Thoughts following the 2016 mencken club meeting


To the members of the H.L. Mencken Club:

Our ninth annual gathering went splendidly. We had a record turnout of attendees and for the first time in our history, we found ourselves with more requests to attend than we could accommodate. This was because of the limited space that the hotel was able to provide during the weekend of November 4-6. Next year, we’ll try to arrange for a larger meeting space for our stimulating sessions and sumptuous meals.

Our speakers, who discussed the Right in historical perspective, gave excellent presentations; and the audience, as usual, asked provocative questions. I was happy to see that the speakers covered a wide range chronologically, from the distinguished historian Stanley Payne at one side of the age spectrum to a recent Ph.D. recipient at the other end. A debate and discussion on Saturday evening about whether the Right should continue to defend capitalism went on for several hours; and even after I tried to end this lively session, exchanges continued with the panel and later, at a hospitality hour. On Friday evening, we had the additional treat of a Mencken impersonation performed by a Minnesota professor John C. Chalberg. From this performance, we may infer that the presented views of our organization’s namesake remain as accurate and relevant now as when they were in the interwar period.  

Our organization has moved to a new level of success with this recent gathering. We are blessed with members who come to our meetings regularly, sometimes from Europe or from across the American continent. We are also in a position to attract young scholars and journalists who are interested in our work, and we no longer look as uniformly geriatric as we did two or three years ago. Things have changed in other ways. The H.L. Mencken Club is not what I thought it would become when I expressed my hope to John Derbyshire, Bob Weissberg, and Peter Brimelow about ten years ago. Then, I hoped for a slightly updated restoration of the Philadelphia Society before the neoconservatives took over and reconstructed that organization. 

 Fortunately, we’ve found a new niche, as an open forum for thinkers mostly on the Right who can speak without fear of social ostracism and in a spirit of open debate. I used to imagine that Conservatism, inc. had functioned in that manner before it was invaded by interlopers in the 1980s. But that may have been for the most part a romantic fantasy. What I once admired to excess may have been destined to become what it did, a slightly more moderate version of the current American Left showing an equally disturbing allergy to non-conformist speech. Having researched and written on the purges in the conservative movement since the mid-1950s, it is now all too clear to me that the Communist-like intolerance of our current establishment Right was amply present in its predecessor of the 1950s. Our practice of open discussion was far from the rule in organized conservatism even before the neoconservatives and Republican establishment took over.

 A journalist from a leftist website who was present at our gathering commented that he was surprised to hear all points of view represented in our discussion of capitalism, “from the far Right to the far Left.” I explained that since we are not censored by corporate donors or burdened by members looking for government jobs, we can afford to hold open discussions. It is my fervent hope that this practice will continue to be on display at our future meetings.


Paul Gottfried
The HL Mencken Club