Can it happen here? Depends where “here” is.

Poster for stage version of “It Can’t Happen Here”.

My previous post set me thinking about various alternate history and dystopian future fiction where real places and countries are depicted.  I think the authors of the Tea Party Insurrection article referenced in the last post should have presented it as a short story or novella or something instead; it might have been less controversial that way.

I thought about the 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis.  It was a “what-if” kind of book based on the idea of a Fascist takeover of the United States government.  The dictator who rises to power in the novel was based on the Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator Huey Long, who tried to challenge Franklin Roosevelt for the Democratic nomination.  Many accused him of harboring dictatorial ambitions and of creating a cult of personality.

I admit I haven’t read the whole book, just the first chapter or so.  I found the writing style irritating.  The satire was very heavy-handed, to the point of making Ayn Rand look subtle in comparison.  Also, the characters’ names were so comical as to make the whole thing ridiculous.  The dictator is named “Berzelius ‘Buzz’ Windrip”, for example.  I’m sorry, but in my opinion someone named “Buzz Windrip” wouldn’t get elected mayor of Podunk, let alone President.  (No offense to the mayor of Podunk.)

But that said, it was a pretty interesting concept for a story, although I suppose Huey Long and his supporters were not huge fans of it, any more than the Tea Party are fans of the Benson and Weber article.   But I can’t find much evidence to suggest it was very controversial at the time.  Not surprising; like I mentioned the other day, Marxist philosophy cropped up in the middle of a major Hollywood movie at the height of the Red Scare, and nobody cared.  I think Benson and Weber’s article would have been less upsetting and offensive as a work of fiction than as a creepily matter-of-fact strategy paper.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?