February 7, 2015

A Citation for Gary North on Mencken

By In Blogs, C.Jay Engel

Gary North recently writes, in a post called “Bogus Quotations that Live Forever,”

I begin with a quotation that is attributed to H. L. Mencken. It is irresistible for libertarians.

“The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can’t get and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing. The tenth time is made good by looting A to satisfy B. In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods.”

It is all over the Web.

What is not all over the Web is a footnote. Where did he write this?

I did a long search. I did find this on a site titled Wikiquote. It’s faked. It was deliberately faked. It appears in a list of quotations, which are valid. Then, at the end of the list — each of which has a chapter designated — is the quotation on government. No chapter is listed. So, I went to two online editions of the original book. The quotation is not there.

Maybe Mencken did write the famous words on government. They surely sound like something he would say. But he did not write these words where a detailed Wikiquote article said he did. My point is this: Verify. Don’t trust.

He has a good point. And I have a citation for him.  It is from a not-so-well-known essay called Sham Battle that was republished in a collection of his essays, which can be found here.  I had researched this before after seeing the quote attributed to Mencken’s first series of “Prejudices.”  After I read through the whole first volume, I realized I never saw this favorite quote of mine. So I looked through the other Mencken books I had ordered and finally found it. Which is great, because it is wonderful quote and Mencken certainly deserves the recognition for it.

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to reformedlibertarian@gmail.com
  • Isaac Szijjarto

    At the end of the day, where is the quote?

    • C.Jay Engel

      In the essay and book I cited. Lol.

  • Isaac Szijjarto

    LOL, right: but I meant as in, when you said, “So I looked through the other Mencken books I had ordered and finally found it.” I did not understand what you meant initially. I re-read your post a couple times and finally figured it out: you were referring to an essay found within the work that was linked on Amazon. My apologies for my shallow reading.

    Beyond that, citation is good.

    • C.Jay Engel

      Ah, I should have been clearer:)

  • RA Jameson

    Great find! Thank you for doing the heavy lifting.