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H L Mencken

Conversations with Calliope- Notes on Democracy

By Joseph Langen

(Moorish Castle- Gibraltar)

JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. How are you today?
JOE: Energized.
CALLIOPE: What brought that about?
JOE: I have started each of the past two days and this morning with cross country skiing in the streets around our house.
CALLIOPE: I guess that's a benefit of feet of snow. What else is going on?
JOE: Marketing. I have concluded that there are two possible audiences for my book. One thoughtful and one less thoughtful.
CALLIOPE: How did you reach that conclusion?
JOE: Through my review of H.L. Mencken's' Notes on a Democracy.
CALLIOPE: What did you learn?
JOE: Glad you asked. Here is the review:

Review- H.L. Mencken- Notes on Democracy

H.L. Mencken's Notes on Democracy reemerges in a new edition just in time to pillory the ravages of what democracy has become in our country, in practice if not in theory. I have always been an undying optimist and therefore approached this volume with some trepidation. Do I want my cherished beliefs shaken? Mencken assures us that none of us do, whether there is any reasonable basis for our beliefs or not. He categorizes "democratic man" as having an eighty percent chance of being by nature unable to think critically. He goes on to examine the faults of every aspect of our democratic form of government and of those who inhabit its various offices as well as those responsible for electing and/or appointing them.


In the end he leaves us with no suggestions for how to proceed, seeing himself as "not engaged in therapeutics, but in pathology." How can we respond to his scathing attack on democracy other than to throw up our hands in despair? This question haunted me throughout my reading of this volume. In the end I decided Mencken's work is best approached as one does a political cartoon. Lampooning our beliefs prods up to reexamine them with two thoughts in mind. One is Socrates' statement as his heresy trial, "The unexamined life is not worth living." The other is John Adams' observation, "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself." Is there a way we can create an exception?


CALLIOPE: Interesting thoughts. Sounds like you stretched yourself in reading it.
JOE: I did. I found it challenged some of my closely held beliefs about people and their capabilities.
CALLIOPE: Did it help you in writing your publicity flier.
JOE: Yes. It's not quite ready yet but I'll share it with you when it is. Talk with you tomorrow.


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