Friday, August 18, 2006
The More Things Change...
I recently have been inundating myself with the writings of the noted critic H.L. Mencken. What immediately strikes me upon reading him is that despite the progress we report to have made, we are, in many ways just the same now as we were eighty years ago. Allow me to highlight a few passages from said author's Notes on Democracy, which was originally published in 1926.
Democracy, in fact, is always inventing class distinctions, despite its theoretical abhorrence of them...Democratic man is quite unable to think of himself as a free individual; he must belong to a group or shake with fear and loneliness--and the group, of course, must have its leaders.
To some extent, this isn't surprising. We have learned that humans are social creatures and that their self-satisfaction depends largely upon acceptance among their peers. The classical liberal ideal of the Enlightened Man runs contrary to biological programming. Few of us appear capable of having the courage and fortitude to strike it out on our own and cling fast to our own convictions, in spite of the consequences.
But Democracy is based on the theoretical ideal that all men are created equal. This I do not believe in for one second. I am inclined, instead, to believe that hierarchies are an inevitable part of human existence.
People deserve equal rights, but they are certainly not equal as regards their intellectual, economic, and moral stature.
But there is a form of human striving that is understood by democratic man even better...and that is the striving for money. The plutocracy, in a democratic state, tends inevitably, despite its theoretical infamy, to take the place of the missing aristocracy, and even to be mistaken for it.
It is, of course, something quite different. It lacks all the essential characters of a true aristocracy: a clean tradition, culture, public spirit, honesty, honor, courage--above all, courage.
Its most puissant dignitaries of today came out of the mob only yesterday--and from the mob they bring all of their peculiar ignobilities.
But as I alluded to in yesterday's entry, the US of A, by its very nature will always be the land and home of the nouveau riche. I do not see how a literate culture can exist in a place such as ours where dynamics of all shapes and sizes are constantly shifting. Culture, as Mencken defines it, cannot exist in America. This struggle will continue so long as there is an America.
All is not lost, however. Those of us self-professed, unashamed intellectuals have a role and a purpose to call bullshit where we see fit. No one should ever apologize for being intelligent. Indeed, it is the only means by which we are liberated from our chains.
To conclude, as one of my favorite professors once said: FLATTERY will get you everywhere, but only the TRUTH will set you free.