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Notes on Democracy [Paperback]

by H.L. Mencken
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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There is a newer edition of this item:
Notes on Democracy: A New Edition Notes on Democracy: A New Edition 5.0 out of 5 stars (1)
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Book Description

October 15, 2008 0977378810 978-0977378814 1
[Democracy] is, perhaps, the most charming form of government ever devised by man... It is based on propositions that are palpably not true and what is not true, as everyone knows, is always immensely more fascinating and satisfying to the vast majority of men than what is true...

H.L. Mencken, America's greatest journalist and critic, wrote Notes on Democracy over 80 years ago. His time, the paranoid and intolerant years of World War I, Prohibition and the Scopes trial, is strikingly like our own. Notes isn't just a blast from the past, but also a perceptive and unsentimental report on contemporary life.

Dissident Books is proud to reintroduce this gem of cynicism and clear-thinking to a new generation. Mencken performs a brilliant, merciless and often hilarious vivisection on that most holy of sacred cows: democracy. The new edition is supplemented by extensive annotations that put Mencken's words and ideas in context and expose fascinating details and nuances.

Don't even think about voting until you read this book!

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) was America's greatest journalist and iconoclast. With his bristling, cynical humor, he mercilessly attacked war hysteria, jingoism, and censorship. He championed uniquely American writing, helping to free the nation s literature of its Anglophile fixation. Mencken covered many of the great stories of the 20th century s first half, including the Scopes Monkey trial and Prohibition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Dissident Books; 1 edition (October 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0977378810
  • ISBN-13: 978-0977378814
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #760,344 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mencken Vents His Spleen for His Era and Ours October 19, 2008
This is a wonderful book--packed with personality and a surprising amount of helpful supplementary material. For example, in her introductory essay to Notes on Democracy: A New Edition, Marion Elizabeth Rodgers (author of Mencken: The American Iconoclast) describes the effect of Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956) on first-time readers:

"[Mencken is] . . . still castigated as un-American, `anti-democractic,' even `a near anarchist.' His independent and realistic thought is sternly censured; in more liberated circles, it is simply regarded with unease. When every phrase must be examined for political correctness, many find it impossible to enjoy Mencken without apology."

For first-time readers, yes, Mencken is pugnacious. Yes, he adopted indefensible positions for their shock value, but he knew in his bones that thick heads need a good hard whack to break up the cobwebs. And when it came to words versus action, he followed the good advice that was once given to children: "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me." Today, our culture of hypocrisy and false-civility has completely reversed that bit of wisdom. On one hand, we enforce politically correct speech to avoid hurt feelings. On the other, we institutionalize the genuine victimization of our fellow citizens through idiotic laws, prohibitions, and progressive taxation. Even worse, we celebrate as heroism the slaughter of impoverished civilians in far-away locations by our military establishment--no matter how implausible the "threats" they pose.

As an antidote for our perverse zeitgeist, there is no better medicine than this readable and entertaining book by one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Plenty of food for thought here... September 20, 2008
With the US coming to the end of a Presidential election cycle, I decided to accept the opportunity to read Notes on Democracy by H. L. Mencken. This was originally written in 1926 by the prominent journalist, but it's rather unnerving in its ability to hit so close to home over 80 years later. I don't necessarily buy into all of his rather dark views on the failure of democracy, but I have to agree that much of what he says does ring true.

1 - Democratic Man: His Appearance in the World; Varieties of Homo Sapiens; The New Psychology; Politics Under Democracy; The Role of the Hormones; Envy as a Philosophy; Liberty and Democratic Man; The Effects Upon Progress; The Eternal Mob
2 - The Democratic State: The Two Kinds of Democracy; The Popular Will; Disproportional Representation; The Politician Under Democracy; Utopia; The Occasional Exception; The Maker of Laws; The Rewards of Virtue; Footnote on Lame Ducks
3 - Democracy and Liberty: The Will to Peace; The Democrat as Moralist; Where Puritanism Fails; Corruptions Under Democracy
4 - Coda: The Future of Democracy; Last Words
Annotations by Marion Elizabeth Rodgers; Afterword by Anthony Lewis

There's enough material in this rather short book to make for a multipage college paper, so it's a bit hard to condense it down to a short review. Mencken feels that democracy is really nothing more than mob rule. The uneducated masses are not looking for freedom and liberty, as those concepts are uncomfortable and laced with the very real possibility of failure. Instead, they want to be safe, well-fed, and entertained. In order to get those three items, they're willing to give up most of their civil liberties thinking that those who rule have superior power to make decisions.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History repeating itself December 12, 2009
Who is H.L. Mencken and why am I just now reading him!? This book is genius! I started highlighting passages I liked but then realized nearly every page was marked in florescent pink.

I'm not going to say this book is for everyone but it is definitely for those of us out there that watch the news and listen to certain groups or leaders thinking, "Seriously are there people out there buying this?" Then we come into contact with those who are in fact subscribing whole-heartily to an idiotic brainless existence. Left dumbfounded we trudge along wondering if there are any 'real' people left in the world.

The world was a completely different place in 1926 when Mencken originally wrote this but it doesn't' take long to realize despite our innovations and advancements nearly 100 years later we've made no real progress in terms of democracy. Mencken's insights serve as a reminder to that fact and while the organizations may have changed and the leaders all have new names they are in essence the same.

"Public policies are determined and laws are made by small minorities playing upon the fears and imbecilities of the mob-sometimes minorities of intelligent and honest men, but usually minorities of rogues." Hmmmm, rogues you say? Remind you of anyone?

If you are of a thinking mind I highly recommend this book but be warned it reads like a philosophy book so if you think you can just pick it up and read a few chapters you're wrong. It will have you thinking and a buzz with every paragraph so make sure you have a good sounding board to bounce ideas off of after reading.

(I received this book as part of a giveaway on [...] I was not in anyway encouraged to give a review that didn't reflect my genuine feelings towards the book.)
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly modern.
Had me laughing and nodding in agreement from the first page. Mencken could have written this today. The characters haven't changed.
Published 4 months ago by will2be
5.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat dated but perennially funny
While his illustrations are by now quite dated, Mencken's message is hardly anachronistic, and his delivery is superlatively witty. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Frederick J. Woods
3.0 out of 5 stars Keen Insights Mixed with Garbage
- Why I Read This Book

The Mises Institute was selling this for $1. I have of late been questioning whether a democratic republic is a viable governmental form. Read more
Published 6 months ago by C#
4.0 out of 5 stars The Sage of Baltimore on Democracy
For most of the first half of the twentieth century, H.L. Mencken was one of this country's foremost social commentators. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Eric Mayforth
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful book
This book could have been written last year. He was insightful into the politics of his time. The footnotes reveal a time in our history that most of us were not aware of... Read more
Published on January 15, 2011 by Willoughby
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it and weep
Any page of this book tells you more about the American illusion/delusion of having rights, than thirty years of earnest or evil politicans ever could. Read more
Published on May 23, 2010 by tierny
4.0 out of 5 stars The Proof's In The Pudding
His argument of the ignorant masses still holds up today just by the simple fact that most people have never heard of the hugely influential Mr. Read more
Published on April 23, 2010 by Franklin the Mouse
4.0 out of 5 stars A Century Old But Very Timely
Notes on Democracy is amazingly timely notwithstanding that close to a century has passed since it first appeared. Read more
Published on March 6, 2010 by Morris S. Zedeck
5.0 out of 5 stars The Truth of Hapiness
I enjoyed reading this book. It is very critical and sharp in its social analysis, very European, and very modern. It could have been written during this century. Read more
Published on March 2, 2010 by Jose Luis Castellano Perez
4.0 out of 5 stars The Spectacle of Democracy
"I enjoy democracy immensely. It is incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing. [...] When the suckers are running well the spectacle is infinitely exhilarating. Read more
Published on April 3, 2009 by Michael A. Hall
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