glyph 39: writers, writing, words . humor founded in deep understanding of the roots of absurdity . failure to appreciate Mencken properly . Murray N. Rothbard, liberty, freedom, libertarian . Ludwig von Mises Institute ... philology ... The Remnant . Albert Jay Nock ... Babbittry ... government vs the individual . Online Library of Liberty . Ludwig von Mises Institute


H. L. Mencken: Engaging the Absurd with Wit and Wisdom

an essay of appreciation by Murray N. Rothbard

Why Mencken is not understood by Americans

It is typical of American Kultur that it was incapable of understanding H. L. Mencken. And it was typical of H. L. Mencken that this didn't bother him a bit; in fact, quite the contrary, for it confirmed his estimate of his fellow-countrymen. It is difficult for Americans to understand a merger of high-spirited wit and devotion to principle; one is either a humorist, gently or acidly spoofing the foibles of one's age, or else one is a serious and solemn thinker. That a man of ebullient wit can be, in a sense, all the more devoted to positive ideas and principles is understood by very few; almost always, he is set down as a pure cynic and nihilist. This was and still is the common fate of H. L. Mencken; but it is no more than he would have cheerfully expected.

Three ways to cope with the absurdity of the world:

Any man who is an individualist and a libertarian in this day and age has a difficult row to hoe. He finds himself in a world marked, if not dominated, by folly, fraud, and tyranny. He has, if he is a reflecting man, three possible courses of action open to him: (1) he may retire from the social and political world into his private occupation: in the case of Mencken's early partner, George Jean Nathan, he can retire into a world of purely esthetic contemplation; (2) he can set about to try to change the world for the better, or at least to formulate and propagate his views with such an ultimate hope in mind; or, (3) he can stay in the world, enjoying himself immensely at this spectacle of folly. To take this third route requires a special type of personality with a special type of judgment about the world.

The quotations are from Murray N. Rothbard's magnificent essay on Mencken, originally published in the "New Individualist Review," vol. 2, no. 2, Summer 1962, pp. 15-27, and republished by the Online Library of Liberty, and again by the Ludwig von Mises Institute. - read as much as you can stand :-)
06 Dec 2021 (replaced a never published 2006 glyph)

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