Saturday, February 18, 2006


I picked up the term from Ed Driscoll, who points to a Weekly Standard review by Fred Siegel of a biography of H.L. Mencken. Siegel explains anarcho-authoritarianism, taking Mencken as an exemplar of it:
Part of the reason it's so hard to make sense of Mencken is that he was, paradoxically, an anarcho-authoritarian. He agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union on the importance of free speech. But while that organization, under the influence of principled men such as Felix Frankfurter, argued for such freedoms on the grounds that "a marketplace of ideas" (to use Justice Holmes's term) was the best method of arriving at the truth, Mencken supported it [free speech] in order to shield superior men like himself from being hobbled by the little people. For the same reason, Mencken was a near anarchist when it came to America, but an authoritarian when it came to the iron rule of the Kaiser and General Ludendorff. We are more familiar with anarcho-Stalinists such as William Kunstler, who had a parallel attitude toward the United States and the Soviet empire, but it was Mencken who blazed the trail down which Kunstler and his ilk would travel. [Emphasis added by me.]
In other words, for Mencken and his ilk liberty is a personal convenience, not a general principle. Mencken showed his true colors when he wrote disdainfully of the "booboisie" (boob + bourgoisie). Mencken was a closeted statist who compensated for his frustrated ambitions by ridiculing those whom he could not dominate. A different kind of compensatory rhetoric is to be found these days mainly on what we call (inaccurately) the Left. As I wrote recently, Leftists
have become apocalyptic in their outlook: the environment will kill us, our food is poisonous, defense is a military-industrial plot, we're running out of oil, we can't defeat terrorism, etc., etc., etc. . . .

The emphasis on social restraints [in order to avert the apocalypse] means social engineering writ large. [The Leftist] wants a society that operates according to his strictures. But society refuses to cooperate, and so he conjures historically and scientifically invalid explanations for the behavior of man and nature. By doing so he is able to convince himself and his fellow travelers that the socialist vision is the correct one. He and his ilk cannot satisfy their power-lust in the real world, so they retaliate by imagining a theoretical world of doom. It is as if they walk around under a thought balloon which reads "Take that!"
Mencken, the closeted statist, settled for ridicule. Today's not-so-closeted statists cannot be content with ridicule; they must instead consign the objects of their derision to an imaginary hell.