Notes on Democracy

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Read Books, 2008 - History - 232 pages
3 Reviews
NOTES ON DEMOCRACY by H. L. MENCKEN JONATHAN. Contents include: I DEMOCRATIC MAN 1 HIS APPEARANCE IN THE WORLD 9 2 VARIETIES OF HOMO SAPIENS 15 3 THE NEW PSYCHOLOGY 21 POLITICS UNDER DEMOCRACY 29 5 THE ROLE OF THE HORMONES 35 6 ENVY AS A PHILOSOPHY 42 Jx LIBERTY AND DEMOCRATIC MAN 51 THE EFFECTS UPON PROGRESS 58 9 THE ETERNAL MOB 7 2 II THE DEMOCRATIC STATE 1 THE TWO KINDS OF DEMOCRACY 79 2 THE POPULAR WILL 85 3 DISPROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION 97 4 THE POLITICIAN UNDER DEMOCRACY 1 07 5 UTOPIA 115 6 THE OCCASIONAL EXCEPTION 124 7 THE MAKER OF LAWS 131 8 THE REWARDS OF VIRTUE 139 9 FOOTNOTE ON LAME DUCKS 148 5 CONTENTS PAGE III DEMOCRACY AND LIBERTY 1 THE WILL TO PEACE 157 2 THE DEMOCRAT AS MORALIST 1 62 3 WHERE PURITANISM FAILS 1 77 4 CORRUPTION UNDER DEMOCRACY 187 IV CODA 1 THE FUTURE OF DEMOCRACY 2O7 2 LAST WORDS 2l8. DEMOCRATIC MAN: HIS APPEARANCE IN THE WORLD. DEMOCRACY came into the Western World to the tune of sweet, soft music. There was, at the start, no harsh bawling from below there was only a dulcet twittering from above. Democratic man thus began as an ideal being, full of ineffable virtues and romantic wrongs in brief, as Rous seaus noble savage in smock and jerkin, brought out of the tropical wilds to shame the lords and masters of the civilized lands. The fact continues to have important consequences to this day. It remains impossible, as it was in the eighteenth century, 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 a sort of superiority - nay, the superiority of superiorities. Everywhere on earth, save where the enlightenment of the modern age is confessedly in transient eclipse, the move ment is toward the completer and more enamoured enfranchisement of the lower orders. Down there, one hears, lies a deep, illimitable reservoir of righteousness and wisdom, unpolluted by the corruption of privilege. What baffles statesmen is to be solved by the people, instantly and by a sort of seraphic intuition. Their yearnings are pure they alone are capable of a perfect patriot ism in them is the only hope of peace and happi ness on this lugubrious ball. The cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy This notion, as I hint, originated in the poetic fancy of gentlemen on the upper levels - senti mentalists who, observing to their distress that the ass was over-laden, proposed to reform trans port by putting him into the cart. A stale Chris tian bilge ran through their veins, though many of them, as it happened, toyed with what is now called Modernism. They were the direct ancestors of the more saccharine Liberals of to-day, who yet mouth their tattered phrases and dream their pre posterous dreams. I can find no record that these phrases, in the beginning, made much impression upon the actual objects of their rhetoric. Early democratic man seems to have given little thought to the democratic ideal, and less veneration. What he wanted was something concrete and highly materialistic - more to eat, less work, higher wages, lower taxes. He had no apparent belief in the acroamatic virtue of his own class, and certainly none in its capacity to rule. His aim was not to exterminate the baron, but simply to bring the baron back to a proper discharge of baronial busi ness. When, by the wild shooting that naturally accompanies all mob movements, the former end was accidentally accomplished, and men out of the mob began to take on baronial airs, the mob itself quickly showed its opinion of them by butchering them deliberately and in earnest. Once the pikes were out, indeed, it was a great deal more dangerous to be a tribune of the people than to be an ornament of the old order...

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User Review  - CBJames - LibraryThing

Notes on Democracy by H.L. Mencken published in 1926 must be something of a hard sell these days. The inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States seems to stand as a shining example ... Read full review

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User Review  - wirkman - LibraryThing

One need not agree with Mencken's bedrock belief -- that vast swathes of humanity are nearly subhuman, to be dismissed -- to judge this book a delight, and often perceptive. Really, it is one of those ... Read full review

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About the author (2008)

H.L. Mencken was born in Baltimore, Maryland, a city he considered home despite his many years in New York. As a child he attended Professor Friedrich Knapp's Institute, a private school for children of German descent. He completed his secondary education at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, from which he graduated at the age of 16. Mencken wanted to be a writer but was obligated to work in his father's cigar factory. When his father died suddenly in 1899, Mencken immediately sought a job at the Baltimore Herald. Through he began with no experience in journalism, he quickly learned every job at the newspaper and at age 25 became its editor. Mencken went on to build himself a reputation as one of America's most brilliant writers and literary critics. His basic approach was to question everything and to accept no limits on personal freedom. He attacked organized religion, American cultural and literary standards, and every aspect of American life that he found shallow, ignorant, or false - which was almost everything. From the 1920's until his death, Mencken's sharp wit and penetrating social commentary made him one of the most highly regarded - and fiercely hated - of American social critics. He was later memorialized in the dramatic portrait of the cynical journalist in the play and film Inherit the Wind. Shortly after World War I, Mencken began a project that was to fascinate him for the rest of his life: a study of American language and how it had evolved from British English. In 1919 he published The American Language: A Preliminary Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States. To this and his publisher's surprise, the book sold out quickly; its wit and nonscholarly approach attracted many readers who would not normally buy a book on such a subject. In 1936, a revised and enlarged edition was published, and in 1945 and 1948, supplements were added. The work shows not only how American English differs from British English but how the 300 year American experience shaped American dialect. Thus the book, still considered a classic in its field, is both a linguistic and social history of the United States.

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