Mencken’s 100-Year-Old Prediction Realized, Twice
By Pierre Lemieux
I raised before the question of the limits of civil conversation, the point at which it is legitimate to just laugh at a stupid idea that lacks any serious rational support or is backed by no argument at all, a point at which perhaps even the ad hominem temptation is not totally forbidden. Call a crank a crank. This is a difficult question but we can at least recognize the frequent benefits of free speech from those who step outside those limits while, of course, accepting the right of others to do likewise. Castigat ridendo mores—Correcting mores with laughter—says the motto of the Comédie-Française, an old theatre and theater company.
For the purpose of this post, let me define a moron as an individual who satisfies one of the two following conditions: he thinks that A and non-A can both be true (the anti-logic condition); he prefers X to Y, Y to Z, and Z to X (the intransitive-preferences condition).
Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956) was an elitist libertarian (which, by itself, raises iconoclastic questions) and one of those free speakers who did not always, in his writings, engage in civil conversation. One hundred years ago, in the Baltimore Evening Sun of July 26, 1920, Mencken made a striking prediction, which, barring improbable events, is certain to be realized in less than three months, and for the second time in four years:
As democracy is perfected, the office [of president] represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people … On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.