he does not leave the worst unsaid. he says it.

“…Though [Notes on Democracy] purports to be the outline of a social philosophy, it is really the highly rhetorical expression of a mood which has often in the past and may again in the future be translated into thought. In the best sense of the work the book is sub-rational: it is addressed to those vital preferences which lie deeper than coherent thinking.

The most important political books are often of this sort. Rousseau’s “Social Contract” and Tom Paine’s “Rights of Man” were far inferior as works of the mind to the best thought of the eighteenth century, but they exerted an incalculably great influence because they altered men’s prejudices. Mr. Mencken’s book is of the same sort…

…One feels that Mr. Mencken is deeply outraged because he does not live in a world where all men love truth and excellence and honor. I feel it because I detect in this book many signs of yearning for the good old days. …but it is evident to me that his revolt against modern democratic society exhausts his realism, and that the historic alternatives are touched for him with a romantic glamour. The older aristocratic societies exist only in his imagination…

Nevertheless, I feel certain that insofar as he has influenced the tone of public controversy he has elevated it. The Mencken attack is always a frontal attack. It is always explicit. The charge is all there. He does not leave the worst unsaid. He says it. And when you have encountered him, you do not have to wonder whether you are going to be stabbed in the back when you start to leave and are thinking of something else.”

Walter Lippman


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