The Trouble with Communism is the Communists, Just as the Trouble with Christianity is the Christians

H. L. Mencken? Martin Luther King Jr.? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The U.S. satirist and curmudgeon H. L. Mencken apparently employed the following saying. Here are two versions:

The trouble with communism are the communists.
The trouble with communism is the communists.

If this remark is authentic would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In August 1946 “LIFE” magazine published an interview with H. L. Mencken whose popularity had suffered because of his relentless hostility to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Mencken stated that he found the idea of communism attractive. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Mr. Mencken puffed meditatively on his cigar. “We might as well discuss Communism, too,” he said. “As an idea it is anything but bad. I can easily imagine a civilization purged of the profit motive. In fact, I am pretty well purged of it myself. Private property, after a certain low point, becomes a mere nuisance.”

Nevertheless, Mencken distrusted the advocates of communism and labeled them hypocrites: 2

The trouble with Communism is the Communists, just as the trouble with Christianity is the Christians. They really do not believe in it and hence are hypocrites. All of them pant for money and hope to collar it by changing the rules. This fundamental false pretense colors their whole propaganda. They have no more sense of honor than so many congressmen and engage constantly in wholesale lying.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Martin Luther King Jr. presented a different criticism of communism within a sermon reprinted in the 1963 collection “Strength to Love”: 3

The trouble with Communism is that it has neither a theology nor a Christology; therefore it emerges with a mixed-up anthropology. Confused about God, it is also confused about man. In spite of its glowing talk about the welfare of the masses, Communism’s methods and philosophy strip man of his dignity and worth, leaving him as little more than a depersonalized cog in the ever-turning wheel of the state.

In 2000 Mencken’s comment appeared in “The Times Book of Quotations” compiled by “The Times” newspaper of London: 4

Mencken, H.L. (1880-1956)
US writer, critic, philologist and satirist
The trouble with Communism is the Communists, just as the trouble with Christianity is the Christians.
Life, 1946

In conclusion, H. L. Mencken did employ the saying under examination during an interview published in “LIFE” magazine in August 1946.

(Great thanks to Roling K whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1946 August 5, LIFE, Volume 21, Number 6, Mr. Mencken Sounds Off by Roger Butterfield, Start Page 45, Quote Page 51, Column 1, Published by Time Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1946 August 5, LIFE, Volume 21, Number 6, Mr. Mencken Sounds Off by Roger Butterfield, Start Page 45, Quote Page 51, Column 1, Published by Time Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1963, Strength to Love by Martin Luther King Jr., Sermon 12: How Should a Christian View Communism?, Start Page 93, Quote Page 95, Published by Harper & Row, New York. (Verified on paper)
  4. 2000, The Times Book of Quotations, Section: Communism, Quote Page 145, Column 2, HarperCollins, Glasgow, United Kingdom. (Verified on with hardcopy)