Hoi polloi*

In Minnesota one does not hear (from the superior Yankees whom one questions about that sort of thing) that the Scandinavians are a comic people, but rather that they are surly, that they are Socialistic, that they “won’t Americanize.” Manufacturers and employing lumbermen speak of their Swedish employees precisely as wealthy Seattleites speak of the Japs, Bostonians of the Irish, Southwesterners of the Mexicans, New Yorkers of the Jews, marine officers of the Haitians, and Mr. Rudyard Kipling of the nationalist Hindus—or nationalist Americans. Unconsciously, all of them give away the Inferior Race Theory, which is this: An inferior race is one whose members work for me. They are treacherous, ungrateful, ignorant, lazy, and agitator-ridden because they ask for higher wages and thus seek to rob me of the dollars which I desire for my wife’s frocks and for the charities which glorify me. This inferiority is inherent. Never can they become Good Americans (or English Gentlemen, or High-wellborn Prussians). I know that this is so because all my university classmates and bridge-partners agree with me.

The truth is that Scandinavians Americanize only too quickly. They Americanize more quickly that Americans. For generation after generation there is a remnant of stubborn American abolitionist stock which either supports forlorn causes and sings low jail ballads in a Harvard accent, or else upholds, like Lodge, an Adams tradition which is as poisonous as Communism to a joy in brotherly boosting. (8-9)

. . .No fable is more bracing, or more absurd, than that all the sons and grandsons of the pioneers in Minnesota or in California, in Arizona or in Nebraska, are racy and breezy, unmannerly but intoxicatingly free. The grandchildren of men who in 1862 fought the Minnesota Indians, who dogtrotted a hundred miles over swamp-blurred trails to bear the alarm to the nearest troops—some of them are still clearing the land, but some of them are complaining of the un-English quality of the Orange Pekoe in dainty painty city tea-rooms which stand where three generations ago the Red River fur carts rested; their chauffeurs await them in Pierce-Arrow limousines (special bodies by Kimball, silver fittings from Tiffany); they present Schnitzler and St. John Ervine at their Little Theaters; between rehearsals they chatter of meeting James Joyce in Paris; and always in high-pitched Mayfair laughter ridicule the Scandinavians and Finns who are trying to shoulder into their sacred, ancient Yankee caste. A good many of their names are German. (10-11)

. . .The interesting thing in Minnesota is the swift evolution of a complex social system, and, since in two generations we have generations we have changed from wilderness to country clubs, the question is what the next two generations will produce. It defies a certain answer; it demands a scrupulous speculation free equally from the bland certitudes of chambers of commerce and the sardonic impatience of professional radicals. To a realistic philosopher, the existence of an aristocracy is not (since it does exist) a thing to be bewailed, but to be examined as a fact. (13)

Sinclair Lewis, “Minnesota, the Norse State” (1923)

*irony intended