Saturday, November 29, 2003

A Book Review

For the insomniacs who like to stay that way I recommend this book: It can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. It was originally published in 1935 as a response to the increasing fascism in Europe. According to the back cover of my Signet Classic edition, "This book remains a warning about the fragility of democracy, juxtaposing hilarious satire with a blow-by-blow description of a president saving the country from welfare cheaters, sex, crime, and a liberal press by becoming a dictator."

This president, one Berzelius Windrip, has written a Mein Kampf -type book called Zero Hour - Over the Top. Here is president Windrip in his own words:

"I want to stand up on my hind legs and not just admit but frankly holler right out that we've got to change our system a lot, maybe even change the whole Constitution (but change it legally, and not by violence) to bring it up from the horseback-and-corduroy-road epoch to automobile-and-cement-highway period of today. The Executive has got to have a freer hand and to be able to move quick in an emergency, and not be tied down by a lot of dumb shyster-lawyer congressmen taking months to shoot off their mouths in debates."

Interesting, isn't it? Windrip is legally elected but slowly turns the American democracy into a fascist state. People do ultimately rise up, 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

"Politics were really so simple that any village attorney was quite adequately trained for them." And probably any bodybuilder or movie star... The book also has the foremother of Concerned Women of America, and an airplane is used as a fatal weapon. Good stuff for those of us who like to teeter on the narrow edge between outright insanity and intentional ignorance.