What in the world is going on? There is a school of thought that the United States in 2018 is moving dangerously toward the abrogation of democracy. Whether true or not, the question remains as to whether what we are seeing is something new in the political landscape or a logical and predictable development of a trend that has long been with us. Despite the Socialist Party polling nearly a million votes in 1920 and despite a flirtation with Communism in the 1930’s, Marxism has never captured significant support in the United States. But what about the forces of the far right, of corporatism, or fascism? Our endeavor will be to examine this question through reading and discussing American works of fiction. We’ll begin with Horatio Alger’s foundational statement of the American Dream and move to the early 20th Century with Jack London’s somewhat ponderous novel, The Iron Heel (though we are unlikely to read all of it). Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here will merit particular attention because it is set in Vermont and Dartmouth College plays a not insignificant role. The Plot Against America is Philip Roth’s counter-factual account of the election of “America-firster” Charles Lindbergh as President in 1940. And we cannot fail to include Robert Penn Warren’s classic, All The King’s Men, which will illuminate further our national attraction to strongmen with big personalities. While trying to be “fair and balanced,” our discussions will not shy from controversy.
LEWIS GREENSTEIN is a graduate of Dartmouth with a Ph.D. in History from Indiana University. He has taught and been a university administrator in several institutions as he and his wife, Rosie, have shared academic careers. Lewis has also been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya, worked in Peace Corps administration and done a stint with the U.S. Department of Education. He has offered a number of previous OSHER@Dartmouth classes in African and African-American history.
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Dartmouth requires an annual membership to participate in courses. Membership fees are $70 (expiring June 30, 2018) or $105 (expiring June 30, 2019).