Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Favorite Quotes - Sinclair Lewis, "It Can't Happen Here"

Harold Finch from CBS's "Person of Interest"
reading It Can't Happen Here
The first Sinclair Lewis novel I read (heard on CDs, actually) was Dodsworth. Some satirical passages were entertaining, but I never felt like I learned/felt/thought anything profound. Frederic Rich's Christian Nation quoted from Lewis's book It Can't Happen Here, so I decided to read it. Overall, it's a vigorous defense of Liberalism from Fascism and Communism, yet it does allow room for criticism of Liberalism. I'm excerpting some lengthy passages from the book, the text of which is available for free online. I've prefaced each passage with a header. So just like al-Imam al-Bukhari, my thoughts are in the headings and the passages I've chosen to excerpt.

The University of California system produced a reading guide which looks really interesting. Also, Donald Trump's campaign has sparked new interest in the novel.

For more thoughts on fascism, read Umberto Eco's essay on Ur-Fascism. Also, check out my other blog entries tagged fascism.

Sanctification of the Military is a Sure Sign of Fascism (Ch 3)

[Doremus Jessup] sighed then, and sat in his Windsor chair, leaning his elbows on the table and studiously reading the first letter over again. It was from Victor Loveland, one of the younger, more international-minded teachers in Doremus's old school, Isaiah College.
("Hm. 'Dr. Jessup.' Not me, m' lad. The only honorary degree I'll ever get'll be Master in Veterinary Surgery or Laureate in Embalming.")
A very dangerous situation has arisen here at Isaiah and those of us who are trying to advocate something like integrity and modernity are seriously worried--not, probably, that we need to be long, as we shall probably all get fired. Where two years ago most of our students just laughed at any idea of military drilling, they have gone warlike in a big way, with undergrads drilling with rifles, machine guns, and cute little blueprints of tanks and planes all over the place. Two of them, voluntarily, are going down to Rutland every week to take training in flying, avowedly to get ready for wartime aviation. When I cautiously ask them what the dickens war they are preparing for they just scratch and indicate they don't care much, so long as they can get a chance to show what virile proud gents they are.
Well, we've got used to that. But just this afternoon--the newspapers haven't got this yet--the Board of Trustees, including Mr. Francis Tasbrough and our president, Dr. Owen Peaseley, met and voted a resolution that--now listen to this, will you, Dr. Jessup--"Any member of the faculty or student body of Isaiah who shall in any way, publicly or privately, in print, writing, or by the spoken word, adversely criticize military training at or by Isaiah College, or in any other institution of learning in the United States, or by the state militias, federal forces, or other officially recognized military organizations in this country, shall be liable to immediate dismissal from this college, and any student who shall, with full and proper proof, bring to the attention of the President or any Trustee of the college such malign criticism by any person whatever connected in any way with the institution shall receive extra credits in his course in military training, such credits to apply to the number of credits necessary for graduation."
What can we do with such fast exploding Fascism?
And Loveland, teacher of Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit (two lone students) had never till now meddled in any politics of more recent date than A.D. 180.

All Against the Banks But All for the Bankers (Ch 7)

Summarized, the letter explained that [Berzelius Windrip] was all against the banks but all for the bankers--except the Jewish bankers, who were to be driven out of finance entirely; that he had thoroughly tested (but unspecified) plans to make all wages very high and the prices of everything produced by these same highly paid workers very low; that he was 100 per cent for Labor, but 100 per cent against all strikes; and that he was in favor of the United States so arming itself, so preparing to produce its own coffee, sugar, perfumes, tweeds, and nickel instead of importing them, that it could defy the World . . . and maybe, if that World was so impertinent as to defy America in turn, Buzz hinted, he might have to take it over and run it properly.

Which of Today's Candidates Would Be a Fan of William Dudley Pelley? (Ch 8)

I don't pretend to be a very educated man, except maybe educated in the heart, and in being able to feel for the sorrows and fear of every ornery fellow human being. Still and all, I've read the Bible through, from kiver to kiver, like my wife's folks say down in Arkansas, some eleven times; I've read all the law books they've printed; and as to contemporaries, I don't guess I've missed much of all the grand literature produced by Bruce Barton, Edgar Guest, Arthur Brisbane, Elizabeth Dilling, Walter Pitkin, and William Dudley Pelley.
This last gentleman I honor not only for his rattling good yarns, and his serious work in investigating life beyond the grave and absolutely proving that only a blind fool could fail to believe in Personal Immortality, but, finally, for his public-spirited and self-sacrificing work in founding the Silver Shirts. These true knights, even if they did not attain quite all the success they deserved, were one of our most noble and Galahad-like attempts to combat the sneaking, snaky, sinister, surreptitious, seditious plots of the Red Radicals and other sour brands of Bolsheviks that incessantly threaten the American standards of Liberty, High Wages, and Universal Security.
These fellows have Messages, and we haven't got time for anything in literature except a straight, hard-hitting, heart-throbbing Message! "Zero Hour," Berzelius Windrip

What did Sinclair Lewis's Fictional Fascists Have Against Obstetrics? (Ch 8)

During the very first week of his campaign, Senator Windrip clarified his philosophy by issuing his distinguished proclamation: "The Fifteen Points of Victory for the Forgotten Men." The fifteen planks, in his own words (or maybe in Lee Sarason's words, or Dewey Haik's words), were these:
(4) Believing that only under God Almighty, to Whom we render all homage, do we Americans hold our vast Power, we shall guarantee to all persons absolute freedom of religious worship, provided, however, that no atheist, agnostic, believer in Black Magic, nor any Jew who shall refuse to swear allegiance to the New Testament, nor any person of any faith who refuses to take the Pledge to the Flag, shall be permitted to hold any public office or to practice as a teacher, professor, lawyer, judge, or as a physician, except in the category of Obstetrics.

'Murica! (Ch 9)

My one ambition is to get all Americans to realize that they are, and must continue to be, the greatest Race on the face of this old Earth, and second, to realize that whatever apparent Differences there may be among us, in wealth, knowledge, skill, ancestry or strength--though, of course, all this does not apply to people who are racially different from us--we are all brothers, bound together in the great and wonderful bond of National Unity, for which we should all be very glad. And I think we ought to for this be willing to sacrifice any individual gains at all. "Zero Hour," Berzelius Windrip.

Rejoicing in USA Civil War Led to More Wars (Ch 13)

Slavery had been a cancer, and in that day was known no remedy save bloody cutting. There had been no X-rays of wisdom and tolerance. Yet to sentimentalize this cutting, to justify and rejoice in it, was an altogether evil thing, a national superstition that was later to lead to other Unavoidable Wars--wars to free Cubans, to free Filipinos who didn't want our brand of freedom, to End All Wars.
Let us, thought Doremus, not throb again to the bugles of the Civil War, nor find diverting the gallantry of Sherman's dashing Yankee boys in burning the houses of lone women, nor particularly admire the calmness of General Lee as he watched thousands writhe in the mud.

 ياأيها الذين آمنوا إن من أزواجكم وأولادكم عدوا لكم
(Quran, 64:14) O you who have believe, indeed, among your wives and your children are enemies to you (Ch 20)

It was all very well to talk about men like Thomas Mann and Lion Feuchtwanger and Romain Rolland, who in exile remained writers whose every word was in demand, about Professors Einstein or Salvemini, or, under Corpoism, about the recently exiled or self-exiled Americans, Walt Trowbridge, Mike Gold, William Allen White, John Dos Passos, H. L. Mencken, Rexford Tugwell, Oswald Villard. Nowhere in the world, except possibly in Greenland or Germany, would such stars be unable to find work and soothing respect. But what was an ordinary newspaper hack, especially if he was over forty-five, to do in a strange land--and more especially if he had a wife named Emma (or Carolina or Nancy or Griselda or anything else) who didn't at all fancy going and living in a sod hut on behalf of honesty and freedom?
So debated Doremus, like some hundreds of thousands of other craftsmen, teachers, lawyers, what-not, in some dozens of countries under a dictatorship, who were aware enough to resent the tyranny, conscientious enough not to take its bribes cynically, yet not so abnormally courageous as to go willingly to exile or dungeon or chopping-block--particularly when they "had wives and families to support."

Why Tourists Fail to Anticipate Revolution (Ch 25)

Day on day he waited. So much of a revolution for so many people is nothing but waiting. That is one reason why tourists rarely see anything but contentment in a crushed population. Waiting, and its brother death, seem so contented.

You Can Measure a Regime by its Anti-Semitism (Ch 25)

There is no greater compliment to the Jews than the fact that the degree of their unpopularity is always the scientific measure of the cruelty and silliness of the régime under which they live, so that even a commercial-minded money-fondling heavily humorous Jew burgher like Rotenstern is still a sensitive meter of barbarism.

Doremus, Defender of Liberal Values, Never Noticed Government Oppression Directed at Others (Ch 26)

"But plenty things like this happened before Buzz Windrip ever came in, Doremus," insisted John Pollikop. (Never till they had met in the delightfully illegal basement had he called Doremus anything save "Mr. Jessup.") "You never thought about them, because they was just routine news, to stick in your paper. Things like the sharecroppers and the Scottsboro boys and the plots of the California wholesalers against the agricultural union and dictatorship in Cuba and the way phony deputies in Kentucky shot striking miners. And believe me, Doremus, the same reactionary crowd that put over those crimes are just the big boys that are chummy with Windrip. And what scares me is that if Walt Trowbridge ever does raise a kinda uprising and kick Buzz out, the same vultures will get awful patriotic and democratic and parliamentarian along with Walt, and sit in on the spoils just the same."

The Biology of Dictatorship (Ch 29)

Everyone, including Doremus Jessup, had said in 1935, "If there ever is a Fascist dictatorship here, American humor and pioneer independence are so marked that it will be absolutely different from anything in Europe."
For almost a year after Windrip came in, this seemed true. The Chief was photographed playing poker, in shirtsleeves and with a derby on the back of his head, with a newspaperman, a chauffeur, and a pair of rugged steel-workers. Dr. Macgoblin in person led an Elks' brass band and dived in competition with the Atlantic City bathing-beauties. It was reputably reported that M.M.'s apologized to political prisoners for having to arrest them, and that the prisoners joked amiably with the guards ... at first.
All that was gone, within a year after the inauguration, and surprised scientists discovered that whips and handcuffs hurt just as sorely in the clear American air as in the miasmic fogs of Prussia.
Doremus, reading the authors he had concealed in the horsehair sofa--the gallant Communist, Karl Billinger, the gallant anti-Communist, Tchernavin, and the gallant neutral, Lorant--began to see something like a biology of dictatorships, all dictatorships. The universal apprehension, the timorous denials of faith, the same methods of arrest--sudden pounding on the door late at night, the squad of police pushing in, the blows, the search, the obscene oaths at the frightened women, the third degree by young snipe of officials, the accompanying blows and then the formal beatings, when the prisoner is forced to count the strokes until he faints, the leprous beds and the sour stew, guards  jokingly shooting round and round a prisoner who believes he is being executed, the waiting in solitude to know what will happen, till men go mad and hang themselves--
Thus had things gone in Germany, exactly thus in Soviet Russia, in Italy and Hungary and Poland, Spain and Cuba and Japan and China. Not very different had it been under the blessings of liberty and fraternity in the French Revolution. All dictators followed the same routine of torture, as if they had all read the same manual of sadistic etiquette. And now, in the humorous, friendly, happy-go-lucky land of Mark Twain, Doremus saw the homicidal maniacs having just as good a time as they had had in central Europe.

Alongside the Bullies and Swindlers Are Idealists who Support the Totalitarian Regime (Ch 35)

It was hard for imprisoned men like Doremus Jessup to believe it, but there were some tens of thousands of Corpos, in the M.M.'s, in civil service, in the army, and just in private ways, to whom Sarason's flippant régime was tragic.
They were the Idealists of Corpoism, and there were plenty of them, along with the bullies and swindlers; they were the men and women who, in 1935 and 1936, had turned to Windrip & Co., not as perfect, but as the most probable saviors of the country from, on one hand, domination by Moscow and, on the other hand, the slack indolence, the lack of decent pride of half the American youth, whose world (these idealists asserted) was composed of shiftless distaste for work and refusal to learn anything thoroughly, of blatting dance music on the radio, maniac automobiles, slobbering sexuality, the humor and art of comic strips--of a slave psychology which was making America a land for sterner men to loot.
General Emmanuel Coon was one of the Corpo Idealists.
Such men did not condone the murders under the Corpo régime. But they insisted, "This is a revolution, and after all, when in all history has there been a revolution with so little bloodshed?"
They were aroused by the pageantry of Corpoism: enormous demonstrations, with the red-and-black flags a flaunting magnificence like storm clouds. They were proud of new Corpo roads, hospitals, television stations, aeroplane lines; they were touched by processions of the Corpo Youth, whose faces were exalted with pride in the myths of Corpo heroism and clean Spartan strength and the semi-divinity of the all-protecting Father, President Windrip. They believed, they made themselves believe, that in Windrip had come alive again the virtues of Andy Jackson and Farragut and Jeb Stuart, in place of the mob cheapness of the professional athletes who had been the only heroes of 1935.
They planned, these idealists, to correct, as quickly as might be, the errors of brutality and crookedness among officials. They saw arising a Corpo art, a Corpo learning, profound and real, divested of the traditional snobbishness of the old-time universities, valiant with youth, and only the more beautiful in that it was "useful." They were convinced that Corpoism was Communism cleansed of foreign domination and the violence and indignity of mob dictatorship; Monarchism with the chosen hero of the people for monarch; Fascism without grasping and selfish leaders; freedom with order and discipline; Traditional America without its waste and provincial cockiness.
Like all religious zealots, they had blessed capacity for blindness, and they were presently convinced that (since the only newspapers they ever read certainly said nothing about it) there were no more of blood-smeared cruelties in court and concentration camp; no restrictions of speech or thought. They believed that they never criticized the Corpo régime not because they were censored, but because "that sort of thing was, like obscenity, such awfully bad form."
And these idealists were as shocked and bewildered by Sarason's coup d'état against Windrip as was Mr. Berzelius Windrip himself. 

Social Injustice Turns Decent People into Fanatics (Ch 36)

Yes, this was the worst thing the enemies of honor, the pirate industrialists and then their suitable successors, the Corpos with their blackjacks, had done: it had turned the brave, the generous, the passionate and half-literate Karl Pascals into dangerous fanatics. And how well they had done it! Doremus was uncomfortable with Karl; he felt that his next turn in jail might be under the wardenship of none other than Karl himself, as he remembered how the Bolsheviks, once in power, had most smugly imprisoned and persecuted those great women, Spiridinova and Breshkovskaya and Ismailovitch, who, by their conspiracies against the Czar, their willingness to endure Siberian torture on behalf of "freedom for the masses," had most brought on the revolution by which the Bolsheviks were able to take control--and not only again forbid freedom to the masses, but this time inform them that, anyway, freedom was just a damn silly bourgeois superstition.

It's Easy to Spread Fear Among the General Population and Spur People to Aggressive War (Ch 37)

Bands of Mexicans had raided across into the United States--always, curiously enough, when our troops were off in the desert, practice-marching or perhaps gathering sea shells. They burned a town in Texas--fortunately all the women and children were away on a Sunday-school picnic, that afternoon. A Mexican Patriot (aforetime he had also worked as an Ethiopian Patriot, a Chinese Patriot, and a Haitian Patriot) came across, to the tent of an M.M. brigadier, and confessed that while it hurt him to tattle on his own beloved country, conscience compelled him to reveal that his Mexican superiors were planning to fly over and bomb Laredo, San Antonio, Bisbee, and probably Tacoma, and Bangor, Maine.
This excited the Corpo newspapers very much indeed and in New York and Chicago they published photographs of the conscientious traitor half an hour after he had appeared at the Brigadier's tent . . . where, at that moment, forty-six reporters happened to be sitting about on neighboring cactuses. America rose to defend her hearthstones, including all the hearthstones on Park Avenue, New York, against false and treacherous Mexico, with its appalling army of 67,000 men, with thirty-nine military aeroplanes. Women in Cedar Rapids hid under the bed; elderly gentlemen in Cattaraugus County, New York, concealed their money in elm-tree boles; and the wife of a chicken-raiser seven miles N.E. of Estelline, South Dakota, a woman widely known as a good cook and a trained observer, distinctly saw a file of ninety-two Mexican soldiers pass her cabin, starting at 3:17 A.M. on July 27, 1939.
To answer this threat, America, the one country that had never lost a war and never started an unjust one, rose as one man, as the Chicago Daily Evening Corporate put it. It was planned to invade Mexico as soon as it should be cool enough, or even earlier, if the refrigeration and air-conditioning could be arranged. In one month, five million men were drafted for the invasion, and started training.

Did Revolutions in Egypt, Yemen, Libya & Syria Struggle Because People Didn't Know What They Wanted? (Ch 37)

But there the revolt halted, because in the America, which had so warmly praised itself for its "widespread popular free education," there had been so very little education, widespread, popular, free, or anything else, that most people did not know what they wanted--indeed knew about so few things to want at all.
There had been plenty of schoolrooms; there had been lacking only literate teachers and eager pupils and school boards who regarded teaching as a profession worthy of as much honor and pay as insurance-selling or embalming or waiting on table. Most Americans had learned in school that God had supplanted the Jews as chosen people by the Americans, and this time done the job much better, so that we were the richest, kindest, and cleverest nation living; that depressions were but passing headaches and that labor unions must not concern themselves with anything except higher wages and shorter hours and, above all, must not set up an ugly class struggle by combining politically; that, though foreigners tried to make a bogus mystery of them, politics were really so simple that any village attorney or any clerk in the office of a metropolitan sheriff was quite adequately trained for them; and that if John D. Rockefeller or Henry Ford had set his mind to it, he could have become the most distinguished statesman, composer, physicist, or poet in the land. Even two-and-half years of despotism had not yet taught most electors humility, nor taught them much of anything except that it was unpleasant to be arrested too often.
So, after the first gay eruption of rioting, the revolt slowed up. Neither the Corpos nor many of their opponents knew enough to formulate a clear, sure theory of self-government, or irresistibly resolve to engage in the sore labor of fitting themselves for freedom. . . . Even yet, after Windrip, most of the easy-going descendants of the wisecracking Benjamin Franklin had not learned that Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death" meant anything more than a high-school yell or a cigarette slogan.