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  • Henry Louis Mencken

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    « L’ennemi numéro 1 de tout État est l’homme qui est capable de penser par lui-même sans considération de la pensée unique. Presque inévitablement il parviendra alors à la conclusion que l’État sous lequel il vit est malhonnête, insensé et insupportable, ainsi, si cet homme est idéaliste il voudra le changer. S’il ne l’est pas, il témoignera suffisamment de sa découverte pour générer la révolte des idéalistes contre l’État. »

    "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."

    « L'homme le plus dangereux pour un gouvernement est celui qui est capable de penser à des choses pour lui-même, sans égard aux superstitions et aux tabous prédominants. »,

    "The truth, indeed, is something that mankind, for some mysterious reason, instinctively dislikes. Every man who tries to tell it is unpopular, and even when, by the sheer strength of his case, he prevails, he is put down as a scoundrel."

    "The only kind of freedom that the mob can imagine is freedom to annoy and oppress its betters, and that is precisely the kind that we mainly have."

    "I believe in only one thing and that thing is human liberty. If ever a man is to achieve anything like dignity, it can happen only if superior men are given absolute freedom to think what they want to think and say what they want to say. I am against any man and any organization which seeks to limit or deny that freedom. . . [and] the superior man can be sure of freedom only if it is given to all men."

    • Henry Louis Mencken, as quoted in Letters of H. L. Mencken, 1961, edited by Guy J. Forgue, p. xiii

    "Equality before the law is probably forever inattainable. It is a noble ideal, but it can never be realized, for what men value in this world is not rights but privileges."

    Henry Louis Mencken takes the first drink after prohibition.

    "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

    "Every election is a sort of advance auction of stolen goods."

    « L’État, ou pour rendre les choses plus concrètes, le gouvernement, se compose d’une bande de types exactement comme vous et moi. Ils n’ont, tout bien considéré, aucun talent particulier pour les affaires du gouvernement ; ils n’en ont que pour accéder à une fonction et la garder. Dans ce but, leur principal procédé consiste à chercher des groupes de gens qui courent désespérément après quelque chose qu’ils ne peuvent pas se procurer, et à promettre de le leur donner. Neuf fois sur dix, cette promesse ne vaut rien. La dixième fois, elle est tenue en pillant A afin de satisfaire B. En d’autres termes, le gouvernement est un courtier en pillage, et chaque élection est une sorte de vente aux enchères par avance de biens à voler. »
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    "Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance."

    "Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; 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."

    "Public opinion, in its raw state, gushes out in the immemorial form of the mob's fear. It is piped into central factories, and there it is flavoured and coloured and put into cans."

    "In the present case it is a little inaccurate to say I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible to any public office of trust or profit in the Republic. But I do not repine, for I am a subject of it only by force of arms."

    "Liberty and democracy are eternal enemies, and every one knows it who has ever given any sober reflection to the matter. A democratic state may profess to venerate the name, and even pass laws making it officially sacred, but it simply cannot tolerate the thing. In order to keep any coherence in the governmental process, to prevent the wildest anarchy in thought and act, the government must put limits upon the free play of opinion. In part, it can reach that end by mere propaganda, by the bald force of its authority — that is, by making certain doctrines officially infamous. But in part it must resort to force, i.e., to law. One of the main purposes of laws in a democratic society is to put burdens upon intelligence and reduce it to impotence. Ostensibly, their aim is to penalize anti-social acts; actually their aim is to penalize heretical opinions. At least ninety-five Americans out of every 100 believe that this process is honest and even laudable; it is practically impossible to convince them that there is anything evil in it. In other words, they cannot grasp the concept of liberty. Always they condition it with the doctrine that the state, i.e., the majority, has a sort of right of eminent domain in acts, and even in ideas — that it is perfectly free, whenever it is so disposed, to forbid a man to say what he honestly believes. Whenever his notions show signs of becoming "dangerous," ie, of being heard and attended to, it exercises that prerogative. And the overwhelming majority of citizens believe in supporting it in the outrage. Including especially the Liberals, who pretend — and often quite honestly believe — that they are hot for liberty. They never really are. Deep down in their hearts they know, as good democrats, that liberty would be fatal to democracy — that a government based upon shifting and irrational opinion must keep it within bounds or run a constant risk of disaster. They themselves, as a practical matter, advocate only certain narrow kinds of liberty — liberty, that is, for the persons they happen to favor. The rights of other persons do not seem to interest them. If a law were passed tomorrow taking away the property of a large group of presumably well-to-do persons — say, bondholders of the railroads — without compensation and without even colorable reason, they would not oppose it; they would be in favor of it. The liberty to have and hold property is not one they recognize. They believe only in the liberty to envy, hate and loot the man who has it."

    • Henry Louis Mencken, "Liberty and Democracy" in the Baltimore Evening Sun (13 April 1925), also in A Second Mencken Chrestomathy : New Selections from the Writings of America's Legendary Editor, Critic, and Wit (1994) edited by Terry Teachout, p. 35

    "The saddest life is that of a political aspirant under democracy. His failure is ignominious and his success is disgraceful."

    « La plus triste des vies est celle d'un aspirant politique en démocratie. Son échec est ignominieux et son succès est honteux. »

    "All government, in its essence, is a conspiracy against the superior man: its one permanent object is to oppress him and cripple him. If it be aristocratic in organization, then it seeks to protect the man who is superior only in law against the man who is superior in fact; if it be democratic, then it seeks to protect the man who is inferior in every way against both. One of its primary functions is to regiment men by force, to make them as much alike as possible and as dependent upon one another as possible, to search out and combat originality among them. All it can see in an original idea is potential change, and hence an invasion of its prerogatives. 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, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are."

    « La convention sociale la plus curieuse de la formidable époque que nous vivons est celle selon laquelle les opinions religieuses doivent être respectées. L'évidence des effets pervers d'une telle idée doit être claire pour tout le monde. Tout ce qu'elle permet, c'est 1) de jeter un voile de sainteté sur ces opinions qui sont une complète violation de la décence intellectuelle, et 2) de transformer tout théologien en libertin patenté. [...] En fait il n'y a rien dans les opinions religieuses qui justifie qu'elles dussent bénéficier de plus de respect que les autres. Au contraire elles ont tendance à être remarquablement stupide. [...] Non, il n'y a rien de notable ni de digne dans les idées religieuses. Elles aboutissent pour la plupart à un tissu de non-sens particulièrement puéril et assommant. »

    • Henry Louis Mencken, « Immunisé ! » (1950), dans La gloire des athées, éd. Les nuits rouges, 2006, p. 541-542

    "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."

    "To be in love is merely to be in a state of perpetual anesthesia — to mistake an ordinary young man for a Greek god or an ordinary young woman for a goddess."

    « Être amoureux c'est simplement être dans un état d'anesthésie perpétuelle — prendre un homme ordinaire pour un dieu grec et une femme ordinaire pour une déesse. »
    Henry Louis Mencken takes the first drink after prohibition.

    "Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what stings is justice."

    « L'injustice est relativement facile à supporter ; ce qui l'est moins c'est la justice. »

    "Public opinion, in its raw state, gushes out in the immemorial form of the mob's fear. It is piped into central factories, and there it is flavoured and coloured and put into cans."

    « L'opinion publique, à l'état brut, jaillit dans la forme immémoriale de la peur de la foule. Elle est acheminée par des tuyaux dans des usines, et on lui y donne alors du goût, de la couleur, et elle est mise en bouteilles. »

    "The argument that capital punishment degrades the state is moonshine, for if that were true then it would degrade the state to send men to war... The state, in truth, is degraded in its very nature: a few butcheries cannot do it any further damage."

    "The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom."

    « Plus je vieillis, moins je crois à la maxime familière qui veut que l'âge apporte la sagesse. »

    "A celebrity is one who is known to many persons he is glad he doesn't know."

    « Une célébrité est quelqu'un qui est connu par beaucoup de personnes qu'il est content de ne pas connaître. »

    "A man may be a fool and not know it — but not if he is married."

    « Un homme peut être un idiot et ne pas le savoir — sauf s'il est marié. »