It Can’t Happen Here.

Name: It Can't Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis.

Type: Book.

Written in: 1935

Set in: 1936

Why it's a dystopia: Near-bloodless Fascist (Italian-style, not German-style) takeover of the United States of America, followed by a remarkably orderly transition to a totalitarian state.

Why it's significant: Given that it was essentially an agitprop piece reluctantly begging that the American people not reject the New Deal in favor of Huey Long, this book has been surprisingly durable.  In fact, I think that it's second only to 1984 in the field of Overwrought We're All Gonna Get Got By The Man references by the American Left.  Also: Lewis was a good writer (which is an advantage that a lot of these absurd prognostications of DOOM have going for them, by the way).

What happened? Essentially, the American bourgeoisie.

To understand this book, ignore the superficial politics - actually, no, let's address them very quickly.  Sinclair Lewis wasn't exactly a Roosevelt fan; Wikipedia (yeah, I know) suggests that he wrote this book mostly because he was worried about Huey Long going all populist on the New Dealers in the 1936 elections (and whether or not Long was an actual danger to the Republic is beyond the scope of this post).  This book is also very much set in an era where anti-war isolationism was not seen as being completely incompatible with general progressivism, which is why the eventual leader of the American resistance was 1936 Republican nominee Walt Trowbridge, backed up by the LaFolette clan and various and sundry others.  This will no doubt come as a surprise to American Leftists who actually read the book, although probably not as much as the parts where Lewis has his fascist regime be pretty just much as friendly to the Soviet Union as it was to Nazi Germany.

But the real issue here is Lewis's disdain for the aforementioned bourgeoisie, which he more or less simply assumed would look placidly on as a populist movement replicated in six months (and considerably less violence) the success that the Nazis managed only after thirteen years.  To give you an idea of the utter improbability of this scenario: Lewis postulates that it would only take weeks for a country with a functional and stable democratic system to be converted into a police state that would shrug as:

  • Congress was put in jail;
  • The Constitution shredded, unambigiously;
  • Home-grown stormtroopers would be armed and organized from scratch;
  • And Enemies to the regime would be lined up and shot.

...instead of, say, picking up the nearest firearms and start shooting fascists until the local governor could call up their National Guard contingents, who would be able to handle things until the actual military could arrive to take the new President away for his "rest cure.*"  Because that's something that Lewis (and his later, Leftist admirers) never quite got about this country: our successful revolutions spring from middle class sensibilities.  Which is why the various anti-war movements never got anywhere meaningful (it took Watergate to give the progressives the opportunity to murder the South Vietnamese), and the Tea Party did (and does); the former were radicals, and thus unable to inherently tap into the true revolutionary spirit that informed the latter.  Which is, you know, good and everything.  Certainly less violent.

So, basically, it actually can't happen here.  At least, not the way that we had the country organized back then.  Or today, come to think of it.

Moe Lane

*You may safely assume that I am not impressed by Lewis's handwaving away of those details.

Written by in: Uncategorized | Tags:

No Comments

Comments are closed.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Site by Neil Stevens | Theme by