Been reading quite a bit of H.L. Mencken from his ‘Chrestomathy’ collection. What an asshole.
Two of his essays stand out in my mind.
From ‘The politician’:
“If he is a smart and enterprising fellow, which he usually is, he quickly discovers... that hooey pleases the boobs a great deal more than sense. Indeed, he finds that sense really disquiets and alarms them ― that it makes them uncomfortable, or a speck of dust in the eye, or the thought of Hell. The truth, to the overwhelming majority of mankind, is indistinguishable from a headache.”
From ‘The critical process’:
“The true aim of a critic is certainly not to make converts. He must know that very few of the persons who are susceptible to conversion are worth converting. Their minds are intrinsically flabby and parasitical, and it is certainly not sound sport to agitate minds of that sort.”
About the latter quote, Mencken contrasts such an attitude to the idea that critics criticize for the sake of changing minds. He names the great Henry Hazlitt by name, as exemplifying this other attitude. I’d have to side with Mencken on this one. A critique has more to do with, and reveals more about, the critic than the criticized.
I’ve also enjoyed reading Mencken’s snobbish ideas on music, particularly Beethoven, whom he considers to be the greatest composer in history (I disagree; even Mencken’s favorite, the ‘Eroica’ symphony, is a weaker derivative of Mozart’s 39th from 15 years earlier).
And who can top the opening sentence of ‘The citizen and the state’:
“Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.”