To read the current codswallop about the good people of the American heartland and their grievances against the snooty elites of the coasts is to be reminded how little changes in the Republic. H.L. Mencken’s “The Husbandman,” published in 1924 in the fourth series of his Prejudices, covers the same ground with characteristic zest, brio, and overstatement.
Consider: “The same mountebanks who get to Washington by promising to augment his [the farmer’s] gains and make good his losses devote whatever time is left over from that enterprise to saddling the rest of us with oppressive and idiotic laws. … There is the reservoir of all the nonsensical legislation which now makes the United States a buffoon among the great nations. It was among country Methodists, practitioners of a religion degraded almost to the level of voodooism, that Prohibition was invented. … What lies under it is no more and no less than the yokel’s congenital and incurable hatred of the city man—his simian rage against everyone who, as he sees it, is having a better time than he is.”
Or “Out in the steppes Methodism has got itself all the estate and dignity of a State religion; it becomes a criminal offense to teach any doctrine in contempt of it.”
Or “With Genesis firmly lodged in the Testament of the Fathers, he [the country man] will be ten times as potent as he is now and a hundred times as assiduous. No constitutional impediment will remain to cripple his moral fancy. The Wesleyan code of Kansas and Mississippi, Vermont and Minnesota, will be forced upon us by the full military and naval power of the United States. Civilization will gradually become felonious everywhere in the Republic, as it already is in Arkansas.”
Some things actually change. Farmers no longer make up as significant a component of the population, Prohibition is no longer numbered among idiotic and oppressive legislative efforts, and Methodism has grown considerably milder than the zanier forms of evangelical Christianity we see in the wild. But still …