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Critique of Mencken

Mon, 30 Apr 2012 22:06:18 GMT

This essay by Fred Siegel makes a critique of Mencken I never thought I'd appreciate as I love Mencken:
[deriding the academic aspirations of the masses was] championed not only by leftists such as Cowley, but also by Nietzscheans such as H.L. Mencken, the critic and editor whom Walter Lippmann described in 1926 as “the most powerful influence on this whole generation of educated people” who famously mocked the hapless “herd,” “the imbeciles,” the “booboisie,” all of whom he deemed the “peasantry” that blighted American cultural life... 

Mencken and Huxley shared an aristocratic ideal based on an idyllic past. They romanticized a time before the age of machinery and mass production, when the lower orders lived in happy subordination and when intellectual eccentricity was encouraged among the elites. In this beautiful world, alienation was as unknown

Intellectuals mocked the masses for trying to enjoy these things, and encouraged people to engage in the kitsch of popular culture as long as they did it with a superior and ironic attitude. This is stupid.  As Goethe said, if you take man as he really is we make him worse, but if we take man as he should be we make him what he can be. Encouraging the rabble to higher culture is a good thing regardless of how ham-handed your average man is when dealing with such knowledge. In the 1950s the masses were interested in Shakespeare, classical music, long interviews with serious writers, and that made them better people than they otherwise would have been. 

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