Posted in Books

Mencken and the New Class Conflict

I’ve had Joel Kotkin’s The New Class Conflict on my Kindle Wish List for some time. It’s dovetails with what I have long thought about the actual class structure of America for some time. I was rather pretentiously calling myself a “rebel against my class” back in college.

But I hadn’t yet found that need to hit the 1-Click button until I read the Foreword by Fred Siegel:

From roughly 1916 to 1932 the journalist-intellectual H. L. Mencken set the tone for much of American reporting by way of his thumb-sucking pieces on the American scene, collected in six volumes of his Prejudices. Most of the pieces were written from Mencken’s hometown of Baltimore, and on the unusual occasion when he traveled to observe the scene, as in his “coverage” of the famous Scopes trial, what he wrote was more a reflection of his prejudices than the events observed. Joel Kotkin is the anti-Mencken…

I must confess that I have never enjoyed the so-called Sage of Baltimore as much I have wanted to. If Mencken were not a wit, no one would read him. As it stands, few read him now; they only quote him, out of context, as a capstone to an uncharitable argument. Mencken made charity seem a dastardly, pitiably weak emotion. It is why he ultimately has nothing to say that does not smack of a schoolyard taunt.

Mencken suffered from the journalist’s ailment: a thoroughgoing blindness to anything good in the human heart. To a journalist, everything must be scandalous underneath; everything must be a lie. The Bible has to be a bloated Oriental literary fugue; democracy, a con game, marriage, a siege. That almost everyone considers these notions now and again accounts for a general demand to have them wittily expressed. This Ol’ Henry Louis supplies, with lightly sprinkled learned references to disguise the otherwise pedestrian nature of his remarks. Mencken never gave any insights you could not gain from sharing a bottle of whiskey with a barfly.
In short, sold.

Author:

I write and publish things with the speed of a hare and the determination of a tortoise. I am building it; it will come.

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