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It Can't Happen Here

It Can't Happen Here
First edition
Author Sinclair Lewis
Country United States
Language English
Genre Political fiction
Publisher Doubleday, Doran and Company
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 458 pp.
ISBN 045121658X

It Can't Happen Here is a semi-satirical 1935 political novel by American author Sinclair Lewis. Published during the rise of fascism in Europe, the novel describes the rise of Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip, a populist United States Senator who is elected to the presidency after promising drastic economic and social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism and traditional values. After his election, Windrip takes complete control of the government and imposes a plutocratic/totalitarian rule with the help of a ruthless paramilitary force, in the manner of Adolf Hitler and the SS. The novel's plot centers on journalist Doremus Jessup's opposition to the new regime and his subsequent struggle against it as part of a liberal rebellion. Reviewers at the time, and literary critics ever since, have emphasized the connection with Louisiana politician Huey Long, who was preparing to run for president in the 1936 election when he was assassinated in 1935 just prior to the novel's publication.


  • Plot summary 1
  • Reception 2
  • Adaptations 3
  • Influence 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Plot summary

In 1936 Senator Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip, a charismatic and power-hungry politician, wins the election as paramilitary force called the Minute Men, who terrorize citizens and enforce the policies of Windrip and his "corporatist" regime. One of his first acts as president is to eliminate the influence of the United States Congress, which draws the ire of many citizens as well as the legislators themselves. The Minute Men respond to protests against Windrip's decisions harshly, attacking demonstrators with bayonets. In addition to these actions, Windrip's administration, known as the "Corpo" government, curtails women's and minority rights, and eliminates individual states by subdividing the country into administrative sectors. The government of these sectors is managed by "Corpo" authorities, usually prominent businessmen or Minute Men officers. Those accused of crimes against the government appear before kangaroo courts presided over by "military judges". Despite these dictatorial (and "quasi-draconian") measures, a majority of Americans approve of them, seeing them as necessary though painful steps to restore American power. Others, those less enthusiastic about the prospect of corporatism, reassure themselves that fascism cannot "happen here"; hence the novel's title.

Open opponents of Windrip, led by Senator Trowbridge, form an organization called the New Underground, helping dissidents escape to Canada in manners reminiscent of the

  • Online text
  • Book review
  • Public Enemy by Joe Keohane, Boston Globe, December 18, 2005.

External links

  • Boulard, Garry (1998). Huey Long invades New Orleans: the siege of a city, 1934–36. 
  • Lingeman, Richard R. (2005). Sinclair Lewis: Rebel from Main Street. St. Paul, Minn: Borealis Books.  
  • Perry, Keith (2004). The Kingfish in fiction: Huey P. Long and the modern American novel. 
  • Simpson, MJ. "Kenneth Johnson interview". Retrieved 2011-09-12. 


  1. ^ Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2014. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
  2. ^ a b Perry 2004, p. 62.
  3. ^ Boulard 1998, p. 115.
  4. ^ Perry 2004.
  5. ^ See also Lingeman 2005, pp. 400–408
  6. ^ The Broadway League, IBdB.
  7. ^ Flanagan 1940.
  8. ^ David Mikies "Hollywood’s Creepy Love Affair With Adolf Hitler, in Explosive New Detail", Tablet, 10 June 2013
  9. ^ Simpson.


See also

In the TV series Person of Interest Season 1, episode 5 “Judgement”. Mr Finch meets Reese in a coffee shop and he’s reading from the first edition. When Reese tells him that he is paranoid for his over secrecy, he responds that he is paranoid for good reason.

Inspired by the book, director–producer Kenneth Johnson wrote an adaptation titled Storm Warnings in 1982. The script was presented to NBC for production as a television miniseries, but NBC executives rejected the initial version, claiming it was too cerebral for the average American viewer. To make the script more marketable, the American fascists were re-cast as man-eating extraterrestrials, taking the story into the realm of science fiction. The revised story became the miniseries V, which premiered May 3, 1983.[9]

A 1968 television movie Shadow on the Land (alternate title: United States: It Can't Happen Here) was produced by Screen Gems as a pilot for a series loosely based on this book.


In 1936, Lewis and John C. Moffitt wrote a stage version, also titled It Can't Happen Here,[6] which is still produced. The stage version premiered on October 27, 1936 in 21 U.S. theatres in 17 states[7] simultaneously, in productions sponsored by the Federal Theater Project. A film version was in preparation at this time at MGM, but studio head Louis B. Mayer soon canceled the production to the publicly announced displeasure of the Nazi regime in Germany. Will H. Hays, responsible for the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code, had notified Mayer of potential problems in the German market.[8]


Reviewers at the time of the book's publication, and literary critics ever since, have emphasized the connection with Louisiana politician Huey Long, who was preparing to run for president in 1936.[2] According to Boulard (1998), "the most chilling and uncanny treatment of Huey by a writer came with Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here."[3] Lewis portrayed a genuine American dictator on the Hitler model. Starting in 1936 the WPA, a New Deal agency, performed the theatre version across the country. Lewis had the goal of hurting Long's chances in the 1936 election.[2] Keith Perry argues that the key weakness of the novel is not that he decks out American politicians with sinister European touches, but that he finally conceives of fascism and totalitarianism in terms of traditional American political models rather than seeing them as introducing a new kind of society and a new kind of regime.[4] Windrip is less a Nazi than a con-man-plus-Rotarian, a manipulator who knows how to appeal to people's desperation, but neither he nor his followers are in the grip of the kind of world-transforming ideology like Hitler's National Socialism.[5]

Poster for the stage adaptation of It Can't Happen Here, October 27, 1936 at the Lafayette Theater as part of the Detroit Federal Theater
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