179+ Best H. L. Mencken Quotes: Exclusive Selection

Henry Louis Mencken was a controversialist, humorous journalist journalist, essayist, satirist, cultural critic and scholar of American English. He commented widely on the social scene, literature, music, prominent politicians and contemporary movements. He powerfully influenced U.S. fiction through the 1920s. Inspirational H. L. Mencken quotes will encourage growth in life, make you wiser and broaden your perspective.

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Most Famous H. L. Mencken Quotes

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. – H. L. Mencken

Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. – H. L. Mencken

On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. – H. L. Mencken

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. – H. L. Mencken

Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods. – H. L. Mencken

Elections are futures markets in stolen property. – H. L. Mencken

A Sunday school is a prison in which children do penance for the evil conscience of their parents. – H. L. Mencken

Those who can’t teach – administrate. Those who can’t administrate – go into politics. – H. L. Mencken

A tin horn politician with the manner of a rural corn doctor and the mien of a ham actor – H. L. Mencken

The ideal way to get rid of any infectious disease would be to shoot instantly every person who comes down with it. – H. L. Mencken

Happiness is peace after strife, the overcoming of difficulties, the feeling of security and well-being. The only really happy folk are married women and single men. – H. L. Mencken

On the one hand, we may tell the truth, regardless of consequences, and on the other hand we may mellow it and sophisticate it to make it humane and tolerable. – H. L. Mencken

If a sense of duty tortures a man, it also enables him to achieve prodigies. – H. L. Mencken

Unsuccessful candidates for the Presidency should be quietly hanged as a matter of public sanitation and decorum. – H. L. Mencken

No man is worthy of unlimited reliance-his treason, at best, only waits for sufficient temptation. – H. L. Mencken

Say what you will about the ten commandments, you must always come back to the pleasant fact that there are only ten of them. – H. L. Mencken

Here is one of the fundamental defects of American fiction–perhaps the one character that sets it off sharply from all other known kinds of contemporary fiction. It habitually exhibits, not a man of delicate organization in revolt against the inexplicable tragedy of existence, but a man of low sensibilities and elemental desires yielding himself gladly to his environment, and so achieving what, under a third-rate civilization, passes for success. To get on: this is the aim. To weigh and reflect, to doubt and rebel: this is the thing to be avoided. – H. L. Mencken

[T]he only thing wrong with Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was that it was the South, not the North, that was fighting for a government of the people, by the people and for the people. – H. L. Mencken

The saddest life is that of a political aspirant under democracy. His failure is ignominious and his success is disgraceful. – H. L. Mencken

Women have a hard enough time in this world: telling them the truth would be too cruel. – H. L. Mencken

In my day a reporter who took an assignment was wholly on his own until he got back to the office, and even then he was little molested until his copy was turned in at the desk; today he tends to become only a homunculus at the end of a telephone wire, and the reduction of his observations to prose is commonly farmed out to literary castrati who never leave the office, and hence never feel the wind of the world in their faces or see anything with their own eyes. – H. L. Mencken

On one issue, at least, men and women agree. They both distrust women. – H. L. Mencken

There is something even more valuable to civilization than wisdom, and that is character. – H. L. Mencken

The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom. – H. L. Mencken

Experience is a poor guide to man, and is seldom followed. What really teaches a man is not experience, but observation. – H. L. Mencken

Why assume so glibly that the God who presumably created the universe is still running it? It is certainly conceivable that He may have finished it and then turned it over to lesser gods to operate. – H. L. Mencken

For the habitual truth-teller and truth-seeker, indeed, the whole world has very little liking. He is always unpopular. – H. L. Mencken

Sometimes the idiots outvote the sensible people. – H. L. Mencken

For it is an absurdity to call a country civilized in which a decent and industrious man, laboriously mastering a trade which is valuble and necessary to the common weal, has no assurance that it will sustain him while he stands ready to practice it, or keep him out of the poorhouse when illness or age makes him idle. – H. L. Mencken

No reporter of my generation, whatever his genius, ever really rated spats and a walking stick until he had covered both a lynching and a revolution. – H. L. Mencken

The double standard of morality will survive in this world so long as the woman whose husband has been lured away is favoured with the sympathetic tears of other women, and a man whose wife has made off is laughed at by other men. – H. L. Mencken

I think the Negro people should feel secure enough by now to face a reasonable ridicule without terror. I am unalterably opposed to all efforts to put down free speech, whatever the excuse. – H. L. Mencken

Economic independence is the foundation of the only sort of freedom worth a damn – H. L. Mencken

The great masses of men, though theoretically free, are seen to submit supinely to oppression and exploitation of a hundred abhorrent sorts. Have they no means of resistance? Obviously they have. The worst tyrant, even under democratic plutocracy, has but one throat to slit. The moment the majority decided to overthrow him he would be overthrown. But the majority lacks the resolution; it cannot imagine taking the risks. – H. L. Mencken

I have long been convinced that the idea of liberty is abhorrent to most human beings. What they want is security, not freedom. Thus it seldom causes any public indignation when an enterprising tyrant claps down on one of his enemies. To most men it seems a natural proceeding. – H. L. Mencken

Unionism, seldom if ever, uses such powers as it has to ensure better work; almost always it devotes a large part of that power to safeguard bad work. – H. L. Mencken

When a private citizen is robbed, a worthy man is deprived of the fruits of his industry and thrift; when the government is robbed, the worst that happens is that certain rogues and loafers have less money to play with than they had before. – H. L. Mencken

The objection of the scandalmonger is not that she tells of racy doings, but that she pretends to be indignant about them. – H. L. Mencken

And what is a good citizen? Simply one who never says, does or thinks anything that is unusual. Schools are maintained in order to bring this uniformity up to the highest possible point. A school is a hopper into which children are heaved while they are still young and tender; therein they are pressed into certain standard shapes and covered from head to heels with official rubber-stamps. – H. L. Mencken

[Thomas Henry] Huxley, I believe, was the greatest Englishman of the Nineteenth Century—perhaps the greatest Englishman of all time. When one thinks of him, one thinks inevitably of such men as Goethe and Aristotle. For in him there was that rich, incomparable blend of intelligence and character, of colossal knowledge and high adventurousness, of instinctive honesty and indomitable courage which appears in mankind only once in a blue moon. There have been far greater scientists, even in England, but there has never been a scientist who was a greater man. – H. L. Mencken

We suffer most when the White House busts with ideas. – H. L. Mencken

Democracy the domination of unreflective and timorous men, moved in vast herds by mob conditions. – H. L. Mencken

Politics, as hopeful men practise it in the world, consists mainly of the delusion that a change in form is a change in substance. – H. L. Mencken

The fact is that the average man’s love of liberty is nine-tenths imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice and truth… Liberty is not a thing for the great masses of men. It is the exclusive possession of a small and disreputable minority, like knowledge, courage and honor. It takes a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty – and he is usually an outlaw in democratic societies. – H. L. Mencken

All the great enterprises of the world are run by a few smart men: their aides and associates run down by rapid stages to the level of sheer morons. Everyone knows that this is true of government, but we often forget that it is equally true of private undertakings. In the average great bank, or railroad, or other corporation the burden of management lies upon a small group. The rest are ciphers. – H. L. Mencken

The believing mind reaches its perihelion in the so-called Liberals. They believe in each and every quack who sets up his booth inthe fairgrounds, including the Communists. The Communists have some talents too, but they always fall short of believing in the Liberals. – H. L. Mencken

There is only one justification for having sinned, and that is to be glad of it. – H. L. Mencken

The function of a newspaper in a democracy is to stand as a sort of chronic opposition to the reigning quacks. The minute it begins to out-whoop them it forfeits its character and becomes ridiculous. – H. L. Mencken

The liberation of the human mind has never been furthered by dunderheads. – H. L. Mencken

Change is not progress. – H. L. Mencken

A man loses his sense of direction after four drinks; a woman loses hers after four kisses. – H. L. Mencken

Life is a constant oscillation between the sharp horns of dilemmas. – H. L. Mencken

The art of politics, under democracy, is simply the art of ringing it. Two branches reveal themselves. There is the art of the demagogue, and there is the art of what may be called, by a shot-gun marriage of Latin and Greek, the demaslave. They are complementary, and both of them are degrading to their practitioners. The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots. The demaslave is one who listens to what these idiots have to say and then pretends that he believes it himself. – H. L. Mencken

The kind of man who demands that government enforce his ideas is always the kind whose ideas are idiotic. – H. L. Mencken

The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. – H. L. Mencken

It is the theory of all modern civilized governments that they protect and foster the liberty of the citizen; it is the practice of all of them to limit its exercise, and sometimes very narrowly. – H. L. Mencken

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. – H. L. Mencken

Laws are no longer made by a rational process of public discussion; they are made by a process of blackmail and intimidation, and they are executed in the same manner – H. L. Mencken

All government is, in its essence, organized exploitation, and in virtually all of its existing forms it is the implacable enemy of every industrious and well-disposed man. – H. L. Mencken

Liberty is of small value to the lower third of humanity. They greatly prefer security, which means protection by some class above them. They are always in favor of despots who promise to feed them. The only liberty an inferior man really cherishes is the liberty to quit work, stretch out in the sun, and scratch himself. – H. L. Mencken

Puritanism. The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. – H. L. Mencken

No professional politician is ever actually in favor of public economy. It is his implacable enemy, and he knows it. All professional politicians are dedicated wholeheartedly to waste and corruption. They are the enemies of every decent man. – H. L. Mencken

The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. – H. L. Mencken

The State doesn’t just want you to obey, it wants to make you WANT to obey. – H. L. Mencken

A professional politician is a professionally dishonorable man. In order to get anywhere near high office he has to make so many compromises and submit to so many humiliations that he becomes indistinguishable from a streetwalker. – H. L. Mencken

The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all. – H. L. Mencken

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 and 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. – H. L. Mencken

Equality before the law is probably forever unattainable. It is a noble ideal, but it can never be realized, for what men value in this world is not rights but privileges. – H. L. Mencken

A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin. – H. L. Mencken

When somebody says it’s not about the money, it’s about the money. – H. L. Mencken

A judge is a law student who marks his own examination papers. – H. L. Mencken

Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of Jackals by Jackasses. – H. L. Mencken

There’s really no point to voting. If it made any difference, it would probably be illegal. – H. L. Mencken

Love is like war: easy to begin but very hard to stop. – H. L. Mencken

The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair. – H. L. Mencken

On the one side was bigotry, ignorance, hatred, superstition, every sort of blackness that the human mind is capable of. On the other side was sense. – H. L. Mencken

Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant. – H. L. Mencken

Evangelical Christianity, as everyone knows, is founded upon hate, as the Christianity of Christ was founded upon love. – H. L. Mencken

The common argument that crime is caused by poverty is a kind of slander on the poor. – H. L. Mencken

The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth. – H. L. Mencken

The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots. – H. L. Mencken

Morality is doing what is right, no matter what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told, no matter what is right. – H. L. Mencken

People do not expect to find chastity in a whorehouse. Why, then, do they expect to find honesty and humanity in government, a congeries of institutions whose modus operandi consists of lying, cheating, stealing, and if need be, murdering those who resist? – H. L. Mencken

It is the classic fallacy of our time that a moron run through a university and decorated with a Ph.D. will thereby cease to be a moron. – H. L. Mencken

The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule. – H. L. Mencken

Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats. – H. L. Mencken

For every problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong. – H. L. Mencken

It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office. – H. L. Mencken

The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out… without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, intolerable. – H. L. Mencken

Socialist: A man suffering from an overwhelming conviction to believe what is not true. – H. L. Mencken

When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental – men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost… All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre. – H. L. Mencken

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. – H. L. Mencken

The plain fact is that education is itself a form of propaganda – a deliberate scheme to outfit the pupil, not with the capacity to weigh ideas, but with a simple appetite for gulping ideas ready-made. The aim is to make ‘good’ citizens, which is to say, docile and uninquisitive citizens. – H. L. Mencken

It is common to assume that human progress affects everyone – that even the dullest man, in these bright days, knows more than any man of, say, the Eighteenth Century, and is far more civilized. This assumption is quite erroneous. . . . The great masses of men, even in this inspired republic, are precisely where the mob was at the dawn of history. They are ignorant, they are dishonest, they are cowardly, they are ignoble. They know little if anything that is worth knowing, and there is not the slightest sign of a natural desire among them to increase their knowledge. – H. L. Mencken

What men value in this world is not rights but privileges. – H. L. Mencken

If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner. – H. L. Mencken

Democracy turns upon and devours itself. Universal suffrage, in theory the palladium of our liberties, becomes the assurance of our slavery. And that slavery will grow more and more abject and ignoble as the differential birth rate, the deliberate encouragement of mendicancy and the failure of popular education produce a larger and larger mass of prehensile half-wits, and so make the demagogues more and more secure. – H. L. Mencken

There are two impossibilities in life: “just one drink” and “an honest politician." – H. L. Mencken

Misogynist: A man who hates women as much as women hate one another. – H. L. Mencken

Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under. – H. L. Mencken

A nun, at best, is only half a woman, just as a priest is only half a man. – H. L. Mencken

We are here and it is now. Further than that, all human knowledge is moonshine. – H. L. Mencken

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. – H. L. Mencken

It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place. – H. L. Mencken

To die for an idea; it is unquestionably noble. But how much nobler it would be if men died for ideas that were true! – H. L. Mencken

For it is mutual trust, even more than mutual interest that holds human associations together. – H. L. Mencken

Conscience is a mother-in-law whose visit never ends. – H. L. Mencken

A church is a place in which gentlemen who have never been to heaven brag about it to persons who will never get there. – H. L. Mencken

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable. – H. L. Mencken

All men are frauds. The only difference between them is that some admit it. I myself deny it. – H. L. Mencken

No one in this world, so far as I know – and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me – has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. – H. L. Mencken

Each party steals so many articles of faith from the other, and the candidates spend so much time making each other’s speeches, that by the time election day is past there is nothing much to do save turn the sitting rascals out and let a new gang in. – H. L. Mencken

A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier. – H. L. Mencken

Unquestionably, there is progress. The average American now pays out twice as much in taxes as he formerly got in wages. – H. L. Mencken

The theory seems to be that as long as a man is a failure he is one of God’s children, but that as soon as he succeeds he is taken over by the Devil. – H. L. Mencken

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. – H. L. Mencken

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. – H. L. Mencken

There are men so philosophical that they can see humor in their own toothaches. But there has never lived a man so philosophical that he could see the toothache in his own humor. – H. L. Mencken

It doesn’t take a majority to make a rebellion; it takes only a few determined leaders and a sound cause. – H. L. Mencken

Immorality: the morality of those who are having a better time. – H. L. Mencken

Whenever a husband and wife begin to discuss their marriage they are giving evidence at a coroner’s inquest. – H. L. Mencken

Bachelors know more about women than married men; if they didn’t they’d be married too. – H. L. Mencken

A man may be a fool and not know it, but not if he is married. – H. L. Mencken

It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics or chemistry. – H. L. Mencken

A bad man is the sort who weeps every time he speaks of a good woman. – H. L. Mencken

In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican. – H. L. Mencken

An idealist is one who, on noticing that roses smell better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup. – H. L. Mencken

Every man sees in his relatives, and especially in his cousins, a series of grotesque caricatures of himself. – H. L. Mencken

Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage. – H. L. Mencken

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard. – H. L. Mencken

Most people are unable to write because they are unable to think, and they are unable to think because they congenitally lack the equipment to do so, just as they congenitally lack the equipment to fly over the moon. – H. L. Mencken

One may no more live in the world without picking up the moral prejudices of the world than one will be able to go to hell without perspiring. – H. L. Mencken

I believe that all government is evil, and that trying to improve it is largely a waste of time. – H. L. Mencken

For centuries, theologians have been explaining the unknowable in terms of the-not-worth-knowing. – H. L. Mencken

Democracy is only a dream: it should be put in the same category as Arcadia, Santa Claus, and Heaven. – H. L. Mencken

Before a man speaks it is always safe to assume that he is a fool. After he speaks, it is seldom necessary to assume it. – H. L. Mencken

Communism, like any other revealed religion, is largely made up of prophecies. – H. L. Mencken

I confess I enjoy democracy immensely. It is incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing. – H. L. Mencken

Temptation is an irresistible force at work on a movable body. – H. L. Mencken

Love is an emotion that is based on an opinion of women that is impossible for those who have had any experience with them. – H. L. Mencken

Women always excel men in that sort of wisdom which comes from experience. To be a woman is in itself a terrible experience. – H. L. Mencken

Wealth – any income that is at least one hundred dollars more a year than the income of one’s wife’s sister’s husband. – H. L. Mencken

Have you ever watched a crab on the shore crawling backward in search of the Atlantic Ocean, and missing? That’s the way the mind of man operates. – H. L. Mencken

If women believed in their husbands they would be a good deal happier and also a good deal more foolish. – H. L. Mencken

Nine times out of ten, in the arts as in life, there is actually no truth to be discovered; there is only error to be exposed. – H. L. Mencken

I never lecture, not because I am shy or a bad speaker, but simply because I detest the sort of people who go to lectures and don’t want to meet them. – H. L. Mencken

In war the heroes always outnumber the soldiers ten to one. – H. L. Mencken

Honor is simply the morality of superior men. – H. L. Mencken

Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who would want to live in an institution? – H. L. Mencken

It is even harder for the average ape to believe that he has descended from man. – H. L. Mencken

I believe that it is better to tell the truth than a lie. I believe it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe it is better to know than to be ignorant. – H. L. Mencken

Strike an average between what a woman thinks of her husband a month before she marries him and what she thinks of him a year afterward, and you will have the truth about him. – H. L. Mencken

Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public. – H. L. Mencken

A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in. – H. L. Mencken

Legend: A lie that has attained the dignity of age. – H. L. Mencken

No married man is genuinely happy if he has to drink worse whisky than he used to drink when he was single. – H. L. Mencken

Most people want security in this world, not liberty. – H. L. Mencken

The penalty for laughing in a courtroom is six months in jail; if it were not for this penalty, the jury would never hear the evidence. – H. L. Mencken

There is always an easy solution to every problem – neat, plausible, and wrong. – H. L. Mencken

The difference between a moral man and a man of honor is that the latter regrets a discreditable act, even when it has worked and he has not been caught. – H. L. Mencken

A society made up of individuals who were all capable of original thought would probably be unendurable. – H. L. Mencken

I never smoked a cigarette until I was nine. – H. L. Mencken

No man ever quite believes in any other man. One may believe in an idea absolutely, but not in a man. In the highest confidence there is always a flavor of doubt–a feeling, half instinctive and half logical, that, after all, the scoundrel may have something up his sleeve. – H. L. Mencken

Women have simple tastes. They get pleasure out of the conversation of children in arms and men in love. – H. L. Mencken

One of the most mawkish of human delusions is the notion that friendship should be eternal, or, at all events, life-long, and that any act which puts a term to it is somehow discreditable. – H. L. Mencken

The opera is to music what a bawdy house is to a cathedral. – H. L. Mencken

Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another. – H. L. Mencken

To be in love is merely to be in a state of perceptual anesthesia – to mistake an ordinary young woman for a goddess. – H. L. Mencken

The chief value of money lies in the fact that one lives in a world in which it is overestimated. – H. L. Mencken

As the arteries grow hard, the heart grows soft. – H. L. Mencken

The cynics are right nine times out of ten. – H. L. Mencken

The only really happy folk are married women and single men. – H. L. Mencken

A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar. – H. L. Mencken

Whenever you hear a man speak of his love for his country, it is a sign that he expects to be paid for it. – H. L. Mencken

A politician is an animal which can sit on a fence and yet keep both ears to the ground. – H. L. Mencken

A prohibitionist is the sort of man one couldn’t care to drink with, even if he drank. – H. L. Mencken

Archbishop – A Christian ecclesiastic of a rank superior to that attained by Christ. – H. L. Mencken

The chief contribution of Protestantism to human thought is its massive proof that God is a bore. – H. L. Mencken

The capacity of human beings to bore one another seems to be vastly greater than that of any other animal. Some of their most esteemed inventions have no other apparent purpose – for example, the dinner party of more than two, the epic poem, and the science of metaphysics. – H. L. Mencken

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