Sunday, January 19, 2014

Beth’s Books: It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

Beth's BooksI decided to read this book because it was referenced in the previous book I read (and reviewed here), Christian Nation: A Novel. A quote from the Lewis book was used in Christian Nation, and I was intrigued enough that I thought I should read the Sinclair Lewis book.

Boy, am I glad I did.

While the premise of Christian Nation was that the Christian right dominionists take over our government and make America a theocracy, the premise of Lewis’s book is that the far right gains a toehold and fascists take over America. This book was originally published in 1935, when the Nazis were coming to power in Germany, so the timeline makes sense. What is frightening is that both results are eerily similar. In fact, it struck me that Christian Nation drew quite a bit on this book, modeling its theocracy on Lewis’s fascist dictatorship.

In this book, we get everything in fascist America that Nazi Germany had: rapid erosions of freedom, including free speech and freedom of assembly; roving bands of government-sanctioned militia thugs (they’re even called Minute Men...I’m looking at YOU, Arizona!); persecution of seditionists, “intellectuals,” Jews, and Negroes; execution of real and imagined political enemies, or anyone who dares to question the regime; concentration and labor camps; book confiscations and burnings; takeover of the press as part of the propaganda machine.

As in Christian Nation, I was very disturbed at how plausible it all seemed. Check out some of these passages from the book:
Why are you so afraid of the word ‘Fascism,’ Doremus? Just a word—just a word! And might not be so bad, with all the lazy bums we got panhandling relief nowadays, and living on my income tax and yours… [from one of the leaders in the new regime] 
All women now employed shall, as rapidly as possible, except in such peculiarly feminine spheres of activity as nursing and beauty parlors, be assisted to return to their incomparably sacred duties as home-makers and as mothers of strong, honorable future Citizens of the Commonwealth. [from the platform of the new president, Berzelius ‘Buzz’ Windrip] tenth of 1 per cent of the population at the top have an aggregate income equal to 42 per cent at the bottom. [from a character in the book who is a Communist] 
In the little towns, ah, there is the abiding peace that I love, and that can never be disturbed by even the noisiest Smart Alecks from these haughty megalopolises like Washington, New York, & etc. [from Buzz Windrip’s book—gee, who does that remind you of?]
Any of that sound familiar? If you’ve been paying attention to our current atmosphere in politics, it should. Remember, this was written in 1935.

It Can't Happen HereAll is not lost in this alternate reality America. There is a committed Underground group who works to smuggle people across to Canada and to get out the truth about what the fascist regime is doing to its citizens. The main character in the book, Doremus Jessup, begins the book as the editor of the local paper in a small Vermont town. After tragedies in his own family and eventual imprisonment, he wonders:
I am convinced that everything that is worth while in the world has been accomplished by the free, inquiring, critical spirit, and that the preservation of this spirit is more important than any social system whatsoever. But the men of ritual and the men of barbarism are capable of shutting up the men of science and of silencing them forever.
This book is very much worth reading. You might find it a little slow at the beginning, as I did, but once I got about a third of the way into it, the shit really hit the fan, and I tore through the rest of it. If you’re like me, it will make you resolved that such reactionary thinking will never be allowed to flourish in our country, at least beyond a small but vocal minority, and it will make you wonder which side you would be on. Would you go along to get along, or would you work to put an end to such obviously unconstitutional acts? Would you stand by as your colleagues are taken into “protective custody” because you fear for yourself or for your family, or would you fight such tactics in whatever way you could? Would you risk your own life to save others from death or imprisonment? What if members of your own family joined the oppressive regime?

This is a very thought-provoking and disturbing book that will make you realize that its title is a fallacy. I highly recommend it.


  1. I am going toy this book to my collection (though the used book stores here are a bit pricier than I like them to be)... unfortunately, I think that we are well on a way to a Matrix-like dystopia with the only question being whether or not men are nothing but battery cells to empower the lives of the superrich...

  2. Fight On!!! I would not be part of the status quo!


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