27 Scathing H.L. Mencken Quotes On Politics, Religion, And The American Public

Published April 16, 2017
Updated May 4, 2018
White House
As democracy is perfected, the office of President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. 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.

Hl Mencken On The American Public
Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.Corbis Historical

Angry Preacher
To sum up: 1. The cosmos is a gigantic fly-wheel making 10,000 revolutions a minute. 2. Man is a sick fly taking a dizzy ride on it. 3. Religion is the theory that the wheel was designed and set spinning to give him the ride.

Hl Mencken Quotes About Politics
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.George Karger / Getty Images

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

Best Hl Mencken Quotes
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.Bettmann / Getty Images

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 and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else.Wikimedia Commons

Black And White Hl Mencken Photo
A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.George Karger / Getty Images

Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.Wikimedia Commons

Hl Mencken Journalist
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.Bettmann / Getty Images

Standing In Line
The basic fact about human existence is not that it is a tragedy, but that it is a bore. It is not so much a war as an endless standing in line. The objection to it is not that it is predominantly painful, but that it is lacking in sense.Wikimedia Commons

The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.George Karger / Getty Images

The trouble with Communism is the Communists, just as the trouble with Christianity is the Christians.Wikimedia Commons

Hl Mencken Picture
The fact is that the average man's love of liberty is nine-tenths imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice and truth. He is not actually happy when free; he is uncomfortable, a bit alarmed, and intolerably lonely.George Karger / Getty Images

Hl Mencken Portrait
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.Wikimedia Commons

Hl Mencken Quotes Governments
Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.A. Aubrey Bodine / Stringer

Funny Hl Mencken Quotes
An idealist is one who, on noticing that roses smell better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.Getty Images

Hl Mencken Quotes
The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, and intolerable.George Karger / Getty Images

Hl Mencken Quotes On Patriotism
It is the dull man who is always sure, and the sure man who is always dull.

The great artists of the world are never Puritans, and seldom even ordinarily respectable. No virtuous man — that is, virtuous in the Y.M.C.A. sense — has ever painted a picture worth looking at, or written a symphony worth hearing, or a book worth reading.Corbis Historical / Getty Images

When a new source of taxation is found it never means, in practice, that the old source is abandoned. It merely means that the politicians have two ways of milking the taxpayer where they had one before.Wikimedia Commons

Hl Mencken Quotes Writing
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.George Karger / Getty Images

The kind of man who wants the government to adopt and enforce his ideas is always the kind of man whose ideas are idiotic.

Painting Of Hl Mencken
It was morality that burned the books of the ancient sages, and morality that halted the free inquiry of the Golden Age and substituted for it the credulous imbecility of the Age of Faith. It was a fixed moral code and a fixed theology which robbed the human race of a thousand years by wasting them upon alchemy, heretic-burning, witchcraft and sacerdotalism.Corbis Historical

Young Hl Mencken Photo
Whenever you hear a man speak of his love for his country, it is a sign that he expects to be paid for it.

Quotes By Hl Mencken
The most costly of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind.Bettman / Getty Images

Portrait Of Hl Mencken
I am suspicious of all the things that the average people believe.Ullstein Bild / Getty

Famed for his rapier wit as much as his ill-temperament, Henry Louis (H.L.) Mencken rose to national prominence as a journalist and correspondent for the Baltimore Sun.

A student of Friedrich Nietzsche and Mark Twain, Mencken was a detractor of representative democracy, religion, and social norms, and thus stood in stark contrast against the political and philosophical foundations of the United States.

It was precisely this antagonism to American heterodoxy that allowed Mencken to flourish as an early 20th-century cultural commentator. As you'll see in the quotes above, many today rightly regard H.L. Mencken as one of the most astute cultural critics in American history. And he certainly didn't hold back.

If you enjoyed this collection of H.L. Mencken quotes, we recommended you check out our other posts on interesting quotes and quintessential Mark Twain quotes on life, philosophy and politics. Then, read the last words of famous people throughout history as well as some of the best insults ever recorded.

Alexander is a Brooklyn-based cofounder of All That's Interesting with an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia in History and Economics and an MSc from the School of Oriental and African Studies in Economics. He specializes in American history, the Cold War, and true crime.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.