Scattered here and there through the stacks of unpublished manuscript which constitute this formidable Autobiography and Diary of mine, certain chapters will in some distant future be found which deal with “Claimants”—claimants historically notorious: Satan, Claimant; the Golden Calf, Claimant; the Veiled Prophet of Khorassan, Claimant; Louis XVII., Claimant; William Shakespeare, Claimant; Arthur Orton, Claimant; Mary Baker G. Eddy, Claimant—and the rest of them. Eminent Claimants, successful Claimants, defeated Claimants, royal Claimants, pleb Claimants, showy Claimants, shabby Claimants, revered Claimants, despised Claimants, twinkle star-like here and there and yonder through the mists of history and legend and tradition—and, oh, all the darling tribe are clothed in mystery and romance, and we read about them with deep interest and discuss them with loving sympathy or with rancorous resentment, according to which side we hitch ourselves to. It has always been so with the human race. There was never a Claimant that couldn’t get a hearing, nor one that couldn’t accumulate a rapturous following, no matter how flimsy and apparently unauthentic his claim might be.Towards the end of the essay, he foreshadows the postmodern critical theorists and their obsession with political correctness, triggering, etc. Also, some of the key elements in The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt.
He opens mockingly of the type of moral certitude which is still in circulation today.
One of the most trying defects which I find in these—these—what shall I call them? for I will not apply injurious epithets to them, the way they do to us, such violations of courtesy being repugnant to my nature and my dignity. The farthest I can go in that direction is to call them by names of limited reverence—names merely descriptive, never unkind, never offensive, never tainted by harsh feeling. If THEY would do like this, they would feel better in their hearts. Very well, then—to proceed. One of the most trying defects which I find in these Stratfordolaters, these Shakesperiods, these thugs, these bangalores, these troglodytes, these herumfrodites, these blatherskites, these buccaneers, these bandoleers, is their spirit of irreverence. It is detectable in every utterance of theirs when they are talking about us. I am thankful that in me there is nothing of that spirit. When a thing is sacred to me it is impossible for me to be irreverent toward it. I cannot call to mind a single instance where I have ever been irreverent, except towards the things which were sacred to other people. Am I in the right? I think so.The hallmark of the postmodernist critical theorist is their desire to keep carving out special victim groups and then, in an authoritarian fashion, try and police what can and cannot be said. Twain presages this inclination as well.
Now then, what aggravates me is that these troglodytes and muscovites and bandoleers and buccaneers are ALSO trying to crowd in and share the benefit of the law, and compel everybody to revere their Shakespeare and hold him sacred. We can’t have that: there’s enough of us already. If you go on widening and spreading and inflating the privilege, it will presently come to be conceded that each man’s sacred things are the ONLY ones, and the rest of the human race will have to be humbly reverent toward them or suffer for it. That can surely happen, and when it happens, the word Irreverence will be regarded as the most meaningless, and foolish, and self-conceited, and insolent, and impudent, and dictatorial word in the language. And people will say, “Whose business is it what gods I worship and what things hold sacred? Who has the right to dictate to my conscience, and where did he get that right?”
We cannot afford to let that calamity come upon us. We must save the word from this destruction. There is but one way to do it, and that is to stop the spread of the privilege and strictly confine it to its present limits—that is, to all the Christian sects, to all the Hindu sects, and me. We do not need any more, the stock is watered enough, just as it is.
It would be better if the privilege were limited to me alone. I think so because I am the only sect that knows how to employ it gently, kindly, charitably, dispassionately. The other sects lack the quality of self-restraint.