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Notes on Democracy

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  289 ratings  ·  34 reviews
The perfect book for the 2012 elections. . . and beyond! [Democracy] is based on propositions that are palpably not true
Paperback, 206 pages
Published October 15th 2008 by Dissident Books (first published January 1st 1927)
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4.17  · 
Rating details
 ·  289 ratings  ·  34 reviews

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Oct 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
Another reviewer made a point that everyone who reads this will agree and think that they are part of the non-mob / rabble that makes democracy so terrible. That is probably true. The same reviewer, or maybe it was another, blames this book for not offering a viable solution to the problems of democracy, which is kind of weird to damn Mencken for since he is pretty clear about not offering anything better, and going against the current that holds that if you can't come up with some way to fix wh ...more
Erin Sipes
Aug 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
Who is H.L. Mencken and why am I just now reading him!? This book is genius! I started highlighting passages I liked but then realized nearly every page was marked in florescent pink.

I'm not going to say this book is for everyone but it is definitely for those of us out there that watch the news and listen to certain groups or leaders thinking, "Seriously are there people out there buying this?" Then we come into contact with those who are in fact subscribing whole-heartily to an idiotic brainl
Sep 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Can you believe some twats on Abebooks and Amazon want $25 for this book?? Jesus, I have never payed over $25 for anything besides rent and a large bulk order of Minoxidil from that I get monthly. Anyways, the book is lacking substance, he uses pompous/condescending language (trademark of Mencken). I think if he and I got in an argument, he would constantly call me "stupid" and a "dumb dumby mcdumber", which of course, I would stare blankly at him and nod pathetically in agreement bec ...more
Dissident Books
Jun 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Libertarians and heretics
Recommended to Dissident Books by: Adam Parfrey (indirectly)
Shelves: dissident-books
We are so proud that this was Dissident Books' first release and that it turned out so well. H. L. Mencken's words are as shocking and challenging--perhaps more so--as they were when Notes was first published in 1926. It's hard to think of anything more holy to the American mind than democracy. (Maybe capitalism, and Mencken rips that apart too.) Mencken dissects universal suffrage and the notion of the masses' limitless wisdom with a razor-sharp Ginsu. The introduction and extensive annotations ...more
Aug 18, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
Trying to read "Notes on Democracy" now and see past the early 20th century scientific conclusions to its supposed brilliance is like trying to watch Eddie Murphy's "Delirious" for the first time and not be distracted by all the dated gay jokes. "Notes on Democracy" has some good stuff in it for sure, but it's also very disjointed, it's arguments imperfect and hard to read for insights with so much talk of "inferior man" and other ideas that just seem silly now. A lot of the faults of democracy ...more
Mar 07, 2016 rated it it was ok
Mencken is known for his wit, but if this book is any indication, that reputation is completely undeserved. He tries hard to be clever, but fails almost every time. Many admire Mencken for his anti-plebeian elitism. This book is full of it, to be sure, but his is the sort of elitism one might find in an intelligent but immature 15-year-old boy; not a supposedly well-read grown man.

On the whole, I found the book unimpressive, predictable and boring. The one salient observation Mencken makes is th
Nov 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Mencken has style, wit, eloquence and what not! He's a warrior with a pen, decimating Democracy as a mediocrity , or worse.

It was long ago observed that plain people, under democracy, never vote for anything, but always against something

The mob, in common practice, sticks to thieves as their leaders, it is only because their words are words it understands and their ideas are ideas it cherishes. It has the power to throw them off at will, and even at a whim, and it also has the means.

The typical
Aug 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
I would recommend this book to anybody interested in reading about theories of democracy or early 20th century U.S. History. This particular book is brilliantly annotated. I genuinely enjoyed reading the annotations as much as the book and I can't recall another book I have ever felt that way about. Mencken's writing is accessible and interesting. Nothing is sacred to him and that is refreshing at times. However, he also writes with scathing generalizations and in the end comes off as a journali ...more
Jan 04, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Here the enfant terrible Mencken takes on democracy, the ostensible rule of the "common man."

A bit tongue in cheek, of course, but clever and bitingly written. We won't see newspapermen this great again, alas!

This edition is nicely annotated. Some of the period references are obscure.

And democracy is highly overrated. Just watch some of Jay Leno's interviews with men-in-the street, and then tell me with a straight face how great universal suffrage is and we ought to encourage more people to vote
Mar 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Perfect election year reading. Dated in many respects - dismay for democracy in the 1920s had a racial tinge that it doesn't quite have today - but this is actually a learned discussion of the problems of democracy. Mencken was extremely well read, was a devotee of Nietzsche, and, for all his crude language about the "booboisie," had actually put a lot of thought into the dangers of mass democracy.
Mattheus von Guttenberg
Oct 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
Mencken at his finest. A charming, curmudgeonly, and acerbic perspective on American democratic values and institutions. He inspires a deep cynicism in the reader regarding all the rituals and affectations of democracy: voting, politicking, campaigning, and the general idea of social betterment by democratic participation. Democracy may not be the worst form of government, but it's certainly the most humorous.
Alex Stargazer
Jun 26, 2016 rated it really liked it

Henry Louis Mencken: a contrarian and master writer, it must be said. The book itself is not only bold in its aim (to discredit and attack that most cherished political institution) but also in the way Mencken goes about it—through a kind of rhetorical violence, an artillery barrage of wit, eloquence and scathing criticism.

Does he succeed? Modern democracts would hope not. If my opinion is any indication, however, I would say that Mencken does succeed in his broadest aim: to make the reader thi

Robert Cettl
Oct 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
HL Mencken’s Notes on Democracy, recently republished in a sterling new paperback edition by Dissident Books, was originally published in 1926. Mencken was then a respected columnist and was considered one of the most progressive voices speaking in favour of “liberty”. Though recent years have seen labels of “un-American” pelted against him, Mencken remains, on the evidence of Notes on Democracy, one of the most strident voices of opposition against the religious – specifically Christian – domin ...more
Jim Puskas
Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Despite its obvious shortcomings, I'm giving this book the full 5 stars. Notable caveats:
First, his language is at times awkward. It's deliberately provocative and fraught with hyperbole.
Second, having been written in 1923, it is very dated; that said however, his attacks upon the foolishness, corruption and knavery of the politicians of his day are equally true of the gang we are saddled with today.
Third, he states that "The average man doesn't want to be free. He wants to be safe." But this d
Eric Chevlen
Dec 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance."

Mencken wrote in the age before public choice theory was developed, and before regulatory capture became a recognized concept. He certainly did, however, anticipate some of their lugubrious findings. The problem of who will watch the watchmen dates back to the Satires of Juvenal, but was a concern even to the ancient Greeks.

Mencken aims his fire at democracy. He never questions his tacit assumption of a natural el
Louis F. Tyler Jr
Nietzsche for the lumpen literati

I love reading Mencken for his stock in trade irreverence, his wordsmithery, for his enduring relevance. Mandeville with an attitude.
Christopher Rex
Feb 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
The more things change, the more they stay the same. After reading Mencken's "Notes on Democracy" it is quite evident how true that is for the US system of democracy. It is also quite evident that corruption and incompetence are a systematic and entrenched feature of our system. Sad, really.

Mencken is a beast. Everybody should read his writings. He clearly had his finger on the pulse of what is wrong with both the US governmental system as well as the general populace and their role in "democrac
Robert Maier
Jan 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a short book, but a dense and difficult read, especially since it guts America's favorite cultural brass ring- Democracy. Mencken believes Democracy is merely the majority tyrannizing the few. He makes many good points, but as an iconoclast destroys our most liberal and self-congratulatory beliefs. Many of his points are lost in his twisted prose and tangled sentence structure, and his vocabulary requires as much annotation as a high school Milton collection. But battling through it is v ...more
Aug 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: political junkies, lovers of rhetoric
Shelves: first-reads
I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads Firstreads.

H.L. Mencken was always one of my father's favorite writers, but until now I'd never read his works. I found he was witty, snarky, sarcastic, educated, iconoclastic and always willing to exaggerate a point for maximum impact (much like my father). Even now, some fifty years after his death, Mencken is still a controversial figure, capable of raising strong emotions in his readers.

"Notes on Democracy" is Mencken's commentary on the
Don Lim
May 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A man who can truly wield the English language; every word carefully chosen, every sentence constructed with care. The problem with democracy has been clear since Aristotle, who knew the mob would rule society and politicians would become more adept in forming public opinions. It has been clear now for decades the radical swings of public opinion, a pendulum of extremes. Majority rule does not make any act, law, or belief correct. Additionally, no one truly believes in democracy. If 51% of the p ...more
Andrew Weitzel
Jan 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
A cathartic read, and a reminder that history repeats itself. You could replace the names of the past politicians Mencken mentions with today's current crop and the book wouldn't miss a beat.

Also, I found the last section very prescient, considering I finished it shortly after the Boston Marathon bombings: "I have spoken hitherto that democracy may be a self-limiting disease, like measles. It is, perhaps, something more: it is self-devouring. One cannot observe it objectively without being impre
Jul 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics
This was my first exposure to Mencken and I don't know if this is the best place to start when reading hum, but I got a deal on the book that I couldn't pass up, so it is what I ended up reading first. Mencken's essential argument here is that democracy sucks because people suck. I can accept that and when he says that people under prohibition mourn the loss of their beer more than the loss of their liberty, I nod and underline it. But then he goes on for far too long talking about people are te ...more
Willard Brickey
Sep 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
This treatment of the shortcomings of democracy is a major disappointment considering the source; Mencken is one of my favorite writers and is generally penetrating and often brilliant, and expresses himself inimitably (though many have tried to imitate him). But this, despite its brevity-just over two hundred pages of VERY large type-is too long by at least two thirds. It would have made an excellent essay. The rhetoric is overblown and padded, the same points are made over and over, yet contro ...more
Sep 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book is a trenchant critique of the democratic system that existed in America in the 1920s. Mencken's insights are both humorous and scary, because plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The footnotes in this edition were very helpful to understand the context and many of the references to people and events of the time. The author doesn't purpose a cure for the malady that he diagnoses, but his observations are likely to provide a much deeper understanding to the student of politics or o ...more
Dec 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reason
Absolutely brilliant book. Not a novel, but I'd rank it next to Candide for its dark humor and skepticism of humanity.

He points out the obvious, which is that man within a democracy spends much of his time trying to strip the liberty and happiness away from his fellow man; that a system of government supposedly designed and set up to give absolute liberty to each person living within it, is being constantly assailed by the very people it is mean to aid. Very witty. Very astute. Can't recommend i
Ogi Ogas
Dec 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
My ratings of books on Goodreads are solely a crude ranking of their utility to me, and not an evaluation of literary merit, entertainment value, social importance, humor, insightfulness, scientific accuracy, creative vigor, suspensefulness of plot, depth of characters, vitality of theme, excitement of climax, satisfaction of ending, or any other combination of dimensions of value which we are expected to boil down through some fabulous alchemy into a single digit.
Aug 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I've just started reading the book and already I'm really enjoying it. Good thing I have a pencil and not a pen in my pocketbook so I can highlight parts I like.
Jan 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Great book. Awesome guy. Reading this reminds you that democracy has ALWAYS been fundamentally broken, it's not a recent development.
Kathryn Muratore
Jan 30, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fun to read and food for thought. What's not to like about the Sage of Baltimore?
Craig Bolton
Notes on Democracy by H. L. Mencken (2008)
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Henry Louis "H.L." Mencken became one of the most influential and prolific journalists in America in the 1920s and '30s, writing about all the shams and con artists in the world. He attacked chiropractors and the Ku Klux Klan, politicians and other journalists. Most of all, he attacked Puritan morality. He called Puritanism, "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."

At the height o
“Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.” 273 likes
“Public opinion, in its raw state, gushes out in the immemorial form of the mob's fear. It is piped into central factories, and there it is flavored and colored, and put into cans.” 30 likes
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