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Words Of Wisdom

September 14, 2011 by  

Happy birthday to one of my favorite curmudgeons. H.L. Mencken, a journalist and essayist who was known as “the Sage of Baltimore,” was born in Baltimore on Sept. 12, 1880.

Mencken, who died on Jan. 29, 1956, is regarded as one of the most influential writers and critics of the past 100 years, although many of his pithiest warnings have been forgotten or ignored. Here are a few of my favorites:

Government is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advance auction in stolen goods.

A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.

The typical lawmaker of today is a man devoid of principle — a mere counter in a grotesque and knavish game. If the right pressure could be applied to him he would be cheerfully in favor of polygamy, astrology, or cannibalism.

Where’s a modern-day Mencken when we need him? P.J. O’Rourke may be the closest we’ve got, but frankly, I was disappointed in his latest book, Don’t Vote: It Just Encourages the Bastards. I expected a lot more vituperation than he delivered.

–Chip Wood

Chip Wood

is the geopolitical editor of He is the founder of Soundview Publications, in Atlanta, where he was also the host of an award-winning radio talk show for many years. He was the publisher of several bestselling books, including Crisis Investing by Doug Casey, None Dare Call It Conspiracy by Gary Allen and Larry Abraham and The War on Gold by Anthony Sutton. Chip is well known on the investment conference circuit where he has served as Master of Ceremonies for FreedomFest, The New Orleans Investment Conference, Sovereign Society, and The Atlanta Investment Conference.

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  • Michael

    Very good. O’Rourke is doing OK, but not on the level of Mr Menchen.


    Mencken was sharp but he displays his ignorance re: astrology.

    • s c

      P, I’ve scanned my books and a bunch of internet quotes, and found nothing on astrology by Mencken. Surely, you didn’t take this article’s third quote entirely out of context and assumed that Mencken had a use for astrology, did you?
      I will check further, but I see nothing so far. By the way, if H L had any idea that American politics would go from bad to worse after his death, he would have greatly expanded that third quote (above).

  • s c

    People who read H L Mencken should not look for perfection. However, if he was not a ‘natural-born writer,’ he was as close as any American could possibly get. His education at the 8th grade level probably was deeper and wider than today’s typical high school “gradyouate.”
    While I can’t call myself an H L Mencken specialist (yet), his writing skills make the vast majority of today’s ‘writers’ look like kindergarten brats (incompetent brats, at that). Mencken would not believe what has happened to the media since 1956.
    Objectivity is now simply another word. When H L let his anger get the best of him, his talent was still head-and-shoulders above the “talent” that comes out of our universities. I suggest readers go to a library (or find a good book shop) and read Mencken’s Notes on Democracy. He pulled no punches, and I found myself going back and forth between shaking my head at the Darwinian stupidity in American politics and laughing so hard that I had to take a breather.
    Mencken, other than perhaps Mark Twain, I’ll never come up to your level. It’s enough for me to recognize Mencken’s language gifts – and try not to weep at what passes for journalism or guardians of today’s newspapers. There is NO comparison.
    Happy birthday, H L. America’s “writers,” keep your day job, and be glad there’s no H L Mencken around today to put you wannabes in your place.


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