Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

H. L. Mencken, fully Henry Louis Mencken

American Newspaperman, Editor, Writer, Critic, Iconoclast, Satirist, Acerbic Critic of American Life and Culture, American English Scholar

"In human history a moral victory is always a disaster, for it debauches and degrades both the victor and the vanquished."

"It is the dull man who is always sure, and the sure man who is always dull. The more a man dreams, the less he believes."

"Neither sex, without some fertilization of the complementary characters of the other, is capable of the highest reaches of human endeavor."

"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."

"Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt."

"Never let your inferiors do you a favor. It will be extremely costly."

"Nine times out of ten, in the arts as in life, there is actually no truth to be discovered; there is only error to be exposed."

"No man ever quite believes in any other man. One may believe in an idea absolutely, but not in a man."

"No young man is educated if he comes out of college with the cheap and false values of the common man."

"On the one hand, we may tell the truth, regardless of consequences, and on the other hand we may mellow it and sophisticate it to make it humane and tolerable."

"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."

"The one permanent emotion of the inferior man is fear - fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable. What he wants beyond everything else is safety."

"Time is a great legalizer, even in the field of morals."

"To die for an idea; it is unquestionably noble. But how much nobler it would be if men died for ideas that were true!"

"When women kiss it always reminds one of prize-fighters shaking hands."

"Who are happy in marriage? Those with so little imagination that they cannot picture a better state, and those so shrewd that they prefer quiet slavery to hopeless rebellion."

"A man of active and resilient mind outwears his friendships just as certainly as he outwears his love affairs, his politics, and his epistemology."

"All successful newspapers are ceaselessly querulous and bellicose. They never defend anyone or anything if they can help it; if the job is forced upon them, they tackle it by denouncing someone or something else."

"Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable."

"God is a comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh."

"Human progress is furthered, not by conformity, but by aberration."

"I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind-that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking. I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty."

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

"It doesn’t take a majority to make a rebellion; it takes only a few determined leaders and a sound cause."

"It is not materialism that is the chief curse of the world, as pastors teach, but idealism. Men get into trouble by taking their visions and hallucinations too seriously."

"It is, indeed, one of the capital tragedies of youth - and youth is the time of real tragedy - that the young are thrown mainly with adults they do not quite respect."

"Nine-tenths of the best poetry of the world has been written by poets less than thirty years old; a great deal more than half of it has been written by poets under twenty-five."

"No matter how happily a woman may be married, it always pleases her to discover that there is a nice man who wishes she were not."

"Penetrating so many secrets, we cease to believe in the unknowable. But there it sits nevertheless, calmly licking its chops."

"Politics, as hopeful men practice it in the world, consists mainly of the delusion that a change in form is a change in substance."

"Science, at bottom is really anti-intellectual. It always distrusts pure reason, and demands the productgion of objective fact."

"The average man never really thinks from end to end of his life. The mental activity of such people is only a mouthing of clichés."

"The military caste did not originate as a party of patriots, but as a party of bandits."

"The more a man dreams, the less he believes."

"The smallest atom of truth represents some man’s bitter toil and agony; for every ponderable chunk of it there is a brave truth-seeker’s grave upon some lonely ash-dump and a soul roasting in hell."

"There is no record in history of a nation that ever gained anything valuable by being unable to defend itself."

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

"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."

"Unionism seldom, if ever, uses such power as it has to insure better work; almost always it devotes a large part of that power to safeguarding bad work."

"We are here and it is now. Further than that, all knowledge is moonshine."

"All men are frauds. The only difference between them is that some admit. I myself deny it. "

"Government, today, has grown too strong to be safe. "

"Most people want security in this world, not liberty. "

"The average man does not want to be free. He simply wants to be safe. "

"The majority of men prefer delusion to truth. It soothes. It is easy to grasp."

"All government, in its essence, is organized exploitation. "

"Any man who afflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood. "

"Never argue with a man whose job depends on not being convinced. "

"The artist is not a reporter, but a Great Teacher. It is not his business to depict the world as it is, but as it ought to be."

"The chief value of money lies in the fact that one lives in a world in which it is overestimated. "