The Great American Iconoclast – H.L. Mencken

Dissent has never being easy for those who claim to be its prophets. Men have always had a problem with change and criticisms, so those who claim to carry the torch of change are always held in serious contempt. But change always happens, whether anybody likes it or not – the only arguable parameter has to do with the quantity of change. It is men of dissent that set the stage for change. These men who fight the status- quo and norms with almost unassailable reason, are held – and eventually remembered – in respect and in contempt by those around them. People do not want to agree with them, but their arguments are irrefutable, so a love-hate relationship ensues.

Henry Louise Mencken was indeed, the embodiment of dissent. Born on the 12th of September some 134 years ago, Mencken was arrived this world in a country that was run and controlled by dogmas that bordered on the nonsensical. He would become an attacker of these dogmas within social and political atmospheres of the United States.

Mencken on public education

Mencken wrote with power and style, never afraid of hurting anybody’ feelings in the process – some have called him the greatest stylist of the 20th century. A highlight of his career was the coverage of the Scopes trials – the famous American legal case in 1925 in which a substitute high school teacher, John Scopes, was accused of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach human evolution in any state-funded school.

Mencken was very much involved in covering the trial, and wrote satirical scathes about the case. It was he who provided the trial with colourful monikers – the ‘monkey trials’ and ‘the infidel scopes’.

He wrote 28 books and thousands of articles in his life time, most of which are still in print and are relevant to the issues of today.


“I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious. . . I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech . . .

I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.

I believe in the reality of progress.
But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.” – H.L. Mencken.


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