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What does H.L. Mencken mean by the following quote?  Do you agree with Mencken?"In a...

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coffee | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 2) eNoter

Posted July 27, 2009 at 3:15 AM via web

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What does H.L. Mencken mean by the following quote?  Do you agree with Mencken?

"In a democracy, each party devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule — and both commonly succeed and are right."

—H. L. Mencken

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 27, 2009 at 3:28 AM (Answer #1)

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A theme that is present in the thought of H.L. Mencken is that those in the position of power have a tendency to abuse that power.  Some have suggested that Mencken is a cynic, and certainly there is some level of truth in reading much of his beliefs.  However, Mencken has a way of expressing an element of truth that has to be recognized and understood.  In acknowledging that there might be a shred of truth in Mencken's ideas about human brings, authority, government, as well as social notions of the good, we might be able to create realities that actually prove his ideas wrong.  In this setting, Mencken is invaluable because he presents to us what is being done and it is up to us to ensure that what we do is different.

In his quote about democracy and the party system enveloping it, he suggests that both sides spend so much time deriding and mocking the opposing party that the voter is poised between equally useless notions of political rule.  He is also suggesting that such scorn hurled at both sides indicates a desire for power and control, proving to be unworthy of rule in a democracy, and hence, proving both sides right:  Neither side is fit to rule in a democratic setting.  In terms of whether he is right, I would submit if we, currently in America, are experiencing the limitations featured within a two party system.  If this is so, perhaps Mencken might have a point here.

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