Social Justice Warriors Then

Mencken explains how to pursue social reform without eschatology or sanctity:

I do not hold, with the suffragettes, that the extension of the suffrage would bring the millennium, that the will to power would become the will to kiss, that sin would perish from the earth. Far from it. But I do hold that the dear girls could do no worse with the vote than men have done, that the present discrimination against them is unjust and absurd, that they ought to have their equal chance to inject their favorite antitoxins into the body politic and perform their pet mazurkas.

The common theory that women would not vote as intelligently as men is one that doesn’t appeal to me. I see no evidence in support of it. Women, in general, are certainly not less intelligent than men. On the contrary, they are probably more intelligent. That is to say, they keep in closer contact with reality, they are less romantic, they yield less to emotion. A woman’s eye is always upon the immediate certainty, not upon the remote possibility. She is not an idealist; she seldom dreams great dreams. But in the everyday, commonplace business of living she renders inestimable services to the human race. She keeps it upon the track; she sees that it gets three meals a day; she darns its socks and bathes its fevered brow; she assiduously counts its change.

In the great business of marriage, for example, the attitude of women is far less sentimental than that of men. A man usually marries romantically: he is full of magnificent visions of incredible bliss. Many men, indeed, are so romantic that they never marry at all—the true explanation of 90 per cent. of all masculine celibacy. But women marry with an eye to the main chance. They seldom allow romance to obliterate worldly prudence. In the whole history of England, I am told, no woman has ever actually refused a Duke. And here in free America it is not often, I venture, that a sane woman ever refuses a man who is her social equal and of good repute and able to support her. She may do it if she has a free choice between two such men, but such opportunities, it must be plain, are rare, and even when they occur there is commonly a Palpable difference between the two men, and so the woman’s choice is not free. She picks the better, not the worse. Her eye is on her number.

Such instinctive sagacity, I believe, would have a good influence upon politics. The woman voter would decide public questions, not from the idealistic standpoint, but from the standpoint of bread and butter. She would regard all political wizards and windjammers with distrust and aversion, just as she regards them now. She would bring to the business of government that salubrious cynicism which she now brings to the business of ensnaring and managing her husband. In brief, she would introduce a sharp common sense into political controversy and combat—a quality now almost wholly lacking.

But the suffragettes! The suffragettes! What of them? Isn’t it a fact that their present propaganda is utterly without sense, that their panaceas are all bosh, that their arguments and claims are romantic and nonsensical? Maybe it is. But don’t make the mistake, beloved, of confusing suffragettes with women in general. The suffragettes, by the irony of fate, are the worst of all imaginable specimens of their sex—not in the sense that they are evil, but in the sense that they are untypical. They no more represent the normal habits and mental processes of women than the fantastic Ibsenites of yesterday represented old Henrik, or than the S. P. C. A. of today represents that kindly and lovable creature, the Canis familiaris.

No; the suffragettes are not typical women, and so it would be absurd to charge their extravagances to the normal feminine character. On the contrary, they are untypical women, romantic women, women without womanly common sense. The thing that attracts thern to the suffrage cause is not the cause itself, but the excitement of the campaign. In brief, they are emotionalists—which is exactly what normal women are not. This explains their eager adoption of such ludicrous jehads as the vice crusade. This explains, too, their willing alliances with prima donna preachers, Chautauqua “sociologists,” Socialists, play censors and other such bogus “thinkers” and laryngeal bravos. And this explains, finally, the curious fact that many of them also belong to other windy lodges—of anti-vivisectionism, of anti-vaccinationists, of medical freedomists, of initiators and referendors, of deep breathers, of eugenists.

9 thoughts on “Social Justice Warriors Then

  1. This does bring some of our more illustrious and loud Social Gospel She-Warriors* to mind. “Referendors” is excellent.

    *SGW attibuted to @chuck_finney on the Tweeter


  2. “… And this explains, finally, the curious fact that many of them also belong to other windy lodges—of anti-vivisectionism, of anti-vaccinationists, of medical freedomists, of initiators and referendors, of deep breathers, of eugenists …”

    And don’t forget to include the prohibitionists! Whenever I think about that lot I a picture of Carrie Nation holding that hatchet immediately comes to mind.


  3. I guess the first rule one must employ to discredit a group is to speak of it as being a monolith in a negative sense. The suffragettes were hardly monolithic and that could easil be seen in comparing the reaction to WW I by the suffragette movement in England with one in America. In fact, even within the movement in England, there were different groups of activists. Some believed in civil disobedience and some did not. As for those who did, some became the predecessors of the Weathermne of the ’60s with respect to their use violence–it was violence against things, not people. Others didn’t use violence when practicing civil disobedience. Also, some suffragettes were hard core activists and some weren’t and so on.

    Mencken finds it so easy characterize groups whether they be men, women, or the suffragettes. Accrording to him, the suffragettes have more in common with men than with those from their own gender. Of course the problem here is that Menken’s working definitions of traits like ‘romantic’ are hardly universal, are usinversally agreed on, ignore context, and based on his limited viewpoint. Tell women today that they might not have had the right to vote without the sacrifices made by the suffragettes and then ask what do they thnk of those suffragettes and see how they think of them.

    The problem with this article is that it starts with a comepletely negative view of activists. So they are called “Social Justice Warriors” and a completely negative description is given to the example used. This only shows that the role of the Pharisee from the parable of the two men praying continues to be well played. We should note that just as the victims are rarely if ever purely innocent, neither are those who rescue them are eligible to be canonized as saints. Like all of us, all victims and heroes are a mixed bag. So to speak only negatively or positively about any one group is flawed.


  4. Curt, you do understand that Mencken was writing for entertainment purposes — right? He cared not who he triggered. And microaggressions had not even been invented in his day.


  5. Chortles,
    I watch the Daily Show and much of what they do is for entertainment. But, that show also passes along serious messages. And when you consider the citation of Mencken’s article in this post along with the title of this post’s article, it isn’t wrong to take what Mencken wrote seriously.


  6. More truth:

    The truth is that wornen as a class are against all such brummagen schemes for making the world perfect overnight. They are cynical of large reforms because they know by practical experience the difficulties in the way of small reforms. A woman who has tried for 20 years to make her husband abandon pipe-smoking in the house, only to suffer ignominious defeat in the end–this woman is not apt to have much faith in a plan to turn him into a teetotaler by legislative emactment. She is hep, as the psychologists say, to the nature of the critter. She knows that he will fight for his little vices as he would never fight for his hearth and home. She is aware of his essential depravity. And being aware of it, she senses the folly of brooding over it.

    But the suffragettes preach the millennium! They are in favor of all the political panaceas and moral bile beans! So they are–where women still lack the vote. But where the victory has been won they quickly subside. The great masses of hard-headed, unsentimental, intelligent women overwhelm and obliterate them. The legislative program of the Just Government League of Maryland, for example, has no duplicate in Colorado. I haven’t the slightest doubt that there are women out there who favor it, but they are in such a hopeless minority that they are never heard of. The average Colorado woman is against it, just as the average Maryland woman is against it, and so it is not even debated. Give the women of Maryland the vote, and they would settle the nonsense of the suffragettes in 10 minutes.

    My personal belief, indeed, is that even the suffragettes have little faith in their boluses. I mean, of course, the women suffragettes. Many of the men, perhaps, are genuine believers, and some of them, no doubt, argue for the suffrage merely to advertise their moral merchandise. But the sincerity of the women is open to grave doubt. They promise the millennium simply because they hope to make votes thereby. It is men voters to whom their present appeal is addressed–and men are romantic. But once they gained their heart’s desire, it is very probable that they would come down to earth. And it is wholly certain that the majority of enfranchised women would never leave the earth.


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