November 11, 2013
The Eternal Politics of Fear

Theoretically the mob is the repository of all wisdom and virtue; actually it is the ultimate source of political power. Even the plutocracy cannot make war upon it openly, or forget the least of its weaknesses. The business of keeping it in order must be done discreetly, warily, with delicate technique.

In the main that business consists of keeping alive its deep-seated fears — of strange faces, of unfamiliar ideas, of unhackneyed gestures, of untested liberties and responsibilities. The one permanent emotion of the inferior man, as of all the simpler mammals, is fear — fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable. What he wants above all is safety. His instincts incline him towards a society so organized that it will protect him at all hazards, and not only against perils to his hide but also against assaults upon his mind — against the need to grapple with unaccustomed problems, to weigh ideas, to think things out for himself, to scrutinize the platitudes upon which his everyday thinking is based…

In America it is the newspaper that is his boss. From it he gets support for his elemental illusions. In it he sees a visible embodiment of his own wisdom and consequence. Out of it he draws fuel for his simple moral passion, his congenital suspicion of heresy, his dread of the unknown. And behind the newspaper stands the plutocracy, ignorant,, unimaginative and timorous…

It is precisely here, the first and favorite scene of the Great Experiment, that the culture of the individual has been reduced to the most rigid and absurd regimentation.

—H. L. Mencken, writing in 1920. The bogeyman of that time was the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, locally represented by unwashed and unintelligible immigrants from Italy, Eastern Europe and Russia itself. What he would have written about the Tea Party, Ayn Rand, the TSA and the NSA, we can never know. For even if the Great Misanthrope were to come back to life, his head would explode upon contact with Fox News.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at November 11, 2013 04:59 PM
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