Continued from page 1
He was a dedicated isolationist on world affairs. Of German ancestry, he always remained an admirer of all things German. That admiration included a near slavish devotion to elitist philsophy of Nietzsche. It also extended to German militarism, even during two World Wars.
At same time, Mencken had a passionate, unbending devotion to individual liberty and an undying hostility to those who, from whatever motives, sought to control others' lives or limit their freedom. His opposition to middle class conformity may have had its roots in an elitist worldview, but it was nonetheless liberating for anyone who did not wish to conform. Mencken was almost solely responsible for transforming term Puritanism from a brag to a condemnation.
Teachout finds greatest weakness in Menckens thought to be his "extreme skepticism" and "permanent opposition." This excess of skepticism resulted in his often failing to acknowledge genuine cultural progress. Furthermore, Teachout argues that it renders Menckens thought ultimately "incoherent" as any sort of consistent whole. Given that Mencken was a journalist and not a philosopher, this incoherence doesnt seem like such a terrible failing to me. Do we care if Walter Chronkiteís thought was coherent as a body or is it enough that he reported facts as best he could at time?
The epilog of book goes a long way toward explaining peculiar position that Mencken occupies in American letters. His is a curiously ambiguous reputation -- accepted by neither conservative nor liberal establishment, despite his strong affinities with both. Teachout takes view that Menckenís success was a "triumph of style." Form and content, he asserts, are "inseparable" in Menckenís work. The result of this marriage of content with style ultimately expresses fundamental characteristics of "American temperament," which is "witty and abrasive, self-confident and self-contradictory." Certainly, I must agree that Mencken had style and that whether he was expressing ideas that I find admirable or ones I find repulsive, he did so with remarkable energy and with great mastery of English (or as he would prefer, American) language.
Dr. David F. Duncan is a psychologist and epidemiologist best known for his work in the field of the addictions. He is the President of Duncan & Associates, a research and policy studies consulting firm. http://www.duncan-associates.com