Democracy, as we all know, is a Greek word. Literally, it means “rule of the people.” To a proponent of democracy, then, it is not unfair to ask, “How have the people been ruling themselves?” In these days of election fever (or exhaustion), it is amusing, if not illustrative to remember that one prominent American openly proclaimed that the people stink and that democracy is a joke. I’m thinking, of course, of H.L. Mencken. Surveying the teeming hordes of American citizens, Mencken called them the “booboisie.” The booboisie is composed of idiots and mental children. “Ideas,” Mencken noted, “leave them unscathed; they are responsive only to emotions, and their emotions are all elemental — the emotions, indeed, of tabby-cats rather than of men.”

Mencken wrote these thoughts down in 1926’s Notes on Democracy (recently published in a new… More…