Sinclair Lewis: How Fascism Will Come To America (1935)

“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.”

- Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here.

I guess that Lewis was a genius. A true genius.

**UPDATE: Please see the lively discussion prompted by this posting in the comment section! :)

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68 Responses to “Sinclair Lewis: How Fascism Will Come To America (1935)”

  1. Mark Konrad Says:

    After a fair amount of searching I cannot find confirmation that Sinclair Lewis ever said that or wrote that. The full text of It Can’t Happen Here is online

    Here

    and I cannot find anything approaching that quote in the text of that piece. Nor can I find any other specific attribution i.e. name or title of publication, date, etc. anywhere else. That quote may be an urban myth.

    • claudia Says:

      Selecdtive [non-]perception?

    • Alan Says:

      The below is from Wikilinks. HOWEVER, Sinclair Lewis was a well publish writer and did many speaking engagements during his career. He also wrote articles for newspapers. In one of those articles he states very clearly his position on fascism and the dangers of such. It is those very clear statements and the spread of fascism across Europe that caused him to write the book, ‘It Can’t Happen Here” about the election of a Fascist President.

      Misattributed

      When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.
      Many variants of this exist, but the earliest known incident of such a comment appears to be a partial quote from James Waterman Wise, Jr., reported in a 1936 issue of The Christian Century that in a recent address here before the liberal John Reed club said that Hearst and Coughlin are the two chief exponents of fascism in America. If fascism comes, he added, it will not be identified with any “shirt” movement, nor with an “insignia,” but it will probably be “wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution.”[1]
      Another early quote is that of Halford E. Luccock, in Keeping Life Out of Confusion (1938): When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled “made in Germany”; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, “Americanism.” Harrison Evans Salisbury in 1971 remarked about Lewis: “Sinclair Lewis aptly predicted in It Can’t Happen Here that if fascism came to America it would come wrapped in the flag and whistling ‘The Star Spangled Banner.'” [2]

      ↑ The Christian Century, Volume 53, Feb 5, 1936, p 245
      ↑ p. 29, The Many Americas Shall Be One, Harrison Evans Salisbury. Published by W. W. Norton, 1971.

  2. Shawn Says:

    Hi Mark,

    I read the book, it’s there. I wouldn’t post it if it weren’t. I can’t account for why you couldn’t find it online, but I remember distinctly reading it in the book. I read the book about 6 months ago, prompted by that comment, and I looked for it.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Dorothy Erickson Says:

    I’ve checked the entire book by copying to Microsoft and using find for the word “fascism”. There are a few references, “It Can’t Happen Here” however not the one we are looking for. Perhaps a different book?

  4. dave s Says:

    No Shawn, it’s not there. It’s a great quote, but it’s not clear Sinclair said/wrote it.

  5. Shawn Says:

    I would swear that I found it when I read the book (not online, the actually book); as I wrote earlier, I remember looking for it.

  6. Shawn Says:

    I found it listed HERE, but not attributed to the specific book. Perhaps he just said it, but I still remember reading it when I read the book. But, human memory isn’t perfect as we all know.

  7. Robert T. Says:

    No. There is much obfuscation about this quote. It does NOT appear in “It Can’t Happen Here” much as I would like to think it does. The provenance of the quote which includes attributions to Huey Long can be found here:

    The http://gcaw.blogspot.com/

  8. Shawn Says:

    Hi Robert,

    Thanks for the follow-up information. You can find a direct link to the discussion at: http://gcaw.blogspot.com/2007/12/sinclair-lewis-quote.html

  9. Ferrell Gummitt Says:

    Liberalism is definitely a mental disorder!!!

  10. Shawn Says:

    That’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard in a long time, Ferrell.

  11. Ferrell Gummitt Says:

    A taxpayer voting for Obama is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders

    • Bob Gilley Says:

      I geuss that would depend on Which taxpayer you are talking about Ferrell. The 2% of corporate elites who pay 17.7% on their 46 million or their secretary’s who pay 30% on their 60 thousand as Buffet as revealed.

  12. Shawn Says:

    You’ve done it again on dumb-o-meter, Ferrell.

    Look at the record of the Republicans since 1994. It’s appalling — at least to anyone with any real understanding of their agenda. How is it that when President Clinton left office we had a surplus, and now we have the LARGEST DEFICIT IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND? Doesn’t say much for the fiscal responsibility of the Republicans.

    Can you please point to something rational which would make me fear the Democrats more than the Republicans?

    • Rachel Says:

      Yes, but who had the majority in Congress? It’s not the President, he’s one person, it’s the Repubs & Dems in Congress who actually vote bills/laws/etc.

      • Anonymous Says:

        Rachel for the first 6 of his eight years the r’s had the majority in the house and for most of his eight yeas they had the Senate as well

    • gofastgo Says:

      Fairly easy to forget 9/11 for you huh Shawn? Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, wars that Clinton refused to fight knowing all along that Bin laden was a bad guy he could have killed 20 years ago, but didn’t. You lib’s always go back to the old saw, ‘it’s Bush’s fault’ wah wah wah, take a look inward.

      • Anonymous Says:

        Good thing we caught OBL in Iraq.

        Owait, we didn’t.

        Good thing that the ground war in Afghanistan is the reason we finally got OBL.

        Owait, it wasn’t. It was because of the Navy SEALS.

        Use your brain for once.

      • Anonymous Says:

        Actually, President Clinton did try to go after Bin Laden. After a failed attempt, he was stopped by a Republican congress that described the situation as the “tail wagging the dog”. Further, they claimed that Bin Laden wasn’t any danger and that the President was only trying to distract the country from what the Republican Party claimed was the real issued endangering the country… Monica.

    • Thor Says:

      If Obama increasing the national debt by six trillion (so far) doesn’t worry you, nothing will.

  13. Ferrell Gummitt Says:

    Progressive = Communism

    Here is a little article that could be written about the US about 30 years from now if Barack Obama and the “Progressive (Far Left) Democrats” hold office for any length of time. If we forget the history we are doomed to repeat it. Enjoy.

    http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/opinion/s_577954.html

    • Flabbergast Says:

      At the very end of the article you link to it says this: “Those who use communism to maintain their power would like us to forget the crimes and victims of communism, past and present.”

      J. Parnell Thomas, Joseph McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover used Communism to maintain their power too. Many crimes were perpetrated, lives were ruined unjustly.

      I’d also say, look at France. The country revolted with the rich got super rich while the middle class became the poor and the poor became the desolate.

      It isn’t (as much) the Democrats who keep giving tax breaks to the rich and help create a system where middle class wages remained stagnant. Both sides are guilty, but FACT: since Reagan, the income in the gap has grown like no other period in our history.

      • Ronald Wohl Says:

        The definition of “time” is the measurement of change. Without any change you have eternity. Progressives simply imply that change is inevitable. The dinosaurs and dodo birds learned that the hard way …and humans may learn it one day too. To be progressive is only admit that change will come whether you are ready for it or not. King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were not willing to admit it would come to their France of the end of the 18th Century, they lost their heads over it. Now we live in an America that lost its science edge to France and Switzerland because Congress cancelled a Texas Super Collider with a 87.1 Kilometer ring, and power capable of 40 TEV which was budgeted at 2 billion dollars. The cost went to 4.4 billion and climbing. Congress officially canceled the project October 21, 1993. Now the LHC in Geneva is 27 Kilometers and can achieve a 14 TEV power level. It cost 10 billion dollars to build. So now the pigeons are flying the coop in droves. American and immigrant scientists are leaving for Geneva. That is not very Progressive. Our schools are only putting out 60,000 engineers a year. American students are not selecting to go into science or medicine and the Medical student population is already more then 51% female. It is to much work and not enough money. They are shifting to business degrees with dollar sign in their eyes. Don’t be surprised if your doctor has a heavy accent. We need 100,000 engineers a year just to stay on the cusp of technology. Where do we get the rest of the engineers we need? Try India, Japan and China. Yet how many engineers are being graduated in Japan and China yearly? Try 500,000. Who will be the technological Giant of the 21st Century? What about Design Engineers? What are Design Engineers? Well if you develop a great “Whizbop” who makes it fit into a case that can be carried so it “whizbops” properly, looks sexy, is marketable and does’t overheat. That is the area of expertise of Design engineers. We need at least 6,000 a year just to stay competitive. We produce about 2,000 a year. The Chinese are producing 12,000 yearly. Where do you think production of functional Whizbops for the consuming world will come from? This is progress, and are the Chinese communists progressing? You better believe they are, by becoming the best capitalists in the world today. They have gone from an agrarian society to an industrial behemoth in just 20 years. They are now the second largest economy in the world. They just recently overtook Japan. Why? Because they realized that communism wasn’t taking them anywhere. so they got progressive and changed. They still do not have the freedoms we have, but do they need them. No! Why Capitalism requires a small group of rich leaders and a vast group of poor workers. Where did America get her workers? The Statue of Liberty told the rest of the world, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of you teamming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Yes, but the Golden door was that of the rich industrialist that would work these people into the ground until their children could get an education and become middle class. That is who I am. Progressives = Communists? Yea your right, but these “communists” turned Progressive into Capitalist and they have 1.2 Billion poor workers who are making everything you eat, crap, and wear, and the next country to watch is India, because when they learn how, they have one billion more poor workers who will gladly make your stuff for $3 a day. Until you can no longer afford any more stuff, because you were right wing Conservative enough to stop any change in this country to counteract the incredible drain we are causing. Because we are 5% of the world’s population, using 30% of the world’s resources. That cannot be maintained. There is a pile of metal shipping containers from China about 30 miles from Los Angeles that is so many and so high it can almost be seen from downtown, like the mountains. Why? because it is not worth shipping them back. For every five containers they ship here, we only ship one of them back. If we do not begin to to think of ourselves in relation to the world around us we will be like the ostrich who sticks its head in the sand, because if it does not see the danger, it thinks it is safe. BTW throw out those 12 million poor illegals that are here, and see who will harvest your crops. Change is inevitable! you can delay it, but it will always come and destroy you like a tsunami if you are not ready for it. Every great empire on earth has learned this lesson the hard way. Is it our turn? I call it the dinosaur theory. Adapt or die.

    • Anonymous Says:

      Progressive = progress
      Dumb ass

    • Bob Says:

      Ferrel couldn’t identify a communist if he(she) were sitting on a parkbench reading Pravda

  14. K. Simmons Says:

    Er…maybe I’m a dim bulb, but I saw nothing in that article, that a. equated “progressive” with “communism” or b. supports the idea that Barack Obama will ecnourage, induce or support communism in this country. In fact, some of the articles points are reminiscent of our current regi…er, administration’s policies (young men dying in foreign wars? dissent being silenced?). Might wanna go re-read it.

  15. K. Simmons Says:

    correction: “article’s points”

  16. Shane Dayton Says:

    The quote is a famous mis-atribute to Lewis. Sinclair Lewis was quoted at one time as saying that “Fascism will come to America wrapped in a flag,” because he was warning about nationalism. The “and a cross” was added later by various individuals and publications who stated they were quoting Sinclair Lewis, but added that last extra bit because of ulterior motives and politics.

    That said, Lewis was hardly supportive of any church or organized religion, but his actual quote was about nationalism and the flag, the rest was added (although you could make the argument that Lewis would still support the alteration) on later.

    I’m also 99% sure this isn’t from the book “It Can’t Happen Here,” but it was a quote that came from a discussion of that book.

  17. Eric H Says:

    How is it that when President Clinton left office we had a surplus, and now we have the LARGEST DEFICIT IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND? Doesn’t say much for the fiscal responsibility of the Republicans.

    Who was running Congress then, and who is running it now? The president can only spend what Congress authorizes. President Clinton said that balancing the budget in seven years was irresponsible, and then he took credit for it. Moreover, as we’ve heard from Greenspan, the economic expansion prior to 2000 was largely a bubble created because the Fed was afraid of what might happen because of fear of Y2K.

    Regardless of these petty Coke/Pepsi squabbles, the quote at the head, regardless of who said it, is only 50% likely. The other equally likely means by which fascism will come to America is that it will be spouting meaningless, populist, anti-corporate slogans (such as “your employers will be forced to pay for your healthcare”) while delivering exactly what the corporations want. That’s how it was in early 20th century Progressivism, and that’s how it’s shaping up now. Look up Gabriel Kolko and Gerard Swope.

    • ayed Says:

      Eric H :

      How is it that when President Clinton left office we had a surplus, and now we have the LARGEST DEFICIT IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND? Doesn’t say much for the fiscal responsibility of the Republicans.

      Who was running Congress then, and who is running it now? The president can only spend what Congress authorizes. President Clinton said that balancing the budget in seven years was irresponsible, and then he took credit for it.

      “running Congress” during the Clinton years… hhh, tricky concept. shutting it down, trying to block all legislative proposals originating with the Prez or his party, while grandstanding to pass largely symbolic red meat for their wingnut constituencies — yes, that would be the Republicans.

      But if we’re talking about Clinton’s 1993 Budget Reduction Act — which lead to balance then surpluses — that would be a wholly Democratic effort, passed without a single Republican vote. The budget-exploding efforts since 2000, both fall the feet of republicans (true, some democrats supported them too): (1) Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and (2) Medicare Part D prescription drug benefits. In neither case, did the R’s suggest a way for paying for the new and enormous raids on the Treasury they would be making for years to come. It doesn’t take a cynic like me to see that there was no political need; when legitimate challenges were made to the enormous deficits stretching out to the horizon, the Repubs could (and did) accuse their opponents of “abandoning our troops in harm’s way” and showing inadequate concern for our nations seniors, blah-dee-blah.

    • Dennis M Says:

      The President is the Captain of the ship. Nothing gets by him without his signature. You’ll never see an airline pilot blame the flight attendant because they don’t have enough fuel. The President can stop anything he wants…….he just hasn’t wanted to.

      • Sandi Says:

        Dennis, it is totally absurd to suggest the President “can stop anything he wants”. Apparently you have no idea how our government works. The President has “limited” powers. If a President vetoes a bill, it is returned to Congress where the bill originated. ( Either House of Representatives or the Senate ) If that house votes by a 2/3 majority to override the President’s veto, it is sent to the other house. If that house also overrides by a 2/3 majority, the bill becomes law WITHOUT the President’s signature!

  18. Bruce Says:

    Ferrell – you are a goddamn retard.

  19. Rich Kaufmann Says:

    I would be interested to read how the Texas Board of Education references this Sinclair Lewis quote.

  20. Ed Says:

    OK, let’s chill a bit with the attacks on each other. Ignorance on our part is actually a good trait in a way — as we get older we talk to more people, experience more situations, and grow not just physically but mentally. We learn from our mistakes, become more tolerant of other peoples’ opinions, and can often learn at least something from completely contrasting ideas. Empathy, patience, and wisdom are all things to look forward to as we grow older.
    As for Ferrell, well stupid is just that, stupid. He has no where to go from there. We can pity him, but that’s really a waste of mental energy. We need to stop feeding the trolls and move on.

  21. John Says:

    So to sum up, if I’m understanding correctly:

    a) In 1938, Professor Halford E. Luccock, of the Divinity School of Yale University said, “When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled ‘Made in Germany'; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, ‘Americanism,'” not Huey Long, whom this was attributed to.

    b) In 1948, Sinclair Lewis was quoted as saying something similar in a York, Penn. periodical, The Gazette and Daily : “When fascism comes to the United States it will be wrapped in the American flag and will claim the name of 100-percent Americanism … ” — but not the part about carrying a cross, which was later added as part of the quote by others.

    In the past few years we’ve seen this in action, with slimeballs like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin trying to paint their enemies as not being as patriotic as they and their zombie-like followers are.

  22. the reasonable anonymous Says:

    Found this thread today, looking for the correct source for this quote, in relation today’s news that a mosque construction site in Tennessee suffered a fire that is being investigated as arson.

    This alleged arason has happened amid all the “patriotic” flag-waving and cross-carrying hysteria over the construction of mosques, including this Tennessee mosque and of course the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” (which is of course not really a mosque, and not really all that close to Ground Zero.)

    I don’t know whether the “with a cross” phrase is really part of the original Sinclair Lewis quotation or not, but in light of the recent hysteria abot Muslims, and the way this is being woven into a populist narrative where Muslims and other non-christians have been added to immigrants, socialists, and so on as the “enemies” of America, I think the “with a cross” phrase fits all too welll.

  23. Cut the Crap Says:

    The man was a genius yet not completely accurate!

    Look at the fanatics opposing freedom of religion (via the building of mosques), freedom of choice, freedom of speech & expression (i.e. banning the Spanish language). All of them are Judeo-Christian and overwhelmingly white. While the Christian Right should be condemned for their racism, fanaticsm, intolerance and hatred, the Jewish Right is not much better.

    The Jewish NeoCons who push the Israel’s agenda and war on Muslims are just as bad. Go to any predominantly Jewish website (Shlussel, Atlas Shrugg’s, little green footballs, etc.) and all you will see is blind irrational Nazi-like hatred.

    Sure there are Jewish libs, but many of them are as bad as the extremist rightwing Jews when it comes to Israel or their ‘tribe’. Look at the the opposition to the mosque or Gaza massacres.

    The expression should be changed to “………..carrying the Cross or th Star of David” would be more accurate for the times!

  24. Military Law Manual: Authority to order courts-martial resides with the Commander-in-Chief | The Post & Email Says:

    [...] going along to get along because, you know what? It’s working for them.  Sinclair Lewis said, “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the [...]

  25. BXM Says:

    1. If you stick to the idea that “all extremists are usually wrong”, you would generally be correct.
    2. If you figure out someone’s motives, it will be very easy to understand their policies.

    This country is the flag-bearer for all Capitalist systems. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. However, that’s also what makes it an extremist system.
    Motives of this system are easy to understand – they’re stated in the title. It’s the rule of capital. The more money you have, the more power you’re allotted. Large corporations rule this country, and all other policies stem from that basic fact. Everything at the core if the system is set up to benefit large capitalist entities (i.e. companies and wealthy individuals). The things we consider “social” structures which benefit ordinary people – are all set up to maintain the status quo and allow the whole operation to run smoothly. After all, in order for the workers to be productive, their basic needs need to be satisfied, and they need to be dumb enough to go along with the program.

    Education is one example… In terms of high-level professional knowledge needed to work in high-tech, biotech, etc. – US schools are the best in the world. In terms of basic high-school knowledge needed to be a well-informed, well rounded individual – US schools are among the worst in the world.

  26. Rights v. Security | Colorado Confluence Says:

    [...] The fact is, that despite our procedural bias in favor of protecting the rights of the innocent, we put thousands or tens of thousands of innocent people in jail every year, and some unknown number on Death Row. Violations of civil rights, including excessive violence by police against people who have committed the most minor of infractions, is a constant and real concern. Those on the right who are implicit advocates of decreasing our vigilance against those natural social forces that tend toward a police-state are doing this country an enormous disservice. As Sinclair Lewis said, “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross” (there is some debate about the attribution: http://zalandria.wordpress.com/2007/01/13/sinclair-lewis-how-fascism-will-come-to-america-1935/). [...]

  27. Mark Ritchey Says:

    Regardless of whether or not Sinclair Lewis said “When fascism comes. . . ” it would still do everyone good to read his novels. “Mainstreet”, “Babbitt”, “Elmer Gantry”, and all of the others, written in the 1930s, show Lewis’s prescience. Reading them now would help lead to an understanding of life in the U . S. now. I sincerely doubt that many (any?) of the tea-party crowd have read anything by Sinclair Lewis.

  28. Paul Shoffner Says:

    It’s ALL about FA$CI$M, folks, and FA$CI$T$ will parse anything and everything necessary to defeat DEMOCRACY for the power and riches that await them as toadies for FA$CI$M, even Christianity and Democracy. Power CORRUPTS, and nowhere will it corrupt as completely and thoroughly as FA$CI$M, which is a social disease running on psychopaths, sociopaths, hypocrisy, and total convenient falsehood.
    Kurt Vonnegut had their number. Maybe you should too, if you want a country to be proud of.

    http://www.readersupportednews.org/off-site-opinion-section/72-72/6203-are-we-ruled-by-second-string-psychopaths

  29. Gordon Sutton Says:

    Margie. Lewis has proven to be correct regarding facism coming to America. Today’s GOP exemplifies this perfectly in their support of corporations. above people giving them similiar to real citizens.

  30. Salamander Says:

    Concerning the US finding OBL consider the many lies told over and over by our officials. If they caught OBL he would have been dealt with as Saddam Hussein, that is, they would have hung him with fanfare and trumpets blaring victoriously. But they allegedly shot him in his face thus no recognition and dumped him in the ocean so the fish would devour his flesh disallowing any confrimed identification. Have any of tyou watched www,loosechange.com and http://www.painfuldeceptions,com or read what Prof. Steven Jones and his group of physics associates have to say online about 911? Eye openers. This is far removed from the Sinclair Lewis quote but still worth posting.

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