On Being an American (Prejudices, Third Series)


by H.L. Mencken (1880 - 1956)

The ‘Sage of Baltimore’ begins with hyperbolic condemnation of the American government, courts, foreign policy and people. Yet unlike ‘fugitive Young Intellectuals’, he asks why he remains ‘on the dock, wrapped in the flag’. With utter sincerity and irony he answers that he enjoys easy prosperity, a feeling of superiority and the comedy of American public life.

He turns his talents as an acerbic phrasemaker against American hunger for ‘uplift’ and ‘buncombe’, and attacks the cant of ‘hardy adventurers’, individualism, military supremacy, independence from England, and youthful nationhood, wittily demonstrating how the American spirit is that of an old peasant.

Related recommendation: Octavio Paz’s ‘At Table and In Bed’ (1987)

Origin: United States

Themes: America

Genres: Humorous, Polemical or Political , Satirical, Topical essay or article

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