H. L. Mencken Quotes

A bad man is the sort who weeps every time he speaks of a good woman.

A church is a place in which gentlemen who have never been to heaven brag about it to persons who will never get there.

A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.

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

A judge is a law student who marks his own examination papers.

A man always remembers his first love with special tenderness, but after that he begins to bunch them.

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

A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in.

A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.

A politician is an animal which can sit on a fence and yet keep both ears to the ground.

A professor must have a theory as a dog must have fleas.

A prohibitionist is the sort of man one couldn’t care to drink with, even if he drank.

A society made up of individuals who were all capable of original thought would probably be unendurable.

A Sunday school is a prison in which children do penance for the evil conscience of their parents.

Adultery is the application of democracy to love.

Alimony – the ransom that the happy pay to the devil.

All government, of course, is against liberty.

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

An idealist is one who, on noticing that roses smell better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.

Archbishop – A Christian ecclesiastic of a rank superior to that attained by Christ.

As the arteries grow hard, the heart grows soft.

Bachelors know more about women than married men; if they didn’t they’d be married too.

Before a man speaks it is always safe to assume that he is a fool. After he speaks, it is seldom necessary to assume it.

Communism, like any other revealed religion, is largely made up of prophecies.

Conscience is a mother-in-law whose visit never ends.

Conscience is the inner voice that warns us that someone might be looking.

Criticism is prejudice made plausible.

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.

Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of Jackals by Jackasses.

Democracy is only a dream: it should be put in the same category as Arcadia, Santa Claus, and Heaven.

Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.

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

Don’t overestimate the decency of the human race.

Each party steals so many articles of faith from the other, and the candidates spend so much time making each other’s speeches, that by the time election day is past there is nothing much to do save turn the sitting rascals out and let a new gang in.

Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.

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

Every man is his own hell.

Every man sees in his relatives, and especially in his cousins, a series of grotesque caricatures of himself.

Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting 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 every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

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.

Have you ever watched a crab on the shore crawling backward in search of the Atlantic Ocean, and missing? That’s the way the mind of man operates.

Historian: an unsuccessful novelist.

Honor is simply the morality of superior men.

Husbands never become good; they merely become proficient.

I believe in only one thing: liberty; but I do not believe in liberty enough to want to force it upon anyone.

I believe that all government is evil, and that trying to improve it is largely a waste of time.

I believe that it is better to tell the truth than a lie. I believe it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe it is better to know than to be ignorant.

I confess I enjoy democracy immensely. It is incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing.

I go on working for the same reason that a hen goes on laying eggs.

I hate all sports as rabidly as a person who likes sports hates common sense.

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.

I never smoked a cigarette until I was nine.

I write in order to attain that feeling of tension relieved and function achieved which a cow enjoys on giving milk.

If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.

If women believed in their husbands they would be a good deal happier and also a good deal more foolish.

If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.

Immorality: the morality of those who are having a better time.

In the duel of sex woman fights from a dreadnought and man from an open raft.

In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican.

In war the heroes always outnumber the soldiers ten to one.

Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what sting 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 even harder for the average ape to believe that he has descended from man.

It is hard for the ape to believe he 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 impossible to imagine the universe run by a wise, just and omnipotent God, but it is quite easy to imagine it run by a board of gods.

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 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 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.

Judge: a law student who marks his own examination-papers.

Legend: A lie that has attained the dignity of age.

Let’s not burn the universities yet. After all, the damage they do might be worse.

Life is a constant oscillation between the sharp horns of dilemmas.

Life is a dead-end street.

Love is an emotion that is based on an opinion of women that is impossible for those who have had any experience with them.

Love is like war: easy to begin but very hard to stop.

Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another.

Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.

Man is a beautiful machine that works very badly.

Man is always looking for someone to boast to; woman is always looking for a shoulder to put her head on.

Man weeps to think that he will die so soon; woman, that she was born so long ago.

Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who would want to live in an institution?

Men have a much better time of it than women. For one thing, they marry later; for another thing, they die earlier.

Morality is the theory that every human act must be either right or wrong, and that 99 % of them are wrong.

Most people are unable to write because they are unable to think, and they are unable to think because they congenitally lack the equipment to do so, just as they congenitally lack the equipment to fly over the moon.

Most people want security in this world, not liberty.

Nevertheless, it is even harder for the average ape to believe that he has descended from man.

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 married man is genuinely happy if he has to drink worse whisky than he used to drink when he was single.

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

No matter how long he lives, no man ever becomes as wise as the average woman of forty-eight.

No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.

Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.

One may no more live in the world without picking up the moral prejudices of the world than one will be able to go to hell without perspiring.

Opera in English is, in the main, just about as sensible as baseball in Italian.

Platitude: an idea (a) that is admitted to be true by everyone, and (b) that is not true.

Poetry has done enough when it charms, but prose must also convince.

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.

Self-respect: the secure feeling that no one, as yet, is suspicious.

Strike an average between what a woman thinks of her husband a month before she marries him and what she thinks of him a year afterward, and you will have the truth about him.

Temptation is a woman’s weapon and man’s excuse.

Temptation is an irresistible force at work on a movable body.

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 capacity of human beings to bore one another seems to be vastly greater than that of any other animal.

The chief contribution of Protestantism to human thought is its massive proof that God is a bore.

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

The common argument that crime is caused by poverty is a kind of slander on the poor.

The cynics are right nine times out of ten.

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 most costly of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind.

The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out… without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, intolerable.

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

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

The only cure for contempt is counter-contempt.

The only really happy folk are married women and single men.

The opera is to music what a bawdy house is to a cathedral.

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 theory seems to be that as long as a man is a failure he is one of God’s children, but that as soon as he succeeds he is taken over by the Devil.

The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.

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 worst government is often the most moral. One composed of cynics is often very tolerant and humane. But when fanatics are on top there is no limit to oppression.

Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing.

There are men so philosophical that they can see humor in their own toothaches. But there has never lived a man so philosophical that he could see the toothache in his own humor.

There is a saying in Baltimore that crabs may be prepared in fifty ways and that all of them are good.

There is always an easy solution to every problem – neat, plausible, and wrong.

Time stays, we go.

To be in love is merely to be in a state of perceptual anesthesia – to mistake an ordinary young woman for a goddess.

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

Unquestionably, there is progress. The average American now pays out twice as much in taxes as he formerly got in wages.

War will never cease until babies begin to come into the world with larger cerebrums and smaller adrenal glands.

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

We must be willing to pay a price for freedom.

We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.

Wealth – any income that is at least one hundred dollars more a year than the income of one’s wife’s sister’s husband.

What men value in this world is not rights but privileges.

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.

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

Whenever a husband and wife begin to discuss their marriage they are giving evidence at a coroner’s inquest.

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

Women always excel men in that sort of wisdom which comes from experience. To be a woman is in itself a terrible experience.

Women have simple tastes. They get pleasure out of the conversation of children in arms and men in love.