A Mencken Chrestomathy


HL Mencken was utterly reprobate, but it would be hard to find a finer stylist. While his Chrestomathy isn’t strictly history, of course, it is a “feel” for how life was in the 20s and 30s. While Mencken was a wordsmith of the highest skill, he was a 3rd rate philosopher–and that’s putting it nicely. Still, even his incompetence in metaphysics serves a purpose: he shows some of the arguments used against the supernatural today.

Mencken’s materialism comes through in stark colors: life is a “long series of inexplicable accidents, not only quite unavoidable, but even quite unintelligible” (Mencken 83).  I suppose the obvious question is “Is that statement unintelligible?”

On Government

Mencken is a Libertarian, believing the ideal government is one that lets you alone (146).

“When a private citizen is robbed a worthy man is deprived of the fruits of his industry and thrift; when the govt is robbed the worst that happens is that certain rogues and loafers have less money to play with than before. The notion that they have earned that money is never entertained” (149).


“The New England shopkeepers never really developed a civilization; all they ever developed was a government” (185).


“As for the Greek genius for politics, it revealed its true measure in the fact that no Greek government ever lasted for more than a century, and that most of them ended in scandal and disaster” (215).

General Grant: He was completely innocent. He was too stupid to be anything else (224).  “Now and then, by a flash of what must be called, I suppose, insight, he struck out in his Berserker way for common decency” (225).

On William Jennings Bryan

“The simian gabble of [the common man] was not gabble to him, but wisdom of an occult and superior sort” (244).

Mencken: “It is one of the mysteries of American life that the Rotary Club has never discovered Emerson. His so-called philosophy….seems to be made precisely for the lunch-table idealists” (477).

On Economics

“….swindled the government in some patriotic enterprise” (293).

“We owe to capital the fact that the medical profession, for example, is now really useful to mankind” (294).

“I have been careful to take evidence from unimpeachable source. If it had come from Congressional record I’d have been suspicious of it, for both Houses, as we have heard from [FDR] himself, are full of liars” (426).

“Here is the perfect pattern of the professional world-saver. His whole life has been devoted to the art and science of spending other people’s money. He has saved millions of the downtrodden from starvation, pestilence, cannibalism, and worse–always at someone else’s expense, and usually at the tax-payers” (427).


“Whenever you hear a man speak of love for his country it is a sign he expects to be paid for it” (616).

“Historian–an unsuccessful novelist” (619).

“Adultery is the application of democracy to love” (621).



Review: Hoppe, A Short History of Man

This is a “For Dummies” version of his groundbreaking *Democracy: The God that Failed.* While it has some serious limitations, it’s last chapter, on Aristocracy and Democracy, is brilliant. And even in the earlier sections of the book there are neat insights.

The author is committed to a Darwinian scheme of evolution, so I question his methodology at points. Still, he does a good job explaining how if one is going to escape from the Malthusian system one must have an economic and technological breakthrough to produce enough food.

The last chapter, the one on democracy, while summarizing his conclusions in his magnum opus, also takes the argument one step forward. It’s not simply that the untermenschen that democracy creates are the ones that negate civilization. They certainly do that. Even more so, it isn’t simply the “Government” that attacks liberty. That’s true, also. Rather, and this is Hoppe’s key insight, it is a subgroup within the government that is actively opposed to liberty. He calls this group the Plutocrats. We know them as the Deep State.

You can find this book online for free. I would save your money and get his larger book on Democracy instead.

Review: Mises, Human Action

Von Mises, Ludwig.  Human Action.  Scholar’s Edition.

All deductive systems are dangerous if formulated incorrectly. Their appeal lies in their power, and Mises’s system is powerful indeed. Mises advances Praxeology, an economidoctrine emerging from the Classical School when it was realized that human action and not the inherent value of an object is what drove economics (Mises 3). Since our knowledge is limited, our choices will always have an element of uncertainty.

Thus, Mises can advance his main theorem: Human action is purposeful action. And the second is like unto it, “All action aims at a removing or lessening a present uneasiness.” Action does not measure utility or value; it chooses between alternatives. When I choose between unit a and unit b, I am not choosing between the total stock of either, but simply between the marginal values of both a and b. And this leads to the key gain of the Austrian school: the doctrine of marginal utility. The marginal utility of a good decreases as its supply increases. Whenever I get a good, I devote it to the most important end. As I get more goods, I devote them to lesser ends. Obviously, this applies to subjective-use value and not a thing’s perceived objective value. This allows the Austrian School to avoid the hang-ups which plagued all of the Classical Economists from Smith to Ricardo to even Marx.

Not directly, but indirectly related to the above is another axiom: Because man is an acting man, situations change. Prices will change. There cannot be a universal “set price.” Past prices are a guide to future prices.

Another axiom

Mises has several challenging chapters on interest and the Industrial Revolution. He argues that interest is the price men pay for valuing present goods more than future goods. It is a ratio of commodity prices, not a price itself.  Can we get rid of interest?  Mises argues that as long as there is scarcity, there will be human action, and hence, interest (525). Originary interest: the discount of future goods as against present goods (521).

Ricardo’s Law

Society accomplishes more when one group produces more of what it is good at.  If Group A is superior at producing everything, it still benefits from cooperating with an inferior partner. If Time = Money, then outsourcing frees up valuable time for A to produce what is more valuable.  Mises writes, “ If the surgeon can employ his limited working time for the performance of operations for which he is compensated at $50 per hour, it is to his interest to employ a handyman to keep his instruments in good order and to pay him $2 per hour, although this man needs 3 hours to accomplish what the surgeon could do in 1 hour.”


Mises’s Utilitarianism is subject to some devastating defeaters, mainly Betrand Russell’s: the only way to justify an action is in light of its consequences, but the only way to justify whether those consequences are good are in light of the consequences’ consequences, and so on to infinity.

Fortunately, most of his system is salvageable from that.

Solving Crimes in a Libertarian Utopia

Someone shared this on my Facebook wall.

I was shooting heroin and reading “The Fountainhead” in the front seat of my privately owned police cruiser when a call came in. I put a quarter in the radio to activate it. It was the chief.
“Bad news, detective. We got a situation.”
“What? Is the mayor trying to ban trans fats again?”
“Worse. Somebody just stole four hundred and forty-seven million dollars’ worth of bitcoins.”
The heroin needle practically fell out of my arm. “What kind of monster would do something like that? Bitcoins are the ultimate currency: virtual, anonymous, stateless. They represent true economic freedom, not subject to arbitrary manipulation by any government. Do we have any leads?”
“Not yet. But mark my words: we’re going to figure out who did this and we’re going to take them down … provided someone pays us a fair market rate to do so.”

“Easy, chief,” I said. “Any rate the market offers is, by definition, fair.”
He laughed. “That’s why you’re the best I got, Lisowski. Now you get out there and find those bitcoins.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’m on it.”
I put a quarter in the siren. Ten minutes later, I was on the scene. It was a normal office building, strangled on all sides by public sidewalks. I hopped over them and went inside.
“Home Depot™ Presents the Police!®” I said, flashing my badge and my gun and a small picture of Ron Paul. “Nobody move unless you want to!” They didn’t.
“Now, which one of you punks is going to pay me to investigate this crime?” No one spoke up.
“Come on,” I said. “Don’t you all understand that the protection of private property is the foundation of all personal liberty?”
It didn’t seem like they did.
“Seriously, guys. Without a strong economic motivator, I’m just going to stand here and not solve this case. Cash is fine, but I prefer being paid in gold bullion.”
Nothing. These people were stonewalling me. It almost seemed like they didn’t care that a fortune in computer money invented to buy drugs was missing.
I figured I could wait them out. I lit several cigarettes indoors. A pregnant lady coughed, and I told her that secondhand smoke is a myth. Just then, a man in glasses made a break for it.
“Subway™ Eat Fresh and Freeze, Scumbag!®” I yelled.
Too late. He was already out the front door. I went after him.
“Stop right there!” I yelled as I ran. He was faster than me because I always try to avoid stepping on public sidewalks. Our country needs a private-sidewalk voucher system, but, thanks to the incestuous interplay between our corrupt federal government and the public-sidewalk lobby, it will never happen.
I was losing him. “Listen, I’ll pay you to stop!” I yelled. “What would you consider an appropriate price point for stopping? I’ll offer you a thirteenth of an ounce of gold and a gently worn ‘Bob Barr ‘08’ extra-large long-sleeved men’s T-shirt!”
He turned. In his hand was a revolver that the Constitution said he had every right to own. He fired at me and missed. I pulled my own gun and fired back. The bullet lodged in a U.S.P.S. mailbox less than a foot from his head. I shot the mailbox again, on purpose.
“All right, all right!” the man yelled, throwing down his weapon. “I give up, cop! I confess: I took the bitcoins.”
“Why’d you do it?” I asked, as I slapped a pair of Oikos™ Greek Yogurt Presents Handcuffs® on the guy.
“Because I was afraid.”
“Afraid of an economic future free from the pernicious meddling of central bankers,” he said. “I’m a central banker.”
I wanted to coldcock the guy. Years ago, a central banker killed my partner. Instead, I shook my head.
“Let this be a message to all your central-banker friends out on the street,” I said. “No matter how many bitcoins you steal, you’ll never take away the dream of an open society based on the principles of personal and economic freedom.”
He nodded, because he knew I was right. Then he swiped his credit card to pay me for arresting him.

Hoppe quotes on Democracy, the failed god

This is from “Journey into a Libertarian Future.”  They meant it as a slam against the Hoppean anarcho-capitalist project.  I don’t think they fully understood his arguments on time-preference.  Still, I thought it was funny and I am posting the quotes here.

property… is necessarily valuable; hence, every property owner becomes a possible target of other men’s aggressive desires. [255]

competition among insurers for paying clients will bring about a tendency toward a continuous fall in the price of protection… [281-282].

one regard[s] the central government as illegitimate, and… treat[s] it and its agents as an outlaw agency and “foreign” occupying forces [91].

One tries to keep as much of one’s property and surrender as little tax money as possible. One considers all federal law, legislation and regulation null and void and ignores it whenever possible [91]. One needs to be ready in case the government makes a move, and invest in such forms and at such locations which withdraw, remove, hide, or conceal one’s wealth as far as possible from the eyes and arms of government [92].

it is essential to complement one’s defensive measures with an offensive strategy: to invest in an ideological campaign of delegitimizing the idea and institution of democratic government among the public [92].

[A]s for the economic quality of democracy, it must be stressed relentlessly that it is not democracy but private property, production, and voluntary exchange that are the ultimate sources of human civilization and prosperity. [105]

the U.S. government has become entangled in hundreds of foreign conflicts and risen to the rank of the world’s dominant imperialist power[?] [How] nearly every president [since 1900] has also been responsible for the murder, killing, or starvation of countless innocent foreigners all over the world [244]….U.S. president in particular is the world’s single most threatening and armed danger, capable of ruining everyone who opposes him and destroying the entire globe. [244]

create a U.S. punctuated by a large and increasing number of territorially disconnected free cities – a multitude of Hong Kongs, Singapores, Monacos, and Liechtensteins strewn over the entire continent [291]

no-tax free-trade haven[s], large numbers of investors and huge amounts of capital would begin to flow immediately. [132]