Art and puritanism

HL Mencken

Defining Puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy”, Mencken believed that the U.S. had not cast aside the Puritans’ influence. He opined that American culture, unlike its European counterparts, had not attained intellectual freedom, and judged literature by moral orthodoxy and not by artistic merit."

“The Puritan’s utter lack of aesthetic sense, his distrust of all romantic emotion, his unmatchable intolerance of opposition, his unbreakable belief in his own bleak and narrow views, his savage cruelty of attack, his lust for relentless and barbarous persecution – these things have put an almost unbearable burden up on the exchange of ideas in the United States.”

“The great artists of the world are never Puritans, and seldom even ordinarily respectable. No virtuous man — that is, virtuous in the Y.M.C.A. sense — has ever painted a picture worth looking at, or written a symphony worth hearing, or a book worth reading.”

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The important thing to understand about Mencken is that he was a misanthrope and the type of person who has a problem with everything.

He was objectively wrong about puritans as they did create the first American literature and architecture, but he was probably referring to the religious in general as lacking creativity – which is absurd since the world has always been filled with religious art. He was also laughably wrong to claim Europeans never moralize over the arts. As if book burning hasn’t existed as long as books have existed.