I’m very happy to announce that Mencken’s forbidden book, Notes on Democracy, is again available in the store (I’ll shelving my serious annoyance that it can’t be put online).
This edition comes with a wonderful intro by Mencken specialist Marion Elizabeth Rodgers. As good as it is, nothing prepares you for Mencken himself. You can agree or disagree with him, but what I find great about this towering intellect is that he forces you to rethink everything you have taken for granted. Reading him is like getting electric shocks to the brain. He refuses to allow intellectual laziness. You find yourself thinking: “Is it really legal to write things like this? Do I have to hide this book if someone else enters the room?”
This iconoclasm is extremely important in times when public discourse as become as dull as WonderBread. From NPR to the daily blab on television to the upwardly mobile pundit class, the whole of modern civic conversation has become deadly dull, with everyone striving to say what everyone else says as a way of gaining approval, while avoiding any hot button issues and topics that might be later unearthed to become a “career killer.” As a result, self censorship has become the path to security and fame, and the norm for anyone who strives to be a vaunted public intellectual.
But it is not the path to making a difference. Mencken makes a difference. He lets you in on the secrets, makes you part of a club that knows, elevates you above the white noise of civic life, and suggests a revolutionary path forward. This is a fantastic accomplishment, and it is a marvel how his prose still packs a mighty punch after all these years. We flatter ourselves into thinking that we are a liberally minded people, and yet when you read this, you realize just how utterly intolerant we’ve become toward serious thought.
Thank goodness we still have Mencken around to tell the truth.