Saturday, June 15, 2013

H.L. Mencken: Theodore Roosevelt believed in a despotism of inspired prophets and policemen

He didn't believe in democracy; he believed simply in government.

In "Roosevelt, an Autopsy", Mencken makes the following observations:

I have no doubt that Roosevelt himself, carried away by the emotional storms of the moment and especially by the quasi-religious monkey-shines that marked the first Progressive convention, gradually convinced himself that at least some of the doctrinaires, in the midst of all their imbecility, yet preached a few ideas that were workable, and perhaps even sound. But at bottom he was against them, and not only in the matter of their specific sure cures, but also in the larger matter of their childish faith in the wisdom and virtue of the plain people. Roosevelt, for all his fluent mastery of democratic counter-words, democratic gestures and all the rest of the armamentarium of the mob-master, had no such faith in his heart of hearts. He didn't believe in democracy; he believed simply in government. His remedy for all the great pangs and longings of existence was not a dispersion of authority, but a hard concentration of authority. He was not in favor of unlimited experiment; he was in favor of a rigid control from above, a despotism of inspired prophets and policemen. He was not for democracy as his followers understood democracy, and as it actually is and must be; he was for a paternalism of the true Bismarckian pattern, almost of the Napoleonic or Ludendorffian pattern - a paternalism concerning itself with all things, from the regulation of coal-mining and meat-packing to the regulation of spelling and marital rights. His instincts were always those of the property-owning Tory, not those of the romantic Liberal. All the fundamental objects of Liberalism - free speech, unhampered enterprise, the least possible governmental interference - were abhorrent to him. Even when, for campaign purposes, he came to terms with the Liberals his thoughts always ranged far afield. When he tackled the trusts the thing that he had in his mind's eye was not the restoration of competition but the subordination of all private trusts to one great national trust, with himself at its head. And when he attacked the courts it was not because they put their own prejudice before the law but because they refused to put his prejudices before the law.

This concept of "a despotism of inspired prophets" is a very good way to describe the never ending myriad of "expert panels" that progressives love to rely on.

1 comment:

  1. Roosevelt was not a despot. He believed in Americanism. He hated Tammany Hall (The democratic political machine that dominated NYC and NY State during his lifetime) and anything associated with it. They were the despots wanting to control anything they could by hook and crook. TR believed that an educated citizenry was imperative for a free people to maintain their freedom, and until that time came, yes, he tried to play a patriarchal and protective role.