In the face of our nation’s current turmoil, I suggest that we open our Mencken. This gadfly journalist and critic provides an astute analysis of issues relevant to us today.

Henry Louis (H.L.) Mencken was born in 1880 and died in 1956. He was by nature intemperate and irritable. He disliked most politicians, critics, and journalists (though he himself functioned in the two latter roles). He hated hypocrisy and platitude. When others were lauding the American dream, Mencken could write: “it seems to me that the shadows [on America] were never darker than they are today, and that we must linger in their blackness a long while before ever they are penetrated by authentic shafts of light.”
More… “Mencken in the Middle”

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.


In a year dominated by anti-establishment outsiders like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, to defend the traditional political system is to swim against the current. To the extent that their campaigns pressure the political establishment to take seriously immigration law enforcement or expansion of the safety net, they may do some good. But they are harmful to the extent that they reinforce what has been called “antipolitics,” the outright rejection of conventional representative democracy in theory, not just in practice, for alternatives which are supposed to promote the public interest or reflect the popular will. Like it or not, though, antipolitics is a dead end.

Antipolitics comes in two varieties: plebiscitary populism and public interest progressivism. Each promises an alternative to the messy politics of political parties, interest groups, and lobbies. But although they share a common enemy in conventional party politics, the two schools of antipolitics are opposites. More… “Against Anti-Politics”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.


Smedley Darlington Butler was a Major General in the Marine Corps and the only “Devil Dog” to ever win two Medals of Honor and a Marine Corps Brevet Medal. For two years, Butler, known occasionally as “Old Gimlet Eye,” was the Director of Public Safety for his hometown of Philadelphia. Given the unenviable task of enforcing the Volstead Act in extra wet Philly, Butler’s first forty-eight hours in office constituted a “shock and awe” campaign against the city’s illegal speakeasies, cabarets, brothels, poolrooms, and other dens of iniquity. According to Hans Schmidt, Butler’s greatest biographer and the author of Maverick Marine: General Smedley D. Butler and the Contradictions of American Military History, in those two days Butler and his men closed down 973 of the 1,200 saloons that sold blackmarket hooch in the city, while another 80 percent of known underworld haunts were closed temporarily. Philadelphia bootleggers showed their appreciation for Butler’s tactics by firing shots at the top cop one morning in 1924.

More… “The Bite of the Devil Dog”

Benjamin Welton is a freelance writer based in Boston. He is the author of Hands Dabbled in Blood.


Maybe one of the greatest gifts moving overseas has given me is distance from the absolutely batshit health care debate going on in the United States. Before I left, I could barely stomach the yelling, the sign waving, and the pundits’ pronouncements that “the United States has the best health care system in the world!” Ten minutes of the nightly news was enough to bring me to the brink of a coronary incident.

Danger to Self: On the Front Line with an ER Psychiatrist by Paul Linde. 280 pages. University of California Press. $24.95. Doctoring the Mind: Is Our Current Treatment of Mental Illness Really Any Good? by Richard P. Bentall. 384 pages. NYU Press. $29.95. Healing the Broken Mind: Transforming America’s Failed Mental Health System by Timothy Kelly. 193 pages. NYU Press. $25.95. The Sixties by Jenny Diski. 160 pages. Picador…. More…


Natan Sharansky is obsessed with death. I don’t mean that he wants to die. But he wants to be OK with death. He’s ready to die for the cause. He first decided that he was ready to die back in the Gulag, where he spent nine long years imprisoned as a Soviet dissident, one of the Jewish Refuseniks who challenged Soviet immigration policy. Later, when he finally made it to Israel, he was willing to die for a Jewish state. In general, over the last few decades, he has been a vocal proponent of the “death before tyranny” approach to international relations. This, famously, has endeared him to George W. Bush and many of those in the Bush Administration. Sharansky’s book, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, was singled out by… More…

I can’t stop thinking that Eliot Spitzer’s downfall is extraordinary in its Oedipal dimensions. I don’t mean this in the Freudian sense, but in the classical. In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex a man, Oedipus, attempts to engineer his own fate in the face of a terrible prophecy. In the end, Oedipus comes to realize that his own actions, meant to liberate him from this course of fate, have been the agents of its realization. He declares:

No human hand but mine has done this deed.

What need for me to see,

When nothing’s left that’s sweet to look upon?

It has been noted again and again in the Spitzer story that ironies abound, multiplying quicker than they can be sorted out. This is a man who seemingly went out of his way to commit a crime that A) he would eventually get caught doing and, B) that he would have no… More…

In a move seemingly calculated to tease and titillate Right-wing conspiracy theorists around the globe, Hillary Clinton wrote a senior honor’s thesis at Wellesley on Saul Alinsky and then later had it sealed from the public during the eight years of her husband’s presidency. The thesis has taken on legendary status since then. Peggy Noonan called it “the Rosetta Stone of Hillary studies.”

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On the face of it, such hysteria appears warranted. Saul Alinsky was a radical’s radical. He spent much of his life doing, and theorizing about, grassroots political organizing. He started in the working-class neighborhoods of Chicago but he dreamed of a national worker’s movement with no less than revolutionary aspirations. At the same time, he was obsessed… More…

With his powdered wig and poker face, Washington looks so standoffish in his painted portraits that historians were naturally delighted to discover a touch of human frailty: While engaged to Martha, it now seems possible that he was boffing his best friend’s wife, the foxy Sally Fairfax. Others, more cautiously, say it was only a crush.

The evidence rests on two mysterious letters sent in September 1758, when George was a social-climbing, 26-year-old farmer-turned-army colonel writing from the front lines of the French and Indian War, and Sally was the belle of Virginia, a pretty, sophisticated and flirtatious minx two years his senior. George had met Sally several years earlier, when she married his Anglophile neighbor, G. W. Fairfax, in Mount Vernon, Virginia. The Washingtons and Fairfaxes were old family friends, so young George spent many nights playing cards, dancing, and enjoying amateur theatricals at the luxurious Fairfax mansion. Then,… More…