There is no irony in the fact that H.L. Mencken is a tall figure in the history of letters, and Robert Rives La Monte is wholly forgotten. La Monte, who worked at the Baltimore News as well as being an editor for the International Socialist Review, was a true believer in the promise of Socialism. Here he writes six letters trying to convince H.L. Mencken to reject his selfish ways and become a comrade in the revolution, to usher in a perfect world of total equality and universal brotherhood.
Mencken, long time writer for the Baltimore Sun, editor of The American Mercury, and prolific author and essayist, was the absolute worst choice of target for an evangelist of the common man. There have been few who were as openly resolved to a robust Nietzschean individualism. And so, in one of the turn of the last centuries greatest “flame wars,” we have the Bard of Baltimore’s six responses to those appeals.
The battle of the “collective good” versus “individual liberty” still rages in pitched battles. La Monte’s voice is rightfully now just one of many faceless advocates of class-warfare, and Mencken’s personality survives as the greatest advocate of social Darwinism and thus ultimately Mencken’s own views.
“(It) shows how (Mencken’s) political thinking had solidified—hardened, really. The law of the survival of the fittest, he declares, is “immutable,” thus making socialism an absurdity; human progress is the product of the will to power, and all social arrangements failing to take this fact into account are doomed to failure; inequality is natural, even desirable, both in and of itself and as an alternative to mob rule; the world exists to be run by “the first-caste man.” - Terry Teachout, The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken
“The argument of Men versus the Man is one we are still having today. The content of the argument is the relative desirability of two approaches to our social life. On the one hand is proposed a society of men: a society in which none is allowed to rise too high above another, a society that subtracts great resources from the more able in an effort to raise up the less able. On the other hand is a society of the man: a society in which individuals are left to do what they can with their inherited capabilities, in conditions of maximum personal freedom and minimal state control.”
- John Derbyshire, from the preface
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