I came across an exceptional piece tonight while reading The Superfluous Men. I single out this Mencken passage not only for its splendiferous prose and stunning significance, but also, if one replaces the notion of “country” or “society” with that of corporate America (and therefore corporate culture, in general), this excerpt expertly chronicles the often stifling environment of Dilbert’s white-collar, cubicle world.
From Mencken’s “The Need for an Aristocracy”:
10:06 pm on February 16, 2006 Email Karen De Coster
But where is intelligence? Where are ease and surety of manner? Where are enterprise and curiosity? Where, above all, is courage, and in particular, moral courage–the capacity for independent thinking, for difficult problems, for what Nietzsche called the joys of the labyrinth? As well look for these things in a society of half-wits. Democracy, obliterating the old aristocracy, has left only a vacuum in its place; in a century and a half it has failed either to lift up the mob to intellectual autonomy and dignity or to purge the plutocracy of its inherent stupidity and swinishness. It is precisely here, the first and favorite scene of the Great Experiment, that the culture of the individual has been reduced to the most rigid and absurd regimentation. It is precisely here, of all civilized countries, that eccentricity in demeanor and opinion has come to bear the heaviest penalties. The whole drift of our law is toward the absolute prohibition of all ideas that diverge in the slightest from accepted platitudes, and behind that drift of law there is a far more potent force of growing custom, and under that custom there is a national philosophy which erects conformity into the noblest of virtues and the free functioning of personality into a capital crime against society.