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Quotation of the Day…

… is from pages 179-180 of H.L. Mencken’s essay “On Government,” as it is reprinted in the 1996 Johns Hopkins University Press collection of some of Mencken’s essays, Prejudices: A Selection:

These gross extortions and tyrannies, of course, are all practised on the theory that they are not only unavoidable, but also laudable – that the government oppresses its victims in order to confer upon them the great boons mentioned by Godwin.  But that theory, I believe, begins to be quite as dishonest as the chiropractor’s pretense that he pummels his patient’s spine in order to cure his cancer: the actual object, obviously, is simply to cure his solvency.  What keeps such notions in full credit, and safeguards them against destructive analysis, is chiefly that survival into our enlightened age of a concept hatched in the black days of absolutism – the concept, to wit, that government is something that is superior to and quite distinct from all other human institutions – that it is, in its essence, not a mere organization of ordinary men, like the Ku Klux Klan, the United States Steel Corporation or Columbia University, but a transcendental organism composed of aloof and impersonal powers, devoid wholly of self-interest and not to be measured by merely human standards.  One hears it spoken of, not uncommonly, as one hears the law of gravitation and the grace of God spoken of – as if its acts had no human motive in them and stood clearly above human fallibility.  This concept, I need not argue, is full of error.

There is no better antidote against the delusion-inducing fever of state-worship than reading Mencken.


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