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.

Cigar Aficianado before The Magazine

The old cost of doing business in the land of the free and home of the brave, thanks to H. L. Mencken:

The fact that the Hon. Jacobus Hook gave away 62,350 cigars during the year 1912 has aroused the jealousy of the Hon. James Young, and the two are now engaged in a gigantic struggle for the 1913 championship. The Hon. Mr. Young, so I hear, has sent such huge orders to Havana that he is getting 25-cent cigars at 3.33 cents apiece. Meanwhile, Colonel Hook has added 150 hands to the force in his private fabrico at Pinar del Rio, and, in addition, he has bought land for a new factory on Gay street. His expenditure for cigar bands alone will be $1,500 this year, and he will cut down 125 acres of cedar forest to make boxes. His leading brands continue to be the La Cuerda, the El Hofbraeu and the Pride of Old Town. The first named is a demi-blond cigar, cut in Empire style, with a violet band and a high, spicy flavor. The second is a short, squat brunette, with a scarlet bandeau around its equator. The third is a long, rakish smoke with pale, xanthous spots, suggesting flecks of mayonnaise. It is a very powerful cheroot, with fumes strong enough to loosen the scalp, and Colonel Hook reserves it for newspaper reporters, job-seekers and the judiciary.

Old Urbanism

H. L. Mencken was so much more than an iconclast:

The chief beauty of such a town as Paris lies in the harmony visible in its architecture, and particularly in the architecture of its private buildings. Look down any of the principal streets and you will note at once that most of the houses are of a height, and, what is more, that most of them are of the same general style. In the treatment of details there remains plenty of room for individual enterprise and skill. Some houses are quite commonplace. But taken together they produce an effect of order and dignity. There are no bloody wars between Doric and Gothic, Moorish and Tudor English, the pointed arch and the mansard roof, the Corinthian column and the Byzantine minaret. Huge towers do not leap indecently from squat Greek temples. The stories of one house are not twice as high as the stories of the house next door.

Even in London, a town generally hideous, an effort at harmony is still visible. True enough, you will find huge sarcophagi shouldering pretty little Georgian houses in Pall Mall, and a saturnalia of styles in Park lane, but in most other parts of the West End every separate street, beside its virtues in detail, has some virtue as a whole. It is, in fact, a street, and not a mere hodge-podge of houses. The roofline is broken, not by leaps, but by intelligible progressions. And if we cross the Channel and proceed to such streets as the Ludwigstrasse, in Munich, we find harmony become almost perfect.

Harmony, of course, does not mean sameness. Here in Baltimore, at least in our residence sections, we have plenty of sameness. One wanders for hours through endless rows of undifferentiated houses. Citizens in liquor are constantly pulling the wrong bells, swearing at the wrong keyholes. It is difficult, so I hear, even for a teetotaler to find his house on foggy nights; the wine-bibber, in despair, frankly gives it up and so stays down town. But that ugly and depressing monotony is not harmony–no more, indeed, than the beating of a tom-tom is music. Harmony means the agreeable co-ordination of distinct but related details. It is important that they have elements in common, but it is also important that they have elements not in common.

Such harmony is rare in Baltimore. South street, for example, which might well have had character and beauty, for its builders did not lack money, is unspeakably and amazingly ugly. It has beautiful details, true enough, but the general effect is cacophonous and repulsive. So with Baltimore street, Lexington street, Hopkins Place. Even Mount Vernon Place, for all its charm, is still chaotic and disturbing. The serene dignity of a London square is not in it: the war between its antagonistic details is too savage and too noisy.

Calculating Vice

H. L. Mencken poked holes in the numbers:

How little dependence is to be put in the tales of vice “experts” was lately shown in New York, when a man employed by young John D. Rockefeller made the astounding statement that there were 26,000 white slaves in the greater city–not merely prostitutes, mind you, but white slaves, women “owned” by definite men and regularly robbed of their earnings by these men. A brief examination is sufficient to show the absurdity of such allegations. Go to the figures yourself. The present population of Greater New York, according to the usually accurate estimate of the New York World, is 5,173,064, but this includes the population of two suburban boroughs, Richmond and Queens, in which no white slave trade is alleged to exist. The population of the other three boroughs, Manhattan Brooklyn and the Bronx, comes to 4,476,098.

How many of these New Yorkers are female? According to the census of 1900, the last for which complete figures are available, the population of New York is almost evenly divided between males and females. This gives us, in the three boroughs, 2,373,049 females. But how many of them are of white-slave age? Let us assume, despite the crusaders’ donkeyish theory that a prostitute lasts but five years, that some of the white slaves are as young as 17 years and that others are as old as 34. This gives us a range of 17 years. How many women between these ages live in New York?

Going again to the census of 1900 we find that women between the ages of 17 and 34, inclusive, make up exactly one-third of the female population of the city. Now divide three into 2,373,049 and we get 791,016, which is the maximum number of possible white slaves in New York, counting in married women, college girls, suffragettes and all other indubitably virtuous women. Now divide 791,016 by 26,000 and we get just 30. What does this mean? It means, in brief, that young John D.’s “expert” alleges that one woman in every 30 in New York city, counting in even respectable women, is a white slave.

But ordinary prostitutes are yet to be considered. According to Young John’s “expert,” they greatly outnumber the actual white slaves. How far they outnumber them he doesn’t say: he will come to that by and by. But meanwhile, his statement that there are “many more” justifies the assumption that he means at least half again as many more, That assumption given us 39,000 as the number of ordinary prostitutes. Now add 39,000 to 26,000 and we get 65,000. What does this mean? It means that one woman in every 12 in New York is a prostitute!

Could absurdity further go? And yet such bogus statistics are accepted with the utmost seriousness and published broadcast. The newspapers print them, moralists weep over them, the public is appalled by them. But it seldom occurs to anybody to question them, just as it seldom occurs to anybody in our own dear Baltimore to question the grotesque overstatements of such ludicrous crusaders as Dr. O. Edward Janney and the Rev. Dr. Kenneth O. Murray.

Perhaps John D. Rockefeller was applying “white slavery” in a Sermon-on-the-Mount way, those women who were “white slaves” in their hearts.

Mencken on Life and Death

Yesterday, January 29, 2017, was the sixty-first anniversary of H. L. Mencken’s death. He contemplated mortality frequently and even considered suicide. For the last eight years of his life, after suffering a massive stroke, he lived like a kind of dead man, since he was so incapacitated that he could not do what made him tick for most of his life — read and write. His candor about the meaning of life is still remarkable:

All men who, in any true sense, are sentient strive mightily for distinction and power, i.e., for the respect and envy of their fellowmen, i.e., for the ill-natured admiration of an endless series of miserable and ridiculous bags of rapidly disintegrating animo acids. Why? If I knew, I’d certainly not be writing books in this infernal American climate; I’d be sitting in state in a hall of crystal and gold, and people would be paying $10 a head to gape at me through peep-holes. But though the central mystery remains, it is possible, perhaps, to investigate the superficial symptoms to some profit. I offer myself as a laboratory animal. Why have I worked so hard for years and years, desperately striving to accomplish something that remains impenetrable to me to this day? Is it because I desire money? Bosh! I can’t recall ever desiring it for an instant: I have always found it easy to get all I wanted. Is it, then, notoriety that I was after? Again the answer must be no. The attention of strangers is unpleasant to me, and I avoid it as much as possible. Then is it a yearning to Do Good that moves me? Bosh and blah! If I am convinced of anything, it is that Doing Good is in bad taste.

Once I ventured the guess that men worked in response to a vague inner urge for self-expression. But that was probably a shaky theory, for some men who work the hardest have nothing to express. A hypothesis with rather more plausibility in it now suggests itself. It is that men work simply in order to escape the depressing agony of contemplating life – that their work, like their play, is a mumbo-jumbo that serves them by permitting them to escape from reality. Both work and play, ordinarily, are illusions. Neither serves any solid or permanent purpose. But life, stripped of such illusions, instantly becomes unbearable. Man cannot sit still, contemplating his destiny in this world, without going frantic. So he invents ways to take his mind off the horror. He works. He plays. He accumulates the preposterous nothing called property. He strives for the coy eyewink called fame. He founds a family, and spends his curse over others. All the while the thing that moves him is simply the yearning to lose himself, to forget himself, to escape the tragic-comedy that is himself. Life, fundamentally, is not worth living. So he confects artificialities to make it so. So he erects a gaudy structure to conceal the fact that it is not so.

Imagine what such candor would do to claims of American greatness or critics of presidents who claim to be great. It would take away the pump that inflates so much of American life into a cosmic struggle between justice and injustice. Don’t most hyperventilators on the left at least agree with Mencken that no God exists. Do they continue to walk with Mencken and conclude that without the divine, no meaning is left either to esteem U.S.A. or berate President Trump. It’s all folly. As Mencken also wrote:

The basic fact about human existences 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 is it lacking in sense. . . . The end is always a vanity, and usually a sordid one, without any noble touch of the pathetic. The means remain. In them lies a secret of what is called contentment, i.e., the capacity to postpone suicide for at least another day. (Prejudices, Sixth Series “The Human Mind: On Suicide”)

Magistrates Should Enforce the Whole Decalogue?

Mencken recognized the fallacy of enforcing morality but not theology (“thou shalt have no other gods before me”):

It is moral tyranny that now afflicts These States, and the worst of the matter is that thousands of Americans seem disposed to submit to it without protest.. If theological tyranny were revived tomorrow, they would loose a bellow loud enough to shake the earth, but in the face of moral tyranny they remain silent and sit still. Thus it is that militant moralists, moved by that will to power which is universal in man, have proceeded from excess to excess, until now an almost endless roll of wholly harmless acts is under the ban of the law.

It is unlawful in Baltimore for a citizen to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on the Sabbath. It is unlawful for him to buy a cigar. It is unlawful for him to have his hair cut. It is unlawful for him, on a summer Sunday, to recreate himself by playing baseball. In various large areas of his city he is forbidden to buy a bottle of wine, even on a week-day. Many plays that he may want to see, indubitable works of art, are barred from the theatres he patronizes. He is forbidden to possess certain great and valuable books, or to send them to his friends by mail. The law decides what games of chance he shall play and what games of chance he shall not play, and the division is purely arbitrary and nonsensical.

What is more, this invasion of his common rights is still going on. Here in Baltimore there are half a dozen organizations devoted exclusively to the concoction and prohibition of new and wholly artificial crimes. And in Washington the Congress of the United States is preparing to pass a law making it a crime for a man to have a bottle of beer in his possession–not to sell it or give it away, remember, but merely to have it.

What is the theory at the bottom of all this oppressive and intolerable legislation? Simply the theory that no man shall do, even in his own house, anything which the majority of his fellow-citizens do not care to do in their houses. His act need not be vicious in itself; it need not be dangerous; it need not be disturbing to his neighbors. All it need be is abhorrent to the opinion of those neighbors, or, to be more exact, to the opinion of 51 per cent. of them. This is the theory at the bottom of moral snouting and moral legislation, and this was also the theory at the bottom of the hanging of Jews and Quakers, the Massacre of St. Bartholomew and the Inquisition in Spain.

No sane man, I take it, objects to laws necessary to the public security, even when they limit his own liberties. I have never heard anyone defend burglary, or arson, or rape. I doubt that any such defense has ever been made in Christendom. But is it necessary to the public security that boys who work hard all week be forbidden to take reasonable recreation on Sunday? Is it necessary to the public security that a sane man, fully competent to take care of himself, be forbidden to drink a bottle of beer? Is it necessary to the public security that a good citizen be forbidden to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony one day out of every seven, or that he be forbidden to read the books he wants to read, or to see the plays be wants to see?

I think not. On the contrary, it seems to me that such prohibitions are wholly intolerable and indecent. It seems to me that any person who essays to enforce them upon free citizens is a far more dangerous criminal than that poor wretch who essays to pick their pockets. The pickpocket steals only a watch, and a man without a watch is still a man. But the militant moralist tries to steal liberty and self-respect, and the man who has lost both is a man who has lost everything that separates a civilized freeman from a convict in a chain-gang.

So again the question: why do Christians expect non-Christians to behave like Christians?

Why Mencken Matters

He is a reminder that belief is not normal (to fallen human beings).

The reason for that aside is Regis Martin’s article about the stupidity of atheists (trigger warning for the w-w deniers):

…people do not arrive at atheism as a result of hours heuristically spent perusing the philosophical journals. That is because it is not a matter of the intelligence that compels one to choose disbelief, but a movement of the will. One would have to be pretty witless if, on the strength of a syllogism, one were to conclude that there is no God. An atheist can no more eliminate God’s existence by his refusal to believe than a blind man can by his inability to see expel the sunlight. “The essence of God does indeed lie beyond the scope of intelligence,” Fr. Murray freely concedes, “but his existence does not.” And not to know at least that much, “is to nullify oneself as a man, a creature of intelligence.” Because belief in God is, very simply, the bedrock truth upon which everything else depends. To think otherwise, he argues, amounts to “a miserably flat denouement to the great intellectual drama in whose opening scene Plato appeared with the astonishing announcement that launched the high action of philosophy—his insight that there is an order of transcendent reality, higher than the order of human intelligence and the measure of it, to which access is available to the mind of man.”

In which case, we should never trust an atheist or unbeliever with any sort of responsibility (and we should live in a Christendom because only God-affirmers have the bedrock for truth).

But what if faith is not natural? What if philosophical inquiry and logical deduction still don’t make a man or woman believe? What if, get this, Paul was right?

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1)

Imagine that: Reformed Protestants take atheists more seriously than Roman Catholics because of the doctrine of total depravity. If you start with the reality that all people are lost in their trespasses and sins, that their minds are “darkened” as a result, you set your expectations of unbelievers accordingly. But if you look at faith as the bedrock of understanding the world (think w-w), and you need to trust your neighbors not to do irrational things, then you are going to attribute belief in God to them (and meanwhile deny total depravity).

Mencken matters because he’s proof that unbelievers are smart, and that the Holy Spirit is more powerful than reason in giving people faith in Jesus Christ as their savior.