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Respect Must Be Earned

Here’s a letter sent yesterday to WTOP, a DC news-radio station:

This morning’s caller who reports that her “heart is broken” by Tea Partiers’ “disrespect for Washington” reminds me of one of H.L. Mencken’s many trenchant, useful, and eternal insights.  After describing government accurately as a “great pox of civilization,” Mencken observed that “The fact that it [government] is generally respected – that it possesses effective machinery for propagating and safeguarding that respect – is the main shield of the rogues and vagabonds who use it to exploit the great masses of diligent and credulous men.”*

The danger isn’t that some Americans have a low opinion of Washington; the danger is that too many Americans have a high opinion of it.

Donald J. Boudreaux

* H.L. Mencken, Prejudices: A Selection (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996 [1947]), pp. 187-188. [Note that the 1996 Hopkins edition seems no longer to be in print.]