cial democrat in politics, and a WesleyannMethodist in religion—not, anyway,nand maintain your sanity; and it isnthe height of folly to think that the artisticnpreoccupations of Allen Tate couldnhave allowed him to be enthusiasticnabout federal troops enforcing racialnequality in the South, while worshipingnwith the Unitarian Church.nCulture shapes politics, not politicsnculture; which is to say, if you wish to reformnthe political life of a society, younmust transform its cultural one first. Innthe words of George Ade, “In uplifting,nget underneath.” Tyrrell appears to believenthat every sincere, intelligent, andnabove all responsible conservative owesnSINCLAIR LEWISnby Bill KauffmannLate in life, Harry Sinclair Lewis ofnSauk Centre, Minnesota, figured somethingnout: he would soon be forgotten.nIn a mock self-obituary, Lewis foresawnthat he would leave “no literary descendants.n. . . Whether this is a basicncriticism of [Lewis’s] pretensions tonpower and originality, or whether,nlike another contemporary. Miss WillanCather, he was an inevitably lone andninsulated figure, we have not as yet thenperspective to see.” Half a century later,nthe perspective is just fine but Lewis,nthe first American to win the NobelnPrize for Literature, has vanished. He isnheirless and unread; Mark Schorer, hisnprincipal biographer, allowed that Lewis,na truculent acne-ridden boozer, “wasnone of the worst writers in modernnAmerican literature” to boot.nYes, he was a garrulous drunk and anlousy, inattentive father and possibly anbad husband. (In his defense, his secondnwife, the newspaper oracle DorothynThompson—“the Talking Woman,”nLewis called her—was no saintly helpmeet.nAlice Roosevelt Longworth callednThompson “the only woman in historynwho has had her menopause in publicnand made it pay.”) But Sinclair Lewisndid write several excellent comic novelsnabout people from the places he knewnbest: the one-horse towns and bustlingnsmall cities of Minnesota. He trainednhis mordant wit upon them because hen30/CHRONICLESnit to his country to become a politicalnactivist, and to eschew all those futilenand embarrassing ideas that the majoritariannsentiment of his time rejects.nIf the prophets of old had thought similarly,nJudaism would most likely havencollapsed from moral dry rot centuriesnbefore Christ; had the apostles agreednwith him, the most rapid and completentransformation of world culture knownnto history could not have taken place.nThere has always been a role in thenworld for politicians, as for prophets; butnwhy denigrate Russell Kirk because he isnnot Jeane Kirkpatrick? In the long run,nthe prophetic voice prevails over the politicalnone. Christianity triumphed notnREVISIONnloved them—because to Sinclair Lewis,nZenith and Gopher Prairie and GrandnRepublic were the only places in thenworld that really mattered. In his decliningnyears he lamented, “my fathernhas never forgiven me for Main Streetn… He can’t comprehend the book,nmuch less grasp that it’s the greatestntribute I knew how to pay him . . . MainnStreet condemned me in his eyes as antraitor to my heritage—whereas thentruth is, I shall never shed the little, indeliblen’Sauk-centricities’ that enablednme to write it.”nDeliciously, appositely, Sauk Centre isnthe keeper of the Sinclair Lewis flame.nThe novelist’s boyhood home is a museum;nthe high school football team isncalled the Main Streeters. Some findnthis ironic but I think it’s perfect, fornSinclair Lewis was a hayseed of the sortnthat is found in every crossroads burg:nthe debunker, the scoffer, the town atheistnwhose deepest secret (which hisnneighbors know, which is why they tolerate,neven cherish him) is that he lovesnhis village with an ardor that is almostnembarrassing.nHarry Sinclair Lewis was born inn1885, the son of a country doctor in andirt-road, Minnesota town. He had thengift of seeing himself as both of andnapart from his surroundings. “While Inwas a mediocre sportsman in Boytown,nI was neither a cripple nor a SensitivenSoul,” he remembered with an oddnpride that any small-town lad can understand.nHis memories of childhoodnwere invariably happy, much to the puzzlementnof a clerisy that consistentlynnnby imperial proclamation, but by simplenword of mouth. What America needsntoday is fewer Stupid Conservatives—ncareerists, bureaucrats, trimmers, andnthat specially dangerous sort of establishmentariannknown as the activist—nand more prophets willing to speak whatnthey know to be the truth. But their reward,nas Emmett Tyrrell well knows, willnnot be to have the President of the UnitednStates lowered by helicopter onto thensunken floor of a comfortable uppermiddle-classnresidence in Adington, Virginia.nThe prophet, as Flannery O’Connornonce remarked, can expect only thenworst.nnmisread his books. A middle-aged Lewisntold the Sauk Centre high school yearbook:n”I could have been born andnreared in no place in the world where Inwould have had more friendliness … Itnwas a good time, a good place and angood preparation for life.”nYoung Lewis enjoyed reading H. G.nWells and Thomas Hardy, but his imaginationnwas fired by Hamlin Garland’snstories of hardscrabble Dakota farms andnfamilies. “If I ever succeed in expressingnanything of Minnesota and its neighbors,nyou will be largely responsible,” henwrote to Garland in 1915, “for it was innyour books that the real romance of thatnland was first revealed to me.”nIt takes a keen eye and sympatheticnheart to find romance on Garland’snplains; I suspect that Lewis was inspiritednmost by the Son of the Middle Border’sn1894 manifesto Crumbling Idols, anfull-throated war cry on behalf of annAmerican literature of place. “Each localitynmust produce its own literarynrecord,” Garland exhorted. “Be true tonyourself, true to your locality, and truento your time.” For all his biliousness andnvagaries and venom, Sinclair Lewis keptnthat faith. He was proudly—defiantly—nMidwestern. As a green newsman inn1908, Lewis prophesied in the Watedoo,nIowa, Daily Courier: “The artist capablenof the really vital and American play isnfar more likely to hail from the freshnbrightness and unsecured genuinenessnof the Corn Belt than he is from thenNew York millions.”nLewis’s first vital and American novelnwas his fifth. Main Street (1920). Whenn