happy birthday sinclair lewis

Happy birthday American author Sinclair Lewis, born Feb 7, 1885.

..the first American writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, chose the Federal Theatre Project to stage It Can’t Happen Here—in spite of commercial offers from Broadway—because of the widespread national audience that would view his play. On October 27, 1936, twenty-two separate productions of the play opened simultaneously in eighteen cities. A Negro Unit performed the play in Seattle, there was a Yiddish version in New York City, and a production in Spanish in Tampa, Florida. After the initial opening, nine units toured the play, and nearly 500 thousand people saw It Can’t Happen Here during its run.

Lewis is known as an avid anti-fascist, but much like modern liberals he was opposed to totalitarianism from the far Right or Left. In It Can’t Happen Here he wrote,

“He was afraid that the world struggle today was not of Communism against Fascism, but of tolerance against the bigotry that was preached equally by Communism and Fascism. But he saw too that in America the struggle was befogged by the fact that the worst Fascists were they who disowned the word “Fascism” and preached enslavement to Capitalism under the style of Constitutional and Traditional Native American Liberty. For they were thieves not only of wages but of honor. To their purpose they could quote not only Scripture but Jefferson.”

Sounds remarkably current with the rise of the kind of libertarian-conservatism preached by such figures as the Koch brothers and Paul Ryan (R-WI), and political fronts like the tea stains. This excerpt from Lewis’s Babbit sounds like something Glenn Beck would say,

“The worst menace to sound government is not the avowed socialists but a lot of cowards who work under cover—the long-haired gentry who call themselves “liberals” and “radicals” and “non-partisan” and “intelligentsia” and God only knows how many other trick names! Irresponsible teachers and professors constitute the worst of this whole gang, and I am ashamed to say that several of them are on the faculty of our great State University! The U. is my own Alma Mater, and I am proud to be known as an alumni, but there are certain instructors there who seem to think we ought to turn the conduct of the nation over to hoboes and roustabouts. Those profs are the snakes to be scotched—they and all their milk-and-water ilk! The American business man is generous to a fault. But one thing he does demand of all teachers and lecturers and journalists: if we’re going to pay them our good money, they’ve got to help us by selling efficiency and whooping it up for rational prosperity!”

Beck deserves some credit for mastering one of the first rules of propaganda, paint a vivid straw man of your opponents with some notorious historical revisionism.

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