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    "Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom."
     

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    H. L. Mencken Quotes

    American editor

    Quotes by H. L. Mencken

    • A celebrity is one who is known to many persons he is glad he doesn't know.
    • A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.
    • A home is not a mere transient shelter: its essence lies in the personalities of the people who live in it.
    • A judge is a law student who marks his own examination papers.
    • A poet more than thirty years old is simply an overgrown child.
    • All men are frauds. The only difference between them is that some admit it. I myself deny it.
    • All successful newspapers are ceaselessly querulous and bellicose. They never defend anyone or anything if they can help it; if the job is forced on them, they tackle it by denouncing someone or something else.
    • All [zoos] actually offer to the public in return for the taxes spent upon them is a form of idle and witless amusement, compared to which a visit to a penitentiary, or even to a State legislature in session, is informing, stimulating and ennobling.
    • An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
    • Any man who afflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood.
    • Conscience is a mother-in-law whose visit never ends.
    • Criticism is prejudice made plausible.
    • Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.
    • Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.
    • Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.
    • Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.
    • For centuries, theologians have been explaining the unknowable in terms of the-not-worth-knowing.
    • For it is mutual trust, even more than mutual interest that holds human associations together. Our friends seldom profit us but they make us feel safe... Marriage is a scheme to accomplish exactly that same end.
    • Giving every man a vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good.
    • I believe that all government is evil, and that trying to improve it is largely a waste of time.
    • 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.
    • In the United States, doing good has come to be, like patriotism, a favorite device of persons with something to sell.
    • Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what stings is justice.
    • It is even harder for the average ape to believe that he has descended from man.
    • 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.
    • It is impossible to imagine Goethe or Beethoven being good at billiards or golf.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • It is the dull man who is always sure, and the sure man who is always dull.
    • Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.
    • Man is never honestly the fatalist, nor even the stoic. He fights his fate, often desperately. He is forever entering bold exceptions to the rulings of the bench of gods. This fighting, no doubt, makes for human progress, for it favors the strong and the brave. It also makes for beauty, for lesser men try to escape from a hopeless and intolerable world by creating a more lovely one of their own.
    • Men are the only animals that devote themselves, day in and day out, to making one another unhappy. It is an art like any other. Its virtuosi are called altruists.
    • Misogynist: A man who hates women as much as women hate one another.
    • Never let your inferiors do you a favor - it will be extremely costly.
    • Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.
    • Philosophy consists very largely of one philosopher arguing that all others are jackasses. He usually proves it, and I should add that he also usually proves that he is one himself.
    • Platitude: an idea (a) that is admitted to be true by everyone, and (b) that is not true.
    • Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
    • Say what you will about the Ten Commandments, you must always come back to the pleasant fact that there are only ten of them.
    • The capacity of human beings to bore one another seems to be vastly greater than that of any other animal.
    • The chief value of money lies in the fact that one lives in a world in which it is overestimated.
    • The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.
    • 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.
    • The men the American public admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.
    • The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind.
    • The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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 of one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one.
    • To die for an idea; it is unquestionably noble. But how much nobler it would be if men died for ideas that were true!
    • 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.
    • Unquestionably, there is progress. The average American now pays out twice as much in taxes as he formerly got in wages.
    • We are here and it is now. Further than that all human knowledge is moonshine.
    • 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.
      'Prejudices: Fourth Series,' 1924
    • Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking.
      A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949)
    • After all, all he did was string together a lot of old, well-known quotations.
      on Shakespeare
    • There is always a well-known solution to every human problem--neat, plausible, and wrong.
      Prejudices: Second Series, 1920
    If we're missing any H. L. Mencken books or quotes, do email us.

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