Thursday, May 30, 2013

Murray Rothbard on H.L. Mencken

Lew Rockwell has posted today one of my favorite Murray Rothbard essays. H. L. Mencken: The Joyous Libertarian.

It is noteworthy that in the essay Rothbard wrote about Mencken:
A serene and confident individualist, dedicated to competence and excellence and deeply devoted to liberty, but convinced that the bulk of his fellows were beyond repair, Mencken carved out a role unique in American history: he sailed joyously into the fray, slashing and cutting happily into the buncombe and folly he saw all around him, puncturing the balloons of pomposity, gaily cleansing the Augean stables of cant, hypocrisy, absurdity, and cliché, "heaving," as he once put it, "the dead cat into the temple" to show bemused worshippers of the inane that he would not be struck dead on the spot. And in the course of this task, rarely undertaken in any age, a task performed purely for his own enjoyment, he exercised an enormous liberating force upon the best minds of a whole generation.

It is characteristic of Mencken that one of the things he enjoyed the most was a Presidential convention, which he almost never failed to attend. Here he plunged into the midst of the teeming, raucous, and absurd throng: into all the hilarity and inanity and excitement of the great American political process itself, his jacket off, swigging beer, partaking of all the fun while missing none of the folly. And then he would write up what he saw, slashing at the cant, hypocrisy, and concentrated nonsense of our governors in action. No one truly immersed in Mencken could emerge quite the same again; no one could retain the same faith in our "statesmen" or in the democratic political process itself, no one could ever be quite the same sucker for all manner of ideological, social, and political quackery, the same worshipper of solemn nonsense.
I suspect there was a lot of Mencken in Rothbard. No one could laugh more at the absurdities of having to live under modern day ruling sociopaths and their apologists than Rothbard. But Mencken was no Rothbard.

Rothbard also wrote in the essay:
Despite his omnivorous passion for intellectual fields and disciplines, he had no temperament for fashioning rigorous systems of thought – but then, how many people have? 
Rothbard, in addition to being much of what Mencken was, could also fashion rigorous systems of thought, including a framework for a libertarian society, complete great historical studies and make great expansions in economic theory.

Rothbard's essay is a great appreciation of Mencken by Rothbard, but in Rothbard's appreciation, we can also see the even more significant greatness of Rothbard, himself.  That said, the essay is a great read, one genius commenting on the great work of another genius. We can learn much from both these men and, in this essay by Rothbard, we get to learn something about both of them.

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