These are troubled times.
While some hardcore holdouts may be clinging to their phony optimism, many more are have been struck by the lightning-bolt realization that however good or bad things were under neoliberalism’s yolk, the United States is entering a brave new world. When not protesting Trump in airports, these political Archimedes’ have set aside some time to do a little light reading.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” is among several classic dystopian novels that seem to be resonating with readers at a moment of heightened anxiety about the state of American democracy. Sales have also risen drastically for George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984,” which shot to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list this week.
Other novels that today’s readers may not have picked up since high school but have landed on the list this week are Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel, “Brave New World,” a futuristic dystopian story set in England in 2540; and Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel “It Can’t Happen Here,” a satire about a bellicose presidential candidate who runs on a populist platform in the United States but turns out to be a fascist demagogue. On Friday, “It Can’t Happen Here” was No. 9 on Amazon; “Brave New World” was No. 15.
Good news, everyone! This isn’t real life, it’s a Sinclair Lewis satire piece! Does anyone know the trick to returning to the real world ASAP or is this more like a Neverending Story-type situation?
It gets better. Since the publication of the Times article, Amazon actually temporarily sold out of physical copies of 1984. A disquieted populous is turning to fiction to see if they can scry parallels between dystopian nightmare worlds and what’s unfolding before their eyes.
Others have directed their gaze to the historical record. Over at Slate Academy, Rebecca Onion, June Thomas and Joshua Keating released the first episode of their limited podcast series on fascism. The first taste is free, and it features an extensive interview with Ruth Ben-Ghiat, author of Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922 – 1945 (published 2001). I’ve transcribed parts of that interview and edited for clarity where necessary, but I recommend listening to the podcast for a fuller comprehension of the subject. As has been disclaimed before, the character of a fascist regime depends on the nation it emerges from and the leader who has seized power. A lack of a defining foundational text has created great idiosyncrasies in the implementation of fascism, but see if you can’t identify any similarities between the United States circa 2017 and Benito Mussolini’s Italy. Continue reading →