I intended to write a different post. I had planned to lead off with the line "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." I'm sure most of you have heard that before, and probably have heard it attributed to Sinclair Lewis, as I did.
It is my policy, however, before using a well-known quotation, to research it a little first, to see if it was actually ever said by the person it is associated with. All too often, it wasn't. Some previous examples: as far as I can tell, Lenin never referred to "useful idiots," and Mussolini never said "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism...." among others.
It is entirely possible that those to whom these quotations are misattributed may well have agreed, in whole or in part, with the sentiments expressed. I suppose this is how they often get misattributed in the first place; they sound like something that person might have said. Even so, in the end, they aren't quotations, and really shouldn't be used as such. Unless we don't care.
Some people don't.
But anyway, though Sinclair Lewis might well have agreed with that line, it appears he never said it. However, while looking into it, what I found was even more interesting, more telling, and certainly more appropriate:
"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."
- The Christian Century, Volume 53, Feb 5, 1936, p 245
Interesting. We will leave aside, for the moment, the question of whether the word fascism itself has in fact, as Orwell argued, lost all meaning beyond the simplistic "something bad." Let's instead consider the "revised" quotation as it stands. Personally, I find that more interesting, more telling, more appropriate.