime can be prevented, which is almost as dubious as the notion that poverty can be prevented.
Say what you will about the ten commandments; you must always come back to the pleasant fact that there are only ten of them.
It is only doubt that creates. It is only the minority that counts.
The New Deal began, like the Salvation Army, by promising to save humanity. It ended, again like the Salvation Army, by running flop-houses and disturbing the peace.
All I ask is equal freedom. When it is denied, as it always is, I take it anyhow.
The older I grow, the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.
The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of truth--that the error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it is cured on one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one.
No one ever heard of the truth being enforced by law. Whenever the secular arm is called in to sustain an idea, whether new or old, it is always a bad idea, and not infrequently it is downright idiotic.
Philosophy consists very largely of one philosopher arguing that all other philosophers are jackasses. He usually proves it, and I should add that he also usually proves that he is one himself.
School-days, I believe, are the unhappiest in the whole span of human existence. They are full of dull, unintelligible tasks, new and unpleasant ordinances, brutal violations of common sense amd common decency. It doesn’t take a reasonably bright boy long to discover that most of what is rammed into him is nonsense, and that no one really cares very much whether he learns it or not.
Any man who inflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood.
We suffer most when the White House busts with ideas.
Some boys go to college and eventually succeed in getting out. Others go to college and never succeed in getting out. The latter are called professors.
Criticism is prejudice made plausible.
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.
Always remember this: If you don't attend the funerals of your friends, they will certainly not attend yours.
I think the United States should mind its own business. If it is actually commissioned by God to put down totalitarianism, let it start in Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Santo Domingo and Mississippi.
Economic independence is the foundation of the only sort of freedom worth a damn.
If I ever marry, it will be on a sudden impulse, as a man shoots himself.
An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
More about Henry Louis Mencken
Mencken "official" site
Mencken Ring
The H. L. Mencken Page

Back to main quotes

If you have quotation to add, please send it to me.