Mencken and “Extremism” in the 1920s

In lots of contemporary culture war battles, each side works hard to position the other as the side of “extremism.”  Pundits these days could learn a great deal from the American past master of such polemic positioning, H.L. Mencken.  I was tickled pink to be asked to write a review for H-Net of a collection of Mencken’s writings about the 1925 Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee.  Like him or hate him–and I like him–it’s hard to dispute Mencken’s credentials as one of the most influential culture-war writers of the twentieth century.

Mencken’s dispatches from the Scopes trial, I believe, cemented in the American imagination the new stereotype of fundamentalism as an irruption of backwoods ignorance.  His intemperate critique of the nature of the American masses and their pathetic need for intellectual and theological certainty became the standard criticism of the fundamentalist persuasion for generations.

I invite everyone interested in the nature of American fundamentalism and in the history of the creation/evolution debates to read this new collection of Mencken’s Scopes writings.  For a brief taste, see my review on H-Net.