Ambrose Bierce’s Pro-Freedom Cynicism, by James Bovard

By his own definition of a cynic: “a blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be,” Ambrose Bierce was the consummate cynic, and a damn funny one. From James Bovard at fff.org:

The friends of freedom must recognize the verbal charades that sway people to surrender their rights and liberties. The political establishment and its media allies are continually abusing the English language to lull people into submission.

From pupils being required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of each school day to adults being endlessly hectored to vote, Americans are injected with demands for obedience almost from womb to tomb. It is not enough to obey: Americans are supposedly obliged to view the current regime as the incarnation of “the will of the people.”

Journalist and author Ambrose Bierce offered a barrage of antidotes to this servile claptrap. Many people are familiar with Bierce’s definition of cynic — “a blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be.” But Bierce’s writing had a much sharper political edge than is usually recognized nowadays.

H.L. Mencken commented that Ambrose Bierce was the “one genuine wit” that America had produced as of the early 1900s. Mencken summarized Bierce’s career:

Doomed to live in a country in which, by God’s will, honesty is rare and courage is still rarer and honor is almost unknown…. he fell upon the mountebanks, great and small, in a Berserker fury, thus to sooth and secure his own integrity. That integrity, as far as I can make out, was never betrayed by compromise. Right or wrong, he always stuck to the truth as he saw it.

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