06 September 2010

Fascism in America - the View from 1930s Vermont: Review of "It Can'y Happen Here"

It Can't Happen HereIt Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the 1930s, the world was becoming increasingly dominated by totalitarian states, and these were not just the banana republics that we have grown accustomed to seeing in Africa, Latin America or the Middle East. Totalitarianism, whether in the form of fascism or communism, seemed to have a monopoly on new thinking and revolution. It was far from unthinkable that this was the new way of the world.

It was into this world thatSinclair Lewis injected It Can't Happen Here. The fictional rise of Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip is rapid and shocking, showing just how fragile America's constitutional balance of power is. I found that rise to be a bit precipitous (vs. similar fictional American fascist movements laid out in The Plot Against America or The Center Cannot Hold and [The Victorious Opposition]. Sinclair is a better author than either Roth or Turtledove, but the later books take things slower. Those feel more plausible, but Sinclair's history is amazingly possible.

Another place where Sinclair seems to skip a cylinder is in the brutality of the Windrip Corpo regime. The repression is brutal and torture is always awful, but Sinclair did not have a conception of the mechanized murder and evil that was to come in the Holocaust. Turtledove does not flinch from a proposed Confederate Holocaust and the threat of the Holocaust is ever-present in Roth's book. But I can in no way blame Lewis for failing to foresee the twists that the mind of Adolf Hitler would take (even if Japanese behavior in Nanking and other Chinese cities had given a taste of what was to come).

And don't rest on your laurels America, thinking that the age of totalitarianism is past and so is the threat that Lewis wrote of. I worry about the claims made by an imperial presidency, regardless of party. Always question those who have all the answers.

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